A Day at the Museum | The National Museum of Anthropology – Part 1

Treasures of the San Diego

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You’d be glad that our museums are free of charge, would you not? At least those under the auspices of the National Museum, that is. One could kill time away and explore new knowledge for practically nothing, at no cost.

The story of the San Diego should interest every Filipino because not only does it shed light into the kind of world our forebears lived in, but because it’s teaching us some important life lessons too, if we are only to look closer and really listen.

I know nothing much about the San Diego myself, so I’m sharing this so we could learn together. I’m kind of curious too if this has already been part of school text books. It should be. Children, especially, with their impressible minds, should visit the gallery because nothing beats seeing the artifacts with one’s own eyes. I was kind of happy seeing groups of school children touring the museum. There is this one group in the lobby being briefed by the guide before the tour started. Although most seemed excited, you can see in some of the children’s faces that they are getting bored, what with their short attention span – some looking spaced-out, others forcing a somewhat interested/engaged look, perfunctorily nodding to every thing the guide says, but that you know their mind is wandering some place else. Sorry kids, you need to learn these stuff 🙂

Just a disclaimer, though. The article you will be seeing below were taken purely from museum references and informational guides. It does not reflect the author’s words or opinions.

The San Diego – a 16th Century Galleon

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A model of the San Diego

The San Diego was a 3-masted trading ship built in 1590 in Cebu by Basque, Chinese and Filipino shipbuilders. It used different kinds of Asian woods and was about 35-40 meters long, about 12 meters wide and 8 meters high. It had at least 4 decks and could hold about 700 tons of cargo.

The discovery of the San Diego has significantly expanded knowledge of Renaissance shipbuilding techniques. On the basis of the finds and the positioning of the wreck, the construction of the ship had been studied.

Detailed investigations were only conducted on selected planks because of conservation problems. A large part of the wood remains were left under-water and covered with sand for future researches.

The Sinking of the San Diego

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photo courtesy of Wikipedia

On December 14, 1600, about 50 kilometers southwest of Manila, the Spanish battleship San Diego under the command of Morga clashed with the Dutch ship Mauritius. All odds were in favor of the Spanish. The San Diego was four times larger than the Mauritius. It had a crew of 450 rested men and massive fire power with 14 cannons taken from the fortress in Manila.

It sank “like a stone”

Unfortunately, this was also the weakness of the San Diego. Morga had the ship full of people, weapons and munitions but too little ballast to weigh the ship down for easier maneuverability.  While the gun ports had been widened for more firing range, not one cannon could be fired because water entered through the enlarged holes.

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The San Diego sprung a leak beneath the water line either from the first cannonball fired by the Mauritius or from the impact of ramming the Dutch at full speed. Because of inexperience, Morga failed to issue orders to save the San Diego. It sank “like a stone” when he ordered his men to cast off from the burning Mauritius.

The events were recorded in Morga’s book, Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas. The book portrayed Morga as a hero of the battle. Olivier van Noort also wrote about the battle.

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photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Antonio de Morga (1559 – 1636)

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photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Morga came from a family of bankers in Seville but decided to have an administrative career. He was appointed as Advisor and Lieutenant General to the Governor of the Philippines in 1593 by the Spanish King. This did not make him happy being posted “at the ends of the earth”. He saw his chance to change his fortune when he heard the news of a Dutch pirate ship entering Philippine waters.

Through political maneuvering, he was promoted to admiral and later commissioned the San Diego, a merchant vessel anchored in Manila, to be a battleship. Morga thought that a swift victory over the exhausted intruders would put him in a favorable stead with the King.

Morga’s ignorance as a captain was proven during the sea battle with the Dutch. He gave wrong commands that led to the sinking of the San Diego, but as one of the few survivors, he successfully depicted himself as a hero of the battle and even got promoted. He was sent to Mexico in 1603 and to Peru in 1615.

Olivier van Noort (1558/59 – 1627)

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photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Olivier van Noort was a tavern owner in Rotterdam. He was described as a humorous, courageous, stubborn, but enterprising man. In 1598, he was entrusted to command a small fleet financed by some merchants and the Dutch stockholder, Maurice of Nassau. His mission was to ascertain the trade route to the Spice Islands and, along the way, plunder any vessel he could find.

In the latter part of 1600, van Noort, reached the Philippines with two ships. On December 14, the battle between his flagship Mauritius and Morga’s San Diego took place in front of Manila Bay. Although far outnumbered, 59 to 450, his men fought bravely. Van Noort tricked the Spanish into fleeing by setting fire to his own sails. Through his nautical skills and tactical cunning, he was able to escape the Spaniards.

One year later, van Noort returned to Rotterdam broke. The expedition was a failure. But his knowledge of the trade route, allowed Dutch participation in the spice trade in the Moluccas. Belatedly acknowledged, he finally took a post as garrison commander until 1626 when he retired.

The Wreck of the San Diego

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The hold of the San Diego contained food and water supplies. Stoneware jars doubling as containers and ballast were placed in the hold. About 800 of these were found in the wreck. These jars came mostly from Burma and dated from the 16th century.

Antonio de Morga sailed into battle with the Mauritius, commanded by Olivier van Noort, early in the morning. Morga neglected to inform his Vice Admiral Juan de Alcega. Morga at first seemed to gain the upper hand, and his soldiers even captured the standard of the Mauritius. The Spanish galleon was under full sail when it violently rammed the Dutch ship. The seasick Spanish admiral, however, failed to follow up on his advantage despite pleas from his officers and crew and soon lost control of the situation.

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The Admiral’s table

A major leak was discovered in the hold, obviously a result of the violent impact. Morga gave the fatal order to cast off the lines holding the ships together. The astonished Dutch could not believe their eyes. When the lines had finally been cut, the San Diego sailed 330-660 feet (100-200m), nosed over and went straight to the bottom. The time was approximately 3:00 pm, on Thursday, December 14, 1600. Three hundred people are thought to have drowned. Another hundred apparently survived by swimming to nearby Fortune Island. Morga himself was rescued by his secretary.

Turning lemons into… whatever

Some curve ball can throw you off easily from your goals but on the one hand, gives you the chance to reflect and contemplate on things (not to mention some free time to catch up on your reading or favorite series). I’m supposed to have a trip this month planned out early on, but unfortunately, this had to be scrapped as things have gotten a turn for the worse a few months back when I was admitted to the hospital. I’m dealing with the setback the best way I can. And since I won’t be writing anything remotely close to travel anytime soon, I might as well look back at the experience and share how I got enlightened by it. Some realizations and things learnt along the way. It’s a long list. Here it goes.

  • If you have lingering cough, about a week-old or so already, have yourself checked right away. This could be symptom of a more serious, lethal nature.
  • Make every effort to strengthen your immune system, especially if you work the graveyard shift. Take vitamins.
  • Try not to stress yourself out too much. Have fun. Don’t be too uptight. Remember, stress kills. I remember the story of “Lolong”, one of the largest crocodiles ever discovered, who died because of stress (see related article here).
  • MMC, where I was admitted, is just freakin’ modern and cutting-edge. Save for some issues with the food, this is easily one of the best medical care one can get.
  • Nothing really much to expect if required diet is bland, or at least none of the sugary, high-sodium stuff. I commend the fact that they tried to incorporate as much balance in the food they serve, with tiny bits of health information written on the placemat to boot. The food isn’t all bad but there were hits and misses. There are times food is left untouched. I just wish there is some kind of innovation being worked out somewhere in the world, that makes food palatable even without seasoning, coaxing the brain to believe that it is, haha!

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  • MediCard doesn’t cover doctor’s fees. Good thing Philhealth does (at least in this case). Might be a case-to-case basis, though, subject to certain conditions like up to how much they can cover, or depending on the type of procedure done, etc. Not really sure.

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  • Medicard doesn’t cover medical supplies or miscellaneous expenses, so it’s best to always have extra cash/credit with you, or to always make room for it in your budget, for such emergencies. Trust me, I’ve learned it the hard way. Mine was about P5,000 upon discharge. May not sound much to some but for someone working on a tight budget, this could really be a pain in the you-know-what. Good thing there are still angels in this world 🙂 And this coming from someone who is not even religious.
  • If your doctor requires you to go on leave for an extended period like I did, chances are you’d be using up all of your leave credits, both SL and VL. Any absences you incur beyond this is already considered LWOP (without pay). Now don’t fret. Next thing you can do is apply for a sickness claim from social security or SSS. You can download the form from their website. Just look for Sickness Notification Form, under Forms.
  • I appreciate how people in our human resources/admin are considerate enough to defer application of the remaining no-pay days into two different cut-off periods instead of one. It’s a relief knowing you do not have to lose your shirt.
  • Print extra copies of those forms because you’ll never know when they could come in handy. In my experience, the ineptitude of the doctor’s assistant has led to several amendments of those forms. Having extra copies can save you time and energy.
  • Take note of the timeline of all the important events such as your confinement and discharge dates, the succeeding outpatient visits, and the days the doctor rendered you not yet fit to work. In my experience, the staff at the doctor’s office can sometimes have a way of confusing things, having all these dates messed up, and worse – putting the blame squarely on the patient for it. And this despite them supposedly having everything on record.
  • The doctor, aside from having a not so legible handwriting (which they have gained notoriety for), can also outright commit typographical errors. In this case, on the medical certificate. This of course has ripple effect. Eventually this has cost time amending the forms whose information were based from the certificate itself.
  • Not only typo errors but major errors at that, can be committed by even the smartest people like physicians. The first doctor I went to misread my X-ray results. She gave me a clean bill of health when she shouldn’t. This sets me back two more weeks from recovery. Imagine going about your daily life without proper medication, oblivious of the danger that lies within?
  • The doctor’s assistant, on the other hand, although carrying a sweet demeanor, is obviously fairly new to the job and has given incorrect information by saying no need for patient to get medical abstract from the Medical Records, as they (the doctor’s office) are the ones who will take care of it. A week later, she apologized and said it is actually the patient who should request it directly from Medical Records. I thought to myself: ‘Oh boy, here we go’. I had a strange feeling this is going down this nasty route. I mean, I don’t mind getting it from the Medical Records myself, I just wish she had told me earlier so that I could start the ball rolling. Now it would take additional weeks more to process.
  • Now just when you hoped there wouldn’t be any more bottlenecks in the process, they start popping up. They just wouldn’t go away, would they? The staff at the Medical Records said that the release of the documents took a while longer, because they’ve been waiting for the doctor in-charge (during my confinement) to sign the form. They couldn’t get hold of the doctor much earlier because the doctor is busy. Ay, yay, yay… What can a man do? The waiting game just went on and on, and every time, the frustration builds up. Life really has a way of pushing your buttons, huh?
  • Every time a procedure, a test, or a consult needs to be done, you first need to get an order form from Medicard. See their MMC office hours below.

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  • Should there be a need for you to submit certain specimen such as sputum, it’s best to have it done on the testing site so that the specimen remains fresh. If, for some reason, that that would not be possible, you can do the procedure at home, on an empty stomach before breakfast, and have it transported via a sealed container with ice. Test results are released 3 business days from the last test date. For these types of tests, it’s usually 2 days of consecutive specimen extraction. You can get specimen containers from the test site beforehand. I’m sharing this so that you don’t have to go back and forth picking up bits and pieces of information every time, instead of getting it in one go.
  • Take note as well that the doctor’s assistant (whom paperwork such as claims are delegated) might have a different perspective on matters which might leave everyone confused. For example, the SSS form indicates “Confinement Date” as one of the information that need to be filled-in. I think we can all agree that confinement date is the date you were admitted to the hospital, right? No need to elaborate on that. Understandably, one would be curious to know why the assistant would have the doctor put in the date of the visit at their office after being discharged (ergo, as outpatient), instead of the actual “Confinement Date” (in-patient)? To this she replied (non-verbatim): “Sir, ano ba talaga yung gusto nyong ipagawa sa amin? Kasi hindi naman namin covered yung confinement nyo eh. Ang sa amin lang is yung pang outpatient”, or something to that effect.
  • See, this is absurd on so many levels. First, she asks me what it is exactly I was asking for her to do. I mean, really? In my mind I was like: ‘In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been in and out of your office several times for weeks now because every time, there is something wrong with the information you put on those forms, and it’s not like the doctor is always available to amend it. And now you’re asking me this? Seriously? After all I’ve been through? How about you do your job well and fill-out this form accurately so that I don’t have to waste my time, huh? Or is it too difficult for you to do?’ See, the last thing I need is for social security to tell me that the dates are wrong and that I had to go back to their office repeatedly for this simple mistake. Good for her I was restraining myself. Other days, she may not be lucky. I think I just felt my claws come out.
  • Second, she’s telling me they do not process requests covering those days I was in confinement and can only process those that fall under outpatient procedures. I get that. But that’s not really answering the question now, is it? Why does the form say “Confinement Date” instead of otherwise? Either it’s the wrong form, or there is something they’re not telling me. She says that it is understood in this case, that the “confinement date” refers to outpatient “dates” (or whatever), since the request is being done via their office who does outpatient procedures. Some kind of logic, huh? I’m not really buying it 100%. I feel like she’s just trying to wing it. Anyways, we’ll see. Maybe she’s right. She better be. Also, how could they assume a first-timer would know this right off the bat? I couldn’t have known for sure unless someone explains it to me. This actually led me to another question of who now do I ask should the claim cover the actual confinement dates, but because of the cumbersome experience I had, decided to just drop it. I’m raising my white flag here.
  • Truly, this underscores the importance of proper verbiage. If you come to think of it, they probably receive these types of requests almost every week, if not daily. So frequent, in fact, one would think they should have perfected the process by now. Apparently not. And apparently, they have not figured out a way to explain this to their patients clearly. Had she learned how to effectively send her point across, it would’ve spelt a world of difference.
  • As of this writing, the request is still on process. All things considered, I say it’s best to have the form submitted early, preferably having them filled-out by the doctor during actual visit/s or consults (meaning with confirmed appointment), and make sure all the dates they put in are correct so that any amendment/s could be done right away while the doctor is present. Any other day it’s done might have one end up waiting longer than should be, because they would say “you don’t have an appointment”, “the doctor is not available”, blah-blah-blah. Better save yourself the hassle.

Update (as of 13 October 2017)

Finally received the check from social security. Bad news though, is that the second part of the claim was declined due to late submission. My understanding is that the two claims shouldn’t have been submitted more than 5 days apart. What a shame, given what I had to go through to make sure this doesn’t happen, as attested to by the rather exhaustive detailing of my ordeal above. This more than anything proves that in life, major roadblocks (oftentimes beyond our control) can hamper progress, even with the best efforts and intentions. Granted, there’s probably a thing or two I could have done more to improve the chances, but, I think overall, the inefficiency and the cumbersome way things were handled by the other characters in this narrative, and the amount of time wasted waiting for something that is supposedly simple and uncomplicated, contributed largely to this disappointing result. This is causing some unnecessary frustration.

Now, I don’t really consider myself fatalistic, like believing that things happen for a reason as if by some divine providence. I believe things happen as a matter of consequence. In fact, sometimes things just happen for no reason at all. It just is. Other times however, I feel that regardless of the efforts we put forth in life, they end up being like defeated purposes. This is true especially if you are up against things and situations that are bigger than you, or that are beyond you, like maybe bureaucracy, politics, or even just another person’s incompetence, as the above experience shows. I know. It’s funny how something some people might consider petty, almost insignificant, as another person’s incompetence, can give one a hard time wrapping his head around. I myself would often just shrug this thing off, chalking it up to inexperience or some person’s propensity to crack under pressure. I can be forgiving like that especially if I feel that the person is innately good inside. It really depends on the situation and the attitude of the person I’m dealing with. You throw in some smug in the mix and that’s a different story. Now, in the case of bureaucracy, it’s been described as “the art of making the possible impossible”. Couldn’t agree more.

Shibuya | The Pulse to an Amazing City’s Beat

Last in a series

Previously in this series:

Yuzawa – The Little Snow Country to the North

Japan | A Gastronomical Experience that Satiates

Leaving our Hearts in the Snow

Oh, boy. Need I say more? This place is electric.

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Nowhere is this feeling more pronounced than at the center of it all – the Shibuya Crossing (also known as the Shibuya Scramble), arguably the world’s busiest intersection. People from all walks of life, coming from and going to different directions, converge and cross at once but still able to dodge each other, albeit in a cool manner 😉

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Just like a human heartbeat, this place literally pulsates with life. I can only imagine how beautiful this place is at night.

It’s a shopping mecca and a popular haunt for everything from fashion to electronics, to souvenirs and gift items.

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Shibuya is electric

Its streets and alleyways, filled with all sorts of houses of commerce – from imposing modern skyscrapers to shops, cafes, restaurants, ramen houses, etc., are made for instagram-pretty snapshots like these 🙂

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I notice crows in this particular area near the Shibuya 109. They squawk quite loudly, too. See that one flying over the tree in the upper left?

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And of course, the go-to place of every Filipino I know who wants to buy that “pasalubong”Don Quijote.

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This discount store is godsend. Here you will find a wide selection of items you can bring back home – all the chocolates, all the different-flavoured kit-kat‘s, all the Nissin ramen seafood and cheese curry flavor, and yakisoba (in the pack) you can get; lotion and soap (for your sister), kewpie mayo and dressing, etc.

Our guide wonders in amazement why Filipinos hoard these stuff. Well, it’s cheaper, for one. And in the case of the Nissin noodles, the ones here do not scrimp on the ingredients like the meat and seafood that comes with the packaging.

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So there, our short but well-worthy stay in Shibuya, in Tokyo. It is a nice ending to our Japan experience. Really, something that will forever be treasured 🙂 Thank you Japan for an awesome time!

Leaving our Hearts in the Snow

3rd in a series

Previously in this series:

Yuzawa – The Little Snow Country to the North

Japan | A Gastronomical Experience that Satiates

“Time flies when you are having fun”. So goes the saying. Couldn’t be truer than now, our last day in Yuzawa. The past two days have been a whirlwind. It’s been nothing but a plethora of different new things to the senses – from the weather, to the food, to the culture. It really is one for the books.

But wait, the fun isn’t over yet. We cannot leave Snow Country without having to experience winter activities it’s famous for, right?

So, as is the usual routine, we wake up early to have breakfast at GaiA (that cute, little cabin at the edge of the woods).

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Today however, we woke up a bit earlier than usual so we could maximize time.

Props to Yuki for cooking all of our delicious meals during our stay at the inn – the soup that was served upon our arrival (which I call the welcome soup), two of the breakfasts we had at gaiA, and the packed breakfast we had at the bus on the way back to Tokyo. She is such a sweet and nice gal, who had been nothing but patient and understanding to us 🙂 She probably find some of our customs weird but has managed to accommodate us still. For example, I don’t think it’s common for Japanese to put sugar in coffee (if they even drink coffee regularly at all). Doesn’t seem like it. So when I asked for sugar for the group, she was kind of surprised that one small pack is not enough. It had to be a small bowl for everyone 🙂

These are the meals she made for us for our breakfast for the past two days. All of these are organic, by the way.

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Today’s breakfast – eggs, sausage, salad and pumpkin soup

I particularly liked the set with the baked salmon. Delicious! Proof that going organic doesn’t mean taste had to be sacrificed.

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Country-style breakfast of baked-salmon, Japanese-style eggroll, fried veggies with dashi soup , and miso soup. All organic. Yum! 🙂

I also like the ‘hippie-dippie/new age/people-of-the-earth’ vibe of the place and the kind of lifestyle espoused by Yuki herself. Not something I expected.

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I guess it would be nice also to put the spotlight on The Vintage Backcountry Inn Arimaya – our accommodation for the past three days.

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It’s a traditional ryokan, so everything you see here are antique, save for some modern amenities like TV & WiFi.

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“Built in 1908 without a single nail, the original structure is a(n) exemplar of the exquisite traditional Japanese kominka construction”

There were just some modifications done with the heating, plumbing and lavatories to keep up with modern standards. But you get to sleep on a traditional Japanese futon and tatami mats. Also, please take time to read the house’s history and how it was built in the about section of its page on Airbnb. You’d appreciate it more.

Now we proceed to our first destination – ski!

We went to the ski rental first to get some boots. The boots had to be clipped tight. So tight in fact one could get sore feet and legs afterwards. We then proceeded to the ski area which is really just around the corner – the Yuzawa Kogen Ski Resort.

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Since none of us have any experience with ski, or any of the winter sports for that matter, we were first taught just the basics – the essential gears needed and how to put them on; some warm-up exercises; the basic techniques of sliding and stopping, and how to get up after falling. Also, how to move your way to the top of the hill and how to, sort of, put on the “breaks” while sliding down.

Me saying it like this makes it sound easy, right? Wait till you try it, haha!

I’ve fallen a couple of times and it was really hard for me to get up without having to resort to the “shortcut” – that of releasing the locks from the boots 🙂 The proper techniques (there are two of them) both require that you carry your weight through the use of the poles. Good luck with that, really 😉

I was also challenged going up the hill. Gravity always win pulling me down. Ski blades are extremely slippery, you know. Anyhow, it was an experience.

By this time we are feeling hungry already. We went to this beautiful place with the mountains as backdrop and had grilled meat, or what is called yakiniku, under a covered or roofed space outdoors, much like a gazebo, if not one already.

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It’s like having your typical picnic, only it’s in the snow. There’s lots of meat to be cooked and they are so delicious. I don’t know how we managed to devour all of them up. Hungry much, I guess? 😛

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After that wonderful lunch, next activity is riding a snowmobile from ski-doo.

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This one’s easy. Anyone who wants to satisfy their need for speed can try it here. Everyone gets to try one round with instructor and one round by himself. Lucky if you get picked to drive for the race afterwards.

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It was an activity-filled afternoon. What we’ve learned and what we’ve been practicing for would be put to the test later with the mini-“Winter Olympics”, of sorts.

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I wouldn’t be delving too much though, with the nitty-gritty of the games and of the other activities, so as to keep the element of surprise for the other groups who are yet to experience it 🙂 All I can say is be ready with your wit and brawn. You will need them. Good luck! 😀

As you can imagine, we were all exhausted by the end of the day. Nothing could be more joyful and nourishing than a nice meal like this below.

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The main entrée to the left, which are thin slices of pork with some type of (what I understand) is a miso mixture at the bottom, and was cooked right in front of us, on our tables, with some special leaf for aroma, is super! It tastes really good. As we say in the vernacular, we were all “galit-galit” 😀

Not sure where we had the meal exactly, although below is the signage at the entrance. My online references direct me to the Yuzawa New Otani. I couldn’t be sure, though. The itinerary says closing dinner at a typical izakaya, or watering hole.

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But of course, this being our last day in Yuzawa, I wouldn’t miss the opportunity getting pampered in what I think is the most quintessential of our Japanese experience – the onsen. People can go to Japan but they may not always experience this, let alone the Snow Country.

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And that pretty much sums up my Yuzawa experience. Delightful! 🙂

Japan | A Gastronomical Experience that Satiates

2nd in a series

Previously in this  series:

Yuzawa – The Little Snow Country to the North

The words umami and oishi found their way in our vocabulary thanks to the Japanese who seem to have an acute sense of taste for good food. They have a way of elevating everything that is already good to even better – from presentation, to taste, to the whole experience of living well. It is also a study in contrast. Strongly-held traditions of the past sit side-by-side with modernity. Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, yet unlike others, it has managed to preserve, nay, live its traditions to this day. Its cultural past is alive and well.

Interesting cultural differences abound. For example, slurping and burping, considered bad manners in the West, are acceptable here. No, in fact, not just accepted, it’s actually seen as a form of compliment to the host, especially if you finish your plate clean because that means you have enjoyed the food. As I would always say to myself: ‘If only by that standard, I could fit in Japan nicely 🙂 I can live here’. I could well be in my element, haha!

The culinary adventure started from even before we landed in Japan. Coming from the house with no breakfast, I was kind of feeling famished already during the flight. The smell of food wafting from the cabin crew station excites me. And when the food was finally served, I was sated like I was never sated before – or maybe I’m just really hungry, I don’t know 🙂

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Look at this spread and be the judge.

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They even have cute, little Haagen-Dazs ice cream served afterwards. How cool is that?

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One would be extremely amazed with the country’s obsession with vending machines. They are practically everywhere – at the airport, pit stops, train stations, convenience stores, even ramen houses! The ubiquity of these machines astounds me. I wish we have something similar back home. Oh, I’m missing the hot VanHouten chocolate drink already. Yes, they not only offer cold but hot drinks as well, and all other curious stuff, too 🙂

In one of the convenience stores we stopped by, I saw this cute robot. I think his name is Pepper, I’m not sure. I will call him Pepper. Judging by this bot’s more intuitive responses and smoother, more fluid movements, Pepper belongs to a newer, smarter generation of AIs. Another evidence of Japanese innovation at work. Aaawww, isn’t he adorable?

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We also had the chance visiting a strawberry farm. Yes, you heard me right. You might be wondering, ‘how in the world are they able to produce strawberries in the dead of winter?’ Well, not a problem if you have a greenhouse.

We were asked to get five of the juiciest, most red, most plump strawberry we could lay our hands on. Look at these beauties 🙂

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Then off we went tasting different types of sake at the Shirataki Sake Brewery – a more than hundred or so year-old institution of this town which was established back in 1855. It is interesting to note that the Niigata Prefecture is the largest producer of sake and is long celebrated for the fine quality of the products.

We were briefed first on the process of making sake and then a tour of some of their facilities. And then the much-awaited sake tasting 🙂 It is no wonder the Japanese love their sake. After a few drinks, one would immediately feel his/her body temperature rise. It would then begin to feel warm inside – perfect in combating the cold.

Below are some of the types of sake we have tried.

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The orb you see hanging in front of the entrance is made of cedar. This serves a practical purpose in that it indicates the passing of time. The wood originally is green-colored. When it turns brown, like it is now in the picture, it means that the sake is ready.

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It’s a walking distance from the brewery to the train station. If you are interested in buying local delicacies, you will find a lot here. One of the specialties of the place is a type of rice called Koshihikari, which they say has the highest quality (I take that to be the most delicious, too) in the whole of Japan. There’s also lots of ramen houses here.

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I’m smelling something good cooking on the grill in that corner. Ah yes, street food! In all shapes and sizes, and in more variations, I suppose.

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Is that “baticolon” (gizzard) I see over there? Oh, look at those intestines. They are huge! For that size, they couldn’t possibly be your typical “isaw” (chicken intestine), could they? Pig’s, perhaps?

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It seems like in this aspect, the Japanese are like Filipinos – neither are keen on leaving any animal parts to waste as long as they are edible, yeah?

I tried the yakitori or grilled chicken on skewers. Oh man, this one is on a different level. It didn’t take long to cook, actually. Reason why meat is probably so tender. It is tasty but not overpowering. Yum!

Also, noticeably not as charred as it would normally be back home.

I also couldn’t resist trying this fish-shaped waffle filled with custard or red beans. I tried the one with custard. To a Filipino, this looks really unusual and interesting. I mean, why fish? Koreans also use this as cone for their ice cream. Is there something auspicious about it? Oh, well, doesn’t matter. As long as it tastes good, haha!

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These are just appetizers and desserts, and already we are feeling full 🙂

However, one still has to eat dinner, right? We were whisked to the Toei Hotel afterwards for some luxurious meal and some karaoke after, to those who want to belt their hearts out. Filipinos love to sing. It is interesting to note that although the karaoke was invented by the Japanese, it was a Filipino who patented it. Nothing spells entertainment more to a Filipino than karaoke 🙂

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The highlight of my day however, is the relaxing onsen bath. First time I’m trying this and it’s not without some first-time jitters I would say, what with local custom requiring you to strip down to nothing but your birthday suit, and this in front of strangers. Major intimidation, haha! Oh, but really, once you’re there, all inhibitions get thrown out the window. No room for body issues here. Important thing is to be able to enjoy the relaxing and the medicinal benefits of the onsen. You know what they say: “When in Rome”…, or more accurately in this case, “When in Japan” 😉

One has to make sure however, to familiarize himself first with the do’s and don’t’s in an onsen before taking that dip so as not to offend locals. Resource materials should be available at the hotel or from your travel agent. Google, even.

Yup, here’s to another item off my bucket list. Kanpai! 🙂

Yuzawa – The Little Snow Country to the North

1st in a series

Not being able to join the Japan tour three years ago was a big bummer. Japan is one of those countries people want to go to and check off their bucket list. It’s just awesome like that without even trying. Just hearing about it talked about, or read, or seen somewhere is enough to spark one’s imagination. Japanese culture exerts a strong influence on the world. There’s something about it that draws people in. One could understand the excitement and the fulfillment it brings me to be here. This is one of those things I can proudly say, ‘been there, done that’. Kudos to everyone who has been behind the success of this trip.

When we say ‘winter’, ‘ski resort’, or ‘snow’ in Japan, first thing that comes to mind probably are the more popular places to the north like Sapporo in Hokkaido, and Nagano.

Yuzawa, in the Niigata Prefecture however, is kind of under the radar, off-the-beaten-track, if you will (at least for the uninitiated).

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And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, you know. Seeing the glass half-full, one would appreciate the fact that you can, sort of like, have the whole of Yuzawa for yourself (yes, one does get that kind of feeling, even if just for rhetoric).

As of June 2016, the town only has an estimated population of 7,972. That’s just 22.3 persons per km²[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuzawa,_Niigata

As we say in the vernacular: “Pwede pang mag-tumbling sa loob” 🙂

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The whole place is blanketed in snow, and not a lot of people are on the streets. It’s like ‘the-world-is-my-playground’ kind of place.

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Due to its geographic location, this town has one of the highest annual snowfalls in Japan, earning it the moniker Snow Country (one of the many snow countries in the region called yukiguni, Japanese for heavy snow area).

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And as you can guess by now, skiing and snowboarding are its principal draw and main source of income during this season.

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Dealing with extremely cold weather is a challenge for tropical folks like us. We are not used to wearing extremely thick clothing (oftentimes several layers), with warmers especially on our extremities, where the cold would normally seep in. We find it restricting our movements. But, it is what it is. You wear it or you suffer the cold.

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Day 1 of our activity in Snow Country is snowshoeing – a form of hiking which uses snowshoes. The way it works is it distributes the weight of the body so that the foot does not sink into the snow completely, also known as flotation (can also be spelled floatation). We went to this place where the snow is about knee- to waist-deep in some places.

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We were asked to put on the proper gear to walk on snow. Now, if you think walking on snow is easy, think again.

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Tamba

Well, actually, it depends on a host of different factors: how long the trail is, for example; how steep the incline, how thick the snow is, etc. It can be really exhausting though, if you ask me, what with the weight of the clothing bearing you down. I find myself sweating inside my clothes towards the end of the trail. Also because being the first person in line after the instructors (on the second half of the trek), there is pressure to catch up with them seasoned folks (around 6-feet tall-ish Caucasians who have such huge gait). Maybe it needs a little getting used to.

I kind of learned from that experience so the next time around, I removed a layer from my five-layer attire. You kind of acclimate to the weather as you go along, too 🙂

It was fulfilling finishing the trail because we were already anticipating something good at the end of it – food! But wait, one gets to work for it first. It’s time to make soba noodles! Yehey!… (Nooo! We’re already famished, haha!)

The soba we made were served two-ways, one as hot noodles with soup and the other is cold like salad, with dipping sauce and wasabi on the side. They say among locals, the cold is the preferred choice.  I am yet to agree to that. Right now, I need a hot bowl of noodles. They also served us a basket of tempura. It satiates our hunger. We capped it off with hot tea.

A Day at the Museum | The Ayala Museum (Part 3)

This is the last leg of my museum experience.

Previously in this series:

A Day at the Museum | The Ayala Museum (Part 1)

A Day at the Museum | The Ayala Museum (Part 2)

There are actually three other exhibits on display at the time – two of which I was able to see, the other (In My Father’s Room) I had to forego due to time constraints.

On the 3rd level of the museum you will find one of the, I think, permanent displays called Pioneers of Philippine Art namely Juan Luna, Fernando Amorsolo and Fernando Zobel.

On the same floor is “The Tree of Life”, an exhibition of works by 48 contemporary ceramic artists from Southeast Asia. It hasn’t formally opened at the time I was there, but seeing some of the works being installed, I was already mesmerized. This couldn’t have come at a better time too, with the ASEAN integration almost around the corner and with our country as its chair for 2017.

On the 2nd level is The Diorama Experience. I have long wanted to see this. Carved by artisans from Paete, Laguna, it depicts sixty major events and themes in our country’s history. The Dioramas, they say, are unique achievements in woodcarving, as well as in miniature painting and decoration.

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It is interesting to note that as part of the museum’s participation in the international Google Art Project, fifteen select dioramas were uploaded to the web and can be viewed at home at high-resolution. Visit the Dioramas at Google Art Project here.

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How far we’ve come from the days of our ancestors. ‘May mga saplot na tayo ngayon’ 😛 Pictured here is the building of the famed Rice Terraces of Banawe.

I have to admit, there are a lot I don’t know or understand about Philippine history, especially the pre-Hispanic, the colonial periods, and the Revolution. History can have certain nuances, others outright lies and falsehoods, depending on who the power players are at the time. It can be twisted and misinterpreted to suit some influential and powerful person or group’s interests. The saying ‘history is written by victors’ couldn’t be farther from the truth. I think that’s what makes the study of it all the more interesting. Finding historical truths are like solving a mystery. Unfortunately, some could probably never be solved.

“Ang taong hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan”-Dr. Jose Rizal

I would have to say, the Diaroma experience helped me understand things by shedding light on some of those areas in history I’m not too familiar with. It’s like tying loose ends, or filling-in a jigsaw puzzle with its missing pieces. Presenting history on a timeline also helped me see things from a different perspective. One gets to see the bigger picture and how we are all connected to the past. If you come to think of it, who we are right now is a culmination of everything that had happened in the past. It’s amazing to learn how far we’ve come and how far we are in the stream of time. One has to ask, where will humanity be heading next?

It’s true what Dr. Jose Rizal said, “Ang taong hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan”. Oh yes, the folly of not learning history. Maybe this also explains why we couldn’t seem to get our act together as a nation. This seeming lack of understanding of our past. We keep on repeating the same mistakes (how’s that for cliché?) 🙂

The Diaroma experience culminates with the People Power, chronicling events from the tumultuous years of the 50’s to the Martial rule, leading up to the First EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986.

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The same political atmosphere seem to pervade us today. We should forever be vigilant in safeguarding our civil liberties and freedoms. We know how easily they can be taken away from us.

I’m ending my museum experience on a fascinating note with this maritime vessels display. Aren’t they beautiful to look at? According to the museum’s website, this “collection of finely crafted ship models is a tribute to the boats of yore that were used for everything from warfare to transport and dwelling. This selection includes the local skiffs as well as foreign ships that dropped anchor at Philippine shores”.

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You can check the museum’s Maritime Vessels article online to know more about the different types of vessels on display here.


Visit the Ayala Museum at

Makati Avenue corner De La Rosa Street
Greenbelt Park, Makati City
1224 Philippines