Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Why I Was Gone in 2019, But Now Back This 2020

My life in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! Honestly an amazing experience right here!
I deeply apologize for being away for more than a year from writing. It's not that I didn't care, but rather because I was busy doing things that didn't involve me sitting down on my laptop all day or at least for a couple of hours, typing and writing up stories. Believe me, I have sooo much to say with unwritten stories, all in my head! You see, this 2019 was a revelation for me. A revelation that I need to stop wasting time doing things people think I should do, and I do what I actually love to do instead, despite other people's opinions about it. It's not just traveling, but also involving hobbies I just missed doing as well as getting rid of things that don't spark joy for me anymore, and is possibly toxic in my life! I keep telling myself that people come into your life for two reasons: one is a blessing, and the other is a lesson.
Dance has taken up so much of my life, and has made me so much more happy and confident as well!
So a little story telling about my year 2019: I had a goal of going to a different country every year, or if I am going back to a certain country, go to a city or certain area that I have never been to. I decided to go back to one of my favorite countries in the world, YET AGAIN: Japan! But however, I went to different cities at the beginning of the year in Hokkaido at Shikotsu and Asahikawa, and to Hiroshima prefecture as well! And another achievement off my bucket list as well: to make it to Australia! This is my 15th country that I've technically set foot on, as well as the second to the last continent that I've set foot on (the last one I haven't been to is Antarctica). And another thing that I went back into that took over a big chunk of my life: dancing!
The dance lessons I took here, made me so much more comfortable with myself because of the love and support!
You see, I was dancing for a while now since 16 years old. I'm turning 30 this year 2020! It started out by accident, but it ended up being something that I just loved to do because it gave me a outlet where I could express my weirdness, as well as feelings that I just kept to myself. I took classes, did recitals, and even did street jams where I would just dance in public with a boom box or just simple speakers with friends. However in 2013, I left Philippines for a year to live in United States to do my internship as a culinary arts student. That took up a big chunk of my life, and the only times I got to have dance sessions were when I would dance with my roommates at the gym during day off or after work, with my Peruvian boss who introduced me all these styles like bachata or latin ballroom (hence why I love a lot of Latino food, culture, and things), and at the club where my friends and I would just go out and celebrate having a great time! 
Seeing Machu Picchu in person makes you very appreciative with life. I am so lucky to be alive and healthy to explore Peru!
So when I got back to Philippines after being gone for a year, I decided to go back into dancing again, even though the dance studio was pretty far from my home because I was waiting for my graduation ceremony from college. I took up the dance style popping since that's one of the first dance styles that I actually took seriously, apart from contemporary in high school, and hip hop in college. After doing lessons and the recital, I left again for Japan. I traveled, explored, fell in love with the country, and had the time of my life. But when I got back, reality hit me. I needed to start working. Family business, kitchen life, etc. The dance studio I went to a lot was all the way in Tandang Sora, Quezon City, and my work was in Makati City, which is considerably far from each other (around 2 hours drive, given the unbearable traffic in Manila). So I had to give that up for a bit. I did take dance classes sometimes, but it was more of the dance workouts like Zumba or 360 Body Jam.
Hokkaido, Japan during the snow festival season was such an amazing experience for all!
So working and then falling in love with traveling from 2014 to 2018, I completely forgot about taking dance classes because most of the great dance studios are far away from me. I did have moments where I did take up some dance sessions at certain events, but not one where I was consistent at it. I got into the Couchsurfing community in 2018. The friends I made there have been so amazing, loving, and supportive, and they are part of the reason towards why I decided to go do the things I wanted to do. They complemented me, and just encouraged me. While I was traveling from Europe, to Japan, to all the way to South America in Brazil and Peru, I saw many street dancers there. Performing just randomly on the streets with a boom box. I kept thinking to myself: I really miss dancing, jamming and taking dance lessons and classes. Should I go back? I'm sure the people I met would still accept me back, and go back again. So getting back into Manila, I decided to take one dance class, and the teachers were surprised cause I knew some of them. I realized that I should go back because it just kept sparking joy into my life!
Experiencing Fushimi Inari orange shrines in Kyoto, Japan is a must for all travelers and explorers!
Fast forward to 2019, a friend of mine in the dance community that I took classes with said that there is a dance studio opening up in Makati, which is not too far away from where I am working. I took up the pop up class randomly, and fell in love with the classes so much. I decided to go back, use majority of my Saturdays to go and have fun there, and try doing more things that spark joy in my life. Forget what other people would say, and forget what negative people and complainers have to say about it. This is what made me happy, and this is what I wanted to keep doing because it made me happy. Cut out and ignore those people who think it's a waste of time, and it won't go anywhere. They don't spark joy, and not everything you do has to be something that will make you rich. How about doing something just solely just because of the fact that it makes you happy, right?
The Twelve Apostles in Great Ocean Road in Melbourne, Australia was so breathtaking for me! Absolutely incredible!
So throughout 2019, I did dance classes every week most of the time or hang out with my Couchsurfing friends at least twice a week! I did a lot of soul searching, finding out what really makes me happy instead of doing what I think others would expect me to do. Being back at dance life, I became more comfy with myself. I have met some amazing people through dance, and through having that kind of lifestyle, I have decided that this is something that I would like to keep doing for now because of how happy it's made me. These two things made me so comfortable to be okay with myself, as well as to forget those who think otherwise. Even in other countries, I would like to keep on dancing, and keep on being more and more myself. That may have kept me from writing and posting new content here, but there are more outlets where I could express my life experiences online such as Instagram*! I have come to realize that I shouldn't be so hard on myself, and that I need to surround myself more often with people who spark joy into my life, even though they are not my classmates in high school or college or even the same race! So maybe this 2019, it was all about being able to do more of what makes me happy, and learning to love myself more. 
Appreciate the smell and appearance of mother nature like these flowers in Hiroshima, Japan during Cherry Blossom season!
So far at the current condition of 2020, it's not exactly been the most happiest or the most positive experience, given the situations going on in my country Philippines, as well as the whole world (Bush fires, death of an amazing icon, Coronavirus, etc.) But I realize one thing: life goes on. And you can choose to either keep looking back the past and dwell on it, or appreciate the little beautiful things in life, and hopefully have a positive outlook in life for a better future. It's really difficult to be positive in a city where traffic takes up almost half of your life, and you constantly hear complainers and toxic people everywhere. But having those outlets such as dance, travel, friends through the community  of exploring and dancing for me makes life so much more worth living! I hope that you find what sparks joy in your life, pursue it, and hopefully inspire others to do the same!
Looking at the amazing view of Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, Japan! Admire and appreciate the beautiful nature!
*To see my travel pics, special moments, or just my day to day life, follow me on Instagram @yrwinty.  Please and thank you so much!

Monday, December 3, 2018

One of My Most Favorite Mochi Ever: Ichigo Daifuku (いちご 大福)

Without a doubt, Japan is one of my favorite countries that I have travelled to so far in my life! So many things about it make me fall in love with the country: food, architecture, nature, people, etc! I could go on, but my best advice is to actually go there and experience it yourself! The people I have met and gotten to know there are just so adorable and cute. The politeness and kindness of everybody just motivates me and just constantly reminds me that there are good people in this world that constantly reminds us of how dangerous it can be as well. Also, once you try the food, it will immediately make you realize Japan's food is unlike any other country in this world! One of the snacks I enjoyed every time I am in Japan is mochi! Almost all kinds of mochi I love, whether it would be plain, filled with anko red bean paste, or even flavored with sweet soy sauce topping!
Mochiko flour (like this one here) or Shiratamako flour works the best to make this mochi!
I just love the chewiness of the rice cake and dumplings! So satisfying! Several foods that have that chewy texture that I look for are in tapioca pearls (also known as sago or bubbles), Filipino kakanin (sticky rice treats) like sapin-sapin or palitaw and Brazilian pão de queijo (cheese bread). Most of these wonderful call for specific ingredients: Glutinous rice flour or cassava flour or tapioca starch. These ingredients are essential in producing that chewy, bouncy texture that I know and love in these treats and especially mochi! Luckily, these ingredients are generally inexpensive and accessible in most countries. Whenever I travel to a specific country, there are certain things I want to learn to make so that I could try making it back at home whenever I crave for it! To me, food is such a big part of a country's culture, and is also a way to share connections with people from around the world! Whenever I am in Japan, these strawberry daifuku mochi treats are almost everywhere, depending on the season! From autumn to spring during the Sakura cherry blossom seasons, these treats are being sold on almost every city in Japan! With a little patience and lots of love, this treat can be made by you in your own home!
This is the mochi all mixed together and heated to make it into this! Tough part is kneading and shaping this stickyness!
Now here are my tips for making this wonderful treat: try to make sure that the rice flour you are using to make this is Glutinous rice flour! Local Filipino glutinous rice flour or even Thai glutinous rice flour can work for this but of course, the Japanese mochiko rice flour or shiratamako rice flour works best to make this because it's less sticky and easier to mix. This rice flour can be purchased at most Asian or Japanese markets where you are and even online! This can be said for anko red bean paste as well. Now for the strawberries: make sure the strawberries you get are generally larger than average and sweet: this is the main focus of this refreshing and delicious treat! Strawberries are in season in some countries all year round. Where I am from (Philippines), it's only in season during certain months (November to May), similar to Japan so take advantage of that! 
It helps to weigh the dough out and then divide it to get equal amounts! That way, you can cover the fruits better!

ICHIGO DAIFUKU (Strawberry Filled Mochi)
Recipe courtesy of Nami from Just One Cookbook
Prep time: 40 mins
Cook time: 3 mins
Yield: 6 Strawberry Daifuku
*I highly recommend to invest in a digital scale to weigh out the ingredients and portions. This is very useful in producing consistent food products! 

  • 6 Large Strawberries (the sweeter, the better!)
  • 150g anko red bean paste (approx. 5.30 oz) This is available at most Japanese/Asian markets
  • 100g Shiratamako/Mochiko Flour (Glutinous rice flour/Sweet rice flour) Also available at most Japanese/Asian markets
  • 20g granulated sugar (approx. 2 tbsp.)
  • 150 ml water (lukewarm)
Preparing the strawberries and the red bean paste helps you work faster and quicker for beautiful appearance! Remember: aim for larger and sweeter strawberries. They really shine in this dessert!

  1. Rinse, dry and chop the top part with the stems of the strawberries. Set aside on a chopping board. Divide the anko red bean paste into 6 even pieces (25g each piece). The paste is sticky so make sure to wash your hands and dry them up before handling them.
  2. Slightly flatten the anko paste with your hands and wrap the strawberry around with it. Leave the tip of the strawberry uncovered.
  3. In a medium microwave-safe glass bowl, mix shiratamako or mochiko rice flour and granulated sugar with a whisk.
  4. Using a silicone spatula, add the water slowly in 3 parts, and mix until it has a thick consistency. Cover with plastic wrap, but just loosely.
  5. Put in a microwave at 1200W or watts for 1 minute. Mix well with a wet silicone spatula. The mixture will be slightly thicker and still have a grainy appearance.
  6. Microwave for a second time for 1 minute, and mix again with the wet silicone spatula. It will look more like mochi now, but still slightly wet and grainy.
  7. One last time, microwave the mixture but only for 30 seconds. By this time, the mochi should look translucent or almost see through. Remove the plastic wrap.
  8. Sift potato starch or cornstarch on a tray or glass dish, and put the mochi on top.
  9. With a silicone spatula or pastry scraper, fold the mochi mixture in half once, so that it won't be so sticky to handle and then divide into 6 equal pieces. *SEE NOTES
  10. After dividing, put some potato starch or corn starch on your hands, and flatten and stretch the mochi out into 3 inch round or square shape. Then put the anko covered strawberry on top, with the tip facing down.
  11. Cover the strawberry from all sides, and use your thumbs to hold the mochi on top. Work as fast and as neat as you can because mochi is very sticky and delicate. It can break if you touch it too much so always keep your hands floured! *SEE NOTES
  12. Once all the sides of the mochi meet on top, twist it and close. Hold the mochi with both hands and form into a nice round shape. Do the same with the rest of the azuki red bean paste covered strawberries.
  13. Serve at room temperature as soon as possible. They must be eaten within 2 days.
You must work fast and be gentle if you want your mochi to come out smooth and be able to cover up the entire strawberry and red bean paste!


  • To divide the mochi into 6 almost equal pieces, I use my digital scale to weigh out the entire mochi dough first. I then calculate the total amount and divide into 6 equal pieces. That way, you more or less get the same amount of mochi to cover up the strawberries. I do this with the azuki red bean paste as well!
  • This mochi mixture is very sticky so it's important to have cornstarch or potato starch ready on your hands and table to handle the sticky mixture! It's also very important to work very fast if you want the mochi to come out smooth to cover the entire strawberry. But no worries if it doesn't look perfect! It will still taste chewy, refreshing and delicious!

Once you get used to making these, they can be addicting to eat! Share them with your loved ones, and let them experience this popular Japanese sweet!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

My Daily Reminder: Why I Must Live My Life

Even though you're no longer with us, I'm glad to have spent time with you Michelle (far left).
We get it: life is sooo damn short! One day, you may wake up and realize that your days are numbered. You may also realize that you may or may not have done everything that you have wanted to do with your life. Be it spend time with someone, fulfill your passion, or travel somewhere, or tell someone how much you love them. So when someone significant in your life passes away suddenly, it makes you contemplate with what you have done with your life. Have you done everything that you've wanted to do with your life? Have you traveled to the places you've wanted to go to? And if not yet, why not? What's stopping or hindering you from doing what you want with your life? Is it money or personal life problem? I recently heard a quote on Facebook: Travel. Money returns. Time DOESN'T.

Stop letting people manipulate where you should go and travel to, or what you do with your life career-wise. Even love life, you shouldn't let anyone control whom you should date or fall in love with. Don't let people telling you "Oh ang yaman mo, dami mong pera pang biyahe, etc." (Oh you're rich, you have a lot of money to travel, etc.) make you feel guilty about where you want to go to, even if they are close friends or relatives of yours! Your life, your choice as I would always say. If they hinder you from doing something that genuinely makes you happy, then they don't deserve to be part of your life.
Michelle going out with us in the streets of Barcelona, Spain! It was nice to go out with you!
Let me tell you about a close family friend of mine: Her name is Michelle. She may have had the privilege and opportunity to study at very good schools, and travel to many countries, but I have to say: she was nice, generous, giving, and very approachable. Her life may have been cut short, but I have to say: she lived her life very well for someone her age. She travelled to many countries that I can only imagine at such a young age and was very career-oriented. I completely idolize people who are able to travel to many countries and places because it shows how open-minded and fearless they are! I was glad to have experienced traveling with Michelle once in my life because that is a memory that I will truly cherish for the rest of my life, which was going to Europe for the first time ever!
We enjoyed food whenever we travelled. Food is such a big part of why we travel! Always different when you have it there!
Michelle was a close friend of my older brother and his wife (his high school girlfriend at that time). They were all classmates in high school. Growing up, I remembered Michelle spending LOTS of time with my brother and his wife. They would socialize, go out together, and talk about almost anything! I wish I had some people like that to spend time with growing up because most of the people I went to school with moved to another country, or I am not close to due to not sharing the same interests. I remembered getting many advices when I was younger from her such as "Screw those who think that you're weird. Don't be afraid to be yourself because it's your life."

So growing up with my siblings, I constantly saw her hanging out with us and listening to her stories. I was always the type of person that constantly met people from all around the world because they came to Philippines. This time however, I wanted to be the one to go to their countries and meet locals while actually immersing myself in the food and culture. I don't miss my childhood so much because I never had the opportunity to really go out there and explore by myself until my adult life! Right now is the time where I have more freedom and opportunity to explore than I can imagine. So after attempting to stay long term in Taiwan and Japan as well as living in US for 1 year, I decided to try out Europe for the first time ever! I went with family such as my sister, sister in law, and of course our close family friend: Michelle!
It seems like yesterday we were just enjoying ourselves on the streets of Paris, France!
We were all together throughout the whole process from booking the flights, to planning the itinerary, deciding which countries and cities to go to as well as the toughest part ever: fixing the visas and the interviews and submissions. So during this entire process, I got to see a big part of Michelle's life from her past and current problems to her dreams and aspirations as well. Who knew that just about two years later, we wouldn't have her around to chat about our precious memories. :'( Spending time with her that much not only in Philippines, but abroad as well made us feel closer to her than ever. Yes she may have just been a friend, but she was also family to us.

You knew how to live life, and I'm glad to have spent time with you because you showed me to live my life!
While we were in Europe, I got to see how well traveled Michelle was because of all the stamps she had on her passport. She loved shopping and spent a big chunk of her time shopping wherever we went especially in Paris! It's the life every girl can possibly dream of! So after spending several weeks with Michelle in Europe, and having an amazing time at that, we thought about when the next one will be! Who knew that Euro trip would be the last time that we would spent a significant amount of time with Michelle. My sis in law, Janee, along with her husband or my brother would still constantly see each other whenever they could before that tragic event happened.
Michelle with one of her adorable sons! She really did her best to be the mama that she was!
The very last time I ever saw Michelle was around August of 2017 at a hotel restaurant where my brother celebrated his birthday, as well as do a family photo shoot for my other sister's wedding at the start of the year. I only spoke to her briefly but at that time I got to meet her husband as well as her two sons who are only 4 and 7 years old at that time. As I feel the sudden hit of sadness and grief while writing this, I begin to look back into my life and see how little I have accomplished compared to Michelle. I saw the innocence in her kids who had smiles on their faces that could brighten up the sky. I'm sure Michelle never thought to leave them so soon. In fact, I don't think any one of us expected to witness what would happen to her later on. It just makes you realize how short and shocking life can be, and that you shouldn't take anything for granted.
Thank you for everything that you've done for everyone, Michelle. Someday, we will meet again!
So at the beginning of 2018, a week after my sister's wedding, my sis in law, Janee, got a sudden phone call alerting her that Michelle was in a coma! It shocked me because she didn't show any signs or symptoms that she had a bad feeling apparently. My brother and Janee rushed to the hospital where Michelle was checked in to see what exactly happened. Michelle's husband was there explaining that she all of a sudden didn't wake up and after several CT scans, they found out that she had a brain tumor, which infected her and caused her to go into a coma. As they were suggesting to have her operated on, they realized that it was too late, and she officially passed around 2 days later. I felt a huge amount of pain knowing that I spent so much time with her from doing photo shoots in London, Paris, and Barcelona to shopping with her for pans and other food to make paella, as well as accompanying her whenever there were people who couldn't speak English, and I could help translate when I had the chance. Those moments I appreciate even more now that she's no longer with us.

A couple weeks later, her wake began. I saw Michelle's husband, her grieving mother and other family members. I even got to see her oldest son sending out pamphlets to us during the eulogy and mass of the pastor. Her son was just smiling and looking all innocent, not being fully aware I guess of what was happening. I just felt so much heartache for him and his brother because of the fact that they lost their mama at such a young age. They probably couldn't fully grasp it at that age. I remembered Michelle telling us her struggle with having the kids, as well as feeding them when they were toddlers and taking care of them along with their yaya or helper. Though she wasn't perfect, she was genuine and lived life in the best possible way that she could. At the wake, I got to see some of my brother and sis in law's classmates from high school. It's been years since I saw any of them, and I hardly recognize them let alone remember their names. As we approached the coffin, I see her face all beautiful and gorgeous with a look of peace, love, and happiness.
I hope to explore and travel as much as you did. We enjoyed being with you!
I begin to reflect on my life, and how it pales in comparison to what she has achieved. She may not have lived that long, but let me tell you she probably lived her life as best as she could, and probably better than anyone else. She spent time traveling and exploring with the ones that she loved as well as did things that felt good for her. Her way of life is the epitome of what most of us should strive for: making the most out of our regular, everyday lives. That type of life motivates me to live a life like that as well. When someone meaningful like that passes away all of a sudden (such as my cousin Annika, who passed at just 13), it just reminds you from that point on just how fragile life is. The people whom you love may not be around here anymore, and also the opportunities to see and explore the world may not be there as well.

We will all age and leave this earth at some point in our lives. THAT'S A FACT OF LIFE. Make the most out of it! Tell the ones you love just how much you love them. Appreciate their time, care and effort. See and explore this world, and meet as much people as you possibly can because it just makes you a better person in the end. Material things come and go, but shared memories and experiences are things that you will appreciate and cherish for the rest of your life! Live your life everyday, and do more of what makes you happy. It may not be perfect, but at least you can say that it's that life that YOU wanted. And really with Michelle's life, living that type of life and surrounding herself with loving and caring people are what really mattered the most. I hope that someday, we will meet again. Thank you for all the beautiful and meaningful moments that you shared with us. And that shows just how fragile and delicate life is. Love your life and keep on living it!
One of Michelle's special moments on her birthday with her family. Your family and all of us love you!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

My Instant Pesto Sauce From Just The Fridge! Plus....

You might be surprised what you can find in your own refrigerator to turn into something really special!
The most annoying thing for me is when people constantly buy things and just let it go bad inside the fridge! We buy so much crap and yet don't really use it in the end! My country (Philippines) and other places have this tendency to be VERY materialistic and hoard whatever they can for either convenience or showing off. Whatever the reason, I don't like it when I see food just going bad inside the fridge just because it was forgotten. So when my mom bought a huge amount of basil for a friend of hers that was eventually not picked up, I decided to put the basil leaves to good use before it went bad! And wow did it make a HUGE amount of pesto sauce!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Make 2018 Your Year! Do What YOU Want to do!

Hokkaido is a must if you the chance to go to Japan! Especially during Snow Festival! <3
How's everybody's Christmas going?! It's only a couple days left before we welcome the New Year! And I wanted to ask something: were you able to do what you wanted to do this 2017? And if not, why is that? And also, are you planning to do what you REALLY want to do this 2018? We all tend to make these New Years Resolution promises and really, only a handful of us are actually doing it and making it come true. We all have dreams and aspirations, but a lot of things tends to hinder us from doing it (priorities, work, family, financial problems, etc.) Really and truly, if there is something that you really want to do, or if there is a place you really want to go, then you will find a way to get it. You just need to take the first step and acknowledge it!
I would like to think that I have walked many corners of this world! I may not be as well-traveled as other wanderlust, but hey I am getting there! =)
Personally, what I want to do is to travel to these two particular countries because not only is it super far, but it also has a culture that is so unique from any culture that I am surrounded with! These countries are BRAZIL and PERU! I know plane tickets are super expensive to get there and the travel time getting there takes at least 30 HOURS of flight to get there (with layovers), but hey! Right now is the youngest I will ever be, and I don't think I'm getting any younger as each day passes! I see it in much older adults: patience is slowly decreasing. The patience to endure a long haul flight, especially 14-15 hr flights to get to anywhere is more difficult as you age! From booking flights, to carrying heavy luggages, to hiking and constantly walking and being on the go, it decreases drastically as you get older. I will do my best to avoid becoming that.
One of my Japanese friends based in Philippines! Junichi-san helped me improve my speaking, reading and writing skills, which gave me more convenience while exploring Japan!
I see many families having the time and priviledge to travel to far away countries from my home country (Philippines) such as Australia, US, Canada or Europe. Sometimes I envy those people because I don't have the opportunity to travel with family that far simply because time and patience are what many lack, aside from finances! We work to live, and I always wonder: are you really happy? Genuinely, randomly smiling in the middle of nowhere, and giggling happy? If not, why? Why are you so afraid to take that big step to travel to that country that you genuinely want to go to? Why aren't you fulfilling your dream ambitions or doing that dream job that you want? Priorities and fear always prevent us from doing what we really want to do.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

My Incredible Journey to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan! Part 4

Traveling tends to make you feel better about life. It makes you discover new places as well as things that you never knew you were capable of doing!
I will try to conclude my last part of this long series regarding my trip to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan! To pick up where we left off, I will mention the unreturned key! As I was on the train, I attempted to go back to Yamashina, but then received a message from Hidemi-san to just mail the key instead. While taking the train, I try to contact the host at Osaka as well as identify which station I should go to next as I arrive at Shin-Osaka with my luggage and bag! At night, it's like a race with the closing time of the train to the destination. Japan's trains and subways close at around 12 midnight more or less, and if you miss that, you have either the option to take a super expensive taxi or to stay at a 24 hr onsen or bathhouse! So when I arrived at the station where the hostel was at Kishinosato (岸里駅), the train officer was about to close the gate. I had the wrong ticket to the destination, but he let me pass anyway! As I got outside, the officers shut the entrance to the escalator, and there I was walking at 1am with my luggage by myself and trying to find the hostel! It seemed scary, when I think about it now because it was so new to me! I went to the wrong entrance that Google Maps had showed me (It was entrance to a dentists office!), so I called my host again and then he guided me until VOILA! I finally arrived at the hostel! It had a lock wherein you type the code in order to enter the hostel. I felt so relieved the moment I got in, and instantly I made new friends who were sitting in the living room! They were from America and Netherlands! Tired, but I just felt so energetic to talk to them!
A little extra care goes a long way! I still keep in touch with my host even up to this day because my experience was so nice!
I feel so alive when I meet someone from a different country and share my story and my traveling experiences, even if at 1am! However because that night was a bit stressful trying to find the place, I decided to take a rest to wake up earlier the next day! Two things that Osaka is well known for when it comes to food are okonomiyaki and takoyaki! I had Okonomiyaki for breakfast first thing in the morning and got to mingle with the people at the hostel. I met so many of them from different countries, and was surprised to meet someone even from my home country, Philippines! I met the host of the hostel, Chris from Australia and I was so surprised to find out that he is vegan because majority of Japanese food has a lot of meat or seafood in it! He is married to a native Japanese woman with two adorable kids, and I was surprised at how he was able to open such an affordable hostel in the suburban area of Osaka in Kishinosato Station! The price to stay this shared hostel is around PHP700 or $14 USD per night! That to me is a bargain already since you sleep comfortably with air conditioning as well as have basic amenities! He asked me if I wanted to go drinking with the other roommates and his friends from Australia as well, so I decided to go with them that Friday night!
The outside appearance of the hostel is unassuming, but it's got all the necessities as well as a loving neighbourhood around it! Feels wonderful!
My Japanese friend, Junichi, introduced me to one of his Japanese-American friends based in Osaka named Joe, prior to going there. We arranged to meet up the next day that I arrived, first in Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) where the popular district, Dotonbori (道頓堀) is at! I had a lobster roll at Luke's Lobster (1,500 JPY) there before  We met at Apple store along the district because I went to shop for Apple chargers for my family (Teehee! =P). When I finally saw Joe-san (he had a hat on), we walked around the district and he guided me around the area! Since he is Japanese-American, we mostly spoke in English since he grew up in Chicago, IL, USA. He showed me popular food joints here such as a fried bread filled with vanilla soft serve ice cream from Ganso Icedog (Heaven!) for 350 JPY. One is enough because of how rich and creamy it tastes! We then got to know each other about where we are from and the struggle of learning Japanese and adapting to the culture. He was studying in the medical field and is into dance (which I love)! People in Japan still sees him as "Gaijin" or foreigner because he grew up in America, but I personally thought that his Japanese was like a native! I was also surprised at the fact that he has never been around Asia except Japan. He was going to South Korea the next day aftert, which is why we met that day, which surprised me because his passport (American-Japanese) had so much visa-free entry compared to mine (Filipino).

We walked all day long, and he guided me to the area such as the Hep Five Ferris Wheel, the street performers (great singers, BTW!) and the Shin-Osaka station building, which was full of awesome ramen joints (all long lines)! In Japan, you don't have to exercise as you will be walking A LOT (especially for us Filipinos)! 10,000 steps a day?! More like 20,000-30,000 steps a day! I swear that walking Joe-san and I did made my feet so painful since we were walking to ramen joint that was popular. It had a long line however so we decided to choose another place, which was still delicious. The restaurant did not have any English menu, so I knew this restaurant was authentic! I swear I don't know how they make the soup base because it was so thick, flavorful and creamy! On a cold night like that night, it was the perfect combination: shivering body to pair with a piping hot delicious ramen noodle soup! I got to know a lot about Joe-san that day, and it reminded me of my time in America and how much I missed it there as well. I asked him why he never used his passport so much since he could travel almost anywhere without a visa. His answer got to me: "When you have it, you don't really appreciate it since you can always go there." I wish I had a passport like his because I love to travel so much, and my passport hinders me from doing that because most visas are added cost. I guess it applies to me as well since so many people love Philippines, yet I haven't explored it much because I know it will always be there for me. When we finished, we talked a bit more, guided me how to mail my hosts key to Kyoto, and then he dropped me off at Dotonbori to head home. I still keep in touch with him online!
Thank you for showing me around that day Joe-san! My friend Junichi-san who is based in Manila introduced me to him!
The next day, I went to the post office to try and send the key to Hidemi-san in Kyoto. The address had to be in Japanese both the sender and receiver. Since Chris is Australian, he did not know the Japanese one, so here I was looking like an idiot, running around the neighborhood trying to find the Japanese address of my hostel, to which I found at a sharp corner around there! When I arrived at the post office, it was a struggle since I had to write Kanji, but the lady told me that I could just send the package throught Family Mart! OMG! All this time, I could have just done that! I remember vaguely saying this to the employee as I walked in the Konbini: "このパッケージを送信ですね。フットノートは必要です。お願いします。" (Kono pakkeji wo sōshin desu ne. Futtonōto ha hitsuyo desu. Onegaishimasu. ) This phrases literally translate to "This package, I am sending. I need footnotes (envelope in Japanese). Please." I wrote a quick letter for Hidemi-san, thanking her for everything. The employee was so kind to me and showed me the section of the footnotes and then he gave me a form where I had to write the name and address of the person I am sending it to along with my address in Osaka. He then told me in Japanese to write down the contents of the envelope to which I wrote: "キーホルダー、キー、文字" (Kīhorudā, kī, moji) or keychain, key, and letter. I paid for it and had the package sent. I heard from my host it arrived the next day! I couldn't believe how on earth I was able to pull that off because we all know that the Japanese struggle with English. And yet, I did something that is a serious struggle to foreigners. It made me learn something new!

Osaka castle is so clean and grand! When you go up for a view of the entire place, it's even better!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

My Incredible Journey to Kyoto and Osaka, Japan! Part 3

Kinkaku-Ji was magical! You should definitely go visit this place if it's your first time!
Having ramen by yourself isn't all that bad. When you eat alone, you get to enjoy the food more! After being left by JB and then dropping off Thomas the French dude to his bus station, I decided to have some dinner at the ramen shop area in Kyoto Station mall! Let me tell you: food will satisfy all of your cravings in this country! There is just so much for everyone to choose here! From the appearance of the food to the taste, it will definitely stimulate your senses! The wonderful thing about several restaurants in Japan is that when ordering, a vending machine is provided for you to order your meal and pay as well in English, aside from Japanese. There are more vending machines than people in Japan apparently! Convenience at its best! After getting a ticket from the machine, you just hand it to the server and then they will prepare and serve your food! That's exactly it: when you experience the hospitality and service of the Japanese people, it makes it difficult to try restaurants anywhere else! The combination of quality service and hospitality as well as world class tasting food is hard to beat. That's why it's been difficult for me to try out other countries when I haven't fully explored this beautiful country! Can't beat perfection. HAHAHA! Once you taste food in Japan, it will be difficult to dine at Japanese restaurants in your home country or anywhere else, just because it rarely tastes the same! Take pictures around this area! When I was there, it had neon lights by the stairs and it made walking up and down the stairs very entertaining!
Definitely a peaceful place here even if there was a bit of drizzling rain at the Golden Pavilion!
I swear taking public transportation around Japan is both challenging and convenient! Especially buses because not all buses provide translations in English, as well as the bus driver being able to speak English. That's why you have Google Maps to save you from the hassle! Please I urge you to get pocket wifi while in this country because it really is a life saver! After Kyoto Station, I went to Gion district and decided to stroll around the area an low and behold, I saw JB again! This time though, he was rushing on his way back to his home, which I am not sure how he did it because he was borrowing my pocket wifi at the time, and his Japanese speaking skills were basic! However, I tried to guide him to the closest station, and off we went our separate ways! When he left, I decided to walk around and explore the more modern side of Kyoto! I wanted to pass by a club and see the social life of Kyoto, which was not so much (the club closed at 1am). So I just decided to satisfy my sight by taking pictures around the area and listening to crowds passing by. So interesting!
Welcome to Nishiki Market where the selection of food is endless! Come with a hungry stomach here!
There were these 4 foreign dudes who looked like they were lost and speaking a language that sounded familiar to me, but I couldn't identify it! They had just left the club and were trying to find a taxi to go home (NEVER take a taxi if you want to save money in Japan!) at around 11pm, even if the train station was still open. So I decided to help them out because they looked lost and confused. At first, they were surprised that I could speak English because they thought I was from Japan! Then when we cleared that out, I asked them what they needed help with. Only one of them could speak English well. I asked them where they were from, and they said Italy! Made so much sense to me now! I told them do not take a taxi in Japan because it is so expensive. When they asked me how much it was to get to their hotel in Kawaramachi station (河原町駅), I told them around 3,000 JPY or PHP 1,400/$25 USD for a ride that was less than 2 km compared to taking the train that would cost just 800 JPY in total for all 4 of them! They were so surprised at the prices, and I said to them "Sono spiacente.", which means I'm sorry in Italian, and they all laughed that I knew how to say that!
This is Satsuma-age which may look like bread, but it's actually fried seafood and cuttlefish made into these shapes!
Anyways, I typed the directions on Google Maps on my phone, and then guided them to purchase tickets and told them to get down on that station on the red line. I confirmed it was that color by saying red in Italian, which is "Rosso", since I speak Spanish (Spanish and Italian are both Romance languages with lots of similarities). Then the one guy who spoke and understood English translated for them. They thank me by saying "Grazie", and I say you're welcome to them which is "Prego", and then "Ciao!", which means bye bye for them, and off they went to take the train! I felt very good deep inside because I was inspired by the Japanese people when helping those who are lost out! Kindness really does go a long way when you are surrounded by people who do the same. When you're happy, it's easier to be nice to people. Therefore, I urge people to do more things that makes them happy, despite what that may look like to other people! It really makes a difference!
People actually support creativity and street art here! I praise them for doing colourful artworks and murals like this!
People think I eat extravagantly when I am abroad and truth is, I only splurge once or twice when I am on a backpacking with food. Most of the time, I rely on my meal replacement formulas, convenience store foods such as the chicken fillet in Family Mart and Lawson, or even the discounted set meals at the supermarkets right when they are about to close! Yup, they have discounted meals right before closing time! And they are still very tasty and filling! Even the chain restaurants like Yoshinoya, Matsunoya or Saizeriya are still pretty delicious and reasonable. I decided to walk around the area since I had to wake up the next day to explore Kinkaku-ji or the Golden Pavilion. In Japan, you will walk a lot and you will get sore feet because taking a taxi here is very expensive. So you can definitely see why it's rare to find someone here who is overweight!
This is the tasty Spaghetti Taraku-sauce of Saizeriya with Nori Strips on top! What a wonderful Japanese-Italian fusion!
The next day, I head on to Kinkaku-ji to see the Golden Pavilion and right before my day begins, i notice it was drizzling so I decided to bring an umbrella provided by the hostel. I arrive via bus to the area, and pay the entrance fee to the place, which was 500 JPY. As I walk in, I was just amazed at how clean and beautiful it was! I took several pictures of it and selfies with it as well, but wanted to have someone take a pic of me, so I asked some random tourists to take a pic of me. Low and behold, I met couple who was from Australia and Brazil! Their names were Kim and his wife, Diana. Such a rare occurrence to meet them and such a joy to meet someone from the country I want to go visit the most! We mingled, socialized and got along very quickly! The whole touring around the Golden Pavilion became and moment to share their culture as well as mine! This question is the one I ask tourists the most everytime in Japan: "How has it been talking to the people here?" I know this country is notorious for having little to no English speakers, which is why I want to do my best to help those who struggle and show that even if they don't speak English, they are still very nice.
This is Akihiko-San on my right with friends Aiden, Sophie and her boyfriend from Canada and France! Cheers to great beer and even better sushi!
Their replies were the most passionate one I have heard yet: "OMG! Nobody here knows how to speak English! NOBODY! I have had to use Google Translate to talk to locals here!" The last bit is what I would advise anyone touring in a country foreign to them to do. If all else fails, USE Google Translate! I mean it's better than nothing and looking like a damn fool in front of people. I guess most educated Japanese know some English, but do not have the confidence to speak it, especially towards someone who looks extremely different from them such as Caucasian and African. However, the people here are trying their best to break down the barriers such as providing English menus and guides everywhere. And plus the common sense and body language of the Japanese are very good and accurate, which I expect considering how technologically advanced they are as a nation! Anyway, what fascinated me about this couple I met was that the husband Kim (from Australia) knows how to speak Portuguese! Such a rare thing for me to see because normally people I meet from English speaking countries know only English. It was refreshing for me, especially with Brazilian Portuguese because anyone who knows me knows that I get down on my knees when I hear that language spoken! It's just so spicy and sexy to me!
Unagi, aburi torched scallops, and aburi torched salmon! This is the standard sushi for me!
I got myself some souvenirs as well as my favorite mochi snacks while I was inside the Pavilion. Spoke with the locals selling the stuff and they were amazed at how quick I learned Japanese at such a short amount of time. See when people are nice to me when correcting me with something, it usually makes me more motivated to get better, unlike others who are not as nice. It was relaxing and very chill to be there since you are not allowed to go inside the actual Golden Pavilion. It was very nice talking to the lovely couple and they went off ahead. I only hope that I can make it to Brazil and Australia in the future! I as well left, and went to wherever my feet wanted to take me! I got to see Kyoto university which was right around the area and then went to a random department store to get some shirts for the family. They were looking for a shirt that had a thick pad on the underarms area to prevent sweat from appearing on the shirt. I try my best to get something for loved ones while I am away to show that I do care and that I am not inconsiderate. Japan is souvenir galore!

After getting the stuff, I decided to get a quick lunch at Saizeriya since it was right across the store. I enter and then the woman greets me and asks me a question, which I did not understand, to which I foolishly said yes to immediately. HAHA! Then she asks in English : "No smoking?", which means if I wanted a table that is smoking or non-smoking. In Saizeriya, the food is a fusion of Japanese and Italian! It is kind of like a fast food joint, but more casual and laid back where a server gets your order, but you pour water yourself. Notable things here are the pizzas and pasta, which all have toppings inspired by the Japanese. I got recommended by my friends to try the spaghetti with "Taraku sauce", which is a fish roe that's been sautéed in cream sauce! I got that plus a simple salad with tomato and fresh mozzarella for something light. I tasted the spaghetti and was in love with how simple, yet delicious it was! It had some cheese and seaweed flakes on top, but the pasta was cooked al dente so it was chewy. The "Taraku sauce" was a subtle flavour that worked quite well with the cream, which made everything feel so balanced! I am now in love with Saizeriya and I'm excited to try out more food here with others!
I appreciate the appearance of streets like this in Japan. It's so rare for me to find a place as clean and peaceful as this!
I spent a lot of time walking around this city and getting lost, which taught me that it's not necessarily a bad thing because it helps you grow and not to worry. It was raining though, but I managed to make my way through to the area around Kyoto Imperial Palace and got to see the view around the area. Had it not been raining, I would have stayed longer! Anyway, I decided to go explore and take pictures cause every corner had something that fascinated me. After walking several minutes, I stopped by a Matsuya store, got a meal and some takeout. What shocked me here was the employee: she was white with blue eyes speaking fluent Japanese! I think her name was Sasha or something. It was Russian sounding, which made me accept it more since I know Japan has a lot of Russians working there. I got my takeout, left and went back to the hostel to my surprise, with new roommates! One is from Canada, two from France and one from UK!
Get lost in Gion and discover new things! I saw a shamisen busker here, a geisha on her way to a meeting and several musicians performing here!
I got to know them a bit and tried my best to help them out especially the one from UK. He was 60 years old and it was his first time ever in Asia as his prior travels have only been around Europe and USA. He went to Japan because his close friend in UK was Japanese, and also his daughter was doing a thesis and research in Japan. He also had a difficult problem: he had Celiac disease, which means that he cannot consume anything that has gluten in it. Try explaining that to someone who doesn't speak English! I dare you! HAHA! So anyway after getting to know Aiden (Canadian), Sophie and her boyfriend (French), and Peter (British), I decided to help Peter shop for food to eat carefully and ask if it had gluten or not. Not much luck in the convenience store because most of the food are packaged and pre-made, so we decided to go to the supermarket and get meat and vegetables to stay safe. The cashiers were so nervous to talk to him so I helped talked to them and translate! Again, it felt good guiding those in need to get something that they need! We talked and got along so well sharing our life ambitions.
In the middle of the hustle and bustle of Nishiki Market lies this wonderful and peaceful area! Those lamps are magical!
The next day was my last day in Kyoto. Hidemi asked if I could go with them and the group for hotspring and dinner that night. I said my goodbyes to Rafael from Spain since he goes to school all day, and then off I went to Nishiki Market after a friends recommendation. Right there, I got to taste some of the delicious food that Kyoto has to offer such as Satsuma-age, which is like fried seafood cuttle fish or squid that looks like bread, but tastes magical! It was soft, tender and moist! They were addicting too! I tried other things there as well such as the mochi, strawberry daifuku, grilled fish, and even this creamy soft serve ice cream with a Yuzu Lemon syrup which was tart and delicious on top! I even got a free packet of the syrup because I posted a picture of me having the soft serve on social media, which they had a promo for! Man this place has it all when it comes to food! Come to this place with a hungry tummy and get inspired to taste the wonders of this city!

That night, I went back to the hostel, got my stuff and went to Hidemi's house. Then off we went to the bathhouse first with her husband, Aiden, Sophie and het boyfriend. This bathhouse was unique because it was a hotspring where tattoos were allowed, which are very rare! It was Sophie who had some tattoos and that was the reason why we went into that particular bathhouse. In Japan, when you go to places like this, you must take off your shoes at the entrance and leave it inside a locker where you may be charged and given a key. Once you enter the place barefoot, you pay at the counter or on a vending machine and then given a small towel. Then, you enter either into the male or female section and you will be required to be completely NUDE in front of other Japanese people, depending on your gender! I know it may sound extremely awkward, but once you get over the fact that you are completely nude, it can be very relaxing!

Three types of tuna: toro, chutoro, and otoro! This is my ultimate delicious and tasty sushi! I would come back to Japan just for this plate of heaven!
While inside, it was the first time that I got to witness a possibly current or former member of the Yakuza mafia inside. One thing notable about Yakuza members is that they have sleeves of tattoos all over their body from their chest all the way to their feet (includes the buttocks), but not at their face, neck, hands, or feet. Very intense and colourful which shocks me because it looked beautiful and painful at the same time. It made me see a bit of the underworld of Japan behind all those corporate suits, anime and unique culture of the people! As usual, the onsens and hotsprings were very relaxing and refreshing for me! It's like a massage for your whole body, but an energy booster at the same time once you are finished. After a slightly awkward time at the bathhouse since I saw my roommates and host's husband nude, we decided to go have sushi for dinner at a place nearby that has the sushi at the conveyor belt.

Anyways, we enjoyed chatting with each other there as well as eating all the delicious sushi available there. Hidemi-san and her husband Akihiko-san ordered simple but tasty sushis with fillings such as unagi and this fermented soybean called "natto", which is pungent and an acquired taste! They both love it, and here I am still trying to learn how to appreciate it! I ordered something more decadent, which is my all time favourite otoro fatty tuna belly! I swear the price of great tasting sushi in Japan is so much more worth buying than in my country! What would cost 800 JPY or $8 USD for a plate of sushi would cost double at a high end restaurant in Philippines. So you can see that I tried my best to indulge whenever I could and not spend past my budget. It was a blast, although paying for the bill took a long time. One thing I developed from the Japanese was patience. I grew up with a lot of impatient people who wanted things fast and instant, and yet they were not so happy. I learned from the Japanese that things take time and sometimes you gotta wait. For me, traveling for just an hour on a plane was not significant for me. I had more happiness traveling for 14 hrs to distant places rather than traveling to somewhere only 2 hrs away! In life, be patient and you may be rewarded well!
Shin-Osaka station. Japan's public transportation is precise and convenient. There are so many stations though so it's challenging to take it sometimes! So be patient and use Google Maps to help you!
Anyways, when we got back to the hostel, I got my luggage, said my goodbyes to Akihiko-san and the rest of my roommates then off I went with Hidemi-san for her to drop me off at Yamashina station on my way to Shin-Osaka station to my next hostel! As I arrive, I gave my hugs and regards to Hidemi-san for being so thoughtful, kind and hospitable to me and my time there! She definitely feels like a loving mother to me, and I consider her as family for me in Japan! As I was riding the train after being helped out by students on board, I realize that I FORGOT to give back the hostel keys to Hidemi-san! I called her, but she told me she cannot come back to the train station anymore, so definitely I already had one challenge even before arriving to Osaka: sending her the key back via snail mail package from Osaka to Kyoto! Definitely I am thankful that she was still so nice to me even if I forgot those keys. I swear on my next return to Kyoto, I really did not hesitate to stay at her place again! This time, I was prepared to give her so much more gifts just because she gave so much to me! I cannot thank you enough Hidemi-san for all that you have done for me! Even though I was on my way to Osaka with a major problem, I was still smiling just because of all the wonderful things I experienced in Kyoto. I will definitely be back at this amazing city to experience more! 英美さん! すごい優しい人ですね! ずっとありがとうございました!=)
Iconic places like Dotonbori in Osaka should not be missed! Appreciate those places because they may not always be there!