Here & There


Open your eyes! To say that there is no problem with plastic waste or that it is isn’t your problem confirms a head-in-the-sand attitude that shouldn’t be tolerated at all. The clogged sewer canals, for instance in Bekasi, Kalimalang, is a stark reminder of the plastic waste and people’s obstinacy in treating their surroundings as a huge rubbish bin. It is simple logic, really. Clogged drains mean roads flooded with canal water that is teeming with bacteria in which people, who need to get from point A to point B, will need to cross thus increasing the chances of them taking ill by succumbing to leptospirosis (rats are the popular residents of canals) as they wade through the dirty water. And, to make matters worse, given the preponderance of people to eschew health concerns as something trivial or to self-diagnose, untreated leptospirosis can lead to something more life-debilitating or, worse, death. Going outside of Bekasi, discarded plastic waste is deleterious to animals. Sea creatures are dying because they mistake the plastic bags for food and eat them. Others get caught in the plastic trash maiming themselves such as that turtle, in a video that went viral, that had a straw stuck up his nostril which was painfully pulled out.

Students at Global Prestasi School (GPS), particularly the students of the Cambridge Preparatory Class, have decided to address this urgent problem. Following their gold medal win at the recently concluded Youth Environmental Summit (YES) 2019 in Singapore, the grade 8A students are making good on their gold medal-winning project of reducing and ultimately eliminating single-use plastic by, first, practicing what they’re preaching. Now, they are bringing their own lunch boxes and tumblers, and ditching the use of plastic straws. Some have taken to using metal straws to sip their drinks with. The habit of bringing their own lunch boxes and tumblers was instilled during YES when every participant was told to bring his or her own lunch box and tumbler for lunch and dinner. The YES organizers provided the sponge and dish detergent for the participants, so the students were also taught how to be responsible especially cleaning up after themselves.

bring your lunch box and cutlery
I’ve got my lunch box, tumbler, and cutlery. [Josh Purba, grade 8A, GPS] (photo by Emmanuella Venni)
bring your own tumbler
“I’ve got my own tumbler, too.” [Hammada Ghazi, grade 8A, GPS] (photo by Emmanuella Venni)
Their English teacher has also joined in by bringing her own lunch box to pack lunch from the canteen which she places in a cloth bag. Her cloth bag totally eliminates having to ask for a new plastic bag in which to carry her packed lunch back to her office. She has taken it further by having her drink poured in a mug or a glass instead of the usual plastic cup when she has a drink at Starbucks or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Likewise, she has made it a point to bring her own shopping bags at the supermarket to put her groceries in.

mug at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
ice-blended drink in a mug [The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Punggol Mall, Singapore]
Starbucks in a glass
caramel pudding matcha latte in a glass [Starbucks, Grand Metropolitan Mall, Bekasi]
The goal of grade 8A is for GPS to go plastic free. They will start with their class then slowly convince the entire grade 8 students then the teachers, and eventually the entire unit. The project is simple, but it is easier said than done. They are aware of the great challenge before them which is altering the school’s population mind-set of convenience over sustainability to vice versa. It is going to be a struggle fraught with indifference, scepticism, and downright apathy, but they’ve immense resolve to make everyone ditch single-use plastic because it is the right thing to do.


Here & There


Looking up is not something I normally do. My eyes, if I am not reading while walking, are always glued to the floor. It is a habit that I never really noticed until someone jokingly asked if I was looking for something on the ground because I was intently looking at it. I missed the joke he was referring to. On the very rare times I look up, I am astonished at what I see: the modernized sign of Metropolitan Mall shopping mall, the beautiful clouds swirling against a blue backdrop in Manila or Bali, or the eye-catching architecture of the buildings in Jakarta.

Looking up is still an intermittent habit, but when I was in Makati lunching with my uncle, I discovered something aesthetically pleasing at Mary Grace’s when I looked up. The usual talking points of Mary Grace are its ensaymada and cheese roll which gives popular Goldilocks very stiff competition particularly in the ensaymada division. Mary Grace’s soft ensaymada bucked the trend of the traditionally swirl shape and instead came up with a soft bun-like shape smothered in butter, sprinkled with white sugar, and topped with grated cheese (it tastes like queso de bola). It still stays soft even after being refrigerated. Its cheese roll is similarly soft; the rectangular bread, wrapped in white sugar, hugs this smooth, forefinger-long block of mild cheese. Another, in my mother’s book, is its boneless bangus (milkfish) rice topped with egg served with ensalada and vinegar dip. For a former student, it is the smoked salmon pasta, which she says is creamy.

I am adding to the list of Mary Grace’s talking points: its ceiling decor. Inside, it is an eclectic art installation of metal birds fluttering in mid-air, capiz lamps, antique lamps, and glass bottles. Staring at it from my sofa-chair, I marvelled at how the objects were arranged in a seemingly abstract way that you inadvertently look for a pattern to follow in deciphering the whole design. The view mid-way up the stairs to the second floor of Mary Grace becomes even more fascinating with the restaurant’s lights bouncing off from one object to another that the whole design looked like it was glowing.

ceiling decor _ view from staircase of Mary Grace
a closer look at the ceiling decor at Mary Grace

Switching my gaze from the ceiling to my right side, through the painted swirls on the glass wall, my gaze fell on an enormous capiz chandelier in its al fresco section that would, without a doubt, be breath-taking at night. I have always been fascinated with anything capiz – it shouts elegance and craftsmanship – especially when they are lit from inside like a table lamp, a parol (Christmas star decor in Filipino), or chandelier.

capiz chandelier
view from outside of the capiz chandelier at Mary Grace

Sub-talking points on both the metal installation and capiz chandelier can include, after the more sublime points, for instance, where it was made, who cleans it and when, and how many bulbs are used, not to forget the usual talking points of ensaymada, cheese roll, bangus, and the creamy smoked salmon pasta.

Here & There


birthday cake # 1
tiramisu from grade 9B

Birthdays are fun unless you’re a grinch. As a child, you look forward to a big party filled with balloons, a big cake, birthday noodles, party games, and a lot of presents plus a status of the undisputed star of the day. As you get older, the big party is still there, but the games have either disappeared or turned into something less child-friendly, and the soft drinks have been replaced by vodka and its cousins. Presents have become optional, too. As you get much older, the party gets much smaller turning into a tiny party of five or less for dinner at a nice restaurant with colleagues whom you considered your close circle of friends. It is also quieter. Greetings over Messenger, Viber, or WhatsApp come from flooding in from other friends overseas. Again, presents are optional or even non-existent that you are flabbergasted when you receive one.

birthday cake # 2
black forest from grade 9A

Children and birthday gifts are like twins that are inseparable. After all, the point of a birthday is a child having a lot of presents to open after blowing out the candles on the birthday cake. For an adult, the idea of boisterous fun seems a little too noisy for the frazzled nerves and wearied soul, but it does not mean one is too old for birthday cakes and whatnot.

birthday cake # 3
slices of Opera cake by Publik Markette

My birthday celebration this year was extremely low key. It was a simple lunch for three – than the usual big dinner affair – at Publik Markette in Grand Indonesia. I was tickled pink with the birthday platter of Opera cake and the staff singing the birthday song. I thought my gal-pal, Theresia, was preempting the onset of food coma when she kept delaying our short trek to the cake display to choose our desserts. Little did I know that she and Yulianto had something else planned.

A few welcomed birthday surprises landed my way. At school, my grade nine students, 9A and 9B,  surprised me with birthday cakes, so classes were conducted on a sweet note with everyone having a slice of cake. The other came early morning from a friend through WhatsApp which kept me  smiling throughout the day.  I just need for the universe to make our paths get inextricably entwined.

birthday surprise

Here & There



Being in a huge group presents a slight problem for me in terms of interaction. An introvert-extrovert, it takes a lot of psyching myself up to be a social butterfly and not instantly morph into a wallflower in fantastic heels that would quietly steal away once an opportunity presented itself. But a reunion lunch with friends that go way back to my high school days is something I look forward to. Although it’s just half of the group that meets in the Philippines and several months since we’ve last “spoke” over Messenger, it seems like we were just talking to each other yesterday. This year’s reunion lunch was at The Red Crab in Greenbelt because we were all in the mood for seafood, and not to forget that although Café Breton is a fantastic place, we have had our fill of crepes. It was my first time at The Red Crab and it proved a good choice even though the variety of shellfish like clams and mussels were not available because of typhoon Urduja. It was a feast of Crab Maritess, succulent 900-gram crab stir-fried in loads of garlic that’s good for three people, platter of fish, shrimp, and squid, and adobong kangkong (water spinach in soy sauce and vinegar) punctuated by great conversation: the world, global issues, and our individual lives as parents and a singleton.

crab and vegetables from The Red Crab, Greenbelt
Here & There


It has been almost seven years since I wrote about my shock and dismay over a dining experience with my family and my father’s senior citizen card (see Senior Citizen Discount blog post). It was just altogether unpleasant so we never went back to the restaurant again. Fortunately, seven years later, we haven’t had any untoward incidents with my father and mother’s senior citizen cards with restaurants including that restaurant we were at seven years ago. In fact, it’s smooth sailing when I hand my parents’ cards to the cashier; I only have to point to where they are if the cashier asks their whereabouts.

Asian noodles
senior citizens in the Philippines enjoy a discount with their meal | Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap at

Some places we frequent are senior citizen friendly (think generous discounts and friendliness), including how they accept the card/s when you’re paying. My favourite café Starbucks is very senior citizen friendly that my father is a big fan too that try and hang out as often as we can. The cashier doesn’t ask what the senior ate or drank, but s/he does inform you that there will be different transactions for the senior citizen-discountable drink and pastry, so you’re prepared to walk away with a few receipts. A bonus: the cashier smiles all throughout the interaction.

Another eatery that is senior citizen friendly is Dairy Queen at Robinson’s Magnolia mall. It was quite a generous discount off the banana split my mother ordered. Similarly, no questions asked about who’s going to eat it. Its neighbour Frutas, a juice and fruit shake stall, is also quite welcoming with the senior citizen card.

Ang Tunay ng Pancit Malabon on Timog Avenue in Quezon City simply accepts the card of my mother when we order a bilao (roughly translated as woven circular basket/tray) of pancit malabon sans the topping of crumbled pork crackers. The cashier though is more meticulous as she always asks my other to sign their record book and the receipt compared to Starbucks and Dairy Queen.

In terms of delivery service, two restaurants from the Max’s Group of Restaurants, Pancake House and Max’s, have embraced the senior citizen discount cards wholeheartedly. By this I mean you don’t have to remind them that you’ll be using the senior citizen cards of your parents. This is because once you’ve called for food delivery from either restaurant the details of the caller and the holders of the senior citizen cards are entered into their system thus the discounts are automatically applied to the bill. Thankfully, both restaurants don’t ask what the senior citizen is going to eat!

Using the senior citizen card seven years ago was short of excruciating  because my father – he was the only one with the card then – felt he had to prove he was a senior citizen and had to account for what he ate like a child. Seven years later, using the card has been a boon as it should be from the beginning. Both my parents just need to show their cards and they get the benefit they’re entitled to without having to explain themselves which they shouldn’t have in the first place.

Here & There


A traditional Filipino breakfast is someone’s version of lunch or dinner: sinangag (garlic fried rice), tocino (Philippine version of the Spanish bacon) or corned beef, and fried egg (usually sunny side up) washed down with black coffee. This is too heavy for me so I opt for two pieces of pan de sal slathered with jam, cream cheese, peanut butter, or butter. Pan de sal is part of any Filipino’s breakfast or merienda (roughly translated as snack) if you’re going for a lighter fare. Unfortunately, it is difficult looking for pan de sal outside of the Philippines unless you’re somewhere in the US where Filipino bakeries and convenience stores are ubiquitous.

pan de sal by Kamuning Bakery

In the Philippines, pan de sal is now usually sold in major bakeries in the malls and supermarkets in the cities which means that they are not the usual piping hot, fresh-from-the-oven bread that is less on sweetness which is normally expected of Filipino bread. As its name would have it – pan de sal translates to salt bread – it’s leaning on the salty side, but not enough to give you blood pressure problems. However, French Baker, a bakery cum cafe located in most SM malls, has bucked the trend and has been selling huge, fresh-from-the-oven cracked pan de sal (it cracks when you pinch it).

Outside of the malls and within residential areas, Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City is still the to-go to place for freshly baked pan de sal which is available early in the morning. This small mom-and-pop store, which opened its doors in 1939 on the corner of K-1st and Judge Jimenez streets, is still standing but has since gone through major upgrades and expansion. For one thing, they now have an outlet at SM North Edsa, one of the major malls under the SM group. Another noted difference is the absence of the homey, neighborhood store vibe which has been replaced by a more formal bakery ambience complete with a glass display of refrigerated cakes and drinks, and several racks filled with an array of wrapped breads. 

The sale of pan de sal is an open secret.There is no sign advertising its sale. One simply goes up to the counter and places an order with the crew (sadly, a grumpy one) who then asks monotonously how many pieces you want and proceeds to pick up the pan de sal with tongs and drop them in a paper bag. The carb-conscious eater shuns the regular pan de sal because it primarily uses white flour, but Kamuning Bakery has got its ear on the ground about healthy eating and has come with wheat pan de sal. Regrettably, it wasn’t available that day. 

pan de suelo by Kamuning Bakery

Looking around the bakery, I spotted what I thought was a bag of wheat pan de sal. I was mistaken and was immediately corrected by grumpy chops who said it was pan de suelo. Pan de suelo is, as my research yielded, a precursor of pan de sal. Made from wheat flour, its consistency resembles a bagel or a softer French baguette. My Spanish should have kicked in after hearing the name: pan de suelo translates to “floor bread” thus one gets an inkling of its texture. Not a fan of the French baguette, the pan de suelo, I discovered, was a good alternative to the pan de sal. A few minutes in the toaster oven and you have a softer pan de suelo ready to be smothered with one’s spread of choice. This time I went for pineapple jam from The Fruit Garden.

The pan de sal and pan de suelo are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the pantheon of tinapay (Filipino for bread which is pronounced as tee-na-pie). Word of caution: you need to love carbs to discover them.

What is for breakfast- pan de suelo (back) or pan de sal?
Here & There


I had noticed them as we sped down the highway on her scooter. They piqued my curiosity and sense of amazement. The analogy of my gal-pal Eta, who observes Galungan (think Thanksgiving), when I asked about a decorative post outside the back gate of Sanur-based Hotel Puri Tempo Doelo was striking. It was a little shrine on a pole which was slightly taller than me. She said it was a religious fixture related to Galungan and Kuningan, religious traditions that celebrate the triumph of dharma over adharma. In a nutshell, dharma is the belief in Hinduism of fulfilling one’s divine duty and nature thus overcoming its opposite, adharma. Adharma is the antonym connoting chaos and disharmony. Both traditions are marked by prayers at the temple.

This solitary decorated bamboo pole transformed into numerous towering bamboo poles undulating against the clear blue skies in Ubud. They lined the narrow streets of Ubud, the ends drooping down as if bowing respectfully to welcome visitors. I was completely taken by the sight of these bamboo poles swaying like carefree dancers in the cool breezes. Eta explained that these decorated poles are known as penjor, which to make a non-Hindu understand, is analogous to a Christmas tree of those who celebrate Christmas. The concept is similar in terms of symbolizing a tradition, each household having one, and the decor running the gamut of simple to absolutely breathtaking that normally include coconut leaves, fruits like bananas and apples, and stalks of rice grains. The drooping end has a miniature triangular cage that contains the offerings for deities and spirits of ancestors.

A penjor dancing in Ubud

The 10-meter penjor is usually placed in front of houses or business establishments of Hindus as a sign of gratitude and religious offerings a day before the start of Galungan which is on a Wednesday once every 210 days based on the Balinese calendar. Galungan was observed on March 28, 2017. Following Galungan, which is 10 days after it is observed, is Kuningan or the time when the spirits of ancestors return to heaven. It normally falls on a Saturday and only two weeks after Kuningan are these dancing bamboos taken down.

The penjor truly fascinated me. Gazing at them dancing in the air, I marveled at the creativity and dedication involved in making them, not to mention the patience in weaving them for hours. The adherence to a time honored traditions – making offerings of prayers and crops – in the midst of modernity that erode religious and cultural traditions filled me with awe stoking the fires of faith. That gods and ancestors are always looking done protectively at mortals and their kin is assuring; they will always triumph against modernization’s threat of oblivion.

A penjor at Bali’s domestic airport
Here & There


“We just need the blue and white paper. We already cleared customs, so keep your passport,” said this man behind me to a woman he was with.

We were in a queue to exit the Tom Bradley International airport three days before New Year’s Eve. It was moving along well, guided by the constant reminder of a staff to “Move up” and “Keep your passport. You don’t need it. Just prepare your customs card.”

“Don’t look nervous. You should look happy. You’re here,” he continued.

That was when I turned around and saw a Filipino woman – her passport was a dead give away – standing next to an American pushing the luggage trolley while speaking to the woman. Glancing at the woman’s mien, she looked pensive, deep in thought possibly, I surmised, about the reality of her new life in the US confronting her that very minute. She wasn’t a tourist I was very certain about that; I was only holding a passport while she had, aside from her passport, a file with other documents.

His line struck a cord in me. Arrivals can go myriad of ways. She must have been ecstatic at arriving in the US, but that elation must have been wrapped in apprehension at what awaits her new life which, indubitably, would be radically dissimilar from her former life. Everything would be different in all aspects: terrain, language, weather, culture, customs, and routine. She was alone in a way. Living in a new country isn’t always smooth sailing. Aside from battling homesickness, among many things, this feeling of being besieged cocoons an immigrant tightly that if one was to survive in a new world s/he has to steel herself/himself against the odds to succeed. 

My arrival at Los Angeles was nothing to compared to hers. Hers was a permanent relocation while mine was transitory, a promise made to my wonderful man to see him again. Like the Filipino behind me, I was ecstatic, thrilled, elated, but simultaneously anxious to the point of being apprehensive. A lot can happen and change in five months and questions whirled in my head: Does he still feel the same way? Do I still feel the same way? Would this be the beginning of the end? Will we fight? What will we say to each other? Will we get along?

Arrivals aren’t always what people generally perceive them to be. But the outcome can be altered by not overthinking and letting things unfold naturally. Following my own advice, I took a deep breath and a step to embrace my arrival.

Tom Bradley International Airport arrival
Here & There


The airport is one place that sees the opposite spectra of feelings: sadness in bidding one adieu or happiness in welcoming back a familiar face, a loved face. There is another dimension to the airport. It is a place of solitude particularly when you are a solo traveller. It is an isolation that provides a belated opportunity to simply be and to ruminate. There was, however, a time that being at the airport meant feelings of sadness as I grappled with the closure of one life and the slow process of picking up myself. Those days are gone. These days it gives me the solitude to collect my thoughts, process my feelings, and breathe slowly. It also gives me the much vaunted chanced to read – it is passion that has provided succor and refuge, delight and knowledge.

The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa (NAIA, Terminal 2)
Here & There


Being a tourist in LA (or anywhere) is a tale of adventures laced with tour guide misadventures. The adventures are a given, but signing up a tour guide is a shot in the dark. It’s partly a boon because you don’t have to do a anything except show up at the appointed time and place; it is a double blessing when the guide is punctual, polite, and knowledgeable. However, it is the exact opposite when your guide’s favorite line is “I don’t know” and functions more of a driver.
Everything was copacetic with Ming, tour guide # 1, my guide for the whole day at Disneyland, Anaheim. He was loquacious and had perfect timing; he knew when to talk and to keep quiet. His bonhomous demeanor was definitely a plus point. 

“Disneyland is the most expensive theme park in California,” said Ming, slipping into work mode. “The one in Anaheim is the first Disneyland to open which was designed by Mr. Walt Disney.”

Speeding down the carpool lane, he continued with his spiel: “The carpool lane is really good. We go faster than other cars. The other and biggest Disneyland in America is in Orlando. There’s also a Disneyland in Paris and Japan. The newest Disneyland is in Shanghai – it opened June 16.”

In between Disneyland facts, he shared a bit of his life. He mentioned he is Vietnamese and has been residing in the US for six years now.

“This time is peak season for the travel agency,” he said when I asked how busy he was. “Then it is slow from September until before the beginning of Spring break. December is also very busy.”

Disneyland was already teeming with visitors from every walk of life brimming with excitement and accessorized with Mickey or Minnie headbands – with bow or lacy veil – when we got there. 

“Today is not very hot,” quipped Ming with a smile, as we waited for the Mickey and Friends tram to pull up.

Continued the lanky tour guide: “There is only one entrance and exit to Disneyland. We meet to the right of exit then we take tram back to this parking lot. Don’t take train because you go different parking lot.”

Meanwhile, Jeff, guide # 2, paled in comparison to Ming. He was polite and punctual, but his tour guide skills left much to be desired. Driver, in fact, would be a better term to describe his function who just dropped you off and collected you later. He wasn’t much of a talker; we – me and two other people – only got to know of the destination we were heading once we got there. 

“This is Beverly Hills,” he announced after we had passed the huge sign.

It took much to not roll my eyes in exasperation and blurt out, “You don’t say.” But patience reared its head and I flashed him a wry smile. He redeemed himself when he cheerfully trumpeted in his monotonic voice we would be heading to the famed Santa Monica pier. This time I didn’t mind him letting us loose and coming back for us again. Then – Jeff’s redemption holding steadfast – he took us to Getty Center for its famed pavilions, gardens, and permanent exhibitions. However, his redemption was short lived. He expected us to be back at the parking lot in 40 minutes. Sacrilegious! Waiting for the tram ride to the arrival plaza already took 15+ minutes; pray tell, where is the enjoyment of viewing the collections in less than 15 minutes? Face palm.

Then there’s Al whose way of saying his name was peculiar. 

“Call me A-L,” he said when I asked for his name that Saturday morning before we set off for Universal Studios Hollywood.

I thought he was being funny but he was dead serious. It was how he introduced himself to the whole tour group. Like Ming, he lived up to his name of tour guide, as he rattled on details about LA: how earthquakes are usual phenomena, how traffic congested is less on the weekends, and that drought has been a problem for five years. 

Finally, there is Angela Lin, the schoolmarm of a tour guide to Las Vegas and Arizona, who slips into Mandarin and English when the needs calls for it. Shepherding a group of 60 people is no easy feat; her job is akin to a teacher escorting her students on a field trip which is a trying situation, to say the least, given the diverse interests, habits, and quirks. But she would brook no interference in her schedule. In her words, “I am sorry if I push you, but I have a schedule. There was this lady who was late and wanted us to wait for her for another 10 minutes. I told her, ‘Sorry’ and left her.”

The Taiwanese has been in the US for 30 years working in the travel industry, ferrying tourists – Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesians et al – around the country. Prior to her US residency, she was a tour guide in Taiwan for 10 years. Compared to her male counterparts, she was convincing (her smile can disarm the most resolved in not spending an extra dime) in control of everything: no missing tourist, no delays, the requisite spiels about Las Vegas and Arizona, the dos and don’ts, the best shows to see in Vegas (she recommends “Ka” and “The Variety Show”), the urgency of buying bottles of water before heading to Vegas, and the location of the popular brands at the Outlets at Barstow and Desert Hills Premium Outlets.

“I come to Vegas on my free time and watch the shows. I earn money, I also spend money,” quipped the Michael Kors fan on the night she escorted the 19 people (me included) to MGM Grand for Cirque du Soleil’s new epic tale,”Ka”. 

On the downside, she keeps forgetting there are non-Mandarin speakers on the group and you have to remind her for the English version of her previous spiel. There’s also this annoying habit of evading questions.

Tour guides come in various shapes and sizes, armed with what they perceive is the best approach to guiding you through your adventures in a foreign land. Some do it badly while others do a better job. Adventure or misadventure, tour guides definitely lend mood and color to the overall experience.

“Signpost With 3d Characters Shows Travelling Or Guidance” image courtesy of Stuart Miles at