Victorias / Manapla / Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, the Philippines
November 30, 2017
Lay theologian C.S. Lewis once pondered, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” In so many ways as history would allow, so it seemed. In two sugarcane plantations north of my hometown, there were a couple of chapels that represented two contrasting images of the Christ in their artworks.
Was it the Dalai Lama who said “Sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck”? Our last morning at our remote Yangshuo hotel, Riverside Retreat, was supposed to be a quick check-out. Nature foiled our plans. Rain started pouring in sheets at breakfast. As travel surprises went, our detention at the hotel turned out to be a stroke of serendipity.
“Everything is a memory. Everyone becomes a memory,” I waxed nostalgic on Facebook. Even a place could become a memory. My first visit to Macau in the early 80s was marked with colonial nostalgia. Stone and clay were a stark contrast to the steel and glass of Hong Kong even then. Macau had since moved on 35 years later. Skyscrapers had broken out of its skyline, but it had done a better job at memory preservation than its sister city.
My closest encounter with the flat-top monolith favored by aliens in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind was with its less famous cousin on the other side of the world. I had never even heard of it until a Google search led my travel buddy Melds and I to photos of Taung Kalat (Pedestal Hill), the 600-meter volcanic plug sticking out of the gentle slope of 1,500-meter Mount Popa. It would become a non-negotiable stop in our Myanmar itinerary the following year. Devil’s Tower in the US gained Hollywood fame, but what set Taung Kalat apart was the sprawling Buddhist monastery at the summit.
This street was made for walking 1,400 years ago. The oldest in Yangshuo, West Street was still a promenade when I pounded its pavement of marble. Since the county opened up to tourism in the 1980s, the pedestrian street had also become a melting pot, a conglomeration of cultures catering to Yangshuo’s international visitors. Chinese out-of-towners, though, outnumbered foreigners in the unending stream of people.
Siquijor / Lazi / Maria / Enrique Villanueva, Siquijor, the Philippines
March 27 – 29, 2018
My trip to Siquijor came with a warning. Friends expressed mild horror with my choice of vacation spot. Rumors – more likely fake news – of the disheveled babaylan sticking needles into voodoo dolls had dogged the island province since forever. But from the get-go at Siquijor Port, I was witness to the human side, not the dark side, of this supposedly mystical island. As I was taking a selfie at the bike rental shop, a police officer approached offering his photographic skills. Small-town hospitality was charming as it was disarming; he ended up in my photo instead.
We came to Hong Kong along with a mid-winter cold front and a big chance of rain. Daytime temperature hovered just a few degrees over zero, certainly not beach weather by any stretch. But for Ki, it was beach season nonetheless. Insulated with woolen scarf, leather gloves, and the sentimental warmth of the jacket given by Mom many birthdays ago, I set out with beach-bum-for-all-seasons Ki to the island’s scenic coastline.
Early 1980s / January 16, 2011 / December 29 – 30, 2015 / November 1, 2016 / December 1 – 2, 2017
Never mind the world’s great ancient civilizations. The downtown of my home city had also risen and fallen. Downtown Bacolod of my childhood in the 70s was the place to be. Save for neighborhood markets that sold produce, the downtown was the center of capitalism and the Church. People worked and played, shopped and worshiped downtown. Such was the time when mall culture had not taken over the Philippines yet.
Sibonga / Dalaguete / Oslob, Cebu, the Philippines
March 24 – 25, 2018
The Cebu leg of our epic Central Visayas trip was just a layover. I wanted to breeze through it as I was focused on the main event that was Siquijor. But it exceeded the expectations I didn’t even bother to set. Cebu-phile Ki packed it with one highlight after another. In just a couple of days, we experienced the height and depth and breadth of southern Cebu.
I gotta hand it to the annual street art festival HKWalls for propagating art in public spaces in Hong Kong. The success of this annual event was not more evident than in Hollywood Road, the oldest street in the city. Otherwise merely a dense and aging concrete jungle, the main and intersecting streets had been gentrified by street art and murals. They rejuvenated drab, decaying buildings with vibrant colors and revitalized urban monotony with striking images.
October 30, 2011 / October 31, 2015 /November 5, 2016 / December 2, 2017
When people asked what my hometown had to offer, I could only think of one thing: FOOD! Bacolod, though not lacking in other cultural attractions, would always be known, foremost, as a foodie city. Much of the fame came with the iconic chicken inasal (roast chicken), a staple in Bacolod’s food trail. A visit to the city was never complete without a stop at the strip of inasal restaurants in Manokan Country. But how was it a cut above the usual chicken barbecue? Perhaps the difference lay in the secret marinade consisting, in part, of a bright red condiment. But you didn’t hear that from me.
Streets crowded with tourists? Yass. Skyscrapers crowned with clouds? Double yass! Wilderness islands? Duh. Deserted beaches? Double duh! Farthest from my mind in Hong Kong. But as it turned out, not far from reality. Who knew that I would reach what seemed like the remotest part of Hong Kong? Apparently, only my travel companion Ki. His early morning online research yielded our day’s destination: Cheung Chau, one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands.
Guangzhou / Xingping and Yangshuo County, Guilin, China
September 3 – 8, 2017
Quinn was my (reluctant) star student. He was engaged and engaging, inspired and inspiring – qualities that earned him the title Mr. Total Package in class. No matter how equally embarrassing and annoying to him, the nick stuck. He held up a paper with my name as he welcomed me at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport. I screamed, “Ni hao Mr. Total Package!” Not only could he not live it down, but he still lived up to it a year on and many miles away from the classroom. Let me count the ways.
February 19 – 20, 2012 / January 31 – February 4, 2018
I went to bed fully clothed: padded jacket, sweater, scarf, shirt, jeans, thermal undies, socks, gloves, beanie. The works. Only my shoes were off. The wintry chill crept in through the tightly-shuttered windows and into several layers of my clothing. I threw the comforter over my head and curled up in a fetal position. There was nowhere to take cover from the cold. My only source of precious warmth was a portable heater, just slightly bigger than a computer speaker.
BAM! That DC Comics-style thought bubble exploded in my head as we all bounced off our seats. The bumpiest landing ever was more a slam dunk than a touchdown. Perhaps it was that way for small planes with propellers. Or not. The landing gears slammed on the runway like dead weight; I expected the aircraft to break apart. But it was just my heart. I gathered my wits once the plane was taxiing toward the terminal in one piece. Welcome to Busuanga!