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The walk

/ 08:34 AM July 07, 2013

There’s a shuttle service that goes in a loop to the different buildings of the hilly campus and professors may ride for free. But I prefer to walk to our college as much as possible. It’s only  five to ten minutes from the main gate and the hike is steep if you don’t go by the covered stairs near the university chapel. If people ask  how I’ve managed to stay fit, I’d say it’s  the daily walks in the campus.

Eight years ago, when our college moved to its new building on a hill near the chapel, the road that led there was narrow and unpaved. A canopy of trees provides shade. There were no multicabs that served as university jeepeneys back then, so most students and some faculty had to walk.

It was common to see people chatting as they walked leisurely under the trees. The campus looked like a big nature park with people  hiking everywhere. There were fewer cars and there was no jeepney system yet so the university was quieter and less polluted. Car pooling was common. Those who had cars shared the ride.

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Others, like me, soon learned their pace and took the walk as an opportunity to exercise. You became used to it to the point that you would no longer  perspire. But sometimes, I want to sweat out so I’d go jogging on my way up then dry myself with a towel or change into a new shirt. It’s my morning workout.

It’s also my breather after sitting for over an hour  in a cramped jeepney in a traffic jam. Thoreau suggests that one should take a walk for at least two hours day so as not to go insane just sitting on a chair all day. My daily hike was only ten minutes. But it was a delight to be able to walk under the sun filtered by trees amid the riot of cicadas, crickets and birds. It was free music I wouldn’t exchange for anything fed though earphones.

The place is still a sanctuary for birds in this part of the city. Fan tails, kingfishers, sparrows, and occasional hawks glide their way to the trees. It was said that the endangered siloy or Black Shama used to inhabit the campus forest.

It’s a short walk through wildlife. Sometimes, a monitor lizard comes down near the road and rattles its way back to the forest as soon as it sees me. Once, I almost stepped on a snake, which I mistook for a fallen branch. I have since made it a point to fix my eyes on the road.

Normally, I would pick up a dead beetle, moth, cicada, or even a dying bird, which had darted its way headlong on the reflection of sky on a glass window of our building. I’d put them on my desk in the classroom and  ask my students to join me in drawing them. My sketchbook is full of realistic and abstract drawings of these dead insects and birds.

But while some of us delight in  daily nature walks, others hate exercise and would rather ride comfortably in their cars or wait until the little multicab gets packed before it can take them to their building. I don’t understand why they would torture themselves sitting that long, cramped in a ridiculously small jeepney when they can easily go for a five-minute nature walk.

I don’t understand why they would sign up for  expensive marathons during weekends or enroll in air-conditioned gyms to be able to run on the treadmill when walking under the sun is free everyday in the campus.

Perhaps because school administrators themselves rarely walk to the campus and always ride in  air-conditioned SUVs, they tend to sympathize with car owners in the university who ask for wider roads and more parking spaces.

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They never thought of promoting a culture of walking (alas, you need a signed permit before you could jog!) and biking around campus. Green universities provide public bikes for rent or free use and install racks and bike lanes all over the campus. But in our university, biking is so uncommon that school guards find it strange when you enter riding  a  bicycle.

A bus loop that goes all the way to the downtown campus would have drastically reduced the need for faculty and students to use their cars. It would have been the school’s major contribution to easing up traffic and cutting down energy consumption and air pollution. There would have been no need to carve forest hills to widen roads or give way to parking spaces.

It’s a form of technological discrimination when one form of technology is privileged over another. Where you have policy makers composed of car users, you don’t expect them to see the needs of those who walk or bike.

Recently, my walk has not been spared from road widening projects going on in the campus. Backhoes and payloaders were brought in to start shaving the hills along the road. What was formerly a university in a forest is now turning to be an assemblage of buildings and car parks. Fewer people would be seen walking as everyone will be bound to their chairs even when they are actually being transported from one building to another.

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