Newbie observations of Manila…

I bet this list will grow much longer after a few weeks and months here.  But these are the few observations a newbie like me have noticed so far.

-For a big city, Manila is lacking on garbage cans.  Having lived in Rio de Janeiro, NYC, DC (and its outskirts), I’m used to a garbage can every block or so.  Here?  I walk around holding my garbage for blocks before finding a place to dispose of it (my mom taught me right – I cannot throw garbage just anywhere).  Even at the compound we’re staying, I have found only 2 garbage cans outside in the whole place!  Every time Lily poops I’m holding on to it for the whole walk, then have to go out of my way to throw it out.

-This one I even posted about on my facebook, and my Filipino friends in the US had a laugh about it…  When you go out to eat, you get a fork and a spoon.  No knife.  The spoon?  It is used instead of a knife.  It’s the weirdest thing!

-Reading post reports on Manila, you hear over an over how it has a huge expat community.  So I was expecting to, uhm, see other white (or black) people out there.  But nope, everyone is Asian.  At the Mall of Asia, which was packed with people, I can count in one hand how many white people I saw during my hours there.  The most I’ve seen was at the Saturday market in Makati.

-Which brings me to my other point, not specific to Manila, mind you, but more specific to me, the girl who had only been to North America, South America and Europe before coming to Asia.  In Brazil?  I look Brazilian.  In the US?  I look American.  In Europe?  I look European.  I always blend in everywhere I go.  But in Asia?  I just look like “I’m not from here.”  It’s a bit odd knowing that EVERYONE knows you’re not native.  And the assumption?  Is that I’m American.  (The few times I said “I’m Brazilian” I was not understood.)

-English is a lot less understood here than we were made to believe.  This is a non-language designated post, because everyone in the Philippines speaks English, right?  WRONG!  We have to repeat things over and over, speak slowly and use hand gestures to be understood, and sometimes they still have no clue what we’re saying (and we either give up, or ask someone else).  I better learn some Tagalog STAT!

-I was warned about this, but it is still a shock to see it:  OLD white men with YOUNG Filipinas.  When you do see a white person (outside of the US Embassy environment), it’s usually a white guy 50+ years old with a young Filipina girl (who looks like a teenager, but I do understand they might be a tad older, seeing that all my Asian friends looks about 10 years younger than they are).  It’s totally creepy.  I think it’s from the basic assumption here:  if you are white you have money.  (I wish!)

-EVERYWHERE is crowded.  EVERYWHERE.  The streets, sidewalks, malls.  I knew it was going to be crowded.  Again, I lived in NYC, for gods sake.  But here?  Way worse than anywhere else I’ve seen or expected.  Just so many people!  Everywhere!

I bet I’m missing more!  Anyone who has lived in or visited Manila have any other things to add?


Filed under Foreign Service, Manila

13 responses to “Newbie observations of Manila…

  1. Jessica (Lindsey Mae's Blog)

    You need to come to my neighborhood for a day. It’s a whole different world. 🙂

  2. I visited Manila from Beijing a few years ago, and my observation (perhaps related to your point number six above re: old white guys with young girls), as catalogued in my then-blog, was as follows:

    The pimps and prostitutes in Manila are aggressive, and I was approached by a woman at 7 in the morning who offered me a beautiful lady. “I don’t want a beautiful lady,” I told her quite honestly. “Oh,” she said, pausing to think it over. “Maybe you want ugly lady? Yes, very ugly, I can get for you.”

    Take care,
    (A fellow foreign service blogger, currently in western Afghanistan —

    • That is HILARIOUS!!! Maybe awkward for you, but really funny now!

      Caroline, one of Karl’s coworkers posted here (the Scottish/American one) is dying to go to Afghanistan. She lived years in the middle east, and it’s her goal to go back. I’ll tell her to take a look at your blog too!

  3. Al

    Garbage cans (tins)= money! They steal it. Try to notice Manila’s bridges, railing are often missing. Anything that is recyclable is money. People here don’t recycle because they want to, they do it with a price. Frustrating eh?

    Spoon=rice. People here eats rice 100 times than Americans. If there is a rice shortage, panic will step in.

    Yup, White men = green paper.

    Love your blog! keeps me entertained 🙂

    • I don’t know about your garbage comment… In the US, the cans are attached to the sidewalk with concrete — they are not movable. In Brazil, we have small plastic garbage cans attached to light poles, and on the beach, bigger ones every 100 feet or so, but also made of plastic. Heck, if they are afraid of people stealing it, making big blocks of concrete to function as garbage cans would be the solution (I’ve seen it done before!).

      The spoon = rice ALSO is not a convincing argument! We eat rice in Brazil too with EVERY meal (rice and beans is a staple), and we use fork & knife, only using spoons for desserts, when eating soup, or with spaghetti. That’s how I put my rice on the fork — with the help of a knife!

      Now the old creepy white men thing is just gross 😦

      • Al

        Haha as for the garbage. I believe I saw garbage cans before here in Pasay when I was small. They were attached to the ground and after how many weeks you can see them vanish one by one. They also steal the steel that surrounds them 🙂

        Sometimes our electricity or phone lines were cut off because those thieves stole them. sheesh!

        Yup maybe the spoon is our way of how we eat here. Give me a fork to eat rice I’d rather eat them with chopsticks or with my fingers 🙂 Can’t get no satisfaction eating rice with fork 🙂

        We us forks here to push the rice unto the spoon 🙂 we use them to eat cake and to scratch our back HAHA (the last one I just made it up) 🙂

        You guys eat spaghetti with spoon…Now that’s ODD!

        • You eat spaghetti with a fork, but use the spoon to help “roll” the spaghetti into the fork. Basically you get some with the fork, lean the base of the fork against the spoon, and roll the fork, that way the spaghetti will stay in the fork. (And that’s normal eating spaghetti way!)

          I think my making garbage cans out of concrete idea is great! Too heavy to steal and not worth it! Now let’s implement that in Manila! 🙂

          • al

            Oh yes i totally forgot thats how to eat spaghetti haha. Since i seldom eat that and when I do, I eat at jollibee or mcdonalds and they serve it only with a fork.

            Great idea with the grabage cans! i hope it can be implemented. And people throwing garbage out of their cars….just want to cut their arms off!

            I just came from SM MOA this evening and guess what? It looks like it will resemble with you forever in my head.

  4. rick

    Hello! I found your blog when I was searching about Mall of Asia. Anyways, I find your observation above interesting and can’t help to comment. I’m a Filipino and lived in Manila for a while.

    On regards to the spoon, it’s not because of rice but because of the nature of Filipino dishes. A lot of Filipino dishes are soup base or have sauce in them (ex. tinola, sinigang and even the (in)famous adobo). Filipinos add that soup/sauce to their rice thus making it harder to eat using fork. Spoon makes eating faster and easier. In formal setting and upscale restaurants though, they should provide knife, spoon and fork when you dine. If they don’t, then they’re just forgetting their manners.

    As for the garbage cans, I do agree with that! Although people steal tin cans (heck they even steal electric wires), a lot of places do have plenty of garbage cans it just depends on what city and area you are in.

    There was a time when Filipinos boast that we’re the 3rd largest English speaking nation in the whole. I blame our politicians for enforcing a law that (except for English, Math and Science subjects) converted all medium of instruction in school from English to Filipino that resulted in what we now call “Carabao English”. Add to that, a former President suggested that it’s not being nationalistic if you speak English just because he can’t speak the language fluently.

    It is really gross to see a dirty old white man accompanied by a young female. That, I believe, dates backs when Clark and Subic Military Bases was still around. Unfortunately, along with Thailand, Philippines became the destination for creepy old guys looking for young wives. Wanting to escape the poverty they are in, these women marry these creeps.

    If you haven’t notice yet, because of your Caucasian looks, people will be staring at you when you go out, particularly when you go to the slums. They are not being rude, they’re just curious why you’re on that area.

    But in all, I do hope you enjoy your stay in Manila.

    • The soupy rice makes a lot more sense! And as for fancy restaurants, we haven’t eaten at fancy places yet (why spend so much money when you can eat much cheaper and have just as yummy food?).

      Even in the Greenbelt Mall I didn’t encounter many garbage cans. Just a few here and there. Way less than what I’m used to, but at least there are garbage cans there (even recycling bins!). It also shocked me to see a taxi driver just opening his window and throwing a plastic bag out of the window!

      People do stare sometimes, but since I don’t stare at them, I don’t notice as much 🙂

      I am really enjoying my stay here so far! I have a feeling 2 years will fly by!

  5. Interesting post. I especially found the comments interesting too!

    I immediately thought of London when you mentioned the garbage can thing. I remember thinking there were not many cans there. I wonder if it’s for the same reason?

    • I don’t know… London doesn’t have nearly as many poor people as here… I think it’s just poor city planning (and that includes for Manila too — there are ways around it if people steal it — concrete garbage cans attached to the sidewalk would solve that problem…)

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