A Fresher Appraisal

Colonialism is seldom thought of with gratitude and appreciation.  It is typically painted with images of injustice, destruction, and bloodshed—the very things that made all colonization efforts that happened in the history of the world victorious.  It is no wonder then that decades or even centuries after the colonization has ended, there remains resentment in the hearts and minds of those who were subjugated.  Many South Koreans, for instance, still despise Japan for controlling the country for 35 years.  In fact, I personally know children who hold grudges against Japan, retelling stories of atrocities they have learned either from their parents or history books.  The same is true in the case of the Philippines: ask someone what happened during the Japanese occupation and the American colonization, and she/he would bring up details of pain and violence.   Spain is not spared from this, no, especially not her, for Spain had the longest hold on the country—333 years to be exact!

Having been under Spain for that long expanse of time, it’s not surprising that some Filipinos still bear ill feelings towards Spain’s past actions and perhaps, even pin the country’s lack of a strong sense of identity or the people’s negative traits on the former European oppressor.  But should we?

I came across an excerpt* of a work of Nick Joaquin, a prominent figure in Philippine literature and journalism, and a recipient of a National Artist for Literature Award at that, too, which offers a different perspective:

“To accuse Spain, over and over again, of having brought us all sorts of things, mostly evil, among which we can usually remember nothing very valuable “except, perhaps,” religion and national unity, is equivalent to saying of a not very model mother that she has given her child nothing except life.   For in the profoundest possible sense, Spain did give birth to us—as a nation, as an –historical people.  This geographical unit of numberless islands called the Philippines—this mythical unit of numberless tongues, bloods and cultures called a Filipino—was begotten of Spain, is a Spanish creation… The content of our national destiny is ours to create, but the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy, Spain has created for us. 

. . .

Towards our Spanish past, especially, it is time we became more friendly; bitterness but inhibit us; those years cry for a fresher appraisal.”

Should we now look back at all those years with more appreciation? Maybe to some degree gratitude?  I’m not here to give an answer.  It is something that I’m also pondering at the moment.  Real food for thought.

 

 

___________________

*Unfortunately, I do not know from which work it was lifted as I only saw it as a screenshot from the Internet with no proper credits as well.  Any information will be much appreciated.

Big Fish, Small Fish

Which fish is in a better position? This question filled my head after chancing upon an Instagram story of a certain female European artist. The Story was a video of her singing in a coliseum filled with loads of people cheering and clapping. I don’t know anything about her except her name and a couple of songs, which I can’t understand anyway because they’re not in English. Judging from the size of the crowd and the number of followers she has on Instagram, I can tell that she’s a huge pop star. Interestingly, although I’m not familiar with her, I do know a member of her backing band—actually, I got to know her through him. This may sound a bit strange as backing/touring musicians being more well-known than the main artists themselves being supported is uncommon. The thing is, he is a member of another group, which has already toured some parts of Europe, the US, and even Asia. In fact, he and his band mates have already visited the Philippines twice now: one for a major music festival and another for a co-headliner event. A few of their songs have also been featured in a foreign TV show, a movie soundtrack, and even a video game.

The situation of both of these musicians amuses me. You see, the female artist, although she’s enormously popular, is well-known mostly only in her home country. Based on the information I’ve gathered from some websites, she hasn’t had the opportunity to tour other European cities or anywhere outside of the said continent in the span of her career (she’s been around for quite a while now). On the other hand, her backing musician has been outside of Europe numerous times, yet he and his band are still not that big.
Resulta ng larawan para sa big fish in a small pond
Both remind me of the big fish in a small pond / small fish in a big pond analogy: the female artist being the former, and the male one, the latter, of course. They made me think about success: Which fish would I want to be? Which situation is better? But as I contemplate on these questions, another one arose: Is there really a *better situation* between the two to begin with?

Many people I know prefer to be a small fish, giving room for growth and expansion as their primary reason. Many view it as a progressive thing: small now, get bigger later. The small fish is likewise generally seen as braver, more adventurous, and more experienced. But when I asked them if they were open to the possibility of remaining small forever (since there’s too much competition from countless other small fish) suddenly, some weren’t so sure. On the other hand, some see the big fish as someone who is fearful to go out of her/his comfort zone or someone who has settled and has decided not to push her/himself to grow further. Only a few would like to be in such a position.

Thinking more about the responses of these people, my mind is reminded of a band that I know that recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have put out several albums and singles over the course of their long career. The first thing that popped in my head when I learned that they have been together for 20 years now was their seeming “lack of achievement.” Although they’ve got several albums under their belt, none of their albums have ever been considerably popular; the same can be said about any of the singles they’ve put out. They’ve never enjoyed substantial air time on mainstream radio, and the current number of their followers on a streaming service doesn’t even come close to 10,000. Their shows are still pretty much held mostly only in small bars. If you ask regular people if they know the band, I’m quite sure that the name wouldn’t even ring a bell. One would think that in twenty years (!), they could’ve had at least one song that many would be familiar with, but the situation is far from that. Despite being around for such a long time, they remained tiny, swimming along with all those countless other small fish! They’ve had more than enough time to create something that the masses can remember them by, but they weren’t able to! Is it OK to assume then that they didn’t try to aim for something higher? That they merely settled? Is it also correct then to say that they weren’t bold enough? Not successful enough?

Further contemplation, however, produced a series of other questions: But what if being big isn’t what they’re after to begin with? What if their main goal was and still is to simply be able to produce music that they love for as long as they possibly can? What if *that* is enough … for them?

For many, success is still measured and limited to a financial aspect and by how much power or influence one may possess. But you see, that isn’t always the case. People have different goals and priorities in life, and so the meaning of success consequently varies as well. Quite recently, the backing musician posted a picture of the female musician happily kissing another major music award she had won in their home country. The male musician then stated that he was proud to be in a little corner of the woman’s success.

So, let me go back to my original question: which fish is in a better position? Neither, I guess. Whether or not one is a small fish or a big fish is not important. If you are fulfilled in the spot you are in, then you’re in a good place. In the end, it seems to me that what’s more important is that you keep on swimming.

 

cc: theedgeofsound

Tagubilin at Habilin

A man without fear — Ito ang nakasulat sa pinto ng isang kotseng nakita kong nakaparada sa kahabaan ng Commonwealth noong nakaraang linggo.  Sa tabi ng mga salita nakaguhit ang larawan ng pangunahing tauhan sa palabas na Daredevil.  Pagkabasa ko rito, bigla ko tuloy narinig ang tinig ng isang babaeng nagsasabing,

Ang tunay na matapang ay lumalaban kahit natatakot.  

Buhat ang linya sa Tagubilin at Habilin, isang tula ng manunula at manunulat na si Jose F. Lacaba na binigyang buhay bilang kanta sa estilo ng spoken word ng artista, mang-aawit, at tagapagsulong ng sining Filipino na si Armida Siguion-Reyna (na sumakabilang buhay na ilang araw lamang ang nakakaraan.)  Ang banayad na piano naman na maririnig ay ambag ni Ryan Cayabyab.

Nalaman ko ito, kung tama ang aking pagkakatanda, habang nakikinig sa programa sa radyo ni Ted Failon at Korina Sanchez sa DZMM maraming taon na ang nakalipas.  Noong una ko itong narinig, naihalintulad ko ito kagad sa Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) ni Baz Luhrmann.  Parehong pasalita at nagbibigay rin ng payo ang mga linya.  May pagkakahawig man ang estilo ng dalawa, para sa akin ay mas mabigat ang tono ng kay Lacaba.

Madaling tumatak sa akin yung mga salita ng tula at hanggang ngayon nga ay naalala ko pa rin ang ibang parte nito.  Heto ang tula sa kanyang kabuuan.  Sana’y maging makabuluhan din sa inyo ang mga payo rito.
* * *

Tagubilin at Habilin

Mabuhay ka, kaibigan!
Mabuhay ka!
Iyan ang una’t huli kong
Tagubilin at habilin:
Mabuhay ka!

Sa edad kong ito, marami akong maibibigay na payo.
Mayaman ako sa payo.

Maghugas ka ng kamay bago kumain.
Maghugas ka ng kamay pagkatapos kumain.
Pero huwag kang maghuhgas ng kamay para lang makaiwas sa sisi.
Huwag kang maghuhugas ng kamay kung may inaapi
Na kaya mong tulungan.

Paupuin sa bus ang matatanda at ang mga may kalong na sanggol.
Magpasalamat sa nagmamagandang-loob.
Matuto sa karanasan ng matatanda
Pero huwag magpatali sa kaisipang makaluma.

Huwag piliting matulog kung ayaw kang dalawin ng antok.
Huwag pag-aksayahan ng panahon ang walang utang na loob.
Huwag makipagtalo sa bobo at baka ka mapagkamalang bobo.
Huwag bubulong-bulong sa mga panahong kailangan sumigaw.
Huwag kang manalig sa bulung-bulungan.
Huwag kang papatay-patay sa ilalim ng pabitiin.
Huwag kang tutulog-tulog sa pansitan.

Umawit ka kung nag-iisa sa banyo.
Umawit ka sa piling ng barkada.
Umawit ka kung nalulungkot.
Umawit ka kung masaya.

Ingat lang.

Huwag kang aawit ng “My Way” sa videoke bar at baka mabaril.
Huwag kang magsindi ng sigarilyo sa gasolinahan.
Dahan-dahn sa matarik na landas.
Dahan-dahan sa malulubak na daan.

Higit sa lahat, inuulit ko:

Mabuhay ka, kaibigan!
Mabuhay ka!
Iyan ang una’t huli kong
Tagubilin at habilin:
Mabuhay ka!

Maraming bagay sa mundo na nakakadismaya.
Mabuhay ka.
Maraming problema ang mundo na wala na yatang lunas.
Mabuhay ka.

Sa hirap ng panahon, sa harap ng kabiguan.
Kung minsan ay gusto mo nang mamatay.
Gusto mong maglaslas ng pulso kung sawi sa pag-ibig.
Gusto mong uminom ng lason kung wala ka nang makain.
Gusto mong magbigti kung napakabigat ng mga pasanin.
Gusto mong pasabugin ang bungo mo kung maraming gumugulo sa utak.

Huwag kang patatalo. Huwag kang susuko.

Narinig mo ang sinasabi ng awitin:
“Gising at magbangon sa pagkagupiling,
Sa pagkakatulog na lubhang mahimbing.”
Gumising ka kung hinaharana ka ng pag-ibig.
Bumangon ka kung nananawagan ang kapuspalad.

Ang sabi ng iba: “Ang matapang ay walang-takot lumaban.”
Ang sabi ko naman: Ang tunay na matapang ay lumalaban
Kahit natatakot.

Lumaban ka kung inginungodngod ang nguso mo sa putik.
Bumalikwas ka kung tinatapak-tapakan ka.
Buong-tapang mong ipaglaban ang iyong mga prinsipyo
Kahit hindi ka sigurado na agad-agad kang mananalo.

Mabuhay ka, kaibigan!
Mabuhay ka!
Iyan ang una’t huli kong
Tagubilin at habilin:
Mabuhay ka!

-Jose F. Lacaba

Not a Starry, Starry Night

Despite the existence of the many distractions of modern life, one of the things that I still enjoy doing is looking up at the night sky. On a clear night, I could easily spot Orion’s Belt, the only constellation I can recognize, I’m afraid. My minuscule knowledge of the stars and other celestial bodies, however, does not deter me from appreciating their light and beauty. Looking at them is a humbling experience, not to mention relaxing. With the world spinning at such a hurried pace, the stars remind me to pause and reflect on things, which may be infinitesimal in the viewpoint of the cosmos.

I’m fortunate that despite living in an urban area, I still get to see stars, and on rare occasions even shooting stars, piercing this black canopy hanging above me. Metro Manila may be suffering from air pollution, but at least I can still see some portions of the sky glittering.  I have met many South Koreans who cannot say the same thing about their own night sky. They have mentioned to me before that they envy the Manila sky because they could see the moon and the stars clearly here. Back in Seoul, for instance, they said whenever they would look up at the night sky, all they could see was darkness. They added that seeing stars for them was a rarity; they would already feel lucky to see some scattered here and there. So, although the number of stars in Metro Manila isn’t incredibly vast to begin with, for them, it is already something to be envious about. Air pollution, they said, is what makes enjoying the stars impossible.

wim_calaguas

📸: Ivan Gatla. wheninmanila.com.  People living in the rural areas are more fortunate because they get a clearer light show than those living in urban centers.  One of my biggest goals then is to be able to see parts of the Milky Way painted in the night sky just like this one on Calaguas.

I’d always assumed that air pollution in Metro Manila was worse compared to Seoul’s. Mass transportation system in Seoul is definitely better than the one we have here. It has more trains and subways, so they do not emit as much exhaust as the countless vehicles that ply the chaotic streets of Manila. Hearing them tell me that the air condition there is worse then surprised me greatly. But I couldn’t believe that it’s the only thing that prevents them from seeing the sky. There must be other factors. So I told them that aside from air pollution, Seoul must also be suffering from another pollutant: artificial light.

Being a city that is more modern than Metro Manila, Seoul probably has more establishments, soaring buildings, outdoor signages and advertisments, and more lamps dotting its streets. In short, Seoul, I assume, is perhaps brightened by artificial light more than it should be. My Korean acquaintances couldn’t get how light can actually “make the sky dirty,” so I had to explain my theory to them a bit further.

Months after, I saw this image done by David Garcia, a Filipino geographer and geospatial analyst. Here you can see how the areas of the Southeast Asian region come bursting with light at night. Also partially seen on the map are parts of Korea, Japan, and China, and from here I think I can say that maybe my light pollution theory may have some basis after all.

sea_night_dgarciaSo is it really that bad if your location — whether it may be a city or a rural area —  is oh-so-bright and shiny at night?  The answer is yes.  Too much or inappropriate outdoor lighting affects not only our ability to see and marvel at the night sky but also wildlife.  Take the situation of baby turtles as an example.  In order to get into the water, hatchlings follow the light of the moon reflected on the water.  However, artificial lights coming from resorts and houses at the beach confuse these marine animals.  So, instead of heading out into the water, they go towards the direction of these houses and establishments, where they can either be eaten by predators along the way or get stuck there instead and eventually die.    Aside from wildlife, light pollution also has negative impacts on human health, energy, safety, and even heritage.

With more and more places getting flooded with artificial light, I cannot help but wonder how the sky will look like in the future if light pollution is not properly addressed. Imagine, a glimpse of the Milky Way just above our heads but is ironically kept in the shadows because of  massive LED screens showing ads, lampposts, and other sources of artificial light.  Frustrating, isn’t it?  I don’t think I’d ever want to live in a place where the only lights I get to see in the sky are those attached to an aircraft.

 

 

_______________

You can download Garcia’s map in full resolution here.

Under Southern Skies

Salt water on my skin, sand beneath my feet, the wind toying with my hair, waves greeting my ears. It had been a long while since I had experienced these– five years to be exact! The last beach I visited was in Baler, Quezon, where the ocean let me not only enjoy its gentle waters but also learn some valuable life lessons. After that, I was just stuck in cities and their landlocked dreams the whole time. I was not supposed to go to Cebu, actually; I wasn’t part of the plan, but due to some twist of events, I was the one who ended up being on an airplane bound for Mactan City and eventually Bantayan Island and not the original participant of the scheduled trip.

I toured Mactan City a bit, but it was on Bantayan, an island about 500km south of Manila, where I spent most of my time in Cebu. Clear blue waters, fine sand, limestone rock features, sandbars, and an underground cave that doubles as a natural pool were just some of the sites that I got the opportunity to enjoy . It was my first time to visit Visayas, and I hope that this wouldn’t be my last time to explore other locations in the south of the country.

Have a peek at some of these captured views of Bantayan Island and its neighboring islands.

Bantayan_above

Flying over Bantayan, an island about 4.5hrs south off the capital City of Cebu. Got here from Mactan using the Cessna Grand Caravan EX plane of Air Juan.

cebu_boat

en route to Hilantagaan and Virgin Is.

omagieca 2

At the Omagieca Obo-ob Mangrove Farm. Mangroves along coastal areas are important as they act as a barrier against storm surge. When super typhoon Yolanda, for example, hit central PH in 2013, the side of Bantayan Is. that had a lot of mangroves was significantly protected from devastation compared to those areas that no longer did have them.

ogtong sunrise 2

one of the five dogs I met at Ogtong beach. He was super friendly!

kelvin

Kelvin Hemholtz clouds! I think…

A Pale Blue Dot*

These days, two major themes dominate the news: violence and climate change. There is endless news about wars, bomb explosions, vehicles mowing down pedestrians, or armed men shooting or randomly stabbing people to death. Every day, too, you can hear news about how huge parts of forests are being cleared, the thinning ice sheets, the rising temperature, or the extinction of a species. Regardless whether you watch the local or international news, you are sure to find at least one story connected to either of these two.

Times like these, I cannot help feeling fearful for the future — if humankind even still has one considering the rate of how people destroy each other and nature in the name of politics, power, and so-called progress. If only people realized that all those are insignificant in the grander scheme of things.

In 1994, Carl Sagan, an American cosmologist and author wrote the book, “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space,”* and in it, he gave a different perspective of Earth, a perspective I wish all people would appreciate.

pale blue dot

That tiny speck suspended in a sunbeam is our home.  Photo taken by Voyager 1 in 1990. (NASA)

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.

On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.

The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner.

How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.

In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate.

Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.

To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

All Steps Lead to Q

“I have here a magnet, and anyone can borrow it.  You can place it anywhere, and you will see that what I am saying is true,” said Tina Paterno to a small group of people standing at the entrance of a church.  One man took the magnet and placed it on the church’s heavy door; it stuck.  It was obvious that it would because even without using a magnet, you could easily tell that the door was made of steel.  What was not, however, was the next spot that the man chose.  It was the base of a pillar near the entrance, which looked like it was made of either stone or cement, but the magnet perfectly kissed its surface.  These were not the only parts of the church that were made of steel.  Its pillars, which looked like marble and stone, were also made of steel, as well as all of its walls, ceilings, window frames, pulpit, and of course, its roof and spires.  This church, as you can tell, is not an ordinary church.  The Basilica Menor de San Sebastian, in fact, is the only all-steel building in the Philippines and the only pre-fabricated steel church in the world.  This unique Gothic architectural masterpiece, which was celebrating its 125th year, was the highlight of the first ever Q Festival and the main reason why I decided to join the event on its last day.

FB_IMG_1471403648223

The Q Festival was a nine-day event held last August 12 – 20, 2016.  The “Q” in the festival’s name stood for Quiapo, an area in the City of Manila, known for its numerous thrift stores; the Quiapo Church, which  is the home of the Feast of the Black Nazarene; fortune tellers; and vendors who sell herbal concoctions, amulets, and potions – quite ironically – just outside of Quiapo Church.  Unfortunately, Quiapo does not exactly have the most pleasant reputation.  It is messy, harsh, and crowded – an image, which Q Festival would like to change by giving people the opportunity to explore its streets and historical sites, and realize that there was more to Quiapo than just a popular church, chaos, and snatchers.

There were many activities lined up for the Q Festival such as food fairs, a sports tournament, exhibits, and concerts, but it was the walking tour that got me interested the most.  Months before the festival, I had the opportunity to visit San Sebastian for the first time and get to know it a bit when I did an impromptu DIY Visita Iglesia in Manila.  Tina Paterno, Executive Technical Director of  San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc.  (SSBCDFI) was actually there, too.  She was one of the people who gave a 30-minute talk about the historical background of and the conservation efforts being done on San Sebastian.  The church fascinated me so much that when I found out from an online advertisement that it was going to be included in Q Festival’s Walking Tours, I did not hesitate to sign up.

My journey to re-discovering Quiapo started at the Far Eastern University (FEU), where the student tour guides were from.  I must admit that I did not think that FEU had much to offer.  From the entrance, it looked small, and I thought its beige edifices did not hide much history or art.  Obviously, I was mistaken.

Q Fest_ FEU5

The theme of FEU’s buildings are dominated by Art Deco, and many were designed by Architect Pablo S. Antonio Sr.  A lot of geometric shapes and lines and mirror imaging were apparent in the design.  Art works such as those done by Vicente Manansala and national artist Botong Francisco were also present in the university.

(click the images to enlarge and reveal captions)

Aside from the ones listed in the itinerary, there were also a handful of heritage houses and buildings that my group and I passed by.  One of them was the building of Gota de Leche, a foundation that was founded by Trinidad Rizal, sister of Dr. Jose Rizal, and Concepcion Felix in 1906.  Its primary goal back then was to help lower down the mortality rate of Filipino children by providing milk and nutrition programs to mothers.  More than a hundred years later, it continues to provide nourishment and assistance to less fortunate Filipino mothers and children.  Other heritage buildings that we saw in passing were the Paterno House and the Manuel L Quezon University.

The next part of the itinerary brought me to Casa Consulado, also known as Iturralde Mansion.  From the outside, you wouldn’t have any clue that this was once the house of the honorary consul of Monaco in the country (1950s – 1960s).  Like many of the heritage houses around in Manila, it, too, looked forlorn.   Some of its parts were warped or hanging loose.  Its paint looked like it had been scrubbed off, and some of its metal work had been damaged by rust.  Once inside though, the group and I were greeted with warmth by some people who were busy preparing something.  We were told that on that night there was going to be a chocolate tasting event.  We were encouraged to look around, which we happily did.

It was obvious that the house was in need dire of repair.  The wooden floor squeaked and felt shaky as I walked.  I made my way upstairs via the staircase, which was made of some solid hardwood.  One of the people I met there, who was also just visiting but lived around the area, mentioned that there were indeed plans of restoring it.  Details, however, were still unclear.

After a quick visit at Casa Consulado, we then made our way to San Sebastian Basilica, which was just a few steps away.  Its mint green color (not its original color, by the way) stood out; a bunch of unsightly cables drawing black lines on its walls.

Q Fest_SSB10

As I have mentioned earlier, the San Sebastian Basilica is one-of-a-kind.  It is the product of an international collaboration from start to finish.  Designers, engineers, workers, hailed from Spain, Belgium, France, China, England, and of course, the Philippines.  It has withstood more than 10 earthquakes since its inauguration.  However, because of its old age, some structural challenges are already present.

Since it is made entirely of steel, the main enemy of the structure is rust, which is already apparent even from the outside.  Away from plain view, corrosion has eaten away the insides of some of its columns. (Don’t worry, the damage is not enough to bring the whole structure down.)   Leaks, holes, and falling parts are also on the list of its weaknesses. Despite its problems, San Sebastian is still magnificent.  The level of craftsmanship and detail poured onto it is astounding – from its trompe l’ oeil walls and the paintings on them, to its stained glass windows, and vaulted ceilings.  And in order to preserve this beauty, San Sebastian once again would be using an international team of experts coming from diverse fields to address them.  San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc. is the organization leading the way to the church’s comprehensive decade-long restoration program.

Q Fest_SSB9.2

Unlike during my first visit, I was able to gain access to other parts of the Church like in the choir loft and the belfry, where I, on my way there using this narrow and shaky spiral staircase, saw this structure that resembled a part of a ship.  (Trivia: the Conservation team actually consults with ship builders and people who are experts in that field because of the manner and material used in its construction have similarities to building a ship.)

It was an exciting part of the tour, being at the belfry of the Basilica.  I had visited a lot of churches both here in the Philippines and abroad, but it was the first Philippine church for me to be able to reach that section.  From that point, you can see the colorful Manila skyline against the backdrop of gray clouds, giving hints of imminent precipitation.

Q Fest_SSB14

 

We had to say goodbye to San Sebastian Basilica to make way for the Padilla Gallery, an ancestral house built in the 1800s, located somewhere on Hidalgo St.  Surrounding this long white house were a few street vendors, stores, and tricycles.  Once inside, the members of the group were surrounded by numerous art pieces that reflected the vivacity of Philippine culture particularly of Manila and Quiapo.  These are owned and done by artist and real-estate scion, Manny Padilla.

We were entertained by one of his employees who supplied us a brief background of the mansion and the artworks it housed.  This was also the time when we welcomed a break from walking and the sun as we were served some snacks here.

Q Fest_PG

On our way to the next destination, Bahay Nakpil, we passed by the Tanduay Fire Department.  Here, we were given a brief historical background of the fire station by the firemen themselves and saw Manila Fire Department’s first fire truck, which was no longer in good condition, unfortunately.

The second to the last stop of the tour was Bahay Nakpil-Bautista situated on A. Bautista St.  Built in 1914, Bahay Nakpil-Bautista is a typical bahay-na-bato with details inspired by the 1900s Viennese art movement, Secessionism.  Apart from its architectural value, Bahay Nakpil-Bautista also was the residence of several historical personalities such as Andres Bonifacio’s widow, Gregoria de Jesus, who later on married Julio Nakpil, a musical composer and the Vice-President Supremo of the Katipunan appointed by Bonifacio himself; Francisco Nakpil, member of La Liga Filipina; Dr. Ariston Bautista, a doctor and member of The Propaganda Movement; Juan Nakpil, architect of the Quiapo Church (after the 1929 fire); and Angel Nakpil, architect of the Rizal Park complex.   Nowadays, it is a museum, library, exhibit venue, and community center.

Unfortunately, I was no longer able to join the tour of this house and the one for Quiapo Church since I had another appointment set for that day.  I thought five to six hours was enough to visit all the places, but clearly, it was not.  The reason why the tour took so long was not because the destinations were too distant from each other or that we had long breaks but because there was really no set schedule to begin with, and that for me was the walking tour’s biggest weakness.   There were delays and instances when too much time was spent on particular areas that were not even supposed to be included in the tour.  Although it was an added bonus – visiting places that were not part of the itinerary – the tour did not take into consideration the time of the participants.  I had been on several walking tours abroad before and each one had a fixed schedule and most of them ended on time.  (One was delayed for 30 minutes because there was an unexpected change in train schedules.)  I hope the schedule is one aspect that the organizers improve next time around.

And I do hope that there really is a next time for Q Festival because it has another significant goal apart from showing people the heritage sites and changing people’s perception of the area.  In a chat I had with the Director of FEU’s President’s Committee on Culture, Martin Lopez, he mentioned that walking tours such as this was also meant to engage the residents of Quiapo themselves in heritage conservation.  The organizers wanted to show that they themselves would greatly benefit in such activities, not only because there would be money coming in from the tourists who would visit Quiapo, but also because they will be able to take part in reviving the spirit of Quiapo, which was primarily their home.  They are a part of what makes Quiapo what it is.  If there’s anyone who should cherish it first, it should be the people residing there.  The essence of the place does not merely lie on its historical sites but also on the people who molded its past and will continually shape its future.

As I have mentioned many times before, the City of Manila is steeped in history and beauty, but at first glance, they are not quite obvious.  The city’s social problems can get in the way of people’s perception.  But if you are open, curious, even daring enough, walk its streets and you will find the richness and potential of this old city.

 

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Be a part of the restoration of San Sebastian Basilica!  Visit its Facebook page for more details.

 

Let Them Have Drugs

During a lecture with my Filipino students on how to improve Quezon City:
Me: Kung magkaroon kayo ng posisyon sa gobyerno, anong gagawin niyo para maayos ang lungsod niyo?
Student1 (17 y/o): Babarilin ko yung mga drug addicts para mawala na sila. [sabay nag-muestra na parang may hawak na baril tapos biglang sabi ng “bang! bang! bang!”]
Me: Eh paano kung malaking bahagdan o lahat ng tao sa Quezon City naging addict, papatayin mo silang lahat?
Student 1: Opo! hahaha!
Me: Paano kung tignan mo rin yung ugat mismo ng problema? Bakit ba sila nagiging addict? Anong nagtulak sa kanila para gawin yun? Merong ugnay din ‘yan sa lipunan eh.
Student2 (12 y/o): Ma’am, yung iba kasi walang trabaho kaya gumagamit o nagbebenta na lang sila nun. Yung iba, kulang sa edukasyon [tungkol sa droga].

Discussion went on to rehabilitation facilites and how getting addicts detoxed could be another solution. I then briefly relayed to them the story of a documentary I saw several years ago on National Geographic Channel. It was about this facility called Insite located in Downtown Eastside, in Vancouver, Canada.

Insite is a place for (mostly marginalized) drug addicts where they can satisfy their addiction safely without getting entangled with the law. The facility is not like some dark alley or a run-down building where addicts can shoot up. Rather, the site looks like a decent office space with a nice reception area and well-lit cubicles for its patients. Instead of having a desktop computer, a document tray, or a telephone, however, each cubicle has a huge mirror, which lets the addict see their reflections. Except for the illicit drugs, everything that an addict needs is provided by Insite: needles, tourniquets, tubing, etc. It even has a medical staff to guide the addicts find their veins or prevent them from overdosing. The facility also offers counseling and detox treatments, which its administrators hope would lead their clients to the road of recovery. This public health facility has helped a lot of drug users get off the streets, lower cases of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and in many cases, get the dependents get unhooked on illicit drugs themselves.

insite_finding-vein

photo taken from the Insite website

The students were shocked (as I was too when I first watched it) to hear about the existence of such a facility. They were not completely convinced about its effectiveness, but they did consider some of its advantages, and I guess that was a good start: people considering new (and non-violent), albeit controversial solutions to a social problem that affects a lot of countries all over the world.

Here in the Philippines, the biggest agenda of the current administration under Rodrigo Duterte is eliminating the drug menace, which has seen both the surrender of thousands of drug dependents and pushers, and the death of thousands as well, including some who are not in any way connected to the drug world. With the administration hell bent on winning its drug war, I wonder if lawmakers and the Filipino population too, would ever be open enough to give Canada’s radical solution an iota of consideration – not now though because this massive campaign against drugs garners so much public support – but perhaps in the future. Would it be viable to try out such a solution? Or would it only legitimize and even encourage drug use? What do you think?

Wandering in Manila

A short, impromptu DIY Manila walking tour

It was a sunny and windy Friday afternoon.  The chaos of the city was apparent in the cars and public utility vehicles that were choking the roads, the loud voices of street vendors and their customers, the dust and honking of horns that were floating in the air.  Having just been to the Presidential Museum and Library in Malacanang several minutes earlier, I was still filled with the desire to uncover more about history and the city of Manila, where many architectural treasures reside.  I, together with my sister, decided to make a quick DIY walking tour and see what developments were brewing mainly in the vicinity of Calle Escolta.

escolta_buildingsspot

📷: spot.ph

Calle de Escolta (or simply Escolta), which in Spanish means “to escort”, is one of the oldest streets in the city of Manila.  It used to be a thriving financial district in the 1800s, but eventually it lost its vibrancy sometime in the 1960s to Makati City.  A number of heritage buildings are present there and in the surrounding areas, but they – like many in the capital – have faded into the bustling madness of 21st century cityscape.  However, thanks largely to several private organizations and some government agencies, Escolta and its other neighboring streets are being revived.  Albeit the process is slow, it gives hope that one day more people would come to prize and preserve these historical areas.

The brief DIY tour started the moment we got off our vehicle.  The first building that greeted us was the Commercial Bank and Trust Building. This hamburger-shaped-slash-UFO-looking structure, now known as the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) Escolta Branch, was designed by Jose Maria Zaragoza.

escolta_bpi

Those wires have really got to go.

After taking a look at the Commercial Bank and Trust Building, the streets led us to a few more locations:

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First United Building

First United Building, which was designed by Andres Luna de San Pedro, and Juan F. Nakpil in Art Deco fashion, is currently being used as a commercial building.  The first level of which houses the HUB: Make Lab, a space where people can sell and buy vintage items, handmade crafts, artworks, antique pieces, and many others.

Our impromptu tour also led us far beyond the streets of Escolta, seeing the Manila Central Post Office  and the world’s oldest Chinatown in the Binondo District along the way.

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The majestic MCPO as seen from across the Pasig River

escolta_chinatown

The city of Manila is a fascinating place: its vivid past, historical edifices, and the culture of the people who call it home make it rich.  On the surface, however, it is hard to appreciate.  With all its endemic problems like the ones linked to traffic, trash disposal, stray animals, pollution, and informal settlers, it’s hard to see its charms.  In fact, just this May, i-Discover City Walks, a travel app, called Manila as “the ugliest city in SEAsia.”  The comment garnered some angry reactions.  Eventually, i-Discover City Walks later on edited the post and apologized for using the word “ugliest,” realizing that it was too harsh a word to describe the capital.

Yes, it is true that the word “ugliest” was too strong, but instead of getting all fired up and exerting all these negativities, this should be accepted as a challenge.  Many who live in the city are fully aware of Manila’s failings to make the city as livable as it should be.  What reactions then do we expect from tourists?

Haay, Maynila, you have so much potential but you lack – more than political will – vision and a sense of history. What do you want your people to be? What identity would you like to carve?

Distinguished architect, Paulo Alcazaren, previously pointed out that many Filipinos desire to go to Europe to see and experience its plazas, historical buildings, and grand architecture not realizing that the same can actually be found here. During the short walk around some parts of Old Manila, I saw places comparable to Amsterdam’s canals, a bridge leading to Chinatown similar to one in Berlin, plazas like those in Praha, and many others. The difference, however, is that those European locations are so much cleaner, more accessible, and are more appreciated. I’m not saying Manila should copy those foreign cities. What I’m trying to say is that the city can be so much greater than what it is now if it seriously wants to.

The city of Manila celebrated its 445th anniversary just several months back. How many centuries more would it take before it truly tackles the many problems that plague both its environment and its people? When will it significantly improve so that it can keep up with modernity while preserving its historicity?

 

 

*Another Manila walking tour (this time a longer and more comprehensive one) happened several months after this one during the Q Festival last August. Details to be posted soon.