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Making an Exhibition of Myself in Makati

PHILIPPINES | Thursday, 4 July 2013 | Views [634]

It was back to that old ex-US military base at Clark, Manila, The Philippines. And it was for no other reason than there was an available flight. On this, my second trip to Makati City, one of the accumulated cities which comprise Manila, a Dutch tourist injured his forehead on the door to the bus luggage compartment. Bright, foreign, blood sprayed over the wood and metal passenger bench, over that unfortunate man’s shirt and over the Filipino pathway. To all intents and purposes it was a superficial wound, yet it drew much attention and slightly delayed that bus from Clark airport to Makati. It was an interesting beginning to our two hour journey returning to Manila city.
This time we approached Manila in broad daylight. We had the dubious delight of witnessing the traditional city traffic jams. We neared the spot where we had been dropped off last time and, understanding that our hotel was but a walk away from where the bus dropped us that afternoon, we decided to walk. We were right, and thanks to the guide book embedded in my 7 inch Android tablet and we were able to navigate past over-dressed police guards – presenting badges, guns and curious smiles. We passed, or were passed by over-dressed jeepneys and Filipinas, seemingly all the same age, with long dark hair, brandishing either film star enigmatic sunglasses or eyes fluttering unbelievably false eye lashes.
That night's party was courtesy of one of Manila's upcoming conceptual artists. As parties go that would have raised the roof, were it not staged outside the Ayalal Museum. In that tropical heat, hot and cool jazz thrumbed through Makati's pleasantly floral Greenbelt eco-mall, and our bodies. Even hotter dancers cavorted to pounding drum beats and sexy saxophone sounds. We over-age and under-fit pedestrians gazed on in a red wine fuelled awe, wondering what had happened to our youth, and where and when we had mis-spent it.
My new chums from The Philippines gave us a night to remember amidst the brandishing of donuts and/or bananas, pulsing beats and celebrity portraits. The small ArtistSpace gallery, an adjunct to that Ayala Museum, fairly rocked that night. It was in true bohemian fashion, while Manila’s conservative elite tut tutted and urged for an early end to that party’s cavorting. Despite killjoys, the artist proved that there still was fun to be had in old Manila, and also in Art.
The very next day, amidst shopping which came in brown paper bags - yes in The Philippines you can still receive groceries in actual brown paper bags; we wandered the early morning Manila streets in search of jeepneys. There was, maybe, an hour to go before a day of meetings. I wanted to get a little closer to those big chrome-plated beasts, pat their shiny hides and remember my own jeep beast languishing in rural Malaysia. Wandering around the outskirts of the Greenbelt complex, we did manage to spot one of two of those mechanical dinosaurs as they dashed past our hotel, too quick to shoot (with the small cannon), and decided to lay in wait near a stretch of cooling buildings. Sightings were poor. The business meeting, replete with stuffed, preserved bull’s heads on the walls, swallowed half a day. It only finished in time to allow us to rest before I was to read my poems at that night's performance. There was no further time to stalk the infamous, elusive, jeepney.
It had been two days and I was still to find coffee that tasted of coffee. It was a quest left over from the previous visit to Makati City. Was I searching in the wrong places? The restaurants and cafes I frequented only seemed to proffer the weakest, most insipid coffee - worthy only of England and the dourest of cafes, in the most insalubrious of places. The best coffee I had in Manila, up to that point, was that which came in a 3-in-1 packet. Even that Spanish restaurant, bedecked with wall hangings of real, stuffed, bull's heads, only offered coffee with powdered milk. It was a shock. No small jug of fresh cream, or container of full-fat milk worthy of blocking the elitist of arteries - no, instead I was confronted with two small pots - one of sugar and the other - powdered milk. The contents of that meagre pot looked like finely powdered parmesan cheese. Luckily the very next day we were due to travel out of the city and towards fields where Robusta coffee beans were grown. My hopes of finding a decent cup of coffee were high.
That new day dawned.  We were hustled into awaiting cars to undertake a journey out into the countryside adjacent to Manila. It was a one-hour bumpy journey – bumpy because Filipino roads were becoming as ill-maintained as their Indian cousins, and we were approaching the town of Tagaytay. The digital guidebook hinted that Tagaytay was a great place to eat. We didn’t eat there. Instead, we drove up a hill, atop of which was a fruit small market and a large car park, rapidly filling with all means of transport from buses to cars, motorcycle and sidecar combinations and those elusive jeepney beasts. I was delighted in finally tracking down a herd of jeepneys and, camera at the ready; I was all set to pounce. Pounce I did. I snapped away until the smiles of patient jeepney drivers turned to laughs of derision at the sad, and quite possibly mad, tourist and his ageing camera. 
I lowered my Canon and took stock. Just why did I need so many photos of one jeepney. The answer was, of course, that I didn’t. I sobered up from my frenzy, calmed down and began to accept those part-jeep, part-bus vehicles in all their vehicleness. I had satiated my desire to be up close and personal with jeepneys, but decent coffee remained as elusive as ever. 
Bananas and pineapple appeared to be the favourite fruit of the market. Women of all ages and sizes reached out weathered hands, proffering tantalising morsels of sweet fruit to entice the unwary traveller to buy. We didn’t, instead we climbed the rest of the hill, on foot.
Atop that hill was The People's Park in the Sky, which was badly in need of repair, love and maintenance. It reminded me of Clacton-On-Sea (UK) on a bad Sunday in July, only the crowds were Filipinos and Filipinas, not chapatti munching Punjabis. Having spent an inordinate amount of time on that hill, and getting no closer to coffee, we eventually sped off for what had become a late lunch. It was Sunday, family day, and restaurants were full. In a state of near hunger the decision was made to stop at a burger joint. But it was no ordinary burger joint. The name on the sign, looking suspiciously like an eastern rendering of McDonalds, bore the legend – MUSHROOM BURGER. That proved to be very literal, for the burger I received was a bun containing oyster mushrooms, and only oyster mushrooms. It was as advertised on that signboard.
A Filipino market came next, replete with stalls of a myriad dried fishes, luscious fruits and vegetables, and even a cow’s head stripped of its skin. The meandering rows of stall were clean for a market, as if an inspection had just taken place and the stall holders had not yet had time to get back to normal. I bought bags of dried fish of all types and sizes, and one packet of smoked fish smelling for all the world like Great Yarmouth Kippers (or Bloaters). I was getting nostalgic for the Yarmouth ‘Rows’ of my father’s boyhood, and the Tinapa (smoked Filipino fish) helped in a very small way. But there were no coffee beans evident. No piles of freshly roasted beans, no wafts of ground coffee, no coffee in evidence at all. I sighed a coffeeless sigh, and resigned myself for yet another trip to The Philippines and returning with no local coffee. And I did. To this day I have not tasted an authentic Filipino coffee, which I am certain must exist, if only to tease me. Perhaps, one day, there will be another trip, and another search for that Scarlett Pimpernel of all coffees, the home grown Filipino coffee. I await that day. 

Tags: art, asia, makati, manila, philippines


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