Once the Queen of the Pacific, the Manila which we miss
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-06-28

It must be difficult being members of Gen-X and Gen-Y. Gen-X and Gen-Y Filipinos only experienced the worst of times of our country during the latter decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century.

Gen-X and Gen-Y Filipinos never experienced those days in the 1950s and the 1960s when we were second only to Japan in economic performance in all of Asia. In the 1950s and the 1960s, Filipinos who went overseas were traveling for recreation — quite unlike the hordes of Filipino migrant workers who are forced to go abroad these days in order to be employed.

Filipinos who traveled abroad during the 1950s went for pleasure and recreation. These days, our migrant workers travel and suffer from separation from their loved ones. We continually hear of those who have endured countless brutalities in the hands of savage employers.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Filipinos who traveled abroad tend to be big spenders. They were most welcome in places associated with the rich and famous like Palm Beach, Marbella, the Italian and the French Riviera.

During those two decades, there were no Japanese, Chinese and South Korean tourists in the magnitude of what are seen nowadays. The Chinese who visited the Philippines were likely Chinese seeking a better life from the hardships of China under Chairman Mao Zedong, especially during the Communist Cultural Revolution.

Even if our lives during the 1950s and the 1960s were much better than our lives today, still our parents would tell us that an even better paradise existed here before the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific. Theirs was a tale of Filipinos living in the best of times.

The US dollar was at its mightiest and yet the exchange rate was a mere Philippine Pesos P2 to US$1. Filipinos were a kinder, gentler people. Easily the proof of good economic times, Filipino society was a festive society.

There was no poverty in the scale of what we see today where families experience hunger. The nutrition level then was certainly much better even for those who were considered poor. The poor then ate sautéed monggo, fish, plenty of veggies compared to poor families today that survive on instant noodles which only provide carbohydrates and nothing more.

If you watched the Filipino movies that were made during the 1940s and even those that were produced in the 1950s — the poor lived under much better circumstances. They ate better, donned better clothes and lived in houses that would be similar to Class D dwellings these days. You did not see the hovels of the 21st century Philippines.

The economic opportunities then were such that Filipinos who came from poor families could still manage to improve their station in life if they persisted in attaining an education and kept a good work ethic — sipag at tiyaga (diligence and persistence). Today, many Filipinos just could not make ends meet no matter how much they tried to get ahead.
In the 1940s and the 1950s, Filipinos liked and trusted each other. The respect for the other Filipino was such that it was typical for visitors from the provinces to leave their shoes or slippers outside the front door of the house they were visiting. Nowadays, you lost your shoes or slippers if you still did that.

Basing it from what our parents and grandparents told us about how they lived before the Pacific War, we the Baby Boomers get to see our country as one that retrogressed through the decades of the 1970s, 1980s, and the last 19 years — opposite the progress of our Asian neighbors.

Imagine this. When my father was president of the Philippine Education Company, the biggest school supplies firm of the period, he was making the equivalent of what we now pay our driver. And yet, my Mom would laugh and say that my Scottish grandfather used to receive one-fifth of what our Dad made and they lived better on what our grandfather made in the 1930s and the 1940s.

For those of you who are computer savvy, your Chair Wrecker recommends that you watch a YouTube travelogue of the City of Manila circa 1938 which was the period before the outbreak of the 1940s Pacific War.

This 1938 Manila travelogue is close to 11 minutes, was filmed in black and white and can be accessed by logging on to YouTube (Just click on this link: http://www.youtube.com:80/watch?v=dvpbsyNcI3I) on the internet. If you are not computer savvy, ask your grandson or granddaughter to secure the site for you.

What will immediately strike you is how Manila was being described then — as a majestic Queen of the Pacific. It dramatically contrasts with how Manila is now being described in many news stories of foreign and local media. From being described as dark, seedy, congested and dirty in current media coverage, the 1938 Manila was clean, well laid out like Singapore and with nary a tinge of poverty to be seen in its streets.

It will also surprise you to see that our traffic flow then followed the British system and even the automobiles were right hand drive (which drove on the left side of the road). It could not be a case of reversed negative because the signs and billboards on the road read correctly.

That 1938 Manila travelogue gave a special meaning to the lyrics of the stirring song Bayan Ko (My Country) which says: “At sa kanyang yumi at ganda, dayuhan ay nahalina” (To her virtue and beauty, the foreigner got attracted).

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