Melting away

I was back home in Manila just over a year ago around Christmas time. Now, I’m back here for more punishment. My memory of my previous stay was not the most pleasant. I was actually surprised at how much better it is to visit Manila outside of the Christmas season. Reasons? Less traffic, less crowding and less heat.

I couldn’t believe that it is less hotter here in September than it was the last time I was here in December two years past. I suppose it’s due to the rainy weather. It’s still rainy season, after all. Thankfully, it hasn’t actually rained much since we’ve arrived. I never had the need to bring out my umbrella from my bag.

Although it may be heaps cooler right now than previously, I still found myself sweating. A lot. Heaps! I couldn’t stop sweating the moment I step out into the open, beyond the range of cool air-conditioned air. Trying to keep myself dry with a help of a hand towel was like trying to bail out water from a sinking boat. I’m not sure where all that water is coming from, actually. It’s really a bit much.

When I’m finally back in the comfort of an air-conditioned area, it takes a while for me to stop perspiring. In the end, I still end up with a wet shirt, wet hair and sticky skin. Disgusting, I know. But that’s how it is since my arrival in Manila a few days ago.

Whenever I’m in shops, the security guards (for you non-Filipinos reading this, there are security personnel for mostly every shop) would look at me suspiciously. I don’t blame them. I look like I was guilty of something the way I was perspiring profusely.

Raquel found it funny that we came across some people who were wearing jumpers and jackets in this warm weather. It wasn’t even remotely cold outside! Even at night. I must have been away from Manila for far too long. I remember my previous American employers complaining about the same thing. And now we’re the ones doing the complaining.

I was hoping that these sweating episodes would last a maximum of four days. But it’s day six now and I’ve only started to adjust to the humidity and heat. That’s a bit of good news, I guess. I don’t feel the need to change my shirt yet.

In the meantime, I’ll probably continue to take refuge at air-conditioned malls and hotel lobbies until I finally stop melting in this humid place I call home. The only things that make this trip worthwhile was that I get to be with family, relatives and long-time friends again. And probably the chance to do some inexpensive book shopping. If not for these, I’d rather be back in good old Melbourne.

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Published in: on September 19, 2008 at 7:01 pm  Comments (6)  

Bubblegum soda

When Raquel and I went to Japan last year, I discovered this wonderful softdrink called Mitsuya Cider. It tasted like a cross between 7-Up and Juicy Fruit. That’s right, the chewing gum. I was an instant fan.

On the day we were to fly back to Melbourne, I came to a sad realisation: I wouldn’t be able to drink anymore Mitsuya Cider. That is, unless I can find a shop in Melbourne that sells the drink. Unfortunately, I’ve looked all over the place and couldn’t find an Asian shop that sold it.

Today, we went to the big Asian shop in the city to get some siopao and siomai. Since I was already there, I decided to look for the drink again I’m their drinks section. Well, it wasn’t there, as expected.

However, there was a drink being sold there that caught my eye. It was drink that I saw numerous times in Japanese animation. It was a variation of Ramune, the drink that’s sold in a glass bottle with a glass marble in it. Except the one in the shop was sold in a can and was called Ramu Bottle instead.

I’ve been very keen to try the drink since seeing it in anime and now’s my chance to sample it. I know I should’ve tried it when I was on Japan but I just totally forgot about Ramune and it wasn’t a drink I noticed being sold there. I would’ve instantly recognized the odd bottle.

Anyway, I bought it had a sip of it. To my delightful surprise, it had the same Juicy Fruit taste I loved about Mitsuya Cider! At last! Although I couldn’t find Mitsuya Cider anywhere in the city, I at least have a nice substitute for my favourite bubblegum soda in Ramune.

I’m so happy! I can’t wait to get back to the shop and get some more.

Published in: on August 31, 2008 at 9:43 pm  Comments (3)  

Brisbane break

We’ve been planning a trip to the Gippslands since last month. I’ve pored over brochures, surfed for information about the area for countless hours and we’ve both filed for a one-day annual leave to make a long weekend out of the trip. Wilson’s Promontory looks like a dream in photos and hubby and I could benefit from a little bushwalking so I was really looking forward to the trip.

The only thing that prevented me from booking accomodations is the niggling feeling that the weather may not cooperate and we might end up staying indoors at a hotel in the middle of nowhere. We decided on waiting one week before the scheduled trip before booking anything to see what the weather forecasts would say. Unfortunately, the forecast wasn’t encouraging at all – rain, windy and cold. I don’t mind the cold so much as it’s the middle of winter here and it’s to be expected. But to bushwalk in the rain while being whipped by strong winds? No, thanks.

I didn’t have a plan B at all and had hubby come up with something else. The forecast for the whole Victorian state wasn’t particularly good and so we either have to cancel everything and just stay home or go interstate. Gabriel had a brainwave and came up with Brisbane. We’ve never been there but we’ve heard good things from people who’ve been and it’s nice and warm there. Of course I thought he was kidding at first but quickly found out that he was serious! A frantic search and booking of flights and hotels followed and we’re all set, with no idea of what to do there or where to go.

We left a cold, dreary day in Melbourne and arrived to a perfect, sunny day in Brisbane City. We took the train from the domestic airport to the city (something you’d expect a major city like Melbourne would have but nope, we have to make do with a shuttle here).


Click here to view photo album

Anyway, we stayed at a fantastic serviced apartment at M on Mary where we got lucky and got a room with a view. We walked around the city, watched The Dark Knight at Myer Centre, ate heaps at Hanaichi (won’t they open a branch in Melbourne soon?) and did the touristy thing by riding the ferry and going on the City Sights bus. We also visited the weekend Southbank Markets where hubby discovered the Wicked Banana, which is a banana injected with chocolate in the middle. Our feet were always sore at the end of the day but we had lots of fun and enjoyed the sunshine. Good thing too, since it was pouring down and we got soaked when we got back here in dear old Melbourne.

Published in: on July 23, 2008 at 5:12 pm  Comments (3)  

Thoughts on Tasmania

They say that traveling opens up a person to new things and experiences and consequently helps in giving that person a different world view. This in turn makes the person grow, in more ways than one. Following are some thoughts on things that I’ve experienced and learned from on our trip to Tasmania. If nothing else, this entry is something like a note to myself to remember our trip by.

  • It is cheaper to fly to Tasmania then hire a car there in the short term than to ride the ferry from Melbourne and bring our car. A co-worker who has been to Tasmania several times has said that it only makes sense to bring the car on the ferry if we’re going to stay in Tasmania for a fortnight or more.
  • There is no easy way of going around in Tasmania other than by driving. Also, be prepared to drive on winding roads. Even major highways are curvy so the driver has to pay attention most of the time.
  • There is a lot of road kill, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that there’s something that used to be a living thing splat in the middle of the road every few hundred metres.
  • Most of the wildlife around Tasmania are nocturnal. Consequently, we avoided driving around after dusk to avoid contributing to more road kills and possibly car-related accidents.
  • Tasmania is quite scenic and tranquil, perfect for relaxing. However, since we were after the magnificent natural views, we had to bush walk. The shortest walk we did was the 20 minute Enchanted Walk at Cradle Mountain and three walks of two hours each elsewhere. Now, that may be nothing for some people who regularly hike but for two couch potatoes who spend their whole day seating, it was quite tiring for us.
  • We only spent four whole days in Tasmania, visiting several towns and driving a minimum of two hours each way to our destination. It’s a wonder we actually got to visit most of the items in our itinerary.
  • We had our first encounter with an alpaca in the town of Sheffield – a town we only reached because we missed a turn at the highway. No complaints though as we love this little town of murals.
  • It was also in the town of Sheffield that we first saw the word spider on the menu of the local restaurant. We had no idea what it was and were intrigued. Unfortunately, the service was slow and we decided to eat elsewhere so we didn’t have the opportunity to order the mysterious menu item. We later found out through a free Coles brochure that a spider is actually what we’d call an ice cream float, that is, a scoop of ice cream on top of a glass of fizzy drinks, typically soft drinks.
  • The highlight of our trip for me is our visit to Cradle Mountain while hubby loved the Cataract Gorge at first sight. Also, we both enjoyed browsing and shopping at Salamanca Market in Hobart.
  • It was our first time to stay at a bed and breakfast (when we were in Swansea) and I have to admit that I was quite apprehensive when I booked the room. Hubby loves his creature comforts even while traveling and we learned the hard way that a nice, clean bed is worth a lot after a long tiring day. I’m glad to report that our first B&B stay was great – gracious host, clean bed, tidy room and a hot, filling breakfast almost made us feel right at home. The only thing that we were concerned about was our noise level while watching tv before bedtime. We ended up turning in early for fear that we might be disturbing the peace for the other guests. It was just as well since we needed our beauty sleep just then. Dunno how we’d fare though if we had to stay for more than one night.
  • Since we only stayed for a few days, we didn’t get to see the other amazing places in Tasmania. Some future destinations on the island that would be on our list are Strahan, Port Arthur, Russell Falls, Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park and perhaps even do the Tasman Island cruise featured in GetAway.

Overall, we had a fantastic time and would probably visit again given the opportunity.

Published in: on February 5, 2008 at 10:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Trip to Tasmania

We just returned from a six-day vacation in Tasmania earlier this week. I honestly thought that it was going to be a bit ho-hum over there but, as it turned out, I actually liked the time we spent there. I usually hate driving long distances but driving all around Tasmania’s highways didn’t bother me one bit. I love the scenery there and the quaintness of it all. If I wasn’t working in IT, I can imagine myself living there and loving it.

Anyway, enough words. Here are the photos grouped by locations, sorted in chronological order.

Launceston

Sheffield

Cradle Mountain

Bicheno

Freycinet

Swansea

Richmond

Hobart

Published in: on January 31, 2008 at 11:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Catching the cattle train

We’ve been taking an earlier train since hubby started on his new job and I must say that the train system is in terrible need of reforms. To illustrate, we arrived at the station bright and early Tuesday morning. We had to find parking in the quickly filling parking lot then rush to the platform from our out-of-the-way parking space to hear that the 7:46 limited express service has been cancelled.

Groaning, I nervously hoped that the 7:51 express service don’t get cancelled as well as it’s now only a few minutes before the train was supposed to leave but there’s not a train in sight in any of the platforms. Waiting in the cold with the other commuters, I also realised that this would be one crowded trip as most of the passengers of the cancelled service are also taking this service. With just a couple of minutes left, we finally heard a train approaching but relief turned to disgust as we saw “the clanker” (Mitsubishi train) pulling into the station.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I prefer an old, dirty train to no train at all but it just doesn’t give me the confidence that it would get me from point A to B comfortably. This train has no heating, rattles and vibrates at every turn and has less seats than the newer train models.

With the cancelled service and having to wait twenty minutes for the next one, you could bet your boots that everyone on the platform got on to the clanker despite their misgivings. Who knows if the next train would even show up? I’d take a miserable service that’s already there anytime rather than hope for a better one that don’t have any guarantees of running.

Half the seats were taken by the time the train pulled out of Werribee and the remaining half were filled by the time the train left the first stop, Hoppers Crossing. By the time we got to the second (unscheduled) stop, Aircraft, there was no chance of getting a seat and everyone was standing on the aisle. Shivering and all squished in, the thought of cattle being transported on a truck to the slaughterhouse came to my mind. Interestingly, we pay for this privilege and subject ourselves to the same predicament everyday. You’d think any sane, self-respecting human being would have learned that it does not get any better and clamour for change or get the hell out to find a more humane way of getting to work.

With worries about the environment, rising cost of living and another interest rise looming, people are trying alternative ways of travel without their cars. Add to that the rising population of the state and you can see why the current system is now at breaking point.

The only consolation for us right now is that at least the services in our line start at our station and we get first dibs on seats on trains that do show up.

Published in: on August 16, 2007 at 1:00 pm  Comments (3)  

Return to Sovereign Hill

For the Queen’s birthday long weekend back in early June, Raquel and I returned to Ballarat to see Sovereign Hill again. We’ve been there once before when we had our honeymoon here in Melbourne (and only because we still lived in Canberra back then). Anyway, Sovereign Hill is a sort of cultural theme park. It’s a recreation of a Victorian mining town of the 1800’s.

Sovereign Hill has recreated buildings from 1800’s Ballarat and even had actors going around the town posing as town folk. It makes you feel like travelling back in time to the gold rush era. It has a very similar feel to an American wild west town and I suppose it should be expected as it was basically the same time period. So, these Australian mining towns would probably have similar clothes, tools and techonology to American wild west towns from the same era.

Last time we visited Sovereign Hill, we just took a tour bus and so we only got to stay and explore the town for maybe half a day. This time, we spent the whole day there and we also watched the town’s boasted night light show.

Instead of retelling the events of the day, just go to our photo album of our trip and read the captions there:

Ballarat 2007

Published in: on July 5, 2007 at 5:28 pm  Comments (2)  

Bought in Japan

We just got our credit card bill in the post recently. That reminded me of the purchases we made while we were in Japan. Here, I’ve even taken a photo of it all. Well, most of it.

On the upper left corner of the photo is a cute small green toy from toy manufacturer, Tomy. We bought this in KiddyLand along Omotesando near the Harajuku station. What attracted me to it was that it swayed its head from side to side all because there was bright light shining on it. Yep, it’s a solar powered toy. No batteries required. There were a variety of these animated solar toys and I wanted to buy them all. But since I really couldn’t do that, I had to settle for this one which we both thought was the cutest for sale.

See it in motion by watching the YouTube video I uploaded below:

I bought the fully posable Saber from Fate / Stay Night, a popular Japanese game, because this character closely resembles a comic book creation of mine: Nadine Strange. The resemblance between the two characters were so uncanny to me that I thought somebody ripped off my Nadine character design when I first saw images of Saber. It was only later I found out that it was actually a character from a game. Anyway, now I have an action figure that resembles Nadine as a bonus.

Look at the similarities below. Admittedly, Saber was better drawn than the drawing I have of Nadine here but you get the picture.

As for the books, we so loved the Japanese food while there, we bought a Japanese cookbook at Narita Airport just before I flight back to Melbourne. The funny thing was that the book was actually available in Australia for cheaper. Ah, well.

You can also see here two white square books. These are actually colour pencils instructional art books. I bought these because I was attracted with the book’s art style using colour pencils. The downside was that it was written totally in Japanese.

I hope to be able to read these books someday and that hope is fueling my desire to become fluent in Nihongo (Japanese). Trying to translate these books word for word by looking at Kanji and Japanese dictionaries would take forever (or thereabouts). So, I figured that learning the language might actually be a faster way to go. Plus, I’ll be able to read Japanese manga (comic books) and watch anime (Japanese animation) in the original Nihongo in the future.

At the bottom right is a nifty little paper stand easel. It’s as big as a 3.5″ disk in its case. Set it up and it can hold a piece of paper erect. Pretty useful. I have an ordinary looking one at the office. The one in the photo has a cute pig design.

Well, we now wished we bought more cool stuff while we were in Japan. There were lots of cool things to buy there. Maybe next time.

Published in: on May 24, 2007 at 1:13 am  Comments (5)  

The JR Experience

One of the most amazing things about travelling in Japan is their railway system. The trains were clean, a joy to ride in and were never late. And when I say they’re never late, I mean you could really set your clock by their arrivals and departures. None of Connex’s definition of punctuality, which is within five minutes of the appointed time. Feh, talk about stretching the truth on that one. But I digress.

I’ve done some research prior to Japan and found out that Japan Rail offers tourists the opportunity to buy JR Passes that could be used to travel across Japan using trains and fast trains (called shinkansens). The only exception is that JR pass travellers could not use the super fast Nozomi trains but it’s not such a big deal anyway. You could still take the other trains in the route and there’s only a few minutes difference between using a Nozomi and the slightly slower Hikari train.

You’d have to buy the JR Rail pass outside of Japan and it’s available at most travel agencies. We got ours from H.I.S. travel. There are two categories for the pass: ordinary or green (luxurious first class). Each pass is available in 7,14 and 21 days of validity in increasing price increments. The price of the pass is fixed in yen but the exchange rate used by travel agencies tend to change so it’s good to shop around. Also, quote the prices on an agency’s website when you’ve decided on a place to buy your pass. We made the mistake of not remembering the exact amount listed for the pass in the agency’s website and only later realised that we paid a slightly higher amount than what was quoted on their site.

Bring a copy of your passport when making the purchase as the name on your passport would be used in issuing you with the travel voucher (shown on the left side of the photo) with a booklet with the terms and conditions of using the pass and a rail map. Once you arrive in Japan, you would have to go to a JR exchange office to get the actual ticket (shown on the right side of the photo).

The pass is just a cardboard booklet with your name, passport number, country of origin and the expiration date stamped on it. Because it does not have a magnetic strip on it, you would have to go through the turnstiles with a wheelchair access. These turnstiles are usually manned by JR personnel and you would have to show them your pass with the expiry date showing after which they’d press a button to let you through the turnstile. Unlike a local, you cannot just zip through any turnstile while hovering your wallet over a magnetic reader (which would have been cool, faster and easier but I guess the discounted price more than justifies this small inconvenience). You are advised to bring your passport with you every time you have to use your pass but we were never asked to produce it while we were there.

Another great thing is that you could use JR’s online travel planner facility to find out the exact time and route you’d have to take to get to from one place to another. As an example, type in Narita as a start point and Tokyo as a destination then click Search. The screen would refresh and show you several options for date, start point and destination, route limitations and type of fare. Click on Start when you’re satisfied with all your trip parameters and choose the best route combination for your trip. The pass does not include the subway network (which we used to get to Asakusa and Tsukishima) but the costs for these trips ought to be minimal anyway. However, take note that the online travel planner would sometimes suggest routes using the subway so factor this additional cost in your budget.

This facility is specially useful for long trips across the country using the shinkansen. I used this tool in planning our trips from and to Narita, Tokyo, Kyoto and Himeji, copying the date and time for each journey and using this information in reserving our seats for each trip on the shinkansen. There is no reservation fees for users of the JR pass so it’s best to reserve your seats for long trips. You could reserve several days in advance and I recommend that you make all your reservations in one go. I also recommend you do it in the JR office at Narita airport because you might have difficulty in locating the reservation office elsewhere and the staff in other offices might only have limited English-speaking ability. You would be given several tickets for each reserved trip, make sure not to lose it as it has your car/seat information and a conductor might ask you for the ticket during the trip.

Once on a shinkansen, a lady with a food cart would be selling all sort of goodies and drinks. We’ve found out later that these food carts usually feature great food from the towns on the train route. We didn’t have the courage to chat up the lady and ask about the goodies in her cart so we didn’t purchase anything from these snack carts. Definitely something for us to do if ever we find ourselves in Japan again.

The Japanese are well known for their politieness and practice phone etiquette on the train. They would go to the back of the train and speak in a hushed tone if they ever do get a call on their mobiles, only returning to their seats after the call is finished. Most passengers on the train sleep, eat, read or play portable game consoles with head phones during the trip, which makes for a very quiet time during the trip. No complaints from us as we also caught up with some quality sleeping time during our long train trips.

The trains were also very clean despite people bringing in food or buying snacks from carts because most of them bring their rubbish with them. Also look out for ladies dressed in pink uniforms waiting beside each door after a shinkansen arrives at a major station. Seen mostly in Tokyo station, these ladies wait for all passengers to disembark then hurriedly board the train, clean up, turn the seats around to have it facing the right way and replaces the headrest paper on each seat. They do this in a span of a few minutes and it’s such a wonder to see them work, it’s almost like they zip through all the seats and leave everything spotless.

A trip on the shinkansen is an experience by itself and the pass pays for itself pretty quickly. To illustrate, we bought an ordinary 7-day pass for $318.00 each. A return trip from Narita Airport to Tokyo and a return trip from Tokyo to Kyoto paid for the cost of the JR pass. Add to that the fact that we also used the pass to get to Himeji, Kamakura and took several trips within Tokyo and you’d see that using the pass is a great idea if you want to save on transport costs.

Published in: on May 23, 2007 at 12:48 pm  Comments (2)  

Missing Japan

It’s already been a week since our trip to Japan and yet, I still can’t stop thinking about the place. I can’t stop thinking about the delicious food we’ve tried there, the colourful busy streets, the tranquil and serene temples and the lush flora of the parks there. If it was only cheap to go back there, I’d do so in a heart beat. Even now that we’re back in Melbourne, I’m still yearning for Japanese-related stuff.

We’ve been eating more Japanese food lately. I started making sandwiches for breakfast that are similar to those we’ve eaten while in Tokyo. We’ve been eating at Japanese restaurants and fastfood during lunch break more often than not. We’ve even been having home-cooked Japanese dishes for dinner at home. Yeah, we bought a Japanese cuisine cookbook at the airport on the flight home. (The sad part was that the very same book was also for sale locally in Melbourne for cheaper.)

Although I know it’s a bit too late for it, I’ve started learning to speak and read Nihongo in earnest. I want to eventually be able to read the cool art books I’ve bought when we were in Japan. Incidentally, my interest for anime (Japanese animation) has been rekindled, too. I want to be able to watch anime in the original Japanese eventually. Not only anime, but even the live drama stuff.

That reminds me of our flight back to Melbourne. With Singapore Airlines, each passenger has a small TV monitor in front of his or her seat. You can choose which in-flight movie you could watch. I chose to watch two Japanese movies. One was called Free and Easy, a supposed comedy that turned out to be more drama than comedy. The second one was a drama film called Nada Sou Sou. I hate to admit it but that movie made me cry. I loved it! Can’t wait to get my hands on more films. Luckily, there is a shop in the city along Bourke Street near Russel Street that sells Japanese DVDs and CDs. I can just buy more movies there in the future.

I’ve started listening to the Japanesepod 101 podcast again to help me pick up Nihongo faster. I’m also studying a book called “Japanese the Manga Way” which uses Japanese comics to help teach how to read Japanese. Hopefully, I’ll stick with this. Next time we visit Japan again, I will be better prepared.

For now though, I’ll just look at the photos we’ve taken while we were in Japan. I remember our walking around Tokyo and Kyoto whenever I close my eyes. The thought of that place has kept me relaxed and cheerful despite the stress and pressures from work.

Published in: on May 10, 2007 at 11:32 pm  Comments (2)