Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Paul A. Samuelson, 94

Paul A. Samuelson, Economist, passed away on 13 December 2009 in his home in Belmont, MA. He was 94. He is probably best known for his Economics textbook, which, even after n editions, must be among the most widely used textbooks in history. First written in 1948, I used the textbook when I took Economics 11 in 1997 and it is probably still being used at the School today.

In the name of everyone who had to study introductory economics whether as a required subject or as the first step in a life-long exploration of this science, thank you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Vientiane, Day 1

Currency: Lao PDR Kip (LAK)
USD 1 = LAK 8,450; LAK 1 = PHP 0.0055

Didn't really have much chance to do any exploring as the whole day was just too crazy and hectic. The main places I've visited so far are the Lao Plaza Hotel, the Bank's Resident Mission, and the Ministry of Health compound. A few off-the-cuff observations:

1. Vientiane is a small city that feels like one of the smaller provincial capitals in the Philippines. The tallest building is the Lao Plaza Hotel where I'm staying, standing at a sky-scraping seven storeys. It's very clean and has a quaint smell of incense in the background, probably due to all the Buddhist temples dotting the city. It's also quite common to see saffron-clad monks walking around the sidewalks. Speaking of which, the city is very walkable-- everything is walking distance, the streets are relatively safe, and the city is well lit during evenings. I also don't see any beggars or street children loitering the streets, although I did see one (only one) taong grasa walking around.

2. There are many, many Western tourists in Vientiane, so many that it takes hours to get through the visa-on-arrival section at the airport. Most of the foreigners are undoubtedly on vacation as I am one of the very few non-Laos who is wearing a suit and tie in this swelteringly humid weather. The tourists are probably here because Laos can still be considered "exotic"; i.e., not so Westernised like, say, Bangkok or Manila.

3. Laotian people are very friendly. They are always smiling and accommodating. On the down side, they are so, um, relaxed when it comes to time. Filipino time is very punctual in comparison. Everyone operates in a very laid-back mode-- great when you're on vacation, not so great when you're organising a technical workshop.

4. I've had two non-hotel restaurants in Vientiane, both of them in the more posh restaurants:

4.a. Rashim's Indian Fusion, right in front of the hotel, serves the shrimpiest shrimp curry and the greenest palak paneer I've ever had-- no ingredient was scrimped. I paid LAK 70,000 for the meal-- not bad, considering the amount and quality of the dishes I was served.

4.b. I forgot the name of the restaurant, but it's a French restaurant that serves Thai and Laotian cuisine as well. I tried some local food: some chicken larb (cooked version) with sticky rice. The larb is basically minced meat sauteed with pepper, basil, and I think fish sauce served with lettuce and sliced cucumbers. The sticky rice is, well, sticky rice steamed (not boiled) and served in a bamboo basket. Although the rice is very glutinous (really a misnomer since rice does not contain gluten), it does not tend to stick to your fingers or the bamboo basket. I paid LAK 58,000 for the meal.

5. The French influence is strong in the architecture and cuisine. Buildings are a fusion of French and Laotian and street names, when written in Latin script, begin with rue. I also see a lot of street stalls that sell what look like Laotian fare served with baguettes. Hopefully I'll get to try one of these less posh Laotian food places before I leave (which is tomorrow evening).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Bangkok, T minus 30 minutes

This'll be a short post.

Two words set apart the TG lounge in BKK: free massage. They offer free Thai-style foot or neck/shoulder massages to their business class passengers. I got the neck/shoulder massage since I just got a foot massage last week.

On to Vientiane.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Manila, T minus 14 hours

Going to Laos tomorrow (well, later today since it's already midnight), returning home on Wednesday. I'm taking the MNL-BKK-VTE-BKK-MNL route flying on TG.

Usually I'd be pretty excited to go on travel by this time, especially considering I'm going somewhere not on the usual tourist path. But I'm not. Not really looking forward to being away from my Dear and Lucas. And I'm not particularly happy that this business trip will eat into our weekend, which is always too short as it is.

I'm also travelling with the boss, which should be enough to explain my lack of enthusiasm for this particular trip.

Well, at least the food promises to be good.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Singapore, T minus 1.5 hours: An SQ Birthday Party

Had a good chat with my friend dr.sbdink over lunch then back to the SQ lounge in Changi and took a much-needed shower since my last one was in Almaty. I correct my earlier post: shower rooms in the SQ lounge are also the room type that you can lock-- very important if you have valuables in your carry-on luggage-- although there is no toilet in the room. So on that small detail, and the Noodle Bar, the CX lounge in HKIA still trumps the SQ lounge. But just by a hair.

Just a few hours til I'm back home, Dear.


I spent much of my birthday on the plane, boarding in Almaty at 3am, spending five hours in Istanbul, one hour in Dubai, then by the time I landed in Singapore it's already 7am the next day. So I told this to one of the flight attendants in SQ when I boarded SQ491 in Istanbul, hoping maybe for some extra dessert. Well, they exceeded my expectations by a mile. First they gave me a small SQ teddy bear with my meal. It was a very nice gesture, which already made my day.

Around an hour after the meal service, the flight attendants (plus one passenger who got tagged along) went by my seat with champagne, a makeshift birthday card, and a well-drenched rhum cake and sang me happy birthday. They really put in some effort to make the card and decorate the plate for the cake, and were even apologetic about the outcome.

Of course I would have preferred to spend my birthday at home-- it would have been my first birthday after our marriage-- and was quite bummed by the whole situation of being away. I guess the crew at SQ419 picked up on this and tried to make my birthday that much more special and memorable. And they were very successful indeed.

To the Crew of SQ491 on 11 August 2009: thank you very much. It was truly sweet and thoughtful of you. You're the BEST!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Istanbul, T minus 2.5 hours

Well, I made it here. There was no hassle whatsoever in Almaty; in fact, they were pretty nice and professional. The airport wasn't so bad too, although there was no lounge for us travelling on TK. From what I saw, I don't get why ALA has such a reputation. But then again it did happen to a colleague at the Bank. Oh well.

On my way to SIN then home to MNL. Will probably have lunch with dr.sbdink in SIN then back to the airport for the flight home.

I can't wait to be back home with my Dear again.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Almaty, T minus 9 hours

I'm leaving Almaty in the wee hours of tomorrow morning, which happens to be my birthday. It's been an exhausting trip through remote areas of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, but it was a success and finally over. In a way I consider myself lucky-- I've visited places on the Silk Road that would otherwise have been out of my reach.

So far Almaty has been a nice experience-- nice mix of modern and Soviet architecture, relatively safe to walk around even at night, and a gourmet supermarket just a three-minute walk from where I'm staying. The weather has also been nice and warm, although every afternoon there are gale-force winds that are strong enough to unbalance me. Unfortunately, Almaty International Airport has a bad reputation of having officers who intimidate foreigners into giving bribes. I actually heard from the resident mission here that a staffer from Manila recently had to pay $100 in bribes at the airport. I really hope that doesn't happen to me.

Next update in Istanbul. Hopefully.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Almaty, Day 2

Currency: Kazakhstan Tengge (KZT)
USD 1 = KZT 150; KZT 1 = PHP 0.32

Arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan, last night after a long day on the road. Kazakhstan is flat as Kyrgyzstan is mountainous. Will post landscape pics (of both countries) soon. See the pictures of Almaty here.

I'm staying at the Alma-Ata Hotel-- Alma-Ata was how the Soviets called Almaty. Built in 1967, the hotel has a fascinatingly Soviet feel to it from the architecture down to the furniture. At KZT 20,000/night, it's one of the cheaper hotels in Almaty, but I like it. I can almost imagine Soviet spies cooking up conspiracies in one of the rooms.

Almaty is basically a much richer version of Bishkek. Immediately you see the same Soviet-style buildings and layout, but beside these are Western boutiques, five-star hotels, and high-end stores. There are also a lot more high-rise buildings and construction, a building spurt due to Kazakhstan's oil wealth.

Almaty has a more varied collection of cuisines than Bishkek, mostly catering to European rather than Asian tastes despite the proximity to China. There is even a a high-end supermarket near my hotel-- the Stolichniy Supermarket-- which is most comparable to Mollie Stone's in the Bay Area (Rustan's Fresh would be the closest in Metro Manila).

It's definitely more expensive in Almaty that in Bishkek. I've so far had three restaurant meals in Almaty and the average price I've paid was KZT 1,500 per meal. Cheaper meals like some plov and meat can be had in Almaty for around KZT 500-- not really cheap but cheap enough.

I'm staying in Almaty until Monday, so I have yet to earnestly tour the city. But from what I've seen, I have to say... I LIKE! (Sorry, just had to put that in somewhere.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Naryn Oblast, Days 1 and 2

Back in Bishkek now but we spent the last two days in Naryn Oblast, visiting everything from the centre to the southeast of Kyrgyzstan near the border with China. Among other places whose names I can barely remember, we visited Kochkor and At Bashy, slept in Naryn (below is the town centre monument), and made a detour to Tash Rabat, which was the the highlight of our trip.

It was a very exhausting trip, being on the road for almost 8 hours in a day. We stayed at a guesthouse that had no heating or hot water; the evening weather, by the way, was a crisp 9 degrees Celsius and constantly raining with intermittent hail. That said, and now that we're back in civilisation, it was a good experience, probably closest to Ian Wright-esque travel that I'll get.

The BBC put it mildly when it said that Kyrgyzstan is a country of "striking beauty and towering peaks". The better to describe the landscape are stunning and breathtaking. It's almost an entire country full of possible wallpaper shots. Speaking of which, here's my current wallpaper (taken at Tash Rabat):

I took a lot of pictures during this trip (using my Dear's camera, of course). Will post pics when I get the time. Have to sleep now, going to Almaty, Kazakhstan, tomorrow at 5am (that's six hours from now).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Bishkek: Sights and Landmarks

No captions. Yet. Soon. I hope. Here.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Istanbul, T minus 1.5 hours

Spent the last 7 hours in IST doing work in the airport. Stayed the whole time in the TK lounge n Ataturk. So here I am in one of he most awe-inspiring cities in the world, I have a valid Turkish visa that set me back P3,150, and I'm stuck in the airport.

Well, at least I'll be boarding in an hour. Here are a few pics.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Dubai, T minus 30 minutes

Just a quick post-- in DXB now for a brief stopover on the way to IST.

Lots of Filipino workers here in the airport-- one was even kind enough to let me ride the airport trolley.

Singapore, T minus 2.5 hours

At the SQ lounge (officially the Silver Kris Lounge) in Changi Airport. It's official-- the CX lounge in HKIA is the BEST. The SQ lounge is not bad, for sure, but the CX lounge trumps it in two important ways. One, the CX lounge has hotel-like private bath/shower rooms, while the SQ lounge is more like an upscale gym shower room. Two, freshly made food is available at the CX lounge (in the Noodle Bar), while food in SQ is the buffet type.

That said, the food in the SQ lounge is very good-- very nice selection of Singaporean dishes plus the all-important steamed rice (most lounge fare are just finger food, hardly satisfying).

I have about two hours before my flight to IST-- a 13-hour flight with a brief stopover in DXB.

A few pics:

Changi Airport Duty Free Area-- the gate for my flight to IST is E28

Silver Kris Lounge

supper in Singapore
Til the next post.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Manila, T minus 1.5 hours

At the SQ lounge in NAIA now, waiting for my MNL-SIN flight. Eating some fish fingers and siopao while sipping tea. Had a dizzying cab ride to the airport and my rhinitis is very much annoying me right now. Plus I have a paper which I have to submit within the weekend, so I'll be working on the plane and into IST-- I'll probably have to spend my 10-hour layover in the TK airport lounge to finish the paper.

And it's only the beginning of what promises to be a stressful trip.


I miss you so much, Dear. Take care over here. Can't wait to see and hug you (both) again.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Manila, T minus 3 days

I'm going on a research trip this Friday, will be out for about two weeks. Here's my itinerary (in IATA airport code): MNL-SIN-DXB-IST-FRU/ALA-IST-SIN-MNL. The FRU-ALA leg will be by land. Might go around IST on my way to FRU, since I have a 10-hour stopover there. Might also have lunch with dr.sbdink in SIN on my way back to MNL.

It will be my third time in Kyrgyzstan and my first time in Kazakhstan, and in both countries we will be visiting different far-flung villages. Kyrgyzstan is officially my third most-travelled country after the Philippines and the United States. Need to brush up on "Говорите по-английски?", "Я не понимаю", and "Где туалет?".

I'll be spending my birthday on a plane. I'll be departing from ALA at 3am on my birthday, stop for two hours in IST, then fly to SIN where I'll land at 7am the next day. Since I'm travelling from West to East, about three hours will even be shaved off my birthday. Maybe they'll serve cake for dessert on SQ.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Rest in Peace, Robert Strange

Robert Strange McNamara, US Secretary of Defence from 1961 to 1968, has died at the age of 93. He was best known for being at the centre of two of the 20th Century's most cruicial events-- the Vietnam War and the Cuban Missile Crisis. One was his worst failure, the other his greatest success, but in both instances he displayed unflinching and amoral rationality, where the only golden rule was the good of the country.

One of his greatest contributions was to put rigourous analysis into public policy and planning. A trained economist and statistician, one of his early jobs was to maximise damage while minimising losses during World War II bombing sorties, probably using linear programming that any economics student knows today. Although nothing was said about his readings of Nash or Harsanyi, his analysis and actions during his tenure as Defence Secretary exhibited game theoretic brilliance.

To end, I give you his Eleven Lessons:

1. Empathise with your enemy
2. Rationality will not save us
3. There's something beyond one's self
4. Maximise efficiency
5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war
6. Get the data
7. Belief and seeing are often both wrong
8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning
9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil
10. Never say never
11. You can't change human nature.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday, June 12, 2009

Taipei, Day 2

USD 1 = TWD 32.44; TWD 1 = PHP 1.45

Arrived in Taipei yesterday, spent much of the afternoon and early evening walking around the hostel, which is in the city centre.  

We are staying at the Taiwan Key Mall Traveller Hostel, which is right in front of the Taipei Main Station.  As far as accommidations go, it is pretty basic in the most basic sense of the term-- do not stay here if you expect hand-and-foot service, although the staff (two of them Filipino) are very friendly.  They do serve free breakfast though, which is a deal considering a "suite" costs around USD 25/night.  The hostel is actually located in a residential-commercial building, and the first few floors are an electronics mall and restaurants (all Japanese).  The hostel's rooms are also found in separate floors and areas of the building, so beside your room could be a school, a residential unit, or even a small office.  

My first impression of Taiwan: it's a grittier version of Hong Kong, but less gritty than Manila.  There are lots of scooters parked on every sidewalk, and I could just imagine what rush hour could look like with all these scooters on the street.  Food is always nearby with hawkers or restaurants just a few steps away.  

Tried the famed pearl milk tea (or bubble tea), which was much better than the stuff we get in Manila.  A large serving costs TWD 35, but they use actual black tea and milk instead of the powder mix we get back home.  They are also generous in their serving of "pearls", and for the first time my drink ran out before the pearls.  

Today my Dear is going to spend most of the day with her friends in preparation for the concert they will attend tonight (I'll put the link, but my Dear does not like it when I tell everyone about her fangirling).  I'll probably spend the day walking around Taipei.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Manila, T minus 7 hours

Flying out to Taipei, Taiwan, in a few hours. We got our tickets dirt cheap-- $50 MNL-TLP-MNL via PR. The main purpose for going there is for my Dear to watch this concert with her friends on Saturday. I'm not watching that concert, so I have to find things to do in Taipei. Anyone know of a good walking tour? Of the culinary kind?

Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China, is a pretty interesting case-- a de facto state with all (or most of) the requisite state-making activities, but very few countries recognise it as a state, lest they incur the People's Republic of China. This gives rise to a few conventions on how to refer to Taiwan in official documentation: Taiwan, China; Taiwan, Province of China; Taiwan,China (yes, without the space). All in an effort not to piss off the country with the largest standing army in the world.

Anyway, will try to get some sleep. Gotta get the body's defences up. The risks of travel in the time of AH1N1.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hong Kong, T minus 2 hours

Had a great time in HKG with my Dear. On our way home, waiting at the HKIA lounge. Back to reality.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hong Kong, Day 1

(USD 1 = HKD 7.17; HKD 1 = PHP 6.68)

Arrived in HKG after a day with a lit of hiccups, including having the misfortune of picking the line staffed by slowest NAIA immigration officer ever.  But all's well that ends well, and we're at the hotel having some rest before we head back out and get acquainted with the city's transport system (thanks to Carol and Prince for lending us their Octopus Cards).

A few price indictors: HKIA-Mongkok hotel transport = HKD 130.00; big and high-quality turkey sandwich = HKD 20.00; ham and egg bun = HKD 5.50; pork floss bun = HKD 8.00; 1.5 litres distilled water = HKD 9.00.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Manila, T minus 18 hours

My Dear and I are going to Hong Kong tomorrow, our first overseas trip together.  I've been to the Fragrant Harbour many times before, but I've never really been there since my previous visits have mostly been in transit to LHR or SFO.  So I'm quite excited about this trip since it would practically be a new place for me to visit, not to mention I'm going there with my Dear.

We will be staying in Mongkok, which is the busy but affordable shopping and dining part of Hong Kong in the Kowloon Peninsula, and whose name supposedly and aptly means "busy corner".  So now you know our priorities for going to Hong Kong-- one of our first stops is going to be Sino Centre, upon the insistence of my Dear because that's where she plans to buy some K-pop stuff.

We haven't sorted out our complete itinerary yet, and we're not sure if we want to have a detailed tour plan-- one of the joys of travel is getting lost (and finding your way back, of course).  If time allows we may even make a side trip to the former Portuguese territory of Macau.  Maybe I can use some of the stuff I learned in Portuguese 11 more than a decade ago.  Onde e o banheiro no seu restaurante?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Last Late Night Good Night

Good night, Conan. Thanks for 16 years of immature, childish, and arbitrary humour. We loved it. See you in LA.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Phone Scam: Identity Theft in Manila

First, this is not from some floating email-- this happened to me, twice.  I already reported it to one of the banks mentioned and it seems they're not aware of it happening-- they were very appreciative that I reported it to them.  Read this and be warned.

It seems Filipino scammers are getting into identity theft these days.  It begins with your name and phone number-- how they get it, how they got mine, I don't know.  The caller, usually a female, will say you have been pre-approved for a credit card or a loan, and will even explain what you can get (loan amount, interest rates, terms of payment, etc.).  Then they will ask you for information for security purposes, ostensibly to confirm that you are who you say you are.  Here's my experience:

Incident 1: Caller claimed to be from Metrobank Blumentritt branch, said I was pre-approved for a credit card.  I actually have a pending credit card application with Metrobank, so this wasn't a complete surprise to me.  She asked for my birthday, which I gave thinking my card application has been approved.  Then she asked for my mother's maiden name and billing address, which sounded alarm bells in my head.  I told her they should know that information and they can just send the card to my billing address.  She was irritated and asked for my information again, saying that my card will be cancelled if I don't give it to her. I refused and asked for her contact information instead.  She refused, said my card will be cancelled, and hung up.

Incident 2: Caller claimed to be from Citibank Savings Ortigas branch, said I was pre-approved for a car or home loan.  She went on to say that I can borrow from P300k to P2M, low interest, three to 12 years to pay, etc.  She then asked for my credit card number, monthly income, and taxpayer identification number (TIN).  I refused to give the info and lied about my income just to get more information from her.  I got her name and contact info and reported her to Citibank Savings Ortigas-- the real one-- and they were unaware that such a scam was taking place.  I told them to warn their customers because a Citibank customer who is unaware of the scam might have given up the info.  They were very happy I brought this to their attention.

Piece of advice-- never give information to unsolicited callers, even if they claim to be from your bank.  They should know the information they are asking from you, and if you think it might actually be your bank, call them yourself using a publicly listed number and go from there.  

If you get a similar call, get as much information on the caller and report it to the bank concerned (get their number from their official website).  They will be more than happy to know that their name is being used illicitly and will take actions to protect their customers.

Lastly, be careful.  They know your name and telephone number, so they probably know where you live.  Don't let them know you're onto them.  Just ride out the call and don't give any vital information.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

One week hence

Esta es mi promesa solemne.