The moment cheap air promos and Piso fares flooded our market, more and more Filipinos have been able to travel either within the Philippines or to nearby countries. It is no denying that it has helped “Every Juan” to fly. But traveling is a multilayer experience that must not be taken lightly by anthropologists and sociologists. We know how humanity progressed greatly with the ability to mobilize and move (if needed). With greater mobility, modernity initiated the great exchange of ideas, goods and of course, cultures.
In this regard, history relates how rich the Philippines’ cultural heritage is. In terms of cuisine, religion, architecture, dress, language, art, literature, music, dance and behaviors, the Philippines’ unique market differentiator is its pronouncedly Latin flavor fused with its own regional (Asian and Chinese) taste. Thus, its culture has organically produced something quite unique in the region.
Fast forward to 2013, we now have the great exchange of new conquistadores not to conquer lands but to take pictures, spend on entrance fees, hotels, and transportation. These are tourists and travelers. Along with this though is the great influx of ideas being exchanged. From the side of the travelers, going to different pueblos, towns and cities in the Philippines and abroad has opened their minds to different possibilities and realities.
One these is cultural heritage. A Manileno who has developed a life cycle based on work/school – home – malling is suddenly enthralled by the lifestyles in Cebu, in Sagada, in Davao, in Bacolod, in Coron, in El Nido, in Boracay, in Caramoan, etc.
And it is evident that cultural heritage plays a great role in this enterprise of reflection and traveling. People suddenly realize that cultural heritage plays a lesser part in Manila life, which is ironically the capital of the city. If in Silay, there is an abundance of beautiful, vintage homes opened and preserved for the public’s enjoyment, how come in Manila, we are so eager to tear these down? How come Cebuanos can easily enjoy a nice beach in minimal time while us in Manila, our own bay and nearby beaches are as dirty as the minds of the crooks who thrive in the mega metropolis?
Questions arise and these are triggered by cultural heritage.
We have to face the reality that cultural heritage is a strong asset in a country’s life, most especially in that of its capital. In Singapore, which is an ultra modern city, cultural heritage penetrates the lives of everyone. Professionals in suits and stilettos go to their favorite hawker centers for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner to partake of their favorite traditional dishes. In these food centers, there is no airconditioning, mind you!
In Cambodia, in Siem Reap, money thrives as tourists from all parts of the world come to enjoy the ancient temples of the Angkor Wat complex. In Hong Kong, the Star Ferry is a big hit among locals and tourists, the vista of Victoria Harbor unobstructed by obscene billboards. When will we come to this?
I think soon. As more and more Filipinos get to travel, they will demand that their culture be preserved and optimized. In this day and age of globalization, Filipinos would need to look for baselines, for strong foundations and for unique references to their culture and identity. This is when cultural heritage plays an important, critical role.
Some people “expertly” think that cultural heritage is all about built structures. Unfortunately, it goes beyond preserving “old” edifices or utilizing these. Cultural heritage means more than blogging and taking photos of “beautiful” (seriously, can they use more adjectives?) “vintage” (please know the difference between vintage and ancient) structures. Cultural heritage encompasses many things, and when we apply it in modern settings, it all the more demands from us. From the language used in street signs, road lamps’ designs to the way a delicacy is wrapped or served, cultural heritage, in this highly-competitive market-driven world, is a potent marketing tool.
We have more work to do. With the recent onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda and the destruction brought by the earthquake in the Visayas, many heritage sites and wonders were destroyed or damaged. But the work of restoration does not rest with rebuilding structures. We all have to take careful measures in reassuring the preservation of our intangible heritage as well.