Learning More About Mindfulness

Origami I got as a token from the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

In between travels, I study. Mostly online, with the exception of French weeknight classes (more of that to come soon). I find it a good balance with the routine from daily business hours, and the temptation of sitting in front of the TV watching Netflix and munching on popcorn at night. So I eagerly signed up for some free courses from my Coursera app, and the first one in my list is De-mistifying Mindfulness by Universiteit Leiden. It’s a 6-week learning course, and I’m now on my second week. Well, I should be on my third week, but I’m lagging behind because of no valid reason. Yes, sadly, I got distracted. Netflix won.

I honestly thought I’d just breeze through it, treated it more of a refresher training of sorts. I was wrong. First module in, I realized I’m one of those who stereotypes mindfulness as a monk, or a sage – requiring a place of peace and quiet in order to practice. And then I took the Perceived Stress Scale test with the notion that I’d probably rate at the lower, if not the lowest, end of the scale. Halfway through the test I realized I’ve been more stressed than I thought I was – so when I rated higher than the average person of all age brackets, I was not surprised anymore. Yikes, so it’s true then, I easily get stressed. And worse, I keep it all bottled in, appearing as calm and chill as how I am mostly known for. No wonder I have a chronic case of acid re-flux and other body pains! While stress is good for the body, too much or too little can be life or mind altering.

Before heading out for breakfast today I tried to think of what my major source of stress was. It didn’t take long for me to accept that it’s because I expected people or things to act like or turn out how I expected them to be. It stems from me, and my so called ‘standards’.

I’m not even halfway through the course, and I look forward to learning more. For starters, I should really make time and effort to practice the exercises (lab work) on a daily basis. One if the practices that I like most is the body-scan breathing exercise.

I know I’ve got so much more to learn AND unlearn. I’m taking it one module at a time. One thing’s for sure – Netflix is now scheduled accordingly, and in moderation, in my calendar.

 

 

A Photo A Week Challenge: Flower

Pretty little flowers

“Just living is not enough…one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” — Hans Christian Andersen

Nancy Merrill Photography posted some awesome shots of flowers of spring. A flower’s beauty for me is priceless – simple, elegant, delicate and mesmerizing. That’s why it was a pleasure for me to join in on the photo challenge because no trip of mine would be complete without photos of flowers.

And while I write this post, playing in the background is Minnie Riperton’s song Les Fleurs.

Cosmos flowers

Lavenders at my sister’s garden

Flowers at my sister’s garden

Favorite Things to Do in Matsumoto

I was going through my photos and realized I have not yet written about Matsumoto, the quaint city in the Nagano Prefecture in Japan. It was actually out of the way coming from Kamikochi to Nagoya, but after a few searches in the internet we decided to spend a night in this lovely city, and boy did we make the right decision! In fact, from our last holiday in Japan, D commented he found Matsumoto as one of his personal favorites, and would not hesitate to go back. So here are the favorite things from our trip to Matsumoto: 

Cycling-friendly

With a pretty much flat terrain, it’s quite easy to cycle around Matsumoto. It was not part of the initial plan, but when we were walking to the hotel we saw these green-colored line of bicycles and discovered they were rented for free, compliments of Sui Sui Town. All we had to do was register our IDs at any of the allocated parking slots (we got ours from the Matsumoto City Museum next to the Matsumoto Castle). From thereon we were able to get to several of the destinations indicated in the city map that we got. It was quite fun!Free bike rental in Matsumoto

Matsumoto City’s Sui Sui Town free rental bikes
Matsumoto City’s Sui Sui Town free rental bikes

Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

The Matsumoto Timepiece Museum was a nice find for me, and I was glad that D brought me here. It’s a small museum showcasing well preserved clocks, sundials, and they also even have phonographs. I watched in awe as the mechanical clocks operated. There was a big pendulum clock outside the museum, and I was told it was the biggest in Japan.Largest pendulum clock in JapanInside the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum

Matsumoto Castle

The one word I wrote to describe the Matsumoto Castle was magnificentIt is one of the top 3 most beautiful original castles in Japan, a black castle also known as Crow Castle. We were able to get inside the castle and climbed our way up through its wooden floors. I liked how it is surrounded by the Japan Alps in the distance, and I imagined it would be very pretty especially around winter. Matsumoto Castle

Nawate Dori 

This is a quirky frog-themed shopping street a few minutes away by foot (or closer by bike) from the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum and the Matsumoto Castle. Every shop had a frog statue, and I read from its history that these frogs brought good luck. Souvenirs and snacks fill the shops, and I guess D’s favorite shop would be the vintage shop at the street’s entrance. He was able to buy a vintage Seiko business man’s watch here for a very good deal.Nawate Dori, Matsumoto

Other things that added to the city’s charm

Well, for starters, there were the pretty manhole covers.

And then there’s the Town Sneakers, red-spotted buses following four inner city loops for easier sight-seeing.

And then there’s the Former Kaichi school built in 1876.

Lastly we also saw Genchi Well, a natural spring water source of the city.Sneaker bus, MatsumotoColorful flower themed manhole cover, MatsumotoColorful manhole cover showing two girls in kimonos, MatsumotoFormer Kaichi School

Genchi WellIt was also in that recent Japan trip that I discovered how awesome Japanese curry dishes are. When we were about to leave Matsumoto via bus, a man greeted us near the bus station, saying “Arigato Gozaimasu”. We greeted him an “Ohayo Gozaimasu” and smiled back, and then it was a bit later on realized he was the man from the Japanese curry restaurant we ate at the previous day. It was quite touching he remembered our faces, and even said thank you for visiting his city. We were thankful for having had the opportunity as well. It was a truly remarkable vacation.

 

A Daytour at Masungi Georeserve

Masungi Georeserve bridge

Masungi GeoreseveYesterday we were finally able to trek the Masungi Georeserve, a conservation protected area in Baras, Rizal. Situated in the southern part of the Sierra Madre mountain range, the Masungi Georeserve project aims to heal the forest and serve as a wildlife sanctuary. The drive to Masungi takes about a couple of hours from Makati City, and the highlights of the trip includes communing with nature, walking through caves and limestone trails, rope courses and hanging bridges, while learning about the different tropical trees, potentially encountering tropical wildlife, and learning about how to contribute to the conservation of the environment. It took us a long time to book a trip to Masungi, as they require reservation and a minimum number of participants per trip. Slots were easily filled especially on weekends, so we had to book three weeks in advance through Klook, paying PhP2,600 per person. My friend from previous work joined D and me in this adventure as she was likewise keen on seeing the place up close.

Tanlines RoofdeckTanlines menuAt 7AM we headed off to Tanlines PH’s roofdeck meeting place along Makati Avenue. Tanlines offered breakfast (choice of Filipino and Continental) for a fee of 150 pesos. We skipped that as we already had a hearty breakfast, but we were able to enjoy their free coffee and ice cold water. Tanlines limits the group from 7 to up to 14 people only. We were only 10 people yesterday, which I think is a good enough size for the trek. After a briefing at the Tanlines roofdeck we loaded the minibus and drove off to Baras, Rizal. Luckily traffic was not bad, and we arrived at Masungi about half past nine.

En route to the Masungi GeoreserveLeaf imprintBeautiful landscaped gardenAt the onset I was already impressed by the colorful flowers, the mountain backdrop, and the sound of chirping birds. We were welcomed by the Masungi staff who gave an introduction and history of Masungi and their efforts, as well as what to expect for the day. Masungi was derived from the Filipino word “masungki” which is a word used to describe crooked, spikey teeth — because that’s how the limestones of Masungi look like. The limestone formations of the Masungi Georeserve are estimated to be 60 million years old, when they emerged from the ocean following movements of the earth’s crust post the dinosaur age. It was in 1996 when the conservation efforts were started for the area, and today, the payments made by each visitor goes into planting trees. The Masungi staff told us that at the end of the trek we were to be given a certificate and hopefully in ten years we can get an invitation to see the trees that have been planted as a result of our visit.

Our guide, JackieGreenery - a feast to the eyesWe were reminded to always wear our helmets as there would be instances of walking through caves and climbing ropes; the leave no trace policy; sticking close to the group at all times and not wandering far; not petting or feeding any wildlife we encounter; and maintaining silence so as not to disturb other visitors and the nocturnal animals who are sleeping during the daytime. There were to be 9 destinations for the trail, and we were to walk around the conservation area, not going back to where we would pass through. Before heading off, our guide, Jackie, reminded us to load up on water and use the restrooms if we had to, as there were no sources of drinking water nor restrooms along the way. The trek was to take 3 to 4 hours.

As we walked through the trail, Jackie showed us different trees and their uses. I remember she showed us the 4 different species of bamboo in Masungi, as well as the morning glory, tibig, baletetangisang bayawak trees. Boy was it hot and humid that day, and I was thankful for the canopy provided by the trees, and welcomed every breeze of the wind. And then we had the “practice” climb on a sapot (a rope-woven spider web). I felt like I was a kid once again, climbing my way up a playground. And then we made it to the first stop – Rick’s Sapot I think is what it’s called. It’s like a big spiderweb overlooking the Sierra Madre range to the left, and the Laguna Bay to the right. Spent about 15 minutes here to take in the view, and of course to wait for everyone to take their selfies.

Group phot at Sapot
Group phot at Sapot

The first way downWe had several rest stops (thank goodness for that). One that struck me was this old logger’s saw that was left behind by illegal loggers, and then beside it was the remnants of a tree that they cut. It was heartbreaking, but I got a sense of hope as I saw a seedling of a baby tree that was growing halfway between the old saw and the cut down tree – it was planted in 2016 as part of the conservation. As I gazed at the seedling, I thought of how fast it is for man to just cut down a tree that takes years, maybe decades, to grow, and how long it is for one to be able to repair that damage driven by need for money.

Remains of an illegal logger’s sawThe one stop that I liked the most was the Yungib ni Ruben because the moment we got to its mouth, I smelled the fragrant scent of Ylang Ylang oil. Jackie said they diffused the fragrant oil to mask the smell of bat urine. I liked the dramatic shadows and their effect in the cave. At first it was so dark I had to grope my way around, but then the staff placed candles to illuminate the corners of the cave and it was magical.

Through cavewaysYungib ni RubenBalancing on the hanging bridgeAn encounter with a bubuliClimbing downOther stops we passed through were the Tatay (highest peak of the limestone rock formation), the Nanay which was the second highest peak. There was also a meditation trail where Jackie asked us to hide away our gadgets and listen to the sounds and look around us for about ten minutes. And then we walked through hanging bridges and climbed down the Bayawak which was actually kind of scary because I literally had to hang on for dear life.

Climbing down the Bayawak
Climbing down the Bayawak

The carrot on the stick was knowing as I reach the bottom of the climb down the snacks prepared for by the Masungi staff was going to be just a few meters away. And boy, did I quite enjoy the snacks – boiled banana, tuna sandwich, calamansi juice and ice cold water. The staff also handed out frozen towels. And then as we got back to the bus, Tanlines rewarded us with free fresh coconut juice. Yum!

Fresh coconut juice
Fresh coconut juice

As we drove back to Makati, I reflected on how great it was to do this type of walk – good for the body, the mind and the heart. My heart went out to the earth, as I saw mountains eroded and converted to subdivisions. We do not have much of these nature trails, let alone parks, in Metro Manila – something good to do also with family and friends. We need more of these protected areas, where trees grow abundantly serving as homes for birds and wildlife.

 Masungi Georeserve bridge

 

 

 

A Photo A Week Challenge: Urban

Tokyo, day and night

Here is my response to Nancy Merrill Photography‘s photo challenge this week on the theme: Urban.

It’s also a chance for me to recall my springtime trips this year to one of the best destinations to go to – Japan.

Tokyo, day and night

This photo was taken on the same window spot of my hotel.

As soon as I arrived in my room that spring afternoon and looked out my window and I was amazed by this concrete jungle. One would think that this densely packed place might have been loud, but amazingly, it was pretty quiet any time of the day!

Those nights, the lights from the buildings around me served as my night lamp.

Sunday Strolls

Car-free Sunday mornings, Filinvest Alabang

We were planning to spend Sunday morning walking, a much needed break from our pretty much sedentary lifestyle during the week. I had a bit of a hard time thinking of a good place to do so, really. First thing to consider, and perhaps the most important of all: is to go walk where it won’t be too hot and humid. Summer’s supposed to be over but the humidity and the heat have not gone away despite the scattered rain showers everyday. Secondly: our city has no park big enough to make our walk worthwhile. The places that I could think of are a bit far from where were are, and so probably with Metro Manila traffic (yes, even on Sundays), we would get there when the sun is already high and it would be a pain to even make it to a hundred steps.

Filinvest, Alabang
Filinvest, Alabang

Luckily, thanks to Google, I found that the Car-less Sundays that Filinvest in Muntinlupa, the next door city, is still in effect. It’s when most parts of the area is blocked off from cars, allowing for just walkers, runners, and cyclists to be able to use one or a couple of lanes. I’ve read about this a couple of years ago but didn’t really have the time to go check it out until yesterday.

Car-free Sunday mornings, Filinvest Alabang
Car-free Sunday mornings, Filinvest Alabang

And because it was my first time to actually walk the streets of Filinvest, I discovered these round seats that they call Community – because the shapes represent social interactions.

We walked under the canopy of the trees, listened to birds chirping. There was a bike trail nearby, and further down the road the sound of lively music beckoned us to come join in on the free zumba. I tried to do a couple of steps until I saw D attempting to take a photo of me. That was my queue to go (I’d continue my zumba at home, in the confines of my room).

Zumba morning, Sunday at Filinvest Alabang
Zumba morning, Sunday at Filinvest Alabang

I was impressed (and relieved) that Filinvest and the city of Muntinlupa continues to do the Car-less Sundays.  I read that some cities in Europe also hold their Car Free Sundays promoting walking cycling. I hope all cities in the Philippines would do the same. It would truly be good for the body and the mind, and most especially for the environment.

Do you know of any good well-shaded parks or paths near the Metro Manila south area that I could check out next?

 

 

Singing Out Loud

Back in the 80s, when Tiffany, Debbie Gibson, and Menudo songs dominated the radio – I was obsessed with music. I learned to play the piano, and then eventually begged my uncle and older cousin to teach me to play the guitar.

I sang while I played those instruments. I sang to the lyrics from my uncle’s songhits (magazines or books of the latest hits’ chords). I sang to my minus one tapes. I sang in front of friends and strangers. I was THAT confident. Felt I was God’s gift to the world, gracing everything and everyone around me with my melody. Oh, the innocence (and ignorance) of youth.

Years passed and I’d say, much to the relief of the people around me, I’ve shied away from holding the microphone. I won’t be one to sing in karaoke bars too (except when there’s alcohol involved, and in that case, it does not count). I don’t even remember why I stopped in the first place.

Until lately. After having reacquainted myself with art, I came to appreciate how it is good for the mind, the heart, and the body. I get to focus on the present when I am painting, or drawing. And since music is art, I’ve rediscovered the joy I feel, or the “whole new world” I get to imagine myself in when I sing. But most of my singing now is just within the confines of my room – alone. And I sing to an app called StarMaker. Still won’t have the nerve signing out loud, even in front of D. Maybe in front of Rex, Theon and Pedro I would. I haven’t tried it yet. I’m sure they won’t mind, and they’d still look at me with oh-so-loving eyes. No judgment.

I’m amazed this idea came to me as I was writing this earlier. With my headset in place and the dogs sitting as my audience, I’ve crooned to a song I’ve been humming along since the last season of Game of Thrones: Jenny of Oldstones.

Update: The boys were supportive – one turned his back on me, and the other fell fast asleep.

 

A Blast from the Past

Sunset view from the b&b

Summer has ended and before the full force of the monsoon season kicks in, my family went out of town over the weekend – a couple of hours’ drive- to Cavite, south of Metro Manila. For the first time D was the one who booked the place we were staying at AirBnB. When he said it was within the area of Puerto Azul, I readied myself to going back to memory lane.Entrance to Puerto Azul

You see, Puerto Azul used to be well known back in the 80s. Before Boracay, El Nido, Coron even became popular, this place was THE beach to go to. The last time I went to Puerto Azul was about 35 years ago – one summer weekend with my lola and the whole extended family from my mom’s side. Every year, when I was a child, lola would bring the whole gang out for a trip to the beach. I don’t know why Puerto Azul eventually lost its fame. I didn’t realize it still existed, until D brought it up.

Anyway, I was surprised the way to Puerto Azul was not at all congested. We drove uphill through a valley and for some minutes we were the only cars in a long stretch of a drive.

When we got there, security was tight. The guards had to call the owner of the b&b we were staying at to confirm our booking. As we drove to the villas, I noticed some patches of the road that needed repair, surrounded by overgrown grass. It was a bit charming, actually. Very natural, non-commercialized. And then we saw the rows of villas, and I thought they looked pretty.Home for the weekend

Our b&b was quite a spacious place. Three floors, a terrace overlooking the sea. Birds of different breeds were chirping (almost screaming) happily. My eyes feasted on the variety of  colors and sizes of the birds.Sunset view from the b&b

And because school had already started and the rains were becoming more frequent, we had the beach all to ourselves. The beach was not white sand, and not as fine as the sands of Boracay, but the waters were clear and that was enough. As I floated on my back and steadied my breathing, my eyes gazed at the moon (yes, it was there even though the sun had not even set yet), and I tried to make a connection with the present moment. The water felt so good, and for the brief moment I felt at peace. “When was the last time I swam in the ocean”, I recalled. “Shocking how time flies, was it really almost a year ago in El Nido? I should do this more often… I told myself last year I’d do it more often – why did I hold off?Rain, in the distancePlaying on the beach

That weekend trip was so refreshing, it was a good reminder to myself to stop and focus on what’s more important: family, nature, peace of mind. I made a deal with my cousin last weekend as we wrapped up our trip over lunch – We have to go to Caramoan, or Calaguas – any of the beaches in Bicol, that’s been in my bucket list forever. He smiled as he said Yes. It was fantastic.Almost sunset

 

 

 

Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine

We stumbled upon the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine one sunny Saturday morning as D and I walked further along Miyagawa River and past a grand Shinto shrine. What I liked about the road leading up to Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine were the well-preserved and neatly lined up of wooden houses. Even the wooden lamp posts were rustic.

Shinto Shrine and old private houses

Walk to Sakurayama Hachimangu ShrineWell preserved housesEn route to Sakurayama Hachimangu ShrineKnown as  Takayama’s oldest shrine, Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine was built sometime during the 4th century when writing down history was not yet widely done in Japan. Today, this garners at least a million visitors per year during the Takayama Autumn Festival in October, where large floats with mechanical dolls are lit up by lanterns and paraded through Takayama.

Way to Sakurayama Hachimangu shrineWooden gate to the shrineThe atmosphere in the shrine’s grounds was pristine. The sound of crows echoed in the background as I contemplated on the simplistic beauty of the wooden structure, surrounded by tall, strong trees.

A canopy of grand treesMore steps up

Independence Day

Philippine flag

Today, the Philippines celebrates its 121th Independence Day.

On the 12th of June, 1898, General Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines’ Independence from Spanish rule. Technically, Spain did not recognize this and managed to grant the Philippines to the United States after the Spanish-American war, but that’s beside the point. It’s only recently when I started re-educating myself on my Filipino history and heritage that I started commemorating these significant events that molded the country to what it is today. Philippine flag

And because it’s Independence Day, I am dedicating this blog in appreciation of the Philippine Flag.

The original flag that was waived on Independence Day was sewn by Marcela Agoncillo. It was designed based on the Cuban flag. The colors were inspired by the US flag, and the sun was derived from the mythological sun on the flags of Latin American countries like Argentina.

Today’s Philippine flag has 3 stars symbolizing the 3 biggest islands: Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao. The sun symbolizes liberty, and its 8 rays stand for the first eight provinces that revolted against the Spanish rule. The colors represent equality (white), valor (red), and peace (royal blue). In times of war, the flag is turned over so that the red color of the flag is the one on top.

“Now, after ten years, let us look back over the road we have traveled. Let us take stock of ourselves. What have we done with that independence for which we waited so long? Let us look clearly and honestly at the record. I can tell you how I feel about it. I can tell you that I am proud of my race, that I am proud of the nation we created in so short a time and in the face of such tremendous odds.”

— Former President Ramon Magsaysay, 1956

Why Japan’s convenience stores are literally, well, convenient

Rustic themed 711 across the old town

In Japan’s big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, one wouldn’t have to look far to get to a convenience store, or what the locals call the konbini. Popular chains like 711, Family Mart and Lawson are located in every block, some even facing each other across the streets.

So what makes these convenience stores awesome?Rustic themed 711 across the old town

Availability and Reliability

Because they can be found almost everywhere (at least in the big cities), and they’re open 24×7, it surely is a relief that there’s always the konbini as a backup for a snack or a hot meal, especially late at night or early in the morning. They also accept credit card payments.

Drinks of different kinds

One time I arrived in Tokyo past midnight and was really craving for a good bowl of hot soba, and I simply had no more energy exploring the neighborhood after hours in transit. Luckily there was a Lawson store next to the hotel and they sell the ready to heat soba noodles with vegetable fritters (kakeage I think is what it’s called) – not the instant noodles one. The man at the cashier popped it in the microwave for me, and I enjoyed slurping on my hot tasty soba meal back at the hotel. It was the first time I had a ‘real meal’ from the konbini, and because I loved it, I had at least one in every trip thereafter.

Quick and easy meals

Variety of Goods

I can find almost anything in the konbini – from drinks of various kinds like juice, alcohol, brewed coffee, matcha latte, and soda; to food like ice cream, chips, hot meals, rice snacks, pasta, fruit and so much more!

Quick and easy meals

Aside from food, these stores also sell stationery, shirts, cell phone accessories, IQOS, and souvenirs.

Personally, I have bought items such as umbrellas, Muji shirts, stockings, pens, makeup, and a phone charger.

Night snack and sparkling wine from 711

Other Services

I haven’t tried it for myself but have seen customers send and receive items through the konbini.

These stores also have wifi and ATM.

Now ain’t that quite convenient? My fave fruity drink from Family Mart

Tsukiji Honganji Temple

Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple

he first time I saw the Tsukiji Honganji Temple,  I had to research what kind of a temple it was. Though a Buddhist temple, its architecture is a fusion of different styles – now I’m no expert but at first glance there’s a hint of Hindu style in its facade too.

It’s a few minutes by foot from the Kabuki Theatre in Ginza, and where Tsukiji Market used to be at.

In my recent trips to Tokyo I always missed it during the day. I would go there after sunset to contemplate. It sure is lovely to behold at night.

Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple
Tsukiji Hongan-ji Temple

 

 

A Photo A Week Challenge: Nostalgia

First time I saw this week’s challenge by Nancy Merrill Photography, I started singing Aqua’s Turn Back Time.

This first one reminds me of my late uncle who was also my godfather. He would play jazz (his favorite was George Benson) when I was young (around the time when the next photo was taken). He was also the one who inspired me to learn how to play the guitar.

Vintage

Fast forward to high school and then eventually college years – these photos symbolize what were probably the prelude to my blogging days. Yes, then, there was the typewriter AND the diskette (it’s not a giant printout of the Save icon, as I have seen in a meme somewhere in the net).

TypewriterDiskette

What about you? What photos make you nostalgic?