Tuesday 15th March – Manila

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a port day in a big city is not the moment to conclude that (a) this is not a cold but some version of flu that involves exceptional amounts of aching, from my eyelids down, and (b) there may be a migraine mixed in, but I’m feeling so rotten, right now, I could probably not be certain for a while yet.

Lovely weather. Very warm, dry, sunny with a little cloud, not too humid.

No live telly today – we are moored next to an American destroyer of some sort.

Greeted on the quayside by dancers and performers and people handing out beads and maps and a group playing Axel F on xylophones. I kid you not. I filmed it. A thoroughly lovely welcome. This is Arcadia’s maiden visit, so they put on a bit of a fuss. We’ll have a band on the quayside when we leave, as well, I imagine (UPDATE: Yup).

Then onto the blessedly air conditioned shuttle buses to take us into town. It took 20 minutes. It would probably have been quicker to walk. It wasn’t very far, as the crow flies. The traffic in this town is EPIC. And homicidal. Epically homicidal. They’re all mad. Every last one of them. Or maybe suicidal. Or both. I would be more scared to cross the road here than in Da Nang. MUCH more scared. They’re all so mental they have to have traffic lights, with countdowns, not just for the pedestrians, but for the vehicles too, AND police men standing in the middle of the road on point duty with whistles and white gloves. And it’s STILL mental. Well, if you’re expected to ignore the lights, and have to be controlled by a human being threatening to arrest you, you can only imagine the state of mind at work…

First thing to know about the Philippines. They have never even heard of gluten being a problem. They have no concept of flour being anything other than wheat. They look at you like you are completely mad when you suggest that bread can be made with anything other. So lunch was a green salad. I kid you not. EVERYTHING is coated in flour here. They do fried chicken, they do dumplings, they do chips, they do wedges,  they do anything and everything – bread, noodles, whatever. It is just that it is all covered with and made from wheat flour  (sometimes both at once). Even TGI Fridays here does not do gluten free, unlike the same chain in other countries. Which was a shame. I though I might at least be able to rely on them, but apparently not. I didn’t even bother to ask in McDonalds.

Second thing to know about Manila. They have loads of malls. It is a shopping heaven. This is, officially, the primary thing to do here. They don’t stress their history or old stuff, or traditions. They just build shopping malls. Especially if you happen to arrive during the sales. Which we did. Which was nice. Not very nice for my Visa card. But nice for me. The shuttle bus took us to Robinson Mall, which is the biggest in Asia or the world or something. The shops are themed by floor – so there is a tech floor, and a homewares floor, and then there are the clothing floors – two of them. There is a sort of food court, but there food places everywhere.  It’s bloomin’ miles inside, that I do know. You navigate by which WING you are in. I think there are three, but don’t quote me on that. I have an excellent sense of direction and I got COMPLETELY lost. Twice. Needless to say, it was very handy that we were dropped between H&M and M&S, both of which have sales on. Very handy indeed.

We started at the top and worked our way down (after M&S, which OBViously takes priority). I came home with a reassuring number of bags. We ended in the ground floor supermarket, which has queues that give the disabled and elderly priority. As there were healthy people in the queue, they were asked to allow mum to queue-jump, as the whole point is so that she wouldn’t have to stand for long. Which they did. Which was nice.

The only downside of the whole day was the mall toilets. Think Trainspotting. You’ve never seen anything like it. I could go into detail, but, trust me, someone somewhere is eating while they are reading this, and I’m not that unkind. And this is supposed to be a really posh mall! It really jaded my view of both Manila and Filipino personal habits. Eurgh.

On the way back, we drove through the streets, of what appeared at first glance to be a very poor, run down city. They have all the wiring on poles outside, running along the street about ten foot up. There is no way they can tell which wire goes to which house, so if there is a problem, chances are , they just add a new wire. The rubbish piles up in the streets, and there is litter and grubbiness everywhere. But when you look closer (which you have time to do in a half hour traffic jam), you see that, apart from the jeepneys, which are essentially public transport, most of the cars are big, shiny, clean and very expensive-looking. And everyone is impeccably dressed. Clean, pressed, new clothes. And well-turned out from head to toe. They all have perfect hair and nails and their uniforms are pristine. Nothing is quite as it first appears.

Then back to the ship, for a short but expensive bit of Skyping, just to check in with folks, and then dinner.

I really overdid it today, and halfway through dinner, my system started to basically shut down. I didn’t even last until dessert.  I was in bed by 8.15. I am officially Not Well.


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