Day 2: Haggling it out

After a breakfast of a variety of bread that we bought last night, we were off to the Central Market. From outside, the place looks a bit old and similar to most ordinary cheap market which is common in the Philippine provinces. Upon entering it, however, would change all that impression. Inside is mixture of souvenir items, watches, shirts, jewelry stuffs and other items that will surely make one dizzy at the same time thrilled. What I like about this place is that right in the middle of the market are restaurants, coffee shops and, once again, bread stores. We’d learn later, that all over KL, there’s Berry, Bread Talk, Bread Story and Bread History, to name a few and all of which sells almost the same product line, almost same good taste, but just different prices.

Inside the Central Market.
I conclude that Malaysians love bread.

Lunch for today was just at a nearby mall. What’s remarkable about the food courts here is that they are self-service. They’ll serve you rice on a plate and will then let you do the picking of the viands.  Prices are determined according to the amount of food on your plate–no set menu price. Nice, right?

After the hearty meal, we went to Petaling Street (aka Chinatown) which is just across the mall. This place is comparable to the Philippine’s Divisoria in terms of merchandise: fake watches, shoes, shirts, bags, and other items—mostly bootleg. It is also a good place to buy souvenirs here. Be ready though with your haggling skills.

Feeling the effect of the dizzying hunt for a good bargain, the group finally called it quits in Chinatown. We agreed it was time for us to see the famous mighty Petronas Twin Towers

From Petaling, we took the bus to KLCC. It was our first bus ride and it costs us only RM 0.7 each or just about 10 Philippine pesos. Other than the cheap fare, we noticed that Malaysian buses are numbered according to their route unlike in the Philippines where we our drivers hang destination tags in front of their windshield.

Stepping out of the bus we found ourselves facing the imposing Malaysian Towers. It was just an awesome sight and so tempting to just get in it but we learned from other people that a visit to the towers’ sky bridge is impossible in the afternoon so we tried to make the most of the day’s visit.

Situated between the two towering structures is the Suria KLCC mall. In the middle of its court is BMW’s team F1 car on display. Other F1 related activities like F1 simulator drive and ticket sales to Sepang are ongoing. Setting any embarrassment aside, we gave in to the urge and posed in front of the displays. This is one time when any opportunity to pose near an F1 artifact is worth risking. By the end of our coffee break at the mall’s Dunkin Donut outlet, we went across to exit at the other side. And yes, the two giants are still there.

Who else is on display but Team Petronas in the middle of mall.

One thing I learned from reading photography tips is to avoid cliché shots. But who cares? We are at the famous Petronas Tower. We can’t help but pose just as everyone did—get in the frame and make sure that the towers’ tip and structure is in the background. We repeated those cliché shots over and over. Different pose, different angle, different location. But both towers had to be there. We didn’t mind the weird stares from other tourists. For sure, they’ll do likewise anyway.

Petronas Towers, Malaysia
Can’t help but do what everyone does–pose in front of the towers.

After almost filling my camera’s memory card and after feeling a bit of neck strain we agreed that it was time to go somewhere else like Lake Garden. It was late in the afternoon already when we arrived. There’s an event at the park where throngs of people have gathered in front of the stadium and we learned it’s a rock concert. At that point I was actually curious and interested if the band would play songs in English or Malay. We tried to wait for it but the humidity’s taking its toll on us. We got tired, sweaty and hungry, and with my wife forcing a smile (a warning sign), we decided to leave even before the concert has started.

To end the day, we had dinner again at Bangsar but this time at Sri Nirwana, which serves mostly Indian food. The place was packed with a various customers, locals and foreigners alike. Again, they don’t serve beer, which again could have come great with the spicy food served on banana leaf. Once more, we dined alfresco.

We had a hard time flagging a teksi after the meal. The passing BMW’s, Benz’s, compact cars and a variety of interesting Protons somehow had a de-stressing effect on me while waiting for the elusive taxi which came after more than an hour later. Taxis are that scare in Malaysia.

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Day 1: Our first Nasi Lemak

The one-hour trip and late afternoon arrival at the hotel sent our stomach grumbling and begging for food. But our hunger disappeared once we got to check in on our room or better called our home for the next seven days. Calling it a room would be a misnomer as it is one with two levels and two bedrooms with each room having its own toilet and bath. It also has a living room with comfy couches and a fully equipped kitchen. What more can we asked for something we paid for just Sing$125 for a one-week accommodation.

Room’s spiral staircase.
The cozy living room.

Soon, however, our protesting stomach cannot be ignored and it signaled our first authentic Malaysian experience. Fifteen minutes away from our hotel is Bangsar, a place where several upscale restaurants and shopping area are located. Even then, we went directly to a food court in one block where the banner bearing the big words ‘Nasi Lemak’ grabbed our attention. We all agreed that there’s no better way to eat our first Malaysian cuisine than alfresco. So despite the dimly lit area, we mingled with other diners who were enjoying their meal just along the side of the main street.

Nasi Lemak served fast, so fast we did not capture the bare hands.

Nasi Lemak is a popular local food that consists mainly of chicken, egg and several other sidings not to mention the variety of spicy sauces and dips available. What makes it more interesting is its preparation– most ingredients were picked and placed with the seller’s bare hand. But who cares anyway, the food was great. What I find unfortunate though is that due to their religious restrictions, they don’t serve beer (or any other liquor), which I know would have been perfect with such spicy food.

Been To Malaysia for real

It’s been almost a month already when we had our vacation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Even until now, during pauses in between work and other activities, I would find myself wondering if I had been to Malaysia for real. It was as if the 7-day trip went by so fast as an F1 car would in one lap.

Come to think of it, it was our F1 fanaticism that started this trip in the first place. My wife and I planned this trip, initially, just to see the 2007 F1 Sepang race. Sooner we’d learn that the minimum number of days our time share account would allow us is one week. Well, who gets upset over an extended vacation? If there’s anyone, it won’t be us. So to make this a vacation more fun, we convinced her brother and sister-in-law to tag along.

 Our trip started on a Good Friday.

The airline was Airasia. Despite the long drive from Sto. Tomas, Batangas to Diosdado Macapagal Internation Airport we arrived earlier than expected in Clark, Pampanga. From there, our 4-hour flight to KLIA-LCCT started by 11:45 a.m. as scheduled.

The flight was smooth and uneventful, as the weather was good. Even with the absence of in-flight entertainment—no TV, no games—the sight of distinct Malaysian flight attendants came as a bonus.

 Upon arrival at LCCT and after checking out from immigration, we were picked by a taxi service that took us to Duta Vista Executive Suite in Persiaran Ledang after an hour of interesting trip. I can still remember when I had to peer through the van’s window when I saw the Petronas Twin Towers dominating the afternoon skyline. Yup, we’re in Malaysia indeed.

Duta Vista.

Finally! Fast Cars!

Finally! F1 Sepang Tickets at last!!!!!!! Pardon the exclamations, but it’s been our much-awaited event for this year. Since my wife and I fell in love with this fast-paced sport, we’ve been dreaming of watching it live. I was thinking last year that if ever we’d have to get out of this country for a vacation together, it would be the best place and time to do so. I just don’t know if she’s been thinking the same thing too or even ahead of me though I just know that she’s been dying to see either Michael Schumacher or Kimi Raikkonen in person, win or lose. So when I eventually blurted out, “we need a vacation abroad” there was no protest whatsoever. F1 Sepang is really it, Disneyland is just so out of the picture.

So today, after a couple of months since we purchased the tickets online (and doing some blunder during the transaction) and after all the anxiety of waiting for it to be delivered, it’s now in our possession and in pristine condition. Those guys (especially one named Muna) in malaysiangp.com did a very good job. Sepang, here we come!!!

Reunions and Alcohol in Bacolod

“In vino veritas” – anonymous

Last time, I wrote about the degrading condition of Bacolod city with regards to some taxi drivers’ misdemeanor, dirty streets, traffic congestion and concrete roads that seem to get back to the ages where ruts are a norm. All these still seem true in every place I have been lately.

But I realized that there are reasons I still like to come here as often as time and money permit.  I keep on coming back for the people I have known for years—my parents and family, for my classmates, for friends, and for whoever are still here and haven’t left Bacolod to work or to stay abroad for good.

From the time we arrived from Manila and within just one week, the calls for reunion—or invitation to drink—poured in through SMS.

The first one was with my IP bros who were my classmates and friends in college. I was one of the founding members of this informal group. IP stands for Iota Pi or International Playboy. I was clueless though where we got this name. Or just like any rock bands today, it was taken on the spur of the moment from one of our misadventures courtesy of Red Horse or San Miguel beer, Toska Vodka, Ginebra Gin or a mixture of all of these.

Unlike our college years, this time we drank in moderation (ahem). We were just happy enough to spend some time reminiscing and checking what everyone’s been doing lately. Surprisingly, we also ended our session early. If this was more than 10 years ago, it would have been over not until the wee hours of the morning and we would be going home reeking of alcohol and some other smell that we get in along the way.

The second reunion was with batch ‘90 SJHS. I never expected that this year I’ll be attending a general homecoming instead of the usual annual batch reunion. With Melvin and his wife, we arrived at St. Joseph’s High School – La Salle by 2 p.m. despite the heavy downpour (it’s been raining for days since we arrived). From the moment we entered the gate, the familiar faces brought back memories and stirred some confusion. I recognized some names but forgot the faces and vice versa—knew the faces but forgot the names.

Registration was a breeze. Immediately after, we wasted no time and went to tour the school’s ground. Most of the buildings are still there while some of our 2nd and 4th year classrooms have been changed to a school chapel. What was once the pavilion and the canteen are now nowhere to be found as both have been merged into a bigger activity center called the Oscar Hilado Civic Center. Part of the football field has been consumed by this new building, too.

At the rear part of the campus, our Library, practical arts room (San Lorenzo Ruiz Building), and home economics buildings still stand. Some new structures already annexed the area beside the periphery fence.

Right behind the civic center is the new canteen where just for this event beers are sold. At last, after 20 years, this is my first time to drink booze legally inside the SJHS campus—we once smuggled alcohol during a recollection event. Ti abi.

Our batch’s attendance reached almost 20 when dinner was served. Our allocated table was filled with smiling faces, people exchanging news and pleasantries. The free dinner was also good. It was also worth noting that most of our teachers are still with SJHS. Some dropped by for this homecoming.

There’s Mr. Leon Sales whom I won’t forget for it is through him that I learned to touch-type fast enough to surprise most people. There’s Mr. Baldomero who was our 1st year moderator and who introduced us the yoyo called “El Diablo.” Ms. Logrunio, Ms. Lupo, Mr. Lariza and our “psychic” Filipino teacher, Mr. Mahigne were also present. Then there’s Mr. Dante Amaguin who arrived late but nonetheless still got our attention with his magic tricks. He was our 4th year class adviser.

I am so glad to be part of these series of reunions. It is always nice to see friends in good health, successful in their respective careers or just plainly contented to be still in our hometown and yet survive (I actually find them lucky and I even envy them).  Time always flies. So before I know it, I will be here again back for another reunion in Bacolod.

Three Reasons Foreigners Hate Bacolod

After spending our Christmas eve in Batangas with my in-laws, wifey and I woke up by 4 a.m. and went straight to Park ‘N Fly to leave our car while in Bacolod. We reached the airport earlier than the 2-hour check-in time but the lines going to different counters were already packed. Some lines even crisscrossed each other to the frustration of most people including myself.

While fidgeting I noticed that a number of foreign visitors (British, Americans, and other Asians) are going to places such as Kalibo, Cebu and Palawan but not one in Bacolod’s line. It made me wonder why. Soon I will have the answers.

Our 8:45 a.m. flight was delayed. If not for Delifrance’s Christmas ham clubhouse sandwich—surprisingly, it’s one of the best sandwich I have tasted—that I ate for breakfast, I would have been grouchy as I always am given the situation.

Then boarding time came after an hour. We had to walk from the departure area to our designated plane. It used to be a short one but it’s now some hundred meters walk—longer exposure to the glaring morning sun, to everyone’s dismay.

It’s a good thing that, except for not being seated near the window, we had a smooth flight. The ‘bring me’ games, just like in any other Cebu Pacific flight, and the items for sale, which are nice last minute gifts, made the trip interesting. Of course, the beautiful flight stewardesses made it even better.

Landing wasn’t bad either. At this point I was thinking that we can leave the airport in a jiffy after getting off the plane. But it didn’t happen. The ‘new and improved’ arrival area and baggage claim answered the questions why we haven’t got any foreigners on board.

In these times of innovative technology, one would be shocked to see how the bags are handled. After manually unloading the bags from the cart, these were either dragged or tossed to a barricaded area where one can easily claim it if, and only if, he’s lucky to get the attention of porters handling it. (Damn, I should stop watching the Discovery channel.) Wifey and I didn’t get lucky fast, we had to wait.

As it has been our practice to avoid the taxis right outside the airport terminal as they would normally overcharge, we walked out of the airport are to flag down cabs just along the highway. Unfortunately, two consecutive ones were grinches—or they could have thought of me just the same. I find it so shameful that I am being swindled by my kababayan just because I got bags, obviously coming from the airport. I can just imagine if it were Caucasians. I suspect that this is reason number two why foreigners aren’t queuing for Bacolod.

Pissed, I gave up hailing a cab. We decided to board a jeepney instead that would take us downtown. Along the way though I couldn’t help but notice the scattered garbage, the uncut grasses in the city plaza, and the stagnant sidewalk canals. This is not the Bacolod I used to know for years. What an un-welcoming sight. Reason number three.

From downtown, we finally got a good taxi driver. Well, at least my resolution—for some years already—not to generalize anything or anyone still works. Just some of them are bad, not all.

Eventually, we arrived home by 11 p.m. Tatay and nanay and some of my siblings were already there. As expected, a good lunch of sea foods was served. Tatay cooked sweet and sour fish and tanigue kinilaw—both dishes are his specialty—and prepared some fruits for dessert. It was one hearty lunch. Home sweet home, and it’s still Christmas day.