Saturday, May 25, 2013

The gates of hell…Welcome to Manila.

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I have taken to liking some of Dan Brown’s novels not only because I’m a thrill seeker and mystery devourer but also due to the pleasure of being able to tour certain Europe’s capitals without leaving the comforts of home: Vatican, London, Paris…and now in his latest release, Florence, Venice, and Istanbul.

Yet, who would have thought that there is a freebie in Inferno? Yes, we got a firsthand account of an exploration of Manila through the eyes of a fictional attractive polyglot who’s running around with our resident hero.

Manila. My lovely native soil. My turf.

And compared with the majestic European cities that are teeming with history and culture and tourists, description of Manila clashes enormously.

…which she had read was [Philippines] a wonderland of geological beauty, with vibrant sea beds and dazzling plains. And so when the group settled in among the throngs in the city of Manila—the most densely populated city on earth—Sienna could only gape in horror. She had never seen poverty on this scale.

Manila had six-hour traffic jams, suffocating pollution, and a horrifying sex trade, whose workers consisted primarily of young children, many of whom had been sold to pimps by parents who took solace in knowing that at least their children would be fed.

Amid this chaos of child prostitution, panhandlers, pickpockets, and worse, Sienna found herself suddenly paralyzed. All around her, she could see humanity overrun by its primal instinct for survival. When they face desperation … human beings become animals.

Disheartening? Of course. But we cannot run amok towards Dan Brown with a lawsuit. This is, after all, just a fiction story. All he said in the introduction was “All artwork, literature, science, and historical references in this novel are real.” He did not mention geographical allusions.

What’s disconcerting is the way he put together Manila. It is actually…accurate.

I’m not proud of myself, but I have no love for the city where I grew up. I have lived in here for so long that I guess I had simply became accustomed to it. Not comfortable, not at ease, but only familiar.

And ignorant.

Having studied in Quiapo, the heart of Manila, for 15 years, had rendered me familiar with walking amidst the “sea of humanity” as Dan Brown used to say. People in Manila are so close that in fact they are able to smell each other and rub the sticky sweat of their skin to another as a sign that they are all kin, they are all equal under the scorching heat and traipsing the same grimy pavements.

Becoming a victim to pickpockets is a worrying but not shocking news. Sympathy is offered but not outrage. In some cases, it can even be attributed to the carelessness of the victim. It is up to you to watch out and be alert. Like, we used to warn each other when walking along Recto Ave. “Tago niyo cellphone niyo.”

For years I had established my notion of our country and developed my sense of nationalism based on my perceptions of the environment where I grew up.

Meaning? Colonial mentality ruled my mind. And I blame the rundown buildings that now stand hauntingly in the once glorious Avenida; I blame the putrid sewers that erased the image of the once most attractive street in Quiapo (Hidalgo); I blame the black smokes pervading the streets of a major avenue (Taft); I blame the squalors beside railroads; I blame the punks who caused some of my friends and family members cellphone-less, earring-less, even shoeless; I blame the…government? Overpopulation? The cockroaches?

I became ignorant to the fact that Philippines has more to offer aside from the offending view and way of living one can acquire in Manila, and to the fact that this country needs her people to not jump out off the sinking ship.

More importantly, it had not crossed my mind that Manila could ever…change. It’s been so long, and it’s just getting worse. No sense of transformation, no hope.

And I shudder to think of that now. Hello, it’s the capital city of the Philippines, is this or is this not an important metropolis? All that seems to be getting revamped is the Luneta Park.

With the new, erm, leadership to which Manila is now entrusted, and this ‘exposure’ we’re sure to be getting from a bestselling novel that I suppose is a (one of the countless) wake-up call to us, a glint of hope is there for this despairing urban. It is persisting, enduring, but not to the eyes of the ignorant.

And to quote again Inferno (and Dante):

The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.”



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