Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

I was always fascinated with the sea, but I always ended up on the shore because of the fear of drowning. Swimming, I thought, was only for fishes and mermaids. Only realized recently that swimming is a necessary life skill. Actually, missing a number of cliff jumping moments during travels has triggered me to enroll in a swimming school…finally.

Among the swimming schools I’ve looked into, I prefered Swim Central. Students can choose their preferred time and venue. Basic lessons cost only Php3,500, but it took me two years to overcome my stingy ego. The best thing about this package is that it includes survival lessons, which I badly, badly need.

T’was a cheery, sunny day to swim at Ultra in Pasig. Just get ready to have a perfect tan.

The coaches are always on time. They help improve every student’s skill level even though everyone in the class have different skill levels from one another. You might think they are leaving you alone after teaching the skills for the day, but they’re actually watching over you. I get a lot of corrections after finishing a few laps, to which have become very helpful.

Every class was an agitating moment for me. I actually felt like a newborn thrown into the water at first (actually, newborns might be more fearless than me). The coaches would always assure us we would not sink, especially during the survival phase. Deep inside, I was freaking silently, especially when the coach told me to let myself go into the 14-feet pool. I had to jump into the water over and over again until I felt comfortable in the deep. The downside was that I kept of dreaming I was swimming upwards. I guess I wanted to dive into the water more.

The 14-feet pool at Mares in Makati. For now I find this comfortable because the deep is placed in a controlled setting.

I have this sense of fulfilment after learning a new skill. After a few weeks, I have learned to befriend the water. I have to let go of every anxiety because I was determined to become an improved human being. As one coach said, people don’t die because of the water, but because of the fear. We only drown in the water when we’re heavy with panic. I don’t have to envy my friends who know how to paddle like a dog (because I can now do that, too :D) nor do I have to worry that my head will bump on the side of a cliff if I try to do some tombstoning.

Let’s go to the beach! This time, I’ll dive without a lifejacket. 😉

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We were going nowhere as we had no plan to live by. The sun was beating hard on the small, dusty Batangas road, but we kept our chill as we searched for the nearest beach. Borat Beach was already closed, and Google did not give an update about that. Stilts Beach was a romantic one, enough for a couple in love to own the place for themselves to fulfill their dream wedding on a scorching Friday morning. We were on our own and we were depending on Google Maps, who pointed us to a small beach called Manuel Uy Beach.

Manuel Uy is for the budget warriors, costing only Php200 per head for the entrance and Php150 for an overnight stay. We had two tents in store, making me live off with my remaining Php650 for the food. I did not mind the leaves falling or the sand flying above our heads, because I felt like a little kid having a picnic by the beach for the first time.

Road trips are never adventurous without Tina and Lans. 🙂

Now, I don’t know why is the beach named as such (we can only assume that it was owned by some rich, Chinese scion called Manuel Uy). It looks a bit boring at first. The heat was enough to melt us beneath the tree, unable to imagine why the people were scrambling to the middle of the sea in the midst of a hot, cloudless, summer midday.

We spent the whole day dozing off and trying to shield ourselves from the sun, which seemed to follow us because it disapproved of our remaining fair skin. Somehow, this is the camper’s life I’d like to live on a sleazy, Friday day-off. For once I’d like to forget my desk, my computer and the thought that I was a robot.

Our duo tents that were never slept in. 🙂

Exploring the beach became a part of our game when the sun was beginning to set down. It was still hot, but the waters were a bit warm and comfortable enough to forget the scorching heat that persecuted us the whole day.

The beach is safe for kids because the deepest part of the waters were five feet (just don’t go beyond the line and don’t be a stupid parent). The fun part was trying to show off some swimming skills, but it looked like a bad idea because I forgot my cap and my googles. So, I just settled with some fancy sunset photos.

One thing I had anticipated in this trip was stargazing. Sleeping under the moon and the stars was a lovely idea, except when you’ve forgotten to carry a mosquito-repellant lotion. The breeze made me cozy as I slept with my face up to Orion and the rest of the constellation, who showed up when I was in the middle of my dream.

I almost could not sleep as I tried to wait for some obscure shooting star in the wee hours of the morning. The dawn broke very early at 5 am and we rushed to the refreshing waters again. We wanted to have one final soak before we leave at around 8 am, the time when beachgoers were beginning to flock the beach on a sizzling, summer weekend.

Ah, the summer roadtrip…the trip home was made better with bulalo (cow bone soup) and buko pie (pie filled with coconut meat). These are just some of the things I miss about Batangas. The next time we come there, we’ll try the other beaches. I just hope nobody’s getting married that day.

*Would like to thank Valcres, too, for accompanying us on this trip! We would not have survived without you. 😃

One invaluable treasure I would always take home from my travels (aside from all the ref magnets I’ve accumulated) would be the insights about the culture the locals are living in. Just as I’ve expected in any first-world country, Hong Kong exemplifies discipline and innovation. These traits are just some of the things I would like to bring home and share to my own people and country.

The transportation system and the MTR Hong Kong’s transportation system is impressively neat. From the airport to the very edges of this country, the trains, buses and trams all depart and arrive on time. I just could not associate the reality that drivers here drive on the left-hand side of the road since vehicles in the Philippines are driven on the right-hand side.

The most efficient mode of transportation for me here would be the MTR (Mass Transit Railway). It’s fast, reliable and safe compared to Manila’s MRT (Mass Rail Transit), where endless, monster queues and horror stories abound in a daily basis. MTR has ten rail lines and transferring to another line is easy because all connecting lines are literally adjacent to one another. The glass railings themselves are a plus for me because they ensure that no one would fall into the rails.

All transportation system in Hong Kong are also tourist-friendly because they are all clear and are all written in both Chinese and English texts.

I’m sure it would be very unlikely for foreign tourists to get lost because all road signs are clearly written in the same manner.

The High Level of Trust

I have already mentioned about the unusual level of trust in my last blog about Hong Kong’s night life. Imagine leaving your valuables under a bag rack beneath the table without getting paranoid with the other customers in the restaurant. I guess having an immense diet of news about scheming thieves in Manila made me suspicious about the people around me most of the time. That’s why it amazes me that people in Hong Kong have this high level of trust towards others.

The MTR itself is proof of this kind of trust. There are no guards around to check everybody’s bags and luggages. Even their malls and their airport do not need one. I think tourists, especially the sensible ones, would not dare to horse around despite having these measures in public places.

People also don’t need anyone to remind them that they should only walk on the left-hand lane towards their destination, especially in the MTR. I’ve noticed that the locals are just being mindful of themselves while ensuring they do not bother anyone.

Strict Work Ethic Most people are aware that East Asians have a strict sense of discipline, especially at work. My friend working in a call center has told me that their Hong Kong bosses think that Filipino workers are just playing around during the work shift because they would take a breather by talking to other workmates, at least once in a while.

Observing a few humble workers in Hong Kong, I got to understand why they think Filipinos seem to be more lax compared to them. Staff at food stores served food speedily without making any small talk with fellow cashiers or servers. That’s what I call fast food. Some cashiers in most Pinoy restaurants and fast food chains cannot help but gossip in front of their customers. I believe having this kind of talk in front of customers is very unethical, even though customers don’t know what or who the staff is talking about. I have observed that Hong Kong restaurant staff are just focused on delivering to their customers, the reason I have enjoyed and appreciated simple dishes like this one.

Despite preserving their own culture and traditions, I appreciate Hong Kong for its continuous improvement. I believe their discipline is a factor for innovation as they strive to reach their long-term goals, particularly in infrastructure and business. I just hope and pray my own countrymen would have the same level of discipline to themselves and not satisfy their egos with short-term assignments. A first-world country could only become as such if the people would shake off the poverty mindset and move forward in breaking forth wider horizons for the next generation.

There’s always this sense of melancholy whenever we reach the final day of a tour. We wanted to make most of the hours we still had in Hong Kong, so we decided to make Ngong Ping our grand finale before we bow out of this wonderful city.

The cool, windy afternoon was perfect for a cable car ride to Ngong Ping, which was located in another small island near the airport. A one way trip in the crystal cable car gave us 25 minutes of awe as we basked in the fantastic view of Hong Kong, the blue sea, the lush green mountains and of Ngong Ping.

Ngong Ping looked like an ancient village lined up with souvenir stores and restaurants. This area seemed to be the only place filled with so much human activity as it is surrounded by thick forests. If one would go there by taking the walking trail on the mountains, perhaps this village could be the nirvana of every tired but anticipating traveller.

Don’t panic if you see cows grazing in Ngong Ping. I believe they are there because they are sacred to the Buddhist religion. Let me just remind you not to aggreviate them by hugging or patting their heads even though you find them cute. A cow being patted on the head by one nosy tourist suddenly chased another tourist who was carrying food. In the end, that tourist had to give his whole bread to the animal before running away like a madman.

The road led us to the Buddhist temple on the tallest hill at the end of the village. With his back on the glaring sun, a giant Buddha calmly watched tourists and devotees carefully tread a hundred steps before breathing a sigh of relief upon reaching the temple. Upon setting my eyes to the breathtaking view at the back of the temple, I could not help but breathe a sigh of awe and praise to the real God who made heaven and earth.

I was quite forlorn when we stepped into the cable car that goes back to the city. In a matter of hours, Manila would be erasing all the dream-like chill and wonder brought by the places we had visited. That’s why I had to take so much pictures so as not to erase the magic already marked in my heart. Thank you, Hong Kong, for making me lost in your wonderful sights and sounds for four days. I will cherish them all and share them to others so they would be inspired to get lost and travel wide.

Our four-day trip is never complete without seeing Hong Kong’s night life. We tried to fit in our itinerary into one whole day, so we had kept ourselves awake from early morning to midnight. I guess HK will never fail to fascinate me even at night because the city is teeming with life and audacity, as modernity and traditional culture blend well together like oil colors on a lovely, black ivory canvas.

Enjoying Food In Public Places

I’ve already touched down a bit about food in my previous blog about Disneyland. A friend living in HK led us to a good hot pot restaurant called JKJ Pot at Tsim Sha Tsui. I’d recommended this place for groups like ours because you’d never leave this place feeling empty as the food is tasty and satisfying.

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The hot pot waiting to be filled with meat balls, cow lungs, lettuce…

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…as well as beef and eel.

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Top the dinner off with a good bottle of Hong Kong beer.

I was amazed that customers can put their bags in bag racks beneath the table and their coats and hats in cabinets in the restaurant without the fear of losing them. I guess living in Manila made me a bit paranoid and suspicious towards people around me, especially in public places like restaurants. I had to understand by that time that I should never hold on to any apprehension while enjoying a sumptuous dinner in HK.

Temple Street Market

Filipinos love having a bargain and I’m sure this is one of those places they’d love to visit before going home. You can find all sorts of merchandise here like t-shirts and bags, as well as traditional artifacts like ramen bowls and tiny Buddha statues. Souvenir prices are really low but make sure to scout the long road in order to find a better deal.

The Peak

We decided to visit The Peak the following night. Again, the queue for those buying tickets for the tram was too long but locals and tourists alike were willing to wait.

I love how the tram station is littered with memorabilia and historical artifacts. These made the ride more interesting. The best part here is seeing the romantic night view of the city while the tram chugs along the old rails.

Stalls with various merchandise and antiques were also littered around the mall beside the tram station.
Small Madame Tassauds exhibits were also featured in the mall going to The Peak. At least, I had the chance to encounter Bruce Lee for once in my life.

I would have loved to see The Peak but tickets going there were sold at $50. My friends were not ready to spend much on that, so looks like I’d really have to go back to HK next year.

I can’t believe that our HK tour was short…too short to enjoy the whole country. Still, our last day would also be very memorable and awesome. It did not matter if we got back to our guest house late at night again. All we wanted was to make sure we’d have a grand time in our final day in Hong Kong.

Let kids be kids but don’t let adults be adults. Our Hong Kong experience would never be complete without unleashing the kid in us. But that cheeky side does not stay in Disneyland forever because it continued to live on when we visited Ocean Park.

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From left: Rachel, Em, Lans, and yours truly.

We opted to visit Ocean Park despite having its counterpart in Manila. I heard it is a recommended tourist site and I already had the impression it is more hi-tech and impressive than Manila’s Ocean Adventure. By the size of the place itself, I had the impression Ocean Park is more than what I had expected.

The Marine World At the Summit

Filipinos like our OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) friend, Em, would suggest to start at the far end section of the theme park, The Marine World. One could get there by express train or by cable park, whicb was a good choice because it gives a view of the Hong Kong scenery.

We started the tour by visiting aquariums like the Sea Jelly Spectacular and Shark Mystique. What I like most here were the state-of-the-art interactive modules that give interesting trivia about these sea creatures.

Inside the Sea Jelly Spectacular.

At the Shark Mystique.

The dolphin and sea lion show is held at The Marine World and the first one starts at 12nn. Encountering these animals would require another fee so we’re just happy to see them flip and wave at us.

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What surprised me was that Ocean Park has loads of thrill rides…and mind you, some of them are not for scardy cats. Of course, I had dared myself to take The Abyss. But I ended up as the only passenger screaming after the ride was seemingly dropped from the air.

Darn, my friends left me here alone…

We would have tried the other rides like the roller coaster and the ferris wheel but they were closed for scheduled maintenance when we got there. I admire the staff for taking extra precaution by doing so. Too bad, we were not able to return to those rides when they had opened because we wanted to maximize our whole-day visit by not wasting our time through waiting.

The Ocean Park Tower was the most relaxing ride we tried. All we did was just sigh (while taking pictures) because it gave us a breathtaking, 360-degree view of Hong Kong and of the whole Ocean Park.

Part of the view was the top of the Thrill Mountain, which I’d talk about if you bear with me. 

The Thrill Mountain

The most memorable ride for me would be the Hair Raiser. If you could see the twisting, yellow line from the picture above, that’s what I’m talking about. It’s almost located at the edge of the mountain but don’t worry about it because it is safe…except that it will give some of you goosebumps.

Since no loose items like bags or cameras were allowed, just imagine the screams were made when our carriage began to twist, turn and go upside down in less than a minute.

The Animals

My favorite part of the tour. Since we don’t get to see sea lions, pandas and koalas everyday, we did not miss the chance seeing them. Guess what’s the story behind these two sea lions at Marine World.

Insert sea lion story caption. 😃

 

A real, live walrus at Polar Adventure!

If only I can dive with the seals.

Most of the furry animals are located at the lower part of the theme park like the Amazing Asian Animals and Aqua City. I never ever get to see a real panda, especially a red panda, in any zoo in the Philippines! Some of my friends said we were lucky to see them both hanging around. Although the red panda quickly scuttled into the bushes when people started to flock in. Who would have thought I’d get to see Master Shifu and Po entertaining guests at their lovely abode?

Kung Fu Panda fans would immedietely recognize Master Shifu.

At last, I have seen the Legend of Awesomeness.

Guests entering these places, including the Adventures in Australia, are required to be quiet and are banned from using any cameras with flash. Too bad, koalas are not meant for hugging here (looks like I need to go to Queensland to hug one). Signs around the place warn koalas are nocturnal animals sensitive to light and sound. We don’t want to stress out our sleepy, cuddly mate so we just said a quiet hello as we passed by.

Animal mascots are also everywhere. We don’t want to leave without taking a picture with them, of course.

I find Ocean Park bigger than Disneyland. Looks like one day is not enough to visit all attractions there. Maybe I have to return to Hong Kong next year to tour the whole place and visit the ones we have missed. There’s more in our itinerary but we only have one day left to check everything in our bucket list.

My friends and I wanted to snuggle in our beds until late in the morning as we were greeted by a cold start. Temperature was around 18 to 19 degrees in Hong Kong and it made me think I was living in a dream. But we have to get out of our beds early because we only have the whole day to spend in HK Disneyland.

Transportation going there is very accessible. Taking the train is the easiest way. I was completely impressed with how the whole MTR system is designed, as well as with the efficiency of its signs. These are tourist-friendly and they are easy to read because they are written in both Chinese and English.

Aside from that, Disneyland has its own train line! From the Sunny Bay station on Tung Chung line, the train would carry excited children and children-at-heart to the happiest place on earth! With the Mickey-inspired windows and handrails, we were even more thrilled to be there.

The happy kids: me, Rachel, and Lans. 😀

Even though it was a weekday (not just any weekend because it was a Monday), the queue at the entrance was very long. Actually, almost all rides at Disneyland have long queues. Wearing comfty footwear is the best advice I could give because I had to struggle in the end due to my chic boots.

Who says I was suffering at the hands…er, soles of my boots?

Some friends who had been to Disneyland have adviced us to begin at the end of the theme park. That would be at Toy Story Land where Woody was greeting us in both Chinese and English…

…tried to match up with Jessie and Buzz Lightyear…

…and screamed at rides that were seemingly mild.

Next was the roller coaster ride at the Grizzly Gulch.

We took at peek at Tarzan’s tree house.

But my favorite of all was the Mystic Manor (I don’t have a picture of the ride so you better see it for yourselves).

After all the thrill rides, we relaxed at It’s A Small World. I love it because it is a celebration of all nations where lovely toy children were singing it’s a small world in different languages.

The castle outside.

And I was touched that they have featured the Philippines.

Tomorrowland is also cool, especially Stark’s Expo and Star Wars.

Expect food to be expensive at Disneyland (and for the whiff of caramel popcorn to tease your noses everywhere). Nothing there would be lower than HK$35. Still, I tried the Minnie Mouse ice cream because I have to feel the Disney vibe.

And yes, I just ended up having a picture of Mickey ears that cost more than HK$100.

Our ultimate goal was to catch the Mouse…the Mice rather. Having a picture of Mickey and the gang would be a stroke of luck because there’s always a limit (I could only see Goofy and Pluto from afar huhu). But finally, finally! We were lucky to get into the queue just to get a picture of Mickey and Minnie Mouse just before we headed home!

The dream ends here. Too bad, there were no fireworks because some parts of Disneyland were under renovation. It does not matter because I have been to the happiest place on earth at last.

We capped off the night by meeting another friend living in Hong Kong, who then treated us with a good steamy hot pot at JKJ Pot at Tsim Tsia Shui.

Cheers for another day of adventure. I thought the dream was over but there’s more to come. 🙂

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