Before I even thought about moving, my Tita gave me a stainless steel flower necklace when I visited Manila back in high school. She had unceremoniously given it to me by gently fishing it out of her pocket, handing it to me and saying, “Imo nana, ging oh. Suota pirme ha?”
(It’s yours, ging. Wear it all the time, okay?)
Now, I never take it off. I think it’s the reason for all of my good luck and I feel bare without it around my neck. Frankly, it had been the only thing that remained unchanged in the next couple of years.
I had lived in Cagayan de Oro City for 16 years, 6 months, and 15 days before I moved to Manila for college. Now, as of writing, I’ve been a pseudo-Manileño for 3 years, 1 month, and 8 days.
For sixteen years I had frequented the streets of uptown (Pueblo) and downtown (Divisoria). All the while, I thought that this place–my home– was like prison. And for some reason, I needed to get out and needed to find my own pair of wings.
And so, when my acceptance letter from Ateneo came swooping in and gently landing on my lap, I was all too eager to pack up my bags and get on the first flight to Manila.
When I boarded the plane, it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be home as often as I would like, that my room wouldn’t be mine anymore. Because my mom had told me that they would be converting it to a bodega. Geez. Thanks, Mama.
Scared as I was, I braved Manila with none of my barkada by my side and my parents soon to fly back home. Nevertheless, I had to suck it up because this was what I wanted. I wanted to leave home, I had my wish granted. This was my dream school, I worked hard to earn it. Now I have to work hard to deserve it.
As I began to ingrain myself with the Manila life and get used to all of the new jargons and the new way of thinking, I realized the following things:
1. Everything is more expensive in Manila.
From the movie tickets down to basic meals, everything is more expensive. And being someone who was used to living off ₱100 a day, it was tough. It didn’t help that I was this spoiled teenager back home and had everything handed to her.
I was also culture-shocked and wanted to explore and be a part of everything. Back home, I never really had to worry about spending for myself. In Manila, the stark reality is that 1) your parents are not here anymore, 2) you have an allowance to work with, and 3) not everything is affordable.
There were so many things that I thought of back in my freshman year; I just had to watch that new Marvel movie and I just had to try that expensive new restaurant in Katipunan. I just had to buy new clothes. I just had to fit in.
By the end of each month I had to ask for an advance on my allowance because I didn’t know how to budget! (Sorry, Papa!) I would end up missing dinners and thank God my new found friends would pity me and treat me to some food.
It’s best to save your allowance and only spend on expensive meals and clothes when you have the cash to burn. Otherwise, stay put, and stick to cafeteria food.
Now, I know how to stop myself. And whenever I’d splurge, it would be on coffee and energy food during the days leading to finals week.
2. It can get lonely sometimes.
With your dogs 500 miles away, your friends studying in a different city, your parents relentlessly posting pictures of family gatherings back home without you while you’re left with nothing but your laptop, a few hundred requirements, and people you barely know — it makes you ten times more homesick than you really are.
When your some of your new friends are out or are with their families (because they conveniently live in Metro Manila), it gets a little sad. And it’s during those times when you start remembering the late nights strolling around Pueblo going to Xavier Square, buying milk tea at Chingkee Tea back when it was a small shop in the innards of Divisoria, or the chicken proben (street food made with deep-fried chicken proventriculus: a part of a chicken’s stomach) dipped in cornstarch and freshly fried, served best with rice (OMG?!).
It was then that I got to appreciate the quirky charms my hometown used to have. Now, the city has changed so much throughout my stay in Manila that I can’t keep up anymore.
Halfway through the first semester of my sophomore year, my baby sister was born. Imagine how sad it was to find out that my mother was in labor, past midnight, while I was alone in the dorm room. And it really didn’t help when I realized that my baby sister will grow up without me. I’m just thankful now that she still remembers me whenever I’d go home for a couple of days.
But, I learned one valuable lesson while living the independent life: everything will move forward whether you like it or not and no one will stop for you. You just have to learn how to carry your own weight and grow up.
I wasn’t a high school student anymore, I wasn’t in Cagayan de Oro anymore, I was in the capital. So, I had to make like a white-water rafter and ride through the rapids like a true Kagay-anon.
3. Friends really do become family.
What happens when you live with hundreds of other dormers from all over the country that are just as homesick as you? You end up depending on each other. From breakfast until midnight snacks, these people are going to be your best friends.
They’re not going to be like the friends you have at home, but they’re your new family just the same. The barkada I have now are people from Laguna, Cebu, Iloilo, Bicol, Batangas, Bacolod, and of course, Cagayan de Oro. I’ve met so many people along the way not just from different parts of the country but of the world and they all managed to keep me sane in college. And I am so grateful for that.
After getting into a routine, you also learn how to sneak in a couple of outings with your friends. Like spontaneous trips to Resorts World to watch movies when you miss the last full show at Eastwood City or impulse road trips to Tagaytay or Batangas.
4. The world is small.
Now, at 19 years old and equipped with lessons from all the anxiety attacks, depressive tendencies, and high stress levels from org and schoolwork, I’ve realized that life is too short to stay in one place. Moving away from my comfort zone was the first step.
And once that step has been taken, you’re gonna want to keep moving. From place to place, city to city, country to country, continent to continent. And you’ll realize that you don’t have to do this alone, either.
With all the spontaneous trips I had with my friends around Metro Manila and Luzon, we took it a step further and started booking tickets from Bacolod to Cebu to Cagayan de Oro! And we’re branching out. It’s only recently that three of my friends and I planned a trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
It’s funny how moving makes you realize just how small the world is and with the help of planes and the right people, you can go anywhere. And the beauty of that is, if you can move away, you can always come back.
5. Manila will never really be home.
When the dust settled and I had gotten used to how people are in Manila and their culture, I accepted that Manila was the new home I have to get used to.
And while I’ve gotten used to living away from home and that I have, in some ways, fallen in love with the Metro, nothing ever beats the much quieter and smaller Cagayan de Oro City. The City of Golden Friendship, after all, is where my entire journey started.
Even if I’ve come to love the bright city lights of Metro Manila, it can never be as bright as the stars twinkling in the province. And after three years in the capital, that stainless steel flower necklace continues to dangle around my neck and remains to be my good luck charm and piece of home.