Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Malaysia: Seremban stopover

Since we're on the topic of Malaysia, I realized that I still have some pending entries from my June trip to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. One of the cities I got to visit was Seremban, the capital of the state of Negeri Sembilan south of KL.

It was my second time here. The last time was during SSEAYP 2002 since my host family in Malaysia was from there. This time, my host family insisted that I visit them before I returned for the Philippines. So I took a 10 a.m. bus from Singapore and arrived in Seremban at about 3 p.m.

I was met by Darryl Chan, my host brother in 2002 who himself joined SSEAYP in 2004. On the way to Seremban, during the bus stopover, I had Ipoh kway teow for lunch. In Seremban, we had some Indian bread which we dipped in curry. I also had the chance to walk around a part of old Seremban. Like many Malaysian old towns, the buildings in the historic core are preserved and are reused for modern needs.

In the evening, we had dinner at Darryl's place and met up later with my China-ASEAN batchmate Derek Low at a nearby cafe. I didn't get much sleep since I had to be at the airport by 5 a.m.

Part 1: Klang's legendary bak kut teh
Part 2: Old town kopi tiam of Ipoh
Part 3: Mamak food rocks!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Malaysia: Mamak food rocks!

As the rest of the group left for Klang, we motored back to KL for even more food. The night wasn’t over since we were meeting up with Rostam, another SSEAYP batchmate. It was my last night in Malaysia and there was no way I was going to miss the mamak food!

Mamak stalls have become an important part of Malaysian culture just like the kopi tiam. The term has refers to eateries operated by Indian Muslims that have become popular hang-outs for Malaysian youths because of the affordable food and beverages plus the fact that they are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

A typical mamak would serve roti canai (flour pancakes which is served with curry sauce for dipping), roti telur (roti canai with egg), teh tarik (milk tea), murtabak (minced-meat flour pancakes also served with curry sauce dip), nasi lemak (Malaysia’s unofficial national dish which is rice soaked in coconut milk usually served with chicken and sambal sauce), mee goreng (fried noodles), and tandoori chicken (marinated in spices and yogurt) among many others.

I got myself an order roti canai as always and a tandoori chicken with had mint. It had a funny green color that looked so artificial, it didn’t look like chicken anymore. But it was definitely tasty especially with the chutney dip that accompanied it. I had fresh sugarcane juice to go with my food. And with that settled, my Malaysian food adventure was complete. If only I had some more days in KL, the choices at the mamak stalls were endless!

Part 1: Klang's legendary bak kut teh
Part 2: Old town kopi tiam of Ipoh
Part 4: Seremban stopover

Friday, December 21, 2007

Malaysia: Old town kopi tiam of Ipoh

The third largest city in Malaysia and the capital of Perak state, Ipoh is known far and wide for its cuisine. And we drove all the way to Ipoh just for the coffee!

Except for the modern roads and signage, driving through Ipoh old town was like a walk in time since most of its colonial buildings and shop houses are still standing. We went straight to the kopi tiam, traditional coffee shops that have left coffee lovers raving. We were out to seek the legendary Ipoh white coffee at Jalan Bandar Timah, the famed white coffee walk of Ipoh with over half a century of history.

Traditionally, black coffee roast in Malaysia (refers to the beans and not the style of serving coffee without milk) is produced by roasting the beans with sugar and palm oil margarine. On the other hand, white coffee is processed with the same Robusta beans and margarine, but without the sugar, making it less dark, thus the term white coffee.

They say the undisputed king of white coffee shops is a corner-lot kopi tiam called Old Town White Café (Nam Heong). But the other shops are equally fabled. We had some iced coffee at Sun Yuan Foong just across the street. The coffee, which you can get for a little over a ringgit or fifteen pesos, goes well with homemade peanut butter or kaya (coco jam) on toast, or caramel custard. We also got some bak chang, Chinese glutinous rice dumplings we all know as machang.

We still had one more stop in Ipoh. The group had made reservations at a popular seafood restaurant which has brought denizens as far as KL driving three hours north just to savor their delectable freshwater prawn dishes. Indeed, reservations are recommended at the Pusing Public Seafood Restaurant if you want to make sure you get a table.

Our group was after the crabs as well so the first and last dishes they served us were crabs! As an appetizer, we had a shredded crab meat and vegetable dish which we wrapped in lettuce. Then they brought in a dish of large freshwater prawns with a sweet and spicy sauce. We also had bean curd and fish cake floating on a pool of light soy sauce, as well as ginger chicken. But what kept the group eating for another 45 minutes or so were the huge steamed crabs everyone had been anticipating.

For Ipoh cuisine, the restaurant is a bit on the pricey side. But the fact that it’s never empty is a testament to how good their food is. We spent about 40 ringgit per person, roughly 600 pesos, which was not bad for the five-course dinner.

Part 1: Klang's legendary bak kut teh
Part 3: Mamak food rocks!
Part 4: Seremban stopover

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Malaysia: Klang's legendary bak kut teh

Today was Hari Raya Aidiladha, a public holiday in Malaysia. And my SSEAYP batchmate Kenneth invited me to join their road trip to Ipoh in the state of Perak, some 205 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur. With so much chocolate tickling my taste buds yesterday, the food trip today was a most welcome sequel.

Kenneth passed by for me in KL then we motored back to Klang where the rest of the group was meeting up. And as soon as we were complete, we had the local specialty called bak kut teh. He has always been raving about the bak kut teh of Klang, widely believed to be the home of this Hokkien-style herbal pork broth which translates as “pork bone tea.”

It’s a complex mixture of several herbs and spices, about ten I was told, boiled with pork ribs for hours! They served us youtiao (strips of fried dough) which was so tasty especially when dipped in the soup. The dish which is served in a claypot had other ingredients such as mushrooms, tofu and lettuce. And it’s eaten with rice.

We also tried out the dry bak kut teh which is less common but equally tasty. That is stir-fried meat with okra, dried chilies, and dark soy sauce. But the unique ingredient in this dish is dried cuttlefish. After that sumptuous breakfast, we were off.

Road travel in Malaysia is very convenient since there is a complex network of highways linking peninsular Malaysia from north to south and east to west. So the drive to Ipoh, roughly the distance between Manila and Dagupan, can be completed in less than three hours. And since it was a smooth drive, I was able to cat nap. And the next thing I knew, we were already exiting at Sungkai, a small town south of Ipoh.

We drove several kilometers further through vast palm oil plantations before reaching our destination, the Sungai Klah Hot Springs Park, said to be one of the best managed hot springs in Malaysia.

A healing center nestled at the foothills of the Titiwangsa Range, the park attracts both locals and foreigners who seek a cure to various ailments such as skin disease, rheumatism, arthritis, insomnia, respiratory troubles, and blood circulation. Being a popular destination, it gets crowded on weekends and holidays. And since we were there on a holiday, it was jam-packed with people. I was not able to pack my swimming gear since it was a business trip after all. So I was content with dipping my feet in 50° Celsius sulfuric water.

The temperatures in the different pools varied and were clearly marked since areas where the hot water bubbled up from the ground can reach a scalding 102° Celsius! In fact, those areas have been designated for boiling eggs. The hot water is said to emerge from 500 areas in the complex. A boardwalk was built parallel to these boiling streams so that people could enjoy the sulfur-rich steam that seeped through the gaps in between the planks while walking along the path. I was also tempted to try out their spa which offered the traditional Ayurveda treatments. But I didn’t want to get too oily since we still had a long day ahead, so I had to pass.

I actually skipped lunch since we were still full from the late breakfast we had in Klang. Although I had a cendol drink while in the park. After a few hours, we were off to Ipoh.

Part 2: Old town kopi tiam of Ipoh
Part 3: Mamak food rocks!
Part 4: Seremban stopover

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Malaysia: Chocolate overload in KL

I'm in KL for a business trip. So the only place I got to visit today, aside from KLCC of course, was Beryl’s Chocolate Kingdom where I had a chocolate overload! The factory churns out over a hundred varieties of high quality chocolate candies at prices cheaper than those in the same quality range. They use beans from Ghana, a recognized source of high quality cocoa beans. And since there are just so many kinds of chocolate candies from durian to tongkat ali, coconut and tiramisu, they give visitors samples to help you pick!

After resting a bit, I went around nearby KLCC to kill time. I wasn't in the mood to buy anything so I just enjoyed taking photos of the Petronas twin towers.

After strolling around KLCC, I met up with the rest of the group for dinner at the Pacifica Bar and Grill of the Mandarin Oriental. For my meal, I could not resist the temptation to order Wagyu beef! So I did! Yummy!

Ciento Comico

The night before we arrived in KL, I watched the hilarious Ciento Comico, a comedy show produced by the UPAA for the UP Centennial. I had complimentary tickets since many of my brods were major sponsors.

It was a great show! Willie Nepomuceno spoofed Erap and did it so well, you couldn't tell the difference. And little did I know that I would meet the real President Estrada later in the evening at a party of a brod. Yes people, that's really him!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pampanga: Ultimate show-off in Pampanga and Giant Lantern Festival 2007

We had a great show-off today! I won't go into detail anymore since I've said so much about Pampanga already in this blog. So I invite you to visit Our Awesome Planet's detailed account of the trip: Part 1 - 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; Part 2 - 12:30 to 4:30 p.m.; and Part 3 - 4:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

There were a lot of surprises we did not mention in our announcements. Aside from lunch at Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung, we gave each participant a bayong with our favorite Kapampangan goodies such as Imang Salud's ensaymadas, turrones de casoy from Santa Rita, Aurely's Special which is an inverted brazo de mercedes, Junjun's barbecue and puto pao from Nathaniel's. On the bus, we also served five gallons of the legendary buko sherbet of Brgy. San Jose in San Fernando!

I guess the biggest surprise for the group was that Among Ed Panlilio joined us for lunch at Claude's! The Giant Lantern Festival was as spectacular as always. And it was a great thing they returned the marching band tradition. Watch out for our upcoming tours. We don't plan on repeating tours so the next one will definitely be different. It was all smiles for everyone after 16 hours in flamboyant Pampanga.

Thanks to Bikoy and Anton for the photos! The video of Giant Lantern Festival 2007 was taken by Bikoy too.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Manila: Sunset at the Manila Yacht Club

It was a great opportunity to view the Manila Bay sunset! I just came from a frat party at the Manila Yacht Club. And I purposely arrived there early a while ago so that I could take photos of the yachts and the sunset.

Itself a piece of history, the club was founded in 1927. Now on its 80th year, it has hosted an international regatta, serves as the training ground for our teams to international yachting events such as the Olympics and SEA Games, and is an important venue for social gatherings.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pampanga: Off-road racing in Pampanga

What do quarrying and 4x4s have in common? With all that hullabaloo and hubbub over quarry profits in Pampanga, one thing is certain, after wreaking havoc on the province, lahar has now become a treasure. With lahar, Pampanga is also becoming a venue for 4x4 off-road competitions.

The morning of December 8, my classmates together with our professor had to meet with Gov. Ed Panlilio since our group project in class will be on Pampanga. I knew he would be busy with the Pampanga Day festivities. So when I told the governor's chief-of-staff that we were willing to meet with him anywhere, we were serious. As soon as we arrived, we located Among and rushed to the Gugu Dike in Bacolor where he was going to open the Pampanga Offroad Challenge 2007. And aside from the meeting, we got to enjoy the show as well. Thanks to Dennis for the pictures.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Ifugao & Nueva Vizcaya: Banaue mornings and a stopover in Dupax

Imagine waking up to the cool Banaue morning with a view of the rice terraces and tree-covered mountains just outside your window. That's what I experienced at the Banaue Hotel for the past few days, with rooms, function rooms and a restaurant that provides panoramic views of the rice terraces. That's one cluster of terraces in the Banaue poblacion which is still free from eyesores and other unsightly structures.

It was our last day in Banaue and I'll definitely miss the cool mountain air and the great views. Before leaving for Manila, we listened to Ifugao Governor Teddy Baguilat talk about the challenges they have been facing in the preservation of the rice terraces and possible solutions to these problems. It's indeed very difficult to push for the preservation of these terraces when almost every young Ifugao dreams of making it big in the city, when G.I. sheets and hollow blocks become a status symbol. But there is definitely hope since the community realizes now that they are custodians of a legacy to the world.

On our way back to Manila (I was asleep again for most of the trip), we made one last stopover at Dupax del Sur to check out the San Vicente Ferrer Church which is a National Cultural Treasure. We had lunch there too. Anyway, it's back to school for me.

How to get to Banaue, Ifugao
Florida Bus has a regular trip from Manila direct to Banaue. It leaves Sampaloc, Manila (Lacson St. cor. S. H. Loyola St.) at 10:45 p.m. Or you can take any bus that goes to Cagayan Valley and get off at Solano, Nueva Vizcaya where you can catch regular trips to Banaue and other towns in Ifugao. From Baguio, KMS Bus Lines and Ohayami Trans leave for Banaue at least twice daily.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Protecting endangered traditional landscapes

International heritage luminaries are meeting in the Philippines for the first time from 2-8 December 2007. They are members of ICOMOS (International Council of Monuments and Sites), the official international organization of architects, landscape architects, urban planners, archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, tourism professionals, lawyers, and other professionals involved in the heritage conservation profession who are recognized as international leaders in the field.

Headquartered in Paris, ICOMOS is the international organization that regulates the worldwide conservation profession and is the only NGO accredited to advise the UNESCO World Heritage Committee on cultural heritage matters. Its Philippine members are prominently involved in conservation projects for the government or private sectors and are also members of the academe.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Ifugao: Rice terraces in Hapao and Hungduan

Today was a fantastic day! I finally visited one of the UNESCO-inscribed terraces, the Hapao and Poblacion clusters in Hungduan. There are five all in Ifugao and the cluster in Banaue poblacion is not one of them! These five are Hungduan, Mayoyao, Nagacadan in Kiangan, and Batad & Bangaan in Banaue.

It was a one and a half hour jeepney ride from the Banaue town proper to the Hapao Rice Terraces in Hungduan. Then from there, we motored to the Hungduan Rice Terraces in the Poblacion. We were welcomed by the mayor and other city officials. Lunch was served in front of the municipal hall. Around the area were examples of traditional Ifugao dwellings.

Before proceeding back to the hotel, we then passed by Lagud Village Learning Inn, a community-based tourism project where tourists can opt to stay in traditional Ifugao dwellings. In fact, there have been five Japanese exchange student living there for several mounths now, immersing with the community. We also donated P200 for kids to a plant tree in our name, part of reforestation and fund-raising efforts for the education of the young Ifugaos.

We finally got back at 4 p.m. and I decided to take a power nap before our next appointment. Dinner was at a campsite in Banaue. Kudos to the Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement (SITMo) for organizing this great tour and for taking the lead in the preservation of the rice terraces.

How to get to Banaue, Ifugao
Florida Bus has a regular trip from Manila direct to Banaue. It leaves Sampaloc, Manila (Lacson St. cor. S. H. Loyola St.) at 10:45 p.m. Or you can take any bus that goes to Cagayan Valley and get off at Solano, Nueva Vizcaya where you can catch regular trips to Banaue and other towns in Ifugao. From Baguio, KMS Bus Lines and Ohayami Trans leave for Banaue at least twice daily. From Banaue, you can get transportation to Hungduan.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Nueva Vizcaya: We're off to Banaue

Today, the delegates of the ICOMOS-CIAV Scientific Conference 2007 proceeded to Banaue where we will be staying for the next few days. The scientific conference is an annual meeting of vernacular heritage experts from around the globe. I was asleep for most of the trip since I did not get enough sleep the previous nights. We stopped by Balete Pass along the way. More popularly known as Dalton Pass, this marks the boundary between Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya, and therefore Central Luzon and Cagayan Valley as well.

We had a sumptuous lunch at the Governor's Hotel in Solano town. As we arrived, we were welcomed by a marching band from the local elementary school. After lunch, we were off to Banaue. Again, I was fast asleep so there's nothing much I could say. And the next thing I knew, we had arrived.

The view from my room in the Banaue Hotel was great. Imagine waking up in the morning and the first thing you'll see are rice terraces and tree-covered mountains. Dinner was superb too! It looks like I'll be gaining more pounds if they keep dishing up this great selection of dishes.

How to get to Banaue, Ifugao
Florida Bus has a regular trip from Manila direct to Banaue. It leaves Sampaloc, Manila (Lacson St. cor. S. H. Loyola St.) at 10:45 p.m. Or you can take any bus that goes to Cagayan Valley and get off at Solano, Nueva Vizcaya where you can catch regular trips to Banaue and other towns in Ifugao. From Baguio, KMS Bus Lines and Ohayami Trans leave for Banaue at least twice daily.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Manila: International heritage experts gather at the National Museum

For the next few days, the Philippines will host heritage experts from the International Committee of Vernacular Architecture (CIAV) of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). To open the ICOMOS-CIAV Scientific Conference 2007, the ICOMOS National Committee Philippines hosted a gathering at the National Museum.

The local heritage community came in full force. Me and my tokayo Ivan ManDy had our photos taken with HCS President Gemma Cruz-Araneta (Miss International 1964) and Margie Moran (Miss Universe 1973) among many others.

Of course, we took the opportunity to request for a rare private viewing of guess what? Yes, we got the very rare chance to take our photos with Juan Luna's Spoliarium and other Luna and Hidalgo paintings under the strict guidance of a conservator.

The Spoliarium won the gold medal in the Exposicion General de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1884. Another major painting on display is the Assassination of Governor Bustamante, a major and controversial mural of Felix Hidalgo showing friars murdering the governor. Also in the collection is Luna's La Bulakena, which is in line for declaration as a National Cultural Treasure.
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