back when i did high school in the early 1990's

When i was a student, I wanted to ask alumnae of our Alma Mater how it was being a teenager in the decades gone by -
How different was it? Where were you when the EDSA revolution erupted? What was it like during the Martial Law years? Is it true that girls made their skirts to be hand-span lengths back in the sixties? I'm pretty sure certain elements of high school and university life have stayed constant for every generation, but I'm interested in the details that are characteristic to each.

I pretended that a kid would come up to me and ask about how high school was like back in the 90s. I fancy that this'll be my (lengthy) reply.

the clime of the time

I was in secondary school in the early nineties. At that time, President Cory was taking a bow from her transition term and President Eddie became the new head honcho in '92. Even 6 years after Marcos was ousted, the country was still recovering from wounds of the dictatorship years. The state of the nation was rather struggling; the country was buffeted by numerous calamities and successive heinous crimes.

The peso was around 30 to a dollar. A weekly allowance of P 500-600 was pretty decent for a high school student.

Given the country's scrabbling stability, there were power outages every single day. Every. Freakin'. Single. Day. Evening blackouts were quite common, so scrupulous students (myself not included) had to get their homework done before dark, or do it the next morning before school. It was funny that there was a government-produced Noli Me Tangere TV series on primetime, supposedly to aid high school students appreciate Rizal's novel, but we often couldn't even watch it anyway.

Aside from providing us with a good excuse to give our teachers as to why we failed to complete our homework, the power outages somewhat stretched our creativity. For example, you find many (useless) things to do with a candle. Of course the blackouts also gave us a reason to hang out with our friends in the streets on a weekday.

There were water shortages every single day as well. People had to work around water schedules to manage their day-to-day lives; large drums were staples in most homes and schools.

I was among those unfortunate enough to have a water shortage on the day that we were supposed to dissect a frog for Biology. We had no choice but to take our frogs home as an assignment. Our teacher gave us instructions - and each a jar with a formaldehyde-drowned frog. Unlucky me, my jar had a loose cap and I spilled the froggy formaldehyde onto myself on the way home. And disgusting as disgusting gets, cutting an amphibian open, on my own, at home, was a vomit-worthy moment worth forgetting.

natural disasters

For some reason, a succession of natural disasters plagued the country in those years like never before or since (environmentalists blame global warming), and classes were canceled quite a few times. There was the magnitude 9 earthquake of July 1990. That earthquake was said to have triggered the Mount Pinatubo eruption a year later, which covered the landscape with a sheet of ash for weeks (years in some parts of the country). Then there was one supertyphoon after another, including the one that precipitated the odious Ormoc flash floods and others that caused landslides in Baguio et al.

growing environmental awareness

Naturally at that time, we were being made more and more aware of the global environmental situation - the Ozone hole, greenhouse gasses, global warming; reuse, refuse and recycle - stuff that were just uncovered in the late 80's and therefore unheard of in our parents' school days. Environmental drives, recycling campaigns and junk art contests were becoming more and more commonplace.

and other disasters

On top of those natural calamities were a series of disasters by human negligence - plane crashes, water mishaps and mass deaths. It was as if there was a curse of sorts on the country - but I don't want anyone to think those days were bleak. They were actually quite fun.

Dolly, the first cloned mammal.

international news

Outside the country, the headlines included the Gulf War, the Seige of Sarajevo. Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 and then elected as the first black president of South Africa a few years later. In the US, Bill Clinton trumped Bush Senior.

My fave news event would be the unification of Germany. I still remember the eerie, sublime feeling watching footage of civilians chipping away chunks of the wall.

school girls and school boys

In the 90's, private school girls liked their skirts of their uniforms long (as far as i know, this was the case for every girls' school). For some reason we found long skirts cute - it's unique to the 90's me thinks. Short uniforms were old school. It's the baffling reverse of how it has been in other decades where skirts were the shorter the better and girls rolled their waistbands after inspection to raise their hemlines. In our case, we rolled our waistbands for inspection. Some of us had hems just a few inches from the ground, stopping just where the slouchy socks began. I found it so funny that the private schools admin were actually complaining about how long our' skirts were, while just a few years before that they readily reprimanded students for simply exposing their their knees.

We wore our socks slouched or "pulled down", no folds, no rolls - a half-inch fold at the top at the most. We toted our fabric hobo bags, Coleman jugs and Trapper Keepers.

All our guy friends were ugly because they had to wear these hideous white-side-wall crew cuts that were required in CAT / ROTC, which were mandatory in those years.

Sometimes we arranged what we called soirees, inviting students of the opposite sex from another school. Ateneo boys have always been popular in girls' private schools like the one I went to. Back then, AHS boys didn't have those pastel-blue uniforms they wear today (they could come to school wearing shorts or sandals, as long as they had the prescribed collar and socks). The La Salle boys were also likeable - even if they weren't as good at English and though they were supposedly mostly gay. I remember that among the popular guys back then were the Bondoc boys (who are not related to each other, probably don't know each other, and only share the same surname) - commercial model Juan Miguel from LSGH (who is now an actor, more popularly known as Onemig), and AHS Dulaang Sibol's Jimmy (who is now a recording artist).

practical technology

It was not common for students to tote electronic gadgets in those days - only businessmen and doctors did that. There were of course the rare, few, rich-kids who had their cellphones - meaning analog devices that were larger than soda cans with these thick, awkward, non-retractable antennae. If we needed to make emergency phone calls, we fell in line for a P 2.oo / 5 minute conversation on a public payphone.

Some kids had pagers which were practically useless except for receiving mush and spam (Come on, what was a highschooler supposed to receive on a pager ? Notice of an emergency surgery? Alerts for an emergency meeting? More like Take your vitamins, love Mommy).

The internet was still taking baby-steps in those days and had yet no practical use for students. Back then, we actually had to go to the library. We had to manually search for books and read them to find what we wanted. We took notes and wrote drafts. A research paper that a student of today could take 30 minutes to copy, paste and paraphrase would have taken us 3 days to compose. And our parents and teachers already chided us for being lazy for photocopying library books. Ha.

We used 5.5 minifloppies with our monochrome- monitor PCs that may take several minutes to boot. We were just getting to know the 3.5 microfloppy and the mouse and were beginning to learn MS Word and familiarize ourselves with Windows. We had to unlearn those Wordstar commands that we wasted time learning a few years earlier. We borrowed our fathers' laptops if we needed to cram for a paper; back then "laptops" were massive box-type contraptions, some of which were too heavy for high school girls to place on their laps.


We chatted face-to-face with our friends as we didn't yet have web messengers and SMS sending.

Yakking on the phone for hours on-end was considered a teenager thing. We spoke to each other on the phone, and spoke to each other on the phone, and spoke to each other on the phone. It was a necessary bonding device; if you wanted to be in the loop, get closer to someone, discuss something privately, you conversed on the phone. Call waiting and call conferencing had just dawned, which made things a bit more interesting since you could have a three-way conversation now.

Older people used to remark how courtship and the loveletter died because of the telephone. Well, you could today say that the telephone is dying because of the www.

We still actually wrote each other letters, though certainly not as eloquently as our grandparents did. At least we knew how to spel. w/out uCng shrt cts, I mean. Girls wrote each other at least, and boys wrote girls (but obviously not each other). For a while there was this fad of using glossy magazine pages as stationery. Yes, despite its derelict appeal, that actually used to be cool.

Troll dolls

television and movies

Despite the blackouts, we got to watch Beverly Hills 90210 (It was already bad back then, still it was better than the 2008 version of 90210).

My So-Called Life
, Saved By the Bell
and California Dreams were other teen-series favorites. Highlander and Lois and Clark were primetime hits.

And of course, we had our regular doses of MTV. Local recording artists like Viktoria came up with (*cough* bad) music videos that aired on MTV Asia - which was gutsy, but not really something to be proud of. The Real World was the first reality show, and it was the only one then.

Jurassic Park must have been the biggest movie of 1993. The CGI dinosaurs were credible enough to make you gasp in wonder and cower in fear. A few other notable early-90's movies were Speed, Hook, Forrest Gump and the Nightmare Before Christmas. A personal favorite is Reality Bites - now it isn't exactly a great movie, but I found it remarkable because it's so Gen-X.

how we rolled with the homies

Parents were paranoid about letting their kids out at night in those days because heinous crimes were very, very rampant. There were just too many rape-slays and murders involving young victims: The Vizcondes, Maureen Hultman and Roland John Chapman, Cochise and Bebom, Katrina Lopez, Eldon Maguan, the Chong sisters, you can include the numerous young men who died in hazing rituals. It seemed a teenager was murdered somewhere every two weeks.

Hubert Webb
became a celebrity "criminal" (his culpability is still questioned to this day) for his involvement in the Vizconde Massacre.

Still we managed to go on our non-heinous Saturday gimmicks.

Weekends, we may run into each other at the malls. There was only one Greenbelt in Ayala Center then. There was yet no Glorietta; what it is today used to be a string of shops and centers with an open area in the middle (pretty much like today's Boni High Street but less classy) - parts of it used to be called Quad. What used to be called the "Glorietta" was this fountain park that is now obscured in the grassy space between the present-day Greenbelts. There was no Alabang Town Center; just a large lot where Big Bang was held every December.

SM Megamall was rather new then. It had just opened the first-ever ice-skating rink. That rink was a big hit and it was virtually a must for every barkada to check it out.

What we did at the malls? Oh sometimes we just hung out while we ate Dairy Queen and shawarma. People who just hung around with no purpose were called mallrats.

We also watched movies, of course. Flicks then were so affordable (under a hundred bucks), especially if you went cheapskate and opted for de luxe seats instead of premier.

The malls had video game places like Glicos in Quad; among the popular games were StreetFighter and Mortal Kombat (I even remember there was this cool-looking thing that featured 3-d hologram fighters, I thought it was cutting edge but it didn't catch on for some reason). There was an influx of violent games and the more violent ones were gaining popularity. Pretty soon the video game industry needed to create a rating system.

Saturday evening gimmick places included discos, upgraded carry-overs from the 1980's - Ozone, Mars, Equinox. Minors weren't supposed to be allowed in those places but highschoolers got in somehow.

For those who didn't dig disco, Club Dredd was the far out choice. It was still in km 19 Edsa in those days.


We used a walkman for portable music - the non-digital kind with a cassette player. We actually bought our music in those days. CDs were still a bit expensive, so you treated your CDs with the utmost reverence and handled them with a plastic tong-like instrument and a flannel cloth.

For free music, Campus Radio 97.1 used to be the cool station to tune in to (I know it's disgusting now, but trust me, it used to be fine). If you weren't into mainstream, you plugged in to NU 107 (or LA 105 if you were a jologs rocker).

There were quite a few boy bands already - except they weren't yet called that. Boyz II Men, Bel Biv Devoe, Color Me Badd and of course, the New Kids On the Block.

Dance crazes. Every decade has got to have its trademark dance fads, whether it was spawned by MTV or pimped by noontime variety shows. In the 1990s it was Madonna's Vogue - inspired by the flamboyant music video with the hair, the cone-shaped bra designed by Gaultier and all. After that came Chimo Bayo's Xta Si / Xta No, Simply Red's Stars and Black Machine's How Gee.

Techno was on the rise - dance music with rap and flashy accent electronica. C+C Music Factory, Technotronic. Things That Make You Go Hmmm. There were also these techno-ized rehash of popular songs such as Kalapana's Hurt mixed by local DJ Ouch. The "national anthem" (i.e., the song most often played at discos and events) for a time was a remix of REM's Losing My Religion.

I recall there was this weirdly embarrassing way of dancing that became popular, in which you included a sort of sign language with your hands and interpreted the lyrics of the song while you danced. So, for example, when Losing My Religion played (and after cheering that everybody's favorite song was on), as Michael Stipe sang ...

Oooh life ... - you held up your fingers in "L"s;
It's bigger
... - you made a "big" circular gesture with your arms;
than you ... - you pointed away from yourself, and so on.

From the old-skool style of the 80s, rap became more danceable in the 90s. Vanilla Ice was cool for a while, but he froze over after a second album and a sucky movie. Kid rappers KrissKross taught everyone how to Jump, jump and made a fashion statement with their reversed clothing. Mark Wahlberg was then known as Marky Mark of the Funky Bunch (or otherwise as the sexy new CK model with the pecs). FrancisM was the most popular local rapper; Andrew E, Michael V and the others who had suddenly sprouted out like fungi had nothing on him.

A newly-popular sub-genre called Hip Hop was regular radio fare. It was a danceable, aggressive type of R&B - a lot less accent electronica, a lot more bass, a little more explicit lyrics. Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Coolio, Young Black Teenagers, House of Pain.

Rock music had evolved. Thanks to the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Grunge was to glam rock as punk was to metal. Grunge gained popularity because it was a lot less pretentious and more laid back, more honest compared to 80's glam rock / power metal (it was in fact an anti-glam metal sort of thing) Grunge sounded like it was made with only 3 guitar chords and random words that seemed brilliant together and rhymed. It was rough, polished and aggressive. Think Meat Puppets, Mudhoney, Soundgarden.

Grunge slowly died down though a few years after Kurt's suicide. Kurt Cobain was so iconic for our generation that a lot of us probably still remember what we were doing on the day he died.

Indie and alternative music was crossing over into mainstream radio. Some personal faves of mine include Stone Temple Pilots, Live and Blind Melon.

I.m.h.o., that bee girl is already a kind of a 90's trademark.

Of course there were the glam rock remnants in bands like Extremes and Mr. Big who gave us the heart-rending More Than Words and To Be With You respectively. Guns n'Roses came out with the Use Your Illusion twin album (Hey, remember that the cover design had hidden demons?) Of course Aerosmith was surviving (and thriving) like a stubborn cockroach, helping launch the careers of Alicia Silverstone and Liv Tyler through their music videos.

In the local scene, The Dawn was breaking up. Meanwhile, the Eraserheads were making a mark with their in-your-face, laid-back UltraElectoMagneticPop. Other pop-rock bands like Color It Red and True Faith were gaining press. RiverMaya's frontman in those days was Bamboo; the RiverMaya as we know it today were all still in high school back then themselves. A lot of underground bands were gaining some mainstream popularity. Karl Roy was then with the funk band Advent Call. Parokya Ni Edgar was yet a bunch of Ateneo high school boys who performed as a novelty act in their school.

Stage diving (popularized by Peter Gabriel and Iggy Pop back in the '60's) was once again commonplace at rock concerts; crowd surfing was its 90's addendum. The pogo dance (Sid Vicious' innovation in the 70's punk scene) evolved into its more violent version - slamdancing. The mosh pit had taken shape.


Talking about early 90s fashion is incomplete without mentioning the supermodels. In those few years, the voluptuous, sculpturesque glamazon was preferred over the skinny waif (that is, before the waif frame was revived by 17-year old Kate Moss in the mid-90s). Supermodels (like the Trinity [Linda, Cristy and Naomi] and Cindy, Claudia, Niki and Tyra) were international superstars who wouldn't get out of bed for less than $10,000.

People gladly left the big hair, spandex and shoulder pads in the '80's; dressing down became more preferable. In tandem with the music scene, grunge "fashion" (actually, anti-fashion) was significant. It was seen even on the runways and endorsed by big-name designers. A not-so-put-together look was considered cool. Ratty jeans (not acid-washed - that was passe) were good ware. Mismatched prints were acceptable if you could pull it off. Faded bold prints were acceptable. Especially if it was a plaid long-sleeved button-down tied around your waist, as popularized by Seattle grunge boys (it was not originally a fashion item but an accessory to keep warm in the Seattle cold, but we kids in this warm, tropical country followed suit anyway because it completed the look).

Kurt and Courtney

I personally liked grunge fashion because you didn't have to put so much effort into it. You could look all disheveled, throw on a few rad accessories and call it "sloppy chic" or whatever. I though it was just perfect for the awkward teenager stage because it somewhat allowed you to be your laid-back self and gave you an excuse not to try to look like a glamazon.

Girly-grunge included a button-down granny dress (over a shirt or not) opened halfway up, or a worn with boots and / or a floppy hat.

If you weren't the rocker type, you might have liked homeboy chic Hip Hop fashion. Guys wore oversized shirts with enormous, low-waist jeans and back-flipped caps. Girls had tight-fitting ribbed tees, worn over pants or shorts with varying-width vertical stripes in 4 or more colors. A single large "X" - on a shirt, cap, large belt buckle or pendant - was the ubiquitous (but unknown) tribute to Malcolm X. Bling necessary.

And for some reason there was friction between rockers and hiphoppers.

If you preferred neither style, you wore polo shirts (courtesy of the likes of Giordano, LaCoste or Bennetton) over clean blue jeans (preferably straight-cut and soft denim) or knee-length khakis. Hooded shirts were cool for a while too. You wore Tretorn sneakers or Mojo sandals (the kind with velcro sraps) with thick, slouchy socks.

But whether you were a rocker or a hiphopper, a prep or a skateboarder, you agreed that Doc Martens were rad footwear - or at least the cheaper knockoffs were.

Speaking of footwear, we loved our rollerblades.

Bell-bottom denims and chunky platform shoes were back with a vengeance. Cuffed jeans were considered cool.

It was already chilly in October, and it stayed that way until mid-February (not like now when it's unpredictable but relatively warm all year), which was favorable for showing off our jackets. In those years, class jackets were not the typical high-school-movie jackets; 2-tone hooded windbreakers were in fashion.

Big, frizzy 80's hair fast became a fashion faux-pas. A one-length page boy was cool. It was preferable for long hair to be straight - like Cristina Pecson's or Bianca Araneta's in those shampoo commercials. Ang gaang gaang ng feeling... Bangs were thin and wispy, or longish and swept to the side with mousse. We used to laugh at the thick, square, straight bangs that are once again popular today; back then we considered them as passe as 8o's legwarmers. Girls who were a bit more confident sported the short, edgy cut made famous by Demi Moore in Ghost.

Boys had their tresses shorn toward the base and longer on top.

The in fragrances were Calvin Klein's Obsession and Eternity, Drakkar, Paco Rabanne - stuff teenagers couldn't afford but swiped from their parents. Of course there were the less-expensive colognes that all had that clean, lemony scent: Angel's Breath, Nenuco.

The chunky fashion accessories of the 80's and of today were nowhere to be found in the 90's. The thing back then was silver. There was even this thing made popular - i.d. chokers or bracelets with metal cube beads. If you could, you bought one for your best friend and boyfriend as well.

Our prom dresses were not pastel-colored princess ball gowns (those were corny things that belonged on Molly Ringwald). Dark colors were more popular than brights for formal wear. The little black dress was the thing if you dared.

and then ...

Just before we graduated, World Youth Day was held in Manila. After about a week or two of rehearsing songs and other WYD-related things at our own schools (Tell the wooooordl, tell the world of his looooove), we converged at Luneta with youths from other parts of the globe. Pope John Paul II was there to preside over it.

I remember getting into a spat with my (very pronouncedly) Catholic English teacher because I said I didn't care about seeing the pope. I already previously had gotten into several tensed moments with that particular teacher and I just didn't know when to stop, and neither did she. The great thing about her is that she never took things personally and still gave me the good grades I deserved. I thought it rather tropic that she was the one who witnessed me do my "hooray I'm getting out of this school" cheer on graduation day.

(to be continued)
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