I was born and raised in Manila.
It was busy, thriving, bustling. There were jeepneys galore — not really the type we now know about, but simple, no-nonsense jeepneys generally rust-colored or green.
The first home I remember was in Santa Mesa — more precisely, Manga Avenue. We lived in the backhouse of my lola’s “out of town” estate — she lived in Azcarraga but for some reason kept an empty house in Manga Avenue.
I remember looking out from the second story windows into the large, park-like garden of Ramon Magsaysay’s home. He even kept three deer there, and they munched away at the trees the whole day.
My first playmate was Jackie Guggenheim, son of the German ambassador, who lived a few houses down. A few more houses down lived Dr. Meyer, the family doctor.
To me, it was a treat to take a taxicab, but I only got to ride in taxis when it rained. There were no floods in Manila that I can remember.
Trains still ran under the Santa Mesa bridge (I suppose today you would call it an “overpass”). At the foot of the bridge was Pacific Sporting Goods, where my Dad, my brother Albert, and I would browse for bats, and basketballs, and other sporting goodies. Dad knew the owner, so they would sit and chat behind the counter and Albert and I would walk up and down the aisles to see what was new.
These were the days when a “pasyal” to Luneta (now Rizal Park) with dinner at Hwa Nam or Delicious Restaurant was a treat. We would take a jeepney to Quiapo, then another to Luneta. We’d walk along the bay, watch the sunset, eat kropeck or popcorn, and ride the Matorco. Do you remember the Matorcos? Those blue double-deck buses, with the upper level roofless and open-air, ran from Luneta, past the US Embassy, to the end of Roxas Boulevard (then known as Dewey Boulevard) slightly past Baclaran. They would make a U-turn there, and head back to Luneta, where they would turn around in front of the Manila Hotel before disembarking.
We would then take another jeepney to Binondo for dinner, usually at Hwa Nam or Delicious restaurant. I knew nothing about Chinese food then — just pancit canton, barbecued pork, and my favorite (for so many years this is all I ate at Chinese restaurants), pinsek prito.
Then Ateneo de Manila, where Albert and I were studying, moved to Loyola Heights…and we moved to St. Mary street in Cubao.
Those were my formative years, when I made friends I would keep for the rest of my life. Dony Faylona, Bong Pineda, Bonggoy Manahan, Tito Tesoro, Rey Hidalgo, Boy de Borja, Arben Santos, Arps de Vera, Frankie Boquer, Sluggo Zablan, Junbo Borromeo, Yel Adiao, Lito Tagle…these and many more are guys I will remember and who will be my friends always.
After graduating from the Grade School, I moved on to the Ateneo High School. However, I didn’t finish high school there…the family moved to Baguio, and I transferred to St. Louis University.