Sunday, March 1, 2009

My city, myself

It was a bright, dewy morning at DZR Airport the day I arrived in the city where I grew up in, after a nine-year stay in Manila. Tacloban wasn’t exactly a cosmopolitan city by any stretch of imagination, which was why I was perturbed, returning to a place that seemed entombed in a time capsule where nothing ever changes.

The Tacloban I remember was a noisy, hot city center with shops that sold plastic wares. It had rusty jeepneys and tricycles traversing its veins. It was the city of my younger days, simpler times, and blissful pre-adolescent life free of worries and filled with the thrill of fresh experience and endless possibilities.

I remember I was about eight when we rented our first run-down apartment near Real street. I liked living here better than my father’s hometown, which had even less to be desired. My mom usually tagged me along when she ran errands: a visit to the post office, to PNB just in front of the lovely CAP building with Mc Arthur’s statue up on a podium (back then I thought it was really Mc Arthur’s dead body which they’ve coated with bronze so I usually avert my eyes so I don’t accidentally look at the statue’s impassive face), and later get refreshments from one of those restaurants with formica tables.

I loved growing up here. The first time I ever ate Kiamoy (and hated it) was from Mama’s favorite deli- Lee’s, owned by a myopic old Chinese man. My first hospital duty was with my Mom. Or more accurately, she was on duty while I tagged along. My Mama was a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse at Eastern Visayas Regional Medical Center- the biggest hospital in Tacloban at that time. Here, I also met my first best friend, had my first communion at Sto. Nino Church, danced at my first prom at People’s Center, and had my first brush with opulence at Leyte Park during its heyday.

What I remember the fondest were the weekend trips to the beach. The seafood was abundant and cheap. Grilled squid, fish, mussels- they were easy to purchase from the pier which doubled as a market. At sundown outrigger boats, filled to the brim with loud men, would dock and display their catch on huge platters.

As the van I rode from the airport neared home, the first thing I noticed was the skeleton of the new Robinson’s Mall just across our subdivision. The massive structure stood out amongst its neighbors. As I made my way downtown later that afternoon, I passed by several structures that had seemingly sprung out of nowhere: the “Astrodome”, a few glass and steel buildings mimicking those in Cebu and Makati, and a sprinkling of new establishments…

I could not see the pier for outrigger boats, for in its place was a huge Mc Donalds, and right across it, a two-storey Jollibee. Gaisano had a new mall at the heart of the downtown area, and there seemed to be twice the number of people roaming the streets.

I was wrong when I thought the city would never change. In a way, the new, bustling Tacloban is comforting- I rarely get to think about my old life in Manila anymore.

I nearly bumped into a group of young students as I stared at a shop window of one of the new malls. The last time I was on this street, I was a senior high school student. The reflection showed a much older guy dressed differently. My wanderings may have etched a few lines on my face, and I may have lived in different places for some time, but at that moment I knew, I was home.


Mugen said...

beri beri rich ng details. sobrang kulay ng narrative mo. angggaling!

Phoenix said...

@ Mugen: Thanks Joms!

Anonymous said...

Hi Thad.I like this piece. Pretty much what I feel too when I go to Tacloban, a place you can always call home. -Vallerie (LNHS '97)

Thad said...

Thanks Val! :-)


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