by Douglas Candano
Taken from www.tsinoy.org/mysterentreps/echua.html as part of the site’s online repository of information concerning unusual events in the Chinese-Filipino community’s history.
While the Church of the Nativity along Katapatan Road is considered a landmark, by no means does it date back to Hispanic times. For despite its arched doorways, stained glass windows and stone carvings typical of 18th century Manila, the Church was actually constructed in the late 1990s, on the spot where the Valhalla Club used to be until it burned down, and its owner, Ericsson Chua, disappeared.
In its heyday, the Valhalla Club was Manila’s premier nightclub, where politicians rubbed elbows with lonely expatriates and the sons of Chinese taipans. There, they would drink, dine and be merry as they stroked the thighs of the lovely valkyries.
From the outside, the Valhalla Club was nothing special. It was shaped like a huge concrete box, its facade whitewashed with rainbow trimmings. Two guards were stationed under the huge Valhalla Club logo that was fixed in bronze. Right beside them were mirrored doors that reflected the faces of customers in the neon glow of the Valhalla Club sign atop the building. On any given night, the club’s parking lot was full of cars with their license plates covered with newspaper, while uniformed guards and drivers smoked under the huge Balete trees clustered at the lot’s corner.
Once past the mirrored doors, however, the customer would find himself in a different world. The Valhalla Club appeared true to its name. Rows of long wooden tables stretched into the shadows of the immense stone walls. The customer would then be approached by one of the slender, blue-eyed valkyries who with a whisper of “Welcome einheri,” would lead him to his table. There, the newly christened warrior could subject himself to the full pleasures of Valhalla, drinking from horns always filled to the brim with mead and eating endless servings of boar dishes prepared in the most delectable ways. Ranging from medallions of boar with foie gras to exotic boar curries, the dishes were served by the valkyries, who also took care to refill each customer’s drinking horn while providing an attentive ear to the lonely einheriar. If a customer wanted to become more intimate with one of the valkyries, special rooms were located at the sides of the hall.
It is said that to be a valkyrie at the Valhalla Club one had to be a virgin. As such, it was rumored that a generous compensation package awaited the valkyries who followed a customer into the special rooms. Despite all this, it should be noted that the Valhalla Club was never raided in its years of operation — something attributed to the effectiveness with which Ericsson Chua, its owner, ran the nightclub.
Right until his disappearance during the burning of the Valhalla Club, Ericsson kept a low profile despite his rumored ties to influential politicians, businessmen and even members of the diplomatic corps. He was but a shadow in the club, only occasionally seen outside his office.
Ericsson Chua was born in the middle of 1953 to Chinese immigrants. His parents originally came from a small town in the province of Fujian. Because of a land dispute between their families, the young couple decided to elope, somehow finding their way aboard a ship bound for Manila, where they arrived in September of 1951. The Chua couple eagerly settled in the sizable Chinese community in Binondo while pondering ways in which they would prosper. After a few unsuccessful business attempts, Ericsson’s father decided to open a panciteria, taking the name of a popular jazz song for the eatery.
In those days Dizzy Malone’s Dreaming Valhalla was a jukebox favorite. In the same manner, the Panciteria Valhalla, which operated inside the house of the Chua couple, became successful, with Manilenos quickly falling in love with the eatery’s special mami, miki and lomi.
The success of the Panciteria Valhalla ensured that, by April 15, 1953, the day Ericsson Chua was born, the Chua family was among the Chinese middle class. To celebrate the birth of his son, Ericsson’s father served free bowls of mami to the panciteria’s customers that day.
The actual entry of Ericsson Chua into the world was not exactly memorable. He was born at three in the morning in his parents’ house. The baby was not named immediately. In fact, Ericsson was a name suggested by one of the panciteria’s regular patrons — a history student from UST. The Chuas liked the sound of the name although they were barely able to pronounce it. In this manner, Ericsson Chua only came to exist a week after he was born.
Ericsson’s early childhood was spent among the sights and smells of the panciteria, where he crawled, stood, and finally walked among the servers and customers, sometimes upsetting an order or two. By his fifth birthday, Ericsson’s parents decided to send him to school.
A few blocks from the Panciteria Valhalla was a Chinese school run by the Jesuits, who were chased out of China upon the Communist’s assumption of power. The school was housed in a three-story building with huge wooden doors. There were two areas. Elementary classes were held in the west wing, while high school students crowded the eastern wing. Today part of a warehouse, the school was famous for its emphasis on mathematics and science. Classes were taught mostly in English, with special lessons on Chinese language and composition, as well as basic Filipino.
Ericsson Chua was enrolled from 1959 to 1970. Those who remembered him generally had a picture of a quiet boy who excelled in his studies but was notorious for some reason.
Though he did not graduate valedictorian or salutatorian, Ericsson Chua maintained an average of 93 throughout his elementary years. His discipline record was spotless save for an incident that happened on February 13, 1964.
Ericsson was then in the fifth grade. Not counting his high grades and aversion to competitive sports, he tended to blend into the background. Perhaps it was this anonymity that drew Robertson Co to pick on him.
Records show that Robertson Co was then also enrolled in the fifth grade. Robertson was considered problematic, with barely passing grades and a number of disciplinary cases to his name. On the 13th of February, right after the lunch bell had sounded, Robertson Co approached Ericsson. Robertson started by telling him that he knew that Ericsson’s parents owned Panciteria Valhalla. He then demanded that Ericsson give him a free bowl of miki that afternoon. Ericsson appeared taken aback. However, after a few moments, he shrugged his shoulders noncommittally and proceeded down the stairs. This upset Robertson Co, who rushed behind Ericsson and pushed him against the railing. He then tried to strangle Ericsson.
The scene that followed was described by the disciplinary report as “unfortunate and strange,” especially since “Mr. Chua acted in a way not just out of character but also detrimental to the ideals and good name of the school.” Ericsson Chua never did give Robertson Co a chance to strangle him. Turning around quickly, he gouged Roberston’s eyes, then “kicked his genitals, after which he pushed him face first down the stairs.” He then “went up to Mr. Co, who was already starting to bleed, and rammed his head repeatedly against the wall until they were separated by nearby students and teachers.” While Robertson Co was brought to the hospital, Ericsson was brought to the principal’s office. After being orally reprimanded, he was given a two-day suspension. Interestingly enough, Robertson Co did not sustain any injuries. Despite being unconscious and bleeding while being brought to the hospital, he did not even have a bruise upon his admission, which led the doctors to question if a fight had indeed, taken place.
It is uncertain what Ericsson did during his suspension. Though some said he stayed in his room, there were rumors that he was expelled from the Chua household for the duration of the two days. Those who whispered rumors said that Ericsson stayed in the Chinese cemetery during this time, living on grave offerings and stray cats. Whatever the truth may have been, when Ericsson Chua returned from his suspension, those who knew him began to treat him with a detached respect that bordered on fear.
Aside from that incident, nothing of note happened during Ericsson’s elementary years. He graduated with honors on March 29, 1966. In June of that same year, Ericsson Chua entered his school’s eastern wing.
While Ericsson suddenly became taller and his voice changed during this time, he still avoided sports and did well in class. For the first few months of high school, Ericsson was wont to spend his breaks sitting on an otherwise empty bench, aloof to his classmates and teachers as he stared into space.
At home, the Chua family was bent on expanding the panciteria, which was generally full at every mealtime. Their clientele was also becoming more diverse, with even an occasional probinsyanomaking an appearance on weekends and holidays. Additionally, the Chuas also talked about getting a new house. As such, money was becoming an important part of family discussions.
Around this time, comic books were popular among teenagers. While local titles such as Darna, Captain Barbell and Lastikman were eagerly followed, Ericsson wanted to amass a collection of American comics, especially those featuring Superman, Spiderman and The Avengers. However, he could buy only one comic book per month with his allowance and with his family’s investments right around the corner, asking more money from his parents was useless. As such, it would hardly seem surprising that in around October of 1966, Ericsson Chua decided to go into business.
By then, some of his schoolmates had begun smoking. Every day, after the last bell had rung, some students would hide behind the school building to smoke and chat. American brands such as Winston, Camel and Marlboro were popular within these circles. However, newer, cheaper brands such as Ericsson Chua’s Asgard were always welcome.
Where Ericsson got his Asgard cigarettes has never been known. There were rumors that they were homemade in the Chua’s panciteria. Each stick was an uneven piece of yellowed paper rolled in various sizes. The filters came in different colors and sizes with the Asgard name stenciled on each. Asgards came in small cardboard boxes that had stickers of a bearded Thor on them. The god of thunder and lighting was shown smoking a cigarette while leaning on his fiery goat cart, his trademark glove and hammer casually lying on the floor. Some pointed out that coincidentally, Thor was also one of Ericsson Chua’s favorite Avengers. Often, the stickers appeared browned and curled, especially during the hotter days of the year.
However crude Asgard cigarettes may have appeared to be, students quickly bought Ericsson Chua’s entire stock. Their flavor was described as addictively nutty with a taste of honey that lingered a few seconds after their gold-tainted smoke was exhaled. Students usually finished a pack within hours, which was good considering that the cigarettes appeared to work for only a limited time. This meant that those who bought a pack of Asgards intending to smoke them later usually found bits of wax and string where the cigarettes were supposed to be.
With the growing number of students finding their Asgards useless being added to those who already developed a taste for them, it was no surprise that people were always looking for Ericsson Chua. However, these people had a hard time finding him. While Ericsson still attended class regularly, he was never seen during breaks. Those who tried to confront him during class hours were ignored.
On January 14, 1967, right after dismissal time, Ericsson Chua was seen outside the school. He was talking to an old Chinese lady. A few of those looking for him drew near. Ericsson did not acknowledge their presence and gradually, their numbers grew. After a few minutes, Ericsson turned to face them. Without giving them time to speak, he pointed to the old Chinese lady, telling them to direct any questions or concerns to his cousin Socorro.
Though she opened her toothless mouth, not a sound passed between the old lady’s lips. People drew closer to her. It soon became apparent that she was not going to speak. Frustrated, the people then turned towards Ericsson Chua.
Shouts and curses were hurled at Ericsson. There was even a boy who threatened to have him castrated. Suddenly, one of the boys lunged at him. However, before he could reach Ericsson, the old lady got in his way and the boy fell to the ground. Others tried to push their way past the old lady. However, she did not budge. A few bystanders broke off everything, and by the time things were in order, both Ericsson and the old Chinese lady had disappeared.
The identity of the old lady has never been established. The existence of an actual “cousin Soccorro” is questionable, since the Chua couple had no known relatives in the Philippines during this time. Nevertheless, while the incident earned Ericsson enemies, it also attracted people to him.
Most notable of those whose attentions Ericsson Chua attracted were members of “the group,” a clique composed mostly of the rich, spoiled sons of influential Binondo families. A common characteristic of its members was that none of them would accept things not being done their way. As such, it is not certain how the members got along. Membership was by invitation only, and there were rumors that a vow of secrecy and a blood compact were prerequisites for initiation. This vow appears to be eternally binding, as the surviving members of the group all refused to be interviewed about internal group dynamics, as well as the extent of Ericsson Chua’s involvement in their activities.
However, it appears that Ericsson held an important position within the group’s hierarchy, since they met frequently at the Panciteria Valhalla.
While little can be written about the internal workings of the group, the actions of the group have become a part of Binondo lore. For example, versions of the events of September 27, 1968 can still be heard among the current student population of Binondo’s different schools.
According to all accounts, at around three in the afternoon, known members of the group were seen in the vicinity of the abandoned Athena Drug Store building on P. Damaso. Each dragged huge, wolf-like dogs by thick chains. Although all the dogs were vicious, Ericsson’s was the biggest and most terrifying.
Eyewitnesses described the dogs as ravenous, with spittle dribbling down their huge jaws. Ericsson Chua’s dog was foaming at the mouth. A cooked ham — one of the lesser-known specialties of the panciteria — was then brought out, and the dogs were left to fight things among themselves.
As the members of the group stood by, the dogs tore at each other’s throats. Although it was a terrible battle, Ericsson’s dog was the most vicious. By the end of the hour, all the other dogs were dead, their exposed entrails steaming in the afternoon heat.
Despite a city ordinance against dog fighting, the viciousness of the dogs assured that no official of the local government considered interfering. That the members of the group were scions of the Binondo elite also proved detrimental to the local government’s implementation of its rules.
The origin of the dogs has never been adequately established, yet several rumors about an underground source for what have been called hellhounds has been a Binondo urban legend since the late 1960s. Aside from its initial appearance, Ericsson Chua’s dog was never publicly seen again. However, according to those familiar with the Valhalla Club’s inner workings, Ericsson Chua was occasionally seen with a vicious-looking dog that ate from a pail of human hands. The hands, they said, could be attributed to Ericsson’s links with the public mortuary.
At any rate, that incident marked the beginning of a series of activities attributed to the group. Aside from well-known incidents such as the Pussycat Orgy, and the spread of cherub dust, the group was also purportedly linked to several smaller incidents. It would only be fair, however, to point out that the police were said to have arrested group members on a few occasions, but the records of these arrests would always disappear as soon as they were filed, and the group member would be free to go to school the following day. This was also true of the discipline records of group members, which were spotless through each member’s high school education. As a consequence, it was difficult to tell the difference between an ordinary student and a group member.
By December 1969, the Chua family had moved into a two-story house along Patola Road. The family’s living quarters inside the panciteria were converted into an additional dining room, marking the first of many renovations to the Panciteria Valhalla, which by this time had become a Binondo institution. As such, when Ericsson graduated from high school with honors on March 20, 1970, the panciteria had satisfied the hunger of many famous personalities, such as Pedro Adigue, Carina Afable, and Pilita Corrales. Even President Marcos was said to have been a customer, occasionally stopping by to savor Valhalla’s version of pinakbet with a side dish of bihon.
After they graduated from high school, the different members of the group parted ways. Some decided to go to college, either in the country’s top universities, or abroad, while others decided to become immediately involved in their family businesses. Ericsson decided to study in the United States. Although his SATs were remarkably high, he decided to forego the opportunity to study in universities such as Harvard, Yale or Princeton, choosing instead to go to the University of Northeastern Indiana, where he matriculated on September 10, 1970.
Not much can be gathered from Ericsson’s stay in the University of Northeastern Indiana, a cluster of nondescript buildings situated in a sparsely populated area a hundred miles from Indianapolis. Like most other foreign students, Ericsson lived in the co-ed Hench Hall, a dormitory on the Eastern side of the campus. Because of the university’s small foreign student population, the residents of Hench Hall during Ericsson Chua’s freshman year were limited to one student each from the countries of Turkey, Czechoslovakia, Trinidad and Tobago, Bolivia, South Korea, and in Ericsson’s case, the Philippines. Thus, membership in the University of Northeastern Indiana Foreign Students Association (UNEIFSA) during this time only amounted to eight people.
Enrolled from September 10, 1970 to June 12, 1974, Ericsson Chua graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in business management, and minors in history and mathematics. His college years were unremarkable for a bright foreign student save for his relationship with the foreign student from Trinidad and Tobago.
At the onset of his junior year in September, 1972, Ericsson moved out of Hench Hall to rent an off-campus cottage. There, he lived with Samantha Manning, the student from Trinidad and Tobago. Although they were often seen in each other’s company, no one expected Ericsson Chua and Samantha Manning to be on intimate terms. As ranking members of the UNEIFSA, that the two were often seen together was of no surprise, especially since the foreign student population had recently risen to 15 students. Besides, it was hard to picture Samantha as anyone’s love interest. Often called Aunt Jemima the Ogress behind her back, Samantha was a humongously fat black woman with bad skin, frizzy hair, tiny, irregular teeth and an abrasive attitude. As such, it was only in its later stages that her pregnancy was noticed, as people attributed her increase in girth to her robust appetite.
Because of their relative seclusion in their cottage, not much is known about the domestic life of Ericsson and Samantha. However, it is well known that Samantha gave birth in the middle of December 1972, a couple of days before Christmas vacation began. Owing to the fact that neither the local hospital nor any public place had any records of Samatha’s giving birth, it can be assumed that she gave birth inside the cottage. At any rate, people were shocked when they saw the offspring of Ericsson Chua and Samantha Manning.
Among all the other mysteries surrounding Ericsson Chua, the known details about his two children are perhaps, the hardest to comprehend. A boy and girl, Ericsson’s twins have been described as monstrously ugly. In contrast to the gargantuan proportions of its mother, the boy was a small, skeletal thing with serpentine features. If the boy had not been born with teeth, it seemed that it had started growing them within days of its birth as, according to all accounts, rows of jagged, fang-like teeth could be seen in its mouth. While toothless, the girl was by no means ordinary. Unusually pale, the girl appeared to be perpetually frowning and devoid of any emotion.
While no harm came to Ericsson Chua, Samantha Manning, or their brood, this did not mean there were no rumors about them. Some said that the twins were manifestations of evil spirits. Others said that the children’s ugliness was a form of divine punishment, while some of the more ignorant claimed that they were the result of their parents’ inadequate Third World nutrition.