Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Preserved leaders...

I may be among a small group of people who can claim they have seen 4 major Communist leaders embalmed in their home countries: Mao Tse-Tung in Beijing; Lenin in Moscow; Ho Chi Minh in Saigon; and Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang.

They've all been kept for posterity and lie in imposing, guarded mausoleums. The most spectacular in terms of setting and build-up is Kim Il Sung's in Pyongyang..there is a long process before you are allowed in; a bit of queuing (though as a foreign visitor who are swept ahead of the locals patiently standing in line..); then you have to go through a machine that blows off any speck of dust from your shoes, coat or other clothes; hand in any bags and then, finally, your are admitted into the vast and darkened room.

"I've seen them all", I thought. But when I was travelling in the Philippines I discovered that former President Marcos (not a Communist) had also been embalmed...

As I was visiting the Spanish colonial town, Vigan, which wasn't far away, I decided to go to the town of Batac.

Here he lies..behind these doors (sorry, no pictures allowed inside)

the caretaker outside the room where the ex-President is laid out
I have to say it is a weird experience seeing former world leaders laid out in front of your eyes. They look like waxworks...and the small stature of many of the men surprised me.

Ex President Marcos is laid out in a heavily air conditioned room in Batac - his boyhood home. There was some melancholy music playing out too.

I had to find someone with a key to open the door - which shows how few people actually visited. But adjacent museum did seem to draw large groups..especially of schoolchildren.

His legacy is still controversial. Regarded as a dictator by some, he's revered by others. My trike driver said he thought he was a good man, and recalls his school getting new uniforms and food when the President visited.

Talking of controversial leaders, here is a picture of Chiang Kai-Shek, shown visiting another former Philippines President Elpidio Quirino in Baguio city, in 1949 to discuss the formation of a Far - Eastern anti-communist alliance (he had fled China to Taiwan after losing the civil war to the Communists)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Holiday in the Philippines

Bacuit archipelago, northern Palawan

I had a great trip to the Philippines over Chinese New Year..taking advantage of a cheap flight, courtesy of Cebu Pacific..one of Asia's growing number of budget airlines (why doesn't Taiwan have one??? The local airlines are haemorrhaging money; seems to me that offering cheaper cheaper fares may be a way to lure more customers back)..
Near Paoay

It was a country that surprised me with its diverse geography and culture. I've travelled most of Asia..somehow, the Philippines was never high on my wish-list of places I wanted to go to. But I'm so glad I finally made it.
The people, in particular, were amazing. So open and friendly; such a great sense of humour; and an ability to laugh at themselves and life in general.
The incredible rice terraces, 2 thousand years old

Banaue's rice terraces

ampitheatre rice terraces at Batad village

My holiday was roughly divided into two parts: week one, trekking in Mountain Province, northern Luzon.

I flew to Manila, immediately taking a night bus to Banaue...I'd originally planned to go to Batad...but I met a group of great guys, all mountain bikers, who convinced me to travel with them to Sagada. A fiesta was underway...and I thought - why not? That's what travelling is all about; changing plans; being open to new experiences.

Hanging coffins, Echo Valley, Sagada

Anyhow, hi to the mountain bikers if they are reading this! You guys are inspiring. The group have different jobs and backgrounds and ages, but share a passion for mountain biking and seeing more of the Philippines beautiful environment. Every month or so, they get together for a long weekend and cycle somewhere. Believe me, the route from Banaue to Sagada was tough enough in a 4 wheel drive...but these guys were cycling the distance on what was pretty much an uphill dirt track road. Quite a feat.
My first week was quite exhausting - a lot of travelling; a lot of strenuous hiking to villages, waling across the rice terraces; seeing some amazing scenery. Exhilarating and liberating.

I especially loved the village of Batad with its ampitheatre views of the rice terraces. I stayed here a couple of nights.

Then back to Banaue and up to Vigan - where its Spanish colonial past is very much in evidence. Lovely old buildings, architecture; atmospheric heavy wooden furniture and elaborate doors...loved it.
The second week, I flew to Palawan and basically island hopped. I was based outside El Nido - i found a great basic thatch hut on the beach with my own view of the ocean. It was fabulous. I took some trips by boat to some of the many islands in the Bacuit archipelago - stark karst limestone cliffs (if you've been to Krabi, Thailand, or Halong Bay, Vietnam, its a little similar in atmosphere; but these all had white sand beaches around them and were good snorkelling spots too).

Some miscellaneous pictures of people and sights from my travels...

Subterranean river, Sabang

woman and child, Vigan

Woman, market Bontoc

Monday, February 18, 2008

happy Chinese New Year!

I've been absent from my blog over the Chinese New Year - took the chance to take a holiday in the Philippines, which was a fascinating place to visit and such friendly people! I will blog more about my travels when I've caught up with some of my workload. It was a short trip, but I had a great time in Northern Luzon (trekking and visiting the acclaimed rice terraces) and island hopping in Palawan.

So good to escape a chilly Taipei winter!