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Assignment China Chinoy Haven

Here’s my entry that got me a plane ticket to Holland this coming October from Digital Photographer Philippines, KLM Philippines and Lonely Planet Philippines.

The original shortlisted six photographers (Ann Francisco, Dan Pagulayan, Ela Paje, Joel Garcia, Joseph Leh, and yours truly) that were picked from the hundreds of entries for the On Assignment Europe, were given two days to shoot the walled city of Intramuros, write an article about it, and fit the photos on the given layout by Lonely Planet magazine.

The article would determine the final two winners for the weeklong Holland Assignment.

The shoot was grueling but fun. I was on site before the sun rises and didn’t stop shooting ‘til the sun went out for both days, my feet was totally crying out after the shoot.

I’m now presenting the output from the shoot here as a big thank you for those that supported and believed in my god-given ability to win this contest. A heartfelt thank you, my dear friends!

I also wish to thank the people at DPP and KLM for putting up this huge and very unique contest. And the sponsors too of course, Sony for the Sony NEX camera, Phottix for the tons of camera accessories, JT Photoworld for the Tamrac camera bags, and KLM for the iPad 2’s and the all expenses paid 7-day trip to Holland.

I would also like to congratulate Joel H. Garcia, my photography idol, who got the other slot for the final two! Not only do I get to go to Holland, but I also get the chance to shoot with my hero.


To view all the excellent outputs from the other five photographers click here: The Final Images
And to view the video announcement of the two winners of the contest click here: And Then There Were Two


Old dresses, antique furniture, ancient artworks, sacred primeval church artifacts; get lost in the world of long-gone eras in any of the six museums inside the walls of Intramuros.

For minimal fee, you can imagine yourself like a Don at the luxurious turn of the century house in Casa Manila, check out the religious artifacts of San Agustin Museum, learn about the historical role of the Filipino-Chinese community at the Bahay Chinoy through its dioramas and relics, watch the 333-year Spanish Regime rush by at the Light and Sound Museum, and wonder at Rizal’s genius at the Rizal Shrine.


An intensive tour of the side streets of Intramuros would not be complete without riding the vehicle of choice back when the Philippines was still under Spain’s mighty rule.

Hop on and ride at the back of the carriage or be more daring and ride with the kuchero out front. Let the slow saunter of your horse of choice lull your way through the historical corridors of Manila as your guide-cum-driver rattle outs historical tidbits about the places you pass by. There is no better way to tour Intramuros than through a Kalesa.


Enter the one of the oldest and most popular fort in the city and relive the country’s National Hero’s greatest achievements; from his lyrical poems, comedic sketches, intricate paintings, morbid sculptures and most importantly his masterpiece, Noli Me Tangere. Everything Rizal is on display here.

Visitors can also literally follow Rizal’s footprints from the time he wrote and hid his famous Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell) letter in a night lamp up to his execution walk which is imbedded on the fort’s brick-paved plaza.


Hit that ball from morning ‘til evening at the only golf course in the country that allows golf punks to play even at night.

The 18-hole course is bordered on one side by the massive walls of Intramuros and the iconic Manila City Hall at the other. The course is not as large as the sprawling ones on the city outskirts, but is as challenging. With sand traps, water holes and the walls of Intramuros itself as obstacle, finesse would be the keyword for those in the green.

Built in 1907, Club Intramuros Golf Course it is the oldest putting green in the Philippines.


There are five massive defensive bulwarks inside Intramuros and each one is open for viewing.

Visit and imagine how these now deserted fortifications were once scenes of hard fighting during the war. With heavy cannons over turrets and parapets still in place, it’s not hard to.

One of the most popular of these is the Baluarte de San Diego found on the southernmost corner of Intramuros. Go past its picturesque gardens, up into a flight of cramped spiral stone staircase and be awestruck by a colossal moss-ridden circular ruin that would open before your eyes as you ascend. One would think that this may have been a dungeon of sorts, but a quick look into a guidebook reveals a much more mundane use for this remarkable ruin, a foundry.


After the city’s destruction in 1945, Intramuros is still undergoing reconstruction up ‘til now and there’s still a lot of old and unused buildings sprawled all over its fortifications. And although most of these crumbling ruins are off-limits to visitors for obvious safety reasons, one can still have a peek inside these once magnificent structures through its barred windows.

From skeletal remains of post and beams, to imposing anti-air guns, classic dilapidated automobiles, banyan-covered walls, and abandoned bicycles; once in a while you’ll get lucky and discover a secret garden. You just might be surprised with what you’ll discover inside these abandoned shells of history.



Have a handy notebook and a list up all the sculptures you’d be passing by, you’ll definitely lose count of them.

The city inside the walls has them all; from the flamboyant statue of the King Carlos IV of Spain, to the graceful monument of St. Thomas of Aquinas, the imposing Monarch Isabel II, the past Philippine Presidents, and the larger than life National Hero, Jose Rizal.


Cute ref magnets, hand-woven bags, funky key chains, tribal wooden sculptures, cheeky t-shirts, tasty sweets, colorful paintings, historical books, postcards, paper toles, ceramics and everything else in between; Intramuros has them.

Like most tourist center, it has innumerable souvenir shops that run the gamut from the ordinary to eclectic, the affordable to the ultra pricey. One can never have enough keepsakes and the city within the walls has something for everyone to bring back home.


Along its sidestreets, inside villas, and deep within the actual walls of Intramuros lies food places for all walks of life.

Relish history with your taste buds for the finest in Filipino cuisines inside Bahay na Bato restaurants. Chow cheap but tasty street fares along the university areas. Cool down under the nooks of the walls of the city for expensive gourmet coffee. Dine al fresco along the lamp-lit streets for an evening of romance.

Intramuros is an all in one foodie haven sprinkled with a dash of history.


Hold on to your jaw before entering the two of the most impressive churches in the country.

Built in 1607, the San Agustin Church is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the oldest standing church in the whole of the Philippines. Its cream-colored exterior looks deceivingly simple, but once you get past its intricately carved wooden doors, you’ll be supremely awed by its Trompe l'oeil three-dimensional styled painted interior. Rare is the person who would not do a double-take on those painted walls.

The Manila Cathedral on the other hand does not hide its grandness. Its Neo-Romanesque exterior boasts of huge recessed arches, a colorful rose window, a soaring belfry and a massive copper dome filled by eight pairs of stained glass windows. This is the wedding rites capital of the Philippines and has joined together countless famed couples on its altar. The cathedral is best seen right after the sun sets down the horizon and the church lights starts to glow.

After the images were displayed on the Digital Photographer Philippines website, Ryan Capulong, a member of the forum posted a comment that totally got what I was aiming for with the article. Thank you Ryan, I couldn’t have said it any better.

From the Digital Photographer Philippines website

My vote goes to Christian.

The Cover

Christian and Ela's covers, just by looking at them, instantly tells me that they are magazines wherein Intramuros is featured. So that, if I see the cover in the magazine stand and was probably planning to go to Intramuros, I would take notice of those covers. Don't get me wrong, but Dan's, Ann's and Joseph's covers also shows Intramuros in the cover but the composition which struct me most was Christian and Ela's. Joel's take was in a different angle which was really good and refreshing but it gave me an impression that the magazine is focusing on something more specific to culture rather than the overall sense/features of Intramuros. Christian's take was classic but it gave an inviting feel to it. It presented a photo that is somewhat mysterious and to me, if I hadn't known, it would look somewhere like a dungeon in Corregidor although the title says Intramuros. Maybe it is the contrast of dark and light and the guard walking towards the light that took me to take a closer look at it. Ela's take was also classic but the colors blue and yellow combined seemed to calm my senses. So, if I were to pick two, I would've picked Ela's and Christian.
The Full Spread
Man, Christian's full spread was just dynamic. Very nice composition and exposure. I also liked that he included some human element to the photo which made me feel as if I am standing there and looking at the cathedral. Dan's and Ela's have the birds' eye view approach which was really amazing and I would vote for them too if I can. They presented views I never thought would be possible to view when in Intramuros. Ela presented another way of looking at Manila from Intramuros which was really nice. Dan, I'm still researching on the place you shot this angle from. Looking at the map right now. hahaha.
Now this is where I decided Christian would be my first vote.
Christian thought about his numbering. He invited us to take a closer look at the magazine through his cover, presented us an iconic landmark which was the Manila Cathedral (full spread), took us to the museums (#1), then let us ride with him in cobbled streets (#2) to play golf (#3), retrace Rizal's steps(#4) and educate us about the walled city(#5), invited us to the secret gardens (#6), appreciate sculptures (#7), and finally buy souvenirs (#8). Then maybe tired of the long walk, invited us to eat at Intramuros' food places(#9) to replenish ourselves and finally visit the Cathedral (#10) and thank God for Intramuros and all that it has to offer. That is how I read his 1-10. Pretty coherent and it presents a storyline - remember God (full spread), appreciate history (#1), roam the streets (#2), play(#3), retrace our culture (#4-7), buy memorabilia(#8), rest and eat (#9), and finally thank God (#10).

The Last POW is the story of Merrill Newman, an 85-year-old American tourist and Korean war veteran who was removed from the plane at the end of an otherwise uneventful trip to North Korea in October 2013, and held for almost two months in Pyongyang.

During the Korean war, Newman had served with the White Tigers, a precursor of today’s US Special Forces, as an adviser to a group of anti-communist Koreans known as the Kuwol Comrades who operated behind North Korean lines.

Before his trip Newman believed that, 60 years later, his wartime role would not be an issue on his travels. But he discovered that for North Korea, the war had never ended. He found himself accused of being a spy and threatened with indefinite detention because of his interest in visiting the Mt Kuwol area – now a tourist attraction – where the partisans he trained had operated.

The American went to ground after his release a year ago, refusing to talk to reporters – until now. This is an extract from the first detailed account of his ordeal, available to read in full as a Kindle Single.

The Last POW

Completely unaware that he was a household name in the United States, Merrill Newman passed his days in isolation on the 36th floor of the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang. Apart from the “investigator” who conducted the interrogations, his only other human contact came from his guards, the interpreter, and a doctor and nurse.

Four times a day – at 9am, noon, 4pm, and 9pm – the doctor and nurse appeared to take his blood pressure, check his pulse, and measure his heartbeat.

The North Koreans appeared to realise how much trouble they would face if something happened to him.

“The interrogations were stressful beyond anything that was reasonable. The investigator was saying, The most important thing is for you to be healthy. I would say, The most important thing is for me to be able to be home. Then I’ll be healthy. I was saying every day, My wife needs me at home. She is an old lady and she needs me. I talked to the doctors about this. I talked to the guards. I talked to the interpreter. Finally, the investigator said, Stop saying that. You sound like a three-year-old. It’s just going to make you stay here longer. So I stopped.”

One day, the “investigator” opened a window and said, “You need some fresh air.”

Merrill told him the guards would not let him keep the window open. From that day on, he was allowed to do so.

The “investigator” had urged that he get some exercise, so after about a month in detention, he was taken out of the hotel for several walks on the island where the Yanggakdo was located.

“There were 81 steps down to the river,” Newman said, “and we would walk either to the left or the right. Going up and down the steps, the nurse and doctor each held one arm to be sure I wouldn’t fall.”

But days would go by when the “investigator” did not appear. There was no explanation. The interpreter would say he had no idea what might have happened, and no influence on the process. Some days even the interpreter was absent.

“I’d get really low when nobody came. They were just feeding me and checking my blood pressure and the rest of the time I was just sitting. What in the world is going on? The days are slipping by. I’m not supposed to be here anymore. They’ve got all the information they’re ever going to get. Why are they just ignoring me? I thought, Are they holding me here as trading material for something? It was really uncomfortable.”

On Friday, November 29, the North Koreans told Newman he would have a meeting with Swedish ambassador Karl-Olof Andersson the following day. The “investigator” and the interpreter instructed Merrill as to what to say to explain why he was being held. Merrill made notes and was then forced to rehearse, five times on Friday, and three more times on Saturday. But he was having trouble, because it was their English, not his, and they wanted him to do it without notes.

“I told them, I can’t. You are going to have to let me say it in my words, not yours. If you let me use my words, I can manage. If you want me to use your words, I have a real problem.”

“Indelible”—a word that was used repeatedly in a videotaped confession Newman had been forced to record two weeks earlier—was one to which he had particular objections. Eventually, the North Koreans agreed to let him sound more like himself, but a senior official of higher rank than the “investigator” came by to listen and make sure Merrill said only what he was supposed to.

“It was very serious. It was all choreographed. They didn’t want me to say another word.”

Andersson arrived and gave Merrill some snacks, two bottles of beer, and a Coca-Cola. He also brought letters from his family. The North Koreans, presumably wanting to read them first, did not give to Newman until the middle of the following week.

Sitting across from Andersson, Merrill awkwardly recited his lines. As he finished, the “investigator” walked behind the ambassador, looked at Merrill, and flashed a broad smile.

“It was a human gesture. It was completely out of character.”

Yet in the days that followed, nothing happened.

“I kept thinking, How many other steps are there? How high does it have to go? Does it have to go to Kim Jong Un?”

Merrill was eventually released and returned to America. There was, however, a final sting in the tail:

A month after his return, Merrill got a call from the State Department. The North Koreans had given a document to the Swedish ambassador to send to him. Merrill wondered: What on earth could it be?

In a gesture of astonishing chutzpah, the North Koreans were submitting a bill of $3,241 for his enforced stay at the Yanggakdo Hotel. They’d even broken the room rate down, with six days at the “tourist season” rate of $75/day, and 36 days at the “ordinary season” rate of $60/day. Plus $591 for meals, $14 for dessert, and $23 for the phone call to Lee. And, as a final insult, there was a $3 fee for “a lost plate.”

Merrill asked the State Department whether paying might help the other Americans detained in North Korea, and was told no.

The bill remains unpaid.

Mike Chinoy is a long-time North Korea expert and former Asia correspondent for CNN, currently a senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s US-China Institute. He is the author of Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis and has visited North Korea 17 times

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