Jan 30, 2009

Keychains and Bonnets

It was going to be a rehearsal for the planned historical tour of Baguio, an idea hatched by Noants Travel and Tours and inspired by our group's video documentary, Portrait of a Hill Station. We were to guide a group of over a hundred conventioneers around town - they had their own itinerary, and were asked to inject bits and pieces of Baguio's history as we jump from one destination to another.

First stop was Camp John Hay's Historical Core, and there we introduced them to the genesis of this famous hill station. We were joined by Camp John Hay Management Corp.'s Nonette Bennett who offered the group interesting details about the sites inside the former American military reservation. We allotted around an hour for them to take in as much as they could, but after several photo ops beside the entrance to the cemetery of negativism and with the Bell Amphitheater in the background, and after learning that there are no shops selling key chains or bonnets around, the group was already itching to move on to the next destination:

The Baguio Botanical Garden, which at one point also housed a zoo, really has nothing much to offer these days. While the Baguio Arts Guild's Greenhouse Effect Gallery still offers exhibits every now and then on top of artists offering to do on-the-spot sketches of tourists, only a sprinkling of landscaped patches of common flowers and ruins of the animal cages remain. Sure there are rows of souvenir shops selling key chains and bonnets, but that's not what a botanical garden is supposed to be about. The flower beds proving to be not so attractive to this group of tourists, they spent the allotted 45 minutes just buying souvenirs, not one even bothered to look at the ongoing exhibit inside the gallery. Moving on...

At the Mansion House, after hearing a five-minute spiel about Baguio being the official capital of the country during the summer months in the early 1900's and what that meant, we learned that the museum inside is not yet open to the public, so not much you can do but have your picture taken in front of the gate, which is said to be a replica of the Buckingham Palace gates. Across the road vendors selling Sagada oranges and kiat-kiat were being chased by elements of the Public Order and Safety Department of the City of Baguio. I thought those were better buys than the key chains. Anyway, the group couldn't wait to get to our next stop:

Mines View Park and the Good Shepherd Convent. At the former, the joke goes: there are no more mines, so there's no more view, and there's no parking. More rows of key chains and bonnets and silver trinkets, plus the occasional ukay-ukay stall. They weren't really interested to hear about how the mining boom of the 1930's fueled the growth of Baguio as a city, so we kept that short so they could once again buy more key chains and bonnets, only this time they also have the option of getting a taste of the famous Good Shepherd ube jam, which is really good, I must add. Having nothing much to offer but more of the same, the group didn't stay long and after a whole morning's tour, they were off to their lunch break lugging plastic bags of key chains, bonnets and ube jam.

At lunch, our group of four storytellers assessed the first half of the day. Though they found the spiels on Baguio's history amusing, their minds were focused only on one thing: shopping for souvenirs and finding the best ukay-ukay stall. But, we had a story to tell, and we're gonna tell it (there's nothing much they can do en route to our destinations inside those buses but listen, so we decided to just take advantage of that).

After lunch, the tourists requested a stop at Camp John Hay's Mile Hi, now a strip mall with restaurants and shops selling export overruns. It was a quick stop - after fifteen minutes, they were back inside the buses and adding to their collection of key chains and bonnets were bags of comforters and pillow cases and Baguio City t-shirts. The next drive was a longer one:

We reached Fort Del Pilar in over half an hour, and we herded the group towards the Audio Visual Room of the Philippine Military Academy to view a 10-minute video about the academy. Two minutes into the viewing and half of them were already outside in search of souvenir shops. After posing for photos with cadets, they were back in the buses with, yup, you guessed it, bonnets and key chains, this time stitched with or stamped with the words Philippine Military Academy, instead of Baguio City. Oh, and they had t-shirts too.

Last stop for the day, Burnham Park and if time allowed, the Baguio City Market. Burnham Park, that area that Baguio's original settlers used to call Minac. The only large piece of flat land in the then future city, which, instead of using it for the most revenue generating project, Daniel Burnham reserved for a public park where the general public can go to breath and rejuvenate. At the end of the spiel, we asked them if they had any more questions:

Where's the cheapest ukay-ukay store in Burnham Park?

Where can we buy more souvenirs?

Where can we buy... you know, bonnets and key chains?

And I thought, well, that's what Baguio has become to be known for these days - ukay-ukay, bonnets and key chains. Because we just couldn't stand the site of open spaces in the city, and we keep on trying to put in ridiculous stuff in it like bump car rides and commercial stalls, ignoring the fact that the best parks are those with nothing much in it but wide open spaces and trees to purify the air. Because we didn't value the city's beautiful skyline and ruined it by allowing towering structures to cover the mountainsides, cutting down pine trees that Baguio was once known for in the process. Because we took Baguio's miraculous, healing air for granted, we simply look the other way at the site of taxicabs, jeepneys, SUVs spewing out poisonous black smoke and this made the city among the most polluted in the country - that's coming from being the cleanest and greenest not so long ago. Because we probably didn't care enough, this is what Baguio has become to be known for these days:

The buses parked next to the Baguio Athletic Bowl, and as soon as the doors opened, to the delight of this particular group of tourists, they were greeted by vendors selling... key chains and bonnets.

Welcome to Baguio.

Jan 17, 2009

Falling in love all over again

It's been a long time since I first saw her, and I had no idea then
that getting to know her better bit by bit through the years would
forever change my whole life. I fell in love.

I remember thinking how beautiful she was that first time. And though
from the first time I saw her I never stopped wanting to be with her,
in the beginning I only saw her from time to time, happy to be with
her each time and hardly able to wait to be with her again another
time. I remember going through great lengths just to see her, dropping
everything else for a chance to see her - I thought I could just sit
and stare at her forever.

And then I found myself not able to be away from her anymore - what
can I do? She lured me, seduced me, easily, effortlessly. And just
like any devoted lover, I abandoned the life I was leading, I decided
to be with her forever.

Despite the admonitions of my friends then: it won't last (how can it
not?), that I can never really live my life with her (how can I not
when at that time there I couldn't think of any other life but one
lived with her), that her beauty won't last forever (I believed then,
as I do now, that she existed at all primarily because of her beauty),
I remember how happy I was the day I made that decision - I blissfully
relished each sunrise with her, lovingly watched her go to sleep each
night. With her, I realized who I really was, what I really wanted -
she nurtured me, helped me grow, made me see things the way they
really are.

I knew from the beginning that I was not her only lover, I didn't
mind: as a matter of fact, I was happy about it thinking that the more
lovers she takes, the more defenders and protectors she will have. As
for me, just like anybody who's in love, I couldn't stop talking about
her, I told her story to as many people as I can - her timeless
beauty, her heartaches, her hopes and dreams. I did what I could to
protect her confronting every single threat to her. But alas, it was
not enough.

And soon after I made the decision to live my life with her, she was
brutally raped.

She was stripped naked, abused, neglected, mocked, disgustingly
exploited. Though some of her lovers did what they could to prevent
the crime, the others just stood and watched as the rape happened,
some even ran away and abandoned her.

Looking at her now, her lovers shed tears seeing her ravaged body. She
has been defaced, those who knew her before the rape can hardly
recognize her anymore. Some have even given her up for dead.

But she is alive, barely able to breath but alive. And while there are
those today who would laugh at the thought that this ugly, dirty,
desecrated poor thing was once so beautiful that everyone who laid
their eyes on her was soon under her spell, awed by her magnificence,
her elegance, her allure. Some say that's gone forever, some say she's
hopeless.

I don't think so. Though she can never be what she was before, with
the help of her numerous lovers, one day the rape will be stopped and
she can rise again in all her splendor. I'm in, I have no choice, I
have fallen in love.

And when that time comes, I know that I, for one, will fall in love
with Baguio all over again.

Jan 7, 2009

OPENSPACE paints a portrait

Jan 3, 2009

Bagong Baguio

Somewhere in Baguio. New Year's Day, 2009. I sit down with taga-Baguio for an early morning coffee.

Taga-Baguio: Kape?

Session Road Blues: You better have a good reason for forcing me to wake up early for a morning appointment on New Year's day, bro... salamat sa kape, one sugar, no cream... so what's up?

TB: Baguio's not.

SRB: Ok, what about it?

TB: Don't you miss the old days?

SRB: Oo naman, siempre. I think a lot of people do. This coffee's strong and I'm fully awake now and you have my full attention.

TB: Well, they're not coming back.

SRB: Who's not coming back?

TB: The old days. They're not coming back, ever.

SRB: Why not? A lot of people are clamoring to bring Baguio back to what it was before...

TB: What do they want? The Baguio of the 70's and 80's when there were no malls yet and practically everywhere in Baguio is just five minutes away? Or the Baguio after the war when the city had to be rebuilt practically from scratch because the Americans razed it to the ground by carpet bombing in their attempt to liberate the city from the
Japanese?

SRB: Hmmm... yeah, sure... siguro nga.

TB: Or maybe the Baguio during Halsema's reign as mayor, when the city reached Burnham's proposed population limit, and the city enjoyed the latest technological advances while preserving its natural beauty, but that could be a tall order. I don't think they're talking about Mateo Cariño's Kafagway, becasue then we would all have to leave town and leave only the Cariño, Carantes, Camdas, Molintas and Suello clans, give or take a few more families, the first settlers in Kafagway, and...

SRB: No, no, I don't think that's how far they want to go when they say bring Baguio back to what it was before. But a lot of people are beginning to do something about it.

TB: Really? Doing what?

SRB: Talking about it, a lot. In blogs, newspaper columns, in coffee shops, may mga nagagawa naman e para ibalik yung dating Baguio... (M cuts him off)

TB: Like what... getting rid of all the houses built after the earthquake? Because that would probably mean getting rid of more than alf the residencial buildings in the city. Or are they evicting people who moved to the city in the last couple of decades? Because if they do that then that would probably mean evicting two-thirds of the city's population today, which includes you, by the way. Are they thinking of demolishing all the buildings that violated the city's
supposed building code? That's a lot of buildings, bro. Are they actually aggressively going after colorum PUVs by putting up check points and checking if their papers are in order and their vehicles are in good running condition? You have any idea how many taxicabs and jeepneys would have to be taken off the street?

SRB: Er, I don't know what to say to you.

TB: Alam mo kung ano'ng kailangan natin?

SRB: I really wish I did. But I have a feeling you do.

TB: Aminin. Tanggapin.

SRB: What?

TB: Aminin na lahat tayo medyo nagkulang sa pakiki-alam, at least in the last 15 years or so.

SRB:  What do you mean?

TB: Nagkulang sa pagbabantay sa mga taong nilagay natin diyan sa City Hall, hinayaan lang natin silang gawin yung gusto nila. Tapos magrereklamo. Tapos pagdating ng eleksyon, sila't sila rin yung ibabalik natin sa pwesto.

SRB: Sabagay...

TB: We complain about the fast disappearing pine trees of Baguio, pero nung pinuputol pa lang, kulang naman yung kilos protesta. Reklamo tayo ng reklamo sa problema sa basura, pero kulang din naman yung ginagawa
natin para mabawasan yung problema.

SRB: Oo nga naman. Ano'ng magagawa natin ngayon?

TB: Tanggapin. Tanggapin na wala na talaga yung Baguio ng nakaraan, ang nandito ngayon, Bagong Baguio.

SRB: Bagong Baguio.

TB: May Bagong Baguio, and what we need to do now is to make the best out of what we have. The malls are here to stay, hindi mo na maaalis yan. The crowds are here to stay, hindi mo naman maaalis 'yan. Kaya imbes na magtatatalak tayo tungkol sa Baguio noon na wala namang maaaring puntahan, ang pagdaldalan na lang natin e kung ano'ng magagawa natin sa Baguio ngayon.

SRB: So tell me, ano'ng magagawa natin sa Baguio ngayon?

TB: There you go...

SRB: What?

TB: There you go, there's a good start... ano'ng pwede nating gawin sa Baguio ngayon?

SRB: Hmmmm, Happy New Year, bro. Salamat sa kape.

TB: Anytime.

SRB: So what exactly was it that you wanted to tell me?

TB: Happy New Year Baguio.