Category Archives: Travel

Traveling around the world

by Henrylito D. Tacio

 

As a journalist, part of my job is to attend international conferences in other parts of the world. 

 

I have seen the Buddhist temples in Bangkok, Thailand.  I have scaled the Petronas Twin Tower in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  I have walked through the fine white beaches in Bali, Indonesia.  I have toured the award-winning zoo in Melbourne, Australia.  I have experienced real safari while I was in Durban, South Africa.  I have learned to speak French (not fluently but just barely) while staying for almost a week in Montreal, Canada (more so, when we traveled to Quebec).

 

I have been to the United States several times.  I have ridden a snowmobile while I was in Hibbing, Minnesota.   I did surfing twice – once in North Carolina and the most recent one while I visited my aunt and uncle in Savannah, Georgia.  I marveled at the mysterious Wakulla Springs in Tallahassee, Florida.  In Iowa, I saw the Old Faithful, the world’s best known geyser, spew out hot water.  I have been at the top of the Washington Monument.  I have touched the Statue of Liberty in New York City.  I became a little kid again as I toured the Paramount’s King’s Island in Ohio.   I got tired after board walking in New Jersey’s Atlantic City.

 

As I write this, the song popularized by Nancy Sinatra came to my mid.  Well, while in the US, I have never been to Texas, but I have been to Utah.  I have never been to Alabama, Nebraska, or Alaska, but have visited Indiana, Montana, Kentucky and Tennessee. 

 

Now, can you name the title of the song?  The chorus said, “I know you’re tired of following my elusive dreams and schemes; for they’re only fleeting things, my elusive dreams.”  (If you hear me singing this song in videoke bars, now you know the reason.)

 

 

Indeed, there are many songs that add in famous cities and places.  Frank Sinatra’s “Around the World” tells the story of a man who travels around the globe searching for the right girl for him.  “I traveled on when hope was gone to keep a rendezvous,” song goes.  “I knew somewhere, sometime, somehow you’d look at me and I would see the smile you’re smiling now.”  At the end of the song, the man in love expresses his final thought: “No more will I go all around the world for I have found my world in you.”

 

But for those who are madly in love and who love to travel at the same time, “the world is not enough,” to quote the title of a James Bond movie.   The film’s theme song has these words: “The world is not enough but it is such a perfect place to start, my love; and if you’re strong enough, together we can take the world apart, my love.”

 

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page,” commented Saint Augustine.  “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go,” novelist Robert Louis Stevenson once said.  “I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move.”

 

When you travel to another uncommon place, you don’t have to worry what other people will say about you.  As William Least wrote in Blue Highways, “When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then.  People don’t have your past to hold against you.  No yesterdays on the road.”

 

When going to a foreign land, ask not those who have never been there but those who are always on the go.  Here’s a piece of advice from Susan Heller, “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”  Got that?

 

One of the most important documents to bring when traveling is a passport.  It is very important but Lemony Snicket can’t help making fun of it.  “A passport, as I’m sure you know, is a document that one shows to government officials whenever one reaches a border between countries, so the officials can learn who you are, where you were born, and how you look when photographed unflatteringly.”  

 

Traveling gives you all kinds of emotions: sadness, happiness, fear, excitement, disgust, politeness, inconsiderate, hunger, pain, thrill, loss of energy – name it and you have it.  Award-winning film director Orson Welles (of Citizen Kane distinction) observed, “There are only two emotions in a plane:  boredom and terror.” For those who experienced the latter, Mignon McLaughlin has these words: “Whenever we safely land in a plane, we promise God a little something.”

 

Flying is indeed not for the faint-hearted.  But even if you travel by bus or boat, you still encounter a lot of hazards like accidents and typhoons.  But these are just few reasons why some people don’t travel.  “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home,” advises James Michener.

 

Funny incidents every now and then are bound to happen while traveling.  A family living in Montreal, Canada travels by land to Orlando, Florida last November.  A day before their departure, the mother told her two kids: a 6-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter.  “Let us make this clear.  No one should ask if we are almost there,” the mother said.  The two children agreed.

 

Almost two days later, they were still in the road.   The mother was driving while the father took his turn to sleep.  The two kids were already feeling bored.  They wanted to ask their mother if they are almost there but they backed off such thought remembering their agreement before.  The little girl could not hold any longer, so she inquired, “Mom, will I still be four years old when we get there?”

 

Robert Frost penned this famous line: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by.”  Wherever you are, enjoy the most of it.  “To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world,” said Freya Stark.  And try to get the most of it.  Listen to the words of wisdom from Moslih Eddin Saadi, “A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.”

 

I have been to different parts of the world.  But there is no place like home.  Most of the time, I always look forward coming home.  After the excitement has died down and fatigue has engulfed your being, all you want to do is to go back to familiar surrounding.  (That is why I don’t get enough when I am in Davao.)  How true were the words of Lin Yutang: “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” — ###

Dreaming of a white Christmas?

by Henrylito D. Tacio

“IF WE had no winter,” English poet Anne Bradstreet once said, “the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” In other words, “If there were no tribulations, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer.” So said Saint John Chrysostom.

I visited the United States for the first time in December 2000. It was winter in New York City and I never knew how cold the season was until I came out ogthe hotel where I was staying the morning after I arrived to take a walk at nearby Central Park.

When I stepped out of the hotel, I immediately experienced the fangs of winter that penetrated the depth of my skin. (Until now, I run out of words to describe the coldness that I “suffered” that time.) I was wearing the usual clothing we wore in the Philippines and a jacket — nothing more.

I walked only a few steps. I couldn’t endure the freezing cold so I had to return to the hotel — pronto!

The bellboy, who saw me coming out, was not surprised to see me going back. He knew that I couldn’t “survive” that long outside with only a thin jacket I used to wear during cold weather in the country. (Now, I know better!)

But I experienced the real kind of winter when I went to my sister Elena, who lived in Hibbing, Minnesota at that time. One early morning, I saw a lot of snow outside while I sat near the windowpane. I went outside and literally slept in the snow. It was very, very cold, of course and after just one minute, I returned inside. My nephew, who saw what I just did, was totally surprised and exclaimed, “You must be crazy, Uncle Henry.”

For the next three weeks, I stayed with the Chase family (my sister is married to Daniel Chase, an electrical engineer just like her). It was then that I experienced riding a snowmobile for the first time in my life with my nephew. Every morning, I had to clean the garage pathway as snow trickled at night.

Twice, I almost slipped when those nasty snows turned into clear ice sheets.

I could have done ice fishing (ever heard of it?) too had I accepted the invitation of Dan’s friend. Remember the Hollywood movie Two Grumpy Old Men? It was shot in Minnesota and both did their ice fishing near the place where my sister lived.

On Christmas Day, the Chase family and myself went to visit Dan’s mother. On our way, I could see the snowflakes falling from heaven. Literally and figuratively, I had my first white Christmas. The most famous and popular of all the Christmas songs written by Irving Berlin came into my mind: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. Where the treetops glisten, and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.”

Another Christmas carol has these classic lines: “In the lane, snow is glistening. A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight. Walking in a winter wonderland.”

Perhaps the most popular song among Filipino children is James Lord Pierpont’s Jingle Bells. Now, please sing with me the most remembered lines: “Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh. O’er the fields we go laughing all the way. Bells on bob tail ring, making spirits bright. What fun it is ride and sings a sleighing song tonight.”

Although there is no winter in the Philippines, the season is very popular here. The reason is obvious; Filipinos usually dream and want anything related to the United States. In addition, there are many films in which a winter setting plays an important role. The award-winning Fargo is an example. The film Requiem for a Dream concludes with “Act III: Winter,” in which the movie reaches its hellish and chilling climax.

Winter is one of the four seasons of temperate zones. It is the season with the shortest days and the lowest average temperature. It has colder weather and, especially in the higher latitudes or altitudes, snow and ice. The coldest season of the year, winter occurs between autumn and spring and popularly considered to be constituted by December, January, and February.

A lot of my friends asked me why I wouldn’t stay in the United States for good. My answer is that I could not tolerate too much cold. Winter is good — if only it lasts for just one week; after that, winter is already a pain. Poet Christina Giorgina Rossetti wrote: “Night is long and cold is strong in bleak December.”

Winter is good to look — in postcards. Most Filipinos dream of it! Actually, they don’t how bad the weather is during winter. William Bradford pointed this out: “And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms.”

Here’s how Georgics author Publius Vergilius Maro describes the final metaphor in a poem celebrating death: “Winter is farmer’s lazy time. In cold weather, the farmers enjoy their gain for the most part and they happily prepare feasts for each other. Friendly winter is inviting and lightens their cares, as when loaded boats at last reach port and the happy sailors place crowns upon the sterns.”
But to those who live in a place where winter is part of their lives, they should welcome the season with gladness. Pietro Aretino suggests, “Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.” John Boswell adds, “Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.”

“There is privacy about it which no other season gives you,” said Ruth Stout.

“In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.”

Patricia Hampl agrees: “The cold was our pride, the snow was our beauty. It fell and fell, lacing day and night together in a milky haze, making everything quieter as it fell, so that winter seemed to partake of religion in a way no other season did, hushed, solemn.”

Winter is the time when most of the people are inside their home.ÿ Traveling is not much fun; one kilometer becomes two kilometer.ÿ Winter, to some, is a respite. Edith Sitwell said it well: “Winter is the time for comfort — it is the time for home.”

Winter time is no time for gardening. Barbara Winkler argues, “Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle: a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.”

“May your days be merry and bright,” so goes the song again, “and may all your Christmases be white.” — ###

Life is a box of chocolates

By Henrylito D. Tacio

 

If life could be compared to something sweet, then chocolate would be more like it.  As Forrest Gump (played by award-winning Tom Hanks) said, “Life is like a box of chocolates.  You never know what you’re gonna get.”

 

Chocolates are very popular around the world.  Every time I am in the airport waiting for my plane, you can find me eating a chocolate.  They come in different forms and sizes and the boxes are always beautiful.

 

There’s more to chocolate than just for eating.  “If you are not feeling well, if you have not slept, chocolate will revive you. But you have no chocolate! I think of that again and again! My dear, how will you ever manage?” French writer Marquise de Sévigné wondered.

 

Any sane person loves chocolate,” declared Bob Greene.  In fact, “nine out of ten people like chocolate.  And the tenth person lies,” said John Q. Tullius.  Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts, believed that what people really need is love.  “But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt,” he added.

 

Oftentimes, chocolates have been equated with love and romance.  John Milton wrote, “Love is just like eating large amounts of chocolate.” Miranda Ingram argued, “It’s not that chocolates are a substitute for love. Love is a substitute for chocolate. Chocolate is, let’s face it, far more reliable than a man.”

 

Chemically speaking, “chocolate really is the world’s perfect food,” to quote the words of Michael Levine, the author of The Emperors of Chocolate.  As Geronimo Piperni puts it: “Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine.” 

 

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said chocolates are “helpful to people who must do a great deal of mental work.”  Baron Justus von Liebig considered this beneficent restorer of exhausted power as “the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.”

 

Some years back, I was touring a group of American kids at the farm in Kinuskusan, Bansalan, Davao del Sur.  While walking, an eight-year-old boy inquired, “What is that?” as he pointed the cacao tree.  “That’s where chocolates come from,” I replied.  Almost immediately, every stopped.  “How do you get chocolates from that tree?” they chorused.

 

Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia in Central America and Mexico.   Although Christopher Columbus came to know the beans, it was Hernando Cortes who brought it to Spain.  “The divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits man to walk for a whole day without food,” he wrote.

 

In the Philippines, it has been cultivated since the 17th century when Spanish mariner Pedro Bravo de Lagunas planted the crop in San Jose, Batangas.  Since then, cacao growing flourished in the different parts of the country.

 

The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor. After fermentation, the beans are dried, cleaned, and roasted, and the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground and liquefied, resulting in pure chocolate in fluid form: chocolate liquor.  The liquor can be further processed into two components: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

 

Pure, unsweetened chocolate contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Much of the chocolate consumed today is in the form of sweet chocolate, combining chocolate with sugar.  Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that additionally contains milk powder or condensed milk.

 

If you care to know, the word “chocolate” comes from the Mexico’s Aztecs and is derived from the Nahuatl word xocolatl, which is a combination of the words, xocolli, meaning “bitter,” and atl, which is “water.”

 

While chocolate is regularly eaten for pleasure, there are potential beneficial health effects of eating chocolate. Cocoa or dark chocolate reportedly benefits the circulatory system. Other beneficial effects suggested include anticancer, brain stimulator, cough preventor, and antidiarrheal effects.  As an aphrodisiac, its effect is yet unproven.

 

Recent studies have suggested that cocoa or dark chocolate may possess certain beneficial effects on human health. Cocoa possesses a significant antioxidant action.  Some studies have also observed a modest reduction in blood pressure and flow-mediated dilation after consuming dark chocolate daily.

 

There has even been a fad diet, named “Chocolate diet,” that emphasizes eating chocolate and cocoa powder in capsules. However, consuming milk chocolate or white chocolate, or drinking fat-containing milk with dark chocolate, appears largely to negate the health benefit.

 

A study reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation indicated that melting chocolate in one’s mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted four times as long after the activity had ended.

 

People having headache are advised not to eat chocolates.  The reason: chocolates contain tyramine, a chief suspect in causing headaches.  However, many young people outgrow this chemical reaction.  “The body appears to build up a tolerance,” says Dr. Seymour Diamond, who has co-written several books on headaches.

 

If you have heartburn, you should avoid eating chocolates, too.  The sweet confection deals heartburn sufferers a double whammy.  It is nearly all fat and it contains caffeine (which may irritate an already inflamed esophagus).

 

Other things are just food. But chocolate’s chocolate,” said Patrick Skene Catling.  That’s why Brillat-Savarin advises, “If any man has drunk a little too deeply from the cup of physical pleasure; if he has spent too much time at his desk that should have been spent asleep; if his fine spirits have become temporarily dulled; if he finds the air too damp, the minutes too slow, and the atmosphere too heavy to withstand; if he is obsessed by a fixed idea which bars him from any freedom of thought: if he is any of these poor creatures, we say, let him be given a good pint of chocolate – and marvels will be performed.”

 

For comments, write me at henrytacio@gmail.com

 

What is Christmas without these decorations?

By Henrylito D. Tacio

 

The origin of Christmas differs as the precise date of the birth and historicity of Jesus are much debated. Christmas, literally meaning the Mass of Christ, is a traditional holiday in the Christian calendar.

 

It is referred that during the 4th century, the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25 was gradually adopted by most Eastern churches. In Jerusalem, opposition to Christmas lasted longer as according to them the exact date of birth of Jesus Christ is unknown. It is said that December 17-24th was the period of Saturnalia, a well-known festival in pagan, Rome. December 25th was the birthday of Mithra, the Iranian god of light. This day was adopted by the church as Christmas to counteract the effects of these festivals.

Today, Christmas has turned out to be one of the most popular festivals that fill joy, happiness and love in people’s life. The festival of Christmas has absorbed various customs and traditions of world and 25th December has emerged as the most important day for Christians, irrespective of its roots. It is taken as a day that reflects the power, glory and salvation of Jesus Christ and his message of hope to the world.

 

In the Philippines, Christmas would not be complete without those season’s symbols and decorations.  Some of them were copied from other countries, although there are some that are truly Filipinos.

 

Almost every Christmas season, Filipino homes and buildings are adorned with beautiful star lanterns, called parol (from the Spanish word “farol,” which means lantern or lamp. Parol reminds the Filipino Christians of the star of Bethlehem that guided the Three Wise Men (or Tatlong Hari as they call them) on their way in search of Baby Jesus.

 

The earliest parols were traditionally made from simple materials like bamboo sticks, Japanese rice paper (known as papel de Hapon) or crepe paper, and a candle or coconut oil-lamp for illumination; although the present day parol can take many different shapes and forms.

 

As early as November, parols are hang on windows or door of every Filipino homes, offices, schools, shopping malls and even streets are adorned with these multi-colored lanterns. You will even find mini parols hanging on buses and jeepneys and cars.

 

The most spectacular exhibition and parade of parol is held every year in San Fernando Pampanga, famous for the most unique star lanterns in shapes, colors and sizes made from all kinds of material.  The town becomes the center of Christmas activities, every year spectators get to marvel the amazing lights of the giant lanterns.

 

Another traditional Filipino Christmas symbol is the belen (also called a crib or manger in the United Kingdom and crèche in France).  A tableau representing the Nativity scene, it depicts the infant Jesus Christ in the manger, surrounded by the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, the shepherds, their flock, the three Wise Men and some stable animals and angels.  Belens can be seen in homes, churches, schools and even office buildings.

 

This traditional Christmas decoration combines two different events in the Gospels.  The first one was when the shepherds are informed by angels that “for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord” (Matthew 2:10-11).   The second was “when [the Wise Men] saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him” (Luke 2:11).

 

Tarlac, known as the “Belen Capital of the Philippines holds the annual Belenismo sa Tarlac. It is a belen making contest which is participated by establishments and residents in Tarlac. Giant belens with different themes are displayed in front of the establishments and roads of Tarlac for the rest of the Christmas season.

 

The story of the origin of the Christmas belen rests with the very holy man, St. Francis of Assisi.  In the year 1223, St. Francis, a deacon, was visiting the town of Grecio to celebrate Christmas. Grecio was a small town built on a mountainside overlooking a beautiful valley. The people had cultivated the fertile area with vineyards. St. Francis realized that the chapel of the Franciscan hermitage would be too small to hold the congregation for Midnight Mass. So he found a niche in the rock near the town square and set up the altar, which became the first Nativity scene.

 

One very popular Christmas decorations is the poinsettia.  In nature, poinsettias are perennial flowering shrubs that can grow to ten feet tall.  The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think are the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves).  The flowers of the poinsettia are in the center of the colorful bracts.

 

All over the world, it is known as a flower that symbolizes Christmas, the day when Jesus Christ was born.  Its association with the Nativity happened in Mexico during the 16th century.  According to a legend, a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday was told by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar.  Crimson “blossoms” sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias.

Another legend has it that the poinsettia became associated with Christmas because the Mexicans regarded it as symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem.   From the 17th century, Franciscan monks in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.

The name “poinsettia” is named after Joel Robert Poinsett, the first American ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the United States in 1825.  Scientifically, it is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima.

 

A Christmas without the Christmas tree is incoherent. The fragrance and essence of the Christmas trees have been an integral part of the celebrations as well as of the family unit since time immemorial. Gifts are placed under the tree, as family and friends gather around to celebrate the birth of Christ.

 

Many legends exist about the origin of the Christmas tree. One is the story of Saint Boniface, an English monk who organized the Christian Church in France and Germany. One day, as he traveled about, he came upon a group of pagans gathered around a great oak tree about to sacrifice a child to the god Thor. To stop the sacrifice and save the child’s life Boniface felled the tree with one mighty blow of his fist. In its place grew a small fir tree. The saint told the pagan worshipers that the tiny fir was the Tree of Life and stood the eternal life of Christ.

Another legend holds that Martin Luther, a founder of the Protestant faith, was walking through the forest one Christmas Eve. As he walked he was awed by the beauty of millions of stars glimmering through the branches of the evergreen trees. So taken was he by this beautiful sight that he cut a small tree and took it home to his family. To recreate that same starlight beauty he saw in the wood, he placed candles on all its branches.

 

Perhaps the most popular symbol of Christmas is Santa Claus.  On Christmas eve, he rides in his flying sleigh, pulled by reindeer from house to house to give presents to children. During the rest of the year he lives at the North Pole.  The names of his reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Rudolph, “the red-nosed reindeer,” has featured in many modern aspects of the Santa Claus myth.

 

The modern Santa Claus is a composite character made up from the merging of two quite separate figures. The first of these is Saint Nicholas of Myra, a bishop of Byzantine Anatolia, now in modern day Turkey famous for his generous gifts to the poor. The second character is Father Christmas, which remains the British name for Santa Claus. Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain, and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe.

 

The modern depiction of Santa Claus as a fat, jolly man wearing a red coat and trousers with white cuffs and collar, and black leather belt and boots, became popular in the United States in the 19th century due to the significant influence of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast.

 

Christmas is not Christmas without these decorations and symbols. — ###

Dreaming of a white Christmas?

By Henrylito D. Tacio

 

“If we had no winter,” English poet Anne Bradstreet once said, “the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” In other words, “If there were no tribulations, there would be no rest; if there were no winter, there would be no summer.”  So said Saint John Chrysostom.

 

I visited the United States for the first time in December 2000.  It was winter time in New York City and I never knew how cold the season was until I came out from the hotel where I was staying the morning after I arrived to have a walk at the nearby Central Park. 

 

When I stepped out from the hotel, I immediately experienced the fangs of winter that penetrated the depth of my skin.  (Until now, I run out of words to describe the coldness that I “suffered” that time.)  I was only the usual clothing we wore in the Philippines and a jacket — and nothing more.  I walked only a few steps.  I couldn’t endure the too much cold so I had to return to the hotel – pronto! 

 

The bellboy, who saw me coming out, was not surprised to see me going back.  He knew that I couldn’t “survived” that long outside with only a thin jacket I used to wear during cold weather in the country.  (Now, I know better!)

 

But I experienced the real kind of winter when I went to my sister Elena, who lived at that time in Hibbing, Minnesota. One early morning, I saw a lot of snow outside while sitting near the window pane.  I went outside and literally slept in the snow.  It was very, very cold, of course and after just one minute, I returned inside.  My nephew, who saw what I just did, was totally surprised and exclaimed, “You must be crazy, uncle Henry.”

 

For the next three weeks, I stayed with the Chase family (my sister is married to Daniel Chase, an electrical engineer just like her).  It was then I experienced riding a snowmobile for the first time in my life with my nephew.  Every morning, I had to clean the garage pathway as snow trickled at night.   Twice, I almost slipped when those nasty snows turned into clear ice sheets.

 

I could have done ice fishing (ever heard of it?) too had I accepted the invitation of Dan’s friend.  Remember the Hollywood movie Two Grumpy Old Men?  It was shot in Minnesota and both did their ice fishing near the place where my sister lived.

 

On Christmas Day, the Chase family and myself went to visit Dan’s mother.  On our way, I could see the snow flakes falling from heaven.  Literally and figuratively, I had my first white Christmas.  The most famous and popular of all the Christmas songs written by Irving Berlin came into my mind: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.  Where the treetops glisten, and children listen to hear sleigh bells in the snow.”

 

Another Christmas carol which uses winter on Christmas as its theme has this classic lines: “In the lane, snow is glistening.  A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight.  Walking in a winter wonderland.”

 

Perhaps the most popular song among Filipino children is James Lord Pierpont’s Jingle Bells.  Now, please sing with me the most remembered lines: “Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh.  O’er the fields we go laughing all the way.  Bells on bob tail ring, making spirits bright.  What fun it is ride and sings a sleighing song tonight.”

 

Although there is no winter in the Philippines, the season is very popular here.  The reason is obvious; Filipinos usually dream and want anything related to the United States.  In addition, there are many films in which a winter setting plays an important role.  The award-winning Fargo is an example.  The film Requiem for a Dream concludes with “Act III: Winter,” in which the movie reaches its hellish and chilling climax.

 

Winter is one of the four seasons of temperate zones. It is the season with the shortest days and the lowest average temperatures. It has colder weather and, especially in the higher latitudes or altitudes, snow and ice.  The usually coldest season of the year, winter occurs between autumn and spring and popularly considered to be constituted by December, January, and February.

 

A lot my friends asked me why I wouldn’t stay in the United States for good.  My answer is that I could not tolerate too much cold.  Winter is good — if only it lasts for just one week; after that, winter is already a pain.  Poet Christina Giorgina Rossetti wrote: “Night is long and cold is strong in bleak December.”

 

Winter is good to look – in postcards.  Most Filipinos dream of it!  Actually, they don’t how bad the weather is during winter.  William Bradford pointed this out: “And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms.”

 

Here’s how Georgics author Publius Vergilius Maro describes the final metaphor in a poem celebrating death: “Winter is farmer’s lazy time.  In cold weather, the farmers enjoy their gain for the most part and they happily prepare feasts for each other.  Friendly winter is inviting and lightens their cares, as when loaded boats at last reach port and the happy sailors place crowns upon the sterns.”

But to those who live in a place where winter is part of their lives, they should welcome the season with gladness.  Pietro Aretino suggests, “Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.”  John Boswell adds, “Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.”

 

There is privacy about it which no other season gives you,” said Ruth Stout.  “In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.”

 

Patricia Hampl agrees: “The cold was our pride, the snow was our beauty.   It fell and fell, lacing day and night together in a milky haze, making everything quieter as it fell, so that winter seemed to partake of religion in a way no other season did, hushed, solemn.”

 

Winter is the time when most of the people are inside their home.  Traveling is not much fun; one kilometer becomes two kilometer.  Winter, to some, is a respite.  Edith Sitwell said it well: “Winter is the time for comfort – it is the time for home.”

 

Winter time is no time for gardening.  Barbara Winkler argues, “Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle: a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl.  And the anticipation nurtures our dream.”

 

“May your days be merry and bright,” so goes the song again, “and may all your Christmases be white.” — ###

 

People’s Park: Commune with nature in the city

By Henrylito D. Tacio

 

If you happen to visit Davao and you have limited areas to visit, please don’t miss People’s Park.  As one tourist puts it: “Truly a must-see. Your Davao vacation will never be complete without spending some time at this colorful park.” The brainchild of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the newest and grandest free attraction is patterned after the 843-acre Central Park in New York City. 

 

“The park will become a landmark of Davao city in the future,” said Engineer Elisa Madrazo, head of the park’s project management office.

 

Every day, the park is barraged by people from all walks of life – from children to adults, teenagers to students.  On its busiest days, it is here where you’ll be able to witness how cosmopolitan the city is.  Even when it is raining, you will still see a lot of people roaming around the park.

 

The expansive and beautiful People’s Park features many delightful treats for its beholders to discover.  Grand landscaped waterfall, strategically scenic benches, a small but fun playground, amazingly breathtaking gardens, arranged multipurpose trees, lovely traditional cottages and sophisticated sculptures created by Kublai Milan (the Dabawenyo artist who created the Freedom statue in front of the Sangguniang Panlungsod building).

 

The man-made park is remarkably well-maintained with clean comfort rooms.  Many park security or rangers are patrolling here and there.  The park is also equipped with monitoring cameras to keep the premises secure, and to prevent “illicit activities” inside the park. 

 

The P70-million project was part of Duterte’s all out effort to bring a centered and ecologically-balanced development in one of the world’s largest cities.  When Ian John Mendoza, the executive director of the Human Development International in the Philippines, learned of it, he lauded the “mini rainforest” as it would give the people the opportunity to be in touch with nature in the very heart of the city.

 

Of the park’s over four-hectare land area, almost 10, 000 square meters are allotted to plants.  More than 1,000 species of wild plants and trees gathered from the dark rainforests of Africa, Madagascar, New Guinea, Borneo, Indonesia, Central America, Australia and the Philippines have been planted in the park.  Most of the trees were donated by the private sector, including the famous Ayala family.

 

“In two or three years, all these trees will be so big and tall, you’ll feel like you’re inside a real forest,” commented park designer Edmund Viacrusis during the opening of the park in December 2007.  

 

The park used to be a sports center of Davao City, called the PTA grounds. After years of neglect, it became the lair of criminal elements, especially at night.  Except for a dirt road oval, the other amenities of the PTA grounds were left in various states of deterioration. Bleachers that used to house spectators were turned into the dwelling place of the homeless, while an Olympic-size swimming pool became a breeding place for frogs.

 

Architect Viacrusis retained the oval race track since it was very popular among the city’s early morning joggers who often sloshed their way through mud and pools of dirty rainwater in the past.

 

Today, the entire oval track is permanently paved with bricks and called as ‘The Promenade.’ “We designed the park around the oval and made sure it’s now even more conducive to its old function – a jogging area for everyone. We also made sure to retain a wide grassy area for open air concerts and entertainment shows,” said Viacrusis, whose old bungalow home at Ladislawa Village is surrounded by fully-grown matured trees.

 

At the center of the oval track is a wide lawn with a dancing fountain (the first in Mindanao) and a bridge (where you can see the whole park if you are on top).  Also, there is a sloping hill filled with tall, stately pine trees from Baguio and Benguet.  Behind this area is the portion of the park’s “rainforest” stretching all the way to the opposite side of the park near the exit gate.

Part of the “forested area” is a ten-meter waterfall against a backdrop of man-made volcanic rock wall. Water flows from the fall to a “river” that drains into man-made “lakes” under the shadows of tall forest trees.

 

However, the first thing you will see when you enter the park is a 425-square meter visitors’ center that looks like a giant durian with its spiky skin design for the domed-roof.  Surrounding it are a bambusetum (a collection of the different species of bamboo); a shady plaza where African tulips are planted within the 3,750 square meter-area; and an open plaza with a walk-through rainbow drive featuring some collections of potted palms.

 

Credited for giving the fantasy-themed park its name was Romeo Sardon, a retired electrician and seaman.  He won the P50,000 prize money for having his entry chosen among the 918 entries that were submitted in the name-the-park contest.

 

People’s Park is conveniently located in the heart of the downtown area and is flanked with dining amenities from almost every side.  The streets alongside it are Jose Camus and J. Palma Gil.  The nearest places for tourist or local visitor accommodation are the Apo View Hotel and Casa Letecia.  The Royal Mandaya is also just some walking distance away.

 

One American who visited People’s Park recently wrote: “Let me describe the place in one adjective: Awesome.” — ###

Walking around the United States

By Henrylito D. Tacio

 

Do you know what I did last summer in the United States?  I toured some tourist destinations by feet.  You see, I like walking.  Here’s the reason why: “Regular physical activity is probably as close to a magic bullet as we will come in modern medicine,” says Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the United States.   “If everyone were to walk briskly 30 minutes a day, we could cut the incidence of many chronic diseases by 30 to 40 percent.”

 

Actually, I got a fellowship from the SeaWeb to attend the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  To get there, I had to fly first via Philippine Airlines from Davao to Manila, where I stayed for a night.  The following day, I boarded Northwest Airlines on my way to the United States. 

 

After more than four hours of flying, the plane had a two-hour stopover at Narita, Japan.  Then, for the next thirteen hours and a half, we were on the air until we landed at Detroit, Michigan, where I had to present my US visa and Philippine passport.  I didn’t have problem with the immigration since this was my fifth trip to the land of milk and honey.

 

After that, I searched for my luggage and after finding it, I had to check it again to board another plane on my way to Fort Lauderdale.  I arrived late in the afternoon.  I took my luggage and went outside the airport to wait for the taxi which SeaWeb’s Brian Cohen had arranged for me.  Few minutes later, I was on my way to my hotel. 

 

During the 15-minute travel, what I noticed most were the palm trees.  “It’s just like I’m in the Philippines,” I told myself.   But there was difference: these palm trees were growing right in the city.  In the hotel where I was staying, there were even coconut trees near the pools.  Think of Waterfront Insular Hotel and you get the idea.

 

During the symposium, I had to walk all the way from Fort Lauderdale Grande Hotel to the Broward County Convention Center.   There was a shuttle bus that brings participants to the conference place, but I opted to walk.  Just like most international gatherings, I had to attend lectures and press briefings, where I met some of the world’s coral reef experts. 

 

I also had an opportunity of talking with several journalists from all over the globe, including one from Los Angeles who received a Pulitzer Prize.  A television commentator from Japan and a reporter from Kenya became my friends during the symposium. 

 

What made the symposium memorable was the panel discussion convened by SeaWeb.  “Why journalists and scientists just don’t communicate?” was the title of the interactive debate that was co-moderated by Jeff Burnside of Miami’s NBC WTVJ and Nancy Baron.  Another one was our one-day trip to Biscayne National Park, where we did some scuba diving.  To get there, we had to pass Miami.

 

After spending one week in Fort Lauderdale, I flew to Savannah, Georgia (via Atlanta) to visit uncle Carl and aunt Aida.  I used to visit them when they were still in Columbus, Ohio.  But in 2006, they transferred to the “most beautiful city in North America,” to quote the words of one British journalist.

 

It was with them that I stayed longer – almost a month!  Uncle Carl picked me at the airport since my aunt was working.  Since I was tired, we immediately went to their home.  The house was smaller than their previous abode, but it was more beautiful and cozy. 

 

During my stay in their place, I came to know Savannah well – gothic, elegant, and weird.  During off days from her work, my aunt brought me to some tourist spots.   We came to visit some historical cemeteries.  She also brought me to places where some Hollywood movies were filmed, including Forrest Gump and In the Garden of Good and Evil.  My uncle taught me how to do fishing and canoeing. 

 

I had also an opportunity of learning how to surf in the famous Tybee Beach, which has been a favorite spot for vacationers and tourists since the late 1800s.   The beach is wide and clean, with warm, gentle waves.  The sand is white and you see no garbage anywhere. 

 

My last week were spent with my sister Marilou, whom I had not seen for more than a year since she left the Philippines.  Although we talked over the phone and communicated via e-mail messages, it was different to see her in person.  At that time, they lived in Newark, Delaware.  So my sister and her husband, David Eplite, had to pick me up at the airport in Philadelphia. 

 

On our way to their home, we stopped over in a Chinese restaurant to eat our dinner.  “You must be hungry, Manoy,” my sister said.  She was right; I was starving since I did not eat breakfast when I left Savannah.   During a stopover in Atlanta, I only ate a hamburger and juice – nothing more! 

 

I slept well that night.  The following day, Dave drove us straight to Washington, D.C.  I visited the state capitol before in 2001 but I didn’t have the privilege of roaming around the Mall since I was alone.  So, with my sister and her husband in tow, we walked from 9 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon.  “I have never walked this much in my life when I came to the United States,” my sister said.

 

Imagine this.  First, we walked from the parking area to the visitor’s area which took us about an hour.  After getting some brochures and taking some pictures at the back of the palace (as they call it), we proceeded immediately to visit the museums.  Before lunch, we were at the Washington Monument waiting for our turn to go up and see Washington, D.C. up there.

 

Frankly speaking, I was terrified of going up.  Elevators don’t scare me but the monument was standing alone.  What if there was an earthquake and it will collapse?  But my sister cajoled me to join with them.  After thinking for a few minutes and not wanting to become a killjoy, I decided to go with them.  From there, I was able to see the US Capitol, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, and the White House, among others.

 

After the DC sojourn, we roamed around Newark the following day.  There was nothing exciting or memorable about the trip; we went to the malls to buy some pasalubongs for my family and friends. 

 

The day after, we woke up early as we were going to Atlantic City in New Jersey.  The city is known for its boardwalk, which is about 6.63 kilometers long and 18 meters wide.  But people come to this city to gamble (have you seen the movie, Atlantic City?).  It is host to 11 casino resorts, eight of which are located on the Boardwalk: Caesars, Bally’s, Showboat, Atlantic City Hilton, Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza, and Tropicana.

 

On my fifth day with my sister, we had to leave Dave alone at home as we were going to New York City.  Dave had to drive us to a nearby city, where we took a bus going to the Big Apple.  Four hours later, we were in Manhattan.  My contacts – Tune Inumerables and Ann Sabio – met us at Macy’s, the world’s biggest shopping store. 

 

Although Tune and Ann were from my hometown, I never met them.  From time to time, I communicated with them through e-mails since both were members of the Association of Bansalenos Worldwide.  “We’ve finally see each other,” said the very beautiful Tune, who is the sister of another famous journalist, Jay Sonza.

 

Just like in Washington, D.C. and Atlantic City, we had to walk as we roamed around New York.  “It’s good that we had already practiced how to walk distant places in Washington, D.C.,” my sister said.  Of course, we also rode the subway train from here to there. 

 

We stayed for a night in New York (courtesy of Jeffrey Nique, who allowed us to sleep in his apartment).  The following day, we met Ann in a subway and brought us back in the bus station.  At 6 pm, while the city that never slept was under strong rain, we left.

 

For the next two days, my sister and I were so tired that we slept all day except only to eat and to watch the Olympic Games (the television was so huge that you can almost feel you were watching it right there in Beijing). 

 

“Thanks for the memories,” I told my sister before I left her on my way back to the Philippines.  “I had fun walking with you.  Hope we can do it again.”

 

(Postscript: Tune and Ann just celebrated their birthdays together in New York.  My sister Marilou and her husband Dave are now living in Orange City in Florida.  My uncle Carl and Aunt Aida are still in Savannah and waiting for my return there one of these days.  I am still communicating with some of the SeaWeb staff and fellow journalists who attended the coral reef symposium.)