From August 25 to 28, 2016, History Channel (now re-named simply as History) held a convention at the World Trade Center in Pasay, Metro Manila. I learned about the event through a notification on Facebook. Without hesitation, I decided to go. I bought a two-day pass ticket at the SM shopping mall in my hometown. History had been one of my main fields of interest. The convention also provided opportunity to meet more people, especially those who could have a chat with me about historical trivia.
Among the guests in HistoryCon Manila was Giorgio Tsoukalos, one of the personalities in the Ancient Aliens series. The television show challenged conventional history by arguing that early civilizations such as the ancient Egyptians and the Mayans encountered visiting extraterrestrials. Another guest was Justin Mott of Photo Face-Off, which involved several contestants vying for the perfect shot with their cameras. Brandi Passante and Jarrod Schulz from Storage Wars also came for the convention. As the name suggested, this show featured teams of people competing during auctions of storage spaces that had unpaid rent. Damon Runyan and Ian Matthews from Gangland Undercover were also present. The drama series depicted the exploits of Charles Falco, played by Runyan, as he entered the world of motorcycle gangs and crime. Speaking of vehicles, the cast of the new series Celebrity Car Wars was introduced as part of the event. Simon Yin, who hosted Hidden Cities, made an appearance as well.
Before entering the building, I had to trade my ticket for two passes in the form of paper wristbands. I also got a black ID lanyard with History’s logo and the words MANILA MAKES HISTORY as part of the freebies. A three-day pass or even the premium pass would have given me more items. The latter option would allow me to meet and greet an event guest. I would choose Tsoukalos. I also received a piece of paper with a schedule and a map of the booths.
Dozens of attendees, mostly students, fell in line as I entered the World Trade Center building at 11 AM. Another booth for claiming like the one outside was set up in the lobby. Police and medical staff were on stand-by. The white tile floors complemented the walls and ceiling of the same color. A bouncer in a black outfit stood at the entrance to the convention itself. He checked for those wristbands. After seeing mine, he smiled and allowed me to go in.
A large golden letter H greeted me. It was the History logo and visitors posed for their photos with it. Then I wished I had a companion. I went to HistoryCon alone, like the survivalist fellows in the aptly-named History television series Alone.
Cars were exhibited near the entrance. Their flawless paint shone in the artificial lighting from all directions. I saw an array of SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans. There there were motorcycles, Segway electric scooters, and even a speedboat as well. Petron, an oil company, even constructed its booth in a way that resembles an actual gas station. To be honest, I could not find interest in the products of the automotive industry.
I wandered past more booths that went alive with lights that could be compared to a thousand stars shining at one spot. The commotion of visitors blended with electronic sounds. Then I found myself at the booth of the Philippine Air Force (PAF). A scale model of an FA-50 caught my attention. This variant of a South Korean trainer jet has upgraded avionics and weapons systems, along with a two-seat cockpit, to become more of a multi-role fighter. Now the PAF fielded supersonic aircraft again after Northrop F-5 jets were retired in 2005. The initial acquisition consisted of 12 FA-50s and there were plans to add another dozen. Only two had been delivered at this time. Nearby, much smaller scale models of helicopters and transport aircraft were on display. A row of mannequins showed how Air Force uniforms looked like throughout the branch’s history.
The PAF booth had firearms too. They were real guns without the ammunition. A group of likely college students posed for pictures while brandishing them. First, I held a Daewoo K3 light machine gun from South Korea. It felt less heavier than I expected. A friendly exhibitor from the PAF assisted me in wearing a complementary Kevlar® helmet. He then took a photo. Next, I removed the headgear to fulfill the role of a sniper. They lent me a Remington Model 700 rifle. I even pulled the bolt and pushed it back in place. With the stock pressed against my shoulder, I peered into the scope. People moved back and forth through the crosshair, their faces and clothing seen in good detail. Other than these two guns, the booth also had an M95 sniper rifle with its fearsome .50 round along with an M4 carbine. Men in orange jumpsuits also introduced search-and-rescue equipment to visitors.
Next, I went to the booth by Veterans Bank. Filipino World War Two veterans had been involved in this financial institution. There were monochromatic photographs of both American and Japanese soldiers, as well as Filipino guerrillas, from that time period. Other photos showed armored vehicles, buildings, civilians, and casualties. I looked at maps too. Verbal information was organized into categories such as the destructive Battle of Manila and roles of women in the war. This exhibit offered a glimpse into the hardships and chaos of World War Two. My grandfather on my father’s side partly received compensation from the Philippine government for logistics in the resistance movement against Japanese occupation. On my mother’s side, both grandpa and grandma took refuge in the highlands of Negros island until the war ended in 1945.
Several people stood before an exhibit and I wondered what was there. It felt like traveling back in time. Novelty items, some from decades ago, were displayed. There were piles of comic books, music chart books from the 1990s, collectible cards, dolls, action figures, and toys from the fast food chain Jollibee. Other items included a vintage television set, an early mobile phone that resembled a walkie-talkie, and worn-down signs of business establishments. This was HistoryCon after all. The booth reminded us of the show American Pickers. However, this collection of priceless items came from Mark Anthony “Krazykyle” Gianan or the “Filipino Picker.”
I shifted my attention to a collection of vintage bicycles. Near them lay a mostly-glass stall like the ones selling perfume or electronic gadgets in shopping malls. On display were old coins, stamps, medals, bladed weapons, figurines, porcelain bowls, and pretty much random stuff. Then I realized these objects were also sold by the good-looking and sociable woman at the stall.
Taking photographs of exhibits, vehicles, and even people in costumes presented the same challenges faced by a wildlife photographer. I did not have complete control of the scene. In the wild, an animal might dart and flee when it senses something unusual. Here at HistoryCon, fellow visitors might walk into the picture and become an unwitting part of the photo. Even if I had the perfect shot, I must do it hurriedly as other attendees were waiting for their turn too.
The main stage consisted of a huge LED screen, a platform with metal stairs, and steel frames that held the overhead lights. More HistoryCon logos could be seen. A limited number of audience found some comfort from sitting on steel chairs like those used occasionally by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) stars during matches. Speaking of WWE, a representative from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was on stage. Both organizations shared the same acronym until the former decided to replace ‘Federation’ with ‘Entertainment’ following a legal ruling in 2002. WWF in turn was officially renamed as “World Wildlife Fund for Nature,” as the speaker also mentioned.
Past the boxing ring, I saw a smaller LED screen that showed videos of airsoft competitions. It was the Airsoft Manila booth and shooting range. In this activity similar to paintball, players don military-style outfits and shoot each other with replica guns firing plastic pellets. Vests, helmets, face masks, elbow pads, and knee pads provide adequate protection. A collection of airsoft guns was displayed beside the vibrant screen. There were an M95 .50 sniper rifle, an SVD Dragunov sniper rifle, an FN FAL rifle with folding stock, an M14 battle rifle, an M16A1 assault rifle, a drum magazine version of the Thompson submachine gun, an FN Minimi light machine gun, an M1 carbine, a Browning automatic rifle (BAR), an SG 550 assault rifle, an M60 light machine gun, and an M3 submachine gun.
A man greeted me, introducing himself as Ted Ramirez. He was the proprietor of Airsoft Manila. Ted reminded me of a former office colleague named Ian Riñon. Both shared a passion for airsoft along with similarities in the manner of having a conversation. We had a chat about airsoft guns and game locations. (When I came back later in the afternoon, Ted was brandishing an airsoft version of a Milkor grenade launcher. The weapon seemed to be a giant revolver. We had further discussion about firearms. He then showed me a replica L85 assault rifle, which originated in the UK. I held it and posed for pictures. By wearing a red tunic, black pants, and bearskin hat, I could have been one of the Queen’s (or King’s) Guards at Buckingham Palace.)
Subsequently, I put my marksmanship skills to the test at the shooting range. There were two modes – sample and competition. The competition mode costed twice as much. Whoever hits all targets in the fastest time would win a reward, which I did not bother to ask. This time, I opted for the sample mode. Netting with fine mesh kept those bouncing plastic pellets inside the firing range. A projector cast a series of virtual battlegrounds, both rural and urban, on the white wall at my front. Then a facilitator handed me an airsoft M4 carbine. It was made of metal, making it heavier than the plastic toy guns back in my childhood. I only had ten rounds. Then I aligned the iron sights. There was no bang. Pellets struck metal targets with a ping. When I missed, they hit the wall with a sound like that of a footstep. In the end, my performance was not remarkable. I needed more practice. Perhaps one day I might get involved in airsoft too.
After my experience with airsoft, I had an encounter with bladed weapons this time. Reminiscent of the History series Forged in Fire, there was a booth named Geisha’s Blades. A few exhibitors wore a sort of a kimono. Racks held Japanese swords of various designs, colors, and lengths. The term ‘katana‘ was commonly used but it would not be always appropriate. For instance, a shorter sword is called a wakizashi. The tachi is longer than the katana. The tsurugi features a straight, double-edged blade. Two sets of samurai armor, one blue and the other red, were displayed as well. One of the exhibitors agreed to take my picture. I sat with bent knees between the lamellar armor sets. Holding a blunt Japanese sword for display purposes, I pulled it out of the scabbard slightly. It took us several tries to get a picture with the right angles and was not fuzzy.
I looked forward to the next season of the History drama series Vikings. It followed the adventures of the semi-legendary Norse ruler Ragnar Lothbrok, his shieldmaiden wife Lagertha, his other wife Aslaug, and his sons such as Björn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless. The series was not always historically accurate. It portrayed Rollo as Ragnar’s brother. The real Rollo of Normandy was likely not of kin and lived in a latter time when the Normans established themselves in France. As further trivia, one of Rollo’s descendants was William the Conqueror, who extended Norman rule to England in 1066 CE following his victory at the Battle of Hastings.
The answer to my question came in an exhibit featuring a few History shows. The new season would air in December. Aside from a larger-than-life photo of the cast, there was also half a longship with a sail and a head of some mythical creature sculpted at the prow. A large poster informed us more about Norse ship construction and seafaring. Nearby lay the exhibits for Gangland Undercover and an upcoming series entitled Knightfall . The latter depicted the end of the Knights Templar, as the name suggested.
A young woman with a slender figure and her hair dyed nearly blond got my attention. Her rather roomy booth sold the new Black Mamba energy drink in a small bottle that fit in my fist. I gave it a try. Black Mamba had a light taste. Buying the beverage also made me eligible to play the ‘hammer game’ in carnivals, called a high striker. I had better agility than muscle strength. Another option was the familiar machine that counted the points made by shooting a basketball into the hoop. I chose it. Still, I simply sucked at basketball.
I wandered to another corner of the convention. People fell in line to enter a tent. It was just a big gray tent. In fact, this booth allowed us to experience the History show Alone through virtual reality. A facilitator asked us a question regarding survival. If I got it right, I could go in. Otherwise I would fall in line again. It was my turn. Good thing I knew the answer. One should not drink seawater in the absence of an obvious supply of drinking water. Sucking the moisture from plants would be preferable. Then another facilitator looked for someone without a companion. Virtual reality had to be done in pairs. I was accompanied by this fellow named Reiner. His T-shirt had the words MT PULAG on it. Then we had a brief chat about mountain climbing.
Reiner and I went inside the tent. There was nothing in there except two exhibitors and a pair of virtual reality goggles. I could put on one while wearing prescription glasses for nearsightedness. Then it began. I emerged from a tent in the middle of a coniferous forest. Evergreen trees looked like very thin immobile giants and they surrounded us. Dappled sunlight made its way to the forest floor. I started walking. The ‘trail’ strikingly resembled one found in the highlands of the Cordilleras. I told Reiner we were doing an ‘assault.’ He agreed with laughter. We were seeing the same scene. I pushed a branch off my face. Suddenly, a snake came out of nowhere. It just fell off. The threat was gone. Then the blue in our surroundings turned into violet and gray. Raindrops fell as if nature itself was shedding tears while bawling. Two children reclined their backs on light gray rock while sitting. I looked and listened closely. Of course, they were not children. I found myself staring at a pair of black bear cubs. Their mother came out of the bushes. It approached me with heavy steps. As expected, the sow charged, stood up, and clawed me violently. Everything went black. Then the word ALONE shone before a gloomy background of pine trees. It all happened without making a step. Reiner and I enjoyed the virtual reality.
Moving on to a nearby exhibit, visitors also flocked to try indoor rock-climbing. It was facilitated by Wilderness Search and Rescue (WISAR). The organization put on display a customized four-wheel drive vehicle, backpacks, stretchers, assorted kits, and other rescue gear and equipment. I had not tried this kind of activity before. Back in college, several student organizations would set up a structure with harnesses and bumpy surfaces aptly named ‘The Wall.’ This would take place during the fair held every February. Opportunity to become a rock climber, even for a moment, presented itself but I did not take it back then. Now it was right in front of me again.
A woman in middle adulthood received my fee after I signed a piece of paper. She was a member of WISAR and an exhibitor in this convention. Her name was Rucelle. A younger female exhibitor named Shaira would take photos of me. I handed over my mobile phone. Then I waited for my turn. When it came, a male WISAR facilitator fixed the harness to my waist and put a helmet on my head. He and another fellow held a thick and tough rope so I would not plunge into the floor if I lost my grip. Everything was set. I stared up at a piece of a wall more narrow than wide.
I began climbing. My pointed leather shoes made it challenging. My hands had a good grip of the irregularly-shaped bumps but my feet were slightly twisted and uncomfortable. Raising my knee became a bit of a problem too. Yet I kept on going, drawing strength from the energy drink already absorbed into my bloodstream. I looked sideways. Good thing I did not have a fear of heights. Then I came to a stop. Those bumps to hold on to were placed randomly. One seemed out of reach. I resembled a gecko that froze its body suddenly for no reason. Seconds passed. I yelled to the WISAR members that I was unable to press on. They replied that I should try to continue as they would support me. I complied.
My feet slipped one after another. Those leather shoes could not take it anymore. I restored my footing but then one of my hands failed to grab the next bump. If I was doing this outdoors on a rocky mountainside, I would have met my demise. The facilitator tugged the rope to pull me upward. Now I gripped the bump. Past that point, climbing became easy until I reached the top. After a go-signal from the exhibitors, I rappelled down the vertical surface as those two men held the ropes to my harness. My legs touched the floor amid subtle cheering. That WISAR guy who put my safety gear on even gave me a neon orange whistle.
Walking past a booth that sold merchandise relating to the historical film Heneral Luna, I decided to pay a visit to a nearby exhibit with reenactors in various uniforms. They were affiliated with the Philippine Living History Society. A man in his senior years and of Caucasian appearance donned a white sun hat, a royal blue tunic, and boots. He portrayed an English officer among the tiradores, or light infantry sharpshooters, in the Philippine Revolutionary Army. His accent also confirmed that he came from England. We had a chat. The chap introduced himself as David Banaghan. He lauded me for pronouncing his surname correctly. It was not often the case in his time in the Philippines.
Then a familiar face showed up. I was surprised yet glad at the same time. It turned out that Mielyne Rayos, another former office colleague of mine, attended the HistoryCon too. We posed for a picture briefly before she went to see more exhibits. Meanwhile, I decided to talk further about historical reenactments and related stuff.
Aside from the Philippine Revolutionary period and the Philippine-American War, the reenactors also dressed up in uniforms from both the Pacific and European theaters of World War Two along with the Vietnam War. Imperial Japanese Army soldiers sat next to their American GI opponents. US troops with M16A1 rifles posed for photos with the Viet Cong brandishing AK-47 rifles. Furthermore, a kid dressed up as a British ‘redcoat’ and he even had a replica Brown Bess musket. An M1917 water-cooled machine gun lay on a makeshift emplacement built with sandbags. Several magazines featured reenactments from other countries, such as those for the American Civil War.
One of the reenactors named Joshua played Emilio Aguinaldo, a high-ranking general who became the first president of the Philippines. His attire consisted of a scarlet sash and an officer’s saber. He possessed a well-detailed knowledge of Philippine history. We had a good chat about it.
Later on, there was a tall and long-legged man with Caucasian features and the uniform of a soldier from Nazi Germany. He had a Sturmgewehr 44 slung to his back. In English, it meant ‘assault rifle’ and generally considered to be the first of its kind. One could see that the StG44 looked like the AK-47. Furthermore, the attire resembled those worn by the Fallschirmjäger, or paratroopers. Yet he said his headgear was that of tank or armored car crews. Despite his German appearance, he introduced himself as a Dutch national named Hans. He took notice of my knowledge of a few German phrases. Hans, David, and I then discussed theories about the eventual fate of Adolf Hitler. After that, the two had to pose for pictures with fellow visitors. I was also told there would be a reenactment of the Eastern Front of World War Two, pitting Germans against the Soviets, later at 4 PM.
I returned to the Airsoft Manila booth. During a break from a conversation about guns, someone dressed as the famous Filipino general Antonio Luna came out of a discreet door nearby. At that moment, I did not realize it was John Arcilla himself – the movie actor who played the lead role in Heneral Luna. With the presence of reenactors it could have been anyone else. Only two security guards and a woman managed to have a picture with Arcilla. Then he left.
Finding myself back at the main stage, I arrived with perfect timing. It turned out the main cast of Heneral Luna attended HistoryCon. A speaker led an onstage discussion regarding a deeper analysis of the film. He sighed at the fact that some of the youth nowadays did not know Apolinario Mabini could not stand due to physical disability. One of the topics was about Heneral Luna increasing the popularity of historical Filipino films.
Then the actors and actresses in their respective outfits went in. I could not believe I was seeing them in person. In his khaki officer’s uniform, John Arcilla then asked the audience about the most memorable line in the film. We all agreed on just one word that sounded rude. In the movie, General Luna uttered it when cursing on a number of occasions. Individuals in the audience then volunteered for a question-and-answer portion with cast members. At that time it was nearly 4 PM. I did not want to miss the reenactment in the lobby.
It was more of a sea, not a river, of people. They lined up in the lobby to meet and greet the guests of HistoryCon, as well as attend talks. I waited until the reenactors emerged from one of the exits. They were simply eye-catching. The Wehrmacht officer wearing shades stood out even further. While the Germans had uniforms with camouflage patterns, the Soviets stuck to their plain khaki outfits. One of them was a female sniper similar to Roza Shanina or Lyudmila Pavlichenko. Her replica scoped Mosin-Nagant rifle was even designed accurately. Several people, including me, posed for photos with them. I also spoke a bit of German and Russian to blend in.
The loudspeakers played Soviet patriotic music. This signaled the start of the reenactment, which took place in one-third of the lobby. Wehrmacht and Waffen SS troops marched out and assembled on one side. Meanwhile, Red Army soldiers dug in behind sandbags. A narrator gave more details about the initial Axis offensive. Gunfire echoed from the speakers as reenactors matched the timing with their guns. The German officer had that distinct Luger pistol. Hans went into action with his Sturmgewehr 44. Then the Soviets fought back with bolt-action rifles and the PPSh-41 submachine gun with its drum magazine and wooden stock. Casualties mounted. The Axis suffered from losses. As the narrator kept on speaking, the Soviets sallied forth while shouting “ura!” – their famous battle cry. Then they took German prisoners of war. The narration shifted now to the Soviet offensive as they pushed the Axis back. When the reenactment was over, I left the World Trade Center and commenced my tiresome journey back home.
HistoryCon felt like one of the best events I had attended so far. It featured a variety of activities and stuff to see. More importantly, visitors could learn more not only from the past but also about the present and where we are heading. I looked forward to another visit tomorrow. I had a two-day pass after all.