Spectacular, spectacular

AAAoAAoA Rewind (from J117 January 5, 2009)

Carousel Christmas

It rained lightly on Christmas day and the yearly perya at the heart of Antipolo City was deserted except for a few souls who braved the 20-degree weather to enjoy some rides and games.

A thrilled overgrown man was in a kiddie elephant, small children sharing a single carousel pony constantly waved at their beaming parents by the fence, and a teenage couple screamed and laughed aboard the dizzying Octopus. These were the few, isolated scenes in the amusement park that could have been more alive if only the sun chose to shine.

The Mendozas opened the gates at nine o’clock in the morning, way earlier than normal days when business hours would start at five in the afternoon. It was the day of the year when they expected the fair to get most crowded with families willing to splurge on amusements.
But this year, it was not as opportune.

“Last year was definitely better,” owner Cristy Mendoza remarked in Filipino. She could only describe the usual Christmas frenzy in her perya, and for someone who grew up in and inherited the business from her parents, she’s one person who could tell.

“People would always leave (the park) on Christmas eve to be home for noche buena and then return the morning after. It would get so loud around here, (there would be) so many people. We won’t be able to hear each other at all.”

Cristy, known to carnival operators and ticket vendors as “Aling Tilay,” is the owner of Andaya Amusements contracted by Ynares Center, the city’s coliseum, for the past three years in time for the holidays.

“Since way back, we’ve always spent Christmas eve and the day itself camped right here,” said Cristy, who permanently resides in Marilao, Bulacan with her husband and three daughters. “It’s our unique tradition.”

On an ordinary day, one would see Cristy and her daughters managing a small sari-sari store within the park. The store proper displayed various brands of junk food, sodas and instant noodles. Inside the shack were makeshift beds, a small kitchen and a television set – all partly hidden from public view by multi-colored drapes drawn like room dividers.

Although brought up adopting such atypical, nomadic-like lifestyle, Cristy’s 16-year-old daughter, Michelle, does not feel shortchanged.

“We’re used to it. Anywhere is home,” the high school student said in Filipino. “The perya is always fun and Christmas day has never been drab because there are always people around even when it’s raining and I feel like we’re sharing (the occasion) with them.”

There were always people, indeed, and the perya environment is festive even in the middle of the year. Every night, the park was bustling with crowds visiting from nearby towns. The noise from the rides’ engines, karaoke machines in every corner, and cheering bettors reaches its loudest that visitors could only communicate by signaling with their hands or shouting.

The spacious walkways were either mobbed by children running around and parents running after them or by slow-strolling adolescents grouped by their favorite music genre. Those in their twenties and thirties lined up for their turn on the karaoke microphone while mothers placed bets to win plates and casseroles and fathers stayed for the bingo.

It was a welcoming, albeit deafening, atmosphere, and that was just on a normal, average day. Imagine how much more it could have been if it didn’t rain on Christmas.

There are ten amusement rides in the fair, the most popular of which are the nerve-racking Octopus and the children’s Merry-Go-Round. Most of the mobiles look old and crude, with their paint chipping off and safety devices at a minimum. Based on the numbers, however, they are surprisingly secure.

“I’ve been in this business all my life and I haven’t seen a single casualty,” Cristy, who is in her forties, said. She used to enjoy the rides herself but now that she’s more mature, she admits getting sick after a round.

“Even if the rides were handed down from my parents they are well-maintained and they function like new.”

Cristy is not the only perya veteran in the park, though. Octopus operator Jonie Rivera has also been in the business “forever.”

“I don’t recall being trained to manipulate these machines,” Jonie said in Filipino. He was shouting at the top of his voice to be heard amid the loud whirring of the engines. “I’ve been doing this all my life, and I make people happy in the process.”

Like the Mendozas, Jonie also spends Christmas at the fair. “But everyday here it’s like Christmas,” he said, beaming. “There’s always music and laughter around.”

Aside from the rides, numerous concessionaires offered games and prizes to daring bettors. For a one peso wager, a lucky contestant could win kitchen wares, toiletries, umbrellas and junk food.

One boy was on a winning streak in the pellet gun game, toppling toy soldiers and plastic ducks every time he pulled the trigger. He had filled a small plastic bag with acquired goods.
Jonie’s right. It needed not be Christmas to receive gifts.

For Sgt. Semiliano Vocal who is in charge of security in Ynares Center, the perya had become a valuable part of the community because of its cheap, wholesome entertainment for the masses.

“It’s no Enchanted Kingdom, but it’s definitely a refuge,” the officer said in Filipino. He continued to look around, his eyes alert. For him though, one of the greatest rewards is how the perya makes Christmas more special to those “who can’t even afford a decent meal for noche buena.”

“Even if they have nothing to eat, then can enjoy much for a fifteen-peso ride,” he said. “Christmas, you know, is something that doesn’t have to come with a hefty price.” #

Photo: Dizzying Carousel by Swamibu on Flickr