Friday, December 31, 2010

Prospero Año Nuevo

We thank THEE for the year gone
And pray to THEE to bless the new one

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.---oOO-- (_)-----.
Happy New Year 2011
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....... ooO Ooo

Monday, December 27, 2010

Souvenir Shopping in Asakusa

It's fun shopping in Asakusa though the prices may not necessarily be cheaper than in the Omotesando district. There are hundreds of stalls on side streets and on the main alley leading to Sensoji Temple. But it's hard to get close to some stalls  (like the cookie shops) on Sundays when it seems a third of Tokyoites are congregating in the area.

No wonder the cookie stalls are mobbed. Check out these goodies which are wrapped so attractively. Who wouldn't be thrilled to receive a box of these freshly baked treats?

The cute knick knacks above are cell phone accessories or possibly something you can put into your key ring or hang from the handle of your handbag. I like the miniature wooden Japanese dolls best though I didn't buy any.

These cloth made dolls are beautiful to behold. Note the price for each doll - from 2,000 yen to 5,250 yen or US$24 to $64.00 at $1 to 82 yen. Behind the dolls are paddles with two feather shuttlecocks.

There are also many kimono and fabric shops in Asakusa but my personal choice for buying vintage kimono is the Oriental Bazaar in Omotesando where the selections are better, the fabrics are of good quality and prices are reasonable.

After a long day of "window shopping", here's my reward:

The best shopping I experienced in Tokyo is at the food sections of department stores. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in these places so I can only dream about it till my next visit.

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Images by Charie

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Merry Christmas

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Photo by Charie

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Parkside Grille - Portola Valley

The table is set with poinsettias

Appetizer: Ahi tartare in wontons with chile soy glaze

Appetizer: Homemade mushroom infused mini meatballs

Appetizer: Grilled chicken satay

Choice of Entrées:

Chardonnay poached river salmon in citrus beurre blanc with
garlic mash potatoes and braised Delta asparagus

Grilled organic hanger steak, Dijon butter,
fingerling potatoes, arugula Blue Lake string beans

Dessert: chocolate cake or gelato with homemade biscotti

Great Christmas party under the redwood trees. Enjoyed my salmon in citrus beurre blanc. It was really flavorful. A friend who had the hanger steak said that though it was delicious, the meat was a little tough. Everyone enjoyed the appetizers. Another entrée selection was the wood roasted oven breast of chicken. It was hard to steer the group to the table to start lunch. They lingered a while longer in the bar area where the appetizers where spread out over the counter. For dessert I had the chocolate gelato with homemade biscotti which to my surprise, I ate to the last drop! The staff was on top of everything and service was attentive and smooth.

Parkside Grille is located at 884 Portola Road, Portola Valley, California.

And a Merry Christmas to all!

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Images by Charie

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Christmas Holidays in Tokyo

A glittering tree at the Swarovski boutique in Omotesando,
the Rodeo Drive of Tokyo

Inside Omotesando Hills Mall

A jewelry store in the Ginza district

Sparkling lights and banners herald the new year

Christmas trees line the main street in fashionable Ginza

Happy Holidays to passengers at Narita Airport

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Images by Charie

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hungry in Tokyo?

The art of plastic food display reaches its zenith in Japan. No other country in the world has such a wide array of the most delectable plastic dishes (and not limited to Japanese food only).

Surrounded by Japanese restaurants, this window display announces an Italian pizzeria in Asakusa. Italian food has an affinity to Japanese or Asian cuisine as noodles = pasta. What differentiates them is the sauce.

At this noodle restaurant close to my hotel in Hanzomon, you need to get an order ticket from a machine with instructions in Japanese. So I took the menu and compared the Kanji characters of the combination dish I wanted for dinner with that of the machine but nothing matched. I narrowed down my choices by the price indicated on the menu but still couldn't find a match. So finally I gave up and stood by the counter until the chef was free to help me. He was very accommodating as he had seen me figure things out for a few minutes but as he had a steady stream of customers, couldn't get away immediately. Finally, after figuring out which button to press, I fed the coins necessary to pay for my meal and handed my ticket to the chef and voila!, I had a nice soba (buckwheat noodle soup), a bowl of rice and deep fried chicken a few minutes later. It was interesting to observe the chef as he made the soup. First he dipped the noodles into a hot pot to soften them and then put them in a bowl before adding flavored soup and some scallions. It was all so well orchestrated. I was mesmerized! The combination I ordered is called Mini Torikara Don and costs $9.00.

Lunch at Narita Airport prior to departure with mackerel, a bowl of rice, miso soup, cucumber salad, sweet almond jello and green tea. While it appears to be a lot of food, the portions are small enough to fill but not to feel overfed. This meal costs $12.00.

No surprises when ordering food as window displays often show the price of each dish. And how aesthetically beautiful a lot of these displays are! This one has a mask and mini folded screen.

For dessert, these cookies are some of the most coveted sweets on Sensoji Temple grounds. You can buy them fresh and warm. What's interesting is seeing how they're made in these flat, fish shaped iron griddles. Then you really want to try one but the queues are long. And the crowds on weekends just sweep you off. So you walk away empty. Next time.

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Images by Charie

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Balay ni Charie Celebrates its Fifth Year

Kids on their way to their classroom

One of the most heartwarming experiences I've had while visiting the Philippines has been meeting grade school kids through the Balay ni Charie School Supplies Program. According to Room to Read, "World change starts with educated children". And how do we keep economically disadvantaged children in school? Balay ni Charie helps children stay in school by providing them with the tools they need, namely: pencils, pens and paper. While we take these items for granted in more prosperous countries, many children in the Philippines can barely afford to buy the school kits necessary to succeed in their studies. With the generous support of friends and family, Balay ni Charie was able to reach out to 600 kids at Conrado Barrios Memorial School in Roxas City, Capiz last November. We are looking forward to helping more children for many years to come.

Grade school kids at Conrado Barrios Memorial School

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Photos by Charie

Early Morning at BayBay Beach

Mantalinga Island in the distance

The best time to take a walk along BayBay Beach in Roxas City is early morning when the rest of the city is still fast asleep. Except for annoying stray dogs, the beach is yours to enjoy. (The city really needs to address the burgeoning population of stray dogs as they often scare away would be strollers.)

Low tide. No fishing today?

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Photos by Charie

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

At the Roxas City Fresh Market

Pan de sal and mamon are my favorites

Sinigang and ginisa mix for that special flavor

Red egg with tomatoes and onions, yum!

Time for a little chit chat

Sorbete, ice cream, ice drop - there he goes

Nothing like a camera to bring out that smile! Thanks, guys.

Tricycles are so handy

Colorful outdoor stalls

Fresh produce and my favorite, melanzane (eggplant)
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Images by Charie

Monday, November 29, 2010

Islands in the Bay

Lagen Island

When choosing an island getaway, the best options (in my opinion) are in the Philippines. Why do I say this? There are 7,107 islands in the archipelago and not all are created equal. So if you visit Batanes islands in the north, you will find a landscape of green, rolling hills like that of Ireland. Or get a taste of Santorini at Bellaroca in Marinduque. At El Nido Resorts in Palawan, the bay is dotted with limestone karsts similar to the backdrop in the photo above.

Miniloc Island

If your ideal getaway is to do absolutely nothing but sit by the pool and read a book, then this is the place to do it. But if you feel like indulging in various adventures out at sea, there are a number of possibilities. Island hopping is de rigueur here. For starters, we took a short motorized outrigger ride to Miniloc Island for buffet breakfast before feeding the jackfishes in the protected area right in front of the restaurant. We also had the option of snorkeling (equipment provided free of charge) in crystal clear waters with colorful schools of fish visible even from the pier.

Outside the Small Lagoon

Jackfish feeding over, we sailed on to the Small Lagoon which can only be entered with a kayak. This was one of the most thrilling adventures we participated in. The entrance to the lagoon is just enough to clear your head through but don't touch the rocks as they are a bit rough and can cut your skin as it did one of the kayakers in our group. Other visitors swam to the Small Lagoon. Outriggers can enter the Big Lagoon which is enclosed by towering limestone cliffs.

Entalula Island

Lunch break at Entalula Island and a short nap later, we hopped on to Snake Island where we walked across the strip of sand just a couple of feet underwater. Best time to see the snaking sandbar is at low tide. Our most challenging adventure of the day was to explore Cudugnon Cave which we entered through the eye of the needle (literally). We did this by crawling through a narrow and low opening. Once inside the cave, we were dwarfed by the height of the interior cavern where light filtered through an opening in the rock above. It is believed that this cave was a burial ground in neolithic times. Human remains from that period were found here and now rest in a museum. 

Entrance to Cudugnon Cave

El Nido Resorts encourages its guests to be ecologically minded and not leave trash behind (especially non recyclable items) nor take away seashells, pebbles, rock or plants, but leave things as they are to preserve the fragile ecosystem.

So we tread softly and hope we can come back to the El Nido we left behind - pristine and unspoiled. 

Island Transvogayer Inc. (ITI) has daily flights to El Nido. From the airport to the town of El Nido, there is a jeepney that meets passengers at the airport. To go to the islands, guests are transported by boat or motorized outrigger. If you are staying at El Nido Resorts, they will arrange the flights, the transfer to the island of your choice (Lagen Island or Miniloc Island and soon, Apulit Island), and the accommodations. All activities (except diving) are included with the price of the room as well as the use of snorkeling gear. Meals are paid for separately or you can opt for full board. For more information on El Nido Resorts, go to their website at

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Images by Charie Albar

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Saturday, October 23, 2010

At the Salt Ponds

Walking by the salt ponds in late afternoon, I took this photo of blue waters, crystallizing salt and packed salt beds beyond.

After a few days, note the red pinkish hue of the water. In researching the reason for this coloration, I found this is due to the presence in the salt pond of "halophilic archeabacteria" bearing carotenoid compounds. These microorganisms thrive in areas of high salinity.

Live and learn!

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Images by Charie

Saturday, October 09, 2010


After a good 2-mile walk, here's my reward. A blazing sunset which reminds me of my favorite poem, The Day is Done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Thank you Lord for the beauty that surrounds me.

Here are a few stanzas from the poem to whet your literary appetite:

The day is done, and the darkness
  Falls from the wings of night,
As a feather is wafted downward
  From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village  
  Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
  That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
  That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
  As the mist resembles the rain

Come, read to me some poem,
  Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,  
  And banish the thoughts of day.

For the rest of this lovely poem, here's the link:

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Image by Charie

Friday, October 08, 2010

Wet is Hot!


Inside Crystals Retail and Entertainment District in Las Vegas, WET Design wows shoppers with its wetworks. Glacia is an installation of pillars of ice which "transmogrify by exposure to air" (this according to an article from Las Vegas Weekly). I've had to look up the word "transmogrify" and it means, to transform into a different shape. In this case, sculpted ice is transformed into these ethereal forms.


It's easy to be mesmerized by Halo. In every tube is a whirlwind or tornado waiting to be born. WET (Water Entertainment Technologies) lives up to its name. Water can be calming or it can be entertaining. And with Halo, it can be thought provoking.

Focus at Aria

Focus is a 270 foot long curved wall at the entrance to the Aria hotel lobby.  This is such a refreshing treat when temperatures climb to the 100's. Listening to water flow down the expanse of the wall, I'm transported to the rainforest or to the tropics where rain pours heavily for a spell then it's all over. And I'm dry except for a little welcome mist.

For more on WET Design's creations, check out the Fountains at Bellagio and the Volcano at The Mirage.

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Images by Charie