Sunday, November 2, 2008


MANILA is one of the world's most beautiful cities. I first fell in love with Manila in 1980. I was in my final year of college in ITM (doing Mass Communication majoring in Journalism) when I was asked where I would like to do my practical (a three month stint at a professional institution or corporation).
I can't remember how or why, but I decided to ask if I could do my practical overseas - specifically in Manila, the Philippines. I didn't want to be attached to the New Straits Times Press (where most of the journalism students would be going) because, before entering ITM, I was already working there. In fact, I was actually on a study leave from NST to get my Diploma from ITM, so there wasn't really a need for me to go back to NST to 'experience' a local newsdesk. I wanted to experience something new.
Somehow, I actually got a Manila newspaper to accept my request for apprenticeship - the Daily Express (now defunct). The editor if I am not mistaken was a guy named Ernesto Romualdez - a close relation to the First Lady I was told.
However, I wasn't too worried about being in a strange country because in Manila, I stayed with my foster brother, Abang Zai (who is now deceased). He was an attache with the Malaysian Embassy in Manila and his home was in the nice part of Makati.

The Daily Express's office was at the end of Roxas Boulevard, near Intramuros, and situated in an old building.
Everyone talks in English so it was fine for me working there. However, most of the articles written for the papers used a smattering of Tagalog which was quite alien to me.
Tagalog as most people would know is related to our national language, Malay. Some of the words have similar sounds and meanings (i.e. Kiri (left), Lalaki (Men)) but it does take a while to get the hang of it, especially the accent and pronunciation.
For example, my name sounds hilarious in Filipino. They pronounce it Anwardi Hamil...yeah...their J is pronounced as a H (because of their Spanish heritage). Imagine being referred to as Mr. Hamil.
Whilst there, I did the usual general desk work, the economics desk and even the sports desk. I did get a couple of my own copies into print - but small insignificant articles. Sports news coverage was fun but unfortunately the Filipinos love basketball and boxing - two sports which doesn't really thrill me.
What I really and truly fell in love with was the people of the Philippines. They are like us, only more Catholic with a twist of Spain.
I also adore their love for music. I spent most nights at jazz clubs especially one called Papillion in Makati. It was an after hours club where jazz musicians from other clubs rendezvous after their stints elsewhere.
The world famous sunsets along Manila Bay. Rumors have it that thousands of couples exchange marriage vows whilst blanketed in the golden rays of the sunset.
I would also spend my evenings just walking along Roxas Boulevard looking at the couples who flock to Manila Bay to catch the dazzling sunset.

Their cuisine however doesn't quite catch my fancy. Apart from their love affair with pork, ham and bacon, much of their cuisine are an acquired taste. But I like their American diners.
Of course, then there were the Filipinas. Yes, the Filipinas. Now, they are something else. They are gorgeous, beautiful and feminine. And hopelessly romantic.
Since those early days in Manila (at that time under the Marcoses), I've been back a few times including one to attend the Young Asian Writers Workshop (under the Ford Foundation) with Kee Thuan Chye in Quezon City, a few years later.
I would love to go again and again, including checking out other cities like Cebu.
However, whilst Manila has been growing into a mega super city, what hasn't changed is the traffic. Unless you've been in a traffic jam in Manila or Jakarta, you haven't been in a traffic jam before.

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