Mabuhay Love, Mabuhay #romanceclass

(“Mabuhay” means “long live!” and “welcome.”)

The best thing to come out of writing my Sugar Sun series—other than getting these characters out of my head and onto the page—has been connecting with the #romanceclass community. This is a group of Filipino contemporary, new adult, and young adult authors brought together by the indie publishing pioneerMina V. Esguerra (@minavesguerra).

When I first picked up the December 2015 issue of Romance Writers Report, it hit me right in the face: “Romancing the Globe: Filipino Romance,” by Alyssa Cole (@AlyssaColeLit). Cole profiled four authors: Esguerra, Marian Tee (@authormariantee), Ines Bautista-Yao (@Inesbyao), and Bianca Mori (@thebiancamori). I cold-called all of them (or “cold-Facebooked”…whatever), and they were soooo nice. They spread the word in their very well-connected web of writers and readers and, all of a sudden, I had a network of people who understood why I was so obsessed with a Filipino sugar baron and an American schoolmarm. (And a priest, too, but he’s book three. That apple will take some time to fall from the tree.) I also developed a very long TBR pile, at which I am still chipping away.

Just because these writers are nice, though, don’t underestimate their ability to get things done. Just as five women founded RWA in 1979, so Esguerra created #romanceclass in 2013. Eleven of her first 100 students published full-length novels. Soon #romanceclass grew into a lifestyle. The group now puts together classes, publishing support, podcasts and videos, book fairs, book launches, live performances, a stock photo service, meet-ups (last Sunday was April Feels Day), book signings, poetry readings, and so much more. Mina has even organized a full scholarship for 12 students at the Philippine Normal University! (She meant to sponsor two, but generosity from the larger #romanceclass community rounded that number up to a full dozen.) In the midst of organizing all this, Mina manages to write, as well. I’m not sure how, but here’s a Dear Author review to prove it.

The May 3, 2014, Manila Bulletin article by Ronald S. Lim (@tristantrakand) on Mina’s scholarships at the Philippine Normal University. By the way, PNU was started in 1901 by the Thomasites, American teachers like Georgina of Under the Sugar Sun—and do you see how we’re coming full circle here?

With American readers clamoring for more diverse reads, I wanted to spread the reach of these talented writers. For some, their primary market is already in the United States, but you may have missed a few of the others. And, if so, you are missing out. To prove that, with the generosity of #romanceclass authors, I’ve assembled a Mabuhay Love basket giveaway at the New England Chapter of RWA’s Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference next week! That’s April 29-30, 2016, at the Boston Marriott, in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Conference Logo

Here is what it includes (so far):


Sugar Sun series location #5: Hotel Oriente

In Hotel Oriente the establishment itself is a character—but decidedly not a romantic one. The American guests cannot figure out how to sleep in the beds, the manager runs out of eggs at breakfast, and water pours down the walls when an upstairs couple gets too frisky in the bathtub. I embellished, but I was not that far off the mark: the first two happened at the real Hotel Oriente, and the last one took place at the Army hotel my father-in-law managed during the Vietnam War.

Hotel Oriente Binondo Manila opening novella of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
US Library of Congress photo of the Insular Cigar Factory (foreground) and the Hotel Oriente (background) on the Plaza Calderon de la Barca. Public domain image scanned and uploaded by Scott Slaten.

When the real Oriente opened its doors in 1889, it was the place to be. José Rizal himself stayed in Room 22, facing Binondo Church. Even the food was good. According to a contemporary journalist, a 21-year old woman from Maine: “Its chicken, chile peppers, and rice are a revelation…[and] it dispenses a curry equal to the finest productions of Bombay or Calcutta.” (Are you thinking, “What does a 19th century Mainer know about curry?” Me, too.)

The 83 rooms were always the hotel’s best feature. Another American account said: “I expected to find a regular hole, but really I have a nice large room, hard wood floor, electric lights, etc, etc. The bathrooms are all tiled, sanitary plumbing, fine large court, [and] tropical plants.” By the way, those plants entangle both Georgina and Della in their turn.

Hotel Oriente Binondo Manila opening novella of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The Hotel Oriente rooms as photographed for a contemporary travelogue. Read more about the Oriente’s history at Lou Gopal’s fantastic website.

Of course, if you are getting the picture that Americans were difficult to please, you are right. Moreover, they never recognized their own provinciality. They especially had trouble with the mattress-less bed. The perforated cane bottom allowed the contraption to breathe, logically trading coolness for softness, but one guest had so much trouble figuring the thing out that he slept in the wicker chair by the window instead.

Still, the Americans thought that they improved every place they went, and the Oriente was no different:

What an establishment! How shiftless and dirty, and how it smells! The building itself is well enough, being large and airy, but it is conducted on the Spanish plan of dirt and sloth, by a manager whose watchword has evidently been mañana for all the years of his life. Now, he is forced to deal with a people who insist that all things be done, completed, finished, the day before yesterday. The result to his dead brain is almost insanity. He looks at us in a dazed manner and moans out that he has no rooms, muttering constantly the one all-expressive word: Americanos, Americanos.

I might have been muttering the same thing, too, and I am an Americano. While the Yankees had only been in the imperialism biz a few years, they had already adopted all the ennui and petulance of experienced Great Gamers.

Hotel Oriente Binondo Manila opening novella of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
An advertisement from the 1901 Commercial Directory of Manila and a close up of an 1898 map of Manila and suburbs.

One Minnesotan did try to whip the hotel into shape: West Smith, a volunteer who had fought the Spanish in the Battle of Manila in August 1898. He took over the Oriente in late 1902 and continued to manage it until it was transformed into the Philippine Constabulary headquarters in 1904. After that he worked for The Great Eastern Life Assurance Company. He met his wife, Stella Margaret Case, in Manila while she was visiting her sister, a stenographer for the Insular Ice Plant. If you see similarities in names here—Moss North from West Smith, and Della from Stella—you would not be wrong. It’s how I do.

And, speaking of names, the hotel itself had many. Hotel de Oriente was the name plastered across the exterior moulding, but all of the following were used: Hotel d’Oriente, Hotel el Oriente, Hotel Oriente, Hotel Orient, and then every single one of these in reverse order. I keep with the American tradition by using two names interchangeably as if I don’t know the difference. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Hotel Oriente Binondo Manila opening novella of Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
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.


Sugar Sun series location #4: Clarke’s

Early on in Hotel Oriente, our heroine Della ventures to the most “swell” confectionery in Manila, Clarke’s Ice Cream Parlor:

Located at the entrance to Escolta, Manila’s Fifth Avenue, the establishment proudly proclaimed its name on both the roof and on a half dozen oversized awnings facing every direction. Even without the signage, the place was clearly marked by a large crowd. The spacious wood-paneled room was full of businessmen and civil servants from all over the islands, officers of the army and navy, and tourists from half the world.

Vintage postcard showing Escolta Street from Plaza Moraga, with Clarke’s on the right.

Clearly, M. A. “Met” Clarke, a native of Chicago, knew an opportunity when he saw it. In August 1898, only four days after the landing of American soldiers in Manila, he arranged a long-term lease in the fashionable shopping district of the Escolta. As one visitor wrote:

To the American bred boys in khaki, the place quickly became known as an oasis in a desert. Weary, thirsty, hungry, and wet with perspiration, the commands coming from or going to the firing lines halted there long enough to quench their thirst or to fill the aching voids. Incidentally, the soldiers helped Clarke along by spending their money freely.

Later Clarke would sublet a slate of rooms on the second floor, and his monthly income from these rents would pay his entire annual premium. But Clarke could not have been so successful if his food had not been exceptional. Fortunately, it was.

This photo and the featured image from Lou Gopal’s outstanding Manila Nostalgia website. Read more on Escolta there.

Clarke’s was the place to find the best gingerbread, the best candy, and the best pink (condensed milk) ice cream in Manila—and maybe in all of Asia. Despite being an ice cream and soda fountain, though, Clarke’s real claims to fame seemed to be bread and coffee. Clarke had three 16 x 18 foot ovens that turned out 36,000 pounds of bread a day. For our character Della, the value of fresh bread cannot be underestimated: “After three days of the atrocious food at the Hotel Oriente, her stomach almost jumped out of her throat to lay claim to a loaf.” (See more on the hotel’s disappointing food in the American era in the next post.)

Contemporary advertisements for Clarke’s taken from Philippine Magazine and page 326 of The Filipino Teacher.

Moreover, the coffee was locally grown in Luzon and roasted by Clarke himself. (I used to have a farm in Indang, Cavite, and they still grow beans in town and dry them out on every road and driveway available.) But don’t take my word for it. Read a contemporary account:

Clarke’s Coffee!—its delicious and aromatic flavor is suggestive of Arabian poetry and romance of deserts and camels of swift steeds and beautiful women. The beverage itself exhilarates you, gives you a feeling of buoyancy. Perhaps you are a connoisseur of coffee, and during your travels in Oceania or China you have been nauseated with the horrible concoctions served to you in hotels and on steamers—the vile black liquid that they call coffee. If you are, Clarke’s is the place for you. The coffee served to you there, nicely, daintily, temptingly, will make you smile with satisfaction, and you will begin to understand how the Americans do some things in Manila.

Another image of Clarke’s, as published on page 77 of the Magazine of Business in 1914.

Clarke would have been the next Midas of Manila had he “not been a plunger,” according to a Magazine of Business account. He made and lost a fortune in gold mining and hemp-stripping machines. But this is the way of the early American period in the Philippines: everyone was trying to make a buck. Respectable businessmen (and women) had no reason to cross the Pacific. Those who did make the trip were often hucksters, carpetbaggers, and scoundrels. Clarke seemed one of the better of the lot, since he was not implicated in the quartermaster embezzlement scheme that rattled Manila in 1901 (and was the inspiration behind the scandal in Hotel Oriente):

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

Of course, Moss, our hero of Hotel Oriente, is not so certain that Clarke is innocent, just that he is crafty: “As if the police would know where to look,” he says. “That man has more warehouses than the Army itself.”

Sadly, Clarke’s empire was only to last until about 1911, when his losses in the mining industry sent him swimming back to California. Or did he really leave? Maybe he just changed his name to Starbuck…

Sugar Sun series location #3: Escolta

Described as the Fifth Avenue of Manila, the Escolta was the central business district of the city. Named after the escort (escolta) that accompanied the Spanish governor-general in his excursions here, the street developed a reputation as the ritziest row in Manila. Felice Sta. Maria explained its appeal, as one could always find here “the snobbish precursors of the large department stores and the best of the limited-line stores.” A contemporary account said:

What cannot be bought on the Escolta…is hardly to be found in the city. Harness and hardware, dry goods and diamonds, beer, whisky and cigars, stationery, clothing, drugs, books, notions and wares from India, China, and Japan…

Advertisement from the Witten’s Directory (1902) of Manila, as found on the website of the Pinoy Kollektor.

This busy entrepôt was located outside the Spanish walled-in core of Intramuros—not so surprising when you learn that the whole area, Binondo, was also Manila’s Chinatown. For several hundred years, Hokkien merchants came from the reclusive mainland, loaded with silks, porcelain, and tea to sell to Spanish galleon crews, who were flush with Mexican silver.

Escolta tour by Jennifer Hallock author of the Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
The post office along the Escolta, part of the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive.

But though the Spanish needed the trade, they also distrusted their partners. For a long time, all Chinese—even those who had converted to Christianity or had been born in Manila, some to Filipino mothers—had to live within a cannon shot from the Crown. And that was not a passive-aggressive threat; it was aggressive-aggressive, as they did use their cannons on occasion. Hence it is especially ironic that while the Chinese built the prosperity of Binondo, the Spanish would later claim the most prosperous street, Escolta, as theirs.

Crop of 1901 photo of Escolta from the photo collection of John Tewell.

When the Americans first arrived, they installed their own cultural touchstones—bars. Helen Taft, the wife of Philippine commissioner and eventual governor, William Howard Taft, wrote about the “beery” odor and dangers to women there. By 1899, the saloons were forced to close at 10 pm, and in February 1900 they were banned from Binondo altogether. (Of course, bars did not disappear from the city entirely. By August 1900 there were over 1100 liquor-selling establishments in Manila. In the first ten months of the American occupation, alcohol imports quadrupled.)

An Escolta street scene from 1901</>. Note the liquor billboards in the upper right corner.

Once this street was again safe for women and their pocketbooks, new stores opened to cater to their needs, including Clarke’s Ice Cream and Heacock’s Department Store. Anyone who was anyone shopped and ate on the Escolta, and then headed out to the Luneta to be seen in the latest Paris or New York fashions. Not bad for a bunch of carpetbaggers.

Escolta was destroyed by the American bombing of Manila in World War II, but it is rising again. Check it out!

Left: Ben and I at the Oarhouse. Right: Ben, Gina, Paul, Derek, me, and Regine at the Fred’s Revolución in Escolta.

Featured public domain image (1899) at the top of this post by J. D. Cress, found the Library of Congress.

Sugar Sun series location #2: Dumaguete

I could easily live in Dumaguete. Despite the advent of modernity—traffic, diesel, plastic, and concrete—this is still the same city that charmed the early Presbyterian missionaries who chose it over Cebu and Iloilo for their new industrial-institute-cum-university, Silliman. In the words of Reverend Arthur J. Brown, D.D., location scout for the Board of Missions in 1901:

The location is the most healthful and beautiful that I saw in the Philippines. The land rises gently from a pebbly beach to a noble mountain range.  The lower levels are covered with plantations of tobacco and sugar cane, higher slopes with hemp, and the summits of the mountains with heavy forests of hard woods. Across the clear water, the islands of Siquijor and Cebu are seen, and farther away, but in plain view, are the outlines of Bohol and Mindanao.

You can see on the above image, a vintage postcard from the turn of the century, there was no port or esplanade to speak of back then. Visitors had to be brought up to the beach by banca—or, for those with loftier colonial preferences, be carried by litter.

Creative Commons photo by Eugene of the malecón, or esplanade, known as Rizal Boulevard, in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental.

Once on shore a visitor would stroll through a lovely town dominated by the local Catholic church, St. Catherine’s, and its old stone belfry.

St. Catherine’s cathedral and belfry. The bells warned of pirates who would come and snatch laborers away from their fields, hence the name of the town: dumaguet, meaning “to swoop.” Left photo by Jennifer Hallock, and right on Wikimedia Commons.

Though the iconic Silliman Hall (below) would not be built until 1909, the university has nevertheless dominated the landscape of this city for a full 115 years, ever since its founding in 1901. Yet I never mention Silliman once in my books. This presents an interesting question for my readers: how closely do I keep to the facts? One person recently noticed that the Americans in my version of Dumaguete do not come off well, which was the observation that inspired me to put together this post.

Alas, fans of Dumaguete history, do not despair! First, if I bother to rename someone or something, it is because I plan to use artistic license in service to the needs of my story. So the Silliman Institute, named after donor Horace Brinsmade Silliman, became the Brinsmade Institute instead. (Maybe not so clever, but it sounded good.) Real founders David and Laura Hibbard became the fictional couple, Daniel and Mary Stinnett. While there is some passing resemblance between the two men, Daniel Stinnett was designed as a conflation of the many American missionaries who helped colonize the Philippines. Some of the self-righteous words that come out of Daniel’s mouth can be attributed to the real David Hibbard, and others are from his contemporary brethren, but much of his personality I entirely made up—plucked it right out of my head and threw it on the page. And in an upcoming novella, Daniel will truly outdo himself with priggishness—because my story needs that conflict. It won’t be out of step with American attitudes of the time, but it is still fiction.

Creative commons rendering of Silliman Hall (built 1909) by Samurai John. This building is an example of American Stick Style architecture, and inside there are great-looking tin ceiling tiles repurposed from a theater in New York. It is the longest standing American structure in the Philippines.

So don’t get too hung up on my intentions. Mostly, I want the story to feel grounded in a real place with real people, but I take lots of liberties on dialogue, characters, and sexual mores (and how!). The real Silliman University is an outstanding institution, and I especially enjoyed its anthropology, history, and environmental sciences museums, all open to visitors. If you get the chance, you should go visit, and while you’re here check out Bais, too. I’m already jealous…