la escala en singapur
“When I thought that I was leaving my family behind, tears welled in my eyes. I felt I was drowning. The horse was nimble; my driver Macario, silent and so was I. What thoughts! What sad reflections!”
~Jose Rizal (May 2, 1882)
OKAY! That was a bit heavy, and I don’t want to celebrate his life with a melodramatic note. So, let’s shift to the lighter side…
Jose Rizal is my personal super hero. I grew up reading his accounts, browsing the coffee table in National Bookstore and silently admiring his body of work while the rest of the world watches teenage mutant ninja turtles. I know the name of his dog, his patron saint, his childhood artworks, the names of his girlfriends and his favorite part of fried chicken. I played the lead role portraying him on stage in Bagumbayan 1898 (1996) and as the young Rizal in Pepe (1998); Simoun in Augusta (2001) and the most recent one as Don Tiburcio in Senor Senora (2005). I even joined a Rizal Trivia Quiz Bee back in college, and won second place on national level.
Call me rizalista, dork, history geek or whatever you want, but if I am going to choose between Wolverine, Zsa Zsa Zaturnah, Pacman and Jose Rizal, I’d still go for Pepe, MY Pepe! (I know what just ran in to your mind, perv!) And this is not about being nationalistic and whatnot, the guy is just friggin awesome! Period!
I feel that we have a lot in common, I noticed that we share the same love in art, music, science, culture and travel. At some point I actually believed that I am his reincarnation. <cricket chirping>
STOP LAUGHING! I’m serious! <cricket chirping>
OK, Since I am in Singapore (The first foreign country he set foot), I decided to revisit his translated diary–”Enroute to Barcelona“, and to try recreating his itinerary during his stopover in the city.
I have a big problem though: The landmarks were described briefly and the exact names weren’t mentioned in the diary. So I had to summon my inner Dan Brown.
Equipped with a PDF copy of his diary, a GPS, and an iPhone for Googling, I Started my investigation exactly where the Salvadora docked at the exact time on that morning of May 9, 1882. Rizal rented a carriage to ferry his luggage to De la Paz Hotel, so in the absence of a horse-drawn coach, I took the Trishaw.
Mayo Ocho Mil Ochocientos Ochenta Y Dos…
The sea is now as calm as yesterday. We see nothing but a distant mountain on the northwest. The sea has a beautiful green color and with the foam which the ship makes, I’m reminded vaguely of my childhood…
We can now discern clearly several islands. The lighthouse looks to us like a lyrical flame. Later, still clearer, it resembles somewhat San Nicolás only it stands on some rocks.
We see more clearly vessels, houses, vegetation, highways, chimneys — all that an active city has. The port pilot came later. We stop. A crowd of Indians, Malays, and Englishmen flocked to the boat, offering in a language that they alone can understand carriages, changing gold for silver etc., etc. One changed my fifteen pesos gold for silver and three pesetas. At last I disembark and hire a carriage to take me to La Paz Hotel.
I’m in my room which overlooks a patio adjoining the Hotel Europa. I hear English spoken everywhere. I’ll remember everything I have seen since this afternoon.
When I got down the boat and proceeded to the carriage, the Indian driver said to me “Nam, nam,” asking for a plaque on which was written a number that he had handed me. It was his. At last I gave it to him and we left.
Two large coal warehouses, but large ones, stand at the landing; then, well-built streets; plants on the sides…
…Chinese-style houses; crowds of Indians of Herculean figures; Chinese; a few Europeans; and very, very few Chinese women…
Shops everywhere with advertisements in English and Chinese; most lively men. The carriages resemble the tres por ciento drawn by one horse. Some of these are large and some are very small. I have not yet seen pretty houses like those in the Philippines. We pass before the Malabar temple, the Muslim, and the Chinese.
We saw the police headquarters, and returning to the hotel, I saw the Protestant church in Gothic style.
Afterward I got down at the Hotel de la Paz where my driver charged me one duro as fare. They accompanied me upstairs and a Chinese took me to my room. The Chinese has a charming and honest-looking countenance, rare among the Chinese in my country.
An Englishman, who knew a little Spanish, received me kindly and argued with the driver to whom I had given only half a duro. A crowd of these Indians besieged me, offering me a million things.
I didn’t buy anything except a comb and a cane for two pesetas..
I have forgotten to say that on our arrival many Malayan children came in bancas (canoes), saying to us “A la mer, a la mer, aller,” so that we would throw them coins. Astonishing are their skill and agility; they are like fishes. For two cents (cuartos) they jump into the water and pick them up.
I went down to the inn and I found the majordomo, a sort of Lala-Ary who speaks Spanish, English, French, Malayan, and German, and he explained to me several things.
I went to the Protestant church and I saw there a holy-water basin and a child carried by a lady and several Englishmen. There was a minister. I saw also many ladies who were seated. I sat down also and read the Bible a little. The good thing in there was the many punkahs which served as fans for the faithful. There was a holy image. I went out later and took a walk.
Almost everybody rides except the poor Chinese. I saw the court where many Englishmen were playing ball; a magnificent carriage drawn by two beautiful, big, black horses, with two English drivers and inside the Maharajah of Lahore — an old stout man, respectable-looking and garbed in European style but wearing a sort of apron. I have seen a Chinese woman with the smallest feet; but I didn’t see either Indian women or Malayan. I asked about them and I was told they stayed at home.
Tomorrow I’ll visit the town.
May 10, 1882
After the bath and the luncheon, I hired a carriage for a day and I went around the town. The first that I saw were two beautiful houses of Chinese in European style, surrounded by walls and trees.
I made the carriage stop in front of a Chinese building decorated with dragons and paintings. I entered. I was equipped by Goinda with some English words. With these I entered a kind of small garden among columns and pedestals. Numerous beautiful plants and a variety of flowers, planted with symmetry and order; cages at the two extremes; in one of them were pheasants, a kind of turkey, and other birds beside; in the other, spotted deer and peacocks. I came out and got into the carriage to continue my tour.
My driver, whose name is Nija, he said, pointed out to me an English building…
…then a French church. There I stopped and went down. To reach it one crosses a beautiful garden, but I found it closed.
…From there to the Portuguese church; the same, it was closed, but the garden is less beautiful.
Running, running we reached the gas factory: a building, all new to me. I entered but I saw nothing nor could I get into the interior. After this, a magnificent Chinese temple, which was about to be finished. I entered it: Large and tall pillars painted the color of coffee; three altars with painted idols; in the middle is a genie blowing stones over a dragon; paintings, sculptures, and good bas-reliefs. In the patio is a little tower of live rock which is charming.
Afterward, through many streets and shops of fish, fruits, and a thousand enigmatic things. After having seen two beautiful markets, the like of which cannot be found in Manila.
I saw the magnificent house of the American consul with the flag aloft. I visited also a large school for Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Englishmen. It is a magnificent building and there are many students.
The palace of the Rajah of Siam is also notable and has a small iron elephant and whatnot on the pedestal placed in front of the building.
My carriage crossed a beautiful hanging bridge and we reached a lively place. Beautiful European buildings, shops, show-windows, etc. It is the Escolta of the town.
The banks and a Japanese curio bazaar are located there. In all the houses there are fountains with faucets. In a certain way this is more advanced than the Philippines.
I told the driver to take me to the Messageries Maritimes, but as he could not understand me, I had to return to the inn and ask the majordomo how to say in English Messageries and he taught me a cabalistic phrase which I repeated to the driver who understood it as if it were his brother. He went then running and from there I returned to the inn, telling the driver to come back at three.
An hour later, we took luncheon and then I took the carriage in the company of Goinda, the young Indian, who taught me how to shop.
Following that, I went to the Botanical Garden, seeing on the way the Armenian cemetery.
The entire road is beautiful, shaded by trees; beautiful bridges, and charming houses.
I reached (10 minutes) the garden located on a hill, as the majority of the constructions in Singapore are. Its cleanliness and orderliness are admirable; numerous plants with their labels beside them, well tended by Malays.
One climbs up through a clean path with canals on the sides until one reaches a poorly inhabited cage, for it had only one cockatoo, one parrot, and other little birds.
I found beside it a Chinese woman with an English boy.
I continued walking, admiring those trees which charmed me and I entered a kind of storehouse with numerous varieties of parasitic and air plants, most beautiful and rare. I met there a Malay who could not understand me.
I went out looking for mammals, for I believed there were some and I found only a kind of cage-storehouse where I saw in different compartments two superb peacocks, an eagle, two marabous, turkeys and Guinea hens, blue birds similar to the hoopoe in plumage, wild pigeons, cockatoos, and other birds whose names I didn’t know. I met another Malay, and as he could not understand me, I drew a cow and showed it to him and he replied: Tadar. Tired of looking for it, I approached an Englishman who was playing with his dog. I greeted him and asked him for the zoological garden. He replied that there was none. I went away then, looked for a coach, and went back.
I met on my way several English girls, some of whom were quite pretty, many coaches, and strollers. I stopped to watch the ball game and then told my driver, remembering what Mr. Buil taught me, steamer, meaning I wished to be taken to a boat. He understood me and we left.
It was my intention to transfer my luggage to the Djemnah but they told me in the Salvadora that it was impossible, because of certain regulations of the English. I returned to the inn fretting and gave the driver two duros for my whole trip that day. It must be noted that yesterday for one trip alone, I paid $1.20 (2.50)…
~Excerpts from Jose Rizal’s translated diary (Calamba to Barcelona, May 1 to June 16 1882), published in Unitas, Manila, October-December 1953, pp. 854-872.
I was dumbfounded, the actual structures and scenes he described in the diary are still there. The churches, the bronze elephant on a pedestal, the hanging bridge, english buildings and the coffee colored pillars of the Chinese temple, are silently hiding in the lush urban jungle of progressive Singapore. I serendipitously stumbled upon them without exerting extra effort to look for it. I had Robert Langdon moments one after another, really.
What gave me goosebumps was not just the 19th century structures, but the presence of the people and characters in his travel journal. The Indian driver, the knickknacks vendors, the English boy and the Malay caretaker in the botanical garden, even that guy who was wearing the bowler hat and white crisp shirt, a familiar fashion that resembles Rizal’s typical day garb during his time. They were like transported from the past to be there for my little project. Was it a cosmic joke? Surreal was an understatement.
I searched the WWW, other than Ambeth Ocampo and Dr. Elizabeth Ong, I couldn’t find any other living person who traced this segment of our hero’s diary. So is it safe to say that I’m the third?
If only Jose Rizal lived in our time today, I know he would definitely be a travel blogger. He would be one helluva internet celebrity for sure. His writings and his strokes in terms of story telling transcends trough time and (cyber)space.
After Singapore, his next stop aboard Steamship Djemnah was Sri Lanka, should I follow his trail?
This is Flip’n Travels’ entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’s Blog Carnival for the month of June with the theme “Rizal and Travel” currently hosted by ivanhenares.com in celebration of Rizal’s sesquicentennial (150th) birth anniversary.