“No class today!” This sentence always calls for a celebration–sometimes even among teachers.
So when our Comp Lit 370 professor announced this via text, my classmates and I (with respectable teaching posts at the UP, Ateneo, UST) rejoiced and went on with our own Saturday plans (which normally, this semester, would be spent at SM Mall of Asia, discussing provoking stories of Philippine history and culture at Delifrance, over a cup of coffee).
Mine was to visit the oldest university in Southeast Asia, since it was just a walk away from our place in Blumentritt, so I texted classmate Rai who teaches at the University of Sto. Tomas to take me there. He was game!
While walking along Dapitan, the street at the back of UST, he started his rather historical tour, like a curator with hundreds of wonderful tales to go with cultural artifacts. Dapitan, he explained, is metaphorically named; while España (Hail to the King!) sits in front of the Univesity like Mother of the Enlightenment and well-deserved facade of grace and honor, Dapitan (Rizal’s exile town in the far South of the Philippines) is hiding at the shadows of the once Spanish-reigned institution of higher learning.
I was wearing ultra-short shorts and sandals then so entry into their library was prohibited. I imagine myself an excommunicado. Viva Filipinas! Rai was patient, told his friend messenger that’s how we dress up in la Unibersidad de Pilipinas. So we bid him sweet adios. Then went on sailing, sailing around. That’s when I noticed how schizophrenic UST could be.
One place is mystical (botanical garden), another is purely logical (symmetrically designed buildings); one spot is royal (as in the hall of rector and vice rectors), the next is commercial (fastfood-aligned corner); European architecture here, Filipino murals there; dark “haunted” alleys in, sun-washed cobblestone covered walk out. Latin phrases up, Pinoy signages down.
In sociology we call this indeterminate space. An area whose identity or character a passerby or a tourist would not or could not decide upon. Perhaps a pastiche of all sorts of previous styles mingling with modern ones?
Quiapo would grab the crown of indeterminacy, though.
But, if anything, the fountains are a spectacle. They’re digital. And they spring from and drain into inconspicuous holes on the ground level. Do I sound like a kid showing her new toy now? How I wanted to run, actually, across the fountain that’s creating a pool on the concrete floor and play hit and miss with the choreographed water. But rationality got the better of me.
So we gleefully went on–to the Museum next. Such exquisite collection of the country’s heart and soul they’re keeping there. Philippine culture I want to say.
Rai could pass for a curator when he toured me around the museum that houses (more than antique collection of santo) preserved faura and fauna (like those in UPLB Natural Museum of History), tools and accesories that one could prety much find in the National Museum, and-my favorite–the chair used by Pope John Paul II when he visited the Philippines when I was elementary.
Then out we went onto the sunlit park, in front of the oldest building of the university that is turning 400, to take pictures of modern people occupying schizophrenic space.