A good time was had last Tuesday when my two brothers along with two nephews and a niece journeyed up north. My elder brother (here for a short vacation like myself) visited the final resting place of his US Navy mentor and friend, Andy. We then went to Subic, then Olongapo. Here we spent many summer holidays back when were little kids.
The first stop was Angeles where we met Cecil, Andy’s sister. He held the rank of master chief, the highest among enlisted personnel. He was not only accomplished Filipino in his field, he was, according to my brother, the kindest person he ever met. The kinda guy that would drop what he’s doing if someone needs his help.
Andy recently retired, bought a beautiful house near the San Fernando-Angeles border. He started sending boxes after boxes of his stuff from the US: chandeliers, Japanese furniture, even a wooden mini bar. Everything was waiting for him—what he had is how every OFW imagine how their careers to end. Retire back home, surrounded by loveones, living in the dream lofty house decorated with personal effects culled from memorable trips. Sadly, tragedy struck. During one of his usual runs, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was only 51.
Some of the boxes he sent from the states are there in his garage, left unboxed, waiting to be opened. It was so sad to see.
After Angeles, we headed straight to SCTEX. Passing by Clark airfield and some of the best views of the peaks and valleys of Central Luzon. The kids were awed by mountains carved to make way for roads. Our driver, Jesse, who worked in Subic for two years said the entire project was supervised by the Japanese. The guy turns out to be a conspiracy theorist nut like myself. He said the Japanese took on the project so they can look for buried treasures. Of course, there’s absolutely no proof of that but it’s fun to talk about nonsense if you have nothing to do.
Travel time was way longer in the 80’s but you get to pass all the busy towns. Now, Olongapo and Subic doesn’t feel that far of. The access has brought some economic benefits to locals. We kid our mother who practically gave her lots in the area to relatives (who doesn’t even know who she is) to take those back!
After eating our lunch in one of Subic’s restos along its scenic shoreline, we headed straight to another navy buddy of my brother. Navy servicemen are common in the area because Subic back then (when they still have the US port base) allowed Filipino recruits. Many of the young locals did join and some of them went back to retire.
I got really excited seeing the color coded jeepneys still plying the streets. As they say then, only an idiot get lost in Olongapo. If you don’t know how to read, all the jeeps are color coded.
We used to go to the busy wet market and see US servicemen buying local goods. When night time comes, the streets comes alive with all the a-go-go clubs neon lights. You see drunk American men then hanging on to their Pinay companions. One thing about the town is that almost all roads leads back to the main road.
Our house was in Balic-Balic and I remember being woke up by the thundering sound of fighter jets going around. The noise made the glasses in our small kitchen shake (we live uphill).
My Aunt Lydia’s husband worked as an engineer in Subic then. He would always bring back home some sweet goodies from the base. Back then, they have stores there selling merchandise for US servicemen. Everything of course was “estaytsayd”. The sweets and chocolates I tasted then are the ones I go for today (snickers and M&Ms). I never got to see the inside of Subic during those times. All I saw then was its gates guarded by US military men whenever we pass by.
Spending time in Olongapo is probably the reason why I love nature. I have a profound appreciation of our natural environment because I enjoyed it as a child. We used to bathe in Mabayuan (a tributary of Sta. Rita river) during my summer vacations back in the 80’s. While we’re at it, we would catch these almost invisible fresh water shrimps. My cousin Jean, who now lives in the US, uses her long skirt to net this fast little crustaceans. The water was so clear then, people would wash dishes and clothes there. Whenever I hear the sound of water flowing stream, I get transported back to those sweet childhood memories.