Saturday, March 31, 2012

Coin Divers

Allen Wharf
Samar

As the ship started filling with people, paddle boats approached. They were agile coin divers equipped with powerful lungs and a homemade plywood flipper rigged in one foot. They look up, you look down, they beckon for coins, you dig in your pocket and toss. The boys scramble to get it. As the coin hit water, it begins to slowly sink like floating paper in air.... The sea boiled as they dove in the coin frenzy. Eventually, a boy surfaced flashing a coin gripped between fingers while the others shouted for more.
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The Captain And I

Demilitarized Zone
korea




The Captain asked if I could come with him on a special trip somewhere. He didn’t tell what or where exactly but that it maybe a little surprise for me. On the outskirts of town, we stopped by a marker leading up to a huge monument. It was a place dedicated to a group of Filipino soldiers who fought with the South Korean Army against the communist North and China during the Korean War. He bowed and said, In behalf of South Korea, I want to thank you and the Filipino people. Overwhelmed with pride, speech left me.
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Sanctuary Reef

Lanuza
Surigao

Our planned dive to General Island was cancelled. Instead, we were diving at the Sanctuary Reef. But as fate would have it, the waves were uncharacteristically huge in these parts, owing to gale-force winds prevailing at the time. Mike was just a few feet from where I was standing, but we have to shout at each other to make conversation. I said, Any chance we can dive Mike? It sounded like, ?ekiM evid nac ew ecnahc ynA, as the words were blown back down my throat. Mike said, !nuJ ecnahc a toN.
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Napoleon Bonaparte

Invalides
Paris



Invalides is a military museum chronicling WWI, WWII and the medieval wars especially that of Napoleon Bonaparte’s conquests. I like best the Medieval Room, which exhibits armors and a remarkable collection of swords. Napoleon has a tomb inside in what is called the Dome Church, a military pantheon. Surrounded by other great leaders, the emperor is encased in 5 successive coffins, one made of tin, one of mahogany, two of lead and one of ebony. In 1989, the massive dome and its decorations directly above Napoleon’s sarcophagus were re-gilded using 12 kilograms of real gold!

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Pay As You Dump

Salinas
Monterey


Roel was cleaning the lawn with a sturdy Japanese Maple tree. Too shady, he said, so he cutoff some of the branches. We gathered the litter and put them on the pickup truck for transport to the garbage dump. Here, they weigh your garbage and you pay first before you dump.
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Drop Zone

Camotes Airstrip
Camotes island

I was watching a BBC special on Rio and paragliding in the famed Corcovado. It made me remember the first time I took that jump at 8,000 feet. At the time we used a 4-seater Cessna and I was seated by the open wall where there used to be a door. As altitude got higher, the air turned colder, but having realized I’d be the first to jump made me chill. I looked down at the drop zone: just a tiny line viewed from the sky, nothing like the airport runway that it was.
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Sampaguitas

Quezon City
Philippines


It’s almost midnight at a cafe in QC but a little girl was still selling Sampaguita flowers. "How much is it?" I asked. "Twenee (20)," she said. I was surprised at her congeniality. "Twenee bucks sir," she teased in perfect American accent. I said, "You’re overpricing. You have to dance for your twenee." She said, "I can’t dance. I can’t sing. I have no talent." This surprised me even more for she was talking straight English. 3 sentences! After much cajoling she managed to wiggle her shoulders and yes, she had her twenee….


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Pho

Hanoi
Vietnam

Kang, Baataar and I were walking along the main street of Hoan Kiem in downtown Hanoi when we saw an old lady balancing two huge baskets with a bamboo pole. She sat down and brought out coal, pots and kitchen utensils on one basket; spices, veggies, noodles and slices of meat on the other. We watched as she brought a pot to a boil to make stew. As soon as wafts of it filled our noses, our mouths watered, and we settled on miniature chairs. Ngon? (Good?) she asked. Rat ngon! (Very good!) we replied. She smiled showing red betel-stained teeth.
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Friday, March 30, 2012

Touching Bellies

Borobudur
Jogya, Indonesia

Borobudur is made of black rock with stone tablet carvings of the life of the Buddha. The tablets occupy whole walls all over the temple’s terraces. It’s like reading a comic book, but instead of two dimensional prints, you get scenes etched in stone. The topmost terrace contains huge stone bells with square openings called stupas. Inside each stupa is a Buddha with an enchanting smile akin to Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Legend has it that touching the Buddha’s belly brings good luck. So there we go hopping on the bells reaching through the openings straining hard to touch those bellies....
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Mountain Talk

Grand Teton National Park
Wyoming

Snow fell in the evening blanketing everything in white splendor. In the morning, frost covered the car that took 15 minutes to scrape and melt off the windshield. We were on the way south to Grand Teton National Park. From sagebrush flats, the bluish Tetons abruptly rose thousands of feet up the skies. Faith can move mountains, it’s a cliché but these mountains can give you faith literally, in you, in this life, on this earth. It’s more than visual, it’s as if the mountains were living, breathing beings talking to me through the wind and the murmuring river, and falling leaves….
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White Tips

Isla de Gato
Malapascua

The cave had twin narrow openings festooned with overhanging soft corals. I sensed movements inside, something with razor-sharp teeth and powerful jaws! It circled back and forth, the white tips on its tail and dorsal fins gleamed in the darkness. For a moment I was mesmerized by this overly feared and greatly misunderstood creature. Time passed. As we moved out, I swam sideways to get a last glimpse of the shark, generally branded as the most vicious and bloodthirsty predator on earth and driven to kill by an insatiable lust for flesh and blood….
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Martial Arts

Panmunjum
Demilitarized Zone, Korea

I was in Panmunjum in the DMZ where I got acquainted with Tobias, a German who knew Taekwondo, Copeira and Kung Fu. He asked me to show any Asian Martial Art I know. He was disappointed I didn’t know any. Then I traveled southward to the Jiri Mountains where I met Jean-Cristoff, a Danish who knew Karate. I was ashamed being with Europeans showing Asian skills I should be equipped with. When I got back, I took special training for Arnis-de-Abanico. In this branch of discipline, one of the Grand Masters was a six-footer from Luxemburg, a European!
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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Water Dance

Bellagio
The Strip


Bellagio for me is the definitive Las Vegas image. It is grand. It is stunning. It is awesome! As the music starts, the fountains start to rise, and sway, then shoot up a hundred feet into the air. Your eyes, ears and skin are filled with the sight, sound, splash and spray of huge fountains highlighted by neon lights and Josh Groban’s singing.


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Deer

Tanzawa Mountains
Kanagawa Prefecture

I was first to wake up, it’s still dark outside and very quiet, and the smell of grass and dew filled my lungs. Then I felt like being watched. I turned and saw deer on the other side of the road at the foot of the hill, it faced me squarely but except for the flicker of an ear, it just stood there unmoving as if chiseled out of stone. I remained cotton quiet to keep this majestic moment from passing. The buck looked into my eyes, as if searching my soul, then it stirred, and disappeared in the darkness.
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Flying Fish

Capitancillo, Cebu
Philippines

After two days of waiting for the storm to let up, we were off diving. It’s a beautiful day. In fact, a perfect day for diving, blue skies, blue seas, and the wind was just right to create little wave activity. Our spirits were high, and so were the flying fish displaying their remarkable high-flying skills. Like rockets, they bolt out of the surface, and flew long distances before arching down and plunging back underwater. Beside, and underneath the boat, singly and in groups, fly fish dash and scatter like torpedoes, hitting invisible targets.
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Indonesian Countryside

Jakarta
Indonesia

In the countryside, all houses have red tile roofs placed on top of G.I. sheets. From the train station we took the minibus, which were crowded and cramped with guitar-toting troubadours. After collecting the coins, they disembarked and disappeared in the busy streets. Everything was cheap here and counterfeit commodities were everywhere. One Indonesian staple food is Tempe, a soya-based dish cooked in a variety of ways. The local currency Rupiah was so devalued that you buy lunch by the tens of thousands. And by exchanging $110 U.S. Dollars, I suddenly became an instant millionaire!
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Right Hand Drive

Tokyo Suburb
Japan

Ayako deftly negotiated roads winding through mountains on the edge of cliffs. At some point, it got so narrow, the car has to crawl inch by inch to pass through tricky curves. With years of left hand driving, my brain is used to interpret that cars coming at you on the right side of the road is on the wrong lane, and is bound to bump your nuts out. But we reached our destination unscathed where I met three other Ayakos and Ayakas, and Akikos and Akikas, Atchushi and Yuichi. It will take some time before you get used to these names.
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Solfest

Ukiah
Mendocino County




With all the solar equipment and merchandise spread all over the place, I was lost in the crowd, which made it more exciting. The music and laughter drew me close to a stage surrounded by booths. Surrounded by strangers, it was the first time I ever enjoyed dancing and swaying to the upbeat music of this live African band. Ganja smoke was rising and the girls were hopping around with their arms up, showing unshaven armpits. It didn’t spoil the fun, it just added spice in the air….
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Mongolian Emperor

Hong-Ik University
Seoul, Korea



One chilly Autumn afternoon I took a walk around Hong-Ik University in sandals and windbreaker. I was wearing a colorful Mongolian hat that I borrowed from Baataar. I surely got the stares and giggles from native Korean girls. I was enjoying the attention for a while until the cold gets to my bones and I have to run back to IWO office before I freeze stiff.
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Mona Lisa

Louvre Museum
Paris, France




The Louver houses an impressive 35,000 works of art. Standouts are the sculptures Winged Victory, Venus de Milo and Da Vinci’s Monalisa. These are three masterpieces celebrating the human form; I mean most of it because one has no head, the other without arms, the last having no eyebrows. As you walk towards the end of a hallway you see paintings that cover entire walls. Ironically, the Monalisa, the most celebrated of them all is just 20 7/8" x 30" in dimension. It is currently kept under strict, climate controlled conditions in a bullet-proof glass case….
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Quick Sloth

Tarsier City
Bohol, Philippines





The boat turned to head back downstream to the Tarsier Sanctuary. The tarsier is the smallest primate in the world. It looks like a rodent with grayish black color and little black tail. The bulging big brown eyes however makes you think of Master Jedi Yoda. Nocturnal by nature, it moves like a sloth in the morning but the force is with it at night when the sluggish tarsier becomes as fast as lighting as it leaps for prey.

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Roped!

Maharlika Highway
Camarines

During Christmas it is customary for young children to sing carols expecting coins or treats in return. But here they do it on the highway - with ropes: One end is tied to a tree, the other held by little hands on the opposite side of the road. When a car approaches it is pulled taut. The unsuspecting driver is jolted in his seat and anxiously stops only to find kiddy rascals asking for money! Holy cow! But the best-they-could singing and the undiluted innocence were totally endearing. You can’t help but dig in your pockets for the prized coins.
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Old Faithful Hot Show

Yellowstone National Park
Wyoming





Steam was rising. Then we heard a gurgling sound underneath and the steady mounting of scalding water from the vent. Within seconds a waterspout inexorably shot a hundred feet vertically up. Our gaze followed as we fought the bitter cold. Two minutes just whizzed by as we were lost in the moment. Then everybody cheered in unison! The wonder and excitement we felt was palpable. You could almost touch it.
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