In Manila, the weather is hot and hotter. Edsa, a freeway symbolic of freedom, can also be a stretch of concrete where hopes and dreams are left to die in the gridlock traffic.
Beside swanky villages are shanties and Jollyjeeps are in the middle of urbanized Makati.
Manila is a city that contradicts itself. Raymond Ang sees it in vibrant colors of blue, yellow, green and orange.
“Manila Manila and More” (2017, 146 pages, Made of Bricks under Summit Books) is a city guide “for tourists and tourists in their own country,” edited by Raymond, with Manica Tiglao and Michelle Ayuyao.
It’s a practical and cultural checklist, a neighborhood and cuisine guide, with stories by locals packaged by Serious Studios as a handy book in a pouch that looks aesthetic AF.
The title takes after Hotdog’s catchy tune “Manila,” which Raymond saw as the city’s theme song—Manila’s version of “Empire State of Mind” or “New York, New York.”
“It’s ‘Manila, Manila’ because it’s two Manilas. In the book you’ll see it divided in that way. The first Manila is shiny, expat-friendly, globalized. The second Manila is the forgotten but reemerging, historical Manila. ‘And More’ is everything outside the city—because if your idea of visiting the Philippines is beaches and sights, you won’t see any of it in Manila,” Raymond told Super.
The idea for the book came from guides like Monocle’s 38 Hours and New York Times’ 36 Hours where the story, usually written by a local, feels personal, “like being taken around by a long lost friend.”
The doodles and illustrations give “Manila” an even more personal feel. The portraits of the writers and featured personalities go side by side with handwritten quotes. They look so real some of the writings are hard to decode.
Serious Studios, as the name implies, is a no-nonsense design company behind the book’s visuals. They are the creative minds behind that all-too-familiar design of blk Cosmestics and the sex shop Ilya.
The book barely leaves blank space—just like the city. It’s packed with images of skyscrapers, art installations, food and landmarks.
“More than mere aesthetics, what they do is functional design,” Raymond said. “It’s a bit of an uphill climb these days, doing a book this visual and ‘produced,’ without an artista on the cover. It’s a bit of a gamble, but it’s also something we believe in. It’s a labor of love and a love letter to our city.”
It may as well be one.
Raymond remembered a balikbayan cousin who returned to the Philippines after eight years of living the United States. One week into vacation, the cousin had gone mall-hopping in the city, which made him a bit disappointed.
“There’s so much culture, texture and color that you miss if the only version of Manila you see is the malls,” Raymond said. “I think it was the first time I truly realized that’s the general impression of tourists and balikbayan when they come to our city. And who can blame them? I realized we don’t really have a lot of guides written from a local perspective.”
When Serious Studios took the job of designing the book, they did not have local city-guide materials. Instead they turned to titles like the Lost In series, Cereal and Monocle.
However, during the arduous design process, there was “something not quite right with the design of the book,” designer Kookie Santos told Super via e-mail.
“[The book] was not able to encapsulate Manila’s eccentricities. Eventually, instead of looking out, we shifted to looking in for inspiration—really embracing what Manila is all about. If you think Manila, it’s halo-halo, horror vacui, charming chaos. And that’s okay,” Kookie added.
Two years after Raymond pitched the idea of a local guide, “Manila” comes. It’s like a hip friend who’s a walking catalog of the sights and food stops. A friend who will bring you to third-wave coffee shops or bars while filling you in on stories of Philippine culture, art and history.
This is not just for backpackers and balikbayan. You thought you know Manila like the back of your hand? Let this book surprise you.
Every page is a different point-of-view of Manila. In the book are performance artist and tour guide Carlos Celdran; Margarita Forés, Asia’s Best Female Chef 2016; Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach; political commentator Nicole Curato; career woman and fashion icon Liz Uy; filmmaker Pepe Diokno.
Intramuros to Escolta
There are 1,001 ways of seeing Manila, and this book offers hundreds of perspectives from various insiders’ points-of-view—from Intramuros to the Escolta, and delicacies beyond adobo, the ambassador of Filipino food.
“We didn’t want the book to feel monolithic, like something made by just one perspective. We didn’t want it to just reflect our tastes and opinions,” Raymond said.
The horrendous traffic of Metro Manila has made us stay in Makati. Who needs to go to Cubao X in Quezon City when there is the equally hipster corner in Poblacion?
But “Manila” makes a local want to go out there and detour from the usual commute hustle and head east to Marikina, or finally make that journey to the south.
This book leads readers to hidden gems located in small spaces. It teaches city locals that there’s no such thing as knowing every establishment, every go-to restaurant or art space.
As the book underscores, Manila is constantly reinventing itself. It has done so many times—from post-World War II to martial law to this very day. It’s not just a layover to the Philippine beaches, but a destination on its own.
It’s ever-changing, at times backward. And while globalization takes a step forward, Manila fights to keep its cultural identity intact.
Again and again, this city contradicts itself. It’s sometimes uninhabitable and uncomfortable, but it’s home. Just like the classic Hotdog tune, we sing: “Manila, I keep coming back to Manila.”
“Manila Manila and More” is available at National Book Store, PowerBooks and all major bookstores.