Thursday, June 25, 2015

Postcards from Intramuros, a Spanish walled city in the Philippines

Intramuros, Manila
Main gate of Fort Santiago
(My son obviously did not get his height from my side of the gene pool.)

Someone once told me that they can tell if a person is from the Philippines if they look Asian but have a Hispanic name. Indeed, the Philippines is an independent, island nation in Southeast Asia which was under Spanish rule for over 300 years, promptly followed by a few decades as an American colony. My parents were born and married in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, before moving to the USA. Visiting my extended family there was one last thing I wanted to do before leaving Asia. We spent most of our time feasting at restaurants, hitting the many malls, and just hanging out with my aunts and cousins, getting to know each other better. My kids say it's one of their favorite vacations because they went bowling and played Minecraft with their 2nd cousins instead of spending the whole day sightseeing. Indeed, a morning excursion to Intramuros was the extent of our touristy activities there. So, instead of showing you snapshots of our bowling scores, here's a few postcards from Intramuros.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Natural Wonder of Hamilton Pool

Hamilton Pool
Behind the waterfall

I stood behind the waterfall enjoying the cooling mist and thinking about the year that's passed since we left Malaysia to return back to Texas. One of my biggest worries about repatriating was that life would become humdrum and routine. That returning to the city that I've called home for the last 20 years couldn't possibly be as exciting as exploring an exotic, foreign country. So, I reminded myself that I had perhaps taken Austin, Texas for granted.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Farewell to FAO Schwarz

I was a little sad when I heard the news. FAO Schwarz's flagship store in Manhattan will close its doors on July 15. When we visited New York City last November, stopping by this famous toy store was high on our list of child-friendly activities in the Big Apple. It wasn't hard to convince the family. "Hey kids, lets go to a TOY STORE." They probably thought some alien took over their mom since I usually drag them to see Buddhas or cathedrals on our vacations.

Browsing around FAO Schwarz, said to be America's oldest toy store, is an Experience with a capital "E." It's a curious combination of super expensive items that only people with lots and lots of disposable income would consider actually buying (e.g. 60-inch Patrick the Pup plush stuffed animal for $300) mixed with regular toys that are readily available at your neighborhood Wal-Mart or Toys'R'Us.

That Thanksgiving week, the store was packed just after opening time. Two door men dressed as toy soldiers greeted us as we ran up, shaking the freezing rain off our umbrellas. Eager to escape the wet cold, we didn't pause to take the customary photo with them.  A constant stream of people made its way in the door and up the escalator, swiveling their heads back and forth to take in the abundance of toys surrounding us. Lack of traffic through the store is clearly not a problem.


Dancing around and making music on The Big Piano


Ever since I saw the Tom Hanks movie Big, I've always wanted to play "Heart and Soul" on The Big Piano. After realizing that the movie has some PG-13 scenes, I settled for showing my kids a YouTube video of the famous piano sequence. With their interest piqued, that was the first place my family headed, figuring that the queue would get longer as the day went on. It turns out that you don't get the piano all to yourself. They let about five or six people on it at a time. The resulting sound is sheer cacaphony. Imagine a bunch of toddlers banging on a regular piano, and you'll get the general idea.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Jump Street Penang: Active, Affordable Fun for All Ages!

Always on the lookout for fun things to do around the island, I was excited when I heard that Jump Street Trampoline Park was opening a branch in Penang! My kids were anxious to jump around and get their energy out, but I couldn't let them have all the fun. It was exciting to test out my own skills too, and Jump Street welcomes jumpers of all ages (3 years and above)!




Since its opening in May 2014, I have already visited three times, selecting it as the venue for my daughter's birthday party, and again recently for my son's goodbye party. Each time I used the online booking feature to ensure space availability and handle payment. After two hours of jumping fun, everyone left feeling happy and tired!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Searching the World for Tomorrowland

Hong Kong Disneyland
My girl has the weight of the world's future on her.
Tommorowland, Hong Kong Disneyland

"There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of everyday
There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
And tomorrow's just a dream away"
- Song from the Carousel of Progress Ride

Disney's new movie Tomorrowland opens this week to much anticipation. I. Cannot. Wait.

Disney is more than just a cartoon mouse and theme parks. It's a place where nothing is impossible. There's a part of it, courtesy of the vision of founder Walt Disney, that beckons people to become dreamers and explorers. To embrace global unity because "it's a small world after all" and to aim for a tomorrow that's bright, shiny and new. It challenges the imagination and immerses guests into alternate realities of the past and future. It celebrates those who have inspired us to think big and change the path of what might be.

My family has traveled around the globe, and woven in among our world travels are visits to Disney parks in 5 cities spread across three continents. We've sailed with them on the high seas, too. Even with all the sights a foreign land has to offer, we're drawn to Disney. Not because it's familiar, but because of that feeling of optimism and hope that seems to well up inside whenever we're surrounded by the fantasy Disney has created. It just plain makes us happy.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Springtime Blooms at Wildseed Farms

Wildseed Farms
Meadow filled with red corn poppies

One of the things I really missed while living in the tropics was the change of seasons. In Malaysia, we marked the passage of time by whatever festival brought droves of tourists to town rather than through dropping temperatures, shorter days, and changing foliage. Spring is my favorite time of the year, when the earth awakens and the days get longer. I'm delighted to experience it for the first time in four years.

A busy April kept me away from doing the countryside wildflower drives that are de rigueur in the Texas Hill Country. No squatting in a field of bluebonnets for my kids this year. A blank half-day on the calendar at the end of the month gave me just enough time to make the trip from Austin out to Fredericksburg with my parents in tow. With just a few hours to spend, I headed straight for the place guaranteed to have a gorgeous display of blooms, Wildseed Farms which is the largest working wildflower farm in the nation. After these flowers bloom, the tiny seeds are collected, packaged, and sold the the general public, landscape contractors and highway maintenance departments.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Slowpoke's Guide to the runDisney Castaway Cay 5K

No, I didn't steal that 5K Medal. I (unbelievably) ran a race.


Ah, Spring Break — that heady time of year when you can cast off your normal persona and try on a different one while you are away from home. It's the only explanation I can think of why I, a person who loathes running, would voluntarily do the runDisney Castaway Cay 5K while I was on vacation. Long ago during my business trip days, I would hit the hotel gym before attending a day of sitting at conferences or conventions. Now that my travel is for pleasure and with my kids, I like to save my energy for marathon sightseeing rather than actual marathon running.

When our January 2014 stay at Walt Disney World happened to fall during Marathon Weekend, I was a little envious of all the people proudly wearing their race medals. Just walking around the parks all day was exhausting enough. How in the world did people do it after a race? Anyways... I kind of wanted a runDisney medal of my own.
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