For me, one of the main reasons I love traveling is to experience different cultures. Well let me tell you, Manila epitomizes this. The city is comprised of 17 districts and 14 million people. The majority are devout Catholics who do not believe in birth control, thus the reason for the population. FYI-there is no divorce in the Philippines. I believe that the tour guide makes the entire experience when visiting any foreign city. Lucky for us we had probably the best of the three who led the tour we chose.
We left the ship in a convoy of three buses, escorted in the front and rear by motorcycle police. We would never have navigated the city without them; they stopped traffic, weaved us through the lanes of traffic and we never stopped for traffic lights. If not for the police, we would have spent our entire 8 hours in traffic. It was truly unimaginable…quite similar to Viet Nam traffic. Although there were lines painted on the streets designating lanes, no one paid attention to them, so what should have been three lanes became five. Add in motor bikes, bicycles and people darting on foot, plus everyone honking their horns and I am sure you get the picture.
I really enjoyed this tour. We learned a great deal about the history of the Philippines and the culture. We visited the American Military Cemetery…quite impressive. We saw the area where the working class citizens live, millionaire row where the elite live; we visited the old walled city and saw the new area including where Imelda Marcos lives. There is an area in the new city area with massive high rise office buildings which house the call centers for all of our U.S. Company customer service. It was explained that they are lit from top to bottom during night time hours, to coincide with the business hours of the U.S. (12 hr difference). There are very few true Filipinos; most are either of Spanish or Chinese descent. It was interesting to find out that English is the official language.
Ok, I will touch only on one part of the tour…the part I found most interesting!! We went to this Chinese cemetery. These mausoleums are like apartments. The fronts have gates; many have glass behind the gates. In the center room are the above ground vaults containing the remains of loved ones and most have pictures of the deceased hanging above. There are small rooms on either side…usually a kitchen and a bathroom. Yes, they are like apartments even with running water and toilets. The families take a 25 year lease. After the lease is up, if the family no longer wants it, they move gramma and grampa out and another family moves in. Families usually go there at least twice a month to spend the weekend and eat and sleep there. Since it is now so close to All Souls Day everyone was preparing and each mausoleum was decorated with flowers plus all sorts of food offerings. There are even food stands in the cemetery selling hamburgers, etc. It was like a little city. I was so enthralled with this strange tradition.