Torn Down

I finally made it to Cubao where my grandmother's house used to stand. Tita M said she saw the small book I gave to mom last year that included images from the Cubao series and some old photographs of the family while they lived there. "Naluha ako." she said. (I was teary eyed.).

Empty Lot. Cubao, Quezon City./ ©Stella Kalaw

Empty Lot. Cubao, Quezon City. /©Stella Kalaw

The only structure left was the master bedroom where Iling now resides.

Door to the Master Bedroom. Cubao, Quezon City./ ©Stella Kalaw

Door to the Master Bedroom. Cubao, Quezon City. /©Stella Kalaw

Memories of Cubao

Lola's handwriting, 1959.

When I was a kid, I once took my shoes off and bounced playfully on the couch. Lola (grandmother) happened to pass by the living room on her way to her bedroom and saw me. "Ay, agi!" she exclaimed. She waved her hands to shoo me away from the couch then rattled off a few more sentences in a local dialect that I could not understand. Then mom and my aunts would again remind my siblings and I to behave because Lola was very meticulous when it came to anything inside her home. During my visit last year, I was quite surprised to see that the Japanese doll encased in very thin glass has managed to survive all these years especially with my cousins who lived with her when they were kids. It was the golden rule in that house: do not dare touch it or else.


It was in Cubao where we were allowed to drink soda. Lola prepared our favorite dishes and a liter of Coke or Pepsi accompanied our meal. I remember she stood behind the dining chair with a smile on her face as she watched us savour the food. Lolo (grandfather) usually came home from the province on the weekends and brought delicacies with him. I remember almost finishing an entire box of pastillas in one sitting.

Lolo & Lola dancing together, undated.

One summer, Lolo taught me how to play volleyball. He coached the national team and I told him I wanted to get into my high school team on my sophomore year. He shared his techniques and he made me dig for the ball repeatedly in different directions until he knew I was confident enough to handle any situation on the court. I did make it to the team and stayed until my senior year.


Lolo was a math wiz. On some weekends during the school year, I brought my math assignments with me. After lunch, I would spread my notebooks on the dining table and he would patiently go over the assignments. It seemed effortless every time we did word problems and long trigonometry or algebra equations together. I always wished I had that same feeling when I was in the classroom taking the exam. I would not have passed all my math subjects in high school if it were not for Lolo.

Lolo & Lola during a trip to Europe. Circa 1970's

The series of photographs from my grandparents' house won the Places Category at the En Foco International Photography Competition in celebration of its 35th Anniversary.


The last time I ever saw my grandparents was right after I graduated from school. It was my first visit to Cubao after migrating to America. My heart ached as I sat next to Lola- her eyes staring at the ceiling and her tongue rolling against her right cheek. I held her hand. She had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease and diabetes for years. My cousin was there next to me, tears rolling down her face as she remembered how vibrant Lola was before her illness. Then Lolo came out from the dining room. I stood up and greeted him with a mano- (I took his hand and pressed it to my forehead). I don't know if he recognized me but I asked how he was doing. All he could mutter was "Ha?" He was hard of hearing. He kept repeating it every time I attempted to make a conversation.

My Lola died in 2002 and my Lolo passed away a week after I took these photographs. Even when I was a child, I never really knew them. My memories are few and visiting Cubao resurfaced many that I had forgotten.