Archive for December, 2011

30
Dec
11

CHRISTMAS BREAK 2011 DAY 5 : MALACANANG PALACE

Our Christmas Break 2011 Blog Series includes :

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*Disclaimer : I try to maintain my blog as an APOLITICAL one so this isn’t about views and opinions about any issue. :)

 “How many times have you been inside Malacanang Palace?”  asked by Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks to our group of 14 tourists –a mix of locals, balikbayans and a few foreigners.  One of us replied, “Four!”   …I thought my previous Malacanang experience was absolutely no match because I only answered, “Once“…

Then Ivan continued to ask, “How many times have you been to SM (Shoemart Department Stores)?

I smiled. :)

Apparently, setting foot inside the grounds where President of the Philippines resides and takes office doesn’t happen on a daily basis.  Needless to say, it’s another EXTRAORDINARY experience for us. Thank you, Ivan for the invites! My wife, my dad-in-law and I definitely enjoyed every bits. Brilliant!

We began The Power, Palace and A Shot of Beer Walking Tour in one of the art-deco huge houses in San Miguel, Manila– the Legarda Mansion, that’s known to others as the fine-dining restaurant, La Cocina de Tita Moning. From there, Ivan escorted  us through a parallel of San Miguel all the way to the stone throw away, Malacanang. The drizzle that Wednesday afternoon wasn’t an issue to get us in the Palace.

these things look amazing to me...

ORGANIZED…  Several days prior, we received an email with reminders of what to expect, where to meet, the how-to-get-there-map, and whatnot on the this walking tour. Our names were collected for submission as guests to the Kalayaan Hall or the Malacanang Palace Museum thus, getting inside was such a breeze (Do you think PSG did a character-investigation prior to the tour? haha, just asking!).  Understandably, since we’re paying the highest office of the land a visit, our bags and bodies were scanned; cameras were labeled with red-orange PSG stickers (I just didn’t get it why PSG asked us-those with cameras to have a test shot with them or point and shoot it first at anything…). Ivan explained everything’s a protocol, of course.

With utmost humility, I got 1.25 (highest of 1.0 and lowest of 5.0) in Philippine History back in my days when I was taking up my pre-medical course at Far Eastern University (who cares, right? even the carebears don’t care, toinks!). Defensively, I am neither a History geek nor a happy-g0-lucky kind of guy. I just don’t know up to now what soul got into me those days that I became so fascinated with Agoncillo’s book on Philippine History and taking essay-type-of-exams in our class wasn’t difficult for me. With more than a decade after, I forgot everything I’ve learned. Haha! Well, almost.

INFORMATIVE…Glad I was one of the participants of this walking tour because A LOT of things that happened in the past were not found on books. And Ivan had refreshed and informed us even of things unfamiliar to many. Case in point are these four men  on a set of painting who contributed to the Philippine History. The only name that rang a bell to my ears was Hernando de Magallanes who toured the globe before he got killed with his Portugese Christian soldiers by a native ruler of Mactan, Cebu–who else but Lapu-lapu. (Iyong iba, di ko ka-facebook, hehehe!) :)

Apart from history and politics aside, Malacanang Palace as a tangible structure in my humble opinion, is very Filipino or at least represents who we are, how we evolved through the years. Inspite of the fact that the exteriors reminds us of Spanish colonial regime, it boasts of intricate carvings on solid wood inside its vast and countless rooms that  obviously reflect talent, skills, artistry and craftmanship of Filipino people.

Must have that detailed shot…

INTERESTING…wood carving galore!

Can you believe that this served as a luggage used in traveling in the previous era? ...*hebigat*

One can easily tell that those solid wood carvings from  Narra, Kamagong and other finest lumber are symbolic of our resilience amidst adversities, or was it only my interpretation? I hope others won’t perceived it as luxuries in the heart of a third world country (Did I just mentioned this blog would not discuss social and political issues?).

NEVER  BORING… The tour featured almost all corners of the museum and the stories behind them.

Imagine the efforts exerted in making these floor to ceiling wood carvings. One can almost feel the hands that held those chisels. Artistic. Decorative. Beautiful!

Nothing’s overlooked…

even the electric sockets should look authoritative? :P

NOSTALGIC…Alas, my solitary memory of Malacanang Palace resurfaced from my lazy cerebrum. Upon the sight of the rooms, I remembered Imelda Marcos’ shoes, Ferdinand Marcos’ five libraries with vast collection of books, their gorgeous paintings, Madame’s canopied bed with wooden crown at its top, her toilet boasting of jars of perfumes with actual miniscule faucets and a lot more of Marcos’.

Admit it, they're the most vivid and powerful people who lived in the palace.

COMPELLING… How does a ruler convince his people to follow his lead?

Letras Y Figuras : One of the eye-catching commissioned paintings inside Malacanang has the name of Imelda Romualdez Marcos with scenic and iconic paintings representing her "achievements" per letter of her name.

Si Sir....

at si Madame...

Martial Law may have scarred the many; thus, looking at the same chair and table where it was proclaimed could hyperstimulate your senses or worst, can be disturbing…

ENGAGING with WITS and HUMOR…As a lecturer myself for almost a decade now, I have learned to make my classroom discussion interactive, lively and enticing despite a boring topic.  And the Ivan Man Dy certainly knows to do the same, in fact far better than my limited skills.  He makes Philippine History soft and chewy to absorb by the common tao, much more by the foreigners who most of the time are clueless of our own story.

"How many pairs shoes did Imelda Marcos have?", "Where are her shoes now?" Everyone was enthralled in the charming discussion about everything inside the museum including fellow blogger, Marian of her site, upto6only (wearing black shirt with pink headband and pink belt; yes, it must be pink, right, Marian? hehe!)

Folks, meet the most participative tourist in our group,  Mr. Primo (the one wearing Fedora hat and eyeglasses). He’s the man who made the tour more fascinating. He had the most extensive commentaries.

Ivan's so successful in engaging all of us in his tour.

To me, students who come to my classes so prepared and well-read, are definitely a challenge. And Mr. Primo is similar to such, that with his impressive knowledge on Philippine History, his great discussions with Ivan made me think he could effortlessly pass as a Dean in an academe or simply put, he’s someone who experienced the tales being told.

FANTASTIC... The tour featured the priceless art works of Filipino artists as well as gifts from foreign dignitaries that are all housed inside Kalayaan Hall.

I just had to click my cam on the sculpture of that Greek God, Mercury (right photo); reminds me of a local drugstore's tag line, "Gamot ay Laging Bago" hehe!

There’s something for everyone to be interested with…

With all due respect, Ex-President Joseph Ejercito Estrada's inaugural Barong Tagalog showed he's definitely bigger than I am. *no pun intended*.

She will be forever Tita Cory to me. I was once a child growing up in her presidency.

One of the reasons why this tour's called, "Palace, Power and A Shot of Beer" : San Miguel Brewery back in the old days was located literally beside Malacanang Palace. Don't ask me how it happened. I highly suggest you join the tour of Old Manila Walks.

And of course, there were those photo-op moments…

Special thanks to my father-in-law who snapped this shot.

On way out, I found this sculpture of a family that I wished to have as a takeaway. hehe!

After more than 2 hours, we walked our way out of the Palace and Ivan led us back to the Legarda Mansion (not of  Senator Loren’s but Atty Katrina’s family).

The tour promised a fine-dining merienda, et voila!

How often do you eat with rose petals on the table?

We enjoyed it in an-open-air-dining area within the simple garden of the Legarda’s.  The ambiance was so casual yet the offerings were special.

The sotanghon (vermicelli noodles) dish was a delight. Squeezing a calamansi covered with mesh (similar to how they serve it at the Lobby of the Manila Peninsula --abangan!) over a sauce dish of fish sauce and chili even made the pancit more heavenly.

We were treated to a delicious light snack but absolutely less ordinary…

If my taste buds and memory serve me right, those 2 slices were chicken galantina. One thing is definite, its aroma and fantastic taste was to die for.

However, they made the dessert less sweet (perhaps, they’re considering the diabetic tourists/diners). Sayang, I like it done with more sugar.

Guinataang Bilo-bilo

For the nth time, this tour’s called, Palace, Power and A Shot of Beer.  So other than that refreshing and refillable Tanglad Iced Tea (Lemon Grass Iced Tea) and cold water, here’s that single shot of San Miguel Beer, cheers! :D

It was so nice to end a tour with a simple feast. But lo and behold, Ivan gave us a plus! After I told him that I read somewhere that the Legarda Mansion houses a doctor’s clinic (the patriarch and his 4 kids were all MDs), without hesitation, he invited all of us for a short but another impressive tour inside La Cocina De Tita Moning.

The experience inside the Legarda Mansion deserves a separate post…Soon! :)

For interested parties to join Ivan Man Dy’s tours of Manila, contact them via their website at OLDMANILAWALKS.COM

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Manigong Bagong Taon po sa lahat at Maraming Salamat! May the good Lord continuously shower us with His divine grace.

25
Dec
11

CHRISTMAS BREAK 2011 DAY 8 : BISPERAS NG PASKO SA ULINGAN

Our Christmas Break 2011 Blog Series includes :

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“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I was once lost but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.

“T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.  And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear;  the hour I first believed”

Even Santa Claus found time to visit the children of Ulingan.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;  ‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.”

“The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.”

Thank you generous donors, co-volunteers and supporters of Project Pearls!

Bigay ng BreadTalk

“Yeah, when this flesh and heart shall fail,  And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil,  A life of joy and peace.”

“When we’ve been here ten thousand years. Bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise. Than when we’ve first begun.”

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,  That saved a wretch like me.   I once was lost but now am found,   Was blind, but now I see.”

Pagpalain Nawa Tayo Ng Maykapal.

*Thank you so much PROJECT PEARLS (through the amazing photojournalist-blogger, Mr. Sidney Snoeck of the award winning blog, MY SARISARI STORE , the generous soul behind  PROJECT PEARLS,  Ms. Melissa Villa, and the rest of my co-volunteers) for sharing with me one of my most unforgettable experience in ULINGAN. Your unselfish efforts to help the children and their families living in Ulingan is awe-inspiring.

*For those of you who would like to contribute, donate, share, volunteer and help, kindly contact and coordinate with PROJECT PEARLS. Thank you and God bless!

*Amazing Grace, the song used in this post was written by John Newton.

23
Dec
11

CHRISTMAS BREAK 2011 : EN ROUTE TO PINAS

*This blog series includes : Christmas Break 2011 Day 2 : ULINGAN, TONDO

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16 December 2011, Thursday night.  I arranged a pick up from our place in Butterworth to Penang International Airport via SMS with an Indian taxi cab driver whom we frequently call whenever we need a ride prior to departure and arrival.  He came at around 7 in the evening and with the expected rush-hour-traffic jam, we arrived before 8PM at the terminal.  Dropping of our 49 kilo-luggages and bags was such a breeze because I did the online check-in already and had our boarding passes printed from the web days prior to our flight.  And because we’re on a very limited budget and value practicality above something else, we went home via Malaysia’s budget airline, Air Asia (May kamahalan na din ang nakuha naming ticket kumpara sa karaniwan at promo airfares dito –humigit-kumulang PhP 35K kaming tatlo, one way from Pen-KUL, then KUL-CRK).

I set to use my annual work leave in spending Christmas season in Pinas. I didn’t go home or utilized my paid days off else where (read : our breaks in Paris, New York and London *kidding!* I wish but we only went to Kelantan, Malaysia, Singapore and  Hatyai, Thailand this year were all enjoyed during public holidays) but saved it for the yuletide. After all, it is Christmas that Tina, Gabby and I consider as the most wonderful time of the year, the happiest season of all!

Despite Penang is only1545 miles away from the Philippines, there’s no direct flight yet to connect my current work place and our home. So it’s either you fly Singapore or Hong Kong first –which would cost you your arms and legs at this time of the year, or either take the cheaper but longer route by the bus or train or fly from Penang to Kuala Lumpur first that we usually do.

At the Penang International Airport which has on-going renovations (hey look, NAIA 1, terminals outside our country are on the road to improvement, and you?) we had dinner from one of Gabby’s favorite fast foods. It was a simple delight to have twister fries and quarter pounder before a flight. :)

After dinner, the waiting period began. Our local flight from Pen-KUL was supposedly 11:15PM but was delayed for 30 minutes. What can we do but bear with the waiting game. Are you fond of waiting for your flight/s at the airport?  I do except when it’s not on time. I mean, I maybe impatient at other matters but killing time at the terminals for me is not that bad.

We safely reached KL-LCCT after 45 minute flight. Everything’s fine except the looooong walk from the tarmac to the airport itself. The fatigue and lack of sleep were gone withe the sight of this heavenly food place that we’ve been wanting to try…

The Low Cost Carrier Terminal in Kuala Lumpur may not be one of the best, perhaps not even included in top 10 great terminals in the world and in my opinion has also its share of inconvenience but nontheless has decent choices of food places. We passed on Starbucks Coffee, Mary Brown Fried Chicken (Malaysia’s answer to KFC), and some other few but we failed to resist the charm of Theobroma Chocolate Lounge.

the ambiance is casual and inviting.

Forgive us for indulging chocolates before 2 in the morning. Sinful is it not? :D

Look, everything looked nice and tasted great too but they served the knife & fork with its tips exposed and the handles wrapped with tissues and before you wrongly judge Theobroma, let me inform you that this is a common practice in restaurants around Malaysia; and frequently, availability of tissues is a rarity in hawkers too! (read: I am not a foodie expert neither have a degree in culinary but my common sense dictates me that it’s best to wrap and cover the  parts you’ll put in your mouth rather than expose and drop it directly on the table. Spell HYGIENE and CLEANLINESS, people!).

Moving on…Tell me, how can you resist Theobroma’s Belgian Waffle with Ice Cream?

Me speaking to the waiter : “What are your bestsellers here? What can you recommend?”

Waiter pointing to the menu he handed us : “Ah, eto po ang masasarap, ok po ito, iyan…”

Me : “Ah, Kabayan! Saan kayo sa atin? Ano ba masarap dito?

the eyes tell you that they're sleep deprived but hungry. hehe! :)

Our verdict : The waffle’s tasteful! The strawberry slices rippled with chocolate were divine. And it’s so amazing that the scoop of ice cream took several minutes to melt which made us ask ourselves, is it gelato?

Gabby went to the counter and checked out the cakes. I believe he wanted Oreo chocolate cake but we were served with Orange Chocolate slice. We did not complain; I felt there’s no need to because we also wanted to sample such flavorful combo.

Gabby’s taste buds were a bit purist. When he wants chocolate, he wants nothing else. In fact, our kiddo doesn’t want any nuts when eating anything chocolate. But the cake was a delight for me and Tina. It reminded us of one of Haagen Dazs’.

Tina asked our kabayang-waiters (we talked to 2 of them-one serving us and the other at the counter) their recommendations. One of them highly suggested QUEEN OF ROCK AND ROLL.

Me asking Tina :” ‘ney, design lang ba iyong nasa cup or chocolate ripple talaga?

Tina : “ano ka ba, chocolate!”  –tapos ngumiti iyong waiter sa clueless moment ko.

We trusted our kabayang-waiter and the suggested cup doesn’t disappoint! Queen of Rock and Roll (left photo below) went to Gabby and he loved it! That chocolatey creamy drink indeed rocks! :) While Tina opted for a coffee-chocolate blend called MADAME ESKIMO which was beautifully served with a coffee bean on top. My lovely wife, despite sleep deprived was happy! :)

Thumbs up for Theobroma's blends!

As for me, I needed to have something warm; I settled for FLAT WHITE.

Sarap! Nakakawala ng antok!  Someone should bring home Theobroma Chocolate Lounge to NAIA Terminal 1 please!

The prices are comparable to Starbucks Coffee. Service is efficient. Goodies are yummies! :)

The Air Asia check in counter didn’t open until it was past 4AM. Maraming PASAWAY sa pila na ibang lahi. SINGIT! I didn’t allow them to get in over my queue. Our international flight from Kuala Lumpur to Clark Field, Pampanga was scheduled at 6:45AM. And so I thought, di ba 4 hours dapat bukas na ang airline counter kapag international flight?

Waiting, waiting and more waiting.  After few bladder and bowel breaks, yikes! (hey, it’s part of morning rituals, right?), we decided to spend our last hour prior to the flight and our few remaining ringgit in OLD TOWN WHITE COFFEE restaurant also in LCCT.

Tina and I had a plate each of this noodle dish that the name slipped my memory.

I may have forgotten its name but the taste was etched on my palate. Sarap! It’s so comforting to eat hot noodle dish in the wee hours of the morning.

I was fortunate enough to avail of our RETURN FLIGHT on the first week of January 2012 last April 2011 at its promo sale. It only costs me PhP 8K nett for the 3 of us with 40 kg check in luggage and I think that’s a steal! :) However, due to tight budget, I only purchased our airline tickets from Pen-KUL, then KUL-CRK last week of November for our Dec 16-17 flight. Understandably, most of the aircrafts servicing Malaysia-Philippines route are alreay full because of the  holiday season and prices of tickets are expectedly steep than usual. Nonetheless, come hell or high waters, Tina, Gabby and I have to spend Christmas in the country we call HOME.

From the arrival area of Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA), we claimed and paid our reserved bus tickets from the friendly ladies of Philtranco bus liner kiosk located at the lobby. I googled their website and did the reservation via email; a ticket from DMIA to SM Megamall (even up to Pasay City) costs PhP 400/pax.

The trip was only an hour and a half and everything went OK except for the traffic from Balintawak in Caloocan after NLEX to EDSA then Ortigas approaching SM Megamall. But hey, it ain’t home without the traffic! *pun intended*

The next morning, we savored one of our missed breakfast meals…

Nothing spells the Christmas celebrations better than spending it in your home country with your love ones. Walang katulad ang Pasko sa Pilipinas! :)

From Tina, Gabby and me, Maligayang Pasko po at Manigong Bagong Taon! :)

19
Dec
11

CHRISTMAS BREAK 2011 DAY 2 : ULINGAN, TONDO

18 December, 2011. Sunday. 2nd day of our days off from work in Penang. *Arrival and Day 1 to follow.

Prelude : People who have been chronically exposed to coal dust of about 15 to 2o years are at risk to develop COALWORKERS’ PNEUMOCONIOSIS also known as “black lung disease” which is a progressive and incurable disease. Imagine the plight of those babies, children and their families living in Ulingan.

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I tried to win the battle against the alarm of my mobile by curling up in bed a bit longer but my sleepy brain was telling me that I  needed to wake up at 4:15AM with the thought that I shouldn’t be late to my appointment on a very early Sunday morning.  Resistance as they say, is futile.  So after my quick but necessary morning rituals, I kissed my wife and our 7-year old son goodbye while they’re still dreaming and immediately hopped on a tricycle from my relatives’ place in Pasig City and rode a jeepney to LRT 2 Santolan Station. From there, I took the train for less than half an hour to Avenida, Recto Manila. One more jeepney ride and I found myself at the corner of Kalaw Avenue.

Because I left the house with an empty stomach, I felt the urgency to fill it in.  I surrendered to one of my favorite Jollibee breakfast meals -fried rice, egg, corned beef and coffee. Solb! :)

En route to our meeting place, I walked through Rizal Park (formerly known as Luneta Park back in my childhood). It’s  good to be back here after some time.

Glad to see you again, fellow MD –JPR.

To say that Rizal’s iconic is an understatement. The sight of his monument was so apt to further fire my willingness that day to participate in a medical mission of PROJECT PEARLS in Ulingan, Tondo, Manila. I had a chance to become a manggagamot again just like JPR in joining this worthwhile activity. Thanks to SIDNEY SNOECK  (a Belgian photojournalist whose heart is in the Philippines and thanks to his facebook account and his famous and award-winning blog, MY SARISARI STORE) that I got to know MELISSA VILLA (the soul behind the charitable organization) and PROJECT PEARLS.

I had arranged the schedule with him few days before my family and I left for Pinas.  Sidney and I met up in front of Manila Hotel at around 7AM and together we went to Ulingan in Tondo, Manila.

In my 35 years of existence, I have heard so much poverty in my country commonly personified by people of Smokey Mountain who thrive in rubbish. But it was only last Sunday when I saw and experienced the gospel truth behind issues I’ve read and heard. The sight was terribly haunting.

Sidney : “Doc, I’m sorry I failed to ask you to wear proper footwear. Your shoes will get muddy and dirty.”

Me : “Don’t worry, it’s already muddy even before we got here.” 

I should’ve been prepared to wear rubber boots (the ones worn by fishermen, wet market vendors, and the like) however, I had no hesitation to soak my shoes just to reach (out to) Ulingan.

Unbelievably, a community exists in this part of Manila.

ULINGAN is a small slum community in Tondo, Manila that sits on a dumpsite and surrounded by charcoal factories that emit toxic smoke; there is no electricity, no access to toilets or sanitation. Children and families have no choice but to live with soot, garbage, mosquitoes, flies all day and all night.  The common meal is “pagpag” (leftover food from fast-food restaurants scavenged from garbage sites). “Pagpag” means to shake away the dirt and maggots in the food.”  -sourced from the website of PROJECT PEARLS.

These are their homes– the abodes where they face life’s challenges, the houses where they build their dreams…

Sidney noticed the potted greens -proof that people of Ulingan still find time to make their surrounding a little pleasant despite and inspite of their condition.

This is their usual food, “pagpag” which is sold at PhP 15 per pack…

This is their common past time…

And this is how they make a living…

Sidney told me that children who work for their families in Ulingan remove the nails from the pieces of wood they collect from else where, then other workers would burn them under an "earth" where smoke is emitted day and night. It takes 2 days before charcoal is ready.

Before a sack of charcoal can be sold to about PhP 320 each….

the end consumer might be clueless that young and small hands were behind those uling...

Imagine breathing the smoke and living with the tons of rubbish day and night. Think of babies born by mothers within Ulingan with only midwife to assist and manage them. Life is unbearable but people here are probably the most resilient to tolerate such difficulties.

The main purpose of my trip to Ulingan began immediately after I was brought to the Project Pearls Learning Center.

Despite my heart was breaking at the sight of everything and everyone in Ulingan, inspite of the fact that my respiratory tract wasn’t getting along well with the polluted atmosphere in that community (I have not puffed a cigarette stick in my entire life but believe me, the feeling was probably worse than chronic smoking. I only spent half day in Ulingan but it also took me another six hours to breathe with less discomfort), I was silently jumping for joy upon seeing these…

Thank you to those who donated medicines for us to prescribe and dispense that day. May God bless us all!

*photo courtesy of ace photojournalist, Sidney Snoeck. Thank you, Sid! Mabuhay ka!

Assessing his frontal mass, apparently an infected wound with a complaint of pain and swelling in his mouth. Because we didn't have sterile instruments, I gave a referral note for surgical consult and management at a nearest hospital.

Do you remember the song, Paraiso sung and recorded by the group, Smokey Mountain and if I’m not mistaken, composed by Ryan Cayabyab?  The lyrics came to my mind when I was in Ulingan…

“Return to a land called paraiso,
A place where a dying river ends.
No birds there fly over paraiso,
No space allows them to endure.
The smoke that screens the air,
The grass that’s never there.And if i could see a single bird, what a joy.
I try to write some words and create
A simple song to be heard
By the rest of the world.

Their eagerness and enthusiasm to read and learn despite and inspite of everything are inspiring! Hope is alive in their hearts!

His eyes tell so much tales…

but his hands and feet certainly melted my heart…

As a father to our 7-year-old son, I feel so much for these kids. They’ve been exposed to unimaginable severities in life and were robbed of their childhood. Look at their eyes and peek into their souls…

It was a day that I will not forget for as long as I live.  Sidney was repeatedly thanking me before we left Ulingan but I told him the pleasure’s mine. Had it not for him and the organization he’s in, I will not be reminded to make the most of what we have, and MUST THINK BEFORE WE COMPLAIN because we are more blessed than people of Ulingan who certainly know how to SMILE AMIDST ADVERSITIES.

Thank you to all my fellow volunteers…

Thank you, Project Pearls, Ms. Melissa Villa and Mr. Sidney Snoeck for giving me a chance to experience this worthwhile endeavor.

Find me in a sea of unsung heroes. It's an honor to be with them! *photo courtesy of the awe-inspiring photojournalist and award-winning blogger, Sidney Snoeck.

Another wonderful shot by Sidney–this time with Lola Felissa, a 99 year old woman from Ulingan. It’s just amazing she’s still up and about, can still walk and stand straight as if she’s not in her late geriatric years!

One more year and Lola Felissa from Ulingan will be a centenarian! I have not even lived half of the years she enjoyed in life! Mabuhay ka, Lola Felissa! *photo by Sidney Snoeck.

Thank you for these priceless smiles that bid us goodbye…

You can make these children’s lives a little better through your donations and/or by supporting the activities of PROJECT PEARLS; contact the organization via their website at ProjectPearls.Org

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*This is the first of the series of our Christmas vacation in the Philippines; DAY 1 to follow soon.   May our CHRISTmas and holiday celerbations be happy and meaningful.  Let us always count our blessings!  God bless us! :)

11
Dec
11

RECYCLED GEMS

Never underestimate things from rubbish for you might find gold in them.  I told Gabby this while we walked our way towards Armenian Street in George Town after alighting the ferry from Jetty. The little-big boy, at first was puzzled until I simplified what it means.

I was surprised when our 7-year-old wonder boy is already familiar with the triple R -recycle, reduce, reuse. Apparently, his mom and teachers have been doing their duties wonderfully. Our casual father-and-son conversation became more meaningful when we spotted several used bath tubs now serving as plant boxes lining the street. Whoever thought of that must have been so environmental-friendly.

As Tina usually wants to spend her Sunday at home whenever possible (for she  thinks and I also agree that she deserves a rest before she begins another work week), it was only Gabby and I who went out to the Island primarily to run some errands (we needed to go to a money changer to have our ringgits changed to pesos as we’re going home to Pinas for the holidays, we also had to buy some ingredients for Tina’s home cooked siomai and a few more pasalubongs for our relatives and lastly, I was asked by my lovely wife to bring her old denims for a change of zippers in a repair shop). However before doing all this, I decided to drop by AMELIE CAFE and grabbed the opportunity to expose my kid to something totally different.

that gem in the mirror

Located in #6 Armenian Street beside a famous tourist spot, Cheah Si Sek Tek Tong that we have yet to explore some other time, AMELIE CAFE is a hole-in-the-wall cafe that serves quality Western food in the heart of George Town.

At  first sight, one would not imagine that this tiny food place can provide a charmingly beautiful gastronomic experience. It actually looks like an ordinary carinderia outside, housed at the ground floor of a pre-war building except that its simple facade was made attractively beautiful by those lavish green potted plants and its unique hand-made sign boards express that there must be more than meets the eye. :)

Amelie Cafe is open from 10AM daily except Mondays

Having been an expat for more than a year here in Penang, I completely know that this Malaysian state, particularly in one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, George Town, offers diversities not only in race, religion and color but evidently in culinary department as well. Like mushrooms in the woods, hawker food stalls, restaurants and coffee shops are having healthy competitions despite they thrive side by side.  Food in this part of Asia is more than substantial but a lucrative business too.

With the commercially available kedai kopi like Starbucks Coffee, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf including the popular local kopitiam and the like, AMELIE CAFE, in my honest opinion has greater advantage above all these giants.

It’s edge –the highly creative atmosphere out of recycled materials.

Take a peek at what we had enjoyed inside…

It’s like we entered a hole-in-the-wall eatery-slash-museum-slash-art-gallery. Amazing’s an understatement! :)

No corner was overlooked; even its humble ceiling deserves a glimpse.

On top of the door were tin plates displayed beneath those water plants (I’ve known them as celia as told by my old relatives; we have some at home in Butterworth cut from the jetty/ferry station) placed in old bottles of various branded fruit jams.

What’s great with all of these decors, I think they’re highly mobile as the owners can move them from one corner to the other making the interiors of Amelie Cafe uniquely different in a snap.

There’s only one ceiling fan without unusual look but nonetheless functional.

Must have that detail shot…

i want to take that dog & cat painting home!

On the left side by the door is a table and this wall…

Who says you cannot create remarkable things out of rubbish?

As we stepped inside Amelie Cafe, we found out that it only has 5 small tables filled with mostly foreigners dining their brunch. Fortune was on our side when we spotted an available table located at the end, just by the kitchen. No worries for Gabby and I because astonishingly, smoke from the frying pan is handled professionally. I didn’t mind being welcomed by the gentle wafting scent of the bacon at late morning; it was so welcoming actually! :)

The limited 5 tables with 3 to 4 stools each do not come in set. Even their plates, cups and saucers never look alike but when put together they contribute to ones’ fantastic dining experience.

Don't let the simplicity of the table and stools fool you; the total dining experience here is more than you can imagine.

The finish of the walls, floor and ceiling was not made perfect but it added to its enticing appeal.

We were greeted by Yen, one of the owners of Amelie Cafe. It’s only Yen and her husband, Hung run the entire show at their very quaint food place. The wonderful duo serve as wait staff, at the same time, do the preparation of food, do the cooking and tender the cashier counter and if chance permits, entertain their diners.  Fantastic! :)  I just failed to ask them if they have formal education in culinary or in related fields nevertheless, I think it’s no longer important as they’ve been managing everything at Amelie Cafe smoothly and successfully.

As Gabby and I sat down, Yen handed in the menu…

menu with hand painted cover, made out of cut-out cartons.

She told us, pointing with her thumb (the way Malaysians do it-not the common use of index finger or for us Pinoys, with a pouting lips, hehe!) to the uber artistic dessert menu board beneath the stairs.

After getting our orders, I asked if they have tandas (toilet), Hung pointed towards the back of the kitchen. The kitchen looks like this…

The Kitchen : Everything's prepared and cooked here. Nothing more, nothing less. Isn't it amazing?

These are some of the artworks located above our table. Other than the use of recycled materials, did you notice the recurrent theme?  Mother Nature must be super happy! :)

Can you spot that solitary little fish inside the jar that was made into its aquarium and a plant vase too?

Humor in recycled art : Old wooden planks nailed side by side painted with fish spines and dog bone noted with “meow” combined with “oof oof !” ….Nice! :)

I believe the couple also did all those colorful pieces. And it looks like they’re also responsible designing the whimsical interiors of Amelie Cafe. How many businessmen do their work with complete hands-on?

With all those eye-catching things, waiting for our orders to be delivered and boredom inside Amelie Cafe didn’t become an issue. After 15 minutes, Gabby and I were already sharing these…

I gave him the liberty to go over the menu and choose whatever he wants. He selected carbonara, hazelnut chocolate parfait and chocolate banana milkshake. That was pure carbo-glucose fix!

After that candid shot, my boy asked me to dunk my fork and eat all those crispy cut bacon strips from the pasta because he doesn’t eat bacon and seldom he likes ham. Sure, I replied to him; I became easily submissive with his wish. :)

As Gabby continuously dreams of becoming a chef, a hotelier, restaurateur someday, I told him that putting up a carinderia as gorgeous and attractive as Amelie Cafe would do. Thinking of owning something like this is more than surreal!

Hazelnut parfait was a perfect ending to our mini-brunch. It came with fresh cranberries that Gabby wrongly thought of cherries. The pasta plate was also satisfyingly good, although minimal in serving and less creamy than usual–the taste actually made the difference. And the milkshake?  Refreshingly delicious!

Honestly, the food doesn’t come that cheap compared to what you might expect. The price is comparable to Starbucks Coffee’s. A little more expensive than the common fast food joints. But hey, you don’t get all these visual treats from those commercial food places.

Then the moment of “must sample their coffee” dawn upon me…

The first sip of this cappuccino was for Tina. Yeehaa! :)  I really wished she’s with us with this (another) extraordinary experience.

The table where we enjoyed everything…

Just before ending our meal at Amelie Cafe, Gabby told me that he liked everything he ate and appreciated all things he saw inside.  Like me, he loved all the artworks, all the delightful clutter including the simple presence of that fish solitarily swimming in that old jar.  The sense of recycling old things and turning them into great use rather than considering them as useless junks was reinstilled in his young mind. The exposure brain-washing, I guess was successful! :)

09
Dec
11

HONG KONG

How would you react if and when your weekend morning’s greeted by this message?

yee-haa! :)

I am a strong believer of the cliche that “best things in life are free!”  And you?

That message simply made my Friday morning. I immediately emailed the sender and noticed her email address and company’s name are both from Malaysia. I got an “out-of-office-automated-reply” but few seconds after that, I received an actual email-response from Ms. Jaclyn. What even delighted me was the fact that she mentioned that the blogger’s wife and 2 kids (I only have Gabby now) will be sponsored too. Ang husay! :) Tara, let’s go! :)

If you must know, I have been with famous Filipino bloggers and media people, the lovely couple of hanna and vince whose names were mentioned on the email-invite when we went to (my lone sponsored trip) that Grecian-inspired, lavishly beautiful beach resort in Northern Luzon last year; it was days before I went to Penang (peek at my blog post about Thunderbird Resorts,HERE! ). And after reaching home, I sent a PM to hanna and she confirmed that Ms. Jaclyn is actually her friend and the invite is legit. Now, I am really EXCITED! I hope it pushes through because it’ll be a great treat for GABBY! It’s been 4 years since the 3 of us went to HK Disneyland.

Talking about Hong Kong, I remember we enjoyed an early dinner in a Hong Kong-themed restaurant here in the island of Penang months ago.

With casual but stylish ambiance, CANTON-i in Queensbay Mall is simply charming.

bird cages used as lights adorn the ceiling of Canton-i.

When Chinese, it must be RED! I like the red-painted walls and ceiling infused with those white gorgeous floral and butterfly and dragonfly panels. It definitely draws attraction and makes diners more eager to eat! That auspicious color seems to be so enigmatic! :)

Appetizer was nutty.

Canton-i has a sister-company, another Shanghainese food place with branch on the same mall called Dragon-i (view our dining experience at Dragon-i HERE!)

My bowl : the photo can't give justice to how good it was.

While Tina shared a wanton-soupy noodle bowl with Gabby…

And apparently, we’re keeping a love affair with dimsum…

One of our favorites : Hakao or shrimp dumplings.

Siomai-mommy! :)

fish roe-delight on shrimp-pork siomai

Let’s see next year if we’ll take our love for dimsum back to HK….*crossed fingers*

family over Chinese food = simply awesome!

06
Dec
11

NICOLE & CARLO

I’m not sure if Tina handled them under one of her classes in Nursing Skills Laboratory or perhaps in one of their rotations under her tutelage at the Operating Room but one thing’s definite, I became their lecturer in Medical-Surgical Nursing years ago. I remember tormenting challenging them daily to exert their best with no mediocre exams, surprised recitations, longest quizzes and hardcore homeworks. And guess what?  These kids went beyond my expectations. Their batch was brilliant!

The last time Tina and I were with them was over a sumptuous dinner at Mr. Rockefeller restaurant in Greenbelt 3, Makati where they, together with their closest friends from our class, treated us after their graduation.

Fast forward to few months ago, Nicole and Carlo asked my permission to be one of their Ninongs or to stand as one of their Primary Sponsors in their upcoming post-Christmas wedding. How could you say no to something so special? It’s one of those events that we will attend on our days off in Manila soon! :)

Two of our best former students will march down the aisle in few weeks time.

It was early last week when Nicole informed me that they have sent their wedding invitation to our home address here in Penang however, it’s too late when I thought of providing our office address instead.  I should have considered it because no one is left in our home to receieve the parcel. I didn’t know that the pack was huge that won’t fit our mailbox and required a proof of receipt.
So after Nicole and I coordinated via fb, after we have both called DHL to change the address where they should deliver the invite, after 4 attempts of DHL in sending it over at our doorstep, I finally got it from our office’s reception desk. 

The wonder boy got his Santa hat and wore it and asked me to photograph him with that huge envelope. *excitement unfolds*

Inside that DHL parcel were the very first Christmas card we received this year and their uber perky pop-up wedding invite.

With great-looking invitation, comes great responsibility.

(In the Philippines) It goes without saying that Primary Sponsors’ role peaks beyond marching the aisle at the wedding rites, giving pieces of advice and a short speech and doing ceremonial toast at the reception, as it entails becoming a second parents to the (soon-to-be) newly weds.  At the age of 35 and with only 8 years (and counting) of marriage, I didn’t expect to assume the part so soon (have you ever heard a ninong or ninang in wedding younger than my age?). I take it as a blessing to be given an opportunity and a privilege to extend our family with theirs. 

one of the coolest invitations we've received! :)

Good luck sa speech ng Ninong-Doc sa reception ng kasal! (I was handpicked too by the couple to do that requirement and I kiddingly replied,“sana man lang ipina-raffle nila ang names ng Ninong at Ninang to do the part, hehe!). Will this be a precedent to string of similar events? hahaha! :)

See you soon, mga inaanak! :)

04
Dec
11

KAPITAN

There must be something about Little India at the heart of George Town, Penang that irresistibly attracts me. Like most tourists who come here on foot or via riding a trishaw, we all find this spot uniquely charming.  Perhaps,  a thousand and one reasons include that Bollywood music being played in its loudest volume by shops that sell audio CDs.  Seeing little girls and women from the Tamil community, wearing those unstitched and colorful sarees proudly (on a daily basis) like having their tradition and culture on their skin makes an early morning stroll in Little India nothing less than inviting.

Indian-Malaysian women washing their feet prior entering the temple in the morning of Diwali or Deepavali, the festival of lights; taken at Queen Street, George Town, Pulau Pinang.

My eyes usually go on a feast with the sight of various interesting things…

Lantern fascination

And of course, what tops my list is my young love affair with some Indian dishes.

One has an option to enjoy it via hawker food stalls…

or in my case, from Kapitan…

As of the moment, I am partial to Kapitan, an Indian restaurant with branches all over Penang Island; serving the hungry and craving ones for 24 hours, 7 days a week  (read : I rarely eat Indian food here if it’s not from Kapitan. Tina, Gabby and I tried the one in front of our appartment’s building and it’s not worth it).  The one that I frequent is located at the corner of Little India and Lebuh Chulia (Chulia Street which is commonly flocked by foreigners touring Penang).

My Indian Power Breakfast from Kapitan in the morning of Diwali : Tosai Keju (Cheese Tosai) with dips and chutneys, Roti Telur (Egg Prata with curried eggplant dip) and Mango Lassi to wash down; all for only RM 8.60 (USD 2.75 or PhP 120).

Because I had eaten several times in Kapitan and loved it each time, I was raving about it to Tina and Gabby and wished that they would go with me to Little India to try my favorites too. It came true last Saturday as we had our lunch in Kapitan after I bought Tina and Gabby’s choices of Punjabi dress and shirt (no, not a saree) that they will wear in one of the functions that we will attend in our days off in Manila soon.

Our family's love affair for some Indian dishes at Kapitan begins.

Huge servings, quick and attentive service, best of all, English-speaking staff complimented Kapitan’s tasteful dishes.  Those essential qualities in food places are sadly, a rarity in most local restaurants here so one can easily imagine happiness and satisfaction in dining in Kapitan. There’s one wait staff  in Kapitan-Little India who doesn’t forget to offer spoon and fork and table napkins –this little gesture, believe me, doesn’t exist in others even in fast food joints unless you ask for them.

Personal favorite : Chicken Tandoori set comes with cheese naan and a burst of flavors -tamarind dip, green mango+chili chutney, fish head curry served with freshly sliced onions and lime.

We chose to eat in the open-air-beside-the-street dining area rather than Kapitan’s second floor that’s airconditioned. Tina and Gabby browsed the menu but they trusted my recommendations.

Tina sampled my usual order from Kapitan : Chicken Tandoori set that comes with chicken delightfully marinated in yoghurt before grilling it with spices and butter.  She had Garlic Cheese Naan to pair with it.  With my wife’s discriminating-hard-to-please-taste buds, she smiled ear to ear after making the first bite. :)  Gabby enjoyed the same set but only with Cheese Naan less the garlicy flavor Tina had.

Although I knew it’s a perfect opportunity for me to try other dishes from Kapitan like their Biryani, Mutton and others, I stayed within my comfort zone of having chicken again but this time not a Tandoori but a Chicken Cheese Kebab. :)

New found love : Chicken Cheese Kebab with double order of Cheese Naan! Sarap! ;-)

Tender. Flavorful. Loved it. The waiter suggested for me to have 2 Cheese Naan instead of one. I became submissive as resistance was futile at that time. :)

We did have spoons and forks, but since an area for handwashing is available, Tina opted to eat it traditionally; Gabby and I followed. Look at those fingers pinching those Naan-goodness…

I was in cloud 9 when I saw my family enjoying their meals at Kapitan. It’s a refreshing breather from our usual fast food and restaurant dining.

it was a lovely lunch!

Because they liked it too, it’s definitely not our last time dining together in Kapitan-Little India.

—————

Have you tried Indian food?  What’s your favorite?

01
Dec
11

QUICK POST, BIG THANK YOU!

I am humbled and honored to be one of the 10 finalists under Best Personal Blog Category-National Level in this year’s Philippine Blog Awards.  Maraming Salamat po, PBA and to everyone who follows Beyond Toxicity. Congratulations to whoever will win this Saturday, December 3, 2011.  :) Win or lose, this is absolutely INSPIRING.




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