I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

- Naomi Shihab Nye, 'Famous'

Message from Writer

Hello! My name is Amber and I'm a seventeen year old girl from the Philippines. I enjoy writing as much as I do horses, fruit, and reality television. Feel free to message me if you need someone to talk to about your writing!

The City Come-of-Age

February 22, 2018

     On the night the first supermall opened in the city I’ve lived in for ten years, our car got stuck in traffic on the way home for the first time. Along the roads, families mounted atop old pick-up trucks, men pulled out plastic chairs and soft drinks, and mothers struggled with their toddler’s hats. Why is all of Cabanatuan out tonight?, I wondered, just as the fireworks began to splash across the sky, and spots of color spilled over the nearby rice fields. I remember noticing that there was something strange about the way Cabanatuan looked on --- not in awe or applause, but in silent satisfaction, as if to say it’s about time --- until the final firework fizzed out, and the show was over. Everybody packed up and drove off. SM (SuperMall) Cabanatuan --- it was the city come-of-age, the end of an era, and the beginning of a new one.

            I was six years old when my family left Manila, the Philippine capital, to live in Cabanatuan, a small city in the province of Nueva Ecija. Before we moved, my parents would scare me about ‘life in the province’, saying there would be no air conditioning, and all we’d eat were rice and vegetables from the farmlands. They didn’t call Nueva Ecija, the ‘Rice Capital of the Philippines’ for nothing. This only added to my initial apprehensions about leaving the big malls in the capital, the private school I went to, the playgrounds I loved, and pretty much everything that made a city, a city. When my family finally came to Cabanatuan, there was a two-floor building with a few shops inside, that everyone liked to call a mall, even if it wasn’t. Once I started grade school, I didn’t dare eat any snack from the school canteen. Since Cabanatuan is landlocked in the dead center of the Philippines’ Luzon island, it was most often the country’s hottest city. Ever since I arrived, living in Cabanatuan has been a constant longing to get out of it.
            Soon enough, I got my ticket out by getting accepted into an exclusive arts boarding school in Southern Luzon, where I would proceed to spend four years of my high school education. For the rest of my lfie, it is this school ---- situated along the slope of a mountain called Makiling ---- I will name as the most magical place I have ever known. Besides studying Philippine culture and honing my passion for writing, it was in Mount Makiling that I first learned to value the environment. Living on a mountain rich in lore and superstition, us students were warned not to kill any living creatures, be it the lizard on our dorm room ceiling or the bugs buzzing around our light. We knew better than to throw trash into forest areas, or pick a flower without asking permission from the goddess Mariang Makiling first. Slowly, and without noticing it myself, the mountain changed me. Or at least, our school’s fear of aggravating the goddess that guarded the mountain, changed the way I lived my daily life. I became so immersed in the rituals of care and concern for all beings, there and not-there, that these spirits began to live in me as well.

            I would only go home to Cabanatuan on the weekends, and my two days back would be spent catching up with my family or still doing school work. Sometimes, as I would leave home to catch the bus back to school, I would think about how I met with my city the same way I would run into an elementary school classmate while walking around our new mini-mall: I know who you are, I know all the gossip about you, I’ve eaten at your pizza restaurant, I’ve watched a movie in your cinema. But I will never talk to you long enough to get past a hello.

            If you were to ask me where the years have gone, I wouldn’t know how to respond. Today, I am in the Capital, going through my last two years of high school at a private university, and shopping for clothes at the big-time malls. Back home in my city, new malls and shopping centers are popping up every six months. Cabanatuan is getting so crowded, the provincial office plans to make the neighboring municipalities part of  the city as well. There are at least three fireworks displays at the Super Mall every year. On each weekend trip home, I capture the rolling rice fields on a Snapchat video, more and more certain that there will be less and less of it as the years go by. For so long, I have wanted my city to be a city, and now that it is, I only ever think of the way it used to be. Four years on an enchanted mountain has shown me how much your surroundings can change you when you speak its language constantly, but how is it possible that I now yearn for a time, an air and a space I never did learn how to love? How is it fair for me to want the dragonflies back, the coolness, the simplicity of a day, when I never so much as stepped into a rice field?

            We live in a world where everything around us in changing faster than we can bring ourselves to accept. These past few years, I’ve watched a city contract and relax, breathe too slow, or burn too fast. I’ve watched farmers meet fireworks for the very first time. And the entire experience of seeing it happen, but only in bursts, has been fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time. Today, I know two cities, but only love one. It’s about time I learn that the love I need to learn most, is that of the world around me, here, and alive, until I have to look out of my car window again, just to see what all the fuss is about.


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  • Brittany - Write the World

    Dear Pocahontas,
    I'm reaching out regarding a publication opportunity for this piece, "The City Come-of-Age." Please reach out to brittany@writetheworld.com for more information.

    Your Editors

    over 1 year ago
  • Thespian

    loved your piece (you won!) but you should publish more! we need more writers like you in the world.
    A warm welcome from England!

    almost 3 years ago
  • Gabriel Goodwin

    This is so beautiful and heartrending! You know how to write a good essay...what's your secret? huhuhu! Also, yay I'm from the Philippines too! :-)

    almost 3 years ago