In the malls, hotels, schools and apartment buildings of Manila, I love being met by security guards who scan under the car with a mirror, and glance into the boot or under the bonnet for those bombs we regularly store there (!), or know, just by passing their magic wands over my handbag, whether or not I am carrying a gun with my purse. I once found a stall in Divisoria that sells those magic wands for a few pesos but they don’t work for me – I obviously don’t have the touch.
What amuses me most is that they are more worried about what I might be carrying into the mall or department store than what I might be carrying out! Luckily I am no Winona Ryder, so they are safe, but I often imagine how easy it would be to scoop up a bag full of products and wander out with a smile and a wave…
And yet, while we laugh, those smiling security guards do make me feel a little more secure.
2. Road Rules are simply ‘A Suggestion’
A Filipino friend described this well-known phenomenon not long after I arrived in the Philippines, and I still giggle about it, and will continue to do so until someone actually hits my car.
‘What are they for exactly?’
‘Stop signs?’ – In Manila these actually mean ‘Slow-down-and-drift-into-the-middle-of-the-intersection-and pray-someone-will-see-you-coming’.
I have yet to see a speed limit, except for the bus drivers, high on Red Bull, who abide by the ‘as-fast-as-possible’ rule and mow down anyone in their way while leaning heavily on the horn.
Coming from Australia, where it becomes more like a nanny state on the roads every day, and you are more likely to have an accident because you are too busy checking your speedometer than watching out for the kids on the pedestrian crossing, this less-than-strict adherence to driving regulations is all rather refreshing. At least while I am in the passenger seat!
3. Love of food
I am living in a whole country full of foodies! It’s amazing – and such an easy and highly satisfactory way to make new friends in a new country. I am always meeting people who are happy to update me on the best places to eat, and share the intimate details of Filipino cuisine. I now have such a dauntingly long list of restaurants and food tours and cafes and markets, that I will have to stay in Manila until we retire.
4. Mall trawling
I have never known people wander so slowly through malls, often five or six in a row, pottering gently, dam-like, oblivious of the crowds building up behind them. And I have never seen anyone walking up or down the escalator who wasn’t related to me. Everyone else stands still.
Once you get used to it, it’s actually very relaxing, and gives you time to look about, or as the locals do, send a text message. (This from someone who generally dashes through malls as fast as she can.) A word of advice: don’t try it in Sydney – you’ll get mown down by the Filipino bus driver types.
OK now I am going to sound like an expat princess, but I have never had home help in Australia or the UK, so I am absolutely loving the luxury of not having to iron or mop floors or clean the CR (Comfort Room: toilet/lavatory/bathroom) is bliss, and should never be under-estimated. I LOVE Phoebe, my very own house elf, and the fact that my house is always spotlessly clean and tidy when I get home on the days she works. The fact that she constantly turns off my husband’s clock-radio to save electricity is a small price to pay for the wonder of leaving the washing up in the sink on Sunday night and finding the kitchen clean as a new pin before I wander in for a cup of tea.
As for Gerry, our wonderful driver, he really is magic. He just seems to know when I am ready to leave and appears out the front of the restaurant or our apartment building within seconds. He knows where to get rugs clean, curtains made, mobile phones and computers mended… not to mention the blessing of not having to drive myself through Manila traffic. That is too huge a luxury to calculate! Although I may have to remember to breath when he is playing chicken with the buses…
*with thanks to Victoria Gill for sharing her photos of Anilao.