Standing in shiny and dazzling contrast to the rest of the city, Makati is Manila’s business hub. It feels like a different place. With its skyscrapers, broad boulevards and spotless streets it is where Manila’s moneyed (and heavily guarded) work, live and play. For this reason many of the city’s top hotels are here too.
The problem is, that is so squeaky clean it doesn’t really feel like Manila at all. I had decided not to stay there for this reason – I hadn’t come all this way to stay in an antiseptic mall. But after a few days of vibrant, shabby streetlife I headed over and was glad to take a breather from the Third World for a while. Here people sat at sidewalk cafes idly tapping on their Macbooks (something I would not suggest you try elsewhere in the city).
Surprisingly though, as well as the requisite Starbucks and Outback Steakhouses there were a couple of real gems.
Most of Makati is given over to a vast network of malls – where middle class Manila comes to assert its spending power. (According to wikipedia, this is the 47th richest city in the world). Most of these were huge but otherwise unremarkable although one had a large rink where children could ride on electric trolleys upholstered to look like bears or giraffes, and another was advertising a bizarre “plants versus zombies” show (also for kids).
But one mall was a real eye opener. Greenbelts – consisting of Greenbelts 1,2,3 and 4 is a complex of gleaming, luxury stores built around a rambling tropical garden with huge banyan trees and immaculately maintained landscaping. The curved concrete shell of a modernist chapel lies at the centre, over a small pond, and there is a terrace of cafes and restaurants overlooking the greenery. It is stunning. Everything is so classy and well-executed and the tropical vegetation is so beautiful. I thought it was probably the most impressive mall I had seen.
Part of this complex is the private Ayala Museum – probably Manila’s best. Again I had not expected much, but the thoughtfully-lit and presented collection blew me away, particularly the fourth floor “gold vault”. Here, barred doors clang shut behind you as you enter a cool, dim vault where pre-Hispanic Filipino jewellery glimmers under spotlights. Its incredible. There are ceremonial sashes, heavy earplugs, solid gold dagger handles and my favourites, “orifice covers” used to cover the eyes and mouth of the dead in funeral rites. Security cameras track your every move as you pass through the exhibit, as I can attest after being sprung taking a sneaky photo (none are allowed). A security guard came up and patiently pointed out that I had been seen on the CCTV and I would have to delete the picture. I was rumbled by this rare example of Filipino efficiency – but fair enough. After all, not everyone in Manila plays by Makati’s rules.
Elsewhere the museum was exhibiting paintings by leading Filipino artist of the 1930s Victorio Edades (his “The Interraction” is below) and some vivid dioramas of the seemingly endless revolts and insurrections that have occurred in the islands, little noticed by the rest of the world – riots against the Chinese, revolts against the Spanish, guerrilla campaigns against the Americans, Communist and Islamic insurgencies, people power rallies and Church feuds.
In the giftshop I bought a beautiful book about Philippine art deco, with the Municipal Theater on the cover, and left fully satisfied, but slightly apprehensive that I would get mugged on the train to the ‘real world’.