An artificial lake at Haw Par Villa — photo by Oz Mendoza
A few days ago, I gave a talk at the 3rd Travel Massive Manila. The talk was entitled “Culture as Adventure,” and as part of my presentation, I showed pictures of the bizarre theme park in Singapore known as Haw Par Villa. It’s a place that I think of as Singapore’s version of Disneyland – gone insane.
Apparently, it’s not that unusual a theme park. A Thai friend told me that he visited a similar place on a school trip when he was a kid. But it provided my first experience with Buddhist mythology as a freaky (but cool) educational experience. What follows is a smattering of pictures depicting the more outlandish sights at Haw Par Villa. But these photos don’t truly capture the feeling of walking around the fantastical attractions that are so outrageous to the eyes of anyone who hasn’t grown up on Buddhist myths and tales (and traumatic school trips, I imagine).
Be warned: Some of the images that follow are somewhat gruesome. (more…)
“A Taste of Culture” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Mabuhay Magazine, January 2013.
A tilapia dish at Kamayan Sa Palaisdaan — photo by Oz Mendoza
To experience the true local character of a place, you can’t merely look at the culture—you need to taste it, too. That’s the spirit behind the Kulinarya Tagala, a culinary and heritage tour that winds through several towns in the Southern Tagalog provinces of Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon. In my case, I only got to visit places in Quezon. But what lovely things I got to taste (and see): crispy kiping, charred kulawo, sweet leafy pako, and spicy longganisa. (And some nice houses, too.)
“The Wooden Chair and the Footprint of Christ” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Enrich Magazine, June 2012
The author visiting Bangkong Kahoy valley — photo by Oz Mendoza
The description of the place intrigued me. “Birds and butterflies, plants and flowers abound. The sounds of nature, the movement of the wind, the gush of pure water, the dance of the rain are all in harmony.” It was like a song, calling me, whispering of a better place to be than the one I was in.
Those words led me, three days later, to be jouncing along in the back of a Hummer on a rugged mountain road, finally about to see the fabled valley that is Bangkong Kahoy.
I wondered whether it would live up to my expectations.
“Come to the Dark Side” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Enrich Magazine, March 2012.
The Dark Side seduced me a long time ago. You may succumb to its temptations, too. And that would not be such a bad thing. You won’t have to blow up a planet or use your mind to strangle a underling (unless you really, really want to). You only need to eat the right kind of chocolate.
For a while now we’ve been hearing news about chocolate being a wonderful food that offers tremendous benefits to the body and mind. Sure, the news may be coming from people who just happen to be funded by The Hershey Company, but let’s set that thought aside for now. Maybe Willy Wonka had the right idea all along. Maybe we should all be living in a chocolate factory. Maybe we shouldn’t find it too funny that a candy company finances something called the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition.
Chocolate, according to the Hershey Center researchers, is practically a super fruit. Sort of. From a certain point of view. Actually, the researchers’ paper is entitled “Cacao seeds are a Super Fruit.” Yes, in capital letters. Like it’s the leader of the Justice League of Food.
In short, it is cacao—raw cocoa—that is the real micronutrient champion. Cocoa appears to be rich in a class of flavonoids known as flavanols that are also found in red wine, tea, and many fruits, including apples, grapes, and lychees.
Washed Out (exhibition poster)
The Philippines is no stranger to devastating typhoons. The arrival of any of these whirling agents of chaos tends to mess up what little semblance of order we keep in our native land. Floods, landslides, traffic, crashing billboards — these unwanted visitors have an uncanny way of highlighting the weaknesses in our infrastructure, year after year.
Let’s face the facts: The death and destruction left in the wake of typhoons is caused as much by human failure and iniquity as it is by nature.
That was certainly the case in the disaster of December 2011, when Tropical Storm Sendong swept through Mindanao. Hundreds of massive tree trunks thundered down through areas of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, razing everything in their path. Entire families and homes were lost. Thousands of people were killed.
“Quezon’s Hidden Frontier” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Mabuhay Magazine, May 2012
The gorgeous landscape of Bangkong Kahoy in Dolores, Quezon — photo by Oz Mendoza
Ask a Filipino what you can expect to find in Quezon Province, and you’re likely to get the answer, “Mt. Banahaw,” the mystical mountain shrouded in centuries-old legends and stories. Other responses you may get include: Villa Escudero. Lucban, home of the Pahiyas Festival. Sariaya, known for its heritage houses. The religious theme park Kamay ni Hesus.
I recently toured Quezon Province and I visited many of those attractions. I also learned about places that I’d never heard of, places that aren’t in tourist brochures yet. These are places thathave been left largely untouched by development. They are sanctuaries where those weary of modern life can go to find the untamed heart of wilderness—or a small sliver of it, at least.
Thai Massage — photo by mario_rukh
“Thai Traditional Massage: It Hurts So Good” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Enrich Magazine, Dec 2011
If you should ever visit Bangkok, you are bound to discover that there is a massage parlor on just about every street corner. Many of them advertise by displaying a sign of a foot inscribed with a diagram of intricate makings of mysterious significance. You get the impression that Thais are completely obsessed with massage, and in a way, they are—getting a regular foot massage is as natural to them as napalming their intestines with chicken curry.
I had been in Bangkok for over a week. I had vowed to myself that while I was there, I would experience an authentic Thai traditional massage. But a part of me felt trepidation. I had heard that Thai massage was not exactly a soft and gentle art. I had visions of being contorted into a series of tortuous pretzel shapes. It could turn out to be a painful experience. But after a long bout of dithering I decided that I had to give it a try. It’s not like it was going to be the death of me.
And it wasn’t. It was pretty much the opposite of that.
Tiger head sculptures in front of BACC — photo by Oz Mendoza
“Bangkok’s Art Scene: It’s Breaking Out” by Oz Mendoza was originally published in Mabuhay Magazine, December 2009
The Skytrain stop at Bangkok’s National Stadium does not look like a promising place to find art. It is a perfectly ordinary transport station and most of the passengers debarking here head directly to the MBK techno-mart, the local mecca for mobile-phone gadgetry. A thudding hip-hop groove fills the air; b-boys break to the beats in front of the passing throng. Tear yourself away from these distractions, take a glance at the other side of the street, and you may find something surprising—like a giant wastebasket, overturned and spilling super-sized wads of colorful paper onto the sidewalk. Or a row of Siamese tiger heads, painted in vibrant Day-Glo colors.
Here in the shopping-crazy heart of shopping-crazy Bangkok, you’ll find a gleaming modern temple devoid of ornate spires and gilded buddhas. Instead, stark white walls and transparent glass converge in an edifice that wears the forms of a container and a canvas—on a massive scale.
This is the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, or BACC. Walking along its sinuous inner spiral, the Centre unfolds before you like an origami flower slowly unfurling. Its hushed halls are a startling contrast to the riotous noise and color of the city outside. Initially, the entire structure feels like an anomaly within Bangkok—not only austere, but also determinedly avant-garde.
While Bangkok has always shown an artistic side, it has largely emphasized the traditional—this is a city where tiny shrines grace the storefronts even of modern mini-marts. But the BACC is strikingly forward-looking, and highlights this with displays of graffiti, motion sculptures, fiberglass figures, and yes, even playfully oversized tiger heads.
“You Call That Art?” by Oz Mendoza was originally published online at LegManila.com, 08/29/2001
“My five-year-old son can do better than this!” says one entry in the guestbook of Alvin Zafra’s exhibit, “Destroy Erase Improve.”
Alvin agrees that a five-year-old can probably do something as good as the artworks on display—large canvases of sandpaper that have been rubbed and scraped with various objects, from a one-peso coin to a light bulb, a medallion to a metal pipe.
His work is not the kind of thing that we normally think of as art, such as Renaissance paintings, Rembrandt self-portraits, or Impressionist landscapes. It’s not even Picasso. So what is it? How can one possibly call it art?
Well, what would you think of a white canvas painted with the dripping text, “I never think of the future, it comes soon enough”? Or a nest of scarlet pillows, each one printed with the drawing of a gun?
“A Map to the Afterlife and Other Fine Examples of Body Art” by Oz Mendoza was originally published online at LegManila.com, 05/02/2001
It’s a map, beautifully marked in lines of black ink on a canvas of skin. It’s crafted like a Chinese landscape scroll, the stark lines tracing patterns of earth, water, mountain, clouds. A path weaves over earth and water, climbs up the mountain and onward to heaven. It is a map to the afterlife.
The pig, on whose skin the map was tattooed, must have found it useful, since it is in the afterlife now. Jonê Lao, the artist who tattooed it, was saddened by the loss of his porcine sidekick, which was his artistic work and his Fine Arts thesis. Unfortunately, his father’s more practical eyes saw only meat. The pig was sold and butchered without Lao’s knowledge.
Still, the pig’s unexpected end was somewhat fitting. After all, Lao chose a pig to tattoo because of its long history as a sacrificial animal. Now, only its tattooed skin is left—shed, as it were.