When I suddenly missed Manila

It felt like riding a small boat rowing on a vast sea passing by islets of different sizes that housed a variety of species. Feelings and auras change as I turn to look at them one after the other. Sometimes I felt afraid to land on one but enthusiastic to explore the other.

I felt the same thing last Saturday when my dad brought to us SM Mall of Asia for the 2nd International Pyromusical Competition. It was between Spain and South Korea then. My dad has a sparkle of interest in fireworks displays probably of because of the relief it brings to a stressed out person like him. We missed the first Pyromusical competition. The first, as far as I remember, was in 2008 but it was a fireworks display not synced with music. Well it has been always better with music.

To reach Mall of Asia, one of the biggest malls in Asia in terms of land area, one can choose a road to take. We usually pass by the bustling and jam-packed Makati area to Taft Avenue toward Pasay City. The huge globe structure of the mall has become a landmark. That day, we took the alternate route (I am uncertain whether to name it as alternate, being unsure of the other road’s character of being a main road). We took the C-4 road then to Espana to Pasig to Recto Area to Roxas Boulevard.

The C-4 road travel was a smooth sail. Unlike Makati City, there are no towering skyscrapers, only industrial sites where my dad usually gets supplies for his construction project in Northern Luzon as project engineer. It is the same road most tourists take to reach the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

We passed by Quiapo, the ‘old downtown’ where many of the country’s historic landmarks are situated. Then there was nostalgic feeling of walking through the stalls of pirated CD’s, bargains, and dresses to reach Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, the ancestral houses which became to subject of my Yahoo! Philippines article during my early sophomore years. The house was an icon midst the busy street swept by history from being sacred to being a dirty – in terms of surroundings and in terms of crime.

 

I remember passing through a little village where streets are names of El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere characters. I am unsure whether it is part of Espana the point is, it is an old village of sorts. Most houses are two-storeys, the first level (which could have been once a place for neighbor hopping in the early times) were transformed into mango stores, laundry shops, and  squatter houses. Like a woman dressed in awkward fashion, the other half of the houses had the Spanish touch – azoteas, wooden balconies, flat roofs, and walls laden with wooden panels.

But looking at the entire village, it is altogether different. The roads which were once pathways for calesas were brushed by a noisy variety of cars. Unclear air blew the culture away.

It looked as if I was drowned into a sea of dirt. Coming out of the village, it seemed like I was breathing normally. Just adjacent to the village wass a land on which a high-rise condominium was about to unfold. A little mall was located just a stone throw’s away from the village.Then there was SM San Lazaro.

Manila is a city with different faces – one a fading face of the past, one a coping face of the present, and the other a sophisticated face looking at the future.

From that area around the village I called Espana, we reached Roxas Boulevard. It was very nearly the same as Makati City, the country’s biggest financial district. Hotels that almost touched the sky rose on the sides of the rather smooth-sailing road. It is where tourists, and travelers, lodge. I missed Manila, and I must admit that there are more to explore in my next visit.

Midst the array of vehicles, including ours, I was happy to see spots of old kalesas mingling with the cars along the boulevard. The only difference was that, the passengers were Filipinos with Chinese blood.

Museong Pambata. The old and new building of National Museum. The Post Office Building. The Department of Finance. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. The Manila Bay.

The kalesas were gone this time. It was two days before Valentine’s day. On the Manila Baywalk area, Saturday afternoon was a time for rest and relaxation. Watching the sun set repeatedly over weeks was untiring. If not lovers, there were families, there were old couples, there were street children, and there were lonesome ones. The many faces of Manila, I am happy once again, could meet at one point.

The statue of American soldiers with fingers pointing at the bay, the other holding the binoculars.

The Manila Yacht Club. The odd-looking architecture of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The Folk Arts Theater. I saw a glimpse of Star City.

In a few moments, we are in another confusing state, that is, Mall of Asia. It’s the mall of Asia, not our mall, the Mall of the Philippines. It bears not the name of the country but of the continent. I was afraid to land on this islet.

An islet of many faces, literally. White-colored faces, brown-colored, yellow-colored, pale.

It is like a closed book, closed for every Filipino to see.

The road to the Fireworks display is even more chaotic, it is the end. Audiences would sit at the edge of the baywalk and watch the barges launch fireworks from the far end. Foreign fireworks bringing happiness to the country.

We bought the Gold tickets (a privilege given to Charlie by Willy Wonka). The Gold tickets were next to the Patron seats and to the VIPs. There were many steel fences before the area where holders of the Golden tickets can sit (on the extreme end of the baywalk/seaside). Silver, Gold, VIPs, and Patron. You see the social construction.

***

Last Friday, my friends and I talked and implied in it societal differences. It is elections day in the University a few days from now. Again, myriad of faces. You are unsure who are real and who are not. Image-building. Trickery. And questions of consistency.

***

I miss Manila.

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