Wednesday, 20 March 2013

"Walk This Way" with Carlos Celdran

Carlos Celdran: "The Pied Piper of Manila"

Our tour begins .......
A few days ago, Cheska and Grace watched Carlos P. Celdran’s last performance of the disco-themed “Living La Lida Imelda” at the Silverlens Gallery where, after the show,  Cheska met up with  the man himself.  Mr. Celdran must have made an impression on her, so much so that she wanted, this time, to see his “Walk This Way” tour of the walled city of Intramuros. 
In 2002, Carlos Celdran founded "Walk This Way," a one-man, multi-venue costumed performance that leads  patrons through the walled city of Manila, with Celdran,  the producer and director, also  alternately acting and narrating along the way.  To explain Philippine history (from the Spanish and American eras up to the Japanese Occupation) in an interesting way, Carlos infused this fascinating performance with a fine-tuned script and theatrical elements as well as comedy, costumes and music, placing special emphasis on issues surrounding Philippine arts, culture, and international geopolitics in order to place Philippine history within a global context. This tour received a thumbs-up feature in a 2005 issue of Time magazine.
The gate of Fort Santiago
The inner walls of the fort

An infusion of comedy
It just so happened that Mr. Celdran, seemingly in a good mood, offered his half-day, weekend Intramuros Barter Tours wherein we just paid a discounted rate of PhP400 (which covers the cost of museum admission, kalesa or pedicab ride, snacks, etc) instead of the normal PhP1,100 (Php600 for students) per person.  However, we also had to trade in something creative and from the heart.  In my case, I traded in a new, autographed copy of my fifth book, A Tourist Guide to NotablePhilippine Museums” (New Day Publishers, 2012). 
Jandy joined us and Cheska brought along Kyle, my grandson, who needed to be breastfed every now and then.  We arrived at Fort Santiago, the assembly area, at a few minutes past the 4 PM scheduled start of the tour, having been delayed by traffic due to road repairs along the way.  Mr. Celdran arrived even later, also caught up in our same predicament.   The weather was rather perfect, not too hot and the sky was clear.
Talking about our National Hero beside the Rizal Shrine
Carlos arrived wearing the Spanish-colonial garb of an illustrado plus his signature bowler hat (he was to do a number of costume changes according to the era) on his shaved head. Our rather huge tour group consisted of 25 – 30 individuals and I was surprised to see that almost half of the group were Filipinos. We all gathered around "The Pied Pipier of Manila" who began his performance with the singing of the National Anthem. I kind of loved the American wartime tunes that came out of an old stereo cassette player which he played while we walked from one area to the next.

Carlos talks about the bombing of Manila
Carlos then took us back in history with his witty remarks and theatrical storytelling. There was never a dull moment as our legendary tour guide gave us a brief yet comprehensive account, from a totally different point of view, of the beginnings of Manila and the dynamic development of Intramuros.  

Why don’t we have those amazing wonders from our neighboring Asian countries (Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Borobodur Temple in Indonesia, or Ayutthaya in Thailand)? Well, according to Carlos, we simply didn’t have the raw materials - all we had was highly-flammable bamboo and indigenous volcanic rock and ash. Every now and then, Carlos was shelling out the very iconic, uniquely Filipino ChocNut bars (a childhood favorite of mine) for everybody to sample.

Bulwagan ng Panunulat (Chamber of Texts)
Silid ng Nalalabi (Reliquary Room)

Kyle's first kalesa ride
Inside a tunnel turned airconditioned audio-visual room, Carlos gave us a compelling and unforgettable description of a bombed-out Manila at the end of World War II.   Did you know that it wasn’t the Japanese who destroyed the heart of Manila? 

It was the Americans who bombed, under orders from Gen. Douglas MacArthur himself, Intramuros into rubble, killing Japanese soldiers as well as 100,000 Filipino civilians who were treated as collateral damage.  After Warsaw (Poland), Manila was the second most devastated city in the world during World War II.  
From Fort Santiago, Carlos asked us to choose, as mode of transportation to Intramuros, between pedicabs  or the kalesa (a Filipino version of a horse-drawn carriage), paid beforehand by Carlos for us to ride (providing these operators with additional income). 

We chose the more interesting latter, a first time experience for Kyle and a second for the rest of us.  With these modes of transport, we passed by the ruins of the former St. Ignatius Church and the former Ateneo de Manila before reaching our destination - San Agustin Church (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).  There was wedding in progress when we arrived.
San Agustin Church: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Enjoying our halo-halo as Carlos continues his talk

Presenting Carlos with an autographed copy of my book
Mr. Celdran pointed out the 4 lion sculptures (fu dogs) by the doorway (donated by Chinese who converted to Catholicism), a quirky mix of foreign influence within the designs of the church which include an Italian-inspired painted ceiling, Greek-inspired pilasters on the facade (that doesn’t support anything) and the ornate carvings of the images of St. Augustine and St. Monica on the wooden door. 
We all then crossed over to Casa Manila where, to the delight of the crowd, Carlos capped the tour off with glasses of refreshing halo-halo (translated as mix-mix”), another traditionally Filipino dessert made with shaved ice, evaporated milk, assorted fruits, gulaman, and sweet, red mungo beans. While we were enjoying this, he incorporated this final sweet treat in his talk, telling us that Filipinos and their culture has become a conglomeration of various cultural (Spanish, American, Chinese, Malay, Indian, etc.) influences. Remove these influences and we just might not be the culture-filled and multilingual people, with such colorful backgrounds, that we are today.  Mr. Celdran ended the 3-hour walking tour with photo ops with guests.
Photo-ops with Mr. Celdran

Walk This Way Tours: Tel: (632) 484-4945.  Mobile number: (0920) 909-2021.  E-mail: Website:

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