At one time, Quiapo was considered Manila’s downtown. In many ways, it still is. Though it lacks Makati’s chic and the creature comforts to be found in Manila’s many malls, Quiapo is still a popular destination for shoppers and bargain hunters—as evidenced by the crowds that pack the streets around Plaza Miranda.

At one time, Quiapo was considered Manila’s downtown. In many ways, it still is. Though it lacks Makati’s chic and the creature comforts to be found in Manila’s many malls, Quiapo is still a popular destination for shoppers and bargain hunters—as evidenced by the crowds that pack the streets around Plaza Miranda.

Quiapo’s name comes from kiapo, a name for the local water cabbage that was formerly endemic along the Pasig River. With decades of pollution and misuse of the river, the kiapo have almost disappeared from the riverscape, though efforts at cleaning and restoring the Pasig have somewhat revived the kiapo's presence.

There has been a church in Quiapo since 1586. The present foundation dates from 1928, the previous church having been destroyed by fire. To accommodate the crowds that visit the Nazareno, particularly on Fridays, Sundays, and during Lent, the church was expanded in 1987. In 1988, the Vatican designated the church as a minor basilica, an honor given to prominent Roman Catholic shrines.

To go to Quiapo Church is to see Filipino Catholicism in its popular form. People queue up to venerate the images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and popular saints; veneration is a tactile experience, with devotees touching images and portraits with either their bare hands or with cloths and handkerchiefs. Many visit the Nazareno either to make requests and vows or in thanksgiving for blessings received and to fulfill vows that were made.

Outside the church is Plaza Miranda, which in the 1970s was a popular venue for political gatherings and was the site of the bombing in 1971 that was a prelude to the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972. Today, Plaza Miranda is best known for its street vendors selling religious items, amulets (anting-anting or agimat), and various potions and herbal concotions (gayuma). Plaza Miranda is also a gathering place for various fortune tellers (manghuhula), many of whom claim to derive their abilities from their proximity to the Nazareno.

The errand at the Port Area wasn’t all that noteworthy. I mostly stood around while my dad made some inquiries regarding business incorporation at a government office.

On the way back to the house, we swung by Quiapo.

If there was one district that can be considered the spiritual heart of Manila, it’s Quiapo. This is the home of the Nazareno, a wooden image of Jesus carrying his cross. While this type of devotional image is fairly common across Spain and Latin America, Quiapo’s Nazareno inspires a level of popular devotion not seen for its overseas counterparts.

The original image was made in Mexico in the late 16th or early 17th century and was brought to the Philippines via the Manila-Acapulco galleon. Arriving in Manila in 1606, the image was first enshrined in the church of Saint John the Baptist in the now-extinct district of Bagumbayan. Its popularity among the local faithful resulted in its being transferred to the church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino in Intramuros, the old Walled City of Manila.

In 1767 a replica of the original Nazareno was given to the church of Saint John the Baptist in Quiapo for public veneration—the original in Intramuros was never brought out of the church. It was said that the Nazareno in Intramuros was for the Spaniards and the Nazareno in Quiapo was for the indios. The replica in Quiapo is what survives to the present day; the older image was destroyed during the Second World War.

Nowadays, most Manileños only know of the Quiapo image and the original that was in Intramuros has all but faded from popular memory. The devotion to the Nazareno has come full circle—the Quiapo image, originally a replica designed to be venerated publicly, no longer leaves the church; another replica has that role, to be touched and venerated by its devotees.

First stop was the Manila Central Post Office.

From around 1901 to 1946 the Philippines was a possession of the United States. That 45-year period, while brief compared to the three centuries-long Spanish colonial period, was tremendously influential for the country, as it imprinted onto mass consciousness a love of all things “imported”—that is, coming from the United States.

I’m a nationalist, and I have a very mixed view of the American Occupation. While the benefits were great—mass education, entry into the international community, basketball—the rest is… well, meh. The American era did much to institutionalize social and economic inequality across the country, and did so with a veneer of “democracy.”

But I digress. The Manila Central Post Office was built in 1926, halfway into the American era. While designed by Juan Arellano, a Filipino architect, the design’s inspiration came from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The plaza in front of the post office is known as Liwasang Bonifacio, after the national hero Andres Bonifacio, and it was a popular gathering point for political protests during the 1970s and 1980s. Thing is, very few people refer to the plaza by its proper name—it’s still popularly known as Plaza Lawton, the name it had during the American era. The plaza was originally named for Henry Ware Lawton, the highest-ranking American general killed during the Philippine-American War; it was only well after the Philippines regained its independence that the plaza took its present name.

Anyway, I was at the post office to drop off some very late Christmas cards.

Shortly after my visit to my old home, I got sick with a bad cold.

A day or so afterwards, I felt well enough that when my dad asked if I would like to accompany him to the Port Area for an errand, I took him up on his offer. So, from Quezon City we took the LRT-2 into the City of Manila itself.

Manila itself isn’t very big—it’s only around 15 square miles. The cit itself is composed of the old walled city of Intramuros along with 15 arrabales or districts (nobody calls them arrabales anymore). The Port Area is one of these districts; and from the LRT station at Recto and Rizal Avenues, we took a jeepney there.

Note the construction site; this was on Rizal Avenue. This is how roads were built and repaired while I was growing up. Not much has changed since then.

The house I knew growing up was definitely gone.

My grandparents built this house in the late 1950s, during my grandfather’s career as an insurance executive. It was a two-level house built on a rock outcrop; the rock itself served as part of the house’s foundation. While my grandparents lived in the upper level of the house, various aunts and uncles lived in the lower half. In 1987, we moved in.

After we left the Philippines in 1990, the house remained as it was until my grandfather started building additions to be used as apartments for the rental income. The lower level was subdivided into several studio apartments and my room became one apartment. It went on this way until the upper level got subdivided as well into smaller units. The relatives that still live in the house now stay in what’s left of the upper level.

For some reason, my uncle demolished what was my old room, and I took a photo of the remains. I walked around it for a bit, and I was struck at how small an area it was.

As for the upper level, it was much small than what I remembered, but the old parquet and tile floors remained unchanged, as was the lattice screen that formerly separated the living room from the dining room. 

You really can’t go home again.

You can’t go home again.

Mandaluyong is another constituent city of Metro Manila. Located across the Pasig River from Makati, it’s best known in the Philippines for two things: for having a metric shit-ton of malls and being the home of the National Center for Mental Health. Mandaluyong deals in crazy, one type being vastly more acceptable than the other.

Mandaluyong is also my hometown. I lived practically all over Metro Manila growing up, but I spent the most time in Mandaluyong. This is where my mother grew up and where my grandparents had their house. I was baptized in the neighborhood Catholic church, and I spent weekends and vacations there. And for three years right before we left for America, we lived there as well.

I had lunch with extended family in Makati, then they took me to see the old neighborhood. I hadn’t been back since my last visit in 2008, and it looked smaller and more crowded than I remember. The high-rise residential and office developments along EDSA and beyond served to even further dwarf the neighborhood.

We visited the church where I was baptized and where an uncle’s ashes rest in the crypt. In contrast to the surrounding neighborhood, the church had gotten larger, out of all proportion to its surroundings. The baptismal font was still there, as was the old image of Saint Roch that serves as the church’s patron saint.

Makati was just a stopover to Las Piñas, at the southern end of Metro Manila. Las Piñas is best known for its Bamboo Organ, a fully-functioning church organ with pipes made from cured bamboo. However, it was December 31st and I was going to celebrate the New Year with the extended family.

And New Year’s Eve in the Philippines means one thing: fireworks.

It was glorious.

Makati. Many folks who have but a scant familiarity with Manila have heard of the place. I’ve heard it referred to as Manila’s financial district—it’s answer to Wall Street—and while the comparison stands, Makati is its own city, another constituent member of Metropolitan Manila.

Like almost everything else in Metro Manila, Makati bears little resemblance to the tiny settlement on the banks of the Pasig River best known for its pottery. The name “Makati” refers to the river’s ebbing tides (kati in Tagalog). It’s properly pronounced mah-KAH-tee; when pronounced mah-kah-TEE, you’re simply telling the world that you’re itchy.

Growing up in the 1980s, Makati was already heavily developed, but it was during the 1990s and 2000s that Makati definitely experienced its building boom. Some landmarks disappeared to make way for new structures (nobody seems to mourn the loss of the Rizal Theatre, now occupied by the Shangri-la Hotel), formerly vacant lots were filled in with office structures and hotels, and the shopping centers in Makati got larger. Insanely larger.

Some things don’t change, however. The large National Bookstore branch across the way from Shoemart is still there, and sports a surprisingly complete collection of Christopher Moore’s books. The Landmark still has a chapel where could attend daily Mass, and the food court is still there. The crowds doing window shopping and actual shopping are no surprise.

But, the Makati I knew growing up is gone. Hell, even the Makati Supermart is gone, decamped to the south, in Alabang. Wesley seemed to like it well enough, though.

And here’s Wesley modeling the Team Manila shirt. Extra credit goes to those who recognize the Philippine historical reference.

And here’s Wesley modeling the Team Manila shirt. Extra credit goes to those who recognize the Philippine historical reference.

Kyoto has the Buddhist temple. Tokyo has the Shinto shrine. Metro Manila has the mall.
Manilenos like to brag that Manila is the mall capital of Asia, and given the amount of shopping malls present in Metro Manila (around 48 and counting), it’s hard to argue with that. Still, I wish that the ubiquitous shopping mall was not so much a point of pride for Manilenos, but that’s just me.
I have to admit that given the overall context of Manila, there’s a lot to like about a mall. It’s one of the few places in town where one can stroll around in relative comfort, thanks to air conditioning. There’s enough variety to the shops. One can eat there. And many malls in Metro Manila are easily accessible via public transportation. It’s a good place to simply pass the time.
The pops and I visited TriNoma in Quezon City, off North EDSA. This mall (whose name reminds me of trichinosis) sits next door to SM North EDSA, which was one of the first Big Honking Malls to appear in Metro Manila during the late 1980s. We window-shopped, had lunch, then shopped for real.
Since I stuck to my packing game plan that I used for the Japan trip, I’m limited as to my pack capacity. I did, however, buy a sweet t-shirt from Team Manila.

Kyoto has the Buddhist temple. Tokyo has the Shinto shrine. Metro Manila has the mall.

Manilenos like to brag that Manila is the mall capital of Asia, and given the amount of shopping malls present in Metro Manila (around 48 and counting), it’s hard to argue with that. Still, I wish that the ubiquitous shopping mall was not so much a point of pride for Manilenos, but that’s just me.

I have to admit that given the overall context of Manila, there’s a lot to like about a mall. It’s one of the few places in town where one can stroll around in relative comfort, thanks to air conditioning. There’s enough variety to the shops. One can eat there. And many malls in Metro Manila are easily accessible via public transportation. It’s a good place to simply pass the time.

The pops and I visited TriNoma in Quezon City, off North EDSA. This mall (whose name reminds me of trichinosis) sits next door to SM North EDSA, which was one of the first Big Honking Malls to appear in Metro Manila during the late 1980s. We window-shopped, had lunch, then shopped for real.

Since I stuck to my packing game plan that I used for the Japan trip, I’m limited as to my pack capacity. I did, however, buy a sweet t-shirt from Team Manila.

And the sun rose over Manila.

Nowadays when people refer to “Manila” they refer to Metropolitan Manila (Kalakhang Maynila in Tagalog), which is a grouping of cities and municipalities in the National Capital Region of the Philippines. Strictly speaking, the city of Manila is one of those constituent bodies, but of course also serves as a convenient metonym.

Home base is actually in Quezon City, the largest city in Metro Manila. Oddly enough, we’re in a neighborhood called New Manila, which is primarily residential—and as evidenced by the construction cranes in the distance, in the midst of a condominium construction boom.

I have to admit, I messed up the game somewhat. Instead of heading straight to passport control I went to the transfer point first. So now we’re sort of stuck in departures.

The weather is still blah, but the rain has let up. At least there’s a Kung Fu Massage located by my gate. That’s always a plus.

The toy dinosaur and I are headed to Manila, which will be our base for the next 15 days. However, right now we are at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, at the start of a seven-hour layover. This would be perfect for a quick jaunt into central Taipei to see some of the sights, but it’s raining and I’m pooped after a 13-hour flight. Wesley is raring to go, since he doesn’t get tired—which, I have to admit, is a huge upside to being a plastic toy.

However, we do have a ten-hour layover here on the return leg. Unless something changes, we’ll catch Taipei on the rebound.

On the road again.

On the road again.