08/10/17

Makati’s Little Tokyo

If there is one facet of Makati that not many people are aware about, it is that it has a vibrant Japanese neighborhood located at the fringe of the main business district.

In particular, this Japanese neighborhood can be found along the stretch of Chino Roces Avenue and neighboring streets in the area approximately between Rufino Street and Arnaiz Avenue. Then again, one cannot miss it with the presence of establishments catering to Japanese clientele, as well as to Nipponophiles.

Herald Suites in Chino Roces Avenue may not sound like a Japanese hotel, but it is located in Makati’s Japanese neighborhood and it has a Japanese bar and restaurant as well.

But if you want to have a taste, literally and figuratively, of Japan but cannot yet afford the airfare, Little Tokyo is the place to go.

The moment you pass through the arch, makes you feel you are no longer in the urban jungle of Metro Manila. Indeed, it feels as if you are being transported into the heart of Japan. But don’t expect that Little Tokyo will virtually take you to the modern, bustling Tokyo of today. Instead, it invites you to appreciate the old, laidback vibe of Japanese capital.

Surrounded by bonsais and colorful paper lanterns, Little Tokyo provides visitors the experience of what traditional Japan is like while enjoying some sumptuous Japanese cuisine and drinks, courtesy of the restaurants located there. It also helps that the area is laid out in such a way that you are being insulated from the noise and chaos of the outside, making it an ideal place to relax and enjoy what traditional Japan has to offer.

So if you’re craving Japanese, why not go all out and experience not only the taste but the feel of Japan as well. It’s a must visit not only for any Nipponophile but for anyone for seeks a place for respite in a frenetic city.

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07/30/17

The Gem Of Pedro Gil: St. Paul University Manila

As far as women’s education is concerned, St. Paul University Manila is considered one of the pioneers. Despite the many changes over the years, including it being converted into a co-ed school in 2005, it is still known as a respected institution for young Catholic women.

The History of St. Paul Manila

First established in 1911 as a novitiate where women would be trained to become nuns under the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, what would become St. Paul University Manila officially was born in 1912 as the St. Paul Institution, when a kindergarten department was opened. The following year, the school opened an elementary department and in 1924, the school offered secondary education as well. Eventually the novitiate moved out to its new home in Quezon City, where another St. Paul school would rise shortly, but that’s another story. Meanwhile, St. Paul Institution opened its college department in 1936; 4 years later the school would be renamed as St. Paul College Manila.

The period of St. Paul Manila’s formative years coincided with the growth of what was the old educational hub in prewar south Manila. Along what was once Herran Street, St. Paul counted as its neighbors the University of the Philippines (which still has its Manila campus to this day), Ateneo de Manila, and Assumption College.

However, World War II happened. The St. Paul Manila campus was occupied by Japanese troops in 1942 during the Japanese occupation. Three years later, the Battle of Manila happened, and the school would bear witness to one of the most horrifying atrocities committed during the Battle of Manila.

History and Tragedy in the Chapel

The story goes that the Japanese soldiers rounded up more than 120 prisoners and imprisoned them inside the school chapel, the Chapel of the Crucified Christ originally built in 1927 and designed by Juan Luna’s architect son, Andres Luna de San Pedro. Once the prisoners were locked inside, the Japanese proceeded to bomb and burn the chapel. The chapel was burned down and none of the chapel prisoners managed to survive. The only one that survived by the end of the war was the chapel facade, one of the few structures that were left standing in Herran.

The Sisters of St. Paul proceeded to rebuild St. Paul Manila after the war and quickly resumed operations. The chapel was eventually rebuilt in 1948 and, owing to its history and architectural significance, has become the school’s most cherished and most significant landmark.

The “Broadway of Herran”

As was mentioned earlier, St. Paul Manila decided to continue its operations in its original location, defying a postwar trend among former Manila-based institutions that decided to relocate outside the city proper. In fact, it managed to thrive on after the war, retaining its spot as a premier academic institution for women.

Nothing symbolized this optimism and vigor felt in the campus better than its other beloved landmark that was built in 1957, the Fleur de Lis Theater. Behind this contemporary architectural structure are 2 men from Angono, Rizal: Jose Reynoso who was the architect of the building and future National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco, who made a painting found in the theater’s lobby titled “The Evolution of Philippine Culture.”

Botong Francisco’s “Evolution of Philippine Culture” (image courtesy of Mary Ann Venturina-Bulanadi via Facebook)

The Fleur de Lis Theater would become known to be the place to be for musical theater presentations, where future artists and entertainers like Cecille Guidote, Charo Santos, Celeste Legaspi, June Keithley, and the Revilla sisters would get to hone their craft. The theater would eventually earn the monicker “the Broadway of Herran.”

Inside the Fleur de Lis Theater (photo courtesy of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines)

Recent Developments

St. Paul Manila would later be elevated as a university in its own right in 2004 as part of the St. Paul University System, the first university system recognized by the Commission on Higher Education.

Despite the growing commercialization of the area in recent decades (not to mention a street name change to what is now Pedro Gil), St. Paul University Manila has remains not only as a landmark but as a remnant of Manila of old.

 

Acknowledgements as well to St. Paul University Manila

07/19/17

San Sebastian Basilica Up Close

It is remarkable to realize that San Sebastian Basilica has managed to withstand a lot for more than 125 years and counting. It managed to survive earthquakes, typhoons, and war, not to mention the changing urban landscape that has been detrimental to the city’s development after the war. Its significance as a landmark, a heritage structure and an architectural marvel has not diminished and has become an important of Manila’s landscape for more than a century. That’s not to say the San Sebastian Basilica has been without its own challenges. On the contrary, the fact that it is structure made entirely of metal makes it more prone to elements and the costs of maintaining such as huge structure is a challenge in itself.

With the importance of preserving such a landmark an utmost priority, the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation was established in 2011. Composed of key Augustinian Recollect priests and conservation professionals, among others, the foundation has been the driving force behind the current campaign for the conservation of San Sebastian Basilica that is expected to be completed by 2022.

The ornate pulpit

As a fundraiser to help finance the ongoing conservation efforts and draw greater awareness about the structure, the foundation recently opened San Sebastian Basilica for tours, taking visitors not only inside the church sanctuary, but also up in the choir loft to the belfry, which at the time was the highest point in Manila. It is an opportunity for visitors to see San Sebastian beyond its sacred functions, providing a close look at the technology and engineering behind it that one would not normally see in a place of worship.

The choirloft of San Sebastian

The view from the other side of the ceiling, which evokes the feel of a steel plant or factory rather than a church

One of the bells in San Sebastian Basilica. They were actually from San Sebastian 4.0 which was heavily damaged by an earthquake

It was also an opportunity to learn more not only about San Sebastian but also the challenges it currently faces and the work being done to address them. One of them is the problem of corrosion which is expected of a structure made entirely of metal. But the corrosion that has been a cause of concern is not actually the one that is visible to the eye; in fact such issues are more easily addressed. The real problem is internal corrosion, one that is not visible to the naked eye. Apparently, there was this design flaw in the structure in which water and moisture actually managed to get inside the church through holes that were present in spires. And this would have been undiscovered had not for the study that was done on the entire structure, using small cameras to inspect the internal sections of the church.

There is also the challenge of preserving the paintings in the church, all painted on the church’s metal surface. With the details now greatly faded, there is a pressing need to restore the paintings. However, considering the delicate condition of the metal used in the church, the struggle to balance conserving the metal structure and make it more corrosion-resistant and that of the painting has been a constant struggle that conservationists are trying to accomplish.

The dome above the altar is itself a canvas of different works of art, albeit faded by the years

Considering that very few churches provide such tours that let you go deep inside the church structure, the San Sebastian Basilica tour is one tour everyone should check out. You not get to appreciate more a historic, cultural, and architectural gem, but you also help in the protection of this landmark for years to come.

Trivia: each of the four large round stained glass windows depict one of the writers of the Gospels,, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

For more information about the San Sebastian Basilica conservation efforts, visit the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation website. You can also visit their Facebook page for information on the tours and how you can join.

Acknowledgements to the San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation

07/13/17

The San Sebastian Basilica’s Story in Steel

So much has been written and said about the San Sebastian Basilica in Manila’s Quiapo district. It is, after all, an iconic structure that has pretty much defined the city’s skyline for more than a century. And if we are going to dig deeper, two reasons can be determined as to why and how it became such an icon. One is the Neo-Gothic inspired architecture that is akin to the churches in Europe. And the other is the method of construction used in building this church, as the first and only structure in the country that is built entirely of metal.

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07/6/17

On The “Erich Billboard” Stunt

It has only been less than a week since July started but it seems there is one big issue that has pretty much defined this month so far. Yup, we’re talking about that “interesting” billboard that popped up in the Manila skyline recently.

The billboard, located at the corner of Claro M. Recto Avenue and Nicanor Reyes (formerly Morayta) Avenue, had an “interesting” premise. An ambitious, even crazy one, some might say. It was depicting a faceless guy holding one of those boxes that would usually contain a ring or necklace but instead contained a coffee bean in this case. Along with it was a message addressed to actress Erich Gonzales, addressing her in her full real name no less, by some guy identified as Xian Gaza saying that he “likes her a latte” (quite overused pun, I say) and asking if he can invite her for coffee.

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