Tuesday, May 27, 2008


My flight to the Philippines was spectacularly uneventful. I flew Singapore Airlines from LAX to Manila, and I think I found my favorite airline. The flights were organized and on-time, the seats comfortable, and the flight attendants helpful and courteous. Honestly, I could not have asked for a better airline to fly for 16-hours: 12 from LAX to Singapore, and another four from Singapore to Manila.

On my third day here, I signed up for a tour of Manila’s historic Intramuros district with Carlos Celdran, possibly Manila’s most entertaining tour guide. He’s featured on the Lonely Planet guide to the Philippines and other publications, as has been featured on several travel shows. I highly recommend signing up for one of Carlos’ tours if you are ever in Manila. His enthusiasm and love for Manila is infectious.

Intramuros is a walled fortress on the mouth of the Pasig River, which from inception served as the residence of the Spanish ruling class. Within the walls are government buildings, hospitals, and stately homes from the Spanish and American colonial period. It's Manila's historic heart, and a great starting point for the tour.

We met at San Agustin church, the only surviving church from Manila’s Spanish colonial period, was built in 1606. During this period a total of seven churches were built by the Dominican priests, but only San Agustin survived the bombing of Manila during WWII, as well as several earthquakes. It’s interesting to note that the Philippines has no natural building materials aside from bamboo, and the church is made out of volcanic ash mixed with dirt. According to Carlos, our tour guide, the materials used is like building a church made out of sponge cake, and it is truly miraculous that it has survived this long.

During the tour I learned that the Philippines is the link between the Far East and Europe – because of the trade route, many cultures settled here along with the Spanish, most notably the Chinese from Guangzhou and Muslims from Indonesia and Malaysia. Here are other interesting bits:

- Spain didn’t really colonize us, it was the priests running the show. To Spain we were at the edge of the world and most of the governors who came to the islands were brought here as punishment and were only allowed a single term of two years – which includes the time it took to make it over here. Of course, none of these governors were effective as they were ushered out almost as soon as they arrived here. It was the priests that ruled the Philippines – they erected churches and brought Catholicism to the masses. They spoke to the natives in their own language, thus ensuring survival of Tagalog and many regional dialects.

- We were purchased for a total of $20M along with Guam and Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War. We were an American colony from 1898 until 1945 or so, after the end of WWII.

- During the American colonial period we were considered the Pearl of the Orient because of the beautiful city of Manila. During this period, trade flourished between Europe and Southeast Asia, and we were the gateway to Asia. There were many beautiful Art Deco buildings erected in Manila during this time, most of which perished during the bombing of Manila during WWII.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in a tropical country, and the heat is staggering. It’s absolutely sweltering here in Manila. Every time I go outside I get sticky within 15 minutes, and I have to shower at least once a day now. Even my hair is up in arms – every time I curl it or style it, it gets frizzy after an hour and it ends up in a bun at the end of the day. It’s gotten to the point now where I don’t even bother fixing it anymore and just wear it in a bun or ponytail.

More to come regarding the trip to Manila. Pictures from the tour are posted here.

1 comment:

Camels & Chocolate said...

Singapore Air may be good in the air, but have you dealt with their customer service (either in the US or abroad)? I had such a bad experience trying to work out the details of my flight to Maldives beforehand because no one in their American office spoke English. And then, they were supposed to set up a hotel room for me in Singapore each way because I was flying Raffles class and my connecting flight wasn't until the next day, and on the way back they failed to do that and there was an early flight I tried to get bumped up to and they said they would charge me $1200 for that (when my employed already paid $6000+ for a biz class ticket!). Ugh, I was not happy with them. But the planes are nice and I love the flight attendant uniforms!