|Manila Oct. 7 – Oct. 11
The beginning of our unwanted return to Manila was not an easy one. After our trying all night bus ride, we began – or rather continued our day – with a 4:30 a.m. visit to McDonald’s where we ate, napped, and waited to get in line at the nearby Chinese embassy to submit our visa applications. In spite of an unnerving application process, misleading information, and a highly regimented embassy, our application was accepted. (Kelly’s hard work, and Jeanne’s (our host in China) comprehensive supporting documents were key!)
Manila is huge and amorphous and thus finding a place to stay is not easy. Through Kelly’s research we had a neighborhood, Malate, and a few hostels in mind, and after some searching we were able to find a very good hostel (Where 2 Next?) in a relatively good part of town.
Although Manila is no place to spend five days, we really couldn’t get away as Josh was still recuperating from stomach flu and we had to return to the Chinese embassy early Friday morning to pick up our visas. The kids spent most of their time in Manila doing school work in the hostel’s meeting area. As is the case with most good hostels, the meeting area was indeed a great place to meet people from all over the world.
On Wednesday (day 2 in Manila) , Kelly and I left the kids for a few hours, a rare treat, and walked to the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). Along the way we passed many street dwellers. The poverty here is horrendous with families and children of all ages living on the streets in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. The museum mostly featured modern art and the exhibits were a real surprise and joy. From our perspective – albeit brief and not deeply researched – Filipino culture is heavily influenced by the Catholic Church and feels conservative. In addition, although the people are extremely friendly, creativity or a high regard for aesthetics was not often observed. (Jeepneys being a welcome exception!) However many of the pieces in the museum showed enormous creativity, delved into serious themes, and would appear irreverent to some.
On Thursday, Jim forced Adrienne to leave the hotel – something she is often reluctant to do. After a strenuous walk aimed at providing her some exercise, we too arrived at the CCP to view the exhibits. She wasn’t willing to say she enjoyed the art, but there was a fabulous display of street life photography and Adrienne seemed to take interest. Look for results of her visit on our Flickr account.
On Friday I got up early and went to the Chinese embassy. Unfortunately order was not being upheld this day and what should have been an easy and quick pick-up ended up taking four hours. We spent the afternoon schooling and doing business at the newly discovered internet café next to our hostel – fast internet is a rare joy these days. That evening Kelly and I went out to dinner while the kids stayed at the hostel and had pizza delivered. We followed the advice of the desk clerk and went to a local favorite around the corner from the hostel. There was a grill and open air kitchen from which we had a great selection of meats, seafood, and vegetables to be prepared to our wishes. Prices were reasonable and selection was good. The ambience was unforgettable. Small plastic tables were spread for a good 50 feet on either side of the restaurant; on the sidewalk obscuring entry to shops and in the parking lane of the busy, narrow street. Unfortunately, the more favorable tables were taken and Kelly and I had to seat ourselves at a table in the gutter. As we ate, cars streamed passed and the nearby karaoke bar opened for the evening with its hostesses trying to lure in customers not 20 feet from our table. Street kids came by looking for handouts. Street vendors stopped to hawk their goods including one who was selling live snakes and having a very good time scaring the local ladies as he thrust snakes into their faces. The food was really good and I actually enjoyed the craziness but it was not to Kelly’s liking. Either way, we were not bringing the kids there the following evening!
On Saturday Josh was feeling better and he and I got up early for an all day trip to Corregidor Island. Neither Kelly nor Adrienne had much desire to go on this pricey outing. Instead they did some big city shopping and made their way to the Intramuros (the old Spanish, walled in part of the city) where they visited the National Museum. In the 1800’s, Corregidor Island served as a Spanish prison for Filipinos and check point for incoming vessels. Under American rule, Corregidor was a military base and played a pivotal role in World War II. Josh and I spent the day visiting barracks, tunnels, gun stations, and memorials and learning more about General MacArthur and the war efforts in the Pacific Theater.
Our departure from Manila that night was not one of our most graceful. After reconvening at the hostel Saturday afternoon, we were prepared for a shower and dinner out before leaving for our 10 p.m. flight. Giving our tickets one last check, we realized that our flight was actually an 8 p.m. flight meaning we were now in a rush. Off to the airport we dashed through maddening Manila traffic. Upon entering the terminal we were stopped and told that we were at the wrong terminal. We quickly got into another taxi to speed to the nearby re-commissioned terminal. After a slow trip through security we reached the waiting room which had nothing more than a food stand which had run out of its more substantial offerings. For some reason, our waiting room was separated from the rest of the terminal and we could see the restaurants but could not visit them. Shanghai was hours away and our midnight arrival would limit choices, and none of had had much to eat since lunch. Kelly turned into Mamma Bear, albeit a polite one, and convinced one of the guards to go to the pizza restaurant to buy us pizza slices which we ate to the envious stares of the rest of the passengers.
We arrived in Shanghai around midnight. Surprisingly, the airport was deserted and getting money and a snack were a bit of a challenge. We did find a cab for a long trip across the modern but quite city, finally arriving at Craig and Jeanne’s apartment at about 2 in the morning.
Craig and Jeanne are colleagues from JPA in Cambodia where we became good friends. They are our age, from Central California, and surfers. With them we shared bike rides/adventures, JPA parties, professional conversations, and the tribulations of being JPA employees. Jeanne taught Josh and Adrienne at JPA and was one of their favorites.
While backpacking, such as we are, being able to stay at a home is a real treat. Although thrilling, educational, and fascinating, there are enormous challenges to being on the road for months on end. A home gives a welcome hiatus to many of the challenges. Getting to stay with people we enjoy as much as Jeanne and Craig makes it especially wonderful!