Sunday, August 17, 2014

Musings and a Museum Visit

When I posted our visit to Syquia Mansion, I was raring to blog at least three times a week because we've been to a lot of places while we were on vacation in the Philippines and I only clocked five hours each workday last Ramadan here in Riyadh. What's the excuse for my absence?

I have many but this one topped the list. A dear friend passed away. He died of a massive heart attack and our family and other friends were stunned by his sudden death. The kids grieved because they lost a happy, thoughtful Tito (the term my children use for our male friends). He drives them from school to our house and they fondly remember how kind their Tito was to them. Every payday, he would treat the kids to McDonald's Happy Meals. When we learned about that a month after, Fred and I told him to stop buying the kids treats because we know he's receiving a salary just enough for his family in the Philippines. But he said that it was his joy to see the kids happy. Fred and I grieved because we lost a very dependable friend. He was always there when we needed him, especially when we were just starting out here in Riyadh. He helped Fred buy appliances and furniture and brought us to supermarkets for our groceries because Fred didn’t have a car then. He patiently encouraged Fred to practice driving and accompanied him on his free time. He is so dear to us that it took us a while to stop thinking of the loss.

Moving on, our first stop on our Ilocos Norte itinerary is the Ferdinand Marcos Museum and Mausoleum. Visiting museums should be an engaging experience and I regret that we didn't have enough time to read the posters and know some of our country's history.

Ferdinand Marcos was the only Philippine president who declared Martial Law. During those times when military reigned supreme, a curfew was imposed and those caught violating spent a night at the police station detention cell or rendered a community service. But because I noticed that I always have this "Did you know...?" portion on my posts lately, let me continue that here. Did you know that my unassuming mother, pregnant and heavy with me at that time, was caught and detained at the nearest police station because she was still outside, past the curfew time, waiting for my father to come home? Yes, that's how horrible the situation was at that time. No one was spared. Not even a pregnant woman. She didn't spend the night at the cell though and was released after a few hours. When I heard that story, I immediately thought that at a very young age - prenatal, developing, and all - I was already detained! Such an interesting story to tell, right?

Below are images of what's to check out in the museum. When you visit it, be sure to read the posters because you will surely find lots of fascinating facts!

Note: I didn't take pictures of the mausoleum because photography was prohibited.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Syquia Mansion in Vigan

It’s July! I will be celebrating my birthday this 26th and I’m still not sure where we will spend the Ramadan 9-days vacation, which starts on the 25th until the 2nd of August. I haven’t thought about that yet. I don’t want any addition to the backlog of posts that’s been nagging me for months and I’m not even halfway through with my Philippine vacation posts!

Let’s tackle the Syquia Mansion this time.

If there's one house where I learned so much about the Filipino way of life during the Spanish era, it's the Syquia Mansion. It's the first of the three stops of our calesa ride. The calesa driver mentioned some mansions we can choose to visit but we said yes to Syquia Mansion when he told us that Elpidio Quirino, one of the Philippine presidents, owned the house.

Syquia Mansion epitomizes the more than three centuries of Spanish colonization in the Philippines. It evokes of wealth, fine living and aristocracy. You can easily guess that the former occupants of this house were either insulares (those who were born in the country to pure Spanish parents), or Filipino/Chinese mestizos (Filipinos having both Filipino and Spanish/Chinese bloodline). Syquias, I later knew, were Chinese Mestizos.

A stern-looking caretaker greeted us at the entrance and gave a brief introduction on the history of the mansion. Because he delivered the introduction in a way that you would be lured to go up the mansion to know more about it, we paid the donation which served as our entrance fee and went up. (But looks are quite deceiving. The caretaker we mistook as stern was very friendly on our way out. He even took our family picture with the Quirinos' carriage!)

I fell in love with the intricate carvings on the bed and other furniture. Did you know that those carvings have meaning? They denote social status and family rankings. I also liked the big windows that let the air and sunshine in.

The Spanish mansions have what they call “eyes”. They're holes the residents or the helpers use to check the arrival of guests. If the guests were wealthy and prominent, they were ushered to the receiving area. But if they’re not, they were not allowed to go inside the house. The caretaker explained that such attitude was the basis for the famous Filipino proverb: "Aanhin pa ang bahay na bato kung ang nakatira ay kwago, buti pa ang bahay kubo ang nakatira ay tao" ("What good is a stone house when owls live there. A nipa hut is better when a person lives there.") Owl, obviously, was used to represent those "eyes".

This dining area is big enough for another one-bedroom house. It may look small to you but if you're like me who grew up in houses with either small dining areas or with them incorporated in the kitchen, then this is already a dining area and a playground for you.

By the way, did you notice those big curtain-like materials hanging from the ceiling? I initially thought they were used to fan diners during the summer season. But they're not. They’re used to drive away flies from the dining table. Flies, notorious for carrying many diseases, reproduced rapidly then and led to outbreaks of diseases. You wouldn’t want to know why that happened but still, I will tell you. Because sanitation wasn’t the main concern then, people would just throw their poop outside, the catapult way. I'm exaggerating here again, of course. The tour guide didn’t mention any use of catapults but people really threw their poops as far as they could! As a result, the flies indulged in those freebies, carried bacteria, and spread communicable diseases. The unhygienic practice only stopped when the Americans came to the Philippines and taught proper waste disposal.

Remember my simple dream of going inside a Spanish house or mansion? I already achieved that when I went to my classmate's house during my high school years. But it wasn't as big as Syquia Mansion though. How I wish I could live in a house maybe not as big but as spacious and well-ventilated as the Syquia Mansion. But because I live in a time when a 42-sqm is the norm on urban living and an 85-sqm house and lot in the suburban areas fits a family of four, I should be thankful enough to be living in a city back home where everything you need is within easy reach - including toilet bowls and flushes!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Heritage Houses in Vigan, Ilocos Sur

Fred and I both have a thing for looking at old houses. More specifically, old Spanish houses. Our penchant for this architectural beauty began long before we met.

When I was a pre-teener, I would always stop and linger for a while whenever I see Spanish houses. I remember there was one along the street where I grew up. And there was another on the way to school. A rich classmate lived there and his stories of his Spanish grandmother's extravagant parties and condescending attitude were reminiscent of my childhood's after-school days. Because the house was so big that it stretched over half the street, my other classmates and I found joy in walking along its beautiful garden. We didn't drop by to enjoy the flowers but to get a good glimpse of what's inside that old mansion. Sadly, befriending the caretaker and the gardener and convincing our rich classmate that we wouldn't be over five minutes inside his house were all futile ways of getting past that elusive main door. I blame it on my classmate's antagonistic portrayal of his grandmother. I got so scared of her that I left the idea of discovering how Spanish houses look inside. I haven't seen that old Spanish house in decades but its facade is still etched vividly in my mind. Such beauty.

Even if they look a little eerie, Fred, on the other hand, would sometimes get closer to old houses trying to explore them  from all angles. As weird as it seems, these beauties make us stop, look and listen to their stories wherever we find them. But when you're in Luzon and way up north, relive Spanish colonial times by walking through the Heritage Houses of Calle Crisologo.

Maybe just like my classmate's old mansion, these Spanish houses evoke stories of love and war. One tourist guide told us a story behind all these preserved houses. A Japanese war official fell in love with a beautiful local. Because he knew beforehand that the Americans were going to drop bombs in Ilocos Sur where he and other Japanese soldiers were hiding, he ordered all residents to lay down American flags on the roof of their houses. Upon seeing these flags, the Americans spared all Spanish houses of Vigan from destruction. Such a lovely story, right?

What better way to enjoy this UNESCO World Heritage Site than with a calesa ride. For P350 per hour, you can tell the calesa driver which mansion or tourist spot you'd like to visit. We chose the Syquia Mansion, the Burnay Pottery and these Heritage Houses.

The Heritage Houses of Vigan is too beautiful to be ticked away on my travel bucket list. But I'm so glad I've seen them before they become more famous. With Vigan being nominated as one of the New 7 Wonders Cities, I'm sure more tourists would flock to this beautiful city. Please click on the link and vote for Vigan!

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