Laughing Monkeys, Biblical call-girls and My Day in Manila

My second day in Manila was surely memorable. I always loved this part of my job - going to new countries and trying to set up a business there. It is very unlike a tourist visit, it does not have the trappings of coming to stay [as I did in Britain some time back] - but it needs all the involvement and sincerity that someone trying to settle in a country will need.

So, it was not enough for me to know that the Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia. I had to find it from my visits to bookshops - obviously I got into some of them in course my visits to the huge shopping malls that mark the landscape - that the section on bibles is huge, with many interested readers!

Also, I had a great time reading the newspapers. Filipino newspapers assume that every reader already knows a bit about the country, so in many cases, use initials for people's names. I have been noticing quite a bit of news on anti-GMA rallies happening since yesterday. Well, I must admit that I initially assumed that GMA is Greater Manila Authority or something similar! Of course, I realized I was wrong, because I saw volunteers in black MMDA t-shirts managing traffic [I must say that I found the traffic unceasingly interesting] and figured out that the local authority is known as Metro Manila Development Authority. Only today, it dawned on me that GMA is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the president of the republic. She obviously got into lots of trouble with election rigging during the 2004 election, and there is a scandal on broadband licenses being investigated by the Senate too.

I also learnt that a new group of monkeys - those who can mimick and laugh like humans - have been sighted in Mindanao, the southern, mountainous section of the country. These laughing monkeys are not listed in some government register where they should have been - the paper complained - and reported that locals believe it is bad luck to come across these creatures. It brings death or accident to those who have met the laughing monkey, I learnt.

My learnings also continued on the street. Apart from noticing the sprawling bible section, I also noticed an untagged section full of Mills-and-Boons look-alike books. While I looked casually, I realized they are little different from M&B, with titles like 'Reluctant Mistress' and 'Insistent Boss'! I soon realized that I am looking at the biggest stock of erotic literature I have ever seen in a mainstream bookshop.

Well, I must have lingered a bit on erotica, picking up books to reconfirm my observation, and attracted attention from people standing in the next isle, the section on bibles. As I moved, there was this girl in attractive dress, who was standing in the bible section but was holding some other book - I guess one on movies - who looked at me and asked whether I would need a massage! I must have looked amazed, and was trying to work out in my brain what that really meant, and she made it easier - 'Massage? Sex? Do you like me? I can come with you now!'

That was Tracey! Or so she said. I have never been into a situation quite like this before - well, I indeed remain the silly village boy that I always was - and did not even know what to say. Instead of walking out, I was politely explaining how I am busy and I must go then - as if she just offered me a big-bus tour of London. And, that made the conversation go almost out of my control - 'Don't you like me?' and 'Are you scared?' and 'What are you scared about?' - before I could somehow get out. Not before she wrote her name and phone number down on a piece of paper, though!

I also realized, from my roaming around on the streets, that there are two things in Manila - everyone wanting to go abroad, and Koreans coming to Philippines! Well, again no stereo-typing - I am staying in Malate, the old part of Manila, which was the area for the rich in Spanish times, and currently the home of bars, nightclubs, big hotels facing the bay and recruitment agencies. And, tourists on the street, I must add, and casinos - my hotel has a big three storey Casino, which I did not fail to notice.

The projection I saw regarding filipinos going abroad is huge! 8 Million filipinos abroad in 2010! Huge sums of repatriated money! When I connected that figure to my story of Tracey, who must be in desparate need for money - either to survive or to fund a lifestyle - I almost realize why a country like Philippines look with pride what the the Overseas Filipinos are doing! The Filipino nurses, maids, teachers [it seems there are many immigrant Filipino teachers in China] abroad earn the money and send it home, which keeps the currency stable and allow the rich to maintain their lifestyle. This explained the unusual enthusiasm I saw earlier in Bangladesh about sending workers abroad - almost saying that, here, we are sending out people who, if they live here, will dirty the streets, fuel the crime and earn bad name for the country; but they can go somewhere else, they will live a life which may be cruel, but will earn better money, do some work, send money home, which will keep our currency stable and let us have foreign goods at a decent price!

On the opposite spectrum, of course, I met someone else on business - a business lady, well educated, well travelled, who wants to partner with us to teach English. It was a charming conversation and I learnt so much about the country, the life here and opportunities. I learnt about Koreans, the big expat community in Philippines, what they spend money on, how they live - and also the Chinese, who make up an increasingly big section of tourists these days. There is a new Chinese International School in town, which is getting students to move from the old British School, and children are learning Mandarin with the same intensity that we gave to English in our childhood. I saw the shining buildings of Makati, was driven back to my hotel by a charming cab-driver and witnessed some great hospitality by a well-trained and exceptionally polite hotel staff.

My visit to the Pines continues.


Brian Brotarlo said…
Hi, never heard of these monkey mimicking humans. Are you sure you are not talking about the seafaring legend Filipino Monkey?
Hello! I was writing about a story that I saw on Newspapers that day and found amusing. It did talk about these monkeys in Mindanao. I must admit that I did not try to follow-up on this anymore.

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