27 Hours in Baguio


Turtle and I have been dying to get away from Manila and visit Lira. We were initially planning to do a Baguio-La Union weekender, but because we had to come back to Manila on Sunday (today), we just voted on doing a full day in Baguio instead.
0300:            departure from Victory Terminal in Cubao
0300-0400:   annoyed passengers sitting behind and in front of us by giggling about silly things, like how the PMS-ing monster reared its ugly head this week; karma strikes back - made us feel icky over a high-school looking couple who must have thought their two reclining seats were a motel room. 
0400-0500:   Mine, asleep// Got jolted awake by the driving, looked out the windows, saw it moving and silently thanked the heavens we were in a bus off to somewhere. #happyplace
0500-0800:   REM-ed// Woke up a bit; thought Mine covered in malong was a giant potsim. Or a moving hotdog. Texted Lira we're already at the Marcos Highway
0800-0900:  last hour for sleeping; arrival in Baguio. It's been 3 years! Lira arrives, wee!
0900-1100:  readying our bearings; coffee; fried bananas; early chika galore. 
1100-1200:  paid some bills at SM Baguio (which doesn't look new anymore - and it has always looked new.)
1200-1330:  Volante - reason enough to take a quick trip to Baguio, methinks.
  1. Shrimp Salad - fresh veggies and the vinaigrette dressing was heavenly; Volante knows what to do with seafood.
  2. Tuna Sardines Pizza - in the throes of disappointment (yes, ma-drama) over the Smoked Salmon Pizza not being available, we settled for Sardines. Didn't disappoint for the sardines melted with the cheese in the pizza.
  3. Pesto Pasta - this one, with meat or meatless, is a classic favorite! There must be something in the basil and nuts in Baguio that makes it really good.
  4. Brewed Coffee - strong and really cheap (around Php28). Can we have a Volante branch in Manila, please.
  5. Warm Lemongrass Tea - smelled like something that can calm a troubled spirit (and tummy).                  
1330-1430:   some ukay hunting
1430-1630:  Mt. Cloud/ Hill Station 
A recently-renovated complex that houses the North Haven Spa, Mt. Cloud Bookstore, Hill Station restaurant, and Casa Vallejo boutique hotel. Says a local with impish giggling, "there used to be rumors that the place was haunted. That's why my mom is hesitant to try the massage." Absolutely no spirit sightings that day, though there's a Game of Thrones event being planned by Santi of Mt. Cloud. Our Turtle thinks this is an exciting idea. We might be back for that event. 
  1. Apple Pie - in a dream I had last week, I was having a pie up in the mountains. The Hill Station Apple Pie had sweet apples and very tasty crust. It did not taste foreign to my native tongue. Yes, it lived up to the dream. If only it had more of the bread on top, it would be perfection.
  2. Lemon Caramel squares - according to Turtle, judging by the zest real lemons were used. 
  3. Death by Chocolate - thick fudgy chocolate drenched in sweet vanilla ice cream. :D
1630-1830:  Lovely Bones at Lira's
Glad we watched it together. The film dealt with a very heavy issue (child murder/ rape). The treatment of the film was superb, though. We enjoyed it and were traumatized, yes, at the same time. Fun. :p
1830-2030:  late snack with some brownies/ magical bonding with Tita Luchie. Let the LOLs commence. 
2030-2300:  Chaya's (I don't remember ever being this hungry/ happy/ really giggly!) 
They prepare your food from scratch, so prepare to really wait if the other tables are full. It must have taken them more than 40mins to serve our meals. Yes, everything was inhaled in a rush. 
  1. Complimentary Japanese Salad - very aesthetically presented, the mixture of tulips, baby onion, cucumber and red radish was a win! Plus, it's free.
  2. Japanese Seafood Hot Pot - the soup was very, very clean on the palate, add in the salmon, shrimp, squid thrown in.While eating, I thought I was transported back to Fukui.  
  3. Tofu Salad - soft tofu was reaaally good. Must try next time: beef salad.   
  4. Mixed Tempura - a tower of vegetable and shrimp tempura. The pumpkin flowers and leaves were heavenly. 
  5. Complimentary Strawberry Ice Cream w/ Monggo - could have been better if we had the Green Tea variant. Nevertheless, this sweet ending was a welcome treat.
2300-0030:  Gilligan's 
  • A round of San Miguel Apple beer, sisig, Mango cake. 
  • Weird night: we got some complimentary San Mig Lemon beer, a note written on tissue paper by Two Amateur Dudes, and, due to a flux earlier that night, a slice of Blueberry cheesecake and a tap from Guy Seated at the Bar.
  • The Edralin's played a mixed set of songs from the 70s and the 80s. 
  • More silliness, laughter, surprising moments (white-faced dude), and naps on the table.

Some lines/ phrases from that night:
"Nag-dancing na ako!"
"Reggae of the world"
"May iba pa bang halo to?"
"Secret admirers"
"Ako yung nagpabigay ng Blueberry cheesecake."
"Sino ka?"
""Naririnig ko pero hindi ko naiintindihan."
"Super bionic hearing powers"

0030-0200:   Ayuyang attempt/ last one for the road at Session 
The set at Ayuyang was over by the time we got there. Decided to drop by Volante one last time. Asked ourselves that all-important question, "Should we have waffles?" My tummy begged not to, just this once. Settled for a cup of hot chocolate and warm lemongrass tea.
0200-0630:   instead of heading back, we caught some decent sleep at Lira's attic. #goodchoice
0800-1400:   goodbye, Baguio/ see you soon, Lira! Traveled back to Manila.

Of course, some things were left off. But oh the things you can do/ eat/ say/ think/ laugh about in a day!


Hat Ladies

...thank god for people who put up with your crazy hat and also wear a few of their own.


Those Strangers from the Road: Meeting Cambodians

A Cambodian family visiting the Angkor complex. We were taking photos and the kids were watching. The kids were quite pleased when we offered to take their picture. 
We saw a lot of Cambodian families out and about the Angkor complex. I found this touching as it shows how proud they are of their heritage. Passing on the love for Khmer culture to the next generation ensures its survival too.

Notice the absence of a father figure, though. I hope they're just milling around somewhere or decided to stay home. 

A group of orphans and their art teacher at the Complex

We saw these kids playing hide and seek and tag amidst blocks of stones that were to be laid out for conservation. The man in blue approached us and told us he's their art teacher. He takes them to the Angkor not just to let them play, but to slowly teach them how to render the temples in drawings. Another reason they hang out at the Complex is to raise funds for their orphanage. Where begging is off-putting in other countries, Cambodia has one of the highest number of orphans globally, in part because of their recent brush with a terror regime. If you have money to spare, do help.  

Charming Cambodian ladies we met in Banteay Srei

One thing that puts off tourists in Cambodia: the aggressive vendors. Fortunately, we did not have any bad experience with any of the vendors we met. No one harassed us or made us gravely uncomfortable.  You just need to be firm when telling the vendors you're not interested, or you could ask help from your guide or driver in telling them off. One thing that psyched us up though is them being able to guess we're Filipinos! Cambodia is the first country I've been to where they were able to guess my nationality. In Malaysia, they thought we were from Vietnam, Thailand, etc., anything but Pinoys. (Well, even Filipino immigration officers at the airport would question me about being Filipino.)

The Cambodians are lovely and these ladies are proof. We asked them how they know that we're Filipinos and they told us it's through the accent: Filipinos speak like Americans, but, well, look like Asians (funny? True? Sad?). Some of the vendors could even greet in Tagalog, which probably meant that Cambodia gets a lot of Pinoy tourists. Oh, we also found out that they watch Tagalog teleseryes! In particular, these ladies'  favorites are John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo (they described, we guessed).

More on the girls: 
  •  The first girl is around 10 years old. She's helping out her aunt who has a stall in Banteay Srei. She was shy and was hesitant to talk to us at first. Eventually, the two bubblier ates got her to stick around. They advised her to not be in such a hurry to get married. In Cambodia, it's still normal for girls, especially those from the barrios, to get married around the age of 16. 
  • The second girl works and goes to school at the same time. She's past the Cambodian marrying age (she's around 21, I think) and wants to be an English teacher someday. She spoke good English and looks quite determined to achieve this dream. 
  • The third girl is older than girl #2, probably around 23. She has kind eyes and a timid manner. She lives with her aunt who also runs the stall she works at. She's their family's breadwinner and has kind of accepted that fate. Anji put it this way, "She's no longer agit about her future. She has kind of accepted her destiny." 
I hope that good things come to these girls. Honestly, I have no clue how they can subvert the fate that's seemingly laid out for them (like any Third World country Cambodia has serious societal problems), but I pray that they'll be able to rise above what their circumstances dictate. May they experience magic and find pockets of hope. I hope that 6 or 7 years from now, they'll find themselves genuinely happy.   
A Cambodian artist in the temple

Another lovely Cambodian boy who has been drawing and producing Angkor-inspired art for years now.  He's my favorite Cambodian stranger because he's very talented (look at those watercolor pieces) and modest. I pray that his talent brings him success. :) 

Security personnel at Angkor Thom, who we thought just offered excellent customer service - he was in uniform, after all.

Granted, Kuya ripped us off by not telling us he'll be asking for money after showing us around Angkor Thom and taking our photos. It was an interesting experience (it just becomes a funny road story). Okay na rin. We got nice photos from him anyway and he did take us to the top of the Thom temple. And look how happy my girlfriends looked, especially Anji. :)


Trying to make sense of something tragic (we're but puny beings)

Been re-reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The story just breaks my heart into tiny little pieces. I feel for Oskar, who is trying to make sense of having lost his dad in the 9/11 tragedy. How do you get over losing someone as great as your own father? How does a super smart 9-year-old atheist cope with the senselessness of the event, as he believes things don't have a reason? How do you cope; how do you even replace the void? 

Safran Foer's way of narrating is reason enough to pick up the book. He doesn't go into melodrama territory. He uses cool visual devices (yes, this is not a novel without pictures). While Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close tackled a very serious and touchy event, humor and dry wit were always present in his paragraphs and dialogues, pinching your heart all the more and making you just about ready to cry buckets. I love that Oskar wasn't just a plainly sappy or a very very angry character. That's how it is in real-life, right? When tragedy strikes, we intersperse the funny with the sad. 

Some of my favorite moments from the first two chapters:  
  • The teakettle and wanting to train his anus to talk when he farted so that it can say, "Wasn't me!"
  • That paragraph about his first jujitsu class, which was also his last because he refused to ruin the jujitsu master's privates.
  • From the last time Oskar was tucked in bed by his father,
"Dad?" "Yeah?" "Could you tell me a story?" "Sure." "A good one?" "As opposed to all the boring ones I tell." "Right." I tucked my body incredibly close into his, so my nose pushed into his armpit. "And you won't interrupt me?" "I'll try not to." "Because it makes it hard to tell a story." "And it's annoying." "And it's annoying."   
The moment before he started was my favorite moment.      
  • From Thomas's letter to his unborn child where he described meeting his would-be wife, also their first "conversation":
She was extending a hand that I didn't know how to take, so I broke its fingers with my silence, she said, "You don't want to talk to me, do you?" I took my daybook out of my knapsack and found the next blank page, the second to last. "I don't speak," I wrote. "I'm sorry." She looked at the piece of paper, then at me, then back at the piece of paper, she covered her eyes with her hands and cried, tears seeped between her fingers and collected in the little webs, she cried and cried and cried, there weren't any napkins nearby, so I ripped the page from the book - "I don't speak. I'm sorry." -- and used it to dry her cheeks, my explanation and apology ran down her face like mascara, she took my pen and wrote on the next blank page of my daybook, the final one:     
*Highlights, mine. Found this imagery beautiful, but then again I'm just a sucker for puns, visual and verbal ones. :) 
In the aftermath of the recent bombing and shootings in Norway: we weep for those more than 80 innocent people who lost their lives for something senseless. I couldn't even begin to imagine what the parents of those kids must be going through right now; how Norway is suffering and trying to move past those tragedies. Where 9/11 was committed in the name of Islamic extremism, these two recent attacks were done by a man believed to be a right-winger "Christian." We see that, really, it doesn't matter what religion one practices or not practice, what beliefs one has or doesn't have. Violence is but a by-product of hate. Tragic events like the 9/11 happen when people insist on insisting. What's even more sad and disappointing (stupid, really) is when these instances of insistence are reinforced by supposedly intelligent people.


Live Notoriously

Majestic Mekong, Luang Prabang, Laos (06.2011)

We must become ignorant
Of all we’ve been taught,
And be, instead, bewildered.
Run from what’s profitable and comfortable
If you drink those liqueurs, you’ll spill
The spring waters of your real life.

Forget safety.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
Be notorious.

I have tried prudent planning
Long enough, from now
On, I’ll live mad.

- Rumi

**Much thanks to Dang for posting this on her FB page. ;)


Two Soft Steps Backward through Alvin Yapan's Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa

Most of the time, you manage to do well. You're able to function as usual; there are even days that turn out exceptional. But a line, a scene, a musical note, a lilt in someone's voice while singing; these things could unsettle. They remind you that what once was was beautiful and essential.

While things may have taken a sour note between the two of you, you are certain you will never wish you could take those 7 years back. Ever. A rib may feel like it's missing from time to time, but it doesn't overshadow the fact that for 7 years you were significant in making each other feel more whole.  

Watch Alvin Yapan's “Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa” and think about saying goodbye, falling in love, crossing over, and surviving. Don't expect a straight narrative, lose yourself in the poems of Merlinda Bobis, Ruth Elynia Mabanglo, Joi Barros, Rebecca Anonuevo, Ophelia Dimalanta and Benilda Santos (a bonus: all were meticulously-delivered, pogi points to our beloved wikang Tagalog), and the moving choreography (watch out for the audition dance) by Eli Jacinto (with assistance from his lovely daughters, Joelle and Jacqui). Alvin Yapan handled the material so well, practicing restraint when, given the powerful literature and dance at his disposal, it was easier to fall into the trap of overly-dramatizing things. This film is a winner. Plus, it dared to go beyond itself and showcase Philippine literature and dance. IMHO, we need more films like this so more people would appreciate and seek out Philippine art. :)

I wish someone would come up with a special edition book on the poems featured in the film or a CD with readings from the cast, plus that haunting song. While that's not yet tangible at the moment, here's my favorite from the selection:

ni Joi Barrios

Sinasalat ko ang bawat bahagi
Ng aking katawan.
Walang labis, walang kulang.

Sinasalat ko bawat bahagi
Ng aking katawan.
Nunal sa balikat,
Hungkag na tiyan.
May tadyang ka bang hinugot
Nang lumisan?

Sinasalat ko bawat bahagi
Ng aking katawan.
Sa kaloob-looban,
Sa kasuluk-sulukan,
Nais kong mabatid
Ang lahat ng iyong
Tinangay at iniwan.
Nais kong malaman,
Kung buong-buo pa rin ako
sa iyong paglisan.

(*emphasis, mine. Thanks, the scud, for a copy of this poem.)


On having a structure and willing yourself to go beyond that frame

"I never saw Burroughs without a tie," he said, "and Paul, too, abhorred sloppiness. He lived within the frame, and the frame held everything together for him. If you don't have a frame, you fly off in all sorts of directions. But inside the frame you are secure; you can observe what happens. (...)"
A young man got on with a boombox blasting a haunting and undulating Ramadan tune and, as the bus started again, held the box to his chin and sang in high, soulful tones, his gaze cast into the distance. I could not tell which words came from the box and which from his mouth, and I was aware suddenly of how little I understood the spiritual tides surging around me. I was not in control; I was outside the frame.

In time, of course, I would come back within the frame, back to my familiar habits of observing and writing. But right then, on the bus, I was learning how rich it is to venture into that strange territory of the mind where you are bewildered and vulnerable -- lost, even. I just listened to the music.    

***From "Under the Sheltering Sky," Bill Donahue, The Best American Travel Writing 2004 (highlights, mine)


More B-2011 adventures

And here's where I admit why I like referring to "Biyahe 2011" the B-2011-- it sounds asteroidal! Kind of like the Little Prince's B-612. #Nerd.

My good friend Turtle is itching to revisit Indonesia. Borobodur, Wayang Kulit, the beach, witch-doctors, strong Sumatran coffee -- who'd say no to these?

Photo taken by Turtle

It's been nearly 2 years. Another trip ought to be in order. This time I promise not to miss Hiroshima for the Peace Shrine, and the Floating Torii (Itsukushima Shrine) at Miyajima.
From Wikipedia.org

Nanay Universe, let's get the ball rolling!

Hema and Kaushik

"Most of the fishing villages were shut down,the lobster boats out of the water for winter, the wooden traps stacked and empty. At times I wished that I'd had my camera with me, but there is no documentation of those days. The food was generally terrible, but when I think of it I still savor the taste of diner coffee that was at once bitter and insipid, the waffles drowned in syrup, the gummy chowder and greasy eggs, as if no other food had nourished me then. (...) I had nothing to say to the fishermen and the other people who drank there and had lived in those villages all their lives, their tobacco-stained beards concealing their faces, their hands raw and chapped, their accents unfathomable. (...) I had never traveled alone before and I discovered that I liked it. No one in the world knew where I was, no one had the ability to reach me. It was like being dead, my escape allowing me to taste that tremendous power my mother possessed forever."


Jhumpa Lahiri's use of landscape to communicate the sense of isolation Kaushik felt was genius, and that last line referring to his mother's death was pretty heartbreaking. The twist at the end dates this short story to a particular time, and I love how Lahiri was brave enough to go there. The story may have been dated, but it's nonetheless beautiful. 

I hope Lahiri comes out with another book soon. 

"Hema and Kaushik" appears in the collection Unaccustomed Earth.


Hey Foodventurer!

“Good food makes people happy,” sabi ng title character sa pelikulang Chef of South Polar. Mapa-Antarctica man ang paroroonan, mapa-Japan, o mapa-Timog Silangang Asya, sino ang ayaw sa pagkaing masarap? At bilang bibiyahe ka, isama mo na ang iyong masuwerteng panlasa sa paglilibot at makabuluhang paglalakbay. :)

Here's a rundown of things you might want to eat, with some descriptions thrown in:

Chiang Mai
  1. Crispy catfish (Yam Pla Duk Foo) - very light, airy, crispy batter of flour and minced hito, usually served with green mango salad (YUM).
(Photo source: wikipedia)
  1. Pad Thai- going to Thailand and not having Pad Thai merits a sin of omission, i.e. "Hindi ka nag-Pad Thai? Hindi ka talaga nanggaling ng Thailand! Nagsinungaling ka lang. :p"
  1. Shrimp Paste Rice (Khao khluk kapi) - rice stir-fried with shrimp paste, served with sweetened pork and vegetables.
This plate was from a hawker across the Thammasat University in Bangkok
  1. Oyster patties - oyster and egg omelette; can be bought off the street.
  1. Fish cakes (Thot man pla krai) or Shrimp cakes (Tod Mun Goong) - I don't think we can have it this herby, healthy and just really yummy, except in Thailand
(Photo source: wikipedia)
  1. Chiang Mai sausage (Sai Ua) - always rears its fatty head in the menu, so might as well try it. Masarap naman, make sure you have this with the sauces – vinegar/ patis dips (kung ano man ang iyong dig). I bet this goes well with beer.
(Photo source: wikipedia)
  1. Chiang mai chicharon - Another popular Chiang Mai product. The Chiang Mai variant seems less oilier than its Pinoy brother.
  2. Northern Thai Noodles (Chiang Mai Noodles/ Khao Soi) - a blend of sour coconut curry, boiled and fried noodles, topped with pickled mustard greens, chili sauce, mung bean sprouts, lime, and shallots. Coriander and cumin spices, borrowed from Burmese and Indian cuisine, give this a non-Thai twist. Other spellings: "Kao soy" or "Kow soi"
(Photo source: wikipedia)

9. Cha Yen/ Charon – strongly brewed black tea, sweetened with sugar and condensed milk(ooops, milk means bawal – well you can always watch your friends enjoy this. May cold at hot version. :D)
10. San Miguel Beer. Singha. Oh yeah. :D

Be warned about the food servings (for growing boys, girls, and boygirls!)
  1. Spring Rolls – have both the fried and fresh variants.
    We tried this resto called “Smile Restaurant,” at the street across the Fine Arts Museum. Smile is a not-for-profit center that trains disadvantaged kids. Ang sarap ng fried spring rolls; it did not taste oily at all.

2. Pho with thick noodles, Vietnamese pansit, etc. around the Temple of Literature - this area is literally teeming with Pho houses.We randomly chose one that's on the left side of the Temple. Here's the modest feast:
Your Pho could come with different-sized noodles. The fat and flat noodles is gooood!
3. Skewered meat/ seafood in sugarcane - how I imagine this dish would taste like: grilled seafood/meat with hints of juicy, succulent sugarcane.
4. Sugarcane juice- Perfect for long walks; with lime. (I miss, miss, miss this. Drink glassES for me! :p)
5. Pulled sandwich - Sweet and peppery. Similar to a hero sandwich, with shredded and caramelized meat, toasted with onions and herbs.
6. Eel with vermicelli - I really have no words to describe it, other than to say I have never tasted anything like it // that it's really, really, really good. The dry one, where the soup is on a separate bowl, is actually better. See photo below:
7. This dessert (they're really balls of happiness disguised as sticky white 3-dimensional dots):

8. Iced coffee with yoghurt - sounds strange, but it works. Kung hindi pwede dahil lactose intolerant, opt for the espresso servings of coffee.

  • Have a meal by the Mekong.
  • Try those restos on the other side, the ones near the narrower river, like Tamarind Restaurant, where we had these:
  • Those rolls wrapped in leaves (that plate on the upper left of the lower photos), the Lao version of the roll without the wrap, is a MUST-TRY. Prepare for the heavenly peanut sauce they use in the Lao rolls!
  • We had this sampler plate at the Tamarind Resto. There's a hawker stall that sells this roll on the main road, where the night market is. May dalawang ateng nagbabantay. They're only there between 3-5pm, I think.
  • Compared to other SEA food we tried, Lao cuisine is more garlicky. 
  • At night, try the hawker stalls at the food alley. Opens at the same time the night market does (Th Sisivangvong, I think). There are plenty of grilled dishes (fish caught from the Mekong), Lao dishes, etc.
  • Have a cuppa Lao coffee. If you're lactose intolerant, remember to ask them not to put milk. ;)
Enjoy your trip! Mag-uwi ka ng maraming-maraming kwento. =)