Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hotel PonteFino: A Cultural Tour of Batangas City

With my mom being a true blue Batangueña, I spent most of my childhood here visiting our province in Ibaan, Batangas to attend everything from the town fiesta, walking around as some kind of empress or queen come Flores de Mayo, singing along (or just joining the crowd while everyone else sang along) during Halloween, otherwise known as Pangngaluluwa, and of course, the clan gatherings and Christmas parties that come with asking for aguinaldos from my respective ninongs and ninangs.

Most of what I considered as totally normal Filipino activities growing up was quite odd for the rest of my friends. They wouldn't be caught dead parading around town in a full on gown and a tiara (I always had to be guilted into it, so I see what they meant), they had no clue what Pangngaluluwa is, and the only thing they could relate to was being stuck with a whole lot of relatives come Christmas - but I highly doubt the normal conversation volume with their relatives was on 'constantly shouting at each other'.

The reason behind me giving a bit of a backstory on my awkward family moments is becuase I was staying with Jericho at Hotel PonteFino for the weekend and their very sweet COO, Ms. Fely Ramos, was nice enough to arrange a cultural tour for us to better appreciate Batangas City and all of its idiosyncrasies. I would finally understand what it is to be a Batangueña - or at least half of one -from an outsiders perspective, and it proved to be a very amusing eye opener.

Read more on the PonteFino Series:
★ Hotel PonteFino: The Philippine Azkals' Second Home
★ PonteFino: The Prime & Residences Properties
★ PonteFino: A Groundbreaking Event for The Terraces
★ Hotel PonteFino: The Pride of Batangas City

We met with our tour guides, Ardie and Eric, at the Batangas City museum. They were dressed in the traditional attire during the time the Spanish were here - boater hats, walking sticks and a whole lot of plaid. Them boys were pimped out! I was totally into the boater hats.

The first room in the museum was called Baon and Baon. Isn't it inneresting how a slight inflection can change the word that means, 'to stow away' to a word that means, 'to keep with you'? They showed us a few photographs of times in history that we would rather forget, yet at the same time remember so it would not be repeated in the future.

An example would be the picture of the school in the picture, which was made in part by the Americans, who offered to educate the Filipinos if they sided with them during the Spanish-American war.

Another room had the word Kalumpang, which is a large tree of the old world tropics having foul-smelling orange-red blossoms followed by red pods enclosing oil-rich seeds sometimes used as food. This used to line the riverside and was used in a variety of ways by the Batangueños, and had a weird relation to the black Sto. Niño.

I used to think that seeing a black-faced Sto. Niño was pretty common (my mom sleeps next to a statue of the black Nazarene - totally not creepy), but they say this is commonly found only in Batangas and some other far flung parts of the Philippines. Anyway, the story was that whenever people would try to bring the black Sto. Niño to the Philippines, the ship would always capsize or crash, and the black Sto. Niño would be seen floating in the Kalumpang river.

Bulanglang is actually a Tagalog word for "it's delicious". It's also a dish made up of a clear soup and a hodge-podge of vegetables and is quite sour. Being native to Batangas, this is usually eaten with patis and a fish native to the area, the horribly stinky Tulingan.

I have very vivid memories of my mother bringing home bushels of Tulingan from Batangas whenever she'd visit the province on her own, and whenever she'd cook the damn things, the smell of rotting garbage would hang in the air - this is with all the windows open, mind you. Bleh.

The Duyo part of the museum was what I found the most interesting. Ardie went on to explain how Batangueños are overly religious and how an altar is a requirement in every Batangueño home. I think he forgot to mention the grotto outside, a separate altar for the Sto. Niño, and a morbid statue of a black-faced Jesus of Nazarene next to where you sleep is commonplace in the Batangueño home as well.

Ironically, Batangueños are as superstitious as they are religious. I remember my grandmother would get mad if I took a shower or cut my nails at night, and she totally blew a gasket when I wanted to buy a pet turtle because I found them cute. I thought I'd never hear the end of it.

Another example is the pagan anting-anting, like an unton to keep babies safe and 'para 'di mausog'. I still don't get why you have to apply saliva on the poor baby's heel whenever you'd exclaim, "He's so cute!" It's unhygienic and totally gross.

If you were an influential Batangueño or Batangueña back in the day, then that meant you were probably very active in church (heck, this is still true today). Ardie was showed us a picture of one of those influential woman who had passed on and as a sign of respect (and for posterity's sake) the silver candlesticks from the local church were brought to her house for the wake. Also, back in the day when formalin was yet to be invented, roasted coffee was put underneath the dearly departed to hide the smell of rotting carcass.

Oh, that's another weird Batangas thing that I used to think was totally normal - when somebody passes away, their bodies aren't brought to a memorial chapel, they're basically drained and pumped full of formaldehyde on the bed they died on and the casket is placed in the middle of the living room where people lay their respects. The bed is then burned.

There was a section of the Museum that explained the Batangueño concept of the taga-bayan and the taga-bukid, something I'm quite familiar with. Most of the provinces in Batangas is divided into two parts - the bayan (town) and the bukid (field). If you were a taga-bayan then you were a bit better off than if you were were a taga-bukid.

After the museum tour, it was off to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception where the Monsignor Yatco Ecclesiastical Museum is located.

It was a small space that housed a huge altar made of silver coins - donations from devout Catholics that were melted down and turned into this beautiful piece of expensive religious art. This is a pretty common sight in most of Batangas' churches.

Also on display were old books and even a record book for christenings in the area. The first person to ever have their birth recorded in the Basilica was a Francisco Magtibay - probably a far off relative of mine.

The last stop of our Batangas City tour was the Tuñing Pastor Ancestral House. His house is an institution in Batangas, being the oldest to have been around since the Spanish occupation.

Tuñing Pastor was the Gobernadorcillo back in the day, and because of his prominent position in government, made quite enough money so that his family and the generations after would live in comfort.

The initials of Acosta Pastor welcome you into the vast property. The houses in Batangas City, even until today, are pretty small and mostly bungalow type houses, so for someone to have a big house with a courtyard, a fountain, and two floors was a pretty big deal, especially back in the 1800s.

I love the mix of materials in the entryway. Most of the bricks of the houses in the area are made of adobe, and this holds true for the house of Tuñing Pastor.

Upon entering its doors, a very put-together kalesa would be the first things you'd see. Talk about a sweet ride! This gives a whole new meaning to the word vintage! If you were of a lowly status, say a maid or a driver, this would be as far as you'd go in the house. Tax collectors and the like could go up the steps to the receiving area.

This is the receiving area, ideal for meetings and the like so the rest of the household wouldn't be disturbed as you attended to business.

One of the most powerful visuals in the house is the staircase. That and the Bösendorfer grand piano, that was more of a status symbol than anything else, with only nine of its kind made. Tuñing Pastor was proud to have haggled it down from P19 million to P17 million back in the day. Even then, Filipinos just loved bargaining.

The generations of Pastors line the walls, a way of paying homage to their ancestors that built and lived in the house. Ah, if only those walls could talk.

Having imported objects like this gramophone was another status symbol that you were well off, but I think the Pastors made their point when they imported all their muebles from Europe. That's a pain in the butt to do today, imagine importing everything from Italy and Spain back in the 18th century?

Taking one last look at the beautifully kept courtyard of the Tuñing Pastor Ancestral House, I tipped my imaginary hat off to his decedents that have painstakingly preserved the place, as it is still in superb condition.

When mucking around your own province, make it a point to re-discover your roots and look at your heritage with a fresh set of eyes. Yes, some customs are downright weird, but understanding how it came to be just puts everything in another perspective. Thank you to Ardie and Eric for doing such a marvelous job of sharing their Batangas with me. I tip my imaginary hat off to you, and at the same time am insanely jealous of those beautiful antique boater hats! Who ever said you have to go out of the country to appreciate a bit of culture?

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Images taken by Jericho San Miguel of The Pixel Project Manila