The luxury of height

28 04 2015

As an average sized guy I relish the opportunity to look over people. Feeling dwarfed pretty much whatever European country I travel to, including feeling like an ant in The Netherlands! Actually people are freakishly tall in Holland. Like they were fed a steady diet of Human Growth Hormone and stretched on a Medieval torture rack tall. My 5’8″/175cm is challenged by their insane height.

Yet when visiting the sprawling and deprived metropolis of Manila in the Philippines, height takes on a different meaning. Height abstracts you from the heat and dirt, unpleasant smells and removes you from those sights such as people sleeping under cardboard.

Height gives a feeling of luxury. Cast almost Godlike, these hotels of glass and steel tower above the middern. Five star luxury in a land of zero star poverty. Sipping my beer in the open air bar, listening to the cacophony of noise…it’s worlds apart,

My last visit to Manila gave me a clear view of the ‘Have’s’ and ‘Have Not’s’. Roughly one year later I would like to annouce that change is rapid and prevalent. Sadly that is not the case. Accosted by pimps and prostitutes, eyed up by thieves and with deperate looking children.begging for money – I dare not venture out of my luxury prison at night alone, although I would love to see the underbelly of this city.

Words jumped into my head during breakfast. A poetic moment of clarity.

Gazing out from the 21st floor, I thought :-  From great heights the poverty of mankind appears invisible

Never a truer word spoken.

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The Have’s & Have Not’s – Manila

2 07 2014

Three meetings/tasks, three Asian countries. Sounds easy when you let it roll off your tongue doesn’t it? However, three very diverse Asian countries. Each in very differing states of development and economic make up. Each with a very different political system. Each with their own unique issues and humanitarian problems.

The first destination on the agenda was Manila, the city of many millions. Squeezed into some of the most densely populated areas of the world and bathed by almost equatorial sun. This city of 12 million rub shoulders against each other. Massive amounts of vehicles belching noxious fumes into the hot and fetid air, challenge each other for millimeters of space on the small roads. All driven with equal impunity and an average speed of 1km per hour, as the rules of the road only matter when a cop is present. Then there are the ‘Jeepney’s’ – the public transport backbone of the Philippines. These aged leviathans of a far gone age, grumble along the packed streets stopping indiscriminately to let passengers on and off. They resemble a prison van, except for a major difference. Each Jeepney is customized by the owner. Typically adorned with religious phrases, and normally chromed metal or rust/yellow they provide a colourful backdrop against the drab concrete.

The hotel ‘Diamond Manila’ overlooking Manila Bay was our refuge for the week. A delightfully opulent retreat, once the security guards have swept the underside of the car for bombs. Once you have got past the bomb sniffing dog. Once you have gone through the metal detector, it’s truly a delight. Amazing food and wonderful service made this a wonderful experience. Yet each time my eyes fall outside the window, past the jungle effect swimming pool and pool attendants a desperate scene awaits.

It was once a bulding. Overtaken by primary jungle, guarded by killer chickens was a ‘camp’. A group of people lived there, walking around in flip flops and dirty clothing. Thinner than concentration camp survivors they were cooking over a wood fire and sorting through rubbish. This was the 1850’s in the 2000’s. Viewed through my microscope it was an awful reminder of the massive poverty issue that was so evident here, even in my guilded cage. Yet it wasn’t just in my goldfish bowl view, it was everywhere you looked. Everywhere you walked or drove extremely thin and malnourished people were sleeping over cardboard on the street. I recall one guy leading a child across the busy street. Sunken eyes looked at me in the taxi. I recognized the look emanating from him – the look of death. Even my colleague remarked upon this poor guy, he didn’t have long before he shuffled off this mortal coil.

Another thing I noticed was the weapons everywhere. Surly looking guards with pistols on their hips in shopping centres. Equally surly looking guards outside banks holding pump action shotguns. More scary than the guns were the guards. I have done some shooting and I really doubt that these guys would know how to shoot, assuming that the guns are loaded. If they start shooting, I run towards the bad guys. It’s probably safer compared to taking shelter near the Filipino Storm Troopers!

Manila was a strange place indeed. I had been warned about the crime, poverty and risk of kidnapping. However the reality was this is a megapolis with real issues. Filled with hard working people who try their best to improve their situation. Yet they do it with a smile and make it work. I had to admire their spirit, working in a  crowded and dirty environment.

I felt like an white alien in this offworld landscape. Even though I had some great times with colleagues there, it’s not a place I will be rushing back to see.








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