Thursday, June 28, 2007

Our Unique Singapore Vacation

A Disconcerting Start
There’s a sense of urgency and a surge of excitement whenever you arrive at the departure terminal of an airport. It’s embarking on another grand adventure of discovery; one that enriches our memories and makes us hunger for more at the end of the day.

But we’re getting ahead of the story.

Cebu Pacific 5J803 bound for Changi Airport in Singapore took off at exactly 8:52pm. The excitement would be temporarily replaced by discomfort. Being a budget flight (no meals, no comforts), we had to endure the uncomfortable and cramped seating of an A320 plane. Luckily we had requested for window seats and we didn’t have to share the next seat with anyone allowing us to stretch a bit.

The hard part of standing five-feet-ten and a half is that long legs don’t fit in cramped seats. We both had to sit sideways and fidget around a lot to find our comfort zone (not that there was one). All of a sudden, the three-hour flight seemed a long and agonizing journey. We should have requested for exit seats what with the extra leg room.

By the time we taxied onto the tarmac of the Budget Terminal of Changi it was 11:49 in the evening. Thankfully, the tailwind helped us get there a lot faster. Instead of exiting through a tube we descended onto the tarmac on elevated stairs yet that didn’t stop me from purposely croaking, “We’re here!” It’s an expression we first used during our Hong Kong adventure last year and it’s a staple exclamation whenever we go to a new place.

We were in Singapore. The smallest country in Southeast Asia that is a mere 85 miles from the Equator and maybe as big as the whole of Metro Manila. But before we could get inside the country proper, there was the matter of getting our travel documents stamped and collecting our belongings. The passengers of our Cebu Pacific flight were the only new arrivals in the terminal that was rather spacious in spite of its smallness. As of now, only Cebu Pacific and Tiger Airways make use of the Budget Terminal but it should get busier when it accommodates more airlines.

It didn’t take long for us to claim our luggage. The MRT to the city had shut down for the day (it only operates until 1230am) and we had to look for other means to our hotel that was in the Geylang district. Unfortunately, we hired a rental service that was plain highway robbery (S $47). Being unfamiliar with the new terminal and the mode of transportation, we hesitantly agreed.

That changed to chagrin once we found out from fellow Filipinos who took a cab to the same hotel yet only paid S $25! Aaarrgh!

We settled in the smallish and Spartan digs (bed, television, and bathroom) and got out for a late night meal for we were famished! Remember there were no meals on the flight. Not even a cookie (we had two each during that Seair flight from Manila to Boracay that was not only shorter but more expensive).

Red Light Night Life
Geylang is the Red Light district of Singapore. And we were smack in the middle of it. At first we thought it was a residential area... well it was. Except that the first thing you notice are the bungalows are actually motels that rent out rooms for you know what.

The streets were teeming with people even at 1am. Whether hanging out drinking coffee or a Tiger Beer, pigging out to Indian, Malay, Chinese, or Middle Eastern cuisine, or engaging in the sex trade there were people everywhere. During our first meal, three Indian women sat in the table in front of us for a late night meal as well. A few minutes later, a man sat in front of one of them and gave her some bills. We didn’t think anything of this until we saw them later checking into the hotel we were billeted in. Hmmm.

The incredible thing is we couldn’t tell the real females from the faux ones. But we guess that didn’t matter to many of their male customers who didn’t seem to care (remind us to tell the story of a six foot transvestite in our hotel elevator when we meet up in person).

Shiok of our lives and the hunt for great-tasting satay
“Shiok” means delicious in Singapore and being in the land of multi-cultural culinary pleasures where food is a 24-hour business from the trendy eateries along River Point in Clark Quay to the hawker centres at Geylang, we were certain to lose a battle with the bulge.

For our first meal in the Lion City, we found ourselves a nice and quiet Indian restaurant where we ordered a chicken rice meal to go with a cheese prata with curry. It was quite good and the price not too bad. It cost us like S$6.20 including a soda. Prior to tonight, the only Indian food I ever knew was the Indian chicken curry that my mum likes to cook and I’m afraid I have never been terribly fond of it along with most spicy food. But since living in the United States, we have opened up to other cuisines. Greek and Mediterranean food may be our favorites but we like to try other stuff every chance we get.

The chicken rice meal and the cheese prata were simple fare but we really loved it and made sure to eat something similar every day during our Singapore vacation.

Later still, we had Nasi Basirya (Indian-style fried chicken with fried rice, cucumbers, and curry sauce) and Murtabak (an Indian pancake stuffed with mutton or chicken and chopped onions pan fried to a chewy and crunchy square pizza size). Yum. Just the thought of it makes us hungry for it again.

Singapore is known for its cuisine and June and July are the food months aside from the great sale. Every time we travel, we try to sample as much local cuisine as we could in an ultimate pig-out. So much for working out and trying to lose weight. We gain a lot after every trip. Thank God it’s not too often lest we become poster models for Fat Boy Slim.

One of the foods we just had to eat was authentic satay. Back home, we normally order that at Oody's and here we had a chance to eat it the way it was intended. And the best place for that was at Lau Pa Sat food festival market right in the heart of the business district (we took the MRT and got off at Raffles Place; it’s a short walk from there).

Lau Pa Sat is this huge food market underneath the largest Victorian cast-iron structure in Southeast Asia. It has stalls where they serve all types of ethnic foods including Filipino we figured having found one named Ka Roger's. But its claim to fame is satay. Every stall seems to serve them.

We chose Rahim’s Satay run by some Indonesians who speak impeccable English. The minimum order is 10 sticks at .50 cents per stick. And they’ve got different kinds of satay: mutton, chicken, beef, duck, and turkey. Whew. Satay heaven. They also serve prawns. Mai’s up for that but not me since I’ve got a terrible allergy for seafoods (I love eating them; it’s my body that doesn’t like them).

The verdict: good. But little did we did we know the best was to come the following night.

During our first day, we went to Clarke Quay for our River Boat Tour (more on this later). The riverside was lined up with restored pre-World War II houses that were now home to some cool eateries, bars and lounges, entertainment centers (see the Hed Kandi bar that is said to be packed during weekends) and hangouts. At first glance, Clarke Quay will remind you of the Serendra except that the neighborhood of restaurants rounds four different areas alongside the Singapore River.

In our second night, we decided to forego the cheap food hawker stands of Geylang to treat ourselves to an expensive dinner at Clarke Quay – we do splurge once in awhile you know! We were choosing between Marrakesh (Moroccan food) and Bayang (Balinese cuisine) when we saw that the former was more of a bar and lounge than an eatery. Now since none of us drink, Bayang it was!

Bayang is located in the middle of Block 3 of Clarke Quay if you go straight up the River Point Bridge. It has some 25 tables that seat 50 to 60 people. It’s elegantly furnished and its dim lights and candles make for a quiet romantic dinner…except for the music that plays western pop that is so totally not kosher.

The resto is staffed by three eager-to-please waiters who seem a bit overwhelmed by the number of people eating at the restaurant and who ask for a glass of cold water every now and then (perhaps to fend off the spice in the food).

But the food was simply fantastic. Just forgive the prices.

Here’s what we ordered:

Sate Madura
(1/2 pound of skewered and well-seasoned barbecued chicken) S $10

Main Course:
Sapi Lada Hitam
(pan fried sirloin beef w/ black pepper on a hot plate) S $16
Ayam Pangang
(barbecued chicken with salad and coconut rice) S $14
2x Nasih Putih
(white rice) S $2 each
Coke Light S $5

S $57.15 with all the taxes. Ouch! But one of the best meals ever!

So if you’re ever at Clarke Quay, check out Bayang at 01-05 Block 3A (tel. no. 6337.0144). It's a gastronomic experience.

That's me with Hussein of Dimado's. A Turkish Ice Cream stand at Clarke Quay. Hussein's got a cool "magic" schtick that just attracts customers to his stand. The ice cream is different from anything we've tasted. Is it good? It's okay. It's an acquired taste. But not bad for S $3 each.

We’ll fly to the zoo.
Remember that segment on Sesame Street where this family of bumble bees debate on how to get to the zoo – do they ride or do they swim? The dumbkoffs eventually realize that they could fly since they were insects.

And so when we flew into Singapore, one of things on our to-do list was to go to their world-famous zoo (S $20 each including tram ride). We took the MRT to Ang Mo Kio station then transferred to the bus terminal opposite it (like the Port Authority in New York/New Jersey) where you take Bus 138 (S$1.50 each) to the Singapore Zoo.

How fun can a zoo be? Well, simply put, this was one of the highlights of our vacation. It was an ecological and cultural experience where we got to see up close the main stars of the show… the animals.

We spent like almost three hours there and it really tugged at the kid inside of us. At times we wondered if we landed in the middle of a Jurassic Park set. Like in the rainforest where amidst all the flora and fauna there were fruit bats flying all over and with animals running around or passing us by like we weren't there.

Easily our favorites were: the otters and the bearcat, the white tigers, and the kangaroos where I got to feed them for S $5 and pose for posterity. The kangaroos were fun especially when they starting hopping around and this little girl began squealing with delight to her mom, “Did you see that? Did you see that?”

Our top pick was the rain forest where we got to see an ant-eater crawl up the steps, a bunch of playful Malay Flying Foxes, fruit bats, and all sorts of wild ducks and birds that would just scoot under your legs.

Wish we had time for the Night Safari.

Row row row your boat
The ride through what was once the heart of Singapore’s thriving fishing industry is part history tour and equal parts photo opportunity. Being history buffs ourselves this is just the sort of thing we enjoy. And it doesn’t hurt to take part in what was nominated in the Tourism Awards as one of the Top 10 Family Experiences of 2006.

We got our tickets for free as part of our hotel package but according to the tour brochures, the fee for adults fetches S $12 each.

The 30-minute bumboat (a motorized version of the traditional means of transport back when Singapore was a fishing village before it grew into one of the region’s biggest ports) ride took us on a scenic view of the waterfront with some of the famous hotels that dot the area such as the Fullerton and the Mandarin as well as the Parliament House, the Victoria Theater, and the Asian Civilizations Museum. There are statues everywhere along the way that recount the island nation’s history, historic bridges that connect the riversides, and landmarks including the majestic Merlion that should be in everyone’s photo op.

The Search for Chelsea
I am a huge Real Madrid and Liverpool FC fan. But just the same, I like Chelsea as they play an exciting and frenetic brand of football. One of my all-time fave shirts is an adidas Chelsea tee that I wear once in awhile. It’s tough that we don’t get too many authentic football kits here in Manila (save for knock-offs that I don’t really patronize) so when I’m abroad I buy what I can.

The most popular jerseys we can see around are Inter Milan’s (with Pirelli emblazoned in front), Manchester United’s old Vodaphone kit, and the Benq Semiens of Real Madrid. We scoured Orchard Road and found none available so I was beginning to get desperate. Mai would laugh and think it was insane to be driven by the hunt for a football kit. On day two of our vacation, I spent part of the day in an Orlando Magic Tracy McGrady jersey to help combat the humidity. Yet in spite of that I wanted the Chelsea blue.

One of the hawkers at Lau Pa Sat told us that the best place to go for sports wear was in Queensway Shopping Center in Queenstown. I’ll admit it sounded like a wild goose chase but we were off there nevertheless when we had a chance.

Queenstown is eastward on the green line. From the MRT you can see that this is an affluent suburban area. The houses are nicer, the condos look bigger and better, and the cars and shops around have that feel of prosperity. But why are we surprised when we’re in Singapore, only the 18th richest country in the world?

After we alighted from the MRT, we took a short cab ride to the mall (S $2.70). And man, the Queensway Shopping Center will remind you of Virra Mall in Greenhills. It’s primarily a textile, clothing, and sporting goods mall with a few eats and other shops as well. But we were in the right place.

I spotted my Chelsea jersey right away and not soon after, I got it for S $76. I wore it instantly and Mai remarked that I was like some kid who just got his Christmas present.

The Muslim Quarter
Also along the green MRT line that runs from Boon Lay in the east to Changi Airport in the island’s western tip is Bugis Street. Back before the beautification drive of the country, this used to be an infamous transvestites’ hangout. Now it’s become a trendy site with some cool malls that will remind one of Eastwood back here in the Philippines. This place is perfect example of the melting pot that Singapore is. Close to the art deco design of the Parkview Building is the Sultan Mosque. In the picturesque Kandahar Street is a line of curio shops, Moroccan and Indonesian restaurants, and a coffee shop run by a Briton.

Smiley Sam’s Café would be a better fit if it were in New York’s East Village but somehow it’s blends along nicely with all the batik colors of the Middle Eastern silk and cloth shops and money changers (where they’ll even take Philippine pesos). Smiley Sam’s has this home setting where you could just sit down on one of the sofas inside and surf the internet one any one of the three PCs near the counter. You can also lounge by the porch while sipping some coffee or iced latte.

Aside from the search for the island’s best satay, we were also in the hunt for some real good coffee. I’m pleased to say that Mai has come to love the friendly neighborhood Starbucks caramel frap so the iced coffee here at Smiley Sam’s is okay but it's nothing fab for the price. We met up with a friend from the Philippines over here where we spent a couple of hours catching up with the goings on of our lives to go with three iced coffees that netted a freaking incredible S $14!

We like the place but I guess we’re sticking to our caramel fraps double blended.

Shop 'til you drop
While Singapore isn’t like Hong Kong, which is one giant shopping mall, the Lion City is no slouch itself. Its famed shopping center, Orchard Road is 10 city blocks of shopping delight from where it intersects with Tanglin Road to the north to Le Meridien beside Buyong Road in the south. We didn’t get to all of the shops since we already bought what we wanted -- Giordano (a lot of nice tops), Borders (British football mag Four Four Two), and HMV (Badly Drawn Boy’s Have You Fed the Fish, U2’s 18 Singles CD/DVD special edition, Sparta’s Threes, Deathcab For Cutie’s You Can Play These Songs With Chords, and a DVD of Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait).

Getting around
Nothing beats effective mass transportation. And Singapore has it. It’s relatively easy to get around. The subway and elevated MRT system isn’t as confusing as New York’s and there are buses, trishaws, taxis, and ferries to get you where you need to go. After that initial debacle when we forked over S $47 during our arrival, we saved a lot by going around using the MRT system.

It was a fantastic and fun vacation. We tired ourselves out by doing a lot of walking – hope we’re not getting any varicose veins in the near future -- but anytime you’re in another country, walking around gives you the opportunity to see more of the place. We wanted to do and see more except that we didn’t have too much time. So who knows, maybe a return trip is in the cards.

And yes, the MRT trip from Al Juneid in Geylang (where we stayed) to Changi Airport cost only S $1.50 each.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Brain Food Part 1

The city is teeming with popular nightspots and hangouts where people go to be seen or to check out those who want to be seen. And I… prefer the alternative solitude of the offbeat and the less trendy. Not that I begrudge those who enjoy those pursuits it’s just that I enjoy a less frenetic pace. The daily grind is maddening enough.

To this day, I could spend hours inside a bookstore – preferably the bigger ones because there’s more to browse. When I was living in New York, I loved going to the Strand in Union Square and Barnes and Noble in Lincoln Center. There was just so much to see and flip out over.

As far as bookstores are concerned, outside Powerbooks in Greenbelt and Fully Booked in Promenade in Greenhills, I just love going to Book Sale. Yup, closest thing to the Strand here in Pinas.

Here are a couple of stuff I got over the last couple of weeks from my fave bookstores:

We Just Want To Live Here by Amal Rifa’I and Odelia Ainbinder.
People who love blogs should read this. Its like reading Joe Kubert’s Letters From Sarajevo except this is in Jerusalem. Rifa’I is a Palestinian girl and Odelia is an Isreali who is rendering her mandatory military service. They became friends on a student-exchange program in Switzerland and remained friends after the Intifada of 2000. Got this at Book Sale for a hundred smackers.

Fools Rush In by Bill Carter.
The cover alone of a young boy walking with a gun in one hand and a book on the other will grab you. It’s an intense story of the author’s experiences in Bosnia. Got this from Borders.

Be More Chill by Ned Vizzini.
A 21st century Catcher in the Rye in the age of the Internet. A fresh and funny read. For those of my generation weaned on Bill and Ted, this is righteous. Got this at Powerbooks for P395.

Do check these books out. They're great reads.

The Continuous Search for Places to Eat... Mom & Tina and Us

"Where do we eat?"

It's as ubiquitous as "good morning, baby" or "watcha doin?" Tired of value meals before those last few days before sweldo? That dinner at Serendra an unforseen expense? Call us the budget conscious --- hey, we have to consider groceries, the caramel frap, that latest Ultimates comic book, a new movie, those pirated nine-in-one dvds, gas, etc. into the monthly expenditures -- but unless we've become Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Roman Abramovich, Mark Cuban, Bruce Wayne... then we're still in the rat race where we have to deal with sucky people who whine, finger-point, look busy when all they're doing is surf the net and YM, Click the City for the latest new eats, and send spam email. Hahaha. Too much bile there.

And that leads us back to "where do we eat?"

Going home northbound along C-5 just before you hit the flyover atop Ortigas Extension that lands you in Libis (if you're going southbound, it's across SM Hypermart), there's one of our fave stops for burgers (lemme tell you about a burger story in another post soon)... Good Burger. Unlike those Burger Machines that are beginning to mushroom all over again in the metro, Good Burger is like a kitchen along the wall where if you want to eat, you can stay in the parking lot to wolf down some of the best in the country.

But this is not about Good Burger or even the San Jacinto Panciteria that's been there forever. I don't even remember what used to be between them two food joints, but there it was... Mom and Tina's Bakery & Cafe.

It's like a restaurant in a Forty Winks/doll house setting. The tables have comfy chairs and couches to sit on. The ambiance is warm, cozy, and light. You get that feeling like you're a part of that interior designer showcase that schools hold in Greenhills except that there's real food and it tastes great.

So, let's break it down:

Parking: Ample, since the place isn't a hangout joint, people eat then move on. There's garage parking underneath the San Jacinto Panciteria so it's not bad. You just have to watch that turn when going around the parking. If you make a mistake you could slalom right into Mom & Tina's that will give new meaning to the term "drive-thru." You'll figure out what we mean when you get there.

Tables: About 13-14 tables that will probably seat 60-70 people at any one time.

Food: We got a half-ceasar's salad that's P85, a Salisbury steak for about P145, a beef stew for a similar price... For dessert, we got a couple of chocolate chip cookies (for P40) and my fave cake anywhere on God's green earth, sansrival (P45). I wanted to try the paella but I have an unfortunate allergy to shrimps, squid, un-fried fish, and other seafoods -- I know I'm missing a lot so don't rub it in.

The menu of pastas, roasts and salads are all definitely affordable. We've made a habit out of drinking water rather than ordering sodas (Hmmm. We still call them sodas, a habit we picked up living in the US). So that's about P440 and we left a 50 something tip (another habit we've picked up from you know where).

The food presentation was excellent as was the service.

Definitely worth going back and trying the other fare.

So now, it's not just our Good Burger stop. It's also Mom & Tina's. And ours.

Friday, June 8, 2007

How I am contributing to Howard Schultz' wealth

The near empty remains of a downed but thoroughly enjoyed Caramel Frap.

63% of all coffee drinkers drink Starbucks.
65% of that 63% of Starbucks drinkers could readily stop buying premium coffee because of the cost. But they also go there because it's a status symbol and they know its a popular hangout joint.
There are 13,168 Starbucks coffee shops in 41 countries. It's actually 42. But that 42nd country -- the Netherlands -- has only one shop and it's inside a Nike store and meant only for Nike employees.
I used to drink Cappuccino only, but have switched to Grande Caramel Frappuccinos lately.
I buy Fraps three times a week.
With a corn beef pandesal to go.
And that sets me back P185 every time. Ouch.
Strangely enough. I only drink coffee when I'm at work, but at home... nada drop.

When I was living in the US, I preferred Dunkin' Donuts coffee which was not only cheaper but more flavorful.
I loved the French Vanilla coffee!
I acquired the taste for it when I used to work at Dunkin' Donuts in Ewing, New Jersey. Dude, I saw a twister there once and yes, that was in Jersey too!
When I began to work in midtown Manhattan, I'd get that everyday with a vanila frosted donut to go before heading for work at West 36th.

But I just love the coffee-based Caramel Frap.

I'll make it a point to invite Schultz when I open my own coffee shop in NYC. Maybe then he can return the favor.

What we'd do when we get rich...

"I hate work."

Everyone looked up from the dinner table to gaze at me with questioning eyes. My folks have always known me to be a workaholic; even my weekends aren't spared.

"I want to play golf," I proclaimed. But I dont play golf they retorted.

I could learn. But I have to be rich.

And talk turned to the lucky person from Cebu who just won the lotto. P127 million. Damn. I wouldn't have to work anymore.

Years ago, it was an ordinary evening when we heard someone screaming downstairs. Thinking that maybe a burglar had broken in or some such, we all ran down. When we got down, our househelper was writhing on the floor in ecstacy. Turns out she hit the lotto -- all six numbers. I turned to my mom and dryly remarked, "Can we be her househelp?"

After a few seconds another batch of numbers were announced... for Metro Manila. Turns out the numbers she got were for Visayas. Man, her tears of joy soon gave way to dismay. You know the feeling when you've lost something of great value. When you've been robbed. Fired from work. You know.

She came that close to not working.

In 2003, a friend of mine introduced me to this rich Puerto Rican woman who was looking for someone to marry. I thought that was weird since she looked like a thinner yet taller version of Salma Hayek. How can someone that beautiful and having that loads of cash have no beau? Turns out that she wanted total domination over her man who eventually decided that it wasn't worth being on a leash.

I was that close from being a habitue of Atlantic City.

I used to love work. Now it's a neccessary evil that I have to go about unless by a stroke of good fortune I become the next Mark Cuban, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Bruce Wayne...

So if I had that much cash, here's what me and mai love will do (not in order though)...

1) Go on a year-long long vacation in Europe (Normandy, Monte Carlo, Santorini, Venice, Rome, the Vatican, Scotland, Paris, Crete), the Carribean, and the Holy Land

2) Get a skybox in Yankee Stadium and the United Center

3) Put up a nice resto-bar hangout near NYU with cool music, poetry reading, and indie film viewing

4) Put up my own coffee shop that will be way cooler than Starbucks

5) Put up a soup kitchen where I can help the poor and needy then hand out turkeys on Thanksgiving

6) Watch some live games in Anfield and the Bernabeu

7) Get a nice house in Princeton, a nice flat in Greenwich Village, and a chateau outside Paris

8) Spend some nights spinning music at Virgin Records in Times Square

9) Play golf, tennis, ice hockey and watch the US Open -- always my favorite

10) Go on a pilgrimage: Cooperstown, Springfield, the gravesite of Jim Morrison, Rucker Park, Graceland and the Sun Studios, the site of the former Berlin Wall, Hadrian's Wall in Britain, Tirad Pass, Massada, Thermopylae and Marathon, Bastogne, the Rocky Balboa statue at the Philadelphia Public Library, the Spectrum, the site of the old Boston Garden, Wrigley Field, and NASA.

11) And lastly my CD collection currently at 4,100 discs and counting will quadruple so I'd have every vinyl and compact disc of my fave music, artists, and albums.

The quest begins in late Fall...

Monday, June 4, 2007

Some Old Favorites Are Back...

Some old favorites are back... and sometimes I wonder in this digital age if it's way better to be a kid. But I guess if I was a kid then I wouldn't be able to afford to watch or buy my hobbies and faves.

Some of the best news I've heard in a long time. Tickets are priced outrageously with the cheapest at $60 bucks and the front row tix pegged at a whopping $250! The set list is virtually all hits and crowd favorites, plus a dynamic version of the 1983 B-side "Murder by Numbers." There is also a surprising omission, at least for now: "Bring on the Night," from 1979's Reggatta de Blanc. "I fucking love the way we're doing it," says drummer Stewart Copeland. "But it ain't working for Sting."

I thought that they ended they're career rather prematurely and that 1986 version of "Don't Stand So Close To Me" was dangerously deviant or their reggae rock roots. But didn't their sound begin to change with Ghost In the Machine? Their first three albums had some of the coolest titles: Outlandos d'Amour, Reggatta De Blanc, and Zenyatta Mondatta. The last two: Ghost In the Machine and Synchronicity just didn't cut it for me although they contained the best music for them thus far.

There are a couple of Police tribute albums that I really love... these are the two volumes of Regatta Mondatta featuring Aswad, Big Mountain, and Maxi Priest among many other stellar and skanking reggae artists.

Makes me believe that life's a beach.

And then there's the Transformers revival that began a few years ago with some nifty comic books from Dreamwave and ultimately the film adaptation. Now here's hoping that Michael Bay is respectful of the Transformers canon.

The Transformers movie where Optimus Prime bit the dust and Hot Rod picked up the slack as Rodimus Prime is still my all-time favorite. Top-notch animation, great fight scenes, and superb plot.

You know which side I'm on:

Saturday, June 2, 2007

LA Tenorio joins the PBA

This is something I wrote for the Ateneo website and was the conclusion of the LA Tenorio Story that took me a long time to finish. I accomapnied the Tenorio's that day all the way from those hours before the PBA Draft until the day's end.

Day of Days
Arthur Tenorio couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned and got up several times to relieve himself. He badly wanted to get some sleep and maybe dream. But then again, the reality staring at him and his family was so much better. Except that it was excruciatingly nerve-wracking.

In a few hours time it would be daybreak and they’d make the trip to Market! Market! in Global City for the 2006 PBA Rookie Draft. His son, his pride and joy, Lewis Alfred Tenorio was on the verge of making good on a dream that quite a few years ago seemed a bit far-fetched. His son was going to be a PBA player!

He silently laughed at his situation. In years past, he’d smile and tell his fellow parents (who all became close during the Joe Lipa years all the way to the 2002 title run and up to today) to take it easy come draft day. He recalled Romeo Gonzalez who nervously walked back and forth until his son Wesley’s name was called by Commissioner Noli Eala as the newest member of Fed Ex. He recalled the face of Rudy Alvarez whose face was ashen and betrayed the concern in his mind. What if his son Rich was not drafted? Even when Rich was announced as the over-all number one draft pick by the Shell Turbochargers, Alvarez’ expression remained the same except for the fact that he was no longer troubled – he was in a state of disbelief.

And now it was Arthur Tenorio’s turn.

The trip from the Tenorio’s Burgundy Place condo unit to Market! Market! took 22 minutes on a traffic-less Sunday noon. The stress was so palpable that one could feel it inside the Tenorio’s family car. “Noong na-draft si Rico parang sobrang tagal – parang ang tagal bago tinawag yung pangalan niya,” recounted Lumeng Tenorio, LA’s mother. “Tapos yung kay Larry last year, ganun din. Kahit sabihin mo na gusto si LA ng San Miguel hangga’t hindi natatawag yung pangalan niya ay hindi kami mauubusan ng nerbyos.” Mrs. Tenorio says that LA’s college teammate Rico Villanueva would have been there for his buddy had he not been in his honeymoon. After all, he knows what the draft is all about. But they’d have plenty of support that day. The families of LA’s college teammates would all be there in force to show support in one of the biggest days in LA Tenorio’s life.

Tenorio was already a shoo-in for a top pick. In fact, after the end of his fourth year, the San Miguel Beermen made serious overtures about his joining the team. It was a dream come true for LA who followed the Beermen because of his idol Hector Calma who he watched as a kid. The Beermen also had Olsen Racela, one-time star point guard for Ateneo who was the cornerstone for the franchise’s second dynasty. Management saw in Tenorio a worthy successor to Racela who signified his intention of hanging up his sneakers in the near future. As much as the offer to turn pro was enticing, LA wanted to lead his Blue Eagles back to the promised land of UAAP cage glory. “Hindi mo mapilit si LA na mag-pro noon,” recalled his father. “Sinseryoso niya yung loyalty niya sa Ateneo.”

Ah… the blue and white. It’s ironic when some quarters still lay claim that he is from San Beda when LA spent only two years with the Cubs. In contrast, he spent five years with the Blue Eagles. After he hung up his dress blues from UAAP play, he was still a fixture in the team’s games. More so this Season 69 when the team took a 7-0 unblemished slate heading into Draft Day. “Bakit naman kasi pinagsabay yung draft sa game ng Ateneo,” said the draft hopeful. While he was physically present that afternoon at Market! Market! in Taguig somehow his thoughts never strayed too far from his former teammates who were going for win #8.

In Ateneo’s seventh straight against Adamson, LA stood up and fretted. This team never played so many nail-bitters that he was afraid he’d get an ulcer. “Ganito pala pag nakaupo,” said LA who smiled at the irony of it. When he was on the court, he felt no fear no matter how big the game was. That’s how focused he was. But in the stands as a fan, now this was a decidedly different animal. “Pero mahal ko talaga Ateneo. Second family ko na yan next to mine.”

The family took two separate cars: one for his parents and siblings and one for him and his old friend and long-time backcourt mate, Magnum Membrere. “Parang mali yata yung diskarte namin,” wondered LA. “Pareho kaming nerbyos tapos nagmamaneho. Pero nakakatuwa how it’s all worked out.”

Downhill from Hill
“Parang mas gusto ko nasa basketball court,” mumbled LA as he fidgeted and scratched his nape for the umpteenth time. It was March 2006 and he wore a different shade of blue except it was for a graduation toga.

Although he was close to being a nervous wreck, he was plainly joyous. Grinning from ear to ear, he babbled on to anyone who would listen. His classmates and batchmates went up to him to shake his hand. What made him feel even better about it was that they congratulated him not for his feats on the basketball court, but in the classroom. Graduation Day from Ateneo De Manila was here.

In the audience, Lumeng Tenorio couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down her cheeks. It would have been obvious had not other mothers been fighting back joyous tears of their own for their own children. It was five years ago when her son first came to the Ateneo as a nervous and overly sensitive child who was both thrilled to be playing for Ateneo yet at the same time fearful that he didn’t belong. She recalled the two things the school offered her son when others offered the moon. The first had been achieved in his sophomore year – a UAAP championship. The second had been much harder but it was all worthwhile. The diploma stated that Lewis Alfred Tenorio had graduated from the Ateneo De Manila and that was worth its weight in gold.

As her son went up to the stage to receive his diploma (the audience erupted in cheers), Lumeng Tenorio whispered a silent prayer of thanks to the Almighty, Fr. Tito Caluag and Arben Santos who helped bring her son to Loyola Heights. Mission accomplished, Fr. Tito, she silently said to herself. Mission accomplished.

LA too choked back the tears. The last five years had been the most eventful in his young life. He uttered a silent prayer to God to thank Him for the blessings that had given him and his family much hope. And for the first time, he was glad that there were no TV cameras to follow him around or else they would have caught him at a very unguarded and vulnerable moment.

Today the diploma is mounted on a frame and hung on the wall in his ever-growing trophy case. Right above all his basketball awards.

Last Flight
After losing the UAAP title to FEU in 2003, the Blue Eagles were still pretty much loaded for a serious title run or two. 2004 will always go down as one of the Blue Eagles’ most memorable runs even if they didn’t win the championship. After losing Larry Fonacier to an ACL injury in the season’s third game, the team instead of collapsing went on a tear and swept the first round.

In the emotional first game after Fonacier went down, LA sank the game-winning basket against Adamson just as the buzzer sounded. He would go on to hit another game winner against FEU but little did anyone know that would be the last great moment of the season.

They began the second round against a rising UE Red Warriors squad. Now mentored by Dindo Pumaren, the Recto-based squad operated an offense predicated on quick cuts to the basket as anchored by the speedy Marcy Arellano (who would go on to win that season’s Rookie of the Year Award). The Warriors likewise operated a high pressure full court press that created more scoring opportunities for the team.

Unknown to many, LA played sick. His lackluster play eventually told on the team and they went on to lose their first game of the season. They would bounce back but the loss opened the cracks in the Blue Eagles’ armor as they began to struggle in their games. It didn’t help that longtime nemesis De La Salle (got their revenge after being shut out by Ateneo in the last two years) eliminated the Blue and White in humiliating fashion.

Tenorio spent the off-season mulling the decision to turn pro. In many ways, his staying or going was the subject of more online fora and YM chatter than who Ateneo’s new recruits for Season 68 would be.

While at the opening of the Futures Basketball League (a league that is beginning to rival the SBP Tournament) at Blue Eagle Gym, the Tenorios showed up to support the younger LA. Said Lumeng Tenorio during the tournament opening, “Kung ako ang masusunod, mag-pro na si LA. Masyado na siyang nabubugbog. Nakakatakot na.”

The younger Lambert who tremendously idolizes his kuya dribbled a basketball between his legs while intently listening to his mother’s feelings about the matter. He hoped that his kuya would play for Ateneo one more time because he thought he’d never get a chance to do it again.

Just then, the older LA walked over dressed in a neatly pressed Nike golf shirt. “Ma, naman,” he cooed. “Maglalaro pa ako.”

Mrs. Tenorio threw up her hands in mock surrender. “Talagang maka-Ateneo yang anak ko. Ano pa magagawa ko?”

But first up was a stint in the PBL with Ateneo Addict Mobile. They had a powerhouse line-up on paper. They not only landed the NCAA’s reigning Rookie of the Year-MVP in Gabby Espinas but they had the rebounding demon from San Sebastian Nurjamjam Alfad, Espinas’ PCU Dolphin mates Jason Castro and Rob Sanz, San Beda hotshot Jenkins Messina, NU center Rey Mendoza, and ex-pro Rob Johnson. Blue Eagle teammates Paolo Bugia, JC Intal, Doug Kramer, and Magnum Membrere rounded out the squad.

But a disappointing opening day loss to La Salle-ICTSI set the tone for a forgettable season. Unable to get its bearings despite the talent in its line-up, Ateneo Addict Mobile was soundly beaten and bowed out of the competition. There were memorable wins for sure such as the win against Letran-Toyota Otis which had gangly but effective center Mark Andaya, but for the most part, Ateneo Addict Mobile’s PBL season was a disaster.

The losses began to gnaw at Tenorio. As much as he wanted to play, the losses somewhat sapped his enthusiasm. When Norman black was announced as the 35th Head Coach in Blue Eagle history it was more than enough reason for LA to play out his final year. LA surmised that there was a lot to be learned from the multi-titled coach who was about to get his feet wet in the collegiate game.

Despite Ateneo’s pro-style offense, the blue and whites struggled early on. But in the middle of the first round, things began to click as Ateneo uncorked a blistering win skein that was only halted by UST late in the second round. The loss was critical as it meant that Ateneo had to win its remaining games if it wanted the crucial twice-to-beat advantage that was accorded to the top two seeds. Although they did beat an Arwind Santos-led Tamaraws team, they fell to La Salle once more thus giving the Green Archers the twice-to-beat advantage in the play-offs. With time running out on their final’s aspirations, the Blue Eagles’ last ditch rally badly fizzled out when LA was permanently sent to the bench on account of cramps.

Over a quiet dinner with a few supporters, school officials, and family at the Moro Lorenzo Sports Center after a Mass at the Church of the Gesu, University President Benvienido Nebres S.J. put his hand on the forlorn King Eagle’s shoulders and said, “We know you gave us your best, and that’s all we ever asked. And everybody knows that. All your hard work will bear fruit. God has a plan.” LA nodded and embraced Fr. Nebres.

Several months later, LA Tenorio led Harbour Centre Port Masters to the PBL Unity Cup title. It was a run reminiscent of the Houston Rockets’ NBA championship drive in 1995 as Harbour Centre which teetered on the brink in the first round of the eliminations with a 2-4 record suddenly found its groove and finished with an even 6-6 slate. From the quarterfinals, the Port Masters of Coach Jorge Gallent waylaid teams with better records and seedings – Granny Goose, Montaña Pawnshop, and Toyota-Otis in the finals in the most amazing run by any low seeded team in PBL history. Tenorio was voted Finals Most Valuable Player boosting his stock for the coming PBA Draft. It was a brilliant ending to a sterling amateur career, and LA was pumped up for the new challenges that awaited him.

Forty-seven draft hopefuls were quartered in an air-conditioned waiting room. Yet somehow, it seemed hot for all inside as they wiped the sweat from their brows. LA sat next to Membrere where they replied to well-wishers’ text messages that came in non-stop. After a bit, LA decided to stop replying because his palms got real sweaty and he couldn’t type in the right words to say.

At 3:14 in the afternoon, Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner Noli Eala’s voice boomed and called out Fil-Am Kelley Williams as the first pick of the draft by the Sta. Lucia Realtors. Thus ended another vexing question as to who the former self-proclaimed and proudly homegrown team’s pick (the year before, they picked Fil-Am Alex Cabagnot) would be. A pair of former UAAP foes and National Teammates Arwind Santos (Air21 Express) and Joseph Yeo (Coca Cola Tigers) were called out as the #2 & #3 picks when Commissioner Eala announced… “With the fourth pick in the draft… San Miguel picks LA Tenorio…”

LA was numbed to the congratulatory slaps on his back by his fellow draft mates. But he managed to get to the podium where his mother tearfully greeted him. When his mom finally loosened her suffocating grip, LA said to himself, ‘wag kang matisod as he was greeted by new SMB Coach (and fellow Atenean) Chot Reyes, Assistant Coach Avelino “Samboy” Lim, and new teammates Brandon Cablay and Danny Ildefonso.

As he slipped on the red Beermen jacket, he finally allowed himself a smile as the journey was now complete. Along with Coach Chot Reyes and Olsen Racela, they have turned the winning SMB franchise into Ateneo point guard central.

In the post-draft picture taking, former DLSU rival Mark Cardona, now plying his unorthodox game with the Talk N Text Phone Pals made his way towards Tenorio to congratulate him. Said a smiling Captain Hook, “Maraming paiiyakin ‘to sa PBA gamit ng cross-over at step-back shot niya.”

Over at Nasugbu, Batangas, the Tenorio’s kin and townsfolk watched the delayed telecast of the PBA Rookie Draft proceedings. They had already found out earlier that LA had been taken by San Miguel Beer (as expected) with the fourth pick. The wonders of texting and cellular technology you know. But they still wanted to see it for themselves about how a local boy had made good and made their seaside town proud.

By the sandlot where the young LA Tenorio once played and snapped many a pair of spartan slippers time and again much to his mother’s dismay, young kids played way past their supper time. They launched step back three-point shots and twisting reverse lay-ups. They played make believe and dreamt of someday donning the blue and white. After all, they’ve just been shown the way.

Author’s Note:
I first met LA Tenorio the summer before his first season as a Blue Eagle at a party for my nephew who would go on to be the team mascot in 2001. I struck up a conversation with LA and we spent the afternoon chatting. We have since become friends and remained in touch even during my long stay out of the country. However it was during a talk with backcourt mate Magnum Membrere that the idea of writing LA’s story first came about.

Thank you so much to the Tenorio family for letting me into their lives and opening their hearts and minds in getting this done. Thanks too to Fr. Tito Caluag, Arben Santos, the coaching staff of the Blue Eagles, its players and former foes for their thoughts and kind words.

Animo Ateneo!

Field of Dreams

The best gift I ever received as a kid was a football. Football was the first sport I actually played and loved so much. That ball was my teddy bear and it was held snug and tight in my arms. I was consumed by the game so much that I was oft reminded not to forget about my grades because they began to strangely resemble footballs.

I wanted to be like Pele or Franz Beckenbauer, the pitch gods of my youth. The Beautiful Game was hardly shown on TV so I saw much of the action on the football field. Of all my intramural sports I played in this was the one I looked forward to and was really good at. Even Lightning Football was more palatable than the cold food in my lunch box.

Whenever I walk around the Ateneo De Manila campus (usually on weekends), the football fields are always a part of my route. It's not just working out a sweat but a literal walk down memory lane. And even after all this time, the memories of games remain as vivid as they were played out all those long years ago. The pitch on a quiet Sunday morning or afternoon is my cathedral; my communion with nature and those boyhood dreams of long ago. Although I don't play the game anymore, my passion and thirst for it has grown more.

I wanted to be like Pele or Franz Beckenbauer, the pitch gods of my youth. I never got even close to being close. That's fine, At least I will always have good memories of being on the field.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Rock & Redeemer Video Companion

This was from our trip to Corregidor early this year. Just walking around the island -- and we walked from topside all the way back to the Inn and the beaches -- gave us both a sense of wonder and a little creepiness. Like how man people died on the piece of land we were standing on at that particular moment? What exactly was it like during the carpet bombing of the island?
And with the remainders of the blown up barracks crumbling faster with each day, what happens then? Maybe in 10 years, this place might be nothing more than an off mainland golf course.

They've done a marvelous job of preserving the island's "attractions," but how long before commercialization creeps in? We tried to catch the island's beauty for posterity before any such thing happens and I'd say it was a deeply moving experience more so coz I'm a history and military buff.

You might want to read the earlier entry on this. Just go to the archives or first few posts on

Rock & Redeemer

16 March 2007
The MV Sun Cruiser arrived at the North Dock at exactly 9:15am just as the brochure said it would. Like clockwork military precision, I noted to myself.

Moments earlier, when the outlying islet of Caballo and the tail of the tadpole-shaped Corregidor Island came into view on this clear Friday morning, I wondered if the majesty and sense of wonder that had hung on me was the same felt by those who came decades and centuries earlier whether on galleons or landing craft.

The ferry was full to capacity with the staff from Fitness First on a team building exercise, tourists from America (a few of who were World War II veterans), Canada, Japan, and Switzerland, employees from the local government of Pangasinan, a television crew filming an episode for Trip Na Trip, a travel show on local channel ABS-CBN, and the usual gaggle of honeymooners, adventurers, and people like me on a journey of discovery. En route, the passengers were entertained and treated to a history lesson by a tour guide who was a deadringer for former US President Jimmy Carter.

One of the tourists was a Canadian assigned to the European theater in World War II and this was his third trip to Corregidor. This time around, he brought along with him his son and two grandsons. He’s been to Normandy and Berlin, two of the bloodiest battlegrounds in that last Great War and yet he’s always drawn to a battlefield he never even set foot on. “This island is one reason why we live in relative peace today,” he said.

As we all disembarked, I looked at the waters that gently lapped against the concrete docks and on the shore and wondered if there were any other leftover war material and equipment underneath the waves. Per square mile, Corregidor was the most heavily bombed piece of real estate in World War II. It was a fortress from the time the Spaniards realized its strategic value in thwarting seaborne invasions. Although the rise of airpower in World War I somewhat devalued the Rock’s military significance, it was nevertheless a symbol of resistance and of the resolve of both the Americans and the Filipinos and eventually, the Japanese. So they put up one mother of a battle there as hundreds of tons of bombs cratered the hills from aerial and naval bombardment. As our tour guide, Richard, would later relate, people still unearth unexploded ordnance every now and then.

We were bused in a small replica period trolley called the tramvia (much like what they have in San Francisco) except that they run on gasoline as opposed to the electric cables that once hauled them over a stretch of 19.5 miles worth of paved roads throughout the island. The open-aired tramvia would serve as our tour bus around the island. The vehicle we rode on was half full and fortunately, we were with all the American tourists whose memories of the war and surprising candor about their experiences would all the more make this trip down one of history’s most hallowed corridors fun, insightful, and infinitely memorable.

Our first stop was the Lorcha Dock where General Douglas MacArthur took the submarine the Swordfish to Australia to prepare for the eventual re-taking of the countries that had fallen to Japan. A bronze statue of MacArthur stood there commemorating his vow of “I shall return” for all time.

We went down for a few minutes of a history lesson about MacArthur’s flight and our first photo ops. It was my first real steps on the island and I touched the ground, my way of genuflecting, and a communion with those who fought and gave their lives in the cause of freedom.

War plan
As gruesome and even devastating last stands are, history has been kind enough to lend them an ironic air of romanticism. But these last stands beginning with Thermopylae and their more modern cousins Rorke’s Drift, the Alamo, and Dien Bien Phu to name a few have been catalysts of change; battles that altered their country’s history. The Philippines, for better or worse, has had three of them -- Tirad Pass during the Philippine-American War and Bataan and Corregidor both during World War II.

For as long as I could appreciate history, I’ve loved visiting our historical monuments and landmarks. I’ve been to Bataan and the cross at Mt. Samat, I’ve walked time and again around historic Fort Santiago and Intramuros. I’ve visited the homes of Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo and have gone to Malolos, the former seat of a then-fledging Philippine Republic.

In fact, there was this old commercial they used to play in movie theaters when I was a kid that celebrated the heroism in Bataan and Corregidor. I don’t remember much of it save for the scene where a bloodied and fatigued Filipino soldier crouched behind a sandbag who opened the palm of his hand to reveal his last three bullets left to keep the swarming Japanese soldiers at bay. That scene remains a vivid memory in my mind to this day and it was so powerful that it served as an inspiration for a Philippine Centennial PLDT commercial storyboard I proposed years later (it was shot down because it was too costly).

Our country’s colonial past has always been a source of fascination for me. Having read and re-read whatever material I could get my hands on. Now after all these years, it was time to turn one last history lesson into a historical experience.

Moving inland
Richard showed us a couple of preserved foxholes built by the Japanese along the road that circumnavigates the whole of the island from bottomside to topside. There was even one at the foot of a rocky cliff that once contained suicide boats used by the Japanese as human torpedoes on oncoming Allied ships during Corregidor’s retaking.

And I wondered…
What was it like for the Japanese soldier to lie prone in the darkness with his back literally against the wall in the face or the onrushing Allied ships? This time around, he was facing well-armed and motivated US Marines not the emaciated and battered ones who made a stand in 1942.

What was it like knowing he was badly outgunned with his Arisaka Type 99 rifle? The shoe was on the other foot several years ago when the bulk of the USAFFE forces they faced were using antiquated equipment.

What was it like knowing he faced certain death?

The tide in the Pacific turned in the aftermath of the battles for Papua New Guinea and in Midway. Both were major victories for the American and Allied forces who up to that point had not scored a victory over the Japanese save for morale boosting Tokyo bombing raid by General James Doolittle. Unlike in Europe where the Allies bypassed a few countries to make a dash towards the Rhine, in the Pacific War, they went island hopping. And the Philippines was important for it offered a strategic position to launch more operations against Japan.

With the Japanese forces on the defensive, they hoped to make a last stand. And when defeat seemed imminent, many committed hara-kiri like the 200-plus soldiers who jumped to their deaths in what has since been called Suicide Cliff along the bend that leads to Topside.

From there, it was to the Malinta Tunnel that had served as the main storage area as well as the improvised USAFFE headquarters and hospital for Corregidor when War Plan Orange was put into effect.

In the east side of the tunnel, there was a Japanese machine gun nest that guarded its entrance. The gun has long since been stripped of its firing mechanism and is nothing but for Kodak ops nowadays.

And before we could enter the famed tunnel, we were warned that some of the sound effects – the explosions and artillery barrage – from the light and sound show that recreated the Allies’ darkest hour on the Rock could be disconcerting for those faint of heart.

The tunnel faintly smelled of stale air (because of the poor ventilation) and was yet strangely a little cool. But a long time ago, Malinta reeked of a mixture of fear, cordite, sweat, the sickening stench of blood and the dying. Most of the laterals including the hospital wing throughout the tunnel have been cleaned up and sanitized for show. However, some others such as the top-secret Navy tunnel that the Japanese blew up when the Americans returned have been largely unexcavated. Attempts to retrieve the bodies and whatever secrets they contained have been futile as the structures have been unwieldy and dangerous.

Literally walking through the length of the 925-foot long tunnel for the dramatization of Corregidor’s gallant last stand (as conceptualized by the late National Artist for Film Lamberto V. Avellana), we could all commiserate with the sense of foreboding, despair, and helplessness of those fateful days.

And we all wondered aloud with all the death and destruction, were there any ghosts who still inhabited the tunnel?

Our guide had all the answers. “For Php 150, you could join the Malinta Night Tour where you will be taken deep into the hospital laterals and go ghost hunting.”

Fire for effect
After the Malinta Tunnel Tour, we zipped by the Memorial for the late President Manuel Quezon then it was off to a buffet lunch at the 32-room Corregidor Inn where I was to be staying that night. From the outside dining area, one could see the west entrance of the tunnel. Down the road from the Inn was the seaside town of San Jose that was evacuated before the war. Not many people live here today save for the caretakers of the island.

After checking in what little luggage I had, it was off to our tramvia to check out what the island is more popularly known for… its big guns.

Our first stop was the Middleside barracks that once housed American and Philippine servicemen. The now-hollow barracks were constructed using steel from Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Pennsylvania with the cement ironically coming from a company from Japan that closed down seven years ago.

After that, we were off to Battery “Way” (all the batteries or gun emplacements were named after American servicemen, in this case Lt. Henry Way who served in the Philippine-American War) with its four guns that although repainted to keep from rusting showed all the nicks and hits it sustained during its artillery duels with the Japanese. The doors to the observation posts and ammo dumps bore marks of bullet holes. No doubt a result of a firefight when the Americans were clearing the battery of Japanese defenders.

I tried to picture in my mind the artillerymen as they raced about hauling the huge shells on trolleys from the ordnance depot just around the corner. And with four guns, the noise must have been deafening.

But by the time we arrived at Battery “Hearn” with its 12-inch gun, the merciless summer afternoon sun had somewhat sapped the life from us. Most preferred to stay inside the tramvia rather than go down to take souvenir photos. It is here where the Japanese posed in the famous shot where they were all cheering, “Banzai” after the island fell.

From the main road, we viewed what was left of Battery “Geary” which almost right up to the fall of Corregidor was engaged in a deadly artillery duel with the Japanese who were on Bataan. “Geary” was destroyed after its ammo dump took a direct hit and shook the island to its very core. The 27 men manning this battery were all killed instantly. Nothing is left of the battery save for the remains of a few wrecked metal emplacements.

The fourth and last gun emplacement we went to was Battery “Grubbs” (I don’t know why we didn’t go to Battery “Crockett”) with its vanishing carriage that made it difficult for enemy scouts to pinpoint the location of the gun and its majestic view of the Bataan peninsula.

All throughout the tour, I would compare pictures of the ruins and landmarks from shots taken years ago whether from some of the vets or at the War Museum. I wondered if there was anything being done to at least preserve the ruins that seemed darker and dirtier. I fact, the following morning, according to some of the caretakers, a chunk of masonry from the Topside Barracks fell. And that begs the question -- how do you clean and take care of ruins?

Many of the trees are suffering from termite problems and there are few trash dispensers around. The trail leading to the Japanese Tunnel (which I would explore the following day) was littered with trash.

The final tour of the day was the Topside area that included the parade grounds, the Milelong Barracks, the Headquarters of Fort Mills (as the Army outpost on the island was named after an artillery office who served in the Philippines at the turn of the century), the old Spanish lighthouse, and the War Memorial.

The light posts outside what was once the Fort Mills HQ were converted Spanish cannons, spoils of the American victory during the Battle of Manila Bay.

Our penultimate destination of the day was the reconstructed Spanish lighthouse that was destroyed during the war. Now going up was going to be a challenge since I am suffering from an acute sense of acrophobia. Nevertheless, I made it up the steep climb although it was somewhat agonizing. The 360-degree view while not as breathtaking as being on the highest point of Boracay that is Mt. Luho, being atop the Spanish lighthouse got my imagination working and wondering what it was like during those colonial times. But after the buffeting winds made me feel like a kite, I decided that my attempt to rid myself of the fear of heights had to be temporarily suspended.

The day tour’s last stop was the Pacific War Memorial and its adjacent Museum. Now like the cross in Mt. Samat, this is Holy Ground. The bodies of soldiers who gave their lives in this battle were buried beneath a marble tomb. Every May 6th, the anniversary of the island’s fall, the sunlight is said to filter through the hole at the top of the dome to shine on the tomb.

I knelt before the tomb and ran my fingers across the inscription that pays tribute to the fallen and it forever etched itself in my mind.

After the War Museum that continued my walk through history (here you’ll find the American flag that flew on the island during the war years), it was time to take the other tourists to the south dock for their return trip to Manila.

As for me, I was on my way back to the hotel to get some shuteye.

D-day plus one
A friend of mine who relocated from Manila to Boracay says that one of the perks of living far from the congested and highly stressful urban jungle that is Manila is waking up to a beautiful sunrise and taking a cigarette break to an amazing sunset.

Fortunately, Boracay hasn’t cornered the market share on nature’s most breathtakingly simple yet amazing wonders. I woke up at 5am to catch the sunrise at 0603 that would sneak up from the tail of this tadpole-shaped island. Along with another guide, we took the hotel shuttle back to the Pacific War Memorial.

The “view deck” was the hill at the far back of the memorial that was used as part of those adventure games and where it was best to view the sunrise. Birds fluttered all about in a postcard perfect setting as the skies turned in a morning blend of blue and orange and red colors. The clouds were in a “V” formation and somewhat stanched the full sunrise from shining through. But nevertheless, it was still a sight to behold.

By 0620, we were off to the nearby Japanese Tunnel that served as a machine gun nest and escape hatch. We backtracked from the path that we took coming from the Spanish lighthouse yesterday but at some point we take the trail that descends down a hilly slope. There were industrial strength ropes along the path for us to hold on to. Even with the ropes, one still has to be careful for the path is rocky and a little tricky. The tunnel is located at the back of a bombed out American warehouse with an escape hatch to higher ground where there was once a machine gun and mortar nest.

We had to crouch to get inside the tunnel but once inside, the ceiling was high enough to accommodate a person of Asian size. I was given a flashlight to help navigate my way around. Being a cautious person, I bathed the tunnel in light to check out the ground I’d be walking on as well as the far end. The guide noticed my thoroughness and I remarked that it was because of a pathological fear of snakes. I wondered aloud how a tunnel of this size could readily make a home for the slithery kind. Our guide told us that the caretakers routinely check the tunnel (as are other tourist spots) and occasionally they find some unwanted houseguests. Somehow that didn’t leave me with a warm feeling.

The tunnel isn’t too long and there are air shafts built along the way. The Americans dumped gasoline or used flamethrowers on the air ducts to flush out the Japanese.

To get above ground, there’s a steep wooden ladder that led to another cement bunker. It was an easy climb; my only worry was making sure my video camera was strapped on tight to me.

Once we reached the surface, we made our way back to the parking area outside the Pacific War Memorial. I told our guide that I preferred to hoof it all the way back to the hotel.

Outside the parade grounds, there is that famous flagpole that was actually constructed from the mast of a Spanish warship captured during the Battle of Manila Bay. It was here where that famous and emotional exchange between Col. George Madison Jones and General Douglas MacArthur after Jones’ paratroopers secured back the island in 1945.

Col. Jones: “Sir, I present to you Fortress Corregidor.”
Gen. MacArthur: “I see the old flagpole still stands. Have your troops hoist the
colors to its peak and let no enemy ever haul them down again.”

There’s a forlorn beauty to Corregidor. On one hand, I am happy that it’s more or less unspoiled by commercialization although there has been talk of building a golf course on the island and other resort-like amenities. On the other, it sits out there 26 miles from Manila Bay for the most part forgotten. Remembered only when the anniversaries of their fall (Bataan on April 9 and May 6 for Corregidor) arrive for taps and a gun salute only for the trumpets to once more recede with the falling of day.

The Rock has seen so much bloodshed from the Spanish rule to the final days of World War II. Thousands and thousands of soldiers and civilians carved out their names in sweat and blood on the island’s sun-baked and bombed out terrain so that we would live in freedom. Perhaps as a blissful coda to its history of war and strife, the idyllic setting of today offers one truism -- Corregidor has found peace.

As the MV Sun Cruiser departed for Manila at exactly 2:30pm, I cast a long look back at the Rock that for so many years was more than a history lesson to me. I said a silent prayer for the opportunity to live in freedom’s light and to actually give thanks to those who gave their lives for us to revel in it.

And I repeated the inscription upon the marble tomb beneath the dome for the fallen Allied soldiers:
“Sleep my sons, your duty done. Sleep in the silent depths of the sea or in your bed of hallowed sod until you hear at dawn the clear low reveille of God.”
It’s been a couple of weeks now, but the memories linger like ghosts. And if you listen closely for the anniversary is on nigh, you’ll believe in them.

Post script: I wasn’t able to join the Malinta Tunnel Night Tour because I had slept the afternoon away of my first and wasn’t able to arrange for a guide to accompany me. I also missed the Japanese Garden. Guess there’s one more trip back to the Rock for me.