December 27, 2007
Hi everyone! I know I said I'd try and finish my Beijing posts before the year ends but it doesn't look like it's gonna happen. I have about 3 more posts to go but I'll be away from the computer from today until the 30th. I'm leaving in a couple of hours for the city of Xiamen in China with a girl friend of mine. I'm really excited about this trip because we're venturing slightly off the beaten path, by choosing this city over HongKong, Singapore and Laos - some of our options. I don't know very much about it, only know maybe two people who have been there, and that just makes it all the more intriguing to me.
One of my friends who has not only been there recently, but also spent some time studying there some years ago, was kind enough to send me an envelope of maps and guides to Xiamen. She even thoughtfully added her own tips and comments on sticky notes, how sweet is she? :) Thanks so much, M! These will definitely come in handy for sure. :)
On another note; I am truly blessed and grateful for the family and friends that I have and for the time I was given to spend with almost all of them this Christmas. All those dinner parties and get-together made my holidays that much more special.
I hope everyone's holidays has been filled with warmth and lots of love, laughter and good food. I'm sending each of you a wish that the new year brings with it even more blessings for you and your family, and that it be your grandest year yet!. :)
December 23, 2007
Prior to my trip to Beijing, I imagined the city to be somewhat small and more laid-back compared to the rapidly developing and booming Shanghai in the south. But while this may be an accurate comparison, I haven't been to Shanghai so I can't tell you for sure, there is nothing small about Beijing and it it not quite so laid-back. Like a dart board with the Forbidden city as bull's eye, Beijing is circled by ring roads. I never expected to see 12-lane expressways (the outer lanes on each side for bicycles) such as the 2nd ring rd. that runs through Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.
You can't help feel that the city is in a breathless race to the 21st century, making up for lost time. There seems to be construction everywhere changing the city's lanscape forever. But tucked away from the sound of jackhammers and blaring car horns are little pockets of the past, charming remnants of the old way of life, threaded together by narrow lanes called hutongs. Some of the hutongs are so narrow (Qianshi Hutong, 40 cms wide) that only a thin person could walk though it, sideways.
a typical hutong
The word hutong was originally the Mongolian word for 'well' which were found on practically every street and in every square. They were central to the local's lives, being the major source of water supply which gave the locals the rare opportunity to socialise with one another. Like a honeycomb with many cells, residential complexes called siheyuan are scattered along these hutongs. The sihueyan best represent China's traditional housing architecture; familes and even whole communities live around a central open-air courtyard, in homes which were handed down the generations as gifts of historical importance. Depending on the family's social status, the designs ranged from simple and small-scale to large courtyards with carefully landscaped gardens and ornate roof beams.
The best way to navigate this charming tangled mess of alleys and doorways is on foot. Walking makes it easy to stop whenever you feel like to peek into courtyards through open doorways, to exchange nods and smiles with the locals that are going about their usual business, to take pictures of interesting things like street signs, purveyors of street food, charming windows and doorways. But if walking is not your thing or you are pressed for time, there are rickshaws for hire and you can even request for an English-speaking guide to show you around, which is what we did.
the bicycle is still the preferred way to get around
We climbed into our rickshaws at the junction of the Bell and Drum Towers and hired a nice lady guide. It was a very pleasant and leisurely journey, a far cry from the usual sounds of traffic, being taken around in bicycle-powered rickshaws. Pedaling her own bicycle alongside us, our guide engaged us in stories about this hutong or that one, and which prominent person, minister, mother of which empress, lived by that courtyard, and what drama went on beind the walls of that sihueyan.
We rode past children rushing home from school, their backpacks bouncing with each step; men and women and chidren and elderly alike rode past us in bicycles of their own, jingling their bells in greeting or warning, depending on the situation; old men sat outside in the shade large trees playing checkers; we passed a butcher shop, a fishmonger, countless fruit stands, doorways adorned with Chinese characters, grey brick walls decorated with ornamental tiling, windows lined with old bent leather shoes, a clothesline with underwear in varying shapes and sizes.
We were invited for a short visit inside one of the homes that was tucked away at the end of narrow passageway through which we had to walk single-file. We stepped into a tiny courtyard shaded by a mandarin orange tree decorated with red Chinese lanters and strings of red and green crepe paper. Chili plants lined the window sills, strings of garlic hung on the walls outside the kitchen and a caged owl perched above goldfish swimming inside a big blue and white vase. We were led by the lady of the house into one of the rooms (from which I took a photo of the courtyard below) which doubled as a guest room and living area. With the help of our guide who translated for both parties, we chatted with her while we sat around a simple wooden table munching on plum candies. We asked questions about her family and her life in the hutongs which she seemed only too happy to answer.
December 21, 2007
Wow, I've had this post in draft for over a month! I can't believe how difficult it has been to squeeze in some blogging time lately. I also realized that since my trip to Beijing, I've gone on another trip (Dumaguete, which I'll be posting about later) and I'm getting ready for yet another next week, which will all add to my growing backlog of posts! Hayayay! So I have to work double time on updates. Thank you for being patient with me! :)
The hotel we were staying in was centrally-located at Wangfujing Rd., walking distance to the two most prominent sites in the heart of Beijing: Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. In fact, at the break of dawn every morning B & T would run a full lap around those famous red walls and log their miles into their iPod nanos. Man, I really admire their determination. I, on the other hand, was on pure vacation mode, wanting to get as much sleep as I could before tackling this big and wondrous city each day.
When we arrived at Tiananmen Square early one morning, there were already lots of people there. Most were tourists who wore buttons or bright colored caps that distinguished them from other groups. Tour guides were everywhere speaking in various foreign languages to visitors from around the world. The square was immaculate despite the crowd and the grass surrounding the Monument to the People's Heroes bore neatly mowed stripes. The weather was pleasant and there was not a cloud in the sky; only more of those dancing kites I'd seen at the Temple of Heaven. It was the picture of peace. I found it difficult to imagine that it had seen so much violence and bloodshed when several hundred (some say even thousands) people were killed when the military crushed a nationwide democratic protest that had been staged there for seven weeks, earning it the notorious nickname the Tiananmen Square Massacre and condemnation from around the world.
The Great Hall of the People lies along the west side of the square and is the site of Congress meetings. Adjacent to that, on the southern side, is the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall where Chairman Mao's body lies in a crystal coffin. To the east is China's National Museum which houses both historical and revolutionary relics from China's long history. Today, on the museum's facade is a large digital countdown proclaiming 279 days, 9 hours, 28 minutes and 47 seconds to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
At the north side, we crossed through an underground walkway and emerged at the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City. At this point my stomach started to turn, as it usually does when I'm about to experience something big or life-changing.
Here are a few facts about the Forbidden City: construction began in 1406 and lasted about fifteen years; it lies right in the center of ancient Beijing and is the world's largest surviving palace complex, covering an area of 720,000 square meters or 74 hectares; there are about 980 buildings and 9,999 rooms within those red walls; it was home to 24 emperors during the Ming & Qing dynasties; the walls are made with white lime and glutinous rice cemented together with glutinous rice and egg whites; red being the symbolic color of imperial power is dominant throughout. It served as residence of the Imperial family and their household staff and as offices of the ministers.
This universe within a universe is a massive complex of courtyards, bridges and halls guarded by watch towers on every corner, and with the Imperial throne at it's center. In the old days, eunuchs dominated the population in the hundreds of thousands followed by the Emperor's numerous concubines dressed in swishing silk and tottering on shoes mounted on eight inch platforms. The sexually-impotent eunuchs played an important role in ensuring the purity of the concubines; they played a dual role of guardian and pimp when each night the Emperor would choose which of the women would be paying him a visit in his bed chamber. It is also believed that eunuchs posed no threat to the Emperor as they would never covet his political power for he could never sire a son to pass it on to.
Suffice it to say I was awe-struck as we strolled through the grounds, and even more so as we passed through the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the main entrance to the central courtyard and found ourselves before the the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the largest of all halls. Roofs are adorned with glazed yellow tiles and dragon guardians; the imperial bridges are paved with single-piece marble slabs carved with intricate designs; and doors are lined with nine rows of nine nails, nine being the imperial lucky number. Much of what I remember about the Forbidden City are scene flashes from Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor where the Imperial Palace looked extra-massive around the diminutive emperor Pu Yi. But it was even more massive than I could have ever imagined.
Life within these walls was ruled by strict protocol and ceremony. Certain doorways and bridges were reserved solely for the Emperor's passage and no one but the Emperor was allowed to dress in purple. The boys were banished to the outside world upon reaching puberty and daughters upon marriage, leaving behind only castrated manservants, imprisoned virgin maids and concubines, and the priveleged imperial family. It was a secret world that revolved around the throne; operating on a system wrought by anguish, greed, corruption, bribery, intrigues, treachery... ironically within a labyrinth of halls with names so poetic as Hall of Earthly Peace, Hall of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Preserved Harmony, Palace of Tranquil Longevity, and Gate of Celestial Purity.
November 26, 2007
Marta's Cakes. I have pictures of her other creations, but then I'd have to give my blog a R-rating if I post them here. ;)
See this week's photos here and click on the WS logo above for information on how to join in the fun. Hope to see your entry in next week's WS!
November 24, 2007
"You are not a hero at all if you have not climbed the Great Wall."
- Mao Zedong
If you haven't already heard the story directly from me, then you must be wondering about the title of this post. But I will get to that later. First, let me give you a brief intro about The Great Wall of China. It is almost 4,000 miles long and like a giant dragon, it zigzags across North China from the eastern coast to the Gobi desert in Gansu. The width of the wall is only about 18 feet (much narrower than I imagined it to be) and it's height is about 25 feet. I remember being told that the entire structure could be seen with the naked eye from the moon. I believed this, just like I believed a lot of the other urban legends when I was just a naive little kid. The truth is, because the wall is very slender it could only possibly be seen from way out there using super telescopes.
True or not, I not only got to see it with my naked eyes, but I walked it!! It was one of those precious moments where you feel the need to pinch yourself and make sure you aren't dreaming. It felt incredible being there, walking on this remarkable masterpiece that stood as witness to the rise and fall of Chinese history for over 2,000 years.
We went to the Mutianyu section of the wall which is about 90 kms. from Beijing and boy was I glad we revised our itinerary. Many tour operators take their groups to the more touristy Badaling section because of it's proximity to Beijing (70 kms.) and for the Ming Tombs which can be visited en route. Taking into account the advice of friends and online travelogues, we opted to forego the Tombs and the wall at Badaling for the more scenic and less crowded Mutianyu.
Now let me tell you what made this experience even more unforgettable for me. A freakin bee! Yes folks, I got stung by a bee. Having just arrived, we were making our way up the steep road to the cable car. This road is lined with souvenir shops and markets so as you can imagine I was happily shooting away with my camera, mesmerized by the colors of the dried fruits on display; when I felt a very sharp pain in the palm of my right hand. I see the little sucker (or should I say the little stinger) hanging there in the process of injecting me with its venom. Now mind you, it was cold up there so I've got on a thick coat, jeans, socks, a cap and sunglasses but the bee still managed to find some exposed flesh.
I screamed so loud and unleashed a torrent of profanity and frantically tried to shake the bee off but it wouldn't budge. The pain was intense! I finally flicked the bee off with my other hand and before I know it, someone is squeezing the wound to remove the stinger. I naturally assumed it was one of my friends so I was surprised when I looked up to see a complete stranger. Before I could even thank her she was gone, she disappeared as fast as she had appeared.
Our guide, Kevin, does not seem worried at all. After consulting a couple of locals, he tells me "it's normal" and assures me that I'll be alright. Yeah, I shrug thinking to myself, it's JUST a bee sting don't be a wuss. There was no way I was gonna let a tiny little thing like this ruin my visit to the Great Wall. So we hop on the cable car which takes us to the middle part of this section. We spend the next hour or so climbing the wall and passing through watchtowers, and just having a grand time. All the while I'm trying hard to ignore the fact that my hand is throbbing with pain. Psychokinesis, it's just mind over matter. I'm noticing however that it's getting bigger by the minute making it increasingly difficult to press the shutter of my camera. I keep thinking "it's normal" and the swelling would eventually go down.
All of a sudden every inch of my body from the top of my head to my feet begins to itch simultaneously! I'm not talking regular mosquito-bite itch here, I'm talking severe great-wall-magnitude itching! I must have looked like a wierdo practicing my coordination scratching my head slapping at my thighs at the same time. People were starting to stare but I didn't care. I pulled up a sleeve and was horrified to find my forearm covered in clusters of round blister-like bumps. It was so gross. I felt welts on my neck when I scratched there. I peek down my sweater and find more welts, they're huge and they're irregularly-shaped, white on red. I am completely covered in hives! Kevin and my friends arrive and they're ready to go. They stopped and stared at me in shock. Apparently my face had large patches too, and my ears were bright red and swollen.
On a side note: Have you ever seen the movie, Pure Luck? Where Martin Short gets stung by a bee and like me has a violent allergic reaction to it? That's how it was. The wierd thing is, my cousin D used to tell me how that movie was about me, because I'm such a klutz. He even christened me "murphy" for Murphy's Law because he says if anything can go wrong, it'll go wrong with me. Psssshaw! Whatevah!
I looked at Kevin and said, "this isn't normal anymore". He went into panic mode and ordered us to follow him. We rode the cable car back down to the tourist center where they had a small clinic. As soon as we get there, Kevin engages in a very loud 10 minute discussion in Chinese with the nurse. When I asked him for some English, he turns to me with one word "poisonous". "Umm, okayyyy? I kinda knew that. Give me anti-histamine. You know anti-histamine?", (I'm popping an invsible pill into my mouth). Neither of them understand me. I silently curse myself for leaving my Virlix in the hotel.
"We have to go somewhere else" he tells us, "they have no prescription here".
"But it's just anti-histamine I need!", I plead to deaf ears. What the heck is anti-histamine in Mandarin?!
More discussion in Chinese before we leave to find a hospital. As the rest of us are hurrying down to our van, my friend T decides to run back up to the market to buy some dried fruit and nuts to take with us. B decides to accompany her. What the?! Shopping? They're going shopping NOW?! At this point, I am too busy dealing with my violent allergic reaction to react but inside I am laughing at the absurdity of it and I make a mental note to pick that bone with them later. So C and I sit inside the van, waiting. She's trying to keep me from scratching off my skin.
I had managed to remain very calm until this point. My ears had swelled so much that I realized I was now slightly deaf. I remember friends telling me of allergy attacks where they can't breathe because their bronchial tubes start to constrict and I wondered if that was next. As if on cue I begin to wheeze. I turn to C and very calmly say, "I think I'm panicking now. I can barely hear". With that, she jumps out and screams at Kevin "Where the $%&# are they?!". A minute later they arrive with a huge bag filled with assorted dried fruits and nuts.
I tell you, in retrospect it's hilarious! We have not stopped laughing about this incident. Even at that moment I wanted to laugh, I just didn't have the energy. T will later justify this all by saying very matter-0f-factly , "I was only thinking about all of you. I mean, it's lunch time and what if we didn't find any hospital and you got hungry?". Oh such thoughtful friends I am blessed with! What would I do without them? ;)
Five minutes later, we find ourselves at what was supposed to be another clinic. I think the driver and Kevin misunderstood the directions because this was nothing more than a tiny pharmacy with a thin cot in the back. Again, another 10 minute discussion ensues between Kevin and the proprietor, a tiny old woman who appears from behind one of the shelves laden with what look like Chinese potions. This prompts my imagination to go on overdrive. Holy moly, what vile concoctions are these people gonna make me drink?!
"Anti-histamine!" I shout at her in vain for the third time, popping that invisible pill into my mouth again. She stares blankly. Grrr.
Just as I thought, we were in the wrong place so back into the van we go. It's a wild goose chase around the mountains of north china, in search of that elusive hospital. We're nearly two hours away from Beijing, there was no way I could have lasted a trip back to the city. It was getting serious and I needed relief soon.
At long last we find the hospital. It appears to be desserted. No one at the lobby. No one in the halls. All five of us run up the stairs in search of a doctor, a nurse, anyone. Still desserted. Tee noo nee noo nee noo nee noo. The twilight zone theme invades my head. Finally, a doctor comes out from one of the rooms looking like he had just woken up. He sees my predicament, puts on his coat and leads us back downstairs to one of the treatment rooms. Can you guess what happens next? Yup! Another one of those 10 minute discussions, a word of which we do not understand. And can you guess what I do next? Wow you're good at this!
"Anti-histamine!!". Hoping that since he is a doctor he'll actually understand me. No chance. The doctor, still yapping away, whips out a syringe and a vial. Uh oh. If there's one thing you should know about me it's that I hate needles. I'm so terrified of them that while normal brothers would scare their younger sisters by telling them there's a ghost in the closet or the boogeyman is under my bed; my brother would freak me out by telling me the Red Cross was coming to take blood from me.
I wave the syringe away, acting out the invisible-pill-popping action in earnest now. "Anti-histamine!" , I try one more time, only to be ignored. Kevin translates, "He says you will feel better in 10 to 15 minutes after he gives this to you. But you will feel sleepy. And if you stop breathing, to come back here." Oh. Great.
Fine. I remove my coat and roll up my sleeve. It's his turn to wave his hand at me. Well, what do you know, like I haven't suffered enough, I have to bare my butt to this strange man and take the needle there. I grit my teeth and bend over then he jabs my behind. Ok, that wasn't too bad. I'm too itchy to feel anything else.
I ask C to take my wallet and pay. My hand is now the size of a boxing glove, a kid's glove. I'm thinking it's gonna cost quite a bit because I don't have travel insurance. When C returned from the cashier and announced it was RMB 5.60 ( $0.65), I thought, What on earth did they squirt in me?! Water?!
Well whatever it was, it worked like magic! Only ten minutes later, the hives were gone. My hand stayed swollen for 2 more days and prevented me from using chopsticks and the stigmata-like scar is still there today, 3 weeks later. The physical reminder is slowly peeling away, but this is one experience I won't soon forget! :)
November 21, 2007
Barely three hours after touchdown and happily sated with our first taste of Chinese food in China (more on the food in future posts), my friends and I headed for the Temple of Heaven. This temple complex, which is the largest in China, reflects the ancient Chinese belief that Heaven was an ominpresent god of nature that governed everything under the sky, hence it was the venue for many sacred rituals and ceremonies to ensure good harvests.
The most striking building in the complex is the circular Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (pictured above and below). It is built on the precise location where heaven and earth meet, as determined by feng shui masters. it is beautiful! Even more so up close. The glazed tiles under each eave glistened in the sun against a backdrop of azure sky, stunning in it's beauty and splendor. I must have stood there for a good five minutes just staring before I took my first photograph.
At the top of the steps you are treated to a 360 degree view of Beijing. Until recently, this was the tallest point in all of the country. No one was allowed to build higher. Visitors are only allowed a peek into the hall, but it is enough for one to be amazed at the level of craftsmanship. The detail is just exquisite! The vaulted ceiling is about 36 meters high and was slotted together without a single nail. The relationship of the Chinese lunar calendar and agriculture is shown in the pillars surrounding the hall. The central four pillars represent the four seasons, for example, the next 12 pillars around them represent the 12 months, while the outer 12 pillars denote the division of the 24-hour day into two-hour units or shichen.
Thousands of 100 year old cypress trees lend a serene atmosphere to the park that surrounds the temples. It is no wonder then that the park has become a favorite among the locals for recreational activities or simply to just daydream or ponder the sayings of Confucius. Now I am accustomed to seeing mostly fellow travellers when visiting popular tourist attractions, with tour guides and hawkers being the only locals around. So you can imagine my delight at finding a significantly large gathering of locals within these walls. I think they even outnumbered the tourists!
By the east gate there was a couple who was joyfully twirling their batons of rainbow ribbon and just beyond them was an old man in serious tai chi mode. Kites danced above the tree tops in the distance and children bundled-up tight in padded winter clothing waddled after each other in a game of tag.
But the best surprise of all was the long corridor. This 350 meter long covered walkway was once used to carry slaughtered sacrificial animals to the altar. Today, there are no slaughtered animals to be found. Instead, the entire length of the corridor is flanked by locals in groups or pairs and even solitary individuals engaged in typical Chinese past times. Many are gathered in rowdy card games which seem to require the slapping of cards on the bench. Young and old alike are bent over checker boards, their brows furrowed in intense concentration, contemplating their next move. Nearby, a lady shows off her knitting to admiring passersby.
In another section, a man practices the ancient art of calligraphy on the floor. Just a few feet away from him people are making music together; they are dancing and beckoning for us to join them. Further along I notice an old man, his face deeply lined with wisdom and inscribed by time, with silver medicine balls which he rolls around in his hand.
Yet another old man in a brown fedora plays the erhu, a two-stringed musical instrument. He gives me a warm smile after I sneak a picture of him and returns his gaze to the group playing with a jianzi or Chinese hackysack, a popular game using a shuttlecock. Before I knew it, my friend (that's her with the sunglasses) has jumped in, much to everyone's amusement. She's actually good at this!
That was how it was along that corridor. Everyone seemed happy, at peace. Basking in the simple joys of life and welcoming you to do the same. :)
November 19, 2007
Ugh, it's been a week and I still haven't had a chance to continue posting about my Beijing trip. Anyways, it's weekend snapshot time once again and my entry this week is a picture of dairy products such as white cheese, pastillas de leche, plain and flavored yoghurt (blueberry, patchberry and mango), chocolate milk, and some cups of milk-o-jel (which I have yet to try), all made from fresh carabao's (Philippine water buffalo) milk, known locally as gatas ng kalabaw or caramilk - one of my favorite things in the world. Caramilk is much richer and creamier than goat's milk or cow's milk because it has a higher fat content.
So bright and early Saturday morning, my dad and I went on a road trip to the Dairy Training Research Institute (DTRI) of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna. To our dismay, the UPLB Dairy Bar had run out of cheese (we had plans of buying white cheese, bleu cheese mozzarella and gouda) by the time we got there so I bought some yoghurt cups before making our way to the Philippine Carabao Center also on campus where I bought the stuff you see in the cooler above.
Please click here if you'd like to join WS or see the other entries. :)
November 12, 2007
I missed WS #9 because I was in Beijing so I thought it would be a good idea to enter a picture taken that weekend for WS #10 to keep to the theme of my current posts.
This photo is of a stuffed Panda which a tour guide was using to lead his group inside The Forbidden City. I thought it was really cute and a nice change from the usual ordinary flag or umbrella other guides were using.
The adorable and sadly endangered Giant Panda is a popular symbol in China, to which it is native. There are less than 1,000 in the wild today and about 60 in zoos around the world.
Check out the other entries this week here.
November 9, 2007
Ni hao! :) I've just come back from a 6-day visit to Beijing where my girl friends and I had a great time. (To the ladies: if you have never travelled with your girl friends, do yourself this favor if you get the chance. It is an absolute ball! My recent trips to Hanoi and Bangkok are testaments to this.) It was a very educational and interesting trip for sure, but more importantly it was a week filled with lots of laughter and the type of moments that will be recounted many times over for years to come and perhaps even passed down the generations.
Now, I am usually opposed to hiring a tour guide because I like going about on my own pace and I actually look forward to the 'challenges' that cultural differences can present, such as the language barrier. It's all part of the adventure, part of what makes travel so exciting and seductive. But because we were only staying for a short while and none of us spoke a word of Mandarin, we agreed to hire a private tour guide and van to take us to the main sights so we didn't waste too much time lost in translation. (And after a freak incident with a bee -more on this later-, I am so grateful we did!)
It was autumn in the Middle Kingdom and the weather was lovely, chilly but sunny, and the leaves were turning. The citrus colors from the trees made lovely accents for the stark red found everywhere. In the mornings and evenings, it was cold, dropping to almost 2 deg C. So bundled up in jackets and scarves we explored the vast capital of this country whose history goes deep into the past well beyond 2000 B.C. (Some historians even claim the dawn of Chinese civilization to have been in 6000 B.C.). We trudged along the beaten path, but also made time for our own exploration and of course eating and shopping.
Beijing, which was once shrouded in mystery, protected from intrusion within impressively tall walls, is undergoing rapid transformation in a dizzying race to the 21st century. With the ball-and-chain of Marxism chucked over The Great Wall and the 2008 Olympics around the corner, vast changes are sweeping through the landscape. Today, the city is flanked by scaffolding while cranes seem to remove a piece of history with every pile of dirt they lift off the ground. But tucked into all this modernization are little pockets of the Old World. They can be found in the historic parks that surround grey skyscrapers, in the hutongs that slither alongside 12-lane freeways, beyond moats and walls across massive squares, in unmarked holes-in-the-wall serving traditional jiaozi dwarfed by western fast-food chains, and in the colorful and loud hawker alleys in the shadows of imposing department stores.
The architecture was a delight, feeding my fascination for doorways and locks (see first collage above). I found the locals to be generally nice and polite, and although they didn't speak my language, they graciously made an effort to understand us when we communicated with them.
Beijing was cleaner and more organized than I expected. But while the streets are quite immaculate, the smog is alarming. By the 4th day when it got worse, I woke up with a bad cough and with a better understanding of and tolerance for the Chinese pastime of spitting. Visibility outside was poor; so poor in fact that not-too-distant buildings looked like giant ghosts. I pity the marathoner who will have to compete in such air quality during the 2008 Olympics but no more than the little children with those young lungs. I do hope the government cracks down on this problem which is largely caused by the increasing number of cars on the road and factories within the city using cheap, low-grade fuel. I read that factories have been moved to the outskirts of the city where it is less-populated, and that they've imposed a temporary ban on car manufacturing.
I wil go into more detail on the places I visited and the food I ate in my succeeding posts. There will be lots more photos too. Each experience pretty special and deserving of their own post. :)
October 29, 2007
My first entry for Weekend Snapshot is a photo of lanzones taken Sunday at my aunt's fruit farm in Laguna where we spent the long weekend.
The lanzones is a fruit native to Southeast Asia, particularly in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia (where it is known as 'doku'). The flesh underneath the thin skin is soft and translucent and surrounds a very bitter seed which you would want to avoid biting into. But the fruit, when ripe is luscious and sweet! Absolutely one of my favorite fruits in the world. The most sought-after variety of lanzones is that from Camiguin where harvest season is celebrated during the Lanzones Festival held annually in October.
See the other entries for this week's Weekend Snapshot here. And if you'd like to learn more about WS and hopefully join the fun, click here. :)
Everybody loves weekend, it is the time for leisure, recreation and other religious activities. And when everyone is having a grand time, you want to capture it and share it with others. That’s why Weekend Snapshot is here for you.
As the saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words, let me invite you to participate every MONDAY in my photo meme to get interaction and connected with one another with our Weekend Snapshot. No theme needed your pictures explain it all.
October 25, 2007
To celebrate National Thank You Day (Oct. 20), Reggie Aspiras shared the precious contents of her phone book with the readers of her column, Kitchen Rescue on PDI. The list includes contact details for food, cooking and entertaining needs from suppliers mostly within Metro Manila. It is a very extensive list which I will surely be referring to often. So to you Ms. Aspiras, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for sharing this with us. :)
So I'm posting it here for safe-keeping and also for the benefit of those of you who might have missed the 3-part article in which the list was published. Those I've highlighted in bold are ones that I can personally vouch for; additional info or comments in parenetheses after the phone number are my own. I've also included a short list at the end from my own personal phone book of food-related contacts (that wasn't already mentioned by Reggie). This does not yet include contacts from the various leaflets and business cards I've collected through the years, so I'll be adding to this soon and continuously updating.
Acoustic Strings 0917-8915865
Mang June, aircon repair 8681073 (0917-2470700)
Arnaldo Zamora, party props 6696641/0927-7201968
Spices, Assad 5261349 (Makati branch - 897-2543; great samosas & gulab jamun)
Bailon’s Lumpiang Bacolod 8436673
Sweetcraft, baking supplies 5321595
Claudine, specialty olive oils, salt, fruits 0917-8958191
Food order (reasonably priced), Boots Salas 0916-5265284
Food boxes (packaging), RM 7138547
Brazo de Mercedes, Butter Cake, Chocolate Icebox Cake 8107529 (Vargas)
Frozen Brazo 8438086 (Dimpy Camara)
Best Buko Pandan 045-9616817
Coffee caterers, Cafe ni Juan 0917-5277141
Beautiful yet reasonably priced cakes, Sasa 0917-5339275
Candy cart rentals for parties/candy importer 0917-5220495
Catering equipment rental 8890268/8431960
Gift Packages―food and nonfood 6471054
Importer and distributor of all seafood, Midas 5240006
Chocolate cupcakes with caramel centers, chocolate chip cookies, Roshan 0917-8336286 (631-7786)
Best pan de sal, San Antonio Bakery (Nora) 4338128
Delicious chocolate cake, Fortune 8443663
Lace cookies, Dentelle au Chocolat 0917-6220427
Virgin coconut oil ice cream 0917-8966581
Aklan crispy shrimps 0918-2390038
Ensaimada, Cunanan 6310798
Hula/folk dancers 0917-6253783
Best date bars, Lorenzo’s 8527798
Ostrich meat; local feta, blue and goat cheeses; Olive 0917-7001205
Hand-carved dayap and long-tail pastillas wrapper, Luz 044-7915657
Personalized gift wrappers, De Veria 9395468
Dessert buffet, Strawberry and Mango Charlotte, Cristina Santiago 844-0680 (844-9905 )
Yummy White Salad and Pastillas Cheesecake, Doreen Tayag 0917-5312712
Dragon dancers 0917-8911861
Elar’s Lechon & Catering Service 7325125
Giant siopao, Emerald Restaurant 5238510
Carpet cleaners, Esling 0906-2093158/ 0918-5713723
Tilapia chicharon 045-8887906
Food for the Gods, Livy 3722740
Food packaging, Detpac 5326368
Food technologist, Tess 0922-8119827
Super moist mini cupcakes, Fudgy Bonbon 6331513
Icon chopping boards (great as gifts), Fr. Dennis 0917-8312570
Pickled gherkins, Sr. Mary Raphael 0927-9992028
Beautiful party invitations 7229842
Jumbo pastillas 7290325
Blinds Black Out, Jo Chan 0917-7955667
Packed lunch and food orders, Joel 0917-8016608
Joy Charcoal Stove 0920-9543425
JT’s Manukan-Inasal catering 7219025
Pandan cake, Judah 8966872
Kitchen cabinets, furniture 0917-5555222
Kakanin, San Vicente 044-5114382
White kuchinta, Ninay 0919-2425081
Puto Batangas 0910-2482385
Chocolate Ganache and sugar-free cakes, Karen 8982280 , 0917-5394968
Vanilla bean, Karin 8928286
Flower wholesalers, ornamental cabbages 9294110
La Comida, reasonably priced caterers, puto bumbong and bibingka 4260471
Lamb lechon, Robert 0906-8404323
Leggerio Strings 0919-3169252
Flavored lechon 0917-8975966
Pest control, Mario 0917-8173680
Beautiful cakes, Marta Matute 0917-8409984
Meat processing (classes, materials, spices), Lou Rivera 7420826/4111349
Local meat supplier, Ding 0917-8531269
Sausage casings and curing mixes, MGM 7184278
Reasonably priced restaurant designers, Mike Pizarro 0917-8941467
Park Avenue Desserts— Mango Napoleon/Climax 8346636
Mida Foods (wholesale seafood suppliers—everything that swims), 5240006
Truffle-stuffed Mochi, 7271229
Mrs. Howard’s (Sandwich Crabstick on Cheesy Onion Bread) 4121682
Indian food order, 8192892
Personalized plates/initial/ logo-stamping, 8330003
Maids uniforms (home service—Japan) 6798837, 0919-8493019
Food order (Sushi Platters, Omakaze) 6376013
Made-to-order beautiful dining tables and furniture in wood (Omeng Esguerra) 7766394
Gift wrapping/ made-to-order packaging (Ruby Limjap) 0920-9506025, 6367547
Dessert buffet and banana cream pie (Baba Ibazeta) 0917-5245892 (Nono's chocolate oblivion)
Cinnamon-flavored pancake mix 0919-3123530
Fried milk/pinsec frito (San Jacinto) 6715942
Noel Bernardo, best restaurant designer 6332433
Nice baby clothes (overruns) 8964802
Photo books (your picture album in book, Paolo) 0917-8110393
Children’s party packages and best party host (Peps Avecilla) 0917-8437377
Signage (Paul Yap) 0917-8133220
Best fondant cakes (Penk Ching) 0917-8122676
Gelatin, flavorings, extracts, baking supplies (Peter Co) 2515302-06
All types of kitchen gadgets/ food machines (popcorn, slush, nachos, French fries, soft serve ice cream, cotton candy), Pfescorp 5312810, 5311990
Cheapest source of exotic flowers, potted bromeliads, lotus (Insular Botanical) 042-5407822
Tarta de Madrid 3732789
Quimson’s Kitchen (Iberian chicken, lengua de gato) 8188077
Gooey toffee bars 5251648, 6717606
Food photographers Mark Floro 0917-5258143 ; Ernie Rubia 0917-5318309
Home-service pilates (Josan) 9333522, 0917-3590888
Giant chicharon, best baked Virginia Ham, boiled corned beef (Plaza) 0917-7182200, 8908391
Flavored popcorn 0922-8791317
Lechon bake by the slab and affordable steaks (Vinia) 9265647, 0918-9104913
Fruits, vegetable, herb and flower seeds 3713482
Piglets (suckling pig) 5249948
Jill’s Yummy Pistachio Sans Rival 7217022 (Jill Sandique)
Acoustic trio (very good, old songs), Rox Puno 0920-9137003
The Bloomfields band (songs from the ’50s and ’60s) 0920-9032320
Art Manuntag (Tony Bennett of the Philippines) 0920-9209051
Saxophone (Vince) 0915-6412407
Steak bangus belly (wholesale) 8179497
Wholesale Australian and Spanish wines, wine seminars (Sherwin) 0917-5259887
Wholesale wines California, Happy Living French, Sommeliers 8994699 8404211
Affordable silicone baking pans (wholesale) 0917-5265604
Food bottles all shapes and sizes (SMC Bottling) 2427458
Yeast, chocolate baking products (wholesalers, free baking consultation and seminars), Sonlie 0920-9080248
Diet food delivery (Sostanza) 4390603
Stainless-steel contractors (Ghie) 0917-8123951
Coffee, coffee machines and flavored syrups for coffee (EQ) 8684168
Flavored syrups for cocktails (Monin) 0918-9701766
Flavored taho by the bucket 0917-8141200
Delicious tapa 5236281
Excellent lumpiang hubad with peanut sauce 6330205
Glitter tattoo 0922-8027070
Mama Rosa Catering (pako salad, fish roe and scallop noodle), 0917-5326900
Pumpkins, ornamental gourds, flowers (wholesale) 9299306
Wagyu beef and US meat (wholesale), Anna 6317228-30
PTC (wholesalers of US meat, turkey, lamb, seafood) 2568831-38 /2564430
White Ware—Plates /Platters DST—4140928 / Tess—0917-5310693
Best rum cake 8260552, 7275013
Cheap videographer/ Photographer 0920-7388702
Yema and giant ensaimada 8965523
Vegetables, mushrooms, herbs—Lolita’s 9128137Zeny—9112101
My favorite chocolate-chip cookie - 8911784
J’s Cochinillo asado, paellas, sandwiches 8108735
Decadent chocolate cake Wendy— 0917-8106414
Frozen dimsum - 0917-8400258
Pork barbecue Rudy— 0917-84407150;
L’Artizan—delicious sour dough, ciabbata, muffins 8996923
Phad Thai cooked on the spot 0920-9047459
Free-range chicken, eggs 0917-8041101
Key lime pie—Apples 0917-8557805
Food order—Susie 0918-9094115
Lemon squares—Tippi 0918-8118088
Upholstery/curtains —Gari 0920-9082969
Give-away designer (beautiful)—Via 0917-8552729
Party food booths— corn dog, fries, etc.—Happy Team 0926-6917291
Cones—all kinds of ice-cream cones and waffle bowls 0920-9568488
Best belly dancer—Ivy 0905-2468133
Caramel Cake—Estrelle’s 3722965
Reni—Spanish chorizo (real imported Spanish spices used) 0917-8550215
Chorizos, large—Alexie 8544716
Tempeh 0917-8213484, 9297790
Davao lechon, Porquitos 0917-7047303
Delicious marinated pigeon, ready to fry Mely—8193862
Myrna’s delicious adobo pate with foccacia 4111434
Rare vegetables— chard, kohlrabi, spaghetti squash 8867779
Chefs uniforms— Humphrey 0927-5126912 0917-8906865 0917-5347064— Lex
Christmas bread—Jon-jon 0915-9045771
Moon cake and roast duck—Mr. Lu 5252720
Restaurant equipment and gadgets/gourmet ingredients wholesale—Werdenberg 8403771
Restaurant equipment and gadgets, KLG 8332288;
Sen Kian Heng—7332133, 7332129
Bacchus— Le Creuset Cookware 6347303, 8181809
Asian Ingredients— Chef’s Nook 7245812
Taste of Italy—Pasta Machines 09163552197
Beautiful Candles—all shapes and sizes 0917-8990306
Ovens, baking and food equipment—Gomeco 2924421/2924578;
Ruey Shing— 4114232, 7279648;
Well-Done Industries, Mr. Willy Capule—539535, 2932090;
Wholesale ingredients: Killion Merchandising 7338221,7337036.
Baking ingredients, powdered sugar—Peotraco 3658221
Sugar, gum paste, cold porcelain flowers, wedding cakes—Mrs. Florendo 9132527
Home-service art lessons, watercolor, oil and acrylic—Ballada 0916-6586898
Kwong Bee special pork “Macau”-style sausage 2414608
Danish rolls 6712498 0918-9422268
Fortune cookies 6565801
Licor de Crema Catalana (Cream liqueur, a take-off from the famous dessert Crema Catalana) Red Wine Valformosa Rioja Tinto Joven 0917-5217500
Saint Mary Dairy—fresh carabao’s milk, low-fat yogurt drinks, low-fat cottage cheese, quesong puti and low-fat pastillas 8232835, 09172041952.
Delicious lechon, Aling Loring 7242867
Fruit cake I love to eat— Costa Brava 8966872
Maja pandan, more like A Thai Tako!—Rose 8107533
Dulce de Leche—Pixie 7232776
Disposable plastic containers in every conceivable shape, size and form 3651869 / 4126987 Teflon recoating—Altech International 8200757
Desserts delivered to your door step —Diamond Hotel 5262211
Made-to-order giant cookie cakes—Mrs. Field’s 8441241
Best halo-halo, palabok, mochi, gatas ng kalabaw, maja—Fe Guarin of Corazons 0917-8963960, 045-8882527
Some additions from my own phonebook:
Amber - Best pichi-pichi ; also for lumpiang ubod and BBQ - 816-1313
Banana Toffee Pie - Roselyn Tiangco - 812-0908/0917-8947477
Miniatures - cream puffs, mini hotdog & mini hamburger sandwiches - Jonah - 724-2125
Becky's Kitchen -525-1648
Brooklyn Pizza - best white pizza - Mkti - 896-9696 ; Pque - 821-0000, BF - 7757575
Charlie's Pritchon - 921-0405, 921-0415, 426-5501
Sebastian's Ice cream - 0917-4643397
Best butter cake - Costa Brava (Mrs. Liew) - 896-6872 / 896-1267
Best mango torte - Cuerva - 850-9182 / 8170200
Desnudos - best chorizo, chori burger patties,longganisang hubad, Poch Camahort - 0917-5409980
Polly Garilao's chocolate cake - 824-7612
Gil Carandang, herbs and organic veg - 0920-5445439 , 0920-9125850
Lechon - Genevieve Hing -0922-8588080
Nothing Like Homemade - longganisa roll - 896-0396
Cupcakes by Sonja - 856-0308
Rico Renzo applie pie - 898-2542
Baby Yulo's strawberry shortcake - 812-4961 / 810-8078
Iya's Jumbo Pastillas (tostado and ube flavors also avail.) - 843-9066
Frozen brazo de mercedes (the other one) - Ange - 0917-8238198
Foie Gras - Farah Ylagan - 722-4234, 0918-9264671
La Cuisine Francaise - Michelle - 893-2072 , 0918-924 64 05
Tierra - chorizo, pate, other Spanish deli goods - 807-5197; Tinchu - 0920-9283564
Oriental Merchants - Spanish food products & colognes - 568-5777 to 70, 568-5750, 772-1020
Terry's Selection - Spanish deli - 844-1816
Spanish wines - Woody - 0918-9942359
Ingrid's Sweet haven - cakes & bakeware - 641-2561
Guava jam & mango jam - Vicky Maniquis- - 842-1375, 842-1374
Chocolate Carrot Cake - Melissa Lim - 911-2329
House of Silvanas - 890-8493, 895-3492, 823 - 4160
La Tasca catering -897-9749, 896-5543, 897-6056
Mrs. Valera catering - 824-5179, 821-3797
Packaging, Scala -532-2020, 532-1628
Lace Cookies from Cebu- Sandra - 0917-8555502
Concorde cake - La Nuova Pastelleria San Antonio - 817-8568 , 867-2370
Spices & Flavors -831-0449, 833-0905, 0922-8330905
Patty Cake - sans rival chips - 889-1609; 0920-9544960
Blue Leaf Events Pavilion - 8872175,8875687 , Michelle 0917-6268437
Lorenzo's Date Bars - 852-7798
Kaye Cunanan catering - 0917-8986919, 711-0940
Confetti Effects & pyrotechnics - 563-6638; Freddie - 0920-9005601
Inflatable games, jumping castle, slides, - 821-8510, Dong 0917-8157104
Porcelain, ceramics, restaurant wares - DST - 414-0928, 0917-4557292
Red Velvet Cake - Cookbook Kitchen - Eliza - 724-3595
Chef's Nook - baking & cooking supplies - Imelda , 724-5812, 0917-8485228
Wholly Cow lechon baka - 0917-7911008 / 0917-8806168
Mini Tiramisu - Gina -811-6702 / 0922-8828836
Carabao Milk & other dairy products - Pia Lim-Castillo - 729-3265/5413
Blue Kitchen - 898-0931
Muscle Beach corn dogs & lemonade - 757-4969, 837-2747
Dulce de Leche cake - Tina 0920-9046573
If you find that one of the numbers here no longer works, please let me know so I could update this list. If you have some of your own contacts you'd like to share, I'd love to add it here as well. :) Just leave me a comment or email me. Thanks!
October 1, 2007
We shared a table with a couple of other friends at the AICA (the Academy for International Culinary Arts) where this month's degustation menu would be served. The soft lighting and stone wall lent the place a warmth and charm which the other venue sorely lacked. Every plate brought to our table was accompanied by a brief explanation from either Sunshine herself or one of her sous chefs, while the well-trained waiters who had taken our bottles of wine when we arrived made sure our glasses were never empty. My friend brought 2 reds, my sister brought the white and I brought one of the sauternes I was saving for just this occasion. (Wine isn't served but you are welcome to bring your own, they don't charge corkage).
Once again, Chefs Sunshine and Rob exhibited their culinary genius with what looks like effortless grace. To say that I enjoyed the play of flavors from every dish would be an understatement, especially when speaking of those made with foie gras or infused with truffle oil.
My favorites in no particucar order: the 21st Century Eggs Benedict - a strip of bacon embedded in crunchy toast dipped into a poached egg topped with a truffle hollandaise; the Foie-lipops - an old childhood favorite with a twist except this time it's decadent cubes of foie gras instead of candy dipped in pop rocks that pop in your mouth; the Prosciutto and Brie de Meaux roulade - my favorite cheese in the world rolled with prosciutto in a flaky wrap was delicious by itself, but was brought to a whole other level with the sweetness of the raspberry coulis; the balsamic reduction and truffle-honey beurre blanc that went with the Chilean Sea Bass and spaetzle was divine; the super tender and flavorful duck breast with its crackling skin was excellent as well. And then there was the chocolate hazelnut cake, yum!
Here are the photos I managed to snap and the complete menu:
Prosciutto and Brie de Meaux Roulade, Raspberry Coulis
With Hot Foie Gras Cappuccino and Cold Sweet Corn Foam (above right)
Chilean Sea Bass, Truffle – Honey Beurre Blanc, Spaetzle (above right)
Duck Breast, Tart Tatin with Port Wine Reduction (above right)
Duck Confit & Foie Gras Croquette, Green Papaya Salad, Plum Sauce (above left)
Mint Chocolate Hazelnut Cake & Lemon Meringue (above right)
Tahuna Sauvignon Blanc 2007
2002 Chateau La Fleur Saint-Christophe
2002 Chateau Haut-Bailly (Pessac-Leognan)
2002 Chateau Rieussec (Sauternes)
If you'd like to sample a degustation by Chefs Sunshine and Rob, you may call AICA at (632) 672.2271 for next month's schedule. But call right away, seats get filled fast!
September 27, 2007
Wow, it seems like forever since my last post and since I've read any of my favorite blogs. No, I haven't forgotten nor abandoned any of you! How can I? I just haven't had as much extra online time as I used to since the other stuff that makes up my daily life slowly started to creep up on me threatening to bury me alive if I continued to neglect them. So lately I've been juggling my time between work of course which takes up most of it, wading through unread piles of books and magazines, trying to put in more hours at the gym and boxing, TV series' I'm addicted to, more dinners with friends and out of town trips to the beach and farm with family, and finally nurturing my passion for photography. I'm usually exhausted at the end of the day to do anything more than lift my book up to eye level before the sandman whisks me off.
But anyway, here I am! I still love blogging so there will always be time for that. And so for my first post in what...wow, three weeks is a long time for someone who used to post twice a week or so... I'd like to share some news my dad shared with me during breakfast a few days ago which came in the form of newspaper clippings. It seems we're not the only ones who think Dumaguete rocks!
The first article was entitled: "Foreigners say RP among top 20 best places to live - DOT" by Mayen Jaymalin; published in The Philippine Star last Sept. 19, 2007.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) yesterday reported that Americans and other
foreign travelers have actually listed Negros Oriental as among the top 20 best
islands in the world to live. Tourism secretary Joseph Ace Durano said Negros
Oriental joined the list of other exotic places such as the Grand Cayman, Gozo
in Malta, Carriacou in Grenada and Vieques in Puerto Rico, which all offer a mix
of indigenous culture, friendly neighbors, uncomplicated living and adventure
Durano said the deciding factors considered by the respondents included weather, languages spoken, ease of immigration and accessibility to hospitals. Located in Central Visayas, Negros Oriental offers divers colorful and teeming marine life around Apo Island, which is home to the Negros Oriental Marine Conservation Park. Tourists can also chance upon playful dolphins and pygmy sperm whales in Tanon Strait at Bais Bay. But more than the attractions, Durano said the people play a big role in giving a warm welcome and creating a positive impression among travelers.
The other article entitled "Yahoo: Manila is passport-worthy" was published the very next day Sept 20, 2007 in the Manila Standard Today.
Manila was listed at no. 10 in the list of "10 passport-worthy locations thousands of Yahoo! users chose as the very best". While Yahoo cited problems such as traffic and pollution in Metro Manila, visitors cited it's friendly people, excellent nightlife, historical sights and some of the most cavernous shopping malls in Asia.
This was the second time Philippine destinations figured prominently in the listing of top destinations in the world. Last month, Islands Magazine based in the United States listed Negros Oriental and it's capital Dumaguete as one of the 20 best islands in the world to live on.
The magazine, one of the most widely circulated and most trusted travel publications in the United States, included Negros Oriental with its capital Dumaguete as among the best islands in the world where expatriates may settle based on the following criteria: flip-flop wearability, strong expat communities, and affordable real estate.
Hurray for the Philippine Islands! :)
September 4, 2007
Since the last time I wrote about it, they've published new guides like Rome, New York, and Dubai, bringing the number of titles up to 22. You can get them for P450 at Fully Booked High St. and Rockwell, Manila Cigars at both international airports, and at The Travel Club in Trinoma.
For the serious traveller, you can order box sets from Kat like this World Grand Tour (pictured at left), which contains 12 guides, or the Asian Grand Tour with 12 guides to Asia's top cities. Luxe also lets you customize your own box sets.
For orders, you can email Kat directly at katripoll_AT_yahoo_DOT_com or call and visit any of these stores below:
Fully Booked - Bonifacio High Street. Tel: +632 858 7000 / 36 / 37 / 38
Fully Booked - Level R3, The Powerplant Mall,Rockwell, Tel: +632 756 5001 to 04
Manila Cigars, Inc. - Terminal 1, Departure Area, NAIA, Tel: +632 877 1109 ext 3595
Manila Cigars, Inc. - Terminal 2, Departure Area, NAIA, Tel: +632 877 1109 ext 2311
The Travel Club Trinoma - Unit 2099B & 2100B, Level M2, Trinoma Mall, QC
Have Luxe, will travel
Luxe goes to Europe!