If I am to enumerate all the ills of Manila, I would end up feeling sapped, sacked, and sickened. Staying in the center of the city is giving me a good view of the generalities and dialectics that perfectly define this megacity while at the same time giving me a first hand encounter of the grimes and crimes Manila has been so notorious of.
If poverty existed in Hanoi, it exposes itself in such a romantic, rustic, almost charming way; probably because modernity has not totally encroached its walls. Poverty in Manila, on the other hand, is unforgiving, blatant, almost unclothed that can be scandalizing in the initial encounter. However, repeated exposures lead to desensitization, to an almost miraculous ability of the people to choose the things they want to see and ignore the bluntness of the panorama forcing itself on their every senses.
I went to Recto Boulevard with a friend and his best friend yesterday to inquire on the cost of an invitation project they’ll have. While waiting for them, I decided to eat at Goldilocks, a fast food in Isetan, a retail department store in Quiapo. Halfway through my meal, two girls approached me and asked if I could give them what I was eating. I was shocked and felt betrayed by the inability of the store to rid their store of street children. My first reaction was that of an assaulted pedestrian, poverty almost always leaves me feeling molested. But I ended giving them half of my food, it was too hard to close my eyes and ignore one of he hardest facts in front of me.
They were Cha Cha and Zsa Zsa, sisters; one was ten, the other was seven. But their growth was so stunted that they both looked like five-year old kids. It was a hopeless encounter. In my younger years, I hoped to change the world, to eradicate poverty from the face of the Earth. I knew I was not alone; I knew there were teenagers like me who also involved themselves in the attempt to make everyone’s life livable. Have we all failed? I know this question is naïve. But sweeping questions like this are necessary in making a rough estimate as to where our real score in the giant tally sheet of change.
I’m a very sensitive man. That’s as far as literature, emotion, beauty, culture, novelty, art, and thoughts are concerned. But after encountering the lowest possible ebb of humanity, I’ve gone numb, calloused; it’s all too possible for me to go blind and be like anyone else: oblivious of the realities under his nose. I wouldn’t want my stay in this metropolis to make me fail to take notice of the little struggles made by ordinary residents of Manila to transcend routine poverty and go beyond their condition.