Wednesday, March 31, 2010

IRAA Meet in Laoag

Ilocos Region Athletic Association Meet 2010 was recently held in the City of Laoag under the auspices of the Department of Education. This is a sports festival and tournament among the various schools divisions of Ilocos Region that comprises the provinces of Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte. It had its theme: Playing for the Division, Win for the Region then for the Nation.

An opening program kicked off on the first day with a grand parade of delegation. Former Secretary of National Defense Gilbert Teodoro delivered an inspirational speech before the players, the people behind the tournament and the spectators. There was a lighting of the IRAA friendship um and hoisting of IRAA and delegation banners. I met Mayor Julier Resuello, my co-awardee as outstanding alumni of the Virgen Milagrosa University who hoisted the flag of San Carlos City Division. The tournament was declared as formally opened by Dr. Ligaya Miguel, DepEd Regional Director. A field demonstration was later staged.

At the conclusion of the meet, Ilocos Norte emerged as the champion for the 11th year. Pangasinan II came as first runner up; Pangasinan I, 2nd runner up; La Union as third runner up; Laoag City as 4th runner up; and Dagupan city as 5th runner up.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Pamulinawen’s Grand Float Parade

Another exciting event in the annual Pamulinawen Festival celebrations was the Grand Float Parade. Again the ingenuity of the Ilocano locals was showcased. It is because they decorated some big trucks, cars and pick ups with indigenous materials to parade around the city. Each of the various organizations and establishments in Laoag has sponsored one float and that it carried its name together with their muses and representatives on board.

One striking float I have seen on this parade was the replica of St William Church with the sinking belltower on its side accentuated with two figures of birds being superimposed. This was also the time that the balikbayans from Hawaii and other places in the United States became visible who thus participated and supported the city fiesta. It was fascinating to see a twist in the float parade with some of the Hawaiian dancers swayed to a Hawaiian beat on board the float.

Pamulinawen’s Calesa Parade

One of the activities in the celebration of the Pamulinawen Festival this year was the calesa parade. Calesa, karitela or horse-drawn carriage is still in use and plying the streets of Laoag today for the purpose of tourism, for public transportation and for its conservation. A calesa ride is one of the exciting things to do when in Laoag especially at night time. It can also be rented to take you not just around the city but even to Fort Ilocandia Resort.

There is a total of 283 calesas in the city. Majority of them participated in this annual event where some of them dressed up not only their carriages but even the horses. To see the designs and decorations of the calesa was such a work of art because they were so creative. They made use of indigenous materials to come up with beautiful set of decoration. They used twigs, dried leaves, flowers and even fruits and vegetables particularly garlic and onions.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Celebrating Guling-guling

Guling-guling means smearing or marking cross in the forehead. This is the salient point of the celebration of this festival. It is usually held on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It is the last day of merrymaking and celebration before the Lenten Season which is a counterpart of the Mardi Gras in Brazil and Fat Tuesday celebrations in New Orleans.

The smearing of cross in the forehead is a prelude to the ashen cross made on Ash Wednesday. It is made of ground white rice added with a little water. It is believed to be cleansing the spirituality of a person. This practice was introduced in the 16th century by the Spanish friars.
This is a unique cultural tradition only found in Paoay Ilocos Norte but not much people know this. Although the media had made feature of this event in the magazines and papers in order to publicize it.

I went to attend and witness this year’s celebration with my colleagues from The Ilocandia Photographic Society. We went to scrutinize their preparation before the street pageantry which is the highlight of the festivities. We saw the participants clad in the abel terna which was loomed in this center of abel weaving town of Paoay. They had marvelous designs of their costumes. The different villages were grouped according to district and the community takes part in supporting their representatives to the said competition.

The preparation and offering to guests and locals of the native delicacy dudol made of ground glutinous rice and sugar cane molasses is something truly unique to this celebration and a treat itself.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Another Year of Pamulinawen Fest

Pamulinawen Festival is being held every month of February in Laoag City. Pamulinawen is an Ilocano term that refers to Ilocano maiden. It's also about courting a lady as depicted in the folk song of the same title.

The city name Laoag was derived from the Ilocano term brightness or light. It has become the capital of Ilocos Norte since 1965. The Catholic Church was established in the area in 1580 by Augustinian missionaries following the arrival of Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo.

The houses of locals were compactly arranged around the Ermital Hill just near the Padsan River. To improve the living conditions of the locals, the missionaries built the a central rectangle that includes the plaza, the church, tower, convent and later on created rectangular street blocks and was then known as poblacion and now as centro. Majority of the barangays here were named to saints. This festival gives tribute to the city’s patron saint St. William the Hermit.

There were numerous activities conducted. There was the grand float parade, calesa parade, zuelto festival, sarzuela, traditional games, dulang food festival and beauty pageants to name a few. The highlight of the festivities is the street pageantry.

The different municipalities of Ilocos Norte, different institutions in Laoag City and including guest competing groups such as Caoayan town from Ilocos Sur competed with each other for the much coveted plum prize of Php100,000. After the dance showdown, the board of judges composed of people from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. The group of Ilocos Norte National High School was able to convinced them and took home the grand prize. Second place went with La Paz School of Fisheries and the third place was given to San Nicolas group.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ragrag-o Festival

On its second year, Ragrag-o Festival was held at the Capitol in celebration of the 192nd foundation anniversary of the province of Ilocos Norte. Ragrag-o is an Ilocano term that refers to merrymaking.

The various municipalities of the province were all invited to showcase their festival dances and compete with each other. The tribal groups from Adams, Carasi, Dumalneg and Nueva Era showcased their festival dances.

It’s a breakthrough for Vintar town to gain the first prize showcasing its Siwawer Festival. San Nicolas town placed second featuring their Damili Festival and the 3rd place went up to Batac with its Empanada Festival.

Gameng Festival at Solsona’s 100

The town of Solsona in Ilocos Norte has just turned 100 years after its reconstitution in 1910. This town was formerly known as Santiago in 1855 where it consequently became a name of one of its barangay. During the American period in 1903-1909, this town was joined with Dingras because Solsona was destroyed by a big flash flood that claimed so many lives and properties. The income of the town became so meager and insufficient to support its operation as a town. After recovering from the catastrophe it became administratively independent from Dingras on January 1, 1910.

Solsona was used to be called Kaitnegan, a place of the Itnegs in the ancient time. They were known to be the first settlers in this area. Itnegs were pagans and uncivilized. The popular theory where Solsona got its name was being the Cordillera mountain ranges command the view of the daily rising of the sun. To the Spaniards, they call it Zona del Sol or Zone of the Rising Sun. Its indeed a wonderful scenery with the majestic sun rise in the Cordillera ranges that you can see in the early morning.

Gameng Festival is the official name of their fiesta celebration. It is now on its third year. Gameng refers to treasure. Aba and daludal are some of their treasures which were featured. They even choreographed a dance called abaludal dance. This was the component of their dance parade and dance showdown competition to which I was invited as one of the judges. Second part of the competition was the showdown of various occupational dances.

Arabic Belly Dancing

One of the features of Dubai Desert Safari is the Belly Dance performance. A sexy lady gracefully danced to the tune of Arabic music. It was an entertainment provided while everyone was having a buffet dinner.

This dance is also called Arabic Dance or Middle Eastern Dance. This term refers to traditional dance especially raqs sharqi, which literally means oriental dance. This is usually a solo improvisational dance. The most featured body part in this kind of dance is the hips. It has many different forms depending on country and region. Even the West has created their own belly dance because of its popularity.

The origin and roots of belly dance are uncertain but this dance was used originally by women for women, to demonstrate or ease childbirth. This became the most popular and realistic theory in the evolution of belly dance. Today, it has become a part of the pop music and culture. It is even used as an exercise regimen.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Desert Safari Adventure

This was another big treat for myself when I went for a desert safari adventure in Dubai. I reserved one slot for me via the internet early in the morning. They verified my location and picked me up at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. A man by the name of Ali fetched me at my host’s place. A Malaysian couple were already seated in the car. I was fortunate to have the front seat.

But when we picked up Indian people to join our group they wanted the couple to move at the back seat but this couple did not yield. Ali also requested if I can move at the back to give way for these Indians but I did not and the Malaysians backed me up. They were so rude with their demands. So we maintained our seats. We waited for a moment while they were talking to Ali outside until they finally got into the car. We later proceeded to the desert where the same 4x4 car was driven by Ali.

Justify FullIt was such a thrilling experience because it moved like roller coaster. It got its ups and downs. We followed the trail of the other cars while I was busy taking videos and photographs. The Indian people at our back were the ones screaming because of the shaking movements of the car. It took us around 30 minutes of dune driving.

We stopped at a point where there were lots of ATVs going around. We took photos with the ATVs. We later proceeded to a camp or they call it Al Jabal Village where we rode a camel. These camels were obedient as they rise up gradually with the guest and the guide pulls the tie to move them around and even lower the guest slowly. We took sunset photography.

Then we went in as we were welcomed with coffee, tea and fresh dates. I tried on the Arabic costume. I watched the making of the kubus and the preparation of the food. I smoked and tried the shisha or hubblee bubblee and had fun. Henna painting was also available. A buffet dinner and barbeque and unlimited drinks were served. Arabic belly dance performance was the highlight of the evening. The lady danced gracefully and that closed our night of fun. and adventure. We were then sent off to our respective places.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Burj Khalifa: World’s Tallest Skyscraper

I was lucky to have seen the tallest building in the world and my visit was timely because it opened recently on January 4, 2010, a week before my visit. It was supposed to be opened on 2009 as it was publicized to make a grandiose launch.

But its opening became controversial and the delay was caused by deep financial crisis. Another reason for the delay was that they have to replace some upgraded finishes. It was then finally completed on December 2, 2009. It was even reported that the emir of Abu Dhabi made contributions to Dubai to compensate deficiencies. Later, the known Burj Dubai was renamed as Burj Khalifa on its inauguration as a courtesy to UAE President Khalifa who helped Dubai.

This super tall building has a total height of 828 m (2,717 ft) surpassing Taipei 101 of Taiwan at 509.2 meters which I visited in 2007. Burj Khalifa’s construction began on September 21, 2004 and had a budget of USD 1.5 billion. It has 160 floors and first in history to include residential space. Its outdoor observation deck is at 124th floor. It got its other records such as having the highest mosque at 158th floor and world’s highest swimming pool at 76th floor.

Entrance fee to this building is pegged at 100 Dirhams for a standard ticket. But one has to get into the long queues. Fast track tour is at AED 210 but it is doubled now to encourage advance booking.

Just outside the tower, an entertaining Dubai Fountain can be viewed dancing or performing to the song Bassbor Al Fourgakom. It was the same company who designed the fountains in Bellagio Hotel Lake in Las Vegas which I have also seen in 2009. The fountain is illuminated by 6, 600 lights and 50 colored projectors and water shoots into the air at 150m. It was so fantastic to watch this at nighttime.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Star of Taiba: World’s Heaviest Gold Ring

On my visit to the gold souk in Dubai, I was mesmerized by the glittery gold jewelries and accessories that were displayed at every store. Just crossing the street you can see the first store. It came to struck me the gigantic gold ring displayed in one of the escaparates of the store. The sales staff would invite everyone to come in. I was amused that there were no guards that you can see. One can even freely hold everything that one desires to feel and touch without any tight watch.

Najmat Taiba or Star of Taiba is the holder of Guiness Book of World Records as the world's heaviest gold ring that has a total weight of 63.856 kg. It was created by Taiba for Gold and Jewellery Co. Ltd, of Saudi Arabia. The ring have 5.17 kg precious stones and set on 58.686 kg of 21 carat gold ring.

Definitely this would not fit anyone’s finger. Its good for the eyes only. Its truly another wonder creation.

Booming Dubai

Coming from Al Ain, I was struck by the amazing infrastructures that I saw along the way. I was able to take my first glimpse of the newest world’s tallest structure Burj Khalifa. I was indeed taken in awe when I saw the buildings and roads that was unimaginable considering a desert country to boom into a highly industrialized and urbanized place like that. Dubai’s economy was originally built on oil industry but now it contributes only a very small percentage. It highly depends now on tourism, property and financial services. Now its booming with innovative large-scale construction projects, very ambitious at that, however it was reported that its undergoing a difficult financial times.

Dubai is the second largest emirate after Abu Dhabi in terms of area while it has the largest population. The Filipinos here accounts for 2.5% of the total population. This emirate is being ruled by the Al Maktoum dynasty with Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who is the current Prime Minister and Vice-President of UAE. Its name was derived from Daba which means to creep attributed to the Dubai Creek’s flow inland.

I was picked up by my friend Franie Maquinay from Jumeira Beach Park. Franie has been working here in an accounting firm for the last seven years. We were together in a ship program of the Japan government. He took me at once at the landmark or iconic symbol of Dubai that is the Burj Al-arab. This is a seven star hotel considered to be the world’s tallest hotel. I have seen the wind tower which is a very important structure in a traditional house or building. He treated me later with a dinner of Arabic food at the Damascus Restaurant. He then took me home introducing me to his wife Ef and children, Fiona and Flyn.

On the next day, he dropped me off to Deira where I saw the seat of the Dubai municipality as well as the Deira clock tower. I crossed the Dubai creek using abras, a traditional water transport to go to Bur Dubai. I visited the traditional souk where I bought some souvenir shirts then proceeded to spice and gold souk. I saw also the heritage village where it was composed of traditional houses. I have tried riding their bus transport which was expensive compared to Abu Dhabi. I rode the metro rail which is a brand new and highly sophisticated. I can only say wow with all those I saw.

On my last day in Dubai, Franie took me to another seven star resort, the Jumeira Palm resort where I saw the Atlantis, the Palm, patterned after the one in Bahamas. It has 1539 rooms, an Aquaventure theme park, a Dolphin Bay, conference center and retail space. On its launch in 2008, several high profile guests were invited and spent USD 16M for a 15-minute fireworks display that lit up the place making it visible in the outer space. So extravagant indeed! Jumeira Palm is part of the artificial islands called Palm Islands resembling the shape of a palm tree which is a site for major commercial and residential infrastructure. I really had a grand time going around the place.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spring Visit to Al Ain

My college classmate Helen Bugayong who works as a physical therapist at Tawam Hospital invited me to drop by Al Ain and I really had a quick visit to the place which is literally called “the spring.” This is located 160km east of Abu Dhabi and the second largest city in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

Al Ain is called the Garden City because of its greenery that includes tree-lined avenues, parks, decorative roundabouts and many oases. This is the birthplace of Sheikh Zayed, the first president of UAE and the buildings are preserved here making it cultural heritage of the county.

From Abu Dhabi, I took a bus and alighted at Tawam Hospital where I met up with Helen. I have not seen her for the longest time. We were happy to see each other again. She took me home to his housing which a spacious accommodation but it was lonely living alone according to her. She treated me to an Arabic dinner to one of the restos downtown. I had a dose of the local food. After enjoying our dinner meal she took me to her friend Ate Eve’s house and met her hubby Patrick O’conner from Ireland. I was also introduced to Dr Gazem, a Sudanese hematologist. We had jamming with wine over some good talk.

On the following day, her group decided to go on a picnic at the Jumeira Beach Park which is located in Dubai. Along the way, I saw the desert. I got a peek of the latest world’s tallest skyscraper Burj Khalifa. When we arrived at the area, there were lots of people because it was a weekend. I already brought my things with me. I was left by the group and said my goodbye to Helen as I was about to be picked up by Franie to host me in Dubai.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sheikh Zayed Mosque: 8th World’s Largest

My visit to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque was one of the highlights of my trip to the UAE. I was really fascinated by its Moorish type architecture. It is the largest mosque in the UAE and eight largest in the world. It was built in 2007 with an amazing construction cost of USD 545 million. It was named after the founder and first president of UAE who was buried in the same mosque.

It is composed of 82 domes of seven different sizes. The outer dome has a height of 75 meters while its diameter is 32.2 meters. These are decorated with white marble. The courtyard is paved with floral marble designs. The mosque is huge that it can accommodate a total of 40,000 worshippers.

The admission is free. Every lady guest has to wear the abaya or traditional black costume with hijab or headscarf while I have tried the white kandoora for males. The shoes have to be removed and be left at the courtyard before entering. One will be more fascinated when getting inside because of the intricate designs. Just noticing the carpet’s design, so beautiful. That was the Worlds Larget Carpet with a measure of 60, 570 sq. ft. made by Iran Carpet Company. This mosque holds also the largest chandelier with 33 feet diameter and 49 feet height. This is made up of copper and gold-plated imported from Germany.

This was officially opened during the Ramadan in 2007 and opened for visit to non-Muslims in March 2008 to promote cultural and religious understanding.

Abu Dhabi: The Richest City in the World

My adventure to the Middle East started in Kuala Lumpur where I took the six-hour flight. I was fortunate that I was able to find a row of vacant seats at the back of the plane where I took a good four-hour sleep. It was one o’clock in the morning when we touched down at the Abu Dhabi International Airport. Before I presented my passport and visa paper at the immigration check, they requested me to get an iris scan.

After an hour of waiting at the free internet shop at the airport, my host Julita Ruiz, a former college classmate with her hubby Manny picked me up with a taxi at the airport. We warmly greeted each other. She was the one who sponsored my tourist visa in the UAE.

The temperature was cold at 15 degrees centigrade. They took me to their apartment where we had a good talk. They share one subdivided room with another couple and pay an expensive rental fee. This is how the housing works in the city. Since many workers are now migrating to the city coming from Dubai with weakening economy, they tend to over populate an apartment to reduce the monthly rental fees.

Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second largest city of the United Arab Emirates. According to CNN, it is the richest city in the world because of its prolific oil business. It has an area of 67, 340 km2 with a population of 860,000. This emirate is ruled by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the second president of UAE and son of the first president of UAE Sheikh Zayed. Its name was derived from zaby, an antelope or gazelle and the name was first used 300 years ago.

I was taken around by Juliet on my first day then took me to the restaurant called Taza. Taza means fresh where I got a full meal of chicken and my first time to eat the kubus, the Arabic bread.

I noticed that there were lots of car parked not only on the side streets but also in the center. There’s a lot of Pinoys working in the city. I noticed that they were snobbish which I presumed to be influenced by the locals. Local Arab women are paranoid over taking photos in which I experienced taking a shot of the sunset where I stood opposite the street and the cars stopped for the traffic light. There was a lady on the car who screamed out. She might have thought that I was taking a picture of her. I just ignored her and shied away. That issue could also lead to imprisonment if it’s proven true.

I walked the whole stretch of the Corniche Beach ending up to the Marina Mall. It was quite a long walk that my foot got ache. I have seen some Pinoys and other nationalities fishing. Caucasians were playing volleyball on the sand.

I rode the public transport in the city and the charge for one way fare is one dirham. There is a separate section usually in the bus for all of the women passengers.

I visited Sheikh Zayed Mosque as the highlight of my trip to Abu Dhabi. When I went back to the city from Dubai, I had dinner meeting with Nooh, a local friend whom I had worked with in Japan for an exchange program. He spent only an hour because he was having a graduate class. Immediately after that I had another dinner meeting with Freddie Pacleb, my elementary schoolmate who works for the Royal family and he related his experiences working with his prince boss.