Wednesday, December 31, 2008


It was a book that I can rightly claim as mine for the first time. I wished for it in the Christmas of 1993. Manong Edmund who picked me in the bunutan was really at lose how to get it until Dondon was able to find one at a National Bookstore store in Manila. Ambeth Ocampo has since moved on as a monk, National Historical Institute (NHI) boss, and National Commission for Culture and Arts top honcho. The book has since been lost somewhere among the countless people who borrowed it, Manong Edmund has grown his hair long and now speaks with unseen spirits, and Dondon is in an eternal euphoria in some fantasy island off Northern Mindanao.

Looking back, THAT book sparked a chain reaction of compulsive book buying: Aguinaldo’s Breakfast, Luna’s Moustache, Bonifacio’s Bolo, Rizal Without the Overcoat, The Bones of Contention; then to F. Sionil Jose’s Rosales Saga (Po-on, Tree, My Brother My Executioner, The Pretenders, Mass), Ermita, Gagamba, Viajero, Sin, Ben Singkol, Vibora; Nick Joaquin’s Culture and History, Manila My Manila, A Question of Heroes; Orlino Ochosa’s The Tinio Brigade, Viva Isabelo Abaya, Bandoleros, Pio Del Pilar and Other Heroes; William Henry Scott’s Pre-Hispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History, Looking for the Pre-Hispanic Filipino, Ilocano Responses to American Aggression 1900-1901; volumes 1 to 19 of Pol Medina Jr.’s Pugad Baboy Series; Bob Ong’s ABNKKBSNPLAKo?!, Bakit Baliktad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino?, Paboritong Libro ni Hudas, Alamat ng Gubat, Stainless Longganisa; and finally the great books: Pedro Galende’s (OSA) “Angels in Stones”, Pedro Salgado’s (OP) “Cagayan Valley and Eastern Cordillera 1581-1898”, Florentino Hornedo’s “On the Trail of Dominican Engineers, Artists and Saints in the Cagayan Valley and Batanes”, Emmanuel Luis Romanillo’s “The Augustinian Recollects in the Philippines”, Norma Alarcon’s “Philippine Architecture During the Pre-Spanish and Spanish Periods”, and that masterpiece of a Regalado Trota Jose --- “Simbahan: Church Art in Colonial Philippines 1565-1898”. In between are other books ranging from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series to the NHI Historical Markers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez to that classic Magdalo cookbook “Pulutan: From the Soldier’s Kitchen”, and other bits and odds of travel guides, maps, biographies, fiction, and serious stuff (read: work related). But it was THAT book that started it all.

Looking back, it was THAT book that made Oyet P easier, he who opened the doors to poetry and that wonderful musicale “Lahar!”, Mt. Pulag and a documentary called “Dara Ken Lasag”, a magical place known as Almaguer and my eternal visita iglesia, and the blog now known as “Shooting Churches, Eating Noodles” that spawned a flickr account, a Friendster account, and lately a Facebook account.

Looking back, it was THAT book and Oyet P in my mind when I blogged a wish list in December of 2006. I do now have a flickr pro account since 2007 courtesy of unseen but heart-felt friends who I presume enjoys my photography. I was, however, able to journey to only one of the ten remaining national heritage colonial church sites that I have yet to visit. Rene Javellana’s (SJ) “Great Churches of the Philippines” remains out of print while that book about my visita iglesia is still a figment of my imagination although somebody did volunteered to be my agent. I did not win the lotto jackpot but I did have plenty of P30s, P40s and P80s; some P600s and P800s; and a near miss that came with a P20,000 consolation prize. I was accepted for a short course at the Maastrich School of Management but the Dutch Embassy in the Philippines denied my application for a fellowship, although I did travel to Benin, Malaysia, the USA, and back to Thailand. PRRM is not yet in the groove after 2 years (can you believe that!) and I guess I have to settle for those FHM Philippines B models in lieu of Renee Zellweger. GMA is still the president but Mike Defensor did lost in his run for senator (Take that you asshole!).

Happy Holidays!!!

PHOTO EXPLAINED: Iba was established as an ecclessiastical mission of the Augustinian Recollects in 1611. Its church was first built of coral blocks and limestones in the 1700s and has been renovated several times since then.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Dear comrades and friends:

In behalf of my family, we thank you for sharing with us our grief in the passing of our mother. She died of colon cancer last October 3. We buried her last Friday noon in Almaguer’s hilltop cemetery, finally reunited with my father, my younger sister, and her parents.

During her 5-day wake, I was able to get a better understanding of what my mother was in her lifetime. We were overwhelmed by the deluge of people who came to pay their last respects. I was drowned by anecdotes about her which kept sleep away.

My mother was a missionary teacher. We have to attend 4 different elementary schools and 2 different high schools (for me and my siblings) because of her and my father's postings who was a credentialed literature evangelist. She spent a year as a domestic helper in Singapore so we can have better lives. When she came back, she taught at a public school in Bayombong. One of her treasures is a certificate commending her dedication to her profession beyond the call of duty.

My mother was an organizer. She helped establish Senior Citizen Chapters and Neighborhood Associations in our province and as far as Isabela. I learned that the official song of Nueva Vizcaya's Senior Citizens was introduced and taught by her --- "Never Grow Old". It was the keynote song during the necrological service for her.

My mother was a musician. She sang in weddings, funerals and birthdays. She taught us to play the guitar, the banduria and octavina, the harp and organ. I remember when she would try writing down the notes of the songs she will teach to her pupils the next day. The task will take away most of her night.

My mother was a devout Adventist. Everything she left to prayers: when we were sick, had no money, or my father not coming home the other night. And God seems to be always listening to her because most of the time, her prayers were answered. Last Sunday while we were waiting for her body to arrive from the funeral parlor, my cousins and uncles took out a bottle of Gilbey's gin. When the body arrived, the bottle suddenly broke up without anybody touching it. That decided that there will be no drinking during the wake. My mother abhors alcohol.

Even when we were already in college, we would always call to my mother whenever we got sick. Her palms seemed to radiate magic that would soothe away the pain and fever. She was a classic Ilocano: kuripot and hardy. After her burial, we found a mountain of relics she kept in a bodega at the back of our house. "Addan tu pakausaran na", she said. She seemed to be always out of money for we cannot even beg a centavo from her for a piece of kendi lemon. But that magic pitaka of hers would always produce money when it was really needed. All of us were sent to college and she did not leave any debts. Contributions from her various organizational affiliations almost paid all of her burial expense.

I took up after my mother. I grew up in classrooms and that might be the reason for my becoming a teacher. I’m sure I inherited her passion for organizing. Music went to my younger brother and religion to my younger sister.

I was also able to meet my relatives during my mother's wake. It was only during deaths that we come together to renew ties. I came to know my Apong Burik who brought his family from Ilocos Norte to settle in Almaguer. The youngest was my mother's father. I was also asked to light the atong to inform passer-byes that there is death in our house. I listened to the dung-aws and heard of my mother's story. Perhaps she wanted it to be that way. I was her prodigal son and she always wanted me to go back home.

Last Wednesday, we found an album of old pictures she collated and captioned before her death. It is the story of our family. She never told us about it but I’m sure she knew we would find it. I’m also sure that she wanted me to keep it so I can tell our story to the future generations to come.

I did my dung-aw but did not cry much during the wake and burial. My mother hated gloomy gatherings. I’m sure she was welcomed by her creator with a "Well done, my child" greeting. She lived a full and meaningful life. I just hope that us his children can live up to what she was. Uray kagudwa laeng.

October 2004

Monday, November 10, 2008


(NOTE: The following short story appeared in the January-February 1991 issue of the CLSU Collegian. It was the first ever published work of a trying hard fictionist who went by the name of Kimat T. Amianan. The accompanying illustration above was by [now Dr.] Angelito Saliganan.)

He stood transfixed --- hypnotized by the vast green and golden patches of ripening palay, the leaves shivering with every gust of the cool northern breeze creating an emerald sea with waves rippling systematically. Morning dews tenaciously cling to the sheaths, to the intricately woven spider webs, fiercely resisting the radiating heat of the sun, sparkling and dazzling like priceless diamonds.

A colossal figure, he stands five feet and eight inches of solid bone and muscle. The squared jaw and prominent nose added an aura of mystery to his unfathomable expression, the sunken eyes fixed steadily forward. His rich tan complexion contrasted strikingly with a mass of thinning gray hair. He has the looks of a sage and probably, he is.

I call him Amang Lakay. It was more of a name than a reverence for when I was unraveling the mysteries of life, I failed to understand its true context. It’s more of a habit and I got used to it. In fact, I grew up with it.

It was during my sixth year in grade school, I was twelve years old then, when I attempted to probe deeper into that expressionless mask he wore. With childish fervor, I invaded him with questions, some logical, some of plain interest, and other things with stupidity or innocence. He would narrate a tale or two plucked from the history of his rich and colorful life. It may be about his brother Agapito who helped him harvest guavas one summer afternoon… an ordinary story except that his brother was dead three years earlier. Or his experience as the leader of a group of guerillas during the war, exchanging lethal bullets, ambushing the enemy and everything to give the invaders hard life and the worst accommodation they’d ever had.

Nostalgia and emotion overcomes me whenever I reminisce those wonderful evenings we had, together with some cousins, huddled in a dark room illuminated by a solitary lamp, totally absorbed as Amang Lakay took us to another world in a different time.

He brought us to pre-war Philippines --- on what it was long before our fathers were born; of the forest covered mountains, deer hunts, battles, politics, the bizarre world of the supernatural --- of kapres, tikbalangs and aswangs; of elfins, fairies and gremlins. He told us what it was when life was life and man was man.

That was ninen years ago. He was seventy-one then. We were an odd pair --- dusk and dawn. He having spent the best years of his life, while I was still trying to understand what it was. He was rich with experience, brimming with knowledge. I was just beginning to feel what it was like to live, to appreciate and understand the complicated process of life.

It was he who taught me the value of diligence and discipline. “The sweetest reward for a good work is the work itself,” he used to say. He was my first teacher --- teaching me a deeper perception of the world, how to live on what you have, how to be human. It took years but I became the man he wanted me to be.

He had great plans for me. “You’re going to be a good soldier son,” he said one sleepy afternoon. We had just finished eating our lunch of broiled dalag with sliced tomatoes and bagoong, pinakbet the way Inang Baket cooked it, a bunch of yellow bananas. “The art of arms is for real men, for those who feel at ease in the face of danger and peril, for those who feel they are man enough to meet every challenge, for those who know how to apply their principles.”

I can never forget that wrinkled face when, during the crux of my life, he visited me in prison. I cannot endure to stare into his pained expression. He looked so gloomy, so disappointed, so discouraged.

Suddenly, he looked older. He is no longer the strong and determined man I leaned upon whenever I needed support. He is no longer the sage who have an answer to every query. Tears trickled in my cheeks not in self pity but for the man I caused so much pain. He spoke slowly, releasing a charge that pierced the innermost shell of my life.

“I taught you how to become a man. I taught him how to vanquish a foe. But I also taught you how to conquer yourself.”

There was no reproach. What persisted was the mutual feeling we had for both.

And he left, leaving me with his parting words. “Beat the storm, son…” I did.

He died four days before my twentieth birthday. He was eighty. On his death bed, Inang Baket casually asked him, “Are you leaving?” He nodded weakly, flashed a faint smile, and was gone.

When we placed his coffin to its final resting place, I didn’t shed a tear. He hates it. I tried hard to conceal my emotions. I wanted to please him even if he was gone.

He should have been proud of me. Not only that I conquered myself, I also beat the storm. It was for him that I wrote this story, as a tribute to a man who taught me to love life and live with it.

Amang Lakay, eighty years old. War veteran, a hardy pioneer, teacher, adviser, father and friend. He was also my grandfather.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


The flickr Philippines Group (flickristas) recently held a photo exhibit cum contest at the Trinoma Cinema Hall last October 15-18. There were 56 entries who responded to the “08-08-08: Ikatlong Banat” challenge and one of these is mine.

My photo entry’s story started with a brisk walk from the National Zoo to my hotel in Washington DC then passing by a small group of Tibetan exiles holding a vigil at the Dupont Circle. I saw them earlier picketing the Chinese Embassy while riding to one of our federal government agency meetings. The activist in me was naturally drawn in as the incenses started burning and the Buddhist monks chanted their prayer. I walked around, looking at graphic photos of bleeding and dead people from the recent crackdown in Tibet. In solidarity, I helped a couple of young Tibetans light up small candles. Then I started shooting. It was 08 August 2008, the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.

I did not win though and I somewhat expected that. It’s enough for me that my work was included in the exhibit. I was happy too that jobarracuda went home with the Toshiba computer notebook first prize and angrylittleboy with the point and shoot digital camera second prize. I met them once during the final turn-over of the Lagalag Notebooks and I consider them as my friends and mentors. And thank you to Stitch who made the exhibit possible.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Dear Shubert,


This is Manong Ben from Colton, CA 92324 USA. I am under the impression you are posting from the United Kingdom.

Be that as it may, I am extremely elated, albeit, euphoric I have come across someone who really and fully comprehends what I have referred to. AVL was my Junior & Senior classmate in NELA in 1968-1970 and my close friend. I was able to trace and see him and his family somewhere in a Bambang barrio in 1997. We reminisced those good old days. OF COURSE, I know Nana Ansing very well; same with the late Tata Peping --- kind, approachable and nice folks. Rollie once studied in NLA (Artacho) but only now that I learned he's now in USA, presumably New Jersey. I hope Cristopher Marlowe (as I called him then) makes it eventually. TIDBIT: You know I almost became attached to Almaguer "by, and in accordance to, law"; quite unfortunately it didn't materialize. Like you said, I was a young teenager then, full of idealistic utopianism and mindful of having a successful future in the USA --- on the condition I had the right partner in life. I have been divorced since 2003. In the late 1990s I often teased "Uncle Mike" (Americanized version of Micquias) here in Glendora, CA USA having failed --- utterly and so miserably --- not having had him as my uncle-in-law. Dang !!! But that is life. C'est le vie!!!

My younger sister the doctor spent the 1969 Christmas vacation with Nana Ansing's daughter and GC; I was having my Laoac, Pangasinan vacation then but went to Almaguer in the interim to catch-up with them; riding on the carabao-drawn cart of their relative from the National Highway to Purok 2 (Saranay), Almaguer and alighting from the cart directly in front of their house. Those were the days. On Saturday we went to Sto. Domingo; Sunday naman, sa Salinas Salt Springs and on Monday I went back to Laoac. I again saw them in March, 1971 when I spent the Holy Week there while GC and Nana Ansing's daughter came from NELA. I once more saw them in April, 1985 and lastly, March, 1997. None thereafter. (Since you call Nana Ansing as an aunt; then you must be by kinship related to her two sons. You know she has a daughter --- by the late FD. You can read between the lines...).

Uncle Mike has some "T-related" relatives in Villa Fermin, Echague, Isabela (Nana married to some SDA TP; their daughters LL and C, I believe, live in Spain). Too bad, his wife passed away --- cancer.

NELA has always been very close to my heart; but not lately since I had a stroke in August 2006; got confined; had rehab and recuperation for 5 months and won't be back to work till April. In my younger years, my older sister and I stayed with my Uncle and Aunt in the old NELA site in Divisoria, Santiago, Isabela; also we were there when it was transferred to Alicia in 1958-1959. They were Principal and Registrar, respectively. My dad EBG taught there in 1966-1970, inclusive, then assumed Principalship in 1969-1970. I again re-appeared in 1985; then continuously between 1988 and 1997; absent thereafter. As an alumnus of THAT school, a small part of what I received from America's bountiful blessings and comforts went back in return. It's a matter of remembering your alma mater. But times have changed and I'm no longer associated in any way coz of changed priorities.

I hope you understand that Almaguer and NELA are tremendously THAT close to my heart. THREE missed opportunities on the place; quite a success on the school. If by chance you come across any or all of them, please do extend my cordial and heartfelt regards. What it was then; what it could have been and just resting on all those what God has given... for keeps. I'll be contended with yesterday's memories, knowing some Almaguer lass thinks of me --- once in a while. The reverse, obviously, is true. Memories never die.

I think this sums up all things now. Kudos and continued success on your pictured churches, places and blow-by-blow accounting of events. KEEP IT COMIN'. You did a great job. Likewise, before the end of February, 2007 I should be able to post into the web a compilation of my appellation's clan/family tree (genealogy).

Take care and more power to you. Keep me posted. Warmest regards.


Manong Ben
Colton, CA 92324

Profile: Church of Imus, Cavite

The Jesuits built the first church between 1618 and 1629. This was probably replaced by another church that was built by the Augustinian Recollects at around 1686. The church was destroyed by a typhoon in 1779 and relocated to Toclong where another church was probably built. Not long after, the church was again moved to its present site.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Dear Shubert Ciencia,

I read your blog notes about the churches of the Philippines and I was wondering whether you could give me some advice. My name is Thomas van der Walt and I am a lecturer at the University of South Africa. In February, a colleague and I will be visiting the Philippines where we will conduct a children’s project with the South African Embassy and where I will participate in a conference on children’s museums at the Museo Pambata in Manilla.

I had been to the Philippines before, in 1993 and 2001, but those visits were restricted to Manila and Cebu. As far as Manila is concerned, most of my time was spent at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. I also made two short visits to Intramuros.

Since my hobby is visiting World Heritage Sites, I would like to visit some of the World Heritage Sites of the Philippines this time and this is where I hope you can help me. It is very difficult to get information here in South Africa.

We will stay in Manila Hotel for a week during the conference and project duration on 17-25 February and therefore will not be too difficult to visit Intramuros and the Church of Agustin. I had been there before but want to visit it again.

In addition to the time in Manila, we have one week in which we can travel and I was hoping that you will be able to give me some advice of what will be possible and what not. We would of course like to see as much as possible. We will arrive in Manila on Sunday (9 February), leave, and have to be back in Manila on Friday evening (15 February).

And then of course, there are the sites in Luzon. I would like to visit Vigan and the rice terraces of the Cordilleras. I know Vigan should be fairly straightforward --- we will travel there by bus (maybe you can give us some advice on the practicalities, which bus service should we use, how should we book our tickets, how can we find out departure times).

But what about the rice terraces of the Cordilleras? How do we get there? Should we go there before Vigan, or first to Vigan and then to the Cordilleras? How much time do we need for this trip? I read about a 15 kilometer walk from Banaue to the tribal village of Batad. Which of the four clusters should we try to see: Banaue, Mayoyao, Kiangan or Hungduan? Should we travel by bus to one of the bigger town in Luzon and hire a car there to travel from site to site?

And then there are the Churches: San Agustin Church in Paoay and Santa Maria Church. Will it be possible to include a visit to Paoay in a side trip?

Unfortunately the Miag-ao Church is out of question although apparently beautiful!

And then of course the Puerto Princesca Subterranean River National Park. Should I be able to stay a day or two longer after the conference? I would like to go Puerto Prinsesa. I suppose the best way will be to fly there. How much time do you think I need? I suppose a boat/ferry will take too long?

Tubbataha Reef National Park is out of the question this time.

I know I am asking a lot, but I hope you can help a bit. If at all possible, I hope we can meet while we are in Manilla!

Kind regards.

Prof. Thomas van der Walt
Department of Information Science, University of South Africa
0003 Unisa, Pretoria, South Africa

Profile: The Church of Bacoor, Cavite

The ecclesiastical mission of Bacoor was established in 1752 and administered by the secular clergy who probably had the first parochial buildings built. In 1872, Bacoor was handed to the Augustinian Recollects then back again to the secular clergy. Fr. Mariano Gomez of the GOMBURZA Martyrs served as a parish priest of the church for 48 years.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Thailand 1 would always be my most memorable journey. It was my first trip abroad where I got to pamper my churchophileness in the magnificence of Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Po in Bangkok, and Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. It was really more of a subsidized tour rather than the training that it was supposed to be. I had a good time.

Thailand 2 and Thailand 3 were more subdued with the excitement tapering considerably since the first encounter. The plus of the second was staying in the the old city district within walking distance of Wat Arun and Wat Saket and a myriad of interesting symbols of the city and its country. The third was more of a long walk to the Erawan Shrine, getting lost in the red district of Sukumvit, and treating Oyet P to an impromptu pabinyag feast of broiled dalag. He was ninong to my Balong but cannot attend the christhening in Nueva Ecija.

I could have passed Thailand 4. Its been only a week since coming back from an exhausting journey across the United States. But really after being there 3 times and travelling to 7 other countries, I seemed to have lost the hots for Thailand. Except that I was supposed to hooked up with Oyet P in Bangkok. And there is still the mystery of Wat Trimit to discover.

The last time I saw Oyet P was some 8 years ago. He brought me a bottle of Absolut Vodka for pasalubong and treated us to a hike to Minalungao Cave where I backpacked a case of San Miguel Beer and Arden walked in his Electrolux Man splendor. We were supposed to eyeball during my US trip but he had to fly to Asia on the same period.

Oyet P just won the grand prize in the essay writing category of the 2008 Philippine Free Press Literary Awards. That carries a hundred grand cash prize and I thought we could drink the night out with some of it. Perhaps Frank C who will be in Laos during that time can come too and finally have real time with him. I only briefly met him once at the High Country Inn in Baguio City, and he was quite tipsy, before our big climb to Mt. Pulag in 1993. My contacts with him after that were sporadic: a phone call when I was trying to get in as a PDI correspodnent, emails for the Mondo Marcos project, and periodic exchanges via our blogs.

Well, Oyet P left Bangkok before I came. He did meet Frank C in Laos. I learned a lot about climate change though and again proved myself mamartek par excellence by downing with some friends 2 bottles of Jack Daniels plus Singha Beer for the Pinoy hugas ritual at the Brown Sugar Bar along Lumpini Park, and waking the next day as the only one not hanged over. It rained on my last day, and I misinterpreted the details of my flight back to Manila. Wat Trimit will have to wait.

PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom): (1) The conference's group photo as taken with my Nikon D40 by a waiter of the Amari Boulevard Hotel; (2) the night of the Jack Daniels in the Brown Sugar Bar along Lumpini Park, and; (3) waiting for the flight back home (me at the left, Tambuyog's Pepe Tanchuling in the middle, and Oxfam's Mike Llanes at the right) at Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi International Airport.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


August 23 (Saturday)

Des Moines was home. I like the city falling asleep at 7:30 pm and waking up early the next morning. I love LaVon Griffieon’s Century Farm and its apple trees and farms animals and barns. And it was certainly fun nuking ambrosia corn in Akash’s room at the Fort Des Moines Hotel, the still lingering sweet taste flashing back images of a barbecue and my first Fil-Ams who packed me a dinner of Americanized biko and huge broiled sausages that stretched to brunch, and the s’mores and chocolate melting with the sun.

These memories I stirred on a glass of tomato juice during the flight to Denver (I learned late that beverages were indeed served free on American domestic flights). After almost 2 hours, we arrived at an airport bursting with bricbrats of the incoming Democratic National Convention. I killed time window shopping Obama shirts and walking both ends of the airport 10 times in a vain attempt to have at least a glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. We hooked up with the St. Louis Group. A plump lady made a final boarding call. And then Portland.

August 24 (Sunday)

The weather is supposed to be fair for our North Oregon Coast Tour and it was that up to the pee stop at the Camp 18 Restaurant where I brought a sweater for Bulan. Then it rained as we tried to bird watch along Ecola State Park’s Pacific coast and hike through the Douglas fir forest of the Oswald West State Park. It went on at Cannon Beach where I tried to ease its dreariness with a bowl of hot thick clam chowder and a boat of seafood salad and smoked mussels. I walked around, my camera bulging and protected inside my fortunately waterproof jacket, trying to kill time with an over sized cup of Diet Coke from lunch. I was almost a loser until the wine and free cheese at the Tillamook Blue Heron Cheese Factory later in the afternoon helped ebb the iciness of the day.

I had a hot shower and the cozy warm bed back at the hotel. I slept soundly, dreaming of the pages of a brown hardbound book of a long time ago in a distant place called Almaguer. It tells the story of Lewis and Clark and their Indian guide as they trek the Oregon Territory to the Pacific.

August 25, (Monday)

It was our first day of meetings and we were in-house for a morning briefing about the Marriot Residence Inn (where we were staying) being green, and a formal welcome from our local host --- the World Affairs Council of Oregon. The St. Louis and Minneapolis teams also shared their experiences and ours too in Des Moines.

After lunch, we were toured in Portland’s Pearl District via the streetcars of the city’s Trimet Total Transit System. It was about the city being green, encouraging clean mass transport, and transforming Brownfields. Then I raced like hell to catch the hotel’s free football game dinner, and then to Clay Street where I battled to shoot 3 churches in the fading daylight and impending rain.

August 26 (Tuesday)

And then no rain. Just the clear blue sky as we leisurely cruised the Historic Columbia River Highway. I thought it would be a great day for photography.

The downside was shooting under time pressure with only 20-30 minutes to assess each site, select the subjects, adjust camera settings, click, and buy mementos. Add to that the frequent requests for the mandatory souvenir photos by my colleagues. So I was off like mad on the first stop at Crown Point, dancing around Vista House and running up and down its balcony while snatching a couple of souvenir key chains, drinking the loveliness of the Columbia River Gorge, and clicking like there’s no tomorrow. The majestic Multnomah Falls was more difficult with its steep 10-minute hike from the viewing deck to the Benson Footbridge. But I had my photos with some time to spare to buy a shirt for the wife back home and a ranger’s vest for Balong.

Hood River was a working lunch with my first American Indians. The older chief spoke nonchalantly as if resigned to his fate. The younger one was solemn and electrifying in his narration of their battles and hopes that I thought was laced with frustration. He held us in rapt attention and carressed our souls with a melancholic Indian prayer. I was reminded of the Aeta in his tribal regalia during the first Development Innovation Marketplace showcase at the SM Mega-mall in Manila --- a reluctant part of the exhibit shaking from the coldness of a controlled environment.

The day’s finale was Timberline Lodge within a shout of the glacier-covered peak of Mt. Hood. And I --- the sometimes too time conscious and obedient I --- still have nightmares on missing the walk to a snow patch. What I would give to turn back time and be part of the late-for-boarding but deliriously happy photo of Africans and Asians rolling snowballs captured by Akash’s camera.

August 27 (Wednesday)

Fatigue is creeping in from the hustle and bustle of the last 3 weeks. It’s not yet there but damned too near for comfort. It was good that a pretty and sweet talking Asian-American did the presentation of the Portland Office of Sustainable Development. She’s great and she’s hot! The brief respite at the Portland International Rose Test Gardens and a side trip to Lloyds Center Mall also helped. I did have plans to buy a Nikkor telephoto lens for my camera but the $500+ price tag is just too expensive. There was a $150 Sigma version but it was out of stock and will be available on the day I will be flying back home. Tough luck.

I struggled through the afternoon sessions --- mentally asleep but physically awake at the World Forest Institute and nearly boycotting a tour of the Portland Center Stages New Armory Theater. At the hotel, I grabbed a plate of hotdogs, burgers, and tortillas on the way up to my suite but fell asleep midway into my dinner and Democratic VP nominee Sen. Joe Biden’s speech.

August 28 (Thursday)

Our last day. I shared my impressions (understanding the American way of life beyond the text books and foreign policy), gave my evaluation (learning everything in Washington DC, the slowness of the Big Easy, professional fulfillment in Des Moines, Portland being the best of them all), received my certificate (and shot each of my colleagues having theirs), and posed for a group photo. I said my good byes to Safi (Afghanistan), Sabrina (Argentina), Nili (Israel), Rhova (Kenya), Guadalupe (Mexico), Sasha (Montenegro), Sana (Morocco), Sokhna (Senegal), Steven (South Africa), Urwa (Syria), Ibi (Uganda) and Mutaz (Palestine) who will be leaving earlier and might not be seeing again. I washed my dirty clothes, threw unwanted excess baggage to make the weight limit, and performed the sacred art of packing. I treated myself to a big Mediterranean lunch and did a reluctant farewell walk down South Waterfront Walk to the Old Town and Pearl District, which brought me to a last minute surprise of a neighborhood of churches along the SW Park area. It was perhaps a parting gift for my wonderful American adventure.

August 29 (Friday)

I met Neera (Nepal), Akash (India), Jonathan (Liberia), and Israr (Pakistan) at the hotel lobby for our trip to the airport. We hugged farewells to Rodrigo (Colombia) and Uche (Nigeria). They will be leaving on later flights.

My last good bye was to Greg, a third of our English Language Officers with Ellen and Bob. He spent some time in the Philippines and the most casual and friendly of the three. He said he would be looking over my photos and blog page.

The sun did not set through out the long haul to Narita.

August 30 (Saturday)

Back home finally. I told my wife to fetch me at the airport and spend the night at the Diamond Hotel where I was billeted by the US Embassy. The kids and karruba can wait. We have almost a month to catch up.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


“THAT SHOULD DO,” said Piso as he shoved a bundle of old newspapers inside the tattered army backpack. Inside is a freshly honed jungle bolo and a match box wrapped in a well-used plastic bag. They will scoop bubons along the dacquel nga carayan’s bank for their water and pick the firewood along the way.

They made their way single file across the pisong through a bridge of piled dried water lilies --- Piso with the army backpack slung on his shoulders led the way, followed by Pakupak’s Son, Ninoy, then Abet --- and across the freshly plowed bangkag heavy with the musky smell of fertile earth. Pakupak’s Son made mental notes of the banana groves they passed; there might be mushrooms to harvest there on the way back as well as some balang nga parya.

A pool of stagnant rainwater shadowed by a tree with broad leaves announced the approach to the cornfields. On the left is the fenced-in kasitrusan of a former vice-governor that is protected from river erosion by a spur dike where a line of bangkok santol trees are beginning to bear fruit. That land of the kasitrusan was once Amang Lakay’s bangkag before the Vice-governor came to own it and built the spur dike. This Abet would learn later.

They harvested the young small white-grained corns from the stunted corn stems, only 3 pieces for each of them. That’s the rule. Anybody from Almaguer can take from the bangkags along the river without permission but only enough for pangramanan. Taking more than that would be considered stealing. But they were young and growing and hungry so Piso went into the middle of the cornfield to harvest 2 more for each of them while Ninoy searched the sandy loam fields for tanubongs. Pakupak’s Son started peeling the outer husks of the corn as Abet walked to the riverbank to dig the bubons.

Soon, the air is filled with the sweet aroma of roasting corn and tanubongs. They sat around the fire munching on the burnt corn and wild camote, and a huge ripe papaya that Ninoy found while searching for the tanubongs. Piso took a swig of water from a bamboo canister then started retelling Apong Ino’s tale of the cornfields in Amerika that stretches to eternity…

IT’S BEEN SCARY crossing the river but Insan Lando’s muscular arms managed the boat well. They reached the kalapaw just before the gathering rain trickled in. Abet knew that his efforts in charming the two barrio beauties failed miserably. He grimaced as he recalled their misuots that became more pronounced with every minute until he finally pulled Insan Lando out. That’s how they came to the cornfield, to somehow escape from that embarrassment. They would not be returning to Kiling until dark.

“This is impossible, there can’t be corn this big!” muttered Insan Lando as they started roasting the corns. He is reading from the remnants of a glossy magazine whose pages were used to start the fire earlier. Abet moved close to him to take a look. He saw a big American in an overall with his aproned wife and pigtailed daughter holding on to yellow corns as big as sabunganays. Part of the title said that it was from a state fair in Iowa

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


There is a house in New Orleans
They call the rising sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I'm one...

That first stanza from an American South folk song made famous by The Animals was a Samahang Dilim favorite. It blended well with their lethal potion of beer-gin and some rolled grass. That was their ritual in Almaguer. Slow and easy.

We flew in to New Orleans after a week in Washington DC and the change is like a blast of hot air after a long winter. There seems to be more clutter, and the city looked poorer. But exotic street names like Poydras and Tchoupitoulas emanate life and excitement that promised to be way over Washington DC's bland alphabetic and numeric versions.

Louisiana is one of the poorest American states and it shows in New Orleans: the images and smell of poverty are more pronounced in the spirits wrapped in brown paper bags and police rousing a man sprawled in the middle of Canal Street. Like Washington DC's homeless, they are mostly African-Americans. The social structure is defined in the lost and abandoned houses of post-Katrina 9th Ward along the Missisippi River versus the graceful mansions of Esplanade Avenue and St. Charles Street that were spared from the floods because they were on higher ground and built of stronger materials.

I came searching for The House Called the Rising Sun and combed the streets of the French Quarter, rode the streetcar through St. Charles Street and back, crossed the Missisippi to Algiers, and left a dime at Marie Laveau's tomb. That's what I did not tell a Nepalese colleague when she asked me why I prefer walking alone.

Loiusiana is also i_travel_east --- novo vizcayano and flickrista par excellence --- who I was expecting to do a shoot out. But no dice. He's going to LA like Wilfredo Pascual is going to Nepal and Southeast Asia, and missing shooting churches in San Francisco with eman59. I did sipped a tall full Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's in their honor, and had a fleeting shot of a church in Baton Rouge for i_travel_east.

It's been easy in the Big Easy. We didn't mind being late for some appointnents. Bourbon Street's atmosphere of naughtiness is most welcome. The slow and easy phase is almost like Almaguer. But I failed to find the The House Called the Rising Sun. Perhaps because New Orleans is really one big house --- the ball and chain of most people there. By choice for some and because there's no other choice for others.

I left New Orleans reluctantly but relieved. That ain't easy but it is easy. On the way to the airport, I hummed a tune that evolved from our endless rendition of "The House of the Rising Sun" when we were walking the streets of Bambang a long time ago. My tribute for a wonderful week...

My father is James Taylor
My mother is Liz Taylor
And because I am a Filipino
My name is Jesus Sastre.

PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom):

(1) The French Quarter's Royal Street emptying into the "American Quarter" where it becomes St. Charles Street. It is one of New Orleans' oldest streets.

(2) An abandoned house in the 9th Ward --- the largest among the 17 New Orleans wards and the most severely hit by hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is poor compared to the elegance and grandeur of Esplanade Avenue and St. Charles Street. And it is home to the common people most of which are African-Americans. The 9th ward was innundated when storm surges from Lake Pontchartrain broke through the protection levees. Houses were swept and have never been rebuilt. Others were abandoned like shown here with red marks indicating it has been inspected by the National Guard.

(3) Elegant 19th century mansions with handcrafted wrought iron balconies line Esplanade Avenue which is the Millionaires' Row of the city's Creole population. The term Creole was first used to describe the descendants from the fusion of French and Spanish legacies but in recent times has become a description of African mestizos or mulattos.

(4) Elegant mansions line up the uptown of New Orleans' St. Charles Street --- the Anglophone section of the city. The street is a major thorougfare of the city's historic streetcar line and the route of its famous Mardi Gras.

(5) Rue Bourbon was named in honor of the French Royal family that was in power when the French Quarter was established at around 1718. Today, Upper Bourbon Street is the "naughty" part of the city with its numerous strip clubs.
(6) The city's famous and historic streetcars started operating in the early years of the 1800s. Since then, its regular operations was stopped only once during the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans' longest streetcar line is that for the St. Charles Avenue/Street where the plying cars have been declared as historic landmarks. (7) The Natchez used haul cargo and people upstream and downstream the Missisippi River. Today, tourists fill its deck to relive its glorious days.

(8) The Hurricane cocktail was invented by Pat O'Brien in the 1940s and has evolved into a famous New Orleans experience since then.

(9) A church as seen from the Louisiana Department of Public Health office in Baton Rouge. My tribute tofellow Novo Vizcayano, flickrista par excellence, and gay-yem i_travel-east who said it is the Cathedral of St. Joseph.

(10-11) The Cathedral of St. Louis is the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States. The first church was built in 1718 and later replaced by a brick structure in 1725 that was destroyed during the great fire of 1788. The present building was started to be constructed in 1789, completed in 1794, and elevated as a cathedral in 1793.

(12) The parish of The Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus was established by the Jesuits in 1886. The church is located along St. Charles Street between the universities of Loyola and Tulane.

(13) One of the numerous churches along St. Charles Street. I took this photo while riding the streetcar.
(14) Residents of St. Charles Street protested the building of a Mcdonald's in their neighborhood because it will be like a sore thumb sticking out in the midst of their elegant and graceful colonial houses. So the design was altered to make the restaurant look like a church and blend into its environment. Hence, the establishment of the "parish of St. Mac's".

Thursday, August 14, 2008


Sunflower fields and cute little houses. Bembol Roco still got hair then. He died in the middle of a street and no one seemed to care despite Nora Aunor's pleas for help. This was from a movie I watched a long time ago in Bambang's Reybal Theater. It will be my lasting impression of Amerika: almost paradise where people don't mind.

Everybody in Almaguer wanted to go to Amerika. They too want to build a big house on top of a hill just like Apong Ino. I definitely wanted to and finally meet in person Dick, Jane, Sally and their dog Spot; see the places I've read in "The History of the United States of America"; and eat myself to death with grapes and apples.

But Amerika ain't easy. And I'm realistic enough to know that there's no way especially after 9/11. Besides, life has been good and I have my fair share of travels abroad. So why go?

Some 3 years ago, I received a visit from who I have been told is the Second Secretary of the US Embassy in Manila. He came to asked how it's going during Gen. Jovito "The Butcher" Palparan's reign of terror in Central Luzon. Some days later, I was asked to submit a resume for reference purposes. Never heard from them after that. Last April this year, I was part of a 5-country contingent who went to see another Second Secretary of the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and explained to him how US trade policies are hurting other people and violating their human rights. Never heard from him too after that.

So I was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter from the US ambassador to the Philippines herself inviting me to almost a month of visit to Amerika. Why me? I mean, I was not really into the American Dream. But, as my boss told me, being invited to Amerika don't happen everyday. And so off I went for the briefings and visa work, walking the distance to the US Embassy from the nearby Diamond Hotel, amusing myself with the almost paranoid security procedures.

It was almost a 24-hour haul from Manila to Nagoya then Detroit and finally Washington DC. The first image to grab me was the imposing Washington Monument as the taxi crossed the Potomac River on the way to the hotel from the Reagan National Airport. After unpacking, I walked around and amazed myself with the contradiction of elegant Georgian houses and the homeless congregating at the Dupont Circle. I was looking for a place to eat but first day jitters held me back from trying the restaurants. A pizza would do for the moment.

Washington DC is a cosmopolitan city. Everywhere is a babble of different languages. Colonial buildings gracefully intersperse with modern semi-skyscrapers and symbols of history. I walked a lot: to the National Zoo, the Mall, Penn Quarter, Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown, and around the Foggy Bottom area. I sometimes take the Metro if it's too far or I'm too tired. I have mastered the art of riding the subway 2 years ago in Japan. I got to see BB King perform too. And of course, I did my visita iglesia.

It is, however, a business trip with power meetings. And I had a high walking the corridors of government of the most powerful nation on earth: the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Agriculture and its 10 kilometers of hallway, the National Park Services, and the protocol sensitive State Department. "So this is where the policies that hurt us were made" I told myself as we met with the US Trade Representative negotiator and World Bank technocrats. I was trying not to in deference to my host but I can't resist putting my message across. I hope they were listening.

There were many highlights but tops would be the impromptu tour of the US House of Representatives' side of the Capitol. And it was personally conducted for us by the Chief Administrative Officer and a former Miss Rhode Island who now works for the Democratic Speaker of the House. The aura of power is thick in the Speaker's lounge, and suffucating at the session hall where I got to try one of the leather-covered congressmen's seat. We did a couple of non-profit organizations too. The poor kid from Almaguer has certainly arrived.

But frankly, what I needed to learn in this study visit I did in an hour of discussion from a Lebanese-American resource person who expounded on the American individuality and explained in simple but clear terms the American federal system of government, what the the states do, and the local governments. The rest would be a stroll for tangible examples of the American way of life.

There are 19 of us from 19 countries. Security is really tight and our running joke is that every visit to a federal government office is like checking-in at the airport. I was told that Washington DC is in fact among the top ten most violent city in the US in terms of the number of homicides committed every year. But you can't tell. I did not. I liked it a lot. Although I thought it's too sterile and organized for me.

PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom):
(1) Tibetan exiles protest at the Dupont Circle during the Olympic Games opening in Beijing.
(2) Playing the music for some coins in a sidewalk.
(3) Jamming up a jazz concert at the National Zoo
(4) Tourists in a new mode of "walking" the streets of Washington DC.
(5) A pedestrian seen from The Caucus Room resturant owned by a Democrat and a Republican lobbyist (the building across the street is the FBI national headquarters).
(6) A tour guide on trike picking up a costumer.
(7) A young man reads one of the various items left at the Vietnam War Memorial that was designed by Maya Ying Lin and dedicated in 1982. However, it was only in 1993 when the engraving of the first 58,159 names of American KIA and MIA was completed. The Vietnam War is said to be the only war lost by the Americans.
(8) Concepcion "Connie" Picciotto has been picketting the White House for world peace since 1981, enduring harrasment from the police and National Park Service, and winning court battles to go on. The Little Giant as she has been called shares the struggle with 2 other world peace advocates --- William Thomas and Norman Mayer. On 8 December 1982, Norman Mayer was shot dead as police ended his 10-hour siege of the Washington Monument.
(9) Designated as the National House of Prayer, the Episcopal Washington National Cathedral was established in 1893 through a charter from the US Congress. Construction started in 1907 and completed only in 1990. It is the second largest cathedral in the US, the fourth tallest structure in Washington DC, and the sixth largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Masses for 3 state funerals were held in the cathedral namely that for Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford while another one --- Woodrow Wilson --- is interred there.
(10) The idea of a national was first conveived in 1909. Eleven years later, the cornerstone was laid for what would be known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception or "America's Catholic Church", the largest Catholic church in North America, and the 10th largest in the whole world.
(11) The parish was established in 1794 and the present St. Patrick's church erected between 1872 and 1884 making it the oldest church in Washington DC. The church is actually the 3rd to be built: the first wooden church in 1794, and the second of bricks in 1809.
(12) St. John's church is called as The Church of the Presidents because it has been attended at least once by every US president since it was built in 1816. Its Pew 54 has been designated as the President's Pew for this purpose. The church was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and its nearly 1,000 pounds bell casted by Paul Revere's son.