Anything Under The Sun

Grand Mosque Mystique. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque at Night

Anything under the sun.  Well at least that is how I remember or describe Abu Dhabi.  It seems like anything is possible here.  Dubai may be the most popular of all the Emirates in the UAE but Abu Dhabi is still the capital; and it has several reasons for being so.  As one travel guide puts it, Abu Dhabi is not afraid to challenge World Records.  To start, Abu Dhabi has the world’s largest hand-loomed carpet (which is found inside perhaps the grandest mosque in the Arabian peninsula).  You can enjoy the highest high tea in one of the city’s latest observatories.  You can ride the world’s fastest roller coaster here.  With its geographical location under the sun, it is one city championing sustainable energy.  Abu Dhabi also has the world’s most leaning building (Capital Gate Tower which is tilted at 18 degrees; four times more wayward than the leaning tower of Pisa).  And to highlight its cultural ambitions, it is a city with the branch of the famous Louvre outside of Paris.  Among upcoming others (whew).  🙂

Abu Dhabi is a popular day trip destination for people traveling to Dubai (a 2-hour bus ride from Dubai’s bus station in Deira).  A day trip to Abu Dhabi however wouldn’t do it justice.  I was in Dubai last year and stayed there for a week.  I basically resisted the day trip temptation.  I’ve read somewhere that Abu Dhabi is equally beautiful and deserves a proper visit and write-up of its own.  So I made it a point to visit the place while the temperature and the heat is still at its moderate.  This is a late post by the way.  🙂  Below are a few practicalities.

A Mid-summer Night’s Dream. Yas Marina & Yas Viceroy Hotel at the Blue Hour.

  1. Traveling to the UAE is never cheap (for me).  Without a sponsor in the UAE, I have to fly with Etihad Airways (Abu Dhabi’s official airline) and get them to sponsor my online Visa application.
  2. But food and transportation cost in Abu Dhabi felt less expensive for me (compared to Singapore where I am currently based).  🙂
  3. Hotel accommodation costs are high, but plummets during the summer months.  So if you don’t mind staying inside malls, early summer is the best time to book a hotel in this wonderful city.  That’s what I did here.  🙂
  4. There are no trains in Abu Dhabi (as far as I can remember).  While taxis are the most convenient way to get around, you will appreciate the lay of the land better and feel like a local (or save more money) by riding the bus.  Abu Dhabi has reliable and comfortable bus services with air-conditioned bus shelters and stations.  Get a rechargeable green card from the airport.  Cards can be recharged at most bus shelters.  I got my card free from a very kind, tourist-friendly Starbucks barista.  🙂
  5. It is best to book a hotel near the city center or around Abu Dhabi’s central bus terminal (Al Wahda Bus Terminal).  I stayed at Centro Al Manhal by Rotana (along Airport Road) which is conveniently located behind Al Wahda Mall and Al Wahda Bus Terminal.  The hotel facilities and services give you the best value for your money (I am not getting a fee for this recommendation by the way).  Most bus services to major attractions stop infront of the hotel; so you need to remember only a few bus numbers.  In this write-up, I will assume you will book your stay here.  🙂

Needless to say, travellers come here for the desert safari experience.  But I honestly don’t like extreme sports and desert safaris.  Sorry about that.  My boring bias has always been towards architecture (and food) which is the best way for me to understand a new city.  🙂  But there is more to Abu Dhabi than just the desert safari experience.  I share my photos below.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque:  This is Abu Dhabi’s iconic and most recognizable attraction.  I have seen hundreds of photos of this mosque before; all taken from the same angles that it almost already felt like cliche.  But seeing the mosque with your own eyes will leave you in awe.  The architectural detailing is magnificent and the scale of the structure is overwhelmingly amazing.  I am an architect and I believe that the amount of effort and detail you put in the design of a religious facility is directly proportional to your faith in the Supreme Being that you worship.  Like most places of worship however, access is allowed only at certain areas (which explains why we end up with similar photos).  It was a bit smoggy during my visit here so the haze created a different color cast in the twilight sky which gave my photos a different mood despite the familiar shot angle.
(Tips: Admission is free | Take bus 31 from Airport Road | Visitors must wear trousers | Women must have their heads covered before entering the Mosque)

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Emirates Palace & Etihad Towers:  The ambitious Emirates Palace Hotel feels more like a cultural hub and tourist spot than a luxury hotel.  The expansive hotel grounds dominates the western end of Corniche Road.  You don’t need to check in as a guest to check out this hotel as it is open to the public.  Appropriate attire is a must though (no shorts please). Don’t miss the beautiful atrium ceiling (as well as the coffee sprinkled with gold leaf) and stay a bit longer to see the hotel outside when beautifully illuminated at night.  Across the hotel courtyard is Etihad Towers, a cluster of sexy and modern buildings competing with the hotel for your attention.
(Tips: Admission is free | Smart Casual Attire | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina)

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City Views from Jumeirah at Etihad Towers:  I always bring home a photo of a new city taken from a high vantage point.  Few things can match the exhilaration of standing on top of a city’s tall building.  And if my schedule permits, I will wait for early evening and take a photo of the city at the blue hour.  Enjoy the highest high tea at Observation Deck @ 300, a cafe at the 74th Floor (Tower 2) of Jumeirah at Etihad Towers; a cluster of beautiful and modern buildings punctuating the western end of Corniche Road.  The cafe has breathtaking views of the city and the Corniche shoreline embracing the Persian Gulf.
(Tips: Admission is Dh95 which includes the Dh55 for food | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina | Etihad Towers is just across Emirates Palace)

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Abu Dhabi Louvre:  Few places can match the vision and ambitions of Abu Dhabi which accommodates a branch of the Louvre outside of Paris.  Unlike other museums, the Louvre’s exhibits focus on human commonalities rather than regional differences.  The highlight of this facility is the intricate metal ceiling under the dome which reminds me of the interior of a Bedouin tent used by desert nomads.  Like the Bedouin tent, the thick ceiling mesh brings the interior temperature down; with the mesh creating beautiful specks of light and allowing the hot air to rise and pass through.  This creates a breeze which lowers the interior temperature even more.
(Tips: Admission is Dh63 | Take bus 94 from Al Wahda bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal | Bus 94 terminates at the Louvre | There is a cafe within the museum serving one of the best burgers 🙂 )

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Abu Dhabi Heritage Village & Breakwater:  The glitz of modern Abu Dhabi will not overshadow its seafaring and nomadic roots.  Abu Dhabi Heritage Village is a microcosm of a desert and nomadic life.  The Village features a museum, a small souq (market), exhibitions of traditional crafts, examples of wooden dhows (boats), and a small desert environment.  A few steps outside the Heritage Village will lead you to the breakwater (marked by the big UAE flag) where you get a panoramic view of Corniche Beach and the city skyline beyond which looks really romantic at night.
(Tips: Admission is free | Take bus 31 from Airport Road to Al Marina | Bring lots of water)

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World Trade Center Mall & Etihad Sqaure:  World Trade Center Mall is located at the base of the World Trade Center Towers (the city’s tallest building).  The mall atrium with its rich decorative timber latticework is a modern rendition of a traditional atmospheric souq.  Adjacent to the mall is Souq Central Market which shares the same design theme but focuses on local specialties and shopping for souvenirs.  The widest and best selection of dates can be found here.  🙂  Outside the World Trade Center Mall is Etihad Square, a traffic island featuring five concrete street monuments which symbolize traditions of Emirati life and Bedouin hospitality.
(Tips: Take bus 94 from Al Wahda bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal)

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Ferrari World & Yas Marina (Yas Island):  Ferrari World is a unique amusement park and a celebration of all things fast and furious.  The world’s fastest roller coaster can be found here and is as close as you can get to riding a Formula 1 race car.  I didn’t ride that one but was content in watching other people go through the experience. 🙂  In between the fun rides and thrills are exotic car exhibitions and live shows.  The Ferrari World entrance is inside Yas Mall.  Also within Yas Island is Yas Marina connected to the beautiful Yas Viceroy Hotel.  The best way to experience the Marina is to walk along the promenade in the evening when the yachts and the waters of the marina are illuminated by the beautiful mantle of Yas Viceroy Hotel.
(Tips: Admission to Ferrari World is Dh250 | Take bus 195 from Al Wahda Bus station along Muroor Road across Al Wahda Bus Terminal | Travel time is 1 hour | A looping shuttle service will take you to the different attractions within Yas Island | Warner Brothers Studios is an upcoming attraction in Yas Island)

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A holiday in a hot desert environment is something unusual, but is always an eye-opener.  It will certainly change your perceptions of the Middle East.  So in this write-up, I am also hoping that Abu Dhabi will no longer be just a day trip destination. 🙂

So there you go.  This is my photographic and written account on this beautiful and peaceful Emirati capital.  I hope I got you inspired and as always, excited.

Thank you for reading.  See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!  🙂

My Tokyo Blues

Lost in Translation.  Tokyo at twilight viewed from Tokyo World Trade Center (circa 2017).

This is one example of those late melancholic posts.  I finally had the chance to see Tokyo a second time last Winter.  The first time was way back in the Autumn of 2013 when I was invited by a major Japanese furniture manufacturer to attend a 3-day convention.  Since then, I always remember Tokyo as a cold city (my first encounter with the outside world); the city I fell in love with and the one that inspired me to explore, to travel, and to discover more of the world around me.  I don’t know how I will do it; but after this recent trip, I promised myself (and my family) to return to this place at least once a year. 🙂

That photo of Tokyo Tower above is one of my favorites from this recent trip.  I have always wanted to capture Tokyo at twilight from that vantage point (at the top of the Tokyo World Trade Center).  It was not really the composition I had in mind though.  A new building was being built infront of the World Trade Center; blocking the iconic and signature view of the cityscape below as well as the silhouette of Mt. Fuji beyond and forcing me to shift the camera to place the tower on the left side of the frame.  This is another example of the importance of acquiring updated research before reaching your destination.  Still not bad really, as I ended with a different take of this beautiful city (at least for me). 🙂

Morning Calm.  Early morning at the Tokyo Imperial Palace Grounds (circa 2017).

Anyway, I should stop stalling.  I know I just needed to write (or blog) regularly.  I just simply miss Tokyo.  A protracted throwback is not really my thing and very seldom do I visit the same place twice.  But I honestly still have the blues for this city and still can’t get over those late night photography sessions out in the cold. 🙂  As always, I had my shot list on hand (which took me months to diligently prepare).  The thing is that long holidays are always short and chances are you will not be able to do all the things in your shot list (unless you’re traveling alone).  Besides, we took a couple of ad hoc day trips to nearby Kyoto and Osaka which required me to take a bit of time off from my rigid and regimented Tokyo photography schedule; to spend quality time with my family and in-laws.  Kyoto and Osaka however are different and wonderful cities (and the essence of a Japan trip for most travelers) which arguably deserve a separate visit as well as a proper write-up of their own.  Meanwhile, the unfinished tasks in my Tokyo shot list gives me a valid reason to come back next year. 🙂

It’s a good thing we will have our summer company trip next month; and that will give me enough time to let this melancholia of cold places to subside. 🙂  So I’ll just share them here: my incomplete and random postcards from this recent Tokyo trip and a few from my earlier 2013 trip as well.  I have to apologize for all that drama up there and for not being the supposedly informative Tokyo travel guide in this blog post.  The internet anyway is a far more reliable and accurate source of information and I do not want to bore you with my profuse writing.  I did label the photos though so you could look them up yourself. 🙂  I honestly enjoyed taking them and these I gladly share to those who enjoy travel photography and to travelers who plan to visit this beautiful and unforgettable city.

Enjoy the images as much as I do and always remain excited and inspired.

See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

From Tokyo to the Bay

Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo Bay (circa 2013)

“…a thousand miles from comfort…there’s no place I’d rather be…”–Clean Bandit
This is where it all started.  The first time I saw Japan was way back in November 2013.  I was invited by a major Japanese furniture manufacturer to attend a convention in Tokyo.  It was a 3-day event with a 2-day extension for us to do anything we want.  It was my first time to travel outside my own country (other than Singapore of course where I am currently based) and to be honest with you, I was childlike ecstatic.  Autumn was very much well on its way when we arrived; and with the cold temperature, I fell in love with Tokyo almost immediately.  I remember the last time when I passed off an opportunity in the office for a free winter travel to this country.  I really regretted that one.

I also just got started with photography during this time, so I was able to put it into practice during my stay here.  Like most newbie photographers, most of the photos I took home later were just average.  But I was happy with the thought of being able to document the travel experience in pictures.  With the days also shorter in autumn, I found myself doing more of night photography.  That sense of peace and being alone as a stranger in those cold autumn nights gave me the confirmation that I am happiest as a photographer when shooting during the late hours of the day.  That first travel experience also gave me the desire to explore more of the world around me with whatever limited time, opportunities or resources I may have.  I remember looking outside our Tokyo hotel window one early morning and promising myself to return to this place.  Four years and twelve Asian cities later, I will finally be back this winter.

30/30 Vision.  Asakusa, Tokyo viewed from Tokyo Skytree (circa 2013)

Seeing only Tokyo is barely scratching the surface of the beauty that Japan has to offer.  Chances of snow here in winter is minimal and the landscape barren and devoid of color.  But I don’t mind.  I can always come back.  I have always loved this beautiful city, with its pace and busyness.  I usually don’t write about an upcoming trip (honestly, I am just making full use of what I am paying for in this blog space) and seldom do I visit a certain place twice (unless it’s to find something I lost).  But in this beautiful case, I will make an exception.  But I did lose or missed something:  it’s those precious moments alone outside in the cold; in the same place where peace and a perfect and unforgettable experience had started.  I haven’t listed yet what I will do here, but I do hope to make more time to cover those places I have missed the last time I was here.  Looking forward to more photography sessions in the cold. 🙂

See you in my next post. Cheers!!!  🙂

Shinagawa Night Scene (Tokyo, circa 2013)

One Lovely Blog Award 2017

Marina Bay Sands with Arts Science Museum at the Blue Hour.

A month ago, I was given the ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD by my fellow blogger Audrey.  Audrey pens Living for Experiences, a blog about her wonderful insights on life and useful tips on travel.  Do check her wonderful blog.  This is my second award from her, with the first award causing me to earn a few followers.  It is encouraging to know that people are actually reading some of my thoughts and writings.

RULES OF THE AWARD
1) Thank the person that nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
2) List the Rules.
3) Display the Award in your post.
4) List seven facts about yourself.
5) Nominate 15 bloggers for this award and comment on one of their posts to let them know you have nominated them.

Bay Gardens East View in Singapore.

A FEW FACTS ABOUT MYSELF
1) I am an architect from the Philippines.
2) I am currently based in Singapore (an Overseas Filipino Worker away from my wife and daughter) and working as an Interior Designer.
3) I became an architect because of my love for drawing and the LEGO (which I wrote about here).
4) I am an obsessive compulsive, phlegmatic control freak (with a tendency to overthink and overwrite). 🙂
5) If I am not doing architecture or interior design, I practice writing, photography, and do a bit of traveling.
6) My love for travel started in 2013 after a first trip to Japan; and fell in love with Japan and anything Japanese ever since. 🙂
7) I always wanted to write a book about my professional work but started this blog in 2015 instead; and have used it since to share my travel postcards and insights brought about by my Christian faith.

MY NOMINEES FOR THE ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD
For the next ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD, I list below my nominees whose posts I read for a variety of reasons which include a zest for life, passion for travel, love for architecture, excellent photography, and an emotional or unique style of writing.  Congratulations to all my nominees.  It’s okay not to accept the award but I sure would like to know more about you my fellow bloggers. Enjoy!!!

1) Eat, Pray, and Love Kind of Adventure
2) Travel Happy
3) My Life in a Snap
4) Albert
5) Weeknightly
6) Architecture Wander
7) Joshua Dunn
8) Tiny Nectar
9) WanderingKakat
10) A World of Adventuring, Learning, and Loving
11) Jet Set Brunette
12) Ezekiel Kok Photography
13) Jandreiventures
14) Yen and Again
15) The Weary Travelers

Again, thank you very much to Audrey of Living for Experiences for this wonderful ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD.  See you all in blogosphere.  🙂

See you in my next post. Cheers!!!

Dubai Retrospective

A Light Between Oceans. Burj Al Arab and Jumeirah Beach at Sunset.

I got this idea from one spontaneous traveler.  He would spin a globe and stop it with his index finger.  He will look at the place where his finger had landed and then pack his bags or suitcase quickly to go to that place.  I did the same thing.  My finger landed somewhere in the Gulf (or purposely made it land there) and decided that it’s Dubai.  At least it had to be because it’s the only place I know that is within that neighborhood.  So I literally ran to the airport and fly to Dubai right after that.  Of course I am just kidding. 🙂  I believe I planned this all along and I am not a spontaneous traveler.  My passport is not really one of the strongest in the world, so traveling to Dubai is a challenge.  Besides, the Middle East (or Western Asia) is a dream (up until now) and way over my travel budget.  Looking back now, it was not also the best time to visit the place.  Summer has started and it was 40 degrees during the day; with the heat a different kind of painful on the skin and the air a bit stifling and suffocating for first timers.  But it was also the time to take advantage of lower hotel rates and speedy Visa processing.  I lodged in my Visa application on a Saturday afternoon and got the Visa the following day (a Sunday).  So if you don’t mind staying inside malls during the day (which I am sure you don’t), early summer is a good time to visit this wonderful country.

I am doing quite well at the moment, happy and busy with work; having found a job in a new company with a more positive atmosphere.  I am inspired again and I can draw again; doing now what I believe, the things I was always meant and supposed to be doing (with the added bonus of deciding for myself which direction my projects should go, which maximizes my time) and still manage to squeeze in a bit of time-off from work.  A big project was coming up over the horizon and I needed to prepare for that one.  So despite my busy schedule, I decided to go to find fresh inspiration and do something else other than my architectural work (in this case, to practice photography). 🙂  And what is a better place to find inspiration in architecture and to do travel photography than in Dubai?

The Fountainhead.  Burj Khalifa and Souk Al Bahar at the blue hour.

I’ve read somewhere that Dubai can be viewed in two ways: either as a stopover destination for people traveling to Europe (if you’re coming from Asia), or a place where you can do something different or impossible.  I have to agree.  I really love spending time in stopover and day trip destinations because it’s in these destinations where you will find the most interesting places often overlooked by travelers and day trip packages.  Impossible is also a word that you will not find in the Emirati’s dictionary.  Dubai is preparing to host the 2020 World Expo, so a lot of architectural projects are pretty much well on their way; most of which are without precedent.

Obviously, tourists come here to experience the Desert Safari, as well as Skydiving.  Tourists (and even the locals) take the time to escape from the big city and into the desert landscape of Dubai and come back later refreshed.  A desert experience can be amazingly mind-clearing.  But I didn’t do all that (for fear of getting sand or dust into my camera 🙂 ).  I didn’t do skydiving either.  Sorry about that.  I’m a certified bore; and extreme sports and adrenaline rush can really make me sleep to death.  Besides, I honestly really don’t like guided tours and traveling with a group (except with my wife and daughter).  I could very well read my travel guide beforehand so I could maximize my time in my destination.  But I love and enjoyed the architecture of this beautiful city.  If you’re an architect, it would be a sin not to see Dubai in your lifetime.  Suddenly, 40 degrees for me was not so hot anymore. 🙂

Arabian Nights. The beautiful Madinat Jumeirah at night.

So you see?  That’s the good thing about travel and photography.  It helps you (and others) change perceptions about certain places.  It’s a counter to the never-ending stream of images provided by news media which oftentimes focuses only on the negative.  This recent trip certainly changed my perception of the Middle East.  I stayed here for five days.  If you plan to do the same (or have plans of coming back), you should be able to cover the following places:

1) Deira and Bur Dubai: Deira is one of Dubai’s oldest districts oftentimes overshadowed by the glitz of the modern city.  Built around Dubai Creek, its most prominent feature is the cluster of souqs (or markets) connected by narrow lanes and alleys which can be very busy in the late afternoon (particularly the Gold Souq).  The Abras (traditional wooden ferries) are still in use here today; not so much for transporting merchandise but for sightseeing along Dubai Creek.  Bur Dubai provides you with a glimpse of Dubai’s past.  Take a tour around the beautifully restored Al Fahidi Historic District and understand Dubai’s beginnings at the Dubai Museum housed inside Al Fahidi Fort.

2) Burj Al Arab and Madinat Jumeirah: Burj Al Arab (perhaps Dubai’s most recognizable and iconic building; and the only 7-star hotel in the world) sits along the beautiful coast of Jumeirah Beach.  Madinat Jumeirah (another recent development) is a modern rendition of a traditional Arab village built around an artificial river flanked by palm trees and signature restaurants.  Don’t miss Burj Al Arab at sunset and see Madinat Jumeirah at night when the buildings are beautifully lit with Burj Al Arab in the background.

3) Downtown Dubai: Burj Khalifa towers over Downtown Dubai, the city’s main urban hub and a major destination for sightseeing tourists.  Climb your way to At The Top (Burj Khalifa’s observation deck at the 124th and 125th floor) and experience the exhilaration of standing on top of the world’s tallest building.  Dubai Mall (the mother of all malls as they call it) is nearby with its overwhelming 1,000 or more shops.  Adjacent to Dubai Mall is the equally handsome Souk Al Bahar, with its grand colonnaded atrium and signature restaurants, most of which have enviable views of Burj Khalifa and Dubai Fountain at night.

4) Dubai Marina and Palm Jumeirah: Dubai Marina is a posh private residential development and provides you with a glimpse of the Dubai high life.  The best way to experience the Marina is by walking along Marina Promenade in the evening where you pass by fancy restaurants and berthed yachts set against glimmering high rise buildings.  Opposite Dubai Marina Beach is Palm Jumeirah, a palm-shaped artificial island jutting into the Gulf; with several residential and commercial developments along the Palm’s fronds.  At the tip of the Palm along the outer crescent is Atlantis The Palm (another hotel development) and the adjacent Aquaventure Waterpark, a family theme park.

A visit to Dubai usually includes a day trip to Abu Dhabi, which you can reach in 2 hours by bus from Deira.  Sadly as always, I really don’t like day trips.  Abu Dhabi I’ve read is equally beautiful and deserves a proper visit and write-up of its own, which I look forward to doing so soon. 🙂

So here you go: my personal postcards from this beautiful and peaceful Emirati outpost.  I hope I kept you inspired and as always, grateful.  Enjoy the images as much as I do.  See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂

(Click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

Macau Musings

St. Paul's Church Ruins (Macau)

The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church in Macau, China (January 2017).

This wanderlust has been an effective family therapy for us.  I’ve been writing here for a while but I forgot to mention that I work abroad (currently based in Singapore) and away from my family.  Like most overseas worker, I made it a point to go back to my hometown every 6 months and spend a week or so with my family.  But before that one week is over however, we were already crying; knowing it will take another 6 months or more for us to see each other again.  My father also used to work overseas when I was a kid; so I know how it feels like now for my own family.  Nowadays however, distance (and long distance communication) is dead and modest travel is available for everyone.  So instead of just me traveling alone, my family and I decided that (if I have the resources) we will meet regularly in some nearby foreign lands and explore those places together.  Parting ways at the end of those journeys however is stll difficult; but now, the sadness is eclipsed by the memories of those travel experiences .  Whatever. 🙂

Anyway, I am being cheesy and talking gibberish back there.  Sorry about that.  It’s been a month since I took the photos in this write-up and I really don’t know what to say about this recent trip.  Except maybe that I was glad my new employer announced the Chinese New Year break a bit early last year; which gave me enough time to plan on spending the week-long break in a place that’s Chinese.  I could have chosen Hong Kong (which would be the easiest), but decided to see Macau instead; a small Chinese outpost known mostly as a day trip destination for most people touring Hong Kong.  You can’t blame them; as Macau is generally a walkable city and most of the major sights are within walking distances from each other.

But that wouldn’t do justice to the beauty of this place.  I love Asian cities especially if it has a history of colonization.  Because the end product would always be a blending of cultures of sorts; confusing but exciting.  Which is very much like Macau.  Known as “The Vegas of China”, the city obviously comes alive at night with its megacasinos, luxury resort hotels, and shopping districts.  So the word “day trip” wouldn’t be correct. 🙂  But Macau is more than that.  A Portuguese colony for more than 300 years, it only became part of China in 1999; two years after the British withdrawal from Hong Kong.  Remnants of colonial architecture, churches, and grand public squares give the place a tangible Mediterranean flavor; oddly picturesque and peculiar in a city that is strongly and culturally Chinese.  You can walk through cobblestone lanes and hear people chatter in Cantonese; asking for directions to find streets with Portuguese names.  To add to this, megacasinos and modern high-rise hotels in ambitious themes and scale appear almost every minute in districts with well-preserved Macanese architecture.  I fell in love with the confusion almost immediately. 🙂  If you’re a fan of postcards, night photography, and architecture, your day trip to Macau will not be enough for you.

City of Dreams. One of the recently completed attractions along Cotai Strip in Macau.

Needless to say, food is a part of the general travel experience.  But you won’t find it here.  I’m a mindless eater and a really lousy food photographer (sadly) so you just have to believe me (or anybody else who has been here) when I say that the local food here is one that you should try and experience. 🙂  Obviously, my bias has always been towards the major sights and architecture of a place; which is my way of understanding a new city.  So a typical photowalk in Macau covers its 2 main islands; within any of the two you can do some exploring on foot as the major attractions are close to each other.  A bus ride however is needed to get from one island to another.

The Macau Peninsula holds the Old City Center, with its 2 most popular day trip attractions: The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church and Senado Square, a grand public plaza. It is also the site of some of the earliest hotels and casinos including the Grand Lisboa, Lisboa Hotel, Wynn Macau, and MGM Hotel.  Along the fringes of the peninsula are Macau Fisherman’s Wharf (a themed park) and Macau Tower with its open-air observation deck.  Towards the south are the integrated islands of Taipa, Coloane, and Cotai.  Taipa has well-preserved colonial houses. Coloane has Macau’s beaches, and Cotai is home to the high-rolling Cotai Strip (Macau’s version of the famous Strip in Vegas), an avenue of megacasinos, luxury hotel and shopping centers including The Venetian Macau and Galaxy Macau, as well as the recently completed City of Dreams, Studio City, and The Parisian with its Eiffel Tower replica.  As much as I would like to give a description of each of these (and for fear of boring you to death), I will just allow my personal postcards below to hopefully speak of the glitz and beauty of this city. 🙂 I tried to cover as much places as I can during my 5-day stay here but missed out on the important Chinese temples and colonial churches (which speaks so much about the place’s history) because of a rain shower on the day I planned to visit them.  Sorry about that.

Not surprisingly, I was able to take home more photos from this trip as compared to previous ones.  Only because my family and in-laws decided on our fourth day to take a day trip to Hong Kong to do some shopping (only to find out later that most of the stores there were closed for the holidays) while I decided to stay behind and catch up with my personal photowalk.  So what happened to that family bonding we were looking forward to that I was talking about earlier?  And I thought Macau is supposed to be the day trip destination (and not Hong Kong). 🙂  I hate to say it, but I have to admit that the brief moment alone helped me maximize my time.  Don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but I guess the travel therapy really worked. 🙂

So there you go.  My two cents worth on this beautiful and quaint city (which I think deserves more than just being called a day trip destination) and my first of many other adventures I am looking forward to in days to come.  Enjoy the postcards below.  Stay grateful and inspired.

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!! 🙂

(click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel)

About Anniversaries

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Heartland. Singapore CBD at twilight.

It’s been a while since my last write-up (or to be more accurate, since I last travelled).  Honestly, I have maxed out my paid leave for the first three quarters of the year and have to wait for a few more weeks to be able to make use of the available balance.  But that may not happen.  I have resigned from my current post which might cause that balance to be forfeited; and it will take another long period before I could be allowed to take a long leave under my new / future employer.  The good thing is that Singapore will have 7 long weekends next year.  Some of the public holidays in 2017 will fall either on a Monday or Friday; so I am looking forward to working my road trips and photography projects around those long weekends.  At least; until I get to my next major holiday.  Meantime, I take the time to write this post to feature this beautiful country that has been second home to me for almost a decade.

It’s my 9th year working as an FT here in Singapore (Foreign Talent, as they call it) and my first time to find new work since I came here.  This post simply could have waited for my 10th year anniversary (which sounds more appropriate) but it couldn’t; thanks to this period of inactivity and travel hiatus.  Honestly, I just felt guilty I didn’t write about Singapore’s 51st Anniversary which happened last month.  None of the fireworks photos I took during the celebrations was really successful; which was supposed to be the highlight of my aborted Singapore Anniversary write-up.  So I simply write here and make use of the photos I have; images I have created recently as well as those I have amassed during my long stay here.

Fullerton Hotel at the Blue Hour.

You know what’s good about anniversaries?  They actually help you remember.  I have been blogging for a year now and I just realized I really haven’t featured this beautiful city.  How could I forget a country that took care of me for the last 9 years and that has allowed me to do my best work and rewarded me accordingly?  Ten years ago, I never would have imagined working here; much less move outside my own country and travel to see other places.  But now I am here; and for too long.  Familiarity does breed contempt (or even complacency); and you’ll never know of the wonderful things you have until you find yourself stuck somewhere in limbo with all the time available in your hands (which happened to me just recently). 🙂

Anniversaries also remind you to be thankful.  The problem with being a foreign talent is uncertainty.  I honestly feel quite fortunate for still finding new work in a foreign country especially at a time when most companies are either downsizing, reorganizing, or folding.  Back where I come from, it will require an enormous amount of fortune, an intricate network of connections, and a miraculous economic upheaval to be able to succeed in my profession.  Working in another country has levelled the playing field for me and has allowed myself and others to reap the benefits of meritocracy.  So like any foreigner working in another country, my mantra has always been “to endure and succeed, or pack up and go home”. 🙂

Lastly, anniversaries allow you to start afresh.  It allows you to take stock, appreciate your own uniqueness or strengths, and assess what worked well and what didn’t so you could better prepare and be stronger the next time around.  We are only as good as our last projects; and this tempering process has painfully changed me from being an impractical theorist to more of a humble, open-minded learner.  This recent activity of finding new work has taught me just that (the hard way, to be honest). 🙂

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These City Walls. Blue hour at Marina Square in Central Singapore.

In most of my posts, I usually write a short historical background of the place or city being featured.  But in this case, I am happy to forego that one and just allow the images to speak of the beauty and wonder of this place (hopefully).  I just wanted it to be more personal and leave all the researching to you.  Travel photography is all about shooting places in the best available light (those fleeting moments before sunrise and after sunset) which you do not have a lot of when you are traveling (how ironic isn’t it?).  The best thing about living in a photogenic country is that you have all the time to do just that.  So I share them here; my personal postcards from Singapore (my favorites) which I hope will entice you to visit this surprising and beautiful country (in case you haven’t done so).  Enjoy the images and stay grateful and inspired. 🙂

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!! 🙂

(Click on any of the images below to activate the photo carousel.)

 

Silence is Golden

Awakenings. Sunrise at Club Med in Bintan, Indonesia.

This write-up should have been posted more than a month ago.  I actually forgot I have these photos from our recent Club Med Bintan retreat; and I was only reminded of having them when I was looking at my passport while on queue at the renewal section of the embassy a few days ago.  I have to admit that long holidays are always short.  Even much shorter for a weekend company retreat like this one.  And because they are short, there is always the chance of bringing home only a few photos; which you easily forget.

So I post them here.  I am not getting a commission for promoting this place in this post by the way. 🙂  It is just not fair not to share these few images.  Some other people contemplating on coming here could still use a little more of these images to get a sense of the beauty of this place.  The colours in the photos here are real and without much processing or editing.

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Cool for the Summer. Beautiful morning at the pool deck of Club Med in Bintan.

This is our third company retreat in Indonesia (the first two we had in Batam and Bali).  The first time they announced this Bintan trip, I have to admit I was ecstatic; even excited about the prospect of experiencing another airplane ride.  Then I realized we were in Singapore, and our destination is not like Bali.  Bintan is just 30 minutes away and can be reached by ferry or boat.  Silly of me actually. 🙂 So, do I still consider this 30-minute boat ride as travel?

This post is relatively short compared to my previous ones.  And I apologize for not writing more about the beauty of this place and about the things that we did while we were here.  Maybe I ran out of words to say or just simply uninspired.  At the moment, I am okay with that.  If there is one thing I learn again from this trip and this unexpected dry spell, it’s that Silence is Golden (and Speech is Silvern).  Do you remember your dear friends who talked lengthily when all you needed from them at that moment is the comfort of their presence and silence?  I don’t have the gift of gab but I do write occasionally.  But even that I can overdo sometimes; and the first people to tell me that I write long emails and letters are people who love writing long emails themselves.  Experts cancel each other out. 🙂

Club Med Bintan (Bintan)

Passion Walk: The main building of Club Med in Bintan, Indonesia.

There are moments when writing is spontaneous and a narrative is clear.  Sometimes, you have to wait for inspiration to come.  And other times, words are not needed to get your message across.  That last one I began to appreciate just recently through the posts and works of others; and only the real photographers are able to move me just like that.  In meditation (and in prayer) listening is as important as talking (or chanting).  It is in that moment of silence when you have nothing more to say (and your mind is clear of all clutter) will you hear that soft, gentle and clear voice.  And the message there will be profound.  Honestly, we all could use more of that right now.  ‘Nuff said. 🙂

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!

Putrajaya Architecture Ramble

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Putra Mosque at twilight. Putra Mosque is the principal mosque of Putrajaya.

This is another one of those times when you get to choose last-minute holiday destinations.  We took one week off in the office to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year.  At the back of my head, I was hoping that our company would send us to somewhere really cold or even exotic to spend the one-week holiday (like what our company usually do).  Well, that didn’t happen this year.  The announcement came in a bit late so most of us had to scramble and decide whether to go back to our respective hometowns or go somewhere else.  The plane ticket to my hometown (Manila) could get a little pricey this time of year, so I just decided to go to nearby Malaysia.  It seems that Malaysia for me is the default destination for long weekends and short road trips; for obvious reasons.  From Singapore where I am staying, it is only a few minutes or hours away depending on your destination.  Architecture, food, historical sites, beaches, nature, or theme parks; Malaysia has all that and more.  You choose.

So why Putrajaya?  Well for one thing, it was a day-trip destination that I wasn’t able to see the last time I was in Kuala Lumpur.  It actually rained that day last year I planned to visit the place.  But of course, my main reason for coming back to Malaysia now is Putrajaya’s architectural wonders.  A Malaysian colleague told me that you could actually tour and photograph the place and its notable landmarks in a day.  I know he’s right.  That’s why they call it a day trip (do I really have to say that?).  It is much like hitting Macau while you are in Hong Kong; or Abu Dhabi while in Dubai.  So why spend the entire week and book a hotel in such a small place? 🙂

Well, you have to understand photographers.  Photographers are weird.  The best colored landscape and architectural photos have to be taken only at certain times of the day (mostly at dusk or even sunrise) when light is low (and its quality is at its best) and when building lights are on which add drama to the scene.  So if you’re planning to shoot a number of locations or buildings, you’ll be needing a couple of sunrise or sunsets.  All sorts of silly stuff like that.  And you can’t post a photo right away.  A bit of image editing needs to be done to remove blemishes caused by a dirty camera sensor and to correct distortions resulting from a cheap lens and camera (which is definitely my case here).  Only then can you post an image.  But who cares anyway?  Only a photographer will understand.  Nobody could have cared less about the story or technicalities behind a photograph; or all the trouble you went through waking up early before sunrise or staying out late at night just to capture an image.  In a selfie generation, this is not your idea of creating a travel photo.  Well for me, the best way to ruin a travel photo is to include yourself in the picture.  Forgive me on that one.  I am too camera shy and not that photogenic (#bitter, #resentful). 🙂

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Seri Wawasan Bridge. One of the most beautiful bridges in Malaysia using the latest cable-stayed technology.

Kidding aside, these places are too good to be just day-trip destinations that you could stamp on your passports to be used as bragging rights.  Much is to be appreciated and learned from the stories of these places and how they came about.  Just a few quick facts about Putrajaya:  Putrajaya is Malaysia’s “Intelligent Garden City” and its Federal Administrative Center.  A vision of establishing this new Federal Government Administrative Center to replace Kuala Lumpur came about in the early 1970s.  The relocation was to help decongest Kuala Lumpur and to ensure that KL can develop and focus on being Malaysia’s principal business and financial district.  A 4,900+ hectare palm oil plantation in Selangor’s southern Prang Besar estate was later earmarked and called Putrajaya (in honor of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj).  The main feature of the city is the responsible integration of man-made elements with the natural environment; a city that integrates technology, culture, and nature.  Manicured parks, greeneries, and bodies of water create natural separations between the business and residential sections of the city.

The highlight of the trip for me of course would be the city’s architectural wonders which feature Malay and Arabic influences; and which form part of Malaysia’s National Heritage.  These are evident in the city’s several mosques, bridges, and public buildings some of which I have featured below.

Putra Mosque:  Putra Mosque (or Masjid Putra) is perhaps for me the architectural centerpiece of Putrajaya.  The mosque is distinguished by its pink dome and rose-tinted granite exterior.  The mosque can accommodate 15,000 worshipers at any one time and also houses function rooms and learning facilities.

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Putra Mosque at the Golden Hour.

Seri Wawasan Bridge:  Seri Wawasan is one of the most beautiful bridges in Malaysia built with the latest cable-stayed technology.  The bridge is enhanced and illuminated at night by the changing colors of the street lights below it.

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Web of Lights. Seri Wawasan Bridge at night.

Seri Gemilang Bridge:  This bridge serves as the main entry route to the city core.  The bridge focuses on very fine Islamic motifs and detailing which emphasize Malaysia’s Muslim faith and culture.  The bridge also leads to Putrajaya International Convention Center (PICC) which is located at the southern part of the city.

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Seri Gemilang Bridge with Putrajaya International Convention Center (PICC) at the background.

Masjid Tuanku:  Masjid Tuanku or “The Iron Mosque” is Putrajaya’s second principal mosque.  Slightly larger in floor area than Putra Mosque, it can accommodate 20,000 worshipers and caters mostly to the government workers from the nearby city center and residents from nearby precincts.

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Masjid Tuanku (The Iron Mosque) at the blue hour.

Perbadanan Putrajaya:  Also called Putrajaya Corporation, it is the local body that administrates the Federal Authority of Putrajaya.  Framed within the arch of the building is Istana Kehakiman (or The Federal Court) which is the highest court and final appellate court of Malaysia.

The beautiful Perbadanan Putrajaya at Night

The best way to get to Putrajaya is to take the KLIA Transit train from Kuala Lumpur International Airport and alight at Putrajaya / Cyberjaya Station.  From the bus interchange at the station, buses can take you to the different routes within the residential, commercial, and government precincts of the city.  The bus routes could get a little complicated for a tourist.  So for the most part, I took a taxi (available 24 hours) to get to the locations I plan to shoot.  Cost is reasonable since the hotel is just near my planned shooting locations.

So there you go.  My first photo walk for the year and happy to have made use of the time given to us; and even happier to start the year doing the things we love the most and care passionately about.  I am currently looking at traveling outside the region which might take a while to happen because of some logistical concerns.  Meanwhile, enjoy the images as much as I do as well as the New Year.

See you in my next post.  Cheers!!!

 

A Year in Postcards

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Postcard Merlion. Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort with Merlion Park in Singapore, the city where I am currently based.

I could have called this post “A Year in Review” or “My 2015 Travels” but I thought it would be a cliche.  We always do this year-end post or write-up where we cross out a few items in our travel bucket list (or any bucket list for that matter) and admittedly, this post is in some ways no different.  But it’s a little bit more than that.  As I was writing the draft for this post, I breathed a prayer of thanks to my Maker for helping me get past a year of office work marked by an organizational mayhem caused by some internal special elite force who obviously refused to work for the common good.  We are happy that we were able to neutralize that group and have put them all in the past. Peace has been restored and now we are back to doing the things that we are supposed to do, and that is (as a colleague puts it) “to work hard, to play hard, and to travel harder”. 🙂

Looking back at my calendar, I noticed that I did spend a large amount of time travelling.  I realized that in part, these sporadic wanderings somehow helped to put a lot of things in my life and work in perspective and has enabled me to better understand my peers who come from all sorts of backgrounds and temperaments.  Funny thing though is that I only started travelling recently (just this year actually).  These however are not extravagant travels but are rather short trips within the region and to neighboring countries.  Travelling is never cheap (even the ones done on a budget). 🙂  And if you’re like me travelling with a family, you understand how challenging it is both financially and logistically.

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LuminoCity. Lights exhibition at the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resorts in Marina Bay, Singapore.

So why this sudden passion for travelling?  Well for one thing, I needed an excuse (an expensive excuse) for learning and practicing photography. 🙂  In the past, I also passed off a lot of opportunities in the office for free travel.  And lastly, I got this big scare from a fitness consultant a few years ago (which is perhaps my real and silly reason for this travel frenzy).  The consultant took a quick BMI check and told me I have a somewhat high level of fat in my system (which is quite surprising considering my thin body frame) and that I might even get a massive heart attack by age 45.  I was not sure if he was just trying to make me sign up for a gym program.  Anyway, I didn’t buy into the program but I did freak out a bit after that.  I did give it a thought and made a few lifestyle changes over the following months.  Alongside those changes is a list of the places I wanted to visit (kinda like a 1001-places-to-see-before-you-die sort of stuff).  So I told my family that from then on, we will meet regularly in some distant foreign lands and we’ll explore those places together. 🙂

I am still doing the things that I love very much and care passionately about; but now with more of the things I really don’t like to do but I needed to do (e.g. exercise, strength training); and eating less of the food I love and more of the ones I really didn’t care about before (e.g. greens).  Nowadays, the only time I eat with reckless abandon is when I am travelling. 🙂  When eating in another country, you should have a mantra.  I have one (something I learned from my church apprentice).  “Counting the memories and not the calories” is a reminder of why we eat and travel and why nothing that you eat in any foreign land will have any bad, real-life impact on your health and body. 🙂  Kidding aside, eating is my excuse and the best way for me to learn and to experience another country’s culture.

So here you go.  My postcards from 2015 (the very cliche I was trying to avoid).  Sorry for this.  I didn’t mean to brag or boast about these modest travels.  I just turned 45 three months ago and still feeling quite grateful (and obviously still alive at the time of this writing) for each day I receive past that 45-year mark. 🙂  I am currently looking at travelling outside the region.  It may take a while for this to happen as it will require a more challenging planning strategy.  Meantime, enjoy the images as much as I do and I hope I kept you inspired and always grateful.

1) Visiting Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbor (Hong Kong: Fabruary 2015):  Didn’t have much time to take so many photos but tried my best not to miss these spots.  I have seen this view of Hong Kong so many times that it was almost a cliche.  But seeing it personally gives one a different kind of high.  Taking photos at night in Victoria Peak was a challenge with children either knocking the camera tripod or extending their arms into the camera’s frame.  Not to forget the crowd behind me pushing each other to capture a photo.

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City of Embers.  Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong at night.

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Blurring the Lines.  Night view from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong.

2) Anniversary with the missus in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia: April 2015):  Kuala Lumpur is just an hour away by plane from Singapore.  So it would be a sin to miss the iconic Petronas Twin Towers.  As an architect, I made sure I didn’t miss this one as well as other places of interest.

Atmospheria. Petronas Towers and Kuala Lumpur skyline at the blue hour.

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Unbroken.  Petronas Towers viewed from a somewhat awkward angle.

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Dataran Merdeka.  The historic Merdeka Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

3) Team Building in Bali (Indonesia: May 2015):  I think our company did well the previous year so we had this weekend in Bali.  It was not the best part of Bali but it was a great opportunity to connect and re-establish relationships with our colleagues.

Children of The Light. Kuta Beach at Sunset.

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Edge of Tomorrow.  Twilight at Jimbaran Beach in Bali, Indonesia.

4) Road trip to Legoland Malaysia (Malaysia: July 2015):  I found myself stuck during a public holiday so I decided to take this last minute road trip.  The decision was perfect as the journey ended with me being reminded of why I became an architect in the first place.

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Legoland Hotel. The LEGO-inspired hotel located just across the park entrance.

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Imagination. The home for the true LEGO fan where children and adults alike can play with the LEGO bricks.

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LEGO Academy. This is also home to Mindstorms where you can build and program LEGO robots.

5) Photowalk at the Bund and Pudong Districts in Shanghai (China: September 2015):  I quite enjoyed this one despite the long-haul flight.  The weather was pleasant with the air starting to get cooler (the beginning of autumn) and the skies a perfect blue.  There’s no need for me to saturate the sky colors in the post-editing of the photos.  Not to forget the amazing architectural wonders in this area.

Historic Buildings along the Bund Strip in Shanghai, China.

Storm brewing above the Shanghai Pudong CBD.

Shanghai viewed from the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center.

6) Visit to Bangkok (Thailand: November 2015):  It was quite sad I didn’t have my family to join me in this trip.  Nevertheless, Bangkok surprised me with its unique flavor and twist to every experience possible.  Not to forget the food that you could enjoy just almost anywhere in the city.

Tourist Duty. Temple structures inside the Wat Phra Kaew grounds in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand.

Wonderful sunset viewed from Cielo Skybar in Bangkok, Thailand.

Enjoy the holidays!!

See you in my next post. Cheers!!! 🙂