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Manila Ma'am

Since landing in Manila Saturday night, I have been called Ma'am more than all other times in my life combined.  The culture is very service oriented and I've yet to hear a sentence from the hotel staff and others in the service industry that doesn't end in Ma'am.  It is so prevalent, I caught myself doing it this morning.

Tagalog is the local language, but from what I've been exposed to, English is the written language and spoken more frequently, and is exclusive at the hotel and in business.  We visited the Mall of Asia and other than some Asian restaurants, a Made in the Philippines store, and the security checkpoints - I could have been in most large malls in the States.  Christmas is also in full swing here, with trees going up, Christmas music (in English) blaring at breakfast, and stores dedicated to decorations.  I can't imagine being in this heat and celebrating Christmas for 2 months!
Christmas in Manila Mall in Early November
We had a full travel day on Saturday and if you consult the map, you'll see we weren't very efficient but the trip to the Philippines was last minute.  I folded my legs into my Air Asia seat from Labuan to KL after a lengthy and stressful check-in process and a reminder to not mix Jenny and Jennifer.  We landed a few hours later, collected our luggage and then went to the international section and checked in for Manila.  After customs and more check in procedures, we boarded Cebu Pacific Air and had even less leg room but luckily I had a row to myself and could sit sideways.  Cebu is a Filipino company and the atmosphere was festive.  We played a game right after take-off where you had to be the 1st one to show certain items like pictures of famous people, popular brands, etc to win branded Cebu products.  Both of these airlines serve food, beverage, and duty free but none of it is free.  You can pre-order online or pay as they walk by.  We ordered almost one of every snack for lunch and then settled in as we went back east toward Labuan and north to Manila.  The airport was spotless and after a taxi thru monsoon rains, we were checking into the hotel and eating dinner.  Actually, it was eating dinner and then checking in since there was a mix-up and misunderstanding as the staff tried to put all 3 of us in 1 room with 1 bed with the reasoning "You are all family, right Ma'am?".
1st Meal in Manila
We are staying at a new hotel on Manila Bay called Hotel H20.  It is a theme park with thousands visiting each day to see an aquarium that includes an Antarctica exhibit with penguins.  There are restaurants, souvenir stores, and a light show.  The hotel sits on the 3rd floor, so we overlook the excitement on the interior and have a great view of Manila Bay on the exterior.  One hallway of rooms has a shared aquarium on the back wall so the fish move from room to room.  There is a nice gym and spa and I've been spending my spare time in the open lobby with a great view of both and plenty of plugins.  We have a view of the Bay from our room, but the A/C is intense and feels like its own Antarctica exhibit.
Lobby Business Center
Manila Bay

Aquarium Room

Theme Park Lines

Manila Bay Room
We have eaten most of our meals here at the hotel and compared to Malaysia, finding vegan/vegetarian options is a struggle.  The Filipinos love their meat and fish.  Even the tofu has minced meat in it!  I can usually find vegan rice and pick out vegetables from the other dishes, but no beans, nuts, or pasta.  The fruit juices are outstanding and I've been knocking back pineapple, watermelon, and mango at most meals.  I did have an excellent Chinese meal last night with a client and since he is a vegetarian we had 3 different plates with tofu, noodles, and veggie combinations.  I also had a watermelon with red bean frozen dessert.
Labuan Breakfast - missing it here in Manila
On Sunday, we had a client dinner meeting but had some time during the day to explore the theme park and hotel.  My colleagues have family here and a few of them came to the hotel to visit and see the aquarium.  The traffic here is horrible and it took them 4hrs to arrive when it should have taken less than 1hr.  They were extremely nice and welcoming and I enjoyed learning about their culture.  I still need to process the poverty in this country and hope to spend some more time seeing the city and countryside.  The cost of food and services is ridiculously low compared to the US Dollar but for locals, only the bare necessities are within reach.
Aquarium Entrance - It helps to be tall in these crowds
Jeepney - Popular photo spot during operation hours
Yesterday (Monday) we were picked up by our client's driver and taken to their place of business.  I got to see quite a bit of the city from the backseat of the van and was a little surprised to pull up to a warehouse building that was guarded by a man with a shotgun, but once inside we got down to business.  There was similar security at the Mall of Asia stores, especially in stores with expensive inventory, like the Apple Store, Tag Hauer, and others.  The weapons and security weren't as obvious as trips I've made to Belfast and Athens and I never felt threatened.  After several hours in the boardroom, we finished business and moved downstairs for the fantastic Chinese meal I mentioned then returned to our hotel.
Manila Security
Since we had some time last night, I hit the gym and then went to the spa to try their promotion package, which was 2hrs and equivalent to $25 USD.  Again, unfathomable.  I don't do spa treatments and rarely get massages in the States, so I'm already a rookie but put me in the Philippines and then add a fish spa and negative ion hot bed treatment before the massage, and I get a little nervous.  I tried my hardest to do the fish spa, but could only stick in 1 foot at a time and for mere seconds.  If you don't know what one is, it is a jacuzzi size pool with black fish swimming around just waiting to eat off your dead skin.  These were the larger ones, the length of a soda can and 1/2 as wide. I was assured it would just feel like tickling, but I felt like I was live bait.  I may have traumatized myself from future walks in oceans and lakes.  It was a long 20 minutes and I was elated when the lady came to get me for the hot bed.
Fish Spa
Photo Courtesy Hotel H2O
According to the literature, this hotel is the only Negative Ion Hotel in the World.  The substances they use to build promote the production of negative ions which stabilize free radicals.  I was led to a room like a dry sauna and laid on the hot floor and sweated.  I'm not so great in the heat and had to really concentrate to get thru the full 30 minutes.  Finally, the massage therapist came and took me to a nice room and did a fantastic 60 minute massage which covered practically every inch of my body.  She used lots of different techniques and it was very relaxing, especially after the 1st 2 treatments.  I told her she was very good and she asked if she could come to the States with me, so sad but so honest and my heart broke.  I am starting to understand the need for 2 months of Christmas and an infatuation with famous stars, name brands, and anything that is materialistic.  It provides a break from reality and gives a sense of hope.  I am thankful for this eye-opening opportunity and look forward to a few more days before flying back to KL.
Negative Ion Hot Bed
Photo Courtesy HotelH2O


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