Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pahiyas Pleasures

Every now and then we take the whole family to Lukban, Quezon, the hometown of my husband. It's a good 3hour drive from Manila. Every 15th of May, the town of Lukban celebrates the Pahiyas Festival, a tribute to its patron saint, San Isidro. In the Catholic faith, San Isidro is the patron of farmers. Lying at the foot of Mt. Banahaw, the main industry in lukban is farming.

Several fun activities are held during the whole week of the festival but the most exciting day is on the 15th: when they held the parade showcasing their culture , and also this day, homes of the Lukbanins, are dressed-up using their harvests from their farms.

Here are some of the scenes from our recent trip:

These are called Higantes (Giants), native mascots standing about 12feet, and are standard participants of the parade. The mascots are a hit with the kids, who get scared when the Giants reaches downward to the crowd.

The beauty is in the details! Houses dressed-up in native farm produce e.g. rice stalks, vegetables, fruits, and other root crops.

These are called Arangya. A chandelier-like colorful decor made from rice. It takes about 2months to make an arangya. Each of the leaves, called Kiping, are made from cooked pounded rice, which they lather on fresh leaves. They let it dry, and then, with gentle care, take-off the leaf-shaped rice from the leaves. It's a very, very delicate, painstaking procedure. The townsfolks in Lukban, Quezon are known for their industriousness.

Designers from the province, outdo themselves, as they utilize homegrown, organic materials to give a twist to the traditional Filipino attire, Barong Tagalog for men and the elegant Terno for women.

The local beast of burden, carabao also joins the festivities. The carabao is the farmer's bestfriend, as they help plow the field.

More tales from Lukban, next!!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

blazin' beijing 2

Beijing is the seat of the Imperial dynasties of long ago, and also center of the current government of China. If you're in beijing, it's imperative to visit the historical sites. You don't go to Beijing without learning a thing or two about chinese history.

We started out early in our second day, we were told to be in comfortable walking shoes, bring water; there will be long walks ahead. Our destination was Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City.

Tianamen Square as touted by our tourist guide as the biggest square in the world. Bigger than Trafalgar in London. However, when you're in Tiananmen, and you see the huge crowd of chinese people, the square doesn't look huge at all.

The scene especially the snaking lines around the Mao Zedong memorial, constantly remind me that China is the world's most populous country. According to Tony, our tour guide, if we wanted to see the unspoiled remains of mao, we need to fall in line for a whole day!

Even after 20 years or so, discussions over what transpired during the student crackdown at tiananmen square, remains hush-hushed. Our tour guide boasts that he was one of the students, but he can't say how many students were exactly killed because there were several instances, wherein civilians were either called for questioning or subjected torture, with the slightest rumour-mongering about the incident.

Ever wonder why the photo of Chairman Mao doesn't fade after all these years? Well, apparently, it's replaced with a new one, every year during their anniversary, with its exact replica by the same painter!

From the tiananmen square, we passed thru an underpass to enter the gates of Forbidden City (which is behind the photo of Chairman Mao)There are total of 4 gates, and the distance from each gate is quite far, about half a width of football field to a length of one football field!

There are so many tales, anecdotes, myths inside Forbidden City. The extreme weirdness of some e.g. the emperor has 13,000 concubines cannot be passed-up. A tour guide is a must! But if you want to be on your own, you can lease headsets which has pre-recorded narratives the whole experience. Costs about 50RMB You can select the language you want, I noticed there are Tagalog versions. I think it's more comprehensive though not interactive than being with a tour guide, you can linger, and go along at your own pace. I would love to do it again in the future, coz I love history!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blazing Beijing

The monday after Easter (April 13), we flew to Beijing, China for a 4day R&R together with some colleagues and business partners. It was actually my second trip to Beijing. The first one was, about 10years ago, wherein I covered an event for my old company. I'm looking forward to re-visiting old spots, and taking-in the new ones. I know that there are great sights to see on post-Olympic Beijing.

We took the earliest PAL direct-flight to Beijing, which was 7am. It was a 3hour flight, after breakfast is served, one can peacefully slumber, as they turn down the window shades and lights. Good thing! Because I woke up 330am, to be at the airport 430am!

We didn't get to land at the Terminal 5, the famed new swanky terminal that Beijing built for the Olympics, probably because our plane was small and came from a 3rd world country. But I caught a glimpse of the enormous rooftop of terminal 5, shaped like a dragon's back with scale-like structures. Impressive!

From the airport, we went directly to our company-laboratory, for a tour of its modern facilities. We anticipated an early dinner, but majority wants to go shopping. Off we went to Yashow Clothing Market. It's like Greenhills. A lot of cool stuffs like bags, clothing, china souvenirs, linens, and accessories.

Bargaining is both an art and science in these places. We were told by our Tour Guide Tony, that we should right away bargain at 60% off. But as per my experience, it can still go as low as 40%, and i learned it the hard way!

I was very happy, when i thought, i haggled successfully for some of those "Quadruple A" (kuno!) Paul Smith shirts knock-offs for my hubby at about 135 RMB each. Lo! and Behold! When I asked another colleague, she got it at 45 RMB each! Gosh, I felt so stupid! (I wish my husband will skip this paragraph. Otherwise, my future shopping abroad will forever remain in suspect) It tempered my shopping spree throughout the trip.

That's the drawback in shopping around these places. They peg the prices at such horrendously steep prices. If you haggle, pakapalan-ng-mukha, Don't feel you're short-changing them. They really expect you to haggle as horrendously as they've jacked-up the prices.

Then, there's the drama. After you've said your final price, and they still won't give in. Pretend that you want to go around and think it over, or check other stores. Then, they will surely grab you arm, & lower the price, if not give-in to your final tawad. If you're the type who hates their personal space being invaded, bargaining in China is not for you. The salesladies will grab your arm, put their hands on you shoulders, even pinch your cheeks as they flatter you with compliments.

Here are some of my interesting finds:

Since we are on the subject of shopping. Let me share some of my other experiences in shopping in Beijing.

Hong Qaio Market is also a must-go for bargain hunters. These are for bag / clothes afficionados, especially for those who like Greenhills-style shopping. If you like knock-offs, this is your heaven! They have everything, as is, Everything. The latest Marc Jacobs, Hermes, Dior, Prada, Channel, Gucci. But, they're very discreet about LVs. They're not brazenly displayed. You have to ask them for them. They'll give you an LV catalogue, and you just point the style that you want... speedy, neverfull, keepall,zippy, papillon, etc. etc. Point what you want, then, someone will get the stock from their "warehouse" somewhere.

Another shopping mecca in Beijing is Wangfujing Street. It's almost 1Km of pedestrian-is-king shopping strip. You can find the latest designer items here from clothes, bags to expensive watches.

Have you heard of the notorious street foods in Beijing? You can find these hawkers in one of the side streets in WangFujing. Right now, because of the recent Olympics, the vendors wear uniforms and caps and their stalls are more organized. Some of the weird street foods that I saw were giant octopus, scorpions, silk worm larvae, huge squids, last time, i saw sea horse on sticks!

Though i'm an isaw-eating graduate of UP, I cannot stomach these delicacies. But we tried those huge strawberries, dipped in caramel. Yummy sweet strawberries! But the caramel coating is tough on the teeth.

More Beijing tales next post!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

breezin' thru bangkok 2

Bangkok teems with Buddhist temples. I would have wanted a visit to each and every nook and cranny but our itinerary only stipulates a visit to the famous Recombitant Buddha. The reclining buddha is huge, the whole thing is made of gold-plated metals. We had to take-off our shoes to get inside. Those in shorts and sleeveless tops are not allowed in. There are many caucasian tourists, most of them very tanned, most probably coming from the famous beaches of Pattaya or Phuket. Bangkok is their last stop for some cultural immersion.

Inside the temple, you can make a donation, and they'll give you a bunch of prayer coins that you can drop one-by-one in the little containers on the way out of the hall. To accumulate good karma or for some prayer petitions?

The buddha is located inside a huge compound with several pagodas and shrines. The pagodas are made of cement but coated with decorative tiles and gold-plated sheets. The designs are vibrant. In the evenings, the temples were lighted in such a way that the gold leaves shine and twinkle. We saw this impressive display during the Chao Phraya River cruise the night before.

We were told that temples in thailand are mostly "gifts" to important persons. For instance, the King would usually "gift" a mother or father with a temple which is not like any other temple. There's one, whose marbles come from Italy. Every commercial establishment also has a small temple. This is similar to the practice in Bali, indonesia.

The Thai King is very well-respected in the country. Most establishments would have a signage with the photo of the King or Queen, or would display a yellow flag, which is the color of the King. I was told that every monday, many Thais would wear yellow, as show of respect for the king.

Our next stop was the Gems Galllery. It's a typical places where tour guides bring guests to purchase something, where they will of course, get a certain percentage of the sales. Thailand is famous for gemstones, so we didn't offer any resistance.

After watching a audio-visual presentation about the gemstone industry in thailand, we were led to the craftmen's area. They showed us how they fashion the gems into jewelries. The persistent salesgirl will then lead you to the display area where you can buy beautiful jewelry. I've never seen such beautiful and extensive choices. unfotunately, they do not allow cameras inside. I would love to have any of those in display. The cheapest ones are those set in silver, whether rings, earings or bracelets, around 1500 pesos. The most expensive and intricate ones would are set in white gold, gold or even platinum. I saw some tiaras that go as high as 2M Baht.

My colleagues took a long time choosing and haggling for the best price. I got a set of earings and necklace of my birthstone topaz. It’s must be fate, because I love the color aqua blue. I have so many aqua blue shades of clothing. The topaz is a brilliant aqua blue, that really stands out on my skin. Kitang-kita. I would have wanted the blue sapphire because it’s what Thailand is famous for. But the color doesn’t stand out on my skin, as observed by the sales lady Helena, and I agree.

Ted bought some funky jade bracelet for himself and for nanay. Then waited for me at the coffee shop where there’s free flowing coffee and drinks.

We proceeded to Bangkok’s Siam Niramit Village & Theater. Siam Niramit is actually like our former Nayon Filipino. A small village inside the city which encapsulates all the culture, and places of the country in one single place. But unlike our Nayon Filipino, they don’t have reproductions of all the historical places, what they have were tableau of pastoral life, like people cooking the tradtional way, sewing, puppet and instruments-making, garland making, planting rice, etc.

After that, we proceeded to the pre-show dinner. We had international buffet throughout the tour,and tonight was no exception. The food was yummy! The Thai soup staple Tom Yum was present every where we go, but the best tom yum I tasted was at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel buffet. Really yummy, until now I can still taste the perfect combination of coconut milk, shrimps and chillies.

The show Siam Niramit is the most beautiful and colourful production I’ve seen. If Bangkok is a haven for the creative and talented 3rd sex, I think Siam Niramit is their greatest artistic tribute for Thailand. It’s basically a musical production, with extravagant and flamboyant costumes and set designs. Beautifully-made up actors and actresses, mime and dance to ethnic music. There are so many totally unexpected twists in the sets. There was rain, boat rides and swimming in lakes that appeared out of nowhere, there was ripening of the planted rice, appearance of trade galleons, and at the end, a cocaphony of animals, including a huge elephant which tamely roamed the house and the stage! Truly amazing! You can miss all the bargain hunts in Thailand, but Siam NIramit is surely not to be missed!

Friday, March 27, 2009

breezin' thru bangkok

Our company's summer outing this year 2009 was in a neighboring country in South East Asia, Thailand. I heard so much about Thailand especially about the fantastic shopping, the yummy Thai food and the fascinating Thai culture.

All 20 of us took the sunday PAL flight to Bangkok. A first batch (11pax) left the day before. Everyone's excited, most- for the anticipated shopping; while for the first-time flyers- the experience alone is enough to make their day. I took dear hubby along since both of us have never been to Thailand.

What's nice about flying with one's national carrier, you don't immediately get assaulted with the smell of foreign nationals and taste of their local food. Think Malaysian Airlines or Emirates. Ewww! With Philippine Airlines, I can still speak Tagalog with the FAs and the food is still comfortably Pinoy.

Almost all countries in SouthEast Asia have new spanking huge airports. Philippines, I think, is not an exception, However, our new airports are still crowded! In Bangkok, their new airport is relatively big, with the requisite Travellators (horizontal elevators), which for me, is a mark of a big airport. There are also huge statues of one of their Hindu gods. i love airports that showcases their local culture, not like our bland new Centennial 2 and 3.

We were greeted by our local travel agent, Jitti; and a costumed-Thai lady who placed on our necks, a garland of purple orchids, a Thai symbol much like our sampaguita. There are several busloads of tourists in the airport. Thailand is really a major tourist destination worldwide.

Since it was a sunday, we did not get a welcome dose of the infamous Bangkok traffic. Also, because the airport is connected to the city with a winding Skyway, you don't get bothered by commuters. I wish our airport in Manila has that Skyway!

Our hotel is located at the heart of the shopping district in Bangkok, much like downtown Manila. It's called Centre Point Apartment along Petchburi Road. The famous bargain malls like Platinum Fashion Malls, Pratunam Center, and ITC, an electronics haven, are just a block-away from our hotel.

Our room is quite big, with 2 double beds, a small galley with utensils for eating, and a full-bath. There's plenty of room to maneuver around, luggages relegated to the closets. There's no significant view, but the cable tv will make up for it.

I was feeling famished (could be due to the state i was in, 7 weeks pregnant!) so i asked Ted that we get some of those famous Thai street foods. I'm often amazed at the variety of street foods in other countries, but i'm proud to say, that the most weird ones can only be found in our country. Hmm... sounds like a good article in the future!

In Thailand, the street foods are much like Indonesia's... fruits (guavas, strawberries, mangoes) that can be dipped in sugar with powdered chili; fish, pork, beef balls in chili sauces. The food. looks clean and the places have no flies flying about. I like Indonesian street food better!! Well, generally yes, I love the variety of Indonesian food compared with Thai food. While both are flaming hot. Indonesian are much more similar to ours, only hotter.

Our first night dinner in Thailand was held on a Cruise along the Chao Phraya River.
At 370 km, the Chao Phraya River is the longest river in Thailand. We start the cruise at a River Terminal, which also has nice shops for tourists.

Our reservations were at the upper deck near the dancefloor and void of any roof. We can see the beautiful Bangkok skyline. As soon as the boat leaves, the singer, who is incidentally, a Filipina, starts the grove. She was very versatile, greetings guests in their native languages, and singing their country's contemporary songs.

A river cruise in Bangkok on the Chao Phraya River gives the visitor an overview of the the history of Thailand. The historical monuments, grand palaces, temples and various communities on the riverbanks are sights to behold. At night, these are all well-lighted showing-off the glamour of Thai culture. In contrast also, we see the modern new structures like the Shangrila hotel. We passed under the huge suspension bridge named after King Rama VIII. The facade of the temples at night are so impressive.

The table is also loaded with an international buffet spread. As usual, we pinoys were the first in line. Good thing! It's hard to be sandwiched between Indians and Iranians. We enjoyed drinking and dancing until the cruise ended.

What a Perfect way to cap the evening on our 1st day in Bangkok!