A WICKEDLY GOOD TIME

I was home for a week and found out that Wicked, the musical, is playing in Manila! I took no time in deciding…I have to see it! On February 6 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I watched the show with my friend Joyce, and her sister Chi, and we definitely had a wickedly good time!

The story revolves around the 2 witches of Oz, their young lives leading up to how they became known as Glinda, the Good, and Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. I was intrigued with it’s massive following in Broadway and the rave reviews I’ve been reading on social media. And so I went to see the show without knowing the storyline, the characters, or any of the songs –well, after Defying Gravity was sung, i said “OK, there’s one.” 😀 .  I stepped out of the theater hall, smiling, humming to one of the showtunes, and still in awe of how Elphaba defied gravity. The day after, I downloaded the soundtrack and listened to it over and over.

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The animatronic dragon towering over the audience.

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Chi, myself, and Joyce – all wickified!

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The show has ended its Manila run last March 9, and I am so happy to have been able to see it!

A month later, I still have the songs on repeat. And as it seems like I just can’t make the Wicked fever go away, I’ll say — “Because I knew you, I have been changed FOR GOOD.”

DAILY PONDER: TRAPPED

Like a flower bending in the wind
I bow down, I fold
Like a fish who took the bait
I’ve accepted my fate in the cold
Like a car engine, lifeless
I surrender to the tow
And let whoever is in the lead
Tell me where to go
The trappings of this weak spirit
Is no more to bear
And soon I must break the shackles
For a life that is fair.
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MYANMAR: GETTING IN

It was June, and my travel partner and I were on our search for our next destination. We’ve practically wiped out most of SouthEast Asia, and we got 3 options left: Laos, Myanmar, and Brunei.

Well, you guessed it right *wink* – we picked Myanmar! I was slightly hesitant at first because of the warnings about safety in the country. We did some research and eventually convinced ourselves that the place is worth seeing. We had a week, so we planned for 2 stops, Yangon and Bagan.

We were a few days closer to our trip and have had our flights and hotels already sorted, until we bumped into hurdle. We learned that we needed to have an entry visa! In most countries in SouthEast Asia, we can get away with a visa on arrival or none required at all!

It can get very confusing if you do your research online. Websites will tell you different things – some say there is a Visa-on-Arrival facility and some say you have to obtain it before flying into the country. You will find plenty of travel agents online that can process your e-visa, but be careful when choosing as scammers are everywhere to take advantage of naive tourists. Since there was no Myanmar embassy nearby our location, we took a gamble with one agent that we found online. The travel company is called Sincerity General Travel Services and our contact person is Kay.

*Sincerity General Travel Services full contact details:
Kay Zin Tar
Managing Director
Sincerity General Travel services
OFFICE; No.42 A, Pantra Street, Dagon Township. Yangon.Myanmar
Residence; No.28, 4th Floor, 53rd Street, Pazundaung Township, Yangon. Myanmar
Mobile : 09 73138320; 09 4200 96014
Tel/Fax: 01 378994
kay.nyi@gmail.com; sales@sinceritytravel.com

We called her up and inquired about the tourist e-visa and she’s asked us to send our passport scans, personal details (home address, phone number, and occupation), and our travel details (return flights and hotel information) to her email address. The cost was 100 USD per person, to be paid upon arrival. This made us feel confident that the agency was no sham. We received our approval letter via email, 3 days later. Upon arrival at Yangon airport, we proceeded to the Visa on Arrival counter, and handed out the e-visa documents along with our passports.

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Don’t worry if you receive something like this. It may look dodgy, but it’s legit.

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We also received a listing with our names and passport details on it, along with the Visa Approval letter.

After a few minutes of waiting, we were called back to the counter and our passports were given back to us with the visa sticker! It’s a single entry visa, valid for 28 days.

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The same entry and exit dates are probably a typo, but it was never an issue for us. They looked at the Duration of Stay, which was 28, so we were good!

And that’s it – we headed to the immigration queue and got through in no time. Kay’s representative was at the arrivals hall waiting for us and she had a car to take us to our hotel. Not bad at all – we only paid for visa services and yet we managed to get a free drop-off, too!

If you have an embassy in your country, then consider applying before traveling. This saves you a great deal as the visa will only cost somewhere between 20-30 USD. Processing can also take up to 3 days. The Myanmar embassy in Bangkok is known to release visas on the same day, provided you have submitted your application before 10am.

Stay put for the continuation of our Myanmar trip! We just got in – we will be exploring more in the next post!

Happy travels! 🙂

Disclaimer: I have no associations with the agency mentioned in this post.

HOLY SHIT…HOLES!

I have just recently found out that I am a Trypophobe. Trypophobia is the fear of small holes in clusters. I would itch all over and feel disgusted by the sight of small holes. Things that I see or use everyday like a sponge wouldn’t bother me so much. It would be when it’s an image of holes in the skin.

I get goosebumps. I cringe. I even want to cry!

I have done very little research as I fear of opening up sites that will show more trypophobic images. Once I see one, it takes a while to get over the fear and I feel the discomfort all throughout. However, with the short online snooping that I did, I found out that it can be cured – mostly through behavioral and cognitive therapy.

People often say, to overcome a fear, you must do it repetitively until it no longer has any impact on you. Well, I don’t think staring at this trypophobic image (Warning! Only the brave must click!) will help me overcome it. I might just roll over and die!

Have you got it too? Share your story and let’s cringe together. 😉

TRAVEL TIP #1 – ORGANIZED PACKING

Invest in organizers. I used to just dump things in my bag then come unpacking at the destination…BOOM! Everything is everywhere. Now, I have a pouch or a small bag for everything, including:

  • Electronic accessories – Chargers, USB cables, power adapters. Different countries use different plug types – 3-square pegs / 2 round pins / 2 flat pins – so I recommend getting a universal adapter. This prevents you from switching plugs everytime – pano kung mali yung nadala mo?
  • Manicure/pedicure/sewing kit set – Yes, don’t forget to carry a mini-sewing kit. Imagine you went hiking and you reached for that next step and craaaaaackbutas ang punjo! I don’t take any of the hotel room freebies apart from two things: the sewing kit and the shower cap. I’ve taken so many of these matchbox-like sewing kits and they’ve been very helpful in times of emergency. The mani/pedi set is not really necessary for short travels, but as I am away from home for months, and have no time go to nail parlors, I do basic cleaning and painting myself.
  • Toiletries – As you are keeping mostly liquids here, the best type to get is a waterproof pouch. Ensure that all lids are closed properly/tightly. I don’t seal the caps, I put them in the bag as how I bought them (trust me, they don’t spill even on a 14-hour flight). Of course, occasionally you’ll come across poor packaging. Watch out for these and seal with a tape (masking tape is enough) as a precaution.
  • Make up – You don’t really want your eye pencils mixing with your ballpens. I am guilty of not using a make-up bag before, mainly because I only carry 4 key items with me – a compact powder, a blush powder, a tube of lipstick, and an eye pencil. I could just throw these in my tote’s pocket! Well I did, and now the white lining of my bag have different shades of beige, pink, and black.
  • Medicines – We all carry drugs of some sort – vitamins, antihistamine, anti-allergy, pain reliever, flu relief, eye drops. Keep the medicine pouch in your handcarry. Never expect the entire travel period to be smooth – colds are easily caught on flights so be sure not to put your meds in your checked-in luggage. Don’t forget to throw in a few pieces of band-aid in there, too.
  • Jewellery and accessories – It’s best to get a pouch or purse with lots of compartments so you can segregate the small items. I even have one for watches and another for the rest of the blings. As this is of high value, keep it in your handcarry.
  • Shoes – I have to admit, I was putting these in a plastic bag before. Plastics are good for wet shoes but waterproof shopping bags are an alternative. Plus, it’s more stylish and eco-friendly, too! Heels can puncture the plastic bags and ruin other items inside the luggage. Cloth or canvass bags are another option.
  • Travel documents – Quick check-ins happen when you have all necessary paperwork ready when asked for. Don’t forget to keep a coloured copy of your passport in another place though, such as your wallet, or a digital copy on your phone. Having a copy would ease identification in case you’ve lost your travel documents. Also carry a few copies of your passport picture for destinations that require Visa-On-Arrival. Officers will ask for at most 2 copies of your photo when processing your VOA.
  • Hand-carried liquids – Most airport securities, especially for international travel, will ask you to place all your hand-carried liquids in a ziploc bag. Instead of fumbling through your bag for your little perfume bottle and your hand sanitizer and holding up the queue, it’s best to prepare and place all liquids 100 ml or less in a ziploc bag beforehand so you can readily hand it over for inspection. Remember, you can only carry up to 1 liter of liquids in the cabin compartment, all the rest must go in the checked in luggage.

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There are definitely a lot more organized people than I am. But to you, yes you, who’s slightly more spontaneous and likes to pack last minute and go – you might consider this helpful. 😉

Happy travels!

RED IS INDEED THE COLOR OF BIRTHDAYS

I have spent 4 birthdays onboard out of the 5 years that I have been sailing. The first time was back in 2009, where I spent my birthday working on a boat offshore Angola. As I was quite new to the crew, nobody had any idea that it was my birthday and I had to eat dinner by myself after getting stuck at my workstation due to an operational problem. I swore then that onboard birthdays are the worst.

Things turned around for the better and the succeeding birthdays were just as awesome as if I was celebrating on land with family and friends. My crew were no longer strangers to me and onboard birthdays have since then become a blast. I even received onboard-made gifts (talk about customized coveralls – slim-fit and with an embroidered name!), cards, and flowers. I’ve seen excellent improvisation skills just to make my day special. And of course, there was cake! What kind of birthday would it be without the cake?

This year is quite unique. I celebrated it while we are cruising along the Red Sea. The Red Sea! Never in a million years would I even think that I will be in a place that I’ve only read in Bible stories. Moses parting the Red Sea, the entire Exodus extravaganza, all the sunken chariots…it’s unfathomable, yet it makes me want to hold on to that amazing childhood story no matter how wiser and more religiously open I am today. ?????????? And of course, it was extra special because of the gazillion greetings I’ve received from all over the world. Thank you to everyone who remembered!

BERLIN 2013

Hooray for my first entry! I have to go backwards here, as this blog came 4 years late. Oh well, as the cliche goes…better late than never!

My travel mantra is never go anywhere without a FULLY CHARGED camera. Immortalize every memory, capture it in a photo. Every picture tells a story. And as I don’t keep a journal, if unfortunately dementia strikes, I’d have all my lovely photos to remind me of how awesome life had once been. 😀

Now let’s begin with my last travel destination – Berlin.

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Berlin has been one of my dream destinations. I have been very intrigued with the Holocaust and the WWII, and it’s the perfect place to learn more about it. We visited the German city at the end of September. Bright and sunny with temperatures at an average of 15 degrees Celsius.

Here are my top 7 worthy time-wasters in Berlin:

1. Visit Checkpoint Charlie

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This is the most popular border crossing between East and West Germany during the Cold War. The area is complete with a replica of the guard house (the original is in another museum) and a museum detailing the era when the world was divided into Soviet-led East and US-led West. A portrait of an American soldier can be seen when facing east, and a Russian soldier when facing west.

Photo op: For a euro, you can have your photo taken with the “guards” at the checkpoint. Oh, snap!

2. Have a Currywurst

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There should be no problems finding Berlin’s most wanted streetfood. Currywurst is made of sliced German sausage with curry powder and lots and lots of ketchup! You can have it plain or with a side of fries – both equally good.

Tip: Right across Checkpoint Charlie, there is a stand called Checkpoint Curry.

3. Run into the maze that is the Holocaust Memorial

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Okay, running is probably not the most appropriate thing to do here. But when you see it, your first instinct will be to run and play hide and seek. The place is like a maze – perfect for make outs and what nots – just kidding. This memorial deserves genuine respect. Murdered Jews all over Europe are remembered here.

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Underground is a museum showcasing letters to loved ones, journal pages, and Jewish family stories at the time of the Holocaust.

Fact: The Frank family (popularized by Anne Frank’s Diary) is not included in any of the accounts in this museum.

4. Go through the Brandenburg Gate

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The rollerbladers do, so why won’t you? Haha. We happened to be in Berlin at the time of the 40th BMW Berlin Inline Skating Marathon and there was a massive crowd cheering for the participants as they speed through the gate.

Well, Brandenburger Tor (its German name) was not really built for sporting events like this. This is one of the most iconic landmarks in Berlin history – Hitler going through the gate during a parade in the 1930’s and US President Ronald Reagan delivered a speech here back in the late 80’s asking Soviet leader Mikhail Gobrachev to tear down the Berlin Wall (to be mentioned in this list too, of course).

Tip: If you are visiting in October, make sure to drop by in the evening to witness the gate illuminated in all colours during the Festival of Lights!

5. Go ’round and ’round inside the Reichstag Dome

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Want to have excellent views of Berlin? Yes, please!  The Reichstag dome is situated on the rooftop of the German Parliament building and offers a 360-degree view of the city.

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Inside the dome is a mini-museum that walks through the construction, destruction, and reconstruction of the Reichstag. The dome top is kept open during good weather and people can lie and cloud-gaze.

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Tip: Book your dome visit online to avoid queueing outside the building. Checkout Reichstag Dome Online Registration.

6. Be in awe at the Topography of Terror

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Everything that I had come to Berlin for is right here. It covers the period when Hitler reigned as dictator, the Fuhrer, as Nazi Germany called him. The place has both an outdoor and indoor museum – history junkies can spend hours here!

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A section of the Berlin Wall remains standing here, where they built the outdoor museum. And for the rest of the wall that was demolished, a mark was placed instead to trace the former location of the wall.

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Trivia: Do you know that you can get arrested for doing the “Heil Hitler!” salute? Yeah, so don’t even think about it. 😉

7. Shop in Kurfurstendamm

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Coming from Norway, I consider German shopping a bargain. “Ku’damm” is where you want to be if you are a woman! I don’t think this needs convincing, just go there and shop! I did!

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Yes, I have this growing obsession with Longchamp bags. I’ve been trying to buy limited edition styles from every country I’ve been to. More on this in a separate post.

There you have it! My top 7 things to do in Berlin. If you have more time to spare, I suggest going to Benderblock to see the memorial of Team Valkyrie (Tom Cruise movie, ring any bells?). And if you have more cash to spare, then why not have some fun at the Spielbank Berlin Casino? I’m not promoting gambling here my friends, just promoting fun. 😉

Until my next post, Auf Wiedersehen!