Wander Weekly 02: Reflections on Living in the City and Hearing as an Involuntary Human Activity

There are reasons why we stay up late at night. Mine comes in a form of an escape, a flight outside the walls of this loud, blaring inferno that is the life in the city.

I live at the heart of Manila, right at the center of the ventricle of a machine that generates every kind of pollution known to man and made by man: you have car exhausts belching black smoke into the air like some kind of black magic; you have households pregnant with domesticated waste; you have headlines broadcasting the ghastly horror of the metropolis; and finally you have noise: earsplitting, endless like the wailing of a ghost that can not be still.

Six years—and I feel like I have spent my entire life in the city already, like I have heard and felt and seen everything there is in this lonely cage of a metro, and in the end there is nothing more to witness other than the repetitive rhythm of this sophisticated urban setting.

Each day I wake up to the sound of traffic by the window, only to sleep on my bed come night time with the same cradle song: cars honking, speeding, slowing. Cars making a left turn, U-turn down the twisted road. Their rubber tires dash across my mind like a flock of sheep passing across a meadow, and I count each of them till slumber fill my body.

Nights are more forgiving in the city. I try to stay up late as much as I can each night ’cause it’s the only way I can savor the silence and taste the memory of what it felt like the first time I moved here, permanently. The night was deep and the roads were empty. I sneaked quietly into this new found territory and made friends with the shadows of these skyscrapers. The orange street lights were my welcoming committee as each lamp post burned brightly into my eyes, and the road was my home.

But today I find myself tired of them all and wish that there was a way I could melt all these urban noise and trade them for a life in the countryside or in the mountains, or even in outer space, where there is nothing but silence, deep dead silence. But what a foolish thing it is to lose affection for the memories we first loved and to abandon the places that first made us wander with no fear or hesitation.

This is my city, my prison.

Sometimes I try to shun the sound with my bare hands, only to realize later on that I have no command of my ears. They collect sounds with all the precise cadence of a calculated engine and I can only do so much as to weep at the massive overflow of their involuntary input.

I was told that I have a soul of a wanderer and a pair of feet that takes me to places in search of home. I always find myself at flight, soaring at the mercy of the wind that direct my wings to nowhere land, and for all I know this is the longest time I allowed myself to stay in one place. The clock is ticking before I ran mad for the exit once again.

But against the instinct that formed my habit, I tell myself that there is no point in moving elsewhere because it is the same wherever we go: always the same infection, always the same foul, rotting smell re eking from the corruption of flesh and mind, and above all, always the same longing for a home that is never there.

I roam the streets as I allow the streets to roam my mind. Together, we hike the heights of each other’s foreignness like two strangers meeting for the first time. But there is no need for that, really. I know the city like the back of my hand, and she knows me like I am part of her history.

I tell myself I am here to live, here to stay, until madness takes me away. With all the weight of my exhaustion, I gently whisper to my self, “This is my city, my prison.”

city-skies

 

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29 thoughts on “Wander Weekly 02: Reflections on Living in the City and Hearing as an Involuntary Human Activity

  1. I also live in the city, specifically Hong Kong. It’s just fortunate that my home is far from the city lights and noise.

    HK is a city that never sleeps. So I feel bad to all those who live in the heart of the city since it’s very noisy there even at 3 am…

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    1. I’d love to visit Hong Kong someday and see the place where they shot the Chungking Express (1994). Are you familiar with that movie?

      Yes, city life can be very exhausting but I just try to learn to live with it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it’s a great and well-thought-out movie. It showed that you can still feel alone even in a city full of people.

        Yes, I agree.

        And the level of pollution and traffic in Manila is bad. I just heard from a Filipino news yesterday that some doctors recommemd people to wear N95 mask. N95 mask is no joke since it was used during the SARS epidemic in HK and even during winter, it’s so uncomfortable. I ended up not wearing it at all. So I’m still thankful that I didn’t contract the disease…

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        1. In the Mood for Love is also another HK film I admire, and mostly for its class and cinematography. Wong kar-wai is a master film maker and C. Doyle is such a brilliant cinematographer. (Haha, I sound like a total fan girl now)

          Yes, traffic and pollution is bad, but the optimist in me would like to believe that it is pretty much the same (or even worse) in other places. But thankfully, there are efforts from the community to reduce traffic jam and pollution.

          As for the mask, I haven’t heard the news yet but so far it’s been normal in my side of the city. It can get pretty loud and stuffed at daytime but at night, things are a lot more peaceful. Manila still sleeps at night, thankfully.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. There are a lot of wonderful HK films. Sadly, it’s rare to see a good new HK film these days. Most of the good stuff were produced during the 80’s and 90’s. Though it can be argued that talented actors and directors are now slowly going to China since the market is huge in the Mainland and hence, the money is there.

            Of course, there are countries with worse pollution and traffic. For example, the traffic in Mexico City, Bangkok and Moscow is comparable to nightmare.

            They are certainly have their work cut out for them in the Philippines. There is a great need of passing laws (or implement the existing regulations better) that would help solve the problems of traffic and pollution. Though if people are more disciplined, laws may not even be necessary.

            Those doctors said that exposure to pollution for just 2 hours can already cause damage to the lungs, so wearing an N95 mask was advised. But of course, almost nobody would wear that. It’s too uncomfortable…

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Yes, it is too uncomfortable especially in the summer. I remember, when I was still in the university, there were people who sell cheap face masks with all sorts of designs and prints. Wearing cheap protective face masks became a very popular trend actually, with people sporting the cutest face masks as if it was a fashion statement. It is alarming to consider that we have reached a certain point where we have to wear face masks on the streets, when it fact we are supposed to be breathing air freely.

            Yes, I agree about the law-making aspect. Furthermore, there should be regulations limiting the release of car permits. There are too many private vehicles and too narrow roads where one could drive them. Government thinks that by expanding highways and national roads they are eliminating the perennial problem of traffic, when it fact it is only a temporary solution.

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          3. When was that since I couldn’t recall seeing them when I was still in PH?

            Indeed…

            If they regulate the number of car permits, I don’t think that many would be amused. They’ll argue that the government should not have the power to decide whether they should own a car or not.

            In HK, we also have limited roads and many cars. However, the traffic situation here is relatively good.

            The public transportation vehicles here can’t just stop where ever they want. If you have a car, you can’t also stop it at the side for any reason. You have to park it at a designated parking area. All intersections here have traffic lights and all drivers obey them. But most importantly, public commuting is a lot more convinient than using a car so most people prefer to commute rather than using their cars. This helps a lot in reducing the volume of private cars on the road.

            If all of these can be implemented properly in the Philippines, then the traffic situation would improve a lot. It may take several years, but it can be done if there are people who really want it done.

            Liked by 1 person

          4. The trendy face masks happened just last year, before I graduated from college. Maybe the trend was just around the university belt? I’m not so sure, but back then there were really lots of people wearing them on the streets.

            Yes, there should be more projects to improve the public transportation in my country so people would prefer to commute. I think they started providing premium buses before, whose target passengers are the well-off ones who like to give public transportation a try. I am not so sure how the project went. It’s one thing to create rules, but also another thing to sustain strict implementation of these rules.

            Also about traffic rules, yes there should be specific places designated for PUVs to load and unload passengers. (As a passenger, it is also terribly annoying when buses and jeepneys keep stopping anywhere to load and unload. Not to mention, it is very time-consuming) This traffic rule is implemented in Makati, a business city in the country. I hope to see a day when it is finally implemented throughout the PH, most especially here in the capital city. Of course, the re-routing and all the traffic adjustments may be confusing and difficult at first, but it can positively be effective in the long run.

            Liked by 1 person

          5. The last time I was in PH was 2015 so that explains why I’m not familiar with it.

            The problems with several of the gov’t projects in PH is that in the beginning, everything was all right, then they’ll just stop midway (as they called it ningas kugon). If the project is good, they should continue it indefinitely. Changing administration is not a reason to stop good projects of the previous administration for instance.

            I think that the system of “boundaries” have forced drivers to compete fiercely for passengers, so they would stop where ever there’s a commuter and I can’t really fault the drivers that much since they really need the money… This also makes it virtually impossible to schedule the arrival of buses smoothly on certain stations since bus drivers wait for their buses to be full first before they go. Oh, and when they arrive at a station, they’re already full.

            When I invited some of my friends to PH, they can’t believe how fast the buses are in PH. So I explained to them that drivers there don’t have excellent monthly salaries like those in HK. They just can’t wrap their heads around the concept of boundary… But there was a time in HK that things were somewhat like this…

            Change is difficult but if it’s for the better, it’s certainly okay.

            Liked by 1 person

          6. It’s nice to know that you are fairly familiar with some Filipino concepts such as Ningas Kugon. Back in grade school, we were taught that it is one of the Filipinos’ negative characteristics, alongside crab mentality, mañana habit (procrastination) and Filipino time. Not that I am bad-mouthing my country to a foreigner, but I understand that these traits somehow contribute to the lack of cooperative agreement among us Filipinos, and therefore affects the overall development of the country as a whole.

            Yes, PUV drivers are among the most marginalized in terms of economic status, which is unfair considering that their livelihood is of great importance to the community. I mean, a lot of people are affected whenever they halt their operation. I think it was just yesterday when jeepney drivers went on a strike, and classes had to be suspended because no transportation means utter inconvenience to a lot of people. Jeepneys are the primary means of transportation in the country. Take that away and more than half of the daily commuters gets paralyzed. It only goes to show how important PUV drivers are, and how they should also be taken into consideration when it comes to traffic planning.

            Liked by 1 person

          7. It’s important to know our bad characteristics if we want to do something about them. And along with the bad, Filipinos have lots of positive traits like hardworking, adaptability, and bayanihan. Those are the characteristics that would would PH to prosper.

            Oh, my mother is Filipina and I studied in the Philippines from elementary ’til high school. So, I could speak fluent Tagalog and I’m familiar with the Filipino culture.

            Liked by 1 person

          8. Oh, so that’s explains your familiarity with local matters. It’s nice to know that you are Filipino too. Kumusta, kababayan?

            Also, one more positive characteristic to add is our hospitality. (Although too much of that can sometimes be bad too) A warm welcome always makes one miss home.

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