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Zamboanga © Jojie Alcantara

Zamboanga: ‘Asia’s Latin City’

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.” ~ Iain Thomas

Paseo del Mar at sunset © Jojie Alcantara

Paseo del Mar at sunset © Jojie Alcantara

I visited Zamboanga before and after a rebel siege in the city two years ago that left a portion of the central town bruised and battered, and kept many wary visitors away and in fear. Despite a peaceful and meaningful celebration of Hermosa Festival last year where balikbayans came home to join in support and unity, foreign travel advisories stayed adamant.

Zamboanga: 'Asia's Latin City Click To Tweet
Paseo del Mar at sunset © Jojie Alcantara

Paseo del Mar at sunset © Jojie Alcantara

I expected to focus on remnants of a combat zone (portion of an abandoned village was to be kept intact as a shrine), but there were other things that captivated me more.

Sta. Cruz Pink Sand Beach, Zamboanga © Jojie Alcantara

Sta. Cruz Pink Sand Beach, Zamboanga © Jojie Alcantara

Laughter of kids at Paseo del Mar, a beautiful boulevard along the bay. Seeing hope in people’s eyes. Early morning breakfast of delicious satti. Haggling at the barter trade compound for the cheapest Malaysian goods. Capturing birds in flight at the lagoon. Quiet walks at Pasonanca Park. Throwing coins at badjao kids in the boulevard. Yummy treat of the popular knickerbocker. Locals sitting on the park benches just to watch the sun set each night. Island hopping in Sta. Cruz. Heritage tours of museums, Fort Pilar Shrine and visiting the Yakan weaving community. Eating the sumptuous curacha (lobster crab) with bare, sticky hands.

Sta. Cruz Pink Sand Beach, Zamboanga © Jojie Alcantara

Sta. Cruz Pink Sand Beach, Zamboanga © Jojie Alcantara

Everywhere you go are posted streamers and signs that say “No Te Vayas de Zamboanga,” a plea in the Spanish language which means “Don’t go or leave Zamboanga” It comes from a popular song composed years ago by Juan Cuadrado Sr., a Spaniard who decided to stay and marry a Zamboanguena lass after the Spanish troops left the islands. When the crisis struck the city two years ago, it became a meaningful phrase to encourage visitors and even locals to come and stay in Zamboanga. Residents speak Chavacano, a simplified dialect very much influenced by the Spanish occupation in the 1600s.

Badjoas in  Zamboanga © Jojie Alcantara

Badjoas in Zamboanga © Jojie Alcantara

In every aftermath of a tragedy I visit, I marvel at the resilience of my people, whose will to survive remains intact even after it has been deeply scarred. They are determined to move on, so must we. Let tourism flourish again.

Regatta de Zamboanga © Jojie Alcantara

Regatta de Zamboanga © Jojie Alcantara

This beautiful city nicknamed “Asia’s Latin City” (Ciudad Latina de Asia) for its most Hispanic influence in culture has been slowly but firmly getting up on its feet, and I will be there to cheer it on.

Thanks to Cebu Pacific Air and Department of Tourism (DOT) 9 and 11 for flying me in during the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival last year.

China : Beijing Olympics Water Cube

Water Cube in Beijing, China © Jojie Alcantara

Water Cube in Beijing, China © Jojie Alcantara

The Water Cube in Beijing, China
National Aquatic Centre for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China

The Beijing National Aquatics Center, also known as the Water Cube, was
built alongside Beijing National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) in the Olympic
Green for the swimming competitions of the 2008 Summer Olympics.  Despite
its nickname, the building is not an actual cube, but a cuboid (a
rectangular box).

The “Water Cube” was built in accordance with a water-saving design
concept to be a gigantic green architectural wonder. It cost £75 million
(10.2 billion yuan).

Its design was initiated by a team effort: the Chinese partners felt a
square was more symbolic to Chinese culture and its relationship to the
Bird’s Nest stadium, while the Sydney based partners came up with the
idea of covering the ‘cube’ with bubbles, symbolizing water.

Water Cube in Beijing, China © Jojie Alcantara

Water Cube in Beijing, China © Jojie Alcantara

Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya © Jojie Alcantara

Thailand: Kingdom of Ayutthaya (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Thailand: Kingdom of Ayutthaya (UNESCO World Heritage Site) Click To Tweet

Text and photos by Jojie Alcantara (published in SunStar Davao, April 2014)

“The ruins of the historic city of Ayutthaya have been listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, a monumental site of outstanding value to humanity.”

The historic City of Ayutthaya (1351-1767), was the second capital of a flourishing Siamese Kingdom (Thailand’s old name). For 417 years from the 14th to the 18th centuries, it grew to be one of the world’s largest and most cosmopolitan urban areas and a most important center of global diplomacy and commerce during its time. It was said to be beautiful, luxurious and fabulous… think wild Paris of ancient history.

Decapitated buddha statues in Wat Chai Wattanaram, Ayutthaya © Jojie Alcantara

Decapitated buddha statues in Wat Chai Wattanaram, Ayutthaya © Jojie Alcantara

Ayutthaya was strategically located on an island in the midst of three rivers connecting to the sea. Based on ancient maps and historical records, the prosperous kingdom was laid out according to a systematic and rigid city planning grid consisting of roads, canals, and moats around its principal structures. It had a technologically advanced hydraulic system for water management which was unique in the world. It developed into a major rice farming area. Located upstream at the head of the Gulf of Siam, it protected the city from failed attacks of seafaring warships and seasonal flooding. Eventually, it gave in to persistent invasion from the Burmese armies.

Selfie in Ayutthaya © Jojie Alcantara

Selfie in Ayutthaya © Jojie Alcantara

The city was finally burned down by the Burmese army in 1767 forcing the inhabitants to abandon their homes. Art treasures, libraries of literature and archives of historical records were almost totally destroyed. Most of its statues were decapitated, leaving headless Buddha statues everywhere. What remained of its former glory were ruins of the royal palace. At present, it is located in Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya District, the central provincial capital.

Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya © Jojie Alcantara

Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya © Jojie Alcantara

Today, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya is now regarded as one of the most impressive archaeological ruins in history, characterized by the remnants of massive prangs (towers) and vast Buddhist monasteries in splendid architecture, attesting to its excellent period of impressive and original Central-Thai art and cultural development.

Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya © Jojie Alcantara

Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya © Jojie Alcantara

Due to its history as a previous capital of Thailand with a close connection to Europe by its Kings (33 kings of 5 different dynasties, to be exact) through signed treaties between Siam and other nations, the palaces have its distinct European influence. In those days, any traveler would come all the way to visit Ayutthaya first to see Siam for trading between European merchants and Asian traders.

Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya © Jojie Alcantara

Once a powerful global center of politics, economics, religion and economic trade and an important connecting point between the East and the West, the former capital is now managed as a historical park.  The ruins of the historic city of Ayutthaya have been listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, a monumental site of outstanding value to humanity. The total area of the World Heritage property is 289 hectares. Today, visitors come in droves to explore its mystery and experience the serenity and deep history found within these immense walls.

Wat Chai Wattanaram © Jojie Alcantara

Wat Chai Wattanaram © Jojie Alcantara

A Master Plan to commit legal protection for its protection, restoration and development has been established. A budget for the conservation of the Historic City of Ayutthaya is allocated by the government, private sector, and heritage conservation groups. New regulations for control of construction within the ancient property’s extended boundaries are being tasked to ensure that the values of the once splendid city are protected.

 Wat Mahathat © Jojie Alcantara

Wat Mahathat © Jojie Alcantara

A day tour to the legendary city from Bangkok only takes less than an hour, and is a must visit destination during your stay, particularly for photographers and artists looking for inspiration from ancient legacies of mankind. Look for the most iconic image in Wat Mahathat, that of the Head of Buddha which is embedded and entwined in a vine overgrowth of a mammoth banyan tree, cradling it protectively and sacredly from further harm and vandalism. Pay proper respects while doing your selfie, but brace yourself for goose pimples as well.

Wat Mahathat ‘s Head of Buddha icon © Jojie Alcantara

Wat Mahathat ‘s Head of Buddha icon © Jojie Alcantara

ayutthaya-by-jojie-alcantara-sunstar-davao

Published article in SunStar Davao by Jojie Alcantara April 21, 2014