Santos: The golden retriever and the Panagbenga


ON THIS day, more than 20 years ago, the events that led to the golden retriever to become an important part of my life are still vivid to me. I was in Singapore then, touring some friends, when I saw a dog calmly perched on a Cabriolet parked by the roadside. It possessed an expression that tugged at my heart to give it some petting. As the sunlight caressed its body its flowing coat sparkled like gold. It was a beauty to behold.

However, in that period of my life, I was grappling with the fact that I was homesick and constantly asking myself if working overseas was worth it. During my four-year stint as a video editor for one of the TV stations in the city-state, I have actually forgotten about my brief encounter with that magnificent golden retriever. But my fascination with the dog eventually manifested when I acquired a companion dog upon returning home from overseas - it was a golden retriever puppy! On hindsight, it was love at first sight for me when I met that golden retriever the very first time.

For more than a year, it was only the golden retriever in my life. I was not working then and she was only three months old.

My day was characterized by an early morning walk with her among the pine trees lining the road to the Lourdes Grotto. This will be followed by serving her a meal before I brush her to rid of the burrs and other debris that attached to the featherings of her coat. I will bring her outside to roam briefly to do her thing and then back inside the house afterwards. I would then proceed to teach her basic obedience. By late afternoon, we would repeat our morning routine. Three times a week, I brought her to Melvin Jones to chase and retrieve her tennis balls. After playing, we would then head off to the trails of Camp John Hay or the busy Session Road for long walks and socialization. Once a week, I gave her a thorough bath and grooming.

Five years before I was owned by a golden retriever, I came to know about the Panagbenga the first time. And like my experience with the golden retriever, it was an experience I could recall clearly and because in more ways than one, it was also a love at first sight.

It was February 13, 1996. The main thoroughfare of the city, Session Road, was closed to traffic. It was the flower festival - an activity hoped to attract tourists back to the mountain city resort after the devastating 1990 earthquake. Only a handful of people and few makeshift stalls were present. College students, young urban executives and passers-by were happily basking in the wide-open street. There were hardly any tourists. There were also no smoke-belching taxis and private cars clogging the outer roads.

I decided to have a stroll that early evening. I stopped near PT&T to check-out a stall after a few minutes of walking and bought a heart-shaped balloon attached to a plastic stick and easily ambled down Session. An impish grin flashed across my face. I thought the balloon will bring good luck on the coming Valentine’s Day. Satisfied with my purchase I finally decided it was time for a couple of Blue Ice.

Rumours was not full when I arrived, its bar made of uncut pine stretching to a good five meters was empty. I concluded it was only Monday. I sat at the table by the window that looked out to Session Road.

I waved at the waiter to order. He looked back towards me to acknowledge, smiled and was quick on his feet as he brought the chilled ale in a jiffy. He looked dapper in his white long sleeved polo shirt and black slacks with the maroon cummerbund around his waist. I started to feel warm and my face turned rosy halfway through my third bottle. I checked out the college boys passing by outside while I enjoyed my beer. I waved and smiled at the cute ones. Most of them gamely smiled back and winked at me.

And then I saw a guy at the door behind the planter box. I already saw him before. I couldn’t help but notice him in UP Baguio. Tall and muscular, one of the power-forwards of the UP Baguio Basketball Varsity, he looked like a Japanese and his eyes that sparkled disappear every time he smiled. He came with a friend. To my surprise, the two joined me. That was the day that gave birth to a relationship that lasted almost eight years – a few hours before Valentine’s Day.

Today, the only similarity between my having a golden retriever and the Panagbenga is how I could easily recall the first time I ever experienced them.

I am still falling in love with golden retrievers - everyday with these creatures is a new experience and source of surprises and happiness. Sadly, I couldn’t not say the same with the Panagbenga.

As the years went by, my excitement with the annual event diminished. Don’t get me wrong, in my opinion, the Panagbenga is still a major spectacle unrivalled in the country in terms of its draw and grandeur. But I no longer look forward to it.

Perhaps, because it never went outside its creative formula significantly. Perhaps, because it morphed into a campaign tool exploited by opportunistic politicians and corporations. Perhaps, because the event reminds me of the person I thought would be with me for the rest of my life.

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