A Thousand Words-A A +A
Saturday, October 26, 2013
JOHN Hay is actually the name of a person. But to the Baguio native, it is the name of a place, and has been for the last 100 and some years. The place was so named to christen a US Army camp that had its colonial beginnings as precisely that, a camp, from which US forces operated when they were in pursuit of Philippine Republicans who had fled to these here mountains to try and keep the first Philippine Republic alive more than a century ago.
The same place was the subject of a lawsuit set forth by its Ibaloi owner, my great-grandfather Mateo, but that is a long story already detailed in a number of writings, not the least being our country’s own Supreme Court proceedings. And those of the United States.
However, my earliest recollection of John Hay is as a telephone number, 2101, from which you could get connected to the Halfway House, and reach my dad. The visual which accompanies this memory of a phone number is one of my mom in a Jackie Kennedy-ish suit of deep, deep green, with a polka dotted blouse inside, dancing with my father, one fine afternoon. He was in a shirt of the palest green, the kind you didn’t have to tuck in, dark brown pants, and what we all children called “holes-holes” shoes, the rage of the day, those old-fashioned Florsheims. It was a slow dance, and the memory of it is as clear in my mind as the layout of where they danced, the Halfway House.
As you entered the place, to your left were deep red chairs and linoleum tables, lining up a whole wall, from where you could sit and face the dance floor. Across the wall was a slightly elevated platform from which a band played at night. Off from the platform were the bathrooms.
If you walked straight on from the door, you got to the bar, from where I was allowed to buy chocolates, always, always, blue crunch. They came in a six-pack, looking strange in a size different from how they were if you bought them in town. The wall behind the bar was at an angle perpendicular to the wall behind the band platform. And the bar faced out onto the rest of the place, the restaurant part. Perpendicular to the bar, facing the side from where you entered, were a row of slot machines my father was rather inordinately fond of. Many a time, he let my brother Matt do the pulling; it seems the latter was lucky at the slots.
And outside the restaurant was this patio from which you could see out onto the famous John Hay green and likewise watch players tee off. One thing about that green. It always looked really smooth, so smooth that for all of my operative childhood, I thought that at the Nineteenth Tee, another John Hay spot, they had somehow magically made it (the green) come inside.
The Nineteenth Tee was, for me, the only place to get a now-difficult-to-find goodie, onion rings, which I could eat just tons of. That and the base ice cream, which came in a creamy blob on a cone with a flat bottom. And the steakhouse which opened off from the Nineteenth Tee snack place always smelt like really good beef a-cooking.
There are, of course, other well-remembered snapshots: of Mile-Hi atop a small hill, of the Officers’ Club, of cottages and buildings whose architecture and green and white paint stamped “Americana” on the whole place. More specifically, there was American military base stamped on it. As someone told me once, John Hay was a “Little America.” Where there was this little chapel that had a 12:00 noon Sunday mass. Dad used to drive my mother, my sibs, and me there, leave, then fetch us at 1:00 p.m.
My pictures of John Hay come in such snatches and snapshots, each snatch and shot a reminder of another time and lifetime. My parents slow-dancing at the Halfway House, my brother, a fat little boy with chubby hands at the slots, blue crunch chocolate in that funny size, ice-cream on a flat-bottomed cone. The big picture is always of a golf green so well-maintained, giant trees everywhere, and American colonial architecture pervading. And the feeling of a being in a spotless, pristinely neat place.
John Hay has a place in my heart because it was one of a number of well-loved childhood playgrounds. It is also a special place because as Baguio lost its feeling of space due to a population explosion in the 80s and onwards, John Hay remained a haven of space, along with the country club. Where the air stayed magical, where the sky stayed in sight, where the landscape stayed blessedly not littered by the continual sight of shanties and houses continually being built overnight.
I have been taken to task by some people who think that my sentiments are elitist. They say I am wrong to hold on to a pristine, American picture of John Hay; they would have “low-cost housing” on its green hills. So much land, they say, should be there for people to be able to build on, for the homeless, the poor, the needy. I maintain that it should stay a haven of space unmarred by the sight on it of hordes and hordes of people and houses. Some of us need our space.
I also sometimes keep company with a population that wails at the wind and howls at the moon over the way John Hay now looks. The old cottages are gone, sold to buyers who wanted to reassemble snapshots of the past into the present. The Halfway House, methinks, was the first to go, to give way to a “clubhouse,” the current status symbol which the middle class affects the minute it can afford to. Gone, too, are the Nineteenth Tee and Mile-Hi, haunts of my youth. Up have come Townhouse Models 1, 2, and whatnot, all mimicking the newer, suburban versions of the American dream.
While these versions are pretty in a generic way, they look new to me, like a place for wannabes, who, for the life of them, will never understand the likes of me. Who was friends with every tree on the old course. Who wined, dined, and danced away at the Halfway House and the Officers’ Club to those tacky bands. Who partied in the cottages, kicked back, went barefoot on the wooden floors. Who took walks through the forest trails under the rain that washed the green and the air. Who stopped when the signs said to do so. Who stole books from the base library.
Luckily, such snapshots of John Hay exist within the albums of history and within the hearts of the old Baguio community. Certainly, the John Hay of old was a throwback to the yoke of American colonialism in the country. But just as certainly, it was for the Baguio community a haven of space and a repository of the wealth of memories that define us.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Of John Hay, Baguio continues to have many pictures, old, older, new, newer. To the one of the well-loved old place, these are my thousand words.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on October 26, 2013.