An Ode to My Hometown

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April 12, 2017 by hallyrh

I woke up to a quiet house this morning. My parents went for an early morning walk and my lola and aunt were still asleep. Wide awake but with nothing to do, I rolled the bike out of the gate and decided to cycle around town again.

This is the street right in front of my lola’s house. When my cousins were still living here, every summer afternoon we would loiter these very streets eating piso-piso streetfood, playing tag, or biking. Oftentimes we would enter the premises of the empty elementary school where we would ghost-hunt or play hide and seek. In the afternoon we would pluck Indian mangoes from our next door neighbor’s tree and eat them with soy sauce, chili salt or as is, if they were sweet enough.

This street leads to Sapyawan, an area in Masinloc mostly populated by fishermen. Sometimes, the scent of bagoong would filter through the air as we pass by this street on our way to the town market.

Being a town by the sea, Masinloc’s main source of livelihood is fishing. In fact, St. Andrew the fisherman is the town’s patron saint. During his feast day in November, the Binabayani festival is celebrated, where dancers would re-enact the battle between Christians and the Pagan Aetas through colorful dancing.

Another interesting fact: the famed Scarborough Shoal is within our hometown’s jurisdiction. During the heat of the territorial rift with China, some of our hometown fishermen virtually lost their livelihood; fortunately that was temporarily resolved and now the fishermen can freely set back out to sea.

Once they are finished, these boats will be lent to the fisher folk of Masinloc.

The pictures above show the busy docks where fresh haul from the sea are received before they are taken into and sold in the public market.

The Liglig Ambay (South China Sea) where my cousins and I used to play back when we were younger. From a distance, the tower of the National Power Corporation can be seen.

Liglig Ambay, which we fondly call L.A., is a popular hangout. My cousins and I would walk along the shore during low tides in the afternoon, pick up stray shells, play pretend, and draw figures on the sand. A few years back, they developed something like a boardwalk, surrounded by small huts where families or groups of friends can hold small picnics.

Just beyond the area, as in the photo above, is a covered basketball court (right) where they held little basketball leagues, which my father used to coach in during summer. Beside the covered court is a commercial building (left) which sells RTW clothes.

Every Wednesdays and Sundays, the vast area of open land in the picture below are lined with thrift stalls where locals would flock to buy second-hand branded items — bed sheets, used clothes and footwear, bags, and china. As someone who enjoys one-of-a-kind clothing for less, yesterday we prowled through rack after rack of used garments till I ended up with a cool maroon Victoria’s Secret sweater, a navy blue cardigan, a beige hooded coat, and a light blue tassled beanie.

Right across from this expanse of land is another landmark in Masinloc: the San Andres Church.

Erected by the Spanish colonists in the 18th century, it has been named a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum. It was recently renovated after having been damaged by an earthquake some years ago.

I faintly remember my grandmother taking my cousins and I on a PREX party within the church grounds, chock full of senior citizens wearing navy blue uniforms; I remember Misa De Gallo as a child, carrying an image of the infant Jesus in my arms with my cousins; I remember my first and only Santa Cruzan as the Emperatriz; I remember trying to hold in my laughter at a woman whose skirt got stuck in her butt crack while we were kneeling during Sunday service.

This was also where I was baptized as a baby, along with my cousin with whom I share the same birth date, and where I completed my first Nine Mornings.

The mall has stalls for RTWs, a food court in the upper floor, and a courtyard with a fountain in the middle.

Masinloc Mall was built after a massive fire destroyed the original building. Back in the day, my lola used to have a stall situated at the front of the old building, facing the town plaza, selling snacks and drinks. When my grandmother migrated to the States, my aunt took over managing the store and started selling baked goods as she owned a small bakery back then. Every summer we would help out and watch the store while constantly snacking on anything we could get our hands on. 

When the fire broke, the store was relocated near the back. The business went on for a few more years until eventually, my uncle moved to Canada, followed shortly by my aunt and cousins, and so the store was rented out to other retailers before it was permanently closed down. It used to be a part of a row of stores situated behind the kakanin vendors but when we were here last December, the establishment wasn’t there anymore.

The picture above shows Masinloc’s plaza, situated right in the middle of the bustling town. It used to be a wide grassy area with playgrounds and stone benches, but was renovated and covered almost fully with asphalt. A few years ago, they revamped it, tearing down the concrete wall around the public stage and the cement rink in the middle of the plaza.

My cousins and I used to roller skate there. The concrete rink bore witness to all the embarrassing falls I endured while learning to use roller blades. I specifically recall an instance when my cousins pulled me by the hands in an attempt to propel me forward, but I lost my balance and ended up squarely on my butt.

Right across the town plaza is San Andres School of Masinloc, formerly known as San Andres High School. My father, aunt, uncles, and cousins all graduated from this institution.

Meanwhile, this is the main entrance to Masinloc’s public elementary school where my grandparents used to teach, and where my aunts, uncles, and cousins studied primary school before they transferred to San Andres for high school. We would climb over the school gates in front of my lola’s house every summer when the school is empty and we would play ghost-hunters for hours. 

The end of our street opens out to the South China Sea. This was where my parents would take me as an infant for a dose of Vitamin D. I remember when we were children, my cousins and I squeezed ourselves into a neighbor’s bike and side car, laughing boisterously as we sped down this very street without braking until we tumbled over and crashed — we were wounded and covered in filth but carelessly happy.

When I was a kid I was the one always itching to come to our hometown because I couldn’t wait to see my cousins, whom I practically considered my siblings, and play out in the sun as freely as only children can. But now, any mention of staying for an extended period of time in Masinloc, while not altogether unwelcome, makes me feel profoundly sad.

I always get reminded of all the happy days I spent here every summer when everyone was still here: the beach outings in Candelaria, swimming in a brooke called Ferris Wheel, biking around Masinloc with my cousins and eating streetfood, climbing trees, going to the next village’s town fiesta and entering homes randomly to eat, holy processions during the Lenten season, praying the Angelus as a family around the altar by the piano, the karaoke sessions, the neverending mass of relatives we’ve never met before that we had to make mano during family gatherings as a sign of respect, the times I played cards with my cousins in which the loser had to endure a blazing combination of crushed jalapeƱos, hot sauce, and tabasco, the times chocolates brought by our grandparents from the States were equally divided among us and we would hoard them and try to cheat each other off, the way adults would arrange us by height before taking pictures of us, how my cousins got obsessed with Japanese pop stars during their high school years…

I miss it all. I miss everything, everyone and more.

But of course, nothing in life ever remains constant. Years passed, choices were made. Some flew to the States and some to Canada. My uncle and my lolo have passed on and it has left a gaping hole in all of us.

My grandparents’ house is seldom ever noisy anymore, no more children flying in and out of the gate, no more asking the adults to take us on beach trips. I have no more cousins to goof off with and I no longer have company when biking around town.

Everyone got too busy growing up.

But I guess it’s inevitable. It’s human nature to feel restless with monotony. People will always be looking for something, anything, because the human soul is always yearning for journeys — none of us are ever meant to stay in one place for the rest of our lives.

One day though, when we’ve done what we had to do and we’ve all reached what we needed to reach, I hope we could all look back and come home to simpler times, in my grandparents’ two-story home in Masinloc where the end of the street looks out into the sea.

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