09 April 2014

The Carlos Celdran "Walk This Way" Tour

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He announced his arrival with a boom and a lilt in his voice.

But as we came up to him from different directions to that spot near the main gate of Intramuros with crazy vines crawling up the trellis, he turned mute. Then he let his hands---two vital tools of his trade---move like fish tails to tell us where he wanted us to converge.

It was a searing April Saturday afternoon and there in front of us was Philippine’s world-famous walk-tour guide, Carlos Celdran. He was wearing a mic, a black bowler hat, a maroon bow tie, a modern commercial barong Tagalog over sakada pants, and rubber slippers. By his feet, resting on the pavement, were a portable boom box and a bayong made of plastic straw that contained folios of old photos---nay, reproductions---that he himself would later carry and use to recreate via brilliant storytelling the Manila of old.

[Spoiler alert from here on.]

This tour requires a sense of humor, he said. And with that, he fished from his pocket a small Philippine flag, waved it, and made us sing "Lupang Hinirang."

For starters, Celdran shared the origin of why Filipinos refer to things by their brand names. And to the chagrin of foreigners, the moment turned into a class recitation with Celdran saying “photo” and us shouting “Kodak”; “tissue”-“Kleenex”; “toothpaste”-“Colgate”; “photocopier”-“Xerox”; “soda”-“Coke”.

And then he showed and explained the presence of the chimera---the mythic creature composed of the parts of three animals: a lion, a snake and a goat---in the seal of early Moro settlers, in the seal of Malacanang Palace, and in the seal of San Miguel Brewery. And in a gripping theatrical voice, Celdran said: And Philippines, like the chimera, is an----illusion!

He uttered the word “illusion” with a flourish and a shower of santan flowers that nobody noticed he was clasping in his hands. The timing was perfect and unexpected it caught us by surprise.

So: early on we had our first taste of Celdran’s legerdemain that would pepper his walk-tour, making it more gratifying than it already was.

Technically the walk-tour hadn’t begun yet, but by this time, the crowd with more aliens than locals already had a sense that this was going to be a thrilling and different ride.

Foreign tourists are often told to skip Manila, a place with no soul, no center. Carlos Celdran’s “Walk This Way” tour is his attempt at changing this mistaken notion through a method that is entertaining, funny, and passionate. Very much like watching history on rewind via a stand-up comedy act.

Carlos walked us through the colonization of our country by the Spaniards and the Americans with a tour de force theatrical performance. I had my camera, my notebook, and my pen with me, but I ended up not using any of them as I hung on his every word. To repeat, it was simply impossible for me to peel my eyes off him.

Carlos changed outfits depending on the era he was sharing. At one time he was Uncle Sam with the iconic tall star spangled hat; other time he was Gen. Douglas McArthur.

The part of the tour about the war between the Japanese and the Americans was highly emotional. The stories of the bombing of the Pearl Harbor and Manila that left over 100,000 people dead were told and performed inside a cavernous theater that was once a bunker. Here Carlos relived to us the horrors and the secrets of the decimation of Manila as Pearl of the Orient in a performance that gave everybody goose bumps. To this day, Manila has never really risen from the ashes of destruction wrought by its colonizers, he said.

From the military hat to the aviator shades to the pipe to the swagger to the quivering mouth to the twang and to the guttural voice uttering “I shall return”, Carlos had McArthur down pat. And here he shared the real story behind the famous Leyte landing the "choreographed" photo of which had made it to the cover of Life magazine. To my regret, Gen. Douglas McArthur was demystified and the pedestal on which I had put him was completely shattered.

And with his back to us, he also reenacted the bloodshed the Japanese soldiers wrought by raiding hospitals, killing men and women and throwing babies up in the air and catching them with bayonets and swords. And when finally Carlos faced us, his eyes were red and flaming. We knew then that like us, he still felt outraged.

But just as everything was about to turn too heavy for comfort, he provided a comic relief via his witty one-liners.

Carlos Celdran is sui generis.

It was almost dusk when horse-drawn carriage took us to San Agustin Church, Philippine’s oldest stone church and the only one among the six churches and one cathedral that survived the Manila bombing.

To wrap up the tour, Carlos treated us to some halo-halo across the street, in a boutique [yes, boutique] called, “The Crazy Nun”. And there he explained why Filipinos, like halo-halo, are a mish-mash of cultural influences. And so, like a chimera he said, being a Filipino is an---illusion!

And with a sleight of hand, another shower of santan.

Carlos Celdran is a class act. He does voice acting like no other and elevates it to a form of art; he bangs the hard plastic cover of his folios with his palm and makes the sound of popping wine [his favourite I think] to precede or stress a point; he yells, whispers, whistles, sings, and raps some of his lines; he prances and does slapstick and vaudeville. And his English is flawless; his enunciation, impeccable.

Go for brilliant storytelling and retelling of the history of Manila and the Philippines from a master showman-cum-tour guide.

The “Walk This Way” tour runs for about three hours and costs P1,100 which one pays on the day of the tour. Check the tour dates on the blog of Carlos Celdran.

Sign up. Now!

26 January 2014

the waterfalls of Tago

Waterfalls provide a lovely panorama. And it’s easy to get hooked on these natural marvels as they drop from towering heights with stunning power.

Tago, a 2nd class municipality in the central part of Surigao del Sur, has many waterfalls. And three of these---Sola Gratia, Cagpangi, and Green Falls--- are now attracting tourists who seek out the sublime beauty of water in motion.

Set apart in a span of 15 kilometers and located just meters away from the paved highway, these cascades are configured differently they’re worth the special trip.

Sola Gratia Falls

Sola Gratia is a waterfall stowed in a pocket forest that exudes all notions of things primitive: vine-curtained trees, massive boulders and flat rock formations, and vibrant wild flowers strewn everywhere. Its area may be limited but its contour provides added challenge to daring thrill seekers.

The Sola Gratia falls discharges itself into a creek that snakes all the way to Tago River. A resort has been established along this watery path, featuring a kiddie and adult swimming pools that utilize the ever flowing, fresh, and clean emerald water of the falls. Sola Gratia in Pamugsukan, Gamut is about 7 kilometers from Tago.

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Cagpangi Falls

Cagpangi Falls is small by any standards. And it doesn’t roar. But as it flows in whispers, it mesmerizes with its quiet charm and watery grace. Comparing it with another of Surigao del Sur's iconic falls using a musical analogy, Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig City is hard rock while Cagpangi Falls is rhythm and blues.

Like all other falls, Cagpangi is seasonal: at times it gushes; other times it trickles. And because it’s not lofty, it is not obscured by mists rising in vast clouds even when flowing at full volume. The better for tourists to have clearer selfies.

Canopied by a thick foliage that blows a cold mountain air, Cagpangi Falls, no matter how subdued, is a natural cocoon for restive souls. About 12 kilometers from Sola Gratia, it’s part of an inland resort that still evokes an old world charm even after it has fused natural and man-made attractions.

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Green Falls

Secreted away in the lush interior of a primeval forest, Green Falls overflows with frothy waters as though a fairy brewing beer from an unseen giant vat forgot about it as she was busy twitting her “eyeball” with the firefly-man the night before last.

The water that leaps invitingly into the deep plunge pool will leave anyone with no choice but to get a free hydro massage. And the pressure is extremely soothing to the back it puts to shame the ministrations of masseurs in the best of urban spas.

Green Falls is composed of seven falls with the main being a ledge. The other six are mostly horsetails that come in multiple variations: slide, ribbon, chute, and fan.Green Falls offers limitless adventures. If lucky, a tourist may touch a dazzling rainbow forming in the spray at the bottom of the falls. Or he may send his adrenaline to orbit by clambering then crawling to the edge of the precipitous overhang and looking down at the roaring curtain. At the tiers where the other falls gush, shallow streams that mirror the skies flow over rock shelves. Small pools that could accommodate a number of tourists at a time dot the area framed by towering trees and crazy vines. It is here where tourists can take all the photos they want for Facebook and Instagram. Green Falls is located in Cabangahan and is about 3 kilometers from Cagpangi Falls.

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Land of Waterfalls

Tago offers no claim for its waterfalls to be the highest, the heaviest or the most spectacular. A true tourist after all doesn’t chase waterfalls for labels and statistics, or for the tremendous roar of the rushing water, or for the luck of snapping a selfie beside a rainbow that hovers above the ground of the waterfall’s gorge. A real tourist visits waterfalls simply because they are sparkling visions of nature at its best.

The Local Government Unit of Tago is positioning itself as the “Land of Waterfalls”. And it is embarking on a reconnaissance project to discover more falls to develop and promote. But because the three banner falls can already hold their own, Tago is poised to launch “The Cascades Tour” this year.

Now, pray tell: Is there an adventure more exciting than visiting three separate waterfalls in just one go?

[Note: The Philippine Daily Inquirer published this article on 26 January 2014 under the title, "Tago, a land of falls". Here's the link: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/569403/tago-a-land-of-falls ]

20 January 2014

how articulate and expressive we have become with Facebook

Wikipedia says that social media refers to interaction among people in which they create, share, and/or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks. Based on that definition, yes, we create information; yes, we share information; yes, we exchange information; yes, we share ideas. But are these information and ideas discussed and expanded? No, I’m not talking about discourse here, just a simple discussion carried like a casual conversation.

Not too long ago, a friend lamented on the slow death of face-to-face conversation. Thanks to Facebook, she said.

But how articulate and expressive have we become with Facebook?

We “like”.

We “share”.

We “tag”.

That’s how articulate and expressive we have become with Facebook!

An FB buddy posts a photo or a quoted line. And what do we do? “Like,” of course!

Now, imagine if you were that FB buddy who posted a photo or a quoted line and all you see on your wall are 75 “likes” with zero comment, how would you feel? Happy, of course, right? Seventy-five "likes" is after all 75 "likes". But imagine if you have 74 “likes” and one comment that said “nice!”, how would you feel?

I don’t know about you, but surely I would be happier. One word and an exclamation mark could spell a world of difference in conversation, written or otherwise.

It’s the irony of all ironies that Facebook, as technology-propelled platform for self-expression, sets us back in the way we converse. And it has brought to the fore our dark side. The same friend told me that she doesn’t like looking at the walls of most of her FB buddies because they contain nothing but rants and hatred. Sickening, she said.

There’s no stopping technology from killing traditional conversation as we know and love it. But we don’t have to concede easily, right?

I don’t need FB friends who do nothing but “like”. They get unfriended eventually. I like my friends to talk, to converse, to speak up on FB as though we’re having face-to face conversation. Yes, I know, talk-converse-speak up are synonyms. That is just my way of stressing my point.

I know some are afraid to carry a conversation with me here on Facebook or elsewhere. But here’s a declaration: I don’t look consciously for intelligent conversation; what I like are small talks big on laughs.

Then and now, life is nothing but a warm small talk. Let's make our life beautiful. Even if only on Facebook.

03 January 2014

surigao del sur's green falls

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Nothing prepared me for the awesomeness of Green Falls.

I once visited this cascade in the early 90s, when we had our pictorial for Mutya ng Tago. That time it was unspoiled, undiscovered, untouched. If not for my feet that ached from miles of trekking the rugged terrain of a virgin forest, I would have explored the falls [to be taken here as singular] and appreciate its small but striking details. But then I was sweating and sore; and all I could recall was that I sat on a flat rock formation, watching Mambobot instruct the swimsuit-clad candidates to mount one after the other the raft made still by the pole of a brawny boatman in thongs.

Fast forward to December 2013. The Green Falls was overflowing with frothy waters as though a fairy brewing beer from an unseen giant vat forgot about it because she was busy either posting selfies on Instagram or twitting about the eyeball she had with the firefly man the night before last.

It was that awesome!

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The water was jumping invitingly into the pool, leaving me with no choice but to get a free hydro massage. The pressure was so hard and soothing to my back it put to shame Joyna’s ministrations each time I get her services to ward off the flu.

We climbed the second tier of Green Falls and the view took my breath away. It evoked a feeling of being on top of the world: exhilarating, liberating, empowering. Moses must have felt the same way as he came down from Mt. Sinai carrying those tablets of stone.

Flowing waters that mirrored the skies coated a bed of stone slabs. Small pools dotted the area framed by tall trees and hanging vines. Tarzan and Jane would love it here, I thought to myself.

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I went further up. It was then that I saw several falcatta logs awaiting transport by nightfall.

Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.

I went down and from a vantage point watched the full breadth of Green Falls with fresher eyes. It was only then that the full impact of the structures the owner built around Green Falls jarred my senses. I felt a creeping sadness inside me, the same creeping sadness Moses felt when he realized the Israelites had gone to worshiping idols.

Green Falls is awesome, yes. But I hanker for its old self: unspoiled, undiscovered, untouched.

[Green Falls is in Sitio Cagpangi, Barangay Cabangahan in Tago, Surigao del Sur. Unlike before, it now has an access road that requires above average driving skills to negotiate and maneuver.]

10 November 2013

editing an FS

I don’t know where the two groups of students from Surigao del Sur State University [SDSSU] got the gumption to ask me to edit their feasibility study [FS] a week after they had defended it before a panel. All I know is that I agreed, which should put to rest the widely-shared perception that I’m expensive.

[Actually I am. But I’m open to negotiation. Hahahaha]

When asked who their instructor and defense panel were, the students mentioned names of former MBA students of mine in the same school. I could get lynched for this, but I’ve been teaching at the graduate school of SDSSU long enough to declare boldly that requiring masteral students to prepare even a barely passable FS is the height of academic sadism. In fact it’s like squeezing blood from stone!

Now: How could one require this from undergrad students?

First thing I did with the manuscripts was to write on the cover pages this line: “Edited as to form only.” It was intended for students so they would know the scope of my engagement. But in essence, it was a memo to myself not to commit an act of editorial ultra vires.

As far as the form and the substance [taken here separately] of the FS were concerned, I had zero expectation. But even if I was hired to improve readability only, I felt excited to know how the panel had torn the FS to pieces and what input they had given the students for revision.

Everything turned out to be wishful thinking on my part.

When I was done two days later---- I work fast, you know---all pages dripped with red ink one would think a contingent of girl scouts used the sheets after running out of sanitary napkins on the third day in the boondocks. Yes, it was that bad that if not for civility, I’d call it pure garbage. And so let me just use a cliché and say it was not worth the paper it was printed on.

Knowing myself, I expected the editing process to be an exercise in self-restraint. And true enough, I was itching the whole time to redo everything because the students had the contents all wrong, using grammar they had beaten black and blue.

A confession: I did edit the substance in one of the voluminous pages but caught myself in time to save the manuscript from total carnage. As penance, I prayed the Act of Contrition seven times and finished the job that day just before Noli de Castro boomed---Magandang Gabi, Bayan!

I shudder at the thought of how much these students had to spend for “ghost writing,” editing, printing, and honorarium, including meals and snacks of panel members just to produce a shamefully worthless document.

Why am I writing about this? Okay, listen. I may have the reputation of being stringent but I can be pragmatic, too. If I were the instructor, I wouldn’t require my students to submit a full-blown FS that they would defend before a panel at the end of the semester. Doing so would be to exhibit my insensitivity and cluelessness. Simply put: Why frustrate yourself by asking for the impossible?

Here’s what I will do instead: I will discuss thoroughly all sections of an FS and after every discussion I will make them write that section of their chosen FS in the vernacular; then I will critique their output and discuss with them areas for improvement. This is called hand-holding students and walking them through the whole learning experience.

The sorry outputs of students revealed this is not being done. Or, if at all, not effectively.

The dean can riddle my flabby carcass with bullets but I couldn’t care less if FS is one of the course requirements. I’ll be a happy and contented instructor if at the end of the semester my students possess an appreciation of FS and a working knowledge of its writing process.

I'm toying with the idea of sending the instructor, a former MBA student, a text message to volunteer as guest lecturer next semester to discuss with her students FS preparation in the most practical and effective way. Or maybe, just maybe, recommend to her to require students not FS but a simple business plan. After all, in the real business world, nobody prepares and uses an FS [or even a business plan for that matter] unless he's Henry Sy. Entrepreneurs nowadays rely so much on intestinal fortitude that children of a lesser god call guts.

Ask me for the difference between an FS and a business plan and I'll shoot you.

17 October 2013

Lesser known good side of Britania Islands

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In our recent trip to Britania Group of Islets, La Entrada was the original jump-off point because Madam Mercy Alameda, the owner of the resort, wanted to meet Gly’s American friend Rick. But something cropped up, leaving Madam Mercy with no choice but to head for Butuan City posthaste. Good thing she informed us of this, otherwise we wouldn't have discovered something that I just felt need to be shared here.

When we stopped at the toll gate in Barangay Salvacion, a man in tattered yellow clothing peered into the Fortuner’s window.

“You wanna get a boat, SirMa’am?” he said, showing gaps between his nicotine-stained teeth.

“How much?” I said.

“1500,” he smiled, “but you can still haggle.”

“I know the rate; it’s 1200.”

“Okay, Sir. 1200 it is.”

“Then why did you say 1500? You know what? It's bad tourism.” Irritation was thick and palpable in my voice I could write an FB status on it.

He knew better than to answer.

The power window of Nick’s Fortuner began to roll up. “It’s for 1200, Sir,” he now sounded desperate.

I thought: Finding another boatman and negotiating for the same fixed price could be time-consuming. So I signaled to the man my approval. And like a gunman in his getaway motorcycle, he sped away ahead of us.

We followed him as he led us to the site where LGU-San Agustin had first built a boardwalk. About five boats were docking next to thinning mangroves.

We only had snack food because we thought of ordering lunch at La Entrada to be brought to Buslon Island. While the boat was being readied, I asked Reil to drive me back to La Entrada. But then I thought of asking the man with nicotine stained-teeth if there were restaurants in the area.

The man said something that sounded like payday.

There’s a house there that sells abundant freshly caught fish of the premium species and other seafood [think crabs, prawns, lobsters, and shells] at a price that won’t make you feel like you’re being held-up. Lapu-lapu the size of my thigh goes for P200 a kilo; my favourite katambak sells at 150 a kilo. And the good thing is: the husband and wife team will prepare the fish for you in any way you want it done----kinilaw, sinugba, or tinuwa. You just pay P60 per kilo for the effort. And hear this: the P60 per kilo thing goes with utensils that they will bring to Buslon Island along with fish and other gastronomic delights, including a vinegar and soy sauce mix mixed [no, it's not a typo] with spices and sili.

The man with nicotine-stained teeth offered to drive to San Agustin to buy us pork liempo that the same husband and wife tandem grilled for us in a manner that had us all raving. So yummy!

And so while our lunch was being cooked in the mainland by the husband and wife team, we sailed off to Buslon Island and swam to our heart’s content. Just when we started to grow gills, the boat carrying our utensils and food arrived.

Now, isn’t that wonderful?

Next time you visit Britania Islands, go by this route and look for Precy Josol. I have her cellphone number but I don’t have her permission to share it here. So: my apologies. But if you want, just send me a message and I will be glad to negotiate on your behalf.