A Bloody Good Friday – Crucifixion in San Fernando

8 in the morning, a group of masked, topless, bare feet flagellants were whipping themselves in an alley of a residential area in Pampanga, San Fernando, 2 hours drive North of Manila in Philippines. Flagellants then marched down the avenue to the city’s cathedral, each with their ropes tied with small wooden sticks swaying left and right to hit their already bleeding back, the air was filled with a mist of tiny blood drops and an unsynchronised sound from wooden sticks hitting on flash.

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Some say the blood on their backs is fake, not surprising to me, cause you just can’t get all bloody when you just started and those wooden sticks were super smooth, but after what I saw in the cathedral square, I believe they were not mucking around. I saw was a helper using a brush of broken glass, comb down the bare skin of flagellants, there was another guy simply using a razor blade, not for the faint-hearted. I guess the whip is actually just a tool to numb their back, on top of a little help from alcohol, my nose told me.

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Since 1950s San Fernando started re-enactment of Stations of the Cross, and then from 1962 appeared first volunteer to be crucified. Since then year after year, people for thanksgiving, some to repent, some to proof their faith, nowadays there are more than 3000 flagellants plus more than 20 to be crucified each year.

 

On Good Friday different neighbourhood will perform their own crucifixion, I followed one of them and came to a small parking space like empty ground, with 3 holes dug. Two young men were tied to their crosses then stood on both sides, then the older one in maroon rope lay on his cross, a man appeared with a jar holding two 3 inches long silvery nails, now the crowd started to push inward hoping to get a glimpse of the action. After two painful shout, the cross was stood and planted into the hole, the crowd became pretty quiet except some snapping sound effect from mobile phones.

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But what most thousands of tourists would see is the grand finale in Cutud, a small bold hill in a suburb of San Fernando. Ben Enaje, who has been playing the role of Jesus since 1987, along with a bunch of fully dressed actors and actresses, equipped with wireless microphones, they re-enacted the Stations of the Cross and finally came to Cutud, where thousands of audience were divided into zones. I was lucky enough to know people to get into a sheltered VIP zone, but not close enough like a camera man who got lifted by a crane.

 

It was a sunny and superhot day; I got blood all over my clothes and camera, might got sunburn as well, and I was soaking in my own sweat for hours, it was certainly fascinating, but probably I won’t watch it again, no wonder locals tend to stay home eating nuts and watch special entertainment programme on TV on such a Good Friday.ImageImage

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Underneath his Shalwar kameez

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Shalwar Kameez, a long tunic combining a pair of loose pants, a common clothing in Pakistan, or the middle Eastern Islamic countries, for a lot of non-Muslim when they see people wearing Shalwar Kameez, they have a perception, or worse, they judge.

Quite the opposite, I think Shalwar Kameez cover up a lot of information of a person that we can usually tell by the way he/she dress, especially for men, no matter tellers, teachers, tailors, terrorists, or these automobile technicians in the photos, they all wear simple and unimposing colour Shalwar Kameez, one’s personality, wealth, education, personal taste, mood, occupation, sexual orientation, etc. has became obscure.

So I wonder, in Pakistan there must be a very different and interesting way to tell, to get or to guess the status of a man, and it must be very unfamiliar to us.

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Up close of losing and winning (dying and surviving)

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I said to myself, I gotta revisit the cockpit in Manila, few years ago I was blown away by how big, established and fascinating it was, and the emergency ward for injured cocks was eye opening.

This year I went back to Manila I just happened to miss out the most popular Libertad cockpit in Philippines, since then I was looking out for cock fight every Sunday in my Philippines trip, cause this is what they do on Sunday.

I ended up in the Square Garden Cock Fight Arena in Zamboanga City, Mindanao, the emergency ward was not as intense as the one in Manila, but I ran into someone whom I met from the local NGO, obviously he was a regular cock trainer, cause he knows everyone that work in the arena.

The Derby Cup was on, and I was surprised to be invited into the cockpit to take pictures, where locals can’t get in there unless you’re a cock trainer, this is a dangerous place since blades on the chicken feet are super sharp, and you just don’t know where they’ll jump to.

It was brutal, and even more intense when I was amongst the action, the fight for live or dead is right in front of my feet, gamblers were raving for their winning or losing.

Being the only foreigner always give me advantage of getting closer, though I still don’t know how the betting works, anyway I already gained more than the cost of 50 pesos entrance.

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Perfectly Groomed Masculinity

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Walking into the fort of Jaisalmer, you will be amazed by its massive fort wall, cobble stone streets, intricately crafted gates, and pristine location; walking down the narrow lanes of the old town, fabric stores loaded with colourful prints, smell of chai mixes the smell of spices in the air, crowed with traders, shoppers and cows, you get an idea what Jaisalmer once was, but today this old town has lost its glitters, you can only imagine how glorious this old town was, once the most important trading town connects India and Central Asia.

I came to Jaisalmer at the end of January 2012, when they held the annual Jaisalmer Desert Festival, there from dancing troops, parade of heavily decorated camels, image of the old Jaisalmer emerged to me: gold and jewelry shops abound, rich businessmen and their women opulently dressed, majestic camel caravans upload and unload their goods next to tea houses.

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Then the most interesting to me was the beauty competition of men, Mr. Desert, instead of wearing suits or speedo, they had a piece of white cloth wrap around their legs, showing a bit of their hairy shins above those pointy flat shoes, turbans was tied on their head, heavily embroidered vests were like costumes in movies. This is a dress code I don’t normally find sexy, but it all make sense in Jaisalmer.

Then I had never seen men who groomed themselves so meticulously, over the top and wear big draping ear-rings! No way! But they still remain masculine and “straight”, then you think, “oh yes, this must be what princes look like.”

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Taste of Peshawar

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“Pakistan indeed is really dangerous”, that’s what I felt after watching movie Zero Dark Thirty, a movie depicts how CIA hunted down Osama Bin Laden, if I would have watched this movie before, I probably wouldn’t go to Pakistan last year and visit Peshawar for four days, where is the gateway to Afghanistan and tribal territories.

Looking at the old town scene of Peshawar in the movie brought back a lot of fond memories. In this oldest Indo-Pakistani trading town, people were busy buying and selling in narrow lanes amongst historical buildings, young boys in salwar kameez were busy commuting between tea shops and customers, delivering small pots of tea. In the air was a mix of burning charcoal, dry spices, and blood from street side slaughter houses, and there was the aroma from food stalls too.

I followed the aroma into a small place where 5 food stalls were so busy dishing out food to hungry men sitting on little stools so low as if they’re squad supporters. I sat down in front of a huge frying pan and ordered myself a plate of stir-fried mutton offal in tomato curry and nan, a very common working class meal. The nan was fresh and hot and the curry was flavorful.

An Asian man in Peshwar is a rare sight, sitting amongst them eating the way they do arouse their curiosity. The owner of the stir-fry introduced an old man to me, a kind face with white beard, wore a traditional round felt hat, that’s his father, and his two brothers were all running food stalls right next to each other. The man sitting next to me, short hair and shaved clean, this was not very common in here. We exchanged a few conversations, I suggested to take a picture together, he kindly refused, which is uncommon because people here tend to love camera, but one thing he was in common was being incredibly hospitable, before he left, he paid my food.

I told my couch surfing host Qaisar about this, he told me the reason that man refused to have his picture taken was very likely because he’s an Afghan, here in Pakistan, policemen are lousy, if anyone whose neck fits the collar, then he’s the suspect, so if anything would happen to me, an Afghan could be the first suspect.

“Anything would happen to me” suggests danger, but I think sometimes it’s all psychological, the friendliness and hospitality I felt was physical. Just before I finished my stir-fired, the owner bought me a pot of tea, oh yes, their hospitality was competitive too.

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Blues – Flavors of India Second Class Train

On a moonless midnight, I boarded a train in Khajuraho going towards Alliabad, which was originated from Agra. It was already full, what I mean full is two butts sharing a single seat, there were shelters of crisscrossed legs from passengers seating on the luggage racks, sleepy eyes were trying hard to get a sleep on packed right angled hard seats. The only who was sleeping tight was the one underneath his mother’s seat, while she kept half-awake to make sure people passing by won’t step on his arm.

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Luckily I found a floor space in the corridor big enough for me to lie down and extend my legs. I laid a sarong on the floor, removed my shoes, my day pack as a pillow, corner of the sarong as an eye mask, I tried to get some sleep too.

Felt like I’m a piece of one finished jigsaw puzzle, cant’ move, can’t turn, cause I was sandwiched by other’s legs, though not moving but I kept sweating. And it’s quite restless while people commuting between their seats and toilets, dragged along toilet smell with their wet shoes.

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I got legs full of heat rash after this exhausting train ride as if I was going to a labor camp, but guess what? it was voluntary.

India train ticket is thrillingly cheap, 1300km distance, about the distance between Hong Kong and Shanghai, cost less than 200hkd for a air-con sleeper, can you imagine how dirt cheap a second class ticket would cost? So stepping into a second class carriage is not an option for most foreigners, as well as for a lot of Indians I met.

First time I went to India, I was planning on a sleeper from Mumbai to Jaisalmer, but I didn’t know one need to purchase a ticket weeks in advance in order to secure a seat. Eventually I was still on the waiting list on the day of travel, but I can’t afford to postpone cause I can’t afford to miss the Jaisalmer Desert Festival either, so I bet on the unreserved second class, after 24 hours of uncomfort, I arrived.

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Not difficult to see why educated Indians think second class carriage belongs to a different world, for India is a country of social classes, no matter it’s marriage, career or social activity, different classes lives in a different world, I didn’t even see the lower class has ambition to challenge the upper classes.

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However I think second class carriage is a miniature of Indian society, and essence of un-civilized in this ancient civilization. Every time getting on or off a train is like a war, people chase after the carriage door before the train has stopped, then pushing through it, likewise for those needed to get off, necessary to get ready by the door before it’s stopped, try to get off as fast as you can, otherwise once the tsunami of on-board passengers rushes in, you’ll be pushed backward and stuck inside. This happens no matter how empty or occupied the train is.

To see authentic real Indian’s living, you don’t have to roam around ghettos, here you’ll see poor students in sweaty shirts, elders in worn out traditional clothing, a family with 5 young shoeless kids, sharing a small plate of home brought veggie curry and chapatis wrapped in newspaper. A beggar with deformed legs crawling on the floor, dragging along peanut shells, hawkers who sell snacks cut up onions and tomatoes with the same hand they handle cash, then same fingers give your food a toss, wrap it up in a fabric-coming-off-old newspaper into a cone as a container.

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Occasionally something wicked would make a brief visit to the car, they’re neither he nor she, they dresses in women clothing, heavy makeup, and a handbag, make their fierce entrance, snap their fingers, open their palm and then ask you for money, even food or the bottle of water you’re having. People seem to be fear of them, and half willingly hand out their notes.

In western world these people can be addressed as transvestite, transsexual, or inter-sexual, but in India they’re called Hijras. In Hinduism, they’re considered the third sex, a creature expelled by the society, but because they were believed to have power to curse or to bless, so people rather give them small change for a blessing instead of pissing them off, results in Hijras showing their “candy”. Though seeing their “candy” may not turn you into stone, but local Indians are not eager to find out the consequence.

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On the other hand, passengers in the second class carriage are relatively more humble and friendly, especially to a foreigner like me. Some would share a seat with me, or share their food with me, university students didn’t give up this opportunity to practice their English, and I received many invitations to people’s home.

For me travel is about savoring the original local flavors, but many of these flavors have been washed out by globalization, they lost their originality and became bland. I know, the flavor in Indian second class carriages maybe too strong to majority’s taste, but it’s original, and concentrated. And you know what misconception I found out from within? Indians aren’t smell.

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Like a grandpa

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Cheap kitchen tools, deformed Barbie dolls, tacky fortune telling robot, pekora and jalebi, that’s Indian fun fair, they call it Mela. There was a Mela to celebrate the end of monsoon season in McLeod Gang, where I was volunteering as well as a lot of Tibetan refugees lives there, apparently because Dalia Lama is living there too. It’s a very small town, so a Mela gave me and my volunteer friends a few good days of excitement.

A Mela won’t be complete without rides, and that pirate boat ride must be the most hair raising, actually dangerous, ride I’ve ever went for, like my boat mate Cindy commended on that pirate boat ride, as made of rubber bands, shoe laces and chewing gum.

Opposite is a merry-go-round horses, they looked like capybaras to me though. It’s totally manual controlled by this old man, you sit on that, he pushes you to go, he slows it down for you to get off, isn’t it like a grandpa playing with his grand children? Children loved it, it’s primitive, but it has an extra bit of human touch to it, maybe I’m just too sentimental.

When it was raining or getting dark, business became quiet, unlike a controller would sit inside his booth and texting on phone, this old man stood quietly with his rusty horses, waited and looked into the blank amongst this festive lights and sound, a bit sad, but once again, maybe I’m just too sentimental.

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Yellow Fins

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How many of you ever think the tuna steak, tuna sashimi, or canned tuna you eat might came from the Southern most city of Philippines, or Philippines at all? General Santos is the tuna capital of Philippines, export quality products supply big consumers like the US, Hong Kong, even Japan.

On my way to the port, there was delicious smell of tuna from nearby tuna processing plants. At the port, a few boats were unloading their catch, from a relatively small boats for such big fishes, the mother boat was only 12 meters long, and many even much smaller tiny boats were attached to the mother boat for hand line fishing.

Tuna more or less the same weight of mine were one by one taken to the whole sell auction, with a number tag on their skin in sequence, 212, 213, 214… I was surprised by how many tunas that boat could contain and still counting, so I asked the fishermen, they told me it’s about 400 tunas they caught this time.

“So how many days you are out to the sea each time?” I asked, the fishermen said “about 35 days, 3 days go out, 3 days come back”, and stay in the fishing spot for about a month with an average of 15 tunas each day.

Before I was planning to ask one of these boat see if I can go fishing with them, think it must be very interesting, apparently this little Chinese man was just too ignorant.

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Great fun needs no toy

I said to Raden “could you arrange me to stay in Rio Hondo?” he said yes, “there’s a guesthouse just outside before the bridge.”, “but I want to stay in the floating village!” I said, Raden didn’t expect that one coming, was then thinking for a few seconds “let me see.”

Rio Hondo is an area where floating houses were built on a shallow bay, at the East of Zamboanga city, very West of Mindanao, South of Philippines. Here lives 100% Muslim, most are Tausug from the Sulu archipelago, mostly fishermen, many unemployed, is a place considered no go for outsider, even locals of Zamboanga city don’t wanna set foot on here. But I have this rare chance of knowing someone who’s rather respectable in this special place, so don’t I get the most out of it? Eventually Raden took me home and I had lived there 3 joyous days.

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It was school holiday and abundance of children were playing outside, in the water just beneath their houses, on the boardwalk connecting these houses, or around their school or market where they would find their friends.

They played a lot of games with creativity, like turning a 5-gallon water container into a sledge to drag on boardwalk; a few of them would sit on the floor and spread their legs, made a W shape for a challenger to walk through and not stepping on them whilst not looking; then there was this fence jumping by stacking up hands in the air. They might be poor and lack of materials, but they’re the happiest bunch of kids I’d seen in a long time. The creativity, fun and laughters, made those who’re playing with their phones or tablets seem boring, after all, great fun needs no toys.

*This photo was the most voted in the Lonely Planet Photo Challenge “Play” (link below), but sadly it was disqualified because this photo contains nudity, regardless of his age.

http://woody.ewah.com/lp/lpplay-play.html

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Mountain Spice Girls

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What? was that a legendary snake bone woman?

I was meant to go to Kalinga, a province in the North Luzon, Philippines, but a friendly, sometimes frivolous local boy on the jeepney invited me to his village, I thought…… why not!

The jeepney came to it’s destination called Sadanga, a tiny town hidden from the highway, then I realize his village is not Sadanga, but 3km further up the mountain through rice terraces, a village called Belwang, at the top of a hill surrounded by 360 degrees of rice terraces, it’s beauty is like a lost twin of the famous Banuae, only here I was the only foreigner.

Next dawnwhen the valley was still blanketed in mountain mist, women started going out to their farm, one of them was a heavily tattooed grandma, serious hunchback like the shape of a question mark, quickly moved down the terraces with two walking sticks and a pipe in between her lips.

From my observation it’s only women and teenagers work in the farm, maybe men do something more heavy duty, but as rice farming is such demanding and important work, there’s no place for the weak and pathetic, I think therefor tattoo, an ancient tribal practice shows courage and fierceness, was considered attractive on a woman.

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Of course, by the invasion of global definition of beauty, new generations don’t want to get tattoos like that anymore, same to their traditional clothing and accessories. So when I saw that grandma with a snake bone on her head, I thought, wow that’s fierce! couldn’t believe something so original still existing.

I had to ask their permission for photos. First they were a bit uncomfortable, but as soon as they saw their pictures from my camera, they were even posing for me by taking a few puff with their unique long pipe, which also used as a hair pieces. In stead of giving you pretty and femininity, there was fierceness, sophistication, even a hint of bossiness, absolutely captivating.

After the shooting, they demanded me a copy of their photo and a box of matches. Yes madam, salute to the Philippines mountain spice girls.

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