I had one swell of a weekend.
Last Friday, Kim and I were slated to watch the fireworks at the Mall of Asia (MOA). A monstrous traffic situation greeted me when I came down at the Ayala station of the MRT. I figured I could not make it on time. So I walked to Parksquare where I hopped on a Libertad jeep. Traffic was just as bad when we reached Pasay Avenue, the vehicles were not moving at all. So instead of waiting for anything to move, I chose to walk all the way to the Evangelista corner, which was about a kilometre or so away. From there I took another jeep to reach EDSA, which was totally packed as well. I did not understand the reason for the huge traffic jam until I reached MOA. Apparently the entire Metro Manila was heading towards it. God, I did not realize that all those sweaty people (like me) trooped all the way to this mall by the bay just to see some bloody fireworks!
Needless to say, the mall was overflowing with people; throngs and throngs of them with their squealing children. Ugh. Kim and I sat on the curb and watched the fireworks. We were awed, it brought smiles on our faces, which was good enough considering the humongous effort it required to reach MOA. We left the mall shortly after midnight.
Next day, Kim and I were supposed to watch Zsasza Zaturna (tama ba spelling?) and more fireworks at MOA. I begged off however when I realized that my cough was still buggering me. I stayed home instead and watched several episodes of Queer as Folk as well as Tsotsi and Vera Drake (two amazing, amazing films!!!).
In the evening, I saw the fireworks from our house. Dazzling still.
Last Sunday, I took Kim on her first LRT ride. We took it from the Buendia station to the frenzy of Carriedo. From there we asked our way to the Binondo Church. We were there to join the tour of Carlos Celdran of the Binondo and San Nicolas areas. OMG, I finally met Carlos, whose blog I read everyday. I've been wanting to join one of his tours for the longest time but only had the chance to do so last weekend. He is well renowned for his interesting tours of Intramuros and CCP, as well as for unconventional destinations as Escolta, Avenida, and Quiapo. Binondo and San Nicolas is one of his so-called experimental tours.
More than thirty people joined the tour, more than half of which were foreigners. We gathered at the plaza in front of the Binondo Church where Carlos started his tour with a singing of the national anthem. A throng of street kids joined us in the singing. The next thing we know a group of calesas were waiting for us at the fringes of the plaze. I could not remember the last time I was on a calesa and so Kim and I were more than excited to hop on one. In no time, a phalanx of roughly fifteen calesas was navigating the narrow streets of San Nicolas. People were gawking at us from their windows. We gawked back at their lovely windows.
San Nicolas is a small district that sits near the bank of the Pasig River. Carlos said that it used to be the thriving warehouse section of Manila populated by the newly transplanted Chinese. During Spanish times, it was also known for being an opium haven. Having been spared from the ravages of the second world war (so unlike the rest of the City of Manila that was flattened to the ground), much of the turn of the century houses still stand. They are mostly made of hardwood, bricks, and volcanic ash. Currently, these houses are in various state of decay. Some of the details of the original houses still exist though, particularly the latticework designs of the exterior walls and windows made of capiz shells.
San Nicolas is considered as a no-man's land these days and is not particularly part of any Manila tour sanctioned by the Department of Tourism for obvious reasons. We were told repeatedly not to flash too much jewellery (not that we had any). I was quite relieved to be sitting on a calesa rather than taking a walking tour around the rather shady area (I'm such a judgmental prick).
We were asked however to step off from the calesas and go inside one of the crumbling houses, which was a remarkable three-story affair. Or at least it used to be remarkable but now it looked like it was going to crumble any time. All thirty-plus of us ascended the wide but sagging staircase leading to the second floor. It took some time for me to adjust to the dark interior. Upstairs, the floor was a patchwork of odd pieces of wood, which I feared was going to give up on our weight. The walls were the color of soot. The ceiling was low, which was characteristic of houses at that time according to Carlos. I could imagine however what a grand house it must have been during its heyday.
Today it had been sub-divided into small apartments that house more than a dozen families. Curious children followed us around the area. We stepped into some of the welcoming families' homes to check on the latticework hanging from the ceilings. We went up the third floor, which consisted of more tiny apartments. The ceiling on this floor was higher however because it used to be the house's grand ballroom. The floor was an astounding set of hardwood planks (I forgot which type exactly). Resident families kept a distance from us as we intruded into their homes to check on the architectural details. At some point, I was wondering who was being watched, us or them.
Carlos noted that there were still countless old homes in San Nicolas that had been subdivided into smaller apartments, rented cheaply to families. There is hardly any effort of maintaining these old houses, hence most of them are rapidly corroding. Some of these houses have been dismantled to give way to more warehouses, which are obviously more commercially viable. However, scraps (capiz windows, hardwood doors, balusters, etc.) of these dismantled houses find their way to some affluent abodes in Alabang or Corinthian Gardens as interior details.
We hopped back on our calesas that brought us to the banks of the Pasig River, right across the Intramuros walls. I was happy to see that indeed the squatters had been relocated from the banks of the river and there was hardly any foul smell from it. What replaced the squatter colony was a beautiful promenade that had a great view of the Manila Post Office, the dome and belltower of the Manila cathedral, and sections of the Fort Santiago.
Our next stop was the former central headquarters of the Insular Life building (god, how easily I forgot its actual name). I have no idea what the building's style is, but it's pretty reminiscent of some buildings that you see in movies set in say Paris or the old New York. Carlos remarked that that particular building is endearingly called by production companies as Studio 6, having been used as a set for various commercials (McDonald's King Kong commercial for instance) and music videos (Sarah Geronimo's I Wanna Know What Love Is and Bamboo's Hallelujah). We went inside the building to see the fabulous ironwork on the windows and the amazing tile floors. The place is still rented out as office spaces for a measly P7,000 per month. God, if the surrounding areas were any safer I would love to get my self a loft there if only for it's historical value and its magnificent view of the Pasig River and its environs. Adjacent to the Insular Life was the adorable former HSBC headquarters and right across it was the Citibank's old central office. Essentially, the area used to be the Makati of Manila.
The calesas dropped us off at the Binondo district, specifically the street of Ongpin, where we visited a Chinese temple (I'm not sure if it was Buddhist or Taoist), dropped by a few bakeries that specialized in Chinese pastries, checked out some of the best Chinese restaurants, and a chocolate store. This part of the tour familiarized us about the integration of Chinese culture into Filipino society, thus bringing forth the Tsinoy sub-culture (so Mano Po!).
Carlos was such a riveting guide. I may not agree on some of his statements (I don't think he intended to make us agree with him to begin with), but I could not more than underscore how insightful he was, particularly on such things as urbanization, cultural heritage, history, and cultural movements. He presented these insights with such panache and verve that not a single minute of the tour was boring. Needless to say I'm bloody hooked! I want join his CCP tour next.
On our way back, Kim and I walked all the way from the Binondo Church to Quiapo. I can't help loving Quiapo - it's the real heart of Manila. The Sunday crowd was at its rowdy best, which made the experience more interesting. It's a cacophony of sights, smells, and sounds that seem to heave like a single organic being. We couldn't find an FX back to Makati so we took a jeep that snaked through the smog-filled streets of Manila. We reached Evangelista just in time to catch more fireworks that we saw from my apartment. Fireworks, just a lovely way to end rather magnificent day.
P.S. I took an extended weekend yesterday (Monday) because my cough is not getting any better. I watched more Queer as Folk, and three movies (Being Julia, The Aviator, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape).