Beware of Balete Drive

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a short story

about The White Lady of Balete Drive

by

Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman

***


I love to travel. And who doesn't love to travel? You get to meet people and explore different cultures. It's fun to travel especially with friends. But while it was fun to explore, it's also important to have a good idea on local customs and beliefs. If only we had known that, or rather, had we taken it seriously, then none of this would have happened. My name is Mike and this is our story of what happens when you don't heed local superstition.

It was the summer of 2015. After hearing stories and of course seeing the promotional advertisement "IT'S MUCH MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES", we decided to take a trip to the Philippines. I, along with my friends, Taufiq, Hady and Didi, had been saving like crazy. While it wasn't as pricey as our trip to Japan back in 2013, we wanted to really immerse ourselves. That meant no trip to the travel agency. We wanted to do things simply based by what the locals talk about.

We had no idea just how big the Philippines was - 7,107 islands to visit and it was divided into 3 regions. There were so many options. Could we go to the Mindanao region? It was closest to Malaysia and we'd feel a lot comfortable since it was predominantly Muslim. Didi said it was too safe. We were bold explorers. We could try the Visayas region. Cebu was called the Queen City of the South. Very metropolitan, but still having beautiful locales and gorgeous beaches. That made me and Hady want it. But still, too safe. Taufiq then decided it would be the Luzon region. The capital itself. There were a number of historic and modern locales in Manila. And we could stay in so many Airbnbs or hidden gem hotels.

It was decided. We would go to Manila and explore! We had set the date and our travel budget. We then planned out our itinerary and prepared checklists on what to do, what to eat and what to buy. It was so exciting for us. We couldn't have been more excited to go.

Taufiq was the most excited one. He was really into discovering and experiencing the Philippines. He would spend hours on various travel forums and blogs from Philippine bloggers for any recommended locales in Manila. He would constantly talk about trying out the local cuisine and going to the historic buildings. I guess you can say he was bitten by the travel bug.

Finally, the day came for us to travel from Singapore to Manila. You can imagine just how excited we were as we boarded the plane. How we took photos with our cameras and how we planned to have our very taste of the famous Jollibee fast food meals. Now looking at those photos, it brings a few tears to my eye and a bit of sorrow.

We landed in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at around 3 in the afternoon. The first thing we did was eat what they called 'merienda' in one of the airport's many concessionaires. We tried this drink called 'tsokolate', which was basically a cup of hot chocolate only it was extremely sweet and made from raw cacao and a sticky rice cake wrapped in banana leaves called suman. We were told these were available everywhere so at least we knew what to eat when we walked the streets.

We hired a local named Carlito Rosales. He was a driver who was looking to earn a few extra bucks. He was quite friendly and even invited us to have breakfast the next day. We had heard how hospitable Filipinos were. We didn't expect just how hospitable they were.

We checked in at our Airbnb apartment and after a sumptuous dinner of Filipino favourites like steamed fish, vegetables and fried fish, we went on our first nightly adventure. We drove through Malate and Sampaloc. Carlito was our official tour guide and he told various stories about each locale. We passed by the Metropolitan Theatre, which was this old vaudeville theatre where plays were performed, the San Sebastian church which, according to Carlito, was the only steel church in the entire country and so much more. Truth be told, Carlito took us all over the metropolitan to places that not even tourists or travel enthusiasts were aware of.

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