Special Feature

An Urban Roamer’s Story: A 5th Anniversary Post

As the Urban Roamer is celebrating its fifth year in its online existence, I realized I have not really told anyone yet the full story as to how I came into starting what was then an unknown journey for me 5 years ago. So I suppose this is the perfect occasion for me to finally tell that story, a story which by itself went back years before…

I suppose many would know my affection for geography, a love that grew out of my love as a child for what I would call “urban geography,” as I would try to memorize jeepney routes, learning the ins and outs of whatever place I would go to with my family. But back then and into my teens, that knowledge and fascination that I had with urban geography was something that I considered to be…I’m tempted to say trivial but I feel it’s demeaning to say so since I never considered them or any bits of information that I learn as such. They’re informative bits still that proved useful to share to others.

But while other trivia can be further useful in other outlets like game and quiz shows which were popular at that time, I was struggling to find an appropriate outlet where I can possibly put that knowledge about urban geography that I’ve learned over the years into good use. At that time, my options and know-how were limited, as I contented myself with showcasing that knowledge whenever someone asks about this place in the city which I am familiar with. There was also no one nor thing I can possibly look up to as an inspirations where or how to do it. More importantly, I did not have a purpose to do so.

WALK THIS WAY

As I entered college, I’ve kinda forgotten those troubles as  my mind became preoccupied with other matters, notably considering doing some writing, whatever form of writing I could do. Thanks to the wonders of Friendster, I found myself becoming part of this team of fellow late teeners from different backgrounds, brainstorming and conceptualizing a new magazine, an alternative magazine which would talk about various subjects and topics that were not yet being covered by mainstream magazine publications at that time. I was in college by then and the year was 2003.

I joined as a staff writer and my first assignment was to cover an Intramuros “Walk This Way” tour of Carlos Celdran, who was becoming popular because of his tours. I was already familiar with him as I heard him interviewed weeks before on Jessica Zafra’s radio talk show on NU107. His knowledge of Manila impressed me, so I accepted that assignment with a keen interest in knowing more about him and what he does. I remember the starting point of that tour was just right outside the Manila Cathedral, back in the days of pre-Damaso, when the Archdiocese and Carlos Celdran were on cordial terms, to say the least.

Now I was never much of a fan of tours and tour guides but he was an exception. It was not just some regular Intramuros tour that I expected as he was able to relate Manila and Philippine history in a manner that is fun, interesting, and easy to comprehend. Even for someone like who is very familiar with Philippine history, I was able to appreciate it more in a different light thanks to his unique way of telling it to his audience.

Carlos Celdran (taken from his website)

However, it was his ending words at the end of his tour that hit me right on the spot, so to speak:

I could not change the way Manila looks, but I hope to have changed the way you look at Manila.

It was the inspiration and encouragement that I needed to reignite that long-dormant interest of mine. But at the same time, those words spoke to me as a challenge for me to go beyond just sharing such trivia. I felt  it became a calling for me to pursue something beyond satisfying my own desires but to do something for the city I grew up in. I was not going to be a tour guide like Carlos, but I was intent on sharing what I would know about this urban realm I have lived in, hoping that people will get to appreciate it as a way to make the city better.

As to how I was going to do it, well, I still had to figure out how.

LITERARY INFLUENCES

As we were continuing to plan out that alternative magazine, problems began to creep in. We were kids back then who had limited resources at hand so we looked possibly shifting to an online medium. Unfortunately it didn’t work out and the planned magazine died before it could see print. Had those plans pushed through, in a way, we would have been the precursor of Rogue or of Spot and Coconuts Manila if we pursued at least the online plans. But there were no regrets, but some lessons learned which I managed to use along the way ahead.

For the meantime, I continued with my life as a college student whose interest in the city began to grow more. That interest led me to frequent trips in the National Library, scouring for possible reading material I can check out. There were a number of interesting books I discovered along the way, but perhaps the most influential for me is a book by an author named Luning Ira and Isagani Medina titled “Streets of Manila.” It was a pleasant discovery for me that such a book detailing the origins of the different street names in Manila actually exists. Despite such premise, it was written in an interesting manner, and the photos were great as well, dated as they were since it was published back in 1978.

Streets of Manila by Luning Ira

Another influential book was a book by an Ateneo de Manila professor Fernando Zialcita titled “Quiapo: Heart of Manila.” Reading the book was an eye-opener for me as I got to learn new things about Quiapo that I never learned before: the heritage houses, its hidden sights, and other things previously unknown to me. (which is an even more shameful since I studied at Manuel L. Quezon University in Quiapo itself) If anything, it inspired me to discover as much as I can about the city that I feel should be known and appreciated by others.

(courtesy of sampaloc.wordpress.com)

At that point, a concept was slowly being developed though the specifics have yet to be established

GETTING IT OFF THE GROUND

With all that I’ve learned and an inspiration to help me pursue a new-found passion, I’ve had a hard time getting this idea off the ground as it is bogged down by my concerns as to how to do it. Admittedly, I had more lofty ambitions in mind that I was thinking of pitching it as a TV program. After all, no such programming has existed yet on Philippine television, and I wanted to be a pioneer in that aspect.

So I wrote Probe Productions, the company behind Probe Team, 5 and Up, and Gameplan among others and pitched them the idea of a show that mixes history and travel in an urban setting. Unfortunately, I got no response so I gave up on that one. Thankfully, looking back, the idea itself was not plagiarized. Then again, it was an idea that may not be worthy of plagiarism in television.

At that point, I’ve decided to look at going the online route. It was something I am familiar with as I have been blogging sporadically for years now. And it was that sporadic frequency that made me hesitate and feel scared. I was afraid that I could not pursue it in the long run. But the passion that has been brewing inside for years in the making was too strong to ignore.

So on August 15, 2009, with doubt lingering in my head as to how long I would be able to keep this going, I decided to put up my first post through the free WordPress format, as I expressed everything going on with my head, my passions as well as my doubts as I began my journey as the Urban Roamer.

And the rest, they say, is history…

Throwback moment: My first post as the Urban Roamer back in August 15, 2009.

Thank you to all who have been with me in my journey for the past 5 years as we begin a new year of chronicling the sights, sounds, and stories from the urban jungle and beyond.

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