Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Monday trip

As yesterday: national heroes day, was declared a national holiday by the president we decided that we should make the most of it by having a little trip visiting places of interest. We had fun at Manila zoo, seeing a couple of animals for the first time. It was quite a natural environment: full of trees and plants that made it feel a lot less like an institution that many of the other zoos to which I have been. I saw an Orangutan for the first time, that was exciting. After the zoo we went to Greenhills, a big mall the inside of which is like one huge market, very claustrophobic but fun in its own way.
Sorry but not much to write about at the moment, missing everyone in England, remember to email me please, it's always great to hear from you.
In Christ through Mary,

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Rockwell Center: Powerplant Mall

Yesterday I went for a day of complete fun as I needed a break from the place where we live. I went to the Powerplant Mall, one of the most exclusive malls in the country to get some great food in a serene and beautiful environment. It speaks volumes that the only contact numbers displayed on the website are for the US and UK. Getting there required three means of transport. We had to get a tricycle (that's a motorbike with a sidecar attached) to the bus station from where we got a bus to the MRT (that's a monorail). From the MRT station, sweetly called Guadalupe we needed to get a taxi to the Rockwell center. The Rockwell center is located in Makati: the financial district where almost all of the sophisticated eateries and bars can be found. I made the most of the well-stocked bookshop to get a Teach Yourself Latin pack and a Latin dictionary as well a new novel for my entertainment: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. After this we headed to Mati: the Greek restaurant that I had seen advertised in the newspaper, as I was desperate for some European food. It lived up to my expectations and beyond; it was tastefully decorated with well executed "ancient mural style" figures and patterns painted on a background of muted beige. The service was great and the food was beautiful, overall a really pleasant atmosphere and the cocktails were only 120 pesos each! (that's 1.20 pounds, sorry for the strange way of putting it but the keboard doesn't have a pound sign) Went to the cinema and tried to see The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants with Alexis Bledel, one of my favourite actresses, but we were late for the showing due to an extremely long queue. So, overall it was a very enjoyable day until that was I found out about the corpses for rent! As I heard from my community the practice of renting a corpse to those who wish to gamble is widespread among the poor. This occurs because generally gambling is illegal but if it takes place at a wake so that the family can raise funds to pay for the funeral the police turn a blind eye because it may be the only way by which the family will be able to afford to bury their dead with respect. Thus those who wish to gamble can take advantage of this situation by going around and looking for wakes which are taking place. However, things even weirder when a family had perhaps failed to raise the funds that they require through the gambling at the wake. They may then "rent" their corpse so that a group of gamblers can put on a fake wake. As you can imagine I found this piece of news rather unsettling. It lent the whole day a rather surreal air.
Tomorrow is a national holiday so I don't have any classes,
In Christ through Mary,

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Fr Terry and I with the huge crab

The house where Sis Virgie's party was held

Sr Leony's Birthday Dinner on Monday

Happy St. Bartholomew's Day, I had a lovely time on Monday at the dinner to celebrate the birthday of Sr Leonie at St. James' school, run by the Dominicans sisters of Siena. It was also the 2nd anniversary of our Bishop's episcopal ordination and the anniversary of my 2 months in the Philippines, so there was a lot to celebrate. As always with the Siena sisters the food was beautiful and the atmosphere was very nice as the dinner was held at the sisters' covered garden. There were huge colourful crabs on offer, bigger than I had ever seen. I'll post a photo of them later today as I haven't got around to uploading it yet. This was our 2nd birthday celebration of the evening as we had already been to the party of a member of the Catholic Women's League. This was held in a grand five storey house with its own swimming pool and there was even a karaoke machine for the occasion. It was strange because from the top of this luxurious house one could see down to the huts on stilts that are put together from debris and litter the coastline around here. It was possible therefore to see both sides of life here simultaneously. It put me eerily in mind of the "I'm the King of the Castle" children's rhyme. I sang "Swear it Again" by Westlife but was soon put to shame by the veritable talent of Fr Jepoy who is here on a break from his studies in Paris.
This morning I finally started my Catechism sessions at the public high school after two failed attempts due to a problem with the schedule. I have to say that it went very well, there weren't so many students as I anticipated, those who were there were courteous and since the lesson began at 7:10 am the room wasn't hot despite the absence of any air conditioning. So, all in all a successful morning, praise God, let's just pray that it wasn't merely a honeymoon fluke.
In Christ through Mary,

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Saturday's wedding

Sorry that I haven't posted the last couple of days but I didn't have anything interesting to write about which in a way I suppose is a good thing because it means that I'm settling in to life here. What I mean by this is that as I adjust to the way things are done here I no longer need to comment on quite so many things. Anyway, went to a nice wedding yesterday at the oldest church in the area. That's not really saying that much however as the area is pretty new: the church only dates to the 19th century but was very nice all the less. Nice reception after the wedding with good food. I unwittingly sampled cow's tongue meat which I have to admit was actually very good, it had an interesting sauce. I knew it was something strange because the people at my table started to ask me what I thought it was. Momentarily shocked as I thought I might have just ingested man's best friend I relaxed when I found out that it came from a cow. After all, that's a normal animal to eat, isn't it? Sorry no photos as I didn't take my camera but I promise that I'll take it tomorrow for the dinner at St. James's convent, where the Siena congregation Dominican sisters always serve excellent food. Yum! I'll fill you in soon,
From what I caught on EWTN WYD 2005 seems to been a resounding success both spiritually and logistically. Can't wait to hear first hand accounts from my friends who were there so make sure you email me soon, you know who you are ;-) So good to see the crowds coming to love Benedict as our new Holy Father, BENEDETTO!
In Christ through Mary,

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

From Cosmopolitan to Monocultural

Last night I went to see a film called The Great Raid. It's set in the Philippines during the Second World War at the time when the Japanese were retreating from the advancing Americans. The raid of the title was performed against a Japanese POW camp where it was feared that the Japanese would kill all of the prisoners as the Americans grew closer if it was not liberated first. One of the most interesting things about the film was that it included shots of a computer generated Manila as it was before the bombing, as the film says (I paraphrase) "...it was known as the Pearl of the Orient: an international city where people from all over the world lived and worked." The contrast with the Manila of today couldn't be greater, even in the middle class malls I am almost always the only caucasian; only in the top malls can one see many foreigners. This is a sad result of the Marcos regime worsened by the present economic stagnation. The Great Raid is an interesting, well acted film and I would recommend it.
Today I went to a concert by the University of the East Chorale. It was a mixture of classical and contemporary Filipino music. The choir was very good and it would have been a beautiful concert if it hadn't been for the children who were making so much noise. I hope to go to another concert by the same choir in November that will hopefully be a more formal occasion. Remember to keep e-mailing me,
In Christ through Mary,

Monday, August 15, 2005

Happy Assumption of Our Lady

Happy Feast of the Assumption. A few of us from the parish went to Baywalk: a section of Manila bay which is festooned with open-air bars, eateries and is also the location for live bands every night. Since it's an open space the amusing phenomenon of "window drinkers" standing behind the fence just wanting to listen to the music and not drink anything occurs. The only problem with this setup is that you never know who will have the pleasure of listening to on any particular evening. Thus last night we found ourselves serenaded by a group called "Fat Babes" which was made up of two ladyboy transvestites and what we took to be a genuine female but couldn't be sure. I was glad that there songs were in Tagalog but wasn't spared blushes because their body language left nothing to the imagination. We tried to leave but as luck would have it the waiter took a ridiculously long time to bring us the bill. It was with great enthusiasm therefore that I heralded the arrival of the celebration of the purity of Our Lady today, after witnessing such depravity last night for it is in the darkest room that the candle shines the brightest.
In class today I had fun explaining about the four seasons in England and the different temperatures to my Grade 6 students; their reactions were priceless Tomorrow is the 2nd anniversary of my diocese, the diocese of Kalookan so we will go to a special mass at the Cathedral of San Roque (Roch) for the occasion.
I'll update you on that tomorrow,
In Christ through Mary,
The picture is of the Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Weekend in Santo Domingo formation house

Just got back from a weekend spent in Santo Domingo, the formation house of the Dominicans here where the simply professed brothers live and study until they are ordained. This was arranged to give me more of an experience of community life and I will be staying there one weekend in a month from now on. The priory is in Quezon City, a generally prosperous area of Metro Manila. Its location is interesting because it is caught between an extremely affluent area where some famous people live and a poor area so the congregation is quite mixed but generally middle class. It has a beautiful courtyard with trees and flowers. I'm sorry that this picture of the cloister is far from inspiring but I didn't take my camera and I haven't asked anyone to email me pictures yet.
I must say thank you here to the priests and brothers for their warm welcome; they couldn't have been any more hospitable. I had the great priviledge of staying in one of the rooms on the cloistered corridor rather than the usual guest room and am very grateful for that. It's a really big convent with 40 students and 20 priests, who are in seperate wings of the building. The early starts of 6am were definitely worth it for the experience of saying office with the brethren in the very impressive and huge church. The church is the shrine of Our Lady of the Rosay La Naval, the statue of which is incidentally the only major survivor of the Dominican church that used to stand in Old Manila (intramuros)but was destroyed by ww2 bombing, along with all the other churches there apart from San Augustin. It was so nice to say office with so many brethren, there are so many that no one person stands out, allowing one to be still and meditate very easily. This I feel is the benefit of a large community.
Yesterday after daily morning rosary and morning prayer a few of the priests and I headed off to Makati, the financial and most upmarket and cosmopolitan district in the city to visit the Ayala Museum. The Ayalas are an old and extremely wealthy (the income of their corporation was 50 million pounds last year alone) Spanish society family who own a whole group of companies but are most famous for their malls and property developments. These finance the Ayala Foundation which runs the museum.

The Ayala Museum is in my opinion the most contemporary and interesting building that I have seen in Manila so far; its avant garde design put me in mind of many building in London. It has a varied collection with one floor given over to a permanent collection of dioramas (scenes made up of action-figure sized clay figurines) depicting the history of the Philippines from 60,000 BC to the year of Philippine independence. There was a whole floor full of religious art, its two sections covering 18th century Spanish style statues and paintings from 16th to 19th C. respectively. From the museum we went to the fantastic Greenbelt Mall 3 which is conveniently connected to the museum. Watched Bewitched, which I found disappointing but amusing anyway and then went back to the convent. After dinner there was a presentation to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the DSMC, the Dominican Student's Media Center (that's the name, not my spelling becoming Americanised ;-), the aim of which is to train the students in working with and in the media. This was followed by a little celebration which included sushi :-) .

Today I had an amazing time at the the Dominican Formation Encounter which was attended by all the Dominican (minus the cloistered nuns of course) brothers and sisters in formation. It was such an inspiration to be surrounded by so many young Dominicans, there must have been about 200 there, all in habits, I was quite overwhelmed. We had mass there presided by the Provincial and then listened to the preaching of Fr Enrico Gonzales, an amazing preacher, he has so much presence and charisma, he's like a comedian. After lunch several of the congregations and the brothers performed dance routines (yes, dance routines, this is a very young province) and then we were split into groups and played games which were great fun. It was such an enjoyable and inspiring day, this province really knows how to put on an occasion. I'm sure everyone left feeling refreshed and happy to meet so many other Dominicans, the main purpose of the day being for us to simply get to know and love one another. What a great weekend!

Well, that was an extremely long post, hope I didn't strain your eyes, In Christ through Mary, Daniel

Friday, August 12, 2005

Santo Domingo study house

I'm going to be in Santo Domingo, the study house here from Friday afternoon til Sunday so don't expect any new posts until Monday but I'll give a full report then.
In Christ through Mary,

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The deep imaginative faculty of the soul

Whilst reading Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina I was struck by the following passage:
"Like Lydia Ivanovna and others who shared these views, Karenin was quite devoid of that deep imaginative faculty of the soul by which ideas aroused by the imagination become so vivid that they must be brought into conformity with other ideas and with reality."
Tolstoy's comment on the ability to contemplate and assimilate one's notions into a coherent system of belief struck me as the task that befalls anyone who cares about theology. This passage seemed particularly appropriate to describe theology because it suggests that abstract notions must be tested by the demands of reality. Theology should never be idle philosophical speculation; if it does not concern itself with giving glory to God and seeking the salvation of souls then it can so easily wander down the path of selfish, aimless pondering that helps no-one and may confuse and misguide many. The coherence of and concern for a truth that is lived that exists within Catholicism is for me one of its greatest treasures. In the lives of the Saints one can glimpse the living out of a beautiful notion that is not only conformed to but most effectively conforms human beings to their fullest reality: the image of God. Tolstoy's thought also gives one an insight into how one grows into sanctity: the mystic's love for God becomes so vivid that he must conform his whole being to this overwhelming reality.
In Christ through Mary,
The painting is "The girl with the peach" by Valentin Serov, a contemporary of Tolstoy.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Photo of Caleruega chapel of the transfiguration

This is the Caleruega chapel. I'll post some more photos of the place later.

Happy belated St. Dominic's day

A happy belated feast of our holy father St. Dominic. Sorry I didn't post anything yesterday but I didn't feel like it after coming back from a trip to Calaruega, the retreat house of the Dominican friars here in the Philippines. It's a really peaceful and beautiful place, the motto of which is "Close to nature closer to God". It's a real santuary, situated on the edge of a lake which is on top of a mountain. In the middle of the lake is a dormant (but not extinct!) volcano: the smallest volcano in the world. All the retreat houses of the vast plethora of religious orders that exist in the Philippines are located in this place. Being up in the mountains it's much cooler than the low lying places, so cool that I actually found it too cold! That was because it was raining and the sun wasn't out.
The celebrations began on 7th August when we met for the presentations of the planificatios (plans) of the various priories. After this was evening prayer, followed by dinner. After dinner we all took part in what they call a spree. A spree involves drinking, eating and playing games. The games consisted of a "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" style quiz. The first two sections were all about the friars of the province and in the last section we had to guess what was going to happen in a series of commercials which they then played projected onto a screen. The spree was very raucous and loud because the province here is so young. There are 20 guys in the pre-novitiate, 10 in the novitiate and about 40 students, it's unbelievable.
The next day we began with morning prayer followed by mass which was presided by a Franciscan, with another Franciscan giving the homily. After mass we had lunch and then headed back to Dagat-dagatan. Strangely enough I was glad to get back to the warmth. During my time in Caleruega I found out that I will be spending one weekend a month in Santo Domingo, the student house here. This was arranged to give me more of an experience of the community life here as the priory where I'm staying has only 3 priests and is exceptional because it is a mission, being in such a poor area.
Other news,
I'm a bit nervous because tomorrow I start my teaching in the public high school. Since the school is free there are 70 in the class, they have no textbooks and there is no air con. Luckily I'm only taking them once a week and I've got the top group. Please pray that it will go well,
In Christ through Mary,

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Marc Chagall's Madonna of the Village

Happy feast of Blessed Jane of Aza, the mother of St. Dominic, a visionary woman and inspiration to us all.
I feel like I've been neglecting the cultural side of this blog lately so here's one of my favourite religious pictures for you. It's the Madonna of the Village by Marc Chagall. I really like the way that the Virgin seems to fit into the valley like a part of the landscape, this is no brief visit for her but a place where she makes her home as Queen of All Hearts. I hope you like it.
In Christ through Mary,

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Japanese and the Fishport

Yesterday the Japanese came to the parish and attended the 9am mass to see what goes on around here. In the afternoon they helped the missionaries of charity (Mother Teresa's Order) in catechising the children. In the evening there was a presentation by several people. Ferdy and Paul sang a Beatles' song, the dance group who are really good did break dancing and I sang a Japanese song in Japanese. I think it went well, this was possible because I studied Japanese for two years at evening classes once a week. However, that was four years ago so I've forgotten most of it now. I also sang Scarborough Fair. After that we went to the Fishport, a huge complex that is the main employer in Navotas ( the area of Metro Manila where we live). There are all kinds of fish there, from tiny fish to huge fish and it is very busy. As usual I attracted a lot of attention, being the only white person in the place. I'm getting used to it however and am even beginning to relish correcting people who call me an "Americano". They assume that anybody who is white is American because they were occupied by the U.S until 1946. There are many children working there, which would be easy to condemn but the situation is more complicated than it may seem. If the children do not work then the family may not have enough to eat. Even though there are free schools some parents cannot afford to buy the uniforms, pencils and books that are required for attendance. Therefore, there is no possiblility of self-improvement, it's very sad.
Today we went to three of the areas where the illegal squatters live. Market 3, the one closest to the fishport is the worst of the three. The dirt and squalor there is unbelievable, I now know what the Victorian slums in England must have been like. At least the people here never feel the cold, however, that would be truly dreadful. Once you've been to Market 3, Road 10 (the best of the three) looks positively sparkling by comparison. I really hope that the government can get the ecomonic situation together and end this terrible poverty in a few year's time by strong ecomonic growth.
The new car arrived today. We needed a new one because the old one kept breaking down and when you live in Dagat-Dagatan it really isn't a good if your car breaks down in the middle of the night. Thank the Lord it never happened whilst I was in the car.
In Christ through Mary,