I was slightly (irrationally) annoyed with the country. How dare it be morning! On the way the hotel where I was already daydreaming of sleep when I received a message from my colleagues. They needed me. I said I needed a few hours. RING RING! It’s now 2pm and the office is calling. I feel different, better. I’m shattered, but for the first time I actually look at the view from my 21st floor window.
Back at the hotel I take the lift up to the 26th Floor and check out a few miles of view along the bay glittering with lights in the blackness. I order a solitary rum and ice and sit at the bar. I feel like I'm fulfilling some long held dream, to be this far from home on assignment and enjoying a quiet drink, like the dawn moments of a pre-gaming Hunter S. Thompson. The reverberating harangued cry of ‘I’m So Fancy’ pumping through the stereo system ruins it slightly. I swirl the ice and decide the moment works anyhow. But then I am not fancy.
The rest of the week is lots of work with trips to the mall at lunch for Japanese noodles and Vietnamese soup. On Friday evening my colleagues take me out to Harbour View. Stuck out on a jetty the Harbour View has unrivalled views of the Manila Bay. Live lobsters clatter away in the tanks. A hundred pictures of honoured guests adorn the wall. This is where nation leaders like to eat seafood and Adobo dishes. It’s windy, very windy, but the weather settles after a while and the freshness of the sea air away from the beach (where many impoverished people make their ‘comfort rooms’) is startlingly fresh.
On Saturday my friends arrive, two from Hong Kong and one from Singapore. Although they live in Asia now they all still belong in some way to Scotland either by heritage or time served there as students. They also belong to my lifelong friend group. I read recently it takes 7 years for friends to become lifelong friends so we’re definitely official. They find my joy at being on the 21st floor 'sweet and very European'.
I'm thrilled they've made the journey and are even able to stay in the same hotel. We don’t have much time, but manage to see Intramuros and wander the 500 year old part of the city, a stark difference from the skyscrapers surrounding my office. There’s a mini typhoon and we’re there a little late in the day, but ride it out and stalk the sights. We drink 40p San Miguel’s and talk about the Indy Ref at length (which will take place 5 days later), wishing we had the energy of our 21 year old selves to hit the clubs, before retiring at midnight to our respective beds.
On Sunday we go to the Mall of Asia and are dazzled by young figure skaters in training as they twirl round the Olympic sized ice rink. I go for my first ever pedicure with my two girlfriends at Mint. They do a good job at a fraction of the cost it would be in the UK and I imagine if I lived here I would go every two weeks.
A few more days in the office and a blur of work and it’s time to go home. The way not just my colleagues but pretty much every person I’ve met in Manila has treated me is like family. It is word beyond welcome, it is welcome-home. The strength of this is my desire to make a return trip and it looks as though I may have the opportunity early next year.
Scotland will forever be my home of course, but the Filipinos I met made me wish the nations were a little closer. It’s certainly not a country without problems, but I was very lucky with the circumstances of my trip.
The flight home is the longest one yet. I have flown thousands of miles across a total of 38 hours. I have only just enough money for a taxi to my flat, but no keys. My better half is at the shops, so I wait another 15 minutes before I can get in and kick off my shoes.
A couple of weeks later, after the jet lag has subsided and I’ve finally emptied my travel bag, it all feels like a lifetime ago and there’s a vacuum in my life where travel preparation should be. It’s beginning to ease off now and I’m starting to enjoy Glasgow life once more.
Manila was the furthest I’ve ever travelled, almost 1000 miles further than Los Angeles or Busan (my previous most far away destinations). Looking at the distance on a map makes me think of all the other places in the world there are still to go…