Sunday, July 13, 2003

I love manila

No, I don’t actually have a set of maudlin but heart-breaking anecdotes about how the city has become part of me, like the skin on my back that I rarely see (unless I deliberately look).

I didn’t experience any recent senses-shattering “Road to Damascus” epiphanies nor did I have a dream where the disembodied voice of the city spoke to me (polyphonic hemidemisemiquavers – the cadence of Old Manila, the bluster of Pasig, the faraway cries for attention of Alabang), revealing secrets.

But recently my love for this city has come bubbling up from the wherever it lay dormant.

The lights of Roxas Boulevard (Dewey, when I was growing up), the exploded intestine glamour of Cubao (the old COD yuletide display abandoned forever), the growing mall-entity in Makati (devouring what was once open air, repurposing the world “glorietta” to mean under a Dyson-sphere roof), the solidly 80’s entrapped Greenhills (now to be dragged screaming by two new decades into the undecided future), the not-so-secret iniquities of Quezon City (where flesh of any orientation is always available, always).

It is huge and sprawling, messy and loud, populated beyond reason by people rushing about on their own mad or beautiful agendas. It is doomed, like a tragic hero, like a woman damned by the sins of her ancestors, by the corruption and malaise and self-interest of its servants, stewards and safekeepers. It devours its own refuse, imbibing an endless cycle of filth and hopelessness and frustration and anger – it has long since ceased to even blink at acts of violence, random or premeditated, and reads about itself in the dailies and tabloids with no remorse. It is stagnant, foul and helpless in the face of needed change.

And yet (of course there is “and yet”)…

It preserves multiple oases of wonder, clean and well-lit, green and fresh-aired. It has moments of profound silence, of immaculate emptiness – that’s where it thinks and dreams. Its cataract eyes can still see, sometimes, beyond its miserable condition and that's when the city prays – because whether we accept it or not, the city is a creature of faith. It looks up, almost blind, and prays for rain, for relief, for the ability to hope, to grow, to change. It does not wish, it cannot wish, but rather imagines with the all the dim power of its secret places how it once was, how it could it be.

I love Manila because (and this will sound absurd) it is quintessentially Filipino. Give us a typhoon that batters us half to death and immediately after we will pick ourselves up and go to market or get a haircut or go out on a date. Plant bombs and kidnap us and you will see how one of our greatest failures (and strengths) is our collective inability to understand the meaning of the word “terror” (we also think that “democracy” equals “ochlocracy”). Tell us that it will be a difficult year (worse than the year before) and we will shrug our shoulders and go Christmas shopping anyway. Tell us that we are impoverished and we will erect new malls surrounded by billboards, and in the same breath attempt to position Smoky Mountain, our renowned mountain of trash, as a tourist attraction. We understand the need for roads, weep at the uprooting of trees and do it anyway.

I love Manila because I see myself, and I am horrified, gladdened, chagrined and vindicated.

I am part of something that is impossible to contain, not even by words, which have all the power to do so.


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