Pasay’s lost glory days

A few months back Candice – an old editor whom I’ve actually never had the chance to meet in person – asked me to contribute a story to her lovely blog project called The Story When – a collaborative project that weaves individual stories into a casual anthology.

These are personal stories you hear from relatives, strangers, that often slip through time, but are reflective of that certain period. Capturing it as written word is a way to preserve history. I wrote about Pasay’s lost glory days, re-told from the passenger seat of my pop’s car.


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The bustling Metro Manila metropolis is no stranger to urbanization. Every time I go home to visit from overseas I’m always on the look out whether anything has changed. Are there new buildings? Has the traffic gotten better or worse? Is yet another new mall being built? What’s the hottest new club?

It’s a city constantly under construction. Even though I’m only in my twenties, I have already witnessed how much Metro Manila has changed, for better and worse, under the guise of different leadership and foreign exposure.

As a Makati girl, I have experienced the rise and fall of Embassy Super Club under its different iterations, the influx of traffic into ‘The Fort’ as new condominiums, bars, restaurants, and offices has turned it into the central business district and the hippest place to be seen hanging out with friends after work or on the weekends.

But once upon a time, before the gated villages of Makati started to rise, Pasay was the land of rich and the ‘mayaman’, recalls my pops.

When he would drives us around the city as kids, instead of playing the radio in the car, he would reminisce about the good old days.  Every car ride was like taking a trip back in time. Pops would make kwento about every nook and cranny in the city—a backstory that we would probably never learn in school or even make an effort to Google. These are stories that are passed down through the generations, not via the Internet, but straight from the mouths of people who actually lived through it.

Pops tells us that, back then, Pasay shared a long coastal area with Manila and Paranaque—often a site for swimming or witnessing a scenic setting sun by the bay to mark the end of the day.

With a population of about 20 million people, Pasay was peaceful, unpolluted, well lit, and decorated with trees. People took long walks in the evening because it was safe.

Before Dasmariñas and Forbes, Pasay housed a community of ungated villages and walled properties with no condominiums. The old residents of today’s gated Makati villages were once residents of Pasay. Even the original Polo Club was located in Pasay.

Like the Makati and Fort Bonifacio of today, Pasay was the gateway city and a center for trade, so its development was fast. But with a heavy heart, pops says that the fast urbanization, although planned well by the colonizers, was not executed well by the local government at that time.

Now Pasay has become forgotten, barely part of the local vernacular of the Metro Manila youth. Despite the stories I’ve heard over time, even I don’t have a clear picture of what Pasay looks like now, what more of the glory days back then. I only have the ruminations of my pops to capture that moment in time. And it’s my job to help him preserve his memories by sharing it for the next generation.

But as time continues to pass by, it’s possible that the home I know today might suffer the same fate as Pasay or continue to blossom into the metropolis of tomorrow.  I’ve already seen it change so much in such a short span of time. I can only trust that years from now, I too will reminisce and share about Metro Manila as I’m driving through the city with my kids.

Read the original article here and view more stories from The Story When. 


The unlikely character of Geylang: A walk through a red light district

Singapore before the facelift: old and organic.

He was an unlikely character. A stereotype riding on two wheels: that of his biker mystique, and the other of a stranger.

His eye bags were full, not with weariness but stories of the endless hours spent on the road, traversing the world on his motorcycle, once with the Himalayan wind as his guide.

I definitely have not met anyone like him before. Why would I? I was taught never to talk to strangers, lest those with a crooked smile, a black bandana and a two-wheel drive with no doors. As a young woman, I’m supposed to know better. Maybe that’s why I don’t have friends like him. Maybe that’s why I took a risk, albeit a potentially foolish one, to trust.

A monk’s day off in Geylang.

So that day I walked through Geylang with him, a small part of what’s left of Singapore before the facelift of Orchard road. I spent an afternoon learning about the country before it was branded as an economy; a place that could still feel organic; a reality tucked away from sight.

As the implicit red light district of Singapore, there were more unlikely characters lurking everywhere. I could feel them. Oddly enough, these workers — with their dark, perspiring skin, and women with their mismatched, tight and unpolished clothing and high heels, — they struck me both as familiar and not.

Cigarette butts and beer caps. What happens when Heineken and Tiger hang out.

When I first visited Singapore I remember feeling bemused at how a place, with its comfort and convenience, can make you miss the soul of third world. However, when I moved here five months later from the Philippines, I unknowingly traded this sense of comfort for complacency.

Then it hit me. It’s one thing to miss third world, but another to forget how it feels once you leave it behind. Yes, it was familiar, but it was a slow sensation that should not feel the need to creep back into my system. In a place like Singapore that can easily spoil you, it’s imperative to never forget. I know that I don’t want to.

But you don’t need to be poor in order to write about poverty and suffering, he said. Take Salman Rushdie, for example. He was rich but had the empathy to write with such a deep understanding of humanity.

So the question is: How do I empathize with a country that appears to have everything? By trying to understand its past, the people, tucked away from signs of progress.

If you look closely, the date is when the building was constructed.

He told me, among other things, that back then the immigrants came to Singapore for cheap housing and to find work. This explains the rapid development of affordable HDB’s. I laughed at the irony.

Today Singapore is still an expat capital, even despite the high cost of rent, (which is usually split with other flat mates.) The country may have been occupied, first as a British colony then briefly as a Japanese one in 1942, but today it’s representative to what I think is the modern day conqueror: foreign workers who till the globe with remittances. So in an offhanded way I am Singapore. I empathize because I am cosmopolitan. Success!

A “Fishtank”

Finally the neon lights blinked, illuminating the nondescript alleyway with subliminal signs of “fish tanks,” his term for the places where men can go “fishing” at night.

The uncles were trying to hide the unlikely characters inside, disallowing us from even staring. But as we approached the street where he parked his motorcycle, I knew that unlikely characters would always reside.

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