Back in Manila, the ‘missing city of the U.S.’

The jeepney: Manila is either too rich or too poor

By A. Mabini

I am sitting on the 31st floor of a posh building in Makati with mixed feelings about my trip so far. As I write this, I am watching TV, soothed by the thick Tagalog accents of Pilipino lawyers and lawmakers arguing about how full of shit Chief Justice Corona is.

This trip had different objectives, none more important than my attempt to find myself. But as I begin a journey to the unknown — forgive the cliché — I find myself looking back home and missing the people who have molded the person that I have become. I am regretful that I can’t take this trip with them but I know that they are with me, one way or another.

Onto what I’ve come across to so far. The Philippines has lost its genuine appeal, or perhaps I may have confused it with just Manila. As I take random buses to Paranaque and back, speak to extremely underpaid taxi drivers, or simply walk until my body sweats the water I’ve drank earlier in the day (and which I hoped had no amoeba), I find myself in a make-pretend western or more specifically American island.

Back in New York, I used to say that Jersey City, Woodside in Queens and isolated random places in California are missing islands of the Philippines. Well, Manila is certainly making an appeal to become the missing city of the United States. I suppose I’m unfairly over-generalizing on the basis of my experiences so far. Manila is either too rich or too poor. The former is too caught up with wanting to live the American Dream that they, I think, overlook the Pilipino Dream. The latter on the other hand is just trying to keep their heads above water.

I’ve been to places where for a moment the imitations made me question which country I was standing at the time. And then about an hour ago or right around midnight, hungry and in need of fresh polluted Manila air, my friend and I went downstairs to walk the beautifully shady streets of Makati looking for some plain white rice. Yes, just rice.

On the way back, I saw a mother sleeping on top of a kitchen table on the side of the street with what I imagined were her only treasures — her son and two ‘kalderos.’ The two pots were on the table so that she may awake in case someone tries to steal her only mode of living, and her son was fitted perfectly with her on the table like a jigsaw puzzle. I couldn’t help but wonder what will happen when he gets bigger, I suppose he might have to sleep on the rugged concrete but then what happens when he’s sick as a dog, the kind of sickness that I can’t imagine myself anywhere outside of my warm, comfortable bed.

These are the troubling thoughts in my mind as I slowly cope with homesickness. Needless to say, I am just ready to pack up and go back to New York but my fear of failure of ever finding myself along with the fact that winter has finally brought her cold ass to New York are my deterrent.

I will try to keep an open mind and observe with an open heart. To the people I love in New York, I hope you guys stay warm. Take it easy, breezy.

A. Mabini was born in Davao City and raised in New York. He’s back in the Philippines, but left his heart in the Bronx.



One Comment

  1. steve rodrigues wrote:

    Hello Mr Mabini,

    great Job on the article can you please write to me in my email justicemgt@yahoo.com.sg Thanks and hope to hear from you soon. cheers -Steve

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