Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Eli, Taxi drivers in Metro Manila, Back on the Rock

While in Leyte for the 65th Anniversary celebrations, twice Marcia heard Filipinos refer to her in reference to Ambassador Kristie Kenney. The first was after the events on the morning of the 20th. Two security men were speaking together in rapid Tagalog, so she couldn’t tell if they were saying she resembles the ambassador, or wondering if she might be related to her. On Wednesday, as we were exiting the bus at the airport for our return to Manila, she heard several Filipinas call out, “Safe flight, Ambassador Kenney!” It certainly seemed that they were sincere, although Marcia did not stop to ask them. With Marcia’s hair cut in a similar style, and having similar height and facial bone structure, it’s not surprising that some Filipinos make the mistaken connection. We’ve included a group picture which contains the two of them for your comparison.

We had made plans to spend Thursday and Friday in Makati following the tour, to renew our medical insurance and visas for the next year. It was much speedier than the initial application routines a year ago, with both completed by lunchtime Thursday. That left time for some other lower priority errands in the afternoon, and a relaxed day Friday. We discovered a free wireless internet station right across the street from our hotel, so we took advantage of it for software upgrades, a bit of browsing, and email at a much higher speed than on Corregidor.

An email friend had wanted to meet us when we were in Metro Manila, so we arranged to have lunch together Friday. Eli was already at the restaurant when we approached, and came to greet us. Since we have sent photos of ourselves with our emails, he had the advantage of knowing our faces – and Steve’s height, which really stands out here. It was a pleasure to visit face-to-face, and learn a little more about one another. He was so excited to meet us that we told him he might be our #1 fan! He presented us with several gifts, including books and cell phone reload cards. Eli often sends us comments about our newsletters, and has shared many travel experiences of his own, some of which we included in one of our newsletters recently. Other candidates for #1 fan are Rafaelito and Fidencio in Saudi Arabia and Linda in Belgium. If only we heard from our kids half as often.

Because we wanted to go to several places in a short time, we decided to take taxis. The drivers usually rent their cars by the day for a set fee. After paying that and their gas expenses, they get to keep the rest. More than one driver said that they can expect to net about 300 pesos (a bit over $6) a day, less than the 385 minimum wage they would make if they could find regular day jobs. They often drive 12 and even 24-hour shifts.

Our first of four drivers said that when he returned to his home during Typhoon Ondoy three weeks ago, he found his 55-year old mother dead in their house which had been temporarily under water. The second driver found his family safe, but on the roof of their submerged house. The third driver is from Samar (south near Leyte) so his family had no problems, but the fourth driver also returned to a submerged house. He described having his family live in a shelter while they waited to return to their home, only to find everything they had owned destroyed by the muddy water. Our hearts go out to the Metro Manila drivers.

We stayed two nights in the BSA Towers opposite Makati’s Greenbelt 5, as posh a shopping area as we have seen except possibly in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. The gap between the haves and have-nots is incredible. BSA is 38 stories, and not luxurious by any standard, much less Makati’s, but more than adequate for us. Its cost of about $52 a night is a mere fraction of what one would pay at the nearby 5-star hotels such as the Shangri-La or Peninsula. It is mostly owner-residential, but they keep a few rooms open to rent out as needed.

On Saturday we arose early and took another taxi to the Sun Cruises departure point. This driver, an older gentleman, told us that his house was completely washed away, and that when he wasn’t in his taxi he was living on the street. He admitted to being a squatter along the Bulacan River. We wonder how many taxi drivers are reduced to living as squatters due to inadequate income. The fact that so many of our drivers said they were victims of the flood made us wonder if one or more were simply saying this to gain sympathy in hopes of a larger tip. On the other hand, none of them brought up the subject, and certainly large numbers were affected in greater Manila. There is just no way for us to be sure.

We knew we were home when, after our unpacking, a monkey started serenading us by banging a loose pipe in the metal fence on the nearby underground water reservoir. After several months of seeing and hearing very few monkeys near our house, they are clearly back in our neighborhood. It almost certainly has to do with their food supply. As vegetarians, they are always looking for ripe fruit or vegetables, and the new-growth leaves of many trees are part of their diet as well – not just those from our little papayas.

The wind appears to have shifted back to the northeast, or summer, monsoon. It has been sunny here for the past week. We are happy to have laundry dry in a few hours on the clothes line again. Another typhoon is headed our way, and we wonder if the prevailing winds will push it our direction rather than send it north as has been the case with the last few which came from the Marianas. We should know by this weekend.

Steve and Marcia on the Rock – comment and see our previous newsletters at:

PS We received this email from Linda Lupton, one of our loyal readers:

Steve and Marcia,

The statues of MacArthur and his party landing at the beach was by my uncle, Anastacio T. Caedo, now deceased.


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