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My Life Living in Manila from 1980 to 2010, though not continuously:
The first time I came to Manila, Philippines, was to do business. I owned a fragrance company, then based in New York and San Francisco. I was doing trademark work myself instead of having international attorneys doing it for me. It was a way to travel the world and save money for my start up corporation at the same time.
At 44 year old had lived in New York City, San Francisco, New Orleans, Berlin, Germany, and already had traveled the world and to most of the larger cities except for the ones in Asia. This was my chance to see them or at lest the biggest cities, including, Kuala Lumbar, Tokyo, Thailand, Philippines.
I had a trademark denied in the US and it was on appeal. Covington Burling an intellectual property law firm, expensive was handling the case. I was advised not to proceed until it was decided since it was my most popular product. But that is another story for another time.
I had heard a lot about Thailand from a Swiss friend I met in San Francisco, a neighbor and architect who worked for Bechtel, a large international construction firm in Thailand. He said he had been to Manila. He did not like it, said no fun. He said I would love Bangkok. I felt he probably knew what he was talking about. He said if I went, he would meet me there after he sold the Victorian House he renovated in San Francisco. He said he might start a business in Thailand. It sounded like fun to me.
I had business so left without him, went first to Manila. I love it, felt of all the cities I had visited it had something other cities; even San Francisco did not, the loveliest sweetest kindness people in the world. I did not learn until later, the Tagalogs that dominate Manila are relative conservative, quiet people, almost shy compared to others from the Southern Philippine islands where the people are even friendlier, if that is possible, and for sure more fun loving, less conservative and even loud, buy Philippine Standards. Living in Manila was a hodgepodge, a melting pot of people from all over the Philippines, from many tribes, clans, provinces, speaking many different languages. To some I know it was like the tower of Babble.
It may be and observation that the people in Manila are not as friendly as in the provinces. Note that anything outside of Metro Manila is considered the provinces, even the larger cities like Cebu and Davao. I feel this seems to be true and do believe I know why. When you see someone of the street, ride by someone on a jeepney, the public transportation, like the Light Railway Train, LRT, even if you feel they are Filipino, you don't know if they know your language. If not, they don't know your culture nor do you know theirs, even though you are both Filipino. So you may be reluctant to speak to them. To you they could be very strange, not even get your sense of humor or understand what you say. And they have the same concern so may avoid any attempt at conversation. In the States a Texan can speak to a New Yorker, with little difficulty. But a Manila born Tagalog may not be able to communicate with a Cebuano, from the South or even a Bicolano or Ilocano from the same island, Luzon!
Living in Manila is like Living in New York. There is not other place like New York in the US, never will be. There is no place like Manila in the Philippines, never will be. Cebu grows, but there are 20 times more people living in Manila than Living in Cebu.
There are many expats foreigners living in Manila or the National Capital Region, (NCR) the many places cities contiguous with or surrounding Manila, Metro Manila. And some consider them selves living in Living in Manila who as much as a hundred miles away, it's influence is so strong.
The capital of the Philippines, it heart and soul, is Manila. (The capitol is actually in Quezon City, one of the cities in Metro Manila, not in Manila proper.) It sets the rhythm of life for the Northern part of this archipelago and is a pulsating hub that blends the Oriental with the Occidental, the quaint with the modern, and the mundane with the extraordinary. But Cebu City is trying to compete. I am more centrally located, but time smaller, in many ways more attractive but the dominance of manila and those living in Manila will no doubt continue buy strength of numbers if nothing else to be the center of commerce. Its massive port facilities are something no smaller city can take away, as it ever growing airport, Ninoy Aquino International Airport. (NAIA.) Arriving fights do come into Cebu City, but 98 percent still come in to NAIA.
Manila was born out of the ashes of a once flourishing Malay settlement by the banks of the Pasig River. In 1571, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi established the Ever Loyal City of Manila, which, until 1898, was the seat of Spanish colonial rule in Asia. He built the city within walls and called it Intramuros.
An anchor tourist destination, Manila is the very core of the 7, 000 times more islands that make up the Philippines. It is a center for the performing arts in Asia.
The Grandeur of Intramuros
At the turn of the 20th century, the great American architect and city planner Daniel Burnham noted "the old walled city of Intramuros at the mouth of the Pasig River is one of the best preserved medieval cities anywhere in the world."
The Pacific War of the 1940's took its toll. Faithful reconstruction goes on today in Intramuros. A few of the gates and ramparts have been turned into parks and performing venues, including Puerta Real and Baluarte de San Diego. Chambers found along its gates are now occupied by art galleries, souvenir shops, restaurants, even a cyber cafe. Fort Santiago, the site of torture chambers and dungeons where political prisoners from Spanish to Japanese times were kept and executed, is now a lush park with flowering trees and homing pigeons. Here, one may enjoy a leisurely ride aboard a horse-drawn carriage.
At the center of Intramuros is the grand Manila Cathedral with its detailed stone carvings, stained glass mosaics and rose windows. San Agustin Church, completed in 1606, has withstood all the fires and earthquakes that have hit Manila through the centuries. One of the four Philippine Baroque Churches inscribed in the World Heritage List, its monastery has been turned into a museum housing priceless religious artifacts. Adjoining it are the restored gardens of Fr. Jose Blanco who studied Philippine botanical life during the Spanish period. Barrio San Luis along Juan Luna Street is made up of five faithfully reconstructed colonial houses - Casa Manila, Casa Urdaneta, Casa Blanca, Los Hidalgos and El Hogar Filipino.
Beyond the Walls Manila has since expanded beyond Intramuros to become the nucleus of the country's largest metropolis, Greater Manila, made up of 11 other cities and five towns. But before it spread out of its confines, history saw Manila figuring prominently in the Galleon Trade, the first trans-Pacific commerce between Asia, America and Europe for some 250 years.
The city was also scarred by many foreign invasions, ravaged by Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese and British marauders. Shortly after the country declared itself Asia's first democracy in 1898, the Americans invaded its shores and ruled for 50 years. And after the Pacific War of the 1940's, when the Japanese Imperial Army reigned for four years, Manila was the second most destroyed city in the world. The rubbles of the past have seasoned and strengthened Manila's character today. Just off Intramuros' walls is the world-class Club Intramuros which offers day and night golfing. Adjacent to it is the 58-hectare Rizal Park, which runs from Taft Avenue up to the seawalls of the fabled Manila Bay.
In 1902, Burnham, the American designer or Baguio City, designed a U-shaped government complex within Luneta. Only three buildings were however constructed: the Executive House occupied by the National Museum, the Department of Finance Building that now houses the Museum of the Filipino People, and the Department of Tourism Building envisioned to become the future Museum for Natural Sciences.
Across the Pasig River from Fort Santiago is Binondo, or Chinatown. Not much has changed in terms of lifestyle in this quaint district although, now, high-rise buildings have started to appear in its skyline.
A stone's throw away from Rizal Park is the Ermita district, which, together with the Malate district, forms what is known as Manila's Tourist Belt. Ermita is antique and art galleries, curio and souvenir shops while Malate is cozy cafes, music lounges and performance theaters. This is what most expats and foreigners living in Manila call Manila.
At the heart of Manila is Quiapo. What has caught the fancy of many bargain-hunters is Ilalim ng Tulay - literally, "Under the Bridge" - where stalls sell an array of handicrafts at prices that are practically a steal. It is not clean, crowded and low rent, not a place to find amenities, nice restaurants, or hotels, but a place to shop until you drop.
Near Quiapo is the genteel San Miguel district, with its ancestral homes and Malacanang Palace, seat of the Philippine government. A museum of presidential memorabilia is open to the public. A Sampling of the Country's Best Manila mirrors the best of this country's 7,000 times more islands.
A few minutes away from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NIAH) and the Fiesta Duty Free Shop in Paranaque City is Nayong Pilipino, or Philippine Village, which features the country's famous landmarks in miniature. Weekends are good days to visit, when the p ark assumes a barrio fiesta (village festival) atmosphere, complete with traditional games, indigenous music, songs and dances, and craft demonstrations.
The Sunset Strip Roxas Boulevard, which extends from Paranaque City to Manila, is the Bay Area from where one can have a view of the famed Manila sunset. Many landmarks are found in this area, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Philippine Senate buildings. Within the stretch is the International Trade Center complex, the Philippine Trade Training Center and the World Trade Center. Further back is the Government Service Insurance System building, which houses an art gallery by the bay. In this area is Pasay City, where many foreigners’ expats and yes of course, local frequent the many nightlife establishments Manila for which Manila is famous. It is now lined with massage parlors too, some simply sex dens. Hygiene is not a primary consideration and men from all over the world visit these places so you can say this area may be hazardous to your health at the least, dangerous as a rattler at the worst.
The boulevard is also home to the country's premier performing venue, the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Within its complex are the Philippine International Convention Center, the Product Design and Development Center, the Folk Arts Theater, the Coconut Palace and the Westin Philippine Plaza Hotel.
Adjoining the complex is the Manila Yacht Club and the Philippine Navy Headquarters. A little farther is the US Embassy. Across the Yacht Club is the Bangko Sentral (Central Bank) complex which houses the Money Museum. The bank has Asia's biggest and finest gold collection at the Metropolitan Museum, a home for the modern masters. Roxas Boulevard is lined with posh hotels, casinos and lively nightspots.
Greater Manila is where the country's most prestigious business addresses and the trendiest leisure establishments are found. By day, it hums with the bustle of commerce and, by night, throbs with the excitement of varied, high class entertainment. Makati City is the country's financial center and the most prestigious business address. Many foreign embassies and multinationals call it home. Fashionable hotels, restaurants, discos, music bars, boutiques and specialty shops converge around the sleek Ayala Center.
In Makati is Forbes Park, home to the rich and famous. The most elite country club, Manila Polo Club, and golf course, Manila Golf Club, are nestled within the village.
Giving Makati a run for its money is Mandaluyong City, with Ortigas Center an impressive alternative to Ayala Center. Home to the Asian Development Bank and the Philippine Stock Exchange, it is also the site of three of Metro Manila's gigantic shopping malls - SM Megamall, Robinson's Galleria and Shangri-la EDSA Plaza.
San Juan is the hometown of President Joseph Estrada. Built on a hilly terrain, a drive along the old residential section can be a pleasurable diversion. Its Greenhills Commercial Center houses some of Metro Manila's vibrant music halls. Quezon City was envisioned by the late President Manuel L. Quezon (after whom the city was named) to be the country's government center. Many of the national government offices are located here as well as the country's leading educational institution, the University of the Philippines.
Dominating Cubao, Quezon City's commercial center, is Araneta Coliseum, the country's biggest enclosed entertainment arena. For nightlife, the Quezon Boulevard, Timog Avenue, Tomas Morato Avenue and West Avenue strips offer varied, colorful fares.
Marikina City is the Shoe Center of the Philippines. The city takes pride in its 75.6-hectare River Park Paranaque City is generally associated with its dry goods and seafood market and restaurants, and Redemptorist Church, a pilgrimage site which houses the Shrine of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
Las Pinas City has retained much of its provincial appeal. Visitors flock to this city to see the world's only bamboo organ, housed at the picturesque St. Joseph's Parish Church.
Metro Manila is one big gastronomic trip of many cuisines. In Intramuros is Illustrado Restaurant with its colonial ambiance and Spanish provincial cuisine. The old Malate district, with Remedios Circle at its core, is the favorite watering hole of artists, designers and the cafe society who are only too willing to try the varied international flavors offered by the many restaurants in the area. Authentic Chinese cuisine can be had at the old financial district of Binondo. Aside from Ayala Center, many fine and theme dining establishments line Jupiter Street and Pasay Road in Makati City. From theme restaurants to beer-and-grill gardens, Tomas Morato Avenue, Timog Street, Quezon Avenue and West Avenue in Quezon City have them all. Interesting clusters of restaurants and bars are found in San Juan's Greenhills and Mandaluyong City's Ortigas Center.
The outskirts of Manila offer many places of interest that are easily accessible by day excursions. Many of these destinations can be reached in an hour or two.
Corregidor is a tiny tadpole-shaped island lying across the entrance of Manila Bay. Also known as “The Rock,” it was the focus of a protracted battle between Filipino-American and Japanese forces during the Second World War. The shell of the Mile Long Barracks still stands. Within the Malinta Tunnel, a light-and-sound show is staged for day tourists. It can be reached by de-luxe cruisers from the CCP Complex jetty in Roxas Boulevard.