Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Making the Jump

First of all, I'd like to apologize to those I didn't meet up with in Hong Kong. I'll make up for it next time. And there will be a next time, I'm pretty sure.

Ok, so now that that is out of the way, I'd like to share my jampacked Hong Kong and Macau experience and the one "once-in-a-lifetime" activity that made it all the more memorable.

We went to the spanking new Changi Airport Terminal 3 where things are just about squeaky clean, early in the morning to catch a flight to Hong Kong International. The brand new airport looks good and it's got that more wide-open feel, truly world class. Flying Singapore Airlines economy class has always been a treat, and for this flight, I got to watch 90% of the movie 3:10 to Yuma (as I ran out of time, I don't remember why), just short of the climax/resolution. In HKG, immigration lines were a bit long and took quite a while. After we were cleared, we gathered our luggage, got Airport Express Tourist Transport tickets, got money from an ATM and headed towards Hong Kong Island via train. Once on IFC, we took a cab to L'Hotel Causeway Bay, which is a stone's throw away from Tin Hau Station. It was a convenient location for a hotel. The weather was cool and damp at around 12-18C (I'm guessing). I wore a shirt, a sweater and a jacket which I occasionally took off.

The grand tour started at Tsim Sha Tsui, after that short meal in Cafe de Coral. Taking the Star Ferry from the terminal, we got a good look of the harbour despite the fog and smog. Bus 15C took us to the lower Peak terminus, and from there we took the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak. That afternoon, we were blessed with a relatively clear view of Hong Kong and Kowloon. We spent the evening with a long trek to Citygate Outlets way out in Tung Chung. Just before calling it a night, we decided to check out Causeway Bay and curiously watch people looking up at the big screens showing Edison Chen's press conference.

Day Two started in historic Mido Cafe near Yau Ma Tei. It started drizzling while we were walking to Mongkok along "The Golden Mile", Nathan Road. In the area, people were watching replays of Edison Chen's press conference. It really was a big deal to the locals. We continued our trek through Tsim Sha Tsui, looking for bargains, though nothing was really compelling. We spent just about the whole afternoon on the south side of the island to check out Ocean Park. The weather wasn't cooperating, forcing the park to shutdown the rides that we came there for. We managed to watch the dolphin show, go inside the atoll reef, and ride the Abyss. After the cable car ride to the main entrance, we got a chance to see the Giant Panda Habitat, which was a unique experience. Back smack in the middle of the city, we had dinner at Canteen in IFC Mall to watch a muted Symphony of Lights from the HK side. We got dessert at Lucky Desserts near World Trade Centre.

Day Three started with a quick breakfast at Cafe de Coral, after which he headed straight to Sheung Wan. That place of course is where we caught the (Turbojet) ferry to Macau. After enduring the bumpy 1 hour ride, we were at Macau Ferry Terminal. We took a cab to Macau Tower, where my pilgrimage will take place.


This probably merits a blog entry of its own, but I'm confident that I can fit the entire experience narrative in a paragraph or two. Here it goes.

The "once-in-a-lifetime" activity was bungy jumping from Macau Tower, the self-proclaimed World's Highest Bungy Jump at 233 meters. We could get into technicalities about how it's not pure bungee what with all the safety equipment, but who really cares. In any case, I got booked something like an hour before the scheduled time, which made me feel like dead man walking. During that time, I didn't think it was a good idea to have lunch even when I eventually did. The feeling is similar to taking the final exam in school, not knowing if you're prepared. You dread the event, and at the same time, you want to get it over with quickly. As the slated time approached, I signed a couple of waivers, got the complimentary shirt, and emptied my pockets of stuff which could potentially kill people at 9.8 meters per second. I was scared shit and excited, but I got a bit more confident when I saw that three Korean girls ages 11-16 were ahead of me. Maybe it's won't be so bad after all.

It started to rain lightly when I was outside the observation deck, which was the 61st floor of the tower (which I assumed to be 233 meters up, as advertised). It was pretty windy as well. After the three young ladies did their jump, I got a good insight of how the components of the contraption work. Each jump took about 5-10 minutes from when they tie up your legs to the time you head back upstairs from the ground. There were three guys operating the jump from the deck, two others to document (still and video camera), and two to pick up your body parts down below (kidding, but there were two at the ground floor). The view from up there wasn't really spectacular, no thanks to the weather and the fog. The scariest part of the experience was walking the plank and into position. I began to realize that there's no way to go but down. I still had the composure to give a thumbs up with a smile to the video team and to follow the instructions on how to jump: arms out, chin up, and try your best to fall over (instead of jumping down). Behind the smile was of course the frozen terrified smile which I held for a couple of seconds.

"Get ready!...5...4...3...2...1..."

The initial sensation was that of panic as I didn't expect the bungy cord to be so heavy as to actually pull my legs down. In fact in the video, you can see me momentarily flailing my arms. I must clarify that wasn't an attempt to fly but rather it was of wanting to fall forward. About a second in, the cords did it for me, and I was looking at the ground from that time on. The wind and rain smashed into my face, but I learned to trust the safety equipment, and eventually just enjoyed the jump. It really was a long way down and I got to look around the landscape on the way. I made it a point not to blink during that time just to milk it for what it's worth. Way short of the landing cushion, I got pulled back by the cord for another (relatively) high drop. After that was a lot of bouncing up and down until of course you settle in a really uncomfortable upside-down position, legs hurting from the strain. I got a chance to look around some more while they were slowly lowering me to the pad. And that was that.

You can see the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAlPSBS-uic


After spending a considerable amount of time in Macau Tower, we hurried to the taxi queue to get to Largo do Senado and Ruinas de São Paulo. The plaza was packed with weekend loafers and tourists as it should be. The neo-classical architecture around this area was a sight to behold and looks good in the pictures I took (again despite the gray and gloomy skies). As in almost anywhere in the colony, The Casino Lisboa looms over the buildings like a giant overlord. Behind the polished tourist attractions were ugly old residential apartments. We trekked through the pedestrian mall and retail stores. Tasty Macau treats were sold on the streets, we got a box of egg tarts and a pastry which looks and tastes like local polvoron and puto-seko (I don't know what it's called). Up the hill was Ruinas de São Paulo, which was basically the facade of the original cathedral. That short journey was the end of our Macau city tour as we rushed back to the ferry terminal to catch the 5:05 back to Hong Kong.

Back in the former British colony, we managed to get seats at the delightful Shanghai Mian in World Trade Centre. We ordered dumplings, pork buns, seafood fried rice, shrimp, and smelly fermented tofu (which I found revolting).

The final day of the trip started with breakfast at a place whose name I can't recall right now. But it had excellent dimsum which was the perfect local experience. We followed that up with another trip to Mongkok to do some last-minute shopping. The next stop was Pacific Place in Admiralty which is an excellent shopping place for branded items. Lunch was near Lan Kwai Fong, serving various rice and noodle dishes. XTC ice cream helped take away the oily taste. One last look in Central and we were off to collect our bags from the hotel. Waiting for our 8pm flight wasn't so exciting but we got to look around SkyPlaza before going through immigrations. The plane was 15 minutes late, but it was OK. I finally managed to finish 3:10 to Yuma on the flight back, a very satisfying film. I tried to watch Bee Movie but I was unable to complete the damn thing. Not that I was entirely sorry, though. I thought the movie was cute and had some funny bits, but overall it was terrible and got a bit preachy as well, not to mention borderline bestiality wasn't far off (you didn't really need to read that). A couple of hours after and I was back in good ol' ever-humid Singapore.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Bohol Nine Yards

(Sorry, I ran out of clever titles. But I tried googling the phrase and it turns out nobody in cyberspace is as corny as I am. I should get plus points for originality.)

For Chinese New Year 2008, the troops headed for Bohol and Cebu for sights, sounds and sun.

Day 1: Arrival

We caught the midnight flight to Cebu, direct from Singapore via Cebu Pacific (kudos to one of the great developments in travel in recent history, budget airlines). The flight was relatively smooth, although I absolutely must point that the change in pressure (that causes your ears to pop, among other things) gave me a terrible headache. It's that excruciating feeling of your head about to explode. Anyway this happened just before landing.

We arrived at Mactan International very early in the morning. The officials at immigration provided for some wake-up by dishing out side comments:

Immigrations guy: (looking at my passport) Figueroa!
Guy loafing near immigrations counter: Figueroa ... mga alahero yan.
Me: ?

After clearing immigrations:

Guy: (looking at me pass by) Intsik pala mga Figueroa.
Me: !

So yeah, baggage and customs were pretty smooth. There was a currency exchange counter near the exit, which gave ridiculously unfair rates (as expected). Fortunately, I was able to withdraw some money at the BPI ATM outside, using my Citibank card. I learned afterwards that the rates were much, much better even if it's a different bank. We got cabs that went into the city of Cebu-Mandaue, looking for 24hr Jollibee outlets. Eventually, we settled on the downtown branch. The cab ride was a weird experience as our cab driver perfectly understood Tagalog, but kept replying in Cebuano. I assume it was because most of the entertainment media in the country are in Filipino, which is essentially Tagalog.

Pier 3-Supercat-Tagbilaran

We had about 15-20 minutes for Jollibee breakfast before we went to Pier 3 on the Supercat to Tagbilaran. It was 450 pesos, one-way. In hindsight, we should've gotten a return ticket instead, which costs just as much. The trip took about an hour and forty-five and the movie they played was Night at the Museum, which was mildly entertaining.

We were welcomed by a little drizzle on Tagbilaran port that lasted a few minutes. Gathering our things, we chartered a van that would take us to Panglao Island.


A good half an hour ride took us from the Port of Tagbilaran through the charmless island capital city to the rolling hills and chalk-white beaches of Panglao Island, where we checked in at Flower Garden Resort.

The resort is a good five minute walk away from Alona beach through Alona Palm Resort. While admiring the spectacular beach views, we found lunch at Trudis Place. We also found out that there was a brownout at the time.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach and had dinner at the iconic Alona Tropical restaurant. Grilled food and lots of rice was served to cap the day. Mixed cocktails and junk food followed soon afterwards.

Day 2: Bohol Tour

The next morning, after an excellent breakfast of one-peso pandesal with ma-ling and scrambled egg, we began our cultural trip of Bohol.

Sandugo-Baclayon Church

We were surprised that the package provided a very informative tour guide for us whose name escapes me right now. The first stop was the Blood Compact or Sandugo Shrine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandugo) in Tagbilaran. The next was Baclayon Church and Museum which really had nothing so special about them other than the fact that they're very-very old.

Tarsiers-Chocolate Hills

Right beside Loboc River, where the nipa trees and kaong reside, was the famous tarsier sanctuary. Inside were a couple of insomniac tarsiers (as they were nocturnal), a flying lemur who doesn't like to move-it-move-it, and a couple of monkeys.

The next point of interest, and a natural wonder in its own right, was the Chocolate Hills in Carmen. On the way, we were able to taste a local delicacy called Alupi, which is made out of coconut, sticky rice and a couple of other things. We were greeted once again with a light drizzle on the way up to the uber-hill where there's a lookout deck to the picturesque view of the hills.

Man-made Forest-Loboc River

Backtracking to the mouth of Loboc river, we had a chance to take excellent photos at the man-made mahogany forest.

By lunchtime, we were able to take the Loboc River Cruise on the boat-restaurant. Halfway into the journey, we stopped by at a local Ati community that caters to tourists, obviously. After a couple of interactions and photo opportunities, we headed back to the boat which deposited us back where we started. The final stop of the tour was the souvenir store where I bought a couple of sando shirts and sweets.


It was a good tour that's well worth the money we paid for it. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Alona beach, having foot scrubs and body massages. As it was Chinese New Year, some locals put on a fireworks show from shallow waters much to the delight of the dining visitors.

Day 3: Island Hopping

Dolphin Watching

We had to wake up even earlier on the third day to do some dolphin-watching some kilometers off Panglao Island. Here's where my sorry-ass camera didn't get any action. The main reason being I wouldn't be able to enjoy the natural theatrics while trying to capture them in the viewfinder. It was a good thing because for the first time ever, I've seen at least two dolphins put on a show by jumping high up out of the water and spinning like hell. I swear they could have been in one of those water park shows, but these were wild dolphins.


After the "show", we went in the direction of Pamilacan Island for snorkeling, sunbathing, and lunch. Lunch consisted of fried native chicken (not so meaty but pretty tasty), sauteed vegetables, grilled fish and tinolang manok.

By mid-afternoon, we were back in Panglao indulging in halo-halo with ice cream. More grilled food for dinner.

Day 4: Cebu

We packed our overstuffed bags and headed for the Port of Tagbilaran. The Supercat ferry ride brought us back to Cebu amidst cackling and annoying student co-passengers. Cebu is of course, the Queen City of the South. I think it's a Manileño term judging from the presence of the word "South" (when it's really situated in Central Philippines).


The cab ride through the city allowed me to get a glimpse of how much different Cebu is from Manila. How much different? Not much. It's a mess of deco style buildings, tangled up power lines, and makeshift stalls, not to mention the crowded streets. Though not entirely charmless, there's not much effort to either modernize deteriorating buildings or restore historical ones. This could be testament on how much development is being focused on Imperial Manila.

At least the private sector isn't doing so bad. Late lunch was at CNT Lechon in Food Choices in the Ayala Mall. Eeeex-cellent Lechon Cebu. Dinner was at Gerry's Grill. We bought groceries in Metro Gaisano to bring back to Singapore and fill our cupboards with Filipino ingredients.

Day 5: Cebu

The final day was marked by a proper walk tour of the city, the definitive cultural immersion.

Cebu Walk Tour-SM City Cebu

From GV Tower downtown, we walked to a national landmark, Magellan's Cross.

A little aside here. Isn't it weird that Portuguese explorer Fernão de Magalhães (or Fernando Magallanes) is best known in names other than his native language? How would he feel? I mean, nobody calls me Kristiyano Antoniyo back home (nor should they ever should).

Anyway, the cross at some point in time symbolized the beginning of the colonial era of the Philippines. Fernão was of course killed by Lapu-lapu's arnis-wielding posse soon after, as recounted by Antonio Pigafetta. They put up a shrine where the event happened. Lapu-lapu, of course, was a one-hit wonder and as far as I can tell, was never heard from again. But if they had wiped out the entire Spanish expedition with none to complete the journey, who knew how different things might have been.

Right beside Magellan's Cross is the Basílica Menor del Santo Niño. Then, a couple of blocks away is the old Cathedral (I don't know what it's called).

The last part of the tour is Fort San Pedro, a small garrison with nice views of the city.

After the field trip, we went back to the hotel, packed our things, and checked out at around noon. Leaving our luggage at the counter, we went for a final gimik at SM City Cebu where we ate at Chikaan sa Cebu.

Late in the afternoon we got cabs to head back to Mactan International to complete our journey.

There were five of us who flew that night and I think we just about exceeded the allotted 100kgs (20kg x 5 passengers) with our bursting checked-in bags.

Back in Singapore, there wasn't any trouble at all with customs and such. A couple of minutes past midnight and we were already home from one of the best beach vacations I've ever experienced.

Flickr photoset: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ton2fig/sets/72157603910088232/

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Overdue Quiz about my Ateneo experience

1. What's your ID number?

2. Passed or wait-listed?

3. How did you know about the ACET results?
Saw the results for myself in Xavier Hall

4. Was Ateneo your first choice?

5. Do you know what your ACET score is?
Who knows?

6. What course was your first choice?
BS Computer Science

7. Second choice?
BS Management Information Systems

8. Anong course mo ngayon?
BS Computer Science

9. Did you have any plans of shifting?
Not really

10. Chinito/chinita ka ba?

11. Taga-Ateneo High?

12. Did you have fun in your OrSem?

13. Saang gate ka pumasok nung first day?
Gate 3

14. Are you staying/did you stay in a dorm?

15. Ever had an F in your grade report?
Yeah. A waker-upper.

16. How about an A?
Two, I think.

17. Highest grade?

18. Lowest grade?

19. Worst experience in ADMU?
I may be exagerrating, but I thought I was on the verge of flunking out.

20. Do you always attend class?
I wouldn't say "always"

21. What are/were your orgs?
CompSUCK...erm...CompSAT and an unsuccessful stint at Ateneo Debate Society (I didn't actually join to debate)

22. How many units have/did you pass/ed?
I passed all of them (eventually)

23. Nangangarap/nangarap ka bang maglaude?

24. When will/did you graduate?
March 2001

25. Fave subject?
Amidst all the technical and core courses, Film Theory class stands out.

26. Worst subject/s?
Political Science 102. Teacher sucked.

27. Fave landmark sa ADMU?
Manila Observatory

28. Fave kainan?

29. How do/did you get to school?
Brought a car

30. Are/were you always at the lib?
Not always.

31. Ever gone to the infirmary when you were sick?
I don't remember going when I was in college

32. Do/did you have a crush in campus?
Of course!

33. May balak kang mag-MS, PhD?
No more school!

34. Have you ever watched a graduation ceremony?
Other than my own, nope.

35. Do you know the "Song for Mary" by heart?
Hoh yeah.

36. Memorize mo ba ang Fabilioh?
I think I do, but maybe just most of it

37. ...ang Halikinu?
Ye-bo, ye-bo, A-tene-o rah!

38. ...ang Blue Eagle Spelling?
Of course!

39. Are you part of Team Ateneo?

40. Who's your fave UAAP basketball player?
I'd have to go with Rich Alvarez, as well.

41. Ever had a perfect score in an exam?
Practical exam, yeah.

42. Ano ang ayaw mo sa Hell Week?
That fact that it exists.

43. Dito ka ba natuto uminom ng beer?
Nope. I think high school pa.

44. What do you like about our school?
The open space and the great view of Marikina and Sierra Madre. Oh yeah, and Magis.

45. Ano ang ayaw mo?
Lazy teachers

46. Have you ever bought anything at the A-shop?
Jacket and a couple of shirts.

47. maganda ba ID pic mo?
Quite the opposite.

48. Done anything illegal on campus?
Yeah, set up a MUD in one of the school servers.

49. Bought anything at National Katips?
Just about anything for school.

50. Ever gone to Starbucks Katips?
Yeah, I've gone.

51. May nakaaway ka na ba sa school?
I try to stay away from trouble in any institution I'm affiliated with.

The trouble with the rat-race...

...is that even if you win, you're still a rat.


The year of the Earth Rat or Wu Zi, carries with it the image of the misty mountain. Thus, the prevailing theme for the year is clouded perceptions, and outcomes that are unexpected. The year will start on a positive note, but then backslide as we edge towards the end of the year, when the element of Water becomes overwhelmingly strong.


Thursday and Friday are holidays here in Singapore. Tomorrow, Wednesday, is also rumoured to be announced a half-day. All of these in anticipation of Chinese New Year.

Though I may look Chinese, I am not headed home to receive hongbaos ("ang paw") from relatives. Instead, I'm going to take a slight turn towards Cebu and Bohol, completely bypassing Manila. I think I long overdue for some UV rays. I actually think my skin is getting lighter, if that's at all possible.

As usual, I won't start packing until the last minute, which is tomorrow night. Our flight is the midnight run direct from Singapore to Cebu. A short Supercat ferry ride, and we're there.

And as usual, it's too late to get rid of the flabs for beach season.


The Grand Duke of the year, the Rat, will not be kind to Goats this year. However, take heart in the knowledge that the challenges of the year primarily are related to matters of the heart. Indeed, it is likely to be a blast from the past, or emotional baggage left over from an old relationship, that will be the primary cause of any misery you will feel this year. So if you can let go and move on, there's no reason why 2008 can't be a good year.

Career and financial prospects will prove to be excellent for Goats this year. Mistakes will somehow turn out to be blessings in disguise and you will have someone looking out for your interests this year. At work, expect your star to be on a rise. It might not be entirely smooth sailing in 2008 for Goats, but as long as you keep your eye on the prize, and stick out the valleys, you'll find you are closer to the peak than you thought.



LOST season four has officially begun. It's nice to see the castaways back. I think it's the long lull, but I'm not as intrigued or as excited as before, even after watching the season premiere ("The Beginning of the End"). I just hope it'll pick up soon. Some of the best TV I've seen in recent years comes from this series.


A belated congratulations to parents Frances and Noel, and a "Welcome to the real world" to Elise Madeline Hernandez. Hope to see you guys again soon!