My Birthday Wish Come True: Revisiting Hakone Gardens in Saratoga – in this week’s issue of the MANILA MAIL (April 9-15, 2014)

MY BIRTHDAY WISH COME TRUE: REVISITING HAKONE GARDENS IN SARATOGA

 

One such view of the Hakone Gardens - please contemplate in silence...
One such view of the Hakone Gardens – please contemplate in silence…
Looking up like the innocent cherub did...
Looking up like the innocent cherub did…
Fire God Fudo got my back for sure...
Fire God Fudo got my back for sure…

I celebrated my 44th birthday last April 4 by doing my usual Friday routine: meeting with my learner at the main branch of the Hayward Public Library for our usual two-hour tutorial, for instance, and then going up to the mezzanine office of Literacy Plus to supervise the Computer Learning Laboratory (CLL) for another couple of hours. What made that day different was the fact that my learner and his mother treated me to a birthday lunch at the Japanese restaurant across the street, Yuki Hana Sushi, where we’re considered regulars so they’re already quick to accommodate my learner’s wheelchair.
After parting ways with this thoughtful mother-son pair, I walked home so that I could pass by the produce market and buy some glass-encased candles for the hallways in our house. Once home, it’s time to party with my parents Ron and Aida, youngest sister Edna, and her partner Joe. We had pancit palabok, lumpia shanghai, okoy, and strawberry cake which was first arrayed with individual candles spelling “Happy Birthday” which of course I had to extinguish with my breath. (I’ll never tell what I wished for, though.)
The following day, Saturday (April 5), was the Hayward Promise Neighborhood (HPN) 5K Run/Walk/Stroll/Roll at the John Muir Elementary School along Soto Road, and then the HPN Community Expo at the Eden Greenway Park a few blocks further along the same road. The main objective of the expo, of course, is to engage the Jackson Triangle residents into partnership with HPN’s community partners, increasing awareness among the public that such community resources exist. Ms. Marie DeLeon, the HPN Chabot College Project Manager was there, along with Ms. Barbara Navarrete and Ms. Kim Bononcini, and my fellow Chabot College student-volunteers Jerry, Alexia, Ruth, and a couple more young women whose names I forgot to ask. Best part of the day? Going around to the different booths to learn more about community resources and then getting some freebies like pens and bags, of course. Some of the tents I remember housed the following: Hayward City Hall Volunteers, Hayward Fire Department, Hayward Unified School District, La Familia Counseling Center, Eden ROP, Cal State East Bay, Tennyson High, Park Elementary School, Chabot College Dental Hygiene, and our tent of course, Chabot College featuring our school’s children’s programs and summer camps. The foregoing list is by no means complete. Those are just the organizations that I was able to recall.
What was turning out to be my own brand of a three-day birthday celebration culminated last Sunday (April 6), when my youngest sister Edna, who has always been one of my staunchest supporters, heard my “wish” a few days back that I would very much like to visit Hakone Gardens again. The first time I ever visited that enchanted place was sometime in 2005, when I was just a few months into my legal permanent residency. (I arrived in Hayward in late December 2004.) I remember that all of us went to Saratoga: Dad, Mom, Joe, Edna, and me, and all of us agreed that it was a magical, tranquil place.
Apparently, the Hakone Estate and Gardens have changed hands several times during its history which dates back to 1915-1917. By 1999-2000, Hakone’s future became uncertain due to the cost of maintaining 18 acres of gardens and buildings on the estate. Eventually, a well-known foundation provided seed funding for Hakone’s preservation under the stewardship of its CEO, Lon Saavedra. In 2005, Hakone was one of the major film sites for Memoirs of a Geisha, which won three Academy Awards. To round out Hakone’s reputation, it is actually the oldest Japanese Estate Garden and Asian Retreat Center in the western Hemisphere. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has selected Hakone as one of the 12 sites in the United States to receive the Save America’s Treasures award. (Among the other sites included are Val-Kil, Eleanor Roosevelt’s home at Hyde Park; Thomas Edison and Henry Ford’s winter estates in Fort Myers, Florida; President Andrew Jackson’s home, and the First Hermitage in Tennessee.)
Since it was a Sunday and there was a private function going on at the Cultural Exchange Center, there were a lot of people simply walking around and taking in the sights and sounds of the gardens. I think all of us there were in awe of Hakone, the entirety of which was laid down with planning and deliberation – each plant, each wooden plank, each small stone. In short, we didn’t dare make too much noise if we could avoid it – even the children. There’s just something about Hakone that stayed with me since my very first visit there in 2005 – and now, nine years later, it’s like a part of my heart and soul has come home.
There’s a primitive Shinto shrine in front of the so-called Lower House, and visitors are not allowed to disturb the arrangement of the shiny white pebbles on the ground. A lot of signs on the walkways say, “Stay on the path.” Now how’s that for a good rule to live by in general? But just once, I veered off the accepted path to ask Edna to take a photo of me with Fudo the Fire God in the background. According to the brochure: “Fudo means “immovable”; he is that in his faith and overcoming all worry and hesitation. His sword is wisdom cutting through ignorance; his rope ties up demons; one eye looks to heaven, one to earth.”
Something in me just resonated with this Fire God. Since I’m an Aries, a Fire sign, by nature I should keep the faith, not giving in to worry and hesitation, living with courage and wisdom, wrestling my demons – but so much has happened in my life and my battle scars are showing. But with my nine-years-in-the-making return trip to Hakone Gardens, I invoke Fudo the fire God again. I call on him to imbue me with renewed sense of purpose and yes, FIRE in my heart and soul again. As I start my 44th year of life here on earth, may I never tire of looking both to heaven and earth for the wisdom I need. I also invoke the Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu to arm my warrior’s heart with both bravery and compassion. Hopefully I have miles to go before I ever sleep that deepest sleep. But while I am awake and in this incarnation, may I do my part in being of service to likeminded fellow humans who are also trying their best to keep the fire burning within their hearts.
It took me 44 years to figure this out: enlightenment is not something outside of me that I have to attain. By virtue of my being a creation of God and Goddess, I am already enlightened, so the next question I should be asking myself is this: How am I using my enlightenment to shed light on the world? ***

Contact Bles Carmona for personal readings at pilipinasblitz@gmail.com, via Facebook at http://facebook.com/pilipinasblitzforever.org, or follow her on Twitter@BlesildaCarmona.

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