I’m staying in central Manila. Near Abad Santos LRT. I’ve walked around the neighborhood at various times during the day and night. The tricycle drivers all know me, and they know where to take me when I don’t feel like walking from the LRT station to the guesthouse. They’ve also been great with directions when I want to walk around by myself.
I’ve walked to the local mall which is a couple kilometers away. Next to the train tracks is a sort of shanty-market where you can buy food and furniture. Kids are playing. People are noticeably happy. I’m asked to play a quick game of basketball (I assume because of my height). There are live roosters tethered near shacks.
I smile. People smile back. People are curious, they ask my name, where I am from, and if I’m enjoying my stay (I am, very much). Most of the children near the guesthouse know me and usually wave and ask where I am walking to, occasionally they walk with me for a block or so (before getting bored and running off to something more interesting).
Many people have echoed concerns that the neighborhood I am staying is not safe, and I definitely shouldn’t walk around alone. At least two of my friends have messaged me to get out immediately, as if I am in a war-zone. All of these are people I trust, and most of them live in Manila.
Nothing I have seen would lead me to think this area is unsafe.
Makati and Malate have been the names most recommended of where I should stay.
I went to Malate, and I also went to Makati. The mall in Malate, compared to the surrounding neighborhood, is extravagant. Same could be said of the Makati greenbelt. There is no middle income area; grinding poverty, hawkers, and prostitution outside, and upper-middle class yuppie luxury on the inside.
I smile. Few smile back. Many offer dirty glances and judgmental stares.
In these “tourist friendly” neighborhoods many cabs have refused to take me to where I am staying. Normally, I ride the MRT and LRT, but the trains close early during the week so even a late dinner means you’re taking a taxi home.
“It’s a dangerous neighborhood, I don’t drive there at night.” said one driver.
“that’s not true, it’s quite safe” I replied with a reassuring smile
“I know this area, I only drive in this area” he said. “let’s find you a girl, I know a place nearby”
I had one driver who claimed he didn’t know where my place was, and then claimed not to know where the LRT is when I mentioned that I am near a station. I’d say maybe one-in-five taxis are brave enough to make the journey late at night.
Normally, I am not one to criticize cultures I am foreign to, but I feel this is less a cultural issue and instead a shared-humanity issue.
In the high-class neighborhood, if I talk to a girl, many will assume she must be a prostitute and that I am sex tourist. Hawkers offer me girls, and some hostels (in an offensive way of preventing sex tourism) refuse entry if I am not with my wife (I don’t have a wife).
Manila, the best of who you are is found in the streets you most scorn. Manila is a place to love. And it is because of those “unsafe” neighborhoods that I love it — where I am treated as a human being by other human beings, and our shared curiosity brings out the best in both of us.
Manila, rather than warn travelers to stay away from those neighborhoods, perhaps you should visit them yourself, and be reminded of the hospitality and kindness of the human spirit (and not the kindness enforced through armed guards).