The Grand Reopening of Hotel Oriente

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I am excited to announce that the Hotel Oriente is open after a pretty thorough remodel: better pacing, more hotel tidbits, and—best of all—brunch!

Welcome to the grand reopening of the Hotel Oriente! I am thrilled to finally rerelease this expanded, revised novella. I dedicate the much-needed buffet scene addition to my Sydney brunch buddies: Mina V. Esguerra, founder of the #romanceclass creator community, and Kat Mayo, founder of BookThingo. Fellow foodies, I am sorry it took me so long.
From the author’s note of the revised edition.

BUT WAIT! If you have not read Hotel Oriente yet, I have an amazing deal for you. You can grab it and nine more books in the Romancing the Past anthology for almost nothing. Yes, all ten swoony romances for the low price of 99¢ until September 15th, and only $4.99 after that.

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Grab all ten swoony romances, including the rerelease of Hotel Oriente, in one amazing anthology. Romancing the Past is available at all major retailers.
More from the Author’s Note of the 2021 Revision of Hotel Oriente:

Let’s dig into the history. Yes, the Hotel de Oriente did exist, though it was known by many spellings. Hotel de Oriente was the name plastered across the exterior molding, but I found all the following used: Hotel Oriente, Hotel d’Oriente, Hotel el Oriente, Hotel Orient, and every one of these in reverse order. It was the place to stay until the Insular Government purchased it in November 1903 to use as the headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary.

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Learn about the troubled, faded glory Hotel Oriente in the center of Manila, the Pearl of the Orient.

Many photos exist of the exterior of the building, and Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar has even built a working reconstruction and conference center in Bataan, which I have visited. Other than a few room photos, though, the interior is known only from traveler’s reports, including those on Lou Gopal’s Manila Nostalgia blog, as well as a variety of journals in the public domain. From these, I borrowed the complaints over “missing” mattresses and excessive egg dishes. I borrowed the bathtub incident from my father-in-law, who managed an American military hotel in Bangkok during the late 1960s.

Left: The Hotel de Oriente and me! Right: The view out our hotel window to the heritage bahay na bato across the square. Parts of Heneral Luna were filmed here at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

A real assistant manager of the Oriente was implicated in the true scandal that almost engulfed Moss and Seb. Captain Frederick J. Barrows, the actual quartermaster of Southern Luzon, stole one hundred grand a month for almost a full year, pocketing nearly $1.2 million by 1901 (the equivalent of $38 million in 2020). This was nowhere near the largest war profiteering in world history—that honor goes to reconstruction contracts during the Iraq War—but it is still a lot of money. A court-martial sentenced Barrows to five years in Bilibid Prison, and that may have been getting off easy. He had a better chance at a fair trial inside the military than out of it. This was true for all civilians, Filipino or American. The Insular Cases, a series of 1901 decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, were the true legal architecture of empire, and they said that the Constitution did not follow the flag. I pushed forward the date of these decisions for my story, but only by a few months.

Contemporary accounts of the quartermaster scandal in Manila, along with the destination of the guilty: Bilibid Prison.

Much of Della’s article on the scandal is reproduced from the Los Angeles Herald’s April 1st issue, no joke. Please consider this acknowledgment my endnote for “Far Reaching Frauds in Army Commissary,” from page one. I used as much of the original wording as I could because I wanted Della’s writing to match the standards of the profession in 1901. The previous edition of this novella did not do a good job of displaying her talents as a journalist.

An advertisement from the 1901 Commercial Directory of Manila and a close up of an 1898 map of Manila and suburbs.

Della’s story was inspired by a deaf voyager, memoirist, and teacher named Annabelle Kent. While I was researching Under the Sugar Sun, I found a terrific description of a steamer’s rough entrance into Manila Bay. Kent’s Round the World in Silence proved her to be a thrill-seeking woman impervious to seasickness. (According to later U.S. Navy experiments, those with a damaged vestibular system are less likely to suffer from the bucking motion of the waves.) She circumnavigated the globe, mostly with strangers who did not speak American Sign Language. To me, Kent had the perfect spirit to infuse a romance heroine.

Deaf education in the Gilded Age
Take a peek inside deaf education in the Gilded Age with heroine Della Berget, modeled on real-life adventuress, Annabelle Kent. Find out more.

People say to “write what you know,” which is excellent advice—but plot bunnies lead me down precarious burrows. Could a deaf writer have better written about Della Berget? No doubt. Are there better books out there about Deaf Culture? Every single one written by someone who identifies as hard of hearing to profoundly Deaf. But I took a risk and wrote Della as best I could. This meant research: the Limping Chicken blog and the Gallaudet University archives were especially helpful. Of course, all mistakes or errors are entirely mine. At the time, the U.S. Congress required Gallaudet to teach only the “Oral Method” of communication, which is why she speechreads instead of speaking ASL. Della does not yet know other deaf people in her corner of Manila—she is new to the city—so there is not enough treatment of Deaf Culture and its rewards in this story, nor would I be the best person to translate such ideas to the page.

Antique Philippines bed in Hotel Oriente like in the Sugar Sun meaty historical romance series
Two photos of the “sleeping machine” at the Hotel de Oriente from the Burton Holmes Travelogue.

Moss is also loosely based on an actual person: West G. Smith, the American manager who ran the hotel for Ah Gong, proprietor. West Smith became Moss North? His wife Stella became Della? Yes, I amuse myself. Smith arrived with the Thirteenth Minnesota Volunteers and stayed to manage the Oriente, but the rest of Moss’s personal history was entirely fiction. Also, I liked the name and story behind the White Elephant resort in Nantucket, but it has no relation to Moss’s uncle’s hotel, which was instead based on the Windsor in St. Paul.

Hughes Holt’s background was a fictionalized conflation of the two West Virginian congressmen of the era, but his personality hews closer to Senator Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana, an orator who built a career on the embrace of overseas expansion. Beveridge did visit the Philippines—albeit two years earlier, in May of 1899—so that he could “understand the situation” (his words) before assuming his seat in the Senate. Unlike Holt, Beveridge impressed local soldiers with his physical endurance and ability to withstand deprivation. Like Holt, he left the islands more imperialist than ever. Emboldened, the U.S. Army would wage a relentless war, and so would privateers. The anecdote about violent American outlaws in Pampanga was ripped from page six of the 15 May 1901 issue of the New York Times.

Menu excerpts from the Hotel Oriente, 1900-1902. The top three are each relevant to a different scene from either Hotel Oriente or Under the Sugar Sun. IF YOU’VE READ THIS FAR, HERE IS YOUR REWARD: Be the first to identify at least one of these scenes and I will gift you an e-copy of my upcoming novella—on Rosa’s redemption—once it is released. Enter by commenting on this post below.

Though Moss’s anti-imperialist attitudes were rare among soldiers, his concerns can be found in archived letters, newspapers, and Senate testimony. It was Major General Smedley Butler, USMC—two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor and veteran of the Philippine-American War—who wrote War is a Racket in 1935. He claimed that his three-plus decades of service had been “conducted for the benefit of the very few [commercial and oil interests], at the expense of the very many.”

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How much of Roosevelt’s reputation was fake news? And who had really saved his hide in Cuba? Read more about African American heroes of the Spanish-American War.

It did not take as long for others to see the light. Soldiers of African American regiments related the injustice of imperialism with contemporary clarity. Sergeant Major John W. Calloway of the Twenty-Fifth Infantry was persecuted views he expressed only in private correspondence. Calloway was especially close to Filipino physician Torderica Santos, much like Moss was best friends with the fictional Judge Eusebio Lopa (inspired by the real Lieutenant Salvador G. Lara). Calloway also made his life in the Philippines after the war, marrying and raising fourteen children.

Gilded-Age-medicine-history
Read more about why cocaine for surgery and heroin from the Sears Catalog was actually a step up for the history of medicine.

That brings me to Moss’s use of a condom, which was based on the state of contraception at the turn of the twentieth century. I do not know how hard it would have been to purchase a sheath in Manila, but it may have been easier there than in the United States. The 1873 Comstock Act had made it illegal to distribute birth control or information about birth control through the mail or across state lines, not imperial ones. Yes, the Philippines was a majority Catholic country, but papal pronouncements did not ban “artificial contraception” until 1930. Did Della understand what the condom was? It was possible, given the close contact she had with married friends at her university. Also, hearing people tended to be indiscreet around her, often to their own detriment.

Thanks for getting this far. Remember that your honest review helps readers find books they love. If you have taken the time to rate and review on Goodreads or the retailer of your choice, thank you. For everyone, I hope you enjoyed Moss and Della’s story. Here’s wishing you a History Ever After!

Banner of full Sugar Sun series against background of Luneta Park, Manila, 1899.

“Spoon gliding through a custard dessert.”

In between working more-than-full-time and trying to get the next book out (nearly a year late), I had not expected to find motivation on Goodreads of all places. I try to avoid the site, to be honest.

Goodreads is for readers, and I believe in their right to review honestly. Use all the stars. Give both good and bad news. After all, what one person hates, another might love. If I read that “this book has too much sex,” I one-click. It’s Pavlovian.

Now, while I absolutely believe reviewers have the right to give negative feedback, I personally don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on criticism. I read it in quick doses—like ripping off a bandage while squinting at my screen.

Recently, though, I came across a review of Tempting Hymn that has pretty much made the last three years worthwhile.

Phebe Goodreads on Tempting Hymn by Jennifer Hallock

Phebe Goodreads on Tempting Hymn by Jennifer HallockPhebe Goodreads on Tempting Hymn by Jennifer Hallock

Thank you, Phebe. Next time I need a little encouragement to keep going, I’m coming right back here.

Sugar Sun series glossary term #34: piña

Javier knows perfectly well that his piña fiber is uniquely delicate, transparent, well-ventilated, yet strong. This combination is why piña is the traditional choice for a man’s barong tagalog or a woman’s wedding dress or fancy blouse.

piña glossary for Sugar Sun series by Jennifer Hallock
From left to right: 19th-century piña shawl from the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Philippine-German mestiza wearing a baro’t saya from the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive; and a piña blouse, also from the Met.

But fine piña is not cheap, with good reason. Every part of its production is time-consuming, starting with the 18 months it takes a pineapple plant to reach maturity. Starting at about a year of growth, the plant’s leaves can start to be cut and processed for their fibers. According to the Philippine Folklife Museum:

The green epidermal layer is scraped off the leaf with tools made from coconut shells, coconut husks or pottery shards. Extraction from the long, stiff leaves is time-consuming and labor-intensive. These fibers are then spun into soft, shimmering fabrics by hand. Because the fiber is fine and breaks easily, working with it is slow and tedious. Workers are constantly knotting broken threads.

That is not the end of the process, either. It takes weeks more to prepare the yarn and then weave it together into patterns like flowers, fruits, coconut trees, and nipa huts—whatever the artist wants. According to the Folklife Museum, it can take eight hours to finish one meter of plain cloth or just half a meter of patterned cloth.

piña making for Sugar Sun glossary
Turn-of-the-century photo of girls weaving piña from the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

All to make ladies look gorgeous and men look handsome? Yeah, it’s worth it.

[Featured public domain image of an early 19th-century piña scarf was a gift of Miss Mary Cheney Platt to the Met.]