The Philippines: A day zero conversation

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?”

“No..Goo-gal”

“Glueglue?”

“No..Goo-ga-la”

“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.

States, the roadside mochi..Or the lack of it.

“A dollar for a dime” he said, expecting a foreigner in his land to be lured by the seemingly profitable barter and those antiquated wrinkles that told stories of his poverty in the most ‘powerful’ country in the world.

I walked on. I had crossed the world and flown back in time to arrive and walk upon another piece of land where, for some still inexplicable reason, people say dreams come true. Or so they used to in Anurag Mathur’s book(s), Kal Penn & Jimmy Mistry’s movies and some other equally erudite sources.

You have to hand it to the red, white and blue though. Never have I come across such abundance of resources, such determination to move ahead, such a motley of people existing together despite having migrated from almost every country there exists, such a push and nudge from educational institutions to only allow for better interactions with some incredibly brilliant minds.

If there’s been anything I have frowned upon here, it would have to be the lack of a skilled roadside mochi to fix my Jacket zipper, the local buses halting where the passenger stands instead of sadly, vice versa.

The noise and the bustle is missed. So are the simple smiles on the rickshaw wallah’s faces while they rest among friends in the calm shade of the Banyan tree, just passing away the afternoon criticizing the government, praising the lord, with  Radio Mirchi providing the perfect background score to the noon.

The differences are stark, the cultures are unique and separate, the jacket zipper still remains broken and this experience is like none other.

First time at line 7….the parisian time machine….

With the peaceful easy feeling in my ears as the eagles playlist carried on through my earphones….I strode on to the platform waiting on line 7 for the metro to arrive at Place Monge and carry me away till la defense…with the cool summer breeze accompanying the metro through the tunnel, I waited along with the other early risers of Paris, to get to our varied destinations. If the city were to be described in a sentence… the most apt I’ve heard yet shall have to be “Its where the centuries meet”.

The heart of Paris seems to revel in its archaism and the French seem to go to great lengths to retain the sense of an older yet modern unspoilt ruin within which a civilization survives and competes with the world at the highest levels….not with cut throat aggression nor political hypocrisy of any sort, but with poise and élan which I feel is portrayed so well through the playboy charmer ,that is, its president. Be it the architectural supremacy boasted upon the doors and balconies of the ordinary households around where I live….or the massive structures that erupt around the most unassuming corners….or the old man playing the mandolin at the metro station while I awaited the train….central Paris and the areas around it, in all its splendor, seems to have kept the 17th century very much alive…

Gar de le\'est....central paris

The metro zipped through the city undergrounds and finally arose in the suburbs of Paris above the river seine…one look at the area around the last stop of the metro and I realised as to why Paris is and shall be what it is….with the tallest buildings with the coolest looks and incredibly ‘fascinating’ ( 🙂 ) women adorning the area….(not just from the ‘geek from the hills’ point of view)…the jaw dropped as the Parisian time machine just seemed to have stopped at the 21st century at its freakin best!……

la defense...suburban paris as they call it....

A days work and play later with Micheal Andrews describing the mad world through my earphones, I walked back with the sunset to my back, toward the metro station to grab my ticket back into the past yet again…..such is the marvel of Paris….and is the reason why Paris is and shall be what it is….The city where the centuries meet”