Thursday, 13 September 2012

FOCUS - Going back to Alma mater, shooting the breeze one rainy day, and hoping to meet again in Terra Firma

 The UP Diliman University Hotel


“WHERE is that?” I asked RG, on how to get to the university hotel where he was billeted.  

 “I don’t know,” he said, “I’m from UP Los Banos, remember?  But it’s near the chapel.”

 “Ok I know that landmark. Magtatanong na lang.”   

So on this rainy August month, off I went to UP, my college alma mater which I have not been to in decades.  

We have not seen RG, our resident math and science whiz in high school for years, and I was told he had a seminar in UP for two days, so I and some of my closest high school buddies decided to have a get-together with him. 

The rain began to pour just as I hailed a taxi. Just in the nick of time, soon as I got comfortably seated, the rain poured so hard, and in no time, the streets got flooded. 

Aww shucks, hope the taxi does not stall, I muttered under my breath, apprehension welling up in me. I could see the ensuing scenario: me trying to hail another taxi, without an umbrella,  and if was lucky to find one, I would arrive at my destination dripping wet, my hair all soggy and limp! 

Inay, papangit ako! But the fairy godmother smiled at me, the taxi did not stall, and as we reached the entrance of the campus, the rain began to abate. 

The familiar landmarks were still there - Narra dorm, the co-op, the film center, the waiting sheds full of students and employees waiting for the “ikot” jeep. 

The hotel front door
There were two buildings being constructed, but overall, it’s the same UP to me. And so, we reached the chapel, with its round dome, and no walls architecture design.  

There was a sign directing us to the university hotel. Following the direction, we reached our destination. 

It is a new addition to the UP landscape. It is ensconced in a cul de sac, and if you are Chinese and believe in feng shui,  you would say that’s  a bad location. 

I think that’s why they put a small round garden in front of the entrance with a tree in the center, using it perhaps as a bagua.  

Up a short flight of steps, was the reception desk, manned by a man in his 40s I guess, in white polo shirt and black slacks.  

My gosh, he looked like one of employees at the registration  office in the campus - whom I had cursed so many times  lining up to register for subjects many moons ago. 

He gave me the goosebumps, so I sat on the couch in the lobby and texted RG. In no time, he appeared with his familiar toothy grin.  

Quite cozy, this hotel. It does not have the ambiance of a hotel -more of a hostel, and much like the feel of - well, being in UP-  comfy, casual, with guests carrying laptops, LCDs for presentation, manila paper, talking while gesturing with their pens, seemingly  there to learn. 

Para lang spruced up Vinzon’s Hall - the student hall, na dinagdagan ng mga rooms. While the amenities are so, so, I have to commend the chef/chief cook. The meals served were simple - rice and choice of viand, or pancit, and dessert. 

Budget meal - parang pang estudyante pa rin, except meals are served, and you need not fall in line, and the plates are larger and prettier and the glasses tall, unlike those in VInzon’s na baso ng Nescafe.  

But hey, the food is goood! RG, the “genius” in our batch,  ordered seafood kare-kare. After he had taken in a few spoonfull of the dish, I asked him:”masarap?”

He looked at me, deep in thought, and answered slowly: Iba, e. may peanut nga pero hindi masyadong lasang peanut sauce, yung timpla, iba sa original kare-kare - maalat na matamis-tamis, parang maasim-asim … he went on and on describing the sauce, and when he started describing the seafood component of his order, 

I tapped his hand , stared at him with menacing eyes, and with an ersatz threatening voice, I asked him in a measured tone: “Masarap o hindi?”  

“Isang salita lang ang sagot!” And like a kid caught in his own game, he flashed a sheepish smile and mimicked my wide eyes, and said: “Masarap!”

RE can really be exasperating. He gives long and winding answers to simple questions, as if he is ruminating on the origin of the universe, with no intention of raising your hackles, of course. Hay, RE ganyan ka pa rin! Really, there is no expiration date to your nerdiness!  
RG was sent by his office to attend a seminar at UP. He looked good, compared to last time I saw him when he was so despondent over his fortune (lost job, had four small kids, etc). 

He is now with an NGO in Mindanao, and though his salary is “small”, nevertheless, there’s something to look forward to every month. His two smaller children had to stop going to school, though, for lack of, well, logistics.  

Though I could really understand his predicament, what I could not understand was how he could start a family at his age, having had grown-up children who are all married now, from his first marriage.   

And so, while most of our friends are experiencing the empty nest syndrome, here he is, just starting to build his nest with his second family.  

Oh, the affairs of the heart - who will understand them? He will have to toil, from the looks of it, until perhaps in his 70’s! 

TID and wife are a picture of a perfect couple, in my book. Having saved up, fortunate to have invested wisely their hard-earned money from overseas work, they were able to send all their children to school, and all are now doing well in their respective professions. 

They are having the time of their life now, pursuing things and enjoying activities they had to shelve doing when they had to raise their family: like watching movies, seeing old friends, driving to their farm, eating out, and eating out, and eating out. 

But I know what they treasure most is staying at home when the children are in, and seeing that their children are happy, healthy and enjoying their work. 

TG, on the other hand, is still a working businessman. Went overseas, and coming back, he established his own recruitment agency, and pursued other business ventures on the side. 

He is a doting father too, driving his children to work, rain or shine, even when he felt sick. 

No sick leave, he said, from his driving chores. But you can see that this was a self-imposed job, and he was a willing victim!  

Ha, who is it who said that Filipinos tend to pamper their children too much? Well, it’s his choice and perhaps he is really happy doing it, and whatever makes you happy, TG. 

So, while enjoying our simple meals, we were shooting the breeze. Bits of tsismis, like: RG, I know who your crush was at UP LB, and I blurted her name, and RG was incredulous that I knew the girl. 

Why of course, I stayed in the same dorm with her, and he blushed at the mention of her name. I guess she was his “unattainable” love, even now after two marriages? Our resident math whiz is an incurable romantic!  

TG, the businessman, asked us business dimwits: do you know how Mang Inasal came to be such a success?

Not because of the taste of the roasted chicken, nor the price.  It’s because of unlimited rice! So, maybe we can put up a food business offering unlimited rice, too, but we will also offer unlimited txt, ha, ha! Silence again, then boisterous laughter, forced I guess, for a well-meaning friend.   

In between spooning our food, and laughing at a story, we had picture-picture, taken by the hapless waiters and waitresses who were not older than college kids, and whom we conscripted to be our official photographers. 

Time to go, and pay the bill. Five senior citizen discount cards were placed on the table. We had the food for a song! 

Nalugi sa amin! In spite of a downer of a soppy and cold weather outside, we were warmed by the kindled friendship, comforted by the shared simple and inexpensive food and entertained by bits of tsismis and stories about the horrors and joys of parenting, and other topics that we picked up as we dined. 

So thank you all for the wonderful evening. 

Braving the rain and flood to be part of this get-together for RG, was worth it. 

RG, if the yoke becomes too heavy for you, we will be here, your friends, to lighten it up a bit (we gave him pabaon before we left, a simple gesture to show we care).    
To TG, may all your business ventures flourish and may your “employer” grant you that “sick leave” you are asking for. 

For RE, enjoy your time with your unica hija, even though I think lining up to register for the next semester, for her, because she has some other things to do, is “sobra na”. 

But I hope your nerdiness does not expire because that makes you unique. I will forever understand you.  
For TID and wife, I wish you could adopt me as your daughter, because you two are damn good parents. 

Until we meet again, and I mean here in terra firma, not in the parallel universe. 

The venue of our next meeting has a zip code, guys, and it’s not infinity.  

So to ensure that we meet again, take care of your spare parts, always oil them with exercise and eat less rice, more fiber, less meat, more pescados (fish be with you)! And keep all the marbles in your head intact. 

Try Sodoku even once.  

Bye for now. I have to go, and quoting Don Quixote, I go forth to slay some more dragons!  You all made my day. 

Vaya con Dios.

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