01 May 2008

The best historical tour ever!

Minnie and I enjoy going to historical sites when we're in the Philippines. Minnie had heard about these walking tours in the old Spanish part of Manila, Intramuros, and booked us for doing such a tour. These tours are guided by a man called Carlos Celdran. I didn't really know what to expect, but were intrigued to see some of the old historical Manila.

Arriving a bit late because of traffic, we parked by this old cathedral and went quickly through the corridors to catch up with the tour, which had already started. The first impression of the tour guide was, this guy talks fast and uses his hands a lot. The three pictures below were all taken in the span of 5 seconds…

The tour goes through the sites chronologically, starting with the Spanish era (Philippines was a Spanish colony between 1565 and 1898). The guide explained how the Spanish king was not very fond of the Phils, since there was no gold there. Ironically the Phils had lots of gold, it just wasn't discovered until after the Spanish era :) However, this led to the king not spending the money and people needed to teach Spanish to the Filipinos, or establish a strong Spanish rule.

Instead a lot of catholic priests went to the Philippines, converting the Filipinos to Christianity and making the Catholic Church the de facto ruler of the Phils. Because of this the Phils are one of the few former Spanish colonies not speaking Spanish, and also the only Asian country where Christianity is the main religion. This was something I didn't know, and the guide explained this, and many other sides of Filipinos and the Phils, in a very understandable, and humorous, way.

He used a lot of comedy during his tour, which made the tour really fun. At a time he was talking about how short the Filipinos were in the Spanish era, due to their diet. He compared them to Gloria M Arroyo, the current president in the Phils, which is 150cm/4'11" tall. He made a great joke on her expense: "Have you seen Gloria step out of her presidential Ford Exhibition? She looks like she is going skydiving!". There were lots of jokes throughout the tour, and many of them on the cost of various Filipino celebrities.

The guide also used a lot of props, carried in a bag. The most important was a folder with pictures he used to illustrate his stories. And he really flipped to those pictures at an amazing speed! One example of use of props where when he finished speaking about the Spanish era, and went over to the American era (the Philippines were an American colony/commonwealth from 1901 to the WW2). He then pulled out an American cap (with stars and stripes), American flags and played American music (possible the Star-Spangled Banned, not sure), and led us from one part of the museum to the other, all walking like in a parade.

It was very interesting hearing the story of the American era, how the U.S. shipped teachers to form public schools (the reason why the Filipinos talk English so well), how the society, especially in Manila, grew and became very modern and developed under American rule. Until World War 2…

Before telling about the war, the guide led us into something similar to a tomb, where the walls were covered with small rooms for urns. While doing this, the guide were wearing a set of ”Douglas MacArthur-props”, including a cap, sun-glasses and the signature pipe. In the middle was a monument, and we were all told to sit down. This part would prove to be the most intense and emotional part of the tour.

Manila was invaded by the Japanese the day after Pearl Harbor, and the fight against the Japanese was lead by Douglas MacArthur, which then was the allied commander in the Philippines. After a short period, MacArthur fled the Phils with his troops, stating the famous words ”I shall return”.

Most of the time telling about the Japanese occupation was spent on what happened in the end of the occupation, during the Japanese withdrawal. The guide told very graphically about the atrocities done by the Japanese, how they went from house to house to kill everyone, always the kids first, then the adults. How they went into hospitals, took babies from the cribs, threw them up in the air and caught them with their bayonets. They always used their bayonets to kill, because they didn’t want to spend on bullets… The strongest moment still was when he told how a large number of people got killed in the cathedral we were in, and piled up at the exact spot we were sitting. That was the reason for the monument being there…

One of the pictures the guide carried was of a bomb falling down on Manila. This bomb was part of the bombing campaign that put pretty much destroyed all of Intramuros, with the exception of the cathedral we were in. That was spared because it was a red-cross head-quarter. The big surprise for me was that this bombing was done by the allies, that the Americans destroyed the town that they had spent so much time and money on building up since 1901. A really sad story, but that was how warfare was done in that era.

The last part of the tour took part in a mansion, which was built to be a classic Spanish mansion. This was actually a project of the infamous Imelda Marcos. The guide described Imelda like this: She doesn’t seem to have an evil bone in her body, but what happens in her head is a mystery, she seems to be on a different planet.

The guide had throughout the entire tour spoken about what is unique in Filipino culture, and what has shaped it, but in this last part this was the main topic. It was funny to recognize his description of the tendency of Filipinos to decorate to death (he used the acronym DTD). And it never matches! :) This was especially apparent in the mansion, nothing really did match, hehe…

After this tour I really gained a much better understanding of the Filipino history and culture, especially the culture. Filipino culture is quite hard to understand for a foreigner, but this tour made me understand it fairly good. Aspiring is an important property, and also Spanish, Chinese and American influences, with a tropical twist. Mix this, without trying to make it match, and you might have a Filipino :)

So what made this the greatest historical tour ever? The guide, without a doubt. He had an amazing ability to make history interesting and fun, putting things in context and make it easy to understand how its history has shaped the Philippines and its people into what it is today. And one more thing, the guy is hilarious :)

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