One of the best things about traveling to Manila for Americans is that it is low-cost city, and the exchange rate is very favorable to the dollar (about 49 pesos to $1 today). I've picked up a lot of necessities here for less than $20 USD, and most of my meals (combined with my mom's) don't usually come out to more than $4 USD. However, that isn't to say I haven't picked up a few special items. Before I got to Manila, I found out there are eight TopShops in the metropolitan area alone. EIGHT. It was my second full day here (Saturday) when we were at the Edsa Shangri-La Mall when I first saw it. The promised land. Two words fashioned into one: TOPSHOP. I stood outside for about 30 seconds without moving, my jaw hanging open and my eyes glazed over in wonder. Ok, so maybe this is a little much, but I've been waiting patiently, and now desperately, since I first heard about the first TopShop opening in America (in SoHo in New York) in March. It was supposed to open its doors on October 10, but because of stupid rules and bureaucracy at the NYC Board of Commerce, it's not opening until at least March 2009. They sure know how to keep an American girl waiting. Anyway, I picked up one shirt (even though I wanted so much more) since the prices aren't cheaper here but about the same as the U.K. and U.S.-online store prices. The store was quite petite, not much bigger than the size of my bedroom here, nothing like the ones I've been to in Dublin and London.

Then I saw a Marks & Spencer, so obviously I had to get something there too. I got a dark black and grey plaid top, and although they carry a lot of the cookies, chips and candies that the British stores carry, no strawberry trifles. Sigh. My mom said maybe in Hong Kong they will, but since they didn't at the Prague location, I'm not getting my hopes up.

On the drive to Makati on Sunday, my mom asked if I had a radio or CD player. I pulled out my trusty iPhone, which she didn't realize had an iPod too. I started playing the Mamma Mia soundtrack (Yeah, I had to buy it after seeing the movie on the plane so many times), and she asked if I had any oldies. I said I had a 1960s playlist, to which she scoffed and asked, "Don't you have any Journey?" As if I didn't…

After shopping for my camera at the Rustan's in Makati, my mom and I met up with her best friend, Lourdes, and we went to her brother's new restaurant, Le Régalade. The brand-new French bistro, opened in September, features a Michelin-star chef, Alain Rayé, from Vancouver. Le dejeuner was très bonnes, including a succulent pot of bœuf bourguignon and French onion soup, which I normally don't even care for much, topped off with crème brûlée and the most delectable apple tart I've ever eaten. Not to mention the restroom was the size of a small New York apartment -- and it was absolutely gorgeous with cherry wood walls and giant plush leather chairs in the waiting area. I would live in it.

Since I've had extremely weird sleeping patterns over the last week (which have really thrown my entire body for a loop), I've been watching a lot of television at random hours. I've noticed that if there are two things you can count on when traveling internationally, it's CNN and BBC World News. I won't watch Rachael Ray at home; I refuse to watch it here. Another thing I noticed is while watching NBC's Today, there's a big difference on the international version versus the American one. When Al Roker does his little weather bit and says his token phrase, "Here's a look at the weather in your neck of the woods," it typically cuts to the local weather station. Now, since obviously they don't do that here because of the time change, other shows like CBS' Early Show and ABC's Good Morning America play music while displaying the American map. However, Today does not, and Roker doesn't seem to realize that we can hear everything he is saying. He sure does make fun of Robin Williams a lot. Très bizarre.

Camera Shopping

Asia is known for having cheap electronics, particularly cameras. Hong Kong, as my mom said, is one giant camera store. I wanted to get a Canon digital SLR camera there on Stanley Street, and I asked for a lot of advice from my friend Victoria, but I thought it might be easier to pick up a camera here in Manila instead for a number of reasons. For one, my mom speaks the language here and also it's easier for us to pay here since we have pesos in the bank. I was right and wrong. First the wrong. Apparently Manila only carries two models of Canon SLRs: a 450D and a 1000D. Strangely, the 1000D is cheaper. And they were both out of my budgeted price range. We went from store to store over three days, and I couldn't find anything else. We did see a few cheaper cameras at the tech bazaar area in Green Hills, but my mom was resistant to buying the camera there since its a series of stalls, not real stores (this is also the place to go for really good designer knock-offs).

Now the right. Since my mom speaks Tagalog, all of the salespeople we talked to were incredibly nice and helpful. (Buying anything in English here is a totally different situation.) This kind of courtesy and customer service just doesn't exist many other places. Additionally, my mom is able to pay for the camera here in pesos on her local debit card, making the transaction more secure. We finally settled yesterday on the 1000D model at the Shoe Mart (that's the local department store chain) in Makati. We even got a free Batman: The Dark Knight backpack, which I'm not sure what we're going to do with. I spent more than I planned, but I know I can return this easily should anything go wrong.

On the way home as I was ogling my new camera, my mom suggested that we should buy a gun to go with it around here. I looked back at her slightly stunned as she just giggled slyly, looking out the window over the polluted Pasig River.

On a side note, only in the Philippines have I ever experienced the awkwardness of being taller than everyone else. But never have I been taller than my bed. Every single night here, I keep hitting my toes against the iron rods at the front of the bed. I've always dreamed of being taller. Now I'm happy at 5'3".