Yes, yes, I was all giddy with my recent trip to Bacolod , my first to the self-styled ‘City of Smiles’ .

Well, to be honest, I wasn’t so keen on Bacolod city herself but was more inclined to a town which is practically her suburb: Silay.

My first impression of Silay was a good one. The new Bacolod- Silay Airport was quite efficient,luggage was out in no time, washrooms were clean (with toilet paper to boot!) and getting to the city (Bacolod) a jiff.

A note though, the airport is situated  45 minutes from Bacolod city proper and about 10 minutes from the Silay town center, its in the middle of nowhere and I didnt see any taxi options outside apart from the gaggle of van companies all competing for your ride immediately outside. At P150.00/head, it is perhaps a bit high by provincial standards but I actually found it to be a good deal. Our van was new and well maintained (aircon in full-blast) and we were not packed like sardines.  The driver was courteous but we did have to wait until it got filled.

Moving on, the first scene that greeted me was this:

Ah, what a sweet welcome to Sugarlandia.  Talk about having a sense of place.

Now, heading straight to what I came here for, Silay’s historic quarter.  I know for a fact that Silay’s heritage is always synonymously linked with sugar during her golden age in the late 19th-early 20th century when its moneyed barons lorded it over vast plantations. Today, Silay is often dubbed as the ‘Paris of Negros’  for whatever reason, I cannot comprehend.  I don’t really like such cliches, I mean the town does’nt even hint of anything French, well maybe a few French immigrants in its history. I think Silay can be marketed in her own Visayan terms, no need for such European-centric taglines.

Anyway, first in order. Get your bearings. Head straight to the city hall and to the tourist information office were they will gladly dispense to you some literature about the place.

The brochures are helpful with a good range of topics from Silay history, food, culture to architecture.  Nice to read but far from being a practical guidebook, the map was very handy though.

Next, tracking the major sites.

Inevitably, the first major architectural relic in any Filipino town would probably a Roman Catholic church (or maybe a Mosque in some parts) and for Silay, it’s the San Diego Pro-Cathedral built in 1925.

Not quite jaw-dropping grand but very composed and regal in its provincial setting.

Wikipidia says its the only church in the province with a dome.  Interesting anecdote but highly doubtful.

The interior is very simple, devoid of any Baroque excess typical of Filipino Catholic churches.  I’m thinking, if Silay really lived up to its moniker as the of “Paris of Negros”, perhaps they would have been sophisticated enough to build a church reflecting the style of that times, this case being the Art Deco. But no, guess they decided to go traditional.  Oh well….

Just a few steps from the church  is one Silay’s two house museums, this is the former Gaston Mansion  now rechristened as the Balay Negrense Musuem (entrance fee: P40.00)

This grand two-storey bahay-na-bato affair was built in 1897 by one of the pioneer Filipino-French families in the then nascent sugar industry. And boy , did the they struck gold.

A peek inside reveals the typical Filipino luxury taste of the period: local hardwood floors,  crystal chandeliers, numerous Ah-Tay beds (from a famous Manila-based Chinese furniture maker) whose works were considered as the Kenneth Cobonpue of its time….

to the latest electronic gadget, the in-house telephone!

And you know this not your typical middle-class home when you have this, a stairway leading to the rooftop, presumably, if I memory serves me right, a path up to a balcony-tower of sorts.

Oh, and may I add, a grand total of a dozen bed rooms! A mansion indeed.

What I found curious was how each of the rooms were designed to lead to each other in what today’s generations would probably label as a blatant disregard for privacy.  I wonder how people in those days had intimate moments….

The house had a collection of these oversize butaka chairs which, from knowledge, was a typical feature in any turn-of-the century home. I had long thought it was designed for relaxation purposes until the guide told us it was also used to deliver babies (!).

When the group I was with found about its use, they had a field day sitting on the chair and taking photos including this saucy fellow who gamely posed for a shot.

It sure made all the biological history come alive!

And finally, this, the basement. Quite a rarity in period Filipino homes, this is second house that Ive seen to have one.

The Balay Negrense is an interesting piece of colonial-period memorabilia when life was slow and people lived without airconditioning (thank god for its BIG windows!).  I noticed though that considering this one of the major sites in the city, it suffered from the typical unmaintained shabbiness of our historic properties, the garden outside was unkempt and parts of the house is in need of another updated upkeep.

That said, I think it was worth the entrance fees to just soak in its ambiance, learn a thing or two about Silaynon luxurious living and perhaps just sit at the butaka chair to enjoy a lovely afternoon breeze.

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