I attended kindergarten in a school named Instituto de Mujeres, yes, literally translated “School for Girls”. The location was convenient…just a few blocks away from our house. It didn’t occur to me until later when my cousins teased me that my school was a girls’ school as the name implied. I suppose that the owners of the school wanted to expand their enrollment and made an exception to include boys at that level. It was just for the kindergarten class anyway and it was just after the war and the owners and just about everybody else seemed to be making exceptions for survival’s sake.
Among the first cinema theaters to reopen after the war was the Mercury theater. This was built in the corner of Maria Cristina and Espana Boulevard, just about three houses away from our house. This was a cheap neighborhood cinema house that charged 25 centavos for orchestra tickets and 50 centavos for balcony seats. The seats were made up of long rows of wooden slats, similar to church pews without kneeling planks. The orchestra hall was redolent with the pungent urine smell which pervaded the whole place after 10 am, about halfway the first feature film. Small boys and old women didn't bother to go to the toilets and relieved themselves on the spot lest they miss a critical scene of the movie. An additional discomfort was the bed bug infestation of the theater seats, a nuisance whose peskiness you brought home with you as they tend to thumb a ride in the seam of your pants and other convenient parts of your clothing.
The owner of Mercury theater, Mr. Garchitorena, was our next door neighbor. Only a Macopa tree and a low wall separated our houses. His son Egie, was my classmate in Instituto de Mujeres. He had meztizo good looks and was bigger than most of us in the kindergarten group. But in school he did not impress me at all since he was overly quiet and you hardly heard his voice in recitations, but at home, in our neighborhood, he was a presence to contend with, at least his voice was. You could hear the mellifluous sounds, which only a boy soprano can manage. His favorite song was a Spanish love song, “Amor”. He could barely pronounce the lyrics and what was heard was an incessant mispronounced ‘.amoy…amoy… amoy’. Almost every morning he would burst out in song and you could hear the encouragement from older members of his household clapping delightedly after another rendition of ‘Amor’.
Years later he became a professional singer and guess what his signature song was? I could not resist a chuckle every time I watched him on TV. He sang ‘Ámor’ well; after all he was singing it even before he could talk straight.
When I was just about five years old I slept in a crib in my parents’ room. Every night I would be lulled to sleep by the movie sound track coming from the movie house. There would be gunfire, Broadway musicals and the William Tell Overture when the blue coats arrive to save a beleaguered circle of covered wagons. It could partly explain my fondness for Broadway musicals.
I was glad to get out of ‘Instituto de Mujeres’ and got in to a more appropriately named school. Juan Luna Elementary School was quite a distance from where we lived. I didn’t mind the long walk because it was a very interesting trek, which passed through Espana Street, a long and wide avenue that stretched all the way to the boundary of the next city. There were a lot of commercial establishments lining up this main city artery. It was an exciting time for a boy of seven.
I was looking in at the merchandise being sold at the army surplus stores, attracted by the new restaurants, and curious about fashion and beauty shops that lined up the broad street. Sari-sari stores mushroomed all over Manila. The whole city was throbbing with the postwar eagerness to seize livelihood opportunities. It was as if a long repressed desire to trade, create wealth, and embark on ventures was given wing. War was an equalizing and leveling force. Few distinctions were there to delineate rich from poor. Almost everyone was back to square one, all at the starting gate of a hope filled race. The feeling that one could make something out of the displacements and the confusion coming out of a ruinous war was endemic. At that time one could feel the throb of commerce of the city through the long stretch of Espana Boulevard.