Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Weekend in Manila
Sundown, 20th of January 2007

Previous part. Lunch at Harbour Square
Part 3. A Manila Bay Sunset

Written in: Poblacion, Sta. Maria, Bulacan, PHILIPPINES
Composition: Impromptu

We picked the spot on the Baywalk by Figaro's. was just barely past lunchtime and we were already waiting for the sunset. Ate Yayi noticed everyone else's boredom, so she set up a game of charades. Mireille and Cris were paired off, while Rose and I were the other team. The theme? English Movie Titles. I have since forgotten who won, but I do remember that fun was had by all. Oh, I also had a grand time trying to act out "The Empire Strikes Back" - a movie that Rose had not yet seen (and probably never will, which is too bad, because it's awesome).
Some onlookers weren't all too sure what we were doing. We probably weirded out a few people - I suppose charades really isn't a game often played in the Philippines. In any case we passed the time, and had fun in the process.

I then went people-watching and observed that a great number of people were obviously tourists/foreigners. I wondered if I was a "visible" tourist too - I'm 100% Filipino by blood after all. Plus, I had opted for jeans instead of wearing the more suitable shorts, in order to blend in with the local crowd much better. Still, I think the long hair gave me away in a few instances. That and the fact that we were all speaking in English. almost forgot; the first time I got into Cris' Volvo Station wagon (an 850?) beside Ate Yayi, I spoke to her in Tagalog - in the anticipation that hey, this is the Philippines, it's the national language, therefore everyone spoke this, right?

Wrong! I can probably speak it better than they do. And I'm the one who's been gone from this country for a decade! Ika nga ni Ate Mireille, "Ang lalim naman ng Tagalog mo!" (Just like what Ate Mireille said, "Your Tagalog is different. It's deep and uses big words"). I guess it has to do with the fact that both their parents are Ilocano - only their native tongue, along with English, were emphasized. Also, in this country's professional sector, English is the language of business.

It's funny: I speak better Tagalog than they do, and they speak better English than me. After a few years of using English as a day to day language, mine now has a lot of 'street', tense errors, and everyday common mistakes, like run-ons. A lot of run-ons. Too many to count. For the most part, at least. 

Yup. we waited more for the sunset, I had a thought; What's the Tagalog translation for "chill" and "chilling out"?

After a short while, I realized that there isn't really a Tagalog word for the act of relaxation by soaking in your sorroundings. There's the word "Istambay" (contracted from "to stand by and wait") but what that really describes is to loiter - to be useless, worthless, and be unproductive. It is often used to describe the unemployed and the tamad (lazy).

Why is this the case? I thought.

Is it a culturally unwelcome trait to pause and reflect?

Yes and no. More than anything, I think it has to do with the hardships of a developing country. For the vast majority, there simply is no time to pause and reflect. Every waking moment is devoted for survival. The perception, I concluded, was that if you don't get on with the daily grind or keep pace with the rat race, then you're just society's ballast.

Also, I guess it's just Asian industriousness. You don't deserve to rest until you've 'made it'. And even then, no rest for the wicked, yo.

There is no better indication of how much of a struggle it is for the Filipinos in the lower classes just to exist and subsist day by day, I thought. That such a thing - istambay - is in the vernacular is actually quite telling of this. I suppose nowadays things are changing. I was afterall, in a place developed and cleaned up largely to accomodate those wanting to watch the sunset and take in Manila Bay's sorroundings just for the sake of having done so.

Whatever the case, I couldn't ignore that there were only two kinds of people there; the well-off who can afford to take time off and chill, and those struggling to make money while everyone else took time off. Roaming the baywalk along with the joggers, dog-walkers, and tourists were the street kids - already beggaring at such a young age - and the street vendors working very long shifts just to make ends meet.

A lot of interracial couples too, which is kind of neat. also saw that dog owners here don't pick up after their dog in these parts. They should. Dog shit is nasty.

Anyway, after a long wait, the sun finally neared the bay and the sky finally started showing signs of a more reddish hue.

Cris the photography enthusiast readied his camera and waited for the sun's finale for the day. the distance, a dragonboat team practiced their skills with the setting sun, an anchored ship, and the Mariveles Mountains of Bataan as a backdrop. (I had incorrectly assumed at the time that I was looking at Laguna's Makiling. Boy, was my geography all bonkers!)

I tried to stage a photo that might indicate a relaxed state. I took off my shoes amidst the same backdrop.

If somebody steals my shoes, I thought at the time, I'm going home barefoot! I promptly put them back on.

Sunsets by the sea are fantastic. If anything, it gets better in that short period after the sun has vanished, but before it gets too dark - only then does the sky explode in many colours.

The servers/wait staff of Figaro started installing their outdoor lightbulbs.

I asked them, "Bakit po ninyo tinatanggal pa? Parang madiwara... mawawala po ba pag hindi?" ("Why do you even remove it at all? Seems like a lot of work. Would it get STOLEN if you didn't?")

"Ay oo! Talaga!" ("Yes. Most definitely") was the reply.

After more pics, we decided to go to "The Fort" - an old Military camp, originally called Fort Bonifacio - in Taguig. Actually, it's still called "Fort Bonifacio". I guess it's just cooler and more hip to call it using the shorthand.

But before we left, I took one last photo of the Manila Harbor, illuminated for the night.

That's when I really took notice of her.
On the far right of the image, there's a caucasian girl reading a book. She had been there with us all that time waiting for the sunset. She was alone. Perhaps a backpacker? I felt admiration; what a brave soul, travelling all by her lonesome. 

I SHOULD do that.

Flickr Photoset.

Next installment: 'The Fort' By Night

Related Post:  Social Hierarchy, Menial Jobs, and Fastfood in the Philippines 


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