Friday, December 29, 2006

Manila: Inside, outside and on the walls

Today, we did a walking tour of Manila's San Nicolas and Intramuros areas. Since Manila Streetwalker Ivan ManDy was free that afternoon, he took me, Karlo and Maricris around Binondo and San Nicolas. But before that, how could we resist not eating in Chinatown? So lunch was first on the agenda.

My tokayo brought us to Benavides Street which is fast transforming itself into a restaurant row. Lunch was at the Hiongso Chicken Restaurant which we were told was value for our money. And my tokayo was indeed right because we had a big bowl of hot and sour soup (they say it's good for three to four people, but this is the size they serve at Chinese restaurants for ten people!), honeyed pork spareribs, peppered beef tenderloin and Yangchow fried rice all for PHP430. That's about PHP100 for each of us and we were so full!

After that, it was time for the walk around San Nicolas. As Ivan ManDy writes, "In San Nicolas we have what is probally Manila's single largest concentration of period houses and mind you, not the 'old-new' (bagong-luma) wannabe architecture that characterizes much of Intramuros. This is as true as it can get.

"On a personal note, I can honestly say this district is special, not just for every true-blue, heritage-loving ManileƱo but personally for this walker who, as a child, spent his early years amidst these beautiful wooden houses, playing on the very streets while sucking in the atmosphere of commerce, dark esteros and the overpowering smell of onions.

"These days, the historic properties are still there. Though diminished substantially, they still provide a backdrop of what old Manila looked, felt and smelled like in the days of our ancestors. What revolutions, earthquakes and a world war didnt destroy, our 21st century cavalier attitude eventually will. It's a conststant battle between the old and new, commerce and culture, development and destruction, why can't we get these acts together?"

Yes, it was one of the few Manila districts which survived the Second World War. But we are fast losing it. In fact, Ivan said that twenty years ago, San Nicolas was even more grand and a lot was lost since then. Another avid traveler, Sidney Snoeck, rated his visit to San Nicolas a 10 out of 10. He says, "Even if they are in a far state of decay those 19th century old houses have still a lot of charm. I saw a lot of lovely windows, doorways and panels decorated with stars & flowers."

"This district has probably the biggest collection of 19th-century houses that still exist in Manila," Sidney writes. "It seems that those houses are just waiting to be demolished. Actually I saw quite a lot of new buildings being constructed. It is too bad that the owners of those marvellous houses don’t have the money to renovate them. My advice is to visit this neighbourhood as soon as possible and take a lot of pictures. I fear that in ten years time the whole neighbourhood might be just another concrete jungle. I feel bad because I know it will not be saved for future generations. Sad, very sad," he adds.

If only our local officials could see the potential of the heritage architecture in this area when rehabilitated properly. Living in these grand and charming old houses were actually informal settlers. So much potential when only if Manila's policy-makers were forward looking! The Manila districts outside the walls are still worth saving.

From there, we trooped to Intramuros to check out the books at Tradewinds. At 5 p.m., Ivan calls us to let us know he was free to join us at Intramuros. So we went to the Baluarte de San Diego area. Believe it or not, it was the first time I actually walked on the walls. To find out where that is, check out this Intramuros Virtual Map.

According to Jose Victor Z. Torres in his book Ciudad Murada: A Walk through Historic Intramuros, "There were seven gates in Intramuros (not including Fort Santiago): Postigo, Santa Lucia, Real, Parian, Isabel II, Santo Domingo, and Almacenes."

"The city had 32 streets: Aduana, Almacenes, Anda, Arzobispo, Audiencia (now part of Gen. Luna), Basco, Beaterio, Cabildo, Claveria, Escuela, Hospital (now part of Cabildo), Legazpi, Maestranza (disappeared after this section of the walls was demolished), Magallanes, Muralla, Novales, Postigo, Real del Palacio (now Gen. Luna), Real, Recolletos, San Agustin, San Francisco, San Jose, San Juan de Dios, San Juan de Letran, Santa Clara, Santa Lucia, Santa Potenciana, Santo Tomas, Solana, Urdaneta, and Victoria.

"Intramuros had nine bastions: Baluarte de San Miguel, Medio Baluarte de San Francisco, Baluartacillo de San Francisco Javier, Baluarte Plano Luneta de Santa Isabel, Baluarte de San Diego, Baluarte de San Andres, Baluarte de San Francisco de Dilao, Baluarte de San Gabriel and Baluarte de Santo Domingo as well as small fortifications like Revellin del Parian, Revellin de Real de Bagumbayan, Revellin de Recolletos and redoubts like Reducto de San Pedro and Reducto de San Francisco.

"Within the city there were seven churches: Manila Cathedral, San Agustin, Lourdes Church, San Ignacio, San Francisco, Santo Domingo and Recoletos..."

As Ambeth Ocampo writes, "The above shopping list ends with hospitals and schools. Just reading it makes one imagine Intramuros at its height, before the Americans destroyed it during the Battle for Manila in 1945."

We actually went up through the Baluarte de San Andres since the guards wouldn't let us in at San Diego since a wedding reception was on-going. From San Andres, we were rewarded with great views of Manila's American colonial architecture from the Central Post Office, Manila City Hall, the former Legislative Building and Finance Buildings (now the National Museum), and the Department of Tourism. It was obvious what big idiots we have in the Manila City Hall since they allowed several buildings behind it to rise higher than the charming city hall building itself, ruining what would have been a grand and elegant vista.

Anyway, it was fun watching the sunset and we walked the walls back to San Diego, sneaked past the guards and exited through the entrance the guards didn't want to let us through. Hehe! I'll try to do that again some other time, this time walking the entire length of the fortifications of the walled-city!

Save Corregidor!
There was this e-mail message circulating about something happening in Corregidor. I didn't want to react to it immediately since I knew the people who were involved and wanted to ask for their side first before I made any shout-outs. It turns out, the e-mail message was one-sided and the only thing that was true about it was the fact that the government is not giving any attention to Corregidor!

Leslie Murray af the Filipino American Memorial Endowment writes, "Amazing how UNESCO can save the terraces and the churches, and here we have vestiges of one of the most famous chapters in recent history on the doorstep that could bring in a whole niche market of visitors (WWII survivors' and fatalities' families, historians, etc.) to a site that really turned the tide of that war. And nobody, until now, has seemed to care."

Indeed, we are wasting the potential of this island. In fact, I think the World War II Memorials of Bataan and Corregidor should be nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The A-Dome in Hiroshima is in the list already.

Heritage watch
Finding the past in Alegria
A bridge breathes its last
Now this is totally stupid! The article says: "Alegria used to be the only town in Cebu that had two bridges figuratively spanning the colonial period. One was the remnant of the only Spanish-era arched stone bridge in Cebu, the other a 1913 bridge built probably built by the famous American colonial engineer Eusebius J. Halsema when he was public works chief in Cebu.

"Both are long gone now as they were torn down without much ceremony by a conservation-deficit contractor three months ago. Vice-Mayor Verna Magallon, chair of the local Tourism and Heritage Council, fired off protest letters as a result but these were for naught. When we met her for lunch last week, she told us that the Sangguaning Bayan invited the contractor twice in order to learn about its plans. But the contractor never showed up and the bridges are now nowhere to be found." That contractor is one big idiot!

Thanks to Manila Streetwalker Ivan ManDy for photos of San Nicolas and to Karlo de Leon for taking our photos in Intramuros.


  1. Anonymous30.12.06

    San Nicolas area looks very interesting. Where exactly is this? How can i actually go there (say coming from Recto)?

  2. I'm posting this so that everyone is aware of the process of nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage List...

    From: Augusto Villalon
    Date: Dec 30, 2006 10:57 AM
    Subject: Corregidor
    To: Leslie Ann MURRAY
    Cc: Ivan HENARES

    Dear Leslie

    I suggest that FAME officially write Ambassador Precious Soliven at the UNESCO National Commission (Dept Foreign Affairs, Roxas Blvd, Pasay, fax 8318873) and cc Atty Trixie Angeles at NCCA (Gen Luna St, Intramuros, fax 5272191) and me representing ICOMOS National Committee requesting that Corregidor be added to the Tentative List of monuments to be nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Please include the justifications for its worthiness for inscription in the WH List, specially its global importance and significance as a singular WW2 monument (it is only within the past few years that UNESCO World Heritage has been looking at WW2), how the authentic building still stand in their authentic condition (even if in desperate need of repair).

    After hearing from them, you could follow their positive response with a financial grant request from NCCA to prepare the justifications, etc etc needed and required for inclusion in the Tentative List. Once on the list, then the property can be nominated by the Philippines. However there are some properties to be nominated ahead of Corregidor on the tentative list and each country is allowed to nominate only one property a year so there may be a wait before nomination actually happens.

    I am no longer with UNESCO either in Manila or Paris but may be able to help out (at the least put in a super good supporting recommendation) since i am chair of ICOMOS Philippines and V-P of ICOMOS International in Paris, so keep me posted.

    Please forward this to Beth Romulo, I've lost her email address.

    Happiest 2007 to all!!! Toti

  3. Anonymous30.12.06

    I hope Corregidor will be listed in the UNESCO World Heritage site

  4. Anonymous31.12.06

    I think WW2 monuments encountered some problems, specifically those relating to intangible aspects, as a result of the debate related to the inscription of Genbaku Dome (Hiroshima).

    It is hightime that Corregidor and the associated sites (there were 5 fortified islands at the mouth of Manila Bay, Corregidor included) be nominated as a singular WW2 monument and also as an example of early 20th century fortification.

  5. Yes, we could even try to include the Death March structures with the associated sites such as Mt. Samat, San Fernando Train Station and Camp O'Donnell in Capas.

  6. mj537, this is actually the Divisoria side of Chinatown. From the Binondo Church, you go straight to San Fernando Street. Across the estero is already San Nicolas.

  7. Anonymous1.1.07

    is it safe to walk around there with a camera in hand?

  8. Hmmmm, good question. Ivan ManDy was able to take his out before and so was Sidney Snoeck. But Karlo did not dare. Hehe! Maybe it would be good if you went with a group of photographers.

  9. Anonymous3.1.07

    Hi Ivan - Thanks for passing this delighted at the news from Toti below (to whom I have replied under separate cover) and will just have to hope that Mrs. Soliven will understand the historical - as well as tourism - value of Corregidor ---- and that Trixie and the others at NCCA will be supportive too.

    There really IS a market for WWII history - France capitalizes on the Normandy beaches!...Vietnam has made much of their war relics - the tunnels, etc. of the Viet Cong!! and Americans flock to these sites...

    If they knew a bit more about Corregidor (and Bataan, and Capas, and Cabanatuan, and Leyte, etc...which is NOT well taught in US or RP history classes!) it is an easy "detour" from Vietnam to see our historic battlesites - particularly Corregidor which was responsible for delaying and holding off the enemy's push for total domination of Asia - and Australia!

    All best for 2007!


  10. Anonymous3.1.07


    To answer your question whether its safe or not to take photos in San Nicolas. Yes. For most part San Nicolas is a very commercial district. Remember, this is Divisoria and everybody should be minding their own business. Thaat said, some of the areas have squatters, who for most part, are harmless and would love to have their photo taken. The only trouble Ive encountered was with a group of slightly tipsy men who live in one the old houses and they thought I was a spy of the house owner who wanted to evict them by demolishing the house (!). Just stay clear and do your own thing. If your new in the area, a friend might be a helpful look out just about for anything.

    --Ivan ManDy

  11. Thanks for that tokayo!

  12. Anonymous4.1.07

    hi ivan, happy new year! thanks for posting this. i used to work around this area and i never had any pics taken.

  13. Really? It's a nice place actually especially in the afternoon to early evening when the sun sets.


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