Sep 2 - Flying into Manila

I wish I had my camera flying into the Manila airport. As you come down to the airstrip, you pass over giant patches of extremely overcrowded shanty towns surrounded by lush green land. Visually, it's stunning--colourful, lively, like a super intricate miniature model. It's sad to think that this mesmerizing place houses so much poverty.


ticket, PhilippineAir HK to MNL: C$188
ATM rate: CDN$1 to 43P
cab, airport to Dusit Thani: 200 P
1hr Bali massage, Relaksasi: 850 P


Sep 4 - Winning the Balut Egg Lottery

YEAH!!! I did it!!!

My friend David, who just came back from a trip around the world, was telling me about the infamous balut eggs in the Philippines. It's a fertilized duck egg with a nearly developed embryo inside that's boiled and eaten as a delicacy. After mentioning it to my clients in Makati, they gleefully took me out for a night of balut eggs.

We headed to Krokodile Grille in the Green Belt Mall in Makati. It's difficult to find balut eggs in Makati because this is the upscale area of Manila, while the eggs are more likely sold on a cart at the side of the street. The eggs are actually pretty big--I don't think I've ever seen a duck egg before. My clients guided me to crack the top open so I could drink the juice. Ugh--luckily there was only a drop of juice in my egg.

Then I picked open the shell. Apparently I won the balut egg lottery because my fetus was quite small and wasn't super hairy. It looked like a grayish slightly hairy blob in the middle of some veiny yolk. But I could clearly make out the wing. My client video taped me as I was eating it. I was like a squeamish schoolgirl so I don't know if I want that to be publicly viewable...but oh well...

I think it was more the idea of eating it rather than the taste that grossed me out. The taste wasn't too disgusting...just like a strong egg flavour. And I didn't hit a beak or anything.

We ate a lot of other traditional Filipino dishes as well, including sisig (a fried mix of crunchy pig snout, brain and ears), sinigang na sugpo (shrimp in a really sour tamarind soup), oxtail kare kare (a peanut-base soup--I had oxtail stuck in my teeth for hours), and dalandan juice (like lemon-lime juice with a weird after taste) to wash it all down. But I keep wondering what they do with all the good parts of the animals?

Anyways, my stomach is rolling a bit now...I must say that Filipino food is not very appetizing to my Westernized palate. I'm still burping up balut.


Krokodile Grille (high end in Green Belt)
- balot "surprise": 70 P
- sisig: 160 P
- sinigang na sugpo: 260 P
- oxtail kare kare: 290 P
Dusit Thani Manila: $141 / night (incl bf)
- 1 week internet: 3375P

This hotel is an import of the Dusit chain based in Thailand. And they literally import the Thai hospitality as there are constantly people saying "sawaddee" and bowing to you. The hotel is right at the end of the busy Ayala Avenue. All the malls are right beside the hotel. But the hotel is relatively quiet because it's set off from the main roads--this can be a boon in noisy Manila. There's an MTR station right next door, but I normally opted for a cab because it was so cheap. Breakfast was included with my package. And it was good because I got to try many of the traditional Filipino dishes. The room was good quality--except the bathroom was a bit worn. And it was missing things like an iron and a clock--things I would expect at a hotel like this. They have a great gym with nice equipment, good music, and a separate room for stretching--I especially liked doing yoga in the pagoda beside the pool. Fantastic!

Sep 7 - It's Friggin' Crowded Here

It's pouring outside today--that's what I get by visiting during rainy season. Luckily, I had an unexpected day off as they called a national day of mourning over the death of some religious leader.

So I decided to get off my ass and walk around a bit. I did a search of places to go to in Manila--and the options are pretty slim. So I decided to go play some craps at the Heritage Hotel--the limits looked crazy low. Even cheaper than Casino Royale in Vegas. But when I got there, they didn't have their table open. Sigh...

So I walked around the area and it just seems like pure chaos to me. I can't put my finger on why Manila seems so unbelievably crowded and chaotic. I mean places like Hong Kong and Bangkok must be as densely populated, but I don't feel as lost and out-of-control as I do here. When I came back to Makati, what I once thought was chaos here became the calm eye of the storm. I guess it's all relative.

The traffic in Manila is really bad. It took me 30 minutes to drive the span of a few blocks along Ayala Avenue (the main business street) during rush hour. If I had walked, it would have taken me 15 (albeit sweaty) minutes. And Ayala Avenue is a mess--taxis can't drop off on the street and are forbidden to turn at certain corners, special lanes are set aside for pick up, pedestrians have to take long detours through tunnels to cross a street, but yet the street is still unbelievably congested with cars, jeepneys, buses, mopeds and taxis.

And the Filipinos can't get enough of their malls. I wish I was a shopper. The largest mall in Asia (fittingly called the Mall of Asia) is in Manila. And in Makati, there is a network of mall after mall, including the impressive Green Belt, all packed to the brim. Security guards are everywhere checking bags, using sniffer dogs, metal scanning people--I'm not sure if I feel more safe or less safe with so much security?


transport, Makati to Heritage Hotel:
- by jeepney: 7 P
- by MRT: 10 P
- by public bus: 11 P
- by cab: 70 P
Mandarin Oriental: $150 / night
- 24hrs internet: 1000P (!!)

Wow, this is the most I have ever paid for internet at a hotel. Ever. About $24 a day. Outrageous! And it's not even wireless! Other than that, this hotel was one of the cheaper business-hotel options on the Ayala strip and it's quite nice. It's farther away from the action of Ayala Avenue, but still in a noisy area. The rooms are big and there's lots of light available which was great--I hate dark rooms. The gym is not as nice as the Dusit, but it has the basics. Overall, it's a classier hotel than the Dusit--but I would still pick the Dusit because of the better location.

Jul 14, 2010 - Second Chance at Manila

Typhoon Conson (Basyang) ripped through Manila last night and knocked out power in the whole city. And today the training room is running on a generator and it's about 30 degrees in here--I have two fans aimed at me and I am still sweating like crazy. I just finished some cheese-flavoured ice cream from the cafeteria and now I’m chewing on some ice.

I read my last entries from Manila, and this time around doesn't seem so bad as I remembered. Maybe because I know what to expect? Ayala Avenue doesn't seem so crazy anymore. It's like walking The Strip in Vegas...well without the gambling or the glitzy hotels. I actually found I could walk the whole length along the back street Dela Rosa through malls and under a series of covered walkways. It's great during the heavy rains and the beating sun.

And I need to buy new clothes, I've really been wearing the same clothes over and over again for the past 10 months. Geez, life living out of a suitcase...when I took my clothes to get dry cleaned in Manila, the lady put a note down that the clothes were in “poor condition”. Definitely means it’s time to go shopping. Well, I'm definitely in the right city to shop.


New World Makati: $153 / night (incl bf)
- 1 week internet: 3000P

This place is in a prime location just on the edge of the Makati business area, it's basically attached to the Greenbelt--the most upscale mall in the area. I just have to hop across the street and there's a plethora of restos. It's a fantastic hotel with nothing to complain about. The buffet breakfast included with my room has lots of variety and kept me hungry for more my entire 2 week stay. The gym is pretty extensive and the pool's refreshing. Surprisingly, they don't have wifi--I had to cable in.

Jul 17, 2010 - Singing in the Dampa

Last night we went to an area called the Dampa on Roxas Boulevard. It's basically an area devoted to seafood restaurants. We were greeted by a gaggle of transvestites who surrounded us at the car and began to tout their restos. The restaurants are surrounded by the wet market where you pick out your fish and then you take it back to the restaurant to cook. It would be a bit difficult to do this by myself because of all the touts and everyone speaking tagalog, but luckily my clients were taking me around.

And karaoke is big here too. I actually hear more people singing randomly on the street, and I wouldn't automatically consider them crazy like I would in Toronto. We sang while eating our sinigang, mussels, and fresh salmon sashimi. I belted out some Michael Buble, and when my clients accused me of singing only love songs I switched to Lady Gaga. RAH-RAH-AH-AH-AH!!! They said I should apply for Pinoy Idol.

Afterwards we went to the casino at Heritage Hotel. I was disappointed that they didn't have craps so I just sidled up to the roulette table. The minimum bet on the wheel here was 20 pesos (later I went to the Hyatt Casino which had a 30 peso minimum on roulette and didn't have craps either!).

It was a fun night with the clients. I think one of them is stalking me now. I hope she doesn't find this blog...

Afterwards, I went out by myself to the gay strip in Malate. But I was really tired and not in the mood to party more. It was too bad because the scene seemed pretty fun. There's a collection of bars located at corner of Nakpil and Maria Orosa. Too bad everyone is under 5'6". But for a measily 250 pesos you get 3 beers and entry into a club. Reading the label on the Miguel Light apparently it has only 100 calories per serving, so I polished off the 3 beers and called it a night.

I asked my client later on about the prices and he gave me awesome info:

These were the prices that we got on Friday:

1. Shrimp (Sugpo)– 380 /kilo. The bigger ones might cost higher up to 450. When you bargain, they’ll try to give you the smaller ones, the Suahe instead of the Sugpo so be wary of this. Sometimes their weighing scale is also defective, usually less ¼ than the correct weight. If they don’t want to give you discounts, ask for additional pieces as bonus / extra.

2. Salmon – 430 /kilo. Good for sinigang, sushi or sashimi.

3. Maya-maya 230 /kilo – the fish in our sinigang. For sinigang, you may also try the shrimp or tuna belly.

4. Oyster 80 /kilo

5. Mussels 80 /kilo can be as low as 40 on some months

Other items: 6. Big crabs around 400 – 500 /kilo. Usually only 2-3 crabs for a kilo. 7. Clams 60-80 /kilo 8. Tuna 400-450 /kilo 9. Squid 100-150 /kilo 10. Snails 40-60 /kilo 11. Tangigue (fish) 350-400 /kilo. Try the kilawin tangigue, it’s raw fish seasoned in vinegar.

For the cooking charge, it’s usually 100-120 for a half kilo dish and 170-200 for a kilo. Ask for the price list before deciding on a restaurant, sometimes their half kilo is almost the same as a kilo. Some gives 10% discount on lean months. The first resto that we went to cooks better than our choice, I forgot the name though. You should arrive early, around 5 PM if you want to get their free function room with videoke. Some videoke rooms are also available at 150/hr at the front of the stall where you bought your DVDs.


Jul 23, 2010 - Enjoying Flip Food

So I did a bit of a culinary tour of Manila this time. My clients took me out a few times to the local restaurants like Barrio Fiesta. Although I didn't dare to try the balut again this time, I tried another local favourite called dinuguan. It's a pig blood stew--it looks like black goopy liquid with unidentified black lumps in it. I didn't like the taste too much, it reminded me a bit of liver. But when I told Farley back in Toronto about it, he gushed and said it's tastes best with puto (a sweet bun) and it seemed to make him homesick.

Other than that, I had a bunch of tasty food this time around. It really polished up my faded impression of Manila. If you ignore the fact that you're mostly eating lips and assholes, the food actually tastes pretty good!

And although I didn't try eating there, the Jollibee is so cute.


Jul 25, 2010 - I Wanna Go Home

To paraphrase the great Michael Bublé, I really don't want to be here right now. I just want to be at home and....doing home stuff. There are times when I don't want to meet new people, I just want my friends around. There are times when I don't want to find a new exciting restaurant, I just want to eat. There are times when I don't want to explore and try something new, I just want reality.

I flew into Jakarta a few nights ago. I don't know why I keep putting all my flights on a Friday after I finish working. It makes for long days and I didn't get to my hotel until 3am. So during the week I've been trying to force myself to go out and look around, but I just really don't care that much. Isn't it awful?

I think what makes traveling so tiring is that everything becomes temporary. The walls around me change like a revolving tv set. Friends I make are gone within a week. There's no leftovers to pull from the fridge for a quick dinner. Things come and go, but the cycle is so fast and constant. This isn't me--I don't crave constant change, stability is good sometimes. Especially after all these months.

I feel like I'm shutting down to block out the constant change. Sometimes I feel like I could go back home tomorrow, sometimes never. Today I'm leaning towards tomorrow.


taxi, airport to Nikko Hotel:
- offered cab price: 250,000R
- after negotiation: 200,000R
- actual price with meter: 110,000R
- I hate cab drivers...
- tolls: 13,000R

Jul 30, 2010 - I Love Coffee, I Love Tea

I feel like I'm getting out of that funk from earlier in the week. The jet lag is probably making me a bit of a drama queen.

It'll be nice to get out of Jakarta though. It's a place where you can't just leave the hotel and walk around. You have to have somewhere to go, and then you need to find someone to take you there. It's tough to be a casual tourist here. Every where you go there are 4 or 5 security guards checking the car on entry. Cars have to pop their trunks and back doors so the guards can take a peek. And walking into buildings you need to check your bag and walk through a metal detector (which always buzzes when you walk through, but they don't stop you anyways.)

On the last Sunday of the month, they also closed down the main street Thamrin in front of the hotel and bikes and pedestrians take it over. It was fun to walk around and people watch.

As for the highlight of my week in Jakarta, after one of my training sessions one of my clients brought over her guitar because she wanted to hear me play. So we spent an hour jamming and just playing different songs...I hope the videos of me playing guitar don't surface. But she and her friend were amazing performers as they sang their rendition of the Java Jive. I had a such a great time--the casual moments like these beat the rush of city life and busy malls anytime!


Nikko Hotel: $108 / night (incl bf)
- internet: 100,000R / day
grilled chicken, Hotel Nikko: 105,000R
dinner, pizza boutique: 104,000R
lunch, office cafeteria: 50,000R
bluebird taxi, 5 min ride: 12 - 20,000R
hotel taxi, 5 min ride: 30,000R
airport tax on leaving: 150,000R

This is the second time I've stayed at a Nikko. They cater to the Japanese crowd and so the hotels are generally immaculately clean and efficient. The rooms were on the smaller side, but were very modern with the kinky glass-walled bathroom. Internet was wired. They were undergoing renovations, so I didn't get a chance to try out the pool or gym. But the buffet breakfast was great. It's located across the street from some huge malls--Jakarta is all about the malls. So the area felt pretty sanitized and Westernized, not very interesting if you're a non-shopping tourist (like me!).



see itinerary