Running at the popular car-free training ground of University of Philippines-Diliman
I personally enjoy running on university campus grounds, my weekly ritual being Universiti Malaya (UM) in KL. It is relatively safe with security guards and students roaming around once in a while and you tend to find a handful of like-minded runners along the way. Furthermore it’s not as crowded as going to a public park and the miles you cover can exceed that of what a neighbourhood taman can offer you.
When I was in Manila for Christmas break last year, I had the opportunity to compare my experience of running at UM with that on the grounds of University of Philippines (UP). We were staying at a service apartment near the Mall of Asia at Pasay City, and since UP was located in Diliman, Quezon City, we had to give ourselves about an hour of travel time on the mass transits.
We first hopped onto a jeepney that took us to Taft Avenue LRT station. From there we boarded a ladies-only coach on the train till almost the end of the line. We then got into another jeepney that took us straight to the front entrance of UP. I remember watching the jeepney driver from my seat, noticing his army camouflage shirt and the rather macho way he smoked his cigarette as he bossily maneuvered his vehicle around the busy streets. Must be a former military man, I thought. A glittery illustration of Jesus Christ adorned the driver’s dashboard and a dangling cross hung from his rear view mirror, a common sight in public transports of this Catholic-hardy nation.
As we approached our destination we called out “para!” to the driver, meaning “stop” in Tagalog. We got out and started walking past the main entrance where we found Dyna waiting for us patiently with her trusty fluorescent blue Nike bag in tow. We hugged and I immediately noticed the cool and serene area of the 104-year old UP campus, surrounded by dewy old trees and covered with morning blue skies. It was nice getting away from the more polluted sections of the city.
The area that first greeted us at the front of UP was called the Oblation. There stood a curious concrete statue (apparently painted to look bronze) standing with ‘his’ arms abreast and face facing the skies; a giant 5-pointed steel star behind him. There was a plaque at the base of the statue describing what it was but it was written in the native language.
When I asked Dyna and Xandra to translate what the plaque said, they started having what the locals term “nosebleed” – the sudden and comical inability to translate Tagalog (or any other local dialect) into English because they were taken off-guard by my request. To be fair to them, the Tagalog written about the statue was apparently very formal and not so simple to translate. But basically the Oblation was a patriotic representation of one’s selflessness to the country – among other things.
After some photos in front of the Oblation, we made our way to “The Oval” – the 2km tarmac track centered around various major faculties at UP which also happens to be a very popular training ground for Filipino runners – there were just hundreds of them. On Sundays no motored vehicles are allowed on that road. This became evident to me as I witnessed an elderly male runner tell off -rather haughtily – three men on a motorcycle about their lack of awareness and/or disregard for the rule. The offenders could only look blankly at the old man.
I ran around the Oval about 4 times, noting a few flea market-type setup on a particular stretch of sidewalk, manned by their owners, attracting curious window shoppers and buyers alike. The sellers were hawking off items like sports shoes and running t-shirts, it was almost like a car boot sale scenario. While I was observing all of this I nearly ran into a man on roller blades in a very odd costume, sort of like a cross between Wonder Woman and Bozo the Clown.
On my third lap around the Oval Dyna invited me to veer off course into the football field, with its uneven patchy grassy ground, not too unlike the one that was my primary school’s. Mama wanted us to take a photo at the iconic “UP” sign at the end of the field, which I happily obliged. As I ran across the field the grass blades were still heavy with morning dew drops which had seeped into the porous breathable surface of my running shoes, so my socks were moist by the time I reached the sign. It didn’t quite matter since I was sweating anyway – but I personally dislike running in wet socks.
“UP is the pride of our nation,” told Mama Dyna rather proudly. “Many famous Filipino politicians graduated from this university,” Mama continued. After completing the UP sign photo session, we left the field and I took a few more shots in front of a few faculty buildings along the Oval, one in front of the business school (because I was a business student) and one in front of the school of economics (because my father was an economics professor).
As I finished my last lap around the Oval I looked up and noticed the majestic acacia trees that must have been at the university since it was founded. The leaves from the trees had gone through what is termed “the crowning shyness” in which they fit around each other like jigsaw puzzles, thus creating a neatly-pieced green canopy above our heads and providing us all with shaded shelter against the rays of the sun. I only know how to describe this natural phenomenon because I had learned it from a 14-year old Singaporean nature lover who had written about it on her blog.
After completing our run at UP, we wanted to change clothes so we entered an auditorium building where the film school screens their students’ work. It was a dusty affair after we persuaded the security guard to let us in to use the bathrooms – the building was old and musky, if I had to put a decade to it I’d say it felt like breathing in 1960s air. Mama Dyna spoke of spooky things that have happened at the university and I was not surprised, it is already more than a century old, riddled with so much history. We quickly changed as we didn’t want to stay there longer than we had to.
We then proceeded to flag down a jeepney to leave campus and head into an IT business district nearby called TechnoHub (which is a joint venture between UP and property developer Ayala Land) where many multinational business process outsourcing (BPO) companies had setup shop, most notably IBM, HSBC and a few others. We were hungry and were looking for a bite to eat but because we were kind of early for lunch, we ended up having a bit of coffee at Starbucks first before moving into a restaurant serving inihaw (grilled) seafood from Davao province. When we finally ordered I nearly fell off my seat in amusement, the portions were so obscenely huge!
We had a great huge laugh about it, but no one was laughing anymore after going through the meal halfway. 😀
The tourism ads were right: it is more fun in the Philippines.