Monday, January 29, 2007

Family vacation in Hong Kong Disneyland

So there we were, on a ferry from Macau to Hong Kong for the 2nd part of our Christmas holiday which would be spent in Disneyland.

I haven’t been to any other Disney theme park, but I’ve heard that HK Disneyland is comparatively smaller. I also don’t know if it’s a good place to visit if you are an adult and don’t have any children with you because I grew up on Disney, which meant I was probably as much a target market of this place as my nephews were. Whatever the case, my family and I had an absolute blast.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how large the park is. There really is a truckload of stuff to do and if you want to go through everything, you have to spend at least a couple of days here. You also don’t really have to worry about the lines. We were there during what is supposed to be peak season, and for the most part, we would only have to queue for about 20-25 minutes on average. That's better than any other amusement park I’ve been to.

They also have what they call a FASTPASS for what I am guessing are their four most popular rides and activities – The many adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Space Mountain, and the Festival of the Lion King. We didn't get on Space Mountain (not a good idea to put my nephews on a scary rollercoaster. Then again, not a good idea to put ME on a scary rollercoaster either. =)) but the only time we used the FASTPASS was for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which was a perfect ride for kids and ended up being one of Ciera’s favorites (it was very, very well made – the colors inside the ride were so bright and vivid and special effects were so amazing that even the adults got excited). Our timing was perfect for the Festival of the Lion King and Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters – we got into both without needing a FASTPASS.

On our way to Tarzan’s Treehouse, an usher invited us to come in to the Lion King show without having to wait in line because there were still available seats and the next show was about to start. And what an awesome show it was! The production value – from the lights to the props to the dancing and performances – was simply outstanding. When you think about the brilliance of the Broadway staging of The Lion King, it isn’t really a surprise anymore that Disney can indeed put together a first-rate show like this, even on a daily basis.

We had just gotten off the Orbitron when my mom said she would just head into a shop in the Tomorrowland area to get a couple of souvenirs. On our way there, we saw that miraculously, there was no queue in the Astro Blasters ride. So we all decided to try it out. And it was good that we did because (1) it turned out to be the kids' favorite and (2) it turns out CJ is an amazing marksman! His scores? Round 1 - 200,000+, round 2 - 97,000+, and round 3 - 47,000+ at the halfway point (my mom, who joined us in round 3, didn’t get to see CJ’s final score in round 3). In reference, my scores: round 1 - 400,000+, round 2 - 27,000+, round 3 - 5,000+. I got a lucky 400,000 because during our first round, the ride had to stop temporarily (instead of moving forward continuously) so during the delay, I kept on shooting at the targets and racking up points. My scores from rounds 2 and 3 showed that I was clearly no shooting ace. But CJ is.

Other highlights:

#1. Photo ops with Disney characters. We spent a great deal of time having our pictures taken with the different Disney characters, most of whom we caught in the Fantasy Gardens – Mickey, Goofy, Winnie the Pooh, Belle (from Beauty and the Beast), Merlin (from The Sword in the Stone), and CJ’s favorite character, Mushu from Mulan.

We also had a character buffet breakfast in the Plaza Inn where Minnie Mouse and Mulan were going around to have their pictures taken with patrons. We caught Timon in Adventureland and Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland. Also, when we got into Disneyland on our 2nd day, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald were all at the entrance for photo ops. We queued only for Donald because he was Ciera’s favorite and Ciera wanted to have a pic taken with him. This turned out to be a great idea because that was the only place for a photo op with Donald, who wasn’t in the Fantasy Gardens unlike everyone else.

#2. Another thing you shouldn’t miss the 3-D show, Disney’s Philharmagic. It takes about a minute for the first 3-D effect to come up, but when it does, the kids won’t stop jumping and trying to grab all the imaginary stuff that seems to be just right in front of you.

#3. Water fun! Ciera and CJ were both relatively tired when we arrived in Disneyland, what with all the traveling and long rides by car, plane, taxi, and ferry. When we got to Disneyland, they were not in a very good mood. That is, up until we passed by , where the kids got to enjoy playing with water and getting wet. That good them into such a great mood that we managed to last up until…

#4. Disney in the Stars! What better way to end a fun-filled day than with a magnificent fireworks presentation? On the first night, we stayed in the park til 9pm to catch this spectacular fireworks display which was accompanied by great Disney music and the ever-changing lights and “colors” of the Sleeping Beauty Castle. And because we got a Park View room in Disney’s Hollywood Hotel where you can actually play the music that goes along with the fireworks display in one of the TV channels in the room, we got to experience Disney in the Stars in our 2nd night from the comfort of our hotel room.

It definitely was a great experience, and summed up a fantastic holiday I had with my family. I can’t wait til I get back to Manila and have more great experiences with them!

And of course, you can see a whole lot more pics from our Hong Kong Disneyland adventures by clicking here.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

[SWEDEN] Trying to normalize

I've been in Europe now for about 3 weeks, but I still don't feel settled in. I am still living out of my suitcase in a hotel room in Lund, and even if it is a nice hotel room in a nice part of the city, I probably won't feel any semblance of normalcy until I've moved into my "permanent" apartment here and unpack fully.

As such, I haven't really done anything yet. For the most part it's been work, eat, watch TV and go online. I decided I needed to do something different this weekend. Something that would make me feel like I actually live here.

So earlier tonight I watched 'Casino Royale' in a cinema. The movie ticket cost a fortune, at least to me - 100 kronor or about P700. Geez! For that amount I could've watched seven films in SM, or 4 in Powerplant. I had to think about it for a while, whether or not I wanted to spend that much money on a movie. But in the end I decided it would be worth it for me to be some place I haven't be to since I got here and yet do something familiar. And when I stepped out the movie house, I did feel it was worth it. The movie was pretty good too.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Family trip to Macau (Dec. 26, 2006)

Christmas 2006 was made a whole lot more special and memorable by the fact that I went to Macau and Hong Kong Disneyland with my mom, my older brother Chummy, and my two nephews Ciera and CJ. It was great that I got to have this fantastic experience before I end up being thousands of miles away from my family and friends for several months.

My mom and I had been thinking about going to HK Disneyland for a while, but we more or less decided in October or November that we would push through with it end-December. My mom then found out from a colleague that it would be much cheaper if we fly to Macau via Tiger Airways then take a ferry from Macau to Hong Kong. The airfare to Macau combined with the ferry ride probably saved us P8,000 per person, and with 5 of us, that sums up to about P40,000 savings. It’s actually a special administrative region of China, and just like Hong Kong, Filipinos don’t need a visa to go there.

If we weren’t with my nephews, we probably would’ve spent more time in Macau. It used to be a Portuguese colony so it provides a unique combination of Eastern culture and Western civilization. The Historic Centre of Macau has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it includes the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral (possibly Macau’s most popular tourist spot) and the Fortaleza do Monte, or Mount Fortress. It would’ve been great too if we got to visit the Macau Tower and check out the awesome views from the observation deck. However, these are things that are best saved for a time when my nephews, who could care less about historical sites and relics at their present age (5 and 7), aren’t with us.

So we decided that we would spend only one night in Macau, and just visit the Macau Fisherman’s Wharf while we were there. Macau Fisherman’s Wharf has an amusement park that is open until 10pm (or, we were told, possibly even later than that if there are still a lot of people who wanted to enjoy the rides). Normally that would be past my nephews’ bed-time but we were on holiday and they were excused from having to sleep early.

We get into our hotel, the Camino Real, at around 630pm and we settle down a bit before taking a 5-10 minute walk to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was dinner time so we decide to head to the Legend Wharf where there were a lot of really nice restaurants. We decided to eat in an Italian restaurant for pizza. The pizza was quite good (it was actually like your basic focacia but larger and with a lot more toppings) and the service was really good. After which we take some pictures in the Legend Wharf on our way to amusement park area.

The amusement park has two main areas – Aladdin’s Fort and Vulcania. Aladdin’s Fort has four main rides, each costing 20 MOP (or Macau Pataca, 1 MOP = P6). They had discounted rates if you buy a pass for three rides, and a further discount if you buy two tickets instead of one. We decided that I wouldn’t get on the rides so that I could take pictures of them instead. They first get on the Magic Carpet Ride…

…then head to the Flying Camels….

…before rounding things up on Aladdin’s Express.

Our final stop for the night was Vulcania. We were actually lucky to see a ‘volcanic eruption’ – I don’t know how frequently it happens, but during the entire time we were there, we saw the volcano spew fire only once. Even from the ground, you could feel the intensity of the heat, and it makes for a dazzling show at night, especially when you aren’t expecting it.

There are two rides in Vulcania: Dragon Quest, which was like a roller coaster that goes through caves under the volcano, and the River of Fire, which was a boat ride through an underground river. We opt to take just the River of fire. I have to say, it was a very good ride. Very well constructed and interesting enough even for an adult. It’s not really wild or crazy or anything, but it does go through a man-made river that twists and turns through a man-made cave, and the darkness and the water add another dimension of fun to the experience.

Before heading back to the hotel, we all decide to take a trek up the volcano and take a few more pictures.

You can’t really go to the top, but you get high enough to have a pretty good view of the city and all its brilliant night lights.

It was already past ten, the kids were getting antsy, and we had to go to Hong Kong the next day so it was clearly time to head back to the hotel. I told my mom that we should visit Macau again, without my nephews, so that we can see the rest of this fascinating city

Oh and click here if you want to check out more photos of our trip in my online album. Yes, I am actually in this trip and yes, you will see a couple of pics with me in it. =)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

[SWEDEN] Winter has arrived, and with a vengeance!

So much for the supposed warm winter!

Yesterday, I asked the hotel receptionist to call a cab for me, and she mentioned to me that it was snowing a bit and that, based on the weather report, it would be a lot colder this week than it has been in Lund so far. I step out of the hotel to get into the cab and indeed it is snowing lightly. Once I got to the office, it started to snow a whole lot more. It stopped by mid-afternoon, but by that time, the city had turned into a winter wonderland.

I have seen snow before, a couple of times in fact, and while it is thrilling for folks who come from tropical countries to see snow (it still is), the knowledge that it can actually get a bit dangerous was in my mind a lot more and I was ended up being a bit more cautious than excited.

On my way home, I actually had to hitch a ride home with one of my colleagues here because taxis were fully booked last night and it would take half an hour for a taxi to become available. On our way to his car, I got to feel just how cold it was. Once again, I didn't have my gloves, scarf, and hat with me, but I never bring those to the office because I normally take a taxi and it drives up all the way to the door to either drop me off or pick me up, and so I would normally have about 5 seconds of exposure to the weather. But since I was riding with my teammate, we had to walk all the way to his car in the parking lot. And of course, his car was now covered with snow so he spent a couple of minutes scraping the ice off of the windows and mirrors.

When we get into his car, he checks the temperature reading and apparently, it's -3 degrees. Damn! So that's why I felt so cold! -3 with the wind blowing and no hat, scarf, and gloves again. This is starting to become a pattern! And here I thought I had a decent learning curve and never made the same mistake twice... =)

So this morning, I made sure I had at least my gloves and hat with me (I just stuffed them into the pockets of my jacket). Not that I needed them today, though. It was still cold (-13 at around 8am I was told) and it snowed for a short period of time in the mid afternoon, but as is normally the case, I got door-to-door cab service. Thank God!

One other thing about this kind of weather: it becomes difficult to walk on the ice-covered sidewalk. I nearly slipped on several occasions last night on my way to dinner and back. I was chatting about it to my friend Chris and he said I need a good pair of boots. I should've thought of that before I left Manila. I mean, I can imagine how much boots cost here. Although actually, I DID think about it before I left Manila, but I was running out of money and approaching my credit card limit so I decided against buying them. Let's just hope it doesn't snow too much while I am here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

[SWEDEN] My new favorite hang-out

I decided to take some pics of Espresso House. It’s my official hangout outside the hotel, as I’ve been there quite a few times already. They do have great coffee and the ambience is cozy.

There’s quite a selection of pastries as well. The first one I tried wasn’t very good. But since then I’ve tried two other items on the menu. The chocolate brownie was good, but my vote goes to this small, unassuming Mocca Cup.

I tried it out the first time because I wanted something sweet to go with the coffee, but nothing too large or heavy. I figured it would just be like any ordinary cupcake. But no! After you take the first bite, you realize that inside it are layers of different flavors! I’m no experienced cook or baker so I can’t tell you what’s in it, but all I know is that this Mocca Cup is amazing!

If only I could share the taste with you through the internet. (I wonder when technology will be such that you can capture the taste of something and upload it online and share it with other people somehow…)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

This is so funny!

My friend Brian sent me this link a long time ago, after the 2006 French Open. Even if you aren't a tennis fan and don't know any of the players in the video, I think you may still find it funny. It is just two minutes long anyway. =)

My favorite part: at # 10 - the guy in the back opening the door as Celine Dion sings 'once more, you opened the door...' Actually, the two guys dancing at the back made this a lot funnier. I don't know who came up with this video (maybe the French Open website?) but I do wish there are more videos like this that come up with top tennis players.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I left my heart in San Francisco

Okay, actually, no, I didn’t. =) I did, however, have a great time there recently.

(Yeah, another one of my very late posts. But hey, at least i'm starting to catch up! =) )

I had to go there to attend a particular training course that is not being given very often, and which isn’t being given anywhere near the Philippines (it was either I take the course in San Francisco or I take the next one in the UK in March. Clearly I couldn’t wait that long).

The training course was just three days – from Nov. 29 (Wed) to Dec. 1 (Fri). I arrived there on Tuesday, a day before the training, at around 8am. I got to my hotel at around 9am and it is located in Belmont, right next to the Oracle HQ (it’s a really nice HQ actually) and a mile away from the training center where I would be taking my course. Check-in time is supposed to be 2pm, but since my room was already free the receptionist (who happened to be a Filipino named Mike) told me I could check-in already and in fact I could still have the complimentary breakfast. Cool right?

Well the thing was, the hotel I was in wasn’t a really good one. It was more like a serviced apartment – there was no mini bar and no room service. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Except for the fact that my hotel was located in the middle of nowhere. I mean, there were no convenience stores or groceries anywhere within walking distance, and there weren’t any restaurants either!

What it did have was a selection of delivery numbers and menus. I guess this hotel really caters to people who are staying in that area for a fairly long time and who most likely have a rental car with that would allow them to drive to restaurants or C-stores. As I had no car, I really had no choice but to keep ordering food in! I kinda wished I had stayed in one of the company-preferred hotels in the Bay area. One of them was actually located right in front of Fisherman’s wharf and it would’ve been a fantastic place for me to be in. Unfortunately, it was several miles away from the training center and I would use up way too much of company money on taxi rides so I decided to look for a hotel in Belmont instead. And what a decision that turned out to be! I ended up stranded in the middle of nowhere! Haha! Okay, it wasn’t all that bad. The room was pretty spacious and I got a lot of TV channels, and the breakfast was decent.
I overestimated how cold it would be too. I checked the weather report and it said San Francisco would be 9 degrees Celsius. I couldn’t recall how 9 degrees felt like so I thought it would be really really cold and as such brought two sweaters and two thick jackets with me. Naturally, when I got there, I realized that I didn’t need all that (check out my pic below, I was just wearing a shirt). I could’ve saved a lot of space in my luggage if I didn’t bring all those ‘winter clothes’ with me.

Okay now I started off saying I had a fun time in San Francisco and all I’ve done so far is rant hahaha. So let me tell you the fun stuff:


#1: I got to watch One Tree Hill on the new CW! [SPOILER ALERT!!!] And it was a really cool episode as well, probably my favorite episode ever. Mainly because after four seasons, the Ravens finally win the State Championships! Of course, there’s a lot more going on in the episode to make it quite interesting, but you weren’t really sure how the game would go and if they ended up losing like they did in the season 1 play-offs, it would have been quite a disappointing finish.

#2: I spoke to Weng on the phone for more than an hour! Earlier that week, I sent her a quick email saying I was in SFO and asking if she might by any chance be traveling to SFO (in which case we could meet up). I left her my hotel details and my room number and on Thursday night she calls me. There was quite a bit of catching up to do and it was great getting to talk to her again.

#3: I got a new digital camera for myself and for my mom. Why did I need to buy two cameras? Well, both batteries of my old Sony digicam were completely dead – they don’t charge anymore – and being an obsolete model, I couldn’t find the batteries anywhere. Also, the Canon that I got my mom in early 2005 stopped working – the service center said there was damage in the optical mechanism and that fixing it would cost - P15,000! Can you believe that? Anyway, since my mom and I won’t be able to share a camera this year, I figured I’d get one for each of us. I ended up getting the Sony W100, with a 2Gb memory stick for myself and 1 Gb one for my mom (I’m sure to take a truckload more pics than my mom and she won’t ever come near 1 Gb of pics).

#4: I had lunch with Ron. I met him a couple of years ago when I paid Mike a visit in Stanford. Recently, we started working on some project together (along with Mike and a few other people). He works in Oracle which as I mentioned is right next to my training center so I thought it would be cool to have lunch with him while I was there (oh and FYI, he actually thought I was 26 years old haha that is the youngest age anyone has ever guessed me to be it’s so cool. =))

#5: I met up with Ray and Joy. Ray is on his 2nd year in the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The last time I saw him was in December of last year, but we barely got to talk that time. This time, he and Joy drove from Stanford to Belmont to pick me up in my hotel. We then drove to the city where I had to get something from the Academy of Art University – Tricia is taking a virtual course in this school and won a discount card from Borders and she asked me to pick up her card for her. Ray and Joy then took me to the Cliffhouse, a restaurant located right on a cliff. The ambience is great, mainly coz you get a fantastic view of the bay while dining.

The food here though isn’t really very good – or at least the food we ordered. In fact, Joy was so disappointed with her Grilled marinated Breast of Chicken Sandwich that Ray was thinking of complaining about the food. We of course decided against it. We headed out the resto after lunch and took a few pictures with the bay in the background. (CLASSIC MOMENT: when we stepped out, I made a comment about the trees in that area being awesome. I was looking at the trees when I heard a woman’s voice in Joy’s general direction ask out loud “do you wanna head there?” and I blurt out “Not really.” Joy and Ray look at me with this weird trying-to-force-themselves-not-to-smile look which made me realize that it wasn’t them that asked if I wanted to go there hahaha I couldn’t stop laughing after that.)

The Alimurungs then brings me to the Legion of Honor museum but just to take pictures (it’s a really good museum and I need to make sure to go inside and spend time in it the next time I am in San Francisco).

After which we get stuck in the most horrendous traffic jam I’ve ever experienced on our way to the Great Mall in Milipitas. Joy and Ray would be going to Beijing in December, and as it gets really cold there (a lot more than SFO), they needed to buy heavier-duty winter clothes. We split up in the Great Mall and I end up buying myself a red-orange fleece jacket from Nautica (it was on sale and the price was a steal!).

Factor in to all this the really good training course I took then clearly the plusses outweigh the minuses by a whole lot. =)

Friday, January 19, 2007

[SWEDEN] Bike City

(I've decided to change the way I blog since some people may only be interested in reading about my experiences over here in Sweden and not all the other stuff. So if you wanna know what's going on with me here, look up the messages that begin with [SWEDEN]. Cheers!)

It's common in university cities, at least in Western cultures, to have lots of people riding bicycles, and Lund is no exception. Meandering through the city center's web of intricately woven streets, you will be hard-pressed not to spot someone on a bike. It is, after all, a healthier mode of transportation, and a lot more environmentally-friendly than a car. I've also been told that it's not that easy to park inside the centrum*, and when you add that to the fact that a bike costs a lot less than a car and is a lot easier to maintain, then it shouldn't surprise you that the bike is the transportation mode of choice here. I was toying with the idea of getting one myself until I saw someone biking in the rain last night. Then I thought, I'm not particularly sure I'm ready to increase the wind-chill factor I am already exposed to in this very windy city, and with it raining half the time, maybe a bike isn't the best thing for me to use here at the moment.

So I guess I'm sticking to walking, which is always a good way to get a better feel of whatever place you visit and soak in the culture. You definitely know that you are in Europe as you amble along Lund's cobble-stone roads that are walled in by charming buildings and medieval architecture. I always wish the Philippines was more like Europe in the sense that Europe has managed to strike an impressive balance between preserving and promoting its history and being on the forefront of modernization and technological advancement.

I've mentioned before that on average, things are cheaper in Lund than in other major European cities. For the most part, it's true. The one area where this statement just doesn't hold is with taxi fare. I take a taxi from my hotel to the office and back everyday because the train doesn't stop anywhere near the office, and that 5-10 minute trip costs more than 100 kronor** (which is about P700)! Can you believe that? Taxi fare in Brussels for a trip two to three times that distance would cost just a bit more than that amount. And let's not even compare that to the Philippines.

So far, I'm still on business expense so cab rides are still within budget. But when I finally move to my own place (hopefully in the next 2 weeks), they just won't be affordable anymore. Maybe then, I'll think about braving the weather and getting my own bike.

* another word for city center
* plural of krona

Thursday, January 18, 2007

6 Golden Globes

That's the number of trophies that Meryl Streep has won in the Golden Globe awards, tying Jack Nicholson for most awards that an actor has won (although Streep won her six in different acting categories). Of course, it helps that in the Golden Globes, you have a best actress in drama and another best actress in a comedy or musical. She just won her sixth trophy during Monday night's Golden Globe awards for her amazing performance in 'The Devil wears Prada'. Prior to that, she won Best Actress in a Drama for 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' and 'Sophie's Choice', Best Supporting Actress for 'Kramer vs. Kramer' and 'Adaptation', and Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-series or Motion Picture made for Television for 'Angels in America'. All in all, Meryl has been nominated a whopping 21 times. Only Jack Lemmon has gotten more with 22). Congratulations, Meryl!

Shout-outs also go out to:
  • Helen Mirren, for winning two acting awards, one for Best Actress Drama for 'The Queen', and one for Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television for 'Elizabeth I' (and in fact she was competing with herself in this category as she was also nominated for her performance in 'Prime Suspect: The final Act')
  • Forrest Whitaker, who won best actor for 'The Last King of Scotland' (anyone notice a royalty theme going on here?), beating out Leonardo DiCaprio "twice". Leo, like Helen, was competing against himself as well in the Best Actor, Drama category so I kinda felt bad that he didn't win - it actually is quite unfair because getting nominated twice in the same category means that people who want to vote for him will end up having to pick one of the other (I guess for Helen, one of her performances was much better than the other so all her voters ended up voting for her from the same movie)
  • Jennifer Hudson for living up to all the buzz and taking the best supporting actress in a musical or comedy. She had huge shoes to fill (and I still think no one can play Effie White like Jennifer Holliday) but Hudson did manage to pull it off with flying colors.

Speaking of Dreamgirls, here's a HILARIOUS take by Jake Gyllenhaal on the Dreamgirls classic song 'And I'm telling you'

Now tell me that didn't crack you up? =)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

[SWEDEN] The effects of Global Warming?

Coming to Europe in early January, I had a suitcase full of jackets, sweaters, scarves, hats, and gloves coz it was going to be the middle of winter and I was fully expecting temperatures of about 0 degrees or less. I was in Brussels during the winter of 2002-2003, it was a warm day there when the temperature hit 5 degrees, and Lund is closer to the North Pole than Brussels.

So imagine my surprise when I got here and realized that the temperatures were a 'moderate' 5-10 degrees. People at work have said that they've started to see spring flowers starting bloom. Looks like even the plant-life is confused!

Of course, the wind and occasional rain make things a bit more interesting (I was told that because Lund is quite close to the sea the wind here tends to be pretty strong at times). And considering my propensity for getting into "fun" circumstances, it shouldn't be news to anyone that I've gotten a first-hand account of how much colder it gets when you combine winter with wind and rain. (Not that I haven't experienced it before but I should've used my head a bit more.)

My "boss" Martin told me that on Friday nights, the Lund city center becomes a lot more lively as the the students get into a weekend-party mode deep into the night. As such, I thought that, while I wasn't into a social party-going mode especially since I don't really know anyone here yet, it would be nice to see how kids here kick back and unwind. So I head out the hotel with no hat, no gloves, no scarf. After all, I had walked around on the previous nights looking for places to eat and I never found it cold enough to warrant the hassle of putting on anything but a jacket and sweater. Once I step out the door, I see that it is raining, so I got back in to get an umbrella and nothing else. Yeah yeah I know, pretty stupid really.

So here I am, trying to soak in the atmosphere and culture of my 'hometown' for the next several months, when the rain starts getting heavier and wind starts blowing harder. So much harder in fact that on several occasions, I had to hang on to my umbrella with two hands to make sure I didn't lose it. I only noticed that I had to get some shelter when I realized my hands were starting to hurt. Despite that, I end up walking around for several more minutes because I realized I had ventured into an area of the city center where there weren't many restos (add to this the fact that I was craving pasta; maybe the weather was making me seek carbs and comfort food).

I finally managed to find a pasta place and when I got in, my face was quite wind-burned already (can you say 'rosy cheeks'? :-) ) and my fingertips felt like something heavy fell on them. There was a tiny candle at my table and I thought of using it to warm my hands. But then the flame was a bit too short and the only way for me to get any warmth from it was to put my hands really close to the flame. Which I thought was a stupid idea considering my hands were a bit numb and by placing them close to the flame I risked burning them without even realizing it. So I did the next best thing which was to just rub them together while waiting for my food to arrive.

After that experience, I always had with me my scarf, gloves, and hat, no matter how warm or cold it is. Better to look like an overdressed person not used to cold weather than risk getting sick. Of course I should've remembered to protect my feet as well when I walked around last Sunday in my running shoes that were designed to let air in (kinda like Adidas Climacool). Not really the best footwear to have on during the winter.

Ah well, you live, you learn.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Gearing up for the Australian Open

The Australian Open just started yesterday. It’s being shown on Eurosport but at 1am and there’s no way I’m staying up for that. At least not during a weekday.

Anyway, check out this video of the AO final between Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in 1994. Steffi completely dominated this match from start to finish, thumping ASV, 6-0 6-2, in something like 47 minutes. 47 minutes!!!

This was Steffi’s 4th and last Australian Open title. In 1995, she won the 4th of her 6 French open titles and the 4th of her 5 US Open titles. So this 94 AO was a great win for her, as it gave her the distinction of being the only player to have won all Grand Slam events at least 4 times (she has seven Wimbledon titles). She truly is the most versatile women’s player of all time, dominating on every surface. And when you look at all five players who won the calendar Grand Slam, Steffi is the only one to have won it when all four slams were played on different surfaces (Rebound Ace, red clay, grass, and Deco Turf). When Don Budge (38), Maureen Connolly (53), Rod Laver (62 and 69), and Margaret Court (70) won their Grand Slams, 3 of those 4 events were played on grass. That puts perspective on just how amazing Graf’s ability is on any and all surfaces.

Good luck to this year's players! I’m hoping that Clijsters and Roddick can both win the title. Strange. I always rooted for Kim but I never really cared much for Roddick. But I guess after all his struggles in form, it would be nice to see Andy regain some of his old confidence back and ace his way to a 2nd Slam title. He did beat Roger in an exhibition last week which is a good sign, but then in the first round yesterday he struggled past a very in-form wildcard by the name of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Anyway, Roddick winning is a bit of a long shot, but I won't really be displeased if Roger Federer wins his 10th Grand slam title in two weeks.

Monday, January 15, 2007

[SWEDEN] I'm in Lund!

So how is it being in Lund?

From a geographical standpoint, most people think Stockholm when they hear about Sweden. And if not Stockholm, then maybe Gothenburg. In fact, I myself didn’t know about Lund until I was told I would be going here. And with me being here just a few days so far, I don’t really know that much more about it than the average person. In any case, let me take a crack at trying to tell you what Lund is like.

Lund is a city in the Southern part of Sweden. It’s more than 200 km away from Gothenburg and more than 600 km away from Stockholm. So for my friends who have said “hey, I know this person in Stockholm” to me before, I’ll let you know when I am ready to take that 600+ km trip to Stockholm (which I surely plan to do at some point over the next few months). Lund is actually closer to Copenhagen in Denmark. That’s why I flew to Copenhagen on my way to Lund. It’s also right next to Malmo, Sweden’s 3rd largest city.

One nice thing about this city is that you will find Lund University here. This means that there are a lot of relatively inexpensive places to eat here. Last night, I had a decent pizza meal with softdrinks for 55 KR (Kroner, the currency in Sweden), which translates to about P385 or under $8 (or about €6). I say relatively inexpensive because when I was in Brussels, a meal like that would probably have cost me €10. The variety of food is pretty good as well. So far, aside from the pizza, I’ve had a chicken pesto wrap and lasagna (both of which were actually about twice as expensive as the pizza). I’ve also eaten in Burger King (twice) and Subway. What’s missing here is Starbucks (so far I haven’t seen any) but there’s seems to be a local version of it – Espresso House. I had coffee and cake there yesterday (not sure exactly what cake it was, I just pointed at it and said I wanted to order it hehehe). The cake was okay, but the coffee was excellent. The ambience is just a notch or so short of being artsy fartsy which makes it quite interesting and cozy.

The other thing about being a university town is that there are a lot of young people around, so the feel of the city is vibrant and young and energetic. That kind of atmosphere certainly does help when you are alone in a cold country where you get sunlight between 830am and 430pm only. (For my friends who thought that I will be in that part of Sweden where you don’t get daylight at all, well, that’s way up in the North so I don’t have to deal with that, thankfully.)

Another nice thing about being in Sweden is that English is spoken by practically everyone here. So far I haven’t had any difficulty going around. In fact, yesterday, I got a couple of people to help me figure out how to go to the Malmo central station (I had to go there to visit the office – I’m a consultant here in Lund so I’m located in a customer site). Anyway, I haven’t had the chance to learn any Swedish words yet, but I will try to pick up at least 'Thank you', 'Excuse me', and some other common phrases ust so that I get to feel more like I live here. I also get a lot of English shows and movies on TV (am still in a hotel so I don't know what my set up will be once I move to my own 'permanent' housing here) which is great for me since anyone who knows me knows how much I love my TV. :-)

There are a few things to see here as well, but since I haven’t seen them yet, I’ll hold off on blogging about them until I do (and I’ll post some pictures as well). In the meantime, let me log off and head off to Espresso house again for my late afternoon coffee and snack. (I should check if they have wireless internet there too!) And click here for a link to the wikipedia entry of Lund in case you wanna read more about it. (There's a map here as well for you to sort of see where I am).

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Birthday Celebration part 5 and a bit of bowling

This is essentially the last installment of my birthday celebration series. =) I celebrated with my friends from my first job – Bett, Chari, Anna, Jette, Raych, and Ric (unfortunately Lany had to rest as she was pregnant with her and Ric’s 2nd child! Congrats!). The timing couldn’t have been more perfect as one of our gang, Raych, was in the Philippines for a few weeks (during which time she also managed to watch my band) and she would be able to join us.

Chari and Bett had both just celebrated their birthdays as well, and we agreed to celebrate our birthdays together. Since there were three of us, we decided to treat everyone else to Brazil, Brazil mainly because I haven’t eaten there yet (most of us hadn’t yet, actually) and considering that three of us would be splitting the bill, we could share the load the pricey bill. =) As you could’ve expected, we raised the noise level in Brazil, Brazil quite a bit. After all, it had a few months since we all saw each other, and this was the first time we got to hang out with Raych after a few years.

For those of you who haven’t tried Brazil, Brazil, the set-up is buffet style (I’m guessing they have an ala carte menu too but none of us tried it). There’s a buffet spread at the side of the resto where you can have salad or pasta or some other food (there’s a dessert spread as well). But the coup de grace is the buffet of meats on skewers that waiters keep bringing to your table (if you read my entry on my Brazil trip ages ago, the setup is similar to that). Each table has a yoyo on it with a red side and green side. If the green side is being displayed, that means you are giving the waiters a go-signal to keep bringing meats to your table. These meats vary from beef cuts to pork to chicken to even seafood. Then when you feel you’re plate is too full with all the meat they keep bringing, you can flip your yoyo over to the red side which will tell all the waiters to stop bringing food to your table.

The food was okay. I felt thought that some of the meat they brought us was a bit too tough (too well-done for my taste, I would’ve preferred them being more medium-well). Pound-for-pound, I’d recommend Dad’s (with its Angus beef and amazing variety of food) over Brazil, Brazil. But well it’s cool that we got try a new place.

After that, we all decide to visit my place where we could all have coffee and dessert/snacks (Bett’s Banana Cream Pie, or was it something else? And Chari’s spinach dip). As you could expect most of our time was spent chatting about showbiz updates and trying to get inside info (what with Jette working in a TV station hehehe).

We all called it a day in the late afternoon. Bett’s husband Pikes had come to pick her up and Raych needed to meet up with her husband Nick who spent the day shopping. =) I on the other hand met up with my mom, brothers, and nephews. The week before, my nephews got free bowling passes during their trick-or-treating, and we decided to use them immediately because my nephews were so excited about the idea of bowling.

Anyway, when we got there, we started off with me and my nephews playing. We had the bumper guards raised so that the kids wouldn’t end up with gutter balls most of the time. And it was a lot of fun! CJ immediately picked up on the proper form and he was even holding the ball properly (you know, using the middle and ring fingers – and not the pointer finger – as well as the thumb). Ciera on the other hand kept hitting the bumper guard in the middle of the lane which meant the ball was headed towards the head pin or close to it by the time the ball had traversed the entire lane. CJ scored more than 70 pin-falls while Ciera got 60+. The kids were so excited that they wanted to play another game. This time they wanted their dad to join in. This time, CJ and Ciera had gotten slightly more used to how to play. Both of them scored spares in their games. But what was so funny was that Ciera kept rolling his ball very very slowly, but it seemed to keep getting great pin action because he ended up scoring a 98! CJ managed to score 80-something.

They enjoyed bowling so much that the week after that, we played again. This time, Ciera got tired in the middle of the game so CJ started playing the rest of his game for him. What was quite impressive as well was that on quite a few occasions, CJ actually managed to throw the ball in the center of the lane i.e. it didn’t hit the bumper guards and bring down quite a few pins. He ended up getting a 96 in his own game and a 94 in the one that he picked up from Ciera. It was so cool! We haven’t gotten to play bowling since then but it’s great that we got the chance to play bowling because now there are more things that my nephews are interested in and more things that we can bring them to whenever we go out.

Friday, January 12, 2007

[SWEDEN] Back on the blogging trail!

Wow, has it really been a month since I last updated my blog? I guess when I think about it, I can't really be surprised. A whole lot has happened since the last time I updated my blog:
  • It was the Christmas season that involved a number of parties and €get-togethers
  • I co-hosted our office Christmas party
  • I organized a pretty successful Bukas Sarili Caroling event in the PGH on Dec. 16
  • 3 more Still Oz gigs in the last 3 Fridays of December
  • I went to Macau and Hong Kong Disneyland with my family
  • I co-hosted the wedding reception of Myra and Jun in Tagaytay

Oh, and have I mentioned that last Sunday, I packed up and left for Lund in Sweden, where I am supposed to stay for at least 6 months?

It wasn't really sudden, but somehow it felt like it. I knew way back in October that I was likely to work for several months in Sweden at the start of 07, but things only got finalized towards the end of November and with my project here starting in the 2nd week of January, I didn't really have a lot of time left in Manila. Which was also the main reason why I spent a lot of time with my family and friends in the last several weeks.

I'll be updating my blog with how things are in this part of the world along with all the cool, fun, and crazy experiences I expect to have here. But let me first tell you how my trip here turned out.

I spent the entire Saturday night packing and making sure all loose ends were tied up before I left. My airport transfer picked me up at 8am, and I slept for the entire car ride on the way to the airport. I had to sort out all my excess baggage first before I headed to the waiting area. I was then pleasantly surprised to run into Mike and Diane, who were flying to the US (Mike to Boston, Diane to Cincinnati) but ended up waiting in the airport for 4 extra hours because it was storming in Japan (their stop-over). As it turns out, Walter was also in my flight (he was heading to Geneva).

I got to sleep for about 4 of the 14 hours I was on the plane to Amsterdam. I was trying to sleep but for some reason I couldn't. So I decided to just watch movies on the plane instead. I caught 'Nacho Libre', 'Cars', and 'Ordinary People'. The plane arrived in Amsterdam at 630pm (130am Manila time), about half an hour ahead of schedule. Here I discovered that Walter wasn't my only colleague on the same flight - my boss Peter and another colleague Sheila were also there (both of them were headed for the UK). It was pretty good having some company while in Schipol airport, and here we decided to change some money already in case the forex booths were closed in our respective destinations.

I was heading to Stuttgart first and spending a couple of days with my German colleagues who provided me with a lot of technical overviews to get my ready for my assignment. My flight left Amsterdam at around 830 and I arrived in Stuttgart at 930. I was so tired that I fell asleep almost as soon as I arrived at the hotel.

I met up with my colleague Ingo on Monday for prep sessions, and in the evening he took me around Boeblingen which I was really pleased with since at least I got to see more of Germany than just the airport, the hotel, and the office. I had a couple of good German beers, Bratwurst, and some really good Sauerkraut. Too bad I forgot which beers I had. I should email Ingo and ask him which ones he ordered for me.

We had a couple more training sessions lined up on Tuesday before I packed up and got on another plane, this time to Copenhagen where I would meet another colleague, Martin (who is like my boss here). He was flying from Paris and arriving at around the same time and suggested to me that we meet in the Copenhagen airport so he could drive me to my hotel.

The last couple of days were then spent getting me ready for my project here. I met a lot of new people who I would be working with, got a few reading materials, attended a few business and system overviews, and got my 'consultant' laptop and badge. Of course, thing being just the first couple of days of me being here, I still have got a lot more overview sessions and meetings to attend.

Despite all that, I think I'm starting to settle in a bit. I'm still staying in a hotel right now, and I'm still in a bit of an "information-overload" mode, but I'm starting to figure out how to get things going and I'm getting all geared up. Wish me luck and as I said, keep an eye on my blog coz I'm gonna make sure it's updated with all the interesting things I'll be doing over here.

(P.S. I still plan on writing about some of the stuff that happened to me in the last 2-3 months i.e. the stuff I never got to write about coz I was too busy. I'll still be busy here of course, but with no friends, family, and non-work commitments here, I'll have more time to do my 'dear diary' stuff. :-) )