Saturday, July 26, 2014

Konnichiwa, Japan! Breezing through Osaka


Japan. For a while there – back in the 90s to be exact – it was the most innovative, fascinating, and coolest country in the planet. Game-changing gadgets bore the badge “Made in Japan” while Japanese was the cuisine du jour and the preferred partner for any fusion attempt in the culinary world. And what seem to be the oddest yet most riveting pop music artists were perhaps descendants of Samurais or relations of Geishas.

To be honest, I am not a Japanophile. My younger brother, who studied there as an exchange student, plays that part in our family. But my family ties don’t just end there. Truth be told, I wouldn’t literally be here if it wasn’t for the Japanese. Their occupation of the Philippines during WWII was the catalyst for my grandparents’ whirlwind romances. One pair’s marriage didn’t even last for ten years while the other went over and beyond the fifty year mark. 

Grandparents, as well as their brothers and sisters, never failed to relay stories on how much they’ll be shaking in terror when the Japs would be going around town. These together with historical accounts made it hard to reconcile the seemingly gentle, hardworking, and bashful image the Japanese has conjured for themselves these past decades. So finally, for my recent birthday, I’ve decided to try to get to know these people as well as check a few items off my bucket list.

My birthday adventure began even before I passed through Philippine immigration. The water bottle in my bag twisted open and so everything – from my mobile to the lent guidebook – got a good soaking. Worried that I may just be completely handicapped on this trip, I stepped on the plane with a heavy heart.

It got a major lift, though, when we landed at Kansai International Airport. This engineering marvel built on an artificial island in Osaka Bay opened back in 1994, years ahead of Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok. And just by landing on this once biggest manmade island before it sinks back to the sea, I got to tick an item on my bucket list.

Getting to the city is not much of a question of how but how much. Kansai International Airport is connected to the mainland by the Sky Gate Bridge R – a road and railroad bridge - so the options are: a cab, bus, and a train. There’s also a ferry that crosses the bay.

I bought a one-week JR Pass before flying out but since I will be in Japan for eight days, I could only use it the day after. Not wanting to blow some cash on my first day, I decided to take the cheapest way to the city and bought a train ticket for just around 1,000 Yen.  The ride took longer than I expected but it afforded me a good early glimpse of Japanese everyday life.


Welcome to Kansai International Airport! 
My very first encounter with the well-known high-tech Japanese toilet was at the Kansai Airport. 
Across the main terminal is this counter where one can buy a train ticket to the city.
The Airport Express, even if expensive, is a popular mode of transportation getting to the city.
The subway train from the airport has upholstered seats. The very first one I've ever rode on. I took it as a VERY good sign of things to come.  (And eventually, these seats got filled in.)
We were asked to alight the train for a reason I couldn't understand so we passengers had to wait for the next one.
They might a bit old but the floor tiles of the platform have such a nice pattern. 

I stayed at the Shin-Osaka Youth Hostel that is about a ten-minute walk from the station.  It’s in a more quiet district and a bit removed from downtown.  


I booked a bed in a dorm room that can sleep six guests. During my brief stay, I shared it with only one who can’t speak a word of English. She was an older lady who – from what l understood - was studying something in the city. Upon learning that I wasn’t Japanese, she gave me all kinds of stuff she could dig up from her luggage. She handed me a pack of mochi, a bag of tea, a pack of tissues, and a crocheted heart thing. With nothing much to offer, I gave her a pack of Choc-Nut that I planned to give my now Tokyo-based friend Jenie. She appeared to be happy about the exchange.

Any plan I had of seeing the sights was completely discarded for the more immediate task of buying a mobile at Den-Den Town – Osaka’s answer to Tokyo’s Akihabara.


Good Morning, Osaka! Here's the view from the window. 

Apartment Buildings from across the street of the hostel. 


The Japanese never misses a beat. They even make manhole covers look pretty!
Our street was rather quiet that cloudy morning. 
Some had to be content with very tight accommodations in the city while others have a whole house to themselves. 



Old houses are sandwiched or towered by taller buildings. 
But before I even got on the train, I was waylaid by a weekend flea market outside the station. It seems that the adage “A man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is true even in this part of the world.  From pre-loved clothes to old cameras, everything was spread out for anyone’s delectation.

An older lady came up to me and asked where I am from – the first person on my trip who correctly guessed I wasn't from there. (Even the Filipina Flight Attendant mistook me for a Japanese!) She then announced it to all the vendors in the area and they all proceeded to give their condolences for the country’s loss and destruction due to Typhoon Haiyan.  And to sort of uplift the mood, she expressed her admiration on how well we are as a people in speaking English.




There was a weekend flea market right outside the Shin-Osaka Station. 
Everyone was welcomed to shop, even furry cuties!
The Walkman, the father of these portable players, put Sony on the international map. 
From film to digital ones, pre-loved cameras were sold at the market. 
A pair of shoes for 300 Yen. 
Can you spot the Filipino label?
All sorts of things could be found in this flea market. 
A guy who just came up to me and chatted me up. Said he loves basketball and would love to teach English though he doesn't know how to speak the language.




After a good hour at the flea market, I headed towards Den-Den Town.  


Colorful signage hope to attract shoppers to their stores. 
Daiso! But things don't exactly cost 100 Yen. On top of the list price, they add tax. 
Filipino product sold at Daiso!

Narrow alleyways such as this is quite ubiquitous in Japan. 
Sales people trying to catch the attention of shoppers. 
Pedestrians and bikers waiting for their turn. Check out the lady on the bike. She's peddling with heels on!
Hello, old friend! 


And boy was I in for a surprise! I stepped inside a shop and was greeted by rows and rows of mobile phones being sold at very affordable prices! But after a minute of staring at iPhones, I remembered that these phones have a catch. They’re locked to a local mobile service provider and wouldn’t work outside of Japan.  Luckily, I found a couple of phones that were unlocked and finally decided on one.  Needless to say, it was an unexpected purchase which turned out to be completely unnecessary. When I got back to the hostel, my mobile actually turned on!

But fortunately for my butt, I didn’t have much time to kick it because I had to catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Experience New Zealand at Glorietta with Singapore Airlines


Have you ever dreamt of going to Middle Earth? Well, I have. And if you have, too, then this weekend is bound to one of the most promising yet!
 
The New Zealand Embassy, in partnership with Singapore Airlines and Glorietta, bring together this year’s ‘Experience New Zealand at Glorietta with Singapore Airlines’ - a fair to be held at the Glorietta Activity Center, Palm Drive from June 20 to 22, 2014. The fair will be giving Filipinos a foretaste of the finest New Zealand has to offer, from a variety of delicious food and fresh produce, to the best travel deals to New Zealand’s picturesque cities.

In line with Ayala Malls’ commitment in providing innovative and rewarding experiences to shoppers, Glorietta shoppers will also be given the chance to experience New Zealand for themselves as Singapore Airlines and the New Zealand Embassy are giving away two ‘Experience New Zealand’ packages to Auckland, one for 6 days and 5 nights, and the other for 5 days and 4 nights, inclusive of round-trip economy class tickets via Singapore Airlines, accommodations and tours.

To avail of a raffle coupon, shoppers must present P2,000.00 single and/or accumulated worth of receipts from any Glorietta 1 to 5, 6750 and The Link merchants, plus one purchase of Singapore Airlines/SilkAir Ticket from Manila, Cebu, Davao or Kalibo to Auckland or Christchurch from May 20, 2014 to June 22, 2014. Tickets can be purchased from www.singaporeair.com, SQ Mobile App, Singapore Airlines/SilkAir Ticket and Reservations Offices, and travel agents. AMORE and VIPinoy card holders, as well as Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer members may also increase their chances of winning by presenting their cards along with the proof of purchase to double their raffle coupons. The promo will run from May 20 to June 22, 2014, with the grand draw on June 24, 2014.

For bookings and more details, visit www.singaporeair.com. You may also contact the Glorietta concierge at 752-7272 for more details on the promo.


 
Get a chance to win a trip to New Zealand!



Photo of the contract signing shows (from left, standing): Myrna Fernandez, Ayala Land Assistant Vice President; Hernando Banal, New Zealand Trade Commissioner, New Zealand Embassy; Rita Dy, Manager for Marketing Communications and Services, Singapore Airlines; (seated): Rowena Tomeldan, Ayala Land Vice President and Head of Operations and Support Services, Commercial Business Group; H.E. Ambassador Reuben Levermore, Ambassador of New Zealand to the Philippines, New Zealand Embassy; Ranjan Jha, General Manager, Singapore Airlines.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Playtime at the SandBox in Alviera

Last Saturday, Travel Junkie Manila was invited to the media launch of SandBox, Alviera’s first main attraction.

Just like you, I wondered where is Alviera and what is the Sandbox.  As it turned out, Alviera is Ayala Land’s, in partnership with Leonio Land, latest large-scale, integrated mixed-use development that is situated in Porac, Pampanga.  It is a 1,1285-hectare township designed to seamlessly combine urban living with nature.  

Alviera is set to become the regional growth center of Central Luzon complete with a commercial district, business and industrial park, university zones, retail centers, a country club, recreational areas, and residential neighborhoods.

On the other hand, the SandBox  - Alviera’s first main attraction, is an outdoor playground for people of all ages.  It is a seeming great place for family picnics, team-building sessions, sports and active lifestyle enthusiasts, outdoor hobbyists, and outings with friends.  It has a themed kiddie playground with picnic areas, mini-golf, camping sites, a courtyard and an open field for field and other outdoor activities.There is also the pump track, a 5,000 sq-m bike track for all types of bikes and skill levels. Its name originates from the pumping motion used by the riders’ bodies as they create momentum around the tracks.


Though when we got there, the Sandbox was short of being finished.  The rollercoaster zipline were still missing a few tracks. The mini-ATV track still needed some work, and the grounds still can use a bit of landscaping work. Nonetheless, the foundations were already laid down and they did promise that it would all be completed on April 12, 2014 for their public launch. 

As for now, get a glimpse of the SandBox by looking at some of the photos I took last Saturday. 

The SandBox is Alviera’s first main attraction.
The Aerial Walk Challenge is a high rope adventure course of nets and rope walkways. The Aerial walk is a series of activities that will test each user’s agility, balance, and flexibility. 
The Sandbox’s Giant Swing is the country’s tallest swing.  The swing can accommodate three guests at a time and creates the back and forth movement at ten meters above ground. 
Picnic tables are scattered around the grounds. 
The Adventure Tower is a five-storey structure that features a couple of activities such as rappelling and wall climbing. It also serves as a viewing deck and the jump off platform for free fall and rollercoaster zipline. 
The Avatar One is the Philippines’s first rollercoaster zipline. One doesn’t just zip down the 180-meter (length) course but zigzags along starting from 12 meters high. 
The SandBox also offers ATV rides around the property.   


The SandBox's official launch is this 12 April 2014 , Sunday.
Here's how to get from Manila to Alviera. 



Expect it to be hot and windy at the Sandbox so don't forget to bring the ff: 
1. Umbrellas
2. Caps or hats
3. Sunglasses
4. Sunscreen
5. Change of clothes
6. Towel
7. Hand Sanitizer


*The SandBox is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 9 AM - 5AM.
Booking guidelines and details are available on www. alviera.ph. 

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