Monday, March 26, 2007

In Manila

Dear Aussie,

When you come from a city like Manila, living in your country can be quite a culture shock in that there is no 'shock.' I have been here three months and so far, every day is predictable. Watching the evening news, there doesn't seem to be anything mildly approaching the kinds of headlines we have back home. You report about petty crimes, the water shortage and Howard's foreign policy, usually in conjunction with the US in Iraq. You talk about Aussies who die of plane accidents or are incarcerated overseas. In talk shows, you complain about a 'nanny state' interfering in your individual lives. For chrissakes, at least the state takes care of you, so you can lead boring, predictable lives. I understand that despite the government's lip service towards multiculturalism, there have been racially-motivated problems. There was that Cronulla beach incident involving some migrant Lebanese a couple of years back.

Well, in any case, how do I describe what its like back home? And why my friend and fellow scholar Niña over in Sydney feels that city is 'dead'?

If you like doing extreme sports, i.e. jumping out of planes and such, then it may be the city for you! See, Manila is an adrenaline rush. Manila is a mini-portrait of the world, where the extremely rich and the extremely poor breathe the same polluted air. You're likely to see the latest BMW model cruise the same streets as begging children. Manila is a city of 11 to 12 million cramped into a teeny-tiny space. So cramped, its difficult not to see people at any given time of day. It is 'lively' in that aside from conventional entertainment that can be had that suits virtually any budget, there is always an element of 'danger.' A thinly disguised feeling that every day, the tectonic plates making up the fabric of your society are shifting underneath your very feet.

At any time bombs can go off somewhere. At any time fires can break out and you'll be witness to official, if under-equipped, firefighters, volunteer Chinese firefighters and the local tambays all help put them out. The smell of acrid smoke mix with the hushed expectation of the curious crowd. And it is colorful and noisy and strangely gay. At any time the military can launch a coup and you'll have tanks rolling down the avenue. At any time, masses of people and their colorful flags and banners can roll along with them. Some people pay for that kind of rush. In Manila there is no feeling of anomie, as here, of leading purposeless lives, of at times fruitless pursuits. Here you report about world hunger and poverty and terrorism. In Manila, we live it.

I suppose, the difference is, the world is more tangible from where I come from. Here, on your vast island-continent, oceans hold the rest of the world at bay. And so the rest of the world is painfully unfamiliar and foreign and different. Back home, if you want the latest in fads and fashion, then you'll wear it. You want the latest toys and gadgets, you'll get it. You want to see movies before they even come out in cinemas in the US you'll see them. You want foreign art house films, you can get them. You want obscure second-had books, you'll read them. You want expensive gourmet cuisine or more 'exotic' fare, then you'll eat them. You want to feel alive from the top of your blond head to the tips of your tanned toes? Move to Manila. I promise you, its better than the best roller coaster ride.



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