May 25, 1975
During the last days of Saigon, things seemed to be normal in the city. There did seem to be more people and more Hondas to be sure, but the mood of the people going about their daily business appeared to belie the danger that had progressed to just a few miles from the city.
Only after I reached Manila, a week after leaving Saigon, did it occur to me that there had been underlying tension in Saigon during those last days. The people were not as carefree and there were not nearly as many children in the streets as before. It struck me when I encountered the carefree attitude of the Filipinos in Manila.
At first I thought how fortunate these people are compared to the Vietnamese. The South Vietnamese who remained face such uncertainties, families have been separated, thousands of additional people are jobless, all facing survival as a first priority. And there is a complete stream of South Vietnamese refugees extending across the Pacific Ocean into the United States. How much unhappiness these once happy people must be experiencing. And here in Manila is an altogether different world.
While I was thinking about how fortunate these people are, it dawned on me what trying times they themselves had faced thirty some add years ago. During the early 1940’s they had been occupied by the Japanese armed forces. But those years are beyond the memory of so many of the Filipinos you encounter in Manila today.
A tourist first encounters the hustlers at the airport. For instance a taxi fare is “$15 only.” Beware of that word “only.” The regular taxi fare is less than $3. I quickly learned to shy away from anyone using the word “only.” It always indicates price-hiking.
Around the tourist hotels on Roxas Boulevard are droves of hustlers. They hit you the minute you emerge from the hotel with old coins, pearls, taxis, newspapers, shoeshines, jewelry, and offers of pretty girls for the night. The taxi drivers are all pushing girls. It’s almost impossible to get a conversation-free taxi ride. But the taxis are dirt-cheap.
I took a short walk through the open park along Roxas Boulevard. Here were a lot of children, some with their families, some without, but playing together with other children. Here I heard a greeting I remember from another era: “Hello, Joe.” Apparently they recognized me as an American but obviously Japanese and other tourists outnumber Americans in Manila today. Had they learned this greeting from their parents or has the oldtime call to American GI’s lingered on? While I was reveling in the joys of this remembrance of previous pleasant greetings and the present apparent happiness and smiles of these children I was brought down to earth by their next greeting: “You give me money?” Was this the same old Filipino hustler? But after further meditation, I recall that that was also the second part of the old greeting to the GI’s, worldwide. That just goes to show how we tend to remember the pleasant and forget the unpleasant aspects of the “good old days.”