Cures for a restless heart: a mani-pedi, a yummy buffet, and travelling.
Today I took myself out on a date in my own city. Here’s what I saw walking around Manila (within four hours).
CONTENTS | A Walking City | The National Library | National Museum and the Museum of the Filipino People | Oh Manila | CONTENTS
A WALKING CITY
A couple of days back, I was lamenting how Manila City is such an inaccessible city for tourists (and for pedestrians in general). Among many things, we don’t provide comprehensive tourist guides –though I do like the ones produced by TeamManila and 5 Ports (check them out here: x), and those made by online bloggers– and we don’t exactly provide a safe touring environment. We also don’t have a sensible public transportation system (yet), and I hazard tourists must be so happy our taxis are relatively cheap. Well. Everything’s relatively cheap.
I also lamented the fact that Manila wasn’t a walking city (though on this one, as I have now discovered, I was wrong). I wanted to live in a city where interesting and important places like parks and museums, libraries and state institutions are within walking distance of each other. I thought of the Free Walking Tours we took in Melbourne and Sydney, and all the walking tours my sister took as she gallivanted across Europe years ago.
Well, I’ve been living in Manila City for four years and studying here for fifteen, and I finally decided to check out our National Library. And I discovered something amazing.
The National Library, or “Pambansang Aklatan”, is literally just five minutes away from where I live. And a lot of things are in proximity: Luneta Park, the National Museum, the San Diego Garden, Roxas Boulevard, the Manila Ocean Park. This is ridiculous. It even looks like the walled city of Intramuros is just another five minutes away.
Mind = blown. Despite its unforgiving weather, Manila is a walking city. I just never bothered to check. So the place I usually walk around in, with a state university and the premiere state hospital, the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, the National Bureau for Investigations, and even the Museum of a History of Ideas, is just a stone’s throw away from Colonial Manila.
I’m so amazed. I should have walked here sooner. 
THE NATIONAL LIBRARY
I’m not exaggerating when I say the National Library of the Philippines (hereafter referred to as “NLP”) is one of the worst libraries I’ve ever been to. As a lover of books, knowledge and silence, I was deeply traumatized.
Allow me to rant.
1. NLP ACCESS
I knew that there exists an NLP ID card. Obviously, all libraries have a library card. It’s needed by the system to keep track of the borrowed books.
But it’s limiting.
It’s limiting not in the sense that you have to pay PHP100 for it (I’ve long accepted that in this country, nothing is ever free), but in the sense that you absolutely cannot enter the library without an ID. Actually, that’s also our system in school, which I can barely understand either.
I went to the NLP with no intentions of borrowin a book, or even reading one, to be honest. I was just there to explore. And yet I had to avail of an ID card simply to enter the building.
It was a depressing thing to observe. My only experience with state libraries were those in New South Wales and Victoria, and in both of those they welcomed visitors without question. Libraries were as libraries should be: a haven for those who seek solitude and silence, who crave the company of books and of knowledge, who detest the trappings of the afternoon heat.
2. NLP ATMOSPHERE
And nothing about the NLP as it stands today is conducive for higher learning. The rooms are badly-painted and ill-kept, the chairs uncomfortable. The internet room was a gloomy place, not far from the gaming cafes of Ermita.
Also, some guy in the cashier’s office was watching a bootleg copy of Batman v Superman. The layout of the whole building is confusing. With no map and a construction project in progress, I would have been lost if not for the other visitors also registering for an ID ahead of me.
I could not imagine studying in that place. Books are vibrant creatures; NLP seems to silence them.
There are things to credit, I admit. There are efforts to put decorations around. And there’s really nothing we can do about the inconveniently noisy and dirty renovation .
But the staff of the NLP can do something about their policies, which I think add to the atmosphere’s hostility to visitors. I already talked about access and the apparently pressing need for verification –I was interviewed on whether or not I had an ID by two perimeter guards even before I got to enter the building– and now I want to talk about intrusiveness.
I was asked before I entered the building about my purpose for going inside the library. I’m sorry, but what kind of question is that? Stupidly, I answered that I was only there to visit and explore, and I think it confused the guard so much. I think the only acceptable answer was “research”.
I was similarly asked as I entered the Filipiniana reading room if I was here for “general research or for thesis”. I was even asked to use the electronic catalog for a book’s call number (like, I literally could not go and sit down, I had to search for some book first).
I’m sorry –why the hell is my purpose and research topic any of your business? And what, I’m required to search for a particular book? Am I not allowed to leisurely browse titles?
I mean, I’m probably being too sensitive about this whole thing. But as someone who’s spent an average of at least one hour per workday in the library since Grade 3, I think I can be excused.
In sum, the National Library of the Philippines is a microcosm and a manifestation of the Philippines’ penchant for ineffective bureaucracy, inconvenient and ill-planned construction projects, and lacking learning spaces. I need to know how to help improve this.
NATIONAL MUSEUM AND THE MUSEUM OF THE FILIPINO PEOPLE
*EDIT 02/06/2018: It’s properly known now as the National Museum of Fine Arts and National Museum of Anthropology, completing a trinity with the newly-opened National Museum of Natural History.
Not much has changed with the MFP since I last went there (check out my blog post about it: x). But there was one outstanding addition, which I felt was very timely:
I feel like the exhibited artefacts painted a small picture of what the Lumadnon face today (though it satisfied the question of who they are by definition, and who they have been in the past). A more contemporary take on their culture would have, I think, enhanced the exhibit.
But what was more revelatory to was the National Museum. The last time I went here was in 2012 (I think that was my first ever blog post; check it out here: x), possibly months or weeks before the renovation of the old legislative halls finished. As such, today felt like the first time I’ve visited the NM.
There was the Spolarium, of course, and a hall dedicated to contemporary artists Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo. The exhibits of the museum are organized by donors and private collectors (and I don’t know how I feel about that yet). There were separate halls dedicated to the national artists Amorsolo, Tolentino and Manansala (my aesthetic favorite). There were galleries dedicated to unknown masters and more modern local artists.
There are very few things I could say as points of improvement for the National Museum. Access isn’t free, first of all, though I feel like the money I paid to view the art was better spent than my venture in NLP. I would have appreciated the addition of a museum cafe (I know it’s a long shot) and a souvenir shop; free wi-fi won’t be bad too. The museum also still suffers from spots of bad lighting (something I’ve commented on before), which is unfortunate for many wonderful pieces. And as I was walking through the second floor galleries, specifically through the Philippines abstractions which reminded me of Pollock, Picasso and Kandinsky, I thought the museum suffered from a lack of foreign artworks.
No sooner did I think that did I stumble upon this French-imported collection by architect Jacques Ferrier, which was artfully arranged. I was excited by the addition, though he was still a relatively new artist. It would take a long time for the National Museum to acquire artwork by great foreign artists.
But wouldn’t it be wonderful if any one Filipino could view a real Warhol or Monet in person?
There was also a Bencab exhibit, which was share-worthy for three reasons: 1, I appreciate Bencab in general; 2, I finally got to take pictures of Sabel (I went to a Bencab x Samsung special exhibit in the Metropolitan Museum of Manila with C, and picture-taking wasn’t allowed under any circumstances), and 3, this random guard was hitting on me.
No, I’m not actually kidding. I was quietly viewing Multiple Sabel when this NM guard (egged on or maybe even dared by a couple of other guards just outside in the hallway) came up to me and said: “Miss, wala kayong ka-date?” which eventually devolved to asking me why I was alone (to which my answer was: pabigat lang ang may kasama), what I did in life, where I studied, where I come from. Ugh. I couldn’t enjoy the exhibit because I had to leave then and there.
Honestly, I’m still torn if I’m more amused by their way of passing the time, or infuriated that NM apparently does not brief their personnel on how to actually manage a museum (quietly, unobtrusively, and definitely without initiating smalltalk).
I’m just going to forget about it .
This city has its own idiosyncrasies that make it beautiful. It’s home –literally, for maybe 1.5 million residents.
Manila is a McDonald’s City. I set out at around lunchtime on an empty stomach, but I knew that if I just keep walking, I’d find a McDonald’s or Jollibee somewhere. I wasn’t disappointed.
Manila’s where Erap is trying to make his mark. Erap is probably trying to change his legacy (from an action star, to a president who was ousted by a People Power due to corruption, to a pardoned criminal) with his initiatives for a Free Public Wi-Fi network and for more greenery with the Parks Development Office. It’s not really working.
Manila’s parks are… there. The only park I visited today was the Noli Me Tangere Park. There was a heartening number of people lazing about. I recalled the traditions in Japan and Australia, where people liked to take picnics and just rest in public parks. But there’s some difference. Honestly, it feels like the people sleeping under the shade in the park weren’t there for recreation. They were there by necessity.
Manila is trying. I loved the Rizal Visitor’s Center, with its artworks and maps and schedule of shows. I think if we push for more publicity, we can get more local and foreign tourists funding improvements.
And I really do want to help make this city even greater.
To be honest, I’ve been thinking of a way to help citizens of any demographic become (1) aware of existing initiatives to improve the city and the country, (2) more easily access and participate in these initiatives, and (3) become more informed about our heritage and our present culture. I want everyone to fall in love with the Philippines for what it can be in the future.
I just feel like despite all the well-meaning public and private social initiatives out there, people still feel helpless against the persistent problems of corruption, lacking public transportation, education and healthcare. It’s like we’re being actively dissuaded from nation-building.
There has to be a way to consolidate or at least catalog these efforts, to feature the Filipino spirit as it existed in the past and as it exists in the present. Maybe like a development and culture-oriented zine, where people can contribute, chat and just participate in general?
But that’s for another day.
 In “Ordinary Times” (meaning days not immediately following a Travels event), I can’t actually walk that far. I usually have neither motivation or strength. It’s just that I’ve recently come from a tour of Australia, and that has temporarily warped my sense of walking abilities. ^
 PSA BREAK: I am not emotionally available. What is it about me that looks like I’m screaming for a boy/girlfriend? I’m perfectly happy with myself, with my friends, and with the occasional non-committed dalliance. If I want to be with you in any capacity, trust me. I’ll make the first move, and it will be explicitly clear. ^
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