Forester in Asia 2018: Days 7-8: 26th -27th February 2018: Manila Bound
In the morning I am up at 4.00 am for departure to Suvarnabhumi
airport. The night market is still in full swing, though the street food vendors seem to have packed up and gone home. Eat your heart out New York. As the city that never sleeps, you ain’t got nothing on this.
Check-in is uneventful, though the lines through passport control are long. I understand why it takes a long while to get into a country, but why does it take a long time to get out? I use the flight to write my blog.
Arrival in Manila rekindles a pocketful of memories (with due deference to Paul Simon) of this city of skyscrapers, which is rising so fast. If you’re looking for somewhere to invest long term, with a population of almost 100 million, 40% of which is still at school, the Philippines offers opportunity. And yes, the brand identities we see from the car attest to the foreign money that is pouring in. Whether it is more to the benefit of Filipinos or outside investors, remains to be proven. I hope it is win-win. I am accommodated on the 16th floor of a tower block in Teguig. Tomorrow the tour proper starts.
The next day starts at a leisurely pace, due to the fact that the day’s presentation begins at 1.00pm. I am intrigued to discover that I am living on a virtual building site, my tower block being the only one of [it appears] 5 on the complex that is complete. All around me is raw concrete, glass awaiting installation and dust, so much dust. The few remaining slums I can see from my window are apparently being cleared rapidly to make way for the tower block. My tower has forty floors and I count twenty-four apartments on each floor. ‘Do the math,’ as my American friends would say. Slum clearance, in principle is good. But I can’t help wondering who affords the new apartments. By UK standards, they are inexpensive; by local, hugely expensive, and rising in price every year. I surmise again, that much investment is likely to be foreign, and wonder once more what the balance of benefit is, between locals and foreigners.
I hit the Starbucks downstairs (true civilisation, of course, existing only where there is Costa Coffee J) and note with interest that the cost of a branded coffee is similar to the price in the UK. Given that UK GDP is some 13 times that of the Philippines, the cost of service coffee is astronomic in local terms. Yes, ok, we must allow for the fact that income is much higher in Manila than rural Philippines. But nevertheless, it remains more than intriguing that pretty much every street corner seems to have a US-branded, or imitation, fast food outlet. Western brands are ubiquitous, enticing people to ‘live the dream.’ On the street I observe that Filipinos are gaining weight from the influx of high processed, high sugar, high fat food. Who gains financially though? I’d like to think there is win-win going on here, but I’m uneasy at the possible exploitation of dreams. Modernisation, even when externally financed, bring benefits, for sure. But the benefit comes at a price. Will Filipinos still feel positive about this journey they are making in one, or two generations’ time? I hope so. I do not anticipate living long enough to find out.
Today we are visiting Harrell Horne Integrated (high) School. I arrive to see a large poster announcing my impending arrival. Its message has been well noted. For, as we enter the school, the children we pass recognise me. Despite deafness, I can tell the name ‘Michael Forester’ is buzzing around in hushed tones. There are shy glances, hands proffered for shaking and photo requests, even before we have been formally admitted. Heady stuff. I redouble my commitment to keeping my feet on the ground.
This, it turns out, is ‘Literature Week’ at Harrell. I am informed I will be co-presenting with the high-profile Filipino film director, Baby Nebrida. Baby and I have opportunity to talk at some length before the afternoon’s event kicks off and we discover considerable creative common ground. I am already looking forward to seeing her new movie, Across The Crescent Moon (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6459230/ ), for Baby has offered me a subtitled copy.
We enter the lecture theatre to a crowd of two hundred, or so. Formal introductions over, I launch into the high school version of ‘A Journey to the Land of Risk.’ It’s a metaphorical exploration of the taking of creative risk to ‘release the poet within,’ whatever form, words or otherwise, that the poetry takes.
And yes, it’s right on the button. There is a huge response and extensive questions afterwards. The most memorable is, ‘What motivates you to write poetry?’ I love this question. My answer is a single word: ‘Passion.’ Passion in all its forms moves me to write poetry, and will no doubt so motivate me to do so while I am in the Philippines, for I can feel the words beginning to bubble up. We then we explore the power of emotion, be it love, anger, pain or indignation, and its power to drive the inner Creative in us.
The queue for book-buying, signing and photo-taking stretches right across the theatre and back again. Book-signing and photos complete, we depart some five hours later, after what can only be described as an outstandingly successful event, organised, once again, by my tireless tour manager, Dr Janet Pascual of Makati University. Without her, none of this, absolutely none of it, would be happening. Namaste, Dr Pascual, I thank you, and acknowledge that in you which is eternal.
As we exit, I receive a text from home. It’s from my electricity company: “We are expecting bad weather this week, and you are registered for our priority service…” (that’s due to disability). I know already that ‘bad weather’ actually means -70 C. I smile wryly as I step out into the 300 haze.
Spiritual Learnings for A New Age
These meditations focussed on key staging posts we all pass through on life’s journey,
will move you to joy; they will move you to tears.
They will help you give yourself permission to uncover
the depth of learning that is already inside yourself.
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