Filipino history and culture

These two days since getting back to Manila have been filled with history and culture. Yesterday we woke up early for the Carlos Celdron "If These Walls Could Talk" tour of Intramuros, the historic heart of Manila. Carlos was a fantastic tour guide, and we learned so much history of Manila and the Philippines, from it's days as a Spanish holding through the destruction of Manila during WWII.

Influenced by José Rizal's writing in the late 1800s, The Philippines started a revolution for freedom from Spain and from the control of the Spanish Catholic clergy. But instead of independence, the islands were given to the United States as part of the treaty to end the Spanish-American War. Thanks to it's location, Manila became a beautiful metropolis, mixing the best of all the cultures with which it came in contact, earning the title Pearl of the Orient. In WWII the Philippines fell to Japanese control, and Manila was destroyed by the Allied Forces bombing the Japanese, who refused to surrender. Whether or not the Allied Forces made the right decisions in the Philippines is for better informed minds to decide — the devastation of history and culture was tragic, yet the Japanese atrocities to the Filipino people were great. I'm very thankful to have these new perspectives of my half-country and it was fascinating to see the remaining historic beauty of Manila.

fort santiago
the family
general carlos celdran macarthur

After the tour, we explored Intramuros on our own, then took the scenic route back to Makati. Ian experienced his first jeepney ride.

ian's first jeepney ride

The jeepney ride took us to the Pasig River ferry, which we rode back to Makati. We saw new sides to Manila, from the Malacañan Palace (the President's home, which we couldn't photograph) to the makeshift homes under bridges.


That evening, we went out for a big family dinner at a restaurant serving traditional Filipino foods. I tried just about everything, even black rice (rice with squid ink and squid bits). Ian was even more adventurous and partook in balut, as a sort of family initiation. Balut is a fertilized duck egg. My cousins were nice and didn't get ones that were too old, so it wasn't as weird and crunchy as it could have been. Kuya Ryan demonstrated for Ian. First you make a good sized hole in the top of the egg and drink out the juice.


Then you peel it open and eat the inside. Yes, the black part in this photo is the baby duck's wings.



"eat it!"

This morning we were up early once again, to catch the boat to Corregidor Island, in Manila Bay. This island was the location of the US military base prior to WWII. During WWII it fell to the Japanese, then was recaptured by the Allied Forces. Most of the ruins are still intact, and the island is now open for tours. It's most famous as the place General MacArthur uttered his famous words "I shall return." The island was especially interesting in the context of our newly learned history, via Carlos.

It was strange to think how many people died on this island. And despite all of the reminders of the violence, it was a beautiful and peaceful place.

the tour group
scherling. anna scherling.
corregidor cinema
"i shall return"
malinta tunnel
pacific war memorial

After two early mornings, we're exhausted and are taking some much needed rest back at the condo. We do have more photos on Flickr, so you can keep resting in front of your computer and check them out!


our year-and-a-half-moon part 3

Our final two days in Singapore contained our final "can't miss" attractions and revisiting a couple favorites. Monday was rainy, but we still had a great day. In the morning we visited the Singapore Botanical Gardens and the National Orchid Garden, which were unbelievable. The light rain prevented it from getting too hot so we could enjoy walking around outside all morning. It made for some great photos, too! (We also discovered The 1872 Clipper Tea Co. in the gift shop — a fantastic souvenir.)

ian @ the SBG
corn plant silhouettes
(corn plants made us think of Jenni and her plants!)
NOG - orchids
NOG - celebrity orchids
national orchid garden

After lunch we headed back to Little India to do some shopping. Our friend Amit, from Philadelphia, recommended Indian clothing as its supposed to be really comfortable, not to mention beautiful. I found a nice kurta and we had lots of fun exploring.

shopping in little india

We dropped off our purchases at the hotel, then headed back down to the central business district to accomplish our before-we-leave list. We had to wait out a downpour in a shopping mall, where we finally experienced the kaya toast Singapore is famous for. After the rain stopped, we resumed our list. First up was the Raffles Hotel, which is apparently the fanciest hotel in Singapore.

the raffles hotel

Next, we tried to recreate a few photos Mom and Dad showed us from their own slightly delayed honeymoon trip to Singapore a little over 25 years ago. The skyline had changed considerably...

anna @ the padang

We also explored the top of the durian buildings. They built a nice space on the roof area, and it has a great view.

anna & ian
the durians
the merlion

For dinner, we revisited Glutton's Bay where I enjoyed kaya jala and bananas tempura and Ian tried black carrot cake — no, it's nothing like our dessert carrot cake. Below is the kaya jala.

making kaya jala
our dinner @ gluttons bay
gluttons bay

After dinner we headed to the Singapore Flyer, the world's largest observation wheel. We'd been saving the experience for our final evening.

the singapore flyer

The wheel takes 30 minutes to make a full revolution, and you can see Indonesia and Malaysia from the top. It was hard to tell because we went at night, but the lights of the city were absolutely beautiful.

The final item on our list was durian. Dad discovered durian during my parent's missions stint in Indonesia. Because of this, and hearing about the fruit's appearance on various travel shows, Ian didn't want to miss tasting this infamous delicacy, described as "French custard passed through a sewer." One of my favorite descriptions is from David Quammen's The Boilerplate Rhino.
It's creamy and slightly fibrous, like a raw oyster that's been force-fed vanilla ice cream. There's also a hint of almond. It tastes strange, rich, wonderful. It smells like a jock strap. It doesn't remotely resemble any substance that you've ever touched, let alone eaten.

ian & the king of fruits
the durian stand

For the record, I took a bite after the video. It was unpleasant. The flavor and scent lingers for a day or two, even when you brush your teeth. However, since trying it, the scent isn't overwhelmingly nauseating.

This morning, we took our time packing up the last of our things before checking out and taking the MRT back to the airport. A four hour flight and later, and we were meeting Mom and Tito Nilo at the airport. After a false alarm that the vehicle had been stolen, and a long drive in Manila traffic, we're back at the condo, ready to enjoy our final week in Manila.


our year-and-a-half-moon part 2

Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, and Jurong Bird Park have a special deal where you get a discount on tickets if you buy all three at the same time. Since we heard the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari were can't miss attractions, we planned a "wild" weekend.

Saturday morning we stopped on Orchard Road to observe the shopping district before heading to the zoo in the afternoon. I say observe, because Orchard Road is filled with lots of high-end brands. The street is lined with mall after mall, and in each mall is a Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, etc., and in each store is lots of people. It's mind boggling to think their economy can support such expensive habits. Of course there were a few cheaper malls mixed in, each containing a creepy grown-ups-only store or two (we avoided these malls). And what city would be complete without a McDonald's McCafe stand?


Shopping, however, wasn't our main objective on Orchard Road. We were in search of Din Tai Fung, a Chinese restaurant famous for steamed dumplings and ranked as one of the WORLD'S top 10 restaurants by the New York Times. With some pleasant assistance from a mall's information desk, we found the restaurant, packed, in the basement. Seeing the line, we wavered, thinking the wait time would be astronomical. But after overhearing the expected wait was only 15 minutes, we put our name on the list and received our order sheet. As you wait, you fill out your order and hand it to the staff after they call your number to seat you. In the meantime, you can watch the kitchen at work.

dumpling making
dumpling making

Flawless and efficient, these highly trained chefs churn out countless dumplings. I'll be the first to admit I'm not a huge fan of Chinese food but it smelled incredible, and tasted even better. The tiny dumplings are filled with flavor and explode in your mouth with delicious juices and our noodles were cooked in beef broth that took 6 hours to prepare. If you ever get a chance to eat at a Din Tai Fung, DO NOT PASS IT UP!

And in addition to the great food, we ran into some great company. A guy from Texas noticed us taking photos and asked if we were American. We ended up seated next to him and had great conversation over lunch. He is employed there for a few years, and he and his wife (visiting family back home at the time) are enjoying life in Singapore. It was fascinating to get an American, yet insider view of the country.

After lunch, we headed to the Singapore Zoo. I haven't been to many zoos, but I'm guessing this has to be one of the best in the world. It's clean, packed with animals — including free-range orangutans — in very realistic exhibits.

white tiger
monkey silhouette
feeding the giraffes

The zoo closed at 6, and after a quick meal at KFC (they had tasty pineapple pies there) we headed down the walkway to the Night Safari. We arrived in time to catch the Indonesian tribal show, involving blow dart demonstrations and fire eating.


Continuing the good luck of our overall vacation, Ian was selected to join the performers on stage for fire eating. They had him on stage and pulled his shirt off before either one of us really realized what was happening. They had him drag a torch across his bare chest and feed the torch to one of the performers, with lots of pranks all around.

ian - part of the show

The Night Safari was an amazing experience — when else do you have the opportunity to see nocturnal animals so active? You hop on the tram to view most of the animals up close. They have special night lights so it doesn't disturb the animals. However, when our tram went past the elephants, the bull decided we were invading his space and threw a trunk full of dirt that showered the tram. We were shaking it off us the rest of the night! We managed to see all the animals on the walking trails as well as the predators of the night show, before we had to leave to catch the last bus back to the business district.

anna & ian

Sunday was more relaxing, as we had been up so late for the Night Safari. After sleeping in, we took the MRT to a really nice bus terminal that would take us to Jurong Bird Park.

bus station
ian & anna

Jurong Bird Park was much smaller than the Singapore Zoo or Night Safari, but they had some pretty incredible birds.

african crowned crane
the pelican show
crowned pigeon

That evening, we headed back to the Esplanade for the Singapore River Cruise in restored bumboats. I can't express how beautiful Singapore is at night.

marina bay

Don't forget, there are more photos on our Flickr site!