Sunday, September 21, 2008

Zheng Zhou

We just got home from our two show day in Zheng Zhou. We are here as part of an arts festival and we only do three shows here. Our last performance is Monday night. Zheng Zhou is truly in the heartland of China. It is reputed to be the oldest capital of China and the oldest civilization in China. Which makes it the oldest civilization in the world.

I have learned a few things about history that I have never really grasped before. I have learned that civilization really refers to a formed society that stays in one place and builds a community with a government and laws. This usually means that agriculture is being practised. Hence, no need to be nomadic. It makes sense that The Chinese Were the first to make Ice Cream and Spaghetti, and alphabets etc. etc. Ironic side note: gunpowder was discovered by accident as they were trying to concoct an immortality drug! They had a working Seismograph 1700 years before anybody else!! I saw it at the splendid Henan (pronounced Hu- nan the u as in bush) Provincial Museum. It was here that I became fascinated with the progression of crafts and written language in this culture. This museum starts at the beginning and leads you through a chronological progression of the history. You get to see how they got from A to Z. I am now particularly interested in the origin of Dragons and their mythology. Here they are benevolent symbols of power. Their origins have something to do with water and hurricanes. It is a whole realm of research for me to do.

We also travelled on Saturday to the Longmen Grottos in Louyang. This is a cliff side by a river which is covered in myriad carvings of Buddhas and Bodhisattva's of all shapes and sizes. Longmen means "Dragon Gate" in Chinese. Work started on these carvings in 494 AD. Many are missing or defaced or beheaded, but there are many spectacular specimens left. They range in size from 10,000 one inch high figures in one cave, to spectacular 50 ft high giants in the grandest of the walls.

Now I've seen a lot of Buddhas in my day, (All that time in Japan as well as travels in Thailand)
so after 30 minutes I was sort of over it, but the biggest carvings just knocked me out! And our walk across the river bridge and the view of the countryside softened by the misty atmosphere made me want to just keep walking away into the landscape. It was really beautiful.

In, fact, one of the great things has been seeing the country side. I remember family vacations when my Dad would go so far as to stop the car to talk to farmers about how the crops were doing. He was still a farmer where ever he went. I guess I inherited that trait. I was fascinated by all the little farms along the road. Lots of tidy little fields of corn and squash and other crops growing in the rusty colored soil that distinguishes this region. They have farmed this land for centuries and much of it is terraced into small plots. Where there is flat land there are crops. and Trees! Apparently the government has made a big push to plant trees along the road sides. There are row upon row of tall, straight, fast growing trees. They look like Maples or Alders to me. Even on our 9 hour bus ride through the rain from Xian to Zheng Zhou, the sight of these orderly forests pleased me greatly.

So far I have found China to be warm and inviting. The people have been friendly and happy, and the sights have been great. I'll talk about The Shaolin Temple ( home of Kung Fu) next.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More Taal Volcano

Here's Julia at the scenic overlook.
Here's Julia in the shaded spot where you can buy sodas, water, coconut,snacks, etc. Oh yeah, and that horse in the background just pissed allover!! Appetizing , ain't it?
Talk about a dog day afternoon... in the village at the base of the volcano.
Too Hot for Pants!!

Traditional house. This whole village subsists on tourism and it seems some agriculture. There were many chickens, fighting cocks, cattle and of course horses. It had a sort of island charm but was still very crowded and dirty. They did have a basketball court (it is very popular here) and an outdoor pool table,(also very popular).

Catch up Taal Volcano

Wow, I know there is a big gap here. I'm using Julia's computer because will not upload photos to this site and I have not been able to fix that problem. I'm going to catch up bit by bit.

After enjoying the pool at the resort and the sunset, we walked into the town of Talisay to eat at a place called Milan's, which was recommended by the tourist office. This is the very friendly staff who were very excited that we were in Cinderella . It didn't get us any free food, but they sure took a lot of pictures. We had a good dinner of traditional Filipino food for this region. A whole fish and Rice of course, with a bitter green vegetable sauteed with shrimp and tomatoes.
Her I am in the prow of the Banca that is taking us to the Island of the Volcano.
This is the trail. The natives transport soda, food, ice etc up top the top by horseback to sell to tourists at extraordinary prices. The fellow in the foreground is a local policeman. Upon landing on a beachhead covered in manure we were met by this guy and our boatman infoemed us that he was to show us where to go. We thought he was going to direct us to the tourist bureau where you are to register and pay an entrance fee. It soon became evident that he was going to "guide" us to the top and of course be paid $10 for that. I informed that we did not not need or want a guide. He went with us anyway. We bought him a soda at the top. This is part of the constant "pay as you go" scam in the Philippines. You think you are doing one thing and suddenly you discover a bill that you did not expect. It is all very good natured, but perfidious.
A view from the top of the trail we took up. These are horse corrals and shelters below. Many people pay $10 to ride a scrawny horse to the top. I could have carried the horse up!
Here is the Lake. As you can see, there is an island in it. So it is an island within a lake within a volcano within a lake within a volcanic Caldera. Whew!! It was hot as blazes up here. We sweat (Swat?) buckets. It is a volcano after all. We know others who hiked down to the lake and swam in it. Funnily, I don't feel liked I missed it. Next up... Pictures of the village and sleeping dogs!!!!! don't miss it!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Juria and Shrinky are in China! However before we start blogging about THAT, it's only fitting to bid our adieu to good 'ole Manila. Basically, the show opened and you never heard from me (Juria) again! I guess I was too busy working and adventuring to get the job done. Procrastination and laziness reared their lovely heads as well. (Those two sometimes camp out in my life... we are intimately acquainted!) With so much to write about I will condense my comments into a series of (I'm sure) captivating topics:

- We took an overnight trip to the Taal Volcano (technically, not a "day trip", I know.) Shrinky already wrote about that a little... but some of the highlights were swimming in a pool as the rain poured down on our heads and eating BUKO (coconut)... Buko pie (layers of buko in a flaky pie crust...wowsa), Buko juice drunk right out of the shell and then having them crack it open to get to the wet meat inside. The volcano was cool. We hiked to the top so we could view the sulphur lake down below and it was HOT. Hot temperature and hot fumes and a hot hike up. So, basically, cool and hot both.

-Pagsangjan Falls and Gorge: This is the river where they filmed Apocalypse Now and we boated up river in order to reach the Falls at the end and then ride the rapids back down again. Basically, it was the two of us in the middle of a canoe and two boatmen, one at the front and one at the back, who paddled when necessary and basically CARRIED us up the rapids. The gorge walls got larger and closer and we passed various smaller falls along the way. Then, we arrived at the Pagsangjan Falls.. and transferred to a bamboo raft so that we could travel to a cave located BEHIND the waterfall. Now, that's a fun way to get absolutely soaked!

-Ayala Museum in Manila: Lea's assistant, Sheila (who I adore), used to work there and gave some of us a tour of this beautiful museum... but the thing most notable to mention was THE GOLD COLLECTION. We are talking some SERIOUS gold pieces from Philippine history (they were hid from the Spanish!) And LOTS OF IT.... and BEAUTIFUL. Gold earrings, gold necklaces, gold death masks, gold crowns. I've never seen so much gold all in one place. The designs looked so modern to me, so forward. I thought of my Grandpa Cook, who would have been fascinated by the chains and the boldness of these 10th century designs!

-Walking tour of Chinatown and Quiapo Church: Another guided tour with our favorite guide, Carlos Celdran. Seriously, this guy's amazing. As a former tour guide myself (ok, so it was Universal Studios, but still) and a performer, I truly appreciate someone who can organize the information dramatically and present it in a lively and interesting manner. Well, that's what Carlos does, with humor and point of view fully intact. Walking around Chinatown was a perfect seque into the next chapter of our travels (and many Chinese settled in the Philippines so it's an important part of their mixed heritage as well.) We burned incense at a Taoist temple (and a special paper representing "money" in heaven... you burn it so that your ancestors have cash to spend in heaven. I gave mine to Grandma Marrett so she could do all the clothes shopping she wants up there!)
Quiapo Church and the market around it was one of the most fascinating places in Manila! The church houses one of the most beloved and strange icons, the Black Nazarene. The Spanish introduced this Christ sculpture to the Filipinos, hoping that they would more easily embrace Christianity with a dark skinned Saviour. It worked and became a beloved figure to the people, especially the poor and working class. (If you touch the foot of the statue, leave a flower offering and make 3 wishes, they will come true... I'll let you know.) Ironically, the market outside is the largest pagan/voodoo market in town... one can buy amulets, candles, oils, love potions and an abortion drink (which is very dangerous and used by many poverty-stricken women in a country with no federal family planning or legal options!) There are palm readers and fortune tellers available as well. Now, the same people that are shopping in this market are worshipping the Black Nazarene... somehow, it all fits together for them. CRAZY!

-Corregidor Island: Famous WW2 spot where a huge battle took place when the Japanese attacked the American base that was located there, to protect Manila Bay. Basically, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor AND Corregidor.. TWO hostile acts that started our war with them. It was a good history lesson and now a beautiful, hilly island to explore....


-NO ROOTS! It was time to get my hair re-done, so I did what I've done many times before... asked Lea Salonga for her recommendation. She recommended a lovely salon. I made an appt. after 20 phone call attempts (they are very busy) and arrived at the salon ready for my new highlights and haircut. FOUR HOURS LATER, I had new highlights, new lowlights, new snappy haircut, deep conditioning hair treatment, a neck and shoulder massage, and a smile on my face... but here's the kicker... usually, when I get new highlights, you can still see the roots since they can't go all the way to the scalp.... but somehow here they did! It looks like all these gorgeous blond strands of hair (in multiple shades) are growing out of my head... I've never seen anything like it. I mean, eventually my hair will grow our enough that my natural color will show, but seriously, this is amazing... and why it needed to be told to all of cyberspace. :)

-Korean Spa Day: Jefferson and I spent FIVE hours at a Korean spa, La Sema. We fell in love with hot springs and bathhouses when we lived in Japan and have seeked them out ever since. Experiencing bodywork has been one of my favorite things in Manila and when I read about LaSema in a magazine, I knew it was the place for us. We started in the baths (segregated) where I bathed in Green Tea, Ginseng, a cold plunge and sat in a Jade encrusted steam room. THEN, we moved to the co-ed area, the traditional Korean Jjim jjill Bang (Three hot sauna rooms, each designed to treat different ailments. They were made of mud, salt and charcoal, and clay at varied temperatures.) The point is to sweat, sweat, sweat. When we got too hot, we moved to the ICE ROOM. Yes, a room that resembled a freezer, with ice on the walls and ceiling. Then, back in the hot sauna. After all that, a 2 hour massage and time in the Napping Caves. These were caves where you could stretch out and rest your head on a wooden pillow (oddly comfy). Total price: under $30 each. Oh yeah.

-FISH SPA! We found ourselves at Manila Ocean Park in the Bay to watch the sunset one evening. As we were about to depart, I noticed the words, "FISH SPA" and remembered an article I had recently read about Nibble Fish, or Doctor Fish, used in the east to treat skin dryness. Sure enough, it was two large tanks of fish... for $3 you could stick your feet in the tank and let the fish "clean" them... as in, eat the dead skin from the bottom, sides and tops of your feet, as in nibble the tiny spaces between your toes... which we did. Truly, one of the most bizzare feelings in my life. And I've felt some bizarre things before.


-Four week run at the CCP and it was just wonderful. The audiences were great and the show was a hit. Backstage, Charlie Parker (the Godmother and my dressing room-mate) and I became very fond of our dresser, Ellen. She just loved being involved in this experience and was completely on top of things... like I would come in and she would have organized all my bobby pins according to shape, size, and color. In some ways, she represented for me the very best of the Filipino people... so hard-working, always smiling, and when we said good-bye, openly sobbing.... just so warm-hearted and full of feeling.

Overall, our Manila stay was very special... Most of it was spent getting the show up and on its feet, but two months is enough time to get a feel for a place and its people... and reading the daily paper helped too...
We will miss:
-Daily Mango consumption.. like, EVERYDAY, fresh or dried.
-English everywhere
-People understanding the verbal jokes in the show
-Spa treatments at crazy cheap prices
-Cheap food.. in all ethnic cuisines
-Our stage crew
-Halo-halo (see previous blogs for definition)

BYE BYE MANILA! Thanks so much for sharing yourselves with us!

Oh, and if you are wondering, "Where are the pictures??" please bear with us... we are having some technical difficulties getting pics uploaded... I think it's a China obstacle...

And just in case you are anxiously awaiting our Xian, China impressions, please know this.. WE ARE GETTING OUR SOCKS BLOWN OFF!!!! Stay tuned. :)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Taal Volcano trip

On Monday August 11 we headed south to visit the Taal volcano in Taal Lake, about 2 hours south of Manila. This is the worlds smallest active volcano and has a lake inside of it, even as it sits within a lake which is itself a volcanic Caldera! After an hour and a half on a bus we were dropped in Tanauan. Not knowing the going rate for a ride to Talisay where you embark for the volcano, we agreed to pay this guy 200pesos to take us to Talisay in the most beat up Jeepney I have yet seen. That is about how much he probably makes in a half a day. The good part was that we basically had the jeepney to ourselves for the whopping price of $5 U.S. ! he dropped us at the town hall where they assisted us in getting a room for the night at a nearby resort with a pool and told us how much we should pay for everything. And then they promptly overcharged us for a ride to the resort!!!
The resort was a place that sold time share condos and was undergoing lots of construction and restoration. Unfortunately our room was in a cellblock of a building which time, housekeeping, and hot water had forgotten. But the bed was okay and the A.C. worked even if it did blow mouse turds onto the bed when we switched it on! All for $57. The best part was this pool. We played in it and the water slide even when a pouring rain storm blew in.
It was the best time we had had in quite a while. That is one of the volcanoes to the right. The still active volcano which we climbed is the flat top island at center.
The storm was powerful and beautiful. We sat in the poolside restaurant and had beer and a club sandwich. When the rain stopped it left clear skies.
And the fishermen did not even pause for the rain.
These are laborers ending the days work. It was really hot this day and these guys were working hard in the blazing sun.
Next up. Our climb of the Taal volcano and local culture pictures!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Opening Night!

Me, Lea, Imelda Marcos and Julia after the show. Imelda was presented with a glass slipper.

With Renato Belestra the designer and his assistant Piero.
Our wedding costumes, minus my cape.
With our last minute replacement lighting designer Paul Miller
Apologies to those of you have given up on new entries. I promise to be more regular with our posts. We’ve settled into a show schedule now. There is always a period of transition when you open a show. For four weeks we rehearsed 6 days a week from 10AM until 6PM.
Then we had 7 days straight of Technical rehearsals from noon or 1PM until 11PM or Midnight. This was followed by 2 days of double show runs some with audience, and this dovetailed into regular performances for paid audiences. In all we worked for 14 days without a day off and performed the show in full costumes for an audience 10 times in 7 days. Those of you reading this that are in the Biz know how exhausting this is.

After a day off which included seeing a movie and attending a birthday party for Sheila Valderrama, we started our regular show schedule week, which we are about to finish tonight. Now we stay up until 1AM and awake at 9am to get the hotel buffet breakfast and then the rest of the day seems to fly by and suddenly it is time to get on the bus to go to the theater. I am trying to get to the gym regularly and still do some sightseeing and catch up on e-mails, facebook and yes, this blog. I am also very aware that in two weeks we leave Manila for Xian, China. I feel like I have barely experienced the Philippines!

We are planning a getaway to the Taal Lake region tomorrow. This is a lake within a volcanic caldera that has a volcanic island in it that has a lake inside the cone and an island in that lake! We plan to take a boat to the island, climb the volcano, maybe go down to the inner lake and back. If all goes well we will spend the night on the big lakeshore and the next morning we will take a boat upriver to Pagsanjan Falls and then ride the rapids back down and be back at our Manila hotel by 3PM. I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

Much has happened since my last entry. Obviously, we opened the show. Our audiences leading up to the opening taught us how to play the show and our opening night audience was very responsive and enthusiastic. We have had fans thronging at the stage door asking for photographs and autographs, we have had dignitaries in attendance (the Vice President of The Philippines was in the audience the other night, and Imelda Marcos last weekend, more on her later) and we have all felt the chills go down our spines and a tear well up when the crowd roars as Lea steps downstage for her bow. It is an amazing feeling just to be near it. I have experienced crowds raising their volume for my bow before and it is gratifying to know that the extra cheers are in acknowledgement of my work, but nothing has ever compared to the roar that comes forth and the huge smile it brings to Lea’s face. She shines and the audience loves her. I’m getting a little misty just remembering it.

Now, Imelda Marcos. She came backstage to have her picture taken with the Glass Slipper insert shoe joke here) and Lea. Julia and I stayed in costume and boldly asked her if she would pose for a picture with us. And here is the proof. She graciously posed for several pictures and we talked about the fact that she had dressed in a shade of blue that corresponded to our royal blue and white finale costumes. She informed us that it was one of her older “Belestra’s”, designed by the same man who designed all of our costumes. Here in the Philippines she conjures mixed reactions. I have heard the Marco’s blamed for the current state of rampant government corruption, and of embezzling millions from the country, and yet, the power of celebrity is indomitable. She was an icon of the Philippines for many years, and notoriety is still as thrilling as Fame. For my part she seemed to be an elegant women with poise, and still able to command attention. I think it is pretty cool that we got to meet her.

That’s it from me for now. I’m sure Julia will share her thoughts on the last few weeks.