Many people don’t think much about living in the city, let alone living in a a burgeoning metropolis like Metro Manila. Sure, we have the hokey “Anak ng Pasig” city-loyalty ballads, and you can think about all the North and South comparisons, but at the end of the day, most people don’t think about how the city has changed the way we lived. Sometimes, it’s for the better, and sometimes it’s for the worse. And it always is somehow interesting, if you think about it.
In my case, it was easy to get a handle on how city living can change a person. When I was much younger, my father made sure that I would accompany him whenever he had long trips to the province to take care of a cooperative he was helping run. Normally, we would stay there a whole day, and this would happen twice a week or so. However, sometimes, we would spend the night there, particularly if there was a fiesta, or if my dad was too tired to drive.
My family, at that time, also had a love for going out of the city, be it beaches or Baguio. Admittedly, we never went much out of Luzon (except for that one time we stayed in San Francisco for a few months).
Still, what stuck to me in those times, and up to now, was how different things were between the province and the city.
Time marching on
The first big thing that most people don’t notice is how fast time seems to run in the city. Surely, most people know that the day seems to go by so fast when you’re at work, but once you are out of the city, it’s a different thing entirely.
To give you an idea: when I wake up these days, I have to start thinking of what I have to do for the day at work, be it a simple day of phone calls, or if I have some work deadlines that have to be finished. After that, I also have to think about what to do when I do get home, from cooking, to preparing for some advance work for the next day, or wondering about how I will spend my time relaxing.
However, in the rare times when I stay over with relatives or friends in the province, it’s a different thing entirely. And since I do prefer to help out with household chores (yes, I’m a horrifyingly helpful house-guest), what I do feel is that while there is just about the same amount of things to do – particularly if you’re on a farm – it seems to me that you have a lot of time to do things. In the city, everybody is rushing to finish work by the late afternoon. Outside of it, many people are simply finishing the day.
The “rush hour” of the city is exactly that – and what most people do not realize is that it’s not just a few hours, so to speak, but the whole day.
Impersonal is as impersonal gets
Now, we do believe, somehow, in the idea that the Filipino is always willing to lend a helping hand. However, thanks to street crime scams and other more dangerous events that happen in the city (like kidnappings, for one), many people are beginning to be more cautious, to the point that a certain “city-smarts” attitude takes hold, where you are careful about extending help to strangers. If you think this is a load of hogwash, then just think back to how many people react to street children who beg at open-air cafes, or those who climb up jeeps to “clean” shoes. For many, these children are little more than part of the cityscape. They are people, yes, but they aren’t individuals. It’s no surprise, then, that this impersonal approach to people leaks into both good and bad situations, from people who do not care about their karaoke volume, to people who remain “the neighbors,” never becoming more friendly (this last one is particularly true when it comes to condominium communities).
In stark contrast, outside the city, you can practically say hi’s and hello’s to passers-by, and even carry on conversations with complete strangers while falling in line. To be fair, some older people still do that in the city, but it’s becoming a rare sight – and experience – these days.
When I used to live in the more suburban parts of Cubao, I had the experience of actually having to acclimatize myself to pollution whenever I came back from a long trip in the province. Living as I did near the EDSA-Cubao crossroads, I could literally smell the smoke coming from the thoroughfare once I went down from the provincial bus.
That sort of experience made me, apparently, ill-prepared for when I moved to Makati. Now, to be fair, my place in Makati definitely has less pollution in the evenings (being near the bus stations in Cubao is no blessing). There are times, when Makati is in the middle of rush hour, when my nose feels practically clogged, and my eyes itch from the particles in the air. It’s no joke to say that I have to catch my breath for a few minutes whenever I come home these days.
Just as I used to feel a bit sick for the next few days after coming home from a long vacation when I used to live in Cubao, so it is now that when the traffic is really bad, I simply choose to stay inside the mall, or find a small coffee shop to hang out in.
And speaking of malls, that’s another form of city pollution that most people don’t think about much: noise. One of the most important things I learned was that things could be quiet. One of my best childhood memories is still of the time when I walked in Bulacan at night, across the rice paddies to this lone farmer’s way station in the middle of the fields, and I lay down on the bamboo “floor,” and looked at the stars. It wasn’t the starry night that impressed itself on me, but the sheer quiet of the surroundings, as my friends and I were just joking and talking until our parents told us it was time to go back to the main house.
Still, the city is impressive
Now, it’s true that I have been painting a negative view of city-living. However, it’s important to realize that the city itself is amazing, with its vibrant nightlife, the swirl of arts and culture, and all the opportunities for people who don;t mind working hard and playing hard. However, it does pay to step back once in a while, and appreciate the city even more – both in terms of the good and the bad. And while living in the city does have a host of problems, the reason we do stay is that cities like Metro Manila are places where even if you do have all the attendant issues that go with life in it… there’s still no place where you’d rather be, if you know that your dreams can be found in them.