Batang Cubao

HEART AND MIND - Paulynn Sicam (The Philippine Star) - July 10, 2018 - 12:00am

Walking around the chaos that is Cubao, I felt a familiar energy, a verve that brought me back decades past when it was a manageable, clean and delightful activity hub.

I had to go to Cubao last week for some bloodwork at my HMO, and what a discovery it was. I consider myself a batang Cubao, having grown up in various homes around its vicinity. But I had not been to Cubao in ages. In fact, I have avoided it as much as I could because it has stopped being pretty and friendly. All I’ve associated it with in the past 20 years is traffic, crowds, pollution and confusion.

Before I moved to Mandaluyong 20 years ago, and its comparatively more “genteel” shopping malls, Cubao was my go-to place for everything I needed. It was where I shopped, met up with friends, dined, watched movies and shows. Cubao was my family’s playground.

I was 10 years old when I first saw Cubao. What is now an overgrown commercial area was a vast empty field across Aurora Boulevard from Stella Maris College where I was enrolled in the fifth grade. The family had just moved from the dust and traffic of Sta. Mesa Boulevard near Legarda to our new house on Boston Street in Cubao and I had to transfer to a new school. 

Stella Maris was brand new and beautiful, with a manicured garden around a fountain on its front lawn, and a handsome three-story building housing its classrooms for its still modest population of young girls from kindergarten to high school.

It was such a joy going to school in the suburbs! My cousins and I took the public bus in the morning, came home for lunch and went back to school for afternoon classes. And after class, we stayed in school longer playing ball or doing extracurricular activities. On Saturdays, we were back in campus for Girl Scout meetings, marching and band practice, camping and hiking on the wide grassy field across the school.

I loved my Cubao childhood, especially school where the nuns were strict but the fun never ended. And on weekends and in the summer, our neighborhood had many fruit trees to climb and flowering shrubs where we stole flowers to offer to the Virgin Mary during Flores de Mayo every afternoon in May.  We biked with our neighbors on well-paved roads and spent lazy afternoons weaving colorful plastic twine into bracelets and key chains.

I saw Cubao get built up, starting with the Araneta Coliseum, which was an awesome structure. The Big Dome opened up Cubao to crowds and commerce, sports events and foreign shows.  Paying one peso each, my siblings, cousins and I would watch American pop stars like Neil Sedaka, Teddy Randazzo, the Everly Brothers and Ricky Nelson from the bleachers, sitting on concrete steps high up near the top of the coliseum.  What a treat it was seeing and hearing our idols in the flesh, even if they were as small as Lego figures from way up there.

Pretty soon, there was a strip mall on Aurora Boulevard, the New Frontier Theater, Matsusakaya Department store, COD and its Christmas display of moving mannequins dressed up for the nativity scene, Choc full O‘Nuts coffee shop, Mini Golf, and seasonally, the perya with its rides and games and freak shows. We bought our shoes at the Marikina Shoe Expo, brought the kids to Fiesta Carnival for rides and ice cream, and marketed in Farmers.  Ali Mall was a clean well-lighted activity place and earlier on, Shoe Mart was a small store on Aurora Boulevard.

Cubao became so commercialized that the Franciscan nuns of Stella Maris leased their beautiful frontage where another strip mall was built, to protect the school and its lovely garden from the increasingly polluted and public view. Cubao was definitely deteriorating. Then the LRT was constructed, darkening the street and further “uglifying” Aurora Boulevard.

My bloodwork at the HMO took all of 10 minutes and I found myself in the middle of my old haunt with time on my hands. I walked around and found buildings that were unfamiliar and the sidewalks were grimy and scruffy. Even at seven in the morning there were too many people in Cubao.  And there is so much going on.  There is digging and construction around the Coliseum where a parking lot used to be, with a promise of more excitement in an already crowded, confusing and congested center.

But walking around the chaos that is Cubao, I felt a familiar energy, a verve that brought me back decades past when it was a manageable, clean and delightful activity hub. For a while there, I was a young woman on a date at New Frontier theater or the mini golf place, and a young mother buying my daughters’ books at Bookmark in Ali Mall and going through the bargain counter at the old Aguinaldo for dresses for my girls.  I peeked into Farmers’ Market and marveled at its wonderful array of fresh seafood, meats and flowers. I should go back there for purposeful marketing one day soon.

I will be back to try and embrace the new in Cubao and reacquaint myself with what is left of its charms.

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