This originally appears in The Point, Northeast Kansas's finest news source. Pick up a copy today!
I’ve written a great deal about the Philippines, but until now, I’ve never covered Manila. I flew from Seoul to Manila in December of 2007. I had no further plans established. The sight of the horrific Manila airport upon landing was enough to convince me to move on. I found out that I had to leave the international wing of the Manila airport and head for the domestic portion, essentially a wholly different airport that used the same runway. A person at the airport information booth told me to walk to the nearby curbside stop to catch a shuttle to the domestic terminal, but that the shuttle bus would probably not be in operation.
I walked up to a man in a booth near the curbside spot to ask him when the shuttle to the domestic terminal would arrive. He laughed, and said that there would be no shuttle today. He pointed me to the taxi stand, where I would have to pay an inflated price to take a taxi to the domestic terminal. This remains the only airport that I’ve been to that actually required hiring a taxi to go from international to domestic. It didn’t endear Manila to me any further. I took the taxi. It took half an hour to get to the domestic terminal.
I visited a few airline ticket offices at the domestic terminal, and some nearby travel agents. Ultimately, I bought a ticket to Boracay, a world-renowned Philippine beach a few islands away. I bought the ticket at 1:10 p.m. My flight left at 2 p.m. I rushed back to and through the Manila domestic airport. It was a joke of an airport, the arrivals area was outside under a big tarp. Fortunately, unlike other Asian airports that I’d been to, Manila domestic airport boasted a Cinnabon. Things were looking up. Shortly thereafter, I was out of Manila. Unfortunately, I knew that I would have to return, and for two reasons: 1) my flight back to Seoul was out of Manila, and 2) suburban Manila had Taco Bell.
After an amazing week in Boracay and Mindoro island, I returned to Manila. Like any sensible person, I gave Manila the maximum amount of time anybody would ever need to see its many sights and enjoy its unique vibe - 1 day. I started my day at Taco Bell in the suburbs (the same place I’d ended my previous day, I chose my hotel based 100% on Taco Bell proximity) and then headed into town. After getting a hotel, I went out and did pretty much every touristy thing there is to do in Manila - the colonial section, the city wall, the old fort, the art museum, I even went out to the rich side of town to shop and look around. While there, I partook in an Asian vacation tradition of mine and went to the most expensive hotel in town (the Peninsula in this case) for an overpriced drink.
After a full day of seeing every sight I could (something I rarely do, but I never plan to be in Manila again unless on a layover or to land and catch a bus out of town) I only had 2 things left to do - get drunk and talk to girls. Obviously, the former took precedence, as the latter was fully dependent upon it. I walked to a nearby bar that Lonely Planet strongly recommended, and the Philippines LP had been amazingly on-point the whole trip, far more accurate than any of its Korea titles . Unfortunately, Lonely Planet left out a slight detail regarding this bar.
The bar was supposed to be cheap, and it was. It was half-full when I got there, and I started throwing back 75 cent San Miguels like crazy. I didn’t really notice the music. Flock of Seagulls, Morrisey, Petshop Boys, I figured the bartenders were into the 80s. I noticed a stocky short-haired girl wearing a Depeche Mode T-shirt. She was sitting with another girl. Whoah, butch Asian Lesbians, ya never see that in Korea! I continued drinking. More songs played. George Michael. Vertical Horizon. The place was filling up. Lots of dudes here. Hmm, a disco ball. Now they’re playing Donna Summer. What’s that on the wall there? A giant collage of Marilyn Monroe? Y’know, I think this may be.. Wait, a Judy Garland shrine. Now they’re playing Cher. And oh, just above the bar, a giant rainbow flag. Other than the two lesbians, every other table in the place is two dudes. Sure, Lonely Planet never gave me a head’s up, and not that there’s anything wrong with it, but how did I end up in such an obvious gay bar without knowing it?
I ordered one more beer to slam. I mean, cheap is cheap, eh? Clearly, I wasn’t going to meet any girls here. Still, I have to wonder... at this point, the bar is packed, and the only place to sit is at the other chair at my table. Not that I wanted to be, but how did I not get hit on? It’s either that I’m that obviously straight (I unquestionably had the worst hair and worst clothes in the bar) or I’m that ugly. I’d have to go with the former. I’m a handsome devil, after all.
I went to another bar, again recommended by Lonely Planet. The second bar was called the LA Cafe, and the sign above the door said that it was open 24 hours. Suddenly, I wished that it was 10 a.m. rather than 1 a.m, simply for the novelty of going to a 24 hour bar at a silly hour.
The LA Cafe charged an outrageous $3 per beer, a steep price for Manila. Still, it was packed. I was leaving the country the following day. I still had lots of Philippine pesos left. I intended to spend them. I set up camp at the back bar, and went to the pissser after a bit. I returned to my bar stool (and I had left nothing to demarcate this stool as my own) and this huge white dude was sitting there. I had no issue with losing my seat. For some reason, the huge dude tried to give it back to me, despite the obvious fact that he could easily kick my ass. I let him have the chair. I headed to the dance floor. The back bar was a bit of a sausage fest, and I was done with sausage fests.
I met a girl within 10 seconds on the dance floor. She was cute-ish, but really friendly and fun, and she seemed to want to talk about boxing. Fair enough. We chatted for a while, and then this obvious trannie\\y came in, walking up to every dude around. Manila. He/she avoided me, because I was talking to this other girl. She told me that I owed her. I told her I could have spotted his/her Adam’s apple at 100 meters, and would never have been roped in. The girl and I continued talking, I bought her a beer or two (for $3 a piece!!!). Eventually, I hit the pisser again.
Upon leaving the john, three different girls, all of them cute, came up to me to start a conversation. I am a handsome devil after all. Oh fuck. This was Manila. What sort of bar was this? I walked passed the front door of the bar on the way to where I was standing before. There was a huge line of girls outside the bar, and one could only come in when another left. Dudes, on the other hand, were freely admitted. The LA Cafe was a locus for freelance whores.
Stupid Lonely Planet. Is a heads up too much to ask? Nothing’s as it seems in Manila.