Water break

I guess I'm at that point in life where I feel compelled to write about how difficult it is to simply make a living in Manila. I was walking from the office to the Ortigas MRT station last night, and I guess it was the grey-flesh glow of the sky, the hollow and hungry sounds of the EDSA vehicles and the limp electric lines that led me to think about how every day grows a little more remote and futile.

I wake up at 5:30, sleep for half an hour more, wake up at 6:00 and get ready for work. We're out of the house by 6:55, Dad and I in his car, and lurching onto Commonwealth he makes up names for the trouble spots in our route -- the horde, the crowd, the crawl. If it's 7:00 and I remember, I switch the radio to 98.7 DZFE for Deutsche Welle news. At 7:30 it's Harold Sala, and Dad and I listen in silence (sometimes) as the words penetrate our porous inner beings (sometimes). When it's 8:00, Francis Kong comes on. I guess he's a good speaker in general, with practical advice? But I wouldn't know--Dad hates his weird bedroom voice and switches it every time.

Waze goes crazy. Accident reported, 5 km/h, cover 10.7 kilometers in an hour! Sometimes, when we're in Cubao or Tomas Morato, Dad sighs and says he wants to go home.

Since we're on EDSA, we pass the MRT stations a lot -- North Ave, and its line stretching all the way to Philam, Quezon Ave, where the people line up in three rows, armed with umbrellas and a certain dimness in their demeanour. I know how it feels, getting in line at North Ave, squeezing into a little cavern under the stairs with no light and no ventilation and waiting there with hundreds of other people while the trains roar past us. You don't want to do this but you have to.

Going home from work, I listen for that creepy echo--the sort of low, gravelly "haaaaa" sound that means the train is coming. With the other ladies, I ram myself inside the cart, and if I'm secure enough--squeezed firmly between breathing, sweating, anxious women--I close my eyes and try to sleep a little.

Sometimes the escalator doesn't work at Ortigas Station, so everyone needs to squeeze in between the entrance and the rail that separates the sidewalk from EDSA. It's about a foot wide, and the rail is twisted some places. If you're not careful you might step off the curb and trip.

Whether you're in a car, a train or a bus, getting to work in Manila seems like this strange, pointless battle you have to fight every morning. Even if you're riding in a car driven by someone else. And then they take away a third of our earnings and spirit it away to some house in the US, some designer bag, some car. Sometimes I wish the businessmen would take over everything, because at least they have taste, visions of elevation; they know how money works and what it's worth, and they aren't dazzled by luxury, perhaps. But they're businessmen whose jobs are to make money. A country is more complex than that.


I like walking because it allows me to think: those airplane lights in the black sky = another thread of the future cut short. The fog that lies on the horizon of the photo I took from the 35th floor is a metaphor for uncertainty. Were we raised to be so special, to think of ourselves as brilliant and worthy and all-that, only to be stuck in a hole, in a desk, like a cog in a great machine? Am I doing a bad job of living in the now? Tomorrow is busy worrying about itself, but that worry is infectious.


The prospect of not-Manila, to me, is probably idealized, because I idealize most things: living in the countryside, living quietly, cooking delicious breakfasts on cold mornings using fresh ingredients, having my own little freelance job or business or publication. Living in the city seems bleak, but inevitable--move to the business district, or be trapped at home. Stay in circles. Be terribly busy and terribly bored. But laugh with the family on weekends, make fun of deformed mangoes, wake up and realize the weekend is gone--that's your phone at 5:30 with its gentle alarm.

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