Friday, October 28, 2011

Java fix

If there's one thing I brought with me from my small town to the big city, is my love for coffee. Growing up, I was mesmerized by my mother's penchant for black coffee for breakfast. In rural Davao, we were taught that coffee is an adult drink. Legend has it that "coffee dulls the mind." But how do you explain then, those who've had milk all their lives and yet...

When I was old enough to have the license to drink this brew at home, I felt like a sophisticated grown up. Sipping a cuppa while studying is my 'daily uniform'. The habit became a staple when I landed my first job. I didn't know what boredom was until I spent my days there stirring instant coffee while willing the clock to turn faster. 

Slowly, I inched my way to the stronger stuff. Espresso. I've met some friends who share an intense passion for coffee. It has become a social activity for us. If there was coffee club then, we would have signed up.

We would meet in Bo's Coffee in Ayala Center Cebu (used to be known as Bo's Coffee Club) after work and hang at the al fresco area. The coffee experience becomes richer because of the added allure of people watching while pretending to be immersed in serious conversation. ha ha ha.

That was almost a decade ago. I've lived in different cities since then. But I always find myself gravitating towards coffee shops. I've scoured the city streets to find the perfect place to hang and enjoy my latte.

In Tacloban where I was based for over two years, Jose Karlos was our usual. The coffee is good, price is reasonable and the ambiance is just unparalleled. It really isn't quaint but it does have a certain character. They really understand the power of mood lighting. And they employ it with much enthusiasm. I've spent so many evenings there for casual meet ups and even organized parties for my tight circle of friends at its lanai on the second floor. 

In Batangas, no particular cafe left a mark. One thing stands out though, the Barako blend is superb. I particularly enjoyed spending late afternoons in the roadside cafes after a toxic day. And of course, being nearer to Manila, the local brands compete with giants like Starbucks

And my love affair with this brand has never wavered. And it has even extended to its merchandise. (I'll write about it, separately). I love the espresso based drinks. I am particularly loyal to caramel macchiato, vanilla misto and signature hot chocolate. All are customized -- non-fat, no foam, no whip. 

Why did I write about coffee today? Ah, I've been debating with myself since this morning whether I should already enjoy my free tall beverage courtesy of Starbucks' online customer survey. In the randomness of things, I manage to snag one every so often. 

Tonight, my Friday gimmick will be surely spent at my favorite branch, Starbucks in Fully Booked at the Bonifacio High Street in Global City.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Underground River, one of the new 7 wonders of the world?

Often, we just flippantly describe something as awesome, amazing, awe-inspiring among other adjectives. Like everyone else, I am guilty as charged. 

The past week, I had the opportunity to participate in a Q5 Field Team Conference of Avon Philippines in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.  It is dubbed as a "city within a forest". That's because the city is nestled in the vast greens of the province. The trees surrounding the city stand gracefully while others as magnificently, as possible as they welcome guests to the Philippines last frontier. 

The three day conference was packed with sessions starting as early as eight-thirty in the morning and finish at around six-thirty in the evening with very few breaks in between. But we never made a fuss. For firstly, we were there for business. And secondly, good things happen to those who wait. Our travel itinerary says we are to experience the underground river on the third day. 

The Underground River is part of the city. But don't let this fact fool you. In reality, it will take close to three hours by land to get to the wharf where the motorboats are moored. You also need to be prepared for the bumpiest and most nauseous ride of your life. It beats Baguio by a mile.  There were 18 10-seater vans that brought all of us there. And in every single van, someone would later on tell the story of at which point they just have to throw up. But I guess, it's part of the whole adventure.

The moment you get to the dock in Sabang, you'll be ferried to the island. You'll reach the jump-off point in about 20 minutes, weather or wind velocity and direction permitting. While you are on the boat, you'll be treated to the beautiful scenery around you. Ancient-looking mountains made from limestone are a sight to behold and the sea water is just plain, crazy pristine. 

When you reach the shore, be ready to get wet! 
espadrille got dripping wet but who cares?
 Upon arrival, you have to pass by and register at the registry. You need to ensure that someone will look for you, just in case he he he. 
welcome earthling!
When you've written your name and signed-up on the vote sheet, you can now proceed to the short walk towards the river bank. By the way, the sign up sheet asks your birthday. You may skip the year but another log book has to be signed which has a column for your age! Just no escaping, lol!
a five to 10 minute walk to the river bank. the trees whisper at you as you pass by
When you reach the props area, okay life vest and hard hat hut, you take your time to take in the scenery as you have to queue. We heard that everyday, it is like that. There's no lean season. As we were waiting for our group's turn, I made the mistake of putting down my small bottle of C2. In a blink of an eye, it's gone! A naughty monkey took it away and carried it towards the bend of one of the trees. Ah, I knew it. He's been throwing glances when we arrived. Cute, very cute. And he knew how to drink it. Cultured monkey, eh?
the monkey, pre-C2 incident

the place feels so serene 

all aboard and ready to explore
just magnificent
I thought that if I can't tour inside the cave, I'd be just as happy and content. I was wrong. I would have missed so much, if I didn't!
our tour guide, kuya Rogel. been telling the story of the Underground River for 16 years. very engaging guide!
As he was paddling our way in the cave, he starts his tale with the precautions one has to take when in the underground river. Mind you, it's the only in the world that's navigable by water. According to him, the river had already been discovered more than a hundred years ago. In fact the first explorers were some American soldiers who left markings on the cave's wall. 

But the cave was only open to the public's exploration in the early 70s. Interestingly, the cave has two distinct water type, salt and fresh water. Inside the cave, the right side has some sea coral formations due to the saltiness of the water. 

Armed with only a 5-megapixel camera (thanks to my iPhone), the photos I took didn't do justice to the magnificence of the entire place. The river and the cave runs for about 8.5 kilometers. If you complete the journey it will take more than 3 hours to navigate it entirely. However, after the 3 kilometer stretch, exploration requires already different type of permit and preparation. The innermost space of the cave is already without breathable oxygen. 

Yet, that 45 minute stretch already offers you an awesome glimpse of God's creativity. The amazing formation of stalactites and stalagmites allows one to see beautiful sculptures attributable to known beings such as sea creatures and famous people or tableau in history. 

The highest point in the cave known as the cathedral is about 2,000 ft above sea level. It's just wow. You would gape at it, I guarantee. Jaw dropping. 

There is no substitute to knowing how magnificent this natural wonder is. You have to experience it for yourself. Book your tour now. And be one of those who have came in before the world recognizes it as the new 7 wonders of the world. Click here.
patiently waiting. who wouldn't if this your backdrop?

(P.S. I shall add more photos tomorrow. Come visit, again.)

Life in

Culturally, Filipinos love taking pictures. We just have a penchant for documenting memories no matter how small is it's relevance in our lives. We take a snap of every single milestone of a baby -- first smile, first crawl, first step, etc. When that baby grows we freeze the frames of each achievement from earning that one star in class to the class medals received. Every celebration is never complete without the requisite presence of a photographer. 

Hence, this country is a haven for hobbyists as well as serious photographers. Wherever you go, somehow your path will cross with someone who lugs a DSLR around. Owning a serious camera though doesn't necessarily translate to being a professional photographer. 

I fall into the category of "trigger happy" people. I tend to create occasions to photograph something. I take pictures of what I eat, of the nice things I see around,  of funny signs and of the world around me. Everyday, the world changes and my perception of it changes also as wisdom, insights and mood come into play.
See, I even take a photo of myself! Narcissist much? :-))

When I received my iPhone 4 as a gift from my fiance last Christmas, I was overjoyed! I can now take pictures anytime, anywhere. I must say that its resolution, clarity or quality of image is par to the point-and-shoot in the market. So, am really, really happy. 

The Apps (applications) makes it one of the unique selling proposition of any Apple product, aside from form + function, of course. There are hundreds of thousands of them. And one of those in constant use in my phone, is It's a fun way to share stories with friends and the world through pictures. 

Allow me to share the stories I have captured of the last 10 months of 2011.
My first shot was of a pedestrian gate. Filter: lomo-fi.
I promised myself then, that I would make it my project 365. One photo a day. Unfortunately, there are days that I forget or am not in the mood to post a photo. So here are my attempts at storytelling through photographs.
varied interest

food + travel 

hanging out 
beautiful sunset. 
bon appetit!

vanity, 101. 

me and my eccentricities. 

food and friends, great mix. 
happy faces.

Come join the community of visual storytellers. And you'll take not just beautiful and precious photographs; friends, too!  

What are you waiting for? Download at the App Store and follow me, shenglu.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Tucked in the corner of E. Rodriguez Ave and Tomas Morato in Quezon City is a food haven aptly called, Nomnomnom. We learned of it by word of mouth. It's a quaint place located in the ground floor of an old house converted into a commercial space. From the street, it's hidden from view.

It has this artist's vibe. Perhaps because it's frequented by people from the creative field. Inside, it's interior is decorated shabby chic.

The first time we went there was just out of curiosity. The second time was to sample the other dishes. The third, fourth and fifth times, we simply ran out of reasons. We just love going back.

The menu is pesco-vegetarian. All sets of dish out of tofu. I must say that its unique selling proposition is its price point (price range from P105 -- complete meal already) and ambiance. 

VST. Very Succulent Tomato.
Fried Ravioli. Yum.
Tofu Sisig. Delish!
kangkong stuffed calzone.
the happy diners.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, October 24, 2011

My flip flop snapped!

The barrio girl hit a hump in the big city. I was striding along the open-plan restaurant area of the Market!Market! Mall in Taguig. It's one street away from Serendra in Bonifacio Global City. I planned on spending the rest of my Saturday afternoon in Fully Booked. It's my favorite bookstore. It deserves another article, though.

Going back to my tale...I had this determined look on my face as I was mentally calculating the time it will take me to de-stress. I want a lash perm. Yes, there is such a thing for those unlucky women who do not have naturally clued lashes. And that no amount of mascara could curl it. I also have an appointment with my wax therapist for a Brazilian bare. Quite a full day, if I may say so.

My left foot just landed on the cement floor as I raised my right foot, following a normal rhythm, when whoop... it's just my right foot mid-air. Bare foot.

Where's my rubber slippers?! Oh, there! On the floor gaping at me. It's broken. The t-strap is hooked no more. How embarrassing! "Naka-LV ka nga, pigtas naman tsinelas mo!" (How ironic! You're wearing a Louis Vuitton bag but your rubber slippers' broken.)Lol. 

Goodbye, Havaianas. We had a good 3-years together.

I was rooted on the spot of my little accident for what seemed like an eternity. I was paralyzed with helplessness. I panicked, especially when I noticed that people were already starting to throw strange glances at me. Time to think fast.

The barrio girl in me wants to scream. My confidence in the big city is largely rooted to the fact that I blend in. I don't call attention to myself in places I feel vulnerable -- like the mall. But I have to rise to the occasion. No matter how unfortunate.

Slowly, I inched my way towards one unoccupied table. I sat there mulling my options. Going inside the mall will expose me more and I might still have more mishaps awaiting to happen. And it will take me more than a hundred steps. On one hand, I can go back to the car. The parking lot is nearer. But I don't have extra pairs there. We always take out clutter inside the car.

So, the mall it is. It took a little longer for me to gather courage and brave the difficult walk. But I got there eventually. I bought the first pair I saw in the first shop I came in that sold flip flops. Ha, it's called Ginga.

Moral of the story: don't wear flip flops anywhere other than the beach, house or the beach.

So, I survived my "broken" and "bare" weekend. Half of the weekend, that is. Sunday, I was off to Palawan.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Premier Night: The Three Musketeers

I am giddy with anticipation. Tonight, my friend Mei, will bring me along as her plus 1 to the premier showing of the movie The Three Musketeers at the Power Plant Mall Cinema in Rockwell Center.

When my friend, Mei asked me if I am keen on watching it, I was not quite sure what to answer. Pardon my ignorance but I had to ask her if, it's a play or a movie. Ha ha ha. Anyhow, I said yes. Regardless of her answer. 

It's not so much the movie that excites me. It is the fact that I'll watch a movie premier. The last time I watched one was during college. Back then, radio stations would sponsor movie premiers and listeners could win tickets. Lucky for me, I have a friend who is an avid listener and a persistent caller. 

She'd join the radio show several times during the days that led to the show date. Every time she wins, she'd give different names of her friends so our whole circle could watch the movie. Looking back, I admire her persistence and her generosity to her friends. Dialing in a hot radio station is hard work! I've seen her work the telephone keypad! She's amazingly fast. 

And that was how we gained entry to those shows. A bunch of rowdy college kids eager to freeload on movies. It's a treat considering that as students we live on a very tight allowance. 

But tonight is a different story. Gone is the ambiance created by the blaring sounds of the sponsor radio station and the booming voices of the radio jocks. Instead, I heard that we are to start with a pre-movie showing cocktail to mingle with other invited guests. Aha! 

I wanted to dress up and have some semblance of sophistication. But we plan on window shopping first. Hence, high heels is out of the question. In, the trusty ballet flats. And of all days, today, was the scheduled photo session for our new company ID. Our company hired a professional makeup artist and hairstylist to doll us up. Talk about luck. 

Hopefully, I will be able to really enjoy the night and the movie. I shall attempt to write a review of the event, er movie.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Revisiting a barrio girl's life goals

I've been told that life is what you make it. And that you should take time to smell the roses. Life is a journey, not a destination. 

It has never occurred to me that I would one day ponder on the things that really truly matters to me. Once, a friend told me to accumulate on experiences and not material things in response to my query on why he keeps on climbing mountains. How many summits does he need to quell his fascination of heights. Is Mount Everest not enough? 

It was one of those casual conversations that were never supposed to be serious in nature. And yet it hit me. And so, one day I took the time to take stock of where I was headed and how prepared am I to get there.

I have listed a few things to pick up along the way:
1. Have a purposeful life.
2. Build a house with a loft.
3. Save my first million at 35.
4. Buy my first car in 2010. Cash.
5. Travel. Get lost in the texture of other countries' culture.
* see Hong Kong in June 2008.
* visit some friends in the US
* explore Athens, London, Scotland, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Germany
* honeymoon in Paris and Venice
6. bask in the sun of Boracay
7. Get involved in social causes. Be part of the Habitat for Humanity.
8. Give my family, more love, more time.

This was written on my multiply blog in 2007. Four years down the road and am still not quite there. I am nowhere near getting my first million. Not even a layout for a house with a loft. I don't have enough moolah to buy a spanking brand new car. No involvement in social causes beyond my commentaries on the injustice of the world, the disparity of the rich and poor in this country. 
Here are some of the things that had happened since then. 

1. Am still trying to figure out how to live a purpose-driven life. 
2. Started saving my loose change in a coca-cola canister/coin bank. I have to start somewhere, right? 
3. I scaled Mt. Kinabalu in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Boy, it was hard!
Not quite to the summit yet. Didn't reach it, by the way.

4. I traveled. I soaked up in shopping, not too much in the culture, though. 
5. I vacationed in some of the beautiful places/resorts in the country -- Bellarocca Island Resort & Spa, Thunderbird Resort in Poro Point, among others. 
Santorini-like architecture of the villas in Bellarocca.

6. I enjoyed a 3-day carefree stay in Boracay. 
those were the days.

7. I haven't gotten past the Asian gateway; no Europe travel diaries to write yet. 
8. But I've seen a little of Vietnam, strolled the squares of Macau, dashed in Hong Kong and had a lovely, lovely time in Singapore. 
Beautiful Vietnam.

Ruins of St. Paul, Macau.

Hong Kong.

I am SAM. Culture, eh?  


9. I got engaged this year. By God's grace, I'll be married next year. No guarantee though that I'll honeymoon in Paris and Venice. 
10. I think I've made inroads with spending quality time and loving more my family, in spite of. 
11. I got promoted this year, yay! One of the perks of a promotion is to avail of a company lease car. Am still thinking about it. 

Hopefully, it won't take another four years for me to figure out what has become of my life goals.

Room with a View

I grew up in the province where banana trees grow aplenty. My world was colored green; filled with earth tones. Everything was just naturally pleasing to the eyes.
"For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
But the dreamer in me can't wait to escape the natural beauty of my birth place. I had to go to the big city. The thought of living a commuter's life thrilled me. And the prospect of being urbane exhilarated me.

Now, I live in the metropolis. My taste gets a little more gourmet, day by day. My stance becomes a little more defined, everyday. My demeanor changes a little, everyday. My horizon has broadened, a little bit each day. 

Yet, some things couldn't just be traded for the skyscrapers of the urban jungle. I catch myself longing for the days where I get a view of a garden or some pretty plants across my window. I want a room with a view. 

So, I bought myself a plant. In a small pot. Just like this one.
i speak to my plant, everyday. just a simple hello. (photo from Google)

I have this almost obsessive fear of the health hazards of the smog in the metro. I try to compensate my carbon footprint by planting or taking care of small plants in my house and in the office. 
My plant in my office. 

However, I still go home to this nagging feeling that someday I need to be in a better place. It's not so much the aesthetics but the ambiance of a home. I want to recreate my childhood room with a picture window. 
Almost like this. Thanks, Pottery Barn.

If money were no object, I want a loft. 
Just like this one. Thanks, Google.

I wish that one day, I'd enjoy that luxury of building my own library. And I get to have that really cozy corner furnished with this beautiful couch. 
My future reading nook. Thanks, Pottery Barn for the inspiration.

There's no question about it, I want to build a life and family here. And a little semblance of life, as I knew it in the province, with an abundance of greenery.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tiny Kitchen

Welcome to the Tiny Kitchen! Literally, it's tiny. But mind you, it's packed with food goodness! 

We were in Davao for a week-long business trip and we were so looking forward to the food treats. We missed the fruit festival, though. Nevertheless, it was a gastronomic experience. While still in Manila, Davao friends had made us promise to visit, Tiny Kitchen. The Sunday we arrived, we head straight to it. Only to find out that it's closed every Sunday.

Monday night, we came by again but we were a li'l late. It closes at 9pm! Sigh. We keep on missing this place... might not be meant for us. Persevering foodies that we are, we persisted. Saturday night, we made sure we got in as early as 7pm. 

Lo and behold, the place is really very tiny. It's about 18 square meters only, I think. But it's packed to the hilt. Evidence is the packed menu scribbled on a blackboard hung on the wall behind the pasty counter. 

And so the adventure began. We can't decide which food to order. Everything seemed too good to pass up. After quite a group huddle, we decided on these:

Paella Valencia. Can feed at least 3 people. Price? P410. Not bad, eh?
Pasta Verdura (P185) for the vegans.     

Of course, a meal isn't complete without the requisite dessert. Especially for those with sweet tooth like me and my friends. 

To die for, red velvet cake. About P85/slice.  
I think this is called, major major cake. Yes, major chocolate goodness.
And they live happily, ever after. 
A little fuzzy shot of us ladies who dine :-)
We slept a little better that night. And we dreamt of the scrumptious food we enjoyed, a little too much. And that red velvet cake, we want to go back to the next time we're back.

When in Davao, do check out the Tiny Kitchen. It's at the far end of the Torres Street's Restaurant Row.
Go visit. It's one meal, you'd like to re-live over and over again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Papa!

Here's a shout out to my father who tirelessly love and provide for his family.
Happy birthday, Papang!

Thank you for all the wonderful years that you paved the way for us to enjoy a better future. To you, I raise my glass and tip my hat, as I salute you for being the most wonderful father in the world. Cheers, Papang!

Monday, October 3, 2011

A quick peek of Legazpi, Philippines

The city of Legazpi sits in the peninsula of the Bicol Region. It's small compared to other provinces in the Philippines. In fact, one can tour around the city in just five hours! Local tourist guides can take anyone to a 360 degree tour of the whole city within the day. Population-wise, it's also small; approximately 179,000.

What it lacks for size, it sure make up for the sheer magnificence of its natural wonders.
Hello, Mayon Volcano!
Quite shy on this photo. Taken at the airport, around nine in the morning.
Ah, the serenity of the view. Taken from another perspective. This time at one of the points in Embarcadero, a new waterfront development that hopes to attract local as well as international tourists. This project looks really promising. The marina could rival that of the Clark Quay in Singapore.

Legazpi is one of the earliest sites of the Spanish colonization. It boasts of stone churches dating back to the 15th century. Look at the texture of the church. It's so beautiful. The camera did not do justice.

And of course, who wouldn't recognize this -- The Cagsawa Ruins.
It is situated a few kilometers away from the foot of Mayon Volcano. When the volcano's first recorded eruption in 1841 happened, the church that stood here submerged leaving only the bell tower, as seen today.

What makes Bicol a hot destination? It's food, literally. Spicy hot food that tingles your senses and imagination. Two spicy dishes come to mind, the pinangat and the bicol express. Upon arrival, these were what we filled our empty stomachs with.

And more.
Pinangat Pizza -- tastes really good!



 Chicken Adobo with gata (cocunot milk), so-so.

This is probably the softest version of crispy pata but boy, the skin is just as crunchy.

Complete your meal with any of the yummy desserts.
 sili ice cream, anyone? harmless at first glance but be careful, it bites.

I was billeted for over a week at The Hotel Venezia . It's a cozy place situated inside a mid-size village. A bed and breakfast that offers the view of Mount Mayon as backdrop. And it's a mere 5 minute drive from the airport. Rates are reasonable, too. 

Take a bite of the Bicolano experience and get a kick out of it. To know more about this scenic city, check on the Legazpi Tourism site.