A few days ago, my partners (co-workers) agreed that going home early on a morning shift was lame. Thus, we decided to spend a couple of hours bonding.
The first thing on our list was to watch a movie – Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Divergent. Those two were our only choices at Alabang Town Center (ATC). We had more choices at Festival Mall, but for some reason, everyone chose ATC as our venue. Either one was fine though.
Our dilemma of which movie we should watch was quickly resolved. Majority picked Divergent. Unfortunately, when we got there (via Carlos’ car), the tickets were already sold out. It wasn’t much of a shocker. Three cinemas for Captain America versus one cinema for Divergent. The odds were against us. We would’ve opted for the first, except that the next screening time was inconvenient for most of us. That and we had to wait for a couple of hours. So we ditched the movies and crossed it off our list. Next stop: a good place to eat.
ATC caters mostly to rich people, which is why most restaurants are fancy schmancy. For a kid with a tight budget, ATC would be the last place to look for a nice place to eat. But for a kid who wouldn’t think twice to spend money for quality food, I had a myriad of choices. The choice still depended on majority.
We landed at Johnny Rockets. It’s diner-themed interior probably hooked our eyes. Upon entering, the song Footloose was playing. A huge jukebox greeted all who entered. A short-haired lady in a 50′s or 60′s style uniform welcomed us and led us to our table. Or should I say tables as we had to combine two separate tables to fit all six of us (Carlos, Raine, Tahani, Ben, Rita, and yours truly).
Burgers. Everyone ordered burgers. Ben ordered one with unlimited fries. Rita and I pondered whether we should get the Truffle Burger or not. We didn’t. I probably wouldn’t be able to finish it. When we decided to get the bill, Carlos stopped us all and took care of it. Our screams reverberated throughout the entire store. No one wanted Carlos to pay for the whole thing, but after much insistence, he won (after pulling out a wad of cash faster than anyone). Naturally, we thanked him. Very generous, that guy.
Out last stop was a place called Manong’s located at Palms Country Club just a few meters away from where I work. We arrived there just in time for Earth Hour. Lights were kept at a bare minimum. Candles wrapped in white paper were used as centerpieces to slightly illuminate the place at just the right amount. People from various tables talked non-stop, contributing to the overall noise which affected the ambience of the place greatly.
After a lengthy random conversation with beer as our companions, a seventh person joined us – Doms.
The seventh son of the seventh son. Doms’ arrival brought about a sudden twist; the introduction of a game of cards named King’s Cup.
Each person draws a card. A certain rule is affixed to each card. The person who draws the card must abide to its rule. Simple as that. With the exception that you can pretty much make your own rule for each card although there are standard rules. A game of total uncertainty.
There is also a rule that is pretty much the same regardless of where the King’s Cup game is played – the rule of the King. Basically, the person who draws the first three Kings of the deck must pour slash put something in a glass or cup and fill it to their hearts’ content. This can range from cigarette ash to a piece of gum. Anything, really. The lucky guy who draws the fourth King must ingest the whole glass or cup. That’s how this game got its name.
King’s Cup filled our night with laughter. Not just beer, which the others had so much. A memorable night for everyone. Cheers!
Roughly two months ago, I started working at the Alabang branch of Project Pie as a Restaurant Partner. I made a lot of new friends, received my first ever salary here in the Philippines, and learned how to custom build artisan pizza.
Project Pie is the very definition of fun at work. We literally get to balance both in every shift. It’s not everyday I get hired in an establishment as such. I’d like to think of myself as lucky based on a number of factors. Here are a few:
• Alabang is relatively near from my place. Transportation is convenient.
• Alabang has a specific target target audience – basically, rich people.
• The managers on duty are almost the same age as the partners.
• Alabang branch receives the most praise from HQ.
• I already knew a lot of partners before I even joined.
• Optimum growth is feasible.
• Everyone is AWESOME.
I’ve named only a few. And that list is just the tip of the iceberg. What I really want to share is something related to the second to the last factor of my list. Growth. At Project Pie, with so many stores opening in the upcoming months, vacant positions are escalating. Ads on the internet are proliferating. And with the addition of new partners, the earlier partners seize the moment and get promoted. This is the situation I am in now. Let me provide more details.
A few days ago, Jason, one of our Team Leaders, wanted to talk with me. At first I misunderstood what he meant by talk. At Project Pie, when partners say “Let’s talk,” it’s our code for “Let’s smoke (cigarettes).” I let out a faint chuckle. Then I sensed the seriousness of Jason’s eyes. He really did mean an actual conversation. He gestured upstairs, changed his mind, and sat halfway down the stairs at the back of the store. I felt a sudden chill and nervousness. Out of instinct, I blurted out, “I’m innocent.” We both laughed. As we did, Sabs, also one of our Team Leaders, teleported behind my back.
A Team-Leader-Partner sandwich.
“I need to tell you something, Rommel.” Jason’s eyes were fixed on me. “I want to ask you to come with me when our Makati branch opens.“
Confusion overwhelmed my fragile little body. There and then, I had about a million questions. But before I could ask, Sabs interrupted.
“We feel that your performance needs to be enhanced. Makati would be a great place for that.” Sabs pointed out.
I opened my mouth, hoping to confirm everything I just heard. Jason interrupted and said, “Joke!“
The three of us bursted into laughter. I seriously thought I was performing below average. It turned out to be the exact opposite. Jason explained that when the Makati branch (Park Square) opens, he wanted to bring me, Diane, and TJ along with him in hopes of promoting us to Team Leaders. I was honored. Honestly, it was a very tough decision to make. I had to weigh in the PROs and CONs. And even though I procrastinated and eventually didn’t do the weighing, it left me with something to think about for days.
Today, Jason asked for my final answer. I was already leaning towards a YES a few days ago. I decided I wanted to at least give this a shot. If it doesn’t work out, I get to stay at Alabang with my current friends. If it does, I would already be a Team Leader and pioneer of the new Makati branch. It was one of those win-win situations that just had certain repercussions. One more thing. I neglected to mention that I only have a 50% chance of being promoted. The people at HQ would have to analyze my performance and all those other stuff and give their approval. All I can do is sit back, relax, and look forward to the outcome. A brighter future lies ahead of me.
Mini blog alert!
Disclaimer: This is not a review. Teehee!
It has been months since I last read a book. I have been itching to buy a new one. With a plethora of choices, finding one to suit my taste is always a challenge.
Recently, I noticed that I have been fond of watching movie adaptations of certain novels, be it local or foreign. Thus, I decided to look for a book that was already in the works for an adaptation. Again, I have found lots of books. But I decided to stick with Lois Lowry‘s The Giver. Admittedly, I thought it was sort of a one-shot novel. The kind that don’t get sequels. Little did I know that it was a quartet series. I only found out after I bought it at National Bookstore.
Tonight, after reading the first chapter, I just couldn’t put it down. I wanted to read more if not only for my work tomorrow at 8 A.M. Truly a page-turner, The Giver looks very promising. Makes me even more excited to read the other books in the series.
This year is starting to look bright for me. I’m saying goodbye to the life of unemployment slash total slacker and saying hello to my new job: Restaurant Partner at Project Pie.
Project Pie is an International Fast food chain from America franchised here in the Philippines. For first timers, ordering can be a bit confusing. That’s where we Restaurant Partners come in the picture. We basically guide the guests and custom build their pizzas in front of them. They have three ways of ordering. First, they choose from our seven signature pizzas as is. Second, they choose from one of the seven and customize it along the way. Third, and probably the most often used (and time-consuming) way, is they build their own pizza from scratch. Personally, if it was my first time, I’d pick the third way too.
I started training on January 21 at their Blue Bay, Macapagal branch. The one near SM Mall of Asia. The first day of training was sorta just an orientation. Familiarizing the workplace, work ethics, and the pizzas. Yes, that’s right. A taste test was obviously at hand. We tried every single pizza and salad Project Pie had to offer. The best training ever! A manual was also provided. I’m pretty sure no one read that manual in its entirety.
My job now is a whole lot similar to what I used to do at Busch Gardens. A feeling of nostalgia overwhelmed me on my first hands-on training on our second day. We had a total of only four days of training. After that, we were dispatched to Project Pie’s Alabang branch where we have been working up until now.
At the Alabang branch, weekdays are slow. But when weekends kick in, it gets crazy. Wave after wave of people come in non-stop. Rarely do we ever get to see the light at the end of the tunnel. People just come pouring like rain. It gets worse. Most order Build-Your-Owns and ask for almost every topping we have. The dreaded All-Cheese-All-Meats-All-Veggies combo. Its a killer pizza. When I do the oven and bake their pizzas, I always make a mess inside. It can’t be helped. Some just have this putting-everything-will-taste-good mentality, which we never recommend. The toppings are unevenly cooked and the pizza gets soggy. The only good side
after we put our two cents in and advise the guests is that they only have themselves to blame if their pizzas don’t come out the way they pictured it.
Aside from our seven signature pizzas, we also have pizza salads, salads, and dessert pizzas. Personally, our Banana Nutella dessert pizza is my fave. How can you go wrong with Nutella? It goes well with pretty much everything.
One rule we follow is that we call each other by names and not the traditional Ma’am/Sir and Ate/Kuya, including the higher-ups. The company wants everyone to feel equal. It’s just that other people have certain accountabilities. This is similar to the American culture which we try to bring here. That includes the Clean As You Go or self-bussing rule. Makes our work a little lighter. Just a little.
Work becomes fun because I’m already friends with my partners. It turns out, most of them also applied for an Internship. I met them on the second half of our Internship at Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, Michigan. Talk about coincidence.
And that’s about it. I have had no problems with work, so far. Everything’s going smoothly. Hopefully, it’s smooth sailing from here onwards.
January 6. First Monday of the year 2014. Yet another year has passed. Forgive me for being cliché, but time really flies by so fast.
Technically, time has always been constant. A second is and always will be a second. 2013 was a real challenge for me. A test of independence, self-realization, and faith initiated by my cogent desire for a better future. My ticket to that future-bound train came in a form of an Internship at my second home – U.S.A.
I decided to undergo a 1-year Hospitality Internship at U.S.A. last May 2012. The process is no walk in a park; it’s intensive and quite time-consuming, spanning over 5 months or more. Basically, the participants’ CVs or résumés are handed over to an agency abroad. This agency then scouts for establishments that accept interns. Should they find the applicants interesting and willing to learn, they would inform the agency. Interviews will be conducted by the employers. The number of interviews is ever changing. After a successful interview with the employer, a VISA Interview is then initiated. If granted a VISA, the participants buy a ticket to whichever state they’re bound to, and fly there. The Internship then commences.
Seven of us from the same school applied for an Internship with high hopes. Only four were able to finish the process successfully: Jea, Daphne, JJ, and me. As a bonus, influenced by no one, the four of us were assigned at the Sunny State – Florida. East Coast it is. What a huge coincidence!
Under J-1 VISAs, Jea was assigned at Miami, Daphne at Marco Island, and JJ at Jupiter Island, Hobe Sound, along with me. Although we were at the same state, we were still pretty far from one another. Also, I should mention that although we all applied for the same Internship, the circumstances were different. Jea was assigned to a hotel open year-round. No need for reassignments. Same case with Daphne. As for JJ and me, we landed on Jupiter Island Club, a seasonal country club, employing only for six months. The agency then looked for another seasonal establishment and found Grand Hotel in Michigan.
Jupiter Island Club was my first assignment along with JJ. I admit, I was a little nervous. Knowing that it’s an exclusive club for members-only who demand quality service did not help. Challenge accepted. During my first few days of training, I was already able to grasp the workflow. With my co-workers guiding me and providing useful insight, I was flipping tables like there was no tomorrow.
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life. – Confucius
I provided the members with the best service I could possibly provide. They reciprocated it with praises. Their warm smiles were my sole motivation. Seeing their faces light up with joy was the best reward anyone can receive.
Grand Hotel was my second assignment. The other half of my 1-year Internship. Located in Mackinac Island, Michigan, Grand Hotel lived up to its name. I was struck by the grandeur of the hotel, built of pure Michigan white pine. The hotel is famous for its 660 ft. Front Porch rewarding its guests with a picturesque view of the lake. The hotel is even more beautiful during the winter with a blanket of snow, if only it was open year-round.
My last day of work was on the 29th of October last year. Our J-1 VISAs entitled us a grace period of one month, usually used for packing. We utilized it and tried visiting as many states as we can. During my last time in U.S.A. (last 2011 during college), I was only able to visit New York, Washington D.C., and Virginia. I made sure I would visit more the second time around.
Aside from Florida and Michigan, I was able to visit Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and California. My budget was anything but tight so all these travels were to my liking.
In addition to traveling, my circle of friends expanded and my scope of understanding of the American culture widened. Not to mention I gained valuable hands-on experience in an actual working environment.
Before the end of the year, Yolanda came into picture. Being the strongest storm ever recorded in history, it almost wiped off my entire hometown. The ultimate test of faith. But my faith never wavered. Not one bit.
I’m cutting off this part of the blog. Even up to this day, it pains me to reminisce what happened during Tacloban’s darkest hours. That and I don’t want this post to have a slightly gloomy feel to it. Plus, if you do want a detailed account of the storm from my perspective, I blogged about that previously.
In a nutshell, 2013 was one heck of a rollercoaster ride chock-full of twists and turns. Lives were lost and homes were wrecked. But we had something even more powerful than the cataclysm – HOPE. The one thing no one can ever take away from us. With that, we shall usher in 2014 with our hearts filled with hope.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
First of all, I apologize if I start this blog with something a little bit sad despite the holidays. I promise to make it up to you, though. As you delve deeper into this blog post, I’ll turn the sad vibe upside down. Now, to get things started…
This year’s Christmas Eve marks my third consecutive Christmas Eve without my family. Christmas Eve 2011 was spent at Cebu with my college classmates for my course’s requirements. Christmas Eve 2012 was spent working at Florida, particularly at Jupiter Island Club in Hobe Sound. Christmas Eve 2013, which was last night, was spent with friends, cousins, and… my little sister Trixia here in Parañaque. Yes. Last night was an exception. If only Mom was here, we would have been complete. If only Mom didn’t… have to…
go back to Tacloban City during the holidays.
My mother’s side of the family always had this Christmas tradition of gathering and celebrating Christmas Eve together under one roof – the gathering of the ASTILLA CLAN. Then the storm surge came into the picture. Yolanda just had to break the continuous streak, and on top of that, the houses as well. The ASTILLA’s had to celebrate the holidays in different parts of the country. Howbeit this was my third, it was the first for most of my relatives. Hopefully, it’s the last too.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, it’s time to turn the tables and switch to a positive mood.
Despite being far from each other, our hearts are connected. The spirit of Christmas burns bright in our hearts and our love for one another fuels that unquenchable flame. Reminds me how lucky I am to be part of the clan.
As for our Noche Buena, we had a gallimaufry of pasta, chicken, and lechon (pork). Noche Buena wouldn’t be complete without the traditional lechon. There was a bellyfull of food, considering that there were only six of us: Trixia, Karlo, JJ, Popo, Stephanie, and yours truly. I was so stuffed that I didn’t have room for desserts. Popo was kind enough to share with his
or I guess our neighbors.
After dinner, the entertainment began. Music was played, volume was up, and our series of games commenced.
First Game: Charades
There were only two categories: songs and movies. The group was divided into two groups: Trixia and Me, Karlo and JJ. Popo came up with the prize system while Steph devised the songs and movies. I must admit, I probably picked the hardest ones. I remember getting White Horse by Taylor Swift and So Sick by Neyo. I couldn’t act out a horse. Trixia mistook it for a dog. I was trying to do that thing where a horse tries to kick someone behind. For Neyo’s song, Trixia guessed the second word, but since she doesn’t know the song, and there was no way to act out the word “so”, we timed out. I was able to guess some of Trixia’s, though. Also, JJ picked Wrecking Ball and Karlo’s face was more crumpled than the paper we wrote the words in. It was a tough one. We even incited JJ to mimic Miley from her music video.
Second Game: Pinoy Henyo
The game was popularized by the longest noontime Filipino show Eat Bulaga. Basically, it’s a guessing game between two people. One person has a word stuck on his forehead and tries to guess it while the other one can only answer Yes, No, and Maybe.
Our pairs/roles remained the same. Steph still came up with the words and Popo still handed out prizes. We had a minute and a half to guess the words. I have one weak category with games like this: Places. I’m so bad with places and directions. I would never make it without a map or a decent map app.
We had a plethora of very very random words either in English or Filipino. Some words were pretty easy like a ship and Tacloban (my hometown), and some were outrageously hellacious like The Da Vinci Code. Suddenly, a twist presents itself. Actually, more like a gamble. An all-or-nothing round. The pairs were to give Popo and Steph one word each, and if they guessed correctly, they get to keep all the money the pairs earned. If they lost, well, they lose. We don’t really gain anything. Except the fun of letting them guess the most random of words. Stephanie got The Da Vinci Code and Popo got Jerusalem. Both were unable to guess correctly. Honestly, our little brainstorming of words resulted in us considering using the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. It would have been one of the hardest words ever for a simple game. It would have been unfair too. We decided to brush off the idea.
Our games were so much fun that every once in a while, we would burst into laughter that reverberated in the house. The Entertainment part ended at almost exactly midnight. Impeccable timing. Then came one of the most anticipated parts – gift giving.
I handpicked all five of their gifts. It wasn’t much really. But they had to prove themselves worthy. Hidden inside our little home here were five gifts. Each gift had three riddles scattered all over. I handed them the first riddle for each of their gifts, tucked nicely inside an Ang Pao (the red Chinese envelope thingy for money). At first, they thought I just gave them money. I asked them to open the Ang Paos all at the same time, and everyone read their first riddle in unison. To think, just a few minutes before, I was so busy casually hiding all their riddles and gifts. It was not easy task.
In a fraction of a second, all five of my housemates dispersed. I stood in one corner so as not to get in the way. They rummaged high and low for their clues. Karlo’s gift was under the sink, Trixia’s hid under the bed where the monsters dwell, Popo’s not-so-hidden gift was under a lamp, Stephanie’s gift was tucked under her bed’s mattress like the pea in Princess and the Pea, and lastly, JJ’s gift, the easiest one to hide, was under the telephone. Everyone opened their gifts at the same time.
Stephanie got a Pink Revlon nail polish, Popo got an iPhone 5 lighter, Trixia got the entire Diary ng Panget book series, JJ got a Bleach keychain, ang Karlo got a Spoof t-shirt (Rule #3 A true man always gets extra rice). How about me, you ask? I know you didn’t ask, but I’ll say it anyway. I received the greatest gift of all. God used me as an instrument to bring happiness to these five people. I could never ask for a greater gift than that.
Thank you Daddy God for all the blessings you have showered down upon me and my loved ones. You didn’t just spare my family from certain death, but You have also given us the gift of happiness and love. THANK YOU!
All good things must come to an end. My Internship in the United States of America is over. Spanning almost a year, it has taught me countless lessons and broadened my scope of understanding of the American culture. I can go on and on about how it was one of the best things that has ever happened in my life, but I would like this post to be about one of the greatest struggles my family has ever faced – Yolanda/Haiyan.
Super Typhoon Yolanda, also known by its International name Haiyan, was the strongest storm ever recorded in history. The term storm surge was used to describe it. Of all the places it could have wreaked havoc, it chose Philippines, my home country. More specifically, the Visayan islands. Yolanda’s made about four or five landfalls. The first was at Guian, Eastern Samar. It had sustained winds of 195 mph. Now, I may not know much about storms, but I knew this was exceptionally strong. The second landfall was at Dulag/Alang-Alang, if I remember correctly. Then, it hit my hometown – Tacloban City.
November 8. 5:00 AM. My little sister Trixia was sleeping soundly when strong gusts of wind struck our homes at Fatima Village, Tacloban City. She woke up to the sounds of shrieks and furniture banging against the walls. Rain poured non-stop. Water levels rose fast. In a few minutes, the entire first stories were completely submerged. Survival instincts kicked in and Mom and the others climbed to higher grounds. That was only the beginning, though. Nothing could have prepared them for what was yet to come.
Yolanda sent roofs flying, brought about high levels of flood water, unearthed coffins, scattered corpses, drowned living people, and… claimed a staggering 10,000+ lives. Lots and lots of innocent lives lost. The storm surge was an apocalyptic destruction of epic proportions. All I could do was supplicate God to keep all my loved ones safe.
I was at Maryland when the storm surge hit, fresh from my Internship. My nights consisted of heavy prayers. My heart felt like it could have shattered to pieces at any time. Although I did not shed a single tear, not a single day passed that I wasn’t worried. I’m incredibly strong for someone so small. Living another day was still a reason to smile and be thankful.
All cellsite towers were knocked down, making it impossible for any type of communication. I had no way of knowing – not the slightest inkling – the status of Mom, Trixia, and my relatives. All I knew was that they would stick together no matter what. News coverage of Tacloban brought about mixed feelings. With varying footages, different parts of Tacloban City were featured. Glimpses of my city during the storm surge’s onslaught was painful to watch. Yet, without it, my imagination would have conjured images subject to morbid introspection. I am always an optimistic person. My faith in God remained unwavered. I knew that beyond the murky tunnel that my loved ones were in, they would find their way to the light at the end.
With flood water rising to incredible heights, Mom, Trixia, and my relatives held firmly on posts and its wires, ensuring they were complete. Waves were dragging them to the entrance of a subdivision just in front of our house. They didn’t have ample time to prepare. Amid the storm surge, all types of perilous items flew and flowed about: nails, screws, tiles, anything sharp. Since they were almost underwater, evading anything proved to be arduous.
Luckily, Mom, Trixia, and the others found refuge at Zilog, a Filipino restaurant owned by Mom’s brother in front of Robinsons Mall Tacloban. They, along with more of my relatives, stayed there for a couple of days. Word of their safety and status came from my cousin Gisella, one day. At that time, I was already at New Jersey. Overwhelmed with relief, I offered a quick little prayer to God. My faith grew stalwartly stronger.
While Zilog turned into their temporary sanctuary, they were not spared of the sight of the macabre aftermath of the storm surge. A plethora of corpses ironically adorned the entire city. As if dictated by law, it was temporarily in a survival-of-the-fittest state. Looting became a conspicuous choice among the victims. Basically, anything essential instantaneously became scarce. Even Zilog had limited resources.
On a side note: Trixia and the others enjoyed bacon everyday. Not too bad. Eventually, they would need to flee the ghost town-turned city. And they did.
Mom and the others agreed to go to Manila. The journey wasn’t easy. It took them two days. Tacloban City’s airport was completely washed out. Hopping on a C130 was the only means to leave by air. Realizing that the lines only kept longer (almost everyone wanted to leave), they decided to travel by land. I only have bits of details about their two-day journey as it was really heartbreaking to absorb. They went to Samar first. Then, Ormoc was their second destination. They found shelter in a little hotel on the way that kinda became a refugee station as well. They had to sleep in the lobby with other victims so they could have enough money for food and water. After that, Cebu was next. They had to wait on a boat for hours before being told that they had to switch boats. It was devastating hearing that. They had no choice. They had to wait for another boat, get on board, and wait for hours again before they reached Manila.
Parañaque City became their temporary home in Manila. Two days later, I arrived here in the Philippines. I flew from California. I hugged Mom and Trixia the instant I saw them. For almost one year, I was away from them. The warmth of their hugs was magical. I missed them so much!
I can proudly say, after enduring the wrath of Yolanda, Mom and Trixia are survivors of the strongest typhoon ever recorded in history. My hometown was almost wiped off the map. Now, everyone from all around the globe are helping rebuild Tacloban City. Just goes to show how strong Filipinos are and how helpful other countries can be.
P.S. Of all the places Yolanda could have hit, she chose Philippines. Certainly, there are countries far more advanced that could have withstood its might. Why? Because Philippines, despite all the criticisms, is built from the foundation of strong individuals. Philippines survived the strongest typhoon. Regardless of the hardships, we Filipinos are still able to flash a sincere smile and help one another. The Filipino spirit is unbreakable! Tindog Tacloban!
P.P.S. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all the countries and individuals who donated to victims of Yolanda.
New blog post, same old dilemma – procrastination. My last post was about our Chicago days. That was weeks ago. I have around four states worth of blog posts to do. Five if you count our stopover at Delaware. In due time, I’ll cover those states. But for now, I’ll be focusing on California – The Golden State.
I’m currently staying at my friend’s (Jea) relatives here at San Jose, California, along with JJ and KR. Apparently, initials as nicknames are all the rage. Four has always been a good number. The folks here all speak our native tongue (Waray), except for KR. It’s fun speaking in the language I grew up with. We still have to adjust and speak our national language so as not to leave out KR in our conversations. Plus, there are two kids and a black chihuahua here. My kind of home.
As much as I’d like to share my Cali experience, I’m afraid I have to limit this post to today’s events. Initially, I thought I could cram at least one state’s worth of travel here. I thought wrong. Right now, I bet you’re wondering what happened today that would be worth an entire post. Well, if you’re not, I’m still gonna continue…
I climbed a mountain!
Yes, that’s right. I hiked all the way up of Mission Peak – a peak just to the east of Fremont, California. The mountain is around 2,200 ft. high. Imagine that. A skinny and out-of-shape little individual achieving something very unexpected.
The hike was a huge challenge, for me. Honestly, I was unsure if I was up to it. I was unprepared. But that was taken care of. I put on my Sketchers shoes and my Adidas shorts paired with my orange DC shirt. I contemplated whether or not I should wear my Under Armor thermal suit. It took a long time before I decided to wear it just in case. We packed some granola bars, candy, and water bottles in a black Nike shoe string bag.
The hike started at around 5 P.M. We made sure to warm up and prep for the long hike. Our guide was Kuya Jobin and his friend. For some strange reason, no one remembers his name. I’m pretty sure he introduced himself. Anyway, we took the path at the rightmost part. I recall Kuya Jobin mentioning a name for the path, so I guess the various trails have their own respective names. I should also mention that Jea forgot to bring the Nike bag. Smooth move. Peace, Jea!
On our way up, our topics were so random. We discussed just about anything we could think of. Politics, Philippines, prayers, etc. We even agreed that cable cars should be installed for ease of access. Probably because we weren’t used to walking long distances or climbing an actual mountain. No complaints, though.
Mission Peak is barren. It almost reminded me of a desert at first glance. Dry and chock full of sand. I felt like James Franco from 127 Hours venturing to unknown territory. I tried avoiding the image of being stuck under a rock. That was not a suitable image. Seriously.
Halfway up, the chilly breeze started creeping up on us. Glad I had my thermal clothes on. Wearing shorts did not help at all. There were benches along the way. We stopped on almost every bench that we came across on our trail.
After almost two hours of hiking, I was glad to see the top, which is what Mission Peak is known for. Rock formations were illuminated by the moon and a post with vandals stood firmly on the ground. The summit rewarded us with a breathtaking night view of Silicon Valley, Santa Cruz mountains, and the bustling city. It was worth every ounce of fear, sweat, and energy.
Precious memories like these are extremely rare. All of these are already archived in my little memory bank.
Incidentally, we ate at Jollibee for dinner. The last time I ate at Jollibee was roughly one year ago. Reunited and it felt so good. Or should I say tasted so good?
Note: I’m blogging about our 4-day Chicago vacation. Currently, we’re here at New Jersey.
Work is finally over! Being a seasonal employee slash intern at THE Grand Hotel forged unbreakable bonds and unforgettable memories. I won’t be dwelling much about that though. It’s what’s afterwards that I’ll be blogging about. I may blog about my Grand Hotel Internship in the near future.
As I was saying, work is over. Naturally, what comes next is… (insert drum roll here) a VACATION! First stop: CHICAGO, IL.
Chicago is known for being windy, branded with the title of Windy City. It lives up to its name. Of the four days we stayed here, not a single day was spared. Every day was windy. We had complaints here and there, but there was really not much we can do. We were powerless against the forces of nature.
We stayed at Marriott’s Springhill Suites Downtown/River North. Obviously, we were at the downtown area which was really convenient. Our room was on the 22nd floor.
We didn’t have an organized itinerary. We figured we’d just try to visit as many of the famous attractions as we can. Then we stumbled upon the CityPASS. Basically, a CityPASS is a booklet bundled with five admission tickets. It’s a one-time payment (costs less than all five attractions paid separately) that gives you a faster access to the attractions of Chicago. Do note that there are actually seven attractions, the last four split into two choices only. We didn’t follow the list, though. We did it randomly.
The Field Museum
First stop on our tour is The Field Museum.
This museum houses over 24 million specimens, only a few of which are ever on display. Upon entering, the first thing anyone would notice is a giant T-Rex dinosaur skeleton. Later on, we learned its name – Sue. Sue is a rare dino, its bones almost complete when it was found.
We saw Sue 3D, a documentary slash animation of how Sue supposedly lived. According to the movie, Sue lived a good long life. Sue’s kind was the king of the dino era, the highest of the hierarchy. This was pretty much the highlight of the museum.
The Shedd Aquarium
Second stop. VIP Entry courtesy of our CityPASS
The Aquarium contains tons of different kinds of aquatic creatures. The first few we saw were some manta rays and a huge turtle being fed. I kinda like that job, swimming with the fishes and feeding them.
Before leaving, they had a show, as expected. I forgot the name of the show, but it featured three dolphins as the main attraction. A couple of beluga whales and a sea lion joined the show as well. The show reflected how well taken care of the sea creatures are.
The Adler Planetarium
This was one of the places where we had to choose. The other choice was The Art Institute of Chicago. The Planetarium was decided by majority.
This was the best place, in my opinion. I like aquatic creatures, but space is just awesome! If I had an entire day in Chicago, I’d spend it here, learning as much as I can about the ever-expanding universe.
As with all the museums, there was a complimentary 3D show. We chose the Space Junk 3D movie. The other one was Sun 3D. It was a tough choice.
The movie was all about the bits and pieces and trash that we launch into space and leave it there.
The junk cloud keeps increasing exponentially.
At the rate we’re going, we’re only making Earth and space more and more hazardous. There have been reports of satellites crashing into one another. Luckily, scientists are trying to develop a breakthrough innovation which will help clean our space little by little.
Upstairs, there was a huge exhibit about the solar system. Each planet had its own island booth. Coupled with descriptions, images, and interactive iPads, anyone was sure to learn more about each planet.
John Hancock Observatory
This was also one of two possible choices, the other one being the Museum of Science and Industry. We’ve had our fair shares of museums, so we decided to do an observatory.
The observatory is where you can find Chicago’s only open air SkyWalk. We came here at night time. With a 360-degree view of Chicago, we were mesmerized at how the lights illuminated the city. Dazzling strokes of light formed in the streets. If I was a better photographer, I’d have utilized the lights and take bokeh shots. Yes, that’s right. I know a few terms.
Incidentally, we saw a family with a very cute family costume: a mayo dad, a mustard mom, and a sandwich kid. It was seriously the cutest thing.
SkyDeck at Willis Tower
Our fifth and final CityPASS stop. This has been delayed for almost three days due to bad weather (mostly fog). The weather did clear up and we had the chance to try it out.
At 103 floors, SkyDeck was easily my most feared attraction. But I told myself that no trip to Chicago would be complete without a visit to the Ledge – glass floor balconies overlooking the city. Being afraid of heights, it wasn’t exactly easy. Fear is a formidable foe. And I was able to conquer my fear.
Don’t I look cool? Sitting on that glass ledge, just casually smiling for a picture.
Also known as “The Bean,” the Cloud Gate is a public sculpture located at Millennium Park. Almost anyone would be able to recognize it from hundreds of movies it was fearured in, notably: The Source Code. Well, the closing scene, that is.
The bean there, done that caption is too cliché, so I had to stick with a simpler caption.
And this concludes my short-lived vacation in CHICAGO with JJ, Kaicy, Ara, and Mico. I had to jam all these in one slightly summarized post. Their company is what I’ll miss the most.
Next stop: New Jersey and New York.
For the past few days, I have been really busy here in the Grand Hotel. Thankfully, it’s not because of work. I’ve been utilizing my employee perks and trying out Grand Hotel’s amenities. Initially, I thought of blogging this in a chronological order. Instead, I chose to categorize it. Sorta.
Grand Hotel is known for its two main amenities: the Main Dining Room and Front Porch.
Main Dining Room
Grand Hotel’s Main Dining Room is huge! It can sit upto a thousand people. That’s right. A thousand people. I don’t want to go into detail about it. All I can say is it’s really glorious. I know because I started working there before I acquired my second job (which became my initial job after a few months). The Main Dining Room, or MDR as we like to call it, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all of which are open to the public. I was lucky enough to try all three with minimal slash zero expenses.
Breakfast – the most important meal of the day; often neglected by majority. I don’t understand why some people choose to skip it. I only do so if I have no choice.
I was able to try having breakfast in the MDR for free when my friend Jessa, an FO clerk, was given breakfast tickets by a guest with a hectic schedule. Along with Ela (Concierge) and Ben (Coffee Break), we dined there on an early Thursday morning.
I swear, their eggs were scrumptious! I always have mine over medium. They cooked it just right. That was only the first of many more dining opportunities I have yet to type.
Lunch – often the first meal of many; not for me, though. As for lunch, the hotel has two options: the Grand Luncheon Buffet at the MDR, and light lunches at Carleton’s Tea Store.
The Grand Luncheon Buffet starts at 12NN and last seating is at 2PM. This is what most of non-guests come here for, bombarding us with questions regarding it. I tried it yesterday, again, for free, thanks to Jessa. Ela came along with us. Yesterday was also my final day off of the season.
There were two lines of buffet tables; they expected more than two hundred people. That’s a lot. Most of the people were part of the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association convention which was held here in the hotel.
I ate a lot of shrimp. That was pretty much the highlight of my lunch. The entrées were meh. The desserts were good, but lacked variety. It used to be that they had macaroons and rum cakes, two of my best desserts. They didn’t have it yesterday. We left the MDR with our waists two inches bigger. We were so full!
As for Carleton’s, earlier this week, my friend Ysh and I ordered Ham and Swiss Panini’s. It was good. The manager took our order and he was really nice. I also took a couple slices of fudge which was by the counter for free taste.
Dinner – [insert description here]. Sorry for being so lazy. That description thing was getting old. But enough of that. Let me try to describe my two consecutive nights at the MDR. TWO consecutive nights of fine-dining.
The first was on the 20th. I got an out-of-the-blue invite from Brenda, my co-worker since December. She had a night off, couldn’t find anything better to do, and was bored. I accepted the invite. When it comes to food, money is no object.
The MDR serves five-course meals for dinner. For some, that’s a lot of food. Well, it is. But I wasn’t gonna let this chance of eating a five-course meal slip away. Not to mention, our entire meal was discounted generously. I ordered one from each course, wrapping it up with a huge scoop of my favorite ice cream flavor – Mackinac Fudge (with tons of fudge sauce). I won’t include the photo of the dessert mainly because I couldn’t get a good (or even decent) shot of it. Just take my word for it; that flavor is the best on the island.
My second fine-dining experience was on the next day. I wore the exact same blue H&M jacket. I didn’t really have much of a choice. It was JJ’s. I don’t have a jacket. Never really considered buying one. That was the only piece of clothing I repeated though. The rest of my look was redesigned. There were seven of us: Me, Jemuel, Meliza, Mico, Chiara, Kaicy, and JJ. Not sure if there was supposed to be an eighth one to turn our odd-numbered group to an even one.
Our server was Pao, a fellow Filipino. Pao was an excellent server. He made sure we felt the essence of fine-dining. He suggested that we be honest, letting him know if what we ordered were not to our liking. He was more than happy to replace our food if we wanted to. The food was delicious, in my opinion. Our smiles were more than enough to convey how we loved the service. Thumbs up!
Grand Hotel’s famous colonial Front Porch is 660 feet, making it the longest porch in the world. Divided into two: East and West, Grand Hotel’s front porch is a unique architectural masterpiece. White rocking chairs, beverage servers, and everyday people fill the porch. I’ve been working for the hotel since May, but I realized that I’ve never set foot on it and actually grasped its splendor. From my point of view, it really is magnificent. All the hype its getting is worthy to some extent.
Yesterday, after the Grand Luncheon Buffet, Jessa and I strolled on the East side of the porch. The weather was random, but it was nippy with plenty of sunlight.
It used to be that the porch was booming with people earlier this season. But as the days pass by and the end of the season nearing, the number of daily visitors reduced significantly. Nowadays, there are hardly any people there, except when the Grand hosts weddings or certain events. The beauty of the porch is unaffected by this, though.
Dorothy Draper Suite
I must admit, after trying out breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a stroll on the porch, I thought my Grand Hotel experience was complete. Boy was I wrong. I never took into account an overnight stay, mainly because it never crossed my mind, until last night. When my roomie, JJ, got home, he told me to change.
“We’re staying overnight at the Grand. Kaicy got a room and all five of us (Me, Kaicy, JJ, Chiara, and Mico) should be present.”
Kaicy was lucky enough to get a named room (which are really hard to get). Not to mention it was a suite – the Dorothy Draper Suite. Carleton Varney, the person who designed the Grand Hotel in its late 19th century decor, was Dorothy Draper’s protege. The motif was red. The suite was spacious. It had a little shelf filled with books near the entrance. An enormous red bed was at the center of the room. Facing the bed was a red sofa and a mini flatscreen TV. The bathroom was located on the east end of the suite.
Sad to say, I don’t have any pictures of the suite. I was overwhelmed with the idea of staying. I know my description hardly suffices, but it’s all I got. One thing I’d like to note is that I slept like a baby last night. I slept so soundly that a million alarms were no match for my powerful sleeping skills. I was the first person to sleep and the last person to wake up.
Now, I can say for certain, that staying overnight at the Dorothy Draper marked the completion of my Grand Experience.
Live healthy. Live grand.