An ever-increasing number of visits to my wife's home country (more about my travels in the Philippines)

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Ruins, Fort Santiago, Manila

One of the oldest sights in Manila is the magnificent Fort Santiago.

Located at the northern tip of the walled city of Intramuros ("within the walls"), the first fort was built in 1571 on the site of a Muslim palace destroyed by the conquistadors. That log fort was in turn destroyed by a Chinese invader, and the current stone structure replaced it in 1592. Further damage occurred when the American and Filipino forces shelled it to dislodge the Japanese, who had occupied it during World War II.

Some of the buildings have been restored. When you see the magnificent front gate (above), you expect just another reproduction of history. However, as the brief sketch above indicates, the place should be more rubble and ruins than refinement.

And I'm pleased to say, it is. The pictures below, rather than concentrating on the good-as-new restorations, seek to show the beauty in the decay of the old fort.

(All photos were taken on my first visit to Manila, in August, 2005.)

The Redoubtable Jeepney


(plainwrap [in Manila])


(some variety [in Baguio])

You can't go anywhere in the Philippines without running into the modern version of the workhorse, the water buffalo, the llama.

I mean, of course, the jeepney.

First fashioned from the jeeps left by the Americans after World War II, the jeepney is the backbone of the public transportation system. More than that, it's a cultural icon in its own right.

The jeepney and its driver have been the subject of articles in anthropology and sociology. One blog celebrates "the Pinoy's capacity to beat swords into ploughshares, to transform weapons of mass destruction into instruments of mass celebration: mortar shells into church bells, rifle barrels into flutes... JEEPS INTO JEEPNEYS."

It's little wonder that the vehicle and its driver are equally celebrated. After all, the unique appearance of most jeepneys is held to be a reflection of the driver's personality. The examples I give here are tame; for many more, visit this page of Google images. And for a broader look at the jeepney's history and evolution, see the article at Wikipedia.

Last summer, when I spent eight weeks living near Angeles City in Pampanga, the only way to get to and from "town" was the jeepney (taxis were prohibitively expensive). I spent many a short ride squeezed into a very small space, head down. I knew how cattle felt. Still, for about 20 cents American, I could be whisked away to the mall where my wife and I lived in off-hours. Someone said you can't know a country until you've traveled like "the people."

I guess I know the Philippines now.

But all things considered, I think I might rather travel like this guy:


(photo by my wife Lila)

Malate Church, Malate, Manila

The Malate Church (Our Lady of Remedios Parish) is just down the street from the pension where we usually stay in Malate. It stands just behind the large statue of Rajah Sulayman as you look from the Roxas Boulevard "Baywalk" on Manila Bay.

According to a plaque on the front of the church:

Church of Malate: This section of the city dates back to 1588. The titular patroness of this church is Nuestra Senora de los Remedios whose statue was brought from Spain in 1624 by Rev. Juan Guevara, O.S.A. The British landed their troops near these shores in 1762 and used the church of Malate for protection for their rear-guard in the capture of Manila. This church was greatly damaged by the earthquake of June 3, 1863 and was rebuilt by Rev. Francisco Cuadrado, O.S.A. The parish has been under the successive administration of the Augustinians, the secular clergy, the Redemptorists, and the Columbans. 1937.

As the plaque was placed in 1937, there's no mention of what may have happened during the Japanese occupation or the bombing of Manila.

The Wikipedia article adds that Nuestra Senora de Remedios is "Our Lady of Remedies" who is the "patroness of childbirth." It also says that the statue brought in 1624 still "stands at the altar." The final historical note reads "the church was destroyed in 1773 and was rebuilt. It was also badly damaged in World War II, and later restored again."

Here are some pictures with brief captions:


The church's front, with no front garden
but a plaza just across the street


Details of the church facade

 
Closer up on the window over the door


These two hearts can be seen on either side of the
door (view largely blocked by the streetlights);
Note the extreme wear on the one on the right


The side yard of the church

Our Lady of the Pension, Malate

It's said that whatever you plan to do in the Philippines, it will take longer than you expect.

We came up against this one Wednesday morning when checking into Pension Natividad, in Malate, Manila.

The place was pleasant enough, an oasis in the center of a pretty yucky area.

This is the dining hall sans people. But when we arrived to check in, there was Mass going on here! We had to wait until the Mass was over as the entire staff was attending.

This, however, made up for it. I'm very fond of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and there she was, just above the front desk, looking down on us benevolently. Lila (or was it the clerk?) told me that she had been the Patroness of the Philippines but was no longer (Wikipedia says only 1935-1942), as she had been Patroness of "New Spain" since 1754, and is now "Patroness of the Americas" since 1946.

We had a nice stay at Natividad.

Simbaan a Bassit (Small Church), Vigan

Having just read The Graveyard Book, I've been thinking all day of the various graveyards I've visited.

Back in August of 2005, Lila took me on my first trip to the Philippines. We stayed in Manila, and visited Baguio and Vigan up North.

Vigan is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famed for its Spanish colonial architecture.

But perhaps the highlight for me was a beautiful, small cemetery. The Simbaan a Bassit ("small church" in Ilocano, the local dialect) was built in the 1850s, and is just the sort of pile of tombs and mausoleams I was imagining as I reac The Graveyard book.

The front of the church is rather unimposing, but on a blistering sunny day, the rundown cemetery behind the church was radiant.

Without further comment, here are some pictures.

First Burial Place of Jose Rizal, Paco Cemetery, Manila

I have come to admire "The Great Malay," Dr. Jose P. Rizal, the Philippines' greatest national hero. I have been slowly reading his works; I have read one print biography and one online, and several biographical articles; and I have walked the route from his place of incarceration to his place of execution, where the Spanish authorities--on charges of insurrection--took his life on the morning of December 30, 1896.

In the picture above, the effigy stands in the space where Dr. Rizal was incarcerated; the steps indicate the path to the execution ground.

He is fascinating, multi-talented, and multi-faceted. An unchallenged national hero for over a century, and yet riddled with ambiguities. There are even messianic sects, such as the Rizalistas, who believe he will come again to save the Philippines in her hour of greatest need.

Anyway, in my research I had learned that the monument in what is now Rizal Park, near his execution site, was not his original resting place. In fact, the Spaniards had spirited his body away and buried it in secret to prevent a cult of martyr-worship.


Borrowed from Chapter XI here

But friends of the family discovered the location: formerly a cemetery, these days known as Paco Park. They paid a worker to mark the grave with Dr. Jose Protasio Rizal's initials in reverse, as seen above. (There's an interesting account of a "local" man helping some Spanish researchers locate the park here and here.)

The Paco area adjoins Malate (where we were staying), so we set off on foot. Soon, however, my companions (my wife Lila and our friend Adam) declared "this is ridiculous" and we hailed a cab. (I didn't argue with them.)

The park itself is beautiful, atmospheric. The curved walls encrusted with old crypts give an odd, comforting feeling.

And the round Chapel of St. Pancratius is like the jewel in the lotus.

The (alleged) former site of Dr. Rizal's burial is well-marked, and well worth a visit.

Kidlat Tahimik

During our honeymoon in May of 2007, Lila and I and our friend Adam headed up to Baguio, where Lila went to university.

We had lunch the first day at a restaurant that's part of what I call "Baguio's Vegetarian Dining Trifecta." Oh My Gulay is a veg restaurant and artspace (article and photos at Pinoy Travel Blog). More pics in Lila's Flickr album. (The other restaurants in the "Trifecta" are Bliss Cafe, owned by our great friends Jim and Shanti Isla Ward, and the venerable Cafe by the Ruins.)


Lila and Kidlat

While Adam and Lila were looking around, she ran into her old professor, Kidlat Tahimik, who has a part-interest in the restaurant.

This guy is a real a character, a promoter of the concept of the "true Filipino," uncowed by European culture. Part artist, part film director (one of his films was distributed by Francis Ford Coppola's American Zoetrope Films), part shameless showman, he believes (according to his wife's book, Kapwa) in a return to simplicity, to traditional values, to "collective sensitivity."

For example, he calls the television "The Trojan Idiot Box," and sees it inculcating non-traditional values in the (addicted) viewers. He considers rejection of the television to be part of a 500-year "cultural resistance" on the part of Filipinos against European imperialism. (Yet, he produces video.)

When we met, he promised us a copy of the book by his wife, Katrin de Guia. When I picked it up the next day, I was delighted to discover two things.

First, his inscription read, "To Lila and James: The search for our artistic sariling dwende [inner strength] and for our Indio-genius strengths goes on...just as the way plotted out in Comm 122 [Lila's class]. Kidlat Tahimik."

And second, Dr. de Guia starts the chapter on Kidlat with references to Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade, both of whom I've studied and written about for years.

It was a great honor to meet this "icon" in the Filipino art and cultural scene.