In 1988, the Peso was trading around 16-18 to the Aussie Dollar and a San Miguel Pale Pilsen was P5. Martial Law hadn’t been over for long and there were still sand bagged checkpoints on the major bridges over the Pasig River. People Power was just two years old and there was a statue of Nino Aquino in Makati. I believe that sculpture is now in Tarlac, it depicted him with a dove of peace on his shoulder coming down the stairs from an aircraft, just before he was assassinated. Makati was about the only ‘sane’ place in an otherwise insane city. Insane, but so much fun.
On my first trip to the Pinas I had been given the name of a brother of a workmate’s Filipina wife… and a package of ‘pasalubong’ to deliver. I had watched my colleague pack the box so I knew it held chocolates and not drugs. I met him at my hotel lobby, gave him the package and he invited me out for a drink that evening; show me the sights and all that. Naïve me thought that would be a great way to see the Manila the tourists never get to see and I’d be safe and in good hands. He arrived to pick me up with five other ‘family members’ in tow.
We took a cab to the expensive night clubs on Quezon Boulevard, all seven of us jammed in one car. As I was in the front with a very pretty ‘cousin’ on my lap, I didn’t mind the crush. The night club was something out of an old 1930s movie with waiters guiding us to tables by torch light, telephone and table numbers in the center of each booth so you could call up other tables if someone took your fancy, and a nine piece band.
The band were, of course, superb and did covers of just about anyone and everyone remotely popular in the last forty years. I danced with the three ‘cousins’ while my ‘host’ and his two friends drank our entry fee. It was P20 a head and ‘consumable’, so they consumed it in the form of Tanduay and coke. The girls drank Coke. I stuck to San Miguel. The bill for all of us, including ‘snacks’, drinks all night and the cab back there and back came to about P300, or around $18! Of course, my host allowed me to pay.
I said my goodbyes in the lobby, noting the strange looks passed between the ‘cousins’. The two other males had waited outside and my new found best friend offered to show me around the next day. He had told me he worked in construction as an engineer so I queried how he could get the day off work at such short notice. He replied with some vague response about it being his company and while it didn’t ring true, I managed to politely decline. The next day he was there in the lobby waiting for me anyway, but I felt there was something not completely transparent about his desire to be so hospitable and show me around. He also had two of the cousins with him, both very glad to see me.
Remember this was my first trip to the Philippines, I hadn’t been there 48 hours yet and already I felt something was wrong. So what do you think about this? We’ll discuss it more in Part 3 – Too much of a Good Thing