Archive for November, 2010

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In graphic design, white space is the term used to describe (regardless of literal color) an area in a composition left blank for effect, to set off other elements on the page, or for visual rest. This post is about something completely different.

Can you imagine a city where every surface, every space, every molecule is full of something? Land, water, air? All chockablock, cheek-by-jowl, and shoulder-to-shoulder? I can: it’s called Manila, and we live here–along with 19 million other people, countless chickens and pigs (alive and grilled), fighting cocks, stray dogs and cats, goats, and lots more. But let me explain.

It’s pretty simple: in metro Manila, every horizontal surface has something on top of it (by approximate frequency of occurrence): people, concrete, shanties, buildings, vehicles, and the occasional plant. There is simply no such thing as unused land, and public land is almost nonexistent; seemingly every square centimeter, meter, and hectare is being built on top of, lived in, squatted on, dug up, or torn down.

Every vertical surface is covered with advertising, signs, graffiti, or smog-rain residue. Every unbottled molecule of water contains either bacteria, dirt, laundry suds, human waste or some redolent stew thereof. Every air molecule has humidity and exhaust, plus essences of sweat, smoke from fires or grills, perfume, odors one hopes not to identify, not to mention an assortment of sounds including, but not limited to, roosters crowing, street vendors hawking, jeepney hustlers barking, stray dogs howling, vehicles honking, basketball players yelling, workmen hammering, people singing, the occasional bird tweeting, and of course daily, rain falling. In a word, everything here is full.

But as New Yorkers (to a lesser degree) can attest, anywhere people are packed together, everyone hustling to get by or ahead, there’s an energy that can’t be duplicated in more mellow, restful parts of the planet. And indeed, Manila teems, pulses, veritably yowls with energy. If you come here to retreat from life you might be disappointed, but if you’re ready to embrace it, they’ve got all you can handle.