Thursday, November 16, 2017

Reviving an Old Religious Tradition in San Pablo

The Image of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary being brought our of the church for a procession
October 7 is the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. In late afternoon of that day, the city of San Pablo in Laguna, which is known for its seven lakes, held a solemn procession, starting at the eighteenth-century Saint Paul the First Hermit Cathedral. The city though celebrates its feast day on January 15, honoring  Saint Paul the First Hermit, its patron saint after which it is named.
                The procession, participated in mostly by students of San Pablo's schools, was spearheaded by Don Conrado "Ado" Escudero, owner of the Villa Escudero, a sprawling hacienda that has plantations, a popular resort and recently real-estate developments. His sister, Consuelo, served as hermana mayor. The Escuderos are devout Catholics. Their family museum, which is a popular destination inside the plantation resort, houses numerous old images of saints and the Virgin. An impressive statue of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary inside San Pablo church is originally owned by Don Ado's mother, Rosario Adap Escudero.
                "My mother left us an image, which is something to behold. Not only it is beautiful, it is precious because it is made of silver, gold and ivory. It is something we can be proud of," Don Ado related. "Years and years ago, the original image of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary was brought to Manila from San Pablo. The image was brought out every year, every October, so they requested my mother to have one made so that they could continue the tradition, because, you known, San Pablo is one of the oldest mission churches in the country. Nowadays, the young generation's preoccupation is not really embdded with religious instruction. And we want to continue (the tradition)." 
                He then asked the bishop if they can continue the tradition of celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, and the response was enthusiastic. He was told though that the people, especially the younger people, might not be interested, but Don Ado did not mind and persuaded them to let him do what he wanted to do. The image, after some time, again was brought out of the church last year.
                "It was a successful event," he said. Thus, he did it again this year, calling the procession as "peace rally," responding to the current time of uncertainty and violence.
                The eighty-six-year-old Don Ado is known for keeping old traditions, and Villa Escudero is the crowning glory of his efforts, where visitors are afforded an old hacienda way of living and enjoying.
                The hacienda is about a thousand hectares, Don Ado said, and it traverses the city of San Pablo and the town of Tiaong in Quezon. It was founded in the 1880s by Don Placido Escudero and his wife Dona Claudia Marasigan, originally planted with sugar cane. Their son Don Arsenio Escudero turned to coconuts in the early 1900s. He is said to be an agro-industrialist, who built the country's first working hydroelectric plant, which is now an attraction at the hacienda. His children, including Don Ado, opened the hacienda to the public in 1981.
                Villa Escudero Plantations and Resort is known for its carabao-drawn carriages that bring visitors around. The structures reflect traditional architecture designs and used native materials. The food, overseen by its current executive chef Cocoy Ventura, is Filipino. One can feast on a buffet by the dam, behind the hydroelectric plant, where the water cascades from a reservoire and flows through your feet while you eat. This feasting on the stream and by the waterfall has become a signature Villa Escudero experience. There are also regular performances of Filipino folk songs and dances.
                Villa Escudero is an iconic destination of Laguna and Quezon, said Rebecca V. Labit, regional director of the Department of Tourism. And about 800 people visits it every day.  Indeed, that Saturday the hacienda-resort buzzed with visitors, families enjoying the weekend, bakadas on excursions and Filipinos bringing their foreigner guests to experience an idyllic Filipino setting. 

Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of San Pablo, originally owned by the Escuderos

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Taiwan in Six Cities and Six Days, Travel Note 2: Entering the Dragon of Lotus Pond in Zuoying, Kaohsiung

The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas on Lotus Pond
The Taiwan High Speed Rail stops at the foot of Mount Panping in Zuoying District, southern part of Kaohsiung City, Taiwan’s second largest city locate in the southwestern part.
Zuoying is a quiet, leafy suburban district, surrounded by mountains and facing the Taiwan Strait. It is known as a home to military personnel and their families, and their villages as well as a military veterans museum have become tourist attractions. But there are many other sites of interest such as heritage and archaeological sites, food stops, temples and shrines, and natural parks. The Zuoying Cultural Bus Tour, which starts at the train station, affords visitors a survey of the district’s cultural heritage.
 Near the train station is the man-made Lotus Pond or Lake, between Mount Guei or Turtle Mountain and Mount Panping or Half-Screen Mountain. We made a stop to visit the large pagodas.
            Lotus Pond, which often blooms with lotuses, thus the name, was completed in 1951. It became one of the sites of some World Games 2009 events such canoe polo, water skiing and dragon boat racing. Until now, many people enjoy water sports on the sprawling pond. But it is mostly a place for relaxation and contemplation. Parks and walkways fringed the pond. One side, especially along Liantan Road, is dotted with temples and restaurants.
            One is the elaborate Ciji Temple, dedicated to Bao Sheng Da Di, or the Emperor of Well-Being, a god of medicine in Chinese folk religion and Taoism popularly in Fujian in China and Taiwan. The temple is said to be originally built in 1719 at Feng Shan and then moved to Zuoying, renovating it in 1960. Another temple is the impressive Qiming Temple, built in 1909 and rebuilt in 1970s, dedicated to Guang Di.
            More popular to tourists are the pagodas and pavilions, rising from almost in the middle of the lake. Across Ciji Temple are the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. They are actually extensions of the temple, built in 1976 under the orders of Bao Sheng himself, some believe.
The Dragon and Tiger Pagodas are two towers, one for the Tiger and the other Dragon. Built with traditional Chinese architectural elements, the seven-storey towers can be garish, with bright colors and folksy decorations. Zigzagging walkways lead you to them from the shore. Large statues of a tiger and a dragon stand at each tower. One is advised to enter the dragon’s mouth and exit at the lion’s mouth. This way, one turns bad luck into good luck.
            Inside the bodies of the mythical animals, the walls are painted with Buddhist and Taoist characters and scenes, such as China’s 24 most obedient sons, the twelve Magi, the Jade Emperor’s thirty palaces, Confucius, and scenes of heaven and hell. After passing through the dragon, one can go up the towers for a panoramic view of the lake and the mountains, and feel the breeze.
            About 700 meters north of the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas, the Spring and Autumn Pavilions, built in 1953, stand across Qiming Temple. The gaudy pavilions, dedicated to Guandi, the god of war, are two octagonal, four-storey pagodas with a giant dragon, with teal-colored scales and yellow fins, slithering at their feet. Atop the dragon is a statue of Guanyin, commonly known as the goddess of mercy. If local lore is to be believed, the dragon and the statue of Guanyin were later added. According to legend, Guanyin appeared among the clouds riding on a dragon, and believers commemorated the event by installing depictions of it between the pagodas.
One can also enter the dragon’s hollow body, its walls painted with scenes from Buddhist and Taoist stories and beliefs.
They can be interesting small journeys, entering the bodies of mythical animals and then climbing the towers with the landscape of water and mountains revealing itself to you as if you’re being formed or reformed and then birthed, near the clouds.

The high-speed rail station
Inside one of the coaches of the Taiwan High Speed Rail

Arriving at Taiwan High Speed Rail's Zuoying Station in Kaohsiung City
The man-made Lotus Pond in Zuoying

The view from the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas

The Spring and Autumn Pavilion

Inside the dragon of the Spring and Autumn Pavilion
The Qiming Court Temple facing the Lotus Pond
The Ciji Temple