Sunday, March 09, 2014

Walking man of Manila

Long before the “Damaso incident” at the Manila Cathedral, Carlos Celdran already made it in the news, not for any scandal but because he instills a different kind of entertainment on his Manila tours.

The many faces of Carlos Celdran (Photos by: Joanna Conde)

I almost lose hope when I woke up from a nap on the evening of September 30 as I found out that our interviewee, Carlos Celdran, was put to jail for offending the Church. A week before this incident I already scheduled an interview with him and a day before he protested he even said he’ll meet us on that weekend that’s why I panicked and messaged the team about the incident immediately because everyone is excited about the interview only to find out that there’s a possibility that it will be postponed.

Maybe luck was on our side, after waiting for the court’s decision if he’ll be freed and praying that our interview will still push through, it paid off. He was freed on October 1.

On the day of the interview, I was not able to receive any message from him, he was also busy entertaining other interviews from big media outfits but we still tried our best to reach him on his tour on October 3. We were late for his morning tour but then we searched for him as hard as we can, we acted like stalkers hungry for his sight. We struggled searching for him in Intramuros. We went to the hotel where he was checked in, we called him, but we still got no response. We almost lose hope thinking that he might not grant our interview anymore because of the incident but then again hard work always paid off. By 2:30 pm that Sunday afternoon, we received a text message that he’ll be in Fort Santiago for his afternoon tour and he will meet us by then.

We were over-joyed, despite the hot temperature and the walks we endured, we will finally meet the man of the hour.

The moment we saw him walked out of his car, we were smitten and star-struck for he was considered by many as heroic on what he did at the Manila Cathedral. I am not bothered about that since it is matter of his choice and I am already looking up to him for a long time now.

At first, we were hesitant to approach him because he seems like a very intimidating person. Many people were asking for photo ops with him and when we finally had the chance to talk to him, to our surprise, he asked us to tag along in his tour and that was his treat. We felt really blessed as we enjoyed every minute of the tour because it’s not every day that we experience moments like this.

The man who is being criticized by many is not at all a bad man. There’s always another side of a story. And for this 37-year old tour guide, it is always about what you believed that you should stand up for.

Here are some tidbits of our interview with Carlos Celdran in which you’ll know his side of story and his thoughts about the Filipinos and Philippines.

Describe yourself in one word:

When is your birthday?
November 10, 1972, Scorpio, Rat. I know it’s a bad combination.

Where do you live?
My family lives in Makati but the Celdrans are originally from Iligan. So the guy from Manila is not really from Manila. You know some people ask me, “when were you born her  in Intramuros?” and I’m like “Nobody’s born in Intramuros, if you’re 105 years old man.” Yah, I’m really from Iligan. Two hours from Cagayan de Oro.

How did your touring stint started?
It was accidentally discovered. I was in theater, I was in Jesus Christ Superstar I played Judas Escariot. My background is really in theater and Fine Arts. So when I came back to the Philippines after living in New York, I came back to Manila and I had no job so I started working for a non-profit organization as a volunteer. Part of the volunteer’s job was to go around Intramuros and tour the clients. Once when they were real organized and need to save money they fired the tour guide. And they said “well, since you’re the only one doing the tour, take the tours with you.” So I took the tours with me and since I have a background in theater, I started one day adding a hat, costume, necklace and music. After repeating the same script for 8 years, it has finally developed on what it is today.

What makes you different from other tour guides?
It’s more of a play more than actually a tour in itself. That’s why when people ask me for real tours I just send them to real tour guide. So I am not really in direct competition with other tour guides at all because I only do Intramuros and CCP Complex, those stuff. I probably do some other special tours but other than that I don’t accept trips to go to Pagsanjan. I don’t even know how to go to Tagaytay. I leave that to real tour guides. People just call it a tour because we go to places.

What is your favorite place in Manila?
Intramuros, all of Intramuros, the Fort Santiago to Manila Cathedral, everywhere in Manila.

What is your favorite place in the Philippines?
One of my favorite places is all of Ilocos. Ilocos is just gorgeous! It is historical, it’s got beaches. It has everything. It has no traffic, the food gotten better. You know the, food is interesting. It’s convenient by airplane. It’s clean. I love Ilocos! The second place I have fallen in love with is Capiz,  Roxas City in Capiz it’s gorgeous down there. I liked it because there’s a little bit of history, there’s a little bit of “ooh-ooh” element going on as well. And because I guess of all the Aswang, nobody really goes to Capiz so it’s never crowded. There’s no over-development. All of the heritage buildings are still in good shape over there and the seafood is just so cheap around 50 pesos, Incredible!

Does your educational background have something to do with your profession?
Yes, I took Fine Arts at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. I’m an artist. Even like what I did at the Manila Cathedral was a performance. I was in costume I walk in my hats like what I do in my tours.

What makes you proud to be a Filipino?
Because we are everything rolled into one. As I said we are mix of the East and the West and we’re adaptable. We’re like a halo-halo. We are not haters. The Philippines is never known for colonizing other country. We never purposely kill other people. Come on, The Filipinos is one of the nicest people in the world. And that’s one of the reasons why I like the Philippines.

 What are your other interests aside from touring?
Reproductive Health, obviously. Separation of Church and State, obviously. Let’s see, Intramuros is  my obsession, Philippine modern architecture, Philippine arts and that’s about it.

What is you most memorable experience in Intramuros?
Maybe the time I walked in Manila Cathedral and I have something over my head and I got thrown in to jail. (Laughs) I think that was my most memorable experience.

How about on the tour?
Ondoy. My tour got interrupted by Ondoy and we have to cancel the tour, we had to sort of move everybody out. I was able to call all of my guests to stop them from coming downtown before the flooding starts except for one guy. He called from Manila Cathedral and we got into a car, we went all there to save this poor Mexican. When we’re in the car he asked if we can take him to National Museum so I was like “Okay.” So we dropped him off at the National Museum. The Ondoy flood started happening and I never heard from him again. But at least there’s no headline of a dead Mexican guy in the past year, so at least I know that they’re okay.

From what nationality is your favorite foreign tourist?
My profile of the demographic American is highest and that includes Fil-Ams, Number two is British-Australian and number three and is increasing is Filipino. Actually, there are more Filipinos now coming to my tours more than ever before. But my favorite demographic is Fil-ams, because Filipino-Americans are hungriest for their culture. We’re too busy being Filipino, we don’t even know what’s going on, we don’t question about being Filipino cause we’re too busy being Filipino. Because they’re all the way over there they have this weird identity crisis Every time they go to my tour they are always so engaging and questioning. I love Fil-ams, Northen American whether they’re from Canada or any.

How different are Filipinos from other cultures?
I always need Filipinos in my tour. If I don’t have three or four Filipinos in my tour the tour won’t work since I need someone to respond. So every time I look at my manifest and I realize that there’s no Filipinos coming on the day’s tour. I make a shout out the night before asking for five volunteer spots and they have to answer my questions. That’s the chance for  students and people can come for free.

Who usually join to your tour?
Most of the demographics only come from me. If you are not English-speaking you usually don’t come to my tour. So the Hongkong Chinese Korean, I never had a part of that market. Because I can’t translate it to any other language and that is the reason why I chose Manila as my stage.

What is the hidden wonder of Manila for you?
It is right in front of their noses but nobody really goes there, The American Memorial in Fort Bonifacio. It’s right in the middle of Fort Bonifacio, a beautiful garden dedicated to soldiers of World War II, beautifully manicured and nobody goes there.  It really is a hidden jewel underneath their nose, people would rather go to Highstreet and Market Market than go to American Memorial in Fort Bonifacio.

Other tourist destinations you can recommend?
Quiapo Church, Corregidor, Cubao, CCP Complex, Binondo, China Town and taking the ferry down the Pasig River cause it’s really cheap and it’s a lovely ride. It takes you only 30 minutes from Manila to Rockwell in Makati by taking the boat.

How can you promote the Philippines to other country? A message?
Well first and foremost, try as hard as one can not to talk badly about ourselves. You have to give this country another chance you can’t dismiss it by talking bad about it. It’s like a kid that is still developing. It will be no help to that kid if you keep on taking him down and giving them a negative reinforcement, that A. B, What I tried to do or convince everyone is at least once a day try to find something cool or something that you really appreciate about living in where you are whether it be a kwek-kwek or a fish ball or a pretty jeepney that you’ve seen. Just find try find one thing beautiful about you a day, and trust me, it will add up and add up.

"Tourism? Go local, see your country first before you go to other country."

How do you see the Philippines 10 year from now?
Ten years from now I see the Philippines being a second world, or at least second and a half world. 

Author's note: This is another article I wrote for Halo-halo magazine (a finals project for our Feature Writing class with Sir Nestor Cuartero of the Manila Bulletin) in October 2010.

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