I grew up watching pigs eat noisily, pestering roosters before a cockfight, saving myself from an angry turkey, and taking a nap at around 3 in the afternoon. On days that I am not getting up close and personal with animals, I am usually up a guava tree, making sense of the clouds above me. Hakuna matata (no worries) indeed.
And then I turned six.
|Probably not six?|
Six - the magic age wherein I must start going to school. But school was far far away from where we lived. School was in Manila. And Manila was too far for my grandparents to accompany me and fetch me everyday. And so I had to travel to Manila without them, and live with my parents and brother instead.
I have heard of Manila before. It's a famous place. All our neighbors seemed excited to go there. I would frequently hear remarks like "she got a job in Manila!" to which someone would reply, "Wow, I hope my son will to!" I imagined Manila to be some elite place only the few could have the fortune of visiting.
I am now 22 years old.
I grew up playing noisily with other kids on the streets, pestering ice cream vendors and taho vendors for an extra scoop, saving myself from racing jeepneys, and gazing at the people rushing by at the LRT station.
I have fallen deeply, madly in love with Manila.
No, Manila is not an elite place where the fortunate resides. It is the good, the bad, and the ugly - a melting pot of Philippine history and culture, a picture of hardship and luxury, a place where I can look reality in the eye and still see hope in it.
Whenever fellow travelers or couchsurfers would ask me which places to visit in Manila if they wished to learn more about Philippine history and culture, I would accompany them to Intramuros and Binondo.
In Intramuros, I would show them the canons that served as a threat to keep the growing number of Chinese outside Intramuros in check. I would tell them about forced labor if we passed by the Philippine Constabulary, and I would tell them about gay culture, issues on reproductive health, and the church's role in the Philippines if we happen to pass by the CBCP. And of course, we would take turns in taking photos!
In Binondo Chinatown, we would eat siomai, siopao, shanghai, canton, hakaw, hopia, wanton, lumpia, and other flavorful food that we would both have a hard time pronouncing. Then we would wonder how we still managed to have spare money even after eating like wild horses. We would then visit Binondo church and both be amazed by the religiosity of the people around us. By this time, it is almost always sundown already. We'll part ways, smiling. I have gained a new friend (not just in Facebook), all because I shared my love for Manila.
A picture of hardship and luxury
When I was younger, I would spend my savings partying in The Fort High Street, or my office mates and I would visit Resorts World Manila and act like spoiled brats with gold credit cards. It's like a scene in Gatsby, less the theatrics. I guess this side of Manila is the one I imagined when I was six - wealthy and sexy. However it is only a small part of Manila.
Oftentimes, what I witness in this mega city are the struggles of the balut vendor, the tricycle driver, and the homeless beggar in Divisoria. Heck, even the fortune teller and guest relations officer in Malate seem to be having a tough time getting customers. The contrast between the scenes in Resorts World and Divisoria confused me to such an extent that I would feel bad about having fun. But after years of walking in these pictures of Manila, I have learned to stop feeling guilty. I figured out that I should just do what I can, nothing more.
Everyday, I see people trying their hardest to survive - the bickering students in UP, the photographers in Rizal park, the lovers in Baywalk, and even the street children in Recto. They keep on breathing, smiling, laughing, crying, shouting, playing, living. Everyone is alive. Manila is filled with people bursting with life. Life is not the best here, but it is where I have learned how to live.
It is where I found home.
That was a trip of no return.
And I love it.
See you around!