A Road and A River in Metro Manila

So, I want to write about a special river in the city through which I travel every day now. There’s one that I like, beside the place I live, that I like to just stand on the bridge and watch the river turn to rapids after a rainstorm. It’s a city river, so it’s brown and grey and I wouldn’t drink from it without thinking twice, but whenever I walk over the bridge I hear the rushing water and feel renewed. But, as well-acquainted as we are and as delightful as I find it, that’s not the river I want to blog about right now.

I was born in the Philippines, and I live there still. For most of the time in-between, though, I grew up sort of hopping to neighbouring nations. The Southeast Asian archipelago is a mix of volcanic islands and metamorphic tectonic plates. A guide I went along with for a tour of Old Manila offered the idea that there wasn’t a Philippine Empire (or pre-Spanish colonialization that collectively named the islands after a foreign king or prince or someone whose name was night unpronounceable in many tribal dialects and languages) unlike other Southeast Asian nations was because The Philippines was made of volcanic rock that was about the consistency of cake. No empire could be built on cake. More images below the cut.

So, zooming in on the capital region:


I say capital region because I wouldn’t call Manila the capital city. Metro Manila is apparently made up of sixteen cities stuck together—one of which, confusingly, is Manila City.

As shown above, Manila (the word) sits between two blue bodies of water. To the map-viewer’s left of the word is Laguna del Bay, a freshwater lake that is apparently the largest in the country. To the map-viewer’s right of the word is Manila Bay, which is a lagoon of salty ocean water. The map section below is zoomed in just enough to show the river that connects these two bodies of water, the Ilog Pasig or the Pasig River.


And now we switch to satellite view.



The Pasig River used to be the main artery of transportation. The Presidential Palace was built along this river, and there it still stands; the riverbanks were considered prime real estate for the upper-crust. Then, things changed: factories began to grow on the banks instead of residences, the river became polluted, people stopped bathing in its waters, fewer fish would leave the lake to go into the river, and by the 1990’s Ilog Pasig was considered biologically dead and known best for its unbearably smelly fumes.

A decade and a half later, the rehabilitation of the river has gone swimmingly. Not that I’d swim in it without thinking twice, but I see patches of leafy green maybe-lilies floating in patches on the surface, and sometimes the water is a completely natural brown and other times it appears a steely blue-gray.

This is what I see when commuting, by bus or train, along the main highway that is Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (which translates to Epiphany of the Saints…Avenue, and might be named after a Philippine historian, but the road is best known as EDSA. Not, for some reason, EDLSA or EdlSA or ESA.)

If the Ilog Pasig is an artery, I think of ESDA as more like a spinal column. This road was the site of the EDSA Revolution, where two million civilian protestors crowded the streets in a move to oust a cheating and corrupt dictator from power, and there was this assassination of this returning exile whose wife’s favourite colour was yellow so there were yellow ribbons everywhere and it was all Game of Thrones except in the 1980’s in a developing Asian nation so not like Game of Thrones at all. My mother climbed a telephone pole or a streetlight or something to take photos of the revolution, in her intrepid university student days, as intrepid university students do.

I don’t keep all of the above in mind when I ride down EDSA to the point that it bridges over the Pasig River, but I do feel moved to pay a little more attention when I’m at that juncture. The shape of the river is just so magnificently organic that it takes the edge off the experience of city life for a fleeting moment. I think it’s like when a storm passes by, and it rains so hard that it draws curtains of water between buildings to a visibility of maybe three feet, and the air gets muggy, and I phant’sy that something about my city still remembers when it was a rainforest. I would still want to save the rainforests, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the forest as a whole entity that reclaims the lands once claimed by the cities and the forest doesn’t need saving at all: we do, we civilized beings in a fragile world.

So, it’s the stormy sky and the rushing rivers from overflowing lakes and the quaking earth beneath the asphalt that remind me how nature is never too far.