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!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Photo of the Season: A Jewel of a Palace!

There used to be a popular Korean drama, Jewel in the Palace. I haven't watched it, but I recognize the lead actress whom I recently saw on a TV commercial. She's no longer cooking for the king; she got promoted. She fixed her nose and now endorses a kitchen appliance.

But speaking of jewels and palaces, I was able to capture the Deoksugung Palace in Seoul, Korea, surrounded by its jewels of autumn foliage, bathed with warm sunlight on a cool day amidst the chaos of a busy city.

With all the yellows, oranges, reds, greens and browns, the foliage surrounds the palace, with all the surrounding office buildings guarding close by.

What makes autumn everyone's favorite? 

Well, it's the cool temperatures after a scorching summer. And of course, the yellows, oranges, reds, greens, browns, and everything in between.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Korean Snacks 튀김 : Any Day is Fry Day!

Korean fried snacks 튀김 (twi-kim) are the most popular. They're cheap, easy to eat, and easy to find!

In every other street corner, there should be a stall selling these fried delicacies. The best spot is actually next to a busy bus stop. Passengers waiting for their bus can grab a bite before they take a long ride home.  

                     (A soy sauce sprinkler!)

Some of these snacks stalls are also located next to office buildings where office people can just flock into during their break time.

             (Food stalls awaiting customers)

There are a few of these stalls near my office building, and my colleagues and I are able to try these Korean snacks during our afternoon breaks.

To a hungry person, all the items on the menu would always look good. Ha-ha-ha! And every time, I always want to try all of them!

           (My favorite pair: soondae and 
                 sliced cooked liver!)

So, when I order, I get a small plate of each just to please my tummy! After all, there's still tomorrow! Ha-ha-ha!

And in case you want to try these 
튀김 (twi-kim), you can always head off to your neighborhood corner and find one of these stalls. I bet they're open every day because any 'fry day'!
                  (Food fit for a hungry Kim)

Friday, 13 November 2015

Photo of the Night: The Couple and The Yellow Tree

I was about to leave the Myeongdong Cathedral grounds when I noticed them. The guy would set the camera's timer, then run to pose with the girl.

I guess they were eager to have their photo on that spot next to the yellow tree because they tried a couple of times. They were both in gray-colored hoodies and doing the same butterfly pose.

I didn't stay long to congratulate them, but I hope they were able to finally get their shot!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Dongdaemun After Dark!

Unlike Myeongdong, Seoul's Dongdaemun doesn't have congested alleys and excessive, glistening lights. 

And unlike Myeongdong, Dongdaemun is not just about shopping. It's also about sightseeing. The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) alone has a lot of interesting corners. Even standing in front of the DDP is a breather enough for any tourist who just wanted some space, which Myeongdong couldn't provide.

In Myeongdong, the only time when you can actually have the narrow alleys to yourself is early in the morning. Because starting noon time, the food carts compete with shoppers and tourists for space.

Around Dongdaemun though, you need not worry about elbowing any fellow shoppers. You just need to worry about how low you want to haggle when you're shopping!

After you're done shopping and stretching your wallet, maybe you can stretch your legs some more by walking around the Dongdaemun Design Plaza.

Last year, the DDP installed 20,000 flowers with LED lights that looked amazingly spectacular both at night and day. But this year, they relocated those lights to the other side of DDP and added more! 

Scattered over a few strips of greenery are 25,550 white and lighted roses, which attract tourists, shoppers and passers-by during the day and night!  Anyone passing by is mesmerized by these installations like a hypnotic '50%-off' price tag!

According to DDP, the number 25,550 is to commemorate the 70th year of Korean Independence. Multiplying 70 years by 365 days, you'd get 25,550. Do the math! And selfie!

Yes, almost everyone does a selfie with the flowers.

These flowers are scattered at the back side of the DDP near the Maxstyle Building. Along the inclined architecture of DDP, the flowers cascade like a stream of lights attracting more visitors to this interesting exterior of the DDP.

During these cool nights, you shouldn't bother looking up the Seoul skies. You'll never see twinkling stars up there with all the bright lights in the city. You just need to go to Dongdaemun and see flowers turning into a galaxy of lights, so many you won't even try to count until 25,550! The counting you will ever do is for your shopping bags and the number of selfies you wanted with these flowers.

By the way, the installation is only until February 2016.

From Exit 1 of the Dongdaemun Culture and History Park Station, just walk towards the back of the DDP. Eventually, you'll end up walking with the stars.

You want to enjoy more of Dongdaemun after dark? This is where you should go to after your shopping!