We went to Jose Rizal’s house last October. In case you don’t know who Mr. Rizal is, he’s probably THE hero of the Philippines. Personally, I rate him the number two Filipino hero from my purely clinical outsider’s point of view. Read my earlier posting comparing Rizal to my personal favorite Philippine hero, Andres Bonifacio.
We left home early, before 6 a.m., picking up our driver near his home not far from the Angeles City entrance to the North Luzon Expressway. We got on the expressway and headed south toward Manila. I love having a driver. I get to sit shotgun and really see the sights, or better yet, I get to sleep when that napping feeling overwhelms me.
We got to Calamba City, the home of Jose Rizal, before 8 a.m. Calamba is a medium sized town south of Manila. We pulled up in front of “The Rizal Shrine,” as its called, and realized from its deserted appearance that we were early. We drove back up the main drag and had breakfast at McDonalds. By the time we made it back to the large whitewashed Rizal house just over an hour later it was after 9; already there was no parking left anywhere near it.
What a difference an hour made! Five large charter buses were lined up nose-to-tail along the busy street fronting the dwelling along with a multitude of parked cars and vans, and where there had not been a single soul only an hour earlier, the place was now teeming with sightseers. Our driver let us out just down from the entrance behind one of the big buses and we made our way up the crowded sidewalk.
We encountered a line of folks waiting to get in, so Amalia decided we should get in line with them. After a moment I wasn’t so sure. The line looked more like a group of students from one of the buses getting organized. I ambled up toward the entrance and noticed people going inside, while the front of Amalia’s line waited patiently without moving just outside the gate. I was right. There was no line to get into compound. But, Amalia wouldn’t believe me so we all waited with the group. I shook my head and laughed--AGAIN! Sometimes it’s just easier to go with the flow, no matter how ridiculous.
Once inside the compound we saw the REAL line of shrine visitors; it was long, winding and slowly moving into house. We finally figured out where the end of it was and we got in. It moved fairly quickly and within 20 minutes we were inside the structure. While moving slowly to get in I closely examined the exterior structure. It had an ancient mildew smell, but the bricks and wood looked much more modern and robust than it should for what I thought was a 100 plus-year-old dwelling. Sure enough, I found a plaque stating that the house had been built in 1952 by the Philippine government as a shrine to their acclaimed hero, Jose Rizal.
I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t THE actual house, but I suspected as much as soon as I saw it from the road. The building is SOLID! It looks more like a castle than a home, but evidently it mostly follows the architectural plan gleaned from old pictures and personal accounts.
From what I’ve read, Jose and his many brothers and sisters were born and raised on or near the site of the present shrine. Jose was born there in 1861. Many years later the family was forced to clear out by the Spanish after Rizal became persona non grata in his own country because of his writings highly critical of the tyrannical Spanish “friarocracy” that ran the Philippines at the time.
The inside of the two-story Rizal shrine looks quite authentic. It is packed with furniture, utensils, appliances, and tools that had been in vogue during Rizal’s time in the late 1800s. I love old stuff so I was fascinated with all of it. There were lots of exhibits and large oil paintings depicting Jose and his family's life, but the line moved so quickly that I could not read a single caption. We had to keep the line moving. I seemed to be the only one interested in reading the captions, so I guess I was the only one troubled by it.
We wound our way through the displays on the ground floor, headed upstairs to check out the bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, living room, and bathroom. Period bathrooms always fascinate me. It seems to me that the two-hole Rizal bathroom was designed as a “drop zone” where waste made its landing an entire floor below its origination. If it actually existed like that then it was a pretty smart design—it probably would have kept most of the unpleasant odors underneath the house well away from the noses of the occupants who we were told spent most of their time in the breezy top-story of the house.
Just minutes after we entered the home we were back outside. I felt dissatisfied with the speed of it. I wanted to take my time and actually read the captions and admire the artwork and furniture. Maybe it was just me, but no one else seemed a bit upset. Oh well.
We looked around the grounds of the park-like compound. Towards the back of the compound to the right there is a small museum building consisting of one large room, which has on display a small collection of memorabilia from Jose Rizal’s life. The only item of interest to me was a suit he once wore. From it I could see that he was a VERY slender tiny man. I probably would have fit into it back when I was 11 or 12. He was a highly intelligent fellow, but small. I asked the attendant a question about one of the displays, but he spoke no English so I blew it off. It surprised me since most people here speak English pretty well, especially those in public positions. He was probably there more for security than as a guide.
Behind the house under and surrounded by huge spreading trees is a little bamboo house called a bahay kubo. The marker sign states that the Rizal’s had one like it used by the Rizal children as a playhouse. Near it are life size bronze statues of Jose as a boy along with his metal pet dog. My kids had fun getting their pictures while riding the statuary dog. I sat by myself on a bench watching all the action from a distance, feeling peaceful and relaxed under my own leafy and shadowy tree. Nice!
By 9:45 most of the buses were gone as was the long line of people winding through the house. It seems that everyone shows up at exactly the same time. They all get into line at once, speed their way through the shrine’s interior and then leave. By 10 the place was almost deserted. I went back into the house and took my time examining the displays.
So here’s some advice: go see the Rizal Shrine at 10 a.m., by then the crowd’s are gone and you’ll mostly have the place all to yourself. Is it worth seeing? If you’re an aficionado of Philippine history by all means—go see it! It’s a complete recreation, but it’s been done pretty well.
Later that day we headed to Cavite to see the Aguinaldo house, another important figure from the Philippine’s past, but more on that in a future post.