Not-Finding a Tennis Court: Drifting in Mandaluyong City, Manila

I don’t play tennis. In fact, for most of my adult life I have INTENTIONALLY avoided tennis. As I have probably told many people before, I regard it as a “bourgeois middle-class leisure sport” (in the context of Singapore). I find most forms of non-competitive organised sports to be a waste of time and energy. Incidentally, out of all the sports in the world, tennis is the sport that has probably received the most flak from me in my lifetime, admittedly almost to the degree of irrationality. Somehow, for me, tennis (in the context of Singapore) began to represent all the things that were wrong. I regarded it to be in the same category of unacceptable things like people who wear crocs (COMPLETELY UNFASHIONABLE!), or people who still use IE6 as their main browsers (COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!). It involved the consumption of a sport that required a fairly high upkeep (tennis balls, tennis racquets, tennis grip tape, tennis coaches, etc) unlike other low-rent and accessible sports like table tennis and basketball which only required a low outlay and were also very adaptable to be played in common public spaces. Tennis courts were like golf courses in that they took up space, required maintenance, and eventually were only for the benefit of a few. Another thing that bothered me was that the “beautiful game” was also frequently heavily diluted because in the context of Singapore, many people desired to play the game without really knowing the rules of tennis. [DISCLOSURE: I did take tennis lessons as a kid]

To illustrate how far back my feelings towards Tennis go, there is a story about an incident some years back during my university years. I was asked to attend a tennis game with my friends, because I decided that I would not let my friends’ choice of sport and my disdain for tennis get in the way of our quality hanging-out time, so whilst they played tennis I killed time by walking laps around the court. Unfortunately whilst walking laps around the court, I managed to trip over my own shoelaces and sprained my ankle, because I am a horrible klutz. Later, when we referred back to this incident, my friend began describing it as such, “she sprained her ankle whilst at a tennis game with us”. BUT, I was quick to correct her on this, “NO NO NO, I sprained my ankle whilst intentionally NOT playing tennis at YOUR tennis game, and not only that — whilst being COMPLETELY OPPOSITIONAL TO THE VERY CONCEPT OF PLAYING TENNIS”. Of course, I understand that most people just played tennis because they enjoyed hitting balls with a racquet, and not for any other more complex reasons. But having PRINCIPLES TO UPHOLD, in good faith, I simply could not play tennis.

…So why would I, a fervently anti-sport and anti-tennis person be going in search for a tennis court in Manila? Well, because Gene, a media artist from the US who happened to be also staying at Terminal Garden, wanted to find a tennis court to play at (for health! and enjoyment!). I could accept his personal reasons for wanting to play tennis as it was in a completely different context. I also agreed to go along because it seemed patently ridiculous to walk around asking people “EXCUSE ME, DO YOU KNOW WHERE IS THE TENNIS COURT?”. Much like the incongruous, bizarre english tourist that is always described in my french textbook, repetitively murmuring a beginner’s phrase in ever increasing tones of desperation, “excusez moi, où est…. la banque? OU EST… OU…. EST….. LA BANQUE?……. BANQUE??? BANK. OU EST…. DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM SAYING? LE BANK? BANK??? WHERE IS LE BANK? OH FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CAN SOMEONE TELL ME, WHERE IS THE BANK?

So we embarked on a meandering search for a tennis court in the backstreets of Mandaluyong…


We walked down Shaw Blvd, which was the main road of this area. I think we turned left near “Old Wack Wack” – Wack Wack being the name of the golf course in the area.


Turning off the main road…


Very quickly it was a lot more bumpy.


There were curious pits of murky green water and piles of soil along the way


This was a very colorful street that led to a Women’s correctional facility in Barangay. I was attracted by the fruits and the banners.


First stop: Pleasant Hills Barangay Hall / Health Center and Lying-in Clinic.
Not a tennis court. Instead this was a very curious “sports facility” which also included a MATERNITY CLINIC. Alright….
They did not have tennis courts here. They told us of a possible tennis court at the city hall building, so we decided to go in the direction of the government buildings in Mandaluyong City.


This is the road leading to the Women’s correctional facility.


There was a basketball court. Now that I think about it, there were many basketball courts in Manila. Intriguingly, I do not recall any basketball tournaments from the Philippines. Are there star basketball players born from these playing courts?


Breakneck traffic on a tiny road


The correctional institution for women. Not a tennis court.


Took the right turn from there


Arrived at a street where the adults had organized a fiesta day activity for the children of the street. We watched the children try to hit a clay bowl with milk and a few coins inside, kinda like a piñata game minus the piñata.


A chicken under a table


A stream covered in rubbish. Not a tennis court.


There are no pictures for a bit after this point because Gene’s “foreign” appearance meant that we were mobbed by tiny cute children who started waving little white envelopes at us. Not understanding what the envelopes meant, Gene took one and opened it and found it to be empty. Both of us were very confused on what this was all about. A little while later, a slightly more articulate adult explained it was the collection of donations for their Fiesta Day Celebrations. I made the mistake of putting 5 pesos into a bucket, resulting in COMPLETE PANDEMONIUM AND DOZENS OF TINY CHILDREN COMING FROM ALL DIRECTIONS SQUISHING INTO US, RIGOROUSLY WAVING THEIR ENVELOPES AT US. BE YE NOT SO FOOLISH! If someone gives you an envelope in the streets of manila, do not take it or open it or put money into it unless you truly do want to give them some money. This was a terrifying and perplexing moment; BEING MOBBED BY A CREW OF EXCITED 5 YEAR OLDS. Their attentions were directed mostly at Gene, and since to some degree I could also pass off as a Filipino Chinese, I used this as an opportunity to slip out and away, with Gene trying to follow suit, shaking off the masses of little children.


We were forced to make a hasty escape backwards into another side street (Not a tennis court)


Fiesta Day banners


Finally back to the main road


We investigated the City Gym to see if there was a Tennis Court. This is the city hall building in Mandaluyong, along with other public services such as forensic labs, police teams, tactical teams, fire station and other essential facilities. Unfortunately, the building was completely locked up. It did not seem to be open at all…


Mandaluyong Fire Station (Nope. Not a tennis court)


Mandaluyong Mobile X-Ray


Mandaluyong – “The Millennium City!”



We made a quick pitstop at Jollibee for lunch, because it seemed integral to an experience of normal life in the Philippines. I had indeed heard much about it from many filipino friends and how its simple brand of fast food might be horrible but had also become a kind of “nostalgic” taste from one’s childhood. (Also, I was attracted to their ridiculous logo of a jolly looking bee).


The search for the Tennis Court continued, with Gene thinking he had spotted one on Google Earth.


Not a tennis court.


Not a tennis court.


Also not a tennis court.


Some people pointed us in the direction of this carpark area (which was not a tennis court either), because it was an open area that MIGHT be a tennis court. But I later discerned (via foursquare) that it was an Insurance company’s building instead. There we met another man who said there was no tennis court in the area, but if we really wanted to find one, we should try going on the other side of the highway towards “Cybergate”.



We had to cross the highway via the Metro crossing because the highway was crazy.


The area around the MRT was completely covered in brands and advertising.


When we got to Cybergate, we discovered there were actually 3 Cybergates, which was very confusing indeed. Also, it was not a tennis court. A security guard standing near Cybergate told us to go up to the other residental buildings because they were likelier to have a tennis court.


We went towards the newer luxury residences being constructed, but it was basically an area still under development or redevelopment. It did not seem as inhabited as the previous areas we had been walking through. There were barely any people about, which meant there were fewer people to ask “EXCUSE ME DO YOU KNOW WHERE IS THE TENNIS COURT?”


There was a young boy crushing cans on the side of the road and collecting them, presumably to make a living.


This area got more and more deserted as the buildings looked more and more modern. We encountered another security guard at a construction site who told us to walk towards “Axis Residences”, as he thought there might be a tennis court there.


Finally we reached Axis Residences, which apparently had not yet been constructed. They spoke great english and since they had an elaborate showroom with phones and facilities, they investigated the location of the nearest tennis court for Gene. “You’ll have to go to Madison Square to find the nearest Tennis Court”, they said, but by then it was too late for more meandering and we had to go back to Terminal Garden to give the talks.

Result: No tennis court.

It was a peculiar thing to freely waltz into all these highrise complexes simply because we looked foreign and it seemed their assumption would be that we conceivably could be the target consumer for these properties – being foreigners – despite that fact that actually neither me nor Gene were in a position to afford to purchase a luxury flat in the area (being impoverished artists). If we had been local, or if we had dressed in a very different way, could we have enjoyed the same level of access to all of these spaces?

I was up in Manila last week thanks to Wawi Navarroza who asked me down to talk at her amazing show at Silverlens Gallery. “HUNT & GATHER, TERRARIA” is on until 6 July so do go see the brilliant exhibition there if you’re in Manila. Lots of love and thanks also have to go to Clara Balaguer from the Office of Culture and Design for showing me around Manila – I can’t even being to describe the amazing places she took me to! And thanks to Tengal for hosting me at Terminal Garden and hosting the supermoon bbq talk! I also had a really funny time following Gene around on his search for the Tennis Court. It was really inspiring being there with all these awesome people doing their own exciting independent projects as well. I’m going to stop here for now because this post is getting superlong, but there will certainly be much much more to write about my trip to Manila in subsequent posts!…

Secret Compartment Rocks

Speaking of rocks, I saw some rather interesting rocks in Pompei. Obviously, we went to see a lot of rocks in Italy, especially what with all these ruins and archaeological sites. But sometimes what you need is just a little rock camouflage.

Soundbox Rock (at Il Principe, a restaurant in Pompei)

spy rock

Powerplug Rock (at Pompei Scavi)
Yeah, I am thinking I should investigate further on how to hide things inside rocks or make secret compartments inside rocks…

See also:

The Colosseum

I feel obliged to dedicate a post to images of the Colosseum in Rome just because the photos turned out so spectacularly. That day in Rome, we had a vague plan to visit the Colosseum and set off in the general direction of it. It was rather fortuitous that we arrived about an hour before closing time, so we were let in even though it started emptying out soon after, as they began chasing people out of the amphitheatre. Also, a bird shat on my head a few moments after we had arrived at the building. I’d like to think that is a lucky sign.

Anwyay, the result was that it got more and more empty until we were close to being the last people in the building and there were no more tourists crowded up every square inch of the grounds, but some grumpy staff eventually came hunting us down and made us get out of the ruins.

The Colosseum – From the Outside:





The Colosseum – From the Inside:







Alright now back to the normal programming.

A Non-Trip to the Museum: Following Some Random People on the Train in Naples


This could have been a story about a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples (Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli). However, there had been some oversight on my part. Having forgotten to google its opening hours in advance, we had not realised that TUESDAY was the day that museums and galleries would be closed in Naples. So we could not go to the Museum. And there was nothing that could be done about it since we also were due to leave Naples the next day.

So this is what we did next. We went to the Metro station below the Museum…

Stazione Museo Corridoio


There was an interesting comprehensive list of things NOT to do on the escalator. Oh, no pointy umbrellas? And no bare feet allowed? BUT WHAT ABOUT MY BAREFOOTED CHARLIE CHAPLIN ESCALATOR DANCE EXPERIENCE? Hmmmmmm.


Unfortunately, there was no english description or text explaining what we were looking at along the walls of the Metro entrance, so for now, I will simply describe this as the expression that one has when one has just been unexpectedly shat on by a pigeon. I guess I had a similar expression when I was suddenly shat on by a pigeon upon entering the Colosseum. Looks like I’m in good company with the ancients…

There was also quite a bit of art in the Metro.
Again, sorry for lack of label due to lack of english description.


Metronapoli to Piscinola (Linea 1)
Since we did not have a guide book or any other backup plan, whilst standing at the platform, we decided to follow some people on the train. We saw these two youngsters and thought it would be funny to see where they were going to, in the hopes that they would bring us somewhere exciting or at least different from what we had been seeing in Naples.

The “Marks”

The Mark’s right hand
There had been a delay, so the crowds for this train had begun to build up. Due to how packed the train was, we ended up standing too close for comfort to our two “Marks” so we decided we had to play it cool by not trailing them too closely later. The shorter of the two left the train much earlier, but we decided to continue on until the taller Mark decided to leave, which was at a station called “Rione Alto”. He took the lift before us, so we missed him at the surface, although we did glimpse him a little bit later…

It didn’t really matter to us that we had kinda lost our mark at the station, for when we got to the surface it became very clear to us what his purpose of travel had been for. He had been going home! It looks like our marks were going home after an afternoon out near the Museum and this was a deeply residential area of Naples. But that’s pretty cool too, because that’s where most people might live. I mean, not everyone is going to live in the historical district of Naples, and I guess this is part of the fabric of a more mundane daily life in Naples…


More of Rione Alto

Kitchen Gadgets for sale


Toys for sale



Monumental pasta for sale


And so folks, in case you’ve had too much of all these historical/heritage posts,
this is what a normal day in a residential suburban part of Naples looks like….

Finding Pompei

So here is an account of an adventure to find POMPEI. When we were in Naples, TEAM FIRE decided to make that little effort to go up to visit Pompei since it was not so far away on the train. We started by trying to find the train station by “feeling” from where we were staying in Naples. Luckily, G’s “feeling” was generally accurate and we miraculously got to the train station (phew!), which when we got there, seemed unusually quiet (but this was normal actually).


Here’s a microscopic map of the train lines from Napoli above the Biglietteria (Ticket counter). I don’t think the counter lady understood what we were saying. Anyway, we decided to take one of the lines that was headed to Poggiomarino, because it went in the general direction of where we were trying to get to.


We were slightly disturbed by the fact that there were only a few services on the listing, and at the time we could not determine if the paucity of trains was related to this STRIKE NOTICE sign. But it appears the trains just don’t come very often.


So we got on board a delightful train ride that took us past Vesuviana, the progenitor of Pompei’s destruction…


G decided that we should alight at the station POMPEI despite a footnote on some tourist guide he had, saying we should PROBABLY stop at POMPEI SCAVI because stopping at POMPEI would involve a significant walk to the excavation site. This is an accurate assessment of the situation. You should probably stop at Pompei Scavi if you want to go to the archaeological sites immediately. However, if you would like to get ever so slightly disturbingly lost for an hour or so inbetween, you may wish to alight at POMPEI (spelt with one i)


There are a few things to be noted when trying to walk from Pompei Station to the Pompei excavation site. One is that none of the public maps make sense, so its best to download a map on your phone before you get there (there is no free wifi anywhere either). Secondly, there are NO PUBLIC TOILETS. Whatever you do, don’t drink all the water in your bottle whilst on a long walk looking for Pompei. THERE WILL BE NO TOILETS TO BE FOUND ANYWHERE. (The constant search for the nonexistent bathroom appeared to be a running theme in our journeys through Italy…)


A Map of the area. Not entirely helpful in explaining where we were.


Paninoteca. In Italy it seems it is acceptable to append -teca or -teria to the end of anything to make it a shop dealing with such a product. Confiteria. Gelateria. Osteria. Cioccolateria. Pasticceria. Trattoria. Discoteca…

Finally we reached the gates of Pompei Scavi. The tickets for adults are 11 Euros.


It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the basis that the eruption and subsequent burial of the two towns had unexpectedly captured a very detailed picture of life and society at a very specific moment of time during the Roman Empire, frozen in stone.


When you arrive this is the first thing you see. Warning, as we observed on our initial approach into the amphitheatre, that this poor stone sign has been molested and rubbed by hundreds of tourists who think its okay to touch every single thing. PEOPLE: IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE TO FONDLE THINGS IN A MUSEUM OR HISTORICAL SITE WITH YOUR GRUBBY UNWASHED HANDS. Adults should teach their children to treat ancient things with respect. And any adults who don’t understand this themselves should be slapped in the face with…. a day-old italian spinach pastry pie in a oil-stained paper bag. These items only managed to survive thousands of years because they were kept away from moisture and exposure and the palms of sweaty tourists.

But I guess Heritage tourism is a slippery slope. Pompeii apparently receives over 2.5 million visitors each year, and without tourism bringing in the revenue I can imagine it might be harder to justify the costs involved in maintaining the site in a decent condition. Yet you can imagine with such intense wear and tear and exposure to the elements, it must also be rapidly deteriorating…

SAP 1987
SAP stands for “Soprintendenza archeologica di Pompei”

The town of Pompeii and Herculaneum stand in the shadow of Mount Vesusvius, and Pompeii seems to have been a commercial town with fairly sophisticated infrastructure (aqueducts! amphitheatre! huge roads!). The huge roads are indeed the original roads, and the stepping stones were made to facilitate human crossings.


Stepping Stones


Ghost town




In-between what used to be buildings


Inside a house


Town ruins

Bricks which one eventually comes to realize might be characteristic of buildings built in the 1st century AD.
Saw similar bricks used in other very very ancient things in Naples.


Ornate Interiors


Wall detail




Ancient Stoves
Minor quaking had been normal for the area, apparently. The area had been shaken by an earthquake before that, destroying some of its temples, and finally was completely covered during an catastrophic eruption on 24 August (AD 79). Vesusvius erupted, engulfing the town of Pompei and Herculaneum with volcanic ash and mud.






Temple Ruins
If you’re like me, you probably came here for the, how do we say this, “human interest” element. And a day-trip to Pompeii means you really do have to run through it pretty quickly. So I will just cut to the money shot: the warehouses of items recovered from Pompei. There were no english signs but I’ll assume that some of these may be replicas as I understand the originals should probably be at the Archaeological Museum of Naples (or other museums in Italy):




I was really very tired and cranky by this point so I stopped taking pictures of things and so from this point onwards there are only pictures of me pointing at things, taken by G.



Pointing at a spy rock


Pointing at a lock on a shed


Pointing at some marble


Pointing at a stone stove


Pointing at the number 13


Pointing at an arch


Pointing at some sign


Pointing at a no entry sign


Pointing at some flowers


Pointing at a picture of a missing man pasted outside the gift shop


Pointing at some cactus

[Photo credit: G]



I should add that I saw my first poppy at Pompeii. Somehow I had never seen a poppy in my time living in London, which meant I had NEVER SEEN A POPPY IN MY ENTIRE LIFE UNTIL THIS MOMENT. I was always aware of what poppies looked like because they would sell paper poppies on pins for one of those war rememberance days but honestly I somehow had never seen a real one before. (AMAZINGLY THEY DO LOOK LIKE PAPER POPPIES!!!)

Italian Funeral Notices

There are many things one will see in Naples and other parts of Italy. One will see lots of disturbingly damaged cars (see previous post); many disturbingly dead pigeons and birds (in some cases I don’t even know how they got killed so horribly, was it some sort of wacko Ripper di Pigeon that got at them??), and also, many of these curious posters that look like party posters but aren’t….


Francesco Fischetti? Who’s Francesco Fischetti?
Why is Jesus’ logo on top? Is he having a church party? What do all these words mean?
Oh… oh wait… OH NO… Agenzia Funebre? Is that like…. an italian funeral agency?
Is the man actually having…. a Funeral Party???

Eventually we figured out they were… funeral notices. Apparently they don’t always put funeral notices in newspapers in Italy, they print it on a sheet of white A3 paper and stick in the area where the person had lived. For a city with tiny corridors and a particular configuration of streets that its entire citizens cannot avoid walking through daily, I think this is a fantastic method of spreading the word.

Anyway, uh… enjoy this collection of funeral notices from Naples and the adjourning area of Pompei…










When I saw the variety of posters, I immediately imagined that people in Italy must be collecting photos of funeral notices, making templates and creating their own “MAKE YOUR OWN PARODIC FUNERAL NOTICE” webapps for laughs (but in Italian. Oh, the hitherto unexplored world of ITALIAN MEMES!). Or if not then we should get in on that action… But what I really want to know is: where did this “tradition” start and who designed it? Who chose the fonts? Why are all the fonts more or less the same? Is there a guidebook or rule on how you can design a funeral notice? Its the same thing I wonder about funeral notices in newspapers. Who designed them in the first place? Who created this “convention” of funeral notices in Italy?

The Cars of Napoli

I’ve finally met my match – Naples has been the first city in which I did not see a single surveyor mark on concrete. Because I did not get to see much modern concrete in it. It seemed as if everything was ancient stone. We had the fortune of staying with our very lovely airbnb host, Gianni, in a historical part of Naples. We were situated along Via del Tribunali, an ancient road used by the Greeks and later the Romans, which meant that nearly everywhere we wandered in the vicinity of the flat was built upon exceedingly ancient cobbles, and by cobbles I do mean the unwieldy, ankle breaking sort. The kind that’s black and absurdly rounded with centuries of wear and tear, set in with deep grooves.

These ancient roads also seemed scarcely suitable for cars, the sound that the cars make on them is horrific; to be honest until I had come to Italy I had not fully comprehended the extent to which cars could seem like a scourge on society in an old historic city. The ancient streets were not designed to accomodate cars at all, and since the area was already so precious and historic, no severe modifications were to be made to the roads besides a series of metal dividers that might be inconspicuously erected along terribly tight passageways and corners in order to protect pedestrians. Nevertheless one still felt seriously threatened upon hearing the amplified roar of vehicles over the hardened cobbles; pedestrians could still expect to come within a hair’s width of the vehicles that wound dangerously and speedily through the streets of Naples, as if they had no fear of death.


The metal dividers were frequently squashed and bent, scooters and cars sped through tiny single-lane streets at break-neck speeds, local pedestrians continued on their merry way and milled about in all directions next to endless traffic whilst us mild-mannered city-cupcakes stood removed and plastered along the edges of the buildings, being horrified at what seemed to be a complete disregard for common sense and road safety.

And in some cases, no lines at all… OH! Let me guess, so we can be hit from all directions?
Not only were the drivers incredibly reckless, another thing we noticed in Naples was the severe state of damage that had been inflicted on the drivers’ everyday cars. The amount of damage to cars being tolerated by their owners was staggering. You would never see a car with such damages running on the roads of Singapore (or most cities). But it seems the only bar to having a car in Naples is simply having a car that still runs.

Common car window repair technique


Common front damage


Common body damage


Bog-standard rear end damage


“There, I fixed it.”


From another day: another fixed rear window…

Most of the photos from this post were taken one on particular random road. Nearly every single car was damaged. This was a little bit after we had seen a car collision, and both cars had paused, and I had expected the drivers to come out and exchange numbers. But nothing of the sort happened. It being Naples, a little accident was almost instantly forgotten, and I realised the drivers were only trying to find a way to maneuver themselves away from their collision point so they could continue on to their respective destinations. We were stunned. On the next road, we saw a long row of parked cars and observed them, and came away with the assessment that almost every car seemed damaged in some way. And most seemed to be running…. well, most…

“Oops, crashed my car again, no biggie, guess I’ll just leave it next to a dumpster…”
I don’t really want to know who or what they’ve been hitting with their cars but let’s say I don’t think I’d ever want to drive in Naples looking at the state of all the cars there. I think Naples wins the prize for having the “Most Horrifying Drivers in the World”. And the “Most Badly Damaged Cars Which are Unaccountably Still Running on Roads”…

Had the opportunity and good fortune to visit the Venice Biennale 2013 at the end of May, hence the long hiatus from writing here. I just got back from travelling through Venice, Naples and Rome, so after I gather myself… even more epic posts to come!