January 1, 2005, I landed in Manila from Hong Kong. It was a new year and I was starting a new adventure. Arnold was there to greet me at the airport and much like the previous year, our meeting was outside. It was morning as the flight had arrived in Hong Kong at 6 a.m. and after 2 1/2 hours we had taken off for Manila. Arnold had been out the night before watching fireworks to celebrate the coming in of the new year.
We again went directly to the Intercontinental Hotel in Makati and rested before heading for Fridays for dinner. That was my second time arriving in Manila and it was the start of a tradition – the first night in Manila we eat at Fridays.
On the second day, Arnold took me to Pasay City to show me the apartment. It shocked me. First, the street outside was so narrow. Then once one was out of the cab, there was a long gated walkway and then a locked gate which went into a cement area with apartments facing into this area. The families there were outside their apartments, washing children and clothes. Across this cement area were a set of narrow stairs and we climbed those to our apartment which was at the top (third floor) to the right. There was a gate there and then the door was immediately behind the gate – there were three other apartments along this side and four along the left as well.
When we walked in, we were in an area which had a table for two, a TV, and at the end of the room a sink and counter with a propane double burner at one end of the counter and some open shelves above that which held pots, dishes and some small amount of food. To the immediate right of the counter was a door which led into a COMFORT room – a room with a porcelain commode, and a slightly lower area with a drain in it which had a shower curtain separating it from the toilet. On the floor in the area behind the curtain was a tub (like a large dish washing tub) with a scoop with which to shower and flush the toilet. To shower, one throws water (cold) over ones self. To the front of the comfort room was a bedroom with a door on it – just large enough to walk into at the end of a double mattress on the floor (we also placed the fan there at night so we would be cool enough to sleep).
Having been used to Canadian comforts, I wondered how I would live here.
The next day we left the Intercontinental and I started to find out. I really liked the close quarters. This was an apartment building which was good for educated young people. Across the steps in the other building, their door facing ours was an identical apartment which five young University grads (all gay) shared so they could send money home to their families. Some of those young men have become real friends whom I see whenever I am in Manila. In fact, in 2007, Arnold and I hosted dinner for all of them and many of their boy friends – 11 of us in all.
The next three months this was my home. We visited Boracay very early in my stay for three nights. That is a beautiful location but already there are tourists. One flies in a small plane to a dirt landing field, takes a tricycle to the boat and then takes a boat to get to Boracay which has three main beaches – although the white sand runs all the way along. We were going to the third beach where we took a North American style room – the hotel being across the street from the beach – the hotel served meals at the edge of the beach in the open so one had to cross the street to get to meals.
We went to Puerto Princesa twice. The first time because Arnold had a family emergency to tend to and the second because he was invited by the University to judge final student presentations.
During my stay, we also visited Baguio (the summer government location) and Olongapo (next to the area where the Americans had a naval base during the Vietnam war). That area where the docks are still has been made into a wonderful area of recreation – including some beautiful outdoor bars with the water lapping as you drink and listen to live music.
We had to go to Hong Kong so I could extend my stay – I had a 59 day visa which I could have renewed for some money (perhaps even some under the table). However, Arnold had never left the Philippines and we were able to get a two night tour of Hong Kong and Schenzhen at an extremely low price. We have a Hong Kong story too which I might share in another entry.
For the first time we attended mass together in Manila. There are a few English masses each weekend so off we were. I am NOT Roman Catholic but Arnold attended an RC University (and so did I as a matter of fact) and has tended to go to mass. His father was RC while his mother was evangelical. I was amazed at how many people were at mass – we stood in the side aisles but the service was broadcast outside and those who could not get into the aisles stood outside and participated.
During the visit, Arnold and I had our first Valentines Day together. We celebrated with a special meal and I embarrassed Arnold by carrying a bouquet of flowers in the taxi to our apartment. That taxi ride was at about 5:00 p.m. and when we listened to the 6 p.m. news, we discovered that two buses had been bombed just outside the mall – on the route we had just taken from that very mall to our apartment. Arnold would not let me take a city bus as he felt they were too unsafe. He also would not let me go to a market area which he felt was unsafe for me. One night in our neighbourhood, a couple of young guys knocked his neck with a bag of ice and when he fell, they grabbed his cell phone and ran off.
Oone of the reasons I wanted to stay so long was to find out whether we were compatible under the condition of living together. The magic of Sabang would not interfere with our growing together. Before I left we bought identical rings and we both wear them but that is another story.