Ripples By Bertie

Moments in time


Seventh Decade

Two lovely daughters, Dezi and Trisha threw a big bash to celebrate the midpoint of their mother, Marichu’s, seventh decade.  Fondly called Chuty, her 75th birthday party at Maggiano’s in Bridgewater Commons was well attended by family and friends from former hometown, a tiny little island once paradise in the southernmost part of the Philippines.  Most of those in the party were from Jolo and due to circumstances not of their doing, have now spread out to various parts of the world.





At 12:00 noon on December 20th, the private room for the Barrera Birthday Party promptly filled up.


Chuty’s sister, Suzette drove in from Massachusetts with husband Jim, and sons, Sam and Scott.   Despite the beards Sam and Scott maintained in an attempt to look mature, their boyish goods looks belied the fact that these millenial professionals have finished college, are in the active workforce and most importantly, unattached.  The air and snow in Massachusetts must be the secret to their looks.


Food rolled in and didn’t stop until the party ended with take home boxes — crispy zucchini fritte slices fried to perfection with lemon aioli, calamari fritte, chopped salad, beef medallions pizzaiola over garlic mashed potatoes, parmagiano crusted mahi-mahi with asparagus, country style pasta, baked rigatoni with meatballs with smoked Italian cheese, braised vegetables were just some of the platters that kept coming from the kitchen.

Between bites from varied selections of fruits and pastries on the sweet table, Suzette gamely led the singing of Christmas carols in English, Tagalog, Spanish and our native Tausog, some bawdy, rhyming with Jingle Bells.  To our amazement, Scott and Sean surprised everyone with their command of Filipino songs and it turned out they participate in the Philippine Rondalla in Wilmington.  The guitar switched back and forth from Scott to Luis, Errol’s brother.  Jinnat, visiting from Saudi Arabia sang O Holy Night, which earned kudos from Errol.  A salute to Jolo, where regardless of belief, festivities were celebrated by all, intertwined by friendship.  The tireless waiter assigned to the room, Raffaele added a new twist to the Spanish carol, Feliz Navidad.




A slideshow of group pictures, they may look very similar but in some, the cast of characters changes . . .

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Sated, merry and happy, well provided with take out boxes and bags by Maggiano, with mwahs and hugs, we went our way with promises to keep in touch.






Ornament Of The World

The fame of Córdoba penetrated even distant Germany: the Saxon nun Hroswitha, famous in the last half of the 10th century for her Latin poems and dramas, called it the Ornament of the World.  —Reinhardt Dozy,_Andalusia

In a city of Andalusia, southern Spain, lies the ruins of what was once an empire that held the seeds of gracious civilization.  Today, imagine the broken architectural ruins that was once bustling with life.  Like Jolo, in the southernmost tip of the Philippines where peoples of various faith once lived peacefully, intertwined by marriages and traditions, Cordoba once had Muslims, Jews and Christians living as neighbors without rancor.  Caliphs had Jewish advisers and Christians as negotiators.

Moses Maimonides, famous Jewish philosopher, was born in Cordoba.  He was a jurist and physician, and was also known by his Arabic name Abū ʿImran Mūsā ibn Maymūn ibn ʿUbayd Allāh.  Maimonides Hospital in New York City was named after Moses Maimonides.

Albucasis, Arab Muslim physician and surgeon came from Cordoba.  His contributions to surgical procedures and instruments are still applied to this day. Recognition of ectopic pregnancy and haemophilia groundwork started with Albucasis.

Before we started exploring Cordoba, on the recommendation of a native Spaniard, also revisiting Cordoba, we stopped at a small coffee shop to taste the hot chocolate and churro.  The hot chocolate was excellent, so thick and creamy, you could stand a spoon in it and the churro was delightful.


The Medina az-Zahra, once known as the Versailles of the Middle Ages, ( is now only 10% of what it was at the height of its glory.  Today, excavation which started in 1911 is still ongoing, and from the 10% that is on display now, one can just imagine the wonders to be unfolded when all is done.  My second visit to this place, after more than two decades, still left me in awe at what men at peace can do with vast imagination and determination.  The library of the caliphs is said to have had over four hundred thousand books.  For now, it is just one of the Palaces of Memories.  New orange trees now dot the landscape around the Medina, much like it used to be in the medieval ages.

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The Mezquita Catedral de Cordoba, designed by a Syrian, boast grand hallways with roofs supported by pillars of beautiful stones in the hypostyle.  Richly flowing arcades, honeycombed domes, colorful mosaics, calligraphy, doors, screens, bearing Moorish architectural influences leaves one in awe.  My pictures are an attempt to add this stunning place to my own palace of memories, but certainly do not do this justice to the Mezquita.

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After the reconquista, christians took over the Mezquita and moorish influences were embedded with christian ideology.

I could never tire visiting this place.





Malacca is about 2,200 kilometers from Jolo, Sulu, the contentious island at the southernmost tip of the Philippines, which is where most Joloanos were born and raised.

The honorific Capitan was given to Alexander Tandico, by the locals when he made Jolo his home.  As a trader from China, he had a huge home built for his second wife, my grandmother, with many rooms to house the children from his first marriage and his second family, my mother and her siblings.  Unfortunately, I never got to know him.  But, I would wander from room to room in this house, walking the highly polished, wide plank mahogany floors, admiring the beautiful furniture he collected from Borneo, Sandakan, Malaysia, Malacca and other neighboring countries. In drifts of snatches of conversation between my maternal grandmother and people close by, Malacca figured a few times.  As a child, I took no mind, figuring out that she probably meant Malaysia and was just using the word in a deviated form of our local taosug dialect.

Thus, when I had a chance to travel to Southeast Asia, I jumped at the opportunity to visit Malacca to discover what this place was, a name remembered from childhood.  I took a day tour from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca, now a World Heritage site and joined a congenial group, from various parts of the world.  Our guide, who said he was a retired paratrooper and sounded like one while guiding us, had a lot to say about Malacca.

Malacca is a potpourri of cultures from prior European rulers, the Dutch, British and Portuguese.  Malacca is also home to a narrow harbor, the Strait of Malacca, dissected repeatedly by talking heads on television during coverage of the ill-fated Malaysia 370, the airplane that to this day, no one knows its whereabouts and the 293 passengers it carried.

As with other historical sites, religion must have played a big role in people’s lives, as there are a number of significant churches in this small town.

We were also shown an old burial site of long dead colonizers and their kin.

The remains interred under this marker would be 215 years old this year.

The remains interred under this marker would be 215 years old this year.

After a delicious Nyonya lunch — a marriage of dishes of the diverse asian culture in this part of the world, the group then proceeded to Jonker Street, which used to be known as an antiques shopping mecca, now a hodge podge of ancient, “old” and new stuff and other side streets in Malacca and the other streets of Malacca.  I imagined some of Capitan Tandico’s furniture must have been exported from here.

At one of our stops, there was a stand of elaborately decorated, colorful bicycle ricksaws.   Although I did not venture to try out a ride, the approximate cost of an hour’s ride would be in the area of USD$12.00/AN HOUR.

As opposed to a ride in a New York humdrum bicycle pedicab, which is $4.99/A MINUTE!!!

Note sign: "$4.99 a minute"

Note sign: “$4.99 a minute”

Compare appearance of New York pedicabs to colorful Malaysian rides.

In our tour group, was a young Asian lady, who badgered everyone into constantly taking photos of her in modelesque poses with her cell phone.  She would even duck into the bus for a change of accessories.  After using practically everyone in the group who was capable of handling a cell phone camera, she approached a handsome young man of equal age for help.  As with all unsuspecting tour companions, he graciously acquiesced, until he realized he was missing out on the ongoing tour. Visibly annoyed, he told her to get lost.  The young man then realized amused eyes were covertly watching this side show, some taking bets on when he would get fed up.  The last unsuspecting “victim” was the paratrooper tour guide who at first was happy to help the young woman, until the light bulb clicked.  Smiles from everyone.


Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia


Almost a  year ago, days before March 8, 2014, before the country of Malaysia figured in the eye of a maelstrom of tragedies, I was there.

I visited the Batu Caves in Selangor, one of Malaysia’s biggest tourist draw.  The caves formed by limestone, reputed to be about 400 million years old are accessed by a steep inclined climb to the entrance.  Malaysian tourism information says there are 272 steps, but it seemed like more than that.  Each step was a trudge, but with the help of a young fellow tourist, Rulan from Kazakhstan, who cheered me on with each step, I made it, trying to avoid the monkeys frolicking on each side of the steps trying to befriend people walking by, especially those they sensed carrying food.


Three outstanding caves with worshipers praying by the temples and shrines caught my attention.  Paintings and icons of Hindu Gods are everywhere.

 Aside from the monkeys, birds were everywhere, in and out of the caves and flitting over people on the square.



Alhambra Revisited

A Very Simple Sign To A Great Palace

A Very Simple Sign To A Great Palace

After more than a decade, re-visiting Alhambra Palace was seeing it with fresh eyes. Ohs and ahs on the silently remembered façade, rooms, nooks and crannies. With each turn of the corner, bursts of memories of having once before seen the beautiful Artesonado on the ceilings and walls, varying in every room.

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This is the ceiling of the Hall of the Two Sisters with the muqarna cupola. Muqarnas also reach to the edge of the image.  M.A. Sullivan:

In here is a cupola which by its height becomes lost from sight,
beauty in it appears both concealed and visible…
The bright stars would like to establish themselves firmly in it,
rather than continue wandering about in the vault of the sky… 
(Dodds 250)

Marvel at the arabesques patterns on the walls, the curlicues, and the delicately turned horseshoe arches.

In my heart and mind,  I applaud the artists, craftsmen and laborers who gradually starting in the thirteen century transformed stone and wood into timeless art, at the vast imagination that existed in the minds of men even before the age technology, and the Emirs and Sultans who commandeered the space and manpower to create this timeless palace.  Muslim art at its greatest, not just in the beauty of the construction but in the cursive, arabic calligraphy, verses carved in stone.


Gurgling water, fountains, pools are featured and can be seen and heard in almost any part of the palace.  And, according to Wiki, at the time the palace was in use, hot and cold running water were already embedded.


Central in the Court of Lions is the Fountain of Lions, carved out of alabaster with twelve white marble lions seemingly supporting the basin.  A lion would spout water at each hour.


During our visit, we had the added “bonus” of a bridal party having pictures taken at this historic site.  Lucky bride!

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Orange and pomegranate trees abound in the gardens.  P1010214 P1010215

Town of Granada. view from The Alhambra

Town of Granada. view from The Alhambra

  “There is no victor but Allah,” a constant reminder that no human feat surpasses God’s omnipotence.   Image uploaded from Google

“There is no victor but Allah,” a constant reminder that no human feat surpasses God’s omnipotence.
Image uploaded from Google

So much to see and absorb, four hours of touring the Palace, Gardens, Generalife was not enough time.  Perhaps another visit, InshAllah.



Aged To Perfection



When Bing was asked to join some friends who supposedly just arrived from the Philippines for dinner at the Renault Winery Resort and Golf on October 19, 2014, he had no idea that about ninety of his friends and relatives would be in the dinner party.  Jang Hock Lao, a townmate from the beautiful years in Jolo informed Bing that Andek and Nelson Chiong also townmates from Jolo, would be in New Jersey and would he want to meet up with them?  Of course, everyone except Bing knew that Andek and Nelson were in the Philippines, unaware that their names were being used as bait.  Bing must have wondered why so many Filipino faces were at the ballroom and was pleasantly surprised that everyone was there to honor and celebrate his 70th birthday.


Antonio Velasco was born during the war and grew up in Jolo, during the golden years of this then island paradise.  Bing as he is known to friends and family grew to be a handsome young man.  He attended Notre Dame school where the mentors were American missionaries, the Oblate Fathers, Marist Brothers, Presentation Sisters and the Dominicans.  Upon graduating from high school, as with most other young graduate from Jolo, Bing was shipped off to the big city for college.  A college education was a social must in this placid, and seemingly lazy town.


Bing met, fell in love with and married Myrna Quiachon.  Soon after, the couple immigrated to the United States, to settle in New Jersey raising two good looking sons and a gorgeous daughter.  Their growing family has been supplemented by four beautiful grandchildren.


Bing’s 70th birthday party started with an open bar, featuring the winery’s best, with delicious hor d’ oeuvres that just kept coming.  Brother Alfred George, one of the beloved Marist brothers who spent his “best years as a Christian Brother, not in the Philippines, but in Jolo” said grace and a short speech. Brother Alfred George with the birthday celebrant Brother Alfred was best known for his bark, and his gentle bite.  He kept every one in line with his no-nonsense attitude and in a heart-warming event, gave his basketball players original Converse sneakers, imported from the United States.

In between bites of filet mignon and salmon or chicken entree, the DJ 12pumped up the music and soon the dance floor soon crowded up with graceful dancers

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Here are some of the guests, for more photos, go to FaceBook of Antonio G Velasco or Sonny Luch

More Bro. Alfred photos

This little tyke had slick moves to Billie Jean, and his moonwalk could have given Michael Jackson a run for his money


The birthday cake “Happy Birthday Pop Pop”

and the sign-in board, featuring Bing flanked by two hotties


Soon enough, The Last Dance was played and the party started winding down.  Old friends hugged and speculated on the next 70th birthday gathering.


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Bangkok Protest: Cui Bono

Following the daily kabuki of the Bangkok protest in January and February, the internal debate on including Bangkok in my itinerary was a cloud on my plans.  Was the protest going to be an Arab Spring melee or like the  tame Occupy Wall Street?  Banking on the latter, I proceeded with travel plans.

Walking along Pathuman, drawn by the sound of a loud live band pumping rock music, several streets were cordoned off for a mass of Thais who were rocking, dancing, chanting and singing to the music.


Weaving in and out of the relatively peaceful protest that seemed more like a picnic, with some protesters having reflexology massages, picnic spreads, beach umbrellas, barbeques, food spread out on blankets or makeshift tables, naps on lounging chairs, it seemed surreal.  To avoid being caught in the middle, in case a fracas ensued, red and yellow outfits were avoided.  Red was the color of the protest and yellow, the government side.  In some multi-storey parking buildings, camping tents neatly placed in rows took the place of cars.  Some side streets were also tent alleys.

Just in case home cooked meals ran out at the protest sites, the streets of Bangkok did not lack for street hawkers or food vendors.



As a respite from the protest frenzy, sidewalk temples are everywhere.