Have you ever received a message that lifted your spirits for the whole day? That happened to me a couple of weeks ago. A quick phone conversation put a smile on my face for several hours.

What was this mood-altering news? A local travel/immigration agency informed me they could pick up my I-card at the Bureau of Immigration. All I’d have to do is bring them the proper documents and they’d take care of the rest.

In other words, I was glad because I could avoid a trip to Manila.

I guess this wouldn’t be so strange if I was the typical expat living in Angeles City—most of them seem to have the same aversion to visiting the capital of the Philippines. But this expat (or foreigner, or missionary, or whatever you want to call me) considered Manila home not too long ago.

My first “apartment” (more of a dorm room) was located at Dalupan (formerly called Gastambide). This street, like many in the University Belt, was not designed to handle the hundreds of jeepneys that passed through every day. A line of these now familiar vehicles stretched at least halfway down its length during business hours. Hundreds (if not thousands) of students also walked this street on their way to or from their campus on a daily basis.  It was a challenging place to live, but it was great for student ministry.

I “upgraded” my living arrangements a few years later by moving to a condominium near SM City Manila. I filled it with second-hand furniture and appliances purchased from the mission agency that originally sent me here. This was the best of both worlds: I had a living space that felt like home—right in the middle of the University Belt area.

I hope these two paragraphs give you some sense of the fond memories I have for Manila.

Why do I now avoid the city I once embraced? What has changed?

I think the answer is spiritual in nature. God gives us the grace and strength to live joyfully in whatever circumstance or place He has called us to (see Philippians 4:11-13). I did feel called to live in Manila for that season of my life, and that made all the difference.  My mission has changed now, and I no longer feel drawn to the place where I invested nearly a decade of my life.

But I can’t overlook some of the practical reasons. Many of my return visits have reminded me of things I didn’t like about the city. My wife and I, for example, had the opportunity to do a seminar at Emilio Aguinaldo College back in July. The seminar was great—the students, faculty and venue all combined for a very enjoyable gig. But I can’t say the same for the return trip home. Heavy rains started flooding the streets around the time I started speaking.  It took over two hours just to get back out of the city. I could give other examples, but I think you get the point.

Why am I even writing this post? Last month I read an editorial article about the ugliness of Manila, written by Constantino C. Tejero. It was as personal as such an article can be for a foreigner. Most of the places he mentioned are within walking distance of the before-mentioned condo where I used to live–I saw many of these landmarks on a daily basis. It feels strange to see your old neighborhood called “ugly,” but I couldn’t argue with his assessment.

I’m thankful to live here in Angeles City, and I’m enjoying the Philippines as never before. My beautiful wife deserves most of the credit for this current state of bliss.  But less traffic, pollution, and crowds certainly don’t hurt.

Having said all this, I don’t regret the nine years I spent in Manila. Living there was part of an adventure that has permanently altered the course of my life. I think past and present residents of this city will understand how I feel. We are proud survivors of the Manila grind.