As promised, here's my post on the North Cemetery:
My girlfriend and I took a cab to the north cemetery in Manila. From what I heard, tourist are not normally allowed in. We got stopped in our cab on the way in. They sceptically looked inside but eventually let us in - probably only because my girlfriend is Asian and they probably figured we are going to see her family's grave. I'm Swiss.. so don't certainly stood out, but kept my mouth shut.
Once in we were stunned by the sheer size of the cemetery. With roughly 54 hectares it is needless to say why. You have 3 main streets, a roundabout and lots of smaller streets and paths. Being a bit hesitant at first on whether we should brave it and walk down the small paths or not, we finally did it and were instantly blown away.
You'll smell food, hear laughter, see kids playing basketball, elderly people playing bingo on the tombs. After an initial just smiling at people and greeting them when we walked by, we started having conversations with families, kids, elderly residents.. it was the most humble experience in my live - and yet one of the most beautiful. People living there have literally nothing. Eventhough they are maybe better off than people in other slums where there is no electricity nor water, it is still a slum - and a cemetery with up to 50 burrials a day (in the short time we were there, we witnessed three). Nevertheless, everyone we met was very friendly and interested in us. They happily talked to us, told us their stories, asked who were were and even invited us to sit down in their home - which usually happens to be a mausoleum. They showed us how and where they cooked, laughed with us, proudly showed their beautiful children and yet, you could see in their eyes how tough their lives are. Especially for the children, you look in their eyes and see their smiles but know how difficult it will be for them when they get to adult age.
We also brought some clothes with us and cuddly toys. We would typically speak to one of the adults or parents firstly to get their ok. The kids obviously loved our gifts - and these were also very much needed. When we go back I would also bring some vitamins and calcium tablets as this is a major issue too.
Seeing how some of the families have been living there since the early sixties, in their theird and fourth generation, it is heartbreaking. Especially when you leave and everyone is waving you goodbye (hopefully more of a see you again) and you go back to the safety of Intramuros (in our case).. it brings tears to your eyes. These people are living there day in, day out. Among the dead. Kids jumping from tomb to tomb, having very limited options for their future.
Would I go back? Definitely! We are even on the verge of coming up with (business) plan to help the residents, especially trying to give the children more options for their future.
Would I recomment tourists to go there? Not really.. it's not your average sightseeing stop where you just quickly go to for an hour or two, take a few photos and rush to the next place. I never felt uneasy or unsafe but I wouldn't show off my fancy watch or big camera . I brought my DSLR but had it in a neutral rucksack. Before taking photos of residends, I would always have conversations with them and then also show them my photos. After all, you'd feel funny if tourists would come into your home and start taking pictures without asking.
Let me know if you would like more information. For those of you who genuinely care about these people and are interested, go in there, be friendly and humble and respect their privacy - and you will have the most amazing and eye-opening experience in your life and hopefully one's life will change for the better in some way.
Edited: 6:05 am, April 08, 2013