Saturday, December 31, 2011

Barbara's Buffet and Cultural Show

A few months ago, I purchased six discount vouchers for buffet dinner in Barbara's. I know that my grandparents enjoy Philippine cultural shows and I was planning to use it for my family during the Christmas break. With Tatay passing away, I felt it was important for me to ensure that Nanay felt there was still a lot to enjoy in life and that she didn't feel lonely. As such, I pushed through with my plans and took Nanay and my family out to have an enjoyable night in Barbara's.

The dinner buffet starts at 6:30pm and the show begins at 7:15pm. I was worried that we wouldn't make it in time for the show because of the traffic along Espana but thankfully we got there with several minutes to spare. Once we had gotten our food and settled down (the buffet spread was just okay, although both my nephews enjoyed the food as evidenced by multiple trips back to the buffet table), the lights dimmed and the show commenced.

And may I just say, it was a topnotch, fantastic show. I'm not sure how long it lasted, maybe about 30-45 minutes, but the quality of the performance made the cost of the dinner absolutely worth it. Several Filipiniana dances such as the 'Binasuan' and 'Sayaw sa Bangko' were performed in full costume to live music. I know how difficult it is to dance for even just a few minutes, so to see the performers put in 100% and maintain a very high standard for the better part of an hour was just impressive.

The show ended, as do a lot of other cultural shows, with the 'Tinikling', the national dance of the Philippines. And as is often the case, people from the audience were invited to try it. First to be selected was my nephew, and he managed to get the timing right (although to avoid getting hit by the bamboo, he would take two steps outside of the sticks instead of inside).

Nanay followed suit. My mom told the people handling the bamboo that she was already in her 80s and that they should take it easy but Nanay managed quite well.

We ended up giving a good tip to the dancers and I tossed in the same amount to the musicians. Diners were then invited to have their pictures taken with the performers after the show.

It was unfortunate that our camera ran out of battery because we were unable to take as many photos as we wanted. But it was a wonderful experience. The dinner buffet (including the show) costs about P500 I think, which by itself is already a good deal, so the fact that I got P299 vouchers in Metrodeal made this an absolute steal. I wouldn't mind going here again (and taking my family if they are still interested), and it also gives me an additional option of where I can bring international guests when they visit Manila.


Plaza San Luis Complex, Intramuros (right in front of San Agustin church)
527-3893 or 527-4086

Friday, December 30, 2011

Hanging out and partying hard

Christmas is the time for meeting up with family and friends. This year was no exception.

Causeway + Pino Bar and Resto
Earlier in the month, Cesar was in town for a week. He didn't have a lot of time to meet up, but Tim, Basil, and I managed to have dinner and drinks with him the night before he left. Cesar said he missed Causeway so we had dinner there, and after filling ourselves with dimsum and Chinese food, I suggested that we go to Pino Bar and Resto for wine and dessert. It was the first time everyone else apart from me had been there and Cesar even mentioned his surprise that there was a chill-out wine place in that area. Everyone seemed to enjoy the ambience as well as the artwork displayed throughout the resto, and it was fun chill-out night that allowed us to catch up with each other.

Minute to Win It + Pinoy Henyo
My team at work celebrated our own Christmas party with a party highlighted by two sets of games. The first set involved games that were adapted from Minute to Win it. Our team ended up in last place LOL. However, we exceeded expectations in round 2, Pinoy Henyo, where we won. We also had a truckload of food and drinks, and a whole lot of laughs.

Beef Bourguignon in Cav
To celebrate our last workday of the year, I met up with Lala and Anna in Cav. I purchased a voucher from Deal Grocer a while back and I decided to use it to treat Lala and Anna in Cav as my Christmas gift to them. I selected the French Beef Shank Bourguignon with Pearl Onions and Croutons, and I can say two things about this: (1) it was indeed good for about 3 people as advertised, and (2) OMG it was soooo good!!! Anna was about an hour late and by the time she arrived, Lala and I had already tried several different wines already using the Cav Card. We also ended up ordering salpicao (it, too, is really good, but it was just overshadowed by the utterly amazing Beef Bourguignon!), and the Artisan Cheese Platter. It was a really expensive night but I think we all deserved it. Plus, it's always fun to enjoy food and wine with people who enjoy it just as much as you do. :)

Brenda, my teammate from my first company, moved to Australia more than a decade ago and I don't think I have seen her since. She was in town for the holidays and we decided to have dinner in Romulo's in Tomas Morato. The sucky thing was that the traffic that night was unbelievably horrible!! Brenda and Anna were there at around 730pm but Chari and I both got stuck in Edsa and we ended up getting to Tomas Morato at close to 9pm. Nevertheless, we stayed until closing and had a great time catching up.

Normally my college friends have our annual Christmas get-together on December 31. But most of us had conflicts on that day. As such, we decided to have dinner in Trellis on the 27th. Trellis was a regular haunt back when I was in college so it was great for all of us to once again feast on sisig and lechon kawali. We were thinking of going to Serenitea in Katipunan after dinner but we weren't sure if it was still open, so we just scooted over to the crepe place next door to have coffee and dessert.

Conti's take-out for Lunch
Since I missed the Christmas dinner of my work and ex-work friends, Joh and Raffa decided to organize one more get-together during the holiday break. I joined Tim, Steph, Pau, Gi, Ian, and Cathy (plus the kids) in Raffa and Joh's house where we enjoyed Conti's take-out. Gifts were exchanged, and my present to Sophia, an arts-and-crafts type mosaic angel fish, was apparently a big hit because Sophia asked Joh and Raffa to purchase the rest of the collection. Cool!

Hanging out with my high school gang
The next day, I ended up having a late lunch with Iona, JP, and Joyce. We were supposed to meet up at noon and I was supposed to bring dessert, but I woke up incredibly late so I got to Iona's place at around 1:30pm (they told me to forget the dessert and just head to iona's place ASAP). Once again, more gift giving. Iona told me that Aya was into jigsaw puzzles and musical instruments so I got her a piano/xylophone and 4 puzzles (Aya immediately started working on one of the puzzles). Anna arrived around 330pm and I managed to see her a bit before I left at 3:30pm to meet up with my family.

Party time in Republiq
Jesse was leaving the country for a job in Singapore so we decided to go clubbing one last time before she left. I met up with the gang in Robert's house first where we got started with wine and other drinks and enjoyed some Wii games. At around 1130pm, we head over to Republiq. We stayed in one of the tables outside the clubbing area and ordered a bottle of vodka and a lot of sprite. After consuming the vodka (didn't take too long :)), we headed into the main area to let loose and dance.

Obviously, my December was once again packed to rafters (what's new?) but I am pleased that I still get to spend time with friends and family.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rest in peace, Tatay

Last December 17, my grandfather whom we fondly call 'Tatay' passed away. It was a very sad time for our family, but we also take comfort in the fact that Tatay had a great life that he shared with us, his family, and his friends.

We laid Tatay to rest a few days later, on December 21. The 9th day was actually on Christmas itself, so it was a new experience for me celebrating Christmas in the cemetery to say prayers for Tatay.

Tatay was always around for my entire life and it will be very different not having him with us anymore. I will miss hearing him brilliantly play the piano and the violin. I will miss bringing him and my entire family out during holidays, birthday celebrations, or whenever we felt like going out. I will miss seeing him at home on Sundays, watching DVDs and VCDs, and I will miss driving him to his home afterward.

I am happy though that I have no regrets about not being able to spend enough time with him while he was alive. He lived to be 86 years old and I am comforted by the fact that in his 'twilight years', I was able to bring him to different places, including Singapore which he got to visit for the first time. Despite being in the hospital for the last 2 weeks of his life, he left peacefully and without pain. Most of all, it was great that at different points in time during his confinement, he was able to say goodbye to everyone. One of the last things he said to me was 'I love you' and I was able to say 'I love you' to him too.

With Tatay in Singapore

Rest in peace, Tatay. We love you and we miss you.

Eternal rest grant unto Tatay, O Lord
And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace Amen.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mind games

Or more like brain teasers. I went to Fully Booked to look for gifts I can give to my friends and their kids for Christmas. While there, I ran into this section on brain teasers - anagrams, boggle, IQ tests, and BrainBats* - and while going through the books there, I started thinking I wanted to get some for myself too. I end up getting brain teasers for two of my friends and I get four (yes, four) for myself LOL. Needless to stay I have spent quite a lot of time going through these books. At least it's a good pastime because it helps keep your brain sharp.


A brain bat is a collection of letters, numbers, and other figures arranged in a certain, smart way that is supposed to represent another word or phrase. Then you have to figure out what that other word or phrase is. You can check out some online BrainBats here. Check out this example from that link:

What is represented by this BrainBat?




Answer: Up to no good (up two no good)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

South Korea: Travel Tips and Final Thoughts

Before anything else, here's a summary of all the blog posts I wrote about my South Korea trip:

Late afternoon walk through the Secret Garden

If you are planning a trip to South Korea, and I really think you should try to visit if you can, here are some travel tips:

Tip #1: Spend more than 2 full days!
As mentioned, my mom and I arrived there on Friday night and left on Monday morning, so we only really had two full days to go around. While we managed to see quite a few places even in that short period of time, it will be worthwhile to spend maybe an extra 2-3 days here if you have the time and funding.

Tip #2: Seoul has a lot of places of interest.
Aside from Changdeokgung, Seoul has four more palaces. In Changdeokgung Palace itself, you can spend time taking the tour inside the palace apart from the Secret Garden Tour. I also think they have a changing of the guard that would be great for photo ops. You can also visit Lotte World, an amusement park and shopping haven all rolled into one that can very easily and quickly fill your day (or a couple of them).

photo I took of an interesting building while walking around through Seoul

Tip #3: Visit in Autumn.
Our tour guide in the Secret Garden told us that autumn is the most popular time for tourist visits there. Since Filipinos don't get to experience the four seasons unless we travel abroad, seeing the vibrant hues of red, yellow, and orange in the foliage definitely made for a great experience. Best time to go would be the last few days of October to first few days of November (past this, I think too many leaves may have already fallen off the trees, and before this, the leaves might still mostly be green).

autumn leaves! :)

Tip #4: Bring US dollars to South Korea and exchange them for KRW when you get there.
If you exchange Philippine pesos to South Korean Won (KRW), you will get hit with the exchange rate (whether you change it here in the Philippines or in Korea). I checked out a few ATMs in an attempt to use my international ATM card, but I wasn't sure they would work. And since the few ATMs I saw didn't have English options, we decided to just use the USD we had.

Tip #5. Keep your credit cards handy.
Very useful cash substitutes, they are accepted practically anywhere in Korea.

Chonggye Plaza monument

Tip #6. If you are flying out via the Incheon Airport very early in the morning, it's advisable to stay in Airport Town Square.
Airport Town Square is just 10 minutes from Incheon airport, and an airport taxi will cost KRW11,000 (~P420). I think the first train starts at around 530am, so if you are flying out before 8am, taking the train might not get you to the airport in time. A taxi from the heart of Seoul to the Incheon Airport will cost you a fortune.

Tip #7. Don't confuse Incheon with the Incheon airport when booking your accommodations.
Time-wise, Incheon proper is just as far from the airport as Seoul. When booking hotels, you are actually better off booking one in Seoul than in Incheon because the Airport Railroad goes straight to the Seoul Central Station while the trip to Incheon will require you to switch trains at least once. I would suggest holing up in either Airport Town Square or in Seoul then paying a visit to Incheon if you fancy a trip there.

Ferry in Wolmido (Incheon)

Tip #8. Duty Free shops in the airport open at 6:45am.
If you are hoping to do some last minute shopping in the airport and you are taking an early morning flight out, please take into account the fact that most shops in the airport open at 6:45am. Our 730am flight had a 645am boarding time so we really didn't have enough time to shop. If you are flying out at around the same time, you might not be able to do last minute shopping in the airport anymore. (My mom was lucky, one store very kindly allowed her to do some shopping before they opened, and she managed to purchase a couple of shirts before they officially opened and before we boarded the plane.)

Tip #9: Unless you are up for the physical challenge, take the cable car going up to the N Seoul Tower.
As I wrote in one of my previous posts, it was a huge physical challenge to really go up the hill to the N Seoul Tower. Taking the cable car is a much better option if you want to conserve your energy for other activities you plan to do while in Korea.

Korean pagoda next to the N Seoul Tower

And now for some final, random thoughts:

1. Seoul is the city of cafes! There are so many different cafes scattered all over Seoul. For someone like me who loves coffee and pastries, these cafes provide the perfect pit stop to recharge from all the traveling and touristy stuff and enjoy some hot coffee and sweet treats.

2. I love Dunkin' Donuts in South Korea. If you can, I suggest you try out the Cappuccino Chewisty. They don't have this item in the Philippines. My mom and I both tried it and we loved it!

3. The rush of going around meant that we didn't have a lot of opportunities to enjoy some local food. Our first night, we had Mexican food. Both days, we had breakfast in Dunkin' Donuts. Lunch on our first day consisted of sandwiches in a Nescafe Coffee Shop in front of the Changdeokgung Palace, and dinner was in a burger place in the N Seoul Tower. Lunch on our second day consisted of Chinese dumplings. As we returned to Airport Town Square on our final evening, I made sure that my mom and I enjoyed some authentic Korean food. I can't recall what we had but it was a cold night and the hot food we had was very hearty and a great way to end our Korean trip.

Korean street food! Didn't get to try them but maybe if I visit again, I will.

4. I loved hearing Charice's song 'Louder' while having dinner in the N Seoul Tower. :)

5. My mom and I both tried the Spam Musubi in our Cebu Pacific flight going to Korea. It was surprisingly quite good so on our trip back, we both ordered it again. :)

6. I visited the Duty Free Fiesta Mall in the Philippines for the first time in years. I ended up buying a few microwavable Gourdo's dishes, new Sleepcare pillows, and a few bottles of wine LOL.

Cool idea! Send your loved ones a postcard from the highest post office in Seoul. :)

Reading through these tips and experiences and looking back again at my photos makes me want to pay South Korea another visit actually. Maybe I can gather some of my friends and take a trip to Seoul with them in 2012. Or maybe take my mom and other family members here again. Either way, it should be a lot of fun.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Inching our way through Incheon

Given that we arrived in Incheon airport, we figured that we might as well do a bit of sightseeing in Incheon. What we didn't realize immediately is that it actually takes slightly longer via Airport Railroad and metro to get from the airport (or Airport Town Square, where we were) to Incheon than it does to get to Seoul. However, we had already done some research on what places to see in the third most populous city in South Korea so we decided to push through with a trip here. Our first stop: Chinatown.

The main point of interest in Incheon is Chinatown, the only official one in South Korea. You see the entrance to Chinatown as you step out of the metro station, so we decided to make our way through its uphill, winding streets to soak in the atmosphere and check out the shops. It was around noon when we got there so we decided to look for a place to eat. I tried looking for one of the many recommended restaurants in my Lonely Planet book - apparently one of the suggestions changed venues slightly and I eventually found it on a different street later that day - so my mom and I ended up having a quick and tasty dumpling lunch in one of the restaurants we saw along the way:

The coolest thing about the Incheon Chinatown is the mural street. Along the walls of this street are painted - in traditional Chinese painting style - the story of the Three Kingdoms, otherwise known as Sam Gukji.

It's unfortunate that I cannot read Chinese (or Korean for that matter) because I would have loved to understand what was being said in the captions (the only one available in English was the write-up in the first mural). Nevertheless, the paintings were made beautifully and it provides a wonderful sense of history and art in a most unexpected place.

Our next stop was Jayu Park (or Freedom Park) which is right next to Chinatown. We passed by the memorial commemorating the treaty of amity between Korea and the U.S.A.

We then made our way to the statue of General Douglas MacArthur to take a few photos.

We walked over to the Information Center to ask how to get to Wolmido, a small island where you can find amusement park rides, restaurants and cafes, and shops that line the boardwalk facing the sea. We weren't in the mood for thrill rides and we weren't hungry yet so we just headed down the boardwalk and took a few snapshots of the area.

Incheon doesn't really have any souvenir shops (the Information Center in Wolmido had a scant few, but my mom was looking for shirts with the words 'Korea' printed on them and the Info Center didn't carry any) so we decided to cap off our Korean trip by heading back to Seoul to look for souvenirs. We saw a pretty good shop in the Myeongdong metro station so we headed back there. We were quite near the Myeongdong Cathedral and since it was a Sunday, we decided to drop by. We still managed to catch part of the mass.

The rest of the evening was spent walking around the Myeongdong streets looking for stuff we could buy as souvenirs. It had kind of an upscale Divisoria feel to it, given the large crowds that were moving around.

After a few purchases on the Myeongdong streets and several more in the souvenir shop in the metro station (the saleslady there gave us a couple of fridge magnets for free since we purchased a whole lot of stuff from her both that night and the previous night), we took the metro back to Airport Town Square. It was around 930pm when we got 'home' and we luckily managed to find a Korean restaurant still open. Our last meal in South Korea and we finally got to eat some authentic Korean food! We had a really early flight the next day so after our hearty meal, we immediately headed back to our hotel.

It was another good, albeit short, trip with my mom. Given the relative ease of getting a visa to South Korea and the fact that Cebu Pacific offers budget flights to both Incheon and Busan, I would definitely recommend a visit to this wonderful country. More South Korea travel tips and recommendations, as well as a few final thoughts, in my next blog post.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Seoul's got soul!

Our first day in South Korea was spent in the capital, Seoul. Our day started out a bit late as my mom and I both sort of slept in and woke up around 930am. We holed up in Airport Town Square which is really close to the airport but it meant that we were about an hour away from Seoul.

Our first stop was Changdeokgung Palace. My Lonely Planet book on South Korea said that if you had time to visit only one palace in Seoul, this would be it. We get there shortly after noon.

We get tickets to enter the palace (KRW3,000 per person) but my book also said that the highlight is the Secret Garden. You can only get in as part of the guided tour (the English tours are at 11am and 2pm), but during autumn, they allow people to roam freely (in either case, there is an additional fee of KRW5,000 pe person to enter and you can still only get in as part of the tour, even if you plan to roam freely.)

It is definitely worth the entrance fee. Seeing the trees in all their autumn glory made this experience a truly wonderful one.

It was close to 4pm when we left the Palace, and since my mom didn't really have any specific things she wanted to do, I suggested we pay a visit to Cheonggyecheon, a stream in the middle of Seoul that was developed as part of efforts to bring more of nature into the city. Once we get there, we saw a couple of really good photo ops in Gwanghwamun Square on the other side of the Cheonggye plaza, with great big statues set against a mountain backdrop. Not your common cityscape view so since the sun was about to set and we would lose the light soon, my mom and I took photos here first.

We also saw this booth that was offering free use of Korean outfits for more photo ops. Naturally, we had to have our pictures taken in them.

By the time we got back to Cheonggye stream, it was dark. We still decided to take a few more photos before taking a much-needed coffee-and-pastry break in one of the nearby cafes.

I read in my book that if you want to visit N Seoul Tower, the best time to do so is in the evening because it offers really fantastic panoramic views of the brilliant Seoul city lights at night.

The tower is on top of a hill and visitors have the option of taking a cable car heading up or just walking. My mom and I decided to just walk. The problem was we couldn't figure out the path heading upwards and ended up walking up the hill more than a kilometer in the wrong direction. We finally figure out that we had to walk back another 1.5 kilometers only to realize that this would just bring us to the base of another long and winding walk up a staircase to the tower. It said the distance was 1.2km from that point but I think it may have been a vertical distance because it sure took us a long time to get to the top! My mom truly impressed me with her stamina as we both walked up more quickly than a lot of other people and took only one short break (we passed so many people taking long breaks). I was huffing and puffing by the time we finished our ascent and I was drenched in sweat but it was a great accomplishment (especially when you realize that we had been on walking for most of the day already).

Upon purchasing our entrance tickets, we were told it would take about an hour for us to get inside. We spend that hour buying souvenirs and having dinner before joining the queue heading into the N Seoul Tower. The great thing about the queuing experience here is that there are a few things that keep you entertained while you are here. First, you can have your photo taken while waiting in line (which you can then claim when you get to the top). Second, once you are in the elevator area, a really cool video is projected onto the walls:

video uploaded in youtube by HighlordSoth

Once you get into the elevator, another video is projected onto the ceiling. The length of the video matches the time it takes to get to the top. This is the first time I visited a tower that had this kind of video entertainment and it certainly made the whole experience really cool!

video uploaded in youtube by user simplyidea

(There's another video projected onto the elevator ceiling on your way down. Check it out here!)

We took in the views, checked the shop to see if we could find more souvenirs we wanted, and of course took more pictures. The different windows displayed the highest peaks in different cities and countries, and it was great to see a window dedicated to the Philippines.

By this time we were obviously tired so we opted for the cable car on the trip down. We got back to our hotel around midnight and as it was a really long first day, we tried to get as much rest as we could since we still had another day ahead of us.

Monday, December 05, 2011

My trip to South Korea

My mom decided months back that she would take a trip to Korea - she had never been there before - and asked me if I wanted to go with her. I naturally agreed since I had been to Korea before but only on business and I didn't really get the chance to sight-see then. So about a month ago, we took a Cebu Pacific flight to Incheon to spend a weekend in Korea.

What made this trip very interesting was the fact that for both my mom and myself, this was our first autumn.

We were there for practically two days only (we arrived on Friday night and left on Monday morning so we could only go around on Saturday and Sunday) but we managed to do a whole lot in those two days. We spent most of our time in Seoul. Here are a few pics of the places we went to:

The Changdeokgung Palace...

and the Secret Garden (inside the palace),

Gwanghwamun Square,


N Seoul Tower,

and Chinatown in Incheon.

I'll be posting our Korean adventure in the next few blog posts.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Nadal claims another Davis Cup for Spain

Funny how a Grand slam title and an appearance in the finals of two other Slams somehow still constituted a not-so-good year for Nadal. Most other players would kill for a year like that, and yet somehow Nadal's year has not been his best. He lost for the first time in his career to the same player six times in a row. It's the first time since 2004 that he won less than 5 titles. He experienced his worst loss ever against his chief rival Roger Federer.

So it's absolutely amazing that Rafa was able to end what was a challenging year for him on a high note by leading Spain to another Davis Cup win. He won both of his singles matches, and had to weather the storm of winners and come from behind against Juan Martin Del Potro to give Spain an unassailable 3-1 lead.

This DC should hopefully give Rafa a boost as we move into the 2012 season. Last year (2010), Novak Djokovic was having a decent year. Then he wins Davis Cup for Serbia and all of a sudden, he becomes near-invincible for most of 2011. In 2009, Nadal won only the Australian Open and lost in the French Open for the first time before leading Spain to a DC win. This resulted in Nadal having one of his best years ever in 2010, finally winning a career slam. Hopefully, a Davis Cup win is a good omen and Nadal can turn things around, both in his career and against his new nemesis, Djokovic.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Coca-Cola: Where will Happiness Strike Next?

This video has been making its rounds recently. It's truly an amazing project and it's great what Coke was able to do for three OFWs.

video uploaded in youtube by cocacola

Definitely tugs at your heart.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Allison Holker and Derek Hough on DWTS. Wow!

My favorite "So you think you can dance" contestant, Allison Holker, makes a very special appearance on Dancing with the Stars and pairs up with Derek Hough in one of the results shows. Derek is the most successful pro on DWTS (he's the first to notch three wins) and when he pairs up with Allison to do a fusion of Argentine Tango, Flamenco, and Paso Doble, the result is jaw-dropping and mind-blowing. Check it out!

video uploaded in youtube by sytycd72010

That standing ovation from the audience and all three judges (and the looks of amazement from all of them) show you just how brilliant this routine was. Not just technically but also from a performance standpoint. The body language, expression, as well as the inhalations and exhalations that just read passion, make this dance larger than life. What's even more impressive is that Allison is not a ballroom dancer (she's contemporary) but watching this, you'd think she's been dancing ballroom her entire life. I'm not sure how many times I have now watched this on youtube but I still can't get enough of it. Wow, just, wow.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

It's December!

Time really does fly so quickly. I had initially intended to complete my Christmas list by November so that I could start buying gifts in early December and have all my presents ready by the time I start meeting up with my family and all my different sets of friends for the Yuletide season. Unfortunately, work got in the way (this seems to be a recurring theme, recently LOL) and I find myself without a Christmas list yet and only 25 days left. I've had less time to complete all my shopping in the past so if I start this weekend, I should get everything in time.