When people mention that they are going to ‘Manila’, most of the time they mean Metro Manila. Manila city itself is just one city in a metropolitan area that includes fifteen others and one municipality: Quezon City (where we were staying with my relatives), Makati, Pasay, Pasig, San Juan, Caloocan, Las Pinas, Mandaluyong, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Paranaque, Valenzuela, Malabon, Marikina, Pateros (the municipality) and Taguig, which is where we were heading. Specifically, we were heading to Bonifacio Global City within Taguig city; a city within a city, within the metro.
We piled into a taxi and K gave the driver directions while engaging him in conversation. I had never seen someone so keen to talk to a taxi driver before, and he seemed to appreciate the conversation. We were driving from one business district to another. BGC is a fairly recent development within the Metro, and in just over twenty years has become an important business nd commercial hub. It has also become a symbol of wealth, with many luxury apartment developments springing up and maybe the most intentionally posh high street in the country. A friend had told me that ‘lots of celebrities and CEOs live there; if you live in BGC, it’s a sign that you’ve made it’. It didn’t strike me as somewhere that would peak my interest, but I was excited to see a part of Manila I hadn’t before. Looking out the window, the insufferable traffic that plagued much of Manila seemed not to exist here. The roads were wide and clean, lined by blocks of offices and swanky apartments, many sparsely populated and others still under construction. BGC is an ongoing project.
Our taxi turned off the main highway and began to climb Mckinley Hill, an area developer Megaworld (a name that conjures images of a theme park rather than a real estate company) describes on their website as “the perfect LIVE-WORK-PLAY-LEARN-SHOP community” (their capitalisation, not mine), and a taste of “European living in the tropics”, an image which is rammed home quite forcibly by our destination: Venice Grand Canal Mall. We alighted from the taxi and K insisted she pay the fare.
I thought it was just a name. From the outside it seemed like any other mall: less boxy and plain than a typical mall, but a mall nonetheless. It’s inside where you realise why it’s called ‘Venice Grand Canal’. In the central complex sits a shallow canal on which gondolas captained by gondoliers in striped shirts and red neckerchiefs transport paying customers from one end to the other. Surrounding this is the mall itself; the walls divided up into small ‘buildings’ akin to the narrow houses seen on Venetian streets, but painted various shades of pink and yellow, and conveying an atmosphere of gaudy modern imitation rather than traditional European abodes. There is no roof over the canal, and high rises of mismatching styles towered over the mall. We stood at a balcony to take in the scene. Many others were doing the same, gazing down upon those in the boats and taking photos, and we couldn’t help but join in.
We walked along the lower level, Jen and K chatting happily in Tagalog and gazing briefly at the stalls. Wallpaper behind them depicted images of traditional European shops such as a ‘grocers’ and a ‘boulangerie’. In the centre of the mall sat two docks on either side of the canal, in the shadow of a replica ‘bridge of sighs’. There seemed to be decent demand for rides, though I couldn’t imagine being keen for getting ferried twenty-five yards before the gondolier has to pull a u-turn and head back the same way, like doing lengths of a pool, all under the watchful gaze of fellow shoppers. The mall itself is definitely novel, but you can’t shake the feeling that it’s a glorified swimming pool surrounded by a shopping centre, more reminiscent of Macau (The Venetian Macau casino, specifically) than Venice.
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