Stories

Everybody has a story of home; here’s mine

I was born and raised in Sampaloc, Manila, a district dubbed as the “university belt” due to a number of universities in this area. My father was originally from Mangaldan, Pangasinan but transferred to Manila with his family in his teens. They took residence in Gen. Geronimo Street, 900-meter south of España Blvd and a mere 10-minute walk from Lacson Ave. A large breadth of this street is filled with informal settlers who have been there for such a long time, even the government could no longer send them away. This is where I originally came from.

Image taken from Google Maps

My first home

It’s a two-story house, the upper level has two rooms where my father’s two sisters, both married, lived with their respective families. Our family occupied the room below. Because my father lived close to his sisters, my siblings and I grew up with our cousins for our playmates.

I vaguely remember this room, it was small, no bedroom, no kitchen area, not even a bathroom. We slept and dined on the floor. We used to do a number 2 on used newspaper, wrapped them up in a plastic bag, then threw them over a nearby river. To take a bath, my mother would take my two sisters and me out on the street, to the house of our neighbor with an artesian well. Wearing nothing but our panties and flip flops, Mama would bathe us one by one. When the rain gets bad in the wet season, our room would get flooded. My parents would then carry me and my sisters on the second floor and sleep temporarily with our cousins.

In 1991, Papa saved enough money to build our own residence on an empty lot in front of the old house. It started as an elevated house with straight wooden stairs. A few years after, the ground floor was built. I still remember feeling very excited about it because it meant we would have our own toilet.

Even when Papa made an effort to make our place habitable, I still grew up with the desire to leave our neighborhood and have my own place. The community is chaotic, men would get drunk and break into a fight often, women would gossip and also break into a fight. Several times in a month, we would look out the window to watch the commotion. Even in our families, there is disunion. My mother, for reasons I never really knew, had a long-standing feud with one of my aunts. I lost count of the times they went bickering at each other for some trivial stuff. I grew up in a place rife with conflicts where most people are quick to anger, easily offended by the littlest of things.

The main streets and narrow alleys are always littered with garbage, stray animals, and children. The grounds are always wet and muddy either due to busted pipes or people who do their laundry outside their houses. I never got used to it even when I grew up in this area. I envied my friends and classmates who have better homes or neighborhoods. I was sad that we were a family of eight and didn’t have our own bedrooms. There was no privacy in this area, not in our house, not in our community. Everyone is on everybody’s business; everyone seems to know about each other more than I would have liked. Thus, I have always wanted to go.

The first bid to independence

In 2012, I turned my wish into reality. I left our house and moved to a small dorm room in San Antonio Village, Makati. The dorm was newly built back then and I was the first tenant. Suddenly, I had to learn to fend for myself; buy my own food, do my own or pay for laundry. I had no one to care for me when I was sick. Back home I ask my younger siblings to do my bidding; in the dorm, I had to do it all on my own. Even when I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about our environment in Sampaloc, having a family around meant I had people to care for my needs, but I had to give this up when I decided to live by myself.

The dorm is at a prime location, just one ride away from Makati’s business district, Ayala. Thus, it didn’t take long before all four rooms have been occupied by renters. I got one room on my own for P4,500 per month inclusive of electricity and water. There are shared toilets and bathrooms and the common area has an old TV, microwave oven, and fridge. Soon, I started seeing problems that usually plague inhabited places, such as house pests, (rodents, mosquitoes, roaches), busted showerheads, dirty hallways, among others. I also had to deal with the hassle of living with strangers, such as opening the fridge and realizing that somebody stole my food, waiting in the morning for my turn to use the shower, and enduring the noises that the other girls were making especially when they have visitors.

Perhaps the worst thing that I hated in that dorm is the lack of ventilation. My room gets incredibly hot in the summer that it was kinda like being in a sauna. Thus, my expenses double in the dry season as I always went out to escape the heat. I did get the privacy that I was looking for, but for a price.

Friends and temporary places

In 2015, I resigned from a company without the security of a new job. Back then I wanted to try my hand at freelancing, taking inspiration from my traveler friends. While I’m on job-hunting, I took the offer my friend, Lara, to live temporarily at her condo in McKinley. I crashed at her place for two months. My freelancing attempts failed, but I was able to snag myself a new job, albeit on a night shift in BGC.

Related: Why I’m Going Back to the Corporate Despite My Love for Traveling

I transferred to the apartment of my friend Alchris in Makati and lived there for a short time. When I’ve saved enough money, I went to find another place to rent.

My friend, Maggie, informed me of a vacancy in the 5-story apartment building where she resides. It’s a studio unit on the ground floor, recently vacated by a tenant. It has its own bathroom, a sink, and a closet. The monthly rental fee is P10,500 excluding water and electricity. The best thing about it is the location. It sits in a neighborhood filled with apartments with bed-space and food establishments. A 5-minute walk would take you to a public market, 15 minutes to my place of work. It was all so convenient that I immediately reserved the unit.

I made no effort in furnishing the apartment, it’s not mine anyway. I slept on a mattress, didn’t cook, and survived on take-out or food deliveries. I took my clothes to the laundry, left my gallon of water by the hallway leaving 30 pesos on top of the lid. A day later, I would open the door and see the gallon of water outside my door.

Just like in the dorm, I kept to myself and didn’t bother building a relationship with my fellow tenants. Even when we were living in the same building, I hardly saw Maggie. I got along well with the caretaker and his wife, but I never made myself available for deep human interactions in the two years that I was there.

Maggie and I met for lunch recently and unlike me, she is “woke” (as the millennials put it) to the goings-on in that building. I sat fascinated as she recounted stories of our neighbors, like the man she calls, “Vape Boy” who likes to smoke in the hallway, the man who often beat the hell out of his daughter and his old mother who once swept dead cockroaches from their room out into the hallway, and the lesbian lovers who broke up and left the bed frame in the unit they once shared along the memories that came with it. I had been living in my own little world, I realized.

The hunt to find my own place

On October 22, 2017, a mere 2 weeks after I started working in my present company, I went on a house-hunting trip with two real-estate agents, a friend, and my sister. This is among the things that I did under the leap of faith category. You see, I was then on a probationary status in my new work; where I got the confidence to find a house is also a mystery to me. My friend, Mechelle, earns extra by recommending prospective homeowners to the two real-estate agents that she knows. One day, I just told her to find me a house.

We checked out three properties during the house-hunting, two townhouses in Cavite and one condo unit in Pasig. The townhouses are bigger in size but I wasn’t sold on the idea of living in Cavite. I now work in Eastwood, I didn’t want to waste hours in a day for commuting. Cavite is not that far from Metro Manila, but the Philippine traffic is called one of the worst in the world for a reason.

Our last stop is a low-rise condominium community in Pasig where I felt something the way I did the moment I stepped foot on my alma mater, Lyceum of the Philippines. I don’t know how to explain it, but I just knew that I belong there. When I get that feeling, I do not overthink and just follow my intuition. I decided right then and there that it’s going to be my new home.

I advised the agents to do the necessary paperwork, commencing the painstaking process of buying a house. I paid the reservation, arranged the monthly installment scheme for the deposit, signed hundreds of documents, and took many phone calls from the developers, agents, and bank. To say that it was stressful would be an understatement.

The bloody process

One of the requirements for a housing loan is a bank clearance of a previous loan. The thing is, years ago, when I was neck-deep in credit card debts, I ran away from the responsibility of paying a loan. Yes, I do have my own share of harassment stories through phone calls and emails by the bank and the collection company. To finally settle this delinquent account, I called the bank to request for amnesty. They gave me a choice between a monthly installment arrangement that includes accumulated interests and a one-time payment of a certain amount free from interests; I chose the latter. In return, the bank sent me a clearance proving that I am debt-free.

I have lost count of the times I ranted to my friends about how hard it is to deal with the developers.
For example, they bugged me for weeks to pass the requirements for the housing loan, but as soon as the loan got approved, they stopped communicating with me. When I asked when would I be able to move, they said that the building is still undergoing construction. I was like, why did they hurry me into getting a loan when the building is not even ready for turnover?

There were also some things that didn’t dawn on me until I have already signed the contract. I didn’t anticipate just how hard the daily commute would be. I don’t own a car and have no plans of getting one in the next few years so that’s out of my options. Don’t even get me started with all the expenses, there’s the reservation, deposit, bank charges, and move-in fee in the amount that I wouldn’t joke about. There was a point that I questioned myself for even considering this. I was burdened with thoughts of not being financially prepared. It’s like jumping in the open sea forgetting that I don’t know how to swim. I felt overwhelmed and pressured that I didn’t know what else to do.

Adding to my worries was the Europe trip. I already had a Schengen visa and the trip was fast approaching. I realized I was in over my head that all I ever did was cry to my friends about how difficult things are.

Related: A Guide to Schengen Visa Application Philippines

December 7, we had the home inspection. A staff member led me to my condo, a one-bedroom, 33-square meter unit with a small living room, bathroom with toilet, kitchen, balcony, and a laundry area. The man informed me that the building has no utilities yet, no water, electricity, and the Internet. His guesstimate is that the building would be ready for occupancy in January or February.

I informed him that the bank has already released the check for the loan and that my monthly amortization will begin on December 15th. It would be too much for me to pay the monthly amortization of the house while paying the monthly rent for the apartment at the same time. Given my situation, I should be able to move in soon. He nodded in understanding and assured me that he would raise the matter to his boss.

Finally, I am home

23rd of December; it was a rainy Sunday, the admin employees of the condo are on a day-off. I had no more time to spare, my flight to Europe was on two days, thus I went on with my move-in plans. The driver and his assistants helped me transfer my stuff into their small truck then we traveled from Makati to Pasig.

In the admin office, I practically begged the facilities staff to open the unit so I can put in my things. They were helpful, one of which made some calls to the admin to describe my situation. After half an hour, I got the keys to my house including two sets of duplicates.

Just as they told me the building is not yet complete. They expedited the works on my unit upon my request a few weeks before. This means I am the first resident of the building. Other facility personnel assisted in getting my belongings from the truck to my unit. However, I didn’t live in the house just yet and went back to the apartment until the 25th. Makati is closer to the airport than Pasig, I didn’t want to have a hard time getting to NAIA for my flight.

Jan 8th, the plane touched down Manila at around 12:00 noon. For the first time, I went home to the house I can call mine.

Updates

As I write this, I have been living in this house for a month now. I have a few neighbors, my electricity and water are on submeter, and the Internet line is not yet installed. Nevertheless, I love every second that I spend in this house and every day, I look forward to going home.

Regarding my daily commute, I have found a Wunderpool driver who could get me to work every morning. Going home is a different story. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I usually take habal-habal or Grab after my French class. On MWFs, it’s either I use Wunderpool or I take public commute.

As of now, I still have no furniture but I am planning to get a bed soon. I have purchased a few things, mainly kitchen stuff and have been perfecting my omelet-cooking skill of late. So far, the only home improvements that I’ve had done is the installation of a bidet and a bath towel rod in my bathroom, curtain rod for my bedroom window, and shade for the balcony door. Admittedly, the progress is slow with considerations to budget, but I am not in a hurry. I just enjoy every bit of the process.

Every day, I hear the sound of planes as they passed over the area and every time I bid them, “Happy safe travel.” I like looking out into the balcony with a cup of coffee, enjoying the quiet as much as I can. Pretty soon, the area will be filled with other residents, I can only hope they won’t completely destroy the peace.

Right now, I am just happy that I am living in a place I can call my own.

css.php