Seeing men swinging small boards that said “Private Pool” on the side of the road made me feel restless because I knew we were close. A couple more minutes and we would arrive at the place I had been yearning for. The place that served as a true home during the days I was struggling with college and independence.
We arrived in IRRI at 10 AM and grabbed breakfast at the cafeteria – a place I often went to as a student for cheap good food, with a view of the rice fields and the mountainous horizon. I ate a big serving of saucy roast chicken with rice, plus brewed coffee and a slice of cassava cake for dessert for only Php105.
The weather was a bit gloomy at noon and it rained a little, but it didn’t stop me from touring my friends and us from taking crazy photos. Actually, the bit of rain helped refresh the surroundings from the summer heat and the air became a bit cooler for a while.
I visited the pond at the back of IRRI’s coffee shop Bean Hub, which was closed at the time, and searched for the lone resident turtle to say hi. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it. Prolly it was sleeping in a corner covered by plants. I hope so.
We left IRRI a little after lunchtime and drove to Animal Science, UPLB (University of the Philippines, Los Baños). We went to PCC’s (Philippine Carabao Center) Dairy Corner, where I used to buy fresh dairy products for a sweet treat after my PE or An Sci classes. My favorite has always been Milk-O-Jel (Php 15, then and now❤️) – a small cup of soft carabao milk pudding with sweet syrup on top, sort of like leche flan. At this time, I also got Carakafe – coffee❤️ with carabao milk for only Php 35. My other favorite items from Dairy Corner are their yogurts of different flavors and chocomilk. Obviously, all of their dairy products are made from carabao’s milk. They also have meat products. All so natural, so fresh, so delish.
After IRRI, we drove around the campus before heading out. I got off the car and bid goodbye to my friends who were returning to Manila. I, on the other hand, was staying for the rest of the day.
I checked in at One Providence, a dormitory near the campus that also rents out transient rooms. I walked along F.O. Santos street going to One Providence and discovered a few changes. Some old establishments I used to go to have been replaced by new ones. Most notably, Sizzlers, a restaurant located on the third floor/rooftop of a building, has been replaced by “Siblings.” I used to love going to Sizzlers for dinner because of the view from the balcony dining setup. It was quite a romantic setting. I bet Siblings retained that setup, although I’m not sure yet if they measure up to Sizzlers’ sizzling dishes (my personal favorite was sisig with egg).
Old street snacks
After resting for a bit in my dormitory room, I went out again for a walk, carrying my backpack with my notebook, pens, and laptop. At 4 PM, my first stop was the small kwek-kwek (orange fried quail eggs) cart in front of Vega Arcade, right outside the UPLB gate. I bought a stick of four pieces (Php 15) and resumed walking while dipping my kwek-kwek in my cup o’ spicy vinegar.
Along the way, I also stopped by Micha’s, a pastry and cake shop near Demarses Subdivision where I used to live. Whenever I was stressed out with acads, I would stop by and take out either blueberry cheesecake (I remember it’s less than Php 100), cream puffs (Php 12 for caramel-glazed, Php 15 for vanilla-glazed), or chocolate chip cookies. Cream puffs were my favorite, so I decided to buy them this time. Prices didn’t change! I ate my caramel and vanilla cream puffs as I wandered on.
New food places
After a couple of minutes of walking along Lopez Avenue (Grove), I was kicking around whether I was going to eat at an old favorite or try a new restaurant. I decided to do…both! At 5 PM, I went to Bibap Korean Restaurant, which was a new find for me. I went up to the second floor to find a low dining table setup. I sat on my floor cushion as I ate my jjajangmyeon with delicious side dishes (Php 135) while watching some Korean music videos on their TV. At this time on a Saturday, there were not many people at Bibap—in fact, I was the only one enjoying the solitude of the restaurant. On the other hand, perhaps it was too early for a heavy meal…
Meanwhile, Productivity Cafe just on the other side of the street had a lot of occupied tables. Since my old favorite, Coffee Blends, was still closed, I decided to try a new coffee shop. Productivity Cafe was a small coffee place on the second floor of a new commercial building along Lopez Ave. that offered a special space for students to concentrate on their acads and for alumni like me to just blend in.
When I entered the cafe, I almost thought I walked into a class. On one side, there were four long tables occupied by two young people each, who were perfectly lined up with their laptops set on the table. I occupied a small square table in another corner overlooking the road and set my laptop, notebook, and pens on the narrow surface, with a smaller space for my vanilla ice cream coffee (Php 99). Productivity Cafe encourages silence as respect for students who’re trying to work and plays soothing music that makes you feel more like you’re in a spa. It’s a good thing they had bright lighting, else I would have dozed off on my table.❤️
At dinnertime, I crossed the street again to transfer to Eatsumo, an old favorite Japanese restaurant, for a second fill. I admit it’s not authentic Japanese, but I still love their donburi and California maki. Their meals were tasty and cheap—served justice to my scanty college budget. Whenever I craved some Japanese meals, this was where I ran to. This time, I ordered the usual—”toridon,” chicken and egg donburi (Php 70), which in Japan is actually oyakodon. Anyway, tori meant bird or chicken in Japanese, so technically it’s not wrong to call it toridon!
I sat alone at a table while watching other students enjoying their meals and chatting with each other. I used to be like them—dining with a friend and ranting lightheartedly on after a stressful day of boring classes and demanding professors. Although, sometimes, I would just enjoy a meal alone and just be thankful for having the time to run away from papers, go out and chill.
Old nightly habits, nostalgia
After my dinner, at around 9:30, I walked around a little more. I passed by CDC (College of Development Communication) and remembered the nights I used to walk by this place filled with students chattering among themselves or practicing a class presentation or just waiting for friends they were meeting up with.
I remembered the nights I used to walk by this place to meet my Dev Com friends. Strangely, as a Com Arts student, I used to have more close friends from CDC and other colleges. If I’m being honest, I didn’t really match the wavelengths of my Com Arts batchmates. I saw them as loud, dynamic, and high-maintenance. Their sassiness was a bit intimidating for me. I found it easier to get along with peeps from CDC and Engineering, who were more easygoing and scruffy (in a cute way!). But later on, I also got to meet good friends in my own college who made me comfortable and happy.
Past CDC, I walked by the old CAS (College of Arts and Sciences) building with so much nostalgia. At the start of every semester, this was where I fell in line for several minutes to claim the most coveted Form 5 (Certificate of Registration). (And then, I would fall in line again for hours at the Admin office for payment of matriculation and at the University Registrar for stamping of Form 5 and class cards.) This was also where I endured classes with wall fans blowing warm air in the summertime.
It was certainly not easy in college, but it will always be something I’d be willing to relive over and over because every end of the day was rewarding after you finished all of the day’s tasks. At the end of the day, there would always be friends, good food, and fine coffee that would ease all the stress. I love you, UPLB.
In the morning, before heading back to Manila, I decided to grab breakfast and coffee and chill a little more at Cafe Ella, probably the only cafe in Elbi that’s open at 8 AM on Sunday. Cafe Ella is also a nice place to hang around, with its cozy interior and free Wi-Fi. I tried for the first time their classic meaty red sauced pasta (Php 175) and brewed coffee (Php 65). When I was in college, I usually ordered fish and chips and caramel macchiato. I only went here when I was feeling lavish (when I had extra after paying rent!) because Cafe Ella was a little too expensive for me.
Sundays and holidays will make you realize that the students are the life of Elbi. When there are no classes, there are not many establishments to go to. Most restaurants and cafes are either closed or open late, and it’s hard to find a nice place to hang out especially in the morning. Without the young people, Elbi is like a ghost town.