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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

A street for walking

Outside of the UP Diliman campus, and other than the still lovely streets of Ermita and Malate in Manila, Tandang Sora Avenue is my favorite street for walking through, especially in the early morning just as the sun rises, casting the trees, grass (yes, there’s still grass) and the ivy creeping on garden walls (and there are still garden walls) with an ethereal patina of gold; and at dusk when “purple shades at eventide” remind you of lost loves while you listen to Vic Damone and smile, and not get run over by a bus. Or get stabbed by a drug-crazed holdup man.

Tandang Sora Avenue is, in short, still a “provincial” road in this bustling metropolis, with its high-rise condominiums that block the sky and monstrous billboards of tarpaulin tacked on metal structures that are also used for staging suicides by those who have chosen the only way out of desperation.

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Tandang Sora Avenue is still what pedestrians call a “friendly street” with only four lanes— which means that as long as you keep in mind what you learned in Grade 1 (look left and right, and left and right again), you can cross the avenue even with your grandchildren holding on to both your hands, because the passing vehicles give you enough space and time to get across, more so if you’re a senior citizen.

And there are still trees along its length, trees you have known since childhood: mango, sampaloc, acacia, camias, offering fruits that anybody can pick. On a vacant lot I have found several trees of malunggay, one of my favorite vegetables, and the owner, a friendly old lady tells me to get all I need, “kahit araw-arawin mo.”

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I have walked this avenue right from where it starts at Mindanao Avenue down (or up) to where it joins Commonwealth Avenue, its “killer” opposite, and I made a wonderful discovery: even if you will never, ever, in your lifetime, venture into such a cruel, violent territory as Commonwealth, this necessary consequence of urban existence, you will survive without ever leaving Tandang Sora Avenue.

This is because it has everything you need for a reasonably civilized existence, and a good wet market where it is easy to make friends with your “suki,” who are trustworthy enough you can even leave your bag of groceries with them all the time you’re at Mercury Drug for your supply of vitamins and the latest issues of your favorite magazines, which you browse through while sipping fresh buko water straight from the shell.

Along with “ukay-ukay” outlets I also came upon a “used items” store selling aparadors and platerias of narra and other hardwoods, that could have been used by residents of that abandoned genteel old house somewhere along this still genteel street; and where there are shelves of Chinese and Japanese porcelain and stoneware (I gifted myself with an authentic Chinese stoneware teapot, a real antique piece at a give-away price of P100, and for reasons unknown to me, it gave me the best-tasting brew I have had so far), and an original, outdated Yamaha organ that must have been lovingly taken care of by its owner as it still plays perfectly well.

Soon the branch of a popular mall, now under construction, will open along with my favorite hardware store. And the Internet signal is very good even at peak hours.

Standing on my favorite spot early in the morning across the street from a beautiful tamarind tree that never runs out of fruit and an ever-flowering mango tree, I find that it is such a delight to watch vendors as they pass by pushing their caritons of garden-fresh vegetables and fruits (from which you can buy your pick at a third of the market price).

And along the avenue is a Muslim community known as Salam Compound, spread over almost two hectares of land purchased with money donated, I understand, by Moammar Gadhafi’s government; and where Tausug, Maguindanao and Maranao live together, and their affairs  kept in order by an advisory council that attends to such matters as maintaining peace and order and keeping track of the residents. It is an excellent “laboratory” for students, social scientists and people like me who want to study the consequences and social impact on the metropolis, of what I call the “Mindanao Diaspora.”

This entire year, Quezon City is celebrating the 200th birth anniversary of Melchora Aquino or Tandang Sora, heroine of the Philippine Revolution, in whose honor the avenue is named. One of the projects to mark the year-long celebration is the “sprucing up” of Barangay Tandang Sora, for which Mayor Herbert Bautista deserves credit.

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I noticed some activity on my favorite avenue, which could be part of its widening and repair, which is all very good, especially that area between the New Era Elementary School (where children of whatever religion can go to school for free) and the compound of a top broadcast network (where unsightly structures have encroached on a lane that schoolchildren have to walk through especially when traffic is at its heaviest. It is an accident waiting to happen).

But whatever you do Mayor Bautista, please don’t ever, ever change the “character” of Tandang Sora Avenue. Get rid of those unsightly and dangerous shanties, but please leave the avenue as it is, a provincial four-lane road where humongous buses are not allowed and where people can still cross the street and stay alive, and take a walk at dusk without being mugged or raped.

(This column, my first after Sir Gani’s passing, is my way of saying not goodbye, but of expressing my gratitude for having known him in my lifetime—a boss, a brother, a friend, who understood and gave me the privilege of writing this way. You will never be forgotten.)

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TAGS: Metro, Tandang Sora Avenue, Walking
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