rare find : philippine cigarette labels (1800-1900)

It is so rare to find vintage packaging design from the Philippines so I was thrilled to stumble on these. This extensive collection of cigarette pack labels are from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s. For those who are not aware, Spain colonized the Philippines for about 400 years (until towards the end of the 1900s). So most of the packaging text is in Spanish. I love this collection :) I wish I knew the story of who collected and documented these. There are more here if you're curious.

All images from

transported ancestral architecture

My Aunt Rose moved back to the Manila from San Francisco after she married and had a couple of kids (back in the 90s). During a visit to her father's ancestral town of Vigan, she had an idea – a monstrous undertaking only possible in places like the Philippines. Vigan is a town well-known for it's Spanish colonial architecture. In fact, since the 18th and 19th century, it has retained the most of the colonial architecture of any city in the Philippines. It is gorgeous and quaint. And yes, people still use horse-drawn carriages in the Philippines (called kalesa).

During my Tita Rose's visit to Vigan (tita means aunt in Tagalog), she heard about a house and land up for sale there. She heard the house was to be demolished. After going to see the house, she decided to purchase just the house and get this: took the house apart – every bit – and transported it back to Manila (I believe by truck, then boat) and rebuilt it next to a river outside of the city! It was a five plus year undertaking. One that that would have cost ridiculous amounts of money in any other country. You have to take into consideration that the Philippines is made up of over 7,000 islands. Transporting anything is an undertaking. The house was rebuilt on a plot of land overlooking a river. Various parts of the original house were repurposed as pieces of furniture (i.e. solid wood wall panels as the new dining table and front door, banisters as new bed posts, etc.). It's incredible.

So a few years ago, my sister Caroline (among numerous other talents, is a photographer) photographed the house for a local magazine. The house is often rented out for film, television commercials and photo shoots. The other images below are ones I took during my last visit a couple of years ago. Please click to enlarge the images (they are huge).

My Tita Rose's house was an amazing feat. It was a project of a lifetime, an amazing contribution to cultural preservation. Her creativity and ingenuity are an inspiration. She's not even a trained designer – she is a social worker, counselor and unlike 95% of Filipinos, a devout Buddhist who often goes on silent meditation retreats for up to 60 days. That's right. Sixty. She has this tranquil intelligence about her and she's incredibly kind. I love that she had a rooster, dogs and a cat running around the house the day we were there for a visit!

These are some examples of Vigan architecture.

I love the hammocks-turned-chairs

Capiz shell dividers and antique furniture

bank notes from the past

I found these old bank notes during my last trip to the Philippines. Apparently, during the 1940s during the Philippine-American war and WWII, the government authorized certain regions to print their own "emergency" money. During these years of war, it was difficult for different regions to communicate with one another.

I'm fascinated by the way these look, how hastily and crudely printed. I can't help but imagine how difficult and uncertain life must have been before the Philippines had full sovereignty. I wish I knew more about that period of time. This bank note directly below from 1942 has an illustration of Roosevelt (four years before the U.S. gave up control of the Philippines).

a city under water

Tropical storm Ketsana (locally named 'Ondoy') dropped a months worth of rain fell on Manila in a matter of six hours on Saturday. According to CNN, there are at least 140 people dead, many still missing, 300,000 displaced and I suspect many more will be victims of the aftermath. My parents moved back to Manila in the mid-90s – they are (thankfully) safe. My father told me the water in some areas rose to five meters in a matter of an hour. People did not even have time to move. They didn't stand a chance.

Why do the poorest places in the world always the ones to get hit with the worst natural disasters?

For those who may not know, I am ethnically Filipino. I was born in Manila and still know how to speak the language. We moved to California when I was 11 going on 12 years old. I still remember what typhoon season can be like. But this is worse than anything I could ever imagine, maybe the worst yet. It's a country where 80% of the population already live below the poverty line – many in flimsy shanty towns which are somehow 'invisible' to the rich. On Sunday, 80% of the city was under water. Seeing these images really breaks my heart. I wish I could do more to help. It makes me realize how fortunate I am, that I complain about things I don't have any right to complain about.

Please make a donation, if you can, to help the victims of the Ondoy Flood in Manila.

Images from Reuters & various sources

old philippines : fashion from late 1800s to 1920

The Old Philippines archive of images is a source of immense inspiration. I love looking at the rarely seen fashion women wore in the Philippines at the turn of the century. The fabrics used were primarily the sheer piña fabric (pineapple fiber), abaca (banana fiber) and cotton. It's likely that the women photographed were part of the upper class or at least those who could afford to pay photographers.

The quintessential Maria Clara is a traditional and formal dress combining indigenous and Spanish influences is actually made up of separates (i.e. saya (skirt), baro with lacework (blouse), a matching pañuelo (scarf), inagua (slip), tapis (overskirt) and accessorized with an abaniko (fan)). This look was made popular towards the end of the nearly 400 years of Spanish rule.

As I look at these photos and wonder what it must have been like to be a woman during that time. I especially love this first photo. This woman is so beautiful, elegant, strong and dignified.

All images from Old Philippines