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The Working Tour of Manila by a Real Son of Manila

I technically am a son of Manila, and I love Pandacan despite the somewhat decrepit anti-ghetto state it has recently degenerated into. Manila, a friend used to say, was like a whore; nondescript by day, dazzlingly beautiful but dangerous by night. Even today, as I try to live my life away from the hustle and bustle of the nation's questionable capital, I find myself yearning for the polluted avenues of Taft and United Nations, the Francisco Zamora bridge, which everybody from Pandacan lovingly calls the "bagong tulay," which leads to one of the largest motel sprawls imaginable in the country. I long for Roxas Boulevard and the filthy but romantic sea wall, from the old Army-Navy Sports complex to the pristine, dog-friendly gardens of the cultural centre, just like how a man, devoid of love, returns to the embrace of his favorite prostitute just to know what human touch felt like, once in a while.

I want to see that old, somewhat batty old man who directs traffic at the corner where the old Romualdez mansion stands. Or salute that soldier who guards the watchtower atop the walls of Malacanyang Park right beside Nagtahan Bridge. Have that guard at the Pureza station of the LRT-II go through my gig bag again en route to Anonas, and Freedom Bar, which is only a city away, but feels just as much a part of the old Manila that I know so well.

I'd like to go to Gary's at Taft Avenue with my friends again, at seven p.m., just hours before closing time, to drink a couple of beers, and shoot the breeze with the fat waiter. Or wait for that really pretty girl who always went to the Dunkin' Donuts just a couple of stores away, while editing a short story and nibbling on a ten peso donut.

What else?

I want to go to SEx again - the Sinigang Express over at Pedro Gil, just a few steps away from St. Paul Manila, and have one of their Tapang Tapat, the most exciting, heart-choking tapsilog meal that goes down oh so well with a bottle of San Miguel Pale Pilsen, the best pilsener in the world. Or visit the Starbucks over at Holiday Inn along U.N. Avenue, and say hi to the lovely baristas there (this, I hear, is impossible now).

There's something about waiting for the Greenhills bus at Sta. Mesa, with all the PUP students with you, breathing in the smog of the afternoon rush hour; you're in no hurry, after all, you're just on your way to Annapolis for another drinking session with your cronies. It's almost as nostalgic as that left turn from Araneta Avenue to N. (Ennie, to the old-timers) Domingo, where Manila ended and San Juan began in a deluge of seedy nightclubs taking advantage of the abrupt change in territory.

Along San Marcelino, just past the Adamson University campus, and pretty near SM Manila, is a series of the most interesting wall murals you could imagine seeing. There, among the murals, you will see the future of the city, ultramodern and prophetic, culminating in that one single painting of the woman with the green face taking a crap in a yellow tiled bathroom.

If you're ever in the Santa Ana extension of Pedro Gil, don't forget to stop by the Bambu Grill (if they're still open) for the cheapest silog meals this side of the Metro. The owners run a clandestine operation training waitresses for foreign service, and they regularly run episodes of Naruto on the only TV set in the entire restaurant. The tables are so heavy, it would take three of me to even move them for a meter.

Since we're in the same geographical location, further down the street you will find the Santa Ana church, where the ghost of a beggar haunts the corner where Pedro Gil extension meets New Panaderos. And even further is the ruins of one of the old hospitals in the area, emanating such powerful vibes of unearthly radiance that the entire avenue, though wide enough to fit four hummers abreast, is vastly empty save for the jeepneys going from Mandaluyong to Manila via Kalentong.

On the opposite side of Santa Ana, very near the Manila-Makati border, is a place called Builders. My friend Obi and I love this place. And that is all that will be said about it.

Along one of the side streets in Dapitan was this little batcave of a drinking place the Thomasian Writers' Guild called Kittens (or the Batcave, depending on your batch). It regularly serves cheap-ass bottles of Red Horse 500s starting from eleven in the morning. How do I know this? I have proof - you may find it in my liver, and in the livers of plenty other contemporaries in the TWG. The owner has become rather exasperated with some of us, actually. But she loves the business. I hear the place had closed down now. Such a shame.

I want to eat at Wendy's Nagtahan again.

Or walk the two labradors, Homer and Marge, along the Linear Park.

Contemplate the prices of Red Horse at the Tejeron San Migue plant.

Listen to the trains whirring down the railroad tracks, or the Angelus bells of the Sto. Nino parish.

Watch the sunset where the smog makes it beautiful.

Hear the roar of familiar people. Listen to Hotdog blasting from the stereo components of people who didn't care about personal space.

I miss Manila.


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