Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tola and other stories from Tacloban

I went to Tacloban recently to attend a workshop at the government center in the nearby town of Palo. My early morning flight brought me to Leyte quite early and my plan to freshen up at a budget hotel along the way from the airport to the workshop venue didn't materialize. The hotel was full and the staff couldn't suggest any alternative, even a pension house in the area. I am tempted to think whether this was company policy not to suggest competition or if they were just ignorant of their area? Tacloban city proper was out of the way and I didn't want to go back just to get a room (even with possible day rates) for a couple of hours.

And so I decided to get on a jeepney instead to go to Palo and the government center. I decided against taking a taxi knowing I'll be charged extra for the short trip. Advice to tourists going to Tacloban: don't take their rental taxis at the airport. They charge exorbitant rates (minimum 300 pesos) and will take advantage of people not familiar with the transport there. There is a jeepney you can take from the airport to Tacloban proper (Tacloban - San Jose) and from the junction with the national highway, you can ride another jeepney to Palo. The total fare will just be about 18 pesos between the airport and Philippine Science High School, from where you can take a pedicab to the government center.

As I already did my research of the area ahead of my trip, and considering it was still too early and government offices were still closed, I took a pedicab to the monument to the Leyte Landings in 1945. As it was quite early, there were few people up at the time but there were already joggers and some cyclists doing their thing around the rotunda of the government center. There were more at the monument where there's a seaside park where people could walk, jog, cycle or just lounge around. The park was very clean and I was lucky to get a few shots before tourists started arriving in the area.

As I had not eaten breakfast yet, I asked my pedicab driver (whom I also asked to wait for me) where I can eat and he pedaled towards a line of carinderias beside the DENR building that was just a stone's throw away from the monument. There, we were informed that they had only tola available and newly cooked. Tola was short for tinola, which is usually chicken cooked in a broth with spices and local lettuce (pechay). This version was with fish and I was offered the tasty part of the head. I asked instead for the tail part as it would be easier to eat. The broth was good and not salty and I quickly poured some sabaw to my rice. The fish, which name I couldn't quite get from the Waray language, is similar to galunggong in taste and didn't have much bone.

Tinolang isda for breakfast
That breakfast was quite tasty and I capped it off with a banana. The only thing I could have advised the manang who tended the carinderia was to have the pechay leaves added to the dish later so that it wouldn't be overcooked. It was good timing for me to have eaten the newly cooked tola but later diners would find the veggies soggy to their taste. The price tag was a very cheap 60 pesos including my softdrink and I didn't hesitate not to take change for my 100 peso bill that I paid to the manang. As I was the first customer that day and was quite satisfied with my meal, it was only right to give more considering the same could have cost me double in Manila. 

It probably also helped that I had the newly released poverty statistics in my mind that day so I was also conscious of how people earn a living in Leyte, which has a 31.9% incidence of poverty, 34th among 79 provinces in the country not including Metro Manila. Neighboring Southern Leyte is at 36.4% (20th). In the next island, Northern Samar is at 43.7% (12th), Western Samar is at 36% (23rd) and Eastern Samar is at a woeful 59.4% (3rd). Overall, Region VIII (Eastern Visayas) is 3rd in the country at 37.2% poverty incidence.

Photos of the Leyte Landing monument in another post...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Siraulo at Pinto

What used to be a branch of an established restaurant at the Pinto Art Gallery is now a new resto that's intriguingly called Siraulo. The word translates to "crazy" in the English language but rather than a portent for the food that they serve, it's actually "crazy" good. The resto specializes in a fusion take on Filipino food and one friend says she has met the chef who is young and apparently a "up and coming" in this profession. We were not disappointed with our food though we did note that a couple of dishes were a bit salty to our taste and made recommendations to the chef.

Roasted free range spring chicken with grilled vegetables and rice pilaf
Parmesan crusted sole with grilled vegetables and rice pilaf
Pork confit in vinegar with grilled vegetable and rice pilaf
Yema tart with salted caramel ice cream
We will surely be back at Pinto another time and maybe not really for the permanent collection but to have lunch at Siraulo. We highly recommend the resto to anyone wanting to have a good lunch in the area.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Random photos

I took a few photos of flowers at the Pinto Art Gallery grounds. I was impressed by what seemed to be a random arrangement of flowering plants in the area and the mix of colors that blended very well. I honestly don't know the names of the plants and am just posting the photos as a journal with no labels.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Sweet and sour fish

Cream dory is currently very popular in the Philippines. You can cook cream dory in many different ways and we have tried it fried, steamed and baked. One dish we like is sweet and sour cream dory, which we have once in a while for lunch or dinner at home.

Sweet and sour cream dory
Home made dinners are always good


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reminiscing: Yamate Catholic Church

I found a few photos I took of the interior of the Yamate Catholic Church the last time I was there in 2008. I had a few photos taken back in the 1990s while I was still a student in Yokohama, Japan. Many were taken with friends from the Sacred Heart Guild and most of these that were printed (We couldn't afford the digital cameras back then.) perished with the flood of Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. Fortunately, I was able to find a few photos here and there with church mates. They helped a lot in my adjustment to life in Japan and many remain good friends despite the distance and limited opportunities for correspondence.

The pulpit is no longer used in regular Masses but in one Christmas Mass, I remember it being used for readings. The stained glass in the photo was a gift from Europe (I think the former Czechoslovakia.) depicting a saint praying to the Child Jesus (Prague?).
Retablo dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, I usually sat in the pews in front of this retablo, which is located on the left side of the main altar (facing the altar). For one, my seat provides easy access to the lectern when I read in Mass.
The interior of Sacred Heart has always evoked calmness for me. I felt at home inside Yamate Catholic Church where I served as a reader during my 3 years in Yokohama and volunteered during some long stays in Japan afterwards. Behind the main altar is a statue depicting the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
The choir loft had a pipe organ though at times, church singing was accompanied only by guitar. We had an excellent choir master at the time who was able to integrate people of various nationalities into the choir.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Trouble in the peninsula

My uncle was a veteran of the Korean War, a Sergeant with the 10th Battalion Combat Team (BCT) that engaged in the worst battles in 1950. He was part of the Philippine Expeditionary Force in Korea (PEFTOK) that was part of the UN forces that sought to defend South Korea from the invading North. It was the 10th BCT that was attached to several American units including the 1st Cavalry, which is credited with the liberation of Manila in 1945, and fought fiercely and gallantly against the perceived threat of communism at the time.
He told us many stories of the horrors of war and prayed we never had to experience such horrors again in our lifetime. Among the stories he related was the time they had pushed the North Koreans back behind the 38th parallel and were on the brink of victory when the Chinese army armed by the Soviets came pouring in to support the Northerners. In one battle, they had to withstand wave upon wave of Chinese and North Korean assaults to the point that they were running out of ammunition but the enemy troops kept on charging. He said they couldn't count how many lay dead on the ground and piled on top of each other. And when it snowed, there was the eerie sight of what looked like mounds of snow but were actually piles of bodies coated or buried by the snow. At one point, the charges almost overwhelmed them despite not needing to target anyone because they only had to shoot and were sure to hit a charging soldier. 
Winter, my uncle related, was particularly bad not because it got very cold and it snowed hard at the time. One freezing afternoon, they got intelligence reports of troops marching towards their position and they prepared for another onslaught. Overnight they waited despite the inclement weather only for the morning to come and with no enemy in sight. Reconnaissance later revealed that enemy troops perished in the freezing weather, literally freezing to death as they marched as they were poorly dressed and equipped for the cold. UN forces were more fortunate to have cold weather gear.
History now shows us that the decision to defend the South's freedom was the right thing to do and ensured that Koreans would be able pursue the development, progress and quality of life that they are now enjoying. Contrast to this is the famine and suffering that most of the North is experiencing. People in the North are deprived of basic necessities including food, of which the supply is prioritized for the North's armed forces, one of the few remaining armies numbering more than 1 million regulars. After the Second World War, the USSR thought the north to be the prize catch because Korea's industries were there while the south was mainly agricultural and poor. Fast forward to the present, investments, sacrifices and hard work by those in the south has produced one of the most vibrant economies in the world. In fact, South Korea is well known for high quality products such as the electronics (e.g., Samsung phones and TVs) and automobiles (e.g., Hyundai and Kia), and of course, there is K-Pop. It remains a tragedy that the country has not been unified for the good of most Koreans even after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the transformation of China's economy.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


In 2008, the Clairvoyant and I enjoyed going around the old city of Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. It was late winter and spring was fast approaching when we went around the temples. Walking from Hachimangu Shrine towards Kamakura Station we took the walkway along the median of the main street to appreciate the cherry trees that would be in full bloom about a month from then. We could only imagine together how it would be like walking or picnicking under the cherry blossoms and spending hanami in Japan. 

Crossing over to the nearby shops along the same street, we checked out the same shops I had explored while still a student in Japan 10 years earlier. I had bought a few items in some of the shops to bring home to my parents' home and our ancestral home in Iloilo. This time we looked for items we could bring to our home and perhaps put on display. It was the Clairvoyant who spotted and asked me about some handpainted cloths in one of the specialty shops. I explained these were used to wrap lunch boxes or just about anything that can be carried. Wrapping items in cloth is an art and a functional one in Japan that I can only compare to origami (paper folding) and ikebana (flower arrangement). We picked two and the shopkeeper was all smiles and commended our appreciation of sakura in her halting English. We casually mentioned that we won't be able to catch the blossoms as we would be heading back to our country before the sakura comes out.

The two hand painted items were eventually framed and now grace our living room. They depict sakura in full bloom with one featuring several trees and the other a more detailed painting of the flowers.

Framed hand painted lunch wraps from Kamakura

Looking at the frames remind me of good times in Japan and the cool, comfy weather during springtime. It feels good for me to see the cherry blossoms even on paintings or photos and perhaps this is why we like having depictions of spring around our home. Spring symbolizes renewal, hope and life - things that are sadly, slowly being lost to many today. The sakura reminds us of nature's beauty and the promise of life that is to be lived instead of being suffered.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Spring to summer

It's been quite hot these days with temperatures climbing to above 34 degrees Celsius in Metro Manila and hitting 38 degrees in northern Luzon. While beginning our daily walk around the village, we spotted one kasambahay sweeping the yellow orange flowers from the front of their house. The flowers are from the tall Acacia tree along our street. The flowering is indicative of spring, which is now the season in the northern hemisphere. It is my favorite season of mine along with autumn when I was still living in Japan. These days, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom and people would be celebrating spring with the traditional hanami, literally "flower watching."

Sweeping the evidence of spring
To some, the nice colors of spring are a welcome sight but we should remember that one's perception might be quite different from another person's opinion about the same thing. In the photo above, the flowers from the acacia tree probably meant additional work for the kasambahay as it is just like any kalat that she must sweep from their garage.

Friday, April 5, 2013

On candidates and self promotion

I am generally suspicious about people running for office who seem to become active only during campaign period or the time leading to the official start to the campaign (which should actually be illegal if the Comelec just had the balls to be strict about its rules). For me, it shows the opportunistic nature of a person rather than a display of commitment and truthfulness that are often desired from someone running for a public post.

I suddenly see people posting photos on social media showing them donating stuff to a neighborhood school or being involved in a feeding program at a church when previously there was none of those activities on his/her timeline. I see people having photo opportunities with politicians like incumbent local government officials, flashing smiles that to me is more ngisi than ngiti. It is frustrating and disappointing that people tend to believe in their promises, their pretentions. It is  pity that these same voters only expect them to be donors or benefactors for things such as basketball tourneys, barangay fiestas and small public works when for many, the mandates and responsibilities are for legislation. Marami ang tumatakbo na hindi alam kung ano ang responsibilidad ng kanilang inaasam na posisyon.

I take two cases of people running for local government positions whom I know since they were children. I just wonder how they can be qualified for the posts they are seeking and if they do meet minimum qualifications, why do they think they are better or more suited for the post than others. One is being praised by common friends and acquaintances with not a few saying we should vote for the person. What has he done or what is his potential contribution? Will he be able to legislate good ordinances? Or does he look at the position as a way to become a benefactor or padrino? By the indications of his own Facebook posts I am not optimistic about his becoming a good public servant. There is a significant difference between being a donor/benefactor and being a public servant. This is what many who are running for office do not understand. Unfortunately, these include even the most seasoned politicians. Kaya may kabulukan sa sistema.

This is probably applicable to many other candidates running not just for local but national posts. Mas malala pa in many other cases where political dynasties reign supreme or where politicians take advantage of the kamangmangan of the electorate. There are times when I share the views that certain segments of society shouldn't be allowed to vote simply because they are uninformed. While I do believe in universal suffrage, a part of me thinks that perhaps this concept is applicable only to more mature and responsible societies or where the majority is informed and know what they are doing. In the Philippines, this is (sadly) not the case and too often the results are disastrous for the future of a town and the rest of the country.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Office cacao

I love chocolate and enjoy a sampling or a bar of chocolate once in a while. These days, I go for the dark variety rather than white chocolate (which I find quite sweet) or milk chocolate (which used to be the only kinds readily available in the supermarket or stores). Chocolate comes from cacao, which is said to originate from South America. The Europeans conquistadores eventually brought cacao to Europe, artisans eventually developed a way to transform this fruit into the goodies and beverages we now commonly see everywhere. Cacao was probably brought to the Philippines by the Spanish who grew trees around the country and harvested the fruit to make the tableya that could be made into a delightful drink of hot chocolate or as an ingredient for sweet or chocolate bars.

One of our staff at the office casually mentioned the cacao tree in front of our building last week. I had not noticed the tree and its fruits though it was in plain site. It must have been one of those moments when you take something for granted because of your familiarity with a place. When I mentioned why we don't seem to hear or know about the cacao being "harvested" our staff joked that the guards pick them and snack on them.

Cacao fruit growing on the main branches of the tree
The cacao has distinct leaves, large ones that would look nice as part of a collection for a grade school science project.
We have a few cacao trees in our home in Iloilo. It was planted by my grandmother in the 1970's and my aunts were able to make homemade hot chocolate that was perfect for cool mornings. We also had a few coffee trees that produced just enough beans that could be made into a few cups of coffee. I remember we had a manual grinder that could be used for either cacao or coffee. That should be an antique piece now that I'll probably try to retrieve for preservation the next time I'm there.