Category Archives: America

Bahay-na-Bato: Always the Haunted Houses


“The town’s Antillean houses were massive but refined, elegant.The builders were not cutting corners. They were out to impress!” These days they’re all gated, almost hidden, with only caretakers (like that lady) for residents.

I recently watched a GMA Front Row about the ancestral houses in San Miguel, Bulacan. “Front Row: Ang Misteryosong Lumang Bahay ng San Miguel Bulacan” was uploaded in Youtube October last year. I’m not sure when it aired on TV.


I wasn’t surprised that the stories were, again, about trifling ghost stories.

Filipino TV producers and writers are obsessed with haunted houses. Good for ratings—terrible for the already underappreciated bahay-na-batos.

Manuel, grandson of Doña Crispina de Leon (sister to former first lady Trinidad Roxas) said the, “house reflects the rich history of this town…it shows that even during those times there were cultured, educated people and entrepreneurs…movers of the town’s small economy.”

He said not once did he ever seen a ghost. Manuel spoke of the house’s colorful past. He took the focus away from it being jammed with ghosts.

All the other caretakers spoke of their scary experiences.

The featured De Leon house was where Gregorio del Pilar slept before living Bulacan to head north.

Teodoro M. Kalaw said it was the wish of the builders that their houses continues to be inhabited and appreciated by generations to come.

Our tangible heritage are not just spaces where horror films gets staged. They were built to last for “US” to live in, to celebrate.

Not long ago, while walking around the Dominican’s retreat house in Nasugbu, I overheard teenagers chuckle. “Ay dito yun, eto yun!” one of them somewhat reenacted a scene. Curious, I asked what’s going on. “Sukob po, yun movie ni Chris Aquino, dito po s’ya kinasal.”

Now, the Chapel is not a heritage structure. But my point is that the young would most likely recall a horror flick scene over the history of a place.

We once went to Wisconsin to buy clothes and electronics. This US state have low sales tax and great bargains from “outlet” shops.

I was looking for an IC recorder. A Sony attendant recommended one, “this model is very popular for ghost and paranormal people, y’know”.

Interesting sales pitch.

We have a different culture compared to westerners. In the US, old hotels rumored to be haunted gets more reservations.

Their notorious haunted houses are not adversely affected by its reputation.

On the contrary, Filipinos steer clear of places believed to be haunted.

A few years ago, someone looking for a place to rent in Manila sought my advise regarding an old apartment. He wanted to know if it had a history of being haunted!

In San Ildefonso, the “bahay na pula” was demolished in 2016. Not a whimper was heard. I didn’t even heard of it until a friend told me.

For most people, even local historians, it’s not only haunted, its “dark” past makes them want for it to just go away. They don’t want anything to do with it.

The house was one of the many sites where “comfort women” were raped during WWII.

A blogger friend told me that Engr. Acuzar allegedly bought the house for his Bataan beach resort.

But is it not better that it remain there to educate the young?

If we follow the proponents of the demolition’s logic, we should build on top of Bagumbayan. Ensure no trace of its past remains. No monuments, nothing. Luneta was where Filipinos got shot and guillotined! Let’s build an SM mall and a dozen Jollibee on its very ground!


The last time I saw San Miguel was four years ago. My wife’s family is from nearby San Rafael. The town is a short jeepney ride away.

I remember witnessing two tricycle drivers fight MMA-style when I came to see the bahay-na-bato(s). I thought that’s a bad omen (there was also a bit of rain that day!).

True enough—it was.

I failed to inspect any of the famed houses up close. I viewed all of them from the street. No one allowed me in, not one caretaker!

The town’s Antillean houses were massive but refined, elegant. The builders were not cutting corners. They were out to impress!

San Miguel’s the biggest cluster of bahay-na-bato that I have seen in the province.

Owners are struggling financially maintaining their inherited properties. They’re not given financial and technical support but are told by government and public to hold on to it.

I know of one case in Laguna where the owner just decided to sell the house to free himself with what seem to him a lifelong encumbrance.

I always thank caretakers and owners I meet. What they’re doing is a difficult task. They’re not only preserving the memory of their forebears but the historical identity of us all.


To be clear, I remain a fan of GMA 7 docus. I believe we’re in the golden era of Filipino documentaries. In my mind, they’re the best at it. But I’ve seen enough haunted houses that features our bahay-na-batos.

Time to make something else. Leave our old houses alone please.

Hemingway Comes to Mind

ernest hemingway, oak park illinois, chicago

Whenever there’s a discussion about American literature and culture Ernest Hemingway’s name pops out without fail. He’s the most popular American writer not only of his generation but of all time. Whether he’s the best American writer or not is another matter. Critics and writers have different opinions about his contributions and writing style. He remains a polarizing literary figure here in the US and the rest of the world.

While I was in Oak Park (after seeing Frank Lloyd Wright’s House & Museum) I dropped by the houses where the Hemingways once lived. There was an impressively informative guided tour in the first house, called the birth house, where the writer and his siblings were born. The tour guide has a story for every piece of furniture, small and big, in the house where the doctor father and the singer mother stayed with their kids up until Hemingway was 6. You could ask him why a certain painting or flower base is placed where they are and he would have a ready answer. Now the boyhood home, located in Kenilworth Avenue, was owned by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation until they sold it in 2011 to private owners. I read that they run into some financial issues with it. The good news is that the historical house is in no way in danger; the buyers are aware of its historical significance and are actually looking into opening it to public.

I forgot his name but that guy, with his sleek mustache, is a great tour guide. He knows the story of every single appliance, art work or article in that house!

The Hemingway’s house in N. Oak Park have an interesting story. It was sold (around the time Grace’s father, who invited Dr. Hemingway to live with him and her daughter, died) after the family decided to move to the bigger Kenilworth house. It had undergone several owners and renovations before the Hemingway Foundation bought it. They managed to restore it back to the original by studying photographs Dr. Hemingway took of the house. I like the idea of these non-government foundations taking over these heritage houses. They act independently but gets funding from private and the government. Their business is heritage conservation; they raise money from fund raising and other projects. Back home there are heritage groups but none has ever ventured on purchasing heritage houses and managing them like museums.

When the tour guide (pictured above; forgot the name, sorry) asked whether any of us read “The Sun Also Rises” (I was tempted to raise my hand to impress but decided not to because I never did!) an old couple responded and they went on talking about the novel and all little details as if they just read it that day. They said he was sharing his WWI experiences through his fiction and whenever theses folks eyes would glance on me, I would nod to show I concur with whatever they’re saying. Of course, I have no idea what they’re talking about.

The tour guide shared a tremendous amount of detail about the author’s life. Like where he probably got his love for the seas and stories about it. Turns out that an uncle, a seasoned Mariner who loves to tell stories, used to stay with them. The father was an honorable doctor who treated many locals for gratis. Invented a kind of forceps for delivering baby but refused to patent it. A company would later register it and they got millions for selling it! Now, the father’s side is the scientific side, the mother’s side is the artistic side; Grace, the mother, taught music and earn around 1000 dollars a month which at that time was a big sum of money. She was earning more than his doctor husband.

A few months ago F.Sionil José expressed that he’s not impressed by Hemingway’s work. He found it, especially The Sun Also Rises, boring. John Updike, the Pulitzer winning writer said, “Hemingway’s apparently, simple style, easily parodied, is dismissed as semi-literate when in fact it was a refined and thoughtful product of modernism in its youthful prime.” I’m too uneducated to even comment on this matter but I’ve always read about these criticisms and never understood why he gets a lot of it.

This photo I took from “Ernest Hemingway and World War I”. This is in Oak Park. The streets still looks like it was when the photo the photo was taken. Hemingway was just discharged from the Army hospital and is seen here still walking with a cane.

I’m no big literature reader; I struggle to finish most fiction titles I get my hands on. I’m in my 30’s and have only managed to read two Hemingway novels (Farewell to Arms and Old Man and the Sea). I have seen movies made about him and his stories too. Now these movies romanticize his adventures serving only in making his star shine brighter.

Books written about him that gave me a good idea what kind of a man he was were: “Ernest Hemingway and World War I” and “An Interview with Ernest Hemingway,” both were biographical and elementary. I’m still working on “The Letters of Ernest Hemingway,” this one’s a lengthy compilation of some of the writer’s interesting correspondence. I have downloaded a collection of all his novels online for my kindle, and yes, I have not yet added any to my “Hemingway list of novels I finished.”

Hemingway was a pioneer in “dehumanizing psychological effects of combat.” He most probably discovered PTSD as a real psychological disorder. Prior to his stories about the effects of wars on a person’s mind, no one really spoke about it in public. It was his experience, being wounded in WWI and later covering the Spanish civil war, that gave him a unique experience that enabled him to write his fiction and reportage like no other.

The neoclassic building is the Hemingway museum, just a few meters from the birth house. I forgot to take a picture of the boyhood home in Kenilsworth which was where the Hemingway stayed up until his early 20’s I believe.

The writer was a Hispanista; He loved Spain. One of the few American writers of his generation that spoke Spanish. The New York Times correspondent, James Markham, in his article “Hemingway’s Spain” said, “It was in this heartland that he encountered, and reinvented in literature, a tragic Spain of impassioned living and violent dying, a nation of Goyas and Garcia Lorcas that seemed cast to his own virile, existentialist morality. Since he had virtually abandoned America (and never wrote a novel about it), this Spain was, arguably, the closest thing he had to home.”

The Illinois native believes that Fidel Castro used “For Whom the Bell Tolls” as his guide book in his war against Batista. They knew each other and the writer supported the Cuban revolution; which placed him under the US intelligence agencies radar. His book “The Sun Also Rises” inspired many Americans to try living overseas. “Transplanting yourself” he said teaches you “dislocation,” “sharpens the memory…makes you able to recall details you take for granted when you’re in the actual place.” And at this point in my life I believe this to be true.

Now, is there any connection between Hemingway and our country? There’s a bistro (Hemingway Bistrot, they added a “t” for legal reasons) in Puerto Galera named after him, which I suspect to be the idea of American owners who knew about the Hemingway Bistro; located not far from the Hemingway Museum in Oak Park. I’m sure Hemingway has never seen Mindoro but he had visited Manila, with his new wife at the time, and  they stayed in the Manila Hotel. The famous visitor’s response to one reporter’s question about what makes a good story became part of the Hotel’s history, and later ad campaigns: “It’s a good story if it’s like Manila Hotel.”

Inside the Hemingway museum. The green cafe, the last photo in the collage, is the Hemingway Bistro, which has a French theme menu—the man they named it after enjoyed Spanish food too; but the place was just named after him. The building where the bistro was establish is the “Write Inn” a historical building where writers once stayed, hence the name “write”

December 2014

A Visit to the Frank Lloyd Wright House & Museum and Our American Inspired Architecture

frank lloyd wright, daniel burnham, william parson, juan arellano, oak park chicago

Chicago Ave scenes. Top photo is the studio, now museum, of Frank Lloyd Wright. There’s an interesting old tree standing between the house and the studio. Its fruits smell like cat poop.

My first lessons in 20th century Philippine architecture was discovering the works of the great pensionado architects: Carlos Barreto, Tomas Mapúa and Juan Marcos Arellano. Their education in the beaux arts architecture schools in the US and the demands of their time is palpable in the projects they undertook. These architect works complimented the American blueprint for the city. Of all the pensionado architect, Arellano is the most prolific having designed the great neoclassic structures; the Post Office building and Legislative building. I’m frequently reminded of his brilliance because the Capitol building of Bulacan in Malolos—one of his towering creations—is literally a stone’s throw away from a brother’s house.

There were also the works of American Daniel Burnham and his Protégé William Parsons who planned many of our existing American colonial building, like the Manila Hotel, the Laguna Capitol building, Philippine Normal school, the PGH and the recently gutted Army Navy club—and let’s not forget the Gabaldon schools—he had a hand on planning those too. This great American architect is all but forgotten now but his works stands as a reminder of the American’s imperial achievements in our country.

I stay in a suburb less than an hour away from Chicago, a city whose urban design owe much from the visionary Burnham design—the same man who would draw the city plan for Manila and Baguio. It is said that Burnham intended to built the new city outside Intramuros because he admired the ancient city—he wanted to retain the old to compliment the new. As the writer Lynn Baker puts it Burnham “had a kind of genius for identifying centers of power, cultural as well as political, and pulling them together into a forceful consensus.” Just imagine if he had built on top or even annexed Intramuros—if Burnham were Filipino this is exactly what he would have done!

I was already in college when I started reading about modern architectural styles in 20th century Philippines; prior to this I only studied Spanish era structures. I learned about the decorative style of Art Deco and I became an Art Deco spotter! Buildings in this style add an appealing historical stratum to our cities. Some of the best examples of Art Deco are in Manila: the decaying Metropolitan Theater and old Manila hotel. As for the former, they still have not figured out what to do with it. Well, at least it’s standing, the Jai Alai buildin was not as fortunate—that vision less Mayor Atienza tore it down. After leveling it to the ground what did they built? Nothing. The city has had the bad luck of having mayors who does not appreciate its tangible heritage.

The blogger standing right beside Wright’s deck stairs

I have fond memories of Manila Jai Alai building for it was where Basque pelota was played. While my father enjoyed laying his bets, we cut plastic oil containers and used bald tennis balls to play “Jai Alai” at home—attempting to impersonate those flamboyant Spanish and Filipino Jai Alai players.

Heritage advocates are waiting what will happen to the Metropolitan Theater, the last great Art Deco standing in Manila. Are there plans to revive it or are the powers-that-be just waiting for it to cave in so they can do their deals and sell the land beneath it?

Now, going back to Frank Lloyd Wright. A relative of mine brought me to the house and school of the iconic American architect last week in Oak Park. It took us less than half an hour to reach this Chicago suburb. The century old house and the studio were in exceptional state. If there’s one thing that I admire most about these Americans is how they value their heritage—and theirs are not even as old as ours but they put  great effort in conservation and education. Not far from the Wright museum are the birthplace and boyhood home of another iconic American artist, Ernest Hemingway—more on this on a later post.

Now there’s an interesting link between Daniel Burnham  and Frank Lloyd Wright. According to historians Burnham saw the young architect’s potential and offered to sent him to Ecole de Beaux Arts in France to further his study. In return, he would be employed by the veteran architect with considerable pay and commission. Around this time Burnham was already well-known in the industry with several commissions from the city of Chicago under his company. The young architect believing that American architecture is headed away from the classic styles turned down the offer.

Don’t let the sunny look deceive you—it’s below freezing!

Oak Park in Chicago is a historic district dotted with delightful century old homes. These structures represent the quintessential modern American style of building houses. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation manages the historic Frank Lloyd Wright house & museum. They’re an NGO that conducts tours, educational activities and preservation projects. There are many extant examples of works from Wright and his students in the area and if you’re engrossed in authentic American architecture and Wright drop by Oak Park when you’re in the west side of Chicago.

December 2014

Notes on Immigrant Languages Here in IL

(1) Walking to a church 2 miles from home (2) Lapida marker showing the hands that built the church were German (3) Sending mails for Christmas

Temperatures has been below freezing for weeks here but there are days the weather allows you to go out and wander around. The other day, I visited the post office to drop off some mails. I then went to the nearest Catholic church built more than 100 years ago by German pioneers. You could still see the original engraving when the church was built in German. I remember a former colleague’s stories about how she managed to trace her relatives in Philadelphia through a website and how it was like meeting them for the first time. Aside from their last name there’s really very little that she have in common with her American relatives according to her.

I have been preoccupied attending diner parties lately. My relative’s Filipino network of friends here is impressively huge. They gets plenty of party invites. We attended three gatherings in a span of a week. One party had an attendance close to 30 people! Filipinos around here organize parties not only to catch up with each other but to experience a piece of the homeland. In a place so far and so cold I could understand why these people throw out parties with regularity. After attending one of these get-together I told my relatives to continue speaking with their children in Tagalog. I noticed that almost all Filipino children I met already lost their mother tongue. Their parents talks to them exclusively in English because it’s convenient.

My cousin in Ohio told me that it’s difficult for the children to learn Tagalog because they have no one to converse with outside their home. So at some point she got tired trying. Her only child could understand Tagalog but could not speak it. My friend Pepe Alas is having the same problem in his home. While he insist for his children to speak only his first language (Spanish) the children are having difficulties doing so. The mother doesn’t speak Spanish so at home they’re not hearing it enough. Outside there’s no one to converse with. Hopefully those kids takes interest in studying Spanish one day. Also, the media, TV shows are all in English and Tagalog. Environment and school plays an important role in learning language. A Belgian colleague in my previous work told me that Belgians could speak multiple languages because they’re part of school curriculum. English he said was easy to learn because the shows on TV have subtitles during his time and he have friends who speaks and read English–and they love watching Hollywood films. He speaks German, English, French and Spanish.

I found out that Spanish is not the only immigrant language flourishing here in Chicago. Polish is also growing. One of the reason why the children are learning it is because they have schools that teach it. As for Latinos, children learn from their parents. Since the older generation religiously watch Spanish shows and movies, the children learns from these too. I once took a cab driven by an Ecuadorian man. He told me that his kids have no choice but speak Spanish because he and his wife speaks it. His youngest he said refused to speak it when he started speaking English but they won him over—the household spoke only Spanish—he simply had no choice. I asked him why the language is important, he said, “because that’s our language, we want them to learn it like we did. It is our past as Ecuadorians and we want them to continue it even when they are already here in America. Even if they would not return to Ecuador, they have a piece of Ecuador.”

I once lived in Singapore with distant relations where the child in the house would mimic gay entertainers and other comedians to impress his parents. They watch Pinoy telenovelas and noontime show like clockwork. I would look away when the children, including one aged 18, would speak and dance like those TV noontime show hosts. When they mispronounce English or speak Taglish like Kris Aquino the parents would laugh. I bought books and spent time to teach the youngest child to draw to no avail. Every time we’re seated together the child would hear his family laughing loud at some Filipino TV show in the sala. He would then get distracted and leave immediately. But the good thing about that household is that they spoke exclusively in Tagalog. Both parents are from Bulacan. So the language was not lost. They even use old Tagalog words I’m not familiar with.

OK. Another plugging for my upcoming project…

Before I left for the US, my buddy Pepe Alas and I organized a trial tour of the historic lake shore towns of Laguna. I’m looking forward to doing the tour regularly next month. I know that we’re plunging into the new unknown with the project, both having zero experience, but I believe it’s worth the try. If subscription turns out to be less than what we expect, then we have to look into doing fewer tours in a month until it picks up and becomes cost-effective.

We’ll do an introductory price of 1500 php for the first few months as long as we get enough people. I have been told by some that this is way too low and would not cut it for us but I felt that we should try to keep the rate low for as long as we can to entice students and other low income tourists. I believe that touring multiple towns with us, transportation included, for an entire day around the lake shore towns of Laguna is not bad a deal for the asking price.

Another addition I envision to incorporate in the La Laguna Tour is doing it for free for students at least once a month. Like what I said before, this historical tourism project is but an extension of our on line advocacy. So hopefully we get enough from the paid tours so we could have free tours one of these days.

Spanish here in IL & our Forgotten Spanish

The increasing number of Spanish speakers here in America is not a new phenomenon. It is the second most spoken language in the country with a 200% increase in number of speakers since the early 80’s. Relatives working in medical facilities told me that the older generation of Latino immigrants only spoke Spanish at home which obligated the next generation to learn it.

I find the case of Spanish here interesting because other immigrant languages does not share its success. I have relatives whose children could barely speak Tagalog. Some could speak a smattering of it but far from fluent—I wouldn’t leave them alone in Manila for one second. When they mispronounce Tagalog or Bisaya, they’re applauded for it—that’s cute but a native Bisayan‘s heavy accented Tagalog back home is funny and stupid! Wrong, of course, but we have this bias to this day. I know this because I have Bisayan parents.

I’m an admirer of the Filipino generation that fought to retain Spanish as language in the Philippines. Some believes that these men were on the wrong side of the history—fighting a losing battle. It was an important political and cultural struggle that is forgotten now. The problem was they were up against a big machine—the new American public school system. But interesting is that Spanish usage actually increased during the early American years. What’s given is that the Americans would not help spread it—they even placed measures to limit its use but they never banned it completely. What ultimately ended Spanish was when those who spoke it abandoned it.

(1) The Mexican adobo is a chili-based sauced that is also known for its preservative qualities which is what our adobo is all about—cooking in vinegar to make prolong the meat and chicken shelf life. But aside from the name and these two’s preservative qualities, there’s not a lot of similarities. (2) Is a curious photo I took while doing grocery. Why in the world would there be a Coca-Cola branded as Mexican Coca-Cola? These people are spending crazy loads of money to make their soda business global. There must be a reason, and I wonder what that is….

How often do you hear Filipinos tell stories how their grandparents gracefully spoke Spanish and yet Filipinos of today accepts that Spanish was never used as a language. A Spanish speaking congressman from Parañaque in an interview last year said that he considers it a failure on his end that he did not taught his children the language. It was this generation that abandoned the language for reasons  they alone knows.

The writer, Liz Medina, scolded a Spanish speaking Filipino (who considers Spanish immaterial to present day Filipinos) in a forum with these words, “Spanish has been irrelevant for the Filipinos, we have been taught that it is irrelevant — as you yourselves, who should be the first to debunk this fallacy, as “tisoys” should have done, but have perhaps wanted to keep it a language for the kitchen and the family gatherings, but have not bothered to cultivate it in order to write in it and defend it, as many of your great-grandparents did while they knew that it was inevitable, that their own descendants would turn their backs on Spanish and embrace English, nay, even aspire to become estadounidenses.”

And I couldn’t agree more.

We have to remember that in Mexico, Spanish was not even the official language before its independence. It happened after the Spaniards left. Our first republic did the same in Malolos. Only those who appreciated its historical and practical value fought for it in the early 1900’s—all the rest was willing to let go of the past and start over anew with English.

I wanted to cook Filipino dishes to impress my relatives here—I was told to go to the Asian section to look for spices. I found almost everything I needed but the ones I could not, I found in the Hispanic section. While I already know that adobo for Latinos here is a kind of sauce I could not help myself but take pictures of the numerous ready made bottles and cans of chili-based Mexican adobo. It does not share any similarity with our adobo except its name.

Not far from where we are is a local carneceria—a Hispanic meat shop. Here you can buy good meat variety. They remind me of our local meat stalls back home. Not too long ago, a friend who had visited Mexico said to me that their local markets reminded him so much of our frenzied palengke. I told him that it should, aside from the typical tiendas, the name palenque is Mexican. Palenque they say is a precolonial Mexican word that refers to a fair or some kind of gathering. How we ended up using it instead of the Spanish mercado is a mystery.

Before I left for the US I met up with my friend, Pio Andrade, a historian who studied imported plants from Mexico. He reminded me of the crops that averted famine in the Visayas like maize and camote. How araro, a simple wooden plow, revolutionized the planting of rice. How so many of our medicial plantswere brought here by the Friars.

But these exchanges are two way. To this day there are Mexicans who drink tuba, or palm wine. Thanks to our sailors who brought their alcohol with them to Acapulco.


Stateside Again

I always look forward returning to Illinois. The travel time provides plenty of time for reflection. I recently left my job as a supervisor for a big IT company in Taguig. I was growing tired of all the phony non-sense. I decided to take a long furlough—and, yeah, get fat and travel with the little money I have in my pocket.

We almost missed the connecting flight in Hong Kong because we had to go out (we took two different planes) and clear immigration, get our bags, then go back in. The immigration officer warned us that we might not make it. And just when you needed to hurry things up, the bags came out late! After having it tagged and checked in we started running. We had less than an hour to check back in for our Chicago bound plane. And just when I thought I cleared the most difficult hurdles I was greeted by these snob check in staffs who chatted with each other while I was drenched in sweat from running and the doors of our Chicago bound plane about to shut its doors on us. We had to plead them to hurry up and ask the ground crew to wait for us. The whole thing felt like we were in that show called Amazing Race. I had connecting flights in Hong Kong before but only when you’re pressed for time that you appreciate the distance that you have to walk (in my case run!) and how big the airport is, well, at least there’s an interesting story to share aside from the usual complaints like getting stuck in your seat watching movies for more than half a day.

Chilling at O’Hare

These long haul flights would be easy if only I could get good sleeping hours. The closest I get are these short naps which makes my head hurt—bumps, even the slightest, wakes me up easy. So the in flight entertainment menu is my best friend. We were flying over the great pacific northwest around 2400 Manila time. My brother lived in Washington state in the 90’s. He would tell stories of his nature adventures and the X-Files scenes shot near where he lives. The Pacific Northwest area is so unbelievably vast. Some believes that some early type of humans still roams it freely. My brother’s now in Florida where I plan to see him next month.

I was told that cold weather has arrived earlier than expected. My jackets, all hand-me-downs, was, well, handed down to others. I have to endure the little layers I have in me but I’ll most likely buy new ones or ask for some hand-me-downs to save money. My relatives here takes me to the local outlet stores for cheap buys. It’s almost thanksgiving, I’m sure there would be some good bargains around.

That’s Sam the American Bulldog. In Wisconsin hunting for cheap jackets.

We arrived in O’hare around 16oo local time. Temperature was below freezing, around -3 C. No surprise there and it’s getting colder as winter gets closer. We have to wait for three hours for our pick up ride which gave us some ample time to eat a Bigmac. They are gradually getting smaller each year—must be cost cutting I dunno. McDonald’s omnipresence in Illinois is because they started their innovative business ideas here, one of their first concept stores is in Oak Brook. I saw this restored diner styled restaurant two years ago. All the neon lights are on but there’s nothing there but memorabilia—it’s a classic Americana relic. I was told that the Oak Brook offices is also the headquarter’s for the fast food chain operations and where they train their employees to complete “Bachelor of Hamburgerology”. I’m not kidding—they really have that. I would be reminded of this place whenever I would see its address on the sachets of iodized salts I would get from McDonald’s in Singapore and other places.

We would later dine in Royal Buffet. This resto is very popular among Filipinos and Asians in general. They serve lobsters and king crabs which is what I look forward to because they’re expensive back home— strange because you would think that because we’re surrounded by water seafood would be cheaper. Here you pay $20-30 for everything—eat until you tap out. One thing you’ll notice in this kind of places is that people are on the large side, which is cool because they all make me alright. I don’t stand out around here, I blend in well!

 November 21-22, 2014



We were invited to watch boxing tonight. Guess who’s on? Who else. Manny Pacquiao.

This is the first time I attended  a pay-per-view house party. Filipinos here has been organizing these simple get-together since Pacquiao started dismantling the opposition. It’ a phenomenon that would continue until this boxer retires. No Filipino, even the president, could equal his charisma and popularity. Hollywood actors and millionaire athletes lines up to have a picture with Pacquiao. I can’t believe that this is the same kid I saw fight in a boxing event in Mandaluyong. Who knows how little he got paid then—that American guy he played around tonight is a millionaire now.

The house we visited is somewhere in Bartlett, owned by a newly wed couple. They’re working as Physical Therapists. There’s a lot of Filipinos in this profession here. If I followed my brother’s wishes, who sent me to college, I would be one of them here. I was on my 3rd year in Physical Therapy before  I was kicked out. I didn’t took it seriously.

The fight was a snoozer. It was the food that I enjoyed. We brought lechon kawali, which we bought from a Filipino deli not far from where we stay. Others contributed: lumpia, binagoongan, empanada, mechado, palabok and some soft cakes.

These simple gatherings and food brings Filipinos closer in this part of the world. These things makes up for those days they long for home. We are 8000 miles away—the only connection to home and country are these simple get-together and Manny’s pay-per-view boxing.

November 22, 2014


Bears and Bulls and Blues…

My Brother: Could you buy me a Lakers jacket? the one made of synthetic leather. Purple body, gold sleeves?

Me: That’s like finding a needle in a haystack the size of a coliseum  man! This is Chicago. They have huge sports teams representing them in all major sports. What about the Bulls?

My Brother: Sorry, not a Bulls fan.

Above are excerpts from short email exchanges with my brother who now lives in Australia. I’m sure he have an idea how big local sports is in America, he’s no stranger to that but I was. I would look around sports stores here and see all of  ’em exclusively for the local teams.

I remember a time during a Chicago Bears game when we had to park a few kilometers away from Soldiers Field. In the parking lots, people from across the state came with their grills, hotdogs and beers. These people are camping out early to see the game. That’s how big these sports events are in these parts.

But what’s more important for me was seeing the city that launched Blues music to prominence. From a music that was confined to the farms and get-togethers of African Americans in the 1900’s to being played in bars around the Chicago area to being recorded in Chess records in N. Michigan Ave for the world to hear.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money to spend to see blues get played in the iconic Blues bars around (and I promised myslef that next time I’d be more prepard) but just being in the town where everything started was just an awesome feeling.

But Blues in Chicago isn’t the same Blues in the cotton fields. Here the masters plucked their guitars as livelihood. “When I play in Chicago, I’m playing up-to-date, not the blues I was born with. People should hear the pure blues-the blues we used to have when we had no money”, that’s Muddy Waters.

And this tells me that I should go to the Mississippi Delta one of these days.

December 2012

Flying back…

We’ll be packing our bags and leaving first thing in the morning. This being the last night, we went to Mass to say our thanks.

I should plan the next trip better. See more people, more places. Relatives are scattered all over the US and it’s just impossible to see each branch. These guys are everywhere. They got America covered alright.

Into the woods

Next visit would be Florida. This, I promised my brother. It’s not easy for these people to spend frequent vacations to P.I., so I think I’ll do them a favor by going to them (whether they like it or not). Aside from the cost and distance, the impracticality and the hassle of leaving home, family and work plays a big factor.

Life in America is not like what it was once. But it’s not that bad. They’re still better off than most countries. The problem is that this reality is seldom appreciated by Americans. It’s ironic that those who just recently came to America are the only ones that fully appreciates America’s freedom and opportunities.

Early in life, I had that chance to try it out here. But I was too young to even think about the future. In retrospect, I’m happy that I never went because I got to spend more time with my parents by dodging that luring prospect of life in the US.

What strikes me is how pessimistic America is today. Media, politicians even the common man in the streets continuously voice out negative outlooks about the future. They sound more like us Filipinos these days. The only good news I heard so far is that the snow hasn’t come yet – the rest are forecast of gloom and doom.

Ideas and innovation are still coming from America, only difference, today, the final product is made elsewhere. My point is that America could still come back – it still produces the technology that drives our world forward. If they start minding their business at home and not meddle too much on other peoples backyard, their economy would be in a better shape.

But let’s all leave this to them.

So as I leave America behind, a return trip is already on the drawing board.

December 2012

Along the Magnificent Mile

You can see the Mag Mile from up here. Actually, you can see the entire city here in Willis. On a clear day, four states, can be seen in the observation deck. This is the 103rd floor.

The Tribune HQ.

Dearborn Mural. The Indians against the White man.

These Americans knows the constitutions quite well.

I thought the name of the avenue was “Magnificent Mile”. Well, they call it that, but its not an avenue, it’s a neighborhood that run thru N. Michigan Ave., up to the North Side where Wrigley Field is located.

This part of Chicago is comparable to what Ayala is to Makati, or an Alabang with Muntinlupa. The main neighborhood where business and residential spaces are considered prime. A relative told me, “this is the main thoroughfare of downtown Chicago”. You’ve never been to Chi town unless you see this place.

Before we went here, I already looked up in advance the location of the historic Neo Gothic Tribune tower. The HQ of the company I worked for as a 3rd party vendor in my 20’s. The first time I saw this building was in the company website almost a decade ago, sitting in my tiny cubicle, somewhere in Alabang. There’s an interesting exhibition of stones and fragments in this building. These rocks were collected from all over the world. Small pieces from places like the Taj Mahal, Reim Cathedral, Parthenon and the Pyramids.

Mag Mile was part of Daniel Burnham’s concept for Chicago. Yes, the guy that brought us Baguio and the Americanesque portion of Manila. Burnham saw the future and he knew what it needs. So advanced was his ideas that many doubted whether they could be carried out.

I once saw a picture of the Chicagoan Burnham that I brlieve was taken in Benguet. A bearish mustached man, his back against the camera in deep contemplation. As if thinking about how he’s going to build the city on top of a mountain. We can only imagine what goes inside the mind of a man tasked to build a city.

The Mag Mile attracts tourist in droves. First time I’ve seen so many different nationalities in one road. Most tourist are drawn by the best shops, restaurants (around 200) and hotels America could offer – it’s all here in Mag Mile.

Another interesting area is where Fort Dearborn used to stand. It’s a military camp erected in the early 1800’s, later destroyed during a battle against the Indians. Much of the camps grounds gave way to the widening of the river. There were some portion of the camp that was preserved up until the 1870’s before it being completely destroyed, casualty of the “great Chicago fire of 1871”.

The area around the Michigan Avenue Bridge was the site of the historic “Battle of Fort Dearborn” , where Indian’s defeated US troops. It was a massacre with estimates of around 500 dead. The Indian’s won several battles with the White man, unfortunately (or fortunately, depends where you stand) they lost the war.

Do you know what a bascule bridge is? I don’t but I saw one here. The Michigan Avenue bridge. Its a movable bridge that allows ships to pass. I wanted to see how it works but it moves only twice in a month. And its not scheduled that day.

This bridge have great murals of the “Battle of Fort Dearborn”. Where the bridge stands was once part of that historic fort.

There’s great history around here but the problem is that I don’t know much about Chicago. Aside from Chiacgo figures like Burnham, Jordan, Obama and Oprah, whose works I had the chance to read, my Chicago history is on the minus side.

The history of the city and its architecture is amazing. Its reputed to be a corrupt city but that’s something that we Filipinos hear all the time. For me, Chicago remains ans is truly one of the greatest cities of our time.

Manila – Chicago – Baguio

What does these three cities have in common?

All hired an American urban planner by the name of Daniel Burnham. In Manila and Baguio, he was appointed by his government after they annexed the country. The Chicago local also worked on urban blueprints for cities like Washington D.C., San Francisco and Cleveland.

That area, just outside Intramuros, where those neo classical building stands (creations of pioneering Filipino architects, most notable was Juan Arellano) was built following Burnham’s urban plan.

Burnham envisioned an improved city representing his America. Wide roads, scenic boulevard, spacious parks, gardens and imposing government offices.

Among the topics he tackled in his 1905 plan was keeping Intramuros vibrant and attractive. Believing it would provide a wonderful historical contrast to his new Manila.

The only alteration that he proposed was for Intramuros’ moat to be covered with earth (now a golf course).

Burnham also recommended to develop the esteros to be used as pathways for commerce and transport. Unfortunately, these were never carried out. Many expert believes the plan would have eased the recurring floods in the city. Some of those esteros he saw are now gone.

A better example of Burnham’s city planning was executed to a detail in Baguio. The summer home of American military and civil employees. At the center of his plan is a gracious park and garden with a wide pond. Today, aptly called Burnham park.

Here in Chi town, Burnham not only proposed improvements in the city’s layout, he also dabbled in designing skycrapers. Now preserved and promoted by the city as Chicagoan heritage.

The scenic lakefront is a great Burnham legacy. In it lies the iconic Navy Pier (which once served as a Navy training facility and local convention center). Burnham had proposed 3 more piers for Chicago but just like what happened to his other recommendations, they were never carried out.

The famed architect was known for big, grand designs that startled his clients. Clearly, his visions was ahead of his time. Indeed, a man who had preference for making no small plans.

A clear day in Chi town. Seen from Willis Tower (formerly Sears).

Here’s not so clear a-day.

Not by Burnham but by the Burnhams. A building designed by D.H. Burnham’s sons.

The city as seen from Chicago’s Navy Pier.

Walking along on a  cold breezy night at Navy Pier.

For further reading on Burnham, I stumbled upon this awesome resource on line click here . The guy (or gal) certainly knows the subject. Cheers!

Rebuilding My Filipiniana Library on a Piece of Gadget

I’m a few books away from completing the classic history series “The Philippine Islands” by Blair and Robertson. Standard reading for history students – young and old. I now have 40 + volumes compiled in this little piece of gadget called kindle.

Life’s more bearable now that I can read books I enjoy. Lately, I’ve been reading like a wild man. With all these free downloadable public domain titles and the cheap ones you could muster for less than a buck, man, you’ll never run out of books to read.

This is book heaven son!

Two months ago I visited my parents and saw my books fast deteriorating, some discolored, while others, literally, crumbling apart. I decided to put them in sealed boxes. I realized that if you don’t have someone looking after your library, the books wouldn’t be in the best shape when you get back.

Before I left, I had my room repainted. After the paint job was completed I had the painter put the shelves back in its place. Seeing them empty made me feel a bit melancholic. I’m used to seeing my books organized on those shelves for decades. Now that I’m away for the most part of the year I just had to temporarily put them away.

Before I started living abroad I use to read a lot – and I mean a LOT – before going to bed, on the toilet, while listening to my favorite podcasts, while eating, while commuting and even at work (and yes, I got reprimanded for this). In short, when I have time to read I take it! I rarely watch TV. I get my news from independent online sites. I still watch movies but on the average once every month. So it was tough to move around without the books.

Around February this year, two months I’ve been away from home, I started feeling a little depressed that I can’t run to my books. I started downloading PDF book files from online sources but man, I can’t stand reading 2-3 hours on a computer. The strain it puts in my eye drives me crazy. I always ends up with a nasty headache. So while I have tons of books sitting on my desktop, I hardly read any.

Unboxing the new toy…

The other thing is that I don’t take my three year old laptop with me when I travel. I pack light, bringing just the essentials in my backpack. I thought maybe an iPad or a nexus will do the trick but I realized these tablets are basically computers that would just end up hurting my eyes. Also, the last thing I want is getting bit by the bug playing games on these gadgets. That would be a total waste of time when there are tons of bios, memoirs, history, economics, physics, political books I’m dying to read.

I can’t help but think about our young people these days not reading books. They waste time playing games, updating their facebook and doing stuff on the net and watching TV – this is no good. Not that its bad to entertain your self with these things. When you’re in control, that’s fine, but when it starts taking time away from the other important activities it becomes a bad distraction. It literally can dumbed you down.

When I decided to come to America this November, I decided to give these hyped e-readers a chance – I couldn’t be more happier that I did. Now I’m building my Filipiniana library inside this thing, backed by the free cloud service Amazon provides. The real book feel is irreplaceable but e-readers are far superior and convenient if you’re just after the content.

I know I’ve been banging the drums for these e-readers but I see it as a creative and innovative technology that bookworms can really use.

Damn, we’re really going ones and zeros here!

Rizal in Chicago

Rizal saw a different Chicago in his time. This concrete, steel and glass jungle is the present day Chi town and that guy is not relieving himself but trying to absorb the strange beauty of this mega city.

From Japan, Rizal boarded a ship that took him across the pacific to San Francisco. His boarding ticket was first class. Not that many Asians during his time could afford such accommodation. In fact, in that same ship, Chinese immigrants that boarded in Hong Kong sat in crowded quarters below. In a letter to a friend, Rizal mentioned that during the quarantine (that delayed him for days on board the ship in the port of San Francisco) it was possible that some of those people died.

From San Francisco to Provost, he wrote down some interesting sights he saw along the way. The snow covered mountains of Colorado, the Mormons in Utah, the vast prairies and the isolated cabins of Mid West America. Noticeable is how his entries were short, not as detailed compared to the descriptions he made of his trips in Europe.

Austin Craig wrote of Rizal’s time in Chicago: “The thing that struck him most forcibly about that city was the large number of cigar stores with an Indian in front of each — and apparently no two Indians alike. The unexpressed idea was that in America the remembrance of the first inhabitants of the land and their dress was retained and popularized, while in the Philippines knowledge of the first inhabitants of the land was to be had only in foreign museums”.

What was not mentioned, by Rizal and Craig, his biographer was that the “Indian” in stores were actually life size wooden figures and not real Indians. These are popularly called “cigar store Indians” here and are now collectibles. Its not placed outside stores to promote Indian culture but to attract curiosity among the smoking public. Actually, they’re more decorative in purpose than cultural.

Some years after Rizal’s death, some of his writings were brought to US soil. An impressive Rizaliana collection is in Chicago’s Newberry Library. Some of the manuscripts in their possession includes; first edition copies of Noli and Fili, his 1884 diary, notes from his clinica medica and other writings from the period of 1881 to 1887. This library, located in West Walton St., is said to hold the biggest collection of original Filipiniana writings outside our country.

The library also have in its vault the papers of the Governor Simon de Anda during his administration and struggle against the British.

Their massive Filipiniana collection is attributed to Edward Ayer, an American business magnate that started buying historical manuscripts after the US took over from Spain. He later donated his acquisitions to libraries across the US.

I’m glad that these documents are here and safe. And that they’re being cared for with the most advanced technology available. I think the American deserves our sincere gratitude for safekeeping these manuscripts away from harm during the wars that ravaged the country but these documents belongs to us. Its only right that they be brought back to a place where they’ll serve a more meaningful purpose – Filipinas.

How would they feel if the original copy of their constitution is sitting somewhere in our National Library?

Can we recover these documents?

I doubt it.

But we should try.

Its ironic that pieces of Rizal’s writings ended up here in Chicago. A town that he briefly saw and hardly spent enough time to know.

Cold and Short Days…

While preparing coffee this morning I pulled the curtains to the side to see what’s outside. It doesn’t look good. I checked the temp, its -2 and visibility is good for only a few yards. In the news, several flights had been cancelled. Times like this makes me think about our tropical motherland and our endless complains about how hot the weather is down there.

During this time of the year, day time is shorter. There’s no more sun around 4pm. When there’s no sun temperature drops significantly. People here are glued to weather forecast. When there are days that are warmer, people get excited. According to them snows usually appear around this time but everybody’s happy so far because aside from flurries, there has been no significant snow fall just yet.

November 2012

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