WOW Philippines!

Friday, July 30, 2004
Wow Philippines is their tourist slogan and we saw it everywhere. We went to the Philippines mainly to check out their beaches… and that we did! We only made it to two beaches though – Boracay and Malapascua. We had intentions of visiting more of them, but they we just too fantastic to leave!! Plus, it usually takes a day of bumpy bus rides to arrive at your next destination… so we were having a hard time finding a good reason to go anywhere.

Boracay is touted as being the best beach in the world… and after visiting I would have to agree. It’s amazing. They have wide, white sandy beaches with great restaurants, lots of bars and tons of activities. Not that I participated in many… mainly I just soaked up the sun and the atmosphere.

Malapascua was much the same as Boracay – which is to say it was fantastic as well!! The only difference is that there are hardly any people on Malapascua. Everyday you have the beach almost entirely to yourself. It’s ideal – you get first dibs on the shade under the mangrove trees when the sun gets too hot!

Many people might tell you not to visit the Philippines during this time of year since it is monsoon season. But, other than a little nightly rain and the occasional passing shower, it wasn’t bad at all. It was a good respite from the blazing sun. In fact, it was more of a benefit than anything else. Accommodation was always available at the nicer places for half price, the beaches were quiet and the mangoes are in season!!! I have never tasted better fruit than a ripe mango in the Philippines. It’s a reason to go back there every year.

A beach is a beach though, so not too much to say about that. What you might find interesting is the Philippino fascination with cockfighting. It’s the most popular sport in the country and with just a little travel around the country, you can see proof. Philippinos have been known to buy the little birds their own seats on buses when transporting them to their next fight. And although we never witnessed that, we did see one guy who carried his bird in his arms on the ferry and then tied him to his foot for the four hour bus ride into the city. Talk about dedication! I hope he won.

Meric, your people say hello and they miss you!!

We have just arrived to Hong Kong and have finally bid farewell to South East Asia. I hope they will miss us as much as we miss them.

Love, Alison

Taiwan and the Philippines!

Tuesday, July 13, 2004
Hello everyone! We just got back from visiting the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines. I'm not sure what possessed us to do so, but after spending the whole day flying to the Philippines from Taiwan we decided it would be a good idea to take a taxi from the airport immediately to the bus station. We took an nine hour overnight bus journey up and over the mountains to visit the rice terraces. Of course, after 24 hours of travel the last thing we wanted to do was climb terraces!! We arrived at six in the morning and went right to bed. Fortunately, you can see the rice terraces from everywhere in the town, so we did get to see them when we arrived. They looks like most other rice terraces (Peru, Indonesia, etc), except that they are everywhere. We also visited another rice terrace town called Sagada which was three hours from Banaue - we saw rice terraces during the entire journey!!

In case you were wondering, tourism in the Philippines touts this site as the eighth wonder of the world. Personally, I will remember the night there and back on that god-awful bus before I remember the rice fields. Rob and I ranked the bus journey in our "Top Three Worst Overnight Buses Ever". Anyway, it was beautiful and I'm glad we went. Now we are in Manila where the pollution is unbearable!!! In supermarkets here you can buy a "Pollution Protector" shampoo for your hair! Thankfully it rains for a little while every day and washes away some of it. We probably would have left immediately for the beaches down south if it weren't for that russian visa we have to get tomorrow!!

As for Taiwan, we stopped into Taipei for 4 days on our way from Japan to the Philippines. It wasn't really in our plans to do so, but the flight had a stopover there... so we stayed! We didn't really have time to leave the city, plus they are in the middle of having horrific floods and tornadoes right now and according to the news that I couldn't understand (it was in Chinese) it seemed like a lot of the roads had been washed away in the affected areas. Taipei was nice - we went to a few parks, memorials and view points. They also have a Chinese Artifacts museum. It's the largest collection of Chinese stuff in the world. It ended up there (temporarily) in large crates during World War Two and the Chinese planned on moving it later. Somehow that never happened... and since possession is nine tenths of the law, Taiwan decided to build a museum to keep it and show it off. China was not pleased.

One of the most interesting things about Taiwan is it's status as a country. Is it - or isn't it?! According to the United Nations, Taiwan is not a country. The UN claims there are 191 countries in the world - leaving out the Vatican and Taiwan. The Vatican chose to remain independent and has chosen not to become a member of the U.N. Taiwan however, due to political reasons, is not recognized by the United States and most other countries. Taiwan used to be a member of the UN until 1971, when mainland China "replaced" Taiwan. Taiwan continues to look for for recognition by other countries, but China claims that Taiwan is simply a province of China. When you are in Taiwan you often see the word "R.O.C.". This is what Taiwan calls themselves. It stands for Republic of China - not to be confused with mainland China. Mainland China is called the People's Republic of China. So there are two places called China. For example, when you fly with China Airlines, you are flying with a Taiwanese company. Taiwan does some things to placate China, but not everything. We found out that you can not process any visas in the country. They send them all to mainland China so as to not piss them off - but hey, at least they built the museum!

Okay, that's all for now. Next report will be from the beach!!!

Moshi moshi from Japan!

Friday, July 9, 2004
The two weeks we spent in Japan were fantastic! It's easy to make comparisons between many different countries, but Japan is just different. There's just nowhere else like it! If it weren't for the extraordinarily high prices we would have stayed much longer.

Here are some interesting highlights:

  1. We ate lots of sushi! A few times when we asked for the bill, they whipped out this little scanner thing. They used it to count our dishes as though there was a bar code, but there wasn't. It was like a little magic wand that told you how many dished you consumed and how much it cost!
  2. We took a taxi out to a brewery (tour participants included us and 25 drunk businessmen!) one afternoon... and the back door of the taxi automatically opened and closed for me. It was like having an invisible chaffeur.
  3. We checked out the Sony Center and Toyota showroom. Both places have stuff on display that won't be available at home for awhile... but you can buy them in Japan!!
  4. The cost of real estate is so high in Japan and there are so many people there that the place we stayed in Tokyo had triple decker bunk beds! There were twelve people staying in the room that was a normal sized bedroom at home. Somehow, it was still pretty quiet and neat! It felt like camp all over again... except with a 100mg internet connection in the living room!
  5. We visited Hiroshima where they have a museum dedicated to remembering the victims and the atrocity that occurred there. Actually, the whole city has memorials, including the preserved site of the only building left standing after the bomb exploded. Japan keeps no nuclear weapons and actively promotes it's stance on being anti-nuclear. It's a fantastic place to visit and a great city. they boast more bars per person than anywhere else in Japan.
  6. I slept in a capsule!!! That's right, those ones you have seen on TV. It was random. It's like sleeping in a bunk bed but it's closed off like a phone booth. Complete with television, remote control, phone and alarm clock built in.
  7. We rode the fastest train in the world - the bullet train. In Japanese it's called the shinkansen. Wow, it is fast.
  8. We also soaked in a traditional bath, slept on tatami mats, visited castles and became part of a school project. An elementary school class was visiting the airport in order to practice English. Some little girls asked our name and country then took our picture. There was much giggling involved.
It's hard to give you highlights of the visit there, it's really just a place you have to go and experience for yourself. The Japanese are very welcoming and are extremely helpful when you are standing there looking entirely confused, anyone can get around if you are willing approach strangers. That seems to happen a lot despite the plethora of English signs they have posted to help out. When you are in the busiest train station in the world, it's inevitable you will make a wrong turn or get swept away by the crowds. It's an adventure no matter where you end up though! Bye for now!!

Regards, Alison

PS. Japan photos are posted on!

Hello from northern Borneo!

Saturday, July 3, 2004
After the peacefulness of Brunei it was nice to arrive in bustling Sabah, the northern part Borneo. After spending a night in the capital, the first thing we did was take an overnight bus to Semporna. Our bus arrived at five in the morning - just as the sun was rising. And, lucky for us, we were staying in a stilt village resort hovering right over the water and the view was spectacular! I'm not really into sunrises or sunsets all that much, but wow! That one was amazing. It even came close to making up for the complete lack of sleep that night. The bus followed the road along the Indonesian border, so every hour or so police would come on the bus demanding passports, and being the only foreigners aboard we usually got harassed first.

Then we went to Sipadan Island. It takes 10 minutes to walk entirely around it (without your shoes on) and it is gorgeous. It's also known as one of the best scuba diving spots in the world due to the 600 meter wall that drops off the island 25 feet off shore. What that actually means is that it goes from white and sandy straight to black and inky! It is basically an underwater cliff. It also means that even as a snorkeller (like me) you can swim around and see tons of fish. Big, huge, colorful fish everywhere you look. There is also a turtle hatchery. Almost every evening or morning turtles are hatched and released into the ocean. As you are sitting at breakfast, someone will come by and say, turtles, 5 minutes!! That is when the turtle race begins. You have probably seen it on television - turtle moms lay eggs and bury them in the sand, swim away and are never seen again. So, when the turtles hatch out of their eggs, they are born knowing that they need to bolt into the ocean as soon as possible. Normally, many turtles are killed by birds and other predators on their way into the water, but with the hatchery most make it into the ocean alive and well... and now there are tons of huge ones!

We even climbed Mt. Kinabalu. Finally, we climbed a volcano! It was our third attempt, and like they say, the third time is the charm. Anyway, the rest of the trip through Borneo was pretty fun, and now we are in Japan. I wrote this newsletter and then kinda forgot to send it! We have been in Japan about a week now, so more to come soon. It is fantastic here!