On Manila

Photo Album of Manila

I started my first week of #QuarterLifeCrisisTour2016 in the city I initially visited back in 2014 – Manila, Philippines. Before venturing out into unfamiliar territories, I thought there would be some level of comfort in starting this long journey in a familiar place with some familiar faces. I have fond memories of Manila, especially because of one of my best bros, Kristoff, played an amazing tour guide and host during my initial visit in 2014. 

Manila is a lot like Los Angeles in that the metropolitan area is comprised of smaller distinct clusters, each with its own charm (not to mention both cities have insufferable traffic). I again stayed in Bonifacio Global City, which is arguably the safest pocket of Manila (some argue the whole country), but is also a place experiencing exponential growth unlike any other city I’ve seen. Over the past two decades, businesses and developers have been flocking to the area because of its proper city planning, safeness, cleanliness, and relatively calmer neighborhoods. But this also means it’s constantly under construction – the skyline is unrecognizable from just two years ago. Unfortunately, it seems this small oasis of serenity will become just as crowded in no time.

View from the room

This trip started bumpy. While I was taking off for my flight from San Francisco, a friend told me about the terrorist bombing in Davao City (where I am currently). As a result, most of Philippines is on Red Alert. Passing through three extra layers of security delayed her about 3+ hours after entering the airport vicinities. In comparison, it took us 15 minutes to get from the airport to my Airbnb. Thanks, Duterte.

As I was waiting in Ninoy Aquino International for four hours after landing, extremely jetlagged, I had to constantly remind myself to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. I don’t have this delusion that everything will go right all the time during this trip. So much can happen in four months – in some parts I fully expect to be mugged, flights to be canceled, to fall ill, and all sorts of other things I won’t be putting on Instagram. Regardless, I was just excited to get started.

I had two goals in Manila: stuff my face with as much Filipino food as I personally could, and meet as many UX Practitioners by giving two presentations. Here’s me fulfilling the first part:

Most of my Filipino food cravings were satisfied at Manam at only $4 per meal
Local night market hosted every Fridays in BGC

The idea to give UX presentations during this trip came from a deep curiosity in learning about UX communities all over the world, specifically Asia. After my time in Manila, I don’t see why the Philippines can’t become the UX capital of Asia within the next 5-10 years. All the tools are there: 3rd-largest English speaking country in the world, inexpensive labor force, a corporate climate ripe for change, a growing community hungry to learn about UX, and (from what they tell me) a level of cultural empathy that can be conveyed onto design. I sincerely believe it’s only a matter of time before outsourcing design becomes as popular here as call centers.

I reached out to three organizations, UXPH, Philippines Web Designers Organization, and Ladies that UX, last month to discuss the possibility of speaking. To my surprise, they were all incredibly excited to have me as a speaker and offered to work out the details. All I had to do was just show up and present. This was a nice change of pace, as I’m usually the person organizing events. The UXPH group and PWDO collaborated and hosted an event where I was the speaker — a cool first for me. Overall, I had a phenomenal experience with both events; plus, I got a chance to meet so many practicing UX practitioners in Manila.


I really enjoyed my time in Manila. I love BGC. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind living there for a period of time. If only the weather was better and the city had better Internet, I would move there in a heartbeat. Filipino Food is probably on my Top 5 cultural foods I enjoy. Unfortunately, my time in Manila was too short, but I look forward to coming back in December and spending Kristmas with Kristoff.

Thanks to everyone I met in Manila! I had an incredible time, I hope to see you all again soon. My 2nd stop is Davao City, but I can’t help but feel excited about my 3rd stop: Cebu City.

Stay tuned.
– B. Kim

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