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.