Featured Writer: John Hadrian Bonoan (Rye)
Greater Manila is less bravado when it comes to exposing its city highlights, but prefers to cover itself in sheets of challenges. One cannot truly appreciate the Greater Manila without an open mind, a deep sense of bravery and a pack of wits. At first look, the worn-out surroundings of decaying buildings and grey skies wouldn’t really encourage you to venture out and get kicky about it. Let alone the smoke belching vehicles on speeding highways—or even tight junctions. Yet, you would be wrong to quickly judge. I for one would be guilty of that. I never truly appreciated this greatness of a city until I paved its streets myself. Besides, adventure (if you wish, is actually just near you if you dared.) A great imagination would be the key to uncover the beauty of this city. It would be the ideal playground for the adventurous: A city reinvented through minds of Imagineers.
“Greater Manila, Greater Manila, Greater Manila…” I repeatedly hummed. “What are you hiding that I yet don’t know of?” captivated by thought while completely lost-in-stare at a bronze statue of late Russian poet “Alexander Pushkin” (which was right in front of me) while taking my rest after a long stroll through Lawton’s active streets and Ermita’s tree-lined avenues that coincidentally led me to a pit-stop at a forgotten Mehan Garden; only to realize, that I had already stumbled upon a historical figure I completely knew nothing about.
Its history became of my interest, (“Is there great history on this ground?”) I searched for answers to pacify my curious mind. Surprisingly, the bronze statue of Alexander Pushkin was a monument sculpted by Grigory Pototsky to commemorate the 35thanniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Russia and during a fresh month of January in 2010; and that “Mehan Garden” was actually a botanical garden back in the 1800’s when European colonial powers were newly exploring Philippine Flora. Ironic as it was, six years of my stay here in Philippines and I’ve only discovered it now. But, isn’t that the beauty of a city that has been around for years, decades and centuries; yet, never getting old?
Journeying through, I found myself in the busy streets of Recto: I found this stride a good starting point to the simplest yet magnificent finds (as it would gradually link you to famous landmarks of Greater Manila such as Raon and Quiapo.) I picked up a legitimate police headwear displayed on one of the vendors along Recto’s streets that wove honorable uniforms for the respected. As I held the headwear in my hand, it made me remember that justice still existed in this world, and that there were people who were inline with that service. A sense of hope brushed against me, and for a moment there, I felt secured. I couldn’t believe that I would feel such a thing on a noisy and busy street. Interesting as it was, I continued to rummage the streets and search for the unusual.
Coming out from an interesting underpass of diversified tailors, I discovered Isetann Cinerama Complex, which would more often than not, be overlooked by people deeply engaged in conversation, while walking. What I found interesting here was their cinema rates of only P20 (US 0.40/EUR 0.38); which showed exotic and old films alike, and advertised on a small yellow banner, plastered on the left wall of its entrance. Astonished, I checked it out myself. Quietly exempting myself from the pricy cinema tickets of the present—temporarily. In fact, you get tossed-in a delight of free popcorn if you watched one of their movies after 6pm. (We don’t get that in regular cinemas nowadays, do we?) Isetann Cinerama Complex made me remember the stories of my parents back in the days when cinema tickets were relatively down to P8 (US 0.19/EUR 0.02), when malling was just introduced as a new fad—for our then—young parents, going-on-dates and practically spending the day inside the cinemas without a care in the world—and caring less—about the movie.
After exiting Isetann Cinerama Complex, I walked through the epicenter of the well-known Greater Manila’s hub of electronics: the district of Raon; only to notice an old man selling Sampaguita (Arabian Jasmine) in the middle of a fast-tracked highway. I stopped walking at this very moment just so that I could embrace a realization of my own blessings in life. So old and fragile—the old man was, but still threading on that little spark of hope towards life: by selling the Philippines’ national flower (to drivers caught on wait over a red signal) at the risk of his own life.
It kind of reminded me of stories about my hardworking dad, how he’d take up any job (while studying) just to earn money for himself back in his young days just so that he could buy a new suit to impress my mom, or take her out on a date. I’m sure this old man I saw, had a reason beyond compare—of why he would put his own self at risk—just to earn; but, I was proud of him. He was a good example to the many attributed to this state of life. No matter how you were brought into this world, one should learn to live it rightfully. One should earn in the most honest way possible: for life is only but temporary.
Walking further into the district of Raon, I soon found myself heading towards the famous Quiapo Church (formally known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene). Behind it, lays a marketplace where one can simply rediscover the simple joys of street food like sipping on noodles (called pancit canton,) hotdogs on a stick, or having fish balls dipped in your sauce of choice while sitting on an old cranky wooden bench—in the middle of a busy district—and interacting with the world’s most hospitable people, Filipinos.
While enjoying the simplicities of life at its finest, one can look around and take-home a souvenir or two—from the many things you can find while exploring this concrete of a place. The sellers are often very interactive, as they would politely ask for you to take a picture of them in dreamy high hopes of them to be publicized. It is in these moments of interaction that you will be able to grasp an idea of how high Filipinos actually dream and how this particular “dream” acts as fuel to their daily needed motivation to uplift themselves from a frail status of life. One way or another, the interesting traits of true-blooded Manileños unveil as you delve deeper into the city—for they hold the key to the secrets of this lost and forgotten city.
A bit overwhelmed by the hospitality, I still managed to hail myself a “jeepney” just outside Quiapo Church that would soon take me to the Plaza San Lorenzo Luis (a landmark fountain located just outside the oldest ChinaTown in the world, Binondo.) I took a walk inside passing through the Arch of Goodwill: a majestic gate decorated with iconic China representations of dragons and pointy edges of a typical ancient China home. A sudden snap; a quick whirl-like feel; sent me magically to China; as restaurants turned into an offer of Chinese gourmet: enticing menus of Peking Ducks and Dimsum chops; and Filipinos who walked around me sent doubts at the back of my head—not knowing if they were half-bred, or pure, or just really Chinese from the roots. I was in the comfort of my country, yet I was experiencing China at the same time. It was here that I discovered Mandarin Square along Ongpin Street: a place that delivered an aura of tranquility—perfectly chill and kept distant from the bustling streets.
I found Formosa: a bakeshop that sold fresh and delicious-looking pastry, in which I took the delight of trying a hotdog bread, sprinkled with green onion—for takeout. Beside it, was a relaxing corner shop called “The Tea”, that served a variety of milkshakes with a twist of Sago—which I found the tastiest of its kind. I positioned myself outside the small garden with readied tables. In front of me was a view of Chinatown’s dirty river while its current flowed towards the west horizon of the Ongpin North Bridge. This very piece of serenity is a noteworthy experience. I was able to reflect and enjoy a cup of perfectly mixed banana shake, and delectable pastry.
As the afternoon turned to fade away, the Chinese lanterns flared-up—all at the same time—beautifully lighting up the streets of Chinatown as I witnessed an unforgettable scenic experience of a Kalesa passing through the Ongpin North Bridge on my way out. It was a twisty serendipitous sense of remedy—yes, magical.
“What a funny mix of culture here”, I thought.
I wanted a maximum experience of truly breathing in this adventurous exploration of my very own motherland’s capital: Greater Manila. Commuting by any sense is quite the ideal pick here. I got into a Jeepney bound for Intramuros for a connecting Jeepney-ride to Pasay City. Saturday night had already settled in—and I was all set for home—my head still hovering over a dreamy state—reliving the wonders that I’ve experienced throughout this meaningful venture. Then, my jeep stopped at the signal of red light; a random moment of looking around; The K.K.K. Monument stood majestically towards my view—as if, I was meant to be there at that very moment. Then I noticed, little figures jumping on and off the monuments ground point…
“Para po! (Stop!)”, I commanded the driver of the Jeepney.
A fascinating sight of the modern youths of today’s generation playing carelessly on their skateboards, and BMX-ing their way into tricks all over the place. It was at this very instant that flashbacks of my teenage years came to mind: the days of newly discovering the “ins” and “outs” of the world. Nostalgia filled the air as I sat and observed the younger generation. My time was undoubtedly on its way to greater responsibilities and I could only wish to relive the times of my childhood times of carefree personalities and worry-free environments.
Sitting on Greater Manila grounds, I gazed up at the broad majestic K.K.K Monument commemorating Andrés Bonifacio—a makata, a bayani: a national hero to many. I was reminded of the rich history my country has and the people who had died protecting this very nation—and all this, tucked beneath the rubble visible only to those who takes that second glance at its city.
I can only speak of the trueness of ever-grey walls and overcrowded streets, and how I pulled through it by thinking of my venture as treasure-hunting and uncovering mysteries—or playing detective like Sherlock Holmes. I imagined the discoveries in every twist and turns, and the reward in every rest I took. This is how “Greater Manila” would daunt its wanderers before it truly reveals itself. For what its worth, it is one that you should “dare to discover” to actually find out what I am talking about as its nature is as conservative as the culture it holds.
Exploring Greater Manila could be the thrill of a lifetime, and experiences turned tale. As for me, this exploration of actually rediscovering the Greater Manila was actually a rediscovery of myself, and a realization of life. A realization that would actually put a smile across your face: one that you will get, when you finally “understand” what truly makes this city thrive.
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