February 1, 2023

As kids, amidst the cool morning breeze, we would walk from Trancoville passing through Brookside and Teachers’ Camp and to Botanical Garden, which was then called Imelda Park.
Literally a forest then, it was rich with pine trees, species of plants and blooming flowers, seemingly a reminder of how beautiful the world we were in even if we were in the middle of an urban jungle.
It was a nice, inspiring place for solitude amidst the chirping of birds or free-flying butterflies giving a calm ambiance for one to reflect on an existential question of “What am I living for?” Sitting in the then bonfire area and enjoying the fresh air, transcends the sublime and of cultures, poverty and ethnic origins. There were native huts, sculptures displaying various rituals, all good for Instagram photos.
And yes, once upon a time, it had a zoo. Not as big-time as Bronx Zoo where Ysa, Tatan,and Enzo could not refuse to visit with their tito Doc Ronald who was a lifetime benefactor of the zoo and its botanical garden.
It makes me remember the story of Milo G. when we met up in New York.
The story goes that to make ends meet in New York, he went to apply for a job at the Bronx Zoo. He was told that the gorilla just died and pending the arrival of a replacement from Kenya, he can wear a gorilla costume, enter the cage, and act like an ape for $8 an hour.
Milo agreed, wore the costume, and was brought into the cage. He got the surprise of his life when he discovered that he was sharing the cage with a ferocious lion and immediately shouted for help. “Ilabas n’yo ako dito! Ayaw ko na! Mamamatay na ako!” or words to that effect. Suddenly, he heard the lions saying: “Tumahimik ka riyan at magtrabaho ka na lang. Pareho lang tayong trabahador dito!”
Anyway, our own Botanical Garden metamorphosed into a highly developed park. Portions were allotted to groups like the Baguio Apaches, the Chinese Chamber, Koreans, and Thai communities for them to maintain. A restaurant was allowed to operate and even the toilets were contracted out and payment was required to use it. The price to pay, of course, was that what used to be a serene place which took your breath away and brought closer to nature was no more.
Of late, the season of joy was ushered in by the conversion of Botanical into a City of Lights and it was a welcome relief as it has become an evening destination for locals and visitors.
A virtual Christmas display of dazzling lights, it has drawn a huge crowd of spectators. The holiday spectacle at the park is masa-friendly as all it takes is P10 to enter to see lights-a-galore, something straight out of Star Wars or fantasy movies on the big screen.
Also, featured are traditional giant Christmas pine trees festooned with multi-colored lights, a recreation of the Nativity scene, and a showcase of holiday lights in every nook and cranny. A sight and a site to see and appreciate. Maybe one of these days, we can drop by.
Thanks to the City Environment and Parks Management Office for conceptualizing and implementing and more thanks to the private benefactors like Fernando Tiong, Peter Ng, and several others who literally lit up their pockets to make it possible.
Sigh.