Saturday, November 26, 2005

Osaka, Japan, 2004

After posting my Hong Kong travelogue, a friend, Alvin Ang, made this note. I also noticed only today his posting. Thanks Alvin :-)

September 23, 2004

Hi Noy and friends,

Thanks for your travelogue about Hongkong.

ako naman i want to share my latest experience here in osaka, specifically toyonaka city. our city, is one of the oldest and richest city within metropolitan osaka. as one of the richest city, toyonaka has the tradition of subsidizing family services to its dwellers and many osakans liked the way things are managed here. however, from the last 3 years, the city has been experiencing huge deficits and have not been able to arrest it. one of its programs is
privatization of services that can be easily or already being offered in the private sector.

last night, i went to a parent-teacher consultation in my son's day care center with toyonaka city officials. the reason - they were "informing" us that they are going to privatize the day care center in a year's time.

just a little background on how they operate day care centers here. they have public and private day care systems. as always, the public one is subsidized and if you want your child to enter it, you have to register him from the time of birth because you have to wait at least 2 years to get a slot. i waited one year and took the available slot when the city office called me even if it means that it is far from where we live. the monthly payment is computed based on your last year's assessed income - so for just getting a monthly subsistence allowance, i am classified as a way below minimum wage earner and i pay the basic fee of around P750/month. so even if it is subsidized, those earning above the minimum Y250,000/month or roughly P125,000, pay quite a sum. besides, you have to put in a lot of justification why you need day care, since most japanese wives stay at home anyway. Apparently, they have not anticipated that the economic gloom here have stretched for more than 14 years now and hence, the necessity to have mothers to work too. also, as i understood it, the public system is better because it is connected with the national
health system. so a day care will have a stationed nurse, a monthly physical check up and an extended care facility after 6 pm. the private ones are expensive and do not have the same connection with the national health system.

from the discussions last night, with my basic understanding of japanese, i could sense that the
parents were not really concerned with how much they are to pay - but if the same service will be rendered. i was looking at how the bureaucrat was explaining the reasons for privatization. he look pathetic and too technical. he bored the mothers and fathers there, especially me because he was using a lot of technical japanese. one of the vocal mothers finally interrupted him and said - i just want to know what you plan to do after, i don't care with your explanations since i don't understand them anyway. that caused an approving uproar and the poor guy was on the defensive till i left.

as i was going home with my boys, i was thinking what if this was in the philippines. i guess those who are going to be affected will act the same way. but the big difference here is that the city office has overstretched its desire to be of service to its people that it can no longer maintain or managed the services they have offered over and above the basic ones. in our case back there, our government has very little to show what it has done to improve or enhance
basic services and is now trying to increase the burden further. as it is in many studies regarding the behavior of lower income earners, these people are willing to pay for service or goods for as long as they perceive that they get a good service. consider the water or gaas vendors along the riles - the poor are actually paying more than the formally connected water users but there is no problem with them. hence, it does not matter much who provides the service. but if government does it and cannot sustain it - then it is better off not providing the service at all as in this example here in toyonaka. creating undue expectations have already expanded the satisfaction possibilities of people, hence, it is difficult for them to let go because it will affect their future work decisions. hence, given all things equal and majority of your dwellers are renters - you see an exodus to other cities where they can maintain their
current living satisfaction levels. and fair enough, the ADB just warned that if we are pushed further to accept new taxes without seeing just gains - the exodus....

Alvin Ang

Friday, November 25, 2005

Hong Kong, September 2004

I wrote this on September 22, 2004 after I arrived from a conference there. This was posted in one of my discussion groups which I just noticed today.

Some notes here about HK...

My first and last trip to HK prior to last week's was in 1998, during the PDE (UPSE) study tour. We visited then various govt. agencies and private sector offices (chamber of commerce, trade council, among others). The current airport, the HK Intl airport (Chek Lap Kok?) at Lantau island, was still under construction, so we landed at the old airport right in the city.

6 years hence and after recovering from the Asian financial crisis, it seems that my recollection of HK then was a bit hazy. Seated on the left side of the plane from Manila*, i was amazed by those plenty of clusters of tall buildings on various parts of HK and Kowloon islands, even in Lantau island. I was trying to remember if I noticed those many-many bldgs 6 years ago...

The airport is so big and modern; maybe about 6x the size of manila airport terminal 1 (NAIA). From the many gates, you take an underground tram -- comes every 3 minutes, clean, modern and fast -- to go to the main bldg. where the immigration stations and baggage claim areas are. Makes you think, no wonder why this country of 7 million people is attracting 10-12 million tourists/year, whereas the Philippines, a big country of about 85 million people on 7,000+ islands is attracting only 2 million tourists/year. The airport, a foreigner or tourist's first encounter (aside from view from the air) of any country tells you the level of economic development and discipline a country has attained. Oh well...

The road infrastructure is impressive. Wide, clear expressways from the airport to Tsing Ma bridge to the city. Zero or very little danger of rock slides cascading down debris from nearby hills down the highways -- they constructed tall and sturdy cement terraces on those hills along the roads. In addition, there are rock catchment structures above some of those terraces.

Tsing Ma bridge -- at 2.2 kms. long, is reputed to be the world's longest road-rail suspension bridge. I'm wondering, the road-rail suspension bridge between Copenhagen/Denmark and Malmo/Sweden seems to be longer than Tsing Ma bridge, more than 4 kms. if I remember it right... Anyway, this HK bridge is quite impressive too. HK is really a 1st world economy/country.

The city's skyscrapers -- awww! We stayed at Gold Coast Hotel, Kowloon island, quite a distance from HK island. When we reached HK city, I remember I had a stiff neck looking up those tall bldgs. of Chicago and NY. Who's got more skyscrapers, HK or Chicago or NY? Must be HK. The Intl. Finance Center (IFC), HK's tallest bldg., is new to my eyes. It wasn't there in 1998, right?

There are still plenty of tall bldgs. being constructed all over the economy -- HK, Kowloon, Lantau, other islands. And when they make buildings, they don't build 1 or 2 structures: 5, 8, 10 buildings of same architectural design per project. So if the leftists and militants, the politicians and state bureaucrats in the Phils. think the Ayalas and Gokongweis and other local real estate developers are very rich for building high glass towers and hence must be heavily taxed and heavily regulated, they really got backward ideas. Me thinks that instead of heavily taxing and regulating those developers for building tall structures, government should cut taxes and encourage more investors in this field if only to expand the supply of residential and office condos, to spur competiton by attracting other firms, local and foreign, to slug it out with the Ayalas and other local builders. End result will be more affordable housing and office units for more households and entrepreneurs. No amount of rent-control, price-control, rich-control, remote-control (ehek) can beat competition in beating down prices and supply problem.

The bars and night life... ahh, one of my favorite topics, he he he.
After dinner at The Peak -- a cluster of buildings and restaurants on top of a mountain overlooking most of the tall skycrapers of the city -- a Canadian-Hong Konger friend, Andrew Work, asked the participants who would be interested to stay and survey the city's night life landscape. Of course, the not-yet-retired-party-animal Oplas is among those who raised their hands. We ended up with 9 persons from 9 countries (a Canadian-Hong Konger, an American, Pakistani, Filipino, Hong Konger, Russian, Georgian, Lithuanian, and British -- see, globalization is beautiful and colorful). A new Filipina friend, an editor for a local newspaper catering to OFWs in HK who interviewed us earlier re. economic issues in the Phils., also joined us. So, 10 souls walked down the bars of HK. Andrew by the way, is the head of the Lion Rock Institute, a new free-marketer think tank in HK.

We first went to a strip of bars populated by mostly white people, on D.Aguilar St. First stop was a bar with Canadian flags outside; the crowd was mostly white people, the owner/manager is a HKer, but the waiters were Filipinos, alright! We asked the Pinoy waiters if they can play "My Sharona", "Jump" (by Van Halen), "Dancing Queen" (requested by our female friends), etc. In short, it was dance time!

Got out after a few bottles of beer and several ounces of sweat whisked away, we hailed 3 cabs, moved to another place, forgot the name of the disrict. 2nd stop was a bar with live band and much thicker crowd. Lots of disco and pop-rock songs belted out by the band, the small dance floor was rocking with several souls squeezing their bodies closer to their dancing buddies so they wont bump the other groups/partners. Later, the band belted out AC/DC's (Australian band) hard rock song, "Highway to Hell". Wham! It was the Lithuanian-Filipino duo which attracted the lead singer's attention and gave us the microphone! Man, I tell you, it was one great performance by this frustrated rock singers duo, he he he. Alright! Yeebbaa! Our Lithuanian friend's name by the way is Ugnius Trumpa, president of the Lithuanian Free Market Institute.

Third and final stop was a bar equally full-packed as the previous one. But here, the band was all-Filipino, the waitresses were Filipinas. My companions were amazed how the band could play various types of music -- rap, disco, pop-rock, heavy rock, etc. -- and really singing them well. Of course I bragged, "Oh, many many good bands like them in Manila", he he he. Another proof that the Phils. got good comparative advantage in the services sector.

Comparative price of beer... for similar bars with good and lively music background or with live bands, price of beer in makati (greenbelt), libis (eastwood) and malate (adriatico strip) is around P80/bottle. In HK, it was around P350/bottle, mahal! But then again, HK is one of the most expensive cities in the world, kaya enjoy na lang sa sayaw, hinay-hinay sa beer :-)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Canada, Alaska, Nagoya

May 24, 2004:

Some observations from the air on our trip back to Manila from Detroit last May 22.
(We first took a smaller plane from Dulles airport, DC to Detroit, then transferred to a B747-400 plane, a 400+ seater jumbo jet).

Detroit to Nagoya is about 11,440 kms. and 13 hours via the North Pole. I initially suspected that there's some engine problem with the plane because after about an hour or two on air, the plane was cruising only at an altitude of about 29,000 feet(about the same height as Mt. Everest), and not 39,000 ft. as usually taken by long-hauled planes. Also, the ground speed was only between 800-900 kph, instead of more or less 1,000 kph.

A. Canada and Alaska

The plane went north first towards Canada, near or around Ottawa-Toronto-Quebec-Ontario areas (as indicated in the plane's video). Later, the plane got out of North Canada airspace, crossed Alaska (US territory), in its northernmost part, about the same latitude as the northernmost portions ofNorway-Sweden-Finland triumvirate. It was already part ofthe north pole! So, I have seen the lower portion of the North Pole, alright! Cool man!
Here's what I observed there:
a) Huge rock formations (if not small rocky mountains) covered -- not totally though -- with ice and snow.
b) One huge mountain which rises above a wide carpet of clouds, snow-covered.
c) Roads in Alaska that are very long, straight, sometimes winding along the mouths of thousands of frozen small/mini-lakes, roads that seem to lead to nowhere.
I thought, how would it feel driving in this part of the Earth -- all ice around you, roads where you seem to be the only moving human soul, praying that your car won't encounter any engine trouble because the next car that will pass by maybe several hours away. Ahhhh, what an adventurous souls those people are who brave those roads! Well, observing those Alaskan rocks while listening to the plane's rock n roll music audio channel is cool! You shake and swing your head to the music of TheQueen, The Police, Led Zep, Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, Rollingstones, Aerosmith,The Who, The Doors, others -- yeah man, alright!

After Alaska, next scenes to see would have been Russia's westernmost lands (or ice). But by then, they started showing movies -- drama, again! So I opted to read or sleep.

B. Nagoya City, Japan

For some of us passengers who were not in a hurry to go home and haven't set foot on any Japanese city yet (like me), the plane having landed late is a "bonus". When we landed at Nagoya airport, the pilot announced that Manila-bound passengers will have to stay overnight in the city, fly the following day. So I was very excited! For one, my passport will have additional immigration stamps (he he, ang babaw ano ha) -- a shore pass entry, then a departure stamp the following day. Second, we'll bestaying in a 5 star hotel (Nagoya Tokyu Hotel), nice amenities, yummy-yummy food, and bus transfers to and from the hotel. And third, I'll be able to see some Japanese roads, buildings and other structures up close.

Nagoya is "small" compared to other cities like Tokyo, Osaka, etc., according to a friend who has worked and lived in Japan for several years. Tall buildings are scattered over a wide expanse of the city, there seems to be no big cluster of high structures, say a bunch of at least 50 tall bldgs. The roads are generally narrow, which partly explains perhaps why many cars are small, big cars and trucks are few. There's also bicycle culture, like in many European cities. Skyways are excellent, tollway system. Major streets have names in both Nihongo characters and the alphabet.Watching again the city from the air on our flight to Manila (finally!), my head is always on the window, as usual :-)

Very few trees in the city, though I saw one small forest park in the middle ofthe city, the area a bit smaller than Quezon memorial circle in QC. There arerice fields in some parts of the city(!), especially near river systems. More skyways are being constructed. There are plenty of wide reclaimed areas. Plenty of rivers and canals, though not Amsterdam-like canal system. There'sgreen/grass space between the roads and canals/rivers. Bridges criss-cross therivers, reducing traffic build-up in various road networks. More mini-forestparks as you go out of city centers.

Where the lands are generally flat, there are houses and farmlands, through the"edge", the feet of mountains. So I think that in terms of urban planning, this city's (and I would say, most Japanese cities) land use is optimized. The"division of function" between flatlands and forest lands are very clear. I did not see subdivisions or real estate projects on mountains. There are houses and farms though, on valleys and river deltas between mountains. The mountains are thick with forests, really dark-green view from the top. If Japan would continue its use of wooden chop-sticks, throw them away after a single use instead of many plastic, reusable chop-sticks, the country won't run out of wood.

And dams, man, I saw at least 8 dams on its river systems -- and that's only those that I have observed on the left side of the plane. I dont know how many dams there are on the right side of the plane. So, there, one of the "secrets"of Japan's prosperity -- optimal land use: agri lands, residential and commercial lands, forest lands, rivers and dams, etc.

Less than an hour on air, the plane was cruising at 35,000 ft. altitude, though at a slower speed of about 740 kph. Nagoya-Manila is about 2,870 kms. away, flying time 3:45 hours.

Arriving back home after a month of being away is refreshing. The country is not managed well by the government, but my good friends and family are here, so am staying here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Michigan, April 2004

Posted in pilipinas forum (PF) egroups, April 23, 2004:

Here now in Midland, Michigan. I and another Pinoy participant, Ellen Cain of Foundation for Econ. Freedom (FEF), arrived here yesterday after a 20-hours trip from Manila via Nagoya (1 1/2 hrs. lay-over) andDetroit (2 hrs lay-over). Our US sojourn is sponsored by Atlas Economic ResearchFoundation (, based in Virginia. Some notes here...

(1) Pre-departure inspections, NAIA, Manila.
Man, what a body search! You have to remove your belt, watch, cellphone, etc. 3x! First at the airport main inspection and X-ray machine area. Second, before the departure lounge, where the shoes have to be removed as well. Third, at the departure lounge and here, all hand-carried luggages are inspected one by one; cameras are turned on and off to show that they're indeed cameras. Then a full body search by metal detector -- from head to toe, from left fingers to right fingers; from the left ear to the right ear! Could a bomb be implanted in one's ear (an "ear bomb"), or nose (a "nose bomb"), or under the armpit (an"armpit bomb")? Ahh, some people indeed have armpit bomb ("putok") and it's a pollutive one, he he he. Damn those terrorists! They've succeeded in making many governments paranoid, and air travellers are now the most suspected creatures on earth and hence, are subjected to the most rigorous inspection. What a life! Or... is this type of inspection done only for US-bound passengers?

(2) Nagoya City and airport.
Though I've been to a number of Asian countries before, never been to Japan. And I'm impressed with what I saw from the air -- lots of skyways, reclaimed lands, seems no traffic in its various road network. But very few trees in the city center though the streets and overall land-zoning are well-planned. The trees are out there surrounding the city, and it's a thick forest land. The airport was not busy. I think our plane was the only internationally-bound plane at the time we landed. Lots of Japanese personnel at the airport (he he he).

(3) Detroit City and airport.
Wide tracts of agri land before reaching the city. This is my first trip to theUS, and again, I'm impressed by the good planning of the city; there seems to be no congestion of buildings and houses. The airport is filled with dozens of Northwest airplanes. Detroit is NW's hub, i'm told. Ahh, ok.

(4) US immigration.
Where potential terrorists could be skinned alive if caught... The young officer was serious when he looked at me, comparing my boyish-looking picture at my passport and US visa, and my current slightly long-haired, Bruce Springsteen look-alike face (ouch! ubo-ubo!). The usual questions -- your purpose in coming to the US, where you're staying, when are you leaving, etc. The fingerprinting (left and right forefingers) and picture-taking went well as I smiled at the small camera, thinking that a thousand bucks would fall into my hands if I smiled well :-)

(6) Midland, Michigan.
Saginaw airport is about 45 minutes by plane from Detroit, and the airport is about 15 minutes by car from this small city of Midland. Farmlands surround the city. At this time, sunset is around 9pm. Nice place, but the pedestrian lanes are empty of people! You will certainly miss Manila and many parts of the Philippines, with its multitude of people walking down the streets almost everywhere. No bicycles, people don't walk either. Cars and trucks dot the roads and houses. I think this scene is true in most states of the country. Maybe this is one reason why many Americans are fat (I read once that about 1/4 of all Americansare obese!). Unlike the Europeans where people walk and bike a lot. In Amsterdam for instance, there's a 3-level parking for bicycles alone at the central train station, plus hundreds of other bicycles are parked around the station. Sweden and Denmark are also bicycle-friendly countries.

Maybe one reason for the absence of bike/walk culture is the price of gasoline. In the US, only around P25-30/liter equivalent, whereas in most European countries, it's about P80/liter. I seldom saw trucks and big cars like Ford Expedition in Sweden and Denmark. There are far more Ford Expedition andChevrolet Suburban in Metro Manila than in Stockholm, Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

(6) Northwest Airline.
Some observations here:
(a) Passengers -- mostly Filipinos! Hundreds of Filipinos really leave for theUS everyday.
(b) Food -- except for dinner, lunch and breakfast was not so delicious, at least compared to Thai Airways. I took Thai Air last year (Mla-Copenhagen,Munich-Mla, via Bangkok), and food was great!
(c) Movies -- from Manila to Detroit, 4 movies were shown, all drama and/or comedy. No sex & violence movies! My libidoic desires were doused -- he he, joke.

Our first assignment -- attend the Mackinac Center for Public Policy Leadership Conference -- will start today at 6pm, until April 24 evening. There will be 29 of us participants, nearly 1/2 of whom are from foreign lands (Phils, HK, India, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Argentina, Bolivia, Italy, Zimbabwe).

Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Oct. 2003

My trip in Europe in 2003, posted in some of my egroups...

October 18, 2003:

Here now in The Hague, Netherlands. Arrived here this morning after a 16 hours bus trip from Malmo, (south) Sweden viaDenmark and north Germany. Our training program on "Sustainable Agriculture" officially ended yesterday(Oct. 17). Was very sad bidding goodbye to my classmates (we're 21 from 15 countries) and Swedish course administrators who've been with me for 7 weeks. But some good things never really last, and we knew it would end.

I took Eurolines (bus line) because it is a lot cheaper than taking the train or plane, though travel time obviously is longer and less comfortable. From Malmo, the bus crossed the Oresund(?) bridge to Copenhagen; then we transferred to another bus, the Copenhagen-The Hague trip. Most of my co-passengers in this trip were non-white people and young Danish students. First major stop was Bremen.

This morning, around 3am, I don't know if we were still in Germany or in Netherlands territory already, a police car stopped our bus for random immigration check. Two police officers boarded our bus, checked everyone's passport. They netted one guy, a young, black man (must have a questionable passport or visa), escorted him down the bus, arrested and handcuffed him, hauled him into the police car while our bus went on.

Denmark has plenty of wind mills (or wind turbines, wind power stations, whatever they're called). Generally flat and has wide agricultural land, though smaller land area compared to the 3 other Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland and Norway).

My first and last visit to Europe before my Sweden training was in 1987. My recollection of Netherlands that time is a bit hazy now. But I can spot new changes in The Hague -- new, tall buildings, skyways. My host here, the couple Bart & Wads Wijnberg, are as friendly and accommodating as before. Bart brought me (again) and his Canadian friend to a naturist (nudist)swimming pool. Stayed 2 days and 1 night in The Hague (including a day trip to Amsterdam and back), then rode again a Eurolines bus on my way to Munich, Germany.

October 23, 2003:

From The Hague, Netherlands, took a 13 hours bus ride to Munich (Oct. 18). My German friend, Christian Beil, and his Filipino wife, Astrid, met me at the bus station in Munich. I stayed in their place in Miesbach for 4 days. Miesbach is about 50 kms. south of Munich and around 700 meters above sea level elevation, at the foot of the mountains of Bavaria. Christian brought me to a ski resort further south, near the border with Austria, hiked and climbed a 1,560 meters high Bavarian mountain (about the same height as Mt. Arayat in Pampanga) under frozen rain droplets and around -1 or -2 celsius temperature. After which we went to a lake-side resort, entered a 90+ celsius sauna, then jumped into around 5 deg. celsius pool, then entered another sauna at 60+ celsius temperature, to a jacuzzi, to another pool, etc. It was the most extreme roller-coaster temperature I’ve ever experienced and I enjoyed it.

Some notes here:

(1) Amsterdam, Netherlands. Plenty of people last Sunday (oct. 19), very few trams running. The reason – the Amsterdam marathon which attracted 7,000+ runners from many countries.
(2) Germany’s authobahn (highway). Theoretically, anyone can do a Schumacher orMontoya driving here, but it’s difficult to drive more than 200 kph as there are so many cars on the highway now. Christian accelerated his 18-years old, 292,700+ kms. mileage Benz at the Munich-Salzburg autobahn; at 185 kph, he has to slow down after a few seconds because of many other cars ahead. Nevertheless, that was the fastest ride I’ve experienced (my old Mitsubishi pickup can only manage a 130 kph maximum).

(3) Whining in Germany. Christian noted that so many Germans nowadays complain about many things. High unemployment (around 10% of labor force), weak business activities, declining pension benefits, etc. Well, when you’re (economically) high up there, it’s difficult to grow fast, unlike poorer economies like Afghanistan and Cambodia which can grow fast, but will take many years before overall economic conditions can really improve.

(4) Pinoys in Europe, in the rest of the world. When I needed a public toilet in Amsterdam, 2 Pinays (working as domestic helpers) I met on the streets gladly pointed to me the direction. A Dutch lawyer (Bart) and his Pinay wife(Wads) hosted me in The Hague. A German lawyer (Christian) and his Pinay wife(Astrid) hosted me in Miesbach. A Pinay engaged to an Austrian engineer-boyfriend for a year now chatted with me at the Munich airport. ThePinoys are everywhere and they can help you find your direction, give you warm house to stay and good food to eat, good local beer to drink, etc.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Luzon's Pacific Ocean side

A posting I made in January 2004 about Luzon's Pacific side.
That was before the strong typhoons which destroyed many areas of Real and nearby municipalities:

(1) Real, Quezon.
You can reach this place by car from QC in about 3 hours, via Rizal, then pass by 2 towns of Laguna (Mabitac and Famy), then Real. Nice roads here. Climb a small mountain at the Rizal-Laguna boundary, go down at Mabitac, left atFamy, climb again a lower portion of Sierra Madre mountain range, that's theLaguna-Quezon boundary. Go down, heading to Real.

What to see:
(a) plenty of beaches, though not white sand;
(b) Balagbag waterfalls -- beautiful! about 20 minutes by car from the bridge on a highway to the municipality, then 5 minutes walk from the parking area.
Entrance fee then was onlyP10 per head, nice and deep pool.

(2) Infanta, Quezon.
Next town after Real, about 15-20 kms. away.

What to see -- beaches, old church, etc.

(3) Polillo island, Quezon.
Go to Real town proper, port area, park your car (pay about P50-P75overnight). Take the boat, about 2 hours travel time. Waves are big during October-December.

What to see:
(a) beaches, of course, semi-white sand somewhere
(b) "Pulong Ibon", literally, birds' island. About 20 minutes from Polillo mainland by boat, go there at 5pm, you'll see hundreds of egrets ("tagak"?), other birds resting there for the night.

Btway, you'll also see from the boat Sierra Madre mountain range's thick and lush forest.

(4) Daet, Camarines Norte (Bicol).
Been there but i've never explored the place re. beaches, islands, etc.

(5) Catanduanes, Bicol.
Much farther, you have to take the plane.
If by car, via Albay. Never been there though.

Manila-Mindoro-Iloilo, 2003

Below is my account of my first land trip to Iloilo and Panay island via roll-on roll-off (RORO) bus, December 2003:

I left Manila Dec. 23 (2003) evening, took the Bachelor-Rural Transit bus in Cubao, Quezon City, bound for Iloilo via "Strong Republic Nautical Highway", just curious to see again Mindoro Oriental south of Calapan, the facilities in Batangas & Calapan ports, Roxas (Mindoro) & Caticlan (Aklan) ports. Man, what a monstrous traffic at the South Expressway that Dec. 23 evening! No need to elaborate :-) Btway, bus + boat fare from Cubao to Caticlan, air-con, is around P740 forBachelor-Rural transit. Around P820 for Philtranco air-con bus, i'm not sure.

Our bus driver asked his conductor to text the Phil. Ports Authority (PPA) inBatan gas to have one RORO boat wait for us and the other buses trapped in heavy traffic at the S. expressway. The RORO ship, Montenegro Lines, between Batangas and Calapan (capital of Or. Mindoro) was pathetic. Overloaded with vehicles and people, some passengers remained standing between 3am to 5:30 am during the trip because seats were limited and there were too many passengers. The trip should have been at 1am but due to the delays, the ship left 3am.

Around 6am, our bus driver and us passengers still groggy from lack of sleep, the bus moved again for the approx. 125 kms. road trip from Calapan to Roxas, at the southern tip of Mindoro island fronting Panay island. Nice observations here.

The Mindoro folks see big buses only those plying the Cubao-Iloilo route. Five or six buses (4 from Cubao -- 2 Bachelor-Rural Transit + 2 Philtranco, and1 or 2 from Pasay, Philtranco) pass this route everyday and they travel one after the other since they take the same RORO ship from Batangas. A number of rural Mindoro folks seem to be awed by these bus drivers and their passengers since these people endure the long bus-boat rides from Manila to the Visayas. The Nautical highway was opened only about last April 2003, I think. So, some jeepney and mini-bus drivers honk with hand-salute to our bus driver. And the bus driver grins from ear to ear like a politician, he he he. Tricycle drivers are either scared or respect these buses and they readily give way to let the buses pass easily. Unlike many tricycle drivers in Luzon mainland. The road network several kms. south of Calapan is rather bad, plenty of potholes. Roads approaching Roxas are better -- paved, fewer potholes, fewer curves.

The RORO ship Maharlike Lines, between Roxas and Caticlan, is big, has plentier and more comfortable seats for the passengers. Boat ride between the two points is about 5 hours. The boats are imported 2nd hand from Japan. How do I know? Japanese signs and labels inside the boat, hehe.

Caticlan, aaahhh, Boracay! About 15 minutes boat ride to Station 3, around 25 minutes to station 1. Fare is P17.50 per person. No need to elaborate about Boracay, constantly in the "world's 10 bestbeaches" every year.

Caticlan to Iloilo is about 200 kms, but travel time by private car is around 4 1/2 hours. Bad road network in Aklan and Capiz, except in areas near the provincial capitals -- Kalibo and Roxas City, respectively. Kalibo Ati-atihan is held every January and is considered among the most famous festivals in this country. The roads in Iloilo province are good, few potholes, straight roads. Iloilo city is very big.

A former classmate from PDE, UPSE, Ingie Bautista, brought me to UP Visayas, Miag-ao campus. Miag-ao is 3 towns south-west of Iloilo city, and just 1 or 2 towns before Antique province. UP has a big campus there, specialization in Fisheries, Marine Science research and related disciplines. The buildings are new but look less "hardy" compared to the buildings in UP Diliman, Manila and Los Baños campuses.

Iloilo City to Bacolod City is just an hour away by Supercat, Aboitiz Lines, fare P290 per person. Negros Navigation I think doesn't have Supercat boats. Those super catamarans or "supercats", btway, are already manufactured in thecountry, at West Cebu Industrial Park, a private industrial zone in Balamban,Cebu. I saw the plant some 2 years ago. Meanwhile, Guimaras island-province can be seen from Iloilo port.

Negros Occidental, my province. The land of coconut and sugarcane, rice and sugarcane, fishery and sugarcane, fruit orchards and sugarcane, Onyok Velasco and sugarcane, Canlaon volcano and sugarcane, sugarmills and sugarcane...:-) I have been to all 80 provinces of this country except 10 or 12 perhaps, and I always observe land utilization in these places. I can boldly say that my hypothesis (I formulated this more than a decade ago) is correct: In terms of optimal land use (ie, very little idle lands), no province can beatNegros Occ.!

North Phils., Feb. 2002 (part 2)

Day 4, Feb. 13, Pagudpud-Ilocos Sur-La Union-Baguio, 370 kms.

After a good and refreshing sleep in fresh-air, white-sand beach Pagudpud, prepared for another day of long travel. Pit stop at Laoag City, Ilocos Norte's capital, to refuel. Off to Vigan, Ilocos Sur's capital. It's really true that former President Marcos, an Ilocano, built good quality roads in these 2 neighboring provinces. After lunch, short walk at a district with Spanish-era houses; Army troopers are scattered on the streets to guard the promenading members of the caravan. Naks, gwardyado talaga kami.

Off to San Fernando, La Union's provincial capital; afternoon snacks at San Fernando airport, which is part of Poro Point free-port/Special Economic Zone (SEZ) complex, La Union. The head of the freeport gave a short briefing about the complex, the plans and projects being initiated. Nice place.

Drove back, climb Baguio via Marcos highway, though via Naguilian road should have been a much shorter trip. But the road may be too "narrow"for the long caravan. Good news here: the rock-shed tunnel and fly-over in Marcos highway, world-class quality, have been opened to traffic only last January - the road was spotlessly smooth, a-alright to a-drive ah! Ang galing! We reached Baguio about 7pm though. Another buffet dinner - hataw ang pagkain, may lechon baka na naman - at Camp John Hay, "Baguio by the Fire" party with 2 bands, one playing country music, the other pop-ballad. Syempre sayaw din ako pati mga kasama, sila Elma, Joy, our new friends, students from St. Louis University, who also joined the caravan.

Day 5, Feb. 14: Baguio-Pangasinan-Olongapo, Zambales, 350 kms.

We left ahead of the pack because I didn't want a stressful descent of Marcos highway like what we did in descending Ifugao. It allowed the 4 of us in the vehicle to take a relaxing trip downhill, view and discuss the balding mountains of La Trinidad, Baguio and other parts of Benguet to give way to thousands of new houses constructed -- population pressure. We also stopped by Agoo church, La Union, reputedly one of the oldest churches in Luzon.

Traffic in Dagupan City, Pangasinan that day was hellish! I don't know if it happens everyday or because it was a V-day. Well, Pangasinan has the largest population of all provinces in Luzon. Grand program in Lingayen, the provincial capital. Luzon Colleges' drum & bugle corps (dbc), the national champion in last year's dbc competition, was there to entertain us when the pack arrived. Imagine taking lunch on a beach front of Lingayen Gulf, and a band was playing Jennifer Lopez's "Let's get loud" - ayos! Toot-tot-tot, tot-tot-tooooot, tot-to-tot,tot-to-to-to-tooooot... (swinging our heads while eating). Then the female band members dance as the band played "Angelina... be my sigñorina", another round of cheerful applause from us. Pang. Gov. Agbayani gave a short talk.

At a park near the provincial capitol, WWII-vintage tanks, fighter planes and anti-aircraft guns are displayed, with photo exhibit of the landing of Gen. MacArthur in Lingayen, the Fil-Jap war, etc. The trade fair near the tanks showcase the place's known delicacies like bucayo & other souvenir items. From Lingayen, we headed to Lucap, Alaminos, to view the famous "Hundred Islands" (pero pag high tide, "less than hundred islands", hehe).

Short program and snacks at Iba, Zambales' provincial capital, where Gov. Magsaysay also gave a short speech. Off to Olongapo, already dark, we couldn't see lahar deposits in rivers and bridges of Botolan, Cabangan, and nearby municipalities.

Another big cultural night & party with a band in Olongapo, at Ocean View resort hotel. Young teeners, boys and girls, dancing ala-Caribbean style with bamboo torches along the beach. Olongapo mayor Kate Gordon gave a speech. Another buffet dinner, another lechon baka.

Day 6, Feb. 15: Olongapo-Subic-Clark-Manila, around 200 kms.

We toured Olongapo City - clean, no garbage, jeeps color-coded. Then the Olongapo Convention Center - modern, good facilities, big, can accommodate up to 1,700 people. Entered Subic, many employees greeted us with cheers and welcome banners. Ocean Adventure, Subic's latest and biggest showcase, is about 24 kms from the main gate. This smaller version of HK's Ocean Park attracts dozens of buses daily, full of schoolchildren from many schools of Luzon. Entrance fee is P400 for adults, P320 forchildren, more discounts for group tours. Inside, one can watch the sea lion show, whale show (about 15 mins. each show), meet the professionals (the sea lion & whale trainers), an aquarium, learning/lecture room, souvenir shop, restaurants, etc.

SBMA Chairman Payumo gave a speech during lunch. Then off to Clark via Floridablanca and Porac; here we experienced "lahar ride" in Porac's" laharlandia". Manageable even for non-4WDs; one can see some roofs of buried chapels and houses.

Back to Clark, Challenger Field, where we left 5 days ago last Feb. 10. Everyone was ecstatic - they "survived" the 6 days caravan. Well, some unlucky participants didn't complete the journey, like those who have to leave early. Or met accidents (scooters who bumped dogs in the highway; tail-driving van which bumped another participant's pajero in the descent in Dalton Pass on day 1 alone, etc.). Awarding ceremony was modest but jolly: a certificate of completion, a bag + cap + long-sleeve white shirt, all printed with "North Phils. Expedition, Explore 2002", then buffet dinner na naman.

Summary, other observations:

(1) Provinces covered: a total of 12 provinces were covered by the trip, counter-clockwise:
3 in Region 3 (Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Zambales), 3 in Region 2 (Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Cagayan), 2 in Cordillera region (Ifugao and Benguet), and 4 in Region 1 (Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Pangasinan).

(2) Roads: generally good. Nearly 3 years ago, in April 1999, me and my friend Mark Agaloos, another classmate in PDE, UPSE, went through this North Phils. tour: about 2,000 kms. in only 4 days, or the 2 of us were driving alternately about 500 kms/day. Our route then was clockwise:
Day 1: Manila-Bulacan-Pampanga-Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union-Ilocos Sur-Bangued, Abra.
Day 2: Bangued + nearby municipalities of Abra
Day 3: Bangued-Ilocos Sur-Ilocos Norte-Cagayan (Gonzaga and Sta. Ana, the country's north-westernmost part; barko na ng Phil. Navy ang dulo ng kalsada)
Day 4: Cagayan (Gonzaga, Tuguegarao, Callao Caves)-Isabela-N. Vizcaya-N.Ecija-Bulacan-Manila.

That time, several roads from Ilocos Norte to Tuguegarao were pathetic; many road cuts that would compel you to make sudden slow down from 80 to 20 kph. Now, except for a few road cuts, Cagayan road system is between good to excellent.

(3) Farm animals: I noticed that farmers in N. Ecija, N. Vizcaya, Isabela and Cagayan prefer carabaos; you can see many carabaos from the highways. Whereas farmers inIlocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and Pangasinan prefer cows. Do cows thrive better in the breeze of South China Sea and carabaos thrive better in the air of Sierra Madre mountain range and Pacific Ocean? :-)

(4) Crops: Rice fields as far as your eyes can see in Nueva Ecija. Then a mixture of rice and corn plantation in Isabela and Cagayan. There was one portion, I think in Isabela, where there was a very wide cornfield - pinakamalaking maisan na nakita ko. Sana hindi naman corn-y ang mga tao doon, ako lang, ho ho ho. Tobacco, more tobacco, in Ilocos Sur down to La Union. I thought if we want to minimize smoking in this country, cost of tobacco should increase, so, how about a new breed of pests that can destroy the tobacco plantations? he he he.

North Phils., Feb. 2002 (part 1)

These are my accounts of our simple adventure in 2002.
I posted these in pilipinasforum and other egroups, 3rd week of February 2002:

In February 2002, a 6-days travel dubbed "North Philippines Expedition" was organized by the North Phils. Tourism Council, Presidential Assistant for North Luzon, Ford, Castrol, Pagcor, PAF, among others. About 150 cars, vans, pick-ups, SUVs, and scooters participated. One AirForce chopper is on standby for the caravan for emergency airlifts. The night before the caravan, Feb. 9, I went to Clark, Pampanga, for the final registration, vehicle check-up, get documents, etc. Three female friends -- Llana Domingo, her AIM batchmate ('91-93) Elma Laguinia, and Elma's friend Joy Caccam -- would join me the following day in my 5+ years old Mitsubishi L-200 pick-up, definitely among the "oldest" cars in the caravan.

Day 1, Feb. 10, Sunday: Clark-Nueva Ecija-Nueva Vizcaya-Kiangan, Ifugao, 308 kms.

Assembly time was 6am. Llana, Elma and Joy came from Manila around that time too. It was fascinating to see a long line of numbered vehicles and motorbikes; drivers and passengers were excited to see new places, meet new friends. After a short program and final instructions to drivers, we left Clark around 7am. You can see and feel the amazement in the eyes of the people in the towns of Pampanga and Nueva Ecija provinces as they watch and wave to our very long line of cars and motorbikes.

Pit stop in San Jose City; this place is quite big and expansive, the last one city/municipality of Nueva Ecija bordering Nueva Vizcaya. We refueled, treated to a short program, drum & bugle corps number. We can see the lower portion of the bald Caraballo Mountains that separates the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya. Soon enuogh, we started climbing Dalton Pass' mountainous & zig-zag road. This road is not as high and winding as the roads going up to Baguio (Kennon Road, Marcos Highway, and Naguilian Road), but some corners can be as tricky and narrow.

Lunch in Bayombong, N.Vizcaya's capital. A short program, an ethnic dance number from students of a local university, speeches by some LGU leaders, was held. Nearby is a photo-exhibit of major tourist attractions of the province. N. Vizcaya police were very efficient in stopping traffic from all directions that might block the caravan path. There were policemen even in small, barangay roads that connect to the highway where we pass by. Hats off to N.Vizcaya PNP!

Then off to Kiangan, Ifugao, about 32 kms. before Banawe. Ifugao is not as high as its neighboring provinces in the Cordilleras like Benguet and Mountain Province. Nevertheless, the road up is winding and some corners are pretty tight and narrow. Dinner was a bland lechon baboy & manok. Grabe, hanap ako ng asin para magkalasa! The province being mountainous and land-locked, people are not used to using salt when they cook. After dinner, an Ifugao Cultural night - colorful Ifugao wedding dance, festival dance, group dancing, speeches by the town mayor and Ifugao provincial Governor.

Ifugao's police and military were also as efficient and visible in greeting us from the boundary of N.Vizcaya up to Kiangan. Some good views of rice terraces in the municipality, though not as splended as Banawe's. The Kiangan campsite was well-secured by the PNP. Plenty of souvenir items to choose as plenty of stalls were set up at the camp site. Cold weather and tired, zzzz...ngorrrkkkkk early.

Day 2, Feb. 11, Monday: Kiangan-N.Vizcaya-Isabela-Peñablanca, Cagayan, 290 kms.

This is where I have experienced for the 1st time, descending at 50-60 kph on zig-zags (Ifugao), because the Ford expeditions, Explorers & new cars were in the front. Also my first time to drive at 110-120 kph on a 2-way flat highway (Isabela) with lots of on-coming tricycles and other vehicles because our group was trailing the main pack, a bit scary. Plenty of people converged and watched the 100+ vehicles in Santiago, a big municipality inIsabela, on our way to Magat Dam. The dam is simply big and fanta-bulous! Lunch at Camp Vizcarra, a riverside resort; good view of clear, strong water current that comes from the dam; there's a hanging bridge too. Two drums and bugle corps serenaded us as we walk down the resort. Buffet lunch with lechon baboy again (not bland this time).

Schoolchildren - ahh, hundreds of them accompanied by their teachers, in each public elementary and high schools that we passed in Isabela and Cagayan provinces, were waving and shouting happily on the roads, as if there was a fiesta! I slowed down, despite obvious signals by the cars behind me (they can't overtake me, my number's ahead of them, hehehe), to greet and wave back at the screaming schoolchildren. Tuguegarao City, Cagayan's capital, seemed to have a sudden and impromptu fiesta. Elementary scholl children were led out of their classrooms by their teachers, waving flaglets, designed either the Phil. flag or triangular flaglets with hearts on them (happy valentines kasi), also screaming and waving happily. Actually, of the 14 provinces that we passed by, Cagayanon children were the warmest. This one will make you proud you're a Filipino - the friendliness of our countrymen.

From Tuguegarao City, we went to Peñablanca, famous for its Callao caves and Pinacanauan river. What used to be rocky riversides were covered with soil and gravel so the hundreds of vehicles could park right beside the river. The locals are of course very happy because hundreds of visitors will be staying in their lodging houses, buying food, drinks & souvenir items, riding their bancas, etc. We rented a banca to mountainside where we could watch tens (or hundreds?) of thousands of bats going out of their caves, at exactly 6pm. For about 3-5 minutes, the bats slightly covered and darkened the sky!

Another buffet dinner, may lechon baboy na naman. Evening cultural show was splendid, courtesy of the Cagayan State University's dance troupe, where a friend, Vic Balatico (my classmate in PDE, UPSE) teaches Pol. Science and Economics. Again, speeches by the municipal mayor andCagayan Governor Lara. Security was overwhelming, combined PNP and Army forces secured us the whole night.

Day 3, Feb. 12, Tuesday: Callao Caves-Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, 290 kms.

Early splash at the Pinacanauan river (think I was the only one who plunged into the waters that morning), then drove back to Tuguegarao, refueled. The public school children in other municipalities were again waiting for us on the roads - waving and cheering; some schools even brought their drum & bugle corps to play while we pass. Caravan speed was a manageable 80 kph; when we pass by public schools with children cheering, the caravan would slow down to 40-60 kph. But I would slow even further, 20 to 40 kph so I and my 3 fellow travellers in the car could wave backto the children and the local folks, and the latter appreciated a lot by cheering and waving even more wildly! The rest of the vehicles behind me have to slowdown too; perhaps I compelled those in cars behind me to open their windows to wave back at the children as the kids kept on yelling. Ha ha ha, sorry na lang sila, pala-kaway kami sa mga tao eh. But then by doing so, I have temporarily cut the rest from the caravan, so I have to speed off again to chase the mainpack. Brooommm, back to 90-100 kph till I reached the next vehicle.

At the last 4 towns of Cagayan bordering Ilocos Norte - Pamplona, SanchezMira, Claveria & Sta. Praxedes - I made this conclusion: the more isolated the place, the friendlier the people. Here, not only school children, but also adults - farmers, vendors, house keepers, etc. - would go out to smile and wave us. Some have plackards, "Mabuhay turistang Pinoy!", "Thank you forvisiting us", "Come, visit us again", etc. These towns are relatively isolated as there are only very few buses plying the Laoag-Tuguegarao route. I remember Ozone Azanza's story when they came here a few years before, the bus they were riding would stop and wait for a passenger (possibly known to the driver) who at the time was still taking a bath!

Crossing the boundary of Ilocos Norte, the scenery changed from rice fields and trees to a wide, clear, blue ocean beyond a cliff... breath-taking, fantabu-lous, majes-tacular, and wonder-zing (he he he) view of South China Sea and northern-most part of Luzon mainland. We're in Pagudpud territory! Descending further, we reached the famous Patapat Cliff, among the country's longest bridges with breath-taking view of the ocean. Not in the plan to have a stop-over, but all vehicles stopped, passengers got out to take pictures. I had one photo where I looked like jumping off the several hundred meters deep cliff, arghh!!

The resorts of Pagudpud, all boasting of about 5 kms. of white sand beach. Pagudpud is also called as the "Boracay of the North". Buffet lunch again. This time, no more lechon baboy, because we had lechon baka na! Rest, swimming in the afternoon, then another buffet dinner. Magsawa ka sa bagnet at iba pang Ilocano delicacies. Beach party with a band, Ilocos Norte Gov. BongbongMarcos gave a short speech. While people were a-dancing and a-singing, our group chose to stay out of the noise and lied down on the beach, watching the stars and exchanging stories and some jokes. When they noticed I was already ngork-ngorrkkking-zzzzzzng, they pulled me up, led me to my room in the hotel.