Thursday, August 27, 2009

Manzhouli: A Crossroad of Culture

It was a big surprise that we were flown from Beijing to Manzhouli City when I participated two years ago in a leadership program sponsored by the All China Youth Federation and we were taken around the city. It’s a city that takes you to a different dimension. Totally different from the impressions of traditional Chinese culture of Beijing. It is a crossroad of cultures since it lies in the borders of Mongolia and Russia. This is an autonomous region of China called Inner Mongolia where the Siberian train passes by from Beijing to Moscow.

Manzhouli is the northern gateway to Russia. The name came from a Russian name Manchzhuriya. Just a few minutes to the north of the city is already Russia and a couple of hours to the west will take you to Mongolia. It is made up of vast meadowlands, deserts, acres and acres of forests towards the northern part of Inner Mongolia and mountains from one end of the province to the other.

The city was established in 1901 as a stop on the Trans-Manchurian Railway. It was built at the time as a shortcut between the main line of the Trans-Siberian Railway and Vladivostok, Russia. But now it is more like an international marketplace where Russians cross the border in search of cheap and portable items for selling back in their country.

Most Russians come into this city to trade and enjoy the lowest prices of products and services. The signages of most business establishments were both in Chinese and Russian characters . They do accept Russian money. Russians and other guests party all night long in the clubs around. The architecture is European and most buildings were patterned after it. Night market starts from 1am until late morning. I saw some Tibetans who sell their wares mostly indigenous products. Even Mongolians were around to offer their products.

We have watched the Russian ballet performance in one of the theaters. Its an awesome performance to remember. Graceful movements of these tall Russian ladies and gentlemen were exhibited. There was one evening at the Diplomacy Hotel where they treated us for a dinner cum cultural show. It was a showcase of the music and dance of China, Russia and Mongolia. This was a fantastic show. I also remember that I tried to don Mongolian costume borrowed from one of the performers. There was also an open air cqncert where popular Chinese sinuers performed. ut was attended by a big crowd composed mostly of young people.

We were treated for another evening of cultural performances of Russian and Mongolian dances and Chinese acrobats and martial arts over a dinner at Grand Manzhouli Hotel where we were billeted.

We went to Dalai Lake and then to the Cha Gan Lake where the lake literally disappeared. Grasslands, gigantic elephant monuments and big rocks were all there to see. We visited Sino-Russain Border Museum and also to the Russian Art Museum where we have seen murals and other colorful paintings. Not to be missed were the Manzhouli Sculpture Park and the Russian Taowa Square where we saw the world’s largest Matryoshka Doll and giant Russian easter eggs. The Russian doll was a click among us guests to buy as souvenir. We shopped at International Commercial Center near the Russian border where you can bargain prices of the said item and others such as Chinggis Khan souvenir keyholders, sandals, stuff sheep toys, headdress, caps, fur coats, fur hats, vodka and many others.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Forbidden City: A World Heritage Site

The grandeur of the architecture and the style of the Imperial institution or palace used from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty bear the testimony of the Chinese civilization and evidence of living traditions and customs of Manchu people and other tribes in the north of China. This Chinese palatial architecture had influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere.

The monument has the Chinese translation called Zijing Cheng which refers to as Purple Forbidden City. Forbidden Palace is another English name. It was declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Site in 1987. This monument was the seat of power in China for over five centuries. It has landscaped gardens and many buildings composed of 10,000 rooms that contain furniture and works of art. Just imagine this. We were certainly awed by its vastness and we have to rest in between frequent walks when we visited the site.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The China Experience

It is exactly two years now when I represented the Philippines in the ASEAN Young Leaders Meeting in China, the most populous country in the world. We were composed of 17 Filipino delegates from the different fields and disciplines. It was a 10-day program hosted and sponsored by the All-China Youth Federation and the Chinese government. We joined our counterparts from the 10 ASEAN countries and China and had a chance encounter with Korean and Japanese young leaders during the ASEAN +3 Gala Night where I met some of my old friends.

We had our first stop at Beijing, the capital. We were billeted at Tiantan Hotel. After our lunch we went strolling, passing by the China Sports Science Institute and took photos at the Olympic Park. We shopped at HongQiao Market and one can bargain prices to the lowest level. The minimum bus fare was so cheap and its only one yuan. The city has concentric “ring roads” which were actually rectangular that go around the metropolis. The city is known for its flatness and regular construction.

On the following day, we all went to the Forbidden City where we saw the Palace Museum during the Ming and Qing dynasties. We saw the famous monument Tian’anmen or Gate of Heavenly Peace or referred to as the front entrance to the Forbidden City. After getting to all corners of the monument, we went to HouHai Lake. Just outside the lake, we saw the HuTong, a Chinese traditional housing. Most of the people here survived against the influence of modernism. Then we rode the rickshaw to go around the lake. Several cafes can be found here such as Starbucks. It’s a place to hang and chill out especially at night time. There were also small boats on the lake where you can have dinner. Then we went to WangFujing for some soya drink.

We visited the Ministry of Finance on the next day where we had lectures and dialogue with some of the high ranking officials. We visited an institution called Zhongguancun Science Park. Then we had a gala night dinner at Grand Hotel Beijing. We met up with Pamela’s Chinese friends and hosted us another dinner of Peking Duck and seafoods. It was so good.

It was a surprise when the entire delegation was flown from Beijing to Manzhouli City in the Inner Mongolia region of China for the program proper. We were surprised to see beautiful sights. Manzhouli did not ring a bell to us but we were awed by its marvelous sceneries.

When we got back to Beijing, we paid a courtesy call to Ambassador Sonia Brady at the Philippine Embassy. As a finale, we were taken to visit the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It’s amazing to see this sight. We also went to the Temple of Heaven and made some last minute shopping. This was a very cool experience of China. Hope to be back here soon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lannak: A Tribal Peace Pact

Dumalneg is one of the hintertowns of Ilocos Norte province and was named after the early leader Dumalneg who got his name from a famous river. This is a small and peacefull town located in the north of the province. It is inhabited by indigenous people such as the Yapayaos who are peace-loving people.

In the old days, not much known to many that tribal fights and rivalries existed among these tribes. In this case, Yapayaos of Dumalneg had conflict with the inhabitants of Kalanasan and Apayao. Their bloody encounters rooted from a blossoming romance between Agudang and Edan. Agudang was an Iyapayao or Idaya lad while Edan was an esquisite Immalaud lass.

The assertiveness and prudence of Agudang caused by his faithful love to Edan, relatives of Edan regarded it as form of arrogance and insolence and that they could not accept that someone from another tribe was much more superior to them. As a result of their hatred to Agudang, they killed him and triggered a tribal war.

However in 1908, with the desire to end the hostilities among them, they burry their hatchets and a peace pact called Lannak was made between them.

A depiction of this peace pact was staged by young Yapayao lads and lasses of Dumalneg during the celebration of Ragrag-o Festival of the province.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Disappointments Over Mobile Passport Service

I was totally disappointed today over the Mobile Passport Services coordinated by the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte which is slated on September 19. I learned from a client that he heard announcements on the local radio of the said service. So I went on the same day to reserve a slot. The staff member from the tourism office told me that I have to report on August 21 for picture taking.

I went today to submit myself for picture taking but the same staff member told me that they are already closed for application. They have already distributed the application forms yesterday to 800 applicants contrary to what they said earlier that it would only be about 500 as quota. I even beg that I could just possibly reproduce the form but to no avail.

I asked them of the list of reservation but they did not honor it for the reason that many did not show up. This is so impossible. It is obvious that they don’t have a system. This is so frustrating on my part. I really need to renew my green passport because all the pages of my passport were used up. I cannot even plan a travel as of now. Personal appearance is needed for the new maroon passport that requires biometrics. It is called the machine-readable passport.

I talked to a colleague and she had the same sentiment over her application to a Mobile Passport Service in the town of Bacarra last year. According to her, they collected from them P200.00 each upon reservation with the reason that it will be used to accommodate the people from the Department of Foreign Affairs, La Union. But the said office explained to the applicants that they have budget for this mobile service work. One year had passed and the money was never refunded.

People also complain the payment of P150 for 4 pcs passport size photos which they enforce upon the applicant. It is overcharging since regular rate is only 60 pesos at a photo studio. They don’t even accept ready made photos.

A regular fee of P500 for 44-page passport processing for 14 days is being charged by the DFA office in La Union as reflected in the website. There is an additional P250 for expedited or overtime processing. The mobile passport fee falls under this rate of P750. But it was reported that some Local Government Units charge even more than this special rate. These are some issues and concerns that should be looked into and be addressed by the authorities.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lima’s Magic Water Circuit

On my recent sojourn to Lima Peru after conquering Machu Picchu, Costa Rican friend Rafa and I were taken by Peruvian friend Angel to the wonderful and magical circuit of water fountains located at the heart of the city. Each guest has to pay an admission fee of four soles and it was very cheap for a big amusement like this.

The Magic Water Circuit or Parque de la Reserva was inaugurated in May 2007. It has become one of the newest and most visited attractions in Lima. It was honored with a Guinness Record for being the largest complex of water fountains in the world and said to be unique in America. This circuit offers thirteen attractive fountains that combine water movement, colored lights, sounds and images. As we entered the park we were amazed by them one by one.

Magic Fountain or Fuente Magica is the largest fountain in the Park of the Reserve. It propels water to a height of over 80m. Another fountain is the Tunnel Fountain of Surprises where we walked 35m distance through the tunnel. There is also the walk-in automated Children’s Fountain. Fuente de la Fantasia is the site of a regularly-scheduled laser and picture show where I saw more of Peru’s culture. It has a length of 120m and contains jet that synchronizes to the playing of music. Others are Harmonious Fountain, Visitable Dome, Rainbow Fountain, Fountain of Illusion, Fuente de las Tradiciones, Fuente Rio de los Deseos, Fuente Tanguis, and Fuente de la Vida.

As a finale we went to play at the Labyrinth of Dreams Fountain where I and Angel got wet when we were hit by the water as we entered the circle of fountain and gradually went out of it avoiding the emission of water. We took off our wet shirts and went back in. It was good that before we came here I bought a souvenir Peru shirt to change the wet one.

It was such a big fun. Very enjoyable for both young and adults. This is one of my unforgettable moments. It was truly an amazing show to enjoy with friends and family.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Siwawer Festival of Vintar

Siwawer has become the trademark of the town of Vintar. It is a specie of aves that can be seen soaring and scouring at Vintar’s clear blue skies. This hawk is characterized by might and power as it spreads out its wings to go into unfamiliar territories. It is said that locals have been characterized with these traits and so this has become the main reason for celebration of the Siwawer Festival. This festival had been conceptualized and initiated with the aim of promoting the arts and culture, developing tourism, preserving the natural environment and conserving the heritage of Vintar.

On its lqunching celebrauion they adopted the theme: “Talaguding ni Siwawer Pasantaken,” which means unleashing the power of the Siwawer. This was a tribute to the many great leaders and achievers who made their big mark on their chosen field of endeavor.

Vintar is a town located at the northeastern part of the province of Ilocos Norte. The townsfolk composed mostly of young ladies showed off their dancing skills imitating the prowess of a Siwawer. This performance was staged during the celebration of the Ragrag-o Festival of the province.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Traje: Traditional Mayan Costume

On my recent visit to the National Museum of American Indians in Washington DC, I witnessed the donning of traditional Mayan costume. Aside from demonstrating backstrap loom weaving, Guatemalan national Juanita Velasco also demonstrated to me how she wears her traditional costume specifically her headdress.

The costume of Highland Maya of Guatemala is undoubtedly the most colorful one in the Americas. They call their traditional dress as traje. Mayan traje is village-specific or language-group related. Thus it looks dazzling to see indigenous costume from dozens of Indian villages and 21 different Mayan ethnolinquistic groups.

One example of the towns is Nebaj and Juanita comes from this place. The town speaks Ixil language same with its two neighbor towns. The Nebaj woman’s costume is one of the most striking in Guatemala that had won awards in international pageant of traditional costume. A red skirt or corte, with yellow stripes, is being held up by a woven belt or faja. The traditional square-cut blouse called huipil is heavily decorated with embroidered designs. It is worn with an all-purpose shawl draped over one shoulder. The ensemble is topped with an elaborate headdress skillfully wrapped by Juanita into the hair as what she primarily demonstrated.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mushroom Burger: A Fungus Meal

After roaming around Tagaytay City, Fr. RV treated us for snacks at a restaurant called Mushroom Burger. They serve mushroom burgers and at the same time grow mushrooms at their incubated farms situated in the compound. They make use of two species: the oyster and the abalone mushrooms.

Mushroom is the fleshy fruiting body of a fungus that typically sprouts or grows above ground on soil or on its food source such as the banana trunk or wood. The mushrooms usually grow in the wilderness during rainy season upon a strike of a lightning so they say. The standard for mushroom is the button white mushroom but there is a wide variety gilled mushrooms with or without stems.

We ordered mushroom sandwich because it is filled in with pure oyster mushroom and cheese. The price of it was 55 pesos. It tasted perfectly fine. It’s a sure healthy meal especially for health conscious and for vegetarian folks.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Academic Night at SASMA

St. Augustine Major Seminary (SASMA) is a formation center for seminarians located in SVD Road, Tagaytay City. It is turning 40 years by next month. It has a community of more than 20 members that includes 17 seminarians. They usually hold an Academic Night with an invited resource speaker.

It was Fr. RV, a good friend whom I met in Milan, who invited me to deliver a talk about my experiences on backpacking and blogging. My talk was entitled Backpacking: A Way to Experience Culture of Other Countries and the second part was Documenting Life’s Experiences through Blog.

I shared to the community my previous personal travels and included also the exchange programs that I have participated in. This was my second time to talk about my travel experiences. The first one was at the Virgen Milagrosa University Foundation in Pangasinan to students and campus leaders where I lectured leadership and global networking citing my participation to exchange programs and other travels abroad.

It was fulfilling to inspire young people to travel. Since the beginning, I was influenced so much by a quote from St. Augustine that says “The World is a book, those who do not travel read only a page.” It is very true that learning takes place outside of the classroom. Traveling itself is education. One gets to know beautiful and historical places, meet different people, experience the culture and gain new perspectives in life.

With those experiences gained, I have emphasized that its possible to document and share these to the world. It is not only through travel but on one’s own personal journey in life that one can write about and post it in a blog. They can write their reflections and preach the gospel or evangelize. The community was eager to create a blogsite so I helped them create a sample blog.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Visit To Tagaytay City

I went to Tagaytay City upon the invitation of Fr. RV Villavicencio to deliver a talk to the seminarians at St. Augustine’s Major Seminary (SASMA). From an overnight trip from Laoag, I dropped by at Santa Rosa Laguna to visit my sister and family. It was an hour ride to Tagaytay by jeepney.

After having lunch and rest, Fr. RV and Bro. Vengie took me around Tagaytay where I got a glimpse of the spectacular view of the Taal Lake and Volcano. These are located in Batangas whereas the City of Tagaytay is in the province of Cavite. It has an elevation of 634m or 2,080ft composed of hills and mountains with forests and open grasslands. These natural characteristics make a cool and invigorating climate with an average of 22.7°C. With its nice climate and accessibility from Manila which is an hour and a half drive attract a lot of tourists to come over for vacation.

Legend tells that Tagaytay came from the word “taga” which means to cut and “itay” which means father. There was a father and a son who went for a boar hunt when the animal being chased by them attacked them. The son cried “taga itay” as the animal charged towards the father. The reverberating sound of the son’s cry was heard by the hunters and the locals. It was from the shout and cry that the name came to be.

I was brought to the People’s Park in the Sky. The present building was dilapidated while it houses several stores selling souvenir items. A grotto and a pineapple sculpture are prominent landmarks of the park. The Taal Lake, Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay can be viewed from that vantage point. Tagaytay Highlands considered to be a world class residential and recreational complex can also be viewed from there.

We headed to Good Shepherd to buy some sweets. Ube halaya and sweet candies can be bought here. We took mushroom sandwich as snack at Mushroomburger. It is a healthy snack using pure oyster mushrooms added with cheese. We had a last stop to the Pink Sister Church where I have seen the nuns in pink all lined up in the altar offering their prayers.

SASMA community celebrated the feast of St. John Baptist Mary Vianney. He was a French parish priest who is venerated as patron saint of parish priests. His incorrupt body was entombed at the altar of Basilica at Arts, France. They held the image in procession from a room to the Chapel and a mass was concelebrated by Fr. RV, spiritural director and Fr. Carlos Paglicawan, rector of SASMA. The Academic Night followed suit.

On the next day, with Fr. RV, Tata, Rico, Tita Amie, Fr. Tom and his Chinese guests, we were hooked on the TV and watched the funeral rites of former President Corazon Aquino . All the seminarians in the community went to support the burial rites at the Manila Memorial Cemetery in Paranaque.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

TIPS holds Tagnawa Photo Exhibit

The Ilocandia Photographic Society (TIPS) is holding a photo exhibit at the Out Patient Department of the Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital (MMMH) entitled TAGNAWA: Dedicated Work and Service in Focus. It will run August 3-17, 2009. The photos are the works of the members of the TIPS capturing the hard work and dedicated service of the men and women of Ilocandia to the public or community.

This project aims to raise funds for the indigency program and community development projects of the said hospital. A simple opening ceremony was held on August 3 with Drs Otayza and Magno of MMMH unveiling the exhibit photos. On the same exhibit, entries of each photographer member for the in-club photo contest were also featured.

There were a total of 96 photos including the photo contest on display. I am happy that 15 of my photo works were selected for the exhibit. Some of them were titled Daklis, Mangalap, Agparti, Damili, Iket and Gabut.