Manila: Trying to find my feet

Wearing thick socks and heavy leather shoes, I flew away from a freezing Tokyo to the Philippine capital Manila, a city similar to Tokyo in size, traumatic recent history and longitude; the latitude however – I always get those two confused – is 20 degrees different.   So was the ground temperature.  Arriving at the airport in the early evening, I soon realised I needed to shed clothing quickly. 

A taxi took me into the city.  With a squint to obscure the squalor, night-time Manila felt like Tokyo in August:  pant-penetrating humidity, familiar conbini chains, Japanese script on neon signs and towering skyscrapers twinkling in the distance. 

The diners looked different:  less fish and more fried chicken; one brazen sign advertised Max`s Restaurant – The House That Fried Chicken Built. 

I could not see anybody wearing shoes.  Tokyo is a city of shoes, shiny spanking new ones, all fit for brisk, orderly marching.  Manila it seems, is a city of flip-flops, gaudy grubby ones, all suitable for err….flip-flopping.   

My first night was spent in Malate, an old district favoured by tourists.  I stayed in Friendly`s Guesthouse.  Of the 14 men with bunks in my dormitory, all but one fool – me – was wearing flip-flops.  I felt an urgent need to get my feet orientated.

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Wandering outside, I soon spotted reasons for Malate`s popularity:  Go Go Bars, many with Japanese names – AKB48, Harajuku, Okii-ni – dotted the surrounding streets.  I don`t really much about Go Go Bars (even if I did, I wouldn`t tell you) but I was generously invited into a few of them.  I refused.  I was looking for a flip-flop joint. 

Beggars, bar touts and tricycle taxi drivers hawked the pavements, the road was hogged by both taxis and jeepneys – garishly-decorated chrome people carriers.  Malate`s strange sights, smells and humidity needed time to take in. 

I found sanctuary in Fruit Tea Mix, a brightly-lit, spick-and-span drinks bar with air-conditioning and orange plastic seats.    

The staff greeted me with a smile and a “Hello, sir”.  The waitress, tall and slim, her dark frizzy hair pulled back into a bun, had radiant, pie-crust coloured skin.  She was beautiful.  When she brought my kiwi juice over, I pointed at her feet and asked:

“Do you know where I can buy those?”

“Socks?!” she replied, only slightly knocked off-balance.

“No no,” I stretched my hand to point directly at her pink-strapped white flip-flops.

“Ohhhh, slippers.”

And I have always said flip-flops was a stupid word. 

Unfortunately her recommended spot for buying these so-called slippers, San Andres market, was closed. 

Reluctantly my heavy shoes took me back towards the guesthouse.  I did not feel comfortable.  Amongst the cafes, izakayas and Korean barbecue joints of Malate festers an element of sin: skimpily-dressed Filipino girls flirting with escapees from the nursing homes of Europe and North America, illicit meetings of uneven bank accounts. 

A single man wandering the streets at night is an easy target for the bar touts, especially one so obviously foreign and clueless as I was.  Emerging from behind a taxi, a shifty looking man approached me: 

“Do you want a lady?” 

“No, I don`t.  What I really want is a pair of, oh forget it.”

I had to wait until the next morning until my feet found comfort.  Once in flip-flops, you never want to go back to shoes.  But all holidays must come to an end. 

Late last night, in a simple, pathetic ceremony, on an empty platform in Tokyo station, I replaced my grubbied Filipino slippers for my heavy marching shoes.

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2 Responses to Manila: Trying to find my feet

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful! Thank you!

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