Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Benguet: The strawberry fields of La Trinidad

After an exhausting day the other day, and since I was on vacation, I decided to wake up late yesterday. Ching was up early since she had errands to do and meet some friends too. At 10 a.m., I passed by for her and Joyce at the Baguio Cathedral and from there, we drove to La Trinidad, Benguet to check out the strawberry fields of the Benguet State University.

We easily found the place. You simply made a left in front of the last gate of BSU where a large sign pointed you towards the strawberry fields. We had planned to pick strawberries but since a lot of people had visited the day before, all the ripe strawberries had been harvested already. If you picked your own strawberries, the price at that time was PHP200 per kilo. Anyway, we just walked around the fields and took photos.

Of course, the strawberries there were relatively cheap since they were in season and you were buying them at the source. One kilo of small strawberries was just PHP60. I got the larger strawberries for PHP80 a kilo. There were really large choice strawberries at PHP100 a kilo. I regret not buying more to take back to the lowlands.

The day before, while waiting for the parade, we had strawberry flavored taho on the street. Taho vendors added strawberry bits and syrup to it. In the BSU area, the sorbetero naturally had strawberry ice cream with strawberry bits. Yummy! I also bought a serving of fresh pinipig (or duman to us Kapampangans) which I had been munching on since this morning.

From the strawberry fields, we went the Benguet Provincial Capitol to meet up with Ryan. Before lunch, he brought us to the store of the Entrepreneurial Project of BSU to buy some local treats.

Aside from the staple peanut brittle, strawberry jam and ube jam (their ube jam is quite popular), you had pure arabica mountain coffee (PHP50 for 250g); honey products such as creamed honey, raw beepollen and propolis, and honey wine with herbs; yacon and bignay wine; yacon and lemon grass herbal tea, powdered roasted soybean drink; chayote champoy, santol candy and pineapple-papaya jam among others.

We then walked across the street to this hole-in-the-wall type of place for lunch at the Strawberry Fields Arcade at Gladiola Center in front of BSU. Jolly Yan Meals is hidden in one corner but people flock to it since meals are cheap but tasty. The “meat plus meat” package (two meat dishes or your choice) served with mountain rice and soup was just PHP45. Another option was “meat plus veggie” just for PHP35.

Anyway, I had to rush back to Pampanga to do some work. So after our trip to the store, we drove down via Kennon Road since we wanted to check out the scenery. Kennon Road is actually a heritage road and its stunning natural scenery should be protected from unsightly urbanization and vandalism.

And sadly, election graffiti was all over the place. Shame on ANC party for painting their initials on every single rock along the road! Same goes to candidates Defensor, Osmena and Pimentel whose names are also painted all over. Mike Defensor even has his non-biodegradable paraphernalia nailed to trees! I hope the Comelec acts on this immediately and issues an ultimatum to candidates and parties to remove the paint before other candidates follow suit as a result of their inaction. Let’s spare Kennon Road and the environment around it from all this election trash!

More photos in Multiply.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Baguio: Baguio City in full bloom for Panagbenga 2007

After all those years watching the parade on television and seeing photos of the colorful floral floats published in our national dailies, I finally saw the Panagbenga (Baguio Flower Festival) with my own two eyes. It was late when we decided to actually trek up to Baguio City to brave one of the biggest crowds that jampack the city annually.

Since hotels would have been fully-booked and buses filled to the hilt, we decided to drive up on the morning of the float parade, just in time to find a good vantage point for festivities. We left Pampanga at about 12 midnight. It was a sleepy but smooth drive given that heavy traffic was factored out of the picture. So we made it to Baguio close to 3:30 a.m. if I'm not mistaken. We took a quick nap at a place where some friends were staying and at 6 a.m., we were off to Session Road for breakfast.

Our plan was to try out the breakfast meals at Swiss Baker. But since they had a catering service that morning, they did not offer breakfast that day and we were left with the turnovers from the night before. As we were eating, we noticed that the sidewalk was slowly being filled-up so I rushed out to reserve a place for us. To make the long story short, we waited for close to two hours before the parade reached us. By that time, there was layer upon layer of people behind us. So it really paid to come early.

First came the city officials and the superintendent of the Philippine Military Academy followed by the colors borne by cadets from the PMA. Then came two great floats from the Baguio Country Club and Chowking, both in the Hall of Fame. I especially liked the Chowking float which was very creative.

The parade was so orderly and there was enough crowd control and police to keep people within the rope on either side of Session Road. Of course, the floats which were out of place were those of the candidates. When the people carrying the letters CHAVIT passed by our area, everyone shouted "boo!" with their thumbs down. I thought it would have been the same reception when the float with the candidates passed by. But then, Cesar Montano was on it, so the boos became shrieks from fans.

For some reason, we managed to get out of the rope and find a great vantage point in front of the Baguio City Market. How we were able to do that without being noticed by the police is a trade secret. Haha! Anyway, we saw even more floats. I liked the ones from Greenwich and SM (even though I still could not forgive SM for demolishing the Pines Hotel and chopping hundred of pine trees on top of Session Road all in the name of money).

It was nearing lunch and the parade was not yet done. So we decided to call it a day and headed towards St. Joseph's Parish where my SSEAYP batchmate Tanjo Tambol was waiting for us. He treated us to lunch at Villa Cordillera which is of the best-kept secrets of Baguio (for the meantime). Managed by the Baguio Country Club, this hotel and restaurant offers a relaxing view of the green golf course and pine-covered hills.

I was surprised to find out that you could get a room for two here for as low as PHP1000. But that is an introductory price which would change by April. I regret booking elsewhere since there were rooms available when we arrived since as I predicted, everyone would have checked-out and were on the way back to Manila by Sunday afternoon. Anyway, lunch was great and the prices were quite affordable.

Since Baguio City was jampacked, we decided to stay at a spa for the afternoon. Spa Ultima at the top of Session Road was very recommended. We got a full-body massage for just PHP340! By the time we were done, it was already dark so we had dinner at the restaurant above the spa, Broad Meadows Cafe. But the food was nothing special.

After dinner, we went back to our inn to rest for a while. At about 10 p.m., we met up with my China-ASEAN batchmate, Dr. Ryan Guinaran who brought us to this cool hang-out called Kaffeeklatsch. The place was very homey with live acoustic perfomances entertaining the guests. The place was out of the way but it had its regular denizens which was not a surprise since it had a very cozy ambiance. After a few ours of chatting, we called it a night.

More photos in Multiply.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Manila: Kiong Hee Huat Chai!

We've always known the Cantonese version of the Lunar New Year greeting which is Kong Hei Fat Choi. It means "congratulations and be prosperous" and not "Happy New Year" as most Filipinos assume. But since most Chinese Filipinos trace their ancestry to Fujian province, the residents of Binondo are popularizing the Hokkien version which is Kiong Hee Huat Chai! This holiday is not only celebrated by the Chinese but shared by the Koreans (Seollal), Vietnamese (Tết), Mongolians, Tibetans (Losar), the Nepalese and the Bhutanese as well.

Yesterday was the eve of the Lunar New Year. As I was nearing the Binondo Church, I bumped into dragon dance group making its way along Ongpin Street. Anyway, my tokayo (Filipino term for person with the same first name) Manila streetwalker Ivan ManDy had a tour scheduled in the afternoon so I waited for him at the church lobby. He arrived at 2 p.m. together with two other bloggers, Anton Diaz and Sidney Snoeck. Anton and family joined his morning tour while Sidney bumped into their group. Since I've already been on his walking tour (check out this old entry on the Big Binondo Food Bowl), I decided to join Anton and Sidney for a walk around the place to look for some action.

And it wasn't difficult to look for dragon and lion dance groups since they were all over the place. The lion dance is often confused with the dragon dance. If it's just one or two people, it's a lion. We finally found a big dance group and decided to follow them since we figured they knew which shops to stop at. And our hunch was right since we were led to a shop with a load of firecrackers hanging in front of it.

All these groups were after the little red envelopes filled with money, called ang pao in Hokkien, which were taped on the ceilings of the shops. But one thing I noticed was that most of the dance groups were not Chinese at all, obviously outsiders after the loot. There were even ati-atihan groups who were quite aggressive, giving red envelopes to by-standers hoping they would put something inside for them.

Since the afternoon sun was quite hot, there were not that many groups yet. So we decided to rest a bit and have dimsum at President Tea House on Salazar Street near the corner of Ongpin. I had hakkao, polonchai dumplings, spinach dumplings, japanes siomai and taupe rolls. We saw the mango shakes on the other table and couldn't resist ordering for ourselves too. Thanks to Sidney for the treat! We also bumped into Señor Enrique there.

The shops outside were also loaded with fruits, "lucky" plants and new year decorations and good luck charms. Of course, tikoy was in abundance too. There were long queues to buy tikoy, hopia and other goodies at the more popular outlets.

We continued our walk and found even more action. Along Ongpin, the crowds were increasing as they watched the different groups perform in front of the shops. The shop owners would place a bowl of candies and coins in front of their shops for the lions to "eat." The lions would then "spit it" to the crowds who all rush in to grab the goodies. Of course, the end of the routine would be the lighting of firecrackers. In fact, the lions would play around with the other end of the firecraker belt, "biting" it with its mouth. This time, the fumes were just too much for me to handle and I ended up coping with an asthma attack.

At 5:30 p.m., we parted ways and I ended up joining the tail-end of Ivan ManDy's tour which was a visit to the Guan Gong Temple. After the temple visit, we made a left on Nueva Street (the Lord Mayor of MayniLA changed the name to Yuchengco), and entered this alley which is known as Carvajal Street. The alley is a food haven with its myriad of hole-in-the-wall tea houses and vendors who sell anything from fruits, vegetables, fish and other delicacies.

We ended up in Quintin Paredes and our last stop, the New Po-Heng Lumpia House in the Uy Su Bin Building. Of course, their fresh lumpia is healthy and delicious. After the tour, I asked my tokayo to accompany me to my favorite dumpling shop along Nueva Street, Dong Bei Dumplings. I took home frozen xie ping (fried stuffed pancakes) and chui kio (dumplings). From there, we went back to Ongpin where I bought a box of tikoy and ube hopia from Eng Bee Tin.

Anyway, got a lot of work piled up for school, work and my NGOs. Check out the rest of my photos in Multiply. Kiong Hee Huat Chai!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Manila: Underneath the urban chaos hides Manila's former glory

I was at Binondo today to join in the Lunar New Year festivities. Since it was definitely going to be a traffic nightmare in Binondo, I decided to park at that unsightly shopping mall beside the City Hall of Manila (I must admit, I finally saw use for it... hehehe!) and walk to Chinatown from there. I also saw it as an opportunity to check out all the neglected heritage buildings along the way.

As I've mentioned over and over again, that uninteresting mall beside City Hall used to be where the elegant YMCA Building designed by Archt. William Parsons stood. Right beside it is an early post-war government building, one among many decrepit heritage buildings near City Hall, the former GSIS Headquarters. It was a pity looking at the building. From the architectural details, I could imagine just how chic it was during its heyday.

One thing the City Government of Manila lacks is creativity. There is such a thing as adaptive reuse Mayor Atienza. The GSIS Building could have been by used for the Unibersidad de Manila, and it would have been an elegant school building at that, instead of constructing that boring building in Mehan Gardens.

Aside from the fact that it was built on an important historical and archaeological site, it lessened the open space in Manila. We were discussing in my land use planning class yesterday that Filipinos seem to hate open spaces since when a local government sees one, they try to build something on it. In Mehan Gardens alone, Atienza had succeeded in constructing the UDM campus and Park & Ride. Check out this article for more details.

Anyway, right in front of UDM itself was another heritage government building that could also have been used by the UDM. But the National Waterworks and Sewage Authority building was obviously as derelict as GSIS. What a waste of architectural treasures right beside City Hall!

I continued my walk and saw that controversial DepEd building Atienza built in the Arroceros Forest Park. Oh brother! From outside, Arroceros was a sorry sight, heavily damaged by two typhoons, one named Milenyo and the other named Jose. If Winner Foundation was still on top of things, I'm sure the trees would have been rehabilitated immediately after Milenyo.

At the end of the road was the jewel of all decrepit heritage treasures in the vicinity of City Hall, the Metropolitan Theater. Need I say more?

I hope they are able to bring back the grandeur of that charming edifice which has Art Deco written all over it. But sadly, as early as now, one could already see that declared structures such as the Metropolitan Theater won't be spared by the elections. Attention Comelec, not only did Gabriela place their posters outside the designated posting areas, they violated PD1505 by desecrating a national historical landmark and had the gall to place their posters right beside the NHI marker at that!

At least across the street, Liwasang Bonifacio (formerly known as Plaza Lawton) had already been rehabilitated. Beside it, another imposing Manila landmark, the Central Post Office stands like a proud sentinel of Manila's former glory (before the city was carpet-bombed by American forces in the final days of the Second World War, it was among the great cities of Asia and the world). I guess there is a glimmer of hope for Manila's heritage.

I continued my walk across the Pasig River via the Jones Bridge. It's sad that they did not restore this bridge following the original plans of Archt. Juan Arellano. From the west side of the bridge, you could see Intramuros on your left and Binondo on your right. Again, amidst all the urban chaos, two buildings standout: the El Hogar Building and Pacific Commercial Building. I hope they restore these buildings soon.

At the end of the bridge, the Philtrust Bank Building (another grand pre-war building that should be restored) and a welcome arch greets visitors as they enter Chinatown. Along Quintin Parades Street, more Art Deco buildings still stand. And it was a pleasant surprise to see many of these old buildings freshly painted. And I also noticed that they are foreign banks, namely Citibank and HSBC which chose to locate in chic pre-war buildings. I guess it's because they know the value of the said buildings.

Anyway, my walk ended at the Binondo Church. Few people know that only the facade is original since the church was bombed too during the Second World War. But the current interior is just so nouveau riche, a cheap and pitiful imitation of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. Binondo, with all its money could definitely do better than that.

Watch out for Part II tomorrow. Kiong Hee Huat Chai!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Manila: A visit to De La Salle University

Since I started talking about university chapels, here is another one. I was quite excited when I received an invitation from DLSU Liga Historia to speak about heritage at De La Salle's alternative class day called LEAP (Lasallian Enrichment Alternative Program) since I had been wanting to check out the De La Salle University campus for the longest time. I had heard so many good things about its pre-war university chapel from a lot of friends. So as soon as the talk ended, I went straight to the Chapel of The Most Blessed Sacrament on the second floor of its neoclassical main building, St. La Salle Hall.

It was in November 19, 1939 that the chapel was completed and dedicated to St. Joseph. The chapel figured prominently during the Second World War having served as a refuge for brothers, priests and families. On February 12, 1945, drunken Japanese troops massacred 16 brothers and 25 civilians in the chapel. In 1947, the chapel was rededicated to the Blessed Sacrament with a ceremony of reparation for the desecrations perpetrated in the chapel.

St. La Salle Hall itself was completed in 1924. It was designed by renowned architect Tomas Mapua. I had wanted to take a photo of the facade of the building. But to my horror, a single-story structure had been constructed right smack in front of the building. Constructing the Marilen Gaerlan Conservatory in front of its main building is one of the biggest mistakes DLSU had made. Check out the old postcard in the inset featuring St. La Salle Hall when there was still a lot of open space in front of it.

As Wikipedia notes, since its completion in 1998, the conservatory has completely blocked the ground level of St. La Salle Hall. Despite its abundance of funding sources, DLSU seems to be ill-advised with regard to campus planning and the proper construction, scale and location of its new buildings. It was even more depressing when I went to the second floor of the main building since instead of a courtyard, one would see the roof of the conservatory. How sad!

Another thing I noticed was the importance (or lack of it) DLSU gave to the Philippine flag. Aside from the flagpole being really short (many public elementary schools have taller flagpoles), it was relegated to the corner of an amphitheater. For a university as prestigious as De La Salle, surely it has the funds to erect a taller and more appropriate flagpole befitting our national flag and place it in a prominent location in campus, maybe in front of the main building or at the center of its main quadrangle. The Philippine flag is our most important national symbol and schools should stress to their students the importance of respecting our flag as part of strengthening Philippine nationalism. So I suggested to Liga Historia to make it an advocacy to convince the administration that the Philippine flag deserves a more prominent location in the DLSU campus.

We all wonder why the Philippines is still lagging behind its neighbors. The answer is simple: most Filipinos don't have a sense of nationalism. Only when we find ourselves, strengthen pride in our nation and what it stands for, will we begin to really move forward.

Looking back
Thanks to Alex Paglinawan for sending me this link to a video of Manila before WWII...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pampanga: Day 3 at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Since we were coming from Manila, I had to get up much earlier today. We wanted to leave before 4 a.m. to make it there early enough to get decent parking and a good vantage point. So we had to be up at 3 a.m. And since I was driving, that meant I couldn't catch up on sleep.

When we arrived at 5:15 a.m., there was already a queue entering the parking area. In fact, there was also a line at the ticket booth and it was a good thing I had pre-purchased tickets.

We went straight to the hot air balloon area and good enough, there were still gaps in the crowd and Dad and Bettina were able to sit down right by the fence. One thing I noticed was the garbage that littered the grounds. It seems no one cleaned the place at the end of each day. I don't remember seeing any trash cans either. I hope the organizers read this and make sure it doesn't happen again next year.

The program started with an unusual flag ceremony with a sky diver from the PAF bringing the Philippine flag. It was indeed a spectacle but I wonder if that is allowed by our Flag Law since it's quite strict as to what you can and cannot do with the flag. Another thing they should have done was to ask everyone to stand up to render due respect to the flag as the national anthem was being played. These are SOPs that should have been followed.

Anyway, since I had watched the balloons up close from the restricted area on Thursday, I decided to go as far back from the crowds as I could so that I could take photos of the balloons from a distance.

When I got back, I could see Bettina was having a blast watching the balloons since she was all smiles.
I got to meet a lot of bloggers too such as Anton Diaz and Philippine blog guru Abe Olandres. In the photo are Anton and son Aidan with me and Bettina.

Of course, my friend and travel photographer Karlo de Leon was also there to document the event. The photo of the balloons above, I snatched from Karlo. Hehe!

After going around to check out the exhibits, we went to VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) Restaurant for breakfast. The menu was similar to that of AC Rumpa although they had their own specialties. But prices were a bit higher in VFW. For breakfast, I ordered beef bangers and mash, and pork schnitzel which came with corn and bread.

We then passed by SM Clark for a while since it was still early for us to drive to Tarlac City where we had a lunch reunion scheduled for the Magat family. I bought myself some iced coffee to keep me up. But when we got back on the road, I was still sleepy. So I begged off from driving back to Manila. Anyway, I have midterms on Monday so I need to study.

More photos in Multiply. Check out the blogs I mentioned. Rico Mossesgeld also gives a roll call of the other bloggers who were there.

Heritage watch
New mollusk species found in Philippines

It still amazes me that we continue to find new species here in the Philippines. But when Yahoo! News reported that scientists had found close to 3,000 new species in Panglao Island alone, that was even more amazing!
Asian wildlife faces extinction over China's appetite

Check out this video from ClickTheCity.com...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pampanga: Day 1 at the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

It was the opening day of the 11th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta at Air Force City, Clark Special Economic Zone in Pampanga. Despite the fact that it had been held in Pampanga ten times before, I had not had a chance to check it out until today. According to the program, the hot air balloons begin take off at 5:30 a.m. Which is why we had to wake up really early to catch them.

I passed by for Ching at 4:30 a.m. and we were on our way. We stopped at a gas station along the NLEX for a quick snack since we were so hungry, as well as coffee for me to keep me awake. By the time we arrived, several hot air balloons were already being prepared for take off. The actual flights begin at about 6:30 a.m. but it's best that you come early since parking and vantage points will be a problem when you arrive much later.

My brod Ryan joined us at the festival venue. It was fun watching them inflate the hot air balloons of various colors and shapes with the sunrise and Mount Arayat as a backdrop. And indeed, it was an international event since the participants had come with their balloons from all over the planet! How I wish I could ride one. I regret not taking the opportunity to do it when I was in Angkor Wat but time and budget were not on my side then.

One by one, the balloons took off from the grassy field beside the PAF base. Indeed, watching them fly away was a sight to behold. The event for the day was a "Hare and Hound" race.

Since the hosts of GMA7's Unang Hirit were also there to cover the event, we didn't miss the opportunity to take photos with Regine Tolentino and Drew Arellano. Although the day was packed with events and activities, we had to leave since we all had work to do.

But before we separated, we stopped over at AC Rumpa Restaurant for breakfast. Rumpa stands for Retired U.S. Military Philippines (others say Personnel) Association. The food there is nothing but value for money. For just PHP90, I had a generous serving of creamed sausage on toast with a choice of french fries, hash browns or potato patties on the side, and either iced tea, orange juice or coffee. Beat that McDonald's! There was so much more on the menu.

Watch out for my feature on Fields Avenue/Balibago restaurants coming up soon since this restaurant strip is definitely worth visiting for the diversity of its selections. I'll be back again in Clark for Day 3 of the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta on Saturday, this time with my family. The sad part is I won't be able to watch the night flight event. You can watch the balloons take off at 5:30 a.m. daily until Sunday.

More photos in Multiply.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Is Yahoo! Travel serious about Manila?

I could not believe it when travel photographer Karlo de Leon told me that Manila was number 5 in the list of top international travel destinations for 2007 according to Yahoo! Travel. Was that for real?! So I checked out the site and found this article. Amazing indeed! What do you think about the news? But I also noticed they didn't spell Philippines right! Anyway, here's the short article:

Where Are Travelers Heading In 2007?
By Katherine Tom, Senior Editor, Yahoo! Travel
December 20, 2006

Curious where travelers are headed in the coming year? We took a look at the most popular searches on Yahoo! FareChase to see which cities folks are flocking to in 2007. On the domestic list, perennial travel favorite Las Vegas shows no signs of ceding the top spot, while sunny Florida dominates the rest of the list, with five out of the top 10 searches.

We did note a few surprises on the international list, including the appearance of Frankfurt and Manila in the top 5. Visitors rave about Frankfurt's shopping and architecture, while Manila attracts budget travelers looking for beaches and nightlife. Of course, more traditional travel destinations like Paris and Rome made the list as well, placing at 7th and 8th respectively.

Top International Travel Searches - 2007
1. London, United Kingdom
2. Cancun, Mexico
3. Frankfurt, Germany
4. San Juan, Puerto Rico
5. Manila, Phillipines (sic)
6. Bangkok, Thailand
7. Paris, France
8. Rome, Italy
9. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
10. Amsterdam, Netherlands
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