Botswana has Alexander McCall Smith; the Philippines have James Hamilton-Paterson. So while Botswana gets cloying candy floss the fortunate Philippines get a 5 course banquet:
Canapes: Seven-tenths: The Sea and Its Thresholds
Starter: Playing with Water: Passion and Solitude on a Philippine Island (Twentieth Century Lives)
Main: America's Boy
Dessert: Ghosts of Manila
Cheese Board: Loving Monsters
For decades James Hamilton-Paterson has sojourned in, studied, and lionised the Philippines. He has drunk much cheap Filipino gin around flickering lanterns with poor fishermen, he has internalised their worries.
If you've been to Manila then do read Ghosts Of Manila. It shows you the daily struggles of proud but poor squatter camp inhabitants, counterposed with their rich dead neighbours over the wall in the Chinese Cemetery - and the corrupt, corrupting city beyond. It also takes you variously inside the minds of: wayward Westerners sweltering in the city heat, a cop the least of whose worries is the grid-locked traffic, a priest hacking a moral trail through Roman Catholicism and Philippine social strife.
As the South China Sea quaffs the pollution burnished sun and you are tempted by dusk-time street barbecue aromas, you might peer down an alley curving into the darkness and wonder what people's lives are like down there - but sensibly not go. From page one this book grabs your arm and pulls you in.
As a taster here's Scenes 1-4 of my action screenplay adapted from the novel:
Sonny married to Josie
Manny & Spain: Sonny's buddies
Caesar & Boy - a lowlife & his batman respectively.
Nathan - a hood
Manila airport, skirted by a high wall. To one side is the wide open space of the runways, to the other the tightly packed shanty town. Planes taxi, take off and land. Screaming engines.
Zoom in to a patch of waste ground some way beyond the shanty. Here an oil drum is suspended from a harness. There is a lock-up. Two men (Caesar & Boy) in shorts, sandals, bare-chested sit at a plastic table.
A car (station wagon?) pulls up with a skid. A well dressed man (Nathan) gets out.
Nathan walks over to Caesar and says 'Pare' and shakes his hand.
Caesar grunts and shakes.
Nathan motion with his lip at his car's trunk.
The 2 low-life get up, remove a corpse from the trunk & manhandle it into the drum. Boy lights sticks under the oil drum.
Nathan; 'Have you one ready?'
Caesar nods: 'Now?'
Nathan: 'o-o. Medical college.'
The 2 low-life open the lockup and bring out a skeleton.
Boy: 'OK for the students?'
Nathan walks in a circle around the skeleton, surveying it.
Nathan: 'Wrap it.'
Outside the hospital. A sign says 'Mary of Mercy Medical Centre'. There is a McDonalds or Starbucks (etc) in prime position. Cabs come and go.
Nathan's car pulls up and Nathan gets out with his wrapped skeleton. A woman, Josie, passes him on her way out of the hospital. We see her walk through the cabs and out onto the jammed highway. She jumps into the back of a jeepney.
Aerial shot. We see the Chinese Cemetery, empty of people. Over a high barbed wired wall again we see a closely packed shanty town. By the wall Josie jumps out of a trike & walks the short distance to a shack with 3 men sat asleep outside around a table. The table is full of empty San Mig Pale and gin bottles.
Josie looks at the men with contempt. Then she kicks one of the chairs. Man and chair fall over.
Josie: 'Wake up Sonny!'
Josie: 'So, where is my breakfast?'
Josie: 'I have worked a long night. I must sleep. Merienda. Noon. Make it so!'
Sonny: 'Night Josie'
Sonny scratches his head as Josie disappears into the shack. He picks himself up and kicks another chair. Again man (Manny) & chair fall to the ground. Still Manny sleeps.
Sonny grabs a bottle from the table, slips though a gap in the cemetery wall, and returns. He pours a bottle of water over Manny's face.
Sonny: 'Manny, wake up.'
Sonny: 'Josie! Merienda'
Manny: 'The usual'
Sonny: 'No Mozarella'
Manny looks across at the still sleeping man (Spain).
Sonny: 'Leave him. This is no job for boys. Josie is serious this morning.'
They get into Manny's beaten up cab.
A traffic jammed street. Pedestrians walking to work. Manny's cab crawls in the traffic.
Sonny slaps away Manny's pointing finger.
Sonny: 'Hindi chihuahua. Josie is on the war path. I told you'
They approach another woman walking a small fluffy dog.
Sonny: 'There! Shiatsu! That side street'
Sonny points. Carlos pulls the cab in next to a junction off to a side street.
Sonny jumps out, runs and bundles the shiatsu into his t-shirt. He dashes back to the rear of the cab but can't get the rear door open. Finally scrambles back into his seat with the dog.
Sonny: 'When will you fix your sucking doors Manny!"'
Manny: 'Soooory' laughs and roars away down the side-street. But they get stuck behind a blacked out 4X4. The now hysterical woman is chasing them. Manny beeps his horn. In the nick of time the 4X4 pulls into the side of the road. Mannys's cab escapes & takes another 2 quick turns into the maze of back alleys.