Monday, May 11, 2015

Palawan: World's Most Beautiful Island

Oh yes I'm still alive! After a long hiatus, I'm back again. I've been meaning to write some things about what's been happening in my life but time keeps on flying and I can't grab it!!!

I was a balikbayan in the Philippines last December 2014 and it was a blast... I visited Palawan with mates and work buddies here in New Zealand. Apparently, Palawan is regarded by many as the "world's most beautiful island." I don't have a point of reference as I am not really well traveled but I suppose multiple claims of international travel magazines say a lot about the island.

We had three days in Puerto Princesa to see one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, the Puerto Princesa Underground River, roamed around the city, shopped for pearls, adventure with nature, and enjoyed fresh seafood. Then a few more days in Coron's crystal clear beaches, played with Nemo and his friends, island hopping, snorkel, never ending WOW moments and breathtaking sceneries. No doubt Palawan is regarded by Hufftington Post, Conde Nast Traveler, Top Dreamer, and Travel and Leisure as the most beautiful island in the world.

Of course, I'll share some precious photos here. At this time, I'll just post photos and will give details later when I get free time.

Kayangan Lake

Malcapuya Island

Banana Island
 Mount Tapyas

 Limestone formation

Coron Westown Resort

Sa akin lang po, enjoy while you can. Take advantage of your youthful energy and while you have the resources ($$$)... You can always earn money later on. Visit Coron! It is a MUST to see and experience what the island has to offer!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Filipino Migrant's View of Living in New Zealand

I have been in New Zealand for over a year now and I am loving it! I have been to different places in the North and mostly in the South Island and seen a lot of awesome views and experienced what the city life and the countryside had to offer. And somehow I have observed their people and their ways... There are a number of observations that I made during my stay here in New Zealand. Here are a handful of random things of anything about New Zealand as viewed by a Filipino immigrant.

1. Generally, Kiwis are very warm, relaxed, friendly and kind. During my first days in New Zealand, the people who welcomed me made a very good impact. From the driver who took me to my accommodation, to the land lord, to the bank teller, to the bus driver... I felt the warmth and hospitality of their people. I still got the same perception of their people at this stage. :)

New Zealand Now tells us, "On the surface, Kiwis are friendly and outgoing, but we’re also quite private. So, although it’s easy to start a conversation with us, we don’t like sharing a lot of personal information. Topics to avoid include how much people earn, why they don’t have any children or aren’t married, their weight - anything personal. It’s OK to ask people what they did on the weekend or how their children are. Sport and the weather are also safe topics.

We come from a land of wide open spaces so we don’t like having people stand too close. We walk on the left of the footpath and we smile at each other a lot."

Cheers, mate! :)

2. Although the paper money is still here, most payment transactions are made through EFTPOS. Electronic funds transfer at point of sale, or widely known as EFTPOS, is an electronic payment system involving electronic funds transfers based on the use of payment cards, such as debit or credit cards, at terminals located at points of sale. Thanks, Wikipedia! Haha. In short, you pay by debit or credit card... As simple as that. But of course, you could always pay in cash. :)

Aside from electronic fund transfer system, online shopping is quite common here. I know that it has been quite some time now since online shopping has been introduced but it is something pretty new for me considering I only lived in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia. Your debit card and credit card is always handy for the bargains you find online!

And you can even pay taxis with your card! Of course with an additional charge...

3. They like rugby. Not the rugby that the rugby boys in the Philippines are known for... Haha.

What they are crazy about is the game rugby or the rugby league. It is a contact sport which is considered one of the most physically demanding of team sports. As it involves tackling, running, and kicking, you can imagine how it can be a threat to one's bodily and spine integrity. Haha. Here's a glimpse of New Zealand's national game and how it is played in the field.

Now, I give you the haka... It is a war dance by the original Maori people of New Zealand and is done before a game to proclaim the team's strength and to intimidate their opponents. It is not just performed solely for games but also to welcome guests and during special occasions, among others.

4. They are not a big fan of rice. Aside from Indian, Thai, and Chinese restaurants, you won't usually see rice being served as part of their menu. I struggled with this before as I can't seem to consider a meal as a real meal without rice... But I eventually got used to it. Potatoes, chips (or french fries), are their main source of carbohydrates here. Don't worry. You could always find rice being sold in supermarkets. Of course they sell rice cookers in any department store. :)

5. Although comparable to the size of the Philippines, New Zealand's population is only 4.5 million.
And then you will hear your Kiwi tour guide joking about the abundance of cattles and sheep... Haha. There are presently around 9 to 10 sheep to every 1 human in New Zealand.

By looking at the map, it resembles that of the Philiipines, but it's not overcrowded! It is just this July 2014 when the Philippines welcomed it's 100 millionth Filipino alive!

6. Left side of the road!
Driving in New Zealand is like driving in any other places, but there are a few things that you have to be aware of if you are a new driver... Here's a very helpful and informative video about driving in the country.

7. Talk to Kiwis and hear the Visayan accent.
Your yes becomes yis, ten becomes tin, seven becomes sivin, and your deck becomes...

And here's the part 2 of that funny commercial...

8. They love the great outdoors.
Who wouldn't love the country's picturesque sceneries? The vistas, the long white cloud, the coastline, their lakes... Their magnificent landscapes will be loved by nature lovers. You get to enjoy nature as you get your adrenaline pumping too!

If it is a 'lovely day,' your friendly next door Kiwis will definitely enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, camping, fishing, beach walking, or even just strolling around the nearest park. You will definitely enjoy the unspoiled forest and beaches, and their clean and green environment.

9. New Zealand is one of the least corrupt nations of the world.
The Ministry of Justice in its website tells us, "New Zealand has a strong reputation for being free and intolerant of corruption and bribery. The country is also widely recognised for its commitment to supporting international efforts to combat such behaviour and offences in all their forms. For example, New Zealand consistently ranks among the least corrupt nations in the world – often topping the table on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, which ranks countries by perceived corruption levels among public officials and politicians." Of course, that claim is supported by statistics... 

 Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia are seen as the world's most corrupt countries while Denmark and New Zealand are nearly squeaky-clean, graft watchdog Transparency International has said in a survey. - The New Zealand Herald, 2013
10. Equality to all gender, races, or culture. Fed up with the hierarchical system in the Philippines and horrible overt discrimination in the Middle East, I am greatly happy to have moved in this country that value fairness and despises discrimination. When you work, you really get what you worked for... During casual conversations with colleagues at work, they would usually ask, "Is the pay in Saudi very good?" And they would get that shocked reaction when I reveal that salary in the Middle East is based on passport. I would add, "If you have a Philippine or Indian passport, you only get 1/4 or 1/5 of what your 'white' counterpart gets for salary. Imagine that, you do the same work, but you are paid just a fraction of what your other workmate gets." And most New Zealanders are not aware that the Middle East has this system for quite a long time now. Just imagine the shock in their faces after sharing that information with them... Oh well, at least I get to educate them about the sad reality in other parts of the world and that they are in a much better country.

If you have the right skill and education, the country will welcome you with arms wide open. As a skilled migrant worker, I got my residence visa in less than a year!

Same-sex marriage became legal in New Zealand on 19 August 2013. Wikipedia shares that: Between 19 August 2013 (when the law became operational) and 31 March 2014, 668 same-sex marriages were registered in New Zealand. 385 of these were between female couples and 283 were between male couples. Just under 60 percent of these were between New Zealand citizens, and roughly one-third were between Australian citizens.
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (Article 2, United Nations Declaration on Human Rights)
11. Their format of writing the date is... Day.Month.Year. As of writing this entry, the date is 23 October 2014 or 23/10/14.

Also, we have to move our clocks on specific dates of the year, either an hour further or an hour back, during daylight saving time. Daylight Saving commences on the last Sunday in September, when 2.00am becomes 3.00am. It ends on the first Sunday in April, when 3.00am becomes 2.00am.

12. You don't smoke? No worries!
The website New Zealand Now says, "Smoking is increasingly rare in New Zealand and prohibited in public buildings, including bars and restaurants. Generally people are expected to smoke outside. If you want to smoke, it’s polite to ask the people around you if they mind, even if you are outside." They are pretty serious about the anti-smoking campaign that they advertise ads on national tv about the effects of smoking and how to quit smoking.

The price of cigarettes is very high. From 1 January 2014 the price of tobacco and cigarette has risen from $15 to $17.50 for a 20s pack of manufactured cigarettes. If you get a pack of Marlboro in the Philippines for about 52 pesos, you'll get the same pack with the price of 643 pesos here in New Zealand. That's a whopping 91.91% price difference!

Their efforts to convince the public to quit smoking has indeed been effective. In the calendar years 2006 to 2013, daily tobacco and cigarette smoking participation per adult (1 RYO = 1 g tobacco) including cigars and cigarillos) reduced from 20.7% to 15.1%, a fall of 27.1% points over 7 years.

13. You don't drink alcohol? Good on you, mate!
Once again, the website New Zealand Now gives us, "We have a drinking culture, but it is fine to have a non alcoholic drink when you are socialising. The legal age for buying alcohol in New Zealand in 18. There are strict rules against providing alcohol for people under that age." Just like smoking, they are seriously campaigning against drunk driving. Here's a very powerful ad...

14. Four seasons!
For a dude like me who grew up in a tropical country, a childhood obsession would be to experience four seasons... And of course, touch and play with snow/ice. Finally, I experienced summer, fall/autumn, spring, and winter!!!


15. Work-life balance. The Kiwis really value how they live their life. And they know how to enjoy! As compared to where I worked before (Philippines and Saudi Arabia), your hard earned money here will definitely go far... You could afford to get a nice car (a second hand will do on your first few years.. or even months), you can finance your travel abroad or even just domestically, and most of all, you still get to save a lot... The cost of living here is VERY reasonable. Although for newbies it may be a shocker once you convert the prices, you really don't have to worry about converting once you start to receive your NZ salary. With a nurse's salary, you can definitely live comfortably in this country AND save much in the bank. $$ Also, you get to spend around 4 to 6 weeks of paid vacation!

16. New Zealand is one of the safest countries to live on earth. From the New Zealand Immigration website, "According to the 2013 Global Peace Index, New Zealand is the 3rd safest place to live in the world (after Iceland and Denmark). Up against 144 countries, New Zealand was followed by Austria (4th) and Switzerland (5th). Other nations such as the UK (44th) and USA (99th) were much further down the list."

The website added, "New Zealand is a relaxed and welcoming place to live. We’re a modern, secular democratic society and a mix of lifestyles is accepted here. People from many walks of life call New Zealand home and the majority of New Zealanders are honest law-abiding citizens."

"Our local police force is strong and you can be assured that all criminal matters are taken seriously. As in any country, there are incidents of crime and New Zealand Police are dedicated to solving and resolving offences. Our robust justice and court systems provide a fair process for those involved as well victim support."

"We’re a secure nation and pride ourselves on maintaining safe communities. Even our biggest cities are considered some of the top places to live on earth – Auckland (3rd) and Wellington (13th) ranked amongst the best on Mercer’s 2012 Quality of Living survey."

17. There are Filipinos almost everywhere. Right, the cliche is right. You see Filipinos everywhere. We're pretty much like the Chinese and the Indians now, wherever there is an opportunity, you'll find them. Everywhere my foot has taken me in the North or the South Island there is a Filipino. And of course if you have a Filipino community there would be a demand for Filipino stores that sell your favorite 'Pinoy favorites'. Isn't that awesome?! You are far away from Pinas and you still get to experience the Pinoy comfort. Oh, you also get to taste Pinoy food in Pinoy-run restaurants in the bigger New Zealand cities.

I guess the closest to New Zealand when it comes to living experience is Australia. I actually once thought of going to Australia a few months ago, but after hearing comments about racism from friends and bloggers I ditched the thought of moving out and decided to stay here. I also considered pursuing the US which was my original plan after graduation in 2007 but over the past few years the 'safety' in the US has been a concern; add the issue of retrogression... Canada can be too cold for me and I still have to study for years if ever I decide to move there, so no thanks. And UK's cost of living is 'stressful' according to my friends. Besides, UK nurses tend to travel to New Zealand or Australia and leave their country because of the cost of living... And that says a lot about the way of living there.

I can just go on and type more things about New Zealand in this entry... But it will definitely leave you with a common thought in mind, that New Zealand is a very good country to live in.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Queenstown Holiday Experience

As a resident of New Zealand's South Island, I have ready access to "the world's ultimate adventure capital." It is just a couple of hours drive away from where I live.. It may take some time to travel by road, but the road travel is worthy especially when you get to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes and sceneries, add that to the good conversation with friends, and time will just pass by in a flick.

Although I have been to Queenstown for a number of times already, it is only recently that I truly appreciated the 'adventure' in this adventure capital. My CAP mates and I had a sort-of reunion in our first year in New Zealand - and Queenstown was the preferred destination. In time with our first anniversary as residents of this country, the Queenstown winter season welcomed us with majestic views of the snow-covered mountains and very cool weather. Coming from a tropical country, the Philippines, the snow and the cool environment somehow gave us good chills as we felt that we were indeed in a four seasons country. With temperature range from less than 0 degree to around 2 to 3 degrees during our stay, we thought that it was the perfect time to put on layers of clothing... And for me to try those GQ inspired winter outfits. Haha.

It was a Sunday during Day 1 of our Queenstown Holiday. I could not afford to miss the fun and catch-up activities with my friends so instead of waiting for a regular Monday bus from my place to Queenstown [I still don't have a car, poor me], I opted to fly to Christchurch to meet my friend there. And it didn't disappoint me. The 45-minute catch-up with my friend from Christchurch Airport to Queenstown Airport was all worthwhile.

Queenstown Airport is 8 kilometers away from Queenstown Central Business District (CBD). You can get loads of information from the airport itself of the activities that are in store for your Queenstown holiday. There are heaps of packages to choose from and they offer discounted prices. For my readers, I would highly recommend you to go visit the TripAdvisor website to get first hand inputs of the must-do activities in Queenstown and the surrounding areas. Plus you'll get honest opinions from people from all over the world about facilities, establishments, tours, and activities. At the end of the day, it all depends on your preferences AND budget. Do this online activity months ahead of your travel date so you could anticipate the seasonal activities. Back to Queenstown Airport... Vehicle rental companies have their own stalls around the airport so you can choose depending on your period of stay and budget. For the backpackers and thrift travellers, there are bus and taxi bays for transportation from Frankton to the CBD. Like almost anywhere in the world, the drivers are your local, friendly tourist guides who could provide you details of what to do and where to go to... Take advantage of their input as most of the time the information from these drivers are really valuable.

After dropping our luggage in the hotel, we did not waste time and immediately roamed around the city. We carefully planned the days and our activities each day based on the MetService weather forecast. Of course we can't do any outdoor activities during rainy days so we tried to fit in activities according to the forecast. We explored the CBD on our first day to acclimatize, we had the Milford Sound tour on our second day, third day was the most exciting for me, the skydiving day, and the fourth and last day was for skiing.

We had to join the bandwagon and check out Fergburger and Patagonia.Some say both are overrated but I was quite satisfied with the stuff from both specialty stores. If you want humongous burgers then Fergburger will sort your hunger.


Want chocolates, coffee, and churros to warm your senses on a cold time of the day? Drop by Patagonia Chocolates! They also have ice cream!


We of course had the cable car (Gondola) to get to the mountain top and have a good view of the town. Up in the mountain are a number of cool features including the Skyline Luge and the Skyline Restaurant.


The fee of $82 dollars for the combo for Skyline Gondola and Skyline Restaurant (buffet) is worth the bucks as I felt so full of ganstronomic treats from their seafood and sushi bar, their steak bar, and the grill section. They offer a full course of meal from the starter up to the dessert. You just have to work on your plan on how to try everything that appeals to your appetite! Oh I just love buffets!


After the buffet, you could stroll around the CBD for a night view of the town.


We were curious about the Ice Bar so we spent around $20 to $30 for the entrance and mocktails/cocktails. In the bar are ice sculptures, and of course, the other equally curious guys and gals trying out the experience of being in Antarctica. Party all along with your mates and meet people with different nationalities!


Second day was Milford Sound day. Milford Sound is miles away from Queenstown and it takes 5-6 hours by bus to get to the sound from Queenstown CBD and another 5-6 hours to get back to the adventure capital. 

Although this is not part of Queenstown anymore, Milford Sound is a popular destination for tourists longing for nature at its finest in the Southland Region. The area is government protected so you won't really see a lot of establishments along the road, just nature nature nature. There are a few ferry carriers catering to the tourists and you just have to choose according to your preferences. The whole tour includes several stops to notable spots like the Mirror Lake, the tunnel, and the mountain spring where you could fill your bottle with fresh spring water... When you get to the point where you will ride the ferry to tour the sound, you just have to sit back, relax, and enjoy nature. 


The commentaries from the tourist guides were very rich and helpful, you'll just say 'wow' with the facts and figures. It takes almost 2 hours for the Milford Sound ferry trip alone and while on board, you can have your food or you could just purchase from the available treats from the stalls. The buses leave at 8 in the morning, with arrival time of 1:30pm at Milford Sound, departure at Milford Sound at around 3:45pm then back to Queenstown CBD at 8 in the evening. 


We ended the second day with a good meal in one of the restaurants in the CBD.


Third day was skydiving day! We booked our tickets at NZone Skydive and we were told that the skydive will depend on the weather and subject to cancellation anytime. They will ask for your credit card details but won't charge you until the time they confirm that the skydive will push through. We all wanted our skydive experience documented so we chose the combo of $229 for the video/photo coverage. The skydive alone will cost about $339 or more depending on the altitude. On the day itself, I got pretty much worried as MetService estimated the day to be a cloudy/sunny day with light winds. Our supposed 9am schedule was cancelled due to wind conditions so we were asked to come back by 11am. We just killed time by visiting the Botanic Gardens and played like kids in their playground. If we had ample time we could have visited the Queenstown Gardens and the Queenstown Ice Arena for ice skating!

When we came back to NZone Skydive, we were told that the skydive will be a GO! After signing the waiver (that we could be killed - urgh), we used a van to get us to the drop area which is about 15 to 20 minutes away from the CBD. The Remarkables will say hi to you as that will be the backdrop of the drop zone.


There will be a safety briefing and then off you go! As it is a tandem skydive, you don't have to worry about the technicalities as the dive masters are professionals. Just remember the banana position and enjoy the spectacular view... 

The skydive experience must be the most daring, most incredible thing that I have done in my life! The whole skydive experience, from the safety briefing, the breathtaking scenery after the 200km/hr free fall from 12,000 feet above, up to the time my skydive master Greg and I landed on the ground, was exceptional... That was indeed the highlight of my Queenstown 2014 holiday!

After the adrenaline rush, we were dog tired and nauseated for almost an hour. Haha. We just had Japanese for lunch takeaway and we had the meal in the hotel. With muscles and extremities like jellies, we slept for about 2 hours and up again after recharging, just in time for dinner. Of course, we consulted TripAdvisor again and we landed on Flame Bar and Grill (reservations necessary as they are always full of diners).


After the sumptuous meal, we tried the spooky, scary Fear Factory. Good thing nobody chickened out! Haha.

Winter wouldn't be complete if we didn't get to touch snow and play around, erm, like kids again, and build a snowman. Haha. The fourth and last day was spent solely for this activity. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative that day and it was all cloudy with snow the whole day at Coronet Peak. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed the day learning the basics of skiing and playing with crushed ice snow. 


We still had the whole evening to spend so we just roamed around, had Indian for dinner, and tried Vortex, the 12-D experience. Vortex reminded me of Rialto from Enchanted Kingdom in Laguna, Philippines.

Day five was the check out day. We had to go back to reality and earn for a living. Some of us had to ride the airplane and me, of course, just a bus ride. Although we were quite sad because that marked the end of our Queenstown holiday, the memories of the past few days were enough to mask the sadness with delight and happiness. You can never go wrong with a holiday spent with good people, good company.

Just a side trip... If you happen to be available during the autumn season, the nearby town which is just a few kilometers away from Queenstown is a must see. Arrowtown is best known for their Autumn Festival. Here are a few photos of the views from the town.


This holiday was one of the most memorable holidays that I had in my life, I guess the experience was a lot better because my mates had no qualms on spending, the reason the whole Queenstown experience was richer and more memorable. Although I have been to Queenstown for the nth time, it was only this week that I truly enjoyed the adventure paradise.

Sa akin lang po, it is okay to spend your hard earned money to pamper yourself with treats. Be there to enjoy, you could always earn the money later on!
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