The Lost Generation
It has been wisely put that the unexamined life is not worth a damn.
That’s the mood I am in as we residents of Philam Homes prepare to celebrate our Diamond Anniversary as a community. I am collating materials for the event, on this pleasantly cool morning, in my indoor garden at home where I like to paint; where fond memories of my father’s banter and laughter, and my mother’s aromatic cuisine are embedded in the earth, in the old teak table and the cracks in the adobe walls of this living enclosure. I find myself deep in thought and doing a lot of daydreaming, far from the maddening mall crowd and traffic jams that are slowly killing us.
Frankly, I couldn’t help feeling low upon reading the back issues of Philam Homeowners Association landmark publications and surfing through the hopes and dreams of the pioneers who chose to live here in the prime of their lives. Inevitably I got lost in reminiscing about a time and season long gone …
My, how Philam has changed: Gone are the days when all the houses were pretty, cozy bungalows that radiated warmth and egalitarian well-being; when the park was a place to stroll in and commune with nature; and when neighbors exuded a strong sense of camaraderie, talked to one another heartily and candidly over low fences. Those were the days—the mid ’50s to the early ’60s—when Philam Village was like an oasis of middle-class suburbia that had encroached on verdant agricultural and forest lands stretching from Highway ’54 (now Edsa) all the way to the Sierra Madre mountains in Tanay, Rizal.
Cars then were rare and so were buses: paralyzing “traffic gridlock” and “chokepoints” were not yet in our daily vocabulary of complaints. Red JD and yellow Halili buses charged a mere 10 centavos from the University of the Philippines where I started high school, to the rotunda of Quezon Avenue where I would get off to take a leisurely 1-kilometer walk to Philam.
The tallest buildings then were along the Escolta, the country’s premier shopping district. Being no more than 12 stories high, none could qualify as a skyscraper. The most popular movie houses were along Rizal Avenue and in Quiapo, such as Ideal, Ever, Avenue, and Times. All were air-conditioned and showed mostly American films. Except for a few low buildings, Makati at that time was largely undeveloped rice fields and pasture for carabaos. It was also home to a number of honky-tonk bars and sleazy salons that catered to American servicemen and young Filipino men out for a good time. Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas, formerly runways of Nielson Field, the country’s first international airport from 1945 to 1949, could still pass for runways.
Time moved slowly then because the drivers of contemporary modern life, the internet, iPhones, cell phones, and the social media had not yet been invented. We relied on the radio, newspapers, and the primitive networks of our bulky black and white TV sets for news and limited entertainment. The world was not yet interconnected by satellites, fiber optics and submarine cables—but on a personal level, we were much better connected.
Our president then was the charismatic Ramon Magsaysay, “the man of the people,” while an ocean away, an equally popular American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, presided over the affairs of the world’s most dominant superpower, as a cold war with rising communist rival, the Soviet Union, cast a darkening shadow over humanity.
The reds were on the rise the world over: Just 90 miles from Miami, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were poised to descend from Sierra Maestra with their armies and march on to Havana. In the UP campus it was fashionable to be a fire-breathing Marxist romantic at least till the age of reason (22). At Philam we had Fidel Agcaoili, a quiet lad who would later join Joe Ma. Sison’s Maoist guerillas.
Our generation danced to the beat of the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and Nat King Cole. And our gastronomic delights ranged from D & E and Max’s Fried Chicken on good days to the fast foods of Ma Mon Luk and Tropical Hut Burgers during most days. Yes, it was the best of times.
Now decades later, we find a new Philam: One being slowly encircled, indeed being squeezed by high-rise condominiums and office buildings along West Avenue and EDSA; where neighbors no longer talk to each other, separated as they are by high, unfriendly fences and outsized architectural differences; a park with an identity problem—part civic center layered mostly with unforgiving concrete and part garbage facility that assails our nostrils, as well as our sense of aesthetics; officials who are noted for their consistent failure to deliver on their promises; and a new generation of children with hardly any attachment to the community, preferring to lose themselves in a borderless cyber world where nothing is enduring amidst an ever-changing imagery of information, escapist games and the impersonal staccato chatter of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
It’s sad to note that our not-so-old world is disappearing right before our very eyes as consumerism consumes our very souls and scientific-technological advances unmoor us increasingly from the past and into a frightening new world that is producing both an angry, alienated youth and a lost generation of children who have become modern-day nomads—without any roots tying them to the community of their parents.
As the selfie generation slowly but inevitably replaces us, it is fitting to ask: Is there any “community” left and worthwhile celebrating ? Have we also become, suddenly, a lost generation?
Narciso Reyes Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an internationally published author, award-winning essayist and former diplomat.
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