Review: Tori Chizu, Eastwood City Walk @ Quezon City, Manila

LDRs suck.

I mean, you don’t get to do the ‘normal’ things most couples do like Netflix and chill (cough). So even though the Boy and I are almost at our two-year mark now, we’ve barely gone on a handful of dates.

Since I was in town recently, we went to Eastwood City for the ‘conventional’ dinner and movies.

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One of the first CBDs in Manila, Eastwood City is a pleasant area with a shopping belt, condos and offices. It is home to many global IT companies, including Dell, IBM, Accenture and Atos, as well as corporations like Canon, Citibank and Toei Animation.

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Ended up at this place called Tori Chizu because I was attracted to the cheesy display haha.

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Specialising in Japanese doria, or baked rice, the outlet’s bright yellow/orange colour scheme evokes feelings of fun and cheerfulness. Doria is part of a relatively new style of cuisine known as yoshoku, or Western-influenced dishes. Top of the head I can think of are Japanese-style hamburger steaks (hambaagaa) and croquettes (korokke).

It reminds me of this comic called Nobunaga No Chef where a chef travels back in time to feudal Japan and makes all sorts of delicious food with modern techniques and ingredients (I’m digressing, but you have to check out the series!) 

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They have other items on the menu as well, like Hamburger Sandwiches, pasta and ramen, and Japanese-style Fried Chicken with rice.

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Boy ordered Spicy Tomato Shrimp (PHP155). The serving was generous – they definitely didn’t skimp on the cheese and creamy Bechamel sauce! When eaten hot, it was tasty. Wouldn’t call it mind blowing, but comforting in the way piping hot pizza is comforting.

I thought it was good enough for two small eaters. I ended up filching a lot of this because my own order was disappointing.

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NEVER order their chicken. It had this recycled oil smell that was greasy and the chicken wasn’t cooked through, being raw on the inside. Gravy had this soap-like aftertaste which had me suspect if they had rinsed their bowls properly after washing.

Verdict: Doria, yes. Chicken, nope.

PS Reviews on Zomato are mixed; some people liked the chicken (????) and some hated the doria. Views here are my own, your opinion and experience may differ. 

TORI CHIZU (Eastwood Branch) 

GF, Unit A2-D, Citywalk 2, Bldg B, Eastwood Ave, Bagumbayan, Quezon City, 1110 Metro Manila, Philippines

Opening hours: 10AM – 2AM

 

 

 

Travelogue Manila: Day 1 – Eastwood City and Jollibee Dinners

Finally! I’ve been wanting to blog about my recent trip to Manila since I came back earlier this month, but there was just so much work + backdated Japan stories that I had to put off posting this up.

But I digress.  

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that this is my third time in Manila – and we all know how the saying goes: “Third time’s the charm.” It’s funny because there are parts of Manila that I love, like the historical attractions and it’s beautiful, well-kept museums and art galleries, but there are also parts that I really abhor, like it’s horrendous traffic (makes KL look like a walk in the park), cleanliness of certain parts of the city, the smog and the fact that you can’t go anywhere on public transport without getting a layer of dust and grime on yourself, no matter how fresh-out-of-the-shower you are before leaving.

Eastwood City Manila

My MAS flight from KL to Ninoy Aquino International Airport was spent watching Wonder Woman over preheated scrambled eggs. Arriving at Terminal 1, I attempted to get a SIMCard, but was quickly turned away by the fact that the salesgirls wanted to sell them to me at a higher price than what was written on their booth. Travellers should be wary of people trying to rip you off the moment you step out of the terminal. Last time around, an ‘airport taxi’ tried to ferry me to a mall nearby for a whopping 2000pesos (ended up taking a metered taxi at 180 pesos).

N was waiting for me at the arrivals outside and we took a cab to Eastwood in Quezon City. Developed in 1997, it was one of the earliest commercial business districts in the area. The CBDs are usually nicely planned and laid out, with lesser traffic. Since jeepneys are not allowed in and can only drop passengers off at the fringes, there is less pollution from diesel engines as well.

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Strolling through the strip mall area.

Another interesting thing about the Phils: security guards check your bags before you’re allowed to enter any buildings/premises, which is different from malls in Malaysia where you can just waltz in lol (convenient but dangerous in a way I guess?).

Eastwood City Manila Starwalk

There was something like the Hollywood Walk of Fame (read about my visit there in this post) but instead of American celebrities they had Filipino ones. The one I knew best was Lea Salonga (loved her as Princess Jasmine’s singing voice!) so here’s a picture of my feet.

Eastwood City Mall

Lots of chic bars, pubs and restaurants! Unfortunately we were rushing to buy takeaway Jollibee for dinner at N’s house; else I’d love to pop into one of these establishments for a snack/drink or two.

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The sun sets earlier in Manila than it does in KL: by 6PM, the sky was completely dark. Across the road from the taxi stand where we were waiting for a ride was Eastwood Mall. As you can see Christmas decorations were already up with a towering tree in the courtyard. Again, wanted to check it out but didn’t have time. Jollibee takes priority.

**(Did you know there are (regrettably) no Jollibee outlets in KL? The nearest would be in Singapore gahddamnit. PS. I love Jollibee. It’s always the first thing I look forward to when I arrive in the Phils.) 

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N laughed at how excited I was when we finally got to the Jollibee outside his village. We bought two buckets and I insisted on extra gravy. See, the thing is, the chicken is good, but what really elevates the whole Jollibee experience is its gravy. I can drink that stuff like soup. And eat lots of rice with it.

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His mom also made a local dish which features beef tripe and peanut butter (sounds like a mad combination, I know – but it works) stew called kare-kare.

BONUS:

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We didn’t finish the chicken so we had it for breakfast the next day. Fried chicken for breakfast, this must be the life.

Sorry this isn’t a travel guide/post per se, just wanted to pen down the experience to look back on. More to come!

 

Van Gogh is Bipolar, Maginhawa, Manila

I’m lucky.

I’ve traveled to a lot of places and eaten at many establishments…but none have rivaled my visit to Van Gogh is Bipolar. Dining here is not so much about the food as it is the experience. And believe me when I say it is truly a one-of-a-kind spot that will set the benchmark for all other dining experiences you’ll ever have.

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I first heard of the place after a friend posted a picture of herself within its chic and kitschy settings. It looked really cool, and the name piqued my interest.

Google told me the resto-cum-healing-space is run by Jetro Rafael, an artist who suffers from bipolar disorder. The restaurant is a culmination of his healing process; sort of an astute culinary therapy.

Tucked at a quiet end of the hipster-abode of Maginhawa Street, the place can be easy to miss, since it’s located within a courtyard accessible only through a (rather hidden) archway. Once through, there’s more hide and seek for the door, which sports a glass mirror on the front, just like a closet.

Stepping through and into the most outlandish (but in a positive way!) cafe I’ve ever seen in my life, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. The ceiling was covered in giant and colourful abstract paintings, while one side of the wall housed wooden counters filled with interesting clutter and paraphernalia. Christmas lights cast a magical yellow glow that was cosy and intimate.

The overall effect was haphazard and chaotic in a quaint, charming way.

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The space isn’t very big, but it should seat at least 20.

At VGIB, emphasis is placed on self-healing rituals – letting go of the stresses of everyday life and just immersing yourself in the good. This is reflected in everything, from the food and drinks to the ‘rituals’ you can perform. Once you’re seated, staff will hand you a beautiful guidebook with hand-drawn doodles, detailing instructions (!) on how to fully enjoy your experience.

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Various memorabilia you can fiddle and take pictures with.

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The section where I sat at had a red theme, with mirrors framed in gold, a chandelier-styled lamp, tall swiveling chairs and tables with clear glass tops slitted in with notes, coins and maps. The walls, done in red, white and black, were completely covered in writings, doodles and scribbles by previous guests. Spent some time reading the life stories and moments left behind by strangers, and yet feeling a strange closeness to them.

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I think the restaurant’s interior accurately describes the chaotic state of mind that many people with mental illness suffer from – but it also gives a message of hope and healing. There is beauty and magic underneath all that disorder and chaos.

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Sometimes we show different faces to the world, and it gets tiring and stressful. VGIB is a place where you can actually enjoy putting on masks (and hats, for that matter!). Escape into a fantasy world of being a British gentleman with a top hat, go crazy with a rainbow-coloured afro wig, or be a ship/plane captain, even if it’s just for the night.

PS also great for Instagram photos lol.

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Why have a standard teapot when you can have many? Pick your favourite from the teapot counter in the middle of the room – porcelain, china, clay, metal – in a variety of colours and designs.

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Then choose from a range of organic teas, each with a different property. There’s soothing, calming, happy/chill and more. Plastered on the wall is a helpful explanation of the enhancing effects, done in a colourful chart.

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There’s also a station with bottles of clear solution, used to help cleanse the palate and prepare you for the upcoming meal. You dip a dropper into the liquid and drip it into your mouth xD

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At VGIB, there are no set ‘menus’. Instead, there are ‘experiences’ – usually consisting of an appetiser, soup, a main course and dessert. The ingredients are organic and picked for their healing/calming/stress-relieving or happiness-inducing properties. This is, according to their website, what helped the owner feel better where conventional medicines didn’t work after he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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Virginia Woolf – Vegetable soup with strips of cabbage and carrots. A little on the salty side but decent. The dishes are named after notable personalities with bipolar disorder.

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Appetiser of Axel Rose Shot – egg yolk, maple syrup, chilli flakes, cane vinegar, Jagermeister and iodized seat salt. Sound like an odd concoction? No doubt, but it was also interesting and the first time I’ve ever tried something like that. The way to drink it is one shot, while toasting your table mate in a foreign language.

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A staff member prepping the dish. She also gave our table the ‘toast’ word, which was in Zimbabwean.

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While looking for the toilet, I stumbled on the ‘dark room‘, a space where guests are encouraged to let go of their negative energies by writing or scribbling them in glow-in-the-dark ink. The small area was papered over with posters, writings, and a skeleton model. Despite the dark subject matter, it feels somehow… cathartic. Sometimes we have to let go of our anger and sadness in order to feel better. That’s one of the reasons why I like writing.

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Main: chicken penne pasta in a creamy brown sauce, served with dragon fruit, watermelon, pineapple and bananas. Generous portion of pasta was cooked al-dente. The sweet and savoury combination worked surprisingly well.

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Lamb with black rice, served with fresh greens, bananas, carrots and pineapple. Unlike regular white rice, which usually sticks together in a clump, the black rice’s individual grains were separated very clearly. The lamb, which was marinated well, tender and juicy had me gnawing it down to the bone.

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For dessert, a minty shot of absinthe with chocolate as a chaser. It was my first time trying it, and I was surprised to find it felt like liquid fire going down my throat, before cheerfully settling in my belly and sending waves of warm pleasure to my fingertips. Maybe this alcohol thing isn’t so bad after all. 😀 The chocolate was dark, rich and studded with crunchy nuts.

All in all, we spent over three hours at VGIB – but I hardly noticed the time because the entire experience was all about healing the body, mind and soul. I’d come back again in a heartbeat if I’m ever in Manila.

VAN GOGH IS BIPOLAR

154 Maginhawa, Diliman, Lungsod Quezon, Kalakhang Maynila, Philippines

Hours: 11-3PM, 6pm-11PM (Weds-Sats), dinner only (Sun-Mon), closed on Tuesdays

vangoghisbipolar.com

 

 

University of the Philippines Diliman, Manila

A public institution of higher learning seems like an unlikely tourist place, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was lots to see at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. It is a constituent of the original UP Manila and spans some 400+ hectares of land. It’s so massive that students (and members of the public, since parts of the campus are open access) have to take a localized Jeepney, or ‘ikot’, around campus.

Consistently ranked as the best university in the Philippines, UP as a whole has churned out over 260,000 (living) alumni since its establishment in 1908. It has 7 major campuses nationwide, including in Cebu, Baguiao, Visayas and Mindanao. The Diliman branch is the seat of administration, as well as being the largest campus.

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One of the most well known landmarks within the grounds is the General Antonio Luna Parade Grounds, or the Sunken Garden. Located on the uni’s east side, it is so named due to its natural basin-like depression. The lush green field is rife with activity in the evening, with students playing sports and joggers making their rounds. Every year, the field hosts the UP Fair and sports tournaments.

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Next to the Garden is a long avenue lined with shady, ancient-looking trees which provide shelter from the hot sun. The roads are wide and well kept, making it great for joggers and cyclists. The cool, serene surroundings is a far cry from the crazy, polluted saga that is downtown Manila. I wouldn’t mind studying here! 😉

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Academic buildings to the left.

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Nearby is a statue of Andres Bonifacio, a national hero known as the ‘Father of the Philippine revolution’. He was the leader of the Katipunan, a movement calling for independence from Spanish Colonial rule. Bonifacio Day is celebrated on November 30.

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At the end of the 800m long Commonwealth Avenue is the Oblation statue, an iconic figure in the UP system. Originally, the figure was naked, but a fig leaf was added later on to cover it’s manly bits. During my visit, there was an art exhibition of some kind, with the  statue encased within a large seashell.

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Made from concrete by Filipino artist Guillermo E. Tolentino, the sculpture shows a man facing upward with his arms outstretched, which symbolizes selfless offering to one’s country.The statue was inspired by the second verse of Jose Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios (My Final Farewell), in which Rizal describes:

In fields of battle, deliriously fighting,
Others give you their lives, without doubt, without regret;
Where there’s cypress, laurel or lily,
On a plank or open field, in combat or cruel martyrdom,
If the home or country asks, it’s all the same–it matters not.

I think the statue captures the essence of nationalistic pride and love for one’s country, don’t you?

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Behind the Oblation is the Quezon Hall, overlooking another field.

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Want something different from the usual touristy spots in Manila? Pay UP a visit! 🙂 It’s also super close to my favourite spot in Manila, Maginhawa (where there are loads of hipster cafes!) so it’s just a short taxi ride away.

 

San Sebastian Church, Manila

San Sebastian Church is the only all-steel church in Asia and the only prefabricated steel church in the world. Located on a quieter side of Quiapo, the church site was first established in the 1600s, but earlier buildings were destroyed in a series of fires and earthquakes. The current one dates back to 1891 and features a Gothic Revival architecture style – quite distinct from other churches in Manila.

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Its mint green facade, coupled with twin spires, is an instant eye catcher. It was said to have been inspired by the Gothic Burgos Cathedral in Spain. 

I guess people were tired of having the church razed, so the new one was made to be fire-proof and earthquake-proof as much as possible. 52 tonnes of prefabricated steel sections were made in Belgium and shipped to the Philippines, while the stained glass was imported from Germany with local artisans putting on the finishing touches. All in all, this magnificent structure is the perfect example of European engineering married with Filipino artistry and culture.

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The church’s exterior actually reminds me of icing on cake lol trust Eris to see food in everything 😀

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Adjacent to the church is a college managed by the church committee. established in 1941.

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Stepping inside, I was impressed by the design, which reminded of Gothic churches in Europe. They had just finished mass so the mini chandeliers, dangling in two rows above the church pews, were lit up – casting a warm and cheerful glow to the halls somber interior. Pillars rise to the ceiling, forming an arched shape, and at the back is a dome painted over with the original ‘3D’ style of painting or trompe l’oiel.

PS: The pillars are painted over to look like marble and jasper, but they are actually steel (!)

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The main altar has an image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, gifted by Carmelite sisters from Mexico City in the 1600s. The image withstood all the natural disasters that have destroyed previous buildings, but ironically, the ivory head was stolen (by people, always people are the worst culprits) in 1975.

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Colourful stained glass on the sides depict scenes and characters from the Bible. Some are so delicate that a simple touch with a toothbrush could cause the designs to fade away.

Sadly, this is not the only thing in danger of disappearing. The building’s materials have rusted over the years due to corrosion, and it’s structural integrity is in danger. Here’s hoping that conservation efforts will be put into place to prevent that from happening.

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A pulpit where the priest can deliver sermons. The elevated wooden structure is decorated with elaborate carvings and images.

SAN SEBASTIAN CHURCH

Plaza Del Carmen, Quiapo, Manila, 1101 Metro Manila, Philippines

Empire Steak, Teacher’s Village Quezon City

BY the time we got back to Manila from Tagaytay, it was already dark. E and I decided to go to Teacher’s Village in Quezon City for dinner. We ended up at a small, unassuming shop called Empire Steak, which was filled with customers (>people = good food, right?)

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It was already 8pm and we were both very hungry since our last meal was at 1pm. The wait for seats took about 15mins.

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Basic decor, simple tables and chairs that could fit about 15-20pax max. We placed our orders and waited eagerly, our stomachs rumbling….

…..and waited

……and waited

…..and waited

It took a whole hour for our food to arrive. It wasn’t just us as the other patron who arrived before us was also getting impatient. I mean, how long does it take to cook for a group of 20pax in your shop? I can’t imagine how long the waiting time would be if there had been more.

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To be fair, their steaks are cheap (PHP250)  – I got mine with rice, their ‘premium gravy’, some stir fried beans with onions and runny eggs atop a slab of steak, done medium rare. The gravy wasn’t good as it had an odd, ‘soapy’ taste; like it was trying to hard to be mushroom or black pepper and failing at both.

The steak was okay; a little overdone….but I’m definitely not waiting a whole hour for a steak that tastes meh.

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E skipped the eggs. He was pretty annoyed too lol and that’s saying something, since he’s the patient one among the two of us.

Reviews on the net have been positive; it was even touted one of the best places to get steaks under PHP500. I don’t deny it’s cheap, but the service and waiting time leaves much to be desired.

EMPIRE STEAK

154-D Maginhawa Street Brgy. Sikatuna Quezon City, Manila, Philippines

Phone: 63 917 612 2912

Opening hours: 11am-3pm, 5pm – 10pm – 11pm (Fri-Sat).

Things To Do At The Quezon Memorial Circle, Manila

One of the places I visited with E during my trip to Manila was the Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City, Manila. We took a jeepney and got off opposite the circle/park, but couldn’t find a way to cross the road. We ended up circling around half of the park for a good 10mins, before realising that the underpass was where the jeepney dropped us off lol.

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First time riding a jeepney in the front passenger seat!

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The underpass to cross the highway is at the entrance to Quezon City Hall. The short, brightly lit walkway was lined with tourist information boards detailing the best places for entertainment and food in QC and beyond.

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Quezon Memorial Circle and its surrounding park was named after Manuel L.Quezon, the 2nd President of the Philippines who held a nine-year tenure from 1935-1944. The place was originally intended to be the seat of the Philippine government and plans were underway to build a Capitol building before it was interrupted by World War II. Today, it is a green park with many family-oriented attractions such as a museum, playground, biking trail, and a small theme park.

We entered through an avenue lined with flags from all over the world. It was cool and breezy under the trees.

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Some beauty queens were practicing their modeling and catwalk skills. An interesting article here on the beauty pageant industry in the Philippines.

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The main area of the Circle was huge and filled with people even on a weekday morning. Joggers, children on trikes, people walking dogs (a rare sight in Malaysian public parks due to religious sensitivities), college students practicing their dance or singing performances, MMA fighters doing training… a perfect place to sit and creep people watch.

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Zumba class in session.

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Towering over everything else, the main fixture at the Circle is the Quezon Memorial Shrine. It stands at 66ms tall, representing the death age of President Manuel Quezon. The sleek triangular structure, which is shaped like a three-pronged crown is topped by female angels holding the sampaguita (the national flower) wreaths – each dressed in a regional traditional costume to represent regions in the Phils, namely Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

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At the base of the structure is a museum dedicated to who else – Manuel L.Quezon. Entry is free but visitors can give a donation for its upkeep. Inside chronicles the history of Philippine independence, besides housing various historical artifacts and an insight into the life of the man himself. (Above) How the quarters of the first lady, Aurora Quezon, looked like.

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Quezon’s remains were re-interred here in 1979, and his wife’s at a later date. The huge dark tomb sits on a raised platform in the middle of a circular chamber which allows natural sunlight to filter in, lighting the tomb up like a halo.

During his time, Quezon made many reforms, including establishing a more uniform national language (Tagalog), education, agricultural, government and social sectors, as well as trade. In fact, the Phils enjoyed the best economy and trade it had seen since 1929, in Quezon’s time. This was brought to a halt when the Japanese invaded Manila in the 1940s. Quezon eventually died in exile in New York from tuberculosis at the age of 66.

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Outside the museum, the circle’s base had engravings that depicted important points of Filipino history.

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Cookies and cream – cold, milky and creamy. What more can one ask for on a hot day?

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Exploring more of the park. We stopped by at the Circle of Joy, a children’s playground complete with bicycle trail. Visitors can rent bikes, tricycles and tandem bikes for a fee.

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Had kebab and kalamares (only 5pesos each, that’s dirt cheap).

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A theme park area aptly named Circle of Fun, but it was closed during the day.

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Someone randomly left buckets of taho (soft sweet tofu) lying around ._.

Quezon Memorial Circle and its park is a good place for families and tourists as there are lots of things to see and do. It’s not the best kept (there were still patches of garbage around) but it’s clean enough and some spots are quiet and nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Quezon Memorial Circle 

R-7, Diliman, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

Getting There 

Useful link here