A Travelogue

Saturday, March 29, 2008

More on Walking Street

Hans took a couple of videos last night, and here's hoping they post!We'll head back tonight, but first we're going to a night market in case I can find perfumes there. Taxi/buses are so cheap it's easy to get around - only 40 baht for both of us, which is just over $1.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Walking Street in Pattaya

Wow. What a cacophony! But it was so fun. A couple of the Rotarians Wednesday night told us we needed to see this street. It's not sleazy or anything, but there are certainly a plethora of bars and available ladies and transvestites. And of course shops. I bought my favourite "expensive" perfume here for only $12 instead of the usual $70. Our dinner spot was on the second floor overlooking the street so we people watched while we ate. The best part is that no one looks up when they walk, so it was like being invisible.There's a 20 second video attached for your enjoyment!

Royal Cliff Hotel


Even though we didn't really need a Rotary makeup we chose to go to the meeting last night held at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort. To call this stunning. cliff hugging hotel spectacular is to understate it. I can't get the link to work but you can go to www.royalcliff.com and just watch as one stunning shot after another reveals this splendid hotel. Or, here are a few photos Hans took.

And now I want to weep. It's affordable! We paid more for lesser places in Norway. *sigh* But, the pool here is bigger!

But about last night. We joined the other Rotarians just after 6:00 p.m. in the ante room overlooking the ocean where we had a glass of wine and nibblies and ordered our dinner from the menu. Dinner was surprisingly inexpensive considering the hotel - only about $10 each.

The owner of the hotel is a Rotarian and consequently, they have a Rotary Room as seen below. It`s available to the RC free of charge, and they can use it for committee meetings, board meetings, etc. whenever they want. It's rarely used for anything else but I suppose if all other meeting rooms are booked and this one were free, it would be available.



Hans and I were invited to sit at the head table, though their set up is just like ours: no real head table, but the President sits at the round table closest to the podium since he's up and down all the time. Unfortunately, we are down to only 2 banners and we need one for Bob Morris' club on Monday, and for Bangkok on Wednesday. Instead, we gave President Jan one of our DVDs of Canada and promised to mail him a banner when we get home.

It's a bit tricky getting to this resort since it's definitely off the beaten path and we had to negotiate with the taxi to even take us there. Near the end of the meeting Hans asked Brendan if there might be someone driving back towards Jomtien who could give us a ride. Turns out President Jan offered to take us but asked if we could wait about 20 minutes after the meeting. No problem.

Jan was talking with Helmut, the president nominee, when he suddenly said, "But I promised to drive Hans and Lolita home." "Join us!" said Helmut. "We'd love to," we replied.

And so ended one of the most delightful post-Rotary meetings we've ever attended. At 10:30 pm and 4 bottles of wine later, we all reluctantly pushed ourselves away from the table to head home.

There's definitely a lot of good to be said for evening meetings.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Rotary Club of Jomtien-Pattaya

Even though we didn't really need a Rotary makeupk we chose to go to the meeting last night held at the Royal Cliff Beach Resort. To call this stunning. cliff hugging hotel spectacular is to understate it. Click on the Royal Cliff words above and just watch as one stunning shot after another reveals this splendid hotel. And now I want to weep. It's affordable! We paid more for lesser places in Norway. *sigh*

But about last night. We joined the other Rotarians just after 6:00 p.m. in the ante room overlooking the ocean where we had a glass of wine and nibblies and ordered our dinner from the menu. Dinner was surprisingly inexpensive considering the hotel - only about $10 each.

The owner of the hotel is a Rotarian and consequently, they have a Rotary Room as seen below. It`s available to the RC free of charge, and they can use it for committee meetings, board meetings, etc. whenever they want. It's rarely used for anything else but I suppose if all other meeting rooms are booked and this one were free, it would be available.


Hans and I were invited to sit at the head table, though their set up is just like ours: no real head table, but the President sits at the round table closest to the podium since he's up and down all the time. Unfortunately, we are down to only 2 banners and we need one for Bob Morris' club on Monday, and for Bangkok on Wednesday. Instead, we gave President Jan one of our DVDs of Canada and promised to mail him a banner when we get home.

It's a bit tricky getting to this resort since it's definitely off the beaten path and we had to negotiate with the taxi to even take us there. Near the end of the meeting Hans asked Brendan if there might be someone driving back towards Jomtien who could give us a ride. Turns out President Jan offered to take us but asked if we could wait about 20 minutes after the meeting. No problem.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Another Day in Paradise

While Hans is golfing during the day (86 yesterday, including two unusal par six holes), I swim laps in the pool and if I can't upload photos on the blog, go for a walk.

It's essential to walk early. And when possible, I walk on the beach side where there's a welcome breeze but yesterday, I tackled a new route. Armed with a map, inaccurate but essential, I headed off around 10:00 a.m. Before long I realized that this road was, well, pretty uninteresting. After the usual shops and restaurants, it was mostly furniture making stores - sort of light industrial. I was committed to this route though since there are virtually no intersecctions! The alternative was to retrace my steps but that didn't seem like much fun.

Finally, I came to the intersection noted on my map. It would connect me to the beach road and from there I could find my way back to the hotel. At the corner were several security guards - don't know why. There appeared nothing there that needing guarding. I approached them with my map and pointing to the connecting road, asked if it went to Jomtien Beach.

"No, go back," one of them said, pointing in the direction I had come.

"Doesn't this connection to Jomtien Beach?" I asked, pointing first to the road, then to the map. Clearly, the map was a mystery to them as I watched while they turned it this way and that and then, pointed again back the way I had come. The pointing was accompanied by much discussion amongst themselves. Finally they pointed to the connecting road.

"Okay. Your choice Madam." said one as he reluctantly agreed I could go down the new road. I looked at the map once more. Yup, it should work. Besides, I could see some of the taller buildings from the beach so I knew I would be heading in the right direction.

"M'am, this one has not much to do. He will take you on the motorbike," offered one guard, pointing to his mate and a scooter.

It was a kind offer and I would have felt quite safe in accepting. But I wanted to walk and so declined, saying "It's good exercise," patting my hips for emphasis. He rolled his eyes and laughed.

Later, walking along the connecting road which did in fact eventually lead me back to the beach, I regretted declining the offer. It was so hot. Waves of heat just rolled up off the asphalt and hit me with each step. By the time I got to the beach road, I could feel the red heat of my face melting the sunblock and dripping off my nose. The last thing I remember is slipping into our air conditioned massage parlor and presenting my feet and legs for a cooling rub. And then submitting to the soothing ministrations while my face slowly regained its normal colour.

Saturday Discon and.... what a house!

The Filipinos go all out for the Saturday night dance which this year was the Galactic Ball. Here the club presidents and spouses are dressed up and performing a choreographed waltz.

The rest of the delegates were equally dazzling. Ladies in gorgeous long gowns and men in dark suits and tuxes. They were a splendid sight. And so were we!



Once again we were privileged to get a table right up front by the stage which gave us an unobstructed view of the entertainment. But when the band started playing, well, we were also right in front of their speakers. Fed was arranging to get our table moved back a bit but, it was still going to be way too close so we moved to the back of the room and joined our friends from Las Pinas Camino Real.

There, we got an added of bonus of some dance space between the tables and before long, we were all up and dancing away to a terrific band playing ourmusic! Anna went to fetch Liz and Monty so they joined us for awhile joining us in our newly learned line dancing. We even took videos, though I venture to say they're never going to see the light of day. Mostly, we were awful but we sure had fun!



One unexpected and delicious event occurred this evening. Past R I Director Paing Hechanova told Monty he wanted to meet the Canadians and then, he invited those of us who weren't leaving Sunday afternoon to come to dinner Sunday evening. At his house. Luckily, we were available as well as the Millers and Fed and Anna, so we joined Monty for an outstanding evening. Really, this blog needs photos, but let me give you a teaser.

Paing and Mely apparently have the largest house in Manila. It's 10,000 sq. ft. on the main floor. The second floor would be smaller since in some rooms the ceiling vaults up two storeys. The basement has the servants' quarters, garages and 1200 sq. ft. of storage for tables and chairs used for outdoor entertaining.

When we arrived, we were received by the melodious notes of a pianist playing the grand piano in the foyer.



We took the elevator to the second floor when Mely showed us around, but descended on the stunning lit staircase.



I can't even guess how large Mely's closet is, but she has walls of pullout racks with her shoes, many brand new. Large aryclic cubes house her many handbags. One of the cubes had 9 Fendis in it, and I doubt they are knockoffs. Her clothes are on a dry-cleaner's rack that moves with the push of a button.



The dining room, which we first viewed from the second floor, had 3 large square tables set up, each for 12 people. And I thought it was going to be a small, intimate dinner for just a few of us!

The green place mats are made of feathers interspersed with a few beads. Looked fabulous! Alas, didn't fit in my purse. I must start carrying a shoppng bag.

Hans and I had brought along one of the District's cookbooks but suddenly, it seemed like a paltry gift for a hostess who has... five kitchens! However, I learned that Mely does a lot of the cooking herself and loves to cook, so suddenly it seemed okay. I hope she browses through it. In fact, one of the five kitchens, but a smaller one, is outside their master bedroom in case they hanker for a late-night snack.


Paing showed us his favourite room, an office/ den where he displays a few items of importance to him. He told Hans that he used to be a basketball player and in fact was familiar with our host Dave Regullana. However, Paing neglected to mention that he was an Olympic athlete and represented the Philippines in the Olypics in the early '50's.


This is the ladies' guest bathroom. Note the triple sinks in the center of the room. There were also 3 cubicles - none of this waiting in line!




And finally, the grand entrance and the stunning front door, which someone whispered to me cost $150,000. It's made of thick glass with little cubes inserted into it. Gorgeous.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Waiting to Inhale

I'm forever waiting to inhale.

When we walk down the streets, I focus on my breathing and exhale whenever we pass a garbage dumpster. There are many that line the sidewalk by the beach, and that's a good thing. But it's also 37 degrees. And people here eat a lot of seafood.

So, it only took a few whiffs to learn to exhale.

But the sewer gas. That seemingly comes from nowhere and boy, it's unpleasant.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dinner

Every night we've tried a new restaurant and the prices are laughably cheap. A full dinner with 2 or 3 dishes, rice, beer and coke will usually run us around $10. Maybe $11.

A couple of nights ago we found a reasurtant we really like and so we went back last night for seconds. Hans wanted something curried and ordered shrimp in a red curry sauce. Once his taste buds were sufficiently seared, he wiped the sweat off his brow and pronounced it quite tasty. His face was glowing but he soaked up every drop of sauce with the rice.

I predict an evening of Kaka picante.

Hotel and miscellaneous observations

We're in a modest hotel, but it has 2 essentials: it's right on the beach, and it has a pool.

Did I already mention the pool is huge? I'll post a photo later - today the lines aren't cooperating again. If I swim a circle through just half the pool, it's 50 strokes, or about 2 lengths of the pool at the Rec Center in Red Deer. Perfect!

The sand ashtrays in front of the elevator have a fresh flower in them every morning. Often it's an orchid,the kind I have in my house and which are expensive to buy. Here, they're used to ornament ashtrays. Hah. Other times it's some other unidentifable flower, of which they have so many here.

We have a tub! That's great, because the Sofitel where we stayed the last few nights in Manila, though a luxury hotel also with a great pool and ocean view, only had a shower. But the shower was spectacular, with a 12" diameter center mounted showed head that delivered the water like a rainfall. Gorgeous. But we still like soaking in a tub.

Our room is fairly large, with 2 double beds and a little bar fridge to keep the beer cool. We overlook the pool and the ocean is just off to the side.

There's the ocean and beach. Then a sidewalk and the two-way road. All hotels are lined up on the other side of the road, which is only one lane each way. Still, it's trick to cross and usually I just get halfway then wait on the yellow line till I can dodge across. Sidewalks are impossibly narrow and made of paving stones like in downtown Red Deer. Except the pavers rarely line up so you're risking your neck if you're not watching your feet. Two people can't walk abreast so usually we end up walking on the street, especially if there are pedestrians coming towards us. It's all very different, but charming.

Most public places have a sign requesting that toilet tissue, except the poopy kind, be deposited into wastebaskets and not the toilet. Except they aren't specific about the poopy paper though I imagine the staff appreciate that we flush it away.

Beach Stuff


Hans was wearing his Canadian jersey which looks like a hockey jersey, though not from any specific club. A fellow darted out of a store and reached to shake his hand. "Hello Canada," he said bowing. I wonder if he thought Hans was a famous hockey player?

We walked further up the beach today since I heard from my pedicure neighbour the other day that I can get a massage right on the beach, and for only 150 baht. With fond memories of the foot and leg massage I got on Boracay Island, I decided to pursue this pleasure here too.

There is, however, a real language impediment here. A couple of masseuses showed up soon after we settled in, but quoted 200 baht, and for only 45 minutes. I asked about an hour, but it soared to 300 baht. I don't get the math. Tried explaining that I was told it was only 150 baht, but they weren't understanding. I declined. Then one of the ladies ran her finger down my heel and toes and mimed that she would scrape off the rough stuff, so, with the bonus of getting my heels buffed, I nodded and had her go ahead.

The tiny cheese slicer she used did a good job on my feet and then she started the massage. Honestly, this was the nicest leg massage I've received to date on our holiday! There was a nice smelling menthol cream that heated and cooled my legs at the same and her hands were gentle. Not once did she dig her thumbs into my muscles! In fact, she raised her eyebrows at the bruises on my thighs and I said, "massage". She nodded in understanding and continued with her gentle hands.

I tried to gauge the time thinking surely, the 45 minutes were up but since I wasn't wearing a watch I gave up and just enjoying myself. Finally, she was done. I handed her the 200 baht with an additional 40 for tip. She counts it, shakes her head and pointing to my feet, says "cleaning, 100 baht". For an instant I consider just giving her another 60 and no tip but fortunately got a reality chec. So I got screwed out of $3. Big deal. It was worth it.

Vendors:
They are a bonus and a curse. They come at you constantly, but don't hassle you if you say no. But if you say yes even just to look... then suck it up and buy something. They're peddling a wide variety of goods from foods to maps. Who goes to the beach to buy a map of Thailand? But even so, it's a bonus if you think of the time it saves you trudging from store to store in 37 degree heat. And meanwhile, you're enjoying the breeze and the beach. If you wait long enough, someone will come by with something you want.

I bought something 2 days ago. A lady came by with a stunning bed cover in a shimmery, deep blood red silk. An elephant medallion in the center, probably 18" in diameter, is edged in gold as are two of the edges. Buffeted by the ocean breeze, the blanket opened up to its full size and the colour just pulled me in. A day earlier I had seen the same blanket in a deep forest green as was just as hypnotized by its shimmery colour. Hans liked it too and we thought Alethea would like it since she's decorating with that deep claret colour. As he headed off to the water, he said, "Why don't you buy two?"

Well then.

So I did.

The other one's for us and in a different colour. Usually I don't buy anything for the house until I know exactly where it's going but while I have no firm place in mind, I do have a couple of options. And anyway, I just love it.

We negotiated and in the end, I probably overpaid. In fact, I'm sure of it. Today on the beach I saw the same lady still selling the blankets. She came up to me and I said "No, I already have one. In fact, I bought it from you." At first she pretended not to understand me but as she left, she said, "I remember" and pointed to my ears. She had admired my earrings the other day but since I wasn`t wearing any today, I think she remembered me because I overpaid. *sigh*

Swimming in Jomtien:
I'm playing in the waves, standing in water nearly up to my neck and jumping up as huge swells roll in. It's great fun!

Suddenly, I hear a voice on a loudspeaker. It's in Thai, so I have no idea what they're saying but I look around anxiously in case all the bathers are heading rapidly for shore. No one seems concerned so I relax. It's not a shark alert.

Food on the beach:
One vendor is selling round waffles, or tortillas about the size of a dinner plate. Each waffle is encased in a clear plastic bag and sealed. Then it's fastened to a pole in such a way that when a customer buys one, he cuts it off between the seal and the pole fastening so it's still sealed when you get it. He has an equal number on the back of the pole, which he balances over his shoulder.

Cold beer is sold on the beach and they bring it to you in a thermal holder so it retains its chill as long as possible.

Pink Boy

Today, Jomtien Beach hit a high of 37 degrees!

But, sitting in the cool shade under a solid canopy of beach umbrellas and being constantly buffeted by the ocean breeze, we remained totally comfortable. Both of us liberally applied SPF 55, but it was already 2 days too late for Hans. He got a tad too much sun on the beach the first time and now I just have to call him Pink Boy. His chest, shoulders and arms are definitely pink. A glowing, lustrous pink which hasn't yet turned brown but remains... very pink.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Room Service

It's late. We're back from a long day at Coral Island, and just showered all the salt from our skin and hair. Now we're tired and hungry, but neither of us wants to get dressed and go out. So I pull out the room service menu.

We ordered Pad Thai - a noodle dish with shrimp and veggies and some tofu. Chicken cashew, a favourite dish that Hans cooks and which we've already tasted in 3 different restaurants on this trip. Sweet and sour pork - probably a Chinese dish and not really Thai. And spicy sausage. This turned out to be... hot dog wieners buy prettily cut on an angle, with sliced tomatoes and onion.

Total cost? 340 baht, almost exactly $10. And we have leftovers.

Coral Island

Bus - small boat - big boat - small boat - beach

"Where are you from?" I asked the Asians seated across from me in the bus taking us on the first leg of our trip to Coral Island.

"China" came the reply, but their English was hesitant and scant. After several less than successful attempts at conversation, I turned my attention to the only other passenger, a slightly older lady.

"And where are you from?" I asked.

"Je ne parle pas l'Anglais," she replied, shrugging Gallicly.

"Ce n'est pas un problem, je parle francais." And her face lit up. Immediately, she launched into her story.

"I'm here with my friends, 2 couples, and no one speaks French anywhere!"

We found a similar problem as hardly anyone speaks English in our hotel. All the other guests seem to be Russian and as it bears no resemblance to any other language that we know, we just smile politely at each other in passing and can barely exchange the most rudimentary greeting. Although later on the big boat going to Coral Island, I managed some basic communication with a Russian lady who spoke slighly more German than my Russian. It was a short and pretty meaningless conversation consisting mostly of hello, goodbye, and Skoal.

The bus ride wasn't too long, maybe 20 minutes and then we were gathered into a larger group and taken by cigarette boat out into the bay where we transferred onto the biger, 2 storey boat which was taking us to Coral Island.

When I booked the trip I was told it was about a 30 minute boat ride. Not bad. We were scheduled to be picked up at the hotel at 8:45 a.m. but that's when the timeline started to unravel. At 9:10, just as I was thinking of calling, they showed up.

I thought we'd be on the island by 10:00 a.m. but... there came another delay. On the boat a fellow came around with photos of watersports we could purchase, like parasailing, an underwater walk wearing a screw-on helmet and suit, jet ski, etc. I only wanted to snorkel so I declined everyting as did Hans, but quite a number of the passengers decided that a parasail would be just the thing. Little did the rest of us know that ALL of us would now be waiting in our boat while each of the signed up passengers got their lift. Bummer. And it wasn't just a 30 minute boat ride either.

So, we docked at noon. But I was encouraged to see dark reefy looking patches in the water, and huge chunky rocks at either end of the white sand bay into which we were being delivered.




Hans was in need of shade having got a touch too much sun yesterday and luckily there was lots available as virtually each lounge chair was under an umbrella. The water was warm, clear and so inviting I couldn't wait to get in, though the locals cautioned me to watch out for jet skis and speedboats.

Sluggish dark purple and spiky sea cucumbers abounded, curled around rocks. Little crabs scuttled sideways over the rocks and schools of tiny white fish flitted through the filtered sunlight. I saw a small condom attached to the sandy bottom and thought, "How disgusting." But then further on when I saw several more bobbing in the current I realized they weren't condoms at all, but some kind of small sea creature. Then I saw the first sea urchin. Some years back Alethea had the misfortune of stepping on one and ended up in serious pain and in the hospital to have the long spikes removed from her foot and leg. Not wearing any fins, I swam away quickly but saw that all the dark patches towards which I was heading were actually huge numbers of sea urchins. Slight panic now, as it's hard to gauge how deep the water is when it's so clear, and I there was no way I could put a foot down to check. Fear raced through me,that I would accidently kick one as I was furiously swimming off. But I had enough time to notice that despite their long and dangerous spines, they also have beautiful peacock blue spots sparkling like sequins on their core, deep inside the spines.

On the boat over I had a delightful visit with an Egyptian family who spoke perfect English. Their son Mohammad joined me on my second swim and we had a long and very interesting discussion about Muslims and their beliefs. His wife wasn't travelling with the family as she was at home looking after theirf 3 year old twins, but he told me when they married, she had the choice of being veiled or not since it was of no matter to him. Veiling isn't actually required by the Koran, it's a choice. Though that choice has been made in many regions for women who now have no choice.

Hans and I have an invitation to visit them in Cairo. In fact the dad, whose name I forgot, gifted us with a bookmark, an Egyptian sweet made of peanuts and honey which he just happened to have in his bag, and a down payment on our trip to Cairo of two pieces of paper money amounting to 1 1/2 Egyptian pounds - about 50 cents. We'll have to top it up.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Discon, Friday Night

Friday morning:
An early start to a weekend of District Conference, the culmination of our 2 1/2 weeks in Manila and area. Out of the house by 7:45 with our luggage going one way (to the hotel) and us the other way - to the Discon. Both Hans and I were wearing our barongs (see photos from the night a before at Lichtenstein's).

The Frienship Room had coffee and pastries ready, and lots of serving staff. You couldn't pour your own coffee! Pretty bar-height tables draped in white and tied with royal blue bows dotted the room so you had a place to stand and put down your cup. And small plates of delectables appeared like magic in front of us.

Lots of photos were taken when Monty and Liz arrived, and as we were members of his club, we got included in many of them as we were now considered district guests instead of just visiting Rotarians.

The theme for this year's Discon is "Mission: North Star" and as it was announced, the theme from 2001 (Thus Spake Zarathustra) blared from the speakers and clouds of dry ice misted over the florr as D G Ato took to the stage. Two large screens flanked the stage on either side so all 1000 delegates could get a clear view.

The past District Governors and spouses are paraded in, and there were quite a few! This was followed by RI Pres. Rep. Monty and Liz and the current Governor Ato and Vicki,to a standing ovation.

Each of the district's presidents, wearing the same green blazers as the governor, were introduced in turn to raucus cheers and confetti blasts. There is no shortage of fun at a Filipino Discon!

Our Father was sung by a tenor with such a sweet voice it wrung a tear from many eyes.

Then we sang O Canada and the Philippne anthem as the Air Force Cadets up front tipped each flag forward in turn.

Coffee and iced tea were served by waiters floating unobtrusively throuh the room. Candies and mints were delivered by the handful.

As the R I President's Rep, Monty spoke movingly, as he always does, about his life as a volunteer in Rotary. Not every eye was dry and I overheard many people speak of him in glowing, respectful terms.

For lunch, 18 of us which included the 8 Canadians plus various members from our sister club, went into the adjoining Mall of Asia to a Chinese restaurant overlooking the ocean. The Mall is reputed to be the largest one in Asia and a brief walk through a small portion of it confirms this. It's vast, and includes high end as well as the more popular low end shops, intermingled.

We took a few moments to go downstairs at the Discon venue to visit with Thad, our
GSE guest from 3 years ago. We caught him just as he was getting ready to put on a cooking demo, complete with overhead tilted mirror so the audience could see. Finally, we got to give him our district cookbook created last year during Raju's term, and a DVD of photos from around Canada. Thad tells us that he's hoping to immigrate to Canada and his paperwork is in progress. He hopes to get positive news within a year or so and then plans to settle in the Vancouver area.



Friday Evening:

Remember years ago when the cool thing to do was squeeze as many kids as possible into a VW? Flash forward 40 years.

We squeezed ten adults into a van, and we were all dressed up! Margo had Marion on her lap and the rest of us just sat where we could.


We were all dressed appropriately for Filipiniana Night in traditional embroidered barongs for the men, and more elaborate wear for the ladies. A few days earlier Anna, a shopper of unequalled excellence, took our measurements after we swore her to secrecy on penalty of dismemberment. Then, armed with a packed lunch and drinks, she took her driver and left for a full day's shopping and came back loaded with 4 pieced outfits for Marion, Linda and me. And they all fit! She had already found a stunning floor length Filipiniana dress for Margo, with matching slipover top and shawl.

Now the rest of us eagerly transformed ourselves into honorary Filipinas as we dressed in our floor length skirts, cami, sheer embroideed top and shawl. All outfits were in ivory with slightly darker embroidery on them and we felt like newly minted brides.

Liz wore a stunning yellow gown with Imelda sleeves, heavily beaded on the front and lightly embroidered on the back, and it fit her perfectly.


And the men looked pretty good too!



At the Discon, we arrived to a room full of nearly 1,000 people! Would that our Discons should be so popular. And everyone was dressed in their national costume. The Canadian Delegation, as we were known, were led to a table up front by the stage which had been reserved for us so although we couldn't sit with our new Filipino friends, we had a great view. Monty and Liz were close by with the district's beloved Governor Ato and Vicki as well as past R I Director Paing Henchanova and Mely.

The evening was chock full of traditional performances of dance and music with all performers in colourful costumes. The Interact and Rotaract Clubs performed a clever hip hop dance to Filipino rap!

This evening was about entertainment and fellowship, and we got both.

Here's a photo of the presidents and spouses. The ladies wore silver capes in keeping with the theme of outer space, and the couples performed a beautifully choreographed waltz.

"why aren't you with the other presidents?" I asked Tito. "I wanted to spend my time with you and so I wasn't able to attend the rehearsals." Thanks, Tito. We certainly enjoyed your company and Grace's, but we're sorry you had to make a choice. We're glad you chose us, though!

Corkscrew

"M'am, do you have a corkscrew in your bag?" inquired the security officer politely. The staff at the airport were re-circulating my bag through x-ray in disbelief.

We were on our way to Boracay and, of course, it just makes sense to be prepared.

Unfortunately, the offending corkscrew had slipped behind something in my clear makeup bag, and I didn't notice it or I would have checked it.

"Yes," I sighed, and retrieved it, handing it over.

Fed launched into a rapid an impassioned verbal explanation, the gist of which the security officer translated as, "Ah, Rotarians. There will be lots of drinking."

Smiling, he returned it to me.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

6 hours of eating today...

On this day, we had a most fabulous 3 hour lunch at the Hyatt, hosted by past Governor Butch Francisco.

Then, with barely enough time to change clothes, we had an unforgettable dinner at Lior Lichtenstein's. (Maggie - are you reading this?)

Two years ago when a team from Alberta came to the Philippines to deliver wheelchairs, Maggie told me about this incredible house where she had been staying, with movable art objects. They were hard to describe, she said, and now having seen them, I know what she means.

This unit had moving heads. Weird. But I loved the tree standing above it and its branches also move. I wanted to put it into my purse and take it home.


There's an incredible wall piece, all white on white with tiny body parts on it, and some of them move. it's hypnotic to watch.


I loved this chunky piece of glass. It would be so perfect in my house but it did't fit into my purse either.

Each dining chair was unique, created out of a molded black plastic. I thought it was wood.



Metal statue in hall, larger than life, which projects an interesting silhouette onto the wall.



The food! Here are our first and second appetizers.




Here's dinner, which came under huge domes. It looked spectacular.


And underneath was a huge prawn with such a big tail that it was actually split, like a lobster's. Beside it was a paper thin tortilla that had been baked into a basket shape and filled with a spicy couscous mixture. Oh, and 2 little balls that looked like red grapes adorned the prawn, but they were some awful tasting thing.


The group, with our hostess on the left.



Now for the lunch at the Hyatt.

PDG Tony Quila hosted us and it was a traditional Chinese meal. Even now a week and many events later, what I remember most about the lunch were the Century Eggs. Not exactly a century old, but definitely aged. The white is now black,and the yolk is sort of a mushroom colour. The taste was quite pleasant, and it was served with pink ginger for colour, and also to hide the taste if you're queasy.

Again, photos aren't being cooperative but suffice it to say that the rest of the lunch was equally extraordinary. The chef and staff are trained in Hong Kong and with each new dish that was served, the wait staff would whisper to each of us in turn what we were getting.

Hosts


Various Rotarians in our sister club of Las Pinas Camino Real took turns hosting our group. Tonight Ruben, the club's charter president, is inviting us all to his ultra-sleek and gorgeous high rise condo with pool, hot tub, spa, and all the amenities. (By the way, Alethea, his condo cost roughly what yours did).



We're scheduled to be there at 4:30 for a light dinner and swim, but the bumper to bumper traffic made that impossible. Traffic lights are infrequent and yet, the traffic does ebb and flow in a rhythmic grid, albeit slowly.

Meanwhile, there's a constant flow of texting going on via cellphone asking where are you, we're here, what's up, etc. Since traffic is often comnpletely stalled it's easy to text since you're not actually moving. It's certainly handy and Alethea, I'm going to have to get a new phone and have you show me how it's done.

By the time we reached Ruben's condo, it was too windy to swim. In fact, I could actually have used a shawl. There's a large entertainment room set up with karaoke so the ladies, all of whom like to sing, got right into it. Our Three Amigos also took the opportunity to belt out another rendition of Pretty Woman.

To our great surprise, Thad, our GSE guest from 3 years ago, showed up at Ruben's. We had spoken with Thad a few days earlier but didn't know he was scheduled to show up so unfortunately, we didn't have our cookbook and CD with. Thad, of course, came laden with lovely gifts for us. It was so fun to see him again after 3 year. He looks the same, though he lost th 15 pounds he gained during his GSE trip to Alberta.

Jacquie, who was Neil and Margo's guest, also showed up and amazed us with her truly professional singing voice as she sang Memories, a song whose range taxes even the best voices. She did an outstanding job and while we didn't know her well, it was great to see both of them.



It turns out that Thad will be demonstrating at a cooking show in the same venue that is hosting the Discon on the weekend, so we'll get another chance to see him. And maybe give him our District's cookbook.

Shopping Day

There's a system in Manila whereby certain vehicles are restricted from driving on certain days. It's called Coding, and the way it works is that if your licence plate ends in a 1 or 2, you can't drive on Mondays. Likewise a 3 and 4 are prohibited on Tuesdays, and so on. If you're caught it's a steep fine. This is to help keep the traffic somewhat manageable, though I can't even imagine it being worse. Still, the people take it in stride knowing that it will just take a long time to get anywhere. There's no angry hooting of horns. Horns are used all the time but mostly to indicate to the neigbouring vehicle that you're there, or passing, or he's too close. But it's a gentle honk applied with a light touch.

On this day Anna's vehicle was prohibited, so she arranged for Teng, the spouse of the incoming president, to pick us up in her van. Thank God they all have large vehicles!

We met at the nearby shopping mall where first - you guessed it - we ate. Sort of a fast food Italian place where I had a salad, to the amusement of the slender Filipinas.

Then off to Green Hills, an incredibly huge shopping mall. I didn't think I'd get too excited about shopping in a mall but... I knew the minute we walked through the doors that this was my place.

It's a covered mall but inside, it's like the market in Istanbul. All small kiosks with goods jammed into every available nook. It's like the street markets in Korea and China, only this is under one roof. I was in heaven.

The first kiosk had knock off handbags but we had no time to browse there. Much more to be seen. I was taken directly to the pearls where, according to Alethea's instructions, I bought ropes of them. I had 2 strung together to make a longer necklace, then bought a few other pieces and each time Anna would negotiate prices for me. It was great.

She was on a mission for us to buy Barongs, but I found none there that fit. Luckily, I had already found one elsewhere close to Anna's home and we needed one for the Friday night Filipinana night. Barongs, in case you don't know, are the traditional embroidered Filipino shirts. Usually they come in a cream colour, but are also available in other shades, and when they're long sleeved, they're worn for dressy occasions. Short sleeve barongs are worn by men to the office, just an everyday smart shirt.

We split up and with their many cellphones, we had no trouble getting together again when it was time to head back, laden down with our goods.

Incredibly, Marion and Ray had gone here independently with their hosts and half of our group actually ran into them. this is akin to you being in West Edmonton Mall and unexpectedly running into your neighbour. Amazing.

Sorry - too busy today to take pictures!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Karaoke Night

"Tonight we sing!" announced President Tito as we piled into various cars for the long drive to his house.

He and Grace have 2 houses. They lived in the smaller one for years and when the adjacent house became available, they bought it as well and had an architect join them somehow. Now they have a splendid garden, where we sang the night away. Their neighbours must be very tolerant. And of course, we ate. And ate.

I know we poo-poo karaoke back home but, by God we had lots of fun. The Three Amigos were game to get up there and belted out a rousing rendition of Pretty Woman, which came to be their standard song. We heard it often when the karaoke was brought out.


Hans and Fernando sang... Fernando of course, by Abba, and did a darn good job of it too. Of course the bottle of scotch they had in front of them helped a lot. Fernando's wife Marleen looks on and she has a fabulous voice. As did so many of the Filipinos. No wonder they enjoy singing - they're very good at it.

R C of Paranaque Metro

"Good morning" called Edith, president of this all ladies club.

"Good looking!" replied the ladies, and with gusto.

What a fun bunch of women! They sang, they danced, they joked, and they made us feel extraordinarily welcome.

For this morning's meeting, the club had arranged to have breakfast served at one member's pizza parlour. We had spaghetti, pigs in blanket, bread and several types of pizzas. Makes my mouth water just to remember it. But this was breakfast! And we'd already had breakfast with our hosts. Oh well. That's part of the hospitality here in the uber friendly Philippines. Lina, the GSE Team Leader, also gave each of us men and women a beaded necklace made in her home province of Davao, as well as pearl earings for the ladies. They are all so kind.

Here I am with Edith, who's wearing the club's uniform. Many clubs here in Manila adopt a uniform which each member wears to their weekly Rotary meetings. When they head off to work afterwards, they just slip a blazer over their shirts and voila, instant business attire.



Following breakfast, we took a walk through one of the villages where you can see their electrical connections.


We visited a lovely, cool and clean daycare in the village.


And our visit with the Paranaque ladies wasn't over yet! Following a visit to President Edith's church organized medical program for the community, including lunch, we were invited to Naty's house. Naty is one of the senior ladies in this club who has a pool and she thought we might enjoy an afternoon of R and R by the pool - with food of course.

And she supplied us with a dance instructor! Here we're learning line dancing, not unlike what we do in the bars in Red Deer. But it was more fun with a teacher.


Rosie, the eldest member at 82, brought along her sister who was visiting from California. The sister gifted us four ladies with these lovely robes and colourful bags made in the Philippines. Truly, the Filipino people are the most generous.


The Bamboo Organ


This unique instrument is the only Bamboo Organ in the world. 902 of its 1031 pipes are made of bamboo, with the rest made of metal. It took Fr. Diego Cera 8 years to finish it nearly 200 years ago in 1816. Alas, a typhoon and earthquake in the 1880's damaged and flooded the organ, making it unplayable and it languished for nearly 100 years until it was restored in Germany in 1973. By 1975, a yearly International Bambo Organ Festival is held every February though we missed it by a week.

We were fortunate that Robert (Neil and Linda's host) arranged to have an organist play for us so we could fully appreciate this unique and historic organ.

Gawad Kalinga


Here you can see down the road where the houses are lined up on either side.
A couple of years ago our club funded one of these houses, which today cost less than $2,000. The houses are 2 storeys and quite small,only 600 sq. ft., but they are leaps and bounds better than the squalor they called home before. There's a living room, kitchen, bathroom and the 2nd floor is the bedroom, accessed by stairs like the ones we have that drop down from the attic.

We were invited inside, and in this home you can see a clever hammock rigged up by one mom to keep her baby quiet while she's busy doing housework.


Families go through a lengthy process before being approved for a home. Gawad Kalinga is religious based and teaches ethics, which are expected to be followed by the recipients. Hands on work is also a must. So far, they have had extraordinary success.

There's still a problem for children going to school. Often they have to walk up to 5 km each way, a distance that would be unheard of in our country. And uniforms are required, including shoes. This alone makes receiving an education very difficult for the most poor.

The pool


I wanted to blog by the pool this morning.

"Two towels please," I told the attendant. Like yesterday, he replies in Thai. Undaunted, I continue in English. "I want to sit at a table," I say, heading towards them. I know he doesn't understand but he follows me, talking all the while, as do I. We merrily converse past each other in a hilarious Abbott and Costello routine.

He wants to put me on a lounge chair to soak up sun. I undertand this because he flings his arms out to the side and tilts his head up to the sky in a parody of sunbathing. "Can I get some shade?" I ask as I find a suitable table and he undertands me too, as I mimick putting an umbrella over my head.

He wipes the invisible dirt off my chair and I settle down with my computer to catch up on blogging. But it's too bright, even in the shade. Too bad. But since it's early, I'm blogging in the lobby and watching the pool fill with bathers. I'm joining them soon to do my laps, which I can do here, cause the pool is huge!

It hurts so good

This morning my legs are speckled with little bruises. A testament to the strong thumbs of the masseuse and the firm leg massage I got last night after dinner.

Following our meal, our walk brought us to one of the many Thai massage parlors that abound and remembering how much we enjoyed getting our feet rubbed at the end of a long day, we went in.

The ladies practice reflexology, some of which borders on painful and I ask her to be more gentle. Certainly, her tiny thumbs can poke hard into your calves and the evidence is there today. Despite this, I'm going back later for more.

And finally, time to read another paragraph in my book. It's the same book I started when I left Red Deer 3 weeks ago. Three weeks on one book! I can hardly believe it.

Thai dinner

Our second Thai dinner was delicious! So was our first. Where we are staying there's one restaurant after another so it's easy to browse the menus and choose a different place every night. Last night our table had a water feature beside it, with a small illuminated statue being showered with a trickle of water. Flower petals floated in the small pool sending up the fragrance of jasmine.

Hans' litre of beer was 120 baht, about $3.65. Expensive by Thai standards but then that was also the cost of his dinner. A bowl of rice, ample for two, costs only 20 baht.

Thailand - miscellaneous impressions of our first day

The heat.

Omigod, the heat. It hits like a hammer. Hard, hot, unrelenting. I love it.

In keeping with my plan to hop and skip around our stories with complete disregard to chronology, we're now in Jomtien Beach, Thailand.

Hans golfed yesterday (shot 89) and I decided to look up a Rotary meeting. There was one in Pattaya City, about 20 minutes north of here. No big deal. The hotel told me a taxi would take me for about 20 baht (65 cents). The taxis are actually like jeepneys, or pickup trucks with a row of benches down each side of the bed, a roof and sides, and the top half is open to the air with a couple of horizontal bars to keep you from flinging yourself out with too much ease.

"How much to the Marriott Resort and Spa?" I asked

"150 baht," he replied, looking at my white face.

"What?? The hotel said 20 baht." There followed some animated discussion the gist of which was that I was his only passenger, so I had to pay for the whole 10 passenger cab (or 16 Thais).

I declined. He hailed another taxi already full and we negotiated a 40 baht ride, but I got to sit in the cab.

The Rotary meeting was great - very animated and active discussion on their most recent fundraiser, a classical concert with violin and piano, which was very well received. I asked how much money they made.

"Not sure," came the reply. "Things in Thailand are different. We have 3 levels of sponsors: Diamond,Platinum and Gold. They pledge to pay for the food, for example, and get free tickets. However, when we present them with the food bill, they may or may not pay it all."

So I bought a CD and program from the concert to help them out. What the heck,it all goes to Rotary projects.

The gentleman beside me kindly told me that on the way back to Jomtien Beach, I would have to turn right when I exited the Marriott and walk to the streetlights, then cross the street to get a taxi back home. So I did this. Lots of intersting shops so I wasn't going very fast, but I was getting pretty hot in the heat. Finally, after abut 20 minutes or so, I noticed I hadn't come to the streetlight yet. Nor could I see it ahead of me. I cursed myself for not asking how far it was and finally decided to head back to the Marriott for better instructions. Turned out I hadn't walked very far at all when I didn't stop to browse.

In the restaurant I got a coke (good for killng any stray bacteria in your digestive system I'm told) and asked where I could get a taxi to Jomtien. Hah. The waitress had NO English. Her supervisor came and she had a smattering more but her instructions were unclear. She kept pushing her crossed arms at me, as if warding off a vampire.

I smiled. Said I understood, took my coke and left. And turned right again determined to find the blasted streetlights. By the way, it's strange but in Manila also there were hardly any street lights. There are hardly any intersections!

Anyway, I beetled off on the other side of the street since my original guide had told me I needed to cross in order to catch traffic in the other direction. It provided shade but the heat was just as intense. And there they were, the elusive lights.

Since I was already on the correct side of the street to catch returning traffic, I looked around and saw, for the first time, that I was on a one way street. The wrong way. Oh well, I thought. Obviously he meant for me to take the cross street and walk to the next parallel street to catch returning traffic, so on I went. And went. No cross street in sight. No wonder they don't need streetlights. There are hardly any intersections.

The road I was on curved slightly so I was unable to see far ahead, and I was trying hard to see if the next cross street was actually coming up or not. I had a map, but not all streets are marked. Anyway, the streets themselves aren't marked! So what good is the map?

Finally, I stopped a white man and asked if he spoke English. This isn't as odd a question as you'd think since all the caucasians we had heard so far were speaking Slavik sounding languages. Luckily, he spoke English, showed me where I was on the map, sent me back the way I had come and said to cross the &(*&%$ street! Hah.

Back at the intersection, I saw that what I should have done when I first got there is simply crossed the street in the direction in which I was going. That's where two-way traffic started and there were all the taxis, lined up.

The crossed arms the waitress had been pushing into my face was finally clear. *sigh*

The driver quoted 20 baht to go to Jomtien, a price I was happy to pay.

Ten passengers were seated in the back, with 2 men standing on the footboards. We stopped to pick up a lady. There's always room for one more, but she had to stand. I'd done my share of walking and my face was beating in time with my pulse so I was in no shape to offer her my seat. Besides, I was older. Much older, though sometimes it's hard to tell here. Everyone looks so youthful. How do they not get wrinkles? Must be the moist air.

And now, we're approaching Jomtien. I look around for the buzzer that alerts the driver to stop,which he'll do anywhere. The lady next to me shows me where it is and kindly asks where I'm going and she'll buzz for me when it's time. I watch keenly, knowing that when we get to the ocean I'll be close to home and sure enough, there's the water. There's the name of an inn I recognize and since someone else has already buzzed, I decide to also get off and walk the rest of the way. Surely I'm close.

I'm not.

Crap.

And it's so hot.

So I walk and soon, I start to recognize a few places that Hans and I had walked past the night before. In the end, it's only about a 15 minute walk but the heat is energy sapping and the ocean waves look so cool and inviting.

I zone out and walk past my hotel! But only a few yards then catch myself and chuckle, heading back. In a strange twist, just as I pick up my key and enter the elevator, I hear Hans call my name from the lobby. He walked in at the same time, back from a great day golfing.

The pool sizzled as I slipped in.

Boracay

This beautiful island is a scant hour away by plane and our team was scheduled to spend 2 wonderful days there.

Monty and Liz arrived early that morning and were whisked away for a breakfast with the governor to be followed by a spa and massage treatment at the Senses Spa, where the rest of us had also spent an hour a few days earlier. A quick note; the spa is managed by one of the Rotarians and one evening we were invited to dinner in their executive dining room.

The whole setup is a terrific concept. There's an attached lounge/ restaurant where you can eat. Adjacent and behind a screen, but visible to the diners and vice versa, is the area where you get a pedicure or manicure.

We four ladies were directed to the showers, screened by bamboo. Then given shorts and kimono style top and taken into a room with 4 cots. Here, we were told to leave our shorts on but remove the top. The masseuses giggled when we were lying there - not very ego-boosting when you're virtually naked and exposed. But the massage was lovely and some of us got a simultaneous pedicure. Ginger tea was delivered at the end to refresh us, then we dressed and went upstairs for dinner.

But I digress. I was going to write about Boracay.

We arrived in time to watch the sun set.

That evening there was a fellowship night with the local Rotary Club, followed the next night by their regular meeting. When we arrived, we were all impressed to discover that they had hired a couple of local boys to create a sandcastle with the Rotary emblem.




They even had a special banner made to commemorate our meeting. Everything is done with so much thought to make us feel welcome, and they even killed the fatted calf. Well, actually a pig but it meant the same thing.



Tables were set up on the beach under a roof in case of rain, but it was a soft, warm evening and no clouds threatened. The buffet was scrumptious again with a wide variety of meats and fish. Rice is always availalbe and there was even a fresh salad with greens grown by the owner of the cutely named Nigi Nigi Too resort. Her other resort, where we ate the night before also on the beach, is the original and called Nigi Nigi Nu Noos. The words mean nothing, but roll so easily off your tongue.


It was a 30 minute beach walk back to our hotel after dinner, and we passed the gorgeous Regency hotel owned by governor Toto. He had toured Monty and Liz through the opulent premises and I asked them if he had invited them to stay. "Next time", was his reply.