Merry Christmas!

Wishing each one of you a very merry Christmas and a blessed 2015! I'm extremely grateful for the year that was, ending it in such a high note with my family's visit (not in picture is my brother James who is currently in the Middle East). May we all spread the warmth of this season and share God's love, joy, and peace to everyone!

Memories of Muscat

There will always be that one defining moment in all of the trips that I've taken, be it for work or leisure, and this business trip to Muscat, Oman was no different. It left me with something I will never forget, and a scar that I hope will soon fade away. Now I'm thinking of renaming this entry's title to Mishaps in Muscat.

It was a glorious morning, perfect for a morning walk by the beach. It was the day before our conference, so I thought it would be nice to go for a walk because the next 3 days will not even allow me to have a decent 8 hours of sleep. I left my room at about 6:45 and made my way to the beach. It was calm and quiet, perhaps everyone's still asleep- the bed, the duvet, the pillows were all too luxurious and sleep-inducing. I walked closer to the shore to have a feel of the water. It was warm, and the waves gentle.

After twenty or so minutes, I reached the part of the beach that was scattered with shells. I tried to avoid some parts by walking carefully and skipping the many rough patches but to no avail. I lost balance and the other pair of my slippers was thrown into the water. I had to grab it fast before I lose sight of it. It happened so fast everything was a blur. I fell into the water with one of my knees down, and then I felt a sharp pain.

I got up and saw blood gushing down my right leg. I was trying my best not to panic, but seeing blood all over, I had to run for help. I walked past several hotel staff who didn't speak any English. I had to gesture to them that I need water to clean the cut and tissue to wipe off the blood. I knew I had to apply pressure on the cut for it to stop bleeding. Funny thing was that they didn't understand the word "tissue". There I was, with a bleeding knee, panicking while doing some charade of sorts. The other staff took out a white piece of paper from his pocket, unfolded it gently (there was money inside!!!) and handed it to me. I thanked him and took the tissue, but my brain is yelling- your wound will get infected! Ahhhh I couldn't care less. Deep inside I was laughing so hard. Then they took me to the nearest lifeguard station where I was offered two pieces of teeny tiny alcohol wipes. The guy told me to wait for the buggy that will bring me to the clinic.

While waiting, I again asked for tissue and thankfully the staff went to the nearest bathroom and handed me a pile. I was at the clinic after ten minutes of waiting and was attended by a Filipino nurse, Kuya Danilo. My knee was shaking but Kuya Danilo assured me the cuts didn't need stitching. He cleaned it and helped put on a dressing. I went back to the clinic after breakfast and was attended by an Indian nurse, Blessy. She was surprised by the cuts that I had- I told her the shells basically sliced through my skin. Since it had already stopped bleeding, she placed sterile tapes to close the wounds.

I was in and out of the clinic during my entire stay in Muscat- day and night. I met another Filipino nurse, Ate Jenny, who also helped me with my wound. I've never been hospitalized in my whole life so this experience scared the hell out of me. I had to at least appear "tough" because my bosses were with me. Only problem I had was my outfit for the 2-day conference. I brought several dresses but only a pair of pants. All throughout the conference, the delegates kept asking what happened to my knee. Hay. I guess no more morning walk... alone.

Our flight from Muscat to Dubai then Taipei was almost nine hours in total. I was worried that my wound may not be able to breathe and get infected. When I arrived home, I was so tired that I fell asleep after unpacking my stuff. I woke up the next day to Auntie Josie's message. Auntie Josie is the cousin of my aunt's friend; she's a doctor here in Taipei. She brought some stuff the night before to clean my wound and left it with our building's security guard.  How very thoughtful of her. She was the first person I texted when the incident happened (not my parents because they'll panic). She dropped by my place last Sunday to teach me how to clean the cuts and put the bandage on.

The wound is slowly healing. The scabs are starting to fall off but it is still very painful. The scars will remind me of this memory in Muscat- the loving and wonderful nurses of Shangri-La who did not bill me for their services. I owe them a lot, not only money, but a debt of gratitude. Everyday that I'm in the clinic, I hear their stories that are quite similar to mine. We're all OFWs living far from home and from our families, but we're still happily committed to our jobs. Thank you, Kuya Danilo (hope you win more singing contests! hehe!), Ate Jenny and Blessy for taking care of me! I will always remember you in my prayers.

I still got to enjoy Muscat despite my injury. My bosses told us to join the free optional tour to the other town called Nizwa where we visited the Nizwa Fort (a humongous castle built in the 1650s), and a local market which they refer to as "souq". Hope you enjoy the photos!

November Notes

The milk tea I had last Saturday kept me up all night. I was trying to be productive by drafting two invitation letters and a sample itinerary for my pending visa application to be lodged next month. I finished the documents at 2:00am and I still cant get myself to bed. I opened my journal and back-read my entries. I was overjoyed while flipping through the pages where I pasted boarding passes, train and park tickets and recalled every memory that came with those travels. I also put 'mental check marks' on the items that have been accomplished. And so I went to the back page of the journal and started jotting down my 2015 goals. With all the positive vibes (probably infused in the milk tea), I was smiling from ear to ear, hoping against hope that I get to tick them one by one again by the end of next year. It was 3:00am when I finished writing, I turned off my desk lamp and tried getting some sleep.

I don't know how much caffeine that milk tea had, but I was still tossing and turning in bed by 3:30. Since I cant make myself fall asleep, I tried recalling some events from last week that made me really happy and started uttering prayers of thanks for every single thing/person/event that painted a smile on my face (including our building's reliable security personnel who helped carry my 8-kg Ikea box from the cab to the elevator). It was indeed a great birthday month for me, ending it ever so specially with Monica's visit.

My bestfriend Monica was in town with her whole family. Originally it was only her mom, dad and youngest sister joining the Lion's Club Tour to Taipei, but Monica was able to clear her schedule after finishing her pre-residency. I was so delighted when she said she won't be staying at the hotel with her parents and would want to see my new place. She stayed with me for 3 nights- the longest time we've spent together since her last Taipei visit with Monnette in 2011.

Unlike Monnette, Monica is not a nature-person. You can't bring her hiking or go see the forests and mountains. She'd rather sit in a coffee shop and read her Med books. So after doing the usual Taipei stuff- night market, milk tea and eating shabu-shabu, I took her to this nice little coffee shop called Topo in Tienmu. I knew she'll like it there, and I was right. We like taking things slow now compared before- cup of latte and tea, slabs of bacon for brunch, and then some molten chocolate cake. We no longer shop till we drop. We've become these mature individuals who spend time and money wisely. Gaaaad signs of aging (and maturity) perhaps?

I'm grateful that I was able to spend time with both Monica (in Taipei) and Monnette (in Korea). With Monica, I look forward to ending the day with long chats in bed- talking nonstop about our personal lives, our many plans for the future. With Monnette, I love hanging out with her ever since. She's super patient, relaxed, never in a hurry. I'm always inspired with how good her heart is. I miss them now that I'm writing this entry.

On a side note, Monica and I dropped by Ikea to have a look at some household stuff (again, signs of aging hahaha). I fell in love with a certain pink desk chair that I cant get it off my mind. So last Friday, I gave in and bought it on a whim, together with the pink LED desk lamp. I was worried about two things: (1) carrying the 8-kg box where they packed the chair (2) assembling it correctly. My mom even sent a Viber message saying I need to make sure all bolts and nuts are properly screwed.

Lo and behold... my study desk mini makeover! I successfully assembled the chair- Manong Amboy (our all-around fixer/driver at home) would have been so proud! I found myself spending more time now on my study desk than before. I feel so motivated to get things done with my new chair and lamp, I hope hindi lang 'ningas kugon' :)

I will be leaving for work this coming Sunday, and will be away for 6 days. We're traveling to the Middle East this time for another annual gathering, please do wish us luck and a safe journey :) Have a great November, y'all!

Kimchi Diaries

Annyeong Haseyo! More than a week has passed since my trip to Seoul, yet I still cant get over the beautiful sights, delish foods, and the convenience of almost everything. Half of the time, I find myself daydreaming in my office cubicle- imagining myself wandering the streets of Seoul, getting lost in the subway, staring at pretty people (yes, boys there are just way too pretty) and eating the best toppoki I've ever had in my lifetime.

Seoul has so much soul and character- a totally different vibe from other Asian countries I've been to. I finally understand why friends who've been to South Korea have gone back numerous times. Once is not enough for this city of kimchi. There is just a whole lot of culture, tradition and city life that I would have wanted to immerse myself into, but given our 5-day 4-night stay, I had no other choice but to do it the tourist-way. No regrets though, I enjoyed every touristy moment and I look forward to getting a feel of the local life on my next trip.

Day 1- October 8

I met my best girl bud and travel buddy Monnette in Incheon Airport, together with Jarek and his aunt. We arrived the same day, October 8, but an hour apart. From the airport, we took the Airport Limousine No. 6002 and got off at the stop nearest our hotel- Jongno 3-ga. We paid 10,000 KRW each for the airport limousine. It was fast and very convenient.

After alighting, we reviewed the directions going to our hotel- GS Hotel. The limousine/bus stop is right in front of Lotteria Fastfood. We looked for our landmark- Shin Han Bank, located few shops before Lotteria, and turned right at the corner, walked past GS25 convenience store until we reached the second alley with a sign that says "To GS Hotel." It was only a 5-minute walk from the bus stop, which was also next to Jongno-3ga subway station, Exit 14. The hotel was recommended by Monnette's sister, Mylyn, who went in early April. The hotel exceeded my expectations- clean, great location, and budget-friendly. We paid a total of Php 17,361.58 for a triple room during our stay (or Php5,780/US$135 per person).

We checked-in at past midnight. The front desk officer gave us the portable wifi which Monnette had rented online. The internet company delivered it to our hotel. By this time, we were all famished. We left our luggage in the room and made our way to Lotteria for a quick bite.

Day 2- October 9, Palace Hopping

We slept in a bit and left the hotel at around 9:30am. We dropped by GS25 to top-up our T-money card (Subway card). Mylyn lent us four T-money cards which we loaded with 30,000 KRW- more than enough for our transportation allowance. T-card can also be used for purchasing items in convenience stores.

Our first stop was Changdeokgung Palace. We went for the 10:30am guided tour in English and the 11:30am secret garden tour. This was the second palace established after Gyeongbokgung Palace in 1395. It has a secret garden, also known as rear garden, which was built for the private use of the royal family. According to the tour guide, this palace was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.

Our tour ended at lunch time and we headed to Insadong to meet with my dorm mate Hansol. Hansol and I stayed in the same dormitory during my university years in Taipei. We spent Thursday nights together with our Thursday dinner group. She took us to Jirisan restaurant in Insadong and enjoyed a hearty traditional Korean meal.

After lunch, we passed by Bukchon Hanok Village then walked straight to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the main and the largest palace in Seoul. It was so massive that we got lost inside. We didn't make it to the 3:30pm English tour *sad face*. We entered through the back entrance of the palace and we could not find our way to the main entrance. It took us around 20 minutes to figure things out and by the time we found the gate, we were too tired. We just lined up to try on the traditional king and prince costumes and had our photos taken. We chanced upon the changing of the guards upon leaving the palace through its main gate.

We then walked back to Bukchon and found a nice coffee and patbingsu (shaved ice dessert) place. Seoul has a plethora of coffee shops, perhaps more than the number of convenience stores here in Taipei. We people-watched for a while then took a cab to the hotel to rest our aching feet and legs. We ended the night with a sumptuous Korean BBQ at Baek Jong, Myeongdong.

Getting there:
Changdeokgung Palace, Line 3, Anguk Station, Exit 3
Bukchon Hanok Village, Line 3, Anguk Station, Exit 2
Geongbokgung Palace, Line 3, Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit 5
Jirisan Restaurant 30, Insadong 14-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 
Baek Jeong, 3-3 Myeongdong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul

Day 3, October 10, Everland

The whole of day 3 was spent in Everland- a land very far far far away from Seoul. I suggest taking the shuttle bus from Gangnam Station. We learned our lesson the hard way, and thus I'm sharing it now so you don't go nuts in all the subway interchange that you have to go through hahaha. Again, take the bus.

We left the hotel half past nine in the morning and arrived Everland close to lunch time. We had lunch after buying our tickets then proceeded to the various rides. We paid 37,000 KRW (using the Visit Korea coupon, original price was 46,000 KRW), roughly Php1500. Waiting time for most rides was at 60-90 minutes max so we went to those parts that didn't need much waiting- the Kpop Hologram Show, animal park, etc. Monnette was dying to try the T-express ride, known to be the world's steepest wooden roller coaster. It had a waiting time of 100 minutes. Maybe next time.

From Everland, we took a shuttle back to Gangnam. Since Gangnam is all too fancy, we hailed a cab to Myeongdong and satisfied our grumbling tummies at Gogung Bibimbap. We had some time left before calling it a day so we shopped for a bit, and tried Myeongdong's street food.

Getting there: 
Everland, Line 2, Gangnam Station, Exit 6, walk to the Everland bus stop and take bus 5002 (1400 KRW, one hour ride, bus arrives every 15 minutes).
Gogung Bibimbap, 12-14 Chungmuro 2-ga,Jung-gu, Seoul
Myeondong Shopping District, Line 4, Myeongdong Station, Exit 6 or Exit 8

Day 4, October 11, Nami Island

The original plan was to take the bus from Top-gol Park to Nami, but since we called to reserve tickets only two days prior, we were told that the bus was already fully booked. Another tip: Ask the hotel to book a week or two before your planned schedule of visit. We had no other way but to take the subway from Jongno-3ga all the way to Gapyeong station. The 1.5-hour trip was not that bad. We had wifi and the scenery was nice, but I'd still prefer sitting on a bus. Upon reaching Gapyeong, we had a cab (KRW 4,000) take us to the Nami Ferry docking station. It was about 11 when we reached Nami, so we decided to have lunch at one of the dak galbi (Korean chicken rice) restaurants in the island, which came highly recommended by Monnette's friend. The dak galbi was delicious and perfect with a cold glass of Coke.

After lunch, we lined up to get our entrance tickets. Foreigners have a discounted ticket rate of KRW 8,000, but you need to show them your passport as proof. We took the ferry to get to Nami Island. For those uninitiated, Nami Island became famous after it was used as a shooting location for the Korean drama "Winter Sonata." It's quite impossible to go around the island by foot, so we queued for the electric shuttle (KRW 5,000 per head) and had a good tour of the place. We rented a bicycle and biked around the island. We left at 4:00pm and headed back to Seoul using the same route- cab to Gapyeong station, then subway all the way to Jongno-3ga to meet with my other Korean friend Sunmi for dinner.

Sunmi brought us to this restaurant famous for samgyetang, the famous Korean ginseng chicken soup. I forgot to ask for the English name of the restaurant because Sunmi and I kept on chatting and reminiscing our good old days in Zheng Da (our school in Taipei). Studying abroad gives you so many friends from all over the world and traveling allows you to see them once again, and look back on those crazy times. After dinner, Sunmi treated us to Ediya where we had coffee and waffles- the typical coffee shop scene in all of Seoul. Sunmi said Ediya is her favorite among all local coffee shop chains in Seoul. I could tell why, I loved Ediya's mint mocha!

Getting there:
Nami Island is one bus-ride away from downtown Seoul. Purchase tickets in advance (through your hotel) and take the bus at Pagoda Top-Gol Park, Jamsil Station Exit 4. Alternatively, you can take the subway and get off at Gapyeong Subway Station, approximately 1.5 hours. From Gapyeong Station, you may take the shuttle bus to Nami Ferry or get a cab.

Day 5, October 12, Myeongdong Cathedral, Trick Eye Museum, NSeoul Tower

Our last day in Seoul proved to be the most hectic and tiring as we tried to squeeze in all 3 places in one day. To save time, we took a cab from the hotel going to Myeongdong Cathedral, but instead of the 10-min cab ride, it became 20 minutes all thanks to the ongoing marathon. We were dropped off at a subway station and took the train to Myeongdong. It was already communion by the time we got to the supposedly 9:00am English mass, but it was still worth the trip.

After a light breakfast at CBTL from across the cathedral, we proceeded to the Trick Eye Museum. I don't know if it was a blessing from the highest heavens but before entering the museum, we saw a studio where we can have our photos taken wearing hanbok, the traditional Korean dress. This was on our Day 2 of the itinerary, but because we didn't have time to look for the studio in Insadong, we took it as a sign that perhaps it's not meant to be. But Day 5 came and tadaaaaa...

The photo session at Goguan Studio inside the Trick Eye Museum costs KRW 30,000 for a single 4R shot and 2 wallet-sized snaps. There's a different package if you want to have a full make-up on. We opted to just go au natural because we don't have much time and $$$. This is probably one of the happiest highlights of our trip! After the photo session, we bought tickets and went to the Trick Eye Museum (KRW 12,000 using discount coupon, originally KRW 15,000). We spent a good 30 minutes of our time taking photos and making fun of ourselves.

After Hongdae, we wanted to shop for local grocery items in Lotte Mart, but upon reaching Lotte, we were told that they were closed that day- that day of all days. But anyway, we hurried to our last destination, the NSeoul Tower. We intended to take the cable car, but upon seeing the line, we gave up and just took the shuttle to the top. From the shuttle station, we still had to hike before we reach the grounds of the tower. We snapped a couple of shots and decided not to go up the observatory deck because the line at the ticket counter was spiralling like crazy. By 5:00pm, we got back to the hotel, freshened up, and went to the airport limousine bus stop across Lotteria. At exactly 6:15pm, bus 6002 arrived and we handed KRW 10,000 to the driver. You can still use your T-card if the balance is enough. We got to sleep inside the bus and more importantly, rest our feet.

Getting there:
Myeongdong Cathedral, Line 4, Myeongdong Station, Exit 4
Trick Eye Museum, Line 2, Hongik University Station, Exit 9
Lotte Mart, Line 1, Seoul Station, Exit 1
NSeoul Tower, Line 3, Chungmuro Station, Exit 2, take yellow bus #2 in from of Daehan Cinema and get off at NSeoul Tower stop. It is easier to take the shuttle, instead of walking from Myeongdong to Namsam Cable Car Station, unless you want to experience riding the cable car.

Seoul was an adventure, a race against time. It was daunting for first timers like us, but it was truly enjoyable. It will help if you do research about the places that you want to visit, the schedule of the English tours, addresses, subway exits etc. because it will save you time, money, and energy. Download the Jihachul app, or the more user-friendly Explore Seoul Subway app. Print discount coupons of entrance fees and cosmetic brands in the Visit Korea website.

Get advice from friends who have visited the place, and try to see which part of their itineraries will suit you best, and which won't. Purchasing T-Money cards is also very convenient. Koreans in general are very helpful, based on our experience. They will offer to help, or even call the establishment that you wish to go to and ask for directions. Language barrier will not be a big problem. The younger ones do speak English, or if you're Chinese and can speak Mandarin, you'll never get lost in Myeongdong or Insadong. Some Koreans who work in the restaurants and shops that we went to spoke to me in Mandarin, and I found it easier to converse with them.

Monnette took Cebu Pacific flight to Korea which she scored on sale for only Php 7,000+, while I took Scoot Air from Taipei for about NT$10,000+. For details on Korean visa application in Manila, I would highly recommend visiting fellow blogger Kristine's blog on her step-by-step guide to obtaining a visa.

Kamsamnida, Seoul! We will be back again, perhaps in spring or autumn. Saranghaeyo with all my heart, mind, and Seoul!

Year 26

I have sort of stopped looking forward to my birthday after that entry I've written three years ago, in which I promised that it'd be the last birthday I'll ever spend alone. Well that obviously didn't happen. I'm not sad. It's just that I miss celebrating my birthday with my family. I miss picking which restaurant to book, sharing a great meal and eating Hizon's mocha cake together.

As I grow older, I no longer want the fuss of gathering all my friends and celebrating. I'm happy with going to mass to thank God for my life, and reading heartfelt messages from loved ones and friends- knowing that they remember.

One thing I like most about birthdays though is that it somewhat serves as a pause button. It's a once-a-year-thing where you pause what you normally do for the day, and catch up with friends over chat, emails, texts and Facebook. Then when the day is over, you hit the play button again and continue where you left off.

This year was rather simple- just an ordinary day. I woke up from the sound of messages from my phone and read them while half asleep. I found myself in tears after reading my mom and my brothers' messages. God I felt so terrible upon realizing that it's been five years since I last got my birthday kisses from my mom, and hugs from my ahia. I spent some time in bed, in conversation with God thanking Him for another year of life. I wonder what I've done to receive all His greatness, but I hope I'd be able to use my life to glorify Him.

Year 26, I'm ready to embrace all your crazy adventures.

Starting September

Just got back from my trip to KL, unpacked my stuff, and did my laundry. I still have to iron my clothes, then pack again for another trip on Monday. It's driving me nuts- it's only the first (and second) week of September but I feel so dead tired. The best thing that happened this week was probably sleeping from 9pm last night until 7am today, and this breakfast I had at Yut Kee the other day which consisted of Hokkien mee, kaya toasts, and teh. My kind of happy meal!

Before I left for KL last Sunday, I picked up my cousins Achi Mic and Achi Jenjen from the airport. I thought I'd be able to spend time with them and show them around like we did four years ago (gosh was that in 2011?!) but the boss had some personal matters to attend to and asked me to take charge of our workshop- the same sched when my cousins are arriving in Taipei. I was secretly hoping our workshop will get cancelled because it's few days apart from our annual conference, but no luck. I just had a few hours with my cousins- spent inside the cab, mostly giggling and laughing. I still feel so bad for leaving them. I would have wanted to take them to a mini hike atop Elephant Mountain for that picturesque view of Taipei, drink ice-cold milk tea and stuff ourselves with cua bao and dumplings, but I'll make it up, promise.

It was already 2am when we reached the hotel and I have a flight to catch, so we ended the 'day' at Family Mart, and celebrated my 5th year in Taipei with matcha and redbean sundae. I still cant believe I've been living here for 5 years. September 7, 2009 will always and forever be a special date for me- this deserves another post when I have the time :)

Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award
Fran of Primp and Paper tagged me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award. Thank you so much, Fran! I promised to answer her questions when I get back from work so here goes:

1. What inspired you to start a blog?
I was in 4th year high school when I started this blog. It was the "in thing" at the time and when I entered "frosh" year, everyone was exchanging links and leaving messages in Tagboards and Cboxes. I mainly wanted my blog to become a diary- a record of the things I did, people I met, places I visited- and I think my blog still serves the same purpose until today.

2. Who is your favorite blogger and Why?
Hmmm this is a difficult question. I don't really have a favorite blogger but I've been reading The Chastity Project blog for quite some time now and learning a lot from their bloggers, mostly about faith and relationships.

3. What is one beauty product that you cannot live without?
Petroleum jelly- my lip balm for now

4. Red or Pink lipstick?

5. What is your comfort food?
A bowl of ramen

6. Coffee or Tea?
Honey green tea

7. What was the last book you read?
I'm currently reading Landline by Rainbow Rowell.

8. What tops your travel bucket list?

9. What's your favorite feel good movie?
Before Sunrise

10. What do you do to de-stress?
Eat and shop, in no particular order

My nominees:
1. Nathalie of Mental Snapshots
2. Aiza of Love is a Mutt  
3. Jean of Jean's List 
4. Milet of Project Gora 
5. Angel of Invisible Stilletos 
6. Rea of REAlity Bites 
7. Jhanz of The Yellow Pad Chronicles 
8. Jing Kolca of Pink Magaline 
9. Mrs Panda of The Adventures and Misadventures of Mrs Panda 
10. Kristine Diomampo of Kristine Can
11. Neri Ann of Nheng's Wonderland

My questions (mostly favorites and why)
1. Most memorable childhood experience
2. Favorite food
3. Quotation to live by
4. Favorite place
5. Favorite book
6. If stranded on an island, what are the 3 things you'll bring with you?
7. Favorite scent or perfume
8. Favorite person
9. Favorite hang-out place
10. Describe yourself in 5 words :)

Goals for the rest of the year

I was so inspired after reading fellow blogger Milet's most recent blog entry about her goals for the rest of 2014, so I figured I should also do my own version. Thank you, Milet for the idea! It will serve as my reality check and a reminder on all the things that should be done.

The first half of 2014 just wheezed by and I cannot even think of something worthy of being called an accomplishment. I promise I'd work double time for these goals, never mind if I'd have a nervous breakdown somewhere down the road. I even want to remove that part of my brain that gives me shivers every time I remember I'm turning 26 soon. So goals, here we go.

1. Complete 3 doses of Gardasil
This is one of my top priorities right now because I cannot miss a dose. When I was still working in Manila, my neighbor Razi said she can help me buy 3 vials of Gardasil with her company discount. I remember it being so cheap (around 2,500-3,000 a vial at the time, whereas doctors sell them at twice the price). However, I thought it was too early to get the vaccine. I was only 19 then and have just started working. No money lah. I was too shy to ask my parents for money after graduation. So after a lengthy discussion with Dra. Bernice, the Fil-Chi doctor I met recently, I finally decided to give it a go. Dra. Bernice said that the ideal age to get vaccinated is from 9-26 years old, so I still fall in that bracket. She explained the benefits of this vaccine, and compared it to the equally famous Cervarix. I took her advice and got Gardasil instead. This vaccine is helluva expensive, I hope it does its job. (Update as of January 13, 2015: 3 doses completed on December 12, 2014)

2. Save: VUL payments, stocks and finish the 52-week challenge
Oh this big four-letter-word. I'm tightening my belt for the rest of the year to work on my savings. It is not an easy task specially if I open my budget spreadsheet, but I hope I'd be able to do it. If I end 2014 with a fat piggy bank, it means I'll have a happy 2015. I will also get a health insurance plan soon. I've become such a worrywart since my uncle died of cancer last year. I've heard of AXA's Health Max from my good friend Bea and I'll be getting it from my cousin who's an agent for AXA. (Update: I received my AXA Health Max and started paying for it in September 2014. I finished the 52-week challenge up until the second week of December. Half of the amount went to a scholarship fund.)

3. Korea trip in October with Monnette
This will be my birthday gift to myself. We've booked our tickets and hotel accommodation months ago and my visa has been approved. Monnette will apply for her visa next week and then we can finally edit our semi-complete itinerary. I will try my best not to shop (!!!). I can do without a trip to Etude, Innisfree, Face Shop and other Korean brands because I'm not a huge fan of skincare products and cosmetics, but knowing Monnette, I'm pretty sure we will pay each store a visit haha :) Dearest piggybank, I commit to no useless spending and shopping. Wish me luck. (Update as of January 13, 2015: I was able to control my spending and had some spare cash from my pocket money.)

4. Focus more on work
Although the past few weeks have been really terribly busy at work, I still find myself spacing out  a lot. I promise I'd dedicate myself to my job because really, if this job is a person, I'd say I owe him a so much. We have a workshop and conference scheduled in September, and we're organizing another conference in November. A lot of work-related travels and probably a lot of time to be spent revising conference programs, writing materials and chasing after high profile speakers, but once everything is over, December is just waiting around the corner. Hooray!!! (Update as of January 13, 2015: November was cray cray but 2014 work ended well.)

5. Family's trip to Taipei in December
I'm looking forward to a great year-ender. My ahia (eldest brother) will be celebrating his birthday here in Taipei in December and the parentals will be tagging along, which is really like a once in a blue moon occasion. I have booked their hotel and will have yet to work on their itinerary. No more "basic" Taipei tour for them as they have visited me before. Ahia and papa's US visas have already expired so they still have to apply for a Taiwan visa- not that it's complicated to apply for one, but some people in TECO (Taiwan representative office in Manila) in charge of visa processing can really get on your nerves.(Update as of January 13, 2015: Family trip was a blast!)

6. Be healthy- physically and spiritually
As mentioned in my last post, I'm trying my best to keep up with the Blogilates program. I also walked in to one Pilates studio here in Taipei the other day just to have a feel of "real" Pilates. I had a posture analysis done and I'm impressed because the lady knew I have mild scoliosis even without checking my Xray films. I'm still thinking if I should sign up for the regular classes because... see Goal No.2 haha! For my spiritual health, I honestly think I'm growing more and more in faith as I've been spending a lot of quiet time lately. I reflect and do my daily devotional reading at night and I hope I can keep this routine. I believe, and I can feel that the Lord is always by my side esp at times when I do feel lonely. (Update as of January 13, 2015: I didn't sign up for Pilates because it was just too expensive.)

So those are the things I will be working on in the remaining months. I have to get myself moving and stop procrastinating.

Hello, August!

Hello, August! August started out perfectly because I received my tax return on the first day of the month (Who doesn't love tax returns?!!!). Also because one of my best-est friends, Monnette, celebrated her 26th birthday yesterday. Since I'm not in Manila, our other best-est Monica planned a little surprise for her. We sent her a bouquet of flowers early in the morning, just before she heads to the office. Monica wrote a card with all the crazy hashtags we can think of that Monnette usually uses to tag her photos on IG. This collage shows our friendship through the years. They both have visited me here in Taipei a couple of times, and when I come home for a vacation, it is always a priority to set a date with them. I just love them so much. We've been  great friends since high school, and even if we went separate ways in college, we made it sure that we meet during semester breaks. That is how friendship works, we nurture it and let it flourish.

What else is keeping me busy aside from work? I'm currently on my Day 3 of the Blogilates program. I first read about Blogilates on Kristine's blog. I skimmed through the website and bookmarked it for future reference. "Future" meaning two to three months after haha! I have finally decided to try the beginner's program. My thighs and non-existent abs were sore after Day 1, but I enjoyed it! My goal is to slim down a bit and tone my arms and firm-up my belly. I'm not aiming for the perfect abs, it'll probably take ages for me to get there. I also inquired about a program at a Pilates Studio offering English classes, but since I'm saving up for a vacation in February, I don't know if my budget will allow me to purchase the package. It's quite a hefty sum of money for 20 sessions, but we'll see. I'm still thinking twice of going back to practicing yoga.

I also visited the Hello Kitty Exhibit last weekend. My friends know how cray cray I am when it comes to all things Kitty-related. My churchmates gifted me with two tickets so I went there with my friend Sharie. Not much to see, but we took photos of almost everything. The Hepburn Hello Kitty was just too adorable. I wanted to get the plush doll but the smallest size is prized at NT$750, and the biggest at NT$3500. I'm not yet out of my mind so I didn't buy, I took a photo though haha.

Our big boss celebrated his birthday and treated us to lunch last Thursday. His cake was so yummy, I heard it's from one of those overpriced famous French patisseries here. Anything French is expensive in this island. So there goes my update :) I'd be busy these coming weeks because of two work events in September but I'll try to write. Wishing everyone a lovely weekend!

Home for the Weekend

I flew to Manila last Thursday to be with the family. My cousins based in the US and Kuwait were vacationing so it was a good time to have a mini reunion. Before I boarded the plane though, I received an alert from my BBC app saying a Malaysian Airline plane was allegedly shot down by pro-Russian separatists and crashed in Ukraine. Not another MH flight, I said to myself. Close to 300 innocent lives gone in just a matter of seconds. While walking towards the boarding gate, I thought of my family, our upcoming family reunion, and the families of the passengers on board that flight- they will never be reunited with their loved ones. I hope their families find comfort and solace in God's tight embrace.

My mom fetched me at the airport and we went straight to Aristocrat for breakfast. It was only four in the morning, I had my usual beef tapa meal and native hot chocolate, while mom had daing na bangus and coffee. I missed moments like this with my mom- when we just eat and talk and not care about anything. In the afternoon, I had my regular routine- Browhaus eyebrow threading, basic mani-pedi. I haven't had the courage to enter a salon in Taipei for threading and haircut, so I wait six months or so to do both.

The next day, we flew to Cebu. My dad's twin brother is from Cebu so we didn't have a hard time coordinating this trip, all thanks to our family members there. My cousin Mic met us at the airport and brought us to our hotel. We stayed at Movenpick Hotel, formerly Hilton. We rested and enjoyed the scenery for a bit then headed out for lunch. The second batch of cousins will be arriving the day after, so we had time to dilly dally. We decided to try the nearby Zubuchon, a restaurant featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Bourdain said their lechon was "the best pig ever." Indeed it was (but… I reckon all lechons in Cebu are the best pigs ever). After lunch, my cousins decided to take a nap, while I went for a short swim. My aunt picked us up for dinner to celebrate my cousin's birthday.

We were finally complete by Sunday. We rented a van that will take us to the city and visited some famous attractions. We went back to the hotel after dinner for a night swim and catch up talks. I'm so glad I took a leave and decided to be with them. We only get to see each other once every two or three years, but our bond remains the same. My cousins saw me grow up, and now it's my turn to see their kiddies well into their teenage years. My achies (ate-s) taught me many things and have continuously inspired me to be the best I can be. Our moms are sisters,  and we live almost next to each other, with only four or five houses in between. We have always been there for each other especially during those trying times. My achies are my source of refuge- I remember those days I cried from pain and frustration, and they send me messages to lift me up. I wish someday I can also be like them. They have their own lives now with their own families, but they never forget us.

Before leaving Manila, I requested my mom and my brother to take me to Toby's Estate. We visited its branch at the new Century Mall in Makati. We passed by a Pandora shop and I ended up buying a Pandora set for myself and a pendant for my mom. I've been wanting to get one for years already but I know it would cost a lot. Then I asked the sales lady if they have a St. Basil's Cathedral charm- I was sold. I bought 4 charms to go with the bracelet- charms that symbolize my life's little milestones. I'll post a photo when it gets filled up with more milestone charms. Kailan pa kaya yun?

Right before boarding the plane to Taipei, I refreshed my Twitter feed and read a news update regarding another plane crash. This time, my heart sank and I started to panic. A TransAsia flight flying from Kaohsiung, Taiwan to Penghu Islands crashed around 7:00pm. I was in the middle of sending bilin messages to my mom when suddenly I thought of asking her to pray for my flight. I landed safely at 12.25am but we left the plane only at 1.30 am. Everyone in the plane was getting furious and impatient. I breezed through the immigration using e-Gate, but got my luggage at 2.30am. I was running out of patience and was so tired the moment I went out of the airport, only to see the long line at the taxi bay. Then I thought of the two planes that crashed, the pain and grief that the families had to endure. I said I'm lucky to be alive, to have spent time with the family. I thanked God because even though the flight was tiring and unpleasant, I was okay and I'm now home. Praying for the eternal rest of everyone onboard MH, TransAsia, and just yesterday- Air Algerie. Also praying for the families and loved ones of the passengers.