Reading, Writing, Walking
Wednesday, September 05, 2007

From: "Peter"
To: "Eric"
Date: Fri, September 7, 2007 11:47 pm

Hey Eric,

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.

Your twin,


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o.mi.goodness. dyou think the one who made that abaca press knew that? lol :D
I read Peter's Intramuros article with great amusement...especially on the last part! I've been inside San Agustin Museum several times and not once have I notice that abaca handle. Either Peter has a great eye for details or I need glasses at that. :P

Moving on, I know personal anecdotes such as these are not for publishing... but as future travel writers, how much of a 'balanced' are we suppose to be?

Is it ok to write about the good and the bad of a destination or we just don't write the bad at all? Is this fair for our readers?

I guess negative articles might be a wake-up call for better maintenance, but it all boils down to whoever reads it. It can have a positive effect, or end up the writer being declared persona non grata. The latest example being the Malu Fernandez fiasco.

Now it's true that the facade of San Agustin Church is a bit 'messy', but being one of the four Heritage Church inscribed in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites; you can not just simply put on a new coat of paint. There are guidelines to follow and restoration procedures to adhered to.

It always pains me to travel several hundred kilometers to an old heritage church and seeing it newly painted! Almost akin to wiping out centuries of history with the paintbrush!

I love churches. More so those really old ones. Apart from their religious significance, I like the tranquility of its ambiance, the intricate architectural designs of its interiors, and the historical and cultural attachment to its people.

Hmmm...this personal musings just given me something to write about, hope I can finished it in time for Saturday. :)

PS: The biggest phallic symbol I've seen is in Sabtang island in Batanes. It is part of a mountain in the town of Chavayan...and believe me, this one is pointing straight into heaven! (I have not really moved on have I?)

See ya all on Sat!
hey firefly,

glad you were amused. i was actually afraid someone would take offense with what i wrote.

re "personal anecdotes such as these are not for publishing"....i have to agree with you...this was not so much travel writing as travel ranting! haha:D

And i think we all have to write about the good AND bad....leaving out the bad would be unfair to readers, diba?
hahaha nice abaca handle!! HAHAHA
I haven't even noticed it ... hehehe!
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