I was allowed at work to take a month off so that I can take care of my personal business and spend time with mom and siblings during the Holidays. That is why when I took my time off for a month, I savored every minute of my trips to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and the island of Cebu. Everything was a novelty to me.
Here are the bits and pieces of my Southeast Asian sojourn.
Novaliches and Sunday at church. Back in my hometown sweet home Novaliches after almost two years. My brother Randy and my sister Ren picked me up from the airport. We got to Novaliches from the Manila Int'l airport after an hour and hung out at my mom's house. I think we chatted for over four hours. Its amazing how we can just continue from where we had left off the last time we all saw each other. I was glad that the bottle of Domaine Carneros sparkling wine I packed in my luggage didn't break. I woke up at 9am so I can make it to the 10am worship service at Christians In Action or CinA, the church of my younger years. My good friend Pastor Mayet has taken leadership of the church for several years now and I can see a lot of changes the CinA ministry is almost unrecognizable. I can only recall a handful of faces, mostly parents of my childhood friends. Guess what the preaching was all about? The funny thing is that I didn't have a single Peso in my pocket.
From Changi to Orchard Road. The next day, my Mom, my brother and my sis-in-law and my sis flew to Singapore for a quick getaway. My brother has put together this detailed itinerary for our trip to Singapore. I thought he was joking the first time I opened the spreadsheet listing all the places with specific schedules and corresponding cost. Nice try, I thought to myself. Even in a perfect world, the itinerary was too much to be followed.
I mean, how can you squeeze in two museums in 2 hours? But then, how can you tell him he's wrong? Besides,I don't want to be the one to dampen his holiday plans. I never traveled with them so I thought, or even prayerfully believing, maybe, just maybe, they'll see a little over a quarter of what he listed. Since I have been to Singapore more than once, all I wanted for this trip is for my Mom to see some sights that are truly and uniquely Singapore. As for my list, I just wanted to get on the Flyer, maybe see a museum and meet up with my high school classmates who now reside in SG to catch up and get the scoop regarding employment prospects in the area. It started to rain hard when we landed in Singapore so we couldn't really do anything the rest of the afternoon. Plus my brother got hungry and he wanted to eat right away so we stayed at the airport for a late lunch so that killed another couple of hours. I was chuckling when we got to the hotel because it started to look like we won't be seeing any places in itinerary for Day 1. I was thinking that years from now we will all have a good laugh about this experience. Despite of all that, we did manage to see a mall on Orchard Road, got to eat at the Newton Hawker center and then some light snacks at Charlie Brown Cafe. Orchard Road was absolutely festive! It puts to shame the so called Christian cities in the States when it comes to celebrating the Yuletide season. I also noticed that people are out late even on a Monday night. Don't they have work the next day?
Tour of SG with my Mom. My brother and sis-in-law, and my sis had plans to go to the Universal Studios so I took this time to show my mom around SG. Two words - Funvee Bus! Their route is not as extensive as I had wished but they go to the more popular tourist attractions including Chinatown and Little India. This allowed my mom to go site seeing inside the comfort of air-conditioned buses and with minimal walks. In addition, they gave us 20% discount on our SG Flyer tickets so that's another bonus. My mom totally surprised me because she showed genuine interest in our bus tour pointing out the modern infrastructures that she thinks Manila should also adapt and her first impressions of the Singaporeans. Plus, she brought with her family stories that she hasn't told me over our weekly phone calls. So we never had a dull moment together! Our tour even brought us as far as Sentosa Island. But then the rain didn't let us go any farther which was good because my mom probably had enough tours for one day.
So after having an early dinner, I dropped my mom off to the hotel so she can have a full night's rest and for me to freshen up for a drinks slash dinner appointment with my friends from highschool. We met up at a restaurant bar in Clarke Quay called Octapas. I found this restaurant online and I chose it based on its good reviews. Everyone I had emailed were there except two who were missing in action. Though I have an idea what life is like in SG courtesy of my good friend Edison, I still grilled Heidi, Robert and Doreen over glasses of sangria about the similar topics so that I can get another person's point of view. It was all good. I think SG is an exciting place to live.
Endless Rain, Starry Night. It didn't look like my mom was up for another busy day so I thought this would be the perfect time to go to the National Museum since it is just steps away from where we were staying on Orchard Road. We got lucky because Van Gogh's Starry Night was in town and my mom can finally see it in person. Does she really know who Van Gogh was and what kind of painting Starry Night is? She does! Since it started to rain heavily, we stayed indoors. When I say indoors, I meant inside the malls shopping. While my sister and sis-in-law went to H&M and Sephora, I went music hunting. I found this album in HMV containing a good collection of music by independent Singaporean artists called +65 Indie Underground. Good stuff. We went to the Marina Bay Sands in the evening. The Sky Park closes at 930pm and we failed to get there on time because we took the MRT and then got lost in the process. I learned one thing that night. The next time I'm going there, I will do it right. I will take the cab from the hotel to Marina Bay. Forget taking the MRT, forget taking the free shuttle, forget the bus. Next time I will also dress smarter, bring lots of mulah for shopping and dining and I will try to get there early enough. As a consolation, I scored a Ferragamo wallet at the Shoppes that has just been put on sale that day - 40% off! This particular style is not even available in the States. My sis and I also saw a free water and light show that uses mists as screens while giant projectors beam images and magical lights that are synchronized with music and voice. The view of the SG skyline from the esplanade of the Shoppes is spectacular! While we were out and about that night, my mom decided she's just going to stay at the hotel and rest. At the hotel room, I gave her a small assignment - to write me, herself, and one of her sisters a postcard each - which she willingly accepted. Thanks to my mom, I have the best souvenir complete with words, images and postal mark and stamp.
Se habla Bahasa? We took the fast train from the airport to the hotel. Actually, it was bus, fast train and then cab. The international airport is very far from Kuala Lumpur city center. I don't know if taking the cab would have made a big difference to our travel time. It would have made getting to the hotel more convenient and more expensive but not necessarily faster. I only had two things in my list here, that is, to see the Petronas Towers and to eat lots of Malaysian food which I think I did a pretty good job at accomplishing. We stayed around the Bukit Bintang area which seemed like the best place to stay in KL if you want to be close to shops and restaurants and food stalls. The Petronas Towers are the iconic skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur. These towers are the tallest buildings in Malaysia so it can be seen from different angles within the city. The facade of the buildings are glass and metal making it look very industrial in pictures and gives that gleaming effect at night. The towers are in an area called KLCC or city center. There is an urban park in the complex where you can take picturesque views of the towers. Now lets talk about food. The durian fruit rules - there are durian chips, durian candies and they are made as fillings in chocolates. The Food Republic inside the KL Pavillon is huge! It would take me months just to sample each tasty item being sold there and it would be tough to pick a favorite because they are all different. The desserts all look sinful. We dined here twice while in KL and tried a traditional Malayan dish on the first trip and an Indonesian dish on the second. They're both good. For a continental breakfast and a good coffee, try The Loaf in the KL Pavillon. In Bukit Bintang, there is an area called Jalan Alor which is dotted with restaurants and cafes. When we had lunch here, we followed where the office workers go. Remember this name - Choy Kee Gou Lou.
They are famous for their delicious fish head soup. Everywhere we went, I noticed that the signs were in Bahasa and I understood most of them. I wonder if Tagalog is really that close to the South East Asian language that I can easily pick it up? Maybe I'll add this in my 2012 List? For my Bahasa language 101, I bought two Malaysian pop rock cds: one called Decorate by YUNA; the other one is a selection called Hikayat Cinta. Both cds contain excellent songs, some of them are very refreshing to hear and very original.
Novaliches Market. Back in Novaliches on a Sunday. I got up early enough to check out the market to get fresh fruits and fresh sausages (or locally called longganiza) for breakfast. The newspaper stand is on the same spot as it has been these years. At night, this spot is taken over by a barbecue stand. The smell of newspapers takes me to the my younger years where my dad would bring the Sunday paper with pancit. Mangoes and bananas galore. There were at least four kinds of bananas you can buy. Oh how I miss Novaliches!
Condo turnover. I got up around 7 o'clock to prepare for my 9 o'clock appointment in Makati with The Columns admin for the turnover. Mijo and I bought the condo three and half years ago and this is the moment we were both waiting for. Aside from investment purposes, Mijo thought it would be good for me to own something in the Philippines so that there'd be something that connects me back to my heritage. I wasn't expecting the turnover date to be this early. What's the catch? When I got there, the concierge Miss Jenny said an engineer Miss Maryknor was already waiting for me. I was having goosebumps as I stepped inside the lobby. I noticed the elevators were not in automatic mode yet. This means the elevator call buttons were disabled and an operator is needed to pilot the elevators. To call the elevator, you would have to use the intercom from the units to call the concierge so they can let the operator know to stop at your floor. I was told this was only temporary. Wow! The view from the unit is worth a million! Better yet, we got a bay window so that's extra two feet of space and lots of natural light. I can't wait to see the night view.
Even though there were no fixtures installed the unit was in move in condition. With the money people pay for these condo units, one would think that the Ayala company would throw in a few extras like a granite counter, additional cabinets and bathroom mirrors and fixtures? And why there isn't an extra wall outlet in the bathroom? After the quick walk through of the unit and house rules, we went downstairs so I can sign documents and get the keys. The keys came with a welcome packet and a disk containing the softcopy version of the house rules and forms. When you buy an appliance, you fill out a document. When you're installing an appliance, there's a form for that. When you need something repaired, there's another form for that. We also toured the amenities and that was the exciting part. The unit comes with access to the mega gym, the 25m lap pool, the sauna, the yoga or cardio room and the jogging path. The entire development gives residents the feeling that they are someone important. I learned that the short name for the complex is TCLV. Apparently, the development is popular enough that people know it as either The Columns Legazpi Village or TCLV. I thought that was cool! I checked my list of things to buy and added a few more stuff to take care of the next day. I had enough condo stuff for one day and time to play tourist.
I met up with Edison for lunch at Kanin Club. He was also in town that week for an appointment at the U.S. Consulate. He's been raving about this restaurant and how it is starting a sort of renaissance movement in rice. The place is located in an area of the financial district called the Ayala Triangle. They completely transformed this area into an urban park slash restaurant row which I think is a brilliant idea. It makes people want to be outside more. It wasn't like this the last time I was here two years ago. We ordered a fried rice spiced with tamarind called Sinigang na Sinangag, mango salad and Crispy Dinuguan or crispy pork with blood sauce. Tan deliciosos! The hype about this place is justified.
Escape from Novaliches. I woke up early that morning so I can have an extended breakfast with my mom. Since I planned my exit from Novaliches on this day, I didn't want to just eat and go. Plus I miss my mom and truly enjoy her company. I would rather sit around the dining table to hangout with her for a couple of hours more. At 10 oclock, I put everything I could fit in one big luggage and hauled it with me inside a tricycle to Quirino Hway where I maybe able to hail a cab. I was lucky because I found one that took me from Novaliches to Makati. My grand escape from Novaliches to become a fulfledged Makati home owner only took a little over an hour. Actually, this was the second time I left Novaliches for Makati. The first time was when I started working and commuting from Novaliches became a big issue. I had lived in Makati before but this one is extra special because now I own a piece of the city. I always joke about Novaliches, but secretly and deep down inside, I miss my hometown. The next phase of the move was the challenging part of outfitting a condo in the Philippines. I love my countrymen, but it takes a lot of patience to deal with them. Had the voltage been the same in the Philippines as it is here in the states, I would have shipped everything - down to the coffee maker. As a consolation, I found dealing with SM apppliance sales staff a better experience.
Start of Something Good. The fridge arrived this morning. I was in the pool when I got the text from SM appliance that the delivery truck is on its way and will be here within an hour. Aside from the great location and the high quality units, the amenities at the TCLV are top notch. There are two pools. One of them is 25m long and 4ft deep which is perfect for doing laps. The water falls smoothly on the sides making it look like an infinity pool. Tomorrow, I will explore the gym or make that the mega gym. I was told by the SM appliance delivery staff that I need to wait for 3 hours before I plug and turn on the fridge. It has something to do with the settling of the oil inside the fridge's motor. Determined to stock the fridge, I made another list and with the thought of exploring the nearby grocery store called Waltermart.
I met up with Richmond for lunch. He used to work for Visa but got a better offer and a good reason to go back to Manila. We went to Banapple in Ayala Triangle. I got a lot of scoop about his exciting life back in the motherland, tips on where to go happy hour, where to get a good massage, where to eat, etc. Manila is indeed a happening place. I was getting kind of jealous in a good kind of way, promise. Also met up with Arlene and Tina for dinner and drinks at Sentro in Greenbelt 3. The food we ordered were all good especially the Rated GG which is galungong fish fillets fried in garlic oil and the Corned Beef Sinigang which is boneless shanks in tamarind broth. I also had their Sentro Surprise which is tamarind juice with vodka and a dash of lime juice or locally known as dayap. Super sarap!
Mijo is in town. Last night was the first time I spent the night at the condo. It was strange sleeping there especially after Tina mentioned The Grudge. Because you see, nobody has moved in yet into my floor so it was kind of eerie to hear noises at night. Mijo arrived today in Manila. I arrived a minute late at the airport but the good thing is that his flight arrived later and the additional delays in immigration and customs made me look punctual. He told me how it felt weird that I was not with him in the flight. I told him the same thing - that my flight felt boring and lonely and seemed something was missing. We both laughed after realizing what we've become - needy people.
As soon as we got to the condo, I gave him a tour of the unit and the entire complex including the amenities. Since he was hungry, we went to our favorite Cafe Mediterranean in Greenbelt 1. I am surprised and at the same time glad that it is still there. We went window shopping for appliances afterward. We went to Cafe Havana for drinks before we called it an early night. The next day, we had to wake up early for our early morning flight to Cebu.
Maayong Buntag Cebu. The commute from The Columns Legazpi to the airport was a mere 8 minutes! Beat that! I think we did a fine job deciding to buy in this part of Metro Manila. Too bad we live in the states. My mom and my siblings and their families were at the airport already when we got to Terminal 3. The airport was already packed at 5:30am!
The flight to Cebu was uneventful. I keep forgetting how provincial Cebu seems like compared to Manila but Cebu is more exotic and has more allure. While I have been to Cebu and Mactan Island before, It was my first time at the Maribago Blue Water resort. The place is huge. We needed a golf cart to haul us to our rooms. It has a white sand beach front, a cute islet, three huge pools, and an art gallery. The rooms are bungalow style and not in a tall building common among chain hotels. This means that you get your own entrance and your own balcony with a garden table and chairs which I think is conducive for catching up with the loved ones. The buffet breakfast was included so I was able to eat my quota of danggit. Danggit is dried salted fish that is uniquely Cebu. The hotel also lines up evening programs for the guests staying in for dinner. We managed to see an engaging fire island dance one evening. While my family went site seeing around Cebu and the nearby Bohol island during the day, Mijo and I basked under the Visayan sun with a bottle of San Miguel beer. We enjoyed the sand while lounging and talking or reading our books. There was one afternoon I fell asleep for a couple of hours only to be waken up by this terribly itchy ant bite on my arm. After not seeing my family for almost two years, my idea for the trip was to spend time with them. Unfortunately, they were just too exhausted from their site seeing during the day that they'd rather go straight to bed. Good thing Mijo and a David Sedaris book were there to keep me company in the evenings. Spending time with them will have to take a back seat for now.
Since my family had their own agenda, I quickly put together my own. My list was short because I've been to both Bohol and Cebu city. I just wanted to get good massages and try roasted pig, or locally known as lechon, from two popular Cebu city restaurants - CnT and Zubuchon. They definitely serve the best lechon. Crunchy skin and juicy tasty meats! All in all, the Cebu trip was all about total relaxation and a feast for the taste buds.
Back in Manila. We're back in Manila from Cebu and it was time to get serious outfitting the condo. So far we only have a fridge and we still need an a/c, water heater and maybe a microwave oven. A tiny voice was telling me to buy the remaining appliances either at Ansons or SM Appliance Center. Anyway, we went ahead and bought a water heater at Ace Hardware just because the store happens to be the closest from the condo. There was a small fee associated with the install and that someone will come by later in the week to install the water heater. Little did we know that this was going to be an unending saga because of missing parts, lousy install job, and scheduling issues. I made a mental note not to buy anything from that store that requires delivery or installation. Later that week, we went ahead and bought the remaining appliance from SM appliance and the delivery and installation went without a snag. For the furnitures, we decided we will just ship them from the States. I made acquaintances as a result of my short conversations with the staff at TCLV and one of them let me take a peek of the rooftop. I'll keep his name a secret since I think that area is off limits to residents. But what a view!
Playing tourists in Manila. On days that we were not waiting for the water heater install guy, we played tourist around Manila. When I was in Manila two years ago, I don't remember seeing this much variety in restaurants, places to drink and farmers and food markets in the city. This may have been brought by the proliferation of call centers and young urbanites with lots of spendable cash. Since I was traveling the first two weekends, I haven't had spent a Friday night or a weekend in Manila. With only a weekend left before Christmas and the last weekend before Mijo went back to the states, we planned to definitely stay to enjoy the city. Here are the ones that were instant hits.
Taho with Sago. Yes, this simple sago or soy bean curd gets me excited. While I was walking inside the Glorietta Mall, I found this area where they sell produce, coffee and tea, holiday treats, and cooked food including taho. Though I have issues with soy beans grown in the States, how can I pass on this childhood snack of mine? The curd is not watery at all so you can actually see its texture and truly taste the flavor of soy. The tapioca is also flavored with caramel. Of course, the price is twice as much as the ones sold on the streets. Maybe I should call this urban taho? Maybe designer taho?
Bahay Tsinoy. One of the museums that I wanted to see while I was in Manila is the Bahay Tsinoy. Bahay is a tagalog word for house and Tsinoy is a hybrid word which means Chinese Filipino. The museum has dioramas and artifacts dating from pre-Spanish through the present time showcasing the Chinese people in the Philippines and how it evolved through the years.Bahay Tsinoy is on Anda and Cabildo Streets in Intramuros, Manila. As an extra bonus, I found out that Bahay Tsinoy sells the Big Binondo Food Wok map.
Salcedo Saturday Market. Two years ago, I had planned to checked out this market but I failed. Since I tremendously enjoy the farmers market scene in San Francisco, I was curious how this one compares to the ones I am used to. Would I meet the actual producer or farmer at the market? Are the produce truly fresh? Organic, perhaps? Like any other financial districts, the downtown area is dead during the weekend but you'll soon hear some noise when you get closer to Salcedo Park. They sell lots of stuff here. Produce, cooked food, baked goodies, native holiday sweets, and Swiss and French delicacies. My favorites: the stall selling the paella; Jaq's Kitchen selling fresh dips made of local ingredients; TonG Coffee selling Barako blend coffee and this ginataang langka I was sampling while walking around.
Legazpi Sunday Market. It was sweet to learn about this one since it is in the neighborhood and it is just two blocks away from TCLV we can actually see it from our window. This time, my sister joined Mijo and I in exploring this market. This market seems bigger than the Salcedo Market and more lively but less chaotic. Aside from the usual produce and food stuff, I saw lots of vendors selling soaps, scented oils, beauty products, leather goods, etc. While walking around, my sister and I shared an atis or custard apple. That was so delicious and fresh! Mijo mentioned it is called chirimoya in Latin America. The music made this farmers market more engaging. There was a group of percussionists and guitarists jamming in the middle of the crowd. This could be the reason why I like this market better.
Greenbelt Malls. The condo is also close to urban attractions within Manila's Makati district. There is the Greenbelt and Glorietta Malls. One Saturday, they had this Holiday special at the Greenbelt mall's amphitheathre where they've invited choirs from local high schools and colleges to sing Christmas carols. The Manila Symphony Orchestra was also there to serenade the crowd. It was truly Christmastime in the city. Afterward, Mijo and I went to have drinks at the nearby Barcino, a place where they serve good Spanish tapas and good Spanish vinos. The crowd maybe a little too loud for my taste.Aside from the designer brands represented inside the Greebelt mall, there are artisan chocolates and bakeries dotting the area. My favorite is the confectionery selling French Macarons called Sinfully by Shangri-la Makati. Their macarons are truly sinful and bigger than the ones sold at Miette in San Francisco in half the price. We also tried their almond croissant and it was also good. My craving for a good pastry was satisfied.
I truly enjoyed my stay in Manila and it will be missed terribly. Bye Manila. Bye Southeast Asia. Until we see each other again.