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First impressions of Philippines March 17, 2016

Posted by globejam in Philippines.

Part I of a series.

traffic_manilaI had had no plans for a holiday, definitely not one to the Philippines. But destiny had other ideas and there I was flying into the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on a bright Wednesday morning.

As I leaned over my wife and peered through the aircraft window, I saw the Pasig river and the much blacker San Juan river winding their way through Metro Manila. What appeared to be tin-roofed tenements on both banks reminded me of the slums near the Cooum. The houses were tightly packed interspersed with patches of greenery. I could not help but think that Manila could very well be a twin of Chennai.

The airport turned out to be not much bigger, but cleaner and brighter. More like the Hyderabad airport than Chennai’s, though definitely not like Changi or Heathrow. The airport officials like their counterparts around the world were grim faced and unsmiling. Just like in Chennai, the signs and directions at the airport left a lot to be desired and the airport security guards though better dressed, appeared just as surly and unhelpful as their Indian brethren. Consequently it was a good while before we could spot family members who had come to pick us up.

Having been ensconced in air-conditioning for over 12 hours, the heat hit us as we exited the airport. The temperature and humidity levels were almost identical to what we are used to in Chennai, though maybe the sky was marginally bluer and the sun a wee bit sharper. Luckily, we were back in air-conditioned comfort once we boarded the Toyota Innova that has come to take us to our accommodations.

The initial part of the drive from the airport reinforced the impression that Manila was just like Chennai. Construction of flyovers and subways appeared to be in full swing and there were mounds of construction debris piled alongside the roads. Thick and ugly strands of wires and cables hung between electrical post like last year’s forgotten festoons. The traffic was horrendous and progress slow. Pedestrians dodged traffic in their quest to reach the other side of the road. The same models of vehicles that we find in India, the Hyundai i10s, Innovas and Fortuners were vying for space on 2- and 4-lane roads. It was only the American style Pickup trucks, the colourful jeepnies and the auto-rickshaw-like tricycles that reminded us that this was not Chennai.

A while later we passed through the central business district, Makati. By then, we had begun to notice some significant differences.

Despite the heavy traffic, there was no honking. Our driver appeared unflustered and patient and stuck to his lane. When he did switch lanes, the other drivers gave way gracefully. Nobody swore or showed the middle finger. A few motorbikes weaved their way in and out of traffic, but otherwise everyone appeared disciplined in their driving and considerate to other road users.

As for the trash on the roads, apart from the construction debris, not much else was there to be seen. No pieces of paper or plastic bags flying around, no overflowing bins, and definitely no stray dogs running around tearing Styrofoam cartons apart. Manila appeared clean. Not clean like Singapore is, where there is always someone sweeping and swabbing right behind you all the time, but clean in a “people are naturally clean and don’t litter” kind of way. The heart of Metro Manila’s Makati region, where most of the larger banks and offices are located, had wide green spaces, neat tall buildings and looked almost as shiny and new as parts of Singapore.

Within an hour of landing in Manila, we realized that any resemblance between Chennai and Manila was merely illusory. Manila may be just as crowded as Indian metros, but it was leagues ahead of our cities in terms of cleanliness and civility.

The more we saw of Manila and the rest of the Luzon island over the next few days, the more visible these fundamental differences became. I tried to placate myself by thinking that India’s population pressures were the reason for the stark differences. However, a cursory search on population and demographics quickly blew this theory away. Though Philippines has one-tenth of India’s population, it’s land mass is also considerably smaller. so, in terms of population density, India and the Philippines are not far apart, India ranking 31st with 376 people per square kilometer while the Philippines comes in at no.34 with 359 people per square kilometer. So definitely, population was not the reason for the differences.

So what makes Manila cleaner and kinder? It could be the GDP and literacy levels. There is a yawning gap between the two countries with Philippines way ahead of us. Their GDP is nearly double ours and their literacy levels are well above 94% while we are still languishing in the mid-60s. Maybe the homogeneity of the population – culturally, ethnically and economically – helps. May be the government is more efficient.

Or, it could just be the attitude of people.



1. pia jingco - March 17, 2016

Wow. I just chanced upon this blog while looking for WordPress sites related to the Philippines, and I’m glad I did! Your post is so refreshing; my husband, my friends and I have been lamenting about our lack of discipline and manners as a people, but I suppose we just need to look at the right places and appreciate our fellow Filipinos who represent our country in a positive way. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective!

globejam - March 17, 2016

Thank you for dropping by. Planning to write about the rest of my trip. So do come back once in a while. Philippines is a truly wonderful country with gentle, gracious people (just like in Egypt :)). Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!

pia jingco - March 17, 2016

You are very kind! Thank you again, and I look forward to reading more of your posts 🙂

2. anghulinghugotero - March 17, 2016

Thanks for writing this sir. I just wish more Filipinos would be more accepting of their country.

globejam - March 17, 2016

I have had a wonderful experience in your country. Thank you.

3. S.satish Kumar - March 17, 2016

I am glad you took time out and flew out of the country,even if it was for a wedding and not a planned holiday.Welcome back and as always your articles and thoughts are also a welcome relief.I have kind of washed my hands off India and i think it is beyond saving and the last sentence of the article reflects my thoughts too.

globejam - March 18, 2016

Thank you.

4. Baskar Dattatri - March 17, 2016

Urban planner Mr.Dattatri considered Madras (Now called Chennai) & Manila as twin cities but Sanjay what you compared between Chennai & Manila is very interesting and I must say is quiet accurate in your judgement . Yes! It’s the people who make all the difference to a place especially to the tourist visiting any city.

I have had the opportunity of working with the hard working & very hospitable filipinos for well over three decades and married to one; Filipinos are not only friendly, but always smiling & laughing – very resilient to the challenges they face year in and year out be it mega tropical storms flooding their cities, towns & provinces;volcanic eruptions spewing ash, earth quakes rattling every now & then the Philippines archipelogo comprising of about 7500 islands (many more during low tide!!) Whatever it is as the Philippines Tourist board slogan advertises their country “It’s certainly more fun in the Philippines”
I warmly invite your readers (Especially the Indians) to come over and visit and see the difference and get to compare the cities as you have done!

5. Gita - March 17, 2016

Definitely different from an Indian city. No honking. Road discipline. No garbage. No raised voices. Friendly people. Courteous. I might be partial since I got a lot of complements!

Very well written. Looking forward to the rest of this series!!

6. pia jingco - March 21, 2016

Reblogged this on t a s t e & s e e ! and commented:
Many times I catch myself pointing out the flaws in the Pinoy psyche and in the Philippines, as a whole. I often remember and can relate to how a former colleague would say, “Ang hirap mo namang mahalin, Pilipinas!” (It’s so hard to love you, Philippines!”) especially when I see our lack of public discipline and our mass amnesia in regard to politics (i.e., we keep voting for the same people who rob us blind, violate our human rights and make a mockery of our justice system).
Then I encounter articles like this one, giving a totally different perspective of my country and my people. It’s like a ray of sunshine.
May this and globejam’s other posts about the Philippines spread especially among us, Filipinos, that we may be challenged to live up to his view of us.

globejam - March 22, 2016

Glad to share to love and kindness we encountered during our short stay. Thanks for your kind words.

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9. Charmaine Belonio - March 21, 2016

Wow! This is so encouraging. As someone who was born and raised here, I have sometimes failed to see what you’ve seen and what you’ve written about. I hope you have a great time while travelling in Manila!

globejam - March 22, 2016

Thanks. Had a whale of a time in the Philippines. Can’t wait to come back!

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12. anorthernsoulweb - August 25, 2016

I doubt very much if I would feel at home so quickly in another foreign country. There is something almost welcoming about the Philippines and that something centres around how proud they are that you are in their country. Granted – there are problems here and many of those problems are tucked away from view, but the Philippines in general is coming out of the third world tag associated with it. I settled here last year after four previous visits and i really enjoy the life here, some things take some getting used to but it is a part of my new life. The new regime here will hopefully improve life for the ordinary Filipino and if that can be achieved then it can only be good news for the future of the Philippines. I really hope you visit here again with the positivety you have.

globejam - August 30, 2016

Definitely looking forward to visiting again. Thanks for the comment.

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