Bright lights of neoliberalism
I’m writing this in a city where the local politicians’ faces are larger than the advisory, occasion, or upcoming project in the street tarpaulins.
For 19 years, I’ve been living and driving with my family back and forth in the outstretch of Mandaluyong, which accustomed me to the sights of rusty blue and yellow railings, tangled electrical wires almost akin to hair, vandalism in the tunnels, and the withering tiger murals. I’m also no stranger to the city’s infamous Shaw Boulevard, where honking cars outshine the shanty homes isolated from the neon district and balding greeneries. My sisters like to joke this is our version of Shibuya and Times Square, thanks to the coffee shops and convenience stores at the intersection, with the bonus stench of the sewers to top it all off.
But these cracks mend when we step into our go-to malls in the city. There isn’t a month when we’re not in SM Megamall and Shangri-La Plaza (Shang). At the entrance, the blow of the air conditioner hitting our bodies signals a relieving atmosphere of cool indulgence from the boiling parking lot. Dad tells us to fix our postures when we join the presence of middle to upper class suburban crowds who open their recyclable or designer bags for inspection.
The overfamiliar clicking of the guard’s counter device and chattering of customers tell us that we’re about to see that glowing fore of the Uniqlo store; its bold, red sale signs inviting my mom to get a new set of trousers again. We fit our school shoes and socks at the SM department store where the salesladies’ heels click synchronously on the floor. They laugh over lunchtime gossip, their stockings unable to sheath their calloused ankles, and anxieties over their short-term contracts. But for a few hours, at least I can devour my tonkatsu and pretend to understand the luxury of the mothers with strollers and maids in pristine uniforms trailing behind them. Well, until we step back into the city. By the parking exit, we swish our crunchy National Bookstore shopping bags like rewards against our legs and meet the stiff gazes of newcomers and drivers crouching down on wheel stops, patiently taking a puff.
The mall is one of the few outdoor places that I like because of its formulaic structure that briefly comforts a sheltered homebody like me. Yet here I am, pointing out things about its unethical labor system, while a Shopee and Foodpanda notification dings. How can I reconcile the disjunct of the invisible walls of privilege borne of colonial grandeur we evade yet are part of the panoramic city?
It’s a fracture of citywide class insecurities. The travesties of industrialization are epitomized by deadlock pollution, poor urbanization, and ritualistic political dynasties. You unveil it in the downtrodden commuters lining up in the rat race of Ortigas station, making it to the headlines about the transportation crisis. You unbury it in the sweaty middle-aged street sweepers clad in “gawa hindi salita” long-sleeved shirts and straw hats, legs propped on tricycle stops, setting aside their dustpans made from paint buckets. You hear it in the street children who knock on your car window in the underpass, with sampaguita wrapped around their frail arms.
Amidst the well-known dread of Mandaluyong, I’ve also had worthwhile memories of it. My old best friend in our old condominium, Sanrio stationery, my second home which is my grandmother’s house, the local parish kids I unwittingly came to love despite not being fond of children and religious school work, having haircuts at the downtown barber shop with my dad, dashing to our living room from school to watch “Annaliza,” and the song “Who’s Holding Donna Now?” that takes me back to my four-year-old self on my mom’s lap in the car. The momentary splendor of the mall can’t hold a candle to these moments.
Before it’s my turn to unleaf the next chapters of graduating in España, sit in the driver’s seat, or take on the world, there’s a stray calico cat by my window and an impatient cursor staring back at me; telling me I’ve much to learn about the cherished yet prerogative mundanities, contradictions, and free market that doesn’t exactly free everyone in the city—in the liminal pockets of Shaw Boulevard.
Mikaela Gabrielle de Castro, 20, is an Asian studies junior at the University of Santo Tomas. She is the blog editor of TomasinoWeb. She refuses to grow up by writing about culture, femininity, and Barbie movies.
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