New Books Like “In Binondo, Once Upon a War”

I’ve been stocking up on my Filipiana books the past few days. Plenty of new nonfiction titles, very good ones, up for grabs. Forget the foreign publications you can get them cheap (sometimes free) over the internet. But I grumble that some great history titles are a bit too expensive.

Who’s going to buy them if we keep them out of a student’s budget?

The government should subsidized local books. To keep the cost down. If they can spend billions in ghost corporations and projects why not books, c’mon now?

Now this book is both priceless and and pricey, “The Manila Synod Of 1582: The Draft Of Its Handbook For Confessors,” published by Ateneo Press, 162 pages priced at P850. A significant historical text that reveals the attitude and humanity of the first Catholic Bishop of Manila, Domingo de Salazar, towards the natives.

Loot. Books.

But I worry that such a publication, invaluable and exceptional as it is, would only be read by a handful of enthusiasts and scholars.

It has been a routine of mine, since my first job in 2001, to purchase one book every pay day. I no longer follow this because of time constraints but I still do raid local bookstores every once in awhile. I monitor releases on the internet these days. When I find something I want and the store confirms they’re available, then I go.

Whenever I’m back home I see to it that I visit my friends, Pepe and his wife Yeyette, and their children, 5 in all, in their small apartment. They live not far from my relatives in San Pedro, so when I visit them I drop by the Alas home too.

We often discuss the need to get the children to read. I implore for him to do more. The children watch TV and play computer games all day. My friend has given up and told me last Sunday that it’s hopeless. Mind you that the books in that home occupies half of their narrow sala but still the children won’t touch them.

Now, back to my new books…

I was pleasantly surprised by this book, “In Binondo, Once Upon a War,” written by Filipino playwright Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, popular for her work in children theatre. I’m a sucker when it comes to stories about pre-WWII Manila. I enjoyed reading it. I finished it in three days. Here let me share some of it.

“Manila is split into two by the Pasig river, wide, beautiful and clean, rich with lively fishes which draw fisher folks from all over the city… During rainy season, beds of lilies crowned with white, pink and lavender blossoms. The business districts of Binondo and Santa Cruz are on the one side of the Pasig while on the other side… the handsome houses of Ermita of the old rich, the schools, universities, Cathedal, the open field of the Luneta park.”

She remembers what Santa Cruz Church was like before it was recently desecrated and made to look like a Protestant church.

“Second well known church, a walking distance into the district of Santa Cruz. It is simple and almost without any ornate decoration of Quiapo Church…Plain grey wall topped by short iron grills encloses the church where the Virgin Mary hold the Child Jesus astride her hip. While Quiapo Church is the focus of male adoration, the Santa Cruz Church is the center of all women’s ardent supplications.”

She recalls Manila’s “classiest” shopping area and masa Divisoria.

“The elegant shops of business buildings as one walks away from the front iron grill gate of Santa Cruz Church, Berg Arcade andSoriente Santos are stocked with all kinds of clothing, ready-made or materials in bolts hanging cloths… Heacocks, Oceanic commercials, Rebulida’s are the shops popular with ladies because they specialize in jewelry and silvermade. Walkover’s is a shop known for its elegant and expensive imported footwear.”

“We certainly learn a lot when we visit the shopping area known as Divisoria near Cathedral Binondo bcause of the rich variety of products there. Oh wow, there are even shops that sell pets like dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and fishes. Because we learned to read the fine prints of labels and converse with the friendly Chinese shopkeepers, Mother or Father do no inhibit us from going there. For sure, Binondo is an enormouis and lively center of learning!”

The book is a sentimental gold mine. Now you go see these places and all you see is filth and decay. I don’t think there’s going to be anything left of Manila’s heritage in the years to come. The old houses that survived the war are now dying a slow death, while those that are neglected are sold and bulldozed to make way for more glass and concrete structures. So forgive me for the negativity here but I have seen how historical buildings are being plucked out little by little. One day our memory of the entire city would only be found in these books—everything else would be left for the imagining.


2 responses to “New Books Like “In Binondo, Once Upon a War”

  • De AnDA

    Hi John. I am grateful for these Catholic universities, their publishing houses and oh that Vibal company, all are doing great works on getting old books and documents reprinted. I just hope that distribution and the cost gets better. I follow local titles about history and I’m quite content about the number of out of print books and Spanish era titles being reprinted.

  • John Earle

    One of the few disappointments I felt when I was living in the Philippines was the difficulty of finding anything that came near to the British idea of an antiquarian bookshop. I love collecting books which are old enough to give a completely different view on society and which feel part of a different age, physically as well as literally.

    I gave me great pleasure to find publishers, such as Ateneo Press, who are reprinting old works but there is no substitute for having the original publication in your hands. Any suggestions as to where to look for original antiquarian books, next time I am in the Philippines, will be very welcome.

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