From the era of snail mails, I remember getting excited whenever I'd go to my mom's office and going for every envelope I could find on her table. While she worked and talked about how I could help out in the office, I would get busy sorting and cutting the stamps out of the envelopes, place them in cold water and wait for the remaining paper at the back of the stamps to come right off. Sometimes, I would find a pile she had already picked out for me for my collection. I suddenly recalled this special bonding moment after spending half a day exploring Old Manila.
A few months ago, I came across an open invitation for a Free Philippine Postal Heritage Tour by the Filipinas Stamp Collector's Club. I remember thinking that it was my chance to appraise the real value of the stamps I bought last year for P20 a set. I couldn't find the stamps at the last minute and decided to just set out on another adventure. What I got instead was a rekindled appreciation for the things that I have long forgotten and never really paid much attention to while growing up.
Our first stop was the Manila Central Post Office, a grand structure that almost seem out-of-place in Manila of today with its elegant Neo-classical design and tall pink pillars.
Inside was a spacious area full of counters, some are still used today.
There were also mailboxes, marble tables and zip code charts.
There must have been a huge demand for the postal service for the government to build such a place.
Aside from delivering post and money orders, the post office used to be active in providing communication via telegraph.
Hidden beside the main building, upstairs in the security force building, was a library and museum (to be relocated or removed soon).
Aside from the old post office paraphernalia and stamp collections, I learned that auctions are held here and there is a small community of enthusiasts that gather here every month for their love of stamps, history and their country.
According to stamp enthusiasts we met at the tour, a stamp was like money and used for barter before. A stamp was a promised delivery of service. The stamp value was higher for an efficient postal service because they keep on delivering their promise to the people and they're doing a great job. The Philippine Post Office was among them.
One commented that collectors somehow condone the post office not to do their job because there was no push to provide good service in selling and allowing the collectors to keep unused stamps. We sometimes do not even consider of sending mail or parcel through the post office anymore unless we are on a tight budget. Personally, I'm not so confident if it will get there as fast or if it will get to its destination at all. Since there is already an abundance of other alternatives for post today such as couriers and email, collecting stamps became a way to keep the post office alive in the recent times. Doing this tour will also keep their passion alive and help preserve the significance of a post office, the very place that helped them become avid collectors in the first place.
Some Things I Found Out: They said that stamp collecting used to be the "hobby of kings" and "king of hobbies". The stamps don't lose their original value and appreciate in time depending on a lot of factors such as rarity. The postcards, on the other hand, cost less than the stamps because it is an open letter and there is no issue of trespassing and privacy. I also learned from Lawrence that there is also a country called Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Carribean that specializes in making stamps. The Philippines also issues Valentines' Day Stamps every February 15 and they run out quick.
The presentation on postcards they had for this tour gave me a brief tour of Philippine history and how Manila was a powerhouse and a picture of modernity and grandeur in the past.
How I wished we still had the tramway lines, the century old restaurants, Clarkes' Ice Cream House & Soda Fountain, Benelli's Gelato, the 0.5 centavos sorbetes, the electric car stations, the bridges, the abundance of kalesas, the theaters, the Venice-like Binondo Canal and the Dewey Boulevard of the 1800s and 1900s. It was also in that brief presentation that I learned that Meralco started out as a rail company and that the former post office was housed with the horses in a stable near its current location. It was also a walk down my college history subjects about Castilian Manila and the history of Chinese in the Philippines. It was the quickest yet most meaningful and most interesting history class I ever had. There is also the history of every stamp and related postal items for collectors such as who was the previous owner, who held it and why it was made. Imagine how stamp competitions take place, where it is not about how rare a collector's pieces are but how you make sense of your collection and its history.
The tour of Old Manila did not end here. This was the day that I was given a glimpse of art and theater in Manila back when I was still too young to appreciate it. I never knew about the Metropolitan Theater.
It was designed by the same architect, Juan M. Arellano, who did the Manila Central Post Office.
Lawrence said that Vilma Santos used to do her shows here in the 80s and 90s.
It was a big and beautiful theater inside and it reminded me of Broadway Theaters in New York. Restoring this place to its former glory would take a lot of time.
Although the Metropolitan Theater had lost its former splendor, there were hints of how it was a significant place for culture and arts in the olden days.
Ballrooms were located on the upper floors to host A-List parties or to celebrate shows.
The ceilings were carved by Aetas and the intricacies of the design are apparent even in the smaller ballrooms and the rooftop.
If there is anything I took home from this trip, it's that I have a yearning to support preserving Manila's culture, art and history.
There's more to learn from the Postal Heritage Tour and it's not all in this post. I encourage everyone to experience this effort for yourselves.
It is made available for us by volunteer enthusiasts who stand for what they love most in their life. They even give out their collections to encourage you to start your own and they will gladly offer some advise on how to collect stamps if you go there.
The Free Postal Heritage Tour is conducted every 3rd Sunday of the month by Lawrence. You can contact him at L_rence_2003@yahoo.com.
A Postal Heritage Tour to Remember and Alternative Old Manila Heritage Tour, a Closer Look at the Manila Central Post Office and the Metropolitan Theater Today!
- Originally written on March 20, 2011 (Sunday).