April in The Philippines: Intramuros

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I spent my last days in The Philippines exploring Manila, the most interesting of which was Intramuros. It’s the old part built in the Spanish walled-city style.

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I enjoyed how faded the area looked. Somehow none of the buildings in the area looked very restored at all.

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The decay reminded me of the faded decadence of Havana.

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To me, the highlight of Intramuros was the San Agustin Church, supposedly the oldest church building in The Philippines. Its baroque facade was beautiful despite the decay and overcast day.

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The interior was even more breathtaking with its domed ceiling and trompe l’oeil paintings. It’s amazing that this cathedral is still in daily use.

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There were other nooks in the place with more beautiful decorations, like this side chapel.

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What impressed me most was the area towards the back of the cathedral, where the organ was.

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See the huge music books on the stands? There were four of them.

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While not illuminated to the degree where it’ll be a treasure to be kept behind glass, these music books showed the art and incredible workmanship involved. Beautiful.

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August in China: Modern-Day Chaozhou

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I wasn’t sure what to expect in Chaozhou. In my mind, Chaozhou has an almost mythical quality, more so than Xiamen. For the Hokkiens have the entire Fujian province as a spiritual home while the Teochews have only the city Chaozhou for theirs. Sure, nearby Shantou speaks Teochew as well but to the overseas Chinese in me, it doesn’t really count. (For those unfamiliar with the local terms, Chaozhou is pronounced Teochew in the local dialect of the same name and Fujian is said Hokkien, again in their local dialect Hokkien.)

There wasn’t much on Chaozhou in my guidebook, so I contented myself with a quick four-hour pitstop in between Hakka country and Guangzhou. I spent most of my time exploring the crumbling streets around the Anping Lu area. Here the houses set along zigzagging alleys dated to the Ming dynasty. It was fun to spot little details yet untouched by restoration for the tourists. As usual, the old seedy area was much more interesting than the prettier but less characterful area under restoration just streets away.

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I wandered the backalleys which often turned into people’s backyards, surreptitiously taking shots of, well, everyday life.

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Here, it didn’t seem like time passed very fast at all. This scene of the crumbling tile and rusty bicycle to me fits fine even a hundred years back.

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I liked how traditions still ran strong here, with freshly calligraphed couplets adorning the courtyard door.

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Here’s another surreptitious shot, this time of old-timers at their usual practice session. Two of them are playing the erhu (a two-stringed instrument vaguely similar to a violin) and a yangqing (conceptually somewhat like a piano). It was great standing at a respectful distance just watching and listening.

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The bridge was the last stop before I turned back to the bus station to catch my coach. I think this could be Xiangzi Qiao which was apparently built in the 12th century. Too bad it was crumbling and not particularly attractive, plus had some kind of exorbitant entrance fee (as usual). I turned around and strolled back past the atmospheric streets I’d just finished exploring, slowly savouring the sights and sounds (for free!) all the way back to the bus station.

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