City Memoir: Manila, Philippines
It is my first trip back to my home in the Philippines since studying in Northeastern University in Boston. The airplane comes down low. From above, the city is still beautiful. We pass over brown water off the coast, fish pens laid out in geometrical patterns, like a Mondrian viewed by someone colorblind. Over the bay, the sunset is starting, the famous sunset, like none anywhere else. Skeptics attribute its colors to pollution. Over there’s the land, the great gray sprawl of eleven million people living on top of each other on barely more than 240 square miles- fourteen cities and three municipalities, skyscrapers and shanties, tumbling beyond Kilometer Zero and the heart of every Filipino, the city that gave the metro its name: Manila.
Modern Manila. She, who once was the Pearl of the Orient is now a worn dowager, complete with the hump, the bunions, the memories of the Charleston stepped to the imported and flawlessly imitates melodies of King Oliver, the caked-on makeup and the lipstick smeared in thick stripes beyond the thin, pursed lips. She, the trusting daughter of East and West, lay down and was destroyed, her beauty carpet-bombed by her liberators, cautious of their own causalities, her ravishment making her kindred to Hiroshima, Stalingrad, Warsaw. On the street, taxis done up like carnivals will honk straight at you, their drivers accosting your bags as if intending to hold them ransom for a for a twenty-cent tip. Soot-caked cops do their best to direct the beast that is our traffic, their ineffectual whistles exacerbating the chaos that is our order. It takes you an hour to get anywhere and when you arrive, it’s almost time to go. Let me welcome you to my first country, my Third World.