A first impression of Manila

The moment I began to appreciate the varied nature of The Philippines was when I was flying above it on my way back from Japan. The islands were plentiful, taking shapes that only a child could invent while learning to draw. Some were barren rocks while others were forested and mountainous. The deep oceans stretched all the way to the horizon where clouds met the mountains sometimes only half way up. I stared in awe at the sheer size of these landmasses bobbing and weaving, above and below the clouds. It was quite beautiful to catch the evening sunbeams dispersed in every which way.

It was at that moment I realized that my limited experience here had given me an impression that was far removed from the peace and tranquility that the other islands held. I was quite accustomed to Manila at this point which sits on the island of Luzon. Luzon is 4th most populated island in the world. However, Manila is the world’s most densely populated city at 42,857 persons per square kilometer.

During the day, Metro Manila swells to 15 million people which is markedly more than Tokyo, Mumbai or even Paris. I believe that the statistics can paint a much better picture than my description of Manila or just how bad the traffic can be. For example, I have spent on average, three hours in traffic for trips that should have only taken 20 minutes ‘on a good day.’ The sense of chaos is palpable.

Jeepneys, tricycles, motorbikes, cars, trucks and vans swerve in and out, barely leaving room for each other to intersect. Jeepney’s are the most interesting and popular modes of transport. They are often painted in radical colors, given catchy names and squeeze as many people as possible into its opened-back entrance. They are hard to miss. Tricycles are my personal favorite. Imagine a motorbike with a side-car attached where two people can ‘comfortably’ squeeze in. For about 20 pesos, I am always happy to catch one on my way back from the grocery. They are fast, cheap and private.

There are many ways to think about any given situation and for this reason I cannot help but compare and contrast the places I have been to this new hub, Manila. At a glance, the economic disparity is poignant. The far-reaching poverty has all but changed my perception on its meaning and that of classism. Before visiting The Philippines, I had never seen so many people living in a state of little to no money or few material possessions. I admit that I had seen poverty on a small scale, a few homeless people and some slums but I suppose the amount of persons I have since witnessed has caused me to feel overwhelmed and question what I really know about poverty. It is no secret that many people here live below the bread line in subpar conditions, such as no running water or proper sanitation, it is quite the norm. I believe this ‘norm’ has been a bit of a culture shock to me.

On another note, another shocking feature of this foreign land is the mannerly nature of the Filipino people. They speak Filipino, which is the official language. However I have since learnt that it is based on Tagalog which is the non-standardized form. This is of the Austronesian language tree which is one of the worlds primary language families. It is also related to Malay and Javanese. The word Tagalog means river dweller. The first time you speak to someone you may be greeted with a gentle tone, expressing words of kindness and an overall sincere disposition. It never gets old, as I find myself very comfortable and at ease living in a society with such great values. They often interchange Tagalog and English while speaking and sometimes add Po, to the sentence to express respect. You will often hear, Hello Po, or Thank you Po when you enter a store or make a purchase.

The word Utopia literally means ‘no place’ or non-existent which lends to the idea that no country is without its ills. The Philippines is no different as the good and the bad are both sides of the same coin. One can get lost looking at the never ending details in Metro Manila as life goes on as it always has, crowded, many families, children playing and people intermingling at every turn. I once asked a taxi driver if there is ever calm in Manila, to which he replied, ‘…only when Manny Pacquiao is fighting, everyone stays indoors to look at him fight.’

I will continue to spend time in Manila for the foreseeable future as my partner and I have somewhat taken root here. Manila has all the perks of big city living yet it has a certain charm and air of casual living that I recognize and cling to in memory of my island heritage.

My first post

Hi there, my name is Naomi and I am from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. I think I would firstly describe myself as ‘a jack of all trades’ and a master of one since I actually have a masters degree in a field of study. I like that phrase because it describes my varied interest in so many things that I have only scratched the surface, yet I adore. I like to think of myself as the sum of the things I love in life. I am a humanitarian at heart, an artist, a teacher by profession and a lover of animals and all things in nature. These are just a few things that make me who I am. In my free time I play as much video games as I can possibly get away with. I will go on to reveal myself bit by bit later on this blog.

My identity, in the grand scheme of things is one shrouded in mystery as I am aware that not many people can pinpoint my country on the world map. I am sometimes obligated to say that I am from ‘an island in the Caribbean’ or ‘close to Venezuela.’ Trinidad and Tobago are two islands we call a Twin Island Republic. It sounds like something out of Star Wars now that I think about it. Extensive ever-green tropical rain-forests cover large expanses of mountain ranges bordering the surrounding cities. If you were to imagine a relatively developed country, the type without many high-rise buildings, but highways linking the north, south and central communities then you might begin to have an idea what Trinidad is like. I suppose Google can also provide you with a good idea. The capital city, Port- Of-Spain is located in northern Trinidad. We have a Pitch Lake which is the world’s largest natural deposit of asphalt, some endearingly call it the eighth wonder of the world.

In my opinion, Tobago is synonymous with quiet country livin’ and beach life. It’s an escape from Trinidad’s bustling traffic and daily hustle. I instantly think of rest and relaxation and the possibility of seeing some beautiful reef-fish when I go diving. I am currently sitting here at my desk thinking about the all the delicious crab and dumpling meals I have eaten at Store Bay beach in times gone by. What I love most about Tobago is its size. It’s not too big nor too small. You can get a good day’s drive by visiting far off beaches such as Castara or Englishman’s Bay yet one can be within proximity to everything happening by staying close to the airport. It makes for a good vacation since you can see all the sites in ample time or just laze on the beach all day. It all depends on your mood. I think simplicity is at the heart of its charm.

The Caribbean sounds exotic and I imagine it can be strange to encounter a mixed-race person like myself when many people have no preconceived notion of what Caribbean people ought to look like. In Europe, I have noticed that many people equate the Caribbean to that of French influence and so, I must be a French speaker. It makes for interesting conversation as I try to recall my Form 1 history, to explain that while my country has also been colonized by the French, it was the ultimately the English who colonized it leading up to the abolition of slavery and our Independence more than one hundred years later.

On another note, I have come to avoid saying that my island is close to Venezuela due to an event that stuck in my mind. One day, I entered a ceramics class in Sevilla, a city in the south of Spain and told the women where I came from. I said, “Una isla cerca Venezuela” to which they replied and began lamenting, “Una pena que ha pasado alli…” which was an expression of pity as they began to think and talk about the current political instability in Venezuela. While the spotlight was off of me for a second, for which I was relieved, I realized at that moment that maybe I needed to stop introducing myself and my island in this way because it made people pensive and sometimes sad.

After a couple years living in Spain, I moved on to untapped territory at the end of 2019, Asia. The Philippines is currently my home. I had plans to move to Asia even before I had even gone to Spain but I thought of Asia as sort of ‘The Final Frontier’ since the flight time was easily fifteen plus hours. But recently, I felt as if I had enough experience under my belt and was capable of venturing further into the unknown by myself. I often likened myself to none other than Bilbo Baggins, one of my childhood heroes, a wee Hobbit who left the comforts of home behind and successfully navigated Middle Earth. He escaped unscathed for the most part and lived to tell amazing tales. I always thought of him when getting ready to go on a journey to a distant land.

The process of moving abroad is one of careful planning and endless errands. I think about the current moment and how it might change when I return. The idea of leaving my dogs behind hurts the most since they don’t get to live very long. They bring me so much joy, I often wonder if they understand that I love them unconditionally and wish they could be with me always. Another difficult part in the process is packing your ‘most valuable’ things into one suitcase. I have learnt that word ‘valuable’ sometimes means an old tee-shirt, the one with a lot of memories, to make me feel like myself when everything else is strange.

While I am aware that this introduction has not focused exactly on who I am, I hope that the collection of experiences I plan to write about will allow you, the reader to get to know who I am and also read about topics that might be of interest to you. I feel as if I have said enough for a first post as I just want to keep writing without end. Thanks for reading my first post. Have a great day.

By NaomiNoble Jan 12, 2020