The Nostalgia of Katipunan Avenue

The view from a condominium in Katipunan.

The Katipunan Avenue I once knew was only about a kilometers long. At one end is a fast food restaurant and at the other is a commercial building. On the north-bound side of the avenue is a university and across it are restaurants, condominiums, and shops. When I was a student there I only walked along this one kilometer line. I was young, soft, and unadventurous. I only rarely visited the better restaurants in the backstreets. I often avoided hangouts, preferring instead to go home early to avoid the afternoon jeepney rush. I also had no interest in the seedier side of Katipunan, but I have heard the stories. There have been rumors of secret, invite-only orgies, thieves who could hypnotize you into giving them your valuables, and street vendors who might sell other things if you know what to say. Some also say that one of the older bars there used to put a chemical in their cocktails for the drinks to hit harder. I’ve witnessed some interesting things too. I remember walking one night and a white van stopped beside me and out came four men in barong tagalog, looking like government agents, rushing into a building while holding their ears. Despite my limitations, I never felt like I missed out on anything. Katipunan was home. My friends and I sang loudly in restaurants. We danced with strangers in tight, vibrant bars. My best friend and I once had a platonic date at a restaurant where they put chocolate in everything. I laughed with a girl in a cafe. I almost fell asleep in a bookstore waiting for my father. Most of these establishments have already closed down, and some new ones have taken their place. New memories have been made, and the old ones have been preserved. It is much better that certain places no longer exist. I would remember them as beautiful and exciting, and I would not have to witness my memories age.

Katipunan in the morning.

During my senior year, a new bar opened up along Katipunan. It was bright and tropical, and they served really cheap sangria. It was easy to make friends there because we were all students from the university. They would always play songs from musicals; everyone would sing along. We would be tipsy on Tuesday nights, starting and ending early, laughing and wobbling to the nearest fast food restaurant. I graduated with good memories and went on with the rest of my life.

I often revisited that place, whenever I had time in between projects. Some of my undergraduate friends still recognized me and let me sit in their tables. We shared stories and I taught them a few tricks. I noticed that the crowd grew more unfamiliar: the popularity of this bar drew in people from other universities, who often complained of the cliquishness of the local students. For some reason, they also stopped playing songs from musicals. People started playing straight boy pop more often, though I could only hear two songs played over and over again. The sangria got more expensive, double the price of what it used to be. One day I saw an older friend, still a student, drinking somberly in the corner. I made a general comment, saying something about how places change. “This used to be a more youthful place,” I said. “Things seem to have changed really quickly.” He shook his head and said, “It’s not that places change. It’s just that the people I know aren’t here.” I shrugged and went on to make friends with strangers. At the time, I could still pay for other people’s drinks, so I did, and made even more friends. I forgot them all in the morning.

So quickly did things change when I started to work with students. At this time, my undergraduate friends have all graduated. Whenever I revisited the same bar after work, I knew no one. It was harder to find a seat, despite the fact that I used the same conversation openers I did. Sometimes my students would catch me alone and they’d greet me, but they’d never sit with me or invite me to sit with them. It was awkward. I often invited my officemates, but we rarely found the right time to hangout. Also, the bar no longer served sangria, and they only played mainstream music. More people from different places drank there. The floor got stickier; the lights, gloomier. I would leave upon entering and instead walk along the one kilometer of the Katipunan I once knew. I don’t recognize any of these places anymore. I don’t hear anyone singing. I want to go home.

Memory suffocates with a kind of existential frustration. It’s strange to both feel that you are reliving something and not be there. It’s even more strange to be at the place but not be able to relive something. I’ve formed many suffocating memories along that short stretch of Katipunan. Maybe, the best way to preserve good memory is to go on with life, create new memories elsewhere. Then those places that we loved will have been transient spaces that once gently held our spirit. I miss you, Katipunan. I’ll think of you fondly whenever I pass by.



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