This online shoebox contains random pictures, notes, whatever. I've been a professional writer-photographer for so many years now. It's a damn good excuse to carry a camera around.

Posted By Lester V Ledesma

Taken from my article on

“Followers of the Hindu deity Draupadi aren't kidding when they tell you they will walk through fire to show devotion to their god. Theemithi, or firewalking, is the climax in a series of rituals that usher in Deepavali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. This is where they prove their purity to the goddess. Watched by a huge crowd and egged on by the shrill notes of the nadaswaram -- a native trumpet -- the barefoot devotees traverse a long bed of searing hot coals. This prayer of pain starts around midnight and ends in the early hours of the morning, with more than 2,000 participants putting their feet to the flames. Blisters aside, this is a soulful night for the devotee, and a truly eye-popping experience for the culturally curious.”


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These were the same ancient houses and the same storied streets, except they were much busier than I remember them from 6 years ago. And there were lovely red lanterns hanging everywhere. Hoi An, Central Vietnam's ancient heritage town, celebrates every full moon night with fanfare, and this one was no exception. At sunset's edge, candles were lit; motorbikes were parked and all electricity was turned off – and the 21st century faded away.


I roamed these streets with my camera in hand, taking in the atmosphere of a quieter, more innocent Vietnam. A pair of elderly gentlemen played checkers on the sidewalk, right across from where clan house members were reading poetry by firelight. Not far from here, children lit colorful lanterns by the river. The whole area was aglow with tradition, culture and history. This was the Vietnam of old.


“You won’t find an empty hotel room in this town tonight”, the Lucbanon remarked, “but you can crash in my living room if you need a place to stay” It was the eve of the Pahiyas fiesta in Lucban, and I needed to have an early start for my coverage of tomorrow’s festivities. While invading the homes of strangers isn’t my style, the offer was too good to pass up. Thankfully I stuck around, for that evening I got to experience the local side of this famous event. It seemed the whole of Lucban was out on the streets, laughing, chatting and eating away. I hung out with my host’s relatives as they put the final touches on their kiping decorations. It felt good to actually be part of the community, even for just a few hours.


I slept soundly at midnight, just as fireworks announced the arrival of the big day. The busloads of tourists would arrive in the morning, but few of those folks would ever experience the kinship and the community spirit that gave meaning to the Pahiyas.

Posted By Lester V Ledesma
A Lucbanon spruces up his home with one of countless adornments made from "kiping". These are thin sheets of dried, edible rice paste, similar to Vietnamese rice paper. Legend has it that in the days of the Galleon Trade, a Lucban native visited Mexico and learned the method for making rice tortilla. This recipe was adapted to local materials, and has since become the famous signature of the Pahiyas festival.


The kiping are strung together to form an endless variety of decorations, the most common being the "chandelier" which is hung from rooftops. Before artificial food coloring arrived in these parts, the Pahiyas festival wore the muted hues of natural materials like annatto or beetroot. The use of cheaper dyes, however, has resulted in the flashier fiesta colors of today.


Dressing up a house facade can cost upwards of Php50,000 - no small amount for a rural household. Nonetheless, the fun-loving fiesta spirit endures. This is the same spirit that says "Let's share the bounty of a good harvest with everyone"


After all, there's always more where it came from :)




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