Pioneer Avenue is a place in General Santos City that has made me feel the real spirit of friendship that no other friendship networks can provide, not even the ever-famous Friendster community over the Internet. Having lived in General Santos City for eighteen years, I feel so proud that Pioneer Avenue has come such a long way. The whole length of Pioneer Avenue extends from Sydney Hotel to Chowking on one side and from Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Colleges to Golden State HRM laboratory on the other side. The place is purely a commercial area. It was named Pioneer Avenue because it was where the first settlers of General Santos City had lived — “the pioneers.”
When you tour Pioneer Avenue, you will realize that there is more to it than meets the eye. It is more than just an ordinary commercial spot where schools, bookstores, banks, and food chains are housed. Like any other place, Pioneer Avenue has undergone several changes through time. In 2001, I witnessed how Kimball Plaza was devoured by a sea of flames. I was dumbfounded by the intensity of the bright yellow-orange flames that swallowed it. The sheet of fire was terrifying. It seemed like it would eat away the whole city too. It raged ominously, eager to destroy the place very valuable to General Santos City. After several hours, the fire declared victory over Kimball Plaza. The heavy smell of smoke somehow suggested its bitter downfall. With that, the once vibrant ambience of Pioneer Avenue was replaced by a melancholic one – until a year later, when various food chains rose from the ashes.
Time may have changed Pioneer Avenue a lot but it definitely has not changed how I feel about the place. Along with the history it holds, it is also where the joys and pains of my high school days were kept. The large waiting shed in front of Kristan Bookstore is one place that housed these memories. Aside from serving as the loading and unloading area for passengers, it also served as a recreation area for students. After class, my friends and I always went to Pioneer in front of Kristan Bookstore to savor our favorite isaw (chicken intestines) and pancakes at very affordable prices. We lingered there until there were no more coins left in our pockets.
The place was busy, yet it enticed us. Students from other schools also came and filled the area. We saw familiar faces and we smiled at them. We didn’t actually know most of the people there by name but by the smiles on their faces, we knew for sure the enjoyment of being with a community that shared an experience. My friends approached people they knew and we chatted with them as long as possible. By the end of the day, we already had a new list of friends: students, the isaw vendor, the balut vendor, the candy and cigarette vendor, and all other kinds of people – even those looked down upon as “trashers”.
Even though I have been a Friendster member from the year it began and have witnessed how it has spread “Friendsterization” all over the Philippines and the world, I still believe that real friendship cannot be established in just one click of the mouse. It doesn’t work because the process is so mechanical. No matter how many friends I have in my friends’ list, I still do not feel the warmth of real friendship because most of the time I don’t have the chance to speak or even just to give a genuine smile to those people in my list. It’s good that I have their names but most of the people there just hide behind pseudonyms. The friendships I have established in Pioneer Avenue gained me friends whom I may not know by name, but I know are real friends. We shared moments chatting with each other because we wanted to and not just to get the most number of friends. Day by day, I had a greater chance to get to know more and more friends who will actually remain my friends. Unlike in Friendster, my friends’ list may forever be there, but I only get a rare chance to know them. I even don’t remember anymore how on earth some of them became my Friendster friends. With that, I do not have the chance to actually understand the different groups of people because I cannot always see them.
Once, for the celebration of the Tuna Festival, Slapshock (a local hardcore metallic band from Manila) came to Pioneer Avenue. I was so eager to celebrate with my friends and watch Slapshock play and shout their hearts out, though I have never been a fan. My friends were the ones who had introduced the band to me and invited me to watch with them. My parents did not want me to go, but because I badly wanted to, I sneaked out of the house and spent the night with my friends. While there, I and my friends were so involved with the show that we didn’t notice the time. Moments later, a commotion began because there were groups of people who got drunk and started throwing mineral water bottles at the band on stage. The people got wild and uncontrollable, but I and my friends were still hyper in the middle of the crowd, not minding the imminent danger. We continued shouting our lungs out until we barely heard our voices anymore. Jamir’s (the vocalist) line “Peace lang tayo GenSan!” became famous all over the city the day after. When I went home, I carefully climbed the gate just to enter our house, only to find out that my father had waited for me to come home. I was scolded, but honestly, it didn’t matter to me. I did what I wanted, I became part of the history, and I was happy! It may not be a very good idea of enjoyment because we could have been harmed, but what matters to me now is that I am still happy whenever I look back on that little adventure.
All the things that happened to me in Pioneer Avenue when I was a teenager were those that nothing can compare with — not even my very own Friendster addiction. Today, whenever I go to Pioneer Avenue, it never fails to remind me of the wonders of true friendship.