Memories of Penang

IT’S A LAZY SATURDAY, and waiting for “something to develop positively” has bored me; I sense it’s time to mind my blog, which I had left for a while (because of other important concerns).

In July 2016, I made a trip to Penang, Malaysia to finally count for myself what’s in the place that I had discovered and read so much about in online travel magazines.

To be specific, two things attracted me to Penang: street food and street art.

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OLD LADY SELLING SUSU SOYA ASLI AND SEGAR: Capturing the feel of Penang’s daily life by buying susu soya (soy milk) from this charming perempuan tua (old lady) hawker in Gat Lebuh Chulia, between Victoria Street and Pengkalan Weld.

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CHILDREN PLAYING BASKETBALL: How to play basketball in George Town, Penang, by simply standing and waiting for the game to happen. This art piece is in front of the Grand Swiss Hotel on Chulia Street.

Not so long ago, Penang was a doddering cultural and culinary backwater in the federal constitutional monarchy Malaysia. No one ever conceived that the listing of George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site would set its heartbeat fast on development.

It has come out (if it hasn’t already) as an important island territory that is known the world over not only as a bona fide gastronomic hot spot, but a multi-cultural trading region with all the global tourism industry’s bright prospects.

It’s the cradle of true Malaysian street food, they say, because sold everywhere are Char Kway Teow, the famed stir-fried rice cake strips, a national favorite that has been passed through generations; Assam Laksa, a proud signature fish-based recipe that is rich and spicy; the iced sweet dessert Cendol with red adzuki beans; Roti Canai, the classic flaky breakfast (and its other variations); slow-cooked dry curry Beef Rendang, etcetera.

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CENDOL TO COOL: This Cendol had me at hello. It’s like the Philippines’ all season halo-halo (mixed fruit dessert with a heaving spoonful of ube) favorite.

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CHAR KWAY TEOW, the poor man’s dish, tops the list of the most-loved Malaysian foods. Stir-fried over very high heat, its main ingredients (aside from the flat noodles) are dark soy sauce, bean sprouts, shrimps, Chinese chives, and eggs. Mix your serving with chili, and you’re good to go.

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FOR THE LOVE OF ASSAM LAKSA: This dish is really the headliner of my palate journey in Penang. I had it for breakfast inside an offbeat roadside food shack in Batu Ferringhi northwest of George Town.

If you’re a history or architecture junkie, George Town is the place that will surely keep you entertained during your holiday as it is where you will find British colonial buildings that have been kept up due to their cultural heritage value.

Any place that embraces modernity while retaining its colonial traditions — for the island state, 171 years of British rule — is worth traveling to.

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OLD TOWN FEELS: Don’t you just feel like you’re inside a pre-colonial movie set? George Town, Penang made me feel just that — being in an elaborate civilization in the past… and it’s quite romantic.

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I, on the other hand, looked forward to managing the “Walking Trail” of Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic‘s murals, and sitting to be served Malaysian dishes in Lorong Baru.

Okay, so here it goes. And, please, pardon memory fails and slips (just in case I mix up street names, spellings, and all) because this trip was done last year; I may have a hard time remembering.

HOW TO GET TO PENANG FROM KUALA LUMPUR

Penang is really an easy tourist destination in Malaysia, and every sort of transport is available. If you’re not traveling on a budget, you can buy a plane ticket for a 55-minute flight to the island state from Kuala Lumpur. Or hire a cab to get you there within 5-6 hours.

Bus schedules to help you figure out your travel are the following I’ve managed to get:

  • 12:40 p.m.-8:38 p.m. from Pudu Sentral (Puduraya)
  • 12:40 p.m.-10:05 p.m. from Bus Terminal Perkililing
  • 5:25 p.m.-12:53 a.m. from Pudu Sentral (Puduraya)

Bus fares range from MYR 38.00 to MYR 42.00 (USD 9.05560 to USD 10.0088/PHP 461.185 to PHP 509.731) for standard VIP, which means just an air-conditioned seat; and coaches at MYR 74.00 (USD 17.6346/PHP 898.098) to MYR 103.00 (USD 24.5454/PHP 1,250.06) with personal TV, meals, and wi-fi.

The inexpensive transport mode is, well, taking the bus, or the ferry boat. If you don’t have a problem with road trips, then the best and most fun way is to hire a car (if you don’t have one) for you to also enjoy the scenic attractions along the way.

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Culled from Google Maps

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Our group of six traveled to Penang by using my friend Lolit Whorlow’s car. If my memory is still serving me correctly, we popped out our journey via the Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan/E1, the fastest route under usual traffic from the Kuala Lumpur federal territory.

Under this course, normal travel is more than three hours. However, if you make stops like we did, then your arrival time would increase by over an hour and a half to maybe around 5 or 6. The stops we made were for sightseeing, comfort room breaks, and snacks.

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PENANG BRIDGE at night (courtesy of Google)

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PURPLE SUNSET: Caught the starting time (at around 7:00 p.m.) of purple sunset over the UNESCO World Heritage Site George Town, Penang. Just look at the color — very charming and hard to forget because you don’t see purple sunsets everyday. Check slide show below this.

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The road travel was highlighted for me by the Penang Bridge, which is a symbol of pride and the source of deep pleasure for the Malaysians. In the 50’s, when Penang’s traffic condition started to congest because of its booming economy, the idea of the bridge came up along with suggestions to build an underwater tunnel road and extending the ferry service (the only transport that connects the island to the mainland).

Among the three, it’s the mega-scale bridge that stood out only to be laughed at for failing to happen. But in 1981, former Malaysia prime minister Mahathir Mohamad pushed for the project despite negative criticisms and other obstacles. By 1982, he sank the first pile of cement in the land between Seberang Perai and Penang Island.

I genuinely wanted to take a long-exposure photography of the Penang Bridge with its huge flashes of light glowing brightly at night; sadly, TIME IS THE ENEMY. It was also difficult to look for an area where to set up our gears, and it was constantly raining.

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NEW LANE HAWKER CENTER: The New Lane Hawker Center located in Lorong Baru, George Town, is where we had our first meal in Penang.

FOOD PATH

What unsettles me when it comes to traveling is TIME IS THE ENEMY. I’ve been writing the line all caps to emphasize that no matter how much you want to stay and do all things possible, you simply couldn’t because time is a limited source.

Indeed, it is our most important and most limited source.

There are at least 5 listed BEST EAT CENTERS in the island state that I found and wanted to try, and they’re not all necessarily in malls or hotels. They’re largely found in hawker stalls and in open air venues.

These are New Lane Hawker Center, Gurney Drive Hawker Center, Presgrave Street Hawker Center, Long Beach Food Court, and Just Food, which is inside a shopping mall.

We arrived in Penang at about 3:00 p.m., just in time for the daily opening of the hawker center in Lorong Baru. We headed there soon after depositing our bags in Sri Sayang Resort Service Apartment in Batu Ferringhi.

Batu Ferringhi is the next most visited destination after George Town for water sports and seafood eateries. It’s where I experienced my first-ever Assam Laksa (see picture above), served by a smiling restaurant owner on a rainy morning.

You know you’ve reached New Lane Hawker Center in Lorong Baru, George Town the moment the comforting aroma of garlic and onions frying together hits your snoot, and you don’t want to do anything except look for the nearest wok where it is straying from.

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Koay Teow Th’ng

What I had in this food center was not Char Kway Teow despite hearing about it over and over from my friends. They ordered that, and since the serving was large enough for all six of us, we decided to share and moved on to order other Malay dishes.

What I got was a steaming bowl of Koay Teow Th’ng cooked by a grinning peddler, who was too happy to hold his first customer of the day.

The flat rice noodle dish was served in clear soup broth, topped with fish balls, slices of boiled pork intestine, chicken, golden brown garlic bits and chopped scallions. A condiment of red chili sauce accompanied it.

You will be disappointed if you expect the fish balls in your soup to be stiff and bouncy. In Penang, they are made fresh to be softer in texture and to feed the travelers the soothing comfort they need after a long journey.

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POPIAH is another Malaysian street food favorite that’s like spring roll or lumpia. It’s made of grated turnip, jicama, French beans, bean sprouts, and bean curd in a sweet bean sauce wrapped in a paper-thin crepe made from wheat flour.

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WHO DOESN’T LOVE CHICKEN WINGS? Roasted chicken wings in honeyed marinade.

There’s always a spot in my heart (especially my tummy) for fragrant-smelling roasted wings coated in honeyed marinade to give it a glazed sweet touch. The burst of flavors in your mouth — smoky, tangy, sugared — leads you to nothing but absolute delight.

A plate of Char Kway Teow would cost around MYR 6.50 or USD 1.54886 or PHP 78.8809, which is really cheap as they’re served in large portions. Koay Teow Th’ng made me pay MYR 5.00 or USD 1.19143, which is around PHP 60.00 in Philippine money.

STREET ART TRAIL

Zacharevic’s walking trail starts at Penang Road with the The Awaiting Trishaw Paddler that we didn’t see because we got down our walk on a different trail. In fact, we didn’t follow any footpath, we merely walked around looking for any artwork because George Town is really full of them.

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LITTLE CHILDREN ON A BICYCLE by Ernest Zacharevic in Armenian Street, George Town. It’s a mural on the wall of a shop house of two children riding their bicycle joy clearly evident on their faces. It was easy to spot, actually. We saw it just in front of a small Cendol store in Armenian.

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LITTLE GIRL IN BLUE by Ernest Zacharevic Muntri Street, George Town, Penang. 

From Penang Road, there is a turn one has to make to Muntri Street, George Town, to see the giant wall painting of the Little Girl in Blue balancing herself on two windows. Standing in front of it closely made me think it was rather chilling. But then it was really the shadow of the hair cutting through her eyes.

I was recounted that in the original photo of the little girl, she was smiling so, it beats me why the artist would render her that way on the wall.

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THE BASKET GIRL AND I: Just near Lorong Baru, George Town, while parking our car before getting something to eat, we met this little girl on the window with her basket hanging down and her father looking up. 

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REACHING UP: This little boy with his right arm reaching up for something on the small window can be found at Cannon Street.

On Cannon Street, if you’re curious enough to look at the walls, you’ll see the mural of a little boy standing on a chair with his right arm reaching the low window. It’s hard to spot it at night so, be really eager to check out each and every wall in the street area.

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LANG HOOSE, on the corner of Beach Street and Lorong Toh Aka, George Town, is a little Penangite girl wearing a blue cheongsam.

LANG HOOSE may not be a well-known mural in George Town, but it’s one of my favorites because its full of energy, exhilaration, and sunshine. I don’t know, the healthy flush in her cheeks, no matter the stain in the artwork, gives her an atmosphere of innocence that is infectious.

Below are other interesting art pieces and murals I found in Penang, which made the walking trail a blast for me. Please check slideshow below.

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I SEE YOU.

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BUNS TRANSPORT: Transferring giant buns. Found this artwork on the wall of a building with bakery and jewelry shops.

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Standing outside the door of colonial past.

The cultural scene in Penang really evokes interest in a powerfully irresistible way, and I wish that one day soon, Puerto Princesa would also be as colorful and creative if not equally.

We have a lot of local creative people, and they can certainly make their murals build a sense of community respect and camaraderie.

TRAVEL HINTS AND TIPS

Before the tips, did you know that Jimmy Choo, who is noted for co-founding Jimmy Choo Ltd (where your expensive handmade pairs of shoes are from), was born in Penang, Malaysia, into a family of shoemakers?

I didn’t know this trivia until I went there. That Choo guy is based in London now, but he regularly visits Penang to see his family members.

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Waiting for my roti canai to cook in a street food place in Batu Ferringhi, Penang, Malaysia.

Here is a list of 10 useful tips if you’re considering Penang as your next travel destination:

  1. Your Penang trip will never be complete without trying the ubiquitous Assam Laksa.
  2. Read before exploring the heritage sites, and follow rules by not throwing your trash anywhere you fancy.
  3. It was a mistake to walk looking for Zacharevic’s murals. The best thing to do is hire bicycles or ride the trishaw.
  4. Ditch staying at Sri Sayang Resort Service Apartment because thought it’s cheaply-priced, it’s really bad accommodation.
  5. Don’t miss Penang’s flat round bread cooked on a griddle. It’s called roti (chapati is its other name), and it has a lot of delightful variations.
  6. Don’t forget the sunsets and sunrises.
  7. July is a rainy month in Penang so, bring umbrella to help you still explore.
  8. Valuables should never be on show because snatching is also common there like in other big cities.
  9. Your travel documents should always be with you because you never know when you’ll need it.
  10. No public display of affection, please, if you’re traveling as a couple — that would be heavily frowned upon.

Just because Penang is a popular tourist destination does not mean you’re free to wear your beach attire while touring. Beachwear is for the beach area, not the commercial districts.

Majority of the settlers of Penang are said to be Chinese, and they’re over 50% of the population. Two of the well-known Penangites are Choo and former Malaysia deputy prime minister and opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim.

Staying in the place for 2 nights/3 days weren’t enough for us to get to know any resident, but I could say that they’re helpful and friendly.

Don’t be offended if you hear some of them addressing you “auntie” and “uncle,” as that is one way of making you feel their hospitality.

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Selfie shot taken in front the George Town heritage site building office with Venice, one of my travel buddies.

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FROM LEFT: Venice, myself, ate Lolit, Ed, Eewoj, and ate Maria.

To date, I’ve already visited two heritage cities in Malaysia — Penang and Malacca (Melaka).

Cheers lah 🙂

 

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Big Trouble in Paradise

HERE’S A STORY I wrote for the Philippine News Agency (PNA) about Coron, a beautiful island municipality in northern Palawan. It’s about a planned undersea park being proposed by Coral World Park (CWP), which claims to be “the largest Marine Reserve and Coral Reef Conservation program in Asia. ”

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Beautiful Kayangan Lake in Coron Island, Coron, northern Palawan.

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This photo of the small inlet that leads to Kayangan Lake was taken from a promontory where I stood for a while to take in the charming view.

The reason why it’s controversial is in the story.

Tagbanua tribes in Coron spurn Nickolodeon undersea park

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, July 27 — The Tagbanua indigenous peoples (IP) community in Coron and nearby islands gave the thumbs down Thursday morning to the propositioned 400-hectare Nickolodeon undersea park due to fears of irreversible negative environmental and cultural impacts.

Amil Abella, representative of the Tagbanua Tribes of Coron Island Association (TTCIA), said in a Greenpeace Philippines-hosted press conference here that the project will only displace them from their ancestral domains, and will spoil their traditional fishing grounds.

“If there are investments that will build structures that will cause destruction to our ancestral domains, our agreement is we will not accept them,” Abella said, adding they live independently and are reliant on Calamianes’ beauty and blessings.

The Calamianes is an area in the northern part of Palawan that includes Busuanga, Coron, and Culion island towns, and the islands of Calauit, Malcapuya, Banana, Pass and Calumbuyan, and several minor islets.

“The legendary heroes of Coron will unite and defend the last ecological frontier of the country, where we live with freedom and abundance,” he added.

Continue reading the story here: http://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1003332

It’s really difficult to marry development with environment conservation, especially if it would have irreversible impacts on the lives of the indigenous peoples and their ancestral domains.

I am for development. The SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT kind. The one “that meets human development goals while at the same time sustaining the ability of natural systems to provide the natural resources and ecosystem services upon which the economy and society depend.”

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You’ve never been to Coron if you haven’t been to Kayangan Lake.

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Sustainable development should not be compromised.

 

 

Singapore: Lights & Shadows

IT’S BEEN SAID THAT “black and white photography can give certain scenes a striking, timeless quality when done well.” This is particularly true to street photographers, who use light and shadow as whip hand in their images.

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I know someone, who is good in street and B&W photography, and she’s a Filipina, who used to work as a nanny in Hong Kong. Xyza Cruz Bacani has gone a long way. She’s been to a lot of places with her forte, doing projects left and right, and sharing lectures about her experiences into the world of monochrome photography.

I consider her my idol in the genre. Here’s her site http://www.xyzacruzbacani.com/

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I like B&W, it’s just a hard nut to crack that’s why most of the time, I find myself straying to landscape, or food, or portrait photography. It requires lines, shadows, and shapes, and it’s difficult to pay attention to those all the time.

The first time I did black and white photography was in Hong Kong. In fact, one of the images I have got exhibited a long time ago in Manila. The exhibit was arranged by avid street photographers in a popular Pinoy rock bar near the University of the Philippines.

That photo was of a Hong Kong resident, who was loading several small tanks of liquefied gas to a waiting delivery truck. I have framed that photo, and it’s still hanging on the wall in our living room.

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Light and shadow, lines, curves, patterns are not the only thing to remember when doing monochrome photography. There must also be texture.

Texture is the consistency of the surface detail of the photo, which is often overlooked by photographers. So guilty. The more there are irregularities on top of your image, and as long as they are stable and steady, the more your image becomes visually interesting.

Maybe, after getting a little bit of upper hand in long-exposure photography, it would be a lot of B&W next.

Old Habit & Singapore (Part I)

GOOD OLD HABITS never die.

THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I’ve been telling myself now that I’ve started to mind my blog site again. So, thank you L Element Bar & Seafood Restaurant and Pho 88 for kicking out the blogger in me that had slowed down and hibernated for a period of time.

I’ve long ago considered that blogging is a freedom channel for me to be opinionated once in a while. There are a lot of things happening in my environment, lots of places I’ve visited, and it’s a struggle to keep quiet and not write about how I experienced them.

ANGKOR WAT TEMPLE. Sharing an old photo of myself taken in Cambodia. I posted this because it’s one of the few, where I’m carrying my old reliable camera on my neck.

Keeping quiet is not something my profession would welcome, anyway. No, I’m not blogging about politics. Too many bloggers already doing that, I’m not about to join the bandwagon.

There is a need to be careful because, who would want another libel case in court that would take years to resolve? I’ve had two in the past, and it took around 10 years for them to be sorted out.

That’s another story.

What I want to do, really, is to share photos from my recent Singapore trip. My return there is something I will never forget since I was able to win back my love and passion (two words) for photography. Yes, even my photography had to take a back seat for a while; had to occupy an inferior position in my priorities because more pressing life matters took control.

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The MARINA BAY SANDS 5 star luxury resort hotel, “the world’s most expensive stand alone casino property” in Singapore.

The following photos you’ll see are called long-exposure (LE) shots. Long-exposure photography is a genre that I find very interesting as it always has the potential to produce amazing luminescent results if one knows how to shoot right.

If you want to hit the mark when you’re firing a gun, you should know what you’re doing so you won’t miss it. It’s the same fundamental truth in LE.

I don’t have the LE mastery yet. But I will get there eventually. And soon. Please.

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Singapore’s CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT at night with the imposing lotus-shaped ARTSCIENCE MUSEUM on the left side from where I was standing across. The museum is located in the integrated resort of Marina Bay Sands in the Downtown Core.

In the Lion City, when photographers want to take long-exposure shots of the Marina Bay Sands (and the other futuristic building structures there), their best opportunity can start happening the moment the blue hour (La hora azul) sets in around 7 a.m. or 7 p.m.

Time zones are bizarre old things, aren’t they? In the Philippines, we sometimes see the sunset early. In other places, like Singapore, they see it late.

Same time zone with the Philippines; different sunset time.

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THE SHOPPES MARINA BAY SANDS’s reflection on the pond water after long exposure shot.

TO BE CONTINUED. I’ve got to go for now. More photos to share later 🙂

Pho 88 Vietnamese Restaurant

DID YOU KNOW that in Vietnam, you can’t eat your food and then leave your chopsticks lying vertically over your bowl (or plate) of rice or noodles when you’re done?

Did you know, too, that doing the same in China would contract-in-displeasure the eyebrows of the residents as it is how they position their incense sticks whenever present in ceremonies honoring the dead, or burying them?

Or something like that. I’m not too sure.

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A small bowl of PHO BO at Pho 88. It’s a Vietnamese rice noodle soup with fragrant herb leaves served separately with calamansi, and beef meat. 

Did you know further that if you don’t want to get in trouble with any of your Vietnamese friends (perhaps I should try one day just to make sure), then you must call to mind not to tap your chopsticks on your bowl for it will bring misfortune, and it means you’re convoking the dead?

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I HAVE TO GET ME ONE OF THESE. Tuong Ot Sriracha, or rooster sauce in Vietnam, actually originated from Thailand.  It’s made of “chili, sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar,potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite and xanthan gum.

It is really our own eating beliefs and traditions that matter. But of course, it wouldn’t hurt to observe and do as they do, right? When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese people do.

The reason I had to remember what I learned about the eating culture of the people of Vietnam was because I was with some friends in this new restaurant called Pho 88 along J. Rizal Avenue the other day.

Sometimes I have that habit of tapping my chopsticks lightly on the bowl when I’m talking about something passionately. But not always.

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Ha Chi Lhan, the pretty owner of Pho 88. The place does not seek attention where it is located so, one has to be really on the alert.

Pho 88 is Pho 88, according to owner Ha Chi Lhan, because 1988 was the year she started to work in a bank in the coastal city of Nha Trang in Khánh Hòa, on the South Central Coast of Vietnam.

It was her Filipino husband, who brought her to open Pho 88 after residing for a while in Silang, Cavite. The husband was not there to meet with us, but whoever he is, it’s good decision to bring Ha Chi Lhan to move to this city.

Another restaurant that serves real Vietnamese food is good news to me although in Puerto Princesa, there are about two I really love to visit once in a while. One is located in Barangay Sta. Lourdes, the other is in Barangay San Jose — quite far from where I live.

I wanted to order Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle Soup) since its photo on the resto’s simple menu looked steamy and pretty with the chicken meat all lined up on one side, herbs on top of them, and a slice of chili.

But it wasn’t available; the kitchen staff apparently forgot to buy chicken from the market that day.

I don’t know. Tsk!

An old Vietnamese friend, who came to Palawan a few years ago as one of the boat people, told me that you can gauge the goodness of a Pho by the intensity of the flavor that’s rustled up in the stock while maintaining its clarity.

I wanted to prove. Unfortunately…

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This popular Vietnamese dish is not heavy in the belly so, go for it when you’re in Puerto Princesa.

Every time I go to a new Vietnamese place, I like comparing how each cook their Pho. This is the reason why I wanted the Pho Ga. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the Bun Thit Nuong cold noodles upon learning from Ha Chi Lhan that the noodles they used were imported.

Except for the meat and some spices that can easily be bought from the public market, all their ingredients are imported from Vietnam.

The food junkie in me couldn’t help but also order Banh Mi Thit Heo, bread with pork and veggies inside. Bahn Mi is all kinds of bread to the Vietnamese; bahn is bread and mi is wheat. Popular to them is the baguette or French bread.

So, if you’re in an authentic Vietnamese dining place, and you ask to be given Bahn Mi, and the food attendant asks you next what kind you would like to have, then you’ll know they can give it to you with different fillings. Pulled pork, fried or grilled chicken, barbecued pork, beef, and yes, even crazy tuna spread.

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VIETNAMESE ICE COFFEE: On Pho 88’s menu, they come in two blends — Cafe Sua and Cafe Sai Gon.

After our good and light meal, we couldn’t leave as there were still good stories to tell and laugh about. So, one of us decided to try Pho 88’s two ice coffee blends — Cafe Sua that uses the traditional French coffee drip, and Cafe Sai Gon.

Both blends use coarsely ground dark roast coffee, and they’re so good!

So, what sets apart Vietnamese cuisine from the rest of the others in Asia? For me, I think its really the amalgamation of spices, colors, love and passion of cooking, fresh ingredients, and the minimal employment of oil.

Isn’t it that Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest in the planet?

We went to Pho 88 at past 12 noon, and left around 3 p.m. because Wednesday is WOW date for all of us. WOW meaning Women of Wednesday.

I’m going back there for my Sriracha sauce.

Pho 88 is okay with reservation. Call them at 09271521706 and 09279378729.

 

Lake Manguao: An avian treasure chest in Northern Palawan

WITH THEIR dusky crowns, napes, shadowy eye stripes, bluish-grey mandibles, thin brown legs, and rusty cinnamon-colored heads and necks radiating under the heat of the golden morning sun, nearly two dozen Philippine ducks (Anas luzonica) can be witnessed frolicking and winging their ways over Lake Manguao in the once monarch-ruled town of Taytay in northern Palawan.

This duck which has been listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of “rapid and continuing decline” in population due to “extensive hunting and widespread conversion of wetland habitats,” is one of the avian jewels of the 6.7-square kilometer inland sea that is said to have a 44-square kilometer conforming catchment area.

In addition to the wild duck species in the Anatidae family of birds, Joie Matillano of Western Philippines University (WPU), whose avian photos were published online on January 30, 2010, noted that there were also Oriental dwarf kingfishers (Ceyx erithaca); Blue-eared kingfishers (Alcedo meninting); Common flamebacks (Dinopium javanense); Hooded pittas (Pitta sordida); Common kingfishers (Alcedo atthis); Ashy-headed babblers (Malacocincla cinereiceps); Grey-cheeked bulbul (Alophoixus bres); Grey herons (Ardea cinerea); Great egrets (Ardea alba); Western osprey (Pandion haliaetus); Spangled drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus); and Pin-striped tit babblers (Mixornis gularis) that reside in the only freshwater lake in the province’s mainland.

One of the caretakers, who operates a motorized dinghy that takes tourists to sightsee in the lake, told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in a visit before the Holy Week that around 5:30 a.m., Palawan hornbills (Anthracoceros marchei) or talusi can also be witnessed in flocks of eight to about a dozen hopping and settling on tops of trees, and leave before 7:00 a.m. when the sun has completely risen.

“Too bad you were late; they were here very early. They fly early to land on the trees near the entrance to the lake; sometimes, they are noisy,” said Gerry, whose family mainly subsists on catching the cichlid fish tilapia from the lake.

Manguao’s avifauna

In a survey conducted by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) sometime in 2007, it noted that there were “a total of 126 species of birds recorded in the lake, wherein 24 were migratory, 76 residents, 14 restricted to range Palawan-endemics, seven Philippine-endemics, and five had both resident and migratory populations.”

Eight of the species are under the IUCN’s vulnerable category: the Chinese egret (Egretta eulophotes); Falcated ground babbler (Ptilocichla falcate); Palawan flycatcher (Ficedula platenae); Palawan hornbill, Palawan peacock pheasant (Polyplectron emphanum); Blue-headed racquet tail (Prioniturus plateni); Grey imperial pigeon (Ducula pickeringii); and the Philippine duck. Five species were recorded as near-threatened.

The year of the survey, the PCAARRD said, “constituted the first record of the Philippine-endemic duck in northern Palawan. “

“Matagal na ako dito, mga kulang-kulang 15 years, at mas marami sila noon. Kumunti na ngayon (I’ve stayed here for nearly 15 years, and before, there used to be a lot of wild ducks. Their number has greatly reduced),” Gerry, who does not want his full name mentioned, stated.

His testimonial seems to prove what PCAARRD reported that “threats to birds included hunting for local consumption and curiosity, rampant poaching of the critically endangered species, slash-and-burn farming, and selective illegal logging,” which could lead to homegrown extinction.

The PCAARRD survey result then said that due to Lake Manguao’s “high avian species diversity, its catchment can qualify as an important bird area for conservation.”

Conservation efforts

Unlike before when no tourists would come due to the difficulty of reaching Lake Manguao, these days it has become popular to the few foreign visitors, who take interest and love to do less traveled itineraries in the first class town of Taytay.

Gerry said the ideal time of the day to appreciate the birds’ beauty in their natural habitat is around sunrise by using paddle boats that make less noise.

Binoculars, or cameras with telephoto lenses, are the best tools to use when bird watching.

”But what birds will there be if focus on the protection, conservation, and preservation of Lake Manguao is not taken into mind by the local government unit (LGU)?” asked Rommel Cruz, one of the founders of Birdwatch Palawan (BP), a member of the Palawan Ornithological Society (POS), and who organizes bird tours under BirdingPal.org.

Cruz said he knows Lake Manguao is protected “in paper,” but does not remember when this happened. He does not also know if the bird lake has a Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), “a multi-sectoral body responsible for the administration and management of a protected area created through the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (NIPAS).

This Board decides on budget allocations, approval of funding proposals and planning on matters concerning the ecology, particularly the protected areas.

“I know there is none, I know there is none,” Cruz replied, feeling somewhat unhappy over what fate may become of the avian residents of Lake Manguao.

He is also not aware if the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) has the lake in its protection radar considering how vital it is as a habitat for various species of endemic and non-endemic birds, flora and other wildlife.

Philippine duck

Lake Manguao, said Cruz, is a critical habitat, especially for the Philippine duck that is protected under the law because it is an endemic and listed as vulnerable.

“In Palawan, the only record of the Philippine duck, is in Quezon in southern Palawan, and Lake Manguao,” he said, adding that the duck species only stays there and does not migrate.

According to Birdlife International, the Philippine duck “is endemic to the country, being recorded from all the major islands and eight smaller islands. Records since 1980 derive from 30 localities say they’re mostly in Luzon and Mindanao.”

“Records from Siquijor and the Sulus remain unsubstantiated. A steep population decline was evident by the mid-1970s, with high numbers recorded at only a few sites in the following decade, like Candaba Marsh (Luzon) which probably supported many thousands in the early 1980s.”

Palawan, particularly Lake Manguao, is not even included in Birdlife International’s list of where they can be seen.

“The Philippine duck is a resident there; the lake provides habitat to it, and other wildlife that can only be found in Palawan. Looking at the profile of the lake… since it is low-land forest… there are large trees… trees that are cavity forming,” he said.

This means these trees provide nesting territories to birds like the Palawan hornbill, woodpeckers, parrots, cockatoos, and the likes.

Since there is no clear protection effort for Lake Manguao, Cruz stated it is prone to encroachment of squatters, illegal loggers, slash-and-burn activities, and others that can affect it as a biodiversity area.

Recently, he heard that some people want to stake claims over vital portions of the lake. If this happens, and intrusion will not be stopped, the Philippine duck might flee the area, where they can never be seen and appreciated closely anymore, and where they might be more in danger of being hunted.

For someone, who arranges birding tours like he does, Cruz knows what will be the long-term effects for Lake Manguao if “focused protection” is not imposed. Cruz wants the lake protected, “there is no doubt,” he said.

However, right now, their stand is somewhat uncommitted since when after they showed interest last year, the local government of Taytay responded without urgency.

“There was a response, but we didn’t see the urgency; Lake Manguao’s protection doesn’t seem to be in the local government’s list of priorities. They said they were busy,” he furthered, though what were said were relayed verbally.

Manguao’s eco-tourism potential

Cruz group’s interest offered to the LGU of Taytay the conduct of an avian survey in the lake and the surrounding areas, as well as bird watching basics to expand tourism potentials that will be beneficial to its caretakers.

The survey will generate an estimate of what kinds of birds are in Manguao, their population size and the changes that affect them, and as well as the collection of the causes of these changes in population or species diversity.

The bird watching basics, on the other hand, will familiarize locals on the understanding of the birds that can eventually turn them into bird guides. Bird guiding, said Cruz, can be a source of livelihood for the residents in the area, or the 16 families that serve as caretakers of the lake.

“We proposed that while we’re conducting the avian survey, local guides are being trained simultaneously so, they can have additional livelihood,” the bird expert in Palawan said, supplying that they should be the one benefiting.

Birding tours, he said, can definitely provide income, and is one way of encouraging the protection of sites where they can be found.

“If they do not take care of the birds, then what is there to see?” he asked. “If we only talk conservation, and not see it happen, then what comes next? There should be balance; they benefit at the same time they protect,” Cruz said.

Lodging places for potential bird tourism are also a must, according to Cruz. This can be set up near the lake site, and made of sturdy indigenous materials that will not cause harmful effects to the environment.

This is because birding enthusiasts sometimes stay three-five days to appreciate the avian residents in their natural environment.

Although he is unable to provide any estimate as to how much the LGU could earn in environmental protection fees, local taxes, and others, Cruz believes Lake Manguao is not only an avian treasure chest, but can be a source of livelihood too, for the locals.

When it comes to Taytay, he claimed that except for the historical Fuerza de Santa Isabelle and the islands, there is nothing else to call its own since there are also the same in El Nido and Coron.

“Taytay is a very, very important gateway to El Nido; just one hour or so, you’re here. Tourists there can come here if they’re interested in the avian residents of the lake.”

If Lake Manguao is protected, Taytay can truly claim it “its own,” like Narra that has Estrella Falls to boast; El Nido that has the secret lagoons; Puerto Princesa that has the underground river, and Coron that has Kayangan Lake.

Cruz’ group still wants to pursue the further protection of the lake. But he said the initiative should come from the LGU of Taytay. “The initiative should come from the LGU; it is theirs, we are here to help protect the lake and its wildlife,” he said.

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This article was also published by the Philippines News Agency (PNA).

Pure and Noiseless…

I edited a few photos days ago, and this one is my most favorite from Kompong Phluk (if I remember correctly) in Siem Reap, Cambodia.  I took this shot from quite a distance because I know there’s more story in the scene in the absence of noise and the available opportunity to get close to them.

It’s so pure from where I was looking through my lens, and that’s how I love it.