Monday, May 20, 2013

Beijing with Gusto (Part II)

Our major sightseeing was scheduled the following day. We took the tour to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. The sight of the wall was indeed breathtaking, and how it was even possible to construct it in those times, in that terrain, in those circumstances and in that magnitude, is no common feat.

It’s hard, however, to reflect upon this world wonder while being shoved by thousands of Chinese. So after taking enough pictures, we went down via cable car and waited at the bus.

The only other stop on the tour was at a silk factory. We knew we were in for a sales pitch but when the guide demonstrated how the silk is produced from silkworms, we couldn’t help but marvel at how those gossamer strands were transformed into an incredibly strong material. When she showed us how light the silk comforters were and how soft to the touch, I could tell that many of us were going to hand over our credit cards before the pitch was over.

On our way to the silk place, we passed by the Olympic Village so we knew it wasn’t far from our last stop. So instead of riding back with the group to our hotel, we had ourselves dropped off near Bird’s Nest. We also made sure to get from our guide Helen the address of the hutongs so that we could direct our cab there for dinner. She wrote it down in Chinese script.

There were plenty of tour buses parked near the Olympic Village, but the area was so immense that, in spite of the crowd, it didn’t feel cramped at all. We waited until Bird’s Nest and the Bubble Wrap building across it were lit before we left.
By the time we had our fill of photos, we were famished. We took a cab to the hutongs. This is probably my most favorite area in Beijing. It was old and gritty but not squalid. In fact, there was an artsy vibe to it.

After walking the length of either side of the main road, we found a nice Italian restaurant named Luce where we ate really well. I would have wanted to go back to the area and explore it more but transportation was starting to intimidate me. After dinner, we waited for hours to get a cab that would take us back to our hotel. We almost froze to death in the cold and my bladder almost exploded from hours of holding it because I refused to use the restaurant’s comfort room.

Beijing with Gusto (Part I)

I don’t remember why we booked this trip but I didn’t have very high expectations. It was in March so winter was warming up to spring but, at below 10 degrees, it was still much too cold for me. I’m always a little out of sorts in cold weather. I was also worried about hygiene, especially the toilet situation, and of course dining, because I love to eat. I expected long walks and rowdy crowds. I thought it would be tiring, and it was. But I enjoyed Beijing more than I thought I would.


The city, at least the part of it that I saw, turned out to be cleaner and more posh than I expected. Our hotel, Park Plaza, was next door to a store selling Ferraris and Masseratis. Starbucks was everywhere. So were KFC and McDonald's stores.


We couldn’t have picked a better hotel. Park Plaza’s rates were affordable, the staff spoke decent English, the location was ideal for shopping, the rooms were clean and comfortable, and the food was great (I couldn’t get enough of the nasi goreng).


On our first day, we went to the Forbidden City. I didn’t see the Last Emperor movie and I am not a big fan of empty palace grounds so I won’t call this a highlight.

At the exit, we had our first encounter with reality in Beijing. Public transportation was the pits. None of the cab drivers would use their meter; every one wanted a flat rate, which went higher at every asking. We refused to acquiesce on principle so we ended up walking back to Wangfujing.


It was late afternoon by the time we reached the area and the Eat St. stalls have opened. We marveled at the seahorses and scorpions that were on sale, and a few other items we couldn’t identify. There were the usual shrimps and squids and meats too, but since none of the vendors spoke English, we opted to just look and take photos, and had our meal at McDonalds.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Life Happened (Part II)

My office has been busy working on various projects for the elections. Our news website, GMANews Online, got over 10M page views on election day, and ramped up to 21M page views the following day. Our mobile apps, meanwhile, earned rave reviews from users. Similarly, Digify has been humming with activity with so many new products in the pipeline. I consider myself blessed to be working with such a great team.

Right-most is the yema tart at Pinto’s restaurant

Since it’s summer and my nieces and nephew are on vacation, I’ve also been lining up activities that we can do together. Last weekend, we visited Pinto Museum in Antipolo. I had been there before, back in the days when it was just the house of Dr. Cuanang and a venue for select art exhibits, particularly those of the Salimpusa group. I don’t recall the place being that big. We had a wonderful lunch at Siraulo restaurant inside the premises. It is run by Bizu but the menu is entirely different. I am recalling the yema tart as I write this and my mouth is starting to water. Our Antipolo sojourn extended till past midnight, with visits to Thunderbird Resort for halo-halo and pizza, and OneA for videoke.

The kids after their swim

I’ve also been wanting to take the kids to Ace Water Spa. With a slack in my schedule one Thursday morning, I did. We spent almost 3 hours in the water. The hydro-massage stations were great, specially those that worked on the upper back and shoulders, because that’s where my tension accumulates. I brought the kids with me to the office after and treated them to merienda at the 17th floor lounge. For dessert, I took them to Judd’s room and opened up his chocolate stash to them. They filled their pockets with flat tops and chocnuts. While waiting for their daddy to pick them up, they listened to music. Joaki found Judd’s speakers and attached his phone to it. He played Psy’s latest single. Julia loves Psy so she merrily danced to the song. She’s too funny.

Che’s portrait of our beautiful Mama

The day before Mother’s Day, the family went to Sip and Gogh to paint. Che and I wanted to do a portrait of Mama. We wanted to work on a single canvas together but when we learned that the charge was still going to be on a per person, we decided to work on our own canvasses. I ended up painting my brother. JM chose to paint her mom Joy while Julia and Jenna painted flowers.

Joyful painters

My latest work

This wasn’t my first time at Sip & Gogh. I had been there with Judd and the Sarmiento couple, Bambi and Mon. The second time was with the Sarmiento kids in tow. Both times, I explored my inner Van Gogh. Unfortunately, there’s not much there. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the process. In fact, I just went back there this weekend with Judd, Darwin and Ate Pam. I made this. My best work yet, I think.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Life Happened (Part I)

To state the obvious, this is a long overdue post. I took a respite from writing, but definitely not from living as the past two months have been some of the most activity-packed yet. Prior to our trip to Beijing last March, I was busy learning to ride the bike together with my nieces JM and Jenna. Joaki already knew how. Even Julia joined in the fun.

After the Holy Week, I went home to Solana to visit my folks. It was in time for the fiesta so I had the chance to see relatives and friends I haven’t seen for a long time, and meet new ones.

I also met with the architect who will be working on the improvements to our Family Room. She has shown me her plans and it looks interesting but we’ll be able to work on them only after the elections, as my parents will be coming to Manila to escape the political heat in our hometown.

Prior to my visit to Solana, I received the good news that Che has been appointed as RTC judge. This has been several years in the making. His patience finally paid off. I am so happy for my brother. I can say with pride that it is a much-deserved promotion. Not only is he intelligent; his character is stellar.

We all dressed up for his oath taking before Presiding Justice Reyes of the CA. We celebrated the occasion after with lunch at Cerchio in Quezon City. I loved the food so much that I kept going back week after week (this week, I went there twice). The Singaporean squid heads, crispy pata and sisig are must-tries.

So what else happened?


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