Manila: Land of Contrasts. Slums and Solaire gamblers
May 7, 2013
We left the soaring architecture and grace of Hong Kong and landed in Manilla, a city of 21 million people. What a contrast. It was immediately clear on the trip from the airport to our hotel – from the crowded hodgepodge of row houses and tangled power lines, from glimpses of families tucked into makeshift shelters along the roadside – that we were in a “recently industrialized” nation. The Philippines is emerging, with prospects for growth at 6 percent this year. Investment is pouring into the country. Casinos and hotels are erupting from the landscape. But while the Philippines is slated to be the powerhouse of SE Asia in the coming years, there are obviously many yet to experience economic relief.
The glamorous Solaire Hotel and Casino
Contrast is the theme within the country too. We stayed at the unbelievably lavish 5-star Solaire Hotel and Casino, opened just two months ago, which sits in open fields which will eventually be developed into more showplaces for the new Filipino wealth. Kohler did the bathrooms for the hotel, so this was a natural choice for a large gathering of distributors (the reason for our trip here).
Our Kohler friends Joyce and Adam arranged a three-hour city tour for me while John had meetings in the afternoon. The small bus took us to the old city, into the old city walls or “Intramuros” (between the walls). The Spanish governed from within the safety of these walls when they dominated the Philippines for over 300 years (1565 – 1898).
The tour further explored the contrasts of Manila.Our tour guide, Marvin, was born in Manilla. (Communicating with him was easy – Filipinos learn English in school.) We saw the Coconut Palace, commissioned by former First Lady Imelda Marcos for Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1981. The pope rejected the offer to stay at such a lavish place when there were people in Manila sleeping in the streets.
We also passed the Film Center, another building commissioned in 1982 by Imelda Marcos. It was structurally unsound (too much money going into shoes?), and two floors collapsed just months before the scheduled opening. Over 30 people were killed – but the official report was only 8 deaths. The bodies were said to have been left and covered with concrete so as not to slow the construction.
And then we went through the slums of Makati – near the same part of town as the financial district.
The slums in Makati were bustling with people: kids played ball in the streets, toddlers ran around, large groups assembled under tents, and people stood in doorways with babies. The houses were two-story, with one family below and one above, each family occupying only one room. My heart broke watching a little guy about the age of our grandsons brushing his teeth in the hose on the street.
The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial contains the largest number of graves of our military dead of World War II, a total of 17,201, most of whom lost their lives in operations in New Guinea and the Philippines. On the walls are inscribed the names of the 36,285 soldiers missing in action.
Mother’s Day Moment. There were about 150 guests on Tuesday night at the fancy Kohler 140th Anniversary dinner in the Solaire Hotel, and we were the only Americans. The entertainer invited John onto the stage to participate in a little skit (he was such a good sport) and when he sat back down she said, “and how long have the two of you been married?” When John responded “forty three” the whole crowd applauded. It was a few days before Mother’s Day, but it was an awesome Mother’s Day moment.
Breakfast in our room the next day:
So there it is – a country of such contrast that it’s impossible to grasp. It’s impossible to enjoy it too, especially at the Solaire Hotel – without thinking of those families on the roadsides. I’m with the Pope on that one.
The Pilipino people are warm and welcoming and true friends of America, and I dearly hope that their economy pulls them up – all of them.
Martha – Madly Traveling Asia with Faucet Marketing Husband