Sunday, November 15, 2009 by Daniel

Philippines, Day one

Well, we have arrived in Manila, safely and somewhat groggily. The plane landed at 4am local time, and now begins the process of trying to get acclimated to this time zone. And climate: wow, it’s HOT. If it’s this warm at 4am, I’m really afraid of what it’s going to be like in a few hours.

Rebecca’s uncle Ben picked us up at the airport and took care of getting us to our hotel, which made things a LOT easier. Thank God, because the ride to hotel was pretty harrowing. Mel, the driver, used his horn more in the first mile than I’ve used mine in the last year. If there are any lane markings, they seem to be taken as general suggestions rather than actual rules, and most intersections had no stoplights or signage to control them that I could decipher. There was a surprising amount of traffic and people out on the streets for so early in the morning. We’re in the fancy part of town, and the hotel here is pretty swank.

Now it’s tonight. We spent most of the day in the hotel, resting up and getting acclimated. Ben had booked us a double suite, but since we arrived way before check-in time, they put us up in a studio to wait until our room was ready. The room was small, and smelt of cigarette smoke, but we didn’t much care – we just passed out for a few hours to try and catch up on the sleep we missed on the plane. When we woke up, things weren’t much better. Rebecca had a horrible headache, we were all feeling pretty grungy but nobody wanted to shower until we got into our real room, and they kept pushing back the time to get us into our room, leaving us in a bit of limbo.

Marc and I went across the street to (where else?) Starbucks. Rebecca’s headache ultimately subsided with the help of caffeine and drugs, and finally they got us into our room. And it’s NICE. Way up on the 41st floor, two bedrooms and a separate living room, each room with a balcony and a gorgeous view of the city. We finally got showered and changed, and met Ben and his fiancĂ© Raine for dinner.

Dinner was just across the street in the mall, which Ben describes as one of the nicest in the Philippines. It’s pretty crazy, but it’s still a mall. Dozens of small, swanky boutiques with high-end, designer wares. We ate at a shabu-shabu restaurant, which I’ve never had before. It was really good! Makes me want to try Zabu Zabu back in Berkeley even more. After dinner we explored the mall a bit more. Downstairs is the food court, full of a WIDE variety of chain restaurants and many small tables filled with mainly sweet stuff. Apparently Filipinos are very fond of their sweets. Raine directed us to one of her favorite Filipino delicacies, which Rebecca described as “mushy shortbread,” but which I would categorize more generously as shortbread dough. Really tasty, but oh-so-sweet. It kind of sucks being so sensitive to sugar now.

My first impression is that things here are not terribly different from the States – but we’re in the richest, most westernized part of the Philippines’ biggest city. Tomorrow we’re scheduled to get a guided tour of the city, where hopefully we’ll get a better sense of where we are the local color and culture.

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