By: Raoul Simon Suarez
WAY BACK when I was in high school, my school required the students to go on an Educational Trip to Manila. This was meant for those who were enrolled in the Special Science curriculum and the trip wasn’t even in any way, shape or form related to Science. It was special for most of us though. The small town kids were going to the big city to see what it’s like. My family isn’t filthy rich but my parents made sure I was part of this trip. This made me feel sorry for those who weren’t able to go due to financial constraints.
When we got to Manila, we lived in a hotel and dined in fancy restaurants. We had meals-to-go from fast food chains whose names I have only encountered for the first time. The privileged kids from the school knew about these fast food chains and were bragging about how this isn’t their first time to try the food and that they usually get to eat from these places when they go to Manila with their parents. I just kept mum. I had no stories to tell about Manila. My family went there when I was 3 years old and I don’t remember any details about the trip. This was technically my first time to go.
The school rented an air-conditioned bus that served as our means of transportation. Our teachers served as our facilitators and timekeepers. There was also a tourist guide who was hired to do some babbling about all the sights and the history behind the different places we visited. She was some old lady I don’t even remember anymore. I can only remember her telling us that “ebun” is the Kapampangan word for egg.
During the course of the trip we visited some historical landmarks that are now not being frequented by people. We were taken to the main site of a company that makes calculators. Some geek was talking about how they work with this sort of technology and that bored me because I hate Math. We went to this place they called Enchanted Kingdom for some recreational activities and the rides were way cooler than what we usually get to enjoy in the plaza during fiestas. This was the first time I got to ride something scarier than the Ferris Wheel. We went to Baguio for a day or two. There were no ukay-ukay chains there yet. Some of us got some peanut brittle and strawberries to take home as gifts or pasalubong. It was a time when Krispy Kreme or Jco Donuts were inexistent unlike now wherein they happen to be the pasalubong of choice.
That trip made me realize how Manila was so much different from my little city. The malls were four times bigger. The shoes had a wide array of choices and colorways. There were a lot of options for dining and the fastfood chains were everywhere. I seized the opportunity to buy the things that I couldn’t easily buy from the malls in my little city. I bought a plush room lamp for my mom and dad that was touch-operated (they are still using it), some stuff from Enchanted Kingdom which included a glow-in-the-dark wand for my sister, some collectible cards for myself, and an airplane model kit that I and my dad can work on during days when we’re both not too busy with our everyday lives (which is still in the box to this very day completely untouched with the price tag on).
Everything money can buy can be found there. Most of my classmates were talking about how nice it would be like to live in Manila and work there. I liked the idea back then. It felt like being a small town boy wasn’t hip. I needed to be up to speed. Everything I wanted was there.
When I got a little older, I found a job and worked in Manila for a few years. I didn’t like it. The place is a hell-hole. The cab drivers are dishonest and are just plain opportunists. Thieves were everywhere. I can’t even sit on a bus and take a nap without the nagging feeling that somebody might capitalize on the situation and steal my stuff. The restaurants that claim they cook Ilonggo Dishes were a scam and I had to visit some good old men from my fraternity just so I can get a taste of authentic Ilonggo cooking. Discrimination in the workplace was apparent (but well there are always good people at work and that fact can’t be denied). The traffic is awful. A good part of my day was always spent walking up the stairs of an overpass, waiting for the green light, or lining up at the train station waiting for a ride home.
People who go there gradually forget about their morals. For the first few months I was there, when I take the bus to work, I always offered my seat to the ladies and the elderly. One day I just realized that I’ve been standing in the bus everyday for the first few months I was there so I picked up the habit of pretending to be asleep so I get to keep my seat. Everything you do there needed a time table. I had to create a daily schedule and I can’t just go visit friends without making plans a week or 2 weeks before that.
Living there was a hassle. It wasn’t paradise like my little high school self thought it would be. Everything was all about the money and Manila has a million ways to drain you of that resource. That high school field trip showed me that my little city didn’t have most of the good stuff that can be bought in Manila. Material things. Superficial things. Living in Manila made me realize that my little city has a lot of things that money can’t buy.
Iloilo, the little city I grew up in, is where I belong. I’m a small town boy. I’ll always be a small town boy. I have everything I need right here.
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