A 23 hour flight later, the wheels of Japan Airlines’ JL7235 finally touched down onto the runway turf in Manila.
I was out of the airport in less than 11 minutes, out-stretched my hand as a part of the ambiguous cab hailing procedure and instantly had a smiling cab-lady pullover.
The journey to the hotel was going to be 37 minutes long she said as she flipped a switch to get the meter running.
It was really easy to communicate with the filipino people, English being their second language owing to them having been an American colony for the longest time. According to another local I met later during the trip, they have mostly grown up on Western music, Full House, FRIENDS and a host of other good stuff churned out of the LA-based media factories (much like urban India?).
“Is there going to be much traffic along the way?”
“Yes, bad traffic sir. It is rainy season so everyone is trying to get back home before flooding time”
“There’s going to be a flood?”
“Yes, around 10pm”
“But it’s already 9:46”
“Yes sir, bad timing of your flight. Don’t worry, only feet get little wet” she said while using her thumb and forefinger to try and quantify the height to which my feet would be submerged.
I promptly removed my bag from the floor of the car. This should be interesting.
Apparently owing to slower infrastructural development and a rapid rise in purchasing power, there are way too many cars on the roads. A unique (at least to my ears) scheme the Philippines government has come up with to help the cause has been to disallow each private vehicle from operating on one of the days in the week. The no-driving day is indicated through the number plate (ends with a ‘2’? You can’t drive on Tuesdays).
With 34 minutes to to go, I figured I might as well engage in some good old-fashioned small talk.
“It’s just the beginning of July, summer’s over already?”
“We just have 2 seasons here sir. Summer and rain. Then more rain. Haha”
“You here on vacation sir? Not many of your people come to Philippines?”
“No, I’m here on work for a few weeks”should I just assume that she meant Spanish, Greek or Italian by ‘your people’? I decided to not burst my bubble and instead artfully circumvent her rhetorical question.
“Oh, where you work?”
“I work with Google, so I’m visiting the local office here”
“What is Glueglue?”
“N..Yes. Glueglue. It’s an internet company”
“Aaah you work on internet! All you young kids always on internet. That why you have fat glasses.”
Yep. Small talk was officially not quite working out for me anymore.
“What plan you have for tomorrow sir?”
“Nothing really. Will just go out and walk around the city all day”
“Oh no no. Bad idea” She said, with seemingly not having given my idea much consideration at all.
“What? Why is it a bad idea”
“Tomorrow is taihun. You will get stuck if outside”
“Oh, is that a local festival of some sort? I didn’t read about it anywhere”
“Sir, what you say? Taihun is rain and storm. You go out, you will fly away”
“Wait, typhoon? Is there a typhoon scheduled for tomorrow?”
“Yes, yes! How you not know?!”
“It didn’t say so anywhere on the internet”
“Aaah you young kids always on internet. Still not know of big Typhoon”
Alright, enough of this small-talk. 13 minutes to go.
You can criticize my fat glasses, but you cannot just insinuate that my web-searching skills are sub-par! I refuse to answer any further questions from this lady.
“Your English really good sir. Much better than most other passengers”
Unless, of course, her questions include an optimum amount of flattery. Good save lady.
“Thank you! Yes, most of ‘my people’ can communicate quite well in English. You have really good English too”
The local language in the country is called Tagalog. It has about a 101 dialects across the over 700 islands that comprise the Philippines. Travel about 30kms in either direction of Manila and the version of Tagalog spoken will be significantly different. English however, would still work no matter which remote island of the country you find yourself in.
With 9 minutes to go and a drizzle beginning to hit the windshield, we finally got off a long highway and now entered a clearly urban city complete with tall high rises bursting with color, massive malls bursting with people and ornate churches with characteristic Spanish architectural elements (that I can’t detect even if my life depended on it, but it says so on the internet, thereby deeming it undeniably true).
The Philippines was, for the longest time, under Spanish rule only to get independence in 1898 after the Philippine Revolution with the help of the Americans. What they didn’t realize back then was that the Americans were not leaving their island anytime soon either. So a lot of the older structures boast of a massive Spanish influence, while the culture is evidently influenced by the US to quite an extent.
With the drizzle now turning into a downpour, our skilled cab-lady took a swift turn into an alley where the word HOTEL was spelt out at the end with dodgy looking neon colored LEDs.
“Okay sir, your hotel is here. That will be 700Pesos. You lucky, no flood today. But be careful of taihun tomorrow”
With that wonderful forewarning, I bid our lady goodbye and entered the hotel looking forward to what this wonderfully friendly country had to offer beyond day 0.
This should be interesting.