It is week one of my life here in Manila. I’m off to Baguio tonight to deliver a presentation on Monday, and I figure that there’s still time to squeeze some thoughts on my first week in this place.
Manila has always been called the “land of dreams.” To some degree, everyone here’s a Dick Whittington: thinking that the pavement is made out of gold, that life here is easy. It hasn’t been easy for the week that I’ve been here, and I don’t think it will be any easier soon. I’m an urban probinsyano from the North: the Cordilleran Ilocano who, for a time, believed that in this land of skyscrapers and the hustle-bustle of public transport is hope. There is hope all right: hope for people like myself who are not as naïve as to come here thinking that opportunity is everywhere, if you just know where to look.
It’s not that simple. Surviving in Manila is all about looking: Manila is a land of opportunities, all right, but you have to look for them. Manileños have a term for it: “diskarte.” “Diskarte” is all about the kind of healthy, necessary paranoia necessary to survive even a day here.
I can’t help but compare things to my commute in MRTs. Push and shove: while I still ride in relative convenience in an MRT bright and early, I can’t do that at the crack of dusk in Shaw or in Ortigas. I have to push, shove, and make every bit of “diskarte” to even board an MRT. It’s the same thing with everywhere here: affordable places to eat, shortcuts to work, and taking the only the paid 30-minute break to eat, to smoke, and look out from your office window to stare out at this “land of opportunities.”
Yes, in about 270 kilometers, two stopovers, and a bus ride, I would be over back in my comfort zone in Baguio reveling in a world without blue-and-pink pedestrian overpasses and the funny picture of Bayani Fernando gracing MRT foundations with his “That’s My Boy” pose. Back to at least three days of being dependent on my parents for everything, not worrying about budgeting money or worrying about waking up bright and early. Back to comfortable familiarity, to ordinariness, to everything that made 22 years of my life.
But even that can’t last forever. To use an old Hotdog song, I’ll keep coming back to Manila, no place in the world like Manila, a place which, at least for now, I have to call home.