I made the flight! I'm stunned - I was sure I wouldn't even be close. This Cebu Pacific flight was from the 'budget' terminal - bright, light and ful of filipinas returning home from work as maids etc from Singapore. There's actually quite a large filipino community in Singapore; the mall on Orchard Road where I bought my air tickets was full of stalls selling filiipino foodstuffs, movies and other stuff from home.
I slept the entire flight out to Manila, waking up once to the sound of the stewardesses singing to everyone. Yes there was a competition - three stewardesses, three songs and three winners - those passengers who were first able to guess the song. There was also a 'raffle', with three lucky winners selected by randomly picking a seat number out of a bag. What an absolute total delight! A human touch where normally you get an amorphous lump of mewling passengers prodded into obedience by scowling warders. American Airlines (whose cabin staff are morose), British Airways (governesses) and Continental (Con Air) could all lean a trick or two from these sweet, smiling, staff.
Landed some time in the afternoon, grabbed a cab into town and checked in to the hotel Jude Defensor had proposed for me - the Riviera Hotel in Malate. I called him on arrival and said though the price was great (1,700 pesos) the place wasn't, so the alternative he had proposed would be a good idea.
Jude came by, and this was the first time I had met the Expat editor, the magazine in which my article on security had been printed. After the usual introductions we went up two buildings and checked out the Executive Hotel. At 2,500 pesos a night it was perfectly acceptable.
From there Jude acted as guide to Manila for me. This is the first time I've walked in the capital of the Philippines; the first time I was physically here I just 'overnighted' in a hotel near the airport, so I saw nothing of the city itself, except by air.
We walked up the seafront promenade, past the US Embassy in its high profile location on the bay, through the park with its fountains and outdoor theater where young ballerinas were pirouetting to the music of Mozart, past the old Senate building and the shell of a building the Queen of Spain had, many years ago, funded for its restoration.
By now it was dark. We kept on walking, over a bridge into Chinatown, through a gate in the glowering walls of Intramuros, the old Spanish heart of Manila with buildings are sisters to the buildings I remember from Mexico.
In the much cracked and as many times repaired church a wedding is being celebrated, the whole family in white and with cockades of flowers. From here on in the streets appear cracked, the buildings shuttured, the atmosphere one of abandonment. Think what could be done to revive such as place - made into a tourist attraction, a Bohemian quarter, with arts and night life and street shows that make a place live. Not here - people want the modern luxuries of malls, air conditioning and boxy apartments that sell for twice the value in two years.
We wandered back up streets that I had no idea were, stopped at a bright, formica tabled restaurant for a delicious bowl of beef stew, then back through Malate to the hotel.
Later in the evening Jude came by again to invite me to a party he had been invited to, not far from the hotel. Great fun! Locals, plus guys from Spain working for an NGO, a woman from Angola, some Dutch, an American and an Indian who looked like a guru. The noise roared on and the rum was too soon gone.... The view from the apartment looked over one section of the district that still had the old, two story Chines style houses, infinitely preferable to the anonymous concrete towers that dominate the city.
Eventually wandered back to the hotel and crashed out (I'm always doing that, huh?)