Sunday, June 19, 2011

'Round The World Travels of a Hero

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Wanderlust: Jose Rizal (1861-1896)
If Jose Rizal was alive today, he would probably give travel writers and bloggers a run for their money. Jose Rizal, the Philippines National Hero, was a well-traveled polymath (fluent in 22 languages!) and a prolific writer during the 19th century. He was also a brilliant and charismatic young man whose wit and character impressed almost everyone he met, including his enemies.

Back in college, I enjoyed reading excerpts of his essays, diaries and letters which were part of the requirements for our course on Rizal Studies (Yes, you can call me a nerd.). I especially liked his travel diaries for they reflect interesting insights on the places he visited and the people he met in his journeys.  He traveled mainly for personal learning, to fight against the oppression and injustice of the Spanish colonizers, and later, to protect his family and friends from persecution by the Spanish colonial government. Interestingly, in his initial travels, people mistook him for a Japanese. Yet in his succeeding travels, he had become some sort of a "celebrity", as Rizal himself recounted in his diary. 

In honor of the most-traveled Filipino hero, I am sharing some of the places he visited during his travels around the world including some of his personal observations: 

Singapore and its famous Merlion*

In 1882, Jose Rizal arrived in  Singapore via the steam ship Salvadora, which was bound for Spain. He hired a carriage for the day and went around the city. Among the things he saw in Singapore were the botanical garden, the Rajah of Siam's palace, and the house of the American consul. He admired the confidence that Singaporeans had in their government (which I think remains true today)

Arch of Triumph in Barcelona
Jose Rizal was in Barcelona in 1882. He was initially unimpressed because he thought the city was ugly and that the people were inhospitable.  He thought his impression of the city may have been affected by his feelings of melancholy. His feelings soon changed and he came to like the city.  He found Barcelona a progressive city with an atmosphere of freedom and liberalism. 

Plaza Mayor in Madrid
From Barcelona, Rizal moved to  Madrid in 1882 to study Medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid. He also studied painting and sculpture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. He was committed to developing himself while in Madrid by studying other languages and improving his fencing skills. 

The Eiffel Tower at night

Jose Rizal first visited Paris in 1883.  He was charmed by the city's beauty . He enjoyed its scenery and the beautiful boulevards. He saw the Opera House, the Place de la Concorde, the Arch of Triumph, the Bois de Boulogne, the Madelaine Church, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the Column of Vendome, and the Invalides. He spent a lot of time in museums as well.  His second visit to Paris was in 1889, in time for the Universal Exposition, a fair that marked the centennial of the French Revolution. The most-talked about attraction during the exposition then was the newly-constructed Eiffel Tower. 

St. Peter's Basilica in Rome
Rizal first visited  Rome in 1887. He found the beauty of Ancient Rome alluring. For him, exploring Rome was like treading on the dust of heroes. He also visited Vatican City. He was impressed by the magnificent edifices, especially St. Peter's Basilica. 

Hong Kong
Because of threats to his life, Jose Rizal left for Hong Kong in 1888, less than a year after he returned to the Philippines from his sojourn in Europe. While in Hong Kong, he studied the Chinese customs, language, and drama. He also practiced Medicine while in Hong Kong. (Currently, there's a landmark in Hong Kong that identifies the spot where Rizal's clinic once stood.)

Asia's Las Vegas: Macau 

While in Hong Kong, Rizal decided to go to Macau for a few days. He visited the cathedral, casino, theater, and the botanical gardens. He described the old Macau as an old and gloomy place. Afterwards, he returned to Hong Kong. (If Rizal was still alive, he would probably be surprised with how Macau looks like today.)

San Francisco, USA 

Jose Rizal arrived in San Francisco, USA  in 1888.  Aside from San Francisco, Rizal visited Nevada, Oakland, Utah, Nebraska, Chicago, Niagara Falls and New York. He explored the different scenic and historical places. He was impressed by America's  high standard of living and  progress. However, he didn't like the racial prejudice that existed in 1888 America and believed that it was inconsistent with the country's principles. 

Aside from these places, Jose Rizal explored various cities in Japan, Sri Lanka, Germany, England, and Switzerland. He also had the opportunity to travel by steam ship through the Suez Canal, which allowed him to see Egypt, the coast of Africa and the port city of Aden in Yemen. Every journey he made was driven by a purpose and he made sure to learn a lot about the places he visited, even though some of his visits were brief. It is therefore no surprise that some of the diplomatic relationships of the Philippines were influenced by Rizal's sojourns abroad. That kind of impact definitely beats any achievement by today's travel writers!

*-Thanks to fellow travelers Ritz Asirot and Francis Frederick for sharing their photos!


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