Day 3: The Real and “Real” Philippines

At 2:37 p.m. yesterday, exactly 40 years ago, the world was rewarded with my birth.  Wow, that’s such a pretentious statement!  But it’s true.  Can you imagine what would have happened had I not been born?  This blog would not exist!

Even though it, in all, wasn’t how I pictured a milestone birthday to be, it was intrinsically the most enjoyable.  I’m in my homeland, the place of my actual birth, and I was surrounded by my people.  Okay, that sounded positively regal, but you know what I mean.  It was exactly what I needed without my even knowing it.  I mentioned in a previous post that I truly had no real intention of returning to the Philippines, especially since the rest of the world is left unexplored, but everything truly happens for a reason.  There I was, enjoying turning the big four-oh at the place where it all started.  And, I was surrounded by family, ending the evening with me and my brothers enjoying brewskies and live music at a local spot.  It was close to a perfect birthday celebration.

Well, that was sappy.

Anyway, I spent the daylight hours tooling around what I consider the real Manila, where office workers and domestic helpers and private school students crammed into the same jeepneys and buses and commuter trains on their way to wherever it is they so desperately need to go; where if Hemingway had his hand in writing the Filipino existence, it would be replete with sidewalk commerce and feral cats and natives constantly wiping the sweat off of their darkened skin.

Thanks to my brother, I was able to venture yesterday into Intramuros, ripe with Philippine history and pride.  I especially enjoyed Binondo (Manila’s “Chinatown”) and the Hanford Merchant District.  Everyday, real Filipino life was in full swing.  There were tricycles and kalesas beckoning our business.  Store owners hawked their wares; a lady at one of the stores (where I’d spied an inexpensive set of kerchiefs) playfully sing-songed, “Ser, kahit ano piliin ninyo dito. Huwag lang ako ang piliin ninyo.” (“Sir, you can choose anything from here, but please just don’t choose me.”)

Many times, I felt like a complete foreigner in my homeland, where the only thing I shared in common with the locals were my physical features and a fortunately native-sounding Tagalog.  But there were also plenty of moments when I felt at one with them.  How could I not?  After all, I am Filipino.  The visit to Intramuros, and being surrounded by a retelling of the life of my country’s national hero, Jose P. Rizal, ingrained this feeling even more so.  I just wished the Philippine gene that would help in dealing with the intense humidity would kick in soon.  I’m running out of clean kerchiefs.

Dinner was at a shabu shabu joint in Bonifacio High Street, a trendy, modern shopping district in a fairly new incorporated area of Manila called Global City, which is designed to appeal to the global community (a.k.a. tourists) and the country’s wealthier demographic.  Global City’s aesthetic rivals anything one would find in the more affluent areas of Miami or Los Angeles (or even Kuala Lumpur).  This is what the government would like the “real” Philippines to be– something that attracts the most gentrified balikbayans.  But, as enjoyable and familiar as it was, it isn’t the real Philippines.  Balikbayans or foreignvisitors who spend all their time in Global City will feel safe and comfortable, but they’ll be deprived of the true Philippine experience.

Today is about chillaxing.  I’m going to watch Inception later because it’s damned cheap to watch movies here plus you can bring outside food in.  I relish the thought of chowing down on some Jolibee while watching Leonardo DiCaprio contort his face into variations that passes for acting chops.

Much later, who knows?   And, who cares?  I’m on vacation. 🙂

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