One of Manila’s famous writers and stalwart sons* once said, “The Philippines spent 300 years trapped in a convent and 50 years in Hollywood.” This cheeky reference about the country’s history under Spanish and American rule has since then been a favorite of many tour guides and historians when introducing the Philippines.
At the heart of it all, then and now, is the capital city of Manila, the dizzying urban jungle which I call home.
For an outsider, perhaps Manila seems like a city of contradictions. For starters, it’s far from everyone’s idea of a glittering capital city, but believe me when I say it had its own share of glory. When locals ask where in Manila I’m from, a good number of them don’t mean any of the districts of the capital city; they want to know which of the cities comprising the mega metropolis called Metro Manila. It’s the country’s seat of power, history, and culture but not a lot of people see it as any of those.
Still, I’ve never been more proud to be a full-blooded Manileña than now. My city is slowly but steadily remembering and reminding people of its forgotten identity as a center of cultural and historical relevance. The younger generation are busy reviving the old shopping district of Escolta, setting up artsy weekend markets, pop-up galleries, and mini museums in its old but beautiful buildings.
Heritage walks and guided tours are held almost every month in and around the walled district of Intramuros, which was actually Manila itself was during the Spanish Era. More and more people are planning lunches and dinners out with family and friends in the quaint restaurants of Binondo, the world’s oldest and largest Chinatown.
Calls are being made — and heeded — to preserve and restore the old houses and buildings that bear both cultural and architectural relevance, such as the Manila Metropolitan Theater which was built in Art Deco style. Finally, in the wake of its burgeoning popularity among the curious youth, the National Museum of the Philippines has just declared free entrance to all visitors, local and foreign — forever.
Manila can be amazing if you know where to look, but I remain hopeful that I will one day be never happier and prouder to say that this is my home.
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