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

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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