Saturday, May 03, 2008

Museum of the Filipino People

There it is, underneath a glass case. A memorabilia - a handwritten letter - by Jose Rizal, national hero of the Philippines. Written in German in the late 1800s, Rizal thanked his friend, Ferdinand Blumentritt for the gift of two books.

"Jose Rizal loved to go to museums," recounts John Silva, senior consultant and tour guide of the National Museum. "When he was studying in Europe in the late 1800s, he visited the museums and described in handwritten letters all that he saw to his family in the Philippines. So I tell children today, if you want to be like your national hero, you must love the museum!"

Our tour group is in the archaeological section of the National Museum. The memorabilia is under the heading, Rizal, the Ethnographer. Did you know that Ethnography is the study of living culture? An Ethnographer observes, records, and analyzes the culture of a people. It is actually a branch of anthropology.

One of Rizal's observations, for example, is that "Filipinos lost their ancient tradition and learned an aesthetics different from their climate and ways of feeling. Thus, they became ashamed of what was their own. Their spirit became dejected and surrendered." A lost culture? Surely, we could find it here inside the National Museum.

Unknown to many, the Museum of the Filipino People is the last refuge of the ancient culture of the Philippines before the coming of the Spaniards in 1521. In the archaeological section, for example, elephant bones, limb bones and tooth were discovered in Palawan, Cagayan Valley and Rizal provinces. Elephants in the Philippines? Unlike Thailand, Elephants are nowhere found today in the country except in zoos. John continues to explain about the Austronesian ancestors of present-day Filipinos.

"Our ancestors ate a lot of shellfish," said John, pointing to a shell midden in one section of the diorama. A midden is a large dump created by ancient human beings. Skeletal remains dated 22,000-24,000 BC were found in Tabon Cave, Palawan. Known as "Tabon Man" this is perhaps the earliest recorded human existence in the Philippines. Next, John points to a small, wooden breast mask composed of several breast-shaped corners.

"Our male ancestors were also obsessed with breasts." he says. It seems to me that time hasn't changed man's biological instincts, hasn't it? Nor has time changed the Filipino's typical diet of fish (or shellfish) with rice.

But there is one thing that time had virtually erased in the Philippines - an ancient script known as Alibata or Baybayin. Filipinos once wrote on tree barks, palm leaves, bamboo and rocks using this ancient script. Think of the Thai script, the ancient Baybayin looks a little like it. Today, the museum visitor can see this ancient script next to the English signs inside all sections of the museum. Alas, this ancient script is alien to modern-day Filipinos as a result of colonization and conversion to Christianity or Muslim.

Spaniards introduced the Roman numerals and the Latin alphabet to Filipinos when they colonized the country for nearly three hundred years. It was not so when they first arrived in 1521. At that time, almost all the natives could read and write in the ancient Baybayin. Unlike in Thailand, China, Japan or Korea, ancient Filipinos used the Babayin writing system mainly to communicate and write poems, and not as a means to record history, science or politics like in a monarch state. Thus, it is easy to understand how this ancient form of writing would be extinct by the late 18th century under Spanish rule.

Now that the Philippines is a free country, surely Filipinos could learn more about their ancient script and culture without persecution and punishment from colonizers? John recounts an anecdote about a group of women from the Bagobo tribe of Mindanao visiting the museum one day:

"The women were very surprised to find their tribal clothing displayed inside the museum. According to them, their ancestors were forbidden to wear such clothing when the Muslims conquered Mindanao because it was considered sinful to have parts of their bodies exposed. It was a sad thing to know that a culture had been lost. Six months later, a group of young boys and girls from the Bagobo tribe came to the museum and asked that they be allowed to touch the clothing of their ancestors. So I opened the glass case and allowed them to get up close. They told me afterwards that they were studying the beading patterns of the ancient clothes so that they could learn how to make them! Imagine, there is hope after all."

There is so much to see and understand about the Philippines inside the Museum of the Filipino people. From the award-winning painting of national artist Juan Luna (called Spolarium) to the genius of young Filipino painters as shown in the Philip Morris Art Awards section (see photo) of the museum. An artist, like a writer, paints his own view of how he sees the world. An event like the arrival of the Spaniards in the island of Cebu can be seen in two different perspectives; whether as an acceptance of Christianity (as painted by Carlos Francisco) or with resistance or rebellion as in the case of the Muslims in Mindanao (as painted by Manansala). The tourist may not easily see the culture of the Philippines on the streets as he may see it inside museums. Indeed, even Filipinos discover their own culture inside the museum. Such is the impact of the Museum of the Filipino people.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Water Walk # 8, Lourdes

In Jerusalem, a crowd of paralysed, lame and blind – invalids as we call them today, used to gather around Bethesda pool which was very close to the Temple. Rumour had it that, from time to time, the water was stirred up and whoever steeped in first afterwards was then healed.
Jesus comes to this place where misery and hope meet. He sees a man who has been crippled for 38 years. This man has no hope left. Misery is his lot.
- Do you want to be made well?
The sick man answers him:
-I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is rising.
Jesus is not going to put him into the pool. He only says to him:
-Stand up, take your mat and walk! (John 5:1-9)

This man is old. He is an invalid and has no one. He would like to be healed. Otherwise, he would not be there. But he has no hope left. When Jesus asks him the questions: Do you want to be made well? He does not dare answer “yes.” He does not want to be disappointed, once more. As the prophet says, “you are this man.” Like him, we tend to be disillusioned men and women, without help, without hope.

But Jesus arrives unexpectedly. He gives the word which frees. After that, it is up to the invalid to believe the word of Jesus, obey his order and get up. If we do not walk further on God’s paths, it is because, deep down, we have given up. We do not believe any longer that God can revive our tired souls.

It is interesting to have used the name of Bethesda here, on the Water Walk in Lourdes, since Jesus did not plunge the invalid into the pool. This is to keep us from a magical interpretation. The water is a sign, but the reality, it is the grace of God. When Bernadette was questioned about the miracles, she said that they were not to be attributed to the spring itself, but to faith and prayer.

Whatever the sites of Apparition, Mary never appears as an old woman. She is not old because as George Bernanos said, she is “younger than sin, younger than the race from which she is descended, she is the youngest of the human race.” Today, by her Assumption into heaven, she has entered God’s Eternity.
Eternity is an everlasting youth, an inexhaustible spring, like that of the Grotto.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Water Walk #7, Lourdes

If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you: “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. (John 4:10)

How could she have known, this woman of Samaria, who Jesus was? Jews and Samaritans did not mix, and if they did, they mixed rather badly.

Jesus surprises everyone when he addresses the Samaritan woman. The woman is not going to believe him straight away. But at least, she stops; she answers; she argues. As we come to this fountain, this is the first grace we should ask for: that again Jesus disconcerts us and that He may not let us go until we answer.

Jesus continues: Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again. But those who drink of the water I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. (John 4:13-14)

What is this water? It is the Holy Spirit. Jesus states it very clearly in Saint John’s gospel: Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Now He said this about the Spirit, which believers in Him were to receive. (John 7:37-39)

The woman from Samaria had not understood all that. She had been so disconcerted that she had left her jug there and then, and had run away to tell the people of the town.

All her life, Mary will have been surprised by her Son: from the visit of the angel, to the Cross. She did not understand everything straight away. But she kept everything in her heart and she believed; she hoped. She, who was full of grace, is to be found again in the Cenacle, with the disciples, when the Holy Spirit gives them the strength to risk their lives to proclaim the Gospel of the Resurrection.

Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of the Living Water, “Abode of the Holy Spirit,” make us ask for the Holy Spirit, Your Son assured us: the Father will not fail to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

Water Walk #6, Lourdes

When visiting Nazareth, one cannot miss the “Fountain of the Virgin,” and just beside, the corresponding spring situated in an orthodox church. Nazareth reminds us of Mary, as she daily collects the water at the fountain, like all the other women of the village. Nazareth reminds us of Bernadette. On the day of the Annunciation, Mary was probably not much older than Bernadette in 1858: 14 years of age. The beautiful lady first appears to Bernadette as “a little demoiselle,” not much taller than herself.

Thirty years after the day of the Annunciation, Jesus left to announce the Gospel. In Saint Matthew, his first words are: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are you when people utter all sorts of evil against you falsely on my account.”

The Beatitudes are the portrait of Jesus, but are also the portrait of Mary and, to a lesser extend, of all Christians. They are also the portrait of Bernadette. She was poor, in spirit and in worldly goods: and she always wanted to remain so. She had character, but she was gentle with the sick. Nowadays, she is venerated by everyone, but, at the time, many treated her as a liar.

Blessed are you, my Lord for sister Water, which is so useful and so humble, and so precious and so chaste. These words of Saint Francis express so well the spirit of Nazareth, the beatitudes of the purity of spirit, according to the Gospel. At this fountain, let us drink of the Spirit of the Beatitudes. May it refresh us in body and spirit.

Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Beatitudes, “Gate of Heaven,” make us enter into your humility. In Nazareth, you kept, in your heart, all that the Lord did. Teach us to be grateful and to give thanks to the Lord.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Water Walk #5, Lourdes

It was a time of desperation. Jerusalem had been taken over, the Temple destroyed and the population exiled. But the prophets are there to announce that God has not said His last word. The people will return to His land. A new temple will be built.

What is the use of a Temple? To gather the faithful on days of celebrations. In the new Temple, however, the prophet Ezekiel (47:1-12) promises that a spring will gush forth and that water will flow through the dessert to the Dead Sea. As it flows away from its source the river will continue to swell. Thanks to it the dessert will flourish and the sea, which deserved to be called “Dead” will wriggle with countless fish. When they returned from exile, a temple had been rebuilt in Jerusalem for the gathering of the faithful. However there was neither spring nor river. The true new Temple is Christ. Destroy the Temple, and in three days I will raise it up. But he was speaking of the temple of His Body (John 2:19)

When he is raised on the cross, “is exalted” as Saint John says, Jesus allows blood and water to flow from his side which was pierced by a spear. It is His love which is different. His Spirit which is poured out onto the earth, the sacraments which give life, the proclamation of the Gospel which announces the Heavenly Jerusalem with: “the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb,” (Revelation 22:1)

The spring which Mary showed to Bernadette is the symbol of the spring of living water which Christ brings forth. Here, in Lourdes, the water from the spring flows generously for all those who come to drink it or bathe in it. But it is also taken to the whole world as a sign of health and salvation. It is Mary who showed the spring to Bernadette. Mary is the first Evangelist. She went to meet Elizabeth. It is the Visitation. Everywhere in the world Mary is loved and venerated. She opens the way to the Gospel.

Water Walk #4, Lourdes

In the Holy Land, the Dead Sea is really a desolate place. The name is meaningful: “Dead” Sea. It is one of the lowest points on the earth. The weather is very hot and the water is dreadfully salty. Local memory recalls that Lot’s wife was changed into a statue of salt. The smell is unpleasant as in a chemical laboratory. And suddenly, on the side of the Dead Sea, thanks to a spring which comes from the mountain, there is a splendid green oasis. The flora and fauna proliferate. It is as if life is taking its revenge.

In the bible, En-Gaddi is synonymous with beauty, happiness and profusion. The women liked to adorn themselves with the flowers which grow there. The beloved of the Song of Songs, says that for her, her beloved is more valuable than the flowers of En-Gaddi.

Mary, the Immaculate Conception, is an oasis of purity in a humanity stained by sin. As for the bride of the Song of Songs, it is her Beloved which makes her beautiful and gives her joy: in Mary, everything already comes from Christ. Let us regain confidence as we drink the water from this fountain. The purity that Mary has never lost is ours to receive and acquire by the grace of God, as we journey towards innocence.

Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Joy, “Cause of our joy,” help us desire the grace of a beautiful, luminous and fruitful life. May there be no more Dead Seas in our lives, but a refreshing oasis, as in En-Gaddi.

Water Walk #3, Lourdes

We are still with Moses. But Moses is no longer on his own. With him, under his leadership, all his people came out of Egypt. The water is running short for both people and animals. Tomorrow, without water, it is certain death. Today it is fear. All turn against Moses: Why did he lead them out of Egypt if it is to die in an agony of thirst? Behind Moses, it is God Himself that the people blame: they suspect God is taking them on a path that leads to death. On God’s Order, Moses strikes the rock and the water gushes forth, the people drink and recover their taste for life. Centuries later, with a spear, a centurion will pierce the side of Jesus, our rock, the corner stone of our faith. The water of life will gush forth, the water he had promised to the woman of Samaria.

Meribah” means dispute. The people sought to quarrel with God. God forgave them but the people must not forget:

“O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” (Psalm 95:7-9)

Mary, your faith had been tested. You were anguished when you sought your Son Jesus lost in the Temple of Jerusalem. You have been tested, but you did not doubt. You did not harden your heart. You cried over our sins, because they signify our death and because you love us as a mother loves her children.

Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Sorrows, “Refuge of sinners,” obtain for us the gift of tears. May we cry over our sins so that our tears may become gleams of light. “Happy are those who mourn, they will be consoled.”

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Water Walk #2, Lourdes

It was in the beginning of the church, Stephen had just been stoned to death and Paul was not yet converted. A eunuch, a pagan who sympathized with the Jewish people, was on his way down from Jerusalem to Gaza. The Holy Spirit sent the deacon Philip to rejoin him on the road in the same way as Jesus had rejoined the pilgrims on the road to Emmaus. The man was reading the passage of the prophet Isaiah talking about the Suffering Servant, the Sacrificed Lamb. A conversation starts.

-Do you understand what you are reading?

-How can I understand unless someone guides me?

The Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water: and the eunuch said: ‘Look, here is some water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. The eunuch went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:26-39). Philip was a catechist to that man and his teaching led him to be baptized. Mary was Bernadette’s catechist, and she started by teaching her how to make the Sign of the Cross. She will instruct her up to her receiving Communion on 3rd June 1858, a few weeks before the last apparition.

At the hour of the Passion, Jesus gives a guide and a teacher to his disciples: the guide is the Holy Spirit, the mother is Mary, His Mother. Both speak as one voice because Mary, who is full of grace, is totally attuned to the Holy Spirit.

Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, “Mother of Good Counsel,” Be our catechist, nobody knows Jesus Christ better than you do since you are His Mother and Our Mother. May the freshness of Baptism and the warmth of Confirmation be revived in us! Like Bernadette, make us love the Eucharist, the perfect gift of the One who became flesh in you.

Water Walk # 1, Lourdes

The clans of Abraham and Abimelech practically fought over the ownership of the local wells. Today, on a universal scale, nations run the risk of billing one another for access to drinking water. However, in Beersheba, a miracle occurred. The adversaries made peace. They swore an oath and the well of Beersheba is the symbol of their mutual reconciliation. The whole story of Abraham is the story of a covenant. In him, a pact was concluded between God and a family destined to become a multitude, as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the beach. A covenant with God, a covenant with humanity: both go hand in hand.

Mary, you carried in your flesh the Word Incarnate. In him, a covenant was concluded forever between God and man. In his own flesh, on the cross, He conquered hatred. Hatred killed His body; it did not succeed in killing His love for us and His father. His heart was pierced, but from His pierced heart flowed water and blood, which foretold the sacraments of life.

Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, Ark of the New Covenant, help us to become reconciled men and women, artisans of peace, sons and daughters of the new covenant.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Keranamu Malaysia

As our car sped down the banner-filled street named Jalan Dang Wangi, we asked the tour guide what the words Keranamu Malaysia meant.

Because of you, Malaysia,” said Raza, turning the car around a street corner. “Do you know New York’s Time Square? Do you have something like it in your country?”

We were in Malaysia’s Berjaya Time Square, inspired by New York’s Time Square. The Asian version is slightly similar, minus the skyscrapers, large billboards and crowds. We were impressed. We hadn’t expected Malaysia to be so modern like Singapore but with the beautiful natural resources.

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur a few days before Merdeka day, August 31 to find the city bedecked with Malaysian flags. If it weren’t for this half-day city tour, we couldn’t have known that Merdeka in Malay means independence. The country achieved independence (without any war) on August 31, 1957 as the Federation of Malaya under the first prime minister Tuanku Abdul Rahmn Putra Al-Haj. Malaysia was formed with the entry of Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore in 1963. Two years later, Singapore became an independent country.

High above the clouds on board the Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur, we had seen the lush green plantations of palm oil trees surrounding the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. We learned that Malaysia is the world’s largest palm oil producer and palm oil has traditionally been used as cooking oil (vegetable oil). Because of the high price of crude oil, the demand for alternative sources of energy is great and biofuel is one such alternative.

Biofuel can be made from vegetable oils obtained from crushing palm fruit. It’s really hitting two birds in one stone: the palm oil tree plantations are valuable for the ecosystem and enhances the international airport while its fruits are commercially in demand worldwide.

Our private city tour took us (my twin and I) to Merdeka Square where we saw tents and preparations being made for Merdeka day. According to Raza, the members of the Royal Selangor Club once played football, rugby and cricket at the Merdeka Square during the British occupation in the 1930s and before World War II. The flagpole in the middle of the square is one of the tallest in the world – 100 meters high. The Malaysians have preserved the English gardens and fountains as well as the Tudor-design of the Royal Selangor Club adjacent to the square.

Across Merdeka Square, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (Supreme Court) was also undergoing a last minute paint job. Even with the scaffolding, the tower clock, graceful arches, and copper domes are reminiscent of Moorish architecture. Nearby is the old railway station which is also of Moorish architecture, with its minarets and arches. Looking at this old world charm, I can only imagine that Malaya in the 1930s must have been exotic.

The best part of our tour was the visit to a leather factory, batik factory and chocolate factory. You guessed it, I love going to factories not only because of the authentic finds but also because one learns something new from these visits.

At the batik factory, for instance, we learned that a genuine, high-quality batik would have the same pattern equally visible on both sides of the cloth. This indicates the application of wax on both sides instead of one side only. For that is what batik really is – a method of dyeing a fabric by which the parts of the fabric not intended to be dyed are covered with removable wax. The hand-painted (silk) batik is the most expensive, running into hundreds of ringgits! For my mother, I found her two cotton batik dresses with a back sash that can be tied to a ribbon to accentuate the body. Because my mom hates the “large, shapeless” batiks normally found at the flea markets, we had to look for not-too-expensive cotton batiks with a unique style.

Malaysian batik designs and colors are more contemporary as compared with traditional Javanese batiks that use human or animal figures and earth colors. This factory makes it for tourists because the batik motifs are either flora, fauna or marine. The artist-salesman demonstrated to us, using a mannequin, the different ways one can use a batik silk scarf as a beach top. It really came out sexy on the mannequin. ‘You have a nice figure,’ he said, ‘why don’t you try it and see? I’d like to see you in it.’ I shook my head, smiling. Maybe if I’m alone and no one’s looking!

At the leather factory, the salesman started by showing us a real cow’s skin hanging on a wall, complete with cow’s hair and leather beneath it. He punched the leather with his fist, as if proving that it’s really genuine. If a hole is pierced, he said, the leather is a fake. This Malaysian factory, he said, made leather goods for famous brands abroad. How much is a bag worth? Oh, even at factory prices, the bags ranged from 300 ringgits to a thousand ringgits! Considering the exchange rate of 3.6 ringgits to a dollar, a bag for a hundred US dollars? I settled for a pair of soft leather boots instead, for US$35. At a convention later that evening, I inaugurated the brand new shoes when I went up the stage to share my health story before an audience of 500! Strange as it may seem, the brand-new boots boosted my confidence. No wonder they call it power dressing.

The chocolate factory was not in our original itinerary but we wouldn’t miss it for the world. I love chocolates, but I have to watch my cholesterol if I eat too much. Beryl’s is a Malaysian brand of chocolate and the most saleable chocolate is the Tiramisu, as in tiramisu cake. Instead of cake, they coat almonds with Tiramisu-flavored chocolate which is really delicious. If one can’t go to Beryl’s Chocolate factory, you can find them at the Central Market or known locally as Pasar Seni or “Art Market.” (Another bonus at the Central Market is the Foreign Exchange rate which is better than those in the malls.)

If you’re shopping for Malaysian souvenirs, you will find them at the Central Market – batik scarves, tee-shirts (that glow at night), bags, handicrafts, postcards, paintings, etc. – at cheaper prices. You can also find stores selling Indian or Chinese specialties. That afternoon, three young Chinese-Malaysians were playing beautiful music using wooden, stringed instruments before a small crowd of tourists.

There is one mall that you shouldn’t miss while in Kuala Lumpur though. That’s the KLCC or the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center. At the second and fourth floors, you can select your food from the many cuisines available. That first evening, we were famished and cold from the travel, and a hot soup was on our minds. We found the Ipoh stall, which offered several soups, and opted for the Ipoh Fish ball Hor Fun noodles. Ipoh, it turned out, is an actual city in Malaysia that is famous for its noodles. The flat, white rice noodles, along with Fish balls and other seafood served in a soup, was heavenly. But don’t forget the best part of the KLCC – that’s the short cut to the Petronas Towers. The Petronas is awesome. Pure, unadulterated stainless steel. We missed seeing it at night because we didn’t know there was a shortcut from the KLCC that first evening. No one told us.

If you’re flying with Air Asia, you might as well try Pak Nasser’s Nasi Lemak for 8 ringgits. Nasi Lemak is a traditional Malay favorite, tender chicken rending with fragrant coconut milk and pandan rice. It’s served with accompaniments like cucumber, peanuts, boiled egg, fried fish and sambal sauce. If you’re not used to eating spicy food, take it easy on the sambal sauce. Just take a little, to spice things up. At the Armada Hotel where we stayed, the best part of the daily buffet breakfast was the rice: long-grained and fragrant. I don’t remember the names of the Malaysian dishes that we tried, but they all tasted good with the rice.