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29 April 2007

Star wars

They changed
They changed at Cadbury Junction, Mumbai.

LOOK UP in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane, it's . . . well, entertainment in the open air.

In the past few weeks, Indian airlines are slugging each other out in cheeky billboard advertising in Mumbai. I look forward to seeing change in the other airlines as well. And there is a lot of them in India.

They all changed
They insist that they changed.

Related Site: Jet, Kingfisher Fight in the Open

21 April 2007

Festival of Ridván

FOR TWELVE days (21 April-2 May), Bahá’ís around the world commemorate the commencement of Bahá'u'lláh´s prophethood during the “Most Great Festival” of Riḑván. It is the holiest of all Bahá'í festivals, named after the Garden of Ridván (Persian for “paradise”) located by the Tigris River outside Baghdad where Bahá'u'lláh stayed for twelve days. (The garden no longer exists; in its place is a large medical teaching hospital.)

The twelve-day period was the time after the Ottoman Empire exiled Bahá'u'lláh from Baghdad and before He began His momentous journey to Constantinople (now Istanbul). This was the time when He announced to His followers that He was the messianic figure of He whom God shall make manifest whose coming had been foretold by the Báb.

From the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh come the following passage:

Say: This is the Paradise on whose foliage the wine of utterance hath imprinted the testimony: “He that was hidden from the eyes of men is revealed, girded with sovereignty and power!” This is the Paradise, the rustling of whose leaves proclaims: “O ye that inhabit the heavens and the earth! There hath appeared what hath never previously appeared. He Who, from everlasting, had concealed His Face from the sight of creation is now come.” From the whispering breeze that wafteth amidst its branches there cometh the cry: “He Who is the sovereign Lord of all is made manifest. The Kingdom is God's,” while from its streaming waters can be heard the murmur: “All eyes are gladdened, for He Whom none hath beheld, Whose secret no one hath discovered, hath lifted the veil of glory, and uncovered the countenance of Beauty.”

Related site: Online greeting by the New York Bahá'ís

TRAVEL TALES : Time to leave Manila

Sunset at Manila Bay
Sunset at Manila Bay.

IT WAS time to part ways. Bembem and Neha flew back to Mumbai this afternoon, while I stayed behind to join the family this weekend.

The whirlwind visit captured the best and worst of daily life in Manila. In so many ways, it celebrated the flamboyant artistry and ingenuous craftsmanship of the Filipinos—whether in the the colors of the jeepney and the GK Village along the river, the textures of the Intramuros mansions and the baskets of Quiapo, the rhythms of the airport musicians and the pedicab driver, or the forms of the capiz and the skyscrapers of Makati City.

Hopefully, my Indian colleagues gained enough insights in creativity to share with others back in Mumbai. In the meantime, I need to gorge on Chowking noodle soup and my sister's sinigang na baboy.

Past Post: Oh, Makati, Oh!

TRAVEL TALES : Oh, Makati, oh!

Makati skyline at noon
Makati skyline at noon.

AFTER FOUR days, the Indian ladies needed to have the genuine Indian meal. I brought them to Bollywood, a desi restaurant within Ayala Center in Makati City.

Bembem and Neha in Bollywood Restaurant
Desi food at Bollywood Restaurant in Greenbelt 3.

Greenbelt 3.

Yes, Makati, the bustling financial hub of the Philippines. This is that fiercely independent city whose Central Business District is aspired to by some cities but whose politics lead others to dismiss it as “Republic of Makati”. Its towering buildings loom above Ayala Avenue, where over a million Manileños do their business every day: trading fast, talking fast, walking smart, dressing smart, dining, wining, entertaining, getting entertained, getting recognized, recognizing others.

I let Bembem and Neha roam the pedestrian sky bridges connecting the malls of Glorietta and Greenbelt shopping centers. The malls contain the greatest concentration of shopping and entertainment destinations in the Philippines, from SM and Rustan’s Department Stores to Prada and TGIF. Also notable is the lush Greenbelt Park under the sky bridges: it is a verdant break from the concrete jungles of the city. Next to it is the ultra-chic Ayala Museum, recently renovated and housing the famed Dioramas of Philippine History and works by Fernando Amorsolo, the country's first National Artist for painting.

Sky bridge at Greenbelt
Sky bridge at Greenbelt.

Greenbelt Park
Greenbelt Park.

Ayala Museum
Ayala Museum.

Glorietta crowd
Glorietta crowd.

Towards the evening, I left the ladies behind to attend a meeting with members of the Visual Merchandising Association of the Philippines. In case they got lost in the heavy pedestrian traffic of the malls, either of the two of them could always call me on the mobile phone.

Or both of them could simply sit on those fashionable benches until the crowd disappears in the wee hours of the morning . . . and then I could find them!

Officers and some members of the Visual Merchandising Association of the Philippines
Officers and some members of the Visual Merchandising Association of the Philippines.

Greenbelt at night
Greenbelt at night.

Glorietta at night
Glorietta at night.

Makati skyline at dusk
Makati skyline at dusk.

Past Post: Down South
Next Post: Time to Go

20 April 2007

TRAVEL TALES : Down south in Manila

Driving along South Luzon Expressway towards the south
Driving along South Luzon Expressway towards the south

ESCAPING THE heat of metropolis, we drove in the morning towards the southern cities of Metro Manila. Once notoriously billed as home of the maximum security National Bilibid Prison, the south is now the vibrant alternative to the urban chaos of the metropolis. Swanky residential communities, two of the best planned commercial centers in the country, and the biggest country club in Southeast Asia dot the gentle rolling hills, all veiled by the placid breezes of neighboring Manila Bay and Laguna Lake.

At the epicenter of these neighborhoods is Alabang, the glamorous, boldly stylish trailblazer of the lot. Much of its allure comes from Alabang Town Center, which groups five shopping zones around a central open-air plaza. This breezy establishment houses high-street shops, nightspots, outdoor cafés, and the world-class Rustan’s Department Store.

Alabang Town Center
Alabang Town Center

Driving along South Luzon Expressway towards the south

Driving along South Luzon Expressway towards the south

An added treat is the parade of people: its pavilions and restaurants are filled with alarmingly good-looking Filipinos! I chanced upon my high school batch mate Nina Saldaña, who was with her peppy daughter Reb. She gave me a hard time for not advising her and the rest of the batch of my presence in town, but I promised to see them the next time I come home.

Next to the Town Center is the Ayala Alabang Village, a sprawling residential community. Opened in 1981, this hilly village continues to attract style-conscious Manileños and expatriates. To see why, enter through the strict security gates and drive through the tree-lined, multi-lane Acacia and Madrigal Avenues, along whose lengths stand some of the prettiest houses in the metropolis.

This is where home is. It felt so good to be back there this morning.

Acacia Avenue, just outside our house
Acacia Avenue, just outside our house

My erstwhile bedroom, still intact!
My erstwhile bedroom, still intact!

Past Post: Walking by the Baywalk
Next Post: Oh, Makati, Oh!

Related Site: Southbound Blogazine, The TIC Blog

TRAVEL TALES : Walking by the Baywalk in Manila

Calesa passing by Plaza Rajah Sulayman in front of Manila Baywalk
Calesa passing by Plaza Rajah Sulayman in front of Manila Baywalk.

THE DAY ended with a calesa ride along Roxas Boulevard and a midnight stroll down Manila Baywalk, the seaside promenade on the boulevard buzzing with nocturnal fun, frolic, and food.

Launched a few years ago, Manila Baywalk is an initiative by the Manila city government to capitalize on the scenic boulevard as a venue for social and cultural activities. The two-kilometer-long area used to be an unlit hangout of prostitutes, petty criminals, and brave young lovers kissing in the shadows and stench of Manila Bay. The hard-edged low life has given way to rock and pop bands, mime performers, caricaturists, cotton-candy sellers, flower stands, food stalls, open cafés and restaurants . . . and throngs of Manileños of all ages eager to see and be seen at night.

Mime performer at Manila Baywalk
Mime performer at Manila Baywalk.

One of numerous live bands performing every night
One of numerous live bands performing every night.

We sat down to listen to a band of four curvaceous Filipinas who greeted us in Hindi with an impressive “namaste”. They looked very pretty in their skimpy red skirts, and they harmonized very well on English pop songs I have not heard before. One singer seemed eternally confused with her dance steps, but it was delightful to see her confused on stage.

So many places to sitAs we continued our walk towards the hotel, I observed how the young and the old sat together, shared food, posed for pictures, sang along, laughed along—even at midnight! I realized how strong family ties continue to exist in this highly urbanized city. It was a refreshing thought. Manila Baywalk is proof of moral leadership in the Philippines; along with it are endless possibilities for meaningful community lives.

Frolic and friendship at the Baywalk
Frolic and friendship at the Baywalk.

The view of Baywalk from CCP Complex
The view of Manila Baywalk from CCP Complex.

Past Post: The Philippines Under the Bridge
Next Post: Down South

TRAVEL TALES : The Philippines under the bridge

Quiapo Under the Quezon Bridge
The handicrafts market under the Quezon Bridge in Quiapo, Manila.

THE SCRAWNY pedicab driver must have lost ten more kilos of his weight driving the three of us on narrow alleys from Divisoria to Quiapo. He asked for sixty pesos for the journey; we gave him a hundred for his tenacity and bravery. For Bembem and Neha, the pedicab ride was an adventurous experience worth the extra fare.

The pedicab that took us bravely to Quiapo from Divisoria
The pedicab that took us bravely from Quiapo to Divisoria.

Capiz!” yelped Neha as we dismounted the pedicab. There, under the Quiapo Bridge, stood shops full of capiz ware from chandeliers and wall décor to adornments and dining accessories. But there is much more. The hard-edged area—urbanites gorgeously call it “Ille de Tulle”after “ilalim ng tulay (under the bridge)”—is a permanent market for handicrafts nationwide. It is a virtual tourist map of the Philippines. Some of the stuff is cheaper here than in Divisoria. While bargaining is imperative, tourists would find enough ethnic and “wow” value in the merchandise that they would settle easily for the price tags!

Bembem and Neha ended up with shopping bags full of capiz and other stuff. Soon, their Indian homes will become repositories of Philippine craftsmanship!

Handicrafts extravaganza
Handicrafts extravaganza.

More handicrafts

And much more handicrafts

Past Post: Divine Divisoria
Next Post: Walking by the Baywalk

TRAVEL TALES : Divine Divisoria

Tabora Street in Divisoria
Tabora Street in Divisoria.

SUMMER FIESTA season is definitely here. You can tell by the forms, colors, and textures of crafts sold along Tabora Street in Divisoria. Carnival masks, fantasy headdresses, Mardi Gras costumes, Mayflower arches, bunting flags and strings, silk flowers, feather boas, cane baskets, palm fans, sinamay fabrics—all that is needed to execute a festival event are here on wild display!

Chinatown, sitting just outside Divisoria
Entrance to Chinatown, just outside Divisoria.

Inside the jeepney taking us to Tabora Street
Inside the jeepney taking us to Tabora Street.

The narrow pedestrian street is the undisputed source of accessorial materials for gifting and event management in the metropolis. Ethnic craft makers, mainly from the central and southern parts of Luzon Island, trade their wares wholesale. Carts and more carts of merchandise hog every square meter of the street and scream for attention. Noise levels are high; vendors and consumers are relentless. The trading business is generally brisk. To the uninitiated, the business is madness.

The area comes alive at least two months before an anticipated season. The best time, of course, is Christmas. By October, glitter and gold are inexorable. Tabora Street becomes a fabulous Yuletide show by itself.

Waiting for the party
Waiting for the party.

Wall of papier-mâché masks
Wall of papier-mâché masks.

It is also the beauty pageant season
Cashing in on the beauty pageant season.

Right now, it is all about the festive month of May: the Flores de Mayo festival, the Santacruzan parade . . . and local beauty contests. At a costume shop, a gay talent scout was haggling on a garish Ifugao (northern Philippine tribe) costume for his candidate to the Miss Pasay City pageant.

“This is too expensive!” he sighed while trying on the enormous woven headdress.

“What you pay for is the drama of the costume,” the shopkeeper replied. “See, the headdress is so bongga (dramatic) on you! Buy the full attire and I’ll give your alaga (candidate) a free nose ring.”

“Yeah, but you're forgetting that we don’t have big budgets for these things.”

“Well, then I have something perfect for you. Here, take this.” He handed the talent scout a cheap alternative.

It was a tattered jute sack. Hilarious!

Past Post: Riding the Pasig River
Next Post: The Philippines Under the Bridge

TRAVEL TALES : Riding the Pasig River in Manila

Ferry on the river
Leaving Makati City behind.

“TODAY, YOU will experience the Crawford Market of the Philippines,” I announced to Bembem and Neha in the hotel lobby. We would be visiting Divisoria, the grande dame of wholesale markets in the Philippines. I wanted the two Indian ladies to experience the other side of retailing in Manila, and see for themselves why Filipino visual merchandisers love this place with all its craft materials and decorative props.

To get there, I made them experience the newly-launched Pasig River Ferry Service, an initiative by the national government to provide a viable public transportation alternative. The MRT (Mass Railway Transit) took us to the Guadalupe ferry station, which is presently the farthest end of the five-station route (five more stations are being planned for opening this year).

Riding the MRT
Mad rush at the MRT headed for Guadalupe Station.

Riding the MRT
Guadalupe Station of the Pasig River Ferry Service.

If my aim for riding the river were to introduce to the Indians the dilapidated side of Metro Manila, then I would be successful. At the start of the trip, we beheld a truly unsightly and polluted side of the metropolis! The stench of the river permeated the enclosed, air-conditioned ferry. Surprisingly, the Makati City side of the river was the worst sight: painted names of electoral candidates shrieked loudly from the stony banks (local elections are coming up), and all sorts of plant and plastic life floated on grimy waters. At some point, three children were diving into and swimming in the river . . . a few meters away from the names of the political candidates, as if they were condoning this ghastly sight! It was hideous.

Election campaigns
Vote from the boat.

House by the river
What happens if the wind blows hard and the clothesline shakes?

Ferry on the river
Makati City Hall above and its wannabe occupants below.

The Mandaluyong City side looked so much better: street lamps lined the banks, and the decrepit factory buildings and residential houses actually gave an appealing, bucolic character. A bright surprise was the orderly Gawad Kalinga Village where houses are splashed in happy crayon colors and dotted with leafy palms. I wonder, though, how those living on these banks can survive the river stench!

Gawad Kalinga Village
Gawad Kalinga Village.

Farther down, the vista turned much more picturesque and comforting. This is the side of the Pasig River that I have never seen in all my years of living in the metropolis. The Mabini Shrine stood with quiet dignity. Several blocks away, the presidential palace and stately Malacañang gardens evoked the black-and-white charm of 1950s Tagalog movies. I immediately thought of the hundreds of years of life-altering history that these grounds contained. The boat stewards directed me to cease from taking photographs of the palace for security reasons.

Bridge  along Pasig River
MacArthur Bridge.

Post Office Building
Post Office Building.

Quaipo and Santa Cruz, approaching the Escolta Station.

As the river entered the mouth of Manila Bay, Intramuros waved its old-world charms: the newly renovated Plaza Maestranza was an unexpected but welcome sight. Sitting on those banks in the olden days must have given an idyllic view of this river! Then came the neoclassical buildings of prewar Manila! We had indeed reached downtown Manila. Up close, Jones and MacArthur Bridges—those proud icons of the days when Manila overtook other Asian capitals in the race for postwar modernism—were never this good-looking before!

Escolta StreetWe finally reached our destination—the Escolta Street station—in a trip that took forty minutes from Guadalupe. Stifling noontime humidity welcomed us to Manila’s Chinatown. Divisoria would be minutes away, and a jeepney would take us there.

The Pasig River ride was a trip that brought out the best and worst of thoughts and memories.

Past Post: Family Surprise
Next Post: Divine Divisoria

Related Sites: Pakshet 101's Photoblog, Sidney Soeck's Travel Blog, Tutubi Flight Chronicle

18 April 2007

TRAVEL TALES : Family surprise in Manila

Family surprise
Half of the world's wackiest Filipino family.

ALL OF them were waiting in the hotel lobby for me. Meeting five of my siblings and their families tonight was totally unplanned, but the surprise was pleasant and delicious. We created noise, unmindful of where we were, screeching in delight, exchanging jokes, chattering preposterously, laughing out loud. It was a riot, but how often do you get to backslap your siblings when you live overseas?

We dined in some Arabic restaurant along Mabini Street. I herded the group to my hotel room, where we continued our clatter and playful repartees. We all agreed that the next date would be Sunday lunch at Voltaire’s house. But not before they got from me their dainty Indian presents . . . including Allan’s Kohlapuri chappals.

As expected, he was pleased with those sandals.

Family circle in the hotel room
The family circle, with Allan and the fabulous chappals.

Past Post: If Walls Could Talk
Next Post: Riding the Pasig River