How to travel the world without seeing the rest of the world.

Beyond time and money, it takes an obsessive level of interest in the world to want to see all of it. Sure, there’s Maldives, Paris, Sydney, Napa, etc. But the world is not exclusively Mai Tais in beaches, or cigarettes and a magazine in a cafe. There are places such as Bolivia, India, Somalia, and the rest of those countries which to describe as severe is an understatement.

Unfortunately, I have a very poor imagination for a person who loves and enjoys reading and writing as much as I enjoy wine, food, music and sex, not necessarily in any particular order. 

DSC_0224

In order to complete the equation of fully getting lost in the orgasmic pleasure I get from reading and writing, it becomes an imperative for me to experience and collect stimulus from different landscapes and people.

Take sentences such as;

“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”  from the The Prince by A. de Saint-Exupery

DSC_0119_2

“Anyone who is observant, who discovers the person they have always dreamed of, knows that sexual energy comes into play before sex even takes place. The greatest pleasure isn’t sex, but the passion with which it is practiced. When the passion is intense, then sex joins in to complete the dance, but it is never the principal aim.” from P. Coelho.

Lolita1_effected.jpg

For me, lines like those are as usefully descriptive as a limbless person playing charades, or a mute explaining the beauty of poetry.

In short, it becomes necessary for me to see and experience the world, which isn’t always a bad thing if you only read about wineries and brothels, but I’m also interested in Hinduism, the Bolivian alitplano, German Christmas, touring endless Moroccan highways and bullfighting.

DSC_2100

DSC_1078

DSC_0314

DSC_0451

So in order to have more time for books and notebooks, I made a list of guidelines that will give me a general idea of what the world looks like without having to see the rest of it.

1. My best tip is to divide the world in terms of religion. 

Religion has the biggest influence and impact on culture and lifestyle. And why not, after the crusades, burnings at the stake, warring prophets with their delivering words.

It may not always be the same for each country. For Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur in particular has Islam-lite compared to Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern nations. But monks are never balder than the next Buddhist nation.

Religion may not have dibs on food selection, but next to terroir, they have the biggest say on it.

DSC_0297

DSC_0544

DSC_0565

IMG_1293

DSC_2132

2. Visiting neighboring countries tend to look similar, be it in people, architecture and culture. 

Because most borders are relatively new compared to human civilizations, we don’t always have to see the world through countries, instead, divide the world in parts. While some countries are sandwiched, like the Basque country between France and Spain, most tend to be drawn from the same pepperoni pizza. Take for example Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, they are like different versions of a curry that is India. Hong Kong and Macau, tearing themselves from China, for better or worse. Or Yugoslavia, broken down into a couple of super nationalistic eastern European countries, but visit each one and you’ll probably see more castles than you ought too. As much as the Germans and Austrians like to differentiate themselves from each other, they speak the same language for chrissake. And don’t even get me started between Spain and Portugal.

DSC_1377

IMG_7833

Although sometimes, similar neighboring countries are on your side too. I wanted to see Tibet, but for now, Nepal will do because the Chinese government took over and imposed ridiculous rules for visiting.

DSC_0103

My tip is to visit those old superpowers where civilizations centered themselves during the time when they used animals, precious metals and stones to trade for commodities. They would usually be a few countries per continent. They would tend to be where architecture and culture are grand, such as Rome, Peru, India, China, Russia etc.

IMG_6802

Or if you want to have a view of Mediterranean life and architecture, skip between 3 countries, they are not exclusively Spain, France and Italy. Check out Slovenia, Bosnia or Croatia too and you would be surprised to see that its not always comfortable and sexy. And still, there’s Greece and Turkey (again, choose one) for Europe meets Asia. Also Tunisia, Libya or Algeria for the African continent. Israel, Lebanon, etc. for the Asian side. They mostly form the Mediterranean sea and you wonder why they sell kebabs in different names from all those countries.

DSC_0813

IMG_6660

3. Nature will always be nature. 

If I dropped you in the middle of a tropical forest, would you be able to tell if you were in Brazil or South East Asia? Or if, like Leonardo Di Caprio from Inception, you wake up/arrive from/in a dream/real life (only Christopher Nolan knows) and find yourself randomly beached, could you even tell which continent you are in? The Philippines have 7107 islands, sounds intimidating. But visit a a really nice beach, maybe two, same for mountains, do it good and you’re done.

DSC_0162

DSC_0613

IMG_0318

When I was seriously contemplating about taking a $400 90 minute mountain flight over the Himalayas, some European guy from trip advisor wrote “If you’ve flown over the Alps on a nothing special commercial flight, its not gonna be very different.” That was a really lame thing to say but I realized after that he wasn’t completely wrong and $400 poorer.

10154529_10152065791445098_6303542433322510313_n-1

Between deserts and snow, they’re always hot and cold, sandy and wet. The Sahara transcends from a lot of African nations, some are at war with each other. Choose one and save yourself from the risk of being caught in the crossfire. 

DSC_0923

DSC_0660

4. Food

When it comes to food just as in wine, “terroir”, or land, is king. Before immigration, refrigeration and shipping, if a couple of countries reside on the same valley, coast or mountain, don’t expect the vegetation and animal protein to be different. Don’t believe what the Portuguese say that they have completely different cuisine from the Spanish, you are probably talking to a person named Ego. Or land locked nations, again, like Germany and Austria, sausage anyone?

DSC_0108

DSC_0115

5. Colonies

When it comes to colonization, I have a very mixed feelings about it. Its a two faced coin. Producing mixed cuisines and beautiful people (mestizas, creole, etc), but it made the world so much smaller by erasing cultures and wiping out the indigenous people. I have a big reservation when it comes to visiting South Africa for the people because I find it decidedly English in so many ways. Even parts of Australia. Maybe because they mostly came from England anyway.

IMG_8171

Borders give us a challenge but we don’t always have to see the world through countries. The idea is to spread up that map, take a ruler and lay it on the map, stick pins between countries maintaining 2-3 inches of space in between. Divide the world in maybe 8-10 trips, do it well by completely immersing yourself in each one and you will get a sense of what the world looks like without having to see the rest of it.

Advertisements

Things that I am thankful for this week.

Today, I decided to write something completely uninformative and ultimately personal. I believe that if you recount all the things that you are thankful for, you are spending less time thinking about unpleasant things.

So this Sunday, as I drove back to the province, I was extremely happy for everything that happened this week and I couldn’t wait to get home to start listing down things that made me this appreciative and content about how my life went one day at a time.

-I was able to have a good mid week catch up and drink with my urban friends. Met new people, Gil from Icon and Ciella the Cinderella.

Mic treated Gelly, Ara and I, a midnight burger before going home. Thanks Mic! The burger from URBN might not have been so good that time but how can you beat something that’s free? My turn when you visit Balayan bro.

-I was finally able to submit my visa application for Chile, which will really give me a breather since I’m completely running out of time before I leave for South America.

I had another chance to visit Hooch, which, by the way, is my favorite 12-6pm place for their 50% off on all drinks during that time frame. And was finally able to introduce my 2 favorite alcoholic friends, Yama and Margaux, who are really cool despite actually getting married soon, I really love you guys. Ciella the Cinderella was present too, and she was a completely agreeable person, considering the ridiculous amount of alcohol Yama, Margaux and I were consuming. We had the loudest voices in that place, we made friends with all the bar tenders, free shots, and a lot of things I couldn’t remember.

By 7pm of the same day, we were totally smashed as we headed for dinner in I’m Angus. We each ordered steak, which was on special that night, paired with a really good Malbec from Argentina. Lovely!

Being a responsible driver, I decided to park my car in Lakandula Street, Salcedo village for a 5-hour sleep inside my car before waking up at 2am to drive safely back to Batangas.

I was able to work and be productive, an important element in life. There must be a balance between pleasure and responsibilities. And whenever I get to balance that equation, I am extremely happy.

I am also thankful for some alone time I’ve had during the rain. I felt bad for all those affected people but I am comforted by seeing the strength of our country’s spirit amidst everything.

One of my blog posts have been shared by Our Awesome Planet, which is awesome in the most superlative word, being one of the most followed blogs in the Philippines. It was such an honor Anton Diaz!

-I finally got to explore Maginhawa and found a really interesting hang out place called The Zone. It had a hip-Brooklyn feel, some Williamsburg type neighborhood. 

-That night, Cinderella and I tried this restaurant called Van Gogh is Bipolar, for good reason. First, you have to leave your shoes at the door. Second, you can wear hats, write curses on walls, and leave kiss marks on the ceiling. Third, you’re absolutely bullied by the chef in the most interesting and fun way by not being able to know what food you are going to have. The level of novelty in this place is beyond the roof.

Finally able to visit 801, Dana’s place, besides from being super cool, is also one of the best hosts in her hospitable and generous nature. Mic sorry if I fell asleep mid-sentence during our serious conversation. You can ask Wanda, Nikki, Karla, Margaux, Yama my sister Jazz, and her fiance Archie, how surprisingly common I do this.

-Sunday and my alcoholic friends took another visit to Hooch. Being mature adults that we are, we didn’t get as smashed as we would normally prefer, but then there never really is a bad time here so I’m still thankful for that.

With all these in my mind on Monday’s eve, I am just so excited to go back to work tomorrow, balance equations, to workout, and to live some more. Happy new week ahead to everyone! Smile and be light!

Seryna, a Japanese love affair.

10612772_10152374645135098_8889480339923113917_n

I’ve been hearing from my foodie friends that Seryna is not somewhere us regular earning people come to eat every weekend, or whenever we impulsively crave for sushi, but what made me decide to go was when a Japanese friend of mine mentioned this place to me. Japanese people understand quality, and they would pay for it too. So albeit pricey, I’m extremely excited yet a little apprehensive for the experience.

So I arrived in Little Tokyo, a small neighborhood in Makati, rightfully named for ubiquitous Japanese restaurants that surround it. Outside the restaurant, I noticed a significant number of chain-smoking skimpily clad women, always a sign of a good Japanese meal to come. Ethics has nothing to do with food, you connect the dots.

Once inside, being a solo diner, I thought of them generous to offer me a table as it is a packed tuesday night, but I asked to be seated by the bar, as I would like to watch well trained hands prepare my meal. I order an imperative beer before anything else, crucial element to having a better observation of the place. Halfway into it, I am starting to be in unison with the rest of the happy diners, I am ready to order. A confident server arrives, hands me a hot towel, opens the menu to me as I asked to have the food explained to me. I ask for their Omakase, specialty in Nihongo, which she understands, plus 1000 points. I told her I wanted to try their sushi and she recommended I get the special platter called Matsu. Its not the most expensive platter they offer, which is good, because I hate it when a server instantly points to the most expensive dish in the menu. And for the astounding price Seryna charges for each piece, I would rather get the platter and save myself from having to know the price of every bite.

I smile as I observe the hands of the person making my meal, every rolling, slicing, pouring, and patting, the usual hand movements in making a sushi. I look around the place, appreciating the modern Japanese interiors. I eavesdrop on Japanese conversations that I would never understand but they sounded pleasantly drunk anyway and that I understand. I also noticed they have private tatami rooms for bigger groups who want privacy within those Japanese paper like walls, expecting some one will just accidentally roll away tearing down those paper doors laughing. Ahh.. God believes in my undying pursuit of happiness.

A $20 sushi platter

10649660_10152374645310098_2049498767940367665_n

My plate comes and it looked like an asian renaissance artwork. I ordered a hot sake which I think is a perfect accompaniment to the cold food I’m about to cure my hunger with. Each bite was a revelry, lightly damped with sauce and maybe a little more wasabi here and there. The best part was that having been seated at the bar, I can easily ask the person responsible for my meal things about my food, like types of fish used, a hint of spring roll perhaps? Or the origin and freshness of my uni, which made my meal quite educational. What a way to learn! If only academics can always be this pleasant.

Reasonably sized and priced hot sake

10600447_10152374645255098_9073539718760735985_n

Things worth mentioning about my food, tamago/egg sushi was sweet and delightful. Maguro/tuna and salmon were average, the habachi (the palest one) was my favorite among the three. The ama ebi/shrimp was glorious, it felt like cream as it went through my mouth. The only disappointing part of my plate was the uni/sea urchin, already having seen what a freshly opened urchin looked like, I knew this creamy melting brie-like uni (a fresh uni is soft and solid) has been standing here for some time.

Over all, it was a pleasant experience. Its a fun place to be in, people talk and laugh loud enough but not raucous. The owner seemed to be having just as much fun, at times I caught him leaning to the right while walking. Oh how I love an owner representing what it means to be professional (he sometimes went to the kitchen and fiddled with his staff) but not hesitant to join in with his happy drunk diners. The damage? Well its definitely not cheap but my curiosity paid me well. Kanpai!

My top 25 at 25.

Being 25 is fun. You are independent enough to do what’s wrong but you’re mature enough to know consequences. So you weight down which highs you want to chase, and when it comes to chasing the next high, travel is my choice of drug. At 25, I may not always know what I want to do in life, but at least I know where I want to go.

25. Dubai (U.A.E.)

IMG_8884

Perverse and boastful show of wealth and a nightmare for eco-tourism advocates, with its indoor ski park, one of the world’s largest indoor aquarium, etc., Dubai has it all. From a simple fishing community, it has emerged as one of the richest oil producing middle eastern countries. You are never far away from a Lamborghini or a Rolls Royce wherever you are in this city. Go to any hotel and surely there’s a Porsche (cheapskate) parked somewhere.

Glitz and glamour aside, there’s one road called Al Dhiyafha where a melting pot of blue collars, the backbone of any society, gather and exhibit specialty cuisines from their respective home countries. If you want real food in Dubai, its the place to be.

24. Seoul (South Korea)

DSC_2582

Already having lots of Koreans in the Philippines, its a wonder why I even went here. But to my surprise, Seoul turns out to be a one stop shop of Korean culture which I never really was curious back at home. Amidst skyscrapers, suit clad businessmen and efficient modern public transportation that smells of kimchi during the day and soju at night, massive shrines and temples located on prime real estate locations have been left untouched by city developers. A visit to these shrines automatically and surprisingly drown out the usual city sounds, a place to slow down your pace.

23. Bruges (Belgium)

DSC_0071

Old town Brugge gives you what most European old town squares offer. Everything is built around the town’s main church, where Jesus christ torned blood stained cloth is purportedly stored. Specific shops selling different things are organized and concentrated on their respective places, bierhaus (if you need translation for this, I am not talking to you) being the most popular of course. Equally famous for their chocolates, expect to find lots of overpriced chocolates here.

22. Nuremberg (Bavaria)

DSC_0019

Nuremberg is located in Bavaria, which is a part of Germany, but when I was here, everyone bragged about being Bavarian first, only then they are Germans. Proud people, these Bavarians are. Nuremberg is most famous for its Christmas market, or Christkindlemarkt in German, it is outlandishly cute. Although it may feel like you’ve just missed the party if you visit outside the Yule season, but this city is alive, thriving with history and students alike. Hungry? Try those tasty little Nurnberger sausages.

21. Hallstatt (Austria)

IMG_3069

A short train ride from Salzburg, Hallstatt is a small town that became opulent once from the salt trade, now, its nothing more than a postcard town. Although residents still cling to the narrow strip of land between the mountain and the lake, I actually don’t remember meeting any local in my short time there. The most interesting part of my visit is that since real estate is remarkably scarce, there is a limit of 50-year lease for a spot in the minuscule but quaint grave yard. After your golden death anniversary, some family member gets to write your name on what used to be your forehead and stacked up among the rest of the oldies.

20. Venice (Italy)

DSC_0101

Venice, a once powerful kingdom and a symbol of opulence just a few centuries ago, now suffering from the negative aspects of tourism, is sinking from its fame. There is no shortage of tourist influx here, rain or shine, for better or worse. But I can hardly blame anyone who goes to visit Venice, even if they make the place sink deeper from junk, waves coming from wakes of tourist boats and cruise ships. You have to see it at least once. Oh the grandeur and renaissance. Interestingly, Marco Polo, probably the worlds most famous traveler (not just a chain of hotels), was a Venetian. He somehow made it to China through the silk road, rubbed shoulders with Kublai Khan, and made it back to tell the story.

19. Jungfraujoch (Switzerland)

DSC_0569

I started my journey to the top of Europe from the small, cliche of a German speaking Swiss town in Grindelwald. Jungfraujoch is the highest point in the Alps, hence, the rest of Europe, with an elevation of 3,471 meters above sea level. Beyond the prized title of being the roof of the continent, it is also really expensive to get here. But the fun really is in getting here. You take a really cute train that gives you a view of the quintessential Swiss country side, slowly making elevation, change trains a few times, until you get a peek of the snoq capped mountains. Bring sunscreen as UV rays get really harmful with the elevation. When it gets too cold, you can always have the most expensive lackluster cheese fondue you’ll have in Switzerland at the restaurant on top.

18. Vienna (Austria)

DSC_1002

They say Vienna is for old people, I don’t always disagree, especially if you’re young with hormones running wild. But I enjoyed Vienna. I spent Christmas here, away from my family who were comfortably warm at our home in the Philippines. I loved Vienna for probably the most different reason why people come here. I came here for my favorite philosophically romantic couple, Jesse and Celine of the Before Sunrise series. I walked their walks, rode the creaking ferris wheel where they first kissed, because Jesse was too shy to do it on the booth at the record store, the cafes and the rest of it.

17. Bratislava (Slovakia)

IMG_3733

It does sound familiar, heard it somewhere once, where the hell is Bratislava? In the film Eurotrip, Bratislava is presented as a drab communist dead end town. Sure it does, once you cross the bridge with a weird looking UFO bar in the middle, it is the epitome of communism with its tenement housing, much like SMDC really. But if you arrive here by train, you’ll see that it must have been habituated by rich, cultured people once. The old town is just as beautiful as any other Eastern European old towns, with an overlooking upturned table-like castle. Its mystical and almost deserted in winter, but that’s where the charm comes from perhaps?

16. Pokhara (Nepal)

10154529_10152065791445098_6303542433322510313_n-1

Kathmandu can make you crazy after staying there for too long, and that’s what Pokhara is for. Get away from the city, take the nerve racking highway that falls a few hundred meters into a river that’s dotted with, wait for it, ill-fated buses. I personally just closed my eyes, prayed to the universe that should my time come, please please let me see the Himalayas first. The mountain gods must have heard my appeal and I was able to reach Pokhara, white knuckled, but safely. The city has a picturesque lake, and hordes of hippies that comes with a super laid back place. From here, I rented a plane to see the Himalayas, the rooftop of the world. Let’s just say I would more likely forget my first sex, god knows how bitter sweet that was, than my face to face experience with the Himalayas.

15. Krakow (Poland)

DSC_0441_2

Schindler’s list anyone? Save one life, save the world? Yes, Schindler’s enamel factory is located in Krakow, a 15 minute walk from the main square, Europe’s biggest square. And where else better to spend New Year’s eve than Europe’s biggest square? Yup. Spent NYE here and was rewarded threefold. Different stages for different bands of different genres, an intoxicated, super charged hormones of a crowd and you get the picture. To equalize the fun, a visit to Auschwitz concentration camp, around an hour by local bus from the square, is a never fail depressant.

14. Oxford vs Cambridge (U.K.)

DSC_0197

Let me tell something personal to you, sure, I like beautiful and intelligent students, but I like beautiful schools more. Professor Charles Xavier graduated here, prince Charles, also that egotistic physical theoreticist (clue, not Sheldon Cooper) named Stephen Hawking aka wheelz, and the infamous philanderer, Lord Byron, to name a few of my favorite, albeit one is fictional, alumni. In my next life, I only want to study here, graduate and become a fellow and tenured professor in either Universities.

13. New York (U.S.A)

288809_10150333284740098_1540305649_o

From JFK airport, I took the train to Bronx where I was staying with a friend in his flat. On the way, I had to transfer overland from one station to another, it was just before mid town, around the 30s when I got overland, luggage rolling and bouncing on rough and uneven pavement, Jay Z and A. Keys, as my friend, Angela, who, mind you, is personal friends with, even followed her back on Twitter, started playing in my head “Neeew yooooooork”. I love New York. There’s America and there’s New York. Its a city that’s got something going on at some place at any time of the day, and night. People from all over the world, with different ethnicities, from all walks of life, they’re all here, trying to make it big. As a result, really damn good food, cheap and expensive, so many interesting people, so much quirks.

12. Amsterdam (Netherlands)

DSC_0308

Amsterdam has an unfair reputation of a place where people go to for legal dosage of drugs and lenient bureaucracy. Sure, you get taxed for prostitution and marijuana, but the city itself is gorgeous on its own. With canals that smell so much better than those of Venice, low rise buildings with curious ground floor life size windows (wink) and the only place I’ve seen that’s got more bikes than people. Park your black, nondescript bike in some corner, when you come back, its impossible to tell which one is yours, hopefully not the one floating along the canal. I’ve never felt so short in my life than when I was here. The Dutch have the award for being the tallest people on Earth. It must be the cheese, that world famous Edam cheese. Spent two nights here, watched a sex show, got drunk, smoked a joint, passed out, magically woke up in my room, with pictures to show for. On the second night, got a tattoo. The following morning, really glad to have left.

11. Siem Reap (Cambodia)

DSC_0083

I’ve never been more humbled by this feat of mankind. The Khmers built something so vast and grand in the far east, that until now, the very basic maintaining of upkeep still puzzles the best archaeologists. Such colossal strongholds and places for worships, mysteriously abandoned, reclaimed by the forest, lost for generations until a French explorer chanced upon it. Wow is definitely an understatement. I don’t think there can be any superlative adjective used that will ever be an overstatement when describing Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Bayon, and the rest of the structures that dot the rest of the once powerful kingdom.

10. Edinburgh (Scotland)

DSC_0080

Before becoming part of Great Britain, Scotland was a mysterious land of rolling hills, foul weather and inhabited by fierce mythical creatures and hell of a tough Scottish folks. Now, Edinburgh, its capital, is truly one of my favorite cities. The only reason its in number ten is because I didn’t like the food here that much. It still retains its foul weather, tough folks with very weird accent, hence, do not ever get into a bar fight in Scotland. Like the rest of my favorite cities, literature is always an inspiration to visit. For Edinburgh, there’s Trainspotting (“it sucks being Ska-ish”) and The Da Vinci code (Rosslyn chapel). Regardless of inspirations, it is a must visit city for any self respecting traveler. To see the old town from the Edinburgh castle, walk the Royal Mile, and a real Scottish pub crawl are experiences that are truly YOLO-ing.

9. Bled (Slovenia)

DSC_0613

I arrived in Bled when it was winter, dark, and empty. Its a sleepy lake town and the fog that blanketed the whole place didn’t afford me to see beyond a few meters from me. Its the perfect setting for Silent Hill. Upon checking in at my hostel, the receptionist informed me that I was the only guest and that she was glad that I have finally arrived so that she can finally go home and leave the whole 3 floors of that damned building all to myself. Needless to say, I did not sleep well. Making it alive and unscathed come morning, I am a different man after that. Anyway, the only exciting thing about this place, is not the church planted on a small island inside the big lake, but the Vintgar gorge. A 1600 meter walkway made of sleet covered broken wood planks on top of a gushing river and in between wet mountains. I was the only traveler in town and had I fallen into the river, at least I meant that goodbye hug to my parents when they dropped me at the airport.

8. Tokyo (Japan)

DSC_0920

Tokyo, its easily the most shocking place I’ve ever been in my life. There seem to be an electric current running from the buildings to the neon signs to the people and food. Everything is alive, even the food you’re about to eat was surely living just a few moments back. You only have to see the famous Shibuya crossing and the morning auction in Tsukiji market to know what sort of energy and pace I’m talking about. During the day, everyone’s busy with work, the ideal Japanese salary man, at night, all fetishes are catered for. From Pachinko parlors (casinos), Purikura machines (a photobooth that’s girlishly blown out of proportion) to dive bars that fit 3 people the most. Food? Its all about sushi. Tuna is king and O-toro is gold.

7. Hong Kong (Hong Kong)

DSC_2079

Upfront, I would tell you that what moves people here is money, it is the catalyst in this city. People are flashy, Rolex stores are as abundant as 7elevens, but they are hard working people who know exactly what they want in life, except maybe that they have really really small expensive hotel rooms, but the rest, they’ve figured out perfectly. Duck rice, that’s what I go to Hong Kong for, that meal I cry myself to sleep at night when I want it and can’t have it. The Avenue of The Stars, the Victoria Harbour, the skyline from the opposite side of the river, shopping, nope, I’m skipping all that for all the Duck rice in Hong Kong.

6. The Sahara Desert (Disputed between neighboring North African countries)

DSC_0119_2

The Sahara, extends from Morocco to Egypt, Tunisia to Sudan. In English, its vast. Caravans of the past crossed this arid, uninhabitable, interminable landscape after landscape to do trade from Asia to Africa. Even Islam crossed this desert from the Middle East to reach Africa. Spending a night here will make even Bear Grylls humble about his self preservation instincts. Between the punishing mid day heat and chaffing camel ride to the campsite where we’d spend the bone chilling night is a moment spent siting down on top of a really tall dune, watching the most glorious sunset that nothing will ever compare to, slowly giving way into the moon and the stars to paint the sand silver and the make the rest of the desert seem like a violent ocean frozen mid wave.

5. Varanasi (India)

DSC_2076

Basically, Hindus go here to die. If you don’t get an instantaneous heavy dosage of culture shock with that, you are one tough bastard. You are in the holiest city in India. Expect to hear chanting everywhere, poor people resigned to their fates and get cremated and the remains thrown away in the Ganges river, where supposedly, the act of reincarnation will end and your samsara, over. Literally, where fire wood are stacked, you will see dead bodies being burned open air by the river. If that’s not enough, the Ganges is popular, aside from being one of the holiest rivers, but also the dirtiest. It makes Pasig river look like Evian. But in Hindu belief, a dip here will clean up all your karma, a sort of soul cleansing, and as weird as I am, I took a not so refreshing but inner cleansing morning dip.

4. Marrakech (Morocco)

DSC_0323

Dictators, colonialists, and governments may change with time but Marrakech will always be what it is, a hub of trade, culture and energy. Marrakech is damn sexy. A veiled woman walks by, taking with her the mystery of whats hiding underneath her perfect form, the way her hips sway when she walks, intrigues you like a mad lover. The constant sound of pounding metals, shaping them, gilding them to become something so exquisite, be it a lamp, a figurine, or any other Islamic art. The curious looking conical shaped pottery from which they stew their food, when opened, explodes different aromas of cinnamon, to olives, dried citrusy fruits and animal protein. Mud brick kasbahs, riads (guesthouses) mosques and shops form the labyrinthine medina. Come night time, a visit to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the main square is like an assault on the senses. Everything moves, some things bite, some dance, some sing, but mostly, they cook. Its the biggest open air stage I’ve ever seen in my life.

3. Penang (Malaysia)

1975160_10152025762935098_603477258_n

From Indonesia to Singapore, there is a general consensus that Penang is the food capital of the Straits. It used to be frequented by the British colonialist for Penang Hill which offers refuge from the damning heat, overlooking the sea. I’ll give it to Penang, the island is beautiful, but nothing of the landscape and the sea can beat what the island offers when it comes to food. Let me tell you straight, you need a local friend here to know which places to visit, and how to get there. The best Nasi Kandar, Nasi Lemak, oh and the Laksa! I’ve tried them all here. This place is second only to, you guessed it, San Sebastian in Spain, when it comes to concentration of so many good food in one place.

2 San Sebastian/Donostia (Spain/Basque)

IMG_7755

San Sebastian is the food capital of Spain, there is no contest. And if Spain is, arguably the food capital of the world, then logic follows that San Sebastian serves the best food in the world. Its got more than 3 michelin star restaurants concentrated for its small size than any other place in the world. But food doesn’t have to be expensive here. Nightlife here is a system of Pintxo (tapas) bar hop. You go to one bar, order the best Pintxo (normally advertised), drink just enough wine or Txakoli (sparkling dry white wine), then move to the next one. That sounds good enough on its own right? But did I tell you the buildings have very alluring old world appeal, the people are so beautiful and there’s a long stretch of beach, actually, two or three coves that stretches long enough to cover so many good looking people.

1. Hanoi (Viet Nam)

DSC_0222_2

Of all the places in the world, this is where I had the most fun. I found the perfect ratio of strangeness and familiarity in Hanoi. From the moment you wake up in the morning to eat Banh Mi (French baguette with fillings) while you sip that strong dark and gooey Vietnamese coffee, and then you head to watch people from all walks of life and generations exercise around Hoan Kiem lake to make room for all the delicious food to be had. Then you start looking for lunch and of course, its going to be Pho (rice noodle), the only choice really is if you’ll have it with beef or chicken. Alternatively, you can dine on some authentic French cuisine, but I’d rather explore more from Vietnamese cuisine like the Bun Cha, Cha Ca La Vong, and etc. up until you walk along the old quarter to look around old French colonial architecture, while somewhere in the corner, propagandas blast from a speaker on top of an electric post.

What you have to know about India

Its the most dazzling, puzzling, beautifully disorganized, and irresistibly chaotic set of places I’ve ever found myself in. From the ethereal and omnipresence of honking 21st century caravans to since-the-time-of-age camels in Delhi, my James Bond dreams in Udaipur, the withstanding merchants of Jaipur, the holiest place in Varanasi, and of course, to that postcard, desktop image, and posters we’ve all seen, the majestic Taj Mahal.

Hardworking but happy DelhiitesDSC_1377James Bond was here!
DSC_1653Burning ghats in VaranasiDSC_2100

You’re no longer just a desktop background!
IMG_1326

Breaking presumptions about India

1. It doesn’t stink and they don’t all wear Lungis

I took the metro in Delhi basically everyday, except when I’d get home late and its closed. I don’t want to sound unpatriotic, but to break our racial discriminative ideas about India, our MRT smells worse than the metro in Delhi. I’m not saying people from Delhi, or the rest of India, doesn’t reassure me once in a while of what I used to think about it, but its not any worse than the metro in Paris, infact most of them smell great.

They dress ridiculously well. No short pants here and the rest of India lest you want to look like an overgrown boy who never outgrew his age. Dressing up is a form of respect here, partly more for self respect really. You wear short pants/shorts in India and you’re literally looked down upon as an eight year old boy.

Metro in Delhi during rush hourDSC_1257People dress up well here
DSC_1365

Its sweltering hot and they don’t mind

DSC_1935

2. They are scammers

Only if you’re a fool. Scams in India are not so much worse than seasoned frauds in South East Asia. Agree on a price, check the quality, and count your change. Its not so different from Binondo or Bangkok when it comes to getting short changed, hustled or pick pocketed. Like the rest of the world, common sense rules. Which is not so common as I would find out as I got out of the airport, 12:30 am, bought a prepaid cab ticket, short changed by an innocently smiling cashier, hopped in the cab, counted my money, didn’t feel right, got out just before my cab left, got back to the counter and the cashier instantly gave a smile that says “you’re not as stupid as you look after all” and gave me the rest of my change. I arrived in NAIA once and got hustled by a cabbie who wanted to charge me more than what I knew was a generous fee, I got off in the middle of EDSA, not paying him a miserable cent. Sometimes its more about the principle. To be honest, next to Japanese folks, Indians are the nicest Asians. I’ve met the nicest people I’ll probably ever meet in life in India.

3. Food will give you constant indigestion

I love Indian food, I love street food wherever, even so, I experienced a tolerable Delhi belly. Okay. Most indigestions come from unfamiliarity with the spices used in your food than from hygienic reasons, even if you eat in fancy looking restaurants. So when I developed a tolerance with the spices, I had the best time eating whatever I wanted, so long as I see Indians buying food even from the dirtiest looking places, I grab the opportunity and reap rewards. Let me tell you one thing, Indians know how to eat. Follow their trail, never eat in any restaurant or food stall that only serves tourists (its the dirtiest food you’ll eat, trust me), apart from that, have the guts to eat along with white and blue collars, homeless people, holy men and the rest of them. I had my best meal in India from a stall that opened up at 8pm, a 15 minute queue, and worth 10 rupees, about 7 Philippine pesos.

I see a queue and I know I’ll eat well

IMG_1331

My 10 rupee meal!

IMG_1346

A plate of food here looks like an artist’s palette

IMG_1276

What you should know when visiting India

1. Book trains way ahead

Its not easy to get tickets from the Indian website called IRCTC. You have to provide a local Indian number, which, guess what, you can only get in Indian land, even then it still won’t be easy to get one. They start selling tickets 2 months ahead of your planned date of departure. Trust me, its worth setting up an alarm in your calendar for. You don’t want to take a regular class ticket traveling by rail in India more than once. So I suggest you spend a little more for getting a 1/2/3 AC berth when traveling long distance. I missed my train from Agra to Varanassi for a ridiculously rookie mistake, the only way to make it was to get a general class ticket. It was one of the highlights of my trip to India, but I would probably never do it again. Its masochism.

Traveling around India through rails

IMG_1339

Bed for the night

IMG_1343

Mornings in general class compartment

IMG_1344

2. Stay in guesthouses owned by Indian families

For me, the best way to do it is through Airbnb. Read the reviews, if most of the reviews mention anything related to food, book the damn place. I’ve never met an Indian mom who doesn’t cook well, with recipes at least from 3 generations past. Indian moms would never let you out of the dining table without a bursting tummy, so a word of advice, bring bigger sized jeans. if you ever plan on eating your way through India, with all the generous use of Indian butter called ghee, carbo loaded flat breads and those sinfully succulent sweets eventually take its toll.

3. Its all about romance

I made the unfortunate mistake of visiting India alone. PDA is an understatement in India. People make out in every dark corner, an alley, Vishnu knows what’s happening down there. I stayed in an apartment in Delhi and the newly weds on top of my room kept me from ever having a peaceful sleep the moment the husband gets home at around 3am from his call center job. I’ve concluded that Indian structures are earthquake proof because that couple would give it a definite rocking night after night.. I can easily tell you the sequence from my deduction. First there would be loud noises from water pipes, shower time! Then there would be closets opening and closing. A few minutes of gentle but audible movements, then its bring-the-house-down, wake-all-the-fucking-neighbors time. I feel a little bad for the new bride though because from the moment of audible rocking, 5 minutes after, its all silence.

DSC_1232 DSC_1534 IMG_1267

They say “There’s the rest of the world, and there’s India.” I cannot agree more.

A Manly Way To Eat Cupcakes

Cupcakes must be one of the smallest, simplest and most joyful things man (more like woman) has ever made. Those irresistible bundles of joy light me up every time as I close my eyes on every sinfully sugary bite, the world ceases to exist, as if my cupcake and I are alone in a void. Oh those endless possibilities! Imagine if world and religious leaders settled disputes over a box of colorful vanilla sunshines, cupcakes might have succeeded where politics and war failed in attaining world peace. It may seem that even real estate developers fashioned our lives in cupcakes as they try to fit our lives in 40 square meter boxes.

If heaven existed, it must have took in a form of a cupcake frosting.

Image

But let’s face it. There is no manly way to eat a cupcake with colored frosting that befits a unicorn. You will not see Vladimir Putin eat one in public lest he loses his machismo, or imagine Fidel Castro sneaking one every after meal time, carefully wiping his mouth from frosting stain just before he takes another photo with a tobacco between his lips. Its not like simply devouring them in the most carnal way makes it any more manly than using a delicate knife and fork. Gentlemen, heaven that manifests itself in a form of a cupcake must be appreciated. The least a man can do when eating his cupcake is to be systematic about it, like maintaining a car, disassembling a gun, running an empire, etc.

So here’s what I devised about the art of devouring these euphoric little pieces of paradise.

Step one: Peel off the paper.

Image

Step two: Slice the bread in half.

Image

Step three: Miserably eat the bottom half and UTTERLY RESIST the temptation to get some frosting, its called delayed gratification.

Image

Step four: Selfishly gorge on the 2-1 frosting to bread ratio with reckless abandonment!

Image

Go ahead and savor your cupcakes shamelessly but always keep in mind that article 12 of the Bro Code still states that “Bros don’t share desserts.”