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You’re Not From Around Here Are You?

November 4, 2019

I sat quietly in the corner of an small Greek restaurant in Athens. I was in Greece for two days and after wanted to experience authentic Greek fair. The waiter, spoke very good English and took my order of “Please bring me a tradition Greek dish.” While waiting another couple came in. They were apparently going on a cruise. And they were apparently Americans.

Because they felt the need to make sure the entire restaurant heard about it, and how “YOU KNOW, BACK HOME WE HAVE SOMETHING LIKE THIS.” I’m not even sure what “this” he was referring to.

They were a nice enough couple, if someone ethnocentric and very, very loud. I’m not sure they remember their dinner in Athens as much as I remember mine. (The food was excellent, by the way.)

I’m not in Athens this week. I’m nearly as far away from Athens as I am from America. I’m spending the week in Manila. I’m here for work, but there is obviously time to see the city, as well.

Manila is a city of twenty million people. It’s hard to fathom. If you took everyone who lives in Utah and they hosted one Philippino, for a trip to Salt Lake City, there would still be 5 times as many people left in the city of Manila as there are in the entire state of Utah.

Manila is also a city with history. In America, we tend to think of anything more than 200 years as old. There are places in Asia where 200 years is recent history. And as the age of a people, it’s not even hardly noticable.

Yesterday I went to lunch with our team.

Rodney, where do you want to go eat?

I’d love to try some authentic Philippino food.

We ended up in a nice restaurant at one of the numerous malls. We had what I later found out was Ox tail soup. And rice. There’s always rice. The spices were different than I’m used to. But, the food was delicious and eating with a group who could explain that the red pasty-sauce gets mixed with the soup, not the rice, made it even better.

I’ve noticed a couple of interesting things since being here. And, of course, by “interesting” I mean, “different from what we have back home.” The first one was stoplights. I’ve had a driver or used taxis while here. (I have no desire to share the road with 20,000,000 drivers in their city.) But, very few intersections have stop lights. And it works great.

The was a city in Europe that last year decided to eliminate most of their traffic symbols and lights. People were responsible to watch out for each other. Traffic accidents went down significantly.

The drivers in Manila flow like water. Cars move effortlessly back and forth across lane markets in a beautiful display of chaotic synchronicity. Motor bikes flow into any open space in and around the larger vehicles.

And yet, the only horns used are brief beep-beep in a sort of “Hey, I’m here, in case you didn’t see me,” manner. It’s actually quite beautiful in a “moving photograph” sort of way. Of course, I’m not sure that I, as a driver from America, would find it nearly as serene if I were sitting behind the wheel. But, from the backseat, it’s very soothing.

Security is very visible. Malls have metal detectors as you enter. My hotel has a guard house where incoming vehicles are stopped and checked by dogs and bomb detecting, hand held ground mirrors. Then, a metal detector and x-ray machine to get in. Mall cops are often armed with pistol grip shotguns. And yet, there is not a feelings of fear or nervousness. I asked a coworker if it’s always like this, or if there was some specific threat.

No, always like this. You know, just to keep everyone safe.

There also is simply a feeling of politeness that permeates the city. “Please,” “Thank you,” and “Excuse me” are heard constantly. doors are held open by total strangers. The elevator has a nice “Please observe silence.”

I’m not sure how much of Manila I will get to experience while I’m here. And I’m trying very hard to not be the American in the Greek Restaurant.

Because, after all, I’m not from here.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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