Kwento, Thoughts, Travel

London, England – Streets and Monuments

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions

I like traveling.  I like the way it makes me feel like myself, but more and somehow better.
The alien milieu of a strange new land displaces me and forces me to enlarge my sense of things.  However, to be displaced in an environment whose context is so different from my own would be disorienting if there was no sameness to anchor me.  I need that anchor to help me understand stimuli I might otherwise find incomprehensible.  The effect of such a combination makes the ordinary beautiful again because situating what is ordinary outside the boundaries of what is familiar causes an expansion.  This expansion adds to my perception of what is ordinary and reveals it to be extraordinary after all.

Notes and Impressions

I suppose I’m not saying anything new.  These are observations that have been shared so often they’ve become cliche.  Just like the same touristy photos people always take.  It seems so lame and unremarkable then to share these because so many others have been there, done that.  But when you’re the person doing the showing off, it’s awesome and special because it’s yours -the photograph, the moment, the new perspective.

Here’s my perspective on London’s Hop on Hop off Bus Tour told in hasty tourist snapshots.  I also did some moleskin drawings to compensate for my lack of photography skills.  In an ideal world, I would have made a bajillion more drawings.  But since my ideal world is still shaping itself, I only had the energy to sketch out St. Paul’s Cathedral and Big Ben/The Elizabeth Tower.

Moleskin Sketches 1

The Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

Waiting for the right double decker bus.

London Bus StopIMG_3759IMG_5543The first stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Near the cathedral is a French Bakery and Patisserie franchise called Paul (I appreciate the thought they put into their location choice).

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Moleskin Sketches - St. Paul'sIMG_5511IMG_5518I like double decker buses.  They’re a great way to see the city.  Not ideal for picture taking though because the bus is constantly moving but what can you do?
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IMG_5668IMG_5544Stopping by Buckingham Palace.
Fun Fact:
◊ If the Queen is in, the Royal Standard flies.  If she’s out, they bring out the Union Jack.  This tradition started after the death of Princess Diana.
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IMG_5726IMG_5720Going over and under the London Bridge.

IMG_5584IMG_5591IMG_5640Spending time at Parliament Square; where you can find the Parliament of the United Kingdom, Big Ben/The Elizabeth Tower, Westminster Abbey, St. Margaret’s Church, etc.
Fun Facts:
◊ It’s illegal to die in the houses of Parliament because people who die there are entitled to a state funeral -which would burden British tax payers.  If you look sickly, you’ll be escorted out of the premises posthaste!
◊ It’s not uncommon to find demonstrators rallying in Parliament Square.

IMG_5689 IMG_5678IMG_5661Moleskin Drawings Big BenIMG_5687Westminster Abbey was one of my favorite landmarks.  It’s popularly known as the place where Prince William and Kate Middleton got married and where important British peeps are buried, commemorated, and/or crowned.  No picture taking allowed though, which is a bummer because it’s ballin’ in there -with all those tombs and whatnot.
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I found the following images online. They’re of inside the abbey:

Abbey inside Alexander Creswell - Westminster Abbey
Next entry:  A more personal narrative of my experience in London.

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Chiyoda, Tokyo

I didn’t a chance to get to know Chiyoda as well as I wanted to, but I hear she’s majestic.  She’s the “field of a thousand generations”, home to the Imperial Palace, Yasukuni Shrine, Hibiya park, and rich Japanese peeps.

The little time I had with her was spent underground, in the Tokyo Station.

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She took us to a ramen restaurant with a vending machine order taker and old Japanese cooks.

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And then she took us shopping at H&M (because H&M hasn’t opened in the Philippines yet and Tracy needed work clothes).

More importantly, she lead us to a store that sold 10++ varieties of KitKat and all sorts of Japanese shenanigans in snack form.

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And then more shopping at random shops inspired by pop culture anime.

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My siblings went broke on all the Ghibli merch Donguri Garden sold.  I found some movie posters online and put them under the Ghibli characters I took photos of so you can get in on the references.  I have no idea who the drunk looking dog is though.  Raven just wanted me to take a photo of it because he thought it looked funny.

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What I like about Japan is how beautifully past culture and pop culture merge together.  Shinjuku, Shibuya, Minato, Chiyoda -all the sibling citywards that I hung out with- possessed this trait.  But somehow it struck me as more beautiful in Chiyoda.  Because as Imperial as she is, she can still get down with Dragon Ball, Hello Kitty and Tamagotchi.

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Blast from the past alert!  Freaking Tamagotchis!!!  I wanted to buy the actual old school electronic device but I couldn’t find any in the shop -except for the ones on what looks like an “Evolution of Tamagotchi” display.  And I didn’t know how to ask the sales person either because I can’t speak Japanese.  Chiyoda and I suffered the same language barrier but she consoled me anyway with vibrant displays of our shared interests -which made me feel like I was still part of her bright and colorful world, even if I didn’t fully understand it.

Chiyoda is endlessly cool like that.  And just when you think she couldn’t get any cooler, you find her stash of Gundam and Ultraman memorabilia.

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Ultraman_MG_5037 copyspace Another thing I really like about Chiyoda is her insane sense of humor!  It’s pretty damn wonderful and I love it!
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Sayonara Chiyoda!

NEXT ENTRY: Minato, Tokyo

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Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

Shibuya is a rockstar titty deep in cool.

It’s impossible not to be insanely popular when you happen to be one of Tokyo’s fashion authorities and a world renowned nightlife extraordinaire.  Anybody who’s anybody wants to hang with Shibuya -who we got to meet after having lunch with Shinjuku.

Shibuya struck me as androgynous.  Someone too modern and too hip to be defined by conventions as limiting as gender.  Someone who exists without needing to be defined, setting an example on how to just be by disregarding antiquated preconceived notions of how we’re supposed to be.

That’s how we spent the day with Shibuya -with no clear itinerary except to amplify the experience by completely surrendering to it.

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Shibuya took us shopping at Department 109 (which Tracy and I really ought to have taken pictures of) and later introduced us to aspiring rockstars who decided to set up a spontaneous show on the streets.  They called themselves “The Throttle” and they sang retro songs in English.  Authorities later shut down their production because they didn’t have permits, but that just made it easier for us to talk to them.

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As a result of a loudness in presence and personality, Shibuya developed a spectacular tendency to disorient.  It was hard to keep track of where we were going and why we were going there because we were being led towards so many different places and so many different happenings all at once.


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Shibuya was bright neon and busy and had the same soft spot for graffiti tattoos as Shinjuku.  Except Shinjuku didn’t have an extravagance of character as extreme as her older sibling.

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This overwhelming ostentation even inspired animals to exaggerate their features with kawaii markings.

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In search of tita Cris’ specifically requested pasalubong (must try!), Tracy and I found ourselves in Shibuya’s kitchen -formally titled Tokyu Food Show.
Shibuya’s kitchen is an underground department store food court that covers the area of two city blocks.  They sell everything from fancy looking bento boxes to simple charcoal grilled sweet potatoes, warm soul soothing ramen to cold fresh sushi, strictly traditional Japanese dishes to wild fusion cuisine to straight up foreign fuds.

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I guess the eclectic nature of this selection mirrors the eclectic nature of Shibuya’s personality -which has so freaking much to offer that it’s hard to keep track of everything without developing ADHD.  Fortunately, someone else made a list of 50 things you can do with Shibuya.  Check it out!

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Matane Shibuya!  Kanpie!

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Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

I spent the Holy Week weekend in Japan with my dad, brothers and sister.

According to Wikipedia (the most trustworthy internet resource on earth), there are 23 special city wards that make up the core of Tokyo.  We visited Minato (where our hotel was), Shinjuku, Shibuya and Chiyoda.

I saw the city wards as siblings.   Each had its own distinct personality, but all shared an equally distinctive commonality of features that made it easy to distinguish them as part of the same large family.

The first one I met was Minato, then Shinjuku, then Shibuya and finally Chiyoda.  But since Minato was the last one I said goodbye to, I’ll tell you about him last.  Instead, I’ll start with Shinjuku -who greeted us with a WAM BAM SHAMBAM! of color.

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I’ll always remember Shinjuku for how organic the art in her felt.  She was famous for her Imperial Garden but, while leading us there, she couldn’t help but show off the graffiti tattoos she had on the immaculate alleyways of her skin.

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It took us a few minutes to walk to her Gyoen -whose 58.3 hectares held Japanese Traditional, French Formal, and English Landscape style sections. We each gave Shinjuku ¥200 so she could finance the maintenance of her beautiful garden.

She could barely contain her excitement as we passed through the gates and into her masterpiece.  She wanted to show off her cherry blossom trees.  The satisfaction she felt for her ownership of them was so immense, the weight of which was heavier than any imagination could carry and would therefore always leave behind a deep and lasting impression that was impossible to convey.

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In her Gyoen, she introduced us to an old couple who sold bento boxes for  ¥500 & ¥850 at the tea house situated near a redonkulously soft and well manicured grassy expanse.  The couple also sold hot black tea, cold green tea, pancakes and other snacks.  Shinjuku urged us to buy some so that we could picnic under a tree she picked.

She wanted us to feel at peace, because that’s how she felt when she was in her garden.

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Springtime is when the cherry blossom trees are in their most festive mood.  All over Japan, they celebrate Spring’s arrival with a shower of flower confetti -excited for the new beginnings spring brings.  Shinjuku also wanted to share the festivity this inspired in her.  And once again, she succeeded.

The ability to share her good mood is one of her extraordinary qualities.  Another is the incredible freshness of the air surrounding her.  Never, in all the world, have I breathed in such purity.

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What I’ve shared with you focuses mainly on Shinjuku’s garden.  But she’s much more than that.  It was the side of her we most explored, but she also gave us glimpses of her complex nature.  Shinjuku is known as the center of Tokyo.  She is the meeting place of artists (Golden Gai) and foreign cultures (Ōkubo and Kagurazaka).  Just as she is part Imperial Garden (Shinjuku Gyoen), she is also part red light district (Kabukichō), gay district (Shinjuku Ni-chōme) and so much more.

She’s also the place where I bought my first hentai comic…which I got as a souvenir…purely for novelty reasons…really!
Not to say that Shinjuku is a place that specializes in smut production.  Hentai was openly sold in every convenience store we went to, including 711 and Familymart (which both have free wifi by the way).  When I purchased it I was filled with shame and apprehension.  But the lady at the counter -who looked about my age- didn’t even care.  Not one single bit.  It even seemed as though she found my display of impudent bravery boring.

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And hey! Bonus picture.  This poster was chilling on the side of a slot machine establishment.  It’s one of the anime shows Giann is crazy about.

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Sabishiku naru yo, Shibuya-chan.  

NEXT ENTRY: Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

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Beach Break – Stories

Beach Break | February 22nd | Day 3
Surfing finals, frisbee tournament, volleyball exhibition match, beach party

me and jessa girl

Might as well just blurt this out: I was crazy popular during Beach Break.
It was weird.  It was beautiful.  It was something I didn’t quite know how to acknowledge -mostly because I didn’t (and still don’t) necessarily feel deserving of all the attention I got.  But I do see the humor in it, and how can I not share such a funny (and flattering) experience?

One funny thing was how people kept asking to have their picture taken with me.  The locals were very chill about it but the frisbees players took things to the next level!  You can tell they were doing it in the spirit of gago good vibes and I like that about them.  They are definitely people who know how to have a good time.

At one part of the evening, people kept leading me off to their friends.  I wish I had a GoPro because I’m finding it impossible to capture the moment and its awesomeness in words.  Imagine all this happening in Quentin Tarantino style transition and fly high good vibes:  It started while I was talking to David and Carlos.  A girl comes up to me and insists I follow her.  She takes me by the hand and brings me to her friends.  As soon as introductions were made, someone else would come up and lead me off somewhere else.  This kept happening until I hit the mosh pit.

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I will forever suck because I didn’t get my twerk on, but the frisbee people around me were super game for whatever (I wish I could be cool like them).  Chat saved me from my own lameness and we end up chilling with her friends before I had to go give out beer.  I really really like her friends.  Especially this one guy with super long hair who was probably a wise Apache Indian sage-chief in his past life.   Oh and Bulaw of course!  Who’ll forever by my Urbiztondo guardian angel.

I did encounter quite a few people who didn’t know the meaning of personal space.  But Rino and Boss VR had my back.  They bailed me out from these incredibly makulit guys by asking me to help get tents.   Which I suppose was funny because I was in a long, backless beach dress and wedges.

Lolz. Good times.

SET UP

erection of the stage (photo by Jep)stage

SURFING FINALS
We moved the surf spot in front of Little Surf Maid because the logistics were too complicated at the other beach.  I got there before the competition started and had breakfast while the surfers stretched it out.  The food at Little Surf Maid is a little more expensive than what we had in Kahuna, but it’s SO much better.  I got the Australian breakfast platter which came with the most delicious bacon I’ve ever had in my life.  Along with hash browns, grilled tomato, a ginormous sausage, scrambled eggs and tea.  I would legit go back to La Union just for that breakfast platter.

I also bought a hammock for Php530!  Which I lost that same day…but at least I got to chill in it while watching the surfing competition.  Bulaw helped me set it up in one of the tents.

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AFTERNOON SOCIAL SCENE

Some photos I shot of people while I was delivering a script to the event host.  You meet so many people during these kinds of things.

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FLOW ARTIST SESSION
I had a break in-between lunch and dinner so I hung out with the flow artists and tried to learn how to flow.

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VOLLEYBALL EXHIBITION MATCH
This is the one event I didn’t get to watch or be part of.  But I heard the girls were good.  And they’re so damn fit!  They inspire me to workout harder and more consistently.

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FRISBEE TOURNAMENT
Since I wasn’t doing much in the surf zone, I was assigned to help give out food to the players participating in the frisbee tournament -which is how I got to spend time with these awesome, awesome people.   If the surfers make you feel like family, the frisbee players make you feel like a superstar!  I hate that I wasn’t able to get as many photos of the frisbee peeps because they were all so cool.

They were so wonderful that I decided to take up Ultimate Frisbee again…or at the very least try it out one more time.  Adi tells me they have beginners’ night at Meralco.  It’s near my office, so might as well right?

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*Most of the photos taken by Jep V.

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Beach Break – Before the Booze

Beach Break | February 20-23 | Day One
Arrival & Prep

Everything is more susceptible to sweet talk at nighttime, including the road.  Which is why we left for Urbiztondo before the sun even thought of rising.  We wanted to take advantage of darkness and its ability to make the road so much more open to all our hopeful advances.  So under the twilight sky, we coaxed it to let us go all the way (quickly and with little resistance) to La Union -where we launched Beach Break.

Beach Break was a two-day long beach party with a surfing competition, frisbee tournament and volleyball exhibition match.  Putting it together involved a lot of stress.  But that’s expected when events is your business.  It’s stressful, exhausting and all sorts of uncomfortable.  It’s also fun.  10,000 leagues of fun.

Especially when you’re a team of young guns housed in a beautiful villa by the sea.

young guns Me, Rinsky and Jessa Girlbed

We set up headquarters at Kahuna.  Our first meeting was held in their cafe, where we sought out Php250 Filipino breakfasts to help us recover from our eight hour love affair with the road.

But the living room at the villa became our base of operations for the remainder of the trip.  It was spacious and clean.  And it gave everyone access to the outdoor lounge overlooking the event space.  In that living room we printed scripts, IDs, and beer signs.  We also packed t-shirts, formulated program flows, and munched on Tostitos with cream cheese.

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the beach scene

The first day was cucumber mint ice water -chill and fresh.  The newness of the experience coupled with the sunset slowdown (when honey light soaks its sweet sedative into the bones of the world) made it an exciting time to feed Wonderland (my demon camera).
That afternoon he and I captured soul images of new friends, the sunset and surfboards.

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jumpingcotton candy boardsnew friends_MG_3683_MG_3673over here!boards and boy breathingBonus shot: Stuffed squid.

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The evening was spent in near-suspended motion.  We wanted to save our energy for the actual event days, but many of us were made jittery by long to do lists.  Whereas I felt nervous because mine seemed too short.  It’s never good to do nothing.  And the best way to stay busy is by talking to people.  Which is so easy in a place full of happy-go-lucky surfers.

Events can be a tough business, but it’s tougher not to love it.

Next entry: “Beach Break – Single and Unattached”.

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Keeping It Real, Quezon

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We left for Real when the New Year was only 10 days and 20 hours old.

We arrived at 4:17, Saturday morning -would’ve probably gotten there sooner if Waze didn’t keep lying to us (Sterero siya!)   Next time we’ll print out a map.

The cottage owners were still asleep (rental opens at 6am and closes at 10pm), so we found shelter in the form of a coconut hut while waiting for them and the sun to rise. Jim, Harry and Bea did the smart thing and took power naps. But Tommy and I were more interested in capturing images of the sky getting dressed. The boats watched with us.

Tommy and the Sea Good morning Boat!
We were only interested in seeing which colors the sky would choose to wear that day.  But the local sky guardians mistook our intentions as perverse and went to investigate our actions. They came in the form of dogs, which made me panic. So Tommy had to come to my rescue and distract them with sticks.

After appeasing the guardians we bumped into some of Harry’s friends -who came to Real after an inuman down South.  We woke the others and followed our new comrades to a yellow house by the sea.

Erick, Lailani, Miguel and Jed

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We didn’t bring any food with us.  Only alcohol for my friends and a bottle of water for me.  But there was a palengke full of freshly caught sea creatures nearby, as well as a local woman who happened to have pro-ihaw skillz.

Tanigue Shrimp!yum

And just two tumblings away from our cottage was a treehouse tindahan with snacks and Cola.

We had no worries.

Bea and catBea and Tommy Treehouse Tommy and I

…Except when we were making our way to Mt. Balagbag (where the waterfalls hide).  Harry drove his City across the countryside -which was under construction.   But even in its unraveled state, the countryside was so terrific the City couldn’t help but quiver.  It trembled and shook so much we were afraid it wouldn’t be able to keep itself together.  But the City survived and we made it to the falls.  We even found the most hipster rock place ever along the way.

There was so much beauty there.  So much life in the endless ocean crashing up against great black rocks.  I bet those boulders were sleeping giants in disguise.

Harry of the Sea Bea by the Sea Tommy on the RocksHipster rock place

Wonderland (my camera) was pooped by the time we got to Balagbag.  And so were we.  Still, we paid the Php 20 entrance fee and trekked on.  So worth it.  Wonderland managed to stay awake until after we got a few shots of the falls, but fell asleep shortly after.  A few shots were all we needed anyway.

Finding the waterfallsBy the waterfalls Deciding what to do nextWhere to look?

We left Quezon a few hours later -making our way back to Muntinlupa after charging our phones and bodies with naps and electrical sockets.  We were lost for most of the way going home, but following Jollibee signs helped us get back to civilization.

Whattatrip!

{Breakdown of Expenses}

There were five of us, and we each had to pitch in:
Php 500  Gas
Php 300  Palengke money
Php 400  Place to stay

What else I spent on: Php 350 for food and water.  The rest spent a lot more because they bought alak.

Expect to spend about Php 1550 each for the trip if you’re in a group of five.  Php 2000 if you drink or if you want to go surfing/skim boarding (board rentals are Php 200).  And Php 2500 if you want to eat somewhere fancy after..

The End.

Stranded

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