Art by Mags Ocampo
There’s always a sense of nostalgia for places you once found some comfort in. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve stayed or lived in it; tiny parts of your identity will always be tied to it. This one is about Manila.
Across a dormitory I occupied in Concepcion for a year was a narrow shop that sold sisig rice and taught me that eating alone can actually be pretty therapeutic. Below our unit in Sampaloc, the one where I lived with my friends for the rest of university, was a place that only served breakfast all day and became a safe haven where my roommate and I would talk about our fears after graduation or sometimes eat our silogs in silence when we had too much in our own heads. There’s the intersection in Vito Cruz that always made me feel in a rush and that mobility is the only option, and then the terminal in Lawton where I’d feel fear once the clock struck 11 p.m. because I was all alone, and I would be thinking of that time I saw a man jumping from a barricade to run away from a police officer holding a gun while I sat in a jeep.
The last time I was there, Quiapo was no longer overrun by vendors in the middle of the highway. While the arguably cleaner roads may be a sight to see, you also wonder where these people have gone to make a living. The sisig shop has now turned into a siomai house, and the murals and colors of the city have changed as the one seated got replaced, and from it you begin to see the hepa lane around the U-belt diminished in number.
When news broke that Harrison Plaza will close at the end of 2019, people began to reminisce memories attached to what was once a premiere shopping complex. Some have seen it in its glorious heyday — think a regular day at the mall but at the height of Christmas rush — while for others, it was a mall barely surviving, with years of neglect etched in its walls, but trusty and short-lived vendors were always there to serve their needs. It was around for four decades, and as the metropolis became more commercialized, similar places to it might then be just mere stories to tell in the next few years.
It’s not always the new malls, convenience stores, laundromats in the streets, or condos along the horizon that distinguishes Manila from the city you once knew, but the lack of the presence of the people you’ve shared it with that leaves an odd feeling.
But it’s not always the new malls, convenience stores, laundromats in the streets, or condos along the horizon that distinguishes Manila from the city you once knew, but the lack of the presence of the people you’ve shared it with that leaves an odd feeling.
While the dirty white tiles still map the walls of the underpass, as fast food places withstand the passage of time, routes and the rides remain unchanged, and passing by Roxas Boulevard in the afternoon still tastes like a day coming to a close — the city still feels strangely occupied by a different set of people, faces I’m not familiar with in the first place, but still feel different altogether.
Nostalgia is a wormhole. It’s like growing and outgrowing, both happening at the same time. And it’s here at the core of Metro Manila where I am reminded of possibilities, idealism, and reckless youth, and the remnants of that person toward who I am today, and it only becomes more palpable when I pass by it. I never do it by choice, and most likely, romanticized versions of memories can swirl in my head especially when I’m all alone retracing steps or the traffic has settled down a bit, but whenever the chance comes up, trying to bridge the city I knew to the way it is now allows me to feel some semblance of sanity.
Nostalgia is a wormhole. It’s like growing and outgrowing, both happening at the same time.
Some spaces I used to frequent may have been replaced with new memories with new people, but others are left the way they were in my head when I was last there. Now that actual and real relationships with people come at a premium, and even if the city doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, I still hold on to it to remember.
Cities shape a part of our identity, depending on its personality. Manila can make you more aggressive and calculated, or else it will beat you in its game. You’re forced to get used to the floods, to the ugly sweat from the heat and pollution, to resorting to long walks because you’d rather move than be stuck in the traffic, and to the transportation system that doesn’t fail to remind you: changes do come slow, and sheltered as I may have been at that time because I still had a monthly allowance to spend, were it not for this city, I may have grown to be comfortable with staying put.
So when you find yourself navigating a new city — may it be for a job or school, or just the need to leave home, it’s usually the places where you’ll share and learn a thing about yourself that will stick with you in the long run. Once night falls, the cityspaces will still turn into a self-regulated organism at night, one where uncertainty creeps at each corner as the clock nears midnight and only you can fend for yourself. But we adapt, however differently: it could be through the people you’ll meet and the routines you’ll change, or it may only be when you’ve learned how to go from Point A to Point B that you’ll feel like you’re slowly learning how to get by.