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! 

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  1. I can only imagine how the traffic is like in Manila. My Mom visited last year and she said it was horrible. You spend hours just stuck in traffic.

    I have no plans of ever staying in Manila when I go back. I will only use it for transit. I plan to stay outside of it or in Bicol. I find Manila too stifling. There is barely any greenery. No fresh air. I like the life in the provinces where you can have fresh air, lots of space, and fresh food/seafood.

  2. I had a similar experience with Bucharest till a few years ago. I loved everything about it, including the crazy traffic, the hours spent getting from one place to another, the hectic job, the stress, and trying out new things with my friends. After ten years, I moved to my home town, and everything is withing walking distance or a 10 minute drive. I did not settle yet though, there’s so much I want to explore, and I think I want to live in a few other places before I decide which is best. But I tend to go for a place near a big city rather than living in the big city itself.

  3. I think cities like Manila are hard to love and always a challenge. You can fall in and out of love easily in places like that. If I was heading to the Philippines, I would probably skirt around Manila to hit the provinces for some more quiet time.

  4. Have you ever heard the song “You are a Tourist” by Death Cab for Cutie? It’s basically this article wrapped up in a song! I think that home is almost always home, even for those of us who lust after travel and adventure.

  5. There’s always something about the places we once loved and I think a lot of that has to do with the time we spent there and who we are now. You’re not the same person you once were and home means something different now that you’ve been on your own for a while. It’s great to recognize.

  6. Trisha, I can totally relate to this post! I have fallen out of love with my hometown, even though it is not a huge city. Still it has evolved into a place I don’t care for that much anymore. Some of the growth is good, but most times I feel like through my own evolution as a human being, I no longer fit with the people of this community. So glad my travels frequently carry me away . . . .

  7. Wow, what an unusual post .) Phil. is def. on my list though I am not sure if I will visit Manila. I think, I will visit for a day or two. Sometimes, feelings and preferences change, the older you get the more you change. Still wondering what made you change your mind so much… 🙂

  8. My husband, daughter and I spent 3 months in Manila in 2015, and I do understand your sentiments although we, really enjoyed ourselves. Andrew and I are both Filipino and born in Manila but he immigrated to the U.S. when he was 4 and I was 10. This was the first time we visited our families so we enjoyed all their hospitality and catching up with them. However, I heard all their complaints about living in Manila, especially that CRAZY traffic, it’s just insane. So I think they can relate to you.

  9. A beautifully story of life transformations 🙂
    I’ve never been to Manila, but all my friends say it’s a place better skipped 🙂

  10. It is always like this, we liked something or somewhere in the past, but traveling lead us to another person and our feeling is not the same anymore.

  11. I have been to Manila twice and well, there was some charm in its chaos. The tuk-tuks, the markets, the packed metros, I felt it was like any other crowded city.

  12. I hear a lot of mixed reviews about Manila. I haven’t gone yet but despite the negativity, I still need to check it out for myself! At least you gave it a good chance 😉

  13. Oh Trisha…I can relate to you 100%. I grew up in Manila and tried to get away all the time. Growing up, weekends were spent going to any near by beach or mountain just to escape. After working in the city for 3 years, I decided that it wasn’t doing my well being any good. I left almost 6 years ago and have since made so many places “home”….including my backpack! It’s nice to visit and see family and friends but it’s just a place that I no longer relate to.

  14. I cannot blame you at all. I fucking hate Manila. HATE. With extreme passion. I lived there for a year when I moved fresh from Las Vegas and I thought I loved it then. Today, I dread having to go there every single time. Of all the sketchy places I’ve been, Manila is the one I trust the least. I get lied to, ripped off, and played by the city itself a lot more than everywhere I’ve been. Glad you’re moving on from it too. You deserve better, xox.

  15. What a perfect way to break up with a city that meant so much to you at one time. Just like all relationships which change over time – that one place will always be special to you even now you have outgrown it. Enjoy your new found rejuvenation for your home town and enjoy the peace and quiet for a while 🙂

  16. i can relate to this so much! i used to love manila also before dyan ako ngbabakasyon every summer break when i was younger but when i got older i dont want to have vacation anymore even if its means i will not be with my mother and father anymore because they worked there. i just asked them kau nlng umuwi ng pampanga.. and when i started working here in pampanga my company is in pasig weekly i have to report there so weekly i will struggle for mylife just to hop in mrt and when going home i have to endure the trafick in edsa.. i also wonder where did all this people came from what do they like in manila… i see people playing with their phones will in mrt listening to music or talking with someone not minding the situation.. i can see them smile and me struggling for my breath…and i realized sanay na sanay na cguro sila.. or tinitiis ung ganong sitwasyon kz nandun ung mataas na sweldo and easy life i think?

  17. When I was a kid, I always dream of a big city to live in. Moved and somehow made my dreams come true.

    This made me cry, literally. I felt every word in it. I don’t know but I wanna break up too with Manila. I want to go back to my ex-love | CAGAYAN VALLEY. I miss changing curtains in my old house, laughing and eating with my guys. How I missed them so much.

  18. I think the ‘super-cities’ have a strange pull which draws people in. I’m not convinced it’s entirely natural for millions of people to live in such close proximity to one another, whether it’s Manila, London, or Athens (where I live now).

  19. I think the same thing applies to destinations as it does with anything in life; things (people, places, etc) come into our lives when we need them most, and they serve a purpose for the time that we need them in our lives. But there always comes a time to move on, and let go, to move on to the next stage in our lives. I like to remember the people and places that have made an impact on a certain stage in my life for the good times that I had, but accept that I’m now ready to start the next chapter with a blank slate 🙂

  20. Its always sad to lose the love for a city but at the same time its wonderful to discover others. Its great that you’ve let go of one that used to be important to you. Time to move on to places that speak to who you’ve grown to be 🙂

  21. It sounds like you are at a point and ready to move on. You had a nice long love affair, but it’s okay to call it quits. Another city will capture your heart soon enough.

  22. San Francisco made me feel at home. I went back twice to San Francisco. Although, true it may be. When I went back home to Japan last June 2015, I told myself I am not coming back to Manila anymore. After a week staying in Japan, I went back to the Philippines. I had the feeling that I needed to do something for Manila. They say if you love it you will try to make it work. I am currently helping Manila right now. I am at the verge of giving up but something is telling me that I can do something. I hope even if you are all the way in Subic in your comfort zone you will be able to help contribute to helping Manila. After all we will all be affected if something happens in every part of the Philippines. 🙂

    Keep traveling because it makes us aware of things and it contributes to our personality.

    Cheers to more travels for us. Keep safe all the time. ?

  23. Hello Trisha! I love this post and I can relate. I was born and raised in Manila and I was even planning on getting an apartment deep in the city until I was given the option to move to Pampanga for work. I took the opportunity and gave it a try and it’s the best decision I’ve made so far. It was a struggle at first. Where to go after work, no cab, no Uber, no Cubao Expo-ish places to hangout (I’m in San Fernando) but I was surprised at how it actually feels less stressful and I was able to do a lot of the things I wasn’t able to do before because Manila had so much to offer that it made me into one busy bee. I’m an old soul trapped in a young body now. I sleep early, get to eat healthier, had time to read, to write, to learn how to cook, and the best part of it all is I will never be stressed with commuting anymore. Even when I’m attending an event or seminar in Manila, same with your case… I prefer going back home at my own place in Pampanga just because it’s more peaceful here. I’m also getting married soon and I’m glad my fiance is planning on moving way up north… Subic din (hopefully this plan won’t change). 😀


  24. Such a wonderfully written heartfelt piece. I too feel your pain. Am now making more effort in trying to just sweep my anger with Manila under the rug, as my work is here. The occasional trips out are being made more often, just to regain a bit of sanity and peace.
    I am glad that you are making the most of your youth, and am happy that you are discovering the world 🙂 be well .

  25. I can relate to this article so much, I grew up in Manila, but never loved it the way i fell in love with LA. From the first trip as a fifteen year old to LA i knew I was going to make it out here someday. I knew that Manila could only do so much for me. I don’t regret the time I spent in Manila at all, as it did teach me and a lot of things. But LA was the city I learned how to love myself in, it was the city I learned how to be myself unapologetically, and the city where I’ve always had the freedom to be myself and be embraced by people around me. Unfortunately my childhood in manila wasn’t all the best, and it was full of racist comments and just endless “you’re so different” type of conversations. It was only during my last two years where i realized I didn’t belong with people my age but people much older than me which is how I learned to slowly embrace manila. However Manila as much as part of me does love it will never be my first love. That’s a spot LA will always hold for me.

  26. Shallow thinking! have you considered the fact that majority of those people who dream of moving to the big city are hoping (emphasis right there), hoping to turn their lives around? That is not uncommon, dude! Unfortunately, not all dreams come true. It is not a fantasy, it is a reality in case you didn’t see that. Respect those unfortunate souls whose dream in Manila did not work out good! Why do you think there was an exodus of immigrants from South America to the United States? It was for the same reasons, that’s a “no-brainer.” You breaking up w/ Manila because it broke your heart? You’re a quitter! If you want to dream, dream on! Pursue it where you will find success in it. Do not discourage others who are dreaming better or bigger in Manila. They might come out winners, unlike you!
    And a piece of advice, never leave a bad mark anywhere, it will stink wherever you go. Be an optimist, even for a place you share frustration about. There are more positives that you can focus on in Manila. You are just not looking hard!

    1. Hi Gilbert!

      Thanks for taking time to write your thoughts. I have so much respect for you for being honest! Not a lot of people do that. However, to each his own. We are entitled to our own opinions as there are no right or wrong thoughts. They are just thoughts. Glad things are working out for you in Manila! Good luck with all your endeavours. Xx

  27. Thank you for writing this. A lot of people can relate to this feeling. The first time I went to Metro Manila to find work, I immediately sensed the upbeat and distinct energy of the place and people, as I’ve never experienced before in my hometown. As the premier city, it attracted many talented people especially those millennials who are just beginning to taste what real life is.

    On the other hand, all types of people keep flocking the city making it less and less livable as population grows. Beggars keep coming, city streets and air becomes dirtier, and worsening traffic and transportation. I feel bothered on how the city seems getting worse and worse.

    Most especially, sometimes I feel sad for all of us young professionals who work and live with all the shit going on around us. The government don’t even bother maintaining a more decent environment with proper control. Time will come for the millennial generation to take over this country and I just hope we make it a better place where people will fall in love with Manila again. Should we forever endure and keep silent?

    I just hope for us to hold on the dreams we once had living this current scene they called “reality.”

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

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