Posts Tagged ‘history’

hotdog: manila

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In celebration of the 439th anniversary of my hometown, 24 June 2010. Maligayang Araw ng Maynila!

Hotdog – “Manila”

Maraming beses na kitang nilayasan / Iniwanan at iba’ang pinuntahan / Parang bababeng ang hirap talagang malimutan / Ikaw lamang ang aking laging binabalikan

(Quiapo Quiapo Quiapo, isa na lang ah, aalis na. Para!) Manila…

I keep coming back to Manila / Simply no place like Manila / Manila, I’m coming home

I walked the streets of San Francisco / I’ve tried the rides in Disneyland / Dated a million girls in Sydney / Somehow I feel like I don’t belong

Hinahanap hanap kita Manila / Ang ingay mong kay sarap sa tenga / Mga jeepney mong nagliliparan / Mga babae mong naggagandahan / Take me back in your arms Manila / And promise me you’ll never let go / Promise me you’ll never let go

Manila, Manila / Miss you like hell, Manila / No place in the world like Manila / I’m coming home to stay…

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china’s ‘four treasures of the study’

China possesses one of the world’s oldest scholarly traditions, dating back millenia. Symbols scratched on oracle bones found in Jiahu, a Neolithic settlement, suggest that the evolution of Chinese writing began around 6600 BCE. A trove of classical works from 770 BCE onwards enriches Chinese literature; these were appreciated and added to by the intelligentsia and, upon the invention of woodblock and moveable type printing, were widely disseminated and read by the learned for generations.

From carvings on bone and turtle plastrons for divinatory purposes, Chinese writing evolved into logosyllabic characters of ink brushed on paper serving practical (record-keeping) and artistic (literary) functions. The art of writing and calligraphy became skills cultivated among the upper and middle classes.

The tools of calligraphy were highly prized. Chinese scholars called them “the four treasures of the study” – the inkstone, inkstick, brushes, and paper. Other tools used were carved seals of stone, wood, or ivory; seal paste of cinnabar mixed with castor oil and silk strands or plant fiber; sculpted or carved paperweights; and desk pads.

Calligraphy is still taught in Chinese schools to the present day, all over the world. Filipino students work with writing sets, learning to imbue characters with emotion using deft, fluid strokes with an ink-dipped brush.

UK-based AL Merginio-Murgatroyd, a friend from school days, sent me this set. The cardboard box is covered with green silk that shines bluish in sunlight; the pattern is embroidered with violet-gray thread.

Inside, on red felt, three of the ‘four precious things of the library’. This set includes a seal and seal paste.

The seal is marble, uncarved, waiting for me to choose a special sign to have engraved upon it. The inkstick has a golden dragon upon it – it’s too beautiful to use!

Inksticks were traditionally made from soot and glue. They often have carvings or were molded into whimsical shapes like flowers. Many inkstones, especially antiques, are works of art and cherished by collectors.

To use, drag water from the inkstone’s ‘well’ on to the ‘plain’; grind the inkstick against the stone until the water in the well runs dark enough.

Seals are used like rubber stamps – dab the carved side into seal paste, and gently press it onto the surface of the paper, rocking it back and forth to ensure a good impression. Remember to keep seal paste containers covered and in the box to prevent it from drying out.

As I hold this box in my lap, I think of many things – the sheer weight of the thousands of years of Chinese culture; the literature classics written with materials like these, from the Tao Te Ching to the Confucian Analects; that practical things may also be works of beauty, and uplift to an art the labor done with them; how writing tools have evolved through time in various civilizations; and more, and more.

Most of all I think of how a friend now in a cold country far from her motherland’s tropical warmth, who taught me Math and conversed with me when I was in elementary and she in high school with license to ignore the small fry yet still kindled the fires of friendship, a friend whom I have not seen for more than two decades, keeps our connection burning with this and other tokens of remembrance.

Thank you, AL. I hope one day to see you again, and embrace you again, and show you my gratitude for your love through the years. Be blessed.

Photos by Alex Alcasid; inkstone and seal ‘how-to’ images here.

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barack obama: dreams from my father

When still a law student in 1995, United States President Barack Obama penned the memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, “in the wake of some modest publicity” he says, as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review.

Born to a white American mother and black father from Kenya, Obama, while growing up, struggled with  issues stemming from his multi-racial descent and from his father’s absence from his life.

As an adult, he established contact with his Kenyan relatives, who told him somewhat of their family history. But it wasn’t until after Obama visited Kenya, met other family members, and walked upon the soil of his ancestors that he achieved closure and a sense of resolution to his identity crisis.

It’s a wonderful book, written in a sensitive and lyrical manner, glowing in its honesty and simplicity, showcasing Obama’s considerable talents as a writer:

I watched these nimble hands stitch and cut and weave, and listened to the old woman’s voice roll over the sounds of work and barter, and for a moment the world seemed entirely transparent. I began to imagine an unchanging rhythm of days, lived on firm soil where you could wake up each morning and know that all was how it had been yesterday, where you saw how the things that you used had been made and could recite the lives of those who had made them and could believe that it would all hang together without computer terminals or fax machines.

Some years ago, I became interested in memoirs and other forms of biographical narrative  as an aspect of non-fictional creative writing. On my shelves are the life stories of individuals from varied walks of life, from English royalty to Japanese courtiers.

It’s interesting to learn about their different motivations, likes and dislikes, priorities, fears, loves – all the things that shaped and influenced them to become what they are.

Dreams from My Father is not merely a welcome addition to my collection of memoirs, a literary trophy to display on the shelf telling me about one man’s journey to discover himself. Unlike the other biographies I’ve read, it had a profound effect on me: that of forcing me to confront my own issues of identity and my relationship with my parents, especially my father. Even past middle age, I still don’t have the courage to explore the hidden recesses of my mind where childhood memories too painful to examine have been bricked up behind mentally-constructed walls.

Obama’s exploration of these issues in his own life and his decision to reveal them to the world show his strength of character and courage of conviction.

In 2006, when serving as the senator of Illinois, Obama wrote another book, Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, which, like Dreams, topped the New York Times bestseller list.

I look forward to more books by this author, wondering if, as president of the most powerful nation in the world, he will still have the time and opportunity to write. I hope he makes the time to do so. I hope we don’t have to wait until after his presidency to enjoy another book by this man who is now one of the world’s foremost leaders and one of the literary world’s bright new lights.

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khaled hosseini: the kite runner

Catching up on my reading, I finally got a copy of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. I consider myself remiss if a movie comes out before I’ve read the book! Which is what happened with this one. Here’s a cliched platitude to bring about closure – umm, “Better late than never” do ya? – and let’s get on with the review.

For a first novel, it’s extraordinarily well-written and the pacing is fine. I couldn’t put it down – always the mark of a good read for me. Set in 1970s Afghanistan, before that country’s revolution and its occupation by Russian forces, the narrative revolves around Amir, the privileged young protagonist, and his responses to the events that shape his life.

Enchanting descriptions of traditional activities like kite-flying, woven in with bits of history, opened their world to me in a way that a non-fiction work wouldn’t have been able to do.

From the communication perspective, there are interesting insights on inter- and intra-cultural communication, as well as interpersonal communication – between family members, friends – illustrating Afghan communicative behavior.

I don’t put spoilers in my reviews of fiction, and I won’t do it here. I’ll just tell you that this work tackles the universal themes of love, friendship, and loyalty, bound up with cowardice and self-preservation, until sacrifice brings redemption in the end.

It’s inspiring.

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dana thomas: deluxe

Journalist Dana Thomas exposes the sleaze beneath the rarefied world of high-end goods in Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster.

Luxury in all its forms and styles have existed ever since income, class, and economic status have divided people between the haves and the have-nots. With some groups of people having much more resources than they need to survive, the surplus goes towards manifesting and reinforcing their higher stature in society through extravagance and conspicuous consumption. Recall Cleopatra and the perfumed sails of her pleasure ships; Nero and the tons of roses he rained upon guests at parties; the Mughal, Chinese, and Persian emperors who surrounded themselves with finely crafted objets of silk, precious metals, gems, and porcelain.

Modern-day luxury, says Thomas, resides in brand names and the inflated prices they command. Handbags from Louis Vuitton and Prada, perfumes from Patou, and clothes from Burberry are sold in gleaming glass palaces, enticing shoppers with an aspirational dream.

Since not everyone can afford haute couture from Chanel or hand-sewn luggage from Hermes, many luxury brands create products at lower-price points at which consumers can buy into the dream. These include small leather goods such as wallets or key chains. For scents, eau de toilette is cheaper than parfum. For clothes, most signature brands carry a pret-a-porter line.

However, says Thomas, in the mad rush by large luxury conglomerates to increase net profit, corners are cut, of which the consumer, clutching her hard-earned cash, is unaware. For instance, handbags are among the high-margin products that brands push with aggressive advertising which touts the “It” bag of the moment. Thomas saw handbags produced at $120 and sold for $1,200. Louis Vuitton is said to sell its handbags at ten to thirteen times the production cost.

What stylish woman wouldn’t want a collection of the latest by Vuitton, Balenciaga, Gucci? Luxury goods are beautifully designed and well-made.

But won’t those markups make you think twice before forking over your money, especially in these tough economic times?

I’ve always wanted an LV Popincourt Haut and an Hermes Birkin. But Thomas’ book is an eye-opener. My resolve? To buy Filipino. We have lovely things – Fino Leatherware makes bags that not everyone is carrying on their arm or slung over their shoulder. Via Venetto shoes are pretty. Ivarluski Aseron and Kate Torralba are just a couple of the many talented designers who create couture with a Filipino flavor.

In the end, though, it is all a matter of choice and personal conviction, as to what your dreams are, what is truly aspirational for you, and what you would pay to buy into your dream.

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jostein gaarder: sophie’s world

Norwegian writer Jostein Gaarder’s bestselling book on philosophy, Sophie’s World, was published in 1991, yet it is still enjoying reprints and a spot on the Top Ten Bestsellers list at Fully Booked bookstore here in Manila.

Its appeal lies in its explanation of Western philosophical thought in terms young teenagers can understand. The book’s main character, Sophie, is a fourteen year old school girl in Norway. She receives lessons from a mysterious philosopher, Alberto Knox. First he sends them anonymously, then he later reveals himself as the plot unfolds.

Spoiler alert: Sophie and Alberto turn out to be characters imagined by one Albert Knag, who invents them in a book he has written for his daughter Hilde’s birthday.

The philosophical explanations are clear and comprehensible. Proceeding in a linear fashion through time, beginning with the Greeks all the way to Sartre in the modern day, it presents difficult concepts in simplified terms and relates them to each other in terms of influence.

Gaarder adds an underlying plot that has Sophie and Alberto attempting to break free from their creator Knag’s mind, with the help of Hilde. These parts contribute little to the flow and are best skipped. There is no mention of Eastern thought, a regrettable omission.

Still, it is significant as one of the best introductions to Western philosophy.

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gogirl: eartha kitt

This year’s Christmas was cause for celebration, yet many fans mourned upon learning that one of showbiz’s most enduring performers, Miss Eartha Kitt, died on that day at 81 of colon cancer.

Born in poverty in South Carolina, she was the daughter of a white father, a cotton farmer, and a black-Cherokee mother. As a mixed-race child during the first few decades of the century, she endured racism, neglect, and rejection.

For a while she attended the New York School of Performing Arts, but dropped out to take various odd jobs. In the mid-40s, she auditioned for the Katharine Dunham dance troupe and earned a place, performing in the Broadway production “Bal Negre” as one of the San Souci singers.

Orson Welles once called Eartha “The most exciting woman in the world.” She spent much of her life single. She married Bill McDonald in 1960 but divorced him after the birth of their daughter Kitt.

Her experiences with the troupe led to other opportunities in dance, singing, and acting.

As “Catwoman” from 1967-68 in the “Batman” television series, replacing Julie Newmar, she filled out the prescribed catsuit with her svelte 35-23-35 (inches) figure, making her one of the sexiest villains to purr her way around the small screen.

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Eartha as “Catwoman” in the “Batman” episode “Dressed to Kill”

She traveled the world and learned to perform in more than ten languages. She performed exclusively overseas after her anti-Vietnam War activism led to her investigation by the FBI and the CIA.

Upon returning to the US, she was cast in many Broadway roles. In 2000, she was tapped to be the voice of the villainess “Yzma” in Disney’s cartoon “The Emperor’s New Groove”, bringing her more fans from the younger generation.

She was also a published author who wrote three autobiographies and, in 2001, Rejuvenate, a guide to staying physically fit.

In her six-decade career, she was still performing well into her late 70s, and maintained the curvaceous figure that made her famous.

Her life was a celebration of beauty, joy, and art. While she wasn’t always happy, she made the most of what she had to carve out her own niche in the world that no one else can fill. There are many lessons to be learned from her life – of strength, perseverance, and endurance. She makes our list as a certified Gogirl, an icon of feminism, grace, and style.

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The incomparable Eartha Kitt.

17 January 1927 – 25 December 2008.

Personal footnote:

Eartha’s deep back bends remind me of the ones which made our very own Pilita Corrales, “Asia’s Queen of Song”, famous as a performer.

Eartha…

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Eartha’s images from various points in her career (from all over the ‘Net).

…and Pilita.

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Pilita on a concert program from 1973 (wolfgangsvault.com)

My father, who was a fascinating raconteur, often told a story of taking me with him to work one day at the ABS-CBN broadcast network studio where he was a newscaster and we ran into Pilita. I must have been all of four years old. Upon seeing her, my dad said, I immediately went into a backbend, holding an imaginary microphone to my lips. The good-natured Cebuana songstress laughed.

I don’t know if this story is true. This was told, after all, by the man who assured me in all seriousness that on days when the sun is shining at the same time it’s raining, somewhere in the world it’s a gorilla’s birthday. Go figure.

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gogirl: madeleine albright

Madeleine Albright. Portrait by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.

She is a professor at Georgetown University, holder of a PhD in Public Law and Government from Columbia University, former US ambassador to the United Nations, and the first US female Secretary of State. For years, in the Clinton administration, she charted US foreign policy, brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace, and saw the crumbling of Communism.

She is also a mother – of three daughters – and was a wife – her husband left her for another woman. As a divorcee, she overcame the pain of rejection and separation and went on to carve a successful career in her chosen field.

She tells her story in her own words in her autobiography, Madame Secretary (2003). One may disagree with her politics, but one cannot deny her intelligence, fortitude, and perseverance.

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my manila: santa ana park

Santa Ana Park is the racetrack facility of the Philippine Racing Club and was built in 1937. PRC was founded by American and Filipino horsemen and entrepreneurs in the late 1920s as a counterpart to the Manila Jockey Club, enclave of Spanish and Filipino aristocrats at its foundation in 1867 until its heyday in the ’50s.

There are three main structures on the twenty-five hectare property, all in a simple Art Deco style – two grandstands and an office building. There is a single dirt (sand) track surrounded by many stables that, over time, have mushroomed to far more than the area can comfortably hold. Stalls are built right up against the cinder-block walls that line the track.

The facade of Santa Ana Park on AP Reyes Avenue on an early morning last April

Races have been held continuously at Santa Ana Park since it was built, with a brief hiatus during the war. It is named for St. Anne, patron saint of nearby Sta. Ana town, Manila, although the racetrack itself is part of Makati. It has been the scene of countless challenging races and has seen the rise – and fall – of champion racehorses and horsemen.

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View of AP Reyes Avenue on the other side

It is also “home” to me and my children. We have lived on my father-in-law’s compound behind the track since my marriage to a jockey in 1991. A racehorse trainer and veterinarian, my father-in-law maintains his property as a racing stable with stalls for twelve. We live with the sounds of soft neighing and hoofbeats as the horses are hotwalked in the mornings after ensayo (workout), the clanking of the tin labangans as feeding time approaches. The muted thudding of horses’ hooves on the sawdust is like the hammering of my own heart.

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The parking lot is used by the community for group calisthenics

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That’s the office building on the left

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The Art Deco main building. The second level houses the parquet-floored ballroom and murals of champion horses from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as the broadcast studio, owners’ boxes, and VIP lounges

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The parade ring with the finish line in the background

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The home turn is on the far left

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The first bend; Makati office buildings in the background were built many years after the track was

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View of the left-side grandstand

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The Stewards’ Stand. The Board of Stewards watch the track with eagle eyes (aided by binoculars) from the top floor; below that is the racecallers’ perch; a viewing area; and on the ground level, the jockeys’ weighing scales

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View of the grandstand from the parade ring

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A horse trots past the finish line during morning workout

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Exercise rider Kiko Dilema asks, “Kinukunan mo na naman kami, Tita Jen?”

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A groom leans against the rail, waiting for his horse and its ensayador to finish. One trot, two canter, perhaps?

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Alex and Ik, tunay na batang karera – apo ni Doc Alcasid at anak ni jockey Oyet at ni Ms. Jen sa TV

As a young mother, I took my babies here nearly every day to catch the morning sun. When they were older, they learned to walk on the grass beside their track as their father rode by, smiling indulgently.

As a beginning broadcaster in this industry, this is where we shot many episodes of various incarnations of horseracing shows. As a former employee of PRC and of a horseowner who had two racing stables here, I know nearly every inch of this place, from the air-conditioned executive offices to the dusty stables that hug the track walls to the cockpit at the corner where the sabungeros were more vociferous in cheering than kareristas.

And all this will be gone next year, to make way for malls, condominiums, and other towers of glass and steel. The racetrack will be moved to a new, and bigger, seventy-hectare facility in Trece Martirez City, Cavite. There it can accomodate the growing number of horses in a sport that is gaining in popularity among players. It’s for the best, really.

Yet a rich part of history will disappear. Have enough photographs been taken? Videos? Interviews of old-timers who remember the place when it was still “Sampiro”, San Pedro de Makati, when the air was cool and you could faintly see blue shadows of the mountains of Rizal in the distance, before the high-rises rose up to obscure them?

But it is the way of things, that the old make way for the new, for old memories to be remembered and cherished even as new ones are created.

Read more about Philippine horseracing at gogirlracing.jennyo.net

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my manila: escolta/binondo

My teenage daughter Alex and I took a trip to Escolta last Friday to pick up my new glasses from Vision Line there. We didn’t go straight to the shop, though; I took Alex around to see a little bit of old Manila.

The Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch at the bottom of Jones Bridge on Quintin Paredes Street is the gateway to the Binondo area.

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The left side of Binondo Church. Also known as the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz, it was built in 1596 and is one of the oldest Roman Catholic places of worship in the country.

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The church facade. Much damage was wrought through the years by fire and other natural disasters; of the original architecture, only the octagonal bell tower remains.

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A kalesa driver and his pony wait for passengers in front of the church

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Alex and I took the kalesa to Escolta; on the way, we shared the road with a tricycle (motorcycle + sidecar), a jeepney, and a new Honda CRV (in front of the horse). Here, old forms of transport move beside the new, and both get you to your destination, although the kalesa imparts an air of antiquity, romance, and novelty.

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Our destination – Vision Line Optical beside Luis Store, the fountain pen place

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On the banks of the Pasig River, across the Manila Central Post Office, young boys dive into the water to cool – and show – off.

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Alex poses on Jones Bridge, with the MCPO building in the background.

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On our way home, we passed the ruins of the old Santo Tomas University. The oldest extant university in the country, it was founded by Dominican friars in 1611. The school moved from this site to its much bigger present campus in Sampaloc, Manila, in 1927.

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