Manila, also known as the Pearl of the Orient, is located in Southern Luzon, the largest of the more than 7,000 islands that make up the nation known as the Philippines. The city’s name, originally Maynilad, is derived from that of the nilad plant, a flowering shrub adapted to marshy conditions, which once grew profusely along the banks of the river; the name was shortened first to Maynila and then to its present form. The city flanks Manila Bay, and is divided into northern and southern sections by the Pasig River. Manila serves not only as the country’s capitol, but also as its financial, publishing, and business center. The citizens of the city speak Tagalog, but most are also fluent in English, which is the language of instruction in the public schools.
The city of Manila was established in 1571 when the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi arrived and made it the capitol of the colony “Felipinas.” At the time of Legaspi’s arrival, Manila was a walled Moslem settlement ruled by the Rajah Sulayman, who collected duties from the traders from neighboring island countries who wanted to travel up the Pasig River. Sulayman resisted the intrusion of the Spanish and fled across the river to the area known today as Tondo. When Sulayman’s men met Legaspi’s forces at the Battle of Bangkusay Channel on June 3, 1571, they faced the muskets and cannons of the Spanish with only spears and arrows. The Moslems were defeated, and Sulayman himself lost his life during the battle.
Although the Chinese invaded Manila in 1574 and the Dutch in the mid-seventeenth century, the Spanish retained control of Manila for 327 years, except for a brief interlude in 1762 (during the Seven Years’ War) when the British occupied the city. When the Seven Years’ War ended, Manila was once again under the rule of Spain as a condition of the 1763 Treaty of Paris. The Spanish brought Roman Catholicism to Manila, founding many churches, convents, and schools. This influence remains to this day, as the Philippines is the only Asian country in which Christianity is the predominant faith.
On June 12, 1898, in Manila, General Aguinaldo declared the Philippines independent from Spain; however, his declaration was not recognized internationally. The United States paid Spain 20 million dollars for their former colony, and Filipinos once again found themselves under foreign rule.
War broke out between the Filipinos and the Americans on February 4, 1899, when an American soldier shot and killed a Filipino in Manila. The Philippine-American War continued through 1903 at the cost of many lives both in Manila and elsewhere throughout the islands.
In 1935, the U.S. government committed itself to granting the Philippines independence after a ten-year transition, a period that was extended by one year due to World War II. On January 2, 1942, the Japanese landed in Manila, where they remained for three years until they were forced out of their Intramuros stronghold in February 1945. Manila was severely damaged by the bombings of World War II. Of national capitols, only Warsaw, Poland, suffered greater destruction. On July 4, 1946, the Philippine flag was raised for the first time in Rizal Park in Manila, and the nation celebrated its first day of independence.
Philippine culture is a mishmash of Malay, American, Spanish, and oriental influences. The modern Tagalog or Filipino, the national language, is composed of the classic Tagalog, which was originally only spoken in the area around Manila, and a lot of Spanish and English words incorporated, in particular for everyday objects (“mesa”, “silya”) and modern inventions (“telepono”, “tricycle”). Since the country was a former colony of the United States, most Filipinos speak and understand English albeit some are not all fluent. English is common language in areas like higher education, business and politics. All in all, around 170 languages and dialects can be found in the Philippines. Many of them are also heavily influenced by Spanish. The constitution recognizes several languages like Cebuano and Ilocano as auxiliary official languages.
The Filipino people in general are very friendly and hospitable, the latter characteristic even being blamed by some as one of the reasons why Spain conquered the Philippine Islands so easily. The atmosphere is quite festive in the Philippines and whatever the celebration, it always seems like there is a celebration going on, by default – although this may sound like another cheap cliché – with karaoke, dancing and plenty of food. But these mini celebrations are nothing compared to the real fiestas celebrated in each region, festivities in honor of the local patron saints or the celebration of a great harvest.
Although the Filipino people are not really united when it comes to politics and other matters, the country somehow fights and even prays as a collective during competitions such as international singing contests, beauty pageants, or boxing where Filipinos or even half-Filipinos are involved. The current national hero is without a doubt the boxing champion Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao. When he has a fight, the whole country gathers in front of the TV, and streets and MRT trains in Manila are empty and quiet just for once.
Filipinos like other Asian nations put their family first no matter what – including the extended family. Aside from being family oriented and religious, Filipinos are very laid back. In fact, it is difficult for many locals to be on time for meetings – also because of the traffic situation in Manila. Because this is so prevalent, it has already earned a name: Filipino time. Filipinos always have a very positive outlook. In fact, according to a 2012 survey done by the University of Michigan, the Philippines ranks as the 38th happiest nation in the world just behind the French.
The Philippines is famous for its tropical fruits that it exports to other parts of Asia and the world. One of the most popular fruits is the Philippine Mango. You can eat it with a spoon, as part of a green salad, try the sweet and delicious dried version, or drink it as a fruit shake. But the Filipino´s favorite version is stripes of unripe green Mango dipped in salty Bagoong, a paste of fermented fish or shrimps. Although it takes some getting used to, it is a must-try street food for foreigners!
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