December 31, 2008

A shower of light

Remember the hanging lights at the Promenade of Our Lady in the Ateneo de Manila High School? This is what it was like sitting underneath one of those acacia trees.

lights hanging from acacia trees
Wishing you all a peaceful and prosperous 2009!

And to those who live in countries that have not yet banned the personal use of firecrackers and fireworks (like the Philippines): please be careful tonight!

December 30, 2008

Of hills and heroes

December 30 is Rizal Day in the Philippines. It commemorates the death of Dr. Jose P. Rizal by firing squad in 1896 which made him a martyr of the Philippine Revolution against Spanish colonial rule. So today I offer you a photo not of Metro Manila but of the province named after him. Rizal province is to the east of Metro Manila and has one city and 13 municipalities. It is hilly, situated as it is on the slopes of the southern portion of the Sierra Madre mountain range, and the weather is cooler than Manila's. It can actually support pine trees! They're on the scrawny side, but still. Because of Metro Manila's congestion and high land costs, the nearest municipalities of Rizal are seeing a lot of development. This photo shows some of the new subdivisions in Taytay. Next to Cainta, it is the nearest municipality to Pasig City, which is part of Metro Manila. In fact, Pasig City itself used to be the capital of the province of Rizal until it was made a part of the metro in 1975.

housing subdivisions in Taytay, Rizal

Just a reminder to all you CDP bloggers out there: If you haven't voted for the February theme yet, please do so! The poll is in the February Theme Day Poll forum topic. Please help spread the word too!

December 29, 2008

Luxury jeep

Metro Manila's king of the road, the jeepney, is open and sits about 14 people—two in front beside the driver and six on each side at the back. I saw this large, colorful jeep parked near Harbour Square one night and wondered about it. I knew that WOW Philippines is the flagship project of our Department of Tourism and it took a little web search to find out what this was. Basically, it's an air-conditioned jeepney—with more comfortable seats, I assume—specially made for tours of Metro Manila. There are several tour packages available, one of which brings you to the nearby province of Pampanga, but you can also buy a hop-on-hop-off ticket from hotel kiosks or from the tour facilitator inside the jeep. Jeepney Tours has a website which lists and describes all the stops and packages available. Though most of the hop-on-hop-off stops are in the cities of Makati and Manila only, one of these days I'll just hop on one of these jeeps and be a tourist for a day in my own metro.

luxury jeepney of Jeepney Tours Manila

Find more Odd Shots—or post your own—at Katney's Kaboodle.
Odd Shots Monday

December 27, 2008

First time lucky

The very first photograph of my very first attempt to take pictures of fireworks. It was the only decent shot too. I couldn't quite get the timing right between the 'boom' and the click of the shutter so many of the photos were just of smoke. Ah well. I hope I'll have other opportunities to try again. This was part of the fireworks that greeted alumni of the Ateneo de Manila University during the 2008 Grand Alumni Homecoming.

fireworks during the Ateneo de Manila University 2008 Grand Alumni Homecoming

December 26, 2008


At the end of the Christmas Eve Mass, baby Jesus is again taken out of His crib to allow the congregation to welcome and venerate Him, much as the shepherds and wise men did in the Nativity story. One person holds the infant and another holds the napkin to wipe the statue after each kiss. More than one statue is presented to the congregation for this ritual, otherwise it'll be Christmas day before everyone finishes.

venerating the infant Jesus after the Christmas Eve Mass

December 25, 2008

Jesus is born

The infant Jesus was installed in the crib that was empty at the start of the Christmas Eve Mass, which we call the Misa de Gallo. The term is quite inaccurate, actually, because gallo is Spanish for rooster, so it should refer to a dawn Mass. There was a time when Christmas Eve Masses were really held at midnight too, but nowadays, many are held earlier. The Mass we attended was at ten o'clock in the evening.

Nativity scene at the Ateneo Church of the Gesù

December 24, 2008

Maligayang Pasko!

Certain matters (and a couple of parties!) will be keeping me busy and away from the computer for several days, and I might not be able to visit everyone that I'd like to, so…

From our home to yours,
Merry Christmas!
May you have a blessed day full of good food and surrounded by the people you love.

Christmas gifts and tree at Hilda's home

December 22, 2008

The season of waiting

A Catholic priest friend once told us that if there is only one piece of Christmas decoration we could put up, it should be the nativity scene. Owing to the fact that Christianity was brought to the Philippines by the Spaniards, we call the nativity scene by the Spanish name for Bethlehem, where Jesus was born: the belen. This is the nativity scene in the Ateneo Church of the Gesù. Since Jesus hasn't been born yet, the crib is still empty. The image of the infant Jesus will only be installed during the Christmas Eve Mass. In contrast to the modern and simple architecture of the Gesù, the nativity scene is very Filipino—at least during the Spanish colonial period. The clothes of Mary and Joseph are typical of the era and so is the building reproduced on the screen. The parol (Christmas star) is made of capiz shell, used extensively in handcrafted, decorative Filipino products from jewelry to home accessories.

Nativity scene at the Ateneo Church of the Gesù

December 21, 2008

Garden café indoors

After more than six months, I finally managed to get a photo of my other favorite coffee shop: Figaro. Unlike The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Figaro is a Filipino company and among the varieties it carries is our very own Barako coffee which is in a dangerous decline because of a bad infestation in the 1990s and tough competition from other countries. The Figaro Coffee Company is a member of a coalition of coffee farms in the provinces of Batangas and Cavite that is working to save the Barako (tough man) coffee, a Liberica with a very robust flavor. This is the Shangri-La Plaza mall branch of Figaro, located in one of the mall's very wide corridors and designed to look like a garden café, complete with marble tabletops, wrought-iron details and ivied walls. Though it's not in the photo, it even has a little fountain among the garden tables and chairs.

Figaro Coffee at the Shangri-La Plaza mall

December 20, 2008

A house that isn't a home

The last time I posted a picture of Bookay-ukay, a used-books store near our house, a couple of people commented that all they need now is to offer coffee. I don't think that'll happen any time soon, but can I offer you beer instead? No? Then what about some pizza? Flowers? Haircut? How about an hour or two of network games? Bookay-ukay is only one of several shops crammed into this converted house. There's a restaurant that turns into a watering hole at night, an inexpensive pizzeria that delivers, a flower shop, a salon that offers facials and massages aside from the usual hair and makeup services, an internet café, a review center, and even a graphic design studio and printing service. It's like a tiny strip mall. Except in exclusive subdivisions, Metro Manila's cities aren't very strict with residential and commercial zoning. Oftentimes, even light industrial activities are allowed in residential areas.

house converted into a strip mall

December 19, 2008

Blue glow

The Promenade of Our Lady and the St. Stanislaus Kostka Chapel of the Ateneo de Manila High School. Unlike the higher education levels, the basic education units (high school and grade school) of the Ateneo de Manila University are still only for boys. The low buildings on either side of the promenade are the classrooms of the 4th year students. I hear that the lights hang on the trees year-round but are only turned on during special events and occasions. This was at about 5:00 in the afternoon.

The Promenade of Our Lady and St. Stanislaus Kostka Chapel at the Ateneo de Manila High School at dusk

An hour later, this is what the promenade looked like. Even the chapel is outlined in lights! Please pardon the fuzziness of this picture—people and cars were beginning to crowd the driveway and I had a hard time getting a clear shot and couldn't take my sweet time about it.

The Promenade of Our Lady and St. Stanislaus Kostka Chapel at the Ateneo de Manila High School at night

Visit the Sky Watch Friday home page and tour the skies of our beautiful world.
Sky Watch Friday

December 18, 2008

Busy but happy

Say hello to Jollibee, the mascot of the Philippines' largest fast-food chain of the same name. Back in July, I posted a photo of its interior, which looks just like any other fast-food restaurant in any part of the world. It serves burgers, of course—it started as a copy-cat McDonald's before McDonald's came to the country. But if you look at the poster behind it, you'll see one of its most popular dishes, which also identifies the chain as being very Filipino: pansit palabok. Palabok is made of rice noodles, a seafood-based sauce, and topped with more seafood, hard-boiled eggs, green onions and crunchy tsitsaron (fried pork rind). The orange color of the sauce comes from atsuete (annatto) from the shrub Bixa orellana. And in case you're wondering about the title of this post, it's the reason why Tony Tan Caktiong and his family chose the name Jollibee for the small ice cream parlor they opened in 1975. With more than 1600 stores worldwide in the entire chain, I'm sure they're all very busy and very happy.

Jollibee mascot

December 17, 2008


I once posted a photo of a dim sum cart found in many Chinese restaurants in Metro Manila. Here is one item that you won't find in that cart because they're steamed only as they're ordered: har gau, steamed shrimp dumplings. It's spelled in many different ways, actually—the problem of translating Chinese characters into Roman letters. We have further 'Filipinized' it into hakaw and that's the word you'll see in menus here.

hakaw or har gau: steamed shrimp dumplings

December 16, 2008


Aside from the suspended Christmas trees, Power Plant Mall in Makati City also decorated its hall lamps for Christmas. Gives me an idea for our chandelier next year, but I'll probably be either too busy or too lazy to do it.

Power Plant mall's Christmas lamps

December 15, 2008

Plastic, metal, wood

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. I'd like to propose another, which I think is more appropriate to this day and age: the lack of financial resources. I spotted this wheelchair at the University of the Philippines Health Service. A monoblock plastic chair with sawed-off legs attached to a custom metal frame and what looks to be bicycle wheels. Cool, isn't it? And if you're wondering about the wooden furniture, join the club. The waiting areas are full of them—chairs, benches, tables and this screen being used to cover the circuit breaker panels.

makeshift wheelchair and wooden furniture

Find more Odd Shots—or post your own—at Katney's Kaboodle.
Odd Shots Monday

December 14, 2008

Star light, star bright

The entrance of La Vista Subdivision in Quezon City. La Vista is an example of what we call an 'exclusive subdivision.' Think of it as a gated community, with perimeter walls and an entrance gate with security guards. Unless you're a resident and have a gate pass, or you're a visitor and can tell the guards the name and address of the person you are visiting, you will not be allowed inside. Some subdivisions are stricter than others—if you're a visitor, you will be asked to leave an identification card and the guards will issue you a temporary pass. These subdivisions always have Christmas decorations at their main entrance gates during this season. I like La Vista's choice this year: a cascade of lighted traditional Filipino parol (Christmas star), white and simple, hung on bamboo poles. It's even prettier from the front, but I wasn't about to risk my life standing in the middle of Katipunan Avenue.

La Vista Subdivision's Christmas decorations

December 13, 2008

Red stripes and metal bamboo

Two of the three condominium towers of The Columns Ayala, located at another corner of Ayala and Gil Puyat Avenues in Makati City, right across the RCBC Plaza. Like many of the newer office and condominium towers being built in Manila nowadays, the street level spaces of The Columns are cafés and restaurants open to the public. Behind the metal screen with the bamboo design are the parking levels for the towers' residents.

The Columns Ayala

December 11, 2008

An offering

The Ateneo de Manila University's 149th anniversary yesterday was simply commemorated with a Mass in the evening. It was a school day after all. Last Sunday, however, there was a concert at the Church of the Gesù which gathered all of the music groups of the university and the Jesuit Music Ministry for the first time ever. "Take and Receive: The First Festival of Ateneo Music" featured the Ateneo Boys Choir, Dulaang Sibol, High School Glee Club, College Glee Club, Chamber Singers, Blue Symphony, Bukas Palad, Himig Heswita and Musica Chiesa. Each group performed only two or three songs each, but the concert was still two and a half hours. The grand finale was all the university choirs singing a special medley of "Take and Receive" specially arranged for the concert by Ryan Cayabyab, one of the Philippines' foremost music directors. "Take and Receive" is a liturgical song written by Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ which is based on a prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.

Take and Receive: The First Festival of Ateneo Music

St. Ignatius' Prayer of Surrender
Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.

December 10, 2008

149 and counting

On the 13th of June 1859, ten Spanish Jesuits arrived in Manila, almost 100 years after they were suppressed and expelled from Spain and all of its colonies. They were supposed to go on to Mindanao, the large southern island of the Philippines, for missionary work but since they were known in Manila as educators before their expulsion, they were prevailed upon by the city council and the Governor-General to take over a small private school for the children of Spanish residents. On the 10th of December 1859, the Jesuits began operating the Escuela Municipal de Manila. The school has undergone many changes since then—its name, the nationality of its Jesuit leaders, its mission and vision—but this is the date that the Ateneo de Manila University recognizes as its foundation day. One more year and the university will celebrate its Sesquicentennial, its 150th anniversary. The countdown has begun…

lamp post decoration of the Ateneo de Manila University with the Sesquicentennial tandem seals

December 9, 2008

Hanging trees

The upscale Power Plant Mall at Rockwell Center isn't content with just hanging Christmas ornaments from their ceiling—they've hung fully-ornamented trees! The Rockwell Center is a mixed-use 15-hectare project in Makati City which has, aside from the mall, several office buildings and high-end condominiums named after famous Filipino painters. Until 1994, the land was the location of a thermal plant owned by Meralco, hence the mall's name.

Christmas decorations at the Power Plant Mall

December 8, 2008


December 8 is the feast day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Many of the private schools in the Philippines are run by Catholic religious congregations, and since this day is a holy day of obligation for Catholics, these schools will all be closed. The Immaculate Conception is the patroness of the Ateneo de Manila and the annual grand alumni homecoming has traditionally been held on the Saturday closest to her feast day, rather than the school's foundation day. The celebration always begins with a Mass, held at the Church of the Gesù since it opened in 2002. This is followed by a procession to the high school covered courts, complete with candles, a recitation of the rosary, and an icon of Mary on a carroza (float) pulled by the men.

Mary, Immaculate Conception on a carroza

I love the spray of flowers placed on the carroza: all white anthurium, lilies, chrysanthemums and baby's breath.

white flowers decorating a carroza

There’s a photo in each post, but this is not just a photo blog.
The descriptions are perfect for learning more about Filipino culture and life in Manila.

This is what Liz wrote about my blog when she added My Manila to the Blogs of the World section of Pocket Cultures. I think it's one of the best things anyone can ever say about what I'm trying to do here and I really appreciate both the write-up and the link. Check out Pocket Cultures—the blog was set up just last year by a group of friends from Europe and North Africa who share the same curiosity about different world cultures, with a special emphasis on the practical, day-to-day lifestyles of its peoples.

Pocket Cultures

December 7, 2008

It's grand

The 2008 Ateneo de Manila University Grand Alumni Homecoming last night, before the program started. From 1859 until the mid-1970s, the ADMU was an all-male school, hence the scarcity of women among the older classes in the foreground. The younger alumni were located at the farther end of the covered courts where the big, inflatable San Miguel Beer bottle is. Congratulations to the silver jubilee class of High School '83, the main host of this year's homecoming, and particularly to Dr. Sio Marquez, the head of the organizing committee. In the eight years I've worked during this grand reunion, last night was the first time I didn't go home starving and tired to the bone.

2008 Ateneo de Manila University Grand Alumni Homecoming

December 5, 2008

Bright joy

Many of the children during the Lights for Hope Christmas outreach party live in extremely dense shanty communities. A few of them didn't bother with the games or inflatable slides—they just reveled in having enough space to run around flying their colorful kites.

rainbow-colored kite in a blue sky

Visit the Sky Watch Friday home page and tour the skies of our beautiful world.
Sky Watch Friday

December 4, 2008


One of the Up with People participants at the Lights for Hope Christmas outreach party. Most of these kids have never seen a blonde before. I think the little girl's in love.

Up with People student in the Lights for Hope Christmas outreach party

December 3, 2008

Everyone smiles in the same language

Meet some of the children during the Lights for Hope Christmas party. They are from the Leodegario Victorino Elementary School in Marikina City. As public elementary schools go, it's pretty well-off—the teacher-student ratio is about 1:44. I've heard of other public grade schools where the ratio is twice that! I think you may have guessed by now that our public school system is pretty bad, especially in the basic education levels. Meet Dave and Lari too. Dave Penny, the guy with the dimple on his chin, is with Up with People, an organization that started as a performing troupe in 1965 and now offers a six-month global education program which entails international travel, cultural immersion, leadership training and community service for young adults aged 18–29. Lari Sayo, the girl with the dimple on her cheek, is one of the organization's liaisons here in Metro Manila. A small group of the hundred participants were at the party, mingling with the kids and even joining some of the games. I don't know if the Up with People students are still here in Manila, but I hope they enjoyed their visit and learned much.

Up with People participants with children from the Leodegario Victorino Elementary School

December 2, 2008

One afternoon of joy

Enough lessons about the Philippines for now! We're going back to my little corner of the world today. Many student organizations in the Ateneo de Manila University are involved with poor communities and public schools—as tutors and catechists, in building houses and repairing classrooms, or in entertaining and providing companionship to terminally ill children. Every year, our office organizes the Lights for Hope Christmas party for these poor children, many of whom would never experience an afternoon like it otherwise. They are fetched by buses and jeepneys from their schools or communities and brought to a large field in the Ateneo where they have games with prizes, have a heavy snack, enjoy the inflatable slides and go home with heavily-laden goody bags—toys, chips and candies, yes, but also more practical items like underwear, shampoo and toothpaste. In past years, the number of children have been in the 300–500 range. This year, there were one thousand! (Alright, about 980—I saw the unclaimed hotdog sandwiches.) This wouldn't have been possible without the generosity of so many people and the fantastic coordinating skills of Lara. Thank you, everyone! Next year, we hope to gather 1500 children.

Lights for Hope Christmas outreach program 2008

Some of the comments in my post yesterday has gotten me curious: How frequently does your country mint new coins and recall old ones?

December 1, 2008

Piso at sentimo

THEME DAY: CIRCLES/SPHERES • The coins of the Philippines—not new and shiny, but dull, scratched and nicked from everyday use. Our currency is known to the world as the Philippine peso. 1/100th of the peso is called a sentimo or centavo. The three smallest coins in the bottom row are 25, 10 and 5 centavos. The three bigger coins are pesos and the figures depicted on them are all national heroes of the Philippine revolution against Spanish colonial rule in the late 19th century. On the ten peso coin are Andres Bonifacio and Apolinario Mabini. On the five peso coin is Emilio Aguinaldo. And on the piso, probably the most used of our coins, is Jose Rizal.

Philippine coins

Follow the bouncing red dot around the world! And I suggest you start at Leominster, Massachusetts—you'll understand why. Click here to view thumbnails for all participants.