Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hah! It's been close to three years since my last post here. You can blame Multiply for that.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Rainclouds Over Camiguin

For the third time in half an hour, George the driver pulled the van over by the side of the coastal highway. “Dat is, uhm, White Island,” he stammered, pointing to a nondescript sandbar in the middle of the bay. “Masarap diyan mag-inuman pag gabi. Gosto nyo mag picture?”

Perhaps a water-logged rainy day wasn’t the best time to visit the island of Camiguin, best known for its sunny beaches, but it was the penultimate day of my trip to Cagayan and I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass. George, it was apparent, was eager to show me the sights he deemed interesting and kept stopping at the most unfortunate locations. “Picture kayo?”

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We took a sharp left and drove up a sloping road until we reached the entrance to Katibawasan Falls. Literally translated, Katibawasan means Itch Relief. I received a sheet of government stamps as I paid the disinterested ticket seller and hiked up the path. Déjà vu to almost two years ago when I visited the falls at Hinulugang Taktak National Park in Antipolo. Take a spot of natural beauty, add a concrete platform around it, with picnic tables and garbage bins visitors tend to ignore. I was glad to notice that Katibawasan smelled like a fresh spring morning, unlike Hinulugang Taktak which smelled vaguely of chemical rot. Try to block out the “improvements” that make Katibawasan convenient for run-of-the-mill tourists, frame it in your mind so you only visualize that which has been left untouched and Katibawasan is very pretty, narrowly cascading down some seventy meters into a small green pool.

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A short drive later and we were at Ardent Hot Springs, the usual jump off point for a trek up Mount Hibok Hibok, a volcano that guidebooks say last erupted in 1951. Why is it that most hot springs in the country have the same attributes? Treacherous mossy paths leading down to public pools of gray concrete and stone and leading up again to dismal dirty toilets with no flush tanks beside grimy-floored changing rooms. It began raining again so I just sat under a leaky thatched roof and ate my tuna sandwich baon.

“How many people live in Camiguin,” I asked George as we drove toward our last two stops. He thought for a while and replied, “tu handred, maybe tree handred.” Thousand, I asked, or maybe families? “No, tree handred pipol.” Surely there were already more than that at the docks where the ferry landed, I thought. It was clear that I was miscommunicating and was secretly turning into a wise-alecky asshole. I shut up and let him continue talking. “Hir in Camiguin, der is no movie haws. Libangan ng mga tao dito, dibidi.”

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Just off the west coast of Camiguin is the Sunken Cemetery, which disappeared into the ocean following an earthquake in 1871. It is marked by an enormous cross standing on a platform. You view it from a lookout point beside the circumferential highway. Warning signs inform the visitor to enter at your own risk. Standing there, looking at the Sunken Cemetery feels like you are trespassing.

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A few meters down the road from the lookout point are the ruins of a 17th century Spanish church which was destroyed in the same earthquake that submerged the already buried dead. Most of the church is underground and the walls and buttresses that remain visible are overgrown by foliage. Walking into the main hall of the church, I expected to timeshift back into the recent colonial past. I was, instead, assaulted by the sightof a new chapel being constructed in the middle of the ruins. It ruined the ruins. Past one of the side buildings I came upon a magnificent tree, its towering crown resplendent in beauty but marred just above its roots by screaming initials carved into its trunk. Why do we insist on doing things like this?

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It started to rain again and as I crawled back into the van. Come here when the sun is out and it’ll be better. At least that’s what I hoped on the ride back to the pier. And thank God for the good lanzones.

Ermita by Night, Ermita by Day
By Karlo N.B. Samson

For most of my life I lived in one of the few free-standing houses along that part of Pedro Gil Street within the boundaries of Ermita. It was the ancestral home, and at least four generations of Ayalas and Ayala-Samsons had lived there. I grew up here, in a district widely know to be the red-light district of Manila. On my daily trip home from school, the school bus would pass through Mabini and M.H. del Pilar, the center of all things sinful, and my youthful eyes would take in the glorious, gaudy debauchery of it all. Establishments like the ANZAC Club would have gigantic glass windows, through which you could see the strippers and gandy dancers plying their wares.

Once, freshly turned thirteen, I was accosted outside a hotel by a towering Caucasian man sporting a beard and tattoos. “Come here, boy. I’ve been waiting for you all morning!” The doorman, thank the stars for his alertness, rescued me and convinced the guest that I wasn’t the one he was waiting for. It was that kind of a place.

By night, Ermita is squalid, almost threatening. Homeless people sleep on the sidewalk, their arms clutching what little they own. Garbage and other urban detritus litter the streets, made painfully obvious by the unflattering glare of street lamps. The “wildly colorful” night life so widely advertised online is no great shakes, just a ragged collection of seedy bars catering to sailors on shore leave or Japanese Karaoke hounds. I passed a Japanese bar called the Gin Tonic, along M.H. del Pilar, and a seductively-clad lady flirted me a flyer, advertising the various packages offered by the bar. It also included the lady’s name and cellphone number.

By day, Ermita sings a different tune. It’s a bustling, busy place. In sunlit Ermita, you’ll find students from the University of the Philippines and other institutions of fine learning crowding the sidewalks and invading the malls, toting books and knapsacks and looking generally hopeful. In Padre Faura, you can eavesdrop on judges and other members of the legal profession having their breakfast at the small cafes near the courts. Then, there is the Solidaridad Book Shop, author F. Sionil Jose’s gift to the thinking Filipino, with its impressive collection of Filipiniana and volume upon volume of books on humanities, art and literature.  

Walk along Mabini on a pleasant afternoon and you’ll find places like Casa Tesoro, home to several antique shops and galleries. More interesting finds from the recent past may be discovered further down the road in shops with names like Via Antica and Golden Salakot. Remember at times to pause and look up at the buildings you pass. While old and weathered, some buildings such as the Astoria Apartments and the Marilo Building still retain some of their Art Deco splendor. Just imagine peeling away all those old election posters and strip away the bundles of electric cabling and see Ermita as it used to be.  

Our house is gone, torn down soon after our great-grandmother passed away. Looking up at the space where it used to stand, I marvel at the sight of the night sky. I grew up here, but I can no longer call Ermita home. Just a nice place to visit while the sun is still out.

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Demolition in Progress

About the Writer
Karlo N.B. Samson escaped Ermita four years ago and is now living in the peachy pink city of Marikina, where litter is non-existent and leatherware abounds. He writes for various magazines, blogs like a man possessed and likes cats. He learned how to write and speak English well at the Ateneo . He then went to UP and his communication skills went to pot.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I'm a lunatic.

The Moon Card
You are the Moon card. Entering the Moon we enter
the intuitive and psychic realms. This is the
stuff dreams are made on. And like dreams the
imagery we find here may inspire us or torment
us. Understanding the moon requires looking
within. Our own bodily rhythms are echoed in
this luminary that circles the earth every
month and reflects the sun in its progress.
Listening to those rhythms may produce visions
and lead you towards insight. The Moon is a
force that has legends attached to it. It
carries with it both romance and insanity.
Moonlight reveals itself as an illusion and it
is only those willing to work with the force of
dreams that are able to withstand this
reflective light. Image from: Stevee Postman.

Which Tarot Card Are You?
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Thursday, September 29, 2005

I just finished reading Anansi Boys, the latest novel by Neil Gaiman. It's a first for me, to purchase a book and read it before it hits number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Never did that with the Harry Potter books.

Anansi Boys is thoroughly enjoyable, a trans-atlantic romp that, for me, has a similar vibe to the movie A Fish Called Wanda. I'll leave the detailed reviews to the professionals but I will say this: Don't expect Anansi Boys to be American Gods II. It's not.

If you are among the lucky first thousand who purchase your copy at Fully Boooked, you'll receive a free limited edition print of an original handwritten note by Neil Gaiman to his Philippine readers, a thanks for a wonderful time over there type of note which is sweet and has a drawing of a lime.

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Check out my multiply for more photos.