YOU’LL receive a hero’s welcome in Manila. If you’re lucky, it could be confetti, tickertape and the occasional tank. These are the expensive toys employed by revolutionaries, demonstrators and the government – necessary distractions in one of Asia’s most robust and colourful democracies – to welcome travellers, along with serenading minstrels. It’s a tropical cocktail like no other. Several years ago in Manila I learned heavily armed men strapped with explosives had taken over the airport control tower. An even more heavily armed SWAT team bristling with ordnance had then stormed the place, firing automatic weaponry. All that was missing was King Kong. Reassured by these signs of normalcy, the passengers all went about their regular business. Yet the tension was mounting. Inside, screaming, stampeding, and gesticulating travellers provided ample proof – that airport staff simply does not appreciate the average Filipino’s ability to pack the entire contents of Mindanao in a carry-on bag. Even we draw the line at live chickens. Chickens were not designed to fly, even in economy. And this is the lively street theatre that assails visitors from all sides as they enjoy this country’s unique blend of old world and new, power and pathos, commerce and carnival.