Monday, December 31, 2012

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Part I

Since the time I worked in Metro Manila, which is more or less 390 nautical miles away from my hometown, Anao-aon in Surigao del Norte province, I tried my very best to spend my Christmas with the family. I have tried to endure the many cancelled flights bound to Surigao City or Butuan City, the countless rerouting to other cities in Mindanao, due to bad weather during monsoon in December.

Thus I resolved to take a flight bound to Cagayan de Oro (CDO) City this December 25 because the flights going there during this wet and monsoon season are seldom cancelled. I was as well confident that despite the distance of 310 kilometers still to take via car ride, my whole family agreed to fetch me at Lumbai Airport with our new car. I took it also as an opportune time for them to reach, visit, and roam around CDO. As a matter of fact, I was met by my immediate and extended families: my parents, Papa Tantong and Mama Dulcing, Manong Danny (my older brother and the driver) with his son and my nephew, Entoy, and Mama Fely, Manong Danny's mother-in-law, with her other grandson, Betut (Entoy's cousin). So we will seven; plenty enough to cram inside Toyota Innova, which is built for 8 passengers including the driver.

Arriving at around lunchtime, I decided to bring the lot to El Salvador City, the neighboring city where the Divine Mercy pilgrimage site is located. We're a family of religious Catholic, so a church visit let alone a pilgrimage site visit is a must. We took our lunch from a cafeteria up the hill where the gigantic Divine Mercy statue towered over. We have some photo ops in the area and the statue before climbing down, which coincided with the drizzling of the rain.

I had a cousin, Annie Chan, in Papa Tantong's side who married a businessman in CDO and they settled in the city. We kept in contact with each other so Annie and her husband Mike knew about our trip. They set a meeting with us and treated us to a sumptuous dinner of chicken barbecue at the famous Mang Steve BBQ. Then they brought us to Xavier Estates where Mike's family got a property and his parent's house was just completed. It was indeed a taste of luxury! The Chan family treated us a dessert.

It was around 10pm when we commenced our road travel to Surigao City. We reached Butuan City at little past 2am and we decided to rest at Entoy's bachelor's pad he resided in the city where he pursued a law degree. We continued the ride home at 6am and reached our place in Anao-aon, Surigao del Norte in the morning of December 26.

Part II

It's been awhile since my last Christmas in our hometown. Due to bad weather during December, I ditched some years of family reunions.

This year's home visit actually has other purpose. My high school Alma Mater hosted a Grand Alumni Homecoming on December 29; my first time to join in. On the eve of the homecoming event day, a batch reunion called "Barkadahan Night" happened. My HS batch 1993 gathered in my place. We were 44 when we graduated and a third showed up. But we were curious about the absence of those residing in the town near my place. Michelle Maniwang-Angob, our former batch president, was first in the list.

So after quite awhile of felicitation among those present, we headed to the direction of Michelle's house. I realized then that she still lived with her parents, together with her husband and children. She went out for some errands when we got at the ground towards their lobby. When she arrived she seemed agitated. And when we compelled her to join us, she flared up and declared dramatically that she's resigning from out batch. I don't know if it's acceptable as we don't have rules about it. But anyway, after some pleas she stubbornly discard and insisted to delete her name in our HS batch 1993 list. Frustrated and disappointed, we retreated back to my place.

As I dug about the real reason of Michelle's resignation, I discovered that being formerly our batch president who attended several meetings to prepare for this homecoming event, she tried desperately to moderate us, sourced out funds from all of us, presided our preparations. But since we're scattered around the Philippine archipelago, having our own daily routines and personal obligations, we just (I myself was guilty) disregard her. Most of the more successful alumni in our batch are residing in other cities or countries. So there, she then relinquished the president's role to Lisette Seguis.

I joined the homecoming in a surprise manner. Along with fellows from CDO, Charlie Dexter Febra and Merlita Madrid-Febra, I did not announce our intention to attend, as well as, contribute or donate funds. We like Lisette better because she's no nosy, not bossy. We have planned together before we dispersed from Barkadahan our preparations, transports and gimmicks for the homecoming day of December 29.

(insert pictures)

Being the class president during our HS years, Lisette asked me to attend with her the Alumni Association meeting on December 30. We then realized that we will be hosting the 2018 Grand Alumni Homecoming of San Nicolas High School, Anao-aon, Surigao del Norte.

2013 Predictions for Me

I am a Capricornian. When I read an article about 2013 predictions, I picked up the ones referring to my zodiac sign. And here it goes:

A major shift in your thinking shall be the highlight of the year ahead. You may also be able to identify between the fair-weather friends and genuine well-wishers. 

At home, some crucial changes are likely, leading to some stress and strain. Whatever might be the situation, ensure that you don't become autocratic, and take all decisions only with your family's consent. Being amicable will help, promises Ganesha! 

As for your love life, you may try your best to understand the finer aspects of love. However, eventually you may consider concentrating on tangible goals a better utilization of your precious time. 

The year ahead also looks set to be a favorable period for finding a better job opportunity. If relocation has been on your mind, this is the time, says Ganesha. Financially, the year ahead may be slightly above average. Judicious use of your hard-earned money will be the need of the hour. Remember, a penny saved is a penny earned.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Triumphs of KC Finance

The Financial Management Services (FMS) Division of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) held a Performance Review and Evaluation Workshop (PREW) on November 24 and 25, 2012 at Fontana Resort Villas in Clark City, Pampanga. It was the first time for the division to convene all the employees and staff, including us contractuals working for the finance units of Foreign-assisted Projects (FAPs) of the department. The gathering turned out to be review and evaluation of past performance and team-building at the same time.

We, the finance team of KALAHI-CIDSS (KC) Project showed off our prowess in all activities, both at team building games where we were scattered to different groups together with other projects and units and at workshops where we reconvene as a one unit. The resource persons noticed and congratulated us in our concrete, complete and comprehensive outputs following exactly the instructions and delivering the expected results. Our unit in fact volunteered to report during the presentation of outputs ahead of the others.

During the social nights, the convenor instructed all units to present a Christmas-themed intermission number, it can be a song, dance or role-play. We knew this beforehand but I who was tasked to organize a dance number was not always around to teach the group during working days after office hours. So we tried our best to find time to practice in between breaks during the team building activities and workshops. We danced the beat of the office theme song for the FIFA in Brazil, the Waving Flag, following the official steps with additional exhibitions and plenty of props. It was actually a competition and at the close of the social night we were declared Champion.

On December 12-15, 2012, the KC Finance Unit hosted a National Finance Team Conference to convene at Manila Grand Opera Hotel in Manila City all regional and central office Financial Analysts to review the status of liquidations and closing of the year's cycle of subprojects. On the 14th, the National Project Management Office held a Christmas Party at La Breza Hotel in Quezon City. The organizer ran several competitions among units within the central office. It was a costume party and the finance unit was assigned to wear costumes and play the roles of any character in the movie series Lord of the Rings. I took the Legolas character. Best in Costume was one of the awards of the night and I was just secondbest. Our unit presented a dance to the tune of Maria Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You and then we won the Best in Presentation award. One more win we have had as a unit was the Best in Christmas Decorations, primarily on the criterion of the recycled materials and cheapest cost of decorating.

In these two major events, we the finance people showed everyone that we have what it takes to be holistic individuals, who know how to be serious at work and be involved in extra-office activities and have fun, even win in contests.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Go to Singapore and Johor Bahru

November 29

Today is purely travel both land and air trips to Singapore. The Go Family, led by espouses Ruth Arienza and Samson "Jun" Go, picked me up from my apartment at little past 3 in the afternoon. We then taxied the North Luzon Expressway to Clark International Airport until 6pm, with short stops at food junctions along the highway. We cleared ourselves at the Immigration Counter at 7pm. The Go family, tugging along each of them their sons, Marti and Tristan, was interviewed more leading to a little heldup. We waited for the boarding call at 7:30pm since our flight was scheduled to depart at 8pm. But the announcement came at 8pm saying that the aircraft we will be boarding required more technical servicing and can be delayed.

8:30pm passed and another announcement came saying that boarding shall commence however the flight will stop at Ninoy Aquino International Airport first to pick up very important documents that the country of Singapore so requires. Indeed for the very first time, I flew Clark to Manila in 15 minutes. Parking on one corner of the Manila airport Terminal 3, I noticed airport personnel came and went. Some came in and out of the pilot's cockpit. Well, as far as I am concerned, it was not the documents we picked up but a stopover for some more technical servicing activities.

Anyway, whatever was the problem was fixed and we departed Manila at 9:30pm and arrived in Singapore at Changi Airport Terminal 2 at little past 1 in the morning of November 30.

November 30

Ruth confirmed that we have no hotel reservations. After clearing the Immigration, I approached the Hotel Reservation Desk at the arrival area and asked assistance to look for room vacancy. We were looking for any hotel which are affordable; Jun was willing to pay for the night's accommodation ranging from 6 to 9 thousand pesos. But the lady who assisted us informed us that there was a convention happening in the city and so most affordable hotels were fullybooked.

So we ended up choosing Holiday Inn at Orchard Road. It has always been my proven theory that luxury and comfort comes with a price. It cost us 460 Singaporean dollars with breakfast for 3. The family fell in love with the place where the room was perfectly clean, spacious, sweet-smelling. The bathroom with a bathtub Marti called was "clean and handsome"!

We shared the buffet breakfast where I ate a lot. Then Jun and his sons went to swimming at the pool while Ruth and I went scouting for room vacancy in cheap hotels. The couple decided not to stay in expensive hotel in order to stretch their budget until the 6th day of the tour. There was nothing I can think of but the hotel that my friends (actually our mutual friends) and I checked in the last time I visited Singapore in 2010, the South East Asia Hotel in Chinatown. We did find rooms, a family room for the Go Family and a single room for me. The kids found it hard to appreciate the cheap hotel and the crowded environment after experiencing comfort and tranquility in expensive hotel.

After checking out from Holiday Inn and checking in in SEA Hotel, I ushered the family to the Esplanade Mall. The kids were excited to find and buy toys. However, I was not so familiar with the place and so we ended up lost and found not one toy store. It was a hot noon and so we left the mall and headed to the Singapore Flyer. We boarded the world's largest observation wheel and the thrill lasted for more than 30 minutes. The thrill enhanced upon the downward turn. Tristan who has fear of the unknown clung to his mom and wrapped around his arms tightly. Marti looked at me and shouted, "Tito we're gonna fall to the sea and die!"

The kids called the ride "lame" since you have nothing else to do but savor the bird's eyeview of the Singapore city. As we exited the station, we came across the bunjee jumping area empty. Marti and Tristan was later tied to the rope and jumping to exhaustion. Marti remarked that he has the "best vacation ever!" Then I accompanied them to the Marina Bay Sands Mall where Ruth and the kids boarded a boat that cross the portion of the mall ala-Venice or ala-Venetian Hotel in Macau.

The couple forewent the viewing of the Sand's skypark, so after the kids viewed the Lego brick's exhibit in the Art Museum, we went back to the hotel and rested.

December 1

The Universal Studios Day. The kids were so excited that we left the hotel early that morning and arrived at the park at opening hour. We queued immediately at the Transformers ride. We called it a 6D experience - a 4D facility where one can experience being part of the movie - wearing a 3D glasses riding through a course that throws, pulls, pushes, drops and more to the car we were unto. I was fascinated by it, that when Marti proposed a second time I agreed without second thought.

I intended to try the Galactica roller coaster this third visit of mine in the park. But I did not know what happened, I just felt scared to try and ride it. This kind of roller coaster lets your whole body, the legs and feet primarily are suspended in the air while it turns and twists and throws the rider upside down. There was this usual roller coaster though, riding opposite to Galactica, but I have ridden the same many times in many amusement parks.

It was my first time to take rides chosen by the family. Most of them are "lame" (the term used by the kids to refer to non-challenging stuffs) maybe that is why we did not take it the first two times I was here. But because I was with kids, I have to accompany and rode with them. What was very challenging in the company of inquisitive kids was answering all the whys questions. That was really entertaining and mind-sharpening because I really have to think of the right answers and have to dig deeply all my stock knowledge.

I thought I will be seeing the Waterworld production this time. But then again, I missed it because the rain poured heavily that day that the show was postponed several times and then who knows if it was indeed cancelled. We proceeded to another indoor shows after giving up the wait.

The Hollywood Parade closed the universal day. Yet again it was lame, unlike the spectacular day parade in Hongkong Disneyland. The children were tired and so we went back to the hotel. Of course we need to because we have to pack our things up for Johor Bahru, Malaysia the next day.

December 2

We checked out early in the morning in order to arrange properly our baggages that we have to leave in the SEA Hotel; we opted to bring personal things good for a day only. The hotel was so accommodating, maybe because we reserved for another night of stay when we came back from Johor Bahru (so-called JB), Malaysia.

Taking the city bus trip from hotel to woodlands boundary, the ride was felt too long and boring. The kids kept on inquiring how long, how far. The bus we rode took its time winding round and round the city. I still recommend taking the train towards the boundary and the immigration. Then we took another bus from there to cross the bridge and reached the Malaysian immigration. We decided to check in in the Grand Paragon Hotel in JB. Since we arrived at the hotel in the morning before the usual check out time, which is 12 noon, we reserved a family suite that cost us more or less P7,000. I led the family to the major destination of the day, the Legoland Theme Park. I was in the presumption that the location was adjacent to the downtown, but the taxi ride we took from the hotel was long. Nevertheless, we arrived at the park because its opening time.

We found out that the Lego Park is not 100% complete, 99% of its facilities, rides and toy houses are for children only, unlike other theme parks, like Universal Studios in Singapore and Disneyland in Hong Kong.

One worst thing in the park is the lack of sheds, primarily for waiting adults or parents in every section. That day was so sunny, hot and humid, evidenced by some withered trees and plants inside the park. And the lack of shed worsened the feeling. Thus most families flocked in areas with tents or airconditioned rooms for indoor activities.

And then the Bumblebee Tumbler was missing. That was last seen in the restaurant we occupied while waiting for the kids playing in the “Egyptian” playhouse. Kuya Marti was in charged of bringing the tumbler and keeping it with him. And he lost hold of it when he got disappointed at something and exhibited tantrums. But several hours had passed before we acknowledge the loss. Jun, the father, ran around the park hoping to recover it, walking back the trail we went through. At the close of the day, he gave up looking and swore to buy a new one instead.

What amazed me among the fun sections of the park was the Lego Mini Land. It showcased very important tourist destinations in Malaysia and Southeast Asian countries made of Lego bricks. The building of bricks to feature these lands and spots was so intricate and awesome that they would appear genuine and surreal. Please find some of my captures below:

We ran out of Malaysian Ringgit by the time we decided to rest in the hotel. Of course we were hungry and looking for a rice meal. Fortunately, we noticed a just opened Pancake House with Filipino waiters offering us Filipino cuisine. We plead our case of using Singaporean dollars instead and we were accommodated. We have plenty of dollars but we only have 30+ ringgits which I thought would afford us taxi to reach the Grand Paragon Hotel. Of course we were short, thus the taxi driver was to wait for the complete payment; Jun ran to the front desk to change dollars to ringgits.

When we climbed the suite room in the 16th floor, we were astonished by the luxury of the accommodation. It was a large suite with two rooms, complete with living, dining and kitchen areas, overlooking their infinity swimming pool. It one room section is worth P12,000 in Holiday Inn-Singapore. We enjoyed the suite; the Go family enjoyed the swimming pool. I made use of the fitness room, steamed bath and more.

December 3

We waited for the right check out time before leaving and saying goodbye to the luxurious respite. I will definitely look forward to checking in the same hotel again the next time I visit JB.

Today is Sentosa Day for us. Threatened by the bad weather, we braved the Sentosa right from JB, crossing again the Malaysian and Singaporean immigration. The Go family was held up by the Singaporean agent and was asked of many documents regarding their entry to Singapore.
The biggest Waterworld Park of Singapore was not yet open for public viewing by then. So we brought the kids to the Aquarium. Most Sentosa shows were cancelled that day due to heavy rains. The Dolphin show was cut short. We watched the Songs of the Sea production in raincoats. Despite the rains, Jun and his sons dared swimming in Seloso Beach and were stopped by the Coast Guard.

December 4

This was Souvenirs Day. First we went to the Suntec City to check on electronics and gadgets that the couple might find interesting to buy. Indeed, Ruth bought the Apple Ipad 2 for 600 Singaporean dollars. Later we bought RTWs and apparels for our loved ones at home. I bought Giordano I Heart Singapore t-shirts for my sister and her husband, and two polo shirts for myself.

Then we went back to Sentosa to buy a new Bumblebee tumbler. I took the chance to buy sunglasses for Erick. We picked up our luggages from the SEA Hotel that late afternoon and settle the kids with Jun in the airport. While waiting for the check in time, Ruth and I went back to Bugis Shopping Center to buy more souvenirs for our friends, for my officemates and my loved ones at home in Surigao.

I was able to spent the rest of my Singaporean dollars at one store in the airport; I got an personal items Organizer and a Backpack at very cheap price. When the boarding was called, the Go Family recognized that Marti has again lost grip on his tiny backpack where souvenir shirts was contained. The Spiderman Backpack was declared lost in the airport. Jun gone furious about it but he can do nothing but leave it where it may be.

After more than 3 hours, we were all back to Clark Airport in the Philippines. We landed at around 4 o'clock in the morning of December 5.