“History is a relentless master. It has no present, only the past rushing into the future. To try to hold fast is to be swept aside.” –John F. Kennedy
Chapter Fifteen: The Father’s Tale
“I can’t believe we came to another country just to look at a school,” Satomi griped.
“But it’s so pretty!” Refia chirped.
After a late start and brunch, we headed out to the University of Santo Tomas, the oldest university in Asia. In spirit if not in construction –the university had moved to its present location in the 1920s, and the original campus was destroyed during World War II. In everything else but construction, though, the university was the same.
Founded in 1611, the university had seen no less than four flags raised above it, each one claiming dominion over the center of learning –five if you counted the Vatican. Through it all the university had endured. Colonialism, revolution, counter-revolution, nationhood; it still stood, and still accepted students.
Though it was summer break for them, too, and the place seemed oddly desolate as a result. It wasn’t completely abandoned, though. Groundskeepers were hard at work sprucing the place up for the next semester, just like they did at Yamaku. Somewhere to our side a priest was on his way to the parish, a group of summer students eagerly following in his wake. Not far from us was a tour group, taking in the view of the Arch of the Centuries –one of the few surviving relics of the old university.
Still, without all the students and professors walking to and fro, the place seemed a lot emptier. It reminded me a lot of Yamaku before I left for this vacation, and I said as much while we were looking at the Arch.
Uncle Hisao nodded, “Yeah, I’ve never liked being in schools after classes or during breaks for that reason. A place of learning with no learning going on is kinda creepy.”
“The school is pretty quiet after baseball practice,” Satomi agreed.
“Do you ever see any ghosts?” Refia asked her older sister.
Satomi rolled her eyes and looked down at Refia, “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“The Occult Club at the high school where I teach disagrees,” Uncle Hisao stated.
“So does the one from college,” Kenji added, “Never did get those stains out….”
It was odd sometimes how much of what Kenji said seemed to lead to a story. Or how he and Uncle Hisao could carry on a seemingly private conversation amongst the rest of the family. Rather than elaborate on his remark, Kenji just looked up at the Arch, the bright sunlight reflecting off his glasses and his expression oddly neutral.
The Arch was an interesting mix of Spanish and Asian architecture, with pale stone, angled tiles, and various carvings along its surface. It was certainly nice to look at, but I wasn’t quite capable of getting Satomi’s complaint out of my head. I mean sure, the buildings had a Spanish design to reflect the original university. But we had seen buildings that dated back to the first colonial cities, and in comparison, the university wasn’t much, really.
“Okay everyone,” Miya said, camera in hand, “group photo time. Could someone grab my tripod?”
Miya had brought a tripod and had strapped it to her back. It had made the jeepney ride here interesting, though I was once again distracted by trying to keep down my latest meal.
Kenji pulled out the tripod and handed it to Miya, and while she set it up we arranged ourselves between the Arch’s two pillars. Aunt Hana, Uncle Hisao, and Kenji were in the back, while I was in the front with Satomi and Akio. Refia was in front of us, and I left a space next to me for Miya.
“Shoulda known we’d end up like this,” Satomi muttered.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Aunt Hana declared.
That kept Satomi from complaining for a while.
It took Miya three takes before she was satisfied with the photo, after which we moved on. Sticking close to the Arch, we next looked over the Fountain of Wisdom. It was an impressive fountain with a woman holding a globe high above her head, supported by several sphinxes and surrounded by stone owls.
“I think I remember this,” Satomi remarked.
Kenji nodded, “Looks based on Athena, doesn’t it?”
“Who?” Satomi asked.
“The Greek goddess of wisdom and war,” I replied, “the owl was her pet bird. On the other end, I think the Fountain of Knowledge might be based a bit on Artemis, the goddess of nature, but that’s just based on the deer.”
Satomi rolled her eyes at my nerddom and turned to Miya, “Can I take these photos?”
Miya nodded, “Sure, but the water might cause some blurring, so make sure you frame it right.”
After taking a look around both fountains and the parade grounds, we split off to look at different things, with a plan to regroup at the main building. Kenji, Hisato, Miya, and Akio went to walk around the Parish, while Hanako, Refia, and Satomi wandered around the edges of the campus for a bit.
This left me with Uncle Hisao at the main building. Built in the 1920s as part of the move, it was definitely built with Spanish architecture in mind. The entire building was stone, with high arched spaces for windows across each storie, and I knew from my research that it had the old fashioned inside courtyard design the Spanish had seemingly been using forever.
Its size was a bit daunting, really; university buildings were a lot bigger than the buildings at Yamaku. It made sense, of course, but seeing the change in scale brought home just how much different the two were.
Hisao looked up at the massive stone structure and gave a wistful sigh. Smirking lightly, he glanced down at me and said, “You’re probably wondering why we came here.”
“…I presumed to see the sights,” I replied.
Hisao shrugged, “I guess. Honestly I think I do it for the nostalgia.”
Uncle Hisao chuckled, “There’s something about being on a university campus that brings back memories of my own college days.”
“Oh. You went to the same university as Aunt Hana, Kenji, and Chairperson Williams, didn’t you?”
Uncle Hisao nodded, “Yeah, although she was just Lilly Satou back then. Sometimes I thought it was weird, going from the same high school to the same college together. Made for some interesting times, though.”
“Like that road trip to Tokyo?”
Uncle Hisao nodded, “Yeah, that was a trip, all right. You should have Emi tell you about it. That was actually one of the more normal things we did –side effect of hanging out with Kenji, I suppose.”
I tilted my head slightly, “Huh?”
“Eh, nothing,” Uncle Hisao said, grinning lightly.
Despite the dodge, Uncle Hisao had piqued my curiosity. No one in my family had gone to college, obviously, and I was curious what it was like. Even though it was some time in my future, I did need to start looking over my options. Especially if I was going to study overseas.
We wandered around to the right side of the building –left from the building’s perspective- passing by a small group of students studying under a tree near the corner. They spared us a glance before resuming their work.
While Hisao looked up at the building, his eyes showing that he was mentally kilometers away, I figured I’d ask him about his college days, as long as he was in a nostalgic mood. Besides, it might help me learn more about Kenji and my more or less adoptive family.
“What were your college days like, if I may ask?” I asked.
Hisao blinked as he came back to the here and now, though I had to repeat the question before he heard me.
“Well… adventurous, I guess would be the best description,” Hisao replied, “Did Kenji ever talk to you about his high school days?”
I shook my head.
“Well,” Hisao grimaced as he chose his words carefully, “…suffice to say back then, he was never boring. Not that’s he’s boring now, just… a little more grounded. I think Miya had a lot to do with that,” Hisao chuckled lightly to himself, “Back in college, I never woulda figured Kenji for the fatherly type, but I was never good at that kind of thing. Sorry, I’m rambling. Anything you wanted to ask in particular?”
“Um… sorry, I didn’t think this through.”
Hisao grinned, “Don’t worry about it. I could tell you a few things about who I went to college with, if you like. I hung out with some… interesting people.”
I raised my eyebrow, “How so?”
“Well…” Hisao looked up at the building with a wistful expression, “Besides the obvious of my wife, her best friend, and my best friend, have you ever heard of the Takarada Conglomerate?”
I nodded, “They’re a major contributor to the Hakamichi Foundation.”
Hisao nodded, “Their current President was our Student Council Treasurer. He was a character all right, but he had a good heart, though he’d never admit it himself. Who else… oh, there was this stoner studying to be a nuclear physicist. He was cool. Married an international student from Israel and moved up north. This was after the earthquake, mind. Hmm….”
“That you, Hisao?” Kenji’s voice asked.
We both turned to the far end of the wall we were facing. Kenji, Hisato, Miya, and Akio had metaphorically run into us through their own wandering, and were walking towards us, Hisato on Miya’s shoulders and Akio a pace behind the other three.
“It ain’t Townshend Harris,” Uncle Hisao quipped, “Decided to take some pics of the main building?”
“I wanted to try some tricks with the shadows,” Miya explained, “Oh, and the others are by the parish. We should probably regroup and check it out –I have some ideas with my black and white film that’ll make some great Gothic style photos.”
Uncle Hisao smirked and nodded, “Sounds cool.”
We took the long way around the building, so Hisao and I could finish looking it over. It really was an impressive structure, and Miya insisted on taking several photos with the black and white film, apparently having entered some sort of artistic mood.
“Those are gonna look great,” Miya declared as we headed for the Parish, “So, you two have fun?”
I nodded, “Uncle Hisao was telling me about his college days.”
“Really?” Kenji grinned, “Did he tell you about the Remember Reach Convention?”
“I try to forget that, actually,” Hisao muttered.
Not sure what to make of that, I blinked dumbly a couple times before replying, “No, he didn’t mention that.”
“What about the Warcraft Accord?” Miya asked.
Kenji and Hisao stopped in their tracks and turned to Miya, “How did you hear about that?”
“You were on the other side of the planet!” Kenji added.
Miya smiled, shrugged, and didn’t say anything.
Kenji chuckled and started walking again, “You’re somethin’ else, you know that?”
“I’d have to be to have grabbed you.”
Uncle Hisao rolled his eyes and smirked at me.
As we got closer to the Parish, which was even bigger than the main building, Kenji glanced in my general direction and asked, “So, you’re thinkin’ about college already.”
“Well, I do need to start thinking about it,” I replied, “Exams’ll be next year, after all.”
Kenji nodded, “Good point. Just, don’t forget about this year in the process, okay?”
“I won’t,” I promised.
“And when the time comes,” Hisao said, “if you have any questions, you know how to reach me,” he grinned and winked at me, “You wouldn’t be the first high schooler I helped prep for college after all.”
I smirked and nodded, “Thanks.”
Fortunately I had some time before I had to worry too much about it. It was reassuring, though, knowing I’d have help along the way.
I was still getting used to that feeling. I liked it.
I like university campuses. I originally planned to become a university professor, but I cracked before I could get my PhD.
Eh, these things happen.