Manila feels at times, simultaneously, like a post-apocalyptic New York, a Latin-infused Bangkok, and a less topographically diverse Rio de Janeiro (there are no elegant beaches gently caressing the ghettos). It is sprawling and diverse and economically stratified, with most of the stratification falling on the extreme lower end of the scale.
And the years of colonialism (Spanish, American) seem to have taken a toll on the cultural identity of the city. Almost all of the signs and advertisements are in English, not Tagalog, and it takes genuine legwork to find an authentic Filipino restaurant with traditional Filipino cuisine, while Spanish, Korean, and American establishments abound. Both in Manila and its extremities, American pop music dominates the musical landscape. One of the main modes of public transportation, Jeepneys, are decorous, Mad Max-ish, modified contraptions created from the bones of American military jeeps left in Manila after the Second World War. It is a melting pot that seems to have boiled over long ago, leaving a thick, seething, almost impermeable crust over a deep, rich, native cultural identity.
And while wading through this thick, seething crust, it is impossible not to see the confounding cultural impact of America's imperialist economic influence throughout the city. There's a 7-11 on every other corner, and no shortage of Subways, Pizza Huts, Hilton's, or MacDonald's.
And it's impossible not to remember that this is the nation we chose to experiment on. This is the petri dish where we cultured and grew our neo-imperialist foreign policies. This is where we discovered that American culture, not American military power is the single most dominant weapon in our national arsenal. This is the nation we conquered and then released, under the guise of democratic freedom, with the intent of economic domination through finance, business, and pop culture.