Design

Inside North Syquia: An Urban Jungle in Manila Calms Lockdown Anxiety

Quarantine is more bearable if you're surrounded by a giant palm tree and Syquia’s tight-knit community.
IMAGE Jilson Tiu
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It took two years for Dorelyn Jose, a well-traveled international development worker, to finish decorating her new home at the storied North Syquia Apartments. But it was all worth it, she would soon realize. Not long after the last potted plant was put in place, the lockdown happened.

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Did the move to a more spacious apartment (“it’s three times bigger than my previous condo”) make her quarantine experience more bearable? “Definitely,” she quickly replies. 

'Everyone is drawn to the king of my urban jungle, the MacArthur palm tree, which I rescued after it was left outdoors,' says international development worker Dorelyn Jose of her North Syquia unit.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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The BoConcept nesting table is a remnant from the homeowner’s minimalist past as a condo-dweller.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.

“Actually, I was already in self-quarantine two weeks before the lockdown because I was a PUM, having been exposed to a friend who was in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID. Still, I was quite worried in the beginning. Walking Dead feels,” Dorelyn deadpans. 

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Being in North Syquia eased her anxieties. For one, Dorelyn’s newly decorated apartment is a great place for quarantining, its eclectic Bohemian style giving off a relaxed mood. Robust greens, like the large McArthur plant holding court in a prime spot, lift the cozy feeling even more. 

The shelving was made based on Dorelyn's sketch. The ladder chair is from social enterprise Focolare, while the carved plant stand was purchased online.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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Antique narra calados hang above a colorful cabinet. Next to it is a mid-century bar chair.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.

It might not have a view of Manila Bay’s famous sunsets, but the morning light gives Dorelyn’s apartment its best moments, enveloping the living area and master’s bedroom in a golden glow. 

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What Dorelyn values more, though, is the sense of community. “That made a huge difference,” she admits. At North Syquia, tenants consolidated their orders for supplies to minimize market or grocery outings. For kitchen emergencies, Dorelyn simply had to ask her neighbors for patis, flour, eggs, etc. “We can count on each other,” she says, even in a medical emergency, such as the case of a sick tenant who was brought to the hospital by caring neighbors. 

The cabinet is an antique cupboard, or paminggalan, repurposed as a shoe rack. 

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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The homeowner created a cozy seating by the bar counter. 'I got a lot of my furniture and home accents from Tanya Franck, an online seller. The Batibot chairs and table with inlay are from her.'

Photo by Jilson Tiu.

With virtually no traffic and construction work in an adjacent lot on hold, Dorelyn was able to open her large windows from where her lockdown soundtrack emanated. Birds flitted about a handsome balete tree outside her unit, their joyous chirping adding a layer to the calming sounds of rustling leaves. Even more soothing were a muezzin’s hypnotic calls to prayer that wafted through Malate’s stillness at dawn and before nightfall. 

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Despite the relaxing sonic backdrop, Dorelyn says she sometimes felt lethargic, thus finding it hard to focus on work. But tending to her plants and doing yoga and meditation via Zoom—including a “10-day virtual mindfulness retreat, which starts and ends with chanting and meditation”— helped her cope with the stress of being cooped up. And just like most of us, reading books, watching Netflix’s Korean dramas, along with comforting calls to friends and family filled the long hours. 

The jars, the Bhutanese prayer wheel, and the Tibetan singing bowl were sourced online, while the painting, titled 'Homecoming,' is by Carlo Ongachangco. 

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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The D metal sculpture from Space Encounters is flanked by Manny Baldemor’s 'Meteora' and a painting by a Japanese artist. 

Photo by Jison Tiu.

Draped on the ladder are textiles from a trip to Yemen and Timor-Leste.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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By the second month, Dorelyn and her neighbors would sunbathe inside North Syquia’s compound. Last May 11, Dorelyn even celebrated her birthday, lockdown style.

“I was ready to go all Eeyore,” she says, “thinking that it was going to suck, for sure, and I’d be depressed.” Suck it did not. Celebrations started with Dorelyn swinging in the North Syquia playground as her neighbors’ kids sang, “Happy Birthday,” while jumping on a trampoline nearby. 

In her apartment, a bouquet from Dorelyn’s sister and a chocolate raspberry cake baked by a friend awaited the celebrant.

“I ordered pansit from a restaurant at the end of our street and sent my neighbors food in takeaway containers. I ended the day watching the sunset at Chiqui Mabanta’s unit upstairs, where we had drinks while keeping distance the whole time.”

'The bedroom’s palette and minimalist decor is a glance back at my original minimalist ambition,' she says. The antique Balinese canopy over the bed simulates Filipino colonial style. 

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Photo by Jilson Tiu.

The window shades keep the heat out and provide privacy while still affording the homeowner views of the outdoors, even at night.

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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All that is now just a wistful memory as Manila transitioned to Modified Community Quarantine mode last June 1. “The construction activity nearby is back with a vengeance, working 24-7,” Dorelyn says. With it comes what she describes as the “unbearable noise and tremors that make North Syquia shake every now and then.” 

Dorelyn’s windows are once again shut close, muffling the jarring noise of a city slowly grinding back to normalcy. Just like before, she can hardly hear the natural sounds swirling about her apartment and the haunting calls to prayer. 

Dorelyn says, 'This setting encapsulates my peripatetic life.'

Photo by Jilson Tiu.
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The lockdown had us all bemoaning a summer without the usual beach outings or out of town trips, but in hindsight, it showed us the kind of summer that we have been missing. 

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Devi De Veyra
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