24 August 2008

Kuwago's Flights: Bangkok - Kuala Lumpur - Singapore - Manila

One particular trip that stood out among those in previous months, was my journey which commenced in Manila, to Bangkok, to Kuala Lumpur, then to Singapore and finally back to Manila.

As a traveller on business, I usually try hard to squeeze some leisure time into my day, where I can visit some markets, groceries, homes and alleys, while taking a few snapshots. Oftentimes, after reviewing the snaps I took of my trip, I feel that I missed out on a lot of photos that now need to then be committed to memory instead.

Such is the case on the Bangkok leg of my journey. I have no photos of the seminar I conducted in that lavish hotel, or of the screet scenes and food I enjoyed so much. All I have are snaps of this, my hotel room at the Ariston Hotel, in Sukhumvit, on the other side of town from my seminar venue.

It was a huge room, with a receiving area where my partner and I spent some time discussing business. It was also right next one of the better malls in Bangkok, the Emporium. In Bangkok, I always have enough guts to just barge into just about any restaurant or bar, knowing that the tab would always be reasonably priced. That is one of the things I love about Bangkok.

I used to get frustrated with the language barrier, with most people on the streets lacking the facility of decent conversational english, that is until my partner explained to me that it is exactly that which further adds to the charm and exoticity of the place. I now look at this minor obstacle as an enchantment.

Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok is one of the largest airports in the region, and one of the most alluring at night, with all its lights. There is also so much to see, explore and eat at in this airport. I had a wonderful bowl of Thai Noodles before I hopped on my plane to Kuala Lumpur.

Thereafter, it gets worse. I have absolutely no pictures of what I did for the next few days in KL. Nil. And what a pity it was. Until of course I was in the proper frame of mind again, off of work mode, and about to board a bus to Singapore.

I had booked myself on an Aeroline coach from the Corus Hotel in downtown KL to Harbourfront Center in Singapore. The bus was scheduled to leave at 4:30PM on a Friday, and I came early. Aeroline provides its passengers with a lounge within the lobby of the hotel, where coffee and tea is served with their compliments. It was wonderful sitting in the lobby of a fine hotel while waiting for your bus to board. If only all airports were like this. On top of that, the Petronas Towers were just a stone's throw away. If I wanted to, I could have strolled on over there.

The bus we took was a double decker bus. The main seating area is located on the upper deck. There are two rows on the right hand side of the bus while a single row spans its length on the left hand side of the bus. The bus left exactly on time, and meals were served on board by a stewardess. The seats are similar to most airlines' business class seats. Although there were no individual video screens for each passenger, there was a large video screen up at the front of the bus where movies were shown. The seats were spacious and reclined comfortably.

The lower deck is where the lounge is located. This is where you can sit and chat with other passengers, if you're up to it. I spent most of my journey in the lounge and managed to meet a swell bunch of people: a travel agent from India, a businessman, a retired Singapore Army man, a Pakistani professor at one of the Malaysian universities and a Petronas Employee. The conversations were varied and interesting. It was a great way to kill time.

The best part about the bus is that it had an on-board toilet. Although the bus did make a brief stop along the way, mostly for people to stretch their legs, the toilet meant that I did not have to calibrate my kidneys for the journey. I could go when I pleased, not needing to hold it in. I could not say the same for the Konsortium bus I took to from Singapore to KL on one instance. Although the seats were more spacious and reclined even more than the ones we were in, it had no toilet, which made the 5 hour journey, for me, at times, unpleasant.

Before exiting Malaysian territory, we had to alight from the bus and clear immigration. It was brief and easy. After a short queue to get our passports stamped, off we were once more.

A few minutes later, we were entering Singapore territory, and this meant we would need to carry all our bags off the bus and go through both customs and immigration. This time, it took a tad longer, but not at all inconvenient.

We were off again in no time, spanning the length of the island of Singapore from west to east, before reaching Harbour Front Center at around 9PM, where my very good friend, an Architect, met me. Next door, somewhere in Vivo City, our dinner comprised of green tea rice, which really hit the spot for us. It was the first time for us to try this dish, and we definitely made the right choice. He later told me that he makes this dish a regular now.

The next few hours were then dedicated to hanging out and meeting other old friends at Clarke Quay, which we reached via the mighty-efficient Singapore MRT. There, we had some coffee and checked out the scenery.

We spent the rest of the evening chatting the night away at some Kopitiam and at Punggol Park, sitting around its huge lagoon, reminiscing the past and contemplating on the future.

It is sometimes times like this that help you meditate on your existence and define what you do with the rest of your life. It turns out, tonight is one of them.

22 July 2008

A Heart of Art

I'd still like to think of myself as an artist.

Sometime in 1988, I used to paint with watercolor as a medium. The three pictures I have posted here are my works. These were done almost 20 years ago, yet I have not painted since. A disclaimer, though: these are not my original subjects, I merely painted original works I found in books. I was once told that many artists started out by copying other people's works.

I once played drums for a living. In fact, one of my previous bands, Elizabeth Reed, launched an album entitled "The Dragons Cried Pearls" in 1996 under the J-Bird Record label run by Jay Barbieri. A sample of my work can be heard by clicking on the two sample music clips found on my sidebar. I also played session for other bands such as show bands, 60s bands, rock bands, etc. This was THE main source of livelihood for my family then. I had my hair almost to my waist, facial hair, colorful shirts, the works.

I still get to play the drums now and then, my last stint being around 2002, where I played for and shot a music video at the old and hostoric Manila Post Office with a band called Honeyrush. Now, its all limited to jamming in parties or the like.

I also ran a footwear manufacturing firm, where I would frequently involve myself in design, having had to source new raw materials and ideas, here and abroad.

These days, blogging has breathed new life in my body, withering from lack of artistic deliberations, fuddled by the rigors of work life as a consultant. I do notice, however, that there exists a fine line that separates creative and technical endeavors. Maybe it is an interplay between the two seemingly disparate hemispheres of the brain working in harmony. Think Leonardo Da Vinci.

I'm thinking of taking it yet a step further....... renew my artistic ties..... invigorate myself once more with the beauty of the world..... immerse myself in color and hue....... envelope the world in.....

..... I have no clue how to go about it anymore.

I think I am trapped in a completely different animal's body now.


06 July 2008

Our Gifts

There are people who are born fortunate. Some are born into wealth, some are phyically built well, some are gorgeous, some have the gift of gab, some a wonderful speaking voice and others simply exude that charisma that make their presence immediately felt upon entering a room.

All these people have one thing in common: They are attractive to others.

God gave each of us some form of talent, others more pronounced than others. Although some people's talents may seem mundane, all these were given to us to fulfill a certain purpose.

For the ones given the talent of attractiveness, or the power to allure people, their mission is to use these God-given attributes to help people increase their spirituality.

If you do not dig my reasoning, then tell me why are others more well endowed than the rest? Evolution? If it is by virtue of evolution alone, then shouldn't all children look better than their parents? Though flawed my logic may seem, one cannot deny the fact that in the larger scheme of things, there must be a reason for everything. Quantum physics now subscribes to the fact that order exists in chaos. Everything in the universe is deliberate, nothing is by chance alone.

The law of cyclic existence dictates what we become in each lifetime, and the qualities we possess. As they say, with great power comes great responsibility. Your gifts are yours for a reason. As the parable in the Holy Bible implies, you will be answerable for the fruits of these gifts.

And in the spirit and tradition of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), I therefore say: Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to find out what that mission is, and execute it to completion!

19 May 2008

Kuwago's Flights: Southern India's Temples

A blogging hiatus, borne out of an extremely hectic work and travel schedule, has hopefully come to an end. With a wealth of photos and stories from the past few months, I have enough material to continue churning blog entries for weeks. Reluctant to write due to lack of practice and mental conditioning, I have decided that I will break out of my chains of procrastination.

Sure, I could have blogged all this time, I did have the means. I guess it was the workload and the focus required on the tasks at hand.

I do still have work to complete, definitely, but I am still going to start blogging again.

Here we go....


During a previous trip to India, I noticed that there was so much about the spiritual aspect of Indian tradition that captured my fancy and interest that I would purposely explore as much temples as I could during my next trip. Being somewhere at the heart of the Indian psyche, I was convinced that it is one of the most colorful and intricate aspects of their culture.

Our quest started at Chennai, near the GRT Temple Bay Resort in Mamallapuram where we were booked. My colleagues and I attempted to visit the Shore Temple. It is said to be one of the oldest temples in Southern India, built around the same time as the structures carved out of solid boulders the place is known for.

From the beach of the Temple Bay Resort, you can see the Shore Temple in the distance. We attempted to see the temple up close, so we decided to make our way there. If not for annual fishermen's festival which was happening on that day, we would have been able to take a boat ride off the coast. This did not quite appeal to me, remembering that on this same area, a Tsunami hit a few years ago.

On the way, we stopped at a few carvings made hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago on the side of these huge boulders. There is a story behind these carvings, which I will write about in the coming days. It is a very interesting one, which may even help those who are in search of their own spirituality.

We passed by a few minor temples on the way to the shore temple, but when we got there, it was already closed for the day. This was my second attempt to get in. The first was last year. I guess it was just not the right time for me.

What we ended up doing was to hang out by the beach, where I attempted to get as close as possible to the Shore Temple. Unfortunately, it was too dark to make out the structure, and even my camera could not take a snapshot of it despite the flash. It was still too far from the fence. There were hundreds of people on the night beach, whiling away the time, in a carneval-like setting with vendors, parlour games and horse-back riding available.

The following day, we managed to whisk by the ISKCON Temple on our way to the City. The main building was under construction, and I suspect for a long time now. We did, however, get to talk to some Krishna devotees and promised to come back when we had more time. We never did get the chance to return.

After a 250km road trip to Pondicherry, we visited the Manakula Vinayaka Temple, situated near the beach. There is an ashram next to the temple, but entry is prohibited to outsiders, at least at the time we were there.

I was surprised to see a real, live elephant at the entrance to the temple. It was my first time to actually come this close to an elephant. I remember seeing some at the Manila Zoo when I was very young, but that was about it -- a glance. For a rupee, which you hand over to the elephant by way of his trunk, he will bless you by tapping on your head. I could have sworn that he was trying to constantly ask me to walk up closer to him, but then you couldn't really tell.

The following day, I read on the local newspaper that RFID tags were installed on these elephants by the government as the cases of elephant theft were on the rise. Wow, I thought, how one could possibly steal an elephant and get away with it...

I really enjoy going through all the merchandise sold outside temple doors'. It not only offers a variety of items of fancy, but by asking about objects you are not familiar with, you also satisfy your curiosity and end up learning some bits of information that are oftentimes both interesting and amazing.

A trip to Pondicherry, a former French colony, is never complete without a visit to Auroville. It is a community founded by the "Mother", based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo. The tenets of Auroville strike me at the onset as extremely idealistic, similar to that of a "Hippie Commune", but quite interestingly seem to be implemented properly. It is meant as a place for everyone, regardless of race, creed or religion. The area is huge, where orgnanic farming and an environmentally conscious lifestyle are practiced. It is a place where the values of peace, harmony, sustainable living and spirituality are espoused. Auroville is still a work in progress, which started in the 1960s, and continues with much intensity to this day.

Athe heart of Auroville is the Matrimandir, a meditation center in the Peace Zone which has been designed carefully and built from Gold discs. It is considered as the "Soul of the City". I was told that computers constanly focus the rays of the sun from the top, on a central crystal ball that distributes light throughout the interior of the Matrimandir. The effect, they say, is magical. I did not have the chance to get in this time around. Maybe next time.

The size of the Matrimandir must not be underestimated, for each of these angular structures to its side is a meditation hall on its own.

We also visited the Kailash Nadaraj Temple, located not far from Auroville. It is set by the sea, and houses the diety Needaraja. There was a Holy Man or Priest that was performing some prayers when we arrived, so we naturally took some blessings from him.

As usual with most temples in India, you are not allowed to take photographs inside, which accounts for my lack of colorful snapshots of temple interiors. We are, however, allowed to take photographs from the outside, and it was fortunate for us that the deity was set not too far inside the structure that our photographs were able to capture its metallic beauty from the outside.

At the Velliangiri (White Mountain) Temple compound, located in the cluster of mountains we originally intended to set out for, we had to walk barefoot for a short distance before reaching the minor temple. That is another common regulation when entering any temple in India -- entering barefoot from the entrance. The stony flooring made it difficult for me in the beginning, but once I got used to it, it became quite enjoyable actually. For every visit to a temple, you have to take blessings from the Holy Men that offer them from the presiding dieties. This is where you get your forehead painted with Holy Powder.

The difficulty of walking barefoot on rock-tattered soil eventually made me decide against making the climb to the White Mountain Temple, including the information that in addition to being a very, very long and ardorous climb, the climb would eventually be void of steps, only a mountainside path. If I had made it to the top, I was told that I would have been able to taste the sweetest water in India, Siruvani Water-- Not the bottled varieties which only carry the name, but the real thing. These days, I was told, it is difficult to obtain real Siruvani Water. I would have had some, if I had made the climb. I was also told that the temple at the top of the mountain would have been closed anyway.

Besides, I always make it a point to pace myself when on a long trip. No sense in falling ill or being unable to perform because you overtaxed yourself.

This Baba was waiting for the precise opportunity to climb up the mountain himself, the temple only being open to devotees 2 months of the entire year. The time was drawing closer, but sadly not at the time I was there. In the meantime, the Babas were spending their time practicing humility by seeking for alms, and selling authentic Ayurvedic herbal cures.

The temple compound was teeming with devotees and holy men, all coming in the hope of receiving the blessings of Lord Muruga.

I was urged by my companions to have my fortune told. It was amazing to see a tiny parrot take a card from the deck for the seer to read my fortune from. He also augmented the reading by studying my palm. Surprisingly, his account of my life so far was extremely accurate. By his description, my future looks rosy and blessed. Time will tell if his predictions are accurate. Of course, who wouldn't want to live until 98?

At the nearby Dhyana Linga Temple of the Isha Yoga Center, we were briefed by a Swami prior to allowing us to roam the grounds freely. We were told that in this place, it did not matter what religion you were from. I was reminded by my inner voice that we are all children of the same God, regardless of anything.

This is the place where people go to cleanse their minds and bodies. The continuously-flowing water in the pool comes from the nearby mountains, which keeps them cool. At the center of the pool is a steel orb filled with Mercury. It is said to weigh a few dozen kilos. We were told that the benefits to the self may be attained by swimming to the center of the pool and touching the orb. I decided I would simply wade around in the shallow portion of the pool. Some say you gain the same benefits as the rest anyway, and I didn't feel I needed any inner cleansing at that point. I genuinely believe I am at peace with myself and my creator.

We then proceeded to the temple itself, where we made an offering prior to sitting in front of the Linga, a representation of the divine, simply to connect. The offering consisted of a lotus flower, some other leaves, herbs and ghee.

At the corridor leading to the temple hall, there were many sights to behold, including sculptures, structures and other interesting people. Since no photographs were allowed, I could only describe my impression of how much the things I saw resembled Taoist and Buddhist symbols.
What I expected the Linga to be, was nothing like what I saw. Here is a picture of a photograph of the Linga, which I took at the gift shop. It is supposed to be a unification of the energy of man and woman, a representation of the divine. Someone told me it is meant to represent a phallus. I have no idea if he was serious, though.

All throughout the center, you see the symbolism of the snake abound. The devotees and swamis wear rings representing the snake. The swami explained that it is the symbol of the Kundalini or divine energy descended from Heaven. I remember my former teacher teaching me of this. It was apparently deeply rooted in the Hindu culture.

Still in Pondicherry, we visited the Perur Temple dedicated primarily to Lord Shiva. I am quite disappointed for not being able to capture the numerous sights, smells and sounds Iexperienced there, through my camera, still being prohibited. I had to be thankful for the fact that a non-Hindu such as myself was already granted entry, so I definitely did not want to abuse my privilege. I did read on more than one occassion that non-Hindus were not allowed in some temples. Here is all I was able to take of the entrance of the temple.

And the last stop, another plane ride away, was the ISKCON Coimbatore Temple.

ISKCON is more commonly known as the Hare Krishna movement, due to their constant chanting of the Holy Names of God: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. It is a practice recognized by the ancient Vedas, steeped in the Vaishnava religion, and brought to the west by Srila Prabhupada.

This aspect of my trip, the visits to the various temples of South India, is just a small part of my overall journey, and although I know I cannot fully transmit to you the wide spectrum of satisfaction I experienced, I will at least try. Watch for my next installment.

11 May 2008

Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 3

I am currently blogging at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at the new Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 3. Fortunately, I finally got on a flight that landed at the new terminal. Wireless Internet is free, so I am blogging away, after a long hiatus due to my uber busy schedule, while sipping a cup of hot coffee. It is raining outside today, a huge difference from the hot and dry weather in India, which was at 44degC yesterday.

This terminal is beautiful.

Unfortunately, I feel like a zombie, having only slept no more than 2 hours. I left Chennai at 2345H, and after only 3.5 hours, I arrived in Singapore an hour or so ago. It is now 0745H. The time difference made me lose 2.5 hours today. And I have yet to fly to Kuala Lumpur later this afternoon.

In a short while, I will be taking a shower at the transit hotel, clearing immigration, then taking my check-in luggage from the lost & found in order to keep them in a locker at Terminal 2 so I can come by for them later this afternoon after I meet up with my good friend who is in the city, also on vacation in Singapore.

I will take the MRT to and from Terminal 2 to the city, taking my bags again from the locker and then taking the shuttle to the budget terminal where I will take a flight to KL LCCT, where I will meet with my wife, who is flying in from Clark.

It all feels so surreal, having just been to many cities and ancient temples around India in the past few days, mostly barefoot, and now, after no more than a few hours, already I am in one of the prime examples of modern, high tech architecture.

I will soon be blogging about my trip to India. Let us hope I find the time soon.

06 April 2008

Kuwago's Flights: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Whenever I travel to another country, I insist at some point of the trip to try my host country's street fare-- The places the locals would commonly go to have their meals. Nothing fancy, just good local comfort food. This time around, I took a fancy to banana leaf meals.

A huge portion of a banana leaf is laid across you on the table, then filled with typical Indian fare. It isn't difficult for me to get a decent meal, for most places in KL have vegetarian options. 4 different viands were placed on my banana leaf, along with some pickles, papads and fried cassava chips. Then, a healthy helping of Sambar was poured over my hot steamed rice. When I thought that the ordering and serving melee was over, more viands, including a plate of vegetable curry and rasam was served.Wow. I had almost forgotten all the many different tastes and flavors of real Indian Food. And I still wonder how I ended up eating all that food.

I must say, you don't need to go to India to enjoy authentic Indian food. Sadly, only a few places in the Philippines fit my bill. In KL, it is gastronomic galore. The last time I enjoyed such a feast was when I was actually in India.

Of course, I couldn't get enough of these banana leaf meals that we again found ourselves in similar fashion for lunch the next day, at a different place this time. Again, I enjoyed to my heart's content.

Oh, and did I mention that banana leaf meals meant eating with your bare hands? YUM!

In spite of the heat in KL, al fresco dining abounds. When you don't expect to eat in an airconditioned environment, pretty much like we do in the Philippines, it isn't all that bad. In fact, I have grown to enjoy it. If al fresco dining meant cheap, wonderful, authentic food.... I didn't mind. No one else seemed to care. I just wish open air places in the Philippines were this clean.

I regret not having had taken my camera along when we had our afternoon snack that day, for after a long, long time, I again was able to taste one of my favorite childhood fruits, the Balimbing. I took it as a juice, and was told by my host that it is a good natural remedy for high blood pressure. I did miss the bitter-sweet-and-sour taste of that star-shaped fruit I have now renewed my affection for.

Of course, no trip to KL would be complete without visiting the KLCC Petronas Towers.

They say that no matter where you were in KL, you could probably see KLCC. I have to agree. In the picture above, you see both KLCC and the KL Tower to its left -- two magnificent structures gracing the skyline.

Up close, I suddenly recognized that Indian influence on its design, commonly seen in temples around India. Such a magnificent building, all lit up at night. All I can say is it was a sight to behold.

The KL Tower has a revolving restaurant at the top. It is a pity I didn't have time to at least see it. You have to see KLCC and KL Tower yourself to see how much it really imposes itself upon you.

Before retiring for the night, I had to try their local tea, and Steven's Place was a nice place for such a nightcap. In usual al fresco style, I just wish we had more places like this in Manila. But then, we probably do. Could it be that I am just less adventurous in my own country?

Next time, though, I'll remember how the tea kept me awake until 4AM and that I should stay away from it if I wanted a good night's rest.