Saturday, July 16, 2005

Saturday in Manila

So I explored....a little more interesting than I had originally planned.....the plan was to get the MRT and then the LRT into town and towards the Manila Hotel and then to work my way back to the Westin and then up to the Pen and then over to Greenbelt...the latter two hotels out of professional interest...the former out of historical and personal interest.

Trying to get to grips with the MRT was interesting...being so used to the simplicity of mass transit in Singapore, HKG and Bangkok...I was a little confused by what Manila offers...a lack of signs and a lack of instructions...so when in doubt join the nearest queue and hope for the best...so having got my ticket I followed the crowd through the cursory security check down onto the platform. One thing that is noticeable in Manila is that so much is open air...train platforms, shopping malls and ticketing areas of the MRT & LRT. Standing waiting for the MRT the noise of the buses and the jeepneys below is deafening and the fumes are suffocating...the train arrives and even at 2:30pm on a Saturday afternoon it is packed..heaven knows what the rushhour is like! Fortunately I was heading for the last stop on the line as there are few signs at the stations so knowing where you are is more luck than judgement. Getting off at the end of the line...I have no idea where I am going and not one sign points me to the LRT so i follow the crowd...at last a sign through a shopping centre (the metro centre, if I remember rightly). Getting to the LRT I join the queue (must find out where the ticket machines are) and am given my ticket with GMA's picture on...contrary to what I was expecting after reading this!

Getting off at the UN station I get my bearings and start heading towards the bay...crossing Taft avenue I am amazed again at the traffic and sheer level of the noise...and then as I get further away the noise drops and I can hear the birds and the crickets...a quiet corner of Manila...old, run down but quiet. And then in the distance I can hear drums and chanting...not too sure what it is until I round the corner and see, literally, thousands of people ahead of me....I had totally unwittingly walked into a support rally for GMA....allegedly about 100,000 people. It has to have been one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. So I stood and watched and then realised they were marching in the direction that I wanted to go...so after stopping into a handy Starbucks for a much needed cup of tea, I decided to brave the masses. I must admit I did think it was maybe not the smartest thing to do...and a few of the police did try to stop me...but I was on a mission I was determined to get to the Manila Hotel and I was not to be thwarted so I battled on! The crowd was incredibly friendly and quite a few asked if I was joining them in support of Ms Arroyo..my response about a cup of tea at the Manila hotel must have sounded so British!







So eventually after being the single (at least it felt like it anyway) gweilo out on the streets I made it into the hotel!

I always find it incredibly sad when a hotel with so much potential is allowed to get run down and tired....the Manila Hotel is such a property...huge potential...a possible Raffles if it had some serious bucks spent on it and it has the history to support it. The concierge kindly showed me their archives room....anyone who was anyone has either stayed at the hotel or danced there and been photographed...the pictures and celebs seemed to stop coming in the early 90s...and I am guessing that's when it started to get run down. The archives room is nothing is grand as the one at Raffles but it is still an effort and a good record of the hotel's history...I wish more hotels would record their history. To add to my collection I bought the hotel's book...again a good effort but nothing like the ones issued by Raffles, The Oriental or the HK Pen.









After the Manila Hotel it was time to brave the masses and head down to the Westin...I decided to skip public transport as I was feeling lazy so taxied it over to the Westin...great location and the grounds have been well cared for but the sea view was not quite what I was expecting...so didn't hang around...The Pen lobby is fantastic..I love the raised area for functions, everything else seemed fairly average...a hop skip and a jump to Greenbelt for some retail therapy and a much needed glass of wine..so ended my day of exploring.

One thing I did notice is that it is not nearly as hot, humid and polluted as Hong Kong....the difference is that in Manila one spends more time outside in the open air...so it seems hotter and one is subjected to much more pollution...and the pollution is different...here it is traffic pollution in HK our friendly neighbours send a lot of it over to nestle in our harbour!

Whilst driving from one hotel to another it seems that there is a lot to explore here and a lot more depth to the city than I had originally given it credit for....I don't think I will ever come to love this city as passionately as I do HK or London or even DC...but I think I will eventually like it....

5 Comments:

Blogger Mia said...

"I think I will eventually like it."

And that my dear, is a good start.

1:07 am  
Blogger Spike said...

My favorite restaurant in Manila is Cafe Havana in Greenbelt 3. Have been through most of the menu there, plus they have live music almost every night. (Their original branch is in Malate.) I have also had good luck with most of the restaurants in Greenbelt 2. If you find yourself in Ortigas for some reason, go to the shopping mall called Podium. In the basement there is a place, name escapes me unfortunately, wonderful quality Spanish food attached to a high end grocery store with a great wine selection, great European meats and cheeses. The best English language book shop I have found is in the Power Plant (or is it Power Station?) mall in the Rockwell section of Makati. Club V is a good place to see Manila's young and rich dance and party into the wee hours, if you're so inclined. Halo, right next door, is also good. More tips as I think of them.

11:29 am  
Anonymous torn said...

Welcome! I hope you enjoy your time here. There will be plenty for you to blog about, I can guarantee.

I enjoyed reading your first impressions. The decline of the Manila Hotel is a direct result of the misplaced nationalism that blights many attempts to improve the Philippines. In the 1990s, a Malaysian conglomerate planned to buy the hotel, which even then was showing its age, but the idea of the hotel being owned by foreigners was too much for some politicians and legislation was actually passed declaring it a national monument that could not be sold to foreigners. In one of the shady deals that characterizes much bsiness life here, it ended up in the greasy hands of Emilio Yap, publisher of the Manila Bulletin (which is a newsprint version of the decrepit Manila Hotel). Ever since, i have watched in despair as one by one its restaurants closed and service deteriorated (I used to work in downtown Manila). Yap obviously doesn't give a shit about it -- I guess he is just holding onto it as an investment.

As for your friend Spike's recommendations -- Terry's is the name of the place in Podium. Power Plant is the name of the mall. You should perhaps be warned that a visiting film-maker was shot dead in an altercation outside Club V a couple of weeks ago (welcome to the Wild West). Bookstores -- if you are in old Manila, try Solidaridad on Padre Faura. With all respect to Spike, Cafe Havana is OK as a bar (though the Malate one is much better) but there are many better restaurants. Try Sala and Casa Armas on Nakpil in old Manila. Lolo Dad's on Quirino and Taft ... if you are in mall try Mexicali, owned by my partner, frayed. Enjoy it here!

3:24 pm  
Blogger Madame Chiang said...

Wow...the longest comments ever! Spike thanks...and Torn thanks for the info on the Manila Hotel..I was wondering what or who had let a possibly magnificent property go to rack and ruin...it really is so sad. Also thanks for further recommendations on places to go!

8:02 pm  
Anonymous Lawrence said...

It can't really have effect, I believe this way.
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10:31 am  

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