Manila – The Capital Of The Philippines

THE day is just breaking, but we are already on deck at the prow of the ship looking at the coast of Luzon. On both sides of us are low, green hills with smoky blue mountains behind them, and right in front is a little green island with the sun rising over it. That island is Corregidor (cor-ra-he-thor’), from which the Spaniards fired at Admiral Dewey as he sailed into the Bay of Manila to fight his great battle. It divides the entrance to the bay into two channels, and the Stars and Stripes floating over it shows that it is now held by American soldiers. We follow the same course that Dewey took and are soon in the bay.

What an enormous body of water it is! In its center we are almost out of sight of land, and the blue hills become a faint haze in the distance. It takes us several hours to cross over to Manila on the opposite side. We pass ships of all kinds on the way, and anchor at last near the mouth of the Pasig River in one of the busiest harbors on this side the world. There are ships from China, Japan, Australia, and India all about us; there are vessels from Europe, taking on and putting off cargo, and transports and other ships from the United States; there are steamers coming in from and going out to different parts of the Philippines, and sailing vessels from the many islands about. Saucy little tug-boats are hauling huge barges, called ” cascoes,” steam launches are flying over the waves, and ferryboats for Cavite (ka-ve’ta) and other places are moving by us loaded with passengers. There are scores of rowboats worked by brown-skinned oarsmen and fishing boats bringing their catch to the markets.

We ride to the shore in one of the government launches, making our way in and out through the shipping of the wide Pasig River, and are landed in the heart of the city. Here we take carromatas, the two-wheeled pony cabs of the Philippines, for the hotel. Our drivers are little brown men in white clothes, who whip up their ponies and race through the streets, dashing in and out of the mass of carts, wagons, and cabs so recklessly that our hearts are in our throats all the way, and we scarcely see the strange sights about us. We arrive safely, however, and later on become used to such driving, and like it, especially as the weather is too hot for walking.

After a dinner at the hotel we visit the church of Saint Sebastian, on the edge of Manila, for a bird’s-eye view of the city. A black-gowned priest opens the door, and with him we walk up and up the hundreds of steps of the slim, spiral staircase to the top of the tower, where we have all Manila below us.

The city lies on a plain backed by blue mountains which reach on and on about the silvery waters of the great bay. The buildings are low one and two story houses with the domes and towers of churches rising above them ; there are green trees here and there showing out above the house roofs. The city skirts the bay for miles, extending far back and losing itself in a green plain spotted with trees. There are in all about twenty square miles of buildings, and as we look we can see something of the importance of our Philippine capital. Manila has about as many people as Indianapolis ; it is the chief center of commerce and trade for all of the islands, and it is one of the principal cities of this thickly populated part of the globe.

Take your field glass and look at it more closely. See how the plain is cut up by the wide streets crossing one another at all sorts of angles. The waterways are as many as in the cities of Holland. That stream just be-low is the Pasig River, which flows from the Laguna de Bay, a great lake not far away, to the Bay of Manila. It is navigable for small steamers, and there are canals running out from it in every direction, enabling boats to reach any part of the city.

Now notice the mass of houses on the left of the river with the big wall about them. That is Old Manila connected with the business part of the city by the Bridge of Spain, which you can see crossing the Pasig. It is there that many of the officials have their offices, and there also are many churches and monasteries, colleges and schools. That monument on the bank of the river was erected by the Spaniards to Ferdinand Magellan.

The part of the city outside the wall and on the other side of the river is where most of the people live, and where nearly all the business is done. The Escolta (escol’ta), the chief business street, is just over the bridge, and the markets are across another bridge still farther away.

Beyond the walled city skirting the bay are Malate (ma-la’ta) and other suburbs, fine residence sections, and between them and the walled city facing the sea is the Luneta, the park where fashionable Manila comes to drive and listen to the music from five o’clock until dusk every afternoon. We can see the moving crowd through the field glass, and the music, though faint, floats up to our ears.

Let us turn our backs to the city and look at the fields. They are as green as our country in June. The plain is dotted here and there with clumps of bamboo and tall palms. There are vegetable gardens, patches of rice, and groves of bananas, with roads and streams running through them.

The sun hangs low as we look, and its rays catch the crowd of men and women coming back to Manila from their work outside the city, making bright-colored ribbons through the green fields. Most of the men are dressed in white cotton, and the women wear black shawls and red skirts, which the sun’s rays turn to streaks of red and black as they move over the green.

Suppose we go down and take a walk through the streets. They are thronged with people, and we have a good chance to see some of the strange characters of this very strange city. We are moving along with hundreds of little men, women, and children, our brown-skinned cousins of the Philippine Islands. There are Filipinos of all classes, ages, and sizes. Some of the boys go along hand in hand, and the girls are walking with their arms around the waists of their friends.

Hear the people talking as they move onward, Their language is musical and somewhat like Spanish, but we can not understand it. Now and then a girl laughs, and her white teeth show out against her brown skin. The Filipinos are by no means bad looking. They are straight and well formed, although not so tall as we are. They have black eyes, almost slanting, and coarse black hair. Their lips are not thick, and their noses are as straight as our own.

They look clean, and we learn that most of them take a bath every day. See those two women with their hair down their backs. They have come from a dip in one of the canals, and can not do up their hair until it is dry. Other women wear their hair in great knots on the tops of their heads. Many of them are bareheaded, and most of the boys have no hats.

What a curious dress ! The women and girls wear a flowing skirt around which is wound a broad strip of cloth tucked in at the waist and forming a sort of over-skirt. Above this is a waist of gauze made low at the neck, with bell-like sleeves cut off at the elbow. The stuff is so thin that the skin shows through, and it must be delightfully cool ; it is made of the fiber of the pineapple and other plants. Around the neck is a broad starched collar. Many of the women wear heelless slippers and the girls are barefooted.

Take a look at the men. What would you think if half the men and boys of your town should come out with their shirts outside their trousers ? That is what they do here. It seems strange at first; but it is cooler to wear one’s shirt in that way, and we must remember that we are not very far north of the Equator. Some shirts are so thin that we can see the brown skin showing through as they flap about in the breeze. The men of the better classes wear coats, and some have on suits of white muslin. Many Americans here are dressed in white linen or yellow khaki, and they tell us we had best buy such suits for ourselves. We meet better clad natives as we go into the Escolta, and find that the Filipinos of the higher classes dress much as we do.

How crowded it is ! The sidewalks are about three feet wide, with hardly room enough for three persons abreast. We are often shoved into the roadway and have to look out for the automobiles, carts, carromatas, and carriages which are hurrying in both directions. Every coachman is flogging his pony, and we wonder if the Filipinos know how to drive slowly.

The only slow things on the road are the carabaos, or water buffaloes, dragging great drays loaded with hemp, tobacco, and all sorts of goods. There come two now, one following the other, each pulling a dray. Jump into this doorway and wait until they pass.

Did you ever see animals so ugly ? They are of the cow family, but I am sure no respectable American cow would acknowledge the relationship. Their skins look more like that of a pig, and the thin, bristling black hair so stands out upon them that you can see the dark skin shining through. Most of the carabaos are black, although we now and then see some blond ones with white hair and a rosy red hide.

They are all very dirty, for they are like pigs, in that they wallow in the mud. They delight in the water, and must have their baths several times a day, or they will grow crazy. For this reason the drivers of the carts stop now and then as they cross a river or canal, and allow their beasts to take a ten-minute bath. The huge animals walk down the steps and lie down, with nothing but their heads showing out. We may see scores of them so bathing during any half-hour’s walk along the waterways of Manila.

The carabaos are very valuable to the Philippines. They are strong, and can plow and harrow the muddy rice fields, where a horse or mule would sink through. They haul the drays in the towns, and do all kinds of draft work and farm work. Provided they get their baths, they are gentle. The children are fond of them, and boys and girls ride them as they feed in the pasture, and that without bridle or saddle. Carabaos give milk like cows, and their meat takes the place of beef among the poorer classes.

Here we are in the Escolta, the chief business street of Manila. The stores are smaller than at home, and each has one or two families living above it. Most of the stores have awnings out over the sidewalks ; some have Spanish signs, and not a few are still owned by Spaniards.

Turning a corner we enter a quarter where nearly all the stores are Chinese. They look like little caves cut out of the walls, and are so full of calicoes and other merchandise that there is no room for cases or counters. The goods are piled up on the shelves, or hung from the ceilings, and even piled outside on the streets. The upper floors of the buildings extend over, shading the sidewalk, and in the windows above we see yellow – skinned, almond – eyed women and children looking out.

The Chinese are great traders, and many have come here to do business. There are many thousand in Manila, and more than fifty thousand in the Philippine Islands. They sell merchandise in all parts of the archipelago. Some go about with packs of goods on their shoulders, peddling their wares from house to house; others are mechanics, and others work in the streets and on the plantations.