Introduction of Work
Walking around the capital has become a habit ever since I’ve been taught how to do so. My encounters with Old Manila started with books and photos, but I understood that such experience is not enough.
Now, I am 21–old enough to go there on my own, but not old enough to remember facts on page. Often times, the irony occurs; I find myself getting lost along streets with no signposts and alleys that go in circles. What’s even more surprising is this: in getting lost by wandering around, I find myself wondering even more how Manila deals with change. How does one teach other to feel and know the city? How do I make use of what I have when texts and images are limited?
Prior to the FA102 pitch, I have already thought of pursuing a line of inquiry related to the cultural heritage for this semestral project. But I had no means to do it yet at the start, and all I had before was the main goal: to raise awareness of the rapid decline of Old Manila in the modern times. MAPA/LAKAD was not even meant to be a map or a guidebook; I just wanted to explore the streets of Binondo, Escolta, and Quiapo with people.
Quoting from my pitch:
The idea is to provide a familiarity with the public spaces for those who rarely visit the area by having people document their experience of walking around the city.
It’s amazing, actually, how art can be used to at least recover something once lost, if not to fully resolve a problem. I wanted to provide a narrative of people walking around the city by using the landmarks as their means of experiencing it.
I am a dramatic person, no doubt about that. Whenever I plan things ahead of myself, I dream of grandiose things. I imagine people who never even knew about the buildings walk around Manila and become utterly fascinated with what they see. It’s beautiful, at least for me. I have thought that even if I wouldn’t be around in the Philippines for quite some time, at least there would be people who could at least appreciate the city for me while I’m away.
I researched first on the different landmarks within the vicinity, specifically choosing the ones that are on the brink of dilapidation (Uy Chaco, Pagoda, and Calvo Building) if not abandoned altogether (El Hogar, Ides O’ Racca, and Capitol Theater). I also considered sites that were not being used to what they were originally planned to be–these include Times Theater, Regina Building, Juan Luna Building, and Hamilton Building. After selecting them, I created an itinerary that had blurbs for each place. The blurbs were alluding to the (hi)story of the infrastructure. By making use of keywords, I could remember them while I’m giving my spiel to people on tour.
I searched for the places on Google Maps and after screencapping them, I erased all the points of reference with a digital marker. It was eerie at first, seeing how there was a big black hole, on the map, but I thought that that was expected. The final output was intended to become a map-and-guidebook for first-time visitors of the area, but during the panel defense I was told that I should include the very tour as a performative art of some sort.
During the two weeks of production break, I set up a call for interested “map-testers” on Facebook. I planned to have the city walks on the last two Sundays of March. I was nervous of course, because I figured perhaps not a lot of people would be really up for my project. But to my surprise, a couple of friends had messaged me and told them they were free to join my tour. One even came all the way from Tarlac!
What I noticed was all those who joined were readers and writers. Not all of them were from the same “writing circles” (I was the only link ) but I was amused that they were able to get along during the tour.
At 1 pm, the participants who signed up for the city walk met up with me in Katipunan. We traveled via LRT 1 and 2 and got off at Carriedo Station around 2 pm. We would usually start around the spots in Escolta, from Plaza Sta. Cruz where the fountain and the church are, going to the Pasig riverbank and onwards to Binondo Chinatown until we reach Divisoria. We would stop for a snack before turning around and heading for Quiapo passing by Raon. Along F.R. Hidalgo, we would see the turn-of-the-century houses and San Sebastian Church before we head straight for the Ocampo Pagoda.
We followed the maps, their points of reference blacked out with a marker, our only hints are the blurbs I’ve written. After finding each spot, they would listen to me and I would tell them what I know about the place. Some would nod, some would be awed, others would exclaim in joy that the blurb finally made sense. We would laugh at how obscure the writings are–almost akin to a poetry collection as some would say. I would tell them I have a lot more to work on if it were to be a literary endeavor. Another would admit to me they would never have looked into the places had I not specifically pinpointed them on the map. I would be glad as well, knowing that somehow, I’ve already done my job.
Evaluation of Process
Separation is painful, even more with being forgotten, but the city doesn’t try to show it. It manifests through its edifice, how walls are written over or torn down and rebuilt once more. The pursuit of art can be tiring, because once you’ve come up with your own definition of it, the more and more would questions appear. There is no single way to finding it, just as there is no single method of walking around the city and experiencing it. Sometimes you have to pass on what you know to people, other times you really have to let them see it for themselves. And even when you already know the blurbs, the roads, and the buildings by heart, there is always a different story to tell.
I understand that it may take months or years to incite action for these buildings. I know that many advocates of heritage conservation have already voiced out their concerns for the city and that they have been signing petitions to prevent other sites from being demolished. If I hadn’t been too sheltered within the privilege of watching from afar, I might as well have been more vocal and irate at the issues that happen around me. But if I play my cards well, perhaps writing is enough to engage people to understand what the city means to them and to others.
Sir Tops Brugada, screenwriter and Comm instructor, as well as my FA102 instructor, provided me comments for possible revisions. As much as they liked the project, having learned of my process and the reason why I chose to do this project, they wanted me to consider the target audience when rewriting the blurbs. Apart from that, Sir Tops challenged me to think of a narrative for the itinerary–perhaps a list of things to do or an itinerary within an itinerary (e.g. pahingahan sa Ocampo Pagoda, sinehan sa Times Theater, kainan sa may Capitol atbp). That way, the entire project feels like it has its own story to tell.
The recovery process is a fluctuation–if you were able to recover everything you wanted to recover at the start of the semester, another loss will take its place. (Tiausas, 2017)
It’s funny to be asked “what’s next” when you’re an artist–these ideas just pass you by whenever you stumble upon something you find interesting. Afternoon walks, scorching heat, fair wind–all these I had taken to heart and memory. But I chose this project and I knew for a fact that it was not one that I had to do only within the classroom. There was a desire to go beyond writing and reading about buildings; that was one thing, yes, but I had been taught to see art as a response to and as a recovery from what has been forgotten.
I will try to open a new call for city walks within the Ateneo community during the summer. I’m sure it’s going to be a new experience each time I do so, with a different set of people and perhaps a different route. But one thing I hope for: that people will never get tired of wanting to retrieve the city from its ruins, that to forget once having known about their story is tantamount to abandoning new places all over again.
It was a beautiful semester to end my college years. I am more than humbled.
(Posted about MAPA/LAKAD on our class Tumblr. See it here, and if possible, share away.)