Really? Is This A Fair Description of Manila?

I put this out there once before but I’m going to do it again because every time I read this I get pretty seriously cranky. This is a description of Manila from Gary Allen Poole’s biography “Pacman: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao”:

“…Manila, the decaying capital of the Philippines. It’s one of Southeast Asia’s most impoverished capital cities, a modern Third World metropolis created by the worst of colonial intentions and a parade of some of the most ridiculous dictators ever to walk the earth. Even Manila’s well-off cannot totally escape the city that they have helped create: A trip to a shopping mall restaurant, or five-star hotel involves machine gun-carrying guards and a canine unit that checks vehicles for bombs or guns. Even the most exclusive areas, such as Metro Manila’s Makati City are within fifty feet of endless shantytowns, which catch fire on a regular basis. One in five children must forego school for work and walk through the busiest traffic without a care for life or limb. Impoverished men who cannot find work drown their days with a mixture of Colt 45 beer and homemade gin. A typhoon in 2009 submerged 80 percent of the city in mud, and the city’s bay-side dump, with its black clouds of flies, has four thousand residents. One of Manila’s inexplicable tourist attractions is the Hobbit House, a bar in which the waiters are all dwarfs…”

I know that Filipinos are often the biggest critics of something like this — i.e. the biggest self-critics — but I feel like this description is just unfair and mean-spirited. But I floated this once before and I didn’t get a lot of support for my view…..there was a lot of “yeah, that’s Manila.” I see Manila a little differently…a lot differently, actually. Yes, it congested, the traffic is horrible, the air sucks, dreams are crushed daily. Yet there is also a sense of opportunity, of hope, of scrambling hard work, and of goodnatured “we’re in this together” …..If you don’t feel that, I suggest you spend a little time on the streets of, say, Moscow, and see how many smiles or goodnatured playful moments you come across.

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