Last Thursday I found myself alone and with a full vacant afternoon ahead of me, so I treated myself to a walk through some of the landmarks of Manila. The city is so often scorned as a disorganized urban mess that it is easy to forget that there's much positive stuff to be seen.
In the late afternoon I found myself at the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex in Pasay, which is not really a tourist attraction in itself but I can appreciate the buildings and architecture. I saw the haunted Manila Film Center, the CCP Main Building, the Philippine International Convention Center, among other things. I'm sure most of these were criticized as white elephants when they were constructed, but I have to admit that they are at least impressive structures, and most of them are not totally useless.
I happened to come across this little place beside the CCP seaport called Harbour Square. It looked new, and probably was new since I never heard about it during my four years in college. There are some nice restaurants and coffee shops, a clean walkway by the sea, and best of all a spectacular view of the Manila skyline. It seems I happened to find this place at the perfect time... At sunset the buildings take on a golden orange color and they're reflected clearly in the sea. It's a pity this stretch of seaside in the reclamation area isn't better developed and promoted. If I had tourist relatives visiting Manila, this would be the one place I would not neglect to bring them for picture taking.
From there I walked over to Roxas Boulevard and traveled the entire stretch of the Manila baywalk along the sea. It surprised me... it's a pretty nice place. It has open air bars, live bands, public art, and-- if my sources are trustworthy-- hundreds of thousands of people soaking in the sunset ambiance. I've heard much about this place and how it was redeveloped while I was in college, but never visited it before since it seemed so far away. Whenever I hear it mentioned, Mayor Lito Atienza's name isn't far behind, so I guess he deserves the credit for it all. In that case, well done, sir.
Eventually I reached the end of the baywalk, passed the US Embassy, and reached the Philippines' kilometer zero: Rizal Park. From here I could look one way and see the Quirino Grandstand and the huge parade grounds in front of it, and I could look the other way and see perhaps the most well-known sculptural landmark in the country, the Rizal Monument. Unfortunately by this time it was a bit dark for taking good pictures, so I just found a nice place to sit down and allow the sky to change color.
After the sun set completely and the sky turned dark, I took a walk through Luneta where hundreds of families were having picnics and sitting in the grass. It was never developed into the grand civic district that Daniel Burnham envisioned, and it doesn't hold a candle to the urban oasis that is New York's Central Park, but measured on its own merits Luneta is a perfectly respectable and decent public park.
Walking through the park at the end of the day, passing by happy Filipino families relaxing in the grass and impressive civic statues on both sides, it's easy to forget that the Metro Manila I am surrounded by is so often disparaged as a sprawling anarchic gallimaufry without a soul. Right then I felt very positive and proud of the Philippines. If you give it a chance, Manila can turn out to be quite a nice place indeed.