2.00 in the morning, exactly two hours before departure, the whole crew checks into the briefing room. Most of the passengers on today’s flight are those transferring from American and European flights (Filipinos living abroad come home for a short vacations). Purser – sympathetic Filipino about 50 years old, checks the system, if our passengers on today’s flight took part in any incident on connecting flights.
– We have four passengers on 21 Delta, Echo, Fox, Golf, from which on a previous flight was taken their own alcohol (consuming own alcohol on ours flights is prohibited). So keep your eye on them if they try again to drink their own drinks and whether they are drunk.
Out of curiosity I asked from which flight they’re coming and what nationality.
– Warsaw – Dubai. Polish.
Flight full of excitements
Headphones and blankets spread out on all seats. Pre-flight security check done. We’re ready for passengers. Boarding begins. After the hundredth time of saying alternately welcome / good morning, I spot Polish passport!
– Dzień dobry! – I throw so happy that I have compatriots on board.
– Dzień dobry – replied, as I later learned, Jola.
Much less happily, as though sullenly replied Jola’s husband. I took a quick look at the seat numbers – 21 D, E, F, G, and soon I realize that here were “main characters” of our briefing :)
¬- Mr. Daniel, we thought that the this airline is so exclusive and in general the best but on the flight from Warsaw they took from us whole alcohol! Now our throats are terribly dry! – With pain written on his face states Tomek.
– Unfortunately, we have a policy “no drinking of own alcohol on board” – I answer honestly. But I assure you that there is no need of coming with your own supply on board, because we have plenty of good spirits, liquors and wines, so how can I help you?
By a pleasant but a slightly pleading tone was presented to me a wish list, which I quickly fulfilled with a few things extra. And in the rest of the flight I made sure to take good care of entertainment group of four friends from Łódź. Well, you have to take care of your homies :)
Night flights are definitely the hardest part of out job. However, the Polish group, and in the meantime a fight on board between a young Filipino and an aging German who apparently misunderstood their intentions as to the nature of this short acquaintance, made that I didn’t have time to get bored.
Public transport in its own right
Through the portal couchsurfing.com I was able to meet with a local guy to together explore the city. Paolo pointed the place where we were about to meet and instructed me how to get there. Just 5 train stations. No problem!
Due to the fact that Manila is the most populous city in the world (43,000 people per square km!), we agreed to catch up before the sunset when the traffic jams hadn’t started yet. 5.20 in the morning. I’m going to the station. Through the small window I asked nice lady for train ticket.
– Trains don’t work yet – with regret in voice states cashier.
– So when they start to run? ¬I ask quietly, thinking that most probably from 5.30 am. Paolo wouldn’t direct me to the train, knowing that they don’t run so early though.
¬ I don’t know ¬ answers with even greater regret nice Filipina.
Utterly baffled, I leave the station and on the recommendation of the cashier I go to the bus. But if you imagine illuminated bus stop (outside is still dark), where will be schedule of all the lines with the list of stops, it’s nothing like that whatsoever. This isn’t Europe.
I’m walking next to the huge four-lane road in search of some sign claiming that in this particular place is the bus stop. Although the sun hasn’t risen yet, around me there’s already buzz and roar of hundreds of vehicles. After a few minutes I realize that the locals catch buses by movement of their hand, like a taxi. And the buses stops as the passenger whishes. So did I. And I managed! I made it to meet Paolo!
Spanish enclave in the middle of the Asian metropolis
For the beginning we went to the only place in town that from the tourist point of view, seems attractive – to Intramuros.
When in the XVI century the Spaniards by winning with the Tagalog Tribe, conquered Philippines which took the name of the King of Spain – Philip II of Habsburg, was here that they founded the capital and heavily fortified it. Intramuros simply means “within the walls”.
Spanish domination lasted until 1898. When the anti-Spanish uprising broke out with strong support of Americans who from that moment took control of the islands.
Today, about the Spanish past, reminds not only the architecture that makes an impression as if we were somewhere on the Iberian Peninsula, but also many Spanish words that are part of today’s Filipino language. Names and surnames as it were transferred from the homeland of Cervantes and religion – Catholicism. The Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia. More than 90% of the 101.5 million people living in the Philippines are followers of Jesus Christ.
The living cemetery
Next place where I wanted to go definitely wouldn’t fit to any tourist map. Together with Paolo we visited the local cemetery – Manila North Cemetery. You’re probably wondering from where such a idea?
Cemeteries in the Philippines in no way resemble those in Europe, where we see rows of tombstones, set like a ruler, separated by the green lanes. Here dominate the crypts, like big houses. Inside of the burial sites in addition to all family members are kitchens, running water, and even air conditioning.
From where was taken idea to remodel the crypt into something apartment – like? Once a year, on the All Saint’s Day, to the crypt comes whole family to remember and pray for their ancestors. In the same time, they can meet family members who throughout the whole year they don’t have opportunity to see. So it’s just a chance for a family reunion. And so in the crypts you can sit at the table, in the air conditioned room and enjoy meals prepared in the kitchenette.
However, the cemetery doesn’t come to life only once a year but lives every day. In the abandoned crypts, and among them are people who can’t afford their own housing, medical care, school for the children and many other things necessary from our perspective.
I walk through the streets reminiscent of some small town, around me running barefoot, dirty and gap-toothed kids again and again asking me. But not for money or sweets, just what’s my name, from where I come from etc. They ask the question and immediately afterwards as if ashamed, hiding :)
The whole picture of this place might just be sad. Especially now when I write these words. But it’s not. It’s because of these kids who for good stayed in my memory. Happy because unaware of how other children from wealthier families lives, looking at me with fascination and curiosity in their eyes and a smile from ear to ear.
Only a transit point
The Philippines is a beautiful country. Although its capital is usually treated by travelers only as a interchange point. If you’ll ever visit the country, I would recommend… to treat Manila in the exactly same way. As a transit point between the paradise points scattered around the map of the state.
The city doesn’t impress gently said. It’s extremely congested, dirty with chaotic buildings. Road signs aren’t a law, but merely a suggestion, so pedestrian here is an unwanted necessity. In one word metropolis of South – East Asia at full speed.
The only plus of this city, are its residents. Kind and helpful Filipinos, which, among others, best example gave Paolo, coming to see me straight after a night shift. Rather than go for a well deserved rest, he drove my ass all over the city patiently answering to hundreds of my questions. Thanks Paolo and till the next time! :)
Short reportage from Manila you can watch here: