Cultural Center of the Philippines: A fitness center for all

It's a different kind of show at the CCP in the morning.

By Anthony O. Alcantara

Emil Alvarez executes a lunge-like move and bends his torso, making it parallel to the ground. At the same time, he stretches out his arms in front of him, like Superman flying.

He then curls his fingers, forms two fists and pulls his hands toward his body. He tucks his chin towards his chest and then gradually looks up to the sky, his back arching and stretching upwards.

“This is the turtle move,” he says. I almost expect his eyeballs to pop out as he holds his pose. Then I finally see it. He does look like a turtle looking up.

“Interesting,” I reply. “I really want to learn Tai Chi.”

“No. That’s Wa Teng Kong,” he says. “It’s not Tai Chi but it’s also good for you.”

Emil goes on to lecture me about Wa Teng Kong and Tai Chi and turtles and how it all involves deep breathing and curling up your tongue when you do all the movements.

He is one of those who have found a perfect spot at the 88-hectare Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) complex, a spot with verdant trees and chirping birds, a spot where he can exercise in peace, except when there’s the occasional nosy guy who can’t recognize a human turtle right in front of his nose.

Mecca for the Arts

CCP is indeed a very different place in the morning. Opened in 1969 during the heydays of President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, CCP aimed to be the consummate impresario for everything beautiful and edifying.

Its vision? To become a mecca for Asian arts and culture.

World-renowned performers such as those from the Bolshoi, Kirov and Royal Danish ballets, and actors and singers in musicals such as Miss Saigon and Cats, and other revered musicians and visual artists have showcased their world-class talents there.

The Tanghalang Pambansa, or CCP Main Building, a colossal and stark edifice with a grand fountain in front, has been a witness to all of them.

Every morning, however, especially on Saturdays and Sundays, the CCP Main Building turns into a public gym. The majestic driveway becomes a running oval where people of all weight classes, body shapes, income brackets and nationalities run or walk.

The marble steps in front of the main doors of the CCP Main Building is where people like to do push-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges. And on the wide spaces to the left and right of the building, some do stretching and shadow-boxing.

Dogs frolic there

Even dogs–from pugs, dobermans, chihuahuas and Labradors, to name a few–find the manicured-grass area in front of the building an ideal place for sniffing around, marking their territory, and catching Frisbees.

Asked why he’s at the CCP on a Saturday morning, Jojo, who’s in his late 20s, simply says it has become a habit.

“I came from Makati, Dian Street. I run from my house to this place to exercise,” he says as he wipes the sweat off his face.

“Have you ever watched a show here at CCP?” I ask.

“No, I haven’t ever been into that building.”

Indeed many people who go to CCP in the morning don’t even know what goes on inside this mecca for the arts.

And while some people look for peace and quiet among trees, or a good place to run and do push-ups, others like loud music and frenetic exercise moves. I’ve seen the perfect place for that.

“Aero-park”

The area to the right of the CCP Main Building, where an iridescent glass, stainless steel and concrete sculpture by Ramon Orlina stands, is a small park for people who seem to worship the artist’s masterpiece every Saturday and Sunday morning.

Instead of sipping wine and munching canapés as they marvel at Orlina’s eight-meter high sculpture called Oneness, the folks there sip from their water bottles in between sessions of vigorous aerobics accompanied by loud dance music.

It is there, too, that I discover that aerobics is a spectator sport. I see a line of people, mostly men, ogle at some 200 weekend aerobics enthusiasts, many of them lithe young women, as they sweat it out. They seem to be enjoying the show so much that I feel like buying them popcorn and giving them some comfortable chairs.

Further along the park behind Orlina’s work of art, are three more aerobics classes. While most of these aerobics classes charge P20 per person, one class collects monthly fees, and they all wear a certain color for the day’s session.

Something fishy

Walking along the quay, you’ll also find fishing enthusiasts with their colorful fishing rods and cans of worms.

“I started fishing two years ago,” says Jose while hooking two small squirming worms into two separate hooks on his line. “I just got bored with running and thought of using the fishing rod someone gave me.”

After flinging his line toward the murky waters of Manila Bay and waiting two minutes, he feels a tug and quickly reels in his line to see if his worms are okay.

One is still there helpless and bored, but the other has been gulped by a small tilapia, who’s now struggling to get off the fishing hook. Jose unhooks the fish and places it in a small cage with a net covering.

He says he will give it to his friend who makes daing, or dried fish, out of their catch.

“Sometimes I catch three kilos of fish on a good day,” says Jose, who usually goes for his weekend fishing trips at 5am and goes home at noon. He sometimes catches bangus, or milkfish, as big as his leg.

Fishing at the quay is free. You just bring your own fishing rod, which, according to Jose, you can get for as cheap as P300 or as expensive as P30,000. Worms, which you can buy from peddlers nearby, cost P10 per small cup.

Rackets for rent

In the parking lots all over the CCP complex, you’ll also find people playing badminton, tennis, and Frisbee. Some bring their own gear, but some prefer to rent. Enterprising homeless people there have made it a stable and thriving business.

So you see a lot of people hitting tennis balls and shuttle cocks and catching Frisbees.

Further along the quay are the rowers. Most have their body suits on and toting their paddle bags. You see them doing warm-up stretching early in the morning. I’ve never seen their boats, though.

Near the Folk Arts Theater, where religious groups usually worship in the morning, are the swimmers. Despite the often-murky waters and the noisome smell of decay, some people attest to its curative powers.

Ernesto, one of the habitués there, brings his family to the area to bathe and swim. Sometimes he hires a boat for a short trip near SM Mall of Asia and Baseco, where they can enjoy cleaner air and calm their fraught nerves with the gentle waves of the sea.

Biggest public toilet

One part of the quay, though, is slowly crumbling as waves wash away the rocks and concrete beneath.

“That’s where some (homeless) people do their thing. They’ve turned it into their toilet,” says Ernesto. Bathing, fresh air, good health, an open bathroom, and people happily swimming nearby. It doesn’t make sense to me, but Ernesto doesn’t pause to explain.

These folks will surely make very interesting subjects on the study of cognitive dissonance.

We continue to watch the bathers. Babies and children clinging to their parents are dipped into the water. Ernesto says they rarely get sick.

There are other areas for other sports, too. Cyclists whiz past the CCP Main Theater, Folk Arts Theater, Philippine International Convention Center, Star City, and the Coconut Palace as they travel along the CCP complex’s wide streets.

Some runners and walkers who find the CCP main building oval too crowded find these streets inviting, too. With the increasing popularity of running, the CCP complex has become an even busier venue for many marathons.

Everybody seems to be fit and happy at the CCP complex. I’m sure you can find your own suitable spot there. And perhaps, like me, you’ll learn something about turtles, too.

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