Friday, July 15, 2011

Jose Rizal's Original Pencil Sketch of Leonor Rivera

It was truly an honor to have seen the original pencil sketch of one of Rizal's "passion" and probably his only true love- Leonor Rivera. The avid Rizal collector who bought this sketch paid more than a million for its acquisition. He had a choice between this piece and a sketch of Josephine Bracken, but he chose the "passion" over the wife. Most of Leonor Rivera's (the original Maria Clara) pictures posted in the net are crayon sketches or reproductions. This one is the original pencil sketch.

Leonor Rivera was a native of Dagupan, Pangasinan. She was 13 years old when she and Rizal met in Manila. Apparently, they were first cousins, but they later became childhood sweethearts, a love that was mostly nurtured through love letters, as Rizal had to go to Europe for his studies. Being Rizal's sweetheart for eleven years, she played the greatest influence in keeping him from falling in love with other women during his travels. Unfortunately, Leonor’s mother disapproved of her daughter’s relationship with Rizal, who was then a known Filibuster. She hid from Leonor all of Rizal's letters sent to her. Leonor believing that Rizal had already forgotten her, sadly consented to marry her mother's choice, the Englishman Henry Kipping, a Manila-Dagupan railroad engineer. News of their marriage devastated Rizal. Leonor Rivera died at childbirth at a tender age of 25.

She was immortalized by Rizal as the character María Clara in the Spanish-language novel Noli Me Tangere.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Unique Rizal Stamp

I have several Jose Rizal stamps in my collection, but the 1941 apple-hued 2c Commonwealth Regular is one of a kind. This stamp features the young Rizal as rendered by the New York photographer Elaine Rawlinson. The image on this stamp was copied from a menu card which won a stamp design contest sponsored by the Asociacion Filateleca de Filipinas. The stamp cause quite a stir among keen philatelist who noticed that Rizal's hair was parted on the right instead of the usual left! This is the only Rizal stamp which portrays his hair as such.

This stamp also became the first stamp of a series of postage stamps bearing the inscription "United States of America- Commonwealth of the Philippines". This replaced the the 1935 Commonwealth overprint series and as the last of the pre-war issues.

I acquired a few of the stamps bearing this inscription and these include the 1906 Jose Rizal PI-USA stamp- the first Jose Rizal stamp ever issued and the first stamp featuring a Filipino, the 1935 Pictorial Stamp 2 c Red Rizal Issue, the 1936 75th Birth Anniversary Issue, and the 2c sepia 1946 Rizal Regular and Official Issue released on May 28, 1946. This stamp was the last stamp released by the American Administrations Commonwealth because on July 4 of that same year, the Republic of the Philippines was born.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Ancient Culture Street of Tianjin

The Tianjin Ancient Culture Street dates back 600 years ago. It stands in the key section in upstream Haihe River, which is located in Nankai district of Tianjin. Covering an area of 224,200 sq meters, it used to be one of earliest water transport docklands in Tianjin, one of the busiest cities of commerce and trade in ancient China. As a cultural precinct, Tianjin Ancient Culture Street is well known by the local and overseas tourists alike.

As the result of the Tian Hou Temple expansions, and renovations of the Yu Huang Ge and Haihe Lou building, this street, with its fine landscape and distinctive architectural style, has been a flourishing cultural and tourist area.

Standing at the center of Tianjin Ancient Cultural Street, Tianhou Palace, originally built in 1326, is one of only three Mazu (Goddess of the Sea) Temples in the world (the other two are Fujian Mazu Temple and Beigang Chaotian Temple on Taiwan Island). Tianhou Palace is now the Folk-custom Museum of Tianjin and displays many folk crafts and cultural relics of ancient times. Yuhuang Cabinet is the only building that was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in Tianjin, and is the oldest structure in the street. From the top of the two-floor Cabinet, visitors have a bird's-eye view of the whole street. Another building, Tong Qingli (ancient residential houses), built in 1913 and lying to the east of the cultural street, is the largest architectural edifice that combines both eastern and western architectural elements.

Looking closely, visitors will note that buildings along the street are all built with 'blue bricks', and that the doors and windows have colorful paintings drawn upon them. These paintings range from stories of legendary and historical figures to flowers and birds. Some retell stories contained in Chinese classical novels, such as The Dream of a Red Mansion (one the four Chinese classical novels) and Song of Eternal Sorrow, which is a story about the Empress Yang Kwei Fei in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

Visitors who are interested in Chinese traditional handicrafts will also appreciate another Tianjin Ancient Cultural Street attraction - the hundreds of stores selling a wide variety of folk handicrafts. These include the famous Yang Liuqing New Year Paintings and Niren Zhang Painted Sculptures. Visitors who are fond of Chinese curios, such as jade items, cloisonné and potteries, will also be able to find many examples of these for sale here. The street is also a favorite place to sample the delicious Tianjin local snacks. The local delicacies include Goubuli Steamed Dumplings, Erduoyan (the Ear-hole Lane) Fried Glutinous Cakes and tea soup.

Tianjin Ancient Cultural Street is designed as a place for tourists to experience Chinese folk custom, and as such, contains examples of nearly all the Tianjin local culture in one place. For an added experience, when visiting the street on March 23rd (lunar calendar), visitors will be lucky enough to find the Huanghui Fair, which is held annually on this date. During the Fair you will see performances of stilt walking, dragon lantern, land boat and lion dances.

The set of 4 stamps above features Tianjin sculptures issued in 1996.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou

The West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou, comprising the West Lake and the hills surrounding its three sides, has inspired famous poets, scholars and artists since the 9th century. It comprises numerous temples, pagodas, pavilions, gardens and ornamental trees, as well as causeways and artificial islands. This area is one of the latest to have earned the title UNESCO World Heritage site.

The West Lake has influenced garden design in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries and bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of improving landscapes to create a series of vistas reflecting an idealized fusion between humans and nature.

Hangzhou is famous for three things: its water, its fertile and picturesque countryside, and ancient tradition- all three combined in a perfectly brewed cup of Longjing tea. A visit to the Longjing Tea Plantation makes for a nice side trip from Hangzhou's main attractions. About 30 minutes by bicycle from downtown, situated just southwest of West Lake, the village of Longjing presents visitors with secluded paths running through a terraced landscape with tea growing on all sides. We were able to witness the harvesting and processing of the tea and sample different grades and varieties. A demonstration of the art of tea drinking was both informative and entertaining.

Ideally made with water straight from the Dragon Well and leaves picked from the terraces of the Longjing Plantation, a cup of this delicate green tea connects you with some two thousand years of history, going back to the second century AD when Dragon Well water was discovered and combined with green tea leaves lightly fried to stop the oxidation process and preserve the best of their flavor and nutrients. We learned from our guide that the new budding leaf is reserved only for royalty, hence the term "Empress Tea".

We also visited the Residence of Hu Xueyan, a wealthy businessman from Hangzhou in the late 1800’s. His residence is located in southern Hangzhou not far from shore of West Lake. Hu originally made his fortune as a banker, but expanded his business to pawnbroker, import-export, real estate, and finally made is biggest fortune as the founder of a Chinese herbal medicine company. He built his house in 1872, and it was a huge complex and covers at least a couple of acres. Included in that area are extensive garden areas, a huge complex of artificial caves, and all sorts of rooms for family, servants, guests, eating, reading, etc. The majority of the buildings were built of a dark brown wood that looks very similar to teak, but one large section of buildings is built of a lighter honey-colored wood. Hu’s descendants mortgaged the house and lost it after his death and it passed though a series of owners until the provincial government acquired it, restored it, and turned it into a museum of sorts.

The Supattra Land Orchard in Rayong

Supattra Land Orchard is a fruit farm located in Rayong, Thailand. Rayong is a city located on the shore of the Gulf of Thailand, in the east coast region. It is the capital of Rayong Province, and covers the Tambon Tha Pradu and Pak Nam and parts of Tambon Choeng Noen and Noen Phra, all within Mueang Rayong district. As of 2005 the population was 54,641. Its main industries include fishing, chemicals and auto industries. It also grows some fruits and is the main producer of Thailand's fish sauce.

After our visit to the picturesque Pattaya, we made a side trip to this beautiful province to see some of its attractions. This fruit lover's paradise is located in the Bankhai district. We were able to visit the Supattra Land Orchard and savor its fruity gustatory delights. The orchard is open to the public and for a minimal fee of 120 Baht, guests can taste any fruit once can see in the vast farm. Some of the fruits here include the durian, rambutan, mango, grape, star fruit, dragon fruit, rose apple, and longan. The orchard is open daily for tourists from 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.