I Hide Inside My Flat Like A Vampire

Filipino jeepney I hide inside my flat like a vampire, shielding my pasty white flesh from the broiling hot rays of the sun.

I wonder what it'll be like in July and August. I'm going to look like a burnt wooden match before it's all over.

Despite I knew the heat would be more insane further south, I went to Manila for three days. While I was away, Typhoon Maggie skirted Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Observatory raised Signal Flag No. 9; the winds must have been howling. This is the second typhoon of the season and the second to hit Hong Kong.

Is there a big sign taped to us saying: Kick Me?

As for Manila... well, let me tell you about Manila. As much as I love the Filipino people, and as much as I enjoy travel, I don't enjoy Manila. Perhaps other cities in the Philippines are better, but Manila is something you have to experience to appreciate why I don't want to go back.

"... played the fool and drove us all over creation ..."

It starts when you get to their old airport: a throwback to the early 1970s. Where else will you wait for 90 minutes to get your luggage off the baggage carousel?

Where else do they impose a measly seven kilogram weight limit for carry-on baggage?

Where else do you have to run a gauntlet to get in and out of the freaking airport?

As you negotiate for a taxi, you come to realise you'd better get help from a local friend, or you will get bent!

One evening we were coming back from Quezon City, and as it was late, we took a hotel taxi, as it is — get this — safer! Safe? We didn't get kidnapped, but the driver played the fool and drove us all over creation. He then took us to the wrong hotel, all the while pretending to be dismayed at the length of the trip, so we'd feel guilty over the negotiated price.

Then there's the traffic. If you plan to travel 10 kilometers, allow one hour for travel time. I'm not joking.

Drivers pay no attention to lanes, lights, or anything else. The result? Chaos.

During one trip down a side lane in a downpour, we passed a man pushing a two-wheeled cart filled with scrap metal. Ten minutes later he passed us. Are you getting the picture? My friends in the taxi had time to roll down the window to buy mangos from a street vendor. Talk about drive through!

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"... an overpainted tin and steel behemoth ..."

Then there are the Jeepneys.

A Jeepney is an overpainted tin and steel behemoth which serves as inexpensive public transport. They are ubiquitous; more numerous than taxis. They'll stop anywhere to pick up or drop off passengers, who climb in the back and sit on benches that run the length of the Jeepney on either side. They're painted in gaudy colours, with signs and slogans and many references to God and Jesus in large letters. Peace be the journey.

They're wonderful; you'll never see anything like them elsewhere.

The infrastructure of the city is in shambles. Roads are potholed and cracked, streets and waterways are littered with garbage and the buildings are run down.

The state of the city is not the fault of the people.

This is what happens when tinpot dictators in funny hats drain every cent they can out of an economy and destroy the potential of a nation.

But mark my words, the Philippines will one day be a prosperous nation. The people are happy, and proud of their country regardless which ridiculous government is in power. Filipinos are beautiful people who place huge importance on two factors: family and education.

I was grateful when it came time to depart. It costs over $20.00 CAD for the airport departure tax / fee / gouge — whatever you want to call it — but I was glad to pay.

Have you ever seen news clips where someone returning to civilisation kisses the ground? That was me upon returning to Hong Kong and all the way though the terminal: mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah!

If I'm going to burst into flames, I'd rather do it in Hong Kong than the Philippines, any day of the week.

Time to go outside and get crispy.

June 12, 1999

Next Tale: Rude Idiots