25 July 2010

Lots of Love

I wasn't really planning on accepting any artwork projects. With a barely manageable schedule, I could hardly get anything done on time. Despite the acknowledgement of my limitations, when asked for a favor, I would often just fall into my Ella Enchanted curse - I would accept.

A friend needed a logo for her upcoming business called Lots of Love, a souvenir shop that specializes in creating wedding memorabilia, corporate give aways and other tokens. The tagline, "Lifetime Souvenirs Made with Lots of Love".

She had already done most of the conceptualizing, all I had to do was make it happen. She was very specific with the colors and shadows that I didn't really have much trouble creating the logo. My favorite part though would definitely be the pattern of the gift. Hearts. Below is the colored and black and white version of the logo. There were still a couple more changes done to it, but generally that's the idea.

For those who'd like to check out her little shop of "Love", you can find it at The Wedding Lounge, G/F Amber Place Street, Jose Maria Escriva Drive, Ortigas Center at Pasig City (Tel # 964-3123). For those in the QC area, it's at Unit 6 of the Bohol Mansions Eugenio Lopez cor. Sgt. Esguerra Avenue (Tel # 359-2196, 0908-8810416).

24 July 2010

Taiwan Trip 2010 (Part 3)

Part 1 - click here
Part 2 - click

June 14, 2010 (Monday)

It started out as a rainy day. Despite our prayers that our last touring day would be bright and sunny, the weather proved to be uncooperative and mocked us with a worse on-again-off-again downpour compared to the earlier days of our trip.

The first in line for our city tour in Taipei on that day was the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Park. A magnificent 24 hectare complex built in memory of the late Taiwanese President, Chiang Kai Shek.

According to Tommy, many students from the neighboring schools would go here on dates with their loved ones. Being a Monday, we didn't see any student courtships happening within the vicinity to confirm Tommy's statement.

As can be seen in the photo below, it was a cold, gray day. Some had the foresight of bringing umbrellas for the trip; others, like myself, were not so wise.
The building below, with its blue glazed roof is the Memorial Hall. Two sets of stairs, both with 89 steps, lead to the main entrance of the hall. The 89 steps is significant as it represents Chiang Kai Shek's age before he died. Trying to prove this, Berns and I counted out loudly as we climbed up and down the stairs - both times we only came up with 88. We weren't sure if our math teachers would be proud of our counting abilities.

Inside the hall, a humongous bronze statue on the political leader sits firmly in the center-back of the room.
Once we all got back into the bus, we drove from the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall to a bakery called Vigor Kobo, which according to Tommy, had consistently won awards for their pastry and cake creations. To prove the point, in an oblong-ish table, our group gathered around a line of their yummy cakes for taste testing. Their treats were fantastic. Among my favorites would have to be their Milk Sun Cake (10 pcs) which was selling at 350 Taiwan dollars and their Pineapple Mini Cake (12 pcs) at 300 Taiwan dollars. Really, good food don't come cheap.
We were each handed a sheet with the list of items the store was offering and the prices of each. Our task was to fill up the number of packs we would like to order. Apparently, with the great reviews we personally created in our minds from all that tasting (we weren't really just tasting, we kept getting our favorite flavors until the box for the item has been emptied out), many from our group didn't leave empty handed.
After this little food recess, we headed back to the bus to go to the National Palace Museum. It was a modern museum, very well-lit and equipped with high tech equipment that I've never experienced here in the Philippines. We were each handed an ear piece, so we can all hear our tour guide's instructions and explanations of the art works. This was a great help, as it eliminated tour guides screaming histories to their groups, contesting with the other guides elaborating on other iconic items.

The National Palace Museum boasts over 600,000 authentic Chinese artifacts and artworks, most of which were brought by the art lover in Chiang Kai Shek. Among the more memorable pieces that I could recall is the Jadeite Cabbage, an intricately carved piece that many believe symbolized the purity of a girl sent to an emperor in China and blessings for numerous offspring.

Since we weren't allowed to take photographs near the artworks, we managed to steal a few shots at the entrance of the museum as we waited for our bus to pick us up.
As a little information tidbit, Taiwan is an island, Tommy told us. The common mode of transport is through cycling. It was such a common thing, that the government created public bicycles that the people could just get from bike stands and return to a different bike stand after use. No one would dare steal the said bicycles, clearly government property was marked all over it - no one would also dare purchase it.

In addition, he said, should we have the interest, we can bike around the whole of Taiwan in a span of 12-14 days, as was the average among most cyclists. It was such an interesting proposal that I quickly listed it down as one of the things I must try in my life.

Departing from the National Palace Museum, our next stop was the Yehliu Geopark, which was a good hour or two away. Caused by rock erosion and the wear and tear from the weather and other natural courses of nature, several interesting formations came to be - which can be seen in the photos below. Once again, I shall accept that I am a novice in the art of word-smithing, and could hardly do sufficient justice to the beauty and wonder of the place. (In short, I'm just lazy) I hope the photos below would be sufficient to encapsulate the beauty and awe that I've experienced there.
Below is a photograph of Cinderella's shoe. See it?
The below picture has enough room for debate. We really couldn't determine what it resembles - others say it looks like the snout of a crocodile looking hungrily at a prey, others say it looks like a dinosaur, personally, it makes me think of a hippo, half hiding under the water. Whatever it is, it caught our attention.
And of course, the rock formation we've all came to see - the Queen's head, also called as the 女王頭. Tommy told us that in some occasions, there would be a long queue for groups and individuals to have their photo taken with the said formation. It was such a popular formation that people would sometimes end us bickering and fighting with each other just to get ahead of the other for a photograph.

Tommy had also told us, that in a few more years, due to the climate changes and nature taking its course, the Queen's head may eventually be deformed and would no longer represent itself as Nefertiti's nature-borne monument.
Below is a photo of us, girls, with a variety of rock formations. We weren't really allowed to touch them. For whatever reason, I didn't bother asking.There was a curious item buried on the soil, with carvings of a flower on it. We saw it a little too late and weren't able to ask our tour guide about it anymore.
Once again, it was time for everyone's favorite part of the trip. Shopping. The bus went through a winding path up a mountain, until we reached the Chiufen Village.
Here, I found some out of the ordinary trinkets - like the small musical figurines. With a few holes punctured on a figurine, one can play music through it. Among its designs are owls, insects, hearts, etc.
A noteworthy moment during this travel would have to be the time I dared to eat snails. For 50 Taiwan money, I bought myself a cup of barbequed snails swimming in soy sauce. It was a chewy treat, that made me think of eating squid - but it's definitely not something that I'd go craving for in the middle of the night though.
At the end of the long narrow street of shop vendors is an awesome view of whatever it is you're seeing below. Once we've mostly completed our shopping, we headed on to dinner. Being our last night in Taiwan, Tommy definitely saved the best for last.

That night, we were to dine at the Five Dime Boathouse Restaurant, an avant garde establishment built by a dreamer and an innovator, Xie Li-Xiang. The Five Dime Boathouse may sound like a completely deranged idea at first hearing, but it was an artistic and novel concept that it proved to be a success. There are now four existing branches across Taiwan, each with it's significant unique appearance but all are still tied together by the use of driftwood, trees and ceramics for its architectural construction.
The food were generally good and tasty, served in big, heavy plates and bowls. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously, surrounded by ethnic-like artworks and metal play.
In the Five Dime Boathouse brochure, there is a quote that I'd like to key down here.

"Sometimes dreams alter the course of an entire life."
- Judith Duerk

As Tommy would say it, "It's your last day to use up all your Taiwan money".

After dinner, it was time for splurge away. To the Shih-Lin Night Market. One of the biggest night markets. Our aim? To shop and to eat.
Below is the most expensive corn I've ever eaten in my life, and to add, from the sidewalk. Depending on the weight of the corn, we got one at 110 Taiwan money. After choosing your corn, the vendor would then attach it to a mechanism or whatever that may be, that would cook the corn, revolving over the hot coals. What made this a wee bit different, is that the vendor would wipe on some sauce over the corn. The brownish sauce would then bubble as it heats up, making it look oh so yummy.
So here I am with our corn. Bern, Eveleen, Cathy and myself are sharing this one corn. It tasted like corn with Teriyaki sauce - it was chewy and a little difficult to eat. For my side, I felt that I wasn't really enjoying it as much, and boy, did we realize everyone shared the same sentiment.
Of course, a trip to Taiwan won't be complete without a dare at Stinky Tofu. We were 7 pitted against this one bowl of stench galore. After the first bite, most of us have already had enough. This Taiwan delicacy has always been so controversial for me - what makes it so tasty to the locals? One bite, and I felt like I've placed an entire provincial communal bathroom inside my mouth.

Because there were still plenty left, and since I was the one who was so adamant in trying it, I took it upon myself to eat as much of this specialty as I could. After a few more bites, my tongue began to acquire a taste for it, and it wasn't as bad as I initially conditioned my mind to think it is - but whenever someone would make a crude comment against it, my bias would kick in and my tongue would send a revolting signal to my brain.
After an seemingly excruciatingly long battle against it, we were able to finish off the Stinky Tofu - rushing towards the nearest drinks stall to wash our throats down with some cool, sweet milk tea and Taiwanese halo-halo.

Riding a taxi to our hotel, there was an additional fee of 20 or 30 Taiwan dollars after 11. We left past midnight, sometime around 1 to 2 in the morning. All I can say was that, taxi rides in Taiwan were really more expensive compared to the Philippines.

It was going to be an all-nighter, as everyone packed their respective baggage in preparation for the flight back to Manila.

June 15, 2010 (Tuesday)

Dark circles around our eyes. It was our last day in Taiwan, and we were going to be flying back to the Philippines after a few more hours. I didn't feel as thrilled to be getting back to my real life, but it was something that had to be faced. Four days passed by so quickly, but it was enough time for us to get to know each other better, to create memories and experiences that we could look back to in days ahead.

Tommy helped us at the baggage deposit counter in the airport, still answering our out of the blue questions patiently. As he handed our passports back to each one of us, he gave us his card should we ever need him if we return to Taiwan. We were especially pleased with Tommy's performance as our tour guide - that we continued to speak highly of him even after he had bid us farewell. We boarded Philippine Airlines flight PR897 departing at 1100 in the morning. We arrived in Manila at approximately 13.20 in the afternoon. Missing the coolness of Taiwan, our clean feet despite a whole day of travelling, and the adventure that came and went.

It was a blast. Until the next trip.

-End of Part 3 of 3 -

Some photos were personal photos taken from my camera, others were grabbed, with permission, from Connie Ong, Allen Ong, Eveleen Ong, Bernie Ong and Mark Wang's albums.

22 July 2010

Taiwan Trip 2010 (Part 2)

Part 1 - click here

June 13, 2010 (Sunday)

The phone in our hotel room began to ring at six in the morning. Groggily, I took the receiver and listened to the voice on the other end. It was our wake up call. Tommy had told us that today was a really packed day, and an early start was necessary so we can cover everything in the schedule.

We had to leave the hotel by 7.30 in the morning - of course, by 7.30 we still weren't ready, to the worry of our tour guide. We departed China Trust by 8, and headed on to the Kenting Peninsula, the southernmost part of Taiwan. It was a 2 hour trip getting there and with our sunglasses on, most of us fell back into sweet repose.

Along the way though, Tommy discussed with us our options - since we have a 2.30 train to catch, we would have to forgo one of the two spots that we were supposed to visit. After much debate, the group agreed to just skip lunch and proceed to the two places originally plotted out in our schedule.

We first went to Maopitou, literally meaning "The Cat's Nose" in chinese, as there is supposedly a rock formation that resembles a crouching cat with its gaze fixed towards the wide expanse of water. We were in such a hurry, that we snapped a few photographs and headed on. There weren't any charges to visit this place, but it was a wonderful natural spectacle to behold.
Below is a picture from afar, apparently, there were other tourists beginning to crowd the place. We noticed that Tommy was able to, usually, bring us to a tourist spot a few minutes ahead of the other groups - most of which are composed of Chinese tourists. That, we are extremely thankful of. Other tourists can be quite an annoyance, especially when they start crossing in front of you, while you're posing for a picture.

So here is our group, in our violet uniforms, holding up our association banner - with not much of a view in the background except for a whole bunch of other tourists.

After Maopitou, our group headed on to Kengting National Park, one of Taiwan's oldest park. According to the description of the said park in our itinerary, "Kenting National Park is home to tropical forests, meadows, mountains and seaside cliffs.." True enough, as you enter the said park, you are welcomed by a wide expanse of grass, with a line of trees generously planted along the area. There is a path that would take you uphill towards the Eluanbi lighthouse. In that area, you can an intoxicating view of the ocean, with its cool sprays of salt and sand - the edge of Taiwan.
It was a breezy morning as we hiked towards the Eluanbi lighthouse. With a little online research, I learned that it was put up by the late 19th century after the Americans and Japanese have asked the Chinese government to construct one in response to the numerous ship accidents that have occurred decades prior. Interestingly, a fort was then raised in order to protect the said lighthouse from the locals of the vicinity - of what reason, it was not stated.
Climbing downhill to go back to the bus, we took a couple of moments to clean up, as we've mostly covered in sweat and salt. So here we were, relieving our ennui, hiding behind the trees while waiting for the others.
As I've mentioned earlier, we've given up our lunch to visit both places and thus had to endure a slightly grumbling stomach for a couple of hours in the bus as it rushed towards the nearest High Speed Rail Station. A couple of our peers brought along some treats to help ease our hunger, of which, we were very grateful for.

In the bus, we played Pinoy Henyo to pass the time.

We got caught in some heavy traffic and I feared we would not make it in time for our 2:36 train. We arrived outside the station approximately at 2:25 and Tommy asked us to do a double-time and make a run for it. Thankfully, we were all still young and able, and so, as our guide quickly unloaded our baggage out the bus, we instinctively got our things and headed straight into the station. Had I been in Tommy's shoes, I'm sure I'd be completely frazzled at this point, but I was impressed how he kept his cool as he counted everyone's attendance and directed us towards the train.

We ran down the flight of stairs, carrying our big bulky luggage. We were running out of time, and at this point, everyone was doing their best to move as speedily as they could. The train leaves promptly, whether we were there or not, Tommy warned us beforehand. We knew the risk, and we took it - and boy, are we glad we did. We were able to get in at the nick of time. We were now heading back to Taipei.

Once we got to Taipei, our first stop was the ever famous Taipei 101, the world's tallest building since 2004 boasting 101 floors above ground. A modern building infused with traditional Chinese know-hows and design, Taipei 101 is a one of a kind skyscraper. It is also a high-end (in my opinion) shopping center.

We meant to go to the topmost floor in order to get an amazing view of Taipei from the world's tallest building, but due to the bad weather, Tommy advised us that it won't be worth it. And for the second year in a row, I wasn't able to see Taipei in its glory. Rain rain go away, come again another day.
Once again, we had a schedule to keep up with, and were given an hour or so in the said shopping center, before we headed on to dinner.

One of the best dinners I've ever had - Mongolian Grill. We just had to choose our own ingredients as beef, pork, chicken, veggies and sauce (garlic, lemon, ginger, soy sauce, etc) in the quantity we deem would suit our taste buds, throw them all in one bowl and hand it over to the chef guys below to cook as you wait.
There was also a buffet table for those who'd want to try something else. I think we tried most of what they had to offer. Fried rice. Fried chicken. Taiwan halo-halo. Unlimited drinks. Happy us.

Below are our group photos with our to-yu, Tommy.

After dinner, we went to Ximending Night Market to do everyone's favorite activity. Shopping. Before going to Taiwan, I've asked my grandfather where I can find Black Bridge, which makes our favorite pork floss. He recommended the one nearest the Ximending Night Market. I grew up eating Black Bridge pork floss that I couldn't appreciate any other brand the same way - sentimental reasons again. A friend and myself found the said store and with a few Chinese words struggling out of our mouths, we were able to buy our proud pasalubongs.

That night, we retreated to Golden China Hotel located at the Sung Chiang Road. Tommy informed us that we will be leaving early the next day again and bid us good night. I'm sure, at the back of his mind, he was keeping his fingers crossed.

- End of Part 2 of 3-

Part 3 - click here

Some photos were personal photos taken from my camera, others were grabbed, with permission, from Connie Ong, Allen Ong, Eveleen Ong, Bernie Ong and Mark Wang's albums.

18 July 2010

Taiwan Trip 2010 (Part 1)

Every two years, our hometown association, He Hui Po, sponsors its youth to an out of town trip to enrich the minds of their future generation - instilling a sense of culture but at the same time providing a venue where the young ones can commune together and bond.

For 2006, we were able to visit Xiamen, China where we paid our respects to our hometown - finding relics of our ancestry, meeting the people who might as well be our distant relatives. I managed to scavenge my past blog and find the long forgotten post, where I wrote an account of our travel there.

In 2008, the group went to Shanghai. Unfortunately, due to my thesis, I had to forgo this little adventure. This year, we opted to go to Taiwan - spending three and a half days there, making the most of the long weekend brought about by the celebration of the Philippine Independence Day. Truly, I am thankful for the opportunity to go, thus be able to redeem myself for not having finished my Taiwan blog post series last year.

June 12, 2010 (Saturday)

With less than a few hours sleep, I washed the sandman's spell off my eyes and hurriedly packed the few important items into my luggage. I was up all night preparing and packing my things - a bad habit, but thankfully, it seems that I've never forgotten to pack anything exceptionally vital.

Dad drove me to the airport, of which I am extremely grateful for. Our group were to meet at the airport at 6 in the morning, but being my punctual self, with a couple of follow up calls from the group, I arrived half past six - everyone else was already there. To my chagrin, our president, Allen Ong, was at the check in counter patiently waiting for me. We were set to board Philippine Airlines flight PR896, leaving Manila at 7.50 in the morning and landing at Taipei at approximately 10.00.

After submitting our documents to the immigration officer for approval, we caught sight of a basketball celebrity, James Yap. I'm not sure what has gotten into me, but I requested for a photo with him and his team. They obliged, even inquiring if we were from Hong Kong. We could have said yes, but we were too honest - not that it makes a difference anyway.
Waiting for the go signal to board the plane, below is a photo of our group. (Not complete though)

We arrived at the Taipei Taoyuan Airport at the appointed time. I don't have a lot of stories to tell about our arrival, except one of our companions left his passport in the plane and had to rush back to get it. The heavens were shining on him, as a stewardess found the lost item and promptly handed it to him as he got there.
This is a more complete photo of our group taken by Mark Wang. We were a total of 16 people, with 10 boys and 6 girls. Oh, and a stuffed tiger named Terry tagged along.
As we got out, we were greeted by our tourist guide, Mr. Tommy Tung from the Hanson Travel Co. He's an amiable and jovial personality, and I cannot deny how much he has made our trip especially pleasant and memorable. I can illustrate this in the future anecdotes of my post. He has fairly comprehensible English, grasping even some "big" words. For words he cannot tongue out, he is humble enough to accept our suggestions and corrections. He constantly provided us with tips and guides throughout the trip regarding Taiwan lifestyle, habits and beliefs, which I believe were more essential than specific dates in history.

Below is a photo of him. We requested him to sing us a karaoke song in the bus. He really fixed the karaoke machine to meet our request and even granted us three different Chinese songs. Of course, nice as he was, he's no Michael Buble. We sang a couple of Chinese songs though, but generally left the karaoke machine untouched after that.
Our first stop was the Taoyuan High Speed Rail Station, where we were to catch the bullet train and ride to Kaohsiung, the station after Tainan, the southern part of Taiwan. It's a good two hour ride away, we were told - so lunch would have to be delayed. Since it was still going to take a while before boarding the train, we decided to go around the station to see whatever we can find interesting. One thing I noticed, magazines were hella expensive - then again, I could've been looking at imported ones.

This is one signage that intrigued me, and I practically begged Mark to take a photo of it. I really doubt the Chinese words have anything to do with its English translation.

So, here we were, with our bulky baggage and excited grins, waiting for the train to come pick us up. There are three trains that pass by the station every hour, and they arrive and leave on the dot.

We arrived at Kaohsiung and had a filling lunch. After which, we proceeded to the first stop in our itinerary which happened to be the Lotus Lake with the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas. According to Tommy, we were supposed to enter through the dragon's mouth and exit through the Tiger's - by doing so, we have converted our negative luck into good fortune. Entering, the belly of both the dragon and tiger were filled with murals of several scenes, some of which may as well be of the Chinese depiction of Paradise and Damnation.

Below is a picture of myself, as we got off the bus. At a distance that is what the two pagodas look like.

Below are photos of the dragon and the tiger from the sides.

Right across the two Pagodas is a temple. I am not sure what the temple is about, but just outside several street vendors were hawking their goods. I found a nice interesting bracelet, but hesitated buying it - now looking back, I felt that I should have just gotten it. Oh well.
Once again, a group photo with the Pagodas.
After our quick little trip to the Pagodas, Tommy took us to Dream Mall, the largest shopping mall in Taiwan. We were given 2 hours to go around the center, and personally, that wasn't enough time for us to completely cover and enjoy the place. Outside the mall, there was a light drizzle of rain, and an ongoing children talent competition. I couldn't reiterate it enough, people are so obsessed with Korean songs - I don't know how many kids have taken to performing Wonder Girl's Nobody and Super Junior's Sorry Sorry.

Anyway, below are some of the photos we've gathered.
I realized that I have a growing love for stuffed toys, and went completely ga-ga over them. And yes, I'm a family breaker - Daddy bear is mine.

My dad always made fun of me because I have big feet. (For Chinese in olden times, women with smaller feet were considered more delicate and sought after by men, while those with big feet were discarded). Well, I don't think anyone can argue after this picture.

Like I said, I went crazy over the stuffed toys. Thankfully, my friend, Evelyn was patient enough to photograph me after every stupid thing I've been doing there. This is me, lying with a bear, equally drained and tired.
While going around, I saw this line of adorable cats. Alright, I have a love for cat toys and figurines. These really are so cute! I want the one dressed as a tiger.
After our little photo shoot with the toys - curiously, none of the stores reprimanded us for taking pictures with their items - we found this interesting ice cream stand at the end of the line called Capatina Gelato. For 90 Taiwan Dollars, you can choose two flavors to be seated on a big squarish cone. Capatina showcased several flavors - some were the typical cookies and cream, mango, passion fruit, strawberry - but others were a little outrageous as Yakult, Lavender and even a Kiamoy flavored one. Being food lovers that we are, we chose the not so common selections - and were happy to say that we loved them.

At the top of the Dream Mall, there is a small amusement park with a great big Ferris wheel overlooking the city. A romantic and scary ride, I'm sure, but none of us thought it would be worthwhile to give it a try, since we had limited time.
We decided though, for 50 Taiwan dollars per person for 5 shots, to learn and try some archery. It wasn't bad; it was a really interesting sport actually.
Time's up at Dream Mall. We had dinner at a seafood restaurant. Apparently, hygiene seemed to be a big issue, as servers seemed oblivious to our distaste when they got our used plates, slid the leftovers into a big bucket and return them to us for our second servings. Then again, we ought to understand that we didn't exactly go to Taiwan to have a five star dining experience.

The last stop in our itinerary that day was the Lover's River, where couples were said to go to enjoy a good date. It was an good concept, but it reminds me of Roxas Boulevard's walk far too much. I think I'd prefer Roxas Boulevard of the two, since I'd get to watch a gorgeous sunset melting into the cool waters of Manila Bay, or I may be biased.

Personally, there wasn't anything very romantic about the lover's river. The walkways were narrow, it's not very well-lit, etc. Then again, a friend told me - "any place can be romantic as long as you got the right person along". That has yet to be proven.

There were a series of stalls set up at one side of the Lover's River, and we found this curious sight. Massage using blunt knives. Some of the people in the stall were inviting us to give it a try, but tempting as it may seem, we had to get back to our meeting spot soon. Time limits really are a downer.
Tommy dropped us off at our hotel, China Trust, issuing our keys and making sure everyone is aware of the next day's itinerary. After we deposited our things in our hotel rooms though, we went out for some night shopping, also grabbing a milk tea along the way. At Sing Tong Yang, the group got splurge happy buying gifts for their friends and relatives back in the Philippines.

- End of Part 1 of 3-

Part 2 - click here
Part 3 - click here

Some photos were personal photos taken from my camera, others were grabbed, with permission, from Connie Ong, Allen Ong, Eveleen Ong, Bernie Ong and Mark Wang's albums.