Quick Trip to the Past – Visiting Intramuros

“Intramuros! The old Manila. The original Manila. The Noble and Ever Loyal City…” — Nick Joaquin

The last time I was in Intramuros, I was a kid. I cannot recall anything except that we (my sister and I) were brought there once. How that can happen to someone who prides herself with great memory puzzles me. Was I disinterested at that time? Was my mind somewhere else? Oh well. I will never know.

So, when I had the opportunity to tour our visitors from Bangalore around, I was excited for it. I printed out maps and took note of entrance fees.

The thing about going to Intramuros is that you have to go there early if you want to go to every museum and tourist attraction. Having left at 1:30 in the afternoon, we only had time for San Agustin Church, the Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago. We also stopped by Ristorante delle Mitre for lunch.

Ristorante delle Mitre looked like an antique house that was turned into a restaurant. There was an “old times” feel to the place but not so old that you will hesitate to go in. Their food was delicious and I regret not being able to take photos before we dug in.

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Our first stop was the San Agustin Church that’s practically across Ristorante delle Mitre. There was a wedding that just concluded and the married couple were having their photos taken with the visitors. There was another couple outside having their photos taken. Whether that was already a photoshoot before or after the wedding. Maybe a pre-nup shoot? Anyway, I have to admit that San Agustin Church is a beautiful church to get married in not only because of its vintage facade, but also because of how solemn the atmosphere is when you go inside.

That is until I looked down and saw…

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Oh…my…God! Are there really dead bodies underneath those?!

68429552_UnknownI should not be surprised because when I had my confirmation in San Miguel Church, there were gravestones along the walls and in the front yard. My own great grandfather was buried in that church. Why these gravestones in San Agustin Church still give me heebie-jeebies is beyond me. Maybe because there’s a certain fear that the dead will pull cause a massive opening of the ground and pull my leg? Hahaha…

I started asking one of our visitors about weddings in India. He told me that visitors can reach about a thousand or more when there are weddings there. He even said that it sort of doubles as a family reunion because you get to meet relatives you have never met your whole life. He also shared that the entire ceremony can take a couple of days, sometimes lasting a week. What?! A thousand visitors?! A week of ceremonies?! My introvert self would die!

Still, I cannot help but feel that all the music, the dancing, and the beautiful colors of their attires (Indians love colors, I was told) makes a wedding quite a memorable one. Our visitor said that should I get to visit India and there’s a wedding happening, they will take me with them so I can experience the “Big Fat Indian Wedding.”

Our next stop was the Manila Cathedral which was about four minutes away from San Agustin Church. It was also nice walking in the afternoon because it wasn’t so hot anymore.

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There was another wedding going on in Manila Cathedral. I guess it was a day to get married as it was a long weekend and people could party out all night.

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While it has a vintage facade, inside was a little bit more modern. The church has air-conditioning system so it wasn’t very warm. Near the entrance/exit doors, there was a lady selling necklaces with crosses and medallions with saints on them. There were also small statues/images that were beautifully carved and painted.

Processed with MOLDIVI bought a Saint Benedict medal necklace for myself since I gave my previous one to my former boss. It flips like a time turner so I never have to concern myself which is the right way of putting the necklace on. It’s also two-toned so I can pair it with my other accessories be they gold or silver.

Surprisingly, they do not sell these at a very expensive price. That is awesome because tourist attractions usually have sellers pricing goods at exorbitant prices to take advantage of tourists who still feel they are getting stuff at bargain prices. This medal only cost Php 50.00.

I love how despite only one of our three visitors is Catholic, the other two did not just stay outside the churches we visited. In fact, they showed interest on what was inside the churches! Oh yeah, gotta love diversity and inclusion!

As it was nearing sundown, we decided to go straight to Fort Santiago where the entrance fee was only Php 75.00. The site was not crowded with people so, it felt nice to walk at a leisurely pace.

We saw a lot of pigeons along the way. Thankfully, none of them flew and landed on our heads.

Alas, we have reached the main gate of Fort Santiago! Inside are prisons and dungeons that housed several prisoners. One of them was Jose Rizal, the unofficial (but very much loved) national hero of the Philippines. I shared with our visitors that he was considered a hero because despite not using violence in his fight against oppression, his written works inspired a lot of the other heroes to fight for the country’s freedom against the Spaniards.

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Once inside, we went to a little corner that led us to see the Pasig River. It was not that pretty of a sight but at least it does not smell too funky anymore. I truly wish more efforts will be put into cleaning up this river to make the water clear again.

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There was a staircase leading up to God-knows-what. I think that’s where soldiers stayed on the lookout for approaching enemies. Well, I did not see any, but I did see the beautiful beginnings of a sunset.

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That was basically the end of our Intramuros trip. We then went to Mall of Asia to spend the rest of the evening.

On the way to Mall of Asia, we shared our experiences about learning history. Some of us loved the stories but hated having to memorize all the dates and specific places. Despite that, the lessons that history taught were what we treasured most.

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Just Baked: Triple Chip Cookies

I may have hoarded a lot of baking ingredients in the last couple of months that I find myself wondering how I could use up all of them. Among the things I bought so much of are morsels in white chocolate, butterscotch and semi-sweet chocolate variants.

I was in the same situation last Christmas when I was thinking of what to gift to my colleagues. I was too lazy to look for three different recipes that will use up those morsels. I found my perfect solution when I found the Triple Chip Cookies recipe from Shugary Sweets. You may go to her website for the complete recipe. However, stay tuned here for the little tweaks that I made to her original recipe.

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The one thing I love about this recipe is that it calls for melted butter. That being said, I need not worry about getting my butter from the freezer (that’s how I like to keep my butter) very early for it to come to room temperature by the time I am ready to bake. It cuts my waiting time by 90% and that is a plus for me.

While hers called for only a cup and a quarter of melted butter, I opted to use a cup and a third. I figured that with four and a quarter cups of flour, a little extra butter will help keep the cookies from being crumbly. I also decided to brown the butter a bit for that extra nutty flavor that ups the cookie game by another level.

I also added a quarter teaspoon more salt making my salt a total of three quarters of a teaspoon. I always like a hint of saltiness in my cookies to cut through the sweetness of the sugars and the chocolate chips. I only had table salt available but I am sure using sea salt would have been even better.

I followed the rest of the ingredients as written in the Shugary Sweets site. My only problem was that my white chocolate and my butterscotch morsels were too tiny compared to my semi-sweet chocolate chips. Hence, a cup and a quarter of these morsels seemed too plenty because they took up very little space. Oh well, maybe I can try to find morsels sized evenly next time.

My common problem with any cookies that have chips or morsels in them is that the dough covers them a lot while baking and there’s not much trace of them on the top. That is why, unlike my attempt like Christmas season, I made it a point this time to save some chips/morsels to decorate the tops of my cookies. After scooping them on the tray lined with parchment paper, I stuck a few more chips on the cookie dough so they will show up after the cookies bake.

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Using a small scoop (4mm), I ended up with six dozens and three pieces of cookies! The did not spread so much and because of the baking powder, they rose up a little bit. I think the size of the morsels affected the yield of the cookies.

Anyway, I liked these cookies a lot. The nutty taste of the browned butter made the cookies even more yummy! Admittedly, they were a tiny bit too sweet for me though so, I think I’ll adjust the amount of chips/morsels next time. I might go for more semi-sweet chocolate chips and lessen the amount of the white chocolate and butterscotch versions.

I was able to fit a dozen cookies in a 5″ x 6¾” x 2″ box. It’s perfect for gifting for special occasions! All it needs is a ribbon (or two) and a tag!

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Just Tried: Ooma (Bold New Japanese)

Youthfulness is about how you live not when you were born.” ― Karl Lagerfeld

The celebration did not stop on my birthday! After my two-day leave from work, I went back on the exact day we were going to get our pay. We also scheduled on that day our monthly team dinner/bonding.

This month, we went to Ooma, a restaurant that offers bold takes on your favorite Japanese dishes. I was excited to try out their food because I have a fondness for Japanese food even though I am not yet bold enough to try those that involved raw fish. What made me even more excited was the colorful menu of the restaurant with pictures that tempts you to try everything listed in it. Just look at its menu from its Facebook page. It’s lit!!!

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A page from their menu in their Facebook page.

For starters, we got the Crowd Favorites plate that has a mix of their aburi options. I regret that I only tried the Steak Aburi Maki because I was trying to keep my carb intake low. I made a good choice because that Steak Aburi Maki was so delicious! The meat was flavorful and tender. The truffle oil probably masked the taste of the onions and leeks because I normally dislike food with strong onion flavor. That is why, despite my attempts at staying away from carbs, I ate four pieces of it. Technically, that’s one piece each from the three Crowd Favorites and one Aburi Mixer plates that we ordered!

We also ordered their Hanger Steak that features sous-vide hanging tender accompanied by sautéed mushrooms and crispy baby potato chips. You should have seen those little chips because they were so adorable! The steak, mushrooms and chips laid on a bed of smooth and creamy sweet potato mash that melts in your mouth! The dish had a combination of white truffle oil, herb oil, and Ponzu butter. The Ponzu butter must be the reason for the slight tang that cuts through the sweetness of the mash, giving you an assortment of flavors all in one dish.

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We Filipinos love our rice so we ordered a few bowls of their House Chanan. This is Japanese fried rice with egg and mixed vegetables. I didn’t try it anymore because I was telling myself that I already ate enough rice from the aburi maki pieces I ate. However, considering that we ordered five bowls and only one and a half bowl was left untouched at the end of our meal (we went crazy on the carbs that night), it must have been pretty good!

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Ooma’s Ebi Tempura. Photo obtained from their Facebook page.

It’s sad to eat rice and just steak so we also ordered two plates of their Ebi Tempura (7 pieces each). Normally, ebi tempura would be big because of the batter coating that expanded during frying. That was not the case with Ooma’s. Of course theirs had crispy breading too, but they used large pieces of shrimp that were cooked just right; not tough and gummy. The light sauce that came with it was good enough to add flavor to the shrimp but you simply must try that Aligue Mayo (crab fat mayo) dressing that came with it! It also had Wasabi Aioli dressing that I did not try because I am not fond of wasabi for some reason.

Craving for something warm, I also ordered their Miso Soup. I was not disappointed at all because it was perfectly warm and so comforting that I could not stop going at it! The soup was flavorful but light on the tongue at the same time. The tofu was not hard nor mushy. It was at the perfect texture that I loved so much. It was hard to explain the flavors of this soup but if it there was a serving size that’s good for sharing, I bet I will go fo seconds or thirds.IMG_0659

One way to know that a place is often frequented by diners is when they do not accept table bookings/reservations. With Ooma, the waiting lines can be long at times so it’s best to go early. We were lucky because it did not take long for us to be seated when we went there. A few minutes after we got seated though, a queue was already forming outside for dinner time.

The service in Ooma is excellent as well. We didn’t have to wait long for our food to be served. Despite the speed and the number of orders from an always-packed-restaurant, I can see that they don’t compromise the quality of the dishes and they take time making sure the food’s presentation is on point as well. The servers were quick on their feet to attend to our additional orders and requests.

Just when I thought that dinner was going to be over soon and billing out was the next thing to do, one of their staff suddenly cried out something to the likes of “You know what’s today?” I was surprised because it sounded like something was happening behind me. I thought they were about to break into a cheer or something as part of their usual routine. I was surprised when it was followed by, “It’s Mia’s birthday!” and their staff and my teammates started singing happy birthday to me (they call me Mia at work). On top of that, the restaurant allowed my team to sneak in a cake from Purple Oven for me. They also allowed us to eat the cake in their place, giving us fresh new plates and utensils.

You see, whenever I eat out and I hear people from other table request restaurant staff to sing happy birthday to one of their companions in the table, I normally cringe. For me, I would find it extremely awkward for friends or family to request strangers to sing for me the birthday song. No judgment. I just know I would feel awkward if it were me.

This time, I realized that when it’s a surprise, it can be quite touching. With Ooma, to join in on my team’s surprise for me made me feel like I was not only a paying customer, but someone worth the effort of planning a surprise for. One of my teammates, MC, picked up the cake on the way to the restaurant (he didn’t go with us because he was still in a call when we left) and gave it to the staff. However, none of them knew how the staff was going to pull off giving me the cake before we left. Technically, all of us were surprised as well!

To Roxan (our team leader), Karen, Cess, Mitzi, Ced, Gid, and MC, thank you so much for being awesome teammates! Cess, I hope you were with us to celebrate but I’ll be seeing you next week so I look forward to our own girly bonding. Thanks also to Stephen (newest member of the team) and Deanne (one our department’s team leaders) for joining us! It was indeed a happy birthday week.

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I am still not sure what my purpose in this world is. All I hope for is to have been the reason someone smiled wider, laughed louder, cried less, loved deeper, felt braver, stood stronger, and dreamed bigger.

May I be more patient, more forgiving, more understanding, more loving, more generous, and more gracious to everyone.

May I be more comfortable in my own skin, more balanced in my emotions, more focused on my goals, more attentive to my needs, and more accepting of my flaws.

May I be more optimistic about my future, more proud of my strengths, more appreciative of my blessings, and more kind towards myself.

May I always be a blessing to others in need, a source of hope for the disheartened, a voice of reason to the confused, and a shoulder to cry on for the lonely.

May I be a gift to the world in ways even I cannot imagine.

Twenty-eight years down, many more to go.

Planners and Schedules

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I was never the type who planned everything. I was not the type of person who had her life all planned out with targets of when to get married, have kids, and be famous all over the world. I was more of the go-with-the-flow type even if I was not excited about where life was bringing me from time to time. That is why, every time I get asked what my plan was for the next five or ten years, I take so long to reply.

While I am proud of my flexibility and resiliency, I have to admit that making plans is a good thing because it helps one reach his or her goals. I will need to be better at planning if I want to reach high in life, so to practice, I started with getting a weekly planner and  Starbucks planner.

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What’s the deal with the Starbucks planner, you may ask. Well, every Christmas season in the Philippines, Starbucks and other big coffee shop brands promote their brands by giving you stickers to collect and eventually exchange for planners. Starbucks is the most notorious and might actually been the one that started the planner craze among coffee shop brands in the Philippines.

I never joined in on the bandwagon in the past. I always gave my stickers away to someone I knew was collecting. Other times, I will allow other people to treat me to Starbucks just so they can speed up their sticker collection process. When I felt generous, I would treat friends to coffee and let them have the stickers. It was only last year that I decided to collect for myself.

This year, I had to purchase eighteen drinks in total. When I celebrated my first year anniversary with my current employer, I got six tickets from treating my teammates. For the twelve others, I randomly treated other people for no reason. I admit, I sometimes made people feel that they were helping me get the planner by letting me treat them (because there was no way I will ask them to buy a drink for themselves and give me the sticker knowing they are also collecting). I think I spent almost PHP 3,500 or around USD 80 for that freaking planner.

img_0534You see, getting the planner was already a goal in itself. Despite how trivial the goal appears, it was a practice for me on working towards a goal I have made for myself not because it aligns with anybody else’s goals, but simply because I just wanted it.

The next challenge for me is to make sure I use the planner. Often, my planners in the past (bought and not obtained from promotions) ended up like diaries or journals instead of a true planner. Almost all were not used anymore after March. I am desperately trying not to be the same this year.

img_0476For work, I also got myself a weekly planner for my different activities throughout the day. It helped me tremendously during the last quarter of the year when we were so busy. However, I have to admit that there were multiple times that I adjusted my to-do list because I was again, trying to be flexible. I need to learn how to be better at prioritization and workload balancing.

I am also thinking of doubling this weekly planner as a mood tracker. I am still unsure whether to get emoji stickers or to just draw. I think the stickers will look more attractive.

My goal this year is to be a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA). It’s been years since I last studied for an exam, so I am really struggling with reviving my study habits (whatever little I had as a student). Not only do I have to study, I also have to improve my budgeting skills so I can pay for review materials and the exam itself. I already started with motivating myself by changing my phone’s wallpaper to a reminder of my goal.

Here’s to the hope that becoming CISA will be a goal achieved instead of merely being a wish.

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The Hang

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” –Tao Te Ching

It’s been a while since I last whipped out my tarot cards. Having slept all day and unable to sleep tonight, I decided to kill my boredom by doing a reading. I opted to pick one card from my deck with the intention for the card to tell me something I needed to understand.

I drew out The Hanged Man.

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Looking at the card, the first thing I noticed was how chill the guy was despite hanging by a foot from a tree. His other leg was bent and his arms were behind his back. It’s like he’s on vacation! His situation was not worrying him it seems. Also, because he was hanging by a foot, I would have expected for gravity to have stronger pull on him. So why was he still so relaxed and at peace despite the predicament he is in?

From my intuition and research, The Hanged Man card can be said to signify letting go and surrendering to “what is.” Hanging upside down can mean looking at things differently as well.

Let it go. I have heard it a lot the past few days. I didn’t like myself these past few days to be honest.

In yoga

I learned how to flip my downward dog already. I managed to make a split with my right leg forward. Yet, I still cannot manage Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose) no matter how I tried.

My belly keeps dropping first, my shoulders collapse, and everything else always goes wrong when I attempt it. So, I asked for the teacher’s guidance on how to do it. At home, I watched YouTube videos on how to do it. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, my elbows won’t bend when I try to move from high plank to low plank. Then, I collapse on my mat.

Rina, my work colleague who inspired me to try yoga again, is very encouraging. She keeps on telling me not to rush myself and to not be ashamed of going for modified poses when I cannot do the main ones yet. But, stubborn me and my pride won’t let it go. So, despite my sore muscles, I kept trying and trying to do it at home.

Long story short, I now have very sore shoulders that hurt every time I raise my arms. I pushed myself too hard beyond my limit. All because I couldn’t accept that I am not yet strong enough to pull of the move.

In my relationships

I do not understand why I still keep on reaching out to people I want to avoid. They make me feel like crap, but I still approach them anyway, trying to see any sliver of hope that I can make the relationship work.

There’s someone I haven’t seen in a long time but I refuse to go out and see this person. Why? I am mightily scared of this person because of a long history of unhappy experiences. Yet, I am pissed at myself because I still care even if it’s just a little bit.

So, I sent this person gifts for Christmas through a courier. I did not hear anything although this person received the package. Don’t get me wrong. I was not expecting to hear this person’s gratitude or to receive gifts in return. Any reaction was highly acceptable. I just needed assurance that this person is still alive and kicking.

I told my friend, Alex, about it. I told him I felt like crap because I made a conscious decision to stay away from that person at all costs, yet I reach out and hope for a reaction. I am so messed up.

Alex told me to let it go. He’s right. But all I could think of doing was replying with a GIF of Channing Tatum in Elsa’s costume, singing “Let It Go.”

In my faith

I was talking to my work colleague, Hanna, about my recent attempts to attend the church services of this born-again Christian group. I opened up to her about my Catholic upbringing and my lack of the habit to go to church every Sunday to hear mass. I shared with her my reasons for looking into attending church service outside my Catholic religion.

While we were on the topic, I also admitted to her how everything still feels different for me. One of the things that feel so foreign to me is seeing people sing with their arms raised up and their eyes closed. I told her how much I wondered how profound those people’s experiences are of God that they could do that without fear of judgment. I bet that if I were to do that, I will feel mightily embarrassed. Don’t get me wrong. I am faithful; just not showy.

Hanna replied that she was told by someone that being able to do that means you have been freed of the shackles around your wrists (metaphorically). I guess that by being free from those chains, one becomes less inhibited to display their faith that way.

Back to the card

If were the one hanging by a foot, I bet I would have been in a panic while trying to grab on to the branch to free myself. I doubt I’ll be able to do that given my weak core muscles though. But, you get the point. I could never be as chill as that guy in the card.

I have a bad habit of holding close everything that is dear to me. Letting go has not been my biggest skill even if I preach it to other people. So, it’s good to be reminded of what I need to practice on.