Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Yakiniku dinner with an old friend

I had the pleasure of having dinner with an old friend who's currently a faculty member at the University of Tsukuba. I have not seen him in a long while and we had a lot of stories to exchange considering he got married only a couple of years ago. We decided to meet up at the huge Yodobashi-Akiba, the largest Yodobashi Camera store in Japan, located just beside the JR Akihabara Station. There, we proceeded to the top floor where there is a food court where we had a lot of choices for dining. We opted for a yakiniku restaurant as both of us had not had this kind of barbecue in a while and it was perfect for the beer that we also had not had in a while (I generally don't drink anymore.). A former advisee of his joined us for dinner and added to the stories exchanged over great food.

Food court at the top floor of the gigantic Yodobashi-Akiba in Akihabara electric town
There are many choices here including the familiar Pepper Lunch that's been a hit in Southeast Asia
Yakiniku is actually an adaptation from the Korean barbecue
Yakiniku, beer and good company are a perfect combination!

I look forward to another meeting and perhaps dinner on my return to Japan this October.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Ramen at Narita Airport

In a recent trip to Tokyo, we were not able to go to a regular Japanese restaurant to enjoy a bowl of ramen. Most of our meals were with our Japanese hosts who took us to an Italian restaurant, a Western buffet, and a terrific French resto on top of a tall building in Toranomon. Of course, we are very thankful for the delightful lunches and dinners during our short visit for meetings in a project we are currently working on. I myself was able to get in touch with an old friend and we shared a couple of bottles of beer to wash in the yakiniku we had for dinner. My colleagues though were not so adventurous and were not able to sample good ramen or udon though they did indicate they wanted to try out authentic train station ramen.

We still were able to have ramen on our way back at Narita Airport. We went to the food court right after we had checked-in our luggage and found several choices for our lunch including what looked like a very popular ramen stall. I assumed its popularity based on the line of customers making their orders as well as the number of people already seated at tables nearby and having ramen for their meals. And so two of our group ended up trying the recommended sets while another opted for a katsudon set from a stall nearby.

Sign on the ramen shop at Narita Terminal 1 complete with information on their "must try" sets
Our other options were katsu or chinese food. One colleague chose a katsudon set.
Ramen and gyoza set with rice
The jury is still out there regarding the best ramen at the airport (just to qualify where we ate). For now, I think we had the most splendid ramen that time. It was a very satisfying lunch indeed!


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Aftermath of Maring and Habagat

We are thankful that we were spared of the worst. Compared to the floods in Cavite, Bulacan and Pampanga (at least based on what I have read or seen on TV) they had much difficult situations there. In the case of Cavite, many towns are now still underwater and the experience there seems quite new to many based on the interviews on TV and radio. Many in Kawit, Bacoor and Noveleta have put the blame on a major tollway project as well as residential and industrial subdivision developments in the province. While politicians, the DPWH and others have tried to explain that Cavitex and subdivision developments are not to blame and that the engineering designs were sound, it is uncertain whether these designs were really sound in the first place and if they were, if these were implemented the right way. Based on experience, developers have been generally irresponsible with drainage and the floods in Marikina, Cainta, Pasig and Taytay are a testament to this fault. With the availability of information today including old maps of these areas, we now know that much of what are now residential subdivisions were rice fields with natural waterways like creeks and streams, and ponds. Most of these have been covered and replaced by ill-designed drainage systems resulting in excessive runoffs that now cause the floods.

Flooded residential street with few cars of residents brave enough not to take their vehicles to higher ground
Some homes have had their ground floors and garages elevated to cope with floods. This is often the case in areas where location is actually good and conditions are better through most of the year. I think this is part of what you call climate adaptation.
In the more urbanized areas like Manila, Pasay and Quezon City, drainage systems are quite antiquated and obviously can not handle the amount of rainfall that we get these days. In fact, even with new culverts installed in many parts of Manila, these areas are still flooded though residents say that at least the levels can be lower than before and flood waters recede faster than before. To me, this still is not enough and the DPWH should re-assess and revise their design standards to address the intense rainfalls that have now become regular. I think that in these cases, over-designing drainage systems will pay off not just in the long run but in the immediate term. Perhaps the much maligned pork barrel funds should be funneled into these drainage and flood control projects considering these are very immediate concerns for a lot of people. It wouldn't take overnight to solve these flooding problems but we need to get a head start and be transparent with the way we implement such projects. A lot of lives are dependent on the success of such projects and this is clear from the images that we get on the news reports about the aftermath and impacts of the storm intensified monsoon rains the past few days.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Baha uli! Here we go again!

I think I may have spoken too soon yesterday when I wrote that we were lucky for now. It seems the "now" applied to yesterday and not for the entirety of this rain event. The tropical storm up north and near Taiwan is practically stationary and all forecasts state that it will be moving only by tomorrow afternoon or evening. Maring (International: Trami) has been there since the weekend and has intensified monsoon rains. Its impacts have caused devastation over a large area of the country, particularly in the island of Luzon. Hard hit is Mega Manila and our residence has not been spared by the intense rains the past few days. Below is a satellite photo from the Weather Underground showing the tropical storm and the rains (clouds) it has attracted.

As yesterday's floods subsided, we thought we could finally breathe more easily. But then this morning it was not to be as heavy rains poured almost everywhere, and causing much misery to all. We can now only pray that the rains will finally let up and for the floods to subside quickly. We only have our faith to keep ourselves together in this difficult time.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lucky for now

I had difficulty sleeping last night due to the intermittent heavy rains that caused flooding all around Mega Manila including where we live. However, unlike last year's floods brought about by monsoon rains, we were lucky this time that the flood waters only reached our home's garage gate instead of entering our home. Last year during a similar Habagat event, it was knee deep inside our house but that was much better than when we were inundated by Ondoy (Ketsana) when it was neck-deep in our house!

Of course, this will not be the last of the heavy rains expected for Metro Manila and its surrounding areas for this year. We are only in the third week of August and the local weather bureau has stated its forecasts of a number of typhoons to be expected during this wet season. Typically, that is a period that lasts until November with the occasional typhoon or two in December. And so we would have to brace ourselves and pray that the next events would not be as bad as this current one. Hopefully, too, this sends another strong message to whoever is in charge and responsible to hurry up with whatever flood mitigation projects need to be done to improve the lives of a lot of people regularly affected by floods.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Have a safe night...

I was planning to post something on the National Art Gallery of the National Museum of the Philippines tonight. Unfortunately, I was unable to sort through so many photos I took of works by Juan Luna, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Jose Rizal, Fernando Amorsolo, Vicente Manansala, Guillermo Tolentino, and other prominent national artists. I will do my sorting in the next few days but hopefully in a more relaxed state. I say relaxed because it has been raining hard in Metro Manila the past 2 days and the weather bureau has just issued a "red" warning indicating heavy rains in the next few hours and the possibility of severe flooding in low-lying areas.

We have taken precautions for the eventuality of a flood but are hopeful it won't be of the scale of last year's Habagat (monsoon) or, huwag naman sana, 2009's Ondoy. I am sure that a lot of people won't be able to get a good sleep tonight and vigilance is really key if we are to reduce the impacts of such rains (i.e., floods and the damage to lives and properties they cause). Already, there are many reports of flooding all around Metro Manila and this because of inclement weather due to the monsoon being intensified by a tropical depression near Taiwan, north of the Philippines.

We can only pray that things will go well and that the rains will pause.  Given the uncertainties associated with weather systems, let's just hope that the weather will improve tomorrow and we can finally breathe a sigh of relief soon.

Have a safe night to all!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Chocolate review: Cailler Frigor Noir

Another chocolate bar I picked up from that "trip" to Santi's was a Cailler Frigor Noir. This dark chocolate had 50% cacao and had a stronger, more bitter taste than Meiji Black. This was understandable given it had more cacao based on the info on the labels. It was a satisfying bite but I think the bar is priced out of its class (~PhP 129) as it was about thrice the price of a Meiji Black (~PhP 43) in local supermarkets and similarly priced as the smoother and more superior Chocolat Stella (~PhP 122). 

Swiss dark chocolate by Cailler

Cacao content was at 50% and the back of the label revealed Cailler to be part of the Nestle Group


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Historic moment in Philippine basketball

I take a timeout from the usual posts on travel, transport and food to feature an important moment in the history of basketball in the Philippines. Last night, despite very tough opposition in a strong team from Korea, the Philippines national basketball team emerged victorious and qualified for the FIBA World Championships to be held in Spain next year 2014. The last time the country qualified for the World Championships was in the middle of the 1980's when a team that included the cream of the crop then plus a few naturalized players was able to top Asia for the last time.

Until that time, the country had a fierce rivalry with Korea for the top place in Asia. Afterwards saw the rise of China as a basketball power in Asia. Later, during the last decade, saw the emergence of teams from the Middle East and the former Soviet Republics in Asia, who had the size and eventually the skills to dominate teams from East Asia. These teams have been lording it over the competition and have become even stronger with players competing professionally in Europe and the NBA. Meanwhile, the Philippines, which prides itself as the only Asian country to medal in the FIBA World Championships (a bronze in 1954) and whose national past time has been basketball has not had a player in Europe or the NBA; the last being a dream for many.

The victory last night against Korea was especially sweet given the historic rivalry between the countries. That history has included a lot of heartbreaking losses to Korean teams including close ones in the 1970's. The last major victory of a Philippine team over Korea was probably in 1967 for the gold medal if that year's FIBA Asian championships. That team, which fielded among other popular players one Robert Jaworski, defeated another Korean team that also featured some superstars particularly one Shin Dong Pa, who was a sharpshooter who was so good he could probably beat teams by himself. There are so many stories about the match between the teams that I will just leave it for the reader to research these online.

Of course, the game last night was just the semi-finals of a tournament that featured a major upset in China not making the final four for the first time in more than two decades. It was sort of an irony that the Chinese team was beaten by an inspired team from Chinese Taipei or Taiwan. The Philippine team dropped a game to Chinese Taipei during the tournament's first round but that proved to be a blessing as it avoided meeting Korea or Iran early in the knock-out phase of the tourney. And so the Philippine team now faces Iran in the finals after Korea took the last qualifying spot by beating Chinese Taipei in the bronze medal game. Win or lose, the Philippines has already qualified for the 2014 World Championships but it would definitely be great if we were to win it all and on our home court.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


We had some local, native treats for merienda (snacks) last weekend at my in-laws. This consisted of fruits (rambutan), puto and kutsinta (rice cakes), assorted nuts, and taho. It was the hot taho that we enjoyed a lot when we were kids. It's usually sold by roving vendors and is made of soya. Added to the soya is arnibal, which is made of caramelized sugar or syrup and vanilla, and sago or tapioca pearls.

Taho, which is made of soya, is sweetened with arnibal and sprinkled with sago.
Rambutan, taho, puto, kutsinta, and assorted nuts and peas.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Chocolate review: Chocolat Stella Cacao Nacional de los Rios, Ecuador 68% Dark

Heading to Tagaytay for a workshop last weekend, our group had a stopover at the Paseo Sta. Rosa. After having breakfast, we had time to go around before we proceeded with our trip. And so I dropped by the Santi's branch there to check out what they had in dark chocolates. I was pleasantly surprised that they had a lot of choices and decided to pick up one each of what they had not being sure if I could pass by the store on the way back the following day. 

Upon arriving at home, the Clairvoyant and I selected our first bar for "sampling" and decided on the Cacao Nacional de los Rios Ecuador 68%. The cacao is supposed to be taken from a single plantation (according to the information in the label) and there is even a nice story about the chocolate on the inside of the packaging.

The packaging for Chocolat Stella's Cacao Nacional de los Rios Single Plantation Ecudaor 68%.

More detailed information at the back

The story behind the chocolate.
The bar did not disappoint and proved to be among the smoothest chocolates we've tasted. My only regret here was not buying another bar. It's definitely one chocolate worth the price and the effort of going to store for a bar or more! :)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Limousine bus services from Narita

There are several options for passengers to travel between Narita Airport and their destinations in the Kanto area. There are many train services connecting the airport to Tokyo, Yokohama, Chiba or other destinations. These include the Narita Express (N'EX), the Airport Narita trains of the JR Yokosuka-Sobu Line, and the Keisei Skyliner. Another option is to take limousine buses from the airport, which includes the Airport Limousine bus from Narita. Information on fares and schedules are available from the internet links I provided.

The Airport Limousine counter at the arrival area where people may inquire about routes and schedules, and purchase tickets
Bus stops are located just outside Narita Terminal 1
The information boards on Airport Limousine stops provide information for the next bus for a particular destination in both Japanese and English.
Smoking areas are located outside the airport and are enclosed (there's ventilation).
A bus bound for the Yokohama City Air Terminal (YCAT) is shown loading passengers. I used to take this bus as an alternative for going to Yokohama, where I lived for 3 years in the 1990s. My other option was the Airport Narita trains of the JR Yokosuka-Sobu Line.
Back of a bus bound for Shibuya and Futako Tamagawa in western Tokyo.

When I was still residing in Yokohama, I usually took the train to Narita and the bus when returning from the airport and via YCAT. This was because I usually travelled lighter when going to Manila than when I was returning since I brought back some food items for times when I was feeling homesick and longed for something familiar to eat. Cost-wise, the airport limousine bus service cost a bit more but was more convenient for my return trips. Later, in my stays at Saitama, the obvious choice was the bus to and from Narita through Omiya Station as traveling by rail was more complicated due to the transfers. The additional cost is easily justified by the convenience and comfort provided by the bus service.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Getting reacquainted with the Tokyo subway

Back in Japan after almost 5 years, I was excited to go around Tokyo during our free time after our meetings. With all the information available online now, it is quite easy to do a desk review of public transportation in Tokyo. Since our hotel and meeting venue were near subway stations, it was practical to know about the metro lines near us. Whenever I was in Tokyo, I always took the trains whether it was by subway or by Japan Railways (JR) lines. There are two companies operating the subways in Tokyo. One is Toei and the other is Tokyo Metro. I seldom, if ever, used the bus or taxi preferring to walk between train stations to/from my meetings or appointments.

Tokyo subway map that is downloadable from the internet

One can purchase tickets at the station using these machines. These have bilingual features so you only need to press the button to have the interface in English. Maps overhead provide guidance about stations and fares.
Subway turnstiles where passengers enter and exit for the platforms
Information on transfer stations and the cars nearest the stairs. This information is helpful so passengers can easily position themselves in the car to minimize transfer time from one train to another.
"Manner mode" sticker on the subway train near the door advises passengers to refrain from making calls while on the train. This is considered rude and annoying to fellow passengers.

Metro line information overhead at the train doors include a line map and a message board announcing the next station in Japanese and English.

One can also purchase special tickets or passes from the stations. Ticket vending machines may also have the capability to issue the popular Pasmo or Suica IC cards that can be used in almost all transport modes in Tokyo and other cities. Information on these cards are easily found in the internet. There are also online route or travel planners that people can use to plan their trips. One such tool is Hyperdia, which provides information on lines, transfers, travel time and fares.