Wednesday, October 31, 2012

End of an era...beginning of another

Today was officially my last day as Director of the National Center for Transportation Studies of the University of the Philippines Diliman. This is based on my appointment for my second 3-year term, which ran from November 1, 2009 to October 31, 2012. I have mixed feelings about today looking back to the many "what could have beens" and "what ifs" throughout my 6-year stint as administrator. There were many challenges and decision points during that time and steering the Center towards fulfilling its mandate was not always smooth considering the many personalities and sensitivities that went with the job.

When I first became head of the center, I set out to create an environment where everyone could work as best as possible according to their preferences and capabilities. I leave my post believing we were able to achieve that and by we I would like to emphasize that I alone could not succeed but only with the cooperation, dedication and hard work of all who were part of the center whether as organic staff, Fellow or partner. Many times, it was a thankless job and those were the times, perhaps, when our work and accomplishments probably mattered a lot. After all, we were not afraid to get our hands dirty and to be as direct as possible in our message even to our partners whom we had to repeatedly remind of their commitments and responsibilities.

Are transport and traffic in Metro Manila and the country better, more efficient and safer than it was 6 years ago? I would like to think there were improvements and many cannot be directly attributed to our work at the center. We are but a small organization in a sea of government agencies and bureaucracy. However, collaborative work with these agencies, private sector partners and other agencies have been key to our influencing policymaking even in cases when advise and opinion from the center were not received well as they clashed with what we have come to term as "nakasanayan na" in many agencies. Truly, it is not easy getting out of established comfort zones where wrong has become right simply because it has been practice all these years.

I will continue to be part of the Center but this time more as an active Fellow. There are those who are Fellows only in name but have little in terms of contributions to the Center's work. I do not intend to be like them and hopefully, I can continue to provide guidance not just to staff but to the next leadership as well. And here begins a new chapter that's still to be written in the time to come...

Friday, October 26, 2012


In Tagaytay again for a weekend sojourn, we decided to try out the restaurant next to our hotel. Steaktown is prominently featured in the hotel's website and it seemed a good alternative to driving out to dine in another restaurant. It proudly states "Boston charcoal grill" in its sign and I'm sure it counts for something but I decided not to check out what the tag meant, preferring to savor the taste of grilled food and just enjoy dinner like its supposed to be before the era of internet and so much info suddenly available at our disposal. An order turned out to be a set meal with the salads and dessert already factored in with your order. The only other thing you need to choose from the menu was the drink. We decided to have grilled prawns and beef salpicao as we figured having full steak meals would be quite heavy for dinner.

Grilled prawns
Restaurant sign
The food was good and grilled just right and so we enjoyed our dinner. The salads were okay and reminded us of the salad bar at Wendy's. Dessert was a scoop each of vanilla ice cream, good enough to cleanse the palate after our grilled delights. One could also tell that it was a good restaurant from the many people dining there, many of whom we saw ordered steak. These included tables with whole families enjoying their meals.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Inflight meals

I don't usually take photos of the meals I've had during flights. This is so even in cases where the temptation was so strong to take a souvenir shot or two because I was impressed with the service even though I was flying economy. Such were the cases every time I flew Singapore Airlines, which I believe is one of if not the best airline I've flown to any of my destinations. Previously, I thought the economy class meals on Japan Airlines and Asiana Airlines were the better meals I've had inflight. However, I've always exercised restraint in taking photos mainly due to the dyahe factor because there was another passenger seated beside me. But as temptations go, I finally gave in during one return flight to Manila when I was all by myself in my row inside the plane.

Chicken, mushrooms and noodles c/o Thai Airways
Perhaps I should try to take more inflight meals later just for comparison. My next chance would probably be on my upcoming trip to Hong Kong when I will be taking our flag carrier, Philippines Airlines.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Comfort (junk) food in Japan

Living in Japan for three years and then later on for 3 and 1.5 months in later visits, I've been able to adjust to the pace and being away from loved ones. Like many other people who are away from their homes, I was able to learn the language (at least the simple conversation aspect of it) and went around to explore places, some of which became my haunts during my stays. In fact, some of these haunts I still visit when I am able to travel to Japan especially those in Yokohama that I have come to be familiar and perhaps attached to. And so I have also developed a liking to Japanese food (I love Japanese food!) including sushi, sashimi, ramen and udon. Another thing I developed is a liking to certain food that we tend to classify as junk like the snacks one could buy at the supermarket or the neighborhood store. 

In a recent trip to Bangkok, I got reacquainted to some of these items as I browsed through a supermarket near our hotel to check out some snacks. Following are photos of some purchases I made at the supermarket. They never made the trip back to Manila... 

Items bought at a supermarket in Bangkok
One of our favorite snacks (junk) while living in Tokyo were packs of Karl by Meiji, a cheese flavored snack similar to the more well-known Cheetos or the Philippines' Chiz Curls.
I discovered Morinaga chocolates along the same time I sampled Meiji and Ghana. There are many variants including the basic Milk Chocolate and White Chocolate.  This is their dark chocolate variant that they label as "bitter chocolate," which tastes much like Meiji Black but is usually cheaper. I also enjoyed my morning hot chocolates from Morinaga, particularly during the colder months of Autumn, Winter and Spring (practically 75% of the year).
Pocky stick biscuits (or pretzels as what we have been accustomed to calling it) are quite popular in Japan and also has a number of variants including strawberry, white chocolate and almonds. The term Pocky sounds quite different (with a different meaning) when mentioned in the Philippines and so one wonders what comes to mind when encountering the dark chocolate variant that's called "Men's Pocky."


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Next car?

Was having the car serviced at the casa one Saturday and to wile away the time I decided to take a look at the new models currently on display. Its always nice to check out the new features of current vehicles particularly considering the specter of increasing fuel prices (must be fuel efficient), environmental degradation (must be low emission) and flooding (must have good ground clearance). And so I finally came face to face with the new Mazda CX-5, which in the photo seems to be smiling back at me after I inspected its features including the state of the art SkyActive engine, which supposedly makes this 2.0L SUV quite fuel efficient even for city driving. I'll leave it up to the reader to research on the other specs of this vehicle. From what I gathered, it is the real deal and probably the best one out there in the Philippine market even considering the higher-priced European brands. Now if only I can afford this thing...

Mazda CX-5 with its innovative 2.0L SkyActive engine


Monday, October 15, 2012

Commuting using the Bangkok subway

I have gone around Bangkok in the past using the BTS Skytrain, buses, taxis and once using the tuktuk. I have only used the subway once as it has only one line and in the past trips to Bangkok I really didn't need to use it considering most of my destinations were within walking distance of a Skytrain station or required the services of a taxi. And so I took the opportunity to take some photos at the Bangkok Metro during one commute to meet up with a friend.

Descending from the Skytrain station to the entrance to the subway station
Directional sign pointing towards the subway station
Descent to the subway station plaza
User interface for the Bangkok subway - commuters who can't read Thai may opt to go for the English option.
The station is spacious and there seems to be still few passengers using the subway - Fares have been criticized before for being expensive compared to bus and Skytrain. As such, the system is not as crowded as Singapore's MRT or the Philippines' elevated rail systems.
Platform doors are synchronized with the train doors, ensuring safety for commuters.
Turnstiles are similar to those in Singapore and Japan
I think the Bangkok subway is still a good option along the corridor it serves though it would be better if it is extended to increase its reach and consequently its ridership. Issues on interconnectivity with other modes especially the Skytrain have been addressed to some extent but remain. Its most difficult challenge pertains to fares and is something that would probably be difficult to tackle given the financial implications but is necessary to encourage more people to use it regularly.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Indian food at The Podium

The Clairvoyant and I like Indian food and there were many opportunities to enjoy it in Singapore where there are many Indian restaurants particularly in the Little India District. It also helped that a good friend of the Clairvoyant's was married to an Indian and we had excellent home-cooked meals everytime we visited them at their home in Simei. A nice thing there was that the cook was their Filipina helper who was trained by our friend's mother-in-law on how to prepare various dishes.

After concluding one workshop, our project staff made reservations at the New Bombay Indian restaurant at the top level of The Podium at the Ortigas Center. So with our international mix of diners, we walked from the Galleria area and headed up to the restaurant all eager for a hearty dinner on the eve of the return flights for many among us. Some ordered beer but most ordered varieties of lassi, a drink based on yoghurt that to some may look like the Indian version of milkshake. Each also got to order his pick from the menu, which were eventually shared with the others so that we could all taste the different food we ordered. Our Indonesian and Thai friends ordered very spicy food and we had to wash it down with either the beer or lassi (kaya pala bagay yung lassi sa spicy food!).

Yoghurt drink and beer
Chicken tikka
There are also many good Indian restaurants in Metro Manila but I know most are in the Makati area where the demand would be highest and where many people are probably more familiar and appreciative of the cuisine. There are a few in Quezon City but you won't find them in the malls but as stand-alone's in the Tomas Morato area. There should be some good ones in Manila where there are districts where Indians reside and where, I suppose, some of them have established businesses including restaurants offering authentic Indian dishes. Of course, the best place to enjoy their food is in India and I would like to go there at least once; perhaps to marvel at the Taj Mahal in Agra. Now that's a trip definitely worth saving for and part of the bucket lists of many other people.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cupcakes from Gigi

Our hosts served us cupcakes for merienda during one meeting in the Eastwood area. One mentioned that the cupcakes were a must-try and highly recommended by friends who discovered a small shop at our near the Citibank building in Eastwood. And so each one of us had our pick of cupcake from a box and sampled our pick with the freshly brewed coffee that was served as we started our meeting. The cupcakes quickly became part of the discussions albeit informally as one remarked about her pick being just right and perfect with or without the coffee. Another person commented that hers wasn't too sweet and so was probably good even for diabetics. I'm not so sure about that last observation but the cupcakes were definitely good and something to check-out the next time I'm in the Eastwood area.

Tempting set of cupcakes
Cupcake and coffee - a perfect pair
Gigi Coffee & Cupcakes may be found at the Eastwood City


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Stacy's at Greenstreet

Back at the Capitol Greenstreet, we tried out the restaurant near at the main entrance to the building that we were curious about. Stacy's turned out to be a very pleasant surprise even though we had a peek the couple of times we've been at Capitol Greenstreet the last month. The restaurant is styled after the classic American diners we usually see on TV and the movies and offers a delightful menu for meals whatever time of the day.

Cool interiors reminded us of the first time we were at another restaurant, Mom & Tina's, that had similar interiors at their branch in Pasig
Old American charm - we were talking about the classic styled pink refrigerator at the bar
There were few diners that rainy evening and so we practically had the restaurant to ourselves.
We were just talking about their popcorn maker when we were served with a mug of freshly popped corn with marshmallows and pretzels.
Raspberry iced tea with straw made out of paper
Herbed cream dory fillet with aioli dip - note the heart-shaped serving of rice
Home-baked chicken parmesan

Read more about Stacy's from these two other sites: menu care of Munchunch and a nice article from When in Manila.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Renewing friendships over sushi in Bangkok

I take advantage of my trips to Bangkok to get reacquainted with an old friend from my stint in Japan. Terdsak was my junior (kohai) at our laboratory at the university and we were at the time the only foreign students at our laboratory. Of course, there were many others at the other labs but you don't get to see the other regularly except perhaps during lunch time when most of us would congregate at the shokudo (canteen) to exchange stories including life in Japan. 

It is no surprise that we ended up having dinner at a Japanese restaurant considering I already had my fill of Thai food over the past days of my stay and there are many good, authentic Japanese restaurants in Bangkok. We decided to go to a sushi bar, which had sushi plates going around for the selection of diners.

Sushi bar
Sushi just the way we like it
Heiroku Sushi may be found at the top level of the Central Plaza Rama 9 mall
My good friend and I had a good chat over dinner where I learned he is now married to a dentist who works at one of the top hospitals in Bangkok. It's been quite a while since we last talked, only learning about what's going on through Facebook. We eventually parted as he was to fetch his wife from work and I had to take advantage of the break in the rains to get back to my hotel.

I will relate more about our adventures in Yokohama and at YNU later. Of course, such stories won't be complete without reference to our other friends especially Mohsen, Ioan and Some.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Rabbit card for commuting in Bangkok

I was in Thailand for at least once a year during a certain stretch in the last decade as I represented our University to the ASEAN University Network - Southeast Asia Engineering Education Network (AUN-SEEd/Net). Whenever I was in Bangkok, I bought a one-day pass for me to have practically unlimited use of the BTS Skytrain for a day. Those times in the past, there were no IC or stored value cards for use in commuting in the Thai capital. And so I was quite happy to see the availability of a stored value card when I familiarized myself with the Skytrain last week.

The Rabbit card, as it was called, is a stored value card that still has limited use for commuting and other purposes. At present, it can only be used for the BTS Skytrain and a few shops. It cannot be used for buses, taxis or the MRT (Bangkok's subway). There are three variants for the Rabbit card - one for students, one for senior citizens, and another for adults (all other people).

Rabbit card for adults
Back of the card where pertinent info for its use are written in both Thai and English
The Rabbit card is not yet as useful as Singapore's or Japan's version of the stored value card. Still, it is an improvement that will surely and steadily have more uses in the future. And so I look forward to the next trip to Bangkok when perhaps my Rabbit card will be useful for other modes of transport as well.