By Vincent Cabreza Inquirer Northern Luzon Bureau BAGUIO CITY--The summer capital's signature fog lends atmosphere to old stories about its wandering ghosts, and that always means profit for local businesses. Frequent visitors from Manila still look for the now closed "Spirits Disco" the moment they arrive for the long All Saints' Day weekend, believing they can finally glimpse the facility's elusive specter. But they will more likely encounter street dancers wearing garish monster masks and makeup outside one of the homegrown Tiong San Bazaar buildings here. Werewolves and vampires, who moonwalk to Michael Jackson's song "Thriller," have been a good formula because they have raised the bazaar's weekend sales by 20 percent since 1990, says store manager Junelyn Dasargo. And like all good business practices, the dancers have been exported to the bazaar's La Trinidad branch in Benguet, which Dasargo helps manage. She says Baguio businesses do not just dress up their shops for Halloween as malls often do, "they thrive on the stories, too." Urban legend What has become profitable for Baguio businesses is the fact that the urban legend about the "white lady" here has become part of the country's memories about Baguio, say officials of the Baguio Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI). Instead of driving tourists away, the "white lady," who is said to haunt a road that leads to Camp John Hay and the Philippine Military Academy, invites adventurous visitors to a midnight haunt and a snack or drink downtown, says Jacquelyn Acoba Ver, 70, BCCI assistant board secretary. These stories are rarely forgotten because they are often stuff reinvented over the Internet or reenacted in films, she says. Holiday economics Officially, the brisk tourism Baguio generates because of the "horror stories" is the best example of how Malacañang's "holiday economics works," says Carlos Honorio Estepa, board director of the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA). "People will always spend more time on holiday if the holiday is longer. Japan has recognized this theory," he says. But Estepa acknowledges that Baguio fog has given the city a marketing dimension no other town can beat. He says fog is the same reason why marriage counselors and wedding planners still recommend Baguio for weddings. "The fog and the chill may mean romantic weddings, but it also means a fantastic adventure for this generation who still see Baguio ghost stories flashed on television this time of the year," he says. Baguio business has had a quiet partnership with "its ghosts since the 1950s," Acoba Ver says. Quiet partnership Most of the popular Baguio ghost stories date back to the 1950s and the 1960s, and are often tied to wanderings spirits of Japanese or Filipino soldiers who died at the end of World War II. Baguio was designed and built by the American colonial government, but Halloween was never openly celebrated here, except inside Camp John Hay, Estepa says. Halloween in the 1970s were often initiated by American servicemen and American expatriates, who ended up partying by themselves downtown, he says. But Baguio ghost stories thrive because even traders are compelled "to live with their ghosts, and it has not affected their businesses at all," Acoba Ver says. "Teachers Camp [which is celebrating its centennial in 2008] has been the subject of various ghost stories. The camp rents out dormitory rooms to teachers and students -- and I live there as a teacher. Yet, students still camp there today even if the ghost stories persist. They come expecting a fright-filled evening and end up in each other's embrace," she says. Vallejo Hotel, an old American-style building near the Baguio Cathedral, inspired many ghost stories in its heyday because of the architecture. "But people still booked rooms there [until it closed seven years ago]. Stories passed down to Manila folk involve visitors feeling an invisible presence nudge their hand or their back. But like many Baguio horror stories, these spirits are harmless, never malevolent," Acoba Ver says. Made up stories Many other ghost stories attributed to other stores were made up, but traders used those to their advantage, she says. She says "Spirits" was created by businessman Alex Mina in the 1980s, and it became popular because of stories shared by customers that the disco house hosted "a presence." "People came looking for the ghost. I never felt anything at the time. But young people came again and again, so it became popular," she says. Tiong San Bazaar also had no ghost stories to rely on. But it was conscious about the city's haunting reputation, so Joseph Cabarle, the bazaar's marketing expert in Baguio, convinced store clerks and attendants to volunteer as the store's Halloween dance troupe, says Dasargo. The dance troupe helped sell the store's inventory of masks (priced at P200 to P300 apiece) but it soon noticed a considerable rise in sales between Oct. 28 and Nov. 2, she says. The troupe has altered its cast, but continues to dance at the store front on Harrison Road here each year, Dasargo says. The volunteers are not paid extra for the chore, "but they love doing it because it helps their promotional prospects and it helps management pick out the talented workers," she says.
October 2007 Archives
By Margaux Ortiz Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--A total 4,024,067 foreign visitors, mostly tourists, visited the Philippines during the first nine months of year, six percent more than the 3,781,713 visitors who came to the country during the same period last year, the Bureau of Immigration said Wednesday. âThe influx of tourists could be partly attributed to the bureau's recent reforms such as the lifting of restrictions on the length of stay of foreign visitors in the country,â Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Libanan said in a statement. Libanan explained that unlike before when foreign tourists and businessmen were allowed a maximum stay of one year in the country, they can now extend their stay up to two years and even longer âif the bureau finds that their reasons for doing so are meritorious.â BI statistics showed that Americans, numbering 466,086, topped the list of foreigners who arrived during the nine-month period up to the end of September. They were followed by Koreans, 330,154; Japanese, 261,823; and Chinese, 136,223. Also included in the list were Britons, Taiwanese, Australians, Canadians, Singaporeans, and Germans, Libanan said. âThat more and more foreigners are entering our country indicates that the Philippines is fast emerging as a favored destination for both foreign tourists and businessmen,â the immigration chief said. He added that the continued influx of foreigners should dispel doubts about the governmentâs ability to attract foreign visitors and investors. âForeign businessmen are coming here because our economic fundamentals are sound and despite the assertions of government critics that our government is facing a political crisis, the confidence of foreign investors in our economy remains very strong,â Libanan said. Records also showed that more than 1.13 million of the foreigners who arrived were tourists while 431,236 were âbalikbayansâ or Filipino immigrants who acquired foreign citizenship. The rest were holders of various immigrant and non-immigrant visas such as permanent residents, expatriates, investors, retirees, returning residents, students, and those married to Filipinos, Libanan said.
By Estanislao Caldez Northern Luzon Bureau TUGUEGARAO CITY--An Asian Spirit Boeing plane carrying 18 casino players from Macau landed at the Tuguegarao airport last Thursday to start its flight from that Chinese gambling center. The Macau visitors were invited by officials of the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport in Sta. Ana town. Cagayan officials led by Gov. Alvaro Antonio led the group that welcomed the visitors, who were entertained with songs and dances at the airport. "The historic flight opens the development and progress of Cagayan," Antonio told the visitors. With the flight from Macau to Tuguegarao, Asian Spirit plans to have other flights from 14 cities in Asia and the Pacific to ferry tourists and investors to Cagayan, he said.
By Erwin Oliva INQUIRER.net BANGALORE, India--It rained hard. Just a few hours before my scheduled flight to Singapore, on our way to Bangalore, a freaky rain shower kept planes scheduled to land in Ninoy Aquino International Airport hovering over Manila. Our plane got delayed by almost two hours. By the time we took off, I was tense. I was constantly looking at my watch to find out if we still had time to catch our connecting flight to Bangalore, India's version of Silicon Valley. But just a quick rewind. It was unusual for Singapore Airlines to be late. But our plane was just that -- very, very late. Some passengers started crowding the table near our gate, asking if they could still make it on time for their connecting flights. The airline announced the flight had been redirected to Clark airport (huh?) so it was expected to arrive an hour late. I made a quick calculation. Since we had a three-hour window to catch our connecting flight, I didn't panic. I was wrong. Just as the crowd was starting to grumble, the airline announced that food was being served in a restaurant inside the airport. A beeline of people emerged, as they scrambled for the exit. It was almost 3 p.m., and I suppose many were very hungry. While eating, Melvin Calimag (of the Manila Bulletin) and I met "Mr. Morrison," an Australian who was invited in Manila to host a horse race. Yes, he was a pro. He had been in the Philippines many times that he could still recall the old mayors of Manila. Apparently, horse race announcers like him were like gems. They were rare and I supposed highly paid. Just as we ended our late lunch at the airport, our plane finally landed. I checked my watch. The airline's announced arrival was a bit optimistic. At that moment, I was tense. By the time we got back to the gate, a group of cute ground crew members of the airline assembled in front of the impatient crowd. I wondered what was the gimmick. Then I saw a mic stand, a speaker, and a songbook. They started singing a song. The song's title escapes me. But it dealt with a "wooden heart." I thought I was having a heart attack as time ticked away. So on our way to Bangalore, India, we ended up staying near Little India in Singapore for a day. All because of the rain.
By Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--As the 21-day visa-free travel from Russia to the Philippines begins to take effect, expect more Russians to come to the country. Such news would have caused massive hysteria during the Cold War. Rather than be paralyzed with fear, the country's major players in tourism, led by Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano, welcomed the development (which began Oct. 1) and even went as far as flying to Russia recently to join Leisure Moscow, dubbed as the biggest annual travel fair in the former Soviet Union. To give the event its due importance, the Philippine team built one of the country's biggest and most colorful tourism pavilions to date. Splashed with giant wall-mounted photos of Philippine icons such as white-sand beaches and the tarsier, the kiping-festooned booth sat proudly in the center of a huge exhibit hall in Moscow, alongside bigger but less imaginative efforts by Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. Leisure Moscow coincided with Luxury Leisure, a smaller, more targeted event held in another hall and aimed at Russia's high-flying jet-setters. The Philippines had a smaller booth centered on wellness - complete with masseuses -to appeal to this group. To add a dash of culture to the event, Durano brought with him members of the Bayanihan Dancers, who again succeeded in regaling and softening the hearts of even the most seemingly dour Muscovites. Normandy landing It was a back-to-back marketing blitz, as Durano and a smaller party flew later in the week to Deauville, a charming town in Normandy, France, to join another tourism Mecca dubbed as TopResa. Wife Carmen and fellow Cebuano Eduardo Jarque Jr., undersecretary for tourism planning and promotions, accompanied Durano on both trips. A similar, albeit smaller booth held its own among those of the competition in Deauville. This time, images of places the French hold dear such as Palawan and the Banaue rice terraces were plastered from one wall to another. Palawan, particularly El Nido, has recently caught the attention of the French market after it became the setting of “Koh Lanta,” France's answer to “Survivor.” Hosted by Denis Brogniart, the top-rated reality TV show featured Palawan for an entire season earlier this year. Durano deemed the twin efforts vital given the fact that France and Russia are currently two of the leading sources of inbound travelers from Europe. Prized market Although Europe makes up a mere 9 percent of the country's tourism market, it remains a prized source, especially in the case of Russians, who are known to stay longer and splurge as they hop from “paradise to paradise.” Not only are Philippine beaches more pristine and scenic than those in Phuket and Bali, the country's tour operators offer one thing others don't: multiple beach packages from one island to another that allow tourists a host of unique experiences and attractions. The entry of new airlines such as SEAir and the dramatic increase in the number of world-class rooms (24,000 as of last count) have made island hopping possible. As Durano aptly put it: The reasons to visit the Philippines are perhaps as numerous as the 7,107 islands that make up the entire archipelago. And to give tourists a semblance of city life, these packages usually include either Manila or Cebu City in the mix. “By 2010, we're projecting an increase in tourist arrivals from three million to five million,” Durano added. “Hopefully, Europe's share would have increased to 15 percent by then.” Before he assumed the post three years ago, tourism arrivals barely scraped the two-million mark. Durano attributed the 50-percent increase primarily to “selective” overseas promotions done on a relatively shoestring budget. While the likes of Malaysia and Singapore spend untold sums on sleek ads via global media outlets, the Philippines has been more creative and discerning in appealing directly to markets that matter most through these travel fairs. “It's all about presence,” said Efren Belarmino, GM of Plantation Bay Resort and Spa. “Even if you have the best resort, tour operators tend to forget about you if you don't join these shows.” It was Cebu-based Plantation Bay's second year to join Leisure Moscow, and Belarmino couldn't be happier. “This year is definitely much better in terms of attendance and inquiries generated,” he said. Russian guest officer In fact, to recognize the Russian market's importance, Plantation Bay is the first and so far the only local resort to hire a Filipino- and English-speaking Russian guest services officer. Ivan Spencer Lim, GM of the newly refurbished Dos Palmas Resort and Spa in Palawan, mirrored Belarmino's optimism. “We've done Korea and China before,” said Lim. “But this is our first time to promote in Russia. In spite of the distance and the Moscow traffic, the trip is worth it.” Oddly enough, no one seemed to know or had bothered to ask Lim about the kidnapping incident in Dos Palmas in 2001. All they cared about were the resort's facilities and marine attractions. “We didn't change our name in an attempt to hide what happened,” said Lim. “We've beefed up security measures, but what makes me bullish is the fact that we have a very good product to offer.” Indeed, the private sector has responded to DOT's efforts by investing close to $3 billion in hotel and resort development in various parts of the Philippines. If we're to achieve our dream of welcoming five million tourists by 2010, said Durano, the country needs to double its room and air capacities within the next two to three years. In recent years, DOT has also intensified so-called familiarization tours by inviting selected members of the foreign media to spend all-expense paid holidays here. Such investments have resulted in glowing travel stories that directly appeal to potential tourists. “Our initial strategy was to create a short-term boost by promoting to such markets as China and Korea,” says Durano. “Now that tourism arrivals, together with our capacity to cater to them, is growing, we need to sustain business by going to the European markets.” French fave As far as Philippine tourism is concerned, France currently occupies the top spot in Europe, while Russia ranks sixth. Not a few French tourists, particularly divers, have long favored spending their holidays here. But the inflow of tourists from Europe, especially France, was reduced to a trickle five years ago after the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf kidnapped a number of tourists, including Frenchmen, in Malaysia. Through the years, France has slowly lifted its travel ban to the Philippines. While it still discourages its citizens from venturing into certain areas in Mindanao, the French government has given them the green light to visit such destinations as Manila, Banaue, Cebu, Boracay, Bohol and Palawan. But nothing excites Durano more these days than the likely deluge of Russian tourists to the country as a direct result of visa-free travel. Instead of flying to Moscow to get a visa, Russians from eastern cities like Vladivostok can now fly directly to Manila via Korea or China. “The growth of the Russian market has been phenomenal,” said Durano. “The number of Russian tourists has tripled from 4,000 three years ago to 12,000 as of today.” This newfound relationship between the two nations didn't escape the notice of Russian tourism officials. Apart from delivering a short speech (the only tourism official from a foreign country to do so), the barong-clad Durano, together with several Russian bigwigs, cut the ribbon to mark the travel fair's official opening. He also received an award the next day for best in marketing efforts. “Most Russians travel with their families and stay for an average of seven to 10 days,” said Belarmino. “And they really spend! What more can you ask?” Yes, as if in answer to Sting's question in his poignant hit song, the Russians love to travel with their children, too.
By Alex Vergara Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--Of all the exotic locales Denis Brogniart and his collaborators have shot in, the host of the top-rated French reality TV show “Koh Lanta,” a Survivor-like hit show, cited Palawan and New Caledonia as “two of the best.” Brogniart went on to heap praises on Palawan, particularly El Nido resort, where he stayed, as the most beautiful location they've come across in seven years. “It's incredible to see a place like this where you can be totally lost,” he said. “It has everything, from lush forest to transparent waters full of fish and corals of various shapes and colors.” Show producer Thierry Graff was equally awed when and he his team “stumbled” on Palawan while scouring the globe for possible locations. “It was really spectacular to see those rock formations and magnificent beaches all in one place,” he said. “It's a dream location that's isolated yet accessible enough to stage challenges.” The irony wasn't lost on Graff when he admitted that Palawan, by far, is more scenic than Koh Lanta, a resort island in southern Thailand, from which the show got its name. 9 million viewers But the biggest affirmation came from the French people themselves. Close to nine million viewers reportedly watched the Palawan series during its entire 11-week run, making it the highest-rating “Koh Lanta” adventure so far. For sure, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of islands all over the tropics that are as beautiful and as isolated as Palawan. But the latter offers a rare mix of nature and modern-day amenities a crew of 70 people (excluding 16 French contestants) needs in order to effectively do their jobs. The logistics involved in shooting a show like “Koh Lanta” are staggering, said Brogniart, a fitness buff who had a treadmill shipped all the way from Manila to El Nido. Apart from the show's French crew, Graff and company had to hire hundreds of locals to provide support. Brogniart went on to assure French reporters that the Philippines is a safe place to visit except for certain islands like Jolo. Terrorism, he added, can happen anywhere, even in places like Paris and London. “Not once did I feel unsafe in Palawan except one morning when a big dog followed me while I was jogging on the beach,” Brogniart shared with a hearty chuckle. “I felt the same way wherever I went, whether it was in Boracay or in Manila.” After endorsing the Philippines in a press conference organized by the Department of Tourism in the recently concluded TopResa travel fair in Deauville, France, the towering Brogniart later graced the Philippine pavilion, where he elicited stares of approval from a curious French public. Indeed, DOT has another winning endorser in its efforts to further push “Brand Philippines.”
By Inquirer Southern Luzon Bureau PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines--Tour operators here are offering a splashy treat in time for the holiday season--a close encounter with wild, frolicking dolphins in the open sea. Expecting a sharp increase in tourist arrivals toward Christmas the city is turning to the playful creatures to add more fun to its already rich fare of ecotourism attractions. Mayor Edward Hagedorn, who on Wednesday led the launching of the new tours, was joined by over a hundred guests on an outrigger boat in the waters off Puerto Princesa. Over a hundred bottle-nosed dolphins made sure they would not be disappointed, bobbing in and out of the water. Spotters According to boat operator Toto Cayabo, tour operators "guarantee" each tour -- or will give the money back if a visitor doesn't see any dolphin during the trip. A tour is initially being offered at a promotional rate of P750 per person. "We have spotters who tell us where to go. And these dolphins don't leave this place anymore. They just roam around," Cayabo said. Hagedorn vowed to support the new tourism attraction, donating several cell phone units to Cayabo's spotters, most of whom are also smalltime fishermen. The spotters take a cut from the fee collected by tour operators, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) learned. "This is the kind of development that we want to promote in Puerto Princesa, not the ones that are destructive to the environment," said Hagedorn, whose administration has banned mining projects in the city. Also whale sharks Felisa Torres, head of the City Tourism Council, said the local tourism operators would also soon launch a campaign promoting whale shark watching as an additional attraction. Puerto Princesa is best known for natural attractions like its 2-km "underground river," which runs beneath limestone formations found north of the city.
By Delfin Mallari Jr. Inquirer SARIAYA, Quezon--With vegetables she herself grows in the cool climate of Mount Banahaw in Quezon for her daily sustenance, Filomena Remojo Relativo is only three years short of hitting the century mark. Her body is crouched and her face wrinkled from years of hard work, but the old woman still tends her farm planted with vegetables, medicinal herbs and ornamentals. “I’m not deaf. I can still hear you loud and clear,” Relativo shouts in Filipino in jest during the interview in her house in Barangay Mamala Uno at Banahaw’s base, also known as an abode of divine spirits. “I can still also sew clothes using the old sewing machine,” she boasts to draw attention to her unfailing eyesight. Asked about her birth date, Relativo instantly mentions 1910 but grasps for other details. Her daughter-in-law butts in and says July 14. She was born and raised in Mamala, and married Leon who died seven years ago, leaving her with eight children, two of them already dead. Banahaw has been her lifetime companion, and she enjoys her simple existence, feeding body and soul with the fruits of labor from the mountain’s bosom. “Mt. Banahaw is a part of my life. This is where I live and this is where I will meet my Creator,” she says. She shows a faded photo of herself when she was 14 years old with sister-in-law Leonora. “I could no longer remember the occasion, but I’m sure it was a special event because we have a souvenir photo,” she says. Daily grind Relativo starts her daily grind when the cocks crow at the first light of day. After sipping a cup of hot coffee, she grabs her bolo still soiled from the previous day’s farming, and heads off to her farm nearby. She immerses herself in the ornamental plants, medicinal herbs, bananas, onions, eggplants, bell peppers, lettuces and many other vegetable crops. Relativo recalls how patrolling Army soldiers and New People’s Army members often passed by her house before daybreak at the height of the communist insurgency, when Banahaw used to be the rebels’ mountain lair. “They greet me and leave me alone. I was not afraid of them, unlike the way I feared Japanese soldiers during the war,” she says. When her husband was jailed by Japanese soldiers at the garrison in the town proper during World War II, she often failed to deliver his food out of fear, she says. “The moment Japanese soldiers bark out, ‘Kura! Kura!’ I always scampered in fear and ran back home, failing to give the food to my husband.” Power breakfast At around 7 a.m., Relativo returns to the house for a “special” peasant breakfast she will prepare herself. Her menu consists of steaming rice with bulanglang (boiled vegetable mix), fresh onions soured with vinegar, and fried dried fish dipped in chopped fresh tomatoes. “That breakfast for me is the prefect combination. I can work all day in the farm,” she says. She abhors waking up late when the sun is already out. “People, especially farmers, should start the day early. The cool mountain breeze in the early morning is conducive to farming and also to our health.” After the power breakfast, Relativo returns to her farm and continues to work till noon. After a hearty lunch of another concoction of fresh vegetables, she takes a two-hour siesta to recharge her body, which still surprisingly remains fit and healthy despite two surgeries on her appendix and cervix. “I seldom consult a doctor. The last time I saw one to replenish my blood, I became weak after the transfusion. Despite the rigor of daily farming chores, my blood pressure is always normal. I also eat meat but not that often,” she says. Relativo’s son Romulo, 70, a retired public elementary school principal, says her mother can still help other farmers in planting rice. “It’s a backbreaking task, but she’s up to it. As a matter of fact, she enjoys the hard work,” he said. Romulo also chose to become a full-time farmer after he retired five years ago. Most of the time, Relativo says family members have to shout for her to come home because it’s already late. “And sometimes, when I’m too busy attending to my crops and ornamental flowers, they have to fetch me and force me to call it a day,” she says. Natural farming An advocate of natural farming since she started cultivating in the bosom of Banahaw, she admits to using commercial fertilizers sometimes. “But we have to return to the basic natural farming. It’s good for the soil and human health,” she said. “The other day, I cut grass around my farm. Once dried, I will use it as natural fertilizer.” Relativo enjoys a swig of “lambanog” (native coconut-based liquor) on special occasions. She considers her pack of “Magkaibigan,” which contains 30 pieces of native cigarette, her best buddy. She consumes a pack every two days; her family used to pester her to quit smoking for health reasons. “I just laugh at them. My body is different from them,” she says. The old woman, who finished Grade 4, says she has no secret regimen to explain her long and healthy life. Instead she offers this advice: “Pray to the Lord not for some material gains but for a strong, wholesome and healthy life. This, I sincerely pray several times a day.” Romulo says he is now busy gathering the names of every member of the clan for a family tree in preparation for her mother’s centennial. “I’m having a hard time even in listing the names of all her grandchildren and great grandchildren, but it’s fun. Having a big family has its own special reward,” he says. Photo by Delfin Mallari Jr.
Ruby de Vera Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--Ever since I was little, I’ve had itchy feet. My mother would go crazy looking for me during mealtimes, finding me in some house several blocks away from ours. I’d reason, “I just wanted to see their place.” All throughout my student life, I was limited to seeing the world within a five-mile radius. Except when I lied through my teeth that I was working on a project, when actually I would be eating at friends’ houses several towns away. I paid dearly for those lies. When I started earning my own money, suddenly the possibilities exploded. The thought of being able to go anywhere I wanted, as long as I could afford it, was too much that for the first five years of my working life I was almost always broke. It didn’t matter where. If I had both time and money, my motto was “When?” I started small, like going to Baguio or Ilocos on a whim. Land travel was my specialty. I would either board a bus, or go on road trips. I drove straight for 12 hours at one time. It didn’t matter that I didn’t get enough sleep on weekends; I was making up for lost time. After a couple of years, it was time to up the ante a little bit. My itchy feet took me to Palawan, Cebu, Bohol, Bicol, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Boracay, Mindoro, Sagada, Banawe, and some other short land trips in between. My first travel out of the country brought me to Singapore. I lied again because I knew that if my mother learned that I’d be spending what little I have, I would never hear the end of it. By this time I already had travel buddies, friends who also had itchy feet like I did. I have since gone to other countries in Asia that didn’t require a visa. A little tip, though: Always check what they stamp on your passport. Never assume you’re always allowed 21 days to a month in their country. Priceless experiences When I travel, I don’t think about the damage it will do to my bank account. The experiences I get from all my adventures can never have a monetary value. I have been scared to death driving at 3 a.m. on an unknown stretch of road somewhere in Ilocos, the fuel gauge blinking “Empty” and we had no idea where to find a gas station. I tolerated high fever during the Pahiyas Festival in Quezon, because I woke up very early to make the trip. The little inconvenience of being sick would not stop me from seeing the parade. I almost drowned swimming in Subic. I experienced how pitch-black the night could be out at sea when our boat got stuck on seaweed while island-hopping in Bohol. I rode a habal habal (motorcycle) with four other people in it in Davao. I fed the giraffes in Calauit, and then almost had a zebra kick me because I poked its baby. I got so drunk in Boracay I entered another hotel. I’ve had coffees with truck drivers in stopovers in remote towns. I have boarded questionable ferries in Malaysia, lost my passport and money in Singapore (then claimed it at the Lost and Found), got lost in Hong Kong while dripping wet, watched special women do their special skills in Phat Phong, almost got ran over by trams in the Central District, and was reduced to a sniffling lump by immigration officers in Bandar Seri Begawan. I may have gone to a lot of places, but the rest of the world is still waiting. My travel record is actually nothing compared to the real jetsetters. But hey, I’m not rich. However, the proliferation of budget airlines and promo fares bring my friends and I endless joy and excitement. Now there is almost no excuse not to go places, and indeed we will. We are nowhere near done.
HONG KONG is such a busy city (I remember being there on a Sunday, wondering why the heck everyone was running up and down the escalators when it was a weekend) that people almost have no time to greet each other, let alone (gasp!) give each other hugs. These young people want to change that situation. Check out this video clip from Reuters.
By Vicente Labro Inquirer TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines--Efforts to promote Guiuan, Eastern Samar through a sports competition are paying off as more tourists and adventure lovers are coming down to sample the town's delights. Over a hundred surfers from different parts of the country are expected to join the 4th Eastern Samar Surfing Crown: Odyssey Waves Surfing Competition, which will run from Monday until Wednesday. The three-day surfing event was organized by the provincial government of Eastern Samar headed by Gov. Ben Evardone, municipal government of Guiuan headed by Mayor Analiza Kwan, the Department of Tourism regional office here under Director Karina Rosa Tiopes and the Surfriders Club of Eastern Samar Inc. Some 30 members of the Surfriders Club of Eastern Samar will be joining the competition, which will take participants to the swells of Calicoan Island facing the Pacific Ocean. As in the past, a huge crowd is expected to show up in the island to witness with fascination how surfers ride the swells with grace. The competition this year is expected to bring surfers from Baler, Daet and even Manila in Luzon; Lanuza and Siargao in Mindanao; and from Tanauan, Leyte in the Visayas. The Department of Tourism and the provincial and municipal governments have been organizing the annual surfing competition in Calicoan Island, Guiuan to get enthusiasts to see what the town could offer as a destination. Aurora delos Reyes, investment and tourism officer of Guiuan, said Guiuan Mayor Analiza Kwan has been very active in promoting Guiuan as a tourist spot, banking not only on the waves but also the town's rich historical, pilgrimage and cultural sites. Guiuan, which is one of the bigger towns in Eastern Samar and composed of 60 barangays, is 157 kilometers away from Tacloban City, the regional capital of Eastern Visayas. Guiuan is a two- to three-hour road trip away from Tacloban City, where commercial flights from and to Manila are available. Calicoan, meanwhile, is just a 10-minute drive from Guiuan town proper. According to a handout prepared by the National Statistical Coordination Board in Eastern Visayas, Calicoan also has "six lagoons ringed by forest, the largest being 30 hectares and on the northern tip of Calicoan are wetlands like the Everglades, teeming with fish, shrimp and crabs." Visitors to the island also noted that monkeys and iguanas abound in the area, some of them crossing the road in full view of the happy tourists. Aside from the waves, tourists in Guiuan can also check out its history as the town boasts of an airport that was heavily used during World War II and a 15th-century Catholic church and belfry. The airport's 2.08-km long and 26-m runway built by the Americans can still be used despite its age. The apron and terminal are undergoing construction so that commercial flights can operate in Guiuan, making it more accessible to tourists. Some P30 million has been released for the airport rehabilitation project and another P70 million is expected to come in, Delos Reyes said. She noted that it was in Guiuan, specifically Homonhon Island, where Ferdinand Magellan and his men first set foot, thus marking the "discovery" of the Philippines on March 16, 1521. Incidentally, some 423 years after Magellan's arrival, another historic event took place when a company of American soldiers landed on Homonhon Island on Oct. 17, 1944 to pave the way for the coming of the Allied forces led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Three days later, on Oct. 20, 1944, the Allied forces landed in Leyte, signaling the start of the liberation campaign in the country. Delos Reyes said that Guiuan also became an important naval base during the liberation campaign. On Dec. 1, 1944, several ships and barges arrived at Guiuan Bay to unload different kinds of heavy equipment for use in the construction of a big naval base, which was then considered the biggest in the Far East. By the end of 1944 or early 1945, several battleships and warplanes started taking off from Guiuan. Aside from the airport, one of the few remnants of Guiuan's wartime history is the foundation of a flagpole of the big American depot in Barangay Ngolos in Calicoan Island. On Oct. 17, Barangay Ngolos will again be the site of the commemoration of the Liberation of Eastern Samar, which is dubbed as a "Sentimental Journey." The activity is held each year to commemorate the Filipino war veterans and the members of the Allied Liberation Forces, especially those who served in Guiuan. The officers and members of the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) Sons and Daughters and some foreign dignitaries usually attend this event marking the great battle. But today, just about a kilometer away from Barangay Ngolos, Guiuan will witness the start of another "battle." This time, however, it will be a friendly competition among some of the country's best surfers.
LAGUNA has its own version of Marikina City in this quaint little town called Liliw, famous for its handmade shoes and slippers. Liliw is among a cluster of towns located at the southeastern side of Laguna and sits at the foot of mystical Mount Banahaw, partly hidden by clouds in the picture. As mentioned in Wikipedia, Liliw has a shoe industry that can rival Marikina. There are two main streets lined with shops like these on both sides. I bought my Grandma two pairs of abaloryo slippers, with sequins and have a soft feathery feel, which I found out from her, can rarely be found elsewhere. Like most nearby towns, Liliw is also abundant with lanzones and rambutan. A kilo of lanzones costs P40 while a kilo of rambutan costs P30 -- about half the price in Manila. This old house reminds me of old, old Tagalog films -- horror movies, actually. Partly hidden in the picture is the shoe store on the left side of the stairs. For such a small town, Liliw has a rather large church, with a large quadrangle in front. This is typical of towns and churches are long-lasting symbols of Spanish rule. The church is picturesque, with Mount Banahaw as background.
By Thelma Sioson San Juan Inquirer MANY people's idea of a leisure trip today is going on a wellness pilgrimage. In the ’80s, futurists predicted that going back to nature and cultivating spirituality and well-being would be the rage in the next decades. While we believed that prediction, we didn’t foresee the paradigm shift such a trend would create in today’s lifestyle. Today, spas and wellness centers are the new mecca, akin to the shopping mall was in the ’90s. They provide the lifestyle business boom everywhere. Baby boomers -- the biggest economic force worldwide -- are moving heaven and earth to keep their body and mind fit. Their example is being emulated by generations X and Y. That’s why Singapore Airlines’ idea of flying a media group to Kerala, India, to discover its ayurvedic resorts two weeks ago wasn’t only timely, it was also right on the pulse of the market. While seven days with nine media personalities with perhaps double that number of characters and eccentricities may not exactly spell well-being, but Singapore Airlines’ marketing head Rita Dy managed the feat anyway. Indeed, the trip and the company were good for one’s well-being. Kerala is in the southwestern tip of India, flanked by the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats mountain range, with a backwater artery that’s perfect for sailing -- in a fully decked houseboat. Kerala is said to be India’s No. 1 state, its most affluent with a strong middle class, with 100-percent literacy and also its cleanest. It shows. The place is not congested. It’s not only rustic, it’s near idyllic. You could see people deriving livelihood from the sea and land. Kerala is India’s age-old source of spices, the variety of which is enough to overwhelm you. You could smell them in the air. Kerala was the destination of conquerors of centuries ago, led by Vasco de Gama 500 years ago. That’s why the architecture of the Portuguese and the Dutch (who came later) is still beautifully evident—those stimulating ochre and melon colors diluted by the onslaught of time. And those saris on women—in vibrant saffron, fuchsia, gold, you name it, there’s a color to lure the eye. Discovering Ayurveda Today, Kerala from Cochin to Thekkady is not only a scenic gem; it’s on top of the global pursuit for wellness. Its ayurvedic resorts and hotels put an ancient science into today’s cool lifestyle. It prides itself in being the center of ayurveda, the age-old Indian science known to a few Filipinos, especially those into yoga and meditation. Ayurveda (ayu meaning life, veda meaning knowledge or science) is an ancient, intricate system of health and healing indigenous to India, particularly to Kerala. We have neither the expertise nor the space to dwell on it here, but briefly, Ayurveda is practiced by physicians in India who work for a five-year Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery. These physicians believe equilibrium is the key to a person’s health. Ayurveda isn’t so much treatment as the prevention of disease. The ayurvedic doctor uses herbs, leaves, bark, roots, stems of shrubs—health and healing from nature -- and even spices and metals like silver and gold. These go with strict diet and rejuvenation sessions such as oil massages. In Ayurveda, a person is believed to be made up of five elements—space, air, fire, water and earth -- combined with physiological functions of vata (i.e. circulation, respiration), pitta (metabolism, digestion), kapha (growth). It is the imbalance among these that causes illness, even death. At the Marari Beach Resort, the ayurvedic doctor told the diabetic member of our group that daytime sleeping or napping doesn’t do her good. Daytime sleep is not good for diabetics, he told our stunned group. We went to the nature resorts of the CGH chain, a network of hotels and resorts founded by an Indian visionary, Jose Dominic, who believed every development must be environment-friendly. These hotels are veritable botanical gardens, bird and even wildlife sanctuaries that recycle their water, use biogas from food wastes and organic fertilizers on its land, and solar panels. They are a heartening showcase of eco-friendly systems. At the Spice Village in Thekkady, Kerala, we got our first taste of ayurvedic massage. The place was unlike any spa we’ve seen, whether here or in Thailand or Bali. The room is so spare, there’s only a flat wooden bed in the center and a stove (!) in the corner. You strip naked -- as in everything goes. You’re given cheesecloth with strings to wear like a G-string. You sit on a chair and the masseuse pours coconut oil on your scalp, your forehead. The massage begins on your head, because like an inverted tree, that’s where your roots are. The head massage alone is enough to put you to sleep, even as you’re seated upright. You are led to the high massage bed for the oil massage. The masseuse rubs the oil on her palms so that her hands are soothingly warm when they run down your body in kneading motion, sometimes using her thumbs to apply pressure. You feel the energy seeping into you from those hands. Then she uses two heated herbal pouches to rub down your body. The shower is just as spartan. You sit on a monobloc chair and the masseuse pours water and herbal powder on you. At the Coconut Lagoon, two masseuses do synchronized massage, with sesame oil. It is vigorous, those two pairs of hands incessantly rubbing and kneading your back, from shoulders to toes. “Come back to nature and be present. Feel the energy being transmitted to you,” the ayurvedic doctor at Spice Village told us. It is welcome news that Singapore Airlines is preparing reasonably priced travel packages to these Kerala resorts and hotels giving ayurvedic treatments. The menus of treatments are attractive, from slimming/stress management program to treatments for back pain and longevity. There’s even “ vajeekaranam -- only for men -- (that) ensures longer sexual pleasure and treats disorders,” the Marari Beach brochure said; it’s a 7-14-day program. Nobody in the group got to try that, obviously.
By John Silva Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--You have to psych yourself for the six-hour bus ride from Baguio to the northern mountaintop town of Sagada. But, on the road, you don’t figure the added time for the stalled jeep laden with vegetables blocking the road. Or the bus having a flat tire. Or that it wouldn’t start after a pit stop. Or the bus screeching to a halt because of a landslide before it. We got off the bus and in freezing rain climbed the muddy mound about two-stories high, to slip and slide down the other side to wait for another bus. After a while, the rain stopped, the mist cleared, and I looked up to the night sky and saw tens of thousands of stars twinkling. You don’t see this spectacle in the city. Cold, wet and muddied, I smiled and the trip’s misery was forgotten. Nature has a way of doing that. I first visited Sagada as a troubled young man. A love affair had ended painfully and I was in despair. A friend suggested Sagada. There was an orphanage there that needed help. Go, she said, make yourself useful to the kids and stop the self-pity. Heal yourself in Sagada. Thirty-six years later, I was back in Sagada to teach public-school teachers aesthetics. Six hours became almost nine hours of travel and the last third of the way was in pitch darkness along bumpy roads. The night stars were my only solace. I was welcomed to Sagada by Dennis Faustino, St. Mary’s High School principal who lived in a charming wooden house built in 1924. A jovial man with a continuous smile, he had some of his students watching a movie in the living room. When we sat down to eat, the students were also invited and I found them to be polite but curious about my work and eager to listen to my conversation with Dennis. Eager teachers Early the next day, I was at St. Mary’s, a well-kept two-story building donated by my La Salle Greenhills classmate Boy Yuchengco. The building nestled in pine trees. I saw teachers signing up in the auditorium where I was to lecture. There were many young teachers astonished when I told them I was in Sagada when their parents were still in high school. Uttering it astonished me, too! None of the teachers ever had an art-education workshop, let alone any continuing education courses for their professional development. Much as I thanked them profusely for coming on a Saturday, their personal day, and spending jeep and bus fare to get to the workshop, the teachers said they came because they wanted to learn and know what the arts was all about. In Mindanao, the teachers clucked when they were entranced by a painting from my Powerpoint. Here in the Cordillera, they swooned with long deep ooohs. They took notes about how art education could lessen absenteeism and be an antidote to drug addiction. Their faces glowed as they became enlightened by what constituted a beautiful picture. They started to connect aesthetics with being a citizen, learning that visual pollution—billboards, advertising banners, garbage thrown indiscriminately -- affected the pristine sights of their community. Close to nature Sagada has been touted as a Shangri-La visited by local and foreign tourists. Given its distance from “civilization,” Sagada has little to worry for now. The view outside the school auditorium had a sweeping scene of mountains and rice terraces spotted with houses. Greenery and the unique stone terraces still overwhelmed. This workshop on appreciating nature as art had a very practical economic value to Sagada. My lesson plan on photography as a fine art (woven into it was Philippine history as seen from old photographs) excited the teachers. I incorporated old photographs of the Cordillera taken at the turn of the century. The teachers were wide-eyed when they saw their ancestors in native garb, the thatched huts their grandparents lived in, the majesty of their stone terraces and the dances. In the Cordillera, people danced on so many occasions and were scrupulously documented in film by anthropologists and missionaries. The women were often bare-breasted and the men wore loincloths. The early missionaries had imposed modest dressing in these parts and the pictures of their half-naked past were unnerving for the older teachers. The younger teachers, though, were more astute, having been raised to take pride in local customs. Missionary influence had long receded. Sagada, like many rural areas, has no museums so I taught a module on setting up a simple school museum. Developing an exhibition theme, writing captions and wall text, and producing an exhibit for very little money demystifies curatorship, and the teachers were introduced to yet another pedagogical method. First Sagada stint We ended the workshop at 3 p.m. to allow the teachers to get home early. Buses and jeeps plying the route are scarce and unscheduled so the long wait adds to the travel time. Some of the teachers from the rural villages had not been to “big town” Sagada in a while and this was a time to shop or go to the hospital and get checked up. I got the chance to walk through the town again and see what changes had occurred. My first stop was the orphanage on the hilltop. I saw the playground fronting the orphanage and remembered the many games I played with the children there. The orphanage had a large number of twins in my days. Twins were bad luck. One of them was thought to have the mother’s spirit, so they were buried alive, abandoned or committed to the orphanage. The spartan dormitory I stayed in for three months was being remodeled into a tourist inn. The one street in the center of the town had several new restaurants but gone were the little stores that sold tribal artifacts. I walked to the town’s entrance and lamented the destruction of the limestone cliffs by local developers. The large cluster of thatched huts was no longer in sight. These huts, which often caught fire, had been replaced by galvanized-iron sheets and concrete blocks. As I walked to my guesthouse, several of the teachers greeted me, effusive about the workshop. They were still waiting for a jeep home. Back to Baguio The next morning, I took the first early bus back to Baguio. It was sunny throughout the whole trip and memories returned. I took this same Halsema Highway years ago on a similar sunny day. The same exhilaration came over me as the bus gingerly went down the mountain. The same scent of flowers and the same bracing morning air. I had flashbacks of the tearful twins singing to me. They must now be in their 40s, I thought. First there were glimpses of a terrace; then, halfway down, the mountains unfolded, revealing full vistas of terraces, their lines rounding every contour of every mountain in sight. A swath of clouds rested on the mountaintops, and way below a river snaked its way. The travel brochures always called it an engineering marvel. I just found it breathtaking. I could hear the teachers’ voices babbling about the elements of aesthetics. Color! shapes! texture! lines! they exclaimed. Despite the swaying bus, I marveled at the profusion of parallel lines incising green mountains and watered terraces glistening under the morning sun. As we rounded a mountain, the panorama continued as another set of perfectly chiseled mountains came to view. This panoply went unabated for almost the whole bus ride. I laughed out loud, realizing the Sagada teachers were being polite with Mr. Know It All from Manila. Teach them aesthetics? Lines? Hah! Their ancestors were aesthetes for thousands of years. There were threats to the beauty of the place. Signs at interval on the Halsema Highway forbade the dumping of garbage on the roadside. But the dumping seemed to have continued. Rice terraces and vegetable plots posted signs of fertilizers and chemicals used. In an increasingly organic-oriented world, the signs were anachronistic, threatening both produce and the people’s health. Fate of Cordillera It is the education of the Cordillera students that will decide the fate of this region. Illiteracy and dropout rate are twice higher in the non-Christian and tribal communities than the national average. The catching-up, the learning curve, the ratcheting-up of student academic achievements in these parts are an imperative. It boils down to good teachers. At St. Mary’s, Dennis Faustino, former teacher now principal, is turning a once ailing school around. In just three years, academic achievement has improved with a new core of teachers who are dedicated, well-trained and well-paid, teaching in spanking classrooms and labs brimming with all the necessary equipment. An alumni network and a working board allow Dennis to do his job well. Bottom-line results? All graduating high-school students have passed the exams and will enter colleges and universities this year. Only two out of every 100 fourth-year high-school students in the country are equipped for college, but St. Mary’s graduating class appears to have succeeded despite the odds. I’ve traveled the breadth and length of this country, training teachers who try to make do with so little, hold lessons in classrooms so pitifully inadequate, before students who look vacuous because they are deprived of books to read. It just breaks my heart to see the government’s neglect of education. And then I go to Sagada and see a school like St. Mary’s: The teachers are dedicated and the students are enthusiastic about learning. Truly, Shangri-La still exists and I am healed a second time. John L. Silva is the senior consultant for the National Museum.
HERE'S interesting news from Bangkok. The latest fashion craze? The fishskin bikini, made from the skin of the tilapia fish. Check out this Reuters video. Hmm, how about our designers, what are they doing with our tilapia? :)
By Ronnel Domingo Inquirer DAVAO CITY, Philippines--Marco Polo Hotels Management Ltd. is expanding its facilities here with a convention center and additional rooms as Mindanao's largest city attracts the growing interest of convention organizers and business executives on leisure travel. Stanley Lau, general manager of Marco Polo Davao, said in an interview the company had not yet set a definite amount to invest but that this was "easily more than P300 million." "We are still in talks with building designers, but the owners -- the Dominguez family through Halifax Capital Resources Inc. -- have given instructions toward expansion as soon as possible," Lau said. "Money is not an issue." He said the priority is to build a convention center that could accommodate 1, 000 people at a time and possibly 100 additional rooms. Marco Polo Davao's existing 18-story building has 245 rooms and a ballroom that is big enough for 500 people. Lau, a native of Hong Kong where MPHML is based, said the planned new building would rise on a vacant lot at the back of the hotel. "Our priority is a new and larger convention venue and its design would determine the number of the additional rooms," he said. The veteran hotelier said between 70 percent and 80 percent of Marco Polo Davao's existing rooms were occupied, which "are quite healthy numbers." At the same time, Lau said the firm has been spending on sprucing up the nine-year-old hotel, including the repainting of the exterior areas as well as the refurbishing of the rooms. "We have been doing this little by little [over] the past two years, starting with the topmost floors," he said. Further, Marco Polo expects to finish work on a P50-million recreation complex on its fourth floor by yearend. Having been soft-launched in August during the local Kadayawan festival, the complex called The Deck comprises a restaurant, a function room, a spa and a fitness center that includes a 25-meter swimming pool. "All of these are part of our efforts to offer amenities that would provide the pampering and indulgence that our market wants," Lau said. "This is also a strong statement from us about the opportunities that we see as Davao City starts to realize its potential as big tourist drawer," he said.