Lost in Time

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Time has betrayed me once again, and I never got to round off my internship days in Kuala Lumpur with a blog post. Rather than giving a feeble account of my last weeks (let’s face it, I am getting old), I present to you a small batch of photos, giving you a quick glimpse into my last month of escapades in Malaysia.

Two amazing friends granted me the honor of their company as my days were numbered as an intern. Sharing memories with special people in your life is about as good as it gets:

Visit 1) You may remember my friend Mette, back from my trans-Mongolian-railway-days (take a peek here, if I tickled your curiosity), and it was fun to take her around KL whenever my working-hours permitted it. We also got to take a break from the CO2 of the city, and went to Penang by bus to hunt down some street art and that Penang food which the Malays talk so much about.

Visit 2) With a few vacation days left, Ine – who I met in New York (check out our Green-Wood Cemetery adventure here) – came to Malaysia for a short visit before embarking on a Southeast Asia trip. After some KL-highlights we quickly boarded a flight to Bali to get our yoga vibes on. It was nothing short of an amazing ending to a fantastic internship and no Volcanic ash or flight problems could disturb our zen.

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Khmer Fascination

Exceeding Expectations

Having already traversed a big chunk of the Asian corner of the world – and having spent more than a month in Malaysia on my first backpacking trip – I came to Kuala Lumpur with absolutely no expectations of discovering new places (and let’s be honest, New York City made my bank account implode). Not that I am done exploring, or feel like I have saturated this side of the map for new adventures; no, I simply did not factor new exciting places into the equation that was my KL internship. Least of all, I did not think I would set foot in Cambodia. Having been to Thailand on numerous occasions (at one point in time, I almost moved here with my family), this country is definitely close to my heart. I find it distasteful what kind of reputation Thailand has gotten in recent years, with the massive influx of (often obnoxious) tourists with sad intentions. For that reason I have often defended and placed this location on a pedestal, not only because I find it so simple to be at ease here, but also because people have almost forced me to be apologetic about liking it. However, apologetic is the last thing I want to be – whether it be in my life or in this post. No, what I am getting to is how this defensiveness has somehow managed to blind me, or overshadow destinations like Laos and Cambodia, making me disregard these destinations as being lower down that list of must-visits (listomania, that is me). But as Gid and I agreed, it was time to experience a new setting, and when that choice came down to Cambodia, that was probably one of the best lessons of my stay here so far. It is so easy to be consumed by presumptive ideas or to fall under the trap of generalizations. Going to Cambodia was not only a wonderful vacation for Gideon and I to spend some time together away from KL, but it was also a reawakening for me; a newfound love for Asia and the uniqueness and variety that exists in all shapes and forms here. Just to give one example: had I known what Khmer cuisine tastes like, I probably would not have wasted all this flying OVER Cambodia…

Not having set foot on any East Asian countries apart from Philippines, I was pleasantly surprised that 2015 would bring me to both KL and Cambodia. For a long time, it had been a dream of mine to visit ruins and temples, and it so happened that I could do it with the best travel partner one could ever ask for: Krissy. I really did not know what to expect, though. I was mostly excited to melt in the sun while visiting the temples of Angkor heritag park. As we walked out of the arrival hall of SRIA, we were greeted by our hotel staff with a bouquet of flowers and the most humble of bows. We flew early morning and were quite tired, but after such a warming greeting, we knew then and there—and as Krissy and I looked at each other in excitement—that our stay would be nothing short of amazing. 

Forever Foodies

After the many belt-loosening meals we had in KL, it was a pleasant surprise for Krissy and I to sample Khmer cuisine. From street food vendors to gourmet eateries, this city provides the perfect setting for culinary adventures. With so much to try, where do you begin? Well, our research revealed that Fish Amok was an absolute must-try. This was great, since Krissy and I always welcome seafood in our bellies. Fish amok is a mixture of kroeung (a delectable curry paste made from a base of lemongrass, turmeric root and galangal) and sliced white fish, normally steamed in a banana leaf bowl to form a mousse. Upscale restaurants serves it as a mousse, while more local places offer it as a kind of stew. We definitely recommend trying this dish at The Sugar Palm, nown for serving one of the best fish amoks in town.

My stepdad is a chef, and I would like to think I grew up with a palate refined to diverse flavors; however, Khmer cuisine excited my palate like nothing I have tasted before.  Two other places that impressed our socks off are Chanrey Tree and Chamkar (vegetarian). Chanrey Tree has a very stylish atmosphere, great for evening dates. The meals we ordered were delicately plated, and careful attention was given to choosing ingredients that really bring together the dish as a whole. Our main course here was Prahok Ktish, a Cambodian delicacy of fermented fish, pork, thinly sliced river fish braised with coconut cream, baby eggplant, served with blanched vegetables crudites. It is difficult to find words to justly describe this dish; its flavors were a perfect blend of spicy, sweet and tangy. As for Chamkar, you are doing yourself a great disservice if you do not try their curries. When the world offers such mouth-watering cuisine, it is impossible to be anything other than forever foodies. 

Temple Day 1: Rubble Raiders

I felt like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider as we entered the Angkorian heritage site. We bought a 3-day pass, as our main purpose whilst being in Siem Reap was to explore all the temples. We definitely need to come back another time and travel through the rest of the country, North to South. But this time around, the main objective was to focus all of our attention on the magic of Siem Reap. I think it is no exaggeration when I say that both of our jaws dropped as we entered the first temple site, Preah Khan. It is very humbling to walk a historical site. Every brick used in the construction of these temples have over the years acquired different hues of colors, and put together it becomes a Monet masterpiece. The carvings are so miniscule and precise, that it is difficult to believe how they managed to construct such sites, and just how the carvings have lasted all this time. Preah Khan is one of largest complexes within Angkor, and has some of the finest carvings (+ fewer visitors here). It was our very first ruinous temple, and I will never forget that feeling of walking among the most beautiful stone rubbles in the middle of the jungle.  On our first day we also visited a lot of smaller temples like, Preah Neak Poan and Ta Som. Though everything looked like it was by chance – fallen stones and bricks scattered here and there, a temple placed randomly in the middle of the jungle – it somehow all made sense.  As we came to Siem Reap at the end of May – the threshold between dry season and wet season – the nature surrounding us was undeniably barren as most of the waterholes were dried up. However, you could still sense a tingling feeling lingering in the nature around us, an impatient yet hopeful anticipation of what kind of weather was to come. We ended our first afternoon early, due to the sweltering heat and the dry air, which slowly but surely took its toll on us as the sun crossed the sky. It is a scary thought how such a blistering sun can suck out all life of you. What pieced us together was our sweet Tuk-Tuk driver who happily reminded our tired bodies of what kind of magical place that we were exploring, as he was taking us back to the bustling civilization of Siem Reap.

Temple Day 2: Will you go to Ta Prohm with me?

I have always been a big fan of adventure. From Indy’s archaelogical escapades on film to Nathan Drake’s daring pursuit for treasure in video games. It was therefore only fitting for Day 2 to bring us to the temple of Ta Prohm. Neglected and embraced by the jungle, Ta Prohm transported Krissy and I to another world and another time. The atmosphere was raw, mysterious, eerie and picturesque all at the same time. Perhaps the temple’s most distinctive feature, and the reason for it being featured in the Tomb Raider movie, are the trees growing into the ruins. The massive trunks rise up to the skies, branching out into canopy of green leaves that provide shade in the sweltering sun. The trunks trail the stone walls and its roots form serpentine claws, coiling, slowly reclaiming the stone temple. Blurring the line between fiction and reality, this temple seduces you into feeling a part of a greater narrative, an old tale of adventure and exploration. 

My highlight of day two was definitely visiting the temple of Bayon. As you explore this site, beware of lurking eyes and staring glances – in fact, you should be prepared for 216 faces, to be exact – all glaring down upon you as you visit their humble abode. Bayon is the central temple of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, representing the intersection of heaven and earth, and certainly had a jaw-dropping effect on both of us (again). There is just something about those beaming faces, looking out in every direction of the world, which cannot fail to mesmerize you. It is no wonder that the smiles have captivated so many, and that Bayon is often referred to as the Mona Lisa of Asia. The serene smiles surely lured us into staying a bit longer at this site. As midday came and went and the sun was at its highest, I want to reiterate a recurring theme of this post: the scorching heat. I think for all those global-warming-skeptics out there, I want to place each and everyone of you on the long path leading across the moat and into the temple site of Angkor Wat, and make you all walk back and forth from midday until around 2pm. Then look me in the eyes, and tell me that Mother Earth isn’t overheating!

After Bayon temple, we worked our way towards the three-tiered temple Baphuon. Conquering our fear of heights, we traversed the many steps up a steep staircase to get to the topmost tower and get an expansive view of the surroundings. Just as we thought it could not possibly get any hotter, an interesting shift in weather suddenly occurred. The skies grew dark, and we felt the wind getting stronger. We knew right away that it would rain, but we were not prepared for the heavy downpour that it turned out to be. It was a fantastic experience: we were soaked head to toe, our bags and their contents were soaked (Sorry again Mads and Sidsel for crumpling your book!) but we were mostly laughing because it was actually fun being there at that time. As the clouds retreated and the rain stopped pouring, our eyes were met with a different Angkor. The sharp sunlight was gone, and the overcast sky left the leaves and the ruins saturated with color. It felt as if everything suddenly bloomed into existence. It felt like Angkor had come to life, working its magic on the people lucky enough to witness it at that very moment.

Temple Day 3: A Setting Serenity

As we got up, at what felt like the middle of the night, and slid in on the plastic seating of our Tuk-Tuk, I could feel the excitement rush all over me. It was an hour before dawn and darkness embraced us like a cloak, as we drove through the jungle, only the sounds from the motor serving as a reminder to my imagination that it shouldn’t run off with me completely. Gideon of course joked about tigers and other lurking beasts, but we made it safely to the holy site of the temple to rule them all, Angkor Wat. Yes, we did the obligatory sun rise scene at this magnificent site. And yes, we shared the view with a horde of tourists as thick as pea soup. But there is a reason why this iconic Khmer complex is loved by so many during those golden and colourful minutes. As you stand there, staring out into the darkness, watching the silhouette of the temple become clearer and clearer as light is slowly but surely embracing the pinnacle structures, the speed of the changing colours against the backdrop of Angkor Wat makes no sense. Oh the tranquility! I remember wondering what it must have felt like as the first archaeological team stumbled upon the largest religious monument in the world. They must have had that same goofy smile that was on my lips at that moment, as the sun was done doing its rising-business. You might read all of this and think that the temples will at some point in time become boring to explore. And yes, temple fatigue is a common exhaustion which many of the online reviews mention out there in cyberspace. While this is true for most, and while I cannot reject the fact that we mostly decided to call it a day early in the afternoon, I can genuinely and honestly say that 3 days were perfect for us. Even though you might feel like you hit a temple-plateau after x amount of time, there always comes a corner, a temple-embracing tree, a detailed bas-relief, a colourful contrast or a view over the jungle which makes you astounded that you are actually lucky enough to visit this famed heritage park. As we drove through Angkor one last time in our Tuk-Tuk, with the course back towards Siem Reap city centre, Gid and I agreed that we would not have been without a single rubble on our trip.

 

Thank you Cambodia,

Spending 3 days on rubble raiding was just the right amount of time for Krissy and I. In addition, some planning allows you to see what else Siem Reap has to offer. For us, it was an educational experience to visit the National Museum where we learned more about the temples and for whom they were built. The Old Market and various side streets are definitely worth exploring. If you have time, we urge you to experience Phare, the Cambodia Circus. We bought tickets to a show, where we experienced the chilling narrative of Sokha, a child haunted by the visions of the atrocities and destruction by the Khmer Rouge. The performers executed a brilliant and raw performance, showcasing the best of contemporary Khmer acrobatics, music, choreography and drama,  and providing great insight into Cambodian lives and society. 

The time Krissy and I shared in the charming city of Siem Reap will long remain in our hearts. It is a city full of life, wonder and amazing adventures. Cambodia, we’ll see you again! We’ll be back to explore the capital, Phnom Penh. 

// Krissy & Gideon

Memories of Kuala Lumpur

I find it a bit difficult to describe my time in KL. There was a lot to take in, familiar and otherwise. New places to see, new cuisine to try, activities to do. But on top of it all was this cathartic-like relief that I felt once my eyes set upon Krissy, who was patiently waiting for me at the arrivals hall. When I saw her waving at me, I remember having the biggest smile on my face.

Us being apart during NYC and now KL has been very tough, but all the worries and troubles were flushed away upon that long overdue embrace. Finally, I felt complete again – I’m sure many of you know the feeling; like you’re on top of the world and you feel everything will be okay. And so being there, on top of the world, I find it difficult to capture the words that can justly describe all the things that we saw and all that we experienced. Because that is the purpose of having a blog, right? Well, the best way I know how to relive and reminisce those precious moments is through photographs. Taking photographs is capturing and savoring life, every hundredth of a second.

Surprising even to myself, I had actually never stepped foot outside of any East Asian airport apart from in Manila. I was eager to get out of the airport and see what KL has to offer. Krissy and I took the bus from KLIA to the city center. My overall impression is that KL is very similar to Manila, and so right away I felt at home. I love when Krissy goes into planning mode when people visit her. We had an excel sheet with things to do and places to eat during my relatively short stay. Although planned, our schedule was flexible in that I could experience “must see” places, but also give us time to just relax and enjoy each other’s company and make new memories together. What I appreciate the most is how Krissy made sure that I got to experience her life in KL; where she works, the route she takes to get there, where she likes to eat on Sundays, which malls she likes to visit, which alleys are shortcuts, who she lives with (awesome people!), etc. All those things that she has become accustomed to during her stay, but that I know very little about (apart from stories I hear from her). But being there and doing these things with her was very different, and it made us feel closer. She also made sure that there were activities or restaurants that she waited to try until I got there, so that we would be creating new memories together. Isn’t she awesome? One of the hardest things in a long-distance relationship is experiencing new things when you’re not together. When you can’t immediately talk about how you feel or have that instant understanding. Undoubtedly, it leads to growing apart, so it’s important that you share thoughts, impressions, and feelings with each other. Just some advice for others out there. We have, after all, done this before. ;)

I arrived early morning, so we went straight to sight-seeing. We started off with the Petronas Twin Towers, and were treated with a mini concert performed by University students to honor traditional culture and music. In the late afternoon, Krissy took me to a bar called Heli Lounge Bar located on the 34th floor of Menara KH. The amazing part is that you get to go to the very top of the building, to a helipad turned lounge and enjoy your drinks there. Now I suffer from acrophobia, so I was hesitant and nervous to go up to the open-air bar. But life is more exciting when you challenge yourself. So up I went, clinging tightly to the stair railing, wishing profoundly that gravity keeps doing its job. When we got up to the top, my head was swirling and so was my stomach. However, the sense of accomplishment and the view that we were met with took all the fear and nausea away (well, almost all). We found ourselves standing at the very top of the building, surrounded by an unobstructed 360-degree view of KL city center and the encompassing districts. Let me try to describe how I saw it: As the sun dipped behind the horizon, the cityscape was bathed in golden light. Only threads of light lingered in the sky, weaving its way past the rolling clouds. The sky glowed yellow, then orange, then blue, until the colors fused, leaving behind a chalky mauve sky that blanketed the softly silhouetted skyscrapers. I hope my words and the photos do to the beautiful scenic view.

As great as KL sounds during the day, the festivities and the nightlife really bring out a new side to this city. Krissy lives very close to Jalan Alor, a road boasting in abundance of hawker stalls and delectable eateries, and especially hustling and bustling once the sun goes down. We had dinner at Wong Ah Wah together with Mads & Sidsel, the lovely couple living in the same apartment. The internet was raving about WAW’s chicken wings (RM 3.00 a piece), so those had to be sampled! The wings were marinated and cooked to fall-off-the-bone perfection. It is safe to say that Jalan Alor is renowned for the amazing street food. However, this vibrant street is not just a showcase of some of the best Malaysian cuisine; sampling the food means sampling the culture as well. I found that what makes Malaysia so special and diverse translates into its cooking. Bring your appetite and revel in the sound sizzling woks and the all-pervading scent of charcoal fire.

Another food haven is Imbi market, located right in the heart of KL. There is a wet market and then a section with only hawker stalls, plastic tables and chairs. I love it! We had Crispy Popiah, Nasi Lemak, Wantan Mee, and Kopi O (black sweetened coffee)! Sitting there looking at locals – young, old, small groups, big groups – eating and enjoying good food, it felt really great and humbling to be a part of a charming, local breakfast tradition. We visited Batu caves, a series of caves and Hindu temples and shrines. Monkeys frolic freely, but behave aggressively when tourists mess with them (I don’t blame the poor monkeys). We took the cave tour, where you wander inside a pitch black cave with only your little flashlight to guide you along the trail. Stalactites, stalagmites and over 200,000 bats greet you as you walk the trail with your guide. We visited the Bird Park, a free-flight aviary featuring parrots, storks, egrets, peafowls, hornbills, ducks, flamingos, etc. Make sure to bring lots of water and mosquito spray!

I also recommend taking the heritage walk, where along the way, you may run into Old China Cafe. As you step through the swinging saloon doors, you’re met with the rustic interior that still feature some of the original furnishings. Here you can have a taste of classic Nyonya food. We highly recommend the Beef Rendang and Nyonya Lasak.

Here are pictures of other food that we ate (name and location provided as captions). With so many new things experienced, new cuisine sampled, feelings of love and joy, it was difficult to put it all in writing. See, the blog is partly for our readers to keep up with what we’re doing, but also for us as a couple to cherish memories and moments during our trips. And certainly, thinking about what to write and browsing through these photographs brought me right back to the wonderful time I spent in KL with my beloved Krissy.

On that note of good times and good food, I will end my post with this advice: Come visit KL! If you’ve been there before, then please share with us your favorite places to eat at or favorite things to do! Krissy is still in KL, and I’m sure she would love some tips.

/Gideon

Ps. There has been some slight redesign of the blog. We now also have an Instragram account that you can follow if you click on the Instagram icon at the top of the page, next to the search. We hope you like the changes! :)

Through the Lens

I always wanted to get more into photography. While I always felt I had some idea about what makes good composition, I never really bothered to know more about photography. I therefore wanted to get more into the art and the technology. For many years, I used a point-and-shoot Casio camera, and I felt that it served me well for what I needed. However, I wanted a camera that could give me more flexibility as I delve deeper into the wonderful world of photography; something that isn’t as daunting as a full-frame DSLR camera. After digging around on the internet, I narrowed my search down to Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (or Compact System Camera). These types of cameras come with a compact body but has a sensor size that is comparable to that of some DSLR cameras. I found a good deal on a used Sony Alpha NEX-5N including the 18-55mm kit lens and a Sigma 19mm F2.8 EX DN lens (which at that time I didn’t know was a great prime lens for the Sony E-mount).

In the last two months, I’ve been amassing great knowledge about photography and camera settings like a sponge. Now I have a fairly good understanding of camera sensors; exposure settings involving aperture, shutter speed & ISO; metering modes; depth of field, and so on. There is still so much to learn, and I’m really excited about the journey. My foray into getting better at photography would no doubt lead me to learning about vintage lenses, which can be used on the mirrorless cameras using a cheap adapter. Why use vintage lenses? Well for one, the quality and build of vintage lenses are top notch, and are marginally cheaper compared to their equivalent modern counterpart. Also, vintage lenses often create unique effects and colour rendering on photos. Since I’m still learning, I find it a good thing to be manual focusing, as it gives me more control over my shot. Sure, it’s a slower process and I might miss a good shot, but it really helps me to stop and think about what I want to shoot. So I found myself scouring eBay for all sorts of vintage lenses with different apertures and focal lengths. You get really into it – at least I did. Haha! Apparently there are common “diseases” that afflict photographers:

  • Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS)
  • Lens Buying Addiction (LBA)
  • Photo Forum Addiction (PFA)

I found the acronyms from this site, where these common ailments are described. I find that it’s all part of the journey. I really like keeping up to date with technology and gadgets, and this is no different. Knowing what kind of gear you can use with your camera, what kind of lenses are available, and how other people shoot all helps make you a better photographer. I got a really good deal on a Helios 44M-6 58mm f2 manual focus lens for very cheap. The lens has a FOV corresponding to 87mm on the 5n’s crop sensor. Below is a photo of what I have so far.

Lens party

But at the end of the day, for a novice, the common mantra is “Gear doesn’t matter.” Make do with what you have. Use the camera and gear you have until you’ve completely mastered it. As a novice, learning how to control what you see through the lens is what makes you a better photographer. When your gear starts to limit what you can do, then it’s time to upgrade!

So I went for a nature walk in Skodsborg, north of Copenhagen, along with my two Bromies, Claus and Anders. I got to shoot with the Helios and the Sigma. I really like the swirly bokeh that the Helios renders. The Sigma is great for wide angle shots. I picked out my favourites from all the shots that day, and edited them using Lightroom.

Enjoy the photos and stay tuned for more!

/Gideon

A taste of Ilocos

A taste of Ilocos

Finally getting some free time, I was able to finish up this post. In the spirit of the previous post, I’ll continue the story starting from December 31st. Enjoy!

While Krissy was getting ready to celebrate the oncoming new year, I was actually onboard a plane from Denmark to Philippines. The plane landed in the afternoon, and baggage claim was its usual time-consuming ordeal. However, it felt good to be back. It is that sense of nostalgia that rushes through your veins. It was a concoction of sensory awakening; feeling that heat on your skin as you set foot off the plane, getting a whiff of that familiar airport smell, seeing the hustle and bustle of balikbayans – it all comes together, giving me a deeply-rooted sense of belonging.

Balikbayan refers to a person of Filipino origin who lives outside of the Philippines.

It was a special night, not only because 2014 was right around the corner, but mainly because I could celebrate New Year’s Eve with my sisters—something we (sadly) haven’t done in many, many years. Needless to say, it was a memorable night; one that I will always cherish.

During my stay in the Philippines, I was also very fortunate to visit the beautiful province of Ilocos, located on the Northwest coast of the country. Although I was born in the Philippines, I have unfortunately not seen much of the country (there is just so much to see!) So I felt very excited that I would get to experience a new place, and of course try their cuisine. This post is dedicated to all that I saw and all that I ate.

Ilocos, Philippines
Ilocos collectively refers to Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.

Ilocos actually consists of four provinces: Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. I saw most of what both provinces has to offer in the form of tourist sites. In hindsight, it probably would not have been as effortless (nor as informative) without the help of our kind tour guide. After arriving in the city of Laoag  at night and having rested, the first stop early in the morning was the sand dunes of Paoay, Ilocos Norte. There, it is possible to explore the sand dunes on a 4×4 or even have a go at sand boarding. Being a man of extremely adventurous spirit </sarcasm> … I did not try either activities. So I cannot offer silly pictures of me with sand all over my face. Instead, I give you another photo (other than the cover photo) taken near the sand dunes.

Barbed wire, Paoay Sand Dunes

Following the sand dunes was a stopover at Malacañang of the North, the official residence of late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, and his wife, former First Lady Imelda Marcos (yes the Imelda Marcos, the Rose of Tacloban, the Steel Butterfly, the Lady of 3000 pairs of shoes). Casting aside whatever opinions people may have of these two individuals, their home was an undeniable display of grandeur: from the arching staircase carved in Narra hardwood, to the hanging pieces of art, the scenic view over Paoay Lake, and to all the other intricately carved furniture, their home is certainly fit for people with power. The Spanish colonial architecture definitely brought a sense of time travel. As I walked through the corridors of their home, paying close attention to all their interesting memorabilia, I listened to the tour guide talk about the former President with so much vigor and Ilocanian pride.

Next stop was the Church of Saint Augustine, or Paoay Church. I clearly remember its distinct architure, borrowing from Gothic and Baroque designs. According to UNESCO, its architecural style is a reinterpretation of European Baroque by Chinese and Philippine craftsmen. There is a certain beauty with the way light falls on its facade, accentuating its lines and curves. The spirals featured on the buttresses breaks all the linearity and adds a more organic, and nature-centric touch to the design.

Paoay Church Paoay Church

After seeing a number of museums dedicated to Marcos, the tour headed south, toward Ilocos Sur; specifically, the destination was the city of Vigan. Having spent many hours touring, we arrived in Vigan quite hungry. I was quite excited to finally try Ilocanian cuisine. Oh yes, the joy of food! The guide took us to a place where we could get Vigan-style empanada. Basically it is a crispy shell filled with vegetable and meat. The shell is made of rice flour with added atchuete (achiote) to obtain that bright orange colouring.

The filling is normally grated green papaya, mung been sprouts, egg and longganisa (a type of sausage). So how do I explain its taste? I can’t. You will simply have to try it for yourself. The finishing touch is the vinegar sauce that comes along with the empanada, which really brings the whole thing together. It does dirty (oily!) wrestling with the empanada in your hands, so make sure you have extra napkins. As such, it will receive (as this blog’s first) the wildwonton seal of approval (SoA)!

wildwonton Seal of Approval

The wildwonton seal of approval (SoA) is given to specific food or eateries that we feel perfectly captures the spirit of ww, in form of taste and presentation. Look out for the seal in future posts! Fun fact: The SoA was designed to look like Chinese art stamps! If you look carefully, you can spot all the letters that form ‘wildwonton’. 

For 35 pesos a piece, those little orange bundles of joy are quite filling. I…had three.  #satisfiedtummy #sealofapproval

Seal-of-approval

The next stop on the itinerary was pottery making. The people of Vigan are known for their pottery skills. They value and commit to preserving the tradition of making burnay (unglazed earthen jars), a skill passed down from immigrated Chinese artisans during pre-colonial times.

The tour continued to the Vigan Heritage Village, a residential complex of Spanish colonial houses. In the heart of the Heritage Village lies Calle Crisologo. As I look back at the memory, I close my eyes and I hear the the clippity-clop-clattering of hooves on the cobblestone street, as people experience the town through horse-drawn kalesas.

Calle Crisologo

Following Vigan was a trip back up north, across Ilocos Norte, driving along the northwestern coast that is bounded by the South China Sea, all the way up to the town Pagudpud. On the way there, we also passed by Burgos and Bangui. In Burgos, there is the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse , another cultural heritage from Spanish colonial times. It was first lit in 1892 and it marks the northwestern-most point in Luzon.

There are stories told of ghosts watching over the tower. The distressed look of its exterior definitely adds to the image of a lighthouse that is often shrouded with mystery. To me, the structure stands magnificent and resolute; like a lonely sentinel of the sea, withstanding the tests of time to keep watch over the expansive waters.

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

The word is derived from puraw, which means pure or white.

Only a few minutes further away,  the Kapurpurawan Rock Formations are located in the rocky coast of Burgos. The beauty found here is in stark contrast to man’s architectural prowess exhibited in the cities; these limestone rock formations shows the beauty of nature’s canvas. A thousand years in the making, these creamy white and streamlined formations were sculpted by the forces of nature.

The wind turbines are from a Danish manufacturer called Vestas Wind Systems. Go Denmark!

Still en route to Pagudpud, we took a quick stop at the Bangui Windmills. Facing the South China Sea, these towering windmills arc along the shore and provide 40% of the energy for Ilocos Norte. It was quite exhilarating standing right underneath one of these 70-metre wind giants. It was, shall I say, FANtastic…………………………………. (   ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Bangui Windmill

It was a long drive from Laoag to Pagudpud, and so upon arrival, we made a pit stop at Evangeline’s beach resort for some refueling. The menu was surprisingly varied, but my eyes were set on thing and one thing only: pancit (noodles)!

Pancit bihon
Pancit bihon & kalamansi!

After enjoying three days of resort-life at Hannah’s Beach Resort in Pagudpud, the trip came to and end in Laoag with dinner at the Saramsam Ylocano restaurant. The place was very cosy and the dishes were not only delicious, but also creative, accentuating traditional Ilocanian cuisine with modern-day twists. Absolutely worthy of the wildwonton SoA!

From man-made structures to nature-sculpted landscapes; from Chinese ceramic artistry to Spanish architectural mastery, and from century-old kalesas to modern-day wind turbines, Ilocos definitely has much to offer. I only hope that I was able to give you a taste of its splendor.

-Gideon

Monkey Business

Before I let my new Hong Kong rants unravel, I must make an announcement. As for those who follow my blog, you may well remember that in my previous post on Hong Kong I promised to search for the monkey, which is rumored to be on campus. I must disappoint in saying that my wilderness skills are non-existent, and I have therefore not been able to gain up on the creature yet. However, my dear, dear friend from Finland clearly knows a thing or two on how to search for this climbing beast. On her way to class a cat-like noise caught her attention (ironically the same class I go to, had I not been in the Philippines). Only, the noise came from a big, fat monkey indulging in human trash. By courtesy of Karoliina, I hereby give you proof of her encounter, which also satisfy my need for settling the “rumor”.

Just as in my last post, my taste buds have once again been catered to. One experience worth reporting on – which I am admittedly late at trying out – was a visit at Mr. Wong’s. From the outside, this restaurant looks like your average Chinese restaurant found on any side street of this city. Yet, the personality of the owner differentiates this joint from all the other eateries. For 50hkd, Mr. Wong will provide you with enough food and drinks to last you a week, whilst telling you life stories and other fun anecdotes. I cannot guarantee that all of these stories will be understood; as I am yet to uncover what language he is truly speaking. However, the English that I do understand brings a huge smile to my face, and a night here guarantees you a lot of fun – well worth your money. Also, dim sum is slowly becoming the center of my universe. It is without a doubt the best Sunday pastime I can think of, and luckily I have an obliging roomie who willingly takes me to the local hotspot near campus so I can get my dim sum fix. It is no joke that Hong Kong is famous for its food. If you know where to go, you will not be disappointed. Even if you don’t know where to go (like me), behind my veil of ignorance, I have still not been disappointed.

I also started attending regular dance classes at a dance studio near Tsim Sha Tsui (Infinity Dance Studio). I have danced for some time now, without ever claiming to be good at it, but having always loved it. However, for some time back in little Denmark, I’ve felt like I lost the joy in dance, lost the fun in it all. Luckily, the classes in Hong Kong have proven amazing. The level is better than at home, with teachers and students who all move with such breathtaking accuracy that my eyes hurt a little. My lack of skills becomes even more apparent – BUT: I have rediscovered the fun – and it feels great. One Sunday the studio even had a workshop with one of my favorite female choreographers from the US, which was an amazing opportunity. I always leave that place with a smile.

More sights have also been uncovered. Along with a good friend, I managed to explore more of Central, in particular the trendy area of SoHo (South of Hollywood Road). Here you can find the Central-Mid-Levels escalator, which according to the ‘oh so’ reliable source of Wikipedia is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. In this area you will find bars upon bars, offering happy hours and tapas deals and the offerings keep on meeting you as you move up the escalator. Nearby I also stumbled upon Man Mo Temple, a small delight of Chinese worship. The mix of darkness and incent and the noise from the city outside is a strange but amusing mixture. It really exemplifies the contrasts, which you will find in Hong Kong, the modernity with a touch of longing for the ancient. Hong Kong Park also proved a highlight for me. It is somewhat of a strange mixture of your usual park-like elements such as trees and flowers, but also contains a museum of tea ware and experimental playgrounds. Nonetheless, the fact that skyscrapers are surrounding this spot truly makes it seem like a little oasis where one can escape. I will definitely come back here before immigration kicks me out.

Classes at the university are still interesting and “entertaining”, in particular my literature class. It is greatly amusing to have a Chinese professor teaching you 20th Century, English literature. Not that that is not perfectly doable, but it does add a whole other dimension to the learning and the way a text is approached. Clear culture differences become apparent in this class. Generally it has proven hard to sufficiently balance exchange amusing’s and serious learning. I never quite seem to find the right balance, some days amusement is winning, and on others the inner nerd.

My exchange semester is fleeing me and I desperately try to make the fleeting and momentary experiences last. I wish I could hit pause on the remote so as to prolong some wonderful moments here in Hong Kong. The city never ceases to amaze me, and I wish I could put my finger on why. Partly, I think, my fascination manifests itself in the eternal vibrancy and vitality. There is always something to do, somewhere to be, something to see.  This constant opportunity of uncovering new adventures is so stimulating and makes you feel like you are in the center of the happenings.

I will hopefully be able to post once more from this center, before departing for ……… Thailand.