Monday, September 12, 2011

My first Friday night in Manila

Friday, September 9th, 2011

4:25 a.m.

Manila, Friday night.

Nothing egregious occurred – this was not The Hangover, Part 2 – the night's excerpts, rolled with cigarettes, cocaine, strangers, and a sweaty club, and a grander, more becoming narrative emerges. Namely, that Manila is wack.

I understand I have two types of readers, so there are two synopses. The first one is very short. The second one is very long. Both, I think, are case studies for Manila.

The short:

Meet 2 guys in the red-light district. Get into their unmarked SUV. Listen to one guy brag about getting “33, 28 not paid,” in 6 months. Arrive at ex-pat party at posh hotel in banking district. Meet white male model paid 50,000 pesos a day to shoot commercials. Smoke my first cigarette. Watch others snort cocaine from a door key. Drive to Palladium. Dance.

The long:

It is 4:33 a.m., and not only am I extremely hyper, but my shirt is putrid with sweat and cigarette smoke. I am in no state to sleep, at least for two hours. Which is good, because now I'll have time to write “Peter’s stream of conscious Friday night post,” which might become as consistent as the link dump on Sundays.

The conditions were miserable during work – charcoal sky, blurry rain, ignominious thunder. Thankfully by the time I walked home, Mother Nature had stopped her annual rainy-season assault, so I took a detour and stopped by the grocery store to pick up a 30-slice loaf of bread and two cartons of eggs for $5. I found my apartment today – middle of the red-light district, a fully furnished studio with queen sized bed, kitchen, dining table, and couch for $428 a month. I cooked 5 eggs despite the stove being completely uncooperative. Then I took a 2 hour nap.

I wake up at 9:25 p.m. to text the guy I’m supposed to go out with, a friend of a friend. Here are the next three texts I receive from him, verbatim:

1. Soeryt man some BCG kids took us out. If you come to “ fort” I’ll find you. won’t tell wll them tou wuk worke for.
2. Sorry man,…My bad man I drank too much should have told you
3. Really sorry man…For sure. My fault, got too drunk

The night is not being cooperative. I’m a man without a plan, and so I do what I know best: I start wandering around the red-light district. I shoo away requests for massages, and my legs walk by back to the hostel I stayed at yesterday. I enter a conversation with a Japanese man, 36-years-old, with a sagging pot belly, crooked lower teeth, and a nasty cigarette habit. He tells me he’s also from San Francisco and that he’s starting a restaurant here backed by some Canadians. When I tell him I’ve only been here 6 days, he gives me three pieces of advice: (a) don’t trust nice foreigners -- he lent 30,000 pesos to an American “friend” who took off on a jet plane; (b) to be aggressive with Filipinas because they’re naturally shy; and (c) watch out for groups of 3 men who will approach from my peripheral vision and steal my laptop out of my backpack. He grabs my number, then tells me to wait while he grabs some more cigarettes. I wait 10 minutes, realize I don't want to wait anymore, and leave.

Before he left, he gave me the name of three bars, so I walk towards one of them. When I have walked 2 blocks down the red-light district, past a bar advertising midget wrestling, I have a vision of myself being kidnapped in an unmarked van and taken into the slums for further debasement. So I walk back to the hotel, and on the way, I overhear two people having a conversation in English. Oh my god! I have to go talk to them.

They’re an eclectic pair: the ringleader is a graduate of the Asian Institute of Management; he is squat, with a shaved head and strong, black eyebrows. He's been here for 4.5 years; I can’t tell if he’s chubby or ripped. The second one is a bean sprout, pale white, with a bushy red Paul-Bunyan beard and mustache. We’ll call the squat one Fred, and the tall one Reed. I tell them I’m new and within a minute they invite me to an ex-pat party in Salcedo Village, home of Manila's investment bankers. I summon all the powers of my psychology degree and come to the conclusion that they won’t rob or kill me, and so walk with them to their car.

It’s a large and in charge Toyota SUV. I hop into the back seat, mentally noting where the lock is so that I can make a quick getaway if things turn ugly. My thoughts are interrupted when the two start talking about women.

“Before I arrived, I’d slept with 12 women. In six months, I’ve done 33, 28 of them not paid,” Reed said. “It’s so easy: go to a club, like Embassy or Republic, look around, and when someone makes eye contact with you, go up to them and say hi. Ask them if you can buy them a drink. Then what I do is ask them if they’re hungry. Back at my place, I open a bottle of wine, sit on the couch, and because it’s so tiny we’re already rubbing up against each other. The rest…you know.”

Fred chimes in. “That’s for the regular bars. The girly bars – once you walk in, someone immediately comes up to you and starts talking to you. Drinks are 70 pesos for you, 300 for the girl. So you buy her a drink – she gets 1/4th of the cost – and usually she starts rubbing your cock, right there. There are private rooms if you want more. These places, you don’t even have to pay.”

“I have 4 girls who I can call up right now if I wanted some,” Fred continues. “Get another cell phone, just to deal with those calls. Like the taxi drivers here, one phone for their wives, one for their girlfriends.” Reed adds: “I have 7 women right now. Just got some on Tuesday. I look at white girls like men now.”

The apartment on the 28th floor of Salcedo’s deluxe hotel is decorated with serious African statues, Impressionist paintings, and furry furniture. In the kitchen, there are 25 different brands of liquor.  For the first time in Manila, I am back in America. Many of the patrons are tall, blonde-haired blue-eyed men and women. I'd almost had forgotten what they had looked like. In the next hour, I talk to a girl from Barcelona who is an international journalist, a real estate developer who seals deals in clubs; and a 31-year-old Filipina who is generously insecure. I frequently find myself revolving around the alpha male of the party: a 30-ish male model who says things like, “Thank you, Papa Jesus,” and “Can you believe I get paid 50,000 pesos a day to shoot a commercial?” He is loud, proud, and, as everyone around me acknowledges, has more “poon” than he knows what to do with.

“I’m never leaving the Philippines,” Reed tells me, already tipsy. “The most beautiful women in the world. And everyone’s so friendly here. Back home in New Zealand, nobody gives you a second glance.”

When the party starts to molder, I strike it up with Reed and another New Zealander, Glen. They decide to take a smoke; I come with them. In the stairwell, Glen takes out a pack of cigarettes and hands me one. Within 3 seconds, he's lighting me up, and I feel absolutely compelled to take a puff. Too bad I barely know how to hold one or the proper way to puff. After a minute and 2 (thankfully) unsuccessful puffs, Glen says, “You’ve never done this before, have you. Stronger!” in a slightly derisive tone. I, being caught between these two faux-friends and an imperative, breathe in harder, and feel the nicotine sailing down my lungs. I let out smoke from my mouth in a sloppy cloud. I take 3 more puffs before I put it down. What’s horrible is that it almost feels too normal: I can taste the cigarette’s airy, slightly dusty tinge, feel a heat in the back of my throat, and recognize that the feeling isn’t unpleasant. “First time. You’re going to be throwing up in a minute,” Glen remarks. My stomach starts to feel queasy, in waves, but I do not reach the tipping point.

5 minutes later, they are doing cocaine. Reed takes out a bag the size of a thimble, and, using a key, balances a tiny amount on the jagged tip. He raises the key to his left nostril and sucks upwards, jerking his head once, then twice, to send the powder soaring up into his bloodstream like a vacuum sucking up dust. Glen does the same, and in ten minutes, they have taken 10 snorts. I just watch. They don't go crazy; instead, they keep having a normal conversation.

Reed tells me, “We in New Zealand have incredible way of smoking pot. You take two sizzling hot knives, put a bit of pot on one knife, then press down with the other knife, like you’re making a pot sandwich. Cut a coke can in two, put the pot underneath, and smoke it through the opening.”

The next half hour, both of them talk about cheap pot in Manila, purple pot is in California, how Fiji is in every sense nicer than the Philippines, playing rugby and breaking rib bones, the indigenous Māori people and their legendary belligerence, and how Australia used to be British convicts and New Zealand the home of the mentally unstable.

“I love New Zealand. You have a US flag on your suitcase, there are countries that won’t let you in. New Zealand flag? Completely neutral. You know what our role was in WWII? The Germans took a sub off our coast, landed, bought some bread and eggs, and left. We’re like the Switzerland of the Pacific,” Glen says. “God, I am so spastic right now!” He gives me a fist pound. Then he talks about how his mum won’t visit him from Paris, even though he hasn’t seen her in two years. “She’ll never slum it in a third-world country,” he says. “And she’s always asking, ‘your half-Filipina girlfriend, does she have a British passport?’”

We got back into the lobby, where a schizophrenic German (I learn later, is the Asia director for a major, major world airline) shows me a video of a Filipina and says, “She’s 18. And she’s into me. She is so hot. I’d tap that. I’m going to.” She’s not that attractive.

We get back into the car and drive to Palladium. Because we know “Jameer,” the 500 peso cover charge is waived. On the raised platform in the middle of the club, there are two girls, one Asian and one European, clearly tourists, who are showing off everything (everything) for the 100+ beta males gathered around watching in a semicircle. On the dance floor, women are dancing while pathetic looking men perform weak circumlocutions. Regular clubs in Manila are as competitive as the ones in the states; but here, in a club for washed up omega males who've come halfway around the globe just to get some, the unease is nearly palpable. 

The three I came with sit down on a sofa and start texting, and within 30 minutes three former prostitutes show up. The group spends the next two hours sitting together texting into their phones.

"I really hope I don't have coke dick," Reed tells me. "I had it once before and it was so embarrassing. I couldn't get it up for an hour."

Instead of sitting on the couch, drink protecting my chest, I decide to dance. There’s a small girl in a red dress who keeps on telling me, “I’m too boring; see, I told you I was boring!”; another small girl in a red dress who is ridiculously aggressive (worse than you think); a Filipina who knows all the words to Mike Posner’s “Please Don’t Go”; a pouty-looking girl in a slinky green dress who quickly latches onto a Caucasian dude; and a Latina who tells me she’s been to Colorado. I get blown out by a group of five Koreans who they look at me as if radioactive material was dripping off my shirt cuffs. Towards the end of the night, I get one number.

When we leave, I look back to the stage, where all the males are still gathered, and recognize the tall, anorexic girl from the ex-pat party.

In the car on the way back, Reed, Fred, and the German lament how their girls left them, because they were propositioned by other males who would actually pay for their services. To make themselves feel better, they start recounting stories of picking up women on the street at night, by driving up and asking if they wanted to come home with them.

"You should get on this social networking site called Tagged," Reed tells me. I met the hottest Filipina there, and dated her for three months. She wasn't right for me, though, so I let her go." They tell me that they do this four times a week, at least, even if it means their bosses sending them home from work for being hung over. "How can you not love it here?" 

With the night nearly over, I’m tempted to ask, “What do you guys think about that's not women?" but I think I already know the answer. When they drop me off, they say, “Hey, welcome to Manila!”  

P.S. It's 5:40 a.m. now, and it's light outside. Time to try for some shut-eye.