Gore-Tex Noselift

When I think of Gore-Tex I think of hiking boots and waterproof jackets. Until my recent trip to the Philippines I was unaware that the brand is also associated with implants used in rhinoplasty and other cosmetic surgery procedures.

Gore-tex Nose Lift
A waterproof nose could be useful for those heavy colds.

There are a lot of good looking people in the Philippines but some feel dissatisfied with their cute, God-given flat noses, wishing instead to have long, pointed noses. For this reason, plastic surgeons seem to be doing a good business in Manila although lagging far behind Thailand and even further behind South Korea, said to be the plastic surgery capital of the world.

According to Dr. Shimmian’s website, a primary Gore-Tex noselift with septal cartilage graft will cost you Peso 100,000, or around US$2,000. That’s quite a lot of money in a country where the average family income is only Peso 22,000 per month*. It seems a Gore-Tex nose is only affordable to the better off. Perhaps I could sell a bit of my nose, which seems to get longer every year!

*2015 figures: Philippines Statistics Authority

Orient Bound President Lines

I was browsing through some of my old National Geographic Magazines the other day and came across one dated September 1956, when I would have been just a baby.

I find that the adverts in these old magazines are as interesting as the articles. Here is an advert for American President Lines and their Trans-Pacific Cruises aboard S.S.President Cleveland and S.S. President Wilson.


The advert talks about gay shipboard parties from a time when ‘gay’ just meant joyful.

The church behind the balloons is the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila which I visited last year.

Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene

This was the golden era for ocean liners. These ships could hold 379 first class passengers and 200 in economy. They were looked after by a crew of 352.

SS President Cleveland

The service ended in 1973 and both vessels were sold to Mr. C.Y.Tung of Orient Overseas Line (now OOCL), Hong Kong. C.Y Tung was the father of C.H. Tung, the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong after the handover to China.

S.S. President Cleveland was briefly renamed Oriental President before being scrapped in 1974 in Kaoshiung, Taiwan.

SS President Wilson

The S.S.President Wilson was renamed Oriental Empress and spent most of her remaining years laid up in Hong Kong where she was run aground by Typhoon Ellen in 1983. She was sold for scrap in 1984.

She is featured on this 1970 Qatari stamp but it is doubtful if she ever visited Qatar which was a bit of a backwater in those days.

Walking Tour of Old Manila – Part 2, Intramuros

This is a continuation of my walking tour of old Manila which took about 5 hours in total.

From Binondo we walked across Jones Bridge over the Pasig River from where there is a fine view of the imposing Post Office building.

Post Office Building

The original building dates from 1926 but it was heavily damaged during the war and had to be rebuilt in 1946. As you can see from this pre-war postcard they faithfully followed the original design.

Jones Bridge and Post Office, Manila

Close to the Post Office is the Manila Metropolitan Theater building. Completed in 1931, this interesting art-deco beauty only had a working life of 10 years before World War Two intervened during which the building was severely damaged. Since then it has undergone a number of renovations and half-completed restorations interspersed with long periods of disuse and decay. At one time it served as a boxing arena but it is currently abandoned again and its fate is uncertain.

Metropolitan Theater

Filipino influences were incorporated into the stain glass windows and the capiz shell lamps flanking the entrance to the theater.

Metropolitan Theater

Let’s hope the building can find a new occupant to maintain and preserve it for the future (perhaps as a venue for Filipino Idol or similar).

Five minutes walk away is one of the entrances to the walled city of Intramuros where Spain built its first fortifications over 400 years ago. The quiet narrow streets within its thick stone walls contain a number of restored heritage buildings and points of historic interest.

Streets of Intramuros

San Agustin Church (below) was one of the first stone built churches in the Philippines being completed in 1606 and renovated in 1854. Shortly afterwards, the earthquakes of 1863 and 1880 demolished the left hand bell tower which accounts for its lob-sided appearance. It was the only building left standing in Intramuros after the US liberation of Manila. For that reason alone it deserves its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

philippines Apr 2011 115

I have an old postcard in my collection depicting the same church. It looks in better shape today.


By this time on our walk it was time for refreshment and the elegant Ristorante delle Mitre, immediately facing the church, served an excellent meal. Many of the dishes are named after bishops who are said to dine there regularly.

Ristorante delle Mitre, Intramuros Ristorante delle Mitre

Next we passed Manila Cathedral. This building, completed in 1958, is the 6th cathedral on this site, its five predecessors having been destroyed by typhoon/fire, earthquake, earthquake again, earthquake yet again and WWII respectively. It does not seem to be a lucky site – will it survive the next earthquake?

Manila Cathedral

The banner on the cathedral says “Do we need the RH Bill? No!” which presumably refers to the Reproductive Health Bill. I do not know all the details but I believe this is a brave and, frankly, long-overdue effort on the part of recently installed President Aquino to stem the Philippines’ exploding population growth. Brave because any measures concerning birth control are routinely opposed by the Catholic Church which remains highly influential in the Philippines.

At the northern tip of Intramuros sits the bastion of Fort Santiago which overlooks Pasig River and once controlled all approaches to the city. It has a long and bloodthirsty history.  Until 1570 it consisted of a wooden stockade occupied by Rajah Sulaiman who ran the Muslim kingdom of Manila on behalf of his relative, the Sultan of Brunei. Then the Spanish arrived and a great deal of negotiating, skirmishing and treachery on both sides took place but the outcome was that in 1571 King Philippe of Spain ordered Adelantado Miguel Lopez de Legazpi (great name!) to colonize the country. “What shall we call the colony your Majesty?” said Legazpi. “How about naming it after me” replied King Philippe. “Jolly good idea sir.”

Fort Santiago

The fort was strengthened, damaged, destroyed and rebuilt numerous times over the next couple of centuries by the Spanish and even the British who occupied it for two years from 1762. It later became headquarters for the US army during their administration of the Philippines. During WWII the Japanese military committed a great number of tortures and executions in the fort’s dungeons which are now mostly closed off to the public. The Fort also contains a museum commemorating Jose Rizal, the national hero who led the country to independence from the Spanish (only to see the Americans take over).

Fort Santiago and Rizal Shrine

The Manila authorities have done a good job in smartening up Fort Santiago which was much cleaner than I remember from an earlier visit many years ago. There is talk of redeveloping Intramuros to improve its tourism potential and to provide quality residential housing. Provided it can be done tastefully that seems a good idea. Ayala Group has expressed an interest in the project and they would probably do a good job if selected.

Plaza Moriones inside Fort Santiago

From the ramparts of Fort Santiago we had a good view of Pasig River (perhaps slightly cleaner than it used to be?) looking back over Binondo.

Pasig River looking almost blue?

Despite the progress, slum areas remain in the Tondo district where life may not have improved much since the old postcard below was issued.

Squatter area in Tondo.

 Loading a rice barge in Tondo.

To round off the walking tour we exited Intramuros and took a quick look round the neighbouring Rizal/Luneta Park area.

The grand Manila Hotel, built in 1909, is still there and little changed from the view in this vintage postcard (except the stars and stripes no longer flies above it and nowadays there is a high rise extension).

Manila Hotel

You can stay in the 3 bedroom MacArthur suite, which was the residence of General MacArthur from 1935-1941, if your pockets are deep enough.

Next to the hotel is the Quirino Grandstand, scene of  recent dramatic events when a disgruntled ex-cop hijacked a bus load of Hong Kong tourists and a number of them were killed in a bungled police rescue attempt.

Alongside  Rizal Park are two impressive looking classical buildings, The National Museum (which was closed for the holiday) and the Department of Tourism.

National Museum Department of Tourism

The walking tour ended here. It was an interesting day and showed a side of Manila that I had not seen before.


Walking Tour of Old Manila – Quiapo and Binondo

I have just returned from a holiday in the Philippines. On this visit I thought I would try to do a walking tour of the heritage sites in downtown Manila.

Manila was once a rich and beautiful city – dubbed the ‘pearl of the orient’ it was the jewel in Spain’s Pacific empire. Spain’s 330 years as colonial rulers came to an end and America took over for the 40 years running up to World War Two. Under US rule Manila was expanded and modernized while still retaining much of the city’s character and charm. During its heyday in the 1930s, sprawling mansions along the coconut-palm-lined Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard) enjoyed a splendid view of Manila Bay, while in the cobbled streets of the historic quarters of Intramuros and Quiapo, picturesque horse-drawn calesas were starting to give way to auto-calesas and traffic jams were making their first appearance.

Sadly though, by the end of World War Two the heart the city was reduced to heaps of smouldering rubble. US General Douglas MacArthur has to take much of the blame. A man of monumental ego, he was humiliated by Japan’s swift and successful invasion of the Philippines in the months following Pearl Harbor. On his forced evacuation from the Philippines in March 1942 he made his famous ‘I shall return’ vow and, unfortunately for the city of Manila, he did.

Manila, liberated but destroyed.

The battle to liberate Manila lasted a month in early 1945. In an understandable effort to minimize US casualties, MacArthur blasted the  city from close quarters with artillery and anything else he could throw at it. The Japanese were finally crushed but a staggering 100,000 innocent Filipinos were also killed during the battle. Perhaps I am being a bit harsh on MacArthur. Of course the real baddies were the wartime Japanese whose barbarous occupation needed to be ended but I cannot help thinking that if Manila had been an American city, full of American civilians, that a smarter way of liberating the city would have been devised. After all Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta and Rangoon were all surrendered to the allies by the Japanese more or less intact. Why not Manila?

Anyway that is water long since under the bridge. The Philippines has had 65 years since the war to restore and rebuild its capital. I would have to say that the results have been somewhat patchy. Ten out of ten for increasing Manila’s size – its population is now well over 20 million making it one of the world’s largest metropolises, but when it comes to urban design … well let’s just say that Manila is not the prettiest city in Asia.

With this background in mind I set out to see if any heritage buildings have survived or have been restored to their original grandeur.

First stop was the Santa Cruz Church near Carriedo LRT station. This building was built in 1957 in hispano-baroque style and the church tower is a reasonable copy of the earlier version which was destroyed in the war.

Santa Cruz Church Old Santa Cruz church

I should point out here that it is virtually impossible to take any photos in this part of Manila without getting a bunch of ugly electricity cables in the way. Look at this lot:

Electrician needed.

A more famous church is the nearby Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. The current building replaced an earlier one which burnt down in 1928. It survived the war. The Black Nazarene is a dark coloured statue of Jesus first brought to the Philippines in 1606 and said to have miraculous powers.

Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene

Every 9th January the statue is taken on a procession around Manila’s streets and literally millions of people crush around it in an attempt to have a handkerchief or towel brushed against the idol in the hope that its miraculous powers will bring a lottery win or a sudden cure or some other improvement to their hardship-filled lives. The number of attendees at these processions increases year by year. This year’s procession attracted  over 7 million devotees. It is only a matter of time before a horrific lethal stampede occurs. As an alternative to an annual procession, perhaps the powers-that-be should consider opening the statue to the public 365 days a year and charge a nominal entrance fee of 10 pesos per person. The money raised could then be used for good causes.

Next we walked through the streets of Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown, which was much quieter than usual as all the shops were closed for Maundy Thursday.

Binondo, Manila's Chinatown. Calesa's are still used for general transport purposes but of course the drivers prefer the rich pickings of a foreign tourist.

The Philippines’ substantial Chinese community has long been well assimilated and, as elsewhere in south east Asia, their population includes a disproportionate number of the country’s rich and influential.

Binondo has its own grand church, the Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. The original structure, dating back to 1596, has suffered a lot over the years from earthquakes, a British bombardment in 1762 during Britain’s brief occupation of Manila (oops!) and from WWII. Only the octagonal bell tower is said to date back to the 16th century and its pagoda-like shape would have appealed to the mainly Chinese congregation.

Minor Basilica of St Lorenzo Ruiz, Binondo

Interior of Binondo Church Old postcard showing worshippers in their Sunday best.

Continuing down Quintin Paredes Street were a few more buildings of note. The art deco Uy Su Bin Building is home to HSBC’s Binondo branch and, more importantly for food-loving Manileños, a famous lumpia restaurant.

HSBC Binondo Citibank Binondo

Just before Quintin Paredes street reaches the Pasig River, I passed underneath the Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch marking the end of the Binondo district. Next to the arch is the Uy Chaco Building built in the 1920s in art-nouveau style and which has been the Binondo branch of Philtrust Bank since 1950. Apparently it is slated for demolition which is a shame as it is one of older and more distinctive buildings in the area.

Filipino Chinese Friendship Arch and Philtrust Building.

From here my walking tour of old Manila continued across Jones Bridge and into historic Intramuros.

You can view a map of my walk here.

To be continued in Part 2.

%d bloggers like this: