Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ALONA'S JOURNEY

Lola Belay swore that Alona has been walking inside her womb even before she was born. And indeed, Alona came to the world with a mole on her left foot and a limp on her right. As she grew up, a pronounced line from her palms to the mole on her left foot emerged. The numbers on the cards said so: Alona will leave Bacal Dos and live in a big house.

She did left Bacal Dos to tend to her children while her husband worked as a mechanic in a US military base. But their house along Sampaloc Street in Sta. Ana was tight and the ground floor always submerged in dank sewage water. It didn’t help that the neighborhood kids were bullies, especially a 5-year old vacationing imp from Revillen Street who went by the name of Abet whose eternal amusement was pulling down the pants of Alona’s 3-year old Nene.

Alona and the kids returned to Bacal Dos after her husband moved to a new job fixing ships in Cebu. But the mole in her left foot began to grow and itch not long after. The limp got worse too. She realized she must follow. The whole family did and lived in a small 2-story house overlooking a swamp where everyday, kangkong gatherers converge to harvest their eternal crop. They stayed there for 5 years and left after Alona bonfired her husband’s clothes who then quit his job because he’s got no more work clothes to wear, and Nene could no longer endure the taunting chuckles of the tukos.

Back in Bacal Dos, Alona’s family moved to a shack hastily built over a fishpond owned by one of her aunts. Alona’s journey must continue or her family will suffer. That’s the prophecy of the mole and the limp as told by the lines in her palm and the numbers on the cards.

This time, she left alone and arrived in Kuala Lumpur when the afternoon downpours were at their strongest. She worked for and stayed in a Datu’s big colonial era house cocooned in a maze of rubber trees. Her assignment was to make sure the drainage canals are clear and after 3 years of doing this, Alona thought of going home to Bacal Dos. That’s when the huge rubber snake with smoldering eyes showed up, hissing its warning that Alona must continue her journey. So she stayed, and only thought of going home after another 4 years. That’s when the Datu’s youngest child dreamed that Alona was hurting her. The next day, Alona was hauled to jail where the warden grimly told her that the prophecy must be fulfilled.
Resigned to her faith, Alona tried to expunge going home from her memory. On her day-offs when the specter of Bacal Dos beckons the strongest, she would walk to the Merdeka Square to sell the RTWs she haggled earlier in Jalan Petaling. One day, a middle aged Filipina approached and went through her merchandise. After paying for 2 shirts and a cap which she said were for her eldest son, she asked Alona where to find a place to eat. That is a quite a long walk so Alona graciously offered to share her lunch of cold rice and 2-day old fried chicken.

Over their food, Alona learned that her costumer was vacationing in Kuala Lumpur with the Singaporean family she worked for. Alona listened intently to a tale of frequent moves into houses that were always near churches and schools. Her name is Precy and came from a place called Almaguer where her eldest son Abet learned how swim in the dacquel nga carayan.
Many years later, the prophecies of Bacal Dos and Almaguer converged in the magical school of Hogwarts where Alona’s Nene crossed paths with Precy’s Abet. They got married a few years after college and settled in Bacal Dos. Only Precy was able to attend the wedding because by then, Alona’s journey has taken her to the frontiers of the Old World where she still works cleaning palatial houses…

PHOTOS EXPLAINED (from top to bottom):
NATIONAL MOSQUE, KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA. Malaysia’s National Mosque was inaugurated in 1965 and is said to be one of the most beautiful in Southeast Asia. Its main features are an umbrella-like roof and its 73-meters high minaret.

BATU CAVES, KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA. The 400 million years old Batu Caves were first used by the Besisis or Orang Asli as transit shelters. At around 1860, Chinese settlers started mining guano from there until an American naturalist came across it in 18178. An Indian trader stumbled on the caves sometime at around 1890 and established the Sri Mahariamman Temple in 1891. A year later, the annual Thaipusam Festival in honor of Siva’s son Subramaniam was started is held. Steps to the caves were built in 1920 to allow pilgrims access to the Temple or Cathedral Cave. The world’s tallest Lord Muruga statue was added in 2006. The Batu Caves today has become the most sacred Hindu shrine in Malaysia.

ST. MARY’S CATHEDRAL, KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA. This Anglican church was first built in 1887 before being relocated to what is now Merdeka Square. It was the first brick church to be built in the Malay peninsula.

MASJID JAMEK MOSQUE, KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA. The mosque was built in 1909 and was Malaysia’s principal mosque before the National Mosque was opened in 1965.

SHAH ALAM STATE MOSQUE, SELANGOR, MALAYSIA. Also known as the Blue Mosque, its 4 minarets rising at 142.3 meters are the tallest in world.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

KL FAST AND FURIOUS

I am a walking man.

My family bonds together taking long walks to the market and around the grounds of the Central Luzon State University on weekends. I have walked around Intramuros and Cebu’s historical district twice. I took Mt.Pulag and Batad by the horns and survived. Having done that and more, I developed this curious habit of leaving my slippers/sandals/shoes behind after each memorable stroll. I gave my right Beach Walk slipper as an offering in Bangkok’s Wat Phra Keo and the left one in Chiang Mai’s Wat Doi Suthep; left my Mojos in Singapore’s Copthorne Orchid Hotel and then a sneaker at a Jakarta hotel as my testament of having been around; and "lost" a series of Islander sandals in Phnom Penh’s Wat Phnom, Islamabad’s Shah Faisal Mosque, Nagoya’s Atsuta Shrine, and Ouidah's Temple of the Pythons.

I walk fast and furious.

That's the reason why I prefer to walk solo. It's difficult to keep with my pace and I don't window shop. I walk to take pictures. This was my psyche in Kuala Lumpur if not for the frustrating late morning light. The first time I had a crack for a really good walk was at the Central Market after a solidarity visit to the Kampung Berembang where a community is fighting eviction from their homes of 40 years. I sized the Central Market area and got juiced up with the prospects. Exquisite colonial era houses line up the streets and I can see a temple dome nearby. But my room mate Huong said he would like to come with me. I can't say no to him but he's wearing leather shoes. So we walked in the air conditioned comfort of the Central Market, buying souvenirs here and there, until its time to move to the next shopping district where I got introduced to the wonderful smoke of the hookah.




Then a city tour.

This time, it was me against a torrential rain. Wet after a mad dash up Batu Caves, I shivered my way to the Jadi Batik Centre. But at an obscene 145 ringgits or 1,885 Philippine pesos each, I decided to stick to my damp clothes and buy my batik in Davao City later. Tambuyog's Zeena bought 3 shirts and had the kindness of lending me one.

It was late afternoon when we touched down at the Kuala Lumpur City Centre. I excused myself after a hot Indian dinner and walked around the Petronas Twin Towers, racing with the setting sun, clicking like there's no tomorrow, trying to capture that elusive best angle. Dance around the subject. I learned that from Tata Gil Nartea. I took more than 100 shots of the towers.


Came the last day. And my last chance.

We have the whole afternoon all for ourselves but that kill joy rain was messing it up again. By 4 pm, I took a taxi to the Merdeka Square. I will have my walk and my shots no matter what.

The good thing about Kuala Lumpur is its compactness. Perfect for walking tours. From Merdeka Square, I walked fast to the Masjid Jamid Mosque, took my pictures, then off to the Central Market. By then, I have only an hour of daylight left. It was a furious walk to Jalan Petaling. I got there by 7 pm but there was still enough light to shoot the street-market, and eternal time savoring the busy smell of Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown.


PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom):

JADI BATIK CENTRE. A batik craftsman shows his skills at Kuala Lumpur’s Jadi Batik Centre.
CENTRAL MARKET. An artist at work at Kuala Lumpur's Central Market which was first built in 1888 during the British colonial rule and has been declared as a National Heritage. The Central Market today is a bustle of small shops selling cheap Malaysian crafts and souvenirs and is within walking distance of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.

LET'S DO THE HOOKAH. Faisal urges me on as I tried puffing from the hookah water pipe. It was my first and it felt good.

PETRONAS TWIN TOWERS. This 451.9-meter building is the second tallest building and the tallest twin towers worlwide. The towers are joined together by a Skybridge which is the higest suspended bridge in the world.

MERDEKA SQUARE. In 1957, Malaysian independence was declared here. The square hosts several historical structures including a 100-meter flagpole which is one of the tallest flag poles in the world, the 1894-era Sultan Abdul Samad building shown above, the Old City Hall building, the exclusive Royal Selangor Club, and St. Mary's Cathedral.

CHINATOWN. Also known as Jalan Petaling, Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is a haven for bargains and good food too. The stores and stalls open for business in the afternoon until midnight. The 2 minstrels shown here can really sing.They remind me of Kung Fu Hustle's musician-assassins.

Monday, April 07, 2008

A MALAYSIAN NOODLE ADVENTURE AND MORE

Some mornings, I take brisk walks uptown to KL Sentral along Jalan Kelang Lama. That’s how I discovered an early morning Chinese market and its interesting merchandise of dressed black chicken, wild boar, and pigs fried whole. The downside was it is still dark at 6 AM in Kuala Lumpur and I have to be back at the Pearl International Hotel by 8:30 all prim and proper for our sessions on Trade and Human Rights. That’s goodbye to the golden hour of photography

Other mornings, I walk downtown towards Petaling Jaya searching for a mosque whose golden dome seductively greet me from my 17th floor hotel window every waking day. It seemed so near I can almost touch it. But it took me 3 mornings before it finally showed up and allowed me into its hollowed grounds to shoot its splendor. I never learned its name.

The best part is the after-walk breakfast. Yes, the hotel fare sucks because it’s the same stuff for 9 straight days. Thank God for the hot bowl of mee and the rotti dipped in eggs over-easy washed down with a piping hot cup of freshly brewed black coffee (no sugar and cream for me or its not coffee). The other guests can have the eternal chicken sausages and nuggets and potato hash and salad greens and cereals for themselves.

And noodles are served for snacks in KL. My first encounter was with the mee doreng or fried noodles which is like a dry and oily version of the pansit canton back home. Next day’s keowteow was much better but still below my culinary standard. Dacoco’s bihon guisado would handily beat them.


But then there’s lunch where the loh mee and the fried bee hoon ruled. The pasta selection was also wonderful. You select, the souse chef saut├ęs it in butter and garlic, then throw whatever sauce and toppings you want. Mine is always plain tomato sauce with a sprinkling of chopped black olives liberally doused with grated parmesan cheese. I don’t want my spaghetti looking like pig slop.



And dinner too. The first one was a delightful initiation to Indian food with mutton and potato varuval, Andra fish curry, Tandoori chicken, briani, and naan. The Passage Thru India restaurant’s billing that it serves the best Indian chow in Malaysia is a just claim. It was a blissfully hot gastronomic experience. The other nights we were allowed to pick our own place to sup. Mine is always the nearby Chinese chow stalls. I tripped myself on a greasy and rubbery egg noodle dish topped with a tocino-like pork barbecue before I encountered the heavenly chicken-and-rice pot that goes well with an indulgent large cold bottle of Tiger Beer. The steep price of 17 Malaysian ringgits is equivalent to 221 Philippine pesos but rightly so.


We were dismissed early on our last training day so I decided to get lost in KL’s Chinatown of Jalan Petaling despite the usual afternoon torrent. The abundance of dirt-cheap designer brands on bags, clothes, watches and sunglasses (fakes of course) were suffocating but I’m more into local items. I finally settled down along a street restaurant, ordered a pork dish, and nursed 2 Tiger Beers while listening to 2 nomadic minstrels belt the Beatles and other popular Western guitar songs. I was back at the hotel by 9 PM. There are still some ringgits left so I decided to burn it and invited my Cambodian room mate for a drink. We had steamed siomai-wrapped shrimps called chee cheong with the Tiger Beers. It is a non-noodle but who cares?


PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom):(1) Pearl International Hotel’s breakfast bowl of hot mee is the equivalent of the Filipino mami but with more panahog selection. (2) The dry and oily mee doreng and (3) the keoteow dish of flat noodles spiked with red hot chili. (4) The loh mee and (5) fried bee hoon are the equivalents of the Filipino lomi and bihon. (6) My regular pasta diet, (7) my first Indian food, (8 )my fave chicken-and-rice pot cooked ala adobo but much more, and (9) that indulgent Chinatown meal. (10) The siomai-like chee cheong.