April 11, 2011

Taking Cabanatuan City by the Horns (Part I)

I recently stumbled upon the old journal which I kept and updated during the three tumultuous months that I spent working on the streets of Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija and the adjacent towns. I came across this prized possession while rummaging through some old notes in my bedroom. Reading the journal made me realize how time really flies. It feels like it was only yesterday when I climbed a coconut tree the height of a four-story building. It feels like it was just hours ago when I first witnessed two horses fight while men, women and children around them cheer them on, all the while waving peso bills and placing their bets. I remember those experiences very well.

Back in September 2008, I went to Cabanatuan City to work, with my pen, pad paper, and brain (limited as it was back then) as the tools for my trade. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. There were a lot of reasons that made me decide to go. Saint Louis University was taking its toll on me. School wasn't that fun anymore. Being a student sucks. Period. It's clockwork. I wake up at 6 in the morning. I take a hypothermia-inducing shower. I go to school. I attend my 7;30 class. I go to the library to read but most of the time to sleep the class breaks away. I go home. I watch TV. I sleep. Tomorrow, I repeat the whole damn thing. I was a CLOCK. Nothing more, nothing less.

Things gravitated from mere boring to scary. Saint Louis University was rattled when a student was shot several times by a motorcycle-riding gunman. He died on the spot. His name was Jude and he was a good classmate and friend of mine. His death became the headlines of the local media for sometime as the hunt for justice ensued.

A few months passed. I took summer classes and barely got through them. The month of June came. More school work. More terror teachers to fear. More accounting books to pore over. More balance sheets to balance. I had a girlfriend and best friend back then, her name was Casio Calculator. More sleeping time at the school library. More time hanging out at the school corridors checking out the chicks in pink, the chicks in mini-skirts, the smart chicks, the dumb chicks, the way-out-of-my-league chicks, the beauty queen chicks and of course, the shy chicks. You know. The chicks who would rather retreat and take another route rather than pass by a bunch of grinning douchebags.

About halfway into the first semester, I was offered an opportunity I could not refuse. Some press media group was offering me a job in Cabanatuan City so I snatched it, no questions asked. It was about time I break the monotonous life, I said to myself back then. So I dropped out of Saint Louis University, packed my bags, said goodbye to family and friends, kissed my Casio Calculator goodbye, and off I went to Cabanatuan City.

Just like that. One day I was in a university classroom doodling emo hearts on a wooden armchair while a bespectacled professor blabbers about investments, stocks, bonds, financial instruments, blah, blah, blah. The next day I was on a bus speeding through endless rice fields to the province of Nueva Ecija. The slow-motion-of-a-life turned into a Jason Bourne movie. Fast-paced. Unpredictable. Mines everywhere. Ready to explode and take my bloody head off. Fortunately, I was more than up to it. SO CHALLENGE ACCEPTED. Let's rock and roll.

It was noon when I got off Cabanatuan City. And God, how hot it was. The whole city is one huge frying pan. A giant oven. A burning furnace. There's “Satan was here” written all over the place. Being the Baguio boy that I am, transitioning from the cool weather of the mountains to the heat of the lowlands was excruciating. I thought to myself, a few days under such heat will turn me into a giant roasted peanut. So there I was at the bus stop. Pouring precious mineral water over my head. Being laughed at by a cluster of tricycle drivers. Hoping to hear my cellphone ring. Waiting instead for that someone who was supposed to be there waiting for me.

“Sir, galing ka Baguio?” a man in his early 40's approached and asked me this question. It was the first time I was ever called “Sir” by someone besides sales persons in malls and drugstores. It was awkward being called “Sir” by a man a lot older than you. If I'm not mistaken, I was only 20 or 21 years old back then.

“Opo.” I replied.

“Mr. Feliciano?” he asked again.

“Opo.” I replied.

To cut the story short, the man turned out to be the regional supervisor of the press group I'm going to work for for the next three months. So he took me to their offices and a meeting was called on our behalf. I found out that I wasn't the only new hire there. There were about 10 of us, all of us not from the province of Nueva Ecija. I'm the only one from Baguio City. One is from Kabayan, Benguet. All the others came from places like Pangasinan, Ilocos, Isabela and one even came all the way from Samar. Imagine that.

So the meeting was held. We were oriented on the specifics and requirements of the job. We were given copies of a list of who's who in Cabanatuan City and all the nearby towns. The names of the politicians from the Congressman down to the barangay tanods. The names, addresses and contact numbers of the most significant establishments in the area like shopping malls, diners, markets, schools, universities, churches, bus stations, etc.

Part II coming soon. If the directions of the wind doesn't change.

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