Diwali and Elegant South Mumbai

Thoroughly enjoyed my days spent exploring South Bombay

Thoroughly enjoyed my days spent exploring South Bombay

A NIGHT IN SOUTH MUMBAI

A tree-lined street at Colaba, South Bombay

A tree-lined street at Colaba, South Bombay

We came in time for the Diwali, the Festival of Lights and a time of family reunions and gift-giving for Hindus. On the eve of the Diwali, our counterparts graciously took us to South Mumbai, a place I personally fell in love with. Because we came at night, it had a different appeal. Some of the stately Edwardian buildings were lit while others were obscured by the evening darkness.

Our group at Mondegar

Our group at Mondegar

For that evening, our friends first brought us to a South Mumbai institution, Mondegar’s Café. Inside, one can get the old Escolta feel as if one was being transported to 1950s Manila. It was packed to the seams. However, it was also a witness to a violent and sad chapter of Mumbai history when Islamic radicals sprayed bullets into the café as they shut down Mumbai, culminating with their occupation of The Taj Mahal Hotel. After having some beer and chicken tandoor, our colleagues took us to this famous street side joint called Bademiya, a hit among Mumbai young professionals. It was street food but it looked clean and with hot grills, it was really appealing. The set-up was you ordered your food and when these would be ready, the dishes would be brought to your car… hood or trunk! What we did was we opened our car’s hood, laid out news papers and the food on paper plates and voila, we had a hearty dinner! We ordered some of Bademiya’s popular offerings: chicken tikka rolls (super spicy!) and lamb and chicken brains with lots of onions and soft, warm roti.

Ox brain, chicken keema and lentejas with hot fluffy roti served on our car's hood at Bademiya, Colaba

Ox brain, chicken keema and lentejas with hot fluffy roti served on our car’s hood at Bademiya, Colaba

Enjoying our streetside food

Enjoying our streetside food

Going home, we took the train. Now, you must agree with me, with all those scenes we’ve seen on Discovery Channel or National Geographic of Indian trains bursting with people and the occasional monkey climbing in the coaches, we’ve already developed our pre-conceived notions of what a train ride in India could be like. Well, since we rode the train from the terminus at a very late hour on the eve of the Diwali, we didn’t experience anything eventful…until we got to our stop. Upon arriving at our stop, someone was pushed out of the coach and he hit the platform with a loud thud, eliciting screams from the white tourists!

Posing at the floral carpet for Diwali at The Leela, Mumbai

Posing at the floral carpet for Diwali at The Leela, Mumbai

DIWALI IN MUMBAI

CST lit for the Diwali

CST lit for the Diwali

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Diwali in Mumbai fell on a Thursday and Francis and I began our day tour around South Mumbai roughly after lunch. We alighted our car at Colaba, which was the street shopping area in South Mumbai. After an hour or so of going through boutiques (Francis managed to buy his girlfriend an elegant cashmere jacket perfect for a fall outdoor affair), we had a quick lunch at Leopold’s, a popular café frequented by tourists who might be after either Indian or continental fare.

Posing with the Gateway of India behind me.

Posing with the Gateway of India behind me.

South Mumbai streetscape

Afterwards, we began our walk from Colaba past the

The clock tower of Mumbai University, which has one of the best campuses in the world.

The clock tower of Mumbai University, which has one of the best campuses in the world.


Mumbai University,
Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court

Bombay High Court,

The Municipal Corporation Building reminds me of Cibeles in Madrid. It houses  houses the civic body that governs the city of Mumbai

The Municipal Corporation Building reminds me of Cibeles in Madrid. It houses houses the civic body that governs the city of Mumbai



the Municipal Corporation Building

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) was built iin 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) was built iin 1887 to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.

and on to the iconic and breathtaking Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, an impressive edifice of combined Indo-Saracenic and High Victorian Gothic Revival styles replete with ornamentation and topped by a dome.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which survived a terrorist attack a few years back. It stands proudly in front of the bay.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which survived a terrorist attack a few years back. It stands proudly in front of the bay.

Our walk through canopied streets and excellently laid out avenues reminded Francis of New York while I felt I was back in Europe.

Have you ever seen shows that featured this side of Bombay? For me, it was surreal to walk through these streets because they never registered in mind to have been extant in India. Impressive!

Have you ever seen shows that featured this side of Bombay? For me, it was surreal to walk through these streets because they never registered in mind to have been extant in India. Impressive!

Edwardian and Victorian buildings abount in South Bombay, adding a sense of gentility to the otherwise chaotic mega metropolis.

Edwardian and Victorian buildings abount in South Bombay, adding a sense of gentility to the otherwise chaotic mega metropolis.

The ornate Flora Fountain is a heritage structure in Mumbai located on Martyr's Square.

The ornate Flora Fountain is a heritage structure in Mumbai located on Martyr’s Square.

A lot of my preconceived notions of India were erased because of our trip to South Mumbai. India is indeed a multi-faceted country. We intended to have a short break at the McDonald’s across CST as we booked an Uber but because of mobile data and roaming problems, it took almost 30 minutes before the driver finally got our call and made the move to go to where we were. Apparently in India, the drivers wouldn’t drive until you call them.

Francs and I unwinding at Corniche on the grand feast of the Diwali.

Francs and I unwinding at Corniche on the grand feast of the Diwali.

From there, we went to Bandara, a hip coastal town, which was frequented by Mumbai’s middle class youths and expatriate community. We settled in this placed called Corniche, an al fresco café on the beachfront. We were lucky because we made it to their happy hour promotion, which was “Buy 1 Drink, Get 1 Drink”. We then bought one bottle of red Indian wine to get another one free! Throughout Mumbai during Diwali, we saw floral carpets with oil lamps everywhere, ranging from elegant ones to the more simpler displays.

An old black cab behind me.

An old black cab behind me.

LAST DAY IN MUMBAI

Beautifully preserved buildings utilized for modern ends.

Beautifully preserved buildings utilized for modern ends.

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On my last day in Mumbai, Vineeta graciously took me around South Mumbai. We walked along tree-lined streets and grand avenues that reminded me of Paris and Madrid. Upon my request, she also brought me to the textile market, Mangaldas where I splurged on beautiful fabrics for my polos. The qualities of the cloths were superb while the prints were very unique. She also brought me to a famous eatery that served traditional Indian food on banana leaves.

St. Mary's Basilica in Bandara

St. Mary’s Basilica in Bandara

After lunch, I went to Bandara again to visit the Catholic basilica of Holy Mary, which sports a neo-gothic style. I noticed that the locals also prayed at the sanctuary area in the same posture as they would in Hindi temples. Finally, before I flew out of India, I had an afternoon drink on the rooftop restaurant of the Sea Palace Hotel, which afforded me fantastic sunset views of the Bay of Mumbai. It was a quiet afternoon that left me feeling extremely grateful for my once-in-a-lifetime experience in India.

The view from the Sea Palace Hotel

The view from the Sea Palace Hotel

Mumbai International Airport was exquisite! Really beautiful!

Mumbai International Airport was exquisite! Really beautiful!

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INDIA 2015

Elephants on parade at Amer Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan

Elephants on parade at Amer Fort, Jaipur, Rajasthan


One of the most unexpected trips I’ve ever had was my business trip to India last year. I went with my team mate (and also, school batch mate) Francis. We were tasked to monitor a project and create positive rapport with our 3rd party supplier, and the deployment was more than 2 weeks.

India had always, to tell you honestly, given me the impression of being too over-the-top a destination that I never really wanted to visit it. Ever since I was a young kid who loved watching National Geographic, scenes of rats being adored, king cobras poisoning hapless farmers, elephants running amok and corpses being allowed to rot at the banks of Ganges – all these, well, turned me off. Before my trip, I researched on some travel tips to avoid getting food poisoning, and the list was quite long: “don’t eat cut fruit”, “don’t drink water that is not served in a sealed bottle”, “do not try street food”, etc.

Our 5-star accommodation in Mumbai - The Leela

Our 5-star accommodation in Mumbai – The Leela

Fortunately, throughout our stay in India, we never woke up to bad tummies.

The lobby of The Leela upon our arrival in Mumbai at past 12 in the evening.

The lobby of The Leela upon our arrival in Mumbai at past 12 in the evening.

For our first time in India, our main destination was Mumbai where the office of our consultants were located. Luckily, we had a swell time staying for two weeks at The Leela, one of Mumbai’s oldest 5-star hotels. It was 5-minutes away from the international airport and is an expansive compound with a big pool and well-appointed lobby. Our room was not big but neither was it cramped. Sadly, we never enjoyed the breakfast fare here except during our first day. Why? Because they served practically the same items EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Every day, we took either Uber or Meru cars as it was very difficult using local cabs as foreigners. We also had the option of using the rickshaw but that would mean more than 1 hour of traveling amidst Indian heat and Mumbai traffic. To tell you honestly though, the only difference with Manila and Mumbai traffic is that in Mumbai, you’d see an occasional cow on the road. Manila traffic is almost like Mumbai’s! It wasn’t too much of a culture shock.

The quintissential Mumbai ride: the rickshaw

The quintissential Mumbai ride: the rickshaw

Every lunch, Francis and I would enjoy authentic Indian food as our counterparts’ office had free buffet lunch daily. Francis loved the Indian practice of putting yoghurt on rice. I, on the other hand, loved the lentils, the eggs and the different kinds of rice served. Since a lot in the office were vegetarians, it was always a treat for me and Francis when there would be chicken or veal served.

Every day, we came home to this beautiful view.

Every day, we came home to this beautiful view.

In this series of blog entries, I will share with you some of my memorable times spent in the land of colorful saris, exoticism and dizzying culture – India.
DIWALI and SOUTH MUMBAI

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Why I Will Miss La Cocina de Tita Moning

A private sala shared to the curious public. La Cocina de Tita Moning is housed in the former home of Dr. Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernandez who was also known as Tita Moning. Diners get to experience the Legarda household's own lifestyle with the restaurant featuring some family memorabilia for guests to use, touch or see.

A private sala shared to the curious public. La Cocina de Tita Moning is housed in the former home of Dr. Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernandez who was also known as Tita Moning. Diners get to experience the Legarda household’s own lifestyle with the restaurant featuring some family memorabilia for guests to use, touch or see.

In a week, La Cocina de Tita Moning, the bespoke restaurant experience in old Manila, will be closing her doors to guests and diners after a 15-year run. Located within the former home of Dr. Don Alejandro Roces Legarda and Doña Ramona Hernández (aka Tita Moning to relatives and the then tightly-knit Manileño community) in one of the earliest Art Deco residences in the city (the house was built in 1937), La Cocina de Tita Moning was opened by one of the couple’s grandchildren, Suzette L. Montinola, who is also a faculty member at Enderun Colleges, not solely to run a business but likewise, to share to the greater public Tita Moning’s recipes, which were already quite popular among her friends and family.

The biggest group I've toured at La Cocina de Tita Moning, members and friends of the Heritage Conservation Society - Youth.

The biggest group I’ve toured at La Cocina de Tita Moning, members and friends of the Heritage Conservation Society – Youth.

A member of the staff serving leche flan for one of the groups I brought for merienda cena.

A member of the staff serving leche flan for one of the groups I brought for merienda cena.

Members of the staff putting paella valenciana on the plates of students I brought to La Cocina on one occasion

Members of the staff putting paella valenciana on the plates of students I brought to La Cocina on one occasion

The restaurant was a big hit. It was a novel experience in a Manila that was still beginning to jumpstart what is currently a booming restaurant scene. What set La Cocina de Tita Moning apart was the fact that diners (who had to call at least 24 hours in advance to reserve a table) were given an experiential meal, which made them feel they were being transported to a bygone Manila – a Manila of gentility, sophistication, class and affection. Specializing in Fil-Hispanic menus, La Cocina de Tita Moning provided the total dining experience –

The patio is where guests begin their La Cocina de Tita Moning experience. It gives you a very homey vibe and it is a perfect spot to enjoy your pandan iced tea.

The patio is where guests begin their La Cocina de Tita Moning experience. It gives you a very homey vibe and it is a perfect spot to enjoy your pandan iced tea.

from the ambience,

Exquisite Vajillas La Cartuja from Sevilla. These are expensive china and by the sheer number of pieces in La Cocina, you get an idea of the old wealth of the family. It's a joy to be eating on these.

Exquisite Vajillas La Cartuja from Sevilla. These are expensive china and by the sheer number of pieces in La Cocina, you get an idea of the old wealth of the family. It’s a joy to be eating on these.

Roast pork with crispy cracklings served on La Cartuja Sevillana.

Roast pork with crispy cracklings served on La Cartuja Sevillana.

to the exquisite La Cartuja china,

The Murano pieces were bought by Mrs. Legarda from previous trips to Italy.

The Murano pieces were bought by Mrs. Legarda from previous trips to Italy.

the Murano table centerpieces, the silver,

The household staff are always ready to assist you.

the staff’s attention – all those made it a wonderful place to mark special occasions.

The Spanish Pop Culture class I brought to La Cocina. Their professor was my own profesora, la Señora Heide Aquino.

The Spanish Pop Culture class I brought to La Cocina. Their professor was my own profesora, la Señora Heide Aquino.

And the beautiful part is, visitors come to a realization that there was indeed that kind of Manila in recent history. It was a chance to dine how our grandparents dined, and for those who are not from the same social background as the Roces-Legarda family, an opportunity to eat how the alta de sociedad wined and dined.

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Claudia, Nicole and I. Claudia, who had been a vegetarian for years, suddenly ate chicken relleno and savored every bit of it without feeling guilty!

European guests at the sala

A small walking tour group

 

However, for this author, La Cocina de TIta Moning wasn’t only a restaurant; it was an important asset or feature of my tours.

Welcoming guests at the foyer of the Legarda house, which smells like butter. Yummy!

Welcoming guests at the foyer of the Legarda house, which smells like butter. Yummy!

As some of you know, I give tours around Manila and in all the groups who asked me to guide them around Manila, I never failed to recommend La Cocina de Tita Moning as a must-visit stop. Usually, my tours would end there or would have a merienda stop in the patio. Ms. Suzette actually customized a merienda menu for my tour groups. For a modest fee of P500, my guests got to tour the house and have their fill of toast bread with their signature queso de bola spread, sotanghon guisado, really good chicken relleno, leche flan and pandan iced tea.

With friends Patty and Bianca Rodriguez

With friends Patty and Bianca Rodriguez

Friends from France and Spain on a December 30 tour

My friends from Globe posing in the sala

My friends from Globe posing in the sala

With Mathilde, Seb, Chiara and Nico. This particular tour was quite a memorable one. I enjoyed their group very much!

With Mathilde, Seb, Chiara and Nico. This particular tour was quite a memorable one. I enjoyed their group very much!

I can’t count the number of groups I’ve brought to La Cocina de Tita Moning. However, I can say that in all those visits to the house, the staff have always given us the warmest welcome that only a Filipino family could. Service was always top-notch and the food never faltered in consistency of taste.

The Aguinaldo siblings listening as they started their tour at the foyer

The Aguinaldo siblings listening as they started their tour at the foyer

When La Cocina de Tita Moning accepts its last order on 31 May (which happens to be my birthday!), I will miss it terribly. My tours always ended or started on a high point precisely because of the unique and genuine Filipino hospitality and heritage my guests experience when we stop at La Cocina de Tita Moning. For reasons we can only guess – and for things that are purely private in nature – the Legardas’ (a family whose members form part of the Philippines’ historic cultural and intellectual elite) decision to close to the public their private property is another loss for Philippine cultural heritage. Why? Not only is the house a heritage site but its recent mission and purpose of introducing Filipinos and foreigners to a real, tasteful aspect of our culture will be lost, and will be replaced by other restaurants in Manila which do not measure to the authenticity it offers.

Tita Moning's classic bread and butter pudding. Decadent!

Tita Moning’s classic bread and butter pudding. Decadent!

With Suzette Montinola at Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

With Suzette Montinola at Madrid Fusion Manila 2016

Christmastime was a good time bringing guests to La Cocina because the house would be spruced up with Christmas decor and lights.

Christmastime was a good time bringing guests to La Cocina because the house would be spruced up with Christmas decor and lights.

Speakers with KF Seetoh of Makansutra and Domingo Ramon Enerio, Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Promotions Board at the sala of La Cocina de Tita Moning after the TPB's hosted reception for World Street Food Congress speakers and international media.

Speakers with KF Seetoh of Makansutra and Domingo Ramon Enerio, Chief Operating Officer of the Tourism Promotions Board at the sala of La Cocina de Tita Moning after the TPB’s hosted reception for World Street Food Congress speakers and international media.

And finally, on a more intimate and personal level, one of the reasons why I love La Cocina de Tita Moning so much is because it is the only restaurant in Metro Manila that reminds me of the cooking of a person I miss so much: my own lola (grandmother), my Lola Entel.

My Lola and her family. She's the girl at the far right.

My Lola and her family. She’s the girl at the far right.

Born to a middle-class Manila family in 1922, Lola was known to her family, friends, in-laws and children in law (and then, to their own families), as a marvelous cook. Like any Filipina woman born to a Manila from that era, she had a strong Fil-Hispanic and Americanized orientation. What I miss from her own kitchen – morcon, lengua estofada or con champiñon, galantina, relleno, meat loaf, potato salad, pancit palabok, waffles and pancakes, doughnuts laced with generous amounts of sugar, kare-kare – a long list of things I dearly miss. All of those labors of love tasted of her own character – loving, passionate, patient, of good taste.

Lola carrying Papa in our family compound in Cubao with my uncles and aunts in their younger years.

Lola carrying Papa in our family compound in Cubao with my uncles and aunts in their younger years.

That is the great, almost divine, aspect of food – it evokes memories. Food (taste, scent, texture, presentation, etc.) take you back to stories from the past, and by savoring meals, you are reminded of so many things that actually, make you as a person. Food nourishes the body, the spirit, the mind and also, the heart.

Chinie Diaz, Suzette Montinola and myself at the World Street Food Congress

Chinie Diaz, Suzette Montinola and myself at the World Street Food Congress

To Ms. Suzette, Manang Tining, the entire staff of La Cocina de Tita Moning: muchísimas gracias por todo. Thank you very much for everything. Maraming, maraming salamat sa lahat!

READ ON THE FOOD I LOVED MOST FROM LA COCINA DE TITA MONING HERE:

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2015: A Memorable Year of Travel

Posing in front of an iconic world heritage site, the Taj Mahal

Posing in front of an iconic world heritage site, the Taj Mahal

Traveler”. Numerous folks these days call themselves by the said label. With beautiful (filtered or “no filter”) photos that showcase the different wonders of our planet, people these days share on social media their love for visiting new places, tasting new cuisines and most of the time, the new friendships they have fostered on their trips. These posts are encouraging and inspiring. Sometimes, however, they can go overboard and border as boastful acclamation on their wealth and influence.

Basking in the charm of Wat Bo, Bangkok on a hot January afternoon

Basking in the charm of Wat Bo, Bangkok on a hot January afternoon

For myself though, I cannot swallow calling myself a traveller. Why? Because I’m a self-confessed (and happy!) tourist! Plus, I am an employee. Reality is, my travels are funded by my salary savings or are business trips in nature. I’d like to believe I have a healthy sense of reality for me to know that traveling to new places for me is not my job but a perk of being able to save (or of living with my parents haha!). I know how some of these seasoned (or not) travelers look down on individuals who act like tourists, but for me, I do insist on seeing tourist spots and taking photos at the most touristy of places (such as MTRs, which unfortunately, in 21st century Manila is practically dysfunctional and depressing).

The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand

But do not be mistaken! My personal views on travel do not entail of purely shopping, fastfood (eating McDonald’s in Bangkok for example and not trying pad thai) and “picture-picture”. I look forward seeing non-touristy trails, trying the local food and absorbing as much of the cultural heritage as possible. Although I admit that I occasionally indulge in shopping at stores that are already available in Manila (perfect example: H&M), I also make it a point to buy goods uniquely from the countries/provinces I visit even if I’ve been to that country before.

Wat Mahathat, Bangkok, Thailand

Wat Mahathat, Bangkok, Thailand

My beautiful plate of pad thai at Paragon Siam

My beautiful plate of pad thai at Paragon Siam

What I love about being a tourist is that everything I see seems new and interesting. Everything is worth a photograph and almost everything is worth trying. I think the only thing I won’t queue for hours for are amusement parks. This year, I tried Universal Studios in Japan and said “no” to Disneyland in Hong Kong. One amusement park last year was okay for me.

The biggest Catholic church in Asia: Basílica Menor de San Martín de Tours, Taal

The biggest Catholic church in Asia: Basílica Menor de San Martín de Tours, Taal

Casa Regalo de Boda for Gliceria Marella, an 1896 Revolutionary. She is said to be the "Angel of the Katipunan".

Casa Regalo de Boda for Gliceria Marella, an 1896 Revolutionary. She is said to be the “Angel of the Katipunan”.

2015 was a wonderful year for me in terms of travel because I was able to enjoy and see new sights and at the same time, revisit old favorites. Traveling is not only about wishy-washy things. It’s about a multi-billion dollar industry that requires heavy investment in infrastructure, telecommunications, heritage preservation, food production, ecological maintenance, training, etc. It generates incomes for tour guides, bed-and-breakfast establishments, national parks, etc. Being a tourist makes a you a player in a life-changing game for countless others. Thus, it is also imperative that we become responsible tourists, travelers or visitors.

Arashimaya Bamboo Path, Kyoto, Japan. An  ecological and spiritual destination for tourists and pilgrims.

Arashimaya Bamboo Path, Kyoto, Japan. An ecological and spiritual destination for tourists and pilgrims.

A flower that brings millions of dollars to Japan, the cherry blossom. We were very lucky to have been able to visit Japan as the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom.

A flower that brings millions of dollars to Japan, the cherry blossom. We were very lucky to have been able to visit Japan as the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom.

Last year, these were the places I remember visiting:
Bangkok, Nasugbu, Taal, Tagaytay, Sombrero Island, Japan, Magalawa Island, Boracay, Bantayan (Cebu), Singapore, India and Hong Kong.

With my cousins at Asakusa Temple.

With my cousins at Asakusa Temple.

A Rajasthani thali. 2015 was the year I first got exposed and immersed in Indian cuisine.

A Rajasthani thali. 2015 was the year I first got exposed and immersed in Indian cuisine.

Last year, I also facilitated tours in Intramuros, San Miguel and Binondo.

Hokkaizanmai-don: raw snow crab, deep-water shrimp, sea urchin, salmon, salmon roe and scallops on top of a bowl of hot steaming sushi rice.

Hokkaizanmai-don: raw snow crab, deep-water shrimp, sea urchin, salmon, salmon roe and scallops on top of a bowl of hot steaming sushi rice.

Marjo's pochero, a very popular soup dish of bone marrow in Cebu

Marjo’s pochero, a very popular soup dish of bone marrow in Cebu

A hearty lunch for two at Virgin Island, Bantayan, Cebu all for less than 1,000 Pesos.

A hearty lunch for two at Virgin Island, Bantayan, Cebu all for less than 1,000 Pesos.

In all these trips, I was able to learn of the many things local tourism still lacks. However, I also realized that despite our many disadvantages (i.e. our airport is terribly disconnected!), our people make visiting the Philippines an enjoyable experience. People always smile and serve visitors with grace (unlike in other places I visited abroad where you couldn’t distinguish brashness to being “padabog”). Almost everyone too has a working knowledge of English.

Clear as gin, fine as powder. This is a typical morning view of the beach in Boracay.

Clear as gin, fine as powder. This is a typical morning view of the beach in Boracay.

Among the most memorable experiences for me in my trips were: seeing His Holiness, the Pope, pass by Terminal 3 before I flew to Bangkok, shopping at Chatuchak Market and partying in Silom with friends, waking up at sunrise in Magalawa (Zambales) and Bantayan (Cebu), chilling with my friends on the rocky shore of Sombrero Island, traveling for the first time to Japan with my cousins, eating at Tsukiji Fish Market the freshest and tastiest chirashi bowl I’ve ever had, jumping off at Ariel’s Point in Boracay, eating a hearty lunch with my best friend in the office at Bantayan’s Virgin Island, eating pochero and lechon in one night in Cebu with my two funny and close office mates, traveling to India for a 2-week business trip with my team mate and seeing the Taj Mahal, and finally, spending 8 memorable, uneventful days in Hong Kong with my whole family, my grandmother and my Mama’s other siblings.

Never knew Mumbai would have such lovely streets! I loved this part of the city, South Bombay.

Never knew Mumbai would have such lovely streets! I loved this part of the city, South Bombay.

A marvelous view of the pristine white-sand beach of Bantayan on the way to the pier. It was so difficult to leave such a beautiful sight!

A marvelous view of the pristine white-sand beach of Bantayan on the way to the pier. It was so difficult to leave such a beautiful sight!

In all of those trips, no unfortunate occurrence ever happened. All successfully ended with no injuries, stolen handbags or lost passports. Even our trip to Hong Kong was smooth despite the fact that my Papa is bound to a wheelchair. Why, we even got to travel from Kennedy Town (end of the Island line) all the way to Mongkok by taking the MTR! It was no sweat.

Papa conveniently commuting using the HK MTR

Papa conveniently commuting using the HK MTR

The Avenue of the Stars is a big draw to tourists. By just watching the lights show displayed from the unobstructed views of the Hong Kong Island skyline, tourists enjoy free evenings of amusement.

The Avenue of the Stars is a big draw to tourists. By just watching the lights show displayed from the unobstructed views of the Hong Kong Island skyline, tourists enjoy free evenings of amusement.

Causeway Bay. Streetscapes add much charm to a city.

Causeway Bay. Streetscapes add much charm to a city.

Unfortunately, for many Filipinos, coming back to Manila can always be a bittersweet experience. We are so near many advanced, well-maintained urban centers and yet, ours is a seemingly hopeless case. Our MRT and LRT are not PWD-friendly, they are inadequately staffed by inefficient personnel, and our roads are always jam-packed with pedestrians being the last priority. For a metropolis that has a heavy security presence, you ironically feel unsafe in Metro Manila as compared to Singapore, Bangkok or Hong Kong.

Variety and hygiene. Small restaurants, rustic kiosks or high-end Michelin-starred restaurants offer a variety of clean and savory choices for locals and tourists alike.

Variety and hygiene. Small restaurants, rustic kiosks or high-end Michelin-starred restaurants offer a variety of clean and savory choices for locals and tourists alike.

Elephants on parade. These animals and their care-takers are probably taken care of through tourism.

Elephants on parade. These animals and their care-takers are probably taken care of through tourism.

Traveling is a way for us to open our minds to better ways of doing things. We need to cease extolling practices or “virtues” that highlight our “patience” and “kindness” because really, we need to attack things decisively already. Our “resilience” is being taken advantaged by lazy policy makers. We cannot let everything to fate (“okay na ýan”), and start taking things seriously. I hope and pray that 2016 brings new leaders to our government who will orchestrate an integrated effort to fix our country to really make visiting the Philippines more fun.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a Victorian train station that is a gem for both locals and tourists. Manila, let's do this for the Paco Railway Station!

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a Victorian train station that is a gem for both locals and tourists. Manila, let’s do this for the Paco Railway Station!

Amer Fort, located in the mountains of Jaipur, Rajasthan was a scenic destination.

Amer Fort, located in the mountains of Jaipur, Rajasthan was a scenic destination.

Cliff diving at Ariel's point was one of the most unforgettable experiences I had in Boracay last year. Really worth the money!

Cliff diving at Ariel’s point was one of the most unforgettable experiences I had in Boracay last year. Really worth the money!

Chand Baori stepwell in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Chand Baori stepwell in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

There is beauty in our world but we shouldn’t romanticize or rationalize ugliness to give off a contrived, superficial impression. We need to make beauty present and felt in our cities, provinces and our establishments because that’s the appeal of traveling: the possibility of experiencing beauty. And why is there that insatiable search or attraction to beauty in our lives? Because we were created in the image and likeness of the creator of sublime beauty. Life, through traveling, seems to be a pilgrimage in search of that Divine Beauty that will fulfill what ours hearts long for.

Sunrise at Magalawa Island

Sunrise at Magalawa Island

Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan.

Kinkakuji or the Golden Pavilion, Kyoto, Japan.

Sunset at Nami Resort, Boracay

Sunset at Nami Resort, Boracay

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Why Museums Matter (Even When The Entrance is Not for Free)

With Mr. Jeremy Barns, the Director of the National Museum, as I interviewed him inside the old Session Hall being restored. Mr. Barns' leadership has been instrumental in the many positive developments in the National Museum. We owe him much for his vision and leadership.

With Mr. Jeremy Barns, the Director of the National Museum, as I interviewed him inside the old Session Hall being restored. Mr. Barns’ leadership has been instrumental in the many positive developments in the National Museum. We owe him much for his vision and leadership (Photo taken by Joseph Angan.

These past few weeks, I’ve been seeing wonderful photos of people visiting the National Museum. Posting their shots of precious Lunas, Hidalgos, Amorsolos and whatnots, these people took advantage of the free entrance to the National Museum’s galleries and exhibits because the fee was waived in celebration of the Museums and Galleries Month of the Philippines.

Outside the iconic Musée du Louvre, a magnet for international tourists and scholars. It is a place where people of almost every race converge to learn about not only the history of France but also of other civilizations.

Outside the iconic Musée du Louvre, a magnet for international tourists and scholars. It is a place where people of almost every race converge to learn about not only the history of France but also of other civilizations.

Signed into law by the late former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino as Proclamation No. 798 s. 1991, I presume it was meant to bolster awareness, appreciation and support for our country’s museums and galleries. But since 1991, I think it was only fairly recent when going to museums and art galleries became in vogue especially among the country’s middleclass.

Outside the Museo del Prado, the most beautiful museum this author has ever visited.

Outside the Museo del Prado, the most beautiful museum this author has ever visited.

With more and more people being able to travel abroad, where they are exposed to a barrage of museums and galleries, they come back to the country with some hunger for reconnecting with their own history and culture. I can be wrong but I think foreign travel has indeed shaped today’s generation of Filipinos into individuals in search for their own identity amidst a highly-globalized world.

Posing in front of the imposing

Posing in front of the imposing “Spoliarium” of Juan Luna, perhaps the most iconic piece in the National Art Gallery. It won the first gold medal at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 in Madrid.

“La Bulaqueña”, painted by Juan Luna y Novicio in 1895, is one of the most beautiful gems of the National Museum. I call it the “Mona Lisa” of the National Art Gallery. Viewers are drawn to the innocent sensuality of the lady dressed in a Maria Clara, her face exuding a sombering, mysterious depth that pulls one into her soul and mind.

On the flip side, I’ve developed some melancholy with the impression that despite the affordability of these museums, the influx of visitors only occurs when the modest entrance fee is waived. At 150 Pesos, one can already access the Natural Sciences and Fine Arts museums of the National Museum, both housed in two period neo-classical buildings.

The backside of the National Museum of Anthropology.

The backside of the National Museum of Anthropology.

Guests to the National Art Gallery of the National Museum buy their tickets at the restored foyer of what was once an elegant Legislative House. It was designed by American Ralph Harrington Doane and his Filipino assistant, Antonio Toledo.

Guests to the National Art Gallery of the National Museum buy their tickets at the restored foyer of what was once an elegant Legislative House. It was designed by American Ralph Harrington Doane and his Filipino assistant, Antonio Toledo.

The National Art Gallery is housed in the former Legislative House, which is a neo-classical building that's part of Manila's Neo-classical Corridor.

The National Art Gallery is housed in the former Legislative House, which is a neo-classical building that’s part of Manila’s Neo-classical Corridor.

The entrance to the National Museum was the historic sight of the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935.

The entrance to the National Museum was the historic sight of the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935.

Why visit a museum when it’s free when the entrance fee is your means of helping in the upkeep of our National Museum? We shouldn’t go cheap on government agencies like the National Museum precisely because of the intrinsically important assets they preserve and showcase: our national identity and local history. I know this is a good means to bring in people to be at least acquainted with our National Museum, and there is nothing wrong with that. But I just hope people go beyond this “free trip”, and truly make trips to our museums and galleries a normal part of their lives.

One of personal favorites at the National Museum: Félix Resurrección Hidalgo's Don Perez de Dasmariñas (1896)

One of personal favorites at the National Museum: Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s Don Perez de Dasmariñas (1896)

The University of Santo Tomas Museum is the oldest museum in the country. It is housed in the Main Building, a noteworthy architectural spectacle found amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Manila.

The University of Santo Tomas Museum is the oldest museum in the country. It is housed in the Main Building, a noteworthy architectural spectacle found amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Manila.

A museum is not only a building. An art gallery is not only a room. Museums, in this case, the National Museum, is a repository of things that have witnessed important chapters of our story as a people. The things you see hung on the walls or kept in shelves are not just “old” things; they are tangible bearers of our country’s soul. They communicate our past, and what is the past but the wisdom of time? The past is like a cave that conceals stories, problems, scandals, triumphs, embarrassments and other human follies, which current and future generations should discover in order for them to live more meaningful lives and plan for a better, informed future.

The entrance of the Museo Nacional de Antropología where a special hall is dedicated to Spain's only outpost in the Far East, the Philippines. My visit here was very memorable as I was able to see how our local history is displayed in the land of our colonizer. It helped that I could read Spanish.

The entrance of the Museo Nacional de Antropología where a special hall is dedicated to Spain’s only outpost in the Far East, the Philippines. My visit here was very memorable as I was able to see how our local history is displayed in the land of our colonizer. It helped that I could read Spanish.

The Asian Civilisations Museum is a must-visit in Singapore for anyone visiting the tiny city-state. It showcases a finely curated set of exhibits that display our region's heritage and history.

The Asian Civilisations Museum is a must-visit in Singapore for anyone visiting the tiny city-state. It showcases a finely curated set of exhibits that display our region’s heritage and history.

The museum is the torch you use to enter that cave, which is the past. Holding high the light of museum commentaries, research, exhibits and even events such as talks, symposia and launches, the flame which emanates from a museum – typically perceived as a temple for the archaic – is the beacon that will help us navigate through our current problems and future endeavors. The dynamics of museum operations such as research, conservation, audience engagement and marketing all add to that flame. They need to continue feeding the flame or else your museum ends up but nothing more than a stockroom or warehouse of dusty items.

Posing with French friends Marie Laure and Alexis with Paolo after a talk on Urban Planning at the National Museum.

Posing with French friends Marie Laure and Alexis with Paolo after a talk on Urban Planning at the National Museum.

With Chilean friends and my mentor Dr. Fernando Nakpil Zialcita with his son during the

With Chilean friends and my mentor Dr. Fernando Nakpil Zialcita with his son during the “Claudio Bravo: Sojourn in Manila” event organized by the Lopez Foundation and the Chilean Embassy at the Met Museum.

The Manila Symphony Orchestra posing for their last bow during the Viva Vivaldi concert at the Ayala Museum.

The Manila Symphony Orchestra posing for their last bow during the Viva Vivaldi concert at the Ayala Museum.

The reason why I feel uneasy with this periodic descent of people to the National Museum is precisely because they are motivated by the most shallow of things: it’s a free trip. Because they won’t spend a single centavo, people go to the museum. My hastiest and perhaps most flawed impression is that the free entrance motivates them to have a “selfie” at a beautiful place. Instead of going there because they’ve had a fatigue with horrendous malls and mall parking complexes, they go there with the same consumerist mindset, seeing the “free entrance” as if it’s a store sale. I hope I am completely mistaken.

Throngs of tourists at the Hall of Italian Masters at the Louvre. The same hall houses the Louvre's most popular resident, the Mona Lisa.

Throngs of tourists at the Hall of Italian Masters at the Louvre. The same hall houses the Louvre’s most popular resident, the Mona Lisa.

The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles sits inside the Grand Palace compound in Bangkok where Thai fabrics and textiles are tastefully exhibited for visitors to learn more about the Thais' rich weaving heritage.

The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles sits inside the Grand Palace compound in Bangkok where Thai fabrics and textiles are tastefully exhibited for visitors to learn more about the Thais’ rich weaving heritage.

Museums matter even if the entrance is not free because it is home to a people’s soul. Its halls are hallowed not because of visitors but because they are filled with items which reflect the struggle of humanity to settle some of the most basic questions it has always tried to resolve. An appreciation for museums, for art pieces, for relics, for artifacts is a sign of deep love for human life! If one finds himself thirsty to touch base with these beautiful things, it means one is searching for proof of what is true, good and beautiful.

Mythical figures on bas relief grace portions of the National Museum.

Mythical figures on bas relief grace portions of the National Museum.

In Taal, a camera museum lures in photography buffs to look and be amazed by a wide array of vintage cameras that have shot countless memories of people through the decades. The entrance fee is just 100 Pesos.

In Taal, a camera museum lures in photography buffs to look and be amazed by a wide array of vintage cameras that have shot countless memories of people through the decades. The entrance fee is just 100 Pesos.

The Casa de Regalo de Boda de Villavicencio is an experiential heritage museum which gives visitors a feel and glimpse to colonial living. It is located in Taal. Call first to book a visit. They do not charge a fee.

The Casa de Regalo de Boda de Villavicencio is an experiential heritage museum which gives visitors a feel and glimpse to colonial living. It is located in Taal. Call first to book a visit. They do not charge a fee.

By gazing at a painting or by reading through the descriptions on a particular artifact, you are connecting with the story of the past, and by doing so, you are uniting yourself – mind and heart – to the story of our race.

The beauty of museums is that so many emotional and intellectual stirrings happen within it. Curiosity is piqued, interest is generated and a hunger for knowledge is sparked just by strategically displaying pieces and curating a menu of relics for people to view.

The San Agustin Ecclesiastical Museum is housed in the reconstucted monastery of the San Agustin, the oldest stone church in the country. It is a must-visit museum when going to Manila. It exhibits the depth and breadth of influence of the Catholic Church in this part of the region.

The San Agustin Ecclesiastical Museum is housed in the reconstucted monastery of the San Agustin, the oldest stone church in the country. It is a must-visit museum when going to Manila. It exhibits the depth and breadth of influence of the Catholic Church in this part of the region.

Museum management is hard-work and is an enterprise both of artistic vision and tactical planning. Kaya, please, huwag mo ng ipagdamot ‘yang 150 mo na pinang fafafastfood mo naman araw araw. Spend your money where it matters and help our museums and galleries continue enflaming our hearts to love our people, our story and our identities.

An ornate stern displayed in the Musee De L'Homme at Place Trocadero, Paris

An ornate stern displayed in the Musee De L’Homme at Place Trocadero, Paris

A view of the National Museum and the Intramuros Golf Course from the Bayleaf Hotel, a nice spot to watch the sunset in Manila Bay.

A view of the National Museum and the Intramuros Golf Course from the Bayleaf Hotel, a nice spot to watch the sunset in Manila Bay.

Continue visiting museums and galleries to nourish your mind, heart and even, spirit and fill it with things that are lasting, true, good and beautiful. Ditch the materialism of malls every now and then and troop to your local gallery and splurge on things that make you smarter, more cultured and more appreciative of things that are really free.

As a related article, read my experience as an Ayala Museum volunteer here: https://hechoayer.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/museum-musings-work-at-the-ayala-museum/

Remember! No flash photography!

Remember! No flash photography!

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Bangkok Must-Do: Chao Phraya River Tour

A view of the soaring spires of the Grand Palace of Thailand from the Chao Phraya

A view of the soaring spires of the Grand Palace of Thailand from the Chao Phraya

Almost all of the major cities in the world trace their beginnings to settlements located along riverbanks or near bodies of water. The water served as means for transportation and a conduit for commerce. Water was and remains to be an important resource which is used for hygienic purposes, nourishment and also commercial ends. Parisians have the Seine, Londoners have the Thames, the Romans have the Tiber.

Grand edifices line the Chao Phraya as testament to its importance as a thoroughfare.

Grand edifices line the Chao Phraya as testament to its importance as a thoroughfare.

Government agencies, private individuals as in commercial establishments such as restaurants and hotels consider the Chao Phraya as a premium address.

Government agencies, private individuals as in commercial establishments such as restaurants and hotels consider the Chao Phraya as a premium address.

As such, a truly memorable visit to a historic city like Bangkok demands for time spent either traversing or at least seeing the Chao Phraya, the river that served as the lifeblood of the Siamese kingdom of centuries. Today, it continues to draw tourists and locals as a major thoroughfare that services commuter boats, tourist junks and commercial ships.

Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok as seen from the Chao Phraya

Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok as seen from the Chao Phraya

Last January (yes, this blog entry is way too delayed), I got the chance to insert a Chao Phraya river cruise into a packed itinerary. I went to Bangkok on the same weekend when the Pope came to the Philippines, and fortunately, I was able to see him as he drove past NAIA terminal 3. I, along with the other passengers waiting for the airport operations to reconvene, waited for him on the airport driveway, which had a good view of Andrews Avenue.

A classical-designed edifice probably from the late 1800s or early 1900s

A classical-designed edifice probably from the late 1800s or early 1900s

On my first day, I rode a commuter ferry from Sathorn Pier, which is underneath a highway bridge, going to the Grand Palace. The fare was only 20 Thai Baht, and it was a breezy, picturesque ride. There were locals and tourists alike on the same boat, which is different from the tourist barge (there is a different tourist barge, which gives you “unlimited” rides to and fro the different cultural/historic stops that line the Chao Phraya).

Different stately buildings line the river

Different stately buildings line the river

A view of the Grand Palace from the outside

A view of the Grand Palace from the outside

To get to the Grand Palace, I alighted at the Tha Chang stop (Pier N9). From the pier, I walked along a strip of retailers and hawkers. After my tour of the Grand Palace, I ate a delicious plate of pad thai in one of the stalls in that area.

This lady in full make-up and high heels cooked the pad thai, cleaned the tables and also served as cashier. Talk about effective multi-tasking...with elan!

This lady in full make-up and high heels cooked the pad thai, cleaned the tables and also served as cashier. Talk about effective multi-tasking…with elan!

Look at that pad thai! You can't get as legit as that!

Look at that pad thai! You can’t get as legit as that!

What was so noticeable with that pad thai kiosk was that the full made-up girl was the cook, the waitress and the cashier! Amazing! And take note, she was even wearing stilettos! According to the description of her stall, her family had been serving pad thai since 1965!

My chicken and shrimp pad thai

My chicken and shrimp pad thai

The following day, my tuktuk driver encouraged me to visit a small floating market, the name of which, sadly, I now forget. Unfortunately, I arrived too late and I wasn’t able to see the myriad of vendors and goods I was hoping to see. The trip, nonetheless, was a memorable trip. I was able to see old houses, temples and even noveau-riche looking mansions.

Temples dot the riverbanks

Temples dot the riverbanks

The inner estuaries have their own laid-back almost provincial charm

The inner estuaries have their own laid-back almost provincial charm

A view of a school beside the estuary

A view of a school beside the estuary

Coconut ice cream on the river!

Coconut ice cream on the river!

Wat Arum

Wat Arum

Going back to the pier, we passed by Wat Arum, which was being renovated that time. From the pier, I made my way to Chinatown, where I feasted on stir-fried noodles.

A temple near the pier where I alighted after my river boat cruise

A temple near the pier where I alighted after my river boat cruise

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Ave Maria! Happy fiesta, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel!

Our Lady, Queen Beauty of Mt. Carmel standing proudly in her retablo at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, New Manila

Our Lady, Queen Beauty of Mt. Carmel standing proudly in her retablo at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, New Manila

 

Last 16 July, I, along with countless others, celebrated the feast of our Lady, Queen Beauty of Mt. Carmel. The strongest and most tangible association we devotees have with our Blessed Mother under this title is the Brown Scapular, which was revealed to St. Simon Stock more than 700 years ago.

The sanctuary and main altar all spruced up for the 2015 fiesta

The sanctuary and main altar all spruced up for the 2015 fiesta

The main altar from last year's Mass, which was celebrated in pitch black darkness due to Typhoon Glenda.

The main altar from last year’s Mass, which was celebrated in pitch black darkness due to Typhoon Glenda.

For more than 13 years now, I’ve been reciting the novena to our Blessed Queen of Mt. Carmel but it has only been roughly 8 years since I began to religiously attend a fiesta/feast day Mass in her honor at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the mother church of the Order of Discalced Carmelites.

Our Lady mounted on her silver-plated carroza

Our Lady mounted on her silver-plated carroza

Like before when I first attended one, I heard the feast day Mass at the National Shrine of Mt. Carmel, a cavernous church found in Broadway, New Manila, a good 10-minute-ride away from my house. It used to have a very stern facade but since it was renovated two years ago, it now sports a friendlier ambiance. Unlike in the past 8 years, I attended a morning fiesta Mass and not the High Mass fiesta Mass celebrated at 6:00 PM. The latter rite is usually followed by a procession and fireworks display.

San Juan dela Cruz, unos de los fundadores de los carmelos descalzos.

San Juan dela Cruz, unos de los fundadores de los carmelos descalzos.

Sta. Teresa de Jesus y Ahumada, fundadora de los carmelos descalzados.

Sta. Teresa de Jesus y Ahumada, fundadora de los carmelos descalzados.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a world-famous and most beloved Carmelite saint.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, a world-famous and most beloved Carmelite saint.

Carmelite brothers and friars during the procession last year.

Carmelite brothers and friars during the procession last year.

Similar to last year (when the church was pitchblack due to Typhoon Glenda that hit Metro Manila that day), the image of Our Lady was placed on top of the squat retablo in the middle of the sanctuary. Festooned with flowers and illuminated by candles, the new set-up showcased our Blessed Mother’s statue atop the main retablo. Unfortunately, no crucifix was visible except the free-standing one, placed on the side of the altar.

Fireworks illuminate the procession on the fiesta

Fireworks illuminate the procession on the fiesta

A Carmelite brother gives away brown scapulars after the Fiesta Mass

A Carmelite brother gives away brown scapulars after the Fiesta Mass

Nevertheless, it was a beautiful Liturgy capped off with the singing of the Salve Regina and the blessing and imposition of Brown Scapulars.

 

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