If these walls could talk

It was the most unconventional history class I ever attended. Conducted on the streets of downtown Vancouver, among teeming crowds watching Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, distractions were sure to happen, and they did. Loud cheers and boos erupted around us from time to time, and even the teacher himself had to be dragged back from getting his picture taken with a couple of giggly girls in Canucks jerseys. “I love Vancouver,” he said, grinning.

But with the aid of volunteers pulling speakers mounted on hand-carts, carrying props and holding up visual aids, Carlos Celdran soon captured our attention and imagination. Our bodies may have been standing on a Vancouver street, on a chilly evening in late spring, but our minds were transported back through time and space to a Manila we had never known in our own lifetimes.

Talking for over two hours straight, without the aid of any notes, Celdran had us fascinated and captivated by his rollicking, irreverent, whirlwind tour of Intramuros, through centuries of Spanish rule and thirty decades of American government, through the death and destruction of World War II from which the walled city never recovered, despite reconstruction.

Any Filipino student is familiar with the dates, places, and cast of characters. The Spanish king and his explorers. The rajahs and the city of Maynilad, named for the little white flowers that grew along the Pasig River. The heroes, the friars, the warriors, the general who promised, Terminator-like, to return. The walls, the churches, and the tanks and bombs that destroyed them. The thousands of men who went to war, and the many more thousands of innocents who died, caught between the two armies who used their city as collateral damage.

Celdran made all of these and more come alive in his narrative. He helped us Filipinos understand our roots, and therefore ourselves, a little better.

“I heard someone once say the Jeepney is the perfect metaphor for the paradox that is Manila,” says Celdran. “Is it beautiful or is it grotesque? Is it inefficient or is it entrepreneurial? Is it just a common utility or is it a progressive work of art?

“Personally, I think Manila is more like the Halo-Halo, that afternoon snack made out of a mind boggling myriad of sweet beans, flan, shaved ice, and ice cream.

“Manila is like a halo-halo.”
To help us understand this better, we each got one.

“Manila is a reflection of how different flavors can make up a greater whole, and how too much can sometimes be a very good thing.

“If we want to change the way Manila looks, we need to change the way we look at Manila,” he concluded.

Carlos Celdran’s If These Walls Could Talk tour has been brought to Vancouver and Toronto by Tulayan and Kapisanan, in celebration of Asian Heritage Month and Philippine Independence Day. In addition to the Friday and Saturday shows, an extra show will now take place on Sunday afternoon. Admission is by donation. Reserve your spot at Eventbrite.

For more photos of Friday’s event, click here.


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