Welcome to Queens

With a bulky luggage and a backpack to lug around between train stations and platforms, I knew my commute from Jersey City to Manhattan to Queens was not going to be easy. Lack of upper body strength, meet several flight of stairs. You’re not going to like each other. (Actually, stairs won’t really care.)

When I reached Midtown, my friend F who just came from a run in Central Park told me to stay put in the train station where I was and that she would just meet me there. I was so happy to see her because (1) I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years and (2) extra pair of arms! Take that, subway stairs! (Nope, not really. The luggage lugging on the stairs was still not the most convenient morning activity.)

Finally, when we got to 30th Avenue Station in Astoria, Queens, my friend and I decided to let the other luggage-less folks go down the flights of stairs ahead of us so that two tiny Filipinas carrying one luggage won’t block their way. We waited a few meters away from stairs, letting other people pass ahead of us when a guy asked us if we needed help. After two stations,  four flights of stairs (yes, I counted) and throngs of train passengers you try not to block, when this guy asked us if he could help us, I must have looked like I had just seen the birth of Jesus. I nodded, while I picked up my jaw from the floor. My friend from Queens just smiled sweetly, nonplussed, and said a chirpy, “Okay, thanks!”

The guy carried our bag down two flights of stairs onto the sidewalk. I thanked him profusely and I think I bowed at one point. He waved his hand, which we all know is the universal language for ‘Don’t worry about it’ and went on his way.

And with that, my friend turned to me and said: “Welcome to Queens.”

From the track

From the track in Astoria Park

To say that my friend loves her neighborhood (and the NYC borough she now calls home) was an understatement. And with that kind of ‘welcome’ I wasn’t surprised why.

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Museums, Central Park and a lot of walking

One of many things I loved in the trip to New York City was the amount of walking you could do almost anywhere. I arrived on a Tuesday afternoon and as the cab crawled through Manhattan to the hotel (while I gawked out the window and tried to take in every block we passed), I couldn’t wait to get off the taxi, throw my luggage in the hotel, and start exploring the streets. It took more than 8,600 miles to get there, I wasn’t going to waste any time. After checking in, answering office emails, and resisting the strong urge to sleep at five in the afternoon, I walked. Because most of the streets of Manhattan are mapped out like a grid, it was easy to walk around, look at every block, every townhouse or brownstone, every sidewalk, and find my way back to my hotel–that is after taking in an embarrassing amount of photos of aforementioned blocks, townhouses, brownstones, sidewalks (while not letting the pile of garbage bags lining said sidewalks get in the frame). My husband, who takes an inordinate number of photos in our trips would be proud.

You should know that I have an unhealthy

You should also know that I have an unhealthy obsession with New York’s rowhouses and brownstones. In an alternate universe I imagine myself living in one along with a couple of puppets (I blame my childhood years watching hours of Sesame Street for this entirely)

nyc1stday3 After the official business part of the trip was done and I could actually sleep for more than two hours straight, a friend from high school who’s now working in New York accompanied me to the two museums I wanted to see and spent the afternoon walking with me around Central Park. I took the no. 6 train to 86th Street in the morning and from there walked to the Met where we met up, walked to Central Park, headed  to MoMA, to Magnolia Bakery at the Rockefeller Center, down to Times Square to her husband’s office, and then to 33rd Street to take the train back to their apartment. There’s a lot of walking to be done in New York City. And this was just on a Friday. Continue reading

Magic in the land of Nara

nara-deer1

Once upon a time, around a century or two after Buddhism was established in Japan, during the beginning of early Japanese poetry and probably long, long before anime was born (or I may have my timelines mixed up), legend has it that a mythological god arrived on a white deer to guard the new capital of Heijo-kyo or present-day Nara.

Fast forward more than 1,300 years and the ancient capital still possesses a storybook charm. There’s something almost magical about Nara.

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On the last day of 2011

Before my family and I got started on a day of cooking and eating to welcome the New Year (yes, this post is nine days overdue), my husband and I decided to walk around Quezon Memorial Circle on the morning of December 31. It’s a national park located along the Elliptical Road in Quezon City, where the 66-meter tall Quezon Memorial Shrine stands. Inside the shrine is a small museum and mausoleum with the remains of the Philippines’ second president, Manuel Quezon.

I think I was in elementary school when I first set foot in the shrine for an educational outing. Most people though go to the circle for the park grounds. It comes alive in the mornings when joggers run around the perimeter (there’s even a running clinic every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 am, Saturdays at 7 am, and Sunday at 5:30 am). On weekends, families bring their kids to the playground, fly some kites, ride a paddle boat or an aqua bike in the teeny man-made pond, and during the holidays, go the the carnival for some merry-go-round and Ferris wheel action. There’s also vegetable market, a zip line, a sad-looking soccer pitch (it looked like it needed some major work) and even a fish spa (dip feet in a water tank filled with fish and let the fish do the work.)

Should those activities make you hungry, you can also grab some grub afterward. People have breakfast in one of the many modest stalls and restaurants selling mostly Filipino food–breakfast favorites of various silog (fried rice with egg and meat of choice), lugaw or congee, champorado (chocolate rice porridge), all varieties of kakanin (rice cakes), barbecued meats, and so much more. Since it was December, there were the Filipino Christmas staples of bibingka (a type of rice cake made with coconut milk) and puto bumbong (a distinctly purple rice cake  traditionally cooked in bamboo). I prefer the salty, sweet taste and the fluffy cake texture of the bibingka, but bought some puto bumbong as well before heading home for my brother who recently discovered he loved it. There’s also the beloved ‘dirty’ ice cream. If you’re not familiar with Filipino food, it’s the cheaper and street food version of ice cream. ‘Dirty’ because it’s peddled on the street and street food typically doesn’t really score high in proper sanitation.  Never got sick from it when I was a kid though.

slouching somewhere

Quezon Memorial Shrine. Look up and you’ll see the statues of three angels holding sampaguita wreaths on top of the three vertical pylons

Pick a balloon–Dora, Spongebob, or an Angry Bird

Mang Sorbetero or the dirty ice cream man. Local flavors include cheese, mango, ube and langka (jackfruit)

Bibingka being cooked with charcoal underneath and that tray of charcoal goes on top.

The Quezon Memorial Circle is the nearest open space from our house (closer than UP Diliman), but unfortunately P and I rarely go there. I suggested that we should spend more mornings there this year–to run, to eat, to just take a break from the usual mall-movie-restaurant weekend outings.

An impending new year always brings thoughts of what you want to start doing. A few changes you know would be good for you. To go outdoors more. Write more. Get distracted less. Keep running. Keep hoping. Save more. Bring an extra bag every time I go out. Cut down on plastic bags. Cut down on water bottles. Cut down on the Internet. Read more books. Be braver.

“Someone who is busier than you is running right now” (and where to run in Bangkok)

Ouch.

I stumbled upon this old Nike ad in this engaging runner’s blog a few days ago. Well, it was one effective and guilt-inducing ad copy that immediately made me lace up and go for a run. My two-week (I’m in denial and I’m sticking to my story that it was just two weeks) hiatus from running came about during and after the trip to Bangkok.

I know I wrote it here somewhere that I plan to look for places to run and actually go running whenever I travel. Well, I did pack my running shoes, but I also ended up bringing a bunch of assignments with me on the trip. (Never a good idea. But you know what Nike will say…) The one morning I didn’t have an article to finish, I woke up early, put on my running gear, and headed out my cousin’s apartment all set to run. The neighborhood was pretty nice, with its wide, quiet roads and it appeared perfect for running. But then there were stray dogs roaming around, and pretty soon a lot of speeding cars were on the road, and there were no sidewalks, and…well, there’s always something. Excuses tend to snowball that way. And before I knew it, I was making my way back to the apartment.

Back to the apartment. Didn't get to run.

The day before we flew back to Manila, I did find a place where I could have gone for a run in the heart of Bangkok. Lumphini Park. It’s located in this very busy intersection, where crossing the street initially appeared to be a mystery. (We were not alone, when we got back to the Lumphini MRT Subway station, we overheard a fellow traveler asking a security guard where the park was. The guard didn’t understand English so I stepped in and told her it was just across the street. “But where do you cross?” she asked puzzled at the seeming absence of a pedestrian lane. But you can cross by waiting for the light to change on the major intersections and waiting for cars to let you pass in the other smaller roads.)

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