Saturday, January 29, 2011

Of Airport Terminals and Tight Hugs

As I stare into the screen of Etihad Airways Boeing 777, where the scene changes from the lighted path of the runway into the gloomy dusk of Manila, I can't help but feel sad that as the scenes change the distance that separates me from my family also increases. This is why I'm not a big fan of airport terminals. Some may look at it as their gateway to adventure or freedom, for me, airport terminals, particularly the departure area are torture cells of the unwilling travelers.

Though, I'm not wholly unwilling to travel because I was leaving to join my husband. It is just that, a part of me is feeling so heavy because I will be leaving behind what I have considered my comfort zone. That Friday, while I rushed inside to have my stuff checked in, I was a volcano of conflicting emotions. The Ninoy International Airport was ready to burst with passengers heading out of the country. It was chaos everywhere. When I found the queue for Etihad, I panicked. The queue was so long, good thing they have a system. The first stop is the weight checker then passport/visa verification then lastly the main check-in counter. After checking in, I have to pay travel tax at another counter. I was a bit confident that I don't have to pay the usual fee anymore, unlike the first time I left for Abu Dhabi, because I have my husband's copy of Overseas Employment Certificate (OEC). Unfortunately, when I presented my passport with my visa stamped on it plus my husband's visa, they still asked for my marriage certificate to authenticate my relation to my husband. What?! I mean, my visa has already a "housewife" written on it, what more evidence do they need? But because I was running out of time, I didn't argue anymore, knowing some of those people there are just trying to milk money from Filipinos working abroad. The whole thing took me 20 minutes to complete. Then I was able to join my family outside again.

When I got outside, I knew my Nanay would start bawling any moment as well as my sister which will definitely be followed by more crying by me. I saw many families already crying while they kiss their love ones safe journey. When it was my turn to give them my goodbyes, the tear ducts opened like a dam. This is why I hate airports, it always make me cry. It made me think of a hundred and one reasons why I should not leave the country. When I finished hugging and kissing my Nanay, Tatay, my sister and my niece, I have to stop or I can not leave. So I walked straight into the entrance gate , I don't want to look back because it will just make me cry harder, but it was then that my niece decided to shriek and cry I started crying all over again. It was torture. Pure hell of emotional torture. In my head, I try recalling everything I would be missing - my Tatay's constant checking on everyone, my Nanay's loud presence and smelling like D&G Blue, my brother's moody attitude while talking about school, movies, tv series and books, my sister's rant about life while chasing little Drina, my brother-in-law's hirit while maintaining a poker face, heck, I would even miss our chabby Baleng for simple being her.

And I keep telling myself, that everything is just temporary. I will just think of the time that I will be seeing them again. I tried psyching myself that, if I go and work abroad, I could have the extra cash to help my family feel more comfortable. I guess, everyone inside that airplane was thinking of the same thing. That one day, Filipinos don't have to leave the country and look for a job to provide for his or her family. That one day, we could all spend birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases and other special holidays together. No more long distance calls for hours just to hear our families breath and talk nonsense stuff. No more pretending that I'm attending the party via Skype. One day, I would look at airport terminals without a tear but still with a tight hug to welcome me back home. One day.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Singapore Day Trip Under S$5

If the weather forecast says its going to be a cloudy day, then its time for you to pack up your picnic basket and spend the day at the park with some friends without spending too much shilling.

There were those weekends, when there is no take-home work to be done. The laundry is already drying outside. And not much to do on a Sunday. Prepare some sandwiches, pack in some chips, a bottle or two of soda and an old blanket then head down to the nearest park. Singapore is a well planned city with the visible balance of green and concrete. Most residential areas have their own parks where residents can take a stroll whenever they feel like taking a walk. There are two parks I have visited in Singapore which I must say are pretty nice for a whole day picnic, either with a special someone or just hanging out with goofy friends.

The Chinese Garden. When some friends and I decided on a whim to have a day just hanging out somewhere nice but does not need to be expensive, because back then I just started working so no salary yet. One friend chose Chinese Garden just because of the word garden - which means lots of greens and lots of flowers to take pictures from. Chinese Garden is located near the MRT station which was named after the park. It is the fourth to the last mrt station along the green line westward. When you get off from the train, take the escalator and then you will see the lush green garden of Chinese Garden. Trees lined up the pathway going to the main entrance which is guarded by two stone lions. Small ponds and bridges are scattered within the garden. What we love most is the red bridge where you can sit along the banks of the stream and enjoying the shade. Peaceful place for meditation. Another striking structure in the garden is the twin Pagoda. We went up and had an awesome view of the garden. Next we checked out the beautiful bonsai garden and then the Turtle and Tortoise Museum. Aside from the turtles there is also a pond inside the building which houses colorful carp fishes. We spent the whole afternoon roaming around the garden. Lots of pictures were taken and we didn't spend one single cent for that wonderful afternoon.

As I discovered more of Singapore's garden, another friend of mine decided to explore Singapore Botanic Garden. Now getting there was a bit tricky. We sort of got lost in riding 2 or 3 buses but still didn't reach the main gate. All we know is that its main gate is located at Tanglin Road. So here's the easier way of getting there, let's say you get off at Orchard MRT Station since that's the nearest mrt station going to the park. Cross the road or better yet, take the underpass going to the opposite side of Orchard Boulevard. Near Lucky Plaza Building there's a bus station, take Bus No. 7, 77, 106, 111, 123 and 174. Alight after 3 stops at the bus station opposite Trader's Hotel at Grange Road. Once you get there, you'd see the huge cast iron gate painted in silver of the Botanic Garden.

Here you can see all tropical vegetation for cultivation. Grassy lawn stretches into a vast ground ready to welcome any picnic goers. Plants everywhere have name tags attached so you would know their scientific name and some of their uses while roaming around the park. There are some benches scattered everywhere for those who doesn't have mats to sit on. Secret coves are also everywhere, this is the perfect spot for lovers to be cozy while enjoying the natural view of the park. Even when it rains, there are stalls and hideaways where you can sit and wait for the rain to stop. Our day at the park was a total adventure from finding the right bus to finding a shed to protect us from the rain. And we didn't spend much. We brought some donuts and bottled water. No entrance fee. So basically we only spend almost SGD2 for the fare.

Having fun in Singapore doesn't have to be expensive. You can ride the bus and explore the city. Ride the train and enjoy the view. Anything is possible even if you only have SGD5 budget for the day.

Kuala Lumpur in 24 Hours

It was one of those weekends when you feel like taking a different scenery for a change.  When shopping can already lead you to bankruptcy and people watching is already quite boring, you take another turn to release the stress - then you go to Malaysia.  This is what most Singaporeans would do on any given weekend.  Particularly if its a long weekend.  However, that was not our case.  It was my fiance's last weekend before going back to Abu Dhabi.  So along with some good friends we hopped onto the bus going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur (KL) is the capital of Malaysia and it is a 5-6 hours bus ride from Singapore, depending on how many stopovers the bus will be taking.  We took the Airebus (business class).  It was a last minute decision so we didn't get a good price for the ticket, the only tickets left were quite expensive.  The business class tickets cost SGD 80 that time.  However, when we saw the bus, it was worth the pay.  It was spacious and the seats are very very comfortable.  Personal monitors for movie watching during the trip is also provided per passenger.  The bus only carries 27 passengers.  The 5 hour trip has one stop over and meals are provided during the trip.  We left at 8 pm so most of the time I was sleeping.  A very good sleep.  We arrived at the border around 12 midnight, and there we got out of the bus for immigration inspection and passport stamping.  We arrived in Kuala Lumpur around 1:30 am and the bus stop was quite far from the main highway.  The sad part is, we forgot to have our SGD's changed to Malaysian Ringgit.  Tip: Have a few Singapore Dollars changed into Ringgit before boarding the bus to KL.  We tried to hail for any taxi, believe me at this time, no taxi cabs were running about the city center.  After almost an hour of walking, we found one and negotiated since we will be paying in SGD.

We have a reservation at the Flamingo Hotel.  We got the chalet room.  It's a sort of villa facing the lake.  Most of its villas surrounded the lake.  The lake is very pretty especially in the morning.  The hotel/resort gives the feeling of having your own house by the lake.  Jog around the lake is the perfect way to start your day.  What we did, since we came in late already, we woke up a bit late for an early morning run.  So we lazed around a bit, then headed to the twin towers - Petronas Towers.

Known to be the tallest twin tower in the world, Petronas Tower is the landmark of Malaysia.  Most souvenir shops sells all kinds of goods with a print or a replica of this tower.  We took the cab going there, unfortunately, the driver is not familiar with the twin tower as the destination.  Instead he took us to Kuala Lumpur City Center (KLCC)because, as he said, this is where most tourists go when they are in KL.  When we reached the place, we were so awed because it was actually the twin towers itself.  The KLCC is an 139,000 sq.m. shopping center at the foot of the tower.  The tower structure is so beautiful despite of the dirty surroundings, both stood regally like a two queens.  At the other side of the shopping center is a big fountain where most tourists loiter and take a picture with the twin towers as the background.  We strolled inside the mall for awhile.  It was a bit awkward because we were wearing shorts.  If you got used to the Singapore fashion going anywhere wearing only shorts, Malaysia is completely the opposute.  It is a strict no-shorts wearing place.  It being an Islamic country, people everywhere wear conservative clothes.  After a few rounds and a quick lunch inside the mall, we took a cab and decided to go back to the hotel.  Luckily we got a friendly driver, before heading to the hotel he took us to one of the most visited spot in Kuala Lumpur - Beryl's Chocolate Kingdom in Kawasan Perindustrian Seri Kembangan 43300 Seri Kembangan, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia.

If you are one of those chocolate lovers, this is definitely your place.  It is located quite far from the city center but near to a bus station.  We came in and we were greeted by their friendly staff.  We had our names written on a sticker and we were wearing it when we entered that quaint house turned into a factory and shop.  We had a little tour of their kitchen and a little taste testing.  The store boasts of original and authentic tastes of chocolate.  I love their Tiramisu.  I bought two kilos of it.  It is an almond coated with white chocolate and milk chocolate.  They also have different flavors like Durian flavored chocolates and other tropical fruits.

After a short indulgence, we head straight to the hotel and decided to have a massage instead.  We have an appointment at the hotel's spa at around 5 pm.  When we got there for our massage schedule.  We were ushered inside and we each have our own room.  I hesitated for a bit because I would like to have it in two's.  But it is their policy.  One client per room.  I got inside the room but was baffled, I'm a massage whore if there is such a word, I know how spa massages work, but this spa is sort of different.  I was sitting on the bed waiting for my masseuse.  When she came in I was a bit shock because she was wearing this flimsy night gown with glitters and feathers on her chest area.  And even though the lighting inside the room was really poor, I swear I could see she is not wearing any underwear.  UH-OH.  Yes, that was what I was already thinking but I can't turn away now.  We have already paid for this.  So when she saw me, she sighed sadly and rummaged through her small basket and put on her ta dah! her underwear.  She told me to take my clothes off.  I begin to panic because probably my fiance is experiencing the same thing.  To shorten this tale, the massage was a total nightmare.  When I got out we all look so shocked.  So that was why most guys were staring at us girls and they were sending us curious glances.  Had we known!  Oh well, one to include in our bizarre experience in Malaysia.

We went back to KLCC for dinner and we had a spectacular view of the twin towers.  It is even more stunning at night with all its lights on.  We checked out by dawn and headed down to the bus terminal to take the bus going back to Singapore.  It was a fun 24 hours, we had walked the dirty streets of Malaysia, hoard on the chocolates, awkwardly strolled inside the mall, was harassed by semi naked masseuses and best of all we had the chance to see and enjoy the beautiful twin towers of Kuala Lumpur.

Monday, January 24, 2011

San Pedro: Heart of Davao City

It is a Sunday, and my Nanay and I decided to hear mass at San Pedro Cathedral Church.

It has been some time since the last time I visited the church.  This church held a lot of stories, not just mine but most of the people in the city.  San Pedro or St. Peter Cathedral is located at the heart of the city.  It faces the city hall and the it stands right next to the busiest street of the city, yet when you enter this majestic dome, you can still feel the solemnity of being in a holy ground.

Our family has been going to this church since I was 5 years old.  Back then, there were only few people living in Davao.  Traffic congestion is an alien word and only a few vendors litter the perimeter.  Now, once you go out of the gated church, vendors selling peanuts, fruits, second hand stuff, balloons and candles are everywhere.  It's like a Sunday market outside the church.  They were all hollering for attention.  Chaos.  In a friendly way.

The church has not change much.  the big dome that covers the main church still has that shiny parquet ceiling.  This beautiful ceiling must have kissed a thousand balloons since it was built in 1847.  The marble floors, albeit the dirt, still looks the same.  The dull surface makes up for the shiny ceiling.  The massive altar that displays Christ on the cross.  It was simply decorated with not much ornaments, but then, it still exudes charm.  Both chapels that flanked each side of the main church, still has the original religious statues.  Candle vendors still guard the doorway, in case you need some candles once you are done praying. I'm one of those who frequent the candle shed.  If you have any prayer intentions do it with a candle stick.  A candle for each intention.

During my board examination review, I visit this church daily with a handful of intentions and I feel lucky that most of them turn out to be way better than I have prayed for. That's why a lot of people flock this church, some with a disability, some are there just to ask for alms, some are there just to sit and wait for someone.  And some are there just to have a little peace.  If the walls of this church could talk, it would have thousands of stories to tell, just like the number of balloons

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Autumn in Singapore

When the cool air of winter will start to caress your cheek when the sun sets, this only means one thing, autumn season is on its way.

After the buzz of the Great Singapore Sale from mid-May to mid-August has settled and the street partying of the National Day Parade starts to die down, its time to make way for the mid-Autumn festival.  Or in Singapore the Mooncake festival.  One night, a few years back, on my way home I stopped at the nearest grocery store to buy myself a cheap dinner, while walking I saw this person standing outside one residential building.  She was standing in front of a drum where there's a little fire going on inside.  She was holding some sheet of paper and a picture.  Incenses were burning and its odd smell wafting into the night.  I didn't know what that was all about and just mentioned it to my office mate the following day.  She said that activity was part of the celebration of the mooncake festival.

The following days after that incident, bakeries everywhere started to display colorful mooncakes in their display shelves.  I can't believe that mooncakes have hundreds of varieties and flavors.  I was overwhelmed with so much curiosity of seeing them all lined up waiting to be gobbled up.  When I asked how much one bite size of caramel and coffee flavored mooncake was -- I was completely shocked.  How could a small thing like that could cost a lot of Singapore dollars?!  It cost like one meal already.  And so I bid my time, I was thinking like everything else here in Singapore those mooncakes will also go on sale when their season is over.

Then one weekend, I decided to reward myself for providing our office a good quotation for one project.  We got in the top 3 for the lowest bidder.  And I bought two bite size mooncakes for myself to indulge.  The flavors were mocha toffee and vanilla strawberry.  And I must say, those were the most heavenly mooncakes I have ever tasted.

So before September ends, visit the nearest mall where you are residing, most of the best mooncakes are also featured as the main event.  Most of the featured mooncakes are already on sale.  Also try the bakeries, they cut small bite size portions for taste test.  Try every variety they have before deciding on the flavor.  Sometimes, looks and colors can also be deceiving.  A guide to Singapore's mooncake bakers:

Bread Junction

HDB Tampines, 201D Tampines St.


Bread Talk

Tampines Mall

Citylink Mall, 1 Raffles Link

Bugis Junction Tower

City Bread

HDB Toa Payoh, 126 Lorong


Crystal Jade My Bread

Suntec City Mall

Bugis Junction Tower


Compass Point, 1 Sengkang Square

Four Leaves

Compass Point, 1 Sengkang Square

Raffles City Shopping Center

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Exploring Bugis

Being alone in a buzzing country also have its benefits like exploring places on your own, and that in itself is already an adventure.

I rented a room in Tampines.  A modest flat with three rooms in it.  A Malaysian family owns the unit and lets the two rooms.  I rented the other one with a close window.  This is because it is directly facing the buildings walkway.  It's a privacy thing.  Anyway, Tampines is a hour train ride to the central business district.  This station is a residential area so most of the buildings here are apartments and condominiums.  Bugis is almost 30-45 minutes train ride from Tampines.  Both stations are along the same green line so no need to change trains to go there.

Once you reach Bugis station, you get off and take the exit.  One exit I know leads right into Bugis Junction.  I always go to this area because it has everything from cheap and eccentric stuff to the glamorous and expensive fashion.  Once you are inside the mall an escalator will take you into the lower ground level where the grocery, bakery and food stalls are located.  I never miss a visit to this area without taking a bite or two of those appetizing goodies.

First stall I recommend you try is the Old Chang Kee.  This food stall stores everything fried.  From the shrimps, squid balls, chicken, chicken nuggets, taro cake, carrot cake and crab rolls.  And also spring rolls.  Most of their items are skewered after being fried.  A stick costs around S$3 and up.

Next is the Junior Chewy stall.  If you want to indulge and pamper your sweet tooth this is your booth.  It sells delectable flavors of cream puffs.  Blueberry and raspberry puffs are my favorite.  Each cream puff cost S$2 a piece.  If you want to taste their chewy puffs you need a bit of patience because often times, the queue here is quite long.

If you walk a little bit further, food stalls in the middle are also available.  One in particular is the Tako Pachi.  It is like the takoyaki thing ham and cheese or squid is covered with a batter and cooked in the shape of a ball.  When you bite into it the cheese just oozes out.  One order consists of 3 balls and it only costs S$3.

And last on my list of the food I often visit when I'm in Bugis is the J.Co Donuts.  These baked goodies has that distinct taste of the name it is being labeled.  Unlike some donuts, this does not overwhelm you with icings and too much topping, the donut itself is already a feast inside your mouth.  This booth has some tables and chairs where you can have your donut and coffee while enjoying the view of people passing by.

So when you are done tasting everything at the lower ground, you'd find lots of shops on the upper level, but since shopping is not really my thing I try exploring more food offers.  By the end of my first month in Singapore I have finally found some friends to hang out with.  And when one of them had their birthday, we celebrated it at Seoul Garden.  This restaurant is still located on the 2nd level of Bugis Junction.  This restaurant is quite expensive but for a special occasion this is the place to be.  The restaurant serves buffet lunch and dinner plus you get to cook some really good stuff on your own hot plate placed in the middle of the table.  And make your own noodle soup at the same time.  It was fun cooking and bonding with friends.  The buffet costs S$35 each person.  The rate varies for dinner and lunch.  Additional charge is required for your own noodle soup.

Let us veer away from the food stuff, dangerous stuff.  They could make you buy a new pair of jeans which is the next size larger than you usually buy.  Across the Bugis Junction is a year round bargain bazaar.  This area houses shops that usually sells souvenir items like key holders, t-shirts and magnets.  This one is slightly cheaper than those being sold at chinatown.

Aside from this stores selling all kinds of bric-a-brac, Bugis also has one church that is just walking distance from Bugis Junction.  The St. Joseph church is a massive white cathedral that has a Victorian design.  This is where I go to church on Sundays.  After the mass I cross the street and into a glass and steel structure that looks like a very expensive office.  However, it is far from being an office building, this structure is the National Library of Singapore.  I often while the time there because it stores very interesting collection of books.  They even have the latest fiction books on romance and all.

And if you are into shopping some gadgets, a long walk from Bugis Junction would lead you into Sim Lim Square.  This building houses all shops that sells gadgets like laptops, cameras, mp3's and computer accessories.  Be sure to haggle, vendors like to compete with each others prices.  Also, ask for GST receipts you can refund the tax you paid for those item once you leave the country.

A day at Bugis is not enough to explore every nook and cranny of this area.  But then, the accessibility of it must makes you want to scheduled it for another visit.

Shopping on a Budget in Singapore

The first month in Singapore was a total nightmare.  One because I am all alone.  Second, I don't have internet in my room and third I don't know anyone there to consider my friend.  However, our office has an internet connection and I could check my mails and update myself on a forum I have initially joined before trying my luck in this new country.  So what to do?  I explored the city.  On my own.  There is a lot of advantages when roaming around a big and busy city all alone.  You don't have to worry about your companion and you get to do and eat whatever you want.  I must admit I was sort of the introvert that time.  But it was fun.  More time for my self and for discovering things.  Singapore always connotes shopping but since no salary yet, I opted to hunt down bazaars and flea markets.

The first flea market I visited was the one just within Chinatown area.  The China Square Central.  When you get off the Chinatown MRT, take the exit leading to Pagoda St.  This is the main Chinatown area where souvenirs flanked the alley.  Most of their items are collectible items, shirts, some bric-a-brac and a small alley that leads to some of the local restaurants selling authentic and good chinese food.  Just go straight and when you reach the end of Pagoda St., cross the street then turn left, walk towards the intersection then cross another street in that corner is China Square Building.  The so called flea market is not easily visible and it doesn't have the vibe of a flea market at all since it is inside an air conditioned building, you have to enter the building and head towards the center of the building.  Booths are scattered with different merchandise like kids clothes and the latest fashions.  Level 1 is a bit pricey.  Level 2 more stuffs are sold mostly second hand.  The only thing brand new there were toys.  If you are a toy fanatic this is definitely the place.  Most toys are collectible items.  I was actually looking for some cheap clothes which I can wear for work, but China Square Central is not the place to do such shopping.  By the way, this flea market or bazaar is only open on Sundays.

The next flea market I hunted down is that of Tanglin Mall.  Finding the mall is one heck of an adventure since the mall is way too far from the MRT station.  The nearest MRT going to Tanglin Mall is Orchard station since the mall is within orchard area.  When you get off Orchard station you take the exit that leads to orchard road then turn left.  Go straight and cross the street.  You would be passing by a Starbucks shop, a 7/11 stall and you will reach the corner where the Orchard Parade Hotel is located.  Turn left again and walk straight ahead.  The walk would take almost 15-20 minutes depending on your pacing and how big is your stride.  Since I like to take time in enjoying the sights, it would take me almost 30 minutes.  You would know you'd reach the Tanglin Mall when you see lots and lots of people selling goods just outside the mall.  Most of the vendors have their wares on the floor.  So it actually looks like a flea market in a poor way.  The goods sold there are a mix of second hand and brand new.  My heart skipped a beat when I saw loads of books for sale.  Most of the chic lits only cost S$1 with no spine creases.  I also found some clothes for work.  A lot of Filipinos go there to buy and fill up their balikbayan boxes.  I enjoyed shopping in this market.  This flea market only happens on the first and third Saturday of the month.  Better mark your calendar for that.

The other flea market which I totally dislike is the one near Bugis junction.  According to one website the Thieves' Market at Sungei Road sells everything and believe me when they say everything they mean EVERYTHING.  At that time I have already found a friend and we searched for this flea market hoping to find good buys.  To our dismay, most of the vendors only sells trash and rubbish.  Aside from the place which is very very dirty, most of the people going there are mostly male.  I would not recommend this place for whatever activity at all.

Although there were a lot of flea markets in Singapore waiting to be discovered, I have only wandered into three (3) of them.  I wanted to do more scouting, maybe I just got discouraged with what I have witnessed at Thieves' Market.  But for those who would still want to unearth more good buys, here are some of the list of flea markets in Singapore, happy shopping!

Zouk Flea and Easy Market
held at Zouk, 17 Jiak Kim Street
Once every 3 months, on a Sunday from 2-7pm

Lime Flea Market
held at *scape (youth hub behind Cathay Orchard Cineleisure)
2nd and 4th Saturday of every month (Bi-monthly)

Maad Flea Market
held at Red-dot design Museum, 28 Maxwell Road
Operates only on first weekend (Sat and Sun) of every month, 11am-7pm

Timbre Flea Market
held at Timbre Bistro, 45 Armenian Street (The Substation Garden)
held monthly

Far East Square
situated at 76 Telok Ayer Street
Every Saturday and Sunday, 12pm-10pm

Kampong Glam Flea Market
Situated near Bugis MRT station
Every 3rd Sunday of the month, 10am-6pm

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Noodle Soup for the Rainy Night

The other night, on our way home doing some little shopping for my father's upcoming trip to his hometown Ibajay, Aklan heavy rain accompanied us.  I was smiling the whole time.  I love the rain and it just makes me want to snuggle beneath the sheets and dream the night away but for the rest of the people outside the car rushing for cover it was nightmare.  So we were driving a bit slower than usual, because my mother goes berserk when the speed goes over 40 kph and its rainy.  The road is slippery as she always justify.  And I was already thinking about food.  And what could be the best companion on a rainy night?  Noodle soup!  Of course, hot chocolate with marshmallows will also be on the top 3 list, but noodle soup?  Well, its a whole lot different.  This lures me back to my misadventures in Singapore.

Why I love Singapore so much, is because of all the noodle shops scattered everywhere.  I love noodles.  I could eat noodles for a month and still won't get enough of it.  Since my previous office is located in Chinatown we often take our lunch at the people's park building.  It is right across Pagoda street.  The ground floor of the building houses lots and lots of shops that sells all kinds of noodles.  My all time favorite is the one located at the farthest right when you enter the building.  For 5 months that I was there  eating almost everyday, I can't seem to remember the name of the shop.  Anyway, I always order meehon with fried egg.  Sometimes, I add another side dish if I feel a little generous on that day.  However, if I have some sandwiches which I prepared that day my office mate and I order mee goreng and share it.  Mee goreng is basically a Malaysian vegetarian noodle dish cook with so many chilies in it.  By the time you are in your 5th bite you would definitely be sweating already, thus the sharing scheme.  On the farther left on the other hand also sells noodles.  I don't know what really is its name but its really really good.  Boiled noodles seasoned with soy sauce and a bit of chili and garnished with grilled pork.  It even has a wanton soup to go with it as part of the meal.

For rainy days, which often happens anytime in Singapore, my office mate and I would go to another noodle shop that sells Ban Mian.  This is definitely the noodle soup you should not miss to eat when visiting Singapore.  Ban Mian has this wide flat noodles floating in a rich soup topped with minced pork, some vegetables, and some fried anchovies.  We often put some soy sauce with chili to go with it to give it a little kick.  Almost all noodles in Singapore have chili as side dish.  And its perfect combination.

There are gazillion choices of noodles to choose from.  If traveling in this country, might as well try them all and be the judge.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Culinary Feast in the Land of Zaby

While chatting with my husband who is already back in Abu Dhabi, I was asking him what his dinner would be for the day.  Back when I was there, I cook and basically the menu consisted of Filipino dishes that I know is healthy and easy to prepare.  But sometimes its fun to go out and explore other small shops that offer authentic cuisines of the middle east.  Here 's a little rundown of the food I have sampled:

Beef Fry: This Indian dish would definitely help you eat loads and loads of rice.  Warning to those who are trying to control their weight and wants to stay out of carbo load this dish will definitely bring you to the brink of your self control.  The soft beef fried with different spices that bursts in your mouth while the lingering burn of the chilies give it more kick.  This dish can be bought in any small Indian shops that sell viands.  Also malls like Lulu Center and Carrefour sells them.

Curry Sauce and Paratha:  Another Indian dish this combo is often sold together with the beef fry.  The paratha is sort of an oily bread but in a healthy way.   This is perfect for vegetarians.  When eating you can use your hands cut a small portion and dip it into the curry sauce.  This can be taken as snack or a meal depends on how many paratha you can finish.

Kubus and Hummus:  Like the former combo I have mentioned, this combo is also considered as snack or an appetizer.  The kubos is an Arabian bread dipped into the hummus which is made of grounded chickpeas.  The hummus is usually bland thus it is drizzled with extra virgin olive oil for a more appealing taste.  This combo is often accompanied by roasted chicken to complete the meal.

Arabic Pizza:  While Abu Dhabi is flanked with western pizza restaurants, the locals have their own version of pizza.  And I must say I prefer it more than the commercialized ones.  Not just because it is a lot cheaper but taste wise they are lip smacking good.  Most of its toppings are the same except for the kind of meat you prefer they have chicken or beef.  The rest of the toppings are cheese, tomato sauce, olives, olive oil, green bell peppers and onions.  All of these are dumped into a chewy dough that is quite heavy for one slice alone.  Shameless plugging for Gulf Pastry their large pizza only costs 15 AED.

Yogurt:  If you are a yogurt fan, Abu Dhabi would be your heaven!  From the small shops to the big grocery stores yogurt is sold.  They have full fat, low fat and the flavored ones.  And they cost cheap too.  Flavored yogurt like raspberries and cherries only cost 1 AED for one piece.  Lovely!

I could go on with writing about food but I could already feel my tummy grumbling.  This thinking of food makes my stomach violent.  Have to stop before I could no longer control myself and raid the fridge.  I'll write more soon.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Singapore: My First Home Abroad

Burp!  Full stomach tonight.  I don't think I could still breath properly and I'm beginning to worry about my incision.  Is it possible that it could open up because of too much eating?  I hope not.  Need to ask my OBGYN though for precaution.  And despite the full tummy, I was still craving for some kopi bun on the way home.  This is really embarrassing, I'm not even pregnant yet but I am already eating like one.  Oh well.  So we stopped by Kopi Roti a coffee shop in Davao City that sells kopi bun, kaya toast and good Singaporean coffee.

Sigh.  I miss Singapore.  After the take out of kopi buns and homemade iced teas, the drive going home reminded me of my adventures in Singapore and my life there for about 5 months.

The first time I stepped foot on the shopping mecca of Asia was on 2005 and it was love at first sight.  The busy buzz of the city excites me, while we were strolling along the Orchard road, basking on the shops that sells too expensive stuff.  I can't help but gawk at the designs of the buildings.  The food sold at any kopitiam in every mall and corners is dimsum heaven!  Never miss out on the S$1 ice cream along the road.  Yummy!  That's when I promised myself I'm going to live in Singapore by hook or by crook.

By 2007, we again had another family vacation and my yearning for this eclectic country still grows stronger.  Every mall I discover, every new food I taste makes me all the more obsessed in finally finding a job and breath in the life of the city.  This became a reality a year after, 2008.

It all happened so quickly, I got laid off from work, I started applying online and decided to try my luck.  I set some appointment with employers for interviews.  And the first company I visited was a jackpot.  I got hired on the spot and now I could finally make my dream a reality.  Or so I thought.

My work experience in Singapore was another story and too dark to print it out.  Let us just say it didn'tt work out the way I wanted it to be.  I got burned.  Actually all Filipinos working there in our company got burned with so much injustice.  I'll tell more about it some other time.  Now to the brighter side, despite that experience, I gained a lot of insights in living in Singapore.

Back then, I have no friends to bond with during the weekends so I try to discover places and food in the city.  I lived in Tampines that's somewhere near the airport and quite far from where I work which is in Chinatown.  A good one hour MRT ride.  This is what I love about Singapore, the MRT roaming around is so easy.  Even the bus are aplenty.  You don't have to wait too long for the next one to arrive.  Bus stations have queuing metals so you get to be prioritized in accommodation.  Taxis are quite expensive, this is only recommended if you are trying to go somewhere you are not familiar with or the bus station and/or the MRT is quite far from that destination.  But the fastest and most reliable way of going from one place to another is by walking.  Don't worry about all those heavy soups and noodles you took for lunch you can burn them down by walking along the clean streets with fascinating scenes and views.

I could go on about Singapore, but I have to stop, I'll write more on going to places where you can  buy the best stuff and how to go there the next time I get hold of my writing mood.  Want some kopi?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Green Abu Dhabi: Where the Rain Rarely Visits

As I am enjoying a rainy night inside my room and still encased in my warm bubble of vacation bliss, I could not help but smile as the music of falling raindrops plays a symphony by my window.  I hardly experience this while living in Abu Dhabi.

For the past six months, since I have joined my husband in Abu Dhabi, rain rarely happens.   They say it only shows up when the weather will start to change or the season turns over to a new one.  And it actually did, unfortunately the rain came so fast and it was over too soon.  I didn't even noticed it rained that night.  I thought the loud rumbling outside was just the garbage truck arriving too early for its usual daily routine but it was actually the thunder.  Unlike here in my country, particularly my city, when December hits, it will start raining.

Despite the infrequent visit of rain in the desert, still Abu Dhabi glisten with green-ness, if there is such a word.  Anywhere in Abu Dhabi you would see specks of green.  From the palm trees along the road island, to the parks scattered everywhere and even outside the malls are decorated with date trees.  When you are mobile, you would see colorful flowers are blooming in varied wild colors.  During the weekend, most family would spend the day in the park, lounging on the thick carpet of grass that covers it.  Even the Corniche is decorated with gardens.  And they say gardening is impossible in the desert, they have to see it first to believe that it is way too possible.

I am slightly missing my second home, Abu Dhabi, already.  The exotic buzz of a different country perks up my curiosity.  And I can't help but want to explore it more and more.  I remember what my graduate study professor told me, "if you want to know a city deeply, walk and explore it to feel its beat."  That's exactly what I did.  Not the walk thing though, I took the bus.  I always have a penchant for riding huge buses and going to places.  I love it.  I don't know why, but I just do.  One day, after I did some little grocery at the Lulu Center at Al Wahda Mall, I hopped on to bus 54 so sure that that same bus would pass along Hamdan Street where we are residing.  I didn't see the sign where it was actually going.  I stayed calm, but after 15 minutes, the streets and buildings are no longer familiar, my heart began to race but I stayed calm.  It crossed a bridge and I begin to panic because I might already be going to another island way too far from Abu Dhabi already.  I tried to stay calm, the driver was already giving me a funny look.  When I turned around I was the only remaining passenger in the bus.  That's when I wanted to cry.  So I called my husband which was no help at all because I only got an earful of "I told you so" sermon.  Luckily, the driver was nice enough to explain that I should have taken the same bus number 54 but from the bus station right across the mall.  To make the story short, I ended up riding the bus for at least 2 hours, which would actually take me like 10-15 minutes taxi ride going home.   The good thing though I only paid 1 dirham.  All bus going anywhere in Abu Dhabi only costs 1 dirham.  And that my friend is exploration.

I miss my misadventures.  I hope I get to do more soon.  For the meantime, I'll enjoy my raindrop orchestra.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

The title says it all.  I have been living in Abu Dhabi for 6 months to join my husband and I must say, no matter how many new things I saw, new adventures I have explored and new food I have tasted, nothing compares to home.

Since the Christmas holiday is one of the most important holidays for most Filipinos, we were lucky enough that my husband's leave was approved we get to celebrate Christmas with our families.  So we retrace the steps back to where we grew up and relive moments of nostalgia.

Our first stop is in Aliaga, Nueva Ecija.  A landlocked located near the heart of Luzon island, this province is known for covering most of its lands with long stretches of rice fields and this is home for my husband.  He grew up with the all year round of preparing the land, planting the seedlings, tending the crops, harvesting and finally sacking the rice.  The province over the years has stayed as rural as every province in the country.  Not much has changed per my husband, people still follow the same old routine, waking up before the rooster can even shriek out its first hello then the day ends just after a few moments it turns dusk.  What I like about Aliaga is a lot of quiet time to relax.  No rush activities of the urban life is felt there plus it is just a few minutes away from Cabanatuan home of the mouthwatering garlic longganisa.

This Filipino style sausage is a famous breakfast meal together with fried egg and fried rice. smack! smack! The old market place of Cabanatuan sells longganisa P200/kilo and P250/kilo for the bototay or the sweetened longganisa (which I prefer more, because I'm an Ilongga anything salty and sweet is heaven in my tongue)

Next stop is Davao city, my hometown.  This is where I grew up and this is probably where I would retire.  Davao is known to be a peace-loving city.  So many ordinances  are being implemented here and some of the cities in our country find it distasteful, but me, i think its brilliant.  It's one way of disciplining the people.  The city has a smoking ban.  You can not smoke just anywhere, there are designated areas where you can do your lung destruction.  A penalty of P10,000 if caught and an overnight stay at the police station.  Another thing I love about this city is that unlike Manila, taxi drivers here are honest and courteous.  Manila taxi drivers are just like robbers but with uniforms.  They don't give you back your change and they won't even let you ride if they think your destination is way too far - so much for Manila the city hub of the country.  Back to our real purpose of the vacay, my family decided to celebrate a late Christmas bonding at the Malagos Garden Resort.

This resort is an inland resort where you can do lots of things together with your family like swimming, playing around at the playground, horseback riding, and watch the bird show.  Schedule for the bird show can be seen at their website.  They also serve buffet lunch, and we were lucky that time because they had lechon de leche in the menu. Goody! My husband, my brother in law and my brother were so thrilled to see that in the table.  While eating lunch a family friend also happens to be there so the lunch stretched into more talks and more wine drinking.  The wine they were sharing was a bottle of Bignay.

It is a native cherry fermented and turned into wine.  The wine has a robust taste and its aroma slides into my nostrils and throat like a hot grape.  By the way, the resort is originally the plantation for orchids, so you could ask to have a tour of its gardens and see their orchid plantation in bloom.

This vacation would have been a lot fun if it weren't for a few setbacks. But, who ever had a perfect vacation anyway?  Still, going home always comfort me.  The taste, the sound and the feel of familiar surrounding will always be where I would always want to come back.