Friday, 1 February 2013

Epilogue: Journeying Through Iloilo

Written by Dr. Yeoh Seng Guan
Picture by Sarah Chong

Like the crafty wizard Gandalf (of The Lord of the Rings fame), I found myself resorting to an array of methods to spur our motley cohort of travellers ever forward and onward during their sojourn in Iloilo, a journey which in fact began several months earlier when they decided to respond to the call for participation.

Seeing things differently...

Through a combination of persuasion, coercion, and even trickery, I entreated these young gifted individuals to forsake familiar comforts and routines in order to coalesce into a team for a greater collective purpose. At an organizational level, this visibly revolved around a contemporary social media vehicle aptly called http://insearchofiloilo, At an intangible and affective level, the fellowship of the blog was forged through the many battles that each of them had to encounter. 

Unlike Gandalf I do not possess the magical powers to ward off the many potent foes of the mind that confronted the student travellers this past week– the beguiling trappings of elite social privilege; the superficial grasp of issues drawn from an array of well-meaning but ill-informed family members and friends; and the stereotypical representations of the powerful mainstream media. They also had to do battle with bodily and mental fatigue borne out of the long hours of work and play deep into the night. 

These nourishing and inspiring powers came from elsewhere and from many sources: 

- the lectures and experiences shared by knowledgeable and passionate speakers 

- the interviews and interactions with the indigenous Ati community (in Jordan, Guimaras) and several urban poor communities in Iloilo City 

- the conversations with shopkeepers, jeepney drivers, sidewalk vendors, the performers of the Dinagyang Festival and many others 


To begin at the beginning, this journey would not have possible in the absence of the support of key individuals. When I first broached the idea of having a study trip in Iloilo nearly two years ago, Dr Rosalie Arcala Hall was warmly receptive, perhaps not aware of the amount of preparatory work that she had to do since. In August 2011 when I visited Iloilo for the first time to conduct a scoping mission, the dynamic duo of Rosalie and Bruce, her partner, took time off to drive me around the city to visit various churches and organisations. Their many suggestions and insights eventually formed the skeleton of this year’s study trip. 

Dr Rosalie Arcala Hall was also instrumental in paving the way for the use of the Gender Development Building and Balay Ilongo based in the city campus of the University of the Philippines, Visayas as accommodation for the student travellers. In particular, I thank Professor Diane Aure for kindly allowing the women student travellers to be the first occupants of the Gender Development Building, a historic moment that I am sure that would be proudly recast in a legendary mode by these students for years to come. Similarly, for the use of the magnificent Cinematheque to screen an inaugural selection of Malaysian independent and student short films, I thank Professor Martin Genodepa for his kind generosity. 

In the genre of an epic journey, it is usually the case that besides the wise guide/sage unlocking the travellers’ true potentialities, there are other colourful characters inhabiting this dramatic landscape. They play the varied roles of the loyal sidekick, the jester/joker and inspiring friend to the intrepid travellers. For the “In Search of Iloilo” journey, this would be Paolo Onor Javier, Peter Glen Rapiz, Lucille Ann Octavio, Zherluck Shaen Rodriguez and Noraisa Simpal. They have been exemplary guides in helping the travellers navigate the landscape of Iloilo with fun, grace and ease. 

As in previous study trips, the many “battles” in the form of quickly learning to navigate through the landscape of unfamiliarity are faithfully documented (textually and visually) in this blog. It serves as a tangible archive and cipher of their special time in a vibrant city steeped in history, belief and culture. And much more besides... 

This is your Editor-in-Chief, signing off

Written by Chrishandra Sebastiampillai
Pictures by Sarah Chong and Vince Cheong

The first thing my parents did when I stepped back into my house was to bundle me off to the hospital. I’d spent the last two days of the trip locked up in my room with a high fever and wheezing, so they weren’t taking any chances with me. What I thought would be a regular jaunt to the doctor resulting in antibiotics ended up being a return to my childhood inhalations, something I hadn’t done since primary school. Sitting in the new Emergency room of Assunta Hospital and steadily sucking in a mixture of oxygen and steroids, I was confronted with the mural that the management had put in the ‘Inhalation Corner’. It depicted an ‘Under The Sea’ theme, with a variety of sea creatures grinning manically and blowing bubbles. Alright, so the seahorse wasn’t smiling, and the octopus had more of a smirk than anything else, but the general idea was clear: just breathe.

Unsurprisingly, Guimaras will remain a fantastic memory to all of us

Almost two weeks earlier, I’d had the exact same thought while sitting on the roof of a jeepney, flying along the deserted roads of Guimaras. Here I am, I thought, with these 17 other Malaysians, literally in paradise. The sea, visible on the horizon was a gorgeous mix of green to blue jewel tones, and the breeze was whipping my hair and blowing my worries away. And we were singing “Do Re Mi” for the third time. Forget that the lack of internet means that you can’t upload all the articles you have, forget that you have a huge street festival to cover in a few days, and just breathe, I tell myself. This was after all the spirit of a text message received from Dr. Yeoh at 11 pm the previous night- “If there is no internet, there is nothing you can do. Go to sleep and get to it tomorrow”.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

I Left My Heart In Iloilo City

Written by Sheril A. Bustaman
Photographs by Melissa Chia & Sarah Chong

    Like thieves in the night, the travelers had packed up to leave the University of Philippines Visayas, our home for the past ten days. We hugged our student guides, who had woken up at 4am despite not really having to do so, exchanged promises to see each other soon and to keep in touch. Despite my protesting eyelids, I kept myself awake to absorb just once again all the places we’ve been to over the past ten days. As we passed the Esplanade, Smallville, SM City Iloilo, and moved on to the road to the airport, I felt a horrid sinking feeling in my stomach, almost as if I was leaving my real home to go away.

The evolution of the young traveller

Written by Lestari Hairul
Photograph by Peter Glenn Rapiz

     The pre-dawn flight to Manila got me questioning myself about what I’d gotten myself into as our ears were assaulted by the voices of the way too spirited members of our group. I was the cranky, seasoned traveller who was rolling her eyes at the antics of the younger, less-travelled students.

    Several mistakes were made through the trip. Small, slightly unnoticeable ones that would have landed one in trouble if we weren’t in such a big group. Perhaps it was the strength in numbers that emboldened them or perhaps the absence of parental presence but whatever it was, I’d chalked it down to the wide-eyed inquisitiveness of youth just recently released into the wider world.

When tour guides become tourists

Written by Lucille Anne Octavio 

     I have lived for seventeen years in Iloilo. I have been staying in Iloilo City for almost eight months. I have traveled in Manila, Baguio, Boracay, Butuan and many local places around my area. Basically, I have stepped across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao—I have toured the Philippines. However, despite all the places I have visited, I found myself a tourist in my own land. 

    Supposedly, I am a student guide. The study trip of Monash University here in Iloilo City put me in charge of Malaysian students who knew very little about the place. For ten days, I have been a tourist myself in my own home. And yes, I really did enjoy hosting the open house. I have learned a lot about the Philippines , especially in Iloilo City. I have come to know a lot about Malaysia. I have made lots of self-realizations. I know I have grown because of this tour. 

    The unique and amazing Gamot Cogon School has existed for almost seven years already, but I just found out about it last week. Heritage houses here in Iloilo City have stood for almost a century, but I only visited them last week. I have seen the Ati people, but never visited their community- I just did it last week. I have passed by several urban poor sites, but never stepped in there- until last week. Dinagyang has been so popular internationally through the years, but I watched it live for the first time on Sunday. 

It's More Fun With The Malaysians!

Written by Noraisa Simpal
Photographs by Melissa Chia

    I remember the first time I saw them. They were all stressed out because of the 12-hour journey they had to endure to reach Iloilo City. Because of the blog, I immediately recognized them the minute they got out of the vans when they parked outside the dorm. A lot of thoughts swarmed into my mind at that exact moment. “Will they be friendly?” “Will they be disappointed?” “Will this trip be a memorable one?” “What if something goes terribly wrong?” I was really nervous. Nonetheless, we, the student guides, rushed to meet and welcome them. “Hi, I’m Helen! And you are..?” After answering this question, all my worries immediately vanished. 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Daily Diary Day 12

Written by Esther Ho and Emily Choong
Photographs by Cultural Center of the Philippines, Melissa Chia and Emily Choong

Sun, Sea, Sand and Scenes 

   Today, after enjoying a good night’s rest, we travelers woke up to a splendid surprise - complimentary breakfast at Rosa’s Garden Hotel’s restaurant! On offer were the classic big American breakfast (Toast, bacon, eggs, coffee and juice); Filipino Favorite (Longanisa, corned beef, egg, rice) and Mercedes breakfast (pancakes, butter, maple syrup, fresh fruit). Feeling indulgent, most of us opted for the big American breakfast and some of us learnt that while the restaurant prided themselves in being able to do eggs any style, poached eggs was just out of their reach. 

     Alas, breakfasts on study trips are never a fine dining experience. We were hurried out of the hotel in straggling groups on foot towards the Cultural Center of the Philippines via Manila Bay. Those who were too late would take a taxi.

Session 8: Filipino Films

Written by Lestari Hairul
Photographed by Melissa Chia and Sarah Chong

    For our final scheduled session, we visited the Cultural Centre of the Philippines (CCP) for a tour, talk and short screening of Filipino independent cinema. Our host for the day was Mr Edward Cabagnot, a writer and 27 year veteran of the arts scene who will be retiring from his position as the head of the CCP film department soon.

Mr Edward Cabagnot

     We were given a tour of the building that was built during the Marcos’ reign by decree of Imelda Marcos as the premier arts and cultural institution for the elites of Manila. The CCP is a sprawling building of modernist architecture, decorated by several paintings and sculptures produced by Filipino maestros; art installations; art exhibitions and small cultural museums.

Our Last Night in Manila, Moby Style

Written by Anis Nadia Jilid
Photographs by Melissa Chia

     Ever had that feeling when you’ve finally realized how everything is about to end in less than 24 hours? How your usual routine of waking up and looking forward to new adventures with friends can abruptly end? In this case, our 12 days of the Philippines had an impermanent turn and all that was left is absorbing in what you can. 

      A spontaneous, fast-track tour had ensued after our film session at the Cultural Center. A few of us were very delighted to have been able to follow Tracey and her relatives on a spur-of-the-moment sightseeing trip around Makati, Manila.

Living In A Gendered Environment

Written by Andrea Tee
Photograph by Andrea Tee

     This year’s "In Search Of" study trip was graciously hosted by the University of the Philippines Visayas campus. 14 girls and 4 guys (including our intrepid lecturer pathfinder) and our student guides were housed in the on-campus accommodation. 

    While the male travelers and guides were put up in Balay Illongo, the university’s unisex dorm, the ladies of the trip were housed in UPV’s Gender and Development Programme (GDP) building--a gloriously pink two-storey building at the far end of the campus.

    Constructed through the Countrywide Development Fund of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago--a 1965 alumni of UPV, the GDP building was formally opened on March 7th, 2008, marking the celebration of International Women’s Month. Built as the epicentre of gender-related events on the campus, the building houses the Gender and Development Program Office, the Balay-Balay (a child-minding centre), the Usgad Regional Resource Centre, the National Women Fisheries Network of the Philippines, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Office, a Gender-based library, a Teen centre, a Women’s Gallery and Museum, a Nook for Retired Personnel, and a mini-dormitory.

The suitably pink GDP Building.