I don’t know if you will like Manila. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a dirty, chaotic, third world city. The streets are filled with grime and potholes. The people push past you or stay grounded when you try to make your way as you whisper excuses. But I still love it here. I fell in love with it as a kid when my father first brought us back for a visit.
We had lived in my grandmother’s marbled, three-story house. The house was a beautiful mid century modern piece of architecture – designed and built by my architect grandfather. The stairs and walls were made of concrete and narra wood, with spaces well divided. The upper floors were for our rooms and a roof top. The main floor housed the living room, a small library, a maid’s quarters, bathroom, the kitchen and my grandfather’s office. I especially loved playing in my grandfather’s office- looking at blueprints and pretending to be the secretary, sometimes accidentally dialling people through the intercom.
In the center of the living room was the piano my grandmother loved to play. There’s a glass door that opens through the garden. My cousin once told me that the huge tree in the garden was inhabited by spirits and if you made a wish it would come true. My cousin had apparently befriended a dwarf who also possessed magical powers. I remember once fervently praying that news of my father’s death were false. That he would come back alive.
But like Manila, the house deteriorated. First, with the crumbling of my grandparents’ marriage decades before I was born and then, the death of my father followed by my grandmother’s. Still, I loved coming back to it. There is a certain scent that reminds me of the old house, a scent I only describe as “the scent of the 70s.” It must have been the nostalgia of afternoons spent with puppies in the garden or lounging on my grandma’s rust coloured couch, as she watched her soap operas on her old TV-set. There was also the regular Sunday family lunches. My cousins and I were close in age and the house was always filled with screaming kids, running amock with ice cream on our faces.
So you must understand that my love for Manila is brought about by the nostalgia of my childhood memories.
I think I was four, and yet I still remember waking up from that particular dream of clowns chasing me, and hearing a plane soar over our house. When I opened my eyes I saw my father shaking his head – I had wet my bed. I remember my grandfather visiting my Lola. I could hear raised voices and hands slamming down the table while my cousins and I hid upstairs, trying our best to listen in.
On happier days, my father would bring us to places – his friends’ cozy apartment with a stoop leading to an incandescently lit narrow staircase, there was also a house with a swimming pool where I made friends with kids I probably eventually met in university, and the train on EDSA that seemed like it was from a film noir.
When we left I’ve always wondered how it would be to live and breathe those memories, to sink my roots into this decaying city. Those what if’s led me to build my life towards it even through the maze of places I’ve been. I always knew I would come back to Manila with its dusty, flickering neon lights and sounds of heavy machinery.
Now here I am – I can’t step foot into my grandmother’s home anymore but some days I can still smell the scent of the 70s, some days I look around my old cramped rented room, with its similar architecture and see the same hues as that day I dreamt of clowns. I can hear the same sounds of vehicles revving and honking in the distance, even my friends’ laughter and the clinking of our beer glasses remind me of my fathers’ friends- and I feel right at home without knowing how I’ll be able to make it here.
Vancouver is beautiful, almost a representation of you – clean, quiet, picture perfect. I could live a “secure” life and be able to travel the world even with a meagre income but Manila keeps tugging at my heartstrings.
Will you see through its ugly exterior and see it the way I do? I don’t expect you to. Maybe I don’t even want you to. I really have nothing concrete to offer as reasons for leaving.
But these are the reasons why I chose to leave.
These are my reasons for choosing Manila’s uncertainties over ours.