Birthday in Vietnam

This is the second time in my life that I didn’t spend my birthday in the Philippines. The first one was when I spent it in Dhaka, Bangladesh when I was posted there to help organize an international conference. This time, it’s in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and purely for personal reason.

I took the bus that leaves Phnom Penh at 1:15 in the afternoon of June 19. It was an interesting bus ride for me because it was the first time that I am crossing an international border simply by land! When one comes from an island country, it always feels a bit ‘strange’ that you can actually reach another country by bus! Hehe! The ride was also made pleasant because I got to know my seatmate, Teang, a pretty Cambodian woman, who was so kind enough to offer me one of her SIM cards in Vietnam, which later on proved to be very useful and practical! She’s an angel!

Despite its rapid modernization, Ho Chi Minh City continues to respect and nurture its centuries-old trees.

The trip to Ho Chi Minh City (used to be called ‘Saigon’) takes about 6 hours. There is one ferry boat ride to cross a river at Neak Loeung, which is about 2 hours from Phnom Penh. You can expect to reach the Cambodia-Vietnam border again after about two hours (or 4 hours from Phnom, Penh). The immigration procedure was very simply and fast. Usually, the bus conductor just takes everyone’s passports and hands them over to the Immigration Officers. We were, of course, requested to leave the bus upon entering Vietnam territory because the bags and the bus had to be checked for security reasons. We also had to go through the usual x-ray machine routine. I think all these took 20 minutes only (or even lesser). By about 7:00 p.m., I was already in Ho Chi Minh City.

Mien, my ever-lovely and sweet Vietnamese friend fetched me from the bus station…on a…surprise…motorcyle! I must tell you all that I am not a fan of motorcycle rides simply because it’s like riding on a piece of metal that can fly everywhere! ;) But I trust Mien to be an excellent driver (and I have tested it while she navigated quite effortlessly through Ho Chi Minh’s tricky streets!) and I just prayed that our guardian angels would not fall asleep during those exciting rides as we criss-crossed through hundreds of motorcycles, taxis, buses and cars. ;)

After checking in, Mien and I went to dinner where we were also joined by her fiance, Tuan, and Tuan’s friend, Dung. It was a fantastic dinner of seafood and Vietnamese spring rolls. Mien gave me a good orientation on how to eat a small seashell delicacy which was really yummy. We were laughing all the way because I told her that after eating these small seashells, I would already be an expert in French kissing (wink!)…but seriously, it was quite challenging because you have to keep on sucking on both ends of the small shell until the meat inside becomes lose enough and easier to ‘dislodge’ from inside the shell. Get the picture? ;) However, it was worth the efforts because the meat was really delicious. The dish is also cooked in rich coconut sauce (similar to “ginataang” dishes in the Philippines) and it was really glorious, for lack of a better word. There was also another seashell which was easier to eat because it looks like our own “tahong.” The dish was also excellent!

It was an evening of warm friendship and exquisite and delicious Vietnamese cuisine.

After dinner, we went to a hip club/bar called “Lush” and we just sat in the bar watching people and listening to the lively music. Soon enough, people were already dancing all around us. I was so tempted to dance also but I think I was already happy enough just to sit there and watch people from many nations dancing to the groove, eating and drinking, and probably even discussing major business decisions. On my left, a Korean woman chatted up with me for a while. She can’t stop saying how much she loved Manila when she was there a few months ago. Suddenly, I missed home. The Korean woman was a little drunk but I knew that what she said about Manila could only come from someone who must have really enjoyed her stay. Thumbs up for Manila! And thumbs up for Ho Chi Minh City that is also raring to tell the world that it is alive, throbbing with excitement and waiting to be rediscovered.

The next day, I decided to join a full-day city tour so I can cover many areas given that my time in Vietnam was very limited (I had to go back to Phnom Penh the next day because I need to catch my Finnish friend Tuomo before he leaves for his vacation…this will be another blog entry!). Our tour group was composed of Sri Lankans (who are now based in Sydney) and a Singaporean couple. We had a Vietnamese tour guide who was friendly and helpful. Together, we explored the War Museum, Independence Palace, Chinatown market, a handicrafts factory where all workers are handicapped, and a couple of temples and religious shrines.

The visit to the War Museum was very moving. In fact, I almost cried but I just stopped myself because it was a public place. There, I was again reminded of the horrors of wars and when one sees those photos of death, destruction, and human sufferings, one can’t still figure out how can humanity allow such violence. It will always be a big puzzle to me. How can men and nations just decide to kill each other like that? Can wars ever be justified? Those questions lingered in my mind as our van exited the Museum grounds.

The Independence Palace reminded me of our very own Malacanang Palace. We were walked through the rooms and conference areas where I was also fascinated with exquisite Vietnamese furnitures, arts, crafts, and ornaments. There is one large mural on the wall that must have taken months or even years to create! Please visit the Gallery in Asyanna.net so you can see the inside of the Palace as well as other photos.

I think the best part of our tour guide was when we visited a Chinese temple. Here, our tour guide taught me how to do a prayer offering/ritual. He instructed me to write the name of my family members on a red paper with Chinese inscriptions. Then he directed me to a center table where temple staff are seen assisting visitors in burning one end of a coil incense (it’s an incense that is ‘spiraling’ upwards, in a shape of a cone). With the help of a staff, I burned one end of my incense, silently prayed, and then another staff helped me hang it from the ceiling. I looked up and there I saw my incense, burning slowly, along with the prayers of so many believers from all over the world. God, I said, this is a beautiful day.

After the tiring but meaningful day, I went back to my hotel, took a shower, and collapsed in bed (I only had about 4 hours of sleep the previous night). It was already past dinner time when I woke up. On my way out, I realized it was raining and my soul was a bit dampened too because I had planned to walk around the city and take some more pictures. But then again, I thought, perhaps it was meant to be that it was raining that night so I can sleep earlier. I needed to catch up with Mien again for beakfast the next day and my body was really craving for a decent sleep. And so I chose a nice restaurant near my hotel and quietly enjoyed a pasta dinner in an outdoor table. I also ordered an avocado smoothie and it was again delicious. One begins to think how Vietnamese people can manage to stay fit and slim.

I thought I will sleep early that night but when I went to the hotel lobby to check my emails, I was so saddened by an email from one of my best friends…she is in deep pain because of a marital crisis. Gosh. I felt really sad for her. My heart ached so much that I also cried when I reached the 2nd paragraph of her long, sad email…I felt so sad that I am not there by her side. I so badly wanted to hug her tight and assure her that this phase will pass. This is the saddest thing about being away from people that matter most to us. We cannot be there to physically hold their hands or listen to them as they cry their whole hearts out. I felt really sad. But yes, I also believe that distance shouldn’t be a hindrance in making our friends and families feel that “we are there” with them. That we are embracing them across the oceans and they will always be in our prayers.

Anyway, that night was a bit lonely. I so badly wanted to be with my friend who was grieving at that very moment! But I know she knows how much I love her and how much I am wishing her well. So yes, if she gets to read this, I want her to be reminded again that she’s a strong woman, a beautiful woman, who will, one day, smile again.

The next day, Mien fetched me from the hotel and we shared another yummy meal with Tuan. Next stop was Highlands Coffee where Mien treated me for a nice cold Vietnamese coffee. It was also delicious. I decided to buy a pack of 200 grams and was pleasantly surprised by it’s cheap price! :) Oh, I forgot to mention that the day before, I also bought 500 grams of another locally-grown coffee. I intend to taste different varieties of coffee so I can prepare myself to that day in the future when I will already be selling and exporting coffees all over the world. :) Besides, having talks with friends over nice mugs of coffee (and tea!) are one of this life’s simply joyful moments, right?

By 11:00 a.m. Mien and Tuan were already bringing me to the bus terminal where another bus will take me back to Phnom Penh, my ‘foster’ country at this time in my life. Mien and Tuan bid me goodbye and as usual, I felt a little tug of sadness in my heart beause I am again leaving another good friend and a city that I have already fallen in love with.

It was a beautiful birthday trip. Ho Chi Minh City, I will be back.

[Re-post of a blog dated June 23, 2007 (from my previous site).]

_______________

This is not a paid blog.

Little Joys, Quiet Moments

I have been here in Phnom Penh for two weeks now, JR reminded me the last time we chatted through YM. “Oo nga ano…”, I replied back. It seems just like yesterday when I was walking through the immigrations of Phnom Penh International Airport. Not bad, for someone who was a bit apprehensive about going to a place that sometimes reminds one of wars and sufferings.

Phnom Penh at night: glowing like a rare jewel.

What have I seen and felt the past two weeks? For one, I feel so much gratitude in my heart. Not because of big things happening, no. In fact, my life these days is as simple as it can get. I wake up, take a shower, go out and explore the sights and cafes /restaurants around, open my emails, surf the job websites, have dinner by myself or friends, then go back to my hotel. Sometimes, I attend meetings (I once attended a forum on human trafficking) and meet fellow consultants. My life, nowadays, is so…how shall I describe it in one word? Quiet? Serene? Perhaps. I have not felt this much peace in a long long time. And I feel so grateful because everyday brings little joys.

Let me share one perfect example. These days, I have the services of a favorite tuktuk driver. Well, I have appointed him my “personal” driver because as I have shared in my previous e-mail, some tuktuk drivers don’t speak and understand much English. And in a city like Phnom Penh (especially for a woman), traveling the streets could get really challenging. When I discovered this guy outside my hotel and had experienced one nice ride with him, I decided that he’s gonna be my favorite driver in Phnom Penh.

For one, he speaks conversational English and has a cellphone (I am not saying this in a condescending way). Secondly, he doesn’t make me feel like he’s robbing me in broad daylight – this is especially significant because sometimes, tourists (admittedly, even in other countries) can feel a little “harassed” by some service providers who tend to think that all tourists are rich people (again, this is not meant in a discrimininatory way). He never ever tells me how much to pay him, never. I just give him what I feel is a just fair given the distances traveled (with additional tips). And always, he bows with so much gratitude everytime I pay him. He holds the money with both his hands, puts it near his heart, and bows his head.

I find it also touching that even if his English may be limited at times, he points to me landmarks and historical places that we pass by on the way to my destinations. Sometimes his style of messaging gives me a smile (once he texted me, “Now I am here down hotel, please come now.”) but I never really mind. I understand him and that’s all that matters. Last night, it rained so heavily and some streets were flooded and I worried that he will not be able to fetch me anymore (from the cafe where I was spending the whole afternoon and most evening checking my mails and chatting with JR). But yes, he was there, half-dry and half-wet, a little late maybe, but yes, he was there to bring me back to my hotel safely. We negotiated through the rains and he found alternate routes…I was safely back in my hotel before 10:00 pm. When these things happen, who can’t help but say a prayer of gratitude?

And then there are the very gracious waiters and waitresses who always serve my meals with such sweet and heartwarming smiles. Khmer food is really yummy and the satisfaction is enhanced because they are served by people who are generous with their smiles. Now, I am seated in an outdoor cafe by the river (wi-fi use is free!), with a nice mug of green tea beside me, writing this blog. What more can I ask for?

I miss my friends and family. I miss the chaos of Manila! But yes, I am falling in love with this place. It still scares me sometimes but I think I wouldn’t mind calling this my home for a while.

Cambodia is giving me so much. I hope I can give as much in return.

[Re-post of a blog dated June 16, 2007 (from my previous site).]

__________________

This is not a paid blog.

Getting to Know Cambodia

I am now in Cambodia! I arrived last Friday, June 1, the first day of my birth month (a nice way to start one’s birth month, right?) I stayed overnight in Singapore last Thursday (May 31) and was able to bond with my good friend, Len Pagalanan and her friends who, incidentally, all hail from Cebu.

Anyway, Len, her friends and I met up at Orchard Road (literally!), and just sat on a bench by the road and enjoyed Singapore’s local beer, “Tiger.” It was truly a memorable night in Singapore! We had so much fun talking and swapping stories including break-ups and heartaches! Seems to me that it’s really therapeutic to just talk about your heartaches with fellow women (and ok, even men!). It was also great being with Len again after such a long time. Like me, she also had to “run away” from Manila to settle some personal struggles. Well, I could see that she’s well on her way to recovery (if she’s not yet there? Although seeing her, it seems like she’s already found her peace). Way to go, Len!

Stopover in Singapore. It is nice to see that Singapore is keeping true to its environmental management principles.

It was also great seeing Singapore again. It is one of my favorite places in the world because of its seriousness in keeping the air and the environment clean. In Singapore, you can still enjoy walking along tree-lined boulevards despite the growth in the real estate sector. I hope that it can continue its wise environmental management despite its massive infrastructural projects.

Anyway, I am typing this blog in my hotel room here in Phnom Penh. Luckily, they have free internet access in rooms and the technician helped me set up my LAN connection. Not bad, huh? I’ll be staying in this hotel for maybe a couple more days because I am still looking for an apartment so I can afford a longer stay.

Yesterday, Tito Frank, a good friend of mine who’s been here for more than a couple of years already toured me around the city and I was able to take some photos already. I have just posted some of them here in Friendster. Sorry, I can’t put the correct names of the landmarks yet as I didn’t bring a notebook yesterday. One thing I noticed here is that the drivers are also aggressive (wink! wink!). If I can’t drive in Manila, it’s equally challenging here. :)

The FCC in Phnom Penh reminded me of Cafe Adriatico in Manila :)

I spent my first night here drinking the local beer, “Angkor”, with Tito Frank. I love the FCC (Cafe); it reminds me of a Malate bar like Cafe Adriatico. But of course, I missed Manila when we entered the place. Nostalgia enveloped my whole being. One thing special also about the FCC is the fantastic view of the river if you’re seated by the wide veranda.

The FCC is located in Sisowath Quay (also called as Riverside Street). The next day (yesterday), we cruised along that street. It hugs the sides of Bassac, Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers and on one side, you’d find more cozy bars, cafes, and restaurants. I told Tito Frank I want to live in that side of the town but unfortunately, when we checked out apartment rates, they are really very expensive (one studio apartment costs $750/month). But the view is really nice…can you imagine waking up in the morning and just walking towards your veranda to see the magnificent view of the water with its silver reflections on its surface? <Sigh!> Anyway, I told myself to stop dreaming…but who knows?! Maybe I’d end up in one of those apartments in the future! :D Here are some of the photos that I took in the vicinity.

A part of rRverside Street in Phnom Penh (also called Sisowath Quay).

A mobile vendor plying his trade along Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh.

Some of the boats offer cruising services (some are floating restaurants, too).

The next agenda yesterday was to eat lunch and I was so glad because my friend brought me to a Pinoy restaurant owned by a gracious lady named “Helen”. Ang sarap ng dinuguan dun! Then another friend of mine (Idon) joined us for lunch. Later, we went to Idon’s place (he’s sharing the flat with his sis, Ate Cel). We enjoyed the whole afternoon just swapping stories about their Cambodia sojourn and of course, I was able to get bits and pieces of what Cambodia really is. I am excited to know more. We promised each other that we will go to Angkor Wat, and maybe even Vietnam. Imagine, you can go to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) from here by bus for about 6 hours. Not bad!

I want to see the museums soon. I was told of the horrible reminders of the war and the killings…and I am sure I will be horrified, too. It is always a big mystery why certain people can do such a violent and senseless act. We all feel sad whenever we are reminded of wars. However, those memories make us appreciate the peace that we are enjoying today and move us to do more concrete steps so we can lessen, if not totally eradicate, such events again.

What is my first impression of Cambodia and particularly Phnom Penh? Well, it is like a provincial city like General Santos and Davao but definitely, it is also very unique. It has its own character. The streets could be chaotic and noisy, too, but there is also some quiet dignity in the place. So far, I like what I am seeing. I am a little anxious because I am a complete stranger here but the city seems smaller (compared to Manila, for example) and I’m sure, even if I will get lost sometimes, I’d still find my way eventually. Is this too much wishful thinking? :) Watch out for my new adventures!

[Re-post of a blog dated June 2, 2007 (from my previous site).] 

________________

This is not a paid blog.

Is that armrest mine? (Some Simple Reminders When Flying)

I think it’s about time that we take flying etiquette more seriously. As more and more of us are flying all over the world (and even in domestic routes), we should be more sensitive to our fellow flyers who come from different time zones, persuasions, professions, cultural backgrounds and…yes, eccentricities.

Let me enumerate those things that, I think, should always be remembered when flying:

1. Armrest. It is difficult for airplane manufacturers/designers to consider that people want both armchairs on their sides, right? With planes that have 3 seats lumped together, this could be a major concern. Should the one in the middle take both armrests because he was stuck in the middle? The answer is no. I think the general rule is that one person should have one armrest to claim. So that means, the one in the middle should claim only one armrest, unless he politely asks either of the persons on his side if he may be allowed to use an extra side, for special reasons (i.e. recent injury). For those on either sides of the center seat, they should be sensitive enough NOT to claim the armrests on both their sides because that means depriving the one in the middle BOTH his armrests (not leaving him with even one armrest!)

Is this armrest mine? Try to negotiate if you have a special need like a recent injury. (Photo credits: The Wall Street Journal)

2. Trips to the lavatory. While people may be nice enough to stand from their seats so that you can visit the lavatory inside the plane, don’t over-exert this kindness by not relieving yourself prior to your flights. Go to the Men’s/Ladies Rooms prior to your flights so that you lessen the chances (or the number) of trips to the lavatory inside the plane. If you know that you really must go to the lavatory often, ask for an aisle seat when checking-in (this is what I do especially if I know that I drank too much fluid before my flight to avoid dehydration). Check-in early so you can have your choice seat.

3. Use of lavatory. I would usually want to avoid using the lavatory in planes because they often smell after an hour or two of flight. But since we all need to relieve ourselves at some point especially in long flights, remember to clean the place up after use – most especially the toilet seat! Wipe them clean with tissue paper provided in abundance there. Not just once but thoroughly. I used to bring alcohol with me so I can wipe the toilet seat before and after use but because of security issues in airports nowadays, I don’t think I’d ever be allowed to bring a bottle of sanitary alcohol again. For the male passengers, please take notice of this rule because admittedly, it’s harder for men to “aim” at their target so they would more often leave mess on the toilet seats (ugh). Please, we love the sexy stuffs you are made of but please be nice to us when sharing the toilet. (wink!)

4. Overhead space. The rule is not to bring too much hand-carry bags that you would already be using more than what should be yours in the overhead bin (or under-the-seat space). Just bring a small bag and maybe your laptop bag. If you are in a short trip and would rather not check-in, make sure that your luggage would fit in the overhead bin. It is very insensitive to use more space than what is normally allowed for one passenger. Remember that you are not the only one who has space requirements. Don’t you find it absolutely insensitive that some of our fellow passengers carry so much that you have to go far down the aisle just so you can put your bag in the overhead bin? This happened to me several times and I really find it quite inconsiderate.

5. Heavy overhead bags. Related to No. 3 rule above. While people would be kind enough to help you carry your stuffs to the overhead bin, remember that heavy objects may just suddenly fly and hurt anyone on their path. If you really must bring this heavy stuff with you, ask a steward or stewardess to help you carry it up on the bin.

6. Space underneath seats. The only space available for you under the seat is the one across you, not under you. Again, don’t carry so much hand-carry that you usurp the spaces meant for others.

7. Seat space. Respect the seat space of others so do avoid leaning on them unnecessarily or worse, putting your head on the side of their seats. Ok, you may fall asleep or accidentally fall on the sides along the way but just make sure that your hair smells nice! :) The same rule applies in reclining seats. Try not to recline the seat up to the maximum angle or try not to recline your seat at all. If you really want to sleep and needs to recline the seat–after all, it is your right–I think it is always better to kindly inform the one seated behind you. Most will be impressed with such a considerate gesture and would likely smile and say, “Go ahead!” The thing is, it is better to allow more leg and personal space for those behind us particularly if we are not even sleepy. If the one infront of you seems to have reclined his seat too much and you find it really bothering, say so politely and don’t act like a teenager by banging on the back of his seat just to stress your point. Most will accede to requests when asked in a nice way.

8. Conversations. Admittedly, this is my biggest irritation. I know I am sometimes guilty of this but ok, I try very hard to keep quiet in most of my flights. Please, if you have this urgent need to divulge your secrets and escapades to your seatmate, please do so in hush-hush voices or better, yet, just wait until you’re in the airport. Some people stayed up all night preparing their presentations prior to a conference and they are really dying for a nap so be nice and be quiet. Once, I was coming from a long trip (Toronto to Manila via Narita) and my fellow passengers who must be so excited to come home were shrieking like hyenas during the flight–not to disrespect the hyenas, of course, but you get the drift. It can really be a test of one’s patience to stop himself from screaming. We understand the excitement but remember that people need their peace and quiet especially if you just came from Japan and the others came from Canada, a country in a different time zone!

9. The value of waiting. Wait, wait, wait until all people have passed the aisle before you fix your things on the overhead particularly if it will take you more than two minutes. This is also one of many passengers’ irritations. I have always noticed that people just want to grab the first space available in the overhead bins that they take their sweetest time to fix their stuffs when there is already a long line of passengers waiting to pass through the aisle. It is better to remain patient particularly if your seat is on the aisle’s side. You have more time to fix your things later. Allow people to pass through first.

10. Drinking alcohol. Of course, many people want to take advantage of the free liquors served on board international flights. However, a glass or two should be set as one’s maximum. It’s no longer cute when you start to smell. And bad smell lingers in the air. Some are even allergic to them. Be sensitive to the smell buds of others, ok? Besides, you don’t want people greeting you in the airport smelling you like you just came out of a beer joint, right? :)

Smelly feet = smelly air inside the cabin. Deodorize your feet and be a nice co-passenger! (Photo credits: Buzzle.com)

11. Shoes. As much as possible, please do not take off your shoes while inside an airplane unless you are very sure that your feet do not smell (which is rarely the case particularly if you’ve been wearing them for several hours already). Oftentimes, shoes = smelly feet. I have been on a recent trip and someone beside me took off his shoes and the smell that floated in the air seconds afterwards was truly unforgettable. Remember that shoes are mostly made with materials such as leather, plastic, foam resin (such as the material used in Crocs), etc. and these cause your feet to perspire profusely and then smell after some time. If you really must take off your shoes for comfort particularly in long-haul flights, wear shoes that allow you to wear socks (cotton socks are better in absorbing perspiration). You can sprinkle your feet with an effective foot powder and deodorizer (preferably those made of essential oils such as sage and lavender) before wearing your socks. There is an effective Pinoy brand of underarm/foot powder called “Milcu” and this is ideal for long-haul travels (I am not an endorser of this brand but I like the product). Even ordinary talcum powder for babies may also work to lessen perspiration and smell. There are many online articles on home remedies for smelly feet problem so you may want to check on those articles, too, for general hygiene.

12. Kids. I know that it is sometimes necessary to bring the kids but ensure that the older kids (maybe aged 4 up) are given proper orientation (“Do’s and Dont’s”) prior to the flight. Give them incentives if they behaved nicely in the flight (i.e. their favorite toy or games). Stress to them that being quiet is the No. 1 rule when flying. Kids’ voices and laughters can be cute but please, not during flights when people want to steal a nap, read, or review their work presentations. For babies and toddlers, ask your doctors how to alleviate their miseries (e.g., pains in the ears) during flights so they don’t cry hysterically during flights. Keep young babies relaxed by cuddling them and whispering nicely into their ears so that they can eventually fall asleep after take-off. This is not the time to excite them with new toys or tricks. Reserve that when you’re already in your destination.

13. Cellphone use. I like to put this in BIG BOLD letters but I don’t like to sound like I am shouting (wink!). Please, don’t turn on your cellphones while the plane is still trying to park upon landing. It is also quite irritating when fellow passengers would all reach for their cellphones and start calling or texting EVEN IF the stewardess just announced that aviation rules prohibit use of cellular phones inside the cabin. Just wait until you reach the terminal before you call your “sundo” or your driver. They know you are arriving and they will not leave simply because your call/text came in a minute or two later.

14. Politeness and helpfulness. Kindness begets kindness so don’t forget this rule even when flying. I know it’s hard to be nice when you only have two hours of sleep and you’re still half-way through your reports. But think of how nice it will be to wake up from your nap and you realized that the sweet ‘motherly’ woman beside you reserved a glass of water for you or picked up your book that fell on the floor while you were sleeping. Do the same thing for others but don’t overdo it that your seatmate would think you’re an scam artist trying to gain her sympathy. :)

Please forward this to your friends/families who travel a lot so we can make a contribution to making flying a truly enjoyable experience. For those in the airline industry, maybe you can reproduce copies of this and include in your inflight magazines. :)

[Re-post of a blog dated February 5, 2007 (from my previous site).]

________

This is not a paid blog.

Snippets

Tattoo

The butterfly grows on my back.

Saturday was fun. Met up, for the first time, with my online buddies who share one of my passions: photography. We went to Fort Santiago but were unfortunately not allowed inside–this is a long story and may cover an entire page of a blog–so we just went to Intramuros and then Baywalk. I remembered how I miss watching the sunset. I was clicking and clicking even if the sun was still quite harsh…I know this is bad for my lens. But who cares? And then a couple of tattoo artists began installing their makeshift booth. Hmmm, this is getting more interesting. I haggled for a 100-peso butterfly design and decided to have it done on my back. I sat while I imagined myself as the painter…people stared at my back (or maybe the evolution of the butterfly or…both) but I didn’t care. The artist was telling me, “stop moving or we won’t finish” so I tried to sit still and endured the feeling of being stared at.

Ahhh…the butterfly was finally growing on my back and when it was over, I stood up, happy that it was over. I love my butterfly. Now it is a part of me. It will fade one day day but I won’t forget the simple joys of becoming a human canvass.

********

A hug from a stranger

The sun still refuse to set. I waited with my camera, silently, as if waiting for a lover. Then a group of Korean guys approached me and asked me to take their pictures (through a combination of sign language and little English). I happily obliged…but I realized this was tough. Their backs were against the late but still blazing sun and there was no way my (still limited) photography skills can make their faces appear on this shot. I told them it’s hard, the sun is at your back. They just nodded their heads and posed..and so I continued and took their photos. I think they didn’t care at all. They’re just happy being together, enjoying Manila Bay and its famous sunset and maybe having photos that may eventually end up in their deleted files. But oh, I got a sweet gift. This was unexpected. One of them went to me and hugged me! No words, no nothing, just the beauty of a simple hug. Who can beat that? Maybe he can’t speak in English but for me, he just told me one of the biggest thank you’s I’ve ever heard in my entire life.

********

Baclaran

“This is a microcosm of Philippine society,” I thought aloud inside my friend’s car as we weaved out of Baclaran Church. It’s past midnight. Another friend was talking endlessly about the cute guys we saw around the Church. And sex. Around us were merchants, devouts, cigarette vendors, pirated DVDs stores, chauffer-driven luxury cars, and bibingka stalls. I am part of this but I am not. I found myself but I am lost. I remembered the candles I lighted. The prayers I whispered. Next week, same time, I will come again.

********

Silence

For two days I didn’t go out of my house. I worked and read and wrote and read again. I seemed to have immersed myself in so much solitude and reading that I may have forgotten to eat voraciously (as usual) as I lost two pounds (yehey!). I had fever when I woke up this morning. It was so cold last night. My world was so silent. I received text messages and knew I should go out and be a part of humanity again, to be confused again, to laugh again, to believe again, to celebrate again. My solitary days will soon be over. My friends miss me and I miss them. I am back. I am back.

********

“Artists don’t sleep…

…they just close their eyes.” I just suddenly blurted this out one night when my friends were leaving my place and said something about me looking like I am already very sleepy. I don’t know why I said that. Sometimes I just say things and realize that they don’t make sense and yet, they make sense. You know what I mean? Sometimes these words just happen. Like moments in our lives that just happen. I promised myself I’ll always try my best to write more. To write about these moments more. To embrace my life more. To take photos more. To understand my life more. To become a better friend. A better lover. A better daughter. A better sister. A better artist. It’s past 2:00 am as I type this. I must be inspired. Or maybe the 2-day seclusion did my soul some good.

********

Love

Sometimes I don’t understand you. I give myself to you completely but sometimes I don’t like you at all. You are my joys yet you are my pains. You are my growth but you are my destruction. You are my strength but you are my weakness. You are my light but you are my darkness. You are that comforting voice in the middle of the storm but you are the noise in my deepest solitude. I don’t love you but I love you.

[Re-post of a blog dated January 30, 2007 (from my previous site).] 

 ____________

This is not a paid blog.

Goodbye, Neo

In less than 24 hours, I’d be bidding you goodbye. No tears, just a little sadness in my heart. When I announced that you are up for ‘adoption’, so many would-be parents contacted me, asking me about your special characteristics. I told them what you really are – three years old, supportive, loyal, always eager to please but with some eccentricities (sometimes you just stop working especially when I am in a hurry and trying to do two or three things at a time).

I am giving you up but that doesn’t mean you will stop being in my mind and heart. You will always be the first one. I have a new ‘baby’ now, maybe stronger than you, cuter, with fewer tantrums, but yes, I don’t think he can still experience the same things that we shared the past three years. Maybe we will weave our common stories, too, but our past three years are all yours to keep, all mine to keep, forever.

Remember the time that I was writing in the dead of the night while everyone was already snoring their way to never-never lands? Well, you were the only one who managed to stay up awake while I try to write and chase my muse. In between each paragraph, I talked to you like a curious reporter–probing, determined, not satisfied with the answers–and you never complained. You just simply listened. Because that’s all I’ve ever needed.

Remember the time that I was deliriously happy and my heart seemed like wanting to burst? Well, you shared that moment, too, with the same peace. You simply sat there and listened while I write about my thoughts and feelings. Always, you allow me to save those moments, to write about them. You kept and guarded my musings and you made me feel that my secrets are always safe with you.

I was preparing you for your new journey this morning and I can’t help but think of the years we’ve shared. All the angst, pains, joys, triumphs, doubts, fears, hopes, and dreams are pieces of me that you also happily embraced and kept in your memory. I touched your face and remember how it felt under my fingers the first time we met. I was excited that time. Happy that finally, I have you to keep under my wings.

Tomorrow, someone else will care for you. And he promised me that he will also take good care of you in the best way that he can. I made him promise to be patient with you but you have to promise me that you’d behave yourself and give him the same kind of loyalty and support that you’ve given me. Well, I really have no doubt about it. You are a good friend, a good listener, a good laptop. :)

Goodbye, Neo Q-Note. I hope our paths will cross again and you’d tell me that I made a good decision – that your new Dad is really the best among the many who wanted to adopt you.

[Re-post of a blog dated December 14, 2006 (from my previous site).]

____________

This is not a paid blog.

Invest in the Philippines!

I know I am not an authority in investments but hey, isn’t it nice to learn bit by bit everyday? I am always hungry for knowledge so I like to share with you what I have been learning in stock market so far.

You see, through the guidance of my brother-in-law, I bought some shares of Manila Water last year at PhP 6/share. Now, the share price of Manila Water (as of Nov. 20, 2006) is at PhP 9.5/share! That means, my investment already earned me a PhP 3.5/share gain, right? Not bad for someone who doesn’t even know the meaning of most stock market jargons a year ago. :)

Your investments will help build industries and generate jobs.

Should I sell my shares now so I can already earn from this small investment? I am pondering on that especially that my 3-year old laptop is now shouting for upgrade! Anyway, some say stock investing is like gambling and that is true – one cannot predict how the market behaves the next day. However, historically, markets just go up and down. That’s just how things are. Anything that falls should also rise, right? At least, that’s how the world operates in general so, I guess, long-term investment is still the better option. Don’t panic when share prices suddenly plunge. Just take a deep breathe and don’t go cursing your stockbroker. Tomorrow may be a better day. Remember the saying, “what goes down will eventually rise again.”

As for me, I think I will just keep my stocks there and continue to have faith that Manila Water is a good company to invest my hard-earned money on. Why Manila Water of all companies? I chose it because I know for a fact that Manila Water is very serious in their environmental programs. They do have a serious environmental culture. And that’s my No.1 reason for investing in them. Of course, I also studied their company’s performance and my research pointed to one thing – they will really be a strong company in the years to come.

I am sharing this personal experience with you guys because I continue to believe in this country. And one sure way to help this country directly is to invest in the stock market. Not only are you helping the economy directly (more money in investments means more jobs) but you’re also helping yourself build your economic base for your dreams. Isn’t it nice to lead a comfortable life but at the same time, know that your money is helping your country, too? So do consider investing as an option! (But read and study first before you engage in stock investment!)

I am also writing this as a way to encourage our overseas Filipino workers and those living and earning abroad to consider investing in the Philippine Stock Market, too. For those of you who have relatives abroad, please feel free to forward this blog entry (or send them my blog address). I’d call it a personal mission. Through this blog, I hope to make a difference. I dream of a time when our engineers, nurses, domestic helpers, teachers, caregivers, lawyers, artists and doctors abroad are also owners of companies here in the Philippines through stock ownership. Remember, when you buy a company’s shares, you become a part-owner of that company! Isn’t it a nice thought? That you can brag to your friends abroad that you’re an owner of this and that company! :)

But remember that money is not everything. It’s nice to have them and the security they give. However, remember also that our relationships are still the most important reasons why we are working so hard so don’t forget to love and give more even if your pocket doesn’t have much to spare. It’s really our hearts that bear the most valuable assets in this world so isn’t it great to know that these assets are limitless?

So shine, love and give. It doesn’t cost much.

________

Below are some notes lifted from www.pse.com.ph. Hope they can be good starting points for learning more about stock investing. For those of you who are interested to buy stocks/bonds, you may get in touch with Andy Trilles through +63.920.9279910. Happy investing!

Q. How do I make money in the stock market?

A.   One can make money in the stock market through the price appreciation (capital gains) of his shares or through cash or stock dividends. A shareholder can also benefit from stock rights.

Q.   Where can I buy stocks?

A.   An investor can buy stocks listed on the PSE through its authorized and active trading participant.

Q.   How are shares bought or sold?

A.   If you wish to buy shares of stocks, you must have a broker who will do this for you since PSE is not directly involved in the buying and selling of securities. 

Q.   When can I buy stocks?

A.   Trading is done at the PSE trading floor during weekdays from 9:30 a.m to 12:10 p.m. except during legal and special public holidays. 

Q.   Is there any risk involved in investing?

A.   While it is true that stock investment is the most volatile of all securities, investors might well remember that uncertainty is a permanent feature of the investing perspective. This means that risk is always a part of any investment. A better attitude would be to limit and manage your risk. A maximum level of gain or loss should be set, and calculated decisions should be made when this level is reached. 

Q.   Why invest in the stock market?

A.   There are 3 rationale for stock investing:

a.      Ownership in a company  -  when an individual invests in the stock market, he automatically becomes a stockholder of a particular listed company. As a stockholder, he is entitled to the following benefits: a.1) voting rights; a.2) dividends to be declared by the corporation; and a.3) share of the remaining assets of the company if it is to be liquidated.

b.      Liquidity of Funds  –  a stock market investor has an easier access to funds. Compared to banks which require high minimum conditions for deposits and credit, an individual can start an investment for as low as Php 1,000 and can expect high yields for his initial investment. He can always cash in or out his funds anytime, during trading hours, through his broker.

c.      Make money  –  investors in the stock market make money through dividends and capital appreciation. When a listed company declares dividends, its shareholders increase their investing power. An investor who buys into the company at a low market price and sells it at a higher price will gain capital appreciation. 

Q.   What is the minimum amount of initial investment?

A.   The minimum amount of money needed to invest in the stock market depends on the minimum number of shares to be traded for the stock. The minimum shares will be determined by the prevailing market price of a particular stock. For each stock, the minimum number of shares to be traded is fixed and depends on the price range of the stock. The Board Lot table shall aid the investors as to the amount of money needed as initial investment. 

Q.   How do I choose my broker?

A.   An individual investor should choose a retail broker, preferably one that meets his requirements in terms of services needed. When he lacks the time to analyze individual companies and stocks, then a full service broker is recommended. In choosing a broker, the investor should see to it that the broker is a member of good standing at the Philippine Stock Exchange. It is important that the investor should trust his broker and that he is satisfied by the services it is giving him, such as market reports, quality of advice regarding stock selection and timing of purchases and sales, quality of trade executions, on-time delivery of important documents and other services.

For information on the various services offered by member-brokers, you may get in touch with he PSE Public Information and Assistance Center (PIAC). 

Q.   Do I need to have a physical evidence of my stock ownership?

A.   The PSE through its central depository (PCD) uses the computerized book-entry system (BES) to transfer ownership of securities from one account to another, thus eliminating the need for physical exchange of scrip between buyer and seller. The trading system where settlement is carried out via book-entries, rather than by the movement of physical certificates. This system is called scripless trading. However, you may still request for an upliftment of your shareholdings to get a physical certificate. 

Q.   How are settlement and clearing done?

A.   Equity securities move between securities accounts held by the different participant-brokers of the PCD. Stock market transactions are settled on the third day after the trade. Transfers are based on trades done at PSE. Shares are transferred on settlement date (T+3) to the buyer, and the buyer pays the seller through the clearing banks within the same settlement period. This means that transactions done on Monday must be settled by Thursday. Settlements of accounts are done in the clearing house.

[Re-post of a blog dated November 20, 2006 (from my previous site).]

____________

This is not a paid blog.

Dividendazo

Those who have ever placed a bet or watched a horserace would know what Dividendazo means. For those who think this is a designer labelor a stock market lingo (e.g., from “dividends”) (wink!), this is the published schedules of horse races at the San Lazaro Race Tracks in Makati and Carmona. Sold at 7 pesos (or sometimes 10 pesos) per piece, this is considered the main “review document” for “karera” aficionados.

Horse racing aficionados rely on this to predict their winners.

I grew up in Paco, Manila and “karera” is a favorite past time of the men in my neighborhood. My Dad, for one, was a regular customer. He was not what others would consider a professional gambler but he enjoyed this Sunday pastime when others would down bottles of cerveza or quarto cantos in corner stores. I grew up enjoying how my Dad would shout and laugh in triumph whenever his horses and favorite “hinetes” (jockeys) won. He has this unique laughter that most people would describe us contagious. Contagious it was because I cannot remember a moment when his laughter didn’t also make me laugh. I think my laughter even has a resemblance in the way he laughs (to some of you who may find my laughter ‘crazy’, well, you have my Dad to blame…wink…wink).

Anyway, not to digress…this part of my childhood was somehow revisited last weekend when my sister (Rowena), and brother (Dennis), and I went to the San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona, Cavite. (But before that, I must mention that we also went to the Canyon Ranch, a housing development by Century Properties. I like to mention this because Canyon Ranch is impressive. The house designs were simple yet pleasing and the place offers a breathtaking view of the valley and horse track below.

Anyway, the moment we entered the horserace track, I was already bitten by excitement. I then bought my first ever Dividendazo! I looked around and didn’t care that the people there were about 95% male. :) The place smells of testosterone but I was too happy and excited to even care. Ate Weng, Deng, Kuya Andy (Ate’s hubby), Anne-anne (my cute pamangkin) and Francis (my sister’s staff) got a table with a good view of the track and almost across the finish line of the oval track. We ordered food and drinks (and the usual beers for the men) and by the time we took our first bites and gulps, we were already thinking of what horses to bet for.

It was so enjoyable! I am not a gambler but this was so exciting for me. I didn’t win on the first game though. But hear this – my bets won in the next two games! Of course, my “consultants,” Deng and Anne, should share the credits as they also helped me in deciding which horses to bet for. We only watched 4 games and winning 2 games out of the 4 is a good batting average, right?

But before you even think that I must be a millionaire now (wink!), I was only betting 10 pesos each horse so that only meant winning about 50 to 200 pesos each time my bets won. In horseracing, you must guess the first two horses who will reach the finish line. So that means, I paid 10 pesos each for the 1st and 2nd lead horses. One unit of bet is worth 5 pesos so if you bet 10 pesos, you have 2 units of bets. That means, if your horses win, you get double of the winnings assigned to the winning horse. For example, if you win a particular race and the amount of win is 70 pesos for that horse, your total winnings is 140 pesos.

Usually, those horses that have good standings would have lower “prize” amount because more people would naturally bet on them. They are what aficionados would call dehado bets. One has higher chances of winning on them but the prize would be lower. The opposite of this is called llamado – they are bets that a lesser number of people would vote for because the probability of their winning is lower. But when they do win, the prize is so much higher. The winnings I had from the two games were both dehado bets, ergo, lower prizes.

However, win or no win, I surely felt a winner after that day because not only did I had a natural high experiencing the excitement of betting for horses, I also had a super wonderful time with my loving siblings–my brother Deng, who just came from abroad (he is a seafarer) and my beautiful sister, Weng, who is an epitome of kindness and warmth. What more can I ask for? It was a day of excitement, laughter, wonderment, love and funny moments.

One thing I learned, too? Well, I must review the Dividendazo one week before I even go to a horserace again! :)

(Special thanks goes to Francis who helped us by placing our bets with the Leisure Park betting counter whenever we were done writing them on a piece of paper!)

 [Repost of a blog dated November 17, 2006 (from my previous site).]

____________

This is not a paid blog.