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“Walk This Way” in Intramuros, Manila

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As the title suggests, this is a walking tour. But for those of you who fear a long hot trudge through the streets of Intramuros, rest assured, your guide and entertainer Carlos Celdran is not so masochistic. This three hour tour is a gentle stroll around the park at Fort Santiago, a buggy ride and a short walk to Barbara’s Café. At suitably shady spots, Celdran invites you to sit comfortably on the grass in front of him while he takes you on ‘a journey through Filipino history for people with no attention span’.

Celdran’s performance is off-beat, irreverent, and unorthodox: a constant patter of fact and personal opinion. Dressed in an eighteenth century Spanish top hat and tailcoat, he begins the tour under the frangipani trees by encouraging all the locals to sing the National Anthem. A rousing chorus from at least 50% of the tour group follows. I do love the ability of the Filipinos to burst into song in public places without any qualms. It makes me feel totally at home, as my mother always carols around the supermarket in exactly the same unselfconscious fashion.

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Mad Hatter: Carlos Celdran and his many hats in the “Walk this Way” tour at Intramuros

The curtain rises with the arrival of the Spanish in Manila.  In Act 1, Carlos describes the building of Intramuros (literally ‘within the walls’) by the Spanish conquistadors in 1571, after ousting some 10,000 indigenous Muslim inhabitants from the banks of the Pasig River. Intramuros would become the centre of power for the Spanish government, the military and the Church for the next three hundred years..

Act 2 focuses on the national hero, Jose Rizal. As we wander past Rizal’s statue and through the Rizal museum, Celdran gleefully bursts mythical bubbles. This national hero is no gun wielding general but an elitist scholar with leanings towards Spain. Rizal wrote two books against theocracy in the Philippines: El Filibusterismo and Noli Me Tangere. He was later used as a scapegoat for the revolutionaries, and summarily shot for treason. ‘Suitably benign and even more suitably dead’, Rizal was apparently selected as a national hero, not by the Filipinos, but by the Americans.

Act 3 involves a change of location and costume, as Celdran replaces the top hat with a stars-and-stripes Cat-in-the-Hat number. Standing by the bandstand and encircled by a riveted crowd, this next monologue describes how the Americans attempted to convert the Philippines into a secular democracy and educated the masses in American English. The Philippines, he tells us, was seen as a decompression chamber between East and West, where the fusion of race, food and culture made Manila the first truly globalized city in Asia.

At this point Celdran invites us to avail ourselves of alternative transport at the gates of the park, and ride in a horse drawn cart to our next location. Beneath the shadowy mango trees we settle on plastic stools beside the hollow ruins of St Ignatius Church and an empty lot (once the University of Manila), bombed to smithereens at the end of World War II. The penultimate act is a somewhat vitriolic speech about the destruction of Intramuros through the combined efforts of the Americans and the Japanese, during which I was quite glad to be Australian, and thus outside the ‘circle of dis-trust!’ vitriolic.

Celdran uses a lot of thought-provoking imagery during his performance. In the final act standing before St Augustine’s pink splendor, he describes the illusion that is Philippine culture: a walled city made of volcanic ash; St Augustine’s architectural trimmings copied from every age and corner of the world, and the gift-wrapped jeepneys. Filipinos decorate everything, he says, but while more imitative than innovative, he proclaims “this lack of originality makes us totally original!” To be Filipino is to be a mish mash, a fusion, a blend, a halo halo of world cultures… and the final curtain comes down in the courtyard at Barbara’s Café, with the grand finale of halo halo for everyone.

I have tried not to give away the whole talk – otherwise you won’t bother to go yourselves, and you should!  Keep an open mind and a sense of humour – and know that Celdran’s snappy patter even appealed to my fifteen year old son, something Celdran himself saw as a great achievement!

 

 

 

Author: Alexandra Gregori  of COOK Magazine; freelance writer   

 

 

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