Episode 20: Memories of Baguio – From The Beginning Until Now (Epilogue)

How long has it been since I last visited Baguio? I was there with my family just last February, watching the street dancing and float parades of the Panagbenga Flower Festival. I went there a few times last New Year, and a few times more before that. Then what?

I learned much about Baguio as a melting pot of cultures in the pots of the sidewalk food stalls, in the cups of brewed coffee, in the bottles of rice wine and peanut brittle, in the baskets of vegetables and strawberries. Not to mention that the city is not only a tourist destination, but also a foodie’s paradise. The native cuisine, mixed with its traditions, and blended with American and lowland influences shaped the way Baguio folk ate, cooked, drank, and appreciated food.

I understood that dining is not only the sharing of food and drinks, but also of lives, knowledge, and feelings. It’s one field of experience reaching out to and blending with another through a common medium. Now there were good things to experience, and there were bad things too. These were all part of the learning process that had to be embraced. Most of what I’ve learned and gained in my travels, I gained with the help of the people that made a mark in my life.

My original plan was to write only about my food-related memories in Baguio. I wanted to revisit all of the places I dined in, remember my first plate of red rice, my first spoonful of viand, my first cup of coffee and my first bottle of beer. I wanted to remember the patrons, the specialties, the ones that dined with me there.

Admittedly, I kept putting off going around, and I had many excuses. I had to spend more time with my siblings, whom I don’t see quite often. Eating out is expensive, even with my cash on hand. I don’t feel hungry. I’m tried or feeling sick. And so on.

When I did get to make time for my quest, everything felt different. To tell you frankly, no matter how hard I draw from my memories, I have to acknowledge that a lot of things changed, and this had an effect on my recall.

In the numerous times I visited the places in my memories, I realized something was missing.

Dining at Jack’s Rice felt different now from when I was still a student, or a reporter. 50’s Diner didn’t evoke so many memories from college life. Going out with Jad was one thing, but hanging out at Ionic Café and Café by the Ruins felt like a distant memory. The old watering holes are gone or have changed. SM Baguio now stands on Luneta Hill. The places I hung out were now closed or replaced with new ones.

Pizza Volante was another matter altogether. It was the only place that barely changed through the years (except that the free coffee were gone), and that brought back vivid memories of my past. My memories of college life, my career, even my last girlfriend whom I hoped to marry, were still alive in that pizzeria.

So why did I go back to Baguio? I wondered if going around Baguio was worth it. Was I looking for something? Was it the experience, the nostalgia brought by these places? Was it the food that I missed? Was it the liquor, the drunken nights, the “lonely table” moments in the city’s booze joints? Was it the feeling that I had unfinished business somewhere? Was there a specific dish, or a flavor, that I wanted to taste again? Or was I looking for someone?

Recently, I came across the book “A Cook’s Tour,” by Anthony Bourdain. In one of the chapters, he went on a food trip with his brother to seek the perfect meal in their hometown in France, only to realize it wasn’t that trip that would satisfy them. In his book, he wrote:

“I hadn’t, I realized, returned to France, to this beach, my old town, for the oysters. It wasn’t the fish soup, or the saucisson, or the pain raisin. It wasn’t to see a house in which strangers now lived, or to climb a dune, or to find a perfect meal. I’d come to find my father. And he wasn’t there.”

I sympathize with Tony, but unlike him, I wasn’t looking for something or someone.

I realized I was looking for myself. Specifically, the me that I was before.

Those places reminded me of more than memories. They reminded me of what I was when I first came to these places – my old feelings, my thoughts, my reactions on the flavors and sights and sounds around me.

Those places held memories of the old me. The me who loved the outdoors. The me who appreciated good company. The me who was adventurous and outgoing. The me who knew how to relate with people. The me who trusted others. The me who openly cared for others. Most importantly, the me who knew how to love.

What happened to me all these years? How much has my psyche been damaged? Was it all that heartbreak, disappointments, betrayals, and heart attacks? Am I beyond saving?

In any case, I won’t say I’ve become jaded with my life. I can’t say so myself, yet. In the meantime I’ll let others, unworthy as they are, to speculate and judge who I am, what I was, and what I could be, after which they could all jump off Manila Bay with millstones hanging on their necks.

At the same time, with this early realization in mind, I’ll have to do something with myself. Where I should start, I’m not quite sure. For now, I’ll enjoy who I am now and see what else I can learn about myself.

Maybe – just maybe – when I go back to Baguio and look around, I might find the pieces of my old self. Maybe I’d learn something and find a new reason to live on. And then maybe that cup of Benguet Blend would be much tastier this time around.

Advertisements

Episode 20: Memories of Baguio (Part 6) – Stitches and Burns

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” — Anthony Bourdain

For most Baguio residents, Luneta Hill was where the Pines Hotel once stood. For some, it was a spooky place, filled with stories of ghosts and muggers. For others, it was a place to hang out. But for me, it meant long walks, wind-burned lips, and egg sandwiches.

My first date was a picnic with a new friend at Luneta Hill. My date was younger by less than a year and just entered college. We met in a protest rally, became friends and soon agreed to meet often.

That day, I brought egg sandwiches good enough to feed a whole squad. It was the first time I ever made sandwiches. I wanted to impress her, but in hindsight, I only made egg sandwiches because I didn’t have enough money for ham.

The day was overcast and cold, but picnicking under the trees felt like a good idea. We spent the afternoon talking about our lives, our plans in college, our thoughts about things like religion and politics. It was light banter back then. We had a lot to talk about. We wanted to know so much about each other.

My friend and I agree on a lot of thoughts and ideas. She was kind, understanding, and open-minded. She had a deep relationship with God, and valued her family. I felt comfortable being with her, even found it easy to be myself.

Several weeks later, under the trees of Luneta Hill, she agreed to be my girlfriend.

One afternoon, though, she called me over to her place… and broke up with me. The end.

Now that I think about it, I no longer remember what I did for her that made her fall in love with me in the first place. I was just being my kind, cheerful, poetic self. All I could remember was that I blamed myself over and over again for the break-up.

And then, I started drinking.

———————

Many of Baguio’s street-side bars are noisy, dark places where people play loud music, ate peanuts and cheap fries, drank Red Horse Beer, and got beaten up for giving (perceived) dirty looks. Karaoke machines are aplenty too, and patrons sang their hearts out (those who don’t get entertained beat up the singers, sometimes).

There were shadier watering holes in the city, most of which are frequented by students. One spot I remember was in New Lucban, just several meters from the boarding houses and a several more from a school. The beer was cheap, and they closed late in the night. Gangs, couples, teens on group dates, singles… They’re all there.

Then there are certain bars that serve harder liquor, play softer music, and served more sophisticated people like rich folks, expats, celebrities, and couples (shudder). They were high-end spots for a student like me. Still, I found bars like those to my liking.

Some bars were dangerous places to get drunk. People get easily provoked, and woe to you if you provoke a drunken guy who has his crew in tow. On the other hand, these places were lively, and everybody minded their own business as long as you did the same. (Flirting is another matter.) Such an environment is perfect for someone who wanted to nurse his wounds by himself.

(Note: Nowadays, bars in Baguio no longer serve alcohol by 12 midnight. The only places that do are the establishments in Nevada Square, and they’re open until 3am.)

———————

456 Restaurant became one of the few places that comforted me when I’ve had enough of beer, when I was ready to throw up but was afraid to expel my gastric juices. A platter of “giniling” (ground pork) and rice was enough to heal my alcohol-filled belly. Not to mention that food there was affordable.

If I wasn’t too buzzed, I’d go to Burnham Park and go to Rica’s, which served what I could call the best arrozcaldo in the city. The lugaw’s hot, the chicken fresh and gingery, the servings heavy.

But if I was too drunk, I’d find myself eating in smaller food stalls. I would dine on budget meals in the company of taxi drivers and other night owls, trying to stay awake until my stomach is filled and I can walk again.

I spent nights drinking and enjoying myself amidst strangers. Nobody bothered me even in my drunkenness. The revelry, the music, and my booze were enough to make me forget or at least numb the pain. Back then, it was the only way I found peace.

I was drunk but sated. I was content. And soon enough, I forgot. Or so I thought.

———————

I met my last girlfriend, a businesswoman, while she was selling headgear at Session Road. She was older by about a year. She helped out in the family business, selling ready to wear clothes, fabrics, and other clothing materials.

On our first nights on the road we talked about business, news around the city, even a bit about ourselves. She was nice, childish to a fault, shrewd, and open-minded on things that are beyond her… such as my job. Somehow we get along although we weren’t compatible on a lot of things.

Then she suggested we hang out at Pizza Volante.

Soon enough, we spent a lot of time at Pizza Volante dining on personal sized pizzas, waffles, and liters of brewed coffee with free refills. We ate sparingly, talked a lot about so many things, and drank coffee non-stop. We had all the opportunities to know each other better.

Sometimes, we would end up in some other coffee shop, or drinking booze in the dark corners of Burnham Park, but we frequently went back to Pizza Volante.

Let me cut this story about her at this point. We became a couple for about six years, we moved to Manila, she left for another country… and got married.

To tell you frankly, my last girlfriend is part of most of my memories of certain places in Baguio. We dated in so many places around the city, and listing them all would mean I might as well write a book.

Pizza Volante reminded me of good times, days when I thought I have healed my heart and learned to love again. I was really convinced she was the one. I did learn to love, only to lose it again.

———————

My sob stories in Baguio didn’t always involve matters on love. When I lost my job at my first newspaper, I shied away from my usual hang-out spots and drank like hell. When I finished my contract in one of my other jobs, I went to Yellow Cab and wolfed down a whole pizza by myself. When I felt emotional, I hung out in the strangest places like Maharlika and Legarda Road – and lived to tell the tale. And so on and so forth.

Luneta Hill is now home to SM City Baguio. That bar at New Lucban is now closed down, probably for violating the midnight liquor ban, or after the cops realized they’re serving too many students. The ones in Maharlika are still there, but most of Legarda Road’s watering holes are gone, replaced by Korean schools. Pizza Volante? They ditched their free coffee refills.

Certain places in Baguio became memorable ones in my life, not because I made good memories there, but also because they marked important times in my life. Those times were difficult to forget. Those times had bittersweet memories. Those times hurt.

In my times of despair, I lived a debaucher’s life fueled by alcohol and unhealthy food. It was a bad way to cope with loss or failure, but escaping into the chaos of the world made me aware that I had bad vibes to release and replace with good ones. After throwing up, after nursing that hangover, after enduring that sick feeling is a new day.

Let it suffice to say that the bad things in my life were difficult to move on from, or even forget. I will have to live through the pain, the guilt, and the empty feelings. On the other hand, is it even right to wallow in sad memories? They are as important as the good ones, after all. The actual answer, though, is a big NO.

Sad moments and memories in our lives remind us of our mortality. They bring wounds in our bodies and hearts that are meant to be healed, mistakes that must be avoided, and lessons learned hard.

I for one am hope I meant something for those whom I had made memories with, food-related or not. I assure you, I have not forgotten them, but I have to move on from the memories of them that tie me down.

I better stop rambling now.

Aikyatchi: CHOCOLAT

I’m not really good with taking pictures and videos, but I still manage to make good ones every now and then. If I’m going to pursue a career as a food writer, I might as well learn every craft related to it, right?

One of my latest interests is shooting and making music videos (c/o Windows Movie Maker). Most that I’ve done played background music and instrumentals and were not related to food. My latest video project is an exception.

My computer and standard issue video camera are broken at the moment, but a bit of luck and ingenuity plus the kindness of certain people helped me finish this project. Once my stuff are repaired, maybe I can take more pictures and videos. Or maybe I could do bigger projects, like, say, my own Youtube show? I wish. XD

The song in question is “CHOCOLAT” from the Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt soundtrack, performed by TCY FORCE and Mariya Ise. Enjoy!

 

——————————————-

In other news… RPN 9 is back!

RPN Newswatch, the longest running English newscast on Philippine television, is now airing on ETC-9. Cable channel ETC replaced Solar TV starting March 2. It now airs from 5-6pm. News Cap, RPN’s late night news program, now airs at midnight.

But wait! There’s more!

ETC  is now accessible to a wider audience and market. That means along with Newswatch and News Cap, we can now enjoy series such as Glee, Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother, reality show America’s Next Top Model, and TMZ on free TV.

I’m relieved to know that RPN 9’s employees haven’t been abandoned by the government and the management. Those people deserve to be heard and compensated for their efforts to keep the station afloat. Hopefully it stays that way.