Mabuhay Homeland 2014

July – August 2014
Summer Holiday

Tagaytay; Davao City; Boracay Island, Philippines
Shanghai, China

One of the perks of working as a teacher is the summer vacation we get to have at the end of each school year, which is about two months of uninterrupted laziness, waking-up-late morning days, staying-up-late evenings, traveling, eating, movie marathons and all imaginable things worth doing.

To be honest though, on my fourth no-work-day back in June 2014, my body was already used to being in work mode that I got a bit anxious and bored. I was already itching to get back to work so I can do my normal routine –  but that did not last very long. Who was I kidding?

I wanted to go somewhere close, preferably travel time not to exceed 3-4 hours. I packed my bag and left Shanghai to visit my homeland, the Philippines.

Amazing view from People’s Park in the Sky, Tagaytay
Met up with my classmates (since primary school until high school) 
over coffee and loads of calorie-filled sweets
Shared a seafood fiesta dinner with one of our adorkable former Pisay student 
(dishes currently being prepared when this picture was taken)
Reconnected with former work colleagues
Re-lived childhood memories at the beach


Spent a weekend at the beach with the family
Embraced the cool ocean breeze
Celebrated my 4th year as Shanghai expats over brunch at Azur, Renaissance Hotel with Ronald  
Apparently, I was a diligent writer back in 2011 and as my life got crazier and busier, I wrote less. Well, I will try to write more this time, I think I can still fill 2014 up.

Late Entry: US Summer 2013 NYC

October 6, 2013
National Holiday Week
Shanghai, China

I have been intending to update this blog for the longest time but my procrastinating self always overpowers. It has been a long-standing battle but this is as much as I can do for now. I will try to recall as much memories as I can. 

June 28, 2013

Lower Manhattan, NYC
The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Battery Park; Staten Island

I remember Ronald and I going to Shake Shack near Time Square to get the much-hyped burger before we head off to the museum. There was a long queue that starts off from the outside of the shop. There were only a few tables inside, which were all occupied. We were smart enough to buy what we need in take-away bags. I learned from a TV documentary on NYC that shake shack started off by selling hot dogs and so I got myself a Shack-cago dog and a Shackburger. The hot dog did not leave a lasting impression on me but the Shackburger did. It is definitely a place worth going back to, ignoring the calories that goes everything in their menu.

 The Metropolitan Museum of Art  
Anyone can check the pictures of the exhibit displays at The MET online. However there is an indescribable feeling of being in the zone at the museum and observing the awesomeness of everything around you. I leave you to that experience when you end up at the MET at some point in your life.

We got there probably around 4sh pm. For Fridays of this Summer, after 4pm, I think there was an optional admission fee – in other words, you can actually get in for free. However Ronald opted to pay 20 USD for both of us. I thought it was decent enough, considering we get to have the last set of commemorative lapel pins.

Exhibit room near the main entry hall
Main Lobby

I can tell you though that one day is not enough to observe and absorb each story behind each exhibit display.

Battery Park
The Battery park was under renovation when we went there however we found this bus around the area.

Photographs: Ronald Igar

US Summer Trip 2013 NYC Day 1

June 27, 2013
Lower Manhattan, NYC
Day 1
Mission: Cross the Brooklyn Bridge
We had a very lovely weather the next day. We planned on taking a stroll towards Lower Manhattan, hit the Brooklyn Bridge and cross it.
Before we could do that, we stop by the neighborhood cafe for breakfast. This is a glimpse of the local neighborhood where we stayed at.
This was my Day 1 breakfast at Gramercy Cafe.
Ronald was a little disappointed that he couldn’t finish the stacks of pancakes on his plate and that there was only a small portion of bacon strips on top of it.
Our hotel was 2 blocks away from Union Square, which was a very convenient location. We could get into N, Q, R 7 trains. We found some wall artwork across the square and figured it was a good spot to take a selfie.
From Gramercy Cafe to the start off point of the Manhattan Bridge (Manhattan side), we walked a good 7-km or so, occasionally stopping to check out interesting architecture or shops.

When we got to the bridge. We each had to get our obligatory poses to prove a point that yes, touchdown Brooklyn Bridge.

When we got to the Brooklyn end of the bridge, it was approximately another 1km. It was a great day to be in NYC. The weather was awesome. We appreciate being used to walking a lot around Shanghai that we were very prepared for any long walks around NYC.  We walked back to our hotel, which makes it a good 20-km or so altogether hike for the day.
We got back to our hotel around 8sh pm. We were too exhausted from jet lag to leave the hotel room.
We were staying on the 7th floor of what looks like an old residential apartment building turned into a hotel. This is Ronald trying to check out the situation of the apartment next door. 

Earlier on our way back to the hotel, we discovered Ricky’s Cosmetic and Beauty Supply along Broadway Avenue. Ronald was looking into dyeing his hair ash blonde. I managed to convince him that I could dye his hair, but only just a few shades lighter.
It was probably around past 12mn at this point and we decided to put those hair products from Ricky’s to good use.
We took some precautionary measures by covering the carpet floor with newspapers before getting to work.
*I believe I look like I meant business here while Ronald looked scared as hell.
We failed to take before and after pictures but you can probably tell the difference if you get a closer look of our mane on the next blog entries.
Nonetheless, our first day in NYC was very productive. We accomplished our mission of the day, walked a lot and ended the night with hair treatments. 

Next: The MET visit, Central Park, Grand Central Terminal and more

US Summer Trip 2013 NYC

June 26, 2013
Midtown Manhattan, NYC
Ronald and I traveled to another time zone to celebrate our 10 years of friendship.
It was Ronald’s first trip to the US. He initially intended to just go to California, where he has relatives. I have not been to California. The farthest west of the US that I have been to is Colorado. Naturally, I want to for him to set foot first in the most diverse and shiny place that I have been to on my first trip to the US back in 2011.
1st stop, New York City, the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do. And I can tell that Ronald agreed.
We entered the US through JFK airport, breezed our way through immigration then lined up for the yellow taxis to get to our hotel.

Obligatory selfies after checking in and leaving our bags in the hotel.

Our body clock was still on China time zone, where it would have been around 11am. In NYC, it was 11pm. Body clock be damned. We were itching to walk the streets of Manhattan, so off we go to Broadway Avenue to get to the heart of it, Times Square.

We only took our quota Instagram-qualified pictures for the usual NYC landmarks: Flatiron Building, Chrysler Building, Empire State Building to name a few.
We had to head back to our hotel to catch up with some zzzzs and save our energy for the rest of our stay in NYC.

*Photo credits: Ronald Igar

White Christmas

December 23 ~ 30, 2012
Sayre, Pennsylvania, USA

Although I never dreamt of a white Christmas, somehow it feels good to be in one.

It was fun for the first day. A winter storm came the next day so I get to step into 12-14 inches of snow. My friends decided that it was a good time for me to try snow sledding down a hill. It was a blast sliding down a hill covered with soft snow. The climb back up the top of the hill was not.

I would probably enjoy it more if I had proper winter clothes and winter boots on. I felt that my toes were coming off of my feet from being frozen.

Mabuhay Makati

July 14, 2012, Saturday
10:00sh AM
Hotel Celeste,
San Lorenzo Drive, corner Arnaiz Avenue, Makati
Mareng Wing and I decided to hang out around Makati before I go back to Shanghai. Convinced by a few, good reviews online, we decided to give Hotel Celeste a try. The location was convenient, it is only a stone’s throw away from the busy Ayala Center Malls and a short, cab ride away to Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. 
According to some people in the blogosphere, it is one quaint, boutique hotel, with every room having its own unique interior design.
A view from our room overlooking Ayala Center Malls

What happened to the twin bed room request?
Satisfaction served.

The hotel had a celestial weekend promo, for a weekend stay, you get Welcome Drinks (Read: Cool and refreshing bottled water), Overnight Accommodation in a Deluxe Room (with L’Occitane toiletries for the guests who are easily enamored by signature labels), Buffet Breakfast for 2 Persons, Welcome Foot & Leg Massage (Available on Fridays and Saturdays only: Yep, we did get this in room service, by a masseur at that. It took a lot of courage for me to keep a straight face and trust the masseur to do his work), Set Dinner for 2 Persons at Celi’s Restaurant, 50% Off on 1-hr Full Body Massage, In-Room WiFi Access, Php 1,500 worth of Services at Slimmers World. (We did not avail of the Full Body Massage and the Slimmer’s World offers). 

The only negative comment I had is that one of the day-shift hotel receptionists had an attitude, she should not be be allowed to do hotel reception duty because clearly, she was not welcoming and not friendly at all. Fortunately, the night-shift hotel receptionist was the exact opposite. Overall, the accommodation was great and I would certainly recommend it to my friends. In fact, I would definitely come back.

For more insightful view of the hotel’s interior, let me direct you to other satisfied guests. I can vouched for its accuracy.

* Disclaimer: We actually arrived too early, that our room was not available yet. We managed to get into the comfort of our hotel room around past 2:00sh PM. By that time, we were able to check out the Mind Museum in Taguig.

USA State Quarters

The Vertulis’ Home
Sayre, Pennsylvania
Week 5, Day 36 August 1 Monday

I made a vow to collect all the 50 State Quarters if I ever go to the US. FYI: Each quarter’s reverse commemorated one of the 50 states with a design emblematic of its unique history, traditions and symbols.

My first state quarters were loose coins from the Vertuli family, from Tops grocery shop and convenience shops across the US East Coast.

I remember how I would excitedly and patiently check out the coin changer at a game arcade in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and at the car wash center in Sayre.

I know that in the US, this fascination of collecting the 50 state quarters is common among elderly folks in the US and some people would pick on me for this.

I appreciate all the new friends that I gained in supporting me with this endeavor.

If you look more closely, I only get to secure the Northern Mariana Islands among the US territories.

And I did try to collect all the US license plates while we were doing our cross-state road trip. I did find all 49 states. Understandably, Hawaii did not make it.

Visiting the National Mall in DC

The National Mall, DC
Week 2, Day 15 July 11 Monday

We were schedule to fly to Boston, Massachusetts around 7pm that day. As it was our last day in DC, it was very essential to visit the National Mall.

The National Mall is an open-area national park in downtown Washington, D.C. It contains numerous US landmarks and museums. Entry to the museums is free.

Our main priority was to visit the National Air and Space Museum, however we got there around 9am, and the museum does not open until 9:30am. So, we decided to go check out where Mr. President holds office first, then go to the Lincoln Memorial, walk around the mall and just visit the Air and Space Museum on our way back.

And off we started…

The area of the mall is around 1.9 mi (3.0 km) x 1.2 mi (1.8 km)*. And the weather at that time was 100 F or about 38 C. It was scorching hot but we did not mind the heat. It is DC, after all, and who knows when are we going to come back again.

That is the Washington Monument behind me. It is an obelisk near the west end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., built to commemorate the first U.S. president, General George Washington. It is both the world’s tallest stone structure and the world’s tallest monument, standing at 555 ft, 5 1/8 inches or 169.294 m*.

There were lots of stops on our way to the White House because there were too many interesting and pretty sights distracting our journey.

So, this is the gate to the White House. As we may need proper documents and appropriate reasons in order to get in, we just contended ourselves by the gates, together with other tourists who were mostly European and Chinese.

This is the facade of the Lincoln Memorial, which was built to honor the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln is the “man”.

This was taken from the US National World War II Memorial which is dedicated to Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during World War II. It consist of 56 pillars and there I found ours.

A Koala from the Hall of Mammals at the National Museum of Natural History

By the time when we went back to the National Air and Space Museum, there was a long queue at the entrance but we waited patiently to see the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world.

And that was the end of our DC adventure.

Mr. Big and Me

The Forge Publick House
Week 4, July 24 Day 30 Sunday

We went to The Forge Publick House at Fort Collins for some drinks on Kaitlin’s birthday. And that was how I met Mr. Big. He was very sweet to oblige us with a souvenir picture.

I really did not notice those sharp teeth when I had this picture taken. I could have not posed alongside with him had I seen them earlier.

A Long and Winding Road

Road to Bethesda, Maryland
Week 2, Day 15 July 9 Saturday

On our second day in District of Columbia, Michael’s friend from State College, whom we shall call Mr. M, picked us up to bring us to Bethesda, Maryland. The plan was to meet up with the rest of their State College friends to go bowling somewhere in the afternoon. Most of their friends from college have found work in DC and are also staying in the Bethesda area.

Now, the road to Bethesda was not all that sweet. While Mr. M was driving on the freeway, the car’s right rear end tire gave way. We had to pull over so Mr. M could change the tire and we could continue our journey much safely.