Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Tale of Two Cities (Manila)

I went back to the Philippines some months ago and I saw my hometown with different eyes. It made me cry seeing how gray the walls were. For the first time, I saw that we are a poor country. I saw the traffic, the rickety bus rides, how packed the people are in public transportation and water on the side of the streets. Things I took in stride because as far as I was concerned, it was the way things have always been. But I found myself hanging on for dear life when my dad negotiated the streets of Manila when he picked me up from the airport.

Having only been gone a year, I did not think that I would have an adjustment period. But I did for about a week. Then it all came back to me. I still knew how to commute and navigate my way around the city. Bargains could still be had at old haunts like Divisoria (where I got my wedding dress), Cubao (wedding shoes) and at SM (for some giveaways). I found new haunts like Dangwa which was a mecca of fresh flowers. True, we were dismayed at the level of service or disservice at City Hall. But commercial services were fast and good. You could drop into a beauty parlour without making an appointment and my dress was made in four weeks' time.

Best of all were the people and the feeling of community. Dawn services were still held at church for two weeks before Christmas. And the church was always full on these occasions. We went to a total of three Christmas musicals. Laughter was in the air a lot and people laughed long and hard. When we distributed our invitations, we were well fed and looked after.

The success of our wedding day was due to the help of a lot of people. Tita Inday, Kuya Harlie and the canteen girls from our eatery organized the food for the choir. The choir from our church sang at the wedding. Friends decorated the church until early morning. An officemate made the bouquets. Family members and friends did a lot of organizing and small and big things. There was also a missing guitar, but that's another story.

After our short honeymoon in Tagaytay, we went back to Manila and more specifically to Project 2 in Quezon City. Except for my first four years, I have always lived in this former housing suburb. It is now very much a commercial though still residential district. The streets are quaintly named after fruits, some of which I have never seen or eaten.

My stay was short so I was determined to look around closely and cherish every little thing. I found myself relishing the Chickenjoy at the Jollibee along the corner of Kamias and Anonas. Directly opposite is the competing McDonalds. Looking out the second floor of this McDonalds, one can see the shoe and key duplication stall made of rickety looking wood that seems to have been in that corner ever since I was small. I could also see the Seven-Eleven in Chico Street where we used to buy our Slurpees. Walking along Anonas, the banks are clustered in one area. They look solid and austere with the sharp corners and the security guards brandishing heavy guns. Soon we came upon Kawilihan Bakery where we buy our pan de sal. This is also where the loser of basketball bets bought ice cream for the whole family. Beside Kawilihan is the ihaw-ihaw where one can buy chicken insides (yum!) and other barbecue treats. Eventually we reached Quirino Elementary School, right across our house. I remember being late a lot when I was still studying there (it was the traffic). But the statue of Quirino is still there and children still run straight out when school is over.

Project 2 and Manila will always be special to me. I think I really saw the city for the first time when I went back. And it shall be new and yet old again the next time I go home. It reminds me of what T.S. Eliot said:

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time"