Saturday, August 29, 2015

“To travel, to experience and learn: that is to live.” - Tenzing Norgay

Hello there!

It's been a while since I've been on here. I've been keeping myself busy with my creativity projects and have also been neglecting that food blog I was working on. Oops!
The Couz and the Bro

Anyway, my brother, Stephen (but better known to his friends as "Steve") turned 40 a few months ago. I was planning on writing about that in May or early June, but my obsession with finishing the Game of Throne books kept me occupied. I finally finished the 5th book (A Dance with Dragons) earlier this month! So before I go and start rambling about the books and the HBO series, I will stop myself from digressing...

So, yeah, Steve just hit a big milestone in life. He may or may not like that I have called him out on this, but truth be told... he doesn't look his age. Nor, truthfully does he act it. :)
George Burns stated it well, "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old!"
Heck, I'm not going to disagree with that! My previous irritation of getting carded has now been transformed to feeling a small joy from it these days!

Totem Poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver
While it may not have been the case when I was young, I am definitely grateful to have grown up with a sibling. Even though my first words were "Stop it!" due to his torment, even though his chant of "Kimmy's got a BIG ol' head!" still rings in my ears, even though he never let me play with his Star Wars toys... I'm still glad that I had someone to share my childhood with.

After all, no one else (aside from my parents) has been there my whole life. To know the growing pains, the challenges, and the good times. Who else can we call when our parents are driving us up the wall?
On the way back from Vancouver

For his birthday I bought took him to Seattle. We had so many reasons why we chose that city:

  1. Our cousin lives there, so mini cousin reunion!
  2. It's close enough to Vancouver.
  3. It's just a great city!
  4. etc...
We have travelled together before many years ago but it was time we did it again.
On the waterfront

While we were up there, we took a day trip to Vancouver, went to a Sounders game, visited the Space Needle and Chihuly exhibit, met up with some friends, and explored this beautiful city.

We truly, and honestly were going to go on a hike, as my cousin goes on them regularly. The breathtaking posts on her instagram account: were enough to motivate me to go! But, the day we scheduled it, the bridge was up due to Seafair, so we'll have to do that one next time. 

Happy Birthday Steve and happy mini cousin reunion! To many more!

Monday, January 12, 2015

WARNING: Reflections in this post may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of a happy life

So anyone who has ever read this blog knows that it's pretty normal for me to use quotes, or plays on quotes. This one is particularly awesome, me thinks, but let me just set the expectation now; this will just be a run of the mill reflection on the previous year. (So long to all of you who tuned out and clicked elsewhere!)

And what a year it was!

January - March:

For my birthday I got Lion King tickets. Lion King was my favorite animated Disney movie for ages (until they collaborated with Pixar) and I have been dying to see this show for as long as I could remember.

There are a handful of movies where I know every single line and this is one of them. (If you are curious about the others, they include, but aren't limited to: Jerry Maguire, Clueless, Friday, and Almost Famous. Talk about random, right?)

The show definitely did not disappoint. If you have never seen it, this is a ::MUST SEE:: in my humble opinion. The opening song is worth the ticket!

As I mentioned in previous blog posts, I was lucky enough to travel to Hong Kong, Manila and Bali in February and March.
Even now, as I look through the pictures, I crave that meal after the bike ride that should have resulted in my first time getting stitches. (Didn't get any, but I neosporin-ed the HECK out of the gash on my hand. Healed decently, woo hoo!)

As it's raining and a wee bit chilly in SoCal, I would love to be reading under an umbrella on a beach chair in Bali. (That's right, RAIN in So Cal!) I also wouldn't mind having a piping hot bowl of noodles on Victoria's Peak in Hong Kong.

I am blessed to have found such great friends and traveling partners from grad school. Knowing us, there will be several more!

April to June:

I also got to see The Book of Mormon this year. If you've seen it, then you should really enjoy this rendition of its opening song "The Book of Mormon Comes to South Park":

I went to Boston for work, which is always a huge treat since so many good friends are still in the area. There is never enough time to see people, but I sure tried! :)

It was a good time to go since it was finally warming up. My colleagues and I were supposed to go in March, during a bad storm, while there was plenty of snow. I can't say that I'm not glad that our trip got postponed!

Another good set of friends from BU got married in San Francisco so we had another mini reunion that included a road trip and some wine tasting.

Since I was on the way, my friends picked me up, but the best part was that I was able to introduce another person to American Ale; home of the best burger EVER!

July to September:

My summer started off with a cousin reunion. It has been over 4 years since we have been in the same city. We had planned on going to Disneyland, but they were in Cali during the hottest days of the year. Ummm... no thank you! 

Instead, we roasted in my aunt's house in the IE (AC was on the fritz) and finally escaped the heat by gorging on Korean BBQ and going to a movie. It definitely doesn't compare to the Happiest Place on Earth, but with that heat, having a leisurely meal and catching up really just hit the spot. 

I also had a few visitors that actually came through Santa Barbara itself. This isn't the first time, as I had plenty of visitors that came to see me specifically in 2013 (love you guys!), but usually if they aren't there to see me specifically, LA is the closest they will get.  Not surprisingly, I also took both sets of friends to American Ale. (I wasn't dutchess on yelp for nothing! And believe it or not, it didn't take long to dethrone me... sigh... I can't wait to get back there!)

October to December:

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It's the time of year when people's inner creativity (and for some ladies, a inner something else, ahem) comes out. 

I've always been a huge fan of dressing up, but I can't always say I've executed well. Part of that is that I don't start thinking about it until late, but another is that I'm often reluctant to spend a lot of money on it.

There have been some really amazing costumes from my co-workers ranging from Brangelina to a group costume of Clue.

This year a group of us got together for a brainstorming session.
The ideas were flowing: Hunger Games, Star Trek, Phone Apps... we finally decided to be the US Women's curling team (coach and all!). We got brushes, created our own curling stone with a kettle, attaching it to wheels with duct tape and aluminum foil; we got brushes and even an American flag. 

It was so fun! We even won the costume contest!

Thanksgiving week was pretty exciting. My brother and I went to the Justin Timberlake concert, I went to my boss's retirement party and went to another good friend's wedding.  That was a darn good week! 

I ended the year in my favorite place... San Diego!

Throughout the year, I have been working on being more creative. Towards the end of 2014, I started doodling on a white board, mainly recreating superhero minions. 

My creative writing has slowed down a bit, but I got really good at drawing on dry erase boards! I even started getting specific requests. I captured most of them here

But recently one of my good friends at work and I have started writing haikus. My project for this year is to continue hump day haikus. One of many.


Of course I had to continue my annual list of books! While the number is quite low, the number of pages was a feat! (3000+) The authors have mostly been reoccurrences over the years, but at least I know what I like!

  1. David and Goliath - Malcolm Gladwell
  2. What I Talk About when I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami
  3. Clash of Kings - George R.R. Martin
  4. Sword of Storms - George R.R. Martin
  5. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - Mindy Kaling
  6. Dexter's Final Cut - Jeffrey Lindsay

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"The only way to make sense of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance." - Alan W. Watts

So... yeah, change is a coming.

I am moving to the OC.


I haven't "officially" lived there in 20 years! Two decades! Four lustra! You get the idea.

I recently took a personality assessment that says that I don't like change. I think there is a little bit of truth in there, but I feel like the nostalgia that brings about the reluctance.

I'll be honest, San Diego is the only place I've never complained about. I was even grateful to be unemployed there because I got rock star parking every time I went to the beach during work hours. And the museums were free to residents, so I took advantage of that too.

When I first moved to California, I mocked the weather ("What? No snow on Christmas?!" Give me a break, I was 10!); then when I moved to Boston for grad school, it wasn't the weather I complained about (I already had an idea of what I was getting into), I missed my friends and Mexican food. Not Tex-Mex, but California burritos stuffed with french fries (not sprouts!) and street tacos (cabeza, lengua? yes please!). When I got to Santa Barbara, I was totally surprised because I thought it would be like San Diego, OC, and LA. It's not. It's a quaint city of 90,000 and since Isla Vista isn't counted as a part of the census, it's diversity is pretty much non-existent.

The only place I have never been nostalgic for is the OC. The reasons for missing San Diego are too numerous to list. Boston? Boy, am I missing that excellent clam chowder and lobsta rolls! And the seasons? Fall is unbeatable. Unlike CA, if you drive for an hour, you can be in another state. After just one hour! I miss my friends there too of course. :)

Santa Barbara? It's like we're on an island of sorts. It takes about an hour just to reach a Target! Ok, not anymore, they have one in Oxnard now, so only 40 minutes, but it's still true to reach a decent Asian market that doesn't pillage your wallet!

Ok, so what am I going to be nostalgic for when I leave SB?

The same thing that most people mentioned when I told them... American Ale burgers. Some of the first words I heard were, "Oh no! That means I won't get anymore burgers!" Thanks guys...

The beach. Yeah, I know, So Cal has beaches a plenty. But here, even on the 4th of July and Labor Day, you can easily find a space on the beach. Parking may be a problem for some, but not for this gal who lives 1.5 miles away and usually just walks it.

The views. It's just darn pretty here.

Honestly, one of the biggest things I will miss here are all the great people I worked with. It took some time to get to know them, but it's always hard to leave good people. Especially when you have developed a really great working relationship and finally got things working somewhat smoothly.

The combination of it all is making nostalgic juices flow through my veins.

People ask if I'm excited about moving. I am. I have plans. Like piano classes, and salsa lessons,maybe even an art class or two. I even have a few friends in the area. (Family too!)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

“I guess I can go anywhere I want. If only I knew where to go.” ― Layne Staley

I'm in a time of my life where I face a lot of uncertainty. Nothing out of the ordinary, really.

I found out a little over a month ago that my company is closing my site, and that my position as it stands now has been eliminated. Along with 1499 other positions, world wide.

In "regular" circumstances, that would just mean that I update my resume and start applying for jobs around the area. However, here, in Santa Barbara, that's just not going to happen. Industry doesn't exist out here. Sure, there are a few (um, about 3...) companies that are in the medical device industry, but realistically, ... ya... No. And you can forget about biotech and pharma!

They say that some people will be offered transition packages to our corporate HQ in the OC. Some people have already been receiving those offers. Some accept them quite happily, while others seem to want to say, "thanks for the offer, but SUCK IT!"

I haven't been offered anything (yet?) and that's ok. What I have received is a tremendous amount of support from my family, friends, and colleagues and for that, I'm SO grateful! It's part of why this transition is hard.

Even though I've griped about living here, I've learned to embrace it for all it is (see pictures), and isn't. And I've also made a few friends along the way, which always helps.

I'm not in a bad position, truth be told; I'm not married, I have no kids, I don't have a mortgage. I don't even have a car payment. I have nothing that binds me to this area, which basically means that possibilities are endless. (#FirstWorldProblems #WahWahWah)

As exciting as it can be, it's also a bit worrisome. I kind of fell into my position, and I love it. I love my boss, my team, the work. It's not something that can be easily found elsewhere, which, in my little world, really does suck.

I'm not one of those people who live to work and I've only had a few jobs in which I enjoy what I do and who I work with. Every single one of those, I just fell into. How lucky am I, huh?

I hope my streak continues...

And since I can't live off of hopes, dreams and wanderlust, I'll keep my head up and keep an ear to the ground for that next adventure.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” ― Haruki Murakami

The title quote is from Haruki Murakami's "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" which has inspired me to get back on the exercise bandwagon. Funny enough, this same author inspired me to start my creative writing blog as well.

Brand new running shoes!
I was pretty good earlier this year, running 3-5 times a week. Then I went to Asia and have had a hard time getting back into the groove since I got back. It's been several months!

In that time, some of the weight I lost has come back, and now I'm just out of excuses. Can't complain of jet lag anymore; the days are longer (the amount of sunlight anyway, woo hoo!), and it's warmer out. Heck I live in CA, it's hard to complain about weather here.

Though... I do, sometimes...

It's what happens when you live in a place where it's pretty awesome about 94% of the year. I know, wah wah...

East Beach, Santa Barbara, CA
It's not even like I'm only talking about the weather... I live about a mile and a half away from the beach and I have some spectacular panoramic views of mountains and ocean.

Not surprisingly, the boardwalk is a regular running path and I take advantage as often as I can get my lazy butt up and out of the house.

I have come to really understand what William James meant when he said, "Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they've got a second."

Last year, I decided I wanted to start jogging again. I used to jog in San Diego a decent amount. It was moderately enjoyable, but it was when I felt strong, felt healthy and was able to keep my weight manageable.

Top of Stadium steps
Though it had been a while, I remember deciding, "I'm going to run 2 miles without stopping, I don't care how long it takes!" I was on the SBCC track, and remember just pushing myself until I got to my goal. Eight laps without stopping!

I had no more excuses. I found that I could will myself to do what I wanted to do even when my body wanted to wimp out and walk. My time was slow... like a fast walker could beat me slow, but I kept going.

SBCC Stadiums
I've never really been athletic, so my competition has always been me, myself, and I. I've actually never told anyone this, but when I was in grade school, I used to get anxiety in gym class, and felt so sick to my stomach that I had to go to the nurse. I loathed the idea of having to run and compete against other classmates. I was afraid of being the slowest or that I had horrible form and while I liked cheering for people from the sidelines, I found myself ill "just in time" to avoid the starting line.

Now, a few(ish) decades later, I'd like to say I couldn't care less. While for the most part, it's true, now a days, I tell myself, I just want to do whatever it is that brings me happiness and if I suck, then hopefully some decent entertainment. (Just ask my softball team!)

I recently started doing stadiums again at Santa Barbara City College. Each lane has 84 stairs that get increasingly taller as you go higher. I only did one set, 5 lanes up and 5 down. When I've tackled this in the past, I had been running 3+ miles and I barely was able to break two before I started this time.

My legs... my poor legs. Did I stretch? Yes. Did I cool down. You betcha, but holy cow, did I ache. For 2 days... pathetic! But, a few days later I did it again. And a few days after that? Well, I did 2 sets.

Sometimes, I wish I were one of those adrenaline junkies, and get a massive high from exercising.

But I will settle for some willpower and accept that while "pain in inevitable. Suffering is optional" and hopefully by the end of summer, I'll be in better shape than I was last year.

Monday, March 24, 2014

“The Wanderlust has got me... by the belly-aching fire” ― Robert W. Service


Uluwatu Temple
I didn't fully transitioned into "holiday mode" when we were in Hong KongIn the Philippines, only when we were on the boat to Taal Volcano did I finally felt like I was off on an adventure. I had seen so many pictures of Bali and was really excited about this leg of the trip. (I also learned how to use the panoramic view on my phone! woo hoo!)

We arrived in Bali at around midnight and got settled in around 1:45am. Instead of a regular hotel, we opted to find villas using There were so many beautiful places to chose from, but we all decided on Case de Maria. Less than a 7 minute walk to the beach, it came with a pool, a complimentary breakfast of eggs, toast and fruit, super comfortable and big beds, wi-fi... in short, we could have been perfectly content to kick it pool side. 
Casa de Maria

But, we were SO close to the beach, so of course we'd have to go hang out there instead! (Duh!)

I've lived most of my adult life no more than 4 miles away from the ocean. (Even now, I'm only 1.5 miles away.) I love going to the beach. Sand between my toes, the soothing sound of the waves, potentially gorgeous sunrises or sunsets...

Beaches in this area of the world have the warmest water! And it was so clear! (I wish I could say "clean" as well, but there was a bit of garbage in the water, mostly plastic bags.)

Seminyak Beach
Unlike the beaches at home, there isn't much sea life to be seen in the water, though if you look closely enough in the sand, you can see tiny balls of sand that are formed by the even tinier crabs.

The waves were perfect for learning how to surf, and even better if you just wanted to dive in and get carried back to shore. When we weren't in the water, some of us sunbathed, haggled with local merchants, had a refreshing beverage, and/ or just read.

I'm currently obsessed with the Game of Throne series. I'm all caught up with the show on hbo, which is AWESOME, and I'm about 40% through A Clash of Kings. Can't wait for the next season to be on again. I am a bit behind the books (by a few seasons), but I still enjoy reading them when I know what happens. I'm just weird like that.

Ok, back to the vacation...

After spending several hours relaxing at the beach, we headed out to Uluwatu Temple. As a sign of respect, we all had to wear some type of sash and the boys had to drape purple skirts around their shorts. Signs told us that we should take off our sunglasses and people everywhere were trying to sell us bananas. I was puzzled. I didn't want to be disrespectful (regarding the sunglasses), and was just confused about the bananas, until we entered...

Monkeys! Who doesn't love monkeys? Or at least the idea of monkeys...

I knew we were scheduled to see monkeys the following day, so this was a pleasant surprise. All I was expecting to see was a temple! Goes to show, sometimes it's good to let loose, go with the flow and trust friends to want to do something cool. ;)

They were all around the entrance, enjoying the food that tourists like us would give them. (It was an "aha" moment. HA)

As our guide took us through, we were getting closer and closer to the ocean. There were some spectacular views and I couldn't stop taking pictures. Everywhere we looked was a photo op!

We decided to have dinner at Jukung Bali Seafood, right on the beach. The seafood is really fresh, where you can pick your dinner from aquariums in the front of the restaurant. I'm no stranger to fishing so this suited me just fine, but some of my friends felt a little guilt. I don't blame them, as it can be quite the experience to really understand that the food that is on your plate was alive only about 15-20 minutes beforehand.

My friend Prem and I shared an incredible meal that included fried calamari, prawns, clams, and red snapper. It was delicious! It was a bit expensive, too, but I think it was worth it!

My friends decided to have some beer with their meal and I opted for a coconut. It is the biggest coconut I've ever seen!

As Prem and I were eating, the server came by and asked if we were on our honeymoon. I was sitting between Prem and his girlfriend! LOL! I actually said, "Um, actually THEY (pointing at them) are together, we are just sharing food. :) Um, AWKWARD! We all laughed it off, though.

After all, we were in Bali, enjoying a great meal with awesome friends!

We got very VERY lucky. We had just finished eating and were about to ask for the check. I felt a wet drop on my back and for a second, I thought that one friend had laughed so hard at something another friend said, that she spit up a little on me.

Then, I felt another one.

Right then, it started down pouring! We all scrambled to get our stuff and get under the awning before we got soaked. We were SO LUCKY! Did I mention lucky? I think we would have all been a bit disappointed if our dinner was washed a sea by the flash flood!

Ok, so maybe I exaggerated. The rain was done by the time we got back to our villa, which was about 30 minutes away.

Mount Batur and Crater Lake

Our next excursion was probably my favorite of the whole trip. That's saying something considering everything we did!

The Bali Eco and Cycling Tour was really amazing. Local guides took us to a coffee plantation where we sampled a variety of flavored coffee and teas and tried some infamous Kopi Luwak aka "cat poop coffee".
Roasting coffee beans

We learned that the Asian palm civet that they have to digest the coffee are not treated as badly as you might think (according to our guide). The coffee farmers don't hold them captive for too long as they don't want to stress out the animal. Seems reasonable.

It was pretty smooth, but not sure it's worth the hype to get it abroad. Or maybe I'm just not a coffee connoisseur... ok, there is no maybe in that.

I started drinking coffee after trying coffee ice cream and Coffee Bean's ice blended drinks. (Some refer to them as "milkshakes", which I can't really argue with! I'll take one Dark Chocolate Ice Blended please!)  Before that it had no appeal and when I realized it could taste so good, I was all over it!

I digress!

After coffee tasting, we headed to breakfast with a beautiful view overlooking Mount Batur and Crater Lake. Then, we were off to the downhill cycling part of the tour to Ubud.

Even though this was one of the best days, it was actually one of my most unlucky. I'm a bit anxious on a bike. Part of that is that several of my friends have been struck by cars. Well, that's the biggest part of it.

Let me just tell you upfront, I was not hit by a car. No one on this tour was injured by any vehicle. So don't worry!

But let me just tell you the first of some of the unluckiness I endured...

I selected a bike that was good for my glorious 5'1 1/2" frame (yes, I'm counting halves like a 4 year old, what of it?!). But as soon as I slid on the bike, I heard a "Rrriippppp!" My shorts ripped right below my crotch area. Thankfully, even though I told one of my friends, it wasn't noticeable. But I didn't bring a change of clothes and just prayed that it would not be too embarrassing!
Rice paddy fields

Shortly after that, we were on our way. I quickly forgot about the shorts and concentrated on staying on the bike and not running anyone or myself off the road.

We encountered many local children, who rushed over to say hi and give us high 5s. It was really awesome and I even made contact with a few of them without falling off the bike! (woo hoo's all around!)

We got to walk through rice fields, visited Bali homes where they were raising pigs (they jokingly called pigs their "ATM" since they were able to charge a decent price for a roasted pig), and weaving bamboo floor mats and roof tops.

Well, naturally, there is more unluckiness or I wouldn't have mentioned it...

So... I was minding my own business, rolling down the street, sippin on gin and juice, oh wait... no drink in hand, but we were cruising along, minimally avoiding cars, when I tried to do some hand motion and lost control of my bike and crashed along side of the road.

I got up rather quickly, more embarrassed than anything. The Ozzies stopped behind me to see if I was ok. Overall, I was fine. I got some bruises from the bike and impacting the side of the road, but the biggest bummer was the gash that I got on my right palm. It was bleeding a decent amount, and the bandaid they got wasn't quite doing the trick. (No pictures will be posted since I don't want to gross anyone out, but I did see some of the fat tissue on my hand, GROSS!!)

Though not quite a kodak moment, I still took a picture to send to the bf. Honestly, I was a bit worried I would need stitches, but I kept my hand elevated and couldn't really use it because any movement not only hurt a bit, but it also wouldn't let the area heal. In fact, it's been almost a month and it's not fully back to normal yet (though I've gained full recovery in motor function, just in case you were worried!) Slathering on neosporin did the trick! (Thanks F!)

The tour guide said we were five minutes away from the end, (5 minutes!) so I just hopped back on and finished. If only I could have held on another 5 minutes!
Delicious Balinese food!

Lunch was next!

Our lunch was amazing. Like I still have dreams about it amazing. It was probably on the top 5 list of best meals while on this vacation. The tour site advertised that some patrons called it one of the best meals on the island, and seriously... they weren't kidding.

Everything was good. Mie goreng (friend noodle), sweet soya bean cake, Tofu with peanut sauce, smoked duck, smoked chicken, Gado Gado, spicy sambal and some Balinese veggies. Holy deliciousness!!

The last part of our tour included the Ubud Monkey Forest. As we were driving back, it started to downpour. My friends and I debated if we wanted to go, and even called our driver to cancel our requested pick up, since the rain wasn't relenting.

About 5 minutes after that, the rain stopped. Ubud is at least an hour away from Seminyak (depends on traffic), and since it stopped, we decided to see if our driver was still available (which he was).

Our tour guides dropped us off and into the forest we went. We were warned by the Ozzy tourists that these monkeys were aggressive and that we could easily see them in the shopping area.
Ubud Monkey Forest and Temple

Did we listen? Nope. We decided to go there and see them anyway. After all, when would we be back?

We looked around, and saw that the sculptures were a little freaky looking. (I was still nursing an injured hand so I didn't take any pictures, but rest assured, they were creepy!)

We got about halfway through the forest and were heading to a temple when it started down pouring. (Unlucky stroke #3!) Cats and dogs wasn't even remotely accurate to describe it. Within minutes, the area we were in was flooded up to my knees. A few of us went back to the entrance, and the rest of us found shelter under a small hut.

After a few minutes, ants started dropping on us and biting. They have some strong jaws and it was getting to painful to be there, so those of us who were under the small hut made our way over to the entrance, where there was a larger platform to shield us from the rain.

Monkeys aren't dumb animals. They were under the shelter too. And several of them were playing tag, happily sliding around, using people's legs as leverage as they chose. Some tourists coaxed a few of them on their backs as they fed them. They are much braver than I. No monkeys on my back, thank you very much!

Seminyak Beach
Several times, we all retreated as they came by. Many of them were getting agitated and were becoming increasingly aggressive. I think it's safe for me to say that we are all set for viewing wild monkeys for a while.

Our last night in Bali, we finally caught a sunset. I think I alone took a couple hundred pictures of it. This one of the boys high-fiving is my favorite.

Awesome trip and nice planning guys! Can't wait until our next adventure!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Mabuhay" said Manila. And I said "Salamat" back. - Prem

Next Stop: Philippines

Congrats JB and Frances!
As Justina Chen says, "Getting lost is just another way of saying 'going exploring.'"

And what better "excuse" to go exploring halfway around the world than to celebrate friends getting married? After all, this amazing event is what triggered the whole trip in the first place. Thanks guys! 

(Check out their amazing video if you want to see more! It's quite extraordinary what their team put together in a few hours and since the bride and groom are gorgeous, it looked like a commercial for cars, watches, wedding dresses...)

I helped plan the Hong Kong leg, so I had no idea what we were going to do in the Philippines aside from the wedding. 

I must say, mis amigos didn't disappoint! First stop was Intramuros, a walled city that was once used as a fort. Now it is a historic center and Manila's oldest district.  One thing that seemed to be a reoccurring theme was that many of the cities churches and buildings were rebuilt because there were many earthquakes that made previous structures tumble down. And if it wasn't an earthquake, it was another natural disaster. 
View from Taal Volcano

Taking a break from the lovely city of Alabang (the Philippines Bel Air), we headed to Taal Volcano in Batangas. According to wikipedia, "the crater lake on Volcano island is the largest lake on an island in a lake on an island in the world." [I'm sure you can see why I didn't try to paraphrase that description...] I kind of think of it like a turducken, but in this case, I've dubbed it #volakano

Taal Lake
After a 25 ish minute boat ride across the fresh water lake to the volcano, we took a 45 minute hike to the top. It was a clear, hot day and we took our time, stopping to take pictures and enjoy the beautiful views. It's an active volcano and it has been designated a Decade Volcano because of its destruction potential. (It's active and near a large population.) Currently, only 15 other volcanoes have that designation.
 View from Leslie's

Aside from the wedding, this was my favorite part of visiting the Philippines. I don't know if I'll ever see anything like it again, and since it was when it really hit me that I was on a real vacation!

After we were had taken in the volcano and its beauty, we headed back into town for lunch. Our driver was a very nice gentleman, by the name of Rommel if I remember right. We knew we wanted to have lunch but didn't know where. He recommended Leslie's, along with their a Filipino special Bulalo.

This beef shank soup was delicious! It was the first time many of my friends had tried bone marrow, which I'm a huge fan of. Yum! We had some garlic rice and some tempura like veggies as well.
The weather here wasn't quite what I expected. Considering its location, I expected heat and humidity and to be sweating most of the time. Definitely not the case. It was quite mild and after our Taal Volcano excursion, we even got a little chilly. It's all relative, of course.

Manila American Cemetery and Memorial
As we landed into Manila, my friend and I saw the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial from the plane. More than 17,000 World War II soldiers rest here.

It is humbling to stand in front of the walls that list thousands of names of soldiers that fought for our country.

To end our time in Manila, we all decided to splurge and get hour + long massages. It's ridiculous how inexpensive massages are here. $10USD got me an hour long deep tissue massage! Since it was at a pretty nice spa, that included some piping hot ginger tea as well. If I knew it was SO affordable, I would have done it everyday!

Can't really complain though. It was great and it was the perfect way to relax before heading over to Bali.