Nurturing Cultural Heritage in the Philippines - A New7Wonders Vigan City, The Escolta Future Market at the First United Building and a Stopover at the New Quanyinchay Vegetarian Food Garden in Ongpin, Binondo!

Last month, I attended a forum organized by the Dr. Andrew Tan Center for Tourism of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM Makati) entitled Nurturing Cultural Heritage Tourism in the Philippines. It's been a while since I was in a classroom setup like that and I was glad that at least there was some form of discourse among the academe, government and private entities that's accessible to the public even if we're not currently enrolled in a university. My takeaways include new stories, new places I wanted to go to and a bit of new understanding about something I'm genuinely fascinated about. They did a good job with the selection of speakers and reactors. As one of the people there said, our heritage sets us apart from our neighbors and if we own it, we'll be scared to lose it and we'll protect it. 

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My interest was piqued by all that Vigan introduction as told by Mayor Eva Marie Singson-Medina. Vigan used heritage conservation to attract tourists, grow their income and respond to its people's needs. It's good to know that a lot of the government initiatives are in place and some of the projects will be realized in a few years. I admit, my only thought and memory of Vigan from my first short trip was that one strip of preserved houses... Now I can't wait to go back and spend more than an overnight stay there =) Vigan is vying to be included in the New 7 Wonders Cities of the World list.

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Hope we can show our support this year by going here and voting for Vigan - the small city with big dreams! ;)

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Some more learnings/things to ponder on include:
  • Because on the Filip + Inna talk by Ms. Len Cabili: If you bring tourists where our artisan weavers are, they will understand the price and how hard it is to get there (say plane ride, boat ride, 7 hours van ride) aside from it being handmade.
  • From Dr. Virginia Miralao, Secretary General of UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines: The Philippines is one of the first countries to be a member of UNESCO but the lowest number in the heritage list. There are only 3 cultural properties namely: the Baroque Churches, the Historic Town of Vigan and the Rice Terraces.
  • What are we proud of as Filipinos for the future? That is OUR heritage.
  • There's such a thing as the Fundacion Santiago (NGO) and the Ateneo cultural laboratory that documents heritage. Where was this info when I was picking out courses?? LOL
  • They talked about the necessity of a narrative for every experience. That coming up with a tourist script is important. We have to develop our tour guides because our image of the localities will depend on him/her - instead of just taking us there and pointing. A narrative like knowing enough about the stories and processes of how to make local delicacies in their own town. I was thinking somewhere along the lines of the Pampanga Food Tour I did before with the old kitchens =) Of course, they have to keep the tourists' interest up and cannot overload them too. 
  • I thought about the awesome experience I had at The Ruins in Bacolod and how it would be a very nice idea to replicate him in lots of other spots in the Philippines. We can call them local tour guides. This keeps the income within the community.
  • It's important for localities to have clear narratives - not only all festivals and it might be a good idea to work with schools for the fact-finding and cultural mapping.
  • That we are not always a victim, esp. for the Spanish era stories. We must acknowledge the positive as well and we are actually proud of some Spanish components in our lives today.
  • An example of Filipino originality that I heard about Vigan empanadas. Originally carinos from Galicia, Spain then colored with achuete (Mexican) then we added vinegar which is very Pinoy.
  • A tour is a story. We need something accurate. We need the historians. We need knowledge of our market. We need to know what the tourists' individual interests are. We need to coordinate with the LGUs (local government units) and there are 1000+ in the country.
  • Great suggestion from a tour operator Ms. Teresa Custodio, president of Travel Caravan: Creating a tour in Vigan with sidetrips (look at other nearby places say every 3 hours apart) and surrounding destinations so that they can piggyback on the more famous sites until they could be known themselves.
  • Great suggestion from an ADMU professor of cultural anthropology Dr. Fernando Zialcita: Make tourism available for the poor like a day in the month for poor people, i.e. tsinelas (slippers) day in museum. It is important to include and educate the poor about preserving our culture and heritage. Just imagine the kids being the passionate tour guides for Manila when they grow up.
  • And finally, if you go out, heritage is actually already working in the country. Conservation doesn't mean that we have to be conservative.

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The people behind the heritage conservation of Escolta were also there and so my curiosity about their efforts also caught my attention.. They said that they wanted to bring back the charm of Escolta and old Manila.

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They were conducting what they call the Escolta Future Market at the historic First United Building in Manila.

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It was actually a fun discovery. The streets were almost empty and then, the people were just gathered in one place suddenly.

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Like the recent Intramuros Pasyal Sundays by Viva Manila, this one was organized by 98B COLLABoratory Manila. It's an "artist-run independent space". 

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It's been happening every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. under my nose haha =) Some of the sellers that week: A x Chrissie Cruz, Pompyang! (traditional Pinoy childhood games), Necktees (handmade cloth necklaces), Speculiars (muchacho dolls, postcards, handmade ceramic products, DIY stickers), Istorya Creations (handcrafted metal and leather jewelry and accessories) and Maria Manila PH. I've also gotten an invite there from the Kapitbahayan sa Kalye Bautista group - advocates for cultural & heritage preservation - for their Quiapo tours. =)

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According to them, "Escolta was the commercial hub in the early 1900s." What a wonderful way to restart the trading and encourage appreciation for what we want to preserve for the future generation of Pinoys. I found a number of interesting handmade products here as well as vintage finds. Come here without any high expectation though. It's all in its early stages after all and we're all new to this concept. Oh, and watch out for the #selfiEscolta Manila Street Heritage Festival Day! It was supposed to happen last June 28, 2014 but was postponed.

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The First United Building is a good walk away from Ongpin Street in Binondo. J's aunts recommended that we try the New Quanyinchay Vegetarian Food Garden for an afternoon snack =)

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It's right beside the Bee Tin Grocery (not Eng Bee Tin although its very near also). Love the goods there!

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I loved the fresh cold soya milk (P20) and ginataan (P50) =) Think we spent around P100 for all of these =D

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Event Details:
First United Building, 
310 Escolta Street, Binondo, Manila
(near Burke Street, Sta. Cruz Church and Plaza Lawton)
Saturdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Restaurant Details:
739 Ongpin Street, Binondo, Manila

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