Tag Archives: Manila

Pinoy style toponymy

A young local politician told me that the origin of Alabang is the word abang (tagalog for “to wait”). Bandits during the Spanish era use to ambush unsuspecting people he said.

Legends are more appealing than real history. The small Rio Alban (the one in Festival Mall) gave her name to Alabang. Boring story, I know, the legend’s more catchy.

Three years ago, I blogged about the origin of Muntinlupa’s barrio names. Many were surprised that all had botanical word origins.

Most stories about how places got its name are fabulated. They’re mostly “alamat” (legends) but Filipinos takes them as facts.

Pre-colonial Singapore were populated by Malays that had the same practice. They had a profound admiration towards nature and named places to honor it.

The names of the two towns I call home here, Punngol and Tampines, had natural and botanic origins.

Two years ago, we moved to Tampines township. Its name came from the tree “tempinis”. An ironwood variety, like the rare hard Philippine mangkono.

Punggol town got its name from an old Malay word. It was a method of gathering fruits from trees by hurling clubs. Our ancestors adapted the word in tagalog, “pukol”, which generally means “to throw”.

You see, the intangible historical links are there, we only need to pay attention.

Some other places Malays named after plants here are: the heritage district of Kampong Glam, after the tree Gelam. Kranji (I wrote about its WWII site here) from the keranji tree. Sembawang, Katong and many others.

The popular Filipino hangout place, Orchard Road, got its name from trees that used to lined it. What kind of tree? according to local historians, nutmeg. Not far from Orchard there’s a street called Nutmeg.

In the Philippines we call nutmeg as tanghas or duguan (from the red flesh the covers the seeds). The seed is dried up and grounded. It is used as spice and skin medicine.

I grew up in a street called Bagtican (white lauan). I knew even as a child that it’s a tree but never saw one until 9 years ago in Los Baños. It’s a threatened tree because of market demand.

Why knowing the real story behind places names is important?

Well, for one it dispels ludicrous myths that people ends up believing—and studying toponymy (ah, the scientific and fancy name of the study of places names) is a gateway to history.

Try researching where your place got its name and you’ll go into a history rabbit hole!

Withonespast on Chinoy TV

I was watching ANC yesterday when I saw a Chinoy TV ad. They now have a time slot in ABS-CBN’s cable news.

I was tapped as resource person for two episodes of the “Kwentong Chinoy” segment in 2014. I never saw it until this week.

The producer (Vans) I worked with apparently left before I could get copies. When I saw them on ANC I again requested. They sent me the episodes the next day.

I edited and compiled the video. Cropped out the ads and all the other segments for upload. I just want to see myself talking (I’m kidding). It’s easier to upload smaller files.

The other resource person with me is Fil-Chinese photographer and travel blogger (Tara Let’s Asia) Jeff Lui.

I’m glad that they included some of my inputs.

Like stating that the mix of culture in Chinatown (Binondo) is not only Chinese and Filipino (or native)—Spanish influence was as important–it fused everything together.

Before I left, I gave them all my notes and all important historical material I brought with me about Binondo.

I was under the impression (“hoping” is the right word I think) that the feature on Don Roman Ongpin and Binondo would run longer.

We’re talking about the oldest Chinatown in the planet here.

But in television, time is currency.

ChinoyTV and Myself

chinoytv, stan chi, vance alfonso, binondo, chinatown, manila

It was pass noon time when I reached Calle Condesa. In an eatery right beside Binondo church I was greeted at the door by ChinoyTV researcher and producer Vance Alfonso. Inside I was introduced to the camera men, Richard Gregorio and Mon Santiago, Jeffrey Lui of Tara Let’s Go blog and the host, Stan Chi, contributor writer for FHM.

The format is interesting. Because the segment is less than 10 minutes, everything had to be compressed. It was a challenge because history is a wordy subject—I had trouble curbing my points. But that’s how TV shows are Stan said, there’s not a lot of time.

And, to catch the audience’s curiosity, it has to be natural and entertaining. The whole thing was a great learning experience. But I doubt it if I would repeat. My performance was, arrgh, awful—I wasn’t the duck on a pond, more like, a white guy dancing. I had to be reminded, many times, to shorten my sentences—difficult for someone who’s used to blabbering historical data like a mad man!

But the shoot was fun. The guys made it fun. Especially Stan, a natural comedian, his wit and humor carried us through that humid afternoon heat! I had a great time.

I don’t know when the episodes would air, what I do know is that the shoot was for two episodes. ChinoyTV is shown over Living Asia channel and other cable channels. Vance said that he’ll just send me a link. They upload their episodes in Youtube so people could watch it on line. Not excited to see it but I’ll share it here.

I was glad to see another blogger there yesterday. Jeff Lui, of the travel website called Tara Let’s Go. He’s a photographer and a traveler. I’m impressed with his knowledge in history. The thing about bloggers is their passion, you see, most are writing and recording their experiences on line for free—they’re not instructed nor paid to do so. Blog sites these days is where I source news, entertainment and information.

It was another blogger, my friend Glen of Travelers on Foot, that introduced me to Vance. We started blogging around the same time and both of us consider ourselves old timers in the local blogging scene. TOF is a popular culture, history and arts blog and the man behind it, a great supporter and aficionado of Filipino arts!

During the shoot I handed over to Vance some print outs of my research on Binondo. I hope these guys continue to promote and feature Filipino history on their show.

Izquierda a derecho: Vance, Arnaldo, Jeff Lui of Tara Let’s Go, Stan Chi and Mon. My gosh, everyone’s chinito here except me!

Life & History Lessons from a Septuagenarian Cabbie!

It’s not every day that you get to ride a cab with a septuagenarian behind the wheel!

I was on my way to meet the ChinoyTV crew in Binondo for an interview. I was running really late—I had to take a cab. And I’m glad I did. The cab ride turns out to be a nostalgic tour of sorts!

That’s him!

Mr. “Tatay” Mazo, of Mauban, Quezon, has been driving since the 1960’s. I knew that I could extract interesting historical bits from the man. So I was ready with my little notebook to write down notes.

When we reached San Marcelino there were these massive wheeler trucks stucked in the middle of Quirino Ave. No problem—Tatay knows. He made a quick right turn before Calle San Marcelino and we came out in Calle Nakpil.

I told him that I was about to meet a group of Filipino Chinese in Binondo. He smiled and relates, “You know, one of the first man who ever showed me around Manila is a Chinese. He speak Tagalog but have difficulty pronouncing some words.” Calle Jose Abad Santos was aba-la-lo and Misericordia, mi-se-co-la. The Chinese was a regular customer.

“Back in the day, we would go around to find passengers in Binondo, that’s where the action was for us taxi drivers” Tatay said, noting that it was the shopping center back then and people swarmed the borough especially during weekends and holidays.

“If you want to treat your wife, you take her to Escolta and your friends would tell you, wow pare pang-Escolta pala si misis.” But those days are long-gone. “Manila just have too many problem, traffic, name it, they rather go to Quezon City and Makati.” The best thing about the city then according to the ol’ man was there’s hardly any traffic—now it’s everywhere.

I asked if he miss the ol’ Manila days. “Yes, of course, coming from Mauban (Quezon province), seeing it for the first time was like being abroad.” I reminded him that he’s lucky, to this he just laughed and told me, “no you are, you can afford a taxi, I can’t!”

I asked him if the changes in the street names confuses him and he said no but he finds it stupid and irksome. “They don’t have better things to do, so they change the streets.” I dare test his knowledge, while passing Nakpil, I asked if he remembers what was its old name, “Calle Tenesse, oh, no, Vermon(t).” Now that’s impressive! Of all the changes, there’s one that’s unforgivable to him. “When they change Calle Tayabas in Tondo to Yuseco, who’s that!” Of course, he likes the old name better—he’s a Tayabas boy.

And he’s got something to say about the Binay fiasco. “Some politician used to poke fun at him. That he (Binay) could not even afford a cup of coffee at the Manila hotel,” and that the poor guy was “an abogadong walang asunto.” I’ve never heard of these being reported anywhere, or perhaps, I was still not around when these happened but Tatay believes that such insults drives some people’s dogged craving to get rich.

And about the Bangsa Moro deal, “We will regret it, thank Heavens, I’m too old to fight them in the future!”

What about life, what does he feel about the quality of life today compared to his younger days? “I would buy fish for .50 cents, that’s a planganita, so many that you could not possibly consume it in a day.” He continues, “Your question about the past, well, we can’t bring it back. So many of us doesn’t have discipline, we’re lazy—just look at those idiots, without shirts drinking, they’re young, I’m old but those men does not want to work! The people see their government is a joke, so, why take their life serious?”

His final advice was to be always productive and enjoy life. “A little good food here, some beer there, family and friends are good—remain productive, and everything should be alright.”

How I wish I had my recorder with me — what a pleasure getting stuck in traffic with a 70-ish wise old gentleman!

Life, indeed, is full of surprises!

Manila Cathedral 2014

tag: manila cathedral, intramuros, manila

Just before I left Manila last Wednesday I decided to drop by the Manila Cathedral to check on recent repairs and renovations, and, I heard, some interesting additions. This picked my curiosity, for what else could be added to the cathedral — at the back of my mind I was thinking of those foolish parish priests who take liberties decorating and modifying their century old-churches as if it were their own house! So I was hoping nothing really stupid was done to desecrate what was once the center of Catholic Asia.

To my relief, nothing really changed but the entire church has been somewhat refurbished. I read that there was a need to make some structural works on its foundation, so this was something that was necessary in order to keep it safe. The church spent 70 million (huge sum from donations) to make structural retrofits, fix plumbing and electrical installations. They also chemically treated certain areas susceptible to molds. Most of the interiors are now in marble which makes it more like a palace.

We have to remember that this is a mid 1900’s church (and not the original), which makes it relatively young compared to its Spanish missionary built churches, which, ironically are far sturdier and resistant to tropical conditions and the occasional tremors.

I have never seen so many tourist in my life visiting the cathedral. This was the first time that I saw a tourist in every corner of the church. There were even Koreans taking selfies making funny faces a few meters from the altar, which, I suppose they have very little regard to as they’re not Catholics. The pedicab drivers and the calesas are making a killing with these renaissance of Intramuros. Seeing all these makes me feel good about the future.

The Cathedral has this new feel to it. Everything’s spanking new, clean, polished to the utmost brightness! This is all too strange because I’m used to seeing antiqueish Spanish era churches. Minus the cathedral’s design, which was wonderfully preserved, It has been fully pimped, and now better than ever! (ok, I should not have used that word!)

steely church of San Sebastian

tag: san sebastian church, quiapo, manila, san sebastian college, augustinian recollect

I walked around the wet streets of Manila yesterday. I wondered about what it felt like to be a Manileño during its golden age. When it was the center, the most modern, the most beautiful city in Asia. Well, it is a shell of what it once was, reality is that it’s in a sad state of bleakness, poverty. Even the once massive but graceful houses of Quiapo are now boarded by some of our most unfortunate kababayans.

Surprising is how the government of Manila allowed the construction of a building (old location of the UP fine arts school) right smack in the middle of Quiapo town! As if things couldn’t get worst in this area. There’s not a lot of planning involved in city planning around Manila after Mayor Lacson. I wonder if they even have a vision for the future around here.

I started in Manila’s city hall, crossed the Ayala Bridge to Calle  Casal, then straight to Legarda, turning left to Bilibid Viejo. That’s a short 2 kilometer walk in a showery Manila day. My reward was seeing the magnificent marvel of engineering the Recoletos built in 1891. Alleged to have been been designed by Gustave Eiffel, it is the only all-steel church in Asia and is said to have been the only prefabricated church in the continent.

Just imagine what it was like when colossal chunks of the church started to roll on the streets of Manila. That must have been a sight to see! It was, according to Jaime Laya, an international project, with English, Filipino, Belgians and other foreign nationals taking part in its planning and construction.

The Augustian Recollect missionaries in the Philippines were known for their intrepid and valiant expeditions. Nick Joaquin refers to them as “jungle” experts, so fearless that they took on wilderness that even locals would dare not go. So it is not unexpected that they envisioned something so out-of-the-box with their basilica. A prefabricated iron neo-gothic church in a tropical territory. But they must have forgot that salty winds from the nearby bay are known to slowly deteriorate even the densest of steel!

My first memory of San Sebastian was when I was a boy. These visits are rare because Quiapo church was easier get to (and my nanay was a Nazarene devotee) but the image of the steel church, with its noticeable dim interiors and captivating glass window art, made an deep impression on me that when I see a gothic church, wherever I go, I’m instantly reminded of it.

The challenge today is preserving the church. Since it would cost more to restore it than build a new one, some, even among the Recollect community are brooding over the idea of tearing it down and just building a new church. Not the best news a heritage advocate would like to hear but there’s not a lot of options left out there. Time will come when the entire steel church would be unsafe to use and by then we would all be confronted by the truth.

They don’t make ‘em like they used to they say, and this storied church, that has survived catastrophes, both man-made and natural, might finally succumb to deterioration caused by nature. Let’s all pray that God allows it to stand for another hundred years.

Remember the Liberation!



Save the Old Paco Train Station!

Sometimes getting diverted is a good thing. While I was initially irked that the bus I took to get to Philippine Normal University ended up in Plaza de Dilao, my mood changed when  I saw the Takayama monument and the old Paco train station.

I dream one day our old train stations gets restored back to its former glory. Yes, there was once a time when efficient train service moved Filipinos to their destinations. Old city train stations in Europe, most of which were either destroyed or damaged in the WWII, are now tourism centerpieces in their localities. We should follow this as it not only promotes history but elevates the status of our railway system in the eyes of our people. We now have a generation who has never experienced train travel.

That’s not the Old Paco Railway Station’s parking lot. That’s Manila’s killer traffic.

The train stations we have now are unsightly and unsafe platforms. Even the modest Spanish colonial stations (most are now ruins) are better than these eye sores. Philippine National Railway’s trains and coaches are mostly hand me downs from Japan. It’s high time this enterprise gets privatized. The government had the time to fix it but struggled to put everything in order. The people deserves a train system that works!

Built during the early years of the American era, the Paco railway station was partially damaged when some businessmen, with the backing of powerful Manila politicians, started preparing the site to build a shopping arcade. They abandoned construction but damaged had already been done to the historic railway station. The last time it suffered this degree of damage was during WWII.

The building of malls in our old towns and cities has been the greatest threat to our hopes to conserve our heritage. Businessmen look for historical sites as most of these sits on expensive prime properties. Politicians loves to profit from these projects too. It makes them look good as it not only generates jobs, to them it glamorizes their city. A feather in their cap that increases their chances of getting themselves re-elected.

Some of the fiercest battle during the ‘liberation of Manila’ took place here. The Americans had to cross the Pasig river to get to Paco and Pandacan. The Japanese, realizing this, made sure that Paco would be heavily defended. The battle for Paco produced two Medal of Honor awardee. Both American minorities, one American Indian and one Hispanic[1].

I’m curious as to why it has taken this long before our heritage agencies considered declaring the building a heritage structure. The Paco station deserves not only a plaque of recognition but protection from destruction!

– —

[1] Sergeant Cleto Rogriguez and Private 1st class John Reese Jr. from Co. B, 148th battalion infantry.

Support the on line movement to save this wonderful building by liking the FB fan page below:


Another advocacy group I admire is the Railway and Industrial Society of the Philippines. They’re currently heading research and other conservation projects for some of our most important heritage structures.

Support and learn more about them here:


Developments in Intramuros

The ayuntamiento is back!

Yesterday I decided to check out what’s going on in Intramuros. I’ve heard of recent developments happening inside the ancient walled city but never really took more of an interest.

And oh boy was I in for a pleasant surprise—the ayuntamiento, like a phoenix, rose out of the ashes!

The external appearance was faithful with the original. The architecture and the finish was superb—who ever made this possible deserves the Filipinos praise and gratitude. A modern building would have been easier and cheaper to construct but that they went through all the detail to ensure the new building appears as close to the old ayuntamiento as possible was admirable.

The new ayuntamiento is new home for the nation’s  Treasury department.

The ruins of San Ignacio, will it rise too?

Jesuit Church, soon to rise?

I also visited the ruins of San Ignacio church. I heard that there were some kind of construction going on. What I saw was an area cordoned off by these huge tarpaulin with images of the old church on the side and some tin sheets and wood boards on the facade. Scaffolding was being assembled around the ruins. I take this as preparation for what could be the reconstruction of the historic Jesuit church.

This church was built in the 16th century. It is said that this church was modeled after the Gesu. The Jesuit’s main church in Rome. What about the Ateneo? Would they reconstruct this once boarding school too?

I must say the prospect of seeing San Ignacio church reconstructed fills me with excitement!

If there are plans to rebuild the church, then the facade must be retained. Among the churches that was destroyed during the WWII bombings, San Ignacio’s facade was the only one spared from demolition after the Japs were rooted out. All the rest were brought down for clearing!

Constructions and Repairs Everywhere

The POEA building is presently being repaired. I was told that the entire building needed it badly. Letran also joined in the construction activities. They’ve demolished the old art deco building of St. Vincent. They’ve retained the portions of the facade which suggests that they plan to build a new building behind it.

According to the schools website, portions and salvaged  materials from the demolished  St. Vincent Ferrer bldg. was used in other renovations in the campus.

I briefly attended Letran’s MBA program in 2005 so I’m an interested observer of what would happen next after this demolition.

I heard also that the school filed for a university status. Here’s hoping that they don’t butcher the historic name of the school and anglicize everything.

San Agustin Church also has some on going minor repairs. Workers are stripping the pink paint coat. I’m not privy to what’s the next development here but I’ve always trusted the people that runs this church. The paint they used was designed to let the original material breath beneath and also to be taken off if they decided to change the color. Let’s just hope they pick a good color this time.

The new ayuntamiento

The old ayuntamiento… amazing…

Now, what’s being done with the squatters in the walled city?

I read that the illegal settlers will finally get transferred. In exchange, they’ll be provided with a livelihood and a house down south.

I spoke with one of Intramuros Administration’s security guards. He has some sense of humor about these illegal settlers. “Why would they leave? they have so many security guards guarding them here for free. Exclusive subdivisions have 2 or 3 security guards, here they have dozens, round the clock security!”

But these folks really have to get transferred out of Intramuros. In the past they’ve been protected by mayors and local politicians because they number by the thousands. These squatter colonies has been the ‘baluarte’ of politicians for votes in the past.

Two security guards I spoke with said that the squatter area has been a haven for snatchers and drug dealers. Every chase ends up in the illegal settlers area where the snatchers and addicts would disappear like smoke.

Time to resettle these illegal settlers—and please don’t say we have no funds. In the news recently, an insanely irresponsible senator who moonlights for TV shows just spent close to a billion pesos to pay for fake projects! With that kind of money not only would we be able to build houses for these squatters, we could also send them on a nice leisurely cruise and gift all of them with iPads for Christmas!

The 60 plus hectare land of Intramuros is around 70% privately owned. The remaining building spaces and vacant lots are split in half by the Church and government. How the squatters remained in this historic area for so long reflects the lack of political will among our politicians.

A French colleague was shocked to see that there are shanties with “so many little children playing” right in the middle of streets in Intramuros. He was under the impression that the entire place was some kind of a museum. At least, that’s how it was presented in international TV ads. I then told him to read the fine print next time.

We’ve cleared the rail roads of illegal settlers. That’s a bigger number compared to these folks in Intramuros. What’s stopping us from accomplishing the same?

Have we not waited long enough?

Filipino Entertainers in old Singapore

On my way to Mustafa  (a mall popular for its low prices and 24/7 business hours) I passed by the white old gates of the ‘New World‘ located just outside Farrer MRT. I’ve seen it before but it’s only now that I decided to take a closer look. The gate appears prettier during night time when spotlights highlight its distinctive colonial art design.

I find the restoration effort impressive because not only did they retained the gate but made sure that it’s in a place where it would be seen. But more impressive is that the restoration of the gate was an entirely private venture. The gate once stood at Jalan Besar, it is now in front of the modern City Square mall as a reminder of the old entertainment business in the island.

In the 60’s, the decade when entertainment shifted to television and radio the business operations inside these amusement parks (there were three of them) was shut down. The land where ‘New World‘ once stood has long been developed. The arch and gate  moved to its present location along the Kirchener Road–an acknowledgement of the amusement park’s historical significance.

Filipino entertainers pass through this gate in the 1900’s

The history of this ‘New World Amusement’ park is interesting for us Filipinos. It is the only Singaporean heritage site I know that has a marker that mentions us. Turns out that some of our countrymen in the early 1900’s managed to take part in the local show business:

“First opened in 1923 by the two Straits Chinese merchants brothers, Ong Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock, who were sons of prominent businessman, Ong Sam Leong, the New World attracted visitors from all walks of life – from Europeans, affluent local merchants to labourers, families and local residents. New World was a destination of fund and entertainment until the 1950’s. It featured many exciting programmes and attractions from boxing and wrestling matches to variety shows, operas from various ethnic groups and a small cabaret with Filipino arstistes.”

While ‘cabaret’ is a workplace of dubious reputation in our vocabulary, working in such places in other countries meant making a living out of “performing music, dance, recitation and comedy.” A master of ceremonies introduces performers, boxers, wrestlers and just about everything people would pay to see. The Filipinos were mostly artists, as the marker states in the ‘New World’ gate.

This Filipino presence  is an important reminder that we’ve always had good artists–a reputation that to this day continues–and that we’ve been coming to work in this wonderful country for centuries. Filipino migration to this island is not new. Let’s not forget about  the  Filipinos in Singapore in the late 19th century that attempted to save Rizal while he was detained in a ship (anchored in Singapore’s harbor) bound for Manila. The British denied the request to give the Filipino a refuge in the English colony but just imagine if they granted Rizal a safe pass!

There’s around half a million Filipino tourist that visits Singapore yearly. Last year, Filipinos ranked six among international visitors. This is attributed to increased number of flights going to the island, as well as the improving economy back home. It is a fact that a significant percentage of Filipinos who visits Singapore gives job hunt a stab but due to recent restrictions this is slowly becoming a fruitless pursuit for most Pinoys.

With this I hope Filipinos who come to see the islands explore it for its historical ties with us. But with all the other major attractions the island state offers, encouraging Filipinos to spend some time visiting historical landmarks (i.e., River Valley Rd., Good Shepherd Church) connected us is a tall order, if not impossible.

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!

Old Islamic Enclave in Singapore

An old Islamic school. Singapore’s heritage architecture shows a variety of styles and influences.

Lined up in a row. These shop houses, most probably, pre World War II, reflects Chinese and European architecture.

Colorful old buildings characterized by wide, adjustable windows and arched entrance ways.

Narrow streets that reminds me of old Binan. The narrow streets is a sign of expensive realty, as people had to make use and utilize available space as much as they can

This area have shops that specializes in selling traditional fabrics. This area is near the gate of the Masjid. Not far from here is what people call the central business district.

Solidly built heritage structures, now all shops.

White painted commercial houses preserved for the future generation

I saw a poster of the Sultan Mosque (locally known as Masjid Mosque) in the mall and found it wonderfully enchanting. A heritage Mosque in a middle of a bustling city. National day is just around the corner here in Singapore and the government has been heavily promoting heritage structures that represents the different groups and faith in the islands.  I got curious and thought it a good idea to see the mosque because like Manila, Singapore was once predominantly Mohamedan (for old Tagalogs Mohammed  is “Mahoma” hence the saying “Panahon pa ni Mahoma”).

Early this year I attended the National Library’s exhibit “Stories Behind Singapore Streets” (I think the exhibit is still on going) and found what local historian’s refers to as the “Raffle’s Town Plan”.  The British governor mapped and zoned the entire island during his time in the former colony. Such zoning (sectores) also took place during the Spanish era in Manila and all other progressive towns. To get a picture of how this worked back in the day one can visit Malolos which still have the names of the “sectores” as it was implemented in the old days.

Raffles is regarded as the pioneer of modern Singapore and I’ve seen books about his life on sale here. Singaporeans have a mature perspective about  their historical evolution and its influence in their modern lives. Around the country, you could still find street names after British royals, British war heroes and even English countrysides. They’re not bothered by these colonial things. What matters to them is what they’ve accomplished when they became independent from the British and Malaysia. Filipinos on the other hand are easily persuaded to give up their historical heritage and replace it with something else. We habitually, for example, change streets names as though they represent nothing more but alphabets. We don’t seem to understand the importance of preserving historical names.

I discovered that the mosque is surrounded by old shops and residential streets that I’ve never seen before. The mosque is located in the Streets of Muscat and Northbridge. This is not the original, as it had to be expanded because of the growing Muslim population. This present structure was built in the 1920’s, interestingly it was designed by a westerner named Denis Santry.

I was impressed by how they managed to preserve the area around the mosque. The district, known as Glam Kampong, is surrounded by towering buildings of is known as central business district. The coexistence of old and new here is something that has long fascinated me. How I wish this is the case in Manila! And I believe that this is possible back home only if we have the the vision to find use for our old buildings.

The pressure to develop space for urban use is real everywhere. Much more in Singapore because they have very limited space but what they do well is manage urban development in a way that it doesn’t harm their historical relics. We’ve seen how urban expansion devastated the heritage structures of Manila, which have bigger space and more options when it comes to urban planning. How Singapore has zoned out certain districts away from development is something we all can learn from.

I would not know that there was an old Muslim settlement in the center of Singapore if I have not seen this district. Although, aside from the mosque, the structures around the district does not appear to be heavily influenced by Islamic art. Its historical significance is that here, their royal and merchant ancestors showed the world the beauty of their culture and religion. This is the beauty of conserving what’s left of the past – it reminds people. The old houses and shops are now mostly commercial spaces but this is good because as long as these structures are utilized – they’ll continue to exist. Architectural reuse is something that our local government in the Philippines needs to catch on. Fast. Before we lose everything.

An old shop converted to a Mexican bar with Aztec inspired murals

An old building sandwiched between modern buildings. Some space eventually must be conceded to land development but historical houses must not be removed totally as they represent the different historical strata of each state.

Taken from Beach Road. At night, the place comes alive with some fine dining restos and pubs.

Motel here enjoys a better reputation than hours. This one, obviously an old building, now reused to accommodate transient visitors and lovers of course.

An old housing building converted to shops

An MMA shop housed in what used to be a small house! Brock manning the door!

San Miguel Beer Bar @ Changi

The brand is a genuine Filipino original. It enjoys bigger following even in countries like Hong Kong and  Singapore. I found this booth in Changi Budget Terminal serving passengers waiting for their flights back home.

The San Mig Booth

We don’t have a lot of big international brands that are well-known all over the world. So I get excited, like most Filipinos, when I see one abroad. The branding in South East Asia is that San Miguel is the “Great Asian Beer” – and I believe that it is. No good Filipino disputes this fact!

The biggest names in Asia are Kirin (owns 15% of San Miguel), Singha, Sapporo, Tiger, Chang, Lao, Tsingtao and Taiwan beer. The biggest are the ones from Japan that I heard are brewed in North America.

San Miguel has been brewing beers for over a hundred years. Making it the oldest among the other Asian brands. Tiger, who enjoys a huge chunk of SE Asian market , only started brewing around the 1940’s.  SMB has a brewing tradition that’s unmatched by any other beer maker –  more than 100 years of perfecting their beer formula – almost as old as Heineken and Coors.

Legends has it that the Soriano’s made a secret deal with the Americans during the liberation days to spare the brewery in San Miguel. The building were among the only few standing structure after the city was almost leveled to the ground by the vicious American assault. Did they intentionally avoided hitting the brewery to ensure Manila’s beer kept flowing for the thirsty GI long after the Japs are gone?

Like the famous champagne named after the French monk cum master wine maker, Dom Pérignon, the San Miguel recipe is said to had been first concocted by the religious Recoletos for medicinal purposes. Well, possibly for a good time as well, who knows. A German guy (brought in by the first Soriano that got involved in SMB during the early 1900’s) is credited for perfecting the beer into what it is now. Interesting is that the first bottled products rolled out of the Manila factory in an October day – the month when the German’s celebrates their beer festival – “oktuberfest”.

There are countless men who made invaluable contribution, not only to the beer’s taste, but to its survival as a profitable venture. The most important of which is that of the founder, Sr. Enrique Maria Barretto y Ycaza. He sought the approval of the Spanish Queen for his beer during a time when the monarch was dealing with so many issues and problem plaguing her empire. Barretto had his eyes in supplying beer to South East Asia. With his Royal grant, he begun the first ever beer brewery in the region – “La Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel”.

“When you have to ask the Spanish Monarch for a permission to brew a beer you had better brew a GREAT BEER!”.

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