Though I lived in Manila until I was 13 years old, I have – for the past 29 years – been known as a Batangueña. It’s a travesty, really, because I do not know the places beyond where our residence stands. The only time I lived there continuously was when I studied at Batangas State University. And. That was some 25 years ago.
But. I can locate the towns that make up the province, having traveled over the western part of the province extensively during my 23rd year of existence. Agoncillo was where a kind lady gave me a needlepoint latch hook. Balayan is a bayside town known for its bagoong or fish sauce. Lemery is another bayside town where I recall being doused with water by residents during a fiesta. The fiesta of San Juan is actually celebrated in Balayan with a parada ng lechon but I don’t know and cannot recall why it was in Lemery that I got wet. Balayan is actually a tiny town with quaint streets and a vineyard belonging to an LP stalwart of yore. It’s also where I first got to know that Kiko Pangilinan helps poor people who approach him.
Meanwhile, Lian and Tuy are farming towns where I was astonished to see a young security guard own a cemented house. It turned out that he had worked abroad briefly before settling down with his girlfriend. Calaca, of course, is well known for being the site of a coal-fired power plant. But did you know that it is also known for its atchara? In fact, there’s now a Calacatchara Festival yearly. I would not have known about its atchara if the hubby had not worked at the power plant for five years and gotten to know some of its residents.
When I look back, what was then astounding to me was how people in the rural communities lived such simple lives yet were so welcoming, open and kind to visitors – even offering their beds (which, in some cases, were in the living room) for me to nap on! In fact, I cannot forget a family in Calatagan that offered me a bed for the night the first time I visited them even though I was a stranger when I entered their house. Being so out of the way, it was a necessity for me to spend the night but really, I never felt that they felt imposed upon. Then again, traveling in a jeepney with your hair flying in your face along a sunny road bordered by fields of green is an experience to remember.
Anyway, enough of reminiscing. Although. It sure is obvious that there are many, many ex-residents of Manila who long for the way things were back then. For me, the feeling of nostalgia began more than a year ago when I started research on Ermita for a short story I wanted to write. (When I was younger, we rode jeepneys through A. Mabini street during the hours near midnight after watching the last full show at Robinson’s cinema. And. I never saw any lady of the night even though the place was already well-known as a red light district.) I knew that high society families had settled there after the war, it being so close to Intramuros, and thought that surely, there must be material online on post-war Manila.
Well, there was, courtesy of an American who had lived in and loved Manila: Lou Gopal. His blog, which is so full of photos and information you won’t feel the need to buy a history book on pre-Martial Law Manila, has also spawned an FB page which currently has more than eight thousand members. If you’re a present or ex-Manileña, check it out because really, how cool is it that you learn something new everyday about the place you grew up in?