Like those magical lands at the top of Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree that visit for a time and then disappear, these wonderlands of sorts came by for a few weeks every holiday season: Payanig sa Pasig, Big Bang sa Alabang. Even Star City used to be just a Christmastime fair then. I used to go go together with my friends or cousins, thinking it was such a big thing to be allowed to stay until after midnight. Since the weather got chilly as soon as the ber months rolled in (and I mean really cool by Manila standards, the whole day, not just nippy in the mornings and evenings), our parents would tell us to bring jackets for practicality, and we brought them for pormality. It gave us a chance to show off our cardigans - the looser, the slouchier, the better. We would crumple the sleeves upward to expose our forearms or tie them around our waists- that's how jackets were worn back then.
Those fairs were utter amusement for a child - rides, games, lights, food, shops, fireworks, the occasional celebrity sightings, those geeky production number featuring people in silly tinfoil-laced costumes. Parents who tagged along to babysit from a distance amused themselves with the tiangge while we kiddies hopped from ride to ride.
My favorite rides were the roller coaster and the octopus. In those days, we haven't yet heard of rides conking out mid-transit, or kids losing their limbs or dying from faulty machinery. Lawsuits against carnival operators were unheard of.
I also liked checking out whatever horror train or horror house there was. That was probably one of the first things I'd ask to go to because I liked how the UV lights made white things glow.
The non-ride feature I enjoyed the most has got to be the giant maze - it was absolutely safe, risk-free, mentally challenging and physically fun, especially if we raced with each other. Plus points for getting to punch the guy in the ape costume.
The giant slide was the main attraction of Big Bang, which I think was imitated by the others. It remained popular in spite of the high ticket price and the rumors going around that some kid's neck snapped on descent. I tried it out a few times and would have gone a few more if it wasn't so pricey.
During the down-time, we'd stroll around the shops and see if there were any interesting trinkets worth buying - glow-in-the-dark shoelaces, plastic digital watches, those cylindrical glass pendants with tiny plastic flowers and colored water in them, those heart-shaped balloons with teddy bears inside. When we got hungry, we'd stop by a Burger Machine. I personally preferred Smokey's because it had those wrap-around dogs.
At the end of the night, we'd have a hard time locating the car that we came in because it'd be covered with dust - well, that's what you got when the parking space happened to be an unpaved lot with several hundred cars that went to and fro. We'd noisily chatter about how this guy fell on his butt as the giant ape chased him, how mirrors must have been used for that shifting ghost effect in the horror house, how surprised we were that Richard Gomez and Joey Marquez were so tall pala, how cute that stranger at the ticket line was.
The lot where Payanig used to be held every year is now an MC Home Depot. Where Big Bang used to visit now stands the elaborate Town Center complex. Star City has become a year-round feature of Pasay City and has since faced lawsuit after lawsuit for from disgruntled customers for faulty machinery, including one that allegedly resulted in the death of a child.
I didn't even notice when these December amusement fairs stopped coming by, and I didn't even notice what we did in place of going to those places during the holidays. I didn't even notice that ATC was in the Big Bang lot (until someone pointed it out to me just recently). It must have been the time when Enchanted Kingdom opened in Sta. Rosa and distracted the amusement-fair patrons. Ah, well.