The City in the Mountains

I was born in Baguio City, in the Philippines. But I didn’t grow up there. While I may not remember so much about the Baguio of the 1980’s and early 1990’s that my parents have told me about, I do remember that a lot of my happiest days were spent in this city in the mountains.

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I remember the long and winding roads up to Baguio City. I remember the air getting colder as we reached the mountain peaks. In one trip, my brother Paulo talked about golden guavas and eagles and getting a toy gundam for Christmas (he was five and he was bored), and everyone in the family laughed at him the whole time.

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I remember boating in the green and murky lake of Burnham Park. And our boat was a pink dragon. Oh yeah! The swan boats just seemed boring. And Paulo kept on asking why there were no “burning hams” in Burnham Park. We were also told that the lake was green because of the algae growing underneath. But we knew better than to touch it.

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I remember staying in a small inn in the middle of a huge vegetable farm. My father’s university was near this place, so one summer, when he was feeling a little nostalgic, he decided that we drive back there. He told us about how he and his buddies would pick carrots from the farm if they didn’t have money left for food. They must’ve known some ninja stealth moves back then because for some reason, they never got caught.

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The inn was old and it didn’t have any heating. It was sort of fun showering in ice-cold water, quite an experience really. But the best part of this trip was my brothers and I befriending the innkeeper’s dog, a chubby and lethargic shitzu that Paulo mistook for a rug.

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When I got older, I would take trips to Baguio alone and meet some of my friends there. Most of my high school friends went to colleges in Baguio. It was much closer to our hometown and much much cooler (literally) and indie (why didn’t I think of that?). And I would still relish the bus rides, the gradual decrease in temperature, even the cheeky Sarah Geronimo flicks they showed in the bus!

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Over time, Baguio became more industrialized. There are more shops and buildings now. There are more buses, trucks, cars. There are more houses… too many houses built on the mountainside. And more Koreans, too!

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There is an SM mall there now, and a Starbucks in Session Road, and a lot of McDonald’s. It wasn’t anymore just pine trees and flowers and these small little inns with no heating. And my parents would lament and tell us about the ‘good old days.’

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Those days are gone now. And it’s sad that Baguio isn’t quite as beautiful as before, at least in my parents’ eyes. But we can never go back to those days. We can only keep moving forward.

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I keep going back to Baguio, though, if only to smell the pine trees. I take pleasure in surrounding myself with the cold winds and the flowers. And then I relish those happy days I spent with family and friends.

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