Saturday, February 28, 2009

Seeing red in Tam Son Hoi Quan

pagoda-hopping in Vietnam part 2
part 1: Thien Hau

I wasn’t aware of it until I saw my pictures. The temple of Tam Son Hoi Quan in the Chinatown district of Cholon, Saigon was dripping red.

The gate and fence, white-washed in portions, were pink. The facade had stucco walls in softer carmine but the pillars stood out in a fierier shade of red.

Tam Son Hoi Quan shrine
the main entrance of the pagoda
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1250s, f/4.0, 18mm, ISO 200, -2/3EV

The pair of wooden doors was also in red and no less brighter.

the main door has cheerful handles/knockers
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/25s, f/5.0, 28mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV

Inside, the soft red-orange motif continued to spill over the walls, the carved wooden altars and the brick tiles. On places where red was interrupted, gold and black, colors that are no less eye-catching, were splashed.

Tam Son Hoi Quan main shrine
the central altar
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/25s, f/5.0, 18mm, ISO 1600, -1/3EV

This more-than-a-hundred-year-old pagoda is one of the feminine temples in Saigon. Local women often visit the place to seek blessings for their children from Me Sanh, the Goddess of Fertility. And in China, fertility is symbolized by nothing less than the color red.

Tam Son Hoi Quan shrine goddess
a goddess prominently placed in niche by the side wall
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/60s, f/5.0, 80mm, ISO 200

Tam Son Hoi Quan shrine
Buddhist deities in a side altar
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/20s, f/5.0, 18mm, ISO 1600, -1/3EV

Instinctively, red demands power and harks for fortune and success. The visual stimulation of fire is innate and for photographers, nothing really can scream more than red.

coils and shadows
the incense coils are a shadow before the red walls
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1000s, f/5.0, 210mm, ISO 200, -4/3EV

this is the same shot as above, with focus on the coils
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/640s, f/5.0, 210mm, ISO 200, -2/3EV

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Friday, February 27, 2009

the Mambukal Mountain Resort

A close friend has been inviting me to Mambukal for years but it was not until 2006 that I finally relented and said yes. Perched on the foot of the active volcano of Kanlaon, the Mambukal Mountain Resort in Murcia is long considered the summer capital of Negros Occidental because of its cool climate especially during summer.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 2.5s, f/22, 42mm, ISO 100

Mambukal falls
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/8s, f/22, 28mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV

Since the 1970s, it has become an “it” place in the province. Over the years, the 24-hectare resort has developed a wide array of accommodation facilities from overnight cottages, day-use cottages, camping grounds and even a food court.

before the plunge
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/30s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 100

Its main attraction continues to be the thermal sulfur springs that are believed to cure skin diseases. Its potential was originally tapped and developed by a Japapense architect named Ishiwata who in 1927, designed and opened an onsen bath house and picnic garden.

sulfur spring
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/8s, f/22, 18mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV

Hot steam spas are a feature of Mambukal which saddles the slopes of the active volcano that is Mount Kanlaon. The pool below is the hottest spot of the resort where sulfurous steam emanates. The waters from this hot cauldron are pumped into the nearby dipping pool and diluted with cold spring water so as to maintain the onsen baths near a soothing and comfortable 35 degrees centigrade temperatures.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 3/5s, f/22, 18mm, ISO 400, -1/3EV

Here, we did not even dare dip our hands as the temperatures are approaching 80 degrees C already. Dangerous scalding, this pool is only for sauna steaming.

the sulfur spring of Mambukal, Murcia, Negros Occidental, the Philippines
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1.3s, f/22, 18mm, ISO 400
phototip: We had to wake up early at dawn to get a shot that shows off the steam playing against the heavy cold morning mist. In brighter light, the hot white steam gets lost.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 2/5s, f/22, 18mm, ISO 100, + 1/3EV

Nature-trekking is a given. There is a canopy walk or a series of hanging bridges which culminates in a thrilling attraction called slide for life. There is a facility for rock-climbing and for the hardy, climbing directly to the peak of Kanlaon is an option .

canopy walk
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/25s, f/3.5, 18mm, ISO 400, +1/3EV

Bird-watching is popular. The place also boasts of a reserve for a large population of nocturnal bats, which like clockwork flit daily around the resort, leaving the area over the dipping thermal pool at daybreak and coming back by sundown.

bat reserve
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/8s, f/5.6, 47mm, ISO 100, +2/3EV

Agriculture thrives richly in Mambukal, thanks to the fertile Mambukal clay. It is this red earth which is celebrated annually in the Mudpack Festival.

Camera: Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/60s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 400

Fresh cold water runs freely in Mambukal, which is dissected by a series of seven falls that feed into natural swimming pools and a wide boating lagoon. Consequently, the resort is constantly green and lush, with thick tropical forest cover and peppered with a wide variety of pines, ferns and orchids, not to mention endemic exotic fauna.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/6.3, 55mm, ISO 1600, +1/3EV

Whether you prefer swimming by the river, or just watching water cascading several storeys, Mambukal could give anyone some emotional rush. Or in my case, a rare moment of mental respite.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/5.6, 18mm, ISO 100, -2/3EV

Mambukal Mountain Resort
Barangay Minoyan, Murcia, Negros Occidental
tel +6334 7100800, telefax +6334 7100801
Bacolod reservations at +6334 7090990, telefax +6334 4338516

Getting there
Murcia is about 30 kilometers away from Bacolod City, accessible by car or by jeepney (7AM-7PM). From Cebu City, the suggested route is to drive to Toledo City (2 hours), take the ferry (1.5 hours) to San Carlos City and drive through the Don Salvador Benedicto highway to Murcia.

Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/320s, f/4.5, 24mm, ISO 100, -1/3EV
roadside rice terraces frame the volcano of Kanlaon at Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

the art of batik tulis

The ancient tradition of batik tulis could not be more alive in Indonesia- just visit any of the active workshops in Yogyakarta, the acknowledged center of the art, or its neighboring city Solo (Surakarta). Nothing much has changed really as the process remains as tedious as it was centuries ago.

Batik tulis, literally “written batik”, starts with drawing the design, often of ancient symbols and motifs, on fabric such as cotton or silk.

drawing the pattern

Melted wax, usually a mixture of beeswax and paraffin, is poured finely using the canting, a wood-handled copper funnel with a narrow tubing at the end.

old women experts

The cloth is dipped in a vat of dye which colors the portions not covered with wax and then the fabric is allowed to dry. Wax is subsequently removed by immersing the cloth in solvent, hot water or by ironing between absorbent paper.

dissolving the wax

The process is repeated several times as only one color can be used at a single dip. The more colors there are in the print, the more likely that this is the same number of times that the cloth is waxed and dyed.

manual painting

According to the factory manager, old women are mostly the expert artisans that can make the most elaborately original and deliriously wild batik. However, we did see several young apprentices. The survival of the art rests on the interests of the young to find sustainable work.

lady apprentices

A typical 4-meter silk piece takes about three months to complete, which in 2005, goes for about $300. Obviously, the 17 meter bolt of silk being finished by the lady below, said to be destined for a kimono shop in Japan, should cost at least $1,200.

batik tulis
at Batik Plentong, Jl Tirtodipuran, Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia
Canon PowerShot S40, 4/5s, f/3.5, 7.1mm

Designs can also be applied using a brush or carved blocks made of wood. Nowadays, most stamps, called cap (pronounced “chop”), are made of copper. Often though, the batik cap patterns are too uniform and perfect as compared to the traditional batik tulis which are more nuanced in its imperfections and blurs.

batik cap

cap batik
rows of copper cap stamps in the workshop
Canon PowerShot S40, 1.0s, f/4, 14.7mm, +1/3EV

Unsurprisingly, even batik tulis cotton handkerchiefs command as much as $7-10 in the malls. At the shop, I skipped them for they were too expensive. Instead, a friend helped me bargain to buy a 50-year old decommissioned cap stamp which now joins my canting collection at home. Over the years, I have collected my fair share of batik tulis. Guess what, I can never get enough of it.

my collection of batik tulis and paraphernalia

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

the Church of Santiago in Dapitan

The Spaniards reigned over the Philippines for 333 years so it is expected that Spanish vestiges endure in Philippine society to this very day. However, no influence appears stronger than the Roman Catholic religion which today is still practiced by about 80% of the population. All throughout the archipelago, the Spanish occupation left behind hundreds of churches. Not surprisingly, Spanish era churches are densely crammed in Luzon and the Visayas, where Spanish administration was largely uninterrupted. However, only a few are scattered in most of Mindanao, especially deep in the south, which hitherto, was dominated by Islam.

an Escher-like ceiling
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1.0s, f/8.0, 37mm, ISO 100

One of the handful of churches in Mindanao is the Church of Saint James in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte. Located in the outlying shores of northwestern Mindanao, Dapitan originally was and appendage of the Diocese of Cebu that was given to the Jesuits to administer in >1598. They took the mission of converting the Subanen, the original inhabitants at the time in Dapitan. When the Jesuits were expelled from Spanish lands in 1768, the Augustinian Recollects took over the parish of Dapitan but the Jesuits eventually were allowed to return to the Philippines. In 1870, they came back to Dapitan and in 1883, a stone church was built in the southeastern corner of the town plaza.

Dapitan Church facade
the façade of the Church of Santiago, Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte, the Philippines
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/160s, f/8.0, 18mm, ISO 100

Because of its proximity to the Muslim stronghold of Sulu, Dapitan was raided frequently by pirates so the the Jesuit missionaries chose James the Apostle as their patron saint. It was the saint’s apparition who helped the Spanish won over the Moors in the Battle of Covadonga so the >belief was that Dapitan would be so protected.

St James the Greater
the statue of St James (Santiago) in the church of Dapitan
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 0.6s, f/5.6, 55mm, ISO 100, +1/3EV

domed ceiling
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/20s, f/5.6, 18mm, ISO 400

Less than a decade after the church was erected, Dapitan inadvertently figured out in Philippine history when Dr. Jose Rizal, the leader of the progandist movement against Spain was exiled to the sleepy town.

grass-cut relief map of Mindanao
the town plaza fronting the church features the famous cut-grass relief map of Mindanao made by Jose Rizal
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/4.0, 22mm, ISO 100

Ever the quintessential Renaissance Man, Rizal spent his four years modernizing Dapitan. He opened a school for children and a hospital, built a water system, helped in the town planning, made a relief map of Mindanao for the plaza and pursued studies in entomology, botany, linguistics, agriculture and engineering. Oral mythology has it that he even designed the altar of the Jesuit church of Santiago although there is no prove or disprove this belief.

altar designed by Rizal?
the altar of the Church of Santiago, Dapitan City
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1.3s, f/8.0, 21mm, ISO 100

As stone churches go, the Church of St. James is of typical 19th century Baroque design. There are two bell towers at the side, joined and accessible through a choir loft at the second level over the main entrance. Construction is mainly of hardwood, mortared stone and sand, with statuaries and glasses imported from Europe. The church is also laid out like a cross.

Dapitan Church arches
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/25s, f/5.6, 54mm, ISO 800

But the ceiling is unusual. The nave, transept and chancel have arched ceilings that are painted with a swirling pink and white checkered patterns. Try as you might, your eyes are just drawn upwards. From any angle, the domed ceiling design seems to be one flashy mesmerizing device, as if it came out of a page of an Escher sketchbook. Maybe this is how the church has been envisioned right from the start- to move, to captivate, to convince.

the ceiling, as shot from the choir loft
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 6.0s, f/16, 50mm, ISO 100, +1/3EV

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

stepping back in time at the Fort Rotterdam of Makassar

It was high noon summertime in Makassar, and the sun was vicious. I was still keen in exploring the old city so I persevered and had my friend tour me inside Benteng, more commonly known as Fort Rotterdam. I’ve been in Makassar countless times, often for a day trip or an overnight visit, but it was my first time here.

becak didalam Fort Rotterdam
a becak sits under the shadow of a solid arch inside Fort Rotterdam, Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/200s, f/5, 7.1 mm

In pre-colonial Dutch East India period, Benteng Ujung Pandang or the Fortress of Ujung Pandang, was a showcase of the great Gowa kingdom of South Sulawesi whose success and prosperity was borne from the famous as seafaring Bugis tribes. It was built by the King of Gowa in 1545 and was just one of about 17 defensive fortresses along the coastline of Makassar. First made of clay, it was later completed in stone in the 1600s.

remnant of prehistoric Gowa
preserved remnant of the original Gowa stone walls
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/400s, f/5.0, 7.1 mm

main doorway
an second interior door of the gate of the fort
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/60s, f/5, 7.1 mm

The fort was no match though to the gunships of the Dutch and it fell to the hands of the invaders. While all the other 16 fortresses were destroyed, Benteng UPandang was taken over and reconstructed after the treaty of Bungaya in 1667. Serving as a safe gateway to Maluku (Moluccas), the fabled spice islands, the Benteng was built in the shape of a turtle going down to sea, hence the local term panyua. The five-meter walls of the fort were of natural black stone and were designed to repulse attack.

view of the harbor
the main gate opens into the Benteng harbor facing the Strait of Makassar
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/200s, f/5.0, 7.1 mm

During the 17th and 18th century, the fort was a walled city, with numerous buildings that serve the military, political, economic and even religious functions. There was the governor’s residence, the military officers’ quarters, government offices, the armory, the library, the warehouses, the garrison and at the center, a Protestant church. The fort has five bastions in every corner of the wall.

central Protestant Chapel
the Protestant Chapel in the middle of the fort courtyard
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/400s, f/5.0, 7.1 mm

Colonial Dutch architecture is basically simple, almost severe. Exterior walls, though thick, are unadorned. Windows, sparsely distributed around the buildings, are few. Most buildings have louvre windows with open slats that can admit air – obviously a concession to the hot climate of the island- but some are also solidly constructed vertical panels fit for a garrison.

fort rotterdam
a window and door of a building inside the fort
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/1000s, f/5.0, 14.7mm

The colonial-era Dutch buildings inside are remarkably well-preserved. Some are given new life as a public museum and as a center for culture and arts. On occasion, spaces can be used for music and theatre performance rehearsals. When I was there, a Christian bible study was even ongoing in one of the corridors.

military officers' quarters
the former military officers’s quarters
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/250s, f/5.0, 7.1 mm

From a distance, the buildings inside the fort look quite robust and solid, transporting you to a different place in time. Despite the modern usage and the refurbishments, the fort remains a solid remembrance of an aggressive military past.

Canon PowerShot S40, 1/40s, f/5.0, 7.1 mm

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Monday, February 23, 2009

a Sumilon island adventure, part 2

Sumilon is no artificial island. The amenities are cleverly embedded in the recesses of the hill or unobtrusively hewn on the rocky terrain. The clientele mostly are foreigners seeking the experience of a tropical island but the comforts of a hotel.

infinity blues
an infinity pool over a hill looking over mainland Cebu
Canon EOS 350D, 1/1600s, f/7.1, 17mm, ISO 100, -2/3EV

Never mind the cost, there is the chance to enjoy a real thriving marine paradise. It is a world-famous no-take fish reserve after all. From diving for mantas, black-tip sharks and eels, to snorkeling above spectacular coral gardens, or perhaps just idling on the sandy coves and shifting sandbar, the water attractions are difficult to rival.

the saltwater lagoon inlet at the eastern side of the island
Canon EOS 350D, 1/80s, f/6.3, 18mm, ISO 100, -2/3EV

Although it still is forbidden to take anything off the island or from the waters –fishing around the western part island is illegal – there is a large seawater lagoon in the eastern end of the island for catching the fishes bred in captivity, not to mention the obligatory boating, kayaking or just exploring the mangroves.

Canon EOS 350D, 1/40s, f/5.0, 39mm, ISO 400

In the end, privacy is its best asset and although it came with a price, this is what a splurge is all about.

the western no-take fish reserave
the shifting sandbar serves as a natural dock at the western side
Canon EOS 350D, 1/1600s, f/5.6, 17mm, ISO 100, -1.0EV

sunrise at Sumilon
sunrise over a vast and tide-exposed coral garden
Canon EOS 5D, 1/6s, f/4.0, 19mm, ISO 100

sunset at Sumilon
sunset over the no-take marine sanctuary on the western side of the island
Canon EOS 5D, 3.2s, f/4.0, 17mm, ISO 50, +4/3EV

beachcombers at a secluded cove
Canon EOS 350D, 1/1000s, f/5.6, 300mm, ISO 100, -4/3EV

Sumilon Bluewater Island Resort
Sumilon Island, Oslob
Cebu 6025
Telefax No. +6332 4810801

continued from Sumilon, part 1

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