#7 Philippines, Feb. 19, 2010

Dear Everybody,

One of Bacolod’s treasures was the Negros Museum (Negros is the name of the island) which was mostly about sugar cane from the mid-1800s until the 1960s. Additionally it had a colorful folk art exhibit with hundreds of pieces from all over the world. I recognized several as being similar to pieces I have bought during my travels. The other treasure was the Negros Forests and Ecological Foundation which was a biodiversity conservation center. I saw and photoed several hornbills, warty pigs, spotted deer and the like. It’s a wildlife rescue and captive breeding center focused on Negros’ endangered species.

Bacolod had wonderful restaurants both up-scale and down-scale. I had a superb Japanese lunch and a terrific organic vegetable lunch (up-scale); and a soup with potatoes, turnips, bok choy, beans and lovely hunks of pork with tamarind—so good. (down-scale).

Saturday I made a side trip to the town of Silay. This was the center of the big sugar cane industry on Negros whose heyday was from 1890 to 1935. In this small town there are still 31 ‘heritage ancestral’ homes built during that period. This rich port city drew international performers and notables—it was called the “Paris of Negros.”

I visited three of the ancestral homes. In one there was an antique German ‘Steinweg’ piano (before they became Steinway and moved to the USA) which the curator invited me to play! The (real) ivory keys were yellowed with age but the piano sounded pretty good. There was also an antique harp and a Stradevarius violin (that’s what he said!) in a glass case. The heavy, carved antique furniture along with the German tin ceiling squares, the ornate French latticework at the top of the walls to allow air circulation and the Chinese porcelain pot under the bed all spoke of a by-gone era.

The second house I visited was the Hofilena ancestral house with a guided tour by 76-year old Ramon Hofilena. The house showcased the Philippine’s number one art collection owned by Ramon. The family furniture and pictures of Ramon and his eight siblings were fun to see. Ramon showed us drawings of himself when he was young and an artists’ model. At 76 he was bemoaning his bygone good looks and model’s body, although he still had a gleam in his eye and was very entertaining on the tour of his house.

After a look at just the exterior of the third house open to the public, my next stop was lunch at El Ideal Bakery. It opened in 1935 to make snacks for gamblers who wouldn’t leave the casino gaming tables. My LP guidebook gave suggestions and I ordered them all: lumpia ubod (spring roll with pork, shrimp and coconut palm); piaya (flatbread with filling); guaple pie (made with guava); chicken pie; and bibingka (coconut cake). Thanks, Ruth, for the suggestion! Completely sated, I caught two jeepneys back to my Pension Bacolod. What a wonderful day!

Saturday was also the Day of the Chinese New Year so on my way to Silay I encountered parades, dragons, and lots of red lanterns. That night there were loud firecrackers under my hotel window. The New Year is the Year of the Tiger.

Sunday was Valentine’s Day which is (commercially) celebrated here with special Valentine buffets advertized in restaurant windows. I spent the day perusing the town, dropping in at the Cathedral, an enormous church—I think it had 2000 people at Mass. In the roomy plaza in front of the church there was a brisk business in manacures and pedicures on the park benches.

Tee shirts—99% of Philippino men and many of the women wear tee shirts that have writing on them. It can be anything from ‘San Diego University’ to the name, time, and date, of a special conference. Some have messages like, “Sex without love is just exercise,” and some were in Tagalod which I couldn’t read. I think I’m the only person in the country whose tee shirts don’t say anything!

A fastboat to Iloilo City (ee’-lo-ee-lo) on the island of Panay took 1 1/4 hours. We were seated very low in the boat with the water rushing past the windows, an eerie feeling. I checked into the Sarabia Charter Pension House, which is a modest guesthouse on the grounds of a five-star hotel and convention center. What a deal—a free big swimming pool and several very good restaurants.

I walked to the Iloilo city Museum, then caught a jeepney to the Central Plaza with the Old Belfry tower and the Cathedral. I’ll have to say that in general, Philippino Cathedrals are not very beautiful or interesting, but they certainly are huge. Back to the guesthouse and the lovely big swimming pool with an Italian lunch afterwards.

 

 

 

I just finished a really good book—Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower; Al Qaida and the Road to 9/11”. It seemed well researched, interesting, logical and detailed. I’d recommend it to you.

 

 

 

 

After an R and R day in the swimming pool and the good Japanese restaurant, today I am flying back to Manila to again stay with my new friends. Tomorrow night we shall attend the bamboo organ recital.

Until next time—

Carol

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