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

Monday, July 21, 2008

Not impressed

On his final morning in Manila, Arenas presided over the dedication of an adidas-sponsored court at a Gawad Kalinga village in Brookside, up in the Bagong Silangan wastelands of Northeast Quezon City behind Commonwealth Avenue. Getting there is an adventurous drive. One right turn takes you away from the bustle and commerce of Commonwealth and into a rapidly devolving landsape of plywood and aluminum shanties; pocked, gravel roads; and desolate, scrubby wastelands filled with brown weeds. The streets are meandering and poorly marked, offering the same sights of people squatting in the shade, others pushing 'diyaryong-bote' (newspaper-bottle) carts of recyclable trash and still others sorting through piles of scrap metal outside junk shops. These are standard sights for people living in Metro Manila, but for Arenas, whose trip until then had kept him inside the city's poshest malls and the Presidential Suite at the Peninsula Manila, it was an important trip to take. When I got to interview him, he mentioned that he was sad, of course, to see so much poverty, but grateful that he had been able to see more than just Manila's cellophane-thin layer of glam.

Before Arenas arrived, adidas officials and a small platoon of security guards got the court ready. Ronnie Magsanoc and Benjie Paras, former star players known as the Stockton and Malone of the PBA, ran drills for a group of third and fourth graders under a vicious morning sun along with Purefoods Coach Ryan Gregorio and current PBA players Enrico Villanueva and Rey Evangelista. This provided the true highlight of the morning, when Coach Ronnie told the kids they should run to their houses and change out of their school uniforms into some athletic clothes, like shorts and t-shirts. One girl yelled out, "Puwede bang pajamas?" as in, "can we wear pajamas?" and everyone just shrugged and said, "of course!" I'd pay to see an NBA team send its players out on the court in team pajamas one night.

Anyway, when Arenas finally showed up, it was brutally hot and no one was really gathered around the court because they were huddled together wherever shade could be found. He toured one of the schools in the village, and received this warm response from a charming little lady. "Stop wasting my time, Arenas. I'm trying to get an education."


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