Wednesday, September 03, 2008

#13 General V. Lim Street and other stories

When I was a kid, we lived in a big old colonial house that people who saw it for the first time would always automatically think they’re looking at a genuine haunted house. We were still relatively poor then, we didn’t have a house of our own and lived with two other families renting with us. It’s not as pitiful as it sounds though. The house was what writers would describe as “rambling” in novels. It was a 2-storey relic from the 1900’s, which means, it was there when the Japanese invaded our islands and when the Americans came in force to the Cordilleras, to help repel the attacking foes. Since the house was so big, we shared the ground floor with the G*******s, a family of four, who had 2 children the same age as my sister and I. The 2nd story was rented by the B*******s, a married couple who were richer than most (they were both officials in a government agency department), but too scrimpy to buy a house of their own. They had a son whom I couldn’t remember much, since he was about 7 yrs my senior. The B*******s, also served as the monthly rent-collectors, since they personally knew the owners of the house, an old Spanish family by the name of Ricafort, who were residing here in Manila. The rent money was supposedly sent out by mail every month-end, but it was a favorite topic of our elders back then, guessing how much the B*******s pocketed and how much was actually collected by the Ricaforts.
The house was built according to the style of American suburb houses - if you used to visit Baguio back then (‘80s- early ‘90s), you would recognize it looking like one of the Camp John Hay cottages. If you weren’t fortunate enough to have seen the Camp back then (hence having no idea how the cottages looked like) let me just give a brief description. They were made of white enamel- painted wood, with chocolate brown foundations and green-shingled tile/ wood roofs. I know, it’s a lousy description, but hey, I was about 10 when I last saw them. Anyway, take that image of a house and imagine it with the paint being the worse for wear but big enough so that a mob of 25 could live inside comfortably.
Adding to the fascination of it being a humongous, old house with a long history, it was located in a neighborhood that we locals termed as “bakasyunan”. Every year during the Lenten season, especially on Holy Week, our neighborhood would fill up with actors, actresses and other big names in the country taking a break from work. When I say big names, I don’t exaggerate - Isabel Granada, Aiko Melendez and Robin Padilla, to name a few, used to spend Semana Santa in the vacation houses lining our street. It was totally exhilarating to live next door to the current matinee idol/ love team at that time.
Our area was prime real estate due to a few reasons. First was the location, it was a 5-minute walk from Burnham Park. You might think that we were overrun by tourists all the time but, actually, we were at the ‘back” part of the park, away from the market and the major road that led to the business district. The only people who actually knew about our street were locals who knew that traffic was virtually non-existent in that part of town. Additionally, our neighborhood was located within the side of Baguio that wasn’t congested and instead of the numerous buildings that were popping up like mushrooms after the storm at that time, the General Lim (our street) area was still surrounded by majestic pine trees. For the better part of the year, the big houses in our street were deserted, like big mammals that hibernate until summer comes along, then becomes full of life again as their vacationing owners – their families, friends, friends’ friends return from the lowlands.
Living in General Lim, my playmates were mostly composed of the caretakers’ kids. Schooldays would be an endless longing for dismissal. At about 2:00pm, the street would start filling up with kids still in school uniforms (almost always being chased by elder sisters who were usually in charge of family laundry) eagerly awaiting their playmates. My dad was abroad at that time and my mom also had a day job, so my sister and I were left to the care of aunts and older cousins staying with us for college schooling. Anyway, I was free to spend the remainder of the day outdoors, familiarizing and eventually mastering all the things kids considered important stuff back then. I guess one of the main reasons I had a pretty good chilhood was because of the fact that almost all of the kids in General Lim were at my age group. Hence, we shared the same interests and gave import to the same things. Usually topmost on our agendas were of course, games.
Children who grew up without strict supervision would know that the “games” cycled like seasons throughout the year. January would start out as the “tex” season. If you don’t know what tex is, dati eto ung mga maliliit na karton na may print sa harap, then themed with local movies like Inday inday sa balitaw, Kumander Bawang, Valentina at ang anak ni Zuma, Pik Pak Boom and Lintik lang ang walang ganti, to name a few. The children of General Lim would usually go around the block carrying a shoebox each, containing the precious tex. The kid who’s currently on a days-long winning streak would even use the things to make business, selling tex at 10pieces for 2pesos. This gimmick really worked well if, once the loser bought 10 pieces, current winner would usually challenge him to another bet-all game, thus getting back the tex he’s sold. To be a good tex player, you should know terms like “cha”, “choob”, “kasado” and “quits” by heart.
After tex would come the season of rubberbands. I think I know and played almost every Filipino game involving rubberbands. There are the physical games like sipa, 5-5, 10-15, high jump and Chinese Garter and the acquire games like Pitik, Toss and “tatsing”. Like tex, we paraded around with our rubberband-chain links wrapped around our torsos imitating what Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy King Savage did with their World Wrestling Federation Belts. I also mastered how to make paper and plastic kites and we would steal thread from our moms’ sewing kits to have kite-flying contests on windy days.
The boys also taught me to play Turumpo or the top (hmm sounds kinky). I learned how to distinguish a top that would turn smoothly by looking at the body contour, type of wood and the construction nail used to assemble the toy. Besides that, I also know how to “pick up” a spinning top into my palm or aim it accurately so that it drills a hole into a Spartan tsinelas, once released from the top string. I’ve played jolen, Washington, taguan (moonlit nights were the best), patintero, langit lupa, tumbang preso, touch the body, pog, monkeymonkey, sawsaw suka, catcher, piko, luksong-baka, pitik-bulag and games that were so obscure, we had to invent names for them.
There was a day that we looked forward to every summer, when winged ants would fill the air due to the mating season. We would cut up big cans of Nido or Bear Brand and stuffed dried pine needles inside. We lit these up and ran all over the street screaming our lungs out while waving the cans in the air so the smoke would repel the winged insects. Thinking back, I don’t think this method was effective against the ants at all and the only thing we got from it were scoldings when we got home because we smelled and looked like we just came in from a forest fire, but it still was a ritual we kids looked forward to every year.
When we got bored with playing, we went adventuring.
As I previously mentioned, General Lim and the other streets included in the barangay was in an area with big, deserted houses, tall pine trees and vacant lots overrun with weeds, ivy, kamote plants and sunflowers. There’s a story told by the old people in our street. Apparently, when the Japanese came into the Philippines, they used the then standing houses in our barangay as temporary garrisons. A prevalent (and favorite) topic regarding this alleged “history” of our place were the ghost stories. Anyway, I’m going to enumerate some of them and before you accuse me of digressing, let me just say that I think these stories play an important role in understanding why living in General Lim was such a novel experience. So, here goes.

There was this one house situated in the Legarda-General Lim street corner where, it was whispered, that a headless priest shows up every time a blackout occurs. Another house crumbling and abandoned, supposedly became the den of occultists/ Satanists because of the atrocities committed there during the war. One childhood rite we had to perform was to go up to the porch of the said house and knock 3x. We were scared witless because the windowpanes had weird markings that we used to think were arcane writings of those who dwelled within. Another ghost story favorite of mine was “the march”. Our neighbor, an old caretaker by the name of auntie Mary would tell us that on foggy nights, one could hear the faint thump of marching boots in cadence on the deserted street. The house adjacent to us was rumored to have been built on top of a hospital that was blown up during the bombings, it being in particular a children’s nursery - which might explain why, on cold nights, some profess to hearing babies crying and children wailing like they were in a lot of pain.
Of course, our house had its own claim to fame. Remember when I mentioned that it looked like a haunted house? That was because we believed it was one. The story is about one of the Ricafort clan, the only daughter. Apparently it was her wedding day when the Japanese came to take the house as part of their headquarters. Ricafort (don’t know the married name) and husband were shot down in front of the house for refusing to let the Japanese inside the gate. Some said that they occasionally see someone wearing what looked like a wedding dress circling our house every now and then. They say that the Ricafort ghost still haunts the area looking for her husband. For some reason though, I wasn’t afraid of living there. Even when sometimes, we could hear the thump of running feet on our ceiling when we knew that the B*******s had gone out, we still went on our daily business unalarmed. Perhaps the reason was, we believed that the Ricafort ghost had been protecting our house instead of haunting it, which explains why it’s still standing even after the Japanese apparently bombed our area in the 1940’s. At times when there were really strong typhoons, the house would creak and shudder but never fail to shelter. In the 1990 earthquake, the cliff beside our house collapsed in a landslide, but the massive rocks stopped short of the house’s side wall.

We believed all the “Japanese” stories regarding our neighborhood. The reason? We used to dig up 3-inch long bullets when we went searching for kamotes to roast in our street bonfires (a ritual involving a pile made of lots of dried pine needles and freshly dug kamotes carefully placed in the middle). My dad and his friends found bayonets (a weapon favored by the Japanese infantry) canon balls, wallets, boots and various stuff that looked to have been war-era at the vacant lot behind our house. There was even a scrawl in our bathroom saying “john was here during the war, 1942”.
The most interesting story I guess is what drew treasure hunters in droves to our community. Standing theory is that the Japanese, having lost the war, left in such a hurry that they buried part of the Yamashita trove in one of the caves that riddled the stretches of unkempt land in our neighborhood. Different treasure hunting types (complete with spelunking equipment) would arrive at least 2 times a year to snoop around and try to verify if the theory is true. Of course, being protective of the relative privacy of our area, we would usually tell them that it’s just a local joke. Anyway, it was all very exciting stuff to us kids and we sometimes tried to do some “treasure hunting” ourselves, but since we also knew the part of the story about various booby traps and curses attached to the “treasure” we never got farther than a few feet into the caves.

Another highpoint of living in General Lim was being so close to Burnham Park. My barkada and I would spend weekends and idle summer days going to the park trying out the swings, monkey bars, slides and seesaws. The BMX craze afflicted us when we watched ET a few years after it was released. We all became bicycle fanatics. I can still remember my first try on a rented park bike, 8 years old aboard a wobbling bike desperately trying to avoid colliding with a garbage pile while my friends laughed their hearts out. Even without bikes of our own, we became adepts, living so close to the park. One of our favorite pastimes was challenging tourist-looking kids to kareras. After our BMX craze, we graduated to skateboarding, then to Roller Skating by the time the skating rink opened in the early ‘90s.
We also took advantage of the other perks the park had to offer. Most memorable were the days that we went “fishing” in Burnham Lake for Carpa fish using Oishi and Ringbee chips for bait and a rebended safety pin tied with a string for our hooks. We would carry home our Carpa fishes in the empty Oishi junkfood containers and feed them to our cats (I think this was my “cruel kid who tortured small animals” phase). When Christmas season arrived, we bought our fireworks with money we “earned” from singing Christmas carols to park goers. Our scheme involved going to the park at early evening then singing carols to lovers huddled on isolated park benches. They were usually our “victims” because they could not wait to get rid of us and get back to whatever they were doing in the secluded spot so they usually gave us big sums of money (P5, wow!) for us to move along.
Note: I was very lucky that the General Lim- Burnham Area was still safe when I was growing up, as a result, our parents never really worried about us much so we went everywhere within the vicinity.

Anyway, however much the park attractions lured us, we still spent most of our childhood time wandering through our own neighborhood. A few minutes walk/ climb from the plateau at the back of our house would get us to the infamous Don Ramon Roces Rose garden. Apparently, the Don’s eldest son suffered from asthma and the sprawling rose garden was planted and maintained for him as a gift from his dad. Being another vacation place, we would invade the Roces grounds and head to the 3 big ponds within the Garden. We held contests every rainy season to see who could catch the most tadpoles in an hour. Beyond the Roces property, is the Prieto compound, a series of fenced in European-looking vacation houses (complete with a private driveway that looked more like a private road) guarded by a lone caretaker. Needless to say, we raided the empty houses whenever we had the chance. We didn’t steal anything; we just wanted to feel the thrill of how it was like to be inside the seemingly brooding but still grand houses. Our favorite spot within the compound was the breathtaking view of the Baguio Convention Center, seen through the caretaker’s carefully kept flower garden. On sunny mornings, it was like being in another country, or another world for that matter.

We moved away from General Lim in my third year in high school because by then, my parents were able to afford a house of our own. I think that was the time that childhood really ended for me. Looking back I think childhood was left behind in General Lim Street. We all knew, that as happy as we were to have our own place, the house and area we spent my early years in still held a different appeal.
Anyway, I wrote this post because I dreamed about General Lim last night. I woke up and realized that although I’m years and miles away from that wondrous place, I have never truly outgrown it. Its magic and appeal will always be a part of me and I am gratified because somehow I know that a new batch of kids is continuing the adventure we took part in years ago.


GhostHunter Keynes said...

I m intrigued with your mention that you found the haunting at your house as nothing to be feared because you felt the ghost was protecting the house. The validity of the ghost's intent can never be determined, of course, but your account demonstrates that the experience of a hunting is in no small part allied to the state of mind of those being haunted!

Shackie D. Shark said...

oooookkkkaaayyy :D

iya said...

i got to read your entry from the meebo blog. great read! reminds me of the 'old' days... ;)

Shackie D. Shark said...

thanks, thanks :) i know it's too long for a blog post (compared to others blogs, mine's beginning to look like a trying-hard e-book novel) anyhoo, glad you liked it :)

wyanah said...

Wow what an exhaustive superb recollection of our wonderful childhood! Makes me wanna cry...miss it so much...

gorsgorgeous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gorsgorgeous said...

wow, a wild ride in a wave of nostalgia. I lurve how you reached back to the earliest days of our youth, captured something of it and brought it back. Nice on Shacs.