Friday, June 30, 2017

Lakawon and the Tawhai Floating Bar

The main reason I chose Bacolod as my vacation site was because of my interest to visit Lakawon. Or specifically, the Tawhai Floating Bar in Lakawon Island Resorts and Spa. When my friend mentioned it to me and said he could take me there, I searched for images online and it looked like the perfect place to relax and chill. Now that I have been there, I can definitely say it was!

We left Bacolod in the late morning and we arrived in Lakawon at around noon. At the port, you need to pay the P250 entrance fee to the floating bar and another P260 for the two-way boat ride. The boat will then take you to Lakawon island.

It was actually raining when we arrived. I had seen the one-week weather report so I knew that it was likely to rain on the day we visited, but rain was expected the entire week so that day was just as good as any. While bright sunshine was much preferred, I figured it would still be a great experience to just lie about at the floating bar, whether or not it was raining. Thankfully, the rain lasted less than an hour. That gave us enough time to have lunch at the resort (the food was pretty good and quite affordable). By the time we were done eating, the skies were clear again.

We spent a couple of hours on Tawhai floating bar. There are cushions laid out on the front outer edge where guests can just lie down and look out into the sea. If you don't want to lie down while here, there are other seating options, such as bar stools and bean bags. You can also swim around the floating bar (life vests are provided). It wasn't until late afternoon that I had this desire to go swimming but by then we needed to make our way back to Bacolod so I missed that opportunity.

It was a very pleasant and blissful afternoon in a beautiful setting. Given the fact that I enjoyed my day trip to Lakawon immensely and that I missed out on going swimming while I was there, I have a feeling that I will be visiting Lakawon again at some point in the future.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Revisiting Bacolod

I wanted to take a vacation somewhere in the Philippines where I could relax and unwind for a few days but I wanted a place that had a lot of good dining options. I was initially thinking of Tagaytay so that I could just drive there. However, a friend of mine who lives in Bacolod said that I should go there instead and that when I do, he could take me to the Tawhai Floating Bar in Lakawon. I took a quick look at the images of the Tawhai Floating Bar online and that made my decision for me. I was going to Bacolod! (I will be writing about my trip to Lakawon in a separate blog post.)

The Ruins

I stayed at the Circle Inn which was a short taxi ride (or a long walk) away from Lacson Street. I used the Grab app a lot here since it made it very easy to get taxis. (It was my first time to use Grab and I used it quite extensively while in Bacolod.) I went to a lot of the same restaurants I visited in my first trip to Bacolod a couple of years ago. I had batchoy again in 21 (I realized I prefer batchoy without liver), ribs in Byron's, chicken inasal in Aida's Chicken, a few different desserts in Calea, and a few different desserts in Felicia's. I also went to a few new places. I had pasta and cake in Cafe Bob's, which is also where I spent a cozy rainy afternoon reading a book while enjoying coffee. I also wanted to try cansi or kansi, which is like bulalo but with a sour soup, adding a different dimension to the flavor. Sharyn's Cansi House is pretty popular online but it closes relatively early so I had dinner at Eron's Cansi House instead. I also got to have drinks with my friend Bacchus in Brewery in Paseo Verde before we headed to Cocina in The District North Point to meet up with our other friend Dex. My friend Ryan also took me to Portico for drinks on my last night there.

An interesting painting on the wall of Portico

I also decided that I wanted to see the Ruins again. Some call this place the Taj Mahal of Negros because the mansion was built by Don Mariano Lacson as a tribute to his wife Maria Braga. The ideal time to visit this place is in the late afternoon right before sunset and it is recommended to stay there until the sun goes down to see the Ruins lit up but I already did this the last time. As such, I decided I wanted to see it under bright sunlight this time around. It's interesting to note that on my first trip here, the Ruins had no roof but this time around, it does. Looks like they are doing some kind of restoration

Revisiting the Ruins

No trip to Bacolod is complete without bringing pasalubong back to Manila. On my last day, I passed by Bongbong's to get some napoleones and piaya. I also got a box of ensaymada from Felicia's. And when my friend Myna found out that I was in Bacolod, she suggested that I get pili squares from Emma Lacson. Apparently, you have to visit their ancestral house in Silay to buy these goodies so after my trip to the Ruins, I passed by Silay to get a couple of boxes of these pili squares. When I finally got to taste them once I arrived in Manila, I could understand why my friend was recommending them to me. They are pretty good.

Emma Lacson's Pili Squares
120 Rizal Street, Silay City, Negros Occidental (right across BPI Silay)
(034) 495 5047

A couple more things:
  • A taxi ride from the airport to the city center (and vice versa) is about P400. When you book a taxi via Grab, it will indicate that the fare is only about P150 to 250 I think but taxi drivers will ask for P400. I think this is pretty standard since the drivers of both taxis I booked via Grab (to and from the airport) asked for a P400 fare.
  • A taxi ride to the Ruins is about P250. The meter will read about P120-150 but the drivers normally ask for P250 because they generally can't get passengers on their way back to the city from the Ruins.
Room rates at the Circle Inn are about 1300 per night. I also got a relatively inexpensive flight from PAL. I think it cost me around P5000+. All in all, I spent less than P11,000 for 4 nights in Bacolod for airfare and accommodations. Not bad. This trip was both relaxing and invigorating. I am pretty sure I will be going to Bacolod again at some point in the future.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

June Hodgepodge

June proved to be another full and productive month for me. First, I got to meet up with several sets of friends. I had dinner and drinks with my college friends at Wine Story in Serendra. For food, they only serve cheese and cold cuts there but they are partnered with other restaurants in the area like Chelsea, Mamou, and Abe so we all actually ordered dinner from those places. We ended up going through a few bottles of wine, all of which were very good. It was an expensive evening but it's not that often that we get together for wine. As if that wasn't enough, I also had another expensive evening with some ex-colleagues at Tomatito. None of us had eaten there before so we didn't realize until we got there that the menu items were pretty pricey. Thankfully, the food was good. The favorite that night was the Salmon TNT, bite-sized smoked salmon with honey and truffle. Our waiter highly recommended this and it really was delicious. For my main meal, I ordered Churrasco de Buey, slow-cooked boneless short ribs with truffle mashed potatoes, potato chips and demi-glace sauce. The serving size was on the small side considering the price (P925) but it was also very good.

Churrasco de Buey from Tomatito

For the first time in I don't know how long, I entertained a few friends in my pad. One of my friends installed The Jackbox Party Pack 3 from Steam on my laptop. This is an interesting compilation of games that require participants to use their mobile devices as their controls. Despite the use of phones, the game is highly interactive and, depending on the group you are in, wildly entertaining. I personally enjoyed Trivia Murder Party the most even if I didn't win any of the rounds we played. Tee K.O. was interesting because you come up with drawings and slogans and you have to mix-and-match the random drawings and slogans you get from the others. The cool thing was that all the t-shirt designs that were in contention for the win had either my drawing or my slogan on it (or both). Of course, the winner is the one who put the drawing and the slogan together so I actually didn't win but the winner had one of my slogans. :) Fakin' It was probably the toughest and most stressful game to play because it was very hard to fake an answer not knowing what the question was LOL. As challenging as I found this game, I somehow ended winning one round and I accumulated the most points in all rounds so I won it overall. Cool.

My winning moment in Fakin' It from The Jackbox Party Pack 3

I also had a few tabletop and board game nights in June. My friend Mich celebrated her birthday in Linden Suites. I got to try Eldritch Horror for the first time and this cooperative game can take several hours to complete. Unfortunately for me, our game master (who also owned the game) had to leave at a certain time so we weren't able to finish. A couple of weeks later, I played tabletop games again with Mich, Myna and Archie at Ludo Cafe. I finally got to try Scythe which I had been very interested in because of all the good reviews it had been getting. I have to say, it lived up to the hype and I really enjoyed it! I ordered it online and it is on its way to Manila from the US so I am looking forward to getting my very own Scythe game and playing it with my friends.

Playing Scythe in Ludo Cafe

I also organized my own game night, also in Linden Suites. I invited a few different sets of friends who are all into gaming so I could play with all of them in the same night. I tried Histrio for the first time (it took a while for me to figure out how the strategy works in this game but once I did, I actually quite enjoyed it). I also finally got to play my own Dungeon Petz game (the first time I played it, we used the game of my friends). I've played this twice now and I haven't won yet but I still really love it and want to keep on playing it.

Dungeon Petz

I also got a few things sorted out this month. I bought my very own HP DeskJet Ink Advantage 3775 All-in-one Printer a couple of months ago but it was only this month that I finally set it up. It took a few hours for me to get it working though; the installation and set-up instructions weren't that straightforward and since it is a wireless printer, I had to connect it to my home wifi for it to work and that wasn't as simple as I expected. Nevertheless, I managed to get it to work and I've been able to print a few things using it already. I also finally upgraded our internet at home. We had one of the slowest internet speeds so I decided to bump it up a few notches. We are now on 16 mbps and my nephews have told me that the improvement has been quite significant. Cool! And finally, I got to have my shoes professionally cleaned. I had a couple of pairs that somehow ended being muddied and I couldn't really clean them that well. I stumbled upon ColorWash one day and I decided to try this place. The cleaning service is quite expensive actually - P700 per pair - but at least my shoes look a lot better now.

Not sure if you can see how much cleaner my shoes are now but they really are

One more highlight in June: I went Bacolod for a few days for vacation. I will, however, be posting about that very fun and relaxing trip separately.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Inspiring Mandy Harvey on America's Got Talent

This video was making its rounds on social media recently and for good reason. Mandy Harvey performed in America's Got Talent and blew the audience away not only for her talent but also for her spirit. Even if you didn't know she was deaf, you would already take notice of that voice. The fact that she has been creating and playing music for more than 10 years after losing her hearing at the age of 18 is inspirational. I was also moved by her reaction to the crowd's reaction (including that initial realization that the audience were loving her at about 3:19). Check it out.

video uploaded by America's Got Talent

She ended up getting being Simon's Golden Buzzer. Well deserved. And truly inspiring.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman has been getting a lot of very positive reviews and I was fully aware of this before I saw it in the movie theater. It's not always good to have high expectations of a film before you watch it since you may end up being disappointed when the it ends up not living up to the hype, but thankfully Wonder Woman actually delivered.

Spoiler Alert: stop reading now if you don't want to read any spoilers about the film.

Audiences first got a glimpse of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman when she appeared in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. In it, there is an intriguing scene that involves a century-old photo taken during World War I with Diana in it.  This Wonder Woman film helps answer the question of who she is and why she was in that picture. A large chunk of the movie is devoted to the backstory of Diana who leaves Themyscira, the island of amazons where she lives, once she about the ongoing World War I. She believes that Ares caused this war and she seeks him out to put an end to the global conflict.

To be honest, it actually sort of feels a bit like Captain America, which is set in World War II and in which Captain America helps save lives. That said, Iron Man also has a bit of a war setting, albeit a much more current one. I guess that historical and actual war settings sort of make sense for superhero movies because sometimes the brutality gets so intense that sometimes those of us who feel helpless wish we had superhero powers so that we could do something about them. Wonder Woman tries to emphasize the importance of, and urgent need for, peace. This is just as relevant today as there continues to be divisiveness, terrorism, and violence all over the world. That No Man's Land scene where Wonder Woman reveals herself as a superhero for the first time is emotional, inspiring, and triumphant. What I also love about the movie is how she slowly realizes her power as the story moves forward. This film made me understand why she had no qualms doing battle with the terrifying and tremendously intimidating Doomsday in Batman V Superman and why she said she had killed creatures from other worlds before.

Wonder Woman has gained tremendous respect from critics and audiences alike for its social significance. It's the first successful and well-received superhero film that features a female as the lead. Yes, we've had Catwoman, Elektra and even the 1984 Supergirl headlined by Helen Slater but those films came at a time when we weren't inundated with superhero movies (I figure we have had at least one a year over the last decade or so). Also, all of them have terribly low ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (and Metacritic for the first two). Wonder Woman has very good storytelling and character development. I've only seen three movies at the cinema this year but this is my favorite of the ones I've seen and I have to say it is up there when it comes to superhero movies. I highly recommend this film and I will surely get the DVD when it comes out.

Monday, June 12, 2017

La Decima! Nadal wins French Open title #10!

La Decima. Champ10n. Perfect 10. As many have said, it's near-impossible to describe with words just how significant this achievement is but Rafael Nadal just did the unimaginable by winning the French Open for the 10th time. Vamos Rafa!

This achievement is staggering on so many levels. No other player in the Open Era has won a major tournament 10 times. The only other player - male or female - to win a major tournament more times in history is Margaret Court who won the Australian Open 11 times, but 7 of those were won when tennis was open only to amateur players and not to professionals. As if that wasn't enough,  if we go beyond the majors, no other male player has won the same event 10 times. Nadal has now achieved this feat in three different tournaments: Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and now the French Open.

A few more amazing figures:
  • This is Nadal's 15th Grand Slam singles title, moving him past Pete Sampras who has 14. The only male player with more majors is Roger Federer who has 18.
  • Nadal has an incredible 79-2 win-loss record in Roland Garros.
  • He lost a measly 35 games in all 7 matches he played, the second least number of games lost in a major event. (Bjorn Borg holds that record when he dropped only 32 games when he won in 1978.) He didn't lost more than four games in any set he played. That is just utter dominance.
  • This is the third time that Rafa Nadal won a Grand Slam tournament without dropping a set. He also achieved this feat in 2008 and 2010.
  • Rafa has now won a Grand Slam title in his teens, his 20s, and his 30s (he turned 31 during the first week of Roland Garros.). Talk about longevity.
  • He now moves up to #2 in the ATP Rankings.
  • He also  adds on to the lead he has in the ATP Singles Race, amassing more points in 2017 than any other player so far. If he maintains his level of play, he may just return to the top of the Tennis world before the year ends.

Click here for more impressive French Open stats.

Nadal's fantastic results over the previous months made me very hopeful that he would take home another French Open title and the way he played the first six rounds made me even more optimistic. However, Stan Wawrinka has become a giant-killer in majors in recent years and his 3-0 record in Grand Slam finals had me very worried. Thankfully, it was Nadal's own undefeated streak in French Open finals that proved to be stronger as he finally dealt Wawrinka his first loss in a Grand Slam championship match. Nadal has now won all French Open finals he's contested.


The awarding ceremony was made more special by the fact that his coach, Uncle Toni Nadal, joined the trophy presentation and brought Rafa a replica of the Roland Garros trophy that the Nadals will get to bring home with them. Uncle Toni will be stepping down as Rafa's coach at the end of the year to focus on his family and on coaching at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca so it was heartwarming to see the French Open honor the most successful coach in this event too before he moves on to other things.

Rafa has long established himself as the king of clay and it is just such a privilege to witness him add to his legacy by continuing to achieve unparalleled records in his already legendary career. Congratulations, Rafa!

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra in Glorietta

I was doing some errands in Glorietta when I heard live orchestra music being played in the Palm Drive activity center. There were rows of chairs set up in front of a small stage and I realized that the music was being played by children who seemed to be rehearsing. It was then that I noticed a sign that said that they were the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra and that they would be playing a live concert later that evening. Since I had some time to spare, I decided to watch the show.

Aptly subtitled The Road to Vienna: A Musical Journey with Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra, the show was most likely meant to serve as a venue for them to practice performing live in front of an audience and to help generate awareness of, and even funds for, their participation in the upcoming Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival in Vienna, Austria.

Their conductor Jeffrey Solares told us that whenever they perform in malls, they are often asked to have a more popular and current set so this show was an exception since their repertoire that evening consisted mostly of classical music, including pieces from Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Bartok, and Vivaldi. They also played some Filipino folk songs and they closed the show with a beautiful string orchestra arrangement of Sweet Child of Mine by Guns N' Roses. Mr. Solares seemed genuinely pleased that the audience was still full at the end of their show. When he asked us if we wanted more, we naturally said yes, so the kids played Beauty and the Beast as their encore. It was a beautiful and uplifting show and I'm really happy I got to watch it.

I learned that the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra was formed about three years ago. Most of the members are 14 to 17 years old, but the youngest member is only 9. Wow! The conductor Mr. Solares encouraged the audience to support the orchestra through prayers and donations and he also invited us to watch their concert at the Ayala Museum on June 29. Tickets are available at Ticketworld (look for The Rush Hour Concerts). I wish the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra the best of luck as they head to Europe in July. Whatever happens, it will be a tremendous experience that will only help all these kids get better at their craft and move them closer to their dreams.

Read more about the Manila Symphony Junior Orchestra
Summa Cum Laude Festival entry: