Tuesday, November 23, 2010

FROM RIVETING THEATER TO PEKING DUCKING, I REDISCOVER MACAU

















This piece appeared in the Philippine Inquirer on Nov 14, 2010

Five years ago, I was touring a series of restored Macanese villas on the island of Taipa, south of Macau when I saw cranes and earthmovers on reclaimed land across the bay. I asked a local what that was about, and he answered, “Ah, that’s a new city.”

Today, I’m in my 20th floor suite of the Crown Towers Hotel looking across at the Taipa villas. I am in a new city alright, the City of Dreams, a new three-hotel complex surrounding a massive casino and one spectacular theater built from the ground up for a “waterworld” extravaganza.

Despite other countries in the region opening or expanding their casino operations, Macau still has the gaming edge. They have an inexhaustible supply of mainland visitors that exponentially increases with a booming economy. They also had many years of the business and have now fine-tuned the gaming industry to an entertainment, shopping, fine dining and luxury hotel destination. Something for every segment even for me, satisfied with just a slot machine.

If you yearn for the dice but have children in tow, they’re going to love Kids’ City. In this spacious play ground they have everything imaginable from toddlers’ corner, to slides and tunnels and arts and crafts. For technology buffs, there’s the latest video games and for the culturally inspired, ballet lessons. A nearby “Bubble Theater”, a domed ceiling whose walls gives a 360-degree visual extravaganza with lions leaping and dragons swirling about and lunging at you is free for all City visitors.

The City’s entertainment centerpiece is an amazing theater called House of Dancing Water built specifically for a water-themed show with a cast of 80 of the most agile and athletic men and women from over 18 countries.

The story is in the fairy tale genre; an evil queen in mythical kingdom imprisons a princess and a gallant stranger goes through death-defying leaps, three-story high pool plunges, and some dancing, frees the princess and live happily ever after. For 70 riveting nail-biting minutes the HK 2.5 billion dollar extravaganza has the action-packed scenes of Pirates of Penzance meeting Mad Max meeting Crouching Tiger. But this time performed for real. If there is a hint of Cirque-du- Soleil, it’s because the creator and director Franco Dragone created many of the first Cirque extravaganzas. For this production, Mr. Dragone has exceeded anything he’s done to date; a love story combined with physical and technological spectacle.

Imagine the stage, in this theater in the round, dry at one instant and transforming immediately into a 60-foot pool (the largest in the world) with a whole Chinese pavilion and a pirate ship emerging from its depths.

Numerous winches from the ceiling tow dancers high above to do balletic leaps in the air and mercilessly dropped, like bungee jumpers, to just inches away from the stage floor. At one point, all the performers dangle by their feet on one huge metal loop and, while in the air, move their bodies to and fro in a manner that would make the ’30’s choreographer Busby Berkeley weep.

The mouth-gaping heart-stopping moment for the audience were the bike riders zooming and bolting up inclined platforms to fly, to even let go of their machines, and amazingly, somersault in the air. Gasps, screams, and “Wows” were the sounds accompanying the roaring bikes. The audience applauded wildly recognizing that these performers - stuntmen, divers, and acrobats - were showing off years of practice, perfecting and pushing their sinewy bodies to the absolute limit.

Outside the House of Dancing Water is the Boulevard, a wide meandering walkway on two floors with pricey boutiques and watch stores.

There’s fine dining on the Boulevard and I lunched at Treasure Palace. Cantonese is the specialty and their luncheon array of delicate dim sums as well as their signature dishes, the Superior Soup Dumpling and the Drunken Baby Pigeon lived up to their Executive Chef Tam Kwok Fung’s Michelin Star rating.

For an even greater variety of meals, there’s a food court and a coffee shop on the second floor.

Casinos with hotels in central Macau are indistinguishable; hotel lobbies have direct entrances to casinos. Not so in City of Dreams. The three hotels, Crown Towers, Hard Rock and Grand Hyatt Macau, were built with a distinct hotel identity, another successful feature at making the City of Dreams a more eclectic destination.

When you’re billeted in new high-end hotels, the basic accommodations (thread counts and plasma tv sizes) are imperceptible; the design aesthetic and the features of each property become the distinctive elements. At the Crown Towers, the edgy sleek design by the Australian firm Bates Smart in the lobby hints at a retro-oriental motif. My suite was the most spacious I’ve ever reviewed (60 sq meters), with a retro carryover interior, floor to ceiling views of Cotai, a walk-in closet, Aigner bath products and an iPod docking station making the suite feel like home.

The Grand Hyatt Macau on the other hand projects its familiar worldwide frisson the minute you enter (http://macau.grand.hyatt.com). It IS grand, its unlimited lobby ceiling is supported by hexagonal columns, cloud motifs and water cascading down a giant hemisphere in the middle of the floor. My guestroom, like most of its suites had a separate living room, with marvelous views including the 40-meter swimming pool below. It’s the polished steel light fixtures and the dominating dark wood throughout that exuded the Hyatt luxury look.

The Hard Rock Hotel is at the other end of the luxury spectrum. Its interior design principle is based on the premise that if you’re a devotee to its cafes spread throughout the world, then you’d most probably like to stay in its hotels as well. The check-in counter has for its back display greeting the line “HELLO, I LOVE YOU, WON’T YOU TELL ME YOUR NAME” from a Door’s song. Electric guitars from the bands like Black Sabbath, Bon Jovi and even that of Michael Jackson’s become framed artworks at the lobby and in various parts of the hotel.

There’s a mid-century appeal in the suite furniture with pink bedsheets, Lucite lightning and martini mixers telling you to lighten up and have fun even if your rock concert groupie days are a distant memory.

Melco Crown Entertainment which manages City of Dreams had one more hotel property, the Altira, (www.altiramacau.com) that they wanted to show off a short ride away. There’s a Chinese penchant for privacy and exclusivity evident in its 38th floor check-in lobby with breath-taking views of Macau across the water, tucked-in gaming rooms exclusive to “high-rollers” and suites with round stone-crafted baths.

All the hotels have their own distinctive spa offerings and Altira’s two storey spa has secured two consecutive Gold Awards (2009 and 2010) from the Forbes Travel Guide. Its treatments, spa products and design are all multi-awarded as well.

The hotel’s authentic Japanese restaurants (a favorite of Melco CEO Lawrence Ho) and the Michelin starred Italian restaurant completes this jewel of a hotel.

My farewell dinner was back at the Grand Hyatt’s Beijing Kitchen, softly lit, contemporary in feel with Chinois hints on the grill patterned wall lights. Hyatt excels in that no-nonsense but elegant-still look. I dined on an array of sumptuous Shanghainese appetizers and was bowled over by the Peking Duck. Theirs is imported from Beijing and cooked in the kitchen’s traditional oven.

I’ve wandered the world, from Hong Kong to Vancouver and numerous Chinatowns in between, scouring for and noshing on their Peking Duck offerings. But I now say that this was the Peking Duck that must have truly excited the Emperor’s palate. The mouth-melting duck skin alone was utterly sublime.

Here’s the best value-added experience for Filipinos planning a trip to Macau and the City of Dreams. This compact city has a slow paced Iberian charm that we relate to easily and absent in nearby Hong Kong. Historically protected buildings from Portuguese churches to municipal buildings remind us of Old Manila. The Macanese have a manner, a grace, and delightful cuisine that resonate with us as well.

Best of all, it’s the Filipinos, yes, the Filipinos. Fellow countrymen and women, many working in hotels, pampered me. I didn’t need a guide-book. I got the best spa tips and suggested dining spots. I was served generous drinks with never-ending chicherias. I was pointed to the luckier slot machines. And though I protested, my suitcase was in their hands. My Macau trip was a thousand times enhanced by the wonderful Filipino staff and citizens I encountered there. And, if the various resorts and the Macau Tourism Board want more Filipinos to visit, they should not overlook this marketing plus because in the end, we take delight traveling and finding a familiar language and face to help and tell us the sights we should see.

Macao may have expanded its gaming and entertainment significantly in just five years but the city retains its historical charm zealously with heritage tourism in mind. The preserved Taipa villas and nearby old town was once a trek to go to but now is a stone’s throw from the City of Dreams, and with the new bridge, just 15 minutes away from central Macau.

A Mandarin’s House Museum, lovingly and painstakingly restored for the past eight years opened this year (www.wh.mo/mandarinhouse) in historic Lilau Square. This once rundown 1881 structure has become a showcase on conservation methods and is an absolute tourist must. Same with the nearby Dom Pedro V Theater, a 19th century cultural landmark totally restored, and all the known sites like the Senado Square and the St Paul Ruins continue in its pristine state enjoyed daily by thousands of visitors. Macau, despite the dizzying development pace manages well to make sure its past is preserved bringing in tourists dollars as well.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Remembering Those Who Died For Our Country. The American Military Cemetery and Memorial Tour. Nov. and Dec. Schedules.




This December 8, 2010 will be the 50th anniversary of the opening of the American Military Cemetery in Fort Bonifacio.


Come and join John L. Silva’s tour of a serene cemetery containing the remains of 17,206 American, Filipino, and other nationalities who fought in the Pacific theater in World War II.



Walk the marble halls engraved with the names of over 36,000 soldiers missing in action. Review the mosaic maps showing the most famous battles in the Pacific including the 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf which liberated the Philippines.


Learn about the architect Gardner Dailey, his vision, design and landscaping of the cemetery and why it is now considered a monumental gem to honor soldiers and the most visited historical site in the country.


John will highlight some of the more important soldiers buried there, from poets to five brothers and to an African American hero.

The tour lasts two hours and visitors are encouraged to bring a hat, a camera, and, if you wish, a small bouquet of flowers


Reservations necessary: 0926 729 9029 or e-mail jsilva79@mac.com


Tour dates and time: Tour starts promptly at 10:00 am.


Directions: Old Lawton Ave., Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City, Metro Manila

Google Map http://bit.ly/d1bYdA

Meet at Memorial parking site (rear)


Tour dates: Nov. 20, 21, 26, 27, 28, Dec. 3, 4, 5, 8,11,12, 17, 18 2010


Tour fee: php 900 adults, 450 children

(Group rates available)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

ASKING FOR MONEY NOW IS NOT LIKE ASKING YOUR PARENTS THEN


Those begging techniques don’t work anymore.

Your boss wants a short to-the-point e-mail request. How’s that done?

Your company wants suppliers to help in a fundraiser. What to say?

A foreign government wants to give aid to your agency. How do I formulate a convincing wish list?

International funding agencies don’t want just a plain proposal, but a “social enterprise” in two pages. What’s that?

They’re all talking websites. Is my company site up to par?

It’s 2010 with new and effective ways to secure funding in the corporate, government, and philanthropic world. All of them want it written succinctly, persuasively, and with results.

I’ll teach you. I’ve had over 30 years of fundraising experience, long enough to share with you the very important and basic ways to raise money coupled with the modern demands imposed on how to ask it.

Philanthropists, venture capitalists, and governments are giving even more money these days but they’ve attached accountability, impact and brevity to their proposal guidelines.

So, you’ll learn to write honest, level-headed proposals avoiding mystifying jargon (like “empowerment’) they don’t like to read.

We often have the best ideas but on paper they’re chaotic, confusing, and don’t get to the point.

Your proposal needs order: The Problem, The Need, Your Organization, The Solution, The Budget. The Enlightenment. The Persuasive Point.

Proposal writing today is storytelling about how a funding request affects people. Funders know the big picture already, the millions malnourished and the natural disasters; they see that on CNN. They want a personal story from you, how your day-to-day work in a village or a city, amplified large is making positive changes. A unique, innovative and results-oriented story gets the funding cake.

And in this day and age, you’ll need to have a good website, one that resonates with your proposal. If you’re asking in the millions of pesos or dollars, your agency’s website needs to show you can expend the money well and with results.

Gone are the days when you beg for money. I’ll teach you the new and better way so you can get projects started for 2011!

My workshops start at 9:30 am and ends by 5:00 pm. An hour lunch-break is on your own. Bring your laptops and a sweater since the Library can get coldish.

Dates/ Fee: Nov. 2, 15, 16, Dec. 6, 13 2010

PhP 3,500

Address: Ortigas Library, 2nd flr., Ortigas Bldg, corner Meralco and Ortigas Ave., Pasig City

Reservations necessary: 0926 729 9029 or jsilva79@mac.com . Or my assistant Mel at 0917 419 5928, melborja03@hotmail.com

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

NEGLECTED AMERICANA ON PHILIPPINE HILLSIDE



(This article appeared in the Philippine Starweek Magazine on October 10, 2010)

Thirty well-worn cemetery plots with unusual markers are scattered along pine shaded, hillside pathways in the former American military, “rest and recreation,” base called Camp John Hay in Baguio City, Philippines. At five thousand feet above sea level, Baguio was America’s temperate retreat in tropical Asia. As a child I remember visits with my parents to this sprawling park-like camp, which invariably included a walk through this quaint cemetery. Instead of sculptures of mournful angels and grieving widows, there was a drunken pig, a monkey scratching its head, a smoking man who looked like a bulldog, a traffic cop, and even a witch. For close to a century now, this strangely humorous site has been called the Cemetery of Negativism.

In 1992 the Philippine Government took over Camp John Hay (named after a long forgotten American Secretary of State) and all other American bases throughout the Philippines. Left behind at the camp were cozy Adirondack style wooden cottages, a movie theater, a library, a PX, a golf club, a coffee-shop, a steakhouse, an officer’s dining room, a human-size Statue of Liberty on a pedestal, a seated Abraham Lincoln, historical markers, thousands of stately, mature pine trees and the Cemetery.

Each plot carried the “name” of its dearly departed, a witty riposte and a humorous figure on top. One burial plot has a lion holding a baton and the inscription reads:

KNOT A TEMPLAER

Born A Star

Lived A Meteor

Died in Flames.

There’s a seated black dog scratching his head and the tombstone reads “KANT DO NUTHIN WRIGHT.”

The inscription on another tomb decorated with a kneeling walrus says

LETTUCE WAITFOR D’BOSS,

Born 5 August 1883, Died waiting, 1 June 1903.

There’s a plot with the name BYE. N. BYE with a frog on top, and DOAN BUG MI on another with a cross-looking bear. Or just a plain white upright slab with a floral sprig named for KANT B. DONE and noted for having died before he was born.

Several tombstones have human figures as well. There’s a witch for a tomb inscribed BEN TRID B FOUR, a suited fat man with a stove pipe hat and brandishing a cigar for WHATZ INIT FORMI who was “born short, lived long and died in debt.”

This cemetery is an assemblage of late nineteenth century American “nay-sayings” carefully laid out in the midst of pine trees and flower beds, just steps away from the former residence of the commanding general’s New England style white clap board and shingle house. All this cozy Americana looks out across a spectacular mountain range which once sheltered warring tribes of head-hunters, up to the 1930’s, and several of Asia’s richest gold mine.

When the Philippine-American War ended in 1901, the United States became a world power with islands and

countries stretching across the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean, and part of Central America. The American civil government in the Philippines wanted a pliant and disciplined army to carry out its administration and to rout any remaining rebellions in the islands.

Many American soldiers were young and fresh off their farms in rural, frontier states with lackadaisical, individualistic and even rowdy attitudes. Alcohol was also one of the Army’s major problems in the early years of military occupation. Conscripted or volunteered, these young men had to be marched, barked at, and endlessly drilled until they were ready for duty both as soldiers and policemen in the new colony.

Baguio, nestled at the top of a northern mountain range with rolling pasture land, dotted with tribal communities, was a pleasant respite from hot and humid Manila. The new American colonial government quickly established a military recreation camp there. American teachers and civil servants soon followed, transforming the town into the summer capital.

In these tonic surroundings, vacationing soldiers needed reminders to ensure high morale. One of the early camp commanders came up with the clever idea of gathering frequently uttered negative statements from soldiers, ones that stymied orders and affected team spirit. These statements became the names of the departed and merited a burial plot, some with a witty riposte and fictionalized birth and death dates. Many of the dates centered around the first decade of the 20th century, about the time the Camp was established and first functioning.

If there was hemming and hawing from soldiers because “It’ll Rain For Sure,” or “It’s Too Late,” or “It Can’t Be Done,” the phrases got burial plots adorned with forlorn-looking figures. To “bury” them was to cease the negativity and instead, replaced with a more can-do attitude.

For soldiers who made excuses not to go to combat, there were epitaphs on the tombstones with names like “I.M.N. ONLY CHILE” or “KNOW DAM WAY.”

Those who didn’t want to take responsibility had the epitaph “I-THOUGHT-UWOOD-DOIT,” adorned with a drunken pig. Another was “EYE-FOR-GOT,” (with a monkey scratching his head) and yet another for “NOTT MEY JOBB.”

One can readily imagine, a hundred years ago, soldiers paying a call at the general’s residence and later strolling through the Cemetery of Negativism and getting the “message” with some guffaws included.


For many years, under American ownership, the cemetery was a tourist attraction, well kept, and re-painted periodically. When Camp John Hay was turned over to the Philippine government there were attempts to maintain it but in the last six years, neglect and a lack of appreciation for this bit of Americana has taken its toll.

The regular repainting has been done only to some, hastily painted white with black renderings with no longer the early flourish of colored highlights on the floral relief. The outlined faces in black, done crudely, have lost their melancholic charm.

Moss has covered the letterings of many making the plots unreadable. Figures have broken arms and in even sadder cases, some animal figures have been ripped up and stolen. A witch with a missing broom gracing the tombstone which read “BEN TRID B FOUR” was still poised to fly several years back. This month, shattered body parts were the only remnants.

Despite the Cemetery of Negativism being included in the government website as a tourist attraction, the

reality is that it has been neglected, not protected, and given slapdash paint when remembered. The Statue of Liberty nearby, bears a plaque completely illegible, the letters having long ago flaked off.

In the rest of the country, symbols of America’s half-century presence in the Philippines are being vandalized or fast disappearing. Markers commemorating World War II events such as the Bataan Death March are regularly defaced with graffiti or pasted over with campaign posters. More disturbing are several cemeteries with the remains of American servicemen who died in World War II, some in the hills of Baguio, that have been uncared for, the graves dug up, and the crosses stolen.

Academicians and newspaper columnists are quick to cite this disregard as evidence of the Filipino’s love-hate relationship with their former colonial master. I am afraid it is a little less profound than that. While neighboring Macau, Singapore and Vietnam clean up, refurbish and lovingly restore symbols of their colonial inheritance for heritage preservation and the accompanying tourist dollars, the Philippine tourism approach has been long stuck peddling beaches, nightlife and shopping malls.

It will soon be difficult to intone a love-hate relationship when no historical artifacts remain as evidence that there ever was a relationship between America and the Philippines.

John L. Silva is an author and former trustee of the Heritage Conservation Society.