June 20, 2024

The memories of the late veteran newsman Ramon “Mondax” Dacawi come in words of wisdom that seem to whisper whenever you confront something beautiful that you wish for home. He always reminded us to be pilgrims and not tourists. Here, are a few clips on how his wisdom made me take these photographs that made me smile as I experienced a part of Kunming, China.

In summer of 2014, we visited the Stone Forest Nature Park as part of the completed South Asian Film Conference that brought filmmakers and representatives to an exchange of alternative films in one corner of China. Such privilege is immeasurable and the memories that are shared are of the dreams to see these little bits of China come to Burnham Park in Baguio City, or Sto. Tomas Forest Reserve in Tuba, Benguet.

The tourism industry of this province is well-planned, the destinations well-manicured, and each step safe and measured. Studying the momentary environ, one sees local tourists make up 80 percent of the group.

There are no partners or teams here, each worker is on his own, perhaps because there is no physical threat to warrant people to go out in pairs. The wisdom is in the efficient time  spent on work more than talk. We were the most diverse group of visitors from Asian countries.

The paved walks were themselves made of geologic tiles and uniform squares and varied textures that also consider skid as a factor. This experience has included the differently abled because there are no stairs but surfaces that guide the promenade each step of the way.

Although the walk will take more than an hour, the tourist guides seem to have been trained to study time and motion so that one is not fatigued at any point of the group movement. The heat is not even felt because the vegetation has kept the temperature cool and comfortable. Everything is beautiful. The philosophy of Confucius on beauty must have been applied to make everyone see it.

An amusing note was on the implement used as a broom to sweep the stray leaves on the ground that was itself a bamboo branch with gnarled stalks. There were no candy wrappers or strange objects among the tumbling dried leaves gathered.The sweeper is garbed in a luminous orange vest to differentiate them from the properly costumed tour guides. Everyone is on foot except for an employee on a bicycle who could have been a guard with a special role.

The vendors came in on foot too. They are stationed in specific spots along the way and not everywhere as we practice here. There are no foodstuff that gather garbage or spread trash everywhere. They lend costumes for photo shoots for you to meld into the scenery and keepsakes.

The tourist guide hardly speaks English but the signages along the way have English translations to explain what you are looking at and the cultural values inherent in the structure. There is even a part that allows the sensory experience of the smoothness of the rocks. They have combined a story of some character who has caused this change in the texture. Even the reason for the split or the height has been highlighted. All of these happen in perfect timing. The whole tour does not allow you to stray from the flow of the crowd. There are no paths to choose, there is only one direction. The urge to cut across the lawn to touch the water in the pond is arrested by a sign that tells you that the grass is happy and not to  step on her. Even if there are no bars to restrict you, the pleasant reminder makes you smile instead of stomp away begrudgingly to do as you please.

To imagine that you have just walked through a living geologic museum is awesome. They have preserved each rock and have named them accordingly. They explain the changes that these undergo and the reason for the changes in shape and size. They are scientific and meticulous. The aesthetic experience is also a part of it. The sprinkle of colors in some areas or the inclusion of a contrast of colorful leaves are actually designed. These are maintained in pots to keep them healthy and easily replaced. It’s as if there is no spot left untended or uncared for because there are no wilting plants along the way. The changing seasons of China must have been calculated too so that each period has its vegetation.

To think that the Stone Forest was planned in 1931 by the Yunnan province governor gives us some inspiration because in less than a century, a destination from nature was enhanced for human activity and not destroyed to accommodate humans.

It would be awesome to have the governor of Benguet or the mayor of Tuba dream of keeping the water source of La Union, Pangasinan, and Benguet as a nature park. Maybe they should try and visit Yunnan province to see how the caves and the geologic formations are respected.

These precious sites have contributions to life for the next generations. Perhaps the city might find a way to make Burnham Park burst with colors in different seasons instead of relying on the Marguerites to color the paths or the Impatiensto naturally take over the corners of the parks. The rose garden needs a breath of new life because the planting materials have aged and outlived Aquilino Aromin.

This pilgrim has imbibed Confucian tenets and wishes that some of the philosophies of beauty may grow on political calculations and false promises. It would be a wonderful promenade to see colorful gardens and lush vegetation in parts of this province not just vegetable gardens that pump chemicals into the soil whose farmers curse at the rains and the frost. The cash registers can ring when the activities are well planned by people, for the people, because the design is of the people.