JUNE 23, 2008
(STAR) FROM COFFEE TO COCKTAILS By Celine R. Lopez - Almost a decade ago I wrote my first article for this column. It was about how much I loved Manila. It was a different Manila then. Zara was still an urban myth like Krispy Kreme; and Wasabi was not just a hot sauce but a hot spot as well.

It was perfectly acceptable for 30-year-olds to wave glowsticks in clubs. Glorietta Sunday movie night was the seen-and-be-seen event for the nonchalant socialite. Zagu was all the rage.

Manila, like other things, may have changed. My Manila, at least. Ten years ago it was all about parties. These days itís baptisms, weddings and housewarming parties. Back in the day, we all used to pick each other up at our parentsí homes and sneak into the back kitchen entrance when we got home. These days we try to outdo each other by pimping out our apartments and find reasons to stay in more than concocting lies to justify us staying out. The times I do still think I ďhave itĒ and go out to the hip places, I find that teenagers intimidate me with their accelerated level of poise. They smoke cigarettes like Kate Hepburn and order these exotic cocktails that look like melted Chupa Chups.

This, sadly, is not my Manila anymore. I do look back fondly on my fun days when photographs were actually printed on paper and we drank straightforward drinks like gimlets and gin and tonics. In hindsight, we were just trying to be WASPY (ďWannabe Anglos Saxon Pinoy,Ē as my friend says).

I just came from a long world tour learning to make furniture and I must admit I missed home incredibly. Literally, the thing I missed most was my house: my humble abode that I painstakingly furnished and decorated with my best friends. That and my dog Caligula who has major abandonment issues now because of my Blind Ambition Tour.

They say that life is a lottery and where youíre born is a child of chance. Manila was in my cards and, move around as I do, I always canít wait to go back home. When people ask me why I love Manila so much I always say, ďBecause I can put sugar in my spaghetti and nobody judges me for it!Ē

Manilaís charm is in its simplicity. Sure, you can say itís a small town with small minds. However, size is not what determines it; look at Switzerland. Letís face it, Manila is not cool. Itís not edgy. And thank heavens for that! Cool is tiring. Letís face it, weíre not all about Joel Robuchon, weíre Pancake House!

Saturdays in Manila are the best. I wake up and go with Caligula to the Salcedo Weekend Market to buy our weekly organic stuff that weíll later on mix with Spam and corned beef. On special weekends Marcel and Miguel and I go to the flea markets in Bangkal or the antique stores in Ermita. These afternoons are particularly humbling since I suck at haggling and often get duped into buying things double the price of what itís really worth. Then itís dinner in a dive that usually serves really sour sinigang or really sweet spaghetti (yes, Iím obsessed).

Itís a worldwide rule that cool people never go out on Saturdays, but in Manila such icy societal edicts do not exist. People shake their booties here like itís Tuesday in London. I do still get peer-pressured to go to clubs sometimes. I decided to act my age this year, you see, and stop inflicting pain on people with my epileptic dancing. Given the choice, I would rather spend my nights eating sugared spaghetti and watching a marathon of The Hills. Okay, so Iím not exactly acting my age, but Iím keeping the embarrassment level to a minimum.

This is what is great about this charming city. Anything goes. I mean, how do you even social climb in the Philippines? Itís an oxymoron ó emphasis on ďmoron.Ē Itís contradictory, given the personality of this special city that never weeps. The faster you accept what Manila is, the more enjoyable it becomes. People try to make it into some Babylon of cool. Our cosmopolitan inclinations are limited but thatís where the charm of the city comes in. If Manila were a person it would be the girl next door: universally endearing, feckless, but still able to charm her way into peopleís hearts anyway.

Another thing I love about it is that around every corner comes a surprise.

A side street in Binondo will lead you to the best masseuse you will ever find in the world; a wrong turn in Evangelista can lead you to the most impressive ceramicist in the country; and an accidental stop in Mabini may allow you to discover the best barbeque you have ever had (coated in lots of sugar again, of course). I once bought the coolest medicine cabinets for P50 on a side street in Port Area on my way to work.

Like our local food, Manila is not for everyone. If you love it, you will always love it. If it shocks you the first time, it will surely show its softer side later on and endear itself to you. I have never heard of a foreigner saying they hated Manila. Itís more often filled with stories of them dancing their asses off in some club with (always) ďthe most beautiful woman they have ever seenĒ or eating balut with a mixture of fear and fascination. Whatever the case may be, you can always sense they fell in love with the city.

Time may have changed Manila a bit. Yes, we donít party in Japanese restaurants anymore. Zara is now as Pinoy as adobo. Like our spaghetti and barbeque, Manila will always be that sweet town that always could and never had to try.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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