Discovering Manila: The Adulting of Ayn Bernos

[Originally published on on February 4, 2016]

This is me (4th from the left, bottom row) at my first job after graduation!

This is me (4th from the left, bottom row) at my first job after graduation!

I left the office earlier than usual today—the sun was still up—and I was optimistic about my commute home. Today marks my 3rd week as a (Taft) Manila girl after all, and I was enjoying the relatively calm crowd of the southbound train. Northbound is just chaotic during rush hour, and chaotic is a major major understatement.

You can just imagine how happy I was to be heading south on such a fine, post-rain afternoon. I was so damn happy. Too happy, in fact, that it was unrealistic: Spotify playlist blasting through my bright red headphones, my tiny sling bag sitting comfortably across my body, and my mind wandering home on its own. Happy Thursday, I told myself, minus all the shenanigans of cool college kids.

The MRT was its usual self, except it was cooler, more spacious, and more convenient. At that point I wish I had questioned the perfection of it all. Nothing is ever perfect.

Wag kang magpapaloko, I now tell myself.

When the train stopped at the Magallanes station—just one station shy from the LRT1 connecting bridge—the doors slid open… and stayed open. Of course the air-conditioning was still perfect, so I was in equally perfect denial. Nadelay lang ‘yan, I told myself. Parang ikaw lang ‘nung college. Pero makakarating din.

And so there I was, standing in a gradually-getting-cramped MRT, blissfully listening to Miike Snow singing Genghis Khan, and casually ignoring the nasty complaints of the #BitchesofMRT. At that point, nothing could really dampen my mood. I was determined to go home unshaken by the commuting madness. Keribells, I told myself.

But keribells it wasn’t!!! A security guard (whose facial expression reminded me of Steve Harvey) suddenly approached us. I felt like Miss Colombia. I could read Kuya Guard’s mind from where I was standing and I was pretty damn sure it was close to “I apologize…”—and I was right.

Sorry po pero hindi na po aandar itong tren,” Kuya said, his eyes anticipating the wrath of the #BitchesofMRT. “Maaari pong bumaba na lang po tayo. Hindi na po ito aandar.”

And just like that, my Miss Universe crown—sorry, my Happy Thursday—was taken away from me. However, it wasn’t until I had seen where I was that I realized I had no idea how I was getting home. Apparently, the Magallanes MRT station is awkwardly located near exits to God-knows-where. This meant I had to go somewhere else to board a bus to Taft (if there was) or hail a sketchy cab.

Side note: My friends know how AWFUL I am with directions. This is my worst nightmare.

Uber!!! My inner diva cheered. But at this point, rush hour was at its peak and the nearest driver was 30 minutes away. I couldn’t afford to stay at the slowly dimming Magallanes station, clueless and innocent in a mahoholdap-ka-beh kind of way. The sun was gone.

I followed my gut in a rather hopeful/hopeless expedition. I wanted to ride a bus, but I only had 1000 peso bills (di ako yamanin. That was birthday gift from September, also known as my remaining budget til #payday. Wuhoo). Also, every single bus that had passed me said “Sucat” or “Laguna” or “Alabang” and I have no idea where those places are. Again, me and directions. Not a good combination.

So I kept walking. And I kept walking. The horns kept on blasting from the heavily polluted highway that was EDSA, and I could imagine the smoke particles making themselves feel at home in my lungs. Sarap.

This may be a non-issue for more seasoned… travellers… but you see, I’m not from around here. All my life its been QC and España and anything other than those is just foreign to me. But tonight, it wasn’t just foreign—it was terrifying. I clutched my bag closer and northbound I went. I kept walking.

My plan was to find a gas station or a convenience store where an Uber could easily pick me up. I don’t usually take Uber, especially during surge hours, but maaaaan, waley talaga ako sa area na ‘to. I felt helpless and clueless and stupid.

So, I kept walking. At first, the pavements were filled with commuters waiting to board buses. The bus stops were pretty well-lit, but I still wasn’t sure that they were safe enough, and so I continued on my little gut-following spree. I walked some more.

Long story short: binaybay ko from Magallanes to Ayala in a mommy-I’m-lost state. A middle-aged man was right behind me, and a hooded fellow was in front of me, in the most suffocating, the narrowest pathway I have ever been blessed to cross. That was the longest walk of my life, punyemas.

When I reached the Ayala(?) intersection, the one near Dusit Hotel wherever that was, I was able to breathe in half-relief. Finally, LIGHTS!!! Establishments!!! SM!!! MMDA officer!!! Civilization!!!

I crossed the road as I repeatedly said Salamat Lord, Salamat Lord in my mind. Just as I was crossing, two girls joined me on the pedestrian lane.

The big sister was picking on her little sister because she was scared of all the fast cars. She mockingly laughed:

“Oh, ito ang Maynila. Ito ang Ayala.”

Somehow, I felt like she was talking to me, and not the little sister.

Tangina, I replied inside my head. Ngayon alam ko na.