Reading, Writing, Walking
Friday, November 23, 2007
Thank You, Camiguin (by Sabina Vogt)
“Thank you Camiguin”

What is it that draws me to spots in the Mindanao Sea? Each time I venture deeper into this area, it’s where magic happens. It’s a mystical connect difficult to explain. It’s as if some higher power brings me to these places to allow a peace and reflection within myself and a connection with nature not present in the city.

I just recently returned from a trip to Camiguin, a place I’d wanted to see for awhile and that magic hit me. The anonymity of the bustling city folded away and there was trust and contentment. Though some habitants were poor, their gardens were tended and the infectious “hello, friend” echoed as my motorcycle hummed passed. It wasn’t a place swarming with tourists like the blasphemous Boracay. People were going about their lives without the hardness in their faces from dealing with rude and obnoxious tourists.

One morning the bruised cumulonimbus clouds were threatening. Rudy and I were on a mission, to find Tangub hot springs. We straddled our motorbike making our way trying to outride the impending rains. We didn’t care. There were no signs. The locals directed us to the Sun & Sea Ministry, a retreat center on the end of the shoreline. Was this right? Yes, the construction workers said down there. We wondered through a herd of goats. Rudy said that we could buy the goat pen and build our home there on the edge of the rocks. They were boulders that had obviously been spewed out of the once young and vigorous volcano. Gray pumice boulders and other rough brick-colored volcanic rock lined the shoreline. Some fishermen were cleaning their nets and told us the springs were among the rocks. What? No. But as we stepped onto them our bare feet felt the warmth of the heated rocks. So surreal. No one would know. Giggling, we dipped our toes into different pools of water to find our desired temperature. Ahhhh….that tingling feeling you get edging your body into a bath tub and your muscles sigh with relief.

We began building rock walls to keep out the waves so our cradles of warmth were protected. The Earth was breathing as bubbles rose from the depths. The unfortunate fate of a limp crab slowly cooked in the water floated upside down in one of the pools. Slippery slimy fish slithered across the barnacle-covered rocks. A cocky crab leaped from one rock to another arching its back.

Oh no! The drops began lazily and then reached a crescendo. We didn’t care. We were like the Japanese monkeys in Baraka serenely staring meditatively toward the expansive sea with raindrops pelting the surface of the water. We had nowhere to go, no reason to leave. It was the healing powers of the Earth’s comforting warmth that kept us there.

-By Sabina Vogt, November 2007
Dusty Old Binondo (by Iris Tan)
Dusty Old Binondo

By Iris C. Tan

As a child growing up from the Bicol province, my Chinese parents brought me to Manila during summer vacations. Always always we would visit Ongpin. I have many impressions of the place. "Wang-pin-tsie-thow" (Ongpin Street) taught to us in Chinese high school talked about what it represented; it is almost a literary piece to Chinese Bicolanos.

Ever since then, I have been to Ongpin and to Binondo a million times; it is hard to separate the two. To the common tao, it is ChinaTown. When I was little, I held a lot of fascination with the red and gold Chinese little lanterns that hung in the small shops, over dimsum, tikoy (a sweet sticky rice cake) and other delicacies of various colors, textures and taste -- found in a certain Salazar bakery – there at the corner of Salazar and Masangkay. Ampao (literally red bun), made of red-colored rice crispies baked as sweet hollow crunchies, was particularly special to a wide-eyed kid. We always stayed at Fortune Hotel, a sterile hotel with what I thought were killer elevators that still exist to this day.

Later on when I entered the university and stayed in Manila, I would come to Binondo every weekend. It kept me busy. It is such a tight-packed place, distinct I would say from the rest of Manila: by sight, sound, smell, and yes taste. You have the close-knit stores advertised with Chinese characters. Whiffs of herbs and spices from the drugstores contrast with the smell of horse dung and vehicle exhaust. Bustling would be the word on a typical day: from vendor calls offering wares, fruits and veggies, to wind chimes from the trinket shop, to the sounds of horse shoes against granite as horse drawn carriages called Calesa pass by, and the sound of car horns. All things Chinese are found here, including Chinese mass at 6pm Sundays in San Lorenzo Ruiz Church, the peanut soup at the old deli corner with those iron-bolted stools, Oyster Cake at the old estero, now demolished. Yum, yum – birthday misua in Carvajal! Definitely, it is a place for food trippers. Anthony Bourdain would have a feast here.

Anyone for exotic animals at the Arranque Market, or Chinese gold to be haggled at Wyn's Jewelry? How about some peace and quiet at the Chinese Temple just between the hardware stores and the lumpia-shop PatLin? For incense, paper money, good luck charms, try Condesa street just beside Binondo Church. The place is a treasure!! Despite the smell of dung, despite the atrocity treated to those poor Calesa horses, despite the spitting public, and despite the dusty crowded streets, Binondo is my haven and the destination to be, were I to be put on auto-pilot.

I am now in midlife and I have traveled around the world; I still find Binondo a most unique place. I find that I have a lot of stories and nuances to share to friends. I continue to discover new things too. Believe me, while it is traditional it finds a way to keep itself interesting. The popular Eng Bee Tin now has a non-profit violet-themed (as its stores are) café – all proceeds going to a Binondo volunteer fire brigade. Down farther Benavidez along Soler, there is a Japanese coffee shop called Ku Khin where wealthy Taiwanese teenage immigrants hang around.

Binondo is not perfect but I find a lot of pride and joy in making the discovery with other people. Just as it had taught me curiosity, a sense of adventure in the most mundane of circumstances and ultimately an appreciation of my roots, I hope that it also touches other people and teaches them the appeal of the ordinary.
One Saturday in Binondo (by Niña Batino)
One Saturday in Binondo.

By Niña Batino

This Saturday was different. I had just enrolled at a travel writing class and we were set to join the Big Binondo Food Wok by self-acclaimed streetwalker, Ivan Dy that day.

Taking the Pasig River Ferry Service to Binondo proved to be a fascinating option. The ferry was adequately air conditioned and surprisingly, had a flat television which played videoke hits. Before the 45 minute ferry ride to Escolta ended, I found myself happily singing along with the song, Quando Quando.

Our hunger prompted us to Polland Hopia and Bakery in Escolta Street where I had Kuchai-Ah, a sumptuous pork and tofu empanada and a good-for-2 crispy fried lumpia which had thinly diced pork, tofu, cabbage and carrots.

As the tour of Ivan Dy was yet to commence in two hours, we decided to explore Binondo a bit more. We went to Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli along Quintin Paredes Street where I grabbed a pack of fortune cookies and proceeded to Sincerity Café and Restaurant along E. T. Yuchengco Street where we shared an absolutely scrumptious oyster cake.

With all the food already devoured, it was ludicrous to still join the Binondo Food Wok. But my stomach has proven to be incredibly resilient in other important events. It will not fail me today.

We marched on to Binondo Church where we met Ivan Dy and we were then off to another culinary adventure.

Our first stop was at a chocolate tablea manufacturer where we were made to try tasty chocolate paste which will make anyone crave for more. Next yummy stop was at Café Mezzanine, also called Volunteer Fireman’s Coffee Shop, where we were given bowls of kiampung (salted rice with peanuts and pork) and fishball soup, washed down with iced brewed coffee. Far from being famished, I still managed to try out these absolutely delightful dumplings and Chinese pancakes from an authentic Chinese restaurant called Dong Bei.

There were other several food stops which were equally unforgettable : Siopao of a different kind, boiled egg likewise of different kind and fried dough with sugar, all of which were worth the risk.

Our final stop was at New Po Heng Lumpia House located inside an old Art deco building where we were served superb lumpia with peanut sauce.

Officially stuffed, we then headed back to the terminal of Pasig Ferry Service, ready to bring my Saturday to a good end with a second round of Quando Quando.
Food Trip in Binondo (by Cathy Hizo)
Food Trip in Binondo
By Cathy Hizo

What comes to mind at the mention of Chinese food? My mind would instantly conjure up images of siopao (with red dot at the center), hopia, and the ubiquitous dimsum.

Last 10 November our Travel Writing Class joined an afternoon of palatable tour dubbed “Food Trip in Binondo.” As promised by the organizer, the Ayala Foundation Inc. the tour was big on the walking part much that it was big on satisfying our palate. As we traverse through alleys strewn with traditional Chinese stores our tour guide, Ivan Dy, a Binondo-bred Tsinoy shared snippets of the history of Chinatown as we hop from one place to another.

I have known Chinese to be tea drinker thus, it came as a surprise that Binondo is home to one of the traditional chocolate factories, Tabliya (Kristine, I’m not sure if this is the name of the chocolate factory that we visited) run by fourth generation Tsinoy family. Ivan shared that in the early days if the guest was very important "tsokolate eh," would be served referring to pure chocolate thick and rich but for ordinary guest “tsokolate ah,” would be served which means “aguado” or watered-down chocolate.

The factory refused to be shaped by commercialism everything from the molding of the chocolate (so don’t be surprised of its irregular shape) down to its packaging is done by hands. The taste is really good especially for champorado and hot chocolate no wonder people flock in to buy boxes of their chocolate. Though, I was a bit annoyed the chocolate is so thick that it took forever to drip from its tiny container down to my mouth but I must say, it tastes good that I’m giving Tabliya a rating of 4 spoons 5 being the highest.

Next stop is Café Mezzanine at Nueva and Ongpin streets, a few steps away from Binondo church. Mounted on the walls of the coffee shop are firemen hats in different shapes, sizes and colors but what makes this café distinct is how its proceeds benefitted the volunteer firefighters. We were first served with kiampong, rice topped with peanut and slices of port meat. For reason of comfort I don’t normally eat rice using chopsticks but the kiampong is so yummy and sticky enough to make me enjoy using one in fact, I gobbled two bowls. We were served brewed cold coffee, I really like how it tastes hoping our tour guide would offer us another round – he didn’t. My rating for Café Mezzanine, 4 spoons.

We had a dimsum fix at Dong Bei Dumpling the owners according to Ivan are a couple from China, barely new in the Philippines in fact they couldn’t even speak Pilipino. Customers coming in would instantly notice the staff wrapping in raw dumplings ready to be steamed. We were served two different variety of dumplings with shape like that of an empanada.

My rating? Though, I don’t eat pork meat just like our Travel Writing Coach I chose to sample it anyway. Admittedly, I liked how it tastes that I am giving it a rating of 4 spoons.

Our group left Binondo with fresh insights not to mentioned with a well-satisfied stomach.

Memories of Chinatown (by Jennifer Tan)
Memories of Chinatown

I grew up in the province where my fondest memories include kite flying and running around in open fields. It was a time when I studied in Bicol and spent my vacations in Manila. It was during this long treacherous 13 hour bus rides, literally a killer to the butt, that I first fell in love with traveling. After the long hours, I would eagerly stay up, my heart pumping in exhilaration, as I watch for the first signs of big billboards and bright lights that would signal my arrival to Mighty Manila! “Sibilisasyon!” ! What awe, what excitement!. It is the same feeling of “awe”, the chase of something new to loose myself in, that has kept me traveling many years over!

Even as a child on vacation, I frequented Manila’s China town. Down by the busy street of Ongpin, I would loose myself in the hustle and bustle of loud bargains and my eyes feasted on the colorful fruits. My father is the one who introduced me to the gastronomical delights of China town. He brought me to the wonderful on- the- spot cooking of the little eateries under the artsy “singkit” bridges of Ongpin (I call it “singkit” because the graceful roof arcs always remind me of the beautiful slants of oriental eyes). And whether it was skill or the added ingredients of dirty cooking, all I could remember was that my stomach was full and content. These little eateries still exist to this day and are called “estero restaurants”.

I remember kalesa rides to what is now Chinatown’s huge “Presidents Restaurant”, strategically and unmistakably located in the heart of Binondo. But we went there not to entertain in the traditional lauriat dining style that is popular in this restaurant, we went there to watch Chinese movies! For where the restaurant now stand used to be an old cinema that featured old Chinese comedies and ghost films. When the cinema closed, a part of my childhood went with it.

More than a decade living in Manila, I am no longer in awe of big billboards and neon lights, skyscrapers and trendy places. But I have continued chase after the feeling of exhilaration of new places.

So much so that when I was in New York or Kentucky or Philadelphia or Germany, or Singapore or Australia, I enjoyed visiting their China towns! And what surprise awaits me as whether in New York or Kentucky or Philadelphia or Germany, or Singapore or Australia, Chinatown is the same Chinatown in Manila. I remember going into a store in Singapore and wondering how familiar it all felt. It was as if the Chinese traveled and brought their memories, their aspirations, their homes with them. The same loud talking, the same delicious aroma filled the air, the same tiled roofs and dragon decorations. I was awed, not at the place but for the experience of it.

The Chinese have traveled for many centuries. But more than traveling and the high of new places, it seems they wanted to create “homes” and remember ‘memories’. A playground to trade and to enjoy but without forgetting their culture!
Knowledge Channel in No Man's Land

“No man’s land and where no one dared to tread” is how the school superintendent described Midsayap, North Cotabato last Nov 9 during the turnover ceremony of Knowledge Channel Foundation Inc.’s (KCFI) eTV facilities to San Isidro Elementary School. This is the 150th school or the final installation of KCFI’s 3-year USAID-assisted program called Television Education for the Advancement of Muslim Mindanao or TEAM-Mindanao for short. Some 78,529 students or so located in the most remote and isolated areas of Mindanao are now getting the quality education they rightfully deserve.

I am quite sad thoug that the project has ended. I heard that USAID did not include KCFI in its Phase Two leg.

I’ve been to the remote remotest towns in Mindanao because of TEAM-M; particularly in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which is traditionally known as the most volatile area in the country. ARMM was created in 1990 and covers Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan and Marawi City. It is predominantly Muslim and unfortunately, the most imporverished region in the country, .

Despite its notoriety, I find ARMM quite peaceful its people generous and in fact, I must say ‘corrupton-free’. I braved traversing the region’s end-to-end five times even at night. Compared to Luzon, the roads are well paved and well maintained with concrete bridges connecting the rivers. The drive is quite pleasant although the military checkpoints every few kilometers can be quite intimidating.. But the view is something else - -lush green countryside, rolling mountain range, the colorful garb of the various townsfolk, the fruit stands….

I'm filled with nostalgia with this project ending. My first visit was in the very first installation in Paglas, Maguindanao three years ago, where Datu Toto Paglas and his sister Bai Nora hosted us in their family’s banana plantation (called La Frutera Banana Plantation, a 1,100 hectare farm of which Cavendish bananas are exported under the Chiquita, Unifrutti, Consol and Chico brands). Then to the Southernmost tip of the Philipines, Tawi Tawi on November 2005 where we had no choice but to take the navy boat accompanied by the marines to Languyan Island and from there be ferried by the only vehicle on the island (a dump truck) to the site.. And last week to witness the last installation in Cotabato.

Aside from providing 150 schools with ETV (11 of which are high schools), the TEAM-M project produced "Salam" a 10-video peace education module and also "Negosyo Ko, Asenso ko" a 10-video livelihood module for out-of-school youths. It has improved teaching and learning capacities especially in the areas of Math, Science and English. I just hope that USAID's Phase Two can dare go to the other remote areas and cover more schools in the region.

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