Monthly Archives: April 2014

Taal trumps Manila.

In all my fifty years, I have never gone out to travel far during Holy Week.  Call it Catholic guilt.  Can’t shake it off even if I’ve campaigned hard for the passing of the RH Bill.    The vacationing Catholic during the commemoration of Christ’s death would’ve been chastised in our staunchly Catholic home.   He has suffered, and so must every soul he saved.  As kids, we couldn’t play in the yard.  We couldn’t bathe before 3pm on Good Friday.   No laughing allowed.  Extreme remorse came with getting on a car and going to the beach.

But in the last few years, I’ve bent the rule a bit.  The excursions haven’t been excessive though.  I don’t fly.  I don’t swim.  I just wander about in Central and Southern Luzon for a day.   For one stricken with serious wanderlust, that in itself, is some penance.

Earlier today, I drove for two hours from Makati to Taal, Batangas.  I knew nothing about that place except for its very old church and barong makers.   These are the things I saw.

Bougainvilleas in bloom.  My concession to a Sakura experience, which usually happens when I’m not supposed to travel far.

A 500-year-old basilica

The entire town is a heritage town.

Interesting detail.  You’d know who lives there.

If you know me well, I’m sure you’ve seen how I’ve waxed poetic about my hometown in Pampanga.  The street where I grew up is Heritage Row, where a dozen houses built in the early 1900s still stand and remain protected by the Philippine Heritage Commission.  My San Fernando is nothing compared to Taal.  It’s just Taal’s front yard.  The whole town of Taal is heritage town!

We who love to look to the past, and weep when the slightest remembrance is destroyed for progress’ sake, must drive down to Taal and celebrate Taal.  It’s supposed to be just a third class municipality in the Philippines; but its sense of art and history is first-rate.  It shames Manila.

I’ll definitely go back when the museums and Hispanic villas-turned-restos are open.  I heard that the town’s famous adobo sa dilaw – chicken cooked in turmeric and not soy sauce – is supposed to be good.  I must try that after Christ has risen.

The Nara Walk

I submitted this piece to my editor at Philippine Star more than a year ago but it never saw print.  I didn’t want to write a lengthy article on Nara and opted to do something different — a photo essay.  One of the artists in our ad agency put it together and tried to make it look like a full page from the Star.  Same fonts, same collage style and all.  My editor said it was still too sleek and art-directed.  A rejection I didn’t mind at all.

So, here it is.  I’m jumping on the Japan bandwagon on Facebook and Instagram out of envy.

Nara, Japan’s ancient capital, has long been in the shadow of Kyoto.  Yet, it deserves the attention of tourists who are visiting Kyoto or Osaka.  It predated all other cities in Japan.  It’s a more intimate peep into the old Japan.  From Kyoto or Osaka, Nara is a quick 40-minute train ride.  It can be explored on a day and better seen on foot.

Junk the tour bus, downshift a gear or two, and start walking.  I started my hike from the JR Nara Station which was farther from the main Nara park than the Kinetsu Station.  The hike was all of two kilometers to the park.   It was long but quite exhilarating on a cool October morning.  I got to taste it all – slowly, healthily, deeply. 

On Sanjo road:  the scattering of quaint cafes and restaurants with funny names; traditional townhouses with lovely courtyards; merchants and antique shop owners; schoolboys on their way to baseball practice; and even impeccably dressed beggars.   At Nara Park, the ever-present deer – hundreds of them gently hustling for cookies, some just too stuffed with the 150-yen treats to bother.  (I learned later wild grass would have sufficed.)  And the high points of the walking tour: centuries-old UNESCO Heritage Sites like the Todaiji and Kofukuji Temples.

Japan is the new Hong Kong.

Two years ago in April, I got a surprise call from the Embassy of Japan.  Chancellor Shimizu Shinsuke tracked me down after reading my unsponsored travel piece on Japan in the Philippine Star.  He wanted to return the favor my treating me to lunch at Tsumura, one of the top Japanese restaurants in Makati.  I was honored.  And excited, since I’ve been wanting to sample the food there.

It was a gesture I’d never forget.  The Japanese are the most gracious and proper people, I thought.

We spent a hour just talking about Tokyo and other places of interest outside Tokyo that Shimizu-san recommended.  He also asked for tips on how to market Japan.  I was just too happy to share my recommendations on messaging and media touchpoints.  After all, that’s what I do for a living.  We discussed issues that embassy should address to encourage more Pinoys to plan a trip to Japan.  The stringent visa procedures and pricey fees.  The myths about the high cost of travel to Japan.  The lack of promotions amongst airlines.  And so on.

Two years hence, throngs of people are trooping to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka to see cherry blossoms in spring.  My Facebook newsfeed is filled with pictures of friends posing by the sakura!

The Embassy is making it easier for tourists to secure visas.  Multiple-entry visas to Japan now abound.  The airlines are now offering cheaper fares to Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.  Hong Kong has ceased to be the destination of choice for Holy Week.  Japan is the new Hong Kong.  Japan is the better Hong Kong.

Japan is also benefitting from a growing anti-China sentiment amongst Pinoys.  “Ditch China for the holidays” may be a response to Beijing’s bullying behavior over Philippine territories.

I’ve also heard people say that they’d rather spend their precious tourist dollars on Japan after the latter’s untiring and generous response during the Yolanda crisis.

These are happy times for Pinoys who love to travel and get lost in a place that’s like no other.  Shimizu-san must be happier with his tourism numbers.

By the way, Japan is teeming with places that are as good as Tsumura.  And cheaper, too.

pic by Peck Imson
pic by Peck Imson


Those who are familiar with the ways of a museum may find it disconcerting to go through the halls of the National Museum in Manila.   There is an attempt to group the art pieces together.  There’s a room for Tampinco sculptures.  Of Alcuaz portraits.  Manansalas.  Old masters like Luna and Hidalgo.  But the categorizing is quite basic.  For the most part, the journey seems to lack rhyme or reason.  You kinda wish there’d be sophisticated labels like Tate Modern’s Poetry and Dream filled with surrealistic pieces like Picasso’s;  Transformed Visions with Monets and Rothkos;  Structure and Clarity with Mondrians and other minimalist pieces.

There’s none of that.  But there’s a lot to see.  The museum is a continuing work in progress — that’s a good thing.   It is anything but underwhelming.

The plans for the Museum’s renovation are ambitious and exciting.  A bridge will connect the current structure with the former Finance building, now the museum’s annex.  The Tourism building will be converted into the Museum of Natural History (can you just imagine our rich flora and fauna history on display?).  Retail will be built around the museum.  The Light Rail Transit will also connect to the museum for easy access.

For now, while everything’s in the works, get lost in its varied, and sometimes, unrelated collections.  Here are some pieces I love and covet, posted just as randomly.

"Parisian Life" by Juan Luna
“Parisian Life” by Juan Luna
poet Jose Garcia Villa's portrait by Alcuaz
poet Jose Garcia Villa’s portrait by Alcuaz
an altar from a Bohol Church
an altar from a Bohol Church
Nena Saguil's
Nena Saguil’s

by H.R. Ocampo
by H.R. Ocampo

an Amorsolo
an Amorsolo


a portrait by Bencab
a portrait by Bencab
an H.R. Ocampo
an H.R. Ocampo
a Cesar Legaspi
a Manansala
a Cesar Legaspi
a Cesar Legaspi
"New York Lady" by Galo Ocampo
“New York Lady” by Galo Ocampo
I'm no Marcos loyalist but I love the exquisite detail.
I’m no Marcos loyalist but I love the exquisite detail.