Manila American Cemetery and Memorial

For long an affront to our sovereignty, the American Cemetery was verboten to Filipinos when I was growing up.  But my girlfriend wanted to test the rules, and so we tried going in on my birthday.  And what do you know, they just let us right in.  I haven’t been to this place in years and it is still very beautiful.  I came for the maps.  Gorgeously rendered in mosaic tile, it gives you the story of the Pacific War geographically.  It makes you realize how petty war is in the grand scheme of things yet so many have to die for it.  17,097 people are buried here, a fraction of those actually lost in the war on both sides.  This really is a memorial of never again, and more people should try to see it.

The American Cemetery is open everyday until 5pm.

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Spectator Activities

After talking to Ronald of Our Melting Pot Hostel, I’ve decided to make a list of spectator activites in Metro Manila.

1) Watch a Philippine TV variety show live! – for good or for ill, variety shows are a staple on Philippine television.  Walk into almost any house in the metropolis, and you will see the TV (or the household help’s TV) tuned into the next presidential candidate of the Philippines (I kid) trapaising around the screen with scantily clad girls.  What’s interesting is, according to Ronald, is that it is easy to get to watch these shows live, if you show up at the appropriate time.  ABS-CBN and GMA7 are located in Quezon City and ABC5 is found in Novaliches. 

2) Watch a PBA game – In spite of being a vertically-challenged people, we love basketball.  Fortunately due to the Philippine diaspora, we are now getting taller.  There are two conferences played out throughout the year.  One with all Filipinos and one with foreigners called imports.  You can also catch the university leagues, the most famous, and the hardest to get tickets would be the battles between Ateneo and Lasalle.  To get the lowdown on Philippine basketball read Pacific Rims by Rafe Bartholomew.  The games happen at the Araneta Colliseum and Cuneta Astrodome.

3) Watch a cockfight – PETA beware, these cockfights or sabong as they are locally called are not for animal lovers.  Two roosters duke it out, gladiator style, with a blade strapped to their leg.  Nothing can be more raucous than a sabong.  Watch the kristos take your bets, and marvel at how they can remember everybody.  I know there is a cockpit in Pasay City.

4) Watch a boxing match – You all must’ve heard about Manny Pacquiao by now, the greatest Filipino boxer ever to enter this world.  It is possible to watch the next Pacquiao at locations like Elorde’s Gym in Paranaque.

5) Watch a rockband – Saguijo in Makati would be your best bet to watch the next up and coming rockband in the Philippines. 

That’s all I can think of right now.  I’ll post some more when I think of some.

Maleldo 2011

I can not start this story without thanking ivanhenares.com for giving me a heads up about what’s happening in Ivan’s and my shared province of Pampanga during the Holy Week.

The top three things I saw this Holy Week in Pampanga were:

1) the church at Betis, Guagua, Pampanga

2) the chapel at Pio, Porac, Pampanga

3) the exploding Judas (Pakbung Hudas!) in Minalin, Pampanga

So let me begin, I’m half Kapamgpangan.  Ever since I was a child, I would go up to Pampanga to celebrate Christmas, Holy Week or a birthday of one of my many grand aunts.  I went from big house to big house, watched my relatives dress up the different saints for the processions, and, of course, eat lots and lots of food.  But I was always confined to the city of San Fernando.  I always wondered about the Bank of Florida(blanca) or the hacienda that my family, the Panlilio’s came from.  What was Mexico, Pampanga?  And more intrigingly, what was Sexmoan, Pampanga?  So this year I decided to find out.

My adventure began right away, on Wednesday night, I walked down Consunji St., to check out the SM being build right smackdab in the middle of the San Fernando Heritage District.  Grrr, SM (shakes fist).  I noticed a beautiful white house, which I’ve always seen, except this time it was lit up.  I thought, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could go inside?”  And as usual, as you declare something to the world, the world opens up to you.  When I went back  to our ancestral home, one of our guests actually lived there.  So I got to see it.  It was an awesome house, much bigger than ours.  My favorite feature was that it had a balcony overlooking the street.  And when the procession came by that night, they had giant wicker plates filled with jasmine that we strew on the saints as they drifted by.

The next day, I drove off to Lubao, the birthplace of Diosdado Macapagal, the father of our last president, and a president himself.  Ivan and his crew have already constructed brown signs on the road to help us find the different tourists sites of the province (but we could still have more ;).  Lubao church, even though it was the oldest in the city, wasn’t that exciting, and neither were the neighboring churches in Sasmuan (Sexmoan, damn Yankees) or Guagua.  The winner church was in the town of Betis in the municipality of Guagua.  Betisanyos (yes, they have their own name) have a proud history of woodcarvings.  Their church was full of them.  But my favorite part was the whole floor of the church was covered in hardwood.  That’s pretty awesome.

The next day was Good Friday.  It was finally my time to watch the crucifixions in San Pedro Cutud, one of the barangays of San Fernando.  One should park as early as possible, and as close as possible to the site.  And honestly, if you could bring a beach umbrella to the site, you should.  It’s darn hot.  You could buy a “souvenir” if you like of one of the pamalos that the penitents use to whip themselves for 300 pesos.  The crucifixions themselves were actually passion plays where one should be reverent, but even the announcer could not deny that the highlight was the nailing.  Are these things moral?  No.   But I did look.  It wasn’t as gross as I expected it to be, but it sure must’ve hurt like heck.  One day it will probably be banned.  Just like the holy stampedes of Quiapo.

On Holy Saturday, I continued my exploration of the province.  I went to Floridablanca, Basa Airbase, Porac, and Poracay.  But my favorite place, and again thanks to Ivan, was a little chapel in the barrio of Pio in Porac.  It was probably more a hacienda chapel than a full-blown church according to a commentor on Ivan’s blog but it was extremely cute (if you could call a church that).  It was built on top of a hill in 1861, and it’s still used by the community every Saturday at 5pm for Mass (Ivan).  I liked it.  I could imagine it being used for intimate weddings or baptisms.  I went to another chapel in Hacienda Dolores,  also just outside of Porac, but you have to drive deep into the hacienda to see it.  After I ate in C on the Perimeter Road of Clark Air Base.  I had a really expensive panizza which was good for two, oh well, at least it was good.

On Easter Sunday, I went to Pakbung Hudas or Exploding Judas in Minalin, Pampanga.  The parish priests want to say it’s now more a symbol of all the sins of the world, but we all know in the end, we’re blowing up Judas.  Sto. Tomas, the neighboring town, now blows up a paper mache Earth instead of a Judas.  How corny.  Minalin is going to kick their butt.  Minalin blows up Judas at 9:30 AM and Sto. Tomas at 12:00 PM.   So you could actually watch both.  But Minalin’s is better.

So that’s my lenghty recap of what I did for Holy Week.  Next time I’ll check out Willy Layug, master sculptor of Betis in San Agustin, Barangay Ursula.  I’ll find out why the Macabebe scouts are so reviled.  Might get even closer to Arayat.  See the swamps of Masantol and Candaba.  And see the original hacienda in Mexico (Masicu, damn Yankees) in Pampanga.

Luneta

I did something today, that most backpackers have done in Manila, but less and less Manileños get to do.  I strolled through Luneta Park, and it turned out to be a pretty trippy experience.

 When I walked through the gates, I thought it was Phnom Penh all over again, which is pretty sad considering the state that that city is in.  But then I started seeing things that were different.  Surprisingly, Luneta may just have something in common on Sundays with Yoyogi Park in Tokyo!  It seems Luneta is truly a public space where people can freely express themselves.  First we came across a group of eccentric artists who spoke very good English and were clearly enjoying themselves.  Then near the opposite end of the park, behind the Lapu-Lapu statue, there were arnis (stick fighting) people fighting.  Beside them was a group doing acrobatic stunts for free. When we got back to the Rizal statue, there was whole contingent of Philippine Marines showing off their marching skills in full dress blues and firing off their rifles (with blanks, of course).  In short, all this was pretty awesome.

arnis: a Filipino martial art

check out the altitude on this guy

the Rizal Monument in the background

Then I walked off, down M.H. Del Pilar and came upon the Hobbit House.  It’s not where I used to remember it to be, but it was still cool to see it.  Next time, I’ll try to catch La Solidaridad bookstore, which is around the corner on Padre Faura, when it’s open.

door leading to Hobbit House

Philippines’ Greatest Hits

People do ask, when they come to the Philippines, what should they see, which is logical considering their limited time.  What I’m going to do is make a list of places I think you should see, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t other places, too.

The top 3 I would suggest would be Boracay, Sagada, and Donsol.

I know some people would say don’t go to Boracay anymore because it is over-exploited which is true.  But if you go to Boracay when it’s the low season (meaning the time when all the Philippines isn’t there) it isn’t so bad.  I’d suggest going there from January to March or maybe even October to November.

Sagada in the north is awesome because their culture is intact.  Unreachable by the Spanish Catholics, Sagada was converted by the Anglicans.  The positive side effect was the Anglicans let the Sagadans preserve their traditions.  Also non-Sagadans are not allowed to own property there, maintaing  Sagada culture even more.

Donsol.  If you’ve never swam with a whaleshark, you should.  Donsol is still best accessed by flying to Legaspi and taking a hired van from there.  During the night at Donsol, look for the whorls of fireflies by going on a river cruise.  When I say whorls, I mean whorls of intensity that you’ve never seen before.  You can even watch the fishermen catch fish using traditional methods with torches on their heads and bamboo baskets on their back.

Now many of you would insist to go to Palawan, and I say most of you should.  But let me humbly suggest that instead of going to Puerto Prinsesa, just fly or take a boat straight to Coron from Manila.  The beaches are more pristine there, and some islands are nearly if not completely uninhabited.  Inquire about the baby Boracays and you will be amply rewarded. 

Two more places I would recommend would be Batanes and Siargao, but I haven’t been to neither, but would go to if given the opportunity.

You must be wondering why I haven’t suggested Bohol or Puerto Prinsesa and the like.  Those places are great, and would be the places you would go to if you read the Lonely Planet or Rough Guides.  I’m suggesting the other places above, especially the top 2, because these are the places I would go to because I’m from here.

Makati Central Business District

I never thought I would be promoting the center of my home city, but arrangements in the Makati CBD area have made hanging around it for the backpacker quite attractive.

First of all, if you want to get a sweeping history of what happened to the Philippines, check out the Ayala Musuem, where you will not only see intricate handcarved dioramas of important moments in Philippine history, but you will also see galleons, our best classical painters, and indigenous gold collections.

After that you can stroll through the Ayala Triangle Park, which is what is holding the new Makati together, and eat at it’s strip of restaurants.  Try Wee Nam Kee, the Singaporean resto known for its Hainanese chicken and Omakase for delicious Japanese fusion food.

And of course there is the shopping.  From Greenbelt to Glorietta, you’ll be able to shop at the sprawling amount of stores from high end to medium prices. 

I’d also like to add, connecting Greenbelt to Glorietta is the awesome Landmark with its cheap priced goods and a fully stocked grocery in its basement.  Plus you can get probably the best sampler of Filipino food at Via Mare on Landmark’s second floor (try the scrumptious bibingka) and the classic sisig in Aling Lucing’s in the basement.

All of these are located in the central part of Makati and are accessible by getting off at the Ayala station of the MRT.

On the fringes of Makati is the Power Plant at Rockwell, which is still, in my opinion, the best mall in the country.  Still kind of hard to get to because it doesn’t have any nearby MRT station.  The best way to get here would be by cab or private car.

And if you want to do some budget shopping or buy some cheap pearls (we are in the Orient), you can head over to nearby Market, Market in Taguig, where you can get bargain prices and get ready to do some haggling :).  You can reach Market, Market by cab or from the Ayala MRT station walk to the corner of Ayala Ave. and Edsa and try to look for the Fort Bus station to take you in.

Beside Market, Market is also the ever expanding Serendra and High Street shopping strip which just opened the first Muji in the Philippines at cheaper Philippine prices (rumored to be 7 % lower than everywhere else).

Oh ya, going back to Makati, every Saturday morning, in Salcedo park in the center of the Salcedo Village area, they have a market.  Here you can try all kinds of cuisine and even that hard to find Filipino flavor.  Too bad it’s open only on Saturdays till 2 PM, but those of you looking for “hawker” stalls that sell some local cuisine, this might be for you.

And if you miss that, on Sunday, there is exactly the same thing in the Legaspi Park in the center of the Legaspi Village area of Makati.

Like I said, I never thought I’d be promoting Makati for anything but a shopping destination, but I’m glad that it’s developing a culture worth seeing.

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Philippines classified among the Next 11 emerging economies of the world by Goldman Sachs.  Awesome!