Sunday is free-admission day at the National Museum of the Philippines. Despite the come-on, its halls are hollow with just a handful of visitors. It seems that the museum has become a mausoleum of our historical remains – static and dead. Yet its halls should be hallowed. The museum is the country’s beating chest of historical treasures. It is said that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Perhaps this is why history does repeat itself in the Philippines. How many of us step into the museum to be reminded?
“It’s not flat!” Karry, my Japanese friend, exclaimed as she was looking up at the ceiling of San Agustin Church in Manila. That one sentence proved that the church’s ceiling mural had fooled yet another gazer. And that was exactly what a trompe l’oeil painting intended to do. French for “deception of the eye,” the visual art technique rendered images on a flat surface to be realistically three-dimensional, and it had been used for centuries. Kids, 3D was not invented by James Cameron.
There were more Muslims in Indonesia than in the entire Arabian Peninsula. I just learned that Indonesia had the largest Muslim population in the world. At Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, I was initially confused to see men washing their feet in a public restroom. Then I realized right beside the washroom was a musholla, an Islamic prayer room; and the act was part of their ritual ablution. Indeed, I had landed in a Muslim country.