Saturday, October 17, 2009

Islandhopper Dines at Bob's

Tritan Plaza
Paseo de Magallanes, Makati City

The Bait:
Namets-inspired sampling of Bacolod food
The Line:
"Since 1965. Serving the Negrenses with Good Food For Over 40 years. "
Hook: Comfort Food
The Sinker:
Birthing blues with service not up to the first flux of wannabe-the-first-to-try diners.
The Catch:
P350 per person; exclusive of dessert

In our marriage's restaurant choosing power play, he usually says, "same old, same all-time favorite." And she says, "anything we've never tried before."

This weekend's date night brought about a happy compromise.

Bacolod's Pride, Bob's, has been in Manila for just a few weeks. But it's been satisfying the Negrense diners since 1965. It satisfies my husband's craving for the familiar; the dishes vaguely reminds us of Dayrit's comfort food. Spanking new and already attracting a wait-in-line clientele, it sates my hunger for the novel.

If you're looking for newfangled cuisine, Bob's is not the place for you. The food is no-frills, no-surprises, just-eat-it-and-enjoy, yummy in my tummy, comfy for my soul food.

This old married couple ordered the prosaic and predictable. Buffalo Wings (5 pcs for P250) with blue cheese dip. Good, but not outstanding given the metro's choices of hot wings. Bob's Chorizo Sandwich (P105) was a bit of a disappointment -- delicious chorizo filling, but too much bread for not a whole lot of meat. They need to double up the chorizo serving and give it some visual interest. It is arguably the most boring looking sandwich on the face of the earth. The Big Boy Cheeseburger (P170) compensates. It doesn't blow your taste buds away, but it pleasantly satisfies with it simple, beefy goodness.

The major disappointment was the absence of desserts. The mention of Bacolod food conjures visions of napoleones and other sweet treats. The cafe counter fridge offers only a blah display of chocolate cakes and brazos de mercedes.

The main pic above is their place mat, which shows a copy of their menu circa 1965. Nostalgic. But shows the stark contrast of today's prices, thousands of percentage over. A bit depressing.

The service was a bit sucky; repeated follow-ups necessary before food and drinks are served. But that's also because the place was packed. We're going to give it another chance though. The steak and eggs breakfast insists on being tried.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Islandhopper Dines at Purple Feet

Wine Depot, 217 Nicanor Garcia St. (formerly Reposo St.), Bel-Air,
Makati City, 8973220, 897816

The Bait:
Dining in the middle of wine heaven
The Line: "Our Wine List is Our Wine Shop"
The Hook: Green tea pannacotta
The Sinker: I'm nitpicking here, but if you pick a copy of their biz card, you see their unimaginative logo, a literal translation of "purple feet," which at best reminds you of your neighborhood spa and at worse, reminds you of er, purple feet.
The Catch: P1k-2k per person; exclusive of wine

How can this semi-alcoholic, 100%-gluttonic [my word] couple refuse an invitation to dine in a wine shop on the week that Wine Depot was having a restaurant promo around the metro?

With no signs outside, Purple Feet gives you the experience of entering a speakeasy, sans the burly bouncer and the secret password. It feels like you're in on a secret, but it's the food that is the contraband, not the alcohol. Walking in, one might take several minutes to get to the dining area with all the eye candy -- glistening, glowing bottles of wine calling out your name, tempting you to shop. But we had friends waiting for us, so we had to resist all impulse to walk the aisles.

We were pretty hungry too; this made our decision to go for the set menu easy and obvious. Check out that picture of the blackboard. Four courses, each one accompanied by a glass of wine. At P888. It's a really good deal; unfortunately tonight (October 11) is the last night for it.

The Blue Cheese Seafood Chowder is hearty, creamy, flavorful -- three adjectives tops on my gustatory vocabulary. Dig deep into the tiny soup cup to find spoonfuls of shrimp and calamari. I would have wanted more, But more dishes were to follow. The Villawolf Gewutz...gewirtz...gewurtz...uhm white wine that comes with it is sweet; tastes like champagne without the fizz. A good start.

The Atlantic Smoked Trout in Macadamia Dressing doesn't look impressive, but actually tastes good. To my untrained wine palate, the Tulloch Verdelho was just okay, but that's because I'm not really big on white wine.

For entrees, my hubbalicious chose the chicken, and I had the fish -- one of the few occasions when he was right, and I was wrong. The saving grace of my Lemon Poached Garfish with Saffrom and Olives were the fresh, raw herbs topping it, and that dollop of Indonesian catsup on the side. Other than those, the fish was the opposite of spectacular. More white wine, please.

Our host, who opted for the ala-carte menu had Duck Breast, which she made me try. It's very good -- oriental-flavored, slightly sweet, crispy skin. For that price (900+) though, you might be better off getting your duck fix in chinese tea houses, says my host. Of course, aesthetically, the warehouse, secret restaurant ambience of Purple Feet is hard to beat.

The dessert totally made up for the entree. The Green Tea Pannacotta was sublime. And the Dr. Loosen Reisling was almost ignored, if not for the fact that I'm cheap and I don't want wine to go to waste. The Vittoria Coffee is very good; dense, bitter, and strong. Great ending to a good, well-paced meal.

I would love to come back on a non-promo night. The dishes on the other blackboard look like must-tries -- that Portabello Mushroom with Foie Gras and Stilton Cheese is now officially part of my bucket list.

But what's more interesting is the option to pick out "raw ingredients" like beef, scallops, duck from the board, and then collaborate with the chef to whip up dishes to your liking. That and the green tea pannacotta are worth a return trip. I'll have red wine with my dinner next time though.

(Forgive me for the lousy pictures taken by my lousy phone cam.)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Wear Joaquin

You like fashion? You also like literature? Here's something that brings those two elements together.

Freeway honors Philippine National Artists by designing clothing collections that showcase the artists' works. The first set features Nick Joaquin. It's a scrumptious, artistic collection of t-shirts, blouses, jackets, and dresses.

I love the way the text takes as much space as the imagery. And if you're ever stuck in an elevator/waiting room/queue without a book, you can read your shirt.

Freeway does not seem to have a website, but google led me to this site that shows off the collection:

Gorgeous, huh? I know you want a piece of that.

It's a bummer though that I wasn't able to buy anything. I'm way off the size chart of Philippine apparel, so I was ready to go for a bag. But there's no bag; just a tiny kikay pouch. And really, my closet will vomit the kikay pouch if I attempt to add another to the 2 million I already have. I need something I can use, sling on my shoulder, and show off so people will say, "Wow, that's Nick Joaquin." And I will beam and carry a silly grin while thinking of myself as some kind of cool, nationalistic, literate dudette with socially-relevant fashion tastes.

Oh well, maybe I will come back to their stores one of these days to try on a men's shirt.

But for you, my lithe friends, I encourage you to check this out and get yourself a limited edition. Wear Joaquin. If you have 2 navels, now is the time to show them off. Let's support Freeway as they support our artists.

Up next for the holidays is a collection paying homage to Ang Kiukok. I can't even begin to articulate how excited I am about that collection as well, and it will break my materialistic, pa-cultured heart to leave empty handed, because here finally is my chance of having a bit of Ang Kiukok without having to pawn my husband.

Freeway people, make sure you include a tote or messenger bag for the Ang Kiukok set, okay?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Often, I find myself submerged in a thick plot, lost in the pages of a good book, deeply ensconced in an armchair and swept up in other worlds, embroiled in other people's stories. But this post is not about that. This post is about submerging the book.

Yes, dipping a book in water. Uhm, yes, liquid water.

I hear gasps and the gnashing of teeth.

Warning: The pictures that follow might cause shortness of breath, activation of tear ducts, and the rapid increase/decrease of blood pressure among my obsessive-compulsive, plastic-wrapping, book-loving friends.

Be assured, however, that no books were harmed in the filming of this blog.This is my totally waterproof book. Melcher Media's The Soothing Soak is a collection of poems, essays, and short stories by Pablo Neruda, AS Byatt, Diane Ackerman among others. It is meant to be read in the bathtub. But since we don't have a tub, this book is my spa book.

I've been wanting to have a book like this. Ever since I discovered the existence of waterproof books, I've been entering steam bath and sauna rooms with a profound sense of emptiness and longing, knowing that if I had such a book, I would read in joyous peace instead of boring myself in contrived zen.

One time back in the days when I didn't have this book, I tried going to the sauna with a regular book, the type with porous paper pages. I panicked when I saw the pages crinkling into little waves. In this mega-humid country of ours, water damaged books have the potential to attract molds and destroy your whole book collection. (There's that gasping and gnashing sound again.)

Gimongous thanks to my Chicago based sister-in-law, Ate Pat, I finally have this.

One weekend, I baptized (uhm, literally?) the book at The Spa in Jupiter. I tucked the book into my little pink spa bag and brought it with me to the wet floor.

I read poetry at the steam room.I felt a bit self conscious because there were 2 other girls in the room. And maybe they were thinking I was silly bringing a book in there. Or maybe they were envious. Because they had nothing to read. While I was unabashedly reading in the steam room, instead of watching my navel or doing nothing but grappling with my body issues and trying to cover up my cellulite. I was happy.

Then I moved into the Turkish pools. I love Turkish pools with the contrast hot and cold baths, except this time the hot part was not that hot, and the cold was not that cold. Normally, I would be a wee bit upset about such technical flaws, but this time I had my waterproof book, and I was a happy camper. I read a couple of short stories. I can hardly remember the content as I was just so thrilled at the experience of being able to do two favorite things at once -- reading and spa-ing. I enjoyed myself so much, I had to force myself to stop reading, pull myself out of the pool, and get on with my spa-ing.

Two drawbacks -- one is that you need to allocate more time before your massage. The other one is that even if it is waterproof, the pages do get wet and stay wet. So I had to wipe every page before I stored the book back into my spa bag. Spritzed it with Lysol. It's waterproof. I don't know if it's mold proof.

Aaah. I can't wait until my next spa visit and my next soothing soak.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Somebody Loves Me

Somebody from the US loves me and knows the stuff I love. Thank you. I'm going to enjoy all these goodies.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bale Dutung -- House of good food, gracious entertaining, and art

July 26, 2009 -- We used Eric's arrival from Sydney as the perfect excuse to troop to Angeles, Pampanga for this 5-way lechon feast we've been hearing, reading, dreaming, salivating about.

We knew about Claude Tayag -- artist, columnist, and chef. Whipping up an amazing lunch, a degustacion that had food gluttons raising their little white towels in surrender, Chef Tayag certainly didn't disappoint.

But the surprise was Mary Ann, Claude's wife. Stylish, gracious, and entertaining, she elevates party hosting to an art.

Of course, the most pleasant surprise is Bale Dutung itself. You enter an unassuming suburban village to get there. Then once you cross the Tayag's gate you step into a rustic restaurant slash house slash gallery slash nature wonderland. A house filled with art, antiques, and creative ideas that salute Philippine food and culture.

And the food -- I honestly have never been that stuffed in my whole life. Slooooow food at its finest -- almost 5 hours. And well worth the time and the trip. (Of course, I'm not with the party that got caught in the flash flood and the 5-hour traffic jam on the way back, so I can say that.)

Resto review to follow. In the meantime, enjoy the photos at:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

To Poof or Not to Poof: That is the Question of the Day

Had a real nice dinner with a girlfriend last night. And we know that when two or more women gather, the discussion inevitably leads to the topic of men. And this is the question that we deliberated on last night. I am interested to know what others think. Please comment. Share your passionate views.

The question is: Do real men use the poof to clean themselves in the bath or shower?

I will share my views after hearing from you.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Flippers are Foodies too

temporarily posting this here as I ask permission from the image owner, Lord Jit, here:


It was a bit surreal. To be standing alone in the school corridor because everyone has left.

One foreign student confirmed to have AH1N1. The school will be closed for 10 days. Some might think that's a bit much. But it's standard procedure they say. According to WHO. Just the same, it was pretty hard to believe that school was being shut down.

They're not revealing identities. But I suppose they're rounding up the possible contact points. And those who might have been exposed are probably in quarantine now.

Only rumors to go by. So far, I've heard the pronoun "she." And which college "she" is from. Not our college. Whew.

I'm in school 2 days a week. I interact with only a few people from the department, and my students are enrolled in major subjects. I don't go around much. The chances that her virus has somehow got to me is almost nil.

Unless she went to the library and used the desk a few minutes before I used it. Or had a kiwi strawberry shake like I did and sneezed on the straw holder, from which I picked up my straw. Or we walked together from the parking lot, and she exhaled a bit much. Insert suspense horror movie sound effects here.

Who knows where she's been? I certainly don't want to panic. But the mind is actively imagining scenarios. The erstwhile invisible air suddenly acquires a psychedelic haze and neon green dust enlarge and fly around like spring fluff landing on every throbbing surface. Every epidemic panic movie gets replayed in my head.

The second the rumors were confirmed by a memo in black in white, I started feeling psychosomatically hot and slightly diarrheic.

But really, I'm okay. Maybe I should just enjoy the extended vacation. Though a 10-day quarantine of just reading would be nice.

Ugh. I dread the repercussions of making up for lost time. Makeup classes are a pain. And my 2 sections are not on the same page anymore. Bummer.

I pray that "she" gets better and that will not be as traumatized as I imagine she'd be. It's not a cool way to get famous. I pray that no one else is infected. I pray that this scare blows over. Paranoia is not a pretty emotion.

Life in the time of the AH1N1.

The panic reminds me a bit of Saramago's Blindness. Surreal.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Inanity and the Absurdity of Posterity

A record of sorts. Beating my personal bests.

No. of hours in pajamas - 25 (maybe barring the times I've been in my sickbed)
No. of kilometers traveled in pajamas - app. 394

Bontoc. I put on my pajamas at roughly 10PM. The next morning, we were traveling to Baguio to spend the night there en route to Manila. I decided I would shower in Baguio. The Baguio Country Club shower, a gazillion stars better than the one at Bontoc, beckoned. I went coffee-shopping in Bontoc and had lunch at Cafe by the Ruins in my snowflake riddled jammies. And then some people, without asking my pajamas, decided to go straight back to Manila. The country club lodging was canceled. And so my pajamas and I arrived home past 10 in the evening. My pajamas practically walked itself to the hamper.

And that, my dear friends, is another installment of utterly useless facts about me.

There is no bottom to the well of inanities I can think of.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stuff I Like: Oishi Cheese Sponge Crunch

You may be surprised to know that I'm not all that fond of junk food. Except for clover chips, which is comfort food that brings me back to childhood when my dad would bring a pack home for me knowing it was my favorite.

I'm not even a snacker. No, I developed this lush fleshiness through the willful consumption of the real goodness of dead animals combined with the carbo-laden staple of the masses. Real meals for real women and voracious manual laborers. With extra rice.

I discovered this evil snack through this blog -- lafang nation's. Intrigued, I bought a pack each of the cheese and the chocolate for a long trip. I tried the cheese flavor first. I did not expect that my first bite would make my tongue feel what being in love feels like.

Well, it's just crud, really. There is no one main ingredient except for some starch combination, the elements of which may not necessarily come from nature. Starch shaped into little letter o's by machines and then dipped in an evil cheeselike flavoring. Soaked in cheese product. And sugar. And when you put it on your tongue, the crud and cheeselike substance and the sugar and all the additives melt deliciously coating your tongue with heaven, and your tastebuds take control of your brain and you feel like you did when you had your first kiss, and you understand why that tree was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It's so good it's disgusting.

The zip lock comes very handy, because you can really only have a couple of pieces at a time because it's sickeningly rich and cheesy and sweet. A couple of bites that add a couple of pounds to your hips. Agh. Oishi is the anti-Christ!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Red Kimono

Unit 1A GF, Fort Strip, Fort Bonifacio,
Taguig City, Metro Manila

The Bait:
All the Japanese food you can eat
The Line: "Get the best of both worlds -- buffet quantity and a la carte quality."
The Hook: Value for money, or rather, volume for money
The Sinker: Carb fest, not in a good way
The Catch: P535 per person exclusive of drinks and other ala carte items

I just learned about the term "volume for money" in Claude Tayag's book Food Tour. He attributes the phrase to Chef Myrna Segismundo. It refers to the Pinoy's predilection to stuff their faces and load their stomach in buffet lines. Volume a priority, taste only secondary.

Red Kimono's Better than Buffet helped me understand the concept.

It was the second time we went for the 534 peso all-you-can-eat promo. The first time was for dinner some months back. We arrived hungry and joined a group of more than a dozen people. And I enjoyed stuffing my face as well as the camaraderie of playing 1-2-3 pass with all the dishes being passed around the table.

A couple of days ago we went back for lunch, and it was not as enjoyable as the first time.

I need to explain the promo. It is buffet with a twist. And they say it is better than buffet. I disagree. Buffet is a simple concept of lining up the dishes on the buffet table, and the diner is free to strategize what to pick and how much of each.

I tend to go value for money focusing my attention on the starters, which feature high value dishes like sashimis, oysters, and carpaccios; then I skip the main dishes, the pastas, and the rice; and home in on the desserts. In a buffet one can control the quantity per dish. One can enjoy a mere tablespoonful of an item and be satisfied.

In Red Kimono's Better than Buffet concept, there is no buffet table. Instead, they bring the buffet to you. You pick items on a printed menu. You can get as many orders as you like. Then they bring the dishes to you already plated in family style quantities.

Plus there are conditions. They have the usual conditions of no leftovers, no take-home. I can agree with those rules because they minimize wastage. (Yes, we need to remember the starving people in China) The problem is you don't have control over the quantity per order. So you don't get to sample as many dish varieties as you would in a regular buffet.

There is also a condition about a minimum order of rice. The worst thing is they serve only sushis; no sashimis. So imagine how carb-laden you are by the end of the meal, even if you have managed to artfully and deceptively distribute your leftover rice among the plates and under them so it won't be too obvious that you actually had leftover food. Gag me with a sako of rice!

The other reason why this is not better than buffet is that there is no buffet table to walk to. I actually like walking from my table to the buffet table. And back. I can delude myself into thinking that I am exercising in between bites. Walking while carrying the weight of the loaded plate. At Red Kimono, you are deprived of that brisk-walking workout. Unless you need to go to the wash or take a biological break -- for that you need to go take a stub from the servers and walk outside the restaurant to the common rest rooms.

Carbs plus no-exercise -- not the best post-meal sensation. All your body systems focused on digesting all that starch. I was surprised that I was able to stave the lethargy and drive home before having the mother of all siestas. Take note: I am not a siesta person.

But after having said all that, I would still recommend this promo if (one) you are very hungry, (two) you are dining with a big group so you can share dishes, and (three) if you're a member of the extra-rice confederation.

I don't know if there was a change in chef, but the food seemed to be better the first time. Or maybe we were just hungrier. Back then, I loved the crabstick rolls with wasabi mayonnaise, the shitake mushroom teppanyaki, the chicken teriyaki, the grilled miso chicken, and the layered spinach & tofu. The beef kamameshi also seemed beefier then.

On our second visit, I enjoyed the california crunch and the salmon & cream cheese maki. The pork teriyaki is tender and tasty, but make sure you coordinate your orders. We also had teriyaki chicken, and I felt there was just way too much teriyaki in the world.

Of course, dessert is part of the better than buffet menu. If your stomach is not at bursting level, you may have the buko pandan jelly with vanilla ice cream. The green tea ice cream was too overwhelmingly tea-tasting, so I didn't like it. You can also try the chocolate balls.

So, is it better than buffet? Nah. But go ahead and stuff yourself when the time and conditions are right.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Kiangan Flashback

This is a cut and paste from a May 8, 2002 blog. The photos were added recently. Made some minor edits before posting.

---start of flashback entry ---

Sappy Travelogue
May 8, 2002

I just had a memorable weekend, and for some reason I cannot find the words to write about it. 

We went up North and maybe my muse loved it there so much that she decided to stay behind. It’s extremely frustrating because I am wishing I can write about it as well as I have experienced it. Muse, muse, come back wherever you are. Nope, nothing. Still at a loss for words. So I’ll just plunge on and try to describe my weekend.

I was able to get some free vacation leaves for Friday and Monday due to 2 instances I had to work Sundays. That meant I had a 4-day weekend to enjoy. And enjoy it I did. Tuks, his sister Yella, his cousin Angie, and I set off for the Northern province of Ifugao in Tuks’ reliable Honda Civic. 

We left our house past 10 in the evening and went to pick up Yella and Angie. And we were at the North Expressway by midnight and out of it in more or less an hour. We exited and got into long winding roads of countryside. The three femmes slept most of the way while Tuks drove, something he seems to truly enjoy. 

We woke up to a breathtaking sunrise, with mountains, hills, and rice fields replacing our daily vista of concrete and steel. The road, lined with trees, stretched towards a horizon. The sky was cast with a pinkish bluish glow. It was refreshing to wake up and know we are out of the city and away from the rat race arena. Our mobile phones inutile as no cell sites were in sight.

There was one Kodak moment when we caught the sun peeking out at that point where two mountains overlap. Kind of a photo cliché opp, but it was too beautiful to pass up. I asked Tuks to stop the car. I said the word stop about five times but he kept on driving. When he slowed down it was too late. The view was gone and if we drove back the sun would not be in the same place anymore. His excuse for not stopping was that he did not think I was serious about asking him to stop. Sounded like something from a rape trial. I said stop and I meant it. But Tuks, the Vacation Nazi himself, has this race he plays in his mind as if Michael Schumacher and the devil are after him, and the jury of the Guinness Book of Records are waiting at the destination point to clock in his record breaking time. There could be a Mother Mary apparition by the side of the road, or a real, live Elvis Presley sighting by the highway shoulder, or Jennifer Lopez herself in a thong with a sign that says “will f*** for food” and he still won’t stop just to take pictures. It messes up his flight plan or something. I tried to sleep to forget about missing the photo op, and as I woke up Yella realized we were lost and we had to do a U turn. Ironically, the turn we missed was about a kilometer from the photo opp spot. I think Tuks, in his rush to ignore the sun peeping over the mountains scene, stepped on the gas and that’s how we missed a turn. If we had stopped to take that photo we would have been coasting leisurely and we probably would have noticed the little directional sign. And we wouldn’t have lost so much time.

Other than that sour moment with the Vacation Nazi, every other moment went well.
We arrived at the house of our host in time for breakfast, checked in at the Yamashita Shrine, where we were billeted, and headed for the Banaue Rice Terraces.The Banaue Rice Terraces. We grew up being taught in school that this place was the eighth wonder of the world. As adults we realized that almost every country has its own “eighth wonder”. Call me biased, however, I think this spot is quite deserving of that claim. I will try to post my photos as soon as I can, but you can drop by this site I found through google to get a preview of how amazing this place is. Think Mt. Rushmore in grandeur, but prettier. It is a wonderful example of God and man’s coalition to create monumental art. Think 2,000 years back and how the tribal mountainfolk who created this wonder had to survive against or with the environment. Too far from the sea to subsist on seafood, their mountain slopes too steep for traditional rice fields, the Ifugao folk carved rice terraces following the contours of the mountain, meticulously piled and matched the rocks for reinforcement, used mud to bind the structure, built an ingenious irrigation system, and combined function with art leaving a work of beauty and a source of sustenance for future generations. 

Having said all that, I also have to honestly say that it was a bit of a letdown. Modernization has brought about damage to what would otherwise be an awesome piece of nature art. Shanties of corrugated iron and wood scraps speckled the otherwise green and amazing scenery. Time has diminished its beauty, and the artists who created the original are no longer here to care to save it. It is on the list of endangered World Heritage sites and that at least is helpful.

And then we saw Charlie’s Angels. These are the 3 Ifugao women clad in full regalia, faded feathers on their hair, clad in hand woven costumes, standing by the road to have their photos taken with the tourists for a little forced "tip."

Afterwards, we went to the market place to look for local craft and interesting produce. We (meaning Tuks) just spent a small fortune the day before on my car A/C repair so a shopping spree was out of the question. I used all my will power not to buy anything. Okay, so it wasn’t will power. I just did not bring any cash with me. At the end of the market trip, all I bought were two hand woven sashes that I used as a bow to bind the photo album. The photo album turned out so pretty, with pictures (took 5 rolls of film) and illustrations.

We lunched at this hole in the wall place called Las Vegas Inn. Nothing Vegas about it thought. Rustic meets tacky. With a great view of the terraces. We had curry rice; igado, a local meat stew dish; something with lettuce and cucumber they call Israel Salad, which tasted really good; and fried milkfish.

We went back to Kiangan back to the Shrine where we were checked in. Showered. Walked towards the house of the bride, Lenore.

Lenore was a social worker working for the Child Protection Unit where Yella also works. She is a 40ish single mom, and was about to marry Paul, a 50ish American divorcee. They met 20 years ago, as maid of honor and bestman to Lenore’s cousin, and Paul’s brother’s wedding. No sparks, but they met again after 20 years, fell in love, and was about to marry. Their wedding was actually our pretext to having ourselves a grand vacation.
An Ifugao wedding is more than just interesting. It is such a memorable, astounding experience. It is steeped in tradition, and very rich with symbolistic rituals. There are pre-wedding and post-wedding rituals that involve the slaughter of pigs, cows, carabaos and chickens. I do not think I will get into detail with this because it requires much cultural tolerance to appreciate. Some parts are gruesome but we had to respect the cultural differences.

During the eve of the wedding, we were at Lenore’s house. There were some rituals done. We did not understand the dialect used so mainly we just watched. There were gongs playing, dancing, chanting, and lots of ground stomping. Ancestors were called, gods were invoked. Afterward, the priests and the couple, who were forbidden to touch each other, walked to a neighbor’s house to drink rice wine brewed specifically for the occasion. The wine tasted good. We continued to just watch and take photos because the people were conversing in their dialect and we could only guess what they were talking about. Poor groom, of course, was hopelessly lost.

We went back to the house for the highlight of the evening – the “poor piggy should have stayed at home” scene. The main ritual involved the sacrifice of a native pig and the extraction of its liver as an unusual alternative for tea leaves. The chief priest looked at the state of the liver and the bile sack to determine if the union was to be blessed by the gods. The liver seemed to have passed merit, and the shaman foretold that the coupling would be successful and fruitful. Offspring will be many despite them being 40ish and 50ish old already.
The ceremony went on till dawn. Chanting and dancing mostly. But we left right after dinner. Which was merely choked down out of respect. Nothing like witnessing a pig execution to ruin the appetite.

The next morning was the Catholic wedding, which we decided to skip. We instead went to the market where we did not find anything of interest. They were selling city stuff – plastics, fake jeans, etc.

We then drove to Bae, a valley of rice fields and amazing beauty. Nothing, not the photos, not my wordy descriptions can ever do justice for the spectacular sight of rolling fields, and mountains, and wild flowers, and vines, and more rice terraces and the locals doing their farming. It’s just so awesome, so incredibly beautiful it can make an atheist thank God. The road was a single lane concrete path winding over the fields and so you get this feeling that you are rolling in clouds of green. It is just beautiful. Spectacular. Priceless. Again, God and man conspired to draw out ooohs and aaaahs and OMG’s from us gaping, drooling spectators.

We parked the car and walked 283 million steps down a hill. My legs were trembling at the exertion; muscles left dormant struggled to keep up. At the bottom of the steps was a rusty bridge spanning a river. It was summer, and the water was barely ankle high. We followed the river downstream where they said there was a waterfall up ahead. Up ahead might be a short distance to the locals, but for us used to cars, escalators and walkalators, it was quite a walk. There was no clear path so we had to walk on mossy rocks and pebbles, hold on to vines, dip our teva’ed feet on cool water. I slipped twice, once breaking 3 nails on my right foot. We did not even see the waterfall because getting there seemed too dangerous for our old cranky bones to survive. So we just sat and marveled at the view.

On the way back, we stopped by the bridge. A part of the river was deep enough for swimming and a lot of pre-teen boys were happily playing, diving from the cliff onto the water. We wished we brought a change of clothes so we too could take a dip in the cool water.

Walking back up the 283 steps was more difficult than going down. We had to take a lot of “nature appreciation” stops just to catch our breath. Gasping, panting or not, I would have stopped too. It is an awesome feeling sitting down alone just allowing nature to beguile me with its spellbinding magic. Basking. Praying thanksgiving for being so privileged to be where I was. Composing snippets of poetry in my head. Inhaling the strange, rare scent of fresh air. I would sit and observe insects sucking pollen from wildflowers, watch a butterfly color coordinate itself with the flower petals it lands on, look at trees and notice how their branches serve as picture frames for nature, highlighting portions of the vast scenery. A few seconds of rest and I had the time to notice the lone tropical palm tree seeming out of place and yet looking strikingly beautiful, standing defiant in a forest of hardwood trees. Leafless Jemilina trees with their white trunks serving as accents to the dark verdant background.

A leaf fell and I was there to hear it drop. And then another leaf fell, and another leaf, and another, and another. And soon it was raining leaves. I likened them to little children running home screaming, the rain is here, the rain is here for the leaves falling occurrence was followed by a drizzle. I was praying for it to pour just to complete the nature experience.
Who said words were necessary for poetry? What I was so privileged to see was poetry for the eyes.

And as if God knew the climbing, wading, trekking exercise was going to knock the breath out of us, there was a halo-halo stand waiting for us near where we parked. Halo-halo is a dessert concoction of sweetened fruits mixed together with crushed ice and milk. It was heavenly, especially because we forgot to bring any water with us and we were really thirsty from the trek. In the halo-halo stand, the lady who minded the store had an infant covered in homemade comforters. He had a name that sounded like medicine, benadryl or something like that. He had the cutest smile. And he was unaware of how lucky he was to grow up in a place of such beauty.

From where we were we could hear the gongs of the wedding reminding us to drive back for the tribal wedding ceremonies. It was the most difficult task to pull ourselves out of that huge slice of heaven. After a quick trip to buy more film, we went to Lenore’s house. Lunch was being served. Now, this you’ve got to imagine. There is no such thing as a small private wedding for the Ifugaos. At least 17 pigs were killed to feed all the townsfolk. No RSVP customs here. Everyone can just drop by, queue for the meal, which they ate on de-layered banana trunks. After lunch, they had the Ifugao wedding ceremony. Even more ceremonious than the previous activities.
The bride, the groom, the priests and the entourage were in full regalia. There were so many rituals. More of the gongs, the chanting, and the ground stomping. Bride and groom were given beads for their hair, fertility necklaces, intricate headpieces. More ground stomping and chanting. The other shaman’s feet must have withstood a million stomping. They were the widest feet I’ve ever seen, spread out like a fan, contorted, and twisted, and sturdy. Wine was poured on the couple’s feet.

Then the entourage was led out into the streets. Like a line following the pied piper, they walked and danced with the groom and the men striking the gongs in an unusual beat.
We did not follow them, but from what we heard, they went to another place and a dozen chickens were choked to death; one of the unfortunate fowl was tied to the groom’s waist. The standing joke was that there was a new definition of love. Real love is dancing out in the streets in a g-string with a dead chicken on your hip just to marry the woman you love.

We left the bride’s home and went to check out of the inn. We were supposed to stay and maybe view the post-wedding ceremonies the next day, but we were all overwhelmed with ceremony and decided to cut short our stay and drive back to the next province to make our trip back to the city the next day a little shorter.

We ended up at Solano, a bustling town in Nueva Ecija, which boasted of no major tourist attraction. The board, lodging and food costs were double of that in Kiangan. On the way to Governor’s Hotel, we stopped at the Dutch Pancake Restaurant. I went out of the car to ask the Dutch owner what time they opened in the morning. We were planning to have breakfast there. After checking into the hotel, we decided to have dinner at the Dutch restaurant also.

The T-bone was highly recommended, but I found it a bit tough. The scalloped potatoes were very good though. The pancake desert was also good. And it was fine service for the owner to run and get us wine even if it wasn’t offered in the menu. On our way out, he mentioned a little girl who went up to him earlier in the evening asking about what time they opened in the morning. It turned out that I was that girl, but he said I looked much younger a couple of hours ago. He said I looked no more than 14 then. I didn’t know if I would be thrilled to be mistaken for a teenager or aghast that I aged so quickly.
Nonetheless, he was a nice host and we had breakfast there the next day. He mentioned wanting to expand his restaurant as a franchise and was willing to give the first franchise for free just to break into the market. Mental note to remember this when we are looking for business ventures.

On the drive back to the city, we stopped for lunch at this charming restaurant called Vicentico’s Grill. Food was excellent and the local antique décor was lovely. A couple of stopovers to buy goodies for the folks back home.
Tuks dropped me off at my Dad’s place so that I can say goodbye to him before his trip to Europe. I stayed the night there. The next day, Monday, I had my practice round of being a woman of leisure. Woke up late. Breakfasted leisurely. Spent the good part of the morning creating a roller coaster park in the computer. Dragged my nephew and my niece to have my nephew’s tuition fee assessed. Went to see Spider Man. Hohum. Try as I might, I just can not find Kirstn Dunst pretty. Had popcorn, soda and fries for the movie. Mc Donald’s ice cream cones, chicken poppers, mashed potatoes and fries for after the movie. Back home, more computer games, dinner and Tuks finally picked me up to go back to real life. My greatest learning out of the whole experience is that I really should not worry about my Islandhopper business venture. Seeing the places I saw, falling in love with my own country, experiencing so much pride to call this land home, I know now that whether I succeed or fail in this venture, I would have had the time of my life traveling and seeing all these wonderful places and getting to know my country. Aaaah. God is good!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Nine Things I Learned about Life by Spelunking in Sagada

14 fun, fearless, clueless souls, most of them book geeks from my book club took advantage of the Labor Day weekend and grabbed the chance to tick off a bucket list item: Spelunking at Sagada. I was one of them. And that cliche about learning lessons the hard way -- this experience exemplifies it.

Here are the lessons I learned the hard, slippery, slimy, smelly, scary way:

LESSON ONE: The dumb gets farther; the dumber gets dead.
- For a bunch of book geeks, we did not do our research thoroughly enough. When asked to choose between the normal cave tour (PhP 100 per person) and the Connection Challenge (PhP 400 per person), which traverses 2 caves, Sumaging and Lumiang, we chose what sounded more exciting, more difficult, more unforgettable. Maybe we’ve been reading too much fantasy. Maybe it's the hashish in the Sagada air. We wanted to release the inner extreme athletes inside us. And we got what we asked for. And failed to anticipate just how difficult it would be, for geeks as well as non geeks, for the fit and for those whose most strenuous exercise is carrying bag loads of books from Booksale. We all had no idea what challenges lay ahead. The guides did not give us a clue.
On hindsight, that naiveté, that ignorance, that stupidity was good. If we had known how formidable the challenge was, most of us in the group would probably have not taken it. We would have backed out when we still could. At the mouth of the first cave.
Instead, we went in, excited, awestruck, dumbfounded, dumb as rats led by the pied piper. And got the surprise of our lives. Many surprises, in fact. Gimongous walls to scale, steep crags to climb down, cliffs to descend, slippery rocks to walk on, knee-deep muck to dip our bare feet into, blind corners to hug, streamlets to swim in, the narrowest of edges keeping us from plunging into deep dark pits. It was unbelievable what we had to go over, go under, go through, jump into, squeeze in, hurdle, straddle.
Truly, if somebody had shown me first a video of what we had to do, I would have chosen not to do it, knowing full well knowing that given my fitness level, I couldn't. Not knowing made me do it. It was sheer stupidity that got us there, literally in between a rock and a hard place. The uncertainty almost killed me, but it was also what got me through. The dumb, the clueless, when unaware of the dangers ahead, can actually accomplish more as he walks in ignorant bliss. And I’m glad I was stupid enough to do it. Because that was by far, the most exciting, most amazing thing I had to do in my whole life.
Of course, we were blessed to have survived relatively unscathed despite our ignorance. Tales of those who were stupid enough to go in without guides, never to come out again, serve as a counterpoint to this lesson. It’s okay to be clueless sometimes, but rash stupidity could cost you your life.
LESSON TWO: We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Aww, shut up! - I do not fear heights, nor water. I have scuba dived in open water. I have rafted through grade 4 white water with a stupid smile on my face. I have parasailed alone and was able to look down without feeling squeamish. I get a kick from roller coaster rides, the higher, the faster, the scarier, the better. My bucket list includes bungee jumping and skydiving.
The first time I had to take a high ropes challenge, I couldn’t contain my excitement and wanted to zip down the wire a dozen times. I was fearless. I was 25 years old, a size 6. I could do anything.
As a trainer facilitating high ropes challenges, I had seen participants break down in tears as they confronted their fear of heights. I could only watch without really understanding what that fear was all about.
Until now. 42 years old. 70 pounds overweight. My sense of balance faulty. With nothing to rely on but the grace and strength I got from ballet classes with Ms. Valeriana in second grade, and from a few lousy attempts at a badminton regimen.
In the cave, we had to rappel down a cliff, the bottom of which we couldn’t see from where we were. No harness, no safety nets. The ropes did not even have knots for gripping. And what confounded us was that the rope was tied to a lithe, little man, barefoot, sitting by the edge of the cliff. Our lives depended on him being strong enough not to be pulled by our weight to go hurtling down with us to our sure deaths.
I was afraid of falling to my death, the guides picking up my brains and innards splattered on the cavern floor. I was afraid I would die without having completed my scrapbooks. I was afraid of falling and not dying, but being permanently disabled and not being able to drive myself to the bookstore. I was afraid I'd look stupid.
I was afraid. Petrified. As afraid as I’ve never ever been in my whole life. So afraid I cried for a few seconds. What made me cry was this inner struggle of accepting that I had to do it. There was no chickening out, no charming or bribing my way through, no delegating the tough parts to others, no negotiations, no way to circumvent the challenge. I had to get down that cliff or else stay in that cave forever subsisting on a diet of bat sashimi. I was so afraid, so stupefied my brain could not even manage to make my life flash before my eyes.
But then again, after all the drama, when I got out of the cave, got home, and had a shower, I realized I had no scratches. No bruises. I did not even break a nail or scratch my pedicure. Even though I slipped a dozen times. Even though I missed a step rappelling up a crag and I held on the rope, swinging dangerously, ramming my already sore body against a rocky wall. I suppose fear kept me safe. It made me walk slower, and made me look like a stupid granny wimp, but it was also the instinct that made me take only sure steps and kept me from harm.
Fear is not always a bad thing.
LESSON THREE: We are stronger, faster, harder than we can ever imagine. Like I said, I’m not in the best shape. I find myself panting just mounting the bed. And I would never believe that I could do what I did in those caves. I still could not believe it now.
Nearing the exit, we stared at a 3-storey high, 15 degree steep wall that separated us from the freedom outside. In normal circumstances I would have thought it impossible to climb it and survive. But all the earlier challenges showed me that I could do what I never thought I was capable of doing. So even if the adrenalin was already starting to dwindle, and I was tired from 7 hours of gruelling spelunking, I just took a look at the challenge in front of me and did it. I heaved, I grunted, I whined, and I climbed, and climbed,and climbed until I finally got out of that cave. I realized I am stronger than I ever thought. I can do far more than I ever thought possible.
I realized how much our mindsets limit us from doing what we want to do, how much we underestimate our strengths, how much power is within us. It took the caves of Sagada and 5 sadistic guides to make me discover my inner strength.
LESSON FOUR: Crap is inevitable.In the last upward stretch out of the cave, we had to climb stone steps, made extremely slippery by bat excrement. The stench was unbearable, but the worst thing was that we had to hold on to some of the rocks to balance or lift ourselves up. Our fingers would land on inch-thick sludge – thick, icky layers of moist, mushy guano. And every germophobic fiber in my body would cringe and cry. But I just had to hold on for dear life fueled with the desire to just get out of that wretched cave that had held us captive for far too many hours.
In a Mythbusters episode, Adam and Jamie once concluded that “Poo is everywhere.” Literally. Sadly, it is true metaphorically too. Life can get crappy sometimes. Oftentimes, one can walk around and avoid stepping on poo, but there are times when there is just no way around it, and one has to bear with all the crap. You just have to grin and bear it. The thing is, a little crap ain’t going to kill us.
LESSON FIVE: That big, fat ass (or nose, or ears) of yours will someday be put to good use. - What got me through the toughest physical challenges and the most perilous conditions? My stamina? Strategy? My upper body strength and leg power? Nah! It's my big, fat ass.
As we slid on rocks and soil, our guides asked us to rely on a skill creatively called the butt technique. Many, many times, we had to get ourselves closer to the pull of gravity and sit down, and let our butts do the walking, the wading, the sliding. And for the first time in my life, I thanked God for my ample assets.
I have always had what are euphemistically called child-bearing hips and the most generous rump to go with them. I hate how they get in the way of fashion and vanity. But that time at the cave, I was so grateful for all that generous padding.
It was a clear case of making lemonades out of life’s lemons. Life is fair when the things we consider as faults are actually blessings in disguise. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about 1930s born Jewish lawyers who were barred from WASP law firms forcing them to develop skills that would actually spell their success 20 years later.
So, don’t whine too much about your big ears or your big butts or whatever it is you consider a liability. They just might come handy someday.

LESSON SIX: Trust the experts, especially when you’re not one. –For all the bravado and the pride we felt after that incredible experience, we all know we couldn’t have done it without our guides, James, Andrew, Mark, Matthew, and Jory. (Those apostolic names did not escape my attention.) So many times in that whole experience, we really did not know what to do and were too afraid to do whatever it was we had to do. We had to literally let our guides lead our feet through every step. I mean every little scaredy step. And they would even let us step on their knees, shoulders, hands, and bear our weights as we shifted our balance to move forward.
For control freaks like me, it was very difficult letting go, trusting someone else, and bearing the shame of total reliance on others. But what choice did I have? So, I had to let go and let the guides get me through. When the guide said, “Trust me,” I had no choice but to obey. I trusted him with my life.
It’s the same thing in life. Don’t be macho. There are times when we have to let the experts show us how. We have to humble ourselves and allow others to help us for the sakes of safety, survival, and success.
LESSON SEVEN: Rest when you get the chance and enjoy it. – Spelunking with a large group, we had to sometimes wait for each other as we shared 5 guides and the light of a few kerosene lamps. Those were moments for rest. I loved those moments as we caught our breath and had the time to look around and admire the beauty within the cave – the fantastic rock formations, the shadows and the lights creating moving art against the smooth and the rough rocks, the heights, the layers, the sexy curves of walls, the secret crevices, the trickling and falling of the water, awesome sights no camera can capture. They’re meant to be etched in memory.
Those rest breaks slowed us down and stretched what was meant to be a 4-hour trek to 7 hours of torture. But those breaks actually fueled me, not just by replenishing energy, but also by inspiring me with beauty, and reminding me how blessed, how privileged I was to experience something so awesome.
LESSON EIGHT: The less you have, the less you fear. – Travel light. Travel light. Travel light. It’s a lesson that in my years of jet setting and island hopping, I still cannot comprehend. But when you’re in a slippery niche, 20 feet off stable ground, trying to balance yourself is made more difficult by anything hanging from your neck, shoulders, arms. Having too many things -- some of them precious like high-tech cameras, your return tickets -- complicates matters as you try to protect your goods when really you should be protecting your head and limbs. The less you have with you, the less you worry about losing or breaking them.
At one point, I had to accept that my camera had already been destroyed by the water and the blows. Strangely, I felt liberated from having to take more pictures and finding time to download them when I get back home.
Travel light. It’s still a maxim I find hard to accept wholeheartedly. But it is a lesson well learned in those dark, dank, dangerous caves where material possessions play second fiddle to life and health.
LESSON NINE: Shoes are important. – You have to use the right shoes for the right time and place. I thought my trusted Teva’s were good enough. But they are trekking shoes, not spelunking shoes. And at some point, it was better to go barefoot to let our feet grasp the rocks more securely. Having the right shoes for the right time and place is important. Okay, I don’t really know what this teaches me about life. I just want to justify my shoe closet issues.

Today, I say CAVE is a 4 letter word. My joints are still sore. My voice a bit hoarse. My body recuperating from all the slips and falls. But I can say about spelunking at Sagada, I’ve been there and done that. And I’m glad I did.
Sagada pics here:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I am the Advocate

Though I've taken the Myers Briggs Personality Test a number of times, I wasn't able to resist taking it again here:

And these are my results: Fairly accurate I would say.

ENFP - The "Advocate"

Temperament: Visionary

ENFPs are introspective, values-oriented, inspiring, social and extremely expressive. They actively send their thoughts and ideas out into the world as a way to bring attention to what they feel to be important, which often has to do with ethics and current events. ENFPs are natural advocates, attracting people to themselves and their cause with excellent people skills, warmth, energy and positivity. ENFPs are described as creative, resourceful, assertive, spontaneous, life-loving, charismatic, passionate and experimental.

About the ENFP
"They can't bear to miss out on what is going on around them; they must experience, first hand, all the significant social events that affect our lives."

"ENFPs are warm, enthusiastic people, typically very bright and full of potential. They live in the world of possibilities, and can become very passionate and excited about things. Their enthusiasm lends them the ability to inspire and motivate others, more so than we see in other types. They can talk their way in or out of anything. They love life, seeing it as a special gift, and strive to make the most out of it."
- Portrait of an ENFP (The Personality Page)

"Friends are what life is about to ENFPs, moreso even than the other NFs. They hold up their end of the relationship, sometimes being victimized by less caring individuals. ENFPs are energized by being around people. Some have real difficulty being alone, especially on a regular basis."
- ENFP Profile (TypeLogic)

"outgoing, social, disorganized, easily talked into doing silly things, spontaneous, wild and crazy, acts without thinking..."
- ENFP Jung Type Descriptions (

"ENFPs are energetic and enthusiastic leaders who are likely to take charge when a new endeavor needs a visionary spokesperson. ENFPs are values-oriented people who become champions of causes and services relating to human needs and dreams. Their leadership style is one of soliciting and recognizing others' contributions and of evaluating the personal needs of their followers. ENFPs are often charismatic leaders who are able to help people see the possibilities beyond themselves and their current realities. They function as catalysts."
- ENFP - The Visionary (Lifexplore)

"Ranked 1st of all 16 types in using social and emotional coping resources and 2nd in using cognitive resources. "
- ENFP Facts (

Famous ENFPs

Real ENFP People

  • Lewis Grizzard - humorist
  • Martin Short - Canadian actor, comedian
  • Paul Harvey - radio broadcaster
  • Paul Robeson - actor, athlete, singer, writer, activist
  • Phil Donahue - TV personality
  • Regis Philbin - TV personality
  • Sandra Bullock - actress
  • Sinbad - actor, comedian
  • Upton Sinclair - author, investigative journalist
  • Will Rogers - Comedian

  • Fictional ENFPs (Characters)

    ENFP Career Matches

    ENFPs are often happy with the following jobs which tend to match well with the Advocate/Visionary personality.

    • Accountant/Auditor
    • Actor
    • Art Director
    • Artist
    • Banker/Economist
    • Career Counselor
    • Church Worker
    • Conference Planner
    • Consultant
    • Designer
    • Dietitian/Nutritionist
    • Diplomat
    • Editor
    • Engineer
    • Entrepreneur
    • Homemaker
    • Housing Director
    • Human Resources
    • Journalist
    • Lawyer/Attorney
    • Marketer
    • Massage Therapist
    • Merchandise Planner
    • Musician
    • Newscaster
    • Nurse
    • Occupational Therapist
    • Painter
    • Politician
    • Project Manager
    • Psychologist/Counselor
    • Public Relation
    • Researcher
    • Scientist
    • Senior Manager
    • Social Scientist
    • Social Worker
    • Speech Pathologist
    • Teacher/Professor
    • Technical Specialist
    • Trainer
    • Writer

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    10 Most Amazing Places I’ve Visited

    I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to travel. And though oftentimes I travel for work and don’t have the time to tour, I do try to grab pockets of time to absorb the culture and just totally enjoy the beauty, the exhilaration of seeing something for the first time. And for those trips that are purely vacations, ahhhh, I’m a great vacationer. I do my research and I make it a point to see something new and interesting. I also love visiting a place alone. So I can totally enjoy the place at my own pace, take as many photos as I desire, take short little appreciation breaks, linger, ponder, meander, without the vacation nazi (aka my husband) breathing down my back so he can beat some imaginary record for the shortest time to get from one place to another. But I digress.

    Here are my top ten amazing places:

    1. The Louvre, France – This is a place that humbles you. One of the first stops is the Department of Egyptian Antiquities ( As I gawked at relics of early civilization, I just felt the reality that I am just one inconsequential fraction of a nanospeck in the timeline of the world. The giant paintings at the Medici Hall made me feel small, insignificant, and I realized that whatever talent and skills I had could not possibly match those of the creators of those master pieces. I felt so humbled, yet my soul felt so elated, my eyes so sated, and my heart a little proud to be part of the human race that has created all these beautiful works of art. The one day we spent at the Louvre was hardly enough. One of my dreams is to be able to come back to this place to wander at leisure for days.

    2. Harajuku, Japan – One stop from the Shibuya station in Tokyo, and you leave the train to step into a different planet. Harajuku offers dazzling out-of-this-world spectacles. And it has nothing to do with the architecture, art, or any manmade tourist attraction. It’s the people. Young people. With an aversion for looking like everybody else. Japan’s fashion sub-cultures sporting the strangest, hippest, wildest of fashions taking the streets as their runway. Name a color, and somebody around there has that in his or her hair. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve last been there, so I don’t know if it’s still the same avant-garde young fashion capital of the world. A peek at Wikipedia says parts of it have become mallified. But Japanese youth in Manga, Gothic Lolita (the first time I’ve heard of this fashion genre), hip hop, still swarm in this surrealistic fashion wonderland.

    3. Tsukiji Fish Market, Japan - You have to wake up at dawn to be able to catch the action here. The noise first, and the smell next accost you, wake you up. And then it’s the frenetic activity that wipes out any vestige of sleepiness. Your eyes dart from one spot to the next because there’s something interesting going on wherever you look. Who knew that fish auctions can be that much fun to watch? You look at the organized lines of frozen fish, numbered like marathon runners, most of them longer and bigger than most of the humans there, and you just know that the tuna panga you had in Davao or GenSan is related to some of the headless carcasses lined up on the auction floor. There’s also a market section retailing a dizzying array of seafood from all over the world. Because we were staying in a hotel, we couldn’t really go shopping for our lunch. But then again, I don’t think I would have been able to buy anything, because I would have been too overwhelmed to make a choice. Salmon, cuttlefish, fish I’ve never seen before, the longest clawed crabs. With my scuba dive card forever out of reach, this is the closest I’ll be to being underwater.

    4. Huntington Gardens and Library, California – I’m surprised not a lot of people know about this place. Selfishly, I’m glad not a lot of people know about this place. It’s sort of a secret hideaway only a few minutes from Los Angeles. You pass a posh residential area to get there. The library is a bibliophile’s wet dream. A high ceiling accommodates two levels of rare, leather bound books. My heart ached in envy and desire for my own library to be that awesome. The 2nd print of the Gutenberg Bible, encased in glass, brought out the geek in me, and I almost genuflected, thanking God, and Gutenberg of course, for inventing the printing press. But the library, magnificent as it is, holds your attention only for a few minutes. The gardens, take note of the plural form, beckon. I made the right decision to go alone so I can walk at my own pace, and sit down when I wanted to just rest, read, relax, and wish that I could sketch. Each garden has a theme. The Japanese garden might look familiar to you since it has been used for some supposedly Japan-set Hollywood movies. There is a rose garden, an herb garden, and an English garden they call the Skahespeare Garden. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but from my memory, I liked the desert garden best because I got there by sunset and the giant cacti drew dramatic silhouettes against the orange cast sky. Next time, you’re in LA, check out these secret gardens.

    5. Kiangan, PhilippinesCheck this out.

    6. Sapa, Vietnam – It was the perfect vacation and we came at the perfect time – during the Tet holiday. It was the first time we’ve taken an overnight train ride. I slept at the upper bunk and my husband took the one below. We slept, and when we woke up, it was dawn. We took a van with a number of people who were on tour. And that’s how this amazing vacation started. Sapa is breathtakingly beautiful especially in the winter, when there is a heavy mist covering the town plaza and the church. Women from different tribes pester and follow you around selling their wares – and at some point you give in and buy something that’s beautiful, and colorful and done with painstaking detail. The vacation is about hikes -- hikes up mountains, hikes down valleys where the tribesfolks live, make indigo dyed fabrics, hikes along cliffs with awesome views. But the highlight of my Sapa adventure was the magical rose plantation. It looked surrealistically beautiful and I felt that I just stepped into the dream scene of a period movie. Even more astonishing was when these local teenagers called us into their cottage to have tea with them. A cottage so simple the floor was of packed earth. Song, our tour guide, helped me to communicate, but mostly it was their facial expressions of innocent wonder that spoke to me. Sadly, I never blogged about the experience, but sappy as it may sound, this scene will forever be etched in my memory.

    7. Hanoi, Vietnam – In the trendy store at Church Street, Tina Sparkles, they sell a beaded bag that says “I was in Hanoi before McDonald’s.” One of my biggest regret is not having bought that bag, which says so much about what Hanoi was, and might soon not be. It is a place that one must see now, before the malls take over. While it still feels like you’re in another place in another time. While the streets are lined with little stores selling the most colorful crafts and art; you get the sense you’re in the Orient’s version of the souk. I only lived there for 7 months, but a part of me will always miss Hanoi with its 7 lakes, Highland Coffee shops, 12-dollar hotel rooms, street food; where getting lost in its littered streets is a game I play; where hopefully no golden arches will ever invade.

    8. Capones Island Lighthouse – Scattered along the coasts of the Philippines are Spanish-era lighthouses badly ravaged by time and neglect. My first lighthouse trip was to the one in Burgos near Pagudpod. I’ve also visited the Bolinao and Calatagan lighthouses. My favorite is the one in Capones Island in Zambales.

    9. The waters of Donsol and the Butandings (Whale Sharks) – Butandings are solitary creatures. They do not swim in schools. They are also very shy; you get too close to them, they leave the surface and go down into the depths of the sea. So, they’re a bit hard to find. When I finally got up close and personal with one, I was stupefied, glued to one spot in the water, and with the snorkel in my mouth, I just exclaimed, Oh My God. I was in awe. Laughing too. The butanding we saw was a magnificent creature. It had rows of white dots on its back. It looked more like a whale than a shark. It was amazing being only about 3-4 meters away from the creature. It glided under me and I saw the whole beautiful creature. Awesome.

    10. I struggled to choose the 10th place to put in this list, so I’ll just list down the runner-ups which will share this last slot – Old Town beside Jet D’eau in Geneva, San Francisco’s Halloween night, Little Italy in Boston, Bethlehem Town in Pennsylvania during the Christmas season, New York, Palawan, Bohol and the underwater world of Anilao.

    The other amazing places I still want to visit are: Morocco, Egypt, Greece, Batanes, Borobudur, and Ankor Wat.