The playground


I strained my back rolling over a sizeable granite slab to put a sign to block the pathway used by cars to park on our community playground. It was built before the influx of private cars. Parking for private cars is now at a premium and the bold ones just park on the playground.

There are benches in the “park” where grannies and mommies watch children play during the day. The equipment is in sad disrepair. Three walkers where folks stood and simulated walking are blocked by two tall but smelly trash bins. Of the three girth reducers where one stood on discs to swivel foot to-and-fro and move the midsection about, only one out of three is still working. I moved the bins; can’t do much with the broken equipment.

At the center of the playground is an island where remnants of roses and peonies of previous summers still grow. Draped on the play equipment, or hanging on makeshift lines, are laundries to dry.

There are three lampposts, one at an end of the center island, and two at the ends of the park and playground. A bulletin board stands at another end of the island, made of glass that has a big hole on one side after someone’s baseball was thrown against it, creating a hole the size of a basketball.

The bulletin board is very well used. Posting notices is China’s pastime and they are everywhere. The lampposts serve as notice boards, especially ads with shredded lower bottoms where an adster’s phone number is printed for folks to take.

When I moved into the neighborhood in March, the bins by the lamppost were full; renovation debris was uncollected. It must have been there a good while from the looks of the plastic bags that held the discarded gravel. Meanwhile, the lamppost grew leaves from the preponderance of posted notices.

Parking arrogance were two cars that were a mainstay on the playground weeks on end, getting grannies and mommies to admonish their tots from playing near the cars lest they inadvertently do them harm. Two blocks west is a playground off the ground that allows only the children and their equipment to occupy the elevated flooring. However, serving six tenement buildings overcrowds the place quickly.

I decided to catalyze the clearing of the playground from parked cars.

I started quietly with the closest lamppost that I look at every morning from my solarium. I went to the trash bins underneath and picked up all the thrown garbage with my trash picker. That got the attention of the regular street cleaner. The following day, I put on gloves, arranged the renovation debris for easy pickup and scraped the accumulated ads on the post.

At the same time, I started working on my own building’s staircase, sweeping the stairs and three landings (I live on the second floor) from the third down to the basement. The street cleaner keeps his equipment in the stairs leading to the basement, dusty with years of dirt, so I tidied that one, too. Pretty soon, we became nodding acquaintance. For the coup d’grace, I placed planters on the first landing and the stair windows between floors.

The street cleaner noticed the change. I brought him a can of instant coffee when I recently returned from North America. He’s a tea drinker but gift giving is a revered symbolic tradition in China. He probably keeps the container on display. Touched, he volunteered his name. It is easy to remember since my name is Wang Zhimu in Chinese and his is Wang! Now, he keeps the front of my street door swept, the area around the lamppost clear of trash, and the phone numbers on my stairwell walls washed or painted over. He kept the lampposts and my ground door ad-clear while I was away.

I had “Please do not park on the playground” written and printed in Chinese; I taped a copy on every car that parked on the playground during the day. Drivers started to avoid parking on the playground. Soon the kids had space to ride their bikes and spin their tops. The night parkers got taped like their day counterparts but the parking was still a worrisome violation. Thus the sign on the rolled granite stone.

It will be six months since I moved to the tenement housing. Some of my plants have white flowers that bloom in the morning and pink ones in the evening; I leave the solarium lit until I retire for the night to give the passing crowd aesthetic pleasure. The closest lamppost to my view no longer has notices and an elderly lady keeps the farthest lamppost tidy.

She is the same elderly lady who regularly brings a child to the playground. One day she saw a man drop an empty pack of cigarettes on the ground; she picked it up for the bin. The guy saw what transpired and quietly went his way. I had seen him many times again but he is no longer careless with his empty packs.

Meanwhile, the granite stone with the sign that requests no parking is still in place, and half the neighbors installed metal parking locks on the ground for their cars. My backache is taking its bloody time to heal, oh, so slowly!

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at

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