Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas from Myeongdong Cathedral!

Just like its neighboring shopping center, the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea, also bathed itself with lights and decorations to celebrate Christmas.

This Cathedral is the center of the Roman Catholic faith in South Korea. So, it's just proper to welcome all the faithful visiting the church with bright and unique tree lights from the base of the stairs up to the Cathedral.
(If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to Heaven is paved with good...illuminations!)

I was there to visit the Cathedral a few nights before I left for the warmer temperatures of the Philippines, and was mesmerized, along with a few others, by the unique lights installed  around the Cathedral grounds.

And even the tree next to the Catherdral, where I spotted a couple posing for a photo a month ago during autumn, has become a favorite among the visitors as it was converted into a tree of lights, so unique that it even looks better than having yellow leaves covering its branches.

And if you go behind the Cathedral, even the garden surrounding the Blessed Virgin Mary is littered with lights that guard the Lady during these chilly winter nights.
So, if you're in Seoul, do drop by the Cathedral grounds at night and be fascinated by the unique lights. 

Have a Merry Christmas, everyone!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Christmastime @ Downtown Seoul!

               (Myeongdong's main alley brightens 
                      up the night shopping)

If you're heading to Seoul this Christmas time, not only will you be overwhelmed with the winter sale extravaganza everywhere, your night shopping will be extra bright as well!

(Lotte Young Plaza's Christmas lights and decor)

As I roamed downtown Seoul this time of the year, when most foreigners living in the city do their last-minute shopping for Christmas presents to bring back to their home countries, I was distracted by all the extra bright and twinkling lights decorating shops, department stores and alleyways that add a festive atmosphere to an already lively and crowded shopping scene in the city.
              (Lotte Department Store's corner)
                  (Seoul Plaza's Christmas tree)

And not to be outdone, er, outshone, the Seoul Plaza also put up its own towering purple Christmas tree that attracts passers-by and motorists as it's sitting right at the tip of the plaza, just right across Deoksugung Palace, and close enough to mesmerize any resident royalty when it's lighted at night.

                (Shinsegae Department Store's 
                     annual Christmas lights)

So, if you're doing your night Christmas shopping in Seoul amidst the freezing temperatures, don't forget to appreciate, not just the huge discounts, but also the bright Christmas lights and decorations that hopefully would remind and educate everyone what Christmas is all about.
              (Christmas hearts in Myeongdong)

Saturday, 19 December 2015

A Pinoy @ The Movies: Star Wars - The Force Awakens

                      (A Stormtrooper and 
                      BB-8 at the CGV lobby)

Don't worry, no spoilers here.

Last Thursday, on opening night, I joined the hundreds of Star Wars fans at CGV Cinema at I-Park Mall above the Yongsan Station in Seoul in getting transported to 'a galaxy far, far away' by the franchise's Episode 7, The Force Awakens.

Some die-hard Star Wars fans watched the film in Jedi costumes and some even had light sabers. Of course, they were foreigners. The only time I would expect to see a Korean walking around in a Jedi costume would be Halloween night in Itaewon.  

If you want to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens, you should at least be familiar with the story and the characters. This is already Episode 7, remember? It's like watching the TV series 24. You need to watch from the very first hour, and not just jump into the 10th hour as you might lose track as to how many bad guys Jack Bauer had already killed. Ha-ha-ha!

Going back to 'a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away', in the night's -3'C temperature, fans braved through the chill, took to their reserved seats, and hushed down when George Lucas' familiar opening crawl started to hypnotize everyone into the dark side. Ha-ha-ha! 

Just like the episodes before, the Star Wars films always make living in other planets look so easy! So, I wondered why Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway found it so difficult to find a habitable planet in Interstellar? Or why Matt Damon had to be celebrated for growing plants in The Martian? Ha-ha-ha!

I used to have the complete set of three Star Wars films A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, which I played when I was doing some chores in my Manila apartment usually from Saturday night until early Sunday morning. I guess being transported to another galaxy while actually doing some household chores here on Earth made the work easier. Ha-ha-ha! Especially if you have the Force with you.

And considering this episode was after 30 years since, seeing the familiar characters Han Solo, Princess Leia (who's now a general with a perfect hairdo even in a time of war), and Luke Skywalker (who now looks like a Jedi needing some rehab) just proved that the Force was indeed with them.

And I guess the Force was with the fans as well. After the movie, they cheered and clapped, proving it was worth the wait.

And me? With the freezing temperatures waiting outside as I made my way home, I didn't need the Force; I needed a hot chocolate. And maybe some Jedi instincts as to where to get one, quick. Ha-ha-ha! 

So, may the Force be with you, too!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Dongdaemun Design Plaza: White Flowers For You!

After the white snow, let's talk about white flowers.

Last year, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza's installation of 20,000 white flowers with LED lights illuminated the whole 'grass hill' area of DDP, attracting crowds during the day and night until it's 'lights out'!

The DDP has then moved the installation to the other side of the Plaza, dividing the numbers between two rows of inclined gardens full of white flowers that need no watering; they need only a light switch!

A few weeks back, on my way home, I dropped by the installations to see how it was on this side of the DDP. And I discovered it's still as popular as ever. Couples, families, tourists and passers-by troop at the gardens for photographs and selfies.

The installation of these white flowers with LED lights will last until February 2016, after which they will be 'harvested'. 

I wonder if the DDP will give away these flowers. Maybe we should ask for some. After all, they said there are 25,550 flowers! I only want one....dozen. Ha-ha-ha!

The installation is behind the DDP, near the Maxstyle building. From Exit 1 of the Dongdaemun Culture and History Park Station, just walk towards the direction of Maxstyle at back of DDP.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

As White As Snow...For Now.

Yes, it was white as snow, and luckily, not that plenty.

The snow that blanketed Seoul lately turned the landscape into white. And although it's always lovely to look at from afar, or from outside your window, it isn't that exciting if you're rushing to work with all that snow falling on you and making the sidewalk slippery. 

And much to everyone's relief, the warmer temperatures melted it the next day, keeping the sidewalks and roads dry, and the landscape back to its intended colors.

As I have always said during winter, thick snow will always be beautiful to look at when it's on a postcard. But if it's on your path, it's an entirely different story.
Stay warm, everyone! For now...

Monday, 30 November 2015

Touring Philippines: Silay City's Balay Negrense

Right in the center of Silay City in Negros Occidental in the Philippines is a very popular landmark; I think it's competing for the top spot alongside El Ideal's fresh lumpia ubod, a favorite local delicacy. Ha-ha-ha!

Balay Negrense, or Negrense House (Negrense is an adjective to describe any thing or any one from and of the Negros Island), is the ancestral home of Don Victor Fernandez Gaston that was built around 1897 and was completed in 1901. 

His heirs donated it to the Philippine Tourism Authority and in March 1994, the National Historical Institute of the Philippines declared it a heritage house.

Situated along the historic Cinco de Noviembre Street in Silay City, Balay Negrense is actually just a few minutes from the airport. Any tourist arriving in the Negros Island should be able to squeeze in a few hours touring Silay City and its old, preserved ancestral houses that tell the story of what once the cultural and economic center of the island.

I visited The Ruins in the neighboring Talisay City a few years back. Just like Balay Negrense, it is also a popular tourist destination. But unlike The Ruins, Balay Negrense's interiors have been preserved and restored, and filled with antique furnitures donated by other Negrense families.

At the time of its completion, Balay Negrense was the largest house in the province, and must have been a sight to see during those years. With its big windows and high ceilings, this mansion is very airy and cool throughout the year. They didn't need air-conditioners then.

Don Victor Fernandez Gaston was the son of Yves Leopold Germain Gaston, a Frenchman from Lisieux, France, who is credited for bringing in sugar technology to the Negros Island in the 19th century. If you have seen the classic Philippine movie Oro, Plata, Mata, some of the scenes were filmed in another mansion owned by one of Yves Leopold Germain Gaston's heirs.

And as I walked around Balay Negrense that day, I stumbled upon portraits of Susan Magalona, who was said to have been the most beautiful woman on the island during her time. I remember seeing photos of Betty Magalona, Susan's sister, in my mom's photo album. Both women were mestisa and truly beautiful. Seeing photos of these ladies taken during those days, one can always declare that they were indeed beautiful, as there was no photoshopping then. Unlike today's digital photos and plastic surgery, you can never tell who's cheating! Ha-ha-ha!
   (Portraits of the beautiful Susan Magalona 
           are displayed at Balay Negrense)

Visiting Balay Negrense gives any tourist an idea of the lifestyle of the rich sugar baron and his family in the early 20th century.

So, if you're visiting the island, do drop by Silay City and make a quick trip to Balay Negrense and other museums. And don't forget to stop by El Ideal for snacks! I always do!
(Silay's cathedral as seen from Balay Negrense)
Here's Balay Negrense's homepage:

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Person of the Day: Street Sweeper

Now that the autumn leaves in Seoul are falling, somebody has to help clear the sidewalks of these leaves.

And here in my neighborhood, the gingko trees along our main road are shedding their yellow leaves, turning the sidewalks into a yellow carpet that needed sweeping, not vacuuming.

So, who will sweep all these leaves? Well, as I was walking through the neighborhood one morning, I spotted a hardworking ajumma, dutifully clearing the sidewalk of the gingko leaves one stroke of her broom at a time. 

Perhaps, on all the other sidewalks in Seoul, countless hardworking sweepers out there are also busy cleaning up the autumn mess these trees are leaving behind as they all prepare for their winter hibernation. 

As I pay tribute to her and to her co-workers, she is my person of the day. 

Friday, 20 November 2015

Philippine Tourism Campaign @ Seoul Lantern Festival

The Seoul Lantern Exhibition at the Cheonggye Stream in Seoul, Korea, is about to end, but the Philippines' Department of Tourism doesn't slow down in its Seoul campaign for a #itsmorefuninthePhilippines.

I was at the opening night of the Seoul Lantern Exhibition weeks ago, and even at that time, the Philippine parol (Christmas lantern) on display was already very popular.

So, it wasn't also a surprise that the booth of the Philippines' Department of Tourism (DOT) at the Seoul lantern exhibition never ran out of visitors who picked up a brochure or two about the most popular tourist destinations in the Philippines. These brochures, by the way, are written in the Korean language.

Congratulations to the DOT's Korea Team for the tireless tourism campaign. The team mans the booth every day and night until 11PM when it's lights-off for all lanterns.

So, if you're at the Seoul lantern exhibition and are in need for some tourist information about the Philippines, do drop by their booth, and make sure you also get selfies with the colorful, twinkling Philippine lanterns made of capiz shells flown in from the Philippines.

#itsmorefuninthePhilippines , indeed!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

It's Yellow Time in the Neighborhood!

Yellow seemed to have been the color scheme of my neighborhood lately. And nobody's complaining. Maybe only the street sweepers.

Just like the gingko trees on that road snaking around Namsan, the gingko trees in Hannam-dong have turned over their yellow leaves, joining the thousands of gingko trees around Seoul in their annual farewell before their winter hibernation. 

And as I observed during the previous year's autumn, the trees don't exactly synchronize their changing of color. It's because the trees don't get the same sunlight at the others, especially in this city where buildings impose their shadows on the trees around them. 

But synchronized or not, at least they all agree to one color: yellow!