Friday, December 5, 2008

Contrasting Makati-Corregidor, first jeepney ride

It’s Friday morning and 28 degrees out. Sounds cold until you realize that’s about 82 back home. Seriously, when we returned to Corregidor yesterday it was so windy that sitting down for lunch at the MacArthur Café was a bit chilly. The locals can’t agree if we’ve made the switch to dry season, but in any case it is very windy most of the time. Two years ago a rare early December typhoon ravaged Corregidor and metro Manila.

What a contrast returning to the island. Last night we ate with Ron and Gilbert in back of the row houses. Gilbert cooked over open flames, and at one point a family of monkeys jumped from one tree to another only 30 feet away. First the father monkey, whose body was about as big as a beagle, then four of their average size monkeys, large cat-sized, and finally a youngster, about the size of a large squirrel, who walked out on the branch and hesitated before making the plunge. As each one jumped the branch on the receiving side bent and then flung back, and the monkey disappeared. The whole process lasted about two minutes. Cheap entertainment.

The night before, we ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant with Brian and Leslie. The four of us were the only diners, so service was great, as was the food. As we were leaving, another group entered, so maybe we were just earlier than the usual customers. We were technically in Taguig, which is near Makati. Apartments in the nearby high-rises go for up to one million dollars. This is amazing in a country where the minimum wage is 260 pesos a day, or a little over $5.00, and many Filipinos subsist on far less than that. The contrast between the “haves” and the “have nots” here is startling. If you only walked around the malls and stores in Makati, you would think that the Philippines is a very rich place indeed.

Tuesday evening Marcia attended the American Chamber of Commerce Christmas gathering with Leslie. A choir of 10-12 year old children sang several songs for them, a very energetic and talented bunch. It was a pleasant time, meeting a number of people and sharing about our decision to come to the Philippines, while enjoying good food and wine.

We were in Makati, among other things, to replace our cell phones. Here most people use pre-paid calling cards, which provide text messages for 1 peso each and calls for 6.5 pesos per minute. Incoming calls are always free. When you walk down the street, every other person, even the obviously rich businessman, is either reading or composing a text message.

Anyway, we asked Leslie where we might get the best deal on cell phones. We were interested in simple and cheap, as we have become texters ourselves, and don’t need the built in camera which adds so much to the price. She asked around and found that a particular mall called Makati Cinema Square sold used phones. We were able to buy simple identical used Nokia cell phones for $24 each. Here all you do is transfer your SIM card from one phone to the next and you’re off and running. Amazing.

Later we decided to buy an extra battery to have on hand in case either of us needed one on the spur of the moment. We had been doing a lot of walking and were probably two miles from that mall, so we decided to take a taxi. Taxies are incredibly cheap here as long as you make sure they have a working meter; otherwise the driver will invariably try to take advantage, knowing that Americans are unlikely to know usual fares. We told the driver we wanted to go to the Makati Cinema Square and he was clueless. We got him going in the right direction but then he took a right turn where we knew he should have gone left, and after that, we were all lost. When he pulled into a gas station we paid him the fare (about a dollar) and got out.

Now we were at a loss for sense of direction. The mall was not far away, but we did not know which way to walk. We asked a man where the mall was, and he pointed in a direction we thought was wrong, so we asked another man who pointed in another direction just as confidently. We started in the direction we thought most likely right, and ended up walking down a street that was more like an alley. It didn’t seem the safest place for two Americans to be walking, but no one bothered us. Finally we asked a man at a fruit stand and he told us to get on the jeepney across the street. Since its route included Mantrade, it would pass by the mall. So we hopped aboard the jeepney, hoping he knew what he was talking about.

We were the first two aboard, riding who knows where, with a driver and assistant whose English seemed to be limited to the word Mantrade, which the assistant shouted every time we stopped, which was about once every car length. We later found out that Mantrade is short for Manila Trading Center, a big building that has since been converted to something else but kept the nickname.

Soon a couple got on the bus, and told us we were on a jeepney headed to Makati Center and Mantrade. They didn’t know if Makati Center and Makati Cinema Square (Cinema stands for all the DVDs that are for sale there, many of them pirated) were the same. But then a couple of women got on and assured us that we were indeed headed to the right place.

Meanwhile, we were moving extremely slowly through rush hour traffic. A car behind us honked every time we stopped, like our driver had any choice. In fact, horns were going off all over the place, even though we were all in the same traffic jam. Marcia was starting to get an upset stomach, since we were sitting in the back, facing each other, in open air and inhaling exhaust at unpleasant levels. Eventually passengers started passing their fares forward, 8 pesos (16 cents) each, to the driver’s assistant.

As we approached our destination, all of a sudden our jeepney speeded up. It seems that there was an opening in traffic. There was, but it was in the oncoming lane. No matter, the lane was temporarily open and now it was ours, so look out anyone coming the other way. Suddenly we stopped, and there to our left was the mall we were looking for. One of the two women told the driver we wanted to get out there, as did she. The three of us quickly jumped out and crossed the other lane of oncoming traffic. We walked into the mall, passing store after store of videos and cell phones, bought our battery, and walked back to our hosts’ apartment.

To see all of the Makati photos, go to:

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