Monday, 29 February 2016

Hit Me Baby One More Time: The Last Snow This Winter?

I was already wearing shorts a couple of weeks ago during the Seollal holidays. Yes, I thought it was going to be spring as temperatures seemed to get warmer. 

But last week, temperatures dropped to freezing again and worse, snow was in the forecast, too!

Well, I guess spring had to wait a few more days. 

And when the snow finally came last Sunday afternoon, it turned everything white again. 

Lucky me, I was at the Namsan area at the National Theater of Korea side. And from where I was, it was a different perspective seeing the mountainside blanketed in white. I wasn't alone in appreciating the change in color. A lot of people wearing taking photos, too.

           (A couple and their white background)

Although they are very nice to look at, I just hope this was the last snow this winter. Otherwise, that Britney song will ringing in my head again..."hit me baby one more time..."
                        (Seoul Tower in white)

Sunday, 28 February 2016

A Pinoy @ The Movies: Spotlight

When I was in high school, a properly dressed man, who I thought was in his 50's, came over to the house. He said he was a former priest who got excommunicated by the Catholic Church because he 'had a wife and a son'. I guess he must have fathered a child first before being excommunicated. And I also guess he must have married the woman after having been freed from his vow of chastity. 

He came to the house to ask for financial help from the family and ended up meeting Lola Tinay, the matriarch, who happened to be at the living room at that time with my sister, who was a toddler then. Lola Tinay (lola is Filipino word of grandma) was trailed by my baby sister, who was in turn being trailed by her babysitter. And I trailed the three of them.

The ex-priest spoke very good English and he even politely addressed Lola Tinay as 'madam'. Listening to him, I realized that this was a highly educated man and I felt that his story was probably true. But unfortunately for him, during those years, Lola Tinay was already suffering moments of senility and I told him that. He then realized his words of plea were simply falling into deaf ears, so to speak. Lola Tinay hardly attended to him and, other than me, he probably thought talking to the yaya wasn't a good idea either. He left the house unsuccessful. 

Spotlight is a movie about how The Boston Globe newspaper broke out the story about the sex abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests around the Boston area. That's why, as I was watching the movie, the story of that ex-priest asking for help from Lola Tinay rewound in my mind.

Spotlight is one of the best films of the year, and is nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Michael Keaton plays the head of the Spotlight investigative team. Here, he has no Birdman delusions, but leads his team of investigative journalists. 

Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo, both members of the Spotlight team, are nominated for best supporting Oscar. Mark Ruffalo used to be Hulk in The Avengers, where he had anger management problems. Here, he only flared up once and didn't turn green. And his habit of pursing his lips in the movie earned him best supporting actor nominations.

I went to a Catholic school run by priests, and I was an altar boy when I was 9. I grew up being taught and disciplined by priests. So, when the movie reaches the scenes where the Spotlight team slowly uncovers the cover-ups of the Catholic church of the sex abuses on young boys by pedophile priests, like the rest of the audience, I, too, was angry that at least 70 priests abused their authority over the young and gratified themselves with all the prey under their care. 

At the end of the film, before the closing credits, the US cities and other parts of the world where sex abuse by Catholic priests were reported were flashed on screen. I deliberately tried to spot if there was any from the Philippines, and I saw one! 'Naval, the Philippines' it said. I wonder how many children were victimized in that city.

Aside from that ex-priest and Lola Tinay story, I also remember one involving a parish priest from my hometown. The 'story' was he was having an affair with a local businesswoman, and (forgive me, Father, for I have sinned if this was gossip!) that he was laundering the church money using her local business. During those years, her shop indeed flourished! I wonder if it was because of hard work, or if it was because of the manna from heaven. Ha-ha-ha!

The reason why it's one of the best films of the year is that the Spotlight brings you, the moviegoer, into its cat-and-mouse investigation of the sex abuse, gets you frustrated as well when the team hits a wall, and finally, also gives you a lot of satisfaction when the whole story comes to light and the abuses' cover-up is made public. But with all the recognition the Spotlight team received from the story, there remains thousands of abused and scarred lives and youthful innocence that could never be regained.   

Officials from the Vatican have watched this movie, and so should you.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

A Pinoy @ The Movies: The Dressmaker

When I was growing up, having a pair of pants made wasn't difficult. I remember there was an in-house seamstress in 'balay-dako' (big house), where I grew up. 'Iyay Loring', as she was called, was an old maid from a town in Iloilo Province whose main job was to sew and make dresses, night gowns or pajamas for everyone. Imagine bringing your piece of fabric to your seamstress without having to cross the street! She was just in the next room! 

And there was 'Tia Sitas'. Tia Sitas was also our go-to seamstress if Iyay Loring was too busy. As she lived on the other side of town, she would just come over to the house, get your measurements and later deliver your finished shirt, blouse, pants or dress, or whatever clothing you asked her to make for you. 

But later on, my father, brother and I depended on 'Marcial' and his assistants to do our shirts and pants.  Marcial's shop was just near the town's commercial center, and I remember my father driving me to his shop whenever I flew back home. During the years I worked in Manila, I'd visit Divisoria to buy some fabrics for Marcial to turn into pants for office wear. And years ago, Marcial, was killed in a horrible vehicular accident. God bless his soul. And his sewing machine!

So, when I saw the official trailer for The Dressmaker, I decided to watch it as a tribute to these three dressmakers who helped clothe me since I was a kid.

Kate Winslet, who I correctly predicted to win an Oscar for The Reader, is the dressmaker. When I saw the trailer, I immediately wanted to watch it because I knew I'd find it funny and good. And it was!

Set in a small town in Victoria, Australia, Kate's character went back home after having been forced to leave when she was young. As to the reason why, you have to watch it. Dungatar, the fictional town, is supposed to be an hour by train from Melbourne. I wonder if my train ever passed this town when I traveled to Ballarat in January 2007 upon the invitation of a good friend Taro, who lived there with his wife Cathy. 

Having trained in Paris, Milan and in Spain, she was armed with the haute couture the small town needed. The scenes where everyone was running about town wearing her creations were always funny. You would think that those glamourous dresses should be seen in the streets of New York or Paris, but here they were, being worn by women at the outback. Ha-ha-ha!

Liam Hemsworth, Katniss Everdeen's, boyfriend in Hunger Games, is a countryboy-slash-boyfriend of Kate Winslet in this movie. While Hugo Weaving, Neo's nemesis in The Matrix and the elf Elrond in Lord of the Rings, is the cross-dressing sergeant of the small town. 

The Dressmaker is not only a funny movie about love, haute couture and revenge, it's also a good way to remember our neighborhood dressmakers, whose work is usually forgotten in all the craving for expensive designer clothes these days. 

And if you're nice to your dressmaker, perhaps, she wouldn't have to burn your village down someday. Oops! 

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The Rain in Spain: Travel Tips Before Visiting Spain!

I recently covered about 2,100 kilometers traveling around northern Spain, discovering six cities over 11 days, and seeing a lot more from my train seat.

I wished I would have had more time (and budget!) to explore Viva España!, but sadly, my vacation days estan limitado

And in case a few of you want to embark on the same trip (and in case I'm revisiting España otra vez!), I am writing everything down for a few tips and website to use.
  (The 'WELCOME' sign at Madrid Airport)

             (Churros con chocolate for 
                 breakfast in Madrid!)

I didn't want to buy any guide book as I knew I could only visit a few cities over 11 days. Guidebooks cover a whole country; I only needed brochures, which, fortunately, I was able to get from the Spanish tourism office in Seoul. Although these brochures were in Korean, the maps inside were useful. And thanks to the Spain tourism office staff, Abel, my questions regarding the jamon serrano I could bring back to Korea were answered! Yes, I was able to bring a few vacuum packs!

And for planning the whole trip, I got a lot of information from this site:

Since I already speak basic Spanish, I just needed to brush up on it using a small Spanish dictionary. I was able to engage locals in conversations in Spanish during my out-of-town trips, where most people may not be conversant in English.

(The statue of Miguel de Cervantes in Plaza de Cervantes in Alcala de Henares)
         (Baked goods at a panaderia 
          in Santiago de Compostela)
             (Praza de Obradoiro in 
          Santiago de Compostela)

When I finally decided how many days I could spend in Spain based on my vacation leave, I locked on Madrid, Barcelona, and Santiago de Compostela as the cities. I then researched on their neighboring cities that I could visit for a day. 

So, while I was in Madrid, I visited Alcala de Henares, and when I was in Barcelona, I visited the Monserrat Monastery.  And when I was in Santiago de Compostela, I made a day-trip to A Coruña, where my Spanish friend Kiko lives.
        (Torre de Hercules is the oldest 
        working lighthouse in the world!)

  (The charming singers of Tuna Derecho 
          de Santiago de Compostela)

After I decided that I would fly into Madrid and fly out from Barcelona, I visited my travel agent in Seoul and explored the most popular online airfare sites to decide on the airline and the time table. Well, although the Turkish Airlines fare was reasonably the lowest I found with the flight schedule perfect for my visit, I was a bit disappointed with the airline service. Twice I missed my connecting flights because of delays, and both the airline service and their customer service at Istanbul Ataturk Airport were very disappointing. 

I also booked my airport transfer from Madrid airport to the hotel online. That way, I didn't have to worry about transport when I arrived in Madrid tired and sleepy.
           (Santiago de Compostela train 
            station in the early morning)
            (The Spanish countryside 
                 from my train seat)

One doesn't need to stay at those expensive hotels. There's airbnb, and other sites. My criteria for choosing the hotel were the price and location. Since I was already familiar with the geography of a city, deciding on the location of my accommodation was easy.

In Madrid, I stayed at an interesting hotel near the Opera Subway Station, and a few minutes by foot from Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol and the Royal Palace of Madrid.

In Santiago de Compostela, I stayed at a small hotel five minutes from the Santiago train station.

In Barcelona, I stayed at a business hotel five minutes from Las Ramblas and Licieu Subway Station.

Although accommodations could have been cheaper, they didn't have cable TV, wifi, or elevators. Since I was a stranger to the city, paying extra for convenience and safety was a given. I booked my hotels through

              (Barcelona train station)
             (Train bound for Monserrat)
         (The imposing Sagrada Familia 
                       in Barcelona)

After settling all the flights and hotels, I had to figure out my train rides: from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela, to Barcelona. 

Renfe, Spain's national rail transport, has a website containing all the train schedules, stops and fares. But somehow, before I flew to Spain, I could not book and pay through the site. So, what I did was to write down my train itinerary and desired dates on a paper, thinking that when I visit the Renfe office in Madrid to buy the tickets, there wouldn't be a misunderstanding.

But luckily, when I arrived at the Madrid-Barajas Airport, there was a Renfe booth next to my airport transfer desk! And that piece of paper containing my train travel dates was very helpful! I just gave it to the señor after I asked him, "Buenos tardes, puedo yo comprar los billetes aqui?" I didn't have to visit a Renfe office in the city and fall in line to buy my cross-country train tickets. 

Although there were flights from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela, the airport was way out of town and not practical. For me, the train ride was part of the tour: watching the Spanish countryside, the landscape and the cuidades y pueblos along the way was an experience to be remembered. My train ride from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela took about 6 hours with one transfer at Ourense Station; and from Santiago de Compostela to Barcelona took 12 hours. It was like watching the Spanish National Geographic channel from my seat! 
   (The fascinating Monserrat Monastery!)
         (Jamon at Gadi's supermarket!)
                         (Paella in Barcelona!)

Before I left for Spain, I also booked my city tour buses for Madrid and Barcelona, as well as visits for Sagrada Familia and Santiago de Compostela Cathedrals, and Monserrat Monastery. They have their own official websites. Just make sure you bring your printed tickets and receipts with you.

For my visits to the Real Madrid and FCB stadia, I just bought the tickets when I got to the site.

For the train rides during my day-trips, I just bought round-trip tickets at Atocha Station for my ride to Alcala de Henares, and for A Coruña, I bought tickets at Santiago de Compostela. For my trip to Monserrat Monastery, I bought the package tour that included two subway rides to/from Plaza España Station from anywhere in Barcelona, and train ride from Plaza España up to Monistrol Monserrat. Station. 

             (The map of Spain and 
           my actual route highlighted!)

And as to safety, as long as you carry your bags or valuables safe right in front of you, you'll be fine. Those chest bags should be handy. The pickpockets around Puerta del Sol in Madrid and Las Ramblas in Barcelona are very quick, and they could be anyone. Just don't let your guard down any time like the way I did on my last morning in Madrid. I was almost pickpocketed by two señoritas along Calle Mayor. Luckily, I caught them just in time! I learned my lesson! 

Leave your passports and most of your cash at your hotel room safe. When you walk around the city, just bring with you the cash amount you think you'll need for the day, and also carry a photocopy of your passport and visa. I have a photo of my passport in my iPad, which I needed for identification when I used my credit card at the FCB store in Barcelona.

                        *  *  *  *  *

Just like most tourists, I'd like to visit Spain again someday. And for me to relive the memories, I will be blogging about my trip in the weeks to come.

¡Hasta la vista, España!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Hot Tablea Tsokocolate With Manapla Puto!

Cold mornings call for hot drinks! These cold temperatures in Seoul even with the sun up force everyone to bundle up and brave the chilly breezes outside. That's why I made sure I brought my own supply of table tsokolate from the Philippines: to warm me up, body and soul, during these cold mornings!

And while the perfect partner for the tablea tsokolate would have been ensaimadas, the Manapla puto can also be as good! 

Add some strawberries bought from the street vendor, and what do we have?  

Friday, 5 February 2016

20 Ideas On What To do Do During The Seollal Holidays in Seoul!

Who doesn't like looking at a calendar with a lot of red numbers? And everyone is surely jumping up and down because it will be a very loooong weekend starting tomorrow! There are a lot of red numbers next week! The Seollal holidays will be a five-day weekend!

And since everyone will have a lot of free time next week, I thought of enumerating the things anyone in Seoul can do during the five-day winter weekend! 

1. Explore your neighborhood!
Yes, if you think you don't know your neighborhood that well, have a look-see. Walking around the blocks and alleyways, and think of it as a walking exercise. When I was new to my neighborhood, I strolled around to check out the restaurants, cafes and shops, and even discovered a hiking trail behind the apartments!

2. Get on the Seoul City Tour Bus
Why not explore the city on a bus if you haven't yet? If you're new to the country (and the city!), this is a convenient way to discover and familiarize yourself with the popular tourist spots, shopping centers and other places of interest.

3. Hit the Palaces!
Entrance to the palaces in Seoul will be free on Seollal day. So why not visit Gyeongbukgung, Deoksugung and Changdeokgung. Take your pick!

4. Join the Seollal activities at Namsangol
Over the years, I have watched some unique Korean performances at Namsangol Village like Korean dancesjultagi and taekwondo. And they're having unique Korean activities for everyone, especially for the bored.

5. Climb up the 63 Building or the Lotte World Tower!
The 63 Building used to be the tallest building in the city, and it still affords a great view of the neighborhoods along the Han River. By the way, that building is the location of the annual Yeouido Fireworks Festival. Going up there would be a different experience, especially if you can see the Han River freezing.

The Lotte World Tower as the tallest building in Korea, on the other hand, will afford you a different kind of view. You will also need to buy a ticket to go up the view deck, but always remember to pick a day that's not cloudy or foggy.

6. Watch plays or musicales at Daehangno
Well, they'll probably be closed on Seollal day itself, but on other holidays, when you get out of Exit 1 of Hyewha Station, barkers for plays and musicales would meet you and offer you tickets for their performances.

7. Watch a performance at the National Theater of Korea
It's the venue for Korean performances and they have some interesting ones in the calendar. They'll even have Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston over to play Shakespeare.

      (Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston 
                       poster in Seoul!)

8. Go up and mountain like Namsan any other mountain
'Climb every mountain', so sung Maria in The Sound of Music. And if you're just bored at home, put on those hiking shoes, thick warm jackets and walk up one of mountains around the city. 

9. NSeoul Tower
And if you're headin gup Namsan, why don't you go further up? To the Nseoul Tower and see the whole Seoul from there?

10. Run, Bike, or Walk along the Han River
Yes, this one's I will definitely do at least by mid-morning if it's not that freezing. I have been walking along the river banks during the weekends, joining the hundreds of bikers, runners and everyone else who needed some sun and exercise. You can do the same during the holidays!

11. Stroll around Bukchon Village and Insadong
While shops Insadong may be closed during the Seollal day itself, you can still head off to the neighboring Bukchon Village and discover the hanok, or Korean traditional houses that still dominate the architecture of the area.

12. Hit the Cafes and Brunch places with friends
If you just want to catch up on your reading, you can just pick a spot in a neighborhood cafe and read. Most cafes will be closed on the Seollal day itself, but some usually open in the afternoon.
I actually plan to visit Leonidas cafe again in Itaewon. I miss their version of iced cafe mocha. It's like chocolate and coffee in one iced drink! And I may be bringing my laptop to blog from there!
And most brunch places will be open on other days, so you can drag your friends with you for brunch!   

13. Watch a movie!
The Oscar-worthy movies have been showing lately, and it's time to watch some of them. For some art films, you can visit the Cinecube cinema near Gwanghwamun, or CGV's arthaus in Myeongdong.

14. Ice skate!
Yes, before the ice melts, you can practice your triple Axel jumps at the ice rinks at the Seoul Plaza (which ends on February 9), or at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, or at the I-Park Mall in Yongsan.

The Pyeongchang Olympics is just two years away, so you better polish your skating if you want to represent your country and win a medal. Ha-ha-ha!

15. Visit a Jjimjilbang
During the cold months, this is the most popular hangout place for the locals, where you can bathe and soak in a warm pools, and play and chat with friends in your pajamas. 

There are big jjimjilbangs like the Dragon Hill Spa near Yongsan Station, and the Itaewon Land in Itaewon. But be prepared for big crowds with families and kids. And avoid soaking in the warm pools if you have an open wound to avoid infection. Even a microbiologist would cringe at the bacteria and other matters present in those waters. Eeeww! 

16. Do a Catholic pilgrimage
If you're a Catholic, the Lenten season starts next week. So, if you have free time, you may want to get ahead of everyone else by doing a pilgrimage around the Cathlic churches and sites in the city.

Here are some useful links:

I actually plan to visit one or two churches during the warmer days.

17.  Do a Temple Stay
Some people find this a unique experience, where they 'discover' themselves in a temple and away from the crowds, noise and Facebook.

If you can separate yourself from your social media accounts for a couple of days, then you might want to try this.

18. Play some sports!
There are basketball and football courts along the Han River that are free. I may hit the tennis courts with a friend in order to sweat up a bit.

There are sports clubs in the meetup app where you can join to play your favorite sport.

19. Visit the Noryanjin Fish Market
This is where most fish vendors around the city get their fresh fish, and I have only been here a few times. And since it has just been renovated, maybe it's time for another visit.

20. Get a plastic surgery!
Yes, I think most people (especially women!) may be doing just that. Getting a new nose, a new pair of boobs, or a lift on some sagging part of your body may be a good idea. I am wondering, maybe some clinics in the Sinsa area in the Gangnam District may even be open just to accommodate some patients, so when they return to work next week, their friends won't be able to recognize them. Ha-ha-ha! 

During the holidays, Namdaemun and Dongdaemun Markets will be closed. But if you want to walk around the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, you can.

But if you'd rather leave the city, you can brave the heavy traffic and head off to the ski resorts in the nearby provinces. During the Seollal a couple of years back, my friends and I headed to the Alpensia Ski Resort, which will be the venue for some Pyeongchang Olympics events. Although the traffic was bad as we expected it to be, the trip and the skiing were fun!

So, whatever you want to do during these holidays, have fun! :-)