Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Posts tagged ‘Baguio’

​Cultural Immersion: Baguio Weddings – A Kiss, A Gong, and A Dance

The sound of gongs is strongly infusing the festive atmosphere. The bride and the groom were greeting well-wishers who had attended their wedding ceremony earlier. Looking closer at the floor near the stage, a group of men playing gongs were formed in a circle. Old men in baseball caps, traditionally dressed elderly women wearing colored beads, young men in tuxedos, and ladies in satin gowns took turns in dancing traditional dances to the beat. In such a wedding feast in Baguio, no modernity can hinder the rhythmic culture their generations have embraced. 

In the definitive Filipino culture, weddings are held as a community event. Almost – if not everyone – in the community are invited to celebrate. The bayanihan system (a classic Filipino attitude where the whole bayan or community helps one another) becomes alive in such occasions. Neighbors would voluntarily help to cook, arrange, and even organize the wedding. While this tradition is slowly dying because more couples are relying on professional wedding coordinators, this concept is still being kept in many rural provinces and cities, including Baguio.

An example of the bayanihan system – locals form a line to pass food to one another in this large gathering at my friend’s wedding.

Every Filipino loves Baguio for its cool climate, strawberries, and many popular tourist sites. I love Baguio for its meek and courteous people. Some of them have become my friends and I have the privilege to taste their culture and their way of living.

I had two friends who have recently married at Baguio. Just like how the quaint townspeople of Bulacan would hold their weddings, they similarly hold their matrimony with a community celebration. My province, Bulacan, would have videoke as a form of entertainment while Baguio people would celebrate this occasion with dances and gongs. 

Gongs are considered an ancient instrument by city people like me. I am impressed that these people would not use them for production numbers alone. Both elders and youths would join together and strike musical rhythms on it. They are accompanied with traditional dances that love and courtship to mark the occasion. 

Food being served to the community at my friend’s wedding.

Usually, they would hold their celebrations the whole day, even up to the wee hours of the morning the next day. There is an abundant flow of food, mostly made of pork and chicken, rice, and pansit (a type of Filipino noodles) which the whole community would partake. Locals are not shy to share their talents while everybody would show their appreciation to them. Celebrations would continue at the house of the bride and the groom. Old men at night would chant to call the spirit of the anito (traditional deity) to bless the gathering. As the music and dancing continues, the bride and the groom danced along with everyone. And of course, the visitors are not exempted from joining in the fun.
For the first time, I played the gong. It was heavy for me, but the hypnotic rhythm of the instrument made me enjoy every moment I danced to its tune. I just think I look awkward while dancing. My Instagram post just proves that (sorry I can’t upload the video on this blog. So please click the link to find out. I am the lady in the white dress and black blazer in the video).

Baguio people are proud of their artful heritage, as they wear woven Kalinga skirts or intermarry these designs with modern fashion. They love their culture so much the rhythm of the gongs pulse through their veins, willingly dancing along every clanging beat without hesitation. Through the sound of their instrument they become one, bringing into awareness the legacy they carry as Igorots.

Celebrations would continue at my friend’s house the whole night

Manila, a fascinating city of sights, color, sounds, is nothing as unique as this. The mixture of various cultures has turned this central city of Luzon into a melting pot of obscurity. We have become more in tuned with modernity and Western civilization, losing into consciousness the beautiful, old songs that have been passed down to us through school. Looks like Madonna’s Crazy For You has become the local fixture in videoke sessions. 
I keep on learning so much from other cultures in my own country. With all regions having their own differences, it just proves that we are a diverse society. I’m glad we have Filipinos who still carry the pride of their heritage. The Igorots are teaching us that traditional hertages are not a myth but they are living, breathing, and are worth to be celebrated for their uniqueness.

You can check out the videos on my Instagram account @rhemapenaflor. Thanks for visiting! 🙂

Breathing Adventure: Friendships and Sunsets for the Lone Trip (Benguet Tour Part 2)

My two-day Baguio getaway was brief yet blissful, momentarily pulling me away from the reality that nearly freaked me out of my sanity. What came after my first BenCab Museum tour was a visit to a missionary friend I have not seen in years, a short walk in the night-cloaked city outskirts, and a moment of fellowship at my friend’s church the following day.

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The city lights glitter on the hilltops at night. Baguio is just one of the places where you can safely stroll at night

I emerged once again in the homey ideals that these lovely people hold, while vainly trying to understand Ilocano dialect. Competition was unlikely to begrudge the existence these people delve in; too far with what we Manileños strive for everyday. Little by little, urbanity has been setting in Baguio City for years. Yet, the unyielding purity of the city’s outskirts is just one of the million things that amazes me in this place.

The main reason for going up alone to Baguio was a small mountain my friend was telling me days ago. On the day I was to leave Benguet, I had the chance to go on a short trek on what they named as Mt. Jumbo. It was located at La Trinidad, a city beside Baguio, also best known for its strawberry farm. We planned to start the trek right after lunch. But due to the slow, incompetent service of a diner we came upon, we were able to leave for La Trinidad at past 3pm, a few hours before the sunset kicks in.

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Part of the view while going up to the summit of Mt. Jumbo

It was an easy trek, but my legs became easily strained after ascending a number of those small but steep man made steps. This is the consequence of not jogging for a long time. The cloistered trees, fresh air, and clear blue sky refreshed me though. Upon coming near the summit, the trees became fewer and the air became crispier.

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Going upward

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Racing towards the sun

I was surprised to find a few tourists clamoring upon the nearly bare, green, rolling hills of Mt. Jumbo. Some of them had tents set up, anticipating a clear, star-studded sky soon. A group had even taken horseback rides to the summit. We walked passed them as we clamored to the west side of the hill. The vast, industrial fields of La Trinidad opened wide before us, the golden sunshine painting it in bright orange.

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Beyond the rolling hills was part of the view of La Trinidad.

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The sunset gleaming over La Trinidad. This area once called the “salad bowl of the Philippines” as it used to be an agricultural area. Now, it is replaced with houses and industrial buildings, striving with the urban shift of the country.

I did not mind my short stay on the summit. In an intense moment of freedom, I did not dance, I did not run. All I did was flap my arms to feel the wind beneath them and watch the sunset descend behind the mountains in awe. But that moment of awe was broken when we tried to catch the sunset with our cameras.

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The sun giving us a final breathtaking view for the day.

The sun’s majestic exit was interrupted by the thick silver clouds that canopied over the mountains. Still, the view was breathless, for a sea of clouds surged over the adjacent mountains. It was a phenomenon that no city-dweller could experience everyday. Twilight was not far behind by then. The first sparkle of stars began to blink the moment we left the spot.

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The sea of clouds just behind me

It was a breathless moment. Though part of me knew I had to go straight to the bus terminal right after that trek, I strongly felt that my Baguio experience would not be complete without experiencing a known restaurant at Session Road. With that, I capped my stay with dinner with friends at the fine but affordable Solibao Restaurant. Should you end up hungry at Session Road, this is one of the places you should you drop by.

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Capping my trip with a great dinner with my friends Lans, Marian, and Angie. This Pinoy/Chinese group meal at Solibao Restaurant was too much for four ladies and yet it was very affordable.

The bus terminal was jampacked with people leaving for Manila. I was one of them. With me were jars of lengua, choco flakes, and strawberry wine — just some of the Baguio goodies I can’t leave without. As I waited at the line, I just realized that I have the capacity to travel somewhere far without a definite plan and still enjoy good memories of this place. Next stop? I won’t plan it up. All I know it would sure be better. 🙂

Breathing Adventure: Exploring Art in BenCab’s World (Benguet Tour Part 1)

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The roads fresh from the New Year’s revelry the night before, this bored little lady headed away from the still smoky lowlands to the mist-covered highlands of Baguio. I was excited to get out of reality for a while in order to experience a real holiday vacation, even if it’s just so sudden.

There were only two days and one night left for me in Baguio. All I just wanted was to go trekking with my closest friend from the far end of this country. But with the rains and fog covering the summit, my friend gave a few choice places to tour around. I chose all of them. For now, I can only share one popular tourist destination you can check out when you get to Baguio.

I have been going to Baguio a number of times just like almost every local tourist in the country. But, I had to experience the BenCab museum yet. So, I’d rather not miss this itinerary that day.

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This art museum is flocked by tourists and art enthusiasts because of the man who set it up. Ben Cab, or short for Benedicto Cabrera, has been hailed as a national artist of the Philippines. He’s been considered as a world-class Filipino artist as his works have also became known in different countries. In support of other Filipino artists, he built this museum for everyone to enjoy Pinoy art.

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It takes a 15-minute taxi ride from Baguio City to get to this artist haven. Though located in an almost remote part of a word-carving village, it was crowded with tourists that day. Entrance was supposedly at P120, but it was not yet in effect. Instead, we paid the original price of twenty pesos less.

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Inside was a kaleidoscope of ideas, emotions, and history clashed together through various artworks from different artists. Modern art had dominated each rooms. Here are just some of my favorites:

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“Feral Garden” by Roger “Rishab” Tibon. Not only are cat lovers captivated by this painting but every eye that pass by it

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“Tamis” by Emmanuel Garibay. If you’d look closer beneath the arms, you can guess where this painting is pointing at. It speaks of women and children used as private armies in places of conflict.

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But nothing beats this Lynyrd Paras artwork. I guess the title (which is already written on this painting) should go for the broken hearted and the disappointed in life 🙂

Art can never stand alone without history. And history carries the spirit of art from the beginning of time. Bulol, or rice granary idols stood guard in some of the exhibition areas. These carved images depicts the pagan culture of the Northern tribes of Luzon, especially in these areas of Benguet. This has been a common sight in this part of the country, but I guess tourists like me could only look and wonder at them.

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Sitting quietly around the bulol guarding this place

Just as I was amazed in seeing Picasso and Rembrandt in real life at Ireland, I was amazed to see BenCab’s works personally for the first time. Some of his works made me wonder…

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Talking to BenCab’s Tribal Art. “Who or what are you?”

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“Kutohan” by BenCab. Removing lice has been a tradition since long ago

There is also the Erotica Gallery. I guess I don’t have to elaborate what kind of artworks you’d expect there. If you’re bringing along kids, I’d suggest you’d read the signs in every room you visit — unlike some the parents who wondered why they were offended at the artworks in this room.

If you’re hungry (and had enough money for quite expensive food), you can visit the Cafe Sabel. But for thrifty tourists like me, I’d pass it for the moment. My friend and I roamed around a bit of BenCab’s little garden, which was made to look like a little prototype of Benguet’s rice fields and idyllic villages. We had limited access of the whole garden as the ecotrail tour needs to be arranged at the reception.

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A part of BenCab’s garden

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A little rice paddy at BenCab’s garden

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Strawberry fields forever at BenCab’s garden

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The mist covering the museum building

 

Though the mist soon spoiled the garden’s view, our tour was a worthwhile experience. There are more places to go, but I guess I had to keep you waiting until my next blog. 🙂

Cultural Immersion (First Stop): Mt. Province

On a hike to the top of Mainit! :)

On a hike to the top of Mainit! 🙂

“Huwag maging dayuhan sa sariling bayan.” (“Never be a stranger in your own land.”)

Here is a line always stated when we talk about culture and tourism. Just like most Pinoys in the central part of Luzon, I get only a limited view of the overall culture the Philippines have. But once I get out of my Manila domain, I’m just amazed at the variety of language, food, and culture that all these 7,000 islands contain.
I had a taste of cultural immersion in my own country when a friend invited

One of Mainit's public hot baths. They refill these daily during morning.

One of Mainit’s public hot baths. They refill these daily during morning.

me last two weeks ago to Mainit — a district in Bontoc, Mt. Province. For those who are not familiar with Mt. Province, it’s located in the Cordillera region, about five hours from Baguio (which is familiar to most of us).

Mainit quite known for its natural hot springs (“mainit” in Tagalog means “hot”, perhaps where the name came from). Just like any other towns in the Cordillera, Mainit has a lot of mountains to hike and explore (which I looked forward to). But the main event is a peace pact gathering of two families.
Now, it’s like a huge reunion of two clans (the other came from Abra, another far region in the North). Together, they reviewed and renewed their pact and friendship. But the most interesting part are the songs and dances that every family performed. But they did not do it with some cheesy,

The gathering for the "Peace Pact". Aside from the renewal of this pact, it's also a reunion of two clans.

The gathering for the “Peace Pact”. Aside from the renewal of this pact, it’s also a reunion of two clans.

upbeat, dance music with sexy dance moves (like what kids in the Metro or in our town would perform in yearly Christmas parties). They performed it traditionally.

I’ve seen Ifugao dances being performed only on big commercial events, special school programs, or only when your elementary school teachers prompt you for the sake of passing your PE exams. But these people are a natural. Wearing their traditional clothes, each group graced before the crowd without hesitation, dancing to the rhythm of gongs. Even the children themselves were not shy in dancing. I was amazed with the pride they held in upholding

Yours truly (in black jacket) dancing to the Ifugaonon's traditional courtship dance. It dosen't matter how you dance it; joining it would mean brotherhood to them.

Yours truly (in black jacket) dancing to the Ifugaonon’s traditional courtship dance. It dosen’t matter how you dance it; joining it would mean brotherhood to them.

their culture. But they would be more pleased when foreigners — like me — would join in their dances, even if you do your own version on the traditional “courstship dance”.

I’m impressed how these people in the far-flung provinces kept their songs and their dances for generations. I haven’t seen much preservation of the traditional culture in the Manila area. Manila is the melting pot of people from different regions in the country, but it’s rare to see each one carry an identity from their own provinces. Perhaps with the “globalization” instilled in this modernized area, we try to move to another kind of culture without upholding the old ones that our ancestors had proudly held. Sadly, it’s like regretting identities that we’ve never had in this industrialized culture. Or copying from the Western world.
After the children performed, the man holding the mike told the smaller

Teenagers dancing their traditional dances to the beat of gongs.

Teenagers dancing their traditional dances to the beat of gongs.

children to follow their example. I guess it’s better than teaching your kids how to doggie at school.

I’m proud that these Northern folks are my countrymen. I guess they are richer than most of us here in Manila who keep a wrong impression of who and what they are. We just need open eyes to see that culture is richer than wealth. It’s something that we can carry and can be identified with no matter where we tread.

Crushing A Heritage

After quite a time, we were able to work out-of-town again. For the sake of

Pres. Aquino speaking for the LP-CAR new members’ oathtaking at Benguet State University

covering Pres. Aquino’s Liberal Party convention for its new members in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), we set out to Baguio Sunday afternoon.

It’s still the same old place I’ve visited for almost two years ago. Crickets crooned at us when we got at Kennon Road. The crisp cold, pine-scented air dawned upon the atmosphere in the evening. The places near the city proper lay as ever quiet and serene once the stars took over the sky. Even though the media people seemed to be the only ones awake in the town, we kept ourselves almost quiet and low.

The amateur photographer…

I can’t help but observe the place. The pine trees, almost shabby and thin, loomed almost everywhere. But I couldn’t forget my mother’s remarks that these are fewer today compared to her visit 40 years ago. Oh yes, four decades much. She was a young teacher in training at Teacher’s Camp then. To me, the place was far too serene than my world. Not unless you see how much of it has been exploited through commercialism.

For a long time, Baguio has been called the “Summer Capital of the Philippines”.

Behold, Baguio from afar, covered by mist, fog and clouds 🙂

Even in the summer, the air is much colder than Manila. I can vouch with all my heart that I have to shower in ice-cold water if I don’t put on the heater and most of the residents walked around in jackets despite of being in the sun. Because of it’s romantically inclined atmosphere and cool weather, it has been a target of tourists every year. But now, most of these tourists have invaded this place.

My friend from Baguio would tell me how Korean schools thrived like mushrooms in the city. Deep inside my heart, I applaud her and her contemporaries for speaking good English that she had to be willing to teach foreigners. But with this spring of foreign presence comes a spring of commercialization. Who will never forget that horrible earth-balling in a popular mall in Baguio? That same old friend was one of those who protest against it because they were destroying the environment. They did not ask for it to be changed. They were already happy with the view it gives on its rooftop and its open-aired closure. I was supposing these entrepreneurs thought they would be able to gain more by making a major change in the environment. They were not careful about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against foreign presence. Like most Pinoys, I’d love

It’s very common for the locals to take a walk along the mountain sides…it looks quite dangerous for us lowlanders, as my friend would put it, but I’m impressed how they take their walk with grace 🙂

to welcome them as friends. Yet it seems that a lot of entrepreneurs thought of gaining much by changing the place a lot. What they did not know was that the natural beauty of the place was already enough to keep them coming in. But for the sake of selling, they opt to market the place through residences, commercialism, and infrastructure. In order to please a lot of customers, all they need is resources. Commercialism is not evil. But focusing on the wrong strategies can destroy much. Yet, as I observe, this results to cutting of more trees and quarrying of more land just to fill up spaces.

Sorry, I’m quite a bad photographer. You see, the bald part of the mountain I’d like you to see is at the far right. I just couldn’t focus the camera well…but there’s another part that looked worst but we were not able to pass it.

While going back home, I noticed that a part of one of its mountains was being quarried. It looked like a chocolate-covered custard pudding scraped from top to bottom. I can never forget another part of Baguio being quarried; worst than the one we passed by. My friend brought me to this beautiful memorial park built on the side of the mountain in another part of Baguio. Everything around it was an awesome sight, save for the mountain on the opposite side that had a huge chunk of it scraped down, right in the middle. She was as disappointed as I was. It’s a scary sight especially that rains pour regularly in Baguio. Much of the trees were lost.

Commercialization and industrialization through infrastructure can bring a lot of investments in…but focusing too much on it comes with a painful price. Infrastructure is temporal, one work can deteriorate and be out-moded by another. But nature itself can thrive along…unless abused and destroyed. By taking pride in these infrastructures, it won’t last long. We can change a place and shift to another if our changes over it does not last anymore. But to restore a place’s natural beauty, it would take years of genuine compassion and patience – something that we don’t have when we meet the deadlines and financial quota of commercialism.

I just hope that Baguio won’t go worst when I return. If I don’t hear those crickets or smell that pine-scented air, I’d be really disappointed. So will my friends and those who have basked in its deeper beauty long before than I did. Once we lost its beauty, we’d loose more than tourism and money – we’d loose a heritage and probably our lives as we are intertwined with God’s gift of nature.

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