WHEN people ask me when I moved to Baguio, I always answer, “I first returned to Baguio in 2007…” Which is strange, for prior to 2010, I had never lived in Baguio. I was born and raised in Quezon City. But in spite of this knowledge, my tongue seemed to be in service of my heart rather than my rational mind.
I was recently introduced to hand-drawn maps by my writing mentor, Willi Pascual. Maps don’t just tell you where to go, they can also tell you what meanings you have made for yourself in life. Here is my emotional map of Baguio. It is by no means definitive, but it shows how I got here and what my life in Baguio means to me.
- Ferguson and Brower Roads. My father was born while his family was living on Ferguson Road. At one point, they also lived on Brower Road. Every time I pass Ferguson, I remember his stories about being a boy in Baguio, hitting pine cones towards a green-clad ravine with a golf driver, running to Loakan and back (on foot!) with his barkada. Growing up, I had this magical image of Baguio in my mind, because of my father’s stories.
- Session Road. One of my father’s favorite memories is meeting with his father (the late Atty. Fernando Romero, who was once Baguio’s sheriff and clerk of court) on the steps of City Hall at the end of the work day. They would walk to Malcolm Square and buy bread from U-Need, and the store’s proprietor would serve them hot tea as they sat for some chitchat. Then, they would cross the street and stop at Bhermoulls, where they were ushered into the private office and served spicy poppadums. They continued walking up Session, and would sometimes be greeted by Mrs. Gene de Guia, a gracious and smiling woman who always seemed to have some legal issue she wished to get my grandfather’s advice on. At the top of Session, they would cross the street and walk back down before heading home, my dad’s armpit sweaty from holding the brown paper bag of freshly bought bread under his arm. Walking an entire circuit of Session Road would sometimes take them two hours to complete. Back then, Baguio was small, and everyone knew my grandfather and wanted to get his opinion on things they had weighing on their minds. And it gave my grandfather pleasure to give them his two cents’ worth, free of charge.
- Kennon Road. There were several things I loved about going to Baguio. First was the actual journey. I loved watching the countryside go by in a blur, the sparkling green of rice fields soothing my young soul. I loved seeing nipa huts and wondered what life was like inside them, and trying to make out what the stalls by the side of the highway were selling—garlic, onions, suka—whatever that town grew or specialized in making. I loved going through a “tree tunnel”, when gracious old trees planted alongside the highway grew a canopy over the road, branches and leaves reaching out to one another like dancers, swaying in the breeze.
Then, finally, the curves of Kennon Road, following the path of the Bued River, the mountains sacred and eternal but softened by the lush greenery or a smattering of sunflowers here and there at the end of rainy season. In my mind, I quietly read the signs that spelled out the Joyce Kilmer poem “But only God can make a tree”, line by line, signaling the end of our trip. At a certain point, Dad would switch off the air conditioning and make us open the windows, the fresh, cool air of the mountains filling our lungs. I loved being at eye-level with the clouds.
Baguio felt like home, even then.
- Before I turned 13, we used to stay at Hotel Kisad. The five of us would share a room and push the beds together, so it felt like we were sleeping on a gigantic bed. You could peek through the red polyester curtains and see Burnham Park. This park represented freedom for me. In Quezon City, my siblings and I grew up underneath the specter of Martial Law, and we were not allowed to step out of our house to simply walk on the streets. But Baguio was safe. We could play to our heart’s content on the park’s playground equipment, and ride rented bikes on its winding paths. Dad would row us out on Burnham Lake, where we tried not to bump into other boats just as inexpertly rowed.
- Lunch at Rose Bowl was a treat even then, because Dad would always order his favorite childhood dishes—pinsec frito (fried wonton), hototay soup, fried chicken, yang chow fried rice, noodles with vegetables, sizzling shrimp with cashew nuts and snow peas. He said the amazing thing is that to this day, the food of Rose Bowl tastes exactly the same as it used to when he was a kid.
- Camp John Hay was our fantasy of life in America, where traffic rules were followed and the burgers and fries tasted “different” (bland). Aside from roller skating there, Dad taught us to play mini golf. He was a really good teacher, but he hated losing to anyone! I still chuckle every time I remember my dad, a grown man, giving his best at each mini golf hole because he didn’t want to be beaten by his children. Our reward after mini golf was a visit to the ice cream parlor next door. I have no idea what it was called, because he always called it The Scoopery.
- I cannot think about Baguio Country Club without remembering my Garcia cousins. Our favorite thing to do as a family was to crowd around the fireplace in the Carlos P. Romulo room (I think they used to call it the smoke room), us kids roasting hot dogs and marshmallows in the fireplace, our parents exchanging easy banter while nursing glasses of wine or scotch.
My female teenage cousins and I used to hang out in the ladies room across from the CPR room, because it had a sweet sitting area separated from the toilets by a mirrored section of wall. The wall facing outward was mostly window, and showcased the blue Itogon mountains. There, we would sit on daintily upholstered stools and pour our teenaged hearts out to one another.
- When people ask me how Kidlat proposed to me, what comes to mind is Hill Station restaurant. While it was being renovated in 2010, Kidlat called me from his cellphone and said, “I know where we’re getting married!” He was standing in the middle of the hall where he used to bring his Lolo Victor de Guia to Rotary meetings in Casa Vallejo. The ceiling had been ripped open, exposing the wooden trusses and an even higher ceiling. It was like standing in a light-filled cavern. That’s what decided it for Kidlat, finding the perfect wedding venue. Every time we eat here, I remember our special 6:00 a.m. wedding, everyone bathed golden in the light of the rising sun.
- The Victor Oteyza Community Art Space, also known as VOCAS, was filled to the rafters one June day in 2012 with indigenous people from all over the country and the world. They were invited to take part in the week-long KAPWA-3 conference in 2012 that brought scholars, artist culture-bearers and lumad together on equal footing to celebrate indigenous wisdom. I almost didn’t know where to look, they were so beautiful to look at – the proud Ilongot with their towering headdresses, the elegance of the T’boli in dreamweaving movement as well as thread, the bird-like dancing of the Panay-Bukidnon, the dignified bearing of the Talaandig elders.
As a 10-year-old girl from Panay-Bukidnon began to chant, her pure, sweet voice piercing the holy silence, I felt my body respond. I was no longer in time, but I was in space. Kapwa means “fellow man”, but it can also mean Ka-puwang—I am with Thou in the Here and Now. As her voice pierced the air, my entire being trembled, and tears filled my throat. Skin, flesh, blood, bone—the vibration of her voice washed through all the layers I knew until it reached what I could not articulate, that deep knowing inside of me. I recognized a truth that I had never before comprehended: We are one. In this vibration, illusions melted away, until only our oneness remained.
- When I first started bringing my son Kalinaw to Musikgarten in UB Square when he was two-and-a-half years old, I would park the car at Baguio Cathedral and walk with him from there. We would take a “short cut” through St. Louis School behind the Cathedral. Taking this route every day would bring to mind the fact that my father had studied at St. Louis for high school, and remembering this sometimes brought a flood of memories, the stories he would tell me of what it was like to grow up in post-war Baguio. It felt like my son’s and my steps echoed those of my father’s and grandfather’s, and as I walked these few hundred steps with my son, I could feel my heart plying a pathway of memory that connects me to them, carrying them into an unknown future.