I toured around Old Manila the other day, visiting the only remaining physical remnants of our colonial past. Intramuros, or "the Walled City", was once the seat of the Spanish government and military, closed off from the rest of society. It was heavily bombed during the battle of Manila at the end of WWII and very little remains of the architecture that once lay there. But still, some parts -- like the fortress wall and the gate Fort Santiago -- were preserved and you can still very much see the heavy Spanish influence.
But aside from that, Intramuros has become a regular city lined with homes, sari-sari stores (variety stores), and schools. There is such a huge contrast between that old world and the one everyday Filipinos live in today. On one street you had cobblestones that told the story of an entirely different time and on another was the regular hustle and bustle you'd see anywhere else around Manila. At one point during the day, I was standing atop the wall looking out on the Pasig River and was just so amused by the juxtaposition of an old Spanish ruin on my side of the river and the modern condos and office buildings that lay on the other side.
Prior to my trip, I'd been researching about our colonial and modern history as well as reading the literary masterpieces of our national hero, Jose Rizal, who kick started the independence movement here in the Philippines. I've been kind of obsessed with him actually--such an extraordinary man who just oozes fortitude, courage, and conviction. Aside from his real life though, Rizal's style of prose was something that really moved me--so eloquent, so poignant, and so full of substance.
Walking around, I tried to imagine a time long gone where the characters of his Noli Me Tangere would roam the streets-- a time of the friars, the Spanish elites, and the "indio" (then the word for a native Filipino). I pictured the Doña Victorinas of the day, the native Filipinos who, obsessed with being of a higher European class, were full of pomp and pretension. On that day, I faced Rizal's world of the late 1800s and it was just too cool to see in real life all the things I've only just been reading about.