No, of course I don’t like Manila
Traffic. Pollution. Overpopulation. Stress. These are just some of the words that first enter our minds when we hear the place “Manila.”
I was 20 when I started working in Manila. I was 21 when I decided to actually live in Manila. Most of my life, I had been in the province. I studied in the province, and grew up in the province. So it took me quite some time to embrace the demands of the capital.
I know a lot of people who decided to continue living their lives in the countryside. I don’t have anything against their decision. But I also know a handful of them who said they don’t feel they are growing anymore. They eat at the same places, do the same things. And most of the people who used to be with them have already chosen different paths and are now trudging the pavements of other places. When asked why they do not consider transferring to Manila, their usual response is, because they don’t like Manila.
It made me question myself. Does my staying in the city mean that I actually like it? Does my choice to leave the comforts of the rural signify that I prefer the chaos of the urban? After careful deliberation, I came up with the answer: No.
No, of course I don’t like Manila. For one, it is a polluted city. I can probably name a thousand types of pollution and find every single one of them in the city’s environment. Every time I’m out, it seems like I am going to be sick from too much dirt everywhere, too much stress from the noise of hundreds of vehicles, and too much smoke in the air.
No, of course I don’t like Manila. The traffic is literally and figuratively insane. In the province, the traffic is seasonal most of the time. For example, you can expect heavy traffic in Pansol during the summer because of the people who want to swim in the hot spring resorts. Somehow, the traffic in the provinces is tolerable, unlike in Manila where it can be too much to bear. And it happens every damn day.
No, of course I don’t like Manila. The cost of living seems to highlight how being part of the working class is never ever going to uplift my life, because my earnings will never be enough to catch up with inflation. My P500 in the province can feed me for three days with actual good food. My P500 in Manila is only good enough for the day, and that is if I choose to eat fast food or to find a carinderia. Money flies as fast here as time.
No, of course I don’t like Manila. With its bus lines longer than Rapunzel’s hair; its suffocating trains that are newsworthy not because they rival that of Japan’s, but because they malfunction faster than bullet trains; its unsettling atmosphere that requires me to always be aware of my belongings, because I don’t know if that seemingly friendly face is actually a pickpocket; its footbridges that drain my energy more than my boss does; its unfriendly roads that feel like “kamatayan” in disguise fetching me, as ruthless drivers couldn’t care less about traffic signs; its public elevators and escalators that actually never work, and passengers who do not seem to understand the difference between stand and walk; its citizens who have this weird fetish for throwing trash anywhere—and have the audacity to complain about the city’s stench.
So tell me, what is there to like?
But I guess, life is not plainly about liking this or that. More often than not, it’s not about how we like it, it’s about how we need it. And it so happens that I need Manila’s “un-likability.”
I don’t like Manila, but its polluted air somehow teaches me to take care of myself better, and to find ways to come out of it alive.
I don’t like Manila, but I need its traffic to remind me to manage my time wisely and to even test my creativity. After all, though there are plenty of things I can’t do due to traffic, there are also plenty of things I can do while stuck in it. Like, look more closely at the people outside and realize how many Filipinos live impossible lives on the streets, and feel more empathy toward them. Or I can simply read a book, watch a movie or an episode of my favorite TV series on my phone, talk to a friend, or simply sleep. My interests lie in liberal arts, theater and the humanities. Hence, because there’s nothing else I can do, I might as well use my time in traffic to do things that can help me enhance my craft and soul, rather than whine and stress myself out.
I don’t like Manila, but I need its high cost of living to make me realize how to value every centavo I earn. It also trains me to be extra resourceful, especially during “petsa de peligro” days.
I don’t like Manila, but I need its long bus lines, its malfunctioning trains, its insane crowdedness to train me to be a fighter and a survivor in a fast-paced world that thrives on competition.
I don’t like Manila, but I need Manila because it makes me appreciate home even more. There’s nothing like coming back to home-cooked meals, smiles and embraces, and sheets prepared with love after an exhausting long stay in the city.
People have different motivations to grow. We have to respect that there are individuals who don’t find growth in mountains, or in places beside the sea, but who thrive in the challenges of overcrowded sidewalks, loud cars and hulking buses, and high-rises overlooking the smoggy city lights.
Sometimes, life is not to be lived in comfort, because it is in discomfort that we come to know ourselves more.
I guess Manila is not a place one falls in love with. It’s a place one gets used to—and survives.
Alecks Ambayec, 22, is an environmental advocate by day, an aspiring actress by night. Her interests include traveling, photography and reading.
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