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Archive for 2012

Travel and Savings

This week, I've been reading and discovering a lot of travel blogs. It is quite fun reading what other people think and their experiences are as they are embarking on their journey of a lifetime. I'm quite jealous, to be honest! So, as I try and embark on a similar journey (hopefully), I kind of want to share a personal post on what savings and travel mean to me.

When I was way younger, like in primary school, I always had a tendency to spend beyond my means. Whatever I wanted, I would normally buy, provided that I had enough money in my pocket. There was this one time when I was in fourth grade that I bought too many books at a book fair and basically had nothing left for lunch and snacks. It was only around 12 noon and well, I overspent too much! Good thing a kind classmate gave me some coupons so I could buy food and the local school bus was there to take me home. Otherwise, I would have been screwed.

During summers, I would never even have enough money saved up! Well, I was such a loser way back in the day and no one in our culture/country would normally just go out to find jobs during the summer or go to the beach like Westerners do. I normally spend my summer at home, playing computer games or watching a heck of a lot of telly. For two freaking months. Boring eh?

Then came high school and well, I got to enjoy what life has to offer. My mum is open to me going out to several beaches and/or resorts during summer with my friends, and I was forced to learn how to save.

However, that all went out the window when I first started working and earning my first real paycheck. I got addicted to spending too much on material things and ended up with credit card debt, and on top of that, trying to pay for my last trimester in university.

I was in debt, and I didn't know what to do about it.

Six years later, here I am. More financially stable and about to embark (hopefully) in a huge savings goal to eventually go on my dream trip. I wouldn't expound on that today, but maybe a bit more when I am closer to the goal (and the date), and well, if everything is more in place. It took forever for me to be what I am right now when it comes to money and the discipline that it takes for me to not spend too much and live within my means.

Here's how I did it:

1) Understand that you have a problem. Five+ years ago (and well, even when I was really young), I knew that I was an impulsive shopper. If I liked something, boom, I would get it. And when I thought that all these clutter started piling up: clothes that I did not wear, books I would never read, bags I would never use, it began to dawn on me that I could have used that money for something else. Knowing that you have a problem is always the first step, and once you acknowledge it, you know you are truly on the way to "rehabilitating" yourself.

2. Read and research. I knew that I was an impulsive shopper so I spent down times at work trying to read other blogs on how to save money and how to curb my spending. It took more than a year of practice for me not to go to malls, and just delaying my gratification. It did work, eventually. I read a ton of money blogs, to be honest, bought two books on how to save and invest (thank you so much Rich Dad, Poor Dad - you are one of the reasons why I turned my life around).

3. Once you have done your research, practice what you've learned. This is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do! Well, it took a lot of patience and practice, and eventually I got the discipline to do this. I made charts, Excel spreadsheets, the works! I tried everything that they threw at me and when I found out what works for me the best, I stuck to it and made it my own, with a twist.

4. Save, Invest & Save some more! Other travel blogs out there have savings tips, and well, they helped me too, but some of these tips, I already do know by heart. I love how these blogs convert the price of one Starbucks latte to an overnight hostel stay somewhere here in SouthEast Asia. I guess it's just a matter of putting things in perspective. Need a new iPad? Well, x number of lattes in Starbucks = 1 iPad. Same for travel!

So, as I embark on this huge savings goal, hopefully, these tips help you too.

Oh, and did I mention I'm Asian? I do work full-time at a multinational company at the moment, but I definitely don't have a salary of a Westerner nor do I have a trust fund. If I can do it (save for a big trip or some other reason) then anyone could!

Travel, Me, and Variable Life Insurance Thoughts

My flat when I was living in Central London

Apologies, I know I have become a bad blogger recently. I have gone on a few trips here and there which took up a lot of my time, and watching a lot of shows in the middle. Thought I could make it up with a brand-new semi-travel and personal post! Hopefully the wait is worth it. 

So two weeks ago, I was contacted by a previous next-door neighbor asking if he could meet with me to discuss some investment products that his company was offering. Out of courtesy, I agreed, and well, I am curious enough to know what investment product it was, but was just hoping it was not insurance-related as I definitely won't buy it. 

Just my luck. It was an insurance-backed product. Ugh. I really hate those things: you save aside x amount of your money every month or year, and the company invests it in so and so and after x amount of years, you get a huge percentage of your money back as interest + your principal (that is, if the economy is up). Oh, what's more is that it is insurance-backed. Meaning if something happens to you (ie if your life conks out say, at this minute or so) - your beneficiaries get x amount of money as well. To be polite, I said I would think about it (but in reality, I already set my mind on saying no. I just needed another way to decline in a more polite way). 

The sales pitch went like this: "You get x amount of money back as your savings/investment for the future, and your dependants will also get the money without bureaucracies if something does happen to you. I know you're still young, but if you invest while you are young, your premium is smaller compared to when you are comparitively older. Plus, shouldn't be saving up for your future family?" 

Uhmm yeah, not interested. My reasons?
1) By the time that I do get my money back, its value would have been really depreciated. We all know about the time value of money right? Your $1 now is not worth $1 in say, 6 months time. So if I invest my money today and I get it back in say, 40 years time, my investment is basically worth half of it, I guess. 
2) As traveler, I find that life is too short. Why would I want to invest a considerable amount of money for the future right now when I could use it to travel? I could go out and see the world instead of worrying about what I would leave my (future) kids and/or husband? I will cross that bridge when I get there. I love my life and the way I am living it now, so I'm sorry, you chose the wrong person to sell this product to. 
3) I don't even have kids! The only family member I would want to take care of and/or leave money to is my mum! Not my cousins, nothing. Why would I pay for someone else's happiness? Other retirees out there forego their children's future inheritances, why can't I?
4) I am more interested in liquid assets. I need my cash now for my impromptu trips. I want to spend my hard earned cash the way I want to, which is travel (and books - and occasionally clothes and bags & shoes & concerts)

And so, when the time for me to decide was nearly up, I got a multitude of phone calls: I literally just arrived that morning from another out of town trip (Coron, Palawan) and was just warming up for another few days of work before another holiday (to Brunei). So yeah, forgive me if I did not have the extra time answering those calls. I got an email, which I then replied back to a few days after saying I would decline to take this offer.

I think he was a bit persistent because he was missing his quota for the year. Sorry, but still no. 

Worked out the math and it went something like this:
*Save $1200 for a year for 20 years
That is $24000 for 20 years. 
With that money, I could have gone around the world for a year (or more) if I saved that amount within a few years. 
* I could invest that money in a fixed income account (ie bonds or savings accounts) and get a fixed rate of interest every month which I could also use on my incidentals or on travel. 
* I could still be happy knowing that I had that amount of money ready to spend. 

So sorry, but those are my two cents worth about Life insurance & variable life insurance. 

I do not believe in it (at the moment) - I want to spend it more on my travels and trying to see what the world has to offer. 

Then again, if you are selling me more time on planet earth and I am not going to age (which is impossible) then I might just consider your offer...

[Book Review] The White Queen - Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory presents the first of a new series set amid the deadly feuds of England known as the Wars of the Roses.
Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.
The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills.

Known as the queen of historical fiction, Philippa Gregory is well known for her TUdor novels, one has even been made into a movie (The Other Boleyn Girl, anyone?). The White Queen is the first novel I've read from her and I can say it was a bit disappointing.

I expected detail, but I didn't expect detail to the point that parts of the novel is redundant - another character already said one thing, only to be repeated a few paragraphs later by another, and that goes on again and again. I also don't like the magic factor. Mixing magic with historical fiction don't really go well with each other, but who knows? Maybe in the old times, they really do believe in curses, magic, and whatnot. Not that it is true!

I originally liked the first part of the novel, but got bored when King Edward died and the story was all about Elizabeth. For some reason, her character became bland, desperate and annoying. When King Edward was still around, there were tales of wars and of love (of course, their love story was part of it).

I forgot to say that this book was the first of a trilogy which focuses on the three strong women within the House of Lancaster: first book is about Elizabeth Woodville (who married Edward, who became king), the second is about Elizabeth's daughter, aptly named Elizabeth as well (and makes things hellishly confusing as in the old times, your child's names are normally named after the parents or aunts or uncles or grandparents!), and the third is based on Jacquetta (Elizabeth Woodville's mother). Now, would I say that I'll buy the second and third part? Hmm maybe if they were on sale (like for $2 or less. I definitely won't buy it full price).

What else can I say about this book? It could be better - I think that it was rushed at some parts, and more detail could have been given about the places and more background on the characters could have been explained (then again Philippa Gregory has this tendency of releasing a few books per year so she could just be writing without considering any of these factors, but that's just me).

I'll read The Other Boleyn Girl some time and hopefully that book would be to my expectations!

The Lost Hero - Rick Riordan [Book Review]

Summary from Goodreads:
Jason has a problem. 
He doesn't remember anything before waking up on a school bus holding hands with a girl. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper. His best friend is a kid named Leo, and they're all students in the Wilderness School, a boarding school for "bad kids", as Leo puts it. What he did to end up here, Jason has no idea—except that everything seems very wrong.

Piper has a secret. 
Her father, a famous actor, has been missing for three days, and her vivid nightmares reveal that he's in terrible danger. Now her boyfriend doesn't recognize her, and when a freak storm and strange creatures attack during a school field trip, she, Jason, and Leo are whisked away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood. What is going on? 

Leo has a way with tools. 
His new cabin at Camp Half-Blood is filled with them. Seriously, the place beats Wilderness School hands down, with its weapons training, monsters, and fine-looking girls. What's troubling is the curse everyone keeps talking about, and that a camper's gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist they are all—including Leo—related to a god.

The spinoff of the Percy Jackson series! In this series, there are three new demigods serving as the main characters: Jason, son of Zeus; Piper, daughter of Aphrodite; and Leo, son of Hephaestus. Add the complexity of the Roman gods (well, they're the Greek gods too, only with different names and a harsher alter-ego), and we've got the makings of a good tale.

There was a lot of twists and turns that have been integrated with the older characters, and some new information to learn: the alter egos of the Greek gods that we were so familiar about, new gods, and new supernatural creatures like the storm gods, the giants, and ogres alike.

This book is also one of the longest I've ever read: 500+ pages. Albeit the font size and the spacing were quite big, it was still a challenge for me! Told in the perspectives of the three main characters, who alternate every two chapters, Rick Riordan nicely patched up the story so no one reading the book gets lost at what's happening within the other characters.

I do like how the characters do grow in the end though, although one annoying factor for me would be the so called love story between Piper and Jason. Ugh, mushy much? I also like Tempest and Festus - they were minor characters but they tugged at my heart! haha. I had always loved animal characters, don't get me wrong!

Quite a good read too, the ending would leave you hanging for more (specially as I'm expecting Percy and Annabeth to have bigger roles in the second book) - I sometimes hate reading book series, it would "force" you to buy the whole set just to complete the story! But well worth it though!

[Book Review] Where Rainbows End (Love, Rosie)- Cecelia Ahern

Summary from Goodreads:
Since childhood, Rosie and Alex have stuck by each other through thick and thin. But they're suddenly separated when Alexx and his family move from Dublin to America.

Their magical connection remains but can their friendship survive the years and miles?

Misunderstandings, circumstances and sheer bad luck have kept them apart – until now. But will they gamble everything – including their friendship – on true love? And what twists and surprises does fate have in store for them this time ... 

This is the second Cecelia Ahern book that I've read, and well, this does not disappoint. Written in a series of letters, emails, text messages, and chat messages, it chronicles the story of Rosie from when she was six years old until she was fifty. It seems she has everything going for her during her first few years in life: she has her best friend Alex, was about to embark on a university degree in Hospitality/Hotel Management, until fate suddenly interferes with all her plans, leaving her in Ireland while Alex was in America, when his dad got a job.

It was quite a cute story, of course, some elements are a bit easy to guess. In some parts, her story was absolutely heart tugging, in some, you just can't help but want to scream to Rosie because she lacked the drive and ambition and just let fate ground her in what she currently has instead of seeking out the bigger and better things she feels she deserves. But oh well, every character for themselves, right? I can't like everything about a novel :p

The chemistry in the characters were so cute, it made me want to cry. However, how can anyone be so stupid at times? How can that character not ask the right questions at the right times? *sigh*

Quite a unique book, and definitely one that I would remember. Just goes to show that when life give you lemons, you make lemonade. And when you fall down, you always have to remember to pick yourself up and just continue living!

Shanghai Day One: Pudong & Pearl TV Tower

Let me just say that Pudong is so much like Hong Kong Island- it is full of skyscrapers! Loads of tourists milling about too.

As you step out of the Metro stop, an overpass will greet you. It's for pedestrians only and you need to pass through it if you want To go to the Pearl Tv Tower or the Super Brand Mall.

The first stop on our iti was the Pearl Tv Tower. The entrance fee to go in is fairly steep: the higher up you go, the more expensive you pay. It's basically measured in the height of the three pink ball type things. The first level will set you back 130, second is 150 and the highest is 180. You could also opt to take a cruise for 100. Bought the tickets for the second level and up we went!

The selling point of the tv tower was the view of Shanghai from the second ball, plus the observation deck has see through panes that you'll walk on. They aren't that clear (it's full of scratches) so it didn't really give me the feeling that i'm about to fall to my death.

That's pretty much about it. If you're done taking photos of the view or of yourself lying down on the glass panes, you board the elevator to go down to the first ball. The first thing you will see is an arcade (full of games and a kiddy rollercoaster which you could ride for 5yuan). The windows are psychedelically purple in colour. Not much of a view there but a flight of stairs down and you'll be on an open air observation deck. The view is slightly obstucted by the wires but it's cool nevertheless. It shows a different perspective of the buildings around the One of the highlights of the tower was the glass elevator ride down from the first ball- it made me feel like I was falling down! It was soo quick too!

At the bottom most part of the tower is a museum which is part of the entrance fee you paid for the ticket. Go to the second floor where there are models of what Shanghai was like in the old times, complete with mannequins. There's also models of prominent houses and gardens around the area.

It was definitely something that I needed to experience albeit the ticket price was a bit expensive but overall worth it!

[Book review] The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight - Jennifer E Smith

Summary from Goodreads:
Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything?

Today should be one of the worst days of seventeen-year-old Hadley Sullivan's life. She's stuck at JFK, late to her father's second wedding, which is taking place in London and involves a soon to be step-mother that Hadley's never even met. Then she meets the perfect boy in the airport's cramped waiting area. His name is Oliver, he's British, and he's in seat 18C. Hadley's in 18A. 

Twists of fate and quirks of timing play out in this thoughtful novel about family connections, second chances and first loves. Set over a 24-hour-period, Hadley and Oliver's story will make you believe that true love finds you when you're least expecting it

I've never been one to buy books full price, but just imagine my surprise when I saw this book available at a local bookstore. It is quite expensive, given that the copy is a hard cover, and it took me several minutes in trying to decide if I should get it or not, but I finally did in the end.

I really wanted this book for like, forever, after the reviews that I've read on the internet, and also the premise of the book struck me. The story revolves around Hadley and Oliver, who both met at the airport and after a series of events, had them both in the same row on the same plane bound for London. Oh, and did I mention that Oliver is British? Just the mere fact hooked me on the book ;)

It reminded me of the feeling I had when I was reading Anna & the French Kiss: the unmistakeable tingly feeling you get in the pit of your stomach as you are reading the events that are unfolding between the two characters, and you feel the way they are feeling too. It's also very believable given that the dialogue is so real and true to what these Brit guys normally say!

It was easy reading for me at first, but then there were some parts that disappointed me (mainly parts that revolved around Hadley and there was no sight or mention of Oliver at all!) and of course, I was also at a point in my life where I didn't really like to read anything mushy so I had to put down the book and stare at it, not wanting to know what would happen to Hadley and Oliver as I was feeling a bit depressed.

I finally finished, and the ending was everything that I was expecting. The book is a bit short, to be honest. I'm not sure I feel so happy about it given the price I paid for this book. However, it is a feel good and uplifting tale that makes you wonder: "What if?" and would make you believe in things like fate, srendipity and other whatnot. Of course, in reality, each and everyone of us would be connected at one point in time given these random occurences and meetings in life, anywhere in the world.

As one friend of mine said, the people you meet are given a purpose for you. You just have to figure out what that particular purpose is to your life. I totally agree with that line. I have met a few people in my life who have inspired me to take a leap, travel, and just enjoy whatever life has to give to me and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to getting to know these people.

So, would I recommend this book? Definitely - but do not pay full price for it much like I did! LOL. I do hope that there would be another installment to Hadley & Oliver's tale (like, what happens after) but that's only wishful thinking!

Overall - 4/5

London 2012: Olympic Venues Part One

London 2012 is officially under way (did you get to watch it? I did!) and since not everyone can go there at the moment, I thought I could take you on a little tour what to see! This city has over 2,000 years of history, and is a cultural melting pot. It is a city where the old meets new, where high rise modern buildings can be seen within a few minutes walk from a castle!

First off, let's tour some Olympic venues within the London.

The Olympic Stadium, within the Olympic Village in Stratford, hosted the Opening Ceremonies last Friday. It would also host the Athletics & Closing Ceremony, definitely something to look out for. Have you seen the fireworks over this stadium during the Opening Ceremony?

Wimbledon is widely known for its yearly Tennis tournament, and this time, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club will also be the venue for the Tennis Olympic Event.

The Wembley Stadium, distinguishable from miles around London because of the large arch in front, will host the football (soccer to Americans) final. Other football matches are scattered throughout England, but this is the closest to London so far.

And on to some iconic views - if you've seen the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, David Beckham went through this steering a speedboat (of course there's fireworks as he went through too)- this is Tower Bridge. It currently has the Olympic rings at the top for the Olympics :)

Shanghai Day One: Touchdown

Early this January, there was a Piso fare from low cost carrier, Cebu Pacific, and since I couldn't resist the chance to grab a sale, I booked a ticket to a random destination, which was for Shanghai.

I had no clue what to expect from Shanghai, other than it used to be a colony of my beloved England, and that I watched a show on the travel channel about it. I just know that I need to have a visa to get in the country (ahh yes another obstacle I had to get through).

The flight arrives at 12mn in Shanghai and to save on costs for the hostel and the taxi from the airport, we decided to find a quiet place to stay and sleep.

I did not get enough sleep on the plane ride to Shanghai so when I found my spot to sleep on, I just put on my eye patch, my socks, and the sarong and Zzzzzzzed.

I woke up at around 5am (slept around 130/2) because the sound of the hoover cleaning the floor was quite annoying. It was also surprising for me that their sunrise is very early! Sleeping in the airport could be a good experience too, something I would definitely do again.

After changing our money (bloody hell, you have to pay a 50rmb service charge for any foreign exchange transactions done in the airport) - such a shame too as my ATM is not being recognized by any foreign bank at the ATM! Gaaah!

Got a Shanghai Metro card, then boarded a metro line 2 to East Nanjing Road. It's quite overwhelming as there are obviously a lot of people in China! The metro also takes forever to get from the airport to the city center with an interhange somewhere so watch out for that and allot ample time to get to/from the airport.

After finding the hostel of my friend - Blue Mountain Bund Youth Hostel at South Shanxi Road (near Exit One of the East Nanjing Road Stn), dropping off our bags and off we went to explore the city.

First stop was to just find breakfast! I was really, really hungry at the time and we ended up at KFC in East Nanjing Rd: something that's familiar to me, and was the first restaurant we saw! Got a burger of sorts plus an egg tart (for around 20RMB), and off we went to explore East Nanjing Rd.

Initially, I wanted to go and walk around the Bund area, but we ended up on the wrong direction and ended up at People's Square!

Explored the area for a little while before hopping on the Metro to Lujiazhui (Metro Line 2) to officially begin our tour!

I Hate Waiting

I've always hated waiting, even if it's for a good thing. I'm always known to be a very impatient person! I think thy waiting can be a waste of time!

I'm sitting here in greenbelt now, waiting for a friend more than 3 hours late. Le sigh. I wish I stayed at home for those hours and just watched telly or caught a few hours of Zzz before going here. Might have saved a few bucks too by not eating lunch out.

On the good side: I got some nice jeans from forever 21 and a free comic book from fully booked. Still mulling over if I'm going to purchase a few books from
National bookstore or fully booked. They finally have the book "the statisical probability of love at first sight" by jennifer e smith and "never let me go" by kazuo isihiguro. Now I'm still mulling over if I would just buy those books full price or wait until they go on sale - even at 20% off.

Ugh, I'm already bored. I hate being bored!

England: Leeds Castle

Last year, when I got a chance to go back to England, I vowed to make the most of my time exploring the area. On one very sunny weekend, my friends and I went off to Leeds Castle.

When I first heard of the place four years ago, I thought it would be in faraway Leeds. Until my boss at the time corrected me and told me it was just located in Surrey, an hour or so away from London.

To get there, you'll need to take a train from London's Victoria Station and go down at the Bearsted stop. From Bearsted, take a bus that will take you to Leeds Castle.

The castle is known for it's fabulous and spacious gardens, and also for the maze! Lots of families also flock here during the weekend (specially if it's sunny) to eat picnics in the massive grounds.

There's loads of things to do in the area. When you get there, you could grab both a grounds and palace ticket, which will allow you access to the castle and the gardens. If you only want to go to the maze, just get the grounds ticket!

I honestly loved the gardens: there are swans all over, and water too: giving a very romantic and tranquil feel to the place. Too bad I didn't have a special someone to share it with!

The castle is also worth exploring- I always love everything thats historic, grand, and old.

You could also watch the bird show they have. They don't actually perform, but is a venue for the birds to stretch their wings a but and fly around the massive grounds. They don't bite, and always come back anyway!

So if you're looking for a nice place o go to whilst in England, do consider Leeds Castle :)

NKOTBSB in Manila Part One

So, last June 3 was one of the best concert experiences in my life. One of my favourite boybands, BSB, has partnered up with another super boyband, NKOTB to make up NKOTBSB.

For those of you who don't know the acronyms: BSB- Backstreet Boys
NKOTB- New Kids On The Block
There. Acquainted now?

And so I got a txt and facebook message from friends while I was at Incheon International Airport in Korea and forwarded a poster to me: NKOTBSB on June 5. Oooh, count me in, I said to my friends. Only to find out the ticket prices a few weeks later and dismayed the hell out of me!

The SVIP area (first three rows) cost nearly 14000 pesos ($330+ £200+) (note: all prices are rounded up as I cannot remember the exact prices), the VIP area costs 9000 pesos ($230 £150), Lower Box around 8000 pesos ($200 £120), Upper Box at 3800 pesos ($100 £60) and General Admission at 1100 pesos ($30 £16).

It was much too expensive for my liking! And also, way off my original budget of 5000 pesos ($130 £75). My friends at the time were trying to buy VIP tickets but I politely declined, saying I will get the Upper Box as that was the closest to the stage given my very limited budget. It doesn't help that they will hold the venue at the Mall Of Asia Arena, a brand new concert venue in the metro, one we are not familiar with.

Anyways, I completely put the concert out of my mind - I don't want to regret buying the ticket (I could buy a plane ticket to Korea, Japan or any other international destination given that price) and I was also resolved in not watching anymore.

However, at the back of my mind, I was hoping for cheaper tickets and lo and behold, Groupon sold an offer to the ticket three days before the concert (on May 31st) at 50% off the original price. Perhaps because the original price of the tickets are so steep there's few people who bought them, and hence the offer. I immediately snapped a VIP seat at half off even though I have no idea where I was going to be seated.

On June 1st, I was lucky enough to get half day off from work and headed off to the Groupon office to claim my ticket. Knowing that there were hundreds who already bought the deal, I knew I was in for a chaotic afternoon and I was definitely not disappointed. The office was a bit hard to find- only directions I could give is that it's in Chino Roces Ave, and is near the Magallanes MRT station, walking distance!

When I arrived, the tickets weren't there yet! Apparently, they were still in transit (although I had a feeling thy were still being printed) and we had an option to wait for it or just have it shipped to our home addresses by the next day.

Since I was a paranoid android, I decided to wait. I didn't have anything else planned for the evening anyway. I'm all fairness and respect to the Groupon staff, they did everything that they can to keep us comfortable during the wait: offering us snacks, drinks, and chairs. They also offered updates now and again. Who could say no to that?

I finally got my tickets at around 7pm and woohoo!! I'll see NKOTBSB! It's finally real!

Watch out for part two of my post-
It will cover what happened at the concert itself :)

Applying for a Chinese Visa (Philippine passport holders)

With my trip to Shanghai, China in June, I had to apply for a Chinese visa at least a few weeks Abefore the trip, otherwise I would never be allowed entry to their country. First off, to get a Chinese visa, they require the following:

1. Filled out form wih a passport photo (white background)
2. Photocopy of your passport's information page (the one with your photo on it, etc)
3. Photocopy of the back part of your passport: the emergency contact page must also be filled out.
4. Original bank certificate with receipt issued within the month you are applying the visa for. I think you'll need at least P50,000 in the account, but if it's more then it's better
5. NBI Clearance valid for travel abroad (for first time applicants only)
6. Photocopy of your SSS ID and your contributions (you can get your contributions from the sss website, the Chinese embassy accepts that. Saves you a lot of time in queueing up at the SSS office nearest you just for a printout).
7. TIN ID & latest 2316 form if you're employed or self-employed
8. Roundtrip plane ticket & hostel/hotel/guest house booking.

So, first things first, where is the Chinese Embassy?

Well, it could be found in Buendia. From Edsa, go down at Buendia MRT then ride the jeepney going to RCBC and go down at the World Centre building. Just follow the signs to the Chinese Embassy. No need to take the elevator as the stairs going to the second floor is enough to bring you to the Embassy.

Full address:

The Embassy of the People's Republic of China
Second & Third Floor
The World Center
330 Sen Gil Puyat Avenue
Makati City, Philippines

Before I go on with my experience with getting the visa, let me provide a brief background of myself: I am 20-something, employed in a multinational company for 5 years, and have been working for more than 6 years now. I have enough cash in my bank account, and also have travelled to several countries (Hong Kong, Macau, UK, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, among others).

So, my day began quite early, I arrived around 830AM at the embassy (45 minutes later than what I was hoping) so there was a small queue of people outside the embassy door, waiting to go in. Just tell the guard that you are going to apply for a Chinese visa. There is a metal detector going in, and tell the receptionist you're applying for a visa and she will give you a number.

Wait for your number to be called (it took ages for my number to be called) and once you are at the counter, just present your documents to the consul and he/she will review if your documents are complete and will ask some questions relating to your trip.

I was only asked two questions: What are you going to do in China & how long will you stay? To which I answered: "I'm going there to sightsee and I'm only staying for four days."

The consul double checked my documents again, then gave me a pink slip telling me to come back on a certain day. In my case, I applied on June 22, and he asked me to come back on June 25. Fast eh?

Since I was not free on June 25th (releasing times for the Chinese Visa is from 9-11AM), I asked if it was okay to get my passport on another date. He said that I could get a representative to get my passport on my behalf, as long as they are holding the pink paper. Sweet! Note that you do not have to pay for the visa when you submit your documents. You'll only pay for the visa when you claim your passport.

Anyway, on June 25th, I asked my mum to get my passport. She arrived at around 930-10AM at the embassy and got a number for the passport claiming.

Once her number was called, she went to Window 7 to pay P1400 (I applied for a single entry visa, valid for 3 months with a maximum stay in China for 14 days). If you're applying for a multiple entry visa then the charges are higher (I think around P2500, if I'm not mistaken).

Once you have paid the visa fee, you'll be issued a receipt and you have to fall in line in Window 6 according to the receipt number. So do remember who was in front of you at the line! In Window 6, you'll have to show the receipt and they will give your passport back!

Hurrah! That's it! Getting a Chinese visa is quite easy although the pain points are getting all the requirements ready (all the IDs and of course, the NBI Clearance) and queueing to pass your requirements (then again, it's the same as South Korea, you have to queue!)

Ahh the pains of travelling abroad when you have a Philippine Passport. Lots of time, money, effort & energy spent in securing all the needed documents and sleepless nights wondering if you're gonna be approved or denied.

Next stop for a visa-required country for me would probably be Japan! Fingers crossed! :)

Elementary Korean 1: How I grabbed an opportunity to learn a language

If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you'll know that most of the entries here are composed because of boredom - the constant feeling of being stuck and not knowing what to do because I feel I've done everything that Manila has to offer.

Then an opportunity arose a week ago (it's May 12th as I type this), where I could enroll in Korean lessons for only P800 (roughly around $20), within a walking distance from where I work, and the end of which is a diagnostic exam where if I pass, I could move on to Level Two.

The idea was first sprung to me by my colleague (Hullo Ash), who was addicted to Korean Television Shows. She wanted to learn Korean as a way to understand what the actors are saying without reading the subtitles. Me? Why do I want to learn Korean? Hmmm.. let me count the ways.

1. A chance to learn something new.
On my travels, I realized that the world is so big, full of different cultures, speaking a ton of different languages. Of course, since my time on earth is limited, I want to soak up whatever the world has, and hence, learning new languages is part of my goal.
Ultimately, I would have preferred to have learned something more useful, like Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, or French, but I wouldn't complain :) At least I'm learning a new language that I can use when I do go back to Korea.

2. The beauty of being able to communicate abroad

Sure I could only use Korean whenever I travel to Korea, but on my February 2012 trip there, I have learned to appreciate the place. This country will always be memorable to me as it where I got my first taste of solo international backpacking was like, and was also the first place where I had encountered winter. I live in a tropical country with only two seasons!

When I was trudging along Korea the first time around, I found that knowing how to say Hello and Thank You in Korean really did go a long way. Now, learning more basic terms, I'm ready to go back and converse more with the locals.

3. The ability to read something completely out of the ordinary. 

The Korean language, much like Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, among others uses a completely different writing system. While it may look like a bunch of circles and straight lines to foreigners, I am more than excited to learn how to read them! I've studied Japanese before for two years in high school, and a term in Uni and there's nothing like trying to memorize all those symbols, which would in effect, make up words, and sentences. It's amazing.

And so, since the excitement and anticipation begins. My classes start on May 28th, from 9:30-11:30AM. (Good thing work has allowed me to change my schedule so I could work and study at the same time) Unfortunately, given that the online enrollment was a bit of a nightmare (it was next to impossible to get slots, but luckily I managed to get one), I was not in the same class as Ash (she is taking the 6:00-8:00pm class, along with a few others in a different team in the office) but maybe it's a blessing in disguise as we can concentrate more on the classes, and I can get to meet more people.

I'll be pulling in later work hours for three days a week for two months but it's well worth it :) I hope I get to pass the exams!

Hmmm... I do have to take two days off from class as I already have booked trips out of town while the courses are being held. But no matter, hopefully it won't conflict with any exam dates - if that is the case, I could probably request for another exam date then~

The Advantages of Travelling Alone

I am feeling a bit pissed off today as there are a lot of factors that are making an upcoming group trip quite annoying and unbearable. Since I had just travelled solo recently and love it, let me present the pros and cons of being a solo traveller.

1) you don't have to factor anyone else in your plans.

When you plan for your own trip, you only think about yourself and what you like- do you like going to the beah and just hanging out? Go for it! Want to go out and party? Okay!
Is it raining cats and dogs and you still want To go outand explore a certain place? Go for it! No one to stop you, no one you have to consult with or compromise your plans with.

This is specially useful if there is a seat sale: just book and buy to a particular destination that you want to go to without waiting for someone else to reply. If you have met a travel buddy that thinks the same as you and also decides on the spot then good for you!!

2) you get to meet new people Along the way

If you travel alone, you get to meet other solo travellers who might be headed the same way ad you are and/or have the same travel ideas and philosophies that you have. You get more insights on where to go next or just continue travelling. Adding new
People to your network could also
Be a good thing :)

3) con: no one to take your photos!
If you met some new people then good for you! You could ask your new friends to take photos. If not, you could ask random people in the street to take your photo for you. Just make sure that they don't look seedy enough that they will run off with your camera!!

4) con: If you are travelling solo, some activities tend to be more expensive. Ie: if you live in the Philippines, it tends to be more expensive to travel alone to some of the provinces. The transportation system is definitely one of the worst here. Most of the time, as you travel, you need to have a vehicle chauffer you around from place tk place to make the most of your time. It is hard enough to commute around! Then there's the accomodations too: without anyone to share with, costs go up relatively higher!

So there, some benefits of solo travel. If ever I think of any more, I'll put it in a part two :)

The Plights of Living in the Third World

It's May 5th as I type this and my plans for the weekend have subsequently been cancelled, leaving me alone at home, and two hours after waking up on a hot summer Saturday morning in the PH, I found myself bored. I really need to go out every weekend with a distinctive purpose of what I'll do, and no, not just head out to the mall just for the sake of it. I want a new experience entirely, which doesn't really happen often.

And so, stuck at home, I decided to try and research my Shanghai trip, and was disappointed that the NBI Clearance - a requirement for the Chinese visa - is a bloody nightmare to get nowadays. As a brief background to non-Filipinos reading this blog, an NBI Clearance is simply a police clearance to state that you did not commit any crime. Way back when (let's say 6 years ago, when I first started working), you just have to go to the main office and if you don't have a namesake, you could get your clearance within the day, but now ugh. Apparently, and I read from some blogs, that the old database or hardware provider or whatever of the NBI had pulled out their equipment and data because the contract has already expired, leading all the previous residents to apply as first timers (AGAIN). UGH. I hate queueing up in hot, humid situations! But then, of course, I don't have a choice, do I? I want to go to China!

Anyway, it just struck me how inneficient things can be in the PH. ANd yes, this is another disgruntled post written by me about this country I live in, and how disappointed I am in everything. And how I just wish I could leave and go live somewhere else.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Unlike the first world countries out there, I simply cannot just apply for a visa when I decide to settle in one country and expect them to grant it. Which brings me to one of the blog posts I've read recently about how not everyone can travel.

Most of the people who go aorund the world are typically from the first world countries where they're lucky enough to have visas on arrival on almost every country in the world. Except for maybe China, when I was having a discussion with one of my British friends and I stated, "Finally! A country where you're required to have a visa, that way you'll know how we feel whenever we try to apply for visas in the first world countries we like to go to."

Ahhh the plights of living in a third world country. I find it really funny too the way the business analysts call the Philippines as an Emerging economy. Really?? Really?? What's so emerging about this economy?

Review: One Fifth Avenue - Candace Bushnell

Summary from Goodreads:
Bushnell traces the lives and loves of aspiring sophisticates in New York City, using the trendiest areas of Manhattan as the backdrop for the stories of five women living in the same swanky downtown apartment building.


Got this book from Bookmooch before, when I was an active user of the site. I haven't read any of Candace Bushnell's books before, I only know she was the author of the books Sex & the City and Lipstick Jungle, which were turned into popular American telly series (and yes, which I've watched too).

One Fifth Avenue follows the lives of the residents of this historic building in Fifth Avenue in New York. It used to be the home of various artists, and the residents were stinking rich. After all, the real estate and cost of living in New York is not for the faint of heart. Their lives are all intertwined in one way or another, and each character brings a quirky new dimension in this tale.

However, this novel did not really deliver for me, nor was it something that I enjoyed. I thought it would be something along the lines of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, but there were certain elements in it that really annoyed me. There's too much sex told in detail, Lola Fabrikant is an annoying little character who I wanted to throw out the window, and some of the other characters are just really shallow and for show. What I loved though, is the Schiffer Diamond and Philip Oakland love affair. Now that's very interesting.

While this novel was not a pageturner or something that would be in a top 100 best books of all time, it is a nice escape from the world I am living in, a life where everything seems so much possible, and keeping up with the Joneses isn't really an ideal thing to do. Some will definitely have everything, some won't.

Overall, this 500+ page novel was ok, it was not good, it was not horribly bad either.
Just a way to pass the time as I commute to and from work on a daily basis.

Rating: 2/5

I've Lost the Reading Mojo

It's the end of the Holy Week as I type this. Four straight days of not going to work, and I was stuck at home, a staycation, if you would like to call it like that. What did I do? I read, I went online, and I watched a whole load of telly. Ugh. Not my ideal way to spend four days of free time. I should have just booked a ticket abroad and used the time to discover new places.

I thought I would love the time off, I could have used it to catch up on tv shows that I would have wanted to watch but neveer had time for, or to catch up on my reading. God knows how many books I've bought and haven't even started to read yet which are currently awaiting to be read. Well, I did manage to catch up on a few episodes of programmes I did want to watch though, and I did manage to finish two books and progress a bit on other books I've started to read but this holiday wasn't satisfying enough for me. I've lost the reading mojo.

For me, I am most happy reading when I am just passing the time: either in transit (sitting on a bus, a plane, or a jeepney) or just waiting for the morning after an insomniac night or just trying to pass the time while waiting for the next activity or waiting for something (be that a person or while in a queue).

I lost the ability to just sit down in a quiet corner (except maybe if I was hanging out in a beach, but then again that's also in a new place, right? Not sitting in my bedroom at home, whiling away the weekend hours with a book), and I've also lost the drive to go to a bookstore and pick out something new to read.

Ok, maybe the last part was a bit of a lie. I found myself in National Bookstore quite a few times this month as there is an ongoing 20% off summer sale and I couldn't resist getting some titles that I have already devoured: most of them wishlist books that I would have tried to wait for to come out in BookSale. But still, these are the books that are just tiding me over after work. Just something to do, not a real hobby or anything of that sort.

How can I get the reading mojo back? Or is it just a complete change that came over me? Maybe you only need to have one hobby at a time: books have finally been put on a back seat as travel now takes precedence, perhaps?

[Review] Along for the Ride - Sarah Dessen

Summary from Goodreads:

It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live. 

A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend. 

This is the first Dessen book I've read, and I know there are a lot of Dessen fans out there. She is one of the most famous young adult writers as she tackles real life situations, and her characters are so relatable and very realistic.

Let me just say: this book completely and utterly blew me away. The book starts off with Auden, a high achieving academic, and who, after the summer before she goes off to university, decides to go and visit her father, stepmother and half sister at a small town called Colby. It was there that she meets Eli, a loner, who helps her experience some of the things she missed out with when she was a child. She then goes on a mini-quest with him, and eventually falls for him.

Very, very cute story. It revolves around Auden trying to be her age and enjoying what life can offer her instead of acting all grown up and engrossing herself into the world of academics and trying to embrace that failure can help make you grow instead of making you feel like well, a failure. I loved Auden. I love the fact that she cannot ride a bicycle (because I can't too) and she learned how to and forced herself to keep on climbing back up the bicycle seat time and time again even though she kept falling.

I also loved the quests she kept on doing with Eli. It also shows how, if you managed to not experience something before, you could always try and make an effort to experience them, regardless of your age. The thing was, you tried, and that's what makes all the difference. At least when the time comes when you're really old, you won't have regrets when you look back and say "I wish I've done this or that, or I wonder what my life would have been like had I..." - There's nothing more sad than a life that was full of what-ifs and regrets.

Well there you go, my new philosophy in life. This book cannot have come at a better time!

Rating 5/5
Book was given by Lenore for review (thanks Lenore! :) )

[Review] The 39 Clues: The Black Book of Buried Secrets

I found my 39 Clues groove back!! And well, ever since I got back from London, I met up with my friend who was more than willing to let me borrow her books again rather than me buying all the books in the series. Ha ha. Plus, the most read article in my blog is about a review of a 39 Clues book so here I am, reviewing the series again.

Summary from Goodreads:

For the past five hundred years, the Cahills have silently dominated the world. Their desperate hunt for the 39 Clues lies behind some of history’s biggest enigmas – the curse of the Hope diamond, the race to summit Mt. Everest, the wild life and death of Harry Houdini. And now – finally – the secrets are out. With an introduction by Rick Riordan, The 39 Clues: The Black Book of Buried Secrets reveals the shocking truth about history’s most notorious family. 
In full, lush color, The 39 Clues: The Black Book of Buried Secrets lays bare each hidden fact, concealed strategy, top agent, lost founder, secret base and hushed-up scandal of the Clue hunt. This complete guide to the Cahills contains information on all five branches, including the notoriously elusive Madrigals. The must-know information includes: 
-Full files on the enigmatic Man in Black. 
-The true purpose of the Madrigal branch. 
-The complete story of the fire that split the original Cahill family. 
-The truth about the night Hope and Arthur Cahill died. 
-Open access to the secrets of the Lucian, Ekaterina, Tomas and Janus branches. 

It’s never too late to join the hunt – especially with The 39 Clues: The Black Book of Buried Secrets to provide complete access to the Cahill’s most deeply-buried secrets. 

So, the Black Book of Buried Secrets is a companion book to the 39 Clues franchise. It features all of the Cahill branches (yes, including the Madrigals), and some information about that branch: what weapons they like to use, where the strongholds are, and who their key members are (and they provide a brief profile of some of their more reputable members). It also features lots of pictures of the places and the members. (Although I was surprised at the supposed photo of Jonah Wizard and Ian Kabra - when I was reading the series, I never expected them to look like the photos depicted in the Black Book).

What I love most about the book? The pages - they are absolutely glossy and shiny, compared to the other books in the series which are just printed on normal paper. Add the strongholds and key character information and it mixes historical figures and places with made up ones.

I like that for such a young reader market, the publishers and writers have thought of mixing history and present: it makes history much more interesting and learning so much more fun. And yes, if I were a kid reading the 39 Clues, I would also want to embark on the adventures of Amy and Dan, thanks very much. I mean, who wouldn't if you were given such bagloads of cash to spend trying to chase after clues all around the world?

Hmmm... the beginning of wanderlust, I would say.

In the near future, these kids reading these books would probably end up blogging about their travels too and I would be stuck reading about them and going green with envy as I read about their adventures.

Nevertheless, this is a good companion book (so much better than the Agent's Handbook) and one I would splurge on to complete the 39 Clues series in the collection!

[Review] Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert

Summary from Goodreads

In her early thirties, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want--husband, country home, successful career--but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she felt consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and of what she found in their place. Following a divorce and a crushing depression, Gilbert set out to examine three different aspects of her nature, set against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence

It's no big secret that I'm starting to love travelling even more. If you've read a few blog posts of mine recently, you'll find that I have deviated a bit from reviewing books to blogging more about my travels and/or reviewing travel-related stuff.

Which is why I finally picked up this book from my TBR list. I initially bought it from Booksale a few years ago as it was so cheap and just piled it in. I knew I would want to read it but I just didn't know when I'll feel the need to read it. Until a few weeks ago.

A few months ago, I was suffering from post-travel depression - I've just left my favourite city on earth, London, and was back in Manila. And boy, was I depressed. I wanted to travel again but since December is peak season (not to mention Manila traffic is absolutely horrible at the time), I was grounded at home. Frustrated, I wanted to read about travel, and that's when the call to read this book came.

It was an autobiography of Elizabeth Gilbert during her year of travel in Italy, India and Indonesia. She was suffering a massive breakdown after her divorce and she found that she needed time to herself, to enjoy life's pleasures (hence her eat), to get in touch with God (her pray), and find balance (Love - where she eventually found one in Indonesia).

There is a movie out based on this book, and let me just say: the movie is nothing like the book.

In fact, the book, for me, did not give me answers to the questions I was looking for. It did not even inspire me to pack up my bag and leave as soon as possible. I find that there's numerous other travel blogs out there in cyberspace that inspired me more to pick up my bags and leave than this book.

I think it was overhyped, and I have no idea why people liked this book so much (no offense to any of my readers though). Sure, it was about travel, and finding the courage to get up and go but it lacked enough structure about the places she's seen, it's mostly about her, her, and her.

The book for me was like a ranting ground for her craziness and depression. I find myself rolling my eyes at some of the parts about her pining over David, but then again, it's her life, it's her book, and I just picked it up at a bookstore.

I ended up giving it to a friend of mine who was curious about the book as a leaving present for her. Whether it will inspire her or not to travel (although we both think it won't inspire her more since we already have wanderlust in our veins) I'm not sure.

So, just borrow this book from a friend, or watch the movie. I think the movie was much more interesting than reading about the book.

Rating: 2/5
Book was bought from Booksale

[Review] Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Summary from Goodreads:

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding. 

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plains - except Katniss. 

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay - no matter what the personal cost

Mockingjay - what can I say. I know other book bloggers have posted their review of this book 2 years ago but since I'm way behind the times and have a huge backlog of reviews and other stuff to do, I only got to finish and review the book now.

I share my thoughts with the other bloggers: I was hugely disappointed with the third book. I honestly felt that it was all over the place, and the prospect of the war between the districts and the Capitol was not entirely enticing for me. The latter part of the book and the conclusion seems written quickly: I felt it had no real structure, leaving gaps and more questions all over the place.

It was disappointing given that it was the final book of the series, I honestly thought there would be more answers, and not more questions (unless another spinoff series would be created that would address those gaps - which I'm not sure if there wold be). *Spoiler* Sure, Peeta and Katniss did end up together eventually but what happened to make Katniss change her mind when she was choosing between Gale and Peeta? Where was the spark that ignited between the two of them from the first two books?

Why kill off so many characters in a span of a few pages without giving much dignity to some of their deaths (like Rue)? Why???

What happened to District 13? And to the other districts after Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta went home? WHat happened to the other characters? I want to know!!

Surely I sound affected by these characters and events as I was reading the third book to the point of exaggeration. I find that it took me much longer to read this book than the first two. Maybe because some parts were extremely dragging, whilst some were just... plain confusing.

So, what did I think?

Rating: 3.5/5 - It was good but not good enough.
Bought from National Bookstore.

Book Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Summary from Goodreads:

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark won the annual competition described in Hunger Games, but the aftermath leaves these victors with no sense of triumph. Instead, they have become the poster children for a rebellion that they never planned to lead. That new, unwanted status puts them in the bull's-eye for merciless revenge by The Capitol...

I initially read this book way back in early 2011. It was until I left for London that I had to leave the book behind (I had a hardbound copy) since it was too heavy for me to bring along. I completely forgot that I didn't get to finish the book until later in the year (after I got back) and then I got hooked to the story (again).

I was drawn sooo much to Peeta this time. I love that Katniss and Peeta were doing everything just to save each other. Awwww......

Very fast paced book, I literally could not put the book down at some parts, even if i was meant to be sleeping! The characters blended so well together, and I loved that there are new characters to get to know in this book. It makes it all the more interesting given that I also got to know more about the other districts and how the tributes lived their life there. It adds to the dynamic of the whole tale.

Spoiler - I even thought that Finnick was going to be one of Katniss's admirers. Imagine, three boys all after one girl! (Only to be proven wrong in the latter part of the book. Ha ha).

This was a good build up to the third book, Mockingjay. I've also already finished the third book and wait out for my review of it!

Rating: 4/5
Publisher: Scholastic Books

[Travel] Ilocos Norte tour part one

It all started with a whim to travel. Then there was a P288 sale from airphilexpress and I found myself booking a trip to Laoag and three days worth of leave.

Finally landed at Laoag Airport last sunday, march 25th at 630pm then signed up for the free shuttle from the airport to the city centre. Plan was to take a bus to Pagudpud and stay at Cathy's Homestay.

Lucky us, we caught the last trip of the mini bus from Laoag to Pagudpud! Fare was P60 for an ordinary bus and since we were in a bit of a hurry, we weren't gonna complain.

After two hours, we arrived at the Pagudpud town centre! My, it was a deserted area at 9pm! We were dropped off in front of the municipal hall and a tricycle picked us up to get to Cathy's resort in Saud Beach.

Note for those of you planning our sojourn: bring food with you! I actually bought some before the trip but left it in the car! Dohh! The stores close at 7pm in Pagudpud and there's no restaurant near Cathys place so if you don't have food, you'll end up with no dinner!

Just our luck, cathy's was overbooked and so we got to stay at Madrid Beach Resort, Cathy's aunties place. Same price but no breakfast included.

No hot shower but that's fine. It was a semi- early night or us as we were tired after the trip. We have an early day too, we have a tour of Pagudpud starting at 8am!

Photos to follow, when I get back home and manage to upload them.

South Korea: YongPyong Ski Resort Part One

I knew that on my recent trip to Korea, one of the things that I really wanted to do was to learn how to snowboard and/or ski (or both). So in my itinerary, I prepared an almost-flexible four days out of my nine days in Korea to spend at a ski resort.

Originally, I wanted to go to Vivaldi Park (Daemyung Resort) which was only an hour away from Seoul. I thought it would be better if I stayed in Seoul and just go over to the resort, take a few lessons then go back to Seoul. Then I realized: that would be just like saying I tried something - like learned a lesson for an hour or so and then that's it! And so, I did my research (hello Google) - tried to find what is the best ski resort in South Korea, wanted to find a cheap hostel within the premises where I could stay a few nights, and I landed in YongPyong Resort.

It is 2 1/2 hours from Seoul by the Express Bus (the bus stop is at Jamsil station on the East Side of Seoul) and leaves at 6.10AM and 9AM. I thought at first that I need a reservation to get on this bus and after numerous attempts of trying to email the resort and got no reply, I decided to commute there instead (another way to get to YongPyong resort). Little did I know, I didn't have to reserve a slot - you could just turn up on the day itself and board the bus and pay the roundtrip fare of 28,000 Won. Oh well.

What I did was a bit more complicated: I went to the inter-city bus station in Seoul and bought a ticket to Hoenggye for 13,800 won (good thing I pronounced it correctly when I was buying a ticket - the girl at the counter managed to recognize it and she had an English spelling of the town and got me the rigt ticket. Was stupid enough not to ask someone fluent in Korean to write down the town for me in Korean). It was quite a long bus ride in a sense. 2 1/2 hours away from the city. I spent the first few hours looking out the window at the scenery but the seat was so comfy, I fell asleep and when I woke up, I was in a Korean countryside where the trees and the mountains are dusted with snow.

Seeing as I've never seen real snow before, and only seeing ice on the streets in Seoul, I got excited! It looks so powdery soft and white! Finally, I got to Hoenggye, where the bus station was not exactly what I had hoped for. It was just a stop near a gasoline station. Ok, quite rural. Tried to go to the Post Office where the shuttle bus to YongPYong would stop but it was nearly 6pm and there was no bus in sight! Turns out the information on the website was out of date. There was no 6pm bus anymore, the next bus would be at 7pm!

Okay, panicked for a moment there but thought I could kill some time by exploring the tiny town of Hoenggye rather than waiting in the cold in front of the Post Office. I saw tiny shops along the main road, but there was a Paris cafe place so I stopped by and grabbed myself something to eat and a coffee while mooching their free WiFi. That kept me busy for around 45 minutes as I waited for 6:55pm.

Got to the stop 5 minutes before and it came on time! It just stopped, picked passengers up and I finally arrived in the resort!

Amazing scenery :) I'll update more on Part Two if I ever get around to typing it :P

South Korea: Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace)

While I was researching for this Korea trip, one of the hindrances I had was trying to remember (and write down) the names for all the sites I wanted to see. Just trying to write down and remember the names of the five palaces was a tongue-twister in itself.

On my first day in Korea, February 18th, after lunch at Itaewon (a Subway sandwich), we took a subway to Gwanghwamun. It was a large square, dominated by two statues. One of the statues was of the King of Korea who pioneered the Korean alphabet. My new friends and I were amazed at the structures and got a group photo in front of the statue of the King. There, a young Korean child waved to one of my new friends and we fond it so endearing!

Fter getting our photo fix and tiring of the square, we walked to the entrance of Gyeongbokgung. THis is the largest of the five palaces in Seoul, and it has a changing of the guards timed almost every hour (check the site for time schedules) - we were a bit too late for the 1:00 changing of the guards schedule, so we just paid the 3,000 Won entrance fee and went in.

I never thought that these new friends would like palaces: seriously, as they were all boys, but then again, we are all toursits so they must also be curious about what the inside of a Korean palace would be like. One of the new friends has been to the Forbidden City in Beijing and said that Gyengbukgung looks like one of the Chinese palaces. We then had this theory that since Korea is connected to China, there are certain influences within the Chinese culture that would have rubbed off in Korea.

We saw the top of a pagoda somewhere in the distance and we all mutually agreed to find a way there after we have explored the grounds first!

Saw the throne room, where hoards of people were gathered around, taking photos. Eventually explored other parts of the palace, where there were other rooms or houses of sort, which we thought would house some of the servants (or concubines!)

Then the best part: there was a man-made island and lake within the palace and it was iced over. In that man-made island is another house-type structure. It was so beautiful and amazing. With al the trees around (with no leaves, of course, it was the dead of winter) and that iced lake, it certainly was worth the admission fee.

Of course, I can't help but wonder how beautiful the grounds would also be if I went there in spring and winter - with all the changing colours of the leaves!

Entrance to Gyengbokgung is 3,000 won. It's open from 10AM-5PM (during winter)
Best way to go there is to alight at the Gwanghwamun subway station and walk a few metres to the entrance.

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