Sunset at BGC, Taguig, Metro Manila.
After almost a year of living, working and travelling around Australia, I decided to return to Manila, to spend some time in the culture I was born into. Sure enough, my first few days were met with a slight shock, even though I was back earlier this year, which was surprising. I noticed instantly that the way of life in this developing country was extremely different to what I was used to. Away from the ways of the first world and into the depths of the busy streets in a South East Asian Capital city. I noticed how much louder it was here. How much more people there were and how much life ran through its busy streets like blood through my veins even in the early hours of the morning. Roars of motorbikes swooped the air as the smoke from the old jeeps exhaled into the atmosphere. Nevertheless, I endured it. I relished in the difference, the sheer contrast of my situation compared prior to my arrival. I used to notice the heat when I previously visited but this time, the temperature barely grazed my skin. I was more attuned to the lights of the never ending stream of vehicles. The huge modern buildings right next to the shanty huts dotted all over the place. The tricycle ranks, with drivers constantly coming and going, chewing up and spitting out new passengers every waking minute. The smell of the markets and street food stalls all moulded into one which touches all the senses. You see, no matter how shocked I was at first, not once did I wince, nor complain about the life that breathed through Manila. Its raw and uncensored charm touched a certain part of my soul which in turn, made me connect with it and see this city for what it truly is. A city of people doing there best to get by, no matter what circumstances they’ve been born into. A city unscathed by the harsh realities of life as it is in itself the harsh reality that people face everyday. A city of strong willed civilians, ready to fight the next storm, and take on the day with their heads up high yet most the time are humble enough towards each other, symbiotically helping one another to get to where they need to be.
An ice cream man walking along the streets.
A filipina child going to school.
My family in The Philippines aren’t in poverty nor are they exceptionally rich. They are your average, working class heroes, doing enough to put food on the table for their families and save some money in between for emergencies. Most of my cousins have finished university and have decent jobs. Yet I can’t help but notice the disparity of this city. The margins between the rich and the poor are so wide that it makes you wonder how it is even possible for this to be. I stayed in an AirBnB in BGC for a few nights, a developed part of Metro Manila, and noticed this difference even more. Huge modern buildings, with well paved roads and running water. A studio room for one person on the 18th floor. You drive out of this area and you will have the same studio room for one, except it won’t be for one, it would be for a whole family, surrounded by streets of potholes. Some living in wooden houses by a heavily polluted river or train tracks, with stray dogs running in packs, eating the left overs the city has spat out. I’m not here to preach change nor am I here to give an opinion. I’m merely stating what I’ve seen and how heartbreaking it is for me to see. Especially as I was born in this city but was taken to England and had been given a completely different life. What would it have been like had my parents not chosen to go abroad?
This could have been me. My life. I can’t ever forget that. Maybe that’s why I feel such a deep connection with this place. A part of me cannot let that idea go and I take joy in that. Some people feel that they are above the other citizens just because they managed to go abroad or even made it to the rich parts. The people that feel they have more of a right than others just because they are driving Mustangs in a country where there are children running around the streets, knocking on car windows asking for change during the heavy traffic. But not me. Rich or poor, I see you for who you are. A human being just trying to get by in a city that has been neglected by its guardians.
Most of the time, I tell other travellers to steer clear of Manila in fear that they wouldn’t understand its charm, I see now that this is unfair. I understand that my view of Manila is different from that of other travellers. This was my home. My forgotten home before any homes. There are so many beautiful and safe places for travellers to stay here. In places such as Taguig, Makati, Pasig which offer historical tours and sight seeings. Places which are closer to the first world’s take on life. But that is not my experience of Manila. Hence why I find it hard to recommend this place to other travellers, because deep down I want them to see how I see it. How I’ve experienced it as an ex-local, coming back to see it differently. To see and feel it’s raw beauty that some might not be able to handle.
A street in Valenzuela.