hey, is that filipino food?

How long have I been here? A week? A month? Three and a half hours? I honestly don't know. If I were to approach someone and ask Where is this place? they would fix me with a pedagogical look and say More important than where is when. Then they'd tell me that I'd been living in a dreamworld, a fantasy of wealth and luxury, and this crowded, stinking place packed to the rafters with human beings all jostling, calling, selling, buying and begging, is the real world. Which of course it is, if you're going by the weight of numbers. The strangest thing about being in Manila or in the nearby provinces is that I'm witnessing what the bulk of the world looks like. Industry and poverty sandwiched next to other, mansions and embassy abutting shanty towns of corrugated steel and yards of mud and shit. Young boys giving haircuts by the side of the road, people gliding between lanes of traffic with cut-rate plastic goods for sale. And everywhere you go, another McDonald's, a Jollibee's, an Ulo Ulo barbecue shack. Exhaust fumes both slate-blue and soot-black, smoke from a wok in a satay kiosk, an old man brushing branches and dust from his storefront. Then a sudden rain hits and the whole place smells of mud and rot and hog shit. There is no end to the movement here, no break in the lines of traffic on Roxas Boulevard or the lines of ants crawling up the wall. You go for a walk and listen to the cries of "Hey Joe!" from children and vendors and think Christ, isn't that from the second world war? And everywhere in Manila men with guns slung over the shoulder stand around on corners, lounge by the casino entrance and hold open the restaurant door as you enter. You lose your bearings quickly if you're not used to it.



I'm running out of time on the computer here. Remind me to tell you about my hike on the Taal Volcano Island, where my cameraman got sunstroke and four Filipino guys looked on in sympathy as I threw up in some bushes on a field of smoking lava vents. The torrential downpour afterwards really made it fun.