I used to work in one the many city centres in Metro Manila. Unlike in countries where commercial and financial districts are usually clustered in one area – traditionally what they call downtown – the Philippine capital region has grown haphazardly, with no proper urban planning or zoning to delineate between financial districts, or residential enclaves. One moment you’re passing by a rather peaceful subdivision, and the next you’re entering a highly urbanized business centre.
I was lucky to work in one of the many gleaming skyscrapers dotting the centre. Modern amenities were present: above average restrooms that were kept spanking clean; high speed elevators that left you dizzy; a cavernous lobby with fancy but faux art displays; and a slew of dining establishments – from cheap eateries to fancy restaurants, fast-food franchises to quaint cafes and swanky watering holes. Not to mention, I had a splendid view from my cubicle of the rest of Manila albeit almost always cloaked in the haze of pollution.
I loved working in the city centre. I enjoyed my job. While it wasn’t the highest paying position I could have applied for, considering my academic background and professional qualifications, there was something relaxed about the working environment which made me stay there longer than I should have. There was little room for career growth but it paid the bills, and I had fantastic colleagues to keep me company.
The work itself was hardly stressful. Of course, there were busy days when everyone in the company Intranet kept quiet, as we focused on meeting deadlines and finishing a number of work-related tasks. But we were never overworked, not even once, and never had to go beyond our office hours. Our bosses wanted everything done in the nine-hour working day, and it was a philosophy I appreciated. This meant I could avoid the rush hour, and get home to unwind with plenty of hours left to do other things: read, write, and have a night-out with friends. We even had weekly drinks to look forward to – one night at the end of the working week where we could chain-smoke, get drunk, and enjoy the sobering, brightly lit skyline of the city centre.
Whenever I pass by our old office, or even find myself in a train running just outside the borders of the city centre, memories flood my system. It used to be they were welcomed. Now they hurt. Or sting like alcohol on an open wound.
It isn’t easy moving on from a time in your life you enjoyed so dearly and too deeply. Every corner, every street, every establishment in the city centre has an imprint of the past. It could be the simple walks my colleagues and I enjoyed as we made our way home. It could be our post-work smoking at our building’s ground floor. It could be the goddamn ATM machine we hurriedly went to every pay day. Or it could be the open-air bar where the emotions which made us more than just corporate slaves finally spilled out – in tears, in boisterous laughter, in quiet intoxication, or lonely disenchantment.
Truth be told, whenever the memories come back and hurt me, I often wish they stayed and became the present. Every new chapter in my life, especially my professional life, is unfairly compared to the easier days in that tiny office, countless of stories up in the city centre. I cannot help but look for the old days in the new places. I cannot help but long for the old laughs among unfamiliar faces. I cannot stop myself from yearning to share my new experiences with good ol’ friends.
I thought when I left that job in the city centre, it was out of personal duty. I needed to grow. I needed a better paying job to help myself, and my family. I needed to go out of my comfort zone. In hindsight, I didn’t exactly need it at the time I left. I was simply too caught up in my ideals, and have since then, struggled to balance myself in my new life, quite ill-equipped to adjust to stricter, tougher environs. I have had to grow the hard way. I have had to learn without the reassuring net of trusted friends.
I was spoiled. We were spoiled. And only when that time of our lives ended – so suddenly for most of us – did we realize how lucky we were to have found gainful employment in such easy terms. No stress. No mess. No real, office politics (except for an antisocial writer and an accountant who could not account). No overtime. Just time – a whole chunk of time to do the job right, and spend what’s left having fun.
Whenever I see our building from the distant train station, I tell myself it’s time to be a man now. The comforts of the old office and the old job will never always be present in the endeavors I take. But it need not be. The world won’t adjust for my quirks, and certainly not for my past. I have to, as our much despised accountant would say, “make the adjustments”. I should change with the change. I should embrace the new life.