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The GL of My Childhood
I am a child of the 60s. I grew up in a sleepy town called General Luna (nowadays more popularly known as GL), one of the nine municipalities in the island of Siargao, in Surigao Del Norte, Mindanao, Philippines.
Up to my elementary years until the time we left this place for a bigger (and supposedly greener) city, there were only three jeepneys, the most common form of transportation in my country, plying the un-cemented roads. Very few people can afford to buy a motorcycle. I can vividly remember one of these jeepneys was named Moon Dragon. To this day, I don’t know why people pronounced it mundragon (accent on the ‘gon part, please). The jeepneys’ schedule was so erratic and unpredictable that people would prefer to travel either by boat or on foot, or miss an appointment altogether.
Travelling by boat was a scary affair. We used to live in a remote barrio where my parents used to teach, and every time we needed to go to the town proper by sea, we would pass by this place called Tuwason, so called because we have to go through huge, as in cathedral-huge, waves (in our dialect “tuwas”) to be able to go to the other side. And sometimes, especially during the monsoon season from the months of November to February, boats would capsize resulting to deaths. So, if it wasn’t a real necessity, we would avoid travelling at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.
While this place was devoid of material comfort, we had so much fun. We used to own a pump boat, and one of my earliest childhood memories was being awakened by our parents at dawn, all four of us sleepy siblings, so we can go ride the motorboat, complete with left-over steamed rice from the night before, boiled camote (sweet potato) and plantain, vinegar, and some spices, to meet the fishermen returning from the coast with their catch. We would eat our breakfast in the middle of the ocean, with us siblings teasing and poking each other until someone will start a fight, and someone almost always ended up crying and another one being scolded.
Harvest time was always the highlight of our year, it being always on summer days, and school is on vacation. Together with our cousins, our parents would let us harvest rice – all that we can! – so that we can have our “produce” exchanged with bibingka (rice cakes), puto, lidgid and budbod. And then all of us children would gather together and have an impromptu picnic in the middle of the rice field.
I remember the times when the whole town would seem to be in a deep slumber from Monday to Saturday, and it would come alive only on Sundays. Early mornings would be spent taking a bath (no shower, just a pail and a dipper for water fetched from a neighbor’s well), then at around 6:00, we would hear the church bell ringing, calling all the faithful to gather for Mass. It was one big social event for everyone, when we got to meet everyone else, and some would get to display their new shoes, or new dress. Afterwards, we would go home, and have the “breakfast special,” which would, in our household at least, include pan de totoy, a local bread formed like a woman’s breast, totoy being the local dialect for it, and hot milk. In the afternoon, about 70% of the adult male population would gather in the cockpit for buyang (sabong in Tagalog, or cockfighting). Our father, who wasn’t into gambling, would bring us there nevertheless because he would buy us foods which were abundantly sold there. All of us children would go home with our pockets full of goodies and happy, contented tummies.
We were not strangers to typhoons. We were visited by typhoons many times a year, and although when I got older I can imagine the horrors the adults felt every time a typhoon is coming, it was always fun times for us children. Classes were suspended, and since the surrounding land in our church was always flooded, it became our instant swimming pool for a few days.
And then there was this time when a small plane almost crushed in our town. The whole town buzzed with excitement the next morning, each person with a different version of how it happened. If you must know, we never get visitors riding in planes those days, never mind if it was just the plane we saw, not the passengers.
Ladies wearing bikinis were a very strange sight to us. And so it was that one family was on vacation from USA, and they were taking a swim in the sea in front of our school. The whole school, from Grades 1 to 6 were in the seashore, ogling at this family, for one whole morning. The teachers couldn’t stop us. And who knows, maybe they were also taking a peep themselves!
Such a simple, uncomplicated life.
Nowadays, if you go to GL, it is a different story.
Most of the roads are concreted now. Bridges are built to connect barangays (small villages). And certainly, there are more vehicles plying the roads now. You can travel anywhere in the interconnecting municipalities. All over the place, you will see resorts sprouting like mushrooms. You will see bars in almost every corner, some gaudy, some tacky, and some a little posh.
It is now home to Siargao Annual Surfing competition participated in by people from diverse backgrounds and nationalities. Seeing a foreigner, even one clad in a skimpy bikini, is not unusual. Hearing different languages is very common. Hobnobbing with white-skinned people is the norm. Thousands of tourists, including big-time celebrities, visit this town every year to see the white sand, practice their surf skills, taste the local culinary delights of seafood and fresh produce, and yes, even eat pan de totoy. Though nowadays, in keeping with the times, they baptized it with a new name: pan de surf.
Tuwason is not the scary place anymore. It is the most visited area in our town now, what with it being the center of all surfing activities. It is full of noise, of blaring music, of people, of TV, and all other cacophony of sounds.
Ah, GL. You have long ago ceased to be the sleepy town of my youth. You have changed. And although I cannot bring you back to where you once were, in my heart, you will always be where I belong. See you soon.