April 2, 2015. My family visited Tokyo, Japan right at the peak of the year’s bloom of cherry blossoms (sakura 桜). Part of the awe of the spectacle is the transient nature of the full bloom of flowers, which only happens roughly within the span of a week or so at a particular place, which makes one cherish the experience even more. This likewise explains why upon arrival, hanami (花見) or viewing the cherry blossoms was the first thing our family did.
In fact, the short-lived character of the beautiful bloom symbolizes many aspects of the sakuras’ cultural significance to the Japanese, centered on the beauty of life and its many aspects and their fleeting existence to be relished at their peak.
By the end of our short 5-day trip, the bloom had waned and the flowers have started falling down.
We were fortunate enough to be billeted in a hotel within walking distance from one of the best places in Tokyo to view the cherry blossoms, Chidorigafuchi (千鳥ヶ淵), or the moat the surrounds the northeastern part of the Imperial Palace.
As with any scenery that have been become familiar not by actual sight but by dominant cultural portrayal and association in visual media, seeing the cherry blossoms of Tokyo for the first time in person was a surreal experience. The trees in full bloom was indeed a sight to behold, especially as set against the cosmopolitan vibe of Tokyo.
December 10, 2014. Jiufen (九份), an hour by train and bus from Taipei, is a small mountain town with a network of streets and alleys with steps that run up and down the slopes, adorned with red lanterns and lined with small shops and tea houses.
To get there, I took a train from Taipei to the town of Ruifang (瑞芳), and a short bus ride up the mountains to Jiufen.
The picturesque town, with a good view of the Pacific Ocean at some points, served as the inspirational setting for two iconic films — Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film “Spirited Away” and the Taiwanese historical drama “A City of Sadness”. I’ve seen both films so this particular day trip was awesome.
I returned to Taipei just before sunset. My last few hours in Taiwan was perfectly punctuated by a climb to Elephant Mountain (象山) which served perfect views of the city with the imposing Taipei 101, and dinner at a Korean barbecue restaurant in Ximending.
This wonderful short trip to Taiwan deserves a repeat, and I vowed to return.
December 9, 2014. First stop for the day was the Longshan Temple (艋舺龍山寺) of Taipei, one of the city’s oldest Buddhist temples. I made a visit in the morning and was able to witness residents pray. I am not familiar with the rituals but seeing locals conduct themselves in the temple was an interesting sight.
I then proceeded to the Huashan / Songshan Cultural and Creative Park 松山文創園區). It is an old tobacco factory that has been transformed into a culture and arts center where exhibits, performances and other cultural activities are held. However, at the time I visited, which was late in the morning, there didn’t seem to be any activity of sorts. Nevertheless, there were interesting shops and restaurants to visit.
For lunch, I went to Yong Kang Street (永康街) near Dongmen Station. This street is lined with different types of restaurants including one of Din Tai Fung’s original branches. I ended up having lunch at a restaurant (I forget now, I don’t take notes when I walk around) which served noodles and other Taiwanese staple. I had minced pork rice and shrimp rolls.
After strolling the entire length of the street, I decided to go to Da’an Park, just a train station away. It had already started raining when I got there so it wasn’t very ideal to go for a walk. I attempted hiring a bicycle but apparently, it required a registered card to hire. I wandered instead at the impressive train station of Da’an for a bit before taking the train to Tamsui.
December 8, 2014. I booked a plane ticket to Taipei much earlier this year, almost spontaneously, right after I decided to go on a trip to Cambodia. I had since then planned this trip to cap my year, just right after classes in law school ended for 2014.
I arrived in Taipei (Taoyuan Airport) from a red-eye flight just past midnight. With my check-in time at the hotel more than half a day away, I decided to wait until morning at the airport. It was a silly decision (not to book the night at the hotel to cut cost), as I realized no amount of being spendthrift could replace a good night’s rest in bed, no matter how short, if I intended to walk all day the next day. By sunrise, I felt so tired from the lack of sleep.
At the break of dawn, I took the bus from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei central station. I got myself a three-day pass in the Taipei Metro, then rode the train to Ximending district and asked my hotel if I could check in much much earlier. Fortunately, a room was ready and they accommodated me at no extra charge. I ended up sleeping the whole morning.
By noon, I rose up to begin ‘exploring’ Taipei’s landmarks. Availing of the Taipei Metro pass was a great decision, as the trains were a very convenient way to get to all the interesting parts of the city.
It was an overcast day, but I wasn’t going to let that ruin my first full day in Taipei.
Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Chiang Kai Shek is the leader of the Kuomintang (KMT) and the President of the Republic of China (ROC) who established the ROC government in Taiwan after KMT’s defeat by the Communists in the mainland. The memorial hall itself is only part of the larger public square called Freedom/Liberty Park which has two Chinese theaters, beautifully manicured gardens and a uniquely-designed gate.
April 23-28, 2014
. The past days have been a blur. At the heels of a week-long trip to Australia, I had not fully recovered from disorientation. I had not taken a lot of pictures the past days because my phone’s screen was already a mosaic of shattered pieces of glass precariously held together by some inherent Samsung adhesive, and one crack had covered the front camera. And aside from that, I have been un-inspired, suffering from a specie of ennui the past weeks. I’m not sure why, and I don’t really want to answer the question.
Together with my incoming and outgoing co-officers in the student council, we went to San Juan, Batangas for a beach outing, right before some of us flew to Zamboanga to attend the national convention of the Association of Law Students of the Philippines (ALSP). The trip to Batangas was a comfortable one. I ended up with a big bruise on my buttocks after falling off from the staircase, but it was all fine. The trip to Zamboanga on the other hand was punctuated by such an uncomfortable bus ride from Dipolog to Zamboanga City as we traversed Zamboanga peninsula in an effort to board our flight back to Manila.
April 19, 2014. It was our last full day in Australia. We had booked a city tour of Melbourne, and the guides took us to the standard sights around downtown Melbourne, including some shopping arcades. We were eventually dropped off at Victoria Markets, somewhere uptown. That afternoon was spent packing up for our trip back home. With a whole night to spare, I decided to take a walk, as I often do, around downtown, for a few hours that night.
April 18, 2014. The ten-hour train ride to Melbourne went by quickly as we slept through it during the night. We woke up on a Good Friday morning in Melbourne, our hotel just almost across the train station. Upon checking in, I took a walk around downtown by myself, as I often do, only returning to the hotel to join my family for lunch. I took another walk that afternoon after taking a nap, that time taking my little sister with me. Since it was Good Friday holiday, most of the establishments were closed. I was guessing the number of people in the streets that day, numerous as it seems to be at times, was less than normal.
April 17, 2014. Greeted Mama with a birthday cake as soon as I woke up. I had secretly bought one the night before when I went out with a friend. It was our last day in Sydney, and we had the day to ourselves, no tours booked whatsoever. Guided with GPS and Google Maps powered by prepaid mobile internet on my phone, we wandered around downtown Sydney, did a few shopping, before hopping on our ten-hour train to Melbourne.
April 16, 2014. We were booked on a tour to the Blue Mountains, a national park west of Sydney. Spectacular views. We were likewise brought to a small zoo where we were able to interact with some kangaroos, koalas and emus. Instead of taking the road back to Sydney, we were ferried on a, well, ferry along the Parramatta River as the sun was setting down. I met up with a childhood friend and her sister for a night out in Sydney.