Sunday, December 17, 2006

Giant Lantern Festival 2006

Aha! This is a topic exactly a year overdue! For whatever reason/s (there were a whole lot hehehe) I failed to post my 2005 notes on this festival. And the 2006 version just happened last night and I was also there! So, let me aggregate my notes and probably even make comparisons of last year’s versus yesterday’s event!

How did/do I know about this event?
Though not (yet) very much publicized on various media, this festival is mentioned (at least) on the government’s “Wow Philippines” tourism website. And I have learned by asking around that this festival usually happens on a Saturday and usually the first weekend of the “simbang gabi” series of nights! So last year it was December 17, this year it was yesterday (16th – ok, a few hours ago), and next year it will probably be on December 15 (Saturday) – although simbang gabi starts on the 16th!

Going there
As with last year, we stood out along EDSA to catch a bus that would be going to, or passing by San Fernando City (Pampanga that is… and be careful cuz you’re not going to San Fernando City, La Union). These would usually be the buses going Bataan or Subic or the rest of Zambales. It is very seldom you’d catch a bus destined for just the city of San Fernando since this is a pass-through city – meaning almost all buses are bound somewhere else beyond. Oh, there are vans that ply the route between metro manila and that city but I don’t exactly know where they emanate from in the metropolis – because I am not interested (if you know what I mean)! In the past, I would usually see those vehicles along EDSA in that strip between Cubao and Q-Mart. But nowadays, they’re seldom seen – probably because the police or traffic people started apprehending them. Or they probably already have their own terminal in the metropolis. But again, am not interested. Noontime is best to catch a bus ride. Almost any bus you see won’t be full to the brim!

The Event as a whole
Generally it was GRAND, even grander than last year’s! Anybody you meet who have been to this festival will surely tell you “it was grand”, “it was spectacular”, for indeed it was. Barangay San Felipe grabbed the top honors this time (after last year’s unfortunate losing performance to Barangay Sto. Rosario), and I agree with the judges very much.

Actually, if I were to be asked, I would return a question like… “can’t we make everyone 1st prize winner?” Am sure every visitor (foreign and local) will readily agree to this proposition! But alas, by tradition this has always been a contest and one has to be cited as on top of all others! But that probably what boosts every barangay’s enthusiasm to make their lanterns even better, to win!

And nothing else is to be told except that indeed it was again a fine show like last year’s. I find it difficult describing how each of those giant lanterns flickered to the tune of the music and how the interplay of the lights transitioned from one display of colors-and-formations to another! That only means you really have to go see the event. It’s worth it!

The Contest!
Yes Joana, you may arrive at the place by 9PM and you will still catch everything! Eh ang daming unnecessary ceremonies na di naman related sa event! So by 9PM, the showdown may not have started yet or just about started.

This year, there were 12 giant lanterns contending to be the best (last year there were 10). As usual, all these contenders represent a Barangay of the City of San Fernando and they don’t expect a monetary prize that will defray the costs for making those lanterns. It is just honor and pride for having made the best giant lantern that they are after – since they cannot be even properly honored onstage. But let me tell you first about the contest since I have a very loooong opinionated topic about the “ceremonies” later.

Contest proper this year had 3 runs – meaning each giant lantern had 3 times to show off the greatness of what it was made of/for!

First run was: Each lantern must play to the music for 7 minutes… alone – while all other lanterns were “off”. This year, the last 10 seconds of that 7-minute run was done by a digital-tone countdown beeping via the sound system. Last year, those were your two emcees shouting on their microphones… 10… 9… 8… 7… and so on! This was the greatest chance for everyone to see how those giant lanterns do their acts individually. And for me, this was the “main event”!

Second run was: a “play of pairs” – meaning two lanterns side-by-side play their stuff to the tune of music played by the organizers – also for 7 minutes. Quite a different kind of high ogling at two giant lanterns make their thousands of lights dance to the music. Ahhh, many times it was actually challenging trying to train my eyes on one lantern thinking that I’d miss the magic of the other lantern! In fact it really is the case in this segment of the contest hehehe! Nakakalito on where to look at or concentrate on!

Third run was: “altogether now” – also in just a span of 7 minutes! Brace yourself if you are the panicky type! This is the “IT” of the contest. You will scream, run, jump, tiptoe, scream, hop, dance, scream and panic to look for a better vantage view to catch all of them lanterns at play together. You will wish you were in a helicopter or some elevated crane to be able to catch the euphoria as all of them lanterns make their lights dance to the Christmas tune being played. You might even occasionally have to push people out of your way or step on some of their feet! Just don't do it by purpose or you'll get into trouble! This is SUCH A WOW TREAT you’ll wish it could last forever! Trust me, after this segment of the contest, you will forget all the irritation at the faltering adequacy of the two emcees and their "program"! This is it, and for 2006, this was IT! Overwhelmingly fantastic!

A grand show and contest indeed!

Some tips!
First off, no need to bring a car. That means you don’t necessarily have to drive going there and park at SM City. It will just be too much of a hassle. For one, entering the SM City compound at such a busy time of year will be excruciating. If you do insist, be there very early like noontime to about 2PM and just have a grand time roaming around the mall or go see a movie. It’s a gigantic mall anyway and a half day of checking out the shops won’t be enough. And park your car nearest to the exit. You will be thankful later for doing so! Lastly, if you come late (4PM is already late) and still insist on driving, park at Robinson’s Starmills where you will surely find ample parking spaces. But I've heard of stories like looting from cars or carnaps at that area due to its vastness where not everything will be in sight of the guards or attendants – if they care to watch all cars anyway. From Robinson’s take the pedestrian overpass to SM.

Eat a heavy merienda or have a very late lunch at any of the food outlets in the mall. If you are one who is used to munching on something from time to time, would be nice if you bring chichirya along. You can buy your drinks from kiosks near the entrance to the amphitheater since if you brought them with you, by the time you wanted a quench it will probably be not as cold anymore. The kiosks do have barbeques, hotdogs, nachos, popcorns, even fried chicken. But its not very convenient. There are only about 8 kiosks by the entrance (a walk from the action area) and there are thousands and thousands of spectators. Or if your little tummy can bear the wait, have dinner at any of the mall’s food outlets AFTER the show. Yes, almost all of them are open until past midnight.

Visit the giant lanterns at about 4PM where you will catch the crews doing the preparations. This is your greatest chance to ogle at those “rotors” – the cylindrical metal drums designed with a lot of masking tapes that make for the blinking of the lights. I already know how those things work and am not telling you in detail hehehe! Go and see for yourself, you’ll enjoy it. Hint: must be kilometers long of electrical wires and masking tapes and thousands of hairpins! Or are they hairclips?!

If you have a portable stool, bring it. Make sure you can stand on it for the occasional needed "vantage view" when taking pictures of the lanterns without catching the heads of the thousands of humanity in your shot. Some people may hate you for doing so as you will surely cover their view. But tell them ahead you’ll just shoot some pictures or videos and have no plans of standing tall on that stool. AND you must fulfill that promise, come down to the ground once you are done with your shots! BTW, that stool may also serve the real purpose when you feel tired as the amphitheater has no seats or benches to rest your tired butt on!

Take a long good leak before the contest proper. The area has no comfort rooms. Not even portalets! And the mall is about a hundred meters away with a lot of humanity standing elbow-to-elbow during the show! So if you were in the middle of the contest and tried to tread your way out of the big crowd, you'd have probably already peed on your pants before you can even reach the exitway!

Wear light clothes. Pants or shorts for the ladies - so you can squat just about anywhere. This is an open air area and the event is night time yes, but the thousands of people crowding in the area will make you perspire like no other. So thin and light walking shorts would be ideal. Avoing jeans or "maong". Even bring an extra shirt and a hand towel. And yes, cologne or any splash-on will help. Believe me you will also have a great chance to smell different whiffs and an extensive variation of human effusements – whether you like it or not!

Toddlers and babies should be a no-no. Even little kids, I think! Its hot, its open-air and its very dark when the lanterns are at play. And they (as little kids) won’t have a good view of the lanterns anyway. That is because, anywhere you stand on will be a lot of other adults (therefore taller than the kids) obstructing their view and who might even accidentally step on your little darlings!

Especially if you brought a car, either get out of the place right after the final showdown (round 3) and don’t anymore wait for the announcement of winners OR wait for majority of the thousands to get out of the place ahead of you after the event as the sea of humanity who witnessed the spectacle with you will head out in one direction - since there is only one exit.

So, if you are not from San Fernando City; or if you are going some place else, start moving and don’t dream of waiting for the winner to be announced. Each judge has a computer so you’ll wonder why it takes almost an hour more to proclaim the winner! You will hear of it in the news, so you better start getting out of the place before the thousands of spectators accompany you to the exitway! And this is where it becomes helpful if you parked your car near the exit of the parking area. People and cars will be slowing your way. Be the first out, if only to ensure that what sticks in your mind is the memory of 12 giant lanterns playing simultaneously to your delight, than the horrendous turtle-crawl of vehicles out of SM City!

One last tip: when photographing those lanterns during the show, DON"T put any camera flash on. Why? Because people in the know will think you must be ridiculous OR you will not like your pictures!

There goes my notes! And if you want to remain happy, stop reading at this point. Don’t anymore read the remainder of this article hehe!

The “Ceremonies”
You still want to know more... okay I will oblige! Let’s cover some of my “other” notes so that if you go and see this one-and-only festival next year, you’ll have some things to consider! But let me be clear that you still SHOULD GO and see this event. Am going there next year regardless of the irritants – that I hope they can improve on next year!

Here goes:

The event is usually advertised to start at 6PM or 7PM but it never does. The contest proper would usually start at about 8PM or therearounds! And it usually starts with a lot of “barriotic” ceremonies – therefore irritating. Like last year, “official activities” started to kick by around 630PM with a gay and a girl as emcees who would engaged the audience in games like “bring me” and those sorts of cheap crowd drawers or “entertainment” as many would call it. Then, a song or two from some starlet. Then, a dance number from some boy group. Another song, a “live interview” act for the starlets to promote their movies or concerts or TV shows or gigs and so on. This year it was the governor himself whose movie was being promoted but those who took the entertaining were his “co-stars”. And local folks seemed to be having fun at trying their very best to win a calendar or the likes for prizes! Notice that everything above happens when all the seats on stage supposedly for “important people” are still empty.

Aha, by about 730PM, that folly of a program (above) was over and one could see foreign guests arriving and being led to their designated seats onstage – some were contest judges, others were just spectators – well, ok, guests. Then, a bit later, some or all of the local bigshots started trickling in. C'mon, anyone would have readily noticed that hehehe. The police and the guards were in some kind of a commotion to make way for each of those AUVs escorted by motorcycle riding cops and with the incessant “wang-wang” piercing your eardrums. Barricaded entrances were opened to make way for those vehicles, the crews/volunteers (this year in yellow shirts) were in a hustle to prepare everything and escort those big personalities to their designated seats, and so on!

About 7:50PM, the “real” emcees (a chunky man probably in his 50s and an equally plump lady of about the same age) came on the microphones and it was at first hard to locate them as the spot light was not beaming on them. If you were there last year, you’d readily recognize they were the same hosts as it’s hard to forget that they do have very good voices on the microphone. Just the voices are good, okay? Not the sense and propriety of whatever was being said – esp the guy!

They started the evening proper with a litany of the guests and visitors. It was excruciating listening to this ceremony. Nobody really cared who those bigshots were. I would guess only a few souls (if any, ever) attended this event to see a senator, the head of some government department, a mayor from some town not in Pampanga, a charge d affaires of some embassy, an ambassador and so on. The purpose of most everyone – including the damn bigshots – was to see the giant lanterns at play. Oops, before you jump into conclusions don’t be too quick to say those litanies would not have irritated you. You as the “mere” spectator would be standing all throughout the night with a lot of humanity pushing and shoving to get a better vantage of the lanterns. In fact, even as the two hosts kept blabbering, majority of the crowds were facing not the stage but the lanterns – where some by this time were being tested by their makers on few light sequences. Got the picture? And while standing, perspiring and trying to stand your ground from a lot of people pushing and shoving, would you really care to hear where a certain judge has finished his bacherlors or masters degree?

And then, everyone seated (those are just the people on stage anyway) were asked to stand. A choir from a university was called in. And two of their members (a boy and a girl) started to repeatedly blurt “test”, or “mic test” as everyone was already standing. They did it not once, not twice, not even thrice but maaaany times over. If I were the director of this event, I’d have felt very much insulted! If they wanted to test the microphones they should have come early in the afternoon BEFORE their act. And those microphones were already used by the emcees for their welcome litanies anyway, right?! And the “guests” were already standing facing them. So I thought, test nila mga utak nila!

Awkwardly enough, a whole choir and conductor piled into the front of the stage but only these two “mic test” kids were about to sing duet, a mangled version of Josh Groban’s (and Celine Dion’s?) “The Payer”. Okay, the song was meant to be the invocation prior to the start of this event. But we all know how lengthy that song is especially that some parts of the song are repeated. I love the song, but I don’t think it is proper using it as an invocation on this kind of event. A simple “bless this event, bless the performers, make everyone safe” said by a person of their choice could have had much more meaning than asking pesky little choir kids sing a bastardized version of “The Prayer”. Ginawang parang communion service ang invocation! Di ba mga tarantado?! Go scrutinize the original lyrics of this song and all the more that you’ll say it is improper for the event! Example: “lead us to a place….” Por dios por santo naman… we are already in THE place! You are here asking the gods to bless a specific event/affair and not a journey (physical or spiritual). Whatever!

Oh, so you thought that was the end of it? Well, NO! After the duet, the male emcee imposingly “requested” everyone to remain standing – as if the thousands in the audience had anywhere to sit anyway hehehe! This time the whole choir finally sang with probably just them hearing what they were singing. And from the snippets of what they were wailing about, I guess those were also prayers, about 3 songs. All this time, people on stage, what they call their guests or their VIPs were still kept standing. How long should you pray for an invocation to be sincere anyway? Will the heavens listen well if a choir sang four lengthy songs that only them could understand anyway; than just asking a religious person to recite a paragraph of prayers?

Moreso, for an event you’re trying to market worldwide, you should prepare your sound systems if a choir is to sing. All we the “spectators” could hear was the very loud bass from the speakers in what seemed to be the accompaniment music to whatever the choir was blurting out. Oh well, we were not “guests” or “VIPs” anyway. We were just spectators or the maddening public hehe! So no need for us to hear about what was being sang by the choir hehehe! But, I could see a lot of the foreigners onstage were already getting restless as those songs slowly progressed – since they probably didn’t anymore know if they should still be bowing their heads in prayer or what! And for many in the audience, only one thing was sure… impatience and irritation at the loud booming and humming of the speakers!

Interestingly, at last year’s holding of this event, “The Prayer” – at least the original recording, was also played to accompany a video clip (projected on 2 screens that kept moving with the wind) for an invocation. One of those screens was onstage and could not be easily seen as the projection was hazed by the many flood and spotlights on said stage. The other screen was in the audience area and was a bit more visible - if not for the wind making the screen sway so you get dizzy watching watching whatever was onscreen! I was silently laughing and telling myself that the new style of praying these days is you ask people to ogle at a video clip than bow their heads and close their eyes and fervently say the prayer! And I already found that damned poor video lengthy.

What is an invocation anyway? I am no religious, but isn’t it that the reason you’re asking everyone to stand up is so that they will all join in the prayer to “invoke” almighty presence to make an event safe? So it looks like San Fernando City is starting out a new meaning for the word INVOCATION – where they ask the crowd to marvel at a video clip or watch the choir members in a lengthy production as if trying to say “you watch, we will pretend to pray”! Gosh! If I may predict from this trend, it seems like next year it will even be a longer invocation - probably with dancers or performers moving or swirling around the stage so that you actually forget to "pray"!

My goodness!

Why can’t they just send a child up on stage and say a true prayer fit for the event like invoking the Gods of all religions to watch and guide this event so that no untoward incidents happen. Period.

Let every priest or pastor or imam in this country debate this… but my view is: “an invocation is a prayer and you should not try to regale the crowds with any kind of production number along with it”. How much more if to make your crowd restless and impatient because the “invocation” takes more than a quarter of an hour from the time you were asked to stand?!

Okay, prayer done! I don’t even think I heard the national anthem played or sang by the choir! If my ears were right there, I think that would have been too un-nationalistic of the city that is prominently placed in our history for having fought for us to have our own country that is now The Philippines!

The ceremonious ceremonies ceremoniously continued after the choir. And my only admired talk of the whole evening was that of the mayor who did not say things in a thousand words but delivered his message in a clear, crisp and clipped welcoming manner. Just a few sentences really. I guess the male-emcee’s wordiness is neither a requirement of nor an emulation of the mayor!

What finally caught the last of my patience was the unnecessary, uncalled-for and ill-placed adlibs of the male emcee. Okay, if there was no script for the whole event/program, next year somebody please tell the organizers to create one. I can even lend a hand in coining such, if necessary. If there was a script and the fat dude of an emcee did not follow it, he should be fined or fired – better not at all seen or heard of in next year’s event. But if he was religiously following his scripts, the scriptwriter should be shot!

Imagine this: during the program, this male emcee would start telling the crowd about how proud Pampanga should be that this and that, and this and that personality was present to witness the event. Then without a choice, the lady emcee had to follow the flow and complete the litany with more descriptions. Next (as part of the program) they call on an architect or something to welcome everyone and name all the board of judges and describe their credentials! Eh kakatapos lang ng litanya ng matabang emcee na yun e! Thus, people started shouting “alam na namin yan” or “just the lanteeeerns” or “shut uuuuup”! So, kawawa yung architect who was supposedly chairman of the event and probably paying those two voluminous bastards as emcees! Everything he had to say was pre-empted by the talkative emcees. Where was the script here? The same thing happened when they called out a certain official of the event who came to talk about the mechanics of the contest. Eh kanina pa pinagdadadaldal ng male emcee yun!

The clincher that made the program (not the event ha?) a barriotic ceremony for me was: that this male announcer kept exulting Mar Roxas with flowery descriptions like “the future president of the Philippines”. He did not do it once, not twice, not thrice, but maaaaaaaaany times and I could see the senator was not already feeling very much at ease with those pronouncements. This emcee probably thought he was in an election campaign for Mar Roxas and forgot all about the Ligligan Parul 2006 contest. And I (surely others in the audience too) thought this emcee was just another asshole publicly pronouncing his ass-licking capabilities. And I would not wonder if later he becomes the chief-of-staff or public relations staff of Mar Roxas or any other political bigwig. He so blatantly went too forward to even “acknowledge” and pronounce Korina Sanchez (at least in a jokingly manner) to be the future first lady of this country. And the poor fine lady seated at the back row of the stage (away from Mar Roxas) had no choice but to stand up and wave at the crowd. I just knew she was not on cue for that. I think she did not at all like that. I just think so!

I felt she must have thought something like this… “Makikinood ka na lang ng palabas nila, bubulatlatin pa ang buhay mo ng isang matabil na emcee na obviously nagsusumipsip ke Mar”! Feeling ko lang yun ha, cuz I can’t put words into her mouth hehe! But I am sure she was not too happy with that situation… her being at some back-row… her lovie-dudes in front… and an emcee will start describing her as the future first lady! Am sure she didn’t like it. Unless…!

At least the Korina thing elicited some attention from the tismosos and tsismosas in the audience! I heard one woman say “so, sila na nga talagaaa, bagay sila dib a?” and another young girl made some heads turn when she said aloud “bakit di sila magkatabi? ano si Korina, alalay?”. It did perk some interest in the crowd (Korina Sanchez yan e! Isn't she even a Kapampangan?). But still, the male emcee should have avoided these unnecessary and lengthy introductions.

It did not end there! Later in the strenuous program of litanies, your male emcee even went out of his script (if there was any) by asking the senator to speak. I was sure the senator was not ready to do so and did not prepare anything as he was not there to speak but to watch the spectacle than be the spectacle himself! True to his being a public figure though, at least he rose from his seat and said a few words, which I thought was a struggle. But it went fine! He is probably nga the future president of this country (how I wish) – still those pronouncements and extra attention should have a better venue than the innocent Giant Lantern Festival of the city of San Fernando!

Let’s fastforward a bit so I can finish the topic about the emcees.

Then came a time in the program (I AM MIGHTY SURE THIS WAS PART OF THE SCRIPT) for them to call on the Barangay Captains, Architects, Rotor-Makers etc of those giant lanterns. This was a time to honor them – for having spent so much time, effort and resources to produce those awe-inspiring lanterns.

As is customary, they were called onstage to receive their trophies (from the mayor?) as participants. This time, both your emcees were obviously in a hurry (even sounded irritated) and mentioned the names of those people in mumbling jumbling speed not giving emphasis on who these guys were, what they do for a living, how they were able to produce the lanterns in time and so on. Why the hurry? Because they’re not the future presidents of this country? Tanginang mga emcee yan! I don’t know those barangay captains and officials and lantern/rotor makers, but I felt hurt for them.

To the two emcees, in case they have a chance to read this, here are my questions: "Ano ba talaga ang ikanararangal nyong mga matatabang madadaldal na dambuhala kayo, is it the Giant Lantern culture in the city or is it the names of personalities who have visited your city? You don't have to answer though, because VERY CLEARLY you put more emphasis and importance on the latter. And you want San Fernando City to be known the world over? For what? For the senator who visited you or the lanterns that were on show? It seems we heard much of the senator from you than how those lanterns were even transported from their barangays to the contest venue".

In fact, in my mind, I silently said “fuck you!” when the woman emcee so courageously blurted out on her microphone something like to the tune of “o, yung next barangay na tatawagin, punta na dito malapit sa stage yung Barangay Captain, Rotor-maker” etc etc.

Those people being called should have even been allowed to have a WALK OF FAME from their giant lanterns, under canned march music and on the spotlight as they go approach and up the stage to receive their trophies of appreciation. They were/are the true honorees – not the senator nor the media people nor the embassy personnel. I will dare you, go ask the senator if he went there to be honored, exulted, mentioned or advertised. Am sure the answer will be: “he was just there to witness the spectacle”. And we can debate at length at how many minutes (in aggregate) those obese emcees spent, exulting the senator and other people than these admirable but simple makers of the giant lanterns - who won't probably be the next presidents of this country.

If you watched the event, you can help me recall the time spans spent on the invocation songs, the litany of personalities present and the time of that recognition ceremony. Then we’ll all see how misplaced the priorities of your emcees were/are!

I am not from Pampanga so I don’t really care about this place and this event (as of yet anyway) but the emcees are missing one crucial point, and that is: they have one great tradition worthy of being advertised to the whole world, and they should have that responsibility to do so! So they should know what to highlight. THEY SHOULD KNOW WHAT TO HIGHLIGHT! It is not the names of the people who are seated on the stage that they should exult (not even the judges), but the people who perpetuate this grand tradition. This is the giant-lantern festival after all and not an election campaign nor a welcome ceremony for officials of a donor country. It is enough that those guests are seated well in a good and secured vantage view but none of them should be a highlight of the festivities – not even the president of this country or any other country – if they were in attendance. You want proof? Sige, go on, tanungin mo silang lahat na mga naging guest sa Ligligan Parul 2006, all of them who were on the stage, ask them who should have been repeatedly advertised, honored, exulted, praised during the night. Sige!

Here is my point: for me as a visitor/tourist who went out of my daily schedules in Metro Manila to view the spectacle, I didn’t care who went there to witness the event with me, I just wanted to see and experience the greatness of the giant lanterns and not giant politicians nor starlets who can’t sing well but who feel they are giants anyway! Gosh!

Want more proof? In the “crowd” or “audience” or “spectators” or “public” as the emcees might probably call them was a group of young well-built foreigners obviously ladies and gentlemen from the VFA troops. When the senator’s name was ceremoniously announced by your male emcee, one of them (a female) exclaimed “So? What’s he got to do with these fuckin’ giant lanterns?” Tingnan mo… sa kasipsipan ng punyiterang emcee na yun, pati senador nadadamay. Gago lang kasi yun mamang yun. They (the government of Pampanga) have to let him Rest In Peace.

Here is one more: A group of about 5 Japanese tourists (with their guide, a Filipino-speaking Japanese) were wondering what things were being said onstage… the guide told them in what I could translate to be “nothing but political ceremonies before the real thing can start, that’s how it is in this country!”. I felt hurt hearing that! I wanted to butt-in and say “no it is not the case in this country, it’s only the asshole of an emcee that they have”! But, I know, the truth hurts. Thanks to the talkative emcee that does not follow his script or has no script at all. When you let the visitors of the festival talk about their experience, like am doing now, after the overwhelming greatness of the giant lanterns, the shameful realities (on the side) will of course be remembered. Like am doing now, I suddenly remember there were portions of the program where I was not at all happy. Why? Because for “pride-of-place” Pampanga can do it better by doing away with a boot-licking emcee. Nyeta talaga!

The best advertisement is word of mouth, and I firmly believe in that - as I see and experience these on forums, chats and emails. The experience with that bloody emcee (2 years) even had me re-think if I should promote the Ligligan Parul to my friends. But my better sense of nationalism (probably) prevailed, and I realized the festival is not about the misplaced blabbers of the emcees but the experience to see and feel how those giant lanterns regale you, how they were made, who made them and on what circumstances or expected-benefits were they made. So I am firmly resolved, "anybody who crosses my path has to know and experience the Ligligan Parul of the City of San Fernando in Pampanga. I will stand on that"! But I need to tell them of some little irritants that will significantly eat their time while there.

In summary!
Pardon my "init-ng-ulo" at the emcees but ANYWAY, this is such a grand show so I cannot allow myself to wallow on the too many negative things that their emcees do to make the event tasteless in memory! And let me move on with my travel notes…
[And I did not get these from your emcees but from the lantern-makers themselves by asking them personally during the afternoon just before the start of competition]

Lantern making is “usually” not the profession of any of these people who make the giant lanterns. They have their respective employments or businesses to attend to and they just volunteer their time to the barangay so that the lantern of their dreams/plans will come into fruition at the time of the contest.

The planning starts as early as "the day after the contest". That means about a year of planning and preparations!

At minimum, each barangay will spend about P300,000 to be able to make the lantern a reality. The most expensive – which almost all of them will not divulge anyway – would usually play between P800,000 and P1M or more.

They do not win any cash prizes for being the best. They just receive trophies and for 1 year own the bragging rights for having been the best giant-lantern makers!

While some of them do receive generous donations from some families or businesses to support the development of their lanterns - thanfully it never has been a norm yet for them to display brands or logos of sponsors. So this makes the Giant Lantern Festival more appealing than many of the festivals in the Visayas and even Ilocandia where you see brandnames conspicuously being part of the the design (like seeing the brand "Castrol" on the headgear of each performer in one contigent at Kalibo's Ati-Atihan 2006! gosh). In the Ligligan Parul, if ever you see anything, it is just the name of the Barangay - so far!

Even the children are sometimes asked to help out in non-technical matters like cutting paper or plastic especially when contest date is nearing and everyhting is a rush.

The whole barangay (at least those who are involved or are privy to the plans and designs) swear to make everything secret lest these be discovered by the other barangays. That includes making the lantern in a secluded place not easily viewable by just anyone. Now imagine how you can hide such a lantern 18-feet in diameter!

It has lately been a growing practice where engineers, architects and other crews are "pirated" by other barangays. And if you are from one barangay but helped out in another barangay, you will naturally be a “persona-non-grata” in your barangay!

The cooperation gained by the barangay officials from their constituents becomes a way of getting intimate with everyone so that they have closer personal ties! Most of the barangays who join this contest are closely-knit than others who don’t! So here you have a “barangay with a purpose”!

There are 35 barangays in this city but only a few dare or have the skills, resources or capabilities to join the contest. Last year there were 10, this year 12.

It is not their choice of music that their lights are dancing to! Everything is by chance while the crews operate the rotors. So these rotor operators must know how the lights play at every roll of the rotors. That also means they should have an ear for music so that they’ll know what is best to display during the performance.

The winning barangay this year, San Felipe, is the winningest! They were champions in 2004 and the years before that. Had they won last year, they would have been placed as the first Hall-Of-Famer (for winning 5 consecutive years) and they would have been non-competing this year. But Sto. Rosario bested them last year. So they were still in contention this year and they got it! Hmm, di kaya sinadya nila magpatalo last year so that they’d still be in the contest this year – for which they were and for which they readily won again! It’s everybody’s guess! My view is: sino ba gusto matalo? But I can tell you, Barangay San Felipe was also great and a crowd favourite last year. Theirs was the lantern with a dove, remember? And when the emcee (the fat man) shouted San Felipe are you ready? The lantern answered clearly with lights producing the word “OPO”! I really thought they’d have won last year. This year, they bagged it anyway! What with the “angel” with flapping wings and the words Peace, Hope and Love! Last year I think it was just the word Peace I saw! Now now… even the lanterns are getting talkative hehehe!

SM city spent P8M to construct the amphitheater where the festival is held. It’s actually expansive and has a good stage. The architectural design of the roof is tasteful! It’s like a conglomeration of 3 tents roofwise. But if you look in the stage, it’s enormous! Oh no no no, during the contest what you see onstage are the judges and the bigwigs. They will be to your back – because the giant lanterns are arranged in a semi-circular fashion at the outermost fringes of this amphitheater facing the stage.

The amphitheater has flower boxes and trees were planted in them. The trees are growing and this year they have already obstructed my view of the lanterns. So, next year, them lovely trees will probably be more of a nuisance. No sweat though, just keep moving and threading your way in the sea of humanity so that you have a clear view of each giant lantern! That’s what most everyone does anyway hehehe!

This I have not seen yet, but a friend says, during the time that all lanterns are performing together, traffic slows down a bit in that portion of NLEX that has a view of SM City (even if they have a back-view of the lanterns)! Hello drivers! You only have two choices here, drive as fast in the required minimum of NLEX or go to SM City and have fun. Don’t crawl on a highway please! Sabagay, the patrols will be busy watching the spectacle so chances are, there won’t be anyone to apprehend you for driving too slow! Oh my Philippines!

Finally, it is not true that the last Victory Liner bus from the City of San Fernando is at 1130PM. We were able to take a ride at about 1AM on a bus that was bound for “Caloocan”. We took that bus and got off at EDSA. Crossed the street and took cabs or other buses going home from there! Just needed to put this in since some van drivers station themselves just outside of the Victory Liner Terminal and a barker keeps shouting “Cubao Cubao Cubao, last trip na ‘to, wala nang bus! Mamya alas-tres pa ang susunod”! And when you ask the people (employees and guards) at that Victory Liner Station, all you get is “di lang natin alam kung meron pang dadaan sir”! This year, our co-passenger was with the proprietor/owner of one of the little eateries near Victory Liner’s Station. She intimated that those van drivers and barkers give some money to the guards, drivers and conductors so that they won’t say definite answers if there are still buses passing on the way to Manila.

Just adding this information in, since 1) I do not really like riding those vans where 4 people are asked to cramp themselves into a seat that should have been for just 3 persons. Plus, last year, I saw two of those vans parked on an emergency shoulder of the NLEX obviously having engine or other troubles. And I hope it was not a hold up hehehe!

That's it pusit!

So, see you at the Ligligan Parul 2007 and let’s hope I will have the urge to erase many of the irritating things written above? I really hope to do so! This is one great event and we have got to be proud of it. As of yet, I won’t bring my family there! I’ll just tell them the stories and show them my pics and vids. Is that fair enough?!

Oh well…


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