Living in a Bipolar City

This fairly long entry is one of the pieces I submitted for my creative nonfiction writing workshop class I took last semester. It was originally a short writing exercise we were encouraged to develop further and turn into a longer piece. This is what creative nonfiction is mostly like: writing about you and your world.

Hopefully someday though I’d get the chance to write about a wider range of subjects apart from myself. I don’t know about others, but it will never feel enough to write about one’s self all the time. But for now, this is what I’ve got.

Taken at the swimming pool deck of Marriot Hotel, Newport City Complex

I’ve got gadgets and gizmos aplenty; I’ve got whosits and whatsits galore. You want thingamabobs? I’ve got twenty. But who cares? No big deal. I want more. I wanna be where the people are. I wanna see, wanna see them dancing. Up where they walk, up where they run, up where they stay all day in the sun− wandering free, wish I could be, part of that world. “Part of Your World”, The Little Mermaid


Once there was a girl who did not care how big the world is. She believed Manila was the only city where she was meant to be. Content in any place she finds herself in, she spent the first twelve years of her life in an apartment along Caballeros and Lavezares Streets. She did almost everything in the bedroom−watch cartoons, study, eat dinner, dress-up, play, sleep. The whole family slept there together, too−she and her sister on the floor on an inflatable mattress, her parents on a queen-sized bed. Occasional dripping from the ceiling, pesky rats, creeping cockroaches did not bother her, nor did she ever question if there could be a better place to be.

Her childhood alternated between home and school, a fifteen-minute drive or a thirty-peso calesa ride away. In school, she savored the thrill of writing down new vocabulary lists and the challenge of proving geometry theorems. A twenty-minute recess each day was packed with games of Chinese garter and jackstones, teasing chatter and lively babbles.

At home, she created colorful worlds in Lego towns, spurring friendships and catfights among Barbie and Bratz dolls, making up stories in Polly Pocket world and Sylvanian villages populated with little velvet animals. On Saturday afternoons, she and her younger sister first learned to play dress-up and throw the best sleepovers from her neighbor friends who live across the street: two bright and beautiful girls trained to speak in straight English and had such mature auras about them.

In spare moments, she immersed herself in solving mysteries with Nancy Drew, relate with quaint preteen life in Sweet Valley, felt Madison’s angst in Madison Finn series, found the meaning of friendship in The Baby-Sitters’ Club, learned magic spells with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and relished teenage royalty in The Princess Diaries.

All the while, this girl, naïve as she was, did not for once give a thought about what freedom felt, what religion is for, nor what being committed meant. She did not aspire for things beyond her reach. She was not indifferent about world geography and foreign lands, but simply knowing they exist is good enough. She remained in a small corner of the world, satisfied and carefree.

* * *


Stepping down from the car, she walked toward the station keeping her gaze straight ahead, reluctantly letting the lady security guard inspect her bag. She felt frustrated that bag inspection and body frisking was protocol in Manila train lines. Subways of Hong Kong and New York do not have security people in sight.

Two minutes till the next train. Sullen, emotionless faces wait with her. Some seemed as if they preferred not to be there. Some were in all-white uniforms, some were in grayish salesperson attire. Some were in slippers, some clutched copies of Inquirer Libre.

Riding the train would be a dozen times more pleasant, she thought, if only the stations’ gray walls were painted with blues and lavenders, if only two strangers could naturally exchange kind words, if only the speaker system played classical tunes, instead of robotic voices repeatedly reminding passengers to practice good passenger etiquette.

She loved looking at little children, imagining the kind of men and women they will grow up to be. There was a bald man wearing white robes−he definitely had to be a monk. Standing beside him was an indifferent teenage boy in a sleeveless shirt, smeared shorts, and slippers. A couple sat holding each other’s hands, with dreamy expressions, as if nothing else mattered.

Four stations left. Someone offers her a seat. Between squeezing in between strangers and standing, with her laptop in one arm and bag in the other, she always preferred the latter. She stepped outside and stumbled upon more nameless people, seemingly having nothing better to do than walk the streets aimlessly, dreaming the same dreams of the finer life, owning thoughts she could never possibly know. She looked up; the sky was on the verge of tears.

* * *


It was a rainy Saturday morning as she stepped inside the black SUV. Classes were put on hold. Her white polka-dotted skirt and black cotton lace blouse matched the grayish blue skies. “I wonder if we are the only crazy college students who went out during a storm today,” she told him. He smiled, keeping his eyes on the wet roads before them.

After grabbing some cinnamon churros from a nearby supermarket, they walked towards the two-story café. She always nagged him to go there; and finally. he obliged that day. They walked along the empty streets on Manila’s equivalent of Upper East Side, with numbers as street and avenue names to boot. It was easy to imagine she was in another city, to momentarily forget the images of drudgery and despair. It was even easier to trick her mind that this city didn’t have any problems of hunger, corruption, scandal, crime. It was the easiest to feel there is nothing wrong in the world at all, especially when surrounded by shops selling luxury pastries and gelato, where people walk their dogs dressed in pink tutus and matching ribbons.

The high ceiling, the scent of warm mocha, her arm gently touching his made her never want to leave. The people around them were preoccupied with iPads and Macbooks, probably catching up on work.

Five minutes left. She wished time could stop.

If only he did not fret about the rain and the weather, she prefer to walk around the streets. She could walk all day. Walking is her therapy; a time to think, a time to savor this flurry of independence and freedom, a time to make sense of things.Time could not stand still. She stepped back into his car, rushing to get home.

* * *


From the station, she hurried to her dad’s car. Beyond the glass window of the cold interior of the SUV, she glimpsed figments of strangers’ lives. Passing through narrow streets, they were surrounded by people whose main worries were about having something to eat each day and waking up the next morning with their sense of hope still intact.

Young men in matching white polos and black slacks military-cut hair, learning how to guard the city well. High school girls dancing on a cemented area underneath the highway, with cars around them and gray smoke in the air. The men slept idly on their sidecars, waiting for someone looking for a ride. Women with vegetable and fruit carts. A blond girl walked by, her mere presence exuding light from the dullness of it all.

She closed her eyes, not wanting to see anymore. Seeing poverty and chaos around her made her selfishly wish that she didn’t live in this wretched place. She remembered sending a thought via Twitter, into the void, lamenting on how she did not want to live in Manila anymore, how she wished this city could be walk-friendly so she could go anywhere alone. Wanting to forget the people she saw from her backseat window, she closed her eyes. But it was too late.

* * *


She opened her eyes and glanced outside the car window: she was surrounded by lush green trees, cars of varying shades and sizes, multitudes of students walking past. She stepped down the car and walked towards the campus grounds as she mentally planned the day ahead, unconsciously forgot about yesterday, inevitably fretted a little about tomorrow.

In Philippine history class, her teacher assigned the class an individual project, instructing them to make Philippine history relevant to us, in the most creative way we can. Intramuros, she immediately thought. I want to go to Fort Santiago in Intramuros. I will take pictures, portraying how I see that historic site through my camera’s lens. It has been four years since I’ve last been there, with my best high school girl friends. This is my chance to go to there again. This time, by myself.

Staring into space as she habitually does, she began to wonder how different it could be, to walk down the streets of a foreign land. She wondered how it felt, to wear a trench coat and boots on snowy winter mornings. She wondered how her meek self would blend in a university filled with impassioned students her age, how she would make international friends from more than a dozen nations.

She once learned in cognitive psychology class that children’s spatial abilities are different from those of adolescents and adults. Children’s still undeveloped brains have a distorted sense of space, wherein they make plenty of exaggerations about distances and land areas. More mature people on the other hand, have more accurate spatial representations in their minds and are able to estimate distances better. Perhaps this is why in a sudden epiphany, she sometimes feels like a prisoner in her own city, and has become more aware of the need to pop the bubble she finds herself in. There isn’t enough life to be found by going around and about a constant number of square kilometers of land. She needs to see more.

Although she does not want to be a tourist; the dream is to live in a foreign country independently, to walk freely along streets and go someplace new.

She believes that her greatest dream would knock down her greatest fear of not be able to accomplish the things she was meant to do. There must be more that she could be capable of, and that meant going to places, to meet people apart from familiar circles, even if it meant leaving everything else behind.

* * *


In recent years, she realizes that Manila is disorderly, quirky, perennially interesting−in short, bipolar. Middle and upper class societies live similar urban lifestyles in Manila in two ways. First, malls and theaters are the second sanctuaries of people after Sunday masses. Secondly, being on chaotic Manila streets is inescapable, where all forms of commute−jeepneys, calesas and sidecars, tricycles and bicycles, creaky trains and light rail trains, buses and taxis galore−fill up the streets, finding both drivers and passengers inevitably dazed as they travel towards their destinations.

This capital city is painted with the loud colors of popular culture, media, and postmodernity splashed with contrasting personalities of 11 million people, sprinkled with the grayness of poverty. Living in this city reminds her to be thankful to be raised in a middle-class family as she goes out often seeing less fortunate ones sleeping on the streets, little girls holding out their grubby hands on car windows.

A select few corners of this metropolis springs of quaint and modern architecture, of skyscrapers and palatial residential buildings. Places for shopping abound, from sari-sari stores to designer boutiques. Students and employees in uniforms stride quickly to their schools and offices in a not-so-walk-friendly city.

For her to walk in the city’s streets alone, going wherever she wants without anybody driving her to the places (including the train station, the only form of commute she is allowed to make use of) is a rarity. Being a restless, travel-thirsty girl, one simple dream is to live in a beautifully structured city where she can wander away with a carefree heart, albeit momentarily.

Her love-hate relationship with bipolar Manila remains, until the city government finds a way to let her go places without having to ride a car, until the city becomes walk-friendly, until she can go out of her home whenever she wants, and not worry about anything. This girl eventually began to care how big the world is. She will not cease treading new paths, until she discovers where she is truly meant to be.

I get lost in the beauty
Of everything I see
The world ain’t half as bad
As they paint it to be.
~ Come Home, One Republic


Time to change our lives

the_subtle_yarn_of_hope___by_m0thyykuphoto courtesy of *mothyyku

“Life is not about looking good or pleasing people.”

– Jim Paredes (Probe Profiles featured him tonight. He is simply an amazing artist. He’s another reason for us to be proud to be Filipino.)

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

-A. Einstein

Our lovely planet earth has been frighteningly destructive lately, showing once again how vulnerable humans can be to the powerful elements of nature. Typhoon Ondoy has taken the lives of hundreds of people displaced hundreds of thousands of others in Metro Manila. A few days later, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Indonesia , destroying infrastructure and leaving thousands of people trapped in rubble. American Samoa and Samoa (I bet a few of us has even heard of these islands before) has also been struck by a tsunami, killing so many people and wiping out whole villages. I am holding my breath as I type this.

It was my first time to wade into knee-deep (sometimes deeper) floods that tragic Saturday. For a moment, I didn’t think of anything but to get to the LRT Station and to get home safely with my dad, who fetched me from Ateneo after my Accounting class that was cut short. Even though the rains were pouring endlessly since the night before, I didn’t expect to see the whole Katipunan Avenue to be flooded, devoid of vehicles, with the gray skies a haunting us from above. Little did I know that this was nothing compared to what is happening to other areas. When my dad and I eventually arrived in the office, we were both soaking wet from head to toe, a clumsy me ending up with a scratched knee and a laptop drenched in floodwater.

In contrast to what other people are going through, I am thankful I got to walk in floods sprinkled with trash and debris (with the occasional cockroach), to be able to sleep on the dirty carpeted floor in the office. A wave of excitement and gratitude fell upon me as we walked again in knee-high floods just to get home the following morning. I thank God for giving me this opportunity to experience a natural calamity firsthand. Staying at home, not being able to know how the endless pouring rains fell on my skin would be a great loss for me.

In a time of calamity, of loss and of people needing help, keeping my QPI up, salvaging a wet Macbook, struggling keeping in touch with friends, are worries that suddenly seem so mundane. Everything could be wiped out in a blink of an eye whether we’re looking or not. I suddenly feel the need to detach myself from all my worldly possessions, to embark on a quest to live simply, to discover the hidden beauty in muddied streets and in a little girl’s hopeful eyes as she looks down from her rooftop, holding on to dear life, to reflect more about what really is important in this world, as were are all but specks in a boundless universe.

The sheer number of people willing to volunteer in relief efforts for typhoon Ondoy is overwhelming, with many comprised of the youth. Through Tweets from Filipinos constantly updating the happenings in relief operations, videos posted on Facebook of volunteers, of stories posted on blogs and in the papers, I could not describe the feelings rushing through me as I witness the greatest values of our humanity that is clearly seen everywhere.

Simplicity. Gratitude. Compassion. The bayanihan spirit of Filipinos.

I see these moments of need and despair as our chance to realign our priorities, to do what is needed to be done,  to take away all the other unnecessary things (Do I really need that extra bar of chocolate?), to think about the world in the larger scale of things: Just how hard can this be, given that other people have accomplished more difficult, impossible tasks and goals before me? How significant are my problems compared to the problems other people are currently facing?

I am extremely frustrated that I have not yet volunteered anywhere. I still respect my parents’ decision though. I know can still help in my own ways. Aside from gathering clothes, slippers and pillows from the attic, I am currently organizing a fund-raising drive in my subdivision. I hope and pray that this would be a success. This is the first time I am going to do this.

There is a quote from a card I keep in my wallet by American educator, orator, author Booker T. Washington, who once said,

Decide to be your best. In the long run the world is going to want and have the best, and that might as well be you.

Imagine if all of us decided to be our best. Then the world would definitely be a better place to live in, wouldn’t it?

To Filipinos out there, go out and do your part. Volunteer. Donate some clothes, books, food, or whatever you can give. Even that box of cookies would make a child smile, and sets you free of some unwanted calories. Those textbooks that are gathering dust in your shelves could be used by a student out there. Little acts of kindness do not go unnoticed. Rebuilding our community together, becoming aware of the needs of other people, is the only way our nation and for all of our lives to get back on track.

I am writing for the victims of the floods, for the people trapped in rubble, for the people starving, for the people struggling so hard just to be able to live. I am writing for our humanity. I am writing for our slowly deteriorating planet. I am writing for the time that has lost by being complacent, by being mediocre, by staying silent. I am writing because at the moment this is the most productive thing I can do. I am writing because I can.

*Sighs* I know I love to write. I just hope writing about things will take me somewhere. Likewise, I hope what I write will be able to touch someone’s life, somewhere.

Have faith, have faith, have faith.

It’s time to act now. It’s time to change our lives.

If you want to know how/where to help Typhoon Ondoy victims, visit this site:

Making up for lost time

There has been so many things going on with me every day, and it is such a shame that I could not muster enough courage to take some time off to write about it for fear that I may be wasting time writing about my life rather than living it.

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit what I have said above, yet that is what I feel all the time. And I hope I will get over it soon. Because in my heart, I know I want to write. In fact, when I am not typing away on black and white keys right now, all I think about throughout the day is that I do not want to forget this moment, that I want to write about a feeling I have, a thought that just came to me, or a significant event that may not be remembered after some time has passed. I understand that the brain can only choose to remember so much, and that through writing about something may just be the best way to capture a moment, a feeling, a thought, an reflection, a secret desire, a wish, or a dream.

Sometimes it is so difficult to begin something, yet when you take a deep breath and plunge right in, then spend some time doing it, you realize that it is not as bad as it seems to be in the beginning. Life seems to be that way. In writing, I am like that. It is always so hard to open with a sentence, but when I have thought of a good opening paragraph, the words and thoughts start flowing in. Well, that is usually (but not always) the case.

I remember what I have read in Paulo Coelho’s latest bestselling novel, Brida. In that book, it says that “every moment in life is an act of faith. None of us knows what might happen even the next minute, and yet we still go forward. Because we trust. Because we have faith.” Such beautiful, haunting words.

Paulo Coelho’s books are so magical and filled with wisdom that it is such no wonder that he has become one of the most successful novelists of this day and age. But I digress.

After pondering about these words, I reckon that this is what I lack: faith. I lack faith in my writing, that I might waste my time doing something that may not bear any fruit in the long run. We only do the easy things because we see and feel the outcomes at once. But the more difficult things, those that require more time and effort, these will bring about more pain and sacrifice, yet these are the things that may help us discover who we really are and what we are capable of.

Here is a favorite quote of mine that I have on my Plurk profile:

“It is easy to follow, but it is uninteresting to do easy things. We find out about ourselves only when we take risks, when we challenge and question.”
– Magdalena Abakanowicz, Polish sculptor and one of the most influential female artists of the 20th century.

I must stop making excuses putting off doing difficult and daunting tasks, especially those that I know I want to do. Within me is the passion to write, to create art, to spark a light in others’ lives. Within me is the dream that I could make a difference someday. Within me is a girl struggling to find her place in this world, and the only way to do it is to never lose faith in myself.

* * *

I am having tingles through my body right now, as I think about Barack Obama making history as the first black president of America. People from around the world are celebrating his victory. Everybody is Plurking, blogging, and talking about it. It is the first time that I have been this interested in American politics, and I am sure all my other friends are, too. This year’s elections is by far the most exciting and historic one yet. It is wonderful news that the youth have gotten more involved and aware of what is happening in the world today, now that the Internet and media unavoidably exposes them to news, politics, and whatnot.

Today, black is the new white. Today, Obama has proved that anything is possible with an open heart, an open mind, and the right attitude to strive for one’s goals.

I am so touched that he even took the time to thank the world through his website, to which I subscribe to his regular personal e-mails, that without the people who supported him, this would not have been possible.

Now I would like to add that McCain does not use e-mail nor the Internet, which more than proves that he is one who is behind the world now being driven and made more connected through technology. Obama made good use of his website and YouTube for his campaign, wherein he particularly reached out to the youth. I see change all over him, and I believe he will be a remarkable world leader.