Monday, 19 December 2011

Tales from the Philippines

It was believed by the folk that when a mermaid is captured (and held captive), it results in a big flood. After “Ondoy,” it is said that more people went to the Manila Aquarium than usual to check whether a mermaid was, indeed, in one of the display tanks.

Two friends who regularly go to Dumaguete, and one who lives there, also relate that when the seaside city went underwater from heavy rains four years ago, fishermen up and down the coast marched angrily to the Silliman Marine Science lab armed with oars. They were soon joined by farmers carrying pitchforks, whose farms had been inundated. They demanded the release of the mermaid that the marine biologists had purportedly been keeping in a tank (for study?).

Poor director Alcala of the marine science department had to rush to the scene in his pajamas to open the tank area! Only then would the folk believe that there was no mermaid imprisoned there.

In Dagupan, Pangasinan, a mermaid statue with a fountain used to be in front of the old City Hall until it was torn down during a remodeling.

“Mermaids were part of our childhood and our history,” says Norma Liongoren. “The rivers criss-crossing Dagupan were said to be her tears. The sirena was the bogey we were frightened with to make us obey.”

One of the Hundred Islands of Alaminos was the location of the first “Jezebel” movie (which has had many incarnations). A mermaid statue still exists there.

Legends about mermaids are prevalent all over the Philippines. As in Angono, sightings are still reported—of a mermaid with long hair, perched on a rock, luring sailors and swimmers with her singing, then drowning them. (The dugong, says John I. Teodoro, with its hairy body, looks very much like a fat mermaid.) A science (?) education (?) building under construction had a glass dome, it was rumored, to become the tank for a sirena.

Another interesting urban myth that has been around since the ’80s is that of Robina (Gokongwei)’s snake twin. That this snake likes to eat people who go into a fitting room of the department store. A trapdoor allegedly opens and the girl disappears forever. That the snake watches when the elevator door opens to observe where the feet of the person it desires are going, and follows.

An earlier story has it that the Gokongwei son it was who had a snake twin. The obsidian, the legend goes, likes beautiful young women whom it captures through the same dressing-room trapdoor. This snake apparently travels because the same legend follows it in every branch of the department store.

At one time it is said that the pretty actress, Alice Dixson, had been captured by the snake but released. And that, to quell the rumor, the family had to pay her to leave for Canada and stay there. The lawyer allegedly hired to settle the affair was Solicitor Frank Chavez!


I thought the myth had died down. But just the other day, someone who was supposed to have a meeting with Mr. Lance Gokongwei was advised to “look closely and tell me if his arms, under his long sleeves, have scales”!

The legend that still persists in Ilocos Norte is that Marcos is alive. That he is kept living by embryonic fluid in some secret facility. That his skin is nice and fresh and that he walks among us but does not look at all like the original Marcos. That the “corpse” in Paoay is really just wax. That his gold certificates are still being encashed, etc., etc.

Myths or legends are usually pegged on an event that took place, like the “Ondoy” flood and the flooding of the Dumaguete coastline. The Marcos “corpse” is still viewable in his mausoleum in the north. The belief in a snake twin has been around in the islands at least since the 17th century, as reported in Fray Ignacio Francisco Alzina’s 1668 “History of the Bisayan Islands” (basis of current telenovela “Amaya”).

Chinese are also known to regard snakes as good luck for business, which is allegedly why some Chinese keep snakes in their bodega. (And animals have to be fed don’t they?) Someone posited, though, that the snake myth came up when malls were just being introduced in the Philippines. They were huge, frigid structures then, unfamiliar to the folk. Could it have been a manifestation of that fear? Could it have been a rumor begun by a competing mall? Legends or myths make no distinction between truth and fiction—but how in heavens’ name did Frank Chavez get in there?

Older urban legends are the White Lady of Balete Drive who hitches a ride or boards a taxi but disappears. She comes in many variations and can apparently bilocate. She has been seen in Baguio and other places not named Balete, nor is she always in white.

Then there is the cat in the siopao of a mami joint. This urban legend began way back during the Japanese time when there was a scarcity of meat and lots of cats on the street. The fact that the mami joint and the department store are more popular than ever proves that urban legends are either not believed, or if they are, merely add delicious spice to the merchandise. Cars still go through Balete Drive, which is one of the shadiest streets around. And of course, everyone just loves preternaturals!

Source: Inquirer "Forever 18" column, 18 December 2011

Sunday, 11 December 2011

London riots rumour round-up

An analysis of Twitter rumours spread during the London riots in a recent issue of The Guardian included the following beautiful stories:
  • The London Eye was on fire
  • Rioters had released a tiger from London Zoo and it was no on the loose on Primrose Hill
  • Rioters had broken into McDonalds and were cooking their own food

Judex lives!

'Sleeping gas' thieves target super-rich at Italian billionaires' resort

Police in the billionaires' retreat of Porto Cervo on Sardinia's Costa Smeralda believe thieves who made off with €315,000 (£280,000) in cash and jewels used sleeping gas on their victims to ensure they were not disturbed during the break-in.

Similar robberies have been reported this summer in France and Spain.

The burglaries in Porto Cervo, which took place last week, were only disclosed by police on Tuesday. The thieves sneaked into the rented holiday villa of a Milanese pharmaceuticals tycoon and left with a haul worth around €300,000. The businessman's 42-year-old wife, her mother and their daughter were all in the house, along with a servant, but no one heard the burglars, even though they took the windows off their hinges to get in.

At the villa next door, two holidaymakers found a watch and €15,000 in cash missing. They told police they had woken up feeling weak and dazed.

In July, "gassing gangs" were reported to be targeting caravans and camper vans in France. Thieves sprayed sleeping gas in through air vents before breaking in.

Earlier this month, at least six houses on an estate at Rincón de la Victoria on Spain's Costa del Sol were burgled by thieves thought to have used sleeping gas. One of the residents, José Luis Gómez, was quoted as saying the victims had woken "dizzy, with headaches, vomiting and stinging throats".

Porto Cervo was built in the 1960s by Prince Karim Aga Khan and it has long been a playground for the super-rich. Earlier this month,the sign at the entrance to the Costa Smeralda was altered, apparently by an insufficiently prosperous holidaymaker armed with a spray can. The "Smeralda" was deleted and replaced with the word "troppo", so it now reads in Italian: "Costs too much."

Source: The Guardian, 30 August 2011
More on the same story appears in The Telegraph, 4 September 2011

The (long overdue) return of Arsène Lupin

Restaurant couple do cigarette break runner leaving £570 bill unpaid

They seemed like any other well-off young London couple dining out last Wednesday. The man and woman, both smartly dressed, arrived for their booked table for two at the Michelin-starred restaurant L'Autre Pied in Marylebone, before each ordering three courses from the menu, along with a bottle of pink Larmandier champagne at £124 and another of 1997 Bollinger that cost £285.

But after helping them on with their coats to nip outside for a cigarette, the waiting staff soon discovered that they were no ordinary diners. Some minutes later, with a plum tart and millefeuille uneaten at the table, it became clear the couple had no intention of returning – or of paying a bill totalling £572.74.

What may make the case more intriguing is that the name in which the pair booked the table, Lupin, echoes that of the fictional Arsene Lupin – a stylish Gallic gentleman thief whose adversaries, in a series of novels by Maurice LeBlanc, are invariably portrayed as rather worse villains than him. The Metropolitan police confirmed they were investigating.

"In two decades we have never had anything like this," Leonora Popaj, the restaurant's general manager, told the Guardian. The couple had not seemed unusual or suspicious, she said, and the bill was not particularly lavish by the restaurant's standards – the Bollinger is not, for instance, the most expensive champagne on the menu. "They looked like a very genuine, very lovely couple. Their bill was an average spend. Nothing was out of place or unusual."

CCTV footage of the pair, indeed, showed nothing peculiar: both are believed to be in their 30s; the man, described by the restaurant as about 6ft tall, had a light beard and was wearing blue jeans and a jumper; his companion, wearing a black sleeveless dress with a scarf, had long dark hair and is seen in the snatched image flashing an engaging smile at a staff-member.

It was only while viewing the footage, said Popaj, that she noticed the woman wasn't carrying a handbag – not in itself damning, perhaps, but which certainly facilitated their speedy departure.

It is understood that similar incidents involving other top restaurants are being looked at by police, raising the possibility that the pair are serial thieves. But Popaj denied suggestions that L'Autre Pied will now demand that diners wishing to step outside for a cigarette surrender their credit cards. "We are totally against that. That would only punish our very honest clientele."

As for the suggestion that "Lupin" may have been chosen as some kind of joke, Popaj said: "It makes me very angry. What upsets me most is that they have this mentality that this [amount] is nothing for this level of restaurant.

"They are forgetting that they are really attacking the waiters, who don't have an enormous income."

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Bad political magic in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Satan, exorcism and magic T-shirts - our favourite rumours from DRC presidential poll

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa is a rumour mill. No more so that during the country’s 2011 presidential elections. The Congolese are sometimes superstitious, at times moralistic and always feverish in their chatter about the latest rumour. This has only been amplified by the country’s polls. Here’s a collection of RFI’s favourite election rumours.
  • The magic pen: Bring your own pen to mark the election ballot paper. The pens handed out by the electoral commission use invisible ink. Once you mark your vote and post it in the ballot box the ink will disappear in 10 minutes, making your choice useless.

  • Mysterious candidate photos: Don’t look at the first candidate’s photo on the presidential ballot paper. It has special powers given to it by Satan. If you look at the photo it will force you to vote for it.

  • Special campaign materials: Don’t accept campaign materials from anyone, including leaflets or T-shirts. If you accept campaign materials it will enable the candidate to possess your body. You will only be exorcised once the elections have finished and the candidate has forced you to vote for them.

  • Deadly money: Don’t accept money from election candidates. If you accept their money you will die.

  • Election premonition: The events of the elections correspond to the Bible’s Book of Revelations. UDPS party leader Etienne Tshisekedi is Satan while the unrest before the election and airport standoff are birth pangs leading to the end of the world.
Source: RFI English, 1 December 2011
NB Reports of disappearing ink in election booth pens also appeared in relation to this week's elections in Russia.