Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Sariaya, Quezon Belen Festival

If one has made the rounds of the southern provinces of Luzon this Christmas period, you should not have missed this year’s Belen Festival in the town of Sariaya in the province of Quezon.

 Organized in the form of a competition, this annual festival features the nativity scenes as interpreted by different institutions and/or organizations. One catch here, as evident in the displays, is that they must use natural materials particularly from the coconut tree.

The displays are impressive under a night sky when all the Christmas lights are turned on. But on this particular visit, we had to do with the searing afternoon heat. But still the presentations are a sight to behold. The different belen are still on display as of this writing so you may still catch them if you are near the area.

Sariaya Plaza Park

And since this Belen Festival is found on the town plaza park, we took the time to enjoy the place and observe any details that would tell of its past. The park is comprised of the usual benches found all around, a small playground for kids to enjoy, and on one side is the towering Rizal monument inaugurated, as the plaque on its base says, on December 30, 1924, ninety years ago. One cannot help but wonder how it withstood the passage of time, in particular one major event in the country’s history: the coming of the Japanese.

One detail in this Japanese period in the country is their arrival on one of the many chosen points in Luzon, and that is on Atimonan, Quezon. This group of Japanese forces then proceeded to push towards Manila during the latter days of 1941. Perhaps they were not yet on a rampage mode or perhaps they still left the town on its own, judging on the survival of the many elegant houses in Sariaya. These are of course formative conjectures; the fact that most of these cultural treasures are preserved may have different stories altogether.

So much for these musings. I hope to witness any program on this very monument on its 100th anniversary, ten years from now.

* Rizal monument in Sariaya, Quezon, inaugurated December 30, 1924

Another curious thing on this monument is that despite its inauguration during the American period, the plaques on its base are all written in Spanish. A fusion of two colonial influences? Perhaps.

One plaque says:

“Este Monumento Fue Erigido El Año 1924
Bajo La Administracion de la Junta Provincial de
Tayabas, Compuesto
Hon. Filemon E. Perez – Gobernador
Sr. D. Leon G. Guinto – Vocal
Sr. D. Pedro M. Nieva
Del Concejo Municipal de Sariaya
Compuesto de
Sr. D. Hilarion Valderas – Presidente
Sr. D. Felix Espinosa – Vice Presidente
Sr. D. Fructuoso Alcala – Concejal
Sr. D. Jacinto Castillo – ‘’
Sr. D. Rufo Quebasa – ‘’
Sr. D. Sisenando Alcantara – ‘’
Sr. D. Roman Fabre – ‘’
Sr. D. Eugenio Castro – ‘’
Sr. D. Victor Orendain – ‘’
Sr. D. Jose Valderas – [I cannot read the title]
Sr. D. Alejo Manhit – [I cannot read the title]”

What remains to be pursued here, particularly by a willing Sariaya native, is the story leading to the monument’s erection as well as the people behind it. Little stories for local history can be very enriching.

The Ever-Relevant Rizal

As we try to shake off the Christmas hangover and look forward to the New Year celebrations, I hope it would not be a bother to recall the hero we know as José Rizal. It’s not an unfortunate event that his day of commemoration is sandwiched between two high celebrations. Instead, it should be placed side by side with them in terms of regard and importance. 
* Rizal monument in Bay (Ba’i / Bae) Laguna

It would be better if Noli Me Tangere (Noli) and El Filibuterismo (El Fili), two of his well-known works, can be easily read during this time. For in his works are thoughts and exhortations that pierce through many aspectspolitical, social, educational, and even personal. One commentary in a newspaper today even suggested that his novels be made into TV series.* Perhaps not to make Rizal more relevant. He has proven this for long stretch of time already. But perhaps to ingrain Rizal in our minds and consciousness as a key figure our past and thus an integral part of our present and our future. To put images of Rizal on t-shirts or giving him a spiffy look through graphic designs are good ways of making him well-known. But I would go for a more laborious yet more lasting way: getting to know the national hero through his life and works. Let us make him alive in our lives and way of living.

* Bagulaya, Jose Duke S. “The Pleasures of Rizal’s Novels” Philippine Daily Inquirer, Vol. 30, No. 22, A10

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas in Towns and Cities

Not even the most powerful camera lens (not that I have one) could capture the enjoyment that one can see in places were Christmas decorations are see. However flawed the basis may be of this annual celebration, it proves to be a strong source of the spirit and atmosphere of joy and giving. We took the time to visit several towns in Laguna to enjoy the blinking lights and decors for Christmas.

San Pablo City, Laguna 

Calauan, Laguna

Bay, Laguna

U.P. Los Baños, College, Laguna 

I hope we could still visit more places during this break.

Simbang Gabi in San Pablo City

In a few days the famed tradition of the Filipino is about to be completed. Simbang Gabi (“mass of the cock” in literal terms), or a ten-day mass marathon leading to Christmas day, is so etched in our Christmas tradition that it would be hard to imagine December in the Philippines. 

We thus trooped to the city cathedral, not to join this religious tradition, but to observe the activities of the attending San Pableños. The cathedral was literally jam packed out to the main door. The parking grounds are all occupied to and sprinkled here and there with bystanders either enjoying the early morning rice delicacies or doing selfies in front of the big Christmas tree erected outside. Perhaps in the Philippine setting the religious and amusement motivations get blurred on many occasions. 

Such merriment is no longer foreign in the country. In a description of a foreign writer: 

“Should he be fortunate enough to have arrived towards the end of the year, in addition to the greater coolness of the weather then usually prevalent, and so delightful in the tropics, he will most probably not want opportunities for enjoying himself; as, after suffering a penitential confinement to the house during the long rainy season, for some time before Christmas, the cool nights and other circumstances induce the residents to break out into greater gaiety than is prevalent at other seasons of the year; and amusement, about that time, generally appears to be the order of the day.” *

The Nativity Scene too goes back to the time of the Spanish Colonial Period:

On the last day or the vigil of the feast, a pleasing, although simple Belen was made at one side of the presbytery in which were placed the images of the Child, Mary, and Joseph.**

And although I have only attended a Christmas Eve mass once during my college days, I cannot recall an elaborate bell ringing such as described during the Spanish times: 

“Christmas eve came, and at eleven o’clock the bells were rung loudly, and from half past eleven until twelve, a continual ringing of bells two at a time announced to the people that the mass called Gallo was to be celebrated in memory of that holy hour in which the eternal Son of God the Father, made man in the most pure entrails of the Virgin Mary willed to be born on that poor and abandoned manger threshold [portal de Belen]. Hence when twelve o’clock had struck, the missa-cantata was said, which was followed by the adoration of the holy Child. That was made enjoyable by the singing of some fine Christmas carols. The twenty-fifth dawned bright and joyful.”***

Christmas day proves to be not much different with all the singing and gift giving and the confidence to ask for Christmas presents:

 “At eight o’clock in the morning solemn mass was celebrated, which was chanted according to custom by the choir of singers of the church, with the accompaniment of two flutes and a tambourine. About one hundred persons took communion at it. There was a sermon, and at the end of the mass, there was another adoration of the Child Jesus.

“At the end of the function, the authorities and chiefs of the village came to visit us as they are wont to do during all the great feasts of the year. After that the musicians and singers congratulated us for the good Christmas from the hall of the convent, with toccatas according to the custom of this country, and Christmas carols. After them followed a crowd of people of all classes. What arrested my attention most was the liberty with which they went up and down stairs, hither and thither, and addressed the fathers and begged for what they needed. I will say it: the convent appeared nothing more nor less than a Casa-Pairal.

“Since the ceremonies of the morning were so long, nothing was done in the afternoon except to have the adoration of the holy Child, a thing which those excellent and simple people enjoy greatly and never tire of doing. With that the feast of the nativity of our Lord ended.”****

As a last note, with all our lavish food today that are being prepared for the traditional Noche Buena, it would be good to add–particularly by those who are historically inclined–the nougat from Surigao (I am yet to see whether it is still existing) which absence, they say, would not complete the joyous Christmas celebrations.

* Robert Mac Micking. Recollections of Manilla and the Philippines During 1848, 1849 and 1850, p.18. (The Project Gutenberg EBook)
** The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898. Volume XLIII, 1670-1700. E. H. Blair (Ed.), p. 226
*** The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898. Volume XLIII, 1670-1700. E. H. Blair (Ed.), p. 226
**** The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898. Volume XLIII, 1670-1700. E. H. Blair (Ed.), p. 226-227

Food for the Trails: How to Make Suman

An ever-present food during the time of Undas/Undras, suman proves to be an integral part of the Filipino appetite. But this food can still be found being peddled in many places here in Laguna. So how do we make this delicious snack? Here’s how.

But note that these will only just be a general guide. With regards to the exact measurements of the needed ingredients one has to consult the elders who can aide you in the perfection of your own suman delicacy!

Suman is basically a rice delicacy. We often use what we call malagkit for its preparation. Now your approach can be in two parts: 1) wrapper (pambalot) preparation and 2) suman preparation. 

Wrapper Preparation

You have to obtain as much banana leaves as possible. 

Then you have to run them over a flame (in Filipino it is termed as ‘laib’ or ‘i-laib’) to essentially ‘cook’ the leaves. 

Then you have to cut the leaves according to your intended sizes for the suman. Set them aside.

Suman Preparation 

Wash your malagkit much like your usual rice. Set aside.

Pour coconut milk (kakang gata or the first milk you get once you have squeezed the coconut meat) on a big pan then heat. Pour in now you malagkit onto the pan.

Mix constantly to avoid the malagkit sticking onto the pan. Once cooked, or half cooked depending on your preference, you can now place them in the wrappers. You can use tablespoon as your reference. Once wrapped, you have to seal them using parts of the banana leaves as well. 

You may now put altogether in a big container. Pour water into it, just enough so that it will further cook the suman inside. To save fuel, you may use the old-school stove (using firewood or coal). 

To check whether the suman is already cooked, you stick a fork onto one of them or you can taste one yourself. Whether they are already cooked or not would depend on your preference. 

The first time I tried doing it from preparation to cooking, it took me a whole day. Night has settled already when the last embers in the stove were finally put out. And so to treat myself, I combined suman with sinukmani and coffee. Comments (especially for improvements) are welcome!

Twenty Fourteen Tales: Musing and Stories about Und(r)as

We never had this enduring tradition of paying visits to the cemetery every time the month of November comes. Partly because of religious orientation. Partly because of the fact that we never wanted to join the sea of flesh occupy the two-lane street leading the city’s old cemetery. It’s either before or after that October 31-November 2 block that we go and visit the graves of our ancestors. A few recollection though as a child were the tacas or paper-mache horses painted in red, toy carabaos with wheels, Batman action figure, and of course, the ever-present perya. 

As I write this now, maybe it was the reason why I keep coming back to the perya. But those lone trips to the temporary ‘carnival’ focused mainly on color games, encountering one time a high school classmate and learning the trick of the game. But more than that, I enjoy the careless laughter and the general confusion of such place. 

But to go back to cemetery visits, it has been several years now that I make it a point to pass by the grave of a dead elementary school classmate. It was a shock upon knowing that an energetic playmate in sikyo has passed away already. The visits have become more of a brief one-sided kamustahan.

I have mentioned to an intimate how some of the enduring stories used October 31 or November 1 or November 2 as part of the story. There’s Noli Me Tangere. There’s the Batman comics, the one entitled ‘The Long Halloween’. Then there’s the famous Harry Potter series where the young generation of the early 21st century learned that Harry’s parents were killed on a Halloween.

Can you add more to this very short list, dear reader?

A Carlos Bulosan book is in my reading list for this year and on one of his many short stories one short note was mentioned:

“Do you remember, Cardo,” said my father in the light of the full moon, “when we lived in the village and I told you that animals talk like human being at a certain time of the year?”

“I remember it, Father,” I said. “On All Souls Eve.”…*

In reading about Bulosan’s life, he really did not spend much time here in the Philippines. But I wonder if such belief actually existed and he wrote about it in this particular story. It’s also somewhat creepy when you come to think of it. But wouldn’t it be interesting to really witness it on an animal?

*Reference: Bulosan, Carlos. “The Rooster’s Egg” in The Philippines is in the Heart. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1978. p.7

Trail Talks: A First Timer’s View of Bohol

[This has been brooding in my mind for a long time now and has finally decided to give it a shot. Since doing informal interviews was one of the activities that were often assigned to us during high schools days, I hope that this one would not be that different. And as with all novice activities, it seemed more appropriate to do it initially with someone I am more familiar and comfortable with.]

Sie has been my partner-in-literally-everything. From smooth travels to travels gone awry, from good food to bad coffee, this person proves to be a very resilient one. And so when this travel of hers finally pushed I knew it that she would cover too what could be historically and culturally important in this part of the Philippines. Then that devastating earthquake hit Bohol and nearby places in 2013. A few days later, I took the time to ask her recollections and thoughts about her travel to that province. What follows is my rough transcription of our q-and-a in Filipino: 

Back Trails (BT): Was it your first time in Visayas?
Sie (S): Yes.

BT: First time to travel by airplane too?
S: Yes. 

BT: How does it feel that those churches [in Bohol] that you’ve seen are already in the news and most of them are destroyed already?
S: Of course, it’s sad. 

 * Tagbilaran City: The City of Friendship

* Baclayon town hall

BT: What do you remember when you had the Loboc River Cruise? Was it a festive atmosphere?
S: Yes. Food was definitely delicious. Plenty and delicious. 
BT: Is it delicious when the food is free?
S: (laughs) Yes, especially when it’s free. It’s not free! We also paid part of it. 
(then question-and-answer about the food that was prepared for them)
S: One food that was different there was, what was it, algae?
BT: Seaweed salad?
S: Yes, seaweed salad.
BT: Where did you dip it? In vinegar?
S: I don’t know what it was. What else, there were people serenading. As the boat moves through the river, you’ll get to a portion where you find the musicians and they will serenade you.  Then you give them money.

 * Loboc River Cruise

* the famous Loboc church and the infamous Loboc bridge

* Museo de Loboc

* Bohol’s famous tarsier

* souvenir items up for sale

* Bohol = Chocolates Hills; Chocolate Hills = Bohol

BT: But what was the general atmosphere of Bohol? Was it rural or more like Cebu?
S: Yes, it is rural. I don’t know. Even though you are in the town proper already it still feels rural. When we went to a certain mall, what was that mall again? I forgot. There was a mall and the atmosphere was like in San Juan, Batangas. In Rosario [Batangas] town proper? It’s like that. But you’ll know that it is a tourist spot because there are many products that are being sold. Then the vehicles, it was the first time I saw some of them. 

BT: But given what happened in Bohol, would you still want to go back there?
S: Of course.

BT: I mean right after your trip, do you already want to go back there?
S: Of course. Remember it was a package tour. We went to a certain place but we just visited it briefly. Like in Baclayon church. It was already nightfall went we got there. We were in a rush. 

 * sea travel in Bohol

* Señor Santiago Apostol Chapel, Balicasag Island, Panglao, Bohol

* lighthouse, Balicasag Island, Panglao, Bohol

* Coast Guard Outpost, Balicasag Island, Panglao, Bohol

* Bohol sea treasures

BT: Did your visit to Bohol somehow spark your historical interest?
S: Oo naman. Like in Loboc, the bridge, you would ask why it was not finished. I was also looking at the houses, what they look, if they were able to maintain them, then the churches. I actually saw an old, beautiful house in Loboc.

BT: Most likely you’ll be returning as a tourist. What can you possibly give for the place’s progress except for your dollars? 
S: Dollars!?!?

   * Dumaluan Beach Resort

* Island City Mall, Tagbilaran City, Bohol

[The ‘Trail Talks’ portion engages people of different ages and background to talk about their travels and other related stuff. It aims to look into views of various people as it relates to travel, history, and culture.]