Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Phil Me Up

More comparative study touring this week folks, this time to the Philippines, somewhere I'd never been before. Alas though, Tony Fernandes' AirAsia doesn't fly to the country for some reason (you'd think he'd be a shoe in with a name like that) so I had to bag a non-budget Air Philippines flight to Manila. Four hours later I touched down at Ninoy Aquino airport and took a taxi that was every bit as dodgy as the ones down at Soekarno-Hatta into town.

It turns out that Manila is similar to Jakarta in many respects, only with more pork, booze and firearms on the menu. The capital of the Philippines is both crowded, traffic jammed, polluted and possessed of a rich/poor chasm that would turn Dick Cheney into a socialist. The people also look exactly like Indonesians, although frustratingly, and rather inconsiderately in my view, they don't speak any Indonesian.

I soon found myself taking in all the classic tourist sites, including a walk through the huge and action packed Rizal Park to the waterfront (which, I have to say, looks considerably cleaner and less likely to be incubating horrendous skin diseases than the turgid stuff sloshing around in Jakarta Bay does). Eventually it was time for a feed. I passed on a local fast food chain called Chic Boy but I felt unwilling to delve into the whole transgender can of worms that the name seemed to imply. Instead, I headed to an infamous bar called the Hobbit House and ordered up an Elvis flooring amount of pork.

The Hobbit House bar is rather unique in that its serving staff are all of diminutive stature. Basically they’re midgets and dwarves, as the not so politically correct terms for these delightful creatures have it. It was slightly unnerving to have one's beer poured by someone not much taller than the tabletop and I wondered if it was all a subtle psychological ploy to make the food portions seem larger in comparison with their tiny frames. I also speculated that naughtier Asian bars could exploit the low-on-the-ground-ness of the female waiting staff to offer customers various other services whilst they supped on their beers.

The classic rock covers band was soon shaking their locks though and, despite my usual misgivings about such bands, I had to admit that they were pretty good. The Philippines is famed for its musicians and, to be honest, the band that I saw at least, micturated all over their Indonesian counterparts from a great height.

The next morning it was time to jump on a bus bound for the beach. As I waited outside the hotel, I noticed a sign next to the security guard in the lobby saying, "Please deposit your firearms here." This is certainly not something you see in Jakarta thank God, as the place would be a bloodbath if your Budi Average was allowed to pack a piece.

The Philippines' recent history is somewhat intertwined with Uncle Sam of course, although I'm not sure that this desire to bang away like a porn star on speed is indigenous to the country or has been largely influenced by the old Charlton Heston brigade. In any case, I'm sure that Filipinos don't quite stretch to insisting, like Chuck, that they will only be separated from their weapons when they’re prized from their cold dead hands. Mind you, when Douglas MacArthur (in many respects perhaps a Heston antecedent) strode ashore and declared to the people of the Philippines that, "I have returned," presumably he was packing a few shooters in his belt.

Three hours from Manila, lays the tourist island of Mindoro and I thought that this would offer a genuine comparative study tour opportunity. It would thus afford me the chance test my firmly held belief that the people in charge of tourism in Indonesia, far from being experts in their own country’s geography and culture, would in fact find it hard to locate their own private parts without the aid of GPS system and are about as marketing savvy as a man who's just come up with a, "Honk if you're Ahmadiyah" bumper sticker.

Mindoro is a gorgeous place in fact and offers top diving, waterfalls, beaches, snorkelling, hot springs and mountains, much like any Indonesian island worth its salt in fact. Where it differed though was in its tourist numbers, which seemed to be at that Goldilocks, "just right," level. Neither creaking under the weight of sheer numbers with an infrastructure pushed to bursting point, like the comparably sized Bali is, but at the same time enjoying enough visitors give the place a bit of fun and life, unlike pretty much everywhere else in Indonesia outside of Bali, Mindoro is everything that islands like Lombok or Belitung could be, but aren't.

Alas, it was all too soon time to return to the Big Durian. I hadn't had nearly enough time to work on my pork belly, but it had been a thoroughly decent break from the psychic distress that Jakarta inflicts on me on a daily basis. Well worth a look.