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18 December 2013

A Valenzuela Man Visits Makati, After Five Years

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“Young man, you are really tall standing on your wallet, but how’s your heart? Is it as empty as a shell? And your head, is it as cloudy as a frozen mountain?” RSM

  • Foreign student: “Teacher, what city do you live in?”
  • Me: “Valenzuela”
  • Foreign student: “Venezuela? Oh!”
  • Me: “No, I’m from Va-len-zuela, not Venezuela.”
  • Foreign student:  “Oh, what is the difference between Valenzuela and Venezuela?”
  • Me: “The letter L. “
  • Foreign student: “What does Venezuela mean?”
  • Me: “Venezuela means ‘little Venice” because Lake Caracas reminded Europeans of Venice.”
  • Foreign student: “How about Valenzuela?”
  • Me: “I guess little Vale”
  • Foreign student: “What is Vale?”
  • Me: “I don’t know. Maybe advance in your salary.”
  • Foreign student: “I don’t understand”
  • Me: “Nevermind, let’s start the lesson.”

Essays for 20
Something People
The last time that I went to the very cosmopolitan city of Makati was in January of 2009. Five years ago, I could casually strut along the corridors of Glorietta and Greenbelt without feeling inadequate. If I fancy a displayed item behind store windows, I could buy it.  Sometimes, salespeople ignored me perhaps thinking I did not fit the profile of their buyers, meaning tall and Caucasian-looking. Back then, I was tempted to buy from another store and return to the store that ignored me and deliver the classic Julia Roberts line, “You work on commission, right? Big mistake!” Hey, I have “Robert” attached to my name too. Thankfully, I did not go overboard. I simply spent most of my time in Makati dining with friends rather than splurging on clothes, shoes and other items.  I guess that despite tasting some fine bottles of Chardonnay, Italian coffees and being able to properly pronounce certain French dishes, I am still a true blue Valenzuela boy, who graduated from Mabababang Paaralan ng Heneral Tiburcio De Leon.  

Valenzuela is one of those places in Metro Manila that grounds you, and brings you back to reality no matter if hours ago you just walked on the wild side on some A-list celebrity’s penthouse in Makati.   A Valenzuela boy going to Makati is like a New Jersey lad taking a trip to Manhattan. That comparison is for my American readers. This Valenzuela boy was wide eyed and armed with hope and fascination but knowing deep in his heart that all those tall buildings could blind him if he was not street smart enough.

Fast-forward five years later, I now have a thinner wallet after voluntarily giving up my unpopular role as “the One Who Bought the Devil’s Prada.” I am back in Makati, not as a part of the sufficiently paid bunch, but as a struggling film and pop culture critic running a charity blog. Unlike my friends, I do not have a car even though I could have bought one in the past. I gave all that up. I now take the MRT and wade my way through the crowded side streets of Makati as security guards look at me as I pass with my old rainbow colored Tribu sandals and straw hat bought by my loving friends from SM Accessories as a surprise birthday gift.  Yes, sir, the hat is not a Topman trilby hat or a Perry Ellis fedora.

Makati still looks luminous to me. It is one of the patches of the First World in this Third World country.  Indeed, the city is beautiful, especially at night during the Christmas season.  I have been to Seoul, South Korea and I can honestly say that Makati can compete.  

However, change is a sardonic jester. I still see the wonder and sophistication of Makati and the pleasure that it can offer, but the Valenzuela boy in me still worries if my house is safe from robbers. Just a few days ago, someone broke into our neighbor’s house and robbed our neighbors at gunpoint, which I thought was so unfair. Valenzuela is not Makati. We are as typical as Nora Aunor.

When I was young, I had my youth as my currency. I could use it to get to parties, and it did not bother me much if people did not listen to what I had to say as long as I was allowed to join "the parties." Now, I still cannot entirely vouch that people listen to me but at least, I found a venue for my voice, even if my voice have to compete with the cacophony of American accents and loud clicks and flashes of cameras.

I am now more confident to express my opinions, such as  “the presentation looks good, but substance is lacking. This Valenzuela boy is not impressed. Take me back to the talipapa of Karuhatan please.  You just wasted my 180 pesos.”

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