Sunday, 29 December 2013

Thanks To Friends, I Got The 2014 Starbucks Planners!

They have been very popular over the years; these Starbucks planners. 
                   (The red planner from the 17 stickers)

And every year, before I fly home to the Philippines, I try to complete the 17-sticker requirement for my niece. Last year, I wasn't able to complete it as my visits to Starbucks was limited. 
                                  (Another red planner from a friend)

This year, however, I had help. A lot of help!

Although the 'Starbucks planner event' ends on December 31, I was flying out of Seoul on the third week. So, on the beginning of the second week, I asked friends if they have Starbucks stickers to spare. Of the 17 cups, you need to purchase at least three special Christmas coffee flavors. And lucky for me, Rio and some friends gave me their electronic stickers, which I then incorporated into my Starbucks card, and voila! They totaled 17!  As the red colored planner was very popular, I wasn't able to claim it as the Starbucks coffee shop at Yongsan Station, which was the nearest one to my office. I had to claim it from the one next to the Soonchunhyang Hospital in Hannam-dong in Yongsan-gu.

And while I already secured one for my niece, Priscila, another friend gave me another planner! A Korean friend who used to manage a Starbucks coffee shop in Yongsan-gu gave me another planner. On the second week of December, I also told her that I was running out of time and was worried that I wouldn't be able to complete the 17 stickers. And a few days before I flew out of Seoul, she said she was giving me another one! How generous of her! Now, my other niece, Toni, was getting one, too!
So, in 2013, my annual quest for a Starbucks planner was doubly successful. I can now relax. Ha-ha-ha!

How about you? Have you been able to get yours, too?

Thursday, 26 December 2013

An 'Ugly Sweater' Christmas Party In Seoul!

It's the time of the year again when friends in Seoul gathered and enjoyed each other's company before flying out of South Korea for our respective Christmas vacation.

Last year, our theme was a Christmas carol party, and this time, it's an 'ugly sweater' Christmas party where everyone must wear a sweater that he or she decorated with Christmas trinkets.

As last year, we again held our last get-together at Joy and Archie's home in Seongbuk-dong. And lucky for us, the temperature that day was above freezing, making it easy for everyone, especially the kids, to head northeast of Seoul.

Although we are far from home, we still make it a point to celebrate the essence of thanksgiving and the essence of Christmas by celebrating the blessings and friendships we enjoyed throughout the year. 

And before we started the party, we gathered together to say a prayer for our kababayans back in the Philippines in the areas affected by the super typhoon, Yolanda/Haiyan. Two of our friends in Seoul actually have families and relatives in Leyte, and we made sure we did our share to help.

And just like any Filipino gathering, we thought of a menu to be enjoyed by everyone. This year, we switched from Filipino cuisine to western fare: turkey,  prime ribeye roast, lasagna, japanese fried noodle salad, ham, bacon-wrapped sausage, jambalaya rice, queso de bola, fruit salad, tiramisu and a dessert that's very Pinoy, leche flan.

To add more fun, we had 'Santa Says' game for the kids and 'Dancing on a Christmas Wrapper' for their moms and dads. And to choose the winners for the 'ugliest sweater', everyone paraded their Christmas party attire. The winners, Rio and Archie, won for their creative sweaters, receiving prizes for their effort.

And for the exchanging of gifts, everyone picked a friend's name randomly and gave the gift after describing the recipient in front of everyone. 

To end the night, we did our traditional singing. Over the years, we sang popular Christmas carols that are in English. This year, for a change, we sang one Filipino Christmas carol, 'Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit'. That once-a-year singing performance is now in Youtube.

By now, most of us have already flown out of Seoul and enjoying our respective Christmas vacations. 

So, from all of us, we are greeting you a Merry Christmas and wishing that everyone's new year be peaceful, safe and happier! 

And we're all praying: no more destructive typhoons, please.  

Friday, 13 December 2013

The National Museum Of Korea's Autumn Foliage

The National Museum of Korea is just in my neighborhood. And every morning, as I ride the Blue Bus 400, I pass by its monumental structure, where a few passengers get off. These passengers must be working in the Museum (which reminds me of a guy who rides the same bus and gets off at the stop near Asterium, an apartment building where my friend, Rio and her family live. I told Rio that one day I saw the same guy at Delhi, an Indian restaurant at Asterium; he works there.)

Anyway, Rio once told me she and her friend Joy would walk from Asterium and stroll around the National Museum of Korea on clear weather days. Asterium is actually just a few hundred meters from the Museum, and walking around the huge area is actually an exercise.

So, on lunch break, I decided to stroll around the Museum as well. It's just a subway ride from my workplace and spending less than an hour on a cool autumn day on the Museum grounds would be a relaxing time I realized only a few are lucky to enjoy.

So, on one lunch break, I hurried down to the subway station and rushed to the Museum with my cameras and with the purpose of taking photographs of the autumn foliage at the front area of the Museum, which I only see from the bus window every morning. I actually observed the changing of the colors of the foliage days before I decided to go to make sure that my visit would be perfect. 

And I wasn't alone. Around the area where women strolling, kids playing, tourists visiting and school kids having their educational tour. Even a baby on a stroller looked very happy as he was roaming around the grounds. I have been inside the Museum years ago with friends Lynette and Rene from Australia. That was the last time I set foot in the area.

And seeing the ducks on the pond in front of the Museum, I wonder if, during winter, do they also fly south to migrate? Perhaps, I should return to the pond to check whether they're still there.

And at the balcony towards the back of the Museum, I could see a part of the US Army Garrison in Yongsan and Nam-san (Mt.Nam) a few kilometers away. On a really clear day, the view of Nam-san with the NSeoul Tower is actually postcard-ish. I was also able to stroll Nam-san's main road full of Gingko trees this season.

I am not really a museum person; I don't exactly enjoy roaming those huge halls just to see those artifacts and sculptures made by dead people. So, to me, on a short lunch break, walking around the grounds of the National Museum of Korea and just trying to enjoy a cool autumn weather while taking photographs were enough. I didn't have to pay any entrance fee. Ha-ha-ha!

And if you also want to take a stroll around the National Museum of Korea, take the subway, Line 4, and get off at Ichon Station.  At this station's Exit 2, you will find a tunnel that leads to the museum grounds.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Buhay-OFW: Tips Para Sa Mga Uuwi sa Pinas

It's the time of the year again at madami sa ating mga kababayang OFW ay uuwi at gustong makapiling ang ating mga mahal sa buhay at mga kaibigan sa Pasko.

Uuwi rin kasi ako next week and I was thinking of sharing the things I observe tuwing umuuwi ako sa Pinas. All these years of going in and out of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) , naging habit ko na ang mga ito: 

No. 1: Dress down, no borloloy, no flashy jewelry

Siguro, kasama na sa ating ugali na kung galing ka sa labas ng Pinas ay dapat 'imported' din ang dating. Yung iba diyan, maski na super-init paglabas ng NAIA, naka leather jacket pa rin at naka-scarf. They expected na may snow sa pilahan ng NAIA taxi, yata. 

Itong klaseng 'appearance' ay mismong binabantayan ng mga may masamang balak na naka-abang diyan sa NAIA. Yung ibang OFWs kon-todo gold earrings, gold necklace at kung anu-ano pang kumikinang na alahas na suot. These OFWs are setting up themselves as a target. They're screaming 'OFW ako at madami akong alahas na dala! Hold-apin n'yo ako!'

Lalo na pagnaka-uwi ka na sa bahay ninyo. Hindi mo kailangan magsuot ng alahas kung mamamalengke ka man lang sa talipapa.

No. 2: Try to avoid landing at NAIA if you can

Kung meron man lang international airport na mas malapit sa probinsiya mo at merong flight from your job site papunta doon, doon ka na lang mag-landing. 

Ang hometown ko is Bacolod at dati akong kumukuha ng flights from Incheon to NAIA, tapos connecting flight to Bacolod. Pero na observe ko na magulo at nahihirapan akong dumaan ng NAIA kasi malaki at very crowded, lalo na kapag December. Kaya ginawa ko ay nag Incheon to Cebu, tapos Cebu to Bacolod ako. Mas convenient at stress-free para sa akin. At hindi na ako kailangang managalog, puede na ako mag-Hiligaynon, total, nagka-intiendihan din kami ng mga Cebuano staff.

No. 3: Do not carry a lot of cash with you and watch your bag all the time

Hindi ako nagdadala ng madaming cash sa handcarry bag ko kung uuwi ako ng Pinas. (Ayan, yung balak na mag-abang sa akin sa NAIA, inuunahan ko na kayo. Wala akong pera! Ha-ha-ha!)


Una, may limit as to the amount of currencies na puede mong ilabas sa bansa na pinanggalingan mo. Kaya, para walang hassle sa Customs sa Incheon International Airport, hindi ako nag-bibitbit ng madaming Korean won. Kung may bibilhin akong pagkain sa airport, credit card na lang ginagamit ko. At tamang-tama lang ang pesos na dala ko rin.

Pangalawa, ang cash na binibitbit mo ay puede pa rin yang mawala at madukot, or yung bag mo ay makalimutan mo kung saan-saan. Madami tayong napapabalitaan na nawalan ng bag na may laman na maraming pera diyan sa loob nag airport dahil sa sinalisihan, ó niloko, ó nagpaloko.

Ang ginagawa ko ay pinapadala ko na sa bank account ko sa Pinas ang gusto kong dalhin na amount, depending on my budget. This way, safe na ang pera ko maski gumastos ako ng konti sa remittance charge, or nalugi ng konti sa exchange rate. Ang importante ay safe ang pera ko at may peace of mind ako.

 No. 4:  Be smart and be aware of your surroundings and the people even inside NAIA

Tuwing papalabas na ako ng arrival area, pagkatapos kong dumaan ng Customs sa NAIA 3, tulak-tulak ko yung maleta ko, palaging madaming tao nag-aabang sa labas at tila paranoid ako kaagad. Basta ang attention ko palagi ay sa mga gamit ko at sa mga taong nakakasalubong ko.

Pero one time, diyan sa CR ng NAIA 3, may isang taong na nagpapanggap na kunyari jumi-jingle. I noticed him kasi, after dumating yung flight ko from Seoul at 12:30AM, madaling araw, dumeretso ako sa CR after clearing the Customs para mag-toothbrush. Yung connecting flight ko kasi papuntang Bacolod is about 5AM kaya nakigamit muna ako ng CR bago mag-kape.

Yung tao na yun ay tila nag-aabang ng mga pumapasok. Nang pumasok ako, nandoon na siya sa urinal. Natapos na akong maghilamos at mag-toothbrush, pero nandoon pa rin siya. Ewan ko kung may urinary tract infection siya kasi five minutes na yata siyang naka-tayo doon. Sigurado akong hindi siya pasahero. Baka nag-aabang siya ng isang pasahero na gagamit ng kubeta at mag-iiwan ng bag na walang bantay.

Maski puede pumasok ang mga sumasalubong sa Arrival Level ng NAIA 3, sana e-check ng security ang mga CR (both men's and ladies' CR) para siguradong walang kahina-hinalang mga naka-tambay doon. 

No. 5: Do not let your luggage and bags out of your sight even inside NAIA

Baka merong gustong maki-pagkaibigan diyan mismo sa loob ng airport habang ikaw ay naghihintay ng susundo sa 'yo, or habang nasa coffee shop ka bago mag check-in sa connecting flight mo papuntang probinsya. Careful lang madami nang naloko na kunyari nag-offer silang babantayan ang maleta mo habang nasa CR ka. 

At maraming nagpapanggap na OFW rin at gustong makipagkaibigan at yayain kang sumama sa kanya, ó kanila, para isang hotel na lang kayo kung sakaling delayed or cancelled ang flight ninyo at kailangan ninyong mag-hotel. Ingat kayo sa mga taong hindi ninyo kilala. Very friendly sila at kunyari iiwan sa inyo ang kanilang mga gamit.

Kung mawalan ka ng gamit, mabuti na lang kung honest yung makakita ng bag mo kung nawala lang dahil nakalimutan. At madami na rin akong narinig na merong flights na merong nagnanakaw sa loob mismo ng eroplano tuwing natutulog ang mga pasahero. Kung sa eroplano pa lang, mabuti kung may lock yung bag mo na inilagay mo sa overhead compartment. Ako, naka-padlock yung handcarry ko at inilalagay ko sa OPPOSITE SIDE na overhead compartment para makita ko kahit naka-opo ako. 

Ang payo ko ay natutunan ko kay Fox Mulder sa TV series na X-Files: "Trust no one."

No. 6:  Be aware of the taxi number and taxi driver

Most of the time, kung galing akong Seoul, hindi na ako lumalabas ng NAIA. Naghihintay na lang ako sa coffee shop para sa connecting flight ko papuntang Bacolod.

Meron, ilang beses na rin, na kailangan ko muna mag-overnight sa Manila. So, ang ginagawa ko, ay kumukuha ako ng NAIA Taxi papunta sa hotel ko para safe, kasi past 12 midnight na ang arrival ng flight ko.

Kung gabi na, mas mainam na kunin ninyo ang NAIA Taxi. Maski mahal, isipin niyo na lang na nagbabayad kayo ng premium para sa inyong safety. Nakakatakot kasi na kumuha lang ng taxi doon sa 'departure level'. Madami na tayong nababasang mga insidente ng panloloko at panghohold-dap.

Pero maski NAIA Taxi na ang sinakyan ko last year, yung driver ay sinubukan pa rin akong hingan ng extrang pera. Tinanong niya kung saan ako galing, since feeling safe ako sa taxi niya, sinabi ko na galing akong Korea. Tapos, humingi ng tip; sabi ko wala na akong peso, pero humingi pa rin ng 'pera ng Korea' para daw souvenir niya. Hindi ko siya binigyan. Dinedma ko na lang.

And if you can, take a picture of the cab's plate number and body number.

No. 7:  Inform/text/call your family

Kung nag-iisa kayong dadating, ipaalam sa pamilya ninyo ang flight number and date of arrival niyo. At dapat tawagan or e-text ninyo sila kung dumating na kayo, especially yung detalye ng taxi kung wala kayong sundo.

No. 8: For single lady travelers, or yung may edad na: Ask someone to pick you up

For female OFWs arriving alone, especially at night, I would strongly suggest that you ask a family member or relative or a friend to meet you at the airport. Mabuti na yung may kasama ka sa taxi sa pag-uwi kong wala kayong sariling sasakyan. Yung mga may edad na OFW ay dapat magpasundo rin kasi sila rin ang target ng mga manlolokong kababayan natin diyan sa NAIA or mga manloloking taxi driver.

No. 9: To save time as 'Balik-manggagawa/OFW', secure your OEC online before Christmas

Dati, yung wala pang online, hassle ang pagpunta sa  OWWA/POEA satellite office sa Bacolod City para mag-secure ng OEC receipt na kailangan natin sa paglabas uli pagkatapos ng bakasyon. 

Mabuti merong nang online Balik-Manggagawa OEC processing ang POEA:

Para sa dagdag ng information, heto yung Q&A ng POEA:

No. 10: Pag-isipan ng mabuti ang pagdala ng 'pasalubong'

Minsan nakasabay ko sa check-in counter sa Incheon International Airport ang isang pauwing OFW. Dalawang malalaking karton ang dala, bukod sa maleta. Siguro umabot sa 50 kilos ang timbang ng lahat ng bagahe niya. Palagay ko, sumakit ang likod niya sa pagbuhat ng mga karton mula sa bahay niya pa lang papuntang Incheon Airport.

Nasa kultura na natin ang magdala ng pasalubong pauwi, pero isipin natin kung aling ang mas economical; kung aling paraan mas makakatipid tayo. Halos lahat nang sinasabi nating 'imported' ay mabibili na sa Pinas. Maski sabihin natin na mas mura sa labas, kung magbabayad lang din tayo ng excess baggage na malaki, ay hindi na rin tayo nakatipid.

At kung may balak tayong bumili man lang, bibilhin na natin ang ating pang-regalo sa Pinas, nakakatulong pa tayo sa ekonomiya ng bansa. O, di ba?

No. 11:  Ipagpatuloy ang enjoyment ng Pinoy delicacies 

On my flight back to Seoul, since most of the time, I take Cebu Pacific (kasi mas mura), pero yun nga lang, kung gusto mong kumain ng in-flight meal nila, you have to pay for it. Ako, may sarili akong dalang in-flight meal.

Last time, I brought with me Jamaican patties and for dessert, Dolor's sapi-sapin! So, maski wala na ako sa Pinas, enjoy pa rin ako ng Pinoy delicacies. O, di ba? I just buy my softdrinks from the stewardess kasi makahingi pa ako ng ice. 

Yung nga lang, kawawa yung katabi kong pasahero. Maglalaway siya. Ha-ha-ha! There was a flight, baon ko empanadas and tarts, and another time I had ube jam!

No. 12: Enjoy your time with your family and friends

Lahat tayo bihira umuwi, kaya enjoy dapat natin ang panahon sa piling ng ating pamilya, kamag-anak at mga kaibigan. Alam ko na meron kang mga kamag-anak na hindi gustong makita. Ha-ha-ha! 

Maski palagi kayong nagcha-chat or nagme-message ng pamilya niyo, mabuti na yung masabi niyo ang gusto niyong sabihin, lalo na sa inyong mga anak. Dapat ma-intindihan nila na ang buhay ng konting kaginhawahan dahil OFW ka ay hindi panghabang-buhay. 

If you have other tips to share, please share. Salamat!

Merry Christmas!