Majesty in Manila

The Philippines. One of the world’s most beautiful archipelagos spanning over 7,640 islands and hundreds of different cultures. It’s a land of great opportunity, known for incredible hospitality and strong family values.

I know the Philippines through video games, specifically Dota 2 and Axie Infinity. Two games I’ve worked with the most that still maintain large popularity on the islands. My travels as an esports commentator have given me a front row seat to the filipino love for esports.

In the blockchain world, the Philippines is widely known for their high adoption rate of Axie Infinity, where Filipino players have consistently comprised the majority of the active users.

I had the privilege of visiting Manila for an extended stay and desired to see more than the beautiful yet predictable Bonifacio Global City bubble where I was staying.

My friends connected me with a local named Max that was eager to take me around Manila on an adventure that would take us through the Vitas Katuparan Housing Project in Tondo.

A stop in the park


Our journey began in the middle of the city near one of the busiest transit depots in the enter country.

As we entered the park, there was a cluster of families on cardboard boxes with kids that lit up when they saw our camera.

The girl in the black top was among the most excited, jumping right into her most proud outfit and running over to pose without a moment’s hesitation.

She spoke no English, and we shared no words; but, her energy was infectious as we turned the park into our own fashion runway.

Barangay 94 Basketball

After feeling the flurry of commerce, we went into a barangay to find a taste of the favored Filipino past time: basketball.

Our guide took us to Barangay 94, which touts a covered and neatly kept court deep inside its dense housing. Locals gather for daily matches, generally playing for cash in full court, first to 25.

Its equipped with referees that keep the tension level. Some of these players were wagering their food money and hoping to double down. The reality of zero-sum sports is often harsh and humbling.. without officials it would surely devolve into physical chaos.

The court was led by an older gentleman that everyone seemed to respect. He directed the flow of events and made sure the money was paid out to the proper winners. Each match included a small rake for the court and commission to the referee.

The competition was fierce, but there was a general respect for the rules. It was remarkable to observe that some of the best players in our match were without shoes, playing completely barefoot on concrete that was chipped and uneven. Some were even playing in flip-flops, crossing over without skipping a beat.

I had over a foot on some of these kids and they ran circles around me. In our full court match I ended with 1 assistant, 1 rebound, and 0 buckets- some how we still won.

Nepomuceno Street Pool

Still dripping from basketball in the 85% humidity, we found our way into a street pool game with a group of highly competitive youngsters. They were eager to challenge me and see if they can win bragging rights and a couple of pesos.

The game felt similar to pool, except on a much smaller table and with disks instead of balls. The disks were flimsy and would fly away if you hit them too hard. It was a game of finesse. One where you have to channel the advice of the late great Chubbs, and just tap it in.

A natural director


But one kid in particular stood out of the pack; he was brave and outgoing.. eager to insert himself as my personal coach through out the game.

His expectations were high, pointing to different corners of the board on each shot expecting me to make it each time.

After a few particularly bad shots in a row, he looked at me and paused dramatically before bellowing a candid, “what the fuck, man?”

Vitas Katuparan Housing Project in Tondo

As we approached darker allyways of stacked up housing an older gentlemen approached us rather aggressively. He wasn’t intimidating, but his energy was clear. He didn’t want us to venture any further.

After a few minutes of much back and forth, he surprisingly shook hands with our guide and let us be. Max explained that he was actually trying to look out for us. He didn’t realize Max was a local and wanted to make sure we knew what lied ahead.

Tondo has a very high population density. The streets are lined with thick power cables running in every direction, feeding survival for hundreds of families living in single units. Personal space is a great luxury.

A few local kids followed us and joined in on the adventure, excited to explore something out of the norm.

Seeing fans with love

Closer to sunset, we found ourselves on a bridge overlooking the Estero De Vitas rivers to snap a few photos.

Suddenly one of the cars on the bridge slammed their brakes and pulled over right in front of us. A starry eyed Axie fan hopped out and came running over to us.

His comrades were close to follow, two of them with their phones out to document the experience. They couldn’t believe that they spotted us in the wild- especially in that part of Manila.

Upon sunsets unimaginable

And night times serene

For a journey complete

Our final destination took us to the high traffic subway route near Manila City Hall. This area is commonly used by students and was severely dilapidated for many years.

Poorly lit and water damaged, students would put their heads down and trek through as quickly as they could. However, the former Mayor of Manila took note.

He rehabilitated the area and transformed it with murals that feel almost like a walking tour of Filipino history.

The murals and passing of every day people seem to embody one of the famous quotes from the Filipino national hero Jose Rizal:

Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.

In English it translates to a powerful statement that resonates with the energy amongst the daily commuters focused on building a better tomorrow:

He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never get to his destination.

Ang Bagong Maynila

Shot on location at Manila, Philippines. September 2022.

Photography by MD Madrigal.

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