Thursday, March 22, 2007

SURVIVAL (Chapter 3)

There the fountains of knowledge open themselves up for brave questers, multiplying wisdom, opening up the gateways to (intellectual) riches and providing a complete armory that will sure to take our student to the challenges that come at every level.

June 1991. I was finally on my own.

Armed with only my clothes and the digital umbilical cord to Mama that is her phonenumber (and maybe the phone book), I embarked on one of the most challenging adventures (and misadventures) of my lifetime—university life. The prospects are both exciting and frightening.
Keeping body and soul together, plus getting good grades in ehem, the flagship campus of the premier state university, can be as formidable as any adventures that we see in Indiana-Jones movies.

My objective: get that diploma. Better yet, get that diploma with honors. Time limit: four or five years.

Surviving the Diliman Republic required strategy, skills, passion and of course, the will to survive.

My weapons were mostly my guts, determination and of course my superior intelligence (I made it to the University of the Philippines, didn't I?). I had to be familiar with the terrain: know where the stuff vital to my survival were located—sample exams and the like, for instance.

I had to know who my allies and team members were. They were supposed to be my blockmates, my block handlers, adviser, and supposedly, my professors. Conversely, I had to know who my enemies were.

Sounded like hard work? You bet.

I was like in a totally different civilization. Culture shocked is the more precise word. From a very conservative society, I was left in a totally liberated place, alone.

I can remember clearly how I survived. I had this survival list in my mind which I always carried with me on my adventures in UP that until now I can still vividly remember.

My Survival List In U.P.:

List 1. Food equals money.
I oftentimes survived my breakfast, lunch and dinner on fishballs, isaw and instant noodles.

The campus was abundant with food. From the all-time favorite fishballs to vegan fare, food sources were everywhere, in varied forms as ambulant vendors, kiosks, snack bars, bake shops, general merchandise stores, canteens and tony restaurants, each with different specialties and price ranges.

At the corners of every college building were the vendors' fare: banana, camote, singkamas, mangga and other cues; fish, squid and assorted balls, isaw, fried quail or duck (penoy) eggs in orange-colored batter called, cotton candy, sorbetes, taho et al.

Unlike my neighborhood banana cue Manang, these maroon-vested vendors were armed with food sanitation and safety skills, I was assured that fishball or mangga cue had passed the Republic's food safety standards. Even I had to comply with food safety practices, like, you know, making sawsaw the fishballs in the sauce only once.

Kiosks were open-faced hut-like structures not unlike my suking tindahan carrying food. Choose my wild: junk food, sandwiches, siopao, kakanin, pansit, spaghetti, softdrinks, bottled water, juices, cigarettes, sanitary napkins, blue books, pens, m&ms and other imported chocolates, index cards, etc.

Unlike vendors' outlets, kiosks had the added amenity of covered eating spaces. My friends and I could actually sit down and eat in the benches provided, protected from the sun and the rain. We would also hang-out in the kiosks during slack hours. We would patronize the kiosk and make friends with the Manangs, of course.

Snack bars were misnomers as these were actually meal outlets known for their respective interpretations of the silog: fried rice topped with a sunny side up egg and a serving of tapa, longganisa, tocino or daing na bangus.

What do we do when we needed meals on site? Then we went to the canteen.

Canteens were food establishments located in academic units and dormitories run by restaurants or food caterers.

One of my favorite places to eat was Chocolate Kiss at Ang Bahay ng Alumni. There were pasta, fancy sandwiches, pastries and meals. This surely dented my food budget, but then the treat, or the ambiance, was worth it.

List 2: Simplify my lifestyle.
Tempting as it was, it was not always a good idea to raid the malls, (hey, it was just a jeep ride away!) no matter how convenient. There were shops in the Shopping Center (SC) that could provide me with the basics.

One time when I had a toothache and couldn’t take the pain anymore, I ran to the UP Health Service. I had one of my teeth was extracted there, though it was really scary because the environment was far from a hospital or dental clinic. Consultation was free, but medicines were not. There were only one drugstore on campus, but Mercury Drug was just a Philcoa jeep away.
List 3: Books were my weapons.
Any student worth her while would not go into combat without the latest copies of lectures and books. The key was in getting my way to the xerox operators, bookstores and computer rental stores. Photocopying machines were everywhere on campus, usually visible near building entrances, eating places, staircases, libraries or lurking beside tambayans. While UP does not encourage violating copyright laws, it was very easy to have a whole book copied and even bound on the very same day. I would just leave the book with the copy operator, instructed them which pages to reproduce, and voila! instant reference.

Bookstores were my more advanced knowledge source. Every student knew that the library is the best strategy resource.

Hey! UP was the only place I know, until now, where one could buy books at the women’s toilet (on all the floors of Palma Hall!). These `Ladies' Rooms' were tambayans for girls waiting for their next class, waiting for friends or just spending a longer time grooming. But the more business-minded knew that they could make money out of the books they used the previous semester, so they would post notices selling their old books, typically at half or even a quarter of their original cost.

List 4: Restore my energy periodically.
I couldn’t afford to be flopping around dead tired after all the classes I had to attend and homework to do. Running around the Athletic Oval (behind the Ang Bahay ng Alumni) would cost me nothing.

I used to run around the oval with some of my blockmates, Jhonna, Martha and Bong, because they really needed to lose some extra extra pounds to keep fit. We had our good times then.

Film Center had a monthly schedule of screenings of award-winning international films. We would watch some old Tagalog movies to complete a class requirement. The movie house was so cold but we would be holding our bladder frightened to go to the Ladies Room, scared to see or hear the cry of famous white lady the upperclassmen were always talking about.

These were typically for free, as were the advanced screenings of local and foreign films sponsored by the major production studios. Where else would you watch a rated-R flick like `Hubad sa Ilalim ng Buwan' and a feminist-historical `Elizabeth' in the same night?

I recall going down to the Observatory behind the College of Home Economics during a lunar eclipse. The resident astronomers would give us a peek through the large telescope. Other nights, we would just sit around looking up at the stars. (Believe me, we got a better view from the Sunken Garden.)

For my spiritual side, there was the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, which held Mass for the Catholic community. I would go alone during Sundays and holy days of obligation, or sometimes I would pick up a friend from a nearby dorm to go with me.

Ahhh…UP. The premiere state university is an epitome of freedom, of a liberated American university. Do what you want. After all, this is democracy. It is the haven where every student finds joy in learning…learning new things…learning everything.
*** My Survival List in UP adapted from a UP site.

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