Monday, May 26, 2008

You know you're in Japan when....

The air is clear and clean and the restrooms have a fancy toilet that's heated, has a bidet and other water wash options, the sound of running water (in case you want to be discreet) and a deodorizer all built in.

This is actually the first time I've landed at the Nagoya airport, which is where my mother is from. Much smaller than Narita, much less walking from the gate to security to the lounge and to the gate again. I like this much better!

But Narita does have a great Northwest business lounge with Mac computers and 19" screens. On the other hand, Nagoya doesn't have wireless but I have a lovely view out the window (impeccably clean of course) of a Hello Kitty covered Eva Air plane. How cute! The characters even have Eva Air hats! LOL!

This is only a two-hour layover (which really means 1 hour since boarding is always an hour before departure). Too short to enjoy the lounge, but just enough time for me to write a blog post.

What a vacation!

It's now 1:50 am and I am not sleeping tonight. I'm back in Manila and I have to take a taxi at 3 am in order to be at the airport three hours in advance as recommended. I think this is crazy, but everyone (people at work, taxi drivers, hotel staff) tell us the same thing so I think I should listen to them.

Ken and I arrived in Manila around 6 pm. I spent the morning reading on the balcony of the cottage and watching the fish below. We brought the rolls from dinner and fed them in the morning. Feeding the fish is quite an entertaining show.

After we checked out and had lunch, we took a kayak to a small beach near the hotel. It was about a 10 minute ride and spent about a half hour swimming. The beach was pretty deserted except for a local boat, a guy and a dog (sounds like a song!). It was quiet and we were able to see some birds that we had not seen before. I also heard some odd animal noises in the forest....I'm glad we didn't hike to the beach and decided to kayak instead.

The day really flew by and we were back on the boats and plane back to Manila. Once back in Manila I could feel the stresses returning....the traffic, the high density housing, the noise and pollution. I longed for the clean air and water. I miss peacefulness and slow pace of Lagen. We decided that the resort must be a great employer. So many happy employees. They all wanted us to enjoy our stay, tell others, and come back.

If anyone is interested in vacationing at Lagen, check out I would recommend Lagen over the sister resort, Miniloc. Yes it's pricey, but it's an unbelievable getaway. We didn't book online, but searched and found an online travel agency in Manila that had the best rates (

By Tuesday afternoon I will be back in Houston. I'm saddened to be leaving, but I'm also glad to return to my cats.

I hope you've enjoyed this blog. Stay tuned for more episodes. I should be in Argentina in October and will resurrect the blog!


Our third day at the resort was more leisurely. Ken decided to skip the dive so that he could sleep in. No alarm clock today. Just breakfast before 9 and catch the 11 am boat to one of the islands (Entalula) where we would have lunch, rock climb and sail.

Leisurely meant lounging by the pool for me while Ken swam laps. The infinity edge pool is long enough to get a decent workout. We were there long enough to see new guests arrive (and hear the welcome song again) and join us at the pool (as we did on our first day). Lots of families with kids. More Japanese tourists. And a beautiful Filipino girl and an older (maybe 10 years) fat Filipino guy. Ick. Luckily 11 am arrives and we’re off.

There’s no set schedule and we’re allowed to lounge, swim and snorkel (without vests) for as long as we want. The water is beautiful and inviting. There are a few people on the beach with us, but not many. Too bad they’re blaring music that’s more appropriate for a trendy hair salon than a beach.

We eat the buffet lunch (the grilled meats and shrimp are awesome) and rock climb. To go to the ledge is free and going farther is an extra 300 pesos. We watch a bunch of Filipino girls try it. The first ledge looks pretty do-able to me. The second would require some work.

I opt for the ledge. Brian (in yellow) was our teacher and he did a great job (move your left foot up to your leg…what?!). The tree that I'm grabbing is the ledge where I call it quits. Yeah, it's not that far from the ground, but I knew the second ledge is a lot tougher and this was bad enough!

Ken easily scales up to the ledge in about 10 seconds and tackles the next climb with ease (about twice as high). He then tries a different climb and got about 2/3 of the way up. It was definitely more difficult and required him putting his left foot up onto a hold that he just couldn’t find.

By this point we were pretty much the only guests left on the island. Everyone else had gone off to take part in other activities.

After a dip in the water to cool off, we decided it was time to sail or we would run out of time. It was a Hobie cat and we’re accompanied by one of the staff. There’s not much wind, but we make do. After we get moving Ken steered the entire time. It was nice being on the water without hearing a motor. I’ve always enjoyed sailing and I should try to do it more often.

We were able to lounge around for another hour before the boat came to pick us up. There was no one to bother us. The remaining staff members were hanging around talking while we read under our hut. This is the life.

Once again, we get back in time for a quick shower and a massage in the massage hut. Our massage ladies were late so we missed being able to watch the sunset. But we could still sit at the bar and take photos of the ever changing colors of the sky. This was our last sunset and possibly the prettiest. I could watch it every night. I look forward to comparing this sunset to the ones in Hawaii later in the year. The ones here are spectacular though.

We leave tomorrow afternoon. We’ll spend the day lounging around the pool until it’s time to take the boat back to El Nido’s airport.

They left a marketing CD for the resort in the room tonight, along with our Good Night leaf and chocolates. The leaf is a really nice touch. We get one every had "good night" another "sleep well" and "sweet dreams" with our names painted on the leaf. It's the little touches like this that make us love this place.

Ken will take the CD to China with him since it’s more likely that folks there will express an interest in vacationing here (I did pick up another copy at checkout). We did run into 3 Americans at dinner tonight. They look like fraternity boys. I wonder how they found this place.

Old guys, young girls

The only thing that I dislike about this place is the number of old guys and their Filipino girlfriends. Yesterday there was an older guy (probably in his late 50’s or 60’s) beaming because his girlfriend is pregnant. There was at least a 30 or 40 year age difference.

Today a table of 3 Japanese men (50’s, and 60’s) and 3 young Filipino girls sat next to us at breakfast. It was absolutely disgusting. One of the girls could speak rudimentary Japanese. The guys spoke Japanese. Ken thinks they could have “hired” the girls for their trip. We saw no evidence of girlfriend/boyfriend like behavior. Two of the guys and all of the girls accompanied us on the snorkeling trip. Big “ewww” factor.

This is something I did not see in Malaysia. I’m not sure if it’s because Malaysia is primarily Muslim or if they’re not as poor as the people in the Philippines. I would rather be back at the Malaysian resort just for the guests.

Most of the guests here are Japanese, Chinese, Australian/New Zealand, Middle Eastern, French, Italian, and Filipino. It’s nice hearing different languages during mealtimes. Americans rarely come to Asia for a beach holiday. I was the only American vacationing in Malaysia last year and the manager confirmed that they don’t get many Americans. Too bad….Americans don’t know what beauty they're missing. This place is incredible. This photo is taken from the balcony of the water cottage one morning.

More fun in the sun

Day 2 of our vacation had us getting up early to eat breakfast and get out for our excursion. Today it’s snorkeling, kayaking and swimming with the jackfish.

We spend a lot of time on boats. It usually takes about 20 or 25 minutes to get your destination. And always, we take a powerboat to a larger boat for the trip. The time goes quickly when you’re admiring the view. The water is so blue and clear. I love to sit in the front and feel the air and sun.

Before we hit the lagoon where we would snorkel, we made a “drive by” into a smaller lagoon. There’s one guy in the front of the boat to direct the captain around the rocks. Another guy is on one of the beams to navigate around the rocks as well. This lagoon is on the scenic route as evidenced by a line of boats waiting to get in.

Then we finally get to the big lagoon where we would be able to snorkel and canoe. I’m not much of a swimmer, but we’re required to wear a life vest so I quickly got comfortable snorkeling in pretty deep water (they let Ken snorkel without one after another guy also dove in without one). There were so many fish around the reef. Colorful parrot fish, angel fish. surgeon, and countless fish that I can’t identify. Some were colorful, others had interesting patterns. I would just float and watch what was going on below me. As you can see, the water is incredibly clear and blue.

After snorkeling Ken and I kayaked in the lagoon. We made a good team and went into a smaller cove through a hole so small that it took some work for us to maneuver ourselves inside. Ken had to lie down in order to get through. We saw 2 large guys swim and push/pull their kayak instead. But it was worth the effort. Very few people were in the cove so it was quiet and there were tall rocks around us.

After kayaking we went to the sister resort for lunch and swimming with the jackfish. Mineloc is an older resort (built in the 1980’s), but they have a great lagoon for snorkeling. They don’t have a pool and only have open air dining (we have an air conditioned room and outdoor seating). The buffet is very similar, but they had a great green mango salad and blueberry cheesecake.

Our guide Chris (same guy as yesterday) left us with a lot of bread so we could feed the fish. Ken loved feeding the fish as evidenced by the photo. One of the little fish even bit his finger instead of bread.

They would swarm even if you’re in the water and just swimming. I let him feed, I would snorkel. The jackfish are HUGE! Some were a good 3’ or larger. They are mean-looking too. They just hang out in the lagoon. They don’t each much of the bread and the schools of fish clear out when they swim by. They seem to like swimming in a clockwise pattern. It was awesome.

The tide was going out so I laid on the pier. The perfect conditions… water and a late-afternoon sun.

At 4 pm, they took us back to our resort. Just in time for a quick shower and a massage in the massage hut. Afterward we picked up a drink from the bar and walked out to the jetty to watch the sunset. The skies were a bit different than the day before. I think it was even better! I stayed until the last ray disappeared and the stars became visible. Just in time for dinner.

We’ve decided that this is the best beach vacation either or us has taken. The staff treats you so well here. The water is clean, the fish plentiful, the weather is warm and sunny. Palawan is very eco-friendly and we’re asked to keep everything clean as we found it. We don’t look forward to leaving in two days.

El Nido's Lagen Resort on Palawan Island

I made a promise to not go online while I was on vacation, but I can still write my blog and post it later. ;-)

I am vacationing with my friend Ken (old friends from work...he lives in Shanghai) on Palawan Island at the El Nido resort called Lagen. Getting to Palawan requires a 75-minute flight on a chartered plane (departing at 7:30 am), then a transfer to a speedboat (after a quick snack of sticky rice…basically mochi rice that you sprinkle on coconut and sugar – I had 3!), which then takes us to a larger catamaran boat, then another transfer to a speedboat again to get us to the dock. Whew! Lots of boats, but we remained dry.

We land on an unpaved runway. Yes, we feel like Indiana Jones in this airplane!

As we skim the clear blue waters en route to the island, Grace, our activities coordinator is helping us selected some activities we want to book. This is an all-inclusive resort so the activities are generally included. We agreed to the island hopping tour in the afternoon, and in subsequent days kayaking, rock climbing, snorkeling, sailing and diving for Ken.

We pass plenty of islands. Similar to those seen in Malaysia (Ken thinks it looks like Vietnam). Most of the islands are just large rocks in the water. The Philippines is made up of over 7,000 islands.

The Lagen resort is in a U-shaped cove. Talk about picturesque! There are 51 rooms in this hotel built in 1991. The landscaping is beautiful. The view from the pool is unbelievable.

We’re welcomed with a fish-shaped lei made coconut tree fronds (they make these in Hawaii too) and the employees singing a traditional Palawan march. Yes, we’ve arrived in paradise and we're being treated like royalty.

After checking in and getting settled in our water cottage (thank goodness we splurged to stay in one of them), we looked out at the fish under our balcony and I lounged by the pool for an hour while Ken swam in the water and did laps in the pool.

Lunch is a large buffet with an amazing selection. The fish was really good and the black bean crab was tasty, but too much work. There’s also a stir fry, grill, and shabu shabu station. We’re certainly not going to starve on this trip.

After lunch we took the island hopping tour. Chris was our tour guide (he's in the green shirt) and took us to a cave where we had to climb through a small hole (there are bats inside!).

Then we went to Snake Island…no snakes, but a sand bar connects two islands and the tide was out so we could walk across. We also could swim in the clear water, but Chris made us wear our life vests (party pooper!). You can see the sand bar pretty well in this photo.
And the last island was a "drive" into a small cave - yawn!

After we returned, we got a massage in the room. We wanted the massage hut, but it was already booked. We did reserve it for the next day though.

The massage ended just in time for the sunset. And a spectacular one at that. We sit on the concrete jetty and enjoy the show.

A drink at the bar, then dinner outside next to the pool (we got there early enough to ensure a table next to the water). The staff puts on a nice little show of national dances.
One dance uses two long bamboo poles and the dancers jump as the poles are being struck in rhythm. We used to learn this dance when I was in elementary school and I forgot all about it until seeing it again. After they dance, they recruit audience members to learn it. I decline, remembering how many times I used to get my ankles stuck between the poles. I’m too uncoordinated for this dance.

By 9 pm we were exhausted and crashed. We had an incredibly busy day, but at such a relaxed pace. We were just grateful that we didn’t get sunburned and can enjoy our activities tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


On Tuesday night, after a 12 hour day, we hit Greenbelt Mall for dinner and took a different route home through the mall. One of the restaurants had bottles of liquor displayed on the bar and there were some that caught our eye as being different. One was Alize (accent mark on the "e") Gold Passion. "What was that?", we wondered.

We passed another bar and they had Gold Passion and Red Passion in the window. Cool. The restaurant manager talked us into coming inside for a drink. Sure!

So we had Alize on the rocks. Brett and Emily wanted to try the Red Passion. I thought Gold would be better. Wow! It was sweet and the taste of cognac wasn't noticeable in the Gold, although it was evident in the Red. The bottle said it was 16% alcohol. Holy cow! It was a French liquor. We really liked it!

Fast forward to the morning when an email from a friend tells me how ghetto Alize is. LOL! Even better was the link to the website, which shows just how Alize is in the US. Take a look and see for yourself -

What's funny is how this liquor is marketed to blacks in the US, but not in the Philippines. We just thought it was a girly drink. The bartender told us it's best drunk on the rocks and he too said it was more for women (and at 16% alcohol it's an easy way for women to get drunk!).

So I guess we have to enjoy drinking Alize in the last night we have together in Makati City because we doubt we will drink it in the U.S.

Wednesday night is now history here.... we have one more day remaining before my team heads home to Michigan and my vacation here begins.

More stories and photos to come from Palawan Island. If you want a preview of where I'll be, check out this website - I'm staying at Lagen Island Resort. They tell me that wireless internet is free so I should be able to continue posting.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

More shopping

And when the weather is still bad, we shop....which is an experience in itself here.

After spending more $ today at the mall, it's time to write about what shopping is like in one of the department stores here (think an equivalent to Macy's or Kohl's). There are a TON of people standing around to help.....but they're usually bored and are talking to each other than helping. Or they're following you around as you're browsing. But they're only responsible for a small section of the store. It could be a brand or type of clothes. And if you're interested in buying something, they have to go with you to the central cashier (there are usually a number of them on a floor).

At the check-out desk, there is usually only 1 cashier whose sole responsibility is to use the cash register. So on a busy weekend, there's quite a backlog of clerks with their customers. In one store, I probably waited 10 minutes or more to check out. In one store, we walked past a number of check-out stations before we found someone working at the register. It requires patience to check out.

Emily and I were checking out at one store (I found inexpensive belly dancing skirts!) and for whatever reason they had to ring her 2 blouses separately. We have no idea why. And they put her purchases in 2 bags. Made no sense.

But the prices are pretty good for non-US branded clothing. There are plenty of US-based stores such as Gap, Zara, Lacoste, Mango, but the prices in them are no bargain. On the other hand, the department stores or the local boutiques have some really nice clothes at much more reasonable prices.

I keep on saying that I'm tired of shopping, but yet my purchases continue. I'm so glad I brought my larger suitcase and had lots of extra room in it!

Only 4 more shopping days before I go on vacation!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tropical Storm Cosme

A tropical storm in the area has wreaked havoc on our weekend plans. We weren't able to go see the volcano as it would require taking a boat to the island and the water is too rough and the weather is too bad for us to do so. It's also impacted the weather in Manila. Lots of off and on rainstorms for most of the week. :-( NOTE: Cosme killed 8 people in the northern part of the island we are on (Luzon). My sympathies to their families for their loss.

When the weather is bad, we shop. We returned to Green Hills Mall on Saturday to buy more pearls. Green Hills has a middle section of the mall where it's 2 floors of stalls of vendors selling stuff - knock-off purses, tourist items, clothing, cell phones and accessories, furniture, and pearls. The photo below doesn't quite convey what it's like, but just imagine the image x 50. There are lots and lots and lots of vendors. Everything looks the same after awhile, but upon close inspection are some product differences between vendors.

Bargaining is expected here. I admit, I'm not very good at it. But to me, when you're haggling over a one dollar, it just seems silly. It's still cheaper than what you'd pay in the US.

I need another strand of pearls like I need a hole in my head. Shopping tip - go to Shanghai if you want to buy inexpensive freshwater pearls, especially since the designs are more creative than they are in Manila. But I did buy a bunch of bracelets for let's see who will be on the receiving end???

Security, Part 2

The Philippines has had its share of terrorist activity by Muslim separatists in the southern island of Minandao. But there have also been isolated incidents further north as well. So security here is pretty tight, with armed security guards and bomb sniffing dogs *everywhere*. Since Makati City is the business center for the Philippines and contains lots of ex-pats, security is even tighter than other parts of the city.

Our hotel and office has a good view of the flight path. I noticed 2 black military helicopters hovering around the airport area. Apparently they escort certain planes (maybe international flights or flights coming from a certain city?) landing at the airport. It was pretty amazing watching the plane land, then the helicopters landed as well. I haven't seen the escorts often (a lot of international flights arrive in the evening) and don't see them with departing flights.

That's how serious security is in this country.

Friday Night in Makati City

It's 2 pm and I'm recovering from my Friday night.

We (yes, all 3 of us!) started with a series of facials at a clinic in our building after work. Everything from a facial to microdermabrasion to oxegenation peel left us with clean faces that were smooth as porcelain. All for $120. I even tried a laser resurfacing technique. The changes were quite dramatic. Who knew our faces were so filthy to begin with (although we knew the pollution here doesn't help)?

We found a restaurant in our building that is now our favorite place for lunch. It's called Gaster Deli and it's never busy. We're able to get a great meal (e.g., wagyu burger, pasta, salad, sandwiches) quickly and with great service. On Friday nights they have a wine buffet for $14 per head (for some reason they don't say "per person"'s "per head"). Last night it was 4 wines from Argentinia's Santa Julia winery and 2 from Spain's Rene Barbier. And canapes of tuna kebab (very tasty), smoked sirloin, eggplant bruchetta, salmon and egg crostini, etc. "Buffet" meant that we could eat and drink as much as we want, which we quickly realized was going to be a problem.

The first 20 minutes had us flying through 4 wines and at least 2 or 3 plates of food. Every time we finished a glass, our waitress (this was our third meal in 2 days here) was there replenishing. We were feeling pretty good! The favorite wine was the Santa Julia Shiraz/Malbec, which we could buy for $7. Either the exchange rate is really good or this was an incredible value. Too bad I just bought 15 bottles of wine from my Sonoma wine trip in April.

To top off a great meal and wine, we found out they sell Cuban cigars. Since I've never had a Cuban, Brett had to introduce me to them. So I had a Punch Coronation and Brett taught me how to properly smoke a Cuban (in the 4 times or so I've smoked a cigar in my life, no one really showed me how - thanks Brett!).
The wine plus the cigar buzz = me having to put my head on the table as the world was moving just too fast! An hour of drinking water while laughing with my head on the table (there are photos....not sure if I'll post them), I felt much better. At least I didn't pass out or get sick. Yeah, the Filipinos walking by were staring, but so what?

Here's a photo...I'm not that embarrassed about this b/c I was not passed out and I do have a smile on my face. :-) I needed to use Emily as my post. Probably the world was spinning to some extent. LOL!

Brett bought Romeo y Julieta cigars for the road since the restaurant closed at 11. We then proceeded to the Hard Rock Cafe across the street since we heard a decent band covering Journey the night before. The Hard Rock has a nice smoking section with closed circuit TVs to watch the band. The first band was decent. The second band was the Filipino of the Pussycat Dolls. Beautiful women, skimpy clothing, suggestive dancing and the same songs to boot. They also favored singing Fergie and getting people to dance with them. We have photos and videos of the could we not? Here's a link to a video shot by Emily.

Addendum: The group is called Mocha and they're considered to be one of the hottest girl groups from the Philippines. They're made up of girls named Mocha (lead), Bambie, Hershey, Grace and Bez. LOL!

We closed the joint at 2:30 am and the cigar buzz returned with a vengeance. I couldn't sleep. I felt like crap. Plus my room was freezing because I turned on the A/C before I left since they sprayed my room for cockroaches earlier in the day (I've seen 2 and had to complain). Luckily our volcano tour was canceled today due to rain and I finally got some sleep. I just woke up at 2 pm, feeling much better.

Not sure what we'll do this afternoon and evening. May be doing some shopping since there's not much else we need to see in Manila. We hope the tour will take place tomorrow. Let's hope for better weather!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Food, food, food

We've now been here for a week and a half and have eaten so many different foods. Tonight we had shabu shabu (Japanese style of cooking thinly sliced meats and vegetables in broth) after an evening at the spa (facials for the girls, foot massage for the guy).

Some observations about food thus far:
  • We had dinner the other night at a Chinese noodle shop for less than $15 for 3 people. Two bowls of won ton noodle soup and seafood chow mein and we were full. Plus 2 watermelon shakes (very refreshing) and a can of San Miguel Pilsner. The beer cost less than the shakes.

  • The Filipinos must love garlic. It seems to be everywhere. On the breakfast buffet we've seen garlic rice and fresh corned beef with garlic (it would've been perfect without the garlic). Even the butter at Outback Steakhouse had garlic in it.

  • Pork is also plentiful, but we understand that they raise lots of pigs here and not many cows.

  • Iced tea tastes like it was made from powdered Lipton iced tea. The fruit shakes (no milk) are much better than the tea. I had a pineapple one tonight and it tasted like pineapple sherbet. I had a watermelon, strawberry and grape shake this weekend and it was a great combination. I need to try a green mango shake before I leave.

  • The country controller thought we were staying late at work last night and brought us hamburgers from a Filipino burger chain. It was good but loaded with a very heavy mayo. And it was a little on the sweet side and I don't know why.

  • They have Shakey's pizza restaurants here and they're quite popular for lunch. I haven't seen or eaten at a Shakey's since growing up in Hawaii. The thin crust pizza is really thin and pretty darn good! Made for a great lunch.

  • Starbucks has something called coffee jelly, a sweetened iced coffee shake with small coffee cubes (similar to bubbles in bubble tea). Apparently they're only available in the Philippines.

A number of people have been trying to get me to try balut, which a Singaporean colleague describes as "a half cooked duck egg that is about to hatch." Now doesn't that sound delicious? I'll try magenta salted eggs, but I don't know about this!

This post needs a's one of Brett at the ATM. Note the raised platform he's standing on because the Filipinos are rather short (5'3" is the average for women). Brett is 6'2" so he would have to bend down to see the screen.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


What the heck are Jeepneys you ask? They're made in the Philippines (we'll go on a factory tour next Saturday) and is the public transport for most Filipinos. It costs 7.50 pesos (about 18 cents) to hop on (literally) for a ride.

They're everywhere. Some are really pimped out. Others are really plain. Because they run on diesel, the pollution here is terrible. My eyes are bloodshot every morning.

The license plates here are pretty.

The monument to Jose Rizal, on which the license plate commemorates. Rizal was executed for treason against Spain on December 30, 1896. His execution inspired a revolution for Filipinos to fight for their freedom.

World Pyro Olympics

The Mall of Asia was our destination to be able to view the firewords of the World Pyro Olympics. Our driver looked quite nervous when we told him to drop us off (around 4 pm) and pick us up at 10 pm. Especially since we didn't have a cell phone to contact him in case of problems.

We were cause for alarm. We were starving so we immediately looked for somewhere to eat. Because we were still overheated from being outside for 2 hours, we wanted a sit-down restaurant with A/C. It was Emily's turn to pick a restaurant and Italian it was.

We lucked out because we spent the next 5 hours in the restaurant and had a perfect vantage point for the fireworks without having to pay for a ticket! They closed off the section of the mall about two hours prior to the first show at 7:30. But since we were in there eating, they didn't kick us out. We were right across the street from the barge where the fireworks were being shot from. Here's a photo taken at sunset. The barge can be seen right under the setting sun.
We had a big lunch, ate dessert, watched the first fireworks show (as well as the lightning show from the big storm that passed through), returned to our table for a light dinner and watched the second show at 9 pm. Given the restaurant didn't have many patrons, they gladly allowed us to stay there for 5 hours. We tipped them well and the manager told us to come back for next week's show!

The event was held every Saturday in the month of May. The first show was Canada's fireworks and the second was France. Canada had lots of boom, color and excitement.

France used lots of white and was a bit dull at times.

Next week it's Venezuela and Italy. But we will be on an 8-hour tour of the volcano next Saturday. Don't think we'll be able to make the show for a second week.

Historic Manila

On Saturday we hired a driver for 10 hours for $70! The only extras we had to pay for were gas and parking. In the 10 hours we spent about 3 outside touring Intramuros (meaning "within the walls") and Fort Santiago.

Facts: Intramuros was built in the late 1500's by the Spaniards and consists of stone walls, bulwarks and moats. The walls streched 4.5 km enclosing an area of about 64 hectares. It protected against invasions by the Chinese, Japanese, Dutch and Portuguese pirates.

The British invaded Intramuros in 1762 and ruled for almost 2 years before returning the country to Spain. It was surrendered to the Americans in 1898 in the Spanish-American War.
Here's a map of the area:

We took a horse-drawn carriage ride through Intramuros (the driver thought I was a beautiful Filipino and asked if I spoke Tagalog!). There used to be 6 churches in this area, but only 2 remain standing. Church #1:

Church #2:

Within a corner of the wall is the Baluarte de San Diego, a circular fort.

The oddest thing about Intramuros is seeing the golf course that surrounds one side of Intramuros. It's one long and skinny course.

At the end of our ride, we toured Fort Santiago. The fort is especially significant to the country because it was occupied by the Japanese in 1942 where hundreds of Filipinos were killed. There is a memorial within the Fort for the 600 bodies that were found to be buried a nearby dungeon. I had to pay my respects.
One of the guard posts overlooking the Pasig River.

And me with the guard:

I may look cool, but it was bloody hot outside. Probably in the 90's and the humidity made it feel as if it were in the 100's. I felt overheated. Even my feet, in flip flops, felt as if they were on fire. The A/C in the car was a respite and we ended up driving through Chinatown, took a quick photo of a the Rizal monument and headed to the Mall of Asia.

Friday, May 9, 2008

More fruit!

The hotel has added to the plate of fruit in my room. I keep eating the bananas, but haven't touched the others because of the mess I know they'll create. One of the huge guavas has been taken away only to be replaced with a fat papaya (that is not yet ripe), more bananas and an orange.

They leave a papaya (which I love), but they don't offer it on the breakfast bar - go figure! Maybe I can get them to do it for me?

One of the waiters asked whether I was here the day before (ummmm....we've been here since Sunday...the hostesses recognized us on day 2) as he held the lids of the bamboo containers holding the shumai and pork buns for me.

I admit...I've been eating dim sum, noodles and mango every morning (and usually miso soup as well). I did break down and had an omlette as well, but I think I can noodles and dim sum every day.

Which leads to my new rule with my audit staff - we all get to take turns in picking where and what we eat. Otherwise I'm sure they would be stuck with eating some form of noodles every day.

I found a great little fast food noodle shop in the mall for lunch. The fried noodles with beef were awesome and made Brett very happy. I was in heaven with soup noodles with won tons and beef. Too much fat on the beef, but it was still good.

We did break down this week and eat at California Pizza Kitchen for lunch. We were dying for a salad and they have a nice selection. The CPK is across the street from the office building...along with the Hard Rock Cafe (you won't catch me dead in there). This photo was taken Friday night.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Yoga and Thai Massage

In every Asian country I've been in, I've had really good luck in finding great Ashtanga yoga studios. My favorite is the one in Shanghai just because the instructor is one of the best I've ever had.

Toyko was in a small little room, but it felt good after being on a plane for 12 hours.

Now Manila (or Makati City)'s about a 10 minute walk from the office, but at 6 pm there are so many people in the walkway (there's one street that is uncrossable via sidewalk) that you can only move in a slow pace.

The one here, like in Shanghai, is in an apartment building and the A/C is not on. So it's 90+ degrees and we're on the 9th floor. You're sweating after the first sun salutation. But I must admit, it's a great little studio and for about $4 a class this is a bargain!

My colleague, Brett, joined me on Tuesday night and I must admit he was a trooper. He liked it enough to want to return. The hardest part is walking back to the hotel carrying the laptop bag. After exhausting my muscles, that bag is incredibly heavy to lug around for 15 minutes. Ugh!

Last night Brett and I decided that we needed to recover from yoga and had a 2 hour Thai massage for $16. The set-up is similar to what I've found in China - they give you pajamas to wear and more than one people are in a room. But since this is Thai massage, we're lying on the floor.

I proceeded to fall asleep within the first hour. Brett was telling me about how he fell asleep when she gave him a facial massage....ummmm I don't remember that. Nor did I remember our ladies changing after the first hour. And he was commenting about the awesome last foot massage. Nope, don't remember that either!

This will be a weekly activity for us...and next time I'll stay awake!

Security and Taglish

Fun fact: Spanish was the official language of the Philippines until 1974. But I haven't heard much Spanish. Tagalog and English are heard widely in Makati City. Also heard is Taglish, similar to Spanglish.

It's amazing how conversations mix Tagalog and English words easily. You can hear it on TV on the news. And we came across an example of it while reviewing approvals for sample orders:

By sea na lang. I forgot na by air ung nauna.

We hve no idea what this says, but the prior email asked if the order should be processed via air.

I mentioned earlier that there is Security everywhere. We even go through metal detectors to enter our office building and have to x-ray our bags. But these are all private security guards. We haven't really seen any police officers in the 5 days we've been here. In addition these metal detectors beep and they don't ask to take a closer look at your bag or subject you to additional searches.

The guards at the doors of the shopping mall are especially worthless. There's always one door that's open for people to exit the mall, and the other open door is an entrance. On at least occasion I walked right in through the exit door without being stopped. I have to remind myself to not go through the exit door!

It seems that everyone walks through the shopping mall as a pass through to another destination. We do it a lot because the air conditioning is welcomed!

The temperature has been around 90 degrees. It's not too stifling. We're managing. Except when we go to air conditioning, 9th floor, we're soaked in sweat after just 5 minutes. It's great!

Magenta colored eggs

While my blog was put on "spam blog" block, I took some pictures of the mysterious magenta colored eggs, which are hard boiled salted eggs.

I tried an egg. And they are aptly named. The yolk is extremely salty. The whites have a strange texture to them....very granular. One bite was enough to know that this isn't anything I will crave in the future.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Breakfast at the Hotel

I would never have thought that I would be posting about the breakfast at the Intercontinental (a US based hotel), but it was just too good to ignore.

The breakfast buffet is large with a selection of western, Asian, and Filipino foods. I'll post a photo tomorrow, but picture this....
  • An omlette station that will also make eggs benedict and other eggs to order....ho hum right? How about magenta colored eggs? I have no idea what's special about them but they certainly are a vibrant and beautiful color. I tried to take a photo with my cell phone, but I seemed to have lost it. I promise to post one tomorrow and I'll also ask the chef what's the story behind the colored eggs.
  • Typical western selection on the buffet - Bacon (we think deep fried in oil), sausage, corned beef (looks homemade), pancakes, hash brown, scrambled eggs, and sliced to order ham (awesome!).
  • Cereal station - Delicious muselix, yogurt in containers, and various cereals.
  • Asian - Siumai (a favorite so of course I had to try them), bao steamed bun (I think pork...will try tomorrow), chow mein noodles (another favorite), miso soup with tofu, scallions, ume, and other stuff added as you please (pretty good miso soup), congee (I'll try it some other day). I know there were other Asian delights for breakfast, but I can't remember what they were.
  • Filipino - A couple of fried fish and pork dishes, along with a number of other strange stuff I don't recognize.
  • Cold platter - A selection of cheese, salmon, and meat along with salad greens and fruits (watermelon, mango, pineapple, melon).
  • Breads - All sorts of sweet rolls, croissants, buns, donuts, etc.

Luckily I'm always starving in the morning when I travel to Asia, thanks to my body thinking it's dinner time. Therefore eating chow mein noodles and shumai for breakfast sounds pretty good!

Overall, I think there's enough selection on the buffet to keep me satisfied for 3 weeks. Although this isn't the largest breakfast buffet I've seen (the one in Malaysia at the Hilton was even more extensive), it's pretty darn good.

Now if they could only improve the quality of their coffee, I would be totally happy. But there is a Starbucks at the office so I can get better coffee later in the morning.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Sunrise and Still Life

The sunrise at 5 am from the hotel window. Not a great view of a Shell gas station.

As usual when sleeping in a new time zone, I woke up every hour from 1:30 AM.

The hotel left a plate of 2 bananas (already ate one...very sweet and full of flavor, unlike the ones you get in the US...kind of like the ones Dad used to grow), a mango and 2 guavas (the biggest guavas I think I've ever seen!).

It's interesting that they give you a knife since the typical place setting here is a fork and tablespoon (just like Malaysia). The Filipinos use the spoon like a knife. And if they gave me a spoon, I would eat that mango!

Manila (Makati City), Philippines (Day 1)

Welcome to my travel blog! It's time to start jotting down impressions of what I see when I travel around the world. So here we are in the Philippines for day 1 in Manila.

After getting 8 hours of sleep (waking up at noon!), I ventured out and immediately went shopping. It's a little hard not to go shopping when there is a HUGE mall right across the street from the hotel.

Apparently there are 3 or 4 malls connected into this monster of a shopper's paradise. Even better, there are no duplicate stores! But I've only seen perhaps a third of it. I figured I have 3 more weeks see the other third.

The mall has your typical American stores (e.g., 9 West, Nike, Gap, Esprit, etc.) and some UK stores (Marks & Spencer's, Debenhams, Zara). Lots and lots of food courts and restaurants, although I've only seen one Starbucks so far. Happily, I found a Papa Beard's cream puff store although it's just not as good as the one in Hawaii.

My colleagues tell me the mall is across the street from the office so I believe we will be eating here a lot. I found the Japanese restaurant for lunch and a Hong Kong noodle shop that has a selection of my favorite soups. Food is cheap. Lunch was less than $8 for a bowl of tempura udon, plate of edamame, and iced tea.

Sure it's a mall, but here are some observations that are a bit unusual.

  • You have to go through a metal detector at all entrances. Some higher-end stores have an additional metal detector at the entrance.

  • There are security guards everywhere inside and outside the mall. At the hotel we not only have to go through a security check to enter, the undersides of vehicles are searched with a mirror (they do this in Malaysia as well) and dogs sniff all suitcases.

  • There are lots of store personnel ready to help you, but there's usually only one cashier to check you out, which creates a bottleneck. To an auditor having one cashier is a good control, but bad for customers who have to wait to checkout.

  • The ATM machine had 2 choices for languages - English or Taglish (I guess it's a mix of Tagalog and English!)

  • Everyone wears jeans when it's 95 degrees and humid outside. I'm comfortable in a skirt, but I can't imagine wearing jeans in this weather. Ugh!

  • There are no maps whatsoever of the malls. No directory, no information desk. It's a maze and trying to remember where you saw that cool store (or the alterations shop) required mental mapping capabilities.
  • Stores close at 9 on Sunday and 10 during the week. It's like shopping in Shanghai!

After lunch I met a fellow Houstonian, Desiree, at a kiosk getting her cell phone pimped with a decal and jewels. She's been here for 6 months and is leaving on Tuesday. She was here getting the Chase customer service department off the ground (interesting....a guy I met on my flight to Minneapolis was doing the same thing, but for Shell Oil).

She passed along her knowledge of Manila such as where to buy knock-offs and jewelry (pearls and jade), the spas she frequents for massages, mani-pedis, facials, etc., and sights to see (the volcano nearby, the fort where the Filipinos defeated the Spanish). She bought an extra suitcase (you can bring 3 in business class) because she's bought so much in her 6 months here.

Ohhh...this is not good! I immediately got a decal added to the back of my phone (they can put decals on anything including cameras, laptops, game boys) for $19. I then decided to go get my eyes checked since I noticed that my distance vision has been getting worse at night. The eye exam and a pair of cute red glasses cost $90! Then the clothes shopping began in earnest. I even got the jeans altered for $4 and I dropped off a pair of shoes to be reheeled for about $8.

Here's the back of my cell phone:

I am so glad I decided to bring my larger suitcase with lots of room for my purchases. I'm also considering getting my teeth whitened since I've heard it's really cheap to get it done here.

I think you're getting an idea of how I'm going to be spending these next 3 weeks - work, shopping and the pool (the mornings are nice, but it usually rains in the afternoon). There are also a couple of yoga studios nearby and one of my auditors practices so I will get some exercise as well!