Wednesday, August 16, 2006

In Manila

I'm in Manila now. I was supposed to hook up with a friend in Manila, but it's not clear he's in town now. Ron, if you're out there, email me.

It took me some time to find an ATM machine that I could use. I'm so used to just popping in my ATM card as soon as I arrive at a new country that it didn't occur to me that my ATM card might be on a different network. It turns out that neither of the ATMs at the airport are compatible with my card. Since I had some US dollars, I bought a small orange juice at an airport cafeteria-like restaurant, paying with a 20-US dollar bill and getting the change in Philippine Pesos.

Going by the guidebook, and estimating using their maps, I figured it should be 100 PhP to get a taxi to my hotel. He quoted me 530 PhP. I was weak and said OK--it's still much less than I would pay for a similar ride in the US. Along the way he mentioned that the price is actually 900 PhP, producing an official-looking laminated card that showed that all hotels are 900 PhP. When I suggested he didn't have to drop me off at the hotel per se, he relented, though not without asking for a tip in exchange.

It didn't seem like he really worked for anybody, or at least anybody who would know what he was charging. He didn't run his meter (partly why I asked for an estimate up front).

He was sufficiently unfamiliar with the area that he kept asking for the map in my guidebook I used to show him where the hotel was, and yet knew enough of the area to try to push on me an alternate hotel which wasn't described in my Lonely Planet guidebook.

My first choice had no vacancies. The taxi driver was still there when I got out and I avoided getting back into his taxi, and walked around the block to another hotel in my guidebook.

Along the way someone tried to sell me "Rolex" watches. He followed me quite far, though that might be because his base of operations was right next to the hotel I was headed to. I saw him later and he tried selling me Rolexes again, then US Silver Dollars, which he called "GI silver dollars". When I explained I didn't need anything, he suggested maybe he could get me a woman. Though by this time I was right next to my hotel, I didn't go in. I didn't want him to know where I was staying.

Traffic in both Manila and Taipei goes wherever it wants to go. Even more so in Manila. One might think that this would be stressful for pedestrians. It wasn't. In Taipei, someone was crossing the street with the green light but without the walk signal. Cars were turning with a protected arrow, but he walked right into the stream of cars and they went around him. I walked right behind him, using him as a barrier against the cars, and sure enough, no one hit us. In Manila, I found I could just walk into a stream of cars (they're not moving very fast: it's gridlock, though the term "grid" should be taken very loosely) and weave my way through the traffic, and everyone moves into the new lanes created by this maneuver.

In a way, traffic is like a dance. Traffic in the US and some European countries (like Germany) is like a waltz--it's orderly and it works because everyone knows what they can expect from everyone else. Traffic in Manila is like a rave--it's disorderly but improvisational. It works because everyone is ready for anything and knows how to respond to the others' moves with grace.


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