Monday, October 17, 2005

The most relaxing mall -- Alabang, Philippines

The Ayala Town Center or ATC is one of the most relaxing malls this side of Luzon. The parking lot is spacious, the food is terrific, and the atmosphere is basically homey. These are absent from the larger malls in the Makati area, where everyone seems to move so fast!

This is my personal weekly hangout. :) For budget meals, the food court at the second floor offers cheap but delicious food. Try Mong Kok. Or if you've got the money, go for CPK or Tony Roma's.

(Visited Oct 16, 2005)

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Birthday party -- Liliw, Laguna

My friends and I decided to sample the pasta concoctions at Arabella's, a tiny restaurant in one corner off the main road. The Milky Way shake is heavenly and the pasta was good!

And don't miss out the kesong puti pizza. Yum!

(Visited: July 3, 2005)

Kissimmee, Florida -- My home away from home

I spent six days in Kissimmee because this was the venue for the AACC 2005 conference. The hotel was spectacular, the food was scrumptious, and best of all: the tourist destinations were amazing!

The must sees that I've been to: Pleasure Island and Magic Kingdom in DisneyWorld, and CityWalk at the Universal Studios. There are countless more places to see and it will definitely take more than five days to go to all of them!

(Visited Sept 11, 2005)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Kennedy Space Center

A few weeks after being in Florida, I found myself watching Apollo 13 on Star Movies. Apollo 13 is the movie that made me skip reviewing my Biology notes the night before my second quarterly exam back in high school. Only a Tom Hanks movie can do that!

This movie also brought me back to my first day in Florida… September 10, 2005….

The staff at the Grain Quality and Nutrition Research Center in IRRI had betted that I won’t be able to tour the area during my first day there because of jet lag. After all, the plane rides took more than a day! A two-hour flight to Hongkong, a thirteen-hour flight to Los Angeles, an eight-hour wait at the LA airport, and a six-hour straight flight to Orlando (or was it four?)… they expected that I’d be wrecked by jet lag and disorientation!

Jet lag? What jet lag?!

And so I arrived on a bright and early morning. I barely slept in the planes because my body clock had gone haywire on me. But once I landed at the Orlando International, I was bright-eyed and ready for some adventure! My cousin and his wife met me at the baggage claim counter. After checking in at the hotel and taking a quick shower, we had breakfast at the International House of Pancakes (ihop). Then we started the long drive to the Kennedy Space Center.

The road towards Kennedy was so big. It reminded me of the South Superhighway in the Philippines. Only in Florida, the highway had more lanes, which were also wider and smoother. Instead of rice paddies and conifers along the sides, I saw swamps and thick forest vegetation. After all, Florida was the gator sanctuary in North America. There were also huge predatory birds circling the skies above the highway. I think I saw an eagle and a crow, but I couldn’t be sure because they were so far away.

After a 45-mile journey, we took the turn towards the Center’s visitors area. The first thing that I noticed at the ticketing site was the astronaut suit on top of the roof! After buying tickets, and being inspected by the guards, we decided to catch the last bus tour to the space shuttle program…

It turned out that the Space Center was also a conservation park for dugongs, gators, and birds. The bus driver pointed at the eagle’s nest… it was as big as my Civic! Anyway, the rairoad tracks used for transporting the space shuttle from one point to the other was also BIG.

But the focal point of it all was the Vehicle Assembly Building. In there, the space shuttle can be positioned to stand up on its tail while engineers look at it, and there will still be some headspace! The doors are taller than the spacecraft because the shuttle and the two booster rockets should fit nicely through (while standing). All I could say then was WOW!

Beyond this building, there was a shuttle carrier wich literally crawled along the highway-sized road, chugging 45 gallons of fuel every mile (or hour? I’m not sure), to bring the space shuttle and the rockets to the launch pad. I didn’t get near the pad though, because the tour didn’t go there.

Next stop was the Apollo-Saturn Mission Center, where we were taken back through time to the heyday of space research, the era when man went to the moon. The highlight was this recreation of Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk and Jim Lovell’s successful failure also known as Apollo 13 (which is my fave mission). There was a life-size exhibit of the Apollo spacecraft, from service module, to command module, to lunar module. I was amazed that these people, the best engineers, to the best chemists, were able to bring men to the moon and back safely to Earth using the early computer technology (which we deem low tech today). I was really impressed!

Finally, the tour had ended and we went back to the visitors’ area. I enjoyed this trip so much because I have long dreamt of going to Cape Canaveral. Come to think of it, I became fascinated about space flights when Daddy first brought us to the Planetarium in Luneta, not when I’ve read Jim Lovell’s Apollo 13 account (which eventually became a movie).

Ah, the dream came true at last!

Winchester Mystery House

This mansion in San Jose CA is the spookiest location I’ve been in recent years, primarily because it was the actual home of Mrs. Winchester, the wife of the inventor of the Winchester rifle. The house is the longest continuous construction site in the whole world, taking 38 years to build, and yet it lies largely unfinished. The construction went on only as long as the madame of the house was alive, but as soon as she died, the construction stopped.

Mrs. Winchester was convinced that she was being haunted by the souls of everyone killed by the Winchester rifle. Proof of that convinced her of this were the deaths of her husband and of her daughter. I think she became bonkers by then; she decided to build a mansion where all the souls that wanted to terrorize her would be lost and won’t find her.

Thus, using her bulging savings account, she started building a modest house with 160 rooms and seven floors. The guide called some of the stairs “easy rider” stairs because of the height of the steps. Mrs. Winchester suffered from arthritis, and she couldn’t lift her legs too high. In fact, the steps were so low that it would take seven flights of thirteen steps each to reach the other end of the room. She also had closets built that were as big as rooms and one-way doors (once you’ve closed the door, you can’t exit that way). There were also ascending stairs that end up on the room below the one you’ve started on! The house was really strange! The stained glass windows were so expensive because they were bought from Tiffany’s. The gardens were also vast and really maintained…

What’s so spooky about this great house then? There’s a part of the mansion that was entirely blocked off ’til the tourism board took over. In this section, which was left unrepaired, were the damage left by the 1906 San Francisco quake. The whole section was in disarray. It really looked sad and abandoned. Plus, since the house was really a gigantic maze, the tour guide warned us early on that if we ventured away from the tour group, we might get lost forever! Creepy! I’m one person who’s easily spooked.

Once the tour was finished, the guide told us we walked over a mile inside the mansion… but that included only a little over a hundred rooms. The rest of the house was still not open to the public. SCARY!!!!

The AACC conference 2005

Jokes are always half-meant, or so they say. And now I believe the wisecracking person who said that. A few months back, I joked that I’ll be going to the US really really soon and visit the Kennedy Space Center and DisneyWorld, and see my family in California. Then, in June of this year, this joke came true when my paper was accepted for oral presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cereal Chemists! With only a few short weeks to prepare, I hurried to organise my travel documents, my presentation, and my itinerary to visit all the places I’d liked to visit. Finally, on September 9, I took off for Orlando (which I think was posted in another of my blogs).

Anyway, I finally arrived at the conference. The venue was breath-taking! Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center was so huge I got lost while exploring it! The pictures in the website were deceiving… there was more to the hotel than what was in the site!

On the first day of the convention, I attended the orientation for first-time attendees. It was a great way of meeting people, especially for me, because I didn’t have an idea of what to expect from the conference. Then there was open gala event when the exhibits were opened for public viewing. The exhibition site was really big… I haven’t seen an exhibit that huge when I attended the PSM or the FCSSP conferences in the Philippines. I also didn’t expect to see so many Filipino attendees. Many of them were students while the rest were working there (right after graduation). One of Mommy’s friends was there, and I had dinner with him and another of his colleagues. We ate at Pacino’s Italian Restaurant somewhere along W. Irlo Memorial Road. The food was delicious… and the serving size was big!

The shock of how big the conference was did not sink in until the second day (September 12). On that day, I realised that there were four plenary sessions going on in four huge ballrooms simultaneously! Plus, there were sixteen technical sessions being held at sixteen different meeting rooms. And that was only for the AACC conference. There were two more events taking place with it. My co-adviser, Dr. Melissa Fitzgerald, presented her paper that day. I then knew why everyone was impressed by her… she was able to present her topic with as much technical jargon without overdoing it, and she infused humor to sustain audience attention. I hope someday that I’ll talk that way.

And so the second day wound down into night. Since I was presenting the next day, I started suffering from the usual pre-presentation jitters. I had diarrhea and lost my appetite; thus, I opted to stay in my room and watch the season enders of CSI:Miami and Desperate Housewives (or was it on the plane?). Finally, I got calm enough to sleep and dread the next days’ activities.

September 13 broke bright and early. As I prepared to calm my nerves, Melissa asked to see my presentation. After an initial look, she decided that we have to revamp it… tweak it… overhaul it, more like it! So, barely an hour before my talk, we were busily typing all the rewrites for my presentation.At the same time, she was dictating… no, reminding… me of what I was supposed to say about this topic and that topic. Whew! That was indeed a blessing in disguise because due to this distraction, I was more worried about being on time for the presentation than on what I was supposed to say! Twenty minutes later, after my talk, I felt relieved. I was done… I was no longer in suspended agony. It was time to eat ice cream!

On September 14, I discovered that there was an ice cream bar called Ben and Jerry’s inside the hotel. So I grabbed a cup for breakfast… I think it was choco chip flavored. For lunch, I met a Filipina working for the USDA. She invited me to join her and a friend go to Universal Studios after 5pm. And I obliged. After lunch, we went our separate ways and I listened in to some more lectures. There was a guy from Ghana who was so intrigued by how much rice was eaten in Asia, and decided to talk with me at length about it. I attended the Young Professionals’ Event at 4pm where I met one of the attendees of the meeting orientation. Plus one of the Indonesian students from Purdue. There was also a girl from Honduras (I think) who was studying also in Purdue. It was a great way of networking. They had so many stories to tell. Though I couldn’t say that I could relate entirely with them… after all, I am studying in an Australian University and all of them are either enrolled in the US, or in Canada.

Finally, it was time to go. I packed my suitcase and my backpack with all the goodies I have hoarded during this trip. I promised myself I’ll create a scrapbook of all the adventures I’ve had in this trip. This is one way of reliving and preserving the memory. Though I know that so many words can never match the pictures in my head.

I’ve met so many good people and attended a very informative conference this year. I’m going to try my best to attend again next year… at the World Grains Summit at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. 

Pier 39: And the Saga Continues

Still on my “field trip” to the Americas…

I’ve never been to Pier One, one of the hottest nightspots in Metro Manila, but I have been to Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the must-sees in San Francisco.

Despite not immediately seeing water, I knew we where near the wharf because of the huge number of birds traversing the Embarcadero. There were pelicans and sea gulls and albatrosses. These birds were not flapping abut as in Florida. Instead, they were nesting on top of cars, scavenging for food, walking along the streets with people… it was so amazing to be in a bird “sanctuary” where people and birds coexist! I’ve never seen this large bird populations in the Philippines primarily because I don’t live or work near the sea.

Dining at Fisherman’s Wharf is all wrong without taking the traditional fare of seafood. Ah, my good cousin Donnell knew the best place for clam chowder. We went to one of the oldest restaurants in the area (no Bubba Gump of the Forrest Gump fame… I’m very allergic to shrimp) and ordered clam chowder in sourbread bowls. Yum! It’s the first time I’ve eaten clam chowder in a bread bowl!

After the scrumptious dinner, we trooped to the boardwalk to see the local attractions. There were many street acts along the way. I was amazed at an actor who didn’t have his shirt on, and yet I was covered with a jacket! The wind was brisk and cold. There was no way I could stand that cold without a jacket on! Then, there was a lady acrobat smack at the center of the boardwalk. She asked two guys from the audience to carry a pole on which she was doing all of her stunts!

Frankly, I liked the boardwalk of Fisherman’s Wharf better than the concrete floors of Universal Studios’ CityWalk and DisneyWorld’s Pleasure Island… I felt, in this small spot of California, like I was really away from home and into a strange part of the globe. It had so much atmosphere, and so many stories to tell.

A really great experience!