That night was especially cold in Osaka. It was my first Christmas Eve away from home; I had always celebrated the occasion with family. That night, however, there won’t be any noche buena or wine or reunions for me.
I picked up my luggage at the hotel and made my way to Umeda Sky Building where I would catch the overnight Willer bus to Tokyo. I would be welcoming Christmas on the road. Merry Christmas to me indeed.
I enjoy planning trips, but I refuse to be overly meticulous about it. What greeted me at the Umeda Sky Building is one of the reasons why. I didn’t know that it hosts one of the city’s biggest winter events — the German Christmas Market. I was pleasantly surprised that I felt my insides turn liquid. In my stomach were not butterflies but fairies, determined to shoo away the holiday blues that had overtaken me. For a split second, I believed in magic and all the crazy, juvenile delusions that the season brings.
At one point during our walk, I thought I’d be stuck there. Flooding the historic Asia Afrika Boulevard, the crowd was too thick, and I struggled to squeeze myself into whatever little gap I could find to make it through to the next block.
Thankfully, I was not alone. Alfi, an Educator at SMK Telkom Bandung, patiently waited for me on the other side. Alfi is one of the thousands of souls who offered help to make the Asian African Conference a success. It is Bandung’s biggest event, one that locals and tourists alike had been anticipating for years.
It was not just an ordinary day for Bandung. On 19 April 1955, world leaders from Asian and African countries who had just gained independence from colonial rule gathered in the city and agreed to work hand in hand. Sixty years later, this momentous event was commemorated over several days, peaking on April 24th when costumes painted the city streets with the colors of the participating countries. Saying that the event is huge doesn’t do justice to the magnitude of the celebration. It was one of the biggest crowds I have seen in my life, if not the biggest.
It played in my head as if it happened only the night before. The crowd had come alive at Makansutra Gluttons’ Bay by the Singapore River and the queues grew as they snaked in front of the stalls offering a wide variety of Asian Food. I could not help thinking about the first time I set foot on this place three years ago. It was my first night outside the Philippines.
People, with drinks in their hand, danced to the loud music as the light flickered in the middle of the place. While it sounds like a scene from your favorite club in the city, that is how one would describe the bonfire event that happens in Sagada every year. Except, the dance is native, the music is created by traditional percussion instruments, and the light is coming from a big bonfire that burns gloriously at the center of the site.
But first, a backgrounder. The Pahiyas Festival is celebrated every May 15 in Lucban, Quezon in honor of the municipality’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador (St. Isidore the Farmer). To participate in the festival, residents decorate their houses with vegetables, fruits and kiping, leaf-shaped paper-like decors made from rice. (Kiping can be eaten raw, by the way.) The best decorated house will win the Pahiyas contest.