Manila where my monsters hid

After reading (Tita) Angela Stuart-Santiago's commentary on Dan Brown's quip in his latest book about Manila being the "gates of hell" (a logical choice, given the Catholic church's anti-RH stance and the oligarchy that the Philippine government is, as the post says), I remembered how as a kid I would tag along with my Papa to his office in Zacateros, one of the narrow streets that crossed Ongpin. We took the jeepney from Roosevelt to Sta. Cruz, got off at Avenida, and crisscrossed our way through the bakeries, hardwares, electronic stores, etc. until we reached his office. As a 5-year-old, seeing diced hopias made in front of you was a treat you tire of less easily than the diced hopias. Let's not even talk about the smell of chestnuts found everywhere in those streets-- holygee, the taste of chestnuts won't hold a candle to their smell! Then there's the incomprehensible chatter that was probably a mix of Hokkien, Tagalog, Bisaya; told me early on that the world city I inhabited could not be a quiet (or peaceful) one. There were shop keepers (some who my Dad knew), coffee shops (including one which he frequented), noodle houses (wonderful). There were also beggars at the foot of the LRT and barkers in the perimeter of Sta. Cruz church; early exposure to the fact that while Papa and I did not enjoy many luxuries ("middle class" would be pushing it), there were families, men, children with fates worse than us.

There were also the batang kalye (streetkids) of Zacateros who were my age and who became a sort of barkada. When I was still allowed to play with them, these kids took me to their haunts, streets alleys narrower than that where Papa's office stood, and showed me alleys cracks on the wall where they lived. Oh, I remember trying my first smoke somewhere in Ongpin, my Zacateros barkada and I saw a lit cigarette on the street, picked it up and took turns puffing. I was so proud of myself that afternoon, I hurriedly ran back to Papa and told him what I just did. After that I was only permitted to wave at them. Eventually in shame when they’ll come around to “pick me up” and I wasn’t permitted to go anymore, I just hid at the back part of the office. Now in writing, I kind of wish that my 5 year-old self recognized that what was novel to me was everyday life for them.

Early exposure to middle class guilt and the warfare that exists in the everyday, salamat Manila.

Eventually all those afternoons I insisted on tagging along because I was Papa's buntot and suffered from serious separation anxiety when I'm not with him was soon no longer. One day I just refused to go because I had started having recurring dreams of Sta. Cruz, getting lost in its streets, taken by "bad people" like those in the movies, etc. etc. 

Some 15+ years later and the nostalgia that happened to old Manila by way of food tours and heritage walks and the city morphed into a "cultural adventure". I spent one birthday doing that, out of nostalgia “for a part of Manila I grew up.”

When peering through the lens of culture, it’s so easy to edit the picture. Manila offers those dumplings you cannot have elsewhere in the city, sniff chestnuts oh-so-easily, and have the best bowl of noodles, but also in Manila is where the warfare of the streets is ever alive, persists, persisted, a continuing sad tragic backdrop.

I wonder what the duo Mayor Erap/ VM Isko has planned. Having come from the streets themselves, let's see?

I remember showing Zacateros to Turtle and Elephant a few years ago; I was hoping one of the Zacateros kids will recognize me, give my shoulder a tap and say "kalaro kita dati." No such luck. Middle class peeps, tough is our luck, but luck is tougher for most of these Manila electorate.  

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