one of the surest signs of the intellectual degeneracy of this city is the lack of any bookstores. there are virtually no freestanding businesses with their own spaces that sell only books. there are a few shops which have books, but they mainly sell school supplies, greeting cards, toys, and other small paraphernalia. what few books that are sold usually are those cheap secondhand paperback romance and thriller novels. and these shops, such as they are, have been dwindling in numbers. there was one maybe seven or eight years ago, near where i went to high school. it occupied the whole portion of the left part of a much larger building. it had glass sides and doors. they sold those cheap toys made in china. i remember it was airconditioned and all the cool kids in high school would hang out there.
this city where i went to high school takes pride in its historical significance. it was once a center for trade maybe hundreds of years ago, before the time of the spaniards. but it’s hard to be culturally proud of a place when all you see are these images of poverty. daily i saw dirty streets, child beggars, and aimless, jobless people probably from other cities and provinces ambling about. of course this is just me and my penchant for looking only at the negative things. but to balance out this narrative, i should also say that there are excellent eating places there. there are also supposedly wonderful tourist attractions – waterfalls, marshes, mountains, etc., they were promoting the place, at least the surrounding places as natural wonders. my peculiar vantage point is that i am not really a part of this city. i live far away from its heart, a less-than-an-hour trip away in a small and sleepy municipality that has lost its charm and color.
this literal and metaphorical distance is solidified by the roads. that is, the feeling arose from the streets that i traversed daily. sitting inside the clunky and rusty public vehicles called jeepneys, thought it’s really called by those who commute in it daily ‘jeep.’ what thoughts that went through my head all those hours inside those vehicles i abhor from recalling now. partly because there is a point when dredging through old memories that it just becomes too painful, and partly because it is just too tedious and pointless. some images would include the coconut trees on both sides of the road, then followed by the rice paddies, then some banana fields. whatever could have brought me close to that place never did.
so when the time comes for its destruction, when fires from heaven and from under the earth would begin devouring it, i would not be bothered. seeing the few houses there, mansions and castles really, of the rich and the politically influential, i think it’s just what it needs. i have imagined several scenarios of how this would come about. last year, there was the news of the largest crocodile in captivity of the world being captured in an adjacent province. this set my mind-gears turning, and i wrote a still unfinished story about how a radioactive accident occurring in the pacific ocean would lead to the birth several decades later of a huge reptilian monster the size of three iconic New York skyscrapers. a lot like Godzilla, but a political Godzilla/monster. it is of course, environmentally conscious and is left-wing. it can see itself sympathizing with the almost half a century long militant communist struggle in the country. this is relevant since the news says that the center of the communist insurgency has now shifted into this region. it would sniff out first the rich and influential families that has claimed the lands of this region as their very own personal playground. it would stomp down with its righteous reptilian foot the pink mansions, the white-tiled houses, all those cars and helicopters and vehicles, while their owners are in them.
a flood would be more realistic. the mighty river traversed by the widely-celebrated bridge, occasionally overflows from its banks whenever the rain falls too hard and too fast. decades of illegal logging, supported of course by whatever clan is in power, in the mountains surrounding the city has rendered the soil of the slopes weak, and however numerous the tree-planting programs they may make, it would still take several decades for the measure to take noticeable effect. i have witnessed several floods in that city the whole time i was there. tricycles would wade through the water-logged streets from the terminals on to the gates of the high school to deliver their student passengers, of whom i was once a member. i have walked through dirty, mud-brown urban waters in which and upon which are floating the various garbage of the city – plastic bottles, cellophane, junk food containers, small plastic things, flip-flops, a single shoe, dead animals, and who knows what other filth.
however it may try to connect with an alleged past, the effort is ultimately futile. i think that part of the reason of the numerous misfortunes this patch of the earth has faced is because of the forgetting of the old gods. oh how the priests and scholars rejoice and claim that this is the place where the first mass occurred, where catholicism first alighted among all the islands in this archipelago. what they are celebrating really is the death of the ancient gods. if this place truly once was a bustling commercial port-city, then it would be nearly correct to assume that a moderate level of spiritual and cultural development has occurred, and that there were gods involved, as is the pattern in all the other indigenous cultures in these islands. they must have been nature-gods, gods of hunting, weather, fertility, birth, death, the other-world. and they all were wiped out when the spaniards came and the colonial state structure was imposed, laid upon the ancient bedrock, ultimately erasing it from the collective consciousness. now these people, these proud citizens of this city wander around proclaiming a culture that isn’t even theirs.
so i am thinking of starting a cult. a revival cult. though what this cult would look like i don’t have a clue. what it would be at the very least is an attempt to separate from the traditional roman catholic point of view. maybe we could be buddhist, since evidence has shown the presence of influence of hindu-buddhist culture in this region. or not. who would we worship? the giant radioactive communist reptile of course.