Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Nativity Scene: From Familia Sagrada to Nuestra Familia

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family or the Familia Sagrada, being the Sunday between Christmas Day and New Year's Day. So, it's just fitting that I must write about the basilica dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph: the Familia Sagrada in Barcelona, Spain.

That autumn day, a few years back, I was comfortably seated on a Barcelona tour bus, lazily wandering around the city, when I realized that the scheduled time on my ticket to go up the tower of Familia Sagrada was less than an hour away. (I purchased my ticket online before I arrived in Spain.) 

(The towers came into view.)

The basilica of Familia Sagrada (Holy Family in English) is one of Barcelona's most popular tourist attractions, but being a Catholic, I wouldn't be just a tourist; I'd be a pilgrim. Designed by a Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi, also known as God's architect because of his vision and work on the basilica, Familia Sagrada is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Gaudi died in 1926 after being hit by a tram in the streets of Barcelona.

Worried that I wouldn't make it in time, I carefully studied the city map on hand and decided to ditch the tour bus. So, when the West Route tour bus I was riding on made its scheduled stop at the La Pedrera, I got off and made a run for it. I could have transferred to the East Route bus but it would still meander through the city passing by several stops before arriving at the cathedral, while the La Pedrera bus stop was the nearest to the Familia Sagrada. As they say, the nearest distance from Point A to Point B is a straight line. Well, it wasn't exactly straight a line but it was the shortest cut just the same.

(Lo and behold! As I looked up  from the 
Plaça de la Sagrada Familia)

La Pedrera, a residential building with very unique features, was actually one of Antoni Gaudi's designs. And it was probably not a coincidence that I started my quest on foot for the Familia Sagrada from another of Gaudi's work.

From the La Pedrera bus stop, I had walk northeastwards for about 1.3 kilometers to reach the Familia Sagrada. And even though I knew my navigational skills were always better than a compass, I had to ask for confirmation along the way just to make sure I was on the right track. So, when I came across a bookstore along Carrer de Provença, and after buying una toda mapa de España (a map of Spain) from her, I asked the Spanish lady whether "esta direccion para Familia Sagrada" was correct. She confirmed,"¡Si!"😀

It wasn't long when the towers of Familia Sagrada came into view, and when I finally arrived at the cathedral grounds to join a thousand other tourists, I just showed my online reservation and got in easily.
(The spectacular center of the Nativity Facade 
telling a Bible story that comes to life 

with faith and adoration.)

It was different looking at the photographs online; in person, the whole creation - from its towers to the sculptures, to the facades, porticos, and symbolic features, the Familia Sagrada was overwhelmingly impressive and full of Biblical stories. Around it are the three facades: the Nativity, Passion, and Glory. 

The Nativity Facade faces east to be symbolically true to its meaning: the rising sun gives birth to life. It also has three porticos after three Christian values: Charity, Faith, and Hope.

(Familia Sagrada on their flight to Egypt 

with an angel keeping them safe)

(The shepherds paying homage to the birth of Jesus)

While admiring Gaudi's work from the ground looking up, one reflects the passages from the Bible as they are depicted by one man's work that started in 1894 and was far from being complete when he died in 1926.

And as I stood there at the Nativity Facade that has been admired by millions of pilgrims and tourists, I added myself to that count.

At the entrance of the portico, I realized this was the most beautiful 'belen', or nativity scene, I have seen in my life. The life-like sculptures of the Holy Family, or Familia Sagrada, taking center stage, not only at the basilica named after their sacred union but at one's faith as well, is one portico of the cathedral not to be missed.
                (The three kings bearing gifts)

(The nativity scene is the most popular Bible 
story we bring to life. Which Bible story is this?)

And today, on the Feast of the Holy Family, our family joins the rest of the Christendom in celebrating the blessing of being part of a family. And just as I had written a few years back about my homecoming every Christmas time to join my family, every time I arrive home and step into our front door, the feeling of being family becomes real as the sense of belonging to this home is once again celebrated by the heart.💗

(Joan Vila-Grau, an 86-year old Spanish artist (born 1932), created these amazing stained glass windows at the basilica, bringing an explosion of colors and light because, as was written, God created light on the First Day and what a brilliant idea to use light and the spectrum to celebrate and worship Him and his creations.)
(The rays of the sun passing through the stained glass was like peering through Mary's veil)

("Not too much light, nor too little...for both things blind and the blind cannot see." - Antoni Gaudi)

And to God's architect, Antoni Gaudi, eventhough his work is still being completed and is expected to be finished by 2026, a hundred years after his death, I join the millions of pilgrims, who have been awed, mesmerized and enlightened by a place of worship, in thanking him for making me realize that a most beautiful place of worship such as the Familia Sagrada could be possible here on earth.😂

So, from the Familia Sagrada in Barcelona, Spain, to our own families wherever we are, let's all celebrate to our being one with the Holy Family.💝

(JESUS prominently stands out among the words and passages written like a bas-relief type of artwork. HIS name is written in gold.)

Monday, 24 December 2018

Seoul's Seongsu-dong: Shoes And The City

(A shoe museum at Seongsu Station)

Red shoe diary 
I think Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker's shoe-addict character in 'Sex and the City') would have loved shopping around this neighborhood.

From all shoe styles, for adults and kids, she would have spent all day walking around, visiting one shoe shop after another.
(Gail pointing out the must-visit corner 
of Seongsu-dong)

This is Seongsu-dong in the Seongdong District of Seoul, South Korea. If you're familiar with Seoul's geography, it's a short distance to the right of the city's geographical center, just above the Han River along the trail of the  Seoul subway's Green Line.

(Seongsu-dong is a star 
neighborhood for shoe lovers)

I was only able to walk around this place recently, recent being the past three years. From my seat on the bus, the main street always looked like any other Seoul neighborhood, and from the subway above (yes, the Line 2 trains are on elevated tracks while passing this part of Seoul), I'd only see rooftops of residential and commercial buildings. That's why I never really bothered to visit...until I ran out of places to visit! Ha-ha-ha!

(A black stiletto inside the Seongsu Station)

(A tourist sits on the giant red stiletto)

What I didn't know was that the interesting corners are on the alleys next to the main street, hidden from view, and that's where I finally brought my friends who, I was sure, were more interested in shoes than I was.

Yes, the best tourists to bring along to Seongsu-dong are the ones who love shopping for shoes. Luckily, I have friends who do! 
(Seongsu Station converts itself into a tourist attraction with artsy tiles and exhibits)

Follow the shoes
When you get off at Seongsu Station, you'd immediately realize you are in the shoe neighborhood because this station has a museum for shoes! From displays of different shoe styles to old shoe-sewing machines, and even a directory of all the shoe shops and stores in the neighborhood, the station gives its visitor a glimpse of what the neighborhood is all about!

According to the Visit Seoul website, in the 1960s, the shoe stores specializing in handcrafted footwear were mostly concentrated around Seoul Station but they moved to the Myeongdong area during the 1970s and 80s. And then in the 1990s, one by one, they moved to the Seongsu-dong area in the Seongdong District because the rentals were comparably cheaper.

(Tita Rena, Wendy, Gail, and Kristine are 
welcomed at the shoe center of Seoul)
(The ladies are dwarfed by giant shoe art)

Today, there are about 500 different shoe-related businesses in this neighborhood. These businesses include actual shoe-making, shops that sell shoes, businesses that supply raw materials required for shoe-making, shops that sell certain shoe parts, and stores of shoe resellers and distributors.

Most shoe shops are on the alleys next to Exit 3 or Exit 4 of Seongsu Station. But before heading there, we walked about 300 meters out of Exit 1 to catch the biggest red stiletto shoe you'd find in Seoul! 

Other than the giant red stiletto, walking from Exit 1 up to the intersection, you'd also see small shoe shops and a symbolic sculpture of two giant hands sewing a giant shoe! 
(These tourists invite you to visit Seongsu-dong!)
  (Wendy, Gail, Kristine, and Tita Rena with the biggest right foot shoe in Seoul. Behind them 
are small shoe shops lining up the sidewalk.)

Lunch @ Daelim Changgo Gallery Co:lumn
After walking through the artsy path of Seongsu-dong, we decided to grab lunch before hitting the shoe stores. We crossed to the other side of the main street - to the side of Seongsu Station's Exit 3 and 4.

(The spacious interiors with art installations 
make the restaurant unique and interesting)

The Daelim Changgo Gallery Co:lumn was an old factory and warehouse converted into a gallery and restaurant. But it was the latter character that was more interesting to me and my tummy. I figured, since I wasn't into shoes and wouldn't get any high from shoe-shopping, I might as well have fun eating. 

Our dishes were all yummy and even made more enjoyable in the company of friends. 
(Inside the gallery that also serves as a restaurant)

If the shoe fits
In order to walk off the calories from our lunch, we jumped from one store to another, admiring and trying on (at least Gail, Veronica, and Wendy did!) the shoes made by the shops.
(Veronica, Gail, and Wendy shopping for shoes)

The owners of the stores we visited told us that they could even tailor-make shoes for us. We could just choose a design, pick the leather, and get our foot measurements. And after a week, he could just text us if the shoes are ready for pick up! 

Since you're buying from the shoemaker himself, the prices are so reasonably low! So much lower than the ones sold at the department stores! 

(Happy shoppers!)

Common Ground shops and cafes
The other interesting corner near Seongsu-dong is Common Ground, an open area full of blue container vans that were turned into shops, restaurants, and cafés.
(A red shoe)
                            (A gold shoe)

Common Ground is already part of the neighboring district, Gwangjin-gu, and it's about 700 meters from Exit 3 of Seongsu Station. But it's worth visiting if you're in the area. From there, just walk eastward towards the direction of Konkuk University Station until you see piles of blue-colored container vans. That's Common Ground.

These multi-layered commercial spaces, made from container vans, even have a 'rooftop', where you'd find open-air restaurants, food stalls, and an ice cream counter. On the ground, a small entertainment corner and food trucks occupy the open area.
                (Everyone's favorite at Doré Doré)

If there's one thing that would bring me back to Common Ground, it's the cafe that serves rainbow cake. The multi-colored layers are separated by white cream and it's heavy to the tummy. Heavy because I had a slice all to myself!

If you want to visit Common Ground on another day, it's closer to Konkuk University Station. It's about 200 meters from Exit 6.
      (Inside the container vans are 
pop-up shops and cafés)
      (Common Ground's open space with 
a stage and food trucks)

I know the shoes sold at Seoul's department stores are a bit pricey. So, here at Seongsu-dong, just like the bags at Dongdaemun's NPH bag market, you have cheaper options. And you can have a pair tailor-made, too!

So, gather your shoe-loving friends and drag them to Seoul's shoe center. Who knows? You might bump into Carrie Bradshaw herself.😀
(Let him eat cake!)

Monday, 10 December 2018

Sightseeing in Seoul: The Insta-Popular #Insadong

Yes, Insadong is one of the most popular spots in Seoul for local and international tourists. 

Just like other famous Seoul attractions such as #Hongdae, #Gangnam, #Myeongdong, and #SeoulTower#Insadong is also a popular hashtag mention, and I don't wonder why.

The first time I walked around Insadong more than a decade ago, it felt like a throwback to an old Seoul with its cobblestone walks and traditional artisan shops. Although this place is slowly turning modern with galleries and cosmetic shops, Insadong, in the olden times, was a place for artists and craftsmen given its proximity to Gyeongbukgung Palace.

(A flash mob at Insadong)

Insadong is a must-visit place when you're in Seoul because it's not only a place of traditional artisans and galleries, it's also full of interesting cafés and restaurants. On the main street, you'd find enterprising vendors selling Korean sweets, magicians, and food carts like the one selling my favorite strawberry-banana-Nutella crêpe.

Straight from my photo albums, here are my fun memories of #Insadong.

(Giant inflatables invade Insadong)

Insadong flashmob
This was the most fun day I had at Insadong. Why? I wasn't just a tourist; I was taking part in an 'instant' tourist attraction!

A few years back, during the launch of the Korea In Motion campaign, I got to participate in a flash mob activity by documenting its 'behind-the-scenes' story as a member of the K-Performance Supporters, a group of bloggers whose job was to help promote Korean tourism.

Of course, I didn't even think of volunteering to dance with the pack, lest I wanted to ruin the whole campaign.😄 Insadong was the best place to hold the flash mob as it was always full, although I was thinking, if it were held in Myeongdong, that place would have been too crowded for all the dancers, giant inflatable mascots, and camera crew.

(B-boys join the flash mob)

From their rehearsal in the morning until the flash mob in the afternoon, the day spent in Insadong was worth the excitement and the fulfillment that I was able to help promote Korea In Motion.

(B-boys join the flash mob)

A Jongno weekend
Insadong's location is perfect for tourists with limited time in Seoul. Since it's located in the Jongno District, which has a lot of tourist spots, one can just walk around its neighboring attractions like the Gyeongbuk Palace, Changdeok Palace, Tong-in Market, Bukchon Village, Samcheong-dong, and Jogyesa Temple.

That's why when, as a member of the Global Seoul Mate program, I spent a weekend pretending as a tourist in Seoul as a paid challenge (yes, the Seoul City government paid for my tourist expenses!), I chose to book at an Airbnb next to Insadong. It was not just very convenient and easy, it was also fun! I got to visit a lot of places around the area and savor Korean dishes and snacks like a tourist and got paid for it!

Insadong's mandu restaurant
And if there's one place in Insadong that I would go back to every now and then, it's Koong Mandu, Seoul's best mandu restaurant. Over the years, I brought friends here for lunch or dinner, including my former colleague, Agnes, and her pals when they were in Seoul. The grandma's yummy mandu recipe has been a reason why people keep coming back over the years.

And because Insadong was just five minutes away from Jongno's beer alleys, we simply walked towards the direction of Cheonggyecheon and continued the night with beer, chips, and stories.

               (My friends Fay and Joy about to 
                 enjoy mandu at Koong Mandu)

Although Insadong has restaurants that serve western cuisine, it should be interesting for tourists to enjoy the popular Korean dishes like my favorite mandu!

       (Joy, Loren and Fay at their 'Expressions' exhibit at an Insadong gallery)

Art galleries
Showcasing local painters and artists, Insadong has galleries as well as shops where you can purchase materials for your painting handicraft hobbies.

         (Fay, Loren and Joy at their 'Expressions' exhibit at an Insadong gallery)

When my friends Fay, Loren and Joy had a painting exhibition, they held it at Kyung-In Museum, one of the galleries in Insadong. That gallery, coincidentally, was located just across Koong Mandu, where we had lunch to celebrate their exhibition.

               (My mom and sister at Ssamziegil)

(My mom window shopping at Insadong)

When I toured my mom and sister around Seoul, I made sure they got to see Insadong's interesting galleries, artisan shops, and cafés by walking its cobblestone main alley.

Ssamziegil, right in the middle of Insadong, is the most popular place to visit. This square is actually a 'street' because it's called 'gil', the hangeul name for 'street'. The building's design enables one to ascend to higher floors without taking the stairs.

Insadong welcomes Patricia 
And the latest guest Insadong welcomed?  Patricia

My niece, Patricia, recently came to Korea to work and I just had to introduce her to Insadong just as I did my family and friends. Patricia got to know Insadong by strolling around its corners and alleys after our lunch at the Philippine market in Hyehwa-dong  along Daehangno in the Jongno District.

                 (Patricia on top of Ssamziegil)

From our heavy lunch of Filipino dishes, we just had to walk off the few calories we gained that day, and climbing all the way up to the rooftop of Ssamziegil helped. 

(Patricia ordering her crêpe)

But since we didn't have our dessert yet, I brought Patricia to my favorite crepe stall at the end of Insadong. 

For KRW3,000, the ajussi prepared the yummiest strawberry-banana-Nutella crêpe right in front of Patricia. To pay, Patricia simply dropped the KRW3,000 at a small box on the table. For sanitary reasons, the ajussi doesn't touch the cash; he simply lets his customers drop their payment and get their change, if any, from the box.

(Patricia enjoying her 
strawberry-banana-Nutella crepe!)

Since she now knows the interesting shops, cafés, and galleries of Insadong, Patricia can also bring her family and friends visiting her to this place as well.

Just like other tourist attractions in Seoul, Insadong has its special vibe and character not found in any other place in the city. It is unique on its own and you have to visit it to feel it.

So, have you also visited the Insta-popular Insadong lately?  

By the way, here's the video of our #Insadong flash mob:

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Victorias City, Negros Occidental, Philippines: School Zone or Ukay-Ukay Zone?

The Mission of the Department of Interior and Local Government of the Philippines:

The Department shall promote peace and order, ENSURE PUBLIC SAFETY, strengthen capability of local government units through active people participation and a professionalized corps of civil servants.

                           *   *   *   *   *

I first posted this photo on November 23, 2018, on the 'Victoriahanon Kami' Facebook page taken from the southern end of a crowded Yap Quiña St. in Victorias City, Negros Occidental, Philippines. 

School Zone or Ukay-Ukay Zone?
The photo I posted shows Yap Quiña St. where the entrance gates of the Victorias Elementary School 1 (or VES1 as parents and teachers call it) are located. (Years ago, the Victorias Elementary School was divided into VES 1 and VES 2 because the student population was so large that it couldn't be managed by one school principal alone. This street is used by VES 1).

'Ukay-ukay' is a Filipino term for a flea market selling used clothes and other items. The term came from the word 'halukay' that means to rummage.

                     (Not Instagram-worthy
                  but worth raising the issue for)

The only thing wrong about the photograph was that, on the right side of the photo, UKAY-UKAY stalls that stretched from one end of the street (at Victorias Commercial Center side) up to the end other (bordering Montinola Street) have eaten up the sidewalk and part of the street on that side where the schools' gates are!

(A part of the map of Victorias City showing 
Yap Quiña St. littered with red spots representing ukay-ukay stalls in front of VES1)

The scene caught my attention because the school children and their parents were being squeezed between the stalls and the passing tricycles and other vehicles. Anyone of them could be sideswiped! 😓And this happens in the morning when the kids go to school, at noon when they are fetched and brought back to school again, and in the afternoon when they leave for home.

Here is an actual video of the scene taken on November 26, 2018, at 7AM when kids and parents (and a few lolas!) arrive at school. The entrance gate to the school is hidden behind the ORANGE tarpaulin tents of the ukay-ukay stalls.

After I posted, a lot of commenters agreed about the risk faced by the children, their parents, and teachers as they go to school, and other pedestrians that also pass through this street.

Of course, a few commenters bashed me for complaining on behalf of the kids and their parents. I simply shrugged off narrow-minded creatures. They're not worth my keystrokes. Ha-ha-ha!😆

But I wondered, like the rest of the Victorias citizens, WHY the Barangay 4 officials and the Victorias City government gave business permits to these ukay-ukay stalls. In my post, I asked for them for any reaction or response, but there was none.😞

                                (Tarpaulin ukay-ukay tents being 
                 set up on November 20, 2018)

The stalls were set up on November 20, 2018, a Tuesday, when there were no classes due to Typhoon Samuel's Signal No. 1.

          (The ukay-ukay tents eat up the SIDEWALK 
      and part of the street adjacent to the school)

Since the suspension of classes for two days was announced the day before, the ukay-ukay vendors probably decided that it was the best time to put their stalls up and surprise everyone - the students, their parents, the principal and teachers - on Thursday, the next school day.

       (The ukay-ukay tents eat up the SIDEWALK 
        and part of the street adjacent to the school)

On a sad note, however, a few mothers messaged me that they worry every day as their own kids face this risk of having an accident. One mother told me that she works away in Manila and that she's worried that she's not around to watch her kid go to school every day.

    That's the school's name hidden by the stalls. 
                 The new name should be: 
Mababang Paaralan (at Presyo) ng Ukay-Ukay

One grandmother, Lola Belen, told me personally that she and her apo (grandkid) have to be careful about the danger on that street and that the authorities even closed the gate where they usually enter.

Another grandma, Lola Lydia, also told me personally that whenever she brings her grandkid who goes to VES2, they avoid this street. She also told me that they should relocate those stalls for the simple reason that people who want to buy from the ukay-ukay stalls will go wherever they are located. See? You don't need a grandma to disprove the local government's logic of putting them there. 

 (Ukay-ukay stalls compete for space vs 
 students, tricycles and other vehicles)

      (Is it a SCHOOL zone or an UKAY-UKAY zone?)

According to the Mission of the Philippine Department of Interior and Local Government, they should ENSURE PUBLIC SAFETY.

But in this case, it seems in Victorias City, the mission is impossible.😢

Have a walk with the students through the ukay-ukay, er, school zone and decide for yourself:

PS. This blog is dedicated to the mothers who messaged me about their concern for the safety of their children every day. 😭