September 24, 2008

Barong Tagalog

My barong kind of looks like this but more feminine

I found a great website on the Barong. Here is more information on the national dress of the Philippines.

There’s really something about the Barong Tagalog that appeals to unassuming, low-key personalities with a penchant for subtle elegance. [...]

Ever wondered what makes the pina fabric so expensive? Here’s an eye-opener on how much tedious work comes with every meter of this elegant craft.

-The Spanish Red or Native Philippine Red, the kind that has leaves spanning an average of 2 meters in length, takes about one and a half years to mature. As soon as the fruit is just about ripe, the leaves are likewise ready for harvesting.
-The leaves are snapped off the plant with a sharp tug on the tip and the thorny edges are pulled off.
-During extraction, which could be as long as three days, the workers squat on a long board where the leaves are placed. The leaves are then scraped using a broken china plate. (Some suggest the use of antique porcelain to be the best). This is done by folding over a few inches of the leaf base and striking it with the heel of the hands to reveal the first set of fibres called bastos or coarse fibres. These are extracted and set aside.
-The leaf is then scraped once more with a coconut shell to bring out a finer fibre called the linawan. This, too, is extracted and set aside.
-An average pineapple leaf could produce 75% of the coarse or Bastos fibre and 25% of the finer linawan fibre.


-When the extractors come to scrape a quantity of about 1,000 leaves, the bundles of fibres are washed, usually at a nearby stream. It is scraped again gently with the use of a seashell to remove remaining unwanted impurities making the strands whiter in appearance.
-The strands are then partially sun-dried on the grass and beaten with a bamboo stick to separate the fibres.
-It is then hung on a line to dry, combed and tied upside-down to a slim bamboo pole for knotting.
-The ends are cut off with a sharp piece of bamboo and the threads are coiled around a clay pot. The pot is placed with sand to prevent tangles. The fibres are then taken to traders for weighing.
-A loom made of coco lumber with bamboo foot treadles are used to weave the fabric. The thread is coiled on cylindrical frames and the thread for weft is wound on bobbins made out of small pieces of bamboo.
-The average production of a weaver is about half a meter/day. The process is painstakingly slow and broken threads need constant knotting.
-After weaving, the off-white colored cloth with a rather smoky smell is washed with rice water or citrus juice.
-The cloth is then sent out for embroidery.

To sum up, the whole process from leaf plucking to the finished woven cloth, would take about four months of continuous work to produce only about 20 meters of the precious fabric. That’s why several attempts have been made to develop a machine that would do the work but the thread being so fine and prone to breaking made this impossible.

Much as the pina fabric is tediously woven for that elegant texture, the embroidery is done with an equally delicate and painstaking process. The old-world craft has been handed down from generation to generation and have evolved to adapt to the times. However, the innate skill remains intact and the subtle elegance is preserved.

-First, embroidery pattern is chalked on the cloth
-The cloth is stretched using a round or rectangular frame called bastador.
-With the cloth ready for embroidery, they proceed with using a variety of thread from white or colored, cotton, silk, or pina.
-After embroidery is done, they are lightly stretched between two rectangular frames and cleaned from the underside using a washcloth and detergent.
-After drying, the cloth is ironed before delivery to contractors.

Wow, it does sound like a painstaking process! There is one pararagraph that distress me to no end though:

Barong Tagalog Care Tips:
-Do not dry clean it. It contains chemicals that may make the Barong Tagalog brittle and therefore shorten its life span.
-Using washing machine for Barong Tagalog is a crime.

Hand washing is still the best way to clean the barong. When washing Barong Tagalog made of Jusi or Pina, one mixes a calculated amount of detergent with water and mixes it thoroughly until the detergent is completely dissolved in the basin. Then soak the Barong Tagalog on one whole day or do it overnight. After this step, use a soft brittle toothbrush with a tiny amount of detergent to brush off the stubborn dirt on the Barong Tagalog especially on collar, underneath the cuffs, arm holes, etc. and then rinses it with an upward and downward motion on water. However, hand-embroidered Barong Tagalog should not be scrubbed. A cardinal rule when one rinses the Barong Tagalog, one does not squeeze nor twist the fabric. Drip it dry by laying it flat so it will not create too much crease. The less sunlight for the Barong Tagalog , the better to avoid discoloration. One must iron the Barong Tagalog while it is still damp in a moderate heat to retain its original shape.

You have to be kidding right? This is wrong piece of clothing to give to someone who throw in her darks and her lights in a hot washing machine, and stuffs dry-clean only item in there as an after-thought.

I am in the Philippines

I am probably the world's worst blogger with the best adventures to talk about. My job has me pretty beat so I'm not really good about updating this blog. Though it causes me a large amount of anxiety to talk about my travels out of order (after all, I still haven't finished my blog on Timbuktu, or started the one on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), I will have to give you some information on the country I am in now.

I am in the Philippines, and came here via Detroit and Tokyo. Having just come back from a 25-hour flight from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (or CNMI in short-form) via Detroit, Hawaii and Guam, I was told by the office to turn right back around the attend an important meeting in Manila, Philippines. I'm all for frequent flying miles, but having to sit on another 20-some hours of airplane rides is plain ridiculous. And I hate turbulence.

Manila is pretty cool: it's a city full of little streets, loud beeping cars, odd-looking metal buses, bike-taxis, SUV, sea and palms lining the boulevards, dirty water trailing along the side walks, and Japanese, Italian, French, and Chinese restaurants everywhere. People crowd the parking lots and small parks that offer a little bit of space to play badmington on weekends. It's a cross between the busy-ness of Japan, and the grittiness of Bamako. A sort of dirty blade runner.

I am attending meeting attended by a number of countries from Asia and the Pacific, such as Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan, but also small islands like Tuvalu, Nauru and a bunch of others you've never heard about (no offense, but my French school never taught me about the difference between American Samoa and Samoa).

Meeting organizers gave us gifts of barong tagalog (pronounced BAH-rong tah-GAH-lawg), a traditional, embroidered, transparent outer shirt. It has collars, mid-length sleeves and mid-thigh horizontal hemline with side slits. It is made from pina (pineapple fibers), jusi (raw silk) or ramie (grass fibers). Very awesome. I can't wait to wear it, no matter that it's unsuited for the dark suits and conservative suits of Washington D.C.

September 02, 2008

Getting there is half the work - Saipan

I am going to Saipan to lead a Summit on Diabetes for 120 Pacific and federal participants. While it's going to be a lot of work, I feel like the trip there and back is half the battle:

Washington DC - Houston - 3 hours, 10 minutes
Houston - Honolulu - 8 hours, 10 minutes
Honolulu - Guam - 7 hours, 40 minutes
Guam - Saipan (in the Northern Mariana Islands) - 50 minutes.

I thought I was finally getting over my fear of flights (I only pray 3 or 4 times in an 8 hours flight instead of 20 times), but I feel asleep and dreamt we were crashing into the beautiful Hawaii ocean. We were crashing at low speed and really close to the coast so I was hoping that there would be a lot of survivors, me amongst them...I also just checked my email, and a friend from Congo wrote a quick mass email to reassure us that he was not part of the flight full of people going to Bukavu that just crashed. Yikes!

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (or CNMI for short) is a small island nation in the South Pacific. It consists of 14 islands, three of which are the main inhabited ones: Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. It is a U.S. territory, and as such, benefits from a number of U.S. services, much like a State would.

You may not know it, but it was an important area during the second World War. From the U.S. Department of the Interior, here is a little bit more on its history:

The first people to come to the Marianas arrived over 3500 years ago, probably from Southeast Asia through the Philippines. The ancient people evolved into Chamorro people. The first European to arrive in these islands was the Portuguese navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, who came to Guam and Rota in 1521 during his circumnavigation of the world in an attempt to find a route across the Pacific. Spain took possession of the archipelago in 1565 and ruled it for more than 300 years. The first permanent Spanish colony was established in 1668. Spain ceded Guam to the United States following the Spanish-American War, then sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany in 1899. Germany acquired these islands primarily to increase their international prestige. German economic development was based on the copra industry. Japan took control of the Northern Mariana Islands in 1914, the first year of World War I. By ratification of the League of Nations in 1920, Japan received a mandate over the islands. This mandate lasted until 1945 with 30,000 Japanese nationals residing on Saipan. The Japanese developed the island largely for sugar production and processing. World War II came to the Marianas in 1941. Major American battles occurred in the Northern Marianas in 1944, including the pivotal Marianas campaign which signaled the end of the War in the Pacific. The Emperor of Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces on August 15, 1945, ending World War II, and a U.S. military government was instituted in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Saipan’s main attractions are snorkeling, and various sites of war. When the Japanese knew the American would come to the Island and win the war for example, a lot of them jumped off the highest cliff in Saipan, now renamed “suicide cliff”. It now harbors a number of bats that hang in its carved out caves. Snorkeling is great too since they are old sunken ships and tanks surrounded by plant life and fish.

View from Manahaga Island, a small piece of land off the coast of Saipan

A sunken Japanese Ship of the coast of Manahaga Island

View of the Ship from Afar - a rusted hull pokes out from the light green water

There are island cats everwhere. A little undernourished but cute nonetheless.

A downed tank along the shore

Amazing grotto with shallow diving and plant roots hanging from its ceiling

Typical palm tree. Just to make you jealous.

Saipan is also a great lover of Betelnut. While in Saipan, I was perplexed to see tons of signs about Betelnut saying "absolutely no betelnut spitting" or "betelenuts and cell phones no allowed beyond this point". So of course, I had to find me some betelnut, from the corner store.

From my trusty old wikipedia friend, this is what I know about the betelnut:
The Areca nut is the seed of the Areca palm, a straight and graceful palm tree growing in most tropical countries. […] It is commercially available in dried, cured and fresh forms. While fresh, the husk is green and the nut inside is so soft that it can easily be cut with an average knife. In the ripe fruit the husk becomes yellow or orange and, as it dries, the fruit inside hardens to a wood-like consistency. […] Usually a few slices of the nut are wrapped in a Betel leaf along with lime and may include clove, cardamom, catechu (kattha), etc. for extra flavouring. Betel leaf has a fresh, peppery taste, but it can be bitter depending on the variety.

Areca nuts are chewed with betel leaf for their effects as a mild stimulant, causing a hot sensation in the body, heightened alertness and sweating, although the effects vary from person to person. The areca nut contains tannin, gallic acid, a fixed oil gum, a little terpineol, lignin, various saline substances and three main alkaloids, which have vasocontricting properties. Many chewers also add small pieces of tobacco leaf to the mixture, thereby adding the effect of the nicotine, which causes greater addiction than the drugs contained in the nut and the betel. The effect of chewing betel nut is relatively mild and could be compared to drinking a strong cup of coffee.
Steps to Enjoying Betelnuts:
1-Gather all the equipment
This is: a ripe betelnut, a leaf, and some lye.

2-Chew the betelnut in two to expose it's soft, pink interior

3-Use a toothpick to spread a little bit of lye on the interior (warning: lye is a corrosive substance, often used in biodiesel preparation or as an oven cleaner or drain opener)

4-Wrap the whole thing up in the leaf

5-Chew, and spit profusely. Ensure that your red saliva stains the walls and floors of major public places. As in my case, you can follow up with feeling nauseous, and almost throwing up.