We’re in Manila for a few days and what an extraordinary city it is. With numerous centres but no real heart, Manila is chaotic, dirty, exciting and surprising – all at once. From an infrastructural point of view the city hardly works – a British politician would probably use that favourite cliché ‘broken’. The traffic jams are legendary and the public transport system defines the word ‘unintegrated’, with buses, taxis, jeepneys, tricycles and pedicabs all doing their own thing.
Manila is a city where the rich and poor live a stone’s throw from each other but a world apart, with the poorest quite literally clinging on to the margins, building their overcrowded shanties on stilts along rivers and on the narrow strips of land along highways and railway tracks. For city planners (and I use the word ‘planning’ advisedly) the solution seems to go upwards; multilevel freeways and forty storey condominiums enable those who can to escape the noise and pollution of the city at ground level in air conditioned comfort. This is a city growing vertically, with giant advertising hoardings to match – strangely reminiscent of the dystopian global city of the future portrayed in the movie ‘Bladerunner’.
During our stay in Manila we have been experiencing both sides of the city. Yesterday (Saturday) we visited Old Manila, starting in Binondo/Chinatown, moving on to Fort Santiago in the old walled city of Intramuros and then Rizal Park (also known by its older name Luneta). These are places deeply immersed in the history of the Philippines: the Spanish colonial period, the fight for independence, the destruction of Manila during the Second World War and its decline as a city.
Today (Sunday) we are in the Greenbelt Centre in Makati, amidst high-end shops, restaurants and malls, surrounded by beautiful tropical parks and fountains, with sidewalks/pavements you can actually walk on. I’m having difficulty getting regular Wifi access and even when I can, can’t always upload photos, but I’ll try to post as often as I can when the fancy takes me.