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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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📷: 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.

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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

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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.   

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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!)

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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

 

Conquering Fears One Wave at a Time

“Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear” – Buzzy Trent

“Ready, Ma’am,” his words reverberated in every cell of my body, which was lying on the water.  My stillness belied my pounding heart.  My body stiffened despite his earlier advice to relax.  I held the only thing that separated me from the air and salt water – a surfboard.

Then a push.

I suddenly found myself moving, white foam forming around me.  A voice was shot in the distance.  “Ma’am, tayô!” (Ma’am, stand up!)  Everything seemed to be happening so fast and the heavy beating of my heart began to crack my chest.  I followed his command and got myself up – too quickly and too nervously, unfortunately – and then fixed my eyes on the board and then to the white bubbles.  I felt my body tilting to the left.  The next thing I knew was that I was entering the water, and the water entering my nose and ears.  As I clung to the board and flailed an arm, I struggled to breathe and all I could think of was Oh, my God!  Oh, my God! 

nope, that’s not me in the photo!

“I won’t surf,” I told my sister and friends when we headed to our summer getaway and well-known surfing spot, Baler, Aurora almost three weeks ago.  That position of mine did not change despite their persuasion.  “Why go to Baler when you’re not even going to surf?” my sister’s friend even asked rhetorically.  Just to swim! I replied in my head, a bit annoyed.  Technically, I would not swim because I couldn’t, which was the main reason why I didn’t want to try surfing in the first place.

You see, I have a love-hate relationship with water.  I love and enjoy going to the beach and other water resorts but I also don’t like a lot of things about it.  I don’t like the sound of bubbles underwater, and even when I hear sonar, it makes me uncomfortable.  The sound of creaking boats floating on the water disturbs me.  In some rare and extreme cases, I feel like there’s this sinister force tempting me to jump into the water, wanting me to commit suicide.  I don’t dive, snorkel or go down water slides, or float face up.  And oh, the sight of corals, beautiful as they are, scare me especially when they’re dead.  Water is my friend, yet it is not.  I have a deep respect for it and fear of it at the same time.

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It was the second day of our stay in peaceful Baler that the four of us dropped by Mahdox, the first surf school and shop in the area.

“Ilang estudyante?” (How many students?)

“Tatlo,” (Three) my companions said and then looked at me.

I felt some pressure, but slightly only from them and more from myself, for although I may not be as ready and excited as my companions were, there was also a part of me, albeit scared as hell, that was willing to try it out.  Bahala na, I thought to myself.  And as if I didn’t have the power to control my lips, I corrected my companions and said, “Apat na.” (Make it four.)

We didn’t have to wait long until our surfing coaches arrived.  They asked us to choose a surfboard lying prettily on the ash colored sand.  I didn’t know what to pick.  My initial choice was grabbed by another person.  And then I noticed this smiling man who had sun-burnt skin standing beside another surfboard.  I wasn’t sure if he was talking to me or to another person behind me so I ignored him.  Moments later, I realized it was me whom he was calling.

After an exchange of smiles, handshakes, and names, the basic lessons were shown – the parts of the surfboard, the stance, and the techniques on how to stand and balance.  Everything seemed simple, of course, because we weren’t standing on moving water, and all the while my coach was teaching me, my head was wrapped around one question: Why the hell did I say ‘yes’ to this?! I can’t swim.  I don’t do prop-ups (heck, I don’t even do push-ups!).  Moreover, my legs and arms are still weak and wobbly from yesterday’s unbelievable physical activities!  I looked at the surfboard.  The end seemed a bit truncated; I could see its white foamy insides.  I couldn’t even find a leash attached to it.  Great, I got the lamest board!  The board, however, was blue.  At least, there was something correct in the situation.

the board that i used was similar to this… without the leash.

Before long, we were in the water.  Each wave that hit me seemed to erase the bits of information I “learned” from my coach, Xander.  My companions and I were brought far from the shore, lined up alongside each other, and waited for the right waves.  He must have seen and felt that I was afraid so he asked me to calm my mind down and relax.  He was nice and to make me feel at ease, he talked to me to get my mind off my fear.  It helped… a bit.  I was still nervous and my head was making all sorts of scenarios: What if I can’t come up immediately after I fall?  What if I get hit by the board on the head?  What if I drown?  What if I die?  He assured me I wouldn’t drown because the water was not really that deep.  Easy for him to say, he was a child of the sea!

And then, the moment I was dreading for: the arrival of my first wave.  I felt Xander launch my board.  The surfboard was suddenly traveling and I, ready or not (more on the “not” part) had to prop myself up and balance.  As expected, I was unsuccessful.

“Bakit ka tumalon?” (Why did you jump off the board?)  Xander asked.

“Hindi ako tumalon.  Nahulog ako,” (I didn’t jump.  I fell.) I replied.

“Tumalon ka.  Ok ka naman eh.” (You jumped.  You were doing fine.)

I realized then that he was right.  My fear controlled me.  Fear – that was the reason I fell.  That was the reason I decided to fall.  Immediately, I resolved to be confident.  To trust myself even a bit, despite my fears.  I asked him to tell me the mistakes I had committed: I didn’t squat low enough.  I jumped off the board right away.  I didn’t try to balance.  I continued to cling to the board even when I was already off it.

I took note of what he said.  When we got back to the “starting line,” I conditioned myself.   I tried to calm both my mind and body down.  I breathed in deeply and simply focused and told myself that I could do it.  When the waves arrived, I failed again.  And again.  And again.  But after each time, I was able to do better than before.  In a way, there was incremental progress.

I also learned some techniques on my own when Xander took me farther out into the ocean.  At first, I got worried because I thought we were already too far away from the original starting point, but he said that it was OK. While waiting for a wave to ride, I once again readied myself mentally.  I breathed in and out deeply.  I focused and reminded myself to do something I was good at – taking things slowly.

Then a wave came, and I was again launched.  Actually, I was not completely prepared for it, but I didn’t have much of a choice.  I had to stand up.  And stand up I did, but more slowly this time around.  I recognized then that being farther out had an advantage.  It gave me more time to gain my footing, to adjust, to balance, and to enjoy the ride itself before I reached the shore.  Then surprise, surprise!  I was finally able to stand all the way to the shore.  In short, I was able to surf! I felt so happy.  I didn’t think I could do it, but I did!

The lesson was for one full hour but time seemed to pass more slowly than usual.  I was already tired and exhausted and I thought of cutting the lesson short.  I was able to stand and reach the shore, anyway.  That’s enough, I thought, but I also wanted to get all my money’s worth, so in the end, I decided to continue.  To finish things properly is also a value I consider important so I carried on with the lesson.

To finish the lesson proved to be a good decision after all because my final wave was the best one that I made.  All the little improvements I did seemed to have added all up in that final ride.  It was perfect!  As soon as I got off the board, I looked at Xander, who was approaching the shore.  He was giving me a thumbs up.  I felt really good.  I did something I thought was not possible.  I did something I once feared to do.  Later on, I learned that I was the first among the four of us to stand up and the only one to have reached the shore “perfectly.”

Saying yes to that surfing lesson may be one of the best things I’ve done this year so far.  It has taught me how to ride a wave and more importantly, these:

1  It’s all right to be afraid, but don’t let fear control you.

2  Learn to let go.

3  Have faith in yourself even when the situation seems frightful.

4  Sometimes, even when not prepared, you just have to go and do what’s necessary.

5  Breathe.

a calm Pacific Ocean

a calm Pacific Ocean

Almost a month after my surfing experience, I can still see the details of the event in my head, and every time I remember it, I can’t help smiling and feeling proud of myself.  It may be just an hour of surfing lesson but I consider it as an achievement.  I’m actually thinking of having swimming lessons in the future, too.

How about you?  What fears of yours have you conquered recently?

For more information on Mahdox Surf School and Shop, visit their Facebook page or their official website.

Visit this Philippine website to know more about Baler, Aurora.

Walking In A Circle: An Afternoon In the Park

For a long time, the Quezon Memorial Circle (QMC) had a not-so-pleasant reputation. The central park of Quezon City and the home to former Philippine president Manuel Quezon’s remains, QMC used to bring images of the homeless, prostitutes, and sometimes even solvent abusers to mind. It was a venue for public events, cyclers, and family gatherings, but it remained a neglected part of the city. This is rather ironic because the City Hall is just a stone’s throw away from the park.

technically, it is an ellipse, not a circle!

That however eventually changed when sometime in the mid 2000s, the city government decided to renovate a big portion of the said park. The park became literally brighter (more lampposts were erected), cleaner, spacious, and more vibrant. As years passed, it also added more facilities and features which the public could enjoy such as playgrounds, fountains, rides and arcades, even paddle boats, and a zipline. It has now become a legitimate park!

an underpass was built to bridge the road and the park. it is well lit and well guarded. the walls also serve as sort of a museum gallery. this is probably the nicest underpass i've seen in the metro.

So when one Friday afternoon when I was feeling a bit down and was not in the mood to handle naughty children at work, I decided to leave earlier than usual and spend my time at the QMC. I just needed some time to feel the sun and the wind on my skin, and worry about how to get good angles for my photographs and nothing else. I bought a cone of dirty ice cream and just watched the day pass by.

The monument of Quezon consists of three 66-meter (his age when he died) vertical pylons symbolizing the country’s main islands – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. On top are three mourning angels holding Sampaguita (Philippines’ national flower) wreaths.*

the circular structure contains a gallery and Quezon's catafalque

the base has relief carvings depicting important points in Philippine history

the main facade of the park's amusement area where children and adults alike can enjoy different rides and booths. there is another part of the park called the Circle of Joy, where a large playground, zipline, and paddle boats are located, on the other hand.

the renovated promenade facing Philcoa

a small pool where the "baby fountains" are. the bigger ones are at the end of the promenade facing Philcoa.

some common sights at the park…

a taho vendor. taho is a popular food usually eaten in the morning or in the afternoon made with silken tofu (comparable to a soft custard), caramel, and tapioca pearls;

... people walking their dogs,

... dirty ice cream' (sorbetes) vendor. it's not really dirty! it is called as such because it is peddled in street carts and not in nicely packaged plastic containers one can easily purchase from supermarkets. they usually come in three flavors -- ube (yam), cheese, or chocolate. there are other flavors but these are the most common;

...and cotton candy vendors.

a group of Koreans and Filipinos practicing a dance

a horticultural exhibition was being held at that time

part of the pavement

For more information on Quezon City, visit its official website*.

To Be or Not to Be Flattered?

“However, if I may admit something not entirely flattering to myself, these Romans on the street aren’t really giving me any second looks.  Or even many first looks, for that matter.  I found this kind of alarming at first.  I’d been once to Italy once before, back when I was nineteen, and what I remember is being constantly harassed by men on the street.  And in the pizzerias.  And at the movies.  And in the Vatican.  It was endless and awful.  […]  Now, at the age of thirty-four, I am apparently invisible. […]  And while it’s certainly nice, of course, to not get pawed by a disgusting stranger on the bus, one does have one’s feminine pride, and one must wonder, What has changed here?  Is it me?  or is it them? 

So I asked around, and everybody agrees that, yes, there’s been a true shift in Italy in the last ten to fifteen years.  […] Which is a relief, because for a while there I was afraid it was me.  I mean, I was afraid maybe I wasn’t getting any attention because I was no longer  nineteen years old and pretty.” 

– Gilbert, Elizabeth.  Eat Pray Love.  p.67

* * *

Some years back, I had the chance to visit my sister in The Netherlands for a short summer vacation.  It was springtime when I visited her.  Before, when I thought of spring, the image of countless flowers, cool air and mild sun would immediately enter my mind.  Apparently, it’s not always like that in that part of the world. Yes, there were oceans of flowers but the skies were always gloomy and rains followed wherever we go.  And for someone who’s in love with the sun and has spent her entire life living on its surface, springtime can be a pretty numbing experience.

But I didn’t always find myself donning thick clothing.  One time, I found the weather comfortably warm and decided to wear a plain shirt and denim skirt.  When I got outside the house, I saw that most of the locals were wearing long coats, scarves and boots, like everyone was feeling cold.  And there I was, looking all summery. “Shouldn’t they feel warmer than I do?” I thought to myself.

Anyway, on that same day, my sister and I were on our way to the Philippine Embassy.  We were walking on the sidewalk and noticed that a few meters ahead were a group of men. I got a little bit uncomfortable to be walking in front of a throng of men, especially I was wearing a tiny skirt, but my sister assured me, and said that to be fair to the Dutch men, they weren’t the type who would holler or harass women. That no matter what women were wearing, unlike Pinoys who would immediately say “Hi Miss Beautiful” and other annoying comments, the Dutch would only keep their silence. They would probably look at you but they will not say anything.  I was about to laud the gentlemanliness of the Dutch when all of a sudden, by the time we got in front of them, they all started throwing comments at us like – “Hi Miss. How are you today?  Is everything good?  Goodbye, Miss.”  I just looked at my sister and said, “As you were saying?”  My sister only replied, “This is the first time something like this has happened to me!”

But that was not the first and last time that it happened to me.  And on those succeeding occasions when it did happen, I was not wearing any short skirt, mind you!  My sister said that it was probably the color of my skin (my sister looks more mestiza than me). The Dutch are all pasty white and my morena complexion definitely stands out.  She teased me as an “exotic beauty” complete with long, straight dark hair.  I’ve always hated that description! It’s so stereotypical! There were times when I only wore plain jeans and top and I’d get comments still.  I’d wear a simple dress and seemingly respectable police/security would suddenly bid me “Good night, Miss.  Are you on your way home, Miss?  Be careful now.” A bunch of teenage boys uttering “Mooi, Mooi.”  (Beautiful, beautiful) as I walked inside a train station.  A man would wave at me while riding his bike. Someone would bump himself with other people because he had eyes on me rather on the street.  My “Memoirs of A Geisha Moment.”

Are Dutch men really just friendly to tourists?  Attracted to dark skin?  Or simply appreciating beauty when they see it?  When I told someone, who also went to Holland the year before about these instances, I was surprised to hear her comment. “No one did something like that to me when I was there!”  Her statement, by the way, had a jealous tone rather than expressing it as a matter-of-fact.

After hearing that remark, honestly, I was amused.  Modesty aside, I thought, hey, I am pretty after all!  But it also got me thinking – did I do something to earn such unsolicited remarks?  (But I’ve always maintained that decent Pinay behaviour when I was there in the Netherlands)  Is it something cultural?  (No one took notice of me when I went to Spain but got a few looks when I was in Belgium and especially in Holland.) Why do some women feel disgusted when they get such treatments but get upset at the same time when they don’t?  Is there some sort of a competition going on among women in this arena?  Where do women draw the line between flattering and disrespect?