Travel · New York City · August 2016

After a handful of years lurking social media, with constant thought and wonder about New York City and all its glory, I finally had a chance to experience The Big Apple for myself - alongside some of the best people: my family, my cousin, and my girlfriend. We stayed in Midtown Manhattan, not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, but a couple of days and numerous navigation mistakes later, we finally got the hang of New York's crazy public transportation system. One thing that I enjoyed about New York, similar to that of Chicago, was that everything was more or less flat and on a grid. Don't get me wrong - San Francisco and its hilly terrain will always have my heart, but having consistently flat ground was a treat for our calves and knees, which were already tired at the end of each day due to an immeasurable amount of walking and exploring Manhattan. 

Simply put, New York City definitely set itself apart from the rest of the major US cities I've been to thus far. San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Chicago are all decently large, metropolitan cities, but Manhattan Island is - well - an island, for goodness' sake! Tokyo would fall into a similar category as Manhattan, boasting its own respective reputation as a Metropolis, but both cities are very different. New York's culture and diversity was a blast to experience - from the delicious food on seemingly every corner, to the claustrophobia-inducing streets of Times Square, to the relaxed vibe of East Village, to the fashion-filled streets of SoHo, to the calm serenity of central Park, to the brilliant architecture surrounding Tribeca, and so on. Did I mention the food everywhere was an absolute pleasure to experience? Because I'm not lying when I say I would (and will) go back to New York for the food. 

Like everyone that has been to NYC before has told me, seven days in New York was definitely not enough, and I'll definitely find myself back here soon enough. If you've been keeping up with my blog posts for quite some time now, I know what you may be thinking - it feels like I say the same thing after visiting a new place for the first time, but I really do mean it every time. All in all, its moments like these that make me grateful for how much I've been able to see and experience thus far, and I can't ever feel anything short of blessed after coming home from a trip. 

Travel · Philippines · June 2016

Who would have ever thought that I'd find myself back in the Philippines for the second time in just 5 months, after having not been there in roughly 12 years before 2016? Yes, maybe my girlfriend working there for an entire academic year was enough of an incentive to visit, especially before she left back for the US, but being able to see family that I didn't get to spend much time with (back from my visit in February) and having the opportunity to immerse in a beautiful culture that both of my parents grew up into were the reasons that ultimately led me to coming back. This time, however, Christina was done with work and had already been doing some traveling with family and friends, so we were ready to take on the Philippines and even a little bit of Hong Kong [which may be viewed by clicking here] during my three week trip to Asia.

Throughout the entirety of this trip, one prevailing thought kept running through my mind. This is real life. The tranquility of Ifugao and its mesmerizing rice terraces, the constant noise, hustle, and bustle in the city of Manila, the beautiful beaches and rumbling thunderstorms of Pangasinan, and so on. Not only was it hard to believe that my parents spent a chunk of their lives in this beautiful country (both are from Manila and immigrated to the United States in their teenage years), but I also couldn't fully grasp how amazingly generous and loving my family that I still had here in the Philippines was, despite our little contact and communication in the past. After Christina and I were able to spend a handful of days with them and experience how things were, I felt a deeper and more intimate connection with them after saying our goodbyes. Again, I was reminded that this is real life. I'm already looking forward to the next time I'll have the opportunity to visit, and the new (and old) stories I'll be able to share. Most of all, however, I couldn't get over how blessed I truly am to have the opportunities that I have. Being here reminded me to take a step back and allow things to flow at a more organic pace, humbling me from the moment I landed. We often get so caught up with social media, our own needs and wants, and ultimately our own personal, confined "bubble", that we forget what else is happening outside of our world - even with relatives and friends that we don't keep in contact with often. This travel experience definitely left me speechless, turned me into a storyteller, and humbled me enough to feel the urge to share with you all. 

Special thanks to Kuya Wilson, Kuya Mulin, Ate Kat, Kuya Ronald, Kuya Mark, Tita Jing, Tito Mak, Ian, Maika, Maji, Juin & Reg, Jon & his family, and my dad's side of the family for the hospitality, laughs, and great times. Those are what made up the bulk of Christina and I's three weeks in the Philippines -- the moments that can't be explained by a mere glance of a photo, but rather the ones that we will keep in our hearts. Thank you all for reminding me, simply, that this is real life.

Travel · Hong Kong · June 2016

This post is part of another post [which you may view by clicking here]. I've decided to separate them into two so that I can highlight both of my trips to the Philippines and Hong Kong without one overshadowing the other, as well as share more specific thoughts on the two, respectively. 

Made a trip out to Hong Kong with Christina in the first couple of days during my 3-week trip to Asia, and one of the things I was most excited about being here was meeting up with our good friend, Boris! We all went to USF and graduated together, so it had been a little over a year since we last saw him. We also met up with his family, as well as his girlfriend, Karina. Thanks to them, we were able to to eat many of Hong Kong's signature dishes (breakfast and lunch, especially), get a hang of how to take public transportation, visit some extremely beautiful lookout points and tourist attractions, and even learn some general Chinese words and gestures along the way.

Having visited Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Manila, Tokyo, etc. and not to mention living in San Francisco, the whole concept of "city life" was definitely not foreign to me. What did catch me by surprise with Hong Kong, however, was that it isn't just a city -- it's an entire island! From the towering skyscrapers and concrete jungle in the north, to the predominantly beach-and-nature-filled south side, the entire island of Hong Kong would take months, if not years, to explore. I can still remember taking the bus from Stanley beach back to Sai Wan Ho, staring in awe outside of the window, completely mesmerized by the sheer beauty that was Hong Kong. Editing these photos gave me a sense of nostalgia, one that I know will linger around with me for some time to come. Christina and I will definitely be back in the future -- three full days simply wasn't enough!

Personal · Moody Yosemite

Made a quick little trip to Yosemite National Park with Rolo, Jullian, Xavier, and Donmiguel, and stayed in the newly-named Half Dome Village (previously known as Curry Village) for the night.

Thanks to El Niño, which led to intermittent snow-warnings for every part of Yosemite that wasn't the lower valley, our plans to drive up Glacier Point Road to stop by Taft Point and Glacier Point during the day, as well as on photograph the stars later on in the evening, unfortunately didn't fall through. This was Jullian's first time at Yosemite, and Xavier's first time since he was a child (technically speaking, then, this would count as his first time as he had little to no recollection of when he went). Rolo and Donmiguel were with me last December, and since that was during the winter season, we weren't able to drive up Glacier Point Road (snowed out) or photograph the stars either. 

The good that came out of this, however, was the insanely moody weather that we were surrounded with during the entire time we were in the park. Waking up early during any low-fog event certainly has its perks, and this was no different. The morning after staying overnight at the Half Dome Village canvas rent we rented, we were greeted with beautiful low fog throughout the valley, along with some rain. Simply taking nature in for what it is and standing, in awe of the beauty before us, justified the entire trip for me. Of course, the wonderful company contributed to how great this short trip was, along with tons of laughter throughout, but that was already a given. I'm already looking forward to our next time back here - albeit with less-cloudy weather - hopefully with the same awesome group of guys!