Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas afternoon stroll at Tunasán Baywalk (Muntinlupà City, Metro Manila)

Christmas Day this year was filled with surprises!

My sister Jennifer started it all when she arrived as our personal Santa Claus!

My sister Jennifer we call her Faye— playing Santa Claus to the kids. We didn't know she was to visit us on Christmas morning!

After meals, we surprised her by tagging her along with us to our planned Christmas Day viaje to Tunasán Baywalk in nearby Muntinlupà City! She didn't know that we're leaving that day.

It has been like a tradition for my family since 2009 (the year me and Yeyette both became very active in social media) to stroll on Christmas Day. And we've learned our lesson never to go to Metro Manila, not even to Tagaytay, Cavite, on that day because of the horrible traffic. Last year, we were at Pila, La Laguna where traffic flow to and from San Pedro was a breeze. This year, we thought of going somewhere near yet seemingly far because of the idyllic vista...

Welcome to the spacious greenery of Tunasán Baywalk! Picnics are allowed here so long as you keep the place clean.

Tunasán Baywalk is situated along the northwestern banks of Laguna de Bay's West Bay (because this lake is a trilobate lake, the only one in the world). I have no data available when this place was developed, but most likely it was only during the last decade. There is also a similar setting in nearby Barrio Bayanan. I think they also call it with a similar name (Bayanan Baywalk). We'll visit it one day.

Young but already sturdy ipil-ipil trees (Leucaena leucocephala) line up the paved promenade.

Fish pens and water hyacinths are a typical scene in Laguna de Bay. The nearby land masses beyond the waters is the peninsula of Binañgonan (shared with Cardona) in Morong Province (now Rizal) to the left, and Talim Island (Binañgonan side) to the right. Much further is Pililla, also in the province of Morong.

That's Mount Maquiling to the south. Flocks of migratory swallows are everywhere this time of the year.

Flowery vegetation right below us, floating above the waters of the lake.

The Alas ladies: Krystal, Yeyette, and Faye.

The Alas boys playing like monkeys. Momay and Juanito are right below me. Jefe is trying out another tree. Behind us, beyond the green field, is the Muntinlupa Science High School.

Ms. Jennifer Alas is a top-rate certified public accountant who works for an international bank in Macati. That makes me not just a proud husband and father but also a proud cuya. :-)

Many outdoor activities such as biking, kiting, throwing frisbees, etc. can be done here in Tunasán Baywalk (just keep the place clean as it should be). Or you could simply pass away time while enjoying the serenity of Laguna de Bay and its environs, the largest lake in the Philippines. The only complaint that I have is that the promenade has no benches.

That's Jefe and Momay. They had to be careful not to fall on the other side because the vegetation won't save them — it's nothing but lake water underneath.

It was fun watching the kids run around the grass and climb trees, enjoying themselves to their heart's content as the cool December breeze from the lake blew upon us. These are things that they couldn't experience in our cramped neighborhood. The best things in life are awfully free here at Tunasán Baywalk!

Krystal, Jefe, Momay, and Juanito: our infinity gems. Next year, they will become five. :-)
After several minutes of running around, we then explored this building...

The Muntinlupa Sports Complex is within the Tunasán Baywalk grounds.

At the entrance to the facility, several Christmas lanterns or farol (now spelled as parol) made of recycled products were on display. There appears to have been a farol-making contest held here recently.

We then entered the facility. The place immediately reminded the kids of those basketball games they see on TV.

This facility can seat up to 3,500 people. A basketball court may be the only thing you see here, but the place also can also be used for other public activities such as concerts and political gatherings.
Laguna de Bay as seen from the second level of the Muntinlupa Sports Complex. It was a breezy Christmas afternoon!
We could have stayed a bit longer, but we didn't bring any food. There were supposed to be street food vendors in Tunasán Baywalk. But it was Christmas Day, that's why all of them were absent. So we had to get going early.

Up next, we visited our friend, blogger-historian Arnaldo Arnáiz of With One's Past. He lives just nearby. Arnold has been to our apartment in San Pedro numerous times, but we have never been to his place before. So after our afternoon stroll in Tunasán Baywalk, we decided to give him a Christmas surprise he will never forget: our royal presence visiting his nest, hahaha! We also had to introduce Faye to him because they still did not know each other.

On our way to the old national road to get to Arnaldo's place, I had Yeyette stand up on top of the fault line which is a visible lump on this street. This fault line is part of the scary Mariquina Valley Fault System which which extends from San Mateo, Morong to Taguig, Metro Manila on the south. It runs through the cities of Macati, Mariquina, Parañaque, Pásig, and Taguig. Ours is a dangerous planet, but still, IT'S MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES!

Arnaldo's house is currently undergoing some artistic renovation. A portrait of  La Familia Arnáiz at lower right.
After meeting his amiable Ilongo parents who treated us to a hearty merienda of chocolate cakes and softdrinks, Arnold drove us home using their van. But on our way out of their village, we suddenly had the impulse to visit another Ilongo friend: the erudite and famous historian, multilingual author/blogger, flamenco master, and linguistic scholar, none other than Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua! He lives in Macati City.

It was already dark when we reached Barrio Alabang and the South Luzón Expressway. Surprisingly, the traffic flow was perfectly smooth. So we reached our "rockstar" friend's home in no time! And yes, he too was surprised when we invaded his room. He didn't even recognize me since I cut my long hair (the last time we saw each other was during my wedding last September). And when we got there, we caught him watching some cartoon show on cable TV, LOL (lo siento, señor; pero tengo que decir esto, ¡jajaja!). We then proceeded to a pizza parlor near his place and had a Christmas Day feast while discussing our favorite topic: Philippine History. Of course, Yeyette, Faye, and the kids had a conversation of their own, LOL!

La Familia Viajera meets With One's Past and Filhispánico! And no, we are NOT in McDonalds

We hope that we delightfully surprised you by showing another side of highly-urbanized Muntinlupà on Christmas Day. So trust us on this: whenever we say that we go to off-the-beaten tracks, we mean it. :-) Click here to view more photos of our Christmas Day afternoon stroll!

Merry Christmas, everyone!


TRIVIA: Barrio Tunasán was once a part of nearby San Pedro, La Laguna. That is why the latter's name was "San Pedro Tunasán", and the oldest cross inside its old town church is called the "Cruz de Tunasán". Tunasán was (probably) transferred to Muntinlupà in 1914.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

La Familia Viajera will have a new member!

Nine months from now, La Familia Viajera will be welcoming its newest member! Who could it be? Stick with us to find out!


TRIVIA: All our children were delivered via caesarian section.

The "Misa de Gallo" and the Giant Lantern Festival 2013

The main reason for our San Fernandino trip two Saturdays ago was to attend the famous Giant Lantern Festival which gave San Fernando City the bragging right to declare itself as the Christmas Capital of the Philippines. Although famous and having been around since the early 1900s, it is, in La Familia Viajera's honest opinion, not as resonant as compared to other Philippine festivities such as Lucbán's Pahiyás or Calivo's Ati-AtihanI have been hearing of this event for the past couple of years, but rather faintly. Simply put, the name Giant Lantern Festival certainly rings a bell but we are really not familiar with how this festivity goes.

Our overused camera's throwing a hissy fit, so pardon the poor photo quality.

Last December 14's Giant Lantern Festival was held at Robinsons Starmills. That night, the mall was heavily crowded. An no, that is not our car.

To begin with, the farol/parol —a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem that led the Three Kings to the newborn Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior— actually stemmed from the nine-day early dawn Mass called the Misa de Gallo or Simbáng Gabí. The farol was originally made of bamboo strips covered with papel de japón (Japanese paper) illuminated by a candle or carburo/calburo (carbide) inside it. During Spanish times, the only lights used during Simbáng Gabí are candles. The faithful would bring their faroles with candles inside them to church because during Mass, only candles are used for lighting and nothing else.

According to what info I was able to gather about the Giant Lantern Festival, it is held every second Saturday of December and it showcases what is said to be the most decorative Filipino Christmas lanterns or farol/parol this side of the archipelago. Locally and affectionately known as the Parul Sampernandu, these five-pointed paper star lanterns —circularly shaped nowadays— were uniquely crafted by an artisan named Francisco Estanislao beginning in 1928. They are not just highly decorative and brightly lighted, but through the years they have evolved into something so huge that several people could literally fit into each lantern!

It is said that the Giant Lantern Festival officially began sometime in the 1920s when then President Manuel Quezon vacationed at nearby Aráyat. His mere presence there help turned the then obscure area into a tourist site; the rest of the country finally began to take notice of the place. So in gratitude for the prosperity that his presence brought to Aráyat, Pampanga's provincial government which was already in San Fernando decided to hold a festival for the president's honor. Local officials held a Christmas lantern contest, and President Quezon himself participated by personally contributing the prize for the winner. His wife, then First Lady Aurora Aragón, presented the award. And the rest, as they say, is history!

This year, I learned somewhere from the web that the Giant Lantern Festival was to be held in San Fernando's Robinsons Starmills. I'm not sure since when this cultural festival started to be celebrated inside a mall, and I have to admit that it was somewhat disappointing since a mall is a utilitarian establishment and not a cultural one. Whatever cultural facets the Giant Lantern Festival still has might be swept under the rug by having it celebrated in a place where there is absolutely no culture at all. Oh well.

The event was to begin at exactly 6:00 PM. We arrived in San Fernando a little past noon so we first toured the old población and the capitol grounds. When dusk fell, we proceeded to the mall. As I have anticipated, the event did not start on time. Oh well.

From the event organizers inside the mall, Yeyette was able to secure our media passes. It was supposed to be Yeyette's first time to blog about a famous event. But things didn't turn out the way we intended it to be. Being first timers to the festival, we realized there and then that the event that night was actually a competition (really, we honestly didn't know). Only two media passes were provided. Understandably because our four children are just that: children. No media IDs for them are necessary.

All set to blog about the event!

But as we were to enter the event site, the young volunteers who were stationed at the entrance refused to let our kids in! We were stunned. We begged, we pleaded, but it was no use. There seemed to have been a misunderstanding...

First of all, being first timers, I didn't realize that the organizers were going to cordon off the spectators and will let in only media personnel (bloggers, newspaper writers, etc.) and VIPs (whoever they may be). Secondly, the organizers "politely scolded" us for failing to sign the online media accreditation form where we could have listed the names of all those who were coming with us. Yes, I do remember having encountered such a form (click here if you're interested to see it; and my, it's colorful), but nowhere did I see there that I had to indicate the names of my blog's "staff". Besides, most of my blog's members are kids, my golly.

I also have to admit that I never gave that form much attention because we simply wanted to see the giant lanterns. We never really intended to officially report about it. For sure, we were to blog about the event, but to "officially cover" it was farthest from my mind especially because our kids. So pardon us for being ignorant first timers — we really didn't have the slightest idea that the competition was to be witnessed by a select few.

For humanitarian reasons, my wife pleaded the organizers to let us enter with our kids especially since nobody else will tend to them. For crying out loud, Krystal wouldn't be able to look after her three brothers with all that huge Capampañgan-speaking crowd. Yeyette went so far as to mention that we traveled all the way from San Pedro to Robinsons Starmills just to witness the giant lanterns, but emotional appeals didn't work (later on, we realized that San Fernando has a Barrio San Pedro; the organizers must have thought that we were from just nearby, no wonder their lack of sympathy.

The 10 giant lanterns, still unlit, from afar. This year, only 10 barrios out of the city's 35 were able to participate in what could probably be the Philippines' most electrifying event — and we mean it literally!

In the end, we just made a compromise. They made our passes transferable, i.e., they allowed only two persons at a time using our two IDs. So fair enough. We decided that Krystal and I go in first; we agreed to have Yeyette come in later with one of the boys until all of us in La Familia Viajera would have seen the giant lanterns up close.

Inside, me and Krystal were aghast to find several vacant chairs. We stayed inside the event for about half an hour, but the chairs were never filled up.

After witnessing four "dancing lanterns", Krystal and I went out the event site. It was Mommy Yeyette's turn with perhaps one of the boys. But we found Yeyette in one corner sulking, trying to control her temper. When she saw me and Krystal approaching, she attempted one last time with the organizers to have our kids see the event up close. She even questioned them as to why they allowed a certain person carrying a kid inside the event a few minutes earlier. But they didn't answer her. They just stubbornly shook their heads, indicating that we really couldn't bring our kids inside. Angrily, Yeyette turned her back. We all left the event. A bad experience there.

Anyway, below are the results:
CITY OF SAN FERNANDO — After settling for second place last year and losing its chance for a grand slam in 2007 and 2008, Barangay Telabastagan came back Saturday with a blast to emerge as 2013 champion of the world-renowned “Ligligan Parul” or Giant Lantern Festival (GLF). 
Chief lantern maker Arnel Flores, head electrician Alberto Dungca, and rotor maker Arnold Flores seemed to have perfected their “half-half secret play,” where the Telabastagan lantern —powered by 12,000 bulbs and more than 10 rotors— displayed interchanging half white, half myriad of colors that danced to music and later accompanied by the Lumanog brass band. 
“We really worked hard to perfect the play, along with the other combinations of colors and sequences we studied for months. And we are very happy we are back as the champion of the Giant Lantern Festival,” said Flores, whose crew took home for the village the ₱120,000 cash prize, the “rotating” trophy designed by distinguished artist Toym Imao, and a whole year of “bragging rights.”
Click here for more!
But let us not end this blogpost on a sad note. It's a lesson learned, at least for us. Anyway, to end this, let us just state that there are still many San Fernandino shops, particularly along the Manila North Road (now MacArthur Highway), which are dedicated to the manufacture and sale of Christmas lanterns. And it is because of this trade and the lantern festival which helped earn San Fernando the reputation as the place to be during this most wonderful season of the year!

A typical Parul Sampernandu in Balé Capampañgan.

Click here for more photos of our Giant Lantern Festival experience in Robinsons Starmills! And congratulations to all the winners! ¡Felices Pascuas, San Fernando!


TRIVIA: Each giant lantern has a safety box: a 75 KVA generator which is powerful enough to electrify an entire barrio!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

¡Feliz Navidad a todos ustedes!

This is our very first Christmas blogpost, and we'll make it very brief but compleat...

A very merry Christmas to all of you!

Christmas day viaje at the Tunasán Baywalk in Muntinlupà City, Metro Manila just a few hours ago. Behind us is the majestic Laguna de Bay. From left to right: Mommy Yeyette, Daddy Pepe, Juanito, Ate Krystal, Cuya Momay, Cuya Jefe, and Tita Faye (Pepe's sister).

TRIVIA: Tunasán means a place where many tunás grow. Tunás (Nymphaea nouchali Burm) is a type of water lily that used to grow abundantly in the area. However, there is also a similar Spanish word: tunas (without the accent mark and is a plural for "tuna") which is a name for a cactus-like shrub (Opuntia tuna).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Welcome to the Christmas Capital of the Philippines!

San Fernando reminds most of us of a grim chapter in Philippine History: the Bataán Death March. It was at the old train station there were the infamous march, which killed thousands of Filipino and Northern American P.O.W.s, finally ended. For those uninterested in history, San Fernando is just another obscure Central Luzón city that one passes by during trips to more famous northern spots such as Baguio and Vigan.

But there is more to San Fernando than just history and obscurity. It is a bustling city of living history. And architectural heritage. And even Christmas!

Let it be known that this Pampango city of today is, of course, very far from being obscure. And to say that it is bustling does not even suffice to describe its lively streets crowded with healthy business establishments. And unlike many other provincial cities that we have visited in the country, San Fernando is surprisingly clean and disciplined: no littered streets, no jaywalkers  (or was our timing just right?). It also has an odd mix of modernity and history. Down at the población (people there call it bayan) which is Barrio Santo Rosario, you will see old and new buildings. There is even an SM mall on the very same area where one could find handsome heritage houses along streets with both modern vehicles and seemingly out-of-time calesas. And we haven't even mentioned the magnificence of the city's historic cathedral yet. Truly, San Fernando is a wondrous mix of both past and present.

We arrived past noon with a very excellent weather. Aside from jeepneys, high-side pick-ups (the red vehicle beside the monument) are the main modes of transportation. The monument you see in this photo is called the Monumento Fernandino which serves as a roundabout (commonly known in Spanish as rotonda) between Calle B. Mendoza and the Manila North Road (now known as MacArthur Highway, where all those jeeps are all headed).

San Fernando's eponymous heritage is purely Hispanic for the whole place was named after Spanish King Fernando VI (1713-1759) and was placed under the titular of his sanctified namesake, Fernando III de Castilla (1199-1252), the monarch-turned-saint (he was canonized in 1671). It was the Augustinian friars who established the town in 1754. No wonder there is a Barrio San Agustín there and also a gated community called St. Augustine Village. Also, the town church was dedicated to an Augustinian patroness: Nuestra Señora de la Asunción.

Fray Sebastián Moreno was the first parish priest. He built the church which was completed in 1761. Since then, it underwent several revisions/reconstructions. The church was badly damaged during a fire in 1939. Its current features were designed only after World War II by architect Fernando Ocampo. Three years later, on 11 December 1948, the parish church was elevated into a Cathedral when it was established as the seat of the Diocese of San Fernando. And finally, on 17 March 1975, it became the Archdiocese of San Fernando.

We visited the city last December 14 for the annual Giant Lantern Festival for which San Fernando is famously known for these days. We got there past noon. But since the competition for the giant lanterns was to start in the evening, we first toured the old población, the birthplace of the modern City of San Fernando.

Just arrived at the lively población. The huge dome of the Catedral Metropolitana de San Fernando can already be seen from Calle B. Mendoza.
View of the back of the Cathedral from Calle V. Tiomico.

My family crossing Calle V. Tiomico. To their left is SM City San Fernando which opened last year.

Pedicabs (cycle rickshaws) in San Fernando look different.

My family at the entrance to the cathedral.

Nuestra Señora de la Asunción is San Fernando City, Pampanga's secondary patron.

Momay, Jefe, and Juanito freely run around the wide patio dividing the church and the city hall along Calle Santo Niño Viejo (now Consunji). The city hall's architecture is impressively Filipino in design, the way it really should be.

Casa Santos, now known as Pampanga Lodge & Restaurant. During the early years, it was simply known as Pampanga Hotel. This house also served as a former site of the  Pampanga National High School.

Mc Donald's and Jollibee in peaceful co-existence along Calle V. Tiomico. But neither did we eat in these two nor at the nearby Pampanga Lodge & Restaurant. Instead...

...we ate here at Balé Capampañgan which serves authentic native dishes! "Balé" is a Capampañgan word which means "house".
Getting cozy.

We tried two Capampañgan dishes: "sinigáng sa paro" (three photos on top) and "sisig babi".

After pigging out at Bale Capampañgan, we returned to San Fernando proper, passing by this monument again. Here's a closer shot of the Monumento Fernandino, a masterpiece of Abdulmari "Toym" Imao, Jr., son of renowned sculptor Adulmari Asia Imao. It was inaugurated in 2004.

At the City of San Fernando Public Market, we rented a calesa for only ₱50.00 for a classic Filipino joyride around San Fernando's famed heritage district!

From the public market, our calesa traversed the somewhat quaint street of V. Tiomico and crossed Calle Limjoco. We then turned left towards Calle Serafín, then left again to Calle Consunji leading us back to where we began. We then turned left again to Calle Hizon which is sandwiched by the Pampanga Lodge & Restaurant and the Cathedral, then left again to Calle V. Tiomico. We covered three blocks filled with ancestral houses. Not bad for ₱50.00. That's why Yeyette added another ₱50.00 to the cochero when we alighted at the capitolio later on because he was very courteous and accomodating.

We saw many ancestral houses (most especially along Calle Consunji). But here we feature only four houses (from top left, clockwise):

1) Casa Nicolasa The ancestral house of Doña Nicolasa Dayrit de Panlilio, partially hidden by bougainvillas. Doña Nicolasa assisted in ministering the sick and wounded during the Philippine War of Independence (1899–1902).
2) Casa Lazatín The ancestral house of Don Serafín Lazatín, a local sugar baron, and his wife, Doña Encarnación Siñgian. It was built in 1925.
3) Casa Consunji Home of Don Antonio Consunji, the "presidente municipal" (equivalent to today's mayor) of San Fernando during the Tagálog-Pampango rebellion against Spain.
4) Casa Santos-Hizon This Victorian-style wonder was owned by Don Teodoro Santos. He later sold it to Doña María Salomé Hizon. It is currently owned by the heirs of Doña María's brother Ramón.

Our calesa is passing by the Cathedral again.

Our final calesa stop: the provincial capitol grounds in Barrio Santo Niño!

To those who are not yet aware, San Fernando has been the capital of Pampanga province since 22 July 1904. Before that, the capital was still the neighboring town of Bacolor. The move to transfer Pampanga's capital from Bacolor to San Fernando can be considered as "52 years in the making" because since 1852, there was already an attempt to make San Fernando as the capital of the province. But it was only during the governorship of Macario Arnedo when the transfer occurred. That is why the half-circle park in front of the capitol building bears his name.

And on this park is where we truly enjoyed our stay! The spacious greenery of Arnedo Park is the place to be for our kids who could rarely even go out of our apartment unit to play outdoors. We found many people at the park picnicking, flying kites, or simply passing the time away. We enjoyed ourselves so much that even Yeyette did a few cartwheels, something she never did since the sixth grade, LOL! And our kids were free to run about here and there.

When nighttime fell, the whole park became even more romantic as the capitol building, lampposts, and trees were all lit up with colorful Christmas lights!

We stayed there for a few minutes before proceeding to our final destination: the Giant Lantern Festival at Robinsons Starmills! We took a tricycle and paid 80.00 for all six of us. It was supposed to be only a 10-minute ride, but traffic was heavy because many people were already on their way to the mall for the event. It took us around 20 minutes just to get there!

As already mentioned in our previous blogpost, these lanterns are not your next door neighbor's ordinary parol. Their designs are not merely considered as top-of-the-line Christmas decors. They're intrinsically designed all right, but each and every one of them are huge. So huge you could even put a Macati mayor's ego inside it!

This year, only 10 barrios out of the city's 35 were able to participate in what could probably be the Philippines' most electrifying event — and we mean it literally!

Unfortunately, we were not able to finish the event. We weren't even able to see all the 10 participants light up at the same time because of some unfortunate incident which irritated Yeyette. More on this on our next blogpost.

There was something in the air that night, the stars were San Fernando’s  

It was also a delight to see our children's confused faces —especially Momay, the most inquisitive of the four—whenever they hear people speaking in Capampañgan. It was the first time for them to be exposed in a land that is non-Tagalog. Even inside super-crowded Robinsons Starmills, we hardly heard our language being spoken. But it was strangely wonderful to the ears to hear fellow Filipinos, brother Filipinos, speaking another tongue that we don't understand!  There was even a funny scene when Yeyette was asking for directions from a jeepney driver. She was talking to the driver in Tagalog, but the driver was replying to her in Capampañgan; the latter thought that we were no different from their nación, LOL!

But of course, we aren't anymore. San Fernandinos may be Capampañgan/Pampangueño-speaking and my family aren't, but not once did we feel alienated. Because deep inside, we all knew that there is a kind of kinship, an unbreakable bond, that has already been forged ever so strongly, a bond that took shape for more than three hundred years. And that profound kinship among Tagalogs and Pampangueños, and all the other Christianized tribes for that matter, is what I would like to call the Filipino Identity.

The cathedral, the well-preserved bahay na bató ancestral homes, the calesas, the cuisine, and the Pampangueños themselves — they make La Familia Viajera so proud of being a Filipino family!

¡Feliz Navidad a todos los San Fernandinos!

The city of San Fernando could very well be "Pampanga's Best"! :-)

CLICK HERE for the rest of our San Fernando photos!


TRIVIA! As a last resort to at least slow down the onslaught of an invading U.S. army, General Antonio Luna was compelled to burn the whole town. As a result, many original structures, including the cathedral itself —back then just an ordinary town church—, and the municipal hall (city hall today), were burned down. This fateful event happened on 4 May 1899.