Backpacking in Liwa, Zambales

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If I were to be honest, I was inches away from taking back my Yes. It was an excruciating week, and at the end of a busy Friday, all I wanted to do was to curl into my bed and sleep undisturbed. I always try my best to be up for an adventure, but when the fatigue kicks in, retracting becomes too tempting.

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Sunshine leaked into our vehicle’s windows at 5am—a pack of seven strangers en route to Liwa, Zambales, a beach I’ve never stepped foot on before. Swell-wise, the odds were against our favor, but I needed to empty out, and what better place to drain your thoughts in than by the sea?

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A few steps from Liwa Beach is Circle Hostel, a backpacker’s haven especially when traveling on a shoestring. I’ve stayed at Circle La Union before, bundled up in a hammock beside my friend Bea because we took the bus on a whim without much cash on hand.

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There’s no air-conditioning here, so you’re forced to enjoy the evening breeze. If you’ve stayed in a hostel before, you’ll pretty much get the vibe, but in a more outdoor setting that’s conducive to meeting fellow backpackers and weekend warriors who just needed to get away and spend a few days near the ocean.

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I think what also makes Circle pretty unique are the artworks on the walls that catch you off guard and reel you in during moments you least expect.

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This.

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Liwa was spotless. Quite bizarre for a long weekend. Fine sand and clear waters surrounded us as we explored the coastline. Nothing but quiet and the sound of the waves rolling towards us like footsteps rushing home.

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Lunch was at Mommy Phoebe’s where I had some of the best bulalo ever. Seafood was fresh, and I gulped the Chocolate Banana Shake (almost without breathing) despite the piercing brain freeze. Does this pain really demand to be felt alongside such ecstasy?

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I spent the afternoon hanging out by the beach with a new friend, recounting the lessons life has been teaching us lately, and just basking under the sun, watching fishermen catch tonight’s dinner. We headed back to the Circle with fresh avocado shakes in hand, and sang along to 90s music strummed on ukes and acoustic guitars.

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Reconvening late in the afternoon without a clue what to do birthed the idea of lighting a bonfire and watching the sunset. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend my Saturday.

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I think it’s pretty amazing how life brings people together in the most random of gatherings, and makes you realize that you aren’t alone with the things it throws your way. It wasn’t the best week for me—it was draining and exhausting, but at the weekend saved me—I found solace and regained strength by the sea. There have been countless studies about the human connection with water, but I’m just glad I was able to experience another connection—one with other human beings walking on the same road, traveling the same journey, and reveling at the beauty of the same sky and sea.

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Many thanks to The Circle Hostel for organizing this trip! For more information about The Circle Hostel, you can check out their Facebook and Instagram. They currently have up-and-running hostels in Zambales and La Union, and from what I know (and am pretty excited about), they’re opening one in Baler soon.

I’d Be Lying If I Said, “I Partied Hard in Boracay Last May”

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No, really! I tried. But failed. Is this a coming of age post? Well, maybe.

This is about eating the worst paella ever, getting stung (on the chest!) by bloody jellyfish, waiting for a DJ who never came (this is my fault, actually, because I decided to French that freaking exit and head back early because of crowd-induced stress), and sleeping in a dingy motel because of a 6-hour delayed flight home.

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But this is also a story about friendship. About necessary endings, hopeful beginnings, and—redemption to that worst paella—some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.

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Labor Day Boracay is a heated event, anticipated by extroverted, party-loving folk like toddlers and Christmas Day. It’s the drop of the DJ and the gift from Santa that make the age difference irrelevant. And then there’s us, why were we even here in the first place? To try something new. To make new memories. It was a pretty hilarious decision, really.

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We arrived 4 hours late, a consequence for booking a budget flight during peak season. Famished and exhausted, we skirted our way to D-mall and had the worst paella negra. But who were we to complain. Andok’s had a queue and we couldn’t wait.

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I also got stung by jellyfish the next day—my chest was covered with wisplike marks. Some naughty stingers found their way into my bikini, apparently. We also fell in line and payed too much to get into a party that sucked, we experienced blackouts while taking a shower, etc etc etc.

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It gets better, though.

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We went parasailing, snorkeling at Crocodile Island, and exploring the many different untapped islands surrounding Boracay.

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We saw sunset, after sunset, after sunset. Each day, bringing a different one, and with it the promise of a new day, a new start. These afternoons were spent enjoying happy hour at Nigi Nigi 2 with glasses of brightly-colored drinks that casted magical glows as the sunlight passed through.

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There was also awesome breakfast and those perfect pancakes I still dream about from Sunny Side Café, which we visited three out of four days.

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And Lemoni Café’s Vanilla French Toast.

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I’d like to think we enjoyed Boracay with a different sparkle, lightyears away from the party-til-you-drop stigma it carries. But we still tried to party anyway.

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I guess, people look for different things at different stages of their lives. It wasn’t my first time in Boracay, but things just seemed better this time around—things seemed right. And it’s funny how this realization snapped into my psyche while walking home, trudging through the cigarette-butt spangled sand with lovers making out near the beach. Party music from different corners diffused into an audible mess, and I bumped into other visitors who may have had a drink too many.

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But after crossing that station, I found myself in a more subdued area where the stars shone bright and the sound of the waves crashing dominated. In that little space between two loud extremes, I found a quiet corner of peace where I knew all was well, and the reason why some things have to end came loud and clear. It was time for a new beginning.

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Things get better.

Writing is Not an Easy Task

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Tanah Lot, Bali (August 2014)

I don’t remember the day I decided to become a writer, but I do remember the day I fell in love with words. I was four years old, and it was my first week in kindergarten. Being catapulted into the world of social interaction with other children my age and strange adults I’ve come to know as teachers, it was very overwhelming for an only child like me. So I found comfort in our school’s library—a fortress housing a plethora of magical worlds contained in colorful hard-bounds of varying shapes and sizes.

While I had a library of my own back home, Mum was the one who dished out the words to me in plates of bedtime stories—the warm, soothing milk and cookies before my slumber. I’d be instantly transported into the enchanted world of Oz, the curious rabbit hole, and through the starlit skies of Neverland.

But it was in that humble kindergarten library where I fell in love with the cohesive stitching of the alphabet, turned into colorful strings of words. This particular one, a simple story about a little rabbit buying his mum a birthday present. A simple love story that made me want to learn more about this strange connection between words that told the story of infinite worlds, universes, and possibilities.

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A decade and three years later, I am sitting on one of my university’s benches, staring at hallways of students shuffling in and out of classes. I’m due for an interview with the Program Director of a pre-med course. As with what happens with most college students (especially in their sophomore or junior years), there comes a change of heart where one questions her path. Slight pressures, slow massages that leave a dent, are strong enough to push me to shift degrees.

I am at a crossroad between the sciences and the arts. Sciences and the arts. I think of the people I will make proud, the lives I will save (the lives I will lose), the esteem of being in the medical field, the fees that’ll buy me my first car. I think about greener pastures, brighter futures, prouder parents.

I got up from the bench, met with the Program Director. ”Your grades qualify for the program,” he tells me. “When do you want to start taking your pre-med classes?”

“Sorry, doc. I think I’ve decided otherwise…”

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Here I am, sitting cross-legged with a cup of iced mocha, tasting like it was made of half-parts water. I am surrounded by a herd of medical students, relentlessly highlighting their photocopied handouts in colors that go beyond a rainbow’s seven. I see the human anatomy in faded, chalky photocopied black.

A student slices a sausage roll with the precision of an experienced neurosurgeon, a plastic knife his scalpel. Could I have been one of them? I wonder. Could I have been wrapped in one of the glossy jackets with proud MED SCHOOL text taped to my back, instantly labeling me as one of the “smarter kids”, burning the midnight oil in a pursuit to save lives—or breasts from sagging? Yup, I could’ve been one of the adorned ones, whose parents would brag about, telling their friends, “So my kid just graduated from med school today—top of her class.” I could’ve. But I am not.

I chose to write.

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I’ve gotten a lot of flack for choosing the seemingly “easier” path, like I was scared to take on the sleepless nights and endless textbooks (the thicker, the better). But writing isn’t a walk in the park. It calls for sleepless nights as well. It’s agonizing and frustrating. It’s struggling to find that one word that would make a single phrase brilliant. It’s fighting through time to meet a deadline. It’s prolonged solitude and annoyance when the thought process is disrupted. It’s finding clarity in the chaos, like choosing the right stars to form the perfect, mind-blowing constellation.

And then there are the voices—the people whose judgments build or break you. There’s the dementor of writers known as Writers’ Block, tormenting you until you finally hit a wall and all the words fail to come out the way they’re supposed to, leaving you empty and soulless. Writing is not an easy task, which is why I’ve been failing to write for me, especially when most of my words are devoted to my work. Writing is not an easy task, but it’s always better to have written something than nothing at all.

Writing is painful sometimes, it’s like pulling the veins that are rooted deep in your skin, giving yourself the permission to bleed sans anesthesia, giving yourself the permission to feel ache and pain and sadness. Writing is also great sometimes, like a smooth-sailing, scar-less operation. Writing leaves room for creativity; the way scientists open opportunities to conjure new vaccines that are like words because they, too, can heal.

Writing means being open to failure, like a lost cause or encountering a patient with deteriorating health, but it also means success, like the birth of a newborn baby. When I put arts beside science, I wonder why most people don’t think of writers the way they think of doctors or astronauts or microbiologists or lawyers. Words have always held a certain power for life and death—just like microscopes, syringes, and scalpels, and prescriptions.

I don’t remember the day I decided to become a writer, but I do remember the day I fell in love with words. I was four years old, and it was my first week in kindergarten. I opened a book, and maybe in those minutes of being lost in the magical world of story, something tiny sparked inside of me. Unknowingly, it might have held a muted glow, casting a dull light on the path I wanted to travel on, leading me to where I am today. It’s not an easy task, but it was one of the few good decisions I’ve made.

Adventures with Tintin (in Manila)!

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My mum didn’t raise me to be the girly type—she read me books like Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when I was a kid, which probably explains why I am the way I am today: an absolute nut. JUST KIDDING.

Some of the cartoon shows I remember watching growing up, whose characters I claimed to be best friends with especially during summer vacation (#OnlyChildProblems), were Little Lulu, Arthur the Aardvark, and the Adventures of Tintin.

Back then, I thought Tintin was an older fella—you know, like in his twenties. Being able to fly a plane, walk on the moon, and embark on an Egyptian quest may not sound like things a teenager would do. But apparently I learned that Hergé, the creator of The Adventures of Tintin, designed his lead character to be the ultimate Boy Scout at the age of 15. At that age, I was probably flipping through teenage magazines and building houses for my Sims.

I’ll always carry fondness for the cartoon and comic around. Tintin is possibly one of the hugest adventure influencers in my life, which sparked my desire to travel and see more of the world. Tintin’s dog, Snowy, was also one of my pegs when I decided to get a puppy.

Tintinception: Me, Tintin, Arriane, Snowy, and Abbey

Fully Booked High Street also recently launched the Tintin Shop located at the ground floor. Good news is that it’s not going to be a pop-up store—this one is here to stay! I remember spotting a Tintin Shop at Singapore’s Chinatown and wishing for it to come to Manila, so I’m really glad Fully Booked brought it in. But what really got me excited was when the lovely folks of Fully Booked invited me to the official Tintin Shop Manila launch that included a tour of the store, which was peppered with a lot of fun facts and interesting trivia.

Ever wondered how Tintin got his signature quiff? This comic strip sums it up right here—his hair was never the same.

The Shooting Star is the first-ever colored Tintin comic. Hergé’s drawing style makes use of simple lines, while using shadows sparingly.

This is Hergé’s last Tintin comic, Tintin and Alph-Art, which remained unfinished. Notice that the drawings are still in scribbles. It’s pretty cool also to know that no one knows how this book ends, and it still remains a mystery.

There were also other fun activities like guessing games, crossword puzzles, and an origami station where you can fold your own Snowy!

Check out the snacks and their names! Aren’t they the cutest?!

What made this event extra fun were the people I spent it with! It was really lovely catching up and hanging out with this gang.

Hooray for food and adventure! Abbey, Arriane, Me, Kiddo, and Vicky.

Oh, and if you’d like to join a Tintin Shop tour and bring out that Tintin geek in you, save the dates: July 12 and 13, at 2:30 pm, Tintin Shop Manila, G/F Fully Booked High Street, BGC! It’s a pretty cool and enjoyable tour—you’re sure to have a blast. Congratulations for an awesome event, Fully Booked!

For more Fully Booked news you can check out their website, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram for instant updates.

Taipei: Unwrapping and Wrapping Up

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It’s been a total of 3 and ½ months since my Taipei trip—and I’m wrapping it up only now. There was just so much to see, so much to eat, and so much to marvel at. Spending almost a week just ambling around Taiwan was like unwrapping an overlooked present during your birthday or during Christmas. You know the kind—not the shiniest wrapper nor the most elaborate ribbon—but the deeper you dig in, the more you realize that it’s one of the better gifts you received. That’s how I felt about Taipei—underrated yet spectacular. It’s not a country that flaunts itself, because why does it even have to?

I spent my last day in Taipei with family. Really thankful that it was sunny, and there was hardly a drizzle. We met up with my aunt who resided in Taoyuan, which was a trainride away from where we were. Taipei was a bit unfamiliar for her, too, so she was just as excited as we were as we headed towards our destinations.

Taipei 101 is probably the most distinguished building in modern Taiwan. Located at the Xinyi district, the breathtaking architecture of the building can be seen from miles away. It’s still part of the list of the world’s tallest buildings, and is known to withstand earthquakes and typhoons.

A lot of people go to Taipei 101 to view the city from the deck above. Though photos proved a not-so-spectacular sight, we were there to have lunch at Michelin-starred Din Tai Fung, which originated in Taiwan. I really would’ve wanted to dine at the Original Din Tai Fung branch located at 194 Xinyi Road Sec. 2, Da-an District, Taipei just for the novelty of it, but the satisfaction after popping several Hairy Crab Xiao Long Baos in your mouth turns you into the most contented person in the world. Original branch? What? I’ll save it for next time.

Other items we ordered at Din Tai Fung were their Fried Rice with Shrimp and Eggs and Noodles with Peanut Sauce—both of which were delicious and super-filling.

Next stop was the Taipei Zoo, accessible via the MRT (Taipei Zoo Station along Wenshan-Neihu line), which is one of the cleanest zoos I’ve been to. I have zero knowledge about zoo-keeping (obviously), but I think Taipei Zoo set a high standard—very child-friendly and safe—as all good zoos should be. My grandparents also thought I was crazy when I proposed a viewing of the Pandas and Koala Bears because I’m already 24 and shouldn’t I be too old for animals? BUT you should’ve seen my grandma getting so gung-ho over the koalas, and my grandpa pressing his nose on the glass window that separated us from the penguins. My aunt feigned boredom, but the flamingoes won her over. Entrance fees for the Taipei Zoo cost around NT$20 per head, and senior citizens over the age of 65 and children below 6 get in for free (foreigners just need to show their passport).

I love the Taipei Zoo because it conveniently connects to Maokong Mountain, which was a wonderful surprise since we went there with no expectations. We just knew that it was famous for their teahouses that serve tea-infused dishes such as fried rice with dried tea leaves and the like.

To get there, take a gondola in one of the zoo tram stops, and it’ll lead you straight up to Maokong. We headed up during golden hour and the sunlight danced playfully along the trees, casting shadows that made the view even more spectacular.

After alighting from the gondola, walk straight and you’ll see a small food hall that houses different kinds of Taiwanese food.

Of course, there was the resident Stinky Tofu, but there also were other interesting dishes that I haven’t tried in Taiwan such as a simple yet tasty noodle dish that was tossed with some beansprouts, fresh carrots, and ground meat.

There were also some dumplings that were toasty on the surface and soft to the bite, while retaining the juices of the meat it enveloped. We also got some deep-fried snacks (cutely called “Tempura”) loaded with 5-spice powder—a common and identifying ingredient in Taiwanese cuisine.

And why on earth did I order some ice-cold milk tea on top of an ice-cold mountain? Because I realized I haven’t had milk tea in Taiwan, which is like, the motherland of milk tea. As expected, there was nothing mind-blowing about it, and it tasted like something I could get in Manila. But here I go again with the novelty of eating a certain something in a certain place, so…

While my family was fixated on the smorgasbord of food, I went out in search of some Taiwanese sausage just because I loved it too much. But I was knocked out of my way by the gamey aroma of lamb. It lassoed and led me to this tiny wooden store with a sizeable queue. Cooking away were 5-spice lamb skewers under a coal barbecue. Cold weather + piping hot lamb skewers = I’M SO THERE.

See those sticks of lamb? I got them all, and I was so glad I did. They were extremely flavorful and tender—my grandparents inhaled them without complaining about any toughness of the meat. Since they have a hard time chewing these days, it’s a pretty accurate gauge, I think.

I recommend you take the bus going down from Maokong since it’s way cheaper than taking a cab and the line’s way shorter than taking a gondola back down. But stay for the sunset.

The way back from the mountain down captured a view so picturesque that it was impossible to take a photo that would replicate its exact beauty. With the sun going down and the lights from neon, fluorescent signs coming up, it was surreal beaing there. The nearing view of lush forests and rows of trees felt like being swallowed up by nature, especially as the winding streets got narrower. But then we reached the landing on concrete road and found ourselves back in the city. I think that was my favorite part—winding down, unsure if you’re headed towards the right direction, but finding yourself ending up there anyway. There is so much more to see in Taiwan. I heard of mountain treks and hidden pockets away from the city, so maybe I’ll try that out next time I’m there.

That, and maybe eating at the original Din Tai Fung branch in Da-an District.

Taipei Day 3: Zakka Hunt! + Taipei Coffee Shops

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But first, an update!

It feels great to write here again. Work has been pretty challenging lately, and I think I am in a place where I know I need to slow down, find my groove again, and simply breathe. I can be very, very hard on myself sometimes, and on most days lately, I’ve been pressuring myself and pretending to be some lame-o superhero with the power to effortlessly juggle 10 million things at once (with the grace and poise of a ballerina). But hey, this is real life. I don’t even know ballet. Recently, there have been days when I feel that my head is about to burst into a glorious puddle of pink goop, and my anticipated feeling of fulfillment is replaced by the feeling of falling apart. Just like placing another wooden block on a precarious Jenga tower that’s about to collapse any time. Writing here today (and making a point to write here once every week after) is an attempt to improve on myself as a whole: sharpening the saw, reflecting on life, and just processing things. In short, carving out more time to make sense out of things. So, here we go!

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I spent my third day in Taipei on my own with postal errands to run and a crumpled map to sort out. What’s great about Taiwan is that the post office is open even on Saturdays. Just take an MTR to the Taipei Main Station and look for the window that’s half-covered in stamps.

After mailing some postcards, I took MRT going to Zhongxiao Dunhua Station since I heard that this area is heavy on Zakka stores. Zakka is actually a Japanese design revolution of sorts that has spread to different parts of Asia. I guess all those “hipster” coffee shops that sell “hipster” looking things with a bit more kitsch fall under this category. It’s a funky movement that I am a confessed fan of, and it’s created quite a stir in Southeast Asia, particularly in places such as Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan, Singapore’s Haji Lane (and now the Yong Siak area), among other places that are heavy in self-expression and odd yet tasteful art.

A word of caution: it’s so easy to get lost here, and the language barrier is definitely an obstacle. It’s a sprawl of alleys and lanes that zigzag and cross parallel and perpendicular and with all the colorful places and curious architecture, it’s recommended that you stay an entire afternoon exploring this place.


The VVG cluster: VVG Something (which reminds me of Books Actually in Singapore), VVG ThinkingVVG BistroVVG Chiffon, etc, with VVG standing for “Very, Very, Good” is a haven for people who have a fondness for warmth and vintage-looking trinkets. Cozy and quaint, each VVG store has a character of its own, making one stand out from the other that it’s hard to pick favorites. The VVG stores are located at the far end of Alley 40, Lane 181, Zhongxiao E. Rd Sec 4, Taipei. Best way to get there is by walking from the Zhongxiao Dunhua station (Exit 1). It’s quite a walk, so best if you ask for directions as well.




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Taipei Day 2: Jiufen

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I used to pretend that I don’t watch anime because I had a horrible experience involving it in high school. All my girl classmates were enamored by Chobits and those pastel-colored girls with shrill, perky voices and matching dance moves (forgot the title). I, on the other hand, couldn’t get into it. Sure, I’ve seen and enjoyed my share of Akazukin Cha-Cha, Cooking Master Boy, Shingeki no Kyojin, and Death Note (thanks to Mye), but feigning my adoration for Chobits, etc. was too hard. I remember catching one of my fangirl classmates off guard and telling her as if breaking up, “Sorry, I really think Chobits sucks. I can’t do this anymore,” and retreated to my little corner in the classroom; my nose buried deep into Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. She never spoke to me again about anything else aside from school stuff.

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But there’s something about Japanese animated shows and movies that entrances me. It’s fascinating how the Japanese are so particular about the structure of their art. The keen attention to detail and the elaborate storylines that would almost-always operate in a whimsical environment never fail to captivate me. (Well, even their more true-to-life animated films have a hint of surreal.) But the works of Hayao Miyazaki are haunting. He’s someone whose brain I’d pick if I could, trying to understand how those synapses inside could spark such creativity and fantasy-filled stories that despite their cartoonish appeal are not limited to kids, but are consistently relevant even to the grown-ups.

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My friend Aleyn was the one who told me about Jiufen, the city that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. A city on top of a mountain, Jiufen has its own lush history to partake of.

Jiufen literally translates to “nine shares” in Chinese. Many moons ago, there were only nine families living in the city. Doubling as a gold mine, one would have to travel down the mountain to get supplies. So whenever someone would make the trip and return to the top with cake, vegetables, cloth, and other necessities, he/she had to share it with the other eight families.

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Because I was with my grandparents (my Grandpa has a knee problem), we hired a cab to take us to Jiufen and back (around NT$1,000). But if you’d like to go there using public transportation, here’s how to do it: Take the MRT to Zhongxiao Fuxing station and leave at Exit 1. There you’ll see a number of buses. Take Bus # 1062, which will take you to Jiufen (just load up and use your EasyCard). A lot of people recommend that you sit on the left side of the bus so that you can appreciate the view up the mountains. Going back is the same but in reverse, unless you’d like to visit Keelung Night Market on your way back, in which you’d have to board the Keelung (基隆市) bus outside the 7-Eleven in Jiufen, pay a fare of NT$42, and alight at Chung Yi Road (忠 一 路), the station before reaching Keelung Railway Station at Lion’s Bridge (獅 桥). From Keelung to Taipei, take the train from Keelung Railway to Taipei Main Station or take the bus via the Kuo Kuang Express Bus that departs from the Keelung Railway Station to Taipei West Bus Station.

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We went there last March, and it was freezing (see previous post). We first stopped at Jiufen Old Market, a narrow enclosed strip that was bursting at the seams with so much food. Your head will spin as you stare left right left right sausage fishballs tofu ice cream and dig deep into your pockets in search for coins to pay for your meal(s). The vapor coming out of the dimsum steamers also makes for warm facial defrosters.

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Up there, I tried Stinky Tofu, which was one of the foulest things I have ever placed inside my mouth. My grandma thought it was “not bad”, though.

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We also tried some interesting fishballs that were stuffed with ground meat.

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Also, an accidental discovery of ice cream wrapped in an egg roll wrapper with crushed peanuts and coriander (!!!) made a fine dessert. Who knew coriander would work so well as a sweet treat?

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After skirting your way out of Jiufen Old Street (it can get pretty packed), a steep, tapered down staircase leads you to A Mei Tea House, the building which Yubaba’s Bath House was inspired from.

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It’s hard to find the words to describe its majesty and grandeur. The interior contained an antique flair, with its boxy rooms being varied in design, all blanketed by the smell of flowery tea. I stood there and stared for a good half hour. Taking all the tiny details in and pretending to be Chihiro deep down, waiting for my Haku.

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At night, the tiny read lanterns around it light up, surrounding the building with a ruby haze. I’ve seen it in photos and in postcards. Hopefully, I can come back soon and see this magical teahouse come to life in the evening.

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We had lunch at the oldest restaurant in Jiufen. Some really cold Hainan-style chicken and more fishballs in piping-hot soup.

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Remembering the day when I was able to breathe the same air and witness the same sights as Hayao Miyazaki, someone I consider to be one of the most spellbinding storytellers of our time, is a memory that is filled with so much fondness. Being there was like getting sucked into time and waking up to this otherworldly city where everything was simple yet held a quiet sort of magic. Just like a well-kept secret. No doubt, Jiufen is one of the most breathtaking places I’ve been to, and it wouldn’t hurt to pay another visit again sometime in the near future.

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Taipei Day 1: Some Travel Tips + Shilin Night Market

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This is one of the many reasons why I think my Grandpa is a crazy fella (but in a good way, of course!).

Last January, he gave me a heads-up that we might~ be going to Taiwan on March. Come its first week, nothing was happening. I assumed we weren’t pushing through, so I took it easy with my writing deadlines, moving things around since I perceived March to be a pretty chill working month. But on March 10, he told me to give him my passport, and with much urgency at that, because we were leaving in 10 freaking!!!! days (we haven’t applied for visas yet at this rate, and it takes around 3-4 days to process!). And he already booked tickets for me, him, and my Grandma. YOLO(lo) much.

Apart from scrambling to fix our papers and documents, I booked us a room for 4 nights at the Hotel Riverview located at Taipei’s Ximending District via Agoda. Though it’s a bit of a walk from the MRT, it received great reviews from former guests, claiming that the staff was very, very hospitable and the rooms were squeaky clean. And they were right! I highly recommend this place if you plan to visit Taipei. Yes, it takes around 10-15 minutes to walk from the hotel to the MRT, but you get to pass by the shopping areas and streets lined up with food (haha), so there’s really nothing to lose (except time, if you’re in a rush) because you get to explore more of the city in a very organic manner. You might even end up reaching the MRT in an hour because of all the window shopping. Hotel Riverview’s rates are very affordable especially if you’re traveling with your family or with a group of friends. I enjoyed their breakfast selection, too!

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If I weren’t a writer, I’d most probably be a tour guide or put up a local Contiki counterpart and be its only employee hahaha just so I could go around more and meet new people etc etc. I find travel planning oddly therapeutic, and though I’m not a stick-to-the-plan kind of traveler, I do my share of research on must-see places (and must-eat restaurants) in a country I’m visiting. I usually get recommendations from friends because hearing their personal stories and seeing the look on their faces as they recall the memory make things more special. Also, these conversations come with insider tips that you won’t find online! My Grandpa allowed me to plot down the places I wanted to visit so we could go together as a family. He also gave me a free day to explore Taiwan on my own despite his being verryyy overprotective, so that was pretty cool.

Touchdown Taiwan—Taoyuan International Airport. My Tita living in Taiwan told me that the weather wasn’t winter-level cold. “Just bring a jacket,” she advised. The Internet also said that the temperature was sunny at 24 degrees, so I packed shorts and sleeveless tops only to realize that I walked straight into a refrigerator once the exit doors of the airport opened. Internet, y u fail me. Just kidding. After asking around, I found out that Taiwan reaches its warmest season on June-July. On other months, expect the weather to be like Baguio x 5 or 7.

Given my shivering ass wardrobe malfunction and fear of turning into Olaf, I made it a priority to do a bit of “cold weather shopping” as soon as we got to the hotel. But before that, here’s a tourist tip: Taipei offers free Wi-Fi to its foreign visitors. Make sure to visit the information center at the airport upon landing. In my case, their system was down, so they redirected me to one of the Taipei MRT stations where I could avail of this service, so I took a mental note and that priority number 2.

We arrived at the hotel from Taoyuan around 4:00pm (it took us around an hour and a half via car because my Grandpa had arranged for someone to pick us up). After resting a bit, we headed out to get my free Wi-Fi at the Ximen Station (the MRT nearest our hotel), but stopped by 7-Eleven first to get a mobile sim card for my Grandpa. And also, my favorite part of any trip…can you guess?

Taiwan’s 7-Eleven shabu-shabu station is filled with tofu, corn, fish balls, meat balls, crab sticks, and other edibles of the same kin.

Soft-boiled eggs that come in plastic bags. A perfect booze buddy as advertised.

Tea Eggs, 6 of which my Grandpa, Grandma, and I inhaled in less than 5 minutes. Bring this to Manila PLZ.

En route the Ximen MRT station, we passed by the Ximending shopping area which was teeming with more food and stores. It was busy (but not packed) on a Thursday afternoon. Of course, I wanted to stop by and sample more of the Taiwanese fare. How could you not with all those delicious scents causing you to unconsciously gravitate towards their stalls?!?! Torture much. But I could wait (I think).

FREE WI-FI FOR TOURISTS! Just show your passport and you’ll be given access to their hotspots that are ever-so-present in their MRT stations. And it’s pretty darn fast, too. But please use it only when you have to and don’t let it (especially the sneaky little devil that is social media) distract you from enjoying your trip! They also have cute tourist-themed ink stamps that you can fill up your notebooks or travel journals with. I went wild with those as you could see.

We stopped by a military merchandise store located on the opposite side of the road, and we headed back to the hotel to rest up. On our way back from the MRT station, we passed by Ximending again and now, I didn’t hold back when it came to the grub.

Egg Pancakes! One of my favorite things in Taipei. It’s filled with scallions and you can have it also with cheese inside.

Luv u.

Edibles on sticks, innards, and various offal.

Roasted corn basted with barbecue sauce.

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There were three night markets I wanted to visit on our first evening (eager beaver). Wu Fen Pu for clothes, Raohe for food, and Shilin for more food. But hitting all three markets in one night was a bit of a stretch, so we settled for Shilin Night Market.

We took a cab going there, but if you want to take the MRT, take the red line to Jiantan Station and not Shilin Station. Leave Exit 1 and cross the street diagonally to the left. It’s not hard to miss. Shilin is known for its food, but thankfully, there were also clothing stores, so I was able stock up on pants and coats to keep me warm for the rest of the trip. Most of the clothes and other non-edible items (lol) sold in Taipei come at fixed prices that are a bit expensive (even in night markets), so keep an eye out for vendors with flexible price tags you can haggle with. The Taiwanese folk, from my experience, are very kind, helpful, and easy communicate with. Even in crowded night markets such as Shilin, you’ll feel safe.

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I Got It from My Grandpa

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Today is my Grandpa’s 75th birthday. I know his age because I have a photo of his passport in my phone, and I subtracted his birth year with 2014 some five seconds ago. Being my Grandpa, he has always been the wrinkly family figure (like if there was a Grandfather Willow, I suppose). He demands the most respect in the clan simply because he was the oldest—the father of my father.

I remember my first beach trip when he drove us to Subic when I was three and barely higher than his knee. I wondered why the sand was grey, but still jumped in the water. Most of my memories of him would always revolve around eating Chinese food, Binondo, the smell of the pomade on his slicked back hair, Aristocrat Chicken Barbecue, and airplanes.

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I won’t go out telling the whole world what a perfect man because he is far from that. Just like all of us, my Grandpa’s got his own share of flaws and issues. But he is a good Grandpa. He and my Grandma were my first travel buddies. I remember them joking in a not-very-child-friendly way that they would pack me inside the luggage if I wouldn’t stop crying when I said goodbye to my parents in the airport.

My Grandpa also loves taking photos. Despite the Digital Age, he still prefers to do it old-school, taking his rickety decade-old digital camera to Quiapo to have the photos inside it printed out. And mind you, he doesn’t choose the photos; he just goes and tells the clerk to print them all out. Whenever I try to convince him that he should at least delete those that aren’t really print-worthy, he just tells me to go out and buy ice cream. Because to him, every click of the shutter is important. It’s as if he wanted to frame the arbitrary in the milliseconds of his day.

I guess, if there’s one thing I admire about my Grandpa the most, it’s the way he views everything with so much wonder and meaning. And of course, his undying love for travel. At age 75, he still climbs mountains, walks wayyy longer than I can, and he’s got that thirst of exploring new places despite his age. Sometimes we lose him in narrow, crowded marketplaces, which can get a bit frustrating and I feel I need to play the grown-up card when I am but a grand total of 50 years younger. That’s just the way he is and who he has always been.

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Understanding that he is a wide-eyed wondered soul in a 75-year-old body makes me more understanding of his very spontaneous habits and sometimes fickle decision-making. There’s a special way he looks at the world. I know he sees it through rose-colored glasses, like a child gaining consciousness about his surroundings for the very first time. He’s a well-traveled man, but he has always been very humble about his adventures coupled with that glowing zeal to take us, his grandchildren, along with him. He’s the one who’s immediately game for adventure, game to book that ticket, and would do everything in his power to make sure that we got to see the world with him whenever we could.
So, Grandpa, thanks for your fondness of travel and appreciation for every moment you have. Though you can be a tough nut to crack, I want to let you know that I love you loads and that you will always and forever be one of the most important men in my life.

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Happy birthday, wanderlust. I’m glad to know I got my itchy feet from you.

Wanderlusting—Supertramp Style (a repost)

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I wrote this entry about Sean Penn’s Into the Wild last January 2012, and I thought of going through it again since I’m planning to see the movie for the fourth (or fifth) time tonight.

Same movie, always a different revelation.

After my first viewing of Into the Wild, I was hooked. I spent most of my time researching about Christopher McCandless, ordered a copy of the paperback by Jon Krakauer online, and devoured it once it came in the mail. It has become one of my favorite books since.

I’ve always been an advocate of adventure and travel, but there are moments that I simply forget the core of why I love what I love. Having an encounter of the paperback sitting on the El Union Coffee bookshelf brought me back to my reason; my WHY for adventure, dropping everything, and simply getting lost. Along with it came a bit of Walden and Thoreau’s “sucking the marrow out of life”. I was also reading Donald Miller’s Through Painted Deserts that day and the stain these kinds of books leave on me is like indelible ink on a perfectly white shirt.

So tonight, I again rediscover what it means to live on the road that leads west. Hopefully, someday, I get to experience it for myself.

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Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ’cause “the West is the best.” And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.

- Alexander Supertramp, May 1992

Today’s devotion talks about the Book of Nature, followed by a mini-story about the life of John Muir, leader of the forest conservation movement, and developer of some national parks in the US such as Sequoia, Mount Rainier, and Yosemite. According to the story, Muir would literally explore and indulge himself in the wilderness. And while doing so, he began to realize that the true beauty of this world, uncorrupted by domestication and civilization, could come from no one else but from the hand of God.

This topic, the wilderness, takes me back to last Friday’s movie viewing where I was able to watch Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. The movie revolves around the story of Christopher McCandless and how he decided to abandon everything—his college diploma, his privileged lifestyle, his family, his life—in the pursuit of finding himself. He also dropped his old name and took up a new one: Alexander Supertramp.

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There are a couple of perspectives that weave the movie together: Chistopher McCandless himself and his sister, Carine’s. This combination of narratives is actually a striking mélange of experiences, viewing an adventure through the lenses of both the wanderlust and the eyes of a lost man’s sister. The movie has a magical capability of absorbing you into the story, allowing you to feel the heart and soul of Christopher McCandless. Once the credits start rolling, reality settles back in. You feel like you just woke up from a surreal dream or a mesmerizing trance. This movie will break you, it will mend you; it will unstitch you, and then it will sew you back together. This is definitely one of the most beautiful and riveting movies I have ever seen, peppered with lessons by Supertramp himself that will certainly last a lifetime.

1. The freedom that lies in simple beauty is too good to pass up.

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Sometimes, we forget to stop and smell the flowers. We forget to bask ourselves under the sun’s rays and be thankful for a sunny day. We have been so absorbed with the hustle and bustle of life, especially when new gadgets run over our already-good ones. We always want more and more of things, and we usually turn a blind eye on what beauty already exists. I read in Paulo Coelho’s Aleph that “the most sophisticated things in the world are precisely those within the reach of everyone.” Freedom is one, love is another. And the funny thing is that these things that make sense of our lives aren’t even material.

This also reminds me of Louis CK’s “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” interview on Conan.

‘Cause now we live in, in an amazing, amazing world and it’s wasted on the, on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don’t care because, this is what people are like now.

- Louis CK

2. God’s place is all around us; it is in everything and in anything we can experience. People just need to change the way they look at things.

I needed to hear this.

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Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty jaded with life. There were moments when I’d feel boxed up and directionless, mulling over the question “what am I doing with my life?” over and over and over again. But it is true when McCandless mentioned that God is in everything we encounter. He wouldn’t put as where we are without a reason. Everything has meaning; God intended it. And if we look at things differently, we might just realize that we are where we are not by accident—we were all made for something bigger than anything we could’ve ever imagined.

3. If we admit that human life can be ruled by reason, then all possibility of life is destroyed.

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Taking risks can sometimes seem like the stupidest thing in the world, but sometimes, it’s the only way to make sense out of things. Living strictly by-the-book closes your mind to magical ideas and great inventions. When we close ourselves to the things that have always been familiar, we are being cowards. We can save ourselves from the hurt, but we also protect ourselves from happiness. Be vulnerable and allow life to consume you once in a while and take the free fall. Great things flow from open boxes, so don’t limit yourself to its corners. Sometimes, you just have stop overthinking and just go with your gut. It’ll always be worth it.

4. The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences.

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Climb a mountain, dive in the ocean, take a hike. Visit a foreign land, eat a rare delicacy, make friends with a stranger. Make snow or sand angels, go rafting, fall in love. Adopt a pet, fly a kite, go bungee jumping. Kiss in the rain, dance in the moonlight, have a food fight. These rare and extraordinary experiences are the puzzle pieces that form a meaningful life. It’ll never hurt to try something new.

5. When you want something in life, you just got to reach out and grab it.

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Don’t let anything or anyone stop you from reaching your dreams. In a world where judgment is cast on everyone, it is sometimes difficult to fully express yourself one way or another. And though it is easily said than done, these things shouldn’t even be taken into account. More so, don’t let what others think about you define you. Let your character define who you are. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and constantly encourage you to achieve your goals in life. You can never go wrong with good company.

6. When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines through you.

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Ron Franz, one of the people McCandless meets along the way says, “There is some kind of bigger thing that we can all appreciate and it sounds to me you don’t mind calling it God. But when you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines through you.”

To forgive means to heal, and to heal means to love. People can hurt us and crush us, and sometimes, we are even the ones who bring the downfall onto ourselves. Forgiving is hard—whether it be others or ourselves. But allowing ourselves to heal from that pain unconditionally opens so many doors to let the light overflow from our hearts. Let love be our highest goal.

7. The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong.

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The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind death stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.

- Christopher McCandless

Detachment can sometimes be what you need to feel strong. Leaving behind what is unnecessary and preventive to your growth is hard, especially if you have been so familiar and comfortable with it. There are moments when it is necessary for us to think for ourselves alone and to use our head to make sense of what’s in our heart. Learning and finding the courage to stand on one’s two feet, especially after a harsh fall, can sometimes give us the strength we need the most.

And lastly…

8. Happiness is only real when shared.

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No man is an island. Men weren’t meant to live alone, and this I have been learning progressively. I have found happiness and joy in sharing my quirks and silly moments with my friends. When we reach some successes in life, we should celebrate with others because they helped us reach these goals and milestones. We shouldn’t be selfish with our joy, because happiness is meant to be shared. Seeing smiles and hearing laughs from the people we love only confirms that happiness is not only a concept, but also a real experience.

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Christopher McCandless’s story serves as a constant reminder for us to keep on exploring, to keep on going, and to keep on traveling. Embarking on adventures always gives us lessons that are unmatched by any price tag. Life has always been compared to a journey, and it is up to us to choose our mode of travel. We choose our stopovers; we determine the places that we want to explore on a deeper level. Life is fleeting and time is flying fast. While everything is uncertain but predestined, the things we choose to do with our lives and how we make each moment count are what matters. And just like any successful journey, reaching our destinations—our Great Perhaps—will always evoke fulfillment. Here’s to a life worth living.

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It should not be denied that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations. Absolute freedom. And the road has always led west.

- Christopher McCandless

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