Sunday, July 21, 2013

*337. His College Yearbook: DR. MARIO M. ALIMURUNG

HANDS SALUTE! The future cardiologist, Mario de Mesina Alimurung of Bacolor, as the No. 1 cadet of UST. An artist, a teacher, a writer and a medical researcher, this world-class doctor co-founded the Makati Medical Center together with Dr. Manahan and Dr. Fores in 1969.

The Alimurungs are one of the oldest families of Pampanga, with many members settling in Bacolor. From this family with ancient Muslim roots, comes one of the greatest doctors this country has ever known, a world-class cardiologist and a compassionate healer who went on to become one of the founders of Makati Medical Center: Dr. Mariano de Mesina Alimurung.

 Born on 4 August 1916 in Bacolor, the young Mariano went to St. Mary’s Academy for his early schooling. He next went to Letran for his high school education where he graduated at the top of his class in 1936. He chose to take up Medicine at the University of Santo Tomas and there, too, he became an outstanding student and a scholar. In Manila, the Alimurungs kept house on Dapitan St., just a walk away from the pontifical university where Mariano pursued his medical course, even as he also took up military science.

From being Letran’s Corps Commander, he assumed the same top post at the UST, handling a whole brigade and leading other fellow officers including Carlos Arguelles (future architect), Antonio Delgado (future ambassador) and kabalen Carlos Vergara.

Just 23 years old in this picture, Alimurung was quite a campus figure, be-medalled and brilliant, highly regarded by his peers--both in the military and in the medical field.

After earning his medical degree, Dr. Alimurung specialized in Cardiology and became renowned in his field. On the side, he was also a sports enthusiast (he revived interest in the NCAA during the Japanese Occupation by forming a league composed of former Ateneo, Letran and San Beda players) , a teacher and an ardent Kapampangan writer and cultural activist (in 1977, he resurrected the Circulo Escenico, a zarzuela group of long standing, founded in 1930 by Francisco Liongson).

Dr. Alimurung was one of the founders (along with Dr. Constantino Manahan and Dr. Jose Fores, ) of Makati’s premier hospital--the Makati Medical Center in 1969. He sat as the Chairman of the Department of Medicine, Director of the Coronary Care Unit, and Head of the Cardiology Section. He was also the first and only director of the Office of Medical Education, borne by his interest in medical research and education.

 Though at the start, the reason for building a hospital was driven by enterprise, the deeply spiritual Dr. Alimurung recalled: “Divine Providence works His way in the midst of human decisions and human motivations. He writes straight even with crooked lines and works His will into the mazes of human struggles.”

 The founders’ shared mission, thus was refocused on how to deliver the best healthcare to people-- young and old, rich or poor alike, of whatever economic rank--a lifework that was not lost on the leaders of the Catholic Church.

For his selfless contributions to the Philippine community, Dr. Alimurung was given one of the highest Papal Orders of Chivalry—the Knight Commander with the Star of Gregory the Great and Knight Commander of St. Sylvester I. Recipient of many distinguished awards in his time--Cunning’s Humanitarian Award and Distinguished Fellow Award (from the American College of Cardiology), Distinguished Physician Award (Philippine College of Physicians), Distinguished Service Award (Philippine Medical Association)—Dr. Alimurung’s  dedication to serve humanity never wavered..

Accolades continue to pour even after his death: the Catholic Physicians Guild of the Philippines gave him a Distinguished Service Award while the Philippine Heart Association named him recipient of its Distinguished Teacher Award.

In his memory, the Makati Medical Center Library was renamed the Dr. Mariano M. Alimurung Library. Dr. Alimurung was married to Dr. Natividad Narciso, also a Kapampangan. Their son, Benjie Alimurung, also a medical doctor, recalls his father’s words that he lived by: “At every stage of your career, take stock of where you are and where you have been and these will give you invaluable direction on what you should do and where you should go next.”

Dr. Mariano M. Alimurung certainly lived up to this way of thinking, as evidenced by his singleminded pursuit of finding ways  to give Filipinos a better, healthier life, regardless of their place in society till the very end of his life. This benevolent Kapampangan healer died in 1989.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


SO YOU THINK YOU CAN COOK? School girls learn the art of cooking and baking uisng more modern kitchen implements and gadgets, in this home economics class. 1920s

In large Philippine homes—there’s a kitchen and then, there’s a dirty kitchen.  While a kitchen is where Mother displays her fine chinaware, gleaming copper pans, bowls, trays, sleek toasters and pantry cabinet, the dirty kitchen is where she and her househelps toil away in front of sooty clay stoves, enveloped by smoke, heat and odors emanating from frying pans and trash cans.

Such was the house that I grew up in—and nowhere was it busier, smellier, more chaotic--than in our dirty kitchen. For here, all sorts of implements, gadgets and strange instruments abound—for cooking, broiling, boiling, grilling, grinding—all designed to help a new homemaker become a top-rate cook.

The basic tools of cooking rest on a narrow, sturdy table called “dalikan”, made of bamboo or planks of wood, with the top, covered with an iron sheet. Here, one can find kalang uling (charcoal clay stove), which rests on 3 stumpy legs (“tungku”). Under the “dalikan”, one can find chopped firewood, used to start a fire in the kalan, with the help of a tsupan (a metal cylinder used to blow air and stoke a fire) and a “sipit” (a pair of thongs to move pieces of wood and charcoal around). A charcoal-fed  “pugun” or a clay/earth oven, was permanently set in the kitchen for baking breads.

On top of the “kalang”, one can use different pots and pans, depending on what you are cooking. Before the advent of rice cookers, the basic “kuran” with a lid is used to cook the perfect rice. It is also used to cook favourite viands and soups like “adobo, tinola and sinigang”. The metal “kawali”, made of cast iron, is ideal for frying, with the help of an all-purpose “siyansi”.

To boil water, one uses a kettle (“tekwan”) of aluminum, copper or brass. I still have my late Ingkung  brass pan with a rounded bottom and a wooden handle used for boiling water and eggs. He called it “pohiya”, a term that nobody seem to use, except us! Another brass container was the tsokolatera, a small pitcher where homemade chocolate was prepared. A wooden batirul was hand-turned to whip up a frothy, hearty drink.

Those craving for grilled foods like “ningnang babi, bangus o balasenas” had to use a “parilya” (a gridiron of thick wire) over live embers . Basting was done using a brush made of bamboo stick and banana leaves. Large-scale cooking once entailed the use of steel vats—kawa—which came in extra large sizes, good enough for a pig to fit in. I still see a few “kawas” these days—only in landscaped gardens, where they are used for accents.

Raw ingredients were either crushed or powdered in a stone “dikdikan”  or "daldakan", which consisted of a small mortar (asung) and a pestle (alung). Ground rice was turned into sticky  galapong using a stone “gilingan”, that had a hole on top into which rice and water was fed. A handle was turned manually around and around until the galapong emerges from a spout and is collected for making kakaninssampelut, bibingka, sapin-sapin, bobotu.

Native trivets, we call “lakal”—made of bamboo, woven to form a ring, on which a pot can be made to rest. Placed over one’s head, the “lakal” helps an ambulant vendor  steady an “igu” or a “bitse” (woven winnowing trays) filled with local delicacies, while she goes walking around the neighbourhood.

Food was served on plates (“pinggan”) made of enamelled tin or cheap ironstone imported from England. Special viands for a crowd of hungry guests were put in deep “pasung Intsik”, which had the shape of flower pots, but without holes. I remember these glazed pots which we brought out from our “lansena” for use only during fiesta time. they were dark brown in color with a light brown band at the top, decorated with stylized dragon designs.

To scoop anything from a container, there’s the sanduk bican (scooper/ ladle) fashioned from a coconut shell. When holes were drilled onto the ladle, the sanduk becomes a “panyalak”or a sieve. Water dippers made use of almost the whole shell, fastened to a long wooden handle. Back then, any visitor can cool his thirst off with a free welcome drink. All he had to do was to take a water-filled dipper filled from a big clay jar –banga--that stood in front of houses. Cockleshells were often thrown into the banga to maintain the clarity of the water.

Other clay jars in a household include the narrow mouthed  ”oya”, “balanga” (for storing dishes), “gusi”( glazed pot with handles), “tapayan”( a water jar outfitted with a faucet). These often were set on the “banguerra”. Uneaten food or leftovers were stored in a paminggalan, a small pantry cabinet with slats to let air in.

Today, a wide assortment of high-tech kitchen gadgets have been invented to improve kitchen efficiency and convenience: from electric mixers, juicers, steamers to  microwave ovens and grillers. But for yesteryear's homemakers,  nothing beats the fruits of hard labor--whether it is turning a gilingan with sheer muscle power or pounding rice for hours--for it is believed that this is the only way that she can fully bring out life's many flavors.

Monday, July 1, 2013

*335. AY, KABAYO!: The Horse in Our Pop Culture

LET'S DO THE HORSEY-HORSEY! My dad (R) and younger sibling Manuel (L) pose with their all-purpose family horse at home. My grandfather used to ride this horse when inspecting his farmlands, but it was also used for leisurely ride around the backyard by the brothers. Ca. 1930.

Next to the carabao, the lumbering beast of Philippine farmlands, the fleet-footed horse, or kabayo, ranks as another favored animal prized for its beautiful form and function. For many a busy hacendero in Pampanga, owning a horse was a must, for its varied uses—as a means of transport and conveyance, a trusty steed heroes rode in times of war, an animal enjoyed for recreation and leisure, as well as a prized status symbol.

A picture of my father and his sibling exist in one of our old albums, showing off their small, but fine steed. I never bothered to ask the name of their family horse, which I assumed, was used by my Ingkung in checking out his farm holdings in Bundagul and Mabiga. I bet my father and my uncle rode this horse all around the spacious backyard, and maybe even around town. The horse was kept in my granduncle’s house next door, perhaps in his spacious garage. The horse was most definitely tended by Tatang Simon, my father’s family driver.

 The horse was never an ideal animal for our wet farmlands—the damulag which could efficiently plow through mud was perfect for the job. In Europe, however, the horse ruled the dry wheat fields of Europe. Even then, the horse has managed to find a special place in Philippine pop culture.

“Kabayo”, is derived from the Spanish word “caballo”, and to this day, we call it as such, whether dappled, spotted or tan. In those times, many horse driven carriages were a convenient way to move around the country. In Manila, there were the ‘quilez” (a one-horse rig), the “tartanilla” (2 wheeled horse carriage) and the horse-drawn “tranvia”.

 During the Hispanic era, the art of horsemanship was integrated in the grand dances of old Pampanga. As a striking musical preface to the spectacular balls, it was said that Kapampngans danced the rigodon on horseback to display their equestrian skills and to flaunt their fine steed, fit for royalty.

 In and around the provinces like Pampanga, the more humble “karomata”and “kalesa”were more popular, their arrival announced by the pleasant tinker of the calesa bell and the rhythmic trot of the horse, with blinders and leather harness, arrayed with silver bridles, decorations and plumed headdress. To this day, the horse-drawn kalesa, though handful in number, continues to ply the dusty side roads of many Kapampangan towns, alongside jeeps and trikes.

 The animal has enriched our local culture, belief system and language; there are local adages that refers to the handsome steed, to wit: “Ing cabayung e queca, paburen me qng lacad na”(Leave a horse that is not yours, to trot along, read; Mind your own business). Another one goes, “Ïng cabayung alang rienda, capilitan managuinis ya” (A horse with no reins will be forced to bite). 

Philippine riddles make allusions too, to the horse: “Kabayu ng Adan, e mangan nung eme sakyan” (Adam’s horse will not eat unless you ride on it. Ans.: coconut grater). A more cryptic riddle runs: “Ing buntuk na kabayo, ïng batal na pari, ing katawan na ulad, ing bitis na lagari.” (It’s got the head of a horse, the neck of a priest, the body of a worm, the feet of a saw. Ans.: Locust).

 Around the house, there are domestic objects that refer to the horse. The animal gave its name to the old folding wooden ironing boards that resembled the 4-legged creature--the ‘pakabayu”. In the 19th century, children played “juego de anillo”, a game in which they attempted to collect hanging rings with a wooden sword while riding hobby horses of sticks. “Kabayuan” is to ride the back of a playmate in a horseplay, while “mangabayu”refers to the horse rider. Ironically, despite the graceful form and handsome figure of the horse, to be called “lupa kang kabayu” (to have the face of the horse) was tantamount to being called ugly.

Blame it on the horrific image of the “tikbalang", that huge cigar-smoking, tree-sitting denizen of Philippine folklore who took the shape and features of a horse, albeit elongated and uglier looking. The movies too, perpetuated the image of a laughable horse—as in the 1958 fantasy film about a talking horse, “Silveria, Ang Kabayong Tsismosa”, starring Dolphy. Why, even a comedian became famous in the 80s because of his resemblance to a horse—“Ritchie D’Horsie”.

 Richard III may have lost his life and kingdom for a horse, but this trusty animal has existed long enough to witness the gallantry of men and heroes: Bucephalus led Alexander the Great to his many conquests, Rocinante followed Don Quixote to his many adventures and an unnamed white steed of the young boy general, Gregorio Del Pilar accompanied him to his martyrdom. In recent memory, a world-class horse raced to glory with Kapampangan equestrienne Mikee Cojuangco’s gold medal winning performance at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, Korea.

 Loyal, dependable and trustworthy, our equine friend has certainly managed to gallop its way into our hearts, homes and history.