It wasn’t too promising a day for tours. The drizzle seeped from the slightly opened taxi windows to the pocked leathered seats. We had three more destinations on our list and only two hours left before my call time at University of Baguio. The traffic from Tam-Awan Village all the way to La Trinidad – despite the latter being just a few kilometers from the city center – was grotesque. To top it all off, the tot has fallen to a snooze after exhibiting one of her mini tantrums. Waking her up was counterintuitive.
Yet there we were, cruising the hillsides heavily affected by a recent landslide, the shaved hills weeping copper earth. From above, we could see vast, wet plains covered in white plastic domes and straw hats moving in single file. “Strawberry Fields, Ma’am,” our driver motioned.
The guy pulled over in front of a small market where townsfolk hurried their way over to our cab, each hawking his own “best” pinipig and strawberry jam. Others, strawberry ice cream and puto. Just beside the market was that moist bed of dirt blanketed by whites, groped by barbwire on all fours. I had previously imagined Strawberry Fields to be a plowed farm rich with plump, crimson strawberries, with visitors happily picking the freshest produce and chucking them unto small baskets. Instead we have this. If I had known September wasn’t a good time to pick strawberries or even just stare at them, I would not have bothered. I see desolate farms on a regular basis, you know.
I was quite disappointed but didn’t say anything, neither did the husband. But he does speak a secret language that I understand, and from the way he smirked and refused to jump down, the obvious translation was, “We came all the way down here just for this?”
It was still raining, but I alighted from the taxi and made a quick sweep of the place with my camera and went back to a now awake toddler who was once again ballistic. The driver, though a bit surprised, started the engine and moved over to the next destination on the list.
This shit better be good, I thought. Because I didn’t want a smart ass quipping I told you so.
But lo and behold, after passing through rows of shanties built on debilitated hills, we arrived at a residential compound reminiscent of the Chinese Cemetery in Manila’s R. Papa. The white walls, painted with red Chinese characters, led up to a modest entrance topped with a couple of green dragons. Why would they even call it a church? Doesn’t look like there’s even a church in there, just walls.
The irritated husband stayed in the parking lot to smoke. I was beginning to get annoyed myself, but decided I might as well make the ascend toward the entrance.
And boy, was the husband such an unfortunate creature. That facade doesn’t even come close to what beauty awaited up above.
Bell Church is a separate world inside another. Pretty white lotuses, all in full bloom, float on a fountain that spurted water from a bamboo. Beautiful Chinese mausoleums and golden Taoist idols housed in intricate Meiji-like sheds lined the landscaped hill, flanked by tall trees and bonsais on all sides. Cold fog creeped slowly through moist leaves, breathing air that smelled of crisp greens. If tranquility is to be translated to imagery, Bell Church is exactly that.
The Church itself sat at the center. Sculpted Chinese dragons, with their red eyes and tout limbs, guarded the entrance. Two attendants, who from the physical markers – prominent eye chink, Asian hair, creamy white skin – obviously are pure-blooded Chinese handed me a stern look as I examined the incense-filled altar from afar. There were no guests, and I surmise not too many tourists go in with the no noise-no shoe-no camera rule.
I have always wanted to experience a Taoist church from inside, but the thought of being in one a first time, to pray for a terminally ill to Taoist father was crippling. I stayed by the door and shut my eyes.
I placed my daughter on my hip. She was calm now. Must be the energy in there. We looked back at the charming worship grounds one last time and thanked the lotuses, the dragons and their gods for showing us the way to their heavens.
Read the rest of the Baguio trip series:
Baguio’s Charm and A First Teaching Engagement
Review: Casa Vallejo Hotel, Baguio City
Mt. Cloud Bookshop, North Haven Spa and Cinematheque at Casa Vallejo, Baguio City
Baguio’s Famous Haunts: The Diplomat Hotel, Laperal House and Casa Vallejo Hotel
Baguio’s Tam-Awan Village: Nature and Art Haven
Hill Station, Baguio City: Fine Dining Without Frills
Baguio City Tour: Lourdes Grotto, Good Shepherd, The Mansion, Wright Park and Mines View Park
SM Baguio’s Pretty Skyline, Baguio Cathedral, and A Little Known Bulalohan