Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lakbay Dangal—Jose Rizal and Filipino history in Hong Kong today

Stewart Sloan

On Sunday the 14th March a unique organisation met in Chater Gardens in Hong Kong. The brainchild of Fr. Roberto Reyes, the Running Priest, a group of Filipino domestic helpers, journalists and friends met to inaugurate Lakbay Dangal—an association determined to bring out the historians and tour guides among the Filipino community in the territory.

After introducing the concept, about which more later, Fr. Roberto led the group in a tour of historical areas of the Central District, the business hub of Hong Kong. Many of us, myself included, had no idea that the antiquities board, dedicated but not the most audible of Hong Kong government departments, had raised several plaques dedicated to the memory of Jose Rizal.

Jose Rizal is perhaps best known for his activism against the Spanish colonial government in the Philippines and his subsequent execution. However, perhaps not many people are aware that he was a man of wide ranging talents and skills. Rizal's multifacetedness was described by his German friend, Dr. Adolf Meyer, as nothing short of stupendous. He was a polymath with the ability to master various skills and subjects. He was an ophthalmologist, sculptor, painter, educator, farmer, historian, playwright and journalist. Besides poetry and creative writing, he was interested in architecture, cartography, economics, ethnology, anthropology, sociology, dramatics, martial arts, fencing and pistol shooting. He was also a Freemason, joining Acacia Lodge No. 9 during his time in Spain and becoming a Master Mason in 1884. Jose Rizal was executed by firing squad in December 1896 at the age of 35.

At least one of these plaques had been in place for several years and I could not help but wonder how many times I had passed underneath it without the slightest knowledge of its existence. The one in D' Aguilar Street identifies the location where Rizal opened one of his eye clinics.

Lakbay Dangal—a 12 month 'histourism' training programme

Fr. Roberto's plan in creating Lakbay Dangal has many aims. The first is to reveal to the Filipino community itself that there is a link between Hong Kong and the Philippines in Rizal's history in the territory. By bringing this to the fore he also hopes that the Filipino ladies who work here as domestic helpers will see themselves, and be seen by others, as much more than cleaners and babysitters. A good knowledge of the various historical sites in and around Central and other areas of Hong Kong will give these ladies the opportunity to show off these sites and reveal their historical and cultural significance to others.

In order to accomplish this trips are planned to sites such as Stanley where you can see both history in the form of the War Cemetery where many of the soldiers and civilians killed during the Japanese invasion were laid to rest and also one of the most favourite tourist sites in the territory, Stanley Market. Stanley used to be famous for its 'seconds' shops; shops that sold items of clothing that had been rejected by the buyers and were picked up by the Stanley vendors. Sadly, as with all things, progress stepped in and many of the shops are now up market and costly. However, that does not seem to deter many of the western tourists that visit the place.

Speakers will be tasked with the job of finding out as much as they can about the various sites and take turns at giving lectures to their fellow trainees. One such gathering was held on Sunday the 4th April and another is planned for the 25th. The ladies have shown great enthusiasm for this project and are to be congratulated for their zeal. Thanks must also go to Fr. Roberto who will visit the territory as often as his schedule permits to encourage and assist in the training.

Domestic Helper Tour Guides; Ladies with the knowledge, willingness and ability to show others, not only Filipinos, but anyone interested, that there is more to Hong Kong than tall buildings.