A Christmas Love Story: Lino and Vernie finds marriage like a tandem bike ride

Knowing that the challenge will be an arduous one, Vernie and Lino prepared themselves to work as partners. The trip required 100kms per day for 23 days. At that time she was 58yo and Lino was 59yo. Just like life, through coordination, physical preparedness and training prior to the trip made the goal possible.

Guest Blogger: Vernie Chiu Basilio

Our married life got richly defined by our Tandem Bike Challenge for 23 days. It changed the way we viewed our marriage and our faith in God. From April 18 to May 10 , 2015, Lino and I embarked on achieving the goal.

Very much like the day we pledged for a life together 33 years ago, we decided on this long tandem bike ride with faith on God’s great providence and the goodness of the people who supported and cheered on us. It also put to test our support for each other.

We kept our preparations simple. The Couple Tandem Bike is for a cause and the finances used for the journey should be just enough for our day to day expenses. Even the tandem bicycle we used was not expensive. It is a surplus  singled speed tandem bike with old-fashioned brakes, the back-pedal system.

Physically, we were not in a superb condition. Each day we rode for about 100 kilometers, a feat that is impossible without God’s grace. As a woman, I was psychologically anxious most of the time because the road was new to us. But I overcame this by soaking at the scenery and the reaction of most people seeing us bike together. I found it funny most of the time.

Not a geek, I learned to use my pocket wifi and phone installed with Strava app to record our trip and our performance. You can never be too old to learn new things.

As we cycled from Aparri to Koronadal, almost the opposite ends of the country, we faced very difficult challenges but we found comfort and happiness in seeing how beautiful the Philippines is and how kind Filipinos are on our way. For the most part of the ride, the panoramas are breathtaking, the sceneries are idyllic and most the people on the way are welcoming.

Our Couple Tandem Bike 2015 was partly dedicated to the St. Anthony Parish & St. Lawrence Kalinga Orphanage both located in Koronadal City. It was reassuring to see all of the children playing in the streets all over the Philippines. As we passed through populated areas, among our fans and admirers were the children.

Vernie says she wants to inspire other women, as well as couples, that if she can do the adventure at her age, then also can! Biking promotes good health and positive outlook towards life.

They would immediately notice us and always cheered for us even if we were strangers. It served as a great inspiration that every time we passed children we could also share with them the joy that we felt. They would often call the attention of their friends and share the discovery of us riding a tandem bike.

Now we understand why Jesus declared that God’s Kingdom belongs only to those who are like little children. They alone have the capacity to see the important things in life. What is important is invisible to the eyes and only the heart could see.

On our stopovers after a day’s ride, we were always welcomed by people we didn’t even know. During the entire course of the 2,287 km journey from Aparri to Koronadal, we never felt that we were strangers in their hometowns. In some places we had friends waiting for us but more than 95% of the well-wishers were people we didn’t know.

Others expressed their support and concern through messages or calling us while some have shown their support by donating to the cause.

Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Single life may be similar to riding a bicycle but married life is like riding a tandem bicycle designed for two people so that they can take a ride together. To keep the balance, both need to keep moving.

There were also simple truths we learned along the way. If one of us falters, then the travel to our destination becomes harder. Any difficulty affects both of us as the other rider needs to pedal harder and stabilise the bicycle until the other one is able to recover. This teamwork of give and take is one of the secrets of a successful marriage life.

The ride also taught us to take everything one day at a time. We would plan only for the route of the next day and mostly on the potential challenges we might encounter. While most highways are easy, some can be tough.

Vernie and Lino: Perfect combination. This couple proved once more that marriage, just like life, is like a bicycle. You keep pedalling to go through the ups and downs and enjoy whatever comes.

From Sogod to San Ricardo in Southern Leyte, we were met with heavy rains, steep downhill terrain with landslides and some flooding. Our bike skidded so we decided to just walk and push our bike. The opposite happened in Atimonan, Quezon’s bitukang manok (chicken intestine). The terrain was uphill so we did single speed and walked up.

Uphills are the most difficult part because we need to pedal continuously to be able to climb up. In these occasions, the slope was too steep and the road too slippery. We often stop and start pushing the bikes until we could mount them again.

Life can be sprinkled with obstacles along the way. We can step down and push forward.

We learned that sometimes life isn’t lived in a straight line. We need to make decisions on which route to take and sometimes need to go through unnecessary paths because there is no other way to go.

I have to admit that going downhill is fun and easy. I wish we can live our lives this way. Unfortunately, it is when we push uphill that our muscles get stronger, just like life’s challenges. It makes us capable of climbing new heights.

We celebrated our return by sharing “Caldo (Soup) for a Cause”, the success of our efforts will be measured by the donations we received. The support for the completion of the construction of St Anthony Parish in Koronadal City is overwhelming. Donations for St. Lawrence Orphanage could continue as it seeks to serve more abandoned and needy children.

The trip also raised Koronadal City, the capital of South Cotabato province, in the hearts of those who do not know where it is in the Philippines. For those who want to donate, you can make your deposits for for the construction of St. Anthony Parish Church at PEC – Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI) Koronadal Account # 1833116599 and for St. Lawrence Kalinga Foundation, Inc. at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) Marbel – account no. 1543579978.

Our goal next year? For more couples to join us! Please email me for queries at linobasilio@yahoo.com.

With Vernie and Lino are their daughters Love and Faith with son-in-law JP.

Vernie Chiu-Basilio, who turns 60 years old next year, is the President of Easy Pay Finance Corp, and member of the Board of Directors of Marbel Universal Trading, Inc. (MUTI). She is a civil engineer by profession, graduated Cum Laude and a second placer at the Civil Engineering Board Exams. Vernie is also a licensed nurse, a junior geodetic engineer, a licensed real estate broker and appraiser. An active advocate in the community, she is an officer of the Philippine Breast Care Foundation, South Cotabato Chapter, a supportive Rotary Ann of RC Koronadal Central and a graduate of HAGGAI International. An adventure-seeker, Vernie has tried skydiving in Hawaii, paragliding in Indonesia and General Santos City, bunjeejumping in Macau Tower, scuba diving in Palawan and locally, she actively participates in marathons and duathlons.

Halloween Special: I survived my scary bed-shaking nights in a Bacolod hotel

Atox’s first time trip to the lovely city of Bacolod has become a very memorable one.

Guest blogger: Arthur “Atox” Condes

This one will go to the pages of horror stories just in time for the All Saint’s Day.

Or maybe the script for a short horror flick.

September 29, 2017

It was my first time to be in Bacolod City in the Philippines. Known for its annually-held Masskara Festival, this beautiful city is located in the northwestern coast of Negros island.

Though I have spent many years in the neighbouring city of Iloilo, I have never taken any chance to visit the lovely, bustling Queen City of the South. I have heard stories about its glory and fame: with many sites and sights to behold, delicacies to enjoy and relish, experiences to enjoy. All too difficult to resist.

I woke up earlier than usual, around 3:00 am, although I was scheduled to leave at around 5:30 am for the airport. While waiting for the pick-up vehicle, I struggled hard to keep myself awake. It was a raining and for someone who slept late, the coolness of the dawn and the sound of the pouring rain was lulling me back to sleep, tempting me to stay in bed longer.

It was still raining when we left for the airport.  That morning, the traffic was already slow but the good thing was that we were moving. We made it to the airport. Everything went well.

Though I have started to give up on my daily caffeine intake, I had no choice that time but to take a few sips of that sweet-smelling potion, once again, just to stay awake.

The trip from Manila was smooth, all the way to Silay City, where the airport is. A rainy afternoon welcomed me to Bacolod City. Not bad for my first visit.

The vast fields of green are refreshing to the eyes, especially my tired, sleepy eyes. The activities that afternoon went like a breeze. And then it was time for us to be brought to our hotel.

I settled in my room immediately, tired as I was. The room was quite large, with high ceiling, wide hallways and some dimly-lit corners.

Apart from the famous Masskara Festival held annually on October, Bacolod City is also known for its delicious food and friendly people. (Note: photo is screen grabbed online)

The whole place was bustling with people and activities, as the whole City of Smiles was preparing for the famed Masskara Festival. The hotel was right in the downtown area and I know that it will see some action during the festivities. In one of its corners, on the second floor, a mannequin that was dressed up in a colorful carnival-inspired attire stares blankly at the hotel guests as they pass, with its fixed wide-mouth grin. It reminded me of the clown in the movie “IT”.

The hotel is not so new but still decent, and had some surprises for me that night.

I shared the room with the driver from the host office. He was out most of the time and it was I who had this ‘different experience’.

While doing some editing work on my mobile phone, I decided to sit on bed, with my back on the headboard. I was so absorbed with the thing I was doing and I never thought of anything extraordinary that will happen.

I could hear some noise next door. “Maybe the guests were just rearranging the furniture”, I thought. It sounded like they dragged some chairs on the floor. Unusual because it was quite late at night.

Having stayed in various hotels during my other travels both here and abroad, I am quite well-aware of the unusual ‘first-night-of-stay’ feeling that would keep most people awake or on the edge.

Not for me. I get at ease quite easily even in a new place. More than 30 minutes had passed and I still sat on the bed working.

Then I felt the bed shake! It lasted for a few seconds. I thought it was because I moved to reposition my back on the wall. It can’t be an earthquake.

This time, I tried to keep still to observe. The bed shook like someone was rocking it! Still, I didn’t mind it and kept working on my mobile phone. When I was done sending mails, I washed up and got myself ready to sleep.

Nothing unusual happened aside from that bed-shaking incident — and the occasional noise next door.

As I drifted off to sleep, I began to hear that dragging-on-the floor-noise again. It never stopped! It sounded like the whole crew of housekeepers were setting up a venue for a party and they couldn’t lift the chairs or tables so they just dragged them!

I tried to ignore the dragging sounds until eventually I was off to dreamland. Still, I could hear some noise next door. I heard the door open as my roommate came in.

I remembered waking up, it was well into the witching hours. Nothing strange but the sounds of furniture dragging was still there.

I was beginning to think that it was not normal. “How could these people be so sloppy in their jobs? What is taking them too long to finish their work, to the point of disturbing hotel guests?”

Many other questions are racing through my mind. “I must talk to the front desk staff. I need to know who could be staying next door.” It was part of my ‘to-do” list for the next day.

The next day came, like any other day. I got up before 6:00 AM. Got ready for breakfast. On my way out of the room, I met a hotel personnel in the hallway. He delivered something to the guests in another room. I asked him if room 323 was occupied. We were in 324.

Indi ko sure, sir ba. Pero mamangkot ta sa front desk. Ngaa tani, sir haw?” (I am not sure, sir. But we can ask the front desk. Why do you want to know, sir?)

I told him about the noise which lasted the whole night. The sound of the chairs or tables being dragged on the floor. He smiled. A dry, uncomfortable smile. He tried to laugh but it was a nervous one.

I was beginning to have that weird feeling. Goosebumps! It started to creep from my hands all the way up to the few remaining strands of hair on my head!

As I felt light –headed, he said: Ah. Nagpabatyag gali sa into, sir?” (Ah, so IT made you feel its presence, sir?”). I was with the driver and the other hotel guest and we were all dumbfounded, stumped. I was trying to rub the hair in my arms to keep them from standing.

The big reveal was quite potent, more than the morning mug of coffee that I always have.

The place has been known to have these unseen forces and staff either took it as funny or scary. Would you dare?

September 30, Saturday

The “experience” that previous night, which I now consider to be paranormal, did not end there. That morning, at the buffet table, I shared my tale with the other hotel staff.

“Well, we heard a lot of stories from the other hotel personnel”, one of them said. She went on, “Some staff dealt with guests who walked out of their room after having that nightmarish experience of hearing things falling with no one around, also the usual sound of furniture being moved and dragged on the floor.”

“You know, there were guests who opted to sleep at the lounge chairs at the front desk lobby just to be sure they are safe from the ‘annoying entity’ in their room,” one of the waitresses recounted.

A room boy shared that it gives him creeps when he passes through the cavernous hallway. “I don’t really believe the stories that much but when you are there walking alone, bringing food or anything to the guests during the unholy hours in the morning, you would really feel like somebody’s watching you or someone’s behind you! I try to run away, if possible.”

Another hotel staff revealed that other guests heard someone cleaning up the hallway, only to be shocked to know that there was no one there. The list can go on, I thought, if I ask all the others but what I heard was enough.

After their ‘expose’ or their version of ‘tales from the unknown”, I came to think about the past experiences I had with the unseen world, the different dimension, the spirit’s dwelling, whichever you may call it.

I believe that the spirit world exists. It is something we cannot shrug off, ignore or disregard. Our experiences, whether we believe they exist or not, will eventually lead to one conclusion: that these entities are real.

The book “The Filipino Spirit World” by Rodney L. Henry (1986, OMF Publishers), is an interesting read. I couldn’t agree more when he said, “A “conspiracy of silence” exists regarding certain religious practices of Filipinos.

The Church has ignored a spirit-world belief system held by most of its members. As a result, Filipinos take their unmet spiritual needs to the out-of-church spirit-world practitioners (faith healers, diviners, etc.)”.

Henry, in this book, “expounds the development of folk Christianity in the Philippines, the theological foundation of the spirit-world, including the angelic and the demonic, and the discernment of supernatural powers.”

It will not come as a surprise to know that the Filipino folklore is full of ‘characters’ from the other world: from tamawos or engkantos (fairy folks that can change features), dwendes (elves) and tiyanaks (vampires that imitate the form of a child), kapres (a tree giant often described as black, hairy and muscular), aswangs (monster with traits of a vampire or a ghoul) and others.

Some can be benign, others are vicious or mischievous. While others hide in the shadows, some spirits can make their presence felt in a lot of ways.

Our elders have their stories to tell as well. Maybe, back in those days, the ‘other-wordly’ beings were as real as the page you are reading, the phone you are holding and the chair you sit on.

Well, after having read that book, my understanding of the ‘spirit-world’ concept seem to have fallen into its place, established after the fact. I haven’t had the faintest idea about it at all, yet I already believed they were real.

Some spirits can move in the physical realm. They can move objects, cause them to fall or be destroyed or make them disappear. Such a case can be observed in homes where little things get ‘misplaced’ too often. They can choose to appear to some people or be captured in CCTV, standard or mobile phone cameras, in their various forms.

Still on Saturday, 30th of September

Scary stories aside, Bacolod is a must-visit and one of the good reasons is Mambucal Hot Springs.

After the breakfast exchange, we were off to some other places. An activity-filled Saturday, I felt that it was one of those Saturdays that took longer than usual. We hopped from one place to another, not too far from Bacolod City, high into the mountains and forests and checked some nice places, with endless photo sessions despite the rain.

Towards the evening, all you can think of would be the nice, comfortable hotel bed, after a warm, refreshing shower. It’s an irresistible thing, after a tiring day.

That morning at the hotel, when the room boy confirmed the presence of “something” in that place, I uttered a prayer, in Jesus’s name, that we will not be disturbed by the “entity”. It makes a difference when you declare openly that you believe in a God “who is above all and over all”, both the physical and the spirit world.

True enough, not much was heard about the noise from my next door ‘occupant’ or the hallway that night until the next morning. I still slept late, doing something online but it was a quiet night.

The next day, a Sunday, I was awakened by my roommate’s alarm clock. He set it up quite early and loudly and I think it roused everyone within 10 meters of our room. Nothing unusual, though. I prepared to take a bath and my roommate left to prepare the vehicle because he will bring us to the airport that morning.

Halfway through my shower, I heard the alarm sounding off again. “He must have left the phone and he didn’t turn off the alarm!”, I muttered to myself. I had to turn the shower off to hear the sound. It was ringing alright, it must be in his bag.

Then I finished my business and get dressed to have breakfast.

I met my roommate at the buffet hall and I asked if he left his phone in the room. He said no. “I got it here.” I was a bit shocked. So, what was that noise from a cellphone alarm that sounded like his?

I shook the thought off that someone was still playing tricks on us during that last few hours of stay. It was not that scary, no goose bumps this time, because I understand what is happening.

We left Bacolod early for our 10 AM flight back to Manila. We all bid farewell to the hotel staff but I extended my hello, on the other hand, to their ‘resident entity’ or a poltergeist (noisy ghost) who gave us a “different experience.”

-o0o-

Arthur Condes is currently an executive assistant at the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the Philippines based in Manila. Aside from writing feature stories, he loves to paint, take photos and reading.

Growing Up at No.195: Embracing my roots as a Rojak Malaysian

By Joanne Tay

There is a stereotype that the Chinese must have their soup daily, master the art of eating rice in a bowl with chopsticks and naturally, speak Mandarin. I was anything but those.

The girl from No. 195. Bubbly Joanne sure knows how to treasure her roots and the rich Malaysian culture along with it.

Give me Sambal Belacan anytime of the day and I’ll gladly have them with anything just like how the Westerners like their cheese. While I master the art of eating rice with chopsticks, I equally excel eating rice on a plate flooded with curry with my bare hands. This way of eating is usually more common amongst the Indians and Malays but as a child, it never crossed my mind as uncommon for a Chinese family. It was just a familiar way of life in my household. This goes to show that a child is not coloured by stereotypes.

Growing up, my father sent me to a public missionary school. Penang, where I grew up, was a former British colony and I was Mandarin illiterate. The vernacular Malaysian education system means Chinese was not taught as a subject in some public schools. I learned the Malay language (my national language) and English, while I spoke a dialect known as Hokkien at home like most Penangites.

The beauty of having Rojak roots

But, Hokkien with my late amah (grandmother) was a little different.

[Hokkien mixed with broken Malay] “Ini kasi lu sambal belacan gua yang buat. Lu bawak balik makan.”

[Hokkien] “Wa ka-ki cho eh sambal. Hoh lu gia tui ki chiak”

Meaning: “Here, this is my homemade sambal belacan for you to bring home and eat.”

Hokkien’s ability to switch, mix and match languages and made them her own never ceased to amaze me as a child. When speaking with the Indian uncle who rented a corner of our pre-war house to operate his little his tuck shop or the Malay couple who sold sheaved coconuts by the side of our house during the morning market, amah would pepper it with broken Malay slangs. Then almost at an instant, she would completely switched to a full-on Hokkien with the Chinese uncle who rented the front of our house for his tailoring business.

The streets of No. 195 saw Joanne’s growing up years – and that also include her dreams and challenges overcome. (Photo-grab from Google)

Claiming that she was a nyonya (Straits-born Chinese who are the descendants of Chinese immigrants in the olden Malay archipelago, now Malaysia and Singapore), she embraced the peranakan way of life – food preferences, language, attire of baju kebaya, sarung and kasut manik (beaded shoes) with her hair dolled up into a bun with decorated pins.

Little did I know then, those formative 18 years of my life growing up with amah would eventually shape a big part of my identity and heritage. Often robust with spices and intertwined with a myriad of cultures, my Taosist family who also adopted Indian gods worship during annual festivities like the Thaipusam, made us such a rojak (a local fruit and vegetable salad dish, which also means “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay) bunch! I could never quite settle for an identity.

The crammed space at No.195 with cracked walls and crackling wooden flooring was constantly buzzing with people as relatives live together. Situated along one of Penang’s major roads in town, traffic was always a little too loud and the house even shook a little when heavy vehicles passed by. But the aroma of amah’s cooking filled the kitchen (and our stomachs) daily and I always look forward to what’s cooking!

What’s cooking? This delicious rojak is very much a part of the Malaysian culture where food always takes the centerstage. (Photo from The Star Online)

By the time I started school, I had multiracial classmates and was welcomed into their homes. Because of my love for spices and eating with hands, my Malay friends’ families were intrigued by my upbringing. And yet, I was puzzled why can’t they eat at my home?

School had me learn, unlearn and relearn a lot. Sometimes, when your home isn’t as what the school taught it to be, things can be a little confusing. I didn’t understand why race, language or the colour of our skins would be barriers in defining who we are. Because where I grew up, it was multiracial with my neighbours, food and language.

Joanne as a baby in her gangstah-look; one of the few rare photos with her dad while growing up.

Education propels me to search for an identity to call my own. And like all beginnings, I started to question my Malaysian identity and what it means.

“I can’t speak, read or write Chinese (but I’m supposed to be Chinese!). Neither am I Malay (but I eat with hands!). Neither am I Indian (but my family pays respects to the Indian gods!). So how should I call myself? Should I even categorise who I am?”

“Are we so different by our race?”

Malaysian at heart and a global citizen of this world

In the later years of my life, I had the privilege to see the world a little more and worked with international friends. These made me realised that humanity in itself is one global race. We are not so different after all despite where we come from, the language we speak or the stereotypes the society puts on us.

Remembering my late amah and her way of life taught me that despite what are seemingly stark differences, we can live in harmony if we choose to adapt and adopt the cultures that surround us and welcome them as our way of life.

We are who we choose to embrace. I am Malaysian without a doubt because it’s the only home I know. But I am also a global citizen who choose to think beyond the labels of races.

So what if there is a certain perception how a Chinese should eat their rice? Well, I  choose to eat it differently. So what if people say you’re not Chinese enough because you can’t speak Mandarin? I choose to embrace that part about me because as a Malaysian, I can effortlessly string three languages into a sentence!

I hope in your own journey in discovering an identity, you will choose to embrace the cultures that uniquely shape you. Those are the stories that define you. As for me, No.195 was a little chaotic but it was the spices of my roots. And it will always be my truly rojak Malaysian chapter.

What’s a rojak? No other dish embodies the essence of being Malaysian more.

Building her goals one brick at a time, Joanne’s journey is as fascinating as her cultural heritage.

Joanne Tay is proud to hail from the little island of glorious sun and food haven of Penang, Malaysia. She was a humanitarian worker and loves a good conversation, especially with children. Joanne is venturing into the new grounds in the field of science education for her next adventure. She believes FUN is the essence to creativity!

From the Middle East to New Zealand: Traveling mom explores new horizon

By Manel Balbin-Marzan

Manel’s adventurous spirit took her to different countries and new cultures. Not all are beds of roses but she rose up stronger and tougher.

Going out of my comfort zone, leaving behind familiar faces and places has been my life after graduating from college. My first adventure was to build my nursing career in a very conservative country in the Middle East– Saudi Arabia.

I packed away everything including my sheltered life to learn what it is out there in the big world. I conquered the new city with unusual bravery, adjusting with the culture and religion that is totally different from my own.

I dealt with homesickness every single day, my eyes welling in tears until I sleep. Without even a month of hospital experience from the Philippines, I faced the competitive world of nursing abroad. I did not know how to operate the modern hospital beds and machines; did not know how to handle non-English speaking patients and worst, how to handle people with seniority complex.

I was a newbie finding out that the world out there is not at all that lovely. Some people can be cruel. Living through the newness, I managed to get by. I learned the country’s language, worked hard to be a better staff nurse, discovered new friends and lived life as happily as possible.

However, I cannot put aside my sense of adventure. I dreamt of going out of that country, work and explore another. With that in mind, I left my job and moved to Qatar working with Hamad Medical Corporation. I met Borgy, the love of my life, married him twice in a civil and church wedding, got pregnant with my son Red.

She found Borgy in Qatar and they got married twice in civil and church weddings.

Marriage and motherhood is not a walk in the park especially when you need to balance it with work on shifts and studies. At 30, I realized that my life was different: it was faster, harder yet fuller. I was living my dreams of having a family and my dream career was on track.

With my spirit firm, I knew that there are still dreams to pursue, places to see and people to meet. I looked back at the dreams I have listed when I was 23 and realized that my dreams are still alive.

Just when I thought I have settled in Qatar for good, my family and I decided to jump into a void. I took the risk to leave it all. With tears, we left our careers, our comfortable life and our friends who are already family.

Just when she though she has settled well in Qatar, Manel packed up for another adventure.

Almost a year later, I found myself in New Zealand, braving another chapter of my life pursuing further studies at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology taking Post Graduate in Management (Health).

My dream, in parallel with my husband is to move into a country where our child can grow up with quality education and healthcare. We wanted a simple, laidback life unstained by politics and discrimination.

I do not know yet what is in store. I do not know yet the human strategies to succeed through this new phase. I only know one thing—that I was a girl with big dreams, now a woman with great faith. I will never stop dreaming and believing.

My tips moving to a new workplace and environment:

Read a lot about the place. I always read about my country of destination. Adjustment is easier if you know what to expect. Travel guide books are worth the investment and I make sure I read the essentials about mode of transportation, fares and passes, rules of the road, emergency contact numbers, accommodations, communication, customs and duties, health insurance and safety.  I download maps and train/bus routes and timetable.

Be friendly. Expand your network. I believe in the saying that network is your “net worth.” I talk to anyone who gets in my 30 degrees angle. On my way to NZ, I talked to my seatmate on the plane and found out that he is going to the exact same town where I am going. He became my instant travel buddy for the entire 17 hours journey. He looked out for me and my luggage. I eventually met his wife who turns out to be my classmate and up to this day, they are my friends. You will never know if the people you talk to will be the friends who will become family.

Borgy, Manel and Red. Now she has her boys as travel buddies for life.

Stay positive. Along the way, you’ll meet people who has more experiences to share than you. Listen to them and pick out what best applies to you. At the same time, you will meet people whose life stories are depressing or sad. It will put you down or discourage you to continue your journey. Listen to them but never allow them to dishearten you. Always stay positive.

Pray. Going out of your comfort zone and your own country is not easy. Going to NZ a month before Borgy and Red, I immediately felt the loneliness especially when I am alone. Homesickness is real. But there is courage in crying.  Eventually, I realized I need to experience these moments because my little family needs a mother who is courageous. I will never know my strength and my character have I not experienced these things. And these are the times that you can experience how God works in your life and how His love never runs out.

I knew that there will still be a few more tears along the way. But with everything that I have now and with everything I was put through and managed to survive, I know that it is only by God’s grace. I am excited as I anticipate answers to all my prayers. My dreams and my heart are steady.

Traveling is meeting people, learning new things and skills. Traveling alone, Manel found refuge in people and prayers.

Manel is a Registered Nurse from the Philippines. She is a wife and a mommy. She is currently an international student in New Zealand taking up Post Graduate in Management (Health). Traveling, reading and learning a new language are her interests.

Taiwan Diaries: 6 baby-friendly travel days in amazing Taipei and other day trips

By Diane Laguardia-Paquingan

Taiwan’s sights are non-stop colorful visual and gastronomic experience. The place is also baby-friendly with facilities at your convenience.

Day One: Packed ahead of time

After a month of planning for our 6-day trip in Taipei, Taiwan, we again decided to bring Maddie, our 1-year old toddler. Just the three of us. Her first trip was in Japan with my in-laws and in Hong Kong with my sister Dyessa.

Two weeks ahead, I packed Maddie’s things not to miss anything. I ended up still missing my own things, my facial cleanser and my leg warmers. Boo! Pack your own stuff in advance too!

Having a toddler in this trip, we decided to have more time with nature and the wildlife. Maddie is beginning to appreciate flowers and colors. She even started imitating animal sounds. Her enjoyment became a priority. I was not able to find more information about Taipei in the internet especially for those visiting with babies or children. This blog will help moms with some tips travelling with their little ones.

What I love the most about this charming city is its convenient transport system. Everything is accessible by train and bus. Nappy breaks for your baby is almost never a problem. There are plenty of family rooms and diaper changing stations everywhere. They even have free baby wipes inside.

Taoyuan International Airport

We landed at Taoyuan International Airport at close to midnight. We went through the long immigration process but I requested us to get through first because I was carrying a sleeping baby. This is also one of the perks of travelling with a child. You get a priority pass!

The airport is located 45 min away from Taipei Main City where our Airbnb accommodation and most of the local attractions are located. I decided to book us a hotel room near the airport for us to settle right away after a long trip from Davao City.

I suggest, however, that you travel to the main city straight away, as there is not much to see in Taoyuan. You can also save time and money as you check out more attractions.

Day Two: Do not miss the Taipei Main Railway (MRT) Station food treats

Sharing a laugh with Maddie at the Taipei Main Train Station. She loves trains so much she can sleep soundly through the trips.

Checking out of our hotel in Taoyuan, we took a taxi back to the airport for the MRT transfer to the main city. It was spacious and high speed. We stopped by Taipei Main Station to grab a quick lunch. After a few MRT transfers, we headed to our Airbnb accommodation to leave our luggage. The food court in Taipei Main Station is worth stopping over. It has all my favorites from burgers, sushis, doughnuts and all the good eats!

First in our itinerary is the Yangmingshan National Park. It was a 45-min bus ride from Taipei Main Station. My only regret is not having enough time to roam around this beautiful Northern part of Taipei. Yangmingshan National Park is home to numerous small parks, hiking trails and interesting plants and wildlife.

The Yangmingshan National Park is located at the northern part of Taipei and a good 45-min bus ride. Maddie loved the park!

We also missed to locate the Visitor Center where you can hop around for a free shuttle bus to visit all other attractions in the national park. We were lucky enough though to spot a small park (I forgot the name) while walking not far away from the bus stop. We had our pictures taken under the cherry blossom trees and Maddie had a quick stroll with the ducks around the pond. Lovely!

It was so cold we stopped by and shared hot chocolate with Maddie in Starbucks.

Back in the city, we headed to Shilin Night Market to check out some tasty treats but I realized weekend was not the ideal time to explore. It was overcrowded! We put Maddie on a baby carrier and went along with the crowd anyway. We grabbed everything we wanted to taste and left. It was just too much too handle for our first day.

It is best to buy pasalubong (gifts and souvenirs) here but we never went back, too afraid it will still be crowded even on a weekday.

The Shilin Night Market is a haven for street foodies. Colorful, too!

How can you resist this? We did not and binged hard.

The crowd was just too much and we have a baby with us. We went with the flow and left in a huff.

The train ride to Houli Flower Farm.

Day Three: Flower picking day!

We went to the Houli Flower Farm with our Taipei-based Aunt Imelda. We took the train from Taipei Main Station to Tai’an Station, a good 1-hour trip but it took us longer because my husband left his phone on the train. Good thing we were able to locate it through the help of the information center in Hsinchu.

We ate lunch at the flower farm entrance – an unlimited Shabu-Shabu for Ntd350 (roughly around P590) and free flower farm entrance. Entrance alone to the flower farm is Ntd190.

The farm is a visual treat and perfect bonding place for families.

Fancy all these! I can sit all day and read a book.

The place did not disappoint. It was worth the long train ride.

It must be perfect living in a house like this.

Day Four: Wildlife, pandas and pork buns

Initially we wanted to go to the Taipei Zoo as early as we could but Maddie woke up late. She had it her way! It was drizzling and meant a little colder than yesterday’s weather but the little girl chose her own outfit with her pink cap. Yes, she has fashion sense now!

Animal time at the Taipei Zoo.

Taipei Zoo is easily accessible by the MRT through Taipei Zoo Station. With only Ntd60 (Php90) entrance fee, I never thought we were in for so much treat! It continued to drizzle until we got to the zoo so we decided to buy this stroller cover at the shop near the zoo entrance.

The shop attendant was kind enough to give us the stroller accessory I have been looking for to hang our diaper bag and other stuff. Yay!

Maddie slept during the drizzle. This plastic stroller accessory was helpful in keeping her dry along with our other things.

After visiting the Panda House, our little girl took her afternoon nap so my husband and I did a quick photo session. The zoo was one of the best I have been to, even better than the one in Singapore. Talk about value for money!

After a long day at the zoo, we checked out the famous Din Tai Fung Restaurant at a prime location in Taipei 101 Tower. We had Xiao long bao, pork buns and beef noodle soup! Just a tip, go here earlier than 6pm to get a table like we did. As we were leaving after our meal the queue was very long!

Couple-moment at the zoo.

Writing this was quite an experience!

Day Five: A mix of everything touching and nice

When you try to google all these locations, you will find out it is almost impossible to visit it all these places in a day. Thanks for my husband’s research skills and the Taiwan’s efficient train system, we did it!

Shifen is an hour of travel from Taipei Main City. We decided to go out early to maximize our day. When in Taiwan, do not miss to fly a colourful sky lantern at Pingxi District. You get to choose the color of the sky lantern according to your wishes. You also get to write your dreams and prayers before you release it to the sky. To get to the shop that sells these lanterns, you get to pass other shops that sell yummy treats.

Flying the lantern to the sky was even more memorable because we were with Maddie.

We missed visiting Shifen Waterfalls because it was raining. Instead, went to Jiufen Old St. It was another 30-min train ride back to Riufang Station and from there we decided to take a taxi up to Jiufen. It was worth it! I love how charming this old town is. I wish we booked an overnight stay here. There is so much to see including the Jiufen Night Market that we failed to check out since we need to get back to Taipei Main City.

The Jiufen view took our breath away.

The charming Jiufen Old Street was a buzzle of colors and merchandise.

The food treat does not stop. No diet in this trip.

Back in the city, we went to the National Taiwan University aka Ying de University. It is where parts of scenes of the International hit tv series Meteor Garden was shot.

The Taiwan National University made famous by the hit TV series Meteor Garden.

Just in time for dinner, we checked out Raohe Night Market where I got my third round of Bubble milk tea with pearls in just a day! We tasted everything from peppered pork buns, bite size sausages, egg tarts, cubed pork steak (locally called), fried taro, takoyaki.

The Raohe Night Market is a must visit if you love food!

A pork bun – yum!

Day Six: Old streets and food treats go together in Taipei

Aunt Imelda suggested we visit Tamsui District for cherry blossoms before we leave. I am glad we did! It is an hour away by MRT from our accommodation so we decided to leave early again. Luckily, Maddie woke up early. We visited the Fisherman’s Wharf first.

When we got out the train station, the bus stop to the wharf is conveniently few steps away. I suggest that you do not to spend too much time here if you are in Tamsui for a day trip. Go to the Tamsui Riverside quick!

Maddie enjoying the Tamsui River view and the cool weather.

A priceless mom and daughter bonding.

Next stop, the Tamsui Old Street. I found that if you are in Taiwan and it says old street you are in a for a street food adventure! Tamsui has a different charm compared to other places. It is very accessible for a day trip. We just strolled around the seaside district listening to some locals playing instruments along the street while eating local street food. The weather made it more special and romantic.

We were sad to leave Tamsui for Ximenting for our last minute shopping and pasalubong hunt. Before we reached Ximeting we stopped by Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Palace. Another must-visit attraction and most prominent historical landmark in Taiwan.

The Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall.

We fell in love with the Old Street’s art and grafitti.

If Tokyo has Shibuya, Taipei has Ximenting. Usually crowded at night, this is the liveliest neighborhood and shopping center of Wanhua District. I checked out some beauty loots and bought items from H&M and Uniqlo. We went Japanese for our last Taiwan meal. Ramen forever!

Ximenting will give a run for Japan’s Shibuya.

Shop until you drop at Wanhua.

Changing diapers at the airport (and almost everywhere else during the trip were very easy with clean facilities.

Going home!

It was one of my most memorable trips. I love everything about Taiwan: the cold weather, the local street food and the friendly locals.

It is baby-friendly, too. Each elevator is easily accessible for strollers and luggage. People give way to those who need it most.

Based on the journey we enjoyed having Maddie, Taiwan is one of the best. Give it a try!

 

 

“Most people delay traveling with their kids until they have a full grasp of the experience. I would argue that travel when it is possible. Travel when your kid is still not busy growing up and with school activities. Go travel with your children!”

Traveling is a good family bonding experience. Do not underestimate your baby’s memory. Maddie will surely have all these tucked in her smart head.

Diane is a nurse by profession, an online fashion entrepreneur of Kanami Fashion Shop, a travel blogger and currently a full-time wife and mom.

Note: Date traveled March 10 to 16, 2017

Traveling with a toddler makes an amazing family adventure; it doubles the fun!

By Diane Marie Laguardia-Paquingan

Don’t leave out your baby from the fun! Bring them on your trips; it’s a great family-bonding opportunity.

On our 14th year together, we decided to bring a toddler on our trip to Taiwan. Even before we got married, my husband Sherman and I used to explore destinations we have not been to. It always begins with – I do the research where to go – and he pays. We actually tries to split the bill so the budget will not be too heavy for the hubby. He has to take care of other needs at home.

Top on our every trip plan is where and what to eat. That makes up a huge chunk of excitement in our trips – tasting new food! That meant raiding the night markets for cheap food thrills. If we have extra budget, we look up for Michellin-starred restaurants.

I am super-blessed Sherman is also a wanderlust. He completes the plan, budget, transport and daily itinerary. These all changed when we have Madison or Maddie, our one-year old child, joined us. I was excited and worried. They said it is easier to travel with a baby than with a toddler who is starting to have a mind of her own.

Maddie is at her most curious stage. She loves to explore, run around with kids. She even hugs strangers. She wants to try every food we eat. For the first time, it is just the three of us! We do not have an extra hand.

Maddie is naturally curious of things and people around her. Fortunately, she also adjusts easily on any weather.

We divide the chores – I am in charge of Maddie, Sherman will take care of the rest, luggage and all. Taiwan is just coming out of the tourism picks in Asia andI found less information from the internet. Lessons from our previous trips came in handy. Despite the flutters in my tummy, many what ifs, I am confident when Sherman takes the lead.

Armed with three luggage full of Maddie’s clothes and baby essentials, an ultralight stroller and our ever-reliable baby carrier my mom Cecil bought in Germany when I was still pregnant with Maddie, our adventure began. I knew beforehand that our baby would travel the world!

Here are some mommy tips for you to consider:

It is ok to worry. However, do not let it dampen the fun. Do a checklist. Make a research on the do’s and don’ts. Ask your pediatrician. Observe if your baby is healthy for the trip. Think positive and relax!

Bring extra nappies. When we traveled to Hong Kong, we ran out of diapers and I found out they only sell it in bulk. They were twice the price in the Philippines and if we buy, it would take a lot of space in our luggage going home. We bought, anyway. That’s the price we have to pay for forgetting.

Never forget your baby’s sunblock and moisturizer. Maddie’s skin gets dry at times when we are on the road and the weather is warm. I make sure to hydrate and moisturize her skin at least twice daily.

Take some baby detergent and bottle cleanser. They are hard to find abroad, believe me! I once misread an antiseptic for a bottle cleanser because they were in Japanese. Estimate how much you will need and include in your list of must-haves. It will save you a lot of trouble.

Our ultra-light Aprica stroller is such a perfect buddy!

Use an ultralight stroller. Or else you will break your or your husband’s neck and shoulders. We love our Aprica stroller! It has become Maddie’s reliable partner. Babywear your baby too, especially when raiding a crowded night market. It is easy to shop when your hands are free.

Paracetamols and antihistamines for babies are necessary. Consult your pediatrician and bring the baby’s medicines. Mark them on top of the list. This keeps you prepared for any discomfort or emergency.

Pack some cookies or biscuits. Loads of it! Maddie loves to eat and is a happy-peaceful baby when she is nibbling her favorite cookies. It is also good to have those she is used to eating.

Let the baby’s schedule reign! There is no other way but follow Maddie’s time. You want to go early but she is still fast asleep. When you get home tired, she is still hyperactive and wants to play. We took it as a nice chance to bond. Eyes drooping, we played with her. You can let the baby explore as much as she can, too. Then, she will tired and just go to sleep when the day is over.

Bring comfortable shoes or sneakers. You should not also miss on your own multi-vitamins. Keeping up with the baby’s hyper-activity, running around and carrying her at times, can take a huge slice from your energy.

When the most awaited day came, we were up and ready!

Luckily, I never had a hard time with Maddie on plane rides and long distance travels with a bus or a train. She sleeps through them! If she is awake, she connects with other children and is naturally curious. Our baby is born a jetsetter!

How did we enjoy and explore Taiwan with a toddler in tow? This is up next in our next blog!

“Motherhood is such a wonderful journey. It is an adventure of a lifetime – exactly how I have envisioned it. Traveling makes it even more meaningful. At an early age, we are beginning to see how strong and flexible our child is on life and adventure. I wish every mom to experience this.”

Sherman, Diane and Maddie in Taiwan, their third trip abroad.

Note: If you have some questions, I am happy to answer them in the blog’s message box below. We also want to hear about your experience traveling with your babies – please share.

Diane is a nurse by profession and currently a full-time wife and mom. She is also an online entrepreneur managing Kanami Fashion Shop based in Davao City, Philippines. She will join istoryya.com weekly for tips on motherhood and traveling with Sherman and Maddie.