Sunday, January 29, 2017

Happy birthday, Danielle!

Time flies pretty fast. Before we realised it, Danielle, the son of a childhood friend of mine, has already turned seven! For some reason, Jollibee has remained very popular to kids and their parents. They are so fond of the character that celebrating a child's seventh birthday in this fast-food chain has become a typical event. This wasn't so during my time, however, because back then, Jollibee was seen as pretty expensive and was a place to go to only when we got high grades in school; we were much more inclined to eat and celebrate special occasions at home or in Chinese restaurants (birthdays have to have birthday noodles, for instance); and Jollibee wasn't accessible back in the day... we had to go to Binondo to see Jollibee (McDonald's was much closer, in Alabang Town Centre).  

Jollibee's current birthday packages and locations make it more convenient for parents to set up a party there; they just practically have to make a reservation and Jollibee will handle all the details (food, mascots, games, loot bags...). And Jollibee branches can be found every few kilometers; it's just a matter of picking a venue for the birthday party.

In Danielle's case, his birthday was celebrated in the Jollibee branch very close to my house (a five-minute drive). Jollibee pulled all the stops for the food: Anna and I were practically filled after being given soda, spaghetti, fried chicken, burger, and ice cream. The kids enjoyed the games so much and the dance numbers by the mascot as well. Danielle was the happiest kid of all, of course.

Thank you, Danielle, for inviting Anna and me to your birthday party. May you have a good year ahead of you!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Officially welcoming the year of the rooster!

I'm going to quote a French sentence I saw on Facebook yesterday: 
J'ai decidé commencer mon année 2017 au mois de février. Je considère que janvier était un mois d'essai gratuit. 
It's a funny post, of course, but it's also apt since the Year of the Rooster starts officially on January 28th, not on January 1st for 2017. Chinese New Year falls on a Saturday this year; which meant that I was in Makati because I had school in the morning. In the afternoon, however, I was in Greenbelt, trying to walk off the heavy lunch I had at Sugi (yeah, eating Japanese food on Chinese New Year is cool, no?). The beating of the drums signaled that the lion dance and/or the dragon dance was being performed nearby.


Ever since I was kid, I have always wanted to watch these performances during Chinese New Year. There were several instances when I'd venture away from my parents (who were busy shopping in Divisoria) just to see these characters go from one store to the next. This year, I excitedly edged closer to the action to get up close to the performers. I guess some things just don't change. 

And I wasn't alone. A lot of people in the mall also stopped what they were doing to watch the performances. After all, this only happened once a year. Kids also ran up to the characters with the same glee that they have when they see Jollibee (I am not kidding). Overall, it was such a fun and exciting, albeit short, event in the mall. Until next year...

Gōngxǐ fācái!

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Fo what is becoming an annual road trip with my mom and dad, we visited a quaint and charming little city called Carmel-by-the-Sea this year. Once we arrived, I couldn't help but feel that we entered an artist's haven.

It's a really small city filled with nooks and crannies with a lot of inns that are surrounded by flowers. Too bad we were here only on a day trip; it would have been nice to stay here for a few days to really have a chance to explore the place.

And Mommy just had to go inside a few of them to inquire about their room rates.

Anyway, what I really liked about this town is the series of shops on the main road. Unlike in the shops in the malls, the attendants in and the owners of the shops here were warmer and more hospitable. I felt like I was back in the Philippines. For Mommy, it's the first time (I think) that someone helped her fit shoes. And the staff at the Tiffany's store here were really kind; they weren't in a hurry to go to the next client. The prices of the items here were high though... well, that's what happens when people get quality service, right?

Aside from the cheery shopping atmosphere, I also liked the winter scenes of the window displays and the artwork in the Dr Seuss shop.

As we walked further in town, we whiffed the scent of perfume; we followed the smell until we reached a shop called Ajne. The owner, Jane Hendler, creates customised perfume blends for her clients using natural raw materials. She extracts essential oils herself. And her clients include movie stars and hotels.

As the day started to wind down, we found a road that runs by the coast. And this was where I started to understand why artists love staying in Carmel-by-the-Sea: the landscape here at sunset is gorgeous!

As we drove back to Pittsburg, I took a mental note: we'll visit this place again.

Friday, January 20, 2017

John Muir, environmentalist extraordinaire

I first heard of John Muir when my dad started working in a medical facility named after him. Then when my dad and I would fetch my mom from work, we'd pass by an old house with a National Park Service marker. Curious, I thought... who is this famous guy called John Muir, whose name is found in many places frequented by my family.

So on a "culture vulture" afternoon, Daddy and I thought it was a good idea to set off early from the house to visit the historical landmark and get to know a bit about the man and why he's famous in California. Turns out that his house is actually a mansion, with all the creature comforts for someone who loves to stay within the high social circles.

And rightly so, since John married into a rich family. However, the alta de sociedad life is not for him... he preferred being in the great outdoors and then writing about his adventures and the beauty of the western wilderness for newspapers.

He was a major mover that led to the California we see today, a state that has a lot of conserved wilderness and forests that travelers like me, now enjoy. This, despite the urban zones that grow brought about by economic and industrial developments in the state.

I really wish that the Philippines has a strong advocate into wilderness conservation like John Muir. We have a lot of natural resources and beautiful beaches and mountains. But the pressures of increased tourism will eventually damage the once pristine conditions of mountains and beaches. And the constant pressure of building cities can lead to forests being chopped down to give way for the concrete jungle.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Hidden Figures (2016)

Apollo 13 has always been the most compelling story from the U.S. space history for me. Yes, I've met with the Japanese astronaut, Dr Mamoru Mohri but (probably because Dr Mohri didn't talk so much about his work in the Space Station) I isn't feel as excited as I'd want... perhaps because going to space has already been done by many people and it is not as pioneering as before... they think.

Anyway, a movie about women empowerment called Hidden Figures was showing so Joycelyn invited Daddy and me, along with her parents, to watch it with her. I had no clue what it was because I never heard about it but I totally enjoyed seeing the movie.

It's about three African-American women working at NASA at the dawn of the Space Age. They were math wizards (human computers), who could calculate space vehicle trajectories on pen and paper... this was, after all, way before the IBM computer was used routinely. They worked in a society in which people of colour were segregated from Caucasians and women had more limited gender roles... they were the primary caregivers for their families and arm candy for their husbands. The three highly educated women were certainly sore thumbs sticking out. And they gained the respect of their peers (men in coats and ties) when the more results-orientated scientists and astronauts showed that they weren't concerned with gender and with skin colour. To them, reaching the moon was the objective. They couldn't care less about the politics of how to get there.

For a scientist like me, this movie is an eye-opener. I identified with those women... or at least my aspirations aligned with theirs: get educated; be good at what they do to help the best way they can; and be there for their kids and for their husbands. I have to work doubly as hard as my peers to be deemed as competent as they are because they are men and are non-Filipino, like these women in the movie, surrounded at the work space by white men. Suddenly, I felt that I wasn't alone... what my experiences are were something that these pioneers also went through, in a tougher world even.

And so, I highly recommend this movie to budding women scientists... and to scientists of any colour. The first step to overcome discrimination, after all, is to recognise that bias exists.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

San Francisco by foot

One afternoon, I finally had a chance to go on a walk of San Francisco by myself! Daddy had a reunion with his fellow Don Bosco alumni while Mommy (who wanted to join me on my whirlwind tour of the city) was dissuaded from joining because it was cold and I was going to go to as many places as I could on foot. So Daddy dropped me off the BART station and off I went. Finally a chance to get a lay of the land!

Getting off the Embarcadero Station, I started walking around, typical tourist with camera on my neck, taking in the sites of the tall buildings. I remember being in Sydney for the first time and reacting the same way... but for San Francisco, which is also an old city, somehow, this tour was different. But that's because I've been here several times before but this is the first time I was in the city on my own, touring on my own terms. Exciting!

I found quickly enough that walking aimlessly, trying to immerse myself in the vibe of the city wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be so I decided to jump onto the cable car to see more of the city faster.

I joined the queue right behind a Chinese family who was in San Francisco on holiday for the first time. The mother told me that it's the family's first time and they wanted me to guide them where they're supposed to disembark. This forced me to make an itinerary on the fly. I suggested that they go to Fisherman's Wharf and to the Ghirardelli Square, which would be a hit for their kids (come on... who wouldn't love the idea of being in a chocolate shop and in seeing seals on the pier, right?). I, on the other hand, would be going to the maritime museum to see some boat history. After all, the waterfront is strait known as Chrysopylae, the Golden Gate.

The cable car passed the houses that have made San Francisco famous: Victorian style mixed with modern architectural details... with bay windows reminding me that I was, indeed, in San Francisco. It wasn't stiff, like what I imagine Victorian architecture would be because San Francisco residents added playful details to their design... like teddy bears painted on garage doors.

So I eventually disembarked the cable car and the family went to the Fisherman's Wharf. I then went to the Maritime Museum to see the boats.

I wanted to see the actual boats so I went to Hyde St Pier to see them in the boat park. But there's a fee to get on the boat so I opted to just take photos from the pier. No need to be on the boat at this point... especially those that wouldn't be moving off to tour the sea.

But the most interesting aspect, for me, was to learn about the importance of the maritime industry for San Francisco. So back in the museum itself, I started looking into the details. Of course, the national parks were mentioned, along with John Muir, who is famous for making people realise that wilderness conservation is important.

And then there were the photos of boats. San Francisco must have looked and smelled so differently then compared to what it is now. I imagine it smelled of fish and seawater and there must be a lot of sailors and merchants plying the roads here before... perhaps it was quite seedy as well, just like the images of ports in movies. But on a bright sunny afternoon like the day I visited, the city had a very wholesome vibe to it: kids playing about, people reading books or exercising... a relaxing walk indeed.

And then there's Alcatraz, the famous prison which I haven't set foot in yet. Perhaps, one day, but not today... I heard that buying a ticket must be done well in advance because it's a high-demand tour.

After my visit to the boats, it was time to go up the hill again. I've planned to visit the Cable Car Museum and I was lucky to find out that the cable car I was on was making a stop here. The driver's shift ended and we had to wait for the next driver. So I jumped off the cable car and made a whirlwind tour of the museum. 

Turned out that I didn't need to hurry because it took the new guy around 15 minutes to get settled into the cable car I was riding.

And then I was back on Powell St. I opted to skip Union Square and the big shops because I've had my share of malls in Waikiki. So I just started walking again, aiming to reach the City Hall, which I've heard, looks really pretty.

But then I saw this building to my left that looked like a museum. I just had to take a picture of the facade... it turned out to be the US Mint building. I found it apt that the lighting during time I was walking there made it look like it was speckled with gold. Appropriate, I thought, for a building that makes coins.

I decided to walk on a parallel road to Powell St. I got worried when I heard sirens blaring and when I saw a police car, a firetruck, and an ambulance whiz past me along the same direction I was walking. And people smoking weed were staring at me like I was a weird one... but of course, I must have stuck up like a sore thumb... my map was out and so I looked like a tourist who made a wrong turn. Or perhaps they were so stoned that they'd stare at anyone the way they looked at me.

I ended up where the homeless people were staying... they were living on the street and there were public facilities (like portable toilets) set up so that they could, at least, not poop or pee on the road. The emergency vehicles that passed? They all stopped at a corner where a homeless person collapsed and needed medical attention. Walking past this scene, for me, led to a jarring realisation: life in the city is not all that glamourous. People could live in extreme poverty out here. But "extreme" here is quite different from the Third World version of extreme poverty.

But anyway...

I took another turn and I ended up in an art gallery! It's the International Art Museum of America.

The only art exhibit that could be photographed look like Winnie the Pooh's house. But inside, there were many interesting pieces... the ones I liked most were parts of this huge collection of paintings done by a guy who I think might be a Dalai Lama; I'm just not sure if I remember the description

As I went out of the museum, I saw that the sun has already started to set. I then proceeded to the nearest BART station and went back to the station where Daddy was waiting for me with his fellow Bosconians.

What a good day for an extended walk. Next time, I'll visit other neighbourhoods of San Francisco.

Friday, January 13, 2017

my first food truck experience

Biboy has been, for the longest time, planning to bring me food trucks; I think he's doing this to give me the big-urban-city feel typically manifest in San Francisco... a city often featured in tv cooking competitions. The closest I have experienced to eating food from a food truck was buying taho from the vendor plying the village on Sunday mornings; or buying grilled street food (like isaw, kwek-kwek) from the vendors at the plaza.

Anyway, Biboy and Barbara finally found the opportunity to bring me to a food truck stop on a cold winter day in the Bay Area. Daddy and I picked up Mommy from work and we went to the venue to meet Biboy and Barbara.

I had thought that it would have a fair-like atmosphere but it was more subdued... maybe because it was a really cold night; Mommy was saying she didn't prepare for eating out-of-doors. Despite that, I think that the experience was really nice and the food options were really delicious. Perhaps I'll have a chance to do it again if ever I pop in on a warmer day. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

an underground tour in Mercer Caverns

It was a cold and rainy winter day but the gloomy weather did not dampen our spirits. Ate Maddie, JP, Mommy, Daddy, and I trooped to Mercer Caverns deep within the Calaveras marble formation. This trip brought back memories of Professor Dimaandal's general science class back in high school. In that class, I learned that marble is a type of metamorphic rock; that is, a rock type formed by chemical changes in the parent rock caused by immense pressure and heat deep within the Earth. I assume that the rocks here are sedimentary rocks because there are no volcanoes (that I know of) in the area... otherwise, I'd say igneous rocks were the parent rocks.

... which brought me to a concern of mine: What should we do in case of an earthquake? We're hundreds of metres underground. Could we get out in case the earth shakes? 

Our caving guide told us that being in the cave was probably safer than being on the surface when an earthquake hits. According to him, most quakes happen in shallow depths; we were going 160 feet down, beyond the reaches of earthquakes. Again, I tried to search my brain for Prof. Dimaandal's geology lesson. The earth shakes in waves, with those occurring on the surface being felt the most and causing the most damage. Unless a fault-line runs within Mercer Caverns and/or the earthquake is a really large one, cavers would relatively be safe. Can they get out is a totally different question, though.  

As we went deeper into the cave, I put the earthquake issue at the back of my mind and started observing the formations. We were not allowed to touch them because our hands have fatty acids that may react with the rock formations. It's alright... after all, this is the first time that I've seen stalagmites and stalactites in real-life. The strategically placed lamps provided stunning lighting on the formations. I felt I was going under the sea, without water.

Under the water indeed. Because we also saw coral-like crystalline formations. These formations are called aragonite. No, not named after the King of Gondor and of Arnor, unfortunately; rather, these mineral formations were named after Aragon, the Spanish autonomous community. If I only saw photos and not the real thing, I'd think that fish were lurking beyond these formations. Plus, they're all so pretty!

Reading up on these aragonite formations, I learned that aragonite is made of calcium carbonate. It's quite different from limestone, which I've encountered back in Prof. Dimaandal's general science class. What I like most interesting is the crystalline structure of aragonite. Too bad we're not supposed to touch them.

After our trip down the cavern, which in no way was similar to Alice's fall down the rabbit hole, it was time to go back up... and I dreaded this part because I could see nothing but ascents. Yes, there were steps but they were steep! 

Surprisingly, the climb didn't turn out to be that difficult. There were a lot of stops by the tour guide to point out interesting features on our climb up... suffice it to say we had a lot of rests.

During this whole tour, for instance, we took the illumination for granted. We wondered about the beauty of the cave formations but they were visible only because of the lamps installed. Our tour guide then showed us how a cavern tour used to be like.

It was pitch dark. 

How were tourists expected to traverse the cave in the dark? Why, with a wooden board containing candles, of course! The tourist held the board with his mouth so that both hands were free for rappelling. That's right: rappel with a board between one's teeth, loaded with candles.

I bet the cave wasn't even lit up that brightly so the tourists didn't see as much as we did.

That's such a fun trip to Mercer Caverns, made possible by Ate Maddie and JP who invited us to go with them on an adventure weekend.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Walking to Lands End

We were all up for an adventure on a warm post-Christmas day so Biboy and Barbara brought me along on a "hiking" trip to a National Park in San Francisco called Lands End. Actually, it's part of the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. But it wasn't much of a hike for me because we were walking leisurely through mild slopes... not like when Joyce and I hiked with Beethoven and I ended up barfing on the side of the trail (thanks to kiwis... I am not drinking kiwi shakes before any strenuous activity anymore!).

So, sufficiently covered up for our trip, we exited the car and started walking. By the way, warm here means we weren't surrounded by snow.

Anyway, back to Lands End. Our adventure walk started at the famous Cliff House. A restaurant I have on my San Francisco to-visit list. The window seats have a breath-taking view of the California coast of the Pacific Ocean. Alas, we weren't there to eat. It was merely a stop before we reached (literally) Lands End. I shall stop again here one day, but I'd purposely go here to eat.

While walking, we saw our first glimpse of the ruins of the Sutro Baths. It used to be saltwater pool complex. It's difficult for me to imagine that this was once an indoor swimming pool complex. Expectedly, it's difficult to maintain; after all, the saltwater can be damaging. 

Then we entered the park. Now, I started seeing the trees. The trees here were quite different from the forest that Joyce and I visited and the national park that Ate Maddie and I visited too. Here, the trees were sparse; perhaps because they're closer to the sea. 

And then I spied a little map on the side of the trail that helped me get my bearings... where we were in the greater scheme of things, shall I say. Based on the map, we were on the west side of the San Francisco peninsula. As we walked closer and closer to the water, we'd start to see the Golden Gate Bridge from a different angle.

Not sure. This vantage point is already different for me. For the first time, I was looking at the Golden Gate Bridge from the Pacific side of the "Chrysopylae", the Golden Gate strait. I was actually looking towards the San Francisco Bay for the first time!

As we started our descent to the beach, I couldn't help but notice that it's such a rocky shoreline! People were actually lounging by the rocks and the logs while watching the waves crash nearby.

And by crash, I mean CRASH!

The waves were so powerful here. If I haven't been to Hawai'i's coastline (watching surfers) before this trip, I'd be shocked at how big the waves could get.

Ah... so the rocks I saw from the top of the mountain were actually sculptures that people left here. Why they want to put rocks on top of each other by the sea, with the huge possibility that these could be wiped out by an especially big wave, I cannot comprehend. Perhaps, if I'd push putting meaning onto a random pastime, this rock tower has something to do with how temporary life can be.

Not content with rock towers, people have also made Jenga towers under low-lying tree branches. I wouldn't dare play this game. The consequence has heavy repercussions...

It was, indeed, a great day to be outside. Exercise. Leisure walk. Nature trip. No wonder a lot of people in California (at least in the San Francisco area) are health buffs.