Old Manila. This evokes a million different memories, for a million different people. It could vary from horse-drawn tranvias for the elder-elderly, to the Love Bus, 'ST' flick posters, and PX goods for the baby-boomers. Try asking your Tito Boy what a Matorco is, he'll probably tell you it was 20 centavos a pop.
To me, as a Gen Y-er, it's not all that deep. There were arcades like Whimsyland and Quantum X, the rise of kiosks offering leveled-up libations such as bubble juice and pearl shakes, record stores selling albums that come in cassettes or CDs, rumors going around that a certain shopping center houses a half-snake human, (or was it a half-human snake?)... My list could go on, and I would probably be so boring, that you'll end up closing this tab.
Through my mini-recollection, you can probably tell I'm a mall rat. That's why a few months ago, when the news of the Harrison Plaza tear-down spread yet again, my heart sank. I knew this time it was real; there were facts to back it up such as the nearing end of the land lease, plus development plans. A Manileño since birth, it was inevitable for it to become a part of my childhood. Sunday lunches were spent there with the family, window shopping for toys, getting my arcade fix, and sometimes, even hearing mass.
Sure, it's a 43-year old complex that's way past its glory. But what better way is there to say goodbye, than to pay a visit and relive the all the good memories that were made there one last time?
The team didn't waste even a single minute. Being of the same age brackets, each of us had our own share of memories surrounding Harrison Plaza. The parking lot was a moon, literally. It has always been filled with potholes, and that is to remain until it closes down, it seems; but the Toyota Corolla Altis didn't have any problems navigating through.
The Altis was the perfect ferry for the team. It was spacious, zippy, and very easy to maneuver. Downtown Manila isn't exactly a very drivable city when we're talking about traffic, PUV and pedestrian discipline, but this one makes plying through those stressors a bit easier. Plus, Harrison Plaza's parking lot was just cluttered and cramped. Getting in and out though, I can say it was a breeze.
Conveniently, a spot opened up for us right smack in front of the entrance. We were reminded of what made Harrison Plaza once a shopping mecca. It was the first of its kind in the Philippines.
Upon entering, a somber ambiance took over. It still looked the same as the last time I was there (which was years and years ago), it smelled the same, it felt the same. Just with more empty stores, more yellowed walls, and lots of empty hallways. We were instantly pulled back to the early 90s.
Walking around, we passed by this little eatery that piqued our curiosity. I recall seeing raves about it on social media, how they were serving good food, at good prices.
Enter: Mert and Melisa. A Turkish restaurant run by 2 Turkish chefs. Must be legit, yes? They have beef kebaps on their menu, as well as shawarma, meat rolls, and different variants of barbecue. To cater to the local palate, they've included a couple of dishes that aren't native, but with a twist to make it fit into their menu without looking out of place, and maybe so it'd taste a little Turkish too.
Garlic butter shrimp at the corner of their menu caught my eye, because it looked, well, tasty. It might not be the specialty dish of their restaurant, but I'm sure I couldn't go wrong with that choice because it's pretty hard to mess up the garlic-and-butter combination.
It didn't disappoint! I scarfed through the shrimp pieces quickly, and just the flavorful sauce and garlic bits were enough to make me finish my plate of biryani. The shrimp were fresh, tender, and best of all, deveined. We can honestly say we got more than what we paid for. They didn't cheap out on the customers despite the affordable price tags. The friendly staff would even set your chosen table on the food court!
The boys had the same wavelength to order the cheesy beef meat ball with a side of shawarma. I think they would've went for seconds if the portions weren't so generous.
Thinking of a way to immerse ourselves deeper into the whole HP experience, we thought of heading over to the other end of the complex to visit a certain clown so dear to us and everyone else.
And again, we weren't disappointed. This branch retained all the old McDonald's feels. The signages, the fixtures, the counter, everything was retained (except for the menu, of course); none of the whole order-and-claim counter separation that we have now.
A picture hanging on the wall was the cherry on top. It felt so 90s! Brought me back to the times of the taro pie and the yellow styros. And also when the Big Mac was really big.
It was a bit past closing time when we decided to call it a night. Seeing the plaza so empty, having circled around the block so quiet and dark, I think it'll have a good rest once it finally closes its doors for good.
Livelihoods were built here, memories were created, smiles were made. To me, Harrison Plaza will always be a part of Manila. It might not have gotten the care it needed, but it stood there proud and tall. A bigger and better structure might be taking its place soon, but I'm positive that HP won't be easily forgotten.