Carlos Celdran: If These Walls Could Talk

Call me the anti-tourist. I have made it my life's mission to purposely blend into any international surrounding in a vain attempt not to be labelled a "tourist." Sometimes this works, and sometimes I fail miserably and stick out like a sore thumb.

And where can most tourists be found... in tour groups. However, through a recommendation from my new friend RJ Aquino, I ventured on a 3-hour walking tour of old Manila. Upon arriving in Manila, my first few days were filled with meetings and overcoming my jetlag so when the weekend arrived, I eagerly made my way to Intramuros early one Saturday morning. In Latin, intramuros means "within the walls" and during the Spanish colonial period in the Philippines, Intramuros was considered Manila itself.

The Carlos Celdran Tour of Intramuros is in a league of its own. I had done some initial research on this tour and many internet entries described Carlos as a Manila tour guide, cultural activist, performing artist, outspoken, and controversial. This was a combination of attributes that immediately peaked my interest.

The tour starts with a greeting from a short man dressed in Spanish colonial costume of an Illustrado and a large tophat. He speaks English clearly, and with a slight American twang (as a Canadian, I notice this distinct characteristic immediately). Carlos begins the tour with the explanation of house rules and we proceed to sing the Philippine National anthem. To my surprise, I remembered most of the words. All those years of singing the anthem every morning at school had really left its mark.

The next couple of hours were filled with intriguing and rich historic anecdotes about Manila's Malay Islamic heritage, the Spanish colonial period, and the Americanization of the Philippines as it continues today. The tragic recollection of the Battle of Manila was particularly powerful as Carlos vividly described the battle between the United States Forces and the Japanese Imperial Army that devastated the city and killed 120,000 civilians. His narratives are filled with music, props, images, and stand-up comedy. He unapologetically expresses his opinions on theocracy, current social issues, and the separation of the church and state over the reproductive health (RH) bill.

Carlos' passion for Manila is obvious and infectious. His insights made me further question my own personal upbringing as a child of both Manila and Canada and how these experiences have shaped me into the Filipino-Canadian that I am today. Whether you want to believe it or not, the history(ies) of your country(ies) affect your life in ways that may not have even been revealed yet. The events of our past need to be constantly revisited in order to understand where we are headed.

Carlos' work has also reached me through a story he had written for a book from Hands On Manila about volunteerism. I am also a volunteer with Hands On Manila and it was inspiring to read about Carlos' personal story as a volunteer with the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) and how this act of volunteerism would change the course of his life. All he has learned from volunteering with HCS has directly affected his work in the preservation and development of Philippine arts, culture, and built heritage by using the city as his stage and performance art as his medium.

As a designer, I feel that I have a responsibility to help citizens and clients alike create things of social value that are both beautiful and useful. I have a great respect for artists such as Carlos Celdran that use their medium to educate, entertain, and enlighten the masses. This tour is a must for foreigners, Filipinos, and those like me that are somewhere in between.

I look forward to attending his other tour, “Living la Vida Imelda,” that analyzes one of the most controversial periods in Philippine history as seen through the life and ambitions of the lady who defined it, Imelda Romualdez Marcos.

Carlos Celdran Tours

*Simply Google "Carlos Celdran" to find out how else he's been changing the minds of Filipinos.

Click here for more photos from the tour.

© Anna Mae Abia Photography


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