Arriving in Manila

I’m not a travel writer. If I was, I’d be rubbish at it – writing code is one thing, but my attempts at stringing together anything vaguely like an engaging narrative are basically rubbish. And even if I thought I was good at that sort of thing, I’ve been in Manila for about three hours, so any conclusions I might come to now are massively premature.

Still, why let that stop me, eh? Because it’s been an interesting arrival, and without blogging, I’ve got noone else around to talk to about it. 🙂

Manila isn’t what I expected. Although, now I say that, I don’t really know what I expected – this was all a bit last minute, so I never got round to actually finding anything out about the Philippines before I arrived.

It’s 7pm. My experience so far consists of arriving at the airport, finding a car for the half-hour drive to the city, checking into my hotel, and an hours wandering around to find somewhere to eat. So I’m not exactly a native yet.

But if there’s one thing that hits you in the face when you arrive, it is security. There is just no avoiding it. My hotel has security guards at the entrance gate, stopping cars as they approach. They search the trunk. They use mirrors to examine the undercarriage of the car for devices. They question (albeit briefly) the driver. And this is for every car, even the ones driven by their own drivers. Once past the gate security, to get into the hotel building, you have to get past security guards with metal detectors who search you on entry.

When I checked in, one of the hotel’s “resident managers” (no, I’m not sure what that means) went through a mini security briefing with me. She warned me to be cautious of calls or approaches from strangers, and asked me to report any such approach immediately. She recommended that when I am in my hotel room, I double-lock the door for “additional safety”. And as I left the hotel to go and find somewhere to eat, I noticed the security guards at the door searching the handbags of guests returning to the hotel.

As welcomes go, it was a little disconcerting.

But as a vibe, it has continued. I haven’t wandered far – basically explored a few blocks in each direction around my hotel. I seem to be a business district – mainly office blocks, with a few restaurants, coffee shops and banks dotted around – no real retail space to speak of. It’s a modern-looking, clean, evidently affluent area. But the focus on security is hard to miss.

Virtually all buildings have some sort of private security at the entrance. And they’re active security – imposing blokes standing in the doorways, stopping people who try and come in. The Citibank round the corner – otherwise similar to any high-street bank in the UK – has armed guards. As I walked past, a security guard with a slightly scary looking big shotgun was patrolling around the bank, using the gun to poke through the bushes around the outside – presumably looking for something dangerous? I dunno… maybe not – – perhaps he’s just an avid litter collector?

A sign on the door asks customers to leave their firearms with security in the lobby when they go in – I’ve seen similar signs by most of the banks and big office blocks as I’ve walked around.

Security is everywhere – from the Starbucks to the one shopping centre I did find, you see security at the door, stopping some people and asking to see ID.

It’s all slightly uncomfortable. And a big contrast with Singapore, which felt safe and welcoming – a place where I was happy to just go wandering and get lost in as I explored. Even with my habit of going to fairly dumb and inappropriate places when I go travelling, I think I’m gonna keep my random exploring to a minimum for my brief stay here.

I dunno… it’s probably nothing. And I’m probably painting a massively unfair and misrepresentative picture of Manila – as I say, I’ve only been here a few hours! And it’s not like I’ve not seen high security levels in the UK, even in my lifetime. I remember growing up in Aldershot when the alert level due to potential IRA attacks meant that cars coming into town would be randomly stopped and searched – opening the trunk and using mirrors and everything. So, it’s probably nothing.

And everyone I’ve met so far has been absolutely polite, friendly, welcoming… and basically lovely. (Although, if I’m honest, they consist of a taxi driver, a couple of members of staff in a posh hotel, and a restaurant waitress.)

Hmmm… put it this way. Last Friday night in Singapore, I felt absolutely comfortable going out to try the bars by myself, and staying out drinking till 3am. Now? It’s a bit after 7pm, and I’m thinking that once I’ve finished my meal, I’m gonna head back to my hotel. Shame.

2 Responses to “Arriving in Manila”

  1. Welcome to our megacity! and don’t let the security guards fool you. The city, especially where you are (which from the way you describe it, sounds like the Makati CBD) is safe even in the evenings. The rent-a-cops are an industry all to themselves and often function more like doormen to all business establishments.

    And, although nowhere near as safe (and aseptic) as Singapore, the city is quite welcoming. Apples to oranges as you are comparing a city of 3million people (in a nanny state) vs. a megacity of 13 million in one of the most open and most free-wheeling cultures in Asia.

  2. dale says:

    Thanks very much for the welcome – very kind! 🙂

    And you were right, btw – I was in Makati… and it wasn’t as bad as my first impressions when I arrived. I went out the night after, and it didn’t seem nearly so scary – in fact (once I finally found the actually quite cool retail-y area) I found a few nice bar/restaurants and had a very nice evening.

    Incidentally, the morning after writing the post, I met a local who told me that I had arrived towards the end of some big international asean conference-y thing – apparently the Asean Prime Minister was in town, as well as diplomats and cabinet members from governments around Europe, Russia and the United States. Which may also go some way to explain the high security level on my arrival – in that context, it doesn’t seem so bad!