Do you know how the air smells early in the day, just as the sun is rising?
Here it smells sweet and cold and sometimes a little dusty.
Then the sun gets so hot that it bleaches the cement and tar on the roads. The chickens and dogs begin to walk around restlessly and children start playing in the streets.
There are people grilling barbeque and fish, corn and sugar-coated bananas on most street corners. We call this grilled food ‘inihaw’. Unless you are in a car or inside, everyone is usually sweaty by 9am. We duck under the shade of technicolor umbrellas, tarpaulins, waiting sheds and large trees, buying one cold drink after another to keep us from getting too annoyed by the heat.
I think this is what it is like in most parts of my country.
But there are some bigger cities, too. I’ve only visited those places, though. When we are in those well-designed spaces with wide streets and tall skyscrapers, my mom likes to say ‘It’s just like California!’ There are beautiful buildings with traces of Spanish, American and post-war modernist architecture, too.
I like to ride the trains when I am there, even if they can be nightmares to rely on. Once, I was lost and the train broke down before we could ride it. I asked the man beside me how long they usually wait and he said, “We never really know. Sometimes it takes an hour, sometimes more.”
I’m usually afraid of strangers in the national cities. People get robbed very easily there. But that man was nice. The trolley was already full when it arrived. He let us get on first even if it might mean he would have to wait another hour for the next one. In the end, we were standing almost nose to nose like sardines!
When the train sways violently, you are pressed against the people around you. You can feel the sweat on their arms. To make us feel better, some strangers will make sounds as if we are on a roller coaster to make us laugh. One time, I accidentally boarded the section for men. These people standing around me began to form a circle facing away from me. I thought I would get robbed! Then I realized they were protecting me from those who might have bad intentions. There are good people on the trains, too.
The national center, Metro Manila, is a good place to visit, but not a good place to live.
I personally grew up in the mountains.
To get here you take a long highway that winds through forests and limestone cliffs. There’s a funny word we like to call ourselves, tagabundok, or from the mountains. And so everyone else is ‘tagababa’ or ‘from down there’, the lowlanders.
Up here it is cool enough to wear coats and boots. Our small city is a hilly place so we do a lot of walking. There’s also a park in the middle of town with a lake that my friends and I like to sit by. I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood with many pine trees. In the cold, dewy air of the evenings, you can smell pinewood smoke.
When I get stressed from work, I’ll take a long walk to the mall to buy some milktea. Then I take the same way back and listen to the crickets on the way home.
Anyway, I feel like I’ve talked too much. What is it like where you live? I’d love to hear all about it.
I hope you are safe 🙂 We like to say ‘Ingat!’ as a form of goodbye. It means take care.