What do you do if you need windows—lots of them—but your country also happens to be in the Ring of Fire and therefore prone to earthquakes? Use oyster shells instead of glass, of course! The Placuna placenta is a mollusk found throughout Asia, particularly in mangrove swamps. You can see almost anything made of capiz, or kapis, in the Philippines, but best use has always been the large wooden windows found on traditional houses and buildings. The key is to keep the windows closed during the daytime, keeping the sun out, and then open them wide at night to draw in the evening breezes.
Since we’re on the subject of transportation, we cannot forget the casco—or, as the Americans dubbed them, “lighters.” These were the workhorses of Manila. Until 1908 there was no port where ships could dock directly on shore, so cascos were sent out to meet them in the bay. All foreigners, therefore, had their first glimpse of Manila aboard a casco. They would pass Fort Santiago, enter the mouth of the Pasig River, and dock on the north bank, next to the warehouses of Binondo. A casco pilot often lived in his boat, along with his wife, children, and of course fighting cocks. As a person who raises chickens, I can say that had to smell lovely. Poor family.
The calesa, or kalesa, is a two-wheeled carriage drawn by a single horse. It has one or two benches, plus a small seat for the driver (typically up front). Introduced in the 18th century by the Spanish, the calesa was a fashionable and popular mode of transportation in Philippine cities before the automobile. Wealthy people owned their own (and hired their own cochero, or driver) and others rented them for the day or a single ride, like taxis. The going rate in 1908 was 40 centavos for the first hour, and 30 for each additional hour. Tourist calesas can still be seen and ridden in Intramuros (Manila) or Vigan today, but don’t try to offer 40 centavos! Rates start at about 250 pesos, last I heard.
Lantern slide of a calesa moving through a stone archway into Intramuros, Manila, courtesy of the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive, Special Collections Research Center, University of Michigan.
Featured image copyright Stephen Wallace, all rights reserved. Used with permission.