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I spent my first night in Manila at the Spanish Hotel El Oriente, and it was here that I became acquainted with that peculiar institution, the Philippine bed. And to the newly arrived traveller its peculiar rig and construction make it command a good deal of interest, if not respect. It is a four-poster, with the posts extending high enough to support a light roof, from whose eaves hang copious folds of deep lace. The bed frame is strung tightly across with regular chair bottom cane, and the only other fittings are a piece of straw matting spread over the cane, a pillow, and a surrounding wall of mosquito netting that drops down from the roof and is tucked in under the matting. How to get into one of these cages was the first question that presented itself, and what to do with myself after I got in was the second. It took at least half an hour to make up my mind as to the proper mode of entrance, when I was for the first time alone with this Philippine curiosity, and I couldn't make out whether it was proper to get in through the roof or the bottom or the side. After finally pulling away the netting, I found the hard cane bottom about as soft as the teak floor, and looked in vain for blankets, sheets, and mattresses. In fact, it seems as if I had gotten into an unfurnished house, and the more I thought about it the longer I stayed awake. At last I cut my way out of the peculiar arrangement, dressed, and spent the decidedly cool night in a long cane chair, preferring not to experiment further with the sleeping machine until I found out how it worked.
Next morning my breakfast was brought by a native boy, and consisted of a cup of thick chocolate, a clammy roll, and a sort of seed cake without any hole in it. How to drink the chocolate, which was as thick as molasses, seemed the chief question, but I rightly concluded that the seed cake was put there to sop it out of the cup, after the fashion of blotting paper. Fortified by this peculiar combination, I started on my second business day by trying to remember in what direction the office lay, and wandered cityward through busy streets, often bordered with arcaded sidewalks, which were further shaded from the sun by canvas curtains.
After beginning the morning by ordering a dozen suits of white sheeting from a native tailor -- price $2.50 apiece -- I was introduced to the members of the English Club, and began to feel more at home stretched out in one of the long chairs in the cool library. It seems that the club affords shelter and refreshment to its fourscore members of two widely separated points of the compass, one just on the banks of the Pasig River, where its waters, slouching down from the big lake at the foot of the mountains, are first introduced to the outlying suberbs of the city, and the other in the heart of the business section. The same set of native servants do for both departments, since no one stays uptown during the middle of the day and no one downtown after business hours. As a result, on weekdays, after the light breakfast of the early morning is over at the uptown building, the staff of waiters and assistants hurry downtown in the tramcars and make ready for the noon meal at the other structure, returning home to the suburbs in time to officiate at dinner.
At the downtown club is the 6,000-volume library, and after the noonday tiffin it is customary to stretch out in one of the long bamboo chairs and read one's self to sleep. This is indeed a land where laziness becomes second nature. If you want a book or paper on the table, and they lie more than a yard or two where they are located, it is not policy to reach for them. O, no! You ring the bell twice as far off, take a nap while the boy comes from a distance, and wake up to find him handing you them with a graceful "Aquí,Señor!" In fact,I even just now met an English fellow who, they tell me, took a barber with him on a recent trip to the southern provinces, to look after his scanty beard that was composed of no more than three or four dozen hairs, each of which grew one-eighth of an inch quarterly.
On the day before Christmas one of the guestrooms at the uptown club was vacated, and I moved in. The building is about two and a half miles out of the city, and its broad balcony, shaded by luxuriant palms and other tropical trees, almost overhangs the main river that splits Manila in two. The view from this tropical piazza is most peaceful. Opposite lie the ricefields,with a cluster of native huts surrounding an old church, while, blue in the distance, sleeps a range of low mountains. To the left the river winds back up-country and soon loses itself in many turns among the foothills that grow into the more adult uplifts on the Pacific Coast, while to the right it turs a sharp corner and slides down between broken rows of native huts and more elaborate bungalows.
The clubhouse is long, low,and rambling. The reading, writing,and music rooms front on the river, and the glossy hardwood floors, hand-hewn out of solid trees, seem to sugest music and coolness. It is possible to reach the city by jumping into a native boat at the portico on the river bank,or to go by one of the two-wheel gigs called carromatas, waiting at the front gate, or to walk a block and take the tramcar which jogs down through the busy high road.
It is very difficult to absorb the points of so large a place at one's first introduction, so I won't go further now than to speak of that far-famed seaside promenade called Luneta, where society takes its airing after the heat of the day is over.
Imagine an elliptical plaza, about a thousand feet long, situated just above the low beach which borders the Bay, and looking over towards the China Sea. Running around its edge is a broad roadway, bounded on one side by the seawall, and on the other by the green fields and bamboo trees of the parade grounds. In the center of the raised ellipse is the bandstand, and on every afternoon, from six to eight, all Manila come here to feel the breeze, hear the music, and see their neighbours. Hundreds of carriages line the roadwaysm and mounted police keep them in proper file. The movement is from right to left, and only the Archibishop and the Governor General are allowed to drive in the opposite direction.
The gentler element, in order not to encourage a flow of perspiration that may melt off their complexions, take to carriages, but the sterner sex prefer to walk up and down, crowd around the bandstand, or sit along the edge of the curbing in chairs rented for a couple of coppers. Directly in front lies the great Bay, with the sun going down in the Boca Chica, between the hardly visible island of Corregidor and the main land, thirty miles away. To the rear stretches the parade ground, backed up by clumps of bamboos and the mountains beyond. To the right lies the corner batteries and walls of old Manila, and to the left the attractive suburb of Ermita, with the stretch of shore running along toward the naval station of Cavite, eleven miles away. To take a chair, watch the people walking to and fro, and see the endless stream of smart turn outs passing in slow procession;to hear a band of fifty pieces render popular and classic music with the spirit of a Sousa or a Reeves, is to doubt that you are in a capital 8,000 miles from Paris and 11,000 miles from New York. Footmen with tall hats, in spotless white uniforms, grace the box-seats of the low-built victorias, while tastefully dressed Spanish women or wealthy half-castes recline against the soft cushions and take for granted the admiration of those walking up and down the mall.
The splendidly trained artillery band, composed entirely of natives, but conducted by a Spaniard, plays half a dozen selections each evening, and here is a treat that one can have every afternoon of the year, free of charge. There are no snow drifts or cold winds to mar the performance, and except during the showers and winds of the rainy season, it goes on without interrruption. After the music is over the carriages rush off in every direction, behind smart-stepping little ponies that get over the ground at a tremendous pace, and the dinner hour is late enough not to rob one of those pleasant hours at just about sunset. There are no horses in Manila -- all ponies, and some of them are so small as to be actually insignificant. They are tremendously tough little beasts, however, and stand more heat, work,and beating than most horses of twice their size.
Our Christmas dinner at the club has just ended, and from the bill of fare one would never suspect he was not at the Waldorf or the Parker House. Long punkas swung to and fro over the big tables, small serving boys in bare feet rushed hither and thither with meat and drink, corks popped, the smart breeze blew jokes about, and everyone unbent. Soups, fish,joints, entrées, rémoves, hor d'oeuvres, mince pies, plum puddings, and all the delicacies to be found in cooler climes had their turn, as did a variety of liquid courses. Singing, speeches,and music followed the more material things,and everyone was requested to take some part in the performance. By the time the show was over the piano was dead beat and everybody hoarse from singing by the wrong method.
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Table of Contents of Yesterdays in the Philippines
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