Carren's Pitch

Life by Design


Taking Note of History

Posted by Carren |

Nerdy as it sounds, one of my favorite subjects while in college was history. The thought that all these things that happened were somehow connected to how things are today and to actually see what was left of a yesterday that someone else lived through is amazing.

This is one of the reasons why I agreed to go to a book launch in Quiapo. It promised to take a peek into a history that many of us don’t know or have forgotten.

I thought it would be a polished affair, with guides and easy to follow maps for beginners like me. But, it was none of that. In fact, it was a simple affair that was arranged for only the most adventurous and confident.

I had never been around the sights of Quiapo. So, this was an experience.

In a country where cars are the transportation of choice, my friends and I walked from one end of R. Hidalgo Street to the other. Along the way, our nostrils were assaulted by the smell of trash and our eyes were as much surprised by the uneven makeshift sidewalks and dirty bodies strewn across the shaded portions of forgotten buildings.

Our goal was to see a photo exhibit put up on the history of Quiapo and its digression. Pictures of the old Manila were a sight to see, imagine wide open roads and clear horizons were depicted in black and white. It was placed in the midst of Arsenio Lacson underpass, itself once touted as a top of the line underpass similar to Europe’s. It declined in quality only to be revived to once again become the lifeblood of pedestrians in Quiapo.

I was caught up in the idea of a clean city and, as I walked out of the underpass, I mentally superimposed the sight of the pictures from Old Manila and the reality that lay before me. It took some doing since the reality in front of me was harsh, dingy and undeniable.

The next stop was a house borne at the turn of the century, the Nakpil-Bautista house. The house sheltered the lives of some revolutionaries- Gregoria de Jesus, widow to Andres Bonifacio and wife to Julian Nakpil, composer of our national anthem. Stepping inside the house, there was almost a presence of something old and the smell of your grandmother’s house. The furniture itself purportedly witnessed the forming of the La Liga Filipina, one of the first reformist groups in the Philippines. Snapshots and artifacts of that era stood on display, with Tagalog and English translations for those who cared to read.

The house was an anachronism among the concrete establishments surrounding it. If you take the time to look over its balcony, you would be treated to a view of a canal that probably stood pristine in its time but now was clogged with plastic bags thrown carelessly in the water. Over the street, I could imagine suitors like in old Filipino movies strumming their guitars for a lady swooning. But now, there were only cars and jeepneys parked outside.

Then, finally was the San Sebastian Church. The first steel church in Asia built to withstand earthquakes and was even purportedly designed by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel tower fame. Who knew that such a monument existed? The church is still in use today, but the rust running down its commemorative plaque shows the ravages of time and humid weather.

Finding these city landmarks was like finding a treasure hidden very well under the muck. It lay there unexpectedly, buried in the Quiapo stalls and mountains of pirated DVDs - like the Nakpil-Bautista house. It stood unnoted amidst jeepneys and wedding ceremonies- like the San Sebastian church. Or simply, it was passed by and dismissed.

As tourists, we are used to having sights given to us on a platter, but in the Philippines and especially in Manila, we are going to have to work a little harder… at least, until we get our act together. It’s sad to know that not many Filipinos know their country as well they would another. Our history is left in the classroom. But, there is hope – an new generation of connected Filipinos are slowly realizing the treasures that lie right at their doorstep and the new age of cheap airfares can only aid them in seeing it.

Pictures taken by: Catherine Jao


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