Being raised in the most organised Freeport Zone in the Philippines, I grew up with the beach easily reached, without horrible traffic and a kind of cheap, tax free lifestyle. In 2004, I moved to Manila for University and I was completely terrified but learned to love the city because it made me the person who can easily adapt to any living condition(s).
I loved Manila so much that I failed to go back to my hometown. For years, I did not care if my parents were angry for being absent in all the family holidays in Subic. I always had the excuse to stay in Manila because it was my haven, my place — the shining night life perfect for a teenager full of addicting activities and friends who gave me separation anxiety.
Manila will do a lot of things to you, most especially if you are from the ‘province’. It lured me to coffee and book dates at the Fort (BGC), chronic parties that left me dancing in the club until 6am, huge shopping malls that made me spend the money I didn’t have, endless social activities in Makati: my formative years in Manila were mad. Really really mad as fuck. My life back home wasn’t close to this.
I belonged to Manila because it gave me the chance to become anyone.
From the social fashionista to a hipster writer making ends meet — I was deeply in love with it. I would take long train rides from my apartment in Katipunan to my school in Taft Avenue. I used to breathe the smoke of the city and not feel upset about it because for once in my life, this is a unique trait of Manila. The traffic was tolerable. The people always looked friendly. This wild wild city yielded my best life of being a young adult. I loved it with all my heart. I was in awe and I was proud to declare it on Facebook bio: “Lives in Manila, Philippines.”
Until one day, I realised I wasn’t inlove with Manila anymore. I looked at it as a stranger and I don’t think I still know ‘it’ anymore.
My friends who live in the city always asked why I am just staying in Subic and not visiting them in Manila. They knew I have always been a lover of this wild city. I couldn’t find the right words to answer them because I don’t really know how the love went away. For every time I visit Manila for some gigs, I will always have the urge to go back to my hometown. There was even this one time that I spoke in a school in the city and went back to Subic right after the talk. I will literally pave North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) twice in a day just to get away.
I’d stare at the unfamiliar and tall buildings at BGC; angry taxi drivers who always wanted to engage into a fight; sit down in a cab and endure hours of traffic that is equivalent to my Subic travel time. I always see the unstoppable chaos in the MRT line that makes people’s dreams of living the life they imagined dreadful. The saddest thing about it is that they are used to it. More often, it leaves me speechless. I couldn’t think. The city’s unfamiliarity slowly swallowed me. It was impossible to bring back the loving feeling I used to have for Manila. It made me angry, resentful and uncomfortable. What happened to the city I once called home? Fuck, I am writing this from an Uber ride that will cost me around Php600 ($13.00 USD) just to get to the airport from San Juan. The fare hike is a monster, too.
I cannot wait to go back to Subic and just chill. Be zen. You know, relax.
How did I get here?
I met a lot of travelers who never liked Manila even if they haven’t been. In Marrakech, an American backpacker told me he will be traveling the Philippines and skipping Manila. I told him not to, because there are a lot of things to explore in the big city. I convinced him not to listen to other travelers who talk shit about MNL. That was the time I left home to travel the world so my love for Manila was still deep. He gave it a try and cursed me in the end. He was mugged in Quiapo and didn’t have the best time. Well, okay, I am not sorry for that. But I still love Manila no matter what.
Until last October, when I came back from a 3-year backpacking spree in Latin America, I realised the American backpacker was right. Manila is shit. I got to this point because other big cities in the world loved me better. Like Buenos Aires and Barcelona. They adore me. Even if I went away, they always want me when I come back. I did not have to push myself for them to love me. It made me so sad not to feel the same way towards Manila because this city used to be my dream. I had spent so much of my childhood running away from Subic and living here. I even escaped a lot of times when I was 12 (yes, 12!) just to watch concerts that jolted my teenage rocking years. My life used to be brilliant and full of growth here.
Until it had become a stranger. It feels empty. It doesn’t make me feel alive anymore. The affair had ended.
Dear Manila, I am just keeping quiet but I never formally told you that I am not inlove with you anymore but I will always love you. I will never forget everything you’ve done for me and the way you made me happy. You created the free-spirit in me. You loved me in full package, without asking for anything in return. I will miss you, and maybe, just maybe in the future, we will have the chance to bring back the fire we used to have. For now, Subic is my home. I think it will always be.
And to all the people who is still in love with Manila, I cannot blame you but may the force be with you.
What’s the best city in the world that made you feel loved? A city you fit in perfectly? Would love to hear your thoughts!