Friday, September 19, 2008

Ninja Cat!

Currently Reading: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I just thought this one was cute . . .

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Manila 2008 Part 3: Origami

Currently Reading: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Well, once again I've had a rather slow, uneventful week. Fortunately I still have one more little story left from my vacation.

On the way back from the Philippines, we had a 3 hour layover in Tokyo. We killed some time in the lounge and did some shopping (probably spent as much at the airport as we did our entire stay in Manila). At one point CC suggested we find a hand cart so we wouldn't have to lug the carry-ons around so we started to explore the airport. We came across a little shop that sells candy and origami supplies. The origami side was set up a bit like a gallery and they had these HUGE displays of things people had made. REALLY cool stuff.

Oh but that's not all. Oh no. In addition to animals and little people, they had some really nice scenes done entirely in origami. I have NO idea how long it took them to do these but they must have taken forever. Naturally you can't touch them, but you can look really close and you can see all the detail that went into each little piece.

I've put up a gallery of pictures from that shop. You can see them here. It's amazing what they can do with just folded paper.

Here are a few other shots.

For more information about origami, have a look at this video. Sorry it's a little blurry. It was the only version I could find with subtitles.

Ok, yeah, that was just for fun. It's from a series done by a Japanese comedy troupe that makes spoof videos on all sorts of Japanese traditions. I thought I'd close with something fun.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Manila 2008 Part 2

Currently Reading: Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

So where was I?  Right, got to Tagaytay and slept.  This is where the Tagaytay pattern sets in.  You see, what most people do when they go on vacation up there is eat and sleep.  Not wanting to stick out as a tourist, I went native.  The day went something like this . . .

Woke up early. Had breakfast (CC's mom made pancakes, sausage, the works, it was FABULOUS!) then a nap.  Woke up for lunch out at a really great pizza place with a great view of the volcano.  Went back to the house. Slept.  

Woke up for dinner at the club house then spent a few hours playing video games with CC's brother Noel.  Slept. 

You may be thinking I'm exaggerating.  I'm not.  That's really all we did on Thursday.  Oh, well we also drove around the neighborhood and took pictures of this really cool castle-themed house.  But otherwise, that was it.  What can I say, this is what people do there when they're on vacation.  Who am I to argue right? :-)

So now it's Friday already, the day of the wedding, the reason we went to the Philippines in the first place.  We started things off with a little bit of TV.  The Philippines is 13 hours ahead of the US so whatever is showing on TV in Memphis Thursday evening is what's on TV in Manila Friday morning.  In this case, Olympic boxing.  I think I mentioned before, CC has this great little device that feeds cable from our apartment over the Internet to her computer when she travels.  That's what we used.

Anyway, after boxing we went to Mushroomburger for breakfast.  Now, I'm not even sure I can describe Mushroomburger and its cultural context.  It's pretty much an institution I would say.  You can't go to Tagaytay without going to Mushroomburger.  The two are just so solidly linked together.  When I first went to Manila back in 2000, we went to Mushroomburger and it wasn't too crowded.  We were there in the off-season, during the week.  THIS time though, we ate there twice.  The first time, Friday morning, not too bad.  Even though it was a long weekend and lots of tourists were driving up, they hadn't yet arrived so Mushroomburger wasn't too crowded.

As the name implies, it's a burger . . . with mushrooms.  They make two basic kinds.  You've got your 50/50 mushroom burger, that's half meat, half mushroom, and then your 100% mushroom burger.  All mushroom, all the time.

It's just a small place really.  Some tables inside, some outside.  Behind the restaurant are the cement buildings where they grow the mushrooms.   Some roosters patrol the eating area outside.  Simple.  But DAMN good burgers there :-)  If you're ever in Manila and you've got time for a day trip, head on up to Tagaytay and stop at Mushroomburger.  Your tummy will thank you :-)

Let's see, after breakfast we stopped at a store to pick up some ribbon for Meyan's wedding present.  Nice little store.  We spend lots of money there.  No, that's not really accurate.  We bought a lot of things but didn't spend that much money in fact.  I got a good chunk of my souvenir shopping done at that little store.

Ok, back to the house for, what else, a nap.  CC's mom made a roast beef for lunch.  You can see the pattern now I'm sure.  Eat, sleep, eat, sleep.  After eating a big breakfast, then a bigger lunch, well we all needed a nap so we had one.  At that point it was time to get ready for the wedding and off we went.

I was thinking about putting in a lot of pictures and details about Meyan's wedding but you know, there isn't really much I can say about it.  Besides, it was her wedding so she should be the one telling you the story right?  I will say that it was a nice little church up there in the Tagaytay area and the reception was at a bed and breakfast spa place about 5 minutes from where CC and I were staying.  Everything was great and I finally got to meet most of the people I had heard CC and Meyan talk about over the years.  Always good to put faces with names.  

Now, at some point we were supposed to go to the beach.  Obviously we were going after the wedding but at what time, we hadn't decided.  Saturday we made calls, sent text messages, waited, ate, slept, but didn't really get going towards the beach until around 1 or so.  At one point we were starting to wonder if we were actually going to MAKE it to the beach.  Finally we all got together split up into two cars and drove down.   Robin got us a nice little house at a great price and that's where we spent the night.  Along the way, we stopped at a market (not for the faint of heart or stomach) and picked up some meat to grill and a few other things.  Not much more to tell really unless you want the details on how we ate and slept again :-)

We spent Sunday morning at the beach.  It was a nice little beach in fact.  We had a great time.  I wasn't originally intending to go into the water but I took my trunks just in case.  More than anything I was concerned about getting water in my ears and that leading to some sort of weird, mutating ear infection.  But when we got there, everyone else was having so much fun and I kept thinking, how often do I get a chance to do this?  When will I get a chance again?  Probably be a while since Fall is around the corner so in I went.  Here's a little video of the beach.  No, I'm not in it.  This was not long after we arrived.

We went back to the house, packed up and said what we thought was going to be our last good-byes.  Turns out along the way we realized that we didn't have a group picture so we stopped right outside the sub-division where CC and I were staying and had a group picture there.  CC's brother Noel took the shot.  About an hour later or so, having packed up from THAT house, we were heading back to Manila and stopped at Mushroomburger one last time.  Guess who we ran into?  Yup, the whole group was there.  You just can't go to Tagaytay without stopping at Mushroomburger, I'm telling you.

So, we drive back down to Manila and it's kinda funny how you can actually feel the weather change as you make your way down the mountain.  You can also feel the pollution creep in as well.  The air gets heavier and heavier, more humid, more car fumes, etc.

CC booked us a room at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel in Manila.  Neither of us had stayed there but it had good reviews and I trust my wife when it comes to researching this sort of thing.  She leaves nothing to chance.  In this case, the main attraction was that it was near the Mall of Asia and that it had a free shuttle service.  Well now you can imagine our surprise as we pulled up to this place and it turns out to be one hell of a fancy hotel.  The whole  time CC's brother and I kept asking, "are you sure we can afford this?"  Yeah, it looked that great and it was actually quite affordable.  We spent less on a room there than we would have on a basic room at the Radisson.

So, how nice was this place in real life?  Well, have a look at this short video I shot of the pool area and you'll get an idea.

Monday, we hit the Mall of Asia.  Malls in the US just can't compare to the SM Malls in general but this one in particular leaves them in the dust.  The Mall of Asia, along with Megamall and Glorietta, those are how malls are SUPPOSED to be.  Everything you can ever imagine in one place.  You need it, they got it and again, I'm not exaggerating.  Mall shopping is like a national sport over there in Manila and they certainly do excel at it.  We even had a chance to see Batman Returns on the IMAX while we were there.  I don't know how it was in the normal theater but it sure did rock on IMAX.

And that was it.  That was the Manila vacation.  Gosh, it took almost a month for me to get the whole thing posted.  Sorry about that.  I had intended to get it done much sooner but things kept popping up at the last minute and I just didn't have the time.  Hope you enjoyed seeing little bits of our vacation.  Next week it's back to the boring, normal blog entries for me.  Sorry about that.  Who knows though, maybe aliens will land in the parking lot at work and need their 6 legged dog shaved.  I just hope they bring proof of rabies vaccination.  We can't take dogs without rabies vaccination.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Manila Blogs Part 1, Tuesday/Wednesday

Currently Reading: Confessions of a Yakuza by Junichi Saga

Now, I know I promised I'd get the details of the Manila trip posted MUCH sooner than I have. It's been two weeks since we've returned and all I've managed to get posted were some pictures and a link to more pictures. Yeah, that's my bad. The first week we were back I was a little tired from all the travel. Even with the two days to recover built into the trip I still wasn't running at full speed that first week back. The second week? Yeah I was just lazy the second week :-)

So, let's start at the beginning and go from there. We left Memphis on Tuesday morning, August 12. . .

Left Memphis around 9. Since CC is classified as Platinum Elite Status due to her frequent flier miles, we had access to the first class lounges in all the airports we visited for the entire duration of the trip. That means instead of waiting at the gate with the REST of the people, we were in a really nice lounge that had free food, free drinks, nice comfy chairs, big TV, just a WHOLE lot nicer than everyone else. The place also had free newspapers and it's generally quiet in there; most people speak in a whisper or at least in a low voice so as not to disturb the other people waiting.

On that particular flight, from Memphis to San Francisco, we'd been upgraded to First Class. Now, I will admit, it wasn't QUITE as nice as I had hoped. Traveling first class on a domestic flight really isn't much better than what traveling coach USED to be like 15 years ago. In fact, I think they use the same seats from back then, or at least they're about the same size. Yes, it is a noticeable difference but I'm not sure it's really worth the extra money. In our case it was free so it was worth every penny for sure :-) You do have a few OTHER advantages over the rest of the passengers though, most of which have to do with food. Before the flight even taxis out to the runway, you get a free drink. That's nice because you can end up sitting there waiting FOREVER. And when you're in the air, while everyone else has to pay 5 bucks for a SNACK box, we were given a hot breakfast. Again, I'm not sure that's WORTH the price of first class but it does make things a little more comfortable.

We arrived in San Francisco without incident. It was a pretty boring flight in fact. Not much to see really. Then we had to make a trek. It's the same trek I had to make several years ago on my last trip to Manila (which also went through San Francisco) They have two terminals there, one for domestic, one for international. Makes sense right? Sure, but they're not really connected in what you'd call a user-friendly way. You've got about a 10 to 15 minute trek from your arrival gate to your departure gate. Doesn't sound TOO bad right? It's not, I suppose, but you also have to go through the security check again because the link between terminals is on the OUTSIDE of the secure area, out where the ticket counters and stuff are.

From SF to Japan we were on an Airbus 330. CC actually had us fly out through San Francisco specifically so we could fly this type of plane. You see, in coach on that plane you get your own monitor and can choose your movies. That means you don't get stuck watching some really bad movie that only played for a week in the theaters before getting yanked. You also have a fairly wide variety of movies to choose from, not just limited to the films that have recently ended their runs in the theaters. Yes, we did have the option to watch Iron Man and Kung Fu Panda, but in addition to those we could have watched The Matrix or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. There were also several Pixar films available and some foreign films as well. It certainly makes the flight seem much shorter when you've got a little control over what your entertainment is :-)

We arrived in Tokyo at some point (by then I'd lost all track of time really) and we waited in the first class lounge until our Manila flight. I really couldn't say I remember much about that wait. CC has a few pictures of me pretty much crashed out in a chair in the lounge while we were waiting. Needless to say our stay there was uneventful :-)

Got to Manila at 10:30ish Wednesday local time. Yup, whole day just disappears when you fly in that direction. We breezed through customs and immigration though, which was lucky. There didn't appear to be any other flights arriving the same time we did plus we managed to get off the plane fairly quickly. Another perk of CC's Platinum Elite status is that our luggage gets priority handling so they're among the first bags unloaded from the plane.

When I walked outside, I was expecting the worst. Usually what happens is the humidity, smell and the sound of the city all hit you at once like an old, wet, used and very LOUD towel :-) This time though the humidity wasn't that bad which means we really need to fix the de-humidifier at work. In fact you could say that the general conditions at work over the past month really prepared me for the Manila trip. It didn't seem all that hot or humid or loud. As for the smell, well yeah that was pretty strong but having been there twice already plus our trip to LA last year, the smog smell doesn't really have as much of an impact as it used to.

From the airport we went right to Tagaytay. Slept.

And there you have it. Tuesday morning through Wednesday night. Travel day :-) Oh don't worry I've got MUCH more stuff to cover from the trip. It's just getting late and I have to work tomorrow. I'll post more about it later.

I should also point out, those aren't MY pictures in this particular blog entry. I borrowed them from other sites, mostly travel blogs, because I didn't start taking pictures until I was already in Manila :-)