Monday, December 31, 2007

Boom boom boom boom

Manigong Bagong Taon! Happy New Year!

Back in the states, as the new year rolls around, people celebrate by pouring lots of champagne, following it with a synchronized countdown, and then bursting into a riot of cheering, drinking, and kissing.

Here in the Philippines, people celebrate by blowing shit up.

It's like a war zone out here, only people don't die (they just lose some fingers or set nearby things on fire). Explosions are heard round the clock, getting especially feverish when the new year rolls around. My cousins, earlier in the day, bought a bunch of fireworks and had them out at around 11 pm. They took me out to the street, set some kind of gigantic box in the middle, gave me an ember on a long metal stick, and told me it's time I experience the Filipino style celebration. Go, and light it.

Once I see the fuse catch, turn around and run.

Uh, thanks guys.

I'm struggling to find the fuse since it's dark and it's hard to hold a long stick steady. I'm afraid I'll light the inner fuse and get to feel what it's like to vaporize. Soon enough, the fuse catches. I turn around, and before I take two steps


It launches a searingly white ember into the sky which explodes into a dazzling sphere of colors. Like the kind at Disneyland, or any other fireworks extravaganza. Back in Cerritos, the kind that gets you sent to jail for thinking about lighting one. Here though, every neighbor has their own set of aerial light bombs, the richer ones launching barrages that would rival California theme parks.

It's a beautiful place to be when the new year rolls around, to celebrate it with a bang.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Maligayang Pasko!!!! Merry Christmas from the Philippines!

Maligayang Pasko!!!! Merry Christmas from the Philippines!

Spent pre-Christmas Eve (23rd) at a company party with family (my family in Iloilo owns like 12 companies) with 500 other people, drinking, dancing, being a bad influence to my cousins/nephews by passing them alcohol (that my cousin passed to me first.... so technically I would like to point out that she's the bad one) and watching my very drunken oldest cousin try to "kai shao" (introduce) various ladies to me throughout the night by pulling random ones to where I was dancing, which was quite enjoyable and hilarious at the same time. He could barely talk. It was soooo amusing. They had company singing and dance contests, and I enjoyed watching (as the night went on) deliriously drunken people just slide their way into the dance floor while other contestants were trying to compete.

Spent a nice quiet Christmas night with family eating some fresh seafood nearby the SM Mall of Asia and watching the fireworks by the sea, swiggin' my beer and not feeling buzzed. That is absolutely a first for me! Woo!

I hope your guys's Christmas was enjoyable, that you got as drunk as you wanted to, and shared some good times with family and friends. If you haven't had your party yet, then I hope you have a blast.

Miss you guys. Have a beer/shot/bottle for me! See y'all in 2008.

By the way, like I said before, I've been eating like a hurricane, sucking up everything in my path. It's all like, 5 to 12 course meals out here, seafood to the limit, lechon, crispy pata, pansit, pinakbet, like 800 types of fish, mussels, clams, torta, prawns, crabs, mango shakes, chicken inasal, beer, and tons of rice. I even eat breakfast out here. I never eat breakfast. Longinisa sausage, bangus, eggs, rice and some tea (or a mango shake). Then a 5 course meal lunch, and a nap.

I haven't gained any weight. My cousin gained 18 pounds though. Hahaha!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My one great vacation

Newly unemployed, I found this kind of life refreshing. No more commuting to work on jam-packed subways, no more meetings with people I didn't want to meet. And best of all, I could read any book I wanted, anytime I wanted. I had no idea how long this relaxed lifestyle would continue, but at that point, at least, after a week, I was enjoying it, and I tried hard not to think about the future. This was my one great vacation in life. It would have to end sometime, but until it did I was determined to enjoy it.

I love Haruki Murakami.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Under the Sea

Woke up early in the morning to head to the southern area of Dumagete to take a pump boat (a small 5 passenger boat with a tiny engine) to Apo Island, a local island about half an hour to 45 minutes away. Hilton tells me it's a marine sanctuary and that you can go snorkeling and see lots of coral and stuff. Well, Santa Cruz was sort of a wash, it can only get better, right?

After paying the fare (1500 pesos) we took off in this tiny pump boat toward the far island of Apo. During December, the winds are pretty strong and the ocean's quite turbulent. Small boat plus big waves = big fun! Up a wave, then down the wave, part of the boat crashes into the water... and we get soaked. I usually get sick on boat rides, but something about how large the motions were just made it feel like a rollercoaster. It was pretty thrilling.

Half an hour or so later, we are close to the island. It pretty much looks like a tropical paradise: the water is clear and a bright blue, the sands are white, you see a private resort area with two tiny cottages off to the side, and a few other pump boats parked on the beach. The cliffs are high and covered in lush green vegetation, the sky is a sherbet of cloud and sky, the palm trees wave to us as if in welcome; yes, it's kind of like a paradise. A really cheap, beautiful paradise. It cost us 100 pesos per person to be on the isle and another 50 pesos to snorkel (about $3 total). We got three snorkel goggles and tubes for 100 pesos each.

We head into the isle itself, passing a lot of cottages and huts. The island town! Very cozy, rustic cottages all over, people and kids walking about, and the occasional sleeping dog and pink fuzzy pig snoring and oinking about. Apo Island is shaped like a giant ring; there's some kind of giant marsh in the center of the island that is disconnected from the ocean. It's got tons of fish inside and a lot of the trees with high roots that you'd imagine to be on the banks of rivers in Africa. Going around that, we arrive at the rear of the island where the actual marine sanctuary is located. There are no boats on this side because it's protected, just sand, lots of coral, the ocean and the sky. Putting on the goggles and gear, we head into the ocean at an area to the far left where the coral is less rocky and the deeper areas are easily accessible. The captain of the ship came with us to guide us through the water and point us to some cool things to see. What a chill guy.

I wade into the water, get a bit further into the water until the water hits my navel and stick my head down. What do I see?

A freaking underwater paradise. Hanauma Bay (Hawaii) be damned, this place is easily ten thousand times better. I thought the part of the island above water was gorgeous, underneath is absolutely, almost inconceivably breathtaking.

Corals of all shapes, sizes, colors. Purple, shaped like a small stout tree with fat branches and twigs and no leaves. Orange colored coral that waved with the currents. Giant dark blue coral that looked like a fat and humongously wide mushroom. Everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Fish colored like yellow and black zebras, bright blue/green/orange fish, barracuda. Not just a few scattered here and there. Hundreds. Big ones, small ones. There was this long yellow one that looked kind of scary, so I tried to stay a pretty far distance. I swam out further just marveling at my surroundings. The water is so clear, the colors are so vivid. God DAMN I wish I had an underwater camera. I should be thankful I didn't, I might have dropped it and I wouldn't have been able to just float there, soaking up the beauty of it all.

Pushing out away from the island, I reach an area where the coral and sea bottom sort of just... fade into the blue. I basically got to the point where the sea floor deepened beyond visibility from where I was at the surface. Ooooh, how freaky. I spent a while marveling at the deep blue depths, floating there at the surface, completely relaxed, and then turned around to see... a big silvery glistening cloud... thing. I get closer and it's...

A huge school of fish. Hell, school be damned, these guys graduated. These fish are ginormous, it's a fuckin fish university out here! There's at least a hundred of them, swimming slowly, moving around in circles and waves. I swam closer and closer and... they don't swim away! No fear! They slowly glided from my right to my left, then slowly turned and circled around under me. I was surrounded by hundreds of giant fish! Amaaaaaaazing. I just wanted to grab one and bite into it. They must taste like awesome.

After swimming with them, we headed out because the captain mentioned something about sea turtles. Swimming towards a different area of the beach, I learned why there's a special entrance area on the other side. Walking on coral is nigh impossible with the sea currents shoving me around. I totally ate it trying to get out of there, gashing my knee into some beautiful purple coral, staining it a brilliant red. I've never had blood running down my leg before, but I have to say it looks pretty damn cool.

Heading back to the front of the island, we do the same routine and get out to the sea. Not more than three minutes later, the captain points at a direction and we head toward it to find a sea turtle! It was a little guy, about one and a half feet from rear fin to head. It slid through the water with such grace, the simplest motions with its fins propelling it forward without effort. Such a beautiful creature. It took off and I could not watch it for long, so I continued heading out toward the deep end. Not too many fish on this side, not too much coral either, though I did see a lot of sea cucumbers, spiky sea slugs, and a couple of deep blue colored starfish.

I push on further and notice a giant sea turtle just a few feet away from me. I froze, just staring at it. It wasn't moving, just floating in a small clearing surrounded by coral and poked its head up to stare back. We stayed like that for a few moments, me floating completely relaxed, pushed and pulled by the ebb and flow of the water, and it, frozen in its spot. After a while, it began to glide away and I followed it the best I could, watching it float through the water and head past groups of fish toward the deep.

Take your next vacation to Apo Island next to Dumagete in the Visaya area of the Philippines. With such bang for your... peso, you absolutely just can't lose.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ancient History 2, Ancient Historier

Dipolog is a town that sort of has nothing remarkable so I won't spend too much time talking about it, except that it has some 3003 steps to a special viewpoint where you can see the city and surrounding cities. Unfortunately, since Pastor Mariano, the old man that we're traveling with seems more talk than walk, we only got to the 7th station (out of 13, probably about half of the steps).

By the way dad, Mariano says Hi.

We left Dipolog and headed to Dumagete on a ferry boat. It's one of the speedy kinds which will reach Dumagete in 2 hours instead of 5, which is great for me because I don't exactly have the strongest aptitude for ocean voyages. I think the last time I remember being on a boat was with Tan, Ryan V, Cianar and Brenda. We were out in the Long Beach waters, doing some deep sea night fishing. I remember Tan and I, in the midst of being awesome fishermen and catching everything under the sea (I even caught the same fish that Cianar tossed back into the ocean), spent most of our time on our knees, breathing hard and doing everything humanly possible to avoid vomiting on our toes.

Back on the ferry boat, even before it left the harbor, I was already feeling a bit woozy. The winds today are quite... strong, meaning there's bound to be some big ocean waves. It's not exactly a huge ferry, it probably carries 400 people at max, so those waves can be really felt. I have but one trick up my sleeve for this kind of thing: iPod in pocket, Fontopia in-ear phones closing off the outside world, volume up, head down, relaxed body. I'm not sure exactly how it works, but I think it cushions the movements of the parts that control balance in my head, lessening the feelings of nausea enough so I can pass out and avoid the ocean waves' deadly effects.

Arriving at Dumagete, we're picked up by my Auntie Sandra. Of course, being me, I could not remember where or when I had met her. She reminded me that she came by one time in like 2002 while I was still in college, and I came home late and was mad that she took my room to sleep in, meaning I was stuck with my dad who can sleep through a hurricane and snore like a typhoon.

Haha oh man, embarrassing recognition nod. Yes, I do remember meeting her then. Heeee....

We're taken to their bake shop, the Mandarin Caterers and Bake Shop. In Dumagete, there are tons of bake shops everywhere. It's sort of their thing, since apparently it's quite profitable and there's always room for more. On the first floor, the bake shop is comprised of the store area, the garage, and the awesome kitchen area, which still holds a very very old brick oven, an ancient type of oven that uses wood, fire and special bricks to heat and bake bread. Very old method of cooking, very hard to control. They also make sio pao (cha siu bao), which to their credit, are possibly the best tasting. Evar. The fluffiest bread, the tenderest chicken and pork meat, and hard boiled eggs chopped up into a delicious bun. Eggs make just about anything better.

The rest of the floors above the bottom floor is the house. This is the house where my mother grew up and studied while in Dumagete, and also where my Ama lived, the grandmother that took care of me when I was a baby, I think from age 1 to 2. She passed away in 2002 at the age of 91. I met my Uncle Charles and his wife, and Uncle Jerry, the younger brother here. I also met my Akim, the wife of my mom's older brother (aunt in-law). She very recently suffered through a mild stroke and lost the ability to control the left side of her body (arm and leg are numb) and she left for the hospital the day after I met her. To think she just stayed at the house a day or two without going to the hospital immediately... guess they do things differently out here.

We ate dinner at the house, meeting even more friends of my mom's (Rose says Hi mom), all of which agree with me that my mom is quite the motormouth. My auntie Maryanne is called twa bac (big eyes) because she has relatively big bright eyes, so when I was younger, I named my mom twa chui (big mouth). My relatives all got a kick out of that! While I was there, I even met like, 8 or so nieces and nephews. Which meant I gave them each ang pao, and really begin to appreciate my aunts and uncles who did the same for me when I was a kid.

Man, I'm such a cheap bastard.

*pause for a moment* Thank you to all my aunts and uncles and others who gave me ang pao over all those years. You guys are truly, truly awesome =*)

The day after, my Uncle Charles took us to the cemetery where my Ama and the grandfather on my mom's side were buried. Like my grandparents and family from my father's side, they too fled China to settle in the Philippines, except they settled in Dumagete rather than Zamboanga. My Ama outlived my Angkong (grandfather) by decades, he passed away very young. We spent some time there at their graves, the both of them reminiscing about the family. It is then that my Uncle Charles and Hilton began to reveal certain aspects of the family bloodline, details which differ from what I originally believed, creating changes in my mental family tree. It's a lot more complicated than what I had originally thought. Mostly because I have like 200 aunts and uncles and apparently 8 million cousins, nephews and nieces. I exaggerate, of course, but it feels that way sometimes.

Tomorrow, we plan to head out to Apo Island.

Behind the name

By the way, last time I started to tell you about Chinese naming and mentioned the meanings of names. So let's go over what we know about Chinese naming so far:

1. Each name has three characters, starting last name first.
2. For some reason, my Angkong on my father's side has a table where each of us is named a certain way for our first name. For my generation, that character is 仁, pronounced 'rén' in Mandarin.
3. Each person is given a name which embodies a sort of positive, good meaning, that will be bestowed upon the child. Well, I'd hope it's a good meaning. You don't want to name your child something like lollygagging numbskull.

Now, let's go over the meaning.

My name in Chinese, given to me by my parents and my Angkong, is 林仁義.
The pronunciation is lín rén yì.

The individual meanings are -woods/forest, -benevolence, -righteousness

Hell to the yes.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Ancient History

Zamboanga City. A hot, blisteringly humid, yet generally sleepy town in the south of the Philippines.

This is where it all begins.

My grandfather and grandmother settled here in Zamboanga having come from the 福建 (Fukkien/Fujian) province of China. They had 8 children, the last of which is my dad, born 林少鵬 (Lim Shao Peng), in 1939. When World War II broke out, apparently the Japanese were searching for my grandfather because he was a Kuomingtang operative for this southern part of the Philippines. They even put a huge reward on his head for it. Grandmother fled with the kiddies, going into hiding in another small town in the outskirts called Ipil. Everyone survived the war, returning to Zamboanga with nary a scratch.

Right now, I'm here at 22 Sevilla St., Zamboanga City. The very house where my grandfather and grandmother lived with their 8 children. I recently visited my dad's high school (Chong Hua Chinese School) and met a couple of his classmates and friends that knew him. There's even a room dedicated to my grandfather at the school. The town is quite small, so it turns out lots of people outside of our family know my dad. I'm always introduced as 少鵬's son, and usually people will light up with recognition. It's kind of cool to be in this house. Lots of memorabilia is hidden here, like my dad's graduation yearbook, class of 1962, some old photos with him and his brothers, and another graduation photo for the class of 1963 where he received his second degree. After graduating Chong Hua here in Zamboanga, he left to attend MIT and graduate with Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering degrees. That's Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila, hee. His graduation photo looks weird to me, mostly because I've never seen my dad look... young. I've pretty much always known him as, well, an old man. Young at heart! My auntie showed me another photo of him and Sah Peh (Hilton's dad) when they were younger.

He's the guy on the right. Look at those glasses!

After spending a few days here, I've met quite a lot of people. Hilton, my cousin traveling with me (he likes to call himself my tour guide... which is totally true because that's essentially what he's doing) has been diligently contacting our relatives in the area and bringing us to eat with them. I'm staying with Hilton's mom and younger brother Anson, both of whom I saw while traveling in Japan two years ago. I also met Hilton's brother Paul, his wife Natalie and their kiddies KimKim, Nika, TaunTaun and Aaron. I've met their dogs too, one of which is white and poofy and so adorable. We've gone by to their house to eat lunch a few times. One thing I definitely love about the Philippines is how people eat. Usually the families are bigger than in the states, so they cook a lot of food. There are like 8 dishes laid out on the Lazy Susan, and if you know me, I take every opportunity to seriously gorge myself. We usually head back home to rest during the early afternoon since it's too blisteringly hot to do anything. Inevitably, a gargantuan food coma magically appears to thoroughly lay waste to all conscious thought, sending me into the unhealthiest 3+ hour nap, prompting my body to convert all the food I just ate into quite possibly the beginning of my late life Asian gut.

Hilton also took me to the the Top Taste Bakery, the owner of which knew my dad (his son is Hilton's friend). I even met my niece Corinne who teaches English at Chong Hua. She's older than I am by a few years. Isn't it strange how family works that way? I later met her brother Mikey who runs the Mr. Bean coffeeshop. I gave them ang pao (red envelope) earlier today, saying that it was technically because I'm their uncle, and Corinne jokingly gave me some flak about setting up the lines of respect and boundaries or something. Haha, my family is awesome! Today I gave Paul and Natalie's kids ang pao. Since they don't work, they got more than Corinne and Mikey, hee.

Other things I did: Went snorkling at the islands of Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, a typhoon hit this part of the Philippines a week before we arrived, which I think took out a lot of the marine life in the area. Despite this, I did manage to see a bunch of fish including a big puffer, lots of sea anemones (with accompanying clown fish!), lots and lots of sea urchins, a couple of hermit crabs, some deep blue starfish, and a sea snail. I grabbed the snail off a rock and, after fighting the ridiculously strong current, managed to get the hermit crab to move to shallow enough water to catch it. We dropped them off at Paul's saltwater aquarium. Now there's two hermit crabs and two sea snails (one of which was a big one that Hilton caught). Swimming in the ocean in this area is interesting, mostly because while I was paddling around like an idiot, I kept feeling stinging on various parts of my skin. It turns out there's some very tiny jellyfish in the water. It doesn't sting as bad as Monica from Friends makes it out to be, mostly because these jellyfish are like, microscopic, and because I bet Hilton managed to get the brunt of their poisonous attack (he was the first one to swim around). For me, it felt like an annoying sting that would last for 10-15 minutes.

Visiting my grandfather and grandmother's grave. The burial site makes it appear as if they are buried above ground since there are visible tombs with their names. On my grandfather's grave, it lists the names of all the children. All the sons are named with Shao (少) as first name, and all the daughters with Soh. For our generation, our first names are Ren (仁). In traditional Chinese style, each individual gets three names/characters, the last name and two given names. These names are chosen to try and reflect attributable qualities that the parents want to have bestowed to the child.

For example, my name is 林仁義, following the last name first style and also the generation naming.
Pronunciation: lín rén yì

Any guesses as to what my name's meaning is? I'll give you a starter: 林 means forest.

So, apparently I've run into an interesting dilemma with regards to how I'm going to stay in the Philippines for a long while. The Visa I acquired upon landing gives me at maximum 21 days to spend in the Philippines, but the plan was to stay longer than that. I also had to show that I had an exit ticket before I could check in, which I got by purchasing a fully refundable biz class (which I've already got my refund for, tee hee). Apparently, we're all not certain how I'm going to get the Visa extension, so one of my uncles kept joking that he would see me in jail. He knows of a way to handle this issue though, so he'll take my passport in the meanwhile and... handle it.

Tomorrow I leave for Dipolog, which is a city on the way to Dumagete. I go there to visit my grandma on my mothers side, the one who took care of me when I was a wee baby.

Till next time I find some time and internet access, peace out.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Fatty McFatty

I'm eating a lot in the Philippines, and not walking around much. I'm going to be a fatty.

On good news, I bought some sandals that totally rock. They're so comfortable, and totally work with the fob style (read: socks + sandals) that I love doing. Even though they cost way more than I wanted to spend (about $30 since I saw sandals of the same style that cost $5) I'm so glad I bought these just because they're both comfy and look better than the others, w00t!

While I'm staying with my aunt, the one with nannies (one for each kid), maids to clean and do laundry, a driver and a cook, I basically eat like I'm at a hotel. Their place LOOKS like a hotel (it was designed by an architect that builds hotels). Big dinner table, Lazy Susan, and usually eight different kinds of dishes for lunch or dinner, usually a dish of fried rice or noodle, and some soup. Oh gawd, I love variety. I just put it all on my plate and gobble it up.

Last night, I ate at this... er, "restaurant." It's in quotes because the place actually doesn't have any food in inventory. You must be asking, "then where does the food come from?"

That's why there's a huge open air market in the plaza. The idea is, you go to the market and buy the fresh food, from fresh oysters, mussels, clams, a range of shrimp sizes (tiny shrimp, regular shrimp, tiger shrimp, jumbo shrimp, and fatty mc fatass ginormous shrimp), possibly twenty different kinds of fish, either whole or cut in all shapes and sizes, a range of squid sizes (small fishing line bait size, regular supermarket size, fatty mc fatass ginormous size, and giant squid so big you don't actually buy the whole squid, you buy it by the area), crabs of all sizes, some kind of sea mantis (it literally looks like a gigantic insect), lobsters, eel... basically a smorgasbord of marine delicacies.

Everything is purchased by weight (each 1/2 kilo). The nice thing is, you can bargain with these people to get the prices lower. Unfortunately, my cousin Hilton has nowhere near the ruthless force of Ling, despite being an accomplished economist. Ling could whittle down a lady selling a bracelet from 80 yuan down to 20 in about 15 seconds, get a Coke for 3 yuan instead of 4 with one sentence (the difference between 54 cents and 41 cents). We could only get minimal discounts, but technically the food is pretty cheap (compared to the states) that it is still good.

You bring the food over to the "restaurant," still alive, moving and kicking around in the plastic bag, and tell the person at the front desk/podium how you want to cook each thing. There's a cooking charge by weight. She takes the bags of freshly squirming dinner, and heads into the kitchen.

We got:
1. A bunch of freshly sliced tuna, sashimi style.
2. Six gigantic shrimp. Biggest shrimp I've ever seen in my life.
3. 12 oysters, probably caught that day.
4. Tuna face, literally. It's like a slice of the tuna's gill and cheek area, mostly bone but also has the delicate cheek meat, which is the best part of the fish. The tuna face is huge, about the size of a big plate.
5. Some kind of seaweed that looks like a bunch of little bulbs on branches (think of kelp, but tiny and green).
6. A giant tiger lobster. Live.

Here's my assessment:

Shrimp: Cooked butterfly style with garlic, onions and chilis. Spicy. AMAZING.

Oysters: Half baked, half steamed. I only ate one baked one because the steamed was half cooked (half raw). When they bake shellfish here, they put cheese on it. It's weird.

Seaweed: Washed, and served raw with diced onions and tomatoes. You drench it with vinegar and eat it as is. Tastes like the sea, literally. It's like swimming in the ocean, then drinking some sea water, just not as gross sounding.

Tuna face: Lots of bone, but once you can dig around in there you get some dark meat and cheek meat. If you haven't eaten the cheek of a fish, grab it next time you're at a Chinese restaurant and the big steamed fish is in front of you. Take it before someone else does, it's the most tender piece of the fish and it's delicious.

Tuna sashimi: Awesome. One pound of it. We couldn't even finish it all.

Tiger lobster: Apparently they cook it with Sprite. The best lobster I've ever had.

San Miguel Lite: Half a bottle and I'm gone. Go tolerance.

Bad luck struck us when we left... Hilton's friend Kenneth had his bag stolen. Missing: Cell phone and charger, 2000 pesos, airline ticket, tissues. The people there didn't want to go to the police station and make a report. They said, just come back tomorrow. According to Hilton, there's an introduction to the everyday people. He was determined so we eventually went to the police station and they made a report. Unfortunately, most likely nothing will be done.

Today, I went to the Lechon City here in Manila. Basically, it's a street where there are only restaurants and sellers of lechon, which is the whole roasted pig that you can get at Filipino restaurants. They all go to a special area where they roast the pigs, turned on a spit over hot coals for an undetermined amount of time (to me) and then it's brought to the restaurants where they rest the poles against the wall of the place, displaying the roasted pigs to the world. We walked around so I could get some photos and then went back to one of the restaurants to have them cut some freshly cooked lechon, some rice, and misc foods. Good tender meat, crispy skin, oh man.

Did I mention I also had lechon the day before at lunch? Stomach flap, here I come.

Tonight, we went to a specific area where there's lots of restaurants that are displaying their food, and you pick and choose the ones that you want. Sticks of barbecued pork, chicken, chicken organs, more lechon, various kinds of fried and steamed fishes, many traditional Filipino dishes (dinuguan, pansit, sinagang, pinakbet, that awesome eggplant stuffed with meat, vegetables, and wrapped in a scrambled egg batter, etc.). We chose 7 dishes, including dinuguan and that stuffed eggplant egg thing, as well as some BBQ pork, some kind of fish with vinegar based sauce and an awesome spicy curry-like dish, and sat down. And two beers.

I should mention what an awesome bargain this is. 650 pesos for the whole dinner (about $15.25 for three of us). The Chinese in me is ecstatic.

I finished my beer today without feeling a buzz. That's odd.

Tomorrow I leave for Zamboanga, the city where my father was born and raised. My dad's been telling me stories for years about how dirty the Philippines are, which has always been what's kept me from coming here all these years. It's pretty evident that he means Zamboanga, so... wish me luck.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Check this girl out. Turns out we met her at a club in Shanghai. She apparently won a beauty pageant competition, and is now a spokesmodel for a Chinese shoe company! She's a pretty cool chica.

Until next time, peace out!

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Manila! Now in the Philippines.

I do wish I was back in China because of the eternal awesomeness that transpired. Thank you, forever, to Wong, Kong, and the DL for such a great trip to a completely foreign world. And for DL for embarrassing Wong and I pretty much everywhere. People would hear him speak Mandarin and they'd ask us, why does the white guy speak such good Mandarin and you two Chinese guys don't?

We'll be back though. We'll be back.

Things I learned after being here in Manila:

1. I do not need any form of jacket, coat, sweater, or anything with long sleeves. It's pretty warm over here (27 deg C, or about 81 deg F, at like 100% humidity). I bought some shorts immediately, and now I need to find some sandals.

2. There is a typhoon blowing over the islands right now. It makes things very humid (sweaty) and also cancels lots of classes for my cousins. My aunt thinks I've brought the typhoon to rain down on them. Fortunately, they're thankful because that means no classes and sleeping in for them! Ha!

3. The air is cleaner than in China, but parts of the city are quite ghetto and dirty.

4. Thievery is really bad here. I've been warned by pretty much everyone not to take my camera around with me to some places that we go to. That means, sadly, there will be less photos this time around, at least while I'm here in Manila.

5. Maids do the work, not me. I can leave the dishes on the table, I don't have to wipe my mess up, I don't have to dig around to find the trash can to throw away my napkin. And the driver (my aunt has a driver) is totally badass on the road. You don't mess with the guy driving a 2 ton ginormous SUV.

6. After working on my photos, I have a lot more from China than I originally thought.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A moment, please

Things I have eaten while in China:

1. Shanghai style dumplings, the kind with the broth and soup still inside. Even some with shark fin in it, ooooh so delicious.
2. Giant dumpling with (mostly) broth. They hand it to you with a straw sticking out of it. Think of the Tropicana orange, except replace the orange with a giant dumpling. You just drink the soupy stuff. Yummy.
3. Lamb on a stick (street vendor). 5 yuan each (about 71 cents). I love lamb on a stick.
4. Pan fried Shanghai dumplings, just like the regular steamed ones but browned/seared on the bottom. Crispy and broth mix together so well. It's freaking hot though, so you have to wait a while before biting into it.
5. Stinky tofu (moldy tofu). It smells horrible, but tastes pretty good.

6. Turtle. Before and after photos, check.
7. Pork feet. I don't know why I never ate this before, because it is FREAKING DELICIOUS.
8. Various kinds of fishes.
9. Shrimp that was just alive 5 seconds ago.

10. I don't know the exact name for it, but I just call it "Dong Po Ro" (always said in English with a thickass Hong Kong accent), basically pork shoulder with a thick layer of fat on top. You bite into it like a layered sandwich, the fat and pork meshing together into an orgy of flavor. Yes, an orgy.

11. Thousand year old soup. I don't know the real name, but I call it this because we joked that they haven't washed their soup vats in millenia. Hence, the awesome flavor.
12. Some kind of weird berry that looks like dirt on twigs picked up from the ground.

13. Congee of all kinds and flavors. Century egg, whole crab, chicken and corn, leek and muscle (don't know what kind)
14. Snake. Snake is amazing!
15. Goose. Think of a duck, but huge. Same tender and flavorful meat, same deliciously crispy skin, just so much more of it because geese are so much bigger.

16. The best duck in the world (for Thanksgiving!)
17. Duck hearts... are fantastic.
18. Scorpions. Crispy crispy.
19. Ass. Literally, I had an ass-meat sandwich. Tender like slow cooked pork, more flavor than beef, almost as good as Dong Po Ro.
20. Sea cucumber. I've had it before, and once again, unremarkable.

Probably lots of other stuff I ate and forgot. These are the ones that are most memorable.

Tomorrow: To Philippines!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The new title

So my buddy Cianar came up with a freaking hilarious title for this trip. I'm traveling with two old high school friends, Stephen and Ling, and well, their last names lend itself so easily to the best trip sub-title ever.

Wong and Kong: Detectives for Hire, Wong and Kong and the Pregnancy of the Century, Wong and Kong Versus Mad General Dark, Wong and Kong's Peruvian Holiday

Wong and Kong in the Circus of Guilty Delights, Wong and Kong Fight Breast Cancer, Wong and Kong Versus Doctor Darkone's Ninja Robots, Wong and Kong and the Mystery of Lee Hester's Missing Testicles, Wong and Kong Join the Fourth Reich, Wong and Kong Bible Adventures...

The list goes on forever!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Down for the count

... 8 ... 9 ... 10! *ding ding ding* K.O.!

China's food (or something really bad) has finally taken me down. The little bug is stronger than the French one.

This is the soup that assassinated my bowels.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Living the Shang-high life

Shanghai rocks my world. I am living it the f*ck up.

So much so, alas, that I don't have time to write. I'll just have to bring back stories when I see you back home.

Already passed through Suzhou, Hangzhou, and now am in Xi'an.

Hope everyone is well back at home~

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Holy Roman Empires, and beyond

Walk with me...

After spending what would be possibly the best days of my life hiking, relaxing, chilling in the company of fellow travelers, I headed to Rome.

Rome ain't such a big deal. The Vatican is pretty awesome, but the city of Rome itself, not really too impressed with it. Trevi Fountain was nice, but the rest of it ... eh. Just felt like walking through it, never felt like sticking around to see what we've all seen in photos and postcards all our lives.

I'm back in London now, and this officially ends Europe 2007 for me.

Photos, as always, at the Flickr.

Tomorrow, I begin Asia 2007, starting with China!

After China? The Philippines, and possibly various other South Asian countries.


Saturday, November 3, 2007

From dream to reality

*Warning* If you see the photos in this post, it may very well ruin this place for you. Might be better to go to the place yourself. Plan your trip for a place called "Cinque Terre", and just go. You won't be disappointed.

You've been warned... Read on for what Cinque Terre is, and some photos of what it looks like.

Ever had an image of something in your mind, an idea of what it would look, feel, taste or smell like before you even came into contact with it? Then, when you're there, next to it, on it, nearby it, or whatever it may be, did it fulfill your expectations, and manage even to exceed them and become something much better, filling you with a kind of happiness, bursting forth as an uncontrollable laughter, creating within you a ceaseless fountain of joy and bliss?

Well, I should start from the beginning.

So I flew out from Amsterdam---which, by the way, is an absolutely magnificent city for its beautiful canal-based architecture, rich history and vibrant art housed in its many museums, unforgettable CouchSurfing people, and for its liberal attitude, which invariably includes the organically grown and the many deliciously baked goods that are created from it---and landed in Milan at about 11 PM because the flight was delayed. The Italian transportation system's penchant for being late will bite me in the ass again later.

Couldn't find a CouchSurfer this time because this weekend is, apparently, a holiday weekend. It's Halloween and All Souls Day (Nov. 1st) so everyone is on leave or hosting friends. Bit worried since I know that it's almost midnight and the metro system is bound to shut down soon, as it does all over Europe. By the time I got to the station where I needed to change lines, the line I needed was closed. Damn. Expensive taxi time. It's raining cats and dogs, and I'm not too excited to be here. I head to the hostel listed in my Lonely Planet, and luckily, even though I arrive after the curfew, they are still open and welcoming.

Next morning, I get up and head to the dining room for some free breakfast (woo, free!) and meet Conrad, a Canadian passing through Milan, and Clara, half German half Californian, as she describes, on a semester break from her studies. I ask her about this place I keep hearing recommendations about from other travelers I've met, Cinque Terre (pronounced, CHIN-kweh TEHR-re). She mentioned that she's headed there next, and that she's staying one more day in Milan because there aren't any beds in the Ostello 5 Terre for the night. She also recommended that I just call and see if they have anything, and I thought, well, why not try? I've only got a few days left before China and I'm not sure I want to spend them in Milan, a city obsessed with its fashion and looks.

Call up the hostel using my handy dandy Skype, and the guy tells me, "Yes, we have seven beds left. Where are you now?" I tell him I'm in Milan.
"Well, you should hurry and come by because we don't take reservations under one week ahead and if people come, we will run out."
"OK, thanks." Click.

Off to the train station, I buy my ticket to Cinque Terre and hop on the next one out. After about three hours on the train (and a fabulous nap later) looking out the window gives me a glimpse of...

Il Mare! I can see the sea again! And the sun! How great to see it shining in the beautiful blue sky, which I haven't seen for over a week. I look out the other window and I see... green covered mountains, and small houses sprinkled sparsely between the vegetation. The train finally arrives in a small city called Monterroso. I'm supposed to change trains here, so I get out and wait for the next one, which comes by about 20 minutes after. Finally arriving in the city of Manarola, I jump out of the train, and head toward the main street of Manarola, then up the street toward the hostel.

I see other backpackers heading up the hill. I walk faster to pass them up ...

Arriving at the door I see that... it's closed. Well, it opens up again in 15 minutes, might as well put my bags down and wait. The two backpackers come to the door. They're both from Australia, Guy and Donna. Door opens and I move inside. Woohoo! There's still a bed left. Fantastic! I put my stuff in the locker and explore the place. Top floor has a roof that... is open! I go outside and it hits me...

Cinque Terre - The 5 lands. 5 small towns, each with population under 1000 (including tourists, except for Montessoro, which is nearer to 2000), all built on cliffs that overlook the sea, individually charming, collectively breathtaking.

This is exactly what I envisioned Italy would look like. This is exactly why I came to Italy. I'm filled with absolute bliss and can't help but smile at my surroundings and how utterly beautiful it is.

I would try to say more, but I think this will explain it better.

Amazing, no? It's like a dream come true.

Want another one? Of course you do.

How about another city, say, Vernazza?

If you ever go to Europe, you cannot afford to miss this place. The food, the people, the rustic cozy atmosphere and the nature and trails... Amazing.

As always, head over to the Italy photoset yourself to see more.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Here are some footsteps for you guys to show you where I've been.

Hogwarts: The Great Hall

This is Joe's place. And that's the couch!

Brussels, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Amsterdam, Netherlands

As always, you can just go straight to the photos themselves.

Next, I go to Milan, Italy!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Still alive

I know I haven't written or posted up photos in a while. Just been doing a lot of traveling and keeping connected with a few people while brushing through various cities.

London, with Joe.
Brussels with Jim. Bruges too.
Now in Amsterdam.

Just to let you guys know, I'm still alive.

I've run out of space for my photos on my laptop though. Good thing I have this iPod to save photos off too...

Monday, October 15, 2007

God Save The Queen

Here now in London with Joe in his awesome flat. It's a really nice place a bit southwest of the main city of London.

Went to visit Buckingham Palace, the Tower London Bridge, and St. Paul's Cathedral. I thought the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur in Montmarte (northern part of Paris) was amazing, but St. Paul's is beautiful beyond belief. Not only does it have one of the most elaborately decorated and beautifully designed interiors I've seen yet, its materials are chosen in a manner that really enhances the overall look. Most of the other cathedrals I've seen use a darker stone that blends in much more with the colors of the wood and other materials used. St. Paul uses really clean white stone that serves as a great contrast to the paintings and gilded wood, serving to enhance both.

It's fantastic.

One thing I have to say about such "no photography" policies which claim that using a camera is disrespectful: I show no disrespect by appreciating the great works of men through an artistic medium of my choice, the same way that the people who appreciate these works by choosing to sketch them, here, there and everywhere in the cathedral show no disrespect.

If you allow them to sit there and appreciate art in architecture by drawing and sketching what they see, to create their own representation, their own reality of the scene, how is that different from my choice of composition, choosing my own reality and my own representation using my lens, my eye, and my position? Furthermore, by taking what the camera sees and further manipulating it again (possibly in Photoshop) into a further distilled, augmented representation of reality?

One is clearly similar to the other.

This is a great work of men, men which are said to be created by God. Blood, sweat and tears of thousands, preserved in stone, tile, pigments, wood and eons of time, all because these men were compelled to create such a monstrous beauty in the name of a deity they know not to exist except under faith.

To prevent such an appreciation, to disallow my choice, my way of appreciating this work would be disrespectful to both man and God.

There is no disrespect from me for God or God's house of worship. I reserve only disrespect to those who would prevent me from appreciating it artistically as the artists would.

Tomorrow, to Leeds.

For more on why I believe photography is a valid artistic medium as is sketching the scene on a sheet of paper, see this link.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Off to Great Britain

Off to London in the morning. Why did I get the 8 am train? Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?

Anyways, toodles all. Paris has been fun. I'll be back to write more later, but for now, I leave you with this awesome video: Les blancs ne savent pas danser (white people can't dance)

There's a great line in there that's "le seul blanc qui sais danser c'est Michael Jackson." You can pretty much get what that means.

Au revoir!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Paris is the city with the most things to see so far. The people here have done everything in their power to preserve their culture and their history, and it shows, with the sheer number of huge museums that are available, the fantastically kept parks and beautiful gardens, and the ornate statues (some covered in gold), finely detailed bridges, and elaborately decorated buildings.

C'est magnifique!

Although, I guess I had a tough night of sleep or something because I'm achy and I feel like I'm getting sick. I spent most of today sleeping, and left the place at 5 pm after feeling like I was decent enough to go out to see the Louvre.

Contrary to some people's opinions ("the Louvre is overrated" - Diana Wan) the Louvre is an absolutely magnificent spectacle of a museum. Statues, gigantic paintings (beautiful, BEAUTIFUL monstrosities of paintings, both framed and built into the walls and ceilings). I wish I had photos to show you right now, but I have been in and out of sleep and consciousness, and now battling for my health, so I will have to do that later. I haven't even finished my Scotland photos yet. Ah well, in due time.

Here is one of their gigantic paintings.

I think it's the Coronation of Napoleon, by David Jacques-Louis.

Rant time: What the F*CK is up with the Mona Lisa display, les gens du Musée du Louvre? I get that you need to put up glass in front of the painting to protect it from the constant barrage of the morons in front of it, constantly bombarding it with UV flash. Good idea. What I don't get is why you have to block it off with guides at such a f*cking far distance? The painting is simply two feet high. I like looking AT the details and strokes, seeing the mastery from which the artist's hand flows, the cracks and creases that the elements left in the pigments/paints, the subtle gradients of color within/between each stroke... and now you've shoved me 20 feet away so that La Joconde is merely the size of a stamp. Bravo... idiots.

Like the Tour Eiffel, La Joconde (the Mona Lisa) is another one of the French letdowns. Merde.

In other news, I was able to get my ATM card. Huzzah!

If I didn't say it earlier, the Paris metro is absolutely tourist friendly. It has stops named after all of its famous attractions so you know where to go and where to stop. It even tells you when the next train is coming along, and their buses also have the maps of their stops. Amazing. If you are ever here longer than a few days and you imagine you'll be traveling around Paris a lot, I'd say buy a weekly ticket. I must have used it all up in 3 days with all the bus line transfers and metro that I've been using. It works for the metro, the RER (longer distance subway train) and the buses.

Anyway, I must sleep. Au revoir!

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Sandra (my cousin Sheila's friend from Loveboat) and her friend Jun have taken me around for the past two days. We've been waking up really late (OK so honestly I get up the latest so its my fault) so I didn't get to see too much but I'm covered under their French wings and am protected against having to figure my way out and about the city. Everywhere I went, I had no clue where it relatively was in comparison to the rest of the city.

Well that all changes tomorrow.

I'm back on my own two feet and am headed to the city myself... wish me luck!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Paris, je t'aime?

Today is my first day walking around, alone, in a country whose primary language is not English.

I got out of the bus which took me from Beauvais airport to Paris, and started heading in the direction of where I believed the Metro to be ("look for a circle with a big yellow M" I was told). I walked for about a mile, circling and going down side streets, finding a lack of any such Metro. I was almost run over by the crazy French drivers who fight each other in what amounts to an endless game of sideways chicken to get ahead during rush hour. They turn on the "walk" signal here when the vehicle traffic crossing the pedestrian line still has the green. It's up to the driver to see you and stop. Imagine my surprise as I'm walking into the intersection as I'm nearly sideswiped by a hatchback and flattened by a minivan.

Le sigh.

Anyway, headed back to the lot, walked in the opposite direction this time. Ah, hello Metro. Surprisingly enough, the Metro is amazingly easy to follow (once you freakin find it). Easier than in Chicago. I'm transferring lines and hopping trains in no time.

And watching everyone intently in a proactive thievery prevention strategy. Yes, that means you, woman holding a baby. I know how you totally eyed these slippers, these two dollar Walmart specials. I've got my eye on you....

Get out of the subway at the right stop, head to where I'm supposed to go according to Google maps. Uhhh.... where the heck is this street (Alleé de la Chocolaterie)... I walk to the end of the street, turn around, and walk back. I go up to number 22 and look at the street sign... Rue Jules Ferry.

Oh freakinay, my brilliant plan to find the place on my own has hit a huge roadblock. I have no clue where this Alleé is around me. Best of all, this is the last step too. Oh, Christ, help meeee.

Some old Chinese lady with a dog is walking by, and she stares at me. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking "I wonder if she thinks I'm lost. Maybe she'll help me out. Please God, let her be helpful."

I keep walking, head to another building and peer in the glass door. Dude, there is no way this place could be it. Oh man... stern resolve crumbling... fear creeping in... sense of helplessness growing... Huh?

The old lady was saying something in French. "Uhhh.... (in my best imitation French accent) Alleé de la Chocolaterie?" She points at the paper I'm holding, and I show her the house number, 22. She says, in slow broken English "Oh, zat is my 'ouse. I live weeth my, uh... daughter."

ZOMG. I'm saved.

Turns out, she's my host's mother.