Singapore, Day 3 – Icons of the Little Red Dot

3rd in a series

Previously in this series:

Summit 2019 – Singapore

Singapore, Day 2 – Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs

We went to the Bugis area in the morning to do more shopping and to buy some souvenirs. We also went to the Mustafa Centre located near Little India. This is a good place to buy large packs of chocolates that are not usually found back home, in the Philippines.

Late afternoon we went to the Marina Bay area. A local “uncle” was peddling Walls ice cream at the Esplanade Park. Given the hot weather, we didn’t think twice buying. Average maximum temperatures in Singapore (usually within the first two quarters of the year) range from 30-31 degrees Celsius*. This day was no exception. We thought it a good idea to cool down with some ice cream sandwich.

*This trip was about seven-or-so months ago as of this writing. Hence, the reference to the usually hotter weather months.

We made our way over to the other side of the Anderson Bridge, passing by the refurbished Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall (on the right side) on the way up and with the view of the Esplanade to the left from the bridge itself.

Victoria Theatre & Concert Hall
View of the Esplanade from the Anderson Bridge

At the end of the bridge is Singapore‘s first Starbucks Give-back store and its 100th.

At the Fullerton Road facing the direction of the Central Business District, stood before me one of Singapore‘s most famous and iconic landmarks, The Fullerton (in the foreground). A one time post office building, hospital, administrative office, etc., it was refurbished to be a hotel and opened officially as such in 2001. I remember there were proposals before to do the same for the Manila Post Office. It’s not a far-fetched idea if you ask me.

We were really just stone’s throw away from the Marina Bay from where we were standing. ‘Just a few moments now’, I thought to myself, ‘and I will see the Merlion’.

Alas! The iconic mythical creature was nowhere to be found. Apparently, at the time, it was being renovated. I took a selfie but it doesn’t feel complete without it. Now I have an excuse to go back 😂.

Na-excite. Na-disappoint. Nag selfie. (beh)

If it’s any consolation though, just behind where the Merlion once stood gloriously, is its small replica. This will do for now.

Across the bay is one of Singapore‘s latest attractions – the Marina Bay Sands.

We made our way to the direction of the Esplanade which was easily distinguished by its durian shape. Durian is that famous Southeast Asian fruit with a hard, spiky shell and with a strong odor and taste that could easily put anyone on the fence whether to like it or not. People can have opinions about it just as strongly as the fruit’s characteristics are, it seems.

Entrance to the Esplanade

Philippines represent! The Philippine Madrigal Singers were scheduled to have a concert here.

What do you make of this art installation below? It’s called Insignificant Meaningful.

Thai artist Torlarp Larpjaroensook utilized everyday, ordinary objects symbolic of the different Asian cultures, reminding us of the syncretic nature of our societies – lunch boxes, thermos flasks, vases, plates and bowls made from materials like ceramic, enamel and wood. These found objects from daily life are charged with meaning as they tell the past, present and future stories of those who owned and used them. Viewed as a single ensemble, it becomes a timeless metaphor for human migration.

I found this LED magnetic frame in one of the stores inside the Esplanade. It glows in the dark! Which reminds me, we just watched the Avengers movie the night before at the Tampines mall. I would have bought this if I were a true, blue Avengers/Marvel junkie.

We went to Bugis afterwards to meet up with a friend, do more shopping and have dinner.

It’s always a nice thing catching up with old friends, having good conversations and sharing laughter with each other, especially over good food.

As if we haven’t been indulging ourselves enough, we even had to go to the InterContinental to have some coffee and tea (hmmm 🤔 … somebody’s taking the ‘Crazy, Rich Asians’ water, huh? 💦 Maybe a tad too much? 😅)

The Lobby Lounge of the InterContinental Singapore

Some night cap it was. A day well spent meeting the icons of the city and catching up with old friends. Happy times, indeed! 😁💯🇸🇬

My 7,107 | Apulit Island, Palawan

Welcome to Paradise
(Last in a series)

Previously in this series:

Keeping Paradise – Saving the country’s last frontier

It rained heavily in Lio during our tree-planting activity. Although it stopped when we started making our way to the town of Taytay, it seemed like the gloomy weather tried to catch up with us in Apulit. It was overcast when we arrived. Dark clouds loomed over the horizon.

We were greeted with refreshments and what seemed like some local song and dance by the staff. The feeling of isolation was palpable – away from all the hustle and bustle of city life. Noticeable too was the lush greenery.

The buffet table was all set and ready. And since we were behind schedule, we had our lunch late.

We headed to our assigned cottages afterwards. They are quite unique and interesting in their design, I must say. It fuses contemporary with the local, using thatched roofs, for example, and other native materials and design, as fixture and ornamentation.

Another interesting thing is that these cottages are literally standing above water. They are built on stilts and are connected to land by bridge way. It’s an ingenious way of adding character to the place, don’t you think? It would have been just another cottage if not so designed.

In some cottages, like the one we had the opportunity to stay at, called loft water cottage, the living room area opens to an amazing view of the sea with easy access to the water via the stairs linked to the veranda. These cottages are an attraction unto itself.

Loft water cottage

After we’ve rested a bit and freshened up, we gathered at the conference area to attend a briefing on the environment. It was held in this huge cabana-like structure or hut, in the photo below. This is along the beach near the clubhouse.

It can’t be stressed hard enough how important education and awareness are in dealing with the challenges of climate change. Of course, this has to be coupled with concrete actions. I give props to everyone involved in this endeavor. I would say overall, sustainability and environmental protection are front and center in this resort group’s business culture and is an integral part of its DNA. This is a step towards the right direction and something other businesses should emulate. It’s a plus in my book so, good job!

We had dinner afterwards. As a matter of fact, besides the activities and the picture-perfect surroundings, food in this article has its fair share of the spotlight, maybe even more 😋

It was an exhausting day for me since I haven’t slept the night before and was only able to grab some snooze for about an hour during the flight. So, I never planned to do any other (social) activity after dinner and decided to just go back to the room, rest a bit, watch cable and sleep. The sleeping part however, didn’t work quite well as expected. I got preoccupied with curating photos and updating posts on social media. Urgh! (I know, right?) It’s antithesis of the very reason/s people go to (and in great lengths, I might add) such secluded places – to relax, to unwind, to get away from it all. Well, not this night, I didn’t. And I only had myself to blame, of course.

The morning after was breakfast. I always look forward to breakfasts in these occasions because I anticipate bacon to be served. And, bacon there was. Nice!

I would say that this day was the highlight of our trip, the second day. We went to an island called Isla Blanca which has one of the best views of active coral reef systems. In fact, they say El Nido and surrounding areas have the best dive spots, bar none.

We didn’t do professional diving but rather snorkeling. Unfortunately, the camera I’m using does not have the capability of taking underwater shots, so I borrowed some from a colleague of mine, Rose. Below are some of the clips of what she took. The first one was in the waters off the main island of Apulit while the second one, by the looks of it, was probably around Isla Blanca.

I couldn’t have passed this experience up since I haven’t done snorkeling over deep water before, with lively coral reef systems underneath. I thought to myself: “I need to make this work”. This despite my fear of deep water. Fastened tightly to a trusty lifesaver and with the help of a swim buddy, I was able to make it. This is definitely a feat considering the fact that I don’t know how to swim 😱💦. Yeah (shocking). Textbook ‘swimming’, I mean.

Oh, well. Another check box ticked off my bucket list, woot!

It was a fun and memorable experience. We didn’t want to leave just yet but we had to go back to the resort for lunch.

The elevated maruya was a hit! It’s a Filipino dessert made of banana slices dipped in batter and then deep-fried. This one was made extra special with caramel sauce on top dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

There were lots of activities for everyone. In fact, there wasn’t enough time for any one person to experience everything in half a day so the group split and went wherever which way they wanted. For the sports enthusiasts, there’s rock climbing, rappelling, kayaking, paddle boarding; for nature lovers, there’s another snorkeling activity on a different island (or lagoon, I think it was); to those who just want to chill, there’s the infinity pool or the beach.

There’s also a bar where one can get some booze while playing billiards. I was supposed to go rock climbing but there’s a long line waiting so we just went kayaking instead, me and my other colleague. We lounged at the pool afterwards.

The whole group was scheduled to go on a sunset cruise later in the day but it got cancelled due to weather. I just took a picture of the sunset from the veranda although the light was diffused by the clouds. Stylized by Google, the photo was made pretty using AI.

Dinner was special that night. We had it at the beach under moonlight.

…and with all the works

We were supposed to float lanterns on the water but the tide was low at the time which meant sharp rocks at the bottom were exposed to the surface. This did not make for a conducive environment for such activity, so we skipped that part and just proceeded with the videoke sessions. My goodness, there were some crazy talents out there.

In the morning it dawned on me – this is last day in paradise. I would have wished to stay longer. I thought to myself, “I will miss these awesome views”.

Some of my colleagues went cliff diving. Me?… Dang! I was here for breakfast 😋😂.

There’s only limited time between check-out and before the arrival of our boat, so we were surprised to have been served still a, what they say is “mini” but really a not-so-‘mini’, lunch 😅.

Thank you El Nido Resorts for the excellent and wonderful service! I was never so full in these two-or-so days of my life 😅👍

The boats finally arrived so we scurried to the port.

A few moments out, I looked back again and was treated to this view.

Isn’t she a beauty?

One can only appreciate what nature has given us. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to take care of and be good stewards of this gift.

Inspiration Meets Fun at Liwliwa Beach, Zambales

2nd of 2 parts

I maybe wrong but depending on who you talk to or which online reference you are checking, liwliwa in Ilocano could mean delight, inspiration or recreational fun. Ilocano refers to both the dialect and the people of this particular region where Zambales province is located.

Whatever the case, any of those adjectives mentioned at the outset would perfectly fit Liwliwa. It is all of that.

If you think yesterday’s spectacle of the sunset is bomb enough, think again. I, myself, did not expect this view. I mean, look at this.

A part of me is saying, ‘don’t spread the word just yet’, fearing this piece of paradise would not last long enough once people get wind. But part of me is also saying, ‘how could you not share such beauty?’ Urgh! I’m torn.

One has to be in awe and deep appreciation knowing this beauty in front of us is a product of a tragic event from decades ago. This part of the country was almost erased from the map by a powerful volcanic eruption of a mountain called Pinatubo who laid dormant for hundreds of years, the effects of which were felt worldwide and for years later.

Global temperature dropped and a more-than-the-usual clear glow of sunsets and sunrises were observed in different places. So powerful, in fact, it wiped out two of America’s largest bases this side of the Pacific (the Subic Naval Base in Zambales and Clark Air Base in Pampanga), prompting their eventual turnover to the Philippine government.

I wish for this place to have good management and care so as not to go the way of Boracay – the now poster child for anything that could go wrong to a perfect island by overcrowding and lack of strong, effective regulation.

It was almost lunch time so we went back to the resort to prepare for check-out, the Kapitan’s Liwa.

I wouldn’t let this article pass without having to mention one of our newfound friends – this cute labrador called Whiskey.

Being part of the owners’ family, he is a mainstay at the resort. He does a good job entertaining guests 😊👍💯🐶

Isn’t he the sweetest thing? Aaawww…

After check-out we transferred to Riverside again for lunch. I couldn’t be more excited, actually. We are having a boodle fight! 😀

There’s nothing more fulfilling and satisfying to me than using my own bare hands for eating, especially if served with Filipino food. Oh, delicious. We had ginataang sitaw at kalabasa, pinaupong manok and lumpiang shanghai.

So, are you drooling yet? 😀

It’s amusing to see our Dutch friends try their hands on… well, literally hands on the food (no pun intended) 😁👍

Afterwards, we were toured around the premises.

The owners planted coconuts and other types of plants which provide different kinds of practical uses – as source of food, shade, even aesthetics. This tree stump, for example, as simple as it looks, add interesting character to the place especially with mushrooms growing around its trunk.

You can paddleboard your way to the beach via the river

I love how this place is so in touch with nature. There is never a more pressing time for us to go sustainable given the climate crisis we are facing. It is my fervent hope that places like this remain for future generations to enjoy.

Summit 2019 – Singapore

1st in a series

Can I just say? I couldn’t be more excited with this trip.

It’s been a long time since I had this kind of adventure/get-together with some of my favorite people from way back – from my call center days to my stint in a well-known GDS (excuse my jargon). It’s a different kind of feeling being with people you are in the same wavelength with, right? Oh, happy days 😀

My friends have been on this so-called “summit” for quite a while now – sort of like an inside thing they came up with to describe this yearly affair of getting together in a different city each time. I didn’t know about this so-called “Summit” until I got to THE actual “Summit” itself. It was only then that I’ve learned about it.

I was jealous. I want in.

The arrival of “delegates” 😀

I like the idea of being with them in a different city every year. I mean, with all of life’s stresses? Pfft! This couldn’t have been a more well-deserved break. At least I know it will. And I know it’s going to be for all of our future trips, I claim.

So, Singapore. Where do I even begin? There’s a lot to process.

Well, where better else to start than with one of our favorite things to do, if not THE most favorite thing we love to do – EATING!!! (you are free to dispute me here guys… if you can).

Multi-cultural Singapore is a foodie’s paradise. Not far from the hotel where we stayed at is a famous restaurant that sells Singaporean chili crab – the No Sign Board Seafood Restaurant in Geylang. Not sure though if this is the exact same branch Anthony Bourdain went to in his trip(s) here.

We didn’t pass up trying the Singaporean chili crab, of course. Thank goodness it didn’t disappoint. It was quite the messy affair but it’s all worth it. Although you can opt to use utensils, eating it with bare hands would have been better. It just adds a different dimension to the experience. Thinking about it now makes me salivate.

Equally interesting and satisfying are the fried mantou buns that pair best with the chili crab. We went crazy for the mantous!

We also tried the cereal-coated deep-fried prawns together with yang chow rice, which, I would have to say is sort of like the de facto Filipino barkada’s pigout staple as a side (…or main) – the yang chow, I mean. A true-blooded Filipino would have it either way. Because, you know, we love rice like that.

The movie Crazy, Rich Asians has just been shown fairly recently at the time. And maybe in keeping up with this theme, the morning after we decided to first visit the place where the wedding scene was shot, purportedly. I maybe wrong.

The place is called CHIJMES – a 19th-century structure which was a former convent and school, that now houses restaurants, bars and an events space.

View from the back of the CHIJMES

Another reason why we were all in Singapore that week is because it is T’s birthday week. It seemed like stars aligned so we could all meet together in SG for this special occasion – she being based here for work and others coincidentally are in the city partly on business. I, for my part, have been wanting to go to Singapore for the longest time. So, there – mission accomplished 🙂

Here we are goofing around at the CHIJMES. This was on the day of T’s birthday.

A short walk from the CHIJMES is the Bugis shopping district. It has a combination of shopping malls, restaurants, nightspots and regulated back-alley roadside vendors, or what we call in the Philippines as tiangge. This is one of the go-to places for souvenirs.

Oh and look! There’s a Manila Street in Bugis.

We spent hours shopping and scouting for discounts, hoping to score good deals. I’m not really so much into shopping but some of my friends are, which is great because Singapore is a shopping haven. It pretty much has everything anyone would ever want.

All this activity, the going to and fro between shops within the district, made us hungry. We took a break and had late lunch in one of the food courts. You probably recognize this Singaporean staple below. Normally for breakfast, this kopi & toast combo is easily recognizable with its soft-boiled egg mixed with soy sauce.

We were discussing where to go to next. Our itinerary is jam-packed and we thought we may not have enough time to visit every one of them given the limited time we have. To make the most of it, we thought it best to first visit Singapore‘s latest attraction – The Jewel at Changi.

It’s amazing how Singapore constantly reinvents itself. There is always something new to do and see. This latest project is a nature-themed mixed-use development that connects three of the city’s airport terminals.

Its centerpiece is the world’s tallest indoor waterfall called Rain Vortex, surrounded by a terraced forest setting – the Shiseido Forest Valley.

The Rain Vortex

Consistently awarded Best Airport in the World for 7 consecutive years since 2013 by Skytrax, Changi isn’t one to be outdone. It’s definitely not resting on its laurels.

Just recently it has unveiled its newest terminal – T4, which is touted to be the world’s first fully-automated airport. This, they say, is a game-changer. I had the opportunity to experience T4 on my flight back to Manila.

T4 departure lobby

We’ve noticed automated counters inside the Jewel, too. In its bid to revolutionize travel and to even further make visiting and transiting Singapore a more pleasurable and seamless experience, they have options for early check-in in these counters for specific airlines for now. I’m pretty sure there are plans to roll out the same for all carriers in the future.

Automated check-in counters and baggage drop-offs at the Jewel

Last on our itinerary for the day is the Light & Sound Show at the Marina Bay Sands.

Can I just say? The view of the Marina Bay is killer! A postcard-pretty snapshot of an exquisite and vibrant city. The city of the future.

It excites me to know what other treasures this city-state offers. That’s something you will find out on the next post.

For now, I’m leaving you with an amazing light and sound show I was able to record the entire 13 or so minutes of.

Enjoy! 😀

Of Back Roads and Red Dirt | A Primer to the Cambodian Countryside

1st in a series on Siem Reap

It’s a sunny day. Judging by what the previous groups who have been here before have told us, we only expect the weather to get even hotter as the day drags on. That’s actually a better prospect than when it rains, right? So I guess no one’s really complaining.

Immediately I notice how red the soil is (something I’ve noticed to be characteristic of the landscape here).

We were asked to assemble for a briefing to discuss the do’s and don’ts, the basics in biking, which gear is for what, and stuff. It was impressed upon us that this is not an individual race. Hence, we need to help each other out in order for the whole team to finish fast. Any member of the team struggling should be helped out. Now that’s something worthy of emulation in real life, don’t you think?

We are to finish a 12-km stretch of rough/dirt roads, with pit stops along the way for when we need to recharge – drink to quench our thirst, eat, relax, take selfies/groupfies, or just be silly with one another.

Some thirst quencher this Aquarius is

Despite the heat and exhaustion, one can admire the scenic view of the Cambodian countryside, complemented by a soft breeze generated by one’s own motion against the tepid air. I can only appreciate the simplicity of life here. Time suddenly stood still.

Photo courtesy of Rohjean Alberto, with Erene Araojo on the bike.

At the finish line, we were treated to the sight of an elaborately decorated Buddhist structure known as pagoda. Pictured below is the Phreah (Preah) Dak pagoda. It’s also a functioning monastery for monks so it’s alternatively called the Wat Phreah Dak.

Wat Phreah (Preah) Dak or the Phreah (Preah) Dak pagoda

I notice a lot of these interesting, colorful structures with spires in the temple grounds. Wonder what these are?

Colorful stupas

As explained by our tour guide Sip, these are known as stupas. They basically are tombstones that houses cremated ashes of deceased Buddhists. The more elaborate and bigger in size the stupas are, the richer the person (or the family of the person) who died who affords it. The deep colors represent peace.

Cambodia is 97% Buddhist, who believes in reincarnation. Death is merely a phase, a doorway to another existence – a rebirth. The remaining percent are Hindus, Muslims and animists, and a sprinkling of some Christian denominations. It’s interesting that in some of the villages we passed by in our route, we notice houses built in the second storey but nothing on the ground. The reason being that people believe spirits occupy the ground level. Humans would do well not to disturb them, I guess. This belief in spirits both benevolent and malevolent are strongly-entrenched in some areas that it’s common to see small, deeply-colored spirit houses (for spirits of dead ancestors) and local version of scarecrows (to repel evil ones) posted in front of homes. (I’m literally having goosebumps writing this, so enough already 😐 )

Let’s move on.

Now all this activity is making us hungry. So, we next headed off for lunch. But wait. As the tradition goes nowadays, it seems, we first had to learn how to cook our own food. Chef Khan Van Chhay demonstrated how to create spring rolls! I’m not sure if Cambodians traditionally would have their spring rolls deep-fried, but we definitely thought of it as a welcome gesture that he had it cooked that way, as an homage to our Filipino culture.

We even had a contest of who finishes cooking first with the most number of rolls passing quality check, to be pitted against the other groups. It was a fun activity and, suffice it to say, we’ve made some pretty bomb spring rolls (holler! 😀 )

Afterwards, we were treated to a parade of Cambodian dishes, plus the spring rolls we just made.

I appreciate the fact that they are big on veggies and salads, although the taste doesn’t always sit well with a lot of my peers. It’s an acquired taste, I suppose. I am definitely sensing some cilantro, star anise, in most dishes. There are some I probably haven’t heard of and have been trying for the first time, or just something we are not used to eating. I’ve been tasting everything because I’m adventurous like that when it comes to food.

We headed off next to a small house that has some shack where traditional rice noodles are made. It seems like creating rice noodles is as tedious as planting rice itself – from the pounding to the mixing, to the cooking, to the washing. Maybe I will just skip to the eating part, yeah? 🙂

They’ve been using some curious contraptions where the noodle-makers literally had to ride on top in order to function, like when pounding the mixture, wherein someone literally has to step on the lever on the other end (much like how a see-saw would work), doing it repeatedly in a particular rhythm, so that the person on the other end could fold the mixture in sync with the steps. Otherwise, that person could get injured. It takes skill and a great deal of caution especially if you are on the receiving end of the pounding machine. Kung sa atin pa, “buwis-buhay”, “putol a-kamay” 🙂

Or, when pressing the goo out of the perforated container/thingamajig to be dropped on to the huge cauldron below with simmering water, where it has to be done gently but with much weight, such that the person doing it literally had to sit or ride over the lever using his full body weight but careful enough not to crush the precious cargo. The idea is to press slowly and gently in order to create long, continuous strands. It’s literally what you call, a “tough, balancing act” 😀

If anything however, it makes for good exercise since you partly might also need to lift your own body weight in order to strike that “balance”. There’s a bar or beam above which you can hold on to, to lift yourself up in case you need to relieve the pressure on the “soon-to-be” noodles.

Our jolly tour guide Sip, all smiles and looking all proud at the rice noodles 🙂

Remember Chef Khan Van Chhay? Well, he’s here again to demonstrate how to cook a traditional Cambodian rice noodle dish called somlor brorheur (pronounced somlor brahar). And to assist him is Mrs Team Hup. I couldn’t find any reference to her online but I’m guessing she is the owner of the house and maybe one of the few people who is keeping the tradition of rice noodle-making alive.

She was featured in the Cambodia Chefs magazine.


Chef Khan Van Chhay (left) and Mrs Team Hup (middle) at work. And Sip, well, being his usual self 🙂

Presenting, somlor brorheur.

Somlor brorheur is a curry-based rice noodle soup. If I’m not mistaken, I think it has water hyacinth and lotus flowers (?) as ingredients.

Next stop is a traditional Cambodian farming village. But in order to get there, we have quite an unusual ride waiting for us at the jump-off.

Water buffaloes! 🙂

Ain’t no Grab ride, but one can only appreciate their tenacity and subservience. Seeing them at work is a little heartbreaking, actually.

When we arrived at the village, we were welcomed by the local kids with a song and were given some neatly rolled cold towels so we could freshen up by wiping it on our face and hands. With the extreme tropical heat, nothing feels better than a nice cold towel! 😀

As you may have guessed, we are in a rice farming village for a reason. There’s a traditional Filipino song that goes: “Magtanim ay di biro. Maghapo’ng nakayuko”. It translates loosely to: “Planting (rice) is not easy. Everyday you are in a stooped position”, which basically signifies backbreaking work. This day wouldn’t go by without us having to experience this as this is pretty much the lifeline of all Asian cultures. Rice is such a ubiquity. One can say that the foundation of Asian civilizations stood on the back of this lowly member of the grass family, feeding millions, serving as catalyst for growth.

And so, plant rice we shall, barefooted and all 🙂 To the rice paddies we go!

My colleagues getting ‘down and dirty’, quite literally 😛

After that one-of-a-kind experience (it’s not everyday you see a city-dweller planting rice, yes?), we were asked to go back to the village since it’s already starting to rain. We washed our feet in the communal wash area where water is still pumped from the ground, just like in the old days. We were then treated to some refreshments (my favorite is the “buko” or coconut juice) and some traditional Cambodian song and dance.

It really was an exhausting day – fun, but exhausting. I think most of us dozed off at the bus on the way back to the hotel. And just when you thought you could finally go to your room and indulge yourself in some nice, warm shower, drop to your bed and sleep to your heart’s content, lo and behold, Sip just had to burst your bubble by announcing another activity. And just like that, your anticipated R&R was thrown out the window 😀

We headed back to the hotel, the La Residence Blanc D’Angkor, to freshen up and change.

We had dinner at the Phare Cafe, where one of the items on the menu is the famous fish amok. As usual, there’s always the salad, and for dessert we had some (I think) caramelized banana with rum and grated coconut. There’s a Filipino dessert which is interestingly similar. We call it minatamis na saging.

We capped the night off with a spectacular performance from the Phare Cambodian Circus. No, not that kind of circus. No animal was harmed or even involved in any of its production. It’s all display of acrobatic skills – part-theater/part-acrobat. And it’s for a good cause, too. It’s helping Cambodian youths stay out of the streets, giving them better opportunity by making better use of their skills and talents. Should you ever go to Siem Reap, do watch their show. It’s amazing! 🙂

I’m leaving you with some of the photos of that night. Stay tuned for part 2 of this series on Siem Reap. Enjoy! 😀

Special thanks to Cambodia Cycling and Real World Adventure for arranging our cycling adventures of the countryside and our sampling of the local culture.

To La Residence Blanc D'Angkor for our accommodation. Their friendly, caring and attentive staff made our stay enjoyable.

Find them on Facebook:
@CambodiaCycling
@realwordadvanture
@residenceblancangkor

The “Flying Arts” of the Bangsamoro and Other Things Awesome

I’m capping off this series on the Bangsamoro by presenting this side of their cultural/artistic heritage that’s not very well known, I should say. Except for the sarimanok (pictured above), which has become an icon, thanks to its constant appearance on TV during the 90’s (it being the inspiration for this major TV network’s logo, in fact), most of the photos you’d be seeing here are pretty rare. I myself was pleasantly surprised to have found out about these.

We live in a world full of stereotypes and this couldn’t be more true in the case of the Bangsamoro people. The situation was only further exacerbated by the events of 9/11. After almost two decades, we are still reeling from the fallout of that event. Look only at what Marawi has become just recently – total devastation.

This series hopes to shatter some of the misconceptions and help us get a better understanding of our brothers and sisters in the South.

You can check previous articles of this series below:

Bangsamoro Art – Faith, Tradition & Place

Bangsamoro – Keeping the Faith

I saved these photos for last because I think these are the, sort of, “crown jewel” to their cultural and artistic heritage. If there’s anything worthy of shattering stereotypes, these would be it. I mean, who would have thought, for example, that the Bangsamoro peoples had something similar to a Pegasus they call burraq or borak – a hybrid animal of Islamic mythology that has a winged human head on a horse’s body.

According to the museum’s informational guide, the burraq/borak is “one of the common artistic elements that conveys a sense of flight. It is considered sacred in the Islamic world, as it was through flying the burraq that Prophet Muhammad journeyed and ascended to heaven, as told in the Isra’wal Mi’raj“.

It is interesting to note however, that while the concept of rising is part of the Islamic faith, focusing on spiritual lightness and the upward orientation towards unity with the Divine heavenly being, it is also a notion corresponding to the pre-Islamic indigenous concept of floating and flying as a means of connecting humans to the spiritual realm. Based on a study conducted by Abraham Sakili, this concept is widely-known throughout the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

Islam in the Philippines has been described as remarkably syncretic – a fusion of different influences both foreign and local. As mentioned in the previous article, some indigenous practices persisted. You would see many elements of the same in the different parts of the region. You’d be surprised how the iconic sarimanok has counterparts in other Southeast Asian countries and how the concept of birds as spiritual messengers are a common belief in these places too – the iban of Borneo and the garuda of Indonesia, for example. Learning about this fact makes me realize how, despite the seeming “differences”, there are a lot we share in common. Also, it’s interesting how something we don’t usually put much focus on suddenly had this new meaning upon second look. I mean, I’ve heard about the garuda from Garuda Indonesia, which is the flag carrier of Indonesia, but I have never really given much thought as to its symbolism and its connection to everything else. It’s just amazing like that, isn’t it? 

The iconic sarimanok

This chicken-like figure with a fish on its beak, the sarimanok, is a significant artistic element that conveys flying. According to the museum’s informational guide: “The Maranao considers the sarimanok to have evolved from its totem bird called itotoro. It is invoked in many rituals and included in their myths and epics.They are depicted as messengers of legendary heroes and royalty in the Maranao epic Darangen. The sarimanok is also considered as a medium to the spirit realm through its unseen twin spirit bird called inikadowa. Like the naga, the sarimanok appears in highly stylized forms in artistic works to adhere to Islamic beliefs. Other stylized bird-like figures are also used as designs,such as the manukmanuk of Sulu“.

Another element of floating or flying is the naga. It is “a Sanskrit term referring to a mythical dragon or serpent noted for its wisdom, agility, power and bravery”. The informational guide adds: “While the representation of nature – plants and animals – in art is counter to Islamic beliefs, the naga persisted in highly stylized forms that include the S-shaped and rope-like designs”. This design could be found in the panolong.

Flags also convey the idea of flying. The Maranao display ceremonial flags during special events such as weddings, coronations, and fluvial parades, among others. The display of flags was traditionally associated only with the ruling class, now these are used during various communal celebrations and events”, per the museum’s informational guide. Below is an example of a flag called Panji or Pandi.

Panji or Pandi

Are you ready to get your mind blown?

Presenting, the kokora 🙂

At first glance, this would’ve looked like some gigantic bug or winged lizard from the Jurassic period. One would have thought ‘what could our forebears have use for this?’

Well, the answer is actually more mundane and utilitarian than one could have possibly thought.

So, here’s the kicker. Notice the elongated tongue that kind of looked like an antenna above his head? 

Yes. It’s used to grate coconut. It couldn’t be more tropical and Filipino than that! 😀

The Bangsamoro culture is also replete with legends, the most famous of which is the Maranao Legend of Indarapatra.

Spectacular performances, displays of resplendent art, and lavish feasts thrive as they give visual expressions to the Islamic notion of the sacred power of sultans.

Feasts are an integral part of the Bangsamoro culture. According to the museum’s informational guide: “Immersing in activities that sharpen senses and experiences, such as tasting special dishes and joining in performances with heightened theatrical and dramatic elements, lead to captivating the festival participants’ attention. It is through these that feasts provide spaces for encounters markedly distinct from their ordinary and daily lives. Singing, dancing, music and recitation of oral literature are among the most common types of performances, providing entertainment and infusing amplified auditory and visual engagements to participants”.

Nothing could be more striking in this musical ensemble than the kulintang “an ancient instrumental form of music composed on a row of small, horizontally laid gongs that function melodically, accompanied by larger, suspended gongs and drums” (wikipedia)

They even have a bad-a** kulintang on display at the museum. The design is so intricate and lavish it could pass for a throne fit for royalty.

I cannot stress enough how important a role museums play in educating people. Especially in this time and age where information can easily be accessed with the touch of a button (or a swipe of a finger), people easily get caught up with the use of technology. We use it for practically anything nowadays, even for social connections. However, despite technology’s myriads of practical uses, this should not take away the joy of learning things the traditional way.

It was a pleasant revelation to me, for example, to learn about the Bangsamoro culture and heritage – something I think I wouldn’t have realized or appreciated as much, had I not experienced from this perspective.

It’s funny because I’m sure this subject has been discussed in school in one form or another; in history books, wholly or partially – some maybe in passing, others probably having volumes dedicated to it. But having seen the actual pieces and the materials up close, and learning the story behind each and every piece, gave the learning experience a whole new dimension. I definitely walked away bringing with me a newfound appreciation for these things. And that’s something no amount of technology can ever really replace.

Bangsamoro – Keeping the Faith

Previously in this series:

Bangsamoro Art – Faith, Tradition & Place

Central to the Bangsamoro culture is Islam. It is the glue that binds them together. No matter the differences and difficulties, Muslims around the world follow a set of principles and practices that constitute the religion, creating a sense of belonging and unity called ummah. More than anything however, a Muslim aims to achieve unity with Allah, encapsulated in the concept of tawhid which emphasizes the following of Allah’s will.

The five essential duties of Muslims, also known as the five pillars of Islam, as revealed in the sacred book of Koran, or Qu’ran, are:

  1. shahadah – the profession of faith
  2. salat – praying five times daily facing Qibla/Qiblah (sacred mosque in Mecca) at designated periods
  3. saum or puasa – fasting between sunrise and sunset in the month of Ramadan
  4. haji – the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once if possible
  5. zakat – voluntary contribution of a portion of one’s income as alms for the poor

The Koran is considered sacred as it contains the teachings of Allah, and so is carefully handled and used. Pictured above is a copy of probably the country’s oldest, if not one of the oldest, translations of the sacred book known as The Qu’ran of Bayang (Lanao del Sur). Of significant historical and cultural value to Filipinos in general, and to the Filipino Muslims in particular, the Koran of Bayang will be declared by the National Museum as a “National Cultural Treasure”. It enjoyed a long and varied history – from being an heirloom, to being a loot of war (during the war with the Americans), to having to evade a typhoon by deferring its supposed return to Marawi.

During the height of the People Power Revolution of 1986 however, the Koran was reported missing, as it was previously requested by the then First Lady Imelda Marcos to be transferred to Malacañan from the National Museum. Fortunately, a complete copy was made prior to its transfer to the Palace, so its message is not lost to us today. It will remain for posterity.

20180706_122950 a
The museum’s model of a ranggar

There are two types of mosques in Southern Philippines. One is the ranggar or langgal, a small structure accommodating only few individuals for daily prayers in the rural areas. The prayer mats you see displayed above are from the Molbog tribe, Balabac, Southern Palawan. These are made of pandan leaves and synthetic dyes.

The other type of mosque is the masjid, a permanent structure facing Mecca, which adopted a more Western/Arabic-style architecture as evidenced by the use of minarets, mihrab, mimbar and places of ablution. Examples of the different types of mosques in the Philippines below, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Prior to the late 19th century however, mosques that were built in the country employs an indigenous form of architecture known as pagoda-style or hut-style, such as this Old Bangsa style mosque in Taraka, Lanao Del Sur (below). There have been proposals to put the Heritage Mosques of the Philippines into the Philippine tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Site declaration in the future.

800px-Old_Mosque_Lanao_Del_Sur_Philippines
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Fasting is a widely known observance in Islam during the holy month of Ramadan, where the faithful abstain from the consumption of food and drink daily from the break of dawn until sunset. This is also a time for avoiding practices that are deemed ‘unspiritual’, if you will, or are in conflict with Islamic teachings – those that divert a person’s focus away from spiritual things, such as inappropriate speech, excessive recreational activities, or acting unkind towards the needy, for example. It is a time to perform zakat, or the giving of alms to the poor and more importantly, worship through prayers and recitation of verses from the Qu’ran.

9facc6e47222f6b5de4563f183647156
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

A lavish three-day feast is held at the end of Ramadan called Hari-raya, or Eid al-Fitr in Arabic. It starts with the sighting of the new moon on Shawwal – the first day of the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. People will pray in mosques and in open spaces, and would offer charity to the poor.

The most significant feast for Muslims however, is the Feast of Sacrifice or Hari-raya Hadji, or Eid al-Ahda in Arabic. This celebrates the completion of the pilgrimage to Mecca during the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

ThinkstockPhotos-532226819-1
Photo courtesy of The Great Courses Daily

Aside from these, there are other important Islamic occasions where Muslims celebrate by feasting and, according to the museum’s informational guide, all of these “involve communal prayers, recitation of passages from the Koran, communal consumption of special meals involving local delicacies and beverages, adornment of feasting spaces, and use of highly decorated prestige items and utilitarian goods during food preparation and consumption”.

Indigenous traditions become evident in these lavish feasts where local delicacies get to take center stage. In the olden days, these are usually prepared and served in highly decorated containers and utensils.

Below are examples of Tausug dishes often served during these occasions.

Clockwise from upper left: Tausug beef kurma, tiyula sug, beef kurma, a typical Eid spread, a collection of sweets called bang bang sug, and chicken piyanggang 

Muslims in the Southern Philippines also celebrate life cycles, such as birth, marriage, rites of passages, etc., with feasting. The communal experience of food and drink consumption establishes and fosters a sense of connection across cultures. Fasting and feasting are interconnected practices that  help connect a person to his spirituality – abstinence to food as an act of faith to a God who provides, and feasting as an expression of gratitude and acknowledgement of God’s generosity.

Banquets are thus part of Islamic rituals. These occasions provide opportunity to establish and renew social bonds.

1439201163_900513755
Photo courtesy of Ferdinandh Cabrera, ndbcnews.com.ph

And in the early days of Islam in the Philippines, especially, according to the museum’s informational guide: “Feasts provide arenas for displaying wealth, power and prestige through the abundant offering of food and drinks for communal consumption, and the use of prestige or exotic objects and technologies.  As a result, celebrations are closely tied to aspects of political economy which is guided by the ideology of the elite. This is often materialized in public ritual events where highly symbolic objects and ritualized practices are used to express and legitimize their political, economic and social prestige”.

It goes on to say: “… lavish feasts (together with spectacular performances and displays of resplendent art) thrive as they give visual expressions to the Islamic notion of the sacred power of sultans“.

====================

Photo credits:

Dishes – Yummy.ph/Knorr.com/Pepper.ph/umnoha.blogspot.com/angsarap.net

Coronation of Sultan of Sulu – retrato.com.ph

The Masjid Dimaukom or “Pink Mosque” – Tasnim News Agency

Taluksangay Mosque – Wowzamboangacity

Tulay Central Mosque – Al Jacinto