Saturday, November 5, 2016

OF VISIONS, DREAMS & REALITY: Manila ➙ Hong Kong ➙ Shanghai Aboard Cathay Pacific & DragonAir

It was the Anglo-Irish essayist Jonathan Swift who once said...

 "Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others."

Four years ago, I had a simple feeling that maybe my son Tutapel inherited his dad's mathematical ability.

And as Regina Spektor's famous song goes- that feeling turned into hope...

"Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word.
And then  the word grew louder and louder
"Til it was a battle cry..."

Since then, it has become an all-out war against a series of hindrances in the form of self-doubt, grueling training, difficult tests and surmounting bills. But it was a war that we were bent on winning!

I then resorted to the only viable solution available to Christians and that is to offer everything we had to our Lord and plead with Him to direct us to the path we ought to take. It might be a passive response to some, but devoted followers would agree that the fulfillment of any vision begins with surrendering your all to God.  

It was far from easy, believe me. I soon found out that I had to put my faith into action in order for that burning vision to become a reality.

Finally, last summer, the Lord took delight in our faith offering and granted us the desires of our hearts. My 7 year old son was one of around 50- Grade 1 and Grade 2 students all over the Philippines who qualified to the Philippine Team to be sent to International Math Competitions abroad.

And last July 26, along with other elementary students from various schools in the country, he flew to represent the PHILIPPINES  in the 2016 China Primary Math Olympiad also known as the Enjoying Math Summer Camp to be held in the beautiful city of Hangzhou located in the province of Zhejiang, People's Republic of China.

And here is where my CHINA NARRATIVE (TRAVEL BLOG) officially begins.

   Philippine Representative to the 2016 China Primary Math Olympiad

Manila ➙ Hong Kong

It was a good 5 years when we were last bound abroad. Feelings of excitement, fear and sadness all gripped me without any knowledge of which emotion had the most advantage. My response was to savor the moment with my son despite the lingering hope that it would have been better if Hubby Bala was with us too. You see, he was always our POLARIS, our guiding star, in every travel. I usually didn't think about anything else except the photos I had to take for this particular blog. Without him, I had to think about everything: our luggage, call time and most importantly, making sure that my son is always with me.

But if there's anything I learned from my UP Diliman education it is this: SINK or SWIM. That was the glowing mantra of every teacher I had during freshman year and I soon found out that the faster I adapt to my environment, the better chances I had of overcoming obstacles.

Instead of flying direct to Shanghai, the Contest Organizer assigned some of the students and parents from the Youngster Group (Grade 2) to have a connecting flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai. 

                                              Cathay Pacific: Manila➙ Hong Kong ➙ Shanghai 

Although it was quite troublesome, I just looked at the situation as a way to take more photos. Deep inside I was ecstatic because the last time I had a connecting flight within the same country was 19 years ago--when I was a mere 25 year old!

Like my son, I too became a Philippine Delegate, but not in the field of Mathematics--oh no, not in a million years! 

Hundreds of professionals from various disciplines such as medicine, education, government service and mass media applied in the Japan Information Cooperation Agency (JICA) Friendship Programme back in 1999. We went through a series of examinations and interviews and eventually the Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines and the Japanese Government were the ones who decided our fate. It was God's gracious hand ALONE that got me in, believe me! 

My very first connecting flight: From Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Matsuyma Airport (1999)

The only difference lies in the fact that back then, the JICA Delegates didn't have to pay a single cent- for everything was shouldered by the Japanese Government: food, hotels, transportation, workshops fees plus allowance for our 28-day stay in Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kanagawa, Miyajima and Matsuyama. 

In my son's case, however, we paid for everything, just like what other parents did for their kids because the Philippine government does not give any financial support to math contests such as this. 

Tutapel at the NAIA Tarmac

It was not only grueling math problems that parents and kids have to think about but also the financial part of competing internationally. For instance, some students who have qualified to the Philippine Team opted not to go, although they are equally talented, or even more talented, because when you think about it, spending at least 110,000 pesos excluding pocket money is just insane. And for most of us, it's even more expensive than the normal school tuition!

But there are parents like us who are willing to give an arm and a leg just to let our kids compete because what we're ultimately sacrificing for is that infinitesimal chance to battle wits with the best of the best from different nations! In the process, that one-of-a-kind experience will help us gauge our kids' potential and therefore fine tune their skills and techniques needed not just in competitions but LIFE, in general.

This is our BACK STORY. And because of this, our travel became a thousand times more meaningful to us.

It was our first time aboard Cathay Pacific and I couldn't be more thrilled. The plane was much larger, and in the words of my prenship Charmie, "you feel more safe." ;)

Our first time aboard Cathay Pacific

Tutapel also had a blast choosing from among the game apps available on the 9-inch Personal TV. At first we didn't know where to plug the headphone.;)  Well blame it on our track record of flying on a budget. Little did we know that the outlet was found on the tip of our arm rest! ;)

Tutapel playing chess on the plane

If  Tutapel was excited about his games, well, what I was actually looking forward was the FOOD! I was expecting rice meals of course; but, since it was waaay before lunch time, only snacks were given.

The Scrambled Egg & Cured Turkey Wrap was served warm much to my delight and it came with juice on tetra pack and an Anzac Cookie for dessert.


Stories have it that wives of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) during the First World War sent Anzac cookies to their husbands because of their extended shelf life due in fact to the absence of eggs as primary ingredients.

Thanks to a simple mixture of rolled oats, flour, dessicated coconut, sugar, butter and golden syrup, Anzac cookies remain to be a favorite sweet treat not only in Australia and New Zealand but also all over the world.

Snacks aboard Cathay Pacific

Hong Kong International Airport
The last time we were in Hong Kong, my son was about 2 months short of his 2nd birthday. That was in 2010 and back then despite being overwhelmed with the grandness of the airport, I found some of the airport personnel awfully rude.

Basically, our family was going through the usual routine of checking in. We were respectful and mindful of our manners, when all of a sudden, some personnel congregated amongst themselves and started laughing while shouting "FILIPINOS!" If that was not enough, the people in charge of inspecting our carry-on luggage, raised their voice at us, while commanding us to open our belongings! Can you believe that?

FAST FORWARD TO THIS PHOTO. It was unfortunate that six days after this photo was taken, a similar incident happened. Three of our mathletes, my son included, were just laughing and talking to one another when all of a sudden a male security personnel raised his voice at them!

One of my mom friends told me that some airport personnel could be really strict. However, in my vocabulary, that was simply being RUDE and UNPROFESSIONAL!

In a matter of seconds, I concocted the best defense ever! It was creative, respectful but somehow laced with hints of irony, which left him quiet all throughout my speech. But that's another blog! ;)

Hong Kong International Airport

Mama & Baby at the Hong Kong International Airport

 Airport Transfer: HK Airport

Hong Kong ➙ Shanghai 

It was my first connecting flight in 19 years so it was only natural for me to get all excited.

DragonAir is basically an airbus so it's much smaller than parent Cathay Pacific's Boeing 777.

   DragonAir: Cathay Pacific's Budget Airline

    Hong Kong ➙ Shanghai  Aboard DragonAir

Other than that, what we were most enthusiastic about was the FOOD! Oh, we were starving! My son and I requested for different lunch sets so that we can have more dishes to try. 

  Alas! It's time for lunch!

Since my son is a picky eater, he didn't like the Chicken Meal that much.

DragonAir Lunch # 1: Mixed veggies with chicken, rice, salad, roll with butter and orange juice.

He opted for the Beef & Potatoes instead which turned out to be quite good!

DragonAir Lunch # 2: Beef with potatoes, salad, roll with butter plus drink of choice

I've come to think that dessert is the most important part of the meal; and, having Haagen Dazs to take that essential component was just heavenly!

Yummy Dessert: Haagen -Dazs Mango & Raspberry Ice Cream

Shanghai Pudong International Airport

It took us close to four hours to get to the Shanghai Airport from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. So you can fully understand why I had to take my son's obligatory pose in front of the airport signage, right? But an airport personnel thought otherwise when she told us to make it quick and go inside the airport right away. 

Oh my!  My airport rendezvous was becoming more exciting than ever! ;)

Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Tutapel's First-time at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport

Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Playing with the Trolley at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport

Shanghai Pudong International Airport
Playing with his fellow CPMO Delegate at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport

Shanghai Pudong International Airport
BFFs at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport


I used Fujifilm X-A2 to capture these photos.

Photo of Fujifilm X-A2

Monday, May 9, 2016

Timeless Musings: Ambeth Ocampo's Books on Rizal & F. Sionil Jose's Take on the Duterte Phenomenon

I didn't exactly know what happened. 

We went to good ole National Bookstore with the original intent of buying books for my son. There was nothing strange about that. What was rather unusual was that I purchased more books for myself than for him!  

I didn't regret buying Mr. Ocampo's books at all for the author is able to make Philippine history interesting and brimming with so much life. He is indeed a master storyteller, so effective in fact that I continually asked myself whether I was reading history or reading the synopsis of a Korean Drama

Mr. Ocampo is successful in separating Rizal the Man from the Myth, thanks to the author's painstaking research from the hero's first-hand works and letters. While reading my Ocampo Book Haul, I can't help but see Rizal as an ordinary man struggling with similar dreams and fears.

In the book Meaning & History, Mr. Ocampo explains this concept further.

"So by dissecting Rizal the myth, and by juxtaposing this against the real historical Rizal, one attains a glimpse of this "imagined" national identity.

We create Rizal in our own image and likeness using both memory and amnesia to suit our ruffled conscience. How we will see Rizal in the coming century will be a clear expression of how we see ourselves.

Rizal both in life and in death showed the Filipino people a capacity for greatness. Only when we share this view can we fully understand Rizal and consequently ourselves." ( Chapter: Memory and Amnesia, page 19)

Ambeth Ocampo
April Book Haul:
Rizal's Teeth, Bonifacio's Bones by Ambeth Ocampo
Ambeth Ocampo's Meaning & History
Death by Garrote by Ambeth Ocampo

Mr. Ocampo further noted, "...that what made Rizal the hero he is today was his capacity to rise above his physical limitations and to attempt great deeds."

Mr. Ocampo's highly-esteemed colleague, National Artist F. Sionil Jose echoed a similar view during one of his talks which I was fortunate enough to attend . He said, "Rizal matched wits with any white man" which garnered the world's respect. Proof is that many nations have adopted Rizal as their hero as seen in many landmarks and statues from around Asia, Germany and in Spain, Mr. Jose added. 

A Candid Shot of National Artist F. Sionil Jose 
During One of His Talks

Many regard Mr. Jose as a sage of our times for he's able to make sense of history, politics and current events like no other. No wonder a number of our kababayan want to know what the National Artist's thoughts are on the 2016 Presidential Elections.

On April 27, Mr. Jose posted his views on his Facebook Page with emphasis on the supposed "Duterte Phenomenon."

"Why Duterte" by F. Sionil Jose

This was not the first time that the National Artist shared razor-sharp views on how the government should be run as seen in his now famous Open Letter to NoyNoy published in the Philippine Star on May 23, 2010.

He ended the letter with a passionate plea for the CHANGE he has longed to see but couldn't for sooo many years.

"I am 85 and how I despair over how three generations of our leaders failed! Before I go, please let me see this unhappy country begin to be a much better place than the garbage dump our leaders and people have made it..."

F. Sionil Jose's Official Facebook Page

Ambeth R. Ocampo's Facebook Page

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mother's Day Musings

Truth be told, I don't want to miss my mom because it only reminds me that she's no longer of this world. 

Every time I look at my son, my mind always brings me back to those moments when my mom lovingly gazed at me without saying a word. I remember a particular instance wherein I was in the study room hitting the books for an exam, when mommy just stayed in the doorway staring at me with a mesmerized smile on her face.

Mommy and I sometime in 1973

That moment was buried in the deepest recesses of my soul, unuttered until now. I couldn't decipher what that look was all about not until I had my own son. 

Just to see his face makes my heart flutter like no other. He doesn't even have to do anything nor say anything to make me happy. I simply am because he is there!

My son and I sometime in 2008

However, as much as I want to be the best mom possible, I fall short of my calling most of the time. There were instances, I think, wherein a hug was more comforting than a reprimand or a word of encouragement way better than a critique. In the end, I still chose to admonish maybe because I was too tired or too stubborn to understand my son's predicament.

Now in my early forties, about the same age of my mom in the picture above, I realize that my mom was also far from perfect. But what makes her the perfect mom is the way she loved me; pretty much similar to the mother in this immensely inspiring video.

"How one generation loves, the next generation learns."

Much of what I know about love and sacrifice, I've learned from just watching my mom apply it in our daily lives which according to her was a product of "grasya" or what we refer to in the bible as God's Amazing Grace. 

I once asked my 7 year old son why we love the way we do. His reply which he learned from attending Sunday School for the past four years, left me dumbfounded --but in a good way. 

"Mama," he responded, "we love because He first loved us." (I John 4:19)

Friday, April 29, 2016

Cooking 101: Our Version of Yellow Cab's Charlie Chan Chicken Pasta

Despite craving for Yellow Cab's extremely popular Charlie Chan Chicken Pasta, my "motley crew" and I didn't dash to the nearest YC branch. We opted to whip up our own version instead as a wonderful way to bond while saving our precious pesos in the process. 

What We Used:

  • 250 grams of angel's hair pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • olive oil
  • 150 grams of diced chicken meat
  • ground cashews and roasted peanuts
  • 2 packs of Clara Ole Kung Pao Pasta Sauce
  • Lee Kum Kee Oyster Sauce to taste
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • brown sugar to taste
  • chili pepper flakes to taste
  • scallions or spring onions
  • lemon juice

What I Did with the Pasta:
I love cooking pasta so without going through the preliminaries, I basically assigned and authorized myself to do the job!
  1. After putting in just enough water in the pan, I added in a handful of salt to make the pasta distinctly more flavorful. I got that tip from constantly watching Giada De Laurentiis's show on the Asian Food Channel.
  2. A minute after the water boiled, I added in the pasta and allowed it to cook for a few minutes.
  3. Since Angel's hair cooks much faster than any other pasta types, it just took a little under 4 minutes before it turned out al dente. A minute before this happened however, I was already scooping the pasta out of the pan to preserve the chewy texture that I dearly love.
  4. Coating the Angel's Hair with a some olive oil is actually my favorite step because by this time, I can freely devour my pasta sans the sauce!

What We Did with the Sauce:
  1. After mixing in some salt, pepper and lemon juice to our chicken, we let it marinate inside the fridge for about two hours. 
  2. Afterwards, we sauteed the meat in oil, added in some nuts and cooked both for a few more minutes.
  3. We then poured in the Clara Ole Kung Pao Pasta Sauce and cooked until everything's been heated through.
  4. A tablespoon or two of oyster sauce tossed in with some lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper flakes did make a difference in the over-all texture of the sauce.
  5. As a fitting finale, we added in the pasta as well as some scallions for freshness. 
Need I say more? 

Our Version of Yellow Cab's Charlie Chan Chicken Pasta!

Yay! Angel's Hair Pasta was sooo easy to make; it even turned out al dente in no time!

Hmmmm...I can most definitely devour all the garnishings in one sitting!  


I used Fujifilm X-A2 for this particular blog post.

Photo of Fujifilm X-A2