Friday, 31 July 2015

A Happy Birthday In Deed!

I celebrated my birthday early this month; I was able to fly home for a short vacation to the Philippines so I could spend it there. 

But what is it about birthdays that make us gather around a cake, blow some candles, and make a wish once a year? Tradition? Congratulation? Or it's because birthdays are always the best reason to have a party?

When I was in high school, I overheard a dear aunt greet another a happy birthday. The celebrant joked that, that day, she was "one year to closer to her grave". She must have felt that she had lived a full life to even joke about it.

Yes, to some, birthdays seem to be a milestone of sorts, that it's a big achievement to have survived another 365 days since the previous celebration. Although I think it's wonderful to have lived longer, birthdays are actually just a measurement of one's biological existence. 

For me, what should define our lives are the deeds that we do, the events that we cause to happen, and the memories of us that will stay even after we have passed. It should be a life of meaning and purpose, and not only a life of money and parties.

Years ago, I asked the big boss of the firm where I used to work on how she would like to be remembered. She paused for an answer, probably not expecting such a question from me, or probably not having thought about it at all. Her reply was that she would like to remembered as having made a difference in other people's lives. 

So if I ask you now the same question, how would you answer?

I'm sure you can come up with a beautifully prosed reply, but I think the real question should be: how will everyone actually remember you?

So, aside from the traditional cakes and candles, why don't we celebrate our existence with good deeds that will eventually define us. And in case you fail today, you can always make up for in the next 364 days.

Happy birthday to me. And you.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Pie in the Sky: Buko, Puto and Ocampo

       (The view from the pre-departure 
      area of the Bacolod-Silay Airport)

Having recovered from the traumatic meal of eating an impostor chicken inasal aboard the Cebu Pacific flight from Incheon Airport to Manila, it was time to bring my own in-flight meal. Again.

I have done this a few times already, and depending on my craving, it was either sapin-sapin and jamaican beef patties, or chicken empanadas and buko pie for flights back to Korea.

But on my flight to Manila from the postcard-perfect Bacolod-Silay Airport, I decided on the legendary Manapla puto and El Ideal's buko pie and bingka. I always thought that, just because one is up in the air doesn't mean one can no longer enjoy the goodies available on the ground. These goodies I paired with one of Professor Ambeth Ocampo's interesting books to remind me of Philippine's colorful history while flying over the islands where they actually happened.   

Professor Ambeth's book Prehistoric Philippines talks about the old maps of the Philippine archipelago, and so, as I was munching down the soft puto followed by a bite of buko pie full of chunky buko strips, I looked out of the plane's window and tried to identify the islands we were flying over. I wished I brought extra so I could have shared it with the salivating passenger seated next to me. An extra book, I mean. Ha-ha-ha!

And that while Professor Ambeth's fascinating stories occupied my attention, the taste and flavors of home occupied my palate. At 20,000 feet.

I was having my pie in the sky. :-)

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Cebu Pacific's Very Sad Chicken Inasal

          (Cebupac's sad chicken inasal)

I am from Bacolod and practically grew up enjoying chicken inasal. Chicken inasal is a popular must-eat barbecued chicken in the Negros Island. Chicken parts are marinated in vinegar, lemon grass, calamansi and other flavors, and are then skewered on sticks and grilled while basting with annatto oil.

So, when I was booking my Cebu Pacific flight to fly back home, I decided to pre-order their in-flight meal of chicken inasal. I thought, why wait to arrive in Bacolod when I can already enjoy a chicken inasal while still up in the air?

And when the crew served my chicken inasal during the flight, it was time to enjoy...or not. Accompanying the meal was a small packet of soy sauce to help flavor the dish, and then I made my first bite.

As the chicken and whatever they marinated it in were being munched and chewed by the passenger seated at 14C, he wondered whether this was an in-flight joke, considering Cebu Pacific is known for its in-flight games. There was no lemon grass flavor, the chicken was tasteless, and for P350, he got the saddest-looking and saddest-tasting four slices of chicken inasal and a strip of chicken skin laid over not-so-soft-but-oversteamed white rice!

Expecting a flavorful chicken inasal, all I got were emotional distress and psychological trauma while eating at 36,000 feet. And while I was trying to gulp down the masticated food (or otherwise starve!) against the wishes of my taste glands and probably my stomach, too, I swore to never order Cebu Pacific's chicken inasal ever again.

So, when I arrived in Bacolod, I had to erase the bad memory of a bad in-flight meal by treating myself to an authentic tasting, mouth-watering chicken inasal served in the island where it originated, and not from some plane flying over the East China Sea.

Cebu Pacific, if you're reading this, your 'Chicken Inasal' is not chicken inasal. Change its menu name to grilled chicken or chicken-something. It's chicken all right, but it's not chicken inasal. 
You won't be able to fool the palates of Negrenses like me when it comes to our favorite chicken meal.
        (The real chicken inasal from                       Bacolod with garlic fried rice)

So, if you're flying to Bacolod, wait till the plane lands to have the real chicken inasal. :-)

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Passenger Service: From The World's Best Airport....To The Worst!

              (Incheon's trolleys available 
                for departing passengers)

The Incheon International Airport has always been voted as one of the best airports in the world. If you have passed through this airport, you'd agree with me that it's very clean and efficient, and their facilities make any traveler's passage very convenient. The people behind it must have always thought of the passengers, their main customer, and what he or she needs to have a comfortable journey.

During my summer break weeks ago, I flew out of Incheon Airport en route to Manila, Philippines. From my neighborhood in Seoul, I took the airport limousine bus (which is also the most convenient way to the airport from Seoul), and when I got off the bus, an airport personnel helped unload my luggage. And next to that stop, trolleys were all lined up for any passenger to use.

            (Tipping the scale at Incheon Airport 
                  within my 30-kg. allowance)

At the departure area, they even placed a digital weighing scale to help me make sure that I didn't go beyond my allowed baggage weight. How thoughtful of them! My passage through Incheon International Airport went very smoothly, as always.

But when my flight landed at the Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Manila, it was a different story. 

When I went home in December 2014, I was welcomed by the sign 'DO NOT ENTER'; it was blocking the supposedly moving walkway. And this time, after seven months, the same sign was blocking the arriving passengers; this walkway has obviously not been repaired all these months?! Why does the NAIA management even install these substandard facilities and waste the airport fees from the passengers and revenues from the airlines?

              (Deja vu: 7 months still not moving)

My flight arrived at 12:30AM on a plane full of tired adults and sleepy, crying babies. Is it too much for NAIA to think about this walkway's actual purpose? 

And as if that inutile walkway was not enough, when I was flying out of NAIA3 after my week-long vacation, another useless walkway greeted me as I made my way to Gate 106 for my Cebu Pacific flight back to Seoul. The sign said 'ON-GOING REPAIR' but there wasn't any repairman attending to it. I wondered if it was actually defective, or maybe they just didn't want to turn it on.

      (Road block en route to Gate 106)

And as if ON-GOING REPAIR was not enough, the hundreds of idle trolleys parked at Gate 106 were an irritating surprise!

Any passenger going through NAIA3 must walk for hundreds of meters from the first x-ray security check to the flight check-in, not to mention queuing for OEC certificate clearance for OFWs or paying your travel tax, up to Immigration and the final security check.

But what pissed me off was that the NAIA3 management just didn't want departing passengers to use those trolleys parked at Gate 106, trolleys which could have made things lighter to carry, especially if you're a senior citizen, have kids in tow, or have a bad back. 

               (Idle trolleys hidden at 
                 Gate 106 of NAIA3)

I complained to the Cebu Pacific staff about this and she said that it's actually the NAIA management's responsibility to bring these trolleys back to the final security check so departing passengers can use them. I asked her to remind NAIA management about this. 

               (Useless NAIA3 trolleys)

In July 2014, I already saw these useless trolleys parked at another gate, Gate 115. This time, 12 months later, another pack of useless trolleys are hidden at the other end of terminal. This just shows what poor customer service NAIA has for passengers using its airport. 

NAIA deserves its 'worst airport' label. I am sure thousands of arriving or departing passengers would agree with me.

So, there. Flying from the best airport to the worst gives a passenger the best experience. And the worst.

Philippine Snack of the Day: Bitso-Bitso

A plateful of bitso-bitso is good enough to fill one's tummy for the entire morning! Yes, bitso-bitso is very filling because it's made up of ground glutinous rice mixed with some coconut strips and then deep fried, and twisted to look like a figure '8'. That's why it's sometimes called 'ocho-ocho'. Ocho is the Spanish number eight.

After deep frying bitso-bitso, they are bathed in caramelized muscovado sugar. Muscovado sugar is partially refined sugar that still retains its brown color and molasses flavor.

And since this plate is served in the Philippine island that's also called the Sugar Bowl of the Philippines, making bitso-bitso (and probably all those sweet desserts, too!) is no problem with the abundance of sugar! 

Now, can you guess how many bitso-bitso are the plate, or better yet, how many can you munch down in one sitting?

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Tombola And Other Stories: A Book of Childhood Memories

Tombola and Other Stories is compilation of funny and sentimental stories of a childhood spent in an all-girls school. This colorful book (literally and figuratively) is Maria L.V. Balmaceda (Marlu to her classmates)'s way of sharing her childhood stories with classmates, friends, and everyone else who wants to reminisce their own wonder years at school. And I think that includes all teachers, too!

             (Marlu's book at the 4th floor 
          of Starbucks in Sinchon, Seoul)

Anyone who went to an all-girls school would be able to relate to Marlu's stories; and although I went to an all-boys school, I was able to relate to her anecdotes as I spent my first two years of grade school under Salesian nuns before the boys were moved to the main school run by the Salesian priests. You should read her anecdotes about their young lives under the watchful (and very strict!) eyes of the nuns at the Assumption convent school.
Marlu's stories made me wonder whether there are still European nuns running Catholic schools in the Philippines today. I can only remember a few names of European nuns I ever encountered: Sister Fosca (presumably from Italy) during my grade school years, Sisters Amparo and Maria from Spain whom I met in North Korea years ago, and the Italian nun, Sister Beneditta, who mysteriously disappeared on me after giving me a rosary in 2010.  

With this book, Marlu and her classmates' children (and their grandkids someday) are able to learn what it was like during that era when their moms spent their wonder years at Assumption convent school. Photos and stories like these always bring us back to another time when the world looked differently. It's the same feeling every time I rummaged through my Mom's album full of black and white photos, and see colorful stories from monochrome images.

But I wonder whether Marlu would be publishing another set of her childhood stories. This time, the more interesting ones from high school. Maybe only the wholesome ones because I myself wouldn't publish mine, which, if only the priests knew then, could have caused them to expel me from high school and take back the medal they gave me for the saintly behavior I displayed during all those high school years. Ha-ha-ha!

          ('Tombola and Other Stories' at a very 
         long water slide in Seoul; it didn't get wet)

                              *  *  *  *  *

Tombola and Other Stories by Maria LV Balmaceda is available at

Blogging 101: Thou Shall Not Steal

Last weekend, I posted a blog about the water slide in Sinchon, Seoul, where a lot of Seoulites had fun. That blog post was to complete a mission as a blogger member of the K-Performance Supporters group organized by the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO). As members, we get points for the text and the photographs.

Imagine my surprise when a fellow member uploaded a post two days later using my photographs! He stole my photographs so he could earn points for himself! He didn't even cite his source, nor gave me any credit. 

I raised the issue with the KTO staff, who then issued a reminder that anyone who steals photos of other members to benefit themselves will be banned from the group. (I'm wondering if this was the first time I caught him stealing, could he have been stealing from me or from other members all this time? And since he was writing in another language, could he have been stealing other bloggers' words and text, too? Hmm.) 

Thou Shall Not Steal

If you google 'rules on blogging', you would always the see rule on using other people's images/photos in your blog. It requires one to cite the source, give credit to the source, or even ask the permission of the original author/source. In the case above, he didn't cite my blog, he didn't give credit to my blog, and he didn't ask my permission. And although he already deleted my photos from his blog, I still have the screen shots of his blog using my photos.

In 2012, I also caught the personnel running the Korea in Motion website steal my text and photographs about a Korean musical. She just copied and pasted the whole blog without asking my permission and without even citing my blog, considering she works for the KTO. I sent her a complaint and threatened to report her to the KTO management. She apologized and immediately took my work down from the website. She learned a lesson I hope.

While most seasoned bloggers know the ethics, etiquette and copyright laws that govern the Internet, I suggest to those who are still new to blogging to google 'rules on blogging' and read up before you get into trouble! 

Also googe the word 'plagiarist' while you're at it.

Because if you are one, and you just steal and copy other people's work, into which they put a lot of time, money and effort, it just shows what kind of person you actually are.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Photo of the Day: Reflections

I wonder if you hear Christina Aguilera's song 'Reflections' ring in your head every time you stand in front of this mirror.

This round mirror is an installation at a square next to the Yonsei-ro and resembles a car's sideview mirror standing vertically. And since it's red and huge, and right along the sidewalk, it's hard to miss.

And while they're looking at their reflection, I wondered if this couple only saw themselves gazing back at them, or were they seeing something else. Their future, perhaps?

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The Couple of the Seoul Summer!

Among the hundreds of people enjoying the water slide yesterday at Yonsei-ro in Sinchon in the Dongdaemun District in Seoul, I chanced upon this couple walking along the assembled water park. They must have just finished their slide down the ramp and were now making their way out.

With their blue inflatables and happy faces, they definitely were having a good time, enjoying their time cooling off at the water slide. They are the couple of the Seoul summer.

Enjoy your summer, everyone!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Summer in Sinchon: Dancing, Singing and Sliding

It's been a season or two since I dropped by the Sinchon area. I got acquainted with this neighborhood during my early years in Seoul when tennis friends brought me to Sinchon for lunch after playing at the tennis courts of Sogang University, a Jesuit-run university that was visited by Pope Francis last year. 

This area around the Sinchon Station of Line 2 is popular to students since this is near some universities like Yonsei, Ewha Womans, Sogang, and Hong-ik. And this weekend, the Seodaemun District has set up a water slide right in the middle of the Yonsei-ro (Yonsei Street), which they closed down to make way for fun and performances.
The idea was to provide respite from this summer heat, and this water slide, which stretched from the first Starbucks across Nike Court until the second Starbucks in the neighborhood, was filled with kids and adults in swimwear, sunblock and inflatables, who all happily found a way to cool down, right in the middle of the street!
And while those having fun on the slide were busy soaking, those on 'dry land' were entertained by selected Korean non-verbal and musical performances, namely, The Painters: Hero, Fanta-Stick, Sa-Choom, and Nanta, which I have all seen before courtesy of my complimentary tickets from the Korea Tourism Organization.

The Painters: Hero
Last year, I recommended to my friend Vanji to bring her kids to watch The Painters: Hero because I was sure Ethan and Patrick would enjoy it. And they did! Today, those watching a segment performance of this show enjoyed as well. Here's a short clip. Today's performance was just a teaser where they featured their 'Michael Jackson' painting. During their regular performances, they have charcoal, painter on water, oil and other media that they use to create these interesting art pieces on stage. With music and digital images as background on stage, the whole experience of watching this type of performance is unique. If you happen to watch this show, try to volunteer up the stage. It should be worth your while.

The musicians and drummers of Fanta-Stick also took turns in drumming up excitement among the crowd. This performance is promoted as a live 'gugak' musical. 'Gugak' means traditional Korean music, but if you watch the performance, you'd also hear recorded contemporary and modern music. It's a story about a man and a woman banished from the heavens for not having been able to take care of a sacred drum and flute, with the latter ending up lost and later found in a car repair shop somewhere in Seoul. This show is a mix of traditional music, dancing and slapstick comedy. It was actually fun taking photographs today of Fanta-Stick performers; the showmanship was there, and so was the synchronized movements and energy.
I have watched Sa-Choom early this year, and their short performance today was just a segment of their 85-minute dance musical with about 12 dancers. Right in the middle of Sinchon, they wowed the crowd especially with the bboy stunts and a mix of modern jazz, tango, and perhaps a few steps from Dancing 9 and some k-pop girl bands. Sa-Choom's theater is at Jongno, below the VIPS buffet restaurant, where you can always grab dinner before you go down to watch it. The show is mixed with some mime, slapstick comedy sketch and the required audience participation. Today, the performers went down from the stage and tried to engage the crowd on dry land. Luckily, they left the kids alone who were on the pool with their inflatables. 

And as the last to perform, the cooks of Nanta with all their vegetable-chopping in their kitchen reminded everyone that it was probably time for dinner. Ha-ha-ha!  Anyone who's into cooking would be able to relate to Nanta because everything in the kitchen comes to life with all these cooks: the pans, the utensils, the vegetables, seasonings and those very sharp knives!  Nanta's venues are actually in Myeongdong and at Chungjeongno Station.  If you're staying at Myeongdong, it's the most convenient venue for you; although the performances at Chungjeongno Station usually have Rush Ticket discounts. Nanta is probably the most popular of all the Korean performances with everyone I know wanting to see this show in Seoul.

And as for those standing in line for their turn, I wondered how long it actually took for one to wait until its time to swoosh down the slide with the help of an inflatable, running water, and gravity. But no matter how long the wait was, from the looks on their faces, it was worth the wait and the entrance fee.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Korean Summer Dish: Samgyetang 삼계탕!

Although the popularity of this dish boils over (literally!) during the summer months in Korea, samgyetang can actually be enjoyed throughout the year. 

According to the official Korean Menu Guide (thank you, Korea Food Foundation for my copy!), samgyetang 삼계탕 is a soup made of "tender whole young chicken stuffed with ginseng, jujubes, sweet rice, and whole garlic cloves simmered until tender." The Guide adds "the combination of chicken and ginseng creates a complex yet harmonious flavor" and is a "classic summertime dish that revitalizes the body and soul."
                             (Gangwonjeong Samgyetang)

There used to be a restaurant serving only samgyetang at the basement arcade of my workplace, but it closed years ago. But thanks to friends, Arlene and Stephene, I discovered another samgyetang restaurant in the Yongsan District here in Seoul.  It's quite tricky finding the restaurant; luckily, Stephene's driver knew the place very well. It's in a very small alley: Wonhyo-ro 89-gil 13-10 in the Yongsan District. 

Gangwonjeong Samgyetang's samgyetang is probably one of the best I have tasted. No wonder, at their doorstep, it has a 'Good Restaurant' plaque from the Yongsan District Office. Each serving is KRW12,000, a bit pricey, but it's worth the trip. This summer, it must be full at lunch time and perhaps even more during the weekend.

The cooked rice stuffed inside the young chicken was savory, and the chicken is so soft it disintegrated in my mouth. I added salt to the the broth as I wanted it salty, and that day, the flavors of the ginseng, jujube and soft chicken just made my summer complete. Burp!

If you want to have some, too, Gangwonjeong Samgyetang is about 600 tricky-to-locate meters from Exit 2 of the Hyochang Park (Line 6) subway station, but it's just a few meters from the 용산경찰서 03-139(서울)  bus stop. 

From this bus stop, continue walking until the corner (about 30 meters from the bus stop), turn right into the street and on the second alley, turn left. That second alley is where you will find the restaurant. If you get lost, do save their number and call. The place is small and they close at 2:30PM, and reopens at 5:30PM. They also close on some Sundays of the month.

Who's up for a samgyetang lunch?

Jose Rizal and The Pambansang Photobomb

When I was in high school, my siblings and I spent a summer in Manila. We stayed at Inday Miniang's Fe and Caridad Apartments along Arquiza Street to join Tita Luz and Tita Etta. (I heard Inday Miniang's heirs eventually sold the building and is now a hotel). Arquiza Street is four blocks away from the Rizal Park in Manila.

As the apartments were just next to the Ermita Church (Archdiocesan Shrine of the Nuestra Senora de Guia), Tita Luz would hear Mass early in the morning with Tita Etta, and I would join them in their stroll around the Rizal Park after. Even before 7AM, I remember a lot of people were already at the country's premiere park jogging, passing through, and strolling like us. We would walk the whole stretch of the Park and completed the stroll all the way to the US Embassy until we reached the apartments at Arquiza St. That summer, I greeted the statue of the Philippine's most revered national hero, Jose Rizal, a few times before breakfast. 

And speaking of his statue, last week, I finally saw for myself the current controversy about the Jose Rizal statue, or what's behind it. LiterallyRiding my friend Fay's car, and not strolling anymore, we passed by the statue and snapped a few shots. And as expected, what I got were photos - photobombed photos of the national hero's statue.
                (Photobombing from the right)
         (Photobombing behind Jose Rizal)
                  (Photobombing from the left)

I hope this photobombing is temporary. I could no longer go back to that summer when Tita Luz, Tita Etta and I strolled past Jose Rizal's statue and just looked up to him with the blue morning sky as his backdrop. After all, the national anthem goes "sa simoy at sa langit mong bughaw" (with the breeze and your blue sky), and not "sa simoy at sa building mong bughaw". Ha-ha-ha! 
                    (Up close and vertical)

As Jose Rizal is the pambansang bayani (national hero), the building is the pambansang photobomb (national photobomb). Credit to the writer who coined this term. 

With the legal cases filed by parties involved in this pambansang photobomb (national photobomb) controversy, will it be demolished soon? I hope it will be. I remembering seeing old postcards of the statue with clear blue skies as the perfect backdrop. Now, with that DMCI Torre de Manila structure behind the statue, I doubt if they want to print postcards with an apartment building as the main tourist attraction.
(The photobomber building as seen from the window of the National Museum of the Philippines)

Someday, when I fly back to Manila, I hope to stroll around the Rizal Park and greet the national hero once more. And just like any tourist, I want to have my photo taken with him alongside the simoy ng hangin, the langit mong bughaw, and nothing else.

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Empty Tunnel of the Day!

It felt weird when I was passing through this tunnel, whose ceiling was decorated with shiny crystals and its walls decorated with photographs of Korean actors and K-pop celebrities, who were trying to outshine both each other and the glitter of the colored crystals above.

This is the tunnel at the back entrance of the Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong, Seoul. It's also the path if you wanted to take a short-cut to the duty-free shops on the 10th and 9th floors of the building.

Before the MERS crisis, this place was always full of tourists having their photos taken with the celebrities at the background, a 'V' sign with their right hand, and their duty-free shopping bags on their left.

Today, there's nobody here. It felt weird that nobody was competing for a photo with a celebrity, and even weirder that not even Choi Jiwoo, 2PM and other K-pop celebrities (or at least their photos) could convince tourists to return to Korea and shop again.

The bright side? For now, you can have the tunnel and the celebrities all to yourself, and you'll no longer compete for the attention of the salesladies when you go shopping at the duty-free shop. Let's see when this tunnel gets crowded again.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Namdaemun Vendor of the Day!

You have to give it to this guy. Yes, she's a 'he', the 'lady' in blue.

This MERS crisis has brought depressing conditions to the South Korea tourism industry, which mainly depended on Chinese tourists for the past couple of years. And since most tourists from China, Japan and other countries have all cancelled their flight plans to Korea, the vendors in Namdaemun and Dongdaemun markets are experiencing the worst summer in years.

So, it wasn't a surprise for me when I stumbled upon this male vendor, who decided to use the clothes he was actually selling to transform himself into an ajumma who's trying to be funny in order to attract more customers.

He actually saw me walk by and gamely posed for a photo when I held my smart phone to take his funny photo. 

Good luck to our Namdaemun Market vendor of the day! May he sell more clothes in this get-up, and may this MERS crisis blow over soon, so he doesn't have to wear other women's clothing; only his wife should. :-)