Baguio was never about a mall, nor was it ever about a grand parade of floats bedecked with fake flowers. It's not about the humongous P100,000-day convention center, nor the proposed multi-storey parking structure, it was never about having a multimillion-peso concrete pine tree. It's not about having thousands of taxicabs on the road, or having enough hotels to host an advertising congress, or that many call centers, or pseudo-English language schools.
Next time you're on your way to town, leave your car and take a jeep. Listen in on the conversation between the driver who's been plying the same route for decades and the old man who's been riding the same jeep in that same seat ever since he was a young high school boy at City High – they know what they're talking about.
Take a walk through Burnham Park, and hear the laughter of the children at the swings, have your portrait taken by a photographer who've captured the portraits of generations of families, friends, lovers who have made the air and the trees of the park an indelible part of their lives, buy a bag of peanuts and just watch the world go by, or stay still, under the trees and watch the fog hover just above the lake as boats full of smiles come in and out of view, or walk over to where the men play chess and watch the game while having your shoes shined.
Weave through the jeeps and the pedestrian traffic and stop to say hello to an old friend and have a nice steaming Benguet brew in a glass in any of the restaurants along Session Road that have witnessed the transformation of the city through the years.
You don't need to line up at the check-out counter with your vacuum-packed stale vegetables – you can get them fresh at the city market where every single carrot, potato and tomato was picked, cleaned and offered by hands that came from generations of vegetable farmers who have tended the same farms through the years. Get lost in the aroma of freshly ground Benguet, Kalinga or Sagada Coffee. Have your pinikpikan chicken prepared right before your eyes just the way it's supposed to be done.
Treasure the sight of sunflowers that begin to bloom in November, smell the pine-scented smoke coming from a freshly swept yard, pick-up a pine cone and see that tiny pine nut and wonder how that glorious tree hovering over you can came from something so small, so fragile, and imagine what you can do to protect it.
These are just some of the things that make Baguio… Baguio: taken for granted, ignored, buried under tons of uncollected garbage and smog, hidden behind newspaper headlines, unheard of amid the din of political, commercial and industrial noise.
Hush, clean up the mess and all these things will come back to the surface, revealing the real image of a city we all love.
It's so true: You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.