Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Manila's Natural History Museum: Celebrating Biodiversity (and History!!) and Tips on Taking Photos Inside

- August 30, 2018, Thursday.

- Many people have been asking me why I had not bothered to visit the National Museum of Natural History since it opened on May 18, 2017. As someone who likes to write about travel and culture, because one of the first people to visit it is some kind of honor, or a self-dictated social duty. However, friends who have visited told me that time that the museum told me that there were still some levels that were still in the works. With some long long patience, and after three months since its opening, I decided to visit!

- The building that houses Manila's newest museum isn't that new at all. The neoclassical building was first used in 1940 as the Agriculture and Commerce Building. After being destroyed during World War 2 and restored afterwards, it was used by the Department of Tourism until the government office decided to move to another location. After years of planning and renovations, it has now become the most-awaited National Museum of Natural History. It is a branch of the National Museum,  which means that entrance is also free, just like all the other branches of the National Museum. It is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 10am-5pm. The building, by the way, is located inside Rizal Park's Agrifina Circle (close to the LRT's United Nations Avenue,) and faces its twin building, the National Museum of Anthropology.

The National Museum of Natural History, which looks almost exactly like the National Museum of Anthropology.
- I was so glad that I waited a couple of months before going, since now parts of the higher levels are now open for viewing. Had I gone when it newly-opened, I would've been only able to see until the third level. Currently, the fourth level is now open as well. As what other people have been suggesting, it is a good idea to take the elevator up to the top floor, and work your way downwards. Because I went on a weekday, there were not too many people, except for a few groups of students who were on their field trip, and other tourists.

Probably the museum's biggest "exhibit" - the museum's dome with the "tree of life."
- Now I realize that apart from the things that can be seen in the museum, most articles out there don't talk about the rules and regulations in the museum. The first important rule is that NO BAGS BIGGER THAN AN A4 PAPER are allowed inside the museum. If you have a bag larger than an A4-sized paper, you have to leave it at the baggage counter. In addition to this, NO TRIPODS AND MONOPODS are allowed in the museum. You may only your valuables will you. Since my bag was slightly bigger than an A4-sized paper, I had to leave it at the counter. I had brought my monopod and tripod just in case, but rules are strict, so I had to follow. I only took my wallet from my bag, with my phone as my main camera. Instead of seeing this as an obstacle to probably not having nice photoshoot-level photos taken, I took this as a challenge of my resourcefulness! How so? I used my wallet as my tripod during my visit!! My wallet is made of leather so it's a bit thick, and I had a lot of coins to add weight. You may lay your wallet down (folded or unfolded), or open your wallet and let it "stand," and it's up to you how to position your phone, depending on the angle of preference. I suddenly applied some of the math and physics that I learned since high school!! Principles like angle of elevation, angle of depression, friction, and center of gravity were very practical. (Dear trigonometry, geometry, and physics teachers, I hope that you're proud of me. Haha.)

- I took the elevator to the 5th floor, but since it was still closed, I started at the fourth level and worked downwards. I didn't notice this, but I did read somewhere that the exhibits correspond to the floors that they are in. The higher floors would exhibit life in trees and forests (ex. birds), while those at the lower floors show life closer to the ground and sea (ex. ground-level plants, sea-life, etc.) 

Preserved plants. This interesting one is a kind of fern.
View from the fourth floor. The building at the back is the National Museum of Anthropology.
View of the museum entrance.
The macaque looks alive.
A majestic toucan.
Eager visitors in the air-conditioned museum.
- I remember that I already saw some of these exhibits as a child during my visit to the original National Museum at the Old Senate Building, which currently only houses the National Museum of Fine Arts (formerly known as the National Art Gallery.) The National Museum has since expanded, and fortunately, these artifacts are now exhibited more professionally and with more space to breathe, unlike before when the exhibits would be crammed and shamelessly covered with thick cobwebs. 

- One of the highlights of my visit was seeing more non-mammal and non-reptilian animals, since these creates are less talked about. These include freshwater crustaceans, colorful insects, stunning mollusks, and other animals of this sort. To be honest, the inner child in me was awakened - I was an animal whiz when I was a little fat boy.

Jewel beetles.
Sandslash, is that you??
Finally saw a tamaraw!!
Freshwater shrimp and crab.
More bugs.
This sort of reminds me of the staircase at the Vatican Museums (click here to see.)
What a sight!!
- As for the building itself, I am glad that they kept the original architecture of the building. Since it is a neoclassical building, it looks a bit more "structured" with some Greek motifs. To me, I think the building itself is part of the exhibit, since it is historically significant and aesthetically beautiful. For a solo visitor like me, I was fortunate to find many places where I could place my wallet (used as a tripod,) so I was still able to take decent photos of myself. It was not hard to find quiet halls and corners since I went on a regular weekday.

Quite hard tro get this shot because of the lighting.
A quiet hallway.
The country takes pride in its mangrove ecosystem.
I loved this. (The baby turtles, I think are just replicas, not actual turtles.)
An interactive exhibit. When you step on the floor there will be small waves of water and the sea creatures will move.
Tridacna gigas - the giant clam.
Manta rays and a whale shark. 
- Another center of attraction of the museum would be Ramon Orlina's artwork at the ground floor, called "Arcanum Paradise." This rather abstract glass sculpture looks like a big green crystal/gemstone, which I think fits well with the theme of the whole museum. Ramon Orlina, by the way, is known for this kind of artwork (you can see more of his art at Museo Orlina at Tagaytay.)

Another view of the outside world, with the Philippine flag majestically waving.
The trunk of the tree is where the elevator goes up and down.
Yes, I made sure that my get up for the day (I had 2 looks) would match the place. I chose my Hijo shirt from Kultura that had a pattern which, at least for me, looks like a tree trunk.
Dinosaur head replicas.
Orlina's "Arcanum Paradise."

Tree of Life from the ground floor.
I love these large images of some of our endemic animals.
My Crazy-Rich-Asian-inspired photo with Orlina's work. I call it...."Crazy Fat Asian." (Also, a big thanks to the stranger who took this nice photo of me.)

Monkey-eating eagle.
Ammonite found in the Philippines.
A replica of the rafflesia - a giant parasitic flower found in forests across Southeast Asia.
This dude scared me.
Would have been nice to have a photo here.
NOT Lolong.
- Over all, I loved the museum for what it already was, and I am looking forward to my next visit - maybe in a couple of months, just to see what else the museum has in store for its visitors, and where the museum is headed. Speaking of which, I wasn't able to see the replica of the giant crocodile Lolong, since he was being prepared to be relocated to a different wing of the museum (at least that's what the museum staff told me) - another reason for me to surely go back!!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Pinto Art Museum: A Wonderland through the "Door"

- July 28, 2018, Saturday.

- If you ever watched or read Alice in Wonderland you'd know the strange and colorful world she find herself in after going down the rabbit hole. In that world, Alice encounters various unusual creatures, eccentric people, otherworldly rooms, and other things beyond what the normal world can comprehend. If this world fancies you, then you'd be happy to know that there is something close to this wonderland in the Philippines - the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, Rizal.

- Around an hour away from Manila in quiet Grand Heights Subdivision lies Pinto Art Museum (1 Sierra Madre St.). The museum is named after its door, or "pinto" in Filipino, which has a little old bell above it. The narrow entrance makes visitors think that the place is small, but after paying the 200php entrance fee (with discounts for students, children, PWDs, and senior citizens,) a 1.3-hectare world - complete with its own restaurant - welcomes its guests. Is is open from 9am-6pm, Tuesdays to Sundays.   

This is supposed to be Icarus. Imagine seeing this above you. I thought it was a manananggal trying to eat a fat kid like me.
- After having lunch, my friends and I went around the huge place. The museum is owned by art collector Dr. Joven Cuanang, the former director of St. Lucke's Medical Center. He started the idea for this museum in 2000 and became a full-blown museum with more than a thousand pieces of art since 2010. The museum's 6 main galleries and some special rooms and halls mainly showcase contemporary Filipino art. Apart from the larger-than-life paintings, a huge part of the museum's collection is also the collection of wooden sculptures that remind me of the weird creatures in Alice's Wonderland.

Zack, pay attention to your girlfriend. Hahahaha.
Casually admiring art, while Zack is still on his phone.
A heavenly creature, one of the sculptures that reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.
We can't thug for our dear lives.
Oh hello Zuma, nice to see you here.
- I noticed that more than the works of art exhibited, most people come to Pinto Art Museum for the "Instagram-worthy" buildings that house the artworks, function halls, and other rooms. They are works of art themselves - so much so that the museum charges a hefty price for formal photoshoots, and there are rules such as no changing of clothes and using props. This actually made me frustrated because I brought a bunch of costumes and props in my bag and found out upon arriving that I couldn't use any of them after all. I had to ask and make sure that their rule meant because I did not want to get in conflict with the management like what happened in Bang Pa-In Palace in Thailand a few years ago (click here) after a small miscommunication with the rules regarding clothing. Oh well, I'm just glad that I was able to wear a theme-appropriate casual "costume" for the day - casual Latin-American ensemble with authentic Latin-American textiles. While the general architecture of the place is mostly described as being based on Santorini because of its low white-colored buildings and outdoor stairs, I saw from photos online that some of its buildings resembled Mexican pueblo-style architecture. In short, I found this place a mix of Mamma Mia and Pixar's Coco. I guess what gave me the pueblo feel was that the museum's space was far from the sea and it lacked the signature "Aegean blue" domes, doors, and window shutters of Cycladic architecture like the ones in Santorini or Mykonos (click here). In some places, it even had the "hacienda" feel, making me feel like I'm in the middle of a Latin-American telenovela. (I had no regrets with my last-minute decision to wear something Latino inspired instead of my Greek ensemble.)

Looks like a set for telenovelas.
One of my favorite shots of the day.
This reminds me a lot of Tangled, when Rapunzel was singing "When Will My Life Begin."
The main bell tower of the museum.
Charmaine as the Latina Tita.
Danica and her hacienda.
I'm tiny.
Telenovela material.
- One of my favorite galleries was an installation called "Kawayan Forest,' which was a dark room filled with tall green bamboo plants and eerily-lit pools with suspended boulders. The room has some ambient nature sounds as well.

In the bamboo forest.
El brujo.

Si Malakas (....Matangkad rather) at si Maganda.
- Despite it being a weekend, the museum's area was so huge that it can easily disperse people. My main worry before going was that there would probably be a lot of people and taking Instagram-worthy photos would be difficult. It won't take too long to find an Instagrammable spot, but the problem is that there's just simply too many photo-worthy places!! Best if you go early (and if possible, on a weekday,) to avoid big crowds, and so you'll be able to maximize all the ups and downs, and ins and outs of the amazing wonderland.

United Colors of Benetton. HAHA.

My colors went well with the stained-glass windows.
Tired from posing.
In one of the Greek-inspired halls.
They were laughing at what I was making them do. Took the photo at the right moment.
Who dares tresspass my hacienda?? HAHA. (Also, this church reminded me of the Monastery of Panagia Tourliana in Ano Mera, Mykonos.)

Stairs everywhere.
This little fake-church (yes, it's not a real church,) reminded me of the church in the Mamma Mia movie.

It was raining.
Inside the fake church.
This looks very Cycladic.
This is near the entrance.
A colorful parrot!!
- We left around 4pm, missing the Indigenous Art gallery (which gives me an excuse to go back to Pinto!!) because it started to rain really hard, and we had dinner plans that night. Although we weren't able to explore every corner of this quiet wonderland, I am pretty sure that I'd still want to go back to Pinto Art Museum. I am not really into contemporary art (I am more of an ancient arts kind of guy,) but I love how Pinto Art Museum is more than just a "roof over art" - the museum itself is a giant piece of art, and the food in the restaurant was amazing. When I go back next time, I'll really have to make sure that I'll have more time to explore and take photos of this lovely and cozy place!!