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I Interviewed My Husband on his Typhoon Ulysses Experience

November has been an awful month for many Filipinos. 

The island nation has been battered by consecutive storms and typhoons, with five within the span of the last few weeks. Earlier this month, super typhoon Goni – one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded – devastated large swathes of Eastern Philippines, leaving 25 dead with thousands more displaced. 

And now another one has struck. 

Named after the Latin moniker for the Greek god Odysseus, Typhoon Ulysses made landfall on November 11 on the island town of Patnanungan in Quezon, before steadily carving a path of destruction across parts of Luzon with winds reaching up to 105 kph. As of November 13, Reuters reported at least 42 dead and over 75,000 packed into evacuation centres. Of course, this doesn’t bode well not only because of hygiene and sanitation, but also because of the current pandemic. 

Typhoons are very common in the Philippines,  so when I heard about the news, I asked N if his area was going to be affected. This was on Wednesday night, and he was pretty nonchalant about it, so I thought there was nothing to worry about. 

We  usually message each other the first thing after waking up, so when I didn’t hear anything from him at 11am on Thursday, I began to worry. Shortly after, I got a message from my sister-in-law, telling me that their house was flooded. Since there was no electricity, they were turning off their phones to conserve battery, and would update me on the situation as it went.

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She also sent me a few photos of the interior. I’ve been to N’s house several times, which is located in Cainta, about 12 kilometres from Metro Manila. Since it’s in a low-lying area, the house is prone to floods during the rainy season, so the main floor (living room, bedroom, kitchen) is slightly elevated above the entrance by about a foot. From the photos, I could see that water had already seeped into the upper level, so there was probably about three feet of water. 

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Water at its highest. You can see how much it rose compared to the previous photo.

Now.. this might sound super ignorant, but living on the west coast of Malaysia, which has zero natural disasters (we’re blessed), I’ve always imagined floods to be this super swift rush of water, obliterating everything in its path and sending people and things to a watery grave. This is the case in some scenarios, but there are also floods where the water level rises over time. Not that it’s any less dangerous; if anything, I think these are actually more deceiving – you think the water isn’t that high and boom! You’re suddenly stuck on the roof. 

Thursday was spent on tenterhooks as I waited for updates. Watching the news didn’t help, as media outlets showed devastating scenes of people stuck on rooftops, submerged homes and vehicles, uprooted trees and damaged infrastructure. I went to the FB group for residents of where N lives, and some areas were so badly affected, they had to use boats to get people out. 

I was relieved to hear that the flood waters had subsided by 6pm. N and my in-laws spent the night in the attic. It was very uncomfortable because they didn’t have electricity, but I was glad that they were, at least, safe. 

I didn’t hear much from N until Friday evening, when he got the electricity and Wi-Fi back.  He spent the whole day cleaning up; there was a lot of mud on the floor, and some items had to be thrown away – but the important thing is that him and his family are safe. 

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Kaya the doggo looking down from the attic.

During our call that night, my inner curiosity won out (once a journalist, always a journalist?) and I plied him with questions lol. It was actually a pretty insightful conversation and helped me to understand better what I should do in case of a flood (or any disaster for that matter). 

So, what actually happened? 

N: It had been raining throughout the night. I think the water started coming in around 6am. I was sleeping. 

What? How can you sleep through a flood? 

N: It happens all the time here. If it was serious my family would have woken me up, lol. I think they were also deliberating if they should pack up and go to a hotel, or stay behind. In the end they just started moving some of the appliances and stuff to the attic. I woke up around 9am and the water was about an inch-high in my bedroom. I helped my brother stack the bed up onto chairs. 

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Was it worse than Ondoy (2009)? 

N: In terms of wind strength, I think this was more powerful. But Ondoy brought a huge volume of rainfall with it, so the floods were worse. This house was almost submerged. I can’t really tell you how that was though, because I was living near campus at the time and wasn’t affected much.

So the waters were rising. How did you prepare? 

N: You should watch the Korean movie Alive. It’s on Netflix. 

Isn’t that about zombies? 

N: Yeah, but it’s still super useful for disaster situations. I learned that you should get your earphones, because the 3.5mm jack actually doubles as a radio antenna. If you don’t have a radio, you can use your phone’s radio function to tune into the news. My mom also has a small transistor radio for emergencies. The night before, when we heard that there might be a possibility of floods, we charged up all of our devices and power banks, coz we knew electricity might be cut. Then there’s the usual; batteries, flashlights, emergency first aid kit. Electricity companies will automatically cut off electricity, but we turned off all the switches just in case. 

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View from the roof of N’s house. Uprooted trees

What else do you think one should do when preparing for a flood? 

Perishables won’t keep if your fridge is submerged, so have some processed food and canned food on standby. The water wasn’t that high this time so we could still use the gas stove to cook all the perishables for dinner. As for clothes, you can pack them into waterproof bags. Previously we used garbage bags because they float, but the material is thin and if it tears your stuff will get dirty and wet. If you have a vehicle, you should remove the car battery. Also, if you have important documents, put them all in an envelope so it’ll be easy to carry and keep safe.  

What did you do while waiting for the water to subside? 

I went downstairs to observe the situation, my family stayed in the attic. I fell asleep again and woke up around 1pm. 

I am astonished you can sleep in the middle of a flood. 

Well, it happens all the time so I’m used to it. We get floods very often; I used to call it ‘annual general cleaning’ because we’d have to clean the house from top to bottom afterwards. I was a little surprised that the water rose fast though. Like two inches every 20 minutes. I think it reached about three feet. 

What did you do at night? 

Just had dinner, talked. We didn’t use our devices to save battery. It was very hot and difficult to sleep with everyone in the attic. S (niece) kept tossing and turning, so my brother had to fan her.  The next morning we started cleaning up. We couldn’t move the fridge because there was no place to put it. Thankfully it’s still working.  

Okay, I have to ask this. Since everyone is in the attic, where do you go when you need to pee? 

N: You pee in the flood water. 

Come again? 

N: You pee in the flood water. You can’t go outside because snakes might swim into the house when you open the door lol. And the toilet is flooded anyway. So you just kinda go downstairs and do your thing. You know, the first night, I had this overwhelming urge to poop and I kept holding it in the entire night. The next morning when I could finally go to the toilet, nothing came out. What the effing hell. I guess if you really need to do a no.2, there are plastic bags… 

Typhoons are so common in the Philippines. Do you think that the government should improve on their disaster prevention measures? 

N: I might get a lot of flak for saying this, but I actually think there isn’t that much the government can do. I think they’re doing okay with what they have.

(note**: While writing this, I read some articles about how more money should be allocated to improve housing for the poor. Many Filipinos from the low income bracket live in flimsy wooden homes, which are easily flattened by storms – as is the case with Haiyan in 2013. N and I did not discuss this, but I think we should expand on this after more research).

While the worst of Ulysses seems to have passed, relief might take a long time – especially with government agencies and facilities overburdened as it is from COVID and previous disasters. It’s 1AM and I’m still seeing cries for help on social media from areas like Cagayan and Isabela, which are located in the northern part of Luzon: there hasn’t been much media coverage and apparently aid is slow in coming, and many people are still stuck, with flood waters rising.

I’m glad N and my in-laws are safe, and that there isn’t that much damage to their home. -Ber months in the Philippines are when the La Nina phenomenon occurs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if another typhoon decides to make a visit. 2020 just sucks in general.

I know it’s a difficult time and there’s nothing that I can say that can help make it easier. But to those affected, please stay strong, and keep each other safe. For donations, Philippine Tatler has compiled a list of organisations that you can contribute to. Link here.

This photo of a dog stuck on a roof broke my heart. There’s a happy ending though – it was rescued and reunited with its owner.

Review: Filipino Fusion @ 75 Lilac Cafe + Kitchen, Marikina

On my last night in Manila, N’s sister brought us out to 75 Lilac Cafe + Kitchen in Marikina for dinner (thank you for the meal, ate!).

Specialising in Western and Filipino fusion cuisine, expect dishes the likes of Wagyu Salpicado with Tofu and Carne Asada Tacos as well as more traditional takes of pasta, pizza and Crispy Pata. 

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The resto is located within a commercial block facing the street, so parking is rather limited.

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The place exudes homely vibes, with warm ambient lights, assorted frames, brick walls and unfinished concrete flanking colourful chairs and diner-style couches. Guests will also find various posters and decorative quotes/pictures hanging from the wall.

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We kicked off the meal with an appetiser of salted egg chicken lollipops (PHP200 – RM15). The portions were generous, but the chicken was rather bland despite its creamy disposition. After the excellent experience(s) at Frankie’s, this was quite meh on my list.

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I’ve had traditional sinigang at N’s house, but I’ve never tried Sizzling Sinigang (PHP380 – RM29), which is one of 75 Lilac’s specialties. Served on a hotplate with the sauce still bubbling, thick cuts of tender beef short ribs are stewed with French beans, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, bokchoy and sinigang gravy. The tangy sourness of the gravy, with strong tamarind overtones, whets the appetite and is the ultimate companion for rice.

Our second main was the Sigarilyas Sa Gata with pork belly (PHP380 – RM29): essentially crispy pork belly on a bed of sigarilyas (winged beans) cooked in coconut milk, cherry tomatoes and chilli oil. The crunchy winged beans are the perfect complement to the soft, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of the pork belly with a crispy crust, bathed in fragrant coconut milk. I couldn’t get enough of the sauce, I was still sopping it up even when the rice had run out 😀

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Awesome layer of fatty goodness.

Verdict: 75 Lilac delivered on 2/3 of the dishes we ordered, and for such a setting, was reasonably priced.

  • Food: 7.5/10
  • Ambience: 8/10
  • Service: 8/10

75 LILAC CAFE + KITCHEN 

75 Lilac St, Marikina, 1800 Metro Manila, Philippines

Opening hours: 9AM – 10PM (weekdays), 7AM – 11PM (Sat-Sun)

 

 

Travelogue Manila: Rustic Mornings & Marikina (Revisited)

The last time I was in Manila, N brought me to a cosy little place in Marikina called Rustic Mornings. Tucked in a quiet suburb near the Marikina Shoe Museum, the establishment serves great food in a charming ambience surrounded by leafy greens, quirky knick knacks and an artsy mix of vintage and contemporary decor. I liked it so much that on my recent visit, I had to go again! 😀

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It was a hot day but the gazebos outside were mostly taken, so we sat in the blue/white themed dining area. The decor hasn’t changed much – still cosy, like someone’s living room, filled with various decorative pieces, china, chequered coasters and beautifully tiled floors to go with the wooden furniture.

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I ordered what I did the last time – Bacon, Eggs and Herbed Hash Browns. Qualitywise, it was on par with my previous visit. The eggs were, again, quite bland but I really liked the fried crusted hash browns which were crunchy and savoury. Added on a side of pork tocino, which was sweet and fatty.

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N tried a new item on their menu, the gourmet hotdog with chilli con carne. The serving came open-faced with a pair of messy sunny-side up eggs and a huge pork sausage on a bed of beans, minced pork and chilli. The sausage was juicy with that slight chewiness to the skin, and the chilli con carne was packed with flavour, with bits of lean and fat mixed in. Top that with the egg and you have an excellent, sloppy-Joe-like dish. The portions were also very filling!

Now I have to wait until god-knows-when to have it again,  but I’ll be sure to pay this place a visit the next time. Sort of like an annual pilgrimage. 😛

RUSTIC MORNINGS

11 I. Mendoza St, Marikina, 1800 Metro Manila, Philippines

Phone:  +63 2 425 8610

Opening hours: 8AM-4pm (Mon-Sun)

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The Marikina Church is just a stone’s throw away.

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Walking around the neighbourhood. Marikina is much cleaner, with better roads and infrastructure than downtown Manila.

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The local city hall.

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Dinner that night at N’s house – Menudo and Sotanghon.

More of Manila to come! 🙂

 

Things to do in Marikina City – The Shoe Capital of the Philippines

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Located on the far fringes of Metro Manila, the city of Marikina seems more quaint town than busy district, with its clean, orderly roads, neat shops and a markedly reduced presence of diesel-belching jeepneys. The place is also known as the shoe capital of the Philippines, manufacturing about 70% of the country’s shoes. For those looking for a relaxing day trip away from the hustle and bustle (without burning a hole in your pocket), Marikina makes for an interesting visit. Here are just some of the things you can do in this charming city: 

Shop for Fresh Produce and Goods at The Marikina Public Market 

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Colourful sights and sounds await at the Marikina Public Market/Market Mall, one of the biggest and most well-maintained markets in Metro Manila. Divided into wet and dry areas, expect everything from fresh produce to bargain wares. Over at the wet area, slabs of meat hang from hooks and vividly green vegetables are laid out in neat rows. The dry area sells everything from home decorations, pots and pans, cheap clothing and imitation underwear (‘Triumph’ bras for PHP100, anyone?) 

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Since it was close to Christmas, there were stalls selling lights and decorations.

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Learn History at the Kapitan Moy Museum 

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Close to the market is the Kapitan Moy Museum. Despite dating back to the 1800s, this adobe (mud brick) building is well-preserved, and it is an excellent example of Philippine-Spanish colonial architecture. The structure follows traditional Filipino bahay kubo homes, but integrates Spanish style in elements such as the windows and balustrades. Once home to a wealthy local businessman called Don Laureano Guevarra (aka the founder of the Marikina shoe industry), the building has cultural and historical significance, as the first shoe in the city was made here in 1887. The story goes that Don Laureano taught himself how to repair shoes and borrowed tools from local shoemakers, as he did not want to travel all the way to Manila to have his shoes repaired. Together with a few other locals, he experimented with further ways to make and repair shoes, kickstarting the shoe industry in Marikina which endures until today. 

That aside, this building has seen a lot of history. After Guevarra’s passing, it was a home for the needy, a primary school, an American tribunal, and the headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Army during their occupation of Manila. Today, it serves as a cultural centre and venue for events. 

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Clean and orderly streets! Sorry, the last time I was in Manila I was in some pretty bad areas so this was quite different for me. It’s good though that I got to see this other side.

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Jeepneys refueling

Visit Our Lady of the Abandoned Parish Church 

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Across the road from the museum is Our Lady of the Abandoned Parish church, home to an image of the Virgin Mary which has received Papal recognition. The church itself dates back to 1572, but the building was only built at its present site in the 1600s. It is made from adobe, gravel, cement, mortar and steel. Like many historical sites in Manila, this was ravaged during the Philippine-American war, but restored in the 1950s.

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Figures of saints line the exterior of the church.

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Bell tower next to the main entrance.

Marikina Shoe Museum 

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If you’re still keen to find out more about the city’s biggest industry, just down the road is the Marikina Shoe Museum. Formerly the only rice mill in town, the small building also served s a jail for captured Filipino fighters and soldiers. It was made into a shoe museum in 2001 and today houses part of former first lady Imelda Marcos‘ impressive shoe collection. The surrounding sidewalks have embedded slabs of shoes captioned with names of famous local celebrities and figures ala Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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Mannequins depicting the shoe making process using old sewing machines and tools.

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Shoes from recent design competitions. Some were flashy and eye catching to say the least; others looked like they belonged in science fiction movies! Points for creativity, though, I could never imagine walking out of my house in those heels. 😀

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Showcase of the different types of shoes, such as cavalier boots and roman strap sandals. There was also a section dedicated to shoes worn by famous local celebrities and politicians.

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Perhaps the most interesting part of the museum is Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection. There were hundreds of pairs (and this is only a small fraction of her entire thousand-pair wardrobe!) I wonder if she has ever worn some of these shoes more than once.

While she has made contributions to the nation, especially in terms of promoting art and culture, Marcos was infamous for her extravagant lifestyle and penchant for expensive things, while her dictatorial husband robbed the country of billions. Her bouffant hair and love for luxury is reminiscent of a certain politician’s wife in Malaysia as well lol.

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Black and white pictures of the ‘First Lady’. Despite her reputation, she was reelected as congresswoman four times after returning from exile. The Marcos family are still influential in politics today.

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Traditional attire, the Filipiniana and the Barong Tagalog, often worn by the First Couple during their official functions. The Marikina Shoe Museum has an entrance fee of PHP50, which I think is worth paying just to see Imelda’s massive collection. The museum is open from 8AM – 5PM, so plan your visit accordingly. 

Savour Delicious Food at Rustic Mornings by Isabelo

Just behind the Marikina Shoe Museum, turn down a quiet alleyway with walls covered in creeping ivy to find Rustic Mornings by Isabelo, a charming spot that serves fusion and Filipino fare. There is an outdoor dining area with gazebos where you can dine surrounded by lush greenery and various art pieces and knick knacks, as well as air-conditioned indoor seating with vintage decor reminiscent of an English tearoom (think wooden furniture painted white, sheer curtains and gingham patterns).

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I recommend the Bacon, Eggs and Herbed Hash Browns (PHP180), which feature a mountain of fluffy scrambled eggs with diced tomatoes, crispy bacon and deep fried hash brown patties. Also good is the pork tocino, which goes great with rice. With good food and a charming setting, it’s no wonder the place is so popular with families. Great lunch spot for after you’re done exploring the rest of the attractions that Marikina City has to offer.

Rustic Mornings is located at 11 I Mendoza St, Marikina, 1800 Metro Manila, Philippines (Phone:  +63 2 425 8610).

Review: Rustic Mornings by Isabelo, Marikina

Sometimes, you have to dig a little deeper to get to the good parts – as is the case with Rustic Mornings by Isabelo. Tucked within a quiet neighbourhood of Marikina City, the cafe is located down an alleyway lined with walls covered in creeping ivy –  easy to miss if you’re not familiar with the area. Still, the place has a good following among the city’s affluent and young urban professionals, thanks to its hearty food and Instagram-worthy settings.

Look out for the banner/entrance behind the Marikina Shoe Museum. 

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Quaint and charming, the restaurant feels more like an artist’s cluttered home/studio than an actual cafe. The spacious outdoor dining area, divided into several sections and gazebos, overflow with potted plants, flowers and trellises, as well as tastefully hung lamps and decorations.

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Seashell ‘curtains’ tinkle in the breeze.

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A beautiful light piece, decorated with pine cones and vintage-looking lamps.

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A dining section filled with vintage paraphernalia and paintings. The tables and chairs look straight up out of an English tea garden party.

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Colourful, well-scrubbed tiles glimmer in the morning light.

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For those who prefer dining in air-conditioned comfort, the restaurant has an indoor area which is equally charming. Exuding comfortable, homely vibes, the space sports lots of wood accents, with snowy white curtains fitted to tall windows, cupboards housing various knick knacks, blue and white floor tiles and delicate plates of china adorning the walls. Reminds me of being in the home of a sweet English granny or a favourite aunt. 🙂

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Blue and white porcelain pieces, cups, mugs and other memento.

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The food is a mix of Western and traditional Filipino flavours. The Bacon, Eggs and Herbed Hash Browns (PHP180) came in a hearty serving – a mountain of fluffy scrambled eggs with diced tomatoes, two strips of crispy bacon, and two large deep fried crusted hash browns patties. Tastewise, I liked the hash browns best as they were crunchy and salty, but the eggs were bland,  so I had to load them with salt and pepper.

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Also got a side of Pork Tocino (add on PHP60). A little on the oily side, but I loved the fat and juicy bits of pork served in a sweet sauce. Would be great with rice!

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The Three Mushroom Omelette (PHP250) consists of generous chunks of fresh button mushrooms, portobello and shiitake, served with two warm and toasty slices of ciabatta bread, herbed butter and fruit jam. The herbed butter is absolute garlicky goodness!

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It’s easy to see why Rustic Mornings has gained a fan base, despite its somewhat hidden location. The food is good, generous and feels home-cooked, and one can easily spend hours chilling in the cosy environment, surrounded by lush greenery. Perfect place for families or those looking to impress a brunch date – you won’t be disappointed.

RUSTIC MORNINGS

11 I. Mendoza St, Marikina, 1800 Metro Manila, Philippines

Phone:  +63 2 425 8610

Opening hours: 8AM-4pm (Mon-Sun)