Heaven For Little Girls

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2005

Cheerful but comfortable, fun but functional, the rooms of the young Abalos girls show how kids can make a space their own.

It has been said that all little girls are princesses. However, Charlene and Corinne Abalos, grandchildren of former mayor Banjamin Abalos, and daughters of former mayor and current congressman Benhur Abalos, can easily lay claim to being Mandaluyong royalty. But it’s not like they’re putting on airs. On the contrary, the kids are good-natured, chatty, and fresh-faced, full to the brim with energy and ideas. During the recent holiday season, the girls were bubbling over with excitement planning the Christmas party for the family and household staff, and organizing the Kris Kringle exchange gift logistics. It turns out that the Abalos girls are not only budding event organizers, but promising interior designers as well.

Charlene and Corinne can actually take the credit for much of the conceptualization of their rooms’ interiors. Their mom, Mrs. Menchie Abalos, gave them both free reign to think of how they wanted their rooms to look like. With the guidance of their Tita Myla Tirado, who also helped design the rooms of their other siblings, they were able to realize many of their whimsical decorating ideas. Left to their own creative devices, the girls came up with a cozy combo of Neverland, Wonderland, Oz, and Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Each room is a little girl’s personal dreamspace, a tribute to a child’s imagination, a special playground for kids and by kids. They’re best described in the words of their visiting friends, who say that once you’re in Charlene and Corinne’s rooms, you never want to leave. The rooms glow with bright hues and quirky patterns. Wooden molding and shelves in pastel colors accent the walls of warm cream. As an added fanciful detail, flowers have been delicately hand-stencilled onto every wall, geraniums for Charlene, lilacs for Corinne. Most of the furniture has been made to order, from the uniquely shaped beds to the plush chairs with the fuzzy upholstery. Continuing with the floral motif, the mantelpieces, armoires, and side tables displaying the girls’ assorted knick-knacks follow a scalloped petal outline. While in Charlene’s room, a gigantic exotic pink blossom holds up her entertainment system, its counterpart in Corinne’s room is a large dollhouse of salmon and peach, within which resides a clique of Bratz dolls. Not one to be outdone, since Corinne had her dollhouse, Charlene asked for a vanity table in the shape of a castle complete with towers from which hang her school medals. But what the kids are really proud of though are their specially-made, one-of-a-kind beds. If there was one thing that Charlene had her heart set on once she started planning her room, it was a heart-shaped bed. Her Tita Myla was able to oblige her and then some, creating a curved headboard covered in velvet, and having the mattress custom-cut out of Uratex foam to the desired specifications. For Corinne, she put together a shooting star with a rainbow tail, finishing off with flower-shaped mattress and base. Lying down on these elaborate confections, sweet dreams are guaranteed. As a convenient space-saver, full-length mirrors double as sliding doors for the girls’ wardrobes.

Scattered neatly around the premises are an assortment of stuffed toys, memorabilia, and play figures. Disney princesses and M&M candies for Charlene, Spongebob Squarepants and furry animals for Corinne. Charlene is also an accomplished golfer. She was introduced to the sport by her grandfather, an avid linksman himself. Her room displays a trophy and a few framed articles and pictures showing her enthusiasm for the game.

Eventually the kids might begin to opt for more sophisticated designs for their quarters, maybe something similar to their elder sisters’ tastes. But for now, Mrs. Abalos isn’t at all worried about the kids out-growing their rooms’ décor yet, not when she sees how much they’re enjoying themselves. At their age, there’s still a lot of time for play and toys. The fun has just begun for Charlene and Corinne, and they’ve clearly got the rooms to grow.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

Christmas Comes Home (Policarpio St., Mandaluyong)

first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

Santa lives and the Christmas Spirit thrives at Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong City

Policarpio's Pride

Policarpio's Pride (Photo credit: d2digital)

Christmas inspires homeowners everywhere to unleash their inner decorator and bring out the ornaments, lights, and holiday cheer. In some neighborhoods, the frenzied and fancy preparations set off a friendly form of competition, resulting in streets lined with amazingly decked out houses. Regrettably, a number of these impressive displays lie behind gates and guards, in enclaves accessible only to their privileged residents, never to be shared with the general public. However, in a display of true Christmas spirit, one bighearted community has welcomingly opened its doors for everyone to enjoy their decorating efforts. For the past few years, the renown of Mandaluyong City’s Policarpio Street as a Christmas destination has continued to grow, spreading joy and merriment to all who come to visit and marvel at this colorful wonderland.
Mr. Anthony Suva, is the barangay chairman of New Zaniga, and the area around Policarpio is under his jurisdiction. He grew up in the community and his family has always been very active in the Christmas preparations.

This time of the year, the Suva residence temporarily transforms into Santa’s Philippine address. Mr. Suva doesn’t seem to mind accommodating their itinerant guest.

“I’ve been so used to it,” he confesses. “Ever since we were kids, my mother has liked Santas. The Santas come from all over the world. She buys them whenever she goes on a trip, or friends who go abroad bring them back for her since they know she collects them.”

At the Suva home, it’s really easy to believe that you’ve somehow been transported to the North Pole. The place is literally packed with everything related to Santa Claus. From figurines to lanterns, furniture and even table settings, every wall and every corner, from the garden to the roof, is dedicated to the jolly man in red. It’s quite obvious that Mrs. Suva, Ching to her family and friends, really takes her annual setting up of Santaland to heart.

“As early as August my mother starts unpacking and decorating here and there,” her son reveals. “Whenever she comes home from work or during her free time she works a little more on their arrangement. But because there are so many Santas, she usually ends up finishing by December.”

The other displays along Policarpio are no less impressive. Each home has its own particular theme, and each family within is just as enthusiastic at celebrating the season. Mr. Suva’s in-laws live across the street and their motif consists of carpeting their entire property, house, gate, and even water tower, with a blanket of Christmas lights. Down the street at Mrs. Lim’s, mechanical elves dance in time to music at Santa’s workshop, while an elaborate belen graces the facade of another home.

“All this started around ten years ago,” Mr. Suva relates. “The pioneers were my mother, and our neighbors, my future mother-in law, and Mrs. Lim. Every year they kept adding until it reached this.”

And “this” is truly a sight to behold. Sparkling lights cover almost every available surface, while life-size nativity figures, angels, and Santas greet passersby. As an added attraction, stalls selling food, gifts, and other Christmas items line the street, thus completing the festive ambiance. The street has been regularly featured in both the local and international media as a noteworthy Christmas attraction. Visitors from all over the country and even abroad, including some celebrities, have all flocked to Policarpio just to gawk at the displays and share in the merrymaking. From sunset to midnight the entire neighborhood resembles a giant outdoor Christmas party.

Policarpio's Pride

Policarpio's Pride (Photo credit: d2digital)

“In 1998, Policarpio street was officially recognized by the Department of Tourism as a tourist destination,” says Mr. Suva. “The tiangge started four years ago, and now it lasts from November 15 to January 6. We get around three to four thousand visitors a day, and this number increases the closer it gets to Christmas Day.”

There seems to be no stopping Policarpio’s popularity. It has gotten to the extent that the residents themselves are finding it difficult to reach their homes due to the additional traffic and parking woes. Mr. Suva’s responsibilities include dealing with the logistical challenge of keeping the area reasonably safe and orderly.

“The crowds and security are really a problem,” Mr. Suva admits. “There have been times when we’ve thought of scrapping the whole thing or at least toning it down. But eventually we all agree that it’s worth the trouble. Besides, it’s only 45 days out of the year.”

What makes it all worthwhile to the people of Policarpio are the smiles and happy faces they see on every child or child at heart who braves the hassles and hordes just to catch a glimpse of their marvelous decorations. All the efforts and expenses that they put into the preparation of Pasko Sa Policarpio are rewarded by the immeasurable amount of goodwill that is generated by the project.

Even Mrs. Menchie Abalos, wife of Mandaluyong’s congressman and former mayor Benhur Abalos, has been charmed by the Policarpio community’s efforts.

“As a kid, I never got to see the famous Christmas displays of C.O.D and other places,” she relates. “So I didn’t know what I was missing until Pasko sa Policarpio came about. Now I try to visit as often as I can, and each time I can’t help but feel like a child again and be amazed at all the lights and decorations. And it just gets better every year. What they’ve done is such a simple thing, but every Christmas it really means a lot to all of us here at Mandaluyong. You can’t fail to appreciate the boost in morale and spirits that their street brings.”

The continued success of a grassroots, non-profit, community project like Pasko Sa Policarpio once again proves that when it comes to celebrating Christmas, we Filipinos are all heart.

Policarpio's Pride

Policarpio's Pride (Photo credit: d2digital)

“We look at this project as our contribution to the community at large,” states Mr. Suva. “We’re located right next to Welfareville, and some families who live there don’t have much to spend on Christmas. The lights and decorations are like a free form of entertainment for all our neighbors. They can just come here, look around, and enjoy themselves. It may not be that remarkable for some of us adults, but the children get so much from it. And everyone seems to look forward to it every year. Christmas just won’t feel as complete without Pasko Sa Policarpio.”

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

All The Women, Independent

Mmes. Lulli Salcedo and Tina Cifra throw their hands up at us

For women’s month we sought to celebrate the diversity and independence of womanhood by featuring two strong and self-reliant single women, of differing ages and backgrounds, and the homes that they have made their own.

Ms. Luli Salcedo, an established veteran in the crazy and cutthroat advertising industry, is an exceptional example of a mature lady in her prime, looking forward to her golden years with grace. Her fresh and airy condominium in Mandaluyong is a serene spot smack in the middle of the gridlocked metropolis. “I’m a city girl but for my home I chose a country style.” From the bathroom to the kitchen, flowers and fruits fill each corner and adorn each wall. No area is bereft of charming little reminders of the pastoral life, even the eaves above the windows serve as display ledges for rows of porcelain collectibles. “I thought that since I only have a little space, I need to fill the gaps.” The rustic theme was a conscious effort on Luli’s part, “I think it makes up for the province I never had,” she explains.

Luli considers herself to be a creature of comfort, and her home had to satisfy her high standards of cosiness. “My home is my refuge from the office and the world. The moment I enter my place, I like to switch off all the tensions and stresses from work, the traffic, and people.”

It took a mix of the old and new, foreign and Filipino, to create Luli’s comfy country haven. “A lot of the things are from our old house. I have a blue pitcher that my grandfather bought in France. It should be over 80 years old.” Like her grandfather before her, Luli is also an avid traveller and collector. She has glassware from Spain and Italy, a pair of wooden clogs from Holland, and sculpture and candleholders from Bali. However, her larger living pieces are all locally made. “My furniture is from Pampanga and Baguio. The cabinet, an American hutch is from Greenhills. The coffee table is from Rustans.” An eclectic collection of candles and table lamps impart a warm and peaceful glow to the rooms and sunlight softly streams through curtains colourfully patterned with spring flowers. “The curtains are by Hanae Mori, a Japanese designer. They were a gift from my aunt.”

Improving her home is one extravagance on which she doesn’t scrimp on. She doesn’t mind spending money on features that she considers to be important, like fixing the floor, adding cabinets, and putting in the shower enclosure. She next plans to get the ceiling done, and to put in ceramic tiles and Spanish lamps.

“Fixing things the way I want to,” is what Luli rates as the best thing about having her own place. “I enjoy living alone,” she admits. The solitary life allows her to indulge her inner snob. “If you don’t feel like talking or eating, you’re not hurting anybody’s feelings. You don’t need to make pakisama.” The trade-off is that her inner handywoman also sees a lot of employment. “I have to do everything. I have to make sure the house is clean. If it’s dirty, you have nobody to blame but yourself. If anything goes wrong I have to take care of it or wait for the maintenance.”

Luli found the feat of getting her own place to be very liberating, but adds that one should pick a home for the right reasons. “I think women should always trust their intuition. I did, the first time I set my eyes on this place, I fell in love with it. It’s not like a typical condominium since it has gardens and walkways.” Her rules for house-hunting can be pretty much applied to everyday living as well. “You should be true to yourself. You have to be real. Know what you want. Don’t make choices based on what other people say is prestigious or impressive,” she cautions.

Living alone has fortified her spirit. “You get to know yourself better, your limits, your strengths, and your weaknesses. I used to be easily scared of ghosts and other things. But you have to realize that it’s all in the mind. You don’t really have a choice. You have to tell yourself that there’s nothing to be scared about. At first I couldn’t sleep for a month because I’d hear something in the middle of the night and wake up.” The experience made her realize something about herself. “I’m strong pala. I can choose not to be afraid of anything.”

Luli knows a thing or two about how to make the most out of life as a successful single woman. “If you’re single, you have to be your own best friend. In your journey you will stumble and fall a few times. If you don’t know yourself and if you don’t trust yourself, you might not be able to get up. If you like yourself and you’re happy with yourself, it’s a lot of fun to be single and successful. But if you’re the type who always needs to have somebody with you, somebody to tell you that you’re this or that, then it’s going to be difficult.”

Speaking with the wisdom that can only be gained through experience and a life well-lived, she offers a few words that most single women out there might find worth listening to. “You need to love yourself. The reason why I enjoy single life is because I have a big loving family. I have very few friends but they’re friends that I’ve kept for decades. These are the people I can talk to or run to. These are the people who are always there for me. That’s what’s important.”

Dra. Tina Cifra is a young pediatrician making her mark at the vast and venerable Philippine General Hospital. A far cry from the stereotypical medical hermit, she manages to find humour in even the most dire and morbid situations that frequently occur in her demanding profession. Tina is one doctor who you can easily take the hospital out of. Once you do manage to take her out of the hospital, that is. “My apartment is such a safe, snug haven from the madness of the hospital where you’re being jostled about everyday by patients and their mothers, and by consultants and their fellows. When I get home it’s such a relief,” she exclaims.

The contents of her quirky condo unit in Ermita stand testament to her extracurricular persona as a voracious reader, obsessive learner, movie and music lover. Tina’s shelves and storage space are crammed full of novels, textbooks, magazines, videos and CDs, ample evidence of a colourful life outside the medical realm. Amidst the crush and clutter, Tina feels right at home. “I like my place because it’s so cosy, and everything is within reach. It’s near work and near a mall, which is great.” So far, Tina’s been having a blast exploiting the benefits of unsupervised living. “Being on my own is exhilarating. After Catholic’s girl’s school, what do you think? Nobody’s looking over your shoulder. I can come and go as I please, watch TV till the wee hours, nobody’s going to scream at me and bang on my door at 3 am. I can make as much noise as I want. I can make telebabad all day, which is a pet peeve, since I was deprived of that in high school.”

Her place has played host to a ton of merry memories. “I’ve had the most fun here doing school projects, having sleep-overs and running around with friends.” And even if she enjoys the company, Tina has never seriously considered getting a roommate to help split costs and chores. “I’m too selfish to share my space,” she admits. “But independence has its downside. Nobody’s there to help wash the dishes. I have to do my own grocery shopping. When you get home there’s no food ready. And it’s really a drag taking out the trash, especially when it’s full of take-out boxes.”

Tina tries to fix up her home to reflect her tastes and personality, although given her limited time and finances, it still has lots of catching up to do. “When I first moved in, it was like a little girl’s room, with posters of movie stars on the wall, some of which are still there. But it evolved over time,” she explains. “I don’t usually go for pink. I think it’s more of a reflection of me when I was 18. It could be sleeker.”

As a young professional just starting out, Tina really couldn’t afford to splurge on interior design. Most of her furnishings were bought at a furniture fair in Megamall. And yet, she has striven to add personal touches to her space, using it as an outlet for her creative sensibilities. “We were at this restaurant and there was this artist showing his collages. I thought, look at that, that’s just glue and magazines and paper, I can do better. And I think I did,” she asserts. However, her hopes for more home improvement opportunities remain strong. “A year ago, there was a big renovation. It was an interior decorating spree for a while. It was also when I made the curtains and the collages. It’s never happened again since then,” she says with some frustration. “I just play it by ear. I’m planning a big renovation soon. I want to repaint the walls and change the floors”

Tina has a few choice nuggets of advice for young people starting out on their own. “First, get a job. Always lock your goodie drawer. And never live by yourself if your parents aren’t willing to foot the utility bill!” she advises half-jokingly. Thankfully, Tina manages to revert back to her usual profundity for the closer. “It’s all about independence. Break away, be a rebel. Don’t always try to be part of a whole. You’re complete in yourself.”

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manila Bulletin, 2004

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