How I Met the Met

Whenever I visit Manila, I often pass by and see a certain pink Art Deco building standing on P. Burgos Ave. corner Arroceros.  Parts of its façade are covered in graffiti, and litter surrounds it.  In front of the building, traffic is sometimes heavy, and undisciplined vehicles and pedestrians alike contribute to the bleak scene.  For many, this building is just another of those structures forgotten by time in Manila.  Unbeknownst to them, at an era when the number of vehicles had not yet choked the streets of the city and World War II had not transpired yet, the Manila Metropolitan Theater (often referred to as the Met), had a glorious run.  Its purpose was carried out: different shows and theatrical productions were staged – something that is hard to imagine nowadays.

 

Even when I was younger, I often wondered what its history was.  I only knew it by its name and its pink hue (which I later on learned was not even its original color).  I know I watched a play at the Met as part of my field trip during my elementary years, but my memory of it is similar to its paint that is blemished and is now peeling off.

Just like many of the buildings in Manila, the Met has been neglected by the government for several years.  There were a number of restoration projects to revive the grand theater, but they were either temporary or worse, completely unsuccessful.

Last year marked another initiative to resurrect the theater and it started when the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) was able to purchase it from its former owner, the Government Security Insurance System (GSIS).  The news of its purchase kindled some hope that the Met would be salvaged from further decay.

(note: Click to enlarge photos and see the captions.)

One of the things you’ll immediately notice is how dark the places is.  This is because the electrical wires have been stolen, so there’s no power running in the whole structure.  It’s creepy, actually.

The NCCA, during the latter part of 2015, called for some volunteers to help them for a series of clean-up drives.  Unfortunately, the first few ones were reserved for Architectural students, preventing me and other numerous ordinary citizens to jump at the opportunity to help out.  When NCCA finally allowed the public to join, I immediately grabbed the chance to register.  I registered early because only about 60 people per drive were allowed.  Getting in was difficult; I registered twice, but twice I was not included either.  Thankfully, my third time proved to be a charm and I was able to join the concluding leg last April 30.  Since it was the last chance for the public to attend the clean-up, the NCCA decided to permit more than what was originally allowed.  I, together with my sister and some of her students from her school, as well as other volunteers from different universities, public and private offices, and even soldiers from the Philippine Air Force and the Military, formed the largest number of volunteers – almost 200!  It was beautiful to see a big gathering of volunteers working together to bring the Met back to its former glory.


The Manila Metropolitan Theater is just one of the numerous heritage buildings around Manila, and most of them, sadly, are not as lucky as the Met. They continue to deteriorate and be robbed of their belongings, and ultimately, their future.  Some are even torn down.

I hope that the government under this new administration will come to its senses and see the great significance and vast potential of these structures; heritage laws must be actually enforced.  They can be reused for new purposes, and the government can give tax incentives to those who decide to keep them and reuse them appropriately.  It must be remembered that these are not mere buildings, but structures that have been part of history of the country and the nation.

I am happy that the NCCA came up with this clean-up drive and it involved the public in the theater’s initial restoration process.  I hope that this spark would turn into a blaze and create a greater interest from the public, allowing them to appreciate history more.  Likewise, I fervently hope that this is the start in helping the government see that many people actually do care and that it should a whole lot, too.

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After the clean up on the 2F.  If we were to clean everything in this room, it would take us days! So, yes, this is already clean… relatively.

proposed plans for the Met. Photo: METamorphosis FB

 

To learn more about the restoration of the Met: head over to the NCCA page or the METamorphosis page, the official place for updates about the Met restoration.

Where Wild Birds Fly

Scholars, state university, activism, premiere education – these are the words that are normally associated with the name of the University of the Philippines (Diliman).  It is a premiere educational institution situated in the heart of Quezon City, an urban jungle that is also well-known for its numerous shopping malls, countless hip restaurants, cafes, bars, and some public parks.  Very few would ever associate both of these places with the Woodpecker, the Black-naped Oriole, or the Lowland White Eye – wild birds that call UP Diliman and Quezon City their homes.

Before April this year, I had never heard the names of these birds nor had I even thought of associating Quezon City with them.  My knowledge of birds was extremely limited, and my awareness of the various birds living and visiting the city was almost close to zero.  Maya (Eurasian Tree Sparrow) and kalapati (dove / pigeon) were the only species of birds I thought present in the city, and the others, whose existence I didn’t have any idea about, could only be found in the rural areas.  How surprised I was when I learned that many wild birds actually take flight in the city’s skyline and build their nests in the quietness of the trees.  Some are even frequent visitors coming from other countries to get away from the coldness of their original habitats.

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I was made aware of all these when I joined a guided birdwatching tour provided by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines last April.  I saw a poster of the group’s on Facebook inviting everyone to the said event.  It was set at 6:00 am on a Saturday.  And although it was too early for a weekend, and I was not even a bird lover, I decided to join by myself and enrich my knowledge about birds and Quezon City.  It was summer anyway, too, and a nature-related activity was far better than a trip to a mall.

Birdwatching is an activity that observes birds in their natural habitats.  So, a trip to the zoo or an aviary to look at birds and watch their habits cannot be considered as birdwatching.  It can be a mere pastime for others or a mission for some. Whichever is the case, a birdwatcher needs to have the following qualities:

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a Blue Rock Thrush as seen from a spotting scope

Patience – You have to wait for birds to appear.  Sometimes you can see them immediately, resting on a branch or swooping some insects on the ground.  Sometimes, you can only see them flying.  And sometimes you don’t even see them at all.  But when you do finally see them, it can be pretty exciting.

Carefulness and Being Respectful –  As much as possible, avoid contact.  Never shake branches just to make them fly and get a close picture of them.  Don’t mess with their nests or eggs.

Quietness – Noise can agitate or scare off the birds, and as someone who would actually want to see them as close as possible without upsetting them, being silent is the key.  This way, you’ll also get to listen to the way these birds communicate.

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Can you spot where the (sleeping) Philippine Night Jar is?

I did get to see a number of birds like the beautiful and striking Collared Kingfisher (Kasaykasay), the Pied Fantail (Maria Capra), Yellow Vented Bulbul (Kulkul), Black-naped Oriole (Kulyawan), a flock of Egrets (Tagak), Lowland White-eye (Matang-Dulong), just to mention some.  Many of them I was not able to take photos of because they were either flying in the air or hiding in trees.  I only got to see them via a pair of binoculars or through a spotting scope; the others, I was only able to hear.

Although I was primarily there to observe birds, the activity was also a good way for me to get myself familiarized with some of native trees such as the ones below:

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Kapok, a tree that produces cotton-like fibers inside pods

 

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Kapok fiber

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a native tree called Salingbobok, whose flowers are a bit similar to a Cherry Blossom’s

I never knew there were a lot of species of birds in that single area alone.  Having a healthy quantity of trees in the university definitely helped in attracting the birds to inhabit that area.  This is then another excellent reason why green spaces should be increased in our cities.  Increasing green spaces in our suffocating urban jungle would certainly provide homes for the birds and fresher air that many urban-dwellers are deprived of.

I’m glad I joined that birdwatching event because the following morning, I became more conscious of my surroundings; I tried to see whether the ones I saw at UP were also present in my neighborhood.  I also listened to the bird calls more.  Suddenly, the birds didn’t sound all alike anymore.  A statement in front of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines brochure could not be any truer:

All you need is to know what’s out there to see. 

 

For more information about birdwatching, bird festivals, and conservation programs, visit Birdwatch.ph  or its Facebook page, Birdwatch Philippines.

Change Is Coming*

 

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Nothing is certain. The politician you are heavily accusing of corruption now could become the leader that could usher in PH’s golden age. The politician you staunchly support and go great lengths to defend could become the one who would rip the country apart and drag everything to a pool of mud. And that politician you’ve dismissed because you think would die soon might actually live much longer than what you had expected. We will never know, really! It’s curious how uncertainty can be so certain, no? But one thing is definite though: change is indeed coming regardless of who sits in Malacañang. We can only hope that that change is a good one.

 

*Note:  Although it is used by a Presidentiable as a slogan, the title of this blog entry is not in any way an endorsement of the said candidate.  

Even the Falling of a Leaf

We may not always understand or discover why things happen the way they do, but there really is a reason for everything… and yes, even the falling of a leaf carries one. I never realized how much grace and beauty were involved in the process until I read this.

* * *

“Professor: Have you ever wondered why some trees shed their leaves during the winter? This occurs for many reasons, but the main reason trees do this is to protect themselves.

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photo taken at Volkspark Humboldthain in Berlin (2015)

You know, most tress that lose their leaves are in cold climates. During the long, cold winters, the air in these places becomes very dry. This causes the leaves of trees also to become dry. To keep the leaves alive, the trees have to give them a lot of moisture. The problem with this is that the trees could lose too much moisture and die. So instead of giving moisture to the leaves, the trees keep the moisture inside… They keep it in their trunks and branches. After a while, the leaves start to die. As the leaves die, they fall to ground around the trees. When this happens, the leaves actually help the trees survive. How, you may ask? Well, the leaves form a protective layer around the roots of the trees. This allows the roots to stay warm. So, by losing their leaves, the trees are able to live through the winter.”

(Passage taken from a TOEFL book I read a couple of days ago.)

Painting Berlin

Ask anyone where they can see art and they will probably immediately answer “inside a gallery or a museum.”  The streets, the façades of buildings, or doors of houses won’t exactly be considered as suitable canvasses or places to exhibit art works.  But for many Berliners, they are precisely that.

I had the opportunity to visit Germany a few months ago.  I didn’t have any expectations of what the country would be like before flying there.  I knew little about it: World War II, the Cold War Era, and of course, beer and sausages, were the only associations I had.  Street art, which greatly fascinates me, was completely absent from that list.

Berlin, where I spent majority of my stay, apparently is home to world famous street art and/or graffiti art.  I got to know more about these images and the stories behind them, as well as the different techniques involved in the creation of these unique and engaging murals through a couple of walking tours of alternative Berlin.   One tour (Real Berlin Experience) presented the non-touristy side of the city, and the other focused more on street art.  The latter even included a workshop, which taught the participants the basics of street art.

The following images show the various examples of street art scattered in the city particularly in the areas of Prenzlauerberg, Kreutzberg, and Lichtenburg, where the Black Market Collective Gallery, the venue of the Street Art Workshop, was located.  Other art works were also photographed somewhere in Mitte and Friedrichshain during the times when I was out exploring the city by myself.

Mauer Park

 

Real Berlin Experience Tour

 

 

Street Art Tour 

 

Street Art Workshop

 

Exploring Berlin on my own

 

My Favorites

 

 

Note: I can no longer remember the details of the tours since this happened several months ago (and no one takes notes during tours, anyway!) so if you see any error or would like to add any information regarding the art work or the exact location of these pieces, feel free to comment. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine, Manila

“Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” – Jonathan Swift

“I’ve been to the Philippines, but only in Palawan.  It was goorrgeeous!  You should go there!”  A foreigner I met once in one of my travels encouraged the other foreigners who were with us that afternoon.  He couldn’t stop praising the beauty of the island.  Being the only Filipina in the group, I naturally felt proud.  And then he said, “I actually went to Manila one time.  The traffic was insane!  It was chaos out there!  Kinda messy too.”    He didn’t elaborate further, and I was glad that he no longer did.  As someone who lives in Metro Manila, I know too well what he was talking about.

Congested traffic – what’s new?  Improvements to public transportation are being introduced such as more modern buses, but generally, the situation has remained the same.  In addition, we still have problems concerning garbage disposal, pollution, flooding, neglected sidewalks and bridges, informal settlers, the destruction of heritage buildings, just to name a few.

Everyone knows the plagues that ail Metro Manila, and yet the same problems occur every year just the same; it’s only the leaders who sit in the city halls who do change.  Lack of political will, the absence of cooperation between the leaders and the citizens, a corrupted system may all be the main culprits, but quite possibly too, the absence of a strong vision.  What do we really want our cities to look like?  To be like?

Often, many social projects are short-term, and are coterminous with the leader in charge.  When that politician is replaced and another is elected, a completely new set of projects are carried out, and the previous administration’s – even if its projects are actually effective – are no longer continued, which actually wastes a lot of time and resources.

Some projects are also not studied carefully first before executing them.  For instance, constructing numerous footbridges in one stretch of road only to remove all of them in the end because a new MRT line is soon going to be built can be considered neither efficient nor practical.

Government projects should be done with the citizens in mind and how these are going to affect the whole system for years to come; actions should not be based solely on convenience.  When it comes to providing infrastructure and social services, “YOLO” should not be the guiding principle of leaders.  Think long-term, please!

Recently, a video has gone viral on social media, and it invites people to envisage a new Manila, a better one.  Aptly titled, Redesign Manila, this video, according to its creators from Go Motions Productions, “aims to showcase and invite Filipinos to re-imagine and revive beautiful Manila.”

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While not all may see the Manila in the video as the best version of what the city could be, what is beautiful here is not the video itself, but the challenge that the production team has posed to the people who view it.   It dares people to think of a better situation, making others see that it is a possibility and that people should not simply accept the way things are at the moment.  There is a call to IMAGINE, to create a VISION, and that is what is important.  Albert Einstein could not have said it any better:

“Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Now, whether that imagination that the citizens and leaders of Metro Manila have conjured will remain a fantasy or not, is all up to us.

 

 

 

For more information on Redesign Manila, visit its Facebook page.
Other sites you might find interesting:
On pedestrian welfare: Walk Manila
On Heritage Conservation: Metamorphosis, Escolta, Heritage Conservation Society, Heritage Conservation Society Youth

On the Road to Progress

How to get to P. Guevarra St? I wondered after my friends and I had set a place where we could all meet and catch up on things. I knew it was somewhere in San Juan but didn’t know how to get myself from where I live to that place. As many other people of this day and age, the Internet was my go-to reference.

A map of Metro Manila popped up on the screen showing the path I should take to get to my destination. Accompanying the map was a written description: Take R-7, go straight to Yada-Yada Ave., turn right on Blah-Blah St., and so on and so forth. On the map, it looked fairly easy. I planned my trip: Take the MRT, get off at Santolan, and then just take a taxi to take me directly to the place. According to Google Maps, this almost 20km trip would more or less take me 45 minutes.

But Google Maps is not a Manileña. It is ignorant to the ills of the streets and public transportation system of the city. With the long queues that plague the MRT stations, and the insufferable traffic situation in every corner imaginable, the trip would take far longer than Google Maps had calculated. Taking the taxi, too, meant that I had to shell out a couple of hundred pesos even if the distance was only short considering how highly probable it was to be stuck in a gridlock.

carmageddon

photo: creativemanila.com

Suddenly, I terribly missed something I got to experience in my one of my travels abroad – Germany’s excellent public transportation system.

I recently had the opportunity to go to Germany a while back, and I got to visit many remarkable places during my stay there.  It has many well-preserved historical buildings, museums, restaurants, entertainment centers, shops, and tourist destinations.  It’s also clean and organized.  Despite its many attractions, the things that appealed to me the most are the simple things, the basic features that a healthy city should have – beautiful parks, sidewalks, bike lanes, (functioning!) traffic lights, pedestrian lanes, garbage bins, and the brightest star of them all, a highly efficient mass transport system.

Being used to riding only jeeps, FX, and MRT, I must admit that initially, the country’s transport system confused me.   Although commuting in other countries wasn’t new to me, it had been a long time since I did some traveling abroad.   The confusion at one point even turned into fear when I knew that I had to go places all by myself  because 1) there was no one who could accompany me tour the city and 2) I wanted to challenge myself and try something I would not typically do even if it meant getting lost and/or getting lost in translation.

Germany has various modes of public transportation: U-bahn (subway), S-bahn (railway similar to MRT), trams, buses, the ICE (regional trains), and taxis, and all are integrated (except for the taxis).   One ticket will allow you to ride any (Tickets for the ICE are a little different, though) and they can be bought from vending machines in all the U-bahn and S-bahn stations, central bus and train stations, and even inside the trams and buses themselves.  Because vending machines are widely available, there’s no more need to queue to buy tickets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Time is also highly valued there: all modes of transportation have strict schedules to follow.   When a train is meant to arrive in 3 minutes, it really is going to arrive in three minutes.  In case it arrives earlier than the intended schedule, let’s say, a minute earlier, it won’t immediately go.  Instead, it will wait for that one minute to be up; that’s the time that it would start running.

Everything is meticulously planned, and everything is religiously carried out.  Street signs are clear, and there are maps and information services available.  Their public transport system is so convenient that even if you are not familiar with the place, you can easily find your way around.  In Berlin, where I spent majority of my stay, the company that runs the transport system BVG has a website and an app, which you can visit or download.  You can plot your journey using either of the two, so you would exactly know how to get to your destination down to the last minute.  If you’re old school or don’t have a smart phone like me, a handy map will do just fine.

Transportation in and the streets of Berlin are commuter-friendly that even persons with disabilities (PWDs) and the elderly will have no difficulty traveling at all.  Not a single overpass is in sight, but pedestrian lanes are everywhere.  Traffic lights are present in almost every corner, too.  Some buses also tilt, so that it can level with the sidewalk, allowing PWDs, the elderly, and people with huge luggage, strollers, bicycles, and dogs to enter and exit the vehicle hassle-free.

I cannot express how I loved commuting in Berlin – something I cannot say for Metro Manila, unfortunately.  Whenever I was out touring Berlin,  I kept on thinking “Hey, this can be done in QC” or “Why can’t we have this feature in Manila?” or “Why can’t the city government have the political will to clean up the sidewalks?  Why can’t the government construct sidewalks?!?”

Majority of the metro is sadly unsafe for commuters and pedestrians.  Buses and jeeps act as if they own the road, and private vehicles continue to swell in number, choking the roads (and no, making them wider is not the best solution!)

traffic_nuremberg constr

Despite an on-going road repair and having only 1 lane functioning, cars in this area never got entangled with each other.  Many roads there are narrow, and yet there was never a time when I saw any one of them congested.  

If traffic is an indication of economic progress, then Metro Manila should be extremely prosperous by now.  However, that is not the case.  The city is not abundant in wealth but in countless of people constantly late for work and appointments, harassed and tired even before getting to their destinations; tons of exhaust gases that attack the lungs, and a great deal of wastage of – ironically – money.  Every day, people have to battle with this urban monster, which seems to worsen every year.  It has gotten so bad, in fact, that two months ago, many urbanites (including I) suffered several hours of horrendous gridlock, which has come to be known as “Carmageddon.”   Although heavy rain was partly to blame, it was mostly due to poor drainage system, absence of enforcers, and moreover, lack of discipline for some motorists and pedestrians alike.

Being stuck in terrible traffic is sadly becoming the norm in Metro Manila.  Road constructions and water pipe repairs that take forever to finish, jaywalkers, no proper PUV stops and stations, and poor railway maintenance are just some of the main causes of a commuter’s hellish everyday travel experience, which should NOT be.

While it is obvious that the government has not done its part in building proper infrastructures and enforcing the law, motorists and pedestrians are also to blame.  People do not know how to discipline themselves; road courtesy and consideration are brushed aside.  Motorcycles and jeeps use the sidewalks as an escape from the traffic jam.   When a person doesn’t have any parking space, she/he uses the street as her/his garage.  Drivers overtake and create their own counter flow!  Dios mio!

I remember someone telling me before that in the Netherlands, when trams arrive late even for a minute or two, people would immediately write to the authorities to express their dissatisfaction.  But here in Metro Manila, people have endured it for so long, and even when people are already crying out, complaints land on deaf ears.  Someone who learned about the Carmageddon in Manila while I was in Berlin asked me this:  Isn’t that a cause for a revolution already?  It should be!

Having a properly working and inclusive public transportation system is the lifeline of any place.  It is the vein from which the blood flows to the heart of the city and beyond.   The metro’s traffic problem is something that both the government and the people should resolve unless we really want to see the heart stop beating soon.

 

A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars.  It is where the rich use public transportation.

~ para­phrased from Enrique Peñalosa, for­mer Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia