Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Typhoon Ondoy relief operations... let's do our share!

This evening, I dropped by the Ateneo College Covered Courts to check out Ateneo's Task Force Ondoy. Kudos to all the volunteers who have been helping out in the relief operations. The bayanihan spirit is very heartwarming and I hope our country benefits and learns from this experience of cooperation in tragedy.

As I mentioned while I was abroad, reading all the status messages in Facebook was really depressing! When we get up on our feet again, Filipinos must make the country's leaders accountable for everything. The rains may be an act of God, but flood control and disaster response is an act of man.

Stop cutting trees! That includes illegal logging and the DPWH/MMDA cutting trees for road-widening! Let's all plant trees once the relief operations are over. While PAGASA claims trees would not have stopped the flooding (true maybe, but who says they're credible), wouldn't you agree with me that a forest-covered Sierra Madre would have minimized the water flowing down from the denuded mountains?

Part of flood control includes the removal of illegal settlers from esteros and rivers as well. I'm sorry but they really have to go. The danger to the larger population has already been articulated by this recent tragedy. So I hope groups who would oppose their removal on the grounds of human rights consider now the rights of all those affected by the recent flood. Metro Manila is one big river basin which we do not notice anymore since even the waterways have been erased by development. It's time to clear up the natural flood drainage system of Metro Manila!

I hope people also start becoming aware of proper waste disposal. Even small candy wrappers thrown indiscriminately contribute to our flood problems. A friend of mine commented that even the relief operations will be generating so much plastic that it will again clog up our natural drainage system. But then again, let's start this debate/campaign once we've made sure everybody's safe and up on their feet again. Carry on!

I just arrived from Singapore and Malaysia today and have so many stories to tell. But in deference to the tragedy that struck our country and the relief operations that are underway, I'll continue the travel posts next week.

Update (09/29/09): Upsilon Sigma Phi and Philippine National Red Cross Rescue & Relief Mission meets at 8 a.m. at the A.S. Parking Lot. Relief goods, volunteers, and vehicles are very much welcome. UP Sagip Isko operations at the UP Church of the Risen Lord from 7 a.m. onwards

Update (10/03/09): I invite you to read Lessons from the deluge by Paulo Alcazaren which talks about the response of Singapore to flooding. I was in Singapore when the flood happened and I learned that it used to flood in Singapore too. But the difference is they learned from the floods and rationalized their drainage and flood control system to make sure that the problem was addressed. Take note that at the time they did that, the Philippines was economically ahead of Singapore!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Malaysia: Melaka, Malaysia is a historic city of the Straits of Malacca

Melaka or Malacca was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List last year together with George Town as the Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca. So I was elated Tourism Malaysia brought us to Melaka for this trip since it's been quite a while since I last visited.

I'd been here several times before but just like George Town in Penang (which I got to visit just a month before), it's nice to visit after it's been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We made the rounds of the historical sites and had the local Nyonya food for lunch.

According to UNESCO, "Melaka and George Town, historic cities of the Straits of Malacca have developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. The influences of Asia and Europe have endowed the towns with a specific multicultural heritage that is both tangible and intangible. With its government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications, Melaka demonstrates the early stages of this history originating in the 15th-century Malay sultanate and the Portuguese and Dutch periods beginning in the early 16th century. Featuring residential and commercial buildings, George Town represents the British era from the end of the 18th century. The two towns constitute a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia."

Our first stop before entering the historic core of Melaka was the Bukit Cina Cemetery which is located in Bukit Cina and two adjoining hills. This Chinese graveyard covers over 250,000 square meters and with over 12,000 graves, some of which date to the Ming Dynasty, is said to be the largest Chinese cemetery outside China.

Another popular stop entering old Melaka is Sam Po Kong Temple. But since we didn't have much time, we skipped this one. A popular attraction beside the temple is Hang Li Po's Well. They say anyone who throws a coin into the well will return to Melaka. I did the last time, and look who's back!

At the center of old Malacca is Stadthuys, said to be the oldest Dutch building in the east, a town hall built by the Dutch in 1650 to house the office of the Dutch Governor and Deputy Governors. The square, which is also known as Red Square because it is surrounded by port-red structures that also include a clock tower and Christ Church.

Christ Church was completed in 1753. Inside this Dutch church are 200-year old pews, an altar painting of the Last Supper on glazed tiles, as well as 15-meter beams each made from a single tree.

From there, we walked up the hill towards the ruins of the St. Paul Church. A statue of St. Francis Xavier stands in front of the ruins, a reminder that the saint was temporarily buried here in 1553 before being transported to Goa. In fact, the open grave where he was buried is still at the back of the church.

Down the hill, on the other side, is the Porta de Santiago, the only part of the Kota A Famosa left standing. The Portuguese had originally built this fort in the early 1500s. It became a Dutch fort in 1641, and was later handed over to the British in the early 19th century. Wary of maintaining fortifications, the British ordered its destruction in 1806. But thanks to a timely visit and intervention of Sir Stamford Raffles who had a passion for history, this gate was spared.

When it comes to food, don't miss the Nyonya cuisine which is unique to Melaka/Malacca. The Baba-Nyonya are the Straits Chinese, descendants of very early Chinese immigrants who partially adopted Malay customs. Another collective term for these immigrants is Peranakan which refers to descendants of foreigners who had assimilated into the local community. There are Indian Peranakans called Chitty and Eurasian Peranakans known as Kristang. In the Philippines, we had the Mestizos de Sangley, with Tsinoy as its modern day equivalent.

We had lunch at Seroni Nyonya Cuisine Restaurant (more on this in another post) before exploring more of the historic core. We visited the Kampung Kling Mosque and the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple in Jalan Tokong before shopping at Jonker Street.

The Kampung Kling Mosque sometimes spelled Kampung Keling, was built by Indian Muslim traders in the 18th century.

Along Jalan Tokong, notice the traditional craft shops which include those large paper figurines they burn during funerals as well as the beaded-slippers which cost at least RM700 per pair!

The Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, also along Jalan Tokong is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia. While primarily a Buddhist temple, the temple complex is also said to host prayer quarters dedicated to Taoist and Confucian practices. The main prayer hall is dedicated to Kuan Yin. While additional smaller prayer quarters added later were dedicated to the Taoist gods of wealth, longevity and propagation and ancestral tablets.

Jonker Street or Jalan Hang Jebat is a cluster of shops and other old structures that currently houses restaurants, art galleries, antique and souvenir shops, as well as traders of traditional items: goldsmiths, watch repairers, clog makers and beaded shoemakers, blacksmiths, rattan and bamboo weavers, Chinese traditional medicine merchants and food outlets.

If only I wasn't so full, I would have tried a little bit of everything the hawkers along Jonker Street were selling. The street food really looked good, and I'm sure it tasted good too!

We drove back to Kuala Lumpur at about 4 p.m. and since it was a free night, I decided to get some rest for the fun planned for our visit to Genting Highlands.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Zambales & La Union: North Philippines road trip again

For the longest time, I haven't been able to update the blog because I've perennially been on the road. In fact, the last three days have been extremely exhausting because I had been driving up north, down to Manila, and back up north on a daily basis. Anyway, if it's any consolation, despite all the work involved in the trips, the opportunity to explore still keeps me going.

The last two days, we did our rounds of the Subic Freeport. While at Zoobic Safari, I didn't miss the opportunity to have my photo taken with a real tiger.

Of course, shoe therapy is a good reliever of stress thanks to the many discounted options available at the duty free shops (as the saying goes, 'There's a little Imelda in all of us'). I saw myself driving back to Manila to attend meetings and a guesting on ANC's Shop Talk (thanks to all those who watched Shop Talk the other day) and back to the north to get some sleep.

At least I finally got to breathe now. I'm savoring the only consolation after that unbelievably exhausting three-day road trip: a wonderful suite room with a great view at the Thunderbird Resort in Poro Point, San Fernando, La Union. Hopefully, things will normalize by the long weekend.

So in the meantime, I invite you to consider a tour with Ultimate Philippines. We've already released our tour calendar for the rest of the year and for the first half of 2010. This is especially for the benefit of balikbayans who have been urging us to release our schedule early so that they could plan their trips for next year. Our tours get booked really quick so I suggest you make those reservations now.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Malaysia: Bah kut teh, chicken rice and more food from Kuala Lumpur

I just can't stop raving about my food adventures in Malaysia. Every time I visit Kuala Lumpur, I look forward to trying out something new, or craving for something good I had eaten before.

Bak kut teh is a Hokkien-style herbal pork broth which translates as pork bone tea, a very popular dish in Malaysia. It's a complex mixture of several herbs and spices boiled with pork ribs for hours! The dish which is served in a clay pot also has other ingredients such as mushrooms, tofu and lettuce.

It comes from Klang and that's where they serve the best! Here's a previous post on Klang's legendary bak kut teh. Anyway, since we were craving for bah kuh teh in KL, we went to Sun Fong Bak Kut Teh at Medan Imbi to satisfy our taste buds. We also ordered (1) stewed pork, (2) steamed fish, (3) lettuce with garlic or yau choi, and (4) egg pancake with shrimp to go with the dish. It was a feast!

For lunch the next day, shopping at Sungei Wang, we had Nam Heong's Hailam chicken rice which comes from Ipoh. It was really good especially with the ginger. I'm not a chili fan but this goes well with chili too.

We also ordered (1) pork sandwich with yam, (2) pork leg vinegar which was really good, (3) steamed bean curd with oyster sauce, and (4) tauge with garlic. They say Ipoh food is good because of the high calcium content in its water. Anyway, for more on Ipoh food, check out: Old town kopi tiam of Ipoh.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Issue 3 of Northbound Magazine is out!

In this issue, we talk about adventure! Issue 3 of Northbound Magazine, a free quarterly travel guide to North Philippines (Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, the Cordilleras and Central Luzon), will be available in hotels, restaurants and information centers around the region beginning this week. This magazine is a publication of the North Philippines Visitors Bureau. You can download the online version from www.northphilippines.org.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Eid’l Fitr holiday on September 21

Eid’l Fitr is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. We have another long weekend coming up with the Eid’l Fitr holiday pegged on September 21. For a complete list of holidays this year, read Philippine holidays and long-weekend schedule for 2009.

Update: September 7 was also declared a non-working holiday and a national day of mourning for the burial of Iglesia ni Cristo leader Erano Manalo. So this weekend is another long weekend.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Malaysia: Sunway Lagoon, a premier Malaysian theme park

Sunway Lagoon is one of the premier theme parks of Malaysia. It's most known for its water parks. But it also has a lot of cool rides and activities which we got to try while we were there.

We were dropped off at Sunway Pyramid, the shopping mall right beside Sunway Lagoon, where we had lunch before proceeding to the theme park. A series of escalators took us to the park which was several levels down. We actually regret not bringing swimming gear since the water park was obviously fun, fun, fun! But with the limited time we had, plus the equipment we were bringing, we decided not to swim. So we were content with just walking around the park and towards the dry area where we got to try a ride and some attractions.

Sunway Lagoon is actually five theme parks. Each person is given a magnetic watch to get into the various parks which is used to enter the automatic gates. It also tells you which parks you paid for (adult/child), or which rides and attractions you could try out since there's a Single Park Pass (RM45/RM30), 2 Parks Pass (RM60/RM45), 3 Parks Pass (RM75/RM60), and 5 Park Pass (RM90/RM70).

Anyway, we got to try the Tomahawk which was one nasty ride which hurls riders up and down several times and 360 degrees twice! Pirate's Revenge looked even nastier from where we stood on the Pedestrian Suspension Bridge. The ride is a ship that slowly revolves 360 degrees as well. Speaking of the suspension bridge, it's said to be the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. And to add to the thrill is that a long stretch of it consists of metal grills so you could see the bottom while you scale the length of the bridge.

From the top, you could also see most of the park, particularly the Surf Beach which creates artificial waves for some fun body boardin and surfing. On the opposite end of the bridge is Extreme Park which offers paint ball, wall climbing, ATVs, and kayaking among other activities. We didn't stay too long since we were still tired from the late arrival the night before. So we decided to have an early dinner in KL before calling it a night.

Sunway is a perfect getaways for family and friends. And it's also great if you stay overnight at the nearby hotels for lesser hassle.

Sunway Lagoon
3, Jalan PJS 11/11, Bandar Sunway
46150 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
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