Coasting

La Union, The Ransom Collective, and embracing my youth (before it’s too late).

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There’s a song that plays in my head when I think about my first visit to San Juan beach in La Union: Shelter (Oh No), by the happy little indie folk band named Ourselves the Elves. When I’m packing stuff for a trip it’s become my habit to load my phone with new music, which I would listen to on the bus (or plane), and in idle moments, as in that lazy hour before noon, before checking-out, while my travel companions mill around gathering their belongings. Pieces of music, once they imprint on a memory, can preserve moments in a way photos can’t. Pictures allow me to replay the visuals of a moment weeks, months, or years after it has passed, but they don’t always trigger the emotions. I have beautiful pictures from that trip to San Juan more than three years ago—sunset, waves, and lots of sand—but I can’t say that I truly remember that time, unless I hear Shelter, unless I feel the feelings only that song can stir in me.

It’s not that the words of the short but spirited song mean anything particular to me. The song is technically a duet, featuring Aki and Aly’s wonderful, interweaving boy-girl vocals, but I hesitate to call it one, because all the words seem to belong to the same persona—a character losing a metaphorical battle, and calling out to the listener to be her (or his) shelter and shield.

Well, I wasn’t quite feeling vulnerable when I listened to the song in a room by the sea, despite the relentless crash of waves resounding through the window shutters. I merely thought it a rather joyful song, in a swinging way, even if its somewhat foreign texture tinges it with melancholy. It was a great song, an appropriate addition to the soundtrack of my weekend in a carefree, blissful place.

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The Taoid Museum in Laoag, an Ilocano tribute to a Cordilleran heritage

Here is a well-made museum in the lowland city, about the culture of the neighboring highlands.

When tourists, myself included, proclaim that we ‘like’ the culture of a city or country we have just visited, I wonder what we truly intend to say. While in Vigan, for instance, do eating an egg-filled empanada, taking photos of colonial-era houses, and learning to say Naimbag nga malem!, while having fun, already count as ‘liking’ the Ilocano ‘culture’?

Unfortunately, culture extends deep beyond these superficial experiences. Travellers have time to appreciate its displayed gems, but not enough to suffer its habits. In primary school we are taught that the Ilocanos are known for being a thrifty people: do we travellers like that particular trait of Ilocano culture? Ignoring the fact that tourism is rarely a thrifty activity for the traveller, the question is irrelevant. When we tourists say we like Ilocano culture, we are only talking about Vigan’s beautiful houses, Bangui’s magnificant windmills, and Pagudpud’s fine beaches.

Perhaps as an atonement for this tourist’s guilt, I ensure that museums are always part of my opportunities to travel around the country. Museums are essential to overcoming the limitations of tours when appreciating a place’s culture; they show us the practices, products, and persistence of a culture that we cannot see by simply strolling through the streets or by buying souvenirs. This endeavor is possible because museums are built by people who have dedicated a lot of their toiling hours learning a culture beyond its most visible trappings.

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Baguio: the eternal and the environmental

Baguio’s unique character as a Philippine city requires a similarly unique dedication to its protection.

Baguio is a young city. It is only over a century old—practically an infant among the historical cities and towns of the Philippine archipelago. As recently as the turn of the 20th century, while ilustrados and invaders quarreled over the serious matter of sovereignty in the lowlands, the area known as Kafagway was only a grassland inhabited by humble Ibaloi folk, quietly tending to their cattle. A few years later, after inevitably winning the Philippine-American War, weary Americans stumbled upon this cradle of a land in the mountainous Cordillera region. Exhausted by lowland Luzon’s tropical air, they must have fallen homesick at the first whiff of Kafagway’s chilly midland winds, so they quickly decided that they will build a resort town in that place. Baguio was born.

Flowers with dewdrops at Burnham Park, Baguio City.
Flowers at Baguio’s Burnham Park.

Yet, despite this young history and the absence of a Spanish heritage that most of the rest of Luzon Island enjoys, Baguio has already attained for itself an immortal character. The numerous artists and authors who have made this place their home attest to the sense of the eternal pervading the midland city.

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