CAN a house be like a human body and be inhabited by a soul in much the same way an hermit crab moves ina discarded shell and in no time, turns the shell into not just its domain but an essential part of the whole, the hard shell acting as armor and camouflage for the hidden secret self?
Baguio got me into thinking about houses.
I’ve visited this city in the north of Luzon a few times. I haven’t explored it as a tourist. Either work or the weather kept me indoors. Although the city seems smaller and more cohesive than most, I have yet to walk around and get to know it beyond the jars of ube jam and strawberry preserves we go up Mines View for.
My inattentiveness was tested when the older son recently asked me to point out the “White House” in the settlements hugging a mountain slope, along with the city’s other famous residents: its pine trees.
Which one, I asked, peering at a distance not obscured by fog, for once.
The son repeated the gleanings he got from the Internet about Baguio ranking high as the world’s most haunted places. Among the sites where many met gruesome deaths during World War II, the “White House” stood out.
A check with the Internet yielded many articles and blogs about the residence formerly owned by the Laperal clan, whose members met mortal ends, adjective to be stressed, according to the Internet mash of local history and urban legend.
The accounts include a YouTube uploading of a TV network’s “investigation” of the paranormal occurrences in house no. 14 along Leonard Wood Road. The video clip’s climax—the audible whisper of a female voice declaring “we are here” in an empty bedroom where the close-circuit TV fell off several times and had to be adjusted by a crew member, made progressively hesitant to go back in the house during the evening stakeout–generates spirited online debate as to whether it was indeed a recording of paranormal forces or the voice-over of a famous broadcast veteran.
The White House stories are entertaining, the right stuff for Halloween storytelling.
Answering the older son’s question—which one is it?—was a different matter.
According to reports, the White House is open to the public. Artworks made of bamboo are exhibited in the former living room. The house and its interiors are well-preserved heritage, harking to not just the architecture popular during the 1930s but also to endurance that withstood the 1990 earthquake.
The mention of bamboo art instantly made me see a white-painted structure that stood by the road. On my first visit to Baguio, I spotted a few tourists entering this house. The advertised bamboo art exhibit seemed promising; however, we were on our way to an appointment and could not stop.
In consequent trips, we often drove past the bamboo art museum on our way to other places. Compared to other attractions along the winding drive up Baguio, sightseers seldom gathered here. No selfie-aficionado was ever spotted specially in the evenings, even though the bamboo art museum is a brisk walk away from an always crowded branch of Glen 50’s Diner.
Perhaps even for the Scooby-Doo crowd, burgers and milkshakes don’t go down well with this house, with its many windows and air of perpetual watching. Long before I read about its history/myths, I found the former Laperal House to be like one of those “tupig” roadside sellers who wave at motorists to stop and sample this Ilokano delicacy of sticky rice and coconut.
Seekers always find what they seek, whether it is wartime tragedy, evidence of the occult, or well-preserved architectural traditions. As a formerly disinterested visitor who has passed the White House of Baguio and heard its calling, I am certain of only one thing: what’s found in this dwelling is not as sweet as an Ilokano rice cake.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s November 3, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”