When I arrived here in Singapore, one of the first thing on my “to do list” was to retrace Jose Rizal’s footsteps by utilizing his journal entries on May 9 and 10, 1882, his first, and his most significant visit to the islands. I thought that it would be easy, I had in mind an undersized island that I could effortlessly trek within a day, But I was mistaken, it was easier said than done. The City state is a colossal metropolitan, it could be small in land mass but what it lacks in space, it very well compensates in constructing enormous infrastructures, they have roads wider than our expressways, parks that would dwarf our Luneta, a library that’s built like a corporate tower, a Ferris wheel that ranks as the world’s highest, they even allocated a nature reserve that has more species of trees than that of the entire North American continent. In business school, there is a stratagem that is taught to undergraduates: make small appear Big, this best illustrates the character of the second wealthiest state in Asia.
In the end, I did [I hope] found the places I was looking for, but it took me nearly three weeks! the two raisons why it became time-consuming was, First, Rizal wrote his journal entries without supplying names and exact settings, giving indistinct descriptions, like viewing a “Portuguese church” or entering a “French church”, he gave brief commentaries on its appearance but he never revealed any specifics, he was cleanly sketching what he saw, recounting places that he found to be interesting. Second, the colossal land development that has taken place in the last two decades has totally altered the landscape, they did, however, preserved some of the well-known heritage sites and edifices, and they did a splendid job, but the Singapore of 1882, now only exist in B&W photos and old records that can be found in their impressive National Library, the outstanding monuments are but a reminder of what was once a active city harbor of colonial Britain.
Rizal visited Singapore in five occasions, but the first was something special to the brown superman [this was his first ever foreign country visit], for it was here that he begun his pursuit of what he refers to as his “enlightenment”, a quest that would take him all over the world and make him the greatest Filipino, in the words of Guerrero, The First Filipino!
We begin our journey with Rizal’s rented room at the “Hotel de la Paix”, located at Coleman Street, named after Singapore’s pioneering city planner, George Coleman. The hotel was in fact the residence of Architect Coleman, constructed in 1829, converted into a lodge after his death. Hotel de la Paix was later renamed Burlington before it was totally demolished in 1965, the contemporary and chic Peninsular hotel, built in 1971, now stand on its place.
According to Marsita Omar, a Singaporean researcher from NLB, “the principal hotels in Singapore in the late 19th century, were Raffles Hotel, Hotel de L’Europe and Hotel de La Paix “. The hotel were Rizal was staying had a fine location, it was pricey but had good quality quarters, but it had terrible service, and the chow according to Rizal, “There was neither order nor coordination in the service…I ate rice which was inferior to ours”. Hotel de la Paix sits in the hub of what was recognized then as the island’s civic center, amongst its neighbors is the City Hall, Treasury and the Parliament.
In his journal he wrote, “I’m in my room which overlooks a patio adjoining the Hotel Europa, I hear English spoken everywhere…”, The Hotel Europa, another classic structure was brought down in 1937, the site was use for the creation of the Supreme Court building, which was finished in 1939.
The old Masonic lodge could also be found in the same street, less than a block away, it’s a possibility that he got in touch with his Mason brothers during his short stopover and that they were the ones that prearranged for his boarding in Singapore. Rizal, it seems to me, was already admitted into Masonry long before he came to Spain [this connection however could not be verified, since this ancient fraternity disallows unrestricted disclosures and Rizal never wrote anything about it, older historians believes that he became a Mason in Spain]. It should also be noted that in November 1896, during his last stop in Singapore on board a ship bound to Manila, were he was already in custody as a prisoner, his brothers had lodged a petition for a writ of habeas corpus to save him from being hurled back to Manila, the authorities of Singapore has denied the appeal, the following month he was executed.
He repeated his discontent with the hotel staff as he wrote, “When I returned to the hotel, I waited a long time for supper. At last it came after I had leafed through an illustrated German magazine with beautiful drawings”, if he was hotel critic writer, reporting for a travel magazine, he would’ve failed this hotel, regarded then to be a premier destination.
Rizal was noticeably astonished by what he had been witnessing he wrote, “I’ll remember everything I have seen since this afternoon”, There were a “thousand enigmatic things” he added, he took pleasure being on the road, but what’s worth mentioning is that he never felt at ease with all the oriental culture that surrounded him, he sought for Christian churches and preferred to speak with Spanish speakers. It could very well be the strangeness of the place, far away from the customary sceneries of picturesque Calamba, but then again we should evaluate the established culture of a Filipino, during those years, someone like Rizal, for example, and compare it with other advanced Asian society and we would notice that we had already been hispanized and it would be quite unattainable to alter its effects. Here is Rizal, plainly detached from the preponderance of the Asian way of life. Calling Rizal, a Malay would be improper because aside from his lineage [Chinese and Castillian], he never saw himself as a Malay, on no account did once he declared that he was, but there are many who find it irresistible to associate him with being Malay, chiefly those who sponsors Asianization, believing that culturally, Filipinos belongs to Asia, when it is a historical fact that Asia was never with us.
There were a lot of first for the youthful Pepe, and this is what makes his Singapore experience essential, not only to him but to us, for it was the launching point of his mission to help rid his Filipinas of what he calls its “social cancer”. The Rizal that spent that short holiday in Singapore had some dilemma with the language used, his English was awful, could be worst than his Tagalog, and he had trouble conversing with it, although he had already mastered French and his German at this point, English was the foremost language of the island nation [even today] The language barrier could very well be the reason why he never attempted to elaborate and know more about the places he visited, he was merely avoiding the nuisance of inquiring from inhabitants with a “language that they alone can understand”.
End of Part 1