Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A walk through history: the Armed Forces of the Philippines Museum

A walk through history: the AFP Museum
by rick olivares

I rectified an error. I visited the Armed Forces of the Philippines Museum in Camp Aguinaldo. It wasn’t until a couple of days ago when I wondered if we had our own military museum. I’ve been to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, the Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania, the Musee d’la Armee in Paris, and the Imperial War Museum in London.

Locally, I’ve been to the museum at Corregidor and the Aguinaldo shrine in Kawit, Cavite. So when I called Colonel Alfred Burgos of the Philippine Army to inquire if we had a military museum, imagine my surprise and elation upon learning we had not one but three — the AFP Museum, the Army Museum at Fort Bonifacio, and the Air Force Museum close to Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The AFP Museum will be celebrating its 20th year in November of this year. Located also in the same complex as the AFP Theater, the museum consists of two floors and the adjacent Kagitingan Park. The first floor is a run through the various eras of the development of the Philippine military while the upper floor exhibits displays on the four branches of the armed forces. Kagitingan Park is where one can find mothballed military vehicles and weapons dating from the post-World War II years to recent times.

Here are a few features that I liked from my visit:

The two letters of Mabini to Aguinaldo
The Sublime Paralytic, Apolinario Mabini, served as legal adviser and as Prime Minister to Aguinaldo. During the Philippine-American War, a pair of letters written by Mabini to Aguinaldo tell of the temperamental and controversial General Antonio Luna.

The first was dated February 28, 1899 where he related that Luna had renounced his position of Director of War Operations because Aguinaldo failed to penalize errant officials who refused to obey him.

The second, written a few days later on March 6, reported the abusive manner Luna where he issued a circular stating that he would execute anyone who refused to obey his orders. Mabini also disclosed that Luna had indeed shot someone in Bocaue, Bulacan without a hearing. 

It should be noted that three months later, on the 5th of March, Luna and an aide would be assassinated in Cabanatuan. 

There are also handwritten letters by Katipunan General Tomas Mascardo from requisitioning supplies to a request for a military burial for a fallen comrade.

The picture of Gregorio del Pilar and his men.
It is a powerful picture where the boy general and his men, grim looks and all, posed for a photo. The picture doesn’t have a caption that says where the picture was taken. Were these men the ones he took up with him to Tirad Pass? And in the lower right of the photo is a young boy with a rifle. Was he the troop mascot? Or back then did we also employ boy soldiers?

If only dead men could tell their tales.

The Wall of Heroes.
On this wall are the pictures and stories of 40 men all who were awarded the Medal of Valor for bravery of the highest order. Among the decorated men are Lt. Commander Jesus Villamor who during the initial Japanese attack on the Philippines went up to the skies and shot down an enemy fighter despite the overwhelming odds.

There are the stories of men like marine private Nestor Acero, army captain Hilario Estrella, and Lt. Bartolome Bacarro to name a few who fought overwhelming odds to save fellow soldiers or to fight their way out of ambushes. Some like Army private Ian Paquit paid the ultimate sacrifice and were awarded posthumously. 

The one controversial addition here is the late former president Ferdinand Marcos. If you look at his medals he is more bemedalled than even American hero Audie Murphy. The controversy began when the strongman’s former army commanders said that he never participated in those encounters or battles for which he was supposedly awarded a medal.  Furthermore, American researchers also found no mention of his name in any orders of battle.

Remember Erlinda and the British Bren Gun Carrier.
During the Battle of Bataan, United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) units commandeered the British vehicle bound for Hong Kong when war broke out in the Philippines. The slogan of “Remember Erlinda” spurred on defenders after a Filipina woman named “Erlinda” was murdered and raped by invading Japanese soldiers.

The particular exhibit depicts USAFFE soldiers in positions of hardship while even using their helmets to cook food and rice. The slogan is scrawled in the carrier. 

The Battling Bastards of Bataan
A whole wall is dedicated to the USAFFE men who held off the Japanese long enough to upset their timetable for the conquest of East Asia. 

Original wartime newspapers.
There are several newspapers all throughout the museum from the Mulig Pagsilag newspaper that reported on the 13th anniversary celebration of the death of Jose Rizal to the pro-Japanese propaganda newspaper The Sunday Tribune that recounted the various military disasters of the allies to the Sun Telegraph that announced the end of World War II following Japan’s surrender. 

What I wish the museum curator would add are interactive exhibits that also make use of video, sound effects or sound bytes from key people in history. Maybe even the playing of war documentaries pertinent to our history. It is an incredible walk through history but I wish there's more. The museum could use more material on the revolts against Spanish rule and the Katipunan. 

It might not be as impressive as the exhibits in other war museums that I’ve been to in the United States or Europe but I had a great time at the AFP Museum. It was a most enjoyable and made me feel proud of my country.

The AFP Museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 9am-6pm. Entrance is free. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fascinating exhibits at the Imperial War Museum in London

Fascinating exhibits at the Imperial War Museum in London
by rick olivares

Last week, I visited the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. As a military buff who enjoys traveling to famous battlefields or even museums, this was a treat to see relics, memorabilia, and grisly reminders of why war is hell.

The IWM in Southwark, South London (there are two other IWM in England) that opened in 1936 today features exhibits from World War I up to modern day conflicts and when we say today that means the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as diseases such as the Ebola virus.

Here are some of my favorite exhibits from that trip.

A Family During Wartime.
This exhibit occupies a huge hall and features a replica of the home of the Allpress family that lived in London during the blitz. Like every family living in England, life changed the moment Britain went to war with Germany. The Allpress family endured rationing, blackouts, and air raids. 

What got to me was the bomb shelter where they hid themselves. It is small. No larger than a small bus stop with a bench and some pillows for relative comfort. The thin corrugated metal sheets didn’t provide much protection in the basement. I wondered how Britons dealt with fear and claustrophobia. 

The replica of the home may be quaint and the photos on the wall of people long gone may have them smiling. But I truly wonder what it was like because their smiling visages do not begin to tell the whole story when the air raid sirens screamed and the bombs whistled from high above. Chilling.

The Spitfire is in the back while the V1 rocket is in front

The Mark 1 Spitfire. 
This actual Spitfire on display was assigned to the No. 609 West Riding Squadron stationed at Middle Wallop in Hampshire in July of 1940. It fought during the Battle of Britain and was flown by 13 different pilots and tallied eight German aircraft destroyed or damaged.

As a kid, there were these paper models that were sold to us kids of various fighter aircraft. The Spitfire, then as it is now, remains a favorite. To see that particular fighter suspended from the ceiling of the IWM was fascinating. It was like it was flying off to defend the Sceptered Isle.

What is a fishing boat doing in a war museum?

Easy. Tamzine, a fishing boat, took part in the historic evacuations at Dunkirk, France that saved thousands and thousands of British and French soldiers from annihilation. The small boat was constructed in 1937 and preserved. In 1965, the boat took part in a reenactment of the crossing from southern France to the English channel. It has since them found a place in the museum.

I wonder about the men who were aboard this boat. Did they survive the war? What lives did they lead after the war?

The car bomb
This is one of the modern exhibits and shares a slice of life in dangerous Iraq today. A car bomb exploded in Baghdad on March 5, 2007, killing 38 people. The car was destroyed by a bomb and was later preserved by English artist Jeremy Deller.

The rusting and mangled carcass of this car is powerful and frightening. 

The wreck of the Zero fighter
The Japanese Mitsubishi Zero was discovered in the Pacific 30 years after the end of World War II in the island of Taroa. This is one of three Japanese fighter wrecks recovered by American businessman John Sterling who has this fascination for studying and preserving wartime planes. Taroa was never invaded by the Allied Forces during the war and was largely ignored until the latter stages of the war. It is believed that the Zeros assigned to this atoll were those that shot down the aircraft of Lt. Louis Zamperini who story is told in the book and film titled, “Unbroken."

The Harrier Jump Jet GR9zD4651.
This is the first of the London exhibit that featured a war machine that fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was also assigned for a time to the US Marine Corps and launched off the deck of HMS Invincible. Always like the Harrier for its vertical take off. First time for me to see one up close although it was hanging from the ceiling of the IWM.

The German V2 rocket
Between September of 1944 and March 1945, 1,054 V2 rockets hit Britain. This particular rocket, the world’s first ballistic missile, was recovered by British Army Corps of Engineers in Neinburg, Germany during the closing stages of World War II. Apart from the V2’s destructive capabilities, its invention also paved the way for developments into space travel.

The Lancaster
The Avro 683 Mark 1 Lancaster was a British bomber. This particular model featuring the foreward fuselage was nicknamed “Old Fred” and was assigned to the Royal Australian Air Force based at Bottesford, Lincolnshire between May and November of 1943. It took part in 49 bombing sorties across Europe. 

There are many more things to see in the museum that is stretched across three floors. But these ones are my favorites.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My coffee mug/tumbler haul from this England trip

The Blimey mug from the Imperial War Museum (they also had the Crikey mug that I didn't get) and from Starbucks, the Liverpool mug and the London tumbler! 

Monday, January 18, 2016

My second Abbey Road crossing!

This past January 18, 2016, I crossed Abbey Road for a second time (the first time was in October of 2014). As a long-time Beatles fan, it is a treat and a dream come true. Just as I did then, I scrawled my name on the wall. I know they paint over the walls every four weeks so it'll be gone in a bit. But that's all right. At least, I did. Check out the vids below!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Eating at the “rudest” restaurant in London

Eating at the “rudest” restaurant in London
by rick olivares

After celebrating the Feast of the Sto. Niño at St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark, London,  I repaired to Chinatown in Soho with a long-time resident of the capital of England, Roselle Cabañero, who currently is a consultant for a top company in Britain.

We were going to eat at Wong Kei in Chinatown (41-43 Wardour Street in Soho in the building that previously housed that financial company, Clarkson’s) that for seemingly the longest time, had this unsavory reputation for being the “rudest” restaurant in Great Britain. The Chinese restaurant offered cheaply priced food in an otherwise expensive city yet one had to endure insults from the wait staff.

From what we have read from disgruntled patrons on the web, they are either told to go to another restaurant if they complain about the lack of cleanliness, waiters storm off if a patron takes too long to order, they literally drop plates on the table, and chase you if you leave a small tip. There too was the occasional use of the f-word that angered many a customer. And that’s just some. Really!

Supposedly, when ownership changed hands in 2014 and its subsequent refurbishing, the attitude was greatly toned down. However, a glance at some comments as recently as January 1, 2016 indicate that whatever changes are merely cosmetic. 

So we two brave souls entered. Tita Roselle and I were quite lucky to get a table for two considering that Soho from Trafalgar Square all the way down to the commercial end of Oxford, Regent, and Picadilly Streets among others were packed with people waiting for the Lumiere light show, a four-night event where London’s iconic architectures were lit up with 3D projections and light works.

First off, when we entered and asked for a table for two we were told there was a place for us in the back. All right, not rude.

Second, the Cantonese menu was 10-pages long! Since Tita Roselle had been here before, I simply asked her to order what she thought was good while reminding her of my allergies to shrimps and other crustaceans. We ordered roast duck, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), choi sum in oyster sauce, and tofu. And a cup of egg rice.

The bespectacled waiter hied off to the kitchen to give our orders then returned and literally dumped the plates and chopsticks on our table. Tita Roselle and I looked at each other. “See,” she pointed out. “Strike one.”

The waiter returned to place a kettle of tea. A few minutes later, he came back with all our food. Apparently, this is the equivalent of Chinese fastfood.

I’ve never really fallen for chop sticks and prefer the use of a spoon and fork to for more generous mouthfuls. When I asked for the utensils, mindful of the wait staff’s insults to those who ask for them, they readily brought them. I thanked them for the speedy service and got a — surprise — “you’re welcome” in return. Tita Roselle, who has eaten here before was surprised. “My, oh my,” she exclaimed. “That’s a first.”

A later request for soda to wash away the taste of monosodium glutamate (MSG) also elicited another acknowlegement further adding to the gleam in Tita Roselle’s eye. “Maybe it has changed,” she quipped.

The food is fine. It’s isn’t by any chance a culinary changing experience. It’s fine. We didn’t get any overcooked food or sloppily presented viands. The duck was roasted to perfection. Not too burnt leaving enough of the juiciness in the chicken meat to savor. The vegetables had a certain sweetness to them that somewhat competed with the taste of MSG. The trick about cooking gai lan is not to overcook them so the leaves and stems turn limp where they easily crumble. I like that certain crunchiness to go with it and for the leafy greens to not melt away.

It was just right. And the plates aside, it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. Maybe it was our lucky night. 

Nevertheless, the entire bill amounted up L27 pounds sterling (about PhP 1,800). It could have been less but we ordered two vegetable viands by mistake. 

An hour after we walked in, we were done. Wong Kei’s, that seats supposedly up to 500 people, had a long queue of people outside.

As we left the restaurant (no we didn’t expect any “see you again” wishes), a party of five tourists asked, “table for five?”

“Downstairs,” curtly replied one waiter who seemed more interested in the quick turnover of customers rather than providing great service. “Aw right, who is next?”

Somethings never change but we had the luck of the draw.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lumiere London!

Lumiere London! The biggest light show to hit England's capital was on for four nights from January 14-17 from King's Cross to Trafalgar Square to Picadilly to Oxford Circus and Regent Streets. 

Elephantastic! An elephant lost in the city. 
Lumenieoles by Porte Par Le Vent. Dream-like creatures flow and ebb against the wind!

1.8 London by Janet Echelman. Strung between buildings along Oxford Circus,  this enormous net sculpture was named after one of the astonishing impacts of the earthquakes and tsunami of 2011.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Central Perk (Bold Street, Liverpool)

Loved "Friends" the television show and have a complete set of every single episode on DVD. I always wondered if someone would come up with a coffee shop that looked exactly like Central Perk, the fictional coffee shop on the show where the friends hung out. 

Voila! There are now franchises of the shop!

In this trip to Liverpool, I actually forgot that they had three Central Perk shops here. It wasn't until I was walking around Bold Street that I came across the shop. Of course, I had to have my coffee and pastries! 

Went back again the following day. Enjoyed it.

The long flight to England

This was first time to fly Qatar Airways and I have to say that it was better than Etihad (Emirates and Cathay rank high on my fave airlines). The outbound flight from Manila was a little over nine hours with a layover of three hours and so. Then it was seven-hour plus flight to Manchester, England. I was headed for Liverpool so Manchester was my destination. 

Another first for me? I hardly slept during the flight to England and back. Fortunately, I was able to handle the jetlag well. Spent the long flight catching up on movies I missed such as The Intern, The Martian, Sicario (that wasn't very good except for me falling in love for a very hot Emily Blunt).

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Some thoughts before I leave for England...

You know it is getting harder for me to travel on my own. There are pros and cons to everything and traveling alone has its share. 

When I was younger, I didn't mind it and enjoyed it a lot. I liked the freedom. Of going to places and discovering them on my own. Where you could stay as long as you want and not have anyone look at their watch and give you that can-we-go-na look. 

On the other hand, you wish you could share experiences with others. Of course, I have gone abroad with others -- an ex-girlfriend, colleagues, family, or even people you meet on the plane or during your tours.

Of late, that has changed -- that feeling of enjoyment. I guess it is because I am older now. Believe it or not, I prefer staying home than going out. I like hanging out with my kids or fixing stuff or taking care of my dog. And now I prefer to travel with my family than go it alone. It's a different kind of fun.

Two days before I head off to England, I'm feeling a little anxious. I wish my sons were with me. 

When I first took my kids abroad some time ago (they were aged seven and three respectively), it was in Hong Kong and well, it wasn't too enjoyable because the kids were younger and they just wanted to buy toys and go back to the hotel. I told myself the next time we go, it will be when they are older and more mature. 

The next time we did that, Matt was in college while Anthony was in second year high school. It was a lot different.

If before I couldn’t get them to try any other cuisine other than American fastfoods, now it is easier. And they love the different food that we try from Middle Eastern to European to Asian.

They’re more observant about a lot of things. For example, when I took them to Singapore five years ago, my youngest son was counting the luxury cars that served as cabs. 

And when we go sight seeing, they’re all for it!

Since that Hong Kong trip when they were kids, we've gone out four times since and everyone of them were so much more enjoyable.

Now regarding this upcoming trip to England, it’s all about football. My youngest son loves football as much as I do. Although he roots for Arsenal (Liverpool is second for him). We enjoy watching games together and talk about them over meals or what.

Hopefully, the next time I go abroad for a football match, they'll be with me.