September 22, 2007

Nicholas Stoodley - Living in the Twilight Zone Chapter 12

Tune in every Saturday as Nicholas recalls the Disco Decade in Manila when Martial Law, Cuban heels, Donna Summer, Coco Banana and a lot of hair combined in a frenzy of uncertain excitement.

Chapter 12 - Crazy Country

People often want to know what the hell I am doing in what appears, from outside anyway, to be a somewhat over-dramatic backwater where calamities of one sort or another are fostered upon a stoic population that would rather party than prepare for the storm that threatens the islands. It's a good question and one that I am not sure I can answer succinctly.

There was a time I decided to buy a rather large house on a cliff overlooking a medieval village in the South of France. From the terrace you could sip chilled white wine and gaze across the river below to the distant hills bathed in shades of greens and azure in the bucolic clear light that illuminates that part of France and easily be seduced into the feeling that you were in paradise! Traffic jams were four cars backed up at a red traffic light. People paid their taxes and left their doors unlocked and there was no trash in the streets. It was clean as in CLEAN. People drove within the law and the law was liberally applied to the point that if you tried to bribe a policeman for a traffic expense you could easily end up in jail! It was a zillion miles from Manila but you know what? I MISSED THE CHAOS.

It's easy to make a list of the top ten reasons never, ever to consider living in the Philippines and people frequently make them: the corruption, the garbage, the pollution, the lack of basic infrastructure, Dairy Cream……..the list is long, but, you can LIVE over here as in LIVE. There was a time in France, shortly after I had moved there from Quezon City, when I decided to test the lighting in the garden one night. Twenty minutes later a Police Car came screaming up my driveway! A nosy neighbor had informed them as to the strange goings on in my house on the cliff. Here? In Manila? What the hell! God knows what is happening everywhere and that leaves you fairly free to get on with your life in a relaxed, unrestricted way that I really appreciate.

Even when it's bad it's funny and with the right attitude you go with the flow and emerge from the nightmare intact. Way back, in the days when I was still a newcomer to these islands I was driving extremely slowly through Pagsanjan, showing a visitor from London the delights of a small, sleepy provincial town when a lumbering wreck of a truck came out of a side road without stopping and hit my car smack in the side. Ah, but God must have been on my side as this happened right outside a police station – whereupon an oversized policeman looking somewhat annoyed, stumbled out of the building and assisted the driver of the truck (who was in such an advanced state of inebriation he couldn't walk) down from his cab where a fairly long conversation ensued. Meanwhile I was left to bake in the heat surrounded by a crowd of delighted small boys who thought it great fun. Eventually the policeman ambled over to explain how lucky I was. To be alive? No, he had informed me, that the driver of the truck wasn't going to bring charges against me for dangerous driving…well, I was in the way wasn't I?

I had laughed out loud thinking this was a great joke but the policeman didn't laugh – he was extremely serious and pointed out that things were done differently in the Philippines. I ended up having to pay through the nose for a set of photographs which were taken by another policeman who sensed he could make a killing from the bewildered looking Englishman on his doorstep. Franz Kafka would, no doubt, have found inspiration here! That happened back in the 70's when I was but a kid yet in some way I use that incident as a benchmark in an effort to explain the complete ludicrousness of it all. France was lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and yet I missed the madness of the Philippines - I actually came back.

In the early 80's I was stopped by a policeman in Manila for some minor offence like driving though a red light at 100kph but then that was par for the course. Drive and be damned because if you had actually stopped you would probably have been rear ended! Ah, life in those days – it's all getting a bit gentrified now: the roads are filled with more and more expensive cars as the stock market and relative political stability make their mark on the upwardly mobile. Policemen are generally trimmer and enforce the law, at least on the surface, with zeal. But the old days………..Having stopped me by basically throwing himself in front of my car, the policeman grinned and a long conversation ensued as to how much money I was going to have to pay rather then take a three day driving lesson somewhere in the north of Manila and have my license taken away. It took thirty minutes and in the end both of us were laughing so loudly you would have thought us old friends. I had explained that the wad of bills that has unfortunately been displayed before his eager eyes when I took out my license where, unfortunately, not for him but to pay my electricity bill that very same morning. He obviously didn't believe that and wanted to know how such a large amount could possibly be eaten up by electricity. So we took an imaginary tour around my house and counted the air conditioners and the fact that I had a swimming pool and an electric floor polisher and, and. It got quite domestic. But we laughed and THAT is what did it and that's what I liked about Manila in the good old days – however bad it got we always laughed. We smiled, we laughed and we partied until dawn even though the storm was coming. And that's why I came back from France and Europe in general. They don't laugh so much over there!

Previously: Chapter 11 - The Necklace Of The Past

Start from the beginning! Read: Chapter 1 - An English Virgin

Nicholas Stoodley was born near London and has lived at one time or another in the South of France, Rome, Sydney, Tagaytay, England, Paris and Manila with plans to move to Ibiza shortly. A former assistant to Valentino in Rome, he arrived in Manila in 1976 and pioneered Ready to Wear in the Philippines with the NICHOLAS STOODLEY brand of casual clothing. During his stay in the Philippines Nicholas also won the PBA Invitational Basketball Conference in 1980 with his team from Los Angeles, designed and manufactured a Stainless Steel Sports Utility Jeep that was featured in the Frankfurt Motor Show and opened "Skatetown", a Roller Disco with Jorge Araneta in Cubao. And that was just the first course!

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Anonymous said...

when's the next chapter coming out?

that was good reading, fun!

you've been there, done that! .. in Manila, amazing!


Anonymous said...


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