Episode 42: Returning to a better Rizal Park, and then some

To be frank, I only have faint memories of Rizal Park. I do recall visiting it as a kid: seeing the RizalMonument, playing at the playgrounds, walking near Manila Bay, watching the sunset, being scolded for roaming around, getting lost and thinking everyone left me behind… Wait.

I never explored Rizal Parkas an adult. There’s the fear of getting mugged, the stench of garbage and urine, the street walkers and thugs, and other shady circumstances. Yeah, there was a time when the park was a place straight out of a crime novel.

Much has changed when I visited Rizal Park on the first Sunday of January, this time as a tourist joining Carlos Celdran’s “Walk This Way” tour. To say that the park is now a safer, brighter, cleaner, and more relaxing tourist spot than before is an understatement.
Our first stop was the relief map of the Philippines. Once strewn with trash and dirty water, the place is now an interactive map with trivia about each region. At night, the lanes are well-lit, making walks around the map pleasant and safe.

Along the way, we were treated to a view of the former Jai Alai Fronton Building. I heard Carlos saying it was demolished during Pres. Joseph Estrada’s administration as his way of saying “(MTRCB) you” to the elite. There goes a historical landmark.

We also passed by some of the park’s new public restrooms. They’re well-maintained, they’re clean, they don’t smell bad, and apparently they save a lot of water. Never mind that you have to pay a few pesos, relieving yourself is now more convenient.

Next was the Children’s Playground, once called “Paraiso ng Kabataan” (Children’s Paradise). This place I remember somehow.

The hippopotamus and the giant boot that I played in are still there. The slides and see-saws are maintained despite their old age. There were other new attractions, such as that fountain; in any case, visiting a place that I remember is refreshing.

We then passed by the Valencia Circle, once known as the Agrifina Circle. Carlos says the place was named so because it was between the former Agri (Department of Agriculture) Building, and the former Fina (Department of Finance) Building. The circle was renamed after Teodoro Valencia, the dean of Filipino journalists.

The statue of Lapu-Lapu is now a familiar landmark. Families and groups gather to relax, hold picnics, or hang out. We even spotted martial artists training at the circle. Despite the crowd, it’s safe to walk around because park guards patrol the area.

Another attraction I spotted was the Pinoy version of Thomas, the sentient train from “Thomas and Friends” (I prefer to call it the “Thomas Express 999”). There’s alse one of those traditional carriages. A tour around Rizal Park onboard is worth P50, I think.

Next was the Flower Clock, one of the newer attractions at Rizal Park. The flowers that make up the clock are pretty and cared for, but the clock has stopped. What.

After that was the Art Park, home to the Art Association of the Philippines(and a place I’ve never been to). Artists can hold exhibits and other shows in its amphitheater-like grounds. The office itself has an exhibit area where visitors can view artworks.

We also passed by Blumentritt’s Fountain, a literal fountain from Germany dedicated to the historian Ferdinand Blumentritt, Jose Rizal’s best friend (and rumored lover, which made my otaku friends ask if he’s seme or uke, but that’s not my field).

Finally, we came to the highlight of our tour: the Rizal Monument. Ever remembered and flocked by tourists, this monument remains to be one of most iconic landmarks in the country. No visit to Rizal Park can be complete without paying respects to our national hero Jose Rizal, and having your pictures taken with him at the background.

Here’s some news, though: Carlos said a condominium project is about to rise near Taft Avenue, in front of Rizal Park. If this pushes through, the next time you look at the Rizal Monument, there will be a 50-plus storey building standing right behind it.
Carlos said not only will the condominium offend and ruin the Rizal Monument’s view, but it will cause congested traffic, cause inconvenience to unit owners, and would end up being a bad investment.

Our last stop was Rizal’s Execution Site. Large statues stand around the area, depicting Rizal’s last moments. It was a solemn place. History fans can reflect on Rizal’s life. Tourists can enjoy nature at its quietest. The imaginative people, well…

Carlos reminded us to rediscover Rizal Parkon our own some time, and to appreciate our landmarks before progress wipes them out. And I actually agree: Manilaitself has a lot of historical and tourist destinations that we should appreciate. It’s a great way to learn about our culture and heritage, and how this relates to us today.

After the tour, I took the time to walk around Rizal Park again. Simply walking around, drinking in the surroundings, and moving at a leisurely pace is rejuvenating for the soul. With the kind of life I’ve been living, relaxing has been a luxury. I’m actually thankful that I got the excuse – and eventual chance – to visit the park.
And then came the hunger pangs.

The food vendors I spotted at the park are well-organized. They’re all at the center of the park, selling rice meals, sandwiches, and drinks for wandering visitors. The snacks you buy from them are assured to be delicious, clean, and affordable. Garbage is well-disposed. Patrolling cops are within sight. The best part: no cigarette vendors. Did I mention that cigarettes are no longer allowed in the park?

The sad part is that the vendors aren’t there permanently, since they were set up for Rizal Park’s Christmas event, which was apparently ending that day. On the other hand, there are several “Food Boxes” permanently stationed around the park, selling bite-sized snacks, ice cream, and drinks. There’s also a carinderia selling cooked meals, and a few sidewalk stalls.
I ended up satisfying myself with a shawarma, a bowl of lugaw, a tapsilog, and about three glasses of buko juice. Mmm, street food at its finest. I’m sure I regained all of the calories I burned from walking all over Rizal Park. So much for getting fit.

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