Thursday, 30 December 2010

A Pinoy in Bacolod : The Cakes and The City!

Perhaps, one of the reasons why Bacolod City has the best cakes is the abundance of sugar! Ha-ha-ha! 

The province of Negros Occidental is the Sugar Bowl of the Philippines, and while growing up here, I had the best desserts -- from the home-made Brazo de Mercedes, chocolate cakes with custard fillings and Sans Rival, to the native moasi, suman latik, bayi-bayiotso-otso, kalamay-hati and my all time favorite, mazapan de leche! (I think those delicacies deserve a separate blog!).

And every time I come home, I always visit my favorite cake shops and bring a whole cake home! (And sometimes two! Ha-ha-ha!)

And this Christmas, the loyal customers (like me) of the most popular cake shops in Bacolod like Calea, Bob's, and Ann Co Pastries swarm the shops or pre-order (like I did!) their favorite cakes to bring home for noche buena desserts. I pre-ordered my Ann Co Sans Rival while I was still in Seoul as they always run out of this buttered wafer delight. And luckily, when I swung by Calea a few days before Christmas, there was one last chocolate cake available; they stopped accepting orders by mid-December.  The law of supply and demand also applies to cakes! Ha-ha-ha!

I am very happy I was able to enjoy these delightful pastries. I guess I have been a good boy this year to deserve my cakes...from Bacolod!


Sunday, 26 December 2010

A Pinoy in Manila: Bae Yong-Joon Visits Cafe Mary Grace!

He is the king of dramas in South Korea; she is the queen of ensaimadas in the Philippines.

Bae Yong-Joon is probably the first Korean international superstar, who single-handedly drove Japanese women of 'a certain age' (you know what I mean, Ha-ha-ha!) crazy and into Seoul (specifically, Myeong-dong!), creating what everyone now calls the Korean Wave. I haven't watched his Winter Sonata drama but that earned him the superstardom (and gazillions!) he's now enjoying.

On the other hand, Mary Grace Dimacali is the brains (and baker!) behind Mary Grace ensaimadas, a very tasty bun, whose recipe was brought by the Spanish colonizers to the Philippines centuries ago. The sweet bun is made of flour, eggs, butter and other ingredients, and is topped with grated Edam cheese and sugar. And during Christmas time, families in the Philippines continue the Spanish tradition of enjoying breakfast with ensaimadas served with a hot cup of tablea tsokolate. And whenever I'm home, I am one of those who enjoy this treat! (Thanks to my mom who impatiently grinds in her copper pot the tablea tsokolate in hot milk using her batidor or wooden stirrer.)

And when it comes to ensaimadas, Mary Grace is the preferred choice! And her cafes and baked products are very popular all over Metro Manila.

And how did Bae Yong-Joon (BYJ) end up at Cafe Mary Grace?
Well, it's a pretty simple story: Two fans met in Facebook. The first is a fan of BYJ, and the other is a fan of Mary Grace ensaimadas. The first fan wanted a BYJ 2011 calendar, while the other wants the delicious bun. And so, they traded Cafe Mary Grace! 

And so, the second fan brought BYJ to the cafe, all 12 of him! Ha-ha-ha! And the first fan treated the second fan to a hearty dinner of salad with fried white cheese in calamansi vinaigrette, chorizo and green olive pasta and Valencia chocolate with cinnamon apple ensaimada!

And for dessert...cakes!

I'm sure Bae Yong-Joon would have had enjoyed the dinner, the chat and the fun the two fans had at Cafe Mary Grace that night.  

But thanks to Cielo (the first fan!) and to her sister, Mary Grace, this second fan had an amazing dinner full of fun, Korean stories and of course, food! Burp!

In case you drop by Cafe Mary Grace at Serendra, you may not see Bae Yong-Joon hanging out there. Because he and his 2011 calendar are hanging (on a wall) somewhere. Ha-ha-ha!

Instead, you can always enjoy the delicious ensaimadas the second fan is still enjoying while writing this blog.

If BJY flew all the way from Seoul to Serendra, maraming salamat to Cielo and Mary Grace, the boxful of ensaimadas you gave this second fan flew from Serendra all the Bacolod!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Christmas Shopping in Manila: The Long Taxi Queue

The Christmas shopping rush in the Philippines brings shoppers out of their homes and...into the malls...and back!

And 'back' means a taxi ride back home for those with no cars but with heavy shopping bags!

And these photos of shoppers queuing for a cab in front of the Landmark Department Store last rainy weekend with no taxi cab in sight would force you to call on all the saints to send all the taxi cabs to where you're waiting.

But if the saints are all busy shopping themselves, brace yourself for the long wait, as you stand there with your tired legs, your heavy shopping bags and your long Christmas list of more things to buy!

Happy shopping!

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard Philippine Airlines flight...."

(Incheon Airport is the best for me!)

(The second to the last door I took before heading home. The plane's door was the last.)

After dragging my heavy luggage (and my frozen ass) out of my apartment in Hannam-dong, down the main street, into the tax cab (which brought me to the Itaewon airport bus stop) and into the airport bus (whew!), I was able to finally say I was half-way home, and on my way to fleeing the freezing temperatures of Seoul!

The most difficult part of traveling out of South Korea is not the hurried bus ride to the airport, nor the long wait at the check-in counter, but actually the trip from my apartment to the airport limousine bus stop!  

Why?  Because dragging my heavy luggage through my hilly neighborhood is back-breaking! Fortunately, a taxi cab always shows up when I need one, and most of the time, the cab drivers are very helpful when you need to load your luggage into their trunk.

And the day I left was lucky day indeed. A short wait for a cab, and even shorter wait for the bus. 

And my luck continued...

Checking in for my 8:30PM flight at the Philippine Airlines counter, I dragged my luggage for the last time, eager to take off my winter jacket and my weary look after. I then greeted the female staff a 'Merry Christmas' and in return, she gave me an early Christmas gift!  An upgrade to business class!  Perhaps, she thought of rewarding  this already tired traveller (and he hasn't even flown yet! Ha-ha-ha!) an early Christmas present! 

Santa Claus was not lost with his reindeer somewhere in the North Pole; she was right there at the 'J' counter of the Incheon International Airport giving away presents! Ha-ha-ha!

And after clearing the Korean Immigration, I went to search for Gate 112 with my Mabuhay boarding pass in hand, looking forward to dinner on board (I was hungry!) and to hear the in-flight announcement...

      (Even it's an airline meal, you should always              appreciate that you have food in front of you.)

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard flight PR 469 bound for Manila...."

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Coming Home: The View From The Window

From the plane's window, that is.

As the Philippine Airlines plane took off from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport runway last January 2010 en route to Incheon International Airport, I was seated at a window seat (which I requested) and try to have the last glimpse of Manila from up the air.

And as the plane gained altitude, I snapped this photo. It's Makati City, my former workplace....and playground!  And the photo became a screensaver for a time.

And today, as I fly back to Manila, I hope to see the same view; this time, from the ground. 

I miss the place, and I intend to lose myself among the crowds, the shops and most of all, the Christmas atmosphere.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Just A Flight Away From Home: The Incheon International Airport

Every time I step into the Incheon International Airport to catch a flight to Manila, I feel like I'm almost home.  And tomorrow will be of the same feeling. Excitement!

But what makes it easy for me (and for the millions of other passengers) is how this airport makes the departing passenger feel comfortable while navigating hassle-free through check-in, the Immigration (the duty-free pick up in between!), up to the departure gate! And the same is true when I fly into South Korea!

The layout is impressive (much thought went into this I'm sure), and the service is very efficient. 

It is not crowded because it's huge, and the whole atmosphere of the building is very friendly. 

As a traveler, I appreciate the effort the airport management puts into the operations of the whole place, which has paid off year after year. It has been voted at the world's best airport since 2005! 

So, tomorrow afternoon, as I hop into the airport limousine bus (which should also be voted as the world's best bus! Ha-ha-ha!), I will look forward to stepping into the Incheon International Airport, ready to enjoy the experience of efficiency and smooth travel.

And when I get off the bus, I will just be a flight away from home...

"Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful....

....and the fire is so delightful...."

That Christmas song played in my mind when I was looking out the window this morning to find snow blanketing the neighborhood!

Well, it wasn't that all frightful, and I have no fireplace in my house. Ha-ha-ha!   But I don't wish for a heavy snow on a work day (slippery sidewalks!), and definitely not tomorrow when I head to the airport (slippery roads!) to catch a flight into warmer temperatures. 

But while today's scenery lasts (I think they will all melt by tomorrow), I just try to enjoy this last white Christmas day in Korea for 2010.

Here's wishing for a warmer weather tomorrow...

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Christmas Trees On A Freezing Night

The Korean weather bureau warned everyone of a freezing week, but some (like me!) who were not afraid of a "minus 10 degrees Celsius" (and the provocation from North Korea), braved the outdoors to see friends, dine and maybe, shop.

So, on Tuesday night, when everyone's idea of a nice evening was staying at home, having dinner or watching TV dramas with the heater on, I hopped into the subway and rushed to Gwanghwamun to meet  up with Wan-Soo, a friend whom I haven't seen in a year, for dinner. 

And while it was warm inside the Japanese restaurant where we passed the time chatting and munching in between sentences, the temperature was steadily dropping!

And by the time we were done (burping and all! Ha-ha-ha!), it was almost 9 PM! And hopping to a bar to get some drinks wasn't part of the plan as it was 'back to work' the next morning. So, we just got coffee and off we went to separate directions. He, back to his office to work (yes, a normal night) and I, towards the City Hall, to explore what Christmas scene was there to snoop.

So, with a warm peppermint mocha cafe warming my left hand, I walked into the freezing night pretending I was a polar bear and didn't feel that cold (but I didn't have to crawl on the sidewalk. Ha-ha-ha!).

And along the way, a few Christmas trees were already up at the Sejong Arts Center, the Cheonggye Stream and the most interesting of the three, the one at Seoul Plaza, which was next to an uncompleted skating rink.

As expected, I wasn't able to appreciate how they all looked like. Through my bleary eyes due to cold winds, I just saw these tall trees full of blinking lights, decorations and an excessive electric bill. So, I just let the camera do its job and prayed that it worked. And looking at the photos above, it wasn't all bad, considering I risked my exposed right hand to frostbite. Ha-ha-ha!

I am not sure I'd want to pass that freezing way again. But I did enjoy the dinner, the chat and the coffee.


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The Hannam-dong Design Houses

(An art house complete with rubbish at the front door. I wonder if the uncollected garbage is part of the art.)

The title of an article in the Korea Herald last weekend caught my eye: "Art houses stand-out in Hannam-dong".

Hmm.  Art houses in my neighborhood? I didn't know. But thanks to the information in that article which included the addresses of houses, I was able to find them with the help of the local real estate agent.

It was a bitter and cold Sunday afternoon when I found the houses, while carrying the map print-out on my frozen left hand, and my camera on the other. A guy, presumably a staff of the 'Design Korea 2010', saw me as he stood guarding the gate of one of the houses.

The staff initially spoke to me in Korean, but when I blurted, "Is this the design house?", he realized his guest list just became international! Ha-ha-ha!

So, he welcomed me into a house painted in 'sky blue', while the other house in red seemed to be locked. And although there was a guide accompanying me, I felt like I was trespassing into somebody's private property as I entered the house and into the rooms.

With the names of the artists pinned on each door, each room has a different set of drawings, paintings and blown-up photographs. Although the press release said that the 78 artists live in the houses, I wasn't sure it was true when there was hardly a warm bed to survive the night in, nor any semblance of a warm habitat in this freezing weather. The only reminder that somebody must have stayed there was a set of toothbrushes hanging on the wall (I forgot to take note of the toothpaste brand patronized by the artist. Ha-ha-ha!)

Well, the artworks were all interesting and the idea of turning these rooms into a mini-museum was unique. But I wished they should have cleaned out the rubbish outside the main doors before they started inviting people in. There is an ordinance in the Yongsan District against scattering one's garbage on the street. (The artist going to jail? Ha-ha-ha!)

And I wondered why all of these so-called 'design houses' were located next to new apartment buildings being constructed in Hannam-dong, which makes me think this was a marketing ploy to lure visitors (and potential buyers) to also see the new units up for sale. Hmm...

Well, just in case you want to visit these 'design houses', they're all a short walk across the U.N. Village main entrance, and they're open until December 30 of this year.

I wasn't able to meet any of the artists while I was there, but in case you drop by and see one, please remind him or her to clean up their rubbish and drop them somewhere else. Ha-ha-ha!