Thursday, October 28, 2021

Cariño: Baguio Connections 73

Baguio Stories

TO GET back to my “Baguio Gold.”

“There is much evidence of Yamashita’s loot unearthed, most notably that spectacular find, the golden Buddha dug up by Roger Roxas in January, 1971, purloined by goons one dark night, and then purportedly driven down to Porro Point and there to be loaded onto a fine white yacht waiting for it.

“Other treasure has certainly been dug up, some overtly, some covertly. Many times, news of the location of buried treasure found its way back to Baguio via Yamashita’s men themselves, or their relatives, back in Baguio in the 60s, the 70s, and the 80s. They had descriptions like “...under a big tree beside a park...,” or “...under giant stones beside a stream on the way up to Baguio...,” or “...beside an airport...” Some local treasure hunters teamed up with these bearers of treasure news, and got lucky.

“My dad wanted to get lucky. When I was eight or nine, he had occasion to get “tipped” that there was some Yamashita gold in our house on Kisad Road: “...a house that faced east, faced the park, but whose door did not...” The description seemed tailor-made to suit our house. Given, too, that said house had been appropriated by - along with, my father used to say, my grandfather’s service of golden plates -- the Japanese officers when their army had occupied Baguio, it made perfect sense. If the shoe fits...

“The workers dug all over the property at night. Maybe, it was illegal to dig for buried treasure. Maybe, discretion was just the better part of valor. Or of greed. Or both. As a child, I was sure of one thing, they dug by the light of my mother’s Petromax lamps. From my bedroom, I could see the diggers through these tiny cracks between the wooden floor planks. They had a lot of space, too, since the house was built high, on concrete posts that rose to some four or more feet above the ground. I think that the dig was supposed to be hush-hush, but in hindsight, I think: as if. As if you could keep a treasure hunt in the middle of Baguio a secret in the 60s.

“They didn’t find anything. Until one afternoon, one of the workers thought to strike a slab of cement at the bottom of the kitchen stairs. It had always looked odd, a slab of rather new-looking cement at the bottom of really, really old wooden stairs. But as a child, I overlooked it in the way of children who have very given worlds. Well, so this worker thought it strange, and thought to strike it with one of those digging tools. The top gave way.

“When they had cleared the rubble, there was a flat surface underneath it. On this flat cement surface, a floor plan of the house had been carved in. An “x” marked the fireplace. I remember getting home from school, staring down at the rubble of cement, staring at the map on the step, staring at the “x”, and wondering if it meant that there was gold in our fireplace. Since I was at that Nancy Drew reading age, the whole thing was, to me, The Mystery of the Japanese Treasure in the Fireplace.

“Now to that fireplace. We lived on the first floor, and our fireplace worked just fine. My aunt’s family lived on the second floor, and their fireplace didn’t work. Whenever they built a fire, the smoke just went into the sala and, precisely, smoked up the place. Thus, the upstairs fireplace was simply not used.

“I must have once asked why, because I remember being told that the way to build fireplaces in a house with two stories is to give each one an exhaust shaft of its own. Ergo, smoke from both shafts exited via one chimney, but from separate shafts. So I knew that something was wrong with the shaft of the upstairs fireplace, since the downstairs fireplace worked just fine.”

To be continued...


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