Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 in a nutshell

Aside from starting the year by flying over a grueling route, I list a few things that made 2016 another hallmark year...

The Philippine Supreme Court votes against the development and the consumption of genetically modified organisms. This is an example of people who aren't experts in science tend to be the ones making decisions about them... without listening to scientific explanations. Maybe they invoked the "who are they [the scientists] to play God?" argument while mulling over the pros and cons of GM crops. One thing is certain: the people who will benefit the most from the consumption and purchase of nutritionally superior, virtually pesticide-free, highly abundant crops will have to wait for yet another decade (at least) before the products see the light of day.

... And then the ruling was reversed. The Supreme Court decided thus because the field trials were already finished and that the issue was already moot. However, this is not time to rest: scientists have to find a more compelling way to convince people about the advantages of using GM crops if they want the science to move forward. Facts are poor arguments against emotionally charged and value-based claims.

David Bowie, German Moreno, Nancy Reagan, and Alan Rickman had curtain calls as the year begins. It was a shock that the year had barely started but some famous people won't see it blossom. The death that got me reeling was Alan Rickman's because his image in my mind has always been the healthy and sarcastic characters he played... Most notably Severus Snape, Absolem the Caterpillar, Hans Gruber, and that guy in Love, Actually. Other famous people followed them later in the year. What a year it is, yeah?

Belgium, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Bangladesh, and Pakistan get bombed. The difficulty with the fight against terrorism is that the enemy often doesn't have a face. A car bombing here; an airport explosion there; train attacks in multiple places... The daytime attack in Brussels was reminiscent of the evening attack in Paris. The Ankara and Istanbul attacks were horrendous too, but did not garner as much social media attention in the western world as Brussels did. No declarations of war; no faces owning up of responsibilities unlike those villains on action movies. Only people shouting in Arabic taken as a clue on who's responsible for the latest disturbance to the peace. During the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Belgians responded to the crisis by posting photos of cats on social media, to ensure that police movements won't be on top of timelines, I guess. This time, I wonder how they are going to respond. The Lahore Easter Sunday attack was particularly horrendous because the Taliban did it to persecute Christians, and chose a most holy of days to do so. On one hand, it was terrible; but on the other, those who died went to Heaven on such a glorious occasion.

Presidential elections in the Philippines and the USA. This has been an exciting year for politics. In the Philippine front, Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential elections. In the USA, businessman Donald Trump beat former Senator Hillary Clinton. Both presidents-elect promised unconventional approaches to affect change in government; both were perceived as mavericks who are willing to take calculated risks (including their attention-grabbing campaign styles) to get to their goals. And both addressed concerns of a citizen base that is often ignored by political campaigns. In the Philippines, the presidential elections have caused a lot of people to take to social media to whine, to argue, and to break relationships. This is the first time I've seen politics have an effect like that to the personal lives of the electorate.

And yes, another Philippine presidential candidate died. This year, it's Miriam Defensor-Santiago, the witty senator. She's one of the brightest political stars... she could have one this election if not for her cancer. A lot of people didn't consider her seriously because she could die while in office, leading for the reigns of governance to fall upon the VP.

The Philippine Vice-Presidential race was more exciting than the Presidential race. Admittedly, I haven't expected that this year's elections to be the most polarising... for the VP position. As the dust starts settling, it appeared that Bongbong Marcos (son of former President Ferdinand Marcos) and Leni Robredo (wife of former DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo) were head-to-head for the position. Allegations of cheating ran rampant due to the small difference in the number of votes at the beginning. As more mature (and less tech-savvy) Filipinos wait with bated breath, the young ones took to social media to express their frustrations to the chagrin of the more experienced voters.

China continues claiming territory of other countries. And other countries have started fighting back. Indonesia has detained Chinese boats that have wandered into its waters. The Philippines also won its arbitration case against China on who owns the West Philippine Sea, in July. China claims that the sea is part of its territory (South China Sea) but many countries challenge its claim. The Philippines won its battle. Let's see how Vietnam and other countries fare with their boundary claims. A Chinese boat has been sighted in yet another Philippine territory, the Benham Rise. Why does it want to claim territory already awarded to others?

ISIS has been driven out of Palmyra. Photos of the ancient monuments seem to show that these cultural treasures were not totally damaged. Russia has played a big role here because it has been deploying aircraft to Syria. And as the ISIS has been stripped off Palmyra, a Russian orchestra performed a concert among the ruins. It evoked images of the haunting scenes of Pink Floyd at Vesuvius. I can fully imagine U2 doing something similar.

Doping has hit Maria Sharapova hard. She is one of the world's best tennis players and is a great role model for young women. Recently, she failed a blood test (was it during the Australian Open period, I forget) because she claimed she didn't know that the medicine she's been taking for around 10 years for her heart condition has been banned; hence her failure. Despite this, she didn't get the backlash that Lance Armstrong had previously. I agree with public relations pundits when they said that Maria's response softened the blow: she took responsibility for the medicine use and apologised for it. This response is important, I think, because she shows young ones that people like her can make mistakes too and this is how proper people respond to the negative feedback.

The Philippines gained ground. Or seabed, if I must be geographically correct. The Philippines was granted Benham Rise, a seismologically active area bigger than Luzon.

"Brexit". The British people decided, in a non-binding referendum, that they want out of the European Union. I think that this puts the United Kingdom's unity at risk because Scotland wants to remain in the EU... Northern Ireland, too. If the UK decides to pursue leaving the EU, then Scotland might go for a second referendum to decide whether it will stay as a member of the UK or not. In all this, the Monarchy will probably be very influential... probably the same way that the Royal Family was during the 1940s... after all, it is this family's kingdom that may fall into shambles. In the meantime, one official has taken on the comedic spotlight: Larry, the Chief Mouser of Number 10 Downing Street (aka Larry the Cat). He remains constant throughout the political turmoil in the UK.

President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice-President Leni Robredo take over the Philippine government. Two local politicians will take on the reins of the Philippine government as June ends. They came out the victors in one of the most heated elections that the Philippines has had as of late. But Duterte's first days in office has caused a lot of people, even internationally, to be concerned about his opinion on human rights and how to put suspects to justice. Yes, suspects. I fear that the Philippines will soon become like the real-life Gotham City based on the media portrayal of all these extrajudicial killings and door-to-door house inspections. Duterte's first months in office show that he's also prone to speaking his mind without thinking of international repercussions as his team always issues what I call the "what the President really meant" statements after his speeches. I am hopeful that the President will learn to deal with the international crowd and with the media more diplomatically.

Turkey and its coup d'état. The military coup was staged on July 15–16 but it appears that it's short-lived. People have gone to the streets, in what reminds me of the EDSA Revolutions. As I read the Twitter posts on it, I wonder if that's how the Philippines looked like (chaotic, dangerous) back when coup attempts happened during President Cory Aquino's time, the EDSA 2 protests that toppled President Erap Estrada, and EDSA 3 that threatened the stability of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration. In contrast to the successors of government after the Philippine popular uprisings, the current president, Erdogan, doesn't have a good reputation internationally.

Davao night market bombing. Soon after President Duterte took office, terrorists bombed a public market in Davao City, touted to be one of the safest cities in the country. It's sad because the Philippines' new president was still learning the ropes when this happened... but I was quite happy because Davao City was able to recover from this quickly. And the government officials handled the situation very well.

Rio Olympics. Amid so many controversies leading up to the event, Brazil was able to host this highly anticipated event. The Philippines competed in basketball in the qualifier rounds but fell out of the competition, with France eventually besting the countries that competed in Manila. I wasn't able to follow the games on the telly because of the time difference. However, I was very happy to learn that the Philippines won a medal in weightlifting.

Miriam Defensor-Santiago bids a final farewell. She succumbed to cancer and has now joined the ranks of luminary female leaders who have all moved on. I rooted for her on her first run for the Presidency. After all, she was touted as the Iron Lady of Asia... just as former PM Margaret Thatcher was nicknamed the Iron Lady in the UK.

Brad and Angelina divorced. I thought that they're the model married couple. They have a lot of kids. Angelina seemed to be doing a good job raising them, making movies, and performing her humanitarian duties. Brad looked like a doting dad while juggling career and doing public service to people affected by calamities. And then they dropped the shocker: they were separating! Whatever the reason, it is a sad story still. Perhaps, they were doing to much and their relationship started to crack. Who knows?

Former President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. is allowed burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The thing is, his burial is met with so much opposition that I really doubt that he's even supposed to be buried there. And who wouldn't protest? He declared Martial Law in the Philippines, he allegedly hoarded a lot of money from the country's coffers, and he is responsible for so many human rights violations inflicted on his enemies. Does that sound heroic to anyone? No. However, for one reason or another, the current Philippine President supported his burial in the heroes' cemetery and majority of the Supreme Court judges supported it too. What in the world?!? We celebrate EDSA Revolution 1986 every year; we celebrate the martyrdom of Ninoy Aquino; we kicked off that family from Malacañan Palace... and now he gets buried like a hero?!? But he wasn't. The family elected to hold a "private" funeral, which basically means he was snuck into the cemetery and buried without as much pomp and pageantry because he really was not a hero. Want to see how a hero gets buried? Watch how Cory and Ninoy were brought to Manila Memorial Park. That's how we bury heroes.

Fidel Castro dies. This effectively put Cuba in the international spotlight because his death has marked an end of an era. The Obama administration has been strengthening ties with Cuba. Who knows what the future holds now that Cuba has a changing of the guards.

IR8's 50th anniversary. "Miracle Rice", that is how IR8 is touted. It is a rice variety developed by IRRI plant breeders, which prevented food shortage in Asia back in the 1960s and 1970s... which was associated with the rapid increase in population. The celebration was a big event, with activities organized both in India and in the Philippines. For me, a scientist who is standing on the shoulders of these giants, I wonder how my research will contribute to making rice better, one variety at a time.

George Michael and Carrie Fisher die as the year closes. This 2016 is a year of many shocking deaths for artists. The year began with deaths and it seems like it will end with a few more too. George Michael died in his sleep in the UK while Carrie Fisher suffered from cardiac arrest in an airplane.

What a year 2016 turned out to be. It marked upheavals that I take to be the general public's way of saying they want change from the existing system. Life will not be the same as we turn the page and enter Chapter 2017. I hope that the following year will be kinder and more peaceful than the turbulent year 2016 proved itself to be.

We'll see...

Thursday, December 29, 2016

lava tubes!

The tour group I was with made a stop to see lava tubes along the Kalanianole Highway called Hālona Blowhole. Here, the lava tubes formed in such a way that when the waves crashed in a particular manner, the sea spray would shoot through the tubes, mimicking geysers. 

And it's such a treat for me because I have never had the opportunity to see geysers in real life. It was a wow moment for me.

Since I was touring the great outdoors, I found myself lucky to see mongoose scurrying about near the parking lot. The tour guide told my tour group that these animals are actually invasive, meaning that they've been introduced by people. In the mongoose's case, people intended them to combat the rat population that came with sugarcane plantation. However, the farmers made a major blunder: the rats were nocturnal while the mongoose were awake during the day. Therefore, the animals did not even meet!

Near the blowhole, I found myself overlooking at one of the best sights I've ever seen during my trip here in Oahu: the Hanauma Bay. Look at that! The water was shallow enough for people to walk near corals! I wouldn't advise doing that though because these fringe corals could be sharp; I'm speaking from experience here... I've had several scratches on my legs after being pounded by the surf onto corals near Cemetery Beach in Tingloy, Batangas.

Because it's winter, there's a possibility to see humpback whales from this viewpoint. However, we didn't see any. Perhaps the whales were playing just off the bay and weren't visible from where I was standing. 

Better luck next time! At least I've seen lava tubes in real life now.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nu'uanu Pali: O'ahu's very own Thermopylae

Eight years ago, I was in Honolulu right after I submitted my thesis for evaluation by external panelists. Back then, I was using a Canon Powershot point-and-shoot. This year, I went to Honolulu again, carrying, once again, another Canon Powershot! Anyway, I revisited the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout, a famous spot in O'ahu's Ko'olau Mountain. It became famous because back when Hawai'i was a collection of small kingdoms. King Kamehameha I came from the Hawai'i Island and conquered Maui. When he fought the king of O'ahu, he drove the king's men to the Nu'uanu Pali from where they were driven off the cliff. After that, King Kamehameha I was able to unite the islands into what was to become the Kingdom of Hawai'i.

Sounds familiar?

Certainly, particularly the falling part. It's very similar to the story of King Leonidas in the movie 300.  In that movie, Leonidas kicked the Persian ambassador into the pit after he didn't like the news that the ambassador gave... he was downright pissed because the messenger said that Leonidas had to submit to the Persian king, Xerxes.

The Nu'uanu Pali is on the windward side of O'ahu and rises to 356 metres, which means that this area gets a lot of strong winds. I think that the Nu'uanu Valley acts like a wind tunnel for trade winds. But aside from the winds, the lookout offers a very beautiful view of the Kane'ohe Bay, with Chinaman's Hat (Mokoli'i Island) and Coconut Island in view.

The sheer drop of the mountain is also a sight to see. To me, it is amazing to see it particularly because the mountain is high enough to be touched by clouds... clouds that move very fast with the wind.

During this visit, the wind wasn't as strong as I would have expected. Perhaps, it's because the winter has come and the wind is blowing in a different direction... I'm not sure. Doesn't matter, however, this is still a very scenic place to be at. I'm happy that I had a chance to visit it again.

chicken biryani, Concord style

I've tasted what is touted to be the best chicken biryani in the world, which is found in Hyderabad. While I was in Hyderabad, my parents discovered an Indian restaurant called Naan 'n' Curry in Concord. So when I finally popped in, they proposed that we eat there one night so I could taste the Indian food, Concord style. 

The chicken biryani was also good, but I have to admit that it's no match to the chicken biryani I ate in Hyderabad. There's something about the flavours, or perhaps even the atmosphere of actually being in India, that added a kick to my experience of eating the biryani there. On the other hand, the  flavours of the chicken biryani in Concord was probably toned down to cater to the preferences of the non-South Asians who frequent the place... it was jam-packed!

So the biryani was good, but I was totally blown away by the tikka masala. It was so delicious that I could skip the meat and just pour the curry sauce over my basmati rice! Perfect on a cold and wintry day of walking.

I just have to visit Naan 'n' Curry again when I find myself in Concord. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

sneak peek at Polynesian culture

Hawaii is geographically part of the Polynesia, a region in the central and the southern parts of the Pacific Ocean. These are some of the most remote islands in the planet and I had the opportunity to fly to some of these islands via United Airlines' Island Hopper route last year. I just stayed in the airports back then because we were just literally island hopping. 

This time around, I thought I might be able to see a bit more of the culture when my tour group made a lunch stop at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie. There were potentially six villages we could visit to see the different cultural exhibits: Samoa, Fiji, Hawaii, Tonga, Tahiti, and Aotearoa. However, we were just passing by (from the Hukilau Marketplace to the barbecue lunch) so everything I had was just a sample of the cake called Polynesia.

One of the things I noticed was the hand sign demonstrated by the statue outside the centre... I understand that it is called shaka and it means "hang loose" (among surfers... and there are plenty in Hawaii) and "Aloha spirit" (the signature way people greet each other in Hawaii).

Peppered throughout the centre (and even in the Hukilau Marketplace) are statues that represent Polynesian deities or ancient ancestors. Though uniquely Polynesian, I somehow get reminded of the bul-ul, the male rice deity I've seen in Ifugao. Is it possible that there's similarity among the Filipino cultures and these Polynesian cultures?

Perhaps. I was in conversation with a former classmates many years ago about Polynesians possibly descending from aboriginal Taiwanese. I couldn't believe what I was hearing at the time, until I bumped into an article about it at the National Geographic.

I wish I had a bit more time to roam around the Polynesian Cultural Centre. It's supposed to be the most rapid way for me to take in some of the culture without actually flying to the different countries. However, I only had a limited time on Oahu, so I had to skip quite a few of the tours... including the interesting story about Laie, where Adventists settled and built schools for the locals.

As I was walking back to the bus after lunch, I noticed this statue; at first, I thought that he was holding a regular guitar. But it's a Hawaiian steel guitar... and this is a statue honouring Joseph Kekuku, the guy who invented the instrument. And he's holding it atypical from how others hold their guitars. A bit of reading led me to the "lap guitar", which means he played it the way the statue portrayed him.

A fascinating glance at Polynesian culture indeed. One day, I'll be back in Hawaii and I'd like to immerse myself a bit more into the culture... aside from the luaus and the food, of course.

I hope that this day in the future won't be as distant as the gap between my first trip out here and this one.

Monday, December 26, 2016

we found whales!!

I was at Diamond Head Beach Park, one of the hidden beaches near Waikiki, with Duane and Didi (who are Lorie's friends). Originally, we wanted to hike Diamond Head but we arrived too late in the day. So instead, we opted to wait out the sunset on the beach. We just didn't know yet which one.

We stopped when we saw that there were many people surfing because we figured that there must be a way there (either on foot or by car). We're sure that the other people have passed the warning signs about the hazards of going beyond the road level and the memorial for who I assume must be a fallen surfer. 

Despite these warnings, people still took the risk and caught the waves. Take note, it's winter. The water must be frigid!

While watching the many surfers in the water, I glanced further into the horizon and saw water spurting out of the sea. That couldn't be a whale, I thought. My eyes must be playing tricks on me. And then another spouted water into the air... okay, that's a whale! Other people must have seen them too because we were all squealing at the sight. And thanks to my camera's 40x optical zoom, I was able to catch a decent photo of one whale's flukes! Finally!!

Too bad I couldn't get any closer to the whales. Not like that time I was almost up close to a pod of dolphins off the coast of Anilao. Anyway, if I were to guess, this whale is a humpback. They should be migrating south around this time of the year anyway. It would be cool to see blue whales or sperm whales... or even orcas. But I guess they don't venture this close to shore so far south.

Maybe I'll take a boat ride on a whale-watching trip at some point. In the meantime, I contented myself with the whale sighting and the glorious sunset that started to cast a golden glow on the coastline. And being hidden from the hustle and bustle of the Waikiki side of O'ahu, the coastline was serene and picturesque.

This has got to be one of the best sunsets I've encountered so far. Manila sunsets I've seen have normally been cloudy, rarely clear like this.

One day, I'll be back for more, Hawai'i! I shall return!!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

lactose-free pineapple ice cream? C'est possible!

How can ice cream be lactose-free? And how can it be pineapple flavoured? I mean, there's ice cream that isn't made up of milk? And have food developers figured out how to deal with the enzymes in pineapples that break down milk proteins?

Apparently, Hawaiians have pineapple ice cream as a regular treat. So, I wanted to try this yummy dessert...  and I was particularly interested because I am lactose-intolerant. I finally got to taste this at the Dole Plantation in Wahiawa, Hawaii, in the heart of the island of O'ahu. 

And no, I didn't ride the choo-choo train to reach the ice cream shop. This train is intended for visitors who wanted to visit the plantation and to see the famous maze. For some reason, seeing the train in the context of pineapples reminded me of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the film I first saw in Sydney and whose numerous scenes were shot in central Australia. 

I was quite worried that there might be a long queue for the ice cream at the shop because there were a lot of tour buses parked outside. True, the shop was packed, but many of them were checking out the boxed pineapple products and not the ice cream. It took me about five minutes to get it.

I am happy to report that the ice cream lived up to my expectations. It was so yummy!I was just surprised that it (along with any food served in America) came jumbo-sized. How was I supposed to finish this off in ten minutes before I had to leave again?!? Oh, and did I say that the day started off cold? I ended up shivering after chomping down on the ice cream!

As I found a spot to eat my ice cream outdoors, I passed by this gumball section. As everything else in the store, it's pineapple-flavoured! I just had to skip this, though, because I have been avoiding bubble gum for two decades now.

It was fun to be at the Dole Plantation. Too bad I was only there for a few minutes... just enough to literally get a taste and to want more. When I find myself in O'ahu again, I'll spend more time here... probably half a day. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

At Pearl Harbor

I've watched Band of Brothers. But that's about the European theatre of World War II. I also tried to watch The Pacific, which featured the Pacific theatre of WWII. However, I couldn't stand it because I felt that it was too close to home. I mean, I saw tropical beaches, grasslands, houses... basically the scenes typical of my home; and there was war happening there, right outside my neighbourhood. I also watched Pear Harbor, which maxed Hollywood's fictional license in depicting how the attacks happened. It may be fiction, but it bore Pearl Harbor into the minds of those who were born way after WWII... when we feel that it's in our distant past.
But since I was in O'ahu, I wanted to visit Pearl Harbor, where the USA was forced into joining the fray of WWII on December 7, 1941. Coincidentally, this year is the 75th anniversary of that event, so I thought it is just fitting to pay a visit... a few days after the commemoration. And so at the crack of dawn, I found myself in a long queue of tourists waiting to visit this place.
Little did I know that Pearl Harbor is the site of three war memorials: USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma, and USS Utah. All of these were US battleships that were bombed by the Japanese pilots during the surprise morning attack on that infamous day. Many died in Pearl Harbor... in the USS Arizona alone, there were more than 1000 people who died. 

The memorial I was visiting during my trip to Pearl Harbor was the USS Arizona's. From the visitors' centre, it was visible as a white bridge-looking structure on the water. A few meters from it is the USS Battleship Missouri. The Missouri, which is fondly called the Mighty Mo, is where World War II ended. The Instrument of Surrender was signed by representatives of the Japanese Empire and by the Allies (represented by General Douglas MacArthur) in Tokyo Bay. So basically, the USS Arizona memorial and the USS Missouri denote the beginning and the end of World War II. It's an interesting placement, a mark of the USA's love for symbolism. And I remarked on that because in the Philippines, sites where our national heroes have been martyred are hardly treated as memorials. Luneta is a tourist spot, sure, but it is rarely treated by regular tourists as it truly is: a cemetery. More recently, hallowed ground for national heroes has been tainted by the ceremonial burial of someone who people have cause to revile rather than to revere.

My tour group took a short boat ride to the USS Arizona. We were told to treat this location not as a tourist spot but rather as a cemetery. No cellphones, no horse-playing. Well, it truly is a cemetery. At the far end of the memorial was the list of people who died with the ship. For someone like me, a foreigner, the list didn't mean anything but a list of names. But in the bigger scale of things, I salute these people because their lives and valiant deaths have caused Americans to join (and eventually contributed to the Allied Forces' victory) in World War II.   

Here's a puzzling thought for me however: Why didn't the Americans get the USS Arizona out of the water? I asked one of the staff at the memorial this and he explained that the technology that can be used to identify remains were not existent back in the 1940s; hence, they left the USS Arizona where it sank. To me, this sounded illogical because there had been an attack and America was about to jump into a world war; it was not the time for sentimentality and symbolism. I'd thought that the armed forces needed all the metal (guns, artillery, etc) it could scrap out of the battleship so that it could start retaliating right away. 

And so after my day of exploring O'ahu, I went straight to the Pearl Harbor website to find out what the real reason was. It turns out that the military did get as much out of the fallen battleship as it could during the war. The USS Arizona might not have participated in full capacity during WWII but it was used to arm the other surviving battleships and other military facilities. That left whatever's above water for us (future tourists) to visit and to ponder on. And the real reason why the USS Arizona wasn't lifted? It wasn't because of the fallen crew at all; the officials back then decided that they didn't have time to recover the battleship in the midst of the war. After the war, they decided to make it a memorial for the fallen soldiers.  

The memorial had taken the shape of a floating bridge over the Arizona. It was such a solemn place that I wasn't sure whether smiling for pictures was an appropriate behavior. During my brief stay there, I also saw the oil that has been constantly but slowly seeping into the sea. Tears, they call the oil... and it is said that it will take around 80 more years before all that oil has seeped out. Environmentalists may be worried about the pollution implications of this oil. The staff at the memorial was quick to point out that scientists are studying how to minimize the detrimental effects of the oil to the environment. Probably they'd find a way to recover the oil from the ship or they could slow the seepage even more. I also saw a photo that documented the underwater burial of an USS Arizona survivor. The ashes are put in an urn that is then released by divers in one part of the submerged ship. That way, the late survivor is united with his fallen crew-mates.

Back on Pearl Harbor's visitors' centre, I learned that the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri are located in what is called Battleship Row. This part of the US base was where all the battleships were docked in Pearl Harbor. And this was one of the Japanese pilots' main targets when they attacked. The destruction of these ships ended the era of the battleship and pushed forward the era of stealthier fighting styles, methinks... like submarines and aircraft carriers. And while I haven't seen an aircraft carrier in real life just yet, I can now say that I have actually had my second submarine sighting. Yes, second. The first one was in Sydney's Darling Harbour around 10 years ago. 

Unfortunately, I really didn't have time to explore the submarine on display (which, I understand, also saw action in WWII). Instead, I perused the American perspective of the war that changed the world. It's an interesting take too because as a student, most of the lectures in history class focused on what happened to the Philippines during WWII or the European theatre of the battle. It was a real treat for me to see a global view of the war... even if it's just an image:

What made this image interesting is the way that the countries in the Pacific theatre were named: French Indo-china, Netherlands East Indies, Portuguese Timor... France, the Netherlands, and Portugal were some of the colonisers back in 19th century. The Philippines was under Spanish rule back then, of course, and then got transferred to the USA in the late 19th century. The Netherlands and France were invaded by Nazi Germany while Portugal managed to stay out of the war. As the colonising countries capitulated to Germany, the colonies ended up under Japanese control. Portuguese Timor became occupied by the Japanese too, though Portugal was a neutral country. This was when I started understanding (a bit more) what my history teachers meant by the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
This certainly was a unique and somber way to start my day. But there were so many other things to see and to do in O'ahu so I had to shrug off the solemn mood. Still, that visit to Pearl Harbor set the tone of the rest of my vacation: history lesson!

Friday, December 23, 2016

bird-watching in O'ahu

Thanks to the 40x optical zoom of my point-and-shoot, I was able to capture photos of birds. In O'ahu this time. However, I wasn't able to go on an intentional bird-watching walk... unlike in ICRISAT. So here are the birds I was able to capture using my camera. There were more birds in O'ahu, of course. They were just too fast for me to photograph.

Common myna

Cattle egret
Spotted dove
Common waxbill
House sparrow
Zebra dove
Golden plover
Maybe I should seriously take bird-watching as one of my hobbies.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Orville and Lorie get married!!

So the day of the reason I stopped over in Honolulu came around. It is the wedding day of one of friends from high school, Orville Baldos! He's tying the know with Lorie Tongco, who he introduced to me, Rizza, and Kuya Rhulyx (in person) a few months ago.

They had a very tasteful and simple wedding at the Co-Cathedral of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus. I was the only one who made it among Orville's high school friends. But it's okay because I was able to meet again one of our common friends from college, Chester Dabalos. Also, I got introduced to Lorie's friends Didi and Duane. It is, literally, an intimate wedding because only a few friends and family were in attendance. 

Since the wedding wasn't as grand as the other weddings I attended this year, it fell upon us guests to record the memories coming from the wedding. The couple had a team document the ceremony but they had already left... they weren't able to capture the scenes at the church after the ceremony. Duane, Didi, and I took it upon ourselves to do the photography. And for some reason, I found the photos to be more personal, more candid... something that's lost in photos captured by typical wedding photogs who take nuanced shots.

Following the simple elegance of the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds hosted their own reception at Max's Restaurant. Yes, they hosted! The food was delicious... I wonder why the chicken in Max's branches in the Philippines (with the exception of the Hacienda Luisita branch) don't taste as good.

Anyway, as the guests left the reception, I remembered one of the Hawaiian words I've learned on this trip: 'Ohana, which means extended family. Strong family bond. I am so honored to have been invited to witness Orville and Lorie start their own family surrounded by family and friends who will support them through thick and thin. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

partying, the Polynesian style

Lanikunhonua, also known as Paradise Cove, is a secluded beach area found in Kapolei, a fast-growing residential area in the island of O'ahu. For me, though, the rapid development isn't so obvious at the resort because I went there to witness a luau, the traditional Hawaiian party. It's complete with food and entertainment, a perfect way to close a day of walking around Waikiki and getting my computer fixed.

As I arrived in Paradise Cove, I was welcomed with a lei and a choice between a mai tai (what is a mai tai?) and orange juice as welcome drink. Then I was guided to my assigned seat for the show. After that, I was free to roam around the resort and partake of the activities before sunset. As I was learning the Hawaiian translation of my name, the band was serenading me and the rest of the guests at this luau. They were singing songs in the local language so I had no idea what they were singing... but they sounded good, adding to the winter-at-the-beach atmosphere. 

Since the show hasn't started yet, I opted to get my name translated and written down on a leather band. Then I went over to try Hawaiian bowling (ulu maika) and javelin throw (o'o ihe). I didn't do so well in both events but I did get quite a few seashell leis afterwards.

The hosts of the afternoon festivities started taking their places where lifeguards would normally be in regular beaches.

They explained that each time we heard a guy blow into a conch shell, we should follow the sound because he's guiding us to where the next activity would be.

First, he heralded the beginning of demonstrations of traditional ways of catching fish at sea using nets (hukilau). The "fishermen" were by the beach and then they went off into the sea using a traditional canoe. Afterwards, they came back to the beach, sans fish, but with the net.

And then we could go under a grove of trees and learn how to make leis. In my case, I learned how to make a bracelet out of orchids.

As the sun finally set, we heard the conch again, leading us to the amphitheater where the host of the imu ceremony appeared and introduced us to our dinner. He said that we would be served fried chicken, salad, pasta, and cakes. Beverages weren't part of the bill so we could buy our drinks at the drink stand. And then, he described the highlight dish of the night: the kahlua pig...

... which reminded me so much of Philippines' very own léchon! One major difference, though, is that the kahlua pig is cooked in an underground oven, covered with banana leaves. After a few hours of cooking the pig, the men took it out of the oven and paraded the very fragrant pig around the amphitheater for people to see the pig up close before it got all chopped up.

The imu ceremony was completed by dancing and good music. All very calm and relaxing, building up to the dinner party that was about to start in a few minutes.

We knew that the party was about to start when the lights dimmed and the host of the hula came on stage. He also doubled as a singer and translator... he effectively got us into a party mood,  Hawaiian style.

There were a few songs and dances, all tame... until this guy came out with torches! He was a fire eater and wowed the crowd!

I felt that he should have come out last because he was a tough act to follow, even by male and female hula dancers who even called members of the audience to dance on stage with them.

The evening ended on a high note with the fire eater coming back on stage for a very brief encore.

I had a lot of fun during this luau. Too bad I was alone. It would have been a lot better if I wasn't alone. Next time, I'll go on a luau with family and/or friends. Then it would be a riot!