May 02, 2014

A Day by Manila Bay

After a particularly interesting cab ride, I made my way up to my hostel. There were two Israeli girls in my room who had also recently arrived. They had just wrapped up their mandatory tour of duty with the Israeli defence service and were beginning a 3 month journey across Southeast Asia before heading to university. Israel, like South Korea, is surrounded by enemies on all sides and utilizes conscript soldiers.

Israeli youth over 18 are required to serve in the military. Guys have to serve for at least 3 years, while gals have a minimum 2 year term. The former soldiers invited me to join them on their exploration of Manila. I was spending a few days in the capital city before jetting off to the island of Palawan to catch up with my Dutch friends, so I headed out with them to get my first taste of a new city and a new country.

There are two modes of mass rail transportation in Manila. We took the MRT to Taft Avenue, and then transferred to the LRT all the way to United Nations station. As we went down the station stairs an elderly Filipino gentleman approached us and cautioned the girls to wear their backpacks in the front, so that no one would have a chance to unzip the bag from behind and empty it of its valuable contents. We would find out how much weight his warnings carried later on as we walked towards nearby Rizal Park. A child appeared to be tying his shoelaces in front of us. Suddenly he leapt up and buzzed past us. One of the girls let out a yelp. Her necklace was gone! Our eyes followed a blur zigzagging through the heavy traffic to the other side of the street and disappearing, never to be seen by us again.

“I thought having a guy around would have kept us safe, but apparently I was mistaken” groused the girl whose neckless had been pilfered. I maintained my silence, but not my dignity. Our spirits soon lifted as we headed into the park, packed with Filipino families celebrating the first day of 2014. We tried a variety of the snacks and drinks being sold at the stalls peppered throughout the length of the park. My favourite was the buko shake, a coconut smoothie designed to beat the heat.

The eponymous Dr. José Protacio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, or José Rizal in short, was a national hero, scholar, poet, and revolutionary who knew 22 languages and dialects (or about 21 more than the average number known by a Korean). His execution by firing squad on the grounds of the park later named after him ignited the Philippine Revolution against Spain. Kilometre Zero, the point in Manila from where distances are traditionally measured in the Philippines, is also located within the park. The flag of the Philippines proudly waved from atop a massive flagstaff at one end of the park. From there a short walk led us to Manila Bay and a lovely sunset.


It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great ideal. It is like a stone wasted on the field without becoming a part of any edifice. ~ Jose Rizal