Here’s the third-world post office booth.
The smug customs official inside is po-faced with a demeanour resembling Jabba-the-hut. His confused reaction was quite priceless when he chose to inspect the biggest item, a bonanza box of Star Trek nerd supplies. Luckily this put him off bothering to open a smaller package, which happened to be a legit taser in pink that my Streetwars assassin friend sent. To anticipate any hassle, my dad offered to accompany me, looking Mafioso-killer in semi-formal wear and Raybans. In any case, I was relieved to collect late Christmas gifts without hassle.
I get tagged on Twitter by Web Curios sentinel Mr Muir, that the notorious Mr Bingo will be speak at some major annual design event in Manila. Mr Muir didn’t know I was already a recipient of hate mail, nor that designer friend of mine, Mr Smith, was responsible for sending Mr Bingo that ‘fucker’ Swiss roll. It’s a small world.
The social web is amazing; who needs Tinder when you can link up thanks to Twittering, right? After checking out each other’s relatively interesting SEO, Mr Bingo and I agree to meet IRL.
“I <3 the Internet. In Manila next week & I've found a stranger off Twitter who's agreed to show me the seediest/weirdest parts of the city!”
Instant replies are hilariously predictive.
- This is what the Internet was built for.
- Weird little inky toddlers finding other inky toddlers to make mischief
- …& his basement?
- First stop at the Hobbit House midget bar?!
- That doesn't sound dangerous at all
Mr Bingo claims he’s up for anything weird and admits gravitating towards the seedier side of cities. I reassure him that the thrilla capital has caters well towards his requirements, and share a Guardian review summarising Manila as an “intense, roiling, underrated fever dream.”
Mr Bingo is staying at the Conrad hotel near to the Seaside Boulevard, and coincidentally so are all of the Miss Universe contestants. We meet and greet at the lobby, him in a t-shirt saying No Thank You arranged like a smiley with matching pastel pink shorts, me in kimono dress with Converse. We are a distinct duo of tall white man and tiny Asian woman.
Mr Bingo & I Uberpool to the first weird checkpoint I specifically chose because I despise it.
Our driver Leonardo navigates through the spaghetti roads of a Friday afternoon with some frustration, despite using satnav app Waze. Taking advantage of the squiggly route, I point out interesting urban curiosities: typically artful jeepneys with religious slogans, outrageously colossal bad-vertising billboards, street basketball games and a peculiar poster about an officially-titled Brown Race marathon sponsored by AffiniTea.
Our Mitsubishi Mirage squirmed through the sea of vehicular traffic, and eventually we eventually arrived in Venice. That’s right, fucking Venice.
Not the real one in Italy obviously, but the Venice Grand Canal Mall, a 50-hectare retail centre developed by Megaworld Corporation, touted as “a great place to take a selfie for tourists and even locals.” Ugh.
Property developers and customers grossly value fashionably ersatz buildings packaged into novelty commercial attractions. Meanwhile, Manila’s heritage architecture remains tragically neglected and under threat of being demolished. The art historian in me therefore finds replicated landscapes loathsome.
A candle-lit table for two at the stereotypically romantic Ponte Rialto; Mr Bingo and I compared notes about the stupid life. Observing the costumed gondoliers and camera happy strollers, hate wasn’t quite on the agenda as we agreed that there’s always room for any oddity that brings people joy.
Suitably acquainted after breaking the ice over negronis, we moved to the artsy red light district neighbourhood of Poblacion to visit Kapwa, a modern barbershop salon + creative studio, and means ‘fellow human being’ in Tagalog. One of the owners is my friend Deejae Paeste, known as the ‘Starving Artist’ whose prolific street art feature women inspired by tribal lore of sirens, spiritual figures and goddesses. Activities at his shop was a bit pic’n’mix, with people getting haircuts, some doing a photo-shoot, graffiti paint session and lively chit chats with bottled beers. Inevitably tipsy not having had dinner, we then ducked into the seedy Gangnam Style Korean restaurant next door; miserable waitresses but decent food.
Mr Bingo’s Twitter followers were clueless about the fact that he was actually meeting an ‘eevilmidget’, so it made sense for ironic laughs to check out Ringside Bar, infamous for its lady boxing, midget oil wrestling and bikini clad ‘guest relation officers’. Like a Tarantino movie, music is diabolically loud, blasting bad thang tunes like Amine’s Caroline. Randomly, we bump into another foreign illustrator and his doll Toby. In possession of a Sharpie, my souvenir for the night was an appropriate drawing on my arm.
Raucous entertainment was curbed around 3am because of an early 8.30 craft workshop I’d already committed to with my cousins. Impossible things before breakfast? No problem. Still drunk with a few hours sleep, somehow I managed to cut and paste pictures with inspirational words on A3 sized panel.
Like an old-fashioned Pinterest, a Vision Board is a simple yet powerful visualization tool that activates the law of attraction so you can manifest your dreams into reality.
Armed with my coffee-fuelled aspirations, I head for late lunch with Mr Bingo, who kindly secured me a complementary pass for Graphika. We catch the talk by Gary Baseman, where I fully discovered the full extent and fame of his work. I totally love his fascination with folklore, and I wonder whether he’ll consider doing something inspired by the overlooked macabre myths of the Philippines. Throughout the day, I was of course still carrying my delightfully dorky vision board. Gary noticed and teased me about it, and deciding that made me a strange character.
Mr Bingo, Gary and Toby get to hang out with beauty queens. Wearing a Great Britain sash, Mr Bingo ends the conference with all the rude drawings, humorous swearing and an overall brilliant performance. As if designed on purpose, the stage is conveniently decorated with those light box alphabets spelling the event, and he knocks over five letters to spell his favourite: RAP.
At some point past midnight, we close the C-lounge bar shooting whisky with a drunk Irishman, gin tonics and English breakfast tea for me. By Monday morning I resume my day job as a social engineer for Trainstation, whereas my traveller friends sail for sunset and tan on the white sands of Boracay beach.
They say its more fun in the Philippines. If you know where to look, you’re guaranteed an abundance of WTFuckery and magic realism. With regards to Mr Bingo & I, there’s a Venn diagram of badass potential scheming.
This article appeared in issue 1 of Imperica Magazine.