Tag Archives: singapore

Graffiti as Art

“The Substation should be anything anyone wants it to be; open and flexible enough to do things his or her own way — KPK”

While walking along Armenian Street I noticed this wall with graffitis on it. It’s located in the small pathway between the Peranakan Museum and the Substation, a local place for contemporary arts founded in the 1990’s. Now, graffiti is a rarity here, obviously this one was created by the artists in the center and I’m sure they were allowed to do so.

It’s a fascinating art form. Their presence gives a city the appearance of gritty realism. I see it as an expression of struggle, of trying to overcome challenge. However, not all can be considered art. Some are downright vandalism. It takes a real artist, someone who has a vision to turn ugly surfaces into inspiring artwork to tie it all together.

Seeing these wonderful creations in that little corner made me respect graffiti art more.

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Revisiting the Historic Fort Canning

The last time I saw Fort Canning was in 2008. Same year I visited the island state for the first time. The country made a great impression on me that I visited it a dozen times since then. And as fate would have it, I was assigned to work in the island early 2012.

There are guided walks here (here). I think these volunteers would do a better job telling you the story of this historic hill. I wanted to talk to these folks but never had the chance. But these guys makes your visit easy with these literatures on line (here) available for free – if you decide to travel alone like I do. There are tons of information in these catalogs that you could probably apply to become a tour guide once you’ve read them all!

This hill is without a doubt the most historic site in Singapore. Its ancient name was Bukit Larangan (bukit is hill, where we got bukid, Larangan is their word for “forbidden” because the ruler lived here). The last king. Iskandar Shah, ruled Singapore for nine years until 1398. Then the Majapahit empire took over his kingdom. An interesting side note is that prehispanic Philippines was part of this Asiatic empire. While this Iskandar Shah was vanished to Malacca by the Majapahit’s, he found his way back to Singapore. His dead body that is. He’s buried in the hill where he oversaw his kingdom. The grave site (pictured above) is revered by many as a holy site. A few years ago, researchers unearthed pottery and porcelains near the Shah’s burial site.

Another fascinating remnant of the past within the hill is the country’s first Christian cemetery. It’s a fine example of how the early European settlers buried their loved ones. Jewish, Russian Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants were interred side by side. The burial grounds was later moved but some of the more grand tombstones were left behind. There’s an interesting one that had Manila written as his birthplace. There was once a time when there’s prestige telling people that you were born in Manila. The first Catholic church here was partly funded by the Manila Cathedral.

When Stramford Raffles established a British outpost in the islands, he made his cabin bungalow on top of Fort Canning. Subsequent British administrators improved and expanded this house. I’m not sure how original the present day structure is but it is said to be exactly where Raffle’s installed the foundations of his shelter. There’s a reservoir on top of the hill that once supplied the neighborhood below. It appears that it’s still being used today because not only was it fenced for good measure but there are signs warning would be trespassers of getting shot!

The old colonial fortress gate of Fort Canning. The thing about fortresses in Asia is that one of the reason why they were built was so the Europeans would have a place they can go to in times of uprisings. Which tells you that they know that someday, the people they conquered would figured out what’s going on. What’s intriguing about the hill’s fortress is that there was a moat that once surrounded its ancient wall. Could you imagine a fortress on top of a hill complete with a moat?

There’s a spice garden not far from the Fort Cunning Center (this building was built in the 20’s for the British Army). Easily, one of my favorite spot. I remember seeing this three years ago. It’s possible that Rizal spent time here during his visits. They’ve collected a variety of spice plants. There are giant gingers and pandan all over the place. There are wild peppers, camias, tanglad, name the spice and the garden have it. The lesson here was that the European came to SE Asia for these little known spices – to enrich the flavor of their cuisine. Of course, that’s an interesting story but spices was not the only reason why they came.

Wild black peppers. Yeah, I think that’s the scientific name.

A south American tree stranded on the hill. You don’t have to be a hardcore botanist to tell that this tree is old. It looks old. It would take a dozen adults to embrace this mammoth tree.

I forgot what this is — but it’s a very important spice. Damn. Ah, jalapeno? Urgh!

Entrance to the “Battle Box”. During the WWII, the British high commanders made the hill their headquarters. The tunnels are now preserved and is open to the public. What many people don;t know is that there were more British troops in their Malaysian colony (incl. Singapore) during the Japanese offensive than in their native UK. They were out to protect their colonies but the Japanese sliced thru their defense like knife to a butter. There’s just so much to see around this hill that I wonder why tourist doesn’t come here in droves.


Old Train Stations and Memories

A week ago, I visited Singapore’s old central train station. Though I didn’t see its interior, seeing the exterior’s art deco design was enough to make me feel better. Such structures has become rarer as time has gone on.

This accidental discovery has led me to another abandoned train station – the old Bukit Timah rail station. This one’s more modest and was more practical in its design. The station still have the old manual controls that was used to switch the tracks.

According to Remember Singapore blogger, “the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station was completed in 1932 and part of Singapore-Kranji Line (Bukit Timah to Tank Road Terminal) was dismantled in 1939, the Bukit Timah Railway Station gradually lost its importance. After 1940, passengers could no longer board the train at this station as it was used as a passing loop station”. The length of this line going straight to the Malaysian heartland “is about 950km and the starting point is at Butterworth of Penang”. That means a Singapore-Butterworth-Singapore trip covers roughly a couple of thousand km’s!

I came across some young photography enthusiasts in the station. “we like old buildings as subject”, the boy said. The black painted steel bridge is in great shape. People and bikes and dogs uses it. The entire area, including the station, are planned for restoration. I’m sure there’s a lot of great memories here for the locals. I’m glad to know that they’re hanging on to this one.

Probably a railway office.

Building designated for conservation.

The switches. Cool. I wish I could play with these but they were off limits.

Some crushed old bricks. What made me shoot this. I don’t know.

You don’t mess with a property that belongs to someone called state. You just don’t.

No grand entrance.

Nature’s helicopter and its helipad. The forest has begun to reclaim what used to be a busy railway line.

I guess this is where it all ends.

The Bukit Timah station looks like the old Buendia PNR station of the 80’s. This brought back memories of my first school near the Manila – Makati border. Situated less than 300m from Buendia station, proximity to the railway, 50 meters. So close that every time a train passes with it honking its horns, everything stood still. Things inside the classroom would literally shake and vibrate from the tremor the trains create.

Accidents was common in the area because people lived right next to the rails. Most of my classmates are from this area we call “riles” (the illegal settlements along the railway). The school have windows over looking the “riles” which was great because I like seeing those mid 1900’s trains chug along. Another bonus is the narrow estero right beside the school. Not the cleanest of tributaries but it provided us some pleasant diversion from time to time. We’ve seen almost everything that floats pass by, from garbage bags to dead animals.

During summer, together with some of my classmates, we would drain the drying ponds under some of the shanties in the “riles” to catch catfish, dalag, gourami and martaniko. I would go home smelling like sewage (those pool doubled as septic tank for the settlers since there were no toilets!). As for the fish we caught, we never ate them (we once tried, in a lutu-lutoan way, and they taste awful), we kept them as pets (only to find out that they’ve cannibalized each other in a weeks time).

Seeing old train stations floods my mind with these wonderful childhood experiences. Now that most of the illegal settlers that once lived in the metro manila rail area are gone (which felt strange because I thought they’re going to be there forever) I can’t help but wonder what ever happened to those old classmates of mine.

That school was eventually transferred to a safer, modern and convenient multi-level building in Calle Caong. They could still hear the train coming but not as loud as we used to in Calle Bakawan. But what surprised me was finding out that the school now have proper uniforms. Back in the day uniforms was not strictly enforced. You can come in your underwear and the teachers won’t mind it. They know where the kids come from. Some families are so poor that they send their children to school to get fed.

While we don’t have much of a facility back then, we had that phenomenal canteen that dished out blissful nourishing soups. While the menu was limited to sopas, plain goto and champorado (and sometimes, when the stars are aligned we get arrozcaldo with chicken bits) we children loved them. It’s funny because we would get distracted during our classes the moment we start smelling what’s cooking!

Not a complete list, but I remember these great maestra’s:

Mdm. Ceremonias, who tried to convert everyone to born-againism, but looking back, we owe her big time – she was the soup maker.

Mdm. Subas, who almost crippled me with her stick when she caught me loitering. I love eating quail eggs and made it a habit to throw the shells everywhere. And oh boy did she straightened out this lad.

Mdm. Asis, the strictest teacher I ever had. She instilled in us to come to school well groomed, if you don’t, you get slapped! We would bite our nails to make them short. She inspects the class, like a drill sergeant, every morning.

Mdm. Abay, she an awesome science teacher. I think one of the best teacher I ever had. She opened my eyes to the magical world of science. She’d be greatly disappointed of course that I failed chemistry and physics subjects in college.

Mdm. Jaurigue, a devout Catholic who I impressed with my knowledge of the Saints! She probably thought of me a saintly boy but saintly I was not. I have two books at home around that time: a Tagalog-English dictionary and the Book of Saints.

Sir Brilliantes (?) The schools music teacher who taught us how to be part of rondalla. He does it all: teach music, repair instruments, conduct marches and compose songs (I wonder if he ever played the Blues – he must have, there’s no way he got to be that good without it!) He tried teaching us how to read music. It was just too much for me.

Mdm. Seriosa who married an American and left. She was my brother’s favorite teacher. From some 10+ years before me.

Sir Tecson, I remember his name but not what he taught us – probably math subjects.

That handsome lil’ lad. Top, first boy on the left. Yes. Right. That’s him. That’s me. Grade 2, circa 1987.

All my brothers knows these teachers well. They were their teachers too. Just imagine most of them has been teaching since the 60’s. That’s a lifetime of work. Such beautiful dedicated, noble spirited human beings. Where would we be without them.

Small school, big dreams…

San Antonio Village Elementary School

Makati, Philippines

1986 – 1992


Creative Heritage Project

Now, I’ve seen Mcdonalds’ first concept store in the US but this easily tops that. This building is even older than McDonalds.

A Mcdonald’s restaurant operating inside a colonial era mansion in Bugis. That’s a great concept. A meeting between US pop culture and 18th century colonial Asia.

Now that’s a Mcdonalds.

I’m dreaming that we Filipinos would one day share this enthusiasm over heritage buildings. Heritage links us to our beautiful history and gives us a sense of identity. Something that is clearly missing in our materialistic society today.

We’ve become a people in a constant state of forgetfulness.

We owe it to ourselves and to the next generation to conserve what’s left of our past. They deserve to be reminded.

We have these fine examples of modern conservation. Singapore appears to get it. Here old shops and homes are put up to use. Why not embrace this kind of approach? After all, money can only last so long, history, now that’s forever.


An Old Art Deco Railway Station

This is as far my camera zoom can go. “The Four marble statues at exterior of building by the Italian sculptor Rudolfo Nolli, representing the four pillars of the Malayan and Singapore economy – Agriculture, Commerce, Transport and Industry, with the initials FMSR (Federated Malay States Railways)”. — From Wikipedia (yes, you heard it right, I used wikipedia for research!)

I used to pass by this imposing old building in Tanjong Pagar (Lee Kuan Yew’s old constituency) on my way to work. While it appears interesting, I thought it was just some abandoned mid 1900’s structure waiting to be demolished. Little did I know was that it’s quite a historic place – it was the main Singapore station in the old Malaysian railway line. If I knew it then, I would definitely have gone down and see it.

The building has been gazetted as a historic place by the local government (that means they plan to conserve it). But today it’s temporarily inaccessible to the public. So it was with regret that I could only take photos of the building from its gates. From the photos I saw on the internet, the building have remarkable wall paintings and a beautiful lofty white interior. I heard that last year people were still allowed inside. The station was closed back in 2011.

The building is an Art Deco. A visual art form that I’m not very familiar with. What I know is that this movement was created for its pure decorative form. Unlike most of the great designs inspired by religious interpretations, Art Deco artists had a secular approach to design. Art Deco building has also become increasingly rare. Which is odd because most of the buildings that carried its design was built in the 1900’s. You would think that there’s still a lot of them around but most of these buildings had already given way to modern constructions (where Jai Alai used to be played in Manila is an example – Mayor Atienza proudly leveled that memorable building). While I don’t find it alluring (I’m poor in appraising art, so don’t worry) its historic value is of great importance. Such buildings shows layers of history our cities was built upon.

I don’t have all the information but I’m curious to know if the closure had anything to do with the dispute between Singapore and Malaysia over immigration offices or if the building has just outlived its usefulness. The train from here crosses the Johor Straits to Malaysia. There’s not a lot of train networks in the world that crosses a sea channel like this line. To this day, Malaysian railway enjoys the reputation for being one of the best in Asia. It’s not as fast as those train bullets but it offers that priceless nostalgic feel of traveling.

The Tanjong Pagar station was opened in the 1920’s. An interesting fixture in its facade are the marble human statues representing the economy of the Malay colony. It was created by an Italian artist known for his artwork around here in Singapore. The remaining railway tract and the stations arrival and departure platform are still in place  I’m sure they plan to preserve portions of it.

Another old railway station here is in Bukit Timah. I plan to see it this month. I saw some pictures of it and it reminds me of our old railway stations in the Philippines – sad is that while ours are more elegant and charismatic, most of these had already been removed.

Well, you know who to thank for that.

A copper clock. It’s amazing that everything is still legible even after these years.

The canopy of the waiting area. It’s interesting how detailed these are.

These thick iron bars are built to last. I wonder if these dents came from the battles during WWII. I remember the iron fences of Adamson in Calle Marcelino having bullet holes from that war. You could just imagine the sheer number of bullets that was exchanged during those battles.

You’ll never see these kind of design and quality again. They don’t make them like they use to.

January 2013


Water and Greens

Fresh air. Clear water. Good sun. Robbin’ monkeys.

Fascinating is how Singapore manages to allocate nature reserves in their already shrinking land space.

I recently visited the MacRitchie Reservoir to see some nature. And oh boy did I get up close with nature.

While walking along the reservoir, a foot sized monkey snatched the plastic bag I was carrying. It had my calorie rich choco cookies in it that I plan to eat while I’m out there.

The monkey didn’t even bother to run to the forest. Damn creature ate what he stole right in front of his victim!

Brings to mind those cruel bags and jewelry snatchers of Manila who’d steal in broad day light.

But those monkeys of MacRitchie are part of that watershed’s ecosystem. I actually find them cute. But I didn’t attempt to recover my item. They bite like hell. I know someone back home that got bitten. You don’t mess with these little f*****s.

Human contact has taught these primates to steal and scavenge for food in the garbage bins. Left in the wild, they’d forage for food on their own.

The food visitors leaves behind and scraps not properly disposed means easy food for these scrappy animals.

Feeding has been outlawed, with a stiff fine of 5 thousand dollars no one in his right mind would throw food intentionally to these monkeys.

Now, that’s what I call a good a deterrent.

But trouble is that the hudredth monkey has already figured out how to source their food from human leftovers.

Seeing these monkeys made me think about how close we really are to them.

He lost his lunch but he’s still a happy man.

This better be kept clean. This is our drinking well.

Planks, nuts and bolts for a board walk.

That’s not what you think it is.

Descendants of the ferns some dinosaurs use to feed from. They’ve been around for some time.

The sun fast setting over yonder.

Full cycle – death and then life.

Though not as smart as monkeys, ants, should get credit for folding leaves to make shelter.

Some trees are far more important than others. Not only did they spared this one, they designed the foot walk to go underneath this fortune tree.

A British legacy. The reservoir was named after an English engineer who supervised the development of infrastructure around the islands during his tenure.

The reservoir has boardwalk and trails built along its bank. The boardwalk are made of wood which makes it perfect for some running. The forest is opened to the public by wonderful trails that even children can safely enjoy.

I saw some kids lure fishing. I should try it one day. It looks fun – I need it. These days, my career seem to be heading the opposite direction. Stress comes to me in heavy dosages. Though I’m not one that goes overboard thinking about problems – a little fishing is good, I think.

Next time I’ll try to go to the other side of the reservoir. Equipped with a fishing rod and no longer carrying a bagful of cookies for safe measure…


The Island of Pulao Ubin and The Kampong

A kampong style house in Pulao Ubin

 

Pulao Ubin is perhaps the last place in Singapore where vestiges of the old kampong life in its pure form could still be seen. Kampong (or Kampung) are traditional Malayan villages typically made up of a mosque, rice fields and houses set on stilts. The kampong and the pre-Filipino Barangay shares remarkable similarities essentially in religion, architecture and customs. The former is much larger in terms of scope and organization compared to the latter, principally a grouping of extended family members that came to the islands in long wooden boats where it got its name.

We Filipinos adapted the word Kampong but used it to refer to a follower, a vassal or a subject . You might have heard your in laws call you a “kampon ni satanas”, aside from this phrase the word is rarely used. The old Tagalog version referred to the clusters of communities under a chief and the people were collectively called “kampon”.

Our prefilipino ancestors most likely used “kampong” like the Malays, but as it is common for historians to try to revise and make spectacular claims of discovery, they wanted the story to emerge distinctively aboriginal. They called it Barangay. Kampong, even to modern Singapore,Indonesia and Malaysia, are considered the original communities.

There are historians that subscribes to different schools of thought in immigration patterns. There are some that even rejects the idea of land bridges. I remember this being taught in school and now we’re not even sure if those land bridges ever existed. In the end, even if someday someone would be able to definitively prove where the migrations waves came, if there ever was communal migration, we would still have to understand that this does not prove the origin of our historical identity as Filipinos, or the unified nation we know today, but only the origins of some of our prehispanic population.

There’s a lot of words we share with the Malays that has taken a totally different meaning like “ulam” – to us are viands, to them, herbs that are eaten without cooking. Pulao is a word that’s also familiar because it is where we got “Pulo”, and they mean the same thing. We share more words with Malaysians and Indonesians than I ever thought. Working closely with them highlighted even the curious commonalities that otherwise I would have not noticed. Eating with ones hands is considered tradition. I noticed that they also call people (insisting like we do to “makan, makan” meaning “kain!” in our language) to eat with them. Their sweets (collectively called kui muih) closely resembles and tastes like ours. Another example is the steamed rice in leaves they call “ketupat”, which appears in our southern provinces as “puso”. The town where I rent a room was named after the movement of “hurling objects”, which in Tagalog is “pukol”. If we have remained in the faith of Islam and Spain didn’t enter the picture, we would be able to absolutely relate, culturally and linguistically, with these wonderful people.

I believe that places like Pulao Ubin remind people what it was like back in the day when people lived simply and relied on their community and faith to aid them through hard times. When you talk about the old way of life around here, this is it. There’s probably around 100 people left in the island and kampongs has almost completely vanished in this former colony. I believe modernity has taken away much of the old ways. It takes tangible proofs, like the houses in this island, to relive some of the traditions that had quietly died in their memories.

The island is just a short boat ride away from the central island. Granite had been quarried out of the island since the British times. Fishing and digging out granite were the chief source of livelihood in the island. There are talks of resurrecting the quarry operations. Although in the past years Singapore’s government has been promoting and developing the island as a tourism area with a great deal of success. The granite is among the hardest rocks known to man and is known to be good counter top kitchen material. The Piedra Blanca’s lighthouse (named as such by the Portuguese because of what appeared to be white rocks but were actually made white by bat droppings) was said to had been constructed with the quarried rocks from Ubin.

Pulau Ubin is home to some of the most beautiful wild animals in the country. Wild boars  roams freely in its forest. Monkeys hang on trees, noticeably observing people passing by. The Oriental Pied Hornbill, absent for some decades, has long since reestablish itself in the island. They somewhat became the symbol of the islands reemergence popular resident. In our country we have some of the most critically endangered horn bills, like the Sulu hornbill, considered among the top in the list or rarest birds in the world.

Another great spot to see in the island is the Chek Jawa, a wetland that has been left untouched for years until it was discovered in the early 2000’s. The government abandoned reclamation projects and instead created facilities for tourists to use in observing the wetland’s ecology.

The only stone house (made of bricks) in the island was built by a British officer in the 1800’s. It has been recently restored by the government. Not only that it’s the only English cottage style house in the country, it is also the only known house that was built in Singapore to have a genuine fire place.

Curiously, there’s this one huge boar that appears to be domesticated leisurely walking around the area near the colonial house. There’s a large population of this animal in the island. The only guys that’s keeping the wild boar population in check are these enormous reticulated pythons. Wild boar meat is lean and flavorful. An Uncle in Olangapo (he passed away a few years ago) hunted wild boars for its meat. If he’s alive and he happened to live in Ubin, I’m sure he’d destroy the islands ecosystem! He also hunted pythons and almost all kinds of animals that can be consumed! When I hear stories about hunters and hunting, I’m reminded of him. He don’t use guns, instead, he sets up traps which I found really fascinating. Some of the most exotic food: bats, eels, pythons and boars, we got to taste because of him.

Developing the island and opening it up to public housing is still currently being considered. Since it has been improved for visiting tourist, attracting attention to its wonderful ecology and great natural beauty, it could stay this way for some more time.

Filipinos boarding the boat off to Pulao Ubin.

Boats going back to the mainland jetty

Without the flag one would think that this to be typical low income Filipino home

Their version of a carinderia. Notice the Chinese dude checking out the Caucasian female.

A quite zen-isque pond not far from the rotunda and camp site gathering area

The observer being observed by a gecko. I wonder if this one is of any medicinal value?

Jalang matuwid. Daan to us is Jalan to them.

Like stray dogs in our metro manila, boars here freely roam

When your in the plane bound to Singapore, sightings of these enormous ships signifies that you’re not far from island state

Overgrown but shy lizards we call bayawak back home

A private jetty near the old British house

Pulut pukyutan

The house no. 1 where British officers once stayed

Bacon!

One of the best (realistic) heritage conservation programs in the world can be found here in Singapore

Old quarry grounds now lakes. Almost hidden and inaccessible to the public.

Hey hey with the monkeys!

An Azkal in the island

The busy port. Thanks to the booming tourism in the island.


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!


One Morning in Changi Museum

Sign pointing to the museum

The replica chapel that has become a pilgrimage spot for veterans and their families.

Messages left behind by visitors. Some are moving dedications to fathers that died during the war…

This one, dedicated by a son to a father that survived the Changi gaol

They call this tsuru… when it reaches 1000, a wish is believed to be granted.

Another tsuru, paper cranes, this time with dedication written in Japanese

Growing up hearing stories about WWII, and reading about it, I learned that nothing good ever comes from wars as a child. Its a simple thought. With all the suffering and misery the wars has caused us, you’d think that we have learned to avoid it.

I recently visited the Changi museum and it brought back the memories of the stories told to me by my adopted grandmother, my father and all those elders I had the luck to speak with that survived that war. How I wish that the father of my mother is still around. He fought alongside the Americans during the war in Negros. It was a tragic irony that he endured and survived life as soldier and died in a vehicular accident after the war.

Changi museum became a pilgrimage site for former POW and their children who wanted to see the place where their parents and grandfathers were kept as prisoners during the war. It was moving to see the yellow notes with messages of remembrance and love coming from the families of the veterans.

The museum displays letters, photos, skeches and personal belongings of former POW’s of the gaol. The story of how Changi, a small relatively unknown village, became a vast internment camp in 1942 is told in one of the galleries. It was fascinating to see the replicas of the popular Changi Murals. The original are still around but because of its location inside the present prison its not open to the public. The books on sale in the museum gift shop was quite impressive but I had to content myself with hastily browsing over them.

The chapel in the courtyard, a replica of the churches the men built around the prison, has become a pilgrimage area for veterans and their families. In the center is a brass cross that was made by a former prisoner. There were several makeshift chapels that was constructed by the POW during their time in Changi. Chaplain Hughes explains the practice: “men who are employed in forced labor and growing weak… do not build Churches and worship in them unless they are persuaded that there is value in such toil”.

Having mentioned my grandfather, Elpidio Díaz, in this post I’m hoping that by chance somebody may come across this page and forward it to Celia Diaz-Laurel, widow of former Vice President Salvador Laurel. Documents related to my grandfather’s service in the war and other personal materials were kept in the old Bacolod house where he stayed with his uncle (Celia’s father). Back in the Philippines, I tried to get in touch with Mrs. Laurel but failed. It’s my hope that I could, at least, see these tangible evidence of my grandfather’s life. We don’t even have a photo of him. His things would be the closest we’ll ever come to a Lolo we never knew.


Spanish as Third Language… in Singapore

While Filipino politicians  continue to debate whether Spanish should be reintroduced in our national education, here’s Singapore, announcing “Spanish as a third language” starting 2014.

They intend to “develop a core group of Singaporeans to be proficient in Spanish to support Singapore’s efforts in exploring new growth opportunities and forging partnerships with Spain, Latin America and other Spanish-speaking countries”.

Singaporeans are very efficient planners. They see the big picture. Their reasoning is assessed based on what will benefit the country as a whole. A third language is optional. You get to pick what you like but you can’t skip it entirely.

The other “third languages” of the island state are French, German, Japanese, Arabic and Bahasa Indonesia. My nephew here, he’s 6, is now learning Chinese and would be taking up French in his next class. He speaks English and Tagalog well of course.

While they don’t have a tradition in Spanish they understand economics. The Singaporean government’s intention is “to increase the country’s attractiveness as a hub for Latin American companies looking to set up operations in Asia”. And this is nothing short of brilliant. Spanish has 416 million native speakers – that’s a big, big market to corner!

During GMA’s term, she pushed for the reintroduction of Spanish in Philippine schools. It stalled for awhile. Last I heard was it will be optional at selected private and public schools. Well, better than nothing. Senador Angara is a lone voice in the wilderness with his calls to “to incorporate Spanish into the basic education curriculum for good”.

Unfortunately, Spanish is not really popular among the common masses. Its one thing to make them understand of its economic benefit, another to have them embrace it. Reintroducing it as a regular subject in school entails losing votes. So its not really surprising that the main proponent of Spanish is a retiring senator.

I feel that not unless we push for it to be reintroduced and taught alongside English, starting in grade school, it will not succeed. A decade from now, we’ll see Singapore, Japan and Korea, surpass as in Spanish and with this, lose what could’ve been an advantage over countries that never spoke Spanish.

Source: “Spanish as third language from 2014”
Posted: 26 May 2012 1229 hrs Channelnewsasia.com


The Tropical Gothic Church of Sts. Peter and Paul

Gazetted as a national historic monument

Now that I’m back in this progressive island state I wanted to take a closer look into how heritage structures are conserved and protected around here. Economy is still growing and there’s the constant pressure to expand the commercial urban landscape. They have to compromise when it comes to developing land for residential and commercial use because of limited space, but somehow they manage to hold on and preserve the ones that counts which I find admirable.

I recently visited the elegant tropical gothic church of Sts. Peter and Paul along Queens Road near the MRT station of Bras Brasa. I saw it two years ago and was reminded of our San Sebastian church in Manila.

The traveler and the church in the background. Rizal visited this church in one of his brief stopovers.

I was surprised to see the church having some slight signs of deterioration. The wooden doors and the choir loft’s floor have termite damage and the white paint from its high ceiling has begun to fell off. It must be the tropical weather combined with the salty elements in the air that accelerates material decay. We have this same problem with our old churches in the Visayas. Since parishes back home are left to fend for themselves, most restoration works are sub par, and what’s sad is that I’ve seen some, although having the best intentions to help, render relics and structures irreparable damage.

The church of Sts. Peter and Paul will be restored soon. If there’s one thing that Singaporeans do well that is organizing projects and making them happen. Solicitations for funding is underway. Restoration works here go through proper reviews before it gets implemented. Can’t wait to see it back to its former glory.


Land of the Morning Online

I stumbled upon this site (click here) while taking my usual bus ride home.

The website, courtesy of ACM, blew my mind. When I got home I viewed the site in my desktop right away.

I remember seeing this exhibit in 2010. And now I’m seeing it online – exactly how I saw it during its opening.

The “Land of the Morning” exhibit was an amazing display of Filipiniana collections sourced from different collectors and institutions back home. That was the first time I’ve ever seen a  museum abroad exhibit art and artifacts about the Philippines.

This virtual exhibit captured everything during that week long event. Its fascinating what the Asian Civilization created. They figured out that the exhibit can be recreated in a virtual setting (museums everywhere should start doing this!). So long after the displays had gone back to the “Land of the Morning”, the exhibit continues – in cyber world. And this one is open forever – more importantly – its gratis!


Lee Kuan Yew @ 88

A couple of days ago, Lee Kuan Yew, one of the longest serving political leader in the region celebrated his 88th birthday. I’ve long admired his work and how he lived his life. There are very few, if any, that can match what this statesman accomplished.

I haven’t fully read his memoirs (The Singapore Story) only picking chapters. I would need to take a long vacation to finish it! The two part series is the story of LKY’s life and his involvement on how the island state was founded.

LKY’s discipline as a politician is impressive. I like the story of him (along with another colleague) attending a meeting with Malayan leaders. It was more like a party with food and gambling going on. It must have been strange for him because he’s not used to that kind of politics. He takes his role as a representative of his country very seriously and felt that such things are unacceptable. He stayed on and tried to press some official business but as soon as young attractive girls started coming to please the mostly Malay politicians, he and his colleague walked out!

One of my favorite chapter in the book is Chapter 43, entitled “Talak, Talak, Talak”. If that sounds familiar, its because it is the Malay word for divorce or the act of splitting from the spouse. To us Filipinos, it means something different–in literal Tagalog, “you talk too much!”. You hear this from fighting couples all the time.

The chapter discussed the eventual split of Singapore from the Malay federation. Looking back, I’m sure they now see this as the greatest event that ever happened in their history as this failed union with UNMO catapulted them to achieve what many thought impossible to pull off.

I would like to write about LKY’s view of the Filipino politicians he dealt with during his time but first, I have to finish reading the voluminous memoir of this great man. Not a lot of people know that he offered Marcos refuge at the height of the Philippine crisis where Cory was eventually installed as president. He once said that the inability of Marcos to solve the crisis was because he was “the problem”.

Singapore is a great country, and a young one. The generation of today’s Singaporean must never forget about how Lee Kuan Yew and his generation labored it into existence. They must steer clear from dangerous influences coming from the outside. There’s a reason why Singapore succeeded – they must continue to follow  their founding fathers ideals – and for us Filipinos, the Singapore story must be a lesson.


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