Luneta 1


It has almost been a year since I traveled to my country of birth (RP) and  I intended to write about my itinerary but the plan has been subverted by work, business on the side, social media that steals precious time, and multiple interests that seem to change day by day. 

I assumed travel blogging would be easy for me to do given that I am semi-retired, but I am still  a victim of poor organization, change of plans on a whim, and distractions, especially  those platforms offered by the Internet. 

Some kind of self-discovery along these lines  hit me  while walking in my usual park this morning. When I visited Manila, I got very focused on  walking around the city getting in and out of taxis and trains,  despite my knee pain. I think it was because of my lack of access to the Internet. The hotels provided free wifi but these were mostly sporadic at best.  So I ventured outdoors often and visited as many places as I could as permitted  by the available public transport. I walked so much that despite my constant eating,  I still lost weight. Sadly, that extensive Manila visit was probably  the last for me. Having turned 60,  I agonizingly carried my knapsack from one hotel to another; I climbed stairs to reach the platforms of train stations, and walked at almost 5-10 miles each day. That proved to be too much. There was a day I walked 14 miles, my body was in complete exhaustion. I wrongly presumed I could wander like the same old college kid I was more than 35 years ago that got me from place to place, jumping from one jeepney to the next. Or tricycles. I dealt stairs with bounce. Well, not anymore. 

I am now extinct in a chaotic city like Manila. 

In my small town in Florida, people seem to know each other. I walk in the neighborhood among familiar faces, we greet each other and though I  avoid small talk and long conversations ( which everybody avoids as well) this little world provides the security of being close knit. The town is clean and despite the occasional nosy neighbor with the propensity of investigating every trivial event in the neighborhood, we all seem to be happy with one another. Manila is a whole different kind of animal. Anonymity is more of a rule in this city except for the old timers who form small enclaves in some isolated corners like Quiapo and Avenida, like the huddled  vendors on the streets, like the transient laborers in camps and tenements of Malate  and Manila Bay. They live in small worlds within the world. But Manila people  are mostly detached from one another; no different among major cities in the world;  there is an added layer of being tolerant and friendly but suspicious at the same time. 

As for me, I am a world on my own.

Despite the appeal of  renting a car and being driven from one place to another by a hired driver (since I would probably be unsafe wading around the chaotic streets myself),  I did not find that attractive to me. Especially when the cost does not match the value of the experience. It would feel like renting a limousine to go buy groceries at the nearby store. I still could walk  long distances. I am still familiar with the ins and outs of the city. There is no fun in carefully planned visits of the places that I know like the palm of my hand. Besides, where is the challenge in being transported from one location to another behind glass car windows? I can experience the same by watching YouTube channels showcasing the same routes and places.

 I wanted to be in the thick of it all  – the noise, dirt, dust, smell. I want to be in the midst of chaos and a damn status symbol. Others may want to get this out of their paths as a sign they have made progress in life. I  thought about that; I’d like to drive in my car, away from the heavy traffic and smog and pollution and the homeless that live in abundance in places that I frequent. 

The question is – why do I frequent these places that have been abandoned by the Manila rich for more quiet and genteel and Western-looking places to live? I can afford a middle of the class condo  in those places yet I keep returning to these working-class and cramped places. I want to rationalize this by my respect to Manila’s historical sites, at least for me – all the way from Quiapo to Luneta to PICC; taking rides on elevated trains covering almost all the Metro Manila region. Makati, Cubao, Monumento and from Ayala, I could flag down a taxi to drive me to Bonifacio Global. At nights I stay put in Mabini or Pasay; I buy my meals in Carriedo and Quiapo; I keep walking the streets of Avenida and Recto where my most preferred trains start – either at Doroteo Jose or Recto are located. In the early morning I walk the length of Manila Bay up to CCP and PICC. And when darkness descends I sit alone on one of the benches of the Luneta.


Why do  I keep returning to these familiar streets and landmarks? I think I am searching for the Manila ghosts because I am now a ghost myself. In the 1940s right after World War 2, a sentimental song became very popular throughout the world for its special effect on the minds and hearts of the people affected by the war. ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ sung by Jo Strafford would not register anymore to anyone, especially among  the generation that followed the Gen X and baby boomers. I bet some of the baby boomers don’t recognize this song anymore either. Some may not even want to hear it because it makes them feel ancient.

I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places….

This is on account of the disappearing acts of soldiers into battlefields  with no assurances of returning back alive. But when they returned, they returned  to all their old familiar places and faces and normalcy. Their war only took 3-4 years of their lives. So in that short span, the places they left behind stayed familiar. I, on the other hand,  am  returning  to Manila looking for my old familiar places after 33 years. It is not the same. But the song pulls on my heartstrings nevertheless. This is probably why  ghosts like me come back. We wade and tour and move among crowds that are completely alien looking for that something, those little familiar things to prove to ourselves we lived here once upon a time. 

I am 60 years old  and no matter how I replay my history over and over again, no matter how I try to look intensely and turn my head around and around, the familiar places I seek  are totally altered;  not a single soul of anyone who used to know me  in a city that has taken multiple makeovers is present. Luckily I have written some fictionalized versions of my time here. I wrote my Manila stories in my 20s and 30s, which I suppose no one has read although I published them in Kindle decades ago under a different name.  I knew even then that I would become the way I am now. I would come back as a total stranger with no marks of my previous existence. I knew even then that nothing would be the same when I return. I knew no one would  see me with an iota of familiarity. 

I was in my twenties when I lived in this city for years, and I recall this with some clarity. I recall those I befriended with young faces like mine. We were young and agile, full of dreams and ambitions. But time swallowed us whole. Even today, I don’t see them on any social media platforms. I am not sure where they went or what happened to them. Good thing is, I wrote stories that  captured  fictionalized versions of ourselves. Something to read back again perhaps once I become old and decrepit in my waning years;  I can summon them all back in my mind, hoping my mind can still remember.  The vanishing of my time and generation is inevitable but it didn’t help that I was the first to disappear and hide in the South of the USA, never to return for more than three decades. My old friends and I  might have even crossed paths on one of the streets in Mabini without recognizing ourselves.

I used to have a rough time in this city during college  because I was poor in a poor country. I would spare you of my melodrama which belongs to the pages of the stories I wrote in those dark years. All I can say is time has been very kind to me and I am back so much differently and better than my old days. I am here in Luneta. I see two young men run in front of me on their way to the bay. I am sitting on this rock, and it is familiar, it looks like the same rock I sat on nearly 40 years ago. Seeing the runners reminded me of my own legs that used to run on the same path they are following. I have always wanted to run in college because it was my only escape from the hard struggle  of  my youth. Don’t upi worry, I’ll spare you the drama. 

—- to continue

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