Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Philippines Day 10: Jose Rizal & New Year's Eve

December 31, 2014 - Luneta Park, Jose Rizal statue, my Filipiniana dress and New Year's Eve
The Philippine flag flying at Luneta Park

Last post of the trip and then we'll get back to our regularly scheduled programming of decadent desserts and other kitchen experiments. If you're still going strong on your new year's resolution to eat healthier and cut back on fat and sugar, enjoy the hiatus and prepare to be tempted with the next post. For now, we wrap up our last full day in the Philippines with a morning visit to Luneta Park.
Luneta Park is where the statue of Jose Rizal resides. Jose Rizal was a Filipino nationalist and one of the country's greatest heroes, executed in the late 1800s by Filipino soldiers in the Spanish army. The Philippines was under Spanish rule and Rizal was a nationalist who spoke out about establishing more equal rights for Filipinos and fair representation under Spanish colonial rule, not unlike America's own fight against the British when they were initially colonized.
December 30 is Jose Rizal Day in the Philippines so we were there a day later to visit the park and see his statue. There's a "sister" statue or the same version of the statue in Spain that my niece Lauren had gone to see when she was studying abroad in Madrid last year. Luneta Park is also the only time I've seen the tourist trap of being able to take a kalesa ride through the streets of Manila. A kalesa is a horse-drawn carriage, similar to what you can find in Central Park in New York City, albeit on a smaller scale in terms of the carriage and even the horses. Kalesas were more common years ago but time and progress marches on and they've largely been replaced by jeepneys, tricycles (motorcycles with a side car) and of course, cars. Nowadays, kalesas are for the tourists.
I've rarely done touristy things in the Philippines so I hadn't seen Jose Rizal's statue until now. It's roped off so you can't get too close to it but we were able to get some decent touristy shots in front of it and walk around. The park wasn't very crowded, probably because it was the day of New Year's Eve and a holiday for most people.
Statue of Jose Rizal
When we drove the streets of Manila to and from the park, I also caught a picture of the banners mounted on most of the streetlights depicting the imminent visit of Pope Francis. The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country and a pope hasn't visited the country for over 20 years, not since the days of John Paul II. Understandably, the country was in a frenzy of excited welcome for the new pope and it showed in the signage lining most of Manila.
Following the visit to Luneta Park, I had to go pick up my Filipiniana dress that I'd bought the day before which was being altered overnight. My nieces wanted to pick up a few more things at the tiangge so my cousin Albert drove us back to Green Hills and we agreed to split up to do our respective shopping and meet back again in half an hour. Unfortunately, when I went back to the store, to my dismay, they were closed. I was dumbfounded. Um, hello, you told me to pick up the dress today at a certain time and you're not even open? Worse, they had taken my name and phone number down but I'd never gotten a warning call that they would be close during my pickup time.
Fortunately I had my receipt from the deposit and it included the store's business card. I met up with Albert and my nieces and had Albert call the number from his phone (mine didn’t work for international calls unless I wanted to mortgage a kidney). The person who answered the number wasn’t the shop owner I had done business with but someone who worked for her. Fortunately Albert was able to confirm they had my dress, it was completed but that it was at the owner’s home in Makati. Albert assured me it wasn’t too far and that we could drive there to pick it up. I hated for him to go out of his way but it was my only chance to get the dress and be fitted for it to make sure the alterations worked so we made the drive to the owner’s home. I'll admit I was irritated. I roll with a lot of punches when traveling and try not to impose my Western standards everywhere I go but this seemed a bit much. We found the owner’s home and her assistant had me try on the dress. It fit as they had done the adjustments well. The owner arrived before I left and apologized profusely. By that point, I was into the zen mantra of “don’t sweat the small stuff” so I managed not to show my displeasure too much. What’s done was done and being annoyed wasn’t how I wanted to spend my last day so I let it go. I still can’t fathom why she didn’t think to tell me they would be closed that day when I arranged for the pick up based on the day and time she had given me nor why she didn’t call me when she realized the mistake and that she would be closed but….okay, I really had to let it go. Fortunately, I liked how the dress turned out and once it was safely in my hands and packed in my suitcase, I moved on.

Our last night was New Year’s Eve. If you’ve never spent New Year’s Eve in Manila or its surrounding metropolitan area, you’re in for a loud time. Seriously loud. They say Manila beat out New York, London and Sydney in its fireworks – I believe it. Fireworks are a big deal in the Philippines and it doesn’t get any bigger than fireworks on New Year’s Eve. In my town, they started at 8 pm and kept on until well past 1 am. I tried to nap so I could be wide awake to usher in the new year but that proved impossible. Even my noise-canceling headphones couldn’t withstand the relentless fireworks for 5 straight hours. No, I’m not exaggerating and yes I had a pounding headache before the last Judas Belt and Anaconda were set off. They were beautiful when exploding in the sky and it was too bad I didn’t get any good pictures of them; they didn’t come out on my camera or my phone.
A painting of my paternal grandparents
Fortunately our flight didn’t leave until the following night so we had an acceptably late start the next morning and a mellow day packing and saying our goodbyes. I discovered a treasure of a painting of my paternal grandparents sitting in the living room tucked into a corner that I took a snapshot of. A good memento to end the trip with.  Goodbye, Philippines, thanks for a great trip.

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