Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Kalibo, Aklan

November 2007

This provincial capital of Aklan is famous for its ‘kalibo Ati-Atihan’ festival every 3rd or 4th week of January. I think that in the Visayas and elsewhere, Kalibo pioneered the Ati-Atihan festival (from ‘ati’, or Aeta in tagalong). The Iloilo Ati-atihan is now more famous because of bigger prizes and bigger corporate sponsorships, hence the competing ‘tribes’ are more expensively dressed and trained. This festival is very lively and colorful, with several dozens of drums and drummers per tribe giving danceable beat to their respective ‘warriors’, dressed in colorful and intricate costumes, normally made of local raw materials, who can dance from slow to rock to acrobatic steps.

The town also prides itself of having its ‘Bakhawan Eco-park’. This is a wide plantation of mangroves plus a recreation area, more than 80 hectares, and has an ‘eco-walk’ made of bamboos, right in the middle of the mangroves.

Other tourist attractions of the municipality are the ‘Pina village’, a place where the folks weave and sell pina cloth out of pineapple leaves. Then there is the ‘Ati-atihan village’, the Museo it Aklan, the Kalibo Cathedral, the Aklan Freedom Shrine, and Tigayon hill and caves. More details, one can visit the official website, www.kalibo.gov.ph.

The municipality is small. One can see the central municipality in a few minutes tricycle ride. No high rise structures, a few fast-food chains. A modern-looking hospital, the ‘Tumbocon memorial hospital’, named from a former politician, is also visible around the town center.


The airport is just a few minutes from the town proper. But when the plane lands, you would think that the town proper is far away because the wide and long runway is surrounded by rice fields and just a few houses, it looks like a secluded barrio.. But this is a good thing because the airport will have a wide space for more expansion someday as the volume of visitors and passengers who come to the province, as well as those going to Boracay, is increasing.

The airport terminal is pathetic. There are no trolleys for departing and arriving passengers. So if one has plenty of baggage, he/she will be compelled to hire a porter. The porters have t-shirt uniforms, with their corresponding number and family name at the back, fine. But they mix up with arriving passengers at the baggage claim area, which is already small, and it makes that area more crowded. Why the heck would porters compete for an already limited space with arriving passengers?

Maybe the porters are unionized, or at least organized. And through their lobbying, plus the indifference of the local airport authorities, passengers will be deprived of having trolleys so that they can carry their baggage on their own, and have some space to an already small passenger arrival area. Porters will be needed of course by some passengers who really have plenty of cargos, but they should be out of the baggage claim area. They can be positioned at the exit area to help passengers transfer their baggage from the trolley to the vehicles waiting for them.

The exit system from the baggage claim area, like in many airports in the country, is somehow funny if not stupid. Passengers are asked to show their duplicate stub as proof that the baggage being brought out are indeed theirs. Fine, it’s a standard practice, especially for those who are leaving ahead. But when all passengers have already claimed their baggage, and no one is reporting or complaining of any ‘lost baggage’, then it should be assumed 100% that all baggages being brought out belong to their respective owners. But the guards still keep checking the stubs, making the exit queu unnecessarily long and disorganized as people simply want to get out of the airport as quickly as possible. But then again, the private security guards are only implementing ‘orders’ by the local airport authorities. So it’s actually the latter who make those rigid rules.

Nonetheless, this is an international airport as there are a few direct flights from Seoul and a few other Asian cities to Kalibo. The passengers are mainly tourists heading to Boracay. For some passengers coming from Manila going to Boracay but are afraid to ride small planes (about 40 seaters) that land at Caticlan airport, which is very near the port going to Boracay, they ride bigger planes that land at Kalibo then take a 1 ½ hours land trip to Caticlan port, for a boat ride to Boracay.

There is an increasing number of Koreans landing at Kalibo airport, evidenced by some notices and instructions at the airport terminal which have Korean translations.

Aklan’s Road Network

The province’s road network is generally good and smooth. The province is mountainous, so roads have plenty of curves, ascent and descent. Usually these roads would tend to deteriorate quicker than flat and straight roads, but the roads were constructed well, and/or maintained and repaired regularly. Credit should go to the provincial government for this good job.

Kalibo’s Police

The driver of the van that we took from Kalibo to Caticlan was apprehended by Kalibo’s policemen who were very eager and early in apprehending some drivers of public utility vehicles. We rode the van around 6:15am. By 6:30 am, before the van crossed the long bridge (was it Aklan river?), 3 policemen stopped our van. Passengers are always inconvenienced by delays caused by such apprehensions. With nothing to do as one policeman was issuing a traffic violation ticket to the driver, I approached the team leader and asked why they apprehended the van driver. The policeman replied, “Not wearing seatbelt, driver wearing slippers, and waiting for passengers in a non-designated area, outside regular van terminal.”

Oh well. Perhaps one reason why many criminals go scot-free is because the policemen are busy apprehending drivers not wearing seatbelts, or motorcycle riders who don’t wear helmets, other minor offenses. When the van driver asked, “Why don’t you apprehend the colorum vans? Your fellow policeman, Vargas, operates colorum vans.” The police officer who issued him the traffic violation ticket just walked away as if he never heard the van driver. Oh well.

Our van driver told us that perhaps those policemen have ‘marked’ him because they know that he’s a migrant from Manila and not an “original” Aklanon. But he has already migrated to the province and all he wants is a decent income for serving passengers. He murmured because those violations would cost him nearly P1,000 in penalties.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mactan-Mandaue, Cebu

Mactan island

Mactan is a flat and small island, not a single hill to see. It's on the western side of Cebu island-province. It is surrounded by usually shallow and rocky beaches, especially on the eastern side, facing Cebu city. On its western side, there are a few white sand beaches, so some high-end hotels not far from the airport are found here, like Shangrila Mactan and Holiday Inn. Lots of new and cheaper hotels, various commercial establishments and residential areas have sprang up in Lapu-lapu city.

The Mactan-Cebu International Airport is located in Lapu-lapu city in this island. It is Cebu’s main gateway to and from many airports in the country and some cities in Asia. It's relatively modern and spacious enough for an international airport in the province. Since the second half of this year, more than 2,000 domestic aircrafts (from 5 domestic airlines), plus more than 600 international aircrafts (from around 12 international airlines), land and take-off from this airport monthly. In terms of number of passengers, since the second half of this year, more than 230,000 domestic passengers and more than 80,000 international passengers, arrive or depart from this airport monthly.

The island is connected to Cebu city by 2 long bridges. The old one is used by vehicles from Lapu-lapu to Cebu city proper and hence, traffic is usually bad here. Vehicles coming from the airport take the second and newer bridge, the “Marcelo B. Fernan bridge”, in honor of the previous Supreme Court chief justice, former senator, and pride of Cebuanos. Big ships from abroad, from Manila and from other islands and cities of the country pass under these 2 bridges.

From the airport to the Fernan bridge, traffic flow is normally light, and the roads are lined up with neatly-planted mahogany trees, which should be about 10 years old, I think. There is also an overpass from the bridge on the way to the airport above a busy intersection of Lapu-lapu city.

Mandaue City

Coming down from the Fernan bridge is Mandaue city, previously the industrial zone neighbor of Cebu City. In recent years, many commercial establishments as well as sprawling residential areas have sprung up here. The newly-constructed Cebu International Convention Center (CICC) is found here, not far from the Fernan bridge. The ASEAN summit was held in CICC early this year.

Traffic is light for a few kilometers after the bridge until about CICC, as there are just a few commercial establishments on both sides of the road. Traffic build-up is in Mandaue city proper, all the way up to Cebu city proper. Compared to Metro Manila’s traffic on a per kilometer basis, traffic on average is worse in Mandaue-Cebu than in Metro Manila. This is because the roads in Cebu are mostly narrow, no underpass road yet, and just a few overpass on top of the city’s many busy intersections.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The new Iloilo airport

The old Iloilo airport is in Manduriao, Iloilo City. And the most prominent structure near that airport when a plan is about to land, is.... an SM City Manduriao!

Having an airport within the city proper is good because passengers from the city and Guimaras island will not need to go far if they're flying. The only problem of course is that an airport in the city proper naturally will have limited space for any expansion. Or no space at all for any expansion.

The new airport, opened only a few months ago this year, is in the town of Sta. Barbara. It's about 22 kms. from the city proper, passing by the town of Pavia. The airport should be ok for some international flights because it is modern enough. Departure lounge on the 3rd floor, arrival area on the 2nd floor, and airport cargo equipment and staff on the ground floor. The design is like a midget or small version of many big Asian international airports.

The runway should be at least 1 km long, could be 1.5 kms. Hence, it can possibly handle a B737 or equivalent size of Airbus planes. Surrounding the runway and passenger terminal and other structures are vast rice fields and rural houses. So a further expansion in the future should pose no problem.

One thing impressive about this airport is that despite its modern design and features, the terminal fee is a modest and very reasonable rate of only P30/passenger. If you compare it with the current old, ugly and congested domestic terminal in Pasay charging P200/passenger, the rate of the latter, operated by the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA), would really look like a highway robbery.

Hong Kong

I've been to Hong Kong 3x. My first was in April 1998, during the PDE (Program in Devt. Econ., UP School of Economics) study tour; second was in September 2004, during an international conference on "The Role of Government in Asian Economies", sponsored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF). And my third was last September this year, for a short meeting with some friends among the International Policy Network (IPN) circle.

In my 1st visit 9 years ago, the airport was still in the city, and we didn't move out too far from the city proper (HK and Kowloon areas), where we attended some meetings and briefing with a number of HK government economic agencies. HK's skyscrapers were really impressive, and they didn't seem to be tiring building more. We also visited the Ocean Park, other urban parks and amusement centers.

We had a day tour also at Shenzhen, China. At that time, I remember the roads were very wide, there were a few skyscrapers, but the development plan was meant for something really big -- a big city, a big future commercial center.

In my 2nd visit 3 years ago, we landed at the new, bigger, Chek Lap Kok Airport at Lantau island. I remember I was impressed by the huge infrastructure investments put by the HK government in connecting that island to the main islands of HK territory. That long bridge for instance going to Kowloon was really huge and modern. Also the several kilometers long of stone-cement terraces to prevent land slides and falling rocks on roads along steep hills.

Nonetheless, the conference schedule was very tight, we had little or no time to move around the city, except after dinners. One of those nights, our friends from Lion Rock Institute, particularly Andrew Work, toured us to some of the most interesting strips of bars in HK. I was proud telling friends from other countries that the performing rock bands in most of those bars are from the Philippines. Those bands they could amplify the pulsating night with lots of fast-beat rock music from the 70s onwards.

In my 3rd visit a month ago, this time, the schedule was not hectic, but it was only for 2 days and 1 night, had to rush back to Manila for the 1st bday party of my daughter. From the airport, one can take the Airport Express train to the city for HK$90. I thought it was rather expensive. I asked how much the bus fare, it's only HK$33 up to Kowloon, my destination. So I took the bus. It's a comfortable ride, of course not as comfy and as fast as the train. But I also enjoyed watching the territory from Lantau island to Kowloon. It took the bus about 45 minutes to a bus stop in Nathan road, and the bus driver told me to get off where my destination, Intercontinental Grand Stanford at Mody road, is nearer.

There are other 5-star hotels along this road and neighboring streets. This area is near the Causeway bay, where one can see HK island and its glittering skyscrapers, particularly the very tall and very bright International Finance Center building, just across the bay.

At night, those skyscrapers are really fantastic to see. One can imagine how many big powerplants would be needed to sustain the energy needs of those buildings, the roads, parks, and residential areas.

I haven't been to HK Disneyland, and I haven't gone back to the Ocean Park since my first and last visit to that place. They should be good places to tour my daughter and wife someday.

On a Satruday night at Nathan road, on my way back to the airport, I noticed there was a big mosque for Muslims. I saw many many Muslims coming out of the mosque. I didn't realize that there is now a big population of Muslims in HK, but they are mostly migrants -- from Asia and Africa especially.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cebu Pacific and PAL

In my domestic flights, I don't take the Philippine Air Lines (PAL), it's expensive. I take Cebu Pacific (CP), it's cheap and has plenty of new airplanes too. Recently, CP has formally turned itself into a budget airline, meaning fares are really low, but there are no more free food and drinks in flight. One has to buy these from the flight stewards/stewardesses. No problem, I think. Most domestic flights in the country are less than 1 hour long. So when you eat from your house or office before going to the airport, by the time you get hungry, you already reach your destination city or municipality. Or just buy at the food shops inside the departure lounge, or bring your own "baon".

Somehow CP's budget airline services are still good. Passengers are given their seat numbers when they check in. In another budget airline that I have taken, Air Asia, which flies from Clark to Kuala Lumpur, it's free seating. At the departure lounge, only the aged and those carrying babies and children are allowed to be in the front. Once this group of passengers have walked ahead, the other passengers walk very fast and try to overtake the former so they can get their preferred seats in the plane. In addition, these foreign budget airlines don't keep any office in the country. Payment by credit card only. And if you have any question, inquiries by email or long-distance call to Malaysia only.

Last May, I had the chance to go to Honolulu, Hawaii, to attend a conference. This time, I had to take PAL because it seems to be the only international airline that flies direct from Manila to Honolulu and back. The last time I took PAL was about 6 years ago, when I went to HK with friends, I think. So after those years, I finally went back to NAIA terminal 2, aka PAL terminal.

On my flight to Honolulu last May 22, the check-in procedure was very disappointing. I waited in line for about 1 hour and 20 minutes just to check-in! I asked myself what's on the mind of PAL corporate bureaucrats why they could punish their passengers with this kind of inefficiency? I learned later that PAL over-booked its passengers for that flight, and so they are asking for volunteers among the passengers who check-in, who are willing to postpone their trip by 1 or 2 days. They will give free 2-way tickets (Manila-Honolulu-Manila) plus free hotel accommodation while waiting for the rescheduled flight. PAL guys asked the passengers in front of me, and me too when my turn came. We said No. And still it took them a long time to allow us to check in! They're a bunch of bull.... dung! :-)

I thought then that if PAL can be this inefficient with some competing airlines around, how lousy can this airline be if it remains a monopoly? Maybe passengers will wait in line for 2 hours or more at the check-in counter for situations like this? Cases like this make me an unrepentant believer of economic competition, and I continue to despise monopolistic or oligopolistic market structures.

On my flight back to Manila 5 days after, I was lucky that I did not experience the same hassle. Well, the plane seats were only about 75 percent occupied, that's why.

Oh, about NAIA terminal 2, PAL is really a favored company by the government. It has the entire terminal only for itself and its sister budget airline, Air Philippines. I forget now the reason how Lucio Tan got this kind of favor from the state.

In Bacolod (Neg. Occ.) airport, CP and PAL have about 4-5 Bacolod-Manila flights each everyday. So they could be competing neck and neck, just like in many other major cities. The only difference is that PAL and its budget airline cousin (also owned by the PAL owner), Air Philippines, are using the main (and wide) terminal, while CP is relegated to a separate, smaller and farther terminal. So its passengers have to board a CP bus that will take them to the plane. The same procedure when they disembark from a CP plane, go to the arrival area of that smaller terminal.

I wondered what happened there. Maybe PAL bought the main terminal and kicked CP away, so the latter has to use that smaller terminal? Or if a provincial airport and terminal is owned by the government and cannot be owned by one specific airline, did PAL pay bigger rent, or whatever?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Honolulu, Hawaii

May 2007

Luck came to me early this year when I was invited to be among the panel speakers in the “Pacific Rim Conference” sponsored by 6 free market groups: Americans for Tax Reforms (ATR, US), State Policy Network (SPN, US), Grassroot Institute Hawaii (GIH), International Policy Network (IPN, London), Lion Rock Institute (LRI, HK), and Asia Forum Japan (AFJ, Tokyo). This will be my first visit to Hawaii, so I was very excited. The event was held in Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, in Honolulu, Hawaii, last May 23-24, 2007.

There’s a direct flight from Manila to Honolulu. The Philippine Airlines (PAL) flies there 3x a week, I don’t know the other airlines flying Manila-Honolulu either via Saipan or direct. Direct flight takes between 10 to 10 ½ hours. But take note of the time difference: Manila is +8 hours over GMT and Honolulu is -10 hours. So, Honolulu’s time is -18 hours from Manila’s time! So when my plane left Manila Tuesday 4pm, after about 10 hours, it reached Honolulu Tuesday 8am! I got out of the plane still groggy for I barely slept, and it was only 12 midnight of Tuesday in Manila.

I forgot to check the website of SPN how to proceed from the airport to the hotel. Well, this problem is not difficult to solve, especially if you’re a Filipino. I resolved to take the cheapest way possible to reach my destination, and I’ll ask brown and Malay-looking people to achieve this. The person who gave me the info was a Filipino (but US citizen already) working at the airport as traffic officer by day, and working at my destination hotel by eveningI His name was Mang Cesar and he’s from Ilocos Norte, a province in the northern part of the Philippines.

He said a city bus can take me close to Sheraton Waikiki and the fare is only $2. Regular shuttle buses can take you to your hotel at $9. My problem is that I didn’t have $2, only $50, and the bus driver does not give change. So I have to walk around the airport to look for a money changer, or perhaps some guys who can change my $50. At the departure check-in area, there was a group of 6 women who are airport employees and who look like my countrymen. I was 100% correct – they were indeed Filipinos; 5 from Ilocos or Metro Manila, 1 from Mindanao in southern Philippines. After a brief chat how they’re doing in Hawaii, they pitched in several coins that totaled $2. I said, “Wow, thank you, I already got one free ride!” And one of them, her name was Manang Pacing, in her late 50s I think, brought me to the waiting area for city buses that will take me near my hotel. She also offered to possibly host me for a night or 2 should I need it, and gave me her cell phone number. I said “thank you todo-todo” to her after bidding goodbye.

Though still groggy and sleepy, I stayed awake in the bus to see Honolulu’s streets, buildings and landscape. I was impressed, of course, of the wide and clean roads and streets. Downtown Honolulu is busy, though not as busy and fast-paced as those in Chicago, Washington DC and New York that I’ve seen when I was there 3 years ago.

After a little past an hour, it’s Waikiki area. The tall buildings and hotels are plenty, and the ocean is not far away. A few more blocks and the bus driver announced that Sheraton Waikiki is near, so I got off. I always travel light, so I really don’t mind walking a few blocks from the bus stop to my hotel.

A few minutes walk, then Sheraton Waikiki Hotel was in front of me – a huge building facing the ocean on one side, and the glittering malls on the other side. The reception area is very wide, and people just come in and go in shorts, t-shirts, slippers or sandals, some holding surf boards -- except those checking in and obviously just arrived from the airport, of course.

It was past 10am local time, and the lady in the reception said that check-in time is 3pm. I did not mention that I was sleepy and tired, and badly needed a place to rest. Maybe it showed in my face, and the lady busied herself checking some papers, and told me that she’s trying to make me check-in that time. You can just imagine the brightness in my face when she finally gave me my electronic key to my room, maybe about 5 minutes after she told me that “check-in time is 3pm”. I hurriedly said “thank you” and went to the elevator and forgot to get her name.

My room was on the 14th floor, it’s beautiful. My bed is wide and really comfy-looking, and there’s a wide flat screen TV (LG brand) on the wall facing my bed. My Japanese friend commented that about 20 years ago, almost all tv and appliances in Hawaii’s hotels were Japanese. Now they’re being edged out by Korean products. Outside my room is a veranda, facing an equally plush hotel. The ocean is partly blocked by said hotel building, but I could still see it. The view was refreshing and my tiredness was slightly assuaged. After a few minutes, a voice in my vocal chords perhaps emitted sounds like “Ngoorrkk…. Zzzzzz…. 

I woke up about 4pm hungry, so I slam-dunked into my mouth and belly the crackers, sandwich and softdrink I brought from Manila. By 5pm, I strolled down the beach and my eyes feasted on those barely-clothed skins and bodies either on sand and water, or walking and strolling around. By 6pm, I strolled around the malls. There are so many Japanese on the streets, much plentier than the white men and women.

The following day, day 1 of the conference started. It was nice to see again friends from other countries, and meet new faces and friends. Food from breakfast to lunch was buffet, and my belly feasted on an unlimited supply of delicious food.

In the evening, there were cocktails at 6pm at the hotel’s open space beside the swimming pool. Beer, wine, juices, other drinks were unlimited. By 7pm, we transferred to another open area with a stage in front opposite the beach, for a buffet dinner. Hawaiian food was great!

Then we had a guest speaker after dinner. John Rutledge spoke about globalization and physics, China and the US, entrepreneurs and governments, etc. John is a wonderful and very talented person. After his talk, a show began: a real Hawaiian music and dance performance! Three men on musical instruments, a male host, 4 pairs of lady and male dancers, and one legendary female singer took turns entertaining us for about 45 minutes. Hawaiian dance is gentle; at times, if the music is fast, the gyration of shapely female dancers is also fast and quick. The male dancers are stocky, they look more like warriors than dancers. But then again, you can have warrior-dancer guys 

I really enjoyed the show. Including that part where the 8 men and women dancers also invited 8 people from the audience to dance with them on stage. The fire night dancer, one of the 4 men dancers, was fantastic! He could play a big stick of wood with fires on both ends with ease. Later on he got 2 said sticks, or 4 ends with fire, and he just toss, turn, jump above or do other acrobatic performance with those 2 sticks on fire! The male host said that male dancer is one of the top 9 fire night dancers in the whole world.

Day 2 of the conference, my panel on privatization is the 3rd and last topic for the day. Before I presented my paper, I shared some info about the Philippines -- that we now have the world’s 12th largest population, growing at around 1.8 million/year net of death (we are creating an equivalent of 1 Singapore every 2 years and 3 months, or 1 HK every 4 years), that we have plenty of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The audience liked it .

After a meeting with some friends in the afternoon, we have about 2 hours free before the last cocktails and dinner. Here I had a chance to dip in Hawaii’s waters! It’s clean, and a bit cold. The sand is white though not as fine as those in Boracay, the Philippines’ pride in beach resorts.

Right beside our hotel is the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, aka the “Pink Palace”. It’s one of the oldest and grandest hotels in Waikiki. It has a beautiful and wide beachfront bar-restaurant that seems to be full of people always. The hotel reception is not as busy as that in Sheraton Waikiki. From the beachfront bar, you walk past the reception area, you’re headed to the hotel flower garden and open area in the center of the quadrangle structure – very colorful, peaceful, well manicured, well maintained. I assume a number of romantic and expensive weddings may have been held there.

Our farewell dinner was held at one of the big halls of the Pink Palace. As usual, before dinner, it’s picture-taking left and right for old and new friends; because the following day, many of us will be flying to our respective continents. Dinner speaker was Dr. Jose Pinera, former Minister of Chile and he talked about the philosophy and methodologies of privatizing state pension system. He’s a very articulate and intelligent man, capable of talking non-stop for 3 hours or more if given the chance.

Below are some of my observations in my brief stay there.

1. Honolulu International Airport

The airport is quite big, I think about 5x that of Manila’s NAIA terminals 1 and 2 combined. But the former is serving Hawaii’s only 1 million people, residents and visitors alike, while the latter airport is the main gateway (there are about 6 other smaller international airports in the provinces) for some 88 million Filipinos and some 2.5 million foreign tourists that come annually.

The US immigration line is short, and processing of incoming foreigners is quite fast. The immigration officer just asked me what’s my purpose in going to Honolulu, for how many days. After checking my US visa, reading the invitation letter to me by the conference organizers and my e-ticket for my return flight (5 days after my arrival), he stamped my passport and gave me a 1 month stay.

2. Pearl Harbour

I stayed for 1 day to see other places outside our hotel premises. I woke up late the following day after gulping several glasses of beer and red wine in the after-dinner mixer. I followed my Indian and Chinese friends, Barun and Xingyang, respectively, at the Pearl Harbour. Again, I took the city bus. The place is further ahead from the international airport, so the bus took nearly 1 ½ hours to reach it, crawling its way around downtown area, among others.

Entrance is free to see various photos, documentaries, samples of some WW2 bombs, missiles and torpedoes, particularly those related to the bombings of Pearl Harbour in December 1939. There’s also a free boat ride to the MS Arizona memorial where the battle ship is sunken until now. That ship experienced the heaviest casualties, with more than 1,000 soldiers onboard dead. The ship was sunk nearly 70 years ago, but there’s still small amount of oil leaking from it until now.

There are entrance fees though to see the submarine USS Bowfin, and the battleship MS Missouri, about $5 and $16 respectively, I think. I didn’t see Bowfin, but Barun, Xengyang and myself entered Missouri. From the ticket office near Bowfin, a modern air-con bus will take you to Missouri, and back. The entrance fee already includes this bus ride. Missouri is a very big battleship (big for the Philippine Navy but maybe small for the US navy nowadays), very historical too, because it’s on this ship where Japanese military leaders signed Japan’s official surrender to the US, was signed in 1945. Thus, the boats Arizona and Missouri represented the beginning and end of Japanese aggression in WW2.

3. The City Bus

The city bus is clean, wide, air-conditioned and comfortable to ride. It is owned and operated by the city government. When we left Pearl Harbour to go back to our hotel, there was a problem. There wre few city buses; we waited for around 25 minutes, while the volume of other passengers was getting bigger. We took the first bus that came, and it was already full. I pondered that while the City Bus was clean and comfortable, nonetheless it’s still a monopoly government-owned enterprise. It’s schedule is rigidly arranged, and no other competitor bus companies.

In the Philippines, many air-con buses from private bus companies are not as modern and spacious as the Hawaii buses, but there are many buses competing for passengers, thus you will not wait long to ride one. And since there are many of them, you can choose which bus to take. Also, while there are no more city buses after 10pm in some routes, and they start plying by 5 or 6am, buses in the Philippines run 24 hours in most routes. And another difference is that while Hawaii’s (and many other US states’) city bus charge a flat rate of $2 for adults (and $1 for children) regardless of distance covered, Philippine buses (and in many other countries) charge on per kilometer after the minimum fare for the first 4 kilometers.

Inside the Bus, you can get a free pamphlet -- map of Honolulu and city bus routes. There are 3 foreign language translations to the description about the City Bus – Japanese, local Hawaii(?), and Filipino!

Downtown Honolulu’s traffic is bad. I wondered when the State or the City will start digging and building a rail-based public transportation.

4. Honolulu’s expensive prices

Blame it on the Japanese! Wherever a big number of Japanese would visit, expect prices to be very high. High for other people perhaps, but still cheap by Japanese standards. The good side is that people who work in places where the Japanese and other rich people frequent, will also experience wage inflation, or higher wages compared to the places or countries they came from. For instance, one afternoon, I checked out at the shops near my hotel to find an internet cafĂ©. I found one – it’s $2 for 10 minutes, and $10 per hour! Oh my, I can find the same facility at comparable location in Manila for only about $1.2 per hour or less. I hurriedly left that shop and never bothered to check my email.

5. Filipinos in Hawaii

You bet it, there are many Filipinos in this American state in the Pacific Ocean. The female hotel staff who set up our breakfast and lunch food in the hotel were mostly Filipinos. One of them told me that in Sheraton Waikiki Hotel alone, there are around 500 Filipino employees! Some local hotel staff who were born and grew up in Hawaii trace their Filipino blood – either 1 or both of their parents, are Filipinos too!

I would advice some of my friends that whenever they go abroad to places where there are plenty of Filipinos, they should take advantage of it. Talk to some of them, and chances are they can give you some unsolicited information that you may not realize will be useful to you later on.

6. University of Hawaii

I have a number of friends here in Manila who graduated from UH for their Masters or PhD degrees. Many of them came from the East-West Center (EWC). So I was curious how the university looks like. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to visit this place as it was already late when we got back from Pearl Harbour. But luck came once more when the shuttle van that my Indian friend, Barun Mitra, and I took to Honolulu Airport, has to pass by UH to pick up 1 Thai passenger. UH is wide and spacious, buildings are far from each other. The EWC is one of those more prominent buildings because it’s rather big and wide (3 or 4 storeys high).

If another opportunity would come and I can visit Hawaii again, I’ll try to explore and see more places. Meanwhile, I am very grateful to the various free market institutes who organized that conference and paid for my trip and hotel accommodation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Paradizoo Farm, Cavite

Paradizoo Farm, Mendez, Cavite

The name is derived from the fact that this is a zoo for some imported, endemic, and farm animals. Thus, you will see camels, ostrich, cows, horses and ponies, sheep, goats, ducks, pigs, chicken, and a few others. They also have some weird animals like the 5-legged cow. The 5th leg does not function for walking, only an attachment dangling on the right front side of the cow.

In its website, www.paradizoo.com, they show those animals in the open area. But if you go to the farm, and your group is not big, those animals are in their cages, especially the goats, camels, pigs, etc. A staff of the farm says they only let some of those animals in the open area if there are plenty of guests.

Aside from farm animals, the place also has a flower garden, vegetable plots, papaya and banana plots, a small butterfly farm, a poultry for egg production, and a pet cemetery.

The farm charges visitors P100 per head entrance fee. I don’t know if this includes some rides, or separate payment will be charged for the rides,, a golf cart. We (with Jules, Ed and Ruth, a Canadian couple doing missionary work in Busuanga, Palawan; and 2 other guys) were not charged entrance fee because we were not ordinary visitors. Ed wanted to see the farm’s various goats and possibly buy some that he will bring to Busuanga, to introduce goat raising for meat and milk production, for the locals that they’re helping there. Goats are Paradizoo’s most commercialized products. They have different kind of goats from different continents. Among the more famous -- and most expensive – ones, are the boer goats (from Australia) Kalahari (from Africa), Anglo-Nubian goats.

Ed is a farmer himself in British Columbia, Canada. He knows different kinds of goats, their characteristics, including their potential milk production per day. He thinks local prices of those hybrid goats, including those in Paradizoo, are pretty much expensive – at least 2x the price -- compared to what he’d get in Canada for the same kind and size of goats. Nonetheless, I think you don’t see much collection of different goats in the Philippines compared to what you will see in Paradizoo.

Another good collection of Paradizoo for me, are their native pigs and wild boar. These have black hair, small and short pigs, but can run very fast in the wild. The farm has one long nose variety, it looks like a black and rounded body Armadillo. This one attacks people if they’re not watching. Then the wild boar which have 2 or 4 big, protruding teeth. Then hybrid or cross-breed of wild boar + other pig varieties.

Those various animals are not strictly “organic”. The goats and cows are given grasses everyday, but they feast on pelletized commercial feeds. The ostrich and pigs, I learned from some of their farm workers, are fed practically 100% feeds. The grasses are also bought from other farms or barangays since the farm is not big enough (something like 7.5 hectares only) to produce its own grasses and organic feeds for its animals.

Paradizoo is hilly. And one thing I noticed is that they do very little or do nothing to control or minimize soil erosion. No new stone terraces, except those that have been constructed some years ago when they established the farm. You know that the land continuously loses its top soil because the hard surface, even stones and small rocks, are exposed. And those eroded top soil go down streams and rivers that contribute to siltation of rivers, lakes, other bodies of water.

For these, I can say that Paradizoo farm does not practice sustainable farming. Well, it earns a lot I guess from entrance fees and from sale of various farm products, like goats, native pigs, other animals; eggs, fruits, etc. Thus, it has money to buy those feeds and grasses elsewhere.

Nonetheless, for weekend visitors, especially for families and schools who want to expose their young kids to various animals, a visit to this farm is a good decision.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hanoi, Vietnam, 2006

November-December 2006

I went to Hanoi via Manila-HK-Hanoi route. This is a little bit shorter than Manila-Ho Chi Minh-Hanoi route since there is no direct flight from Manila to Hanoi. My purpose was to attend the follow up seminar on "Sustainable agriculture in an environmental perspective". The latter was a 7-weeks training that I attended in Sweden in 2003. That seminar was sponsored by SIDA for 7 years, with participants from Asia, Africa and Latin America. This follow up seminar is for Asian participants from different batches.

We were 22 participants in that training from different Asian countries. We stayed at Melia Hanoi Hotel, where some Presidents, Prime Ministers, and top government officials of Asia-Pacific countries stayed during the APEC meeting a week before. The Vietnamese government really spent a fortune in hosting that APEC meeting. There were many signs/streamers/boards of "APEC in Vietnam", "Welcome to Hanoi", from Noi Bai International Airport to Hanoi City (40kms. distance).

Hanoi (and most Vietnam cities) are still teeming with motorbikes. I read then in an English Vietnamese newspaper that Hanoi has around 400,000 cars and 3 million motorbikes! What's fascinating is that there are no traffic lights on intersections (except in the city center) and hundreds of motorbikes, bicycles and cars are moving from different directions all at the same, and very very little accidents happen, and there are few "traffic policemen". That’s "free market" in people and vehicle mobility, and there seems to be only 1 rule -- go anytime you want, just don’t bump anyone. And so far it's working!

People have to move by motorbikes because there are no trains/LRT/MRT there. There are buses but not too many. No "jeepneys" and tricycles either, like we have in the Philippines. Sidewalks are generally wide (except in major shopping areas), plenty of big trees on the roads. So there's less air pollution than in Metro Manila. Also, there seems to be no potholes in the streets, the road system is smooth. Maybe one can say that Vietnam's Public Works bureaucrats are more straight and less corrupt than the Philippines' DPWH and LGUs?

I noticed a few development since 6-7 years ago -- like more tall buildings now, though not as many as in M.Manila and other Asian cities. But a friend and fellow participant from Ho Chi Minh city (south vietnam) said their city was seeing more high-rise buildings than in Hanoi.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sierra Madre Mt. Range

On May 2004, on my way from Detroit-Nagoya-Manila, I wrote this short observation:

From the Pacific Ocean, first, I saw several islands around the bigger Polillo Island, Quezon province. Thickly forested, lots of white sand beach around those tiny islands. Polillo Island itself has thick forest cover, including wide coconut plantation.

Sierra Madre is a huge, long mountain range, from Cagayan to Isabela, down to Aurora, Quezon and Camarines Norte provinces. The one I see from the plane is in Quezon province, in the municipalities of Infanta and Gen. Nakar. Really thick forest! About 95% forest cover, I guess. As you traverse the mountain range towards Rizal province, the mountains have lesser forest cover as agricultural, residential and industrial activities intrude into previously forest lands.

Last May 2007, or exactly 3 years after, on my way home from Honolulu-Manila, I have observed from the plane that forest cover in the uninhabited parts of the mountain range remains thick. There are small patches of deforestation on scattered parts. I suspect that there are some people who are living there. The first thing you do if you live in a forest land is to cut some trees to have an open space, use the trees for your house, then cut more trees and clear the area so you can plant food crops for yourself and your family.

As you go from the high mountains of Sierra Madre down to its western side, mainly Rizal province in the south (Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya in the center-north), the deforestation (or conversion from forest to non-forest land use) becomes more prominent.

Tanay and Antipolo have the biggest land area in Rizal province, especially in the Sierra Madre mountains side. And it’s here where many economic activities and human settlements are wide.