One of the things I planned to do as soon as the lockdown was lifted and we could drive around to the neighboring province of Laguna was to visit the Univesity of the Philippines in Los Banos, my alma mater. Haven’t been there for almost two decades now, and seeing old pictures posted by alumni friends (who also longed to visit as well) made me determined to check out what’s changed and what has not.
I braced myself for the many changes that my uni friends warned me about. En route to the university, I hardly blinked and was wide-eyed, trying to recall places I once knew so well. My heart sank when I couldn’t see the red unique rock formation at Calamba, on the way to Los Banos. I texted my old roommate and a friend asking if it was still there – I was aghast they couldn’t even remember it. Was I the only one who looked out for it everytime I made my way to and from UPLB, amazed at that towering slab of red rock and wondering how it was even formed every single time I saw it looking back at me from the distance?
The Maria Makiling statue as we used to enter Los Banos seemed gone. Or was I second guessing myself looking at where I thought it was? I recall it’a a few meters past the sharp curve near the Los Banos town. I used to hear ghost stories pertaining to that statue. To be fair it did look eerie especially at night…I wonder if the kids now just hear about it as an urban legend.
And since I was in the mood to feel like I was 18 once again, I played the Eraserhead’s Shake Yer Head from my Spotify. D vaguely remembered that song while I knew it well. It was, after all, the song that was played for me and my girlfriend from outside the dorm window, from guy friends who sang their hearts out while someone strummed the guitar. It was the first and last time I’ve been sang to in harana (serenade) style. T’was the wee hours following one of the Thursday gimmick nights that most people I knew at the time would look forward to as the highlight of our week.
We almost didn’t make it in campus, as it was still closed to tourists. So when we were allowed to enter we promised to be quick and just drove around. Seeing the old buildings brought me back in time. I proudly showed D the College of Economics and Management where I graduated from. And then I played tour guide and pointed to the Biosci, Physci, and Humanities buildings. When we passed by the Library I couldn’t believe looking back now the way up to the building wasn’t so steep after all! I used to complain going up the Library was a bit of an effort. Now it wasn’t so bad at all – it almost looked too easy to walk up to.
The Baker Hall was probably one of my favorite buildings because this was where I took my more fun classes: swimming and modern jazz. This served as a venue for the Drill Night (which will be be another topic for blogging altogether) and some concerts during my time. My academic organization and sorority also held sports tournaments here.
Nearby is the Freedom Park where the UPLB Carillon stands, as well as the infamous Fertility Tree. I remember using the bell sounds from the Carillon to tell the time as my dorm was just a few hundred meters away.
Life was simpler back then, and an idea of a fun night with friends could be running around the field on a game of tag, or doing cartwheels on the grass, or just sitting under the stars singing, telling stories, or having a game where the winner would be the one to catch sight of the most number of shooting stars.
As we left the campus I made a mental note to definitely go back and have a proper walk around. Pre-COVID, my friends and I have always wanted to go back there as a group. Hopefully not in the distant future. One things’s for sure – that 15 minute ride around UPLB brought a lot of happy 90s memories.