Fighting Mall Culture: Fete de la Musique Manila

Fete de la Musique could very well be the underground music enthusiast’s dream.

Streets closed off to traffic, venues within walking distance of each other, multiple stages catering to various genres from Latin to blues to reggae, and all for free.

The main stage

I wish I had more to say about the music, it being a music festival after all, but for some reason I kept winding up in locations that only had DJs and too many sweaty bodies crammed together and attempting to dance. The club scene just isn’t for me.

The Latin Stage

Reminiscent of the street party at Cebu’s Sinulog Festival–except that it was all about music and that I ended the night dry– what I found instead was my ideal Manila street come to life.

Roads made for people on foot instead of people in cars have always held a certain allure for me. Weaving your way through street vendors, people-watching, and casually walking into bars with live music are experiences of your surroundings that you can’t get while hiding behind a glass windshield.

The added bonus were the spontaneous acts on the street, from drumming to hula-hooping. What city wouldn’t be a little better off without drums and hula-hoops? Throw in bubbles and some plastic balloon and I might have never left.

I finally wound up at the Jazz Stage, where I had the my first and last encounter of a live band that night.

I may not have gotten the full experience of the festival in terms of music, but it’s not everyday that you get to stroll through the streets of Makati on foot–especially when you’re that near the gentlemen’s clubs of P. Burgos. I’m sure not a lot of people will agree with me on this, but to me, this is what Manila ought to be.

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Life lessons from film cameras

Disclaimer: I’m no photographer (despite all my dad’s wishes). I bought a disposable camera for my Sinulog trip because I didn’t want my dad’s Fuji x100 getting paint on it. I didn’t even touch the box while I was in Cebu though, so I ended up using it on different occasions.

1. Sometimes it does us good to have the privilege of the “undo” taken away.

With the age of digitalization and the Internet came the ability to publish, comment, tweet, copy, paste, reblog, like, and, conversely, take it all back again. There are pictures of people making pouty duck faces simply because they can.

Andrew and I never have pictures in which we both look nice. It just doesn’t happen. Not making an ugly face here was a conscious effort.

2. Since undo is not always an option, actively look for what’s worth your while.

I read somewhere that Ansel Adams used to send out his students with a just a single film sheet as an exercise. We may now live in a world of 32gb memory cards, but the concept isn’t as laughable as some might think.

Camille and Chau during our Mind Museum adventure

The day I “taught” Andrew how to ride a bike

3. Things won’t always go the way you hoped they would, despite all prior preparations.

When nothing can be done to remedy the situation, instead of getting all huffy about it, it’s best to see the good in whatever’s at hand.

Sams is a certified picture-ruiner (Our MO is to only count up to 2 and just hope for the best). I love this picture though.

4. Some our your attempts will yield results better than you expected while others will fall flat. Either way, you won’t know until you try.

The people who make Ateneo bearable

Fighting mall culture pt. 2 – Quiapo

Adventure number 2: Quiapo.

I regret not bringing a camera because, at the time we went, there weren’t thaaat many people. Better safe than sorry, I suppose. What I do have is the experiential article I wrote for my application to the Features staff of The GUIDON (I was accepted! The effort to not add about ten more exclamation points is ridiculous).

Quiapo: A Mallternative

It’s no secret that most Filipinos have a shameless fascination with luxury, and there’s no better evidence of this fact than the many shopping malls that litter our metropolis.

Their pervading presence and grandeur are impossible to ignore; With an SM at every turn and Greenbelt playing host to extravagant stores like Gucci and Louis Vuitton, it’s easy to forget that there is more to the urban experience than the mallrat concern for name brands, opulence, and air-conditioning. Surely there’s no reason any sane person would venture out into a place like Quiapo.

Obscure appeal
Isn’t Quiapo polluted, packed, and riddled with thieves and beggars? Can anything even be gained from a day spent drenched in sweat that might not even be your own, considering the crowds?

During my visit, I found that the answer to both questions is yes.

Yes, Quiapo is dirty. Spitting anywhere that men with overzealous salivary glands see fit is commonplace, and I passed a considerable number of couples taking turns perusing their partners’ scalps for lice. Yes, it can get congested, and one would be wise to be wary of pickpockets. The unsavory aside, however, my friends and I found that there was much to benefit from steering our way through narrow eskinitas and getting lost in Quiapo’s unpredictability.

“I’ll admit [going to Quiapo] is out of my comfort zone,” said Camille Jurilla, a junior at the University of Santo Tomas and one of my companions on the trip. “Crowded, less than clean spaces, and there are random people everywhere. But it’s like an add-on to the experience.”

Before and after.

United in diversity
The description most befitting of Quiapo is perhaps that it’s a cultural melting pot: Upon alighting the train at Carriedo station, my friends and I heard English, Chinese, and Filipino words darting through the lively streets; not too far from Quiapo Church, home of the revered Black Nazarene, is the Golden Mosque, the place of worship of Quiapo’s sizeable Muslim population.

Nowhere is Quiapo’s multicultural propensity more apparent, however, than in Plaza Miranda, which abuts the church. Sardonicism is thick on the fringes of this quad, where paraphernalia of folk magic and Christianity are placed side by side.

This plaza is where rosaries and plastic-wrapped icons of the Sto. Nino, Virgin Mary, and Black Nazarene are sold alongside anting-anting (talismans) that are said to have supernatural powers, herbal medicines that can allegedly cure any malady, colored candles lit for divine intervention, and, though we didn’t see any, furtively-sold pampa-regla (abortifacients); a legion of manghuhula (fortune tellers) is also parked here, calling on believers and nonbelievers alike to have their palms read or their futures revealed with decks of worn Tarot cards.

A second look
Moving away from the plaza, we walked through the streets where once-illustrious Ilustrado homes have given way to food stalls, ukay-ukay- (second hand clothing stores), and optical shops.
At first glance, the streets took on a chaotic and surreal quality. Sunglasses were sold on the same table as rubber dildos; a cat slept snuggly on a tray of gold watches; on 10 pieces of jewelry, I spent what I would have on just one of the same quality in an upscale mall; vintage Rolleiflexes and the latest SLRs could be purchased at prices untainted by the rental rates of mall space.

All that jewelry (and the pieces I’ve already given away) for P400. For someone as cheap as me, this is like a dream come true.

Upon closer inspection, however, there is a certain, albeit obscure, magic to seeing Manila stripped of the constructed glamour and forced order that characterize our shopping malls and their surrounding areas.

“There’s a different aura in Quiapo,” said Carmela Bangsal, a student of the University of the Philippines Diliman and an occasional visitor of the area. She added, “It’s a given fact that most of the country’s population falls under the lower class brackets, so as the masses, they are what govern our media and culture. Quiapo definitely isn’t a middle class place. Given that, it’s where our culture thrives.”

Vintage high-wasted shorts for P50

Like any worthwhile adventure, the trip is not an easy one. It’s a far cry from comfortable, but its constant change and bustling disorder are the very things that drive its allure and make you slaves to its appeal. Embracing its uncertainties guarantees an unforgettable experience, and it takes no more than a visit to know it is not a place you can resist returning to for long. A place best visited with a mind open to opportunity and surprise, Quiapo has a pull to it that shopping malls have no choice but to yield to.

Fighting mall culture pt. 1

In a fit of boredom, I recently did an online search of “must-visit places in Metro Manila.” The expected hits (Ayala Museum, Intramuros, Divisoria, and Quiapo) turned up, but also making it to every Top Ten list and photo compilation were… shopping malls.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. We’ve got Mall of Asia, the 4th largest mall in the world, the Greenbelt complex, awarded for its architecture, and an SM everywhere you turn. In general, the well-to-do Manilenyos of today have very much become a mall rat people, so naturally a shopping mall is what comes to mind when we think of our cities. But I refuse to believe that a look into our consumerist culture is the best of what Manila has to offer. Surely we have more to boast about than our concern for name brands and luxury, opulence and airconditioning. And so the search is on for places I can show off to both non-Manilenyos as well as Manilenyos who are tourists in their own city.

First stop: East Kapitolyo Drive, Pasig.

Kapitolyo is best known for Charlie’s Grind and Grill, but just down the street is a place called Poco Deli. Like its car wash-cum-grillery neighbor, Poco Deli’s outside looks nothing short of sketchy, an image aided by their having a doorman armed with a golf club (security budget’s tight). This inside is spacious and warmly lit though, and it feels homy without trying too hard (That’s you, Mary Grace).

Dan pondering the significance of mini chocolate chips in her life.

Dan and I shared the salmon pasta that didn't have much salmon. Still good, but I wish I had gone with the recommended 4 Cheese Pizza.

Andrew's German Nuemberger Sausage. Looks like an Offbeat Burger, but makes so much more sense.

Camille had the steak sandwich. One of their bestsellers, it's mozzarella cheese and grilled steak jammed between a bagel. It was suuuperduper.

Then we walked further down the street to Mad Mark’s Man Sandwich and Frozen Desserts, where they serve homemade ice cream at reasonable prices (P68 per scoop, in relation to Gelatissimo’s cringe-worthy P110).

Clockwise from top: Half-baked Madagascar, Madagascar Crumble, Javan Cocoa Hot Chocolate, and Dark Roast Sumatra.

Cams with her Dark Roast Sumatra and Andrew with his Madagascar Crumble

Ending it a little poorer, stuffed to bursting, and ready to go to bed (baboy reflex), I thought the evening was an encouraging start to what I really need to be an adventurous summer.

The art of science

“ART HAD to come to rescue science from its boringness.”

– Emily Abrera (board member)

It may raise some eyebrows among defensive science buffs, but this statement perfectly encapsulates the principles that built the newest and already most celebrated science museum in the country: The Mind Museum.

Taking up an entire hectare of land in Bonifacio Global City, the museum is the product of the attempt to unify science and art, and the one billion peso answer to the simple question, “How can science be presented differently?”

Culturally, Filipinos are an aesthetically driven people. Art and the opportunity to be involved in it is what catches and holds our attention. Generally, it isn’t enough to hand us notes on solar energy and expect us get a kick out of reading them. We respond best to what is tangible and what is beautiful.

THE LIGHT LIFE. These solar-powered bug models are kept mobile by a halogen lamp that represents the sun.

That is a lesson Maribel Garcia, the curator and visionary of the museum, picked up from her 25 years as a science writer.

“I noticed that when you use language that is beautiful—and I don’t mean dumb or simple, I mean beautful–you access certain minds who otherwise would not have really paid attention to how the world works,” she said.

With this in mind, she conceptualized the museum so that it would demonstrate science in a fashion previously unknown to the general Filipino public. She said, “We were going to do science exhibits, but we were going to use art as a strategy, not the goal… It is still ultimately to show a principle in science, but we would have to cloak it in really beautiful forms.”

I love the theory behind this museum. Their attempt to accomplish it is evident in a number of their exhibits, from the fossil cave with its sand-covered floor to the playground installations with their bubble-makers and off-center see-saws, but they still seem to have a lot to work on.

I was a little disappointed that a number of the exhibits were out or order or not yet ready for use at all. I was hoping for something as interactive as San Francisco’s Exploratorium (but I was only six when I went, and people have a bad habit of becoming less excitable as they get older). Then again, I was only there on its second official day, and allowance ought to be given for birthing pains.

Stan the T-Rex is named after Stan Sacrison, the discoverer of T-Rex bones in the 1980s.

Nonetheless, the international praise the museum has received isn’t unwarranted. It’s the first and only museum of its kind in the country, and for that alone it deserves recognition.