February 22, 2006

Of milkshakes and carnivals

Last Saturday, after feasting on one of my favorite things in the world - SUSHI! at Kaiseki , a small group of us decided to check out the EuroStar Carnival at The Fort. I was so excited. There's something about carnivals, the rides, the games, the laughter, the food, the sounds, the prizes, it's just so much fun! There's really an aura of magic around it.

Oddly enough, for a Saturday night there weren't very many people, which was great really because we didn't have to fret over long queues. I wanted to get on all the rides, though I was warned that the rides here were extra-nauseating, and that all it took for most people was one ride before they were too dizzy to even think of getting on another. Much to my amusement and as if to confirm this, I saw a sign posted on the mirror above the bathroom sink which read: "Bawal sumuka dito" (Vomitting not allowed here). :)

Anyways, after some unsuccessful begging and pleading with my friends to ride the Joker - what appeared to be the tallest and scariest ride on the grounds - I settled for the Ranger, which is like a pendulum that swings back and forth and goes higher with each swing until you are completely upside down for about a minute. This minute of course seemed like an hour! This part was quite uncomfortable because the entire weight of your body is on your head!. Then it drops down and continues to swing the other way.

I was laughing throughout the entire ride, mostly out of excitement and nerves but partly because when I glanced over at Nacho, he had this death grip on the bars, his eyes were shut tight, and he was giggling like a mad woman! Shooting a quick glance at Rosa I laughed even harder because she had tears rolling UP her face from all the laughing. It was hilarious!

Let me share a piece of advicewith you: do not attempt to embark on anything that moves faster or goes higher than the mini ferris wheel after you've stuffed yourself with raw fish! Worried about our tummies, we took the safe route and opted for the giant ferris wheel as our last ride. From which I took the photo above.

Taking the whole age-denial experience even further, we drove over to the new crepe place in the Fort for some milk shakes. Here, you can choose from the many different ice cream flavors they offer and come up with your own personalized blend. I had a strawberry vanilla milk shake. Ho boy, it was guuuud! Definitely a great way to end the night.

I think that everyone, no matter how old they are, needs to let their inner child loose at least some of the time! It's good for the soul. :)

February 21, 2006

My name is christine and I am a book whore

I remember as a kid, my most prized possession was my complete set of hard-bound Bobbsey Twins books. It was a present from my mom and dad. One Christmas they gave us all books: my brother got The Hardy Boys and my 2 older sisters got Nancy Drew. I was so excited!

It couldn’t have come at a better time. I had practically memorized my
Enid Blyton & Judy Blume paperbacks and my tattered, dog-eared favorite Wizard of Oz . Though I loved these books I needed something new, a new adventure. And Bert, Nan, Flossie & Freddie were only too happy to oblige.

That is about as far back as I can remember to the beginnings of my passion for books and reading. After I finished the entire volume of my sisters’ Nancy Drew and my brother’s Hardy Boys, I moved on to other “big kid” books, then to “young adult” like Sweet Valley High , and then more mature books like Danielle Steele, Sidney Sheldon, Garbiel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Stephen King, John Grisham, picked up classics like The Catcher in the Rye, and then before I knew it , I was obsessed.

Sometimes, like now, I bite off more than I can chew. I am currently reading five books at the same timeThey are:

Travelling Light by Sarah Webb

This is a collection of short stories, all related to travel, written by Ireland's top women writers. Some are funny, some are sad, some are inspiring. It's a wonderful blend of different writing styles and personalities. This makes for perfect summer reading. :)

He's Just Not That Into You
The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys by Greg Behrendt & Liz Tuccillo

I watched Behrendt talk about this book on Oprah and had the chance to watch him speak live while he was in Manila promoting the book (picture below) and I thought he was pretty funny so I bought the book. I am about 1/3 through it, and so far so good. He is blunt, which I like and very funny. He's not claiming to be an expert on relationships, but an expert on what he is, a man.

So if this book doesn't enlighten you on the mysteries (or lack of really) of the male species, it would at the very least entertain you. Behrendt is, btw, a story editor on Sex and the City.

Hemingway Adventure by Michael Palin

I have just recently developed an obsession with Cuba, thanks to Peter Moore's book The Full Montezuma. So in my search for books on the country, I found this. Palin retraces the steps of Ernest Hemingway from his birth in Illinois and all around the world until his death, taking pictures and telling stories along the way interspersed with pieces from Hemingway's past and quotes from Big Papa himself.

I don't know very much about Hemingway but I do know that a large part of his life was spent in Cuba, 20 years to be exact. And like in all other places he lived in, he spent a lot of time with the locals, and through his journey around the globe and Palin's writing skills we get more than a glimpse of places off the beaten track and things you would normally not find in guide books.

French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

A friend of mine lost a great deal of weight after reading this book! And of course I needed to try it for myself. :) Read her review here!

Why Do Men Have Nipples? Hundreds of Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini by Mark Leyner& Billy Goldberg

Have you ever wondered why asparagus makes your pee smell bad?, or what goose bumps are?, and even how people in wheel chairs have sex? Leyner and Goldberg, a novelist and physician respectively, provide witty and often hilarious answers to many questions you've often wondered about yet never really asked.

Now mind you, these are well-researched answers, but though informative the book seeks more to entertain rather than be medical reference material. Being the curious cat that I am, I just had to get this.

So tell me, what are you reading? :) I'd love to hear your recommendations!

February 20, 2006

A Macanese Experience

I LOVE to travel! I live for it.I've been blessed with the opportunity to visit so many beautiful places around the world, and I long to see more. I've even made a list of places to see before I die. There is also Hillman's Wonders of the World list which I have tacked on my office cube, with destinations I've been to ticked off. My goal is take a trip to one nearby place (somewhere around Asia) and one faraway place a year at least.

Macau, China was nowhere near even the last place on my list. Not even close. Now Beijing, absolutely! But when I think of Macau, my mind conjures up images of casinos and the grand prix and little else. I had no idea just how much this city had to offer.

When my friends mentioned that
Tiger Airways had a special offer ($69 return fare inclusive of taxes!) , I did some research online and I thought why not!? I knew it would be fun, how could it not be? There were 9 of us going! Through a travel agent, we found a great hotel package for Casa Real Hotel & Casino which included a continental and oriental breakfast buffet.

Rosa and I left a day earlier than everyone else. We didn't waste any time. We arrived at our hotel around 7 pm, and after checking in and freshening up took a taxi to the city center. We toured the colorful Largo do Senado by night and had dinner at Restaurante Platao to sample some authentic Portuguese food. We had some yummy bacalhau and Portuguese rice and lamb.

Largo de Senado Plaza

Early the next day we took the 1 hour ferry to Hongkong. It was the "end-of-the-chinese-new-year" sale and everything was 70% off. We didn't buy much though because most of the items on sale were winter clothes.

Now we both had been to HK many times before so we didn't do any sightseeing, it was pure retail therapy! Hours and hours of walking in and out of malls and shops, stopping only to have a quick noodle and dimsum lunch.

the hazy Hongkong harbor, as seen from Harbour City on the Kowloon side

In the afternoon, we picked up one of our friends at The Peninsula over at the Kowloon side. She had gone straight to HK from Manila for a meeting but was coming back to Macau with us to join the rest of the group. When we got back to our hotel in Macau, the rest of the gang was checking in.

First on the list of things to do after they settled in was an authentic Chinese dinner, specifically Peking duck! We asked the concierge to recommend a restaurant which wasn't too far, and off we went in 3 taxis. Everything was delicious. We had spicy shrimp, goose, roasted duck (no Peking duck!), beef with mushrooms, hot & sour soup, bok choy and yang chow fried rice, it was perfect.

Sunday was Macau-sightseeing-day. Macau was quite a nice surprise. With it's Chinese and Portuguese heritage, the east-meets-west quality is present in almost everything: from the food to it's architecture.

Our first stop was the very charming Guia Chapel & Lighthouse. We had a nice view of the lighthouse from our hotel room. It was completed in 1865, making it the oldest lighthouse on the coast of China. It was only fitting that this was our first stop as I adore lighthouses!

Guia Chapel & Lighthouse

The St. Augustine Church (below) is part of a monastery founded in 1586. Pictured below it is the St. Augustine church plaza.

Sunday (Feb. 12) was the Lantern Festival, which marks the end of the Chinese New Year so we were treated to a typical dragon dance in Senado Square:

Also in the same area is the beautiful Santo Domingo Church. Interestingly enough, it is described as "a baroque Filipino style church built by the Spanish Dominican friars in the mid 16th century. "

Sto. Domingo Church

From the church, you can walk up the hill and through a narrow pedestrain side street of antique stores (I got to buy some lovely antique pieces - YAY!) and bakeries up to the famous Ruins of St. Paul. This is Macau's most famous attraction. The stone facade is all that is left after a fire ruined the whole complex back in 1835.

Ruins of St. Paul

A-Ma Temple

After we did some antique shopping and street-food-eating along Rua de S. Paolo, we headed for the A-Ma Temple. Macau owes its name to this temple. The name Macau was derived from the Chinese "A-Ma-Gau" which means Bay of A-Ma.

Yummy Macanese treats

Discovering local food is always one of the best things about travelling. In Macau, we had lots of it. Clockwise from upper left: the absolutely YUMMY Portuguese Egg Tart, slices of dried beef, pork, etc. - their version of beef jerky; gelato - ok so it's not typical Macanese but if you are ever in Senado Square you have to have some Limoncello Gelato; the last picture was taken inside one of the bakeries - the man is making those powdery cakes out of crushed nuts. It is similar to our local polvoron.

A gov't building

After visiting the A-Ma temple, we took a much needed break and sipped some cocktails as we watched the sunset on the bay from the terrace of the Pousada do Sao Tiago Hotel, a 17th century fort transformed into a Portuguese inn with period furniture.

And of course there are the casinos. It is said that in 30 years, Macau will be bigger than Vegas in terms of number of casinos and gamblers. Not very surprising cosidering 85% of all the high rollers in Vegas are Chinese and Japanese.

Lisboa is Macau's oldest and most famous, while the Sands Casino (2 bottom pictures) is the newest and grandest. The first picture of the Sands Casino also shows the Lotus Flower in Full Bloom, one of Macau's landmarks. The other picture was taken from the bridge which connects Macau to Taipa Island.

On the morning of our last day, a couple of us toured the Grand Prix Museum and Macau's Wine Museum which was a 2 minute walk around the corner from out hotel and right across that Lotus Flower picture above. The Grand Prix Museum was alright, unless you are a die-hard Formula 1 fan, then you'd probably think it was awesome.

The Wine Museum showcases vintage bottles of red and white from as far back as the 1800s and antique wine-making equipment. We also got to sample different kinds of Port and Vinho Verde.

February 9, 2006


"A girlfriend is never farther away than 'needing her' can reach.

When you have to walk that lonesome valley, and you have to walk it for yourself,
your girlfriends will be on the valley's rim, cheering you on, praying for you,
pulling for you, intervening on your behalf, and waiting with open arms at the valley's end. Sometimes, they will even break the rules and walk beside you.
Or come in and carry you out.

When we began this adventure called womanhood,
we had no idea of the incredible joys or sorrows that lay ahead.
Nor did we know how much we would need each other.
Every day, we need each other still. "

I got this from an email a long time ago. I’m sure many women out there can attest to this I am blessed with the world’s greatest girl friends! I cannot imagine my life without every single one of them as each one has touched my life in their own unique way. They have that special, gentleness that comes from their touch, voice, and overall energy that we need once in a while to make us feel everything is alright.
When I feel the need for that, or even when I just want a great time with great food and even better company, I call out for a GNO. I have regular GNO’s (Girls Nights Out) with my girlfriends.

I have about 4 circles of girlfriends I enjoy this with, usually on a monthly basis but some not as frequent as others. I’m sure you would agree, the more there are in a group, the harder it is to plan and find the best date & venue for everyone. But the frustration we sometimes experience during planning only makes us try harder because we realize how much we need this little break from insanity once in a while. A much needed break from work, kids, husbands/boyfriends, family, where we can just eat, laugh, talk about anything and everything and just let loose and be silly.

One group is made up of my closest girlfriends, another group includes ladies from where I used to work (my first job) – which is by far the loudest and most boisterous group!. Then theres my college girlfriends – whose eclectic mix of personalities remind me of a Benetton ad. Then you have my group from 5th grade, yep we are still in touch!
We have gone through so much together, and shared important milestones in our lives with each other, that we’ve formed a special bond that exists to this day. Lately, a new group was added: my older sister, my cousins, and a couple of other friends. We’ve only had 2 GNO’s so far, but they have proposed to make it a regular thing.

One of the bonuses of GNO’s is that you get to try out new restaurants together, and revisit old ones. It is by no means easy on one’s pocket if you are trying to save. But you can’t put a price on friendship, and girlfriends for that matter!

February 8, 2006

A weekend at the lake

Wow it's already been over a month since my last (and first) post. I had a feeling this would happen! Ok, I have to get my butt in gear and start posting some.

Last weekend was nice. An old friend, Nico, invited me up to his lake house with a Spanish couple I was yet to meet. I looked forward to this because his place is beautiful, so relaxing and a welcome relief from the traffic, heat and pollution of the Metro. I have many fond memories there, dating back to high school when I used to come up with his sister (who I was then closer to) and their entire family. I have yet to live down one particular incident when I , together with Nico's sister and another old friend, sank their dinghy. Yes, we sank it. And it sank with me in it! Granted it was a tiny, beat-up, single engine affair which I was driving for the first time, this did not make it any less funny for others.

I will never forget the sight of my 2 friends who were already on the dock watching wide-eyed and speechless as it sank. They had jumped out into the dock while I was still trying to tie the dinghy to it without any thought to the consequences of leaving me on the heavy end of the dinghy where the engine was. This caused the front of the dinghy to tip up and water to rapidly flow in from the back. I tried desperately to bail the water out, to no avail. I called out for them to help, and what does Cristina do? Jump into the water to save the suntan lotions and towels. Great. It happened quickly - the boat sank from underneath me, as the strong current pulled the boat farther out into the lake and under until there was nothing left but bubbles.

We were too frightened to face Nico's parents to tell them we lost the boat to the lake so we sat there in stunned silence until they came looking for us. To our immense relief, his dad laughed it off saying the dinghy was bound to croak sooner or later at the state it was in. They even hired divers to look for it but it was never found beneath the murky water. But I digress.

Lake Caliraya is a beautiful and vast man-made lake in Laguna, about a 2 hour drive south of Manila and not far from Pagsanjan Falls. It is located 1,200 meters above sea level and was built to harness hydro-electric power in the area. It has since become a haven for windsurfers because of the strong winds and calm water, and for people looking for some R n R close to nature.

Can you see the kite surfer in this picture? Cool huh! :-)
Antonio and Christina turned out to be funny and sweet honeymooners. Antonio was the weekend's self-appointed chef, as well. :-) We toured them around the lake on the speedboat. Nico swung by the NPA (New People's Army - a communist rebel group) village in the far and secluded coves, Surfkamp and Lagos del Sol resort, and just basically cruised around.

And for all you movie buffs, you will be interested to know that Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now was filmed here in the 70's, among other places like Pagsanjan River and Hidden Valley Springs.

For dinner, we drove down the mountain into the town and dined in Gallery 83, a cafe and gallery owned by Ernest Santiago. Ernest, who apparently is an international designer famous for his Balinese and Thai inspired furniture and garden accessories. The food was good, we had the pako salad which consists of ferns, singkamas (jicama) and kesong puti (white cheese made from carabao or water buffalo milk). It was a very interesting and refreshing combination!

Ernest himself was sitting in the next table with his friends and turned out to be very friendly and quite the gracious host. He sent over 2 big plates of chocolate cake for us and gave us some grapes for dessert.

After chatting with him a bit, we asked if we could see his work and he led us into his gallery which formed part of his estate. There were beautiful pieces of furniture on display which were mostly made of molave, narra and other native materials.

But what was most impressive was his charming garden which he lovingly landscaped and decorated in Balinese style. I have vowed to come back some day while the sun is out to totally appreciate it.

The picture above is of one of the many huts in his garden. They are all roofed huts with no walls on the sides. That's Ernest on the left, with Nico and Christina.

Oohhh and even more amusing, Ernest Santiago is also, by the way, the man behind Coco Banana. You know, from the Hotdogs hit Annie Batungbakal? "....na taga-Frisco...pagsapit ng dilim, nasa Coco Banana...". Yep! He was THE Louie Cruz of the disco era! It was our Studio 54. This I found out from a newspaper clipping framed on the wall of his cafe. :-)