Tuesday, 17 February 2009

At P25, it beats sleeping in park

By Diana A. Uy
The Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/?page=news6_feb16_2009

TRANSIENTS are trooping to Bayani Fernando’s inn on Bonifacio Drive near Rizal Park in Manila each time they can’t make it home, and for a good reason: They pay only P25 to stay 10 hours and have an eight-minute shower—or P50 to stay 24 hours and have two eight-minute showers.

The building was an old four-story structure converted into some sort of dorm in May 2007, and it was so successful that the Metro Manila Development Authority, led by Fernando, had another one opened on Jose Abad Santos Street in Tondo, Manila, a year later, and now plans to build more.

Fernando calls his inn Gwapotel—literally Handsome Hotel. The rent there is so cheap that a meal from any of the fast-food outlets on the first floor of his dorm on Bonifacio Drive, for instance, costs more: P30 to P43 for one viand, a cup of rice and some soup. The cost of an overnight stay is so affordable that the front desk crawls with backpackers waiting to check in on most nights.

“It beats sleeping in the park,” says Bong, 41, a parking lot attendant in Robinsons Ermita. He checks in each time he can’t make it home to Valenzuela—to where the cost of a roundtrip commute is P60—to be with his wife and two kids.

The people taking advantage of Fernando’s Gwapotel include vendors, fast-food and office workers, nurses, returning migrant workers, casino players, ferry riders, seamen, and students and others who can’t make it home for one reason or another. More men than women check in at the inn, and it’s the reason the men have three-and-a-half floors to themselves and the women only one wing.

One might call the inn a home away from home, but the cheap lodging has its trade-offs. There is no air-conditioning (though the open windows let the breeze in), and the double-decker beds, covered in pink and blue tarpaulins, sit cheek-by-jowl. A pink steel basket on one end of each bed serves as a storage area, but you must carry your belongings with you everywhere to avoid theft. Day and night, the sound of traffic from Bonifacio Drive comes through.

The bathroom is communal. The flimsy curtain covering each of the 20 showers invites peeping toms, and the showers themselves are operated by a five-peso coin: You must have another coin ready if your eight minutes are up and you’re still not through.

Still, most lodgers like the Gwapotel just fine.

“It’s cheap and very near where you want to go,” says Brenda, 57, a real estate agent from Zambales who has been staying at the inn for a year.

“I’m happier here,” says She, 25, who lives in Las Piñas and works in a fast-food restaurant. “I’m near my friends.”

“I sleep more comfortably here,” says Bong the parking lot attendant.

“It beats sleeping in the park.”

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