December 31, 2013

Year-End Update III: 2013 in Pictures (mostly of my face)

And now, for the visual part of my year-end report. Most of the pictures here aren't artistic enough to be featured in my photoblog, and since Facebook has the tendency to over... words fail me... make tabon the past entries, might as well put some of the more significant photos of 2013 here in my blog. While I'm still masipag enough to blog.

January

Started the year with a walking tour of Luneta with my two best friends. The tour guide was Carlos Celdran, which I was only able to experience that one time. The touring group was HUGE, but we were still able to absorb a bit of the knowledge he imparted to us (I think).




February

First major happening for that month was Paramore's return concert. It was actually a last-minute decision, and we didn't purchase seats close to the stage. But I was able to *smuggle* in my DSLR's zoom lens, so I was able to get close-ish photos.



Next was the Baguio-La Trinidad weekend trip, where I was able to experience strawberry picking for the first time. I swear, freshly-picked strawberries taste the best.

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March

That month was 2PM's first concert here in the Philippines. Initially, our seats were the same as Paramore's concert, but for some reason not all tickets were sold, so we were ushered into a closer section. That, plus my smuggled zoom lens =  BAM! Close shots. I swear, some shots look like they were actually looking straight at my camera. Heee~


April

At the start of the month, Ge and I went for an out-of-the-country trip to Japan. We've been wanting to see cherry blossoms in real life, and during our first Japan trip we were a bit too early. Good thing that this time, we were right on time.

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During our trip to Japan, we were also able to meet up with friends... some are also in the country for the holidays, others were living/ working there.




Year-End Update II: Year-End Meme [2013]

I've been doing this sort of thing since my Tabulas days, and I think memes like this (I'm not even sure if I'm using the correct term... is it "meme" or should it be "tag"? Whatevs) is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the year that has passed.

2013, I have to say that you flew by so fast.

1. What did you do in 2013 that you've never done before?
- DIY-ed an out of country trip. This year, I travelled to Japan, sans Travel Factor.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
- I started a To Do for 2013, and I completed 7 out of 10 which isn't bad. Yeah, maybe I'll make another one next year.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
- Someone close? No, not really. I don't recall. If someone I knew gave birth, but I can't remember who, then we're probably not that close.

[EDIT] I'm so sorry. Terribly sorry.  I was thinking WAAAY back earlier this year. I totally forgot that one of my best friends gave birth THIS YEAR!!! Kung anu-ano pa ang isinulat ko tuloyNasa Singapore kasi that's why it didn't cross my mind. Patawad Rosa huhuhu. :( [/EDIT]

4. Did anyone close to you die?
- Nope, none as I can remember.

5. What country did you visit?
- Japan and Hong Kong. Japan was my favorite for this year.

6. What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
- A new family (if you know what I mean).

7. What dates from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
- I'm not sure of the exact date, but it was Tokyo 2013 Day 2. That was when I got engaged (ayiiii~).

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
- I don't know. I've been coasting pretty much for the whole year.

9. What was your biggest failure?
- Same as 8. I really can't remember anything worth tagging as a personal milestone.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
- Does acne vulgaris count?


Year-End Update I: To Do Entry ID 2013

With four hours to go before the year ends, I've come into terms that I will not be able to complete my To Do list for 2013.

BUT just to appease my defensive side, my reasons for not being able to cross out the remaining items in the list are as such:

  • #3 - Capture the Milky Way in a photo, viewing in Caliraya: It was already past the dry season when I realized that I was not able to do this; needless to say the number of typhoons that visited our country this year made it rather inconvenient to pursue this item.
  • #9 - Finish reading A Feast for Crows, so I can finally move on to A Dance with Dragons -- I THINK that I am now past the halfway mark, and judging from the thickness of the Appendix section (you know, the one with the genealogy), I think that I'm near the end sooner than expected. But I accept that I won't be able to finish the book because it is TOO DAMN BORING!!! Honestly, after the Red Wedding and Jeoffrey's bleep, the story is becoming a major snoozefest.
  • #10 - Either get Rosie (my dog) pregnant, or have her spayed -- Rosie has been getting this annoying tick infestation recently, and the vet doesn't want to do any surgery of her on account of her being pale because of the loss of blood. That, and I realized that my dog is already nearing ten years old, and that's pretty old in dog years even though she still looks like a puppy. Either options might be too risky for her already.

In fairness, I think I was able to cross out my more significant goals for this year. I can still continue my To Do next year, and probably add a few more items in the list. That's totally doable naman, diba?


October 28, 2013

Up in the North: Sagada, Mountain Province

Not much has changed since my first visit to Sagada, which must have been more than five years ago. Granted that most of the roads have already been cemented and that mobile signals are a bit more stable, the town proper and sights to see remained pretty much the same.

The main reason why I decided to visit Sagada again is that I recently learned that there is more to the place than the usual trekking and caving that it is known for. Due to its fertile mountain soil, there are various fruits and plants that you can harvest, depending on the month of the year. Colder months like February yield blueberries, while wetter months like August yield mushrooms. Supposedly, you can even find "medicinal" herbs and fungi in Sagada (if you know what I mean). What I was most interested in was the orange-picking season which happens during the latter part of the year.

How to Get There (from Manila)


There are two main routes going to Sagada from Manila:
  • Manila - Baguio - Sagada
  • Manila - Banaue - (Bontoc) - Sagada

The former route is the faster one, while the latter route is the more scenic one. Unfortunately, there is no non-stop trip to Sagada (unless, of course, you're bringing your own vehicle). While it is relatively safe to travel to Sagada via private vehicle, it is perfectly logical to travel via public transport. Drivers that travel to and from Sagada on scheduled trips are no doubt familiar with each curve of the roads that cut through the mountains.

We opted the Manila - Banaue - Sagada route going to, and the Sagada - Baguio - Manila route going from.

Manila - Banaue - (Bontoc) - Sagada

There are a lot of searchable public buses online that offer scheduled trips for this route, and for our trip we chose Ohayami Trans, the reason being the website of this bus line is by far the most comprehensive and informative. The website also details contact numbers wherein the staff actually respond to your inquiries in a timely manner, a big plus point for me. They were even kind enough to extend our reservation period as we were going to be a little late. To date, a ticket to Banaue costs 450 PHP.

Earliest trip from Manila is 9PM (usually during peak season), and the trip to Banaue takes around 9 hours.

When you reach Banaue, there are three options commuting to Sagada: via local bus, via jeepneys, and via private van. Some points to consider:
  • Banaue has a small town proper, and the jeep/ bus terminals are usually found at the side of the national highway. While it may be daunting at first to choose which mode of transportation to use, you can always ask around just as long as you are able to do you research beforehand.
  • You may opt for a cut-ride to Bontoc, then from Bontoc to Sagada. There are jeepneys that go this route.
  • Since travel to and from Sagada isn't that as hectic, travel schedules are spaced one hour apart, at the minimum. So make sure to schedule your time accordingly.
  • Related to the point above, most modes of transportation require a minimum number of passengers (i.e. 4 to 6 pax). If your travelling during an off-peak season, expect that there will be a scarcity of tourists, ergo you might need to pay more for the transport.

For our trip, we chose to hire a private van, since the schedules of the local bus and jeepneys start in the afternoon pa. The private van cost 3,000 PHP, and since we were travelling during off-peak season, there were only four (4) of us in the van.
So we just made sure that the van stopped at all the viewpoints possible, para kahit papaano masulit naman 'yung biyahe.

Travel from Banaue to Sagada takes around four hours.

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View from the balcony of People's Lodge and Restaurant, where we had our breakfast.

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Some local Igorots who are willing to pose for a photo, for a humble donation.

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More views of the rice terraces.

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The roads are quite scary especially during the rainy season,
where there is a high risk of landslides.


October 26, 2013

Hong Kong: Off the Beaten Path

For those who've had their fill of the usual tourist spots in Hong Kong, i.e. Victoria's Peak, Hong Kong Disneyland, Mong Kok Night Market, and Causeway Bay Harbour, here are other places to consider visiting.

Of course, it goes without saying that there's always the option of shopping. Lots and lots of shopping.

Ngong Ping 360

Opened in 2006, Ngong Ping 360 is a fairly new tourist attraction that offers various cultural and ecological sightseeing experiences. It is located at Lantau island, and among its highlights are a 5.7km cable car ride and a giant Buddha on top of  a 268-step hill.

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How To Get There
Technically, the park grounds are located on the other side of the mountain so you really have to travel via cable car. The most convenient way to get to the cable car terminal is via MTR, Tung Chung Line, Tung Chung Station. It is a two-minute walk from Exit B.  

Opening Hours
Weekdays: 10am to 6pm
Weekends 9am to 6:30pm

Rates
Visitors can have the option to buy tickets at the Cable Car terminal or online. Adult rates are as follows:

Cable Car
Round Trip
Standard Cabin: 135 HKD
Crystal Cabin: 213 HKD
Single Trip
Standard Cabin: 94 HKD
Crystal Cabin: 149 HKD

Day Pass (Includes round trip cable car ride, unlimited NLB bus rides and Tai O boat excursion)
Standard Round Trip Cable Car: 200 HKD
Crystal Cabin Round Trip Cable Car: 278 HKD
1 + 1 Standard and Crystal Round Trip Cable Car: 255 HKD

Guided Tour (Includes Ngong Ping Village, Po Lin Monastery, Big Buddha, Tai O Fishing Village with boat excursion, Ngong Ping Piazza)
Standard Cabin: 338 HKD
Crystal Cabin: 398 HKD

Private Cabin (Includes Round-trip cable car ride in private cabin, fast lane for ticket purchase, priority boarding and free admission to Ngong Ping Village's Walking with Buddha attractions_
Standard Cabin: 3,000 HKD per cabin
Crystal Cabin: 3,600 HKD per cabin
 

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What to Do

The Ngong Ping 360 website has a suggested itinerary that you can follow, depending on your purpose of visit (i.e. nature sightseeing, culture sightseeing, shopping, etc). Additional tips for day visitors:
  • Opt for the Crystal Cabin going to Ngong Ping 360, and the Standard Cabin going back. The Crystal Cabin is a must-do experience best done in full daylight (and full energy), so the best time to do it is at the start of the day.
  • Plan your visit during clear weather. Especially if you plan to visit the big Buddha, you have to visit when the weather is good as there is a tendency for the big Buddha to be covered with clouds.
  • Check out the Ngong Ping website for special shows and announcements. There are times where there are cultural performances such as Kung Fu exhibitions, so to make the most of your visit you may want to time it accordingly.
  • Bring lots of water and energy bars! The park is HUGE, and there are some areas where you have to trek a bit in order to get there. So stamina is a must.

Din Tai Fung - Silvercord branch

Din Tai Fung is a Michelin Star awardee, best known for its Xiao Long Bao. The original restaurant is in Taiwan, but since then it has made its way to Hong Kong.

I'm no expert in food, but it isn't often that I am able to eat at Michelin Star-awarded restaurants, so for me this is a must-try experience.

There are five types of Xiao Long Bao in the menu, namely:
  • Pork Xiao Long Bao
  • Crab Roe and Pork Xiao Long Bao
  • Chicken Xiao Long Bao
  • Angled Loofah and Shrimp Xiao Long Bao
  • Truffle and Pork Xiao Long Bao

I've tried the Pork and the Crab Roe and Pork, and among the two, I like the Crab Roe and Pork more (but both are delicious). Being a Michelin Star restaurant, expect that the consistency of taste in each dish remains the same.

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I forgot the price range of the dim sum, but expect to shell out at least 50 HKD per order. They have an English menu, and English-speaking staff, and even English instructions on how to eat the Xiao Long Bao, so you do not have to worry about the language barrier in this restaurant.

Quick Tip: This restaurant fills up easily during meal hours so it is best that you queue on early lunch or early dinner so you don't have to fall in line too long.

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August 30, 2013

Musings: Erik Matti's On The Job (2013)

First of all, let me put it out there that I am still confused as to whether or not it is okay to shorten the film's name to "OJT." OJT actually stands for on-the-job training, but since the title of the movie doesn't include the word "Training," I'm not sure if it is still okay to shorten it to "OJT" or perhaps it is more proper to use "OTJ," but that doesn't sound right either. Quite a trivial dilemma actually, but nevertheless I had to ponder about it somewhat when I used #OJT when I tweeted about the movie after watching it earlier.

ANYWAY.

I won't give away the main plot of the movie, but I have to say that after watching On the Job, I can't help but feel depressed as a citizen of the Philippines. At the start of the movie there was a note that flashed on the screen saying that the events to be shown were inspired by real events. Though the story and the characters are fictional (I fervently hope so), that note makes me wonder if there is a real-life counterpart of the story and the characters, or if things are still happening that way today.

If the answer is "yes," the Philippines is one fucked up country.

August 28, 2013

Claiming Your Parcel From The Philippine Post Office

Online shopping has proven itself to be a convenient means of purchasing commodities. With a simple click of a button, an item can be yours. No need to wait in line, because your purchased items will be delivered to your doorstep.

...Well, more or less.

I took a chance to buy some cellphone back covers for my Samsung Galaxy S4 in Ebay, as there aren't a lot of quirky back covers here in the Philippines. The last time I bought cellphone back covers in Ebay was during the time of my Samsung Galaxy Nexus, and I can recall being happy about my purchase because they were delivered directly to my house. Thinking that it will be same this time, I continued my purchase at a couple of online stores in the UK.

Needless to say, I was quite surprised when I got this:
Fig. 1 - Claiming notice from the Post Office

This turned out to be a bit of an inconvenience for me, because
  1. The Post Office (where I am to claim my parcel) is located in the Las Pinas City Hall, which is a good 45-minute commute from my house (because I have to endure the traffic of Alabang-Zapote Road, especially hotspots like SM Southmall, Moonwalk and Casimiro before I get there)
  2. Business hours are only during the weekdays, which conflicts with my work hours
  3. There is a possibility that I have to pay fees, duties and taxes just so I can claim my 300PhP worth of stuff. Baka ang labas niyan eh mas mahal pa ang babayran kong tax kesa sa halaga ng binili ko. Pssh.

But I have no choice; I have to claim my stuff at the post office. Coincidentally, I'm currently working from home today so I decided to spend a couple of hours for this errand; babawiin ko na lang mamaya 'yung trabaho ko.


Las Pinas City Hall - View Larger Map

August 03, 2013

Wedding Preparation Chronicles: Baptismal Certificate Validity

Writing this on the fly after finally booking a church for the wedding. Up to this point we've been pretty much DIY, browsing websites and attending wedding fairs, as well as asking married couples for suggestions and advice.

However, those measures only took care of the "suppliers" part of the wedding. We weren't able to gather enough information on the unromantic part of wedding preparations: document requirements, interview schedules, logistics, payments, payments, and more payments.

Our first "lesson learned" experience in this wedding preparation pertains to the application of the certificates we are supposed to submit when booking a church. The pamphlet that was given to us said that the reservation deposit must be made together with a baptismal certificate issued not later than six (6) months before the wedding. Thinking that we have to present the certificate by the time we book the church, we went on to get our respective baptismal certificates--reaching back as far as Pangasinan.

Little did we know that the church only accepts baptismal certificates issued AT MOST six months before the ceremony. Wow, nageexpire?

Since our wedding is scheduled for next year pa, we can't submit the certificates today (however we are allowed to book/reserve the date and time without submitting the certificates). What's more hassle is that we have to request for new baptismal certificates on December. And that we have to surrender the "expired" certificates because we are only allowed to have one baptismal certificate for marriage purposes. That's 75 PhP down the drain for me, not to mention the effort we had to go through to find the parish where I was baptized.

So there. Lesson learned #1: Make sure to confirm the validity of the documents you need to produce as part of your wedding preparations.

July 27, 2013

Setting Up Your Android Email Client With Your Yahoo! Account

I've you're the type of smartphone user who integrates EVERY account possible to your phone's stock apps, I'm sure you've encountered that frustrating attempt to link your email client to Yahoo! so you wouldn't have to download the dedicated Y!Mail app.

I'm not sure if iPhone users also receive this type of error, but for Android users trying to setup the Yahoo! account automatically, chances are you've encountered the "cannot connect to server" error somewhere along the way. Google search results show a myriad of solutions, but there is only one solution that worked for me. It's actually from the Yahoo Mobile Help Center, but for some reason it isn't the top search result.

Soooooo, for your reference (and mine), I'll be reposting the instructions in this entry. Webpage says that it was last updated July 18, 2013.

Adding Yahoo! Mail to an Android devices' Mail client

  1. Press the Menu button on your Android device's Home screen.
  2. Tap Apps.
  3. Tap the Mail app icon.
  4. Tap Other (POP3/IMAP).
  5. Enter your Yahoo! ID and password.
If an error occurs (e.g., "Setup could not finish," etc.):
  1. Tap Manual Setup.
  2. Tap IMAP.
  3. Enter the following server setting information:
    • Incoming server: android.imap.mail.yahoo.com
    • Port #: 993
    • Security type: SSL (accepts all certificates)
    • Outgoing Server: android.smtp.mail.yahoo.com
    • Security type: SSL (accepts all certificates)
    • Port #: 465
  4. Keep all other settings the same.
  5. Complete the remaining setup process. 

** Just added this detail, para hindi malabo.

June 09, 2013

WTFs of Filipino Culture Part II-ish

(Blogger's Note: I was debating on whether to use THAT *points to title* title, or THIS--The One Where I was a Tour Guide For A Day--but then looking at my blog stats, it seems that Part I was well-received by readers, so...)

Yesterday I did a favor for my sister, who asked me to tour one of her friends from Hong Kong. Her friend is Taiwanese, who has been living in Hong Kong for the last four years (I think). She is here in Manila for a two-week business trip, and yesterday she brought along another colleague who is Indian, currently working for the same company in one of their branches in India.

The weather was a bit tricky that time, with forecasts of thunderstorms brought about by then Tropical Depression 'Dante'. My boyfriend and I were a bit worried about the weather, since our plan was to bring our guests to Tagaytay for food trip and volcano viewing. We still went through with the plan, and despite of a VERY foggy morning (as in the fog was already creeping on our feet!) accompanied by a short burst of rain, we were still able to get a glimpse of the volcano while we were having lunch at Leslie's (our guests enjoyed the bulalo and the laing). We even had time for coffee at Bag of Beans, a bit of shopping in Ilog Maria Honeybee Farm, and some Jollibee Chicken Joy for dinner. All in all I think it was a successful tourist-y activity.

Pictures shared by our Taiwanese guest (except the one with the Chicken Joy, that was my boyfriend's)

June 03, 2013

YT Videos: These Go Straight to My Blog

To be honest, there's only one YouTube video that I really, really want to feature here in this post, because 1) I'm a sucker for short films, and 2) I'm a sucker for Benedict Cumberbatch. Pero sige, share first and then explain later.

About the video: A short film starring Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC's Sherlock, Star Trek) and Nathalie Press (Red Road, My Summer of Love) 
When young dad, Joe, discovers he's dying, drifter Charlie is given a unique opportunity to turn his life around. A story of family, identity and starting again.
I've been a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch ever since I first saw him in Sherlock, and since then I've been discovering more and more how brilliant and versatile he is as an actor. Setting aside his good looks (the cheekbones /drool) and his exquisite voice (his voiceovers for the Jaguar commercials make my ovaries explode), what drew me to him is his ability to own the characters given to him. He was able to portray Stephen Hawking, Sherlock Holmes, Khan Noonien Singh, and a lot more I have yet to discover, but somehow I can't typecast him into one particular role i.e. what is his best genre. Seeing him here in this short film just reaffirms his prowess in acting.

May 31, 2013

Music and Moments

Earlier this morning during my commute to the office, I decided to play some of the old songs from my mp3 collection.  I'm a 'discography' type of collector, meaning that if I hear a song that I like, I would tend to download acquire all the albums of the artist, even the demo and pre-mainstream ones (I still have an album of Maroon 5 when they were still Kara's Flowers, and I absolutely love their songs).

I was in a John Mayer mood then; the album queued on my music player was Room For Squares. When the intro of No Such Thing played (this was the first song of the album), I felt a sudden rush of sadness, as if the song triggered some emotional memory from my past.  Well, it did and I'll tell you what it is in a bit.

It was then when I realized that songs (well for me it's usually the whole album) are like pictures: they can serve as testaments of the past.  And if you allow them, they can be powerful enough to immortalize not only your memories, but also the emotions that you were feeling at that particular point in time.

Here are some of my "musical time capsules," and I swear, each time I hear the songs I can remember not only what happened during that time, but also how I was feeling... and even snippets of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of that past experience.

(I've embedded Soundcloud tracks of some of the songs; please feel free to sample them as you read along to this blog post.)

John Mayer - Room for Squares. This album came out during the latter part of my years in the university, and was frequently in my playlist even until the first couple of years after graduation. My sister and I enjoyed listening to the album, even if we observed that the songs in the album had a lot of hang-ups. Quite appropriate for me, I guess, because this was the album I was listening to during that time when things weren't going that well with my first boyfriend. When we broke up, I remembered bawling out each time I hear Back To You because I knew that that's never going to happen to us.  There was even a time when I was afraid to queue one song of the album because even the first few riffs of the songs were enough to bring back all the hurt and bitterness I was feeling post-breakup.


May 29, 2013

WTFs of Filipino Culture

I'm feeling a bit rant-y today, but instead of spewing out all sorts of negativity in my social media outlets, I've decided to be a little more productive and write.

Before you misinterpret the title of this post as something anti-makabayan, please understand that I have no intention of bashing the Filipino culture.  MY culture. I was born and raised here in the Philippines; this is my lupang tinubuan. As much as I love to travel, there's no place I'd rather live in but here (I know, labo). I just want to put into writing some observations of mine, regarding some of the behavior of Pinoys that I don't quite get. Malay natin, pati pala ako guilty dito.
  1. Aversion to queues. This lack of simple self-control can be seen ANYWHERE, and is already a part of a Pinoy's everyday life. Take for example, in the morning commute. Passenger A gives his payment to the dispatcher/cashier, and is waiting for a change. Passenger B has the exact payment. More often than not, Passenger B would cut in front of Passenger A, giving this exact payment and getting into the vehicle, taking the seat that should've been Passenger A's. Don't tell me you haven't done that once in your life. And it's not just in commute. You can see this in fast food establishments, groceries, pedestrian crossings, driving scenarios, and even in Church. What I really can't understand is why WHY WHYYYYY people are in a hurry during communion, trying to be the first to get to the host, when everyone still needs to wait all the same for the final blessing. Anong point nun??  
  2. Tactlessness. Pinoys take pride in being friendly, hospitable and cheerful. They are able to make friends easily, and apparently we have a great attitude when it comes to interacting with others. But why, for the love of God, do we greet long-time friends with, "O, tumaba ka 'ata?" It doesn't end there. Reunions are witnesses to all sorts of inappropriate salutations. Relatives and friends, even those  whom you've never seen for an entire year, would like to know why you're still single, why you're not yet married, why you're not yet pregnant, or when are you going to have your next kid. I have no idea why people think that inappropriate personal questions like that qualify as small talk.

May 28, 2013

Musings

Sometimes I wonder what my ten year-old self would say if she saw me now, all grown up.  Ten was the year of the Koosh Balls, slumbooks, stationery trades, Stay Fresh mints and toasted corned beef.  Ten was the year when my favorite color is violet, my first kiss (and love) was my mom, and my life's ambition is to be a zoologist.  Ten was the year when I met my two best friends in the whole world. 

And now, twenty years later, I sit here in front of a computer, fixing "bugs" that are most definitely not within the scope of the zoological world.  I hardly play outdoors, except for when I walk the dogs (even that has become a chore nowadays).  I rant about going out in the sun because it makes my skin dark.  I rant about the rain because it causes traffic jams.  I rant about attending beach events because the salt water damages my hair.  And it has been ages since my best friends and I hung out together.

The so-called life around me isn't that great, either.  People are always in a hurry to get somewhere and to be somebody, but no one really seems to be enjoying the ride.  

Relationships that are expected to last, don't, or worse, just pretending. Relationships that shouldn't happen because they're wrong are the ones given priority. Everyone always has an opinion about something, but no one really cares enough to listen to anybody else but themselves.  I often find myself confused, stuck in a moral dilemma, but I have no idea how to work my way out of it.

May 23, 2013

The Theory of Freewill

Growing up in a Catholic environment, I've always been taught that humanity is blessed with the gift of freewill. We can choose our own path and decide how we should live our lives... granted, of course, that we adhere to what is written in the fine print: we must not sin or do anything to offend our neighbor or our God. "Be free, but act responsibly," is what they say. Having all these restrictions when exercising freewill made me wonder: what does it really mean to be free? 

The essence of being "free" is being able to obtain--or to experience--something without cost, or without expecting anything in return. It is not barter, nor is it collateral. Thus, something that is free should not be restricted to any sort of liability, accountability or responsibility. If anything happens to you as a result of obtaining or experiencing that thing that is free, there should be no loss nor need for regret. Nakuha mo nga ng libre eh.

Most of us would want freewill to work this way, and some of us actually believe it. It would be a romantic notion to think of ourselves as makers of our own destiny, but the harsh reality is that we will always be prisoners of something bigger than ourselves: social norms, our own principles, rules of the institution, gravity, mortality, economics, or even the simple fear of what others may think. We, as humans, are expected to behave rationally--tamed, if you may--and this doesn't really mesh well with the *real* meaning of being free.

May 17, 2013

Lessons From the Star Trek Universe

Yes, I just got back from watching Star Trek Into Darkness in IMAX 3D, and I'm still a bit high from the movie. I love the Star Trek universe, even if my knowledge of the franchise is not sufficient enough for me to be called a Trekkie. Still, I'm proud to say that I was able to identify a lot of Trek tributes within the movie, even when Benedict Cumberbatch is distracting me with his smolder and voice.  Haaaaaay.

But!!! I'm not here to give a review or a plot summary of the movie, there are a lot of blog sites that do that (because Wak is my friend, check out SAN's review hehehe).  Instead, I'd like to share some reflections, realizations, and explanations as to why Star Trek, for me, is the ultimate science fiction that celebrates the triumph of the human race--which should also be the future of the real world!
  1. A Utopian future IS a possible future. Most Hollywood blockbusters thrive on plots of a chaotic future. Alien invasions, self-aware robots, zombie apocalypse... most of these movies focus on the exploitation of science that results to the near-destruction of humanity.  However, Star Trek sees things differently.  Humanity is at the pinnacle of science, and against all odds, man manages not to destroy the Earth.
  2. World Peace is definitely achievable. Sure, in the Trek universe, political conflicts still exist in some parts of space.  Vulcans vs. Romulans, Klingons vs. Humans, Borg vs... everyone, but in this universe, the Federation prioritizes diplomacy over warfare.  As much as possible, territories are at peace with each other--and with the rest of the universe. Warfare should never be the first option for engagement... unless you're engaging with the Borg.

May 15, 2013

Tokyo, Japan 2013 (Day 10 & 11)


Hakone is the only non-Tokyo district in our itinerary (well, technically we also have Osaka but that's because our returning flight is via the Kansai Airport), which was chosen because, 1) it is relatively near Tokyo--just a 2-hour train ride), and 2) it is known for its wonderful view of Mt. Fuji. We were in Tokyo during the cooler part of spring, so going to Mt. Fuji itself might mean that we have to pack warmer clothes and bring hiking gear as well... not really jiving with our "travel light" plans.  So we settled ourselves for the view instead.

Planning the trip, or rather when to go to Hakone, has been a bit of a challenge for us especially because of the unpredictable weather. Hindi naman kasi sulit kapag pumunta ka doon sa kasagsagan ng ulan, or even if the forecast is partly cloudy. For those who've been to Albay to view the Mayon Volcano, or even perhaps just Mt. Makiling in Laguna, you'll know what I mean.  Viewing a mountain that is covered by clouds isn't fun.

Thankfully, during our trip, the forecast from Wunderground was clear.  As in CLEAR, with the sun icon shining on the screen.  It was a blessed day.

Tokyo to Hakone

The Odakyu Line offers a Hakone Freepass, which is very advantageous for tourists, as it offers a round trip ticket from Tokyo (via Shinjuku Station) to Hakone-Yumoto Station, as well as unlimited rides in selected modes of transport within Hakone area (i.e. local train, bus, cable car, ropeway, etc). Plus, the freepass also includes discounts on various facilities in Hakone.  The freepass can be availed for 2 days (5,000 JPY for Adult ticket) or 3 days (5,500 JPY for Adult ticket).  We availed the 2-day freepass, but only did a day trip since we're a bit pressed for time.
Hakone Travel Tips:
  • Plan your trip to Hakone on the best weather possible.  Some of my colleagues who went to Hakone, on an earlier date, were there during the rainy/cloudy days and did not see Mt. Fuji at all. Lugi.
  • Take the earliest train possible.  You can sleep during the trip, anyways.  Mt. Fuji is best seen before noon, when the clouds haven't condensed on the mountain tops and the sun isn't obstructing your view.
  • Upgrade your Shinjuku to Hakone-Yumoto trip to Limited Express Romancecar (+ 870 JPY).  This is reserved seating, so its best to buy them at the same time you buy your freepass.  This makes the trip way more convenient, as there is no need to change trains in Odawara.  The Hakone Freepass can be bought at any Odakyu Line Station, or for a more tourist-friendly service, go to the Odakyu Sightseeing Service Center at the Shinjuku Station.
  • Wear a good pair of walking shoes. You need not use hiking shoes for this trip, as the paths are already tourist-friendly.  But as much as possible, wear shoes with a well-cushioned sole.

When we arrived at Hakone, we just followed the Hakone Model Sightseeing Course, which already contains the best route possible to enjoy the tourist landmarks in the area.  My favorite sightseeing spot would have to be in Owakudani, which has the best view of Mt. Fuji.

Tokyo, Japan 2013 (Day 9)


Back to Tourist Mode

Only a couple of days left in Japan, and thankfully the forecast for the rest of the trip was a sunny spring weather. We spent this day going back to the places we were not able to enjoy fully because of the rain.

Asakusa

It was reaaaaally sunny that time, and partly because of the volume of tourists it was getting hot in the area as well. Asakusa is best for souvenir shopping at bargain prices (there's no haggling in Japan, though), and souvenir shopping we did.

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The building with the golden tae on top of it is the Asahi Beer Hall, or something.


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Tokyo, Japan 2013 (Day 8)

Skytree from Below

Tokyo Skytree is another observation tower, much higher than the Tokyo Tower and significantly newer--it just opened last year.  However, it was waaaay too foggy that time so we didn't went up the observation deck.  Good thing, too, since the ticket price is exaggerately high for our liking.

We just hung around the mall area to do window shopping, and also had a late lunch at the food court, where we had our first taste of the famous Ippudon Ramen.

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Apologies, I wasn't able to take a lot of pictures of the area.
I wasn't able to whip out my camera as often as I should because of the weather.


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May 14, 2013

The Theory of Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy, including me.  But now, I'm not sure.  Is it really happiness that I should be seeking? 

I've seen people being happy.  See is the operative word, because more often than not, happy people can't help but show the world that they are happy.  They blog, post pictures, post status updates, and even share unsolicited stories about their happiness.  Good for them; I'm glad that things are going their way.

Thing is, 'yun nga... things are going their way, so much so that some of them have become oblivious to what's happening around them.  They forget everything else -- the world, their family, their friends, and even themselves.  In attempts to preserve this happiness, they blindly fight to keep things going their way, even to the point of losing everything else that *used to* matter.  They stop listening to other friends' advice, blissfully unaware that there are, in fact, other things to be concerned about.  Eh sa masaya ako eh. Why can't others be just plain happy for me?

Me, me, me.  That's what they all start to think about. ME AND MY HAPPINESSI am happy, so others should be happy for me or else shut the f*** up.


May 12, 2013

Tokyo, Japan 2013 (Day 7)


Sumo Morning

Yesterday burned quite a hole in our pockets, so we decided to take it easy for today. The weather was still cooperative, so we decided to check out our hostel's bulletin board for any free activities for that day.  Luckily, there was a free sumo wrestling tournament scheduled for that day, held in Yasukuni Shrine (near the Imperial Palace area). Supposedly, this event happens every year during April. Nice timing.

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That is one HUGE Otorii.

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Sumo wrestlers preparing themselves.  There's already a huge crowd by the time we arrived,
so we weren't able to get "good" seats.

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Paparazzi shot of the wrestlers waiting for their turn.


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Tokyo, Japan 2013 (Day 6)


Fish for Breakfast

The weather was getting better by Day 6, so we decided that it was time to go around the city once more and experience what Tokyo has to offer.

Our first stop was to have breakfast at the Tsukiji Market, a fish/wet market famous for its fish auctions.  See, the Japanese take seafood seriously--especially their fish.  Fresh catches of the morning are unloaded to the port just beside the market, where auctions are held as early as 4 o' clock in the morning. Wholesalers and restaurant owners are the usual clients for those auctions, and tourists/passersby are not normally allowed to watch (I think they have to secure a pass/ticket, or they have a cut-off of some sort).  We didn't bother to go to the auction because, well, because it was too damn early for us hehehe. What we're really interested in is what happens around the area.


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Looks yummy. I bet one leg packs more meat than our local alimasag.

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Left: Map of the Tsukiji Market area
Right: Various precautions for tourists to follow

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Even when the auctions are over, the place still looks busy.

The freshest seafood you can imagine are served at the restaurants surrounding the market.  Food bloggers already have picked their favorites, which can be observed by the looooooong line of people waiting to enter the restaurant.  Restaurants in Tsukiji Market are also counter-style, where the sushi chefs serve your food in front of you.

As we were pretty hungry by the time we arrived at the market, we did not bother queuing up the famous restaurants, and we just chose the first one that can accommodate us.  Malamang, whatever sushi they serve us will be a hundred times better than the sushi served back in the Philippines.  You can't get any more fresher than the fish in Tsukiji Market.

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One of the curious things we found in the market; 
I think this is one of those ingredients that make your food taste Japanese.

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Queue on one of the famous sushi restaurants in Tsukiji Market.

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Wasabi IRL!!! I'm so happy to have found these.  Naturally, I bought one to bring back home.

Oops, I just realized that I wasn't able to take pictures of the restaurant that we ate at.  I think we used Ge's camera for that.  Apologies, I was too busy enjoying my breakfast that I forgot to take a picture of it.  Tsk tsk.


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Around the City

After our breakfast, we headed out to view the other tourist spots of Tokyo.  Most of the day was spent walking (and taking the train); I must say that we were able to make the most of the weather, and nabawi naman namin 'yung mga araw na hindi kami nakapaglibot dahil sa ulan.

May 03, 2013

Dirty Bokeh

Just recently, I got a Canon EOS 500D (or Canon EOS Rebel T1i for those who follow the American branding). This is my first DSLR since I've taken interest in photography.  See, for the longest time I've been practicing SLR photography using film cameras, so to instantly witness captured images as they are translated into digitally-rendered pixels is an experience that is both gratifying and terrifying for me. 

Transitioning to Digital SLR Photography

This transition is gratifying because, now I can be as carefree as I want when taking shots.  I don't have to worry about optimizing 36 exposures, because now I can store all of my shots in a 16GB memory card.

However, this transition is also terrifying because, now I REALLY have to take care of my camera and its accessories.  Before, I had no worries about getting dust into my lens, because blemishes somehow add character to the film output.  Heck, I don't need Photoshop to give my images the vintage effect.  I'm using film, dammit! You can't get any more vintage-y than that.
But I digress.  Moving on...

Incidentally, the lenses that I'm using in my film SLR can also be used in my DSLR.  And thanks to the high-definition quality of digital images, I've come to realize how bad I was in maintaining my camera gear.

Dirty Bokeh


Notice the dark spots in these light balls. (click) 


Using my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens to capture digital bokehs, I've noticed dark spots inside the light balls.  I've had this lens with me for over a year, and I've never had this kind of output before.  Only after showing it to my sister, I learned that this could be a result of fungal growth inside the lens.

How can camera lenses have fungal growth?

Fungi are attracted to dark, damp, and oxygenated places.  We see mushrooms sprouting more often during the rainy season, bread mold can be found on abandoned bread, and there's Athlete's Foot... you get the picture.  And camera lenses, when left unmaintained, are also likely targets for fungal growth, especially if we always leave our gear untouched inside camera bags.  The first part to get *infected* is the glass element of the lens.  And once the fungus reaches the phase where it is able to spore, you will have a fungal ecosystem inside your lens in no time.
Here are some images from my sister's badly infested Sigma lens:

Vintage Finds

**Edit: updated entry with link/samples of developed shots from the Yashica rangefinder. 

I have come to realize how old our house was; reflecting upon the various vintage stuff that we were able to unearth AND bring back to life again.

Old, but not in a bad way.  I was actually surprised how well preserved these finds are, as all that were needed were new batteries (assuming that the required battery model is still in production up until now) and some cleaning, and everything works like new again... so to speak.

1) Minolta SR-T 201

Matanda pa 'yan sa akin. 

This film SLR was actually my lolo's camera, passed on to his youngest son, then to my cousin, then to my sister and me. The first shots of this camera from us were taken by my sister, and during that time we were all reacquainting ourselves with film again, thus our n00b blunders while trying to work this thing.

Then came my interest in pursuing film photography.  Since the Minolta was the only working film camera in our house that time, my practice shots were mostly done on this camera.  I've tried color negatives, cross-processing, and even red-scaling on this one.

 

Only until recently I was able to discover how to work the zoom on the lenses.  Unfortunately, my discovery put significant stress on this old camera... suffice to say, I accidentally broke the lens.  The barrel came out of the mount, and mechanical camera pieces came out of the barrel.  I was able to put things back together decently, but unfortunately wasn't able to make the zoom work again.  Luckily, things were put back into order during my recent trip to Hidalgo.  The damage was 800 PhP, but at least I now am able to use Minolta like new again.


2) Yashica MG-1


Yes, this one's STILL older than me. 

This film rangefinder belongs to my dad naman.  I vaguely recall my mom bringing this out from the proverbial baul, when she noticed my sudden interest in film photography.  Back then I was only interested in SLRs, so I really didn't take any notice on this one.  Only when my sister showed this to me again did I realize that this may indeed be a worthy treasure.  300 PhP to the Hidalgo camera cleaners, and this one sparkled like new again.

We just loaded a roll of film (36 exp) last weekend, which still hasn't been used up.  The split-screen focus on the viewfinder is proving itself to be a challenge.  I will update you with the pictures... if any good ones get developed, hehe.


More pictures in my Flickr account. 

3) Pop Swatch Star Parade - PWB168


Children of the 80's unite! 

This watch was my sister's, given to her by our relatives living in the States.  According to the website I found, this model was released in the 1992 Spring Summer Collection... finally, a vintage find that isn't older than me!  The plastic mold that holds the watch face isn't as flexible as it was before, but the watch still works.  All it needed was a battery replacement (150 PhP in Swatch Kiosk - Mall of Asia), and some cleaning on the contact points on the battery, and voila, you can tell time with vintage style.  You gotta love these Swiss watches.

... So, what's my next vintage project?

 

You can't get any more vintage than THIS. 

I've been eyeing the vinyl records being kept in the cassette-tape player-recorder-slash-am-fm-radio-slash-phonograph, which is currently being used as a makeshift computer table (tsk, tsk, talk about disrespect to the classics).

Phonograph, pare.  Old school to the max.  The name in the component says National AM/FM Stereo Cassette System Royce SE-70, but I am unable to find such model in the internet (not even in Google images).

Just imagining being able to work this thing - placing the needles on the vinyl records, experiencing analog sound quality, complete with the faint rustle of the needle being in contact with the record... sigh, I'm getting goosebumps thinking about it.

I'm just wondering how much it would cost me to revive this thing.  Hope it wouldn't cost that much.