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.
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.
It started out as an out-of-town sleepover, not the epic road trip it ended up to be. Friends and I drove to Tarlac at Perfy’s behest. She had just arrived from the US on her dad’s birthday. The bienvenida-cum-birthday party was to be held at the newly-built Limpin’s Farmhouse, her mom’s pet project. It was the resort’s soft opening as well. The triple celebration was a family affair.
As above, so below. From the plane window, Busuanga Island gleamed like the bejeweled paradise that it truly was. The bluest sapphire wrapped its entirety; the greenest emerald adorned each cove and every inlet. Such was nature: spectacular at any perspective – bird’s eye view or sea level.
Ah, to be in a small town trapped in a big city. In just a week’s stay, I felt in the zone in Taito-ku, one of Tokyo’s more traditional wards encompassing the quaint districts of Ueno and Asakusa. It had the best of both worlds. I could live here, I thought. Having been welcomed so warmly by friendly, familiar faces accounted for that sense of home. My student-turned-friend Taka came by within minutes of my arrival.
Like a moth to a flame. That was how I had a night of light with my naughty friend Yuka. She suggested we saw the annual extravagant LED light display, commonly known in Japan as “illumination.” The word effectively lured me to scenic harbor city Yokohama. A walk on the boardwalk certainly delivered. The skyline was wholly lit-up with a galaxy of colored pin lights outshining actual stars.
Squad goal achieved! Way back when the world was not yet a wide web, I lost touch with grade school friends Ramir and Antonieto, one of my first beshies (best friend in non-millennial speak). It took the invention of Facebook to reconnect us. And a road trip through Antipolo, where Tony (three decades had cut his name) relocated in the intervening years, to regroup our squad, long-disbanded before the Spice Girls’ swan song!
3W was shorthand for three sales a week. For us put-upon salespeople, though, it meant work, work, work! That was my ancient past as a life planner for a Japanese insurance company in Manila. Our big boss, Sawaki-san, demanded nothing less than Japanese-style work ethic. I had never looked back on it as fondly as I did in Tokyo Metro 20 years later. I fancied myself as a salaryman for a day.
Seoul, South Korea / Tokyo, Japan / Guangzhou, China
October 31, 2014 / January 29, 2017 / September 8, 2017
With a little help from my friend, I snagged a photo op with the 236-meter tall Namsan Tower in Seoul. I mounted a ledge for maximum exposure. And raised both arms to be sure. Cindy clicked the camera.
She did get the entire tower within the frame. I was not as lucky. At least I could spot my forehead!
When in Japan, get nekkid as the Japanese do! It was time to get the hang of letting it all hang out in full view of friends and strangers alike. In the (un)dressing room, I was still bundled up in winter wear, less for warmth than for self-consciousness. My Japanese friends Taka and Koji, comfortable in their own (bare) skin, approached to inquire what was taking me so long. I peeled off my gloves and sweater ten…ta…tive…ly as in an awkward striptease. I stopped short at my skivvies. Then I uttered a sheepish admission, “I’m shy,” before doing a 180 and unwittingly mooning them! I caught their impish grin and, just like that, I was cured of any qualms about public nudity.
Tabaco, Albay, the Philippines and Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan
November 22, 2015 and February 1, 2017
No kissing of the ground here as I wouldn’t want to wake these sleeping beauties. It didn’t mean I was less smitten at first sight by iconic Mt. Mayon (2,463 m or 8,081 ft) in the Philippines and Mt. Fuji (3,776.24 m or 12,389.2 ft) in Japan, both seductively conical and dangerously active stratovolcanoes. At times spewing fire and brimstone but mostly notoriously shy, these badass beauties were known to hide their graceful form behind a veil of clouds.
To a tropical boy, snow was as real as Santa Claus. I knew which was fictional, but snow was just as much the stuff of children’s literature and my childhood dream. Then “adulting” cured me of my boyhood fascination with frozen precipitation.
When we could not take a vacation at an exclusive resort, we borrowed it. Without a condo unit at swanky Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club to our name, Ki asked an old friend for an overnight stay in her furnished studio. It trumped paying at the resort hotel or Airbnb rental. No sooner had she given the green light than we drove a few hours south of Manila to posh Hamilo Coast in Nasugbu.
Digos City and Hagonoy, Davao del Sur, the Philippines
March 27 – 29, 2014
A city without an airport – that meant it was far from touristy. That was exactly how we found Digos, capital of Davao del Sur. Mom, sister, friend, and I flew in via GenSan in South Cotabato. Davao City was half that distance, but my brother who planned this trip thought otherwise. In the age of Google, we relied on assumptions. Well played.