Rosh Hashanah in Israel
"Hagsame!" exclaimed a familiar voice onstage and I realized it was Jamie Green (in photo) of the Living Kabbalah System or referred to as "LKS" Level 1. His voice guided me in my first dip into Kabbalah six months ago.. and now, I find myself in Israel celebrating Rosh Hashanah (New Year) with 3000 students from all over the world.
This is the first of everything for me - my first participation in a Kabbalah event, first time to be face-to-face with its founders - Rav Berg, his wife Karen, their sons Michael and Yehuda; first time to do mikveh; first time to be in Israel and the first time for the Kabbalah Center to have an Asian contingent- this is 12 of us from the Philippines.
I didn't know what to expect. Kabbalah is being touted not as a religion but more of a spiritual technology, as a self help guide towards lasting fulfillment using ancient teachings.
What drew me to attend this event was when David Ghyam, the 23-year old L.A.-based teacher in one of his lectures in the Philippines, said that Rosh Hashana is an opportunity "to wipe the slate clean"; to correct not only the negative actions of the last 12 months but also issues from past lives. He said that this is made possible through the confluence of several powerful forces during this specific period in time and for this year its from Sept 12 to 15.
There was indeed some kind of powerful force present. I was in tears while singing and clapping, I was moved by the lectures, I felt some tingling sensation in my fingers and burning sensation in my ears. I just let go and was open to everything including the blowing of the shofar, the scanning of armaic letters and also in fact going to the ocean every morning (except on Shabbat) to do mikveh. This involves immersing the entire body into the water while doing specific meditations as a form of healing.
The bottomline learning during the event is to treat everyone with human dignity; to put others before ourselves which is actually the basic tenet of any religion which can be referred to as the golden rule “do unto others what you want others to do unto you” or even ‘love thy neighbor’.
The whole process involves changing of consciousness. Michael Berg said in his lecture the last day that “the way we view something changes the way it occurs.” I guess this is what is meant by wiping the slate clean. Berg said that, where consciousness is, is where our history is, and thereby we can transform retroactively today.
Kabbalah is not an easy task. It requires constant study to learn the process to become better. Kabbalah encourages to love without reason (unconditional love), to go beyond conflicts (unity), to find joy and happiness in what has already been given (appreciation), resist the desire to react to instinctive impulses (reaction) and to accept responsibility for own actions (accountability).
The world operates on a cause and effect. Whatever happens may be the result of a negative action that we have done a moment ago, yesterday, a week before, last year or even previous lifetimes. In a nutshell, another familiar voice from LKS Level 2 Michael Moscowitz sums up the best advice to resist reacting “when in doubt, shut up!”
FELLOWSHIP OF THE FISH (DOS PALMAS, PALAWAN)
FELLOWSHIP OF THE FISH
(Part 4, Dos Palmas)
While we were still planning the trip, i was resistant to the idea that we stay at the bay cottages. What was so hot about staying at a cottage standing on stilts out in the open water? What if the high tide rose and rose and drowned us in our sleep? Or a wayward shark decided to ram the stilts and have us for a midnight snack? And so on.
As i was outvoted by my friends, we eventually did stay at bay cottage no. 8. And it turned out to be one of those small serendipitous things that spell the crucial difference between a so-so vacation and a truly enjoyable one.
Why? Because the clear waters beneath the bay cottages were teeming with fish, lots and lots of fish. And they weren't the Nemo-type fish better suited for aquariums. . .these were real fish that you could actually eat, and there were schools and schools of them frolicking in the water with nary a care in the Neptune world. (well, at least it seemed that way)
Pretty soon, R.C. got into the habit of asking the Dos Palmas staff for leftover bread, which we broke into little bits and started throwing into the water to feed the fish. Some of these guys literally leap to the surface and gulp down the bread, while others are more poised, and simply take a quick nibble at the floating bread.
At times, two or more fish collide with each other while in pursuit of our bread, which proved quite entertaining. To liven things up even further, we throw many bits of bread into the water simultaneously, and watch as around a dozen or so fish converge on the morsels. Wow! And just for kicks, once or twice we threw in a whole slice of bread, and the fish all furiously swam towards it, each one biting off his or her respective chunk. Talk of an underwater stampede!
There is just something oddly therapeutic about feeding the fish, its like time slows down. Eventually, we were feeding the fish in the morning, then whenever we were in our cottage during the afternoons, and then late in the evening after dinnertime. I think nabondat sila [they stuffed themselves to the gills], since during late nights they sometimes refused to bite into the bread anymore.
To illustrate how extreme this new hobby grew, i was soon taking bread rolls from the buffet spread just for our fishy friends. Then we noticed that some types of fish were slower than others, and thus always getting left behind in the race for the bread. So we tried aiming the bread bits very close to them, with positive results. Ahh. . .it's a great feeling knowing you've done your good deed for the year, haha :-D
Then yours truly hatched an evil plot. Why don't we catch the fish and have them cooked? We could spread some sunblock on the bread before throwing these into water, and as the fish gobbled them up, they would get dizzy from the chemical smell and weird taste; thus, easy to catch! Unfortunately, this brilliant plan didn't get off the ground, due to the inconvenient fact that Dos Palmas strictly prohibited anyone from catching the fish. Darn!
One sunny morning, we noticed that some schools of fish were gathered together in circles (see photo above). What could they be doing? We tried throwing bread in their midst, to see if they would pursue it.
Nope, they weren't biting. Absolutely nothing could disturb them.
So, what could they be doing? Were these fish all part of one big family, and it was their weekly Sunday morning get-together? What were they talking about? The latest weather report? The new neighbors two nautical miles away?
Not about those three bums throwing all sorts of stale bread at them, i hope.
(For the rest of the Dos Palmas series, pls. check out my blog at www.grumpyurbanslacker.blogspot.com)
one trip down One Quiapo Lane
I wake to the sound of metal scraping. I sit up and peer with grogginess through our half opened bedroom window. I wrinkle my nose as I catch a whiff of a strong sour stench emanating from a floor down, almost knowing that a certain neighboring storeowner has ever so inconspicuously dumped his garbage again in front of our store sometime in the dark of the night.
The street is slowly coming alive as some storeowners have decided to open shop early today. There aren’t much people walking in the streets yet, mostly just the homeless getting up from their banigs or balikbayan-box-beds. Stereos begin blaring on both sides of the street; owners believing the notion of the more noise they make, the more customers they’ll attract.
True enough, the vendors have moved to a more concealed area. It still caters to the masa for bargains from the mundane to the spiritual. I see branded imitations, cellphone accessories and pirated DVDs in every corner. The market is where having the right haggling techniques could bag you the cheapest buys.
The palm-readers and the fortune-tellers are still there. Candles in all imaginable colors are sold for specific spells. Wooden or plastic statuettes of Mother Mary and the Sto. Nino, rosaries of all sizes, a plethora of dried or powdered leaves, seeds and roots of medicinal plants. A wide choice of sidewalk and turo-turo cuisine for the adventurous palate.
My tummy doesn’t feel bold today. I walk over to a cotton candy stand right beside the Quiapo Church. I plop a tiny ball of candy in my mouth and becomes nostalgic. I think of the years spent here. I remember the fortuneteller’s hula that I’d get married at twenty-seven (HA!). I remember about the Nazarene and its miracles. I gaze out to the extraordinary change Quiapo has gone through. And I smile and let the pink puff melt in my mouth.
A Week with the Burma Babes
It took a lot of personal conviction to go to
By the time we arrived in
Dianne our French Canadian friend (“Dianne” must be pronounced the French way she insisted) had already appointed herself the life and soul of the group, while Kathy from
Arriving in Yangon, I was struck by the fact that the immigration desks were manned by young pleasant women sitting behind low counters, none of the surly armed junta I had anticipated, behind barricades. Our tour guide, a young breathless woman in a traditional longhi (long skirt) and a man (the tour manager) were standing past the immigration barrier to greet us and take us out to the parked vehicle. In a totally forgivable mistake, they had not anticipated that six women would have at least six suitcases (large) and accompanying hand luggage. But pile into the van we did on top of the luggage amidst groans and laughter and we were delivered to our hotel. The
Our first destination was the Bogyoke Aung San Park which was just outside our hotel. Our tour guide, Sandra, had her English practiced to an art form but her pronunciation would have us looking either amused or befuddled. She had a particularly funny way of saying “rail” for “royal” and“bellis” for “palace” and considering the number of royal palaces we passed, we burst into laughter at every turn. A walk through the park and several photos later we were taken through the charming 19th century-feel downtown area to the beautiful octagonal Sule Pagoda. Being in the middle of the busiest streets it was little harrowing as we were accosted by a number of beggars demanding dollars. We were intrigued by the yellow clay-like patches that were it seemed smeared purposefully on faces, especially on women. These we found later were a combination of sandal wood paste and bark and were a sun block-cum -disinfectant. Soon the 6 Burma Babes had their faces suitably plastered as well; we agreed we looked like extra-terrestrials but certainly happy ones. A walk through the Aung Sang market (formerly Scott Market) gave us an interesting flavor of local wares and we bargained mercilessly over rubies which we knew were no cheaper here than anywhere else in the world. There was a dearth of craft shops except for one upstairs which we discovered by accident.
We saw some glorious stupas and pagodas in
We had to make a detour to have tea at the famous Strand Hotel, known from British colonial times for the genteel class. We sat in the high ceiling lounge and sipped our tea, imagining the glorious colonial days when the rooms were cooled with hand pulled fans by Indian turbaned waiters. The
One of the major fortes of our team leader Kathy was that she was a connoisseur of food, while Dianne, coincidentally, was a photographer of food. Our first lunch was at Panaga Restaurant recommended by Ms Elly, an interesting Burmaphile, and a single Dutch woman who visited
We had to be up at 4 am (something that was already becoming the norm) to take our flight to
Dinner that night was in a restaurant called The Irrawaddy Dream and sure enough we sat on a raised platform by the muddy
We were up again the next morning at 4 am (did I say we were getting used to this?!) and went to the dock to take the south bound Pyay Ferry as we were going to Bagan by boat. The boat we boarded was not like we had expected. We had been told that we should take everything from food and water to toilet paper for the 10 hour trip to Bagan . We were pleasantly surprised to find reclining airline seats in the interior cabin and a large dining area with tables and chairs. The Burma Babes opted to monopolize one whole area of the dining area when it was discovered that cold beer was on the menu. The ten hour trip was thus pleasantly spent and we got into the languid mood of the slow, meandering river, read and even slept. The boat stopped twice and women and children waded, sometimes neck deep, with all their clothes on to sell fruit and colorfully woven fabric to those on the boat. The Irrawaddy river is
I think one of the highlights of the trip for me and certainly one that will remain in my mind’s eye was approaching Bagan by water while the sun was going down on the horizon. The entire plains, studded with pagodas of all sizes and shapes and as far as the eye can see, was bathed in golden light. Bagan (also known as Pagan) was the old capital and now though deserted, has to be one of the most remarkable religious cities of the world. Between 1057 and until Kublai Khan’s forces over ran the area, some 13,000 temples, pagodas, kyaungs and other religions structures were built on this vast plain. Now seven centuries later, 2,217 of these temples and pagodas remain.
Our guide, a man with impeccable English and who we dubbed immediately “Mr. Handsome,” put us on horse drawn carts for our trip to the hotel. This was again one of those sublime moments, trotting past the silhouettes of several pagodas as the moon began to rise higher in the sky. The next morning we went to the
Our hotel in Bagan, Thirpyutsaya Hotel was a Japanese joint venture and the nicest we stayed in both in terms of its spectacular location and comforts. The hotel was right by the river, with large lawns in front and back and individual cottages as rooms. Our night meals were served on the lawns with candlelight and a wonderful local dance performance. It is evident that
We took a bus to the dock, stopping on route at a quaint old monastery over run by cats. The priest there had trained a cat to do some circus like tricks and this was it seemed quite a tourist attraction. At the dock, we got onto two long canoe-like boats and sped off on
We actually had time to watch the sun rise over the lake the next morning and a warm haze spread over the lake while we had coffee. Mid morning we boarded our two boats, and sped off to the market (which was on land, disappointingly not a floating market) which takes place every five days and where the different ethnic tribes come to sell their wares.
After all, one of the basic tenets of Buddhism is that nothing is permanent and everything is in a constant state of change.
A green lung in the middle of bustling, noisy Manila. The Ayala development of the Greenbelt is an outstanding complex of shops, restaurants, coffee shops, spas, with a church in the middle. Different in style from what I have seen to be Filipino style - based in large part from a Spanish colonial heritage - the Greenbelt verges on American-European geometry but in a free flowing manner. Perhaps reflecting the Filipino value systems and strong network of the family, the Greenbelt's four malls simply flow one into another, with plenty of spaces in between. These are shared spaces, and the profusion of ethnically diverse restaurants take on the spaces and characteristic overhang verandahs on the 3 different floors. The modern styled, upside- down- domed church and its huge stone cross is central to this organic architecture, demonstrating above all else the role of prayer in everyday life. Whimsical and beautiful metal sculptures dot the green lawns, while a koi pond, a duck pond and water fountain attract the kids. It's fitting that a sophisticated commercial center such as this embraces the arts, and the performing arts have a large auditorium in Greenbelt 1. The Ayala Museum, modern and glass paneled, has special exhibits and permanent exhibit of sixty dioramas of Filipino history.
The free interchange between exterior and interior spaces is tropical Asian in architectural form and the Greenbelt has the best of it. Visit it in the day and one cannot help marveling at the tall palm trees and giant ferns; visit it at night and it is Manila's most happening place. Superb dining and feet- tapping music in the central plaza of Greenbelt 3 will have you forget the traffic, construction and smog elsewhere in a flash. This is not the "real Manila" you will say. But this too is Manila, vibrant, fun, clean and very central.
Date: Fri, September 7, 2007 11:47 pm
Subject: NOT FOUND ON THE BROCHURE
Just came back from the Travel Mart Expo at Megamall. As expected, I nearly keeled over carrying the ten kilo-ton bag of brochures, flyers, etc. handed out at the booths. Kinda impolite, really, to refuse, especially if winsome ladies are thrusting them at your face.
I took a quick glance at the brochures, and threw out most of them, though. They’re all so glossy . . . so perfect-looking, yet after a while, they all seem to be all the same. I mean, if its about a beach resort in Boracay or Palawan or wherever, you see this glorious sunset with a couple entwined in each other’s arms; kids frolicking in the fine white sand; a bikini-clad girl snorkeling or kayaking in the azure blue waters; etc.
If its about a luxury spa nestled somewhere in an island or at the hills, you see close-up pictures of their aromatherapy oils and natural / herbal scrubs; sauna / Jacuzzi / bathroom facilities with those to-die-for vertical showerheads; heck, even those flower petals floating on wooden bowls, while they wax euphoric about their detox programs and massages that “rejuvenate the soul and revive the core of your inner being”. Who writes these meaningless claptrap, anyway?
What bugs me is that these perfect photos inflate your expectations, but once you get to the destination and see what it actually looks in real life, you feel deflated, misled even. Remember when we drove to Nurture Spa in Tagaytay? The damn place looked so impeccably manicured and sterile and artificially put-together that it could have been Snow White’s garden where she played Trip to Jerusalem with the Seven Dwarfs every afternoon (of course, they have to let Grumpy win, every single time).
So, last Saturday, during our visit to Intramuros (I did mention in my last email about this travel writing workshop I was taking part of, right? You shoulda listen to this writer, KF; she has this enthralling way of speaking), I thought it would be fun to take some “real” pictures.
It was perfect weather to be walking around and poking one’s nose into history: very light sun, a fair breeze, and no sign of dark clouds preceding a rainshower. I got there early. Hmm . . . no sight of anyone looking like a fellow travel writer-wannabe, nor anyone remotely resembling our tour guide Ivan.
I decided to buy some taho from an itinerant vendor and walk around Plaza Roma, the square right in front of Manila Cathedral. As you know, Intramuros is the oldest part of Manila and Manila Cathedral is no spring chicken itself, having been burned down a couple of times over the past three centuries and rebuilt each time.
In due time, everyone showed up and pretty soon, I was absentmindedly half-listening as Ivan animatedly fired away with a carload of historical tidbits about Intramuros, while resisting the urge to scratch an itchy spot at the small of my back.
Well, here’s something he probably has never noticed. Ever. There are TWO GARGOYLES guarding over the Manila Cathedral!! [triumphant chortle] Yup, from the looks of it, they scrutinize each and every visitor entering its doors from their vantage point at Plaza Roma (and probably put a curse on would-be thieves, who knows?)
And I have here the pictures to prove it, too; one of them a close-up at that:
Fascinating, isn't it? Well, yes and no. Here's why:
Yep, by my (unofficial) count, that' s 4 cigarette butts, 1 candy wrapper, a few lotto tickets; and strangely enough, some giant black ants happily swimming in the fetid water.
Gargoyle B fared much worse. Take a look:
Tsk, tsk [shaking head vigorously]. Tsk, tsk, tsk.
And those Bahay na Bato (stone houses) at Casa Manila? Remember you were quite impressed with them during our field trip back in Grade Three, and wanted Dad to tear down our house and rebuild it in the exact same style? Well, the whole thing is one big sham.
Turns out the design is not from the 1800s, as we had thought. No sir. It was Imelda the Iron Butterfly who had these built, back in 1981.
As Ivan pointed out, there were no such things as three-storey buildings a couple of centuries ago. Why, you ask? I dunno. [shrug]
In fact, Imeldific got the design of these stone houses from an old house in Jaboneros St., San Nicolas district in Binondo. An absolute disgrace, fooling tourists like this! Gusto ko talagang sapatusin yang Imelda na yan! (I want to bop her in the head with my fake, turquoise-blue Croc sandal!!)
Oh yeah, we dropped by the equally historic San Agustin Church as well. It looks all magnificent and imposing in postcards and magazine articles about Philippine churches, i know; but up close, I’d say it’s in dire, dire need of a paint job. Take a look:
Inside, we looked around some exhibits of religious figures, and even a mausoleum. Pictures were not allowed for the most part though, but no one seemed to be enforcing it anyway.
Check out this abaca press from the 18th century:
I’ve no idea how exactly they used it, but it does look like a giant corkscrew or something like that, don't you think?
Wellllll. . . not quite. Take a closer look. Here's a close-up pic of it now:
Hah! Our ancestors really had incredible prescience! They knew that those nincompoops at the Department of Tourism would be looking for something record-breaking, after inflicting the biggest shoe in Marikina and the biggest strawberry cake in La Trinidad on us.
Damn right, here is the “Longest Phallic Symbol disguised as a Museum Artifact inside a Historical Church” in the world, and it's right here in Intramuros, Manila, Philippines!
Now, this i wanna see in a brochure.
Salam Malaykum from Egypt
Monday, 9 April 2007
Salam Malaykum from Egypt
That's Bettina Go, Clang Garcia, Raeanna Cranbourne and moi outside the tomb of King Tut in Luxor's Valley of the Kings, a vast funerary complex at the West Bank. We finally made it after much visa hulabaloo in Manila. Thanks to Kim Harrington who not only helped us get our 'visa upon arrival' but also hosted us at her place in the hippest Cairo-hood in Zamalek, helped us with our tours and even got us an affable taxi driver, Abdul Amin!
We've seen most of Egypt in a week. First stop was Cairo's Citadel (1176) and An-Nasir Mohammed mosque (1318). It wasn't hazy that day and got a clear view of Giza's pyramids from the terrace. From the citadel, we drove through traffic (the city has 15 million population) to visit one of the seven wonders of the world - the pyramids! There are three structures: the Great Pyramid of Khufu (2750 BC) at 146m high, his son's called Khafre (136m) and his wife's Mankaure (62m). It is indeed amazing to be at the foot of a monstrous mountain life-like size tomb and it makes me wonder if there is any truth to its extra teresstial origin.
The next day we flew East to Hurgada and drove down the coast to dive the Red Sea. It was a toss up with Sharm el-Sheikh but we were warned that it was very crowded and most of the corals are damaged so we opted for Marsa Alam, a newly built city with relatively less divers. Brrr! It was freezing at 22 degrees! I felt like a 'Michelin' man in a 5mm full suit plus a 5mm shortie! The dive operator at our hotel (Iberotel), Coraya Divers was run by Germans. They were very organized. I'm referred to #164 - for my locker box number, gear, etc. It was quite expensive at 20 euros for full gear rental per day (without computer) and 30 euros per dive (its an extra 3 euros for the guide). The best dive sites require a full day boat trip to "Elephinstone' and "Sataya".
We did another dive (in Sha'ab Marsa Alam) the next day before heading out to Safaga to cross the Red Sea mountains with a police convoy to Luxor. I've never felt secured with checkpoints every 500 meters or so and a police escort. I guess after the bombing incident at Sinai in 2005, the government is trying to protect its US$6B tourism industry. The drive took almost five hours, 2 hours to Safaga and 3 hours to Luxor.
At Luxor, we went first to the West Bank's Colossi of Memnon where we were welcomed by a pair of massive statues (18m high). Then drove to Deir al-Bahri to climb the steps up to visit the mortiuary complex of the first female 'male' pharoah, Queen Hapsheshut (very difficult to pronounce, just say hot chiken soup). Its a limestone monument carved out of a mountain! First sign of vandalism here with coptic graffiti and also where her stepson Tuthmosis III scratched out her face. Then drove to the Valley of the Kings to visit the tombs of Rameses I, IV and VI. There are 700 tombs and only 15 tombs are open for public viewing. Our ticket allowed us to visit 3 tombs. The highlight here would be the colorful painted walls depicting the life of the pharaoh, scenes to help guide his journey through his afterlife, heiroglyphics and the sacrophogaus at the end of the tomb (the contents - mummy, gold masks, etc - are at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo). After, we drove through the Tomb of the Nobles and stopped at Deir al-Medina named after a coptic temple built by christian monks. Here we visited two tombs of the workers where for 5-20 egyptian pounds, the guards allowed us to take photos! It was extremely hot in Luxor at 40 degrees, so we decided to break for lunch at a resto along the Nile River. After lunch, we spent the whole afternoon in the temple complex of Karnak and Luxor and in the evening, did the Sound and Light show. (note: we bought tickets through our travel agent only to find out its cheaper and easier to do it on your own).
After Luxor, we flew back to Cairo and Abdul picked us up and drove straight to Saqqara, a huge cemetery of ancient Memphis where the oldest pyramid is located called Step Pyramid of Zoser. For 5 pounds, we were able to take photos inside the tombs. After visiting the pyramids and the newly built museum, we drove 10 kms away to Dashur where we climbed the 125 steep stone steps of the Red Pyramid and down the 63m long claustrophic passageway down the tomb.
The next day Kim drove us to Alexandria, the city founded by Alexander the Great. We walked down the Corniche to Bibliotheca Alexandrina, designed by Norwegian architect Snøhetta, it houses millions of books, 3 museums and a planetarium. Then a seafood feast down at the seafood market and walked down to Fort Qaitbey (1480 AD). Back in Zamalek, we were too exhausted to eat out and decided to watch DVD of "The Yacoubian Building", film adapted from Alaa El Aswany's novel.
The next day, Kim booked us to Wadi El-Hatin (western dessert) on a 4WD with driver Moustafa and his side kick Mohamed, to visit the UNESCO world heritage site for the first recorded fossilised skeletons of primitive whales. The site used to be a vast ocean some 35 million years ago. The topography is likened to the Grand Canyon in the United States. We had a picnic lunch at the nearby dessert Waddi Rayyan. Then before heading back to Cairo, a stopover at Tunis a plush domain-secondaire type village to view pottery. (note: town not recorded in Lonely Planet).
For our last night in Egypt, Kim took us to a walking tour of Islamic Cairo. Our first stop was to a bazaar where locals go to (opposite Khan al-Khalili) and then crossed the street to the famous touristy Khan and visited several shops including the famous Fishawi's Coffeehouse. The nobel peace prize author Nagib Mafouz (Cairo Trilogy) grew up in this neighborhood in Sharia al-Gamaliyya.
I enjoyed my trip and luckily, despite warnings by friends, we didn't get harrassed at all by street hawkers or for 'baksheesh' (tips). The magic word is 'la' shukran' which means "no thank you". Also most earn pathetic monthly salaries of 40-50 pounds (tomb guards) or 78 pounds (military solider). That's why they end up harrassing toursits for tips. I'm quite tolerant and in fact, ended giving tips to everybody!
[from: Dyslexia Chronicles, http://rosancruz.blogspot.com]
Friday, 22 June 2007
Phenomena of Pheromones
“You’ve been feasted on!” exclaimed Dra Roberto Romero, a leading clinical dermatologist in the Philippines and the third doctor I’ve seen in two weeks to treat the insect bites all over my body. The bites have not subsided since my 3-day detox weekend stint at Tiaong, Quezon two weeks ago and in fact, the bites have spread on my face and the ones on my arm turned black and blue.
We were a total of four patients at the Philippine Breast Center Network’s “Tiaong Breast Haven” (photo). Unfortunately, I was the only one bitten! Dr. Romero refers to my case as the phenomena of the pheromones. She said that I emit a particular scent that attracted the arthropods of Tiaong. They left their mark (saliva, even eggs) on my skin. The lumps, itchiness, swelling manifested 2 to 3 days after their sting. We're talking about an anthropod party, lots of anthropods, because my arms, chest, back, legs and face are ridden with bites.
At first I thought I had the ‘shingles’ because it was spreading all over my body. I went to see the first doctor and she said it was an allergic reaction and injected each bite with steroids and prescribed antihistamines (cost me an arm and a leg!). The second doctor also diagnosed allergy and again injected each bite and prescribed oral steroids.
Dr. Romero’s advice was simply to “suffer” and not go back to Tiaong where the arthropods there love my scent. The next bite she said could be deadly! She prescribed a cortisone ointment and to avoid foods that will cause my bites to flare up. My condition will last for another 6 to 8 weeks and meantime I’m wearing long sleeves to cover the bites. Otherwise, will scare some people because it looks like chicken pox marks!
My scent is different from anybody else and I hope this doesn’t deter anyone from going to Tiaong Breast Haven, a two-hour drive from Manila. Danny Meneses set-up the facility as an “alternative venue for empowering women afflicted with the disease - to confront, overcome and live with breast cancer with full honor and dignity.” His wife Rosa who passed away in September 2000, survived 43 months without chemotherapy or radiation. Danny’s protocol is quite intensive and based on the natural approaches of Rudolf Breuss, Max Gerson and Sat Dharam Kaur. This consists of fasting, raw vegetable juice and narra and turmeric tea , and twice a day coffee enema. The therapy is to remove the metabolic waste from the body, free the cells membranes from protein build-up and provide the body with the necessary essential vitamins and minerals while fasting. The coffee enema eliminates estrogen by-products, environmental estrogens and toxins from the colon and the liver. For more info, contact Danny at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.pbcn.org.
[From Dyslexia Chronicles, http://rosancruz.blogspot.com]
GOING UNDERGROUND WITH A GOLDEN GLEAM IN MY EYE
(The Balatoc Mines Story)
By Peter So
“Well, you can start your chronicles by saying we are in the middle of nowhere,” my friend Ramil quipped wryly. I could only manage a forced smile, and looked around me, taking in the eerie stillness of our surroundings. Come to think of it, we DID seem to be in the middle of nowhere.
Some forty minutes earlier, we had boarded the Baguio-Acupan jeepney at the Petron gas station on Harrison St., right across the Baguio Patriotic High School and fronting Burnham Park. Our destination? The Balatoc Mines in Itogon, Benguet, where we planned to tour the underground gold mines.
The ride was initially not as arduous or uncomfortable as we had expected, as our jeepney was traveling through generally well-paved roads. This changed dramatically, however, once we got off the main highway. The roads turned into narrow, bumpy and winding rock-strewn stretches of dirt and gravel. The pervasive, swirling dust made it necessary to cover one’s nose with a handkerchief. Yet, as if to somehow compensate for this, a magnificent view of the Baguio mountainside was present with every twist and turn of the jeepney.
Eventually, the driver turned to face us and asked, “Balatoc? Go down here.” With alacrity, we did as we were told.
The three of us were standing on the side of the dusty, unpaved road with the hot mid-morning sun bearing down on us. No other signs of life anywhere. No other vehicles passing by, either. Most ominously, not a single sign to point us to the Balatoc mines.
“Where are we?” my other friend, Dale, asked plaintively.
Looking down over the side of the road, we espied the steel roof and wooden frame of a large, semi-rundown building nestled amongst the trees and foliage, some fifty meters below. Could this be it? We carefully – make that very carefully – negotiated the steep stone path leading towards it, as a ravine on the side welcomed us should we lose our footing. We found no one in sight, but undaunted (or was it foolhardy?), we decided to keep on walking.
Visitor's chapa, with unique visitor number.
Mercifully, we ended up at the main gate of the rather grandiosely named Benguet Mines Tourism Village. A few workers loitered here and there, minding their own business. Otherwise, there was little sign of activity this Saturday morning. In fact, the atmosphere of the place could be described as too quiet, somewhat desolate even. I started to have doubts, and wondered what possessed us to go all the way here.
It turned out that our jeepney driver had overshot the main gate, thus leading us to be momentarily stranded in no-man’s land. No wonder, for right after we told him of our destination, he had looked at us quizzically, obviously asking himself why on earth these city slickers would want to go to Balatoc.
We were eventually pointed to the Visitors’ Center, where the staff on duty proved friendly and enthusiastic. Billed as the first and only mine tour in the country, the Balatoc Mines underground tour promised to let one experience how it was to be a miner for one day. All in all, our batch consisted of twelve intrepid would-be miners.
Each of us was issued standard miner’s safety gear, comprising of skull guard, rubber boots and miner’s lamp. We were also each given a “chapa”, a round metal button roughly the size of the old Bagong Lipunan one-peso coin, which indicated our visitor number. Cool!
Our guide, Ms. Alma, explained that “chapas” served a practical purpose as well. At the entrance to the mines area proper, each miner drops his “chapa” into a wooden box. This serves as a control measure, making it easy to keep track of which miners were still underground. As a rule, the miners work on a buddy system and are prohibited to go out alone. They work a maximum of eight hours per shift, as their work is evidently physically strenuous.
She further narrated that the Balatoc Mines had a long and storied past. Started in 1903, it was the oldest mine in the country. The main product was gold, with silver as a by-product. They sold their gold bullion to the Bangko Sentral, who further refines it to gold bars with 99.9% purity. The devastating Baguio earthquake in 1990 flooded the mines with water. Compounded by the drastic fall in world prices of gold to below US$200/oz. levels in 1992 [Gold prices are presently around US$660/oz.], operations became economically unviable and the Balatoc Mines were shut down.
Fortunately, a few years after, the Acupan area mines were re-opened. Now operated by a contractor, the output (in the form of gold ore) is divided equally between Benguet Corp. and the nearby community.
On the way to the underground tunnel, we passed by a display of the various antique tools and equipment used in the olden days, such as slusher, pinch bar, blow pipe and claw bar. Back then, the basic qualification to be a miner was that one just had to be healthy and strong.
Of humorous interest was the toilet car (literally, a portable toilet on wheels). Instead of the miners going to the toilet, it was the toilet which came to them. Imagine, if you will, the sanitary man pushing around the toilet car, just like your friendly neighborhood ice cream man, and tending to each miner’s respective call of nature.
Ms. Alma mentioned that our miner’s gear totaled 4.9 kilos per person, with the battery of our skull guard light taking up majority. While the equipment weight was bearable, the knee-high rubber boots were rather uncomfortable and made brisk walking difficult.
Now, we were at the start of the 500-meter long Vegas tunnel, built back in 1946. Time to turn on our lights! We gingerly walked single-file into the tunnel. The ground was moist with water, and one had to walk carefully lest one slipped. But this was no longer a problem once our eyes became accustomed to the limited visibility. Our rubber boots provide good stability as well. Contrary to expectations, the tunnel wasn’t hot or stuffy and cramped. Rather, it was surprisingly roomy, and the air inside was light and cool due to the presence of blowers. Hardly any claustrophobic moments inside this tunnel, for sure.
We made our way to a portion of the tunnel where miners were preparing to do some dynamite blasting. Once gold veins embedded on the rock are deemed viable to extract, the foremost rule is to ensure that the blasting site, or “doghole” in industry parlance, was safe before operations could begin. The procedure, in simplified terms, goes like this: Strategically-placed holes are drilled on the wall to complete a blasting pattern. Safety fuses are put in, after which dynamite is loaded and pushed six feet deep into the holes. The blasting agent, comprised of Ammonium Nitrate and fuel oil, is added using an auto loader.
Huddling together at the Miners' Lunch Room...
waiting for the big BOOM!
Once everything is all set, the miner lights the fuse and scampers as fast as possible to safety. The burning rate of the fuse is 40 seconds per foot, so there is sufficient time to be quite a safe distance away from the blast. A round canvas exhaust bag, dubbed the “Anaconda” by the miners, runs along a fair length of the tunnel and is used to get rid of the smoke and dust after blasting operations, thereby preventing suffocation.
Over time, certain sections of the mine are fully exploited and deemed unsafe for any more blasting. Once this happens, the site is filled with sand, water and cement, to prevent future collapse.
Next stop was the Miner’s lunchroom, a small recessed area with spare wooden benches and tables. As its name suggested, this was where the miners partook of their meals when on duty. Our group sat on the benches to take a brief respite. We all turned off our head lamps in unison, and were plunged into pitch-black darkness. Shrieks and cries abounded, and we quickly turned on our lights again.
Ms. Alma forewarned us that the miners were now preparing to detonate some dynamite. With collective bated breath, our group eagerly strained our ears and waited. Seconds ticked by, in excruciatingly slow motion. She motioned us to cover our ears . . . .5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . .BOOM!! Perceptible shaking accompanied this muffled, yet unmistakable, sound. A few seconds later, the tunnel was still anew. I heaved a sigh of relief; and at the same time, I felt giddy and energized by what we had just experienced.
Riding the locomotive mine train. . .and
wishing Kylie was here to do the locomotion! :D
Our group walked until we reached the end of the Vegas tunnel, only too glad to see daylight again. We hopped on the locomotive mine train and rode back, passing by workers going about their daily work routine, be it fixing equipment, carrying sacks of gold ore, etc. The distinctive smell of diesel fumes filled the air. We were proceeding onwards to the ore processing area, where we would take a closer look at what happened to all that rock extracted from the mines.
Heaps and heaps of woven sacks containing gold ore occupied the ore processing area. Truth be told, these looked just like ordinary rocks mixed with sand, gravel and whatnot, so it was difficult to visualize the gold waiting to be unearthed. The ore is crushed until approximately the size of sand. Now, for the fun but arduous part, gold “panning.”
Simply put, the gold panners sit in front of round plastic basins filled with water and ore. They use a rectangular “pan” with a handle near each end, on which they continuously sift the mix back and forth, the purpose being to isolate the minute specks of gold dust from the rest of the rock. According to Ms. Alma, this could actually be done by machine, but it was cheaper to do it the time-honored way. The women doing this task took great pains to point out that only water was used in the panning process, and no Mercury (a very toxic metal) was used to extract the gold. Peering over the heads and shoulders of my fellow tourists huddling closely over the panners, I finally caught my first glimpse of the specks of gold sparkling underneath the hot, blistering sun. It truly, madly and wonderfully made my day.
Our last stop was the mini-museum beside the Visitors’ Center, showing rock samples that present gold in its natural form, and pictures of the Balatoc Mines through the years, among others. A 20-kilo (643 oz.) replica of gold bullion sat grandly on a dark, wooden pedestal, as if daring visitors to pick it up. (Warning: Do so only if you have adequate footwear, as you are liable to drop it on your toes)
Best of all, each of us intrepid souls was given a Certificate of Appreciation by the Benguet Mines staff, providing evidence that we had bravely gone to the innermost bowels of the earth and made it back successfully. I am exaggerating, of course, but what the heck. . .who wouldn’t?
As Ramil, Dale and I shared Cokes at the canteen while waiting for the next passing jeepney to take us back to Baguio City, our faces sprinkled with a fine layer of dust and our shirts lined with sweat, we agreed that visiting the mines was an educational experience and a rollicking adventure rolled into one. While I hesitate to use the much-repeated phrase “We had a blast!”, well, that was exactly what we had!
Labels: Balatoc Mines