Chengs talk on old Baguio, their home

It was supposedly a lazy afternoon for the brood of three men, four women, all in their twilight years, their espouses and their children. Only one of them stayed put in her US home, the Cheng siblings came for an unusual reunion at the Supreme Hotel along Magsaysay Avenue in Baguio City.

BAGUIO CITY IS THEIR HOME. The Chengs during the launching of Valley of Peace – Ping-on, authored by youngest of nine siblings, Richard. From left, Elizabeth Lee, Diana Chua and Alex. Behind them is Linda Chua with her son Archie. Not in photo are Dorothy, Charles and Richard. Evelyn is in the US, while Ellen has joined her creator. Photo by Lyn V. Ramo

The book launching for the Valley of Peace, however, was also intended as a family reunion, where the Chengs had a chance, for the first time in the last ten years, for the recollection of their childhood in the city.

The book author, Engr. Richard Cheng, is the youngest of nine children.

Incidentally, or intentionally, the book launching came just before the Spring Festival or the Chinese New Year, which has been ushered in with a media briefing in the same venue last week.

From China to Baguio

Most of the Chengs could no longer tell when their parents, Cheng Ah Him and Loo She, both from Guangdong Province in China, first came to Baguio.

It was Dr. Charles Cheng, an oriental medicine doctor, who said his father came to the Philippines in 1914, and his mother, later in 1918. All the Chinese in Manila then, were American citizens and Cheng was then supposed to go to Hawaii, but instead landed in Manila, where he chose to spend the rest of his life.

He moved to Baguio City because of the good climate, literally or business-wise. He was a merchant, quips Richard, the youngest, who has made waves in electronics and communications engineering in San Francisco, California.

Lucban, Baguio Tech

Ah Him and She then raised a family of nine in Baguio City, with all the Cheng children attending school in New Lucban Elementary School, then Baguio Tech, now University of Baguio; and Baguio Colleges Foundation, now University of the Cordilleras.

Elizabeth Lee, still remembers the late Telesforo Boquiren, her principal at New Lucban. That was in 1946, and Boquiren was to rise on the career ladder to become an Education official of then Ferdinand Marcos.

Lee did all the watercolor sketches for the book Valley of Peace. She took up Fine Arts in a fine Manila university. She came all the way from Ilo-ilo for the book launching.

Devastating earthquake and the World War II

Linda Chua, was in Grade V when the second world war broke out. She would fetch little Charles from his room when Japanese bombed the city. She could no longer remember the date. Only the images are so vivid in her recollection.

“We walked through Session Road to the market and would only stop when we hear explosions,” Linda recalls. Little Charles in tow, she saw a lot of people panicking in the streets.

Her memories of the war include a period when the Japanese took them as prisoners-of-war.

Linda came with her only son Archie, a floral stylist catering to metropolitan patrons in Manila.

Linda would tell of the earthquake that struck the city. “We have been through the war and earthquakes in the city,” she said.

Dorothy, the eldest, is also in business in the metropolis. Hers was the first photography studio in Baguio City.

“The war destroyed it. The Americans carpet-bombed Baguio then,” said Charles, lamenting that all pictures of the old Baguio have been reduced to ashes by the World War II.

Changing skyline

From Linda’s recollection, there were less tall buildings. She would remember Washington Hotel, besides Pines Hotel. Gardens, and watercress on springs, flowing from the hill sides to irrigate the gardens.

Not until ten years ago, when the Chengs would gather that she realized the building policies then have changed now, allowing high-rise buildings to emerge from the greenery that was the Baguio skyline.

Alex Cheng is a retired engineer. Like Charles, who is maintaining the Baguio Filipino-Chinese General Hospital, he stays in Baguio City with his family.

Asked if she still have plans going back to China to claim her ancestral ownership there, one of the women said, “This is my country. This is my home.”

In the twilight years, one cannot help but savor the many beautiful and happy memories of one’s childhood. Collectively and separately, the Chengs speak well of the city. #


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