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.

Manic for organic: The Victor Neal Palarca success story

Victor Neal “Loloy” Palarca won as 2015 Best Presenter and Best Learning Site for his farm at the Mindanao Zonal Assessment of Learning Sites on Organic Agriculture by ATI Central Office.

By Vic Thor Palarca

Defying most conventional beliefs on agriculture and challenging traditional farming system, he dared to demonstrate that growing food and eating them fresh in one’s backyard can be done—regardless of location and circumstances.

Testing the Waters

Tagcatong, Carmen, Agusan del Norte – A businessman almost all of his life, Victor Neal Palarca, or “Loloy” as he is fondly called, envisioned being healthy and disease-free. When he ventured into farming, little did he know that his lifestyle and attitude towards mindful consumption of anything organic will change him and his family for the better.

Recalling his childhood days, Loloy says, “I remember the basics of gardening because in my elementary years, gardening has been a constant activity back then, next to going to school and playing. It makes sense to me now that I realized it was an integral part of my daily routine”.

At first, his challenge was not his hometown’s bleak agricultural scenario but the prevailing frame of mind among residents that their soil is highly acidic and is not suitable for farming. Most seasoned farmers ahead of his time have been steeped in traditional farming system using harmful chemicals like pesticides and insecticides.

Will he be able to convince his own neighbours and his community in general that going organic is the way to go? After all, his savvy entrepreneurial skills leave less to be desired now that he has stepped in to a venture which is relatively new to him.

Shattering expectations

His farm is now a Learning Site of ATI in the CARAGA Region in the Philippines. It is composed of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur provinces.

Loloy’s integrated and diversified organic farm right in his own backyard silenced skeptics and cynics alike because of the farming technology he has learned in his involvement with the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) via the Department of Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture (OA) Program. As a training participant, he made sure that the principles and knowledge he has learned is put to practice. Testing those principles is highly imperative because he believes that what works for other farmers might not work for him.

One of the immediate steps he did to avert the soil problem was to apply Bio-Char, a pulverized charcoal which serves as an agent to neutralize the acidity of the soil. The application of carbonized rice hull and bokashi also greatly improved the condition of his soil since it functioned as soil conditioner to amend mineral deficiency.

He also put up a water pump in the middle of his demo farm to keep his leafy greens hydrated and for the convenience of watering his plots of vegetables and rows of root crops.

Meanwhile, aside from the trainings he gets to attend, he reads online materials and research findings to further enhance his knowledge on organic farming with US Department of Agriculture and Philippne Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCAARRD-DOST) as his frequently visited websites.

It was only in 2011 when Loloy started his organic farming operations since his demo farm was originally planned as a leisure farm on an experimental basis. He now produces vegetables and root crops such as carrots, squash, bitter gourd, cucumber, tomato, eggplant, okra, lettuce, malabar spinach, ginger, string beans, bell pepper and sweet potatoes.

He has a fully utilized 500 square-meters of sustainable integrated organic farm which is now also a sprawling breeding ground for his 60 native chickens, 10 organic-fed large whites and three Anglo Nubian goats as part of his livestock entourage. His cooped native chickens are bordered with madre de cacao trees which at the same time serve as forage for his Anglo-Nubian goats. The litter flooring of his piggery consists of rice hull mixed with salt and effective microorganisms (EM) to combat foul odor.

Acquiring a 3,000 square meter land for expansion, he plans to expand his demo farm by having a fruit orchard.

Loloy is about to forge a partnership with FeedPro, one of the leading commercial feeds in Mindanao which boasts of its natural feed ingredients for their “Baboyang Walang Amoy” campaign project. Perhaps, his efforts to make hog raisers adapt his prescribed technology for an odor-free community paid off.

A Social Message

He is working hard for the farm to become a full-pledge Agri-Tourism site in the Philippines.

Loloy’s drive and resolve to eat nothing but the best has rubbed off on to his family since his wife and kids (and a handful of nieces and nephews) help him tend and manage his garden. The value of organic farming have now secured a spotlight among his circle of farmer friends since he serves as Vice-President to the organized Tagcatong Diversified Organic Farmers (TADOFA) with 23 active members.

As part also of his civic responsibility, he shares his knowledge and expertise to anyone interested in OA through techno-transfers and on site lectures in his demo farm since Loloy happens to be a member of the Municipal Agriculture and Fisheries Council (MAFC).

He makes himself visible by regularly attending trade fairs and agri-business events nationwide as well as the Regional Organizational Meeting of Organic Farmers as organized by Department of Agriculture – Regional Field Office in Caraga (DA-RFO-XIII). He concurs that through family farming, the members of the family will be encouraged to promote farming as a key solution to food security.

Aside from the health and practical reasons, Loloy advocates OA because of the following reasons: it promotes sustainable use of natural resources; it is economical and cost-efficient; it helps reduce hunger incidence in the countryside and it protects the environment and all the farm produce is safe since it is 100% organic and is pesticide-free.

To date, Loloy markets his season’s harvest at a reasonable price in his community and to an expat who is a regular patron. Although he does not rely on his harvest to financially support his family since he has a thriving garments business, Loloy admits that his organic farming venture is for keeps. “I want to make a bold statement that organic farming is here to stay and that it is neither a fad nor a trend because it sustains our well-being as well as the situation of our environment. For me, that is worth investing in our time and efforts”, he adds.

The Farming Saga Continues

Loloy’s humble agricultural venture has grown into a haven for every farmer in the country.

So far, Loloy has already attended several workshops and training events relevant to his organic farming venture which was made possible by ATI’s intervention and support.

The technologies he apply on his demo farm were the very technologies he got from his trainings complemented by his research of the latest breakthroughs in organic farming on the internet.

I was motivated to show and convince my farmer colleagues that farming in your own yard is viable and can be done despite odds and unfavorable conditions”, he enthused. What made the difference were the diverse farming technologies he applied to suit and work well on his farming needs.

Some of his best farming practices include the use of Effective Microorganisms (EM), Indigenous Microorganisms (IMO) for his piggery, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Oriental Herbal Nutrients (OHN), Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ), Fish Amino Acid with molasses as natural plant fertilizer, Inoculants to enhance and condition the soil and seaweeds as wonder plant food.

Meanwhile, Loloy takes pride in his practice of zero-waste farming which helps him and his family in disposing/recycling their waste products. He practices crop rotation and does not follow the traditional farming calendar.

There is no denying that Loloy’s venture to organic farming is a deliberate and decisive approach to support sustainable agriculture as well as promote family farming in his community.

With a new attitude and outlook to growing his food and eating them fresh too, Loloy is confident with the way things turned out and content with the very soil he have grown to cultivate.

“I want to make a bold statement that organic farming is here to stay and that it is neither a fad nor a trend because it sustains our well-being as well as the situation of our environment. For me, that is worth investing in our time and efforts”

Freshly-picked dragon fruits grown from the Palarca farm.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vic Thor A. Palarca is one of the content developers of ATI-Northern Mindanao. As their Media Production Specialist-II, he writes news articles, features, success stories regularly as well as video scripts as part of his annual targets. He is also involved in coming up with Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials, corporate newsletter, coffee table book and courseware development.

He is in-charge of the production and publication of BAHANDI, a coffee table book and collection of inspiring stories in farming in Region-X as well as contributed to the conceptualization and publication of e-Extension AGENDA, the official publication of the Agricultural Training Institute for e-Learning. He assists in the conduct of trainings by his peers and sometimes serves as a Resource Person. He was once an information services agent of the defunct Knowledge Products Management Division (now Information Services Division or ISD) and have brushed elbows with the Central Office peeps but decided to pursue the countryside to live the provincial life.

A self-confessed 90’s pop crusader, he is soulmates with Shannen Doherty and Tom Hardy. He is a full-time uncle and a part-time loon. He enjoys cafeteria conversations and deja vu. He is allergic to Mathematics. He ships regularly to the charming island of Camiguin. He can be predictable judging by his habitat and niche namely bookstores, libraries and book nook at home. His brain is pretty much scattered.

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

My father has cancer: How do I deal with a news like this?

By Maryann “Mai” Zamora

Mai recalls how her father felt guilty that she had to work in a fastfood shop to buy things she needed in school.

“Mai, your father has stage 3-colon cancer.”

I remembered how it went through my ears. Then I turned cold and endlessly sobbed in our couch. I was shattered.

It was my mother Mama Bebei who broke the news to me just after I got home from work in Cebu City.

It felt like spinning in a dark tunnel. Why him? I cannot fathom why it needed to be him. For a few months after my father Lando’s diagnosis, I hated the things that I used to love and the things that kept me sane.

I hated watching the sunset, the feeling of being surprised, all the traveling and the idea of uncertainty. I hated sunset because I was afraid that he will die when the sun rises; I hated surprises because I do not want to be caught off guard that he will go the next day; I hated traveling and uncertainty because I was afraid to lose him while I am away for work.

I thought I would feel guilty not seeing and taking care of him on his last days. I grieved in advance and lived in fear. I cannot lose the person who has been the reason why I do well in everything I do. There was a time that I gave in to these fears. I felt it was hopeless to fight the battle.

But my father’s words through the years gave me the courage to fight and survive. I cannot lose the battle without giving it a good fight. I can clearly recall when I told him I might not be able to go to college because he lost his job. He simply told me, “You will go to school.” No ifs and buts. I did.

That was five years ago this month – March 2012. I was then 25. Yes, my father went and rose through the 5-year relative survival rate for colon cancer patients. He survived! My family dealt with the pain gracefully. We survived the drama that cancer can inflict in a family. My father said earlier this week, “Mai, let us celebrate this victory when you get home”.

You must be wondering how we – as a family – survived?

Behind Mai’s smile is a superwoman’s spirit of flying through the storm to save her family from harm and pain.

You will never know how tough you are until the situation hits you. Having a loved one diagnosed with a serious illness does not compare to someone knocking and asking if he can come in. It is a long-winding road until you get to the point when the only choice is to face the situation. Your strength is weighed on the scale.

Two days after the diagnosis and before his operation, my father wanted to see. He requested from the doctor and nurse to wait for me before he gets inside the operating room. I ran fast to see him. I knew he wanted to have the assurance that I got his back; our family’s back. I acted tough to show him all is ok with us. I told him, “You need this, Pa. Or else you will suffer more and it would be more difficult for you and for us.”

That was my most heartbreaking sent off so far. I sobbed with his red rubber slippers in my hand. We all waited outside until the major operation was finished. The procedure remove portions of his large intestine and small intestine.

Be open to take it as an opportunity to know God on a personal level. It was on this moment when in everything I do and decide, I talked to God to make sure we are doing them right. I was very young back then. I am unsure. I needed God’s wisdom as guidance. I thought I cannot afford to fail because my father’s life is at stake.  It was the first time that I offered to pray for someone. As he was about to be wheeled inside the operating room, I approached the doctor and asked if we could pray for my father.

I held his hands and prayed. I cried, making the doctor’s hands wet with my tears. The doctor tapped my shoulder and said, “Pray and trust God. Everything will be all right, Mai. I will do my best.”

Her father surviving through cancer was a team effort. It was a bayanihan spirit at work from Mai’s family, relatives, friends and neighbors.

Saving for retirement early on. The experience taught me the value of saving and investing. When it happened, I have no savings. By the time we needed to pay the hospital bills, I have to find means and exhausted all the resources I have. I kept it a secret from my family that I was running out of money.

I remembered writing an email requesting our office if I can borrow from my salary. I cried shamelessly at the internet shop while doing it. It was humbling. The financial and emotional challenge did not stop there. Two weeks after my father’s operation, he complained of pain and asked if he can be brought back to the hospital. The insurance has been exhausted and will not cover his further treatment. It was difficult to say no but I have no means to pay the bills.

In the end, it is all about family. Do not be afraid to ask for help, I did. Having someone with cancer is not just a family thing. It needs the support of the entire community and the people around you.  I am blessed with the best support system possible. My aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors who never left us during those moments.

Whenever I am down to my last resource, my Aunt Chona, the sister of my father, would call me and just listen how my days went. My uncles and aunties were also around anytime we need them. My younger sister Sha, a Biology student, patiently explained to me the treatment processes.

Five years after the surgery, surviving cancer is her father’s best gift to the family.

The bayanihan spirit is very much alive in Filipino communities. Bayanihan is the Filipino trait of coming together to help a cause. While my parents were in the hospital, my neighbors would clean our house, bring food for my brother and for my parents at the hospital. They reminded people in our village not to talk to my father about having cancer. It was only after three months when my father learned he has colon cancer.

When I got back to work, I would ask my friends for help – such as my friend Crislyn Felisilda-Dacut paying the hospital bills for me. I do not want to burden my family to know how much it had cost us. I wanted to condition their mind that I am in charge and they need not worry.

Learn from the process, no matter how painful. It initially felt it was unfair for my father and all of us to suffer. In those darkest moments, my workmates would send me messages or put a note on my table, reminding me of Bible verse in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know I have plans for you; plans to prosper and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and future.” True enough, after five years, He kept His promise.

I learned the hard way that major breakthroughs come from major heartaches. Looking back, I now understand why it needed to be him. Why my father? Why him? I realized God hits us in our weakest points to become the person He wanted us to be.

I am not used to showing my emotions. I was stonehearted and always wanted to be a superwoman. With what happened, I am kinder and learned to empathize. The journey gave me a big heart for others because I know how it feels to be broken and left empty-handed.

Mai continues to give back joining outreach initiatives of small organizations in Mindanao.

Mai is currently an aid worker sharing powerful stories from the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in the Philippines for eight years now. She has been deployed in major emergencies in the country and finds time to travel and learn from different cultures.

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.