Saturday, 30 December 2017

Airline Review: Bravo, Asiana Airlines!

Seven years ago, I flew to Tokyo from Seoul and decided to take Asiana Airlines. And since it was my first time to visit Japan, I figured I should see Mount Fuji!  Unfortunately, my holidays were limited and I could not travel outside of Tokyo to see the most famous peak in Japan. But there was another way!

I did some research and I found out that the flight route from Seoul would fly over Mount Fuji! So, when I was buying my plane ticket, I asked the Asiana Airlines staff to seat me on the window that would allow me to see the famous mountain.

And did you know what she did?

To make sure I got the correct seat, she called a pilot!

The same thing I would do! In case of doubt, ask!

And I was able to see Mount Fuji without having to leave Tokyo!

And this time, seven years after I was impressed, I had to run again to Asiana Airlines for a ride home!

You see, I waited for the last minute to get me a plane ticket home for Christmas as I wasn’t sure of my schedule. So, when I started calling travel agents, it was already late! All I got were fully booked flights and expensive plane fare responses.
                (Incheon International Airport)

Armed with my passport and my Asiana Airlines membership card, I headed to the Kumho-Asiana Building in Gwanghwamun area in Seoul. This was the same area where Pope Francis celebrated a beatification mass in 2014. When I got there, I was told that the flights from Incheon International Airport to Cebu International Airport from mid-December until the 31st were all fully booked. I didn’t believe her. An hour before, I visualized that I would be able to get a seat, and what she said didn’t even register; I knew there was seat for me somewhere.

She checked again, and this time, she said there was a seat, not in the economy class, but business class! I then asked her whether my mileage amount was enough. And she said “Yes!”

That was the moment I realized my visualization technique actually worked! Ha-ha-ha!

This was the singular moment the universe conspired to help me!

A week before I decided to get my ticket home, I received tennis rackets that my friends living in Seoul donated. I planned to bring them home so I could give them to the kids whom I taught tennis as a volunteer. But with the limited baggage allowance, I thought of postponing bringing them to the Philippines.
          (The Asiana Airlines check-in counter 
            at Seoul Station's Airport Railroad 
                      Express Terminal)

But with this business class ticket from Asiana Airlines, I had a 32-kilo, check-in luggage allowance! The tennis rackets were flying home with me!

So, on the day I was to fly home, I ditched using the airport limousine bus because it was snowing and the traffic was bad. If it took me almost two hours to get to the airport on good weather, it would probably take me three that day.

And thanks to my friend Andrew, who gave me a lift to the Seoul Station, my trip to Incheon International Airport was a breeze. I simply bought a discounted express train ticket (discounted because I had an airline ticket), checked in my luggage and tennis bag at the early check-in counter of Asiana Airlines at the AREX terminal (how convenient for the passenger!), and took to my assigned seat for a 43-minute train ride to the airport! All I was carrying were my handcarry bags! I already got a boarding pass!

When I got the airport, I didn’t waste any time. I immediately headed to the Immigration Gate. As expected after the final security check and Immigration, my legs were complaining. It was a long walk from the AREX train terminal up to the pre-departure area. It was time to lounge!

After presenting my boarding pass at the entrance of the Asiana Airlines Business Lounge, I went inside and picked a quiet corner where I intended to spend the next four hours in solitude and nutrition! Ha-ha-ha!

I actually asked the lady at the lounge entrance whether they had pizza; sadly, there wasn’t any. But they had fried rice, tofu in spicy sauce with vegetables, a salad bar, different breads, porridge, nachos with cheese dips, and mini-cookies! I was especially happy that they had regular Coke!
  (Nibbling on nachos with cheese dip at the lounge)

As I experienced before, Asiana Airlines’ impeccable customer service started at the ground. From the very helpful lady at the Asiana Airlines’ ticketing counter, to the available check-in at the Seoul Station which made everything very convenient, and up to the business lounge facility which any tired traveler would appreciate, this airline obviously thought through the whole passenger experience.
              (Asiana Airline's Business Lounge)

Although our flight was delayed by almost an hour, I didn’t mind as my connecting flight from Cebu International Airport to Bacolod-Silay Airport was at 8AM the next morning. Whether the flight was early or late, I still had a lot of waiting at Cebu.

As regards customer communications, I received an email and a message in my KakaoTalk from Asiana Airlines advising me that my flight was delayed while I was resting and having merienda. Asiana made sure I knew my flight was delayed and I could stay longer at the Lounge. You’d never get this kind of effort from any Philippine airline.

Well, the in-flight movies weren’t really the ones I wanted to watch. But Glenn Close and Taraji P. Henson did just fine.
                 (Glenn Close as Cruella DeVille joining me
             for a grilled chicken breast dinner)
           (Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures)

During the day before Andrew drove me to the Seoul Station, we stopped by the donkatsu restaurant at Nam-san near the cable car station for lunch. Their donkatsu was horrible; people were patronizing them because they have been there since 1960, serving horrible donkatsu (I’ll never go back there again).

But, lucky me! My in-flight dinner was a thousand times better than my lunch. Salmon carpaccio and mixed greens with balsamic vinegar for appetizer, grilled chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese, and slathered in cream sauce, and served with deep-fried potatoes.

And as I was watching snippets of movie scenes, I nibbled on blue cheese, gouda, and camembert! And to cap my midnight, Haagen Dazs ice cream! I didn’t try to finish my ice cream though. I still had another flight and I am lactose intolerant. You know what I mean. Ha-ha-ha!

Maybe I was just too tired at the end of the day that I forgot to write the crew a ‘Thank you’ note. But I hope this blog could make up for it. After all, a note could just contain about 20 words; this blog is already in excess of a thousand!

So, thank you, Asiana Airlines! You made my journey home convenient, relaxing and memorable!

Bravo and kamsahamnida!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Seoul Blog: The Philippine Women's Club Celebrates 'Paskong Pinoy sa Korea'!

(PWC members, families and guests; 
 photo courtesy of the PWC FB page)

“When you’re with Filipinos, you’re with family!”

That's the message of the Philippine Women's Club (PWC) to everyone who attended its Christmas party held at the Seoul Global Cultural Center right in the middle of the busiest shopping center in the whole of South Korea, Myeongdong!

                    (Consul General de Jesus)
                      (Christmas sing-along)

That message is absolutely true! In my 13 years of joining Christmas parties organized by Pinoys in Seoul, it’s more than just fun games, food, and exchanging of gifts that gather everyone together. There’s this bond that transforms everyone from just being friends to being family.

            (Shake and rattle the ping-pong balls!)
                        (Lucky draw prizes)

Though the whole celebration is primarily to let the registered guests enjoy the Filipino style of celebrating Christmas, the party was also a venue to help promote a campaign by Sunfull Movement against cyberbullying, a harmful online disease that just pops up everywhere in social media. 

The current Consul General of the Philippine Embassy in Seoul, Mr. Christian de Jesus, also helped kick off the party by sharing with the audience the greetings of 'Merry Christmas' in different Philippine dialects.

           (The kids competing at the sack race!)
                (Name the Christmas carol contest)
       (A booth for a family Christmas photo!)

The whole afternoon program was stuffed with fun parlor games for kids and adults, lucky draws that gave away movie tickets, stuff toys and other gifts, a booth for family photoshoots courtesy of a Filipino group of photographers, a sing-along (obvious, Filipinos love to sing!) exchanging of gifts, and the parents' gift-giving to their kids!

            (Christmas carol singing competition!)

             (Exchanging of gifts among adults)

Of course, there was food! And as one American guest exclaimed, "You guys know how to party!", there was a long table full of Filipino snacks and delicacies, like barbecues, cassave cakes, different rice cakes, buko pandan, and other yummy pinoy food that would probably cause me to drool if I write them all here. Ha-ha-ha!

                (Pinoy delicacies for everyone!)

From the top of my head, the PWC members include Wendy Palomo, Katherine Corteza, who's the 2017 Geny Lopez Jr. Bayaning Pilipino Awardee from South Korea, Rina Arinas-Imm, Razel Kim, Anne Campos, Samie Bee, and other hardworking ladies whose names I can certainly add here later (paging Wendy!).  

       (A cute kid's Christmas sweater matches the                 Santa on the yummy chocolate cake!)

The mission of the PWC is to promote the Philippine culture through activities and event, such as this Christmas party, and by participating in social responsibility and outreach programs. You can also join their future activities by signing up for events on their Facebook page:

       (The members of the Philippine Women's Club 
               with the Sunfull Movement officials;
               photo courtesy of the PWC FB page)

Congratulations and thanks to the Philippine Women's Club for a fun party!

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Kalamayan Festival: Celebrating Victorias City's Sugarcane Workers And Sugary Heritage!

(Blue skies over Victorias)

Last month, I blogged about Silay City's gastronomic heritage. This time, I am writing about my hometown's own sugary heritage!

Being the home of the Philippines' largest sugar refinery, Victorias City capitalizes on its reputation as a sweet village on the Negros Island.

And since the City's important historical dates are celebrated in March (Charter Day) and April (religious fiesta), the organizers have earmarked the last two weeks in December to celebrate the Kalamayan Festival.

            (Competitors awaiting their teammates 
                         during the relay)

                  (Sack race bit-bit kalamay!)


                  (Racing while inside the sack!)

The Kalamayan Festival celebrates the people working in the sugar industry: the sugarcane workers, or 'tapaseros'. 'Tapás' means to cut down in Hiligaynon. These are workers who live and work in the haciendas planting and harvesting sugarcane plants, which are turned into sugar.

      (Contestants for pang-os tubo getting ready 
                     for a tough competition)
                       (The cockfight crowd)

The main participants in this festival are the farm workers who compete in the games prepared especially for them: kadang (stilts) race, sack race, relays while carrying sacks of sugar, a sugarcane peeling and munching contest using only one's teeth! The winner is probably the one with the strongest set of teeth! Katig-a ayhan sang tubo! The sugarcane is tough!

                        (Pang-os kita tubo!)

(Ang manok ni San Pedro...nga ugis ang balahibo...ang manok ni San Pedro...pustahi kay sigurado...)
                  ("The first rule of Fight Club is: 
               you do not talk about Fight Club".)

I was able to watch the activities of last year's Kalamayan Festival, where I saw for myself the fun and enjoyment of the tapaseros and their families.

Aside from the games, there were cockfighting events and an exhibition of tarantulas, rare lizards, Burmese pythons and scorpions at the Victorias Plaza. Thanks to July and Jake of the Bacolod Tarantula Keepers, I had an on-site education about these fascinating creatures. 

(Birdman: The referee's name is Duro and he's a veteran in cockfighting. He judged all the fights of the flightless birds. In this photo, he's raising the winged winner. I wonder if the losing bird is turned into tinola.)

(The betting game is called 'pula-puti', where the bets are placed on specific squares and a ping-pong dropped through the funnel decides the winner. If the ball settles on your square, you win.)

Last year, I was able to watch dance performances of students from elementary schools in Victorias City. I was especially impressed by the performance and costumes of pupils of a certain group; if I am not mistaken they were from the Estado Elementary School.

Here are a couple of clips I took:



                  (Grade school pupils with their 
        musical instruments and colorful costumes)

So if you're in the neighborhood of Victorias City in Negros Occidental this month, watch the fun games and attend events of this year's Kalamayan Festival from December 15 until the 31st.

Last year, as part of the Festival, the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra serenaded the Victoriahanons and visitors with Kachaturian and familiar Christmas melodies.
                        (Masquerade Waltz)
                          (Pamasko songs)
                  (Love Yourself by Justin B.)
                             (Sleigh Ride)

On the schedule this year, there are events at the Festival allotted for other towns and cities, namely, Murcia, Silay, Talisay and E.B. Magalona. I wonder what our neighbors' presentations are.

So good luck to all the tapaseros and participants at the Festival! Kit-anay kita tanan dirâ!

                              *  *  *  *  *

This is the 2017 Festival's schedule:

Thursday, 30 November 2017

A Pinoy @ The Movies: Murder On The Orient Express

I can’t recall ever reading an Agatha Christie book in grade school. There were a few Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew’s, and a handful of Shakespeare’s and Homer as well. Maybe Agatha’s books were too thick for me. Ha-ha-ha! But of all the detective books I read, my favorites were always Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

And I think that’s where the difference lies.

If you saw the Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law (both amazing actors, by the way!), you’d see them as straightforward, detective work, much like Murder, She Wrote. Although, Murder, She Wrote was less bloody and violent, more like detective stories for old maids.

Here, in the Murder in the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh, both the lead and the director, made the movie look more human by looking into the why’s -- the motives of the murderer or murderers (you have to watch the movie to find out!) as to why he/she/they did what he/she/they did!

I’d just assume you haven’t read the book, or read the synopsis of the movie and novel, so I won’t give out spoilers here.

There were three reasons why I wanted to watch it. First, it’s an all-star cast! I would have watched if only for Judi Dench! But there’s Michelle Pfeiffer! Kenneth Branagh! Penélope Cruz! Johnny Depp! Willem Dafoe!

Second, it’s a period movie about a train that travels through the snowy valleys and mountains of Europe! I just didn’t want to feel like a moviegoer, I also wanted to be a tourist!

Third, my godmother told me she’s been on the Orient Express with her husband. Of course, she was talking about the late 20th century ‘modified route’ of the Orient Express. After she retired, they both decided to travel and they got on Orient Express! She told me it was pricey! And no murder during their trip!

Traveling through time and through exotic places is always fascinating, and this movie gave me a glimpse of what happened on a luxurious train ride from Istanbul to Europe during those days. Passengers, who were initially strangers, actually spoke to each other during the ride, and not just lost themselves in their smartphones and social media accounts posting narcissistic photos of themselves.

People read books, conversed with each other, exchanged ideas, and eventually got to learn about each other. Of course, an occasional murder made the train ride more interesting, too!

Watching the film didn’t feel like it was a mystery waiting to be solved. It was a train ride that I didn’t want to end. The CGI sceneries showing the exotic landscape over which the train passed, the Wailing Wall and the bakery scenes, where I could almost smell the newly baked Turkish bread, and the snowy mountain passes that made me realize it’s just as freezing outside the cinema because it’s winter - all made me forget that there was a murder to be solved! I got lost in the journey like a real tourist!

And if there was a picturesque train ride, there was also drama on how the murder was solved. One victim, one detective, 13 suspects and one dramatic scene in a tunnel to expose the culprit, or culprits!

Agatha Christie would have been proud! This was more than just a murder. It was a luxurious train ride, fabulous wine and desserts, and then murder to cap it off!

Yes, I’d also like you to watch it. But lucky me, my cinema ticket was actually discounted since it was Culture Day yesterday in Korea, when cinema tickets are discounted for films showing from 5PM to 9PM every last Wednesday of the month!

When the film ends, please don’t hurry to leave your seat. Stay for the closing credits and listen to the song. Its melody is sad, and the lyrics even sadder! I immediately recognized the voice; it’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s! She was nominated for an Oscar Best Actress her singing role in the Fabulous Baker Boys, remember? That lady can act and sing!

You have to watch the movie to get the essence of the song. And when I got home, I looked it up in Youtube and read the lyrics, and realized it’s one of the saddest movie songs ever! And I think it will win an Oscar for its composer, Patrick Doyle, and because it will be nominated, I’m so looking forward to watching Michelle Pfeiffer perform that song at the Oscars 2018! 

The song is Never Forget. Haunting, slow, sad. Its lyrics will connect you to the movie as if each of the character sings Never Forget after such tragedy of losing a loved one. Am I giving away too much?

I hope you can tell me how you’d find the movie and the song.

And don’t forget to bring tissues!

Here's the song:


Wednesday, 22 November 2017

My Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Men

Acrophobia is the fear of heights, and I guess if you're applying to work as a window cleaner in Seoul, the first question you're asked is "Do you have acrophobia?"

(The brave window cleaners and my neighborhood)

I would have wanted to ask these guys cleaning the windows of our apartment building that question. But I think it's moot, or they would have told me to close my windows so they could clean it.

Hanging a few hundred feet above ground, dangling and swaying on the side of a tall building, these fearless guys clean your dusty, dirty apartment windows. Dirt usually comes from the yellow dust and air pollution.

But before they're scheduled to clean, the building management tells everyone to make sure their windows are closed before they leave their apartments. Some buildings in Seoul though have windows that don't open.

But ours can be opened, which I like. I could easily let fresher air (or polluted air depending on the day!) come in into my place in case it gets stocky. The windows, by the way, could only be opened to a limited degree for safety reasons. 

And on the morning when they started cleaning, I tried to peep out my window to ask them if I could join their outdoor picnic.

       (Your friendly neighborhood spider-men)

Instead, I closed just my window shut, or they would have told me to join the Cirque de Soleil instead. Ha-ha-ha!

Thanks to these guys, my windows are clean, which gives me a clearer view of the city. 

Did I tell you from my window I can see Myeongdong, Seoul Tower, Namsan, Dongdaemun, Gwanak-san, Lotte World Tower, and of course, the airplanes from afar that are about to land at Gimpo Airport?

So the next time you see these guys dangling on the side of a building, try appreciating their bravery. They're your friendly neighborhood spider-men.