[PHOTO AT LEFT - The Manor at John Hay: Your own fiefdom away from home]

MANILA, APRIL 18, 2010 (STAR) - By Joy Angelica Subido - It was in the old playground near the 19th Tee outlet of Baguio City’s Camp John Hay where we first received the gift of color blindness. Growing up at a time when white skin was favored, imported goods were considered premium, and colonial mentality was rife, it was in John Hay where we first learned that prejudice meant lost opportunities and a waste of time. Black skin, white skin, brown skin. It was all the same. Our African-American friend Monique Baker taught us the lesson that skin color didn’t matter, and age difference didn’t count for much. There was really no need to be shy or timid around older folk because all people, even the big kids in school, could be really nice.

We were all little tykes but seventh grader Monique’s favorite was my own chubby, nursery-school-aged sister. The partiality was so apparent since the latter got presents of striped bubble gum, canned pudding or giant pencils. “She’s mah li’l sistah, too,” Monique drawled in school. The rest of us watched with envy while my darker sister wore her mocha-colored skin like a royal robe. Black, then, was especially beautiful to all of us.

It was a time when Baguio residents were issued long-term privilege passes by the base commander, and we were in John Hay almost every weekend to play with our friends who lived within the facility. The John Hay of my childhood was a special place where one could toboggan downhill riding cardboard boxes on one of the numerous slopes made slick by fallen pine needles. We took turns whizzing down the hillside and screeching excitedly until members of the base patrol noticed what we were up to and made us stop. “You could seriously hurt yourselves,” the kindly policemen said when they got down from their patrol cars. We listened and followed. The policemen were always the good guys then.

As we grew older, John Hay became a refuge where we could retreat and savor the Baguio of our childhood. The grassy hillsides and fields of sunflowers may have started to dwindle as more subdivisions were built in the city, but we were assured that the sweet, clean scent of pine resin remained unsullied within John Hay. A particular memory remains distinct in my mind: when the black and yellow butterflies flew so thickly during one summer’s end, so that the creatures landed in our arms, on our shoulders and heads. They lay so thickly in the garden paths and we walked slowly and carefully to avoid trampling on them.

Perhaps you will understand my generation’s sense of loss when a consortium took over John Hay. Not only was the old main gate to the facility closed and relocated, but old buildings were torn down and new structures started to sprout where once there were only pine trees. The heartache was particularly rending when the old Main Club building was demolished. This, after all, was the place where our parents took us for steak dinners on Saturday evenings; where we kids once tried to down a whole bottle of burgundy when the adults got up to help themselves to the salad buffet. And as we got older and played grown-up, the Main Club was where we went for dinner on those awkward first dates.

A 177-room luxury facility called The Manor was built on the old site, and during the first few years of its operation, there was a struggle against going there and making the place our own. Soon enough, however, fun-filled nights of musical bonding beside the fireplace of The Manor’s Piano Bar, tasty meals at Le Chef, and freshly baked breads at the Delicatessen wore our resistance down. The warm and welcoming wood paneled interiors of The Manor had, in fact, made us recollect that the old Main Club in its latter years had turned positively shabby. How could we have forgotten our annoyance at seeing the Ilocano curse words (particularly the one that starts with “u” and ends with “m”) carved by vandals on the paneling of the old building? Really, sentimentality has a way of clouding unpleasant memories.

The Manor has found a new role in the Baguio City as a place for culture and friendship, so that on a recent visit there, not only did we bump into old friends, but realized that the eye-catching photographs and paintings, were signed by familiar “old-Baguio” names, too. Moreover, we know of many who hold The Manor close to their hearts because its flower-filled garden overlooking the mountains was the site of their picturesque debutante parties, wedding receptions or wedding anniversaries. Golfing aficionados love the nearby greens, fashionistas enjoy the cold weather as a means of showing off their high-fashion coats, sweaters and jackets and nature lovers commune with the trees.

However, the purest delight in The Manor was expressed by several little children as a thick fog slowly crept in. The children ran around excitedly in the garden, arms outstretched, pretending to be birds flying through the clouds. While my age-group loved John Hay’s Main Club, this generation will surely remember The Manor fondly.

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The Manor’s Graduation package has been designed to pamper and delight the graduate. For a minimum of two nights until May 31, 2010, graduates can enjoy a special room rate of P1,550 per person per night, breakfast included. For details and bookings, call 687- 6710 or 687-6524 in Manila or 424-0931 to 27 in Baguio. Or visit

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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