Sunday, October 12, 2014

THE TERRIBLE THAILAND EXPERIENCE

Not even once have I ever been questioned at the immigration in my years of traveling, nor did I have any bad experience at the airport (except for that Kuala Lumpur trip 6 years ago when my friend was almost offloaded from our flight from Manila). My travel experience has been so smooth... until last week when I took a long journey from Singapore to Thailand.

It was a holiday on Monday last week (6th of Oct) in Singapore and Malaysia because of Hari Raya (or Eid in other Muslim parts of the world) so I decided to tag along with my backpacker friends who often visit Malaysia and Thailand via coach. It was something I've always wanted to try because I often travel via air. So we went to Hat Yai, a city in the southern Thai province of Songkhla.

The journey began from Singapore, passed by immigration at the border (departure from Singapore and entry at Johor Bahru), went on to travel the entire Malaysia until the north and finally reached Songkhla after 15 hours. Yes, 15 effing hours on the bus. Hahah. Crazy, I know. Until now I still couldn't imagine how I managed to stand that. It was like taking a long haul flight from Asia to America sans the comfort of  sitting on a nice plane seat while being served by lovely cabin crew.

To be honest, I was kinda shocked when I saw the checkpoint at Songkhla (Sadao). It was quite chaotic and people were scattered everywhere. On what seemed like a parking lot were a couple of booths (more like our toll gate booths in the Philippines). It didn't help as well that it was raining so the roads were muddy.

Photo from: http://nostalgicofluna.blogspot.sg/2011/01/kangaq-bukit-kayu-hitam-hat-yai-sadao.html

My friends and I followed our fellow passengers and queued up to those booths. On each of the booth, "Passport Control" was written along with its Thai language translation. When it was my turn the lady immigration officer (who looked really pleasant, by the way) took my passport, scanned it a bit, smiled and told me, "Number 13". I didn't get it at first so I looked at her with my confused face and asked why. She just said, "Go to Number 13", which later I realized was booth number 13.

Number 13 was at the other side of the arrival area, quite far from the Passport Control booths. It was closed so I went to the next booth which happens to have the same signage as 13, "Border Access and Passport Control". In my head I was like, "Border access? I didn't drive a car to get here." To my surprise my friends followed me. The booth I went to first had a long queue of people so we decided to transfer to the next, which for some reason opened and it felt like it did just in time for us. Hahah. But a family of 7 Malaysians cut the line, leaving us waiting again for quite long. My friend then told me, "ikaw na nga mauna, nang wala na makasingit pa."

Finally, it was my turn. I handed my passport to the officer. To my astonishment he told me, "Pay 50". I asked why, he just said, "Pilipin pay 50". It was not my first time in Thailand so I was certain we didn't have to pay anything to enter the country. I am also visa-free as citizen of an ASEAN member country. Because I wanted it be finished as fast as it can (as our bus mates might kill us had we spent more time at the border), I just obliged. I took out my smallest Baht bill which was 500. Seconds later, it occurred to me that I was stupid because first, immigration officers are not supposed to collect money (there should be a cashier) and second, (if they do collect) they won't give you the change if you give them big amount. It was too late to bargain but I still tried my luck. My friend had a 50baht and I asked the officer if he could give me back the  500 in exchange for the 50 I got from my friend. To my disappointment he did not allow. He handed me my now stamped passport and asked me to leave. I was still begging for the 500 and even negotiated that I cover the 50 each 'payment' of my friends. All I could hear from him was, "No, no, no. Pilipin pay" on repeat mode. Then my ever fierce friend asked, "for what is that?" while the other friend was hitting her in the arm saying, "wag ka nang umapela.." 

I never stopped negotiating and questioning him but when he suddenly stood and called a cop I was like, "Shettttt, hindi na po ako kikibo" Wahahahaha. I've read some horror stories about setting up people at the immigration, even the innocent ones. They might fabricate stories about us disrespecting authorities. F*ck, I didn't wanna be held in that awful place. Besides, the Philippine embassy is in Bangkok which is too far from Songkhla. Hahahhaha.

I kept my calm while waiting for the cop to approach us. I smiled at him while he was speaking to me. He said, "Pilipin, Vietnam, Indonesia pay 500." I said ok. Although in my heart I knew that was not true, I just gave them that f%*#€£ idea because I took out a 500 bill. Yes, I was that stupid. And it saddened me because I couldn't do anything about it. We didn't know who among them were trustworthy. At that time I already felt like all of them do the same thing. Even that supposed nice lady at the passport control was in connivance. I knew I just had to concede. Even my friends did. It was difficult too, because no one spoke good English. I was afraid that if I speak more I'd be misunderstood and charged.

So there, the bastards just got 1500baht richer. If you think about it, 500 baht is equivalent to SGD20. Such a small amount I'd say.. but to not fight for what is right? I felt like a lost a million dollar. I am the kind of person who won't stop until I get to send my message across and be heard. I've always been the straightforward type, not the one that would just keep quiet. It saddens me until now that there are people who aren't fair. It's even more saddening that they are "public servant". What kind of government do they have?

As we walked toward the bus it came to me that maybe they were thinking I was some kind of an ignorant Filipino, because I used my new passport which only had 2 stamps (Philippine arrival and departure) and an arrival in Malaysia. As a resident of Singapore my passport has never been stamped there, immigration officers only scan our Singapore identification cards upon entry/exit. I had my old passport with me in case I would be questioned. I thought perhaps if I took it out along with the new one and my Singapore IC, the story could have been different. Or maybe they thought I was one of those Filipinos that illegally cross the Malaysian borders and work as whatever-kind-of-entertainer-you-call-them which is kind of odd because I was in my loose t-shirt, jeans and a pair of Chucks. So ragged for a hooker eh? Hahaha. Oh well... 'nuff said. Damage has been done and we can't do anything about it anymore.

Realization after this experience?
  1. If there's an available flight, fly. Saves time and energy, plus the possibility of having immigration issues is low (if you're a genuine tourist, of course).
  2. While it's always good to fight, there are some instances wherein keeping quiet is the best thing to do.
  3. Do some research on places you're visiting to prepare you for whatever it is that you may encounter. Too bad this trip wasn't really planned, thus it was the first time I never really did proper research and even failed to create an itinerary. As soon as I got an internet access I searched for articles about Sadao border and read similar horror stories from foreign tourists. Had I known... *sigh*
  4. If you've just renewed your passport, better bring your old passport to let them know you're a seasoned traveler and not an illegal alien wannabe aiming to cross borders. Hahah. 
I had faith in the Thai people. I aways believed they are better than their neighbouring Asian people. I presented only my new passport just because I thought there was no point showing my old one. And I took out a 500baht because I was hoping he would give me back my 450. I am that stupid, I know. Hahaha. 

*sigh* The bottom line is just.. I am sad, because I loved Thailand and it's people. I think they are one amazing nation.. well, except of course for this corruption thing. If you could label this as one. 

And just like a heartbreak and failed romance.. I don't know if I can still handle seeing Thailand again. *sniff sniff*




Saturday, October 11, 2014

SPRING IN KYOTO: PART 3 (GION DISTRICT)

Part 1 HERE
Part 2 HERE

After visiting the Fushimi Inari Shrine we went on to wander around Gion, perhaps the most talked about (and interesting) part of Kyoto because of it being the geisha district of Japan.



Although traditional Japanese houses remained standing in Gion, you can also see modern establishments along the road such as restaurants, bars, clubs and pachinko (gaming/gambling place). Interestingly though, there is this traditional street where you can see a stretch of preserved Japanese wooden houses and teahouses. Not sure if I heard it correctly but I think our tour guide said if the house has a poster/picture like this (below) a geisha is living there. 



He also shared that this (below) is the oldest geisha barber shop/hairdresser in Gion..



Geishas (locally called geiko or maiko in Kyoto) are often found in tea houses, but.... getting inside one of those is not as easy as you may think. You may need to have connection to enter, or make reservations in a traditional Japanese restaurant as a tourist and hire a geisha to provide the entertainment.

Before going to Kyoto I told myself I have to see a geisha, the real one and not just ordinary people wearing exquisite kimono and zori sandals, although I know that it may not be possible considering how elusive they are. Anyway, none of my friends who visited Gion had any encounter with geisha so I wasn't really expecting much. 

Some people say geishas sometimes wander through the streets and you have chances to spot one between 5 and 6pm while they are walking on the way to work. My guided tour was already finished by 6pm but I still haven't had a glimpse of geisha in the area so I thought better luck next time. However, while walking en route to the train station (going back to Kyoto Station) I saw not just one, but two geishas. Stories are true, geishas are elusive. They were entering a tea house as fast as they could. 

Too bad I've already kept my camera in my bag (and had to bring it out immediately) so I wasn't snap-ready when I saw them. Nonetheless, I was still lucky I saw them. How cool is that? :)




My Japan Spring stories finally end here. I hope you enjoyed my posts even though they are not as detailed as I wanted them to be. I am too lazy to write and my memories of this trip had already gone out of the window. Heheh. :)



SPRING IN KYOTO: PART 2

Part 1 HERE

At about 2 in the afternoon my tour with Viator started. Meet up place was Kyoto Station. This station is the main hub of public transportation in Kyoto. It is such a massive train station it wouldn't be impossible to get lost. Hahah. Here you can also get a glimpse of a tourist spot, the Kyoto Tower.



The guide from Urban Adventures (Viator) spoke really good English I had even mistaken him for a foreigner (someone from other English speaking Asian countries) but apparently he was Japanese. If my memory serves me right we were a group of about 8 tourists, most of whom were Caucasians.  I was traveling alone on this trip so I didn't really have a photo of myself in any of the tourist spots in Kyoto. At some point the tour guide offered to take my pictures but I declined because I was too shy to pose for the camera and I was actually enjoying my moment of 'solitude' even with fellow tourists around me. However, there was this middle-aged Filipino lady who kept asking me questions about my personal life and why I was alone. She kept me company throughout our tour, along with her American husband.

This tour, called "half day small group Kyoto cultural tour", is a walking tour (plus a local train ride or two) that lasted for almost 4 hours wandering around zen gardens, visiting shrines and temples and exploring the geisha district of Kyoto that is Gion. To be honest I couldn't remember all the names of places we visited, all I know is it was the Philosopher's Walk that we tracked. And then there was the Tofukuji Temple. Along the way we saw couple of temples and landmarks that looked the same so I couldn't really figure which is which. :)






It suddenly rained when we were in one of these temples. With hail. All along I thought it was spring. Hahah. No one brought an umbrella so everyone had to walk in the rain freezing.

From black, white and neutral colors we went on to see orangey tourist spots in Kyoto. One of which was the Fushimi Inari Shrine, a Shinto shrine and one of the most important shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto deity of rice.








On the way there, upward to the hill, were streets of souvenir shops, restaurants and a lot more interesting stuff. I spent most of my time there trying out the food. Heheh. There were also stalls offering talismans, incense and paper fortunes.

Fushimi Inari Shrine is famous for this thousands of bright orange torii gates leading to the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. This is such a beautiful sight to see. One of the scenes from the movie, "Memoirs of a Geisha" was shot in here, that scene wherein young Chiyo (main character) runs through this tunnel of torii toward the shrine to pray and make offerings.

It would be nice to have a picture taken here but.... I was wearing an orange coat at that time so I immediately ditched the idea, despite the numerous offers of my fellow tourists and our guide. Hahaha. Be sure to come here on a weekday, though, because it can really be crowded here during weekends and it would be a challenge to get a decent picture with minimal photobombers.





These fox-shaped wooden boards below are called Ema. They are for worshippers who'd like to write wishes and prayers to the Shinto Inari god.


Wonder why the boards are shaped like a fox? Because foxes are thought to be the messengers of Inari so aside from these wishing boards, you can also see plenty of fox statues around the area.

So cute eh? :D

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UP NEXT: Gion District




Saturday, October 4, 2014

SPRING IN KYOTO: PART 1

It's already autumn in Japan yet I am only writing an entry about my spring trip to Kyoto (which was sometime in April) today. As much as I wanted to post this as soon as I got back from the trip, I realized it was better to write a detailed entry (although this post is still not as detailed as I wanted it to be.. haha!) and pick a few of my favorites among thousands of photos I took there but I've been so tied up at work, hence it took me forever to finally write a Kyoto blog post.

Kyoto served as Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868. It is home to many shrines and temples, most of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites (more than 10).

I got 2 separate half-day tours from 2 different tour operators. For my morning tour I availed my package from Sunrise tours at JPY5900 while the afternoon tour was from Viator (local operator was Urban Adventures Kyoto) that costs USD51.98.

As I stayed in a hotel in Osaka, I had to travel by train to Kyoto for about an hour since my JR Pass was for West Kansai and local trains only. Shinkansen (bullet train) ride was not included. I left Osaka at about 6 in the morning because pick up time for my morning tour was at 8:30am in Kyoto (and because I hate being late and was too scared to get lost that would eat up my time).

Japanese people are very disciplined. They value their (and other people's time) so much that if they set an appointment it sure will be on time, 100% of the time. So we started our morning tour at 9 in the morning via a bus. It was a huge group of tourists per bus and the number of buses on that tour that day was countless.

By the way, I went there on a Saturday so I wasn't able to see some places because they were closed on weekends, like the Imperial Palace.

Highlights of my morning tour:

Nijo Castle. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this castle was completed in 1600s to provide lodging for Tokugawa Shogun and as a palladium for Kyoto Imperial Palace. The temple is spacious we spent about half an hour wandering around and listening to stories about each room inside.




It has gardens too..





Kinkaku-ji Temple. Also known as the Golden Pavilion, this World Heritage Site is a beautiful wooden temple covered in thin layers of pure gold and is surrounded by a majestic lake. The zen garden nearby made the view even more beautiful from afar. Trivia: Kinkakuji was the inspiration for the similarly named Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) on the other side of the city.





Kitano-Tenmangu Shrine. One of the most important of several hundred shrines across Japan that are dedicated to Sugawara Michizane, a scholar and politician who was unfairly exiled by his political rivals. A number of disasters were attributed to Michizane's vengeful spirit after his death in exile, and this shine was built to appease him. (source: Japan Guide)






Sugawara Michizane is associated with Tenjin, the kami (Shinto God) of education. Consequently, many students visit Tenmangu to pray for success in their studies. The shrine can become especially crowded with students during exam times and school trip seasons. (Source: Japan Guide)


These are wishes of students visiting the shrine..




My morning tour ended at about 1 in the afternoon.

Although it was raining the entire morning, it didn't stop me from enjoying the place and learning about Japan's rich history. I loved that every single temple has a story to tell. I found it amazing, too that their government had preserved the beauty of each tourist spot up to this day.

Kyoto is such a beautiful place. I recommend putting it in your itinerary should you have plans of visiting Japan. :)

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UP NEXT: Kyoto Small Group Afternoon Cultural Tour (walking tour)





Wednesday, September 24, 2014

THE FASTEST FINGER

Got a new phone last Friday. I am one of those few people who now own an iPhone6. But before you criticize me for ‘bragging’ or 'showing off', can you actually believe that I got an iphone 6 just because I am a cheapskate? Not convinced…? Let me tell you the story..

2 months ago I broke my iPhone5 (had it for 1 year and 7 months). I did not get the iphone5s when it came out because my iphone5 was still in perfect condition until it suddenly went black in July. I brought it to the service center but as per their quotation it would cost me S$300 to have it fixed. Quite hefty for me. I was set to renew my phone line’s contract September and getting a new phone from my carrier 2 months short meant having to pay extra on top of the handset price.  It would cost me about 500 bucks if my memory serves me right.

Getting a phone for $500 would leave a big hole in my purse so I decided to just buy a cheap decent smart phone (coz my day is not complete without checking my work email on mobile). I got myself an Asus Zenfone which is only priced at S$150. Really cheap, right? Anyway I told myself I would only use this for few months so why spend more?

Finally, about 2 weeks ago SingTel (my carrier) sent an SMS telling me I am now eligible to have my phone line contract renewed. Then one day my colleague told me, "pwede na preregister sa SingTel for iPhone 6." Boom! There goes the light bulb in my head. I would get an iPhone 6. As we all know, getting the newest iPhone on it's launch could be very challenging. Everyone is wasting time, either on Apple Center online or on the carrier's website just to buy one.

So there, I preregistered on SingTel's site. The following day SingTel sent an SMS and an email saying that on the 17th of September we can already book an appointment to collect our iPhone. Collection is from the 19th until the 21st of September at Marina Bay Sands Convention Center. See that strong Apple impact? It even had a big event at MBS just for collection of iPhone. Hahaha.

On September 17 I had a conference call at 3pm. While waiting for my colleagues on the phone I remembered going to SingTel online to book my appointment. I was even taking my time filling out the form because I really thought preregistration means a unit is already reserved for you. I successfully booked my appointment and that is right after work on the 19th, between 6 to 8pm. A step closer to getting my iPhone eh? Not really.... Hahaha.

My colleague says I'm lucky to have booked an appointment coz there were a lot of preregistered subscribers who were not successful. I guess their fingers were not that quick to book an appointment. Or maybe what they wanted was sold out? I guess that's what the site meant by "fully booked" which turned out to be true as most of my friends who didn't make it actually wanted the 6plus while I opted to get the 6. This is because I am not a fan of big phone. iPhone 6 is big enough for me, what more an iPhone 6 plus.

Would you believe this launch created a big fuss here in Singapore? Because most of the people here are so advanced they want to be the first to have all the new stuff, especially gadgets. They even planned to petition to SingTel. Mind you, using change.org platform. While the entire world discusses bigger and serious issues... here... hmmm... just take a look at the link below. Hahah.

https://www.change.org/p/mr-yuen-kuan-moon-singtel-sell-iphones-6plus-to-singtel-pre-registered-customers



Anyway, going back to the appointment....

Just when I thought I was that close to the finish line I saw a long queue of people at MBS. I showed my printed booking appointment to the organizers and they let me fall in line. Below is the queue outside of the hall..



To be fair, the queue was quite fast.... but wait, there's still a long one inside.. hahaha..

This is just the queue to get a number, by the way.




As soon as I got my queue number I looked for a seat. Good thing I saw 2 vacant ones so my colleague (who accompanied me to this event just because she was not lucky to book her own) sat down to wait for my number. I had to wait for 300 before my turn. 100 clients had passed and I got really bored so....



Finally, about 9pm my number was called. I immediately looked for the counter, got my phone, paid and left the place.

It took me 3 f^%$# hours just to get it done.

Oh, by the way, I only paid $68 for this (my monthly plan is at $83).

I told you, I am a cheapskate. :P

END OF MY IPHONE STORY. HAHAHA. :D






Friday, September 19, 2014

STEPTEMBER 2014: DAY 18

One of the reasons why I haven't been regularly updating my blog is because --- you got it right (because it's everyone else's reason apart from being lazy), I am busy.  I was tasked to be the Singapore branch representative/project manager for Steptember, a 4-week event organized by the Cerebral Palsy Alliance in Australia.

During Steptember, participants are committed to walking at least 10,000 steps, promoting healthy lifestyle among employees and at the same time raising funds to assist children with cerebral palsy.

Just a little trivia on this -- do you know that an average office worker takes just about 3,000 steps a day? No wonder many of us aren't as fit as we'd like to be. It's pretty hard to get in shape sitting down all day.. so there, Steptember challenged us to take 10,000 steps a day for the whole month of Steptember.

Aside from my main recruiting and systems training/SME responsibilities, I got so busy with this project. I've been coordinating with the project team across all branches in Asia and Australia; keeping track of team performance, providing updates/reminders, spearheading activities for the branch, etc. Also, since I find it really challenging, I started running/working out regularly (it's not only the steps that count, all other physical activities can also be converted into steps by logging in to Steptember site) that's been eating up big chunk of my time. In addition, every weekend I go on nature tripping slash trekking with my friends so I can register more steps. By the way, we are using a pedometer to record our steps. Outside of exercising, I am personally raising funds from my friends to donate to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance so my hands are really full these days.

Note: Please continue to support this event by donating to Cerebral Palsy Alliance through our team. Click HERE to go to my fundraising page. Any amount is greatly appreciated and will surely make a difference in someone else's life. :)

Sharing with you some photos I took as a way to document this project. :)











We are already on the 16th day and so far I've been enjoying it. I feel lighter, better, and sexier (chos! hahaha) because of regular exercise. And although Steptember is already concluding in a few days' time, I am certain I'd still continue doing this to stay fit. Walking a lot (and sometimes working out) has become integral (wow deep haha) part of my life now and I am grateful to this event for pushing me beyond what I thought was my limit.

Great event, isn't it? It would be best though if you can donate too. HAHAHAHA.

Stay fit and healthy, everyone! :)





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

BELLS OF HAPPINESS


"If you love and get hurt, love more. If you love more and hurt more, love even more. If you love even more and get hurt even more, love some more until it hurts no more..."


Okay, I'm such an emo here. I just wanted to have some quotes that could well define what "love forever" is (or loving forever, or forever loving, or forever love.. whatsoever). HAHA.


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Took a long walk at the Southern Ridges last weekend (about 4hours) and I passed by these bells adorning the fences of a restaurant somewhere on Faber Peak. The concept is a lot like the infamous 'love locks', except that instead of padlocks people write their wishes on a bell. 



If I may add, the path leading to this was so colorful I had my photo taken there. :)



Indeed, the journey to happiness could be so colorful. :)


WOW CHEESY. HAHAHA. :P





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