Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Beer Allergies are for the Fishes

I have alluded to rashes that I developed after beer consumption during my overseas trip. The true cause has not yet been determined but the outcome was very predictable: rashes on the top of my feet and reddened palms. The foot rashes itched badly, and once the outbreak was over, peeled. (No worries, I did not bother to take photographs)

The condition worries me to this day, but at Manila's Oceanarium, there was a party that found it beneficial. It was perhaps a few days after an outbreak, and I had the usual peeling and there was a doctor fish exhibit..
Doctor fish likes to feed on human dead skin, which was painless and left you with extraordinarily smooth skin. I love new experiences and bravely stuck my feet in the water, and the fish were happy to receive their newest customers.

Initially, the sensation was overwhelmingly tickling. As the fishes nibbled between your toes, you cannot help but squeal and giggle. Soon, it became relaxing for me and quite enjoyable. And since my feet were peeling, I was an abundant source of food and attracted a large swarm. The fish did their job and my peeling was significantly reduced, revealing clear and smooth skin.

The Doctor Fish had a huge task and were up for it
My mind was blown by the experience. I knew it was practiced in the U.S. but only at beauty parlors and spas. At a singaporean mall, there was a cafe in which you could surf the net and have these critters feast on you at the same time. I seriously thought about raising these wonderful creatures myself.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Two Faces of Manila Bay

Manila Bay is among the most polluted bodies of water in the world. Which is a shame considering that the natural bay is among the finest harbors in the world and commercially benefit the Filipino people. In a November 2010 environmental audit by Ecowaste, it was found that plastics comprised over 75% of the 728 liters of trash collected. I also saw an exhibit at the Manila Ocean Park detailing just how polluted the bay is, and simultaneously made me lose my appetite:

More must be done to preserve Manila Bay
The description reads:
"This tank contains unfiltered water pumped directly from Manila Bay. Unlike the filtered sea-water seen in the rest of the oceanarium tanks, here you can observe how the bay water looks like in its untreated state. It has been estimated that everyday, five million gallons of untreated sewage, one to two million kilos of fecal & solid wasted and 16 million kilos of toxic & hazardous wastes find their way into Manila Bay. However, despite its being extremely polluted, this water is still capable of supporting a variety of aquatic life such as mussels, barnacles, anemones and marine worms."
 Since I like sampling local seafood, I wondered if any of those filter-feeding mussels found their way onto my dinner plate.

Despite the millions of gallons and kilos of sewage, plastics and fecal material, Manila  Bay is still a noteworthy destination for locals and tourists alike, especially at sunset. Oh, those Manila Bay sunsets, I can personally vouch for those. Places to view these sunsets are famous  Roxas Boulevard and at the SM Mall of Asia, and perhaps the locals know of more. My aunt  and uncle made a daily trip to their office in Manila, a 15 minute walk to Roxas, and I would join them sometimes to explore, shop or visit Roxas. Being near water is relaxing for me, and the sunset at Manila Bay is always stunning. Plus, you can have local favorites such as fishball and sour mango with anchovy paste for snacks, as there are numerous vendors at the bay. The bay even cooperates with your photographic aspiration, always yielding great results:

Along Roxas Boulevard
Manila Bay Yacht Club, one of the best photos I've ever taken
If  you can tolerate the stench when the wind blows from the sea, I highly recommend a visit to Roxas Boulevard to experience one of the best sunsets in the world.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Disparity of Wealth

The disparity of wealth, the uneven distribution of resources is a characteristic of developing economies, and is becoming more commonplace here in the U.S. And since I spent considerable time in the Philippines, I witnessed the haves mingle with the have-nots on a daily basis. However, nothing captures wealth gap quite like this photo:

It was taken from a hotel room in Eastwood city that my aunt generously made available for my cousins and I. It was one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed at, and the trendy nightlife venues were just across the street. Eastwood city is an enclave of modernity, the patrons seem to be of higher social standing or tourists. However, the urban squalor that Manila is known for is only a short walk away.

However, it's really not that bad. I had already grown accustomed to the cluster of small, dilapidated homes. After a night of partying in a sorta-upscale and buzzing area, waking up to the image above will leave you with sore eyes and accentuate your hangover. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Taal Excursion

The next trip in the Philippines was to Taal Volcano/Lake in Tagaytay, about an hour away from Manila. We visited this volcano in 2003, but did not go near the crater. This time, we intended to get much closer.

All this time, I thought this was the crater.
We needed to take an outrigger canoe to reach the crater, and it was a terrifying ride. The windy conditions made the waters very lively and rocked the tiny boat from time to time. Below is a video in which I try to document our boat ride and the waves that we faced.

Once across, we landed at a small village, whose inhabitants were employed in tourism. In order to see the crater, one had to purchase a horse ride. This fee also included a guide that helped you maneuver your loyal steed. The town and the horses were in bad condition: droppings littered roads and doorsteps. I could not imagine living in a place with a perpetual odor of horse excrement.  Also, the horses were more like ponies: undersized and gaunt.

My pony. I think a white stallion would suit me better.
Most of our group did not elect to ride the horses to the top, so it was just my cousin Bryan and I once again. I haven’t been on a horse in ages and I was quite nervous during most of the journey. My guide encouraged me to urge my horse faster up to the crater by whipping it, but I felt remorseful for my undersized steed and was scared of riding him on full gallop because of the steep ravines along the way.

Blurry photos of the ascent (horse was in motion)
The ride to the crater took about 30 minutes, and there were spectacular views along the way. But alas, my tour guide was in a hurry and was in no mood to wait for me to snap photos. I tried taking “drive-by” photos but they were blurry and the orientation was far from straight. The crater was a sight to behold, worth the perilous journey to the middle of the lake, the foul smell and the nervous ride to the top. The crater itself was too large to fit in a single shot and my cousin did not feel like taking a panoramic one with his superior camera. Although peaceful, the volcano showed signs of life by gurgling some sort of gas. 

Part of the crater, much too large to fit in one shot and didn't know how to panorama

As my camera dies, the volcano shows that it lives.
We stayed at the crater for only 15 minutes, as the sun was beginning to set. We still had a 30 minute journey back to the boats and we felt safer crossing the lake with some sunlight. The journey back was less terrifying than the journey there, for both horse and boat and we even started to have fun when we would be rocked by waves. I even channeled my inner cowboy and got a bit overzealous in whipping my horse, which resulted in him taking off on a full sprint while on a steep incline.. it would be the last zealous stroke of the trip. Overall, a pleasant trip: got up close and personal with nature and lived to tell about it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hong Kong Day 3

Day 3 started out much like the previous one: rushing to get dressed, eat breakfast and make it to the lobby to meet the tour guide. However, the last day in Hong Kong would be fairly uneventful, as the last excursion was an amusement park: Ocean Park. Yes, very touristy.. I know but my aunt bought this entire itinerary for me and was not about to complain. 

Surprisingly, it was more than your average theme park: the views within the park were stunning and the roller coasters were situated on the mountainside and you would catch glimpses of the sea below on the rollercoaster.

View from the cable

The writer, editor and Asia correspondent of this blog

My favorite part of Ocean Park is the 15 min. cable ride

The rest of the day was uneventful, but I will never forget the views I saw at Ocean Park.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Hong Kong Day 2

As usual, we were the first stop for the tour bus, which meant we had to get up early, get ready and eat breakfast by 8:15. The destination was Victoria Harbour, where you can view Hong Kong’s skyline. It was quite pretty but the weather was not cooperating with our tour group. It was cool, windy and cloudy and the pictures did not turn out as well. It was unbelievably windy and even the cold-acclimated American felt the shivers. 

Victoria Harbour on a cold, windy day

The second and third stops were entirely for the benefit of the Travel Company and Hong Kong tourism as a whole. First, we were taken to a jewelry factory that was operated by the government and only tourists were allowed inside. Their higher end products also had a lifetime guarantee and as long as you keep the receipt, you can come back years later for free repairs or exchanges, honoring the value you originally paid for the piece(s). I bought some good pieces, but cannot go into further detail! The next stop was the souvenir factory, which was in a random building and we were encouraged to purchase shirts, green tea and treats. Although these places did not contribute to the Hong Kong experience, it let me knock out my souvenir and “pasalubong” shopping for the relatives in both the US and Pampanga. 

The next segment of our tour took my cousin and I took the SAR of Macau! After about an hour long ferry ride across choppy seas, we were finally there! It was a curious blend as both European and Chinese culture was evident: From the cobblestone roads and the ruins of St. Paul’s to the Chinese signs and peoples. It should be noted that Macau became Chinese possession in 1999 and last year outperformed its North American counterpart Las Vegas in revenue.

Cousin Bryan at the ruins of St. Paul's

Clover shaped casino seen from St. Paul's

The stops included a souvenir shop (no surprise), St. Paul’s, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Venetian. St. Paul’s was a pleasant sight as I love taking pictures at European built churches and buildings. The Fisherman’s wharf was just a collection of replicas like the Water Cube, the Roman Coliseum and European style buildings that merely housed shopping malls. Yawn, plus there were renovations under way, so the wharf was quite desolate during our visit.

The last part of the tour consisted of our guide directing us to the free shuttles back to Hong Kong ferry from the Venetian casino along with a brief tour. In this case, less was more because we were famished and wanted to have some fun at the casino. I won some money, then lost it all. Typical casino story. 

The Venetian

Our ferry ticket was at 10:30 but we decided to head back to hop on the 9:30 so we can experience Hong Kong’s nightlife. We took a cab to Lan Kwai Fong, a street with a collection of bars, clubs and best of all, FOREIGNERS! Which meant that the venue staff would be able to speak English! We had a large mug of beer and just chilled at a bar similar to the Flying Saucer back in Charlotte because of its large collection of beers. Then we headed back to our hotel because our tour in the morning starts at 8:15 AM. Oh, and the cab ride back to the hotel was $210 HKD.