Photographing Manila as an expat

Took a stroll the other day with a fellow photography enthusiast and Novita through a part of Manila most expats would never dare explore. Between that area and the area we live in, “Fort Bonifacio”, there’s a massive, imposing wall reaching 5 meters in some places.

I wasn’t sure if it was keeping them out, or keeping us walled in.

The security guards near one entrance just smiled and said there’s no way we could enter. Of course that didn’t stop us – we found a small gate 300 meters down the road that led us into what can only be deemed the polar opposite of where we live.

In Indonesia, I regularly went exploring on foot through less developed areas, landfills, and slums. The major difference was that I understood what those around me were saying. Yet after more than a year in Manila, I still can’t speak a lick of Tagalog – English is much more widespread. I’ll admit, it feels more vulnerable not knowing what the young guys are saying about Novita when they chuckle together. I try to smile and keep walking when I’m pretty sure they’re saying something derogatory about her – continually reminding myself that we’re the visitors wandering around their grounds by choice. It’s not always easy.

Luckily, most of those we met on the street were friendly and just wanted to practice their English. I managed to take a few interesting photos, but for the most part simply wanted to take in my surroundings and gauge everyone’s response to our cameras. I consider it groundwork for going out again.

Unfortunately, the next day, my friend went out again on his own to take photos and was pick-pocketed. His phone was stolen right out of his bag as he was taking pics. He felt it, but by the time he realized it, the guy was on his way out of there. A few girls pointed the thief out and my friend managed to get his phone back. It is a reminder to not always assume the best in people I suppose, but it could have happened nearly anywhere. It’s not fair to label a country, its people, or their station in life – there are thieves in every country, culture, and level of society. It is what it is. Better to lose a cheap Nokia than a pension plan. It won’t deter him; he’ll be back out next weekend with his camera and a grin.

It’s taken me much longer to get out with my camera in Manila than it ever did in Jakarta. But I hope I can get to know the people beyond my expat bubble, to see the similarities and contrast amongst Indonesian and Filipino people, and learn to appreciate this amazing culture just as I did with my beloved Indonesia.

  • John Orford

    looking forward to more pictures from outside of the expat bubble!

    • Thanks, John. I’ll be doing lots of photography this year. I’ll definitely keep posting new material. Cheers.

  • Totally awesome shots. Look forward to more. Now if you speak to Filipinos, they will always tell you if traveling to an unknown area, always travel in a group. Safety in numbers. The Philippines is a mix of rich and poor and a lot of foreigners. For many it is a survival economy. That means do whatever it takes to survive. Your friend was lucky it was just his phone. If that was a serious thief or pack of theives it could’ve been worse, like a knife point in the back, and everything gone… or worse.

  • Anonymous

    These shots are really powerful and I’m looking forward to seeing more. What you wrote is really interesting to me as well. Thanks!

  • Smirnoff1969

    most foreigners and expats like yourself are shielded from the real situation in the country. i would caution your friend and yourself from venturing out again just to take pictures even if what you bring are just your cameras. try wearing your rolex on the LRT as opposed to the subways of NYC (but then again, expats don’t need to take public transpo).

    there’s a reason for the wall…

    • I don’t own a Rolex, nor would I ever wear one out when taking photos if I could afford one.

      When you say that you would caution us from going out to take photos, in what manner are you speaking of? Our own personal safety? Theft from non-violent or violent attackers?

      Many expats are absolutely shielded from the “real” Manila – which is exactly why I’m striving to get out into the city more. What’s the point in living in a foreign country if all you see are the insides of Starbucks, malls, and fancy restaurants?

      • I think what he meant was, be careful of bringing your expensive gadgets especially your digital SLR. Because you might be a target for thieves. I am a local and yes, I couldn’t go stroll and take photographs of my city because of thieves.

    • Duongungdien

      Hey, your English is so bad. I dont know what u say here. It’s not bc i m stupid. hahahah……..

  • sam

    stumbled on your blog while looking for s95 reviews, and it was a bonus to find out you were indonesia for several years, and now in manila! i lived in jakarta for a year, so i’m enjoying reading your discoveries of the philippines and comparisons with jakarta. i’ll go through the rest of your blogs and hopefully find something about cebu, my hometown!