Strawberries, swan boats, and sunshine are usually what comes to mind when we think of Baguio City. But in the four years of my life as a resident in the City of Pines, what I remember most clearly is the rain. Come to think of it, the rainfall probably pushed back all my other memories into a haze; still, I’ll try my best to recall some of the best and worst moments of my life in Baguio City.
I remember, with a clarity that still makes me shiver, the day I settled in Baguio City. It was a week or so before the start of my first semester at the University of the Philippines – Baguio. As this was well before the time that the academic calendar shifted, I’m pretty sure that this happened in the month of June.
Sixteen-year-old me walked into what was about to be my dorm for the next two semesters. Little did I know that that dorm would be my first failed choice of accommodation out of the eight other dorms and apartments that followed. I thought I’d stay in this purple dorm, but I had many wrong assumptions — including this one.
After my mother helped me unpack my bags, she kissed me goodbye and cried. I remember that it was raining that day, and that I couldn’t believe I was about to spend a year on my own before I could return to my hometown. This was my second wrong assumption — six months later, I decided I wanted to stay in Baguio longer.
It didn’t take me long to get used to the gloomy weather in the city. Within the first week of my life in Baguio, I’d already managed to power through it with the help of my roommates. One rainy evening, we found ourselves — all dressed in the thickest jackets and cheapest pairs of slippers we owned — in the Baguio night market. An upperclassman offered to accompany us to this magical place where we could apparently shop for raincoats, denim jackets, and boots at the cheapest price. We heard that the best way to bargain with the vendors was to speak to them in the local dialect. Thus, I spoke in the flimsiest Ilocano ever: Mano daytoy, manang?
After our first successful shopping spree, the Baguio night market became a monthly habit for us. Sometimes, we went home with bags of clothes in hand: A stylish Levi’s denim jacket for ₱50. A sturdy pair of Doc Martens for ₱400. Some cheesy boots with the fur that were sold at ₱120.
Other nights, we went home empty-handed, but with our stomach full. We’d skip dinner to feast on the night market street food. Cheese corn. Shawarma. Mooncakes. Crispy chicken skin. Calamares. Mami. Isaw. After the countless times we’d spent at this place, we became better shoppers. In just a few months, we learned everything — from chasing after pickpockets to inspecting stains amid the dark and drizzling sky.
Coffee and sinanglaw
By my third year in college, I’d outgrown my obsession for thrifted sweaters. Instead, my energy was focused on my newfound affinity for journalism. I’d spend most of my time in Luisa’s Café, sipping on my brewed coffee while reading the Baguio Midland Courier. Sometimes, I spent the passing hours people-watching from the second-floor windows. It was at this old-school café where I met several veteran journalists. Many of them were usually huddled over buckets of beer and packs of cigarettes, trying to drink and smoke the cold away.
Other days, I was too tired to walk down Session Road. So, I’d drop by Mount Cloud instead. There, I’d splurge my allowance on another book that would distract me from finishing my actual readings. Once my stomach grumbled, I’d head to the neighbouring carinderia to order some sinanglaw and coffee. Again, the perfect combination for a rainy day.
All things mainstream, and not
Non-residents view Baguio City in a different way than the locals do. Aside from the complaints against crowds and traffic, many tourists love putting the city on a pedestal. For non-residents, Baguio City is merely the perfect summer getaway, a fun vacation away from the otherwise blistering Philippine sun. But to locals, and even to many short-time residents like myself, the city isn’t just an escape. It’s our home.
Life in Baguio City is more complex than words can explain. Nevertheless, I will try to describe it even more: The city is a place of happiness and joy; but also, of constant, lingering nostalgia. Life here is unhurried, steady, sweet. It forces you to slow down every so often — especially when you realise that none of your freshly laundered clothes are dry yet.
Baguio is a soft reminder of a forgotten sense of humanity. In this city, stop lights and pedestrian lanes are respected, and taxi drivers are always ready to give back your change in full.
Years after moving back to my hometown, the rain still reminds me of the deafening repose of Baguio. It reminds me of the slippery pavements and the flooded hills. Of the sweet cacao, Benguet coffee, and piping hot mami. Indeed, Baguio City offers something different to each soul. To me, it offered the beauty of life amid the endless rain.
Featured image credit: John Lorenz Tajonera | Unsplash.