Kalayaan, Laguna, the Philippines
November 13, 2011
The church in Barrio Longos stands as a vigilant sentinel of centuries past; its baroque stone facade and belfry, blackened by the elements and overgrown with weeds, bear witness to the ravages of time and circumstance. The church appears forgotten, yet additions such as a wooden main portal, a door awning, and latticed windows – palliative attempts to evoke its lost grandeur – show that it has not been completely abandoned.
Fr. Gabriel Ma. Delfino, Parish Priest of San Juan Bautista Church, Longos, Kalayaan, Laguna
Quezon City, the Philippines
November 9, 2013
What could be more fabulous than ushering in the Christmas spirit with lights and music? Dazzling lights dancing to yuletide carols beckoned Mom and me to Ayala Triangle in Makati a year ago. This year, we didn’t have to go far. The first light and sound show in Quezon City recently opened at TriNoma, Ayala Malls’ premiere shopping-dining-entertainment center in our home city. I had received an invite to attend the launch of Merry Musical Lights Show, an event made for a mommy date.
Mom @ TriNoMa Merry Musical Light & Sound Show
October 19, 2013
In the wee hours of October 19, 2013, China Eastern Airlines landed on Philippine soil for the first time. The maiden flight arrived on schedule from its hub, Shanghai. Airline officials and staff were on hand to welcome both passengers and crew with bouquets and photo ops. I would soon have the same privilege of being among the first passengers from Manila to board flight MU212 departing for Shanghai at 4:55AM.
China Eastern Airlines Flight MU212 from Manila arrives @ Pudong International Airport
Kathmandu / Patan, Nepal
February 24 – 25, 2013
For centuries, life in three ancient kingdoms in Kathmandu Valley – Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur – has revolved around their respective royal and religious centers: Durbar Square. These kingdoms have since become cities, and each of their squares is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The squares are not kept at arm’s length from the public. No velvet rope, only an entrance fee for foreign visitors. Nepal citizens (I heard they prefer this term over “locals”) go about their daily life in and around ancient temples, palaces, courtyards, altars, and marketplaces in these squares that remain as vibrant today as they may have been in 15th-century Malla Dynasty.
Patan Man @ Patan Durbar Square
Bacong, Negros Oriental, the Philippines
June 25, 2011
“Fierce as a lion, quick as a lightning bolt” – that was Leon Kilat (lion and lightning, respectively). The nickname may suggest the stuff of legends, but the man was a real revolutionary hero, a Katipunero named Pantaleon Villegas. He led a successful revolt against colonial Spain in 1898, the first Katipunan uprising in Cebu, or perhaps even in the Visayas. Shame on me; I had never heard of him and only learned about his place in history when I visited his hometown, Bacong, with my family. The world is indeed my classroom.
Pantaleon Villegas aka Leon Kilat
Kathmandu and Patan, Nepal
February 24 – 25, 2013
Today I saw the highest point on earth and met a living goddess. Just your regular day in Nepal.
So went my Facebook status. Nepal occupies not only a sliver of land high above the rest of the earth, but also the earthbound dwellings of deities. Mysticism pervades the rarefied air of this Himalayan kingdom, where ancient idols at street corners have been smoothened by centuries of veneration, enduring and unchanging through time that seems to have stalled.
Namaste! Sporting the tika applied by no less than the Living Goddess of Patan
Bhuwan, our guide, had acquainted us with Hindu gods in frozen stances. For a change, he led us weaving through the Hanuman Dhoka Palace Complex in Kathmandu to behold a flesh-and-blood deity called the Kumari Devi, or simply the Kumari, Nepali for the Living Goddess. She is the incarnation of Taleju (aka Durga), the goddess wife of Shiva, who embodies the victory of good over evil, in a vessel of purity – a pre-menstrual virgin. Continue reading
Candaba, Pampanga, the Philippines
February 24, 2008 and September 16, 2011
I was like, Dude, where’s the swamp? He was like, Duh, beats me.
OK, the exchange was not exactly slacker-speak, but it might as well have been. Our query for directions was met by a blank stare, a shrug, and a pivot away – all in two seconds. Ugh, granted he was a teenager, probably angsty or just couldn’t be bothered by lost tourists. Or worse, he truly was clueless about the whereabouts of his town’s claim to fame: the Candaba Swamp. It was the hardest 30,000-hectare swathe of land to find in a small town. We had reached the swamp three years before, thanks to the directional signs then. This time, we were at the mercy of seemingly indifferent townsfolk.
Road to Candaba: Home of Migratory Birds
Valencia, Negros Oriental, the Philippines
June 25, 2011
Baffling plumes of smoke rose from the rocky mountainside by the zigzag highway. It couldn’t have been a swidden; the slope was too steep for crops. The van driver claimed it was sulfur emanating from hairline fissures in the rocks. True enough, a slightly sulfuric scent hung in the air when we stopped for some snapshots.
Solfataras on the Slopes of Mt. Talinis
We had apparently entered a volcanic zone. Though we are originally from this island, my family and I were (blissfully?) unaware of another volcano in Negros other than the more famous and active Mt. Kanlaon. We hadn’t heard of Mt. Talinis until we were at its shadow. Continue reading
February 26 – 27, 2013
Say what? A sign at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu proudly proclaimed Nepal as second to Brazil in water resources. I did a double take, unable to wrap my head around the idea of this tiny landlocked country nipping at the heels of the world’s fifth largest. Brazil is drained by the Amazon and bordered by the Atlantic. I could not even name one river or lake in Nepal, known for its mountains, not bodies of water.
Annapurna Himal under Buddha Air’s Wing
As if taking my case, clouds of dust, whipped up by cars and buses, enveloped our ride from airport to hotel. Kathmandu, mostly unpaved and built with bricks, was dry and brown. It would be days later on a Buddha Air flight to Pokhara over mountains of snow when I wondered: Could Nepal’s primary natural resource mostly be frozen? Continue reading
Dumaguete City, the Philippines
June 24 – 26, 2011
Every city in the Philippines is likely to have a street named after our national hero Jose Rizal. Dumaguete is no exception, but its acacia-lined Rizal Boulevard is in a league of its own. With due respect to our hero, locals often drop the name Rizal. The street and promenade along Tañon Strait can stand on its own merit as, simply, the Boulevard.
Rizal Boulevard @ Dumaguete by Twilight
Calatagan, Batangas, the Philippines
April 29 – 30, 2013
This is closer to the water than beachfront. Obviously Maldives-inspired, Stilts Calatagan Beach Resort boasts of eight cottages perched on stilts out in the sea. Why bother with a beach when you can just jump off your bed to the crystal waters of South China Sea?
Stilts Calatagan Beach Resort
February 20, 2012
China shows some cracks. And we could see a continent half a world away through them.
Back in the era of steamers, when Westerners sailed into Shanghai through the Huangpu River, they were greeted not by ancient pagodas, but by a far more familiar sight – the decidedly European skyline of Old World buildings at the city’s iconic waterfront, the Bund (Waitan in Chinese).
Shanghai in Sepia
The country had kept foreign influence at bay for centuries until the 1800s when the British furtively gained foothold under the cloak of opium smoke. Westerners divvied up swathes of Shanghai and turned them into exclusive enclaves outside the control of the Chinese, which ran counter to China’s propensity to lay claim on lands beyond its borders. These international settlements were called concessions, and to this day, they remain as gaping reminders of China’s less than impervious wall.
February 19 – 20, 2012
If you will only consider how much Shanghai has changed over the years. Everything, everything has changed and changed again. There are parts of this city I once knew so well, places I would walk every day, I now go there and I know not which way to turn. Change, change all the time.
That is a spot-on description of Shanghai, a city that’s dynamic almost to a fault, by a Shanghainese character in a Kazuo Ishiguro novel. Although the fictional story is set in 1930s Shanghai, the observation holds true in real life, today. Blink and you will find the skyline altered, your old neighborhood replaced by a pocket development. When I lived there, there were only three metro lines. A decade later, the number would rise to a staggering 14. Continue reading
Puerto Princesa City, the Philippines
March 24 – 26, 2013
Our airport shuttle had traversed the narrow width of Palawan, yet we were still within Puerto Princesa, the Philippines’ second largest city in area. Right smack between the city’s eastern and western coastlines are picturesque limestone mountains, one of which is Cleopatra’s Needle. According to my brother who had previously worked in Palawan, the mountain was originally called Cleopatra’s Nipple – its summit does look like a pointy teat - but local people felt squeamish saying it. I never knew if that was just a joke; at least he got a chuckle out of my mother.
Sabang Beach @ Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort, Palawan
At the end of a two-hour drive through zigzagging highways over Cleopatra’s bosom, we were welcomed by the aquamarine vista of the South China Sea to Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort. The swoosh of foam-crested waves lazily lapping the shore summoned us to make a beeline for the beach.
February 24 – 25, 2013
“Why Nepal?” I had been asked too many times before my trip. I would give a terse reply, “Everest,” name-dropping the world’s highest mountain in the hopes of eliciting at least a streak of recognition on people’s faces. Instead, I was met by quizzical looks. Even at the Air Asia check-in counter in Kuala Lumpur, the airport staff confirmed my destination by asking, “Are you sure?” I wondered if I should’ve taken it as a last-minute escape clause.
The Himalayas at First Sight