Where there is more heaven than elsewhere (paying respect to Gagalangin)


Gagalangin is in Tondo — as in Gagalangin, Tondo, Manila. But its residents behave as though it is not. It is thinly separated by the unimposing Pritil bridge from the more trouble-prone Tondo of Bangkusay, Vitas, and Moriones, but the residents pretend it is a world away.

Ask a Gagalangin lass where she lives, and she is unlikely to mention Tondo, lest it scare away prospective suitors less fearless and fist-happy than Fernando Poe, Jr.

Kaming mga taga Gagalangin, the old guards say proudly, are respectful and respected.

Taga-rito si Dolphy, King of Comedy, they would tell the uninformed, and proceed to point to where his old house once stood in Sunog Apog. If you had more time to listen, they would probably whisper that Dolphy wanted sorely to marry the mother of his first batch of children, except the family of the woman thought he’d be good for nothing. “Big mistake, huge,” they’d probably interject, with a “tsk, tsk.”

Ganun din si Tirso Cruz, great band leader, and his famous offsprings. Same with Perla Bautista, Tony Santos, Ricky Belmonte, Gina Pareno. Award-winning movie stars.

Pitoy and Virgie Moreno. Renato Constantino. Atang de la Rama and Amado Hernandez. Armando Malay. Rolando Tinio. Teodoro Agoncillo. Francisco Buencamino, Jr. Vicente del Fierro. Icons of letters and the arts.

They all grew up there, these gentle and genteel people.

It was where I was born and grew up, too. I’d call it the “Gagalangin of my affections,” except it is already taken.

The Gagalangin of my childhood was a congenial place where people lived more or less comfortably — neither too richly nor too poorly. There were very few homes there that would qualify as mansions; neither were there too many rundown shanties. Many residents think it is the best place to live and have stayed put and they may not be too far from the truth.

My family lived in a squatter community, but you wouldn’t know from the way the houses looked.

We had spacious front yards, where we played patintero, piko, and tumbang preso every summer afternoon just as soon as the sun began its downward slope. Being lampa, I was always “it” and ended up “balagoong,” but it didn’t stop the quintessential Binibining Atsay from playing. Anyway, I could often cajole playmates to go inside the house later to play sungka, siklot and jackstone where I was sure to redeem myself.

Our side yards had gardens. My mother tended a proud one that was fed with horse manure, gathered from the droppings of the karetela that plied our street and therefore grew lushly. She had bandera espanyola, san francisco, paco, champaca, calachuchi, chichirika, water plants, and fragrant jasmine, sampagita, and dame de noche that sweetened our nights and our sleep. We also had a guava tree which so became a bone of contention with a kapitbahay who claimed it was theirs that I sometimes wished lightning would strike it down – the tree, not the kapitbahay.

It was much later that the garden gave way to a bigger house to give us children more room to grow. And I guess gardening had to give way to mah-jongg to give my mother more diverting escape from some huge sadness.

Our house had wide capiz windows, the better to watch the santakrusan in May, the prusisyon on Good Friday, and the drum and bugle band at fiesta time. I would spend summer afternoons looking out the window to watch younger children play when I thought I was too old for piko. Weekends were a good time to gawk at folks in their Sunday finery on their way to and from church. I must have watched from the window a trifle too often, for later, high school classmates would refer to me asthe “babaeng laging nakadungaw.”

torres high facade

Our house was strategically located near where we studied, Gregoria de Jesus Elementary School and Torres High School. It was also a dash away from the Gagalangin public market (talipapa), St. Joseph Parish, Gagalangin public library, Gagalangin Theatre, Torresian School Supplies, Botika Santos, Mendoza Bakeshop — Gagalangin landmarks all. As a result, our house was THE hangout of choice. Friends would gather there on the way to the graduation ball, jam sessions, and outings.

In first year high school, six or seven classmates from Maypajo and Caloocan would go home with me to eat their lunch baon at our table and my mom would sometimes serve them hot soup and matamis na saging.

One day, just as we were done with lunch, my Mom anxiously but sternly announced bad news — she was missing a P50-bill (which could easily be P 5,000 today, given what it could buy then). She apologetically searched through every school bag and purse my classmates carried but didn’t find it. That night, she found the money tucked in a pocket of a soiled duster in the ropero. The following day, lunch was on the house and the classmates cried with joy and relief. But it took me months to forget that most embarrassing moment of my young life.

Six years into my marriage, I left Gagalangin to settle with my new family in Pasig. I visit it now and again, but more often lately — in my mind.

Some translations:

Karetela – horse-drawn carriage

Kapitbahay – neighbor

Patintero and tumbang preso – team games — seldom played now — that required running stamina and quickness/nimbleness.

Piko – a game similar to the western hopscotch

Ang babaeng laging nakadungaw – Woman/girl who’s always looking out the window

Ropero – closet for dirty clothes

[This article was reprinted from the Ode2Old, a blog by a Torres High School alumna who was born and raised in Gagalangin, Tondo.]


One thought on “Where there is more heaven than elsewhere (paying respect to Gagalangin)

  1. Sonia Padilla

    I would like to find out where Almario Almasan and Yolanda Balagtas are. Please reply.

    The Site Team: Dear Sonia, we hope a fellow schoolmate will read your message.

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