The cultural heart of every Moroccan city beat in its ancienne medina (ancient city). That was why Ki and I dove head on into Tangier’s old quarter by booking a stay at a boutique guest house named Bayt Alice. Bayt, we later learned, was Arabic for house and, by extension, household. Alice, however, was a decidedly Western name. We could only surmise that this was a house owned by a foreign woman. How typical of Tangier, the African city closest to Europe, not only geographically but more so culturally.
This French folk song about dancing round and round on the bridge of Avignon had been fact checked. The titular Pont Saint-Bénézet was deemed too narrow for such soirées. If anything, dancing would’ve taken place at the foot of the bridge. Our family dancercise sesh with the Zumbadoc, my Zumba instructor slash doctor brother, was not entirely out of place. He found a spot across a bed of lavender by Avignon’s famous bridge.
Myanmar was the place for an organic foodgasm. Processed Western food was hard to come by and fast food chains did not exist in Mandalay and Bagan. I lived on local cuisine of mainly fresh herbs and spices with some meat and fish thrown in. It was the healthiest diet I had ever maintained in consecutive days.
Leiden / Wijk bij Duurstede / Zaandam, the Netherlands
June 7 – 9, 2019
Wind and water defined the Netherlands. Both elements billowing from the North Sea had shaped the country’s geography and culture. Sea breeze could blow a gale. The sea itself could sink a third of the country, one of the Low Countries, that lay below sea level. But the Dutch in centuries past were a hardy bunch. They harnessed these elemental forces with windmill technology to power their survival and progress.
“Myanmarvelous!” A former student posted that comment on my ‘Gram shot in a pagoda. I wished I came up with that! Not only was it a cool portmanteau, it was the truth in a nutshell. Myanmar’s sights were typically spectacular, much of its centuries-old tangible heritage an architectural and engineering marvel. A long chauffeured drive to the countryside out of Mandalay proved just that.
Thousands of feet up on Royal Air Maroc, I could make out the tip of Morocco – of Africa, really – forming the lower lip of the Mediterranean’s mouth. That turned out to be Tangier’s coastline stretching from the Atlantic in the west through the Strait of Gibraltar toward Alboran Sea in the east. A day after our arrival at the sun-drenched, sea-kissed city, Ki and I were drawn to go beachcombing through five kilometers of its coast and newly-reinvigorated corniche.
That this engineering and architectural wonder was built almost 2,000 years ago was no mean feat in itself. That it had survived largely intact to this day was the jaw-dropper. Like many extant Roman edifices around the Mediterranean, Pont du Gard in Southern France had remained a well-preserved monument up to our time.
San Juan / Rosario / Pedro Garcia, Batangas, the Philippines
January 23, 2012
“Every road that leads me leads me back to you.” A song of grief got me with that line. There were trips I took with my mother, one of which was through Batangas in 2012. While travelers left their heart where their feet had taken them, I left mine with people in this road of life. I posted this Facebook throwback for my sister and late mother:
This photo was taken in 2012 during one of our road trips through Southern Tagalog. We stopped by the town of San Juan, Batangas mainly to see the church where Juday and Ryan wed. In Mom’s pace, we also explored blocks of grand old houses (some seemingly abandoned), kicked off our shoes at a quiet beach of powdery sand, and took in local culture at heritage restaurants adorned with all things old world: Cafeno (in photo) and Naranja Grill. I’ve never been back to San Juan (except at Cafeno), but I hope it remains as how Mom saw it 8 years ago.
Magnificent, towering, ancient. Such description could not apply to Protestant churches in my country. Grandiose church architecture was exclusively within the purview of Catholicism. As a Baptist, we traced our religious heritage to the American occupation a mere century ago. Our places of worship were modern and minimalist as Catholic cathedrals were massive and ornate. I was today years old when I saw the Gothic grandness of two Protestant churches dominating the skyline of Delft in South Holland.
“With time everything vanishes.” Even an entire civilization all but disappeared with scant remnants of its existence. To the unfamiliar, Moroccan history may seem to have begun with the Islamic conquest. That we would stumble on a pillaged Phoenician site in Tangier was the cherry on top – of Marshan Plateau which Ki and I unknowingly explored on foot.
Soggy weather greeted us as we emerged from our windowless room in Taichung. We hopped awning to awning until we took shelter at Gao-Bei Milk King. The promise of their specialty papaya milk beckoned us in as much as its warm and dry interior. The cold December rain had no plans of letting up. Our yellow plastic raincoats were drenched and dripped all over Taichung Railway Station.
Carrying his own cross, He went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
Golgotha could not be found on Google Maps, only by guesswork. The Gospels provided not so much an address as clues. It was near, not in, the city. The name referred to a skull, not a place of skulls. Just north of Old Jerusalem, a rock face resembling a macabre cranium with pockmarks for eye sockets loomed over a road. Could this limestone cliff be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion? It was logically beside The Garden Tomb. And curiously behind a bus terminal. The site of the foundation of Christian faith shared space with parked buses? It was a stark reminder that the Holy Land was within a Jewish and Arab State.
But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.
That old chestnut about death and taxes applied even to Jesus. He died on the cross and paid his taxes from the bounty off the Sea of Galilee, not in that order. The money-bearing fish caught by Peter was traditionally thought to be tilapia; ergo, it was honored with the nickname St. Peter’s Fish. The species had thrived in the lake until recently when they had to be farmed.
Cagbalete Island, Mauban, Quezon Province, the Philippines
April 26 – 28, 2019
Only a warp in the space-time continuum could explain this phenomenon. Hours and minutes dragged on reluctantly in paradise islands. The day stretched longer and more so the night. Such were the destinations that appealed to my laissez-faire approach to traveling. What was a vacation if not to escape the daily rush of modern life? That was exactly what I found in Cagbalete Island.
I was born 300 years after the death of Rembrandt van Rijn. My 50th birthday trip and first visit to Amsterdam fell on the final dates of a memorial exhibition encompassing the 400-strong Rembrandt oeuvre housed in the Rijksmuseum, the national repository of Dutch art. Half of the only day I had to see the city was spent getting acquainted with the history and culture of the Netherlands through the eyes and hands of its most renowned artist. Where could a definitive collection of Rembrandts be held but at Rijks?