Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hollywood, LA

(Facade from the movie, "Lord of the Rings")

After the Atlas Liberty Forum, my friend from my university days, Joey Dayao, picked me up from my hotel last April 26, and toured me around many interesting places in Los Angeles. It was my first time to move around and see that city, aside from my trip from LA airport (LAX) to the conference venue.

Joey brought me to the expensive neighborhood of LA’s rich people like Hollywood’s top actors and actresses, Playboy publishers, etc. Then the UCLA campus, then the city proper. It was good that it was a Sunday, so there was no traffic congestion in the city. Then the Hollywood district. I told Joey a number of jokes while he was driving me around.

We got hungry, he brought me to the Hooters restaurant, where the attending ladies are wearing skimpy shirts and shorts. There was one Filipina there, a Taiwanese lady, and I think the rest are all Americans. One American lady approached us, Joey and I had pictures with her.

The “look alike” guys in the Hollywood street were attracting attention from tourists and visitors. There were the Spiderman, Pirates of the Caribbean, Friday the 13th, the Transformers, other characters. The Transformer seemed to be the most popular as it was getting lots of people who wanted their photos taken beside him. Look-alike characters make money from the tips of people having their photos taken with them.

In the evening, Joey and I visited another friend from UP ETC, Jim Villar. Jim's house is not far from Joey's. Jim immediately pulled a camera. This photo is from him. Then he asked me if I wanted rhum-coke or tequila, I said beer, he didn't have one, so I chose tequila. Then the exchange of jokes and stories back home started.

When old friends meet after several years, the exchange of stories, jokes and lessons in life can be endless. We went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, later we saw that we were the only customers left, the restaurant staff were cleaning the tables and floor, and it was already 11pm.

We packed up as I also have to go to the Greyhound bus station to catch my midnight trip to Roseville, CA via Sacramento.

Atlas Liberty Forum, LA

The forum was held April 24-25 at Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, LA. This would be the 3rd Atlas Liberty Forum that I have attended. The first was in Chicago in 2004, the second was in Atlanta in 2008. The liberty forum is held annually by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation to gather leaders of free market-oriented think tanks, public policy institutes, and some academics and individuals who are thinking of putting up their own think tanks or research NGO. In those 3 liberty forum that I attended, the most important lesson that I gained was the networking with new and old friends. The discussion panels on certain topics were helpful too, but it's the networking during coffee and lunch break, opening and closing cocktails, and small meetings that are very helpful.

Here with Peter Holle of FCCP-Canada, Jo Kwong, Atlas VP, Margaret Tse of IL-Brazil, and Xingyuan Feng of CIPA-China. My network with leaders of fellow Asian think tanks is also expanding.

One may also befriend some known personaties in the liberty or free market movement. Among the cool guys that I met there was Michael Reagan, a son of former US President Ronald Reagan.

Atlas is further strengthened with the entry of Tom Palmer, formerly with Cato. Tom is now the head of the Atlas Global Initiative where major international projects are being undertaken by Atlas, like the Freedom to Trade (F2T) campaign and coalition, in association with the IPN in London.

Atlas is very kind to me, especially Jo Kwong. They helped me with some travel scholarship to enable me to attend those huge forum that usually attracts nearly 300 people from 30+ or 40+ countries every year.

Snowy mountains and beer

As I mentioned below, I did not know that California’s mountains would have thick snow at this time of the year, it’s now end-April and summer would be approaching. The last time I saw snow up close was last month in New Jersey and those seen from the plane, and November last year in the mountains and glaciers of northern Austria (see notes below).

Today, I would see thick snow again, in the mountains of north California. Though I saw some remnants of the burned trees and mountains last year, the view in the mountains here are mostly thick green trees in the lower and middle elevation, and rocky or mountains with trees and ice in the higher elevation (above 4,000 feet above sea level).

Having a bottle of cold beer up in the mountains is also another good way to further cheer up this new experience. I am really thankful to the Kris-Harold Cabrera couple!

Lake Tahoe, California-Nevada

This should be the among the biggest lakes, if not the biggest, in California and Nevada. About 2/3 of the lake is in California and 1/3 in Nevada. It was our 3rd stop from Rocklin (Donner lake 1st, Squaw valley 2nd), and our main destination.

It’s huge and wide, and it is dotted by dozens, if not hundreds, of hotels and inns nearby, big and small, on both California and Nevada sides. I actually fell asleep while Harold was driving on the eastern side (California) of the lake. I woke up when we were near the northern side of the lake. Wow, lots of ice and snow in the mountains on this side of the lake! And the wind can be strong and very cold.

In the parking lot, there’s a huge white rock. Visitors have to walk a few meters down to see the lake, amazing view! Down below, there’s a small island protruding in the lake and there was a small castle built right on it.

To the right side above the lake, there’s are short waterfalls that flow down into the lake, the water coming from the melting ice on the northern mountains.

We pursued the route up north-west, there’s another parking area overlooking the lake. The trees there are huge, radius could be about between 1 to 2 meters wide. One can see the other side of the lake, there are markers for important places too.

Going down further to the southern part, the area is flat, just a few meters above the lake, and this is the main commercial area. The hotels here are big, and this is where the California-Nevada border is marked. I think only a narrow street separates the 2 neighboring states here. Two big hotels on the Nevada side are among the landmarks. One or both of them have casinos, whereas casino is not allowed in California.

On our way back to Rocklin, Harold took another route. Here, the trees in the mountains are much thicker, dark green trees on the horizon.

Donner lake, California

Before Kris and Harold brought me to Squaw Valley resort, we passed by Donner Lake. On our way there from their house in Rocklin, I was intrigued by the snow in many parts of the mountains of north California. At 3,000 feet (above sea level elevation) mark on the interstate highway, I think I already noticed pockets of snow from afar. At 4,000 feet, the ice in the mountains were getting plentier. At 5,000 feet, and 6,000 feet, ahh, what a sight to behold!

The highest part of the road along the way could be the 7,227 feet mark, then the road started descending, a little uphill somewhere.

Those ice in the mountains are slowly melting, producing water for the creeks that end up in Donner Lake and nearby rivers and lakes. Donner lake is not very big or wide, but it’s situated on a higher elevation than Tahoe Lake. There are plenty of vacation houses and small hotels or lodging houses near the lake. It should be very cold here in the evening even during spring, brrrrr!

Squaw valley ski resort, California

Here at the house of my friend, Kris Asinas and hubby Harold Cabrera, at Rocklin, CA. This is next to Roseville, and near Sacramento, the capital of CA state. Kris is a friend way back in our university days, the UP Pol Sci Club (UP Sapul) in the 80s. They have 2 kids, Kimy and Kimo.

I arrived yesterday from LA where I attended the "Atlas Liberty Forum" last April 24-25. Today, the couple and their youngest, Kimo, brought me to the mountains of north California.

The ski resort was the venue of the Winter Olympics about 2 decades ago. The place is really beautiful, I thought I was in north Austria again! The snow are still thick, though could be thin on some parts.

The cable cars though were close today, not many visitors. But I think the cable cars are open on weekends where there are plenty of visitors. I never really thought that such a beautiful and famous ski resort exists in California considering that it is a southern state of the US. Well, I'm not that familiar of the US geography in the first place.

I told Kris and Harold, "This is like north Austria that I saw last month, or north Italy or Switzerland that I saw in the pictures!"

Friday, April 17, 2009

RORO Boats

The roll-on, roll-off (RORO) boats were designed mainly to transport vehicles, big and small. They are a good and useful invention because they have facilitated the transportation of people and their goods over long distances. But since it was on the eve of the Holy Week, vehicle and passenger volume was huge. Congestion was the natural consequence.

Congestion can be minimized if there are plenty of boats to carry people and vehicles anytime of the day.

Outside of peak travel seasons like Holy Week and Christmas vacations, I don't know if the same level of congestion can be observed.

Roxas Port, Oriental Mindoro

Essentially crowded especially during peak travel season. The holding and waiting area for buses, trucks and small vehicles while waiting for their turn to enter the RORO is relatively not big enough compared to the big volume of vehicles.

Consequently, passengers exceed the capacity of the passenger lounge, one is a new structure, air-conditioned, with 2 tv and toilet rooms. The other has a roof but no walls, wider, the seats are old and dilapidated, no toilet.

The port collects P15/passenger “terminal fee”.

Pictures shown were as of 1am of April 6.

The RORO ships plying the Roxas-Caticlan route are bigger than those plying the Batangas-Calapan route, but there are not enough ships. A delivery truck driver I talked to said they arrived 6pm and as of 1am, they do not know when their truck can be accommodated. On some occasions, trucks have to wait for 1 day or more as the RORO ships prioritize buses, next are smaller vehicles, trucks are the last.

I think there is a need to either expand the capacity of Roxas port, bring in more boats from existing shipping lines or from new players. Another option is to build another port even further south of Mindoro island, which is actually closer to Caticlan than Roxas. Of course there are other navigational and engineering considerations like depth of a port, some cover from strong winds, etc.

The boat was jampacked, many passengers, me included, could not find a seat and have to sit on the floor the entire trip from 2 to 6am!

Batangas port

This is a modern port compared to most seaports in the country. Wide and spacious, the road infrastructure inside is good. Motorists seem to encounter only one bureaucracy, at the Gate for RORO bound vehicles.

There are plenty of RORO boats (Montenegro Lines, Starlite,...) so waiting time of vehicles and their passengers wanting to be moved to Mindoro island is shorter.

There is also a port for small boats, those with outrigger, bound for Puerto Galera, Calapan, I dont know where else.

SLEX and Star Expressway

(Pictures, STAR on top, SLEX bottom)

The South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) was a pathetic "highway" in recent years. Construction work was very long, the potholes and detour roads were plenty, so motorists were punished for long.

Until about late last year or early this year, a big portion of SLEX has been improved, 4 lanes, now motorists can really call it an "expressway".

STAR Expressway in Batangas is another toll road starting from Sto. Tomas all the way down to the entrance in Batangas Port.

Thus, one need not pass through Lipa City and Batangas City and endure the traffic there. Tollgate from Santo Tomas to end of highway at Batangas is P55 for cars and P109 for buses. The road could be about 30 kilometers long, +/- a few kms.

Dimple Star Transport

April 5, 2009

I was going to Iloilo via the Nautical highway (Batangas, Mindoro, Aklan) on roll-on, roll-off (RORO) boats. I took the RORO way because the last time I took this route was about 4 years ago, so I wanted to see if there’s “something new”. But more importantly, I wanted to see the province of Antique. I’ve seen the 3 other provinces of Panay island – Aklan, Capiz and Iloilo – but I’ve never been to Antique before.

The lady at the ticket office in Cubao terminal said the bus would leave 11am, April 5, and I have to be there 1 hour before to find out the bus number that I will take. I arrived at the terminal at 10am, the terminal was so crowded.

I would take bus no. 744. But instead of leaving 11am, it left the terminal almost 1 hour late. Ok, I could bear that one. On its way in Edsa, it took a right turn at South Road, a street before Boni Serrano. The bus line has another terminal there and it picked up passengers again. It stopped there for another 50 minutes I think. There I began shaking my head.

It moved again, but instead of going to Alabang, it went to Pasay and stopped again in its terminal to pick up more passengers! This time, there were complaints from some passengers because they have a reserved seat but their seats were already occupied by passengers from Cubao and South Road terminal who have no prior seat reservation. The problem was somehow solved, the bus moved again. I slept.

When I woke up, the bus entered another bus terminal in Alabang! This time, a big number of passengers with piles of huge cargo were waiting there! Another 1 hour stop over!

When I took Ceres Liner several years ago, when it said departure is at 4pm, it left Cubao about 4:10pm, and went straight to Batangas for the boat. Here, Dimple made 3 stops to jampack the bus with murmuring passengers and their huge cargo. The bus was obviously overloaded, it was running slow.

My advice to passengers taking the RORO to Iloilo or Antique, ask the staff at the ticket office if the bus will go straight to Batangas or it will make 2 or 3 more stops before proceeding to Batangas. Or don’t take that bus line! Take Ceres or Gasat or Alps, provided these bus lines will not do the same multiple stops at Metro Manila bus terminals.

A passenger from another Dimple bus though that I met at the boat, said her bus left Cubao 2 hours late but at least it went straight to Batangas.

Cubao Ali Mall bus terminal

April 5, 2009

This terminal is prominent because it hosts different bus lines going to Bicol region, the Visayas and Mindanao islands. I think there could be nearly 2 dozen bus lines using that terminal.

The terminal is privately owned, fronting Ali Mall. So some people who are buying their tickets or traveling that day can do their last minute shopping in that mall and its neighboring malls.

I left on a Sunday before the Holy Week, so passenger volume was huge. It’s a bit chaotic because there are many buses from different bus companies.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

San Francisco, April 2008

Another friend from my university days, Kris Asinas-Cabrera, who then lived in Roseville, CA, visited me at Monchit's house in San Ramon. Kris's hubby, Harold, took a leave from his work for 1 day and the couple would tour me around SF City. I will have the chance to have a picture at the Golden Gate Bridge!

San Francisco is a sprawling city but not too many skyscrapers, unlike in Chicago, Atlanta and NY. Harold drove us to a hill where there is a good view of the city center, it was nice looking around. It was an almost cloudless and sunny day but chilly and windy.

The bridge is huge and long, a few kilometers long. From the city proper, you cross the bridge, there is a viewing deck with ample parking space at the other side. This is where tourists stop to have a picture of the bridge in the background. There are also souvenir shops and food shops in this viewing deck.

Harold’s car has a global positioning system (GPS). It was my first time to ride in a car with a GPS with audio. I was amazed at the technology: you just indicate where exactly you are going (house number, street and city) and the GPS will guide the driver whether it’s 5 or 500 kilometers away. It guides the driver whether to turn left or right or go straight in an intersection, which road or highway to take where there is less traffic, it tells the driver if he’s just 10 meters away from his destination, and if he has reached his destination, right in front of the house or office of his destination!

I was very thankful of Kris and Harold for that whole day tour.

I will see them again late this month in their new house in Rocklin, CA.

San Ramon, CA, April 2008

Late April last year, after attending the Atlas Liberty Forum in Atlanta, Georgia, I proceeded to visit a friend in San Ramon, California, Monchit Arellano. Monchit is a friend in Manila way back in the mid-80s. I stayed in his house for about a year. He later migrated to the US with his family (wife and 2 kids) nearly 2 decades ago, but he retains his Filipino citizenship.

It was a long trip from Atlanta: Atlanta to Minneapolis, then Mineeapolis to San Francisco, then train from SF airport to San Ramon. I remember my plane left Minneapolis around 7am, the temperature outside was only 1 Celsius. On the air, I saw plenty of snow and ice in the mountains of Wyoming, other mountainous states.

The train ride from SF to San Ramon was about an hour. I enjoyed watching the views of Bay Area from the train.

San Ramon is a valley, surrounded by small hills. It's not very cosmopolitan but it's not congested either, very spacious. Monchit's house is about 20 minutes by car from the San Ramon train station.


See the clouds they drift so far below
Ever changing as they come and go
Makes me wonder why I’m up so high
When really I am down so low
Of all the wonders I was one aloud
I think that I would always choose a cloud
Always brings my feeling right out loud
Weather I’m ashamed or proud.
-- "Clouds" by Bread

That song was among my favorite several years ago. Well I guess until now maybe, David Gates is a great singer and composer.

Whenever I'm up in the air on a plane and its daytime, I always look outside to see the big cities below, or simply the clouds. So whenever I fly, I always tell my travel agent or the check-in staff, "Window seat please, and away from the wings!" Since the seats in the front (away from the big wings) are always taken ahead, I usually sit at the back of the plane. Could be "bumpy" sometimes when the plane encounters strong air pockets, but at least I can see many things below the plane and the view is not hampered by those 2 huge and wide wings.

Low level clouds and gases in the troposphere are among the last line of defense or protection of the earth surface from strong sunlight. So when you look out of the plane window and there are thick clouds below, those clouds are very bright because they reflect back a huge amount of sunlight. And when you look up in the sky, it's a bit dark, reflecting that it's the wide and limitless outer space out there.

Snow-covered farms

When farms in temperate counries are covered by snow and ice, what will the farmers do? I assume that the answer is: Nothing. They wait for the snow to melt before they can till or plant on the soil.

Another case with a different variant is, there are no more snow on the farms, but the lakes, rivers and streams that can irrigate the farms are still frozen, can the farmers still plant? Maybe yes, if they melt by electricity some of the water into their irrigation canal, but that could be expensive, and the farmers will be irrigating super-cold water into their crops. Won't the roots of the crops shrink and wilt? I don't know. A more practical option perhaps, could be to wait for some of those frozen water in the lakes and rivers to also melt naturally.

Of course there are greenhouse farms now, where crops and vegetables are planted under plastic or glass houses, protecting the crops from thick snow and super-cold weather. The enclosed structures trap some of the heat inside, giving some warmth to the leaves, flowers and fruits.

Snow and Ice, North America

March 13, 2009

Like my transit trips to Detroit, this is my 6th time to see the “ice wilderness” of north America (north US mainland, north Canada, southern part of the North Pole, Alaska), sometimes Russia’s westernmost areas near Alaska. And in all those 6 flights, I was always amazed and fascinated, 100 percent, by the hugeness and vastness of the “ice wilderness” of this part of the planet. While our regions in the tropics, north and south of the equator, are the “heaters” of the globe, those wide ice areas are the “freezers” of the globe.

From east Asia to Detroit or the east coast US (and vice versa), the plane has to fly near the North Pole for a shorter distance. This allows interested passengers to enjoy watching super-wide ice deposits below the plane. Something like for 4 hours or more, you see nothing but ice below, assuming they are not covered by the clouds.

My thoughts are on the people who live there: how could they endure 5 months or more of all snow and ice around them every single year? Well, man is intelligent, he knows how to adapt. Those who cannot adopt would have died many years ago, whether they are living in super-cold states or countries in the north or south pole, or in super-warm countries near the equator or in the Middle East desert.

Ice and snow, huge expanse of them, they just make my day, just looking at the pictures!