Achieving 119 years of freedom was no small feat. This 2017, SAICHI wanted to celebrate our Independence Day in the most humbling way possible, by visiting old Manila, in our comfy sneakers and trusted Jansport backpacks, of course. Our adventure began with us travelling some fifty-plus kilometers to the heart of one of our favorite cities in the world.
Since there's still a few days left before schools begin another semester, the LRT was amazingly uncrowded. As much as we have complaints about our train system’s service, it is still the fastest way to get to our destination. We got off at U.N. Avenue station and walked to our first stop: Luneta Park. As we enter the vicinity, we were met with the much-awaited National Museum of Natural History getting ready for its opening this year. In front of it is a huge garden filled with green shrubs, pink flowers, and people scattered in small crowds, enjoying the wide open spaces.
For those of us who went to universities in the area, we can’t help but immensely appreciate how much cleaner and safer the park has become. The gloomy weather made it a perfect day for strolling without the harsh sun rays. Even tourists seem to be basking in the warm ambience surrounding the historical Rizal Shrine. The Philippine flag carried by the wind atop a 105-feet pole had us gaping in awe.
Filled with more determination than before, our feet eventually took us to the walled city of Intramuros. The small town enclosed in this ancient structure is bustling with life, living as if detached from the commotion and noise just outside its fortress. We sauntered on the cobblestones which may have been the same ones being walked on by our ancestors some hundred of years ago. Standing there for centuries, enduring the war, and resisting the harsh, changing weather and natural calamities, the wall, in a way symbolizes our resilience as Filipinos. We do not give in despite the test of time. We’ve learned to make the best of what we can from the little things we have left.
Continuing our quest to see the heart of Manila, we passed by the ruins of Manila Metropolitan Theater. A twinge of regret washed over us, gazing at the posters of zarzuelas and dramas our great-grandparents probably set aside some time off their then busy lives to see. Moving on, we faced imminent danger as we crossed the streets due to the lack of pedestrian lanes. It was worth it as the graceful Manila Central Post Office loomed right above us. There is comfort in knowing that at least not all were abandoned in our country’s capital.
Our stomachs grumbled as hunger announced its presence. We traversed the Jones Bridge, arriving at Binondo, and we began our quest for a meal that would replenish our strength for the rest of our journey. We ducked into a busy alleyway, lined with fruit stalls, karinderia, and fresh exotic seafood on both sides. Smacked literally in the middle of this street from a different era was a sign that read Quik Snack, pointing to an unassuming place serving some of the most amazing Chinese food. Full in our stomachs and unhurt in our wallets by a hearty meal of pancit and mami, we exited Carvajal street, asking fortune cookies for guidance along the way.
Escolta street welcomed us with the pungent smell of the Pasig River and stray animals. For a moment in that cluttered street overlooking the river, there is peace and quiet in the oldest Chinatown in the world. We took a few photos and ran past the bridge for what would probably be our tenth dangerous crossing of the day, and was greeted with one of SAICHI’s favorite buildings, the El Hogar.
Now laying abandoned in the Binondo district, the majestic building accommodates a makeshift basketball half-court for the locals’ recreation. We spent a good time absorbing the overwhelming street vibes and the likewise heart-wrenching sight of poverty millions of our fellowmen are facing. It was like looking at a Juan Luna painting, beauty and stark reality in one picture (coincidentally, the building sits in the corner of the street named after the prolific painter).
The eye-opening day was slowly coming to an end and we made a quick stop to Manila Bay before heading home for some sea breeze. Which honestly, would be more of a combination of fumes and salt, if we’re describing it more accurately. We mustered the last of our strength, piercing through Padre Faura by foot to return to our starting point in Kalaw. Hopping back on the train, we watched the old city quickly blur into the distance, but not without a few realizations that we’d like to pass on.
We aren’t to blame anymore for the way our culture had evolved from when foreign lands alternated in occupying us. However, we now have inherited the great responsibility of bringing back our drowned out culture and shape our crumbling society anew. We are the beauty within the ruins of our motherland.
Countless monuments have already been built by our hands for the brave Filipinos who fought with their lives in the hopes of bringing us freedom. We’ve since celebrated days in honor of their births and of their deaths. We’ve immortalized them in pen and paper, passing it on generation after another. However, we may not believe it but we are heroes too. We fight our own battles of pain and conflict everyday, on some days we win, on other times we need rescuing. But we are always looking ahead for that sunrise where we are finally at peace with ourselves, for the decisions we made and the paths we regret not taking.
Walking down the old streets of Manila, we saw abandoned buildings, ruined by the circumstances, being passed by everyday with people not even sparing them a glance. We stopped to look and what we glimpsed at was splendor in plain sight. Thoughts of what could have been its former glory immediately came flooding into our minds. The architectures were already admired in its brokenness and uselessness. Imagine the revitalized existence once life and purpose has been restored to its rightful space.
We as a nation are like these structures, standing strong and proud amidst situations that we cannot control, against outside forces constantly defying our prosperity. Blessed with the boundless potential to steer our life in any direction we want, all we need is the collective desire and effort to do so. And you know what, we’re already on our way. Mabuhay Philippines!
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