A blessed Christmas to all!

I was unpacking groceries here in our Cagayan home when my mom told me a story about our newly-hired employee. I thought it is worth sharing and will make us appreciate more the blessings we receive.

Our new employee is in his late 30s, married and has 4 children- the youngest is only 3 years old, the eldest is 12. His wife works only during weekends, when the eldest is not in school and can take care of the youngest sibling. One afternoon when my mom closed our store, the employee asked her if he can get a small plastic bag. My mom gave him one and curiously asked what he is going to do with it. He said he didn't finish his lunch which my mom provided, and would want to take it home for his children to eat.

My mom's not yet done with the story but I could already feel tears flowing down my cheeks. She added that few days ago, he saw my mom in the kitchen slicing ham. He asked in Ilokano if it is what people refer to as "ham". By this time I was really crying. I grabbed a bag and packed the groceries I was setting aside.

I was still in the kitchen with my mom when I saw him heading out, about to leave after closing the store. I called him and handed him the bag. I told him to bring it home to his family for their noche buena. He said thank you and started crying. He wiped his tears with his shirt, thanked me again and greeted me merry Christmas. I was so moved I could barely talk.

To me it was just a bag of groceries, but to him, it meant the world.

I suddenly felt so ashamed of myself for wanting so many things in life, when others just want food on the table, to make both ends meet, to see their children's happy faces.

May the love of Christ be more than enough to fill the empty spaces of our hearts. Let us share our blessings and make people happy this holiday season. Wishing you all a blessed Christmas!

Hello, November!

I tore the October page of our calendar this morning and realized we're down to the last two months of the year. Gosh time flies so fast, too fast even. I wanted to panic as I think of the things I need to do, but instead I breathed deeply, looked at these mini Christmas trees and tried to keep my calm.

We started repainting and renovating the rooms at home. I think the smaller room just needs one final coat of paint and we can already install the new drop light we bought as well as the curtains. This room used to be our stock room when my siblings and I were all overseas. I'll transfer all my stuff next week and have this as my own room, and my mom's whenever she's here in Manila.  I still dream of getting a new place but I guess this will have to wait.

Some random stuff:

We had our Halloween celebration last week at work and this was our floor's decor.

Bridesmaid Duties. Cooking and baking 101 with my good friend and bride-to-be Joy. We made chicken adobo, Bicol express and plain cheesecake with blueberry topping :)

Currently reading this devo from my bff, and just finished "When Breath Becomes Air". It tore my heart into pieces. (...and that bottle of Cerave saves my skin from flaking especially in the office where the AC is freezing!)

Life Update

Last photo of Taipei taken from my window seat

September 7 was supposed to be my 8th year in Taipei. I could have gone through my usual routine
of waking up before 7am, reading my daily devotional, taking a shower and heading to work at 8:10. I could have waited for bus 311 which arrives at exactly 8:15, then pass by a breakfast shop to get either a sandwich or egg crepe with warm soy milk before clocking in.

I woke up on September 7 with a breakfast, which my mom had lovingly prepared, waiting for me on the table. We ate together- I think it was rice, tocino and eggs, and hurried to take a bath. I left home before 8:00. Not my usual morning routine in the last 8 years, but it was a happy, comforting change. I arrived work at 9:00am. It was my 11th day with the new company I'm working for.


I started looking for jobs early this year. Not that I'm no longer happy with my previous work, but because I was looking for something more. I searched for jobs both in Taipei and Manila. Taipei openings were very limited and I needed a back up plan. I was open to leaving Taipei for career advancement, and because I was already granted permanent residency, it will be easier for me to go back if (and only if) things will not work out in Manila. Soon enough I was fortunate to chance upon a corporate communication role vacancy with one multinational company in Manila.  I clicked apply and took an online exam.

Thinking I flunked the test (50 questions in 12 minutes???), I didn't bother emailing to follow up on my application. In late March, while I was in Seoul for a training, I missed a call from an unknown number twice. Then later that night, I received an interview request via email with the company I applied for. 4 months, 4 interviews and 2 exams later, I received the offer.

Of course I was reluctant. It would mean leaving a very convenient and comfortable life, saying goodbye to 7-Eleven and Family Mart that are just less than 100 steps away, missing my efficient train and bus rides, parting with dearest friends. I prayed and cried over it, even when I had not yet received the offer. Sometimes I would tell myself these tears will be useless because I will not be accepted yada yada yada, but I continue crying. I asked myself so many questions that made me sleepless for some nights but in the end, I just had this one thing on my mind and I knew that this time, Manila wins: Family. The last few years, I only get to spend not even 15 days in total with them in a year. I do not know how is it to be with them anymore, because each time I visit, I feel like a visitor.

Manila will always be home

But now, things are different. I'm slowly adjusting. Today, for the first time in 8 years, I'm celebrating my birthday at home. I went to Mass and the homily was just beyond beautiful. It resonated with me in so many ways. I had to keep my tears from falling because all my favorite songs were sung from entrance to recessional. It was like the heavens speaking to me, greeting me a very happy birthday. The Mass ended with Panalangin sa Ina ng Santo Rosario, one of my many all-time favorites. I felt Mama Mary embracing me and welcoming me back home.

Thank You, Lord. I will glorify Your name all my life :)


Earlier today we dropped my brother at the airport. It was still too early to go back home so my mom and I headed to SM to kill time. We ended up in the cosmetics department and saw a brand famous for its lippies. A couple of my friends have been raving about it so I told my mom we should go and check it out. We were choosing different lipstick and lipbutter shades, picking not-too red colors and not-too matte. She asked me to choose what I think would look nice on her, and so I continued swatching several of them. I paused for a while and realized that these are the moments I have sorely missed, moments that I truly live for.

I left Taiwan last month. For good. A lot of people were shocked. I only told my close friends about it a month before my intended departure. It was not a sudden decision though. Last year after receiving my APRC, I made up my mind that I will be leaving Taiwan either late 2017, or early 2018. However, a job offer came earlier than expected and I didn't want to let go of the opportunity. I prayed so hard for guidance and enlightenment, but deep down I really knew it's time to go. Have Your way, Lord, that was what I uttered in every prayer. Wherever life takes me, He will walk with me. I was scared of the move, the adjustments, the traffic, but now that I'm home and surrounded by people I love, I need not fear anything. They are my home. I am home. Thank You, Lord, for bringing me back home.

A day before I started working, I went to Mass to offer praise and thanksgiving. I survived packing boxes, filing last minute documents and moving out because of all the people who reached out to help. I was dead tired before I left... All I wanted to do was hop on the plane and leave, but with 3 more pieces of luggage waiting to be packed, I had to soldier on.

I'm extremely grateful to everyone for all their love and support. The photo below was probably me telling my friends who showed up at the airport to please stop crying!!!
I will write more on my 'journey home' when I have the time. Shout out to the Phil government for the warm welcome--- imagine 3 consecutive long weekends! I have never experienced this in Taipei!

Side note: Before she left Taiwan, I promised my good friend Hana that I will not miss her wedding day... even if I was barely a week at work, I took the courage to file for a leave for you and only you my love! May God bless your marriage, Han! It was the simplest, smallest, most beautiful wedding I have ever attended. They pulled off this super secret wedding of the year :)

Weekends are Love

My weekends are for doing nothing. I wash my laundry and do other chores on a weekday so I can have the weekend all to myself- doing  nothing. I wake up late, have a toast smeared with a thick layer of peanut butter, choose a Spotify playlist and just bum around. I go out to get lunch take a late shower and put on hair mask. But on some rare weekends, I get brunch invites and go on random escapades.

My friend chose this really nice cafe in faraway Banqiao-landia (which does not seem too far if you take the subway-blue line) for our brunch date some weeks ago. The food was simple but tasty, and look at that cup of matcha!
Merci Cafe
No. 17, Lane 7, Xinmin Street, Banqiao District, New Taipei City, 220

Hydrangea flowers were trending on Instagram and we wanted to see them up close. We did some research and found a farm located somewhere in Beitou. We thought it was an open farm where visitors can just enter and take photos, but the farm was private-owned and the owners made a pretty good business out of it by charging an entrance fee of NT$ 100. Oops. The flowers were really beautiful, I wonder if hydrangeas grow in the tropics... Has anyone seen them in the Philippines?

竹子湖高家繍球花田 Hydrangea Farm 
112, Taipei City, Beitou District, Zhu Zi Hu Road 30號
Take S9 from Beitou MRT and get off at Hu Tian Qiao (stop after Zhu Zi Hu)

Lazy Summer Days

Wait, what? June is almost over? Can we all slow down just for a while and... eat ice cream? What have you been doing lately? It's summer where I am and instead of hitting the beach (huhu is there a nice one that does not involve a bus and train ride), I'm hitting the sack--- really! I turn on the AC for an hour, grab my Kindle and fall fast asleep on a ridiculously hot Saturday afternoon. But there are times when I also think of things to do- laundry, iron, clean- stuff that do not require stepping out of the house.

Anyhooo. Some life and food updates.

TOCFL exam
I finally had the courage to take the TOCFL (Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language) exam and thankfully passed Level 3. I took the pilot test before the formal exam to know how it is going to be. For those who are required to take TOCFL, I suggest taking the pilot test too. I know it's time consuming (both exams run for 2 hours, a month apart) but at least you'll have an idea how it's done. Visit this website for more information.

Baba Kevin's American BBQ
Meat overload!!! Would highly recommend this to a meat-loving human being. I enjoyed everything on my plate, except for the corn muffin-- it was as dry as the Sahara. Order different sets on the menu so you can try a variety of barbecued meats.
No. 6, Lane 115, Minsheng E. Road, Sec. 2

La Petite Perle 小珍珠烘焙坊
I accompanied my colleague to La Petite Perle last week to buy some pineapple cakes and cinnamon rolls. I've always passed by this quaint bakeshop on my way to Yongkang Street from church, but never really bothered checking it out. Colleague said their pineapple cake is better (and cheaper at 35NT apiece) than Chia Te. I had to try and boy she was right. It does not taste too.... commercialized. They don't bake a lot though so better call and reserve.
No. 25, Lane 243, Jinhua Street, Da’an District, Taipei City, 106 (02 2394 4222)

Philippine Independence Day celebration
Nothing really exciting this year. Well except for the new representative of the Phils to Taiwan Amb. Banayo. And free Carmen's Best ice cream. And sige na nga, the Tanduay Drinks bar. No raffle draw and the food was nothing spectacular (last year was better).

The Renovation Story

It all started with this new flatscreen TV that my brother bought as a gift for my mom. When asked when she already opened the box of her new toy, she simply shrugged and said she has nowhere to place it (wow kung maka first world problem si mother haha!).

So then I thought of getting her a new TV stand, but that would mean getting rid of the old cabinet and emptying it of all the mess on display. And we don't know where to place the cabinet if we dismantle it. I took note of these things and put them on the back burner.

Late last year, I dropped by Ikea after work one weeknight because of my meatball cravings. After having my fill of meatballs, I took a stroll and was just too happy to see all the living room inspirations. Days after, I asked my mom to send me a photo of our living room. It looked so sad, so lifeless. I saved it on my desktop and started pinning designs on Pinterest. 

I went home for Christmas and announced my plan while we were eating our noche buena in Cagayan. I will have the living room in Manila renovated. As expected, our old man protested. There’s no need to do such and such yada yada yada, he said. But I gained strong support from my cousins. My reason was simple- I want a nice place to come home to, even if I'm only home a few times a year. My father did not seem to understand, while my mother was at first half-hearted. 

During my Chinese New Year vacation, I met with my interior designer friend and contractors to discuss the plan. We agreed on the simple re-tile, re-paint and updating of some furniture. I set a budget, transferred it to my mom's account who was the overall manager of this project (THANK YOU SO MUCH MA!!!). Like a jolt of lightning, my mom's interest on this renovation picked up and she cant stop sending me photos of the things she wanted for the living room. I had to remind her of our budget. 

The renovation was in full swing in February. The re-tiling was finished around early-March, the electrical part around mid-March, and the re-painting by end-March. The tv stand, new dining set and others were delivered just before everyone went home for Holy Week. 

Now here’s how our living room looked like before the major makeover. The interior was just too drab. We could not let go of the narra set because (1) it’s tooooo heavy and it was probably my parent’s first set of furniture when they decided to buy a house in Manila in the early 80s--- yes we live in an old building with no elevator so the least we can do is prettify our place huhuhu--- and (2) the couch I want is just way too expensive. Maybe next time.

My problem on where to store the tv cabinet after dismantling (and also the old dining set) was solved by donating them to ReStore by Habitat for Humanity Philippines. They accept slightly used furniture, home appliances, and building materials. They only accept items that are in good condition. I hope some families are now happily using the tv cabinet and our dining set. If you're interested to donate some items, you may inquire through this email restore@habitat.org.ph and someone from their office will get in touch with you. 

And now, the most awaited "after" photo. In the end, we had the sala set re-upholstered and it came out really nice! I found the upholstery shop online- the most reasonably-priced and friendliest from the 3 shops that I contacted. I highly recommend Capistrano Upholstery~ Search for them on Facebook! I inquired via FB messenger and they responded within the day. 

The curtains- both sheer and solid colors- and throw pillows are all from Ikea. My interior designer friend suggested a mix of yellows and blues- hence the color of the curtain and pillows. He also recommended what colors should be used for painting, and had the final say on all the tiles my mom had earlier chosen. 

I'm happy to report that we didn't go beyond the budget. I also did not touch my emergency fund but I hustled like crazy so I can buy the dining set I've been crushing on. We also set up a work area for my brother. It used to be our computer area when were all in school. The wall shelves, work desk, and dolly chair are from Furniture Source PH. I ordered and paid online via Paypal and had them delivered. They also installed the wall shelves for an additional fee.

The TV stand and the dining set were on sale at Blims Furniture Macapagal Store. I originally wanted a white TV stand from Ikea but when I checked its price with Ikea distributor Furniture Source PH, it was too expensive at Php 15,000 without delivery and assembly fee. This TV stand from Blims was only less than Php 10,000 so I opted for this. It's simple and complements the dining table really well. They also delivered and assembled both the TV stand and dining set for a very minimal fee.

I spent so much time at home during my last visit. Instead of eating out, I asked my mom if she can cook daing na bangus for me for dinner, and she happily obliged. For lunch, we had our favorite porkchops delivered and we ate at home. Dapat masulit yang dining table na yan. It was the most expensive thing next to the labor I paid for re-tiling. Nakakaloka. 

I still can't believe we were able to pull off this renovation project, thanks to the flatscreen TV that started it all. The first time I opened our door and saw our new living room, I remember whispering my thanks to God for making it possible. Thank You, Lord!!! 

Recent Highlights

Hi! Just thought of writing a quick entry before going on a short vacation. I've been clinging onto the verse above for the past 2 months. I'm a worrier and an over thinker. I always say I surrender everything to Him and try my best to rest in His love, but it is easier said than done. But this week, there's no more heaviness in my chest because I have again experienced His infinite goodness and mercy. Here's to hoping things will fall into place, in His time.

My stress busters come in the form of wings, fries and burgers. Thank you, friends for sharing all the calories with me. And a bowl of hot sesame mochi served over shaved ice with osmathus syrup to complete a calorific meal. Buuuurp.

And presenting to you my beautiful plate of DIY burrito during our church mate Lauren's birthday celebration! The taco-burrito spread was so gooooood!!!

Have a happy weekend! I'm excited to share with you my home renovation project. I hope I can write about it next week :)

Random Saturday Thoughts

I wish the weather now is as nice as the photo above. The nonstop rain makes me too lazy to get up and even go out to buy lunch.

  • I’m currently watching Masterchef Junior on the new flatscreen TV ‘given’ to me by my landlord. I complained last time how my TV has not been working and he generously changed it to a new, sleeker one. Dang these junior chefs are amazing… using blowtorch and making smores cupcakes, chocolate ganache tart, steak crostinis… And how can they be so much more mature than those competing in the Masterchef adult edition?
  • More than 40 days of not shopping has left me with a very strong urge to go to Zara. And go to Zara I did. I picked two pairs of chinos because most of my slacks have become baggy— result of too much spinning from the washer, and a dress just because it’s spring! But I need to justify my purchases by saying that they are all for daily office wear hehe.
  • Last week was one of the longest weeks of my life. I still do not know how it was possible for us to organize a Triduum without our church’s “main people,” but we did it. Thank You Lord! Also, a group of Malaysians who attended the Triduum learned about the Holy Week Service through my blog heehee *blush*. I was shy to tell them I was that blogger but I was too happy to learn somebody benefitted from the English Mass post! 
  • BFF time with Monnette. Thank you, Coldplay for having your concert here! Hay I missed having my closest friends to talk to.      

  • Our living-dining room renovation is almost complete! The re-tiling is done, as well as re-painting. The tv cabinet and dining set have all been delivered and assembled. My interior-designer friend said it looks like a Rockwell condo (haha Binondo version nga lang!). I will be home next month to decorate the wall shelves and our mini work area. Still searching for my dream couch, but I had our narra sala set re-upholstered while saving up for a new one. 

The coming week is pretty crucial for me, career-wise. Please, please help me pray for it. Happy weekend!

Taking a Breather

Hello! Thank God for long weekends! I get to pause and breathe and catch up with myself. I was MIA for several weeks because (1) I'm loaded with work, church and life stuff (2) I attended a training in South Korea (3) There are just too many things I need to do I can't even keep up, but most importantly because (4) It's Lent, and as much as possible I want to stay away from all the noise and just enjoy the silence, hoping to hear His voice in that quietude.

The past couple of days I went nature tripping with friends. Most of the time, I just marveled at the beauty of God's creations, whispering how there is so much trouble, how people are suffering on the other side of the world, but still thanking Him for the opportunity to live this life and breathe in all His love and greatness.

I will leave you with some photos, which I hope will also inspire you to quiet down, reflect and find meaning on all the things we are going through.

May we all have a blessed and meaningful Lent.

Above photos are taken at the following places: Yang Ming Mountain, Fugui Cave Light House, Laomei Stone Ditches and Danshui. 

7 Days of Fun in Japan

We booked a promo fare with Vanilla Air October last year, way before I decided to give our living room in Manila a face lift (our contractors are re-tiling as I write). I actually thought of backing out in January because of the expenses, but when I was able to set aside a portion of my bonus for my pocket money and still have more than enough left for the renovation, I didn't think twice. Afterall, the Taipei to Tokyo plane fare and our accommodation were at bargain price. So when we received our visa (which by the way, is gratis or free of charge here in Taiwan) and had our vacation leaves approved, we were all set for 7 days of fun in Japan!

Breakdown of expenses
Before I share our itinerary, here's a breakdown of our expenses. I'm happy to report that 50,000 pesos (NT$30,000) was enough to cover our trip BUT this does not include our pocket money.

  1. Plane ticket NT$ 7500 (Php 12,000)
  2. Air b&b NT$ 8000 (Php 12,800)
  3. JR Pass NT$ 8000 (Php 12,800)
  4. USJ Ticket NT$ 3865 (Php 6,100) *we availed of the Express Pass 4*
  5. Data Sim NT$ 670  (Php 1,100)
Total: NT$ 28,035 or Php 44,856

I'm sure you can still make some adjustments- like the Air b&b we chose in Osaka was on the more expensive side, having 3 rooms and 3 bathrooms. We also had to purchase a 7-day JR Pass because we wanted to visit Osaka-Kyoto-Tokyo (plus Niigata for me, and Hokkaido for two of my friends). You can use this pass for all JR line trains anywhere in Japan. Such a good deal! You may also opt not to get the Express Pass for USJ if you are willing to wait in line for the rides. However, I do recommend buying the pass because it will save you so much time and energy. The data sim on the other hand was helpful for me since I needed to communicate with my mom (on renovation stuff) while in transit.

The amount you need to save for your pocket money will largely depend on your "traveling style"- the food you want to eat, the stuff you want to buy. This was the only trip in my lifetime (sorry for exaggerating but it's true!) wherein I didn't swipe my card. I think my mom sending me constant updates and photos of her purchases (cement, sand, tiles) did help a lot hehe!

Day 1: Taipei-Tokyo-Osaka
We left Taipei early morning and arrived Narita Airport around lunchtime. After a quick lunch we proceeded to Narita Terminal 2 to have our JR passes exchanged. When exchanging your JR pass, remember to reserve seats for ALL your train trips, including Narita Express. It will be helpful if you know the exact schedule of the train you want to take (check www.hyperdia.com) to make the reservation easy. You need to take the manned exits in all stations if you are a JR Pass holder.
We arrived Shin-Osaka station at around 6pm, left our stuff in the apartment and headed to Dotonbori (Namba Station) for dinner and sight seeing. Trains and subways in Japan can get pretty stressful. I suggest downloading NAVITIME for Japan Travel app to know how to get from one train station to another. It also prioritizes Japan Rail Pass routes and lets you know how much the ticket will cost if you take non-JR lines.

 Dotonbori with the famous "Glico Man"

Ichiran Ramen for dinner and takoyaki, okonomiyaki for post-dinner

Day 2: Universal Studios Osaka
The highlight for me was none other than the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even though I want to forget that I got very dizzy and felt like throwing up after the Forbidden Journey ride, it was all worth it! Nakakahiya somebody even had to assist me on my way out hahaha!

Day 3: Kyoto
Upon checking out our Air B&B, we left Osaka and took the train to Kyoto. We left our luggage at the baggage deposit area located on Basement 1 of the Kyoto Station. The baggage deposit area is only open until 8:30pm so be sure to claim your things before 8:30pm. It is more cost-efficient to leave your things at the deposit area, instead of using the lockers (We paid only 500yen each for 5 pieces of luggage, while the lockers cost 750yen). We took the same JR line train to Fushimi-Inari Station. After taking some photos, we had a quick bite at the food street and found our way back to Kyoto Station.

From Kyoto Station, we boarded the train to Kitaoji Station and hailed a cab that will take us to Kinkakuji Temple. There are buses available, but since we're pressed for time, we had to take a cab. I really have no words for this golden temple! So beautiful!!! From Kinkakuji, we took a cab to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, before going back to Kyoto Station and took the bullet train to Tokyo. Please note that it is a 40-minute train ride from Kinkakuji to Arashiyama, and a stress-free 20-minute ride by cab.

Day 4-5: Tokyo/Niigata 
I left early morning to Niigata to meet my church friends and goddaughters. They moved to Japan over a year ago and the little ones made me promise that I come for a visit. While I was in Niigata, one of my friends booked a Mt. Fuji tour, and the rest took their own time and wandered around Tokyo. They also went to Tsukiji market and made good use of the JR pass by squeezing in a day trip to Hokkaido.


Day 6: Tokyo
I went back to Tokyo for some shopping in Shinjuku and Harajuku. I caught the Anello 'bug' and purchased a navy blue one on a whim. When I converted the price, the bag costs only NT$1000, it was 可惜 not to get it. Below is a collage of all the drinks I tried and loved in Japan. The Starbucks Sakura Latte tastes like a dream!!!

Day 7: Back to Taipei
We took the first Narita Express train from Shinjuku to Terminal 2 and it was time to say Sayonara. Ahhhhhhhh. That was a really nice vacation. Food, sight seeing, catching up. I wish I can have more days like these so I can stop thinking about life.

Until next time, Japan!