A week before our departure on the Sharing the Point (STP) tour, Dux and I met over a pho lunch to do some planning and hatch some promotional strategies for the tour. It occurs to me now that it’s kind of ironic that, as I type, I’m in the airport in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam writing about a lunch of Vietnamese noodle soup that I had with Dux in Reston, VA, two weeks ago … and in our all-too-brief time in Vietnam, there was no time for pho.
But I digress.
Anyway, it was over pho that day that Dux asked me if I knew who Anthony Bourdain was, and if I’d ever seen his show, No Reservations. I said that yes, I was a big Bourdain fan, had read most of his books, been a longtime fan of his TV shows, and even seen him speak in person twice. So when Dux asked if I’d seen the Philippines episode of No Reservations, I said, “Yep, I’ve seen ‘em all.” Dux then told me something that increased my excitement about our upcoming travel adventures at a point where I didn’t think my excitement over the trip could be increased. What Dux told me was that that Bourdain’s “fixer,” Ivan Man Dy, who served as his guide in Manila, was a childhood friend of Dux’s (who was born and raised in Manila) and that he’d arranged for Ivan to take the STP team on a tour of Manila on Saturday afternoon following our event at the Microsoft office.
Dux had warned Ivan that his STP compatriots weren’t greatly interested in the standard historic tourist sights, and were far more interested in seeing the real, living and breathing culture of Manila today. Apparently, Ivan didn’t quite believe Dux, as our tour began in the Old City of Manila, a walled city whose original walls are still in evidence in spots today. We visited a cathedral, then another church (in which a Catholic wedding service was minutes away from being performed), and the remains of a bombed out church from the second World War.
As we were walking along the top of the wall, a couple of us took the opportunity to take Ivan aside and say that, no, seriously, we’ve seen enough of the standard tourist stuff, and we’re ready to see the real Manila, walk through the areas that wouldn’t be filled with tourists, visit a market where we could sample some street food, etc.
After the second one of us said this to Ivan, he believed us, and we were off to Manila’s Chinatown where our tour of the real Manila began.
While wandering through the streets and alleys of Chinatown, Ivan led us on a series of culinary adventures, including salted egg (hardboiled egg that’s been buried in the ground fora number of days, hundred-year eggs, lumpia, mung bean cakes, the juiciest mango I've ever tasted and, ultimately, the “number five” soup, which the bravest among us (for the record, not including yours truly) were excited to try, as it involved … well, it’s probably best if you just watch the video, but I need to get the link from Mark, so stay tuned. In the meantime, have some salted eggs and mango:
Following our visit to Chinatown, we were off to the Chinese Cemetery, and our drive to the cemetery itself was both very real and very colorful. Especially colorful in that we saw chicks for sale that had been dyed all the colors of the rainbow. Alas, I missed that photo op as we drove past, but here's a taste of the neighborhood.
Ivan explained as we were en route to the cemetery that the mausoleums involved quite literally houses for the dead. These houses included a number of styles, including traditional Chinese “sparrow’s peak” designs, and ranged from ornate to modern, and even deco. Most were gated, some had patios or balconies, and many had carefully tended lawns and landscaping. Ivan told us that families will often spend the night in the house with the bodies of their departed loved ones as a means of communing with their ancestors.
As we were making our way back to the hotel following the visit to the Chinese cemetery, we traveled via surface streets through areas that were every bit as colorful as we’d seen earlier, but by this point in the day, there was the added bonus of it being dinnertime, so plenty of street food was available. When we passed a grill that looked especially tempting to our adventurous eaters, led by Joel and Michael, a stop of the van was called for, and grilled treats such as chicken heads, gizzards, and intestines, and pig’s ears were enjoyed.
With eyes bigger than stomachs, and a formal sit-down dinner with Dux and his family still ahead, the lads shared their skewers with a couple of young girls who had been very interested in the white faces that had suddenly piled out of a van onto the sidewalks of their neighborhood … new friends were made and appetites were sated, and what more can you ask of a cultural exchange than that, really?
Oh, and yes, many of us did indeed get a chance to ride in one of Manila’s famous Jeepneys. My own ride began with me and Joel hopping onto the small ledge at the back of the vehicle, quickly realizing that there was no room inside to sit, and riding for probably a good half mile, clinging to the hand rails with only our heads inside the vehicle before seats were vacated at a stop … pretty much the perfect first-time Jeepney experience, I’d have to say.