The End of an Era

This image of a scanned document has been circling the Facebook scene, is of an official announcement from St. James College in Quezon City:

While it hasn’t really affected me, it did bring about some memories for the little time I did spend at the school. Just a little historical background on how I came to be affiliated with the school, St. James was the first and last school I attended for 3 years after my family left Singapore where I was born, and just before my mum migrated us to Papua New Guinea.

I was only 5, when my family packed up our life in Singapore. We lived in Fairview but spent a lot of time at my Lolo’s (grandfather’s) apartment cause St. James was basically on the same road but about 10-15 minutes away. Our cousins were already attending the school so it just made sense.

I have some very vague memories of my three years at St. James, but some memories stuck like glue because it gave reason to some of the events that happened in my life. I don’t remember my friends, I don’t remember what I learned or what was taught, but here are a few things that did stick:

  • While in kindergarten, my teacher, Ms. Ancheta, received a bunch of flowers. I can still remember the chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” from myself and the rest of the kids in class. Ms. Ancheta was a pretty, petite and young teacher and I remember the way she looked as she held onto those flowers.
  • One morning, we received a notice that classes were suspended because a bomb had been thrown onto the roof of the kindergarten classrooms. Days after, we would occupy the playground or conduct lessons in other classrooms that weren’t occupied.
  • Moving onto Grades 1 and 2, girls were forced to be a Girl Scout and since Quezon City was in the middle of an urban jungle (and out-of-town trips were a no-go), instead of camping in the wilderness, we camped in the basketball courts. And if we didn’t have camping gear, we could sleep in the classrooms. So much for being a girl scout.
  • If it’s one thing that the Philippines had over other schools I’d attended throughout my childhood, it would have to be the discipline they enforced onto students. Everything was always done in an orderly fashion. The whole time I was at St. James, it always seemed as though I was always in a line and there was always someone in front or behind me. Until one day, during morning assembly, I found myself at the front of the line and there I witnessed a girl standing on the podium. It was the flag-raising ceremony that we have every start of the week, and for the first time, I was able to see how the weekly event actually unfolds (I was too short before to notice). The music started playing and this girl raised her arms, and when everyone started singing the national anthem, she waved both her arms, gently flowing with the music. I remember mimicking the way she waved her arms to every music I heard after that. Pretending that I was the girl up on the podium. It wasn’t until I moved to PNG and witnessed my first choir when I learned that what that girl had been doing was conducting the singing, and she was actually just taught how to wave her arms. She actually had no idea how to conduct. Since then, I decided that I wanted to be part of the choir instead of the person conducting the choir; hence why I joined the choir at boarding school.
  • I don’t exactly recall how we used to go to school. Although I know that we never commuted by ourselves and we were always dropped off. Since my cousins, siblings and I attended the same school and lived in the same area, I do vaguely remember us girls being picked up in my auntie’s brown Mitsubishi hatchback that looked like this. There were 4 girls stuffed in the backseat, and I remember people outside pointing at our car and yelling something out which I couldn’t understand. We then realised later that our tire had gone flat and they were actually warning us.

Towards the end of my short stay at St. James, my parents decided to end their marriage. One would think that our days would’ve been split because of certain circumstances, we hardly saw papa. By 1990, we had moved from our house in Fairview and into my Lolo’s apartment. I don’t recall ever knowing where papa was staying when mama and he split. As kids, or for myself rather, we weren’t really that cut up about the separation and as usual, we went about our days, going to school, coming home and playing with the kids in the area we lived in. There was an odd occasion when we were told that papa was going to pick us up after school so that we could spend some time with him. But that day, I remember kuya Renan, gathering us siblings after school. By then, Marvin was already attending kindergarten and so we waited at the gate close to his classroom on Tandang Sora Ave. We waited for what seemed like forever. I had fallen asleep while waiting, and I remember my brother waking me up and it was already dark. It must’ve been about 6PM close to 7PM and school had finished at around 4PM. Papa hadn’t come and since mobile phones didn’t exist then, kuya made a decision to take a jeepney home since we only had to take one. It felt like the first time for me to ride a jeepney because it was the first memory I had of riding one.

I remember stepping inside the apartment and Lolo was fuming, and my auntie was yelling out all sorts of profanity. Soon after, papa arrived, apologetic, and wanted to carry Marvin in his arms. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs with ate Jo-anne and kuya as we eavesdropped on what was being discussed downstairs. In the living room sat papa, Lolo and tita Angie, with Marvin being passed around everyone’s laps as they argued about us kids. I don’t exactly remember what was said, but I do know that they were talking about who we were going to stay with.

You see, when my parents separated, mama moved us in with Lolo so that someone could look after us. She didn’t want us to stay with papa because of the mistakes he had made, and she had flown to Singapore to look for a job to support us kids. Little did we know that while she was in Singapore, she had met a nice but older man from New Zealand who had vowed to look after her and her family. They flew to mama’s province where they were secretly wed. How I came to discover that is another story.

Eventually, mama came back and announced that we were all going on a holiday. I was excited because we had not gone on a real holiday since we’d move from Singapore to the Philippines and in a way, it was also good to be in a different environment.

There ended my time at St. James College. What happened to my life when we took that “holiday”? I will leave that for another post.

It’s funny because who would’ve known that later on in life, I would become friends with more than a handful of people who also attended St. James, who would also later on post this same image.

So cheers to you St. James. I may have only just vaguely remembered my time there, but those moments shaped a quarter of my life.

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