A December 2004 trip
to Manila by Seaotter71
Quote: A brief stay in Manila en route to Naga City to spend Christmas with family and my first immersion in Filipino culture.
One of my wife's cousins kindly dropped her plans and picked us up from the airport and, in spite of Manila traffic, delivered us safely to Makati, our base of operations for the next 2 and half days. Makati is the new business district and boasts numerous malls with the latest and trendiest shops. After dropping our bags, we set out for a leisurely merienda, a mid-afternoon snack. The delicious meal revived us enough to make it trough Sunday mass. The Philippines, due to 300 years under Spanish rule, is an extremely Catholic country, so missing Mass is not an option.
The next day, completely awake at 4am due to jet lag, we decided to go to Simbangabi, the dawn mass held every day for the 9 days leading up to Christmas. Using a neon-blue cross cutting through the morning fog as our guide, we made our way to the 5am mass at St. Andrew’s. To our surprise, the church was packed with families, couples, and even groups of boys on their way to school. Mass was held in a mixture of English and Tagalong, so the sermon was lost on me. However, I didn’t need Tagalong to appreciate the procession of people, each bearing a straw blade for the Santo Nino's (Baby Jesus) manger.
Patricia’s father had filled my head with visions of rows upon rows of street vendors lined outside the church waiting to feed a pious but ravenous crowd. We set out to find the promised stalls but only found a handful of fruit stands and some unknown food in buckets. We ended up in a Jollibee fast-food restaurant. My disappointment faded quickly as we dug into delicious and cheap garlic fried rice, eggs, and longaniza (sausage).
We spent the next day exploring Makati and had a good time. However, not really being shoppers, the whole experience was somewhat lost on us. We also explored Intramuros, the walled old part of the city.
Locals are both brilliant and horrifying as they weave their way through streets chocked with private vehicles: trimobiles, motorcycles with covered sidecars, and Jeepneys, the colorful signature transportation of the Philippines. Jeepneys were originally US military Jeeps left over from World War II that were stripped out for accommodating a lot of passengers and flamboyantly decorated by their owners. I would have loved to ride but was not sure where we would wind up.
Taxis are the best way to get around Manila. They are relatively inexpensive by American standards and you certainly do not want to drive yourself.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 21, 2006
Cafe Via Mare
Greenbelt 1, Ayala Center; Paseo de Roxas
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on January 22, 2006
Makati Ave. And De La Rosa Street Greenbelt Park
Makati City, Philippines
Jollibee is the undisputed king of fast food in the Philippines, but by all means avoid the burgers. They had that "mystery meat under a heat lamp" taste that just won't leave your mouth.The breakfast, on the other hand, can't be beat. For about US$1.65/person, we ate some seriously yummy garlic fried rice (I loved it so much, I am still trying to perfect my version of it), a fried egg, and longaniza (a slightly sweet sausage).
The fried chicken is good, as, I am told, was the spaghetti.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on January 22, 2006
I first had Max's in Los Angeles as a result of marrying into a Philippine family. So when we went to the Philippines, it was only natural to make a pilgrimage to the source.
Max's offers a wide variety of Filipino dishes. Don't expect pretty or particularly healthy, but do expect really great food.For breakfast I favor the longsilog (Filipino pork sausage) and tocilong (sweetened pork) plates, served with really good garlic fried rice and eggs. The tapsilog (grilled sliced sirloin) can be a little dry. For the more adventurous eaters, I am told the bangsilog (baby milkfish) is really good. Top it all of with some hot chocolate and you are good to go.For lunch, the fried chicken is the house specialty. I also like the pork adobo and the pancit, a traditional noodle dish. You can't go wrong with any of these. In fact, get all three and eat them family style.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 22, 2006
Max's of Manila Restaurant
Throughout Metro Manila and California
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on January 22, 2006
Makati Avenue corner De La Rosa Street
Makati City, Philippines
+63 2 757 7117
Hotel | "Diving in Batangas (Day Trip from Manila)"
The dives were some of the best I had ever done. Walls teeming with coral, colorful fish, huge sea fans, and giant clams extended forever. Even at 97 feet, the deepest I had ever been, the water was clear enough to allow the life sustaining light to feed an abundant array of sea life. Add to this a school or jack fish and a spotted eagle ray and I was in in an underwater heaven.
Being that this was December, the waters were not tropical warm but certainly not California cold.
The price includes lunch, a simple yet delicious affair. I'm not a big fish eater, but this was really fresh and delicious and had a bit of a kick. Unfortunately, I can't remember what I ate.
While the dive was outstanding, my last-minute planning caused me to pay more than I had expected. Plan ahead and shop around. But considering I gave them a 30-minute notice, I had a personal driver for the 6-hour round-trip drive, and I was the only diver, it was not too bad.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 23, 2006
1181 Pablo Ocampo Street
Makati City, Philippines
To say that Filipinos are aggressive holiday decorators is an understatement. Anything that stands still for more than 5 minutes will be strung with enough Christmas lights to warm the hearts of GE executives everywhere. And speaking of capitalism, we once saw an enterprising young man selling street food outside a beautifully overdone house that drew numerous nightly visitors.
The homegrown decoration that will grace every Philippine home is the parol. In its most traditional form, the parol is an internally lit star within a circle with streamers hanging from the bottom two points. They are traditionally made from capiz shells. Capiz shells are the exterior shell of a marine mollusk and are also referred to as windowpane oysters. They are only found in the shallow coastal waters of the Philippines and Indonesia. Capiz decorations in the form of angels, stars, stockings, and numerous other Christmas motifs will decorate the lampposts of even the most humble of towns.
Of course, the heart of Christmas is not about pretty decorations but the celebration of Christ’s birth. And Filipinos are among the most devout people I have met. For the 9 days leading up to Christmas, churches hold Simbangabi, masses held at dawn (4 and 5am). In spite of the incredibly early hour, churches are filled to standing room-only levels with families, couples, and even groups of young boys on their way to school. One particularly memorable part of the ceremony was when the congregation processed up the aisle, each person holding a blade of straw and each person contributing to the manger where the Santo Nino (Baby Jesus) would be laid upon at midnight on December 24th.
Filipinos the world over return home for the holidays--good luck trying to find a reasonably priced air ticket. The returning sons and daughters are called balikbayan (as are the boxes used to send goods back to the Philippines) and are greeted with Balikbayan parties. These parties overflow with delicious food, spirited conversations, karaoke, and dancing.
Dancing brings up an interesting story. After the meal and as the music got going, a small group of young men joined the party. They were all smartly dressed in long-sleeve “party” shirts and slacks. Cousins, thought I. As the music progressed, these young men started asking the aunties and some less-than-thrilled younger cousins to dance. Turns out they were dance instructors, also known as DIs, hired for the party. Apparently in the more affluent circles, it is not uncommon for ladies with dance-reluctant husbands to take up dancing under the tutelage of said DIs and for them to be hired for parties. It is with no uncertain pride, and with an injury too stupid to believe, that I tell you that my wife did not require the services of the DIs.
Christmas Eve, of course, means Midnight Mass. Be sure to dress appropriately, as some things considered acceptable in the US will not go over well in the religiously conservative Philippines. Prior to mass, my wife was getting some rather un-Christian looks from a nun. All became clear when I saw the sign denouncing in words AND drawings inappropriate church wear. Plunging neckline. Check. Above the knee. Check. See-through… Does clingy count? Good thing she couldn’t see the spaghetti straps underneath my wife’s shawl. Thankfully my wife was so self-conscious in her "spice girl wear," as the sign called it, that she opted not to take communion, a good thing since we were later told that the prior year, the priest stopped communion as he scolded an inappropriately dressed girl and shook the host over her head in admonishment. After Mass, we gathered at one of the auntie’s for another round of delicious food and the opening of presents.
The next morning we attended mass with my wife’s grandmother and I came across one of those scenes that summed up the trip for me. To the left of the altar was the church’s nativity set. You could have found this nativity set in any Christian country, except here, the manger was strung with red Chinese lanterns.