Kowloon and Hong Kong Island

December 3-6, 2015After spending an overwhelming part of the year preparing for the bar exams and actually taking them through November, a trip to Hong Kong (probably the nearest foreign destination for residents of Manila) seemed to be a great idea, at least for someone like me who enjoys traveling.

It had been four years since my last trip to Hong Kong with my family and much of it was spent in HK Disneyland. For the first two days of this particular sojourn, I had the privilege of going about my way alone, unhampered by any packaged itinerary or the whims of travel companions.

HK 13

Continue reading

Lamma Island, Hong Kong

December 4, 2015. Lamma Island is a short ferry ride from Hong Kong Island. One of Hong Kong’s less inhabited and less visited islands, it usually attracts local Hong Kong residents and tourists who wish to escape the intensely cosmopolitan vibe of the city.

There are two charming villages on the island bound together by a trail that crosses through a small range of hills running north to south of the island. Aside from an imposing and ubiquitous power plant that seemed out of place, the island was indeed a serene escape from the bustling commercial activities of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

I arrived just in time for lunch at the village of Yung Shue Wan at the northern part of the island. After a hearty meal of succulent shrimps cooked in scrambled eggs, I wandered about the quaint community, walked to a beach called Hung Shing Yeh, and then trekked through the “family trail” that traversed the rolling hills of the island southwards to the fishing village of Sok Kwu Wan.

Tokyo with Family (Day 3)

April 4, 2015. Our third day in Japan was spent with a tour group with a half-day itinerary to two of the city’s iconic landmarks — Tokyo Tower (東京タワー) and Meiji Shrine (明治神宮). In between, our shuttle made brief drive throughs of other landmarks in the city.

In Meiji Shrine we were fortunate to have witnessed a wedding ceremony and a miyamairi (宮参り, literally “shrine visit”) a traditional Shinto rite of passage for Japanese babies.

Continue reading

Tokyo with Family (Day 1)

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.

Continue reading

Backpacking Taipei (Day 3)

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.

Backpacking Taipei (Day 2)

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.

Continue reading

The Big Binondo Food Wok

There’s always something fascinating I find with Binondo. Its being Manila’s Chinatown definitely sets it apart from the city’s other districts, it almost feels like another foreign place, but then it’s just unmistakably very Manila. The Big Binondo Food Wok is one of the “walking tours” of Old Manila Walks conducted by Ivan Mandy. The tour takes guests around the streets of Chinatown and allows them to take in the sights and sounds while enriching one’s mind with bits of history lessons and trivia and while nibbling on unique Binondo treats.

Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09)

The tour started off with a brief introductory history lesson at Plaza Calderon dela Barca, which was continued across the street at the historic Binondo Church. Ironically, as Ivan Mandy points out, the baroque Catholic cathedral is Chinatown’s most prominent landmark. It, however, features a bell tower that has pagoda-like characteristics.

The first food stop was Eng Bee Tin‘s second-floor cafe, which is also called the volunteer firemen’s coffee shop. The cafe pays tribute to the volunteer firemen of Chinatown. The earnings of the place are donated to the firemen. There, we had kiampong or salted rice, which didn’t turn out to be that salty, but really tasty nonetheless, eaten together with fishball soup.

The next food stop was Dong Bei Dumplings, the now acclaimed hole-in-the-wall restaurant of a couple from Northern China which serves authentic Chinese cuisine distinct from the Canton-type of Chinese food most of us are familiar with. Guests will be served, well, dumplings. I’ve been to the place twice before, so I knew what was coming. Nonetheless, Dong Bei dumplings are always a unique treat.

Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09)

Walking a few blocks from Dong Bei, guests will be treated to tea eggs from a stall along Salazar Street. It’s the first time I tried these eggs out. Tea eggs are made by boiling the eggs in a mixture of special tea leaves and soy sauce for at least two days.

Another block from the stall selling tea eggs, we were treated to siopao with a fried bottom at another stall. The siopao had a filling of ground pork and chives, which tasted similar to the dumplings we had in Dong Bei, instead of the usual asado or bola-bola.

A few meters from the stall, we were treated to hopia from Ho-Land Bakery. (I’m not that much of a fan of hopia so I stepped out and just took street pictures).

The last stop was an eatery inside an art-deco building along Quintin Paredes, where we were treated to a different kind of fresh lumpia. By that time, I was already quite full, as would perhaps any other guest after indulging in the previous treats. Anyway, the lumpia filling was made up of finely chopped carrots, and other vegetables, and oddly enough, sugar.

Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09) Big Binondo Food Wok (Aug. 15, '09)

The tour appears to be largely catered to foreign tourists (or perhaps because the tour group I was with was composed mostly of foreigners), and Filipinos who are unfamiliar with Binondo and Chinese food. For those who have been to Binondo a couple of times before, and are expecting to see and taste things they haven’t tried before, the hopia, lumpia or siopao might not be that exciting. I was personally expecting something more daring and unfamiliar. Notwithstanding that, the rest of the tour is highly enjoyable and informative. One of the best things, for me, is that you can have second servings of the food. You may contact Old Manila Walks through their contact page.