Humans of Siquijor

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.

Touchdown Siquijor!

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Beach Hopping in Winter

Hong Kong, China

February 2, 2018

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.

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TTT @ Repulse Bay Beach, Hong Kong

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Downfall of Downtown

Bacolod City, the Philippines

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.

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Gallivanting High and Low

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.

Monastery of the Holy Eucharist, aka Simala Shrine @ Sibonga, Cebu

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Here’s Looking at You @ Hollywood Road

Hong Kong, China

February 4, 2018

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.

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TTT and Old Townhouses Mural by Alex Croft @ Hollywood Road, Central District, Hong Kong

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The Missing Pièce de Résistance in Bacolod

Silay and Bacolod, the Philippines

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.

Mom and Bacolod’s Iconic Chicken Inasal @ Manokan Country

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Hiking in Hong Kong

Cheung Chau, Hong Kong, China

February 3, 2018

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.

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Mr. Total Package Tour

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.

Quinn Shu @ Xingping Village, Yangshuo County

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Sub-Zero in the Sub-Tropics

Shanghai and Hong Kong, China

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.

Wintry Trees @ Shanghai

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Boost and Bust in Busuanga

Coron and Busuanga, Palawan, the Philippines

May 1 and 3, 2017

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!

TTT @ Francisco B. Reyes Airport, Busuanga

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Something Fishy Too

Tokyo, Japan

January 31, 2017

Two-na, too-na, tuna! I went the way of chilled tuna that had traveled up the Pacific rim from the warm tropical waters of my archipelago to this chilly fish port in Tokyo. My early morning visit to Tsukiji Fish Market was a sequel to my tour of General Santos City Fish Port Complex three years prior. Yellowfin tuna from Celebes Sea were prepped in GenSan before they turned up sashimi-grade in Tsukiji.

TTT and Taka @ Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

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Homestay and Hotel @ Yangshuo and Guilin

Yangshuo County and Guilin, China

September 3 – 8, 2017

The next best thing to living abroad was staying at local people’s homes. I never wanted to crash on anyone’s couch, though. I put a premium on comfort and privacy – both mine and my host’s. Houses that doubled as B&Bs and hotels owned by local families were as good as it got, and both were a dime a dozen in Yangshuo and Guilin. Language barrier considered, I could stay at such accommodations only with the help of my Chinese friend Quinn. He took charge of searching and booking homestays and hotels, many of which had non-English websites. It gave me an up-close-and-personal experience, not only of the place, but of its people and culture.

Quinn @ Riverside Retreat Hotel, Yangshuo County

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A Trip Down Mommy Memory Lane

Xingping and Yangshuo County, Guilin, China

September 4, 2017

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Grief got me to Guilin. My trip was a pilgrimage of sorts in the hope of tracing Mom’s footsteps in southern China back in 2002. I could not join her in that trip then. There would not be a second chance. Mom went home to heaven in 2015.

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Mom @ Yangshuo County, Guilin (October 2002)

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Out of Africa into Calauit

Calauit Island, Busuanga, Palawan, the Philippines

May 4, 2017

Bizarre on a Marcosian level. In a tiny island in the Philippines, African wildlife roamed freely. No wall contained them other than the sea. Giraffes, zebras, and several species of antelope had come to call Calauit Island in Palawan their new home. The safari park was one of the legacies of the Marcos dictatorship. The official story told of a conservation collaboration between Kenya and the Philippines circa mid-70s to establish a wildlife sanctuary away from war and drought. But of course, some quarters begged to differ, believing it was a front for the hunting hobby of Marcos’ son. In any case, decades after the strongman’s ouster, some of the species, now in their second or third generation, had survived the habitat displacement.

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Giraffe Feeding @ Calauit Safari Park

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Food and Ninja Moves in Yamanashi

Fujikawaguchiko and Oshino, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

January 31 – February 1, 2017

Ninja called. I came.

Seriously, what could top my first snow experience and first ski lesson in Yamanashi? Practically none, but other treats this prefecture near Tokyo could offer were more than charming. That turned out to be food so oishi and some ninja moves so out of the blue.

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TTT @ Oshino Ninja Village, Yamanashi Prefecture

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