Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Tourism Department, Rizal Park and The Kids


Today I had to go to the Philippine Department of Tourism to pay for our hotel accomodations for our trip to Benaue in June. Benaue is in the Northern Philippines about 350 Km from Manila...it's the location of ancient rice terraces built into the hillsides..we can't wait to see it..we've heard alot about it from friends.

So, in order to book the hotel (own and operated by the PDOT..not the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation..they are those ones who give me the parking tickets!), I took a car from our building in Makati to their offices near the Manila Bay in the heart Manila City. It took about 30 minutes in heavy traffic, during which I nearly puked multiple times due to the crude nature of my driver's braking and accelerating ability. It was enough to make me truly appreciate those drivers who are able to navigate us through these streets without inducing sea-sickness...having a higher-than average vehicle helps alot, too.

I arrive in one piece at the proper building, locate the correct office and do my business...(the credit card machine was down, so we went to another floor to complete the transaction). At this point it was raining pretty heavily, so I took an impromptu, self-guided tour of the building, which was full of vendors selling your typical Filipino gift items. I waited until the rain let up, then ventured out- at which point I saw that the building was located right at the edge of Rizal Park, an area which I had been meaning to visit sometime. I had an hour and half to kill before I was to meet Elizabeth at the U.A. Embassy building, so I took a stroll through the park.

Rizal Park was built as a tribute to national hero Jose Rizal, who was executed by firing squad for rebelling against the Spanish government in 1896. Lots of grass, flowers, pools, gardens, trees and stone walkways create a neat fresh-air environment. There is also an outdoor art gallery and a really cool Chinese garden. I was out around 2 in the afternoon so the place was full of people on benches taking their afternoon siesta (I guess that oppressive Spanish colonization wasn't all bad!).

[Siesta in the rain]
[A huge working clock with a face created with flowers]


[Pigeon Condo]
[Kitty Cat in Rizal Park]
[The Entrance to the Chinese Garden in Rizal Park]
[Don't consider it as "sleeping on the job"...think of it as a "unique cultural tradition to be appreciated and admired"]
[Dragon on the roof]



[Chess in the Chinese Garden. The happy man in the red cap was the one who showed me the cat and also his pet love bird in a small cage in a tree]

[Here's another great use for discarded soda cans]

[I bought a Coke from this guy. He and his buddies were watching a small TV powered by a car battery]

I made my way through the park towards Roxas Blvd, which is where the U.S. Embassy is located. Texted Elizabeth to let her know I was there, and tried not to make the armed guards too nervous with my prescence. Elizabeth came out and we got into a van with her driver, Edgar. We then picked up one of Elizabeth's co-workers, Patrick and headed out to the girl's home an hour away.

It would be a vast understatement to say that the girls were exstatic to see us again. They all know Elizabeth very well by this point and are very excited whenever she is there, but they all remembered me (kuya Tim) as well and were happy to meet their new kuya Patrick. Kendra had to work so she couldn't be there, but all the girls were asking where "my husband" was (asawa is the only Taglog word for spouse and it's not gender-specific).

It was still raining outside, so we took the girls up to the roof, which is an enclosed play area for them to run around in. Which they did. For hours. The three of us were dead tired by the time we left, but it was so worth it to spend time with these kids. We played a scaled-down version of Prisoner's Base and tag, as well as lifting them up and spinning them around to make them dizzy. (When I said that I had done it too many times and was about to fall over, they pulled me to a chair and had me breathe deep in and out). A bunch of them were singing praise and worship songs and asked me what my "favorite song from Jesus" was. Elizabeth also mentioned that they had promised to pray for her boss in the U.S. - that he would send her back to the Philippines...she is leaving in a week. Before we said goodbye, Elizabeth handed out pictures she had taken of the girls and I handed out new toothbrushes to each of them, along with a card that Kendra had drawn telling them that it was great to meet them and that brushing your teeth was important!

[Kids shoes by the Door]

[Patrick was talking on his cell phone- when he turned around he found six small girls shadowing him and mimicking his every move!]



Edgar drove Elizabeth and I back to Makati then took Patrick back to Manila. A fun time had by all!

[Here's my Black & White take on Siesta in the Rain]

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Binondo!!

This afternoon Colleen and I got a ride with Bong (one of the drivers who also works with Ramer) to the Church in Binondo. It was built in 1596 and is absolutely magnificent inside. We took a few shots of the interior before we met our guide for the day, Carlos. Carlos is a great tour guide- he knows tons of interesting history of the Philippines and can take you deep inside dense urban areas to see some amazing nook and cranny locations full of local color and culture. He's got a great sense of humor and a fun delivery, along with a red 3-ring binder full of photographs and maps to go with his narrative.

[Carlos showing us what the Binondo Church looked like when it was first built in the 16th century]
[The ceiling paintings in side the church]
[Carlos & Colleen]

Carlos took off (amid a brief 15 minute rainshower) and lead us into the bustling urban jungle of Manila Chinatown. The street were packed with jeepneys, tricycles, cars and trucks, and the sidewalks full of people buying and selling everything imaginable. On most doorsteps there were usually one or two sleeping dogs or cats. We stopped by several shops and business, where he enlightened us about the history behind the Chinese and Spanish in the Philippines and various insights into Chinese customs and cultures. He also brought us to a chocolate shop (where we sampled several items) and a store which provides 24-hour dim-sum and mooncake year-round (usually only sold for the Chinese New Year).

[This is the typical interior of oneof the many stores specializing in funerary supplies (based on Buddhist and Tauist funeral traditions...incense, candles, paper etc, for the dead to use in the afterlife.]

[Colorful urns][This sign was pointed out by Carlos, as an example of the intermix of Spanish (Ra), Chinese (Mon Lee) and American (Fried Chicken) cultures here in Binondo]
[Wasn't sure if this was made by a sweet wife, or if eating it made you a sweet wife, or if it was made out of a sweet wife]
[Color, Color everywhere! Get all your supplies for the Year of the Dog]

We followed Carlos through many twists and turns and found ourselves in a small alley. Turning into an even smaller alley, entering a building, and then climbing up a set of stairs, we came to a wonderfully fragrent Chinese Buddhist temple. The idea was to buy a stick of incense (about twice as long and twice as thick as your typical incense stick!), light it, kneel at the alter and say a prayer. The incense was then placed into a holder in the rear of the temple. The whole place was amazingly ornate with gold and colorful fabrics. There was also a furnace where your wishes and prayers could be written on special paper and then burned, sending them as smoke to the heavens.
[The prayer furnace]
[Intricitly decorated candles at the temple]
[Boxes and boxes of sweet smelling incense waiting to be used for prayers]
From there we moved into another area of Chinatown, where sprawling jewelry stores displayed gold necklaces and diamond rings in rows and rows of gleaming glass cases. It was quite a contrast to the dirty streets and poorly kept residences along the way. It was also here where Carlos described the transformation of this area through time; as it turned into major urban decay and a hotbed of prostitution, drug trade and crime after the massive destruction from WWII. Years later it was reclaimed by constructing an elevated roadway over a portion of the streets and making the underneath free of vehicle traffic. Stores and businesses sprung up along the street and society flourished.

[The new elevated road and street-side shopping]

[Honey for sale on the street][This is truly Filipino...to be able to text on your cell phone the location of a fire to the fire department! Also, the truck is purple in honor of the man who made the ube (a Filipino purple sweet potato) a national favorite food- and ice cream flavor.]
[A colorful courtyard hidden down a Chinatown alley.]

After this we moved into the "Voodoo Market" area of Binondo. Here you can find Buddha, the Virgin Mary, superstition-based herbal remedies and Jesus all in the same 4-foot square area. All sorts of religious statues, holy figures, charms and oils are available to meet every spiritual need. There were also quite alot of child beggars in this area...at one point I looked down to find that I had a small bracelette made from thin black thread with a small wooden charm resting on the inside of my elbow. It had been placed there by a small boy, about 11 years old or so, barefoot and covered with dirt, who was now asking that I pay the 2 pesos he required for the 'gift' he had 'given' me.

[This lady was selling various charms you could use to protect your house from every manner of evil spirits,]

[Oils and stones to cure what ails you]

[If those don't work for you, try a plastic Jesus!]
One of the things that is always done at the voodoo market are the prayers and candle offerings done at the numerous small fireplaces along the street. Here there are long, skinny candles in various colors. Each color represents a different type of wish or request, such as romantic love, family love, financial gain, world peace, or a healed relationship. You then choose a wax representation of yourself (in the appropriate gender color) and hold it briefly over the flame. Once the back side is sufficently soft, you press it onto the candle until it hardens and sticks. This is then placed into the metal grate over the fire as you say a prayer for your request. Carlos bought us each one and we took turns attatching the figure onto the candles and watching them melt in the flames.

[Pick your color, pick your prayer]

[The human figure and candle burning inte flames]
[These people were everywhere, selling these candles]
All this was happening right outside the John the Baptist Church in Quiapo. This is significant because it is the home of the original Statue of the Black Nazarene, crafted by the Aztecs and brought to Manila in 1606. (You may have heard about the numerous deaths caused by the stampede of thousands trying to touch it to recieve healing and miracles.)

This was quite cool because even as the church was completly packed, Carlos took us around the rear of the alter area, where you climb several steps, drop some pesos in a box and approach an opening where you can touch the foot of the statue. (This is also the only time women can get near the statue- they aren't allowed to attend the procession.)

[Outside the John the Baptist Church in Quiapo]

[Inside the John the Baptist Church in Quiapo]
After this, Colleen and I split from the group. Carlos paid for the others to get back to the Binondo church via tricycle, but since we had Bong and the van just a phone call away, we decided to head towards a major marketplace area we had heard about. On our way there we passed what seemed like miles and miles of ongoing fruit and vegetable markets, fish stands and other food being cooked out on the street. The sights, sounds and smells were amazing. It's very hard to capture in words, pictures or video quite what it's like to walk through an area like that. It's a sensation overload that's so foreign to you, yet everyday life for so many others and that fact makes it even more exciting of an experience.





When we finally got to the market place area, we were greeted by vast expanse of every imaginable item for sale. Basically, it was the undersection of a large bridge filled completely with stalls of merchandise of all kinds. Each stall was lined on each side with hand-woven baskets, wood carved utensils and statues, paper lanterns, clothes and jewelry. Because of the lanterns and baskets hanging from the roofs, we had to duck to enter the narrow aisles leading back into the buildings, many of which went deep inside the bridge structure. We both picked up some really cool items for ourselves and for people back home before Colleen called Bong to come pick us up.

[Here you can see the shops set up under the bridge]

[Colleen at the entrance to one of the dozens of merchant stalls under the bridge. Very narrow, very low, goes back very far.]

[This guy was making cooking stoves out of discarded aluminum soda cans and wire] For a second day in a row, a big old Philly-style shout-out to Colleen for allowing me to come with her and see some absolutly incredible sights today and to learn some more history of Manila (although, if she shows me anymore shopping areas, I may need to start selling some photo gear!)

In other news: Kendra got her hair cut for the first time since we've been here! She went out to a place in Greenbelt this afternoon with Keysi and got her hair cut and her eyebrows "threaded". This is a procedure that needs a good video to be understood and appreciated by non-Asian hair dressers, so we'll see what we can do.