Sunday, January 21, 2018
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The Learning curve

No ‘do not touch’ signs in Museo Pambata

One immediately sensed the friendly atmosphere while entering the 1949 structure on Roxas Boulevard that was formerly the Elks Club building and for 17 years now the Museo Pambata. The people at the entrance were welcoming, even offering to let me in for free because I know its president and CEO, Nina Lim Yuson, my longtime colleague at the Philippine Board on Books for Young People. I declined their kind offer and, because the fees were more than reasonable, we—two preschoolers, two adult chaperones, two nannies and two drivers—all had the time of our lives.

The first section to visit in this hands-on museum is Old Manila. My grandchildren Emilio and Juliana, three and two years old, respectively, were not interested in the heroes portrayed or the worn-out copy of my Gabriela Silang book on display along with the other titles of Tahanan Books’ Great Lives series. They rushed to the antique telephones (with taped voices) that they “conversed” with, and jumped on the tranvia. Of course, I did not allow them to leave the area without listening to me rattle off the names of the Philippine heroes highlighted there. They loved the first of several stands with face cutouts to pose in, wearing Philippine traditional attire, even revolutionary garb.

And their hours of make-believe just began. Upstairs, they dashed in and out of the huge mouth model that led them to the esophagus tunnel and on to the digestive system. It was amusing to see the drivers discovering information along with the two kids, even explaining to them the path that food takes in the human body. There were traditional musical instruments to try out next, gongs to clang, bandurias to strum.

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But what held Emilio and Juliana spellbound was the hall that was a faithful portrayal of Philippine life.  There was the barbershop where one could sit on a real barber’s chair and a price list painted on the wall, for “gupit, ahit, hot towel,” with their Tito Chris as the accommodating barber.  They were fruit vendors in the fruit stand, using the weighing scale for their customers’ purchases. And how they lingered in the fire truck, Emilio behind the steering wheel, wearing their hats and orange and yellow firefighter uniforms—and sounding off the siren endlessly. They became doctors in the drugstore, a career option they are familiar with as their dad Edmund is a doctor at Kaiser. Why, there was even Pacing’s carinderia, as well as a newspaper stand, to patronize. Was there a lotto outlet, too?

There were quiet areas that the two kids needed at a certain point: a Creativity Corner featuring Filipino authors and illustrators. The quote from well-known author Russell Molina reminded me of why a refuge like the Museo Pambata should be a part of any childhood: “Our culture is so rich and colorful, but because we are so immersed in it we sometimes miss its beauty. Through my books, I try to express this sense of being Filipino.” In tracing how his love for his craft all began, popular illustrator Totet de Jesus acknowledged the powerful influence of adults on young lives: “I attempted to draw my teacher in grade one. I gave her the drawing.  I still remember her name:  Mrs. Marcelino.”

This venue allowed the kids time to read, to sit at tables, to discover the old Filipino folk tale, “The Monkey and the Turtle,” and to put on a monkey’s head behind a reading monkey sculpture.

In the science and motion section they tried the bikes and hula hoops. Helpful was the display of the contents of a Grab-a-Bag of basic necessities prepared in advance for any emergency.

How we wished that we had the time and energy to explore all of Museo Pambata’s nooks and crannies, especially the section on conserving the environment.

The well-preserved building—in which I have childhood memories of visiting what was once the Physicians’ Club with my parents—is itself something to admire, especially as it stands beside the refurbished Army and Navy Club turned into a hotel, and a casino with the most garish touches of red on its windows.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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