Last Saturday, I found myself at the Quezon Memorial Circle for a baptism reception at Max’s Restaurant. It has been ages since I’ve been to the Circle and even way back in college I’ve only been there about 2-3 times. What I remember about it was the all the greenery. The grass was neatly trimmed and kept and there were bike and foot paths. It was park. But what I saw last Saturday was ghastly. It looked like one big massive constructions site with not a spot of grass around. Perhaps it was the El Nino? But how come UP managed to keep all its grass? The few trees that were there seemed forlorn and brittle. Where once there were spots where you could lay a blanket and sleep under a tree or have a picnic, there was just dirt. Row after row of eateries also lined the circular pathway. It no longer seemed like a park. All that was missing were rides and it could very well have been an amusement park. Add more shops and it would have been a strip mall. Maybe that’s what the park handlers really had in mind, to turn it into another concrete mess called a mall. You would have thought that since the park houses the memorial where the late President Quezon is interred, it would be all green and dignified just like a memorial should be. Or maybe they wanted it to look like a memorial garden on All Saint’s Day when hordes of hawker stalls descend. Sad. Sad. Sad. I know it’s a long shot to be likened to New York’s Central Park but the Circle could have been what Lumphini Park is to Bangkok— a breath of fresh air in a polluted city. On my first trip to Bangkok, staying at a hotel near the park, I would hie off to the park and run along its footpath every morning before breakfast. I even got to use one of the open air gyms tucked in a corner. I thought it was for free until a woman approached me and asked if I were a member. I apologized and volunteered to leave saying I was a tourist but with a smile, she stopped me and said to finish my workout. For free were some pneumatic machines scattered on a circuit around the park. In the morning, groups of people would converge for aerobics, yoga, tai-chi, and other forms of exercises. Another pretty park I stumbled on while on self-tour on foot of the Banglamphu was Romin Park (I’m not sure if that was the name) that had English landscaped gardens and a little wat on a side.
Back to the Circle, it was really disappointing to see what has become of it. I guess we really can’t expect much. We turn our forests into deserts, our mountains into dusty hills, so what more with a park surrounded by government buildings and just across the city hall? Perhaps the wasteland that the Circle is now represents our country’s approach to urban planning. Nothing but dirt.