Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saying "I love you!" with colorful Dangwa flowers on Valentine’s Day

Note:  This story appears as "In Manila, Dangwa flowers say 'I love you' in full color" in the 14-20 Feb 2014 issue of the weekly FilAm Star published in the Bay Area, CA.  This blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent-Philippines of the paper.

When people say that they’re going to Dangwa to buy flowers, they’re actually referring to the Dangwa flower market, aka the Bulaklakan ng Maynila, where colorful fresh flowers are sold, that section of Sampaloc, Manila bounded by Laong Laan, Dos Castillas and Dimasalang streets, and a block away from the University of Santo Tomas.

The Dangwa bus terminal is located right there, and that’s where boxes of cut flower varieties grown in La Trinidad up in the Cordilleras are unloaded for the picking of stall owners in the market.  According to them, the floral supplies arrive almost every five hours from Baguio during peak seasons just like the week approaching Valentine’s Day.

This floral market has also become the hub of floral supplies being flown in from Cebu, Davao and even South America (they sell Ecuadorian roses!).

During Holy Week, the market teems with Malaysian mums, chrysanthemums and dendrobium orchids of various colors.  At Yuletide, it’s the red of potted poinsettias that dominates among the many hues of the usual arrays of cut flowers.   

For Valentine’s Day, the Dangwa flowers are predominantly red, orange, yellow and white roses, although the stalls offer a variety of choices, depending on one’s pocket, like stems of stargazer lilies, cut or potted sunflowers, carnations, and cuttings of the usual mums and alstroemeria or princess lilies.

Ready-to-go bouquets are expensive, the pre-Valentine price ranging from Php400 to 600 ($10-15) depending on the number of roses and other companion flowers that make them up.  The “I love you” trio of rose buds cost around Php200 ($5).   One can imagine how much a stem of red rose will cost on Valentine’s Day itself.  The bagsak presyo (big price drop), vendors say, would come after three days yet since there are late buying Valentinos.

According to those who know the flower trade, the best option is to buy roses by the bundle (24 stems), better if newly arrived, which could be just about half the price of a bouquet. The only additional expense would be for sprigs of white baby’s breath flowers (optional), the Japanese paper sheath, ribbons, and the token fee for the flower arranger, and there are plenty of them in the vicinity. 

If not Dangwa flowers, there are also small teddy bears arranged like floral bouquets in the market.  For those who can only afford a token symbol of affection, there’s a balloon man roaming around with red heart shaped balloons printed with “I love you.”

Dangwa calls to mind that the (St.) Valentine’s Day trappings came with the Americans almost a century ago, probably by the late 1920s or early 1930s.  This can be gleaned from the advertisement for valentines (valentine cards) in the Philippine Magazine of February 1935, which described them to have gained “increasing popularity ... during the past few years,” and thus a “big stock and an extensive variety” were needed before February 14 that year.

During those years, the senders of valentines could select the message they want to convey:  “real, sentimental, or burlesque,” according to the ad. The last one is supposed to elicit laughter from the recipient, the “LOL” in today’s tweeted, texted, or chatted messages.

It appears that this romanticized culture was fostered among boys and girls of the generations before the Second World War.  They were taught to make cards to send to their choice of valentines: “your mother, your teacher, your classmate, your friend, anybody whom you care for,” as one children’s magazine of 1939 vintage put it.

The 1970’s young generation chose from racks of valentines at the bookstores to send via snail mail, but they had the Valentine’s telegram as an alternative to ensure that the love message was read no later than February the fourteenth.  There was a choice of the message code, which the receiving telegraph machine would type out in full on paper with pre-selected romantic design, usually roses or two superimposed hearts pierced by Cupid’s arrow.

According to reports, the market for flowers around the Dangwa bus terminal also started to develop in the mid-1970’s, and becoming the hub it is today in the 1980's.

Red, red roses then from Dangwa to say,”Be My Valentine!”  this Friday.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

No galloping down Ongpin St during the Chinese New Year 2014!

Note:  A slightly different version of this photo essay was published in the07-13 Feb 2014 issue of the weekly FilAm Star ("The newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America")."  This blogger is the Special Photo/News Correspondent of the said weekly, which is based in San Francisco, CA.

A frequent visitor of Binondo exclaimed that he had never seen Ongpin Street, the main artery of Manila Chinatown from the Plaza Sta. Cruz entry point to Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz in front of the historic Binondo Church , heavily clogged with Pinoy, Chinoy and Chinese celebrators the whole day of January 31, first day of the Year of the Wood Horse.

One could not have cantered astride a horse through that thick crowd.  At best, one could have held the equine tightly by the reins while walking in cadence with the flow of human traffic. The horse-drawn wagons or kalesas of Intramuros had all been commissioned for the celebration, but they were all parked around Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz, and the only time they traversed part of Ongpin was during the parade. 

It was a special non-working holiday, the first time the Philippine government declared a joint celebration of the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year to manifest solidarity with “our Chinese-Filipino brethren who have been part of our lives in many respects as a country and as a people,” as Proclamation No, 655 of President Benigno Aquino put it.  It began a long weekend for the large holiday crowd that invaded Chinatown for entertainment in a different cultural environment.

The merry-makers were almost all in “selfie” mode as they took pictures of themselves with ceremonial lions of various colors--yellow, red, green, orange, violet, or with other festival markers along the way.  There were also scenes to watch or shoot:  lions making the rounds of stores; and dragons slithering around breathing fire, represented by a prancing colorful ball in front of its head.  The longest dragon was 300 meters long, all in red, the color of prosperity.  The joint lion and dragon dances, accompanied by the loud rhythmic beating of drums and clashing of cymbals, were capped by the popping of a long string of firecrackers, all these sounds to drop evil spirits away. 
The lions and dragons are believed to invoke blessings for the house and store owners.  But before they can dance in public, they must first go through an eye-dotting ceremony called Kai Guang.  By chance, I witnessed this ritual during the opening program at Lucky Chinatown Mall the day before the New Year.  The eyes of the lion and dragon were symbolically opened to the light with a painted dot.

Souvenir hunters and feng shui believers flocked to stores and sidewalk stalls selling good-luck charms to be worn (bracelets), stuck on doors or placed on tables (chimes, sheaves of rice, pineapples ringed by citrus fruits, and, of course, horse figurines). 

There were long queues too at famous Eng Bee Tin bakery for the tikoy, the round glutinous rice cake now in a variety of flavors, a must to be served during the new year feasts or given away as gifts to friends.  People also lined up for the Shanghai fried siopao at another favorite Ongpin store even if one senior Chinese vendor said, if there’s anything that must be on the new year’s dining table, it’s the prosperity cake.  Mooncakes, I learned, are not for new year but for another festival in August.
This year’s celebration was billed as the First Dragon and Lion Festival, highlighted by an afternoon parade led by City Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada and his vice-mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso.  2013 Miss International Bea Rose Santiago joined them in the lead float in tossing candies to the spectators along the parade route.

This first festival consolidated all the separate celebrations and parades organized by various groups in the past years. This is part of the city government project to rehabilitate Binondo, which dates back to 1594, making it the oldest Chinatown in the world outside of China.  The plan calls for its general facelift as a business district, highlighting its historical significance and its Chinese character as a tourist destination.

Historical landmarks are found around the Binondo Church, where Supremo Andres Bonifacio married his Lakambini Gregoria de Jesus.  Plaza Binondo was renamed Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz, and his statue was built here, to honor the martyr saint who was born in this district.  A few meters away is the monument to Tomas Pinpin, the “prince of Filipino printers,” who printed the first Tagalog dictionary in 1613.  Between the Ruiz and Pinpin monuments is the memorial to Chinese-Filipino soldiers who served and died during the second world war in defense of the country against the Japanese.  At the corner of Quintin Paredes and Ongpin streets near the church bell tower of the church is the monument to nationalist and patriot Roman Ongpin who supplied Filipino revolutionaries with arms and other needs, and was imprisoned by the Americans.  It was in his honor that Sacristia St. was renamed after him in 1915.   Ruiz, Pinpin and Ongpin were of Chinese vintage.

This leads us to remember the time in our history when the Chinese were not allowed to celebrate their new year even if, through the years, there came about leagues of Chinese mestizos in the archipelago who elected their own gobernadorcillos separate from those of the Filipinos.  

In his testimony before the Philippine Commission in July 1899, the merchant Carlos Palanca (Chan Quiensien, Cheuy Long) narrated that during the Spanish times there were about 10 to 12 thousand Chinese who came here each year; and around 7 to 8 thousand would go home but would generally return to work here.  “They come back again to Manila in the Chinese eighth moon of the third after spending the feast of the seventh moon of the Chinese new year,” he explained.

Thus, in the early years of the American regime, the immigration division of the Philippines customs service would be deluged with applications for return certificates from the Chinese workers who intend to come back. 

Times have indeed changed. More than a century after Palanca's testimony, the Filipino is an overseas worker in mainland China, among other destinations. During these past 11 years, the mayors of our town are pure-blooded Chinese born in the Philippines.  President Aquino's genealogy on his father's side can be traced to an Eng Son (Henson today), and his mother Cory's maiden surname certainly is Chinese. Many descendants of the imported Chinese laborers have truly settled as Filipinos. Some have become financial and business tycoons. We ride their planes, shop at their malls, keep a savings account in their banks, eat at a Chinese restaurant, and our writers in English and Pilipino dream of receiving an award given out annually in memory of Carlos Palanca.

Kung hei fat choy! May the Year of the Wood Horse bring prosperity for all!