U.P. Campus: A Universal Playground

I am re-posting an article published last April 7, 2011 by SAM MARCELO, Senior writer of the Business World Newspaper who wrote this splendid article about running and other sporting activities at the University of the Philippines campus. Sam reminisces why the campus of his Alma mater has been attracting hordes of sports enthusiasts and shares his pleasant experiences with the running community. He quotes me (ehem..) on the routes inside the campus and why running there has been a part of many runners’ itinerary. Here’s the article:

UNIVERSAL PLAYGROUND by Sam Marcelo

The University of the Philippines (UP), Diliman is a year-round petri dish of human activity. Unlike schools that turn into ghost towns over summer vacation, UP is perpetually alive. On Sundays, when cars aren’t allowed into the Academic Oval, weekend warriors flock to the Diliman campus, already a Mecca for joggers, and turn the university into a universal playground.

The beating heart of UP is the Academic Oval, a 2.2-kilometer stretch that is more rectangle than oval when viewed in Google Earth’s satellite images. Joggers usually begin their run at Quezon Hall (The Administration Building or “Admin”), the site of the Oblation statue. Sculpted by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino, the pose of the Oblation — arms outstretched, head turned to the sky — is symbolic of solemn offering (which is what “oblation” means, in the first place). During my years as a UP student, I never saw the Oblation as a sacrificial lamb. I always thought — and still think — of UP’s naked man as an Olympic ideal, a victorious runner breasting the tape.
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Under his shadow, runners limber up. While stretching their gastrocnemius and quadriceps muscles, they face towards the west, like the Oblation, and take in the view: the length of the University Avenue framed by a pair of triangular waiting sheds designed by National Artist Napoleon Abueva. The sunflowers that line “Univ. Ave.” haven’t yet begun to bloom but they are there, sleeping underneath the earth. Sunflowers are a summer tradition in UP; these heliotropes are scheduled to bloom late April, right around the time graduation ceremonies are held.

After the ritual of stretching is done, one can either turn towards Roxas Ave. and run the Acad Oval counterclockwise (in the same direction as the area’s one-way vehicular traffic scheme) or turn towards Osmena Ave. and run clockwise.

The experience isn’t the same. Running the loop counterclockwise means going with the flow and becoming a proverbial single drop of water in a mighty river. Running clockwise means seeing people — really seeing them — and occasionally meeting an oncoming jogger’s eyes. Many prefer to run counterclockwise. Assuming that the elevation data available from Google Earth is accurate, there is a rational explanation for this phenomenon: the Acad Oval is easier to run counterclockwise because of the downward sloping terrain close to Melchor Hall (The College of Engineering, “Engíg”). Go clockwise and you’ll be running uphill more often than not.

Part of the Academic Oval

During the beginning of the school year, freshmen are given “survival guides” containing university lore. Trivia compiled in Vista Pinas, a blog run by Eugene Alvin Villar, UP alumnus and self-described “techno-addict and map-fanatic,” includes the following unverified but oft-quoted details: (1) there are 16 humps around the Acad Oval; (2) its western end is Kilometer 14 and its eastern end, Kilometer 15; and (3) 281 acacia trees line the oval, 109 on the outer lane and 172 on the inside. The branches of these acacia trees tangle, twine and form an arboreal embrace above UP’s runners.

“Running in UP is great because of its almost pollution-free environment. It has wide open spaces, acacia tree-lined roads and many more shaded pathways that protect you from the heat of the sun,” said Rene L. Villarta in an e-mail interview with BusinessWorld. Mr. Villarta is the team leader and head of the Adidas Adination of Runners Running Clinic that meets in UP every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. “Running in UP is like running in a huge park replete with botanical gardens, green foliage, quaint residential neighborhoods, and buildings old and new. Vehicles are at a minimum and, most importantly, the campus is very peaceful.MICROCOSM OF PHILIPPINE SOCIETY”

The university is said to be a microcosm of Philippine society. Jogging is a fine opportunity to people-watch and the variety of joggers and jogging-related fashion in UP is different from the yuppie/expat agglomeration found in the south. You will not find anyone like Lawin or Zorro, the unofficial masked mascot of the university whose lair extends from Quezon Memorial Circle to UP, in Makati or Fort Bonifacio Global City.

U.P.'s Zorro (Pic taken from Juice Kupo's blog)

The caped crusader is harmless — he might be considered a protector, even — and he is as much a part of UP as the Oblation, as the “aristokarts,” the “hepa sandwiches,” and the Ikot and Toki jeeps. He perches on the Acad Oval’s benches, high-fives random joggers, and cheers them on.

UP has cross-training varsity members, their loping nonchalance evident in every swish of their loose Michael Jordanesque shorts; serious runners identifiable by their metronomic gait and hydration systems; ex-athletes who wear their old jerseys like armor, as if to say “I may be a sack of potatoes now but I used to be fit”; marathoners in racing singlets proclaiming that they ARE fit and capable of finishing a 21-kilometer race; trendy runners trying out Vibram FiveFingers barefoot sports shoes; and brand ambassadors who declare their loyalty to either swoosh or three stripes from head to toe.

The Acad Oval has them all: human beings of every age and every morphology (from callipygian to cankleíd). They run, juke, walk, jog, backpedal, high-knee, butt-kick, and karaoke while dressed in sweat pants, compression tights, and last decade’s fashion. The most common accessory? White earbuds courtesy of Steve Jobs.

Me and Marga

Along Roxas Ave., by the waiting shed in front of the Faculty Center (“FC”), BMX bikers — different from the helmeted cyclists going around the Acad Oval — perform wheelies, tailwhips, and other “flatland” tricks while dressed in low-slung jeans that expose boxer shorts — and, on occasion, butt-crack — to the jogging public.

Continuing on the counterclockwise route, a jogger will see skateboarders doing kickflips and grinds on the AS steps. This stairway leads to Palma Hall, formerly the “Arts and Sciences” Building (hence “AS”). The entities previously housed in this building have since split into the College of Arts and Letters, the College of Social Science and Philosophy, and the College of Science, but its name remains: it is still “AS.
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The AS Steps, owned by skateboarders on Sunday, is the acknowledged “tambayan” or hangout of UP’s “coño” crowd. On these steps, they congregate and wait for their drivers to pick them up. It’s possible to spend hours here and the true mark of a UP graduate is the ability to sit anywhere and kill time.
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Across the AS Steps, in the AS Parking Lot, mallet-wielding men and women mounted on two-wheeled mechanical horses engage in a new craze: bicycle polo. The Acad Oval is both museum and proving ground for leisurely pursuits. Along this 2.2-kilometer loop, one might spot Rollerblades (inline skates, if you prefer), a throwback from the 1990s, or folding electronic bikes invented by a UP Diliman engineering graduate (look up the Tronix eBike).

MY LAND, YOUR LAND, OUR LAND

As a jogger approaches the eastern side of the Acad Oval, opposite the Oblation Plaza, he sees the Sunken Garden (officially named General Antonio Luna Parade Grounds, but no one calls it that), a natural bowl-like depression teeming with sweaty bodies engaged in team sports. Hours before play begins, designated members must arrive early and stake out their domain with little orange cones. Setting down these pylons is the human equivalent of dogs urinating on their territory.

Adidas Adination of Runners, UP Group

Over time and out of habit, areas become associated with sports. Football is usually played closer to Benitez Hall (College of Education, “Educ”); disc on the opposite end, closer to Malcolm Hall (College of Law, “Law”). The center belongs to whoever gets there first.

The rise and fall of a game’s popularity can be judged by how much of the Sunken Garden’s five hectares it eats up. During its heyday in the early 2000s, flag football used to be played on three fields (to the ire of other sports enthusiasts). That no longer happens since the Sunken Garden crowd has moved to Circulo Verde near Eastwood City.

At best, one might find a group of friends playing seven-a-side flag football or a tackle football team belonging to ArenaBall Philippines, the first local tackle football league, training in full gear.

The natural slope of the Sunken Garden is reserved for idlers who would rather lie on the grass and spectate than participate. They loll, read, sketch, and watch the clouds roll by. With their DSLRs, they document the frolicking staged in front of them. Families set up their tents and picnic mats and enjoy a tame version of the great outdoors.

The covered walk leading from AS to the Gonzalez Hall (University or Main Library, “Main Lib”) offers another vantage point of the Sunken Garden. Back when the College of Fine Arts (“FA”) was still located in Gonzalez Hall, this covered walk was known as the “artist’s street,” where the cool kids and pretty girls of FA hung out.

Boomerang throwers, kite fliers, and Sepak Takraw players have all visited and played in Sunken Garden, a marshy piece of land that, according to UP lore, sits on a fault line (hence the sinking). It isn’t perfect. During the rainy season, the Sunken Garden floods and turns into a mud pit; during summer time, it’s a desert. Artifacts such as broken bottles and condoms have been exhumed from this site of urban anthropology. Unpeopled, the Sunken Garden is a barren womb.

The UP Diliman campus, established in 1949, has a classical layout with a monumental axis running from the Oblation statue to the Andres Bonifacio monument in front of Vinzons Hall. Rounding the eastern end of the Acad Oval, a jogger first hits Law (the mirror image of Educ) then Engig (the mirror image of AS).

The tennis courts and the 130-foot Carillon Tower are found on this side of the Acad Oval. Take your earbuds out and you might hear music students practicing their instruments. A few more paces down and you’ll hit the grassy area behind Quezon Hall, which is more family oriented than Sunken Garden. Volleyball, badminton, buzzing remote-control cars, folks dozing in hammocks — these are the sights on this end of the 2.2-kilometer loop.

The hill opposite Quezon Hall was part of a nine-hole golf course spread over UP’s 493 hectares of rolling terrain. Sometimes, guys take their pitching wedge and practice their swing on this knoll, upon which a makeshift green has also sprouted. Turn the corner and you’re back where you started: right in front of the Oblation statue.

At 6 p.m., the lights flutter on; joggers come and go well into the night. University officials and professors prefer to make their rounds late at night to lessen the risk of bumping into students (it is mildly awkward to see your Math 55 professor panting around the Acad Oval).

Unfortunately, the street lamps’ glow doesn’t reach the Sunken Garden. The last ball is thrown, the last disc is hucked when it finally gets too dark to see.

HEARTBREAK HILL

The known length of the Acad Oval makes it easy for joggers to track their progress. When boredom hits, however, there are several alternatives. First option: the 400-meter Track Oval across the College of Human Kinetics, where the university’s softball and football varsities share the field with track-and-fielders practicing their javelin, shot put, and hammer throws.

Second, the new 500-meter “science oval,” a tribute to the Acad Oval, which is envisioned to be the unifying feature of the soon-to-be-completed National Science Complex, a 21.9-hectare project that was allocated P1.7 billion by the Philippine government in 2006.

And lastly, institutionalized jogging routes used by members of the UP Mountaineers for its diagnostic runs. According to Mr. Villarta, who also runs the blog www.jazzrunner.wordpress.com, the 10-, 15-, and 21-kilometer distances extend outside the Acad Oval and include Magsaysay Ave. and Pardo De Tavera St. towards the south. Standard distance races in UP are measured on this five-kilometer loop, run it twice and you’ve covered 10 kilometers.

These routes include Heartbreak Hill, a 100-meter incline with a steep grade that reaches up to 20 feet. “UP’s Heartbreak Hill has been a regular training ground for runners since the late 1970s,” said Mr. Villarta, who added that its distance and elevation have been given as fact ever since.

U.P.'s Heartbreak Hill

As for playgrounds — as in those with slides, swings, and seesaws — UP has several of them: one is located behind the College of Science Library and Administration Building. There are at least two others (have fun looking for them).

HUMAN AGENCY AND ROBUST ARCHITECTURE

“UP is a responsive environment,” said Danilo Silvestre, former dean of the College of Architecture (“Arki”), who specializes in architectural and urban design. “Its design is robust and it lends itself to anything. You can’t foresee how people are going to use it — and people will use it the way they want to.”

In architectural parlance, he continued, “robustness” refers to a space’s ability to perform a multiplicity of functions. When the AS Steps were first built, for example, architects weren’t thinking that it would be a great prop for skateboard tricks. And yet, the stairs are used as such today.

“UP means different things to different people,” said Mr. Silvestre, a UP alumnus who graduated magna cum laude. He added that the activities performed around Acad Oval will often reflect the prevailing cultural milieu.

As an example, he offered the 1950s, an Americanized period in Philippine history, during which hayride wagons circled the Acad Oval as part of the Lantern Parade, which also included a university-wide barn dance.

Today, UP is a social place, especially on weekends when it exudes a “fiesta atmosphere.”

We return because of the memories that are rooted in every nook and cranny of the campus. Places are easier to love than people. UP is mine. It can be yours as well.

(UP Diliman is open every day. Entrance is free.)

The whole article can be found here: http://www.bworldonline.com/