Honeymoon* in Japan

This was written in Osaka, Japan.

I remember that it was only last quarter of 2011 when I started dreaming of studying abroad. I saw this magazine filled with information on studying in any university in Southeast Asia, Australia, or US. But I never thought I would be here. Typical me — most of my plans don’t actually end up the way I want it. By mid-September, I will be relocating in Kobe where I am bound to start my scholarship in Kobe University.

Since this is my first week (and my first time ever outside of the Philippines), I can’t help but compare. Even before I came here, I already knew and have been reminded about Japanese society. That it is very structured, very organized, very systematic. Very different from my country. However, this difference makes my experiences in meeting people, riding a train or bus, walking and crossing the streets, taking the escalator, ordering food, shopping for clothes or gadgets, and using the toilet more exciting.

1) Japanese people are almost always in a hurry. And I can understand why. Here, everything has its own time and on time. The people value punctuality so much. One must know the train schedules to avoid being late for meetings or appointments. Take the right bus number to get to the right destination. Alight at the bus stop, not just anywhere it is convenient.  Streets are safe for bicycle riders but the bicycle must be registered first. Or walk, walk, and walk.

Waiting for the train to Kyoto.
When lost or doesn’t know where and how to go, look for the ‘?’ sign. There’s always a nearby information center for visitors/tourists in train stations.

2) Japanese people are relatively quieter than Filipinos. Inside the train, most of them prefer to read books or sleep. The only people talking and even laughing are Filipinos. One time, as I was having this conversation with another JDS fellow, a young Japanese who was (unfortunately) seated between us asked me to switch seats. They also prefer to have a little bit more space when they are seated, compared to the sardines-type common in jeepneys. They do have the same crowded trains during rush hours but I’ve never seen, so far, one Japanese who complained, scowled, or pushed other commuters.

3)  The first time I arrived here, I was issued a resident card which I will show to the municipal’s office when I move to Kobe. I have to apply for the National Health Insurance. I need to register too if I am going to use a bicycle (I think this is to avoid theft; it is common to see parked bicycles in Japan).

4) Japanese people take disaster preparedness seriously. Me and the rest of foreign JDS fellows in Kansai region were required to visit the Kyoto City Disaster Prevention Center. This is something I think the Philippines must also set up in every region or province.

From top left to bottom right: Smoke Simulation Room, Fire Fighting Training Room, Turbulent Wind Simulation Room, and Earthquake Simulation Room

5) I CAN DRINK TAP WATER.

6) Prices in Japan are enormously higher. I have eaten a burger for ¥950 (that’s like Php475).  A haircut would cost me ¥4,2oo. An umbrella is worth ¥1,000. A bottled water is ¥120-¥150. However, some stores and areas (like Den Den town in Osaka) offer goods that are cheaper or discounted, and the quality is really good.

7)  A sensei once said that they have the BEST toilet in the world. I don’t know about the toilets in other developed countries, but I absolutely, undoubtedly, and unequivocally adore the washlets in Japan.

Whoever thought of this is a GENIUS!

*Taken from the lecture of Watanabe Sensei, a certified clinical psychologist from JICA, on acculturation. Research suggests that acculturation begins with the honeymoon stage or period where the individual is “excited, amazed or interested” with the new environment, behaviors, or culture.

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Under the Sea and Up in the Air (Adventures in Bataan and Bohol)

Getting out of my comfort zone is — well, uncomfortable — it’s mind-boggling, faith-shaking, ear-shattering, and life-enriching.

This month of May, I was able to take two trips outside of Metro Manila. I was back in Morong, Bataan for a company team building activity. The company rented a resort (Morong Star) just beside the resort (Coral View) we occupied a year ago for the same purpose. I was actually hesitant to go this time since I felt nothing new would happen. Fortunately, I decided to go and did not regret returning to Morong.

Waves, sand, and my feet

There was one activity I missed out on last year’s trip to Morong: snorkeling. When I learned about another opportunity to go snorkeling and discover for myself the beautiful coral reefs underwater, I was so thrilled. So much that I had easily forgotten about my inability to swim and how I panic when I’m in the water.

Image source: Jeanie Bartolome-Alviar

I was confident; with my life vest on and goggles ready, I was the first passenger in the boat to declare that I’m going down into the water. But the excitement growing inside me turned into fear as soon as my bottom half was under water. My grip was so tight at the short ladder situated at the side of the boat as I could feel the waves tugging at my legs and pushing them under the boat. The more I resisted to let go and float, the more my legs were pushed and my back was arched.

Image source: Dothy Papa

Seeing my stubbornness, the boatman finally went down into the water as well and encouraged me repeatedly to let go. If it was Ryan Gosling in his shirtless glory, I would have cried for help and faked my drowning. But it was just Manong (I failed to get his name), who by the way was really kind and he never gave up on me. Eventually, I let go, and in my naive surprise I blurted out, “Lumulutang nga ako” (I can float)! And while my mind acknowledged the fact that my hands and legs are moving harmoniously under water and no sharks or jellies are near, I said to myself out loud that this is FREEDOM! I totally loved the experience. Even though I was not really swimming swimming, I was contented that I could kick my legs and move around, which I could not do when I’m comfortably swimming in a four-feet-deep pool. And the corals! The Philippines is so blessed with coral reefs that are beyond words. So let’s protect and defend our seas, our shoals!!!

Image source: Melba Revis

My second trip outside the urban jungle of Metro Manila happened in the province of Bohol. It was my second time in the Visayas region. I was 15 when I went to another Visayan province, Masbate, and the only things I could remember from that trip were spotting dolphins, a chicken that escaped its cage but frantically plunged to its death in the vast sea, my father’s burial, and the dizziness after a very short plane ride back to Manila.

The plane rides (via Philippine Airlines) were very memorable this time. Unlike in that trip from Masbate, I was wide awake during the whole journey to and from Bohol. I took the window seat in each flight. There was a little kid inside me, in awe of the clouds and the ocean. I imagined the clouds as ancient Greek warriors riding in their chariots, charging straight to their enemies with their bows and arrows. The oceans and islands were of a distant world, peaceful than their neighboring skies, concealing their own precious wealth. In that moment, I praised God for his creations. I could not capture them through my cellphone (there’s a flight or airplane mode in other phones?), but I will always remember how they looked like the first time. The only major downside for me during the plane ride and even after touchdown was my ears popping.

Touchdown at the Tagbilaran City Airport
View from my room at the Bohol Tropics Resort
Bayside view at the Bohol Tropics Resort in Tagbilaran City

My trip to Bohol was work-related. So I tried to enjoy every spare time to take pictures and join my colleagues in excursions to some tourist spots in Bohol. We went to the Bee Farm, the Alona Kew beach resort in Panglao, the Blood Compact site, the Loboc River, and the Tarsier Conservation Area. Due to conflict with the scheduled flight, I was not able to go to the world-famous Chocolate Hills. I did see them though, while up in the air, during the flight to Tagbilaran. The hills were a deep green, they looked more like broccoli than chocolate. I will definitely be back in Bohol and have a picture with the Hills. I hope that next time, it’s for leisure and not work. Bohol, with its understated beauty and eco-friendliness, offers more proof that it’s more fun in the Philippines.

Bayside view at the Bohol Bee Farm
Blood Compact site
Loboc Riverwatch Floating Resto
Loboc River
At the Tarsier Conservation Area in Loboc
Image source: Mel Tormes Quiñones
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長い待ち時間が終わって (the long wait is over)

I call this week my “Japan-tastic week” for two reasons.

Tuesday, March 20, one of my favorite bands in the world, Toe, arrived in Manila to play at the NBC Tent Bonifacio Global City as the last leg of “The Five Six Seven Tour” in Asia. I finally got the chance to see and hear Kashikura Takashi, Mino Takaaki, Yamane Satoshi, Yamazaki Hirokazu, and Nakamura Keisaku perform live and talk to them backstage.  I would sway and toss my head, close my eyes, or open my mouth in amazement during the whole set. Despite the obvious language barrier at some points in the concert, it was music that connected the Japanese band to its throng of  Filipino fans. The guys are friendly, gracious, and appreciative to their fans. I hope they would come back for another show in the Philippines.

Toe Live in ManilaToe Live in ManilaToe Live in ManilaToe Live in Manila

*********

Friday, March 23, I received a surprise call from Ms. Shoko Kubo who informed me that I was selected and approved by JDS Philippines for their scholarship program to Japan. After three screenings that started last year, I made it to the top 3 final successful candidates for a Master’s degree program in Kobe University.That’s one step closer to Kobe. The next step would be getting the approval of my application to the university before I can be considered a JDS fellow.  So to those who already greeted me on Facebook, THANK YOU! But I ask that you continue to include me in your prayers as I take a step of faith. Again, thank you!

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A weekend full of love, joy, and surprises in Baguio City

Panagbenga 2009
Panagbenga 2009 (Photo credit: susancorpuz90)

One million visitors are expected this weekend in Baguio for the Panagbenga Festival. One million!!! I’m relieved that i was able to visit Baguio the previous weekend and avoid this gargantuan crowd. Yes, i missed the float parade —  that sucks a little — but Baguio is a wonderful place to visit anytime of the year.

I traveled to Baguio last Feb 18-19, a post-Valentine date with my boyfriend, Gep. We needed an out-of-town vacation and we agreed on Baguio.

It was my first time to actually plan the whole trip. I’ve done research on the hotels or inns that could accommodate us. I ended up reserving a beautiful standard room on the Hotel Veniz, which thankfully is located at the heart of the city and easily accessible to various jeep terminals. The rate per night we got was a season rate (since Panagbenga is a month-long occasion) and it was at P2,095, but usually the standard room is priced at P1,795.

For the ride to and from Baguio, we boarded a regular Victory Liner bus at P450/head.  The bus terminal is along EDSA. There’s another Victory Liner terminal, i think in Kamias, but it would take you to the other side of north (N. Ecija, Cagayan, Isabela), so take EDSA-Cubao. We had an option to take a Deluxe bus, which i heard has its own Wi-Fi connectivity and comfort room, but it was more than P700. Still, we were lucky, our regular bus for both trips had free Wi-Fi so Gep was able to post and update through Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook.

This is important: before the trip, I printed maps and samples of itineraries in Baguio that i saw online. They were very much helpful in planning for the whole trip and in touring around the city.

Here it is: Gep and Leeloo’s own Baguio itinerary for a 2-day, 1-night stay in Baguio.

Day 1 (Feb 18, 2012; AM)

Rowing at Burnham Lake
Biking at Burnham Park
Orchidarium
Baguio Cathedral, Igorot Garden, Rizal Park
Lunch at Cafe by the Ruins

Burnham Lake. We chose the boat that offers unlimited hours of use for only P100. It was early morning, cold and breezy, and the experience at the lake was awesome. Remember the scene from The Notebook? It was so romantic.
We had so much time in our hands before we check in at Hotel Veniz. Still at Burnham Park, people can exercise, ride a bike, and taste strawberry taho.
Lots of flowers are in bloom here at the Orchidarium. Geez, don’t know their names, but they’re all lovely and colorful.
There are other sites worth seeing in Baguio. Our Lady of Atonement Cathedral, aka Baguio Cathedral (top left), Rizal Park (top right), and the Cordillera Freedom Monument at the Igorot Garden (below).
For lunch, we searched for Cafe by the Ruins. We had our fill of Baguio Bagnet, Tita Susie’s Crispy Tapa, Strawberry Juice, and Agua Fresca de Jamaica.

Day 1 (Feb 18, 2012; PM)

Check-in at Hotel Veniz (2pm)
Mines View Park
Dinner at 50’s Diner
SM Baguio
Back to Hotel Veniz for much needed sleep

We met four huge dogs at the Mines View (I still don’t know their breed). They are gentle, furry giants, and I feel for them. They’ve become tourist attractions already. I hope they’re able to rest well afterwards. Then further along the park is a view deck. There’s a vast view of an abandoned mine now cramped with residential houses and some forest cover. Mines View also has several shops so we bought sweets like ube jam, strawberry crinkles, fudge bars for pasalubong.
Oh my!! 50’s Diner offers generous, hearty meals at a very sulit price. What’s sulit? It’s getting more than what you paid for. There were also wall movie posters from old Hollywood and a vintage car.
Squeezed in a little time for SM Baguio. We were so full from dinner, we had to walk towards the mall. Caught a night view of the whole city.

Day 2 (Feb 19, 2012; AM)

Lourdes Grotto
Tam-awan Village

Gep and I had to wake up early so we can cover more areas before we check out of the hotel. We didn’t know that our last day would be the more exhausting and physically challenging part of our journey.

250+ steps towards the Lourdes Grotto. Literally, breathtaking. We did the count while we’re going down.
Our next stop was here in Tam-awan Village that featured Ifugao houses.
Local artists gather at the Tam-awan Village. Gep and I got lucky because two artists made sketches of us for the price of 1 (P300). So whose version’s the more accurate or closer depiction of us?

 Day 2 (Feb 19, 2012; PM)

Check-out of the hotel (12nn-1pm)
Camp John Hay
— Lunch at Army Navy
— Butterfly Sanctuary
— Eco-Trail
— Target shooting
— Horseback riding
— Picnic area
— Flower decor near Convergys
Dinner at 50’s Diner
Departure at 8:30pm via Victory Liner bus

The hardest part, for me, was leaving the hotel. I love the comforts of the bed so much, i want to sleep on it a little longer. But we had to check out at around 1pm. We continued on our plan to visit Camp John Hay even if we had to carry all of our bags and pasalubongs. Quite heavy. But nothing could stop us.

After our lunch at Army Navy, we were armed for more walking and searching. It took us awhile to see where the action was in Camp John Hay. First, we looked for the Butterfly Sanctuary. Guess it was right timing, coz when we left, the butterflies were no longer fluttering, no longer interested to see more visitors. The caretaker said butterflies are more active and more drawn to mate during warmer periods or summer.
Lost? Nope, we were at the Camp John Hay’s Eco-Trail. We didn’t go all the way coz we were unaware of where it would lead us. Advise here, travel light. No heavy bags.
Target shooting is fun. By the way, those were not real bullets. No one was harmed. I actually missed a lot of the targets. More practice.
I’d like you to meet Apollo, he’s Horse no. 39. Paid P250 for a 30-minute ride with him at the Riding Circle. I wish we could have bonded more. If only i knew how to handle him properly. Of course, a horse trainer/caretaker went with me. I suddenly miss you, Apollo.
Already exhausted from all the adventures today. Rested here at the picnic garden located in Camp John Hay. It felt like we were just in Sunken Garden of UP Diliman. We watched as families gather and play. It was getting colder at this point. Such a lovely day!

After Camp John Hay, we went back to 50’s Diner for another round of heavy dinner. Then we moved on to the Victory Liner bus terminal, bought more pasalubong, and waited for our ride home.

Baguio is truly a beautiful place to visit and it has probably the nicest, most honest strangers I’ve met so far. Can i also say they’re the most beautiful? Hindi uso ang pimples sa mga taga-Baguio. Less smoke, less pollution. I also love the high-altitude weather. It’s not so hot in the afternoon, although it can get really chilly in the evening. I love to come back here. I still need to buy a red native skirt that a random girl was wearing when we were in Camp John Hay.  ‘Til we meet again, Baguio! ♥

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Love Thyself

Valentine’s Day tells us to remember to show our love to the special people around us. But as the world celebrates this season of love, let us not forget to show love for ourselves, too. Single, confused, in a relationship, engaged, blissfully married, or suffering, there are a lot of ways to show you love yourself. Here’s a few of the lessons I learned:

1. Take regular visits to the doctor/dentist. Prevention is always better than cure, that is always true. Regular visits to the doctor or dentist are still so much better compared to emergency trips. This has always been my problem. I only see these people when I’m feeling the signs that something’s not right or I’m already in pain. Aside from the physical pain, emergency visits also end up hurting my wallet. In just one visit to the dentist, I spent P2,500 for a deep cleaning gum treatment, compared to something like P400 for regular teeth cleaning, which can be taken every six months. So the lesson here is to save ourselves from dealing with more pain by seeking the experts to assess our health regularly.

Say ‘cheese’! I asked the dentist for teeth cleaning, but she suggested gum extraction. It sounded like she’s gonna take off my gums, but what she really meant was deeper cleaning because my gums were already swollen. After this horrible mess, I vowed to follow my dentist’s order.
My new companions. Nowadays, routine takes longer. Brush teeth. Gargle, Massage gums. So kids (and stubborn adults like me), brush your teeth after every meal.

2. Listen to your body. Last month, I suddenly began to feel my eyes becoming more sensitive to the light, especially in front of a computer. My eyes would tear up and my vision strained and it was more difficult to focus. I finally went to see an optometrist. My visual acuity shot up to 20/625 (right) and 20/575 (left). My eyeglasses, now with anti-glare, and contact lenses were adjusted accordingly.

I can see clearly now…thanks to my reliable eyeglasses and contact lenses. Thank you to my sponsors. LOL

There are also instances when I needed to see an OB/GYN. I am regularly seeing an OB/GYN in Manila due to solid nodules (mass) in my left breast and dysfunctional uterine bleeding. (Ladies, when you are already bleeding for more than a week, consider seeing an expert; also visiting an OB/GYN does not always mean pregnant so don’t be shy.)

Listening to your body is paying attention to its early signs and warnings. Listening to your body can save you.

3. Reward yourself. This does not need a lengthy explanation. If you feel you deserve or need it, give yourself a reward that could further boost your confidence and energy, or on one hand could help you relax more. What I did after sleepless nights wracking my brains for a tedious paper? I indulged in a spa! I recommend the relaxation massage service in Prince Jireh Spa, which has branches in Makati, West Ave., and Cubao. Get a facial. Feast on comfort food. Read a book. Shop. Go ahead and kick the stress away!

4. Unload. Spend time in prayer. Jesus actually wants us to unload and release whatever is holding us down. He wants us to have peace of mind and in spirit. Here’s His gentle invitation:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

You are probably wondering why doing exercises, eating healthy, and getting proper amounts of sleep are not on the list. That’s because I am still a work in progress on these areas. I would love to write about them in the future.

I hope you’ll have a wonderful Valentine’s Day or Love Month celebration. Just remember, when you feel good inside, you also radiate that love, warmth, and happiness to others. ♥ Happy hearts day! ♥

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