The Inconstancy of Life: A Look at the Living, Breathing Streets of Manila

Why do the weirdest things always seem to happen to me?

For example, today, I walk around Manila for a few hours and about a dozen weird things occurred in my immediate vicinity. For a while there, I actually wondered if I was some sort of a magnet for things that are out of this world. Finally, I decided that I just really have the most awful luck.

Wednesday, September 19

I spent the better part of the day just lying on my bed watching Rurouni Kenshin, or what most of you know as Samurai X. If you don’t have even the slightest idea what that is then I pity you. For those of you who are familiar with it but have forgotten the details, here’s a short rundown. It’s about a samurai who became a legend during the revolution against the shogunate–yes, I’m talking about the revolution that brought down Japan’s warlords and led to the relatively peaceful Meiji era. Kenshin Himura, former hitoriki or manslayer, is now a wanderer who wants to atone for his sins. It’s a good show, so check it out when you have the time.

Anyway, at about four in the afternoon I was feeling restless from all the sitting around. I needed to get out of the house so I showered and walked out of our building. I had nowhere specific in mind so I just started walking from the corner of Estrada and Singalong to Taft Avenue. When I got there, I turned right and headed towards Quirino Avenue. From there, Remedios Circle was just a few blocks away.

Remedios Circle is this, well, circle, smack dab in the middle of Malate-Ermita’s red light district. It was the converging point for all things stupid and raunchy, so you really don’t want to be caught walking around here alone and with jewelry or money on you. Still, what’s life without a little risk? Also, I’ve done this a few times before, so I was pretty confident in my ability to keep myself out of harm’s way.

If you stand in the middle of the Remedios Circle and turn around slowly, you’re going to see that the park in the middle is surrounded by bars, cafes, and cafes pretending to be bars. Three streets converge on the Circle–Remedios, Jorge Bocobo, and Adriatico–and all of these streets have their own share of bars, nightclubs, and, um, happy ending massage parlors (if you know what I mean).

The last time I walked around the Malate-Ermita district was a few months ago, and back then I thought I had this place memorized. But today, while I was walking, I had this weird sense that I was in a place that was both familiar and foreign at the same time. Gandalf can express my thoughts better, so here he is:

The names of the roads were familiar, but aside from that, everything’s changed. Don’t get me wrong though, I know the nature of the type of businesses that populate this district. Competition is crazy, and some establishments don’t last very long. Businesses come and go. Still, it’s only been a few months. How can so much have changed?

That was when it hit me. I’ve read about people saying that cities are living, breathing things–that cities are organisms that grow, expand, and change when no one’s looking. I experienced that today. And, I realized, that’s what I liked best about living in the city–just when you think the place is getting boring, it still manages to pull a stunt that you never would have expected.

I stepped off Remedios Circle and started re-discovering the streets around it. It was epic. I found this awesome Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf branch along Julio Nakpil that had a Colonial Era vibe going on. It was in this little cul-de-sac and the interior looked really cozy. I promised myself that I’d try it there when I get the chance. (At this point, I really think CBTL should start paying me for talking about their shop all the damn time.)

Anyway, as much as it has changed, the district was still pretty boring while the sun was up. They don’t call it nightlife for nothing. So, after exploring a few streets, I headed to Robinson’s Place Manila to cool off and watch a movie. Three guesses on what I watched.

With regards to the movie, I have a couple things to say:

  • Karl Urban was awesome. I mean, he had a helmet on the whole movie. He was also wearing a kevlar suit, just like in the poster above. Basically, the only skin you can see on him was his jaw. Still, he managed to deliver a legendary performance, which made the movie so worth it. I really think Karl Urban is one of the most underrated actors out there, and he should be given a chance to prove himself Oscar-worthy.
  • Lena Headey. Remarkable. Beautiful. No matter what role she takes on, she delivers. If you don’t know who she is, watch Game of Thrones and look for that annoying little bitch Cersei Lannister. Or watch 300 and look for the awesome woman-behind-the-man Queen Gorgo. She was no less powerful in this film. And she still managed to give off very alluring sex appeal, despite playing a scarred ex-hooker who now heads a syndicate in an irradiated post-apocalyptic city.
  • Olivia Thirlby was…how do I put this–unremarkable. I don’t know, she didn’t really have that much of an effect on the film. It might not be her fault though. Karl Urban and Lena Headey are both heavyweights and both delivered such amazing performances. The main thing that stuck out for me regarding Thirlby was that she had angles that reminded me a bit of Yvonne Strahovski/Sarah Walker in the last season of Chuck.

The movie was pretty short, only about an hour and a half long. I got out of the mall at around seven and jumped right back into the red light district. You know how some people say that things don’t start getting fun until 10 or so? Well, that’s not true in this district. At 7pm, the weirdest characters were already out and about, looking for their first prey for the night, and if you’re not careful, you could end up in a gutter somewhere, naked and penniless.

My plan was to walk from Pedro Gil to Remedios Circle from the mall, via Jorge Bocobo. That proved to be only theoretical. The lights and the people confused me, and I ended up taking side streets that got darker and more dangerous with every turn. Translation: it was awesome.

I passed by one of those massage parlors, with its bright lights and half-naked receptionists. With the harsh, fluorescent lighting and the white-clad girls in the waiting area, the place looked a lot like some dude’s idea of heaven. There was this street where hookers showcased their wares and I am telling you, it wasn’t a place for the faint of heart. A relatively good-looking girl saw me looking at her, and as I walked by, she raised her skirt and winked. What I saw made me change my initial assertion that she was a girl..that he was a girl…oh nevermind.

After the trip down hooker lane, I found myself watching as a young Caucasian woman got mugged. Three punks in baggy shorts and handkerchiefs hiding their faces pushed the woman to the wall and grabbed her stuff. One of them even patted her down, just in case they missed something valuable, and managed to play with her breasts in the process. One of them held a gun. A lot of people saw what happened, but what could we have done? After making sure that the woman was okay, I left the scene. I sure hope someone called the police.

After that, I managed to stumble onto Malvar Street, which helped me figure out my bearings. Malvar was this one-way street that led straight to Taft Avenue. From there, I hopped into a jeepney and got myself home. I know I should feel shaken from all the things I went through today but weirdly enough, I’m not. I guess I’m numb to the whole shebang now. Like I said, this isn’t the first time that I’ve taken a walk around that particular district.

With regards to why the weirdest things always seem to happen to me, it might be because I do the weirdest shit. It just comes with the territory.



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