Column #61 Manila, Philippines
September 1, 1998
I’m in the clouds at the moment somewhere over the South China Sea. For what seems like endless minutes now I have been staring at my laptop trying to think of something nice to say about Manila, the city I’ve just departed. If it weren’t for the couple of dart boards I found at Shenanigan’s Pub (5003 Burgos Street) I think it might be downright impossible.
It’s a shame too. There just can’t be a country, anywhere in the world, where the people are more hospitable. No matter where you travel in the Philippines (and it’s a sprawling place — more than 7,000 islands combine to comprise the archipelago) you are simply guaranteed to be greeted with a smile and a helping hand.
The Philippines is also a beautiful land. There’s the cool mountain city of Baguio, north of the eerie ash-strewn aftermath of the Mt. Pinutubo volcanic eruption. There’s the lush province of Palawan in the south, some 1,700 islands known as the “Last Frontier” because so much of the area is yet unexplored. There’s El Nido where swiftlets build their nests (of bird nest soup fame) on the towering black marble cliffs. There’s Paly Island with it’s waterfalls and where giant sea turtles come to lay their eggs.
And then there’s the capitol city of Manila. As anyone who has ever visited here will attest, Manila is a borderline lawless society. One simply does not feel safe. Not anywhere. Not ever. It’s a place where the division between those of substantial means and those who have absolutely nothing is about as stark as it gets. Below the tall and shiny new buildings the sights, sounds — and smells — of abject, and such unnecessary, poverty are overwhelming.
Multicolored jeep-like contraptions (called “jeepneys”) clog the traffic-jammed streets, polluting the air with noise and exhaust. In gutters raw sewage floats with the trash. At nigh the acrid smell of garbage burning in the neighborhoods mixes with the humidity. The result is a stench that simply turns the stomach.
Manila is an awful place. I come here only because I have to. The people have it bad. But animals have it worse. And that’s my job, helping animals. Believe it or not, just outside of the city limits dogs are eaten for lunch.
In the middle of all this mess, in the Makati area of the city, is a strip of bars. And in the center of this strip, next to the popular “Mogambo’s” and up a flight of stairs, is where you’ll find Shenanigan’s and it’s two Scorpion electronic dart boards. It’s a tiny, dark, smoke-filled bar with space for little more than a pool table and a handful of tables and chairs. San Miguel is the beer of choice but the owner, a solid darter named Ronald, miraculously managed to produce a few bottles of Budweiser. As the night progressed I learned that Ronald was equally as resourceful at doing whatever is required to keep resetting the darts machine without stuffing your life savings into it. Unfortunately for Ronald he wasn’t quite so able under pressure at the line.
Before last night I had never seriously thrown a soft-tip dart. Without ever really experiencing the game I, perhaps unfairly, wrote it off as less serious than steel-tip. I denegrated it as nothing more than a bunch of fat pies and an oversized bull. Which, in part of course, it is — but the board’s the same, no matter who is standing in front of it. The playing field is level.
So I unscrewed my steel tips and replaced them with soft ones. I shoved some pesos into the Scorpion and took on all comers. And I filled up the triples and the cork to my heart’s content and also, apparently, to the machine’s content. It blinked. It beeped. It did my subtraction. And it happily swallowed nearly every coin I had in my possession.
I’m not certain if I was converted or conned last night in grubby old Manila. The later I suspect. I’m convinced only that the numbers on the board are going to look mighty small the next time I step to the line for a “real” game of darts.
From the Field,
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