Seeing A World From The Balcony Upstairs
I live along one of Manila’s major thoroughfares: a street that stretches through from Manila to San Juan, cutting into Quezon City and then onto Aurora. Every day, before the pandemic had silenced these streets, there could be heard from the outside, a cacophony: of sirens and of voices, of the discordant roaring of unmuffled motorcycles. Now, those sounds have become a thing of the past.
Today, as we inch toward Week 3 of Manila’s month-long quarantine, I find it increasingly difficult to imagine that the world could go on like this much longer (although it seems likely). With lockdowns taking place on almost every continent on Earth, people have become increasingly dependent on the Internet for both socialisation and entertainment. However, there’s also been another (somewhat surprising) form of respite that people have been taking to: their balconies and their windows.
Viral videos from all over the world have surfaced online showing people in quarantine and on lockdown coming together from their apartment buildings — to dance, to sing, to clap, and to cheer. In Italy, the European epicentre of the novel coronavirus, videos have surfaced of people dancing, playing instruments, and cheering for their frontline workers. In Vancouver, people are banging on pots and pans. Madrileños and Frenchmen are doing the same.
On the other side of the world, in New York, people are using windows, balconies, and fire escapes as a sanctuary — a pocket of fresh air beyond cramped apartments, a meeting place of sorts for friends and neighbours no longer able to meet on the stoop.
In Manila, where it’s common for families to live together, a balcony serves multiple agendas. It can be a meeting point, a workstation, an escape, and a breather. It can be a meditative space, a stage, and a garden all in one. And although the experiences I’ve had on my balcony are far from social — I have yet to participate in any communal pot-banging or clapping — I stand by my opinion these balconies bring us closer to the outside world and consequently, to all the people in it.
Most of the time, when I sit at my balcony, I am all alone. I do not wave hello to my neighbours, nor do I know their names. I do not dance with them, sing with them, play instruments for them. That is decidedly European, at least at this point in time. Yet, I see their houses and their shadows, their clotheslines hampered with wet laundry. I see the flickering glow from their TVs, hear their dogs barking into the wind. I see the blue sky — so, so blue now — and clouds drifting past. I see trees in bloom with vibrant pink buds, seemingly so ironic that anything could be so healthy at this time. I hear the birds sing. I see the sun set. I see the outside world.
I see the familiar landscape of San Juan City. The imposing structure of the Greenhills Élan, a crop of houses with its white walls and pyramid roofs. The familiar sounds are comforting too — the chirping of birds, the howl of a dog, the cry of a baby. And although I talk to no one, I feel comforted seeing, hearing, and sensing these every day signs of life in a situation that isn't so everyday.
Read also: Windows Of Hope: Life In Europe Under Lockdown