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 www.malibucreekdocents.com

Scene from Planet of the Apes, 1968

Photo courtesy of www.movieprop.com

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.

Friday, May 2, 2008

These Dirty Flats Never Looked So Good

Aww yeah.

I just dug up my old racing flats from the garage last night, and I am planning to use them for the 5K race I am running on Sunday. It’s been 12 years since I ran a race.

I’m excited and nervous at the same time. I’ve been running for the past month or so, and while I have been getting better I’m nowhere near the shape I was when I ran cross country in college. Back then I ran anywhere from four to eight miles a day, and I remember being physically exhausted most days. But I also remember fun times – cross country season was like one long field trip. Most days we would run on trails around the college, and some days we would take the college vans or the bus (which we called the “people mover”) out to different places, just because we were feeling bored that day. We raced all over southern California, traveling as far north as Santa Maria and as far south as San Diego. Back then I cared more about the camaraderie and the new places we visited, and my race times got lower as the season progressed, which was an added bonus.

Now I am in competition with my younger self, and am hoping that I can finish the race less than 24 minutes. That’s an average of 8 minutes a mile, which is roughly the same time I finished my first race of the season 12 years ago. I'll be wearing these old racing flats to help me remember the good ol' days and to bring me a little luck on race day.