The Colors of Spain

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I have always associated people, places and events with smells, colors, tastes. I guess this is our mind tagging them in its archive with some sort of filing system. Sinulog has always been red and gold. Growing up I have always wondered why these two colors, I have always thought they were so 80’s. Later on, I found that these are colors of Spain, our conquistadores.

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Without fail, every year on the 1st day of the novenario, the Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino will always be decked with banderitas and swags in red and gold. Last January 10 was the 1st day of the novenario and it was gloomy and rainy. This didn’t stop devotees from showing up to complete their 9 – day commitment.

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To my delight, the Basilica had prepared large umbrellas for everyone to use! In the usual colors of Spain. Good job Augustinians!

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Drums Beating

Last weekend we went to the City Sports Center after almost a month of wolfing down tons of food from the holiday parties.  We wanted to start our early morning walks again.  How time flies!  When we got there, we saw that the Sinulog stage is already up and a whole contingent was hard at work rehearsing at 530am!  It is Sinulog Month and in a few weeks time, the Grand Parade.

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Ofcourse, the oldies would always caution and remind everyone to focus on the solemnity and the real reason for the season – Sto. Nino.  This sounds like Christmas to me but I, erring on the side of sounding self-righteous, have always been one to celebrate this festival for the right reason.

For almost 12 years now, I have always completed the 9 day novena.  Okay there may have been years I didnt, but for those years, I made sure to join the foot procession.

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So anyway, when we got home from the sports centre I went online to check out news and updates around the festivities.  I ran into an article that posted the English version of the Prayer to Sto. Nino.  Reposting here with some images of my beloved baby Sto Nino taken from exhibits around the city.

Prayer to the Sto. Nino:

O Senor Santo Niño, you are our king and our God, we worship you. You are our strong defender, we turn to you. You are the patron of Cebu, the Philippines and the world, we come to you; You have made extraordinary wonders through your miraculous image in those chosen islands, remember us. Look down at this poor soul that comes to you for help. Lead us with Your wisdom; discipline us with your truth; console us with your tenderness, protect us with your might.

We consecrate today our thoughts of you, only with you shall they be occupied; our words, only of you shall they speak; our sufferings, that we may endure them for your sake. We beg you Señor Santo Niño, illumine our understanding, kindle our will, cleanse our body, sanctify our soul. We wish what you wish, because you wish, as you wish, as long as you wish.

Grant us, Señor Santo Niño, that we may feel love toward you, be strict toward ourselves be zealous toward our fellowmen, and rightly despise the things of the world. Help us to overcome sensuality with strict discipline, avariciousness with generosity, anger with gentleness, indolence with zealous industry. Make us wise in counsel, courageous in danger, patient in adversity, humble in prosperity.

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Teach us, dear Santo Niño, how worthless is the world, how sublime is heaven, how brief is time, how long is eternity. Grant us, lastly, that we may remember you, adore you, love you and serve you here on earth that we may be happy with you forever and ever in heaven.

Amen

Revisiting Kawasan Falls

 

August 2012, Shaun and I went south to another one of our spur-of-the-moment road trips and ended up in Badian.  Shaun has been missing this place which was an oft visited seminar venue in college.  As always, “kinowboy” or rugged was the order of the trip.  We checked into La Playa and after a good night’s rest, went for an early walk to Kawasan Falls.

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We stopped for breakfast by a roadside eatery and found nicely prepared native pickled fish “inun-unan”.  Fish slow-cooked in vinegar and salt in a claypot with ginger and tomatoes.  We were told that the governor had shut down operations and had not allowed people in to the waterfalls area.  The governor was said to have been worried about buildings and commercial structures sprouting along the trail towards and around the waterfalls.  We were surprised to learn this as we have always assumed it was open.  At the same time we were secretly pleased that the government cared enough to want to leave nature be.

We were told not to worry and to just take the trail on the other side of the river.  So off we went and like always, the trek alone already made me feel refreshed from all the busy days at work.  Shaun hadn’t been here for 12 years and myself, even longer.  It felt good to be back and trekking along fresh air and green foliage, not to mention the occasional dip into very cool waters.  And since operations had been shut down, did I mention we had the place all to ourselves, on a weekend!

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what better way to warm up than to have our very own San Miguel Beer!

Simple Pleasures

Summer this year came a little late. Usually it comes just around the Catholic Holy Week with the weeks leading to it starting to get really warm. This year, we had rainy days and thunderstorms for weeks prior to the Holy Week. They say, the times are really changing, what with volatile weather conditions worldwide. That big summer sky said “better late than never!” and decided to hang himself up there right after the Lent celebrations. Summer! the smells, the tastes, the feelings all come rushing back. Summer is the briny smell of sea breeze, it is the cool cucumber and tomato in your kinilaw and it is the hot, languid, carefree afternoons with your summer lover.

So here is Cebu again with temperatures rising to 35C with people running to the beaches to cool down. Ofcourse I just had to have that requisite beach picnic too. The first for this year was with Shaun and his friends last weekend. They were to celebrate the last few remaining days of American friend John in Cebu. He’s been in the Phils for 5 years total, 2 of the most recent in Cebu and will be moving back to the States. I tagged along. We were headed for Bantayan Island.

I love Bantayan and I have vacayed several times in this island. The last time I was here was almost 2 years ago. I love that the beachline is not crowded, and that it is wide. The water is clean minus the algae floating and the docked pumpboats. Yes, I mean algae, not seaweeds. Not a lot of us know that algae is a telltale sign of polluted water no matter how blue green the water is. But I digress. Now I also appreciate the peace and quiet. I just don’t understand why some people try to make a party place out of beaches like they do in Boracay. They can always do so in the City. Bantayan is hush quiet, just the way I like it.

As expected the beach was there, the water was there and the quiet was there. One change I noticed was that the ugly oil depot near Sta Fe is now gone! Another was that there are motorbike and bicycle rentals around town now. After we sated our beach hunger, we rented bicycles the next day.

I love bicycle rides. I remember all the summer breaks growing up when I would be really dark with sunburn cycling around Mabolo. These were the years when San Jose dela Montana didn’t have the traffic volume it has now and it was safe for 9 year old kids to be passing thru its thoroughfare on their bicycles. I would go out on my bicycle every afternoon, no matter the heat, and go around the corners and nooks of Mabolo. I remember the wonderful feeling of discovery everytime I found a new route or found a new neighborhood. I believe I never again rode bicycles after I turned 10 years old…

When I saw the rental signs, my elan kicked in. So I invited Shaun, John and Clint and they were up for it. And like they say, I quickly remembered how to ride a bicycle, nothing really to almost 20 years of not riding one. Oh! the sheer freedom of breezing through the little streets of Sta Fe. Past Brgy, Okoy, Okra, Ampalaya, Talong and Kamatis! Everywhere we went, the womenfolk and the children would say “Hi” or greet us with “Good Morning!”. Everytime Shaun and I would find something nice, we would ring our bells. I found myself driving the bike wiggly woggly as I get myself distracted looking at the houses, new and old, the neighborhood scene of Sunday cockfight, and the green all around.

Ofcourse,  we were cruising around town with the sun’s heat beating down on us mercilessly. But hey, wasn’t this the idea? We did a le petit bonheur, a little happy hour after a few minutes though. The best way to cooldown…halo halo…no matter how overpriced.

On our way back, we chose to follow a different route, this time by the beach side. Warm sun on my skin and cool sea breeze on my face. I love summer. Who would have thought summer fun can be just this simple, but then this is me talking. What’s your idea of summer fun?

Road Trip

It is another Holy Week and the summer heat has just started to creep in.  A little late than in past years but it wasn’t any less in its fury.  My rhinitis and migraines had started to show up too.  Fortunately, I was allowed a week’s vacation.

I spent the first few days cleaning my room and just catching up on sleep.  Then the Lenten Holidays came, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  It was yet another rare occassion to have the whole family together.  I found myself the official kusinero.  Guess what?  It is my 1st year to cook binignit and biko!

Anyhow, the long stay home kind of got a little blah.  Such that, when Shaun suggested a road trip when he woke Saturday morning, I lost no time packing.  Just to put this into context, Shaun is someone who can be locked up in a room for weeks on end as long as there is cable tv, internet and lots of food.  Not rarely do I have to beg for him to get out and go around town with me.  So Saturday was a surprise.  It was like there was some divine occurence while he slept that he decided to be merciful and suggested the trip.  Sabado Gloria!

Off we went to the South Bus terminal without any destination or itinerary in mind.  On the spot, I decided on Boljoon.  I was there a couple of years ago but failed to explore the church and the museum as they were closed that time. 

 But somewhere between Carcar and Sibonga, we thought it would also be nice to take a dip at a beach.  It was steaming hot, our skin were dewy with the moist, dense humidity.  The next line up was Argao, Dalaguete and Alcoy.  Why not?  Argao has a Baroque – Rococo Church I haven’t explored too, it has its white sand beach as well, Dalaguete has its fresh water cold spring while Alcoy has a beach.  We can go visit them all!  We were dropped off Argao.

This trip turned out to be really fun with lots of new discoveries.  We had a glimpse of life-sized gold plated idols in a Baroque church.  Lunch at a quaint cafe featured in Lonely Planet a few years back was yum.  We brought home the famous Argao cacao for champorado.  We also dropped by a castle.  Who can beat that?  And then to end the day, a cool dip and the sunset at a rare white sand, clean public beach.

One of the many reasons I love being in Cebu is precisely this, that at any given day, on a whim, I can just hop on a bus and enjoy whatever it is I want.  The noisy fun of the metro, or the quite study of its history or just plain hanging out with its natural bounty.  All within reach. 

Plastic

The past 3 weeks have been very wet for Cebu City. And as expected, several areas in Cebu were flooded.  This is now becoming a normal occurence.  The rain did not spare even the annual solemn procession of the Sto. Nino de Cebu.  Devotees waded thru murky, bacteria rich floodwaters downtown as they strived to finish the procession.  The worst of these flooding was a few days ago when a cloudburst dumped an unexpected amount of rain in just a matter of an hour.  Even SM City Cebu was flooded. 

The rain poured around 7am – 8am.  I got off work around 11AM, by then the floodwaters have subsided.  The aftermath reveals the real culprit.  Garbage, specifically plastic.  Strewn all over the streets together with dirt and grime from the inutile drainage system.

These problems(I mean garbage disposal, use of plastic and the city’s poor drainage system) have long been unresolved.  I heard that after weeks of rain and the threat of landslides and more flooding, the local government is finally paying attention.  The whole project was to cost around P500M.  I wonder where we’ll get the money and when this project will ever be completed.

As my own personal way of making a difference and contributing to society, I decided to minimize, if not, totally eliminate the use of plastic bags, especially cellophane. 

Today, I went to Carbon Market to buy fresh vegetables.  I brought with me a reusable bag.  I remember when I was growing up, I would see my aunt and our househelp come back from the market on Sundays lugging their nylon net bags filled with produce. Walking around Carbon, I rarely saw people using reusable bags.

My initial purchases were large pieces of vegetables and it was interesting to see the reaction from the vendors when told that I won’t be needing the cellophane.  Most of them would give me a look as if to say “Sure Ka?”  (“are you sure?”). 

I started to have trouble when I bought teeny little red chillies.  Where to place them without scattering and maybe crushing them inside my already heavy bag.  Another problem was when I decided I wanted “sari-sari”, sliced mixed vegetables.  No way to get around them but give in to The Cellophane.

No matter.  It was just my first day.  I am sure that as I strive to make my own little effort.  I will find better ways to avoid the use of plastic and cellophane bags.

How about you?  What do you think of all the environmental changes we are experiencing nowadays?  What do you think you can do to make that teeny difference before it’s too late?  I would love to hear from you.

The Long and Short of the Sinulog Grand Parade 2011

This is the opinion of someone who has closely followed the Sinulog for years, both it’s cultural and religious aspects.

I am as old as the Sinulog itself and has always been a huge fan since childhood.  I am also a dance enthusiast, although I have had no formal training. This article is from an expectator’s point of view.

This year I obliged a friend and joined him at the grandstand as he has never experienced it from that vantage point.  Now, I have done this for years as far back as the Ayala days(Cebu Business Park), although I haven’t been at the grandstand for at least 6 years now.

I’ve set his expectations that we will be needing hours of endurance sitting through an almost 8- 12 hour program and with 151 dancing contingents this year, this was assuredly an accurate estimate.  I have also told him that from my experience years ago, we’d have to sit through some really boring performances before the crowd “wowwers” come in. 

I think a third of all the groups last Sunday were boring.  Sinulog is old, old to me that is and I believe it is really just for first time tourists. I just thought that the choreographers would consider a few things for the coming years.  What I gathered from years of watching the winners are these:

1.  Be original.  All, I mean ALL the winners always come in with a fresh original idea.  It can be a storyline, the costume, the theme and use of props that have never been seen since.  The problem with most choreographers is that they  take “inspiration” from the prior year’s winners, not knowing that there are 2-3 others doing the same thing.  In the end, they all look the same. 

I will never forget how the San Diego dancers started the bouffant skirts and the baroque decor and the whimsical wings.  Or the Lanao del Norte team and theirwide salakot hats and their use of their ethnic musical instruments.  Not to mention their very colorful and detailed costumes.  Or the Tangub team with their old-world charm and very original and authentic dance steps.  Nowadays, these themes are copied in many varied forms. 

The Lumad Basakanon team also is very original what with their costume, headdresses(wooden beads and wigs), their choreography and their annual themes.  It is only that this group has never put in something fresh for a couple of years now that they are starting to loose their winning touch.

Some of the other notables in recent years are the Pintados of Leyte, Iligan(one time winner), the Buyuganons of Abuyog Leyte, Alcoy(with their small black bird and an environmentalist theme), the Tawo tawo festival and Carcar.  All of them bring in fresh ideas and themes mostly from their local festival.

I was very disappointed to see three groups using the same story line this year.  All of them Sinulog – based.  The storyline about a child sideswiped by a vehicle prompting the need for the Holy Child’s intervention.

2.  Put lots of surprises.  Yeah, yeah.  I believe in theory most choreographers know this.  But what makes the cut is the timing and execution of these surprise elements. Most winning teams time these surprises with the music.  Usually they also drop the suprise after a series of very quick routines and then BAM!  – the suprise.  These winners also execute them in a smart and snappy split second move.  What I noticed with most of the contingents, those who didn’t win, is that although they came ready with their bag of tricks, either the timing is off or the execution is really not there at all.  A delayed snap of a prop would be all it takes to ruin the surprise.

3.  Choreography.  Some choreographers think they can just get away with huge visuals.  To please the crowd yes, but to win, no.  The panel of judges these recent years now include national performing masters.  This means they have the eye for true art.  Nothing beats original choreography.  And if you are doing a theme adopted from a folk dance, at least lend some integrity to the dance and stick to it.  Research also lends credibility to the whole production.

4.  Visuals.  The games have changed.  Props have gone bigger and bigger every year as more contingents use platforms and cut-outs that can conjure up many varied forms.  I saw one lsat Sunday that can be snapped three ways, from a paisley pattern, to a squid and then to become the image of the Holy Child.  Aside from the props, the wise use of color and sheen and sparkle in the costumes also make for a winning group.  Patterns (some very minute)and headdresses can make a small group seem big in numbers.

One interesting observation I have is that some contingents have as many props men as they have dancers.  WOW!

5.  Music.  I remember how pleased I was as a kid to have heard the beat of bamboo and flute on top of the usual drum beats.  It was very refreshing.  I now cannot remember what contingent that was and what year.  But the wise use of music and its arrangement, timing it with the choreography can make a big difference.  When a crowd of dancers come out, as if in a fiesta, the sound of trumpets signal to the audience that it is a merry time. The suspense in drum rolls, the delicate sound of birds, the flute, etc., these are all the small details that make a big difference.

The Sinulog Foundation now conducts seminars to choreographers in a move to up the ante.  Among others, they emphasize the importance of integrity in the production by doing research, key points in choreography, and overall how to give a WOW production.

I sincerely hope that our local choreographers take advantage of this opportunity and maybe in the coming years, we shall see them step up to the challenge of the visiting contingents.

The Acacia Grill

I was in Carcar City with friends recently to shop for espadrilles to give away for Christmas.  It was almost 11am when we got there and after an hour of shopping, I was ready for some grub.  I asked one of the shopkeepers where we can find a nice restaurant for lunch, to my utter disappointment I was directed to the local Jollibee.  She may have seen the look on my face as she hastily suggested Mang Inasal as an alternative.

It turned out, we didn’t have to look far.  When my friend came back from a visit to the loo, he said there was a grill at the opposite end of the shoe stalls.  The Acacia Grill.  Now that sounds more like it.

The place was al fresco with heavy wooden furniture.  There were a few old and sturdy acacia trees by the roadside but the restaurant was surrounded by young, shady talisay trees.  They serve familiar native dishes while the price, although slightly higher than normal, seemed fair enough considering there were very few options around.  On a scale of 1-5, 5 being the highest, I am giving them a 3.o for pricing.

There were just a few diners when we got there.

We ordered grilled fish –kitong, fried whole chicken – native style, no batter, no frills, sauteed mixed vegetables, grilled chicken breast and seafood sotanghon or glass noodle soup.

I was surprised when the food was served in less than 8 minutes.  The fact that the grilled fish and kinilaw were fresh was another pleasant surprise considering how far away the place was and how I imagined the low customer turn out.  As I later saw, the place filled up in trickles.  It would seem to me that most of the diners were out-of-towners, those visiting Carcar or those coming from or going to the southern parts of Cebu.  No locals here.

The waiters who wore the requisite short-sleeved barongs were attentive.

I am giving the place a 3.0 for service.

The mixed vegetable was a puzzle to me.  It was a pile of diced carrots, chayote, cauliflower, string beans and potatoes sauteed with squid and pork.  It wasn’t chinese chopsuey, it also wasn’t the native utan or dinuldog.  It had a thin film of grease all over it.  This grease was also evident with the noodle soup.  But they both tasted good.

Overall, together with the fresh fish and the juicy native style fried chicken, I am giving taste another 3.0

This place is definitely the place to go if you are all too familiar with the Carcar lechon, Jollibee or Mang Inasal.  Where else?

My friends, Shaun, Armie and Alexa on one of the quaint wooden swinging chair

Colon Night Market

Work and the flurry of activities around the holidays have always taken me North of our downtown home.  So when my week long vacation started last Wednesday, I immediately vowed to visit the downtown street Colon with its annual Night Market now on its 5th year.  This night market is open starting 6PM when the whole stretch from the Metro Gaisano to the University of the Visayas is closed to motor traffic.

I had that chance the next day Dec. 23rd.  Since it was already well into the Christmas holidays, I’ve already bought and given out my gifts.  This was  a purely sight-seeing paseo across downtown. 

I have discovered a whole new dimension to the Night Market with the shopping out of the way, the Food Dimension!  Oooh the many sinful delights!

I found some Kwek-Kwek stands.  Kwek-kwek is hard-boiled quail egg, dunked in a batter and then deep fried.  Aside from the grease, quail eggs are also known to be high in cholesterol.  Who cares?  That’s just for starters.  I also found deep fried chicken skin in cute little brown paper packets.  A little vinegar for the acid and hanging rice – puso, and you have yourself a quick snack.

To my delight I saw piles upon piles of sa-ang, a shellfish, which is one of my favorites.  There are a lot of ways people cook this delicacy so they get the meat out of the shell. You see, if you overcook it, the meat will become tough and curl up so far into the shell that you won’t have any chance of prying it out. Some say to blanch it using brine, some say to use actual seawater, some even use Sprite, some heat the shell on hot coals.  If you cook it right, the meat will be just right and will come out just enough for you to pull it out.  For this guy, he says he blanches them, but obviously, he had to use a hammer to break the shell.

The perennial barbeque grills were there but to my delight they now serve grilled seafood too!  Like these fat slices of White Marlin @P60!

And for dessert, there is always the Sorbetero with his ice cream cart.  Finding this guy at the end of the food stretch brought back memories of my childhood days and hot summer afternoons.

What pleasant surprises has Colon brought you lately?  Please do share, I would love to hear about them.