Monday, March 28, 2011

How did I live without them for 20 years?

Post #3 on the Philippines

My Spring Break 2011 began around 9pm on Thursday, March 10th.  I was headed to the Philippines a couple days before my friends to visit some family.  This would be my second time to visit.  My first time was when I was 8 years old and I was with my mom, so you can imagine I had some feelings about it.  On my 2 hour voyage to the airport via public transportation to catch my 1:15am flight, I had so many thoughts running through my head.  "What will I talk about with them?"  "Do they remember me?"  "What will we do?"  "Is their English good?"  "I wish my mom was here!"  etc...  I wouldn't say I was nervous, more like anxious and excited.  I really had no idea what to expect.  I think my family in the US could've been more excited than I was considering about 7 of them called within the first 2 hours I was there.

I ended up having the most wonderful time with them and I was so sad to leave.  The first time I left the Philippines I cried the whole plane ride from Manila to Japan (sorry Mom).  I kept myself together this time, but I might've shed a tear.  This is my tribute to them.  Thank you for making my time there so enjoyable.  Miss you all!


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Top 10 Things You Must Do In Boracay Island, Philippines

Post #2 on the Philippines.  (more soon on time with family and other adventures)

I don't want to write a novel about my week long experience in Boracay with all the indifferent details, and I can guess you probably don't want to read that.  Instead, I really like how my friend Kira did her post to summarize so I'm going to steal her idea of "Top 10".  You can check out her blog post on our trip here!

In summary, this is how I spent my trip, but I know that there is so much more to do!  I had an amazing time.

10.  Explore the different modes of Filipino transportation

There are a few modes of transportation that are pretty unique to the Philippines.  The first is the tricycle.  The tricycles in the Philippines consist of a motorcycle with a side-car attached for passengers.  They're super cheap and so much fun for traveling short distances.  When we first arrived in Boracay, we fit 5 people into one with all of our luggage to go to our hostel!  We were pretty uncomfortable, but it's part of the experience, right?  Kira and I were really struggling in the back trying to keep our luggage in while trying to stay in ourselves.

The second unusual form of transportation is the Jeepney.  The concept isn't that weird; it's kind of like a bus.  What sets it apart is the colorful and ostentatious decorations on all of them!  They're know to be extremely crowded.  I didn't actually get to ride one while I was there, but they have become a staple of the Philippines and they are everywhere.  They date back all the way to WWII and were originally made from left over US military jeeps.

9.  Stay at Frendz Resort

I definitely think that one reason we enjoyed our trip so much was due to our accommodation.  The people at Frendz are indescribable.  It felt like home from the second we got there.  They learned all of our names and we received complementary drinks upon arrival.  Breakfast was always one of my favorite parts of the day.  Not only because the food, service, and atmosphere at the hostel was great, but it's always nice to start off the day with a good gossip sesh with the girls :)

Mine and Cass's room.
Loving life with our complementary drinks.
The rooms.
Farewell picture.
8.  Be awed by the Boracay sunset

There is really no wrong way to view the sunset.  We enjoyed it in two ways: 1) while laying on the beach 2) renting a sailboat and sailing into the horizon.  I would absolutely recommend both.  I think the pictures can speak for themselves.

Terry, Me, Julie, Cass, Kira, Tim, and Emma about to sail into the sunset.

7.  Party the night away for an average of 80 pesos a drink

One thing absolutely fantastic about the Philippines is that everything is so cheap.  Spending 80 pesos on a mixed drink is less than $2 USD!  A lot of the clubs and bars were right along the beach so we definitely brought the party outside to dance in the sand.  I'm also pretty sure I now know what it feels like to be famous.  One night we met a group of at least 40 Filipino natives who were awestricken by me and my friends.  I felt like a celebrity being asked to take literally 50+ pictures with people.  We were the center of attention.  I mean how could we not be ;)

Me and the girls on the beach

There is also a well-known bar in Boracay called Cocomangas that has a challenge known as "Still Standing After 15..."  Basically you take 15 shots "for your country".  Your country gets a point on the scoreboard; you get a free t-shirt, your name on the wall, and a crazy hangover.  I opted not to partake in the challenge because there is no way I would still be standing.

Scoreboard.  USA is in 4th! woo!
The list of 15 shots.

6.  Have dinner on the beach while enjoying live music

For me, dinner was always the most relaxing part of the day.  The combination of good food, great company, sand between your toes, the sound of waves crashing, cool breeze, and serene live music was absolute perfection.

5.  Rent a boat with friends to snorkel around the island

Aquatic life amazes me.  It was great swimming and feeding hundreds of colorful fish!  We also stopped at a deserted island for a nice beachy photo shoot.

What's a vacation to a tropical island without a stereotypical jumping on the beach picture?

4.  ATV to the highest point to catch the view

Renting 4-wheelers was a great decision.  I love to go fast :)  We took them up to the highest point in Boracay.  The view was beautiful.  We ran into some monkeys that were very friendly, a little too friendly.  I thought they were going to steal my wallet.  Tim, Cass, and I also zip-lined through the jungle near the peak!

At the peak.  It was very windy up there.

3.  Get your money's worth at the shopping stalls

Shopping here was much different than shopping in Thailand.  It was nice not having the shopkeepers pester or push you to buy their items while you were looking around.  It was a much more relaxed and care-free experience, which made it so much more enjoyable.  The people were also very honest.  We never felt like we were getting ripped off.  Our fist day in Boracay, it was very rainy.  It dampened our clothes, but not our spirits!  We still went out there to hunt for the best bargains.  We were soaked after about 5 minutes.

2.  Eat mangoes every chance you get and drink the local beers

All I can say about this one is that they were amazing and I'm having withdrawls.  I probably had an average of 3 mangoes per day, including the dried mangoes I ate as well.  As for the beers, I don't even really like beer, but these were great!  There are three local beers that you can find all over the Philippines: San Miguel Light, San Miguel Pale Pilsen, and Red Horse "Extra Strong".  Plus, they were incredibly cheap (about $1 USD).  My favorite was the Pale Pilsen.

1.  Waste your day at the beach

Finally, there's nothing better to do than to strip out of your clothes and into your swim suit,  kick back in a beach chair, soak up the sun, and relaxxxxx.

That lady looks like she's chillin' on my shoulder.

Well, there you have it; 10 perfect ways to waste your time in Boracay.  I couldn't have asked for a better Spring Break.

Thanks to all my friends for taking/sharing all the pictures and for an unreal time in the Philippines.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Toast That Binds... Kinship, Friendship, Partnership

Hahaha.  Cheesy title, I know, but it is the slogan of the Ya Kun Kaya Toast Coffeestall.  I went there on Sunday afternoon for breakfast with some friends (we slept in a bit because we just arrived back from the Philippines the night before).  The company was founded in 1944 by 15 year old Loi Ah Koon who immigrated from China to Singapore.  He was a determined entrepreneur and began selling coffee, tea, egg, and toast.  People loved it and they kept coming back for more.  The company has since flourished with over 30 locations in Singapore (that's a lot considering how small Singapore is), with other locations in Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.  It has become the "traditional Singaporean breakfast".  I see all the locals eat it so I really wanted to try it.  They have the same items at our canteens on campus, but I wanted the authentic version from where it all started.

The breakfast consists of:  2 soft-boiled eggs, toast with butter and kaya (a local spread of egg and coconut), and Singaporean-style coffee or tea.  The coffee is VERY sweet for coffee and it actually doesn't really taste like coffee to me, but it's not bad.  The tea always comes with milk and is also very sweet, unless you order tea "o" (pronunciation of O in Chinese means black).  They also mix the eggs with a dash of white pepper and some soy sauce.

Singaporean-style breakfast set
Mixed with the soy sauce.... :/
Proof I ate it.
After eating the breakfast, I didn't feel the greatest.  My stomach was really uneasy, but I don't think it was due to the slop of soy sauce and egg.  That part was actually not as bad as it looks, but I wouldn't say it was good.  I'm pretty sure it was due to the slab of butter they put in between the toasts with the very sweet tasting kaya.

When I took out the butter, I really enjoyed the kaya and toast!  They also pair the kaya with peanut butter, which is very good.  Overall it wasn't bad.  Although, the eggs always really creep me out because it always looks like they're not cooked enough.  Now I can say I've done it!  It was pretty fun experience, but I think I'll stick to fruit in the morning.

They also sold ice cream toast!  I always get a kick out of their ice cream sandwiches here :)

Toast with ice cream! haha  It's actually really good.

I didn't forget to post about the Philippines, it's just going to take me awhile!  Until next time...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Filipino Characteristics

After a LONG day of traveling yesterday, I'm back in Singapore from the greatest Spring Break ever.  Forget planes, trains, and automobiles.  Our journey consisted of a tricycle, ferry, shuttle, plane, and taxi.  I'm not complaining, it was all worth it and I thought the journey was fun.  I suppose it was about time to get back to "reality", but of course I was so sad to leave.  It seems that with every trip I take in SE Asia, I like the newly visited country even more than the previous.  I fell in love with the Philippines and even more in love with the people.  I may be biased because I'm part Filipino, but all of my friends agree that their culture is the most friendly and welcoming we've seen in SE Asia.  So before I tell you all about my wonderful trip to the Philippines, I'm going to share with you what I observed about the Filipinos (or Pinoy, as many of them refer to themselves as) and why I have to go back.  As most of you know, I'm part Filipino so many of my family is Filipino.  To my family: you can critique my thoughts and tell me what you think about them.

  1. Big appetites.  Filipinos eat, eat, eat... all the time!  Then my family tells me, "you don't eat much" or "you really must be watching your calories" or "it's obvious you are on a diet".  I've experienced this since I was a little girl and remember complaining to my mom that I can't eat anymore, but all my relatives would keep insisting.  I know my brothers can empathize.  I don't even understand how they can eat that much, and I was once voted biggest appetite in my senior class.  Maybe I won that award because of my Filipino upbringing.  Of course, the constant insistence to continue eating is all because of their amazing hospitality.  They always mean well.  Which brings me to my next point...
  2. Hospitable.  It seems like this is a trait that every Filipino is born with.  They are not only willing to share meals, but they would put up their entire home for guests.  They give the best of what they have to their guests.  They are quick to offer food or drink even before they enjoy their own meal.  They insist that visitors eat more and more because they want to be sure that everyone is satisfied.  They always pack up "to-go" boxes of leftover foods or other Filipino delicacies.  When I left Tita B and Tita Gang, they made sure that I was plenty full and sent me off with a large bag with my favorite Filipino treats (polvoron and pastillas), as well as other Filipino pastries and cookies to share with all my friends.  This is just one example of the many acts of hospitality I experienced while in the Philippines.  At our hostel in Boracay, all the workers learned our names, gave us complementary drinks on arrival and another time when we were just sitting in the lobby, and went above and beyond to make sure that we were comfortable.
  3. Kind.  This kind of goes along with the hospitality, but everyone I met was SO KIND.  I don't really know how to describe it further, but everyone was just really genuinely nice.  Especially in comparison to the rest of the places I've been in SE Asia.  When I go to the canteen in Singapore or order food anywhere, I feel like they are annoyed of me.  Like, "oh the foreign girl again".  That may sound silly, but they are very standoffish.  In the Philippines I felt very welcome.  I used to think in general that the people in Singapore were very kind and helpful, but when comparing the people to the Filipinos the Singaporeans don't seem as welcoming.
  4. Religious.  The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic and it was pretty obvious.  There were religious images and statues everywhere and rosaries hanging from many rear-view mirrors. 
  5. Karaoke.  Everyone loves karaoke or "KTV".  As a child I just thought it was my Filipino family that loved it so much, now I know better.  I will say that I am very surprised at how good at singing so many Filipinos are.  The others just don't know the meaning of embarrassment, but I admire them for getting up there and belting out a tune anyway.
  6. Cheesy music.  The Filipinos love cheesy music.  HAHA It reminded me of my Ate Pia.  Why?... two videos on her facebook wall:  cheesy cheesier :)
  7. Happy/ Friendly.  People seem so happy all the time even if they don't have much.  Everyone always had a smile on their face and it was definitely contagious.  The whole time I was there I was so happy with life, but looking at the circumstances I was in, it would've been weird if I wasn't happy.  When I was out with my cousins, we toasted to happiness every single time we took a drink.
  8. Family.  Family is so important to the Filipinos.  Not just immediate family, but ALL family.  I mean, I grew up believing that pretty much every Filipino I knew was an Aunt or Uncle.  Also there is a huge respect for elders.
  9. Good English.  I've said this before, but it still boggles my mind how bad the English in Singapore is when it's supposed to be the official language of communication.  My experience in the Philippines was that everyone's English was so clear.  It was so easy to understand them.  When I got back to Singapore, my first interaction with a local was with our cab driver back to our dorms. I was paying with my credit card when he dropped us off and he started rambling on about something.  I have NO idea what he said to me and I just gave him a blank stare causing him to ramble more in something that was supposed to be English... and I thought I was getting better at understanding people.  My friends and I just looked at each other and laughed... Welcome back to Singapore.
  10. Mannerisms.  What I found hilarious (and strangely comforting at the same time) was observing the mannerisms of the Filipinos.  I've seen them in my family and it was just funny to notice them while I was there.  As I people watched at airports and other public places, I saw so many scenes that could've came directly from my family.  It made me laugh.  A few mannerisms:
  • pointing with their lips
  • eating with their hands
  • the "he-she" mix up... my mom always refers to me as "he" and my brothers "she" haha
  • they say "ay!" or "uy!" for when they drop something or hurt themselves or instead of "oops", etc.
  • the "pssst" noise when they are trying to get someones attention
  • also the expression "hoy!"

When I fist came to Singapore, I really had no plans of going to the Philippines.  It seemed a little out of the way, but it was only about a 3 hour plane ride.  I've been to the Philippines once before about 12 years ago and it was obviously a completely different experience.  I am SOOO happy I was able to go there, but definitely made me miss my family on the other side of the world.  More on my actual experiences in the Philippines later :)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Procrastination at it's finest

I'm losing right now in my struggle to study so I thought I'd do something that feels productive, blog about my weekend!  Like I've said before, there is so much more to Singapore than one would think and I made the most of my weekend here.  I felt like I was running around everywhere.  Wandering around Singapore, I feel very comfortable like this is my home, yet I still feel like a tourist walking around with my camera around my neck, always asking for directions, and I'm still constantly learning new things everyday.

On Friday night I went with a couple friends to an all you can eat sushi bar at Ikoi Japanese Restaurant.  I always love me some sushi.  I wish I could eat it everyday.  The fish tasted so fresh!  We made the most of our buffet by pretty much ordering everything on the menu.  The sashimi was amazing.  I tried some great new things like swordfish (new favorite), octopus (super chewy), and green tea ice cream with red beans (another asian dessert with beans).  Also, some not so great new things like "pregnant fish".  I wish I would have take a picture of it!  But I found these ones on the internet...

yummm.....? :/

You just take a bite right out of it and you can eat the whole thing.  It took me awhile to build up enough courage to stick this in my mouth and bite into it.  I chose to take a bite out of the head rather than the tail, not really sure why.  I guess the tail freaked me out more than the fried empty eyeball sockets of the fish.  Inside the fish is just a bunch of fish eggs.  It's not for me.  A little too fishy tasting for my liking and I'm just not Asian enough yet to be biting fishes heads off all the time.  I'm glad I tried it though.

On Saturday morning, Emma, Kira, and I strapped on our hiking boots, backpacks, and cameras as well as applied copious amounts of sun screen and bug spray to go hiking at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.    It was really peaceful and a definite change from all the hustle and bustle of the city.  Since Singapore is so small and densely populated, most of the land is occupied by housing, shopping malls, and businesses.  There are supposed to be monkeys at the reserve, but unfortunately we didn't run into any.  We took the intermediate trail up and next time we think we're ready to take on the "challenging" route.  It really wasn't too bad.  The hike in total took us about 1.5 hrs.  We reached the summit of a height of 163.63m (tallest point in Singapore!), but sadly the view was nonexistent.  The area was surrounded by trees and we couldn't see anything.

At the summit.  We were very proud of ourselves to have reached the top :)
After hiking, Vanessa (my roommate) and I went into the city to shop the Bugis Markets.  Everything there is so cheap!  You really do get what you pay for, but some of the clothing is pretty cute.  They sell everything from fruit, to clothing and accessories, to postcards.  We weren't there for very long because I was pretty much pulling my hair out restraining myself from buying everything!  I'm not sure if I really liked the clothing or if I was just blinded by the price tags.  I'd like to go back there on a weekday and actually have a chance to look around.  The place was so crowded it was hard to walk around, which is pretty standard for anywhere in Singapore on the weekends.  One interesting thing about a lot of shops in Singapore is that most everything is one size and in many places you can't try anything on.  You also can't return things at the market so I guess if you buy it and it doesn't fit, at least it was cheap.

We had dinner plans to go to one of the few salad bars in Singapore.  It's so hard to find a simple salad here.  All the vegetables seem to either be fried or soggy from sitting in tons of oil (at least on campus), unless you go to Subway... eat fresh.  I was so set on getting a salad and looking forward to it so much!  When we arrived, the place was closed.  On a Saturday night?  At rush dinner time in a busy mall?  What are the odds?  I thought it was the strangest thing and I couldn't have been more disappointed or hungry.  Fortunately, Vanessa had wanted to try a pizza place in the same mall called Skinny Pizza.  It ended up being some of the best pizza I've ever had and the people were so nice.  The crust was so thin it I don't even know if you could call it crust.  It was more like a cracker.

Butternut pumpkin pizza.

Following dinner, we took a casual stroll in the always perfect weather along the river while admiring the pretty skyline of the business district and view of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.  I would REALLY love to stay in this hotel.  They have a swimming pool on the roof with a gorgeous view of pretty much all of Singapore.  Rumor is that you can also see Malaysia!  Awesome!  It happens to be around $360/night for two people for the cheapest room, at least it includes a complimentary breakfast.  My friends and I are thinking about getting a room and packing 5 of us into one.  We've heard it's well worth it for the view from the top alone.  The hotel also has a casino, but you have to be 21 to enter.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
The more I explore Singapore, the more I love it.  I think it's a perfect place for exchange.  Today I went back to Little India to get the pictures I promised and see the area around Arab Street.  More on that later because I said I would keep these posts shorter!

Also because...

我很忙。(I'm busy.)
我要学习汉语。(I want to study Chinese.)