The Lianga Central Elementary School is located in a square shaped, walled compound right smack in the center of the town and just a short distance from the municipal or town hall. A day or so ago, I took the chance during one of my infrequent strolls through different parts of the town to pay the school a visit and see how it is gearing up for the opening of the new school year next month.
Like all public schools all over the country, the town's grade school buildings are totally enclosed in concrete walls with sections on which the names of local residents who in the past who have been school benefactors are prominently displayed, some of the names were familiar to me while others were barely recognizable, most of them probably belonging to persons long gone and whose moment of generosity have managed to lent them, through their names written in concrete, some measure of immortality.
Except for the main building and its two separate wings, most of the structures in the compound are relatively new and probably constructed in the past decade or so. They are simple, roofed, square and rectangular cubes of wood and concrete, brightly painted yet strangely characterless, their blank, outside walls often emblazoned with slogans and the names of local education officials and teachers.
It is the old main building at the end of the long paved path from the main gate that always draws my attention. It is an elevated, single story, wooden structure that was built in the post-World War II era, its venerable appearance proclaiming decades of use and abuse.
If it has ever been painted, it doesn't show. Time and constant weathering may have stripped whatever original colors were used the cover the aged wooden timbers and planks leaving their skins to be roughened and wrinkled by time and exposure to the elements like an old crone.
The whole flooring of wooden planks trembled and shook a bit when I stomped and jumped on it and for a while I wondered if I would not fall through to the ground but there was an essential solidity about the whole structure that reassured me. That and the fact that the whole building and the classrooms it still contains are still being actively used and that during school days students and their teachers occupy the gloomy rooms and roam its halls.
If there is a building in Lianga that is steeped in its history, this is surely one of them. Countless children have been educated here over the many decades, children who would later grow up and have families, have children and grandchildren of their own who now go to the same school in the same building. Yet it still stands there year after year, outliving and surviving them all. Its walls have probably seen and witnessed much and would have probably have wonderful stories to tell if they could talk.
I have friends and relatives who went to school in Lianga during their grade school years and they used to tell me nostalgic stories of what it was like to grow up and learn your ABC's here during the 1960's and 1970's. Much of these stories have the mischievous, carefree flavor and delicious innocence of grade school education in the rural countryside of a now bygone era. Thinking back to my rather staid, stressful and rather traumatic elementary school years in the city, I would grow green with envy and wish that I too had the same idyllic experiences.
That is why the old school building in Lianga appeals to me. If this town has a soul, I would like to think that a large part of it would reside within its worn and weathered timbers. Even as I gazed at it from the main gate before leaving, the building, unlike its neighboring structures, had class, character and personality despite it's rather worn and dilapidated appearance. And rather than hiding its age, it seemed rather to flaunt it.
I am reminded of a venerable old lady of class and good breeding fallen on hard times. Arthritic, sickly and virtually penniless yet remaining haughty, defiant and determined to keep up appearances despite everything. That is what the school building is like. And just like the town it is so much a part of.
Two old crones and each one as stubborn as the other.