Lonely in the City: How Manila Mends the Heart.

Only a beautiful city can repair a broken heart. After having been turned away from my alma mater and missing the opportunity to bid my students adieu and congratulate them on successfully completing high school, I took my loneliness out for a walk.

As usual, most of the crying was done on the train and by the time I reached the last station upon which I was to alight, I wasn’t sure if coming all this way was worth the effort. I risked disappointment and foreignness and being in a city that was so cruel to so many of its inhabitants. I boarded a jeepney, wary and out of sorts–but somehow, Manila embraced me in a way I didn’t ever think possible–especially in broad daylight, when the city itself showed its own scars.

There we were, two vulnerable souls, each seeking refuge in the other. Thank you, Manila, for your quiet streets filled with birdsongs and bridges that lead me back to myself.

The Manila Post Office seen from Jones Bridge by way of jeepney.

The Manila Post Office seen from Jones Bridge by way of jeepney.

My grandparents met at the Post Office when they were younger and that’s when my Β grandfather claims to have noticed this beautiful, shy woman who would later become his wife. When I see this building, I miss them a lot and I remember the many times we drove past this bridge when they were still alive. They would brighten up at the sight of this building–even in their late eighties.

Manila Cathedral

The Manila Cathedral seen from its side.

You walk along these streets and you remember for a moment that once upon a time, Manila was the Pearl of the Orient. Its architecture and its people were cosmopolitan and though today we’re wont to say that this feels a lot like another place, I’ve finally come to be proven wrong. This is exactly what Manila ought to feel like–beautiful, opulent and still, very much our own. The ambulance was also a dead give-away of my state of mind.


One of the older buildings in Intramuros that’s fenced and appears ready for demolition.

The birds sing loudest in empty spaces where the threat of man is so remote. They don’t sing sad songs and I love that when I was lonely, an even lonelier building cheered me up because of the life it allowed to flourish within itself. Reminds me of the true meaning of giving. Assuming the edifice felt anything, it would long to be whole again, to be used–but instead, it is seemingly at peace, giving birds a place to live, a place to sing. No matter how sweet the song, the birds can never repay the building–kindness without a cost.

San Agustin Church seen from the Ristorante delle Mitre.

San Agustin Church seen from the Ristorante delle Mitre.

The food was wonderful. It’s the kind of home-cooked set of meals you hope to arrive at after taking your loneliness for a walk. From across the table where I sat, I could see the San Agustin Church and I still recall the many field trips and school visits we would have that had this lot as our marker.

The former Philippine Constabulary.

The former Philippine Constabulary.

Set against the backdrop of Cumulus clouds at sunset and paired with the moon looking over us all, this scene was quite dramatic. I had come to witness some theater based on historical events…more on that next time but for now, this. How could any theater outdo this sky?

San Agustin Church at nightfall.

San Agustin Church at nightfall.

It was Palm Sunday, after all. I had waited months for this day to come, for a completely different set of reasons. I was excited for my young ones–as I still am–but instead got served a heavy dollop of disappointment. Regardless, perhaps more than the joy of commencement, something can be said about going back home?

I knew my Holy Week would be meaningful when I found myself in San Agustin, attending mass spontaneously. Sometimes the Spirit calls and I don’t listen as much as I ought to–but as always, instead of punishing me, I am just led back home when I am most broken.


109 thoughts on “Lonely in the City: How Manila Mends the Heart.

  1. I was disappointed to not see you there either, Miss Nash. 😦 Nevertheless I’m glad you found solace elsewhere, even if the Alma Mater wasn’t “faithful always to thee” back. Happy Holy Week! πŸ™‚

    • Aww, don’t worry. Graduation is just pomp and pageantry. The best part will be meeting you gals outside of the classroom where I’m sure you all are excited to be. πŸ™‚ You all grow up so fast and haha, clever bit about the alma mater. It is quite faithful though–despite the persons who may embody it now, it’s still very much a part of who I am. I learned to be myself in that place and that’s still one debt I cannot pay. πŸ™‚ How are you, Pat? Anxious? Excited?

      • Haha, definitely! Will look forward to that for sure. πŸ˜€ Thank you, Miss; I try hehe. And that’s lovely; I look up to you for your patience and gratitude. πŸ™‚ Strangely, I’m not as sentimental as I think I ought to be… haha. I mean, I cried a little during assembly, but not during the Graduation itself. I’m excited for College and for being able to be free of all the things they restricted me from in High School. Never really felt I spread my wings as far as they could go back there, but I’m thankful nevertheless for having the experience. :)) It just hasn’t all sunk in yet, I suppose.

  2. Congratulations on being freshly pressed, and a happy Easter! Now I wonder why you couldn’t attend your students’ graduation.. anyway, I’m proud to finally see pinoy on the freshly pressed rack!

      • Yup! So you mean you have less of us going to your blog? Haha. Incidentally, I also went out with a lonesome blog this prior to Easter. What’s up with the mood, right?? Maligayang muling pagkabuhay. πŸ™‚

      • Hahaha! Yes, I don’t often get that many people commenting on this blog and yes, sometimes even the Pinoys are hard to come by. πŸ™‚ Maligayang pagkabuhay din sayo!

  3. writingforliberty says:

    Dearest You,

    I have no idea who you are, or why you feel so lonely, but for some reason I can see through your broken words so clearly. You’re writing is so beautliful….so honest and truthful. Manila is such a lovely city…I think its the kind of place where people like us should belong. I’m glad you’ve embraced it….and thought of it as some sort of safe Haven for your very own tortured self. I’m afraid its too late for me, however…..But that’s alright.

    Thank you for sharing this.


    • Thank you for this sincere message of love and light. It is never too late. Perhaps if you manage to come to this part of the world, I might introduce you to this city too in the hope that it does its wonders on you.

      It is never too late. Allow the city you’re in to love you and surely, you will feel less lonely. πŸ™‚ And if loneliness ever becomes your default setting–like it is for me–well, at the very least I’ll wish for you a few reasons to smile every now and then.

  4. When I fist moved and traveled to the Philippines, everything seemed worth taking pictures off. Now that I live here (Makati) I forget looking around and I seem only to see dirty streets with lots of traffic. Thanks for your post, I will be opening my eyes again πŸ™‚

      • I’ve only just moved to the Philippines in September 2012. I’m married to a Filipina girl from Cavite. We lived first in Belgium, but then we decided to move to the Philippines and give it a try. I found a b quite easily in Makati, so we decided to move there. My wife works in Pasay, so it’s close for both. It’s ok for me, but I have to admit, life may be much more expensive in Belgium, but it’s much easier πŸ™‚ taxes are high, but they are used for the good of many people. I hope, as the economy goes up, that this may also change in the Philippines.

  5. Those are great photos of Intramuros! I went there quite often about 1 month ago as we had family & friends visiting from overseas. I don’t remember going there when we used to live here 10 years ago but I’m glad I went now – it feels surreal in ways because it’s so different to Makati and its surrounding areas. Perhaps this Easter (for you) can be seen as a start of a new (better?) beginning. Happy Easter πŸ™‚

    • Awww, thank you very much. This is very sweet of you! πŸ™‚ I’m so glad that a few words managed to intrigue you. Do let me know if you decide to take a trip over here. I’d love to tell you more about this city–or the others in the Philippines that I’ve been to.

  6. Lisa says:

    don’t get to read a fellow filipino’s/filipina’s blog on wordpress that often. manila can be beautiful to those who know how to see. nice post. πŸ™‚

    • Yeah, I know what you mean but I think it’s great of WordPress to find us because of our words and not our country of origin πŸ™‚ I agree though, we need to be more open to appreciate this city’s gifts.

  7. Thank you for this glimpse into your perspective of Manila. My mother grew up in Narra, Palawan before she emigrated to Canada. I love to read posts on the Philippines. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

  8. Wonderful! I was in Manila about six months ago. During a typhoon. This brought back wonderful memories. Thank you. Glad being there made your Holy Week special!

      • Yep.. I started with Sto. Domingo in QC, then UST, Quiapo church, the Manila Cathedral (but was closed), San Agustin, St Jude, San Beda ( saw it the first time and it was so beautiful), Loreto Church and finished at St. Anthony de Padua.

      • Hi! Yep I am. Visited Sto. Domingo, UST, Quiapo, the Cathedral, San Agustin, St Jude, San Beda (saw it the first time and was mesmerized!), Loreto and St Anthony de Padua. It was a good nine churches in a day!

  9. I have been dreaming of experiencing Manila again just like what you did.I miss it. Sometimes we get to appreciate things much better when we are truly broken. Cheer up! Beautiful blog post. πŸ™‚

  10. I often forget to look at Freshly Pressed but I’m glad that I did today. Your post was beautiful and I find myself wanting to know more. Strange how many people I’ve ‘met’ from the Phillipines in this funny old blogging world of ours. Congratulations!

    • Thank you! I’m so glad Freshly Pressed brought you to my site. What would you like to know? I have so many stories yet to tell about this city of mine. Tell me about yours? Hahaha, I’ve met my fair share of international bloggers through WordPress too. πŸ™‚

      • Maybe I’m a little slow but I wasn’t sure if you’d failed end of term exams or why otherwise you couldn’t attend graduation? Striking how many homesick Philippinos there seem to be, in this world where we all want to travel? It must be a very beautiful place.

  11. Thank you for this. However, your lovely blog post has made me miss home even more. Soon! All the best, D. (I’m so glad you’ve been pressed, otherwise I would never have found you, this – it’s like finding “home” again).

    • Haha, this is a little late but I’ll reply anyway–hello, D! Where is home again? πŸ™‚ I really think it’s sweet that you see so much of yourself here. I feel the same looking through your blog–and your other comments really made me very happy! πŸ™‚

      • Home to me is QC – specifically an old 70s run-down apartment in Teachers Vill where I lived alone for a number of years. Have no idea who lives there now. I think I’m your soul “ate”. Haha =)

  12. Really enjoyed your post, I’ve never been to Manila but I live in London and the first paragraph of your post just strikes the right chord. “Only a beautiful city can mend a broken heart”. Thank you.

    • Oh wow! I’ve always dreamt of seeing London while in my 20s if only to stand in Trafalgar Square and look around! πŸ™‚ So happy this post made you think of your own city. I hope you write about it too–and if you do, please let me know. Thanks for dropping by!

  13. great article!! i suddenly feel like going back to the old manila that i grew up in. i remember the narrow streets in dapitan and laong laan, before we transferred to the red-district area in ermita. thanks for the reminiscence.

    • You know, even Ermita has retained some of its old glory. I still visit an old friend who runs a bookstore in that area and it’s still beautiful–just really full of malls, vendors and the like. πŸ™‚ What do you remember about your Manila?

  14. Thank you for this post! You grabbed our attention, got us to read the entire article, appreciate your revealing photos and made fellow Filipinos and foreigners (anyone who has lived most of his/her life outside the Phil) who have visited Manila have a sense of connection to the place and yet you managed to make us feel like we missed seeing and feeling something and make us wanting to go back.
    The photos themselves are creative enough to make us see beauty despite the barrenness of the walls of the structures, and imperfections here and there (things we will hopefully see less as the country surges forward). The photos though wonderful pale in comparison to your story telling.
    Love and light always finds a way into our empty spaces, and does so too in our hearts and in our lives. We would do well if we are able to choose to having these continually coming into us. Being a teacher is not easy yet it is a noble profession, and it is a joy to still be one outside the confines of a classroom. May you find more ways to cast a positive influence to others. The country appreciates this contribution of yours and could certainly gain much more from people like you.

    • Oh wow! you must tell me if you ever find your way here! I would love to take you around or at lest tell you what may be nice to see! You live in the Middle East, yes? I’ve always wanted to go there. πŸ™‚

      • Sounds great! Yes, I shall let you know if we make it to the Philippines. You are most kind! I do live in the Middle East. Wonderful to hear of your interest in visiting! If ever you find yourself in Qatar or the region, let me know.

    • Aww, I hope this ache is tempered by sweet memories of home. πŸ™‚ A lot of people see this but I doubt if they talk about it–only because it seems commonplace to them. Thank you for dropping by and leaving such kind words. πŸ™‚

  15. topcraig says:

    I’m living in Manila now, and I recently attended a wedding at San Augustin Church. I live in Bonifacio Global Village and I was amazed at the amount of people who came to observe the “Stations of the Cross,” at the mall on High street. Manila is a truly wonderful city.

      • topcraig says:

        My wife, a Filipina, and I recently got married. We are here in Manila for a few more months, then we will be moving to Pangasinan. We are going to apply for a visa so we can go to the US next year. We want to be close to her family while we wait for the visa.

  16. It feels so good to read good stuff about Manila. In spite of all the traffic and chaos all over the city, there are still people like you who really appreciate the city. Mabuhay ka!

  17. Created ~ Create.it says:

    I enjoyed this beautiful post. I love to travel so was completely absorbed in your thoughts. Thank you for sharing πŸ™‚

  18. thank you for featuring Manila on your post and thanks WP that it is being “freshly pressed” ! Im from the Philippines and from south of Manila, in Batangas City.

  19. Aww all these pics are making me miss Philippines so much:( Cant wait to go there for vacation! One of these days:( you know what they say “It’s more fun in the Philippines” Great article by the way!

  20. Hello, there. This post was very nostalgic for me because Manila welcomed me and kept me safe during the entire years I spent there as a college student in UP Manila. I remember the long commutes to and from Quezon City and how Manila toughened me up from a little girl who knew nothing about Manila to someone who eased her way into it and learned to be independent.

    I miss Manila, no matter how much I cursed the awful pollution, traffic and commuting conditions. But you can’t help but love the place when you start to explore and pay attention to details. Maybe when i go back home I shall take my husband on a tour to Old Manila and maybe a visit to my alma mater.

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