The country has far more poverty than Singapore and far greater pronounced poverty than the US. It's obvious that there is a huge gap between the wealthy and the rest of the country who have very little. However, based on where I was staying during the week, the drive from the airport via taxi was my first, and only, real glimpse of just how much there is.
We landed around 9:30pm on Tuesday, and for the first 15 minutes of the drive, I was shocked to see how many children were out playing in the dark, congested streets of Manila - most, in the their bare feet. Adults were either standing on street corners, approaching taxis departing the airport begging for money, or picking through hundreds of bags of garbage for food or anything of value. It was a very different experience than anything you'd ever see in Singapore or almost anywhere in the US....aside from maybe Detroit...(too soon??)
A few minutes later, however, the scene changed dramatically as we approached Makati, one of the business districts of Manila. The Ayala family, Philippines billionaires, own a vast majority of real estate in the area and apparently have gone to great lengths to protect their property against crime and terrorism - in particular after a 2007 bombing in one of the more popular malls in the city. The photo to the right is an example of what you see outside almost every major hotel or office building - armed guards who check just about every bag that comes in and out of the doors of the building. Most buildings also have a dog sitting outside, I assume providing extra warning against explosives.
The interesting part is that these same guards were exceedingly polite, often saluting businessmen, and even took their finger of the trigger of their shotgun or assault rifle for long enough to offer directions to the Starbucks and Krispy-Kreme, both just down the street. And of course, though you needed no help finding one, the guards would gladly point you to the Philippines version of McDonalds.....a staples for locals......Jollibee! Now, I truly had some amazing food in the Philippines, thanks to my SAP hosts - so I didn't complain when we headed to Jollibee one afternoon for lunch. Let's just say I'm not sure whether people in the Philippines are "smaller" because of the miniature serving sizes or because the options just aren't very appetizing to begin with......(Tuna Pie???)
Another local icon of the Philippines is the Jeepney! This common form of public transportation can be found all over Manila, and most of the Philippines I'm told. They originated from left over US military Jeeps, but have obviously gone through some major transformation to become what they are today. Unfortunately, I was told they are a dying breed because they consume about the same amount of fuel as a modern bus, but carry 1/4 of the passengers. They really add some unique character to the busy streets of Manila and if they are going away, I'm glad I got to see...and dodge......a few of them while I was in the city.
To conclude this week's update about the Philippines, however, I would be remiss if I didn't share the experience of my final night in Manila. Following a very succesful customer event and press meeting, I took five local SAP marketing team members to dinner in the area known as Greenbelt. This is the touristy, business district area of Makati, but was recommended by a few local people for good restaurants. Dinner was good, but the visit to the Hard Rock Cafe in Manila was the real experience. Apparently, Filipinos really enjoy live music....and San Miguel beer......and margaritas. This photo is evidence of how both interacted with me at the Hard Rock Cafe, where we saw the "Mocha Girls" perform live. (yes - that's a Mocha Girl, and I'm wearing a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt that was purchased for and given to me just seconds before this photo was taken).
Needless to say, it was a very enjoyable final night in the Philippines with co-workers, but I was very pleased to touch down in Singapore the following day. I'm even more excited, as a write this, that I have only 3 days until I board a plane to head to the US to see you all and prepare to bring Jennifer and kids along with me back to Singapore!