Wednesday, 19 October 2016

My Theology Teacher And The Masskara Festival

I remember our Theology teacher at La Salle in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Philippines, the home of the Masskara Festival, telling her class that she didn't like the idea of the Masskara Festival.

She thought it connotes that everyone in Bacolod City was wearing a mask. 

Well, she was, in a way, right. All of us in this world actually wear a mask, the mask behind which we hide our true emotions, our true intentions, our true self.

But the idea of the Festival's original organizers was about 'a crowd of smiling faces' from their portmanteau 'mass-kara', a combination of the word mass (crowds) and 'cara', the Spanish word for 'face', because if you're attending the Festival, it will be a crowd of smiling faces, both of the participants and the revelers, that you'll see at the streets during the Festival.

And capitalizing on Bacolod City's reputation as the 'City of Smiles', the Masskara Festival tries to bring fun to the city and probably reminds my Theology teacher every year that, with or without a mask, we all should enjoy, have fun, and wear a smile!
    (Masskara Festival masks on display in 
           a showroom in Bacolod City)

Monday, 17 October 2016

Catholic Pilgrimage in Seoul: The Danggogae Martyrs' Shrine

There's a beautiful, small hill in the Yongsan District  in Seoul surrounded by tall apartment buildings. In all my years of living in Yongsan, I only heard of it a couple of times, and when I finally tried to look for it, I was surprised I could actually see its gate from my office building! 

Surprisingly, this hill became even more popular when the last of its martyrs was beatified by Pope Francis in August 2014 in Seoul. 

This hill is the Danggogae Martyrs Shrine, where, on December 27 and 28, 1839, ten Korean catholics were martyred. Over those two dark, winter days, they gave up their lives for their faith.

Of the ten, nine are now saints, while the last one, Blessed Mary Yi-Seong-rye was just beatified. She was the mother of Father Thomas Choe Yang-up, the second ever Korean priest.

While I was reading the history of the hill, I remember I played tennis with a certain Father Thomas, who, I was told, was in his 90's. I first thought that the Korean priest mentioned in the Danggogae Shrine's history pamphlet was the Father Thomas I met at Sogang University's tennis court. But when I did the math, it didn't add up; and the Father Thomas in the pamphlet died young. Sogang University, by the way, is run by Jesuit priests, and when Pope Francis was here, he made a surprise visit to this university.

Father Thomas Choe Yang-up's father is also a saint, Saint Francis Choe Kyeong-hwan, and as I mentioned, his mother is a blessed. And when she was about to be executed that winter day in 1839, her children asked the executioner that, in order for her "to go to heaven without suffering long, that he cut their mother's head with one stroke"

You can just imagine the pain, the trauma and the suffering her own children had to go through by watching their mother's public execution. She was just 39. Father Thomas was not in Korea when his mother died for her faith. He was in Macao studying, and that year, Father Thomas left for Manila due to certain disturbances in Macao. 

     (A replica of the Shrine's statue was                presented to Pope John Paul II)

The story of the second ever Korean priest setting foot in the Philippines in 1839 was a bit surprising. He must have sought refuge and continued his religious studies there in the Philippines, being the only Catholic country in the East.

But in 1861, with Catholics being hunted down and persecuted in Korea, Father Thomas succumbed to typhoid fever. He was only 40. It is said that at his death bed where he received the Last Sacraments, he could barely speak but the last words he uttered were the holy names of Jesus and Mary.

That is why this hill is special. 

In the early years of Catholicism in Korea, the nine saints and one blessed died for their faith on this hill, a place that is now a part of Catholic pilgrimage in Korea.

             (The round stone with a 
             Madonna and Child icon)

The Shrine is serene, and has a chapel and museum. On the garden above, there is a Way of the Cross which gathers the faithful during the Holy Week.

The Danggogae Martyrs' Shrine has every day Masses at 11AM, but they are in Korean. 

                   *   *   *   *   *

The Shrine's official website in Korean:

How to get to the Shrine:

1. From Sinyongsan Station (Line 4), exit at Exit 5.

2. Walk straight out until you see a tunnel ahead.

3. Go through the tunnel.

4. At the other side, continue until you reach the main street.

5. Cross the pedestrian lane at the main street and turn right upon reaching the other side.

6. Watch out for the sign at the end of the building. That's the marker for the Shrine.
         (My friend Therese pointing to 
     the marker that you shouldn't miss)

7. Turn left and walk down the road. That road will take you to the Shrine.

8. You can walk your way back, or you can take the Green Bus 03 going back to the Sinyongsan Station. 

The bus stop is on the road to your right before you entered the gate of the Shrine.

   (Therese at the stop for Green Bus 03)

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Real Madrid: Puerta del Sol is The Gate of the Sun

It's actually the gate to all of Spain.

Why? Because it's where you can find the 'zero kilometer' mark, where all roads leading to all of Spain originates.

           (Standing on Kilometer Zero)

Puerta del Sol, or the Gate of the Sun, sits in the middle of Madrid. It's a popular square where, since the 15th century, people have gathered. The square is oriented towards the east; hence, the name.

Now, in the 21st century, it has even become more popular, gathering performers, international tourists, vendors and perhaps, a few pickpockets, right in front of the Spanish Post Office building, and right under the nose of Tio Pepe, a famous brand of Spanish sherry.
(An equestrian statue of King Carlos III 
                    in the square)

(A young Spanish student doing a 'challenge' by proposing 
before Minnie Mouse)

Walking from Plaza Mayor, I ended up in Puerta del Sol just following the trail of jamon shops, cafes and stores selling abanicos and spanish tartas.

I actually asked for directions at the Madrid tourism kiosk inside Plaza Mayor for a place to buy stamps for my postcards, and the señoritas told me to go to El Corte Inglés, the Spanish chain of department stores. Well, I finally found the small office selling stamps at the basement of the department store, but, sadly, until now, the postcards I sent home from Madrid never came.

And going to El Corte Inglés from Plaza Mayor, one has to pass through Puerta del Sol, and watching the street performers and interesting statues at the square was just an added bonus on my way to the department store.

One important thing to always remember though was to make sure your wallet or bag was safely tucked in front of you. It was always good to secure your things than to lose them while being distracted with all the interesting things around you, especially in crowded places like this square.

(Un hombre creating some bubbles 
for passers-by)

(Street performers 'defying' gravity)

I was able to pass through Puerta del Sol a few times more during my days in Madrid. It has a subway station 'Sol', which brought me to the beautiful Atocha Station on my way to Alcala de Henares.

And if it's interesting during the day, at night, it also features Spanish b-boys doing breakdancing right in the middle of the square, also attracting crowds and tourists. 

So, if you just got into Madrid from a long flight somewhere, it's always good to have some sun to counter the jet lag. And where to get some sun? 

At Puerta del Sol.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Calling American Tourister! Your Luggage Broke Again!

I give up! 

This American Tourister's Zavis Spinner model luggage gave up on me twice already! 
(Weighing my brand new luggage in January 2016 at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the Philippines)

January 2016: When I arrived at Incheon Airport from my flight from the Philippines, the handle of my three-day old luggage was gone! I thought it was just a case of poor handling by the airport baggage handlers.

A week later, I had no choice but to bring the damaged luggage to a Samsonite repair shop in Seoul, Korea. I had to waste time and spend money on cab fare for a supposedly new luggage!

(A new luggage with top handle missing upon arriving at Incheon International Airport)

Without its top handle, it was difficult for me to pull the luggage off from the conveyor belt! It was dangerous as I could have twisted my wrist! 
            (Waiting for the airport bus 
              with handle missing!)

Even the Korean baggage handler and the Korean driver of the airport bus were not happy when they saw that they had no top handle to hold on to! I had to apologize to them!

Weeks after that, I got the repaired luggage from the Samsonite repair shop in the Yongsan District in Seoul. Again, I had to waste time and spend cab fare to pick it up! And it was winter and I had to go out!

Fast forward, August 2016. Summer time!

I was traveling back to the Philippines, and the most disappointing thing happened again! 

I was bringing the luggage down from my apartment on my way to get a cab when that same top handle broke off again!

I was so disgusted and angry as I was just a few hours from my flight and I had no spare luggage to use! I had to make do with this broken luggage again, carrying the almost 30-kilogram weight from the pull-down handle that twisted my right wrist! And to think that I am a tennis player!   

I had to endure the inconvenience of traveling through two international airports and one domestic airport with a luggage with no top handle!  And that's just ONE-WAY!

Going back to Seoul and passing through three airports were a repeat of the torture!

Since I received no help from Samsonite in the Philippines even with messages through their Facebook page, and even from the SM Department Store in Bacolod City after personally visiting them and asking them for help, I resigned to the fact that American Tourister and Samsonite just didn't care about after-sale customer service! Once, they get your money, you're on your own!

I even lodged a complaint at the American Tourister website more than two weeks ago; I never received any response until today. 

So, I am calling American Tourister and Samsonite! What do I do with this broken luggage?

I demand an apology and a new luggage! Perhaps, some model that should not fail me again!

I am posting and tweeting this today, October 7, 2016. Let me see how fast (or slow) you'll respond.

#Disappointedcustomer #badproduct

Alcalá de Henares: La Casa de Miguel de Cervantes

Wandering around the center of Alcalá de Henares on foot even without a map was as easy as munching down churros with a hot cup of chocolaté. Each turn was as interesting as the street before, just like each churro bite was as interesting as the one I just gulped down.

And since I was in the birthplace of the great Miguel de Cervantés, it was a must that I visited his casa. And right along the Calle Mayor, his home welcomes admirers of his literary works, as well as tourists.
The tour of his home is free, and thanks to the Comunidad de Madrid that turned his ancestral home into a museum, it is well maintained with professional curators watching over the place all year round.
    (La puerta de la casa de Cervantes)

To keep the house protected, they extended a plastic roof over the house to add a cover over the yard sitting in the middle of the house. But according to the curator, the temperatures around the area weren't that freezing or scorching during the time of Cervantes. They were just generally mild, as far as I understood his spanish. Yes, I had to make use of my years studying spanish at school and at Instituto Cervantes. So, I conversed with the curators in the language Cervantes wrote his works in, and I think I probably understood what they were saying. I think. Ja-ja-ja!
(Grade schoolers playing around the statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza)

I had to buy a souvenir from the museum, and I got me a book about this famous casa in Alcalá. And coincidentally, Seńor Juan Jose Lleno, one of the curators, told me he had an ancestor named Fernando de Campo Redondo, a friar who used to live in Manila during the 18th century. I was surprised Señor Juan could remember his own ancestors from three centuries ago! He must be a very good historian.
        (I think this is the fanciest arinola                  (chamber pot) I have ever seen; 
           it's sitting inside a bedroom)

As I roamed around the Cervantes house, I wondered which part of the house Miguel would sit down to write his stories. He probably would have picked the most quiet corner and just scribbled on because, as the house was along Callé Mayor, it would have been a noisy area. Or perhaps, he would walked to the nearby gardens and wrote from there?

Just outside the house are statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, a very popular photo spot. That day, a few grade school students were having fun posing with the two famous characters created by Miguel de Cervantes. These students probably have studied his works and might have had some fun doing so. 
And just like those young Spanish students, being welcomed to the Cervantes home by Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, I also learned a few things about the man who became the greatest writer in the Spanish literary world.

¡Muchas gracias, Don Miguel!
(Pretending to be reading the book about Miguel de Cervantes' house. Muchas gracias, Señor Juan for taking my photo!)

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Finding Miguel De Cervantes in Alcalá De Henares!

On the day I went to Alcalá de Henares, from my hotel in Madrid, I took a short subway ride from the Sol Station (at Puerta del Sol) to Atocha Station. And since I already knew how to buy my train tickets from the ticket machine from my look-see the day before, I came, I bought, I wandered! Wandered through the station and caught my train to Alcalá de Henares, that is! 
             (The reliable Renfe train)

The train ride from Atocha Station to the Alcalá de Henares Station was just about 23 minutes, and I was surprised I was the only passenger in one of the cars!
          (I had the train all to myself!)

I got there at noon, and unfortunately, the tourist information kiosk next to the train station was closed; I needed a map! Instead, I asked for directions from the taxi driver waiting by the station. And thanks to his help, I was able to find Calle Mayor after 20 minutes of walking through the residential neighborhoods.

Alcalá de Henares means 'a fortress by the Henares River'. Yes, there's a river near the city.

         (The younger side of the city)

Alcalá de Henares has an ancient settlement that dates back before Romans came to Spain. It's about 35 kilometers east of Madrid. This is 'a city of three cultures' that include Moorish, Jewish and Christian cultures, and is a UN World Heritage Site.

                      (Calle Mayor)

                         (Fall sale) 

When I was planning the itinerary for this tour, I decided to include one trip outside of Madrid, and after studying the map, I decided on Alcalá de Henares because, one, it is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of the famous Don Quixote, and, two, I wanted to taste their rosquillas de Alcalá, a puffy, tall donut-shaped pastry bathed in egg yolk and sugar glaze! Yes, food and pastry should always be in one's itinerary, and not just history and palaces. 

      (The famous rosquillas de Alcalá)

Having covered on foot the younger streets from the train station up to the centuries-old Calle Mayor, I continued lazily around the old streets of Calle Escritos, Calle Sta. Ursula and ending up on Capilla de Oidor and Plaza de Cervantes. 
   (One of the oldest hospitals in Europe:       Antigo Hospital Beneficio de Nuestra              Señora de la Misericordia)
(An entrance to the Universidad de Alcalá)

Passing through ancient alleyways and stumbling upon a hospital dating back to 1483, I was so fascinated knowing that this old city was flourishing even before Fernando de Magallanes arrived in the Philippines! 

And inside the Capilla de Oidor at the Plaza Rodriguez Marin, which was right next to Plaza de Cervantes, I visited an exhibition of the life and works of Miguel de Cervantes. 
        (Visitors can climb the Torre de 
          Sta. Maria on weekends) 

Behind the Capilla was the tourist information center and I was able to get a map. I asked the señorita whether I could climb the Torre de Sta. Maria. Unfortunately, she said, the Torre was closed that day. The 360-degree view of the city up the Torre could have been fantastic. 

In the middle of Plaza Cervantes was the statue of the most famous son of Alcalá de Henares. It was past noon when I walked around the Plaza; a few youngsters playing around, old señores sitting and chatting, a group of tourists and one Filipino eavesdropping as to what they were talking about. Ja-ja-ja!
The statue of Miguel de Cervantes lorded over his plaza as if always waiting to lecture his visitors as to why his works remain the most popular in the Spanish literary world.

          (Art works about Don Quixote 
           are everywhere in the city)

In Manila, I studied at Instituto Cervantes to improve my Spanish, and that afternoon, in Plaza Cervantes, I stood there looking up at the statue of the writer after whom the Spanish language institute was named. 
      (Students posing with Don Quixote 
             and Sancho Panza in front 
                  of Cervantes' home)

I may never be fluent in Spanish, and I may never be able to read all the works of Miguel de Cervantes, but being there right in the middle of his birthplace and standing under his shadow should be a good start to learning about Spain's greatest writer.

                       *  *  *  *  *

P.S. Yes, I ate two rosquillas de Alcalá immediately. Ja-ja-ja!

Next stop, la casa de Miguel de Cervantes.