Tonight we frolic on the high seas,
and get caught in the festival squeeze.
Manila traffic we endure
and check out Philippine haute couture.
We move to the thundering drums of Cebu
and have plenty pesos for this shopping venue.
The seafood, the pastries, the exotic fruit,
all go well with a serving of balut.
In “Mixed Plate: Mabuhay,” Pamela Young explores the Philippines, from its history to its culture, and its modern-day evolution. The full episode is online here, and tune in for the following rebroadcasts: Hawaii’s CW on Tuesday, June 27, at 9:30 p.m., and KHON2 on Tuesday, July 11, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, July 22 at 7 p.m.
The arrival of explorer Ferdinand Magellan in Cebu is recreated every year, with thousands portraying the Spanish sailors, and thousands more on shore playing the part of Cebuanos who first greeted them.
The tribute is not for Magellan, who was promptly skewered by the natives, but for the faith that found fertile ground on their shores.
The honored passenger is Santo Nino de Cebu, a statue of the infant Jesus, left by Magellan’s priest 600 years ago. Dressed in baroque finery, it has been repainted and re-clothed through the centuries.
Hoping for His blessing, Cebuanos give Santo Nino a rock-star welcome with the annual, nine-day Sinulog Festival.
“Sinulog is a big event for Cebuano. It’s like asking a favor from Santo Nino, and in exchange for that, they will complete the 9 days mass novena,” said Cebu resident Neri Patalinghug.
“It’s a strong faith in us, for the child Jesus, who provides refuge for all of us,” said Hawaii resident Violeta Cabella Arnobit, who made the pilgrimage to Cebu for the festival. “For you to succeed, you never forget the source of blessings, and it’s coming up from above and it’s Him.”
Today, 91% of Filipinos are Christian with 73 million of them Catholics, more than all the Catholics in the entire U.S.
How do they proclaim their faith? They dance the Sinulog, the dance of celebration.
“Before the Spaniards came, before Ferdinand Magellan introduced Christianity to us, the natives before were doing the tribal dance, the Sinalog. It connects our pagan past and now Christian faith,” Patalinghug said.
Civic clubs from all over the Philippines come to march in the parade, now 11 hours long. The event is also a competition. Waltzing home with the grand prize of a million pesos is Tangub City from Mindanao.
With Sinulog, Filipinos celebrate their history, their tribal origins and Spanish heritage, and their devotion to a religion that has sustained them through war, famine, and decades of turmoil.
Two steps forward, two steps back. It is meant to mimic the ebb and surge of the waves onshore, the very tides that brought Magellan and his faith to the Philippines.
- Related Story: Mixed Plate: Sinulog Festival
Philippine Fashion Week
Lace, organza, brocade. The terno, too, was a gift from the Spanish.
The camisa, panuelo and saya of colonial days, over time, morphed into the butterfly sleeve gown worn today at elegant soirees, and the terno is still evolving.
The big sleeves are still here with a dash of millennial flair.
“Philippine Fashion Week, you experience a fantasy,” explained designer JunJun Cambe. “You expect something jolly, happy. It’s opulence, elegance with the use of natural fabrics like silk, linen, bright colors, jeweled colors. It’s a mixture, a transition.”
“My collection is inspired by samurai,” said designer Santi Obcena. “I wanted to translate that into something that was more wearable, because for me, this is a transition collection. I wanted to design something that was more for the streets, something that you can wear everyday and mix into your wardrobe.”
Nearly every designer has a muse, a favorite model whose look, walk, and attitude reflect a personal flight of creative fancy. For the designers of men’s fashion here, that top model is a boy from Mililani.
“I was on vacation with my family in Manila, and a friend asked if I wanted to go to a casting for a fashion show in the Philippines. I found myself a week later after that walking on the biggest stage in Philippine fashion,” said model-turned-designer Rhonee Rojas. “Definitely, I’m honored to represent Hawaii and be a part of community here.”
The fashion world has opened the door for Rojas to start his own line of sakada-inspired island wear.
“I created my own clothing label called Teano, named after my grandmother,” he said.
Rojas hopes the line will call attention to the cultural contributions of his immigrant ancestors. Designing is demanding, he’s found, but it won’t keep this top model from returning to the runway.
“The energy you get from the crowd, that really intensifies that long stretch down that walk,” he said with a laugh. “It’s great to hear people’s feedback, but you have to stay focused and have that straight model face on all the time.”
Education in poverty
Manila is filled with contradictions, but none are as extreme as the difference between rich and poor.
Somewhere in-between is the purple house.
If you look closely, you’ll see it’s just a stack of old shipping containers piled four stories high, reinforced with concrete.
Within are children who come here every day from the city’s dump sites and cemeteries.
“In the school, we have 412 kids,” said Rochelle Malvar, The Purple Centers Foundation. “The children we have here now are those who fell through the cracks. We provide 100-percent free education, uniforms, shoes, supplies, you name it, not a single cent from the family. We also provide free breakfast and lunch.”
If not for these meals, most would be scavenging in garbage. The school functions entirely on private or corporate donations. Not a peso comes from taxpayers.
Some income is made in the gift shop, which features bags and bling fashioned by the students’ mothers, who are given instruction on recycling scraps of tin, cloth, and wire found in the dump sites.
“We cater here first grade to ninth grade, but when they reach 10th grade to college, they have to be outside in public schools, so we also sponsor them with scholarships. They number around 320,” Malvar said.
The school will have its first graduating class next year, a proud moment for teachers and volunteers.
“We know somehow, somewhere, we made a difference in a person’s life. It’s very, very rewarding for us,” Malvar said.
As well as for the children, who for the first time in their lives can envision a life away from poverty.
- Related Link: The Purple Centers Foundation
Bustling city life: Traffic, shopping, and Filipino delicacies
Even at 5:45 a.m., you will encounter traffic gridlock in Cebu.
Filipinos love their vehicles, whether they’re limos, jeepneys, pickup trucks, or mopeds built for two or four.
There are actual lanes and actual traffic lights, but they are often ignored, as are signs that say “slow,” “stop,” and “no parking.” Congestion is the norm and yet, there is a noticeable lack of rancor or road rage.
Everybody gets to where they want to go, which today is the mall.
Ninety-thousand people walk down the aisles of Greenhills Shopping Center every day, hunting for bargains in more than 2,000 stalls.
It’s more than just a shopping center, it’s a community. It’s got its own condominium, a Montessori school, medical clinic, even a chapel so you don’t have to miss mass while you’re buying or selling.
This mini city within a city is best known for its market of pearls, managed by the Muslim women of Mindanao. Pieces range in price from 300 pesos, or $6, to a half-million pesos, or $10,000.
How do you tell a real pearl from a fake? Rub a pearl between your teeth. If it feels rough, like sandpaper, it’s real. If the surface is smooth, it’s fake.
Look up in Chinatown and you’ll see a tangled mess of lines. For a small fee, you can pay someone to climb a pole and hook you up to existing service for cable television, electricity, and telephone. It’s all illegal of course, but who’s looking up when you could be looking down at the specialty of one Fukienese restaurant: opium chicken made with real opium.
It’s not on the menu, but if you’re a friend of a friend of the neighbor of the cousin of the chef, he just might prepare a plate of poppy poultry.
For seafood, we know exactly where to go.
“Here in Dampa, there are seafood stalls that are lined up parallel to the restaurants. You have to pick your seafood from the stalls, bring it to the restaurants so they can cook it for you,” said Manila resident Jules Agulia. “There’s a lot of seafood here. It’s sourced from other provinces in the Philippines.”
We pick a squid so fresh, it’s swimming in ink, sugpo prawns in tomato garlic chili sauce, banagan spiny lobster for a bitter melon saute, tahong mussels with cheese, and lapu-lapu (fish) steamed with ginger soy, so perfect with baby coconut milk, with the spooned meat saved for dessert.
This is today’s Filipino food, embracing the influence of its Chinese, Indian, Thai, Malay and Korean neighbors.
For a more traditional meal, we go to the home of Cecile and Perfecto Yasay, where there are no plates and no utensils, just food on banana leaf.
There’s something to be said about eating with your hands. You become more mindful of your portions, and more appreciative of the wonderful combinations of tastes and textures when adding each ingredient to the main course of the meal: rice.
Then there’s balut, fertilized bird embryo.
First, you sip the soup. Add a pinch of salt and swallow the rest in one bite.
On the way home, a quick stop for halo halo.
“It’s mixed with all different ingredients — coconut, purple yam, ube, and ice. Some of it, we put some fruits and leche flan, we call it egg custard,” said Coke Semblante of Feria Restaurant. “That’s why we call it halo halo. Translated into English, it’s called ‘mix mix.’ It’s mixed of all ingredients. It’s a very famous dessert here in Philippines.”
Medicinal magic of Quiapo
Unlike the native converts in the New World, Cebuanos never abandoned their old gods.
Jesus was welcomed into the pantheon of tribal deities. Over time, a hybrid faith emerged, an amalgam of pagan practice and Catholic liturgy.
Just outside the basilica, vendors hawk their spells and potions using ancient methods to treat everything from gout and eczema to asthma and high blood pressure.
To ward off evil spirits, woolly chicken plant, which has nothing to do with wool or chicken. The ancients believed the fern gave birth to lambs, hence the name Cibotium barometz, the Tartar words for “cup of sheep.”
If all else fails, there is always fire set to a rainbow of wax; each one holds a different meaning. Pink is for happiness, yellow is for peace, white is for purity.
They don’t even need to be lit. Tapers are thrown through the basilica gates, supplying the church with nearly two tons of wax for the rest of the year.
The most powerful miracles just might come from prayers sung in unison by half a million people.
They are crying “Pit Senyor,” or “Hail to the Mister,” who is, of course, Santo Nino de Cebu, the host and grand master of the reverent mayhem known in the Philippines as Sinulog.