bulacan to bataan: visiting the shrine of valour and las casas filipinas de acuzar

The city makes you miss the idyllic pastoral life (which only ever looks idyllic when you’re looking from afar; after a while, it becomes tiresome and you miss the city again). I don’t look forward to the commute, or the lack of air-conditioning (listen to me whine), but I do look forward to the peace and quiet.

I traveled with my closest high school friends from April 27 to 28 from Bulacan to Bataan to Tarlac and back again. We met up in Malolos City early in the morning of the 27th to travel to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bataan. We stopped by the Mount Samat National Shrine, also known as the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valour), in Pilar, Bataan, since it was a special request by our designated driver. (Since he’s the driver, and he owns the car, we actually have no choice. I’m glad we went, though.)

Mount Samat National Shrine

The shrine complex and the Memorial Cross were built to honor the Filipino and American soldiers who fought during the Battle of Bataan (January to April, 1942).

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

  • Entrance is PhP 30 per person.
  • The elevator has been under repair since early this year, so we were not able to go to the top of the Memorial Cross.
  • There is a museum in the basement of the complex.
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas
Manila was declared an “open city” during the Japanese occupation in order to avoid further damage.
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas
Gen. Edward P. King, Jr. was an American military officer who led the Bataan troops against the Japanese. This is a photo of his surrender. I can’t keep my eyes off the man on the left with his face in his hand.
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas
Fairy lights illuminate the Death March route and the sites of struggle.
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas
POWs in UST wash their hair.
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas
“Salute to the Japanese soldiers when you meet them…Don’t be fooled by false propaganda.”

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Above: Japanese propaganda, according to the Americans. The truth, according to the Japanese. I wonder what the Philippines would have been like if they just left us the f– alone. But alas, history happened.

Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

I kept reading this as “azucar” due to the azucareras of nearby Tarlac, but this heritage resort is named after its owner: The Houses of the Philippines by Acuzar. Jose “Gerry” Acuzar & team started dismantling, transporting, and rebuilding Spanish houses and mansions in Bataan in 2003. The houses came from Manila (Tondo, Binondo and Quiapo), Quezon City, Bulacan (there were a LOT of houses from Bulacan), Pampanga, La Union, Ilocos and Cagayan.

  • We got two rooms at a discount. We paid PhP 1,800 per head. (There were eight of us.)
  • The room we got was HUGE. Taking a bath will literally tire you because of all the square meters you’ll have to cover.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

  • I did not read up on Las Casas, so I was surprised by how large the resort was (400 hectares). There is a jeep and a tram that goes around the resort to bring guests to and from their hotel rooms.
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

  • Precisely because I did not read up on Las Casas, I didn’t know it’s near a beach or that it has a pool. Bring swimming gear, for the love of god (or you’ll end up buying overpriced swimming gear on the way to the resort).
  • They have a nice pool.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

  • We rode a Banana Boat and I scratched my face when we fell into the water. I hate water sports. Whose idea is this? I thought we’re just here to soak up some culture???
Look at me, so happy. Pre-gasgas sa face.
Photos from friends (Las Casas)
Post-gasgas sa face but still smiling because there’s a camera. #mahapdi
  • Cafe Marivent is where you’ll have breakfast if you’re an overnight guest. We decided to have lunch here as well. A bit of a bad idea. Food is expensive and comes in small servings. If your group has a car, you’re better off driving to the Bagac Public Market. (Which was what we did for dinner. Consider: Halo-halo at Cafe Marivent costs PhP255. Halo-halo in the public market is PhP75. Sa palengke ka na lang, di ba.)
  • They serve a pretty good buffet-style breakfast.
  • Bringing food inside the resort is discouraged. Corkage fee is a whopping PhP500 per head.
  • During the tour: Wear footwear you can easily remove and slip back on again. You’ll be asked to remove footwear before entering the casas.
  • For pasalubong: They sell pearl jewelry and some good cashew butter at their panaderia. Bread is expensive. They sell cheese bread for PhP50 a pop! But I thought the sweet and creamy cashew butter at PhP265 a bottle is worth it.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas
Lola Basyang tells a story in front of the Lola Basyang Bridge.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

There is a Heritage Tour that meets here (see photo above) every hour. I enjoyed the tour. I love old houses and historical tsismis.

While waiting you can check out the games in the entertainment room. (The second floor is part of the tour.)

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

According to Mica, our tour guide, Las Casas has 27 heritage homes. The hour-long tour will give you background info about the houses’ origins and previous owners, and how they ended up at Las Casas. Among the houses featured is the home of Jose Rizal’s mother, Teodora Alonzo (Casa Biñan); the house that served as the first University of the Philippines (Casa Hidalgo), and the home of the Novicio clan (Casa Luna), to which the Luna brothers’ mother belonged.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas
Outside Casa Hidalgo
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas
Inside Casa Biñan
Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas
Mica sharing some juicy Alonzo family tsismis.

Below is a not very good shot of the exterior of Las Casas’s newest luxury casa. You can rent all three floors for PhP150,000 a night, and you’ll get a butler and unlimited cookies and coffee.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

A better shot, using my friend J’s GoPro:

Photos from friends (Las Casas)


Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

A recreated Escolta.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

Pastoral pee.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

We woke up early the next morning for a walk along the beach.

Look at this Venice-like view outside our room.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

My friend presenting the West Philippine Sea. Guests are allowed on the beach from 6 AM to 6 PM only, for their own safety. The pool is open until 9 PM.

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

Dambana ng Kagitingan + Las Casas

More than the place and the history, I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, whom I have known since 1999. We talked about everything from our idiotic teenage worries to amortization payments to ophthalmology appointments to maintenance meds to Wacky (don’t ask). A few years more and we’ll be talking about menopause and rheumatism.

I can’t wait.

Photos from friends (Las Casas)

singapore – day one

Our trip to Singapore became less an exploration of a new place than a meditation of what we’re missing in our own city. We spent a lot of time talking about home and how tired we were that we couldn’t have this. Every conversation must have ended with a sigh and a sad “Buti pa sila”. (Lucky them.) Emerging on Bugis Street from the train, we became very much aware of the nearly deserted streets, the lack of security personnel at the entrance of malls. The humidity and the sun reminded us of Manila but without the chaos of Manila. Singapore is like Manila that turned out right. (But then right is relative; as a tourist — a first-time visitor — I can only comment on Singapore’s skin but not it’s heart.) As a friend mentioned over dinner, it is the little things that will make you stay in Singapore: the fact that you can time the arrival of the bus on your way to work, the fact that you can get on the MRT wearing your backpack and not worry that a fellow passenger will grab your wallet and phone. The little things can make you stay, and it’s also the little things, like splinters, that burrow under your skin and will make you want to leave.

But first:

Ah. Speaking of things that make you want to leave.

NCR Aviation Security Unit chief sacked amid NAIA ‘laglag-bala’ scam

And so we had to do this.


It made me feel pretty stupid but what can you do.

We flew Cebu Pacific at 5:45 AM on Friday (the plane taxied for sooo long I had to remark, “Are we going to drive all the way to Singapore?”) and arrived at Changi Airport Terminal 2 at 9:20 AM. It was an unremarkable flight, which was great. (I’m not a fan of flying. It was the longest flight I’ve ever been on — I haven’t traveled to the US or Europe — and I was bored.out.of.my.mind. But when flying, boring is good.)



Relevant source: Changi Airport Guide

One Singapore dollar is equivalent to around 33 Philippine pesos. We had our money changed at Sanry’s Money Changer before our trip. You can check out this link about the cost of living in Singapore to help you with your budget.

This is mine. I must tell you now that I over-budgeted on nearly every line item. You’ll be comfortable with less than S$200 pocket money.

Sample Budget $15 per meal 9 meals 135
$2 per water bottle 10 water bottles? 20
tourist pass 30
$10 per meal (snacks and coffee) 3 meals 30
Shopping 50
Pasalubong 50
Wiggle room money 50
 TOTAL 365

Our kaya toast meal (kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs, coffee with condensed milk) cost S$4.30 each, to give you an idea.


From Terminal 2, we headed to the Changi Airport MRT station to buy a 3-day Tourist Pass. The pass, which gives you unlimited access to the buses, MRT and LRT, costs S$30 with a S$10 deposit. Go crazy! Get on and off every station if you feel like it! Just surrender the card and you’ll get your 10 bucks back. Unless you’d like to keep the card as a souvenir.


There’s no shortage of maps and brochures at the airport. It’s a pretty Type A city. I love it.



Relevant source: MRT Map

Getting around is pretty easy. (That’s coming from a girl who gets lost all the time.) To head to the city from Changi Airport, hop on the train heading to Tanah Merah. At Tanah Merah, switch to the East West line (green on the map) on Platform B.


We got off at Bugis station and checked out Sim Lim Square.


Sim Lim Square has a guide. Type A, like I said.


It reminds me of Greenhills.

The store J wanted to check out was still closed, so we had a snack. Sim Lim Square has a food court in the basement.




After that stopover, we walked to get to Victoria Hotel, which was on Victoria Street. I’d like to pretend I own the hotel. (And the street.)

We stopped for lunch in Bugis Village.



Victoria Hotel has a pretty great location. I recommend it.

We rested for a bit before heading to Gardens by the Bay to meet with Victor and Patricia, who have been working and living in Singapore for 15 years.

Remember when I said just a few paragraphs ago that I get lost all the time? So yeah, I got lost here. We have been waiting at the wrong ticket counter for 30 minutes until J realized, Maaaaybe there’s another ticket counter?

Sorry for the wait, Victor.

While lost, I snapped these shots:




Victor took us on a tour of the two domes in the Gardens — the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest (S$28 for both domes, but Victor generously paid for our entrance fees: “Ken Liu [who attended the Singapore Writers Festival] wanted to go to the hawker stalls. I spent five dollars on Ken Liu.” So now I can say I’m more expensive than Ken Liu. Hooray?).

Victor said most of his friends from Asia prefer the Flower Dome, while Europeans more often than not prefer the Cloud Forest.

He was right. We loved the Flower Dome more.

(And to think we nearly skipped this!)




I love the color of these deep purple flowers.



Weird cactus.


Hello, Little Prince.


I love the shape of this cactus.


I forgot the name of this flower, but it smells like rot.


Another strange flower.



Not a very good shot of a very tall cactus.


I wish I knew more about plants! Victor knew a great deal about flowers and vegetables, which was a pleasant surprise.





We had dinner and fun conversation at Supertree Dining. (J is still dreaming of that plum juice.)

Thank you Victor and Patricia!


Day Two!

saturday fun day: ‘light’ launch + bgc art mart + ludo!

I had a fun Saturday that left me energized instead of depleted. (You know how sometimes you do so much socializing in one day that you crash and burn at the end of it? No? Is it just me?)

First stop, the book launch and signing event for Rob Cham’s Light. I am a fan of his work, and this silent comic book did not disappoint. Really amazing art. And great quality printing too on glossy paper. Congrats to Anino Comics and Rob.

LIGHT by Rob Cham

LIGHT by Rob Cham

LIGHT by Rob Cham

LIGHT by Rob Cham

The launch was in Fully Booked. J and I took a short walk and checked out the BGC Art Mart. Megan Diño, whom I have worked with years (and years) ago, has a booth, and I got myself this lovely tote and some postcards featuring J’s favorite European football players. She’ll be there until tomorrow; do visit her, say hi, buy her stuff.

BGC Art Mart
Photo from Megan.

Last stop was Ludo‘s 24-hour Gaming Marathon! They were serious about the 24 hours; there was a big digital display up front showing the countdown.

Ludo's clock
This clock! Photo from Jay Mata, VP of Marketing at Ludo.

The marathon was in full swing when we got there. (We didn’t sign up for the 24-hr marathon; my brain was too tired to handle it.) I was able to play: Love Letter, Evolution, Mai-Star, Mr. Darcy, and Coup. I enjoyed all of them! But I enjoyed Coup so much that we ended up buying it. What is impulse buy.

Ludo 24-hr Gaming Marathon

Ludo 24-hr Gaming Marathon

Ludo 24-hr Gaming Marathon

Ludo 24-hr Gaming Marathon

Ludo 24-hr Gaming Marathon


I hope you’re having a good weekend.

valentine’s day weekend at padre burgos, quezon province

Padre Burgos is a municipality in Quezon province named after Jose Burgos of the Gomburza. Such a tragic name origin, but the municipality itself is peaceful. Padre Burgos was formerly known as Laguimanok due to the shape of the coastline, which resembles a chicken’s beak. In fact, the town was getting ready for the Laguimanok festival the weekend we were there. (On the way home, we stopped to watch a group of children practicing the “chicken dance” inside a covered basketball court.)

We ended up in Padre Burgos because a colleague of mine has an uncle who owns a beach house, and the house was available for us to use for the month of February. I’ve never been to Quezon before, so I have no expectations. (All I knew was that we would be having tequila, which for me was a good enough reason to go.)

We hired a van to get to Padre Burgos, which is an hour or so away from Lucena. We visited two islands, Borawan and Dalampalitan. J and I and two other colleagues decided not to go to Puting Buhangin because it started to rain very hard and we were freezing our asses off. I did not plan for a rainy weekend at all. Philippine weather, you big weirdo!

Padre Burgos, Quezon province
Photo from V.
Padre Burgos, Quezon province
Photo from V.

Borawan: pro, impressive rock formations; con, expensive huts (PhP 700), wild beach.

Padre Burgos, Quezon province
Photo from V. Art direction by S. Haha!

Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon provinceDalampalitan: pro, quieter, more affordable huts (PhP 200), no waves; con, because there was no current, it was pretty muddy, making it hard to swim. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Look how serene the water is. Padre Burgos, Quezon province We had these for lunch. I learned how to crack these crabs open out of necessity. (I know — I grew up in a fishing town and I never learned how to properly crack crabs.)

Padre Burgos, Quezon province
Photo from V.
Padre Burgos, Quezon province
Photo from T.

Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Yung pose na parang pupunta lang ng office. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province We saw a bunch of tiny hermit crabs and some weird tentacle plant or animal thing. I don’t know what it is. Please enlighten me. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Pine trees by the beach. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Back to the house, shower, dinner, endless conversation, Patron tequila that seemed bottomless. A brief drama as I suddenly broke out in hives. Not sure what the trigger was. More tequila.

Padre Burgos, Quezon province
Photo from V.

The next day, the sun came out and we took a walk along the shoreline. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Starfish! Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Somewhere in that landscape is the house. Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Padre Burgos, Quezon province Oysters stuck to the rocks, glowing like gold coins. Padre Burgos, Quezon province The walk back, then a bus ride home. We took a jeep (PhP 35) to Lucena Grand Terminal and got on a bus at 1 pm to Cubao (around PhP 200).

Padre Burgos, Quezon province
Photo from V.
Padre Burgos, Quezon province
Photo from T.

some misadventures, and a beautiful january wedding

We were headed to Tagaytay. The morning was uneventful: we met up on time, didn’t encounter heavy traffic, stopped at Paseo (which I didn’t know had a gazillion store outlets!) for Kanin Club, had coffee, went back on the road.

Then we used Waze.

Then we got lost.

To be fair, it wasn’t Waze’s fault. I think the Internet connection got cut just when we were about to take a critical right turn. Our 30-minute trip ballooned to nearly two hours trying to look for the hotel.

So our plan to nap, take a shower, and spend time fixing our hair got squished into fifteen precious minutes. But we still found time to strike a pose.




We had reservations (it’s funny when you take into consideration that word’s other meaning) at Le Jardin Rosella. It was a beautiful place, but the staff seemed…clueless. Like they weren’t expecting us. So we got dressed in the building’s downstairs washroom while waiting for housekeeping to bring our keys. While waiting for anyone, really. Anyone?


Anywho, we had to dump our stuff in the rooms and run because the church was an hour away.

But our timing was impeccable. We got to the church seconds — seconds! — before our friend and colleague walked down the aisle. We cheered for the bride, nearly including ourselves in the SDE video (which would have been a production disaster, or a viral video in the making), hardly believing our luck. What are the odds.


It was a beautiful ceremony. The priests knew the couple so their homilies and messages to the newlyweds were personal and heartfelt.







The group photos were from Maida (who organized this trip, sponsored by Waze). (I’m kidding.)

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The bride letting her hair down.



Now, back to the hotel. We got back at midnight and there were no extra beds (even though we paid for extra beds) and no running water. We had to hunt down people to get these necessities, and when we finally got water running, there was no hot water. Remember that we were in Tagaytay. In January. At midnight. Hashtag pulmonya.

The next day, we were told, after we waited for more than an hour, that they could only serve four meals. I don’t know how they came up with this number. There were nine of us, and we were all paid. The OIC, Lala, gave excuses (they were busy with an event, maraming absent, papunta palang po ako ng office) instead of apologizing. Only one staff member, Roland (or Ronald, I forget) understood customer service and went out of his way to serve us coffee.

So thumbs-down for Le Jardin Rosella and their incompetent OIC, Lala. Don’t stay with them, or at least think twice. I think you’re better off staying somewhere else.

But two thumbs-up for your lovely wedding, AJ and Vanna! The very best of luck to your life together. :)

And sige thumbs-up na rin sa hardin ng Le Jardin. Idinaan na lang namin sa photo-op ang galit. Haha!



a brief visit to the alma mater & other sources of enjoyment


A lot of construction work being done on campus. And a lot of strange graffiti came with it. Like this one.




Barcino date night.




We got Netrunner! It was fun to own our own card game. Two players. One plays the Corporation, the other plays the Runner (or hacker). And I almost always lose to J, the poker-faced Corporation.






HeroClix, introduced to us by Adam and Carljoe. Here we are sweating it out in the summer heat outside Adam’s door.


I made my first win with these guys! (Thanks to Poldo for lending them to me.)


And a cute, fat cat. Hi, Minggoy.


imperium e-sports bar and video game lounge + wooden spoon + something about robots

So, what’s up?

My eye grade. That’s what’s up. But I can’t pretend to be too worried about it, it’s a worthwhile excuse to get bigger frames for my big face.


They made me nauseous for more than a week.

Though frame-shopping is fun, it is expensive. Ugh. Well. Here’s to hoping my eyesight won’t worsen after this year. We got these at Sarabia Optical – Rockwell. The pairs there had price tags that made me miss Nelly Sarabia at the UP Shopping Center. She gives discounts – you should visit her if you’re in the area.

(At one hilarious/frightening point the doctor at Rockwell handed me frames that cost PhP 13K. Are you kidding? For glasses?)

For the first Friday back at work, I tagged along with J’s friends to the Imperium e-Sports Bar and Video Game Lounge in Ortigas Metrowalk. I don’t like bars, but this is a themed one I can get behind.

Except that it’s…pretty blue.

The menu comes in these things because of course they do.

Order drinks in pitchers if you’re in a group.

On the day we got my glasses, we dropped by Wooden Spoon. They have good food and they have great prices. Emphasis on good. Food.

Look at J looking excited.

See the food here? We split that, and we had enough leftovers for dinner. Sulit!

Coffee and cake after.

Project 17 the novel is featured in the December issue of Speed Magazine, and I have an article in the January issue. My thanks to Elaine and the rest of Speed for the compli copies, and for having me.

I am grateful for the holiday break, because I was able to catch up on my reading. But that’s for another post. See ya!