There’s mail I hate receiving in the Philippines – the postcards notifying you have parcels to pick up at the local depot. PHL Post officially denies reports of ‘bartering’ and ‘haggling’ of monetary taxation dues, but the overall experience remains rather shitty.
Here’s the third-world post office booth:
The smug customs offcial inside is po-faced with a demeanour resembling Jabba-the-hut. His confused reaction was quite priceless when he chose to inspect the biggest item, a bonanza box of Star Trek nerd supplies. Luckily this put him off bothering to open a smaller package, which happened to be a legit taser in pink that my Streetwars assassin friend sent.
To anticipate any hassle, my dad offered to accompany me, looking Mafoso killer in semi- formal wear and Raybans. In any case, I was relieved to collect late Christmas gifts without hassle.
Mr Muir didn’t know I was already a recipient of hate mail, nor that a designer friend of mine, Mr Smith, was responsible for sending Mr Bingo that ‘fucker’ Swiss roll. It’s a small world.
The social web is amazing; who needs tinder when you can link up thanks to twittering right? After checking out each other’s relatively interesting SEO, Mr Bingo and I agree to meet IRL.
Instant replies are hilariously predictive.
Mr Bingo claims he’s up for anything weird and admits gravitating towards the seedier side of cities. I reassure him that the thrilla capital caters well towards his requirements, and shared a Guardian review summarising Manila as an “intense, roiling, underrated fever dream.”
Mr Bingo is staying at the Conrad Hotel near to the Seaside Boulevard, and coincidentally so are all Miss Universe contestants. We meet and greet at the lobby, him in a t-shirt saying No Thank You arranged like a smiley with matching pastel pink shorts, me in kimono dress with Converse. We are a distinct duo of tall white man and tiny asian woman.
Our Mitsubishi Mirage squirmed through the sea of vehicular traffic, and we eventually arrived in Venice. That’s right, fucking Venice. Not the real one in Italy obviously, but the Venice Grand Canal Mall, a 50-hectare retail centre developed by Megaworld Corporation, touted as “a great place to take a selfie for tourists and even locals.” Ugh.
Property developers and customers grossly value fashionably ersatz buildings packaged into novelty commercial attractions. Meanwhile, Manila’s heritage architecture remains tragically neglected and under threat of being demolished. The art historian in me therefore finds replicated landscapes loathsome.
A candle-lit table for two at the stereotypically romantic Ponte Rialto, Mr Bingo and I compared notes about the stupid life. Observing the costumed gondoliers and camera happy strollers, hate wasn’t quite on the agenda as we agreed that there’s always room for any oddity that brings people joy.
Suitably acquainted after breaking the ice over negronis, we moved to the artsy red light district neighbourhood of Poblacion to visit Kapwa, a modern barbershop salon + creative studio, and means ‘fellow human being’ in Tagalog. One of the owners is my friend Deejae Paeste, known as the ‘Starving Artist’ whose prolific street art feature women inspired by tribal lore of sirens, spiritual figures and goddesses. Activities at his shop was a bit pic’n’mix, with people getting haircuts, some doing a photo-shoot, graffiti paint session and lively chit chats with bottled beers. Inevitably tipsy not having had dinner, we then ducked into the seedy Gangnam Style Korean restaurant next door; miserable waitresses but decent food.
Mr Bingo’s Twitter followers were clueless about the fact that he was actually meeting an ‘eevilmidget’, so it made sense for ironic laughs to check out Ringside Bar, infamous for its lady boxing, midget oil wrestling and bikini clad ‘guest relation officers’. Like a Tarantino movie, music is diabolically loud, blasting bad thang tunes like Amine’s Caroline.
Randomly, we bump into another foreign illustrator and his doll Toby. In possession of a sharpie, my souvenir for the night was an appropriate drawing on my arm.
Raucous entertainment was curbed around 3am because of an early 8.30am craft workshop I’d already committed to with my cousins. Impossible things before breakfast? No problem. Still drunk with a few hours sleep, somehow I managed to cut and paste pictures with inspirational words onto an A3-sized panel.
Armed with my coffee-fuelled aspirations, I head for late lunch with Mr Bingo, who kindly secured me a complementary pass for Graphika. We catch the talk by Gary Baseman, where I fully discovered the full extent and fame of his work. Totally love his fascination with folklore, and I wonder whether he’ll consider doing something inspired by the overlooked macabre myths of the Philippines. Throughout the day, I was of course still carrying my delightfully dorky vision board. Gary noticed and teased me about it, then decided that made me a strange character. Yeah, says the man who is always accompanied by a doll.
Mr Bingo, Gary and Toby get to hang out with beauty queens. Wearing a Great Britain sash, Mr Bingo ends the conference with all the rude drawings, humorous swearing and an overall brilliant performance. As if designed on purpose, the stage is conveniently decorated with those light box alphabets spelling the event, and he knocks over the letters to spell one of his his favourite pastime and word: RAP.
At some point past midnight, we close the C-lounge bar shooting whisky with a drunk Irishman, gin tonics and English breakfast tea for me. By Monday morning I resume my day job as a social engineer for Trainstation, whereas my traveller friends sail for sunset and tan on the white sands of Boracay beach.
They say it’s more fun in the Philippines. If you know where to look, you’re guaranteed an abundance of WTFuckery and magic realism. With regards to Mr Bingo & I, there’s a venn diagram of badass potential scheming…
Original article published in March Issue of Imperica #1 >> Other articles include:
Huel, and Silicon Valley’s craze for food replacements
Millennial founders – myth versus reality
Postcards from the Phillippines
The Snooper’s Charter
How to solve the problem of fake news
The psychological effects of the selfie
Copyright: necessary, evil, or necessary evil
Art, science, and climate change
“Combining insight with intelligence, humour with hard analysis and comment with candour, Imperica Magazine is simply what we want it to be: a great monthly read.”
Imperica magazine will be online-only, available as a PDF or EPUB (from the website), and a Kindle publication (from Amazon).
Help support art and writers :) x
Artwork by Shardcore
“We need the courage to create ourselves daily, to be bodacious enough… – as thinking, caring, laughing, loving human beings. I think that the courage to confront evil and turn it by dint of will into something applicable to the development of our evolution, individually and collectively, is exciting, honorable.”- Maya Angelou
One of my favourite poems is a hybrid fairytale written by Liz Lochhead.
I’m sharing it here, because Dreaming Frankenstein is an amazing collection of reframed narratives; stories that need to be revisited. They reveal lessons that have application for this modern dystopian world.
& just when our maiden had got
good & used to her isolation,
stopped daily expecting to be rescued,
had come to almost love her tower,
along comes This Prince
all the wrong answers.
Or course she had not been brought up to look for
originality or gingerbread
so at first she was quite undaunted
by his tendency to talk in strung-together cliché.
‘Just hang on and we’ll get you out of there’
he hollered like a fireman in some soap opera
when she confided her plight (the old
hag inside, etc. & how trapped she was);
well, it was corny but
he did look sort of gorgeous
axe and all.
So there she was humming, and pulling
all the pins out of her chignon,
throwing him all the usual lifelines
till, soon, he was shimmying in & out
every other day as though
he owned the place, bringing her
the sex manuals and skeins of silk
from which she was meant, eventually,
to weave the means of her own escape.
‘All very well & good’, she prompted,
‘but when exactly?’
She gave him till
well past the bell on the timeclock.
She mouthed at him, hinted,
she was keener that a TV quizmaster
that he should get it right
‘I’ll do everything in my power’ he intoned, ‘but
the impossible (she groaned) might
take a little longer.’ He grinned.
She pulled her glasses off.
‘All the better
to see you with my dear?’ he hazarded.
She screamed, cut off her hair.
‘Why, you’re beautiful?’ he guessed tentatively.
‘No, No, No!’ she
shrieked & stamped her foot so
hard it sank six cubits through the floorboards.
‘I love you?’ he came up with
as finally she tore herself in two.
Keen to observe before adding words to the seemingly infinite points of view, I’ve been keeping quiet about the local politics. However, having recently finished watching the second season of Narcos, I inevitably drew comparison with the Philippines given the new administration’s war on drugs. Also, several friends have expressed their concern about what’s being projected by various news reports, so here are some overdue thoughts.
The prevailing tourism campaign ‘It’s more Fun in the Philippines’ is ironic amidst the media spectacle surrounding the president. The continued toll of killings is certainly no laughing matter.
“So is it PH’ed up?”
Well, there’s certainly plenty of material that’s pure comedy, and here is a collection of some hocus jocus.
If someone is of the opinion that the list indicates a complaining mentality, this is what’s subliminally being asked everywhere in terms of outdoor signage.
The prolific stickers “May reklamo ka ba?” [Do you have a complaint] relates to public transport issues, and in a way, I certainly am curious about how the country is being driven by its population and representatives.
The lack of discipline is frequently discussed, and what about disciples blindly following with religious fervour?
By the way, though ‘putang ina’ translates literally as ‘whore mother’, this curse is more commonly thrown around to mean ‘son of a bitch’ or casually as ‘damn’. Then again, this is a country that is tickled by rape jokes, admires famous philandering male role models, and the bible has it written that men go forth and multiply.
Whores. Prostitutes. Selling your body for a price. Dollar rates per hour. Service in cubicles. Wait. (Holding Music). This is crazy, but here’s the customer number, so call me maybe?
To return to the drug issue, users seek a substance of choice, to cope with life’s troubles, which can make existing problems worse and likely causes new ones to develop, leaving feelings of isolation, helplessness, or shame. Patriotism, nationalism – aren’t these dangerous addictions too? Everyone seems hooked by ‘CHANGE’ being peddled in every political corner.
Finally, when it comes to declarations of ‘state of lawlessness’, this is an understatement. Human rights, human wrongs. The Philippines is perhaps less a tropical paradise, and more of a gangsters’ paradox.
I have yet to read a literary work by Gilbert K. Chesterton, but Wikipedia informs me that he is a ‘prince of paradox’, and a quote I have always liked is:
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”
Residing in this banana republic proudly named after ‘El Prudente’, King Phillip II of Spain – is definitely a whole new world for me. The national anthem teaches you to die for your motherland, but first it welcomes you to live with Mabuhay!
Here there be chinese dragons, an archipelago saturated in theatricality, with all sorts of thrillas. Some choose to see dirt, others find gold. I am reminded of Colombia’s old advertising slogan: “The only risk is wanting to stay“.
“Magical realism is defined as what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe…”
What? Leave London?!
Tired of London, Tired of Life they say…
Just like Vizzini from Princess Bride, I used to think and say that it was “Inconceivable!” too.
Well that actor Wallace Shawn is also in the film My Dinner with Andre, which is an eye-opener. There’s a specific scene where the city is viewed as a new type of concentration camp, its residents like prisoners, who having taken pride in the thing they built, are unable to leave it. So as much as I am a diehard dweller of L-town, I decided to progress to M-town. I dare say, the supposed capital of the world, was just not enough.
>> I know it’s out of fashion, and a trifle uncool.
But I can’t help it, I’m a romantic fool.
… on Echo beach, I watch the sun go down. <<
I’ve hardly escaped the concrete jungle though. The current home base is the district of Pasig, north of the river (which is somewhat comforting). Not quite living on the beach yet, but I have more frequent access to it, plus it’s always sunny anyway (mostly).
It’s a third world banana republic where red tape truly is dreadfully diabolical. As expected, the bureaucracy and government agencies are a nightmare. I yearn for a better public transport system (Oh TFL) and am starved of more convenient urban green spaces that aren’t private golf courses. Nevertheless, discussing what’s better/worse is a futile exercise.
Relocating was never about replacing one city for another. The choice was to explore unplayed options and expand my world further. Instead of paying for immersive entertainment, I’m lucidly living my own Thrilla in Manila. It’s an exciting game-changing endeavour, as I poke around the landscape to discover treasures and gain new victory points from challenges.
There are many images on Instagram for visual pixels, but here are some happy highlights thus far:
A surprising and spectacular start to the year, filled with beach travel and sunsets from La Union to Pagudpud, Palawan, Zambales and Batangas. A lyric in the Philippine national anthem that best expressed the state of my soul is ‘Alab ng puso sa diddib mo’y buhay’ [flaming/blazing heart, in your chest is alive]. That’s my default emoji alright. A popular term is also ‘hugot’ [drawn from a deep place, a tugging of the heartstrings] associated with any statements or declarations of honesty and #feels.
As for a soundtrack, “Be it for reason, be it for love, I won’t take the easy road.”
Mostly spent meeting people and making new friends, notably the amazing company TrainStation, which is personally serendipitous on so many levels. Several lessons and classes feature – guitar, kundalini yoga, outdoor rock climbing, surfing. In Tagalog the encouragement is ‘Go lang ng Go!’, similar to ‘carry on’ with more playful tones.
A brief sojourn back to London for a wedding, quality time with family/friends, and consolidating development cards. Was introduced to the IO Collective – a community project focused on re-inventing how we live, work and learn in the 21st century. Definitely my cup of tea. Wrote Same Same But Different.
Took an intensive training course to qualify for Neuro-Linguistic-Programming. This allows me to be a certified life coach. I passed my exam, and now I just need to practice with clients and run some workshops.
Had a blast watching paint dry, for Art BGC’s 2nd Mural Festival with Lebasse Projects.
Made some headway on secret plans for a real estate company. The new life also demanded a new hair cut! Oh, and the country elects a controversial new President. #ChangeIsComing
Hanging out with the fantastically talented people of Karnabal, produced by the wonderful Sipat Lawin Ensemble. I popped my spoken word cherry, by joining an open mic night called Strange Pilgrims. Lots of werk werk werk werk werk. Am a social engineer for a CSR initiative called Change Station. Will collaborate on projects with La Union Soul Community, events with Make It Blissful and other schemes around the den of subcultures that is Cubao Expo.
>> Next up – JULY
Bought the ticket, and will take the ride for Rental Car Rally in LA.
Do you have a flag?
Until the next update, Happy (PH) Independence Day!
Here’s to the free-range life.