02 December 2012

My First Marathon

Successfully finished my first 42km marathon. A milestone indeed. I wouldn't have made it without God's grace, Avril, Bong, friends, and everyone who supported and took part in this race. Thank you. Now to cross out other items in my life goals list. :D

26 November 2012

Sweet Pea's Gift on My Birthday

I got the surprise of my life when the shoes I've been dreaming of became a reality.

I'm in love with my new shoes. I've been dreaming about this particular model for about a year, but I just can't afford 110 dollars for a running shoes. I was surprised when Sweet Pea brought me to Shang and bought it for me. It was meant to be - the shoe was on sale. :) When I got it fitted, the shoes and I had an instant understanding. The shoes and I were meant to be together, no doubt. On December 2, 2012, I will be running my first marathon and I will feel Sweet Pea's support the whole 42 kilometer stretch thanks to the new shoes she gave me as my birthday gift. Thanks a lot boo. You made my birthday super special. I dedicate this coming marathon to you. xoxo

photo credit:


04 November 2012

Skyfall: James Bond's Fall Reviewed

November 1, 2012. Bonding. My father, my sister, my brother, and I watched Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie.

The plot is like this, the villains were able get possession of a computer hard drive containing the identities of Secret Agents working for NATO. James Bond's mission was to recover that file; and to find out who was behind this before such sensitive information is disclosed to the public.

The film begins with a chase scene where James Bond got shot by a sniper upon M's orders to pull the trigger despite the fact that the sniper had a difficulty obtaining a clear target. Bond and was presumed to have died. The truth is, Bond didn't die. He survived, lived in anonymity, and enjoyed a life of a rock star. One day, he learned that the MI6 Secret Service headquarters in London was bombed. Bond resurrected from retirement but with evidence of declining strength, agility, and endurance.

M, having her full confidence on him, nevertheless sent him to a mission to Macau to track down the villain. The villain turns out to be an ex-agent, computer geek, psycho whose life long goal was to kill M with his bare hands. He felt that M betrayed him. M was the reason for all the suffering in his life.

Skyfall is about James Bond 007 going back to basics. There were no new exploding pens, no new sleek state-of-the-art Aston Martin, no new high-tech mini computers. This movie is a deviation from previous James Bond's recurring elements of modernity in the art of espionage. Here, it seemed like Bond was too old to understand the complexities of gadgets and technology. It felt like Bond can't even run an iPhone.

Is he losing his charms with women, too? At one point of the movie, he promised a woman to set her free from the Mafia-like gang if she could bring him to her boss. The woman obliges, she brought him to the boss, and exposed herself to risk. She threw herself to James Bond and even made love with him. But when the time came where her life is in danger, James Bond barely did anything to save her from imminent death. The James Bond I know doesn't take advantage of women.

Bond's refinement and class was part of everything he does in previous James Bond movies. It's his enigmatic look, his refinement in wine, his way of dressing up that's missing. It is this persona that makes him a hero or anti-hero, whatever you want to classify him.  I can't help feeling that Skyfall is a James Bond for the oldies. Is he losing his grip? Is he losing his charm? Where's the spy we loved?

There are things I like about the movie. Adele sang the perfect theme song for Skyfall. Adele lifted the movie and aroused the audience's curiosity at the very opening of the film. She sang Skyfall projecting very raw emotions.

I also loved the cinematography of Skyfall. The film's combination of light, color, effect, and mood contributes to the film's general impression. Most of the scenes were shot at night (Reminds me of Rocky 1). Most of the lighting were low-key, adding to a dramatic look. It's only when the film has reached its conclusion that the night turned into day.

Memorable Quote:
James Bond: Everybody needs a hobby.
Clair Dowar: So what's yours?
James Bond: Resurrection.

I enjoyed the watching James Bond, but what I really enjoyed more was the bonding our family had. It was a picture perfect moment. Our eyes were glued to the silver screen, on a theater at Gateway (that smelled like an old bus with that fugly yellow pine tree air freshener everyone dreads, by the way), sharing pop-corn and chips, and simply having a great time.


12 October 2012

Our First Broadway Musical Together: The Phantom of the Opera

Christine: "Pitiful creature of darkness, what kind of life have you known? God, give me courage to show you you are not alone! [kisses the Phantom]"  - The Phantom of the Opera

It's something we've never done before, so it got us excited. Last year, we went on a shopping spree to celebrate Sweetpea's birthday. This year we tried something different, we watched the Broadway musical The Phantom of the Opera at The Cultural Center of the Philippines.

We bought a little binoculars (Eye-Max) so that we could see the details of the stage. We chose the front row seats on the second deck balcony. It's too high up there that you are looking three floors down; and if you have fear of heights, forget about participating in the standing ovation at the end of the show.

Critics say that if you've never seen a musical, The Phantom of the Opera would be the best introduction.  It is one of the world’s most successful musicals and the longest running show on Broadway, too.

Dressing up for the Play
In an attempt to dress "appropriately" for the play, I borrowed my father's Americana, but it didn't fit me right. It's uncomfortable, so I just wore a long sleeves shirt without the necktie. My rule of thumb is this: If you can't run with it, don't wear it.

No. I don't wear neckties. Neckties are instruments of torture. I don't know why the hell neckties were invented. I believe it should be declared illegal together with scarfs. They should be banned.

Venus cut.
Sweatpea wore a gray Venus cut dress. It looked great with her bracelet bangles and black high heels. Oh, and her Aubrey Hepburn inspired hair, it was classic. Wala namang awards night, pero we felt we were like celebrities. Happy Birthday (September 25) :)

CCP Main Theater 
The stage was breathtaking. It's my first time inside the CCP main theater. The special effects were complex, especially what happened to the chandelier. The floating candles set up was perplexing and the costumes were elaborate. There were a lot of foreigners audience, parang United Nations meeting lang. :)

Claire Lyon who played as Christine had an inspiring performance. She had a powerful voice and a timber that's so melodic.

Avril and rAAH at the CCP lobby. 

The Phantom of the Opera is for anyone who can appreciate excellence in singing and stage acting. We are fortunate that the Broadway cast and crew preformed here in the Philippines. We need not to go to New York to watch this stage classic.

Cultural Center of the Phils Main Theater. 
You can say that The Phantom of the Opera is a story of desire. The Phantom will do everything to win Christine's heart. He will go to deviant extents as to cause nuances and disturbances at the opera house. Behind the Phantom's mask is a disfigured face, but he has other attractive traits. There's no doubt that Christine also admires him in a lot of ways.

It's a shame the Phantom doesn't recognize his own worth. (He's a great singer, composer, writer, and a teacher). And too bad the Phantom doesn't have charms and sense of humor - qualities that are very attractive to ladies. In short, ang hina niya sa chicks. :)

I guess H.W. Beecher was right:
Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.
No doubt the Phantom is one hell of a talented guy, but at the end of the day, he is a loser because he doesn't know his worth; he doesn't know how to treat a lady. "Character is more important than looks." I guess the Phantom's ignorance of this principle led to his own folly.

- Rah.

21 September 2012

My First Painting

The Flower that Doesn't Exist

This is my first painting entitled, "The Flower that Doesn't Exist." I used Acrylic as medium. I just painted an imaginary flower in my head. It turned out pretty interesting. A hybrid of Birds of Paradise and Gumamela, perhaps? I have a lot yet to learn about painting - the techniques, the styles, the fundamentals, and all that jazz, but this first painting of mine for Sweet Pea will always be special.

update October 1, 2012:

I also saw this:

Thanks SweetPea

Painting on the floor.

Some finishing touches.

16 September 2012

How to Save a Life of an Arowana

Step one, you buy an aquarium, a big one. You persuade your folks that owning an arowana is a necessity because it brings luck and good fortune.

Step two, you bring the new arowana you just bought from the local pet shop to her new aquarium. You name her "Rowena the arowana." You make sure she doesn't get hungry. You change the aquarium water often. You buy her favorite fresh shrimps as treat just for being a good pet. She's so cute, just 6 inches long. You can see it in her eyes, Rowena is happy.

Step three, you admire your arowana morning and night. Time flies so fast, you don't realize it has been six years since Rowena the arowana first swam into your life. She turns into a 20 inch big fish. Rowena is the eye of the household, she's a witness to a lot of birthdays, Christmases, New Years, etc. You probably weren't there, but the Rowena saw everything.

Step four, you get busy along the way. Sometimes procurement of staple fish necessities become delayed and aquarium water changes become postponed.

Step five, a few days later you find your arowana having a hard time swimming. Her movements don't seem to flow. There's white cloudy stuff in her eyes, a bad sign. She wouldn't eat. You try to control the nitrate level of the aquarium by performing water changes. You try to feed her with her favorite food. You try to do whatever it takes to save her. You pray that tomorrow she gets better.

Step six, you wake up at 9 a.m. and you see a 20 inch fish floating lifelessly on your aquarium.Your beloved Rowena the arowana has just died. She's dead.

Rowena 2006-2012
Step seven, you ask your self, "Where did I go wrong?" Tears fall down your eyes. You just lost a friend. It would have been different had you known how to save her life.

Step eight, in your mind, a little ceremony, Rowena wrapped in a white cloth, all 20 inch of her lifeless body. You want her to be buried with dignity. You say a little prayer and thank her for all those years of bringing happiness to your household.

Step nine, you let her know how much she means to you and how much you will miss her.

28 July 2012

Our Cambodian Adventure

Our bus. Destination Phnom Penh.
It is a dream come true for every traveler to visit a place gifted with profound beauty and rich culture. Our trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia mesmerized our eyes like never before. I guess it is the "Temple City's" rare ambiance that attracts so many pilgrims all year round.

From Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, we took a bus to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. We wanted visit to the King and Queen of Cambodia but sadly, it was not part of the itinerary.  From Phnom Penh we took a connecting bus to Siem Reap where the famous Angkor Wat Temple can be found. 

En Route.
Never seen so much motorcycles before. :)

When we arrived at the border of Vietnam and Cambodia, I got the scare of my life when I was approached by two angry immigration officers because I took a photo of the sign "No Photographic" with a funny icon of what appears to be a camera. "No photo no photo!" the two officers barked as they came towards me. I was afraid because I thought they would take my camera Dina the D90 away, or worst, they would detain me.

I stood up like an Extra Terrestrial and showed them the palm my hands --  the universal sign for  "I come in peace." I showed them the screen of my camera, and told them, "I am pressing the delete button." Then, I simply smiled and said, "I'm towee." Lesson learned: Don't take pictures of signs telling you NOT to take pictures. Hehe. Talk about being lost in translation.

After more than 10 hours of sleeping in the bus, we arrived in Siem Reap at 8PM.

Cambodia’s King-father Norodom Sihanouk, Queen-mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk
portraits displayed at the receiving area of our hotel.
We were surprised how comfortable and budget friendly our accommodation was in Siem Reap. At less than 20 dollars a night, we wondered how our hotel profits considering the rooms were big, has cable TV, air-con, Wi-Fi, and free breakfast. The hotel also chartered a van for our tour. They arranged everything for us, we didn't  have to worry about anything.

Cambodian currency is known as Riel. One dollar is about 4125 Riel. No need to trouble yourself exchanging dollars with local currency, the US Dollar is an acceptable local currency.

Our first agenda when we woke up early in the next morning was to visit the temples. On top or our list were Angkor WatAngkor Thom, and many other smaller temples like Ta Prohm.

Our tree day pass to all the temples of Cambodia.
Before we could enter the Angkor Archaeological Park, we had to smile before a camera at the ticket booth before they give us our entrance pass. Passes are sold in one-day ($20), three-day ($40) and seven-day ($60) denominations and must be used on consecutive days. Visiting hours are 5:00AM - 6:00PM. Tickets are checked upon each entry at major temples, so we made sure we always carried it around. Local residents are free of charge.

The exploration team: Rah, Avril, My beautiful Mom Tita Cora, and Tita Milkah
It took a few minutes before we reached the moat around the Angkor Wat temple. The moat around was about 190 meters wide. Exploring the temples was like being in an Indiana Jones movie, I just can't believe my eyes that such amazing temples exist in real life. A tip of advice when exploring the temples, bring a water bottle with you, around a liter per person if you can. The weather can be very hot at times and drink stands may not be readily accessible.

Hindu god, multiple hands symbolize multiple powers.
modern day humans share the same profound power.
It's called "multi-tasking."
Despite the beauty of the Temple City, not too many people know that Cambodia has an unfortunate bloody history. In the 1970s, the world was horrified by the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge Regime - a government notorious for mass killings and policies that  caused widespread famine on its insistence on absolute self-sufficiency. The "Regime" also had a strange horrific fetish of killing intellectuals, professionals, and anyone who looked smart, including anyone who wears eyeglasses, no kidding. It was only in 1993 that Cambodia restored democracy and peace.

 Rio our tour guide tells the story of Rama at Sita.
In the photo above, Rio tells the story of Rama at Sita, an epic love story about the ancient Indian life. It tells about Rama's courage in searching for Sita and fighting a epic war to rescue his wife Sita. It was a pleasure listening to the Rama at Sita's story from our tour guide with visual aids engraved on the ancient temple walls itself.

It's advisable that you get a tour guide for your trip to the temples. The tour guides are very professional. Most speak more than one language. As we were told, tour guides must pass a grueling licensure exam before they can practice. Rio, our tour guide, is a law student, too. He speaks English and Spanish and is knowledgeable on local and world history. Your tour guide will explain the history behind the temples and will answer all your queries. He will be more than willing to take your photos, as well.

The temples have an aura of  mystery, genius architectural designs nestled amongst prehensile vines and gigantic trees. I can just imagine how beautiful the temples were when they were newly built centuries ago.
Because of the vastness of the temple complex, a one day tour not enough. You need at least two days to make the most of your visit there. Aside from chartering a van, you may also rent bicycles or charter Tuk-tuks as alternative modes of getting around the temples.

Hindu god and a beam of light.
One thing you should expect is that as a tourist, you will definitely be approached by local merchants of souvenirs and memorabilia. They are mostly children trying to sell you postcards, books, drinks, etc. Most of the times, these kids didn’t give up the first time you said "No." It is to be expected. Locals also need to make a living. Just be patient with them in a friendly way. I think that's the best approach. 

Panda and Sweet Pea's blurred picture in front of the temple
One time, I told a young girl that I can't buy from her because "I don't have money." but what I really meant was that "I didn't bring money with me."

She said, "I don' believe you don't have money, and if ever it were true that you don't have money, then, I will give to you what I am selling for free."

That was an instant eye opener for me, I can't believe a young girl was teaching me a lesson on honesty and humility. So, I got my wallet, drew all my one peso coins out my wallet and  gave a short lecture about Rizal, our national hero. I gave the young girl the 1 peso coin, and when her other friends also approached me, I gave each kid 1 peso, too. It seemed to have made their day, maybe because it's the first time they had seen a one peso coin with a free story about our national hero. They went away to show their playmates and parents. She might have lectured me on honesty, but in return I shared to them a piece of our nationality. I missed that cute kid.

Angkor Thom

In  Cambodia make sure you don't forget to attend at least one traditional Khmer dance performance. The Apsara is one of the most popular classical dance performance. It conveys not only body movements but also a story and drama.

The traditional Khmer Dance 'Apsara'
Apsara as dance is an ethereal experience that is uniquely Khmer. This classic dance features ornate costumes, taut posture, arched back and feet, fingers flexed backwards and is danced in synchronized  grace. Dancers have positively mysterious facial expressions. The movements are slow, close, deliberate, but flowing. It presents themes inspired primarily by the Reamker, the Cambodian version of the Indian classic, the Ramayana, and the Age of Angkor.

Tonle Sap Lake
The next day, we visited the Tonle Sap Lake, still with our guide Rio. 

The floating village at the mouth of the canal offers an insight into their way of life.

 The Tonle Sap lake of Cambodia has the fourth highest fish species diversity of any lake on Earth.
At the heart of Cambodia, an immense lake is the soul of a nation. The great Tonle Sap lake is a source of national pride. It is known to be one of the most productive and most biologically diverse lakes in the world.

My favorite photo of our trip. Angkor Wat temple at the break of dawn.

My trip Cambodia made me realize a lot of possibilities in life. I want to thank my family for encouraging me to travel, especially to my mom. Thank you to all who prayed, helped, and contributed to our exploration. Believe it or not, one of the great lessons I have learned from our Vietnam and Cambodia trip is the importance of "packing light." The value of packing light extends beyond the things we put in our suit case. It means simplifying what matters. It means sticking to the fundamentals. It means making up what is lacking by using our imagination. It means giving priority - first things first. 

It is true what long time travelers say that  you get a fresh perspective on life from traveling. You become tolerant, you become more understanding. You realize that a simple genuine smile to: local people, the hotel host, the driver, the airport crew, the immigration officer, to all people involved in your travel, goes a long way.

My first trip abroad made me more inquisitive, I found the need to take a look at other country's history and to relate its meaning to my country's own. I became more proud of our own heritage and language, and appreciated how it unites us as a nation. My fellow countrymen are not just another person anymore, (you are) my brothers and sisters. 

I don't know where I am going next, but I know life goes on and that the adventure continues. I believe what a wise man once said, "There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open." The way our eyes perceive the world is indeed: a reflection of the world -- and a reflection of who we are.


11 June 2012

Reunited in Vietnam: Home is where the heart is.

Reunited in a foreign land feels like home.

Reunited in a foreign land feels like home. The night before this photo was taken, I picked up Avril at the airport availing of our hotel's transfer service. Mr. Ming was the name of the driver. At the airport, Mr. Ming parked his car at the parking lot and I went to the arrival bay to wait for Avril. After waiting for a while, I finally saw Avril and gave her a warm hug. I missed her so much. I carried her bag, then went to the parking lot. At the middle of a dark parking lot, I introduced Avril to a driver who was apparently Mr. Ming.

"Hello Mr. Ming, this is Avril. Avril, meet Mr. Ming."

This apparently Mr. Ming, looked at us with a big question mark on his head. There was a strange silence for like five seconds.

Then I realized that it was NOT Mr. Ming at all.

"Oh, I'm sorry." I told the old man.

Apparently Mr. Ming scratched his head.

"Avril, look. There's Mr. Ming right there in the corner."

We were laughing the whole night, from the airport to our hotel. Major major blooper of the night.

Lost in translation in the streets of Ben Than, Vietnam
While in a foreign land, I realized that locals look so much alike. There's a magical feeling being reunited in a foreign soil. A strange land becomes home when you are with someone you truly care about. I realized it's not where you are that makes a place a home, it is the people you are with. I finally made sense of the old saying -- "Home is where the heart is."

I don't mind traveling around the world with My Boo. Home is where the heart is.

20 May 2012

Vietnam Tourist Spots: Reunification Palace, Saigon Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, War Remnants Museum

Hi there!

And so now I go on with the story of our adventure in Vietnam. After snoozing a bit, it was time to visit the local tourist destinations in Ho Chi Minh.

First stop, the Reunification Palace.

The Reunification Palace, Vietnam

The Reunification Palace is where the Vietnam War was ended. In 1975, a North Vietnamese Army tank crashed through its gates and declared the victory of the communist party, thus ending the Vietnam war. That said tank can still be seen at the grounds of the Palace to date.

Having a picture with a young lady at the Palace's souvenir shop. Oh, a little trivia, they DON'T call females "miss."(E.g. Miss, how much is this shirt?) Instead, they use "Lady" and "Madam." 

Having my picture taken with a statue of Ho Chi Minh. He was a Vietnamese Marxist-Leninist revolutionary leader who was prime minister (1945–1955) and president (1945–1969) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He was a key figure in the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, as well as the People's Army of Vietnam and the Việt Cộngduring the Vietnam War source: wikipedia.

Meeting Hall of the Reunification Palace. This was where top leaders gathered and made
important policies and decisions. 

Inside the Reunification Palace, you can expect to see the president's office, meeting halls, conference halls, and a view of the City.

After an hour touring the Reunification palace, we walked around the block and saw this restaurant. We didn't know what to order so we sorta just told the waiter to "surprise us." And this is what we my tita got ---

Tomato and pipino salad

I asked for their local best seller and this is what I got --

Pancake with veggies.
I love veggies. This was the perfect mirienda.

After eating our mirienda, we went to the Saigon Post office which was just walking distance from the restaurant. This Post Office was built by 20th century French colonizers. It features a Gothic architectural style and was designed and constructed by Gustave Eiffel with the original materials flown from France.

Inside the post office.

Inside, you can buy post cards and stamps; there is also a souvenir shop. That portrait of Ho Chi Minh right there reminds me of Kung Fu movies I used to watch when I was kid. I want my own portrait painting just like that someday with a tagline: "Wanna try my Kung Fu?!"

Notre  Dame Cathedral

Just opposite the Saigon Post Office is the Notre Dame Cathedral. The design reminds me of San Sebastian Church in Manila. We wanted to go in and pray, but it was closed.  Notre Dame Cathedral was built by the French between 1863 and 1880.

Next, we hailed a cab and went to nearby War Remnants Museum.

The exhibit was a graphic encounter. It shows explicit photos of the effects of the war. There were pictures of dead people as a result of war in almost every gallery. Some photos show people injured, disfigured, mutilated, or amputated. It's horrific, but that's reality.

Tank you very much. My first photo with a tank.

Outside the building is a large collection of military vehicles, planes, and helicopters that was either left by the departure of The US forces or they were captured by the North Vietnamese Army. 

The War Remnants Museum. 
It is said that the museum was originally called Museum of American War Crimes, but it was changed as not to offend tourists. 


The museum speaks for itself -- a compendium of the effects of modern warfare.

Effect of Agent Orange
One gallery details the effects of the 75 million liters of defoliant sprays dumped across the country, including hideously malformed fetuses preserved in pickling jars.

"Agent Orange." It's the first time I really got to understand what Agent Orange meant. Agent Orange is the common name used for one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program. It is an extremely toxic dioxin compound. Vietnam estimates 400,000 people were killed or maimed, and 500,000 children born with birth defects.

It is said that during the Vietnam War, between 1962 and 1971, the United States military sprayed nearly  (80,000,000 l) of material containing chemical herbicides and defoliants mixed with jet fuel in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia, as part of a war operation to defoliate forested and rural land, depriving guerrillas of cover and to destroy the ability of peasants to support themselves in the countryside, thus depriving the guerrillas of their rural support base and food supply. (source: wikipedia)

My first day in Vietnam was unique because it's not the usual fun getaway that we Filipinos expect from a vacation. Most tourist spots in this part of Vietnam are all related to war. It was depressing. It didn't sink in to me until it was time for us to go.  I didn't know United States of America resorted to chemical warfare in an attempt to win a war. What a shame! The Vietnam War  is a ghastly shadow that continue to haunt our very souls.

More stories of our adventure. Next, I will tell you guys how we left Vietnam and set foot on a journey to Cambodia.