Apr 7, 2008

Afternoon coffee: Sa Saliw ng Mga Gangsa

Years back, a friend offered for us to stay in her house for a few months while she traveled abroad. The house sat up on the left side of Asin Road, two bedrooms, an attic, and a porch encased in glass. A cup of Benguet brew at dusk on that porch once, I was treated to a magnificent performance: clouds from above and fog from below slowly blanketing the mountains in white, and in the distance was a wedding where the subtle symphony of gongs provided the perfect soundtrack to a perfect afternoon, and these words just came to me:

Unti-unting binabalot ng ulap ang kabundukan
Tila ba isang batang sa pagtulog ay kinukumutan
Kapaligiran ay tahimik, aking lang naririnig
Awitin ng mga ibong musika sa pandinig

I was writing a musical then, and these words eventually made its way in that play as a song. I was humming the tune in my head on my way to town this morning, making my way through the smog, the garbage and daredevil cab drivers, and I realized how not so long ago I fell in love with Baguio and chose to live my life here.

It wasn't too long ago when one can spend an afternoon on a knoll in Burnham Park with a book and the distant laughter of children playing, lay on the ground until the sun sets and take a walk through the park during magic hour, that magical moment between dusk and evening when the pine needles shimmer in the setting sun's golden light, or have a friendly game of darts, maybe a couple of hours of light banter, over a bottle of beer or a cup of tea, with a familiar face in a bar along session Road without worrying about getting caught in the middle of a mindless rumble between gangs made up of drunken minors raring to inflict harm on each other and innocent and complete strangers who simply happened to be there.

It wasn't too long ago when almost everyone didn't mind stopping in silence for a few minutes every afternoon when the bell tolls for the Angelus, and give or receive a friendly nod or smile to/from whoever is next to you, and you walk on afterwards with a feeling that somehow, no matter what's troubling you, everything is gonna be alright.

It wasn't too long ago when garbage was not an issue because the people cared enough for the city and nobody sneaked out in the middle of the night to dump plastic bags of trash in your neighbor's frontage.

I read somewhere about the economic miracles that Vladimir Putin did for Russia in the last decade, how he transformed a country on the verge of becoming insignificant in the world's affairs to one that is now once again among the world's superpowers - third to first world in the blink of an eye. No, I don't want to get into a debate about human rights and socio-economic policies, it's just amazing,that perhaps with determination and passion, how fast significant changes can be made in a society, maybe by its leader or its people, for better or for worse... and how fast we've transformed Baguio from being one of the most beautiful cities in the country into what it is or at least what it is fast turning into today: a decaying city. What was once the country's cleanest and greenest is now a city with a garbage and pollution crisis. What was once a city where everywhere is five minutes away is now city with a traffic problem. What was once a city where everybody knows everybody is now a city where crime is becoming a serious concern. All that in the last ten years or so.

I wonder if we, or our local leaders, perhaps together, can bring Baguio back to its pristine state just as fast?

By the time I finished my coffee that wonderful afternoon at the porch of my friend's house, just as the wedding party was ending and the sound of gongs was fading out and the sun disappeared in the horizon, I had finished the song:

Huwag ka sanang magbabago, o mahal kong Baguio
Malinis na hangin, magagandang tanawin
Kayong mga kabataan inyong pangalagaan
Itong munting paraiso, huwag niyong pababayaan

That cup of coffee, that sunset, those images, that afternoon will forever stay in my mind... and the song ended in a prayer:

Sa saliw ng mga gangsa 'di ko malilimutan
Mga kulay mong magaganda, kayumanggi at luntian
Kami'y nananalangin, Kabunyan kami'y dinggin
Kalikasan ay i-adya sa lahat ng masama

("Tales From A Hill Station", Cordillera Today, April 6, 2008 issue)

No comments: