Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Big Reveal -

I've been thinking about moving this blog for the longest time, from Blogger to Wordpress. Blogger's been good to me for the past year, and I have learned so much about operating a website. This coming from a person who didn't have a clue on how to sign up for a blog, let alone add sidebar items and linking. And don't even get me started on RSS feeds.

Even though Blogger and I have become close, I've always felt there was something missing. I don't like that Blogger has this crappy "About Me" section that I can't change (well, I could but it would take some investigating on my part that could take WEEKS), and I've never been a fan of the way the page is formatted. While we're on the subject, can we talk about theme choices (or lack thereof)? While I do like the pink and gray I think it's time to move on to something different.

With all this in mind, I finally made the switch last night. And it looks good - check it out for yourself. Beginning today, future posts will be at (That's right I bought my domain name too!) This will automatically redirect you to my new Wordpress site.

I love the new digs but it's still a work in progress. I've imported most of my old entries from Blogger but ended up having to delete a few due to formatting issues. Because of that I am keeping this old site for archive purposes (not that I expect y'all to read all my archives or anything, but you know, just in case you were curious about how this all came together and how horrible my first posts were). I still have to figure out how to replicate some of the features that I like here at Blogger ("Picture of the Day") and write a brand-new "About Me" page that doesn't suck.

See you on the brand-new Speedy Canizales!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Suffering from a Case of Delayed Trip Gratification

I’ve been back almost a month now. I’ve been holding off the itch to travel by reminiscing about my time in the Philippines, and now that I’m finally done with that exercise I fear that the itch is coming back.

Rene thinks I suffer from Delayed Trip Gratification (DTG) when it comes to traveling abroad. It doesn’t happen all the time but it does hit me now and again. DTG is when you are in a foreign place and all you can do that moment, that afternoon, that day is whine about something silly: how hot (or cold) it is, how it ruined your day that [blank] wasn’t being served for lunch, how rude that waiter was, how obnoxious all the tourists are (except you, hee), how you have to wait so long to get from point A to point B, yada yada the list goes on. Does that sound like something you do? Then after you get home all you can tell your family and friends is how wonderful that trip was, how you’d love to visit again, how the sights were marvelous, and how you wish you were still there. It’s almost downright schizophrenic, really, to switch from Whiny Wendy to Thankful Tammy once you get home. Then you regret letting all those petty worries take over you and beat yourself for not living in the moment. This has happened to me more than once.

All I can remember about my trips are the good times, and the bad times are either forgotten or romanticized. For example, Rene and I once took a boat launch from a small Australian town called Gladstone to Heron Island (in the Great Barrier Reef). That launch was rough – practically all of the passengers were out in the deck throwing up and praying for land. I took Dramamine an hour before and was doing fine; Rene, however, “wanted some air” (read: was feeling seasick) so we ended up hanging out in the rear deck, breathing in the acrid smell of vomit for a solid hour and a half. Now we affectionately call that vessel “the Barf Boat” and find it amusing that everyone was hanging off the side rail with a deathly green pallor.

I suppose DTG is better than the alternative – remembering only things that went wrong on the trip. Because honestly, who doesn’t want to cherish their travel memories, no matter how imperfect?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pearl of the Orient

On my second-to-the-last day in the Philippines I scheduled a tour with the great Carlos Celdran of Celdran Tours. (If you are planning to visit Manila in the future, I highly recommend bookmarking his website.) His tours are among the best I’ve ever taken, and that says a lot coming from a person that LOVES tours, particularly walking tours and bike tours.

His tour, entitled Living La Vida Imelda! is an “architectural tour of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex as seen through the life and aspirations of Imelda Romualdez Marcos.” I was intrigued with the juxtaposition of architecture and Philippine history, not to mention the woman herself. Who could forget Imelda and her 3,000 pairs of shoes? This was the woman who famously said, after her family was exiled from the country, “They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes.”

I’ve been intrigued by Imelda ever since I visited Malacanang Palace in the late 1980s. Malacanang Palace is the Philippine equivalent of the White House, and for a time it was open to the public for tours. I remember going with my mom, wearing my brand new white peep toe shoes, feeling sophisticated and grown up. I was astonished by the fact that a woman could own THAT MANY pairs of shoes (and with labels like Chanel, Ferragamo, Givenchy and Dior! A girl can only dream of owning such precious jewels!), and a light bulb went off in my head. I’ve never looked at shoes the same way again. Currently, my closet is home to about 30-something pairs of fine-looking shoes, shoes that I adore and treasure.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines (or CCP) is located in Manila, and opened its doors in 1969 to promote and preserve Filipino arts and culture. It opening was attended by then-California Senator Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, and has showcased the Bolshoi, Kirov, Royal Danish ballets, as well as contemporary American, French, German and Philippine companies. In its heyday, luminaries such as Marta Graham and Rudolph Nureyev posed alongside the former First Lady onstage.

It’s hard to imagine that such a promising young couple, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, would go down in history as one of the most corrupt leaders in the free world. In the beginning, the Marcoses were branded as the Philippines’ version of John and Jackie Kennedy. During his first term, Marcos made substantial land reforms, developed infrastructure, improved health care, and boosted the economy, leading others to see the Philippines as a country on the rise. Sadly, along with these improvements came human rights abuses, rampant corruption and embezzlement, and voter fraud. Marcos was finally thrown out as a result of the People Power Movement. I remember my parents participating in the and wearing lots of yellow at that time, the color of the movement. Marcos and his family were exiled to Hawaii in 1986, where he died three years later. The saddest part about Marcos, in many people’s eyes, was the great president he could have become.

In a way it was fitting that I ended my vacation with a tour like this. It reminded me of my heritage, my history, and how great this country was, is, and can become. Despite its many faults, it’s hard not to love your homeland, a country with unshakeable spirit and an abundance of natural beauty. I plan to visit again in the future, and have already created a list of must-see places that I didn’t experience this time around:

Mt. Mayon: This is one of the most photographed sights in the Philippines. In the shape of a perfect cylindrical cone, Mt. Mayon is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupting 14 times since 1900.

Banaue Rice Terraces: Natural landmark created by the Ifugao tribes nearly 2,000 years ago. The tribe created a sophisticated irrigation system using bamboo tubes and mud channels to bring water to the terraces. Growing up I thought it really was the eight wonder of the world, not realizing how subjective and oft-used the title is when it comes to landmarks.

Vigan: a Unesco World Heritage site since 1999, this city is an example of a Spanish colonial town with its cobblestone street, Spanish-era mansions and horse-drawn carriages. This city was spared from American carpet bombing during WWII when the Japanese fled the city.

Palawan: a true diver’s paradise, Palawan boasts some of the best wreck diving in the world at Coron Island and some of the most stunning marine seascapes at the Bacuit Archipelago. There’s also a subterranean river at Puerto Princesa that can make you feel like you are journeying to the center of the earth.

Apo Reef: one of the largest coral concentrations in the world, the crystal-clear waters of Apo Reef is home to diverse species of coral and underwater wildlife such as hammerhead sharks, turtles, and manta rays.

Donsol: once a sleepy fishing village, Donsol is the place to go if you want to snorkel alongside whale sharks. Supposedly you can see as many as 15 of these gentle giants during the peak months of February to May. The only catch? You have to be a decent snorkeller and in relatively good shape to keep up with the sharks.

Boracay: the one-stop shop for a beach vacation in the Philippines, where you can indulge in everything from relaxing spas and white-sand beaches to sports like windsurfing and diving. There are also many dining options, and there are many local clubs to spice up the nights.


This is my last post about my trip to the Philippines. I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experiences and learned something along the way.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Having a Gay Old Time

A week after I arrived in the Philippines my dad’s friends from high school took me and my mom to a comedy club called Laffline. Unlike most comedy clubs here in the US (except maybe some in San Francisco or West Hollywood) all of the comedians are gay Filipino men. Actually, let me re-phrase that: FLAMBOYANT gay Filipino men.

Their “look” ranged from someone you could mistake as a beautiful woman to what can only describe as hot tranny mess: men wearing pancake makeup and trendy but ill-fitting clothes. What they all had in common was their talent and comedic chops, which kept us entertained from 9 pm to 2 am.

It’s hard to keep an audience entertained for five hours straight on original material (which could take YEARS to write and perfect), so the warm-up act (which consistent of six entertainers) used the audience as the material – as in, make fun of. They warned us from the very beginning that this would happen and that the audience shouldn’t be offended – it’s all in good fun. I was a little apprehensive because we were sitting in the front row, and the easiest targets are the ones they can see. There was no cover of darkness between the stage and us, so I had to make sure I didn’t do anything to catch their attention. They did make fun of me eventually – for not finishing my food and for sitting with “rich ladies” who also didn’t finish all their food – but I got off easy compared to other people. There was this poor man from Cebu who got ribbed for the way he looked. He was not an attractive man, and they zeroed in on that, teasing him about where he came from and who he was related to (insert unattractive animals here). I am so glad he was a good sport about it; otherwise there’d be beat-downs in the alley after the show.

The featured performer didn’t hit the stage until close to midnight but he was worth the wait. He sang, told jokes, picked people out of the audience to join him onstage, told more jokes, sang again, and called it a night at 2 am. This was our cue to call it a night as well – we had so much fun and laughed so hard that our sides hurt, and by then we were pretty tired. It was non-stop entertainment that night, which meant that we didn’t get a chance to talk to my dad’s friends, three very lovely ladies who took us to the comedy club. Maybe next time we'll pick a venue more conducive to conversation.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Taal Lake

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by Taal Lake. I’ve visited many places in the Philippines during my childhood but never Taal Lake or the surrounding city, Tagaytay. I finally got a chance to see the lake during this trip, and I’ve got to say: it’s one of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve ever visited.

Taal Lake is about an hour south of Manila by car, close to Los Baños. My aunt’s old friends Tito Boy and Tita Mila drove us there and another friend, Tita Gloria, showed us her family’s resort on Lake Taal’s waterfront. We had lunch at this fabulous place called Josephine’s that had a stunning view of the lake. I couldn’t believe that such a lovely scene could also be deadly: in the middle of the lake lies Taal Volcano, which is submerged underwater. The only part you can see is the caldera, which is also called Volcano Island.

(I don’t know if you’ve noticed that I sometimes put “Tito” or “Tita” in front of people’s names. In Philippine culture it’s a sign of respect, and it means “Uncle” and “Aunt.” Everyone who’s older than you has to have a title before their name, like “Uncle” (Tito), “Aunt” (Tita), “Big Brother” (Kuya) or “Big Sister” (Ate). It’s just how we roll.)

Taal Lake is a freshwater lake (the third largest in the Philippines). After a series of major eruptions in the 16th century, the lake was closed off from the sea by newly-formed land bridges. Succeeding eruptions buried numerous lakeside towns, and only three towns are on the lake's shore. Old lakeside towns with buildings and walls are reported to be seen under the lake's waters. Several centuries of rain has diluted the lake's salty waters into pure freshwater.

Because the lake was until recently, connected to the sea, it is home to many species that have evolved and adapted to the desalination of the lake's waters. Its most popular endemic species is the overharvested tawilis, the world's only freshwater sardine. Taal Lake is also home to one of the world's rarest sea snakes, Hydrophis semperi. This particular species is only one of two "true" sea snake species that are known to live entirely in freshwater. (Source:

If you are ever in the Philippines, you should definitely visit this place. More pictures here.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Vintage Manila

Above is a newsreel of Manila from 1938. This was shown in American movie theatres before the feature. It's interesting seeing images of the city 70 years ago, back when it was under American rule, before the city was mercilessly bombed by the US during WWII to drive out the Japanese.

You should watch with the sound on to hear the commentary.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Los Baños

A few days after my Grandma’s birthday party, my great-uncle Nap (short for Napoleon) invited us to a resort in Los Baños for an afternoon of fun in the sun.

Los Baños is located an hour south of Manila in the province of Laguna. The area is known for its thermal hot springs (the literal translation of Los Baños is "the baths" in Spanish), the University of the Philippines campus (academic institutions such as the International Rice Research Institute and ASEAN Center for Biodiverisity are housed in the UP campus) and buko (coconut) pie.

Los Baños and the surrounding area of Laguna are also known for Mt. Makiling. Mt. Makiling is an inactive volcano that rises about 3,000 ft above sea level. Several local legends surround the mountain, and it is widely believed that the contour of the mountain is that of a woman in a reclining position – the various peaks are her face and shoulders, and the slope on the right side is her hair cascading away from her body. In one story, a fairy named Maria Makiling fell in love with a hunter who had wandered into her kingdom. Soon the two became lovers, with the hunter coming up the mountain every day. They promised to love each other forever. However, the hunter fell in love with and married a mortal woman, leaving Maria deeply wounded. Realizing that the she could not trust mortals because she was so different from them and they were probably just using her, she became angry and refused to give fruits to the trees, let animals and birds roam the forests for hunters to catch, and let fish abound in the lake. People seldom saw her, and those times when she could be seen were often only during pale moonlit nights. There are more stories here.

Photo courtesy of

We arrived at Los Baños shortly before lunchtime. The rest of my family had driven up earlier in the day and were there by 9 am. By the time we got there everyone had already swam in the pool and were on to the next activity, either letting out their inner rock star on the karaoke machine or napping in a hut by the side of the pool. We were only there for an afternoon but I could have easily spent a week hanging out by the pool and taking long afternoon naps.

After a quick swim in the pool, we were served a feast: grilled fish (fresh from the market), Filipino-style barbeque, grilled chicken, pancit, and the biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen. For dessert there were ripe mangoes and bananas. It’s the perfect lunch for a lazy afternoon, something light and healthy to satisfy an appetite worked up from swimming in the pool.

After lunch my great-uncle Nap took us on a tour of UP Los Baños, a beautiful campus near the resort. Seeing the expansive lawns, lecture halls and libraries made me a little nostalgic for my college days. After taking a few pictures and hearing about my great-uncle Nap’s experiences there we called it a day and returned to the resort to have afternoon merienda, which is a meal between lunch and dinner. We had palitaw, a Philippine dessert made of sticky rice coated with coconut and dipped into sugar mixed with sesame seeds. It was heavenly. It reminded me of my childhood, when ladies would sell palitaw in the street from a basket perched atop their heads. Nothing beats a fresh batch of palitaw, which is my second favorite dessert next to halo halo. What a perfect day.

More pictures here.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Go Grandma, It’s Yo Birthday

The main reason I went to the Philippines last month was to celebrate my Grandma’s birthday. My Grandma celebrated a milestone birthday, her 75th, and my parents and I came to represent. The party was held on her rooftop terrace overlooking the neighborhood where I lived until I was eight years old. Our old house has since been demolished and replaced by a string of four identical townhouses my Grandma built a few years ago. All of my Grandma’s children and their families, except my dad and Uncle Art, live in this compound.

The lot next door belonged to my great-grandparents, and their house has also been demolished to make way for a new structure. It made me sad to see only rubble and fruit frees remaining from the old house and yard; I remember visiting that house frequently as a child to visit my great-grandmother. My great-grandmother and I got along very well, and she would often fix me sandwiches made out of pandesal and condensed milk in the afternoon. This may sound like a weird thing to eat but it was my favorite food at the time, and I looked forward to eating that sandwich every day. I often think about my great-grandmother whenever I see cans of condensed milk at the grocery store, and remember the times I spent on her lap, both of us moving to the rhythm of her rocking chair while I ate my sandwich. I miss my great-grandmother; she passed away when I was 12 years old.

The neighborhood has changed dramatically since my last visit. The most dramatic change is the height of the homes – back then houses were one story or two stories tall at the most. Now it looks like contest for the tallest building: most of the houses are now two or three stories tall, sometimes even four, with many yards being swallowed up and becoming part of the house. Yards have been replaced by rooftop terraces made of concrete or brick that provide little shade during the heat of the day. However, rooftop terraces can make pretty cool party venues at night, and this is where my Grandma’s party was held.

In a way the party was like a mini-family reunion. I got a chance to meet relatives I never knew I had and got reacquainted with ones I haven’t seen in over 19 years. The last time I saw my cousin Patricia she was only a toddler, and my cousin Gladys wasn’t even a year old yet. Now they are educated ladies, Patricia having just graduated recently from college and studying for her NCLEX certification for nursing and Gladys starting her last year of college at University of the East this month. I also met cousins Benjie, Boggs, and Ira for the first time, after years of seeing their pictures at my Grandma’s house. I caught up with my aunts Anna, Malou, Jing, and Lala, who used to babysit me during school holidays and vacations, and who remember me as a scrawny eight year old kid that liked to climb trees and hated afternoon naps.

Despite the rain showers that appeared just after dinner was finished, the party was a success. Everyone, including the DJ hired for the occasion, moved downstairs where my Grandma blew out her birthday cake. I am already looking forward to seeing her on her 80th birthday party in 2013.

More pictures here.

Friday, June 6, 2008


When I was a kid living in the Philippines, my favorite place to visit was Baguio. Baguio is a popular vacation destination for Filipinos, a city nestled atop mountains in northern Luzon. The city was constructed as a mountain retreat by US military forces back in the 1900s and still serves as the primary training camp for the Philippine National Army. During WWII Camp John Hay served as the headquarters for the invading Japanese forces.

At 10 years old I remember boarding a bus for an eight-hour ride from Manila. It was a fancy bus – we took the one with air conditioning and a TV, which, back in those days, was a VERY BIG DEAL. I don’t remember which movie we saw but I was transfixed by the fact that we were watching a movie! They could’ve shown us a movie of someone reading the telephone book and it would still have a magical effect on me. I am easily impressed.

The reason I liked Baguio so much is because it was so unlike Manila. Up in the mountains, the air was clean and crisp. The temperature was cold enough to wear a sweater, something that hardly ever happens in heat and humidity of Manila, where tank tops and shorts were my daily uniform. You could go horseback riding in a park, and afterwards you could shop for strawberries and strawberry jam. Best of all, you could see Igorot (indigenous people who live in the area) up close and even take a picture with one of them. These are the things that made Baguio exciting for me as a kid; this, along with the extended family and friends that would always accompany us on the trip. For me, going there was like combining my birthday and Christmas into one weekend, and I counted down the days to our departure.

During my recent trip to the Philippines, we visited Baguio overnight and stayed at an enormous house – it was comprised of three levels with four bedrooms on each floor. It was actually a company house for my dad’s high school friend, who kindly drove us to Baguio and all over Manila during our stay (thanks Tito Larry!).

Given my wonderful memories of the place, I was disappointed to find that it did not live up to my expectations. Gone is the Baguio of long ago, with lots of open space and beautiful parks. In its place is a city with too many jeepneys, tricycles, houses, and people. It feels like many parts of the city had fallen into disrepair and lost its glory, chief among them Burnham Park (named after the American architect who planned the city). I don’t recall the park being so small but it was, and we circled the entire place in about half an hour.

After walking the park, we visited the area where you could rent horses and ponies by the hour. This is where I rode my first horse as a kid, and have always stopped by every time I visited Baguio. This time I didn’t feel like riding the horses because they looked so sad, and also because only kids were riding horses at the time. All the adults were on the sidelines watching their kids, making me feel too old to ride.

At the end of the night, we had dinner at the SM Mall overlooking Burnham Park. Have I mentioned how many malls there are in the Philippines? Everywhere I went in Manila there was a mall not too far away, which I’m convinced is the reason why Manila has so little green space. It’s a shame really, having so many of these concrete structures mar the natural beauty of the place. It’s not that I’m against malls – I do live in SoCal after all, and there are many malls where I live – but I like them spaced apart enough to allow room for parks and gardens. In Baguio the SM Mall is built atop a hill overlooking Burnham Park and the city center, which if you ask me, ruins the scenery.

The next day we drove around Baguio and stopped by Mines View Park to admire the view. From the vantage point you could see several small rice terraces, with the granddaddy of them all, Banaue, about four hours northwest by car. Nearby is Good Shepherd’s Convent, were the nuns sell strawberry jam, peanut brittle and ube (sweet purple yam) to help welfare programs overseen by the convent. We always buy our jam at Good Shepherd’s not only because it goes towards a good cause but also because it’s the best jam in all of Baguio. We also stopped by Camp John Hay to walk amongst tanks and other weapons from left over from WWII.

Right now it’s the beginning of the rainy season in the Philippines, and that means rain every afternoon in Baguio. After visiting Camp John Hay we called it a day, right as the raindrops started to fall. The rain reflected how I felt about seeing Baguio again – it brought tears to my eyes, like seeing an old friend wasting away, becoming a remnant of their former self.

Click here for more pictures.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Can’t Escape the Bright Lights

Living in LA and working in the entertainment industry, I have seen my share of movie sets and celebrities. I’m not one of those jaded types from LA who are, like, so over celebrities – seeing them does get me excited, and I try not to make a fool out of myself. I try not to make a big deal of their presence and treat them like normal people, although it is hard to act that way when you are standing only a few feet from George Clooney, shooting hoops between takes of Ocean’s 13. (Sadly, Brad Pitt wasn’t there but I did glimpse Matt Damon at the cafeteria another day.)

While on vacation I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a prime-time soap called My Girl is filmed in my hotel’s lobby and mezzanine. This is a Philippine version of a popular Korean soap opera of the same title. (Korean and Spanish soaps, both dubbed in Tagalog, are a big hit in the Philippines. Seeing Mexican actress Thalia speak Tagalog is hysterical!) The main characters are named Jasmine and Julian, with the roles played by up-and-coming actors Kim Chiu and Gerald Anderson. I haven’t seen very much Filipino television except for game shows (Wowowee) and a soap called Lobo on The Filipino Channel, so I had no idea who these guys were. My relatives, on the other hand, knew all about them and were thrilled to learn that they were filming in our hotel. They’d visit on filming days and disappear for hours at a time to watch the actors perform their scenes. They even got to ride up the elevator with Gerald Anderson, and now my nieces have a crush on him.

On the first day of filming I was typing away on my laptop, feverishly answering e-mails and balancing my checkbook before my battery ran out. The hotel promised broadband access in every room but in reality WiFi was limited to the lobby area (grrrr). I’m usually in pajamas or in sweats when I surf the net, meaning I look like a total slob, so when the film crew arrived to set up the lighting equipment and shoot scenes I looked like I was part of the production team with my thick glasses and a grungy tank top. That’s probably why they didn’t make me move from my spot in the corner of the lobby, a place where I watched all the scenes being acted out without being in the camera’s range.

A few days later I watched the show and saw a 20-second scene that took them an hour to film, along with scenes filmed the following day. Even though I had nothing to do with the finished product it still felt nice to witness those moments and talk to my cousins and their kids about the experience.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

It’s All Fun and Games until Jetlag Smacks You in the Face

Going to Manila was fun – I got to experience my childhood home once again, after being away for 19 years. The city has certainly changed, both in good and bad ways, and places I remembered from childhood seemed less impressive after all those years. About the only thing that didn’t change is the abundance of great food, especially green mangoes and halo-halo (Filipino dessert made out of crushed ice and 1,000 other ingredients mixed together). I had a good time overall and was glad to be heading home after two weeks.

The flight back was pretty uneventful, spiced up by some turbulence on the flight from Seoul to LAX. Unlike boats and other watercraft, airplane turbulence doesn’t give me motion sickness. Get a couple of waves under a boat, though, and I turn green. (I have to take Dramamine for most boat rides.) The flight home was also spiced up by a passenger wearing the most ridiculous outfit: a black and white velour sweatsuit with “babe” written on the backside, punctuated by a diamond-encrusted belly ring protruding from her big gut. It was impossible not to notice this woman as she made her way through the transfer terminal in Seoul. Hey, if you want to get noticed this is the thing to wear, and it screams “I am five years behind trends and I am oblivious!”

I got back on Sunday, and thankfully had the next two days off from work. It’s amazing the amount of things that need to get done on “days off”, and I am always exhausted on days like these. For starters, there was loads of laundry that needed to be washed – not just from the trip but dirty clothes that accumulated before taking off for Manila. Then there were the appointments to see the dentist, to get my hair cut (see Picture of the Day above), followed by a million errands. Somehow I also managed to squeeze in a 5-mile run on each day, leaving me exhausted yet unable to get a full nights’ rest due to jet lag. My body’s crazy – I cannot carry on a coherent conversation after 8 pm but I am wide awake ready to face the day at 3 am. I will probably have sleep issues for the rest of the week, which is inevitable when you come back from a place that is 15 hours ahead.

I have five belated posts still to come from my trip to the Philippines, which I will start posting tomorrow. Honestly, there were so many places to go and people to see during my time in Manila, and I am surprised that I have not yet crawled under my desk for a nap after all this.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Mango Picking

A week after arriving in Manila, my dad’s high school friends scheduled a visit to a mango orchard to pick green mangoes. I’m unsure if anyone outside the Philippines eats green mangoes – they are the raw version of the sweet and soft fruit that everyone knows and loves. I think Filipinos have a deep love for things sour and salty, and this definitely fits the bill. Green mangoes are crispy, sour, and go great with rock salt or bagoong. (Bagoong is a salty shrimp paste consumed all over SE Asia and may be seasoned with different flavors. I like mine salty and spicy, and I am lucky that I can purchase this at my local Asian market in LA.) I am salivating right now just thinking about it.

This is the first time I’ve ever gone mango picking and didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be easy pickings (as in no ladders or climbing required) but it turns out that mature mango trees can be tall, and sometimes you need to use a sunkit (a long piece of bamboo with a metal hook and net) or climb the tree to get the ones at the top:

That’s my dad up on the mango tree, showing off his mad climbing skills.

My dad’s high school classmate’s family (whew, say that three times fast) took great care of us, preparing such delicious meals that we were thoroughly stuffed by the time we left. My Aunt Dolly may kill me for saying this, but they made the best dinuguan I have ever tasted:

Everyone who came was grateful for the experience. We were given all of the mangoes we picked. My parents and I picket a basketful of mangoes each, and gave most of them away to friends and family who come to visit us. Of course, we made sure to save a few for ourselves and had a ball eating them during our stay.

Click here to see more pictures.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


My flight to the Philippines was spectacularly uneventful. I flew Singapore Airlines from LAX to Manila, and I think I found my favorite airline. The flights were organized and on-time, the seats comfortable, and the flight attendants helpful and courteous. Honestly, I could not have asked for a better airline to fly for 16-hours: 12 from LAX to Singapore, and another four from Singapore to Manila.

On my third day here, I signed up for a tour of Manila’s historic Intramuros district with Carlos Celdran, possibly Manila’s most entertaining tour guide. He’s featured on the Lonely Planet guide to the Philippines and other publications, as has been featured on several travel shows. I highly recommend signing up for one of Carlos’ tours if you are ever in Manila. His enthusiasm and love for Manila is infectious.

Intramuros is a walled fortress on the mouth of the Pasig River, which from inception served as the residence of the Spanish ruling class. Within the walls are government buildings, hospitals, and stately homes from the Spanish and American colonial period. It's Manila's historic heart, and a great starting point for the tour.

We met at San Agustin church, the only surviving church from Manila’s Spanish colonial period, was built in 1606. During this period a total of seven churches were built by the Dominican priests, but only San Agustin survived the bombing of Manila during WWII, as well as several earthquakes. It’s interesting to note that the Philippines has no natural building materials aside from bamboo, and the church is made out of volcanic ash mixed with dirt. According to Carlos, our tour guide, the materials used is like building a church made out of sponge cake, and it is truly miraculous that it has survived this long.

During the tour I learned that the Philippines is the link between the Far East and Europe – because of the trade route, many cultures settled here along with the Spanish, most notably the Chinese from Guangzhou and Muslims from Indonesia and Malaysia. Here are other interesting bits:

- Spain didn’t really colonize us, it was the priests running the show. To Spain we were at the edge of the world and most of the governors who came to the islands were brought here as punishment and were only allowed a single term of two years – which includes the time it took to make it over here. Of course, none of these governors were effective as they were ushered out almost as soon as they arrived here. It was the priests that ruled the Philippines – they erected churches and brought Catholicism to the masses. They spoke to the natives in their own language, thus ensuring survival of Tagalog and many regional dialects.

- We were purchased for a total of $20M along with Guam and Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War. We were an American colony from 1898 until 1945 or so, after the end of WWII.

- During the American colonial period we were considered the Pearl of the Orient because of the beautiful city of Manila. During this period, trade flourished between Europe and Southeast Asia, and we were the gateway to Asia. There were many beautiful Art Deco buildings erected in Manila during this time, most of which perished during the bombing of Manila during WWII.

It’s been a while since I’ve been in a tropical country, and the heat is staggering. It’s absolutely sweltering here in Manila. Every time I go outside I get sticky within 15 minutes, and I have to shower at least once a day now. Even my hair is up in arms – every time I curl it or style it, it gets frizzy after an hour and it ends up in a bun at the end of the day. It’s gotten to the point now where I don’t even bother fixing it anymore and just wear it in a bun or ponytail.

More to come regarding the trip to Manila. Pictures from the tour are posted here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Still Here

Dear Internet,
I am still alive! It's been a hectic week since I arrived in Manila, and I have not had any time to myself. I promise that several posts are forthcoming, all in various stages of completion. In the meantime here are views from my hotel:

More posts and pictures coming soon...

Monday, May 12, 2008

Malibu Creek Trail Run

Compared to the disastrous race at Santa Monica the weekend prior, last weekend’s Malibu Creek race was an absolute joy to run. Well, as joyful as it can be at the crack of down on Saturday morning. There's a certain satisfaction derived from finishing a race before most people even wake up.

There were actually two types of races that day: 14-mile or 4-mile, and both have a little bit of Hollywood history. The 14-mile trail takes runners through old, bombed-out jeeps and trucks from the outdoor set of M*A*S*H. The 4-mile race climbs up a single-track trail that descends into Cage Creek Trail, where the cage scene from 1968’s Planet of the Apes was filmed.

Old M*A*S*H set

Photo courtesy of

Scene from Planet of the Apes, 1968

Photo courtesy of

I ran the 4-mile race with Rene and May. It was a challenging course with a steep hill in the middle, but fun at the same time because the course went downhill (as in descent, not as in "got much worse") after that. There were no snafus with the course, unlike last time, and the scenery was breathtaking.

I was more prepared this time around and brought a change of clothes and a warm vest with me to wear after the race. They served orange and watermelon slices (soooo good!), croissants, donuts (courtesy of Krispy Kreme), and scrambled eggs. I know that doesn’t sound very healthy but it tasted so yummy after running a race like that.

We stuck around and watched the end of the 14-mile race, where the first place finisher came in at 1 hour, 39 minutes. That’s an average of 7 minutes a mile despite a gigantic 3-mile incline in the middle. I averaged about 9 minutes a mile in my race but my incline wasn’t nearly as tough – I think I ran about a mile uphill with the rest divided between flat and downhill surfaces. Overall, I enjoyed this race very much, and will probably be running it next year.

More pictures here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Manila, Manila

Manila, Manila
I keep coming back to Manila
Simply no place like Manila
Manila, I'm coming home

For the past two days that song’s been stuck in my head, if only because I‘ll be coming back to Manila in less than a week’s time. After today, I have three work days left before I go on vacation. Whoo hoo!

I was born in the Philippines and spent part of my childhood there. My family immigrated to California when I was eight years old. I haven’t been back to visit the Philippines in almost 20 years – the last time I was there was 1989. That is a LONG time to go without a visit, especially since the most of my mom and dad’s family still live there. We are traveling there next week celebrate my Grandma’s 75th birthday and to visit relatives that we haven’t seen in years (some I’ve never met – both my parents come from big families, my dad being the second of six children and my mom being the 12th of 13. That is a whole lot of family.)

I am also visiting to learn about the country and my heritage. I’ve been living in California for most of my life and I was educated here – because of this I think I am more culturally American than Filipino. I can understand the language perfectly but speaking it is a challenge. I struggle with putting sentences together because I have to translate my thoughts from English (YES, your thoughts have a language!), and because I fear looking stupid I second-guess myself and revise what I’m going to say over and over before it even comes out. I know little about Philippine history and only know about traditions that I’ve seen in my family. This gives me an uneasy feeling because I don’t know where I belong in the scheme of things. I think foreign-born children who grow up in the US or who are born here to immigrant parents go through this dilemma – an uncertainty about belonging to a native country.

All this nervousness aside, I am looking forward to my trip. I am especially looking forward to the food – exotic fruits and vegetables not sold here such as lanzones and green mangoes and snacks/sweets from childhood that you can only get in Manila (pastillas and fishballs). I am also looking forward to reacquainting myself with a city (have I mentioned that the third largest mall in the world is in Manila?) and a country that I’m certain has changed tremendously during the last 20 years.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Internet Has Spoken, and It Wants Me to Cut Mah Herr

A few weeks ago I asked the Internet to help me decide on whether or not to cut my hair. A lot of time has passed since my disastrous Florence Henderson (aka Carol Brady) back in 2006, and well, it’s about time for a change. Of the seven of you that voted, four of you said that I should cut my hair during the summer, one of you said that I should cut my hair after reaching my 5K goal time of 19:55, and two of you said that I should keep my hair the way it is (or rather, stop messing with your hair already). Internet, I am a woman of my word, and I will be scheduling an appointment with my stylist in about a month or so to get either this cut:

Or this cut:

Since I don’t know which cut will go better with my hair texture/type I am bringing both of these photos in and asking my stylist which cut suits me. Communication is key! Hair takes time to grow back, and getting the wrong cut can mean months of misery. I’ll keep you posted with the results.

6/3/08 Update: See result here. I love my stylist!

Speaking of haircuts, guess who is getting one this weekend? I'll give you a hint: he’s an adorable guy who loves to go on long walks, cuddle in bed, and is not afraid to show his feelings:

He’s been shedding these past few weeks, leaving little tufts of red fur wherever he lays down. His coat is getting a too thick and heavy for summer, and it would be nice to see him like this again:

He's not getting a cut as short as this (due to a miscommunication with his groomer, which you can read about here and here) but you will see a big difference. Cute, no? He transforms from a little bear to a little lamb. I think it's much easier for him to sport this cut during the summer as it gets very hot here in LA, especially for a dog that loves to stay indoors.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Santa Monica Classic

I’ve been looking forward to running the Santa Monica Classic 5K for the last two weeks. To prepare for the race Rene and I have incorporated speed in our workouts, and made sure to work on our pace by running 1-mile repeats during the week. I was on target to run the race in 24 minutes, a pace of eight minutes/mile. I was even hoping to go below 24, if I felt good towards the end of the race, by picking it up on the last mile and finishing in 23:30. That was my plan, and on the morning of the race I expected to see either 23:30 or 24 minutes on the clock next to the finish line.

The race was staggered according to mile times: there were pace leaders holding signs for different times, and I got behind the one for 8 minutes. At the start of the race I felt good and surged ahead of the pace leader, hoping to run a faster time. I felt pretty good during the first two miles: I was relaxed and running a consistent pace around eight minutes/mile, and approached two-mile marker in 16 minutes. At the start of the third mile I picked up the pace, but saved some energy for the finish, in which I would go for broke and use up all the energy and speed I had.

After passing California Street, which was supposed to be the turnaround point (both the 5K and 10K races use the same course, with a turnaround point for the 5K race), I became a little worried but thought that the organizers had moved the finish a few blocks away, probably due to traffic and/or pedestrians in Santa Monica. When I still didn’t see a SIGN or a PERSON directing runners after the fourth traffic light (and the people ahead of me still running straight ahead – keep in mind that only the 5K was being run at this time, the 10K race hadn’t even started yet), I asked the people next to me if they knew where we should turn around for the finish. I told them the course map said we should’ve turned at California Street, and after a few seconds of thinking about it we turned around and hurried towards the finish. At this point I was starting to get upset – we ran longer than a 5K but didn’t know how much we overshot. It seemed like an eternity to the finish, a finish line that was poorly marked and overcrowded. I was already SO OVER that ridiculous race that I didn’t even bother to sprint to the finish. What was the point? The course wasn’t marked, so the times and rankings were off, depending on when people turned around for the finish. My time at the finish line was 30:04, and after I cleared the chute I was STEAMING – I was pissed at the race organizers for doing such a poor job and not making it clear to the runners where they were supposed to go. And it wasn’t just me – EVERYONE was pissed because their times were off. Even the pace leaders ran further than 5K due to lack of signage/direction – the same pace leaders who were supposed to know the course and guide runners.

The organizers really blew it. What was the point of having people run a race if they couldn’t stand by the accuracy of the distance, time, and ranking? Lots of people, myself included, care about that information. That information helps determine if the workouts we had the week prior helped, and what the goal time should be in the next race. Worst of all, it was my first race of the season, and I was so disappointed that it went so disastrously. I have never before run a race where runners were not given proper instructions. That being said, I don’t think I’ll be running this race again next year. It’s a shame, really, that it worked out this way. It’s the charity that benefited from the race, Heal the Bay, that’s going to suffer next year and not the organizers.

The race expo was held in the Santa Monica pier. Rene, May and I drowned our sorrows in free food, drinks, and race swag. We walked away with some nice things: a dri-fit race shirt and socks from Nike, reusable (and compact) grocery bags from Heal the Bay, and all the Powerade and Volvic water we could get our hands on. (We felt pretty slighted by the race organizers so we took a LOT – we now have enough drinks to last us a week.) About an hour after into the expo the race the results were posted, WHICH WAS STUPID AND BOGUS, and I came in 279th place at a pace of 7:34/mile (the pace time was based everyone running four miles instead of 3.1 miles – but who’s to say everyone ran four miles? I probably ran close to four miles though.). I don’t know why they even bothered posting the results because you couldn’t trust one piece of information on that paper except your name and age. The finish time, rank, and pace were all WAGs (Wild Ass Guesses) – it’s a wonder people didn’t riot and beat up the organizers then and there. I was too hopped up on Powerade and bananas to care.

More pictures here.

I am running another race next weekend in Malibu Creek. It’s a 4-mile course with this crazy hill in the middle, a hill that might surprise people who don’t expect it. I ran this course a few weeks ago with Rene and May, and even though the hill is only about half a mile long, it’s narrow and steep and feels like it goes on forever. The only thing I’m asking for next weekend is for the race organizers to have their act together. The last thing I need is to run up another hill that's not part of the course.



On Monday afternoon I found this message on the race website:

As many of you know, the turnaround marker on the 5K was set in the wrong place for some time during the race, and many of you were forced to run almost 7K. The runners in the Santa Monica Classic have justifiably come to expect a high level of service, and it's my job to provide you with a well-marked course. I obviously didn't do that today, and you can blame me for that.

By the time we corrected it 300-500 runners were affected.
As for the results, we've extrapolated everyone's 5K time based on their per-mile pace. While this may not be entirely accurate, it gives a fairly close approximation of the time you would have run had the course been properly marked. Please accept my apologies, and I'd be happy to extend a $10 credit for next year's race if you feel the event did not match your expectations. Heal the Bay thanks you for you support, and we hope to see you back next year.


Peter Abraham
Race Director
Santa Monica Classic

I looked up the "official" results, which weren't any different from Sunday morning, except for one glaring mistake:

According to the results, my husband Rene is a female that finished first in his age division! Ha ha! He did pretty well on the race, finishing 45th overall and 5th in his age division. Since the results are rubbish, it remains to be seen if they'll send him a medal for finishing first in the 30-34 FEMALE division.