When I was first asked to write about the things I love about Manila, I was a little apprehensive. I love this city, there’s no doubt about that, but it isn’t because of any one thing (or any twenty things for that matter). If Manila was a person, it would be a 100 year old veteran of several wars, a romantic, cultured but slightly off kilter, and broke. It would have a ton of character, would be a little seedy, would probably refuse to take a bath every day, and might stab you at the slightest provocation. But it would also be very charming and lovable, if you knew where to look.
Now where was I?
Ah yes, Manila. In this article, I’m listing down twenty things I love about Manila, but please realize that what I really love about this city is its potential, or the greatness that it hides underneath the trash and thugs which litter its streets.
Seriously, this is the best rooftop restaurant / bar in all of Manila. Go here right before the sun sets and just hang out with friends. Unless you’re made of stone, you guys will most definitely feel a certain magic in the air.
2. Filipino Street Food
I know that chicken and pork intestines (isaw) or gelatinous cubes of dried animal blood (betamax) do not sound appealing at all. But if you can get past the initial seemingly icky idea, and smother the delicacies with enough chopped onions and vinegar, believe me, these things are heavenly.
3. Theater / Cultural Shows
We have the most talented singers in the world, bar none. And most of our theater actors’ acting abilities are topnotch. Production values of most shows may be a little iffy, but you can bet the performers will put on an entertaining spectacle.
4. The Manila Bay Sunset
Instructions: Stare across the bay. Wait for the most glorious thing you’ll ever see in your life. Crying optional.
I loved the old Malate with the gay bars and slightly seedy watering holes. It’s changing now, and though that’s a little bittersweet, Malate is still a nice place to visit if you want to go somewhere with a lot of local flavor and character.
6. Random Korean Restaurants
I’m specifically thankful for that thick, sweet, adobo-like dish they call the Kalbijim. Whoever invented that should win a Nobel Prize or something.
Intramuros has its seedy, dirty side, I admit, but if you go to the proper places, it can be very, very beautiful.
8. The National Museum
We’re not a museum-going group of people so you have to give the National Museum props for basically, well, still existing. It holds The Spoliarium by Juan Luna, arguably the most famous Filipino painting ever, which is something everyone should personally see in their lifetime.
10. The Luneta Hotel
I’ve never been there actually, but the photos look amazing. What’s great about it though is not the actual structure itself, but the idea it created in our minds that we can (and should) save and repurpose beautiful and historical old buildings.
I’ve been to other countries and cities and I can honestly say that we are collectively the nicest and most polite bunch of people in the world.
11. Cheap Massage Parlors
And I don’t mean those which come with “extra service.” (Which, if that’s your thing, is still okay. I hold no judgment.) I like luxurious spas as much as the next person, but the Php300 massages at TonTon or Nuat Thai are great too, especially when you’re a little cash strapped.
12. Carlos Celdran
I’ve yet to decide whether I love or hate this guy, and my disposition usually depends on which particular antic of his we’re talking about, but he is always entertaining and fun to watch. Also, that Damaso stunt he pulled during the height of the arguments by the Catholic Church against the RH Bill was pure brilliance.
13. The Manila Hotel
Granted, it’s old and kind of rundown, but I still find it very beautiful. I hope they invest in a major upgrade soon.
P.S., the crepe samurai they serve in the lobby is mind-blowingly good (and fairly inexpensive).
14. Old Buildings Representative of the Brutalist Style of Architecture
I never liked Imelda Marcos, and she still needs to account for the atrocities her family has done to our people and our country, but you have to admit she had taste, which extended to the buildings constructed during the presidency of her husband. I’m especially fond of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, which dry, gray cement walls and boxy architecture utterly represents the once popular Brutalist style of architecture in the Philippines.
15. The Filipino Terno
Because, if done well, those dresses can be works of art. Also, those butterfly sleeves are too cute.
16. Filipino Art
We’re in the middle of an artistic renaissance I think, and the art world has been producing some of the most talented local painters. I’m especially fond of Raymond Legaspi and Victor Balanon’s work.
17. Cheap Random Stuff At Divisoria
Because cheap. And random. And stuff. Watch out for pickpockets and low-level crooks though.
The Barong Tagalog is the best and most appropriate office / formal wear in the Philippines because it allows air to circulate properly around your body. Suits are only great when you have no plans of leaving air-conditioned spaces.
Because the best Chinese food is made by actual Chinese people or by those who grew up with actual Chinese people.
20. Malacanang and the Current Sitting Philippine President
Notwithstanding whatever criticism you might want to hurl or have hurled against PNoy, you’d still have to admit that his heart is in the right place. He truly wants to transform the Philippines into something more, something better than what it currently is. I respect and admire that.
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