Tag Archives: Filipina

Equality and Constant Questioning

When I explain the meaning of my tat, I get reactions like, “Wow naman.” or “Nosebleed.” or “Deeeeeeeep!”, which is perfectly fine. Deep naman talaga. Haha.

But seeing people’s exaltation over the legalization of gay marriage across the United States validates my adoration for the symbols I permanently imprinted on my body.

There is tremendous and blatant inequality everywhere, whether it’s between sexes, sexual orientations, races, economic status, religions and beliefs… We are far from a world of equal opportunity for all – and humanity may never even get there.

Thank goodness for the people that never stop moving toward that aspiration.

2015-06-27 15.50.01I salute you. I stand with you. And today, I celebrate with you in this major milestone!

Then, when the rainbow is no longer in the foreground, I will look at my wrist and remember our personal and collective struggle to question existing norms and break the tricky barriers of inequality.

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Cambodia: Beauty & Brutality

These were my thoughts as I left the charming Cambodia. I'll be writing a separate post for the sightseeing, food tripping, and travel tipping!

During my final hours in Cambodia, I found myself in awe of both its beauty and brutality.

My first impressions, along with a bit of my ignorance, were buried a wee bit deeper with each day in the country, particularly in the tourist driven city of Siem Reap.

I don’t think you can blame me for the rough start.. Stepping out of the airport to a herd of tuktuk drivers was taxing, even for a Filipina used to the chaos of Metro Manila. I am thankful for the airport taxi booth – the beacon of order amid the chaos!

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Chilling inside Angkor Wat
Beyond the buzzing of the tuktuk drivers and the grumpy “customs” officers, everyone else seemed warm and genuinely friendly. And their country’s history… now, that is some story to tell!

As our taxi driver in Phnom Penh told us, quite insightfully, “It’s hard to explain our history because, in some ways, our civilization is very old. But because of the Khmer Rouge, we are also very young.”

The Beauty of the Khmer Empire’s Ancient Cities3_Fotor

Siem Reap is the jumping point to exploring the great number of ancient temples built by the Khmer Empire from the 800s to the 1200s CE.

I wish I had more time prior to the trip to read up on their ancient history, but even with the limited information on the Triposo app, I was easily moved by just being there.

Exploring the ancient cities of the Khmer Empire is, without a doubt, one of the most awesome things I’ve done in my life!

4_FotorSeeing the sun rise then set from atop archaic stone constructs were magical moments! I would highly recommend this magnificent Cambodian adventure to anyone. (Add it to your bucket list!)

For some reason, my favorite temple was Bayon. I can’t quite explain why. But as I stared up at it from the outside, I was deeply moved, I may have teared.

6_Fotor_FotorWas it the craggy look? The fallen stones? The pillars? The non-existent ceilings and unveiled halls?

I’m not sure; but I loved it. It was the temple that ultimately made me feel like I was staring into the past.

The Brutal Khmer Rouge

8_Fotor_FotorThere’s the lovely Siem Reap then there’s the grit, the poverty, the lakes filled with plastic garbage, markets with umbrellas coated with pale orange dust, rough roads for expressways, the beggars, the homeless, the hopeless…

All this I saw as I made my way, by bus, to the capital of Cambodia – Phnom Penh – to visit the killing fields.

Going on this journey and learning about the dark period in Cambodia’s history isn’t for everyone. Indeed, many tourists opt not to visit the more depressing sites, just as many would rather not read stories about the holocaust or the more recent cruelties under ISIS.

9_FotorBut if I was going to explore Cambodia, immerse myself in the culture, and attempt to realize its identity, I knew I had to learn the horrific story of the Khmer Rouge and its brutal murders.

The Cheong Ek Killing Field in Phnom Penh is only one of several killing fields across the country and is believed to be the largest.

The audio guide paints the gruesome picture… I let my imagination do the rest.

I imagined dark nights lit by fluorescent lamps with a number of areas, each with a crowd. Each crowd was split into two – young soldiers and shackled prisoners awaiting their gruesome execution.

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ditches where mutilated bodies were dumped
Deafening revolutionary music masked most of the screams and howls as soldiers used whatever cheap tool they could find to hack at their victims. Bullets were too expensive; a wooden stick, bamboo chute, hammer, sickle, or hoe would have to do.

11_FotorChildren, babies were not spared. They were swung from their feet til their skull met the killing tree as mothers screamed helplessly and waited, even welcomed the end of their suffering.

Mauled bodies were tossed into ditches then poisoned with DDT to finish the half-assed executions and drown out the stench.

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careful not to step on human bones and tattered clothes
Around 17,000 people were murdered in Cheong Ek alone. And 3 million people died as a result of Pol Pot’s extremism and paranoia. Anyone with an education, anyone who would speak out, anyone who might defy the heinous rule of the Khmer Rouge – gone.

And there I was, walking atop their execution sites, trying not to step on pieces of human bone.

The Struggling Young Nation

10_FotorIt’s as if Cambodia’s evolution happened in reverse – from sophisticated water systems and magnificent buildings in Angkor to the inhumane genocide from 1975 to 79.

What’s left is a nation struggling to educate itself without intellectuals, struggling to rebuild without resources, and struggling to remember a culture lost to a repulsive regime.

Currently under a bogus democracy, only time will tell how Cambodia will get back on its feet.

But with such a rich history and incorruptible reminders of their ancient glory, I am hopeful to find a more prosperous and developed nation, should I ever have the chance to return.

My experience in Cheong Ek took my breath away. It took words away, too. I suppose it was a similar experience to the Bayon temple, except at the opposite end of the spectrum.

3 million people lost their lives for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge’s ideology of “agricultural socialism”. The entire nation suffered and continues to grieve because of an idea that cast aside humanity and basic rights.

How can people so easily resort to violence? How can people so easily forsake life?

Is it so easy to detach from other people’s suffering for as long as you’re ok, as Pol Pot and his generals were?

1_Fotor_FotorWe have to stop and wonder, though, what did someone else have to lose for me to be in this position? What did someone give up so that I could enjoy a bar of chocolate? Did a child have to forego an education to harvest the cacao plant for my candy bar? What did someone have to go through to produce the jeans I wear? Did a woman have to work in a dusty, hot, stinky, cramped, disaster-waiting-to-happen factory?

While enjoying freedom – to speak, to be educated, to go on the internet, to choose what to clothes to wear, to decide who to marry and when… perhaps we should stop to think of the many people in the world do not have these basic joys.

There is so much injustice in this world, it’s overwhelming. But, I suppose, the first step to a better world is to acknowledge that these injustices exist.

The next step, though, is a whole lot tougher.

Apo Island Coastal Cleanup: My Do Good Get Dirty Experience

The Do Good Get Dirty trip turned out to be way more than I expected and I am sincerely grateful to Green Cross and Rajah Travel for taking us on such a grand adventure! Check out snippets of our exploits here and our yummy Dumaguete food trip here. You can also watch and share in our experience here. :)

 I found myself crashing a fiesta, jumping off a cliff, and swimming with sea turtles!

I joined the Do Good Get Dirty challenge to make a difference but tables turned and the experience changed me instead! 🙂

I now know a bit more about my country.
Special thanks to Jaret of Rajah Travel for the photo!

It’s a shame I haven’t gone to more places around the Philippines. There are so many interesting pockets to visit and learn about! Negros Oriental is one of those little sachets with a unique history and inspiring stories packed inside. Special shout out to our tour guides Kuya Bong in Dumaguete, Valencia, and Apo Island and Kuya Luis in Siquijor. These guys have an answer for everything! And I really appreciated sharing the experience with people so passionate, knowledgeable, and proud of their home. If you’re receptive, you may just develop a love for the place, too.

I actually enjoyed eating buko-y stuff!
Dumaguete Express from the famous Lab-as restaurant
Dumaguete Express from the famous Lab-as restaurant

Mababaw, maybe, but there are things I’m certain about and one of those things is my dislike for the taste of coconut and coconut milk. I would rather eat crickets than gata! (I know I’m weird.) But I told myself to step out of my comfort zone during this trip. And, apparently, that meant eating Dumaguete Express (made with coconut milk) and I even ate buko pandan dessert! The awesome food trip would not have been complete without Dumaguete Express. I loved it! And it has opened me up to trying food I normally wouldn’t.

We all jumped.

15BA 30-foot drop into a crystal clear sea… Lui, Tim, and I were all afraid of the jump for different reasons. Tim was afraid of the fall. I was afraid of the landing. And Lui was afraid of the water. Still, each of us made the leap! It was thrilling and empowering. I am so proud of Team Dumaguete!

I was reminded of how we are all connected.
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Thank you, Vince of Green Cross, for the great photos!

The highlight of the trip was Apo Island – a marine sanctuary where sea turtles like to chill out. Every month, the community gets together to clean their beach. This is a very tight-knit community, quite literally all family, of about 1,000 residents. It was moving to meet them and be a part of their monthly routine.

The target, really, is plastic. They explained that the sea turtle or pawikan feeds on seagrass and algae. Sadly, it is in these seagrass beds that many pieces of plastic get tangled. Eating the plastic can poison the sea turtles and kill them.

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Thank you, Vince of Green Cross, for the great photos!

As a group, we started cleaning up the beach from one end to the other. I honestly expected little trash here and there considering they clean up every month. Unfortunately, I was wrong. There were way too many little and big bits of plastic, most entwined in the seaweed washed up on shore. What’s alarming is that most of the trash isn’t even from the Apo community, nor is it from tourists that snorkel or dive. The garbage comes from the sea (which, in turn, came from the rest of us). And the recent storms have increased the volume and frequency of this dumping of waste on Apo Island.

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Thank you, Vince of Green Cross, for the great photos!

One of the most jarring moments happened when I was already snorkeling with the graceful pawikan. I was swimming after one and noticed a string of plastic stuck around its tail (You know the kind they use to secure boxes?). We aren’t allowed to touch the marine life so I pointed it out to our guide. Thankfully, he was able to pull the string free from the poor pawikan.

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Thank you, Vince of Green Cross, for the great photos!

I’m certain this isn’t unique to Apo Island. I wonder how many of my wrappers have found a way, somehow, onto a pretty beach (or worse). I rarely think about where my waste goes after I throw it into a bin. But we never know, right?

Even unconsciously, the little things we do can make an impact on others and the environment.

I got to thinking about the mass production of all plastic packages and bottles and ropes and strings… And how we don’t really think about how much we consume and how much garbage is produced in the process.

There is so much natural beauty in the world. How long will it take for us to wreck it all?

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My trip to Dumaguete and Siquijor was one for the books. It was fun and exciting and insightful and inspiring and magnificent! (I even witnessed the most beautiful sunset.) And while there were challenges here and there, I realize the bigger challenge is sustaining the “Do Good” part of the campaign wayyyyy after the experience.

While I have no control over what everyone else does, I am responsible for my own choices. And there are a whole lot of things I can do to minimize my impact on the environment.

Using a reusable water bottle instead of buying disposable bottled water, using reusable bags for groceries, being more mindful of what goods to buy and their packaging, maybe buying in bulk instead of tiny sachets, ensure my waste is disposed of properly, eating less or no meat, buying locally produced goods, use less energy, unplug, don’t waste paper, etc.

Maybe sometime soon, I’ll find a way to make a bigger and more lasting impact. But, despite the cheesiness, I do believe that it starts with me. I have to live it.

Cambugahay Falls Thanks to Jaret of Rajah Travel for the photo.
Cambugahay Falls, Siquijor
Thanks to Jaret of Rajah Travel for the photo.
Thanks again, Green Cross Alcohol and Rajah Travel, for such a fun and inspiring experience! If you're in the mood for some yummy food, check out my post  on Dumaguete's Delights!
Also, check out our webisode!

Enchanted by Venezia

This is the story of my lone backpacking trip across Italy from Dec 1 to 9, 2012. First city - Venice! If you want to know how I prepared for it or how you can do it too, click here!

I found myself in Europe for the first time in my life, alone & ecstatic.

I could barely contain my excitement! Even the plane ride was a celebration (with my teeny bottle of wine)! I’ve always wanted to see Europe but, sadly, financial limitations never let me.

Off to Venice from Dubai!
Off to Venice from Dubai!
To be completely honest, I was envious of friends that would go on trips outside the Philippines every summer. There were times I would travel with my family to Hong Kong, Singapore, or Bangkok – but never out of Southeast Asia. And I knew that if I wanted to go anywhere further, I’d have to find my own way.

Then there I was, armed with my backpack and plans, ready and eager to travel across Italy for nine days!

I was awestruck at my first sight of glorious Venice. I recall having a huge smile plastered on my face as I desperately quashed the tears welling up. All previous memories fell short of that moment. And nothing could stop me from taking a photo – not the cold winter wind, thick gloves, heavy bags, or fear I wouldn’t find my hostel!

My 1st stunning view of Europe - the enchanting city of Venice!
My first stunning view of Europe – the enchanting city of Venice!
I walked through the main street (Venice is a car-free zone with over 100 little islands connected by 400 or so bridges!) until I found my hostel – the Venice Fish. After checking in and depositing my bag, I headed out to wander aimlessly around the city.

Janinay on the Rialto Bridge
Janinay on the Rialto Bridge
I followed the crowd to the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge across the grand canal. I listened in on a couple speaking English and asked them to take my photo (as I did theirs, naturally). I walked through little alleys and looked inside some shops as the sun started setting. It started getting dark and COLD. I ducked into an open café and gifted myself with a cup of hot chocolate before making my way to the famed Piazza San Marco. I sat right in the middle of it all and munched on my cheese and crackers.

I breathed it in – the piazza, Saint Mark’s Basilica, the Campanile. All this awesomeness built in the 1500s is still attracting thousands of people every day! (There is an interesting attempt at calculating the number in this website.)

Piazza San Marco or St. Mark's Square
Piazza San Marco or St. Mark’s Square
I would’ve stayed longer if not for the weather and my tropically inclined body. I walked over to where all the gondolas were docked and felt the loneliness as I looked over at the beautiful view of the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore.

View of the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore
View of the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore
Snapping out of my Venetian trance, I made my way to the vaporetti station. I desperately tried to figure out where my hostel might be on their map and which stop I should get off… Thanks to my awesome apps and innate navigator skillz, I got it right!

The rest of the night was filled with wine, card games, and then escaping from the younger college kids at the hostel (who wanted to get drunk in the streets of Venice). I was happy to be left behind, slightly buzzed, with an empty hostel and the bathroom all to myself!

Cold and Rainy Morning in Venice
Cold and Rainy Morning in Venice
It was a very, very good thing that I opted for sleep that night. My next day was busy and tiring! I woke up early to head to the train station to purchase my biglietto (ticket) to Verona then off I went past the Ponte degli Scalzi or Bridge of the Barefoot Monks to try and find the Peggy Guggenheim collection housed in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.

In Venice, even the walks to the points of interest are interesting! There are so many ways to get to one site thanks to random, unplanned little streets. I loved my stroll! I saw a lot of interesting statues & churches and, thanks to Triposo, I was able to appreciate their significance.2_Fotor

I got lost in art with the Guggenheim collection (Hello to Picaso, Pollock, Mondrian, Ernst, & Warhol!) and paid my respects to Peggy Guggenheim who was buried there beside her beloved doggies.

After grabbing a prosciutto and mushroom pizza to go, I made my winding way back to a flooded St. Mark’s Square, excited to tour the Palazzo Ducale. Inside the Doge’s Palace, you learn about the history of Venice (centered around politics) while walking within the home of the city’s supreme authority – the Doge or Ducale. My favorite room was probably the one with all the humongous maps and globes (but unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to take photos inside)!

The Courtyard, Palazzo Ducale
The Courtyard, Palazzo Ducale
Blur_FotorI knowingly spent too much time in the Doge’s Palace so I anticipated the rush to catch my train. I made my way, once again by vaporetti, to the hostel, grabbed my packed bags, and ran to the station only to miss my train by seconds! (Just like in the movies!) I ended up wasting time waiting for the next train in the freezing station. It was time spent reflecting on my day, planning out Verona, and doing some people watching.

Grazie, Comune di Venezia!

an old Venetian lady & her German Shepherd
an old Venetian lady & her German Shepherd

Prepping for a Backpacking Adventure

One of the most awesome things about being in the Middle East was the opportunity to catapult myself into Europe on a budget.

And so, I decided I was going to backpack around Italy on my own.

I booked a flight from Dubai to Venice for December 1st and a flight departing from Rome on the 9th.

“THIS IS CRAZY,” I thought as a huge grin appeared on my face. With a giddy giggle, I started planning my trip.

Choosing to narrow down my trip to just 5 cities was tough. I wanted to go everywhere! But I had to be strategic with my limited time and resources – and the fact that I had to make my way to Rome from Venice. I checked the top cities to visit in Italy and chose these 5 with the help of google maps.

Italy-Map

  • Venice
  • Verona
  • Milan
  • Florence
  • Rome

In retrospect, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And I would highly recommend starting in Venice and ending in Rome for anyone who has never set foot in Italy (or in my case, Europe). Pure love. ❤

Apps

Every time I travel, I download these 2 apps – Triposo and my fave language app.

Apps
Apps to download: Triposo and this language app!

Triposo used to have separate apps for each country. But I think they’ve condensed it into one humongous FREE app! What’s great about Triposo is that you don’t need an Internet connection to use it. There’s also a map with notable sites plotted. And it even tracks your location via GPS – such a huge help in navigating through city streets!

For basic conversational phrases in Italian (and other languages), I always go for this app that I don’t know the name of. It says “Learn Italian” or Japanese or French or whatever other language. The photo is above. The categories are SO useful for travel with Directions & Places, Transportation, and Eating Out. You can listen to how the words are pronounced. Plus, you can “favorite” a phrase and go to the saved list any time!

Luggage

I will admit that there were moments I wish I brought a trolley instead of a massive backpack. There are backpack-trolley hybrids now. I think that might be a good idea – if they aren’t crazy heavy.

Here was my luggage set-up:

A Huge Backpacker’s Backpack for all my clothes and toiletries. It was the beginnings of winter so this island girl had to pack in some serious thermal wear, scarves, and gloves. I settled for just one coat. And I had to lug around an extra pair of boots! Backpacker_Fotor(Come to think of it, winter is not a great time to “backpack”. It’s so difficult to pack light! Good thing it was the onset and not the height of winter.)

I also had A Sling Bag for my coat and my boots. Sadly, they couldn’t fit in my big backpack anymore. Otherwise, I would’ve done without it.

A Baby Backpack for all my valuables and navigation tools. I would wear it in front of me so it’s extra protected from thieving fiends. In this little polka dotted treasure chest, I had my passports (yes, plural 😉 ), money, mobile phones, camera, gloves, scarf, shades, map, booking printouts, train tickets, chargers, crackers, and water. If this bag were stolen, I’d be in big, big trouble! You can only imagine how careful I was. I even hugged it while I slept in hostels just in case my roommates were kleptomaniacs!

Bags and SnacksWhen it came to cash, I had two pouches in my baby bag: one with a bit of Euros and one credit card, the other with my stash of USD and larger Euro bills.

I also stuffed USD and Euros deep into my socks, just in case. HAHAHA.

Big Bag Packing Tips

  • Pack light – easier for me than some other girls because I’m not one to freak out about my outfit repeating or what shoes I’m wearing. Shoes are heavy.
  • Plan out what clothes you’re going to wear and pack it in order (with tomorrow’s outfit on top and so on) so you don’t have to dig through your bag everyday
  • Keep your undies, socks, gloves, scarves, and accessories separate. I kept mine at the top pouch and side pouches of my bag.
  • Fold and roll dirty clothes that you will no longer be wearing. Stuff them all on one side of the bag, keeping the other side for the clean clothes. Place plastic in between so they don’t mix!
  • Keep toiletries in one pouch and pack it last, on top of the clothes.

Accommodations

I stayed in hostels the entire time. But I was lucky to find a cheap room all to myself in Florence. And thanks to last minute changes, I was granted my own room in Verona at no extra cost! YEAY.

HostelBookers.com was my website of choice in canvassing for places to stay – for rates, photos, and reviews. The hostels I stayed in were all so different! So if you’re planning to stay in one, it’s important to check for photos and reviews before you book – Hostel Bookers has both.

Here’s a quick review of the hostels I stayed in plus the rates back in 2012:

See that bridge that leads to a green door? That's the entrance to The Venice Fish Hostel!
See that bridge that leads to a green door? That’s the entrance to The Venice Fish Hostel!

The Venice Fish, Venice

1 night for USD 30 / EUR 22 / PHP 1,300

I stayed in a room for ladies only with 3 single beds. You get one pillow, a blanket, and a towel – presumably clean. Haha. There’s also breakfast the next day (I think I had cereal).

However, this place is not for the picky. It’s an old apartment with a timeworn bathroom you have to share with the rest of the tenants. I liked it, though. It served its purpose and the location was great!

Guesthouse Castelvecchio, Verona

1 night for USD 26 / EUR 20 / PHP 1,132

Here's the pretty kitchen and dining area at Guesthouse Castelvecchio in Verona.
Here’s the pretty kitchen and dining area at Guesthouse Castelvecchio in Verona.

This was an apartment with its owner still living in it! She had her own room separate from the 2 other rooms she leased out to tourists. You share her pretty kitchen and dining area and have access to biscuits and coffee and bread and spreads! The bathroom was shared but there are 2 you can choose from and both are very clean and quaint. I would highly recommend this hostel! The location is perfect – between the train station and Verona’s coliseum.

Hotel Panizza, Milan

2 nights for USD 47 / EUR 35 / PHP 2,045

I stayed in a room for 4, girls only. This hostel is inside an apartment building. It has multiple floors and the “lobby” was a separate floor from my room. The interiors are pretty, well maintained, and clean. However, it isn’t very close to a subway station.

MilanTourist House Liberty, Florence

1 night for USD 34 / EUR 25 / PHP 1,480

A room all to myself! The location was great, too. It was pretty close to the train station and to the Duomo and magnificent statue of David. There were also restaurants and delis close by. Thumbs up!

POP INN Hostel, Rome

USD 23 / EUR 17 / PHP 1,007 per night on weekdays  & USD 33 / EUR 24 / PHP 1,420 per night on weekends 

The location is right next to the train station – which is great! Plus, when I was leaving for the airport, the buses to the airport arrive right in front of the hostel’s building. They’re also very lenient when it comes to check in time and the staff are friendly.

Transportation

Traveling by TrainI traveled from city to city via the Intercity Trains. I would book my train ticket online the night before and I’d choose based on time and rates. (Check out the website here.) If you aren’t familiar with traveling via train, this might help!

Within the city, you can get around via Bus or Subway. But honestly, the only time I took public transport within the city was when I was in Milan. The rest of the cities, I walked everywhere! And I never even took a cab. 🙂

Rome is a different story, though. It’s huge and there are just so many places to go! I booked a 3-day pass on a Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus. Should I find myself back in that glorious city, I’d probably take a regular bus or use the subway instead.

Other Tips

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Lots and lots and lots of walking will be had!
  • There were advantages for going to Italy during winter. There were less people than usual. And people weren’t so sweaty (therefore they weren’t so stinky! Or maybe people’s coats hid the smell?). I think there were also less pickpockets! But it would rain and it was so cold and so difficult to pack light. Soooo… think about which season would be best for you.IMG_4958
  • I kept being warned about pickpockets and thieves and scammers. Yes, there are a bunch of scams so beware! Do a quick search online on the recent scams in Italy before heading there and be wary of your valuables at all times. It’s always better not to wear any expensive jewelry or bags as that will put a target on your back. And try to act like you know where you’re going – another way the Triposo app came in handy!
  • Be careful who you ask to take your photo. I would listen in to conversations and when I’ve determined the couple or person is a tourist, then I ask if they can take my photo. I take theirs, too. 🙂 I also used my timer-cam a lot! No selfie-sticks yet back then. 😦
  • It’s so easy to lose track of time. There are so many places to see! So if you don’t have the luxury of time, choose sights thoughtfully and try not to get too lost. :p
  • Not sure where to go? Ask the front desk of your hostel for tips! They usually give you a map, encircle the position of the hostel and a bunch of sites you can visit.
  • Bring along a bottle of water and snacks. You never know when you’ll be rushing to a train without time to buy a meal. I remember being in the Boboli Gardens, not realizing how huge it is and being oh so very hungry! Good thing I still had crackers and water!

I’m sure there are loads of other tips. So go ahead and type them out at the comments box. 🙂

As for the sightseeing, I’ll be writing blogposts for each city!

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A Mirage in the Emirates

In the Emirates, the sun reaches far into any form of shade. Sunglasses are so much more than an accessory (Seriously, you CANNOT leave home without it.). The slightest hint of rain is a freak occurrence. Water is more expensive than petrol. Black figures floating about mustn’t be stared at. And something grand, humongous, luxurious, and/or opulent greets you in every corner.

I found myself in a whole new world, with a new (fantastic?) point of view. This would be my first long project for work and I ended up spending a month in Dubai, occasionally driving to Abu Dhabi.

What to do? What to see? There’s the tallest building in the world right next to the largest shopping mall and the biggest fountain show (in the middle of the desert). There’s the indoor ski slope and a few crazy, big water parks to choose from (in the middle of the desert). There’s a desert safari with dune bashing and a cultural show (naturally, in the middle of the desert). And a bunch of other things to see and do in this land of infinite sand! (Watch out for my posts on travel tips and places to see in Dubai.)

I found myself drawn to the Bastakiya Quarter, a restored historic district. It’s next to the Dubai Museum and the Dubai Creek and is the only place I found teeming with history and character. Get lost in the alleyways and walk into art galleries or pretty courtyards. Stroll along the notable Khor Dubai and listen for the chants from surrounding mosques. Take shelter from the heat at the Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café. And if you’d like to try something new, just next door is the Local House Restaurant that serves camel burgers!

Hands down, my most awe-inspiring moment was visiting the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I’m not certain I’ve ever seen anything so massive and so beautiful. I could’ve stared at the structures in my burka for hours. I will admit, though, that I was more impressed with the exterior than the lavish rugs and golden fixtures inside.

 

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Here’s the thing about Dubai – it overflows with extravagance. Sports cars, palaces, gold and diamonds, designer brands… These are things that many aspire for. But from where I stand, there is no place for this level of excess in a world where over 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.25 per day).

Another issue that bothered me was how many Filipinos work in Dubai. It was comforting for me, in a way. You walk around a mall and every store has a Pinoy employee. Hearing the Filipino language is not at all surprising. Plus, I sometimes get perks like better service or an extra refill of my drink just because I’m Pinay. But when I stop to think about it, I can’t help but be both sad and angry about the state of my country. A lot of Filipinos leave the Philippines not because they want to travel or experience what it’s like to live elsewhere. They leave because the so-called opportunities back home cannot provide them and their family a good life. They can do the same work abroad, and get better pay.

Overall, I’m glad I experienced Dubai for as long as I did. I got past the WOW factor. It gave meDesert time to see through the mirage… Not that it was all bad! They’ve built beautiful and functional cities, a strong economy, and thriving businesses. I must also give credit to how they’ve managed to somewhat break out of the strict Islamic religion; somewhat allowing alcohol, pork, and for people (women) to dress as they please. While they still remain shackled to religious tradition, at least they don’t strictly impose these traditions on those of varying beliefs…

But could this be yet another mirage? That’s certainly a possibility. I’ve heard a number of stories that lead me to believe so.

On Cynthia Alexander and Guerrilla Tears

A guerrilla tear trailed down my cheek reminding me that great music can be overwhelming, specially live.

From raindrops and goodbyes to welcoming the ecstatic pains of motherhood

From the beauty of the present to our forgotten respect for this world

From strolling past a sleeping lake to mind-tripping and cyclical bike rides

Cynthia Alexander has written powerful music, piercing through my metal-plated armor.

I’m still clutching at the emotions stirred by tonight’s conspiracy… Hence the blogpost (which I may just post tomorrow, a day late).

Thank goodness for music, my favorite time-travel machine, taking me back to electric experiences like tonight.

HUGE sigh.

MyJaninay finding herself in Cynthia Alexander’s June 16, 2012 gig at Conspiracy.

A special thank you to Pochoy for taking me. I hear and feel so much more with you.

Cynthia Alexander in Conspiracy, 16 June 2012
“This is more than intimate,” she said.
Conspiracy was packed, inside and out. Everyone enjoying Cynthia’s pleasant company and exquisite music.
“Amoy High School!”
Cynthia’s brother, Joey Ayala, came in through the window armed with funny quips.
“Dumaan Ako” performed by the talented siblings
My keyhole view of Cynthia Alexander… before I decided to stand up. 😉

“This is madness.”

One of the most wonderful people I know, Misha, suggested I watch this documentary by BBC. It’s about a bus driver from London who goes to Manila with a challenge to become a jeepney driver by the end of the trip – DRIVE A JEEP ALONE IN MANILA (Siya pa nanunukli)! He lives with Rogelio (a jeepney driver) and his family and learns, firsthand, how tough it is to live in our country.

I cried. And cried again. The world is anything but fair. I urge you, if you have a little less than an hour, to watch the docu below – The Toughest Place To Be A Bus Driver. You can watch it now or later. But I assure you, it is not a waste of time. My thoughts and frustrations are below.

I will write about 2 things. You may read one and not the other. Or not read at all. But I’m hoping you read both! :p

Road Rage

I, too, drive through the streets of Metro Manila. I confess that I do scream, curse, and lash-out (in the confines of my car) at pedestrians and other drivers on the road, most specially jeepney and bus drivers. In these moments, I feel I live in a place that is the epitome of inconsideration. And, against all my better judgment, I get sucked into the bandwagon.

Inconsideration, in my opinion, is an extremely huge problem in our society. I’ve always believed that if people were more considerate of each other, lines would move faster, traffic would ease up, mall-wide sales wouldn’t give me a migraine, and stress levels of most everyone when outside the confines of their home would decrease.

But where does this come from? Why can’t most people think of anyone but themselves?

I guess the true questions is, “How can one be considerate when one’s mind is on survival mode? Can I feed my family today?”

Inconsideration stems from this dog-eat-dog world, the reality of day-to-day survival.

What happens to my road rage now? It’s so much easier to be angry, curse at faceless strangers and not care. But how can you be angry knowing what these people come home to? … Knowing they’re stuck in a vicious cycle of suffering they can never get out of?

Rage turns to sorrow.

Life. To live. It is more than just physical survival.

To understand this rant, you’ll have to watch the documentary… Or just keep in mind that millions of Filipinos live in the slums, in their makeshift homes. Many are young married couples with 12-13 children.

How can one truly value life but accept the condition in which so many Filipinos are living?

How can one value life and accept that people eat recooked rotting food from the trash if they eat anything at all?

How can one that values life be OK with bringing a new life into this world only to starve, suffer, and have nothing but survival in mind?

How can one value truth but withhold readily available information, that is common knowledge to most educated people, from the less fortunate with less access?

How can one be against the RH Bill? I really CANNOT understand. What are you afraid of?

More abortion cases? Please explain to me how this happens with less cases of unwanted pregnancy.

Are you afraid that our country will have a problem of underpopulation like other developed countries? Oh my goodness. Do you really think that it’s as easy as the simplest cause-effect equation? There are so many factors that will contribute to that future possibility. Besides, if you have people that value having a family, this will not happen. I am aware of most all methods of contraception but I still want to have my own children one day… When I can actually sustain them financially and emotionally. Values formation and valuing the family as the basic unit of society can be taught and developed.

Please help me understand… Because my brain can’t seem to wrap itself around this.

What kind of person would think that a young married woman living in a makeshift box with 13 (THIRTEEN!) children and barely anything to eat is wrong for taking measures to prevent any more pregnancies?

Would you condemn her to hell? Isn’t she already living there?

Heart And Seoul

Ja-Bin in Korea!

(Unedited Version of my Myx Mag Article)

I was in complete awe of Korea and in utter disbelief that I was sent there for work – to shoot a total of 9 shows and interview 2NE1’s Dara. It’s a remarkable place with breathtaking sights and, literally, breath-taking weather (It reached NEGATIVE 6 degrees one night!). As soon as VJ Robin and I stepped out of the plane, we were greeted by a waft of cold air that made me thankful for my scarf and beret… and Robin – regretful to have nothing but his t-shirt on (with jeans, socks, shoes, and, hopefully, underwear on as well).

As soon as we saw Myeong Dong, which is the area we would call home for 2 nights, our eyes widened and we simultaneously uttered, “WOW.” I was told that Myeong Dong is like the Makati City of Seoul. But, honestly, it looked nothing like Makati. People sashayed in their fashionable winter clothes. Beautiful pastel-colored shops lined the narrow alleys like sweet eye candy for us adventurous VJs. With such a beautiful backdrop, we got to work on the special Korean episodes to be shown on Myx.

Aside from feeding our appetite for adventure, we also made the most out of every meal of the day (which included merienda and a midnight snack). We sampled as many Korean delicacies as we could. We feasted on Ginseng Chicken, Bulgogi, Bulgogi Burgers, various street foods, and my newly discovered Korean favorite – Budae-chigae. We were thrilled to discover that cold weather makes your body work harder to keep you warm, thus burning the extra calories we consumed… Or at least that’s what we told ourselves to justify our excessive food tripping.

But the trip to Korea wasn’t all about feasting and frolicking. Robin and I were there on a mission. Without a crew or any staff from Myx to guide us, we were tasked to return home with a successful interview with K-Pop Superstar Sandara Park. Armed with our video cameras, list of questions, and bundle of nerves, we made our way to Dara’s TV Commercial shoot for Etude House (www.etudehouse.ph).  Even before we met her, we were impressed at how professional she was during the shoot. Watching monitors from a separate room, we saw how her eyes lit up once the director said, “Action!”

All intimidation melted once we met the sweet and soft-spoken Dara. Inspite of her flawless beauty, she has an air of humility that was exceptionally endearing. Not to mention, she still seems very attached to the Philippines and us Filipinos. She could not hide how much she missed the country and all her fans and friends back in the Philippines. Plus, she expressed herself tremendously well in Filipino, to the utter disbelief of our tongue-tied-when-speaking-Filipino-VJ Robin.

A photo from my Interview with Sandara Park in Korea!

Meeting 2NE1’s Dara was definitely the highlight of my trip. With the precious interview footage safely in tow, Robin and I headed home to Manila with a newfound love for Seoul Korea but also a greater appreciation for home. After all, if a K-Pop Superstar who is set to be an international sensation is proud to have lived in the Philippines, continues to speak in our language, and clearly misses the country and its people… Shouldn’t we also be proud to be Filipino? BAM!

Of the time I took on the Heroes of Newerth (Myx Mag Article, Unedited Version)

Who hasn’t heard of DotA?! It’s the game that has groups of intense players shouting and laughing in their favorite computer shop tambayan. It’s the game that has your crush glued to the PC at 3 in the morning while you wait for his reply to your “Matutulog ka na?” text message!

Now think DotA with better graphics and less hassle! Let‘s welcome the Heroes of Newerth! Even the name is more appealing. Really. DotA or HoN? DotA might sound more astig. But HoN sounds malambing even when it’s all about killing creeps and ambushing heroes!

HoN is almost exactly like DotA. It’s a clash of two teams with each member playing a hero with its own mix of special skills and powers. The main goal is still to get to the opposing team’s base and destroy their source of life! Along the way, you’ll have to stomp on some tiny creeps, destroy towers that throw massive boulders at you, and, of course, kill each other’s heroes! Doesn’t that sound exciting?

For a noob like me, though, I find HoN much simpler and easier to play. I don’t need to remember as many keys and I don’t have to hold down the ALT button to see how much life people have left! The items and recipes are categorized and are easier to find and sort through so I no longer have to bug a teammate to ask what I should be buying with my earned gold. While playing HoN, I was able to focus more on my hero – gaining experience, killing our enemies, and escaping when they decide to pick on a noob like me!

The hero I chose to start off with was Pestilence – a purple hornet that keeps flapping his wings. He’s based on DotA hero Slardar so their special skills are the same. I tend to like heroes that can stun enemies, stopping them in their tracks! It’s great for a noob because you can stun the enemy to kill him, or to get away when he’s trying to kill you! Pestilence also has the ability to increase its movement speed. Again, you can use this to chase an enemy down or escape when you know he’s a godlike HoN addict out to get you.

Another hero I tried was the Electrician and he’s unique to HoN! He’s a bit more difficult to use. Like Pestilence, he can stun a target. The problem is, he’s automatically pulled towards the stunned target so it’s really more of an offensive stun. For defense, Electrician can create a shield around himself when he is being attacked. He can also shock enemies to make them slower or shock teammates to make them quicker!

From the two heroes, I’d definitely stick to Pestilence. His stun covers the area around him so he can immobilize more than one hero at once, as opposed to Electrician who can only target one hero at a time. I found that Pestilence was easier to use so I recommend beginners like me to try him out while getting used to the game!

When asked if I’d rather play DotA or HoN, I’d stick with HoN. DotA is a little more complex. Although, I think if I play HoN a little more, I’d be better at DotA, too! HoN’s graphics are also much better. Plus, you don’t have to feel bad for being a beginner! You can join games online that are specially created for noobies. You can practice all you want with fellow beginners without shame! But I think even die-hard godlike DotA players would enjoy HoN. It’s easier to play through the internet and you can challenge people from all over the world with less hassle. Plus, you build on your own ranking so you’re constantly challenged to do better and win more games.

The only problem I find with HoN is that not everyone can play it. It’s currently in its Beta stage and only a number of people have accounts that they may or may not decide to share. But if you have any gamer friends, try and persuade them to lend you their account just so you can try it! Don’t worry, though! Once HoN is released, you can purchase an account and play all you want! Who knows? Maybe you’ll even see me in game! Or better yet… Go gaming with your crush at 3 in the morning!