An attempt to make sense of things in a random universe, one Friday at a time.

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Location: Philippines

Leaving my footsteps for you to find and follow, my love.

05 November 2006

I heart Manila

I have always thought that I have been living in my present apartment for over three years now. But as I was sorting through my jumble of unfiled documents I found my very first rent payment receipt (I could tell because it said one month downpayment and one month deposit), dated 3 November 2004, and I realized that I have only lived here for only two years.

Frankly, it feels like I've lived here forever.

When I first moved in, the space looked huge. It was the very first time in my life when I would be living alone, on my own money, signing a lease contract in my own name. When I stepped into my apartment for the very first time it was six-thirty in the evening. I was barely able to catch the landlady in her office before the office closed for the day, and after I was given my keys I went straight to my apartment building, and almost flew up the stairs to my apartment.

It was dark, since there were no light bulbs yet, but the lights from the street below threw a faint illumination through the open door and the curtain-less window. I stood in the middle of my apartment, which still smelled faintly of paint, and wondered how I got to that moment: living alone in Manila.

I had my first lucid experience of Manila when I was already sixteen. I took the overnight bus with my father to keep our appointment with the United States embassy, where he was applying for a tourist visa for me so I could visit him in California after my high school graduation. I was sick on the bus and was not able to sleep at all, and would have given anything for morning to come, until morning came and we got stuck in traffic, an ocean of densely-packed vehicles in pre-flyover Edsa. Then I just wished I could get out of there right away.

I didn't, of course. My father and I had to stay an entire day. We freshened up and had breakfast at a relative's house and took a taxi to the embassy. It was summer, and the hot wind along Roxas Boulevard was sharp, searing, and offended the very core of me. The air stand of petrol and exhaust fumes and the rank, fishy smell of the ocean. I hated Manila. I normally loved standing under the most intense heat of summer and basking in the golden molten fire pouring down on me, but Manila when I was sixteen was an altogether different thing. I kept thinking then that this was what hell must be like.

But like any other story, love and other unfathomable circumstances came about and I found myself propelled towards places and directions I never thought I could go. Now I am in love with Manila, and have chosen to take new root here. I have chosen to get my advanced education here, at the University of the Philippines, and have pretty much wiggled my way into commissions that would keep me here for years and years to come. I have learned to appreciate the wonders of the takeout breakfast, the takeout lunch, the takeout merienda, and the takeout dinner. And the takeout midnight and/or pre-dawn snack. It's amazing how many other people are awake at 3 a.m. and needing pretty much the same things I do, such as, well, coffee, chips, noodle soup, and the occasional jar of peanut-butter-and-jelly. I have learned to navigate the streets with dexterity at the usual traffic jams, potholes, out-of-control buses, haughty and space-hogging SUVs, and the occasional money-grubbing traffic enforcer. Roxas Boulevard is now a favorite route I take whenever I visit Old Manila -- Quiapo, Binondo, Escolta, Intramuros. And some late afternoons, just for the heck of it, I take my car and just drive into the traffic in Edsa the way some cowgirls ride into the sunset with wind in their hair and the future in their eyes, and I mosey on along on at 2 kph while listening to the prime time news and traffic updates on DZMM on my static-y car radio while eating Choc-Nut. To be able to do that feels truly glorious. Some of my friends think me crazy. Some say I'm just pretending to like the traffic and purposely drive through it just so I could get away from having to sit in front of my desk and write. Some say it's just a phase that I'd grow out of, just like any other young provinciana drunk on the madness and liberation that is Metro Manila who ended up going back to their old hometowns in their old age to await their lonely deaths.

In the spirit of youth, I declare that I am not about to grow old any time soon, and so I continue to live my life in Manila where the traffic, the rallies, the UP, and the 24-hour restaurants and coffee shops are. I am immortal. I live on paper and fountain pen ink and strange, untimely meals. My apartment is my very own College of Chaos. My car's gas tank is always full, on the seat beside me is a large pack of Choc-Nut, and I can almost always charm my way out of some silly traffic offense. I say bring it on, Manila.

[Photo is from, and is used with the permission of its copyright owner, Jojo Mamangun.]


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