Thursday, July 7, 2011

Iloilo: Renewing the License to Brag

“Ang kwarta sa Iloilo ginapiko ginapala!”

This is the usual jocular way of describing Ilonggos. Ilonggos has dominated some areas here in Mindanao due to the National Settlement program during former President Carlos P. Garcia's administration. Among those who came in droves were my maternal grandparents. My Lola Luz came from Sta. Barbara while my Lolo Ciano hails from Barotac Nuevo.

I grew up with my Lola (Lolo passed away a year before I was born). I grew up with her stories of aswang, tikbalang, Tinyente Gimo and the richness of the place. I wanted to explore that part of our identity; the proud and feisty Ilonggo blood running on our veins. Although I studied Grade I there, I could no longer remember what the place has been like. It has been 14 long years.

As early as February, I already booked my flight (Thank you Lance Gokongwei!). Iloilo is formerly known as Irong-irong (because of its nose-shaped perhaps?).According to the Maragtas legend, one of the datu, Datu Paiuburong was given the Irong-irong territory. This is land with a proud colonial past and it is one of the oldest cities in the country. A place full of historical landmarks. When I saw the pictures of old churches taken by fellow Ilonggo Kuya Kitoy Bacongco, I was seized with nostalgia. I envy the sweet slowness of ancient cultures. For instance, Egyptian and that of Greek culture lasted with several thousand years. Life it seems first imitates slowness then gradually accelerates more and more. And we are now quite taking so much for this swiftness of changes and losing also much. (Preservation of artifacts came too late. Most have been destroyed).

When the plane touched my grandparent’s homeland, my stomach was already grumbling. The memories of La Paz batchoy made me drool. My aunt brought me to Deco’s Original Lapaz Batchoy (Iloilo’s oldest since 1938). Batchoy is a soup slivers of pork, innards, miki (egg noodles) and sprinkled with chicharon (crushed crisp pork rind) on top. It’s best partnered with pandesal de pa-a. Never miss Pancit Molo a dumpling soup that originated in Molo (the Chinese district in the city’s early history). For uga (dried fish), pinakas (split dried fish) and pusit (dried squid), Estancia is the place to be.Guinamos (shrimp paste) is also a popular condiment mixed with kalamansi and/or sinamak (vinegar with garlic, ginger, siling labuyo/ local chili). It is good sauce for eating sinugba (grilled) fish. Nomnomnomnom! Tambo (bamboo shoots) with coconut milk and spinach is also an Ilngoo delicacy. Add it up with crabs and you're up for a gastronomic experience! My aunt also cooked santol scraped, dried and cooked with coconut milk, hipon and chili. Tasty appetizer. (With these foods, it's no wonder why I gained another 2kilos! Hahahaha!)

Always ensure your stomach is full before starting your adventure!

First stop is the Provincial tourism office (they will give you a map, list of travel agencies, tips on going around the city).

Just beside it is the repository of rich history of the place, the Museo Iloilo. Entrace fee for students is P15, while working adults fee is P25.00.

Then walk around CALLE REAL, the city center. Old buildings with Art Deco design abound- Buildings converted to shops and commercial center. According to the local Tourism office, shops along J.M. Basa and Iznart Streets where Dr. Jose Rizal bought a hat in 1896 on his way to Manila coming from his exile in Dapitan.
Maybe that was the hat he used during his execution. Hhmm..Maybe I should ask historian Dr. Ambeth Ocampo on this. :)

Take the local jeepney for full adventure. I love hearing them talking in Hiligaynon. gabawod-bawod gid ya! Pleasant to the ears and there are many words I haven’t heard for so long.

Honey, my cousin and playmate before asked me.
Ti sin-o imao mo? ” I didn’t understand her. She has to asked again. “Sin-o upod mo ba?” (We usually use Upod instead of imao which means company).
Ido instead of ayam (which means dog); utod instead of bugto (which means siblings). The evolution of language is quite interesting. (Which makes me miss my Language teacher, Ma'am Mau Saclot!)

As advised by the Tourism office, first stop would be the Sta. Isabel Ungria Cathedral, better known as Jaro Cathedral. It was completed in 1874.

The santos (sculpted figurines of Catholic saints) that line up its massive columns are all males. Historical tidbit: The propagandist Graciano Lopez-Jaena was baptized here. And a park in front of the cathedral is also named on his honor. In front is the big statue of Nuestra Senora are big candles with prayer lists. I prayed for my cousin Angel in all of the churches for her nursing exam. She wanted to be the topnotcher. haha!

Moi and my one day date/suitor. Late summer fling?! haha!

Heritage mansions are also around the area. Some are already abandoned, others are converted into antique shops or were left with the caretakers.

Then I went to the so called “Athens of the Philippines”. Known for its Neo-Gothic style, the Sta. Ana Church, aka Molo Church stands tall in grandeur in front of the town’s plaza. It was built in 1831 and served as evacuation center during World War II.

While the santos in Jaro Cathedral are all males, here all you see is female saints lining the columns. Oh, before leaving the church, never forget to try also the hot freshly-cooked bibingka at the plaza! :)

I haven’t able to stop at Miag-ao Church(one of the UNESCO’s Heritage Site) and other churches (San Jose, Church at Leganes, among others) but one of the things you’ll observe is the lavishness of the structures and the design inside! This is perhaps, one of the ways how Catholic Ilonggos “brag”- bragging their spirituality and finding solitude in the lavish church interiors and preserving the landmark that witnessed its growth.

For the Baptists, do not fret. In fact, the Jaro Evangelical Church is the 1st Baptist Church in the Philippines! (It's just near Jaro Cathderal).

My trip would not be complete without meeting the relatives. Nanay Vergel and Tatay Pardo were my foster parents when I stayed for more than a year here, when I was still 6 years old.
“Buhay run! (All grown-up!) Kag gwapa!(and beautiful)" they both remarked. Abaw! paryente ta gid kamo. hahaha

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~From the television show The Wonder Years

Guinacas, Potatan.
This is the place where I learned how to read the time (I was blackmailed that I can't watch Cinderella if I won't learn reading minutes and hours.That was a good motivation, I think. hehe); how to cook leche flan (I remembered Manang Anna Lissa telling me to get Lola Maring’s Alpine milk), and most of all, how to love reading! Manang Anna Lisa’s pocketbook collection and Archie Comics, I'd like to think improved my reading habits. I first learned how to read Helen Merez love stories than the usual yellow abakada. hehe. I remembered the Yellow Sweet Corn and kikay hair clips and ponytail pasalubongs of Ate Paypay. These are the elder sisters I have grew up with who influenced me in more ways than I can enumerate here. THANK YOU SO MUCH for making me a part of your family, making me feel the bunso! :))

And the most hilarious memory? I am a truant. I skipped school in the afternoon because I am afraid of the big mango tree on our way to the school! No.I fear the pink pig with high heels holding an umbrella living in the mango tree! Children in the neighborhood said if you're alone, this pink pig abducts children! (hahahahaaha!) So I end up lying (faking illnesses sometimes) or being TOO late since I have to wait for someone to come along. I laughed at this memory. Creative childish imagination weaved out of proportion from superstition of elemental beings I used to hear as bedtime (or brown-out nights) stories.

One thing with Ilonggos is, they act as if everybody knows everyone. You will usually hear from the elders:

“Kilala mo si Toto? Tong nanay niya si Inday Buka nga bata ni Nay Atro tong halin bala sa Leganes nga may mga anak na diri sa Pavia. Nga iyang mga bugto sila Ita, Nene Dalia”..and the list goes on, connecting someone with his/her siblings, parents' name, place of origin, where they are now located all in one sentence! That’s the way of remembering a person and introducing him/her. This puts importance to the family background of a person. And Ilonggos usually call the children Nene or Toto! :))

“Maayo nang mahibal-an kay basin malahian buang! (Better to know the background and we might be mixed with crazy genes) ” my Lola Luz once remarked when I asked her why Ilonggos insist in interrogating a guy’s background immediately when wooing a girl.

Aside from the strong memory of familial ties, women are also lovers of color textiles. The place is known for its Patadyong and hablon. One should go to Oton and Miag-ao but since it was raining heavily a day before my flight to Davao, we (my aunt and I just look around at the textile shops around Calle Real.

For the pasalubongs, you can buy biscocho (butter toast with sugar) from variety of choices- Wewin’s, Old Biscocho House and Merci’s. But I recommend Merci’s since they give 10% discount to travelers. Just present your ticket and ID.

Traveling to Iloilo is not complete also without going to its sister province- Guimaras. (Next on my blog.)

Memories are fragile. But when you start to take the path where you used to trudge, memories are like winds blowing endlessly; time carrying the names and deeds of yesterdays.

I am glad I came back. I am glad to renew the family ties.

In a complex, mobile society like ours, life's tapestry gets shredded. The continuity of our lives is ripped by transience and fragmentation. Community is fragile, torn, scattered. Our need to examine and to share our stories is vital--for our own mental health, for our relationships and our cohesiveness in community, and for the good of a future that can learn from our past."
Dolly Berthelot

Bugal ko nga ako Ilonggo. Wala na ya tikal! "_"



Azkals said...

wow very nice place! how can i get there from manila?

May Che said...

hello Team Azkals! :) There are Cebu Pacific direct flights from Manila to Iloilo. Visit their website and book your flights. :)


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