We had a fun day today chasing around basic needs, incidentally discovering cool things and knocking off a "must see" item. Our first objective of the day was to acquire a PLDT phone card (local carrier) so as to avoid $2.50/min roaming charges on the loaner phone to book a room near our next destination (Taal). After a literal goose chase, two hours, accidentally discovering the Robinson's Mall and a a really good breakfast, we achieved nirvana and found a little cart selling them. We now have a room and some really Hollywood instructions on how to get there. And yes, they do include such tasks as "get off the bus, hire a tricycle to the market and ask for us". Hehehe... new experiences lurk around each and every corner these days.
As the Lonely Planet guide mentions, while there are seemingly thousands of taxis available while you intend to be on foot, they all seem to disappear when you actually want one. We had the intent of hiring an actual yellow taxi (they're what the security guard recommended outside of the place we're staying), but we finally gave in and nabbed the more common white kind after much hunting. We did not a) get ripped off, b) killed, c) brought to somewhere unexpected, so we used one a second time after spending a great afternoon exploring Intramuros and getting an incredible taste of history. I, not having so many miles under my belt for travel, was astonished to see buildings (or the crumblings of) from the 16th century. More interesting than them was to see the contrast of modern society living in and among them as if they were nothing out of the ordinary.
We did learn a lesson today after hiring a horse carriage and "guide" to bring us around Intramuros. While we're not total noobs at this game and remembered to negotiate a deal up front, we forgot to ask if it would cost us extra as he encouraged us to get out of the carriage about 4 times to check out different locations. 45 minutes later (we had negotiated for 30) and his claim of 1 hour, we were presented with a guilt trip and new negotiations. Must continue to beat into our skulls the virtues of understanding ALL of the fine print as it presents itself. We negotiated a very fair payment in the end, especially considering that those 45 minutes off our feet were valuable, but educational none-the-less.
For the records, I (Jim), did get minorly grumpy today (no doubt Sarah would mention it). The reason for this little bit of grumpiness is quite simple: it's getting a bit overwhelming trying to do such normally simple tasks as crossing the road w/o being killed. Tiring... all is good, but man it's a culture shock for me. While being a foreign tourist here is incredibly simple thanks to the seeming fact that everyone and everything speaks and/or is in English, the constant choking vehicular smog and adrenaline rush of crossing the street can be shorten your patience.
Another unintended, but fun "check-off-the-list" item was our dinner at Jollibee (the local fast food joint of Manila) in Intramuros. The Yum Burger was, well, Yum and the fries were incredibly like McDonald's. It was quite refreshing having a pineapple juice in place of the standard optional lemonade. Also fun to note, every place you go that is a "nicer" store, like a Jollibee or 7-11 or bank or even a hotel, has its very own security guard. This security guard opens the door for you and greets you "Good evening, sir, maam..." What service.
I think Sarah has put it the most elegantly when she said something along the lines of, "at least the children in India would say 'please ma'am' as they chased after you." While I received a taste of this phenomenon in South Africa, Manila is really my first experience with persistent child-pleading for charity. I must admit that I'm almost feeling like a bad person when I say, it's really tiring, but it really is. I really wish I could help everyone out that asks, but I can't. And when everything that approaches you knows only one phrase, "GIVE me money", I quite frankly feel a little dead inside. I wish, at least, people here would ask and not splash muddy water at us as we walked by and did not give. I guess it's more culture shock that I need to work out in my head as the trip progresses.