Yesterday, June 16th 2013, our family, the Delgado Family – descendants of Isidro and Dolores Delgado – held, for the first time ever its family reunion. Our family reunion went perfectly well.
Since this was the first reunion, and definitely not the last; in the morning we heard mass in celebration of the lives of our grandparents and parents. Remembering our dearly departed, especially those to whom we owe our lives, no less. Immediately following the Holy Mass we went to the cemetery to say a short prayer before proceeding to the Zamboanga Ecozone for lunch. But that’s a story for another time.
Zamboanga City, is the third largest city, by land area, in the Philippines. With a population of about 800,000 is one of the most populated as well. It has been one of the more controversial cities since its inception as history is as rich as its populace.
According to a website on Zamboanga, when the Spanish arrived in the Philippines they chose Zamboanga as the site for the their settlement in 1596, in what is now known as Barrio Recodo. This, by the way, is one of the areas hardest hit in this latest MNLF crisis. This is an important fact because despite the superiority in terms of arms of the Spaniards, they were really able to subdue the local Tausug population. They were, however, successful in making Zamboanga became their staging point. Through Fort Pilar, Zamboanga played a pivotal role in the Spanish era that in 1635 it became the main headquarters of the Spaniards in Souther Philippines.
Zamboanga, like any city in the Philippines, lacks any sort of city planning. I guess this is partly the reason why that some of the charms in the city are gone. One, however, can still see roads guarded by old trees, with canopies looming overhead. RT Lim boulevard, is a stretch of road snaking, weaving in and around facing the sea.
Today, June 17, I decided to have a short run in the city. I had asked the front desk for a good place to run and someone recommended the Paseo del Mar, a 5 minute walk away. After investigating it, I decided it was too short a run for me. And against the advice of my relatives, I decided to run from Lantaka Hotel to Pasonanca.
Lantaka Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Zamboanga. Although it is in need of an overhaul it’s story is enough to make up for its senescence. The hotel straddles an area between Fort Pilar and the sea. The views from the restaurant, Vio Bar, besides having good local fare, possesses views of the sea, the islands of Basilan and the Great and Littles Sta. Cruz Islands.
As I started my run, donning my head gear, strapping on my iPhone – which keeps track of my speed/pace/distance. I prepare myself; I wanted to see if my childhood memories of the roads and byways of Zamboanga could still guide an older yet still charming self and not get lost.
I estimated that to be around 8 kilometers and I should be able to do it within an hour, enough time to rest before hearing mass at the Cathedral. The advice was not to run through the city because they said the pollution from the tricycle fumes would be unbearable.
But today is a Sunday, so it wouldn’t be too bad!
I was wrong. But then again. that is another story.
As I started my run along Valderossa Street with the tall palm trees lining up the street, I came upon a familiar face. The Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), or the BPI building stands out as a testament to Zamboanga’s glorious past. It must have seen thousands of facelifts but it maintained its elegance of yore. Shortly past it and just before reaching the City Hall, I could still see the old Johnston Building. I no longer remember what it was for, but I can never forget that building because right next to it was the building where I used to go to study judo as a kid. As sweat started rolling down my forehead, I could still see the image of “Sato” the Japanese judo instructor as well as Atty Ric Baban, and I couldn’t help but wonder where these guys are now.
The City Hall festooned with balloons and flags for the Independence Day celebrations continues to be a reminder of the historic colonial past of the city. Its turn of the century (1905) architecture reminded me of the fact that around the time it was built, there was a “Republic of Zamboanga”. Of course as a young boy growing up in the city, this was not known to me but it might very well have been because I felt then the world revolved around my Zamboanga “hermosa.”
As I gingerly crossed the street to proceed to Guardia Nacional (which has been renamed to Mayor Climaco Avenue I understand), I caught the glimpse of the Rizal Monument and Plaza Pershing. The Rizal Monument is memorable to me not only because I saw it hundreds of times walking home from the old City High, but also because this was the place where the annual Rizal Day competition was held. I remember participating in that competition (having read all Rizal’s novels and writings as well as his biography) against a very formidable representative from Zamboanga City Elementary School. I was to meet her later in life in Davao City.
But then again, that is another story.
Guardia Nacional was THE street in my Zamboanga days. It was the Times Square, the Piccadilly Circus, the Puerto del Sol of my youth. It was bordered on the north by Majestic Theater and the Fire Station, and the intersection of street leading to A.E. Colleges, the City Hall and the City Market. Nestled somewhere in the middle was O.K. Bazar and across it was El Barato. Prominent too was Golden Bells and the twin Indian shops – Indian Bazar and Calcutta. On this street many hearts were broken,many love affairs blossomed, and little things got shoplifted! Meandering through the different gondolas of the shops on Guardia Nacional was a favorite activity to either catch a glimpse of the love of our life, and for many of the young girls, to hide from their admirers, and for the more enterprising to shoplift from the shops. Walking down Guardia Nacional was the “malling” of my youth.
Entering the street was like watching an opera with the scene unfolding as the curtains opened before my eyes. Suddenly Guardia Nacional seemed really cramped and small! Racing through my head as I was running was the thought that either the street was shortened, or more plausibly as a young boy my perspective of size was vastly different. The stores were also either gone or in the wrong places. I could not find O.K. Bazar, El Barato was no longer in the choice corner lot but now was a smaller almost hole-in-the wall shop. I am not sure whether I saw Indian Bazar but Calcutta was now closer to the northern end of the street. People’s Theater was no longer there (it must have been torn down much earlier). The rest of the shops were a blur to me as I continued running and trying to avoid the heavier pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
I probably cleared the whole length of Guardia Nacional in under 5 minutes and that meant the entire length was under a kilometer. By the time I got out of my reverie, the unmistakable smell of Sucabon River jolted me back to the present time. I had just passed what used to be the Majestic Theater, and crossing a short bridge, I was looking to my left scanning for the temple of the “pan monggo.” Robinson’s Bakery was where Zamboangueños from Canelar and surrounding streets would go to buy this bread with baked and sweetened black mung beans in the center. This treat was a staple back in my youth, a simple baked bread, cocooning a sweet mess of mashed mung beans. There were many stories why Robinson’s “pan monggo” was the best in our part of the world. The best one was that it was mixed with “el sudor del kilikili del chino.” That explanation cannot be translated into any other language as it will lose its punch and will be completely politically incorrect in today’s world. I adored and devoured “pan monggo” anyway.
Alas, Robinson’s Bakery is no more, that really broke my heart. Change is hard yet necessary.
Continuing further I could see that Zamboanga Bakery was still there but Rizal Theater across it was gone. Instead a new hotel had gone up in its place. Rizal Theater was memorable to me because this was where I watched “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” “Barbarella,” and “Speedway” of Elvis Presley. All of these movies came out in 1968 and Rizal Theater was then the newest in town and if I remember correctly, the first that was fully air conditioned. Rizal Theater was also the movie house where I watched “Tora, Tora, Tora.” I definitely watched “Patton,” “Love Story,” but I think I watched them in another theater. Rizal was the most convenient because it was a mere 3 minutes’ walk from where I stayed.
And as I was breezing through these memorable movies, I saw the old and aging building of what used to be Melody Theater. This was where the Filipino movies then were shown. Every movie house had “balcony” and “butaka” the latter now know as orchestra, and the former used to be the more expensive part of the theater. In Melody Theater I was always whisked through by the ticket ladies to the “butaka” and I could watch movies for free! I do not know why but I managed to charm the ticket ladies there and I could virtually watch any movie I wanted. Of course that got me into trouble with my mother who, in not just one occasion caught me slipping out of the apartment (a mere one minute walk away) and catching the latest Susan Roces, German Moreno, Boy Alano, or Chiquito movie. “Bus Stop” starring Rosemarie, Ricky Belmonte, Loretta Marquez, Blanca Gomez and Dindo Fernando, was among the most memorable for me. I am trying to remember whether it was “Kapitan Tornado” where Chiquito would turn into a superhero by eating a blade of black carabao grass. It was this movie that gave me the idea that even I could become a superhero – a clear manifestation of the influence of movies on kids. Kneeling on a “bilao” of uncooked monggo beans was a just punishment for the flights I took into the world of fantasy and adventure!
By now I was reaching my maximum heart rate so I slowed down. It was timely too because I was approaching the very corner where I really grew up – Avenue Drug Store.
More on my run in the coming parts…