For two weeks in summer 2002, it was my home together with 23 other candidates, 5 of whom became very good friends. I occasionally visited for work-related functions, but have not stayed since. It's been 13 years.
A couple of days ago, I read that InterContinental Manila is closing down after 46 years. Who knew that a five-star hotel that I have no affiliations with in any form whatsoever would stir such melancholy in me? In a post which I shared with my fellow candidates, I said that I have no idea what the sadness was about. Of course I knew. But a blog-post length comment is a bugbear of mine on social media, so I saved the unwrapping of my thoughts and feelings here.
|photo from Intercontinental.com/Manila|
Hotel InterContinental Manila brought me back to my early 20s when I was a young woman chasing dreams. That in my arduous climb to make it in the industry where the password to fast-tracked entry is nepotism rather than talent, I resigned myself to taking turns and roundabouts instead of the straightforward route my naivety navigated for me. Wearing a bikini on national TV wasn't my idea of climbing the career ladder, but I soon found out that writing for a magazine alone, nor singing a decent version of 'Get Here' by Oleta Adams wasn't enough to land me a TV presenting job. In a country where Manny Pacquiao's boxing matches and national and international beauty pageants could put the nation at a standstill, a sash, sceptre, and a crown may be my ticket to success.
Many years down the road, someone asked me and one of my friends how it felt to be a candidate in a national beauty pageant. She replied for both of us, "we don't know, we didn't make it to the question and answer portion." That wit could have earned us a title.
I didn't take home the crown, but that two-week stay at the Intercon earned me that friend, and four more, who are proof that despite distance, different personalities, and my self-imposed incommunicado state at some point in my life due to personal circumstances, good friends will gravitate toward each other.
That two-week stay gave me my very first taste of ignominy, on national and international TV, in front of all my family, friends, colleagues, and strangers. I was afraid of failure that if it did happen, I thought it must be private. Always. How many millions watched in the Philippines, USA, Middle East, Europe, and everywhere that The Filipino Channel reached? Thank God Facebook and Twitter didn't yet exist. Inside the bathroom of my hotel room, while my roommate slept, I cried. It was just me, the toilet roll, and my thoughts on how to redeem myself. This has been a ritual for succeeding unbroadcast personal flops and trials.
Shutting down InterContinental Manila to give way to a new commercial mixed-use development plan and a modern transport facility gateway agrees with my observation that every chance I go back to Manila its face changes that in another decade or so, I probably won't recognise it. Filipinos, including myself, pore over YouTube clips of Manila of yesteryear; we might fill up an archive in the future to sate our pangs for nostalgia.
The fact that there's one less familiar sight to see the next time I'm in town (since emigrating from the Philippines to the UK in 2005, I have been back five times, with the most recent in May 2015) reminds me again that back where I'm from, we have no remorse over obliterating or obstructing physical landmarks of history and identity in the interest of modernisation. Barely half a century old, Hotel InterContinental Manila may fall short of being considered an architectural heritage when placed side by side with the likes of Manila Hotel, Metropolitan Theater, or Aduana in Intramuros, even though it was designed by a National Artist. But closing it instead of working around it if at all possible, is a nod to our disregard for preservation. A preservation that no longer exclusively apply to concrete structures alone, but also to our ideals of progression: that is, in the scramble for the shiny and glossy, we drop character. The central business district (CBD) and adjacent mega hubs, are what I'd call PROJECT REPLICA of ultra-modern cities. Except we're not modern, really. One does not have to scratch beneath the surface to confirm that.
While writing this, the TV program 'Restoring Britain's Landmarks' came on. It's about teams of heritage devotees working together to breathe life into the country's abandoned and disused buildings, turning them into architectural wonders. Some are converted either into family homes or hotels. I have observed in my European travels that this is the blanket theme: preservation, conservation, and restoration. In the aftermath of the destruction of World War I and II, it's in the consciousness of Europeans to recreate their cities's former glory.
Perhaps we haven't culturally matured, for we are yet to learn that modernisation doesn't mean discarding the past, but rather, reclaiming it. Progress is rebuilding and repurposing for future generations to have physical representations of the past to behold and appreciate. Stories don't have to begin with once upon a time.
The Philippine capital is not just slowly becoming increasingly unfamiliar; it's morphing into a bland acquaintance.