Wednesday, 13 June 2018

My Lupang Hinirang's 800 Years of Missing History Lessons

"Lupa ng araw, ng luwalhati't pagsinta, buhay ay langit sa piling mo..."

Yes, for me, a Filipino born in the middle islands (sounds like LOTR-Middle-Earth-ish) of the Philippines, my understanding of my region's history changed over the past year. 

I didn't know about the important history lessons I should have learned in grade school. Although I remember doing good in my Social Studies studies, I realized the teachers didn't teach us regional history but only the history dictated by the events, scandals, and wars that happened in Manila and its neighboring provinces.

Growing up, I didn't know the local heroes of the Negros and Iloilo Provinces. I would only recognize the statues of Jose Rizál (with an overcoat and wavy, pomaded hair) and Andres Bonifació (in pedal pushers, long-sleeved camisa, and the mandatory bladed weapon whose length usually depended on the budget of the statue-maker). These two are the most ubiquitous of national hero statues in public plazas; it's either one or the other, or, if it's a rich city, both and some statues of local dead personalities usually related to the sitting mayor. :-)

So what I did during the past months was to travel around and discover the local history of my region. 

And where to start? How about 1220 CE when, about that time, ten datus from Borneo landed in Panay Island?

During that period, in the early 1220's CE, ten datus from Borneo fled to Aninipay, the ancient name of Panay Island, to escape the political vendetta of a Bornean rajah. The datus, their families, servants, and followers were allowed to live in the lowlands after negotiating with the Aetas living their.

The negotiation was completed with the 'Barter of Panay': in exchange for the lowlands, the Aetas, led by Datu Pulpulan, were given a golden salakot and a golden necklace that was so long, it reached the ground. The necklace's name was 'Manangyad', from the word 'sangyad' that means 'it touches the ground'. This word still exists in the present-day Hiligaynon, the language spoken in Iloilo and Negros Occidental Provinces (one of the six languages I speak, ehem).

And this Barter of Panay is annually celebrated in, where else, in Panay Island! The cities of Kalibo in Aklan Province and Iloilo in Iloilo Province hold two of the most colorful, best-costumed festivals in all of the Philippines: the Ati-Atihan Festival every January.

When I was in high school I got to attend the Dinagyang Festival, the ati-atihan festival in Iloilo, but last year, my sister and I were able to attend again the Dinagyang Festival, which was a weekend full of revelry, fun, and performances by the participating tribes, representing the different areas and high schools in Iloilo City. Not only did I have a great time, I also learned a lot about Panay Island's history through the festival. 

The ten datus from Borneo and the leaders of the aets (or ati), Datu Pulpulan and his son, Datu Marikudo, would have been proud and probably would have also enjoyed ogling at the colorful costumes and watching the performances of the tribes who portrayed them. They would have been amazed at how tribal costumes and dances evolved over 800 years. And who knows? Had they competed, we would have been able to see authentic tribal wear and jewelry, including the famed golden salakot and the 'Manangyad'

These ten datus later created the 'Confederation of Madja-as', an ancient form of government with the datus sharing equal power. This proves that even before the Spaniards came, there existed a ruled civilization in the islands with its own government, culture, writing, costumes, and of course, original recipes of homemade dishes!

But if the ati-atihan festival is based on history, the religious sadsad held at the San Jose de Placer parish church during the festival weekend is based on religion. It was the most expressive display of religious fervor I have ever seen with everyone energetically participating by dancing with their own replicas of the Santo Niño. Both the Catholic tradition and the church have a long history. The San Jose de Placér church's site was founded in 1607, and its belfries built in the 1890s, while the devotion to the Santo Niño started with the arrival of Magellan in 1521. 

And about 30 minutes by car from San Jose de Placér parish church is also a historic town of Santa Barbara, which was the site of the first-ever raising of the Philippine flag outside of Luzon on November 17, 1898, led by General Martin Teofiló Delgado. The symbolic raising of the flag created the revolutionary government of the Visayan Islands against Spain, whose governor-general in Iloilo City surrendered on December 24, 1898, to General Delgado's forces.  

And if the Ilonggos were busy planning their revolution, so were the Negrenses across the Iloilo Strait.

On November 5, 1898, in Silay City in the Negros Island, a group of brave Negrenses led by General Aniceto Lacson, also revolted against Spain. He and his revolutionaries successfully took over the Spanish government the next day. Silay, a charming city rich in history, culture, and arts, was home to renowned artists. Its most famous mansion, the Balay Negrense, built in 1897, was owned by the Gaston Family and is a popular tourist spot in the city. 

Silay City is also rich in culinary heritage which it celebrates with a food fair twice a year. Its present-day San Diego Pro-Cathedral was built in 1925, but its original structures of bamboos and local materials were built in 1776. The patron saint, San Diego de Alcala, died in 1463 in Alcalá de Henares in Spain, the hometown of Miguel de Cervantes and a place I once visited. 

Although Bacolod City is the capital of Negros Occidental, Silay is richer in terms of history, art,  culture, and culinary heritage. Bacolod City, though, boasts of the biggest festival on the island: the Masskara Festival that was first organized in 1980 to uplift the Negrense spirit in the sugar crisis of the 1980s and the tragedy of the sinking of Don Juan, a passenger ship that ferried people from Bacolod to Manila, and back. It collided with an oil tanker and sank while it was on its way to Bacolod City from Manila on April 22,1980. Almost 200 passengers died in the tragedy, including those whose bodies were recovered and those who are still missing. A high school classmate and his family died in that tragedy.

Well, over the past year, I have learned more about my region's history than I would have at school. During my grade school years, we were only taught of the history that transpired in Manila and its surrounding regions. This was probably because the textbooks were published by writers from Manila using the history of national interest. 

But I would have appreciated it if the people in the Philippine Department of Education included the regional history in the local school's curriculum. Then, I would not have been ignorant as to who were Aniceto Lacson, Juan Araneta (I actually had a classmate by that name; he must be his ancestor), Martin Teofiló Delgado, or Datu Pulpulan. And I would have known Datu Puti was a real Bornean datu and not just a vinegar for cooking. Ha-ha-ha!

Traveling around these islands, my own lupang hinirang, my chosen land, this past year has enriched my understanding of its landscape, both popular and historical, although I still need to understand deeper as to why things are what they are now.

And although I journeyed far into the land and across the sea, I also found a few pieces of history closer to my heart. Some photos in my mom's photo albums have also opened my eye to not only what has passed, but also what she has seen. 

From a 1940 photograph that literally painted a thousand words, (well, not really, only 660 words for that blog), to an endearing message on a postcard postmarked 1958, and to black-and-white photographs that tell very colorful stories.

So, from 1220 CE to present, about 800 years, that was the rich history I have learned so far. If the past year taught me that much, I wonder how much I'd learn in the years ahead!

How about you? 

How much of your region's history do you know?

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Bundang Bonding: Lunchee, Coffee, Spree!

I had always heard of the place 'Bundang' from Korean friends for years, but I didn't exactly know where it was. All I knew was it's down south of Seoul and was a popular place to live in. My friends Vanji, James, and their respective families used to live there.

I later learned that Bundang is an area in Seongnam City, Gyeonggi Province, and it is where our friend, Kristine, and her family currently live!

So, on a free day, Kristine invited us to her neighborhood in Jeonja-dong, Bundang, which was just right next to Jeonja-dong Café Street, a street full of coffee shops, restaurants, and small boutiques. 

(Arriving at Jeonja Station and 
crossing to Tancheon, or Tan Stream)

And since none of us has been there, we figured it was the best way to discover Bundang: head down there and be toured by Kristine around her neighborhood!

Jeonja-dong is less than 20 minutes from Gangnam Station via Jeonja Station (Sinbundang Red Line). Kristine met us at Exit 5 of Jeonja Station, where we started our tour.

                 (NIIED is the National Institute 
                   for International Education)

Just across the subway station is Tancheon, or Tan Stream, a small waterway that, would you believe, flows all the way through Jamsil in Seoul and into the Han River? So, if I walked north from the Tancheon in Bundang, I'd find myself in Daechi-dong in Gangnam-gu in Seoul where I usually play tennis at their sports fields on weekends! 

This is what I also love about Korea, the local governments develop the streams and waterways for the locals to use for biking, running, or simply strolling. Even in my neighborhood in Dongdaemun-gu, we have our own Jeongneung Stream with rubberized paths and complete with ducks and fish!

            (Colored installations in Jeonja-dong)

After a quick visit to the Tancheon, we continued our tour around the streets and alleys of Jeongja-dong to look for a place for lunch.

Along the way, we stopped by the National Institute for International Education, whose front yard was full of interesting installations.

We found Granny Saloon, a restaurant at a creative space-slash-alley decorated with giant chess pieces and colorful artworks. Recommended by Kristine, it specializes in dishes with meatballs. And having walked around Jeonja-dong for about an hour, my meatballs dish was perfect for my grumbling tummy.

                       (A giant chess piece!)

(My meatball lunchee with rice and fried noodles)

But before we headed to coffee and dessert, Kristine brought us to Naver's headquarters. Yes, Naver as in Korea's top search engine company. Although it has a café wing, we visited its library that was 'green', literary and figuratively. 

                    (Can you read my mind?)

It's a huge library with bookshelves topped with plants while its clear walls let natural light in to conserve energy. It has long tables, comfortable armchairs, and sofas for everyone to use. Gosh, it even has tall lamps in case you want to light your own corner! If only this library were next to my apartment, I'd be here almost every day! 

        (The plants on top of bookshelves probably 
           aid one's study as they provide more 
                       oxygen to the place.)

                              (Quiet, please!)

After quietly roaming the library (there were a few people reading and studying!), we headed back to the main street in search of coffee and dessert!

The Jeonja-dong neighborhood is a mix of office buildings and apartment complexes. It has a lot of schools, which I think make it attractive for families with grade school and high school kids. 

This Bundang visit was long overdue and I was glad I made the trip with friends.

And its café street definitely provides a relaxing corner for the residents (as well as visitors!) to hang out during weekends, while its Tancheon provides another option for those who want to stretch their legs and exercise as well as a space for parents and kids to run around.  

(This café in Jeonja-dong was a part of the location shoot for two drama series: 'Descendants of the Sun' and 'The Lonely and Great God - Goblin')

As our final stop, we settled in a small coffee shop (not a franchise) at the café street that also served different yummy cakes!  

Here, we finally rested our legs, chatted some more, and ended our fun tour of Kristine's Jeonja-dong neighborhood.

            (Kristine and her tourist friends having 
          dessert and coffee in Jeonja-dong Café Street)

Thanks to Kristine, I have finally been to Bundang

And importantly, I now know why it is a popular place to live with an even more popular spot to hang out! :-)

Saturday, 9 June 2018

"Who's Watching (with) Me?"

(Tricycle drivers parked their passenger trikes in the public plaza as they watched a public spectacle)

"I always feel like somebody's watching me..."

That chorus from Rockwell's Somebody's Watching Me, which was sung by Michael Jackson, by the way, came to mind when I saw these crowds watching a sporting event aired over a large screen in the Victorias public plaza.

                      (Standing room only)

Although most of them were fans of the sport, some of them must have gambled on a bet. That was probably why they made sure they watched to know who'd win. And collect after!

This scene isn't exactly rare in the Philippines when there's the NBA finals games, a Pacquiao match, or a Miss Universe competition. The three, by the way, are the three B's in the Philippines: basketball, boxing, and beauty pageants.

                              (Front seats!)

You'd find that there's no traffic on the road as most people are home, or the shopkeepers in your neighborhood shops don't care about customers as they're glued on TV.

Although I'd be more worried if you were cooking and forgot to attend to your culinary chores that you'd burn your dishes. But your family would probably forgive you if their team won.

                               (Park and watch!)

So, where are you watching the NBA Finals today?

At home, at the shop, or at the public plaza?

                   (If you see yourself in the photos, 
          do you remember which match was this?)

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Fully Booked: Starfield Library @ COEX

On my first weekend ever in South Korea about 13 years ago, I took the subway and headed to COEX Mall. That time, I just roamed around the mall and familiarized myself with its floor plan as well as the Korean films showing there that weekend.

And over the years, I have been coming back to the COEX Mall in the Gangnam District to meet up and hang out with friends, and would you believe, to see Brad Pitt in person! Yes, thanks to  friends, I got to watch Brad's movie premiere of Moneyball at Megabox Cinema with Brad introducing us to his movie that night.

There are only three huge malls in Seoul, I think. Let's count: iPark Mall in my neighborhood in Yongsan-gu (where I saw in person Tom Cruise and Nicolas Cage), Times Square Mall in Yeongdeungpo-gu (where I saw Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon), and COEX Mall (where I saw Brad Pitt). COEX, by the way, stands for COnvention and EXhibition because the huge halls inside COEX host a lot of international conventions and exhibitions.
Starfield COEX Mall is a few steps 
away from Exit 6 of Samseong Station (Line 2).

But after a makeover a couple of years ago, this huge underground shopping mall introduced literacy! 

Yes, to the owners of COEX Starfield Mall, shopping isn't just about clothes, food, and cosmetics - things that feed one's vanity - but also about books! Things that feed ones' mind!

So they put up this gargantuan library right in the the middle of the mall. Byeolmadang Library boasts of 50,000 books displayed on 13-meter high shelves. Thirteen freakin' meters! You'd probably need a giant librarian to get to the highest slot!

Anyone can use the library as it has seats, tables and electrical outlets! Books and magazines can be borrowed, read, and purchased as well. Although I would have wanted to sit there and read, getting a seat was a challenge as it's always full especially during weekends!

But if you get there early in the morning, or head there late evening, I am sure you can get a good seat, although I wonder if you can actually read or study. You'll probably be just fascinated by the architecture and the atmosphere of the place, or get distracted by people taking photos (like me!) or selfies (like everyone else!).

So if you're touring Seoul, you can add this interesting space in your itinerary. 

You can read, shop, or simply relax!

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

A Tale Of Two Cities: Bacolod & Iloilo's Ferry Terminals

Ever since I was a kid, I have been crossing the Iloilo Strait from Bacolod City to Iloilo City (in the Philippines) and back. My grandfather had his roots in the Iloilo Province and I have a lot of relatives in both Iloilo and Guimaras Provinces.

And every time I finished my voyage - from leaving the ferry terminal in Bacolod City (Negros Occidental), to riding the fast craft and then arriving at Iloilo City's (Iloilo Province) terminal, I could not help but compare the two. 

Just like when I travel home from South Korea to the Philippines, I have to fly from Incheon International Airport to Ninoy Aquino International Airport. And it was like flying out from the best airport in the world and landing at the worst!

So, to compare the ferry terminals of Bacolod City and Iloilo Anyways, let the photos I took tell the story: 

2GO's Bacolod Terminal:
  (Entrance to the waiting area for 2GO passengers)
Iloilo Terminal's ticket counters:
         (The spacious ticket counter areas 
                 for all ferry companies)
                      (Terminal fee counter)                            
                                               *   *   *

Bacolod terminal's passenger waiting area:
              (Crowded and not enough seats)

Iloilo's passenger waiting area:
                  (Airy, well lighted and clean)  

                                                *   *   *

Bacolod terminal's walkway to the ferry:
                 (Under a canopy with uneven flooring)
      (Along the walkway, there's this small alley 
          to the right with roosters and junk)

Iloilo Terminal's spacious walk to the ferry:

                                *   *   *

Arrival area at Bacolod terminal:

(Passengers arriving at the Bacolod terminal pass through this narrow alley with crumbling path)
     (Parking area for tricycles, jeepneys & other 
        vehicles on disintegrating concrete flooring)

Iloilo terminal's spacious arrival area:
        (Orderly path for arriving passengers with  
           queuing lines for taxis & jeepneys)

                               *   *   *

After all these years when I crossed to Iloilo to visit relatives, I have wondered why the Bacolod City and Negros Occidental governments never bothered to build a better terminal. We need a new one if we are to attract new investors, local tourists, and international guests.

Iloilo City has done it, why can't you?

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Santiago De Compostela: Faith And The Field Of Stars

As I quietly sat there alone on the ledge overlooking Parque de Belvis, next to a shed outside the doors of Albergue Seminario Menor, I felt the spiritual energy of a city that is a thousand years old and the final stop of a journey of a million pilgrims.

                              (Night falls on Santiago de Compostela)

Dusk slowly turned into night, and the weary tourist turned into a grateful pilgrim. He felt peace, humility, and serenity.

                    *   *   *   *   *   *

For some, it’s called fate. Others, serendipity. For me, it was Divine Providence. A divine intervention, an intervention into my travel plans, that is.

My trip to Santiago de Compostela in Spain kicked off right in the middle of a busy intersection in the Yongsan District in Seoul, South Korea, three years before the trip. On that spot, a stranger whom I initially presumed to be an English teacher asked for my help.

“Can you help me?”, he asked.

“Of course!”, I immediately exclaimed. I had always been asked by Koreans for directions because I looked (and probably attired) like a local; and a few times, I was able to help (I spoke a little hangeul). But this time, I was surprised hearing someone asking for help in English!

His name was Kikko, and he was a stranger for the first five minutes – the time it took me to call the information hotline and figure out the exact location of the place he was looking for in the Yongsan District. Since we exchanged business cards before we parted, we managed to get in touch through Facebook.

Three years after that meeting in Seoul, Kikko and I finally met again! In another spot thousands of miles away, Kikko met me at San Cristobal Train Station in his hometown, A Coruña, a city 25 minutes by train from Santiago de Compostela, and toured me around his very historic hometown.

Years before that, I only heard about the Camino and Santiago de Compostela from friends. But this time, because I wanted to visit Kikko in Spain, the third most popular Catholic pilgrim site in the world got into my radar, and eventually into my itinerary.

It was past 3 in the afternoon when I arrived in Santiago de Compostela Train Station. I left Barcelona at 10AM and only had jamón boccadillo for lunch in the Renfe train. Before I left for Spain, I made sure I memorized the map around the train station where my hotel was located. I found it after a few minutes by navigating three street corners and after a brief workout since I had to take the stairs leading to the street level and out of the station. I had to lift my luggage all the way up! Step by step!

After dropping off my things at the hotel, I walked towards the Cathedral area with a map provided by the hotel, and made a stopover at a fast food restaurant to guzzle up two orders of a set meal as I was starving!

After crossing the street from Plaza de Galiciá and into the old Santiago de Compostela area, I just let my legs guide me through the narrow, cobblestoned alleys until I ended up in a park with a labyrinth garden, Parque de Belvis.

From the park, I saw a huge, old structure sitting on a hill. I thought this was the back of the Catedrál de Santiágo de Compostéla, so I headed up there and found a small shed. I was wrong; it was the Albergue Seminario Menor, a seminary and a hostel that provides pilgrims a place to wash and sleep for a small fee. 

I was lost!

I always say that getting lost is part of the adventure. But this time, getting lost was not just part of my adventure, it was a blessing!

‘Compostela’ came from the Latin words ‘campus stellae’, meaning ‘field of stars’. And as I sat there on the ledge next to the pilgrim shelter, on that spot I claimed my own, the evening skies above the old city revealed a field of stars that must have witnessed spirituality and journeys of faith for centuries. I doubted that my own journey could even compare to those of the pilgrims of old.

Unlike Madrid or Barcelóna, Santiago de Compostela is not touristy. Since everyone who visits is a pilgrim, its atmosphere is very spiritual. Faith, not sightseeing, has brought everyone to this place. This was not traveling, but a journey in search of one's self, or of one's faith.

                  (A cloudy and rainy morning when I left 
                                   Santiago de Compostela)

I stayed for three days and it was drizzling on the morning I left. I had to drag once more my luggage, this time back to the train station to catch my 8:30AM Renfe train to Barcelona. I got wet but I just accepted it as holy water from the heavens blessing me as I went on to complete my journey around Spain.

Santiago, or Saint James, the Greater, was buried in Galicia by his apostles after bringing his remains back to Spain; he was beheaded in Jerusalem in 44 CE. 

According to legend, his remains in the Galician forest were discovered in the 9th century by a hermit after he saw strange lights in the area. The hermit was also guided by star to the burial grounds, thus giving a spiritual meaning to ‘campus stellae’.

Just like the pilgrims who walked the Camino and traveled thousands of miles to visit Saint James’ final resting place, I felt blessed to have completed the journey and even more blessed that on my first night in Santiago de Compostela, the field of stars above this ancient city was revealed to me as I quietly prayed on that dark corner of Parque de Belvis - a spot I found, not because I got lost in the old city I now realize, but a spot my faith guided me to find.

                          *   *   *   *   *   *

                             Santiago de Compostela's train station 
                             was just about 200 meters from my hotel.

    Having my breakfast and studying the map at Hotel Rey Fernando.

I took a tour of the Cathedral that included roaming its rooftop; it was in Spanish because the English tour was scheduled on another day.

     Lidira (?), our Spanish tour guide, took this photo on top of the Cathedral.

                     I attended the 12noon pilgrim mass where I witnessed 
               the botafumiero swing over the pilgrims. It was an experience!

        Archbishop Julián Barrio Barrio blessing us after the pilgrim mass.

                                           (Praza de Platerias)

I chatted with these newly arrived pilgrims in the restaurant.  She was South African but lived in England and had taught in Thailand where she had Filipino friends. I told her not to cry a lot when she would finish her journey at Finistere.

My lunch of pulpo a gallega - a popular Galician dish made of octopus that was boiled and cut into pieces, then sprinkled with salt and paprika, and bathed in olive oil. Each bite of the cut tentacles is very soft and tender, with the flavor inexplicably delightful to a pilgrim!

Pilgrims lining up to get their certificate that they have completed the Camino.

The Praza de Obradoiro in front of the Cathedral. Pilgrims sit there to rest after completing the Camino.

The silhouette of a thousand-year-old pilgrimage of faith. I took this photo when I was on the rooftop of the Cathedral.

That's the Seminario Menor which I thought was the back of the Cathedral. On the foreground is the labyrinth on Parque de Belvis. My spot on the shed above the steps on the left side of the photo - a spot to best quietly watch the city and field of stars at night.

It was almost 10PM when I realized I had to make my way from the Parque de Belvis back to my hotel at the other side of the town. Time passed so quickly; I was at the park around 5:30PM and didn't realize it was late. At the shed next to the Seminario Menor, I chatted with Veit who rode his bicycle all the way from Dortmund, Germany; Mihai from Ireland; and Alvaro Medio, a local whose family used to live in Lugo, a nearby city. Alvaro told me (we chatted in Spanish) that he was studying to be a cook.

Walking towards the Cathedral at around 10:30PM, I heard male voices singing. I had to find out where they were coming from. Tuna de Santiago de Compostela is a group of professional male singers who amazed the pilgrims near the Cathedral in the evening with their Spanish music. They also promoted their CDs; I was happy I bought 2 of their CDs.

Even late at night, pilgrims stay around the Cathedral's Praza de Obradoiro to be amazed by the architecture, history, and magnificence of this holy place consecrated to Saint James, the Greater. I passed this place after listening to a few songs by the Tuna de Santiago de Compostela. I was able to find my way back to the Plaza de Galicia after asking for directions from a señorita running a convenience store a few alleys from this spot (I spoke basic Spanish). I felt safe walking around the city late at night as I knew Someone up there was watching over me as I went on my journey. :-)

                                                 *   *   *   *   *

These are the helpful links I used in my journey to Santiago de Compostela: