Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sure signs of the apocalypse

Back on the pristine streets of downtown Manhattan, something would seem seriously wrong if I noticed many of the following things. Here, on Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, Metro Manila, it's all par for the course.
basketball court -- pride and joy of Barangay Loyola Heights -- has a roof, drainage system, lights for night games, Fiberglas backboards and, in an ironic coup de grace, NBA-style breakaway rims with special, spring-loaded hinges built in to keep the hoops from being pulled down by all the power jams executed by the 5'6'' schoolboys who play here. What's wrong with a nice basketball court? Nothing, on the face of it, but when you can find really hungry-looking, one-armed pre-teen girls begging for food 50 steps away on Katipunan's main drag, it makes you wonder if there's some wiser way to invest in the community.
  • The stray dogs and cats here are straight out some Goth fantasy comic book, and not in some kind of mildly erotic, stylized fangs and dark eye make-up way. The dogs have the longest, nastiest, most stretched-out looking nipples. The nips hang a good 6 inches away from their rib cages, looking like they've nursed a few thousand ravenous puppies over the years. I don't think I realized how truly fat and slovenly American housecats were until I saw some of these mangy, half-hairless feline wraiths on the prowl out here. They look at me with this half-questioning "could I take him?" look in their eyes. If they could, they'd be eating for weeks, as long as they could protect the bounty from all the stray people who're going to want a taste.
  • The unique concept of personal space in a city of about 15 million people is that there just is none. The most Hellish example of this would be a recent ride on the Metrostar Express elevated train between Shaw Blvd. and Cubao, where for three stops a chunky guy wearing a yellow "Hot Stuff Coming Through" T-shirt was pressed against me so closely that he just couldn't avoid rubbing my crotch with his knuckles for the duration of the ride.
  • Malls and fast food. You can't escape them. While planning my first official meeting with and academic adviser/potential source for research, this accomplished, middle-aged Filipino family man suggested we grab lunch at someplace nice like Taco Bell. I see Colonel Sanders' goateed grill an average of 3 times a day. He's the most popular white guy in Manila. And while my initial reaction to the Taco Bell-ization of life was inward scoffing, I'm oddly drawn to their quesadilla + taco meal and, more than anything else, the rare opportunity to get free refills on drinks.
  • After the chicken soft tacos, how 'bout I rape you and steal your petrol?

  • The sudden realization, that can hit you at any time here, that you're walking through a scene out of a Mad Max movie. Oh look, there's the crusty dwarf who hangs outside of McDonald's at night. Oh, here's a guy roasting various parts of a pig's face over a fire he's built in a hollowed out car engine. Hmm, it smells like the whole city is on fire, or maybe just left behind and forgotten in a toaster set on "dark" for 20 minutes. I'm just waiting for a gang of half-naked guys in leather with spiked baseball bats and barbed wire lassoes to show up.

    Anonymous Old NYC Bum said...

    Man, it sounds pretty good there to me. I got shipped from Ohio to the Bowery and never got far from it. Of course, it's no longer the Bowery of old, no run-down ginmills
    anymore, just yuppified digs & new Filippino-like malls going in on along Houston Street. Manila sounds like the real thing, no shit. That burnt toast smell at dusk is probably pighide bristles being singed off for the next day's pork feast in various neighborhoods. Are there any suped-up cars in Manila, like in Mad Max? Anything suped-up? Motorbikes? Okay, later, young fella. Old Bum.

    3:03 PM  
    Anonymous young cos' said...

    i'm highly encouraged by the fact that my office's spyware will not allow me to view your links. i'm laughing too much to be reading this in a library anyhow.

    3:49 AM  
    Blogger RafeBoogs said...

    I'm encouraged that your office won't let you view those links, since I'm pretty sure they're a part of some Spyware on my computer that recognizes certain phrases and then rewrites the HTML around them to hyperlink to advertising sites.

    10:10 AM  
    Blogger Mount Zion Center said...

    you have taken your liberty in bashing a third world country too far. we dont need to host a supposed civilized yank to tell us what is wrong with our country. who knows how we ended up if centuries ago ur president didn't do us a favor by colonizing us.

    2:41 AM  

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