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When you’re born in Manila, it’s hard to escape her clutches. Like a birthmark adorning my skin, I have inherited the twisted genetics which turned this sprawling, exasperating city into a land of contradiction. There are too many contrasts, too many opposing forces pulling your body and stretching both fact and imagination, as one paradox after another emerge in the recesses of this irresponsible urban jungle. Failure is not uncommon in Manila. It is her story. That when glimpses of victory are enjoyed, it arouses enough fanfare to restore an optimism that wanes as steadily as the city’s famed sunset.

Manila BayI have often contemplated on the lure of leaving this place, leaving her unfinished stories, her countless diseases, her numerous ghosts, her dangerous pleasures. I suppose a new world view would suit a man who has been incensed by Manila’s sins. The attraction of another city in another continent lies on a promise of becoming someone else. Leave your story behind, start again! You can be anyone you’ve always wanted to be! Isn’t that such a fascinating option, regardless of how scrupulous it can turn out to be in the end? Man’s nomadic instinct has always been intact it seems. Who ever thought he could make a man stay put, and stay put in a city, must have found the fear of uncertainty awful. What prospect in staying in one place anyway?

And yet, leaving home, leaving a place that has earned extremes such as hate and love, is not a period. Yes, you can become someone else in a new land where no one knows you, but for how long? Who you are has been decided. We can only alter so much of our facade and our soul. We can only leave our unfinished stories for so long. You can be in some obscure suburb in America’s east coast, or in some Renaissance city in Italy; you can be in some confusing town a few hours from Tokyo, or laying back in post-card perfect Sydney – and yet the story which started in Manila will continue, and will wait for you. Becoming someone else has its limits. Sometimes it’s not the people which make the city. It’s the city which bore you, making you, transforming you, breaking you, keeping you alive.