Let’s bring back a walkable downtown

walkable downtown Session Road, Baguio CitySunday off-peak season traffic (also when people stay at home or opt to leave their cars at home or take a day off from driving preferring to walk about) in downtown Baguio. This is the Baguio that my and earlier generations grew up in. One feels the immediate effect of such on the payche- one feels happier, lighter, peaceful. Also, as the air is immediately cleaner, lungs take a rest from having to work doubletime in order to purify what we breathe in. For today’s City residents, old (lest they’ve forgotten) as well as new, this is the image of a car-less or less-car Session Road. We don’t need to debate what ‘car-less’ or ‘less car’ looks like. What is needed is a plan to actually make the downtown walkable. We have to understand though that ‘walkable’ also means developing the suburbs (and LISTT towns) as a strategy to direct traffic as well as people outside of downtown Baguio (congestion in downtown Baguio has gone the way similar to that of Metro Manila wherein image-building and investments hence development were concentrated in the Metropolitan). And we don’t have to look very far for a plan- there are lots of masteral studies on this in the universities (here). And we don’t have to look very far for a plan- there are lots of masteral studies on this in the universities (here) that students (professionals) invested their knowledge, time, and money in. What City Hall needs to do is to talk and sustain a relationship with the universities.

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“Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy”

sunbathe indoors
It’s supposedly the cold season in Baguio City, but temps are unusually warm to hot at times. Apparently this “mini winter heatwave” is felt across the globe. Hopefully this is only just another quirk of the leap year. On the other hand it’s like summer hasn’t gone away and I like that. What the City lacks in holiday lights and cheer and I’m not referring to the malls, the strong sun makes up for it.

These days, particularly early mornings, McDonald’s in Baguio City are full and it’s not because of it’s burgers or chicken, but rather for it’s brewed coffee, breakfast meals, and free reading of the day’s paper. And it’s thanks to the City’s senior citizens. The fastfood outlet,  where the fresh coffee (PhP25 for small, PhP35 for medium) and breakfast are priced within their budget (less the 20% mandatory discount) which is primarily from pension allowance, is now this demographic’s new watering hole in the wake of the closures of their old meeting places i.e. Star Cafe and Dainty Restaurant. Also, because senior citizens have reached that age when they’re past agonizing over people’s reactions to what they say, their straightforward feedback on the outlets’ products and services keep the crew always on their toes. For instance, there was this old lady at the counter who made very specific order for her coffee. She told the cashier, I want it fresh d’you hear? Put fresh beans into your machine, OK? The crew are working college students, and when their grandparents tell them something straight to their faces they just do. Besides there’s no argument against expert palates that have tasted coffee for 60 years or so.

Spring in the City

It’s flower festival – Panagbenga – month again. With it is the anticipated closure of Session Road to accommodate the usual stalls– what different food is on sale this year?  Accordingly, the theme is Across 20 Years of Blossoming Together. If I’m to interpret ‘blossoming together’ it would mean harmony of people + nature / human habitat + natural habitat– is this evident in the City? Also, this year’s celebration will involve the other municipalities within BLISTT. It has taken some time to do this but then never is far worse.

Scale models on display

Chanced upon the exhibits of the International Plastic Modelers Society of the Philippines (IPMS) at ‎SM Baguio. On display are model ‘copters, jets, tanks, robots, cars, and guns. My fave, which is to say, where I spent the longest, are the aircraft.

One can also view the modelers put it all together. The exhibit runs‬ from February 2 to 7.

Happy in the City

I used to go for massages and such at a spa in Baguio.  On such a day, I overheard a man asking if the center offers sauna service.  The lady at the front desk replied that she’s sorry their one and only sauna was out of service that day. Such queries are what one would randomly and normally hear at any spa.  Minutes later, another man asked for the same service and received the same reply.  Then another, this time a small group. My curiosity was already piqued. Since when was sauna in demand in the City and especially on a weekday morning?  And by men in suits too?  Another man came in and asked for the same service.  At that point, I thought the center insane for not putting in double time to fix the sauna. Their loss. Meanwhile, I was more interested at the rate the service was asked for in just under a couple of hours.

That directed my thoughts to first the number of spas and sauna centers in the City and second tying demand for the service to the rate I was witness to at my center of choice the probable reasons for the increase in demand.

I did notice the proliferation based on ads in the City’s weekly paper. Compared to say five or ten years ago, there’s now this and that center, including French-sounding ones which sad to note don’t hold anything close to the French’ dedication to effortless refinement, offering this and that service.  The increase says something significant of the changing and prevailing local lifestyle– how did going to the sauna become a practice among City folks? who in the City goes to the sauna?

via milamai

traditional Finnish sauna

The suited men started to arrive around mid-morning.  My guess was they had just gotten out of an early morning meeting the kind wherein hard decisions had to be made, or wherein they put in everything in order to sell an idea to the higher-ups, probably the Board.  Perhaps they’ve already made such decisions, or needed some time to mull over a decision or to wash off the pressure from a life-or-death presentation.  Perhaps the corner cafe outside the office building can’t provide the kind of environment they particularly needed.  I was pretty sure they’ve already been to the sauna and so knew the physical and mental cleansing it brings them and in some instances social bonding and release as well hence their search for such a facility.  Since the center of my choice is conveniently located at the downtown area, far enough from the bustle of Session and Harrison Roads but within walking distance of everywhere, this was also where their internal compass led them.

The men were I was sure of it not native residents of the City but rather it’s work that brought them to the City.  Native residents haven’t yet caught up with the trend, one reason being that ‘sauna’ has had a reductive meaning equated to activities relegated to the local red light district.  If they were from Metro Manila, which I was sure they were, frequenting spas and saunas are as normal a routine as having lunch or dining out with clients or potential clients, or among business associates of a certain income level “sneaking out” for a round of golf.  Naturally then they’d bring the practice with them, which now brings me to rounding up the reasons for the apparent increase in demand and therefore supply of it.

It’s a return to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and wants basically, in that moving up the hierarchy needs and wants become more and more sophisticated (i.e. up to a point).  On the other hand, there’s the market economy ever ready to cater to material needs and wants. Well, ideally, because as what was the case in my center of choice it failed to meet the day’s demand–  an example of choke points in the market.  But the thing about the market is there are so-called substitutes.  Where did the men go after learning the sauna wasn’t working?  Depending on their preferences and circumstances at the time, it could’ve been to the barbershop for a similar physical rub down, or back to the office where hell’s fury awaited the person(s) fortunate enough to have crossed their paths upon their return.

And last but not the least of my observation was those would-have-been customers were men.  Meaning?   It just cued me to which among the sexes – Filipinos – are availing the service more and whether or not there’s a significant difference and if so why?   But would the information matter?  In any case, I count myself among those who love saunas and it’s substitute, really hot showers and baths.

Signature scents from home

One reason why I’m at heart a country gal, or rather a mountain gal as my kin from the lowlands say is the more accurate term is that the countryside – this mountain city – still has green places and and wild flowers.  These days because of the increasing number of people awakening to alternative lifestyles we’re urged to pause from our busyness and just go smell the flowers, but what if we do are there flowers still to smell?

image

There’s still the Bottlebrush tree at my parents’ place– how old is it now?  The tree or should I say it’s flowers emit a subtle woody fragrance that the wind carries into the house. I can easily identify the fragrance from among the competing smells inside.

There’s also the huge and equally old Eucalyptus tree in the backyard.  We pick it’s leaves to mint up our bathwater on very cold days and for a period after giving birth as well.  Old folks believe that such natural treatments help restore strength to the body after what it’s gone through– nine months of pregnancy and the shock of child birth.  I didn’t mind about the belief because all I cared about was the hot minted baths were really good.

The Dama de Noche at the side of the house (also on the street at my own place) imprint the night air with their heady sweet perfume.  If not for fear of being bitten by deadly mosquitoes, I would stand outside for hours inhaling the fragrance.  I’ve always wondered at how such tiny flowers could own the night space.  Just imagine if neighborhoods across the country cultivate this native plant. Tourists would leave the country with their heads fogged up in it’s sweetness, a natural high they look forward to return to again and again!

And then the wild flowers.  There’s plenty of these depending on the season.  I went out and snipped these from near my place just this week.

Just one thing about having foliage around the house is that the scents attract black ants although for my own peace of mind I’ve already accepted the presence of these creatures (well, as long as they don’t come in battalions because then it’d be w-a-r). Ants have their own distinct smell too I noticed. It helps that I’m now more aware of the concepts in Biology pertaining to ecosystem balance. Take cockroaches and spiders as another example. One explanation as to the increase in cockroaches is there’s a decrease in the population of spiders which are natural predators of cockroaches. Anyway. But what I can’t tolerate near me though are red ants although I have observed that they proliferate only in certain environments. Flowers and such are not among these thank goodness.

4 PM light

I love Baguio City even more when the weather’s stable, that is, sky’s clear blue the entire day. On such days, at around four in the afternoon, the sun casts it’s magical warm light.  This happens rarely so when it does… time to capture the moment! image

People of the bundok: the female native

Photography by Eduardo Masferre 1909-1995 via aenet.org

It had been my argument in my past employment that native women in the Cordillera started out as equal to the men — it was the norm. Until modern ways came their way when everyone started to question their own ways — if it was the “acceptable” way. This needs more research though.

Book to read: Igorot by Heart

According to the IGO, the making of this book “took about four years of cyberspace transaction to put the materials together. It took over 300 people with “can do” attitude to pay for over 2,750 copies”. At PhP400.00 (USD9.30) each, text +63 916 238 5874 for availability.

Baguio in images

The wizened Ibaloi women are still there.  If this generation of Filipino tourists would like to know first hand the oral history of the natives of Benguet, they can learn it if only for a few minutes from these old folks.  The younger natives, the children and grandchildren of these old folks, may not be as knowledgeable of their own native culture, having been gradually inculturated into the mainstream.

The redesigned Lion’s Head  (I rather liked the old face sans the fangs and walled eyes) along Kennon Road.  You know you’re about to leave behind the steep zigzag and enter the City when you’ve reached this point.  Image via yahoonews

Wild horses once roamed the Cordillera plains, according to the old folks.  And, the City then was a paddock of sorts.  Now, horses are for hire, along with the guide, to take you through the old Cowboy (as native men style themselves.  In fact they wear nothing but Levis.) trails.  Image via discoverbaguio

The Lake at Burnham Park in downtown Baguio is where you can have a 15-minute boat ride for lunch if the impulse __.  And if you’d like to know what a Bottle Brush Tree (nearly extinct in the City) is, a handful are still around there.  Over the years, much words have been exchanged between locals and folks at City Hall over the true State of the Lake and it’s only recently that City Hall through a long overdue PDAF allocation dredged the Lake.  This image is of the old Lake because it’s much clearer now and the boats are styled after water birds.  

 

Sunset in the City (as well as in the rest of the Cordillera) is unique because of the mountain setting.  Image via mariusoczon

Chimneyed (where else but in the City/Cordillera) country living evoked by the Golf Estates residences at Camp John Hay.  Locals are aware however that this does not entirely reflect the state of housing in the City.  l with the Image via jontengco

Fog occurred more frequently in the City in the 80s.  Nonetheless, the City becomes other-worldly whenever the fog descends.  In the streets, people sober up.  On the road, passengers who are otherwise loud (rehashing their experience of the City) clam up when the bus we’re riding in meets up with a dense cloud.  Fog on the road reminds me of when, along with colleagues, the company vehicle we’re in almost went down (mere inches away) a ravine along Halsema.  The driver momentarily lost sight of the road.  Gripped.  Terrorized.  That was what I felt.  And it is what I feel, still, whenever I’m on the road, wrapped in fog.  Image via vivalabida

But fog like this is poetic.   It may be why the City is home to artists and feeling artists.  Image via threestarsandasun

The Baguio Country Club and its must-try raisin bread.  Image via camillejoven

Camp John Hay.  Much can be said about the Camp now but regardless it holds historical and cultural importance to locals and the City.  Image via romesworld
The Mansion is what Camp David is to the US President.  The US tradition was brought to the City, it being the hill station of officers of the US Armed Forces during the Occupation.  Image via jontengco

The Philippine Military Academy.  If you want to see the future Armed Forces at their best, come here.  Upon leaving the Academy, reality crashes on the new officers especially around their girths.

Our Lady of Atonement Cathedral (The Baguio Cathedral).  Once run by the CICM, now by the Diocese.  Image via wikimedia commons

 

Locals cannot conceive of the City without linking it to the mines in the surrounding areas.  Many locals in the City were (are) part of the mines, as miners or officers or executives.  Each type of worker has a story about life inside the camp.  Balatoc Mines, run by Benguet Corporation, for one, in Itogon, Benguet which is around 30 minutes from downtown via PMA/Kias.  It is now open to the public for guided tours.  One of the more exciting part of the tour is a simulation of blasting inside the tunnel.  If this is not for you, there’s the view (you’ll need a binoculars though) of the mines from the deck at Mines View Park.  Image via adaphobic
The annual Flower Festival (Panagbenga) is what the Rose Bowl Parade is to Pasadena.  The festival showcases the wealth of flowers grown in the City (and its neighbors, especially Benguet).  Image via cannonmoment

 

 

The City is known for strawberries although technically the berry is grown in La Trinidad.  They’re in season beginning December through February.  Image via filmsandreveries
As with strawberries, cool clime vegetables are popularly known as Baguio-grown products (but, again, grown in LT and marketed in the City).  Image via jontengco

 

Native crafts galore at tourist spots around the City and in stalls at Maharlika Building downtown.  Products in these shops are so much cheaper than those displayed in the malls.  Each design tells a story or tale of the native’s life.  Image via paulakatarina

Another native craft.  Good ones can be bought at Easter Weaving or Narda’s.  Or, if you are acquainted with locals they can introduce you to native women weavers in the Benguet countryside.  My employer used to support this livelihood among native women — I’m not sure now how the formed groups have fared.  In any case, what local livelihoods need is marketing support; in many cases, this more than financial support is what local groups need.  Image via ninanatalia

Tourists and visitors don’t leave the City without bringing with them back home a bottle or two of native jams (strawberry and ube or yam, the more popular ones).  Image via yourjustine

Out for a break

I headed out to Baguio City Market – nicer and cleaner today – to buy two of my needs.  Flowers.  Coffee.  When I’m up to my neck meeting clients’ deadlines and issues like poverty wearies the brain, I need diversion.  Looking at something pretty and alive relaxes.  I picked up these lovely fresh asters from my usual hunting ground in a hidden corner of the market at PHP25 per bundle.  The sellers tells me the whites cost more but I don’t want whites at the moment.  I need vibrant.

asters

Next stop – freshly ground beans at Garcia’s Coffee.  It’s the go-to of locals, for beans.  I bought a quarter of a kilo of Benguet Coffee at PHP50.  I thank the lady – she’s been there as long as I can remember and she hasn’t grown a wrinkle!  I shake my head but not because she hasn’t aged but because of the contradiction – I can’t buy a premium cup of coffee brewed at top brands at PHP50 yet I have a bag of premium local bean that should last me a month or so!

I hope and selfishly at that for this City not to ever change this side of itself.