Tuesday, September 4, 2007
It has been six months since I set foot in Baguio's premier park. Today, I visited it again only to be disappointed with how much it has changed in the past years. My Alternative (school pub) family decided to stroll around the place and relax for awhile after final exam week.
As for me, I needed a respite after my thesis defense which turned out with good results I presume since my panelists were all flapping their ears as to how well prepared are my answers to their queries. I also painstakingly finished a couple of exams today.
Our group decided to take the shortcut by traversing along Melvin Jones football field much to my disappointment. I am wearing my purple long sleeved polo with necktie, black slacks and jacket and leather shoes---in all my semi-formal glory---crossed a long muddy track. My shoes were all filled with mud stains all over. Not to mention the feeling of sinking in quicksand and having a hard time pulling my shoes off the mud hole. I blame the mud holes to motor vehicles park authorities allow inside the field thinking that the football field is one big race track. What a shame! And now all the carabao grass covering the vast expanse of the field almost died or thinned out leaving some areas barren. During the rainy season (which all of us in Baguio are experiencing today), the barren areas of the field turn into mud holes that will leave your shoes, slippers (even if it's havaianas) and boots stuck in the middle of the field. Just look at the pictures I have posted above.
Now back to the park issue, the once pristine lake is now silt filled and overflowing with plastic wrappers from careless visitors. Foreign and domestic tourist however do not mind the stench coming from the lake's murky waters. I even saw some of my classmates riding the for-rent-boats on the lake. Sad to say, the once favorite hangout of Baguio residents is now starting to deteriorate. I hope local authorities will start paying attention on the park and improve its offered frills in order to entice more tourists to visit the city of pines.
I read over Baguio Midland Courier (who hasn't updated their site contents lately)on its 98th Charter issue that there is a move to rehabilitate other hangouts in the park like the children's playground. Well, I think this is a good move for the city council because it will draw back the children as well as families back to visit the park.
However, Burnham park still has other thrills other than the usual wholesome family activities. As the sun sets in the park, while other people start to head for their homes (as for the tourists:hotel rooms), another part of the park is just starting on its set of "activities".
Local voyeurs and cruising gay guys (my sistahs) start to converge in the dimly lighted area which they call Rainforest near the skating rink of the park. Ask the Burnham locals and they will surely know where this hidden lover's lane is located. They would even gladly discuss to you what happens inside the dimly lighted area of the park. (Guess what? Hehe!)
One time as a curious gay guy, I bravely went to this place as part of my feature writing class to interview a call boy or a cruiser. Luckily, I found Ben (not his real name)and the rest of his story was published in The Alternative newsletter developmental communication page which won 1st Place in the 2007 Luzonwide Press Conference in Tagaytay City out of more than 45 entries. Here's Ben's story:
An Encounter with a Nocturnal Soul
He is a nocturnal human being. He wakes up at three in the afternoon and starts his daily routine. Dressing up in a preppy-looking hairstyle, tight-fitting shirt and hip-hugging jeans, Ben (not his real name), a nineteen year-old guy, would be mistaken for a print ad model. With his dark Moreno charm and captivating smile he would leave women and even men drooling. He would then scour the dark alleys and dimly-lighted corners of Burnham Park like a carnivorous feline searching for his prey. His target for the day is not a woman to court nor his girlfriend, but men like him. Ben is just one of the dozens of male prostitutes loitering around the city’s famous parks.
As a hopeful high school graduate in 2004, looking for a job in Baguio was the only answer to his family’s needs. He left his deprived family in the province and looked for greener pastures in the City of Pines, but to no avail. He was left jobless and depressed. It was during his lowest point in life where he doesn’t want to go home in the province with an empty pocket. He was walking along Burnham Park when he met two guys who were just like him. They became friends and they suggested to him a job they said would earn money without a sweat.
“Sabi ng dalawang kaibigan ko noon mabilis at madaling pagkakakitaan ang trabahong alam nila”, he wearily said. “Akala ko mag-waiter ako noon sa isang restaurant kaya sabi ko payag ako. Wala kasi akong pagpipilian noon eh”, he added.
They were a group of six, barely knowing the names of his other companions they headed for their next destination in Maharlika building. His friends told him to wear nice clothes and spray perfume all over his body. They said its part of the package. One of his newly-found friends introduced him to a gay salon hairdresser. Only then he knew that he was not going to be a waiter after all.
“Pinilit lang nila ako kasi nandidiri talaga ako noon, pero inisip ko na lang na kailangan ko ng pera”, he said. “Pero noong natikman ko na, masarap din pala, kaya pinag-enjoyan ko na ang mga bading… wala namang nakakakilala sa akin sa Baguio ”, he jokingly added.
He started to enjoy the job because he earns. At around nine in the evening he starts to walk in the dimly lighted path walks of the park staring at every prospect that passes by conversing with them like a sensor scanning if they would hire his special services or not. Doing the job almost every night for two years now makes him an expert on distinguishing who’s a good paying customer or not.
There are times when they are mistaken as best buds like they have never seen each other for a long time. Some of his parokyano are can hardly be distinguished if they’re homosexuals or not. But most of the time, Ben admits that the long-haired, cross-dressing ones are his daily customers. He added that they pay well too. They even add tips if he does something extra special to them like hold their hands or kiss them in public.
Ben would earn about three hundred per customer for short time quickies in the nooks and crannies of the park. “Yung mga hindi na talaga makahintay, diyan na lang sa sulok-sulok na madilim puwede na”, he uttered with a forced laughter. But most of the time most of his customers like to check-in in the numerous inns and lodges in the city that offer short time rentals. “Hindi ko tinatagalan kasi kailangan makarami ako sa isang gabi hanggang umaga”. He added.
One time, his father visited him in the rented house with his fellow callboys. “Sabi ko sa tatay ko nagtratrabaho ako sa SM sa isang restaurant dito”, he said. His father believed him and even wished him luck in his job. He also sends money to his other siblings in the province. He never forgets to send money for them because he knows they really need it there.
However, his job as a male poseur always comes with danger. The danger of contracting Sexually Transmitted Diseases and abusive customers are just few of the perils he has to face each day. He would remember then when a policeman whom he thought would catch him was also gay and just wants him for free.
“Hindi ko makalimutan noon yung pulis eh. Papalapit siya noon akala ko huhulihin niya ako pero bakla pala siya. Mga edad 38 hanggang 40 siguro siya. Tinira niya ako…bakla pala siya”, he disgustingly answered. Ben was hesitant to narrate the rest of his experience with the policeman.
Ben is just one of the many poor people being thrown into difficult situations because of joblessness and extreme poverty. Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. Many people still do it in order to feed themselves and their family. How many more are just like Ben hiding in the dark corners of parks hooking up with customers? For now, Ben still continues to be a nocturnal creature. Walking along the parks, he continues to listlessly glance at every person that might need his services in order to satisfy their uncontrollable urges and sexual fantasies.
It's actually a common call boy story but I believe the lessons of this story is skin deep. It will pierce one's soul and explain why some people because of poverty will sacrifice everything in order to eke out money for the day.
Here's a poem I've written about Burnham Park and Ben:
Malalim na ang gabi
Pauwi na ang mga tao
Siguro ay hinog na ang panahon
Para lakarin ang Burnham Park.
Sigurado’y tiba-tiba ang kita.
tamisan ang pananalita
para maraming parokyano
ang muling maaki’t madala
sa matipunong katawan
at mapanlinlang na dila.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.This policy is valid from 17 May 2007 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.This policy is valid from 17 May 2007