15 Apr

Yesterday we said goodbye to Granny and Grandpa, who are off to Hong Kong for a week of sybaritic luxury with an old friend, then back to sunny England.

To ease the parting, Z and I made like Manileños. That is, we spent the day at the mall, shopping, scoffing junk food and abusing the free aircon.

Though I guess if I were really going native, I’d have stocked up on diet potions — enriched with L-Carnitine to help burn fat! — too. Or perhaps a diet coffee to accompany my chocolate brownie? That is, a calorie-burning coffee. Not a coffee with low-fat milk.

The Philippines is a nation where Kraft Cheez Whiz can feature on the health pages of a major newspaper –- as a recommendation.

And where Kraft’s chief nutritionist for Asia can tell a hack, presumably with a straight face, that said product, though packed with calcium and undoubtedly beneficial, does not quite contain every single ingredient required for a healthy diet.

On the plus side (or plus size, for that matter), buying clothes is not as fraught with anxiety as it is in, say, Cambodia, though if we spend more than another day here I’m going to grow back into my fat trousers.

It’s a funny old place, Manila. On arrival, flying through one sunset, landing into a second, then locating our cheap hotel some time after dark, when the back streets are at their least welcoming, it provoked nothing more than a desire to leave.

But now, we’re quite attached to it. The sauna heat wraps around you like velvet. The shaven-headed security guards who stand with automatic weapons outside Starbucks, carparks, ATMs, ticket offices, you name it, feel like Dixon of Dock Green.

The ubiquitous Karaoke-TV bars, go-go joints (Guest Relations Officers wanted, 18-26, ideally 5’3” or over, birth certificate and health certificate required), the constant hubbub of condo construction, all seem as much a part of local colour as the neon gilding the skyscrapers and the crazily-named jeepneys.

And, my lord, the malls are mega! As Vegas is to hotels, so Manila is to malls. Acres upon acres of aircon retail covering block after block of the city centre, surrounded by weirdly empty streets, and packed with junk food outlets of every conceivable variety.

The Philippines was America’s only colony, and it shows.

At Robinsons, a comparatively petite landmark mall which covers four or so floors of a block or two in Malate, Granny and Grandpa treated Z to the entire Artemis Fowl series. Then we headed to Glorietta in Makati, where we said our farewells, and watched them slide down the escalator, endeavouring not to think.

We started well, with a freshly-squeezed kiwi juice. But then it all went a little Supersize Me.

Breakfast was a chocolate doughnut in Starbucks. Lunch was dim sum — read, carbs, pork and lard — from a chain stall in Glorietta. For dinner, we progressed to Robinsons and value meals at Burger King.

After Z bought a lilo with his last three weeks pocket money, we caught Liam Neeson rolling out his Jedi master schtick as Zeus, Sam Worthington modelling one of the world’s all-time worst movie accents and Ralph Fiennes (Hades) being comprehensively outclassed by Natalia Vodianova (Medusa) in Clash of the Titans.

It was a 3D screening, so popcorn and soda were included. Obviously, we ate them. My cheese-flavoured popcorn, sweet, tangy and tartrazine yellow with only the most sickly hint of dairy powder, was wrong in so many ways that it was almost right (if almost certainly illegal in the EU). And Z, who normally only likes sweet popcorn, was converted to the Filipino take on salt.

This morning, we were both distinctly liverish. And I don’t think it was the movie. After all, I sat through Troy with no significant after-effects.

I say liverish. I mean, not nauseous, exactly. Not even queasy. More bilious. Unsettled. In need of non-chemical sustenance.

I guess it’s the Tagalog equivalent of une crise de foie.

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9 Responses to “Mega-Malls”

  1. mish April 15, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    Very descriptive Theo. I almost reached for a basin after reading it. Still really cold here – enjoy the humidity.

    Mish xx

  2. MummyT April 15, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

    Possibly over-sharing… A common fault… Salad for lunch has us both feeling happier… x

  3. Nick April 15, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    Kraft were going to reduce the (rather high) salt content of Dairylea but when they found out it would reduce its shelf life (and therefore up costs) they didn’t…
    Fantastic to read about your experiences, as ever. I know ‘liverish’ very well.

    • MummyT April 15, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

      Yes! I suppose Dairylea — and Lunchables — are marketed as a health product in Europe in the same way as Cheez Whiz in the Philippines… Although you probably couldn’t get away with that kind of PR spin. Less liverish now, thank god…

  4. asa April 16, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    I discovered your blog from Lonely Planet. I travelled to the Philippines before and I still vividly remember the chips dusted with cheese powder. yum…..was surprised myself how gargantuan the malls are (especially Mall of Asia) and how all types of American fast food chains mushroomed all over.

    Having said that try the local fast food (Jollibee) peach mango pie or buko ube pie (if it is still there) and the sugar laden halo-halo at Chowking or if ever you find yourself in Boracay Jonas banana peanut shake yum yum…….it is to for die literally and figuratively…. une crise de foie…lol. enjoy your travels.

    • MummyT April 17, 2010 at 9:40 am #

      Thanks for the tips! We are definitely going to try Jollibee: seems rude not to…

      Amazingly, we had an extremely good, healthy, Filipino meal last night! (Had a great one in Manila but pork knuckle and deep-fried crispy crablets also fail the crise de foie test quite dramatically.)

  5. Paolo Baluyot April 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    As a Filipino, I’m ashamed that tourists see Guest Relations Officer postings around the streets of our capital. [G.R.O have a negative connotation on it]

    Nevertheless, enjoy the food! Rice is a staple in Filipino diet. And rice with the sour dish, Sinigang, or the ever so popular Adobo? You’d feel like your in heaven. hahaha.

    Go fly to Cebu! I prefer it more for tourists than Manila

    • MummyT April 22, 2010 at 8:21 am #

      Hello! We’re in Palawan, right now, hence the general lack of internet access. I actually rather like Manila, in a strange sort of way, it starts to grow on you… Mind you, I must say the nightlife here is more salubrious than in Malate: not a GRO advert in sight…


  1. Mega-Malls « Travels with a Nine Year Old | kolosdemo - April 16, 2010

    See more here: Mega-Malls « Travels with a Nine Year Old.

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