2013: The year I learned how to say 'thank you'. And really mean it.

2013 has been a wonderful year.  Not because it was perfect nor because it's supposed to be a lucky year for people born on the year of the Dog.

2013 was actually a toss up between ups and downs.  But it was wonderful because it was the year I learned to say "thank you" and really mean it.

During my birthday last April, I started a personal project called "The Gratitude Project" (as inspired by my friend Julia's blog).  Everyday, I would list down one thing I'm thankful for for that day.

I had to work on it first because some days would really just suck and I couldn't, for the life of me, find anything to be thankful about.  Or so I thought.  Eventually, being grateful became a natural habit.  It sort of has become my default mindset and I wouldn't have it any other way.

The bad things became humbling experiences for me while the good ones taught me how to appreciate everything and everyone around me even more.

And now, I can't even begin to describe the overwhelming gratitude that I feel.

I remain blind to what 2014 has to offer.  But if there's anything I'm sure of, it's that I'm grateful to be given another year to explore, to love, to learn, and to embrace what this beautifully mad world has to offer.

And on that note...

HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!

Sunsets, beautiful in any part of the world.  Taken at Arquipelago de Ilhabela during our trip to Brazil last October.

BRAZIL: A gastronomic feast

Brazil is not for the weak eater.

And I can say that with certainty, 5 lbs. and counting later.

Brazil is meat country and one important thing every traveler should know is that their servings are deceiving.  Like if you order a dish good for one, most of the time, that dish can actually feed two to three people. And during our three-week stay in Brazil, we never got our orders right haha.  Our table always seemed like we were feeding a whole village instead of just five people :p

So, what are the must-haves when you visit the largest Latin American country?  Here's my personal list.

1.  Churrasco 
This is Brazil's version of barbecued meat.


Churrascarias, restaurants that serve eat-all-you-can meat, are everywhere.    It's either you line up for your slices of meat or there will be insistent waiters holding skewers of different Brazilian beef, pork,
chicken, mutton, or fish cuts freshly out of the charcoals,  going around to serve you your preferred cut.

This type of service is called the rodízio.

TIP:  Often, in churrascarias, you will find red ("stop") and green ("go") signs on top of the tables.  After you've been served your first round of meat, make sure you raise the red sign to hold'em waiters back and allow yourself some time to chew and swallow.

The Real Brazil




"I want to go to the real Brazil!"

That's what my niece exclaimed when we landed in Foz do Iguaçu, a city in the state of Paraná.  In the 5-year-old's mind, Brazil pertains to Rio de Janeiro.  And we pretty much predicted that she wouldn't stop looking for the "real Brazil" until she sees the Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) up close lol.

And for most, that is their vision of the largest country in South America.

But what is the real Brazil?

For some people, you haven't really been to Brazil unless you've watched a football match.  For some, it's all about the carnaval, the samba, the parties.  Some think getting the full experience is about filling your stomach with churrasco (barbecued meat) flushed down with the perfect caipirinha, their national cocktail. Then there are those who believe that it's equally important to experience the favelas (slums) as it is to bask under the scorching Ipanema sun.

For me?  It's all of those and more.

I'm yet to finish sorting my three thousand plus photos from the trip.  But here's a glimpse of "the real Brazil" as captured through my lens and ever-so-curious eyes :)

The view at the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, a lagoon and district in the Lagoa, Zona Sul (South Zone) of Rio de Janeiro.
Praia de Ipanema (Ipanema beach).

Thank you, world

Here in the Philippines, we have an age old tradition called bayanihan which embodies the spirit of communal unity or effort in achieving a particular goal.  In the olden days, when a family needs to relocate, the townsfolk would usually volunteer to help them move their home.  This involves literally carrying the family's house to its new location.


Bayanihan in action.  (Photo credit:  http://antiquenationalschool.webs.com/)

Over the centuries, this tradition eventually ceased but the the term bayanihan (derived from the word bayan which means town, community, or nation) continues to live through the Filipinos all over the archipelago.  We are a nation often struck by calamities.  And through these calamities, stories of heroism often surface inspiring even the most cynical person.  You hear stories of devastation which is often followed by stories of people working together to help their distressed fellowmen.

Recently, though, the Filipino's strength was again put to the test.  Supertyphoon Haiyan (local name:  Yolanda) struck the country with an impact so great that more than a week after its devastation, the whole nations is still reeling.

I was in South America when the calamity happened.  I was only able to monitor it through international and local newscasts.  But while I could barely understand Portuguese, the images spoke enough.

With the devastation so massive, one of the first questions that would come to mind is:  How do we rise from this?

But like that waves that surged through the different cities in Visayas region, aid, in all forms, came pouring in from different countries.  Up to now, the support and prayers coming from the different parts of the world is still overwhelming.

We are not even halfway in rising through the rubbles that Yolanda left.  But this time, we are not alone in carrying this burden.  The rest of the world has joined our bayanihan.

And with that, we give you our most heartfelt thank you, World.

NOTE:  This photo has been circulating on the various social networking sites.   Credits to whoever created this. And while more help from other countries poured in after this, the image pretty much embodies our nation's gratitude.



TAIWAN: The journey to the Northern Coast

For luck!  Tradition says that ringing this bell in Chungcheng Park will bring you luck.

"Guess what?  While I was researching online for our upcoming trip to Taiwan, your blog came up! It was really useful,"  an office mate told me when I bumped into her a few weeks ago.  I was all smiles after because I'm easy to please like that haha ;)

I've blogged about Taiwant trip essentials and our foodgasmisc experience in the Formosa (Trans: "Beautiful Island") but I haven't gotten around to one of the best parts of our 2012 trip:  the journey to the Northern Coast.  A few hours from its capital, Taipei, the Northern Coast is the perfect place to experience rural Taiwan and taste some of the island's eccentric local delicacies.

How do you describe yourself?

Hey, folks!  In case you're wondering if I've fallen off the edge of the blogosphere...I'm breaking the involuntary hiatus with this post.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to contribute articles for an online magazine that will be launched by Pinays based in the US.  The goal is to provide a unifying platform for Filipinas abroad and basically remind them of this beautiful little archipelago called Philippines :)

Anyway, they asked me to send a short bio that would accompany my articles.  And I think I had a harder time coming up with that bio than with my articles!  Haha.  Seriously, I've never known how to describe myself.  In fact, the content of the "about me" portion of this blog is actually a text message I got years ago from my good, good friend, Peter.

So after thinking and thinking and thinking some more, this is what I came up with...



I wish I was a better wordsmith so I can come up with wittier lines but every bit of this is true, especially the CRAZY and SANE part haha.

How about you?  How do you describe yourself?

Ilocos Express (Part 1) : Vigan

"Ilocos empanada!"

That's what I kept yapping about during the long drive to the Ilocos Region for our family trip last March.  The region, of course, is more than their famous food.  I've long wanted to go on a road trip to Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte but since it would entail at least four days of long drive for you to be able to visit all the must-see places, it took me a while before I finally did.

So in this "Ilocos Express" series, I'll try to do justice in showcasing the cultural gems of the north.

Our first stop: the town of Vigan.

"Vigan is so special, UNESCO deemed it a World Heritage Site and noted, “Vigan is an exceptionally intact and well-preserved example of a European trading town in East and Southeast Asia. The architecture is truly reflective of its roots in both materials and design, in its fusion of Asian building design and construction with European colonial architecture and planning.”" (Read more here.)  

Calle Crisologo

Vigan is one of the few Hispanic towns left in the Philippines and its famous landmark is Calle Crislogo.


The pug, the dachshund, the chowchow, and the beagle

So what happens when you try to walk four dogs with different breeds and temperament?  A riot!  Haha.  That's what happened anyway when my brother and I decided to gather all the dogs and have an afternoon romp.  I think it was my niece that had the most fun though, chasing after them and getting chased by them!

My brother, the dog whisperer wannabe, and the jolly pack.  (L-R)  Katkat the Dachshund, Mini the Chowchow, Kourtney the Pug, and Axel the Beagle.









And while we were all busy playing, we didn't realize the smart little cat was watching over us, plotting her revenge hahaha.


Kyoto: Of castles, shoguns, and geishas

"I have to see a geisha."  

That's what I kept saying over and over during our trip to Japan last March.

Since we were staying in Osaka, my travel companions and I decided to go on a day trip to Kyoto which was approximately just an hour and a half away.  I was excited!  Located in Kyoto is the Gion District, one of the last remaining geisha districts in Japan.  It is also home to several temples built by shoguns or Japanese military commanders centuries ago.
"Kyoto (京都, Kyōto) served as Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. 
Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires, but due to its historic value, the city was dropped from the list of target cities for the atomic bomb and spared from air raids during World War II." (More info here.)
The moment we got down from the bus, I was immediately charmed by the city.  While Osaka was bustling and industrial (in some areas), Kyoto had a more quaint vibe with little cafes lining up the side streets and people going around in their bicycles.

Charming Kyoto.
The sun was bright and the weather was cool.  With cameras in tow, we set off to explore one of the most historical cities in Japan.

A life of wander and wonder

*Blog entry title courtesy of Leosyncracies.

Aside from New Year, your birthday is that other occasion every year that gives you license to have your "what have I done with my life" moment (something I think I'm too fond of doing haha).

When I was in college, I only wanted to spend every Holy Week break in Boracay,  getting a tan and partying.  When I got my first whiff of a foreign country during my Thailand trip with my sister, that's when the addiction began.  The goal was simple--save up for low-budget trips to nearby SEA countries like Singapore, HongKong, etc.  Places like South Korea and Japan (the more expensive Asian countries) were far down my list.  Farther down are places like Brazil, Greece, and Europe.  They all seemed like distant dreams.

But I focused on my goals.  I focused my energy on envisioning the places I wanted to go to.  And one by one, I ticked the places off my bucket list.  Then three weeks ago, I found myself wandering the streets of Osaka, Japan.  A week later, I booked a ticket, this time, to a bigger destination.   Without realizing it, I have slowly been making my dreams come true.

There are some things about my life that are not ideal right now.  But if I can make things happen, I can certainly workout the bad.

They say with age comes wisdom.  But with wisdom comes more curiosity.  And I believe we never really find all the answers we look for.  It's the asking and the passionate pursuit for answers that gives us character.

In that pursuit, here are some things that I learned will help you live a full life :

Spend time with your family.
Hug your kids, nephews, or nieces.  They grow up too fast sometimes.
Be generous to your parents.  Seeing them smile over the simple things is priceless.
Save money whenever you can.  But never scrimp over the things that are worth spending for.
Say "I love you" and mean it.
Say "I'm sorry" and mean it.
Open yourself to love.  Take risks.  If your heart breaks, take time to heal.  And then give yourself the chance to love again.
Keep the friends that will say the things that make you feel good but won't be afraid to tell you the brutal truth.
Keep out the negative vibes.  Overpower them with good vibes.
Be kind to the people who hurt you.  They might be having their own struggles.
Every year, discover a new place. 
Do not be afraid to explore on your own.
Find yourself a hobby.  Something to look forward to every time the work week ends.
Work to live.  Do not live to work.
Take care of your body.  You'll never be able to do all these things if you're frail and sickly.


The list goes on.  And I am open to learning so much more.  Because a wise person once told me, the moment you think you know everything is the moment you stop learning.  So yes.  I am determined to continue living a life of wander and wonder.

Wandering around the windmills of Bangui.  (Photo by my brother-in-law, Conrad Vidad.)





Hanami in Osaka

"Hanami (lit. "flower viewing") is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, "flower" in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms ("sakura") or (less often) plum blossoms ("ume")." (More info here.)

Japan's famous cherry blossoms don't show up 'til late March or early April.  So when we went there during the first week of March, I decided to look for the next best thing--plum blossoms.  A friend who's been frequenting Japan suggested that I check out Expo '70 Commemorative Park in Suita, a city located in the Northern part of Osaka.

So during my and my travel companions' self-imposed "free day" (a day where we each followed our own itineraries), I decided to go there.  It was bound to be an adventure, what with me being geographically-challenged and all haha.  But this sight was definitely worth almost getting lost and boarding the wrong train!

The Tower of the Sun.

What every girl should have...

(Photo taken by Direk Jimmy Dasal during our taping.)

A PAIR OF TRUSTY CHUCKS!

Yes, I absolutely love all those girly ballet flats and kitten-heeled shoes (look inside my trunk cum mobile closet and you'll agree!).  But I believe every girl should have at least a pair of comfy, go-anywhere, trusty Chucks.

I wear mine whenever I'm out in the field, I'm traveling backpacker style, or I just wanna let loose the funky girl in me.

I've had mine for years now and I'm absolutely loving it!  And I love it even more when it's all dirtied up ;)

Foodgasm in Japan!

There are two things every traveler should know about the food in Japan:

One, they're expensive, and 
two, they're worth spending for.

It's like the Japanese is not in the business of cooking anything less than a gastronomic masterpiece.  Everything tasted sooooo good I'm surprised I only gained a couple of pounds from the trip!  My only regret is that I couldn't take home every dish, drink, and dessert we tried when we were there. 

Anyway, get ready 'coz here are some of the must-try food in the Land of the Rising Sun!  

Ramen
Of course, we just had to eat ramen on our first night in Osaka.  We could have just settled for hotel food but we braved the cold and searched for this popular ramen stall in Namba.


And man, the honest-to-goodness authentic bowl of beef ramen I had was worth the long walk!


Price : Y900 (USD9.44)

The geishas of Kyoto: A sneak peek

900 photos and counting.  That's how trigger-happy I was during my recent trip to Japan.  I doubt I'd finish sorting and editing them soon (you know, the works) what with work, post-vacation errands, blah blah blah. In the meantime, I give you a glimpse of one of the most thrilling experience I had during the trip--seeing Geishas!

And  while they were so elusive, I wasn't gonna leave Kyoto without at least a single decent photo of these mysterious women entertainers.  And here's one of them.


The island of Siquijor



The island of fire.  That's what the Spaniards used to call Siquijor (pronounced as "see-kee-hor") because it gave off an eerie glow from the swarms of fireflies on the island.

It can also be attributed to its reputation as the "mystic island", with stories of sorcery and witchcraft masking the island for decades.  But while there are a handful that shy away from the island because of this, I've always been curious about Siquijor.  It's one of the places in the Visayan region that I never had the chance to explore yet.

Until recently.

And contrary to all the spooky stories I've heard, the Siquijor I experienced was tranquil and picturesque.  It actually gave me the perfect jumpstart for the summer.

Friday food fest at Mezza Norte

Overnight food fiestas are heaven to foodies like me.  Unfortunately, since I work and live in Quezon City during the weekdays, I have to travel all the way to Ortigas for their weekly Banchetto or to Makati for their Midnight Mercato.

Luckily, around July last year, the brains behind Mercato Centrale decided bring this delightful food fest up north!  Thus the opening of Mezza Norte at the UP-Ayala Land Technohub along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City.   You could just imagine how happy I was to hear that!

So last Friday, after an evening run around the UP Campus in Diliman, my friend and I decided to reward ourselves with some Mezza Norte experience.  (Hey, we ate well within the magic hour. *Defensive* Haha.)

And just like the other food markets, it was quite a feast.


Chef's Bistro : A very bad experience

Chef's Bistro in Scout Gandia cor. Tomas Morato,
Quezon City.  Photo taken from their Facebook account.
My friends and I always look forward to our regular weekly dinner because aside from it being an excuse to momentarily forget our diets, we make it a point to try out new restaurants.

For this week, it was Chef's Bistro located at Scout Gandia cor. Tomas Morato in Quezon City.  The food's good, I was told.

It was a little past 7:00pm when my friend and I arrived at the place.  The waiters were very friendly, quickly setting up the table for us and taking our orders.  Since we were still waiting for the others to arrive, we ordered a bowl of pumpkin soup and a whole pan of truffle pizza which I was told was their specialty.  I asked Waiter #1 if the truffle pizza was good for 6 people and he said yes.  He repeated our orders then went to the kitchen.

The soup was served quickly enough.

45 minutes later, the rest of our friends arrived and ordered more dishes.  Since  we were so hungry already, I followed up our truffle pizza with Waiter #2.  He smiled and acknowledged our request.  10 minutes later, Waiter #2 returned and asked who took our order of truffle pizza. I pointed to Waiter #1.  He went back to the kitchen and after another 10 minutes, came back to our table.

"Ma'am, sorry po pero hindi available 'yung truffle pizza.  Actually po, walang available na pizza ngayong gabi," he said.  ("Ma'am, sorry but our truffle pizza is not available.  Actually, there are no pizzas available tonight.")

I hardly act up at restaurants.  In fact, I always make it a point to always be nice to the service crew.  But I was hungry and I can't believe it took them almost an hour to tell us that our order wasn't available!  Nevertheless, I tried to keep my temper since the waiter was apologizing profusely.  So instead of biting their heads off, we just decided to order other dishes.

"Available naman 'yung mga inorder namin, 'di ba?" I asked.  ("Everything else that we ordered are available, right?")

Waiter #2 said yes.

Lo and behold.  20 minutes later, Waiter #2 returned and said that our order of pork sirloin is not available.

BAM.

We exploded.  Seriously?  Making us wait that long before telling us that our orders aren't available?  We asked for the manager and both waiters went into the kitchen. A few minutes later, Waiter #3 came out and asked what the problem was.  We said we'd rather talk to the manager.  Waiter #3 went into the kitchen and then came back to our table to say the manager was out for the night and that he was the one left in charge.  He kept apologizing profusely.

Since we were already in a bad mood, we just decided to pay for the pumpkin soup and left the restaurant.  On our way out, we discovered that the manager was there all along.

OMG.  Really?! Hiding from your irate customer?  I'm not an expert but shouldn't you at least have the courtesy to address them?

Talk about really, REALLY bad service.

With that said, I am never setting foot on that restaurant again.  We may be just six people but if you could turn your head away even from a single customer, then maybe you should rethink about running a restaurant.

The brat, the baby, and the pug

The wonderful thing about having nieces and an adorable dog at home is that they make great subjects for photo ops.  So one afternoon, I joined my nieces as their yayas (babysitters) took them out to play with Kourtney The Pug in the church courtyard.

I ran out of breath chasing after them but I'm pretty happy with the feel-good shots I got :)


 

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