Manila minute

What a strange introduction to the Filipino culture this week was. My time here was so structured that what I saw most were streets from the inside of buses and vans. Families of four riding one moped or eating dinner on the sidewalk, painted jeepneys, and slums in sharp contrast to our hotel swim-up bar.

Three times I drove to the GMA TV studio and stood on the sets of shows: Manny Many Prizes with Manny Pacquiao, Unang Hirit morning news, and Chika Minute entertainment gossip. I jumped over camera cables, avoided the shouting production assistants, and scooted out of the way as dancing girls in hot pink minidresses chittered past. I cringed as I watched an Idol eat balut, a day-old chick, straight from the eggshell.

I tapped my cheeks to stay awake when the jet lag kicked in, again. I sat beneath a lobby chandelier as a pianist played Greatest Love of All on the baby grand. In one hour at the pool at noon, my skin fried. They kept it open late for us last night; swimming at 3 am is much more gentle.

I passed through a market near the Araneta Coliseum. Beautiful pyramids of fruit, kaleidoscopes of color. Animal bodies hanging by hooks. Assaulted by the smells of red flesh and blood, I hurried past slimy butcher blocks. Live catfish flapping around for the last time finally lay still. Baskets of shrimp the size of my arm - not really - and chickens squawking.

A shemale swished down the aisle and all the vendors (it seemed) stopped what they were doing to jeer. I heard the hooting and catcalls and looked around confused. I caught short sight of her as she rounded a corner quickly, holding a handbag tightly, looking at no one who yelled.

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