Saturday, February 28, 2015

Swapped the snowboard for my camera.

Since I couldn't do any more snowboarding for the rest of this trip, thanks to my injured wrist, I just had to do something else. I couldn't be sulky or be a pain; otherwise, I'd ruin both our moods. So, time for my Plan B: photo walk! To think I even considered leaving my camera behind! Shocking, right? Thank goodness I opted to lug my gear with me despite my carry-on's weight breaching the upper limit. 

Anyway, while Matty enjoyed skiing on the slopes, I enjoyed the photo walk day! It's more landscape photography, more than anything else; but I was also able to chase after birds and to do a bit of hiking... none of close-up snowboarding or skiing action shots though because I didn't want to hang around the piste. 

Yongpyong Ski Resort is just one beautiful place to explore on foot (and technically, by air, too)! 

So, without further ado, here are some photos I took that day. Yes, my injured left wrist was not an excuse to avoid having fun with the lens that day. The prescribed pills helped me a lot in managing the pain too; could've explained why I was in a good mood despite the injured hand.

My trusty SLR has been with me in all of my travels, except one, since I've gotten it.

 Sunny day at Yongpyong Ski Resort on the day I went on a photo walk. 

Birds returning to their roost as the sun started to set at Dragon Peak.

The gondola ride gave sightseers a great view of the landscape.

Skis at Dragon Plaza.

Snowboarder leaning toe-side.

Net fence along the walkway.

Frozen river in Yongpyong.

Water was still flowing in some parts of the river in Yongpyong.

Yongpyong is famous for principal photography for Korean telenovela "Winter Sonata". It's a good location, indeed. 

While I swapped my snowboard for my camera, Matty swapped his board for skis.

Matty befriended another advanced snowboarder, Gino, at the Rainbow slopes. Here, Gino was preparing to record Matty's next run.

Matty and Gino's photo just before their warm up run. While they were skiing and snowboarding, I was hiking on Dragon Peak.

Dragon Peak's snack bar conveyed a warm and cozy feel despite the cold.

Tourists take a moment to take photos at this view deck. The snowy Taebaek Mountains are truly picturesque.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Knowing Korea via the food

Food. This is an adventure in itself, I think, particularly when visiting new places. I have to admit that during our trip, I didn't go as far as listing down must-try restaurants... I'd rather trust Matty's restaurant choices because he has very good taste. And I've been proven correct again and again throughout our adventure week. :)

Our food trip began at the Incheon International Airport. After a long tour of the different restaurants, we ended up in one that served pizza. This is becoming a tradition between us, it seems: land in a new city and the first place we go to has pizza. To shake things up a bit, I opted for a pine nuts and mushroom udon. It was just delicious! Perfect to warm my tummy since I know we'd face the cold real soon.


When we arrived in Hoenggye, there weren't many options for dinner because of the lateness of the hour. We settled for hot drinks and pretzels at the cafe near our hotel. Those were also good though I was wishing we'd eat a proper dinner. Tired travellers couldn't be picky about limited restaurant choices though. Yeah, we've been travelling around 16 hours already by the time we settled into the cafe.

Breakfast the next day was still unconventional. We picked up Korean dimsum at a convenience store while we waited and then got acquainted with our tour guide, Junn. Yummy, the fried pork and the steamed pork dumplings were. These were my energy sources for my first snowboarding day! 

Lunch was cheesecake and chocolate milk for me at Twosome Place, which, according to my cousin, is a famous restaurant chain in Korea (as usual, I'm not aware of these things; what a prepared traveller, right?). Delicious carbo-loading mode on, definitely. But I'd like to try more traditional Korean food next time.

Dinner was very interesting. We passed by a cozy restaurant when we got lost looking for our hotel right after snowboarding. In the evening, we decided to eat there... traditional Korean food in a traditional setting: we were sitting on the floor. 

The first thing I noticed was the abundance of the side dishes. In the Philippines, Korean restaurants do serve kimchi, vegetables, pickled stuff, and fish. In the restaurant we ate at, we had a lot of those! It would be a mistake to eat too much of the side dishes because there won't be space in the tummy anymore for the entrees. 

Next day, we also had an interesting time, food-wise. Breakfast was all about pastries (again) at a coffee shop in Tower Plaza. For lunch, I upped on the spice when we ate at a Chinese restaurant in Dragon Plaza. The highlight of the day, once again, was dinner. Matty's nose led us to another cozy establishment... but with seats this time. The thing is, the restaurant's special was pork. But not just any pork. It was black pig from Jeju Island. Apparently, it is a special breed of pig; otherwise, the chef wouldn't have remarked about it. It was delicious! As instructed by the chef, we placed pork slices onto a lettuce leaf and another leafy vegetable, followed by mushrooms, soybean paste, and raw garlic. 

And then there's our go-to breakfast place in Hoenggye. It's called Paris Baguette. It reminds me a lot of BreadTalk because one must get a paper-lined tray and tongs before picking the bread and/or pastries from the tables. One does not use his or her bare hands to grab sandwiches! It was in Paris Baguette where we bumped into a couple, also having breakfast, who remarked that there was yellow dust blowing into the Korean peninsula from the Mongolian desert. So that's why my throat got itchy the night before! There were lots of particulates in the air! Anyway, what I loved about the restaurant is the warm but lively vibe and the delicious breakfast food... and macarons. If we were not in any danger of going over our baggage weight limit, I would have bought a lot of food from here. Alas, my bag was already 21kg, with a 20-kg limit.

Let it be known that Matty knows how to cook. On the day I injured my hand, Jay brought us to this restaurant where we had to buy fresh beef and vegetables and then cook the ingredients on a grill embedded on our table. I had only one hand free so Matty took charge, initially, with cooking the tenderloin slices. At some point, a waitress must have seen that we needed help so she took it upon herself to take over the cooking and the snipping (yes, the cooked meat was cut with scissors!). This restaurant we went to was our most expensive dinner to date (maybe because we chose the tenderloin and we had ice cream after?).  

So far, we've been to Italy, Jeju Island, France, and mainland Korea. Why not add to the diversity of the Korean dining experience, right? On our last night in Korea, we opted to eat Japanese food. Now this has got to be the most private restaurant we've eaten at... we couldn't see the other diners because we were all surrounded by curtains! No, we didn't cook our meal for ourselves, for a change; and no, there's no stove on the table top. The pork dish I chose was absolutely yummy!

Throughout our Korea week, we were at times at a loss over what we're going to eat because the menus in many of the restaurants we dined at were written in Korean and came without English subtitles translations. Servers often didn't speak in English and the best we could do was pick a dish at random in the menus that have English names on them. For example, I ended up with sauteed chicken gizzard even though I was totally pointing at something else on the menu. Sometimes, there wouldn't even be a menu; the chef would just tell us what's the evening's special or we'd go get raw ingredients from one side of the store and get them cooked somehow at the dining table. However, there was one restaurant where we had a good laugh because the menu got us lost in translation...

My jaw dropped when I saw our food options that late evening... we could get not just any pike, but 'The Pike'; we could eat 'stolen bases'; we could consume 'agg rolls' and 'whole octopuses', if we liked. But one thing I had no plan on ordering was 'chicke poop home'. I wonder what part of the chicken anatomy was being referred to as the chicken's poop's home. 

Yep, our Korean food trip was full of surprises and laughter. We've gotten a sense of what the cuisine is like in real life... And we both agree: the Korean food we've eaten outside Korea pales in comparison with what the food really is like in Korea.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jazz, Once in a Blue Moon

Given that we only had an evening back in the city, we should at least get a sense of what the soul of Seoul is like, right? Since we arrived in the afternoon, most of the tourist destinations were (we assumed) already closing. And so we opted to just take a walk into the city... This is one of my favourite ways to explore: no concrete planning; just let our feet bring us to where we'd end up (the other one? Drive and drive and drive). 

Anyway, our long and winding winter walk (in the rain, if I might add) led us to a jazz club named Once in a Blue Moon. What we didn't know is that this bar is actually one of the most famous places in Seoul as it is often a film shoot location. According to a blog post I've read after our vacation, many marriage proposals have been proposed in Once in a Blue Moon. In fact, a proposal must have been taking place stage left because the couple there was uber sweet with each other. 

Matty really has a nose for finding really good places!

We wanted to listen to really good music and we definitely got what we wished for. The band playing that night was great! I only like listening to jazz (thanks, Dad!) but Matty has studied it; listening to the live performances with him in the club gave me a deeper appreciation of jazz... within all that improvisational work, there is still structure. Order in chaos, if you will. I immensely enjoyed sitting there, watching the band play. And then the singer performed a few standards... it was so good! 

The music in Once in a Blue Moon brought me back to that one afternoon that I was exploring New Orleans' French Quarter with Casey and Elaine. Jazz music had filled the air that summer afternoon. This time, it's winter. The music made me forget that it was cold and raining outside!

The band's set ended and the club continued with music from George Benson. Now his songs I'm a bit familiar with, as I've grown up listening to his music. 

I lost track of time in Once in a Blue Moon. Since I wasn't wearing a watch, I learned much later that we left the club past midnight. Good luck on our early start in the morning.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Medical tourism.

Well, as Matty walked me over to the medics' office, he told me to keep him posted and that I should get my hand x-rayed as soon as possible. He certainly wasn't happy when he learned that the soonest that this could be done was Monday, the next day.

What could I do, right? I wasn't about to wallow in self-pity or ruin the rest of our week by being a pain. I saw this, instead, as an opportunity to see the rest of Pyeongchang-gun, and perhaps even another part of Gangwon province because I was going to a hospital (Jay kindly offered to drive me to one). Medical tourism it is. 

Jay brought me to the Dong-in Medical Center in Gangneung. It was a unique experience, being a patient in a hospital where doctors and medical staff didn't speak in English so much.

The orthopaedic doctor got my arm x-rayed four times and saved the images in a CD for me to present to a doctor in the Philippines as soon as I got home. He prescribed medicine but didn't give me the medicine list. Instead, the documents were claimed at the front desk. The pharmacist down the road filled in my prescription and prepared packets for each dose of the pills (yes, I had to drink three different pills each time). Pretty organised. The doctor and the pharmacist were giving me instructions on how to drink the meds and how to deal with my arm (the doctor put it in a short-arm splint) but because I couldn't understand them, Jay did all the translations.

This must be how beauty pageant contestants feel like when they get someone to interpret their questions for them. Hehehehehe.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Snowboarding 101 :)

Friday, bright and early... It was the moment of exciting truth... I was about to go snowboarding!!

The evening before, Jay (Ski Korea) had picked us up in Alpensia and had equipped us with snowboards, boots, snow jackets, and snow pants. Junn (also of Ski Korea) kindly met Matty and me at Yongpyong Ski Resort's Tower Plaza on Friday and brought us to the snowboarding school where I'd meet my teacher for the day. 

Nervous? Nah. Snowboarding would be FUN!!

Where I met my snowboard teacher.

Okay, everything became different when I finally had to carry my snowboard with me to the edge of the New Yellow slope, where all the beginners were getting oriented. I felt jittery because this was really it. My teacher's patience and confidence made me feel that I could at least not break a bone while learning to snowboard. Day 1, here we go!

Lesson 1: The anatomy of the snowboard. The terminology just had to be right because I had to know where to put my weight when teacher tells me to do so. Heel-side, toe-side, nose, tail, deck. Okay, got it!

Hello, snowboard!

Lesson 2: I'm free... free-fallin! Falling has got to be one of the scariest lessons, yeah? Teacher mentioned that if I were to fall forward, my knee should land on the snow first and my arms should slide onto the snow. Slide; not sudden stop. If I were to fall backwards, on the other hand, I should land on my butt and rock to my back while keeping my hands crossed on my chest. In both cases, my head should not land on the snow and my board should be raised from it.

Lesson 3: Walk like a snowboarder. This has to be one of the world's weirdest norms: my lead foot had to be bound to the board and I had to use my rear foot to propel myself from Point A to Point B. Once moving, I had to put my rear foot on the board. To stop, I had to put my rear foot's heel onto the snow. In theory, it was easy enough but in reality, I gained a few bruises doing this.

Lesson 4: Just do it. Yep, teacher finally sent me to a low part of the New Yellow (beginner) slope to try out my new movements. My first exercise was to scrape the slope using the heel side of my board while facing towards the valley. Scary? Oh, yes. But that wasn't all. Once I learned how to scrape the slope, I had to learn how to scrape it with direction! Did I want to go to the left or to the right? How the heck should I go where I wanted to go?!?!? Teacher decided, after a few hours, that I was ready to learn the next skill: Scraping the slope using my board's toe side and while facing the mountain. So if I had thought that heel-side scraping was scary, this next one was downright terrifying. It was fear of the unknown right there.

On the right is the New Yellow slope.

I survived Day 1. On Day 2, Matty taught me, very patiently, how to do those S-turns by putting weight on the heel side and the toe side of the board in an alternating manner. We were still on the New Yellow slope and I was feeling that he might be feeling quite bored and unchallenged because he'd been snowboarding the Olympic course (black diamonds) the day before. But it looked like he enjoyed teaching and cheering me on because we ended the day with me being able to do a semblance of the turns, falling only once (?!) on my last run for the day. Still, I was on the bunny slopes so I had to level up soon. The next step, the pre-intermediate, had less forgiving slopes; I'd go faster and make more falls before I'd really be in the intermediate level.

Soon, I'd be like the lone snowboarder: confident and not falling. :) I could already do turns... what else could possibly go wrong, right?

Lone snowboarder.
Next day, Day 3. Matty felt confident that I could take on the pre-intermediate Mega Green slope. Just the sight of it got me intimidated. It's higher than the New Yellow slope! What the heck did I get myself into?!? Naturally, I made quite a few tumbles, with Matty checking if I hurt myself if I made a particularly bad spill. Where did all the skills I learned the day before go?!? Eventually, I warmed up and was able to make a few turns with fewer spills so he felt confident that I could play on my own. He left for a more advanced slope while I put on my gear at the top of the Mega Green again.

The Mega Green is on the right side of the lifts.

There was a conversation going on in my head as I went through the routine:
#1: Heel. Toe. Heel. Toe.
#2: You're doing it! You're actually doing it!
#3: Shut up; shut up! I'm almost at the bottom of the slope! Last few meters!

Just before my last run, I was walking to the lift when I saw a poster saying that it is usually the last run that leads to an injury and know when to stop. I should have listened to my gut right there. But I naturally didn't. It was still way too early to stop and I didn't feel tired yet. I wanted to slide down that Mega Green slope without falling. Challenge accepted. 

Me on the Mega Green. All good to go! :)
Less than five minutes into my descent, I fell onto my left hand. I heard a crack that made me sick in my stomach because I've heard that cracking sound many years ago... when I broke my left wrist right after I got out of a swimming pool. Anyway, I attempted a few times to stand up on my snowboard to no avail (because I couldn't boost myself up using my hand); which was why I removed my board and walked to the nearest snack bar to assess my hand's condition.

When I took my glove off, I was shocked to see lump the size of a golf ball somewhere between the distal radius and the scaphoid bone. After notifying Matty about my mishap via SMS, I tied my hand onto my phone via my Headware to make an improvised splint. 

Off to the medics. It was game over for the day. If I were cleared to play again the next day, I'd go for it. In the meantime, though, I had to rest the hand. :(

Matty caught up with me when I was walking with my board to the medics. He knew something was wrong because I wasn't on the slope, snowboarding. I just hope it's nothing too serious.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Korea-bound :)

Finally, the lunar new year had arrived! I was very excited because we were finally flying to Korea! Matty did promise a painful week and I expected to get bruised knees, but no matter... I had enjoyed snowboarding with Biboy and Barbara in Boreal over Christmas so this week in Korea should be full of great stuff too.

Matty just arrived from Thailand the night before so I was amazed that he's up in the wee hours to pick me up in time for our AirAsia flight to Incheon (while I was not as awake; Rochie <-- crammer packer). He also came armed with The Office and Fawlty Towers on his iPad to keep us entertained during our trip. He was really prepared.

The sun was just rising in the east when our plane got ready for take off. Our snowy adventure was about to begin!!

A few hours later, we've escaped the tropical heat of Manila and I got a taste of what winter in Korea was like: it was cold outdoors! I had swapped my ballet flats for socks and winter boots while in the plane and was already wearing thermals since I left the house... but it was still cold! Rochie was definitely NOT in the tropics anymore.

After lunching in the airport, we made our way towards the bus stop to catch our ride to Pyeongchang-gun, where we were staying and where we'd be snowboarding. The tour organiser, Kieran (Ski Korea), had our tickets in storage at the departures area. Claiming them and finding the bus stop felt like a scene on the Amazing Race, except that we really weren't racing or competing... we just wanted to make sure we didn't miss the bus. However, we must have gotten lost in translation as we asked which bus we're supposed to take and missed the bus while waiting at the bus stop! For all we know, we could have been staring at the bus before it left but we totally misunderstood what the bus stop staff were saying. First blooper. Check!

Matty arranged for new bus tickets and we retreated to the warmth of the airport arrivals area. Staring at the old bus tickets, I noticed that there were discount coupons for Lotte World (a theme park?) plus Duty Free stuff (I think). Also, the bus would take us to Alpensia, the main venue for the 2018 Winter Olympics. How exciting could that be! Wow! We'd actually see it!!

Our bus left the airport at 4:30pm. We went through this highway that went over the sea. It's amazing to see islands beyond the highway... I've never seen something like this. The closest, I think, was watching the view from Lantau Island to Hong Kong island last year while in a cab. In fact, I was almost expecting to see suspension wires on bridge posts along the way, just like in Hong Kong. However, we didn't see those.

We must have hit heavy traffic because I felt it took a long while to get from the airport to the city and then to Pyeongchang. In fact, the bus driver had a pit stop at Wonju... a place where Matty and I went to search for bottled water because the air in the bus was just too dry. 

The long drive was worth it though, for me, as I first took in a glimpse of snow on the slopes of the Taebaek Mountains lit by street lamps... I could just imagine being transported back to all those winter Christmas scenes in the movies. The view might not be novel to Matty but it was just magical for me.

... Especially when we finally disembarked at a roundabout in Alpensia. Oh my gosh! There was snow everywhere! The snow was lit by the warm glow of yellow street lights, in sharp contrast to the cold. It was too cold to stay outdoors though, so I continued watching the view from a bay window at the Holiday Inn lobby while waiting for our tour guide. I was in paradise!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

That Thing Called Tadhana (2014)

"Where do broken hearts go? Can they find their way home?"
Were those rhetorical questions, Tita Whitney? Apparently not, since the movie about That Thing Called Tadhana is all about two broken hearts traveling to find themselves. They bumped into each other in Rome (where one's dream came true while the other's was shattered), flew back together to Manila, and then embarked on a road trip to Baguio and to Sagada. Along the way, they learned to let go of baggage, literally and figuratively, and to trust each other enough to share their stories.

Contrary to what other people may think, I thought that this movie is perfect for those who didn't plan on spending their Valentine's Day with their (formerly) significant others; as I've mentioned to a friend when she asked if it's okay to watch it without a date. In fact, for those who haven't gotten over broken relationships, they'd have a lot to say about the movie and it's catchy pop culture references (e.g., John Lloyd Cruz's boy-next-door, bring-home-to-mom image; Bea Alonzo's overly dramatic lines in One More Chance*). 

A friend asked which line in the movie got to me after I've seen it. I said that none of them did. I found the lines funny because many of them referred to real situations in the actors' lives (sort of scratching at the fourth wall without actually breaking it, somewhat). 


What got to me was the cinematography and the use of a short story within the movie to move things along. Cinematography, I thought, was brilliant! Who would've thought of using luggage as a metaphor for things these two characters need to let go to move on? of beverages to show that at the beginning (iced teas at different levels in the tumblers), they didn't see eye to eye but drinking from coffee cups at a later stage indicated that they're getting along quite well? of abruptly shifting from being alone in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Session Road to the literal but serene isolation above the clouds in Sagada? 

(Clue: the people responsible for producing the movie did... genius!)

The short story, on the other hand, illustrated how their relationship developed over that short span of time that they've been traveling. By the end of the movie, it is up to the audience to interpret the short story's ending: did the two protagonists get their happy-ever-after together or separately?

That really is the question, isn't it? With that thing called tadhana (fate), did they embark on such a fairy tale whirlwind relationship (which most romantics wish for) or did they continue on a more realistic pace? It was relatively easy for them to open up during their road trip because they're strangers and they merely acted as each other's sounding boards. But once they got back to their routine in Manila, would they still be as close?

So see, Tita Whitney, these two urban broken hearts in the Philippines traveled around the world and ascended cloud-topped mountains only to return to Manila. Meeting at an airport in Europe was fate; nurturing a flourishing relationship requires rolling up one's sleeves and diving into the mud flood.

* One More Chance. This is a movie about the ill-fated and overly dramatic long-term relationship of Popoy and Basha. This is the one movie that I cannot watch from start to finish because it's too difficult for me to watch. Why couldn't they just let go? They're both suffering anyway. (Sorry.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hot-air balloon festival 2015

My first drive to Pampanga alone. I did say that I'd go to the hot-air balloon festival whether someone's going with me or not because I really would love to see the balloons. This year, my annual pilgrimage to  where everything flew landed on Valentine's Day. Naturally, nobody was interested to join.

My life is not about to be put on hold because nobody wants to join the adventure. Ahh... So this must be what one friend of mine meant when he said I march to the beat of a different drummer. 

Anyway, I opted to leave for Pampanga around 12nn to arrive in plenty of time for the sunset event. As I looked for parking space, I groaned when I realised (and I really should have been expecting this) that I'd park in the dust. Hello, espasol-looking cars! But that's okay because once I was in the venue, I forgot all about the dust and enjoyed watching the balloons light up the night sky!

The bonus? There was a free concert right after the night glow. There were a few actors who sang okay but Aiza Seguerra, who's the real singer, made the concert great. She and the band got the people partying!

I have to say though that this year's Valentine's Day didn't beat last year's. 2014's was just awesome. ;)

A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on