Week 43: Lost glory
Everyone's away for the four-day weekend, the streets are peaceful, and I kind of wish it were like this every time because hard as it may be to accept, one of Manila's major problem is congestion—forgive the subtle reference to sinusitis—and the truth is that the less people there are, the easier city life becomes. Except that it is precisely during these occasions—the Holy Week or the All Souls' and Saints' Day—when I'm left alone in my apartment, drowned in eternal silence.
I'm having mixed feelings. And what do I do now with my excessive free time?
I remembered I haven't gone to Rizal Park in years. At 8 am this morning, I jumped out of bed, changed into running gear, and walked until I got there. Took me around 15 minutes. Rizal Park used to be what the malls are today: the major hang-out place, where families gathered and did picnics on Sundays, where people met their classmates and friends and officemates, where lovers dated and held hands, where the city dwellers converged for a relaxing time. That has all changed, of course, for the Park has long since deteriorated into something less, inevitably reflecting the gradual fading away of Manila's old glory, the envy of many cities around the world.
Ask an old resident today, and he will tell you that Manila was so much better then, so much cleaner and richer. And his voice will resonate the frustration of many of his kind, the sector of the population that experienced the city's golden years but also saw her decline. All in one lifetime. Something has gone wrong—but what is it exactly? Our corrupt leaders, the Marcos dictatorship, the World Bank, ourselves? Kids in school have written essays about this, and this question has been analyzed by PhDs, but somehow, the answer still evades us. After years of independence, where are we now as a nation?
My feet took me to old pavements and buildings. I saw poor people sleeping on the benches, police officers smoking underneath the trees, and a group of men arguing over something, possibly politics. There were tourists, too, who didn't know where they were going but who seemed happy anyway—they were under the sun. I was amused at the excited kindergarten kids in their yellow uniforms, riding the stinky kalesa. And I considered having a picture taken by the old photographers in faded vests, now carrying point-and-shoots instead of the heavy film SLRs, but I did not—they charged excessively.
What I saw was a wasted opportunity, and I, too, felt the frustration and anger—maybe you could call it that. Manila could have been great, this country could have been prosperous, but the opportunity has long since left us, our moment has passed, like a comet that has crossed our orbit, never to return again—at least, not in a very long time. And all we did, or they did, was let that opportunity pass. Just like that.
I had my breakfast—siomai soaked in soy sauce, drizzled with fried garlic—in one of the meal stands, and I gulped it down with a cold serving of sago't gulaman. Jed Madela's ballads were playing in the background, and as I looked around, my mind was drowned with so many why's and what-ifs.