March 29, 2014

From El Nido to Taytay

Taytay, in the province of Palawan in the Philippines. (You pronounce it tai-tai, not tei-tei.) A small seaside municipality, it has a population of around 70,000. 

It takes about two hours to get there from the El Nido Airport. You pass a lot of simply-built shacks with water pumps in the yard and some chickens running around while a dog sleeps nearby and water buffaloes graze in the field.

The roads aren't always paved, and rounding a curve necessitates repeated toots on the horn to warn any oncoming cars of your presence. The driver would also toot the horn to warn people walking on the street, but unlike the rude awakening it is in Tokyo, the horns sounded friendly, as if the driver was saying hi.

The driver braked for the dogs crossing the street.

Rounding the curve to a beautiful view.

There seemed to be a lot of construction going on in the area. I saw a lot of young men and boys working on the side of the road.

A school.

There were a surprising number of basketball courts in the area. Apparently it is popular among both schoolkids and adults.

From Manila to El Nido

Took a small plane to get from Manila to El Nido, which is on the island of Palawan southwest of Manila.

The first time I ever had a wooden boarding pass.

Flying over Manila's ports and harbors.

Fish traps make the bay look like a grid.

Quite unintentionally, I took a photo of Apulit Island, my ultimate destination. Apparently, the island is supposed to look like a sleeping dragon.

A dusty cow and singers greeted us at the El Nido Airport.

Jeepney Bonanza

One thing that delighted my to no end in Manila: the sight of jeepneys, a staple of public transportation in the Philippines. They originated from the jeeps used by the US army in World War II, evolving into small buses that people can ride for around 18 yen (17 cents).

I love the bright colors, the DIY decoration (a happy result of the jeepneys being privately owned), and the inherent danger of riding something that has no back door. Apparently, in other cities, people are using jeepneys with air conditioning and the internet, but I saw none during my brief time in Manila.

The routes are written on the side. Judging by the pencil, I suppose schoolkids take them as well.

I love the rough-and-tumble swagger of this car. 

According to this article, the cost of customizing a jeepney is so high, the current generation of jeepney are painted minimally.

Most of the cars have a message to the effect of "God keep us safe" at the entrance in the back.

Cocooned in the Marriott Manila

I recently stayed at the Marriott Manila for one night. (The hotel itself was wonderful, with an extremely committed and professional staff.) It was my first time in Manila, and while I already knew that there was a great disparity between the rich and the poor, I was surprised by how clear those lines are. 

The hotel is located about 15 minutes by shuttle bus from Manila Airport. There are a handful of hotels in a row in an area that is essentially barricaded. Something you never see in Japan, or even the United States: entrances to public spaces such as airports and hotels guarded by men obviously toting huge guns. In addition, at the entrance to the hotel, luggage was screened with the same sort of machines they use on travelers at airports.

The view from my room...

...and the view immediately neighboring the pool. It seems they are building another luxury hotel next to it.

The breakfast buffet, which the hotel is known for. I have to say, it was impeccable!

Flying to Haneda

The only two things I like about flying on an airplane are: watching movies and looking out the window. Unfortunately, a cheap flight or old airplane makes the former impossible, and flying too high or over the ocean nullifies the latter as well.

You'd be surprised by what you can see from the plane. Flying from Siem Reap to Beijing in the middle of the night, I saw China outlined by the orange lights of fishing boats. On another twilight flight, I saw stars, bigger than I have ever seen in my life.

Here, we've already begun the descent to Haneda Airport, but we're still in Chiba. The dome on the right is Chiba Marine Stadium.

Tokyo Sky Tree in the background.

I can actually see my old place in Shinurayasu in this photo.

Tokyo Disneyland, and more prominently, Disney Sea. One passenger seemed startled by the sight of the volcano.

Kasai Seaside Park. The sandy areas I visited in this post, and are slated for demolition for the 2020 Olympics. I couldn't be more furious, especially because the Park just celebrated 25 years, and made a note of pointing out how they had created a habitable area for the wildlife.

The Odaiba area.

March 5, 2014

Ume Blossom-Viewing at Koishikawa Botanical Gardens

A late-winter visit to the Koishikawa Botanical Gardens, just in time for the ume (plum blossom) festival.

Also an early-blossoming sakura tree.

Japanese witch hazel, beginning to flower.

Some of the trees in this park are fantastically tall.

The ground was littered with fallen fruit.

These are all ume blossoms.

The poor leaves were already riddled with aphids, plus the bigger bug handing upside down.

There were several types of camellia trees.

The park was undergoing construction, with a lot of trees and plants being culled.