Weekly Photo Challenge: Up

Here is my share for the Weekly Photo Challenge

I took this photo from a recent trip in Coron Palawan. We stayed in a very unique vacation house. How unique? It was situated in the middle of the sea and 90% of the house was made from local wood.  My view is limited to the mountains, the unending sea and the shabby wooden floor tiles.

I was lying in the wooden floor tiles when I took this photo. As I have mentioned,  whether at what direction I angle myself, I always get the same uplifting, tranquil and relaxing view.

The downside of traveling

Traveling gave me a different kind of happiness I’ve never realized. I used to believe that traveling is a luxury and intended only for the populace of the upper economic class. With the help of the economy airlines and their promo fares, I was given the chance to explore some parts of the world. Yes, traveling still entails money, which meant setting aside funds. However, with proper planning and prudence, even rank and file employees like me are capable to see the world.

Unfortunately, the happiness of being able to step to another land is accompanied with some points of frustrations. This is another unexpected sentiment I gained from traveling.

When I visited Hong Kong and Taiwan, I was amazed by their systematized public transportation system.

In Hong Kong, they have the so-called octopus card. You have to purchase the card for HKD 50 and load it with your preferred amount. Every time you ride the train or bus, you just have to swipe your octopus card to pay for the fare. Some establishments such as Mc Donalds even accepts the octopus card for payment. Reloading the card with money is equally easy.  Surrender the card to the nearest train station and pay for another prepaid balance.

In the Philippines, do I need to detail everything? The lines of the train have different ticketing system. The stored value card I use for LRT 2 can’t be used to access the MRT. It was only recently when I learned that LRT 2 stored value cards can be used to access LRT 1.

How about the speed of the train? When the second line of the LRT became operational, I was already overwhelmed and thankful for the government’s effort to finally turn it to reality. The more than an hour travel from Marikina to Manila was reduced to 30 minutes. When I tried the trains of Hong Kong, I realized that the recent LRT line 2 has still a lot of rooms for improvement.

In Hong Kong, the travel interval of each coach is 2 minutes. Whew!  The waiting time for the train’s arrival is faster than composing a text message telling your boss or your colleague that “Sorry, I’ll be late, but I’m on my way.” Though to compensate, the coaches of the LRT 2 are way spacious than those in Hong Kong. But if you can provide a train that arrive every 2 minutes, you might no longer need a spacious train to accommodate the volume of passengers.

HK trains operates until midnight. We arrived in HK at around 12 am after our short visit from Macau. We decided to take the expensive taxis since we were not familiar with the trip schedule of their trains. In the Philippines, the last train travels at around 10:30 pm, which still depends to where station are you coming from. To our surprise, HK trains still operate at 12 am. We were able to catch the last trip. Extending the train operations of the MRT or LRT, would be beneficial to commuters who are night shift workers, tired employees from their overtime to students who have to stay late in school for their projects.

HK trains have excellent air conditioning system. Even though the train gets crowded, you will never feel sweating and earn those wet underarms before reporting for work. The only thing I didn’t like about HK trains are the confusing lines. If I’m not mistaken, they have 5 train lines. I was quite confused with the line transfers we have to make to reach our destination.

Taiwan has the railroad and bullet trains. I wasn’t able to try their land based rail road trains. However, the pictures and reviews of other bloggers were enough to develop an equal admiration. What I tried in Taiwan is their bullet or the High Speed Train. The High Speed Train passes in every town in Taiwan. How convenient is that? I know Taiwan is relatively smaller in land area than the Philippines. However, we can’t deny the fact that having trains that extend to every city or province at least in Luzon is heaven sent. Reaching provinces will no longer entail hell hours of waiting and sitting inside the bus. I traveled from Tainan to Taoyuan in Taiwan using the High Speed Train. The distance of Tainan to Taoyuan is like Manila to Pangasinan, if my estimate is correct. Normally, a bus ride from would take around 3 hours, not considering the traffic. In Taiwan, I was able to reach the same distance for 1.5 hours. If we could only bring the same convenience in the Philippines, life, tourism and other economic activities would be way different.

I’ve tried the bus services both in Hong Kong and Taiwan. As expected, their bus system gave me more frustrations. In both countries, there are a few bus lines that are operating. I guess the bus transport system is owned and regulated by the government. In effect, you can never see traffic caused by mere bus congestion.

Bus drivers are courteous, neat and well dressed. A little attitude and cleanliness would go a long way, right? In Hong Kong, you can use the octopus card to conveniently pay for your bus fare. In Taiwan, you can easily buy tickets from each bus station. The U-bus line in Taiwan even operates 24/7 which brings a great convenience to tourists and citizens who have to travel in those wee hours. The buses in Taiwan also arrive and leave on time. I really wish that this would soon happen in the Philippines. Buses in Taiwan leave the station, regardless of the number of passengers. They don’t operate by quota of seat sales. How do you want to have that in the Philippines?

Lastly, the discipline of bus drivers. All buses alight and fetch passengers to a specified bus stop. All bus stops correspond to a certain destination. This simple organization lessens the chance of traffic and congestion. You see, the organization of one entity leads to a systematic flow of the entire city.

After having these realizations, I felt the need to render a huge sigh.  Despite of everything, I would like to emphasize that I don’t hate my country. I love my country. It’s just that at some point, I feel so sad of the fact that “if other countries can make it happen, why can’t my country make it?”

The story of my bravery – Day 1 in Taiwan

After a week of silence, I’m back to fulfill my promise of sharing more stories and pictures of my trip to Taiwan.  Honestly, I am still overwhelmed by the entire experience up to this date. I made it to Taiwan on the first day of December and everything still feels like yesterday. The experience is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. The trip would always remind me that I can make things happen.

My flight to Taiwan was scheduled at 11:30 pm. Whew! Since I am working on a budget, this is the price I have to pay.  Cheaper flights usually travel on those wee hours. Though I would like to say that I am thankful to my institution for shouldering this expense.  It gave me a big relief.

I arrived in Taoyuan Airport at 1 am and all the while, I thought the airport never runs out of people. To my surprise, I was the only person left in the arrival area. My original plan was to reach Tainan through the High Speed Rail Station (HSR). Another surprise came in because I learned that the HSR starts its operation at 6:30 am. This would mean that I have to wait for an eternity of 4 hours in the airport.  Good thing, God sent some angels to watch and guide me. The lone English speaking airport personnel and a Taiwanese helped me. They suggested that I take Taiwan’s U Bus. Though I live in the principle of not talking to strangers, for reasons I don’t know, I trusted these two Taiwanese nationals.

At 3 am, the shuttle bus arrived and I was taken to the central station in Taoyuan. Another problem awaited me in the Central Station. The old man selling the tickets does not speak English. I just told him that I need to go to Tainan and that was it. He sold me a ticket amounting to NTD 300. After 30 minutes, the bus that will take me to Tainan arrived. The driver assisted me with my luggage and this started one of the longest 4 hours of my life.

A bus ride from Taoyuan to Tainan will take 4 long hours of no traffic and stop over. Whew! I was wide awake the entire trip. Traveling alone in a foreign land for the first time, who would ever dare to sleep? In God’s grace, I safely reached Tainan. A fellow female passenger, who can understand a little English, and the courteous driver helped me find a taxi that brought me to Far Eastern Shangri-La.

First Shot of Tainan from the U Bus

The front desk officer at Far Eastern Shangri-La assisted me well and I was able to checked in my room in less than 10 minutes. Talking about finest customer service, it’s possible! I was able to checked in at 8 am and the best thing, I still made it to the free breakfast buffet. After the long trip and worries, I indulged myself over one of the best buffet I’ve seen in my entire life.

Beautiful Lobby of Far Eastern Shangri-La

I was able to complete 1/4 of my tasks in Taiwan. I left the buffet table happy and worry free LOL and gave myself my much needed sleep.  Oh, but before I snoozed,  I have to fulfill my Facebook and Twitter obligation.. LOL Here’s my first photo upload of Tainan

I recharged myself the entire morning. I woke up around 3 pm and that’s when I  decided to explore Tainan by myself.

Most Taiwanese use motorcycles as their means of transportation. I rarely see private cars. Most parking spaces are occupied by these bikes.

The streets in Tainan are very clean, organized and very friendly to pedestrians. If only I can bring this to the Philippines. 🙂

And I just love the sparks of greeneries along the residential sites

My main destination

Main Entrance of the National Cheng Kung University - Kuang Fu Campus

Another proof of how clean and organized is Tainan. I just fell in love with this.

A closer look of the National Cheng Kung University

Here’s the department where my dream happened

NCKU - College of Management

After my presentation, we were toured to some historic places in Tainan and since this post is already too lengthy, let’s play some suspense and leave that on my next post. 🙂

Dream Come True – A Happy Farewell to the Crayola Series

Three years ago, I had my first national research presentation. I presented my masteral thesis to a congress of Graduate School students and educators in the Philippines. Weeks before the conference, I dropped by the school and saw my friend Bess. She invited me to accompany her to Robinsons Ermita. If I remember it right, her plan was to have her iTouch and Sony Ericson’s P1 repaired. Since I have nothing to do in the afternoon, I decided to join Bess. After attending to her errands, we checked out those branded shops I usually avoid. We entered Dorothy Perkins and I saw the best blazer in my entire life. It was a silver gray blazer that perfectly fits my shapeless built. The price of the blazer, Php 3,500! Though it was love at first sight, I refused to purchase it for my upcoming presentation.  I joked and told Bess that I would only buy the blazer if Iam presenting in an international venue.

Fast forward now, I was able to make my first ever research presentation in Taiwan last December 2, 2011.

An international presentation is every academic researcher’s dream. In my case, it was a dream that never crossed my mind. I swear! How could a rank and file employee / part time educator, who has a monotonous work life be hit with this opportunity?

The original plan was for me to present at the University of the Philippines. I will be presenting in my own country with an international audience. Unfortunately, the conference did not push through. The hostage taking incident  last year frightened and discouraged the Chinese organizers to visit the Philippines. This made me cry for days. All I have were selfish feelings of hatred and regrets. At that point, I never realized that God has better plans for me. The conference in the Philippines did not push through because God wanted me to present in another country. He wanted a real international exposure where I have to pack my bags, take an international flight and set foot to another land for the first time.

My preparations for Taiwan however did not become a smooth sailing process. I wept for all the elusive funding opportunities. I admit that I wasn’t financially prepared to fly and stay in Taiwan. But I believe God really wanted me to go. Less than a month before the conference, I received two free lance jobs and my clients paid everything in advance.  And to the last minute, I was given partial support by my institution. Just when I was ready to give up my dream, doors of support opened. This served as my wake up call. I felt that God was making all means for me to fulfill the dream.

With no single Mandarin word in my dictionary, I braved myself to a country where majority of its population doesn’t speak and understand the international language I know. Armed with my dwindling confidence, shying bravery and unadventurous personality, I made it to Taiwan on my own. In God’s grace, I was able to fulfill my mission. I am happy to say that I am back home with a lot of first time experiences to cherish in my entire lifetime.

group photo

Thank you Taiwan for the safe and well spent stay.  Above all, thank you to our God who made all means for me. God indeed works in the most mysterious ways.

Just a Selfish Vanity Post: What’s inside my bag?

To lighten up things in my complicated life, allow me to make my first vanity post in my “serious” blog.

A segment from a defunct local TV show inspired me to write this post. The show have this segment called “bag raid,” where reporters forcefully peek in the contents of the bag of a female celebrity. Whether I hated or loved the featured celebrity, I was always curious of what was inside their bags. Silly and non-sense, but those segments never failed to poke my interest.

Since no one would ever be interested in peeking in my cheap and generic bags, allow me to do things by myself. Presenting… my own bag raid 😉

What's inside my bag?

1. Foldable Umbrella – I am a regular commuter so an umbrella is a must. This gadget protects me from getting roasted from the scorching heat of the sun and experiencing colds from unexpected rain showers.

2. Beauty Kit – My everyday beauty kit is comprised of a comb with large teeth (to combat my long unmanageable and tangled hair), hair clamp (to hide those tangles and frizzy hair), face powder (preferrably Maybeline’s Extra Smooth Clear Shine Foundation), eye shadow (Human Nature’s Mineral beauty palette), blush on (preferably Maybeline’s Cinnamon blush) and a dark brown eye brow pencil (to tame and groom my thin eye brows).

3. Alcohol please! – This is a regular content of my bag. Do I need to explain? 😉 I prefer those alcohol with skin moisturizers. Regular rubbing alcohol usually leaves my skin dry and prone to paper cuts.  So moisturizers to keep my skin clean and healthy are preferred.

4. A Book – I’m a regular commuter so most of the time I am trapped in traffic in a boring public transportation. A good read is enough to keep me occupied in those periods where I need to battle long hours of traffic.

5. Small and big wallets – My small wallet serves as my coin purse while the big wallet is where I store my cards, IDs, etc. etc.

6. Techie stuff – My both obsolete Nokia E63 and iPod Nano. In times when I am stuck in traffic and reading a book is no longer possible, my iPod Nano is there to save the day. I usually go home late so my iPod Nano is my constant boredom buster from the long hours of travel.

7. My rosary – My refuge and my companion in times of distress. A lot of people bring rosaries because they believe that it’s a lucky charm. The rosary for me is more than an amulet. It serves as a reminder to my devotion to the Blessed Mother.

That’s it for my bag raid. 😉 Till my next.. hopefully… happy post.

A Paradise in the Lakeshore

I was out-of-town last week, not for a luxurious vacay, but to attend to a work related task. I joined the members of my employer’s management committee for the strategic planning activity. But please take note, I remain to be a rank and file employee. I am not a member of the management ;-),  I was just tagged by my boss.

We went to Club Balai Isabel, one of the best places I will choose for a quiet vacation.  Here are some pictures I’d like to share

The place is surrounded by trees, lamps, wooden benches and tables such as these.

The selling point of Club Balai Isabel! The place thrives along the shores of the tranquil Taal Lake.

A view of Club Balai Isabel from the lakeshores

We were housed in this villa and savored this refreshing view for three days.  

Aside from experiencing the Taal Lake, Club Balai Isabel offers lush greeneries and spaces for team building activities to picture perfect pre-nuptial pictorials.

Club Balai Isabel is becoming famous for hosting a few beach and outdooor weddings. For Catholics who want to house their weddings at Club Balai Isabel, the place recently opened this small but serene chapel.  

I fell in love with this rustic and shabby side doors of the chapel.

Club Balai Isabel is situated in Talisay Batangas, around 2 hours away from Manila. For more information about the place visit their site here.

Day 11 – I love Tagaytay

Tagaytay is one of my favorite places in the Philippines. One of my greatest wishes is to have a one week vacation at Taal Vista, eat out to the best restaurants in town and blog those memorable stories.

Our main destination was Club Balai Isabel at Talisay, Batangas. But since we passed by Tagaytay, we took the opportunity to savor the cold weather and its good food. We had lunch in one of the Bulalo restaurants and had coffee at Bag of Beans. (Both first time experiences!)

I will definitely come back. I will bring my family and selected friends in this piece of beautiful nature on earth.