The five judges for the bonsai exhibition met at 8am in the hotel, along with a team of organizers, to review the judging procedures, a very complicated process. Three of the judges were from Taiwan, Shinichi Nakajima from Japan and me from the United States.
The exhibition was split into two divisions, Phempis and non- Pemphis. The Pemphis is a unique species native to the Philippines and grows near the salt water. Actually, they look similar to the Buttonwoods of Florida, but have smaller foliage with tiny flowers and hard dense wood. All the specimens are collected and are difficult to grow outside their native habitat. Even in the Philippines they are often sprayed with salt water. I found it interesting that some specimens had silvery foliage while others were bright green. After inquiring, I was informed that the silvery foliage is normal because of the salt water spray, while specimens with bright green foliage were only watered with fresh water.
The Pemphis bonsai HUGE and quite powerful! In fact, if it were not for the non-Humpies bonsai entries I thought I was back in Portland. Most of the other bonsai seem insignificant compared to the monster size powerful Pemphis specimens. The organizers are well aware of this and decided to have two divisions for judging. The large Pemphis bonsai were also displayed around the outside of the display area, while the smaller specimens in the non- Pemphis division were in the center. There were, however some giant specimens of other species as well.
The Philippines are composed of approximately 7,000 islands, depending on the current tide levels. The Philippine Bonsai Society is the mother or national organization composed of 28 local clubs. Everyone was encouraged to display their bonsai. Trees were flown, trucked, bussed and shipped by sea cargo to Manila for the exhibition.
I was honored to be invited to participate in the judging and also present a demonstration. The judging and organizational committees met at 8am after complicated instructions and many form we began the first selection, of many. Finally we concluded the judging at 6:30pm, just as dusk arrived. During the day the organizational committee too excellent care of the judges with plenty of water, and ice tea of course, in addition to paper toweling to soak up the dripping perspiration in the 93F sweltering heat and humidity.
Judging the bonsai was difficult for me personally, as all the bonsai were beautiful, well trained and displayed. I was not expecting the excellent quality of the bonsai, nor the giant size as well. Most of the bonsai were on outdoor wooden display tables, which were on black metal tables with marble tops. Personally, I was quite impressed with the technical understanding and aesthetic presentation members of the Philippine Bonsai Society. Most of the species were unknown to me, except for a couple of Sargent junipers. Members here took their own native plant material, tropical naturally, and discovered and learned how to grow then create bonsai with them reflecting their culture and taste in beauty.
There were many judging forms to be filled out, but all we had to do is to simply select the best trees from a designated group. Individual scoring was not necessary. There were 182 bonsai in the non-Pemphis division and 78 trees in the Pemphis division. Additionally there were a few invitational special displays of past winners which were not needed to be evaluated. We first began by selecting the best 100 bonsai from the 182 entries. Then we selected the best 72 from that group and continued to select the finest 36 from that group. There were a few additional cuts made finally ending up with the best from each division and best of show. My iPhone has a free app which automatically measures my steps, which ended up being over 6 MILES, in the confined area. The organization committee set up their headquarters for tabulations in an air conditioned coffee shop.
The armed guards from the day before were there and I also made a few new friends, all were friendly and approachable. Perhaps they now have a greater appreciation for bonsai. They did an excellent job because I did not notice any bonsai missing, but many of the great specimens would require more than two people to move.
The bonsai and suiseki exhibition opens tomorrow with an opening ceremony and unique “ribbon cutting.”