The Other Road #1: Manila Perceptions, Travel Comfortably, Hotel Hackers

Jono Lee
Jono Lee
Nov 9, 2017 · 3 min read

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In their element. In the zone. Who am I talking about? No, not Steph Curry. Not Tom Brady… nor Beyonce.

I’m talking about a tour guide I randomly encountered here in Manila. Yes, a tour guide.

I’ve been on a lot of walking tours the past 2 years. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to say this may have been the best one yet.

He’d erupt like a lightning rod of energy at times, mimic a dozen accents without a problem, and effortlessly use all his props: an old school cassette speaker, a binder of photos, and a pocketful of flower petals for exclamatory effect. I’d never seen anything like it except maybe in a theater. But here we were: outside in the humid 90 degree heat of Manila.

Did you know? In the early 1940’s, Manila was considered the most advanced in Asia:

  • First to have a commercial airline
  • First to have air conditioned buildings with elevators
  • First to have electric trams

I certainly didn’t, but now I did thanks to this man. He went on to paint a depressing picture: in WW2 Manila was the 2nd most devastated city after Warsaw with nearly all of it was burned to the ground. Over 100,00 Filipino lives were lost being used as human shields. All of that progress, lost. It’s been trying to regain its former glory ever since, and if you look up old photos it was definitely a beautiful city.

The moment I will forever remember though was him solemnly mentioning how he knows people ask “why would you go there?” if you say you’re going to Manila or the Philippines in general. That was by far the most common response I received when I told friends of my plans to work out of Manila for a few weeks. I didn’t expect it to be on par with a city like Tokyo for example, but I felt guilty to admit I did let other people’s negative reaction color my perception before arriving.

Having been here for over a week, Manila may be rough around the edges (the traffic is reeaaal bad) but the growth is obvious just by walking around and its people are very warm. By further learning its fascinating history from this guide it made me hopeful for its future.

Most importantly, he reminded me of why I travel: how satisfying it is for the soul to understand a bit more about why the world is the way it is today, and how any place on this planet can be interesting if you put in some effort to learn its story. Nothing is ever as black or white as it seems.

Afterwards, I looked up the tour and the guide Carlos Celdran is actually pretty well known, complete with his own comprehensive Wikipedia page. It then made perfect sense why he was so good. If you’re ever in Manila, this tour a must do. Very funny, engaging, and informative.

Travel Links of Interest
Jet Lag — A “glass half full” approach to one of the worst parts of travel.

The Hotel Room Hacker — Think hotel rooms are secure? The epic spree this hacker went on may change your mind.

Where Illegal Food Goes to Die — What happens to confiscated food at JFK, although I’m a little skeptical about charcuterie not being okay…

‘Most or all’ WiFi Security Broken — Secure (and uncensored) internet usage during travel is still one of the least understood for most people. This guide I wrote earlier this year is as relevant as ever. At the very least use a reputable VPN, like PIA or ExpressVPN.

What do you think of this newsletter? Just reply to this email and let me know.

Safe travels,

“Someone is Hindu, someone is Muslim, someone is Christian / Everyone is hell-bent on not becoming a human being.” — Nida Fazli


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Jono Lee

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