Hypethetical Question: If I were to take a walking tour of North Philly with my camera, taking shots of people's houses and candids of their lives out on the street, how long would it take for the police to find my bullet-ridden corpse and for the cash in my wallet to be used for crack?
I'm not looking for an answer, I just wanted to express how different the culture is here.
Today I felt like seeing something new. So I took a walk back in the direction of the American-Manila Cemetary which I had visited during one of my first weeks here. But since I had already seen it, I just kept walking. About 2 and a half miles later, I came to a whole new section of Manila that I'd never experienced before. And what an experience it was!
After passing through a vast area of numerous construction sites of Fort Bonafacio/Taguig City (it's what's planned to be the Philippines "Premiere" City, or the "New Makati" by 2020), I came to a middle income residential area across the highway from the massive MarketMarket shopping center. Lots of tricycles, outdoor food stands, a couple of barber shops and salons, all situated at the top of a hill.
Pausing for a second, I looked to my right and saw a small opening in between 2 shop buildings and decided to check it out. Through this narrow passageway, I came to a long set of rough steps, carved out of cement. These stairs led down the hill and opened up into a massive complex of houses, an entire village situated along both slopes of a small valley.
I slowly ventured down the uneven steps (it had been raining hard for about an hour previous to this, so everything was wet, too) and stepped into this new environment. It looked like the entire valley had been covered in cement, the narrow alleys between houses and the houses themeselves were cement or concrete blocks with metal scraps used for many of the roofs . Along the sides of these narrow passages were gutters that were rushing with rain water and sewage; there had been an attempt to concrete them over, but at many places, the concrete had fallen through making large holes in the ground and you could see under the rocks. There were also numerous blue plastic pipes, which had been layed in grooves in the concrete and covered, but they, too, had become exposed over time.
It's a bit much to try and describe everything that I witnessed in this place and the conditions that people live in here, so I'll let the pictures speak. In response to my initial question at the top about taking pictures in North Philly, don't worry, it's (literaly) a whole different world here. I ran into a group of teenage guys who were overjoyed to see me, addressing me as "Kuya" and show off their tattoos (they even ran off to get another guy, the one with the big dragon on his back). Then there was the group of older guys playing poker, who paused in their game to pose for a picture. I was in no danger whatsoever.
It really was amazing to be that deep into such an out of the way area and have such close contact with such friendly and welcoming people. Even with all the differences in customs and culture, sometimes it's hard to place yourself in a different country when you're basically living inside a Western mega-mall. A 5-mile trek with a quick turn down a narrow side alley paved with cement will certainly get you back in touch with halfway-around-the-world reality.
Some of the sights were pretty tough to stomach, but I wouldn't want go back to the U.S. without seeing these things firsthand and I think I was seeking that out today. Your life, as you know it, suddenly comes under a new light, with a new perspective, when you walk through areas like this- something that can't be communicated through movies or TV or even this blog. The world suddenly seems so massively large, with you so small and so far away from home, but right next to people who aren't so different than you. I hope I never forget that feeling.