Sunday, 14 October 2018

#itsmorefuninthePhiippines : What MassKara Festival Can Learn From Dinagyang Festival

Yes, Bacolod City's famous Masskara Festival can definitely learn from Iloilo City's Dinagyang Festival, which, ironically, is just a short ferry ride away.

Last year, I attended both Dinagyang and Masskara Festivals. Dinagyang was held in January; Masskara in October.

Dinagyang Festival, which is one of the most popular festivals in the Philippines alongside Ati-Atihan of Kalibo, Aklan, Sinulog of Cebu City, Masskara of Bacolod City, and Kadayawan of Davao City, showcases the aeta, or ati, history of Panay Island.

Although the streets of Iloilo City were closed to vehicular traffic, the residents and local and international visitors to the city were able to watch the performances of the competing tribus, or tribes, because the organizers of the Dinagyang Festival assigned five (5) performance stages around the city center where the tribes performed.

The closest performance stage to our hotel in Iloilo City was just a hundred meters away, but since the tribes had to move from one performance stage to the next, all of them passed right in front of our hotel, where we just conveniently waited and took photos.

After a weekend enjoying the Dinagyang Festival, we left Iloilo City as very happy tourists.

Then came the Masskara. 

                   (Masskara souvenir masks)

Having lived in Bacolod City, the host of Masskara Festival, I thought it was just easy to watch and enjoy the performances of the participating tribes.

I was wrong.

Since the tribes competing at the Masskara Festival were performing only at one spot, the Bacolod public plaza, you have to squeeze through the tight crowd to get a seat around the performance spot. Those seats I think were reserved for local officials and local sponsors. So, if you're not a politician or a bigshot businessman, you can never get a seat in there; you'd never be able to watch the performances during the Masskara Festival highlights at the public plaza.

In short, if you're a nobody, you never get a seat at the grandstand.

(Bacoleños at the Araneta Street entrance could not get into the Bacolod public plaza grounds)

Last year, I attempted to watch at the public plaza but it was locked down by the police. They closed off the area mid-afternoon and only the people who were there early were inside. If you were trying to get inside the public plaza premises before the performances, you could never get in. Disappointing.

(I joined the disappointed people who 
were turned away by the police at the 
Bacolod public plaza entrance) 

(Kept out: The scene at the Araneta St. 
entrance to the public plaza)

I tried entering through the entrance in front of the San Sebastian Cathedral, they wouldn't let us in. I walked around the plaza and ended up at the Araneta Street entrance, still no luck. There, I joined the crowd of unhappy Bacoleños who couldn't even enjoy their own festival.😠

(A baby and her mom hoped to watch and enjoy the performances. Like me, they were disappointed.)

If only the organizers of the Masskara Festival assigned a few other performance stages around the city center, more Bacoleños, and local and international tourists would have been able to enjoy the dancers' elaborate costumes and their performance.😢

If the issue is the energy of the dancers or the heaviness of their masks and costumes, then they could probably just perform a snippet (maybe for a minute or two) of their full performance during these 'stopovers' en route to the Bacolod public plaza. 

Because the whole point of the Masskara Festival is to provide enjoyment to the public through street dancing wearing those colorful masks and elaborate costumes. This was the main reason why it was organized in 1980. 

And aren't there separate prizes for the street dancing and choreography? So that their dancing and performances could be appreciated by the public?

If ONLY the government officials and VIPs are allowed to watch the performances comfortable sitting at the public plaza stage, and NOT the Bacoleños and visitors, WHAT THEN IS THE POINT of all these? They could just have a fashion show of their costumes along Araneta Street instead, after which we could all go home without breaking a sweat.😩

This is the Dinagyang Festival's route for the competing tribes showing five (5) performance stages:

(Map courtesy of dinagyangsailoilo website)

Does the Masskara Festival also have a ROUTE MAP like Dinagyang's? Where can I find it?

So, my first question is: Will the Masskara Festival have several spots at the city center where the tribes will be performing snippets of their whole dance routine?

(Locals trying to have fun amidst the lock down)

I'm also asking: if the Ilonggos at Dinagyang Festival could perform at FIVE spots around the city center, carrying their costumes and props along with them, why couldn't Bacoleños at Masskara? (Watch them carry their costumes and props around the city in this video).

But my most important question is: Am I going to make the trip so I can watch, too?😱 

Hmm. Don't know. I may just be disappointed again.😛

Monday, 1 October 2018

Enjoying Ecology, Defying Gravity: Inwangsan

I have never been a mountain climber. I grew up in the lowlands in the Philippines, next to a beach! I'm more like a child of the sea than of the hills or something higher. 😃

The first time I ever climbed a mountain in South Korea was in the winter of 2005. It was a memorable experience, memorable because something went wrong! At the peak! Of da mountain! I have told only a few friends about that climb, and they all laughed when I told them what really went wrong.😓

I was so excited before that climb. I bought a winter jacket and ski pants from the sportswear shop on the ground floor of our building when they had a sale and the rest of my hiking gear from Namdaemun Market. 

Yes, I prepared like I was going up Mount Everest. I got myself a headlight (that small light strapped on my forehead), a walking stick, spikes for my boots, ski goggles, and winter gloves! We left Seoul for the Taebaek Mountains around 11 the night before and it was -20'C when we started our climb at about 5:30 the next morning. 

I remember during our ride to the jump-off point, the windows of the bus were icy and freezing. But since I came prepared, I was able to hike comfortably with 30 other climbers from the office. That was my first and last climb during winter in Korea, though my other winter trips, later on, were only limited to ski slopes and the arenas of the Winter Olympics. But in the following years, I also got to climb the third highest mountain in South Korea, Seoraksan!

Then came Inwang-san.

Inwang-san is a mountain in the Seodaemun District of Seoul that I always saw when I was standing at the edge of Gwanghwamun Square. All those years, I had always been interested in going up there since it's close by, just sitting on the northwest side of Gyeongbuk Palace. 

Inwang-san means 'mountain of a generous king' and at 340 meters tall, it affords any climber a different view of the city landscapes.  As I said, if you're in Seoul, stand at the edge of Gwanghwamun Square right in front of Gyeongbuk Palace and look to your left. You'd see a peak; that's Inwang-san, or Mt. Inwang.

                (Don't miss to read the signs!)

Since Inwang-san is in the city (like Nam-san), it's accessible from different corners, and on one cool, autumn morning, I gathered my friends Wendy, Abigail and Ingrid at Exit 1 of Gyeongbuk Palace Station (Orange Line, Line 3). We then walked west and entered a the Hongjae-2-dong neighborhood, trying to reach the mountain's southern foot by meandering the neighborhood's alleys full of interesting cafés, shops, restaurants, and residences. 
                          (On our way up!)
(We're happy that mountains in Korea got stairs!)
(The shortest way between two points 
is a set of stairs) 

But as we got to the clearing, free of apartment buildings, we followed the hilly way up, but somewhere, somehow, we got lost!  We were stopping all the time to pose for photos and we probably missed a sign!

Luckily in the middle of a forest, an ajussi came from nowhere and directed us to the right path, including one that required us to rappel up the mountainside on a rope! What fun! 
                   (Watch out for wild boars!)

And although we spoke limited hangeul, we got to communicate with him and he ended up being our photographer as well! And we were glad it was an ajussi that showed up in the middle of the forest and not a wild boar! Ha-ha-ha! Yes, there were warning signs about wild boars! 😱
(The kind ajussi took our photo and 
pointed us to the right trail!)

We didn't intend to seriously climb Inwangsan in record time; we intended to sightsee, take photos, and have fun! And that's we did!

We stopped at a ledge for a photo shoot, we posed while rappelling, and we took breathers to literally smell the forest and its cool autumn breezes. If you also live in Seoul, you'd know that this was part of the enjoyment while living in this city: mountain and nature were always a subway or bus ride away! 

 (My turn to hoist my body weight up
this side of Inwang-san)

           (Ingrid rappelling and defying gravity)

At 340 meters, it's taller than Nam-san that stands at 240 meters without the Seoul Tower. But unlike the familiar views at Nam-san, the views of Seoul from this side of the Seodaemun and Jongno Districts gave us a different look of the city from afar: the Gyeongbuk Palace, the Presidential Blue House, Pug-ak-san (Mt. Pug-ak), the neighborhood of Hongjae-dong on the northern side of Inwang-san, and the downtown buildings that I could probably name on a clear day. (The neighboring Mt. Pug-ak, by the way, was the inspiration of my prize-winning essay at the 2007 Seoul International Essay Writing Competition.) 

           (You don't get to do this at Nam-san: Embracing the city)

                      (Lost and having fun!)
(Look to the northeast at the foot of 
    Mt. Pug-ak is the Presidential Blue House)

Aside from the views, the trails, its ecology, and flora (and luckily without the wild boar fauna!), the other interesting character of Inwang-san is the Seoul Fortress Walls, the reconstructed old walls surrounding Hanyang, the old name of Seoul, that snake around the city. It was an 18-kilometer ancient wall that protected the ancient city but was destroyed during the Japanese occupation.

("I can name that building from where I sit!")

(At the northwestern side: The expressway that goes 
through the Hongjae-dong neighborhood 
of Seodaemun District)
                  (Bukhansan at the distance)

Over the years, the Seoul Fortress Walls were gradually reconstructed. Parts of it you can see snaking around Nam-san, and in teh neighborhoods of Junggu and Dongdaemun, usually on some hilly neighborhod like the Ihwa Village, that's visible from Dongaemun Design Plaza area. And if happen to be at Sanmootonge, a Coffee Prince drama location, you can see part of the Seoul Fortress Walls on the eastern side of Inwang-san.

(A part of the Seoul Fortress Wall lies on the left)
         (Climbers on the Seoul Fortress Wall)

When we finally reached the top of Inwang-san, we joined other Korean hikers as they posed at the peak they just conquered. There, we felt 'underdressed' compared to them as they all looked like they were geared up for Everest while we, well, looked like we were geared up for lunch at Tong-in Market. Ha-ha-ha! 😜
 (Pausing and posing near
 the Inwangsan peak!)
         (Defying gravity on top of Inwang-san!)

And after posing on that huge rock at the peak, it was time to descend. Walking down the eastern trail, we met more hikers going up. We didn't really keep track of time; we only kept track of enjoyment and fun.That morning, we met up at 9AM at Gyeongbuk Palace Station and by 1PM, we were back at the main road waiting for the Green Bus 7212 that brought these starving hikers to Tong-in Market for lunch!

   (Gingko trees lining up and turning yellow at the                main road at the foot of Inwangsan)
(At the main road on the northeastern side, 
 this monument stands for the hero 
policeman who died thwarting an
assassination attempt in 1968)

If you're into hiking and live in Seoul, discovering Inwang-san is a must-hike. While Nam-san is very touristy, complete with a cable car, electric buses, and a thousand other tourists, Inwang-san is about nature in the city, quiet and cool, and offers a different view of Seoul!

Have fun and do wear proper hiking shoes!

PS. Thanks to Wendy, Gail, and Ingrid for the photos and the fun!😎 
(Rock & roll: sitting on a rocky 
ledge of Inwangsan)

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Lunch & Coffee in Seoul: Coffee Prince's Sanmotoonge (Part 2)

(#1: From the main street, this road goes 
up to Buam-dong)

With our tummies still full from the yummiest lunch at Tong-in Market, we took the Green Bus 7212 across the street, headed north, and got off at Bu-am dong Community Center Bus Stop (Stop # 01139). 

From the bus stop, walk about 70 meters, then hike up following the path of the photos. From there, it's less than 800 meters from the famous café. (On your way back to Gyeongbukgung Station, just cross the street, look for the bus stop, take the same bus going back.)

Sanmotoong-e is a charming café on a hillside made famous by the hit Korean drama, Coffee Prince, and getting there is a bit tricky as there's no public transport that goes into its hilly location in the inner areas of Buam-dong in the Jongno District of Seoul.

But since some of us have been there before, getting lost wasn't a problem. Au contraire, walking from the main road to Sanmotoong-e was a fun stroll!

I took photos of the path we took walking to Sanmotoonge from the main street.

              (#2: The start of our climb up)
      (#3: We simply followed the road up)

When we got there, we weren't surprised to find a lot of people already enjoying an afternoon by the hill.

With the sun out, it was a perfect day to sit by the hillside sipping coffee, sharing cakes, and chatting with friends.

We ordered our drinks and cakes and picked a spot from where we could see the other side of Inwangsan that we climbed before (and definitely deserves a separate blog!).

(#4: There are other cafés along the way up)

               (#5: Be careful if the road forks; 
                just follow the path going up)

                          (#6: Almost there!)

(#7: A bicycle welcomes everyone 
at the entrance of the café!)

If you're a fan of the drama, Coffee Prince, a trip to Sanmootonge is definitely worth the effort. It sets itself apart from all the other cafés in Seoul because, when you're there comfortabley sitting under the cool breezes and surrounded by greeneries, it doesn't feel like you're in the city!

(A life-size, cut-out of the Descendant of the Sun actor awaits your visit at Sanmotoonge)

(My iced cafe mocha pairs perfectly with any cake!)

                       (Coffee, cake, chill!)

(Sanmotoonge's location on the hillside affords a spectacular view of a different Seoul)

(The lower level balcony of the café has tables 
and umbrellas for a sunnier seat)  

(A café with a view: The Seoul Fortress 
wall snakes up and down Inwangsan)

We started with a yummy lunch and ended up with coffee, cakes, and chat! A perfect day, indeed!

So, if you're in Seoul and wanted a different take on the city, a lunch at Tong-in Market and a coffee afternoon at Sanmotoonge would be a perfect break!

Enjoy! :-)

(We stumbled upon this EXO bus on our way back.)

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Lunch & Coffee in Seoul: Tong-in Market (Part 1)

The traditional markets in Seoul are the most interesting bunch. This is where you can feel the 'real Korea', where household items needed for Korean living are sold and bought, the best-cooked Korean dishes are served (except for restaurants in Namdaemun!), and the atmosphere of old traditions can still be experienced.

And there's the most popular of all, especially with tourists - Namdaemun Market! That's where you get the cheapest souvenirs tourists bring home.

There's the Gwangjang Market where you can get binddaetteok, a pancake made of ground mung beans.

And in my new neighborhood, right in the middle of the must-visit Cheongnyangni Fruit and Vegetable Market, there's the kamja-tang restaurant! 

(Tourists heading to Tong-in Market!
The Market is right behind them!)

But this day, for my friends' lunch and coffee, we headed to Tong-in Market to enjoy its yummy Korean dishes and experience the market's unique way of using tokens to buy lunch!

I have been to Tong-in Market several times already, and I find this place to be the most enjoyable in terms of the quality of Korean dishes and the uniqueness of experience! Now, I wanted my friends to have this experience as well!

This is the only place in Seoul where I can get all my favorite assortment of Korean viands in one place! For example, I like soondae; I also like that side dish, kyeran-mari; and that spicy fried pork, too! And add to that, chap-jjae! And I can have all that on my lunch plate at one time!

(Everyone's got their lunch box!)

After meeting up at Exit 3 of Gyeongbukgung Palace, we all walked towards Tong-in Market just about 500 meters away. 

And at the entrance of the market, we bought our tokens and were given empty, plastic lunch boxes. We then walked around and checked out the dishes we wanted to have for lunch!

The ajummas from whom we bought simply put the food on our lunch box. And once we were done, we went up to the lunch area where we bought rice, got our utensils, picked a seat, and enjoyed our yummy lunch!

My perfect lunch box with kyeran-mari 
(rolled egg omelet with veggies, soondae 
(spicy blood sausage), & spicy marinated 
pork! I'm ready to eat!

For KRW5,000 worth of tokens, my three viands cost me KRW3,000; my rice KRW 1,000; and my syeke, or sweet rice drink another KRW 1,000!

The yummiest and cheapest Korean lunch evah

(With tummies full, they're ready to have 
coffee at Sanmotoonge, a café made famous 
by the Korean drama, Coffee Prince!)
(That's Part 2 of this blog)
*  *  *  *  *

TONG-IN MARKET is in the Jongno District in Seoul, along the Jahamun Road. It's about 518 meters from Exit 2 of Gyeongbukgung Station (Line 3, Orange Line).

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Hidden Figures: Anita Magsaysay-Ho's Nude Women

Having lived away from home for more than a decade, I had left off things which I didn't know I had. And two of those turned out to be treasures, whose story needed sharing.

(Hidden figures inside)

Many years ago, in the early 2000's, after a morning meeting with the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, he walked me and a colleague down the corridors of the Met passing by its art shop on our way out.

Although the shop was closed, I could see through its glass walls two sketches in pencil of women in nude poses. On the artwork's bottom right-hand corner was the artist's signature: Anita Magsaysay-Ho.

Of course, I knew who she was! Right there, I  expressed aloud my desire of owning one of Anita's artworks! And I think at that moment, the Universe was listening!

Anita Magsaysay-Ho was a famous Filipina painter, a member of the Thirteen Moderns, an elite group of Philippine painters whose artworks were coveted by art collectors, dealers, and museums. Anita's paintings alone could fetch millions of pesos.

But seeing that those two sketch works drawn with compressed charcoal were priced less than a thousand pesos each, I figured they were a steal! But unfortunately, the shop was closed for lunch!

But as they say, be careful with what you wish for.

The next day, someone delivered a wide, flat package to the office. The elegant, glossy wrapper spelled "METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF MANILA" over and over again, as if to remind me that I should never forget where it came from.

I carefully opened it, un-taping its sides delicately so as not to disturb whatever was hiding underneath its camouflage.

And when I finally unpacked it, there they were, lying on my office table: two nude women who, a day before, were proudly displaying their nakedness on a museum shop, now resting under the lights of a busy office full of people who couldn't be bothered by my excitement - all of which turned out to be a singular cosmic event that casually unfolded in their midst.

The package was accompanied by a note saying that these two sketchworks were gifts! Indeed, the Universe was listening! 

Even as I was typing my gratefulness in an email to the Met's director, I still couldn't believe that I was now a custodian of two artworks of one of the Philippines' six greatest painters. And all I needed to earn it was...wish for it!  I suppose the art universe conspires to reward those who appreciate its existence.

Today, as I discovered this package hidden among the things I left behind, I realized my duty to preserve them. I may need to have them framed first, and probably display them somewhere, someday.

But in the meantime, I thank Anita Magsaysay-Ho for these treasures. Of course, I also thank the Met and the Universe.  

Anita Magsaysay-Ho was a cousin of the late Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay. She was born in 1914 and died in 2012.

(The revered Anita sketched these women 
in 1976 when she was 62.)