“Feels good to be back”, I exclaimed to myself. Manila was more than another vacation city to me: It’s my second home.
I was posted here on a company assignment 9 years ago. And I ended up staying there for a whole 4 years! It was the heady mix of verdant, fresh natural beauty, and the amazing positive vibes of the people that made me stay so long. Perhaps why The Happy Planet index ranks Philippines as the 20th in the world for happiness, much above many other developed countries on that list.
I don’t live there anymore, but I ensure that I try and visit the country at least once in a year. Philippines has surprised me every single time. And when I decided to visit the country once more in November 2016, I knew there had to be one more interesting story to remember. Something I haven’t tried before.
And true to the Pinoy style, there sure was.
Despite the crazy traffic that this capital city is famous for, I tend to keep coming back
Manila is a two-faced mistress. On one-side, there are the developed Central Business Districts of Makati and Bonifacio High Street, with tall skyscrapers, industrialized streets, and plenty of office workers looking all strappy in their ties and perfect business wear devoid of any creases. On the other side, there are the old Manila regions, like Pasig, Pasay and Muntinlupa, where houses are stacked so close to each other and there is a reputation for some street crime.
But there is a street that forms a completely 3rd kind of region: Burgos. Burgos Street (ironically, named after Padre Burgos who was a Filipino Catholic priest) is the red-light district of Manila. Although prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, the street hosts a bunch of nightclubs, some dubious massage places and a few cheap hotels. The funny thing is this street also has 2 of the best restaurants I have come across in Manila. A middle-eastern restaurant called Ziggurat, which is my favourite joint in all of Philippines. And the Filling Station bar and café, which is designed like an American diner from the 1950’s, complete with pool tables, and a lot of interesting artefacts collected from around the world. And it was filling station that I went to on this trip as well, with a couple of friends I met on this travel. We had a beer, then some more, and started playing 8-ball pool in the brightly lit bar of filling station.
The menu should give you an idea about the neighbourhood
Pool tables, 50’s diner atmosphere, and cheap drinks. Filling station makes for a really interesting combination.
Can’t remember if it was the Italian or the American girl, but one of them suddenly had the most spontaneous idea.
“I’ve heard there are boxing matches that happen in this street”?
Now, Philippines was a country crazy about boxing. Manny Pacquiao is not only the world Welterweight champion; he is also a living legend in this part of the world. And watching boxing matches, while downing one or 2 of the infamous redhorse beers, was a common pastime of any average Pinoy (as the Filipinos are called). So, it was no surprise that there could be boxing matches organized right here in P. Burgos street. However, there was a small thing that my new-found friend was not aware of: It wasn’t exactly the kind of boxing that she was hoping to see.
“Sure! There is a bar called Ringside, just a few metres down the street. They do organize some boxing matches there”, I said. I was careful not to spoil the surprise for her.
To be fair, I have never been to Ringside myself. I have passed by it many times because it stood prominently on the side of the Kalayaan Avenue. And I have heard from others who went there, about the ‘boxing’ that happens there. So, let’s say I knew what was happening inside, but was also curious to see how exactly it happens. I didn’t want to give too much information, in case my friend decided to change her mind.
“Ok, let’s go then”, she said. I had the wickedest of smiles, but don’t think she noticed.
We paid the bill at Filling Station, and started walking towards Ringside.
After 5 minutes of walking, we finally reached Ringside bar. There were 2 women in our group (one of whom had the original idea of watching the boxing), and any of the other nightclubs in this area would have been confused by this, given the nature of what happens inside them. But Ringside wasn’t. They were used to seeing female tourists here, so the guy at the door simply smiled, and let us inside, and led us to a small table on one of the corners.
In the middle of the whole nightclub/bar, was the smallest boxing ring that you could imagine. My friend looked at it and exclaimed, “That’s the smallest boxing ring I have ever seen! Only little people can box there”, followed by a deep laugh, congratulating her own joke.
I looked back at her, and tried to make my face as serious as I could (I am bad at acting serious). “Yeah, it’s good enough for little people.”
She didn’t get it at first. She started, “No, you don’t…..”, and then trailed off as she looked around. There were little people everywhere! She slowly grasped it.
“So…. It’s little people boxing?”
“Mostly. Sometimes they have women’s boxing too, but that is more of a catfight than boxing. And it is not competitive, just for entertainment. They do act a lot, but then, the little people are even better in acting, I am told”, I smiled.
Before she could react to what I had shared, a whole bunch of little people crowded around her. They wore costumes, and tried to act cute with cute phrases. (Seriously, they don’t even have to TRY to act cute!). I could see the hearts of the two girls in the group were melting. They started hugging them, exclaiming things like ‘Ohhhh, so cute!!”.
And soon, we were buying the little people drinks. That’s like ladies drinks, but for the little people. The only thing they had in similarity was the cost. And the fact that they were probably just juice too.
The bells rang.
That was the signal that some boxing bout was about to start. Two pretty girls came up on the ring, and start doing the announcements. Normally, this was the point in a regular boxing match, where they would start the colourful lights. However, Ringside did not have that problem. They had colourful stage-lights any time of the day!
Before the star event of the day, there was to be a pre-fight. A pre-fight was like a smaller fight, not the main thing that everyone has been looking forward to. And this was between 2 of the girls. They entered the ring, one in red and the other in blue. Both of them wore over-sized gloves, and over-sized helmets, which ensured that the game was just showmanship, and there would not be any lethal punching involved.
The bar-girls invited one of the customers (he must have spent a fortune buying ladies drinks or little people drinks, in order to get that honour), to officiate the match. And handed him a whistle, when what he actually needed was a crash-course in boxing rules. And with one blow of his whistle, he started off the women’s boxing bout.
If you thought these girls were going to be coy about this whole boxing thing
You are wrong, my friend! They went hard!
The girls acted tough, and punched rough. But the soft, large gloves ensured that there was no damage. In fact, both the boxers were expending more energy trying to punch with those oversized things, than actually receiving any strong punches. 3 short rounds went on, with the cheering and the beer-enabled shouting from the crowd, which now included many female tourists. After the 3rd round, the referee (who did the entire officiating with a pint of San Miguel still intact in his hand), declared the winner. Red had won. And Blue retaliated by kicking in the groin of the referee, albeit slowly. After all, this was all a show, and a real kick would have put a lot of seriousness onto the ring.
A 15 minute break went by, so that more ladies drinks and more little people drinks could be ordered. My friends were already ordering their 4th little person drink. I simply sighed. Tourists!
It was now time for the main event of the day.
The two boxers were introduced one after the other. I can’t remember both the names, but one of them was nicknamed ‘the mad dog’. It’s a totally different story that when he came out to the ring, he looked more like a cute Chihuahua. But he kept cursing his opponent in Tagalog, all in a show of mock anger.
An official was again selected from the crowd. And then the fight began.
Mad dog and the other guy first squared off against each other. A lot of looks were engaged, and words were thrown
And then began a slew of airpunches and comic kicks. All for the entertainment of the drunk crowd that had come to witness it
Mad dog and the other guy went for each other, in all mock glory. Wild punches hit the air, and frantic kicks hit the ropes. But neither hit each other of them properly. They kept rolling on the mat for some reason, trying to take off each other’s shorts. Because it was obvious that this would not be possible with the heavy gloves they wore, the ring girls started helping them out. Every once in a while, one of them would pull down the shorts of any of the boxers (they did wear underwear, in case you are wondering). I have to mention that the scene was more tragic than comic, and I did feel quite bad for them at some point. They were being treated like objects of entertainment, although they seemed to laugh about it throughout.
In their own little boxing ring, these little people believed that they were rock stars. And they carried themselves like rock stars.
About the Author
Abhi is a travel-blogger, who dreams of abstaining completely from a corporate life, and has decided to immerse himself in travels, photography, occasional periods of bankruptcy, and copious amounts of insanity. He has been to 75 countries, and hopes to become the youngest Indian to visit every single country in the world. When he is not planning his next trip, he blogs about his travels at https://iamnothome.net and is seen posting cat-photos on Facebook, Instagram and twitter.