Saturday, December 24, 2005

Pampanga: Giant Lantern Festival... San Fernando, Pampanga!

Just a few hours before Christmas! Masayang Pasku kekayu ngan! I just came from a tiring drive. I was on my way back to Manila from Pampanga when I was reminded by a friend of mine that she had ordered ensaimada. Damn! It slipped my mind! So to make the long story short, I drove to Manila to pick up the orders; went back to Pampanga to make the delivery; and now I'm back in Manila in time for our noche buena (Ever since my lolo died in 1993, our clan no longer does its annual tradition of sleeping over in Pampanga for Christmas eve since an uncle and aunt are scared to sleep in the old house, fearful of lolo's ghost... hehe!). Thus, I traversed the NLEX three times in two hours! And tomorrow, I will use the NLEX two more times when I go back to Pampanga to visit relatives and back home again. I wish the toll was cheaper! Damn!

I had arrived in San Fernando the day before to watch the exhibition of giant lanterns (I missed the Giant Lantern Festival this year since I had an affair to attend in Tagaytay that night). So I had to make do with the post-festival exhibitions. And like in any big event, expect hawkers (vendors to us Filipinos) to gate crash. So before the program, I had a sampling of Pampanga street food... fried breaded chicken skin! Hehe! More LDL for me (if you still cannot distiguish whether HDL or LDL is the good or bad cholesterol, just remember LDL = lechon de leche... hehe!).

The Giant Lantern Festival is quite close to my heart. Aside from the fact that it is the pride of the City of San Fernando, Pampanga and that in 2003, at the age of 24, I became the youngest person ever to serve as chairman of the Giant Lantern Festival Executive Committee; the giant lanterns of San Fernando make me proud to be a Filipino. Watching these technological works of art never cease to amaze me as I marvel at the craftsmanship and ingenuity of the Fernandino lantern makers.

As tourism officer of the City of San Fernando, I wrote many of the articles and promotional materials for the festival which are still in use today. Allow me thus to quote an old article which has become staple in promoting the festival...

"Most only see the finished product. The dynamic interplay of lights and color that precisely moves with the rhythm of a brass band, the magnitude of size and their intricate designs, and so much more which spectators only get to appreciate as the giant lanterns of San Fernando are pitted against each other on festival night. No one can dispute the fact that the Giant Lantern Festival of San Fernando is the event that the province of Pampanga is most known for. And it is sad that we rarely acknowledge the tremendous preparation and investment the makers put in each of these giant lanterns. It is because of these giant lanterns and the San Fernando lantern-making industry that the City of San Fernando has been dubbed the Christmas Capital of the Philippines.

San Fernando and the Christmas lantern
It is one of the trades that are undisputedly Kapampangan. Lantern making first began in the town of San Fernando during the early part of this century. What distinguish the San Fernando lantern from the ordinary parol are the intricate designs and the illusion of dancing lights, which highlight the vibrant colors of the lantern.

The Christmas lantern can never be distanced from the town which created it, the City of San Fernando. It is what San Fernando is known for. And it is what has made the city famous all over the country and even around the world. Such a creation however, did not come without the untiring efforts of San Fernando’s citizens, and more so, their creativity and innovation. And it is because of the Christmas lantern that San Fernando has earned for itself the title of Christmas Capital of the Philippines. And to truly appreciate the colorful and intricate display of lights, one must understand its deep history and the strong traditions involved in the creation of the San Fernando Giant Lantern.

The Giant Lantern Festival
The San Fernando lantern industry evolved from the Giant Lantern Festival of San Fernando. The festival, which is held every December, finds its roots in Bacolor where a much simpler activity was held. Following the transfer of the provincial capital from Bacolor to San Fernando in August of 1904, this parul event followed as well. "Ligligan Parul" was said to have started in San Fernando in the year 1904. But some say that the "Ligligan Parul" did not happen immediately after the transfer and in fact began in 1908.

This predecessor of the modern day Giant Lantern Festival was actually a religious activity which we know today as “lubenas.” The lanterns measured just two feet in diameter, a far cry from the fifteen feet that we see today. These were created in each barrio from bamboo and other locally available materials. During the nine-day novena before Christmas, which coincided with the simbang gabi from December 16 to 24, these paruls were brought around each barrio in procession to their visita. Before the midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, the lanterns were brought to the town church together with the barrio patrons.

This tradition gradually evolved as the lanterns became bigger and the designs more intricate. Later, one big lantern was made for each barrio, which was created through a cooperative effort. Each resident contributed to its construction, from the concept and design, to the materials and labor. In the end, these lanterns became a symbol of unity for the barrios.

One version tells us that it was in the year 1931 that electricity was introduced to the San Fernando lantern, thus sparking the birth of the first Giant Lantern Festival. The added illusion of dancing lights highlighted the bright colors and intricate designs of these Giant Lanterns. At this time, the lights were controlled by individual switches that were turned on and off following the beat of the music. The barangays of Del Pilar, Sta. Lucia and San Jose were among the first barangays to participate in the festival.

According to another version claimed by old folks, the Giant Lantern Festival started during the time of President Manuel L. Quezon. At that time, President Quezon was trying to make Pampanga a model province. In fact, Quezon made Arayat his resting place and converted the legendary Mount Arayat into a tourist resort. As a show of gratitude to Quezon, the people of San Fernando held a Christmas lantern contest to honor the first family. Quezon himself donated the prize for this lantern contest, which was personally awarded to the winner by First Lady Aurora Aragon Quezon.

Fernandino creativity at work
In years that followed, more innovations were introduced to the giant lanterns. Colored plastic replaced the traditional papel de hapon. Large steel barrels called rotors also substituted the hand-controlled switches to manipulate the lights. Strips of masking tape on these rotors determine the sequence of the switching on and off of the lights.

The technology of the rotor is quite simple. Hairpins, attached to the end of the wires leading to each individual bulb, connect the lights to the rotor, which in turn, is connected to the source of electricity. Strips of masking tape are placed on the metal rotor to serve as light switches. As the rotor is turned, the hairpins pass through the strips of masking tape. When a certain hairpin hits a strip of masking tape, the current to a specific set of bulbs is temporarily cut thus switching off that particular set of bulbs. When that particular hairpin regains contact with the steel barrel, the bulbs are again lit. Thus, the placement of the masking tape on the rotors determines the interplay of lights on the lanterns and can spell success or disaster for each entry.

Thinking about it, one needs a lot of creativity and technical know-how in designing a giant lantern. It is not as easy as getting a pen and paper and drawing a symmetrical design. As the giant lantern maker visualizes his design, he also has to take into consideration the interplay of lights and colors. And just to illustrate the magnitude of difficulty, the designer should be able to picture when each of the 3,500 light bulbs should go on and off. And just to stress, no computers are involved in the interplay of lights. Everything is done manually, yet the result produced by the lantern makers of San Fernando can even rival light effects done by computers.

The design, however, is just a part of the actual labor involved in the creation of a giant lantern. Once this has been finalized, the lantern makers weld together a steel frame, which follows the design itself. This is the first step in the actual construction of the giant lantern.

The frame is then lined with cardboard and foil. This is followed by another monumental task, placing the over 3,000 light bulbs in their proper places and wiring them up together. Even an expert electrical engineer would go crazy while working on this intricate network composed of hundreds of yards of electrical wires.

The wires are then connected to the rotors. And let me stress rotors with an "s" since barangays have to change the interplay of lights with each tune. In fact, some barangays even use as much as eight to ten of these steel barrels for variety in movement. Finally, there is of course the plastic covering, which is cut and shaped precisely to fit each section.

The Giant Lantern Festival is an inter-barangay contest. In past festivals, it really was a barangay effort and the best lantern makers of the barangay were called on to create the entry to the competition. During that time, each participating barangay had resident lantern makers. However, as the years passed, many of these lantern makers were unable to pass on the trade. Today, only Del Pilar, Sta. Lucia, Dolores and San Jose can boast of resident lantern makers. So to keep the show on the road, other barangays have to rely on lantern makers from other localities."

Anyway, for the past several years, the giant lanterns have been eighteen feet in diameter, each with an average of 5,000 light bulbs, controlled by 8 rotors or more. I've uploaded some videos of the giant lanterns to give you a picture of what I'm talking about. The files are quite large so be patient. Hehe!

Here is a sample video of this year's champion, Barangay Santo Rosario... VIDEO1 2MB
This one is a longer version... VIDEO2 19MB
And this is five of them together. Notice the proportion with people in front... VIDEO3 9MB

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Nippon Maru sailing the blue, blue ocean...

This is the time of year when reminiscing about my unforgettable SSEAYP experiences is on a pivotal high, as the M/S Nippon Maru docks in Manila as part of its mission to take young ambassadors of goodwill "to the ports of the world with a message of love and peace" as the Nippon Maru Song goes. I was doubly excited since the National Leader of Japan for this year was none other than my SG-mate and Japan Youth Leader during our year, Atsuko Sawano (Atchee) whom I missed so dearly.

Which is why despite my class schedule, I made an effort to attend the reunion on board the ship last December 6. To add to that was the sumptuous Nippon Maru buffet we always looked forward to during the reunions.

There were a big number of 2002 PYs in the reunion. Vel from Brunei also joined the reunion. While two of the OBSC representatives this year were our batchmates as well, Mongkol from Cambodia and Eak from Thailand.

Nippon Maru dinners and receptions are always a sight to behold and taste... from the sushi artistically arranged on large plates, to sumptuous dishes inspired by various ASEAN and Japanese favorites, to the desserts, most especially the ice cream! Red and white wine, sake and Japanese beer is served as well.

I immediately noticed Atchee in her intricate kimono. It was so heartwarming to see an old friend here in Manila. And right there and then, I knew I made the right decision of skipping classes since it would have been unkind of me if I did not even meet her on her first visit to our country (the ship did not dock in Manila during our year). We were able to catch up the whole evening, interrupted by the usual programs since she had to do various ceremonial tasks as a National Leader.

Of course, SSEAYP activities would not be complete without the photos. And unlucky are the people requested to take photos since they end up holding so many cameras, busily taking snapshots as PYs (once a PY, always a PY) keep that one-minute smile... hehe!

We had to leave the ship at 9 p.m. as part of ship regulations. But the alumni association always prepares another party for the current batch of PYs, host families, alumni and friends as part of the warm welcome prepared for the delegates. So we all headed to Shangri-La Plaza Mall Streetscape for this year's street party.

Boy, it's been quite a while since I went out, no thanks to the toxic MBA workload. And the night was definitely fun! Even as the party ended, our batch decided to take Atchee, Mongkol, Eak and Vel to Eastwood for coffee but since Starbucks was already closed, we ended up with a better option... giving them a taste of a Filipino breakfast via the breakfast buffet at Something's Fishy.

We were able to talk to Mongkol and Eak about our plans to visit their part of the world next summer. And Mongkol, as gracious as always, offered to host us during the visit. That is the fulfilling part about SSEAYP, you have friends in every corner of the ASEAN and Japan. Which is why I was thrilled to receive the e-mail promotion of AirAsia's limited offering of all their tickets for free! So I grabbed the opportunity immediately and booked my tickets to Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand, with land trips to Laos and Singapore for next April! We ended quite late. All of us were exhaused. I was able to bring the them back to the ship at 4 a.m.

Poor me, I had work to finish and ended up in front of the computer til 1 p.m. Sleepless, I headed back to the ship and almost missed the farewell ceremonies because of the traffic, arriving just in the nick of time for me to give my present to Atchee. Back in 2002, she had given me her kimono and it was only now that I was able to reciprocate by giving her the very barong I wore during the program three years ago.

SSEAYP goodbyes are sad. And everytime the Nippon Maru sets sail for the next port, it always affects me as I watch it leave. The fun and heartwarming part about the closing ceremonies are the ticker tape farewells. I've always remembered the feeling of being the one throwing the tape from the ship down to the crowd below. But receiving the tape from someone close to you, being at the opposite end this time around struck me with a feeling of being left behind with all the memories, hoping that one day we would all meet again in this community we call the world.

I'd like to end on that note and prefer not to talk about my two hour ordeal in Manila's Christmas traffic jams. Hehe! Until next year, sayonara Nippon Maru!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Go Team Philippines!

23rd SEA Games Medal Tally
(Official as of 6:34 PM Dec. 5)
COUNTRY
G

S

B
TOTAL
PHILIPPINES 113 84 94 291
THAILAND 87 78 118 283
VIETNAM 71
68 89 228
MALAYSIA 61 50
64 175
INDONESIA 49 79 89 217
SINGAPORE 42 32 55 129
MYANMAR 17 34 48 99
LAOS 3 4 12 19
BRUNEI 1 2 2 5
CAMBODIA 0 3
9 12
TIMOR LESTE 0 0 3 3
TOTAL 444 434 583 1461


Congratulations to Team Philippines for winning its first overall championship in the Southeast Asian Games! And congratulations to my brods Timmy Chua '02 and Evan Grabador '04 for winning another bronze medal for the country in the men's 4x100m medley relay!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

One ASEAN. One Heritage.

So goes the 2005 Southeast Asian Games website. I just came from the P60 million Trace Aquatics Center to watch my brods compete in the SEA Games. The facilities are indeed world-class! Kudos to the owners of Trace College and the organizers of the aquatics events. And of course, congratulations to my brod, Olympian Raphael "Timmy" Chua for winning the bronze medal in the men's 100m breast finals yesterday!




Thursday, November 24, 2005

Macau: Taipa and Coloane, the islands south of Macau

Today, one would no longer feel that Taipa and Coloane were once islands separated from the Macau peninsula since three long causeways now link Taipa to the mainland while Coloane has virtually been connected to Taipa by reclamation projects which would host a new casino district of Macau. But the good thing about it is the old settlements in both islands still exude the rustic charm of small colonial villages.

I'm writing this last part here in Manila. It took quite a while since I was dead tired when I got back. I had to rush to class in UP straight from the airport in Clark. Traffic was bad so I missed my first class. Just imagine the stress that met me when I arrived. The slow traffic and incessant honking of horns really drove down the point... welcome back to your chaotic country! I had to do stuff after class so to make the long story short, I got home at about 4 a.m. The sleep I got the next day wasn't enough either so it was just today that I've recovered in a way.

Anyway, I overslept on Tuesday. Who wouldn't after exerting so much physical effort the previous days? I was supposed to meet brod Phil at the park below my hotel at 9 a.m. but he ended up knocking on my door since I was sound asleep. Hehe! Since I had already packed my things, all I needed to do was to get dressed. So after rushing down, it was off for a drive around Taipa and Coloane before proceeding to the airport.

The southernmost of the two islands, Coloane, was still forested. I hope they keep it that way. It is said that pirates hid in the caves of Coloane, waiting for ships filled with cargo to pass by for them to raid. Coloane Village is the main settlement of the island and that is where the St. Francis Xavier Chapel is located.

We had breakfast at a cafe near the church. Then it was off for a drive around old Taipa Village. We didn't have time to stop over anymore but the place had also been preserved and restored. Around the church, the Igreja de Na. Sra. do Carmo, were several mint green Portuguese homes which had been converted into museums. The shop houses around the town market had also been spruced up in order to attract the tourists.

I really hope the mayors of our own cities learn from the Macau example. It's never to late for Mayor Atienza to convert the Escolta, Sta. Cruz and Binondo areas into a San Ma Lo since many of the art deco builings in the area still stand. All we can do is hope that their eyes are opened to the reality that the ordinary foreign tourist comes to see the local culture and heritage of a country they visit more than anything else. Thus, if we want to attract this billion dollar industry, we should know our market and invest big time to attract it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hong Kong: Zipidee do dah... zipidee ay!

My oh my, what a wonderful day! Hehe! I'll tell you more about the photo on the left later. But you've guessed it, I was in Hong Kong today.

Anyway, I woke up this morning two hours behind schedule. My body was just too exhausted. As soon as I was able to muster enough energy to get up, it was off to the Red Market to look for some local products. Finding what I needed, it was back walking again to complete my rounds of the UNESCO structures in Macau. From the market, the first stop was the Protestant Cemetery. It was a very plain, nondescript place. I wonder why it was included in the inscribed sites when St. Michael's was more impressive. Beside it was supposedly the Casa Garden, but it was also being restored. Schmuck!

So it was back to my regular route, from St. Anthony to St. Paul. This time, I took time out to check out their museum. It's the same religious art we have here in the Philippines. But I was struck by the crypt where the remains of the martyrs of Japan and Vietnam are enshrined. However, what appalled me was the fact the center of the crypt had been converted into a virtual wishing well. And the sad part is that most tourists, usually Chinese or Japanese, didn't know any better and threw their coins as if it were target practice, which I feel desecrates the sanctity of the crypt area. So much for the calls for respect outside.


I had three more sites to go to complete the twenty five, the Fortaleza do Monte, Lou Kau Mansion and the Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple. Just check out my photos or this website to read all about these sites. Now that I had that done, it was time to think of what to do for the afternoon. After much reflecting, I decided that I didn't want to shop and thus save money. So it was a trip to Hong Kong for some sightseeing!

I got to the ferry terminal at about 2 p.m. just in time for the 2:30 p.m. ferry to the former British colony. The trip to HK is approximately an hour so I got there at about 3:30 p.m. But I wasn't able to start going around immediately since there were no maps or brochures in sight! That was the start of a bad afternoon since I didn't know where to go and what to do. Plus my feet were still killing me!

Since I had been to HK in 1993, my first instinct was to take the MTR to somewhere hoping to see a map. And good thing I asked about the unlimited 24-hour passes for tourists since I remembered we used those before. It costed me HK$50 but it proved to be a good investment. It turns out one ride to Hong Kong Disneyland is already HK$26! So a round trip costs more than the day pass.

With the day pass came suggestions of where to go. Since I've been to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon already, I decided to visit Lantau Island which was now connected to Hong Kong by MTR and bridges. One of the suggested sites was the Lantau Link Visitors Centre where one could view the Tsing Ma and Ting Kau bridges, among the longest in the world. But alas, it proved to be a waste of time since when I got out of the Tsing Yi station, no one could point me to the right bus! So I got back on the MTR to rush to the Big Buddha in Lantau. By the time I arrived, it was 5:20 p.m. The last bus had departed at 5:10 p.m. since the Po Lin monastery closes at 6 p.m. Damn! By this time, it was getting dark so obviously, it was useless to try to see other sites.

Hong Kong Disneyland was on Lantau as well. So I decided to check it out, but only if they had special night tickets. I remembered that during my last visit to Tokyo Disneyland in 2002, we purchased tickets at a reduced price since we entered late in the afternoon. So the photo you see is the entrance to the park. But I didn't enter since I received a shock when I made it to the ticket counter. The lady said HK$295! I asked whether it was the night rate... Oh sorry sir, only one price. I could not fathom the thought that it was the same price for three hours of doing nothing much? Nevermind! It's the same Disney banana anyway. And I'm sure it's nothing compared to Disneyworld! Hehe! But at least I got a feel of the place which GMA and her family had visited just a day earlier. And I liked the dedicated Disney MTR which had mouse shaped windows and was designed like a lounge inside. Good thing I had the unlimited MTR ticket or else I would have thrown away close to HK$100 on wasted travel!

So now what? Maybe I could check out the night market in Mongkok. Never made it. I saw a smaller night market in Yau Ma Tei but nothing much. So I decided to head to Tsim Sha Tsui, another place which was familiar to me since the Toys'R'Us there was heaven to me in 1993. It was there that I saw Hong Kong harbour, and just in time for an astounding lights and sounds show. Imagine the famous Hong Kong skyline, dancing to music, lights in every building, in one big interplay of color! This coordinated feat was a sight to behold and I salute the Hong Kong Tourism Association for it.

The difficult thing about travelling alone is having your picture taken. I've actually mastered the art of taking my own photos using only coins and the timer (about 90 percent of my photos were done on my own) Hehe! But getting a photo of myself with the Hong Kong skyline in the evening was a different story. After several tries by hapless bystanders whom I coerced to take my photo, it was no use. I didn't know how to manipulate the settings to show the lights of the skyline properly. Plus a tripod was essential for such shots. So I gave in to those pesky photographers who had professional digital cameras and who printed photos in 5 minutes. The photo you see costed me HK$30 (P210) for a 3R copy. Damn! But it's the only way I could have gotten a good shot. Hehe!

Before I left Tsim Sha Tsui, I passed by Hard Rock to get my shot glasses. But instead of taking the MTR back to Hong Kong, I took the Star Ferry. You haven't been to HK if you haven't used the Star Ferry to cross the strait at least once. Hehe! By this time, walking was agonizing and I was simply forcing myself to keep on going. After a quick dinner, I decided it was time to call it a day. And I'm back in Macau!

Tomorrow, I fly back to the Philippines. But I'll try to pass by Coloane Island to check out the St. Francis Xavier Chapel. I have to pack now.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Macau: The Historic Centre of Macau

My feet are killing me! I literally spent the whole day walking and have in fact covered the entire lower half of the Macau Peninsula. The morning was spent going around more of the UNESCO properties included in the listing "Historic Centre of Macao." There are 25 of them and by tomorrow, I hope to have visited them all. Sad though that several have ongoing restoration work like the Moorish Barracks, Mandarin's House, St. Augustine Church and adjacent St. Augustine's Square. So I just got to see them from the outside.

Here is the description in the UNESCO listing: "Macao, a lucrative port of strategic importance in the development of international trade, was under Portuguese administration from the mid 16th century until 1999, when it came under Chinese sovereignty. With its historic street, residential, religious and public Portuguese and Chinese buildings, the historic centre of Macao provides a unique testimony to the meeting of aesthetic, cultural, architectural and technological influences from East and West. The site also contains a fortress and a lighthouse, which is the oldest in China. The site bears testimony to one of the earliest and longest-lasting encounters between China and the West based on the vibrancy of international trade."

My goal for the day was to visit at least seven churches, a visita iglesia, as a personal sacrifice and and chance to reflect. The morning trek began at 9 a.m. with a short hike to the
St. Lawrence Church, one of the three oldest churches in Macau which was built by the Jesuits in the mid-16th century. Good thing there was Sunday Mass, albeit in Chinese! Hehe!

A few meters away was the coral pink Headquarters of the Government of the Macau SAR, the seat of power of the territory. From there it was a scenic strech along the banks of the man-made Nam Van Lakes where one could see old houses that lined the former seaboard, as well as the Macau Tower and the 2.5-kilometer Ponte Governador Nobre de Carvalho which links Macau with Taipa Island. I went up Penha Hill hoping to visit my second church for the day, the Ermita de Penha. But a wrong turn lead me to the middle of a posh residential area that dotted Penha Hill. And I had no choice but to walk back, wasting close to 45 minutes of my time. Oh well! By the time I was up Penha Hill, the reving of motors could already be heard from a distance as the morning events of the Macau Grand Prix 2005 were well under way.

After getting back on course, I made it to the next site, the
A-Ma Temple which already existed long before the city of Macau came into being. From A-Ma, it was a short walk to the Moorish Barracks, constructed in 1874 to accomodate an Indian regiment from Goa appointed to reinforce Macau. Although the exterior was well-kept, the inside was still undergoing restoration. Along the same road was Lilau Square and the Mandarin's House. The house was also undergoing restoration. While there were preparations for filming in Lilau Square so no chance to take photos as well. Sigh!

Back to St. Lawrence Church which was a few meters away from St. Augustine Church and Square (which was being restored),
Dom Pedro V Theatre, the Sir Robert Hotung Library (which was closed), and the St. Joseph's Church and Seminary, all in the UNESCO inscription.

The
St. Joseph's Seminary and Church was closed earlier but by this time was already open. I wonder why the Jesuits have a liking for the name San Jose Seminary. Anyway, the seminary became the principal base for the missionary work implemented in China, Japan and around the region. But what struck me the most was the fact that it was the church with a bone of St. Francis Xavier! Being from a Jesuit school, I remember stories about the remains of St. Francis Xavier being scattered across the Far East. But I didn't realize that Macau had one of them.

Back to the Leal Senado Building and Senado Square and off to church number three, St. Dominic's Church which was closed the night before. Another of the older churches, the inside was a sight to behold. But of course, it's nothing compared to what's left of our own in the Philippines, moreso our pre-war heritage. Walking around well-preserved colonial cities like Macau makes me sometimes resent the Americans for carpet bombing the "Pearl of the Orient."

I had to take a break from my heritage hike since I had to run to the Mandarin to get my complimetary pass to the Macau Grand Prix 2005 vantage point at the hotel parking lot. Finally got there after another long walk... Pant! Pant! Most of the roads in the casino area were blocked for the races so I had to go the long way. I stayed to watch a race but since I'm not into car races, I decided to continue my tour. But at least I got to watch it live thanks to brod Phil who's wife works at the Mandarin.

Since the roads were blocked, I had to go the long way again to reach Guia Hill. I was dead tired and quite hungry (I had a "walking" lunch, a beef turnover I bought along the way), so I decided to stop for a sandwich. When they said salty beef sandwich, I was expecting the dried beef I had been craving for but which was quite pricey. I was disappointed to get an ordinary corned beef sandwich... hehe!

Finally, I reach the hill entrance. There were two ways to get up. One was by walking up I don't know how many steps, and the other was by cable car. Guess which I picked? Hehe! When I got up the hill, I still had to hike to the other side where the Guia Fortress was located. The Guia Fortress was built between 1622 and 1638. Inside the fortress stands
Guia Chapel, church number four, and the Guia Lighthouse, the first modern lighthouse on the Chinese coast. As I was about to take my photos, my batteries failed. So I had to run back to the middle of the hill to get a new set. Arggggh!!!

Down from the hill and off to St. Michael Cemetery and Chapel, church number five. But before I got there, i had a great vantage point of the F3 races which were ongoing. It was nearing 5 p.m. (and churches close early in Macau), so I had to run to St. Lazarus Church. Just my luck, it was closed. But outside the church were fabulously restored heritage buildings. So it was off to the Cathedral which was also closed the previous night. Good thing it was open. Church number six! I still had a chance to complete seven but the St. Anthony Church was quite a long walk away. But I went for it and for some reason, I felt it was still open. My second name was given by my parents in honor of St. Anthony. So more reason to rush. It was open, visita iglesia complete!

To cap the day's dose of heritage was a photo with Macau's most well-known symbol, the
Ruins of St. Paul. I had been there the night before but it was a different sight during the day. Beside it were Na Tcha Temple and the Section of the Old City Walls.

If you thought the day was over, guess again! It was time for some Macanese street food. Got myself some sweets and dried beef to take back to Manila. But the best delight was the local version of a fish balls stand. You thought Filipinos have already seen everything from fishballs, squid balls to kikiam, shrimp balls, and chicken balls. Not quite! The picture would show what I'm talking about. And the way the food is cooked is healthier too! No cooking oil or deep frying. The bite-sized delights are cooked in broth, drained and put in a stryrofoam bowl. Plus you can even mix in some vegetables like Chinese cabbage and mushrooms. Then the sauce is put. I'm not sure what the others are but I know there's spicy curry and the ordinary sauce which I had. Yummy!

Back to the hotel for a short rest. Then it was off to check out the neon lights of Macau's casinos. Hehe! I don't gamble so don't ask me how it's like inside. Tomorrow I wake up early to get a head start at the Red Market. Then it's a choice of Hong Kong or Zhuhai City in the People's Republic of China. Will tell you more about it tomorrow. Hehe!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Macau: My first taste of lutong Macau

It's really difficult when you're travelling on a budget. But any break from stress is heaven for me, moreso if its travelling to another corner of the world. Cumprimentos de Macau! Yup, I'm in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, now a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China. I arrived here using Tiger Airways, another no-frills airline which flies from Clark. Good thing they're expanding their destinations. Hehe! Moreso, the Historic Centre of Macao was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list this year which gave me more reason to make a visit.

Being on a tight budget, using a taxi to get from the airport to the hostel was out of the question. Why pay 50 patacas (times 7 equals PHP350) for a five kilometer trip when you can pay just MOP3.30 if you take a bus? Sad thing it was rush hour though so it was standing room only. Boy, can they stuff those coasters! And just like most Chinese cities, English is hardly spoken! So I had to rely on instinct where to get off.

When I felt I was lost, I decided to get off and look for a place to have dinner. I entered the first restaurant I saw. Just my luck, English was still non-existent so I had to make do with pointing at pictures on the wall. I think I picked a pork dish with leeks, celery and carrots. Not bad for a first meal although it was quite salty for my standards.

After that filling dinner, it was time to walk and look for the hostel which brod Phil Vega had reserved for me. He had to make reservations since there were a lot of people here in Macau due to the Macau Grand Prix 2005 which culminates tomorrow. It turns out, I got off quite near my hostel. Looks like my traveller's instincts are working perfectly today. Anyway, have to go for now. I'm off for a stroll around old Macau (talk about adaptive reuse of heritage... outstanding!) and maybe find some great hawker food. Hehe!

Some photos of that stroll are in my
Patrimoine Mondial photo album.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Pangasinan: Pangasinan's capitol, a beakon for conservation

Finally, something to write about after all those weeks of endless studying. It's sick when you don't have a semestral break and even worse that you're having midterms when everyone else is on semestral break. Oh the disadvantages of being in the only trisemestral course in UP!

I had wanted to write about my recent trip to Baguio in September, particularly Camp John Hay and its historic core but didn't have the photos as well as time to get myself to scribble some notes. So that made the lull longer.

Anyway, I joined Gemma Cruz-Araneta last Saturday, together with Archt. Jojo Mata and heritage photographer Karlo de Leon, during her visit to the Pangasinan Capitol Building in Lingayen, where restoration has been ongoing for the past three years. Jojo is the lead restoration architect of the project and we again saw each other on another out of town HCS trip quipping that we are indeed Gemma's faithful sidekicks.

We left Manila at 5 a.m. in order to get to Jojo's latest "obra mata" right before lunch and in time for us to meet with Gov. Victor Agbayani, Pangasinan's young and charismatic governor. The town of Lingayen is filled with heritage treasures. If not for that convento which was demolished by that stupid parish priest who pictured cash registers ringing with his new columbarium, everything would have been perfect. I'm surprised that the demolition did not raise a howl from Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop Oscar Cruz who as archbishop of San Fernando, Pampanga in the late 80s was responsible for the preservation of Pampanga's church treasures at a time when their sale by parish priests was so rampant.

The drive to the capitol was a charming sight. An elegant double-laned boulevard with a wide kalachuci-lined island in the middle that if landscaped would be a site to behold. At the end was the neo-classical capitol building of Pangasinan. Freshly painted, it is said to be one of the most elegant if not the most elegant capitol buildings in the country. And thanks to the efforts of Gov.
Agbayani, the building is about to be transported back in time as layers of constant and unsightly alterations by previous administrations are removed to reveal a priceless pre-war architectural masterpiece. Indeed, this will be a legacy for future generations, one that should be emulated by other provinces.

After going around the building, we were met by Gov. Agbayani who took us to other parts of the building which is still undergoing final touches to its restoration. This was followed by lunch at the governor's official residence just accross the street.

We discussed among others, plans to create local ordinances that would protect the capitol and other heritage structures all over Pangasinan. This would be an exciting breakthrough for heritage conservation since Pangasinan is the first provincial LGU to untertake such a project. It's sad that our provincial officials in Pampanga don't have the same level of consciousness as Gov. Agbayani. Oh well!

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the pictures at my Yahoo! Photos site.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Batangas: Taal, the town not the volcano

When we hear the word Taal, the first thing that comes to mind is the volcano, a classic image of the Philippine Islands, one viewed from the hills of Tagaytay City. What we rarely notice though is Taal, the heritage town, one steeped in history and heritage!

I've been to Taal several times but the town never fails to call me back. Maybe it's because of the quaint feel of centuries-old houses that line-up along the narrow streets of this former capital of Batangas province, the magnificent Taal Basilica or the miraculous image of the Virgin of Caysasay housed in a shrine close to a well with healing waters. Or maybe it is the elaborately embroidered piña cloth which I use for my barongs. And piña cloth did I bring home that day. Aside from the panotcha, bokayo, macapuno and kalamay of course!

I was invited by architecture students from Adamson University to join them on their tour. Jeremy, the president of the UAPSA Adamson Chapter, wanted me to give a word or two on heritage conservation in the hope that his fellow students would be encouraged to start a chapter in their school.

We arrived in Taal at about 10 a.m. just in time for a morning snack served by our host, Dindo Agoncillo, a man at the forefront of the heritage advocacy in Taal. What I have been in San Fernando for the past five years, Dindo had been in Taal for more than a decade. We stayed for a while at the Escuela Pia, one of the seven National Historical Landmarks in Taal! As Dindo mentions, Taal holds the record for having the most number of National Historical Landmarks declared by the NHI.

Anyway, it was empanada again... hehehe! But it was unusual since the filling was sotanghon!

After snacks, we went to the Municipal Hall, another National Historical Landmark, for a brief introduction on Taal and efforts to preserve it. This was followed by a walk around Taal, but I left the group for a while since the market called as always. I wanted to get my piña cloth early since I saw we didn't have time to do it in the afternoon given the jampacked itinerary Dindo had prepared.

I met up with the group again at the Basilica of St. Martin of Tours, another National Historical Landmark, and reputably, the biggest church in Asia. The church was first built by Father Diego Espina in 1575 in San Nicolas. It was destroyed when Taal volcano erupted in 1754. In 1755, it was rebuilt at the present site but was destroyed again by an earthquake in 1849. Construction of the present church begun in 1856 supervised by architect Lucina Oliver.

Lunch was served at one of the Gabaldon school buildings. And a feast it was with the local flavors served buffet!

The afternoon begun with a walk along another of the heritage streets where restoration on several houses was ongoing. Of course, you could see that some were being done right since they had the right consultants. And others... oh brother! The results of the whims and caprices of their owners and their wrong notions of restoration, these abominations were an outright waste of good money. Sad to see houses rotting as well. That's the problem, we still have a few places with high concentrations of built heritage but no funds to restore everything. So they usually end up in antique or junk shops... sigh!

We went down the San Lorenzo staircase that led to the Caysasay Shrine. Lucky for us, the original image was there (the one in the altar is just a replica). Of course, the group of 160 students crowded around it. So I waited for everyone to leave for the well to get the traditional blessing from the image. This entails kneeling down while the image is placed on your head. Then you make your wish!

That accomplished, it was off to the well and its healing waters.

The last two stops for the day were two other National Historical Landmarks, the homes of Marcela Agoncillo, who is most known for sewing the original Philippine flag, and Leon Apacible, one of the delegates to the Malolos Congress.

All that walking got me real tired. So I just had to take a trike back to the bus. Pant! Pant!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Manila: Nibbling our way through Tsinoy town

It's another food trip! But this time the nibbling was closer to home. Yes folks, I joined Ivan ManDy's "The BIG Binondo Food Bowl" alternative Chinatown tour. Here is how my tokayo describes it:

Four hundred years of history and up to four hours of decadence!

The flavors of Old China are now in Manila. Come eat, talk, walk and then lose those calories as we explore the breadth, the width and most intimate alleys of Manila’s Chinese quarter!

We start, quite paradoxically, in a 16th-century Baroque cathedral while making our way down to a miraculous Chinese shrine! Take a peek at a traditional chocolate factory! Go Mama Mia over a mami house! Sing hurrahs to an authentic Hokkien lumpia! Savor the taste of an old panciteria!

We'll horse around the streets talking Filipino history, gorging Chinese treats and even checking out the district's Period architecture! Forget South Beach, it’s Tsinoy chop suey and more as we nibble our way down through Tsinoy town!

We all met up with my tokayo at the Binondo Church where we began the brief trip around Chinatown. Manila's Chinatown actually encompasses three Manila districts namely Binondo, Santa Cruz and San Nicolas. These were pueblos during the Spanish colonial period before they were combined with Intramuros and other towns to form what is now the City of Manila.

The Binondo Church was built in 1596. It had undergone many changes since then, having sustained considerable damage from earthquakes and other natural disasters. Most of the church was destroyed during the Second World War. Today the octagonal bell tower and facade are all that remain of the 16th century construction. The reconstruction of the present church was funded by the Catholic Chinese community, many of whom reside or operate businesses in the area. The church is now a national shrine and a basilica minore for San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint who was born in Binondo.

145_4522Our next stop was one of the few remaining chocolate factories in Chinatown along the main street of the district, Ongpin Street. We got to take a peek inside but didn't see much since they were taking a siesta. The only activity going on inside was the crushing of cocoa beans in preparation for processing them into the traditional chocolate tablets used for hot chocolate.

145_4528Mezzanine Cafe was our first food stop where we had the rice dish kiampong and fish ball soup, both from southern China where most migrants to the Philippines come from. The cafe is actually the only themed cafe if Chinatown, showcasing the volunteer firefighter tradition of Chinese Filipinos.

After the war, Chinatown was victim to devastating fires. The government was slow to respond to these fires forcing the Chinese Filipinos to form groups of volunteer fire brigades. Today, these brigades are not only located in Chinatown but also in other parts of Metro Manila. Patronizing Mezzanine Cafe means donating to these volunteer fire brigades.

145_4533145_4529145_4534After that tasty snack, we went for a brief stop in a Chinese drug store before moving on to our next food stop along Nueva Street, a dumpling and pancake shop, with recipes originating from northern China. The taste of the dumplings and pancakes actually reminded me of the Japanese gyoza.

From Ongpin Street, we took made a brief detour to Salazar Street to savor some tea eggs - eggs boiled in tea, and cold pancit from Taiwan. The pancit was great! Egg noodles with veggies and ham if I'm not mistaken.

145_4536It was back to Ongpin Street and off to our next food stop, a fried siopao shop. Nope, these sumptuous dumplings are not deep-fried. They are steamed and cooked on a flat metal pan, rather than the one with holes. It's called fried since the bottoms of the siopao are browned to a slight crisp.

We made a brief visit to the Philippine-Chinese Buddhist Temple along Kipuja Street, which Ivan M. explains is actually a Taoist temple. There he gave us a background on Chinese religious practices.

According to a write-up of the temple, "with interiors ornately outlined in red and gold, the temple is one of the most frequented in the community. A shrine to Kuan Yin, goddess of mercy ans Kuan Te Ya, god of businessmen, it is visited daily by countless worshippers to light joss sticks, offer food, or simply to seek for guidance from these deities."

From there, we walked to the next pueblo, Santa Cruz. As mentioned earlier, Manila during the Spanish colonial period was just Intramuros. Around it were several other towns, Binondo and Santa Cruz included.

Welcoming us at the end of Ongpin Street was Plaza Santa Cruz, with the grand Carriedo Fountain, built to honor the donor of Manila's first water system, Francisco Carriedo. At the other end of the plaza is the Santa Cruz Church.

On the right side of the church was Escolta Street, which at one time was the plush shopping area of Manila. Its art deco and beaux-arts buildings are a sight for sore eyes. The Heritage Conservation Society used to do an architectural walking tour of Escolta before called BEAUX PEEP!

145_4546145_4548145_4552The old ad went as follows: "The Heritage Conservation Society will be holding a tour of Manila's American-period financial district, the ESCOLTA. Relive the days of 1930's peace-time Manila with us as we guide you through some of Asia's oldest examples of Art Deco and Beaux-Arts Architecture. Some of the places we will visit are the First United Building, Burke Building, Regina Building, the Escolta Museum and the stunning beaux arts El Hogar Filipino by the Pasig River among others." The said buildings are indeed stunning.

Near the end of Escolta, and a short walk to the banks of the Pasig River are one of the best views of the Post Office Building. From there, it was back to Binondo and our last food stop, a hidden lumpia joint in the art deco Uy Su Bin Building where our tour ended.

That's it for now. Darn that controllership final exam on Monday. I'm going to miss this month's tour of the Chinese cemetery which Ivan M. aptly calls Mounds, Magnates and Mausoleums. More of my Chinatown photos here.

Old Manila Walks: http://oldmanilawalks.blogspot.com
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