Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Manila, by Carlos

Two Sundays ago, D and I took a Carlos Celdran tour of Manila’s Chinatown area and surrounds. Carlos describes the tour thus:

Rediscover Chinatown! Let's take a Saturday afternoon stroll and together we'll rediscover the charms of one of Manila's oldest districts. We'll ride a horse drawn coach and check out much of its remaining 19th century architecture. The tour will be capped by a visit to a Buddhist temple and a traditional chinese pastry shop.

This is Carlos, showing a picture of the door behind him in better times. (I can’t recall the significance of the door; I am a bad student.)

It was very entertaining and interesting. It included a visit to one of the 19th-century buildings that now houses 10 families:

It felt a little intrusive to barge into the place, but, as Carlos had pre-arranged it all, nobody seemed to mind. The living quarters are small. This photo of a kitchen (this is the entire kitchen -- use the blue jug for a sense of scale...note: jug is not a wacky novelty giant jug) gives an idea of the scale of things:

Rent is 2000 pesos (approx A$50) per month. Although, by Australian standards, it was cramped and poor inside, it was – as Carlos pointed out – immaculately clean and “smelled more of old soap than old socks.” A couple more shots of the inside:

Carlos donates food and contraceptives to the local community, which is pretty poor. Seeing naked street-babies, completely alone (though family probably not far away) sleeping on cardboard boxes on the footpath is always disconcerting:

It makes me feel sort of guilty, grateful, inadequate, sad, frustrated and angry all at once, though the strong feelings are probably too fleeting – more thoughts on Western middle class angst in the Smokey Mountain post. I certainly felt like I should be doing more obviously helpful things than what I actually do (which, in theory, couldultimately help people, but it’s impossible to ever really know). One problem with high-workload professional jobs is that one often gets so bogged down in just trying to get things done and meet deadlines that little energy is left for anything else. Just doing the job overrides any sense of whether it is worthwhile, or how one should go about making it so. Bertrand Russell really was right.

Sorry -- this wasn’t supposed to turn into an self-indulgent existentialist rant. To finish: if you go to Manila, a Carlos Celdran tour is well worthwhile.


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