Ang Dabawenyo » Out-of-Town The DAVAO blog -- from the islands to the highlands! Sun, 04 Nov 2012 12:43:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A tale of two cities Sat, 03 Nov 2012 11:30:53 +0000 Blogie OK, Siem Reap isn’t really a city — it is a province of Cambodia, which tourists associate with age-old temples and pleasant, soft-spoken locals. Development-wise and viewed as a whole, I’d say the place looks like Davao City in the early ’70s. But that’s about the only “advantage” my city has over this alluring Southeast Asian destination.

The airport is small, but very tastefully designed. It speaks of Cambodia’s culture and traditions through its understated architecture. The moment your plane lands you are afforded a foretaste of what to expect ahead of you. And that, in my mind, is how an airport does justice to the locale it is serving.

Wat Knang Phnom Krom

Wat Knang Phnom Krom

I’ve been in Siem Reap less than 3 days as I write this, but I can already see sharp contrasts between the city that I love and one that I am falling in love with. Particularly, in the area of tourism.

In terms of facilities, public infrastructure and economic achievements, Davao City does have an overwhelming lead. And yet, my hometown has much to learn from Siem Reap if it is to reach even a quarter of the latter’s tourist arrivals. No need to quote figures here: Siem Reap is teeming with foreign visitors, vacationers, pleasure-seekers, conference participants. Tourist profiles range from penny-pinching backpackers to 5-star-hotel-staying spendthrifts.

The hotel where I’m staying is at par, in terms of amenities, with most of the small hotels in Davao. But while Davao hotel guests have to shell out at least US$45, I’m paying only US$15 for a twin room (with wifi), inclusive of breakfast. Some guest houses even offer free bikes to their patrons — biking is a good way to see the sights here.

Siem Reap has quite a number of high-end hotels and resorts, but also plenty of hostels and inns — in other words, a wealth of accommodations choices for everyone. And, their level of service makes for a comfortable stay, wherever you might decide to check in.

Riding a tuk-tuk

Riding a tuk-tuk

By the way, American dollars are in currency here. Some Cambodians have mentioned it’s because of the instability of their local currency (riel), but it’s not difficult to imagine that dollars are widely used thanks to the healthy tourism industry here. You can even use dollars to pay tuk-tuks, a very interesting mode of transport in these parts ($1 a ride for nearby destinations).

On my last day here, I will be visiting the famed Angkor Wat, a world heritage site that brings in busloads of tourists each day. I guess nobody will argue with me that it’s Siem Reap’s main attraction. But there’s also the charming riverside spots where you can find shops, pubs, restaurants, cafés, and more temples.

With other Filipino visitors, I went to see the floating villages of Siem Reap yesterday. But we decided not to do the regular tour. Instead, we asked our tuk-tuk drivers to bring us to a clump of boathouses by the lakeside. The six of us all had the idea of doing an off-the-beaten-track type of tour, I guess.

A family welcomed us into their floating home (which I was afraid might sink with our combined weight!) and even gave us boat rides. None of the locals spoke English, but we made do with hand signals and lots of smiling. We had intruded upon their abode, which was humble but clean and surprisingly sturdy, and yet they welcomed us with earnest smiles.

Cambodian fisher family Floating house on the lake Cambodian kid

I find Cambodians to be very friendly and warm. Everywhere I go here, whether I’m eating at their restaurant or not, whether I’m staying at their hotel or not, the locals are ready with their radiant smiles. I have never seen so many smiling faces before!

Davao City has so much to offer: from the islands to the highlands, as we like to say. But there seems to be something missing, something that Cambodians in Siem Reap have discovered. Something that I fervently hope we also find for ourselves in the Philippines.

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Exotic Tawi-Tawi demystified (part 2) Fri, 19 Aug 2011 07:16:11 +0000 Blogie {Click here to read the first part of this post}

After dinner on my first day, Ramon and I had a few beers. I’m happy to report that Bongao Town has SanMig Light (usually ₱30/bottle). Red Horse and Pale Pilsen are available almost anywhere, too.

After the nightcap, I went out to the seawall to try and talk the sea into letting me dive the following day. The waves were angry and sporadically splashed salt water onto the road, but did not touch me where I stood. Silently, I implored the raging sea to calm down so I could descend to her depths. When I turned around to head back to my room, a spray of sea foam stroked my cheek.

Day 2

I woke up early on Saturday to find the waves even angrier. Then dark clouds rolled in and within minutes sheets of rain dashed all hopes of seeing Tawi-Tawi underwater.

But I was in Tawi-Tawi, and I consoled myself with that achievement.

After a light breakfast, I tried connecting to the Internet via my SmartBro dongle, which had given me quite a good 3G signal the previous day. No luck this time — probably due to the heavy rain. The locals say, though, that they get good Internet connectivity in town. (Smart Communications is the better mobile network out here.)

When the rain let up around noon, I hired a tricycle to take me around. I needed to buy a jacket because I didn’t think of bringing one (I was going to the beach after all). Then I gorged myself on local sweets (again) at the market, but this time along the old pier. After walking around a bit and chatting with some friendly marketplace hawkers, my driver-cum-guide gave me a joy ride across town.

We went up a hill where I thought stood a majestic mosque. Turns out it was Tawi-Tawi’s provincial capitol. The proud structure overlooks the governor’s mansion and new housing developments on Bongao Island.

Tawi-Tawi provincial capitol Governor's mansion Tawi-Tawi sign

Upon returning home, I met up with Ramon again and we had a grand time swapping diving stories. He has much more, of course, and I was growing more and more eager to experience those Tawi-Tawi dive sites he was so colorfully describing.

He told me about Sitangkai Island, which is dubbed the Venice of the Philippines, and how he never tires of diving that site. He and Engr. Reyes have seen great pelagics there, and sharks, and huge schools of different types of fish. Sitangkai is the outermost island of Tawi-Tawi and is a stone’s throw away from Malaysian Borneo. The thing is, if you do go to that remote island, you’d have to plan for an overnight, because the ferry does only one roundtrip a day.

Saturday breezed damply by and then it was nighttime again. I was going to fly out on Monday morning, so any chance of diving had altogether evaporated for me.

Day 3

Sunday, 6:00am. The sky was clear, with only wispy clouds, and the waves were tranquil! Knowing how strict Ramon was about scuba rules, I didn’t think they’d let me dive anymore, because my flight was going to be less than 24 hours hence.

At around 7, Engr. Reyes and his family picked me up from Beachside Inn and told me to bring my diving gear. My host informed me that we wouldn’t go deep and stay less than an hour underwater. I was ecstatic!!

But first, we were to climb Bongao Peak. I was about to protest, but I suddenly recalled a local myth about the mountain. Some of the inn’s staff who kept me company the previous night had told me about paying one’s respects atop Bud Bongao. They said that, before doing anything adventurous in Tawi-Tawi, one has to climb the province’s highest peak first. (I don’t know how high it is, but it took us a little over an hour to climb it. Maybe 1,500 feet or so?)

Bud Bongao is famous for its resident monkeys. At about the halfway point, these furry troops start to emerge out of the trees and demand a pass-through fee of bananas.

Near the top, there are two Muslim tombs that are regarded as shrines. You can enter one of them and pay your respects. It is said that people who enter the shrine can ask for forgiveness for all transgressions.

Rock formation Mountain view Native monkey Banana tribute Mountain trail Mother and child Monkey troop Alpha male Final climb

Since it was raining the previous day, the way up was muddy and slippery. The last leg of the ascent had cemented steps all the way near the top, but that didn’t make the climb any easier.

But the view from the summit — it will take your breath away and at the same time fill your lungs with joyous fresh air!

View from the peak Airstrip Awesome view

My host was telling me that, on really clear days, you’d be able to see Borneo to the south. Sitangkai Island was thinly visible then, but a few errant clouds were hovering over the horizon.

I almost forgot all about scuba diving up there… but then the scintillating blue waters beckoned.

Diving Bongao

Diving Bongao

It took me half the climb time to go descend Bud Bongao, I was just too excited to finally be able to dive Bongao! When the whole party was at sea level, we proceeded to Engr. Reyes’ beach resort, called Mountain View, to prepare for the dive. My host’s nephews were in town from London, Manila and Zamboanga, and they were also planning on doing intro dives.

The waters of Bongao did not disappoint. After two days of pining for the sea, I was finally rewarded with my first dive! And then another one. Read about my scuba adventure in Bongao here.

I can’t wait to go back to Tawi-Tawi! Three days there certainly weren’t enough. The next time I’m back, I’ll be sure to visit Sitangkai, the turtle sanctuary, the dive site off Sanga-Sanga Island, the Napoleon Wrasse nursery, and so many more…

I’d like to thank my host and dive master, Engr. Rosendo Reyes and Ramon Tañgon, Mr. Lando Lim of Beachside Inn, and Airphil Express for having made my first trip to Tawi-Tawi a memorable and exhilarating adventure!

Magsukul & As-Salaamu `Alaykum!

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Exotic Tawi-Tawi demystified Thu, 18 Aug 2011 17:54:41 +0000 Blogie Two weeks ago, I was at last able to fulfill a long-time dream: to travel to the southernmost point of the archipelago, the province of Tawi-Tawi. Ever since the start of the Mindanao Bloggers Community, I’ve been grabbing every opportunity to see as much of Mindanao as possible, so that I could share with the world the beauty of the Philippine South.

Sadly, except for a few people, the first thing out of the lips of friends and relatives who found out about my trip to Tawi-Tawi was “Is it safe there?”

I’m no expert in national defense situations, but as a private citizen I can positively say it’s safe in Tawi-Tawi. As safe as any city or town could be, I would imagine. The moment I arrived at the airport, I could see how relaxed people were. There were military personnel outside, but then I realized it was because a ranking officer had arrived on the same plane. And during my entire stay, I didn’t sense anything untoward or unusual. All I could feel the whole time was a sense of newness, but at the same time a feeling of familiarity — I was still in the Philippines after all.

Not counting my visits to Kuala Lumpur, Tawi-Tawi was the second place I’ve been to that has a largely Muslim population (the first was Basilan). That’s what my friends and family were referring to when they cautiously asked about the safety condition in the deep south. The perception that Muslim areas in the Philippines are dangerous still prevails, even among Mindanaoans. Allow me, then, to show you what I experienced in Tawi-Tawi (or at least the parts of it that I was able to see).

Sanga-Sanga airport Airphil Express Bongao Beach Beachside Inn Beachside Inn grounds Beach road Bongao Peak A computer school Construction Dais Bridge Fisheries project Philippine flag House on stilts Low tide Mercado

Day 1

I arrived on Friday, 5 August 2011, at 8:00am from Zamboanga City via Airphil Express flight no. 2P 243. (The airline pioneered this route and now flies between Asia’s Latin City and Bongao, the municipal capital of Tawi-Tawi, four times a week.) I was already scheduled to be in Zamboanga for a speaking engagement, so I took the opportunity to visit the country’s southernmost province from there.

On the plane before touchdown, the alluring coastlines and sparkling sapphire and emerald waters were a sight to behold! The province is made up of 107 islands and islets, including the fabled Turtle Islands. I couldn’t wait to get underwater!

The people at Sanga-Sanga Airport behaved as any group of people would in any airport (although this one is small and looks more like a warehouse from the outside). There were expectant relatives and well-wishers outside and the whole setting had a business-as-usual atmosphere. I was met by my host’s driver, who then brought me to the Beachside Inn where I would stay for the next 3 days. It was about a fifteen-minute drive on cemented roads from the airport to the inn. (Most roads on Bongao and Sanga-Sanga Islands are cemented.)

The Beachside Inn is untrue to its name only because the expansive beach is actually in front of the property. It’s in a sprawling compound, with about 22 or so rooms after the owners finish constructing the new wing. They have meetings facilities and a kitchen that can whip up a mean escabeche and tinola.

The rooms, while really basic, are air-conditioned and also outfitted with electric fans for when they’re using the generator (which is super silent). Scheduled power outages are common; on the flip side, Bongao’s water is good and reliable.

When I was there, the tail-end of a storm was threatening to ruin my stay, but from the inn it was awesome to watch the waves slam into the breakwaters and spray foam into the air. I was witnessing the rage of the Celebes Sea — a far cry from even the worst weather in the Davao Gulf.

My main objective in Tawi-Tawi was to go scuba diving, so the looming bad weather was very worrisome for me. I didn’t want to have come all the way here and not be able to dive…

Long before the trip, I had myself introduced via email to Engr. Rosendo Reyes of the Tawi-Tawi Divers Club, thanks to my instructor at the Carabao Dive Center, John Neri. When I finally met Engr. Reyes and two other club members (dive master Ramon Tañgon and Mr. Lando Lim, who owns Beachside Inn), I was instantly put to ease because the first thing Ramon asked me was to see my c-card. That showed their professionalism and concern for my safety as a diver. Still, it didn’t assuage my growing fears of not being able to dive due to the inclement weather.

In the afternoon, Ramon brought me to town on his motorbike. The main mode of personal transport there is the motorcycle, and tricycles are the best way to get around if you don’t have one. Although, Japanese- and Korean-brand sedans and SUVs are also present.

Too bad I wasn’t able to take a photo, but there’s a good-sized Catholic Church (complete with belfry) sitting right across the street from a mosque. I don’t know how reliable this figure is, that Christians comprise 30% of the total population of Bongao. Judging by what I’ve seen, it could be quite accurate. What I found interesting, though, is that Christians in Tawi-Tawi observe some Muslim traditions, like touching one’s chest after a handshake. Also, they speak the Tausug dialect, even among themselves.

Near the mosque and church is a relatively new mini-mall called Midway Plaza. It’s about one-fourth the size of Gaisano South in Davao, but it’s pretty self-sufficient: it has a grocery, a pharmacy, appliance store, clothing shops, a computer sales outlet.

Other things I spotted around town: internet cafés; schools (the Notre Dame of Bongao is in this area, while the other notable tertiary school, Mindanao State University at Bongao, is on Sanga-Sanga Island); banks (I can only remember seeing Metrobank, but I’m sure there are others); dress shops; repair shops. Except maybe for the calls to Islamic prayer that can be heard early in the morning, at noon and just after sunset, Bongao felt like any other town to me.

At around 4:30pm, we went to the public market to buy fish and have it cooked at the inn. It was astounding the innumerable varieties of fish and other seafood that were being traded at the mercado! I found it really difficult choosing which fish to have for dinner that day, but I settled for a rabbitfish (a.k.a. danggit).

Locals don’t usually buy fish on a per-kilo basis — each fish or squid or what-have-you is sold at a certain price, depending on the vendor. Of course, haggling is expected. (Due to the increased entry of buyers from Zamboanga, however, more and more Tawi-Tawi traders have already started selling their goods by weight.)

Tamparan Batfish Butterfly fish Fish galore Fish vendor Garfish Goatfish Local delicacies Octopus Parrotfish Porcupine pufferfish Rabbitfish Sting rays Squid Sweetlips

Ramon also introduced me to local delicacies, which were in abundance then, thanks to the observance of Ramadhan. During this holy month of fasting, Muslims break their daily fasting with sweets and sticky-rice treats after sunset. There’s the tamparan, or the local hot cake but much bigger, served with sweetened grilled coconut meat. I also liked the pitis (looks like suman, filled with sweet toasted coconut meat) and the pasong (a cone of delicately flavored sticky-rice cake).

Back at the inn, we had the rabbitfish (about 1.5 kilos) stuffed with onion, tomatoes, garlic and other spices, and grilled in a banana leaf. I believe this preparation is called pinaputok in Tagalog. It was heavenly! (And so did the other meals prepared for me at the inn.)

Beachside Inn Hotel & Restaurant is in Barangay Pasiagan, Bongao Municipality. Tel. +63(68)268-1446. Room rates: ₱700~1,000 per night.

To contact the Tawi-Tawi Divers Club, get in touch with Ramon Tañgon via his mobile phone: +63(918)699-2822.

Next up: Day 2 & 3 in Tawi-Tawi...

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My 1st time in KL Tue, 03 Aug 2010 11:01:27 +0000 Blogie I was invited to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to be a resource speaker at the Asian Bloggers & Social Media Conference, which was held from 28 to 29 July 2010. The flight itinerary that the event organizers arranged had me traveling on my birthday! But that was OK — I gladly sacrificed my birthday celebration for the chance to see Kuala Lumpur for the first time.

I had already met three Malaysians on my trips to Hong Kong, at BlogFest.Asia and at the Asia-Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum. Two of them, Sean and Siew Eng, went out of their way to show me around the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur. The first thing on my mind was Malaysian cuisine, so Sean brought me to Jalan Alor. That place is well-known for street fare, and is populated by Chinese food outlets mostly. It’s a lively place, with plenty of foreigners and locals mixed in to form a cacophony of languages and cultures.

During my stay, Muslims around the world were celebrating Eid ul-Fitr (the Islamic celebration that marks the end of Ramadan). Sean was explaining to me that Malaysia enjoys good relations with Middle Eastern countries, that’s why there were so many Arabs in KL when I was there. Women in burqa or abaya were everywhere to be seen — that was my first time to see so many Arabs in one place, which made for a novel experience for me.

View of KLCC WordPress talk Muzium Kesenian Islam Ornate lamp Qur'an Blogie @ Muzium Kesenian Islam Betel-nut box Durian jar Dome Twin Towers KLCC KLCC KLCC KLCC Petronas Twin Towers

Speaking of Islam, Siew Eng brought me to Muzium Kesenian Islam (Islamic Arts Museum). The museum has a huge collection of artifacts dating to early Islamic periods. Of particular interest to me was the assembly of Arabic calligraphy. Many of the calligraphic artifacts — pottery, scrolls, Qur’an tomes — were from the period when China had a heavy influence on the art. It was a feast for the eyes! There was also a piece of ancient history that came from Mindanao: a betel-nut box cast from bronze and inlaid with silver, dating back from the middle of the 19th century.

Malaysian cuisine did not disappoint. From native Malay dishes to Chinese food, my palate has never been so satisfied! When I wrote about Taste of Malaysia, a restaurant in Davao City, I was already looking forward to the gastronomic experience in KL. The food offerings around Bukit Bintang (a.k.a. “Star Hill”) alone were enough to please any foodie, but there was more! Even the humble offerings of Wan Tan Mee Jln Sg Besi (which is something like Colasa’s in Davao) blew my mind. At that place I had wild boar curry, and a soup of vegetables stuffed with fish paste, washed down with calamansi juice that had kiamoy (plum preserves) in it. I considered the gastronomic treats my belated birthday celebration!

One other thing that made my Kuala Lumpur trip a memorable one was the people. I’ve already mentioned the two Malaysian friends who took the time to accommodate me. There were also the conference participants who made the effort to express their appreciation of my WordPress presentation. (I even got tentative offers to come back for more!)

Then there were the strangers I met — and there were quite a few. The most engaging acquaintance that I made was a half-Filipino Malaysian, with whom I had the pleasure of spending my last few hours in the city. He was on his way to his hometown in Sabah. I had an early flight, so I’d already checked out and was brought to the train/bus station by Siew Eng at midnight. I was anticipating several hours of loneliness ahead of me… but, thanks to a simple act of kindness, was able to meet Ramli, whose mother is Tausug, and who turns out to share a hobby of mine. It’s always a delight for me to meet people who have the same love of languages as I do. Ramli and I spent the next few hours talking about Bahasa Melayu, Tagalog, Dabawenyo and Tausug (the last two of which are very similar linguistically).

At the airport (the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal), I also had a brief encounter with a Malaysian who spoke passable Tagalog. As soon as he found out I was Filipino, he used all the usual Filipino greetings on me. I found Malaysians to be like that during my stay: accommodating and polite. Which makes me look forward to my next visit to this truly Asian country.

What didn’t I like about KL? The traffic? Nope — Manila’s is much worse. The prices? Hmmm… There are lots of inexpensive places for meals and shopping, right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

There’s one thing, actually. Malaysia’s government, ruled by the Barisan Nasional political party since independence, does not seem to look upon freedom of expression very favorably. Coming from an advocacy that upholds just that, I felt a persistent low-intensity buzz while I was there. Not that I feared being jailed anytime during my stay, but it’s a kind of feeling you don’t have in countries where you know there’s complete freedom of expression. I was warned that there are regulations in place against “illegal assembly” (but who defines what is legal and what is illegal?) and against improper behavior (such as two unmarried people being together at night in public parks). Being warned of such things does not sit well with many people, I would imagine.

Just when I arrived back in the Philippines, one of my Malaysian friends told me about the arrests that were made among those who participated in a candlelight vigil last Sunday. The vigil was a peaceful protest to let the Malaysian government know that they were calling for the abolition of the Internal Security Act (ISA). For more information on this and other issues brewing in Malaysia, please visit

I hope that the Malaysian government will listen more intently to these calls for more freedom and openness. Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu and other places in Malaysia are truly beautiful and worth visiting — Malaysian tourism promotions abroad are among the best in the world — so, in my opinion, it would be a great boon to the country if the Malaysian people did enjoy the freedoms for which they have been clamoring.

On the whole, though, the trip to Malaysia was one of the best journeys I’ve had so far: gastronomically, socially and professionally.

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9 states in 1 month Sun, 28 Mar 2010 14:57:23 +0000 Blogie From 20 January to 20 February 2010, I traveled coast to coast across the continental United States. I was able to see 8 states: Michigan, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and California; plus, the District of Columbia. The main purpose of my being in the States was to participate in a special edition of the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which was put together for ten cyber-activists and online journalists from various parts of the world. On the first week of my stay, I was in a group composed of ‘new media’ practitioners from China, Hong Kong, Colombia, Iran, Lebanon, Moldova and Turkey.

The IVLP fellowship was conducted in Washington, D.C. for all ten of us (and then in San Francisco just for me, courtesy of the Institute of International Education). After the official business and the conference where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a policy speech on Internet freedom of expression, we were given a tour of the imposing city, the capital of the most powerful nation. And you could feel it, too! The history-rich buildings, the wondrous monuments, the provocative landmarks, the White House (although we only saw a fraction of the interior)… they all served to impress upon the visitor a sense of awe and admiration.

Experiencing Washington was a wonderful surprise. On the flight to D.C., I thought it was going to be a drab city, populated by boring government types and such. Far from it! Even though we were in deep winter, I could see how vibrant life was in Washington. Most people dressed in dull colors, yes, and yet I couldn’t help but see a colorful city, alive with activity and vigor. And being the capital, my ears pricked at the abundance of foreign languages spoken everywhere I went.

Contrary to expectation, there were so many young people around. Dupont Circle and Georgetown were a special treat for me — in and around the beautiful shops along the picturesque streets, college students and yuppies were everywhere to be seen. And it was easy to get to know them and talk about stuff. It was quite exhilarating!

Also part of the IVLP was a chance for us to spend time with American families. I had dinner with a wonderful family in Potomac, Maryland. The purpose of “home hospitality” was to give IVLP participants a feel of the typical American home. But I didn’t feel it was “typical” at all, because the family I was fortunate enough to meet is, in fact, quite an internationalized bunch. The man of the house was a former JAG officer who was stationed in the Philippines for a time, and his wife is a Japanese national — I was very delighted to have had the chance to practice my Nihongo with her! Their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter had recently come back from Hong Kong and Singapore, and happily joined us for dinner. Talking with them was eye-opening for me, and gave me a glimpse of American family life that’s wholly different from what you might see in movies.

On my first weekend, a couple of Manileño friends brought me to the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. This facility houses an enormous collection of aviation and space artifacts owned by the Smithsonian Institution. (It’s where they filmed the sequel to The Transformers — remember the SR-71 that turned into an old but friendly Decepticon?) As a Star Trek fan, it was incredible seeing the Enterprise space shuttle up close; I think I spent more time in that section of the Center than anywhere else.

My friends also brought me shopping (Outlet, where else?), and to an honest-to-goodness diner in McLean, VA called Silver Diner where they serve hearty American fare. All in all, it was a great way to kick off the vacation part of my stay in the U.S.

While I was in the East Coast, owing to good friends who went out of their way to host me, I was able to see New York City, Boston (as well as other places in New England), Nashua, and other cities. From Washington I took the bus to NYC, via a relatively new service called the “Bolt Bus“. Get this: comfy seats, quiet ride, free wifi, and power outlets everywhere! What’s more, the rates are incredibly affordable — I was lucky when I booked my trips online, because I got the D.C. to NYC trip (4 hours) for only $10, and the NYC to Boston ticket for only $15.

Even before I got there, I knew I’d love New York — and I did! A cousin who lives in Manhattan brought me around the night life there, and a dear friend from Davao showed me the quieter side of the Big Apple’s attractions. I also had a chance to see a high school classmate, and we had dinner at an Italian restaurant in Times Square. And in between, I gave myself time to really walk around this bustling city. I didn’t pass up strolling along the frozen lanes of Central Park either. But of all the places I’ve been to in New York, I think it’s Brooklyn that I like. It’s more relaxed, so to speak, compared to the hectic nature of Manhattan.

When I thought of visiting New York, I was apprehensive about taking the subway. But once my friend explained it to me, it was a snap. I got myself a 7-day metro pass and tried to lose myself in the city… but it just wasn’t possible. With all the signs and maps, it’s simply impossible to get lost. Of course, thanks to Google Maps, it was easy to locate the subway stations. One thing that I truly appreciated is that New Yorkers walk and commute to where they need to go, and that public transportation is reliable and efficient (which is the opposite in Los Angeles).

One of the places in the U.S. that I made a point to visit was Boston, to see an old friend from my college days; actually, he and his family live in Waltham, Massachusetts, but they gave me the grand tour of the East Coast’s oldest city. It had been more than a decade since I last saw my friend, so the time I spent in New England was a chance for us to catch up. We reminisced the good old days on frozen lakes, at an English pub called John Harvard’s (guess where that is), around Boston’s historic suburbs, and at Union Oyster Hall, reputedly America’s oldest restaurant.

It was too bad I could only spend three days with my old buddy, but I had to go back to Washington for my flight to the West Coast. I took the Amtrak for an 8-hour trip back to the capital, and then a 7-hour flight to the city I fell in love with the moment I got there: San Francisco. (It was a connecting flight via Atlanta, GA, so I might say I’ve been to 10 states… but then I didn’t really get to see anything except the airport.)

The San Francisco leg was actually part of my official business in the States. Still, I had lots of time on my own, and I put it to good use. Walking around downtown SFO was an exhilarating experience, what with the variety of places to see, interesting people to chat with, and the sights, sounds and scents to take in!

I had a hilarious experience when I was at Pier 39. I was ambling around Fisherman’s Wharf, holding a humongous hotdog I had just bought from a sidewalk vendor. Suddenly, a huge pelican swoops down and snaps resoundingly at my hotdog-holding hand!! I can still remember the awful sound that big bill made — he could very well have severed my fingers! I was still in shock when I heard a group of people laughing behind me. I turned around and proudly showed them my mustard-covered snack, cut in half by that sea bird, but still all mine. I walked away with the group clapping in glee. big grin

If I were given the choice of city to live in the U.S. it would be San Francisco (in spite of the pesky pelicans). There’s something about its character that appeals to me, and it would be great if I could discover it more meaningfully someday.

And finally, I traveled to Los Angeles on 5 February for the remainder of my journey. I flew Virgin America, which is a cool airline, if you ask me — the ground personnel as well as the in-flight people were casual and friendly, and yet very professional in their service.

Even though I went to only one state in the West Coast, I did go to quite a number of cities in California: San Francisco, Berkeley, L.A., Burbank, Glendale, Castaic, Venice Beach, etc., not to mention Silicon Valley.

The city of Castaic is not very well known (even among Americans, I found out). It’s in Santa Clarita Valley, the northernmost part of L.A. County, and it’s where my aunt and her husband live. My mom’s sister and I hadn’t seen in each other in many years, so she moved heaven and earth to get me to Los Angeles for the last couple of weeks of my stay in the States. I got to like it in Castaic… although it was rather too bucolic for my city-boy tastes. So off I went traipsing around L.A. with more friends, although I did do my best to spend time with my aunt and her lovable dogs.

My Filipino friends brought me all over the place: Universal Studios, West Hollywood, downtown L.A., Griffith Observatory, etc. Three new friends, one of whom is a regular reader of my blogs, gave me an awesome tour of the studios of The Family Guy and The Simpsons. And I got a Simpsons action figure to boot, signed by the two Filipinos, who’re über-talented artists!

This was my first time in the States, and for this opportunity I’m very grateful to the State Department (especially to Sarah L., Christopher S., Ryan M.), the U.S. Embassy in Manila (particularly to Rebecca T., Richard N., Yoly dG.), and the Institute of International Education (especially to Perrine L. and her colleagues). I certainly hope a similar opportunity will come my way again in the not-too-distant future.

My love and gratitude to my friends, Kuya Dong & Mary Ann, Ram & Martin, Bob & Lani, Lem & Rai, Ian, Grace (who put me up in NYC), Jhoanna, Ricky & Riza, Manny, Corky (who gave me an impromptu tour of SFO); to my cousins, Ate Elaine and Jenny (who welcomed me in Michigan), Paolo, Karl; and to my dear Tita Baby & Tito Alex. Thanks to all of you, I had an extraordinary and memorable month-long stay in America!

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Off to the USA Tue, 19 Jan 2010 22:55:13 +0000 Blogie Hana, Markku, Blogie, Janette

Hana, Markku, Blogie, Janette @ Outback Makati

I’m flying to Washington, D.C. in a couple of hours, to attend a conference where U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will deliver a talk on global freedom of speech vis-à-vis the Internet, and where I’m to participate in a panel discussion on the same topic. It’s a great honor, and I’m looking forward to the learning experiences ahead of me.

There is also a San Francisco leg of this Voluntary Visitor’s Program that I’ve been invited to by the State Department. I will hopefully be able to visit the offices of online media enablers such as Facebook and Twitter.

I shall document my official business in America via, with the direction of my friend and colleague, Janette Toral.

And since I’m going to be in the States already, I might as well stay and take a short vacation, yes? Yes! So, my personal itinerary will include New York City, Los Angeles, and possibly a few more destinations. I can’t wait!! This is my first time to go to America, by the way. And it won’t be my last (I got a 10-year valid, multiple-entry visa!!) this year, if plans to go back in July or August push through.

My flight’s boarding in an hour. Wish me luck!

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Dabawenyo in Hong Kong Wed, 11 Nov 2009 19:55:53 +0000 Blogie I was given a wonderful opportunity to go abroad last weekend and present to delegates from over 20 countries my experience in building the Mindanao Bloggers Community. Organized by the dotAsia Organisation, the event was BlogFest.Asia, the region’s very first pan-Asian conference for bloggers, held in Hong Kong from 6 to 8 November 2009.

Blogie @ BlogFest.AsiaMy participation in BlogFest.Asia was thanks to Mozilla’s Gen Kanai, who recommended me and Juned Sonido to the event organizers. We were also joined by two other compatriots: Tonyo Cruz, who talked about Filipino bloggers’ response to Typhoon Ondoy; and Atty. Jimmy Soriano of Creative Commons – Asia. (Please read my ‘official’ post about the event here.)

This was the second time that I was part of an Asian conference, although this was bigger than the first. The first time was in July 2005 when I joined fellow Japanese-language teachers & scholars from all over Asia at a week-long conference held in Taichung and Taipei, Taiwan. In both occasions, I was able to glean insights into different Asian cultures, and gain a deeper understanding of our differences and commonalities. Also, on both conferences, I felt that attending them was the next best thing to visiting the delegates’ own countries.

Lucas & TonyoAt BlogFest.Asia, I had some firsts. It was my first time to meet someone from Kyrgyzstan (although it wasn’t my first time to meet Central Asians, because at that 2005 conference I met people from Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan). I also found out that people from Mongolia use the same patronymic family names as people from Iceland. It was my first time in Hong Kong. It was also my first time to bring the Mindanao Bloggers Community (MBC) outside the borders of the Philippines.

At a parkInteracting with the Asian delegates gave me the chance to bring the MBC to a wider audience. And it was a fruitful exercise because I believe my contribution to the conference left a good impression on some of the delegates. Bloggers and new media practitioners from Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Shanghai and other places approached me after my talk and congratulated me for having delivered an “inspiring and insightful presentation.” You can’t imagine how elated and buoyant their generous words made me feel.

I have fellow Filipino bloggers like Janette, Avel, Juned, Manolo and Aileen to thank for my successful participation in BlogFest.Asia. They are my friends, but more importantly, they are people who possess an uncommon influence in their fields and exude a passion that stirs the soul. Moreso, I am grateful to my fellow Mindanao bloggers, because it is for them that I felt compelled to bring the MBC’s message to the world.

OK, on to lighter stuff.

At Ho ChoiI was extremely pleased to have sampled authentic dim sum with Juned on our last day. Going to Hong Kong, you see, I told myself I should be able to eat Chinese dumplings where it was invented. Juned and I were able to find this off-the-beaten-track restaurant that served excellent dim sum. It’s called Ho Choi, on the 3rd floor of a building near HSBC in Yau Ma Tei. No tourists there, just locals, plenty of them. One of my favorite dumplings is hakaw (shrimp in translucent bags), and they serve it at Ho Choi. It was so yummy!! Now I don’t know if I can still enjoy local dumplings…

There were many things I wasn’t able to do in Hong Kong, though. I was supposed to go to Disneyland (a friend was going to give me a day pass), but didn’t have time for it. I stayed in Kowloon the whole time, so I’ll have to save going to Hong Kong central for my next trip. At Jordan station I must say, I actually can’t wait to go back. I found the place simply fantastic! And I envy their transportation system — going around Hong Kong via the MTR subway was amazingly simple and convenient.

While I look forward to another trip to Hong Kong (and Taiwan, of course), I’m more of a mind to experiencing other exotic destinations. Hopefully, I will be able to pay my new blogger-friends in Bangkok, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur and other Asian cities a visit in the near future!

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My Zambo & Basilan trips Wed, 21 Oct 2009 12:14:58 +0000 Blogie Map of Zamboanga Peninsula & BasilanIt’s my goal this year to travel to as many places as I can in Mindanao. That’s why I did not resist the desire to see Basilan once I set foot on Zamboanga City last weekend.

Going back to Davao, I left Zamboanga with a heavy heart, because my trip was way too short and there were still places I wasn’t able to see (like the Tree House in Pasonanca Park and the beaches of Sta. Cruz). And because I had a restful — and yet invigorating! — stay in Asia’s Latin City. Don’t you just love their city’s tagline?

Flying to Zamboanga last 17 October, it turned out I was on the same flight as Yolynne Medina and her husband. Upon landing in her city, she immediately set the wheels in motion to have my stay as pleasant as she could manage. I owe it to her — as well as to Ryann Elumba, Jerome Locson and the other bloggers — that I enjoyed my first trip to their beautiful metropolis.

What you’ll notice immediately is the city’s clean streets. The early morning of last Sunday, I strolled a few kilometers around the downtown and port areas, and I saw no garbage piled up anywhere. Oh, another thing I noticed: they have many Mister Donuts outlets!

Of course, I didn’t pass up the opportunity to try the famed Alavar Restaurant. There used to be a branch in Davao, but unfortunately they’ve long closed shop. When you go to Alavar, don’t make the mistake of missing their curacha in alavar sauce. It’s a deep-sea crustacean and the dish is to die for! Looks like a crab but the meat is much tastier.

OK, something more dramatic this time: el pueblo boasts of having the oldest bank in the Philippines outside of Metro Manila, and it’s the 2nd branch of Banco de las Islas Filipinas, otherwise known as BPI. (I have a photo somewhere in the album embedded here.) What historians will surely appreciate in Zamboanga is their drive to preserve their heritage. This is evident in their local tongue, which is a mix of Tagalog/Cebuano and Spanish, and in the surroundings.

For example, there’s Fort Pilar, home to one of Mother Mary’s many representations. It is maintained as a monument and as an open church. It’s interesting to note that both Christians and Muslims revere this place, because they all believe that the blessed Mother once protected the city from devastation from the angry sea. Too bad I wasn’t able to see the inside of the museum behind the fort. Next time!

Zamboanga City does have all the modern amenities, such as wifi access in many restaurants and coffee shops, HSDPA Internet connectivity via mobile, all the major banks and other financial institutions, air & sea linkages to and from a good number of domestic & international destinations, etc. Amid the modern, vestiges of the bygone eras are yet deeply rooted in the present.

Here are photos of my first-ever trip to Southwestern Mindanao.

The day trip to Basilan was a very welcome change in pace for me. Idyllic, fresh, quiet, peaceful — those were the words that came to mind the whole time I was there. People who’ve never been to Basilan hold the notion that it’s a perennially dangerous place. Well, we can’t deny that there were incidents in the past that have tainted the island’s reputation. So, I went there to experience the place and try to dispel this notion.

Thanks to my new friends, RJ Ian and his former student Faye, I was able to do a 5-hour tour of Isabela City and the outskirts of the town of Lamitan. The roads were cemented and well-maintained so the motorbike ride was not unpleasant. The views during the ride were breathtaking. There were the orderly rubber-tree plantations, the cool waterfalls, the mesmerizing undulating hills and valleys.

It was my first time to be in a place whose population has more Muslims than Christians. Contrary to popular perception (outside of Mindanao anyway), life in Isabela is harmonious. Christians and Muslims live together in the same space without any visible sign of conflict. There’s a church and a mosque less than a stone’s throw away from each other. There are murals showcasing amity among peoples of different religions.

To visit Basilan, it’s a good idea to have someone local to show you around. For inquiries, please call the City Tourism Office on these numbers: +63(918)945-7316 & +63(906)767-5735. E-mail address:

I’m so pleased I made these trips. I hope that, through my eyes, more people will come to appreciate that Zamboanga and Basilan are amazing and peaceful places. I’ll definitely be back there very soon!

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In Zamboanga City for the 1st time Sat, 17 Oct 2009 04:25:37 +0000 Blogie Blogie @ Lavina Hotel, Zambo CityArrived in Zamboanga City this morning. It’s my first time here, so I’m really excited about seeing the city. Fortunately, on the plane with me was fellow Mindanao blogger, Yolynne Medina, who has offered to take me around later in the afternoon. Also on the plane was the owner of the hotel where I was already planning to stay, Jardin de la Viña Hotel.

Immaculate ConceptionThe weather right now is beautiful, a bit on the warm side, but the blowing wind from the sea is quite invigorating. Awhile ago I had a very engaging conversation with Yolynne and Mr. Eric Laviña II (the hotel owner) about developments in their city. A piece of good news is the establishment of their first contact center, e.AXS Communications, which is an entirely Zamboangueño investment.

This trip was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I’d long wanted to visit Zamboanga City, but had never gotten around to planning the trip. But last month, upon learning of an airline’s airfare promo, I decided to book my flights. And now I’m here! Woot!

As an amateur linguist, what’s immediately interesting for me here is their local tongue. Although they also speak Tagalog and Cebuano, among themselves they use Chavacano (pidgin Spanish). I can somehow make out what they’re saying, but the fun part for me is hearing them talk and listening to local love songs on the radio — the words and the accent are so different from what I’m used to in other areas of Mindanao.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with Ryann Elumba, Jerome Locson and other Zambo bloggers. That’s actually part of why I’m here — to help grow the Mindanao Bloggers Community.

More here and here.

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First time in Mati Sat, 03 Oct 2009 15:59:56 +0000 Blogie Finally, I was able to go to Mati last Sunday (27 September). It was to attend a birthday party of someone I’d gotten acquainted with recently — two months ago I’d gotten to know a group of guys from Mati who’re living in Davao. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go sightseeing. I had planned on staying for a couple more days, but I felt a fever coming on when I got to the party so I decided to head back home the next day. (Good thing, too, because I did catch the flu and was bedridden this entire week!)

Mati City is the capital of the province of Davao Oriental, and is located about 3 hours (by car) northeast of Davao City. The roads going there are mostly cemented or paved in asphalt so it’s a pretty smooth ride all the way. In terms of economic development, Mati is about 10-15 years behind Davao… but who’s to say, really, if they won’t be able to surprise us and catch up in just a few short years? That depends on the city’s leaders, if they have the political will… but that’s another story altogether. The important thing to consider now is, Mati — despite its bucolic atmosphere — has the modern comforts that one might look for: Internet access, reliable phone lines, 24-hour convenience stores, and the like.

What Mati is known for are the beautiful beaches that dot the city’s coastline. Dahican, Botona and a couple of other spots are excellent nature getaways, and become surfing havens around September and October. For family overnight vacations (if you don’t mind roughing it out), the Cinco Masao beach resort might be a good choice.

View Larger Map

I’m definitely going back to Mati before the year ends. And from Mati, I’d love to take a road trip to the East Coast. There’s a town called Cateel (pronounced katee-il), north of Mati. It’s where my paternal grandmother hails from, and I’ve never been there — it’s about 6 hours away from Davao City by bus.

For me, aside from the sights (Cateel boasts of Aliwagwag Falls), what’s interesting in Davao Oriental is the prevalence of Dinabaw (or Dabawenyo or Camayo), the native tongue of the Davao region. The name of Davao City’s annual cultural festival, Kadayawan sa Dabaw, comes from the Dinabaw word “madayaw“, which means good or beautiful. This festival is the celebration of everything that’s good & beautiful about my beloved city.

Hopefully, soon, I can make time to go back to Mati and explore as many parts of Davao Oriental as I can!

Here are a few photos that I managed to take during my very brief stint in Mati.

Sleeping Dinosaur Ahbet Dahican Beach Dahican Beach Mermaid welcome Cinco Masao ]]> 10