My dad was the director of Sales & Marketing of Southeast Asia for a large chemical company called ______. Their headquarters were in Baton Rouge, hence my connection to Louisiana. In 1974 we were transferred to Manila. I had lived in Japan and Belgium also, so a new move overseas wasn't a big deal. We had two schnauzers at the time, and they flew in the cargo hold of the Pan Am 747 all the way from New Orleans, to San Francisco (the last time we were able to take them out of their crate) .. to Honolulu, to Guam, and finally to Manila. When we finally saw them emerge from the baggage hold, they had a look on their faces that said, "WHERE THE $%*& ARE WE??"
Our first "home" was the Intercontinental Hotel in Makati, then the business hub of the city. My first impression of Manila was that it was hot (of course) and was very green, with palm trees and flowers everywhere. The food we got in the hotel's Jeepney Coffee Shop was the ultimate in tropical fare: fresh pineapple and mango (which doesn't taste as good anywhere in the world) and fresh calamansi juice (a key lime) that you sweetened with a tiny pitcher of sugar water. The Miss Universe pageant was being held in Manila that year, and every morning the newspaper slid under our door contained color pictures of all the contestants, and I poured over them for hours. (Miss Spain won that year).
We moved into our house in North Forbes Park shortly after about a month. My dad was out of town on business on moving day, and my mom and I, after a hard day unpacking in the heat, treated ourselves to a big milkshake at the hotel. That night, my mom had a serious attack of pancreatitis, and was rushed to the hospital. There I was ... alone in a strange country, with no parents, alone in a hotel ... scared out of my mind. We had been assigned a driver, named "Boy" ... (let's just say the names in the Philippines are quite unusual ... I knew a girl there named Cherry Pie) who drove me back and forth from the hotel to the hospital.
Our house was a freakin' palace. We're talking Beverly Hills here, although we weren't by any means rich. However, things are a little more affordable in the P.I., and we lived like we were rolling in money. We had two maids: one to cook (Jeannie) and one to wash (Carmen); a driver (the aforementioned "Boy") and a gardener named Ruben. One wing of the house was the maids' quarters, complete with bath, their own kitchen and separate bedrooms for each. The garden looked like something out of a magazine, with terraced grass and bougainvillae and all types of exotic plants. We had a pool in the back yard ... a POOL! There was huge stone wall around the house, with bits of broken glass embedded in the top, I guess to keep the prowlers out. Out house backed up to a very busy street, E. de los Santos Avenue (shortened to EDSA) right by a bus stop on said busy street. People would climb to the top of the bus shelter and peer over our wall into our back yard. Used to piss off my mom in a big way!
My mom wasn't allowed to hold a job, due to regulations for foreigners, so she passed the time playing bridge or mah jongg (basically Chinese gin rummy!) and having parties. At the time we were there, the country was under Martial Law, as decreed by President Ferdinand Marcos, which included a 1-4 a.m. curfew. If my parents' parties accidently went over past 1 a.m., they just kept partying until they could go home at 4. I used to bar tend at the parties (one for you ... one for me. The taste of gin & tonic always takes me back.)
I went to school at the International School of Manila. It was a great school, although we used to joke about the fact that our Filipino English teachers couldn't speak English all that well. I got a very solid education there, in the IB program. I took classes like British Literature and Theory of Knowledge. My friends made up a high school United Nations. I dated a guy from Israel, whose best friend was Lebanese. I had friends from Pakistan, India, Scandinavia and Australia. We were all the same; just kids, only different colors and accents. We never gave it a second thought. Of course, my high school years weren't perfect; they were full of the usual angst and hangups, but overall, I wouldn't trade my experience in Manila for anything.
I volunteered at the Manila Symphony as an usherette and was the first "girl" acolyte at our Episcopal church. We used to go on trips to the outer islands, where a dip in the ocean was like swimming in an aquarium. Once we took an outrigger canoe (banca) from one island to the other, and almost capsized in bad weather. One time I got a job in a TV commercial for a brand of Jeep made in the P.I. We shot the commercial on a beach, but when the Jeeps broke down, we were stranded and had to sleep in a nipa hut overnight. Believe me, it does get cold at night in the Philippines, especially sleeping on a thatched floor with no blankets.
2008 marked the 30th anniversary of my high school graduation. I haven't been back to Manila since we left in 1978. I know it won't be the same when and if I do go (even my school is in a different location) but part of me won't be complete until I return; until I once again smell the bougainvilla and taste the mango.