Sipalay and Kabankalan, Negros Occidental, the Philippines
November 2 – 4, 2016
We started on the wrong foot. We were just a party of three, but one woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Actually, he did not even sleep a wink. At our 7AM call time, he was just about ready to turn in. Never mind that we had a bus to catch for a 6-hour ride to a remote beach, and that we could miss the last boat ride to our resort. Alas, the majority had to acquiesce to the lone game-changer.
Sometimes the wilderness was your own backyard. Born and raised in Bacolod, I was perhaps the last person in my generation to visit the town next-door. It took almost half a century and a change of city to get me to step foot on Murcia.
Bacolod, the self-proclaimed City of Smiles, was serious with its nick. City officials in the 80s invented an annual Rio-esque extravaganza around a smiling mask, the MassKara Festival, celebrated in October. Unlike the comedy-tragedy masks of ancient Greek theater, the MassKara showed only half of the pair – the smiling one.
What do you expect from the sugar capital of the Philippines? I’ve been in my home province, Negros Occidental, three times this year and every time felt like a trip to a candy shop. I blame my sweet tooth on growing up next door to a sugar mill. I still remember waking up to the sweet aroma of molasses that pervaded the house in the morning during milling season. My sweet dreams carried on after I had awakened – on to adulthood.
There was a time when stereo systems and television sets were furniture pieces and telephones were household fixtures. But with each new innovation in technology, we disposed of our obsolete gadgets. Not so with one family in my hometown who had preserved their appliances, among other things, reflecting the lifestyle of Negrense bourgeois in the last century.
Ramon Hofileña doesn’t say it, but the winningest smile this side of Silay certainly makes that statement. A tour guide in his own home, Ramon has been welcoming visitors into his family’s ancestral house, the Manuel Severino Hofileña Heritage House, built by his father in 1934, for almost 38 years now – and counting. He leads the longest running cultural tour in the world.
Every morning of my childhood, the gaping gate of the public cemetery would greet me. I lived in a house directly across it. My first parade was a funeral procession, my first live band music a dirge. My neighbors across the street were stacked in cement boxes painted white, guarded by frozen angels and adorned with melted candle wax and wilted flowers.