Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau: making the right choices for your trip

I just came from a family trip to Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau. We took my niece to Hong Kong Disneyland for her birthday and tried to find the cheapest package not realizing its hidden costs and problems. There were thus many forgettable experiences. Here are the top 10 things to remember to help you pick the right package tour to these Chinese cities:

1. You get what you pay for
If it's too cheap, be wary since these tour organizers will definitely make money from you some other way. You'll find out how as you read on. We wanted to save but the hassle and hidden costs were not worth the savings. Trust me!

2. Go for the tried and tested travel agencies
Although I've seen tried and tested travel agencies advertising in newspapers, many others could be in the category of fly-by-night. Don't be fooled by the rates they publish since there are more hidden charges. Our tour was a little over US$150 in the newspapers but ended up close to US$350 when all the costs were added in. It's best that you get recognized names or ask referrals from friends before booking.

3. Low-fare carriers are book and buy
Another modus operandi of travel agencies is delaying the release of the ticket. For Tiger Air, Air Asia and Cebu Pacific, these airlines are book and buy. So if your travel agency says it can't release the tickets as soon as you pay, that's bullshit! We were set to leave on the 18th, but a few days before, the agency said they were not able to book our tickets reasoning out that the organizer in Hong Kong canceled that date. So we ended up leaving a week later.

4. Make sure you have travel tax receipts
If you pay your travel tax through the agency, make sure they give you a Philippine government receipt amounting to PHP1,620 per person. We paid for the travel tax through the agency but they didn't give us a receipt. So when questioned about it, they could not answer. We therefore demanded that they return the money to us. You could easily pay the travel tax at Terminal 3 or DMIA. So to be safe, just pay it there.

5. Ask for a detailed itinerary
Travel agencies usually have standard itineraries which they fax. Details are scarce: half-day city tour, shopping tour in the morning, free time in the afternoon but no approximate times. Don't be content with that. Make sure to get more details. Will we get to go around on our own? What sights will we visit? What hotel will we be staying in? If the agency can't give you more details, find another one.

6. Watch out for "shopping tours"
These shopping tours are often compulsory and a waste of time. In a good tour package, there should be no compulsory items in it. The reason why some tour packages are cheap is because of these compulsory tours. These are traps for tourists. Instead of seeing the sights, the group is brought to select outlets such as jewelry stores, souvenir stores in office buildings, and other shops. The organizer or tour guide usually earns commissions from the purchases of the group which is why they can afford to make the tour package cheap. In really bad tours, you don't have a choice but to buy since they will not take you to any other place to buy souvenirs where you could choose stores or bargain for items.

If there are compulsory shopping tours, find another agency, since in the end, you'll end up seeing nothing. You should be given an option to choose not to join the shopping tour and meet up with the group at a designated place and time.

We wasted half a day in Hong Kong because of the shopping tour. The only attraction we saw was Victoria Harbour. And it was just a ten-minute stopover so they could take our photos. They say it's for the China group visa which was bullshit since they could easily scan our passport photos. Later in the morning, our photos appeared on souvenir plates which they tried to sell to us at outrageously high prices - HK$150 for a medium plate!

Our guide also said the Hong Kong Disneyland tickets were still on the way but I'm sure they were with her already. If I had my way, I would have gotten the Disneyland tickets from the guide, taken my family to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island for some quality sightseeing first, or slept a bit more and gone straight to Disneyland in time for the 10 a.m. opening, meeting the group at 6:30 p.m. for our trip to Shenzhen.

In Shenzhen, it was worse. We literally saw nothing except the jade and pearl outlet stores. We had 10 minutes for photos at the entrance of Windows of the World, obviously so they could put them on plates again.

7. Watch out for "free time" or "optional tours"
This was really bad. In the faxed itinerary, it said our afternoon in Shenzhen was free time. But lo and behold, our tour guide, knowing Filipinos can be easily fooled by the word shopping, tells us that there was an optional tour to the Divisoria of Shezhen in the afternoon, and that we had to pay RMB100 per head since it was far and they had to do overtime. The other option was she could take us straight to Macau. She almost got the group to say yes but when others like myself said no knowing that it was all free time in Macau, she reasoned out that we will arrive in Macau at 1:30 p.m. and had to wait for the Macau guide to arrive at 7 p.m. So the "optional" tour wasn't optional at all.

When we demanded she call the Macau guide to come earlier, she said they had other appointments. Yeah right! She then made another offer, RMB80 includes lunch and free time to shop at a mall. We were all tired and said yes. But on hindsight, I should have forced the issue that we be taken to place where we could pick where to eat.

The Shenzhen leg was very forgettable since the guide didn't care less whether we enjoyed or not. She was after the amount of money she could earn from the group. When we thought it was all over, we were roused from our sleep in Zhuhai City thinking we were about to go down the bus to enter Immigration. But then, the guide says, there was one last stop, a Chinese medicine store!

Prices were as always, exorbitantly high! They tried to invite my family to a VIP room for "consultation" but we refused. Others who went in were being pressured to buy. The answers from the consultations of the "professors" were so generic. And the medicine they recommended were from a select list of products. So I sensed it was a scam.

8. Selling on the bus
I already mentioned the souvenir plates and the "optional" tours which aren't optional at all. But there could be more such as souvenir items. The guides are blatant when they say it's for them or the bus drivers. First they will start by saying that the drivers are paid low and to help ends meet, they have to sell souvenir items such as key chains on the bus. They add to their appeal to pity that to show your appreciation to the driver, you could buy from them. Our guide went as far as saying no tawad (bargaining) since the price was already good. Talk about sales talk! And you had no choice since you had no other opportunity to buy key chains for pasalubong.

9. Each city has a different tour organizer
The bad part about this is that the guide in one city plays dumb that they do not know the plans of the other guide. So you are left clueless as to where you will stay, what you will do, etc. in the next city. This doesn't give you enough time to detect their modus operandi if any. You would later realize that they know each other and are constantly in contact.

10. Border crossings and group visas
If you think border crossings are made convenient in these package tours, think again. From Hong Kong to Shenzen, we had to change buses three times with all our luggage! We got off our Hong Kong bus and boarded a shuttle to Hong Kong Immigration. After that, we board another bus which took us to China Immigration. We waited for over for an hour for our Shenzhen guide to arrive since she had our group visas.

Then it was a long walk to the Shenzhen bus. We even had to cross the street via a pedestrian overpass. Aside from our luggage being heavy, we had my five-year old niece and 84-year old grandmother with us. I had to push her wheelchair up the pedestrian overpass. And we had to walk her down the other side! Our guide could have made it more convenient by asking the bus to pick us up in front of the exit.

If you are entering on a group visa to China, your passport will not be stamped when you enter and when you exit. In other words, there's no proof on your passport that you entered China. You will also have to enter as a group and leave as a group which means, you're stuck!

It was a good thing it was all free time in Macau. And the hotel accommodations were great! So the tour ended on a happy note. But I hope this experience of mine helps you pick the right tour package for you or at least prepare for it. I personally hate tour groups since you have to deal with different personalities. If someone is late for example, the whole group waits. My parents know better now and we'll travel on our own next time, which is my kind of travel. I'll talk about our trip highlights in my next post.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Today is National Flag Day!

Hunyo 12 by Claude Tayag (1989 Fiestas Serigraph Series)
When was the last time you displayed the Philippine flag outside your home? According to Section 7 of RA 8491 - An Act Prescribing the Code of the National Flag, Anthem, Motto, Coat-of-Arms and other Heraldic Items and Devices of the Philippines:

"SECTION 7. The flag shall also be displayed in private buildings and residences or raised in the open on flag-staffs in front of said buildings every April 9 (Araw ng Kagitingan); May 1 (Labor Day); May 28 (National Flag Day) to June 12 (Independence Day); last Sunday of August (National Heroes Day); November 30 (Bonifacio Day); and December 30 (Rizal Day); and on such other days as may be declared by the President and/or local chief executives."

May 28, 1898 was the day the Philippine flag was first unfurled after the Battle of Alapan, where the Philippine Revolutionary Army lead by Aguinaldo defeated the Spanish Army. This day is recognized today as National Flag Day.

As one Filipino nation, let us display the Philippine flag outside our homes and offices from May 28 (National Flag Day) to June 12 (Independence Day)!

Ivan the obsessed!
I just got back from my trip to Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Macau. And I got a pleasant surprise while chatting with Ivan ManDy since we were both featured in Toti Villalon's column today. Thanks Toti!

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Albay & Camarines Norte: More Bicol destinations

On our way back, we passed by Daraga Church and the Cagsawa Ruins, both in Daraga, Albay; and the towns of Daet and Vinzons, Camarines Norte. Our plan was to wake up at 4 a.m. but that didn't work. So we ended up leaving at 6 a.m.

First stop was the great viewpoint of Mayon Volcano along the national highway a few kilometers from the Daraga town proper. You can see the entire town, the church on top of a hill and Mayon as a background. We then proceeded to the Daraga Church to take some photos of the great facade. But we didn't go inside anymore since I knew the interiors were uglified and modernized already.

Our next stop was the Cagsawa Ruins. People have been saying that it was buried further by lahar last year. That is not a bit true. In fact, it was unscathed. Although you'd notice that structures in the park are missing since they were looted after the devastation. Reminds me of the Mount Pinatubo eruption. As people were evacuating, the looters ransacked the entire place. How heartless these Filipinos are, making profits at the expense of a suffering populace.

After a brief breakfast stopover in Ligao City, we started the long drive to Camarines Norte. We finally made it to Daet, the capital of Camarines Norte, in time for lunch. I called up HCS Trustee Melivin Patawaran who is a regular in Daet. What a coincidence since he was on his way there too! He suggested that we eat at Alvino's Pizza in Bagasbas Beach, a popular surfers' haunt. Great suggestion!

Bagasbas Beach in Daet is among the popular surfing areas in the Philippines. Melvin was inviting us to use his long board. But surfing was still later in the afternoon and we had to rush back to Manila. So we had to save surfing for another day.

From Bagasbas, we checked out the very first monument in the Philippines built to honor Jose Rizal. It was on December 30, 1898 that the people of Daet unveiled the Rizal Monument to honor our national hero. From Daet, we drove to Vinzons (formerly Indan) to check out the Vinzons Church and the residence of World War II hero Wenceslao Vinzons, which was declared a National Historical Landmark. Vinzons is popular among UP Diliman students since the student center is named Vinzons Hall.

We were still quite a distance from Manila so our stopover in Vinzons was the last. We got back in Manila late in the evening. Check out these photos in Multiply.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sorsogon: Butanding and firefly encounters in Donsol, Sorsogon

It was a long drive to Sorsogon, the southernmost province of Luzon island. We left Manila at 10 p.m. and arrived at 9 a.m. the next day, just in time for the whale shark or butanding encounter. I was with Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet, Ivan ManDy of Old Manila Walks and his friend Jenny Tan. The best time to interact with the whale sharks is in the morning, as much as possible, before 11 a.m.

When you arrive in Donsol, there are directional signs which point you to the Butanding Visitors' Center of the Donsol Tourism Office in Barangay Dancalan. There you will need to register and pay the appropriate fees which include PHP100 per head for registration for locals, and PHP3500 per boat which can accommodate a maximum of seven people. You will also need to rent snorkeling equipment for P300, mask, snorkel and fins included. Make sure you have fins or else you'll regret it.

There were just four of us and good thing we met a group (Isa, Meg and Raf) and decided to share the boat. Isa actually recognized Ivan ManDy since she had been on one of his tours. And it turns out, she was trying to look for Donsol info here in my blog but didn't find any. And the funny thing is we did Donsol together.

Anyway, each boat has a well-trained Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO) who will serve as your guide in the water, plus a spotter who will look for these gentle creatures for your group. Although there is no guarantee you'll see i>butandings, the crew members are expert spotters. Since we were at the tail-end of the season which is from November to May (peak is February to April), we kept our hopes up.

Just a few minutes from the shore, our spotter located a butanding and at the signal of our BIO, we jumped into the water. The butanding however disappeared quickly so I wasn't able to see it. So we went back on the boat and looked again. The second try was more successful since I was able to take photos of it. It was a really exciting feeling swimming on top or beside the whale shark. We got to see six of them that day! But the interaction was a bit short that day, just a few seconds. Our BIO said that his longest was an hour and 45 minutes! He was also GMA's BIO when she visited Donsol and after 30 minutes, the president was the one who begged off. That's why it's really best to visit during the peak months.

We called it a day after the sixth sighting. By the time we got back, we were so hungry since we hadn't eaten breakfast (if we stopped for breakfast, we would have missed the opportunity to check out the butandings). So we decided to have lunch at the Woodland Farm Resort Canteen where we ordered adobado (adobo with gata), kilawin, bicol express among others. We also decided to stay there for the night and got an air-conditioned room with two queen-sized beds for PHP1500. After lunch, we got some sorbetes from a vendor outside the canteen. It turns out, the Bicol version has coconut milk in it.

Jenny had to rush back to Manila that day to so we brought her to the bus station at Pilar Port (which is where the Masbate boats dock) in the neighboring town of Pilar. I was awed by the view of native houses amidst the colorful boats at Pilar Port. I hope towns in the Philippines preserve this kind of scenery but all of it is being replaced by concrete and hollow blocks. In Sorsogon however, you saw nipa houses lining the road to Donsol and it really made you feel you were in the Philippines.

We got back to Donsol at 5 p.m. just in time for another boat trip, this time along the Ogod River to check out the fireflies, Donsol's no. 2 attraction. Each boat is PHP1250. Again, we joined forces to bring down our costs. That's what backpacking is all about, trying to share expenses with new friends.

The river was a sight to behold with mangroves and nipa on each side. In front of us was a silhouette of the Mayon Volcano. We waited for darkness to arrive on an island in the middle of the river. At 7 p.m., we boarded the boat and started our trip back.

Then they appeared. Like fairy dust hovering around the trees, the fireflies gave an enchanting feeling as they flickered in the dark. One could say they looked like Christmas lights dancing around the trees. Sadly, we could not record them on our cameras. Indeed, the Philippines is blessed. I just hope local stakeholders could balance tourist arrivals with sustainable development and conservation.

The group had a sumptuous dinner at the Amor Farm Resort. It was all raves for the delicious food! We had laing, kinunot (malunggay with fish meat), inihaw na pusit, buttered shrimps, curry shrimps and Bicol express. If you do get to visit Donsol, make sure you have a meal at Amor. The night wasn't over since we had one last stop at the only bar in Donsol... BARacuda!

I liked the ambiance of the place. They serve meals too, but they have no menu, only the catch of the day. I was told that one meal was about PHP500, quite pricey for Donsol, but a hit among foreigners who visit the place. The bar owner, Juliet, is very friendly and interacts often with her customers. She explains that the prices also control the quality of the crowd and thus you don't get any of the town drunkards in her place.

We ordered margaritas and caipirinhas (a Brazilian drink similar to the mojito of Cuba) for PHP150 each. But since we were Pinoy, she gave us a discount which was quite nice of her. If only we didn't have to wake up early the next day, it would have been so much fun to stay and chill out there the whole night. She also has one room which I'm sure people willing to splurge would enjoy. Tired and sleepy, we called it a night at 10 p.m. More photos in Multiply.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bulacan: Dancing at the Obando Fertility Rites

I was at the Obando Fertility Rites last May 17. A three-day fiesta honoring the towns patron saints: May 17 for St. Paschal, May 18 for St. Claire and May 19 for the Our Lady of Salambao, this festival in Obando has attracted couples praying for children among others.

It was a pleasant early morning drive to Obando via the old town center of Polo (Valenzuela City). This northwestern part of Metro Manila was foreign to me until today. I heard there were a lot of heritage structures in Malabon but I will have to reserve exploring the said town for another day.

The participants to the fertility dance during the three morning processions are dayo (visitors) from other towns in the Philippines. Most ask the patron saints for a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife or good fortune. They believe that by dancing, the spirit of life to enters into the wombs of women.

My host for today was Dir. Ting de los Reyes of the DOT who is from Obando. It was a good thing the procession passed by his house, twice in fact since there is only one major road and the procession had to make a u-turn back to the church. I enjoyed watching the musikong bumbong play on their bamboo instruments as the devotees danced the traditional pandanggo.

I told Ting I was a bit disappointed though since many were no longer in traditional Filipino costumes plus you had the bands playing "Boom Tarat Tarat" and "Itaktak Mo" instead of the traditional music. And then we ask why foreigners don't take notice of our festivals as much as our neighbors in Asia? It's because we don't keep the traditions intact, replacing traditional music with pop music, and traditional Filipino costumes with t-shirts, many a times with the mayor's name on it! Imagine if Thai or Japanese festivals did that!

Ting was disappointed himself since the priest insisted on including an ati-atihan group to make the procession livelier. Father, the Ati-atihan is in Kalibo, Aklan! Let's leave the Obando Fertility Rites alone and keep it original. Anyway, I hope our local officials understand the importance of keeping traditions intact. And let's keep all those t-shirts out and bring back our traditional Filipino costumes in our festivals.

More photos in Multiply.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Pampanga: Fr. Ed Panlilio is Pampanga governor-elect!

Among Ed won the elections! Go Pampanga! I just came from the proclamation of governor-elect Fr. Ed Panlilio. Indeed, every vote counted. He won by 1,147 votes! I'm sure that should have been bigger (if you know what I mean). But the important thing is he won. May Pampanga lead the way for the Philippines!

The atmosphere at the Bren Z. Guiao Convention Center was electric. The crowd was phenomenal! It was not the type that lined up for something after (not hakot in other words). It was people power! More photos in Multiply.

Panlilio, Eddie T. - 219,706
Pineda, Lilia G. - 218,559
Lapid, Mark T. - 210,875

Related articles
Priest topples Pineda, Lapid in Pampanga polls

Miracle in Pampanga
Catholic priest elected Pampanga governor
Interview with Pampanga Gov.-elect Ed Panlilio
Panlilio keeps guard up vs rivals, jueteng lords

Heritage watch
Congratulations to Mayor Fred Lim for winning the mayoral elections in the City of Manila! The city's heritage now has a protector. Also check out a video of Iloilo heritage produced by the Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council, the City Government of Iloilo, Canurb and ABS-CBN, uploaded by Bernard Arellano. Bravo Iloilo City!

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Bulacan: Carabao Festival in Pulilan, Bulacan

I missed the Pulilan Carabao Festival today. The parade started at 2 p.m. but I was still voting here in San Fernando, Pampanga. I guess though, with the elections set today, the celebration in Pulilan would not be as grand as last year. So I was content with looking at photos taken by Sidney Snoeck from last year's festival, held annually every May 14 in honor of San Isidro Labrador whose feast day is tomorrow. (Photos courtesy of Sidney Snoeck)

Don't miss the happenings in Quezon tomorrow which include the Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Mayohan in Tayabas, and Agawan in Sariaya. I also heard the celebration in Gumaca is another must visit. From May 17 to 19, the streets of Obando, Bulacan will be alive with devotees doing the traditional fertility dance.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Cavite: Around historic Cavite

Yesterday, I went around the historic province of Cavite. Our first stop was the Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit.

The ancestral home of Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippines, it was the site of the proclamation of Philippine independence on June 12, 1898. On that day, the declaration of independence from Spain was read from a balcony of the house and the Philippine flag formally unfurled by Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista (and not Aguinaldo as is erroneously depicted in the old five peso bill). The Philippine National Anthem was also played for the first time by the Banda Malabon (of San Francisco de Malabon, now Gen. Trias, Cavite).

Sadly, the museum was closed. I find this government practice of closing historical sites on Sundays stupid since it robs Philippine citizens the chance to visit these places when they’re off from work. I’ve been in the museum several times before so it wasn’t really a loss. But it would have been nice to see it again. If you want to find out what you could see inside, click here.

From there, it was a forty-minute drive south to Maragondon where we visited the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady which was declared a national cultural treasure, and the Bonifacio Trial House, a national historical landmark, which like the Aguinaldo Shrine, was closed on Sundays.

According to the NCCA, “The church was built in the early 18th century by the Jesuits, with later additions by the seculars and the Augustinian Recollects. Much of the church and belltower, and the lower portion of the convento is made of irregular river stones, indicative of the early level of technology operating at that time. The intricately-carved retablos, pulpit and church doors (with galleons and floral designs) date from Jesuit times, while the hugely carved beams crossing the nave were installed by the seculars-- one of the beams even carries the name of the indio priest who commissioned them. The unusual horseshoe-shaped communion rail, with a flooring of inlaid wood of various colors, recalls that of San Sebastian Church, Manila, another Recollect construction.”

The house of Teodorico Reyes, now known as the Bonifacio Trial House, was where Andres Bonifacio and his brother Procopio were court-martialed. It was a kangaroo court as many historians put it. And their conviction for sedition and conspiracy and subsequent execution in the mountains of Maragondon haunts whatever legacy Aguinaldo was able to leave. In the end, it was Bonifacio whom the nation recognized with a public holiday and grand monuments in Metro Manila.

After this quick detour, we had to rush to Silang since we were in Cavite to help our brods campaign. It was actually fun going house to house giving out flyers of Congressman Boying Remulla whom we met earlier in the morning for coffee at his house. Another group was helping out Congressman Gilbert Remulla in Imus. We also campaigned for Senators Joker Arroyo and Kiko Pangilinan. Silang is the largest municipality in Cavite in terms of land area. And the barangays we visited seemed to be on opposite ends. It was sad I wasn't able to check out their church since we had a lot of work to do.

With our mission completed. We passed by neighboring Tagaytay City to check out Taal Volcano before motoring to Indang to go night swimming at one of the natural spring resorts which are a plenty in the town.

By the time we arrived in Indang, it was getting dark. So we skipped the church and headed to Barangay Tambo Kulit where most of the resorts could be found. We were pointed to the Rio Villa Nuevo Resort which many say is the best one in town. When we saw the small waterfalls in the compound, we said this was it! It was PHP12o per head for night swimming. There are several pools of spring water if you do not fancy walking on rocks and streams. We went straight to the waterfalls and enjoyed the rush of cold water.

After an hour, we rushed back to Tagaytay for a late dinner in Teriyaki Boy. We were supposed to go back to Manila. But the group enjoyed the trip so much that we decided to stay overnight. So we checked-in at the three-room inn under the Mile-Hi Diner which is located in the same restaurant compound. The standard room is PHP2,250. Good thing it was a Sunday and weekend vacationers had already left for Manila; so rooms were available. It was a cold night, a welcome respite from Manila's heat. Check out the photos in Multiply. I'm sure Bikoy Villanueva should have his account of our trip anytime soon.

Jose Abad Santos Day
Today, the anniversary of the martyrdom of Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos of San Fernando, Pampanga (one of the three people in the 1000-peso bill), is a non-working holiday in the Province of Pampanga. Happy Jose Abad Santos Day to all!

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Manila: When was the last time you visited Rizal Park?

I was at the HCS office today in Museo Pambata (former Elks Club Building) for an HCS Youth Chapter meeting. Several schools were represented including UP, UST, Ateneo, DLSU and Adamson. It just shows that the heritage advocacy is being powered by young people. The group has a lot of plans for the year. Check out the HCS website regularly for updates.

After the meeting, I walked to nearby Rizal Park. There are several important heritage buildings around the perimeter of the park including the Elks Club Building (Museo Pambata), the Luneta Hotel, Army & Navy Club and Manila Hotel which are all National Historical Landmarks, and the former Department of Finance and the current Department of Tourism buildings. Rizal Park itself is a National Historical Site being the execution site of several Philippine heroes and martyrs. While the Rizal Monument is one of three National Historical Monuments.

My stroll around the park was pleasant. The afternoon breeze was relaxing. The park is well-maintained and the landscaping was quite good except for the flagpole area (I don't remember seeing all those pots and volcanic rock at the base of the flagpole before), which I find cluttered and very kitsch! Whoever approved that should be fired!

Around the park were several monuments to the martyrs of Bagumbayan and markers at the sites of execution of Jose Rizal, and the three priests namely Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora. Across Roxas Boulevard was the Quirino Grandstand. If you notice a small marker with the number zero on it, that's Kilometer Zero which is the reference point for all road markers in Luzon. Anyway, after that short stroll, I went back home.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Manila: The FEU campus is fantastic!

I was at Far Eastern University (FEU) today for a campus tour with Ivan ManDy and all I could say is that the Art Deco buildings designed by Pablo Antonio, National Artist for Architecture, and the collection of art around campus are fantastic! I never thought that amidst the chaos of Recto and Quezon Boulevard is an oasis, a well-planned campus very conducive to learning. The designs of the new buildings are brilliant and blend perfectly with the old. The campus planners of DLSU should get lessons from the efficient use of space and the elegant designs and arrangement of buildings in FEU. It's no surprise the campus was recognized by UNESCO for heritage conservation.

As Ivan ManDy writes: "The Far Eastern University, located in Manila's chaotic and overcrowded University Belt, is the proverbial rose in a sea of thorns. Years of neglect... led to the [campus] falling into hard times, hardly a fit place to inspire the minds of our country's future [leaders]. But then the FEU administration decided... to roll up its sleeves and do something. In one fell swoop, [the campus] morphed from an uninviting, graffiti-infested, makeshift patchwork of classrooms, food-areas and dingy business stalls to [restore itself to] the gleaming Art Deco complex worthy of educating the best minds of the country.

"This is the FEU campus today, a touch of architectural class in a city that seems to have forgotten how beautiful she once was. That the university... is in the midst of one of the most high-density and polluted districts of the city did not deter FEU from battling urban blight head on. But what particularly makes the FEU campus noteworthy is that it proved to many how old buildings do not have to mean derelict and unfashionable. In fact they [the restored buildings] are hip and cool..."

"Buildings in the FEU campus were constructed between 1930-1950; they had been mostly designed by National Artist Pablo Antonio. Felipe Mendoza designed the other campus structures, notably the chapel. All of campus structures were restored to their original appearance. All new buildings were designed in a contemporary style compatible with the old. Without resorting to architectural mimicry of the heritage architecture, the new blended perfectly with the old."

One of the details which I liked were the bronze sculptures around the flagpole done by another National Artist Vicente Manansala. The quadrangle itself is well-planned with the Philippine flag serving as the center of life in campus. Also check out the "Stations of the Cross" murals of National Artist Carlos "Botong" Francisco in the chapel, and the sculpture murals of Francesco Monti and Art Deco mural of Simon Saulog both in the administration building. Watch out for the Old Manila Walks tour of FEU soon. More photos in Multiply.

Campus tour
Ateneo de Manila University

De La Salle University
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