Friday, October 30, 2020

The Art of Watercolor

 I had been learning how to paint with watercolor!  Since I was joined by my friend Lito Ballaran, a respected watercolorist, to the then International Watercolor Society of the Philippines (IWSP), I had been seriously trying to learn the art of watercolor.   My biggest difficulty in learning the craft is my   penchant for oil which I believe, I had developed my own style I call “Transparent Cubism” but even that, I think is being lost as I paint.  Nevertheless, a teacher once told us that if one has to paint with any medium, one has to use the said medium to its full potential – that one should show the characteristics of the medium. Basically, watercolor being transparent and the others, opaque.

 I have seen several demonstrations in the workshops of IWS, joined its exhibits since I entered and saw a hundred different tutorials on youtube, my favorites being Castagnet, Zbukvic among others.  However, to no avail have I fully learned how to use the medium like they do.  It seems like I would have to abandon oil for a very long time and just concentrate on watercolor if I really wanted to be adept with it.  I don’t want to do that.  Right now, I paint in watercolor for the fun of it, like what art making should be. 

 There have been a few occasions when my friends Sarah and Jerry, both good watercolorists, have urged me to try adapting my oil painting style with watercolor.  One would think that ought to be easy since my style  supposedly carries the word transparent and watercolor is just that – transparent. Ironically enough, it does not work that way.  The way one applies the brush strokes with both mediums for one thing is very different.  It is like a guitarist trying to play the piano.  The guitarist should embrace the bridge of the guitar and pluck the strings with a strong, firm hand. Piano tiles, on the other hand, should be cajoled softly and with loving tender care.  In both instruments, one plays with passion albeit differently. That is my analogy, whether it is apt or not, whether other artists would see it the way I do or disagree with me.

What I notice with watercolor is that there seems to be an accepted way one has to deal with it. This reminds me of exhibits and art competitions which have to undergo a jury of ones peers.  This jury of masters dictate the aesthetics of what a good watercolor painting should be.  To me, this standardization of the medium, especially in competitions disallows watercolor to grow.  This is also the reason why I do not approve of the proposed leveling from beginners to masters of the practitioners.  There should be other ways the medium can be used if only we could open our minds and let the practitioners explore other possibilities.  I admire my classmate and friend, Buds Convocar,who has developed a different way of using the medium which to my mind, is very successful. This is how I want watercolor to be if only I could.  Otherwise, let us continue to be among the herd, each one a repetition of the other. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

Guitar renditions


One of my favorite guitarists is Earl Klugh.  He was very popular in the Philippines during the 80's when fusion jazz became popular.  Here is a rendition of one of his arrangements made popular by The Platters before.  I know that because my family, especially my eldest sister, was Sof them.  





I thought I should play a serious guitar tune. This is from Francisco Tarrega and is entitled "Capricho Arabe" 


Friday, April 03, 2020

An Iron Fist

AS an aftermath of the chaos resulting in the arrest of several individuals in Bagong Pag asa in Quezon City because of a confusion resulting to the mayhem it created, the President, in his usual rogue and thuggish style, said that he is not afraid to have a strong stance against the perpetrators of any move to destabilize the government  to the point of ordering the police and army to shoot if need be.   A lot of

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March 2, 2020

What is frightening is that the police, given an authority to fire at will, can look for his enemy and kill his foe. alleging that he  was causing something that would disturb the peace.  Or someone whose actions can be misconstrued as violative even when there was no intention to can be killed just like that. Our president should understand that people who are hungry and lost will hold on to anything just to survive. He should understand that his threats of violence did not work for drug syndicates but only made it worse. But I am beginning to doubt if he has any intelligent ways to stop drugs which he promised to quell in six months much more a virus which does not respect anybody no matter how sound the solution is. Why does he not concentrate on the officials who do not deliver as they are ordered to do and are tainted with corruption instead?

Mayor Vico Sotto

My family and the rest of the residents of Pasig are lucky.  We have a well-meaning, intelligent Mayor who, from day 1 has risen to the occasion to help his constituents survive the present crisis.  During the early part of the quarantine, he made an appeal to the authorities to at least allow tricycles, to ferry the sick and/or health workers to and from the hospital.  This was frowned upon as it is contrary to the measures of the quarantine.  I believe so.  The good mayor followed.  Instead, he has deployed city vehicles to do the task and has initiated a mobile market that will go to the buyers instead of them going to the market.  

We were dismayed one night when the evening news reported that the National Bureau of Investigation is asking the Mayor to answer their query and face investigation of a possible violation of the quarantine measures of the government.

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April 1, 2020

To the NBI thinking that my mayor might have violated any of the orders of the national government, don't waste your time. He did not. If you are basing this on his plea to allow the use of tricycles to ferry the sick and/or health workers, he did not when he was not allowed. I am a witness that no tricycles are plying the streets of  Pasig. Again, it was an appeal that did not materialize because it was not allowed. Besides, even if, for the sake of argument that an appeal is already punishable, it was made prior to the emergency powers, hence mayors exercised independence from any member of the executive branch as mandated by law as the President exercises only the power of supervision and not control. A law cannot be retroactive unless it favors the accused. That is very basic. So, to the NBI, I suggest you guys focus on something more productive and let our good mayor do his job, hoping you'd do yours just as effectively. Stop politicizing, please.

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In a later development, Vice President Leni Robredo is also being asked by the PACC to explain her actions.  She, too, have been working hard to help in the fight against the virus.  I cannot understand  why they are after those who seem to be doing the right thing except that someone or some group are out to destroy these two for they have been being overshadowed.  

Both agencies would later on deny that the two are being investigated.  My foot!  

President's Report

To help curb the pandemic, Congress has passed a resolution granting the President emergency powers that included a Php275 billion emergency fund.   That is fine until the Senate President said there is no pressure on the President to  make a weekly report.  Number 27 of the emergency powers state:
27. Report to Congress the amounts, realignment of funds every Monday of the week. (haha gudlak sa gagawa 
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The Senate President said that
there is no pressure on Duterte to make a weekly report as stated on the emergency powers the people have granted him. This is absurd. Congress put that in place so that the people would know how the huge amount of money is being dispensed with and how the President is exercising his ]added powers. among others. It is called accountability. If no less than the Senate President see its importance of having to follow the law, how can we expect the people to follow? It seems like are definitely doomed.
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Come to think about it, nothing intelligent has ever come out from the mouth of this Senator. 

Quarantine

The country was devastated and angered when the St. Luke's Hospital issued a letter denouncing Sen. Koko Pimentel of having breached his quarantine period to accompany his pregnant wife to the hospital. Just like any other, I was enraged knowing how the President gave the order to  everyone to stay home. I was even angered when the results finally came in showing that the senator tested positive. 

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March 25, 2020

The irresponsible action of going to the hospital knowing that he is a PUI and is just awaiting the results, he has endangered contaminating a lot of people including our frontliners who are now dwindling in number, plus an aggravating circumstance of high knowledge and stature, he should be held criminally liable. Especially now that he tested positive. Unless Covid 19 decreases one's common sense.

A Pandemic Wreaks Havoc.

The SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome appeared in China in 2003 had put a wild scare throughout the world, including the Philippines. Luckily, it seemed to have died a natural death after a month or so after having claimed several lives. The virus  appeared once again in another form and a second outbreak emerged in 2013 known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or MERS- Cov that put Saudi Arabia to its knees. Once again, we were lucky as it did not come to our shores.   However, both epidemics are nothing compared to the most recent phenomenon, the SARS Cov 2 more popularly known as the COVID-19 that originated in Wuhan, China and spreading like wildfire into at least 70 countries until the World Health Organization had to declare it a pandemic.  Most hit were China, Italy and the United States among others.  The death toll worldwide is staggering. Most countries, including the Philippines, had no other recourse but to declare a community quarantine, a euphemism for a lockdown to flatten the curve. 

This lockdown is proving to be disastrous to the economy.  In the country alone, there is concern about supplies in both food, alcohol and other amenities.  Hopefully, this solution becomes a success eventually or we may come into an inglorious conclusion of having to result to chaos and anarchy because people are desperate and have to fight for their survival.  Just a few days ago, there was disorder in Quezon City because the people were anticipating help coming from the local government unit which has not been coming and they were already hungry.

We are now down to the third week of the lockdown and still, the numbers of afflicted people keep on growing proving that the lockdown is not yet doing what it is supposed to do.  About eight or so doctors have died fighting the disease.  It is imperative that a solution to combat this unseen nemesis be put to a stop before we run out of hospitals and medical practitioners.  Such a grim possibility can happen if we do not find the fastest and most efficient remedy to the problem. 

It is in times like this when the leaders we have elected should step forward and be the leader we hoped they will be.  Our supposed leaders and their perceived opponents should have some sort of a ceasefire from politics, putting their interests on hold and be united in finding solutions to the emerging problems brought about by the disease. 
And yet, people will be people. Politicians will always be politicians thinking about nothing but their own agenda. Some even, by some egoistic idea of entitlement, stormed into the testing centers demanding that they be tested first ignoring the fact that  they have nothing to worry about yet and that more people needed to be tested immediately and use the very limited  gadgets or instruments there are.  

Members of Congress has given the President emergency powers to quell the malaise that is Covid-19.  Knowing that for a democracy to work, the citizens should be able to express their minds freely so that the leaders they chose to sit in power are doing their job, effectively and rightfully.  In effect, it is everybody’s duty to criticize, give their opinions and tell their elected officials what they are doing wrong or otherwise.  The followers of the President, which it seems is dwindling, come to his rescue and suggest that those criticizing him are nothing but distractors of his government, etc, etc.  They want us to just follow him blindly. 

If that is what they want, then they deserve to live miserable lives under a dictator! In the past three weeks, I have seen and heard actions from the government that I object to and as my prime duty not to just sit and wait, I have engaged with fellow, well-meaning citizens to make our voices heard. Yes, a pandemic is wreaking havoc in the country and we seem to be losing because we also have to fight against ignorance, greed and self-serving leaders which is even worse.  I have put my opinions on Facebook and reproducing them here in my blog for safekeeping. 

Monday, March 02, 2020

Northern Paradise

Early morning of February 26, 2020, my wife, her friend, Lezlie and I were at the airport on our way to the northernmost part of the country in Batanes. It is a group of islands just south of Taiwan.  Comprising of a total of 10 islands, only three islands, Itbayat, Batan and Sabtang, are inhabited. Without any preconceived ideas of what laid ahead, the three of us, only armed with enthusiasm and excitement set foot on Basco airport for the first time. We were greeted by Edna who drove a trike which shall be our vehicle for the duration of the trip.  To my amazement, the trike was far different from the usual trikes we have in the Philippines.  These trikes were custom made for touring with a thatched roofing that is reminiscent of an Ivatan traditional house. Very clever, I should add.



 As was stated, we were greeted by Edna, a government employee, who was tasked by our host to take us to the house where we shall be staying.  Yes, we stayed in a house, a home stay as the locals call it. As it turned out, Batanes is filled with these kind of lodgings which is actually a  welcome treat for we shall be living with a local   and none of those hotel-trying-hard-fancies that most hotels in the provinces try to live up to but mostly fall short. It was like going on a vacation to a far away land and living with a close relative .

The house in Castillejos St. was about a five-minute drive by tricycle. There, we were welcomed by Richmond,  the son of the owners, who was as accommodating and friendly as his parents, Richard and Leny.  As we got up to our rooms, the table was already prepared with rice, eggs and sword fish for breakfast. The rooms were clean and very comfortable.

 After breakfast, I took off to visit a small art gallery to check out what the local artists are like in this part of the country while my companions rested.  I was impressed by the artistry of some twenty or so artists in the area. Believing I owe it to at least make a purchase in support of the artists there, I bought a t shirt designed by no other than the owner of the gallery.  At lunchtime, our ride for the tour of Day 1 arrived with our tour guide/driver, Jaycee. We were taken to Beehan, a local restaurant for lunch. After which, we were taken to a view deck which officially welcomed us to  Basco, Batanes.  There we were fascinated by the view not knowing that the rest of our stay will be nothing but be amazed by the scenery that the place has to offer.


                       Welcome to Basco Batanes
                                                                                                         Church

Firs View deck from among many


Rolling hills

            Valugan Boulder  Beach                                      Naidi Lighthouse

From among the scenic spots that we went to, notable was the rolling hills which is like no other . So, too were the hills divided by the grass called biawo (sp?) which are also being used as wind breakers as the winds blow strong continuously at the wide expanse of spacious, mountainous land which is also carpeted by a sprawling lawn of bermuda and other equally beautiful grass.  Another highlight was the boulder beach, a shoreline that is lined up with nothing but rocks that are constantly beaten by the swelling sea that forms waves upon waves that crush into the rocks that stand their ground refusing to budge even an inch from where they stand.  

Second Day

We had to srart early as we were to ride a boat going to the island of Sabtang, the island closest to Cagauyan.  After a thirty minute ride going to  the port, we were prepared for another thrity minute boat ride.  As usual, we were asked to wear life vests for precautionary measures. 



Upon entry to the island, we were greeted by our tour guide driver, Joel!  The first stop was a beach with a fantastic land formation perfect for picture taking. The beach was equally beautiful but it is not one where beach goers bathe in.  After all, it was just one of the stops among many.  Not wanting to be a spoiler, trust me when I say that Sabtang has plenty of adorable things to offer.  Nevertheless, allow me to jump to what I consider to be the highlight of our visit.  The traditional houses in a community of about two hundred Ivatans.  The pictures will do the talking for me. 




















Day 3

Day three was a tour south of Batan Island.  First stop was the Mahatao church , where a library with volumes of books, all blank, is numbered and where one can write whatever one pleases about Batanes. Be it a prayer for the place, the expression of awe, etc. can be written and be reviewed on the next visit provided one remembers the volume number one wrote in.  



Next stop was  a light house called Tayid. Once again, it is located in a spot that has a wonderful view of the ocean and the magnificent Mt. Iraya with its head wearing a cloud on its head making it look mysterious as its ubiquitous cloud formation hides the top of the mountain making one wonder how it looks like.  










After being in awe at the scenery at Tayid Lighthouse, we were taken to yet another location with a fantastic view called Rakuh-a-Payaman or what is commonly known as Marlboro Country. This is a gated paradise to keep the grazing carabaos and cows from straying off the vicinity.  In order to enter the place, one has to open the gate by himself and  enter.  A few meters thereafter, one enters another expanse of land where a sprawling landmass of greenery carpeted to perfection by the grazing animals who seem to be in paradise with nothing to do but munch on their favorite delight.  

There are at least ten stops one takes on this tour.  One of which was the only surviving stone house built in 1877 making it the oldest surviving edifice in the whole of Batanes. A relative, probably a third generation descendant with her offspring, takes care of  the place. Worth mentioning, too, is the honesty store  This is a famous store unmanned by any vendor as the owners have placed their trust in the goodness in people which they believe only a very minor motivation could spark the goodness inherent with each visitor. . Signs like "This place is too small for people who cheat!"   True enough, the store has endured the years of its existence from the very day it was perceived and ironically seem to even be growing as it now houses not only meager trade  but even big souvenir items as well.  Realizing  at the store's accomplishment, one realizes there is hope for the Filipino people.  

In conclusion, I am bewildered by Batanes not only because of its beautiful scenery but most of all the system it has learned to adopt.  The tourism industry will continue to thrive just because the Ivatans seem to know what the common goal is. This is a possible because of their  egalitarian way of life. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batanes">The prime motivator of the cultural values of the Ivatans are imbibed in their  pre-colonial belief systems of respecting nature and all people. The Ivatans, both  the older and younger generations, have one of the highest incidences of social acceptance to minority groups in the country. The Ivatans also have a high respect for the elderly and the prowess of natural phenomena such as waves, sea breeze, lightning, thunders, earthquakes, and wildlife congregations.  Discriminating someone based on skin color, ethnic origin, sexual orientation,gender identity, age, and traditions on nature is unacceptable in Ivatan values.Land grabbing is also a grave crime in Ivatan societies, making ancestral domain certification an important part of Ivatan jurisprudence since the enactment of the IPRA Law

Everywhere I went during my visit, the people showed respect for one another, the community spirit of oneness, the eagerness to please outsiders as a way of showing their warm hospitality and more.  What makes Batanes work is because it has not been corrupted by greed or is being run by power hungry politicians. The place is small, with a population of only 18000 with the three inhabited islands combined.  Everywhere I went, the streets are immaculately clean, with toilets in strategic locations replete with water and even soap.  The people are very industrious and have learned how to live given the circumstances they are in. Knowing how windy their area is, they plant root crops and grow food, raise animals only by organic means.  The animals we saw grazing are not usually owned by a certain individual but is owned by everyone just like a cooperative.  

Going to traditional houses make me travel  back in time and see for my self how these people thrived in spite of typhoons and other weather hindrances. They have learned to tame the winds and the rain by their creativity as shown by their head gears not seen anywhere else in the country.  Given a chance to come back, I will have no second thoughts provided I have the money and the time.  

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Foreword for the book Aurora

When my book, Picking Up the Pieces came out, one of those who got interested to read it is a very good friend of mine.  Not only did she got interested to read it, it gave her the idea to write her own book telling about her life story. Helping her design the cover and writing the foreword for the book, to push her and proceed as planned, she managed to work on it in between her busy schedule. The plan  materialized and after one and a half years, the book Aurora is now out! I would like to reproduce the foreword I wrote here hoping it might ignite some interest to those who reads this and purchase the book.

Foreword

I have known Aurora or Au, as we called her then, for a very long time. Not only did I know her personally, we were also very close. We taught in the same school in a posh village south of Manila about 20 years ago. I knew her as we were always together with our common friends practically every day during those years. Even more so, I saw the love blossoming between her and her then husband to-be. Hence, I knew her like the palm of my hand, or so I thought. That was until I got to read her book. What a revelation it was! None of those written in this book were known to me nor to her closest friends in school. Nobody knew. She kept every- thing from us and neither anybody knew nor will ever know why people are just different from each other, I guess. Had I known what I have discovered reading her life story, I would not have hesitated to extend help to her had she asked for it. The things she had to endure were so intense that anybody with a faint heart would have
given up a long time ago.

From the day she was born, Au had been living a life of discomfort. To make a difficult existence even worse, one by one, the hurdles she had to overcome became harder—the cross she carried got heavier by the years, just waiting for her to be nailed on it. Using a deck of cards as an analogy, she was dealt a shitty hand of cards. Worse, she was thrown several curve balls to boot, enough to make her life miserable by any ordinary individual’s standards. However, she was far from ordinary. Armed with a brain she learned to nurture with beautiful thoughts, developed the perseverance to study hard and hone her intellectual skills, coupled with a strong resolve and wily wit to beat the odds, she survived them all. She knew how to play the bad hands she had been dealt with, managed to stay afloat and even won in the end.

While on the surface, this book is about Au and her travails in life, one has to read it on different levels. First and foremost, it tells us how to live poor in an already poor country. Being bad enough to live in a land full of wants; to live in utter deprivation in such a horrid place is unthinkable. Second, through this book, one gets a glimpse of the Filipino culture and how Filipinos thrive in spite of having to eke out a living. In a land where there is a great divide between the haves and have-nots, it is impossible to see how different one’s world is from those with plenty and view life with a lot of envy. Not my Au though. She was content with what she had and grew up not wanting what she cannot have—material things that is. Third, the reader will know that one of the distinct characteristics of a Filipino is to learn how to look at life with humor. Dubbed as one of the happiest people on earth, Filipinos have learned to laugh at themselves and their misfortunes. This feature is very evident in Au’s writing as she narrates how poor her family was, yet she injected humor in the narrative giving away how she managed to look at life. Lastly, being religious, a believer of the Catholic faith and devoted to the Virgin Mother, she had surrendered everything to the Lord, but unlike the fanatic, she does so only after having done what she
thought she had to do. These levels are manifested either explicitly or implicitly throughout the pages in this book.

It has been said that we can only truly appreciate the blessings in our lives after we have suffered and worked hard for them. We tend to ignore the pleasures and benefits of life when these are given
to us on a silver platter. Au has had one misfortune after another throughout her life, and she had avowed that all sacrifices and everything she did were all for the love of her Creator. Luckily, her tables have turned, and she now reaps the benefits after a long, arduous life of misery. That is my only consolation after having read her life story—it seems that the trials in her life are now over. It is now time to reap the right to enjoy the remaining years of her life, hopefully, for a very long time—even a lot longer than the years of her suffering. Let this book be an inspiration to everyone knowing that no matter how dark the tunnel of life may be, it has to end somewhere, and at the end is an illuminating light, radiant and bright enough to guide our paths with clarity no matter how long the journey shall be.
                  
                                                                                                                               Rolly S. delos Santos





Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Two day tour of vowels with too many diacritical marks.

When my wife announced that she was having a tour of Vietnam with her former Elementary and High School classmates, I volunteered to accompany her.  Not that I was forcing my way around for I have met these ladies several times before  and I think I am welcome to stay with the group. What was so compelling for me was that I have never been to any part of Vietnam.  A tour of Ho Chi Minh, despite its briefness, would be a very welcome respite from my usual boring days in the house punctuated only by spurts of creative impulse that see me in my studio a few blocks away from the house.  Since it was my birthday on the 7th of September and the trip was on the 19th till the 21st, that included the flights to and from Ho Chi Minh, my wife gave me the trip as a gift.  I so love my wife!!!





On the the 19th of September, after having delivered my paintings at the Cultural Center of the Philippines for a show with my watercolor group, the International Watercolor Society of the Philippines,  I joined my wife at the University so that we can travel to the airport together.  At  past ten o clock in the evening, we took off for Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon.  The place being one hour delayed with the Philippines, we arrived at around two in the morning.  We were met by our very accommodating, hospitable, very knowledgeable and pleasant host/tour guide Trinh Nguyen.  He spoke English well, having worked for Vietnam airlines for several years  

Trinh Nguyen

Eager to please his guests, he went out of his way to accompany me to museums after we have left the ladies to their number one preoccupation when on tour - shopping! 

Day 1

Our hotel, ,the Cititel Ben Thanh, is located at the center of the  city and is ideal for anything you would want to do. Every place we went to was just a few minutes away, as a matter of fact, could have been walking distance away from the beautiful spots we went to, except for the Mekong River which is an hour and half away.  The hotel, in spite of its three star rating, is clean, spacious and serves relatively good breakfast.  The sumptuous buffet is more than comforting that could make one survive the day without having to eat lunch in its regular time. 

The morning started with us venturing the nearby market which is about a two minute walk away.  There we were welcomed by the sounds and sites of Ho Chi Minh, its trade, food and motorcycles, a very popular way of traversing the city,, and should we have gone to other place, probably the vehicle of choice of most thorough the entire country.  











For lunch, although I was still full, I sampled the food stalls at the market and had  authentic Pho and spring rolls.  One thing one should remember when visiting Vietnam is that their money is deflated and one meal would cost you hundred thousands of Dong! It is a relief that their money is smaller in size and the denomination is by the hundreds of thousands. I could not imagine having it otherwise. How thick my wallet should be is unfathomable.   The market, while it was not really   immaculately clean, was  surprisingly not smelly and one could eat knowing that it would be safe. No service water is being served, though.  One has to buy everything.  Many of the vendors spoke Tagalog phrases and some of them would accept pesos!!!!

The tour began after lunch, which gave us ample time to relax after a tiring travel from airport to airport.  We were given a good travel bus all to ourselves meaning it had plenty of room and travelling for hours,  if we had to, could have not posed a problem.  It had spacious leg room and the aircon was very good,


The first place we visited was the Independence Palace - palace with lots of history.  Designed by Ngô  Viết Thụ, it is also known as Reunification Palace. Formerly known as the Norodom Palace, it was the home and workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the war or pre-communist era of Vietnam.  It was the last bastion of the  US troops where,  I presume,  the play Ms. Saigon, had Kim seen giving her child to her US paramore riding a helicopter.   








A tour of the city will never be complete without seeing the  war memorabilia. After the tour of the palace, we had a late lunch at a restaurant called  Bun Bo Ganh,  a big restaurant that serves Vietname tse cuisine and just a stone's throw away from the War Remnant Museum which houses everything about the recently concluded war in 1975.  Here one finds the power and might of the US fighting a war that was not only very costly as it saw the death of hundreds of thousands of both US and Vietnamese only to be considered a big mistake later on.  






Last stop was the Saigon Central where the women did what they do best - shopping! Before that though, we were taken to a shop where we had a taste of coffee ala Vietnam which, I think is composed of Arabica and a local brew.  It was pleasantly nice which any coffee connoisseur would have appreciated. 

Since I had no knack for shopping and that the wife was with me, I decided to venture on my own. Nguyen was kind enough to take me to a gallery, a shop that sold paintings. The gallery was divided into two.  The front being a collection of Vietnamese painters doing copies of original European modern art like Klimt, Van Gogh  and variations of the same.  The other half, the one at the farthest end are original paintings. He was also supposed to take me to a place where they did lacquer on wood, a famous painting technique, but it was already closed.  Nguyen, instead, as kind as he is, took me to pub for a drink of  a very much needed thirst quenching juice which he paid for.  After that venture, we went to a mall in front of Saigon Square while we waited for the ladies who I think were busy dispensing their millions.  



That night, after arriving at the hotel, my wife and I decided we shall just stay at the room, skip dinner and sleep while the rest went to the market to experience the night market, which actually is no different except for the time of day. 

Day 2

Again, after a hefty breakfast, true to his word and on time, I met our guide who promised to take me to the Museum of Fine Arts,  a ten minute walk from the hotel and is a colossal building which was formerly owned by a very wealthy Chinese who owned several houses just as big as  this one.  It is now owned by the government and has been transformed into a museum for the arts.  The collection is not as huge as our present National Museum but comparatively has the same modern art based on western art, and almost the same as their Filipino contemporaries who painted from the 50's till the 70's.  








After the tour of the Museum of Fine Arts, we were on the road again and went to the building that truly reminds everyone that there was a time when the country, together with Cambodia and Laos, was still under the colony of France. Named as French Indochina, it would be impossible to totally eradicate everything that is French for after all, they occupied the country for almost a century.  What is more French than the Notre Dame Cathedral? Built during the latter part of the 1800's the cathedral has been built with nothing but French materials shipped into the city.  It boasts of two bell towers each measuring 57.6 m high with six bronze bells with the total weight of 28.85 metric tonnes. Unfortunately, we were only able to see the facade for the entire church is being renovated.  Across the street was the Post Office, another remnant of French architecture.  




After the brief tour of the city, we were on the bus again, this time for about an nour and a half ride going to the Mekong River.  The first stop was for lunch where we were taken to the Mekong Rest Stop Restaurant, an array of restaurants that  could sit probably hundreds of guests very much similar, for a lack of better comparison, to our dampa but more spacious. As always, we were served authentic Vietnamese food and they were all delectable. 



Remembering Kuya Pancho

When the delicious lunch was over, we hopped once more to the bus for a fifteen minute ride going to what to me was the highlight of the trip, the  Mekong River.  Somehow, I have a connection with the river as I experienced death in the family for the first time with that name etched  in my memory.  You see, one of my cousins, the first sea farer in the family which we Filipinos call seamen, met a tragedy in this river.  It was towards the ending of the Vietnam war when Kuya Pancho came there.  The story was that he wore that ubiquitous Vietnamese conical hat known as a nón lá, probably as a protection from the heat when they ran into an American PT Boat.  Thinking that they were commies, the PT boat ran them over. The story was that all of my cousin's companions jumped on one side while he was by his lonesome at the other.  We never heard from him ever since.  

The ride by the river is a very comfortable boat that had several sofas, a table, several hammocks and beds.  One just have to ride and be at ease knowing that it is going to be safe.  





We were told that there are about four main islands by the Mekong River. We managed, given the short time spent in the area, to go around two of them.  Even had the wonderful experience of another boat ride traversing one of the river's tributaries and getting to know the river and partly its people - boat men, who give tourists a two kilometer ride from point A to point B where the main river is met once again.  







After the Mekong River, we had to go back to Ho Chi Minh and head for the airport as we had to fly back to Manila, supposedly at 10 pm.  As usual, the flight did not take place as scheduled as the plane was delayed and we had to leave Vietnam at around two in the morning. 

Impressions:

I know that with only two days, we barely scratched the surface of what really Vietnam has to offer.  But in those two days, I have formed an opinion of the intricacies of Vietnamese culture. Just like the Philippines that has been a colony of three different world powers, Spanish for three centuries, USA for fifty and the Japanese for three war torn years, Vietnam has seen colonizers from the French, Chinese and the USA.  I:t will not be a surprise to see different cultural diversities among the people and yet, I have not seen it during those two days.  What I saw were a people engaged in trade, industriously working for a living.  

 As my observation of Vietnamese writing is complicated with each vowel having the most number of diacritical marks, the system of government is just as baffling to me. My idea of communism has always been what the US has been telling me.  That communism has always been about each according to his need and not each according to his ability as probably envisioned by Marx and Lenin. A  system which I believe centered more on  the needs of the lowly so that they can cope and survive while  the other is based on the premise that one can soar given his abilities.  have always believed that communism is about economics forgetting it is, more than anything else is about the reins of power.  It is about the annihilation of the ruling class, the aristocracy by the peasants so that they could lead the state without having to contend with land owners and perhaps, monarchy.   a However, this is no longer true.  Vietnam, just like China, has turned into a free market, a capitalistic system if you will.  Only the form of government is socialist with only one party running the affairs of government, It would not be far fetched that soon, the ruling class and those who knew how to play their cards right, fortunate enough to gain wealth, shall be the next aristocrats and the poor shall be poorer once again. 

What is remarkable to me is that Vietnam, which has just survived the ravages of war, has steadily risen up and would probably be ahead of the Philippines if we do not clean up our act.  That is even more tragic than I can ever imagine.