Episode 20: Memories of Baguio (Part 5) – When a cub reporter goes hungry

Some of my better memories of Baguio came from my stint as a newspaper reporter. Right after college, I started work with a local newspaper, the first step towards the realization of my dream to become a journalist, or something close to being one.

Adjusting to the job was difficult (especially for me who doesn’t know how to speak in Kankanaey or Ibaloi), and finding our way around and honing the craft proved to be a tedious task.  Despite the chaos that characterizes the life of a cub reporter, there are things that keep me alive after coverages and interviews – such as coffee, a heavy meal, and lots of beer…and something exotic along the way.

There’s this part of the city called “Slaughterhouse Compound” along Magsaysay Avenue. Never mind the name, or the hygiene-related questions you may have. Eateries here serve many kinds of meat dishes, such as pinapaitan, kilawen, dinuguan, and bulalo. Also, it’s just a few minute’s walk from my office (before it moved to La Trinidad).

One eatery serves what it called “Flea Market Rice,” a plateful of fried chicken, lechon , sunny-side up egg, chopsuey, and a big cup of rice.

I consider “Flea Market Rice” as comfort food, especially when I get out from work or during weekends. Just like Jack’s Rice, this is complete, rich, and always served hot. Bonus points for the free soup that goes with it, piping hot meat broth. The sad part is that it’s sometimes closed.

Speaking of meat, I did succumb to the temptation of seeking out pinikpikan and dog meat in Baguio. Pinikpikan is a chicken stew prepared by beating a live chicken with a stick. Barbaric as it sounds, as explained here, it’s actually an important part of Cordilleran cuisine (and by extension, culture).

The way I see it, pinikpikan is an alcoholic’s best friend. It’s nice to sup on a bloody, tasty piece of chicken along with your liquor, and its gingery broth to wash down the drunkenness. Take note that the chicken’s coagulated blood (the result of beating the chicken) is the reason pinikpikan is tasty.

Dog meat? I found certain eateries at the market that serve those. The dish itself… well, the skin’s tough, it’s fatty, there’s too many bones and not much meat. It mostly tastes like adobo, too. Your mileage may vary (By the way, selling dog meat is banned under the Animal Welfare Act. Eating it is not banned, though, because dogs can be butchered for indigenous practices.)

Luisa’s Café is a favorite watering hole of the Baguio media. This is where most journalists meet for snacks, coffee, or alcohol. Younger reporters would come here and solicit advice from their elders, or finish their reports. The old ones would just be there, drinking and conversing about anything under the sun.

The place serves Chinese dishes (the most famous of which is their siopao), Filipino rice meals and other dishes. And then there’s Sam Lok – native or Chinese style stir-fried meat. I regret never grabbing the chance to taste that.

Luisa’s is known for its strong, flavorful coffee. Also I mentioned some time ago how important coffee is for most Baguio folk, especially that it help people bond with each other. This is what makes Luisa’s a special place for local journalists and those in the know to meet.

Friday nights are spent at the newsroom. Since our newspaper comes out weekly, most of Friday is spent laying out the pages, editing reports and photos, and writing whatever can make it to the deadline. While everyone is busy and neck-deep in paperwork, we do get to unwind a bit over dinner.

It’s during mealtime that the staff get to talk about things inside and outside of work, like trivia about themselves, experiences in the field, new things we’ve noticed, and even stuff that makes us wax poetic or philosophical.

Dinner usually consists of buttered chicken, chopsuey, pancit, pork sinigang, or some other viand plus lots of rice, courtesy of Good Taste Restaurant. Good Taste is a 24-hour establishment frequented by locals and tourists alike. The place serves a fusion of Filipino and Chinese home cooked dishes. The food here is also surprisingly cheap but served hot.

When all work is done for the night (except Fridays), Rumours is the place to unwind. I once heard that Rumours was named such because this is where patrons talk about “rumours” on people and events around Baguio. Anyway, this bar, probably one of the most popular in the city, is a small, mellow place frequented by tourists, expats, and (according to some residents) gays and writers.

Rumours is a great place to spend the night quietly with your thoughts, or loudly with good companions. They play eighties music, their liquor and food are inexpensive, and the staff are nice and accommodating. Also,
they now serve ice cream, most especially rose ice cream (made with rose petals) and chili ice cream (yeah).

————————————

At this point, let me share to you something very quickly: I’ve been having a hard time writing for this series. Writing about my food-related memories in Baguio has been a strenuous task for me. That’s because it seems that things from my past are starting to grow dim. No, I’m not being forgetful, though I might as well say I am. Why?

It’s nice to remember things about your past, and realize how much you’ve learned about yourself and others along the way. But writing about your memories not only means remembering good things from the past. It also involves having to revisit those that lead to sad and painful ones, the ones you try to forget to move on…

————————————

Up next… An old hang-out, and certain memories that go with it.

Aikyatchi: Goodbye, RPN9?

For quite some time I’ve been hearing bits of info about RPN 9’s privatization, but none of them prepared me for this: it seems RPN 9  is signing off next week.

The employees don’t know what’s going on. The management hasn’t (allegedly) said anything, whether about the network’s privatization, or their eventual fate altogether.

If what I’ve heard about RPN 9 is correct, this means the higher-ups kept mum about their privatization efforts all this time, and then VOILA! Out of the blue, they say RPN 9 is closing, just like that. The worst is that the employees, the first who should know about this, learned about it somewhere else.

RPN 9’s employees don’t deserve this. Those people did everything they can to build up the station’s name, but they are kept in the dark about what’s in store for them. It’s enough that they’re not getting the due they deserve, they remained loyal to you despite it all; but this time the higher-ups have gone too far.

Those employees deserve respect. They must what’s gonna happen to them. They deserve to know they should do before RPN 9 closes down, gets privatized, sold, turned into a residential complex for crying out loud even!

So what the (bleep), Solar Entertainment and RPN 9! You owe these people so much, like a (bleep) (bleep) explanation for starters. Don’t push it!

The blogs of RPN 9’s chief reporter and one of our old pals better express how the people at the station feel right now.


I hope the employees of RPN 9 get what they deserve. So stay strong, people.

“Kung susuko rin lang sa huli, ano pa ang halaga ng pakikipaglaban? Sugod lang ng sugod, mananalo rin tayo! Pag-ibig, pag-ibig at pag-big pa rin!” (If we will surrender in the end, what’s the use of fighting? Press on, we will surely win! Love, love, and MORE LOVE!) – Orosman at Zafira

(Rambo rage)

Episode 20: Memories of Baguio (Part 4) – Cordilleran coffee, poetry fuel unleaded

I recently came across my old files in my laptop. One folder contained poems, random verses and paragraphs, and other forms of ranting that I wrote way back in college.

Two of the poems had words that were arranged to make the shape of coffee cups. One poem resulted in a perfect-looking cup, the other looked like a misshapen mug without a handle.

Admittedly I don’t remember when I wrote that mug poem, but I do know this was the same piece I read in that poetry reading event at Cafe By the Ruins.

My other poems were about the little things I experienced in Baguio, such as my first cigarette, hanging out in clubs, arcade games, even the more profound things that spice up poems like love, angst, confusion, and death.
I no longer write poetry (at least I’m no longer inspired to), but when I was living in Baguio, I wrote a lot. Come to think of it, writing was one of my pastimes in Baguio.
Much of my free time in college was spent hanging out in coffee shops, a pen on one hand and a steaming cup of coffee on the other. Baguio’s coffee shops proved to be the best venues to get one’s literary creative juices working, or should I say, wax poetic.

One of the coffee shops I frequent is Ionic Café, located above the Solibao Restaurant at Session Road. Ionic Cafe is a small, decent cafe, a good enough place to unwind. You can gaze at Session Road from where you’re sitting as you sip hot coffee or drink a beer in peace.
It gets better in the evening, when the place gets smoky and dimly lit, the music and the conversations become hushed… and the words and feelings start flowing.
Coffee shops like Ionic Cafe fuel my film noir fantasies: walking up the dimly lit stairs, sitting at a corner of the cafe with a lit cigarette as jazz music plays in the background, looking at the stars and the city lights from the window…
…Then gangsters enter the café and open fire, and you retaliate with pistols akimbo. And the doves, John Woo… Never forget the doves. Uh, wait…
Cafe San Luis was another place I patronized. I remember that the café (or all three branches of it – Bonifacio Street, Session Road, and Legarda Road) were very popular in the 1990s as one of the many hang-outs of artists, musicians, and coffee lovers.

Before I met my college friends, I would visit the Session Road branch and scribble a few lines while listening to music and sipping coffee or beer. When it moved to Legarda Road (the new place was quieter and even had a mini-library), I still made it a point to hang out there.

I also visited other coffee shops, though most of them are already closed. One such shop, located along Assumption Road, served brewed coffee and pastries, and played jazz and songs by Sting. Here my friends and I hang out and wax poetic about mundane stuff, literature, politics, fantasy, and the changing tides of life. It’s an internet café now.
There was another shop at the La Azotea Building that we always visit. We meet up there in the morning, hang out and have coffee until it’s time for school, and then come back in the afternoon. Sadly, it was closed down to give way to an internet café.

Then there was Luisa’s Café, another place I visit to have brewed coffee, a meal or two, and most of the time, a drink or more with the local journalists. Luisa’s Café is a favorite hang-out place of the Baguio media. But I think I’ll reserve my notes on this place for another article.

Coffee is an important product in the Cordillera Region. The region itself is a potential gold mine. Mountain Province, Benguet, Ifugao, Abra and Kalinga are known as the top producers of Arabica, Robusta, Excelsea, and even the expensive Kape Motit.

Baguio people definitely love their coffee. Every morning they would boil their Benguet Blend beans, pour the coffee into pots or dispensers, share or sell them to the public, and then gulp the liquid by the cupfuls. By now you should realize how cold Baguio’s temperature can get, especially at night, right?

The best way to enjoy coffee was to drink it black, though milk and sugar are welcome additions to the brew. Every meal goes well with coffee.

Drinking coffee is also a social activity. People find time to have coffee at any time of the day, and coffee shops are sometimes filled with patrons just hanging out to enjoy their warm drinks. People from all walks of life tend to meet and exchange ideas, thoughts, and information over coffee.

My love for writing grew up as I learned to appreciate Baguio’s coffee culture. The city’s atmosphere, along with the flavor and warmth of Cordillera’s coffee, nourishes my imagination, whether romantic, angst-ridden, or philosophical.

Baguio brings a refreshing, relaxing mood that invites the feeling of melancholy and nostalgia. It’s being so close to nature, the blue sky, the cool breeze and the trees and mountains that inspires the poet at heart.

(EDIT: Just a few months ago, I learned that Ionic Cafe has closed down, and its former area is now a dining area for Solibao Restaurant. Liters of tears fell that day.)

————————————

Coffee didn’t always involve poetry when I was in Baguio. After college, I spend my days reading news reports, writing my articles for the week, talking with people, or just relaxing after a long day at the provincial beat. All these I do with a cup of coffee ready at hand.

Yeah, after years of delving into poetry, I didn’t become a poet, but I became a reporter.

————————————

Up next… The gastronomic adventures of a cub reporter in Baguio.

————————————

Ionic Cafe

Session Road
Baguio City
Phone: (+6374) 4447480