Food, Glorious Food

A Singapore Photo Diary
(Last in a series)

This city knows how to eat. One wouldn’t go out of options regardless of the budget. In every housing estate or community, in almost every street corner, you will find hawker stalls. Singaporeans take great pride in them and is very much part of the local culture. It is deeply rooted in this country’s history.

You could almost certainly find a selection of Chinese, Malay and Indian fare as these are the major cultures that have shaped this country.

We tried eating at the local hawker area in the community where my friend lives. It has a food court-like setting with an open view of the street and is located in the ground level of one of the buildings of this residential block, which is a typical setting for this type of housing community. Other usual places are street corners, parks, even MRT stations.

I couldn’t help but notice how, even in the city, we don’t seem to be too far away from nature. I’ve noticed there are different types of trees lining the streets and some type of exotic birds finding home in them. There were a few I have seen who patiently waited for diners to finish eating so they could swoop down on the table and snatch some food. They don’t seem to me like the maya variety I often see in the Philippines. The ones here seem to don a different shade of color. It could possibly be the same specie under a different category or a different specie altogether, I’m not sure.

In Chinatown, there’s a lane aptly called Chinatown Food Street. It’s row full of restaurants and food stalls.

Chinatown is also a shopping mecca. Everything from souvenirs to electronics, apparel to jewelry, to all kinds of knick-knacks, you can find. And while you’re at it, you can enjoy Singaporean architecture like their traditional-style shophouses. To keep up with the theme of the place, local hybrid shophouses were also built.

The idea of trying new cuisine excited my taste buds. My mouth started watering. All these onslaught to the senses – the sight, the smell, not to mention the heat, made me feel a little heady. With so many choices, I had a hard time picking.

We ended up with Chinese. Because it’s Chinatown, after all.

That afternoon, we went to Sentosa – one of Singapore’s latest attractions. Well, “fairly” latest, I would say. The city seems to always have something new in the pipeline that the word “latest” tends to have a shorter lifespan here, with newer and newer attractions springing up (at least until recently) in a space of a few months.

I was surprised to see a huge Merlion standing tall in the park. I may not have seen the original one by the bay but this is the next best thing, for sure. I was happy to have found a Merlion, to say the least – and a huge one at that. Later on however, I learned that this Merlion was demolished in September 2019 to make way for a new project. It’s kind of sad learning about the news. Good thing I was able to take a photo of it, as keepsake (of sorts).

Did you know that this Merlion has an observation deck in its mouth? I didn’t.

Mandatory photo with Universal Studios’ iconic globe in the background. Because why not.

Oh, and there’s a beach called Palawan. I don’t feel so far away from the Philippines now 🙂

Given the heat however, this day has proven to be a little unbearable for outdoors, so we decided to cut our trip short and just went back to the VivoCity mall to cool down and prepared to go back to the hotel.

Before going to the hotel though, we decided to buy from the local Indian hawker stall just around the corner near where we were staying. We have been curious, or should I say ‘I’, have been curious to try Indian fare (for a change). I love the “carinderia” feel of the Indian stalls. They don’t scrimp on the servings too.

Some roti-and-chicken curry-with-basmati-rice goodness (and a Spartan feel to boot)

This has been an interesting experience, so far. I was having fun, for sure. But there are also some realizations. One is that everywhere you go (and I don’t mean just here in Singapore but anywhere in the world, I guess), people always seem to long for some Utopian pipe dream. The cab driver I talked to on the way to the airport on my flight back, opened up about certain issues they have with how things are being run in the country. He asked how I find Singapore. My answer was pretty standard: clean, modern, orderly. And then he started complaining about how they do nothing but work. Work, work, work all the time and not really enjoying other pleasures like vacations outside the country. He also mentioned about not enjoying the same level of health care on a par with other developed countries. And surprisingly, problem with the housing system.

Whoa?! For a moment there I felt I was thrown for a loop. Who would have thought, for example, that wealthy Singapore – known for its subsidies under HDB, have issues with housing? C’mon. I don’t have my own house myself, for crying out loud. How are you even complaining?? (just kidding). No, inequity and social inequality are real. I can totally relate. And the gap is only getting ever wider.

I mean, often when the media touches on these topics, it’s in a matter-of-factly (if not trivial) manner, usually in the context of economic health. Hearing it first-hand though from a local, gives the issue a face, laying bare the cost of progress in front of my eyes – a flipside to the coin not a lot of people know about. Ultimately, one has to question whether or not it’s worth the trade-offs. Only time will tell.

Not to take lightly of his predicament, I asked if he told the government his grievances. ‘Maybe there’s an amicable solution’, I said. Funny thing is that I couldn’t remember what his answer was now.

Speaking of funny, this guy (who is probably in his, I don’t know 50’s?) loves 80’s music and was fanboy-ing about Whitney Houston (yeah, you heard that right). He’s curious about the type of music the younger generation is listening to nowadays. I said: ‘I think it’s EDM. You know, DJs and stuff?’ (like I know, right?)

Thinking of my own personal grievances, my parting words to him were: “Well, other places are far worse, you know?”, thinking it might give him some consolation. I’m not very sure of that now, in hindsight.

Whew! Some story, huh? Anyways, prior to this I met up with a friend for dinner – a former colleague who is now based in SG. She introduced me to this famous hawker place called Newton Food Centre where some of the scenes in the movie Crazy, Rich Asians were shot.

We started off with some local beer, of course.

I tried Southeast Asian fare this time – Malay/Indo, and I loved it! I think because it’s closer to my Filipino palate, that’s why.

It’s an explosion of flavors – spicy, sweet, tangy. We had barbecued chicken wings, satay with peanut sauce, kangkong (I think it was, or maybe some other vegetable, I’m not sure), and oh, the stingray… it’s a revelation. Some sugarcane juice (which is big here) for refreshment.

And there it is. The final part to my Singapore adventure series. I couldn’t believe it took almost a year to finish (my goodness). Now I can delete some of the photos from my phone which has been clamoring for some space.

Here are the previous posts in this series you might find interesting:

Summit 2019 – Singapore
Singapore, Day 2 – Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs
Singapore, Day 3 – Icons of the Little Red Dot

I don’t really travel much so this has been a welcome break from my usual routine. It was made even better, of course, by spending it with old friends. I am now feeling excited for Summit 2020.

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.

Keeping Paradise

Saving the country’s last frontier
(1st in a series)

This isn’t my first time to Palawan but I still get excited every time. Who wouldn’t? It’s a special place.

This time around it’s Apulit, which, according to our guide means castaway. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind being one if it means waking up to this view every day.

It’s actually a back-to-back weekend getaway for me. Fresh from our Liwliwa escapade the week before, this seemed to be the icing on top of the cake.

Part of the El Nido Resorts group, Apulit is just one of the other resorts in the area being maintained by the Ayala‘s – one of the Philippines‘ richest and most influential families. The others being Pangulasian, Lagen and Miniloc. It’s formerly known as Club Noah Isabelle, a little trivia I learned from Monique, the company’s environment representative while on a chit-chat with her on our boat ride to the town of Taytay on the way back.

The latest resort the Ayala’s are developing is Lio. It even has its own airport – an effort to make the resorts more accessible to the people by creating a vital corridor linking the properties. Our first breakfast in Palawan is in Lio, at Casa Kalaw.

With the development however, is the focus on sustainability. Don’t get me wrong, the very first time I was in El Nido was probably about 5 or 6 years back, in Pangulasian, and the resort was already on it doing the sustainability thing. However, because of the seeming apathy from governments and big businesses about the worsening climate crisis, this mantra has gotten louder and has become a more pressing issue now more than ever.

It only makes sense that stakeholders ensure a healthy and vibrant ecosystem, and that any development have the least or zero impact to the environment. With pristine, paradise-like environment as its main draw, one can say that the industry’s survival hinges on nature itself. It is, therefore, to the best interest of everyone – businesses, tourists, local communitiesto take care of the environment. It’s a huge challenge, for sure, but I admire the effort to really commit to the advocacy.

Climate change is a hot topic nowadays and yet, still, maybe not hot enough to make huge strides on a policy level. It is up to ordinary people and especially those who have money and influence to spearhead these movements. Everyone can do something in his or her own little way but especially if there is a concerted effort from all sectors can we only make a deep and lasting impact.

Hence, I applaud the effort being done to engage everyone in this. Part of our activity is to plant trees in certain areas of the mountain where we also hiked to the top of and where there’s a newly-built viewing deck.

I love the fact that this tree-planting activity is not just ‘planting for planting’s sake’ but that there is a lot of research that went into as well. It considers the types of plants or trees to be planted which are basically those that are endemic to the area. This activity would have been a defeated purpose if otherwise. In fact, I probably would have opted out had it been any different.

It was a quick breakfast in Lio as we had to prepare for the long drive to the dock in Taytay, our jump off point to Apulit.

We were learning a lot from our guide. Taytay is an old town, he says. It even has an old Spanish fort built near the docks, it being Queen Isabelle‘s favorite pit stop back in the day in her visits to this area en route to Puerto Princesa. The fort was built through forced labor (polo y servicio) by Filipinos.

We also passed by cliffs where, according to our guide, eggs from a certain specie of bird are harvested to make nido soup. Have not tasted one myself but I assume it’s good. Probably expensive because of its rarity and the difficulty of sourcing the main ingredient.

Upon arrival, we had some small snacks and refreshments. This, while waiting for the boat ride.

So, are you ready to see paradise? Details in the next article coming soon.

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 Liwa 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.

My 7,107 | Liwliwa Beach, Zambales

1st of 2 parts

Everybody knows how unpredictable the weather can be – one moment it’s all bright and sunny, and then rainy and gloomy the next. All the weather forecasts I checked online painted a not-so-good weather condition for the weekend which did not bode well for our planned getaway to the beach.

Our friends from the Netherlands couldn’t wait to experience the tropics – the sun, the beach and, well, everything in between. You can understand how relieved we were that this trip went on smoothly, let alone materialize at all, the bad weather forecast notwithstanding. The conditions were surprisingly cooperative. We did encounter some challenges but nothing we weren’t able to overcome nor anything that could have dampened our spirits.

We made sure it was a fun experience.

We arrived at the Riverside Liwa. One need not guess why it’s called that, yes? For obvious reason. A river runs through the property. It couldn’t be more straightforward. We even had to cross a bridge made of bamboo to reach the other side.

If there’s anything these inventive signposts below tell us, is that the owner(s) of this property are passionate about one thing, for sure – surfing.

It felt like entering some chill, peaceful village – the kind of atmosphere often associated with surfer/hippie culture. One would notice how indigenous and natural elements were incorporated in the design of the accommodations, giving it a traditional Filipino vibe. These huts you see with thatched roofs are called bahay kubo in the vernacular. Aren’t they nice to look at? These huts do a good job sheltering people from the tropical heat.

Noticeably too, are the people’s love for pets. All around you will see cats, dogs….

… and goats! 😀

You just find them everywhere here.

Another noticeable part of the landscape are the trees. Pine-like trees called agoho or agoo are abundant here. Not sure if these were planted here on purpose or have grown naturally after the place was covered by volcanic ash brought about by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo decades ago, some time in the early 90’s. This beach in fact did not exist back then. It was naturally created by the enormous volume of ash dumped by the volcano, as well as sediments washed by the river from upstream.

We arrived in time for lunch. We decided to eat at Tadhana, which means destiny. Food was good. The fruit shakes especially, were a hit. You can even play sungka while waiting for your food to be served. Sungka is a traditional Filipino tabletop game.

The Philippines’ unofficial national dish, adobo can be cooked in many different ways. As many as there are different dialects spoken in the entire archipelago, it seems.
Got myself a strawberry banana shake. Refreshingly good.

Off to the beach we headed afterwards. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. We went around late noon so that the sun’s heat wouldn’t be too harsh. We weren’t minding how time flies, so I guess we were having fun, yes? 😀

Nature though, has a way of ending the day quite nicely for us. We were treated to a spectacular view of the sunset, as if bidding us farewell till the next day.

What an awesome sight!

The squad

We capped the night off with booze, card games (any kind of game we could think of, actually), some silliness and then more … at one point beside a bonfire by the river.

All in all, it was fun. The long drive was worth it. We all retired to bed feeling beat ready to be recharged for the next day 😊

Singapore, Day 2 – Home Ideas & Swedish Meatballs

2nd in a series

Previously in this series:

Summit 2019 – Singapore

Well, what can I say? My first IKEA ever!

While PH is still in eager anticipation of its very first IKEA store, Singapore already has two to date. I say, “What’s up with that Philippines ?? ”

If anything, I can only describe it as humongous.

The one we visited was the store in Tampines. We took the shuttle and arrived in time for brunch, or thereabouts.

There’s already a long line at the counter when we arrived and the huge dining area is already packed with hungry souls. It isn’t this much people we traveled with at the shuttle service coming here so I guess the others came in earlier from other hop-on points, or have used other mode(s) of transport.

I’m loving the idea of a multi-layered tray cart

A friend suggested that I try the Swedish meatballs and one of the cakes, so I did. I got myself a chocolate cake with crunchy caramel.

Now, what I like about Swedish food (if this is in fact representative of authentic Swedish food), which I am trying for the first time, by the way, is that it’s more on the healthier side. It noticeably uses minimal sodium and sugar. The ingredients too are probably mostly organic, if not all.

It’s delicious, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that it’s not as seasoned as much as we are used to with our own dishes. Filipino food, as we all know, is BIG on flavor. Like it’s all savory, sweet (or both) in our world, right?

This focus on providing healthy alternatives is actually a good thing. With the increasing number of cases of degenerative, lifestyle diseases like diabetes and cancer, we do well to be more mindful of the food we eat. We ought to go easy on sodium, sugar, rice and all other bad carbs, and add more of the different veggies instead.

This flat lay though. Hands down.

After that filling and satisfying meal, we are now ready to explore this giant of a maze where it seems like anything and everything you would ever need for an ideal home could be found – from linens, to decor, to furnitures, to all sorts of knick-knacks, you name it. You literally need to follow the arrows on the floor so as not to get lost.

The thing that strikes me the most is the fact that customers are actually encouraged to try the couch and the bed to check how comfortable it is to their liking. Something that’s very different from what we are used to in the Philippines where you would often see signs that say “Thank you for not sitting” or not lying on the bed, or something to that effect.

As a matter of fact, I found myself some nice spot in some (er, not-so-discreet) corner where I had to doze off. I couldn’t help it. For that brief moment, I was the epitome of the saying “masandal, tulog”.

You should cut me some slack, guys. I have very punishing work schedule.

If it’s any consolation, I’m not alone in this. As you can see here, R too has found herself some cozy spot for some snooze.

And this here is the difference (quite literally) between sitting-pretty (left) and sleeping-pretty (right). 😀

If anything, I guess you can call this a testament to IKEA‘s high-quality and comfort, right? Because really, “you’ll doze off in no time”.

Haha! Did you see what I did there? Some segue, huh? And no, I did not just pull-off some tagline 😀

We were feeling pretty beat that day, we hadn’t really made anything out of our itinerary for after. So we just prepared to go back to the hotel. We decided to have some snack first on the way (albeit a bit heavy) and a few more shopping.

The mall we passed by adjacent to the train station has a food court with purveyors selling laksa. Toast Box (where we decided to eat), used to have a branch in Manila at Robinsons Place, but it was short-lived. It didn’t quite took off after its launch. The menu might have needed some tweaking, I surmise.

But this laksa right here? It’s good. Nothing bad to say.

We went back to the hotel afterwards.

By the way, I think our choice of hotel couldn’t be more perfect. We recommend it to anyone whose budget is somewhere in the mid-range. Hotel 81 Premier Star is what it is, of the Hotel 81 chain.

The hotel’s lobby

The rooms are clean and has this minimalist Japanese zen vibe. It’s pretty much stripped down to just the basic necessities (to bring down cost and maximize space), but not sacrificing aesthetics, functionality and comfort. It’s still complete with everything you would practically need but without the frills.

If Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms aren’t a dead giveaway enough to its vibe, I don’t know what.

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! 😀

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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“.

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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 

A Day at the Museum | The National Museum of Anthropology – Part 2

Bangsamoro Art – Faith, Tradition & Place

Having lived in Manila my whole life,  I never really experienced what life is like anywhere else in the country except those I had the chance visiting for a few days. But even that wouldn’t really suffice for one to really get to know or understand the local culture. I think one really has to immerse himself in it. That might require some time spending with the locals and experiencing things they usually do on a day-to-day basis. Now, being a busy person with lots of commitments, that prospect may not really work out for me. It’s almost next to impossible. Good thing there are museums, right?

Ok. You are probably thinking: “Here he goes again selling this museum thing to the hilt”. But really, this has proven indispensable for the city creature like me. It’s funny because both my (biological) parents were from the provinces. My surrogate dad was from the province, too. But I never really had the chance being on those places for a long time. The everyday man on the street may not realize it, but it’s staggering how culturally diverse our country is – more than 175 ethnolinguistic nations or groups. An average working person may not be able to meet, let alone visit each ethnic group in his lifetime, unless he spends most of his time traveling around the country, like some blogger I’ve read about. It is doable, yes, but may not always be practical. So, to each his own. And yes, this brings me back to the topic of museums and how it fills the void to satisfy that curiosity. You may not be able to meet or visit each of those ethnic groups, but you can learn about some of them through museums and visual arts. It doesn’t replace the actual experience, of course, but it’s the next best thing.

So, on with the topic. Now, what could be more interesting than the Bangsamoro, right? Bangsamoro, of course, is that hotly-contested autonomous region in the South populated by Muslims. There are other non-Muslim ethnic groups who are indigenous to Mindanao called the Lumads, but that’s for another article.

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photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Bangsamoro is the “largest non-Catholic group in the Philippines and, as of the year 2012, comprises 11% of the total population” – Wikipedia. Its defining and official religion, Islam, is the second largest and the fastest-growing in the world.

The spotlight is turned every time we hear news of war in this troubled region and when there are developments in the efforts made to achieve that seemingly elusive peace, as when peace talks and deals are made.

If you come to think of it, if we weren’t colonized by the Spaniards, we probably are Muslims today. Now, all the reason to be interested in the Bangsamoro’s history and culture.

Bangsamoro from the Filipino term bangsa, meaning nation and Moro, from the Moors (of Southern Spain) – a designation used by the Spanish to all Muslims.

Three indigenous tribal men from the Sulu Archipelago in the 1900s.
Three indigenous tribal men from the Sulu Archipelago in the 1900s. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

What’s interesting to note is that Bangsamoro (as one nation of Muslims) is actually composed of different ethnic groups who happened to share a similar faith, and maybe certain aspects of their cultures, history and traditions. But there are certain things that are unique to each group. The brand of Islam itself as how it is practiced here, or manifestations thereof, may differ widely from say, those in the Middle East or even other Southeast Asian neighbors. The basic tenets of the faith are adhered to but there are certain embellishments that are quite unique to this specific group. Think of it as Islam in Bangsamoro garb. Some indigenous practices and beliefs persisted and made its way to the new religion.

Feast for the eyes

What really struck me immediately upon entering the exhibit is the ornate artistry of the works. Apparently, the peoples of this region have developed a highly-stylized form of geometric patterns that are combined together to form these visually stunning imagery. This is in no less thanks to a Qu’ranic prohibition of creating artistic depictions of human, animal and plant forms in any medium.

This particular style is called okir which, aside from referring to carving or engraving, is also referring to a particular curvilinear design pattern predominantly and distinctly used by the Muslim groups in Southern Philippines. This type of design could be seen in their architecture and in the day-to-day implements and fashion.

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Tabo or Dabu-dabu, of the Maranao tribe, Lanao del Sur. A signalling instrument horizontally suspended in front of Mosques. A standard rhythm calls people to prayer on Friday, while a more intricate tempo is played during Ramadan.

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Boras, Tausug tribe, Jolo, Sulu. A window screen which doubles as a floor mat during ceremonies. Interesting to note that Tausug culture gives specific division of labor for the sexes in the creation of the boras – men for the rattan mat itself and women for the painting and design.

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Enjoying the visual treat, yet? This is just a prelude to more exciting things to come, so watch out for it 😉 Till next time! 🙂