The air was sticky with humidity; stepping out of the air-conditioned taxi was like moving from the shade to the sauna. Thankfully, a veil of white cloud sheltered us from the sun’s scorching summer rays. After ‘Venice’, we had travelled to Bonifacio High Street, the core of BGC. I had expected something like Oxford Street in London, but BGC High street is a hybrid of boulevard, mall, and park, with an expansive 40-metre wide main shopping area, squares of verdant greenery, and tall palm trees up and down the walk. Surrounding it are swanky, shimmering high-rises.
We wandered the boulevard, passing shoppers, security guards, and restaurant workers who greeted us with ‘Hi, Sir. Hi, ma’am’ before reeling off a list of dishes from their menus. The wide walkways deceptively gave the appearance of a quiet day and I appreciated the calm atmosphere that is missing from many shopping areas in the world.
However, BGC High Street is not a place for the money-conscious traveller; it’s a place for middle-class Pinoys and expats to part with their cash in coffee shops, restaurants, and on foreign brands. It seems unmistakably, intentionally ‘posh’, a fact betrayed by the exclusion of ubiquitous fast food restaurants like Jollibee and McDonald’s which you usually find on any street there are hungry Filipinos.
We ventured into a few places and found that shops such as Lush and Topshop were pricier here compared to back home. In regard to clothing, this trend always puzzled me. Topshop, River Island, and clothing stores of that ilk, have their garments made in South or South East Asia, so I had naively assumed during my last trip that they’d be cheaper in the Philippines, but the sirens’ call of foreign brands to many in the country means they can maintain or inflate their prices. That’s my theory, at least. It might be something to do with corporation or import taxes or some other economic reason. My friend seemed to think so. Does anyone know the real reason why? Send in your answers on a postcard (leave a comment in the comment section).
Needing a place to sit and rest, we ventured to a McDonald’s lying on a noticeably less affluent looking street, segregated from the chosen foreign names on the main drag. I’m always torn when it comes to eating at fast food places when travelling. On the one hand, it’s not very adventurous, and I feel I should try to stick to local cuisine. On the other, I enjoy seeing the little differences in familiar settings; seeing items on the menu that you can’t get back home, or in any other country, and trying them too (does that count as ‘local cuisine’?) At this point though, we just needed somewhere to sit, so we bought ‘BFF fries’, a triple portion in a huge container (something not found in England) and plonked ourselves at a table as threatening clouds unloaded a strong tropical shower.
This rest stop gave us the opportunity to finally exchange our gifts. K fished inside her green bag and handed us each a fountain pen, a notebook, a key chain, and a box of fact cards from a Filipino shop called Papemelroti. Prior to the trip, I had also asked her if she had any magazines or pamphlets I could use for my cultural learning, and she had brought these along too. She had even printed out a few articles on historical events, and I greatly appreciated the effort she put in. She also gave Jen some beauty products, including a sea salt spray by Beachborn, another Filipino brand. Lastly, she gave us handwritten letters in a decorative brown envelope with a wax seal. I knew she would have put her heart into these letters, and we decided to save opening them for a time when we could appreciate them fully and not stain them with greasy fingerprints. In return, we gave her Cadbury’s chocolate, stationery, and a Lush lip scrub, though it seemed like she’d given us so much more, and we were surprised and touched by her generosity. “It’s fine”, she said. “You guys came all the way from England, and I’m happy that I’m the first person you wanted to see”.
My plan to stay up the whole flight in an attempt to thwart jet lag didn’t work, shockingly. By five o’clock I felt lethargic, my eyes drooping, and my participation in the energetic conversations of K and Jen became minimal. I was glad they were having a good time, but I felt bad for not talking to K as much as I’d have hoped, given this was likely the only time during the trip I’d see her.