As a visitor destination, this place is hot. And just a little bit bi-polar! Even the smallest roadside villages are alive with colour and character. Manila the capital is a city permanently plugged with adrenalin.
Despite post-world war II American influence, the areas I’ve seen are endearing and authentic. Almost every face, every experience, is distinctly Filipino. In the many hours I’ve spent on the crowded motorways, or walking busy streets and country roads, the number of Europeans I’ve spotted would number only two or three dozen.
What you’ll find here is a hard working, clean living, welcoming nation of proud, good humoured people. Yes, there is overwhelming poverty and despair. But there’s also remarkable resourcefulness and determination. Commerce isn’t limited to the office towers. You’ll see trading and enterprise on busy street corners, and even in the slums.
For visitors from New Zealand, some things really stand out. Filipinos are content with ordinary haircuts and tattoo-free skin. Their kids don’t dress like prostitutes. Boy racers don’t exist. And there’s no real road rage. Or rage of any sort. A Filipino meal ends with empty plates – not empty booze bottles. But there are way too many smokers. And not a lot of good coffee!
During my stay I’ve been frequently reminded of the need to stay vigilant and safe. To be on guard against crime and dangerous criminals. Apparently, crime is everywhere. Fortunately, I haven’t encountered any. The one place I do get bombarded by crime is when I log onto New Zealand news web sites. And when locals warn me about thieves in the Philippines, I wonder who in Auckland is now using my work kit of expensive video camera gear. It was recently stolen at night from the boot of my car, parked in a floodlit driveway just metres from my bedroom window.
One lasting impression of the Philippines is the sad legacy of government corruption. It continues to hold the country back; forcing talented professionals overseas. I met a former policeman this week. He told me he left the force because he was fed up with crooked cops. By his own admission, he could have been a rich man – had he remained a policeman. He described once taking part in a drugs raid at a house owned by an Asian syndicate. No gangsters were present during the raid. Just a huge bundle of cash left on a table. It was left for the police. Waiting to be pocketed.
If they can do something about the widespread corruption – and the Church’s stifling attitude to birth control – the country might climb to far greater heights. Just like some of its neighbours.
In the meantime, it is one hell of a place to visit, and I’ll be happy to return.
Stay tuned. Next stop: Kuala Lumpur