Chocolates of Love

A response to Black Light Candelabra prompt: Write a dozen mini-pieces in a single post.  Each mini-piece should be 25-35 words and be self-contained. (https://blacklightcandelabra.wordpress.com/2015/02/09/a-box-of-chocolates/)

Dark chocolate. Bitter. Hate growing inside. Getting darker now. And even more. As lovebirds seem to abound. And you want to just shoot them dead.

Addiction. You just can’t get enough of it. You constantly crave and long for its sweetness. Oh, yes… And your insatiable desire can never be quenched.

Milk chocolate. Perfect combination. Yin and yang. Made for each other. Match made in heaven, destiny, meant to be. What else is there to say?

Sweet tooth. So sweet that ants nest upon you. They envy. They despise. But mostly it’s envy. Envy for that little bit funny feeling inside.

Mint flavored. Gives you that chill, cool vibe. No hassle, no drama. A carefree disposition that just lets the relationship be brought to wherever it’s supposed to go.

Sugar high. Bolts of energy running through your veins. Making you feel alive. Like you just want to shout! And you can’t help but dispense all the energy out.

Almond. Fooled you! You thought I’m soft but lo and behold, I’m not. Bet you’re surprised. What can you do now? Spit me out? Don’t you dare!

Peanut butter. Seems odd to me. And seems to belong to another category. But whatever floats your boat. And yet it grows on you somehow. And then you change your mind.

White chocolate. Pseudo chocolate? Pretense? Hiding behind a mask? Promising the same taste, might claim to be even better. But it’s totally different. Not the same at all.

Fruity flavor of berries, raisins, and cherry. Spices up. Adds color. A twist to an otherwise familiar taste. Refreshing, rejuvenating. Sometimes comes as a pleasant surprise.

A hint of liquor. Intoxicating. Makes you do things you normally don’t. All in the name of so-called love. Getting drunk makes you stupid. I guess getting drunk with love makes you stupider.

Happiness. Happiness found in a bar. Serotonin overload. Cry your heart out. Or eat your heart out. You may gain some pounds but at least you’re happy. Are you?

UNLESS… Earth-friendly Friday Plastic

Plastic. It’s everywhere. At home, in shops, on the streets, in the dump, buried underground, floating in the wind, tossed in the ocean.

We are a bunch of consumers. And consumers want everything to be convenient. Plastic to the rescue. It’s cheap, it’s disposable, it makes life easier. But since it’s non-biodegradable, it doesn’t really disappear. You throw it – out of sight, out of mind, but it’ll still be there.

Good thing is people are now realizing this (finally, duh!), better late than never, I suppose. In places like Quezon City in the Philippines where I currently live, they ban plastic bags. Shops require you to use a re-usable bag or they issue a paper bag. If you choose to use plastic, you pay for “Plastic Recovery Fee,” following the polluter pay principle.

But for me, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Changing one’s mindset, a complete paradigm shift, is what we need. As an environmentalist, I know that it actually takes a lot of effort to be environmentally conscious.

You organize a party, for instance. Do you bring heavy plates and cutlery or just buy paper plates, plastic spoons and forks, and plastic cups? I think we know which gets the vote. You go disposable, saves you the time of cleaning and washing up. Saves water, too, they even counter.

Okay, no more plastic bags. And here comes re-usable eco-bags. And it has become a trend and people just want to join in the bandwagon. Not a bad thing. They’re just concerned about the environment. But with our consumer mentality, we buy them, never really using them. Then they end up as trash, and they are much more difficult to dispose of.

And don’t get me started on packaging. Products packed in plastic, placed in a box with a plastic window, and the whole thing put in a fancy plastic wrapping.

Reduce, reuse, recycle – we always say. But we skip through the process and tell ourselves, “I’ll buy this, use it for a little while, then throw, er, recycle it…” Reducing waste is the first step. That means being a wise consumer or being less of a consumer as we normally are.

But that’s so much work and it’s so inconvenient. Well, if you really care about the environment, again, it takes a lot of effort.

http://justanothernatureenthusiast.org/2015/02/06/unless-earth-friendly-friday-plastic/

Extra Baggage from Indonesia

This story is dedicated to my host dad in Indonesia, Papa Pamo, who passed away today. Condolence to Mommy Sonya, Mila, and the rest of the family.

Traffic jam is a generic problem of big cities particularly capitals like Manila and Jakarta. I suppose that made me conclude that Indonesia would be very closely similar to the Philippines. But interestingly, both countries can even be more the opposite with the Philippines being a pre-dominantly Roman Catholic nation and Islam as a dominant religion in Indonesia.

And in a pleasant twist of fate, I was introduced to my host parents – Sonya, a Catholic Pinay from Leyte and Pamo, a Muslim Indonesian. Talk about love that knows no boundaries. Cross-cultural marriage is always a challenge. Add to that a difference in religion. But they made it work. Sonya said that at the onset, they decided that their religion would not get in the way. And it didn’t. She didn’t have to convert. She, in fact, as a devout Catholic told us of her planned pilgrimage trip to Europe in the Easter. It’s refreshing to be in the midst of people living in peace and harmony despite the obvious differences in race, culture, faith, and belief. Though this is also a sad reminder of Christians belonging to different religious sects clashing. And Christians and Muslims with their prejudices and stereotypes of each other.

Anyway, we were able to go to some elegant and spacious malls in Jakarta. Not so crowded like in the Philippines and definitely quieter. We also toured Taman Mini Indonesia which features a literal miniature version of the country so we got to see how structures were built in certain regions.

We had lunch with our bare hands in a restaurant where you don’t have to place your order. You don’t even need to look at the menu because they bring all the food out and you choose a plate you fancy. At the end of the meal, they count the empty plates and that’s what you pay for. What if you just tasted a dish and lied about touching it? Well it just doesn’t happen that way.

After lunch, we went batik shopping at Thamrin City. I bought so many and spent around $55. At that moment, I got worried about baggage weight limit upon our return back home. In the evening, we celebrated Mommy Sonya’s birthday. And surprise-surprise! She served Filipino food. I was so happy.

Leaving Indonesia, I brought with me loads of “extra baggage” – pictures of places, memories of culture, batik souvenirs, and lessons about religious tolerance and love.

The Land of the Rising Sun

The chilly wind blew against my skinny frame. I was just wearing a thin long-sleeved shirt with a scarf wrapped around my neck but I welcomed the cold. This is really not new to me. After all, my hometown, Baguio, is also cold.

I took a deep breath. The smell reminded me of England. My eyes became busy trying to take in all the details of my surroundings – the color, the structure, how things are arranged; my senses on a hyperactive mode as I want to re-create the image in my mind when I’m not in the place anymore.

Autumn in Japan is how I have visualized it. Trees changing its color, leaves gently falling like feathers, people rushing by in their gray and glum coats in consonance to the season.

My mates and I took a stroll around Tokyo. Where are the people? So empty. Deserted. Then I realized it’s around 8:00 AM. It’s Wednesday. People obviously are in their offices and their workplaces. We took pictures of anything and everything. Like a typical tourist would do. Pictures of trees, rocks, people, places, of each other. Serious pose, model-esque, wacky or free style. The locals would stare, maybe wondering why, in the world, are we taking pictures of signage, buildings, stores, etc. But for someone new in a place, everything is fascinating.

Lunch time came. People started emerging from their nooks and began to line up in restaurants. They are so… behaved, not impatient at all. No complaints about the long queue. And they eat their food in peace, without so much chatter, which is the complete opposite of what most Filipinos do.

We managed to order our food. Thanks to the universality of gestures and body language. We would point to the menu. The waitress would speak to us in Japanese. We would nod in agreement thinking, hoping, we understood.

Itadakimasu!” I love saying that all the time. It’s the Japanese way of showing appreciation for the food. Trying out the cuisine of other countries is exciting. For me, the first bite can be a surprise, a pleasant one or otherwise.

“Oh, that’s a familiar taste. Similar to what we have back in the Philippines.”

“I can have this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!”

“Er, I think I’ll eat something else, thank you very much…”

Japanese food is very simplistic. A reflection of how the people are like. The Japanese, in fact, are minimalist. Their flag as a big statement of that, and I really appreciate that about them. I’m also amazed at how they do things, like everything’s all planned out, no room for mistakes, so efficient… so Japanese. And talking about being precise, being late would be unacceptable. It’s not even about being right on time. You have to be there 15 minutes before an appointment or else you would be considered late.

I have observed the way they work. Now I know why most concepts on quality in the workplace which we study in my Management Class originate from Japan. For a result-oriented person like me, the Japanese work ethic is ideal which I wish to see in companies and organizations I would want to be a part of in the future.

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The five-hour Shinkansen trip from Tokyo to Nagano Prefecture wasn’t as eventful as I hoped it to be. Nagano is this quiet, peaceful place where I met my new family. Yes, we’ll be having homestay here, a chance to get to experience the real culture of Japan! The Yazawa family welcomed me, together with an Obama look-alike Indonesian lad, Jusak. We stayed with the family for the two nights and two days.

At first, I was concerned about the language barrier. The only Japanese I knew, aside from itadakimasu were ohayo (good morning), konichiwa (good afternoon/hello), konbanwa (good evening), ogenki desu ka (how are you), and arigato (thank you). So how in the world would I be able to communicate to them?

Surprisingly, I was able to connect well with the Yazawas – the grandparents, Boss and Baba; our homestay mom and dad, Shinya-san and Yumi-san; and the kids, Tatsuki, the quiet one, Hana, the bundle of energy young girl, and Keita, the curious little boy.

Baba would speak to me in Japanese, I would answer back in English and for some reason, we would understand each other. I showed pictures and talked about the Philippines. They did the same thing sharing their culture and I could feel their genuine interest in getting to know me more.

We discussed and compared how things are culturally done. Whoever gave us the idea that people from another country would be any different? I mean, yes there are little nuances here and there but that’s all there is to it. Big differences if you wish to see it that way but for me, I see it simply as diversity.

We walked around the neighborhood, had soba for lunch (noisy slurping required), went to a monkey park, had a feast for dinner and ended the day with conversations, music, and laughter. I hated to think that we’ll be saying good-bye the following morning.

And so the day came. The inevitable. We had to bid farewell to strangers turned family, whom we have met for such a short time but felt like we’ve known each other longer. I hugged everyone and when it came to my oka-san (mother), she started crying and then tears began falling from my eyes, too.

“Don’t cry…” I said, which was funny because I was also crying. People call me cold-hearted because I don’t usually show my emotion specially when saying good-bye. But I don’t know what happened that day. Maybe they were tears of gratitude for the warm Yazawa family, for sharing their home, their lives to me, even for a brief moment.

Home is where the heart is. I certainly left a piece of mine back in Nagano.

Travel Bug Philippines (Part 2)

Ilocos

The good thing about package tours is they’re hassle free. Yes, tour operators normally add up to the usual price if you’re in a do-it-yourself trip but prices can also be reasonable especially if you’re in a big group. So for three days, we were able to go to Ilocos for a price of around P40,000 for ten people so that’s P4,000 each. (Look up 8 Wonders Travel and Tours if you’re interested.)

We squeezed in a 10-seater van and were off for an 8-hour trip from Manila to Ilocos. First stop, Marcos Museum. We weren’t able to get in though because the place was under maintenance which was a bummer. I would have wanted to see Ferdinand’s mummified body, or is it just wax?

Along the way, we gorge ourselves with Ilocos-famous longanisa, bagnet, and empanada. One of our mates’ sole intention of coming with us was to hunt for the best longanisa and he ended up buying an ice box load of it back to Manila. Hello, constricted veins, high blood, and heart attack!

Next stop, photo-ops at the Paoay Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; Malacañang of the North, the official residence of the late President Marcos; and the Bangui Windmills, these amazing giant turbines which mind you, are not simply there for aesthetics but they actually generate a lot of renewable energy.   

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Also for an additional fee of P500, we got to try a 4×4 ride and sand boarding at the Sand Dunes. The 4×4 ride was like a rollercoaster and would be a sure hit for adventure junkies.

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All exhausted, we spent the night at the far end part of Ilocos, Pagudpud beach.

The following morning, true Filipinos as we are, for the sake of taking a gazillion of photos, we went to the Patapat Viaduct (a bridge leading to Cagayan), Blue Lagoon, and Kapurpurawan Rock Formation.

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After that, we visited Singson’s Baluarte Zoo which houses these exotic animals. This Singson guy must be really rich. We then witnessed the manual way of pot making at Burnayan, had dinner (more longanisa, bagnet, and empanada!) at “Hidden Garden,” and a leisure night walk at Calle Crisologo in Vigan. Vigan is now recognized as one of the 7 Wonder Cities in the world.

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All in all, it was an awesome trip with old friends, new friends, and meaningful and crazy conversations in between. This escapade is definitely one for the books!

Banaue, Ifugao

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We are so fond of coming up with travel plans. And they end up just that, plans. And probably longing that they would soon materialize someday but life happens and it gets pushed back and forgotten.

Well that didn’t happen to us. We just decided one day to travel to Banaue and we did. We rode an overnight bus and got there early in the morning.

It was refreshing to be with nature at that moment. To feel the solid soil under your feet, feel it sort of pressing against you, supporting you. And when you breathe, you actually smell the air’s freshness. And everywhere I look, I see green which sure does relax the eyes. Compared to being stuck in an urban jungle filled with concrete and smoke, this is paradise.

After about an hour of “top load” jeepney ride and another hour of hiking, we finally see the Batad Rice Terraces. Honestly, it was underwhelming at first because I was expecting to see what I see in pictures and ads about this commonly referred to as 8th Wonder of the World. Our guide told us that the best times to be here would be the planting season in April or June where you see the terraces in verdant green and the harvest season in August or December where it’s golden brown. We were there in October and it was just bare. But soon I realized how amazing it was to see an ancient structure built by hands or maybe aliens? If the steps are all connected, they are supposed to encircle half of the earth.

A long hike brought us to and from Tappiya Falls which was excruciating and invigorating at the same time. The water was icy cold that made it almost impossible to swim in aside from the fact that the water could just about drag me with it.

The stillness of the night was a refuge for our aching body. And we wake up to an unbelievable view of the terraces from our window. How awesome it is to wake up every day to that.

Another jeepney ride plus more walking brought us to the Hapao Rice Terraces. We were also able to take a dip at the hot spring and a quick wash at the river.

Our journey ended at Hiwang Village where we saw more of the terraces and we also got to see antiques, and skulls, and all kinds of artifacts from World War II.

I’m glad I was able to see this cultural treasure and as much as a lot of efforts are put into preserving it, modernization and the younger generation preferring to live in the cities make the terraces vulnerable. I sure hope the future generation would still get to see them.

Mount Pinatubo

A certificate of conquest was awarded to me for successfully conquering Mount Pinatubo via O’Donell at Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac. For a price of around P2,000, a very organized day trip of TriPinas would be perfect for a one-day getaway.

We traveled at 3:00 AM from Manila and arrived in Tarlac at 6:00. From there, an hour 4×4 ride brought us to the hiking spot where we trekked for two hours. The horizontal walk on sand and gravel wasn’t much of a workout and the cold gray environment almost made it depressing but it was made entertaining with those random stuff you talk about while walking.

And once we got to the water filled crater – breathtaking. And captivating. You can’t help but pause and marvel at the sight considering that tragedy brought about this beauty.

Mount Pinatubo has an elevation of 1,485 meters above sea level. Its eruption in 1991 paired with a typhoon brought about lahar which was what mostly caused heavy damage. The Aetas, the indigenous group living in the mountain, believed that their god, angered by illegal loggers, caused the eruption.

Nature, exercise, history all in one day. How about that for a quick getaway!

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Travel Bug Philippines (Part 1)

I’ve been wanting, craving, to travel overseas. But all throughout 2014, I’ve been having local trips which is not a bad thing.

“Huwag maging turista sa sariling bansa,” was once a tagline of the Department of Tourism. So staying true to that, I traveled and explored the many wonderful islands of the Philippines.

Naga, Bicol

Early last year, my friends from an international exchange program and I went for a trip to Naga. It’s not just the food with gata or coconut milk that made the trip memorable. We were able to hike our way under the rain to the Mt. Isarog falls, took a dip in the Panicuason Hot Spring, and tried wakeboarding (well, my friends did), and had a great time at the Caramoan Island.

Caramoan has been a filming sight for my favorite reality TV show “Survivor” so I was psyched to be there. We got to stay at Gota Village in these beautifully made rustic cabin houses.

There was a typhoon that time so the boat ride going to the island was wavy and a bit scary as we felt like the vessel would tip over or capsize. We would have been real life castaways!

It took us three days to do all these so the next time you have a long weekend, Bicol would be a worth it destination.

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Visayas

Normally, if you think of backpacking, Europe and Southeast Asia would come to mind. Who would have thought backpacking across Visayas would be possible. I’m glad my travel buddy, Brian planned for the trip and dragged me along.

The adventure started with a two-hour bus ride from Manila to Batangas then an overnight ferry trip to Caticlan. After paying all kinds of fees and going through boat transfers, I finally set foot on this island which gets a lot of publicity from foreign and local tourists alike. Thanks to its fine white sand, a choice of different activities (island hopping, snorkeling, scuba diving, etc.) and its lively party scene, especially at night.

We were hosted by a couch surfer. Wikipedia defines couch surfing as a hospitality exchange and social networking website. The website provides a platform for members to “surf” on couches by staying as a guest at a host’s home, host travelers, or join an event. A cool way to have free accommodation!

Most of our time in Boracay, we just spent at the beach and swam in its crystal clear waters. And we sadly wonder how the displaced Atis, the island’s indigenous people, ended up begging in a land that used to be their own.

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From Boracay, we traveled to the “Seafood Capital of the Philippines” – Capiz, Roxas. We did try their seafood but sadly our stomachs weren’t ready for their “kinilaw na shrimp.” And nope, no aswangs in Capiz. I was curious as to what got the place this kind of reputation and found out from the article of Estrella Torres, “The ‘Real Capiz’ Unveiled,” that the Catholic Church wanted to discredit the Babaylans or female healers in Capiz and demonized them as witches and called them aswang.

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Our wandering feet brought us next to the “City of Love,” Iloilo. We were fortunate to have an Ilonggo friend who toured us around the city and the churches while giving historical remarks of these places. It was such a delight to visit the Miagao Church, have a night walk at the Esplanade, and constantly hear the unique accent of the Ilonggos. Don’t ask me why, but I just find the way they speak amusing. They sound so gentle. Now, my favorite dish is sinigang and I have to say Iloilo’s version with batwan fruit gave me just the right kick of kilig-to-the bones sourness.

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Iloilo also became our gateway to Guimaras, the place which claims to have the sweetest mango in the world. And I think I would have to agree! Apparently, they got the 1995 Guinness Book of World Record for “The World’s Sweetest Fruit.”

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A RORO (roll-on/roll-off) ship led us next to Bacolod where we were hosted by another couch surfer, Julius. He opened his house to total strangers and I just couldn’t believe his hospitality and trust. There are still kind people in the world.

We visited The Ruins (of a mansion), went to the Mambukal Hot Spring, and enjoyed Bacolod’s famous chicken inasal.

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Hip Dumaguete was our next destination where we got a taste of their puto and hot cocoa breakfast. That was a treat! From here, we briefly traveled to Siquijor. Spanish colonizers called it “Isla de Fuego” or “Island of Fire” because of fireflies at night. Like Capiz, Siquijor is also famous for stories of the paranormal. I’m not really superstitious but the place gave that weird, eerie feel. Mystic aside though, I enjoyed the fish spa experience under giant balete trees.

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And for the final leg, we traveled to Cebu, to Ormoc, and then to Tacloban. It is saddening to see how the typhoon Yolanda ravaged the place. With that, the 39th Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Programme Philippine Contingent (Bugkos Lahi), a group I belong to, decided to do an outreach here. We donated monoblock chairs and computer tables for a school, conducted hygiene session with kids, and participated in a magic show in Child Friendly Space areas. Way to end such an amazing trip!

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For the Trees!

A jeepney drove us all the way to Sagada where Challenge 160 would start. This is a walk from Sagada to Baguio to promote the importance of trees and to protest against the cutting of these trees in the City of Pines especially at Luneta Hill.DSCN2059

It’s been ages since the last time I was in this part of Mountain Province. So many things have changed and I’m referring to these inns and cafes and establishments meant to take advantage of the booming influx of tourists, a good mix of Caucasians, Koreans, and locals enjoying the still pristine forest of this mountain resort, reminiscent of Baguio’s glorious past.

It is unfortunate that so-called development is creeping in but it’s a good thing that they still maintain their indigenous way of forest management – the “lakun” or “batangan.” This is a practice where a piece of land planted with trees is taken care of by families through generations. Trees are only cut to build a house. Lumber should never be sold. The trees cut, which is of limited number, are replaced. Their care and appreciation of the environment is admirable. I hope city folks could learn from them.

About 20 people joined the challenge and I’m sure the walk meant differently to each of us. To some a vacation, to others a physical test. A few saw it as early penitence and a time to reflect about life. But for me, more than anything else, I did it for the trees. Yes, I’m a self-professed tree hugger. My being an environmentalist didn’t come from the emerging trend of cool environmentalism. It’s an expression of my faith as I believe we should be stewards of God’s creation.    DSCN1943

I’m a hiker and I love walking. So I thought a six-day 160 km walk would be “chicken,” as easy as eating peanuts. Boy was I wrong. Imagine walking on hot, hard concrete for around 10 hours to cover more than 30 kilometers a day. Not to mention the sizzling hot sun at noon time and the freezing cold wind in the early morning and evening. They’ve been with us, as if mocking us, making every step miserable. But we pressed on anyway.

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We dodged buses and cars rushing by seemingly unmindful of pedestrians. Some would honk and smile and wave at us in encouragement. We had a feast of magnificent views of mountains and trees as far as the eyes could see. We enjoyed the fresh air but the smoke from passing vehicles would always have us cover our noses. We get curious stares and we just smile back. They ask us why we’re walking and we explain the cause for the trees.DSCN1981

I talked to the other walkers whom I have just met. I asked about their backgrounds, their reasons of joining the walk. We talked about books, and movies, and music. We even had a sort of game of naming as many cartoons as we could. Sometimes, conversations would go serious as we discuss issues of mining, pollution, politics, capitalism, and the like.

We talked about food, those that we were craving at that moment. I craved for fishballs and we did have a chance to eat some. It was as hard as rocks but I couldn’t care less. It’s funny that at these times, we get to appreciate the simple joys of life – cold drinks, warm bath, the convenience of eating whatever you want, the comfort of a bed.

Along the way, we saw forest fires. Intentional, I’m afraid to say, but I couldn’t really blame those who did it. They have to make a living, mostly through farming. That explains the many ads and posters of pesticides of all kinds and names; and the “chicken dung perfume” which we somehow got used to.DSCN1977DSCN1944

We spent nights in schools, churches, and homes of people kind enough to host us. I would always welcome the break and check if my feet are still there. We would attend to blisters, sore feet, and muscle cramps. I sometimes fear waking up, unable to stand. But surprisingly, after a night’s sleep, I would be okay and ready to go.

Challenge 160 was indeed a challenge in all aspects. But I realized this is nothing compared to the challenge of changing people’s minds. Of getting rid of their apathy. Of making them understand that if we take the environment for granted, nature’s wrath would be upon us, as always.

Challenge 160 happened two years ago in February 2013. And for two years, those trees around SM Baguio stood in peace. I thought they would be there much longer. But they’re gone now. They got rid of the trees to make way for a Sky Park that features so-called environment-friendly facilities. Wait, what?! And they also boast of this “Grow a Million Trees” campaign. I mean, really?! How absurd can you get?!

To those trees, I give my sad good-bye. Challenge 160 is not over. I shall walk on.