Silay


The historic center of Silay is a compact as it can get. I only had about 2.5 hours and I was able to visit all the open-to-public sites chiefly the San Diego Church, Balay Negrense Museum and the Bernardo Jalandoni House Museum.

But what to do when  you have taken it all in? Time to pound the pavement!

Silay’s streets is a joy to walk around, the surroundings are relatively quiet, it’s stillness occasionally punctuated by tricycle screeches and infectious student laughter.

Most of Silay’s period homes are lined along Cinco de Noviembre and it’s adjoining streets,  to admire them simply poke around , loose yourself and aimlessly discover its little delights on foot.

Let’s start of with this one.  Classic 20’s style bungalow. Love the the big windows and green shade.

Can’t say the same for the gates though.

Strutting it out.  Very regal in her front projection, almost feels like a mini-chateaux in the tropics.

This one’s time-worn but still solid looking and graceful with kapis windows. Probably one of the older homes (late 1800’s) in Silay’s collection.

This one’s better looking for its age.  The protruding air con unit and electric wires doesn’t in any way enhance its graceful period facade.

Not sure what’s the inspiration for this one, I can describe it as very Bahay-Na-Bato meets plantation style. Negros, after all, is one big sugarcane plantation island. I wonder if the builder was making a statement with the stairway.

Looking strong…. and staid.  This is the current Vice-Mayor’s office.

From towers and verandas…

to streamlined, rounded edges this forward looking, 30’s era Art-Deco lady.

On the main highway, a trio of faded beauties.

Pretty in pink. The Bernardo-Jalandoni house is another of Silay’s house museums (entrance P40.00). In terms of size,  this mansion doesn’t match the grand proportions of the Balay Negrense but still manages to hold on to its own.

Viewed from the road, the facade has a quite a majestic strut, it’s sheen certainly highlighted by the current restoration of  house.

What wonders really, a little TLC (and some $$$)  can do for your home.

Tip: While most mansions are clustered along Cinco de Noviembre street, within in a short distance (like the Bernardo Jalandoni Museum), if youre feeling lazy and hot, just book a tricyle. Fares start at P8.00, perhaps you can spare him a hundred pesos or so to ferry you for an extended period of time.

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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.

So much anticipation, so much disappointment and abated breadths but finally after years of laying in slumber, this white elephant has been awakened and put into good use.

And of course, like the many travelers out there, I too awaited the day when the NAIA 3 opened her doors and Manila can rightfully have a gateway worthy for our 7,100 islands.

Well, it happened last June when the NAIA- 3 swung its doors open to the flying public.  So  like a kid in a newly-opened toy store, I was only too giddy check out and immediately grabbed first chance to fly out to Bacolod who just happened to also have the new Bacolod-Silay airport.

Two new facilities, two different impressions, read on.

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3(NAIA 3)

Location: Parañaque, Metro Manila

the Bacolod-Silay Airport

Location: Silay, Negros Occidental

One of the halls of the NAIA Terminal 3.  High high ceilings, there must have 5 of these but only 1 (or 2?) were operational. It’s easy to find your way through as currently there are only 3 airlines operating within: Cebu Pacific, PAL express and Asian Spirit.

The NAIA 3 is big (by Philippine standards), from the outside it does’nt give this impression with its low facade. Not quite as jaw-dropping as Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi or Shanghai’s Pudong. How I wish that given the money spent and the long time it was built, it could have at least been an architectural statement.

Guess not.

Anyway, the building design is pretty straight forward, immediately after the check-in counters at the main hall, the immigration booths follow.  Currently, these  only serve as the terminal fee ticket booths (P200.00/person).

Behind these booths is the final security check- body, bags, shoes and the like.

The second floor which will house shops and dinning places still awaits to be opened.

By the number of boarding gates it has,  the NAIA 3 is so much, much larger (and longer) than terminal 1 or 2.  I wasn’t able to navigate from end to end since my gate almost boarding.  If it’s really that long, I do hope management provides for trolley services for the elderly.

There were a few concession stands which have started to operate but it was this stall which my eye. It feels like a glorified sari-sari. Cute. With glorified prices to boot (P50.00 for a can of soft drink).

And should you need to have a stick to take out the jitters for (first-time?) flying, there is a smoking lounge where you can puff away!

There are also lots of payphones along way, prepare change (P1.00 per minute for local calls)

One of the boarding gate rooms.  The chairs have a very cinematic qualities to it. Maybe the management can enhance this by providing for televisions around. Please do not show Wowowee!

Oh, kudos too for  baggage carousels which were spread out and huge. I think I must have counted 10. Good.  You know our penchant for big bulky balikbayan boxes.

All in all, the NAIA 3 was a  fresh experience, surely so much better compared the cramped terminal- 1.

There are still obvious signs of birth pains like unpainted walls,flight screens which were not working but I’m optimistic that this will be dealt with in due time.

My one big rant about the NAIA-3 is that it is seriously devoid of any  ‘sense-of-place’. Except for the local faces and the perhaps, Jollibee, there is nothing that speaks of it being in Manila.  Yes, the interiors are modern but a design like that could be in any Asian or North American city. The signs are only in English when in fact most airports have bilingual signage, where’s Filipino?

In Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi,  the first thing which visitor is a huge Thai statue (the type that you’d see in the Grand Palace) and a host of Thai painting in the wall. In this new terminal,NADA.

Here’s what I propose, NAIA-3 management, I hope one of you is reading this.

1. Have a Department of Tourism concession with brochure stands upon arrival. Tourists need information you know.

2. Bilingual Filipino-English signs please.

3. Feed the stomach, yes, but also feed the mind.  Have a quality bookstore which sells Filipiniana books, not just dried mangoes.

4.  Patch up those unsightly brick walls,

5. Put some local touches like artworks, paintings and the like.  Oh, and perhaps you can entice the ‘blind-men band’ at the old terminal (or Kamayan restaurant) to play for the arriving guests.

Off to Bacolod Airport.

In contrast, the new Bacolod-Silay (BS) Airport is just as new but perhaps just 1/20th of the size of the NAIA-3.  What you’re seeing here is the pretty much the whole inside of it. It’s also smack right in the middle of sugar plantation somewhere in the outskirts of Silay (45 mins from Bacolod).  Service from the airport to Bacolod city center is by the chartered vans immediately at the main entrance. At P150.00/head, it’s not too bad as the vans were all new, clean the drivers, quite helpful.  Not much ‘flage-your-own’ taxis so you dont have much of a choice.

I love the wall’s accent which showcases Negros’ local weave.  Compare with this with the NAIA-3 who’s interiors were to sterile and generic.

The facility is really very utilitarian but what it lacks in size, it makes up for substance.  It’s chock-full of details which hint of Negros’ local culture.  Here’s the boarding area a view of the mountains (Mount Kanlaon?)

Painting showing Silay scenes.

And even a mini-photo exhibit showcasing the Negros!  Reminds me of the Rijksmuseum inside Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. A little art appreciation never hurt anyone and besides, its nice way to pass time.

A tip though, there are two concession stands inside the airport, the one picture above is at the ground floor.  The selection was not much,  I got a small  bottled water (P30.00) and a 1 pack 12-piece Bakiron (barkilyos with pulburon inside)  for about P35.00.  I thought it was the typical airport price….

then I went up and saw this cheery-looking one.  More merchandise, better selection and bigger bottle of water for only P20.00! Then I thought I would use the bakiron index as comparison…well, they had a 1 pack (19 piece) for P38.00!

Lesson learned: Next time, go up the escalator first.