Sunday, 9 June 2019

A Pinoy @ The Movies : Quezon's Game

I can't recall where I read about this story of humanity: the Philippines was able to bring in Jews from Europe giving them a safe haven and ensuring their survival from Hitler's diabolical purge. Surely, I didn't read this from Philippine history books or heard it from history classes at school. Or maybe my own school teachers didn't even know about this. (Sadly, the Philippine Department of Education lacks the competence to include regional and local history to its lessons at school.) Or maybe I read about it when Schindler's List was shown in local theaters years ago when someone tried to make the local connection.

The movie Quezon's Game is a story of how a Philippine president successfully brought to the Philippines more than a thousand Jews from Germany, saving them from oppression and execution. His name was Manuel L. Quezon, the president during the  Philippine Commonwealth from 1935 until 1944 when he died in the US from tuberculosis.

From 1938 until 1941, Quezon, with the help of Paul McNutt, then high commissioner to the Philippines and, would you believe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, then military adviser to the Philippine government and later the 34th American president (as the Philippines was a US colony at that time), and Jewish businessmen living in the Philippines, planned and successfully executed the expatriation of Jews to the Philippines, disguising their departure from Germany as employment for skilled professionals. 

While the movie was not like Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List where we saw (and eventually could not unsee) how the Nazi's carried out their purge, President Quezon, like Oskar Schindler, also had a list. As to how a list of 10,000 names just became 1,200, you have to see the movie.  

My knowledge of President Quezon is limited to what I learned from school: he led the Commonwealth government, exiled himself to the US during the Japanese Occupation, and died from TB there. And the sad fact that his widow and daughter were later killed by local rebels who rained bullets on their car in 1949.

But after watching this movie, I now place Manuel L. Quezon up there among Philippine leaders whose compassion for their people and humanity is more admirable than their political achievements. Raymond Bagatsing, the actor who played Quezon, and Rachel Alejandro, who played Aurora, his wife, both convinced me that this couple drew strength and shared each other's kindness for the Filipino and other races.

Last year, I discovered that President Manuel L. Quezon played a part in my hometown's history. In the late 1930s, our town mayor, Don Felix Montinola, met President Quezon at Baguio City to seek his help in building our town hall. I even have a photograph of our town mayor with President Quezon taken during that meeting. Now, I wonder whether, during that meeting, Quezon's plan to help save the Jews was already being discussed in whispers.

While my takeaway from Schindler's List was a better understanding of the Holocaust as well as its very memorable theme song (composed by John Williams and played on the violin by Itzhak Perlman), which, to me, is the saddest of all time, I bring home from Quezon's Game, the pride that, once in our history, we welcomed and gave refuge to brothers and sisters, not of our race, when other nations did not and would not.😒   

This movie is a must-see for all Filipinos. We should be aware of this part of our history and let's celebrate it as this is who we are as a race and as a nation.πŸ˜‚ This story should be part of every Philippine school's history lesson.

That day when I watched this film, I went inside the cinema curious. I came out as a proud Filipino.πŸ˜‹

PS. Quezon's Game has won several awards from film festivals in Texas, California, and Canada. These posters I used are courtesy of the movie's Facebook page.

Friday, 7 June 2019

#itsmorefuninthePhilippines : Silay's Kansilay Festival & Street Dancing Competition

It is called the Paris of Negros because of its charm, its heritage, and its being home to famous artisans and artists, according to Reader's Digest. 

Well, Reader's Digest forgot to mention that, more than just a heritage treasure of homes and culture, for me, Silay City is my center of gastronomic delights on the Negros island here in the Philippines!

From fresh lumpia to panara, to dulce gatas and Monsignor Gaston's adobong milyonaryo! One lunch break or an afternoon wouldn't be enough to squeeze in these culinary treasures into one enjoyable meal time! That's why during the City's festivities, there's Kaon Ta Festival at the Balay Negrense grounds along the Cinco de Noviembre Street on June 8 and 9! And I will be heading there myself!πŸ˜ƒ

Photographs of well-preserved heritage homes you'd see online couldn't even compare to the festival of flavors on your palate when you savor the native delicacies from recipes of old Silaynon families. And the one stop you can enjoy these is El Ideal Restaurant which is just about five minutes from the Bacolod-Silay Airport. Whether you're arriving or departing from that airport, an enjoyable visit to El Ideal, I say, is a must!πŸ˜„

On June 12, 2019, Silay City celebrates the anniversary of its being declared a Chartered City that happened 62 years ago. Today, it is one of the top 25 tourist destinations in the Philippines and is continuing its role as a center for the arts, culture, and ecotourism in this part of the country.

And to bring color, fun, and artistry to the streets of Silay City, the Kansilay Festival holds its street dancing and arena competition on June 11, 2019, at 1PM, where creativity and showmanship of local Silaynon performers will entertain and impress visitors and tourists alike.

Since I will be at the Kaon Ta festival this weekend, why not continue enjoying the fun at Silay City until Tuesday, June 11, and watch the street dancing and arena competition? 

See you all there!😍

These are photos I took the last time. This year's street dancing will start from the Caltex gas station along the main street at the city's southern side and will head to the public plaza. And here are
 the schedules of the Kansilay Festival starting today:

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Ricky's Fish Ball, 'The Fried of Victorias'

On March 12, 2019, the home and livelihood of Manong Ricky and his family were razed by a fire that broke out at their neighborhood at Barangay 4 in Victorias City, a 4th class city in the Philippines, whose economy revolved around sugar, usurious financing, and small-town lottery.πŸ˜† That afternoon as the fire was raging, I witnessed the anguish of the family as they endured the tragedy, and although all the family members were safe, they lost everything but their hope and the will to rise up against the adversity they were facing. That night and during the next two weeks, his family had to seek shelter at one of the rooms of a public elementary school across the street.πŸ˜ͺ 

(Ricky's home reduced to ashes)

Manong Ricky and his wife, Gina, were ambulant vendors selling fried fish balls, tempura, and 'kwek-kwek' on their 'kariton' (cart) at busy intersections in Victorias, including those near public schools. This was their only livelihood that provided them with income that was enough to cover their daily expenses on food, utilities, and allowances for their four children, who were still in grade school and high school. That day, they weren't able to save their kariton and all their cooking utensils and equipment.😭

In the Philippines, just like in Korea, fried snacks sold by street vendors are popular because they are easy to eat and cheap. In Seoul, busy workers and students usually stopped by a food stall to grab some teokpeokki, soondae, mini-kimbap, and other snacks classified as ν‰ˆκΉ€ (pronounced as 'twi-kim') that means 'fried snacks'. There was one small alley near our office full of these small restaurants, but they all disappeared because of gentrification.πŸ˜“

Since the fire, Manong Ricky and his family have slowly put their lives together with the help of strangers and the people of Victorias. Although they have yet to rebuild their home, they received clothes, household items, and the most helpful, a new kariton with cooking utensils. Even the high school classmates of their daughter gave up a part of their daily allowance and collected an amount to help the family. Placed in a small plastic were coins and a few paper bills as help from her classmates and schoolmates. One should never lose faith in humanity, particularly the young.πŸ™

(I don't see coins and paper bills. 
I see kindness and compassion.πŸ˜‚)

Manong Ricky and Gina have started selling their snacks again. I am sure you're familiar with these snacks: fish ball, tempura (or tem-poora but is not exactly made of big shrimps), and 'kwek-kwek' (quail egg in orange batter). To enjoy, these are put in a cup, bathed in either sweet sauce or hot sauce, and sold for P10 per cup. 

(Fish ball, tem-poora, and kwek-kwek)

These simple, yet popular, snacks have again provided for Ricky and Gina's family, and if you chance upon their kariton on the streets of Victorias, do make sure to buy a cup or two (or more!) of their snacks to help them get back on their feet. Salamat in advance. πŸ™
 "Ricky's Fish Ball 
The Fried of Victorias".πŸ˜€
('The Fried of Victorias' is a wordplay
for 'The Pride of Victorias')

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Carrozzas de La Semana Santa: The Most Attended and The Most Popular is a Procession of Faith and Style

Catholicism is the most significant contribution by the Spanish colonizers to the Philippines, although I'd put jamΓ³n and Spanish pastries up there, alongside saints and angels. And the religious procession of Jesus, Mary, and the saints who were part of His Passion during Semana Santa or Holy Week is the most colorful display of style, art, and creativity in the whole Catholic calendar. This is also the most attended and the most popular of all religious parades. This Lenten procession has colorful floats that make your Christmas trees look like grade school art projects.

(The Agony in the Garden carro in 
2011 was decorated with white picket fences. 
What's missing is a rocking chair.)

 (The Good Friday crowd gathers for the procession)

That's why when I was a kid, I had fun memories of helping prepare the Agony in the Garden carro, short for 'carrozza' (the Spanish word for carriage), here in my hometown of Victorias City in the Philippines, (they're also called pasos in other parts of the Philippines) during the Holy Week when school was out and the summer heat was in. Back then, there were just a handful of carros participating in the procession that was held on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Currently, the procession in only held on Good Friday and involves more than a dozen carros.

(Agony in the Garden) 
(Jesus Cautivo)
(Scourging at the Pillar)

While most of the carros during the procession in our hometown in Victorias City was obviously made during the last decade or two, the Agony in the Garden, owned by the Montinola family, dates back to the 1950s, after World War II. Commissioned by Don Felix Montinola and his wifeDoΓ±a Dorothea, from artisans and craftsmen in the Iloilo Province, the sculpted image is that of a kneeling Jesus looking up to a winged angel holding a chalice that seems to be bringing Him the prophecy of his impending suffering and death on the cross; it is made of heavy wood that was cured and had not shrunk or deteriorated all these years. (Wood from santol, I learned, is not a good material for statues because the wood shrinks over time, although the santol fruit itself is a delight to eat!😍).

 (Inday Lydia Quiatchon with the Montinola Family's Agony in the Garden carro that she prepared and decorated for the annual Lenten procession)

The Agony in the Garden depicts Christ kneeling with His face expressing sadness and anguish as He prayed on the eve of His Crucifixion in a garden which was located at the foot of Mount Olives in Jerusalem, where water has always been a problem as it is in a desert region, next to the Judaean Desert. Olive trees naturally survive in arid conditions and the ones at Gethsemane have been tested to be the oldest olive trees in the world with some aging as 900 years old. Those trees have witnessed more biblical events than any living organism on Earth.

(Jesus de la Paciencia)
(St. Peter's carroza was the most creative. His 
golden robes paired with emerald green was 
a color combination that was attractive to the eyes. 
A 'palm tree' made the carro a standout as 
this added a tropical Philippine flavor) 
(Gold and emerald green with devotees 
in matching gold shirts. The faithful are tasteful.)

If you look closely at Christ's statue on the Agony in the Garden while ignoring His red cape and white vest with glittery sequins, you'd see a face in a state of surrender and sadness. For me, the expression on His face summarizes His suffering; the Five Sorrowful Mysteries are right there on His expression.

(The Carrying of the Cross)
 (The Crucified Christ)

The late Inday Lydia Ledesma-Quiatchon, who was tasked by the late DoΓ±a Luz Montinola with the annual responsibility to oversee the preparation and decoration of the Agony in the Garden when she was still alive and able, once exclaimed upon gazing at Christ's face, "Katahum guid sang nawong sang aton Gino-o. (The face of our Lord is so beautiful)."

The decorations of the carros decades ago were only plastic flowers as there were no vendors who could supply huge quantities of flowers required by the local owners of carros in Bacolod City then.
 (Red anthuriums on the Agony in the Garden carro)
(Putting the angel's wings)

During the parade when darkness falls and the lights are turned on, there's a spotlight that directly illuminates His face, and amidst the weariness of walking, any faithful could still draw strength and inspiration upon gazing at this apparition.

(A spotlight illuminates Christ's face)

If you're wondering why the saints' faces look very European with high noses and chiseled bone structure, it's because when the Spanish friars and religious men came to the Philippines, they brought with them icons and statues whose faces were patterned after Spanish and European features. And when the Philippine craftsmen and artisans learned how to carve intricate statues, that's what they have been told to copy ever since.

 (Father Rafa and Father Vince greet and 
bless the passing carros)
(La Pieta)
(San Juan Evangelista)

That's why it's no wonder that many of the faithful are in awe of these images and statues being paraded during Good Friday. And as these are blessed by the priests, they are considered sacred with some people even grabbing them from the carros after the procession to keep them as 'pangalap' or items they'd use for their livelihood like a piece of the saint's vest fishermen brought to the sea with the belief that these would bring in a bountiful catch. Yes, there were times people would bring scissors to cut off the statue's clothing, although the most common practice now is just to grab the flowers that adorned the carros.

(Santo Entierro or Holy Burial) 
(Saint Veronica whose statue for me was the most elegant and dramatic of all. Sadly, this statue was lost in a fire last year.)
(Virgen Dolorosa)

Aside from the 'pangalap' tradition, people bring white cloths or handkerchieves to wipe the saint's faces or raise their children up to the carros so that they could kiss the saints.

(Santa Marta)
(Saint Mary Magdalene) 
(Parish altar boys lead the procession)

Although this is not a competition but a profession of our faith, we subconsciously (or maybe not!) compare the floats as to their decorations, the saints' glittery vestments, the size of the carriage, and the flowers that adorn the carro as if the whole thing was a beauty pageant. I know this as kid with a direct hand (pun intended!) in decorating a carro (well, it was just handing thumb tacks to whoever was putting on the silky purple skirt around the carriage or handing flowers to whoever was decorating), I used to compare, too, even boasting then that the Agony in the Garden was the only one with accompanying music. Weeks before the procession, my mom would go to a music shop in Bacolod City to have religious music copied into a cassette tape. That's why days before Good Friday, you'd already hear Mario Lanza singing at home The Lord's Prayer before he even belted the same songs for two hours all over town on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

(Mary Magdalene)
(People raise their white cloths to
 wipe the saint's face)
(A child is raised to kiss the saint)

And on this Holy Week, as we Catholics ponder on Christ's passion, most of us will probably be attending the procession to have more photos for Instagram and Facebook but I hope we'll all remember that the procession is a profession of our faith and not a parade of style and creativity.πŸ™