A festive ‘hi-ho’ from the beautiful Philippines. As a terrorist hotspot, famed for its military coups and a high-risk of kidnap for foreigners, I felt it was important to keep a low profile. Therefore, in an effort to ‘blend in’, I’ve donned a full body rabbit costume and have been insisting I’m the ‘Christmas Bunny’ to any fool who’ll listen (see fig.1). It’s the Christmas school break in Hong Kong and I’m back in the capital, Manila, wrapping things up after joining 15 friends at a beach resort on Mindoro island.
At first glance, Manila bears the hallmarks of any other Asian city. The hustle and bustle, random scraggly dogs, a lingering smell of street food and shit, street kids weaving in between a dozen different forms of honking, beeping gridlocked vehicles, blistering heat intensifying the thick pollution, sprawling shanty towns meters from glittering new shopping malls, spitting and deep-excavation-nose-picking in public, frightening toilets and hawkers ambushing tourists. In the Philippines, however, there are a few subtle differences. Everyone’s English, for instance, is fantastic and the people themselves are genuinely super-friendly – it’s said to be the only ‘Latin country’ in Asia and certainly has a very Latin feel – plus, it’s a Catholic country so Christmas is celebrated fervently. Around the hostel, I’ve found that the touts and prostitutes aren’t as persistent as elsewhere, though it’s the first time I’ve been offered Viagra on the street, several times in a row. I’ve taken to walking down the middle of the road to avoid it, choosing to risk my life instead of risking my dignity.