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Friday, September 30, 2011

400 Years of Philippine History in Just 60 Minutes

What do you think? 
This is the unabridged version of my article that got published in the May 2011 issue of Cruising Magazine.

400 Years of Philippine History in Just 60 Minutes
By Andrew G. Gahol

San Agustin Museum
The spectacle you will see in the San Agustin complex in Intramuros Manila was simply so immaculate that it will make you lose your sense of time.  From the old stone brick pavements to the Baroque-style San Agustin Church to the overall Old World feel of the vicinity, you will forget that you’re in the 21st century…or that you’re there to write an article about it.

The time was 4 PM and I was thirty minutes into my photo session when I realized that I wasn’t here just for pleasure but also for business. I was tasked to write a travelogue on the San Agustin Museum and I’ve already spent 30 minutes taking pictures, and I haven’t even gotten inside the museum yet.

I decided to finally begin my San Agustin Museum tour and take in as much information and spectacle for my article. A feature article isn’t big a challenge for me to do but upon knowing that the museum closes at 5 PM and I basically have just one hour to take on a huge place that hosts half a millennium’s worth of history, it’s safe to say that this would not be an easy undertaking.

Time capsule (4:00 PM)
3,400 kg bell
Standing next to the San Agustin Church, construction of the San Agustin Museum started in 1587 and was completed in1607.  From then, it has hosted various relics, artworks and memorabilia collected throughout history.  It has withstood earthquakes and invasions since 1607 and it remains to be a time capsule of significant historical objects today.

Pen, notebook and camera in hand, I entered the museum and found myself in the old porter’s lodge where a 3,400 kilogram bell can be found. It was taken down from the San Agustin Church’s belfry and  damaged by an earthquake in 1927. The entrance fee to the museum is 100 pesos, 50 pesos for college/high school students and 45 for elementary school students. Taking pictures and recording videos inside the exhibit halls is strictly prohibited (But that hasn’t stopped this rebellious writer before. (Wink, wink.)

I was open-mouthed upon discovering that the museum was far bigger than how I imagined it when I looked at its fa├žade. And with only less than an hour left to go through all of it, I knew I was reeling in a big one.

Religious history (4:05 PM)
Reflected in the numerous tapestries and large paintings inside the museum, it is  noticeable that Roman Catholicism and its history in the Philippines is an unmistakable theme as you experience going through San Agustin Museum.

An old painting depicting Spanish influence on religion

The first exhibit, Sala Recibidor, houses the San Agustin Ivory Collection of the late Luis Ma. Araneta and a magnificent wooden retablo (a carved, upright, wooden screen behind the altar of a church) of the Intramuros Administration.

Walking through time (4:15 PM)
            The museum comprises of two floors and has a rectangular structure. Both floors have hallways and as you walk through them, you can enter the different exhibit halls.

I began my walk through the ground floor corridors and passed by huge oil paintings depicting historical and religious milestones in the Philippines hanging on the stone walls. Portraits of priest, saints and Holy Masses during the 17th century hang on the corridors.

Turning left, the first exhibit hall along the ground floor corridors is the entrance hall to the San Agustin Church where the tomb of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, founder of Manila, can be found.

Walking further along the corridors, you can find the Sala de la Capitulacion (the old vestry) where priests in the earlier times dress up for liturgical services and the old Sacristy marked by a large wooden door and frescoed walls of Aztec inspired influence which showcases a host of China chestdrawers, candles and statues and paintings.

At the garden (4:30 PM)
Fr. Blanco’s Garden is a garden housing a breathtaking display of various flora. It used to be where Father Manuel Blanco, the Prince of Botany, carried out his botanical experiments.

I see dead people (4:40 PM)
My last stop before going up the second floor was the Crypt that served as the burial places of historical luminaries. Chills went down my spine as I stood to watch were the bodies of Pedro Paterno and Juan Luna among many others. The place proved to be extra eerie since I was alone when I ventured inside.

The second floor (4:45 PM)
Entering the garden
Walking through the second floor hallways, you can find the San Pablo Hall where chapter meetings were held in the earlier days, the San Agustin Hall where an exhibit of Filipino grammar books and dictionaries written by Augustinians can be found, the Former Biblioteca, the Choirloft overlooking the San Agustin Church interior where you can find a crucifix and a pipe organ dating back to the 17th century and 68 choir seats carved in molave. Also, the second floor is where you could find the Church Vestments were they store vestments and capes from China and Spain. Note: I’ve managed to go walk, er, run through all of these exhibits in just 12 minutes.

Running in a room full of porcelain (4:57 PM)
I looked at my wristwatch and was mortified to see that it was just three minutes before the museum closes. I ran to the last exhibit hall which was the Porcelain Room which hosts heirloom jars and porcelain crafts from Southeast Asia and China excavated at the San Agustin complex. I did not have time to read the labels on the various jars that laid there so I took out my camera yet again to take pictures of them so that I could read them later even though  taking pictures was not allowed (After all, I was just taking pictures of the jars, not breaking them.)

Seeing that a few guards were already telling people that the museum was closing, I hurriedly ran from one heirloom jar to another in an attempt to maximize my learning experience in the museum. In fact, I half-expected a guard springing out of a jar every time I took a photo of them.

Success (5:01 PM)
I was victorious in covering the San Agustin Museum and no exhibit hall was left unexplored. I went out of the museum just in time and though I resorted to ways which the management might kick me out of their establishment for doing, I must say that the rush and the adrenaline exhaustion was pretty much worth it.

Our rich religious history
Everybody should visit he San Agustin Museum

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The 5 Most Overrated Things in Youth Culture

What do you think? 

So you’re wearing bright-yellow skinny jeans to school again? Has it ever occurred to you that it’s not 2008 anymore?

Fads transition as years pass. Some trends become emblematic of iconic generations (e.g. The Beatles, the Disco era, the War on Terror), while some make us cringe at the mere concept of it (e.g. Jonas Brothers, jejecaps, F4). Throughout history of fads, there have been both hits and misses. But many people don’t know that the most regrettable misses are also the most overrated ones.

Bear in mind, overrated things are not exactly bad things. Most overrated things are in fact good, only not THAT good. It’s like having to juxtapose Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Why is Britney more famous despite Christina always being able to perform a gazillion notes better?

Heed our word - watch out for these 5 OVERRATED THINGS IN YOUTH CULTURE and spare yourself the embarrassment of having to look back one day and say, “Man, I can’t believe I went to that Justin Bieber concert six years ago.”

1.       DSLR Nazis

They’re out there – those DSLR Nazis waiting to shoot you just like Hayden Kho would shoot at anything with an opening.

            DSLR Nazis are much like the real Nazis who believed they were superior because they claimed racial purity. Today’s DSLR Nazis, on the other hand, declare superiority by having a P60,000 lanyard hang on their necks.

Because DSLRs are chick magnets.
           DSLR Nazis couldn’t give a fat turd about photography technicalities - the lighting, subject, composition and whatnot. To them, buying a DSLR is a free pass from having to buy “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Basic Photography”.

            Planning to buy a Canon EOS 7D or a Nikon D300s each priced at six-figures you don’t want to know? Just remember that there are no warranties that cover talent. If your photographic skills are faulty, or just nonexistent, don’t come running back to the store asking for your money back and complaining how the pictures you took of your girlfriend came out like time-lapse photography of a decaying maya.

            Real photographers could take good pictures even with a point-and-shoot camera. So the next time you see some douche with a DSLR holding the lens incorrectly, think twice before you decide to get intimidated.

2.      Lady Gaga’s theatrical antics

While Katy Perry donned Armani and J.Lo sported an Emilio Pucci dress to the 2011 Grammy’s, Lady Gaga wore something a wee more subtle to the red carpet: A GIANT EGG.

We have nothing against the attention-stealing singer’s body of work. What irks us, however, is how all the tantrum theatrics always seem to overshadow her music to the point that we couldn’t care less about what she’s singing anymore.

We fail to see that Gaga’s music is laudable even without the occasional 12-foot heels. Instead of pondering upon the lyrical value of Gaga’s singles, we often ask ourselves questions like: “What butcher shop will be making her next dress?” or “What’s Gaga dry-humping in her music videos these days?”

Lady Gaga, we hate to rattle your nest, but all this unnecessary shock tactics is getting a bit overbearing for us. It’s like eating five Big Macs for breakfast…everyday. We know that asking you to wear a t-shirt the rest of us won’t convince you, but it wouldn’t hurt if you toned your wardrobe (or exoskeleton) down a notch.

The day will come when this pop phenom will run out of bizarre outfits. After all, nobody ever has an infinite number of getups. Even Lady Gaga.. itself.

3.      The Philippine Azkals

During the Pre-Azkals Period (circa when God said “Let there be light!” to 2009), this has always been Basketball Country. Even before we were just a tickly feeling in our parents’ underpants, everyone loved NBA and PBA. Who would’ve guessed that pretty boy Phil Younghusband would find a way for football to keep pace? 

A typical Azkals fan.
Why is it that it took the Philippine Dragon Boat team forever to permeate in the Filipino public eye and get the funding needed to compete overseas while it only took the Philippine Azkals a couple of gigs in ASAP to  enter every obscure international football tournament there is?

Just like what rice is to a meat-eating German, soccer has zero appeal to Filipinos. But if you throw in a couple of mestizos in the setup, everyone will be buying tickets to their matches in no time, even if it’s a sport most Filipinos originally didn’t care about. We even bet that half of the Azkals fans don’t even know what the rules of football are.

With that said, it’s only a matter of time before we could find a couple of Pinoy-Norwegians to establish a National Chinese Garter team in the Philippines.

4.       Overly Photoshopped FB pictures

We’ve now entered our nation’s most pressing issue: Photoshop. Who hasn’t seen photos posted online that are so saturated, you’d think you’re staring at a color wheel?

Facebook profile pictures are supposed to be the best photos out of the bunch that you would be proud to showcase your friends. If your profile photo is you making pa-cute whilst sprinkled with only the finest stars and glitter effects Photoshop has to offer, you should question your aesthetic standards immediately.
Political posters never looked this good.
Photoshop should be left to the experts, or at least to those who actually know how to use it. Photoshop may be overrated because people massacre themselves with it but it’s also underrated because people who are good at it usually don’t get much commendation.

Grab the nearest FHM on your study desk and observe how the scantily clad models are all shiny and supple. Realistically, nobody is ever that originally flawless in photo. It’s about time magazines duly credited their skilled Photoshop artitsts. Thanks to them, even Mommy Dionisia could look like she’s fresh out of the womb.

If you’re not satisfied with how you look in pictures, spare yourself the misspelled invectives of your FB friends and stay away from Photoshop. If you can’t be proud of your natural form, there are always photos of Avril Lavigne or Marian Rivera you could use as profile pictures just like in the good ol’ Friendster years!

5.      Justin Bieber

            If you’ve been to Hollywood Boulevard, you’ll see multitudes of wasted people strumming away on their guitars or harmonizing to Michael Jackson songs just to get their 15 minutes of fame. While many claw through mud and barbed wire for a shot at stardom, musically challenged Justin Bieber had to roll on his baby carriage and take everybody’s dreams away.

            Justin Bieber doesn’t need to pull his pants down to show everybody what a tiny prick he is.  The Biebs may not be what experts call a “singer”, but his fans in lace tights and miniskirts have made this nine year-old self-proclaimed artist a megabrand nonetheless.

Talent Shmalent! The Biebs doesn’t have to make actual music to sell albums, concert tickets, perfume brands or his sanitary napkin line. As long as there are hormonally impaired teenagers and weird old men out there supporting Justin Bieber, his career lives on. Well, at least until the hormones kick in.

           Once the Biebs’ adult body parts finally arrive, it’s time for these disoriented Beliebers to convert to worshipping another douche-in-the-making. We’re keeping our eyes on you, Angelina Jolie’s adopted son.