Manila, My Manila

I have spent my impressionable years in Manila, so there are images of the city that are forever etched in my mind. However, being away for long, those images of the city when I was growing up, may not be the same anymore.

Here are the images of the current Manila that I have witnessed, during my last visit home:

There are constructions everywhere I look. The old neighborhood has been changed with high-rise buildings and condominium complexes. This has altered the landscape of the city I used to know. You may argue that this is a sign of progress. Or is it?

Here is a ghostly image of the Manila skyline in the morning haze. Or in a more blunt term, in the polluted morning smog.

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Even the bay area looks different. For one, with all the land reclamation projects, the sea has been pushed farther and farther away.

Believe it or not, this is Manila Bay. It looks pristine and inviting, at least from the distance. Though I wouldn’t dare take a dip on it still.

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Many of the roads and passageways I used to go to, also looks different. Of course the traffic is the same if not even worse. But instead of posting a gnarled-up traffic scene, I decided to post a picture of a widely open road for a change. It is more refreshing, isn’t it?

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Even my old stomping ground, shows signs of progress. Here is the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) station in front of SM City Santa Mesa. This mall, which is formerly known as SM Centerpoint, had just opened when I was in college. Having lived near Santa Mesa, I frequented this place a lot, though the MRT was not there yet at that time.IMG_1606

I got to experience to ride the MRT and the LRT during my last visit, which I believe is the best way to travel through the metro, as it is faster and mostly unaffected by the unpredictable Manila traffic. The trains can be very crowded though, especially during rush hours, that you can almost exchange faces with the passengers beside you.

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Of course, I also rode the jeepney, and the tricycle once again, not just for the nostalgic feel, but that’s the only way of transportation where I needed to go.

I also visited places that have been a fond memory of my youth, like the Rizal Park or also known as Luneta. (See previous post about Luneta here.) Here’s the new dancing fountain of Luneta.IMG_1843

Even the more than 400 year-old university where I spent my college and medical school years looks different. Here’s the “new” look of the University of Santo Tomas.

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With all the new swanky shopping malls and eateries, there are even places in the metro that are pictures of opulence. Here’s a nice restaurant where my classmate from high school brought my wife and I out.

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Even old establishments have been updated and improved. Here is the lobby of the Sofitel Manila, which was used to be known as Philippine Plaza.

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It was in one of the ballrooms of this hotel that was converted into a testing center, where I took the United States Medical Licensure Exam (USMLE), about 20 years ago. Passing it was my ticket in obtaining post-graduate training in the US.

With the seeming images of changes, progress, and even luxury, it is hard to ignore the solemn part, that some facts have never changed. Like the state of the poor in the city.

Here is a scene I used to know, and sadly to say, still very much exists. If you note, the shanties are quite a stark contrast to the tall buildings in the distance in this photo.

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Among all the changes that I have seen, there is one thing that has not changed for me. Even after years of living abroad, Manila will always be considered my home, for here is where my heart is. 

Here is the paramount image of Manila for me: the street where I grew up in. This is where the dream started.

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I may have lived in many places after I left the city, and I don’t know where else will this life’s journey will take me, but I will always be the boy from Manila.

Luneta, Cradle of my Childhood

(The following article was published in Manila Standard Today, June 6, 2011. This is an English version of my earlier post, “Alaala ng Luneta.”)

I read a few weeks ago from a blogger that Rizal Park, better known to me as Luneta, is being renovated and updated. This is in time for the celebration of Jose Rizal’s 150th birthday. (Rizal is old indeed, but his relevance never fades.) Included in the project is building a boardwalk in the relief map, and re-opening of the dancing fountain. It is good that this park received some face lift, as it has been left in the dark ages for some time.

The blogger also posted some pictures of Rizal Park, then and now. Suddenly a flood of memories of this place came upon me.

Luneta was not just a national park that my family frequented. This place has a deeper meaning for me. I know it is the death place of our national hero, but it is also the fount of our living.

My father was a certified public accountant and he became an employee of the National Parks Development Committee. This agency was in charge of running the affairs of the park. Its office was right at the heart of Luneta, near the Tourism building. Here, my father served as an accountant for about 20 years, later becoming its chief accountant. His work there provided for our shelter, put food on our table, and sent us to school.

Countless times did we go there, not just to visit our dad, but also to jaunt in the park. I knew Luneta even when I was very young and barely speaking. My mother told me that when I see the park’s landmarks, I will scream: “Uneta na, Uneta na! I spent many hours in its playground – running, swinging, see-sawing, sliding, and climbing the big shoe, the big hippo, and other playground structures. Even when I was in high school, I still visited the playground. No, not to ride on the swing but on bump cars, and to play space invaders in its arcade.

We also spent numerous times in the breakwater at the back of Quirino Grandstand. Here we inhaled fresh sea breeze (or fresh ship fumes?), and played while eating Magnolia drumstick or pinipig crunch. There were also many instances that we stayed until dusk to witness the magnificent Manila Bay sunset.

It was also in one of the swings near the grandstand where I attempted to fly. While my father was pushing me in the swing, I abruptly released my grip and jumped. Yes, I momentarily floated in the air, but also rapidly plunged back to the ground face first. My heart had burst in sadness as my flight was unsuccessful. My lips also had burst open and I had to be rushed to a nearby clinic to have my wound sutured. So you think Rizal was the only one who shed blood in Bagumbayan?

We also passed long hours idling in the lagoon of the dancing fountain, Japanese garden, and Chinese garden. I remember my father would take me at dawn on weekends when I was young, and we would jog around the park. We also saw people practicing tai-chi and eskrima, but we did not join them. And even though I almost passed out from exhaustion, those where one of my sweetest memories.

My sisters and I also skated several times in the skating rink at the water globe there. There were lots of skillful skaters in that rink (I wasn’t one of them). Many times, I stumbled and fell in that place. I scraped my knees – also my pride and dignity.

Of course, we also visited Rizal’s monument a hundred times. It was fascinating to watch the soldiers march around, especially during the changing of the guards. At one time, during my high school days, we stood and paraded in front of that monument in our fatigue uniform as CAT (Citizens’ Army Training) cadets, honored and pledged respect to Rizal. It was also under the shadow of Rizal’s statue that my parents taught me about patriotism and heroism. Rizal became my favorite hero.

After my father’s early death, our visit to Rizal Park had become rare. A few months after his passing, I was still in college then, my mother, due to loneliness, asked me to take her at the breakwater at the back of grandstand. There, we both gazed longingly far into the ocean. But we only caught glimpses of troubled waves and cloudy skies, for we could not view what our future would be.

More years passed. After I finished my studies, I went back there with my then-girlfriend (now my wife). As Rico Puno put it: “namamasyal pa sa Luneta, na walang pera.” Here, while we watched the sinking sun and the floating trash of Manila Bay, we let our dreams sailed into the west across the ocean, where the sun elopes and the light hides.

In 2008, after many years of living in the west, I went back to the land of my birth. One place that I re-visited was Rizal Park. With my wife, children, mother and sisters, we again toured the place that we loved.

We went to the newly opened Manila Ocean Park at the back of the grandstand. Truly, it was beautiful and can be compared to other nation’s top aquariums. My kids and I also rode a kalesa and went around Luneta, which made them happy. I made the kutsero happy too after I handed him our fare.

The water globe and skating rink were gone, the map was in bad shape, and the fountain was not dancing anymore. It seemed that only the carabao and Rizal had not changed.

I reverently approached my hero’s monument. Even though he had no more sentries, he still remained there standing, watching the world around him. I again humbly paid him my respect, and penitently whispered the reason I left him.

Alaala ng Luneta

Noong nakaraang araw ay aking nabasa mula sa isang blogger, na pinagaganda ang Rizal Park, o mas kilalang Luneta sa akin. Ito’y para sa selebrasyon ng ika-150 kaarawan ni Gat Jose Rizal sa darating na Hunyo, 2011. (Totoong matanda na si Rizal, subali’t ang kanyang mga pananaw ay naaangkop pa rin sa panahon.)

Kasama sa mga proyekto ay ang pag-lalagay ng boardwalk sa malaking mapa ng Pilipinas na naroon, at pag-bubukas muli ng mas pinabuting dancing fountain. Salamat naman, sapagka’t matagal-tagal na rin nakatiwangwang at napag-iwanan na ng pag-unlad ang Luneta.

Ipinakita rin ng blogger na ito ang mga larawan ng Rizal Park, noon at ngayon. Biglang bumaha sa aking isipan ang mga ala-ala ko sa lugar na ito………

dancing fountain at Rizal Park, circa 1970’s

(image from here)

Ang Luneta ay hindi lamang isang pambansang likasan na madalas naming pasyalan noon. May mas malalim pa itong kahulugan para sa akin. Oo nga’t dito nagbuwis at nawalan ng buhay ang ating mahal na bayani, ngunit dito rin nagmula ang aming ikinabuhay.

Ang aking ama ay CPA at siya ay  naging empleyado ng National Parks Development Committee (NPDC). Ang NPDC ang namamahala sa pagpapatakbo ng Rizal Park, at ang kanilang opisina ay naroon mismo sa Luneta, sa tabi ng Tourism building. Dito siya naglingkod ng mahigit dalawampung taon bilang chief accountant, at nang malaon ay chief financial officer, hanggang sa kanyang biglaang pagpanaw. Ang trabaho ng aking ama sa Rizal Park ang nagpakain, nagpalaki, at nagpa-aral sa amin.

Madalas kaming lumalagi sa Luneta para dalawin ang aking tatay at para na rin mamasyal. Bago pa lamang ako magsalita ay kilala ko na ang Luneta. Sabi ng aking nanay, kapag nakikita ko na ang mga landmarks nito ay sisigaw na ako ng “Uneta na, Uneta na!” (Luneta, at hindi puneta ang aking sinisigaw.) Maraming oras din ang aking iginugol sa playground doon – tumatakbo, nagswi-swing, nag-papadulas sa mataas na slides, at umaakyat sa malaking sapatos, sa malaking hippopotamus at kung saan-saan pa. Kahit noong high school na ako ay pumupunta pa rin ako dito, hindi para mag-seesaw o mag-swing, kundi para sumakay sa bumpcars at maglaro ng space invaders sa kanilang arcade.

Malimit din kaming namamasyal sa may breakwater sa likod ng Quirino Grandstand. Dito kami lumalanghap ng sariwang hangin ng Manila Bay (o sariwang usok ng mga bapor?) at naglalaro doon habang kumakain ng Magnolia popsicles o pinipig crunch. Maraming beses din kaming inaabutan ng takipsilim doon, upang saksihan ang kahanga-hangang Manila Bay sunset.

Doon din sa isang swing malapit sa grandstand kung saan ko tinangkang lumipad. Habang tinutulak ako sa swing ng aking tatay, ay bigla akong bumitaw at tumalon mula sa duyan. Oo nga at panandalian akong pumailanglang, ngunit mabilis din akong lumagapak sa lupa at sumubsob ang mukha. Nabiyak ang aking puso sa lungkot dahil hindi naging tagumpay ang aking paglipad. Nabiyak din ang aking nguso, at ako’y itinakbo sa clinic doon sa Rizal Park para tahiin ang aking nakangangang sugat. Kaya dumanak din ang aking dugo doon sa Bagumbayan – gapatak nga lang at hindi tulad ng ating bayani.

Madalas din kaming tumambay sa dancing fountain, sa Japanese garden, sa Chinese garden, sa open air amphitheater at nakinig sa libreng “Concert at the Park”. Naalala ko nang ako’y maliit pa, ay sinasama ako ng aking tatay ng madaling araw upang mag-jogging sa palibot-libot doon sa park, bago pa sumikat ang araw. Nakikita ko rin ang mga nagta-tai-chi at nag-e-eskrima doon, pero hindi kami nakisali sa kanila. Kahit pa hapong-hapo at halos tumirik ang aking mata sa pagod, ay isa ito sa masasayang alaala ko.

Mga ilang beses din kaming nag-skating ng aking mga kapatid sa skating rink na nasa water globe doon sa Rizal Park. Maraming mahuhusay na skaters doon (hindi ako kasama dun). Maraming beses din akong nabuwal at sumemplang sa lugar na iyon, kung saan hindi lang tuhod ang nagasgas, kundi ang aking yabang at dangal.

Rizal Monument, circa 1980’s

(image from here)

At siyempre pa, madalas din naming binibista ang monumento ni Rizal, na naging paboritong kong bayani. Nakakaaliw na saksihan ang pagmamarcha ng mga sundalong bantay, lalo na pag-nagpapalit na ng guwardiya. Minsan, noong ako’y nasa high school, ay tumayo at pumarada kami sa harap ng rebulto ni Rizal, habang naka-fatigue uniform bilang CAT (Citizen Army Training), upang magbigay galang. Dito rin sa harap ng monumentong ito, kung saan ipinamulat sa akin ng aking mga magulang ang kagitingan ng ating pambansang bayani.

Noong kami’y nag-aaral  pa (sa Pasay ako nag-elementarya at highschool), ay halos araw-araw kaming nasa Rizal Park. Dinadaanan namin ang aming tatay sa kaniyang opisina, at sabay-sabay na kaming uuwi sa aming bahay sa Sampaloc, mula roon. Ngunit nang namatay na aking ama ay naging madalang na ang aming pagpunta sa Luneta.

Mga ilang buwan pagkamatay ng aking ama, ako’y nasa unang taon ng medical school noon, nang sa aming kalungkutan ay humiling ang aking ina na dalhin ko siya sa breakwater sa likod ng Grandstand sa Luneta. Doon kami ay tumanaw ng malayo sa malawak na dagat. Ngunit mga ligalig na alon at makulimlim na langit lang ang aming nakita, dahil hindi namin matanaw kung ano ang bukas na naghihintay sa amin.

Dumaan pa ang mga taon, nang ako ay makatapos na, pumasyal muli ako sa Rizal Park kasama ng aking girlfriend (na ngayon ay misis ko na). Ika nga ni Rico J. Puno: “namamasyal pa sa Luneta, na walang pera.” Dito, isang dapit-hapon kami ay nangarap, habang nakatunghay sa lumulubog na araw, at sa mga lumulutang na basura ng Manila Bay. Pinaglayag namin ang aming mga panaginip sa buhay, patungo sa kabilang ibayo ng dagat, kung saan nagtatanan at nagtatago ang liwanag.

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Noong 2008, pagkalipas ng mahabang panahon at paninirahan sa kanluran, ay muli akong nakabalik sa lupang sinilangan. Isa sa lugar na aking muling dinalaw ay ang Rizal Park. Kasama ng aking asawa at mga anak, pati ng aking nanay at mga kapatid, ay muli kaming nagliwaliw sa lugar na napamahal sa amin.

Pinasok namin ang bagong tayong Manila Ocean Park doon sa likod ng Quirino grandstand. Tunay naman na maganda at hindi pahuhuli ang aquarium na ito sa mga aquarium sa ibang bansa. Sumakay din kami sa kalesa ng aking mga anak upang libutin ang Luneta, na talaga namang ikinasiya nila. Naging masaya rin ‘yung kutsero, matapos kung iabot ang aming bayad.

Wala na pala ‘yung water globe at skating rink, kundi ay rebulto na ni Lapu-lapu ang nakatirik doon. Wala na rin ang malaking relo na halaman (Rado flower clock). Tuyo at sira-sira na ang malaking mapa ng Pilipinas. Hindi na sumasayaw ang dancing fountain. Ang kalabaw at si Rizal na lang yata ang hindi nagbabago at hindi umaalis sa Luneta.

(photo from internet)

Mataimtim kong linapitan ang monumento ng aking bayani. Kahit wala nang mga sundalong nagbabantay dito, ay nanatili pa rin itong nakatindig, nagmamasid sa mundong paligid. Muli akong nagbigay galang…….. at mapakumbabang ibinulong sa kanya, kung bakit ko siya nilisan.

(*An English version of this article was published in Manila Standard Today)