Weekly Photo Challenge: The Peoples Park in the Sky

Its supposed to read “The People’s Park in the Sky”, but lack of funds and care at this point has reduced the lettering to 60% and several of the letters were precariously swinging from their last connected screw.  The recent typhoons probably gave the rusted letters a real workout.

We visited the park to experience the fantastic views of Lake Taal and the Taal volcano. The views were great.  My camera and the haze don’t do it justice.  You could see for miles:

The site was originally built by Marcos and his wife as a guest house to host Ronald Reagan during his scheduled presidential visit.  However, the visit was canceled and the buildings were never finished.  What was completed was renamed from “The Palace in the Sky” to “The People’s Park in the Sky” and opened to the public.  (Shades of communist China to me.) Sadly it looks like not a penny was spent since its opening…and it sits there crumbling with vendors selling tourist tidbits from the half-completed basement.

There something about places like this that always give me the chills!  Loved the view and loved Tagaytay though. The city of Tagaytay is set on a lake and there’s lots to see and do. With quite a few choices for places to stay, Tagaytay definitely qualifies as interesting place to visit for a short weekend break.  Its only 1.5 hrs from Manila and a world apart.

This post is a participant in the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters.

A Neighbourhood Walk: Gates

Walking around the nearby neighborhoods is both taxing and pretty as described in yesterday’s post.  Whilst busy not twisting your ankle or getting run over by an aggressive driver, its imperative to take time to gaze at the amazing mix of homes to your right and left.  Well, its mostly not the houses that you see…its their entrances.  The villages are private so entry is via security point.  Then further security is added by high walls and big gates, and from street level all you can really see is the gates.  Although tops of some of an eclectic mix of housing styles appears here and there:

Many homes are ambassador residences.  We regularly walk past Morocco, Mexico, Paraguay and Belgium on our 90 minute jaunts.

Mostly what you see though are gates.  And a real mix of them too: old, new, modest, pretentious, or sometimes just weird.  I love this one guarded by magnificent tall bamboo:

This one is just rusty corrugated iron:

While this one is much more posh…

This one is my favourite.  Its a South American Embassy residence (Paraguay I think?) – the name is on the gate, but not visible in the photo.  Sort of spooky don’t you think?  Or it looks like it could be the hacienda of some drug baron.  All that’s missing is an armed guard..

Most houses have a blessing tile from the Virgin Mary next to the entrance and there’s quite a variety of those.  This is my favorite and they have gone a little OTT.  Sorry about the smudgy quality of the shot:

A Neighbourhood Walk: Plants

As many of you know, I like to walk and Manila has its challenges when it comes to getting around on foot. The heat for one thing…and my resolve to keep going wanes really quickly when I get too hot. The traffic lights go out frequently, and the traffic early in the morning (when its cooler) is horrible.  Sidewalks aren’t in evidence too much and, when they are, they can be treacherous after rain as the moss turns them into ice rinks.  Despite all these challenges, my friend Melanie and I have been pounding the pavement every Friday for about six weeks now.

Exercising outside is still so much better than the gym, and the residential villages near us have lots of interesting plants to look at.

I never tire of seeing the huge banyan trees, the hanging vines, or plants thriving outside that usually sit next to the central heating in our other homes.

Part two – Gates – to follow shortly…

..and now in further Development News….

As you may well have come to realise, living here is much like living in a real life Sim City game.  With buildings and roads being added and the city changing form almost literally on a daily basis.  If I don’t wander down a certain street for a while, a patch of grass has gone and a building or cark park is going up.

The original shopping street here – High Street – built when there was nothing else but wasteland, is now surrounded by building.  Phase 3 of High Street is nearing completion with tantalizing heads of newly-planted palm trees poking over the construction fence.  Promises of “Blankets of Green”  don’t ring really true.  You mean a pedestrian path with trees in front of shops, right?  But…I’ll take it!  Bring on the trees..all six of them! ;o)  I’m looking forward to another stretch of pedestrian area to avoid traffic and hopefully there might be a nearer supermarket in there too….  More pics when it opens.

May I be the first to wish you Merry Christmas!

Here in Manila, not only are we going to heading toward bed after a busy day, just as so many of you are only thinking of getting started, we are also busy in the next day working while you guys are all still snoozing…  So it will come as no surprise that we are also onto the Christmas thing MONTHS ahead.  Yes, Christmas here begins in September.  Of course, for real impact I should have posted about this last month, but life got in the way as usual.  But believe me when I say that for several weeks we have Christmas trees and jingle bells at the local supermarket and all around town.  Lights and trees are up in many houses, and Metro Manila Supermarket have dusted off their red Santa hats and everyone is donning them again, just like last year when we arrived in late December.  So its Santa hats and “deck the halls” from now until mid-January.  I am going to be an anti-Santa, raging beast!

Sign Language: How’s my driving?

All commercial vehicles here are requested to paint an official sign on the back of the car or truck that reads: “How’s my driving?” along with a prescribed phone number to call for comment. You see it quite often in the US and UK too, although to my knowledge its not a requirement, but more of a public image statement meant to illustrate the company’s confidence in the quality of their driver training. At least last time I looked.  Here in the Philippines its a law and one that doesn’t appear to serve much purpose. Its no secret that the road conditions and driving are appalling and somehow these signs seem to serve to make things worse. Sitting in back to back traffic, with a jeepney trying to nose into you on your right, a big truck squeezing you from the left and the taxi in front cutting in and out, the words “How’s my driving?” just seem to antagonize… How’s your driving? It just sucks!

Typhoon Damage at Tondo

“Quiel” or typhoon number two in less than a week is just dying down here in Manila.  It was just a bit wet and windy.  However, the damage is pretty bad in other areas of the country, especially those already devastated by “Pedring” earlier this week.

Here in the Fort, the damage was limited to a few trees and fallen signs, which were quickly cleaned away and swept up:

But elsewhere the damage was a lot worse.  Often those with the worse living conditions get hit the hardest and Pedring took its toll on the residents of Ulingan, in Tondo, a dump site which doubles as a residence area for the city’s poorest of the poor.

Project Pearls is one of the charities that helps bring hope, food, and medical care to the people of Ulingan, and on Saturday morning — just before Quiel started — Latham and I headed with friends and food/blanket donations down to the site.

We watched (and helped a little) as food was handed out to the kids, and took a short tour of the makeshift charcoal factories that provide a small living for some of the families.

The charcoal factory area.

Piles of salvaged wood are smouldered below dirt to make the charcoal.

The finished product. Sacks of charcoal ready for sale

I was somewhat prepared to see the extreme poverty and living conditions.  I knew the kids pick through the garbage mountains, looking for items that can be repurposed or sold.  I knew that the homes are built with anything people could lay their hands on, and a lot of those homes blew away in the last storm.  (Many people had been temporarily located to shelter housing while they waited to be able to rebuild their homes.  With the wait for things to dry out and more tyhoon damage on the way this was obviously going to take a while.)  What I wasn’t prepared for the smells, smoke, crowds and mud that was everywhere.  Its a dump and smelt like one.  The smoke from the charcoal fires was noxious, and everywhere.  It was so bad a times my eyes and throat stung for hours afterwards.  (Two showers and two shampoos later, Latham could still smell it in his hair.)  The mud from the rains must have greatly improved in just a few days, but bikes and carts and people had a hard time still just getting down the streets.

The site is right on the sea, they must have been chest deep in flooding during the storm.  There was no shelter anywhere.  Wherever did they go to stay safe?

The kids were amazing though.  And there were a lot of them.  All ages from tiny up to teen.  All friendly, lively and eager to get to know you!  These two chased each other all morning and were the stars of the day:

Many thanks to Loraine and Sandra for taking me.  It was hard to go there and look around on so many different levels. What it must be to have rich foreigners walking through your poverty stricken life looking on your destitution and handing your kids food.  I really felt for them.  Its nothing for most of us to donate the occasional bag of rice and it goes a long way to helping feed everyone for a few more days.  The Project Pearls organization is a California-based registered charity. Financial donations are gratefully accepted, however small, and the money goes directly to the distributors here.  We saw the trucks of food and clothing arrive and go straight to the kids.  If you would like to donate, please visit their donation page.  Thank you.

I know I will go back to help in some way, if just to take them more rice.  With a little girl holding her hand, Sandra summed it up really well.  “I mostly just hold their hand.  It doesn’t seem like much, but I think for a lot of these kids, its the only attention that they get.  Sometimes I feel our visit is the highlight of their week.”