As I made our way out of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and drove into the city of Manila (Metro Manila as some call it), there was a sense of familiarity. Even in the darkness of the morning twilight, what my eyes saw was nothing radically different from what they had seen in countless cities over the years back home in India. The sights, the sounds, the smells, all of which reminded me of my very own hometown of Bombay, were a welcome change from the overly sanitized, organized and structured ones of Singapore.
Having said that, one cannot help but notice a rather strong influence of the Americans (read USA) over the infrastructure. Right from the 24 hr diners and fast food chains to freeways to drive-ins and even the huge malls. The influence extends beyond tangible aspects and even permeates into the populace itself. The language diction and enunciation of most educated Filipinos (Pinoy in the local tongue) is unmistakably Americanized.
Upon reading the history of The Philippines, the reason for the strong Spanish and American influences are explained. The Spanish influence obviously predated that of the American, and is therefore deeply rooted in the language, religion and culture. The American one, relatively more recent, dominates their current lifestyle.
Although my journey within the city were confined in a rather spacious and climate controlled private vehicle, I was fortunate to observe the ways of the local public transport in the city. They have the standard options; the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport – the metro), the buses and the cabs. But in a cute reference to its own past, they also have the Jeepney, a cross between bus and a cab. These quirky looking four-wheeled public transportation options run on fixed routes and can be hailed anywhere along said routes. The fares are obviously competitive to other modes of transport, since most of the populace rides them.
Despite the presence of major US fast food chains (McDonalds, KFC, BUrger King, etc) the locals still swear by the indigenous fast food giant, Jollibee. With a menu that comprises a mashup of McDonalds and KFC with strong local flavors, it is little wonder, this fast food chain comes highly recommended by all my Filipino friends. P.S. The Spicy Chicken Joy is worth a try.
Another unique indigenous addition to their American dominance, is the complete absence of fries in most fast food menus. Yes! They do NOT serve fries with their shakes, or burgers, or fried chicken. Instead, you will find rice as a standard side at all fast food joints. It may seem odd for those of you have grown up on those long pieces of salted deep fried julienne potatoes, but trust me, the rice does go well with most dishes. But then again, that could just be the “Indian” in me, saying that!
What impressed me most about the city, was the vibrant nightlife. The hotspots seemed more lively and not all that expensive. With a variety of themed bars and lounges, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Of course, my evening outing was at the same place till 4 AM! But then, it was with great company, so absolutely no regrets.
As I said, this trip to Manila was very short for me to pen adequate details about the city beyond the culinary experiences! Rest assured, what little I have experienced of the city has titillated my senses and I am eager to experience more of the city and rest of the wonderful country of Philippines.