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Manila, I’m breaking up with you. It’s not me, it’s you

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! 

 

two + nine =

Angeline

Monday 8th of October 2018

Exact same words that I kept on searching just to describe the relationship I have with Manila. Maybe all innocent folks that came from the province found a safe haven in this city to escape the usual routine back home yet we still found ourselves crawling back to the peaceful zen life place we had. I’ve been an avid follower of your words when I was in my first years of college in this city and those were the days that I finally found someone that could fully express everything I felt in words. Someone I get connected to even without knowing personally. Years flew by, I got busy with school works and forgot about your amazing works. Now as I re-read your blog posts the bizarre feeling of being a free spirited in me has been enlightened with my previous outlooks in life.

Myra Thea J. Salas

Monday 21st of May 2018

Hi, I read your article year 2018. I have lived almost half my life in Manila, 19 years to be exact. I moved here from Iloilo City to start college, then I went to pastry school and eventually started to work here. I love Manila, and like you, it molded me to the person I am today. It taught me to be independent, to be confident. I adapted easily to the night life, busy work days, smelling pollution, shopping and shopped big, eating at very good restaurants... But lately, I felt something missing. I love my work a lot (it is my dream job) and I am blessed being exposed to things provincial cities can't relate but deep inside, I am not happy. Everytime I go home to Iloilo nowadays, I feel so happy and contented and I love the slow pace of life there. That is what I want... Like you, I eventually fall out of love with Manila. Its pressure-driven and competent environment tires me out already. I am working my way around my work and my life and slowly transition to moving back to Iloilo. It scares me a lot to go back since it is a big change in my life. But I think it is for the better. Your article really helped me. Thank you.

Ji

Sunday 14th of May 2017

For the 16yrs I have lived in the Philippines, I have never liked Manila. I am sorry to all the Manila-lovers. But I just can't. Too much traffic. I always asked my foreign friends why they booked a flight to Manila. What they do there. I don't know. Cebu, Davao, Bohol, Siargao, Vigan - they were adorable. But I can't say the same for Manila though. :/

A city - or island that made me feel at home? Nusa Penida island of Indonesia. ❤ I felt way better there than Bali.

Lester.

Friday 31st of March 2017

I once read an article that says "I have learned to love Manila when I left her."

Manila may not be the dream city many of us think of. First time I saw her during a field trip when I was in third grade , I was extremely disappointed. Like finally seeing someone you look up to but failed to appreciate her, then learned to hate her. But then, you come back to her, and learn more about her. Her past. Her present. You wanna help her but you dont know how. Like you just wanna leave again and come back to her and see her condition becomes better. She may not able to give the best comfort for all of us but she is always there for most of our need. Universities. Restaurants. Airports. Business centers. Etc.

Remember when you left her for other big cities of the world? You compared her too much. You have seen how she fare in terms of beauty, sanitation, infrastractures, and culture. You wanted her to be like the other big cities with clean air and waterways, bullet trains. Etc

Sometimes you feel guilty because you tell others not to visit her because you dont want her to be criticized and hated and frowned upon because at the end of the day, you know it in your heart that you still love Manila for who she is. And wherever you will go, Manila will always have a place in your heart.

Nisha

Sunday 6th of November 2016

Looks like I have commented on every trending posts of yours. :)

Shows how frequent I am here. :)

Will & hop some more now.