Loyal Teachers, the pearl of great price

Schools are also embattled with disgruntled employees. Teachers, in pairs or in droves, would prematurely leave their current employer for several reasons. It could be an unexpected hiring in a foreign school with a different school year, or because of their lack of trust in their superior. Whatever it may be, hardly will there be a reason that can justify a teacher’s leaving without having to call the act selfish.

The teaching profession is a different specie. It’s not that easy to just leave the teaching job in the middle of the school year.

Consequences of leaving mid-year

Some, perhaps, are not aware of the dire consequences of making this decision to leave mid-year. Allow me to enumerate:

  • First and foremost, the students suffer. Students are affected when a teacher leaves them suddenly. They are very perceptive. Grade 3 students are also perceptive.
  • The grades of your students will be greatly affected if two teachers will compute their grades. Maybe it’s not too much of the computation of grades since there is a formula, but the type of tests that the new teacher will make will be different. It may be easier, or more difficult than the last one. Students will again have to adjust.
  • Your co-teachers will take your 21-unit load. Not everyone can teach the subject you gave up, so maybe only 1 or 2 teachers will share your 21 units. If these teachers already have 21 units, then they will have additional 11 units. Teachers will become more stressed despite the overload pay, and will eventually resign.
  • If you are a class adviser, you have already betrayed your students. Classes have become more “possessive” these days of their adviser. They feel that their adviser is the one who understands them the most and would be their strong defender. Then, their adviser leaves them behind.
  • Overall, students’ learning is compromised.

There are other consequences that probably don’t matter to the resigned, but they are worth mentioning as well:

  • Administrators will have a difficult time looking for a replacement teacher in the middle of the school year when most teachers are already employed.
  • It’s a lost investment. The school has trained you during in-service trainings, sent you to attend seminars, mentored you (if any), and took care of you.

If someone resigns despite knowing these consequences, there are will only be two reasons:

  1. The teacher has really urgent concerns that are a matter of life and death, or an issue that affects her immediate family members.
  2. The teacher is just simply, well, to put it bluntly, selfish. He/She wants a better paying job. He/She has disagreements with his/her superior. He/She has complaints against the institution he/she has not voiced out.

“This is very good!”

Fr. Bobby SDB celebrated mass at our school and his homily tackled this mantra that up to now rings inside the classrooms being blurted out by our students: “This is very good!” He maintains that every seeming evil situation brings with it something very good as well.

What is very good, then, about cases like these that haunt your institution?

  • Opportunity for administrators to reflect and re-evaluate the organizational structure that may have contributed to higher rates of premature resignations.
  • For all we know, it is/was a good riddance.
  • (Possibility of) Hiring of a better teacher, a more loyal teacher.

Last words

I could be wrong. I could be right. These are just my observations, and I don’t mean to make this sound research-based at all.

A great teacher is a loyal teacher. He/She doesn’t have to be loyal to the institution — it is enough that his/her loyalty to her students keep her until the end of the school year. If a teacher does exactly this before he/she applies, administrators should fight to keep him/her because he/she knows what teaching is really all about: about education. Truly, these are pearls of great price. Definitely worth keeping and fighting for.

…and the irony is that the resumé that qualified the teacher in another institution is printed using the school’s colored laser printer.

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Singapore Bus Tour 2013

Since we were starting a 1:1 Program in school, we were invited by Apple Education South Asia to join a Singapore Bus Tour last week. During a “Bus Tour”, administrators and decision makers in schools who are starting to implement a 1:1 program visit schools who are already implementing it to learn from their experiences.

A 1:1 Program refers to 1 Learning Device (iPad, Tablet, iPod, Macbook, Laptop) to 1 Student.

During this particular tour from August 19-20, 2013, participants come from all over South Asia: Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Philippines.

Here is a simple summary of our visit to different Singapore Schools:

Anglo-Christian School (Barker Rd.)

The group of 110 participants were divided into three smaller groups. Each group has its own itinerary, but there are venues where everyone gathers in one place. In my group/bus, ACS is our first stop.
In a nutshell:
1:1 Program                                         1 Macbook : 1 Student
Curriculum Framework                   Project-based, Collaborative Learning
1:1 Users                                               Sec 1 and Sec 2 (Grade 7 and 8 PH Standards)
Who buys units                                  Parents buy for their children
Bandwidth                                           100 MBPS/300 students
Classroom Setup                               LCD Projector, Speakers, Charging station
Security                                                 CCTV in all classrooms, Lockers outside classrooms
Software                                               Google Docs
Tech Support                                      In-house servicing (done only during recess or after school)
Teacher Training                                1 ICT Mentor per Level
Challenges                                           Teacher training
Highlights:
  • Infrastructure must be up and running
  • Devices are not paperweights; learning devices should engage students in learning
  • It is important that teachers believe strongly in the system (Why before the how)
  • Cyberwellness should be discussed with the students (e.g. cyberbullying, responsible use of technology)
  • Technology is an enhancer for academic learning

Apple Education South Asia Office

After ACS Barker, we passed by the Apple office for a quick snack and orientation on the role of learning devices inside the classroom. Of course, examples used were Apple products, but I would like to reiterate that this is true for all OS, but perhaps not as equally good.

Main points:
  • Allot 10%-15% of budget for professional development because learning devices are nothing without great pedagogical training
  • Learning has become more fun with the 1:1 program
  • SAMR and TPCK Models of learning with technology
  • Learning has become more student centered.
  • Student motivation to learn also increased

De La Salle Zobel Experience, Br. Dennis Magbanua FSC, Apple Distinguished Educator

During our visit at the Apple office, Br. Dennis Magbanua FSC, former president of De La Salle Zobel (DLSZ), now the President of De La Salle College of St. Benilde, also an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), gave a brief description of the back-end experiences of implementing the 1:1 program in DLSZ.
  • Long term goals of 1:1 Program: Creative thinking, self-direct learning and mastery
  • Short term goals of 1:1 Program: Excel in academics
  • Responsible use of the mobile learning device (MLD) – should focus on the word “learning” in the term “learning device”
  • Strong home-school collaboration is needed for the program to work
  • Sooner or later, the place of the teacher will now be at the back of the classroom
  • The school uses less mobile management apps, but more home-school collaboration
  • The pilot phase of the program is “exploration” of the MLD as a learning tool
  • Challenges: Teacher training, home-school collaboration

Nanyang Girls School, Nanhua Primary School

After lunch, we proceeded to the Marina Barrage. We had a quick tour there and learned about how Singapore copes with the lack of fresh water. They are able to build technology to filtrate salt water to fresh water, and created a basin for rain water (which they emphasize as free fresh water) for distribution in Singapore. Aside from that, we had a great view of the Marina from the roof deck of the Barrage.
After the tour, we proceeded to a lecture room where all three groups gathered to listen to representatives from two other Singapore schools implementing the 1:1 program: Nanyang Girls School and Nanhua Primary School.

Nanyang Girls School, Mark Shone, ADE

Mark Shone, ADE, spoke to us about the principles behind the implementation of the 1:1 Program in Nanyang Girls school. Here are the highlights of his talk.
  • It’s not anymore Generation X, Y, or even Z, it’s now Generation IT
  • Technology is not anymore confined to just the Computer Laboratories, but is not brought into each classroom with the 1:1 program
  • iPad apps are very intuitive. There is no need to spend time to teach students how to use the app. Student learn already how to use them.
  • Students do become addicted to using the device. This is where home-school collaboration plays a big role in making the program successful.
  • Yes, students can become distracted using the learning device (because it is engaging); however, we have to remember that with or without it, distraction is a reality.
  • Some problems that we encounter is conflict with traditional exams and assessment forms.
  • Using learning devices will force the teacher to change how you teach, i.e., to teach more by talking less
Matthew, Music Teacher. Some tips and experiences.
  • Using the Garage Band app to make music.
  • Students post their work on wikis, and classmates are able to critique work
  • Rule: Critique your own work first before critiquing others’.
Mark, Physics Teacher. Some tips and experiences.
  • You can actually use Keynote for students to fill in the blanks by asking them to download your Keynote and answers can be clicked and dragged to the blanks, or they simply add words in the presentation
  • Students use clinometer to measure angle of the rocket launch, and use a motion analysis app to make a velocity time graph
  • Teachers can also record their lesson and upload it online and ask students to download re-learn the lesson
  • The problem is not the device (being distracting and addictive), but it is the users. Thus, we need to train the users to use the LD’s responsibly

Nanhua Primary School, Thomas

  • Technology is nothing without good pedagogy
  • Innovator of “A Classroom of Possibilities”
  • Technology can be used as a collaborative tool
  • With the 1:1 program, each student has a voice
  • “The fishbowl” environment/effect: When someone is looking at you, you do your best. Same when you publish your work online making your work available for others’ critiquing.

School of Science and Technology (SST)

The Vice President, Mrs. Chew Wai Lee, introduced us to the concept school they call School of Science and Technology.
  • The 1:1 program is not just about developing ICT or using the latest in ICT, but also about pedagogical training since teachers come in the school with different pedagogical styles.
  • Curriculum Framework: Applied Learning Approach. Engaging students in a 1:1 platform. “Student-fronted” curriculum. Students are self-directed, self-motivated learners guided by their teachers (who act as mentors).
  • Students receive guidance in using the learning devices.
  • Learning is dynamic. With the gadget, information is already at our fingertips. What teachers need to know now is to teach the students at the conceptual level (enduring understanding).
  • “Disciplinarity”: How each department/field sees the world is different. A maths person will see the world differently from a humanities person. How powerful our students will be if we teach them how to see the world from several point views.
  • Collaboration requires real knowledge on how to collaborate. This has to be taught.
  • Real-world context has to be used for “enduring understanding”
  • “Applied learning” is not the same as vocation training. Applied learning refers to the following facets: active, relevant, authentic, community-focused, integrated, learner-centered, and process-focused.
  • School leaders do not have to be ICT experts. The role of school leaders is to support. You have to be able to say that ICT is non-negotiable, then set up structure and processes to enable the teachers to do what they need to do.
  • Teachers are resistant to technology not because they don’t want it, but they just have not seen what it can do.
  • ICT is useless if you don’t have mastery and pedagogical knowledge.
  • Challenge-based learning.

Mr. Johari, Math teacher

  • In Math, drills are still important.
  • With the device, or students being online, each student has a voice. Students can ask questions, and give their opinion.
  • Math should be contextualized. Teacher must be able to put the formulae into real world (accessible world) situations. For example, you present to the students the idea that the ground has to be level. Then you ask, “But how do you ensure that the ground is level, and not hilly?” Just with this question, students are challenged to think logically and apply mathematical assumptions into real world situations.
  • Teachers start with pedagogy. Teachers make a decision that the lesson has to be collaborative. From the choice of pedagogy, the teacher decides what devices, software is needed to work collaboratively. In collaborative learning, peer assessment is a component.
  • Technology is just a vehicle from point A to point B. Pedagogy is the driver.
  • Since each student now has a voice, collaborative outputs is the key to grading easily.
  • With 1:1 program, teachers can now focus more on individual learners’ problems in understanding the concept.
  • Important: The device is not the students’ but the parents’. The parents have to take charge in monitoring and restricting the use of the learning device.
In a nutshell:
1:1 Program                                         1 Macbook : 1 Student
Curriculum Framework                   Challenge-based, Applied Learning Approach, Collaborative Learning
1:1 Users                                               All levels
Who buys units                                  Parents buy for their children
Bandwidth                                           Unknown
Classroom Setup                               LCD Projector, Speakers
Security                                                 Lockers outside classrooms
Software                                               Google Docs
Tech Support                                      In-house servicing for a fee
Teacher Training                                Regular subject meetings to share and plan lessons
Challenges                                           Teacher training


Edgefield Secondary School


The last school we visited is the Edgefield Secondary School. This school specializes on implementing a Challenge-based Learning approach.
Highlights of the school:
Students schedule includes a period dedicated only to Challenge-based Learning class. Almost allotting a UbD class as a separate and autonomous class.
Closely engaging with Apple Education Singapore for teacher training courses
CBL helps the students focus on universal challenges with local solutions.
CBL requires students to do something rather than just learn about something. 
Edgefield also compared Project-based Learning with Challenge-based learning:
Project-based Learning
Interdisciplinary
Collaborative
Learning focused on expected outcomes
Problem-oriented, sometimes simulated
Teacher-directed
Limited access to information with technology
Activities and solutions may be somewhat scripted
Concept-oriented
Not easily scalable
Solution shared locally
Challenge-based Learning
Interdisciplinary
Collaborative
Learning focused on Student-designed questions and solutions
Authentic, Real-world problems
Student-directed
Teacher as collaborator
24/7 access to tools, experts, and resources with technology
Created and open-ended activities and solutions
Action-oriented
Scalable to a broader context the following school year
Solution published online (global access) and put into action
In a nutshell:
1:1 Program   1 Macbook : 1 Student
Curriculum Framework     Challenge-based Learning Framework, 5 Minds of the Future
1:1 Users Year 1 and Year 2 
Who buys units   Parents buy for their children
Bandwidth 100 MBPS/300 students
Classroom Setup   LCD Projector, Speakers
Security     Lockers outside classrooms (for securing units during recess and lunch)
Software   Google Docs, Wikis, iLife Suite, iWork, Logic Mills
Tech Support Unknown
Teacher Training Regular subject meetings to share and plan lessons
Challenges   Teacher training

Our do-it-yourself Europe Itinerary

This is a do-it-yourself (semi-backpacking) Europe trip we made. It wasn’t perfect because our trip started on a Wednesday in Rome. Better start this itinerary on a Monday so you won’t miss the Papal audience scheduled on Wednesday mornings.

Rome

Day 1: Ancient Rome Tour

  • Santa Croce in Jerusalem (Relics of the True Cross)
  • St. John Lateran (Seat of the Bishop of Rome, get a relic of Bl. John Paul II at the Offices behind the Church)
  • Scala Santa  (walk up the stairs on your knees that had blood drops of Jesus on the steps)
  • Colosseo (appreciate the geometrical genius behind the making of this structure)
  • Roman Forums (Imagine how the Romans spent their time before the age of technology)

Day 2: Vatican City and Across the Trastevere

  • Vatican Museum (spend 2 hours at least, appreciate the passion of artists to glorify God in their amazing art works – especially Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel)
  • Santa Maria in Trastevere (Oldest Church dedicated to Our Lady)
  • Santa Cecilia (Remains of St. Cecilia, patron saint of Music)
  • Santa Maria in Cosmedin (Bocca Verita)
  • Circus Maximus (Imagine how the races were held)
  • Castel S’ant Angelo

Day 3: Florence (Day trip)

  • San Lorenzo Market (Buy tons of leather goods, murano glass)
  • Basilica of San Lorenzo
  • Duomo/Baptistry (Appreciate the design, the mosaic, sheer human work of art)
  • Basilica di Santa Croce (see tombs of Michelangelo, Rossini, Galileo, Dante)
  • Piazza Della Signora (Statue of Medici on a horse, Fountain of Neptune, Replica of David, Loggia di Lazi, Uffizi Gallery
  • Ponte Vecchio (Classic Florence background)
  • Walk along Via S. Maria for shops
  • Visit Dante Alighieri’s house

Day 4: Revisit/Shopping

Must eat: Pizza, Gelato, Lasagna

Vienna

Day 1: Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens (Relax, unwind, visit the zoo, climb up to see the Victory arc uphill)

Day 2: Heart of Vienna Tour

  • Hofburg Palace (Government palace)
  • Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral, appreciate the roof, the colorful stained glass)
  • Spanish Riding School guided tour (For the equestrians, learn how riders are trained and how they take care of their white horses)
  • Mozarthaus (Learn about the life and works of Mozart)
  • Beethoven’s Memorial (picture-picture!)
  • Dinner at Naschmarket (try a Schnitzel)

Day 3: Tribute to Musicians and a return to the Heart of Vienna

  • “Musiker” group of graves at the Central Cemetery via U3 to Simmering and Tram #6. Enter through the main gate, walk 150 m straight toward the Church. Walk along the left side of the street. Watch out for “Group 32” of graves. You’ll find the graves of great composers in that group. (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Strauss)
  • Back to Heart of Vienna: St. Peter’s Church (appreciate Baroque architecture, if you’re lucky, watch a free concert)

Must eat: Kasenkreir (yummiest cheese dog!), Sausages, schnitzel, more gelato

Madrid

Day 1: Plaza Mayor and nearby places

  • Plaza Mayor (be entertained by actors)
  • Mercato San Miguel (try artisan foods – pastries, tapas, drinks, fruits, vegetables, wine)
  • Almudena Cathedral (appreciate this newly-renovated Church and be awed by the image of Our Lady of Almudena inside)
  • Palacio Real de Madrid (See the kind of palace the Monarchs of Spain live in during May of each year)
  • Chocolateria de San Gines (Churros con chocolate!)
  • Parque Del Buen Retiro (This is one heck of a Park!)

Day 2: Museum Day

  • Prado Museum (appreciate the works of Spanish artists like Greco, Caravaggio, Velazquez, Murillo, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Goya, Dürer, and Brueghel
  • Reina Sofia Museum
  • Thyssen Museum

Day 3: Segovia

  • Roman Aquaduct
  • Alcazar (See a real Castle in the medieval ages)
  • Eat Cochinillo (Spanish version of Lechon) – tastier than Lechon, really!
  • Visit minor churches
  • Segovia Cathedral

Day 4: Shopping (Shop typical Spanish brands)

  • Mango
  • Desigual

Must eat: Churros con chocolate, cochinillo, Paella (Try Cafe e Te), Tapas, more gelato

Paris

Day 1: Shopping Center

  • Champs Elysee
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Opera House
  • Pont Alexandre III

Day 2: Museum Day

  • Louvre (see the Mona Lisa, Pyramid, Venus de Milo, Code of Hamurabi, Rameses II, Winged Victory of Samothrace)
  • Jardin de Tulieres (Relax like a native)
  • Musee D’Orsay (Expressionists and Impressionists: Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Cezanne, Degas, Manet, Delacroix, Gauguin, Seurat and avant garde works)

Day 3: Paris Center

  • Saint Chapelle (Attend a concert there)
  • Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Basilique de Sacre Coeur de Montmarte
  • Moulin Rouge (Blanche station)

Day 4: Shopping (or Window shop!)

  • Luis Vuitton
  • Yves Rocher

Must eat: Crepes, Foie gras, French breads, all the French words you can think of!

London

Day 1: Buckingham

  • Buckingham Palace (witness the changing of guards)
  • Churchill (Imperial) War Museum
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Big Ben
  • London Eye
  • Parliament Square
  • Relax at the Park

Day 2: Museum Day

  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Science Museum
  • Natural History Museum
  • Kensington Gardens/Princess Diana Memorial
  • Watch a show at the Royal Albert Hall

Day 3: London Bridge

  • Tower Bridge (the real London Bridge)
  • Ride a double-decker to Charing Cross plaza
  • Appreciate the water fountain
  • Admiralty Arch
  • Picadilly Circus (a rotunda) – Ripley’s Believe or not, walk along the “Broadway” Street (West End) of London
  • Oxford Circus (Oxford St. and Regent St.) and start shopping!

Day 4: Musical and Shopping

  • Shop along Regent St. and Oxford St.
  • Watch a musical

Must eat: Fish and chips

This is a summary of all the major places we visited during our 22-day trip. We allotted one day in each trip as allowance for shopping and if we want to revisit some places. I think this is a pretty relaxed itinerary. I’m sure we still missed a lot of places we should have gone to, but we can’t possibly visit all of them unless we want to stress ourselves out on our vacation. 😉

We need not wake up early to catch a tour. We woke up at our pace, and my sister even had time to do her jogging and gym.

Share your thoughts and suggestions on this itinerary. 🙂

Want to know how much this trip costed? Click here.

Europe Trip Costs

When my friends found out I came from a recent 22-day trip to Europe with my sister, they were all interested in how much it costed us to get through the trip.

I will try my best to re-trace the expenses we made sans the shopping costs to come up with the ultimate 22-day budget trip to Europe.

PRELIMINARIES

1st Step. Book your flight. You kinda need this to apply for your VISA. Accommodation reservations are fine. They will do for VISA application.

KLM Round Trip (Entry in Rome, Exit through London Heathrow): $1,455.00

(includes Airport Taxes including NAIA)

2nd Step. Get Insurance. I got mine through BlueCross. You can get this by faxing an application form for their policy and pay by giving them your credit card details. I didn’t experience any fraudulent transactions in my credit card.

BlueCross: P2,388 (Euro 44 Premium)

3rd Step. Get your VISAs. UK Visas (contrary to the list of requirements) are easier to get and more understanding. In my experience, Schengen VISA applied through Italian embassy, are difficult. They need more definitive bookings to prove your travel.

Schengen VISA – P2,300

UK Visa – $129.00

4th Step. Accommodation. I found out about airbnb.com which is one of the best new things I learned this year. It’s classified ads for rooms and flats worldwide being rented out by private people for short term and long term lease. I painstakingly scavenged through the ads and looked for flats that my sister and I can use for ourselves without sharing with strangers. Some might prefer, however, to mingle with other travelers.

Rome lodging: 4 nights, € 269 (for two) ~ P15,188 (P7,594/head)

Vienna lodging: 3 nights, € 184 (for two) ~ P10,341 (P5,170.50/head)

Madrid lodging: 4 nights, € 202 (for two) ~ P11,353 (P5,676.50/head)

Paris lodging: 4 nights, € 180 (for two) ~ P10,116 (P5,058/head)

London lodging: 4 nights, € 277 (for two) ~ P15,568 (P7,784/head)

NOW THAT YOU’RE IN EUROPE…

So, you already have a flight to and from Europe, and a place to sleep in. You’re now worried about the daily expenses: Museum and sights entrance fees, transportation and food.

Transportation and food costs differ from every country even if they use the same currency.

Rome

Transportation:

  • To and From the airport (Terravision): € 8.00 (per head)
  • From one sight to another: Free (walking is the cheapest way to go around)
  • Day trip to Florence: € 63.00

Food:

  • Breakfast: Our lodging served breakfast
  • Lunch and Dinner: € 10.00/head per meal (Really decent meal) x 2 meals x 5 days

Museum fees:

  • Vatican Museum: € 16.00/head
  • Colloseo/Roman Forums: € 12.00/head

Plane Fare to Vienna: Austrian Airlines = $185.00

Vienna

Transportation:

  • To and From the airport (Taxi): € 66.00
  • Train ticket: € 6.70 (one day unlimited) Vienna trains do not check tickets diligently. You can get on a tram and a subway train without swiping the card. So you can get away with this one day unlimited ride for 4 days. Just don’t get caught. If you get caught, show them your unused ticket. 🙂
  • From one sight to another: Free (walk)

Food:

  • Breakfast: We prepared our own breakfast. Just got some sausages from the nearby grocery. Bill total € 15.00.
  • Lunch and Dinner: € 10.00/head per meal (budget meal) x 2 meals x 4 days

Museum fees:

  • Spanish Riding School: € 16.00
  • Mozart Haus: € 10.00

Plane Fare to Madrid: Vueling Airlines = € 107.15

Madrid

Transportation:

  • To and From the airport (Metro): € 20.00 (Or take Aerocity Airport Shuttle for Euro 60.00)
  • Getting around Madrid: 3-Day Metro Tourist Unlimited Rides = € 18.60
  • Segovia Bus (Round Trip): € 14.55

Food:

  • Grocery for Breakfast: € 15.00
  • Lunch and Dinner: € 10.00/head per meal (Really decent meal) x 2 meals x 5 days

Museum fees:

  • Prado Museum: Free after 6:00 PM (Museum closes at 8:00 PM)
  • Alcazar (Castle in Segovia): € 4.50
  • Cathedral in Segovia: € 3.00

Plane Fare to Paris: Vueling Airlines = € 97.99

Paris

Transportation:

  • From the airport: SuperShuttle (One Way) = € 31.00
  • Getting around Paris: Paris Metro Tourist Pass (3 days, Zones 1-3) = € 23.40

Food:

  • Grocery for Breakfast: € 15.00
  • Lunch and Dinner: € 10.00/head per meal (Really decent meal) x 2 meals x 5 days

Museum fees:

  • Louvre: € 11.00
  • Musee D’Orsay: € 12.00

Train to London: Eurostar = $180.00

London

Transportation:

  • Taxi to the Airport:London Airport Transfer = £ 35.00 (for two)
  • Oyster Card (Top-up card on demand): £ 18.00 (with 15.00 load)
  • Top-up total in excess of the load: £ 17.20

Food:

  • Grocery for Breakfast: £ 15.00
  • Lunch and Dinner: £ 10.00/head per meal (Really decent meal) x 2 meals x 5 days

Museum fees:

  • Churchill Museum: £ 17.00
  • Mamma Mia (West End Musical): £ 67.50 (Stalls seat)
  • Concert at the Royal Ablert Hall: £ 70.00 (Lodge seat)

Grand Total: P189,402.07 ($4,371.15)

Benchmark: Typical 2-week Guided Tour package around key cities in Italy = $3,000.00

I think, an extra $1,371.15 is not bad to be able to visit 4 extra major cities in Europe, and visit must-see places around Europe in one trip. Especially if you’re only making this trip to Europe once in your lifetime.

Still expensive? You can scrimp on the following:

  • Food: Further lower it to Euro 7.00 per meal, or don’t eat heavy dinner.
  • Museums: Visit museums that are free on certain days/times or free all the time
  • Shows: Don’t watch
  • Transportation: Don’t take the airport shuttle. Take the Metro instead.
  • Plane Fare/Train: Book really early. Prices are way cheaper when you book at least 4 months ahead of time.

This is not the best budget traveling costing I may have come up with, but I think this is pretty realistic and reasonable for all the places we have visited, and the culture you cannot learn anywhere else than by being immersed in them.

If you have a better estimate, I’m sure my readers would also love to get some better idea. Leave your comment below for everybody’s information.

Want to see our itinerary for this trip? Click here.

Tip: Exchange your currency in your home country. They tax currency exchanges in Europe, which they call “commission”. Don’t be fooled by Money changers that advertise “No Commission” because their exchange rates are crazy high.

Hotel Centro, Puerto Princesa: A Review

I don’t normally make a review just on a hotel. Normally I place my hotel reviews on TripAdvisor, but this hotel deserves its own blog. LOL! Here it goes:

Hotel Transfer

I like this hotel because it offered free airport transfers. The hotel driver was already there outside the airport with his placard and dressed very 5-star like compared to the other representatives from other hotels and travel agencies. Impressive! They didn’t pack us all up in one van so we had more than enough space inside without the other groups rubbing their skin on ours. They placed the other group in another van. The driver even gave a simple introduction about Puerto Princesa although he didn’t speak in straight English for our foreigner co-rider but his English enunciation is quite okay mixed with some Tagalog expressions and prepositions. Not bad. 🙂

Reception

This is where it becomes a little inconvenient. We booked a Family Suite with 1 queen sized bed and a twin bed. Only 2 adults are free for this room. My sister and I needed to pay extra person fees. Okay, it’s a family suite with beds good for three persons, why pay for two extra persons? In effect we are paying for two extra persons just as expensive as getting another deluxe room. What did we do? We just booked another deluxe room. This is crazy pricing. The family suite is not worth their money. Someone else could have booked the deluxe room.

The good part is their welcome drinks. No
sarcasm here because I love their lemongrass drink! It’s the best free drink I’ve had. It was cold and refreshing I want to stick them up for it’s recipe! 🙂

The Family Suite

Upon entering your room you’re welcomed by a small living room cooled by a window type aircondition unit. Not impressive. A sliding glass door divides the master bedroom with a split type aircondition unit. So-so. The TV is small not proportionate to the room. The bathroom has unmaximized space which I think they can convert into a dresser.

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The sink space is not enough for all the women’s toiletries, vanity bags and other beauty product routines. It’s cramped. Amenities are ample.

Verdict: With 50% discount, okay, but not great.

Breakfast Buffet

Ah. The reason why this hotel deserves its own blog. 🙂

There were only 3 viands to choose from: pork tocino, hotdog sautéed in mushrooms, bell pepper, onions and ketchup, and fried lamayo. Disappointing choices for a typical Filipino family because this is just the typical breakfast we have at home. On another table, they have arroz caldo, breads, mango jam, pineapple jam, and watermelon jam. There were also fruits and cereals. The humor to this breakfast is the bread toaster that has a conveyor mechanism. Make sure you’re ready to catch the dinner roll you placed in the toaster because the dinner roll rolls! Hahaha! Gosh I was lucky the stainless tongs were open and it barred the bread from totally rolling to the floor! 😀

Overall, they basically served processed foods. Poor foreign guests who want to feel at home, they’re left with bread and fruits to eat. You wish they could serve bacon and hams that go with their bread and adobo that does not fail to please even foreign taste buds. Oh and their jams were not jams nor marmalades. They were more like chutney. Haha!

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And of course, service. There were tables that had dirty dishes laying there for almost half an hour and no staff was bussing them out. Our chosen table was not set. It didn’t have glasses and utensils and the coffee condiments were not replenished.

This review is to be continued. 🙂

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Issues on the Revised HB 4244

Reposting a commentary and critique of the amended version of the RH Bill being circulated around the internet recently by a concerned Filipino. I did not write this piece, though I share some questions that the writer posed on the effectivity and intentions of the RH Bill.

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One of the graphics pointing out the abortion-connection of the RH Bill from a recently made FB Page supporting the Bill.

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The amended version of HB 4244 has been circulated in public.  The following are some observations and questions on the latest version.   

1.     Amendments.  It would be a misnomer to call the acceptance by the anti-RH camp and the CBCP of the amendments offered by the sponsors as “compromises”.  The word “compromise” presumes that opposite sides while having different starting positions share in a desired outcome (peace in Mindanao for example in the case of the Bangsa Moro framework).  Given the intrinsically evil nature of contraceptives and contraceptive acts and the adverse consequences on families and society of a contraceptive culture, the anti-RH position can hardly agree with the inevitable outcome of the RH bill for Philippine society. The Aquino administration however seems determined to deliver an RH bill which happens to coincide with the position of Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the MCC, and as manifested by the heavy-handed way in which the period of debates in the Lower House was drastically ended last August.  If the pro-RH camp goes ahead and rams the bill through Congress, the proposed amendments may have to be accepted tactically as damage control to reduce some of the “nasty” aspects in the bill, such as the coercive provisions and the distribution of abortifacents.     

2.      Welfare economics. It seems that the House leadership has bought into the view shared by many proponents of the RH bill that they don’t really mind if the higher income couples do not practice family planning but it’s the poor who should be targeted for the government’s birth control programs.  Thus in the name of recognizing reproductive health as “universal basic human right” the key amendment to the revised  bill is the free reproductive services and supplies for the poor:  

 “[THE STATE] SHALL PRIORITIZE THE NEEDS OF POOR WOMEN AND MEN IN MARGINALIZED HOUSEHOLDS … WHO SHALL BE VOLUNTARY BENEFICIARIES OF REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH CARE, SERVICES AND SUPPLIES FOR FREE”  

 While this revision finally owns up to the ulterior motive of HB 4244 to discourage the poor from breeding, they immediately raise a lot of welfare economics questions.   

 a)   Is this really the first best, or even second-  or third- best way to help the poor?  Why prioritize free condoms, IUDs, and pills? Why not free anti-TB, anti-malaria, anti-diarrhea medicines; cheap bottled water; oral rehydration powder, etc. which would be more directed at the leading causes of illness and death among the poor?   

 b)   How will the poor be identified? The revised bill proposes: “… THROUGH THE NATIONAL HOUSEHOLD TARGETING SYSTEM FOR POVERTY REDUCTION (NHTS-PR) AND OTHER GOVERNMENT MEASURES OF IDENTIFYING MARGINALIZATION…” Is this part of the Conditional Cash Transfer apparatus? Will acceptance of contraceptives now be one of the conditions?  This NHTS-PR appears about 8 times in the revised bill and will be relied upon for eligibility for pro-bono services, anti-poverty programs, procurement and distribution to LGUs, etc.  

In effect the bill contemplates creating a class of poor Filipinos certified as such for the purpose of getting qualified as non-paying recipients of reproductive health services and supplies. This raises more questions:  

 a.     How will they be documented?  Will they be given IDs or plastic swipe cards which they can bring to drug stores to get free condoms and pills? (Unless the NHTS-PR is geared up to certify their poverty each time before they want to do the marital act).    

 b.    Will there be one ID per couple? Will they have to show a marriage certificate?  Who will keep the ID, the wife or the husband?  Shouldn’t the wife be given control of the ID?  Will a separate ID be issued to the husband who might then use it for extra- marital pursuits? 

 c.     Will an ID be issued to the other members of the poor marginalized family who have reached reproductive age?

 d.    What will be the cut-off income?  How will the government prevent poor couples from selling in a black market their free pills and condoms to non-poor couples who do not qualify?

 e.     How will the quality of the free contraceptives be controlled? Will the COA criteria apply to procure least-cost condoms that might however have high failure rates? (This will play into the hands of pro-abortion camp:   as cheap  condoms fail  there will be an increase in unwanted pregnancies among the poor.  Before long illegal abortions multiply and there would be political clamor to amend the constitution for the legalization of abortion.   This is the same slippery slope that has happened in some Catholic countries that have legalized abortion.)

 f.     The bill provides that the “(FDA) SHALL DETERMINE THE SAFETY, EFFICACY, AND CLASSIFICATION OF PRODUCTS AND SUPPLIES FOR MODERN FAMILY PLANNING METHODS PRIOR TO THEIR DISTRIBUTION, PROCUREMENT, SALE AND USE.”  Many contraceptive pills are classified as first class carcinogenics. Since the bill requires the FDA to ensure the safety of  contraceptives, when the incidence of cancer increases from the free pills distributed to the poor, will the government accept the liability and provide free cancer treatment? Or will there be a legal disclaimer at the back of each ID stating that the recipient takes the pill at her own risk and discharges the government of any liability for any harm that the pills could cause?

 c)   What is the estimated cost of providing free reproductive services and supplies to the poor?  Using round numbers 25% of Filipinos are below the poverty line according to NSCB, or 5 million of 20 million families.  Assuming 80% acceptance of free contraceptives, and P500/month cost of contraceptive supplies per family, this translates to P24 billion a year.  If you use the SWS self-rated 10 million poor families, the number goes up to P48 billion. Of course the P500 can be higher or lower depending on the contraceptives supplied.  

 a.     Following the principle of fiscal responsibility will there be revenue measures identified to fund this new expenditure program?  Will the funding come from taxes collected from the general public, including Roman Catholics?

 b.    Or will the funds come from of grants or loans form the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, Millenium Challenge Corporation, etc.?  

 3.     State interference in the family.  The revised version has the following clause: “THE STATE SHALL ALSO PROMOTE OPENNESS TO LIFE, PROVIDED THAT THE PARENTS BRING FORTH TO THE WORLD ONLY THOSE CHILDREN THAT THEY CAN RAISE IN A TRULY HUMANE WAY.”

 a) There is no definition of “TRULY HUMANE WAY”.  Who will determine and define this, the State? Will the State set quantitative criteria such as minimum nutritional requirements, square meters of living space per child, ownership of appliances, etc?  Will the State use present earning capacity or the expected permanent income of both parents?  How will it allow for the possible increase in income of the breadwinner in the future?

 b) Based on this clause, will the State then withdraw any support for openness to life if parents bring children whom they cannot raise in a “truly humane way”? 

 4.     Coercion to  cooperate in evil.  There is an amendment the purports to lessen the coercive nature of the section on “Prohibited acts” in the case of health care providers who may not refuse under penalties to extend family planning services, “Provided that the conscientious objection of a healthcare service provider based on his ethical or religious beliefs shall be respected; however HE/SHE SHALL, WITHOUT IN ANYWAY AGREEING OR ENDORSING THE FAMILY PLANNING SERVICE OR PROCEDURE REQUIRED BY THE PERSON CONCERNED, immediately refer the person seeking such care and services to another healthcare provider within the same facility…”

 a)   How can the State dictate the mental reservations of the health care provider? Conscientious objector na nga, eh.

 b)    Why is the state requiring the healthcare provider to violate his/her own internal disagreement  by requiring him to refer the case to another health care provider?

 c)    To whom or how will the health care professional report or register her “WITHOUT IN ANYWAY AGREEING OR ENDORSING” the contraceptive or IUD or the sterilization?   To her Mother Superior? To her Confessor? At her Particular Judgement after death?  

 5.     Other issues, new or carried over from the previous version.  Many of the provisions duplicatethe Magna Carta for Women which is already a law. The issue of penalties for doctors who refuse to treat failed abortions is already be covered by professional medical malpractice regulations and do not require a separate provision in an RH bill.  

In sum, while the revised bill has taken out some coercive provisions and tries to de-emphasizeabortifacents, it is a hodgepodge of awkward attempts to make it seemingly acceptable and reasonable.  It puts State power behind widespread distribution of morally and medically harmful contraceptives.  Unfortunately it now uses questionable welfare economics in the name of supposedly helping the poor. 

OTHER CONCERNS

1. What does the Bill say about effectiveness?  Does it provide equality to protection of life BOTH for the mother and the unborn child from conception?

2. Once a drug enlisted to be one of the very general term “Modern Family Planning Methods” has established doubtful effectiveness, does the Bill provides mechanism to remove it from free circulation?

3. If the Bill does not promote abortion, then any “abortifacient” or effect to increase likelihood of abortion (chemical or mechanical) within the list of “Modern Family Planning Products” must also be removed.  Is there a mechanism for this provided for by the Bill?

4. It is true that in the amended version of the Bill, the “Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with the determination of the safety, efficacy and classification” of the Modern Family Planning products, however the same Bill must place criteria for “safety” and “efficacy”.  Moreover, products that are neither “drug” nor “food” such as condoms must also be taken cared of, unless this product is under FDA authority.

 5. Once becoming a law, will it automatically revise or amend, the Revised Penal Code?  Part of every new law is to amend or change pre-existing laws contrary to it, except the Constitution.  If “yes”, then the assumption that abortion is “already” illegal seems to become invalid eventually.

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A Decade of Educating: Reflections

I have spent the longest time in my current academe employer than any other job I held. In these more than 10 years teaching, I was never the same teacher when I first entered my first class — no one should ever be.

I had the honor to be able to speak to future educators this afternoon. It was more of an honor for me to speak to them than the other way around. I don’t get the opportunity like this to inspire them and keep the passion and idealism in them. The talk I had with them was equally inspiring. It gave me the chance to reflect on my 10 years of teaching. To be honest, it wasn’t difficult to answer the questions they posed to me. I could easily summarize my answer to just this: Please only God.

Some people have wondered and admired my confidence and my peace. These people ask me how come I don’t have any hang-ups. It’s because I learned to only please God when I work, when I decide. I don’t try to please anyone with the way I work. I don’t teach with the goal in mind that I want my students to love me; that I want to be the most popular teacher in school. As long as you know you are doing the right thing and what ought to be done knowing that these will please God, then there is nothing to fear. There is no reason for us to complicate our lives.

Complaints? Sure I complain about many things at work, but I always go back to the fact that no institution is perfect, because it is run by people who also commit mistakes, myself included. I am not perfect. I am not the perfect teacher, nor a perfect friend. If I want a perfect boss or even a perfect colleague, only God will fit the bill. And if complaints need to be addressed, I talk to the right person who can address these concerns. Complain not with anger, but out of concern always. In this way, you also achieve peace.

Anxious about getting promoted or demoted? I have no qualms about losing my position, because I never asked for it. I see my special role in school as a privilege, not as a right. If we start seeing them as a right, then that’s when we start being anxious about losing our post. I don’t work to get promoted. I work solely because I want to please God, to show my appreciate for the One who gave me the skills and the talents. Promotion? A mere consequence. In fact, in the academic setting, it’s an extra task that your superiors think you can  handle. More than a promotion, it’s an additional burden.

Stop looking at other people at work, at your boss, and begin looking at yourself more — how you do your work, how you inspire other people through your work.

Life is simple. You can live a life without hang-ups, worries. You can achieve a lot of great things without directly wanting them, but by achieving as a mere consequence of only one thing: to please God.

Ten full years I have already spent teaching, and many other things in between, and doing only one thing consistently, it is enough to make God smile with my efforts. If God allows that I see the fruits of my labor while here on earth, I thank God for these bonuses.

To God be all the glory.

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Food Trip during the Semestral Break 2012

A week long break is not enough. If it were enought, I would be raring to go back to work. As of this writing, I’m not. I still have the Monday blues. Can’t wait until Christmas break, and then, of course, summer break which I still have to plan. I’m just glad local elections is 3 days before reporting day to work. >:)

Anyway, so I spent my break eating — the least I need right now, really. Thank goodness for Zumba. I am going to feature 3 restaurants in this blog: 2 of which is my first time to try and the other one, well, I just wanted to finally say something about it.

Uncle Cheffy (Solenad 1, Nuvali)

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Crispy bacon Panizza (Half) – 8 small slices

No one has told me about this store, but for some reason, this always full during weekends and holidays. Aside from that, I would see their signs in Ortigas. So I thought, since this dinner is sponsored (not by any brand), might as well try something new.

My sister and I decided to get their best seller: the Panizza. It’s our first time, no one explained how to eat their Panizza, so we thought we’d try to imitate the picture on their drawing. The Panizza came with diced tomatoes, lettuce leaves, and alfalfa. We started placing all the three sidings on our Panizza slices and started rolling. The moment of judgment arrived and we bit into our Panizza. Superb! The crust is perfectly baked, and the cheese is just tasty and perfect with the veggies. It was a pizza sandwich. Imagine eating pizza with lettuce. Interesting. But imagine eating a sandwich with mozzarella cheese and pizza dough as bread, yummy! The Panizza was too yummy we reserved our last slices post entree.

We originally wanted to get the Jr Steak since the price was more reasonable, only to be told that it wasn’t available and that we can order Uncle Cheffy’s steak instead. I asked for the difference because the price is almost double. The server confidently said that Uncle Cheffy’s steak has fat (n.b. BEEF FAT!) and the Jr Steak is just all meat. JUST all meat. But that’s what we want in our steak right? We all know that beef fat does not “melt”. We finally order our Uncle Cheffy’s steak medium well.

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Our entree arrived and true enough, it was fatty. The steak was served on a big plate with the grav, some cherry potatoes and some lettuce leaves — at least there was something healthy on the plate. 🙂 Moment of truth: Not bad. It wasn’t the best steak, but the meat did not require much mandibular effort to chew. Just right. I’ve tried steaks at Arthur’s Steak House in Hoboken, NJ years ago, Tony Roma’s and Outback here and it somehow proximates it. But don’t expect a real steak how it should be cooked.

To help the beef fat (which I had to put aside — there goes half the cost of the steak!), I ordered hot pumpkin soup. This is what I regretted to order. It was the sweetest pumpkin soup I have ever tasted. Seemed like the chef thought he placed salt, when he got the sugar instead. The nearest restaurant I get my pumpkin soup fix is at Buon Giorno’s at Cliffhouse, Tagaytay City.

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Sweetest pumpking soup I’ve tasted. Looks can be deceiving.

Verdict: Recommended. Just try the Panizza. For that, Uncle Cheffy is already worth visiting.

Rai Rai Ken (SM City Sta. Rosa)

It’s not my first time to eat at Rai Rai Ken, but perhaps my first time since they revamped their menu. With their new looks, it felt more like eating at a restaurant like Teriyaki Boy. The Ramen pictures look yummy and authentic. Of course, to taste is to believe.

We had our usual suspect on our table: a whole order of  Salmon Sashimi, Gyudon, Kanton Men, and Veggie Salad. I’ve been to Tokyo and I’ve tried authentic Japanese food so I don’t expect much from Rai Rai Ken. I’ve eaten at relatively authentic Japanese restaurants (not in Little Tokyo) in our area, and I don’t expect RRK to taste just as good. But still RRK didn’t meet the least of my expectations.

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The “Whole” order of Sashimi.

First off, the Salmon Sashimi. Fine it doesn’t look fresh and you know it was just thawed out from the freezer, but come on, for a Whole order of Salmon Sashimi, this is more like half.

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The “House” Iced Tea

The House Iced Tea. In my experience of “House” iced teas, they’re not Lipton iced tea powder drinks, and they taste like brewed tea with added fruit juice (I’ll never figure out what fruit juice they add on to their iced teas). I took a sip and I knew it was just powdered iced tea (because I rarely drink them for their sweetness overload). True enough, the waiter blatantly answered to my query about their “House” iced tea, saying that it was indeed just powdered iced tea, “pero Ma’am, may fresh calamansi juice po yan.” LOL. As if a squeeze of calamansi will do the trick. No it didn’t do any trick nor treat.

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Gyudon

The Gyudon. I don’t know what gave it a sticky consistency, but I didn’t like it. I don’t think raw eggs give it that texture. I have to admit Yoshinoya Gyudon tastes better than this. What’s up RRK? You haven’t scored a bit any higher. I’d rather eat at Tokyo Tokyo (the other Japanese option in SM City Sta. Rosa).

The Kanton Men (No picture). I’m not fond of Ramen or instant ramen in general, but this ramen tasted like high quality instant noodles. Need your Ramen fix in Sta. Rosa, this could at the extremely least satisfy your cravings.

Verdict: If RRK is the only Japanese restaurant at the peak of your Japanese food craving, you can settle with this. They shouldn’t have redesigned their menu. You would start to think that they’ve upgraded also their recipe. I have to say, they just upgraded the looks. Honestly though, I’d rather eat at Tokyo Tokyo if I weren’t craving for any maki or sashimi.

Toast Box (Solenad 2, Nuvali)

Someone told me before that Toast Box is not as good as any other popular toast places in Singapore although TB is a Singapore brand. After visiting our real estate properties around the area, we were famished. To be honest, I was already grumpy, my muscles are shaking, and I could eat anyone up. Both my companions couldn’t decide where to eat and I didn’t want to decide. Finally someone had to be firm. We ate at Toast Box. We ordered Hainanese Chicken, Fish Ball Soup, Prawn Mee, and Kopi.

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The Hainanese Chicken is perfect (n.b. my standards). It came with everything you expect from a Hainanese Chicken meal. How I wish though it came with a thigh part instead of the white meat. I don’t like white meat because they are harder to chew, but this one wasn’t hard to swallow. It was cooked well. The ginger seasoning was different — it had bigger shreds. The chili is not the paste type, and looked “home-made”. The chicken broth it came with the meal is yummy! The rice was also very nice, almost close to authentic. When I say authentic, I don’t speak as an expert in Singaporean food though, but I have tasted Chicken rice in SG (who hasn’t?).

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Prawn Mee

Dad was cute. He asked if there was any chili he can put into his Prawn Mee. I had to tell him that with the color of his Prawn Mee, I’m sure he need not put more chili. 🙂 He tasted and agreed that it was indeed chili. I didn’t have the Prawn Mee (remember I’m not a noodle fan), but I overheard my dad commenting that it was a little salty, but that he liked the way he could taste the shrimp well in his soup.

My sister had Fish Ball Soup (the real name escapes me now). It used the same chicken broth that I had in my Chicken set. The fish balls (I tasted this myself) were fishy. It was soft to the bite, and not floury. The soup is light enough for people on a diet — like my sister. 🙂

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Kopi

I love Kopi. I’m just glad that there’s Kopi nearby. I wouldn’t miss my Kopi anymore. 🙂 Nuff said.

Verdict: I haven’t gone to any other toast place, so this has no basis of comparison, and I haven’t taken any of their specialties: Toast. I will definitely go back, even for just Kopi and some toast.

We cannot forget though that the most important part of this whole eating escapade is the bonding I had with my sister and my dad while mom is enjoying time out with her sisters out of town. A lot of relaxing time with the people you love (be it family or friends) is one of the best moments of our lives.

That’s it for my food entry. Remember, I’m not an expert food blogger. These are just based on my standards, and not on chef’s standards. Let’s see if you and I have the same standards. Let me know your thoughts on these restaurants in my comment box.

Bon appetit! Now, where will the next bonding be next? 🙂 Any suggestions?

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Tokyo Shopping on a Budget

I again had the privilege to visit Tokyo, Japan for the second consecutive year, and again, we had a free day on our schedule we can use to tour and mostly shop. Last year’s free day was more of a tour than a shopping experience. I thought, this year should be more shopping and less touring! So I spent almost every night on the internet searching for the best places to shop around Tokyo. Coming from Manila, I am very used to the mall concept where shops have their own stalls, and the department store is just a part of the whole “Mall” concept.

I would put “Tokyo Mall” in Google search but it gave me “Department stores”. In faith, I placed the biggest department stores in my itinerary hoping that one of them is an actual mall.
Harajuku
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Since we had a first timer in Tokyo in tow, our first stop for the day is to have a picture with Hatchiko at Shibuya Station. From there, we had a liesurely walk to Harajuku along Meiji-dori (Meiji St.) where we saw a lot of high end stores like Lacoste, Burberry, etc a la  Rodeo Drive. Of course, we didn’t have budget for those.
We finally arrived at the famous Harajuku where Anime fans and the young go to to get their young fashion fix. Although I am not young and restless nor an Anime fan, I enjoyed the visits to the quaint shops that sold cartoon characters from The Simpsons to Manga. You might find something interesting in the stores that might turn out unique when you bring them to your home country. If you still cannot find anything worth buying, there’s a 4-floor Daiso store along the street that caters to all ages. With Daiso there, your trip to Harajuko is not at all in vain.
Shinjuku
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From Harajuku, we rode the JR Yamanote line to Shinjuku to visit Isetan Department Store, and maybe Takashimaya.
From Shinjuku station, we walked along this street (see picture above) that is lined up with stores that sell all sorts like the ubiquitous ABC Mart and Family Mart. After much confusion on how to look at the map, we finally found our way to Isetan. As soon as we entered, we were welcomed by a Hermes shop. To our joy, we though we found the “mall”. Sadly, it was just one shop. The whole building is more like a department store with famous brands a la Rustan’s. It’s just one big Rustan’s. We didn’t stay long in our dismay, and decided to go to our next stop which we still didn’t know yet. We had a choice between going to Takishamaya Department Store or go to Odaiba. We decided on the former.
On our way to find Takashimaya, we stopped by H&M when we saw big “SALE!” signs outside. H&M is another version of Forever 21. When on sale, they’re really on sale like getting a top for ¥600. You have regular priced cardigans for ¥1,450. Really cheap clothes!
Finally, we headed toward Takashimaya (Times Square), and we saw Uniqlo and Tokyu Hands outside the building. We didn’t know what to expect, but we entered anyway. We were ready not to be deceived by its size. We parted ways and decided to meet in an hour.
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I decided to visit Tokyu Hands. As soon as I entered, I was enamored! Wow! 8 floors of amazing stuff! My favorite sections are the Kitchen and Stationery! 😀 I have not spent enough time on the other floors, I’m sure I’d find something interesting as well on the DIY floor. I saw from the outside that it also had DIY Scientific experiments. 😀
I was late for our meet up by almost 20 minutes. I wanted to check out Uniqlo, just to be able to say I was able to visit Uniqlo — in Japan! 😀
Odaiba
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After Takashimaya, we were too pooped. One of us already wanted to go home, but he was convinced to move on to our next itinerary: Odaiba. It was a tricky, but scenic, evening commute to Odaiba, almost creepy because the train to Odaiba was quiet. It was almost empty. We got to our stop, and further emptiness. We didn’t know exactly where to go. As we ran our eyes to the street, we saw “Decks“. Sounds like the place where we were told we can see the Rainbow Bridge and the Tokyo Tower from. 🙂
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We were famished so we ate at the very first restaurant we saw: Yoshinoya. Yum! Philippine Yoshinoya doesn’t compare to the yumminess of the authentic — or maybe we were really just that hungry. Kidding aside, you should be able to taste the difference in food preparation quality.
We walked to Decks and we were welcomed by “Lego Land” and Joypolis signs. We were excited! We find out that Joypolis is a Sega gaming place. We decided to have our picture taken with the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower behind us first before moving along. We strolled to the Aqua City Mall and finally, a real mall that we’ve been wanting to go to! Toys ‘R’ Us, Gap, Disney Store etc. Across the street you have Divers Tokyo where you have in one building H&M, Forever 21, Uniqlo and Krispy Kreme. LOL!
My shopping Verdict: Tokyu Hands and Odaiba. If you are on a budget, and want the familiar Philippine mall concept, Odaiba is the best place to go to shop. If you like home gear and office supplies (much like going to Staples), Tokyu Hands is heaven.
I’m sure I wasn’t able to include many other stores that should be visited that only Filipinos in Japan could probably enumerate with certainty. If you have ideas to add here for the rest of the readers, do leave a comment. 🙂
P.S. Ueno
I went to Ueno last year, but didn’t have time this year. For Divisoria open-air feel, you would definitely want to go to Ueno St. where you can find authentic brands and put on sale. Common things to buy from here are perfumes and branded sport shoes. I also saw a Levi’s store where you can probably get some on sale. Along the parallel street, you will find local delicacies like mushrooms, herbs, nuts, and what not’s. This should be part of your itinerary for a unique, but familiar, shopping experience. To go to Ueno, take the JR Yamanote Line and get off at Ueno Station. It shouldn’t be a difficult walk. 🙂
Tokyo trips shouldn’t be expensive for you to enjoy it. You can still be on a tight budget, and enjoy Tokyo sans the shopping. There are enough fee-free places to go to in order to still make your stay memorable. We always hear people say, “How can I enjoy my vacation if I don’t have pocket money?” There is actually an answer to this seemingly rhetorical question. If you only try to believe that you can enjoy your vacation without having to spend on Hermes and Louis Vuitton, you will enjoy the history, art and God’s creations.
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The Phantom of the Opera – Manila 2012

I again have the fortune of watching another West End hit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) with my family yesterday, September 9, 2012. What I like about Broadway shows is that they are already coming to Manila. Filipinos need not go to New York or London or even just Singapore to watch West End and Broadway shows. I’m just also glad that CCP has allowed these tours to use the main theater, and that the CCP Main Theater has the requirements of the tour.

In my New York visits, I was not able to watch The Phantom of the Opera, and now I am able to see it here in my own home country! It is a joy to be able to watch famous musicals in the Philippines. My family and I were looking forward to this day. I was just raring to watch my favorite Phantom songs sung on stage as opposed to just listening to them.

First impressions

I have not read in full the plot and sequence of events of the Phantom. In my experience, I would normally see a glimpse of the beauty and majesty of the set design upon entering the theater. What I saw was a gloomy set filled with gray curtains.

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The stage set upon entering the theater.

The first scene is the auctioning of the items from the closed down opera house. The stage was so dark you could hardly see the faces of the characters, but you could still, though faintly, recognize the emotions from the main character. This first scene lasts for just 5 minutes and as the story flashbacks to the glory days of the Opera House, the gray curtains reveal its original majesty.

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The majestic stage design with the trademark chandelier.

First impressions don’t last. They lasted only 5 minutes for this one. 🙂 Now, I don’t want to spoil your viewing of the show by giving too many details, so let me go straight to my humble appreciation for the production.

Set Design

The set is just amazing. They probably have three different curtains they play with. The effectively used these to fill the stage. In certain scenes, the curtains are half-drawn, almost alluding to the scarred half face of the Phantom. It also effectively covered the other half of the stage for the element of surprise most especially in the opening of Act II with “Masquerade”.

The opera within a musical was a great opportunity to showcase elaborate designs for the three different operas within Phantom. Aside from that, the operas came in the right frequency to break the drama since they also served as a comic relief, and the climax of the show. Genius this Andrew Lloyd Webber indeed!

What you need to watch out for in this production are the visual effects. You would be amazed and you are left to wonder how they would execute the boat ride scenes (how will the boat move on stage?!), the hundred candles that appear suddenly on stage without burning anything. The best scenes and those that require most technology are those set in Phantom’s lair. My favorite scene though is the scene where Christine Daaé bowed down to the audience after her opera performance because suddenly you are brought “backstage” instead of having the feeling of being the audience for the operas. That kinda tickled my brain. 🙂

Another favorite set is Christine’s dressing room with a big mirror where the Phantom appears. The mirror was angled properly to make the tiny dressing room look to have more space.

Performance

There is nothing to comment much about set design since standards in design are pretty much dictated upon by the original designers and directors. Same goes with the fidelity to the original script and even acting and dance sequences. What remain are the skills of the members of the cast.

Since I have no basis of comparison for Phantom other than the soundtrack which I have been listening to for many years now, I will give my simple critique of the performers.

The singing is just superb. I should say that their voice quality is comparable and at par with the original performers’. I had a difficult time distinguishing the singers on the live show from the CD. Both are just as good. For the die hard fans, they would probably be disappointed with some singing style that differs slightly from the original, but they are negligible and you should be able to give some leeway to the actors.

I would like of course to give much credit to Dondi Ong, the sole Filipino member of the Phantom cast. I was fortunate to get his insights regarding his stint with Phantom because he was my brother’s good friend. We called him up and met with him outside CCP’s artists’ entrance. A tenor from UP Diliman, Dondi’s classical execution of his parts was spot on. His performance is nothing short of professional. He was able to rehearse and get into his role quickly, and delivered it humorously at that. You also have to give it to him because he is one of the few who needed to do eight – EIGHT! – costume changes during the 2 hour performance, and two major make-up changes which he said he already did on his own. Add to this, he had to bear 5 pound heavy costumes each time. He confessed that he already lost 10 pounds since his joining the cast. You also know that he’s that good, that on the day he auditioned, they were already showing signs of their preference for him. According to Dondi, the casting director already framed his profile and judged that his looks fit the role. They also asked him to sing a portion of the musical on the same day other than his prepared audition piece. To prove further he deserved the spot, they signed him as well for the Korea and Singapore tour (I don’t remember if he’s already going to the Australia tour). It was just supposed to be a token role for a local artist to fill, but they contracted him for other tours as well.

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With Mr. Dondi Ong, Tenor

For Phantom fans used to listening to the voices of the original cast, you won’t be disappointed by this casts’ performance!

What is impressive with Christine Daaé’s actress is that the role requires training in classical ballet. I’m impressed with the actress’ natural ballet dancing skills, but definitely not a Lisa Macuja-Elizalde. It didn’t require complicated arabesques and lifts, but the basics were executed nicely.

Conclusion

I just simply love the fact that you can somehow (of course, not entirely) appreciate both musicals and opera in one show. According to Mr. Ong, people have looked down on his decision to take part in this popular West End musical because they think that it belittles his talent as a classically trained Tenor. I would agree, however, with Mr. Ong’s opinion that this is the best way to reach to more people. With this show, people come to watch because they want to watch it, and not because they are required to watch an opera. It’s the best way to reach out to the teens and influence their taste for higher culture. I just couldn’t agree more.

The Phantom of the Opera doesn’t come to Manila often having an international cast chosen by an accredited production staff. Every Filipino who can afford should afford to watch this. Hopefully, after we have exhausted all the popular and top-grossing musicals to show here, we can start importing the not-so-popular ones, but are worth watching as well, and still people go and watch.

International tours being welcomed in the country, Theater courses should begin flourishing in our country. Younger people become more interested in theater, and taking it up as a legit course in college, taking minor in singing, ballet, jazz dancing; thus, taking theater acting a notch higher. No matter how noble it is to act out plays with social dimension and that speak about politics, they still do not appeal to the pop culture generation. We have to use more popular media to reach to them, to educate them ultimately to appreciate a different kind of culture that is more lasting, and which does not change even after 25 years, just like this classic musical, The Phantom of the Opera.

Take advantage. Watch.

Upcoming shows in Asia:

May-June 2013: Bangkok, Thailand

August-October: Singapore

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