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Looking Back

Rizal’s Chinese New Year dinner

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Filipinos visiting Hong Kong who want an alternative to the generic luxury-brand shops in Kowloon would do well to cross over to Hong Kong-side by Star Ferry or MTR to discover the old part of this former British colony. Exploring the side streets and alleys is great for window-shopping or seeking out and sampling new restaurants. Hong Kong is dotted with sites relevant to Philippine history.

My pilgrimage route always begins on D’Aguilar Street off Central where Jose Rizal had his eye clinic. Of course, the original structure is no more, but the site, now a small mall called Century Square, has a historical marker installed by the Hong Kong Antiquities Board. The round commemorative plaque in Chinese and English explaining the significance of the place is a bit hard to find because it is moved each time the mall façade is renovated. Today it’s tucked between Century Square and Starbucks.

From here, walk up D’Aguilar Street, turn right on Wellington, and stop for a portion of the best roast goose and century egg in town. Don’t worry about the cholesterol because you will burn all that while walking up to Mid-levels (it’s easier to take the escalator) to Rednaxela Terrace (that’s Alexander spelled backward), where Rizal used to live with his parents and spinster sisters. The original structure was demolished in the 1950s and we do not know exactly where on this street Rizal lived. Thus, the Hong Kong Antiquities Board installed the historical marker near the escalator, at the opening of the small street. From here you can imagine how strong Rizal’s legs must have been to make the walk up and down from home to clinic every day.

Then walk down to Hollywood Road, famous for antique shops and art galleries. Walking on this road is like visiting a museum except that here you can handle the artifacts. I often visit Wattis Fine Art (2F 20 Hollywood Road) and Librarie Ancienne Indosiam (89 Hollywood Road) for Filipiniana. Wattis specializes in maps and prints of Hong Kong and China; it always has a small thematic exhibition, so people are welcome to come in and browse. Indosiam has a few Filipiniana titles (19th-century travel accounts in French); browsing in this small space is like visiting a friend’s home library.

After resting your legs in these two shops, walk down Hollywood Road toward the old police station and the Duddell Street steps and gas lights. These granite steps have gas lamps that were installed in the 1880s and that illuminated Rizal’s steps as he walked from Rednaxela Terrace to his clinic. Unfortunately, this one has no historical marker, and we hope the present Philippine consul general can negotiate for one.

Victoria Jail on Old Bailey Road has been declared a historic site and is presently being renovated. Rizal visited this place on the invitation of his friend, Dr. Lorenzo Marques, the prison physician. Rizal even wrote about it in a small essay titled “Una  visita  a  Victoria  Gaol”—quite quaint because “gaol” is the old spelling for “jail.” The Hong Kong Tourist Board has designed a Sun Yat-sen walking trail complete with maps and street markers, making me think of offering a similar walking tour because aside from Rizal, the other historical figures who left their footprints in the Crown Colony include: Emilio Aguinaldo, Gregorio H. del Pilar, Artemio Ricarte, Juan Luna, and practically all Philippine presidents.

Most significant is that our flag descended from the original hand-made in Hong Kong by Marcela Agoncillo from a sketch given her by Emilio Aguinaldo in 1898. Textbook history tells us Marcela was assisted in this task by her daughter Lorenza and Rizal’s niece Delfina Herbosa de Natividad. A children’s playground now stands on the site of the Agoncillo home on 535 Morrison Hill Road, Wanchai, but it has been marked by the Hong Kong Antiquities Board.

Pinoys dining in Hong Kong may also order items recorded in Rizal’s diary on Feb. 17, 1888, as follows:

“Chinese feast.  U-long  tea is bitter and it is one of the best at three pesos a pound. The table is ready; three saucers in front of every guest; the empty one is the largest 8 centimeters (in diameter) with a porcelain spoon; another, a smaller one, with soy sauce; and the third, still smaller, with a little cup for the wine; the tiny cup has a content of fine to ten grams. There is a tablecloth and a fork with two prongs. In the middle there are small oranges, salted eggs, almonds, and other seeds.”

Rizal was in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year, so he attended a Chinese opera and had  pancit  in the home of Jose Ma. Basa. His Chinese dinner proceeds as follows:

“As each guest arrives, he is offered a cup of  U-long  tea, the superior tea.  Chasan is ten pesos a pound. They begin dinner with tea; then dried fruits.  Goose – Shrimp – [Century] Eggs – Meat – Sharks’ fins – [Bird’s] Nest – Tender duck – Chicken with champignon – Ray (fish) – Chicken with ham – Shark’s belly. Tea with 4 saucers – Chicken with ginger – Fish head – Mushroom and pork with two plates of rolls and tea.”

Aside from shopping, Ocean Park and Disneyland Hong Kong offer an alternative sightseeing route for Filipinos who want to discover their past in a foreign country.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu


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Tags: Ambeth R. Ocampo , column , Filipinos , Hong Kong , Jose Rizal



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