Sunday, 28 January 2018

It's More Fun @ Iloilo City's Dinagyang Festival!

'Dagyang' is a Hiligaynon word that means to have fun! And this festival in Iloilo City (where Hiligaynon is spoken) in the Philippines is all about having fun!

After decades of not having attended the Dinagyang Festival, my sister and I crossed the Iloilo Strait from Bacolod City, and stayed for three nights to enjoy the Dinagyang.

We stayed at a small business inn near the center of the city, which was very convenient. The Freedom Grandstand, the San Jose de Placér Church, Roberto's, Iloilo Public Market, and the Ortiz Wharf were all walking distance! It was fun and convenient!

The Dinagyang Festival is more like a spin-off from Kalibo's Ati-Atihan Festival. It is also a celebration of Panay Island's history and culture.

Back in the 1200's, ten datus from Borneo sailed and landed in Panay Island to seek refuge. They asked the local aeta (or 'ati' in the local language) tribes to let them live in the low lands of the island. The local aeta tribes agreed, and in exchange, the ten datus from Borneo, led by Datu Puti, gave the chieftain of the ati tribes a golden salakot and other valuable ornaments and fabrics, including a legendary golden necklace that was so long it reached the ground when worn.

                            (Tribu Obrero)

The highlight of the Festival is the ati-atihan competition among several tribes represented by local high schools. It is held on the last day of the festival.

These tribes were judged during the competition on their choreography, performances, costumes and other criteria. But since we were staying along the parade route, we simply waited for the tribes to pass.

 (Tribu Abiador represented the Asian College of Aernautics. 'Abiador' is the Ilonggo-nized word for 'aviator'. Its warriors were actually future pilots.)

How we wanted to watch the performances, but it was very crowded at the performance areas, and the seats at the stage were being sold to as much as 1,000 pesos. And you wouldn't even have a good view of the tribes performing. So, we skipped that expensive option.

What we did was just to wait for the tribes to pass our way and mingled and had photos with the performers themselves! I was able to chat with some of the high school teachers and the students in costumes! One even told me they had to wake up as early as 2AM to start preparing! Such commitment!

Each tribu could include at least 30 drummers to make sure the drum beats are loud and the rhythm really created a festive, upbeat mood that translates into an energized performance.

Although the drummers stood inside the performance area, they were not required to paint themselves or wear costumes.

(Tribu Salognon of the Jaro National High School was the champion at Dinagyang 2017). Here, I am trying to pose with the tribe's official pole.)

Congratulations to Tribu Pan-ay for winning the 4th runner-up prize! The tribe performers were students from the Fort San Pedro National High School.

Before the 1200's, during the era of the Ati Chief Datu Pulpulan and his son, Marikudo, Panay Island was called 'Aninipay' from the words 'ani', meaning harvest, and 'nipay', a hairy grass found all over the island. Above, I was posing with the descendant of Marikudo, representing Tribu Amihan.

His elaborate, expensive headdress and armor were embellished with orange and red feathers that were probably plucked from a few ducks. My costume, on the other hand, was a small 'ati' headdress made of colored crushed seashells and chick feathers dyed in pink and worth a hundred pesos. I bought it the night before from a female vendor whose stall on wheels was standing along the main street.

Now, this red-orange ensemble is worthy of a national costume! These Tribu Ilonganon's creative costumes in hues of fiery red and orange easily captured attention with the drama the colors alone brought. Adding the figures of wings and oversized warrior headdress, this creation could have easily been a favorite at an international costume competition.

 The Tribu Obrero warriors in fresh green costumes, serious stare, and black curly wigs were about to move to the performance area at the Freedom Grandstand.

These kids from Tribu Obrero were rehearsing a few steps of their choreography before their actual performance.

 As these ati tributes participating at the Dinagyang Festival competition were from local schools, these students were from the same sections in order to make it easier for the school officials to arrange the rehearsal schedules as well as the makeup classes. This way, the performers, which were all classmates, had an easier time working and learning the whole performance and routine because they personally know each other. This whole concept clearly showed on how the performers behaved with or without the judges watching.

These female performers from Tribu Obrero looked enchanting in their costumes: shaded arms, elaborately beaded headdress, brown make-up, native woven dress and skirt, all accentuated with an islander's charming smile.

A few moments after I complimented them "Ka guapa sa inyo!" (You all look pretty!), another local tourist told them the same thing.

Some tribes brought with them real 'ati', whose ancestors were the original inhabitants of Panay Island. Since these aetas married among themselves, they retained their dark skin colors and curly black hair characters.

The competition rules allowed the tribes to bring props into their performance. These props were always cultural or religious characters that would reinforce the storyline of the dance. If I were the concept director for this tribe, instead of non-smiling ati faces, I would have made them smile showing a few teeth that would define the state of dental care back in the 13th century.

These black-gray feline costumes are part of Tribu Buntatalanit's theme.

Chaos in the street as this tribe prepares for their next performance. That helpful pole is where they hang their costumes in-between performances.

Since the tribes had to move from one performance area to another, they temporarily put their props and costumes on a rolling storage. This allowed them to free themselves from the heavy costumes during the move. They later pick them up to wear them again before the performance.
Glam Squad: In-between performances, the dancers had to have their make-up repainted as sweat erased their colored facemasks.

In 1967, a replica of the image of the Sto. Niño de Cebu was given to the Iloilo faithful who welcomed the statue with a parade from the airport and into the city. 

Every competitor in the Dinagyang is required to have a segment about the Sto. Niño in their performance to tell the audience that these performances are both a religious and cultural celebration. Some tribus bring small Sto. Niño icons while others have oversized ones. This one above is carried from the inside by one performer. Notice the whole on the chest where he could peep through.

Like a pro, this lady performer from Tribu Pan-ay represents a Spanish señorita and carries a small Sto. Niño while wearing a thick, uncomfortable big dress under the warm sun. Carrying a doll-sized Sto. Niño all morning was probably a tough workout. But they all were doing this for pride and glory of their schools. 

This tribu's giant Sto. Niños were carried by participants. I wondered if after the Dinagyang, they'd end up as icons for someone's religious altar at home. 

While most Sto. Niños were carried, this cute one walked with the parade and looked like he was enjoying it.

As in any festival in the Philippines, there's always a beauty competition, whose winner becomes the ambassadress for the festival. This group of ladies taking a groupfie above a float included the winners of the 2017 Miss Dinagyang Festival.

Along the popular Valeria Street in the city center were rows and rows of barbecue stalls that competed for customers and tourists. You can order chicken barbecue, or pork or any other seafood that they'd grill on the spot.

You see? We didn't have to buy those expensive seats at the performance areas to enjoy Dinagyang. Our plan was even better! We had the freedom to move around and have photos with the performers in very colorful costumes! If we were seated at the stage, we could have been stuck there for hours and couldn't even move to get something to eat!

Before the start of the festivities, the cops of the Iloilo City Police Department walked around to disseminate information on public safety and order. We felt safe walking around the city day and night because of police visibility. 

As my sister and I were walking towards our hotel from the church on the morning of the competition day, a group of police officers led by PO1 Ferolino gave us flyers on the safety measures during the festival. A photo of me while chatting with the police officer ended up at the police department's Facebook page.

If ever I have the chance, I'd go back to Iloilo City and attend the Dinagyang Festival again. 

Wherever you are in the Philippines, it's worth flying to Iloilo for this. In our case, it was worth crossing the Iloilo Strait for some 'dagyang'.

(Fireworks capped the 2017 Dinagyang Festival!)

So, if you're attending the Dinagyang Festival tomorrow, have fun with a lot of dagyang!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

The Philippine-South Korea Trade Agreement: Bae Yong Joon for Ensaimadas

Television dramas from South Korea are a hit everywhere! From Japan to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, North and Latin Americas, and even in the Middle East, Africa and Europe! Dubbed in the local languages of the importing country, Korean dramas have become so popular it now has legions of fans addicted to these series reflecting the Korean culture and society, loaded with fast-paced writing, beautiful sceneries, latest fashion and whose lead characters are always played by good-looking actors with perfect set of teeth and skin.

Hallyu and Bae Yong-Joon

The Korean Wave or 'Hallyu' as they call it here in Korea, is the term used to describe the popularity and influence of Korean entertainment and entertainers overseas: Korean pop music and singers, movies, television dramas, Korean actors and even products.

One of the most popular Korean dramas that ever hit the Philippines was Winter Sonata, whose lead actor, Bae Yong-Joon, has achieved god-like status in Japan, where women of 'a certain age' (you know what I mean) worship him like, well, a god! They call him Yon-sama, a name that denotes the highest respect. He was the face of Faceshop, which I think, made Faceshop one of the biggest brands of Korean cosmetics that time.

The success of these Korean dramas usually results in a windfall for its lead actors who are offered lucrative endorsement contracts for products marketed in Korea or in another country where he or she has won fans through the drama.

In Seoul, even if you're not a fan, you would still know if the current TV drama is a hit because the lead actor's face is all over the city. Lee Min-Ho, who played Gu Jun-Pyo in Boys Over Flowers, was on posters plastered at donut shops. Other successful actors would be seen on TV selling products ranging from coffee, clothes, make-up, cell phones, apartment units and, of all things, insurance.

K-Pop Music

And aside from the dramas, Korean pop music also has its own following, although it's mostly for the younger generation represented by grade schoolers, teenagers, and fans in their 20's, who I'm sure can always pronounce the tricky Korean names of the individual members of the girl and boy bands. Some solo artists though have unique names: Rain (or Bi in Korean), Se7en (yes, the number) and BoA (not the reptile); and members of boys bands as Big Bang (not the theory) such as G-Dragon and T.O.P., which are easier to remember. I guess since the real Korean names of these entertainers are very common in Korea, they opted for foreign-sounding ones in order to stand out.

And when it comes to naming a group, the talent management companies have to come up with unusual names like Mblaq, SS501, Super Junior, Big Bang, FT Island, CNBlue, TVXQ for boy bands; and Girls Generation, Wonder Girls, Jewelry, Secret, 2NE1 (Sandara Park's group), and T-ara for girl groups, to name just a few, because with so many bands (one debuts almost every other week!), the fans should be able to remember the ones with unique names; although I'm not too sure as to the logic behind the naming of the two boy groups, 2AM and 2PM. I guess they were created within 12 hours of each other.

And when they have cute names, these members should also look pretty and handsome because that's what the screaming fans like. With these boy groups trying to outdo each other in terms of costumes, hairstyle and make-up, they almost look androgynous; while the girls compete as to who has the biggest hair, thickest make-up, shortest skirts, sexiest choreography and catchiest tune. And with some groups having eight or more members, they look like cheering squads on stage, instead of singers. And did you ever notice that all members of these girls bands seem to look the same? In addition to their vocal coaches, costume designers, choreographers and make-up artists, they also have their cosmetic and dental surgeons to thank for.

And speaking of k-pop music, who can forget that song, Nobody, Nobody from Wonder Girls, which was played everywhere? One time, I was on a bus in Seoul when that song played over the bus' radio when I noticed a girl in her high school uniform on the front of the bus moving to the tune while seated with her hands dancing to the choreography. The song was almost over when she realized she missed her stop! She frantically pushed the 'Stop' button and loudly asked the driver to let her off. She did get off, but didn't finish her performance.

Let's go back to the dramas.

Korean drama fans

And just like most of the drama fans in the Philippines, the ones in Korea never forget theTV time slots of their favorite dramas. They either watch it at home, in their cars, at restaurants, at the gym while on the treadmill or at their mobile phones while on the bus or in the subway on their way home.

And for the international fans who can afford, they travel to South Korea to visit locations where the dramas were filmed. Nami-seom (Winter Sonata), Hongdae (Coffee Prince), Namsan Park (Lovers in Paris), and of course, Changdeokgung (Jewel in the Palace) are just a few locations where fans head to. And most of them also visit Namdaemun Market where they buy their Korean drama souvenirs to bring home.

The Philippine-South Korea Free Trade

But one fan in Manila, Cielo, who happened to be a good friend, could not get enough of her idol, Bae Yong-Joon, that she had to ask me to buy his poster and have it sent to Manila in return for a dozen Mary Grace ensaimadas, which she learned was my favorite. I told her the ensaimadas were enticing, but buying the poster would involve a certain amount of embarrassment for me since I was a guy and was worried how the shopkeeper at Namdaemun Market would think of me as I buy another guy's poster. She immediately doubled the quantity of the ensaimadas! And in return, I bravely bought the poster and had it flown to Manila!

With this, I realized that all these years the trade between the Philippines and South Korea actually does not just involve tourism, agricultural products, manpower, cars, electronics, minerals and English lessons. With the involvement of Hallyu, new trading partnerships are created! Though not between huge corporations, it's still a trade! 

While Cielo was ecstatic with her Bae Yong-Joon poster, I enjoyed the Mary Grace ensaimadas, which she sent through a friend flying to Seoul.

There may have been other countless trading partnerships between the Philippines and South Korea involving k-pop boy and girl bands, and some Philippine delicacies. The two countries have been friends since 1949, and that friendship, strengthened by economic, cultural and social exchanges throughout the decades, has been even made stronger by Hallyu, Bae Yong-Joon, and some yummy ensaimadas.

(This article was first published by AIM Leader Magazine in January 2011.)

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Iloilo City's Dinagyang Festival: The Religious Sadsad @ San Jose de Placér Parish Church

It's the feast day of the Santo Niño, the Child Jesus, whom the Catholics in the Philippines worship and celebrate every January.

The Sto. Niño is at the center of the most popular festivals of Cebu, Kalibo and Iloilo Cities in the Philippines, where the locals organize and hold extravagant parades in His honor.
     (The San Jose de Placer Parish Church at dawn)

A year ago, I was lucky to have attended the Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo City, and the night before the main festival competition, a religious sadsad was  held after the Holy Mass celebrated in the honor of the Sto. Niño at the San Jose de Placer Parish Church. This church is located right in front of the Plaza Libertad of the city, and the religious sadsad was held in front of the church to accommodate the thousands of devotees.

(Parish priests welcoming parishioners to the church)
(Those chandeliers bring 'light of a million mornings')

'Sadsad' is a Visayan word that means dancing, and a religious 'sadsad' is a religious activity, where devotees dance and sing to express their gratitude and devotion to the Sto. Niño. This activity is both a religious and a cultural tradition practiced by devotees of all ages.

The San Jose de Placér Church has seen history for more than 400 years. The site of the church was put up in 1607. Its belfries were built in the 1890s with the help of Ilonggo laborers.

The interiors of the San Jose de Placér Parish Church were impressive! With all the illumination inside the church during the festival day, the grandeur and beauty of the church would overwhelm any new visitor like me. 

The giant chandeliers lining up the ceilings along the nave reminded me of the song 'Light of a Million Mornings' because the hundred light bulbs from these chandeliers spread so much brightness that it literally felt grand and heavenly inside this place of worship.

        (A welcome banner at the Plaza Libertad 
                    in Iloilo City, Philippines)

But it was the religious sadsad in front of the church that fascinated and enthralled me. Even before the Holy Mass for that Saturday night finished, thousands of people carrying their Santo Nino's of all sizes - from baby Sto. Ninos to child-sized ones - all in different fancy costumes and colors, were already gathering outside the church.

With prayers and chants, the devotees danced, sang and raised their Sto. Niños to the tune played by loudspeakers next to a small stage on the right side of the church, where a big Sto. Niño was also standing and being regularly wiped by handkerchiefs brought by the devotees. 

              (A video of the religious sadsad)

         (The huge crowd of devotees in front of 
                the San Jose de Placer church)

The devotion to the Sto. Nino dates back to the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippines, almost 500 years ago, when only a handful of natives were converted to Christianity. 

Today, the devotion and veneration of the Child Jesus have grown even more, with religious festivals and processions being held all over the Philippines just to celebrate the feast of the Child Jesus.

          (Another video of the religious sadsad)

Those who attend the religious sadsad, not only ask for graces and pray to the Sto. Niño for their wishes to come true; they also dance to express gratitude for the blessings they receive all year-round.

I won't be able to join this year's sadsad in Iloilo City, but just let me include my prayers for the Sto. Niño - prayers of gratitude, continued blessings, peace and safety for me, my family, my friends, and for those who need them.

       (Hands raised in devotion and supplication)

Viva Señor Sto. Niño!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A Pinoy @ The Movies: Ang Larawan

During the Christmas holidays, I tweeted the SM Cinemas and Robinsons Cinemas asking them as to when they were going to screen Ang Larawan (The Portrait) here in Bacolod City (in the Philippines) because, unlike the other films participating at the Metro Manila Film Festival, this film was pulled out from the cinemas because it wasn't as popular as the other films in the festival. 

Luckily for moviegoers in Bacolod City, both cinema chains finally screened Ang Larawan in the first week of January! 

As expected, and worthy of being awarded the Best Picture trophy during the festival, the movie was fun to watch. No wonder my friend Roselyn, who lives in Hollywood but watched the film in Makati last month, wanted to applaud after every number. From the production design, to the music, libretto and dialogues, and the voices of the lead actors, this musical is a must-see. Forget the other trashy MMFF movies. Yes, it's time we educate the moviegoers to watch the films that really matter. 

Today's moviegoers don't need to pay at least 200 pesos to watch trashy comedies in cinemas. All they need to do is switch on their TVs to watch poorly-made, poorly-acted, poorly-written Filipino television dramas that, to me, are comedies pretending to be dramas.

It's time we had better films, not only during the Metro Manila Film Festival, but all year-round.  

Ang Larawan, which was based on an English play written by the Philippine National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquin, titled A Portrait of the Artist As Filipino, is set in the pre-WWII Manila, where two unmarried sisters fight off their two other siblings from selling their ancestral house in the charming Old Manila.

As to how it all happened and ended, you need to listen to the music, watch the acting, and admire their voices. I have an issue with the lead male though. Paulo Avelino's voice isn't exactly made for singing. Instead of music, I was hearing noises. Although he was probably hired because he was handsome and could draw the younger moviegoers, he was a miscast. 

I am sure there are other young, male actors who could sing out there. Piolo Pascual comes to mind, but he was probably very expensive. Forget Coco Martin; he could carry a handgun and shoot a target while tumbling, but that guy couldn't carry a tune even if it meant saving his family in Ang Probinsyano. Would Gary V. or Martin Nievera count? How about Jed Madela? Jake Zyrus?

And another thing. Zsazsa Padilla portrays a conga singer. But when she showed off her conga skills, she was shaking her shoulders like she was trying on a new bra. Again, I am sure there are singers out there who can sing and dance properly at the same time. Verni Varga, anyone? Sultry, sexy, and a real performer! They could have gotten Dayanara Torres. They could just have made her look Asian-ish, train her to sing a few bars, and she'd shake her shoulders like a real conga dancer! After all, she wasn't called a 'dancing queen' for nothing.

And Rayver Cruz as Zsazsa Padilla's partner looked like he belonged elsewhere. He was actually in my hometown to celebrate the opening of a new mall last year. He didn't belong in the movie; he belonged there. At the mall.

And if you saw the movie, remember the opening scene where the two sisters served tablea tsokolate to their male guest? It reminded me of my mother's tablea tsokolate at home.The old tradition was, if you served pure tablea tsokolate to the guest, he or she was welcome and would be seen by the master of the house. If you served diluted tsokolate, that's a message to the guest that he or she wasn't welcome at all and had to leave.

The two sisters served pure tsokolate. So does my mom. Ha-ha-ha!

I wish they make more Filipino movies like Ang Larawan. It's very educational, telling the new generation of what it was like before when the world was charming and peaceful. When everyone had manners and decency. When everyone enjoyed a cup of tablea tsokolate, played the piano at home, and sang like they meant it. :-)