How the return to Manila from seven years of living in Kuala Lumpur and Berlin is teaching this diplomat’s wife how to find happiness wherever she finds herself
Toward the end of our time abroad for my husband’s diplomatic posting, I was often asked how I felt about going home. Whenever I said I looked forward to it, it was always met with disbelief. Surely, I must be joking. Did I not enjoy my time abroad?
I often assure people that I’ve savored every moment I get to spend in each city we move to, getting to play local for a few years. First, it was Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, then Berlin in Germany. It’s an immersion like no other but the life we chose is that of an adventure of packing and moving every few years. I guess knowing that your time in a place is limited makes you immerse yourself deeper into a place in a shorter span of time. You learn how to appreciate and live in every moment. This, so that when it’s time to leave, you don’t feel too bad or have too many regrets.
Live in the present and compare less
“You’re always where you’re meant to be. You’re always in the best possible place,” a senior diplomatic official once told me. It’s the best way to teach someone to be truly happy wherever they are in the world. One’s happiness does rely heavily on disposition and attitude toward life. You can be in Paris, living in a fancy apartment yet still be the most miserable person if you’re someone who feels like you should be in New York instead.
Manila, despite its imperfections and grit, has its own brand of beauty and excitement. Life can be tough and this megalopolis can be quite the compelling experience to our senses. You miss so many things about it, however, while you’re away that you end up humming that eponymous song without a hint of irony.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to miss about being abroad at all. The pandemic has made traveling a bit more of a challenge that I have yet to be reunited with our beaches I longed to enjoy while we were away. But again, it’s about finding your brand of happiness in your current situation. I’ve been exploring Manila more, pandemic restrictions permitting. I find myself often pleasantly surprised as I chance upon places and things that remind me of our previous homes and the things I enjoyed there.
Life in Manila can be tough, but you miss so many things about it while you’re away.
Pockets of charm
Palacio de Memoria is one of those places. A restored, pre-war mansion along Roxas Boulevard, it is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city’s bustle—A museum, auction house, and event venue in one. I fell in love with its breezy garden that’s home to Margarita Fores’ newest restaurant, The Loggia. Having a coffee or some dessert for merienda takes you back in time and to afternoons in European villas turned museums that also have their own café.
Europe boasts of weekend farmers’ markets but we also have them here. I often find myself walking through the Legazpi and Salcedo weekend markets and finding much, from fresh produce, flowers, handicraft, and vintage items to expats who have been living in Manila long enough to consider selling food from where they grew up. Just over the weekend, I met a French expat who promised me one of the most authentic European food experiences I could get in Manila. He wasn’t lying. These markets are also great places to score packs of bratwurst, non-dairy cheeses, and even spices I only learned about and tasted in Kuala Lumpur.
Inside the First United Building, what used to be a department store in Old Manila’s Escolta, there’s Hub Make Lab. It’s a place that gives home to Filipino artisans and creatives and I swear I could lose myself in there for hours, looking at their creations. They also have a selection of vintage and clothing made out of deadstock fabric care of Glorious Dias. I often recommend this place to expats and diplomatic spouses who are looking for unusual souvenirs.
And whenever I crave for European flavors while having access to good Filipino food, I make my way to Chef Sau del Rosario’s Le Petit Café Fleur in Poblacion. Another charming little haven for foodies in the city.
Home is a concept that can feel temporary for people who move every few years and I just love how Manila welcomes you back with open arms after being away for some time. You may feel foreign for a while, not knowing where to go and learning about the changes that happened while you’re away as you go. What makes things easier is that Manila is kind and eager to be loved. It’s great to be back in the motherland and I’ll make sure to enjoy every bit of being here until it’s time to leave again.