Quezon City, the Philippines
Only those who take leisurely what the people of the world are busy about can be busy about what the people of the world take leisurely.
I echoed Zhang Chao’s philosophy. Amidst the hectic demands of life, I would feel the need to disconnect from the world, both the real and the virtual, and reconnect with my center. This usually involved good ole-fashioned afternoon walks with my mother. The exercise was good for the heart – in more sense than one. On a few occasions, we were joined by my friend Ki.
A short distance from home was Quezon Memorial Circle, a shrine honoring Manuel L. Quezon, the country’s first president and the city’s namesake, marked by a three-pylon marble monument. Each of its 66 meters represented a year of his life. It was completed in the late 70s. My family would move into the city a few years later, making the landmark a daily sight for much of my life.
The park was previously isolated by a whirling orbit of careening vehicles around the Elliptical Road. It was accessible only by playing Russian roulette with oncoming traffic. Now with a pedestrian underpass in place, it did not require death-defying stunts to reach the park.
The monument base was both a mausoleum and a museum. Although we always missed the museum hours, the bas-relief panels on the exterior walls were succinctly informative, a kaleidoscopic depiction of historical events in the country. Our afternoon walk became a walk through time, though it soon detoured into family lore. My dad had claimed (I could not be sure how seriously) he was descended from 16th-century Chinese pirate Limahong. In honor of Dad, we had our photo-op with the image of Limahong, seemingly carved out of Dad’s – and my -features: bulging eyelids and rounded face. There must have been some gene of truth to Dad’s fantastic claim!
In the 80s and 90s, the park was unkempt and unlighted, perfect for turning tricks. How could I forget a vertically-challenged guy-for-hire who had become a sidewalk fixture every evening? My high school friends and I used to look out for “man-child” (as we named him) when we drove by. Who knew Circle could live its raunchy reputation down? These days, the park had become a playground for families. Even the restrooms were named after family members.
Still, there were downsides to this development: too much paving (What was wrong with grass cover?) and an out-of-place amusement park. Mom would rather try her hand at the jungle gym equipment installed on the quieter side of the park.
Our feet did not follow the throngs, which was how we found the Japanese World Peace Bell. It still looked decrepit with its finish flaking off, but at least the vandalism had been erased. Was it symbolic of how people regarded peace? Good thing the Peace Wall had not been spray painted over with militant slogans or cusswords.
Just as we had worked up a sweat, we found ourselves basking in the golden glow of the fleeting twilight. And what better way to wind down from an afternoon walk than by sipping fresh coconut juice straight from the fruit?
Even closer to home was Mom’s alma mater, the University of the Philippines. The Diliman campus was established after the Liberation when universities traditionally occupied hectares of open fields and woodland. Despite the construction of more buildings, the central master plan of the campus had not changed since Mom studied there in the 50s.
Defining the campus landscape was the Academic Oval, a circumferential road around the Sunken Garden, a green (brown during the dry months) natural basin used for sports and military training. As a public space, the Oval usually had a lane closed off to vehicular traffic in the late afternoon, not only for students, but for joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, and, yes, for mom walkers.
Mom used to sprint from one end of the Acad Oval to the other as a hyperactive freshman. After her swimming lesson, she would run to her next class, dripping hair flying in the wind, and race up the steps of the College of Education. I could not imagine my relatively frail mother to be that same sprightly girl! Our parents had lives we could barely start to know before they had us. The charm in having our afternoon walks here was in retracing her running route more than 50 years ago, albeit decidedly more slowly and gingerly.
Our walk started at the famous AS steps (AS – Arts & Sciences) of Palma Hall. It was on these steps where Dad would wait for her at the end of the day. The famous steps had witnessed student demonstrations year in and year out, but more tenderly, they bore witness to my parents’ blossoming love story.
I didn’t have any memories to draw from this place; I had never taken any classes in this campus, except for one P.E. subject. I learned to play soccer at the Track and Field Oval. The tree-lined streets around it were just as conducive for walks as the Acad Oval, and for meeting new friends, even those of different species.
Our afternoon walk ended at Malcolm Hall of the College of Law, where Dad had graduated from. By then, street lamps had been lit, crickets had begun singing their chorus, and sparkling rays had trickled through the canopy of acacia trees. And what better way to end this afternoon walk with Mom than to have the memory of Dad with us? A College of Law tarpaulin announced a significant date: It was a day before Dad passed away.
The tree desires repose, but the wind will not stop;
The son desires to serve, but his parents are already gone.
I never echoed this Chinese proverb. My heart had been full for the chance of taking care of my parents.
Filial piety required no reciprocation, still I wondered. With no children of my own, would I be walking into the sunset alone in my twilight years? I would have a lifetime of memories to keep me company. Still, it would be nice to hold someone’s hand.