Summer Dreams 2014

coming soon

Granada Nicaragua

In Search or the Perfect Ceviche and other adventures out soon in my TravelOkcity column, Leisure+Adventure Magazine, and here.

Marshall Islands

Got Wasabi? (A deep sea fishing adventure in the Marshall Islands)

Prairie Dog Town

Adventures in the city of Oklahoma and beyond in my travel column, TravelOkcity.

Hefner Lake Park

Adventures in the city of Oklahoma and beyond in my travel column, TravelOkcity.

Huahin, Thailand

The warm hospitality of a boutique hotel in the beach resort town of royalty in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Comprehending the English Spokening

Published by Planet Philippines
(Planet Philippines is a newsmagazine for overseas Filipinos published and distributed in in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, London, Melbourne, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles.)

my squirmy bookworm

 “Labhan ang damit ng mabuti” says a sticky note on the washing machine door. By the light switch, a sign says, “Patayin ang ilaw.” All over the house are little notes that serve as a reviewer.  In the background, Sa Ugoy ng Duyan plays softly as my one-year-old naps. It’s all part of my campaign to make sure that my son grows up fluent in tagalog and that my husband is not alienated. My Pinoy immigrant friends ask why that it is so necessary.  It seems like they do not see the value in teaching their kids the native tongue when they can hardly use it on foreign soil. I can understand that to some degree, but it’s disheartening to know that many kababayans believe that their children can get ahead only if they are fluent in English alone.

Once during a visit to Manila, I asked my 6-year-old nephew a question in tagalog. He looked at me quizzically and said, “Please speak English. I don’t understand.”  It was interesting that a little boy could silence me. My brother explained that they’ve been conversing with the boy in English since birth. Even the maids do. Apparently, the maids were getting reeducated too. He admitted that it is turning into a disadvantage, because the child is now experiencing difficulty in his Filipino classes. So does countless other kids in the Philippines whose parents think that their children will be achievers if they make English their first language in a country that’s generally non-English speaking. 

I grew up with these kids, classmates who were made fun of because they couldn’t speak straight Filipino. Is it their fault that their parents trained them that way? They were always behind in our Araling Panlipunan classes, and I do not judge them, because I too barely passed these subjects. Truth be told, I can write better in English. And I am not proud of that.
I grew up speaking ilonggo at home. But the TV certainly talked to me in English. And so did my teachers and classmates four days a week. Mondays to Thursdays, we were obliged to converse in English only. Fridays were Filipino days. They must have figured that we did not need to practice Filipino more when we are after all living in a Filipino speaking country.  Even our instructional language for major subjects like Science was English. I have to admit it’s practical that way.  Try explaining E=MC2 in Filipino.

Even in addresses, streets are streets, not kalye. Similarly, majority of our advertisements, signs, and directions are in English. It’s not the case in many non-English speaking countries. If you can’t find your way around  Korea  or Vietnam, you would more than likely get lost in translation. I learned this the  hard way, thinking that English would serve me well. When I got lost in the streets of Hanoi, I was greeted with quizzical stares when I asked for directions. Few Vietnamese know basic English and they don’t make apologies for it, because it does not make them lesser individuals, and inversely, to be fluent in English does not make them superior or royalty. How many Ms. Universe hopefuls have taken the crown with only the help of a translator?

I can’t argue with the fact that there are advantages to being fluent in what is supposedly the universal language.  Statistics show that English speaking countries are responsible for about 40% of the world’s GNP. That says a lot. But then it makes me wonder: why is Japan, largely a non-English speaking country, still way ahead of us in terms of technology and economy?  I guess language alone does not make a country, but language still speaks plenty.

Is this another case of colonial mentality? Should we blame it on the 48 years of American reign and the many borrowed words (tren for “train” for instance)? Have we fooled ourselves into thinking that to make the peso stronger, we need to speak the green dollar language?
The fact is, we’ve come upon times when it’s more convenient to say things in English rather than tagalog. Thus the birth of “taglish” code switching.  Unconsciously, when I converse in tagalog, I would revert to an English word simply because it’s easier. Maybe it’s because there are more syllables to Filipino words. For me, it also sounds more fluid compared to the hard syllables of tagalog. “Ang sweet” is easier and shorter than “ang lambing”.   

Even the tambay will more than likely say “wow sexy”  instead of “wow kaakit-akit”.  I had difficulty looking up “sexy” in the English-Tagalog Dictionary. A website came up with mainam and balingkinitan, and they still don’t sound right. I looked up my English – Tagalog dictionary by Leo James English and came up with nothing.

Yes, I brought my L. English dictionaries with me to the states even though they were about a kilo combined. I could have relied on the internet, but L. English is the recommended dictionary of the literati. I had to take it with me no matter the cost (of excess baggage). The act was almost metaphorical. I was afraid that if I left that weight, I would completely lose my native tongue. I brought it along with several other materials like work books and OPM CDs all in the effort of making sure my boys learn the language.

Maybe we are not to blame for the decline of the use of our own language, but we are definitely responsible for teaching our kids  to exercise their native tongue. So when my friends ask why, I tell them that bilingual children are better thinkers. They’re more flexible and divergent in their thought processes. They become proud of their self-identity, knowing that they are a culture bridge. And perhaps more importantly, I tell them that  although my son has an Irish name and strong Irish-American roots, part of him will always be Finnegan the Filipino.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fly High and Travel in Style (on a Small Budget)

Published by Travelife Magazine

All aboard! (Wiley Post Airport)

You see the likes of her every time you travel whether it’s at the airport, hotel, resort or restaurant. Smartly dressed in a light suit and chic with a scarf around her neck, she waltzes in the airport terminal ahead of everyone else. She always takes the first class seat, and the flight attendants always seem to be at her beck and call, eager to please.

Wherever first class takes me (Houston Airport)

What does she have that you don’t? The obvious answer would be money to burn, but no. She doesn’t have more in her bank account than you do. She’s simply smart. She’s a smart traveller because she knows the tips and tricks on how to get upgrades and better service. The fact is, she travels coach often, but often gets bumped to business class or first class. Fortunately, we were able to take the seat next to her - on first class, of course - one day while we were in transit, and she generously shared her secrets. Do you want to fly high and travel in style? Fasten your seatbelts and take notes.

If you're boarding a 10-seater, you can definitely go casual.


The early bird really does get the worm - If you arrive early, especially on non-peak days, there’s a greater chance for you to get the good seats. I’ve proven this many times during my domestic flights. Whenever we come in early, we’d be given the first class seats or at least the roomy seats in front.

With my travel savvy friends, members of my Gustatory Group.

Don’t be shy, speak up! -  A friend was travelling from Manila to Singapore when she felt chest pains. Although she knew that the flight attendant probably wouldn’t be able to do anything, she informed the stewardess of her condition anyway. Soon as the crew was informed, she was moved to first class where she would be more comfortable and where she could be better attended to. 
The same goes for hotels. If you’re having problems with your room, like a lumpy bed for instance or the traffic noise coming in from the window, request if you can be moved somewhere else where you will be more comfortable.

Hello, housekeeping? I think there is a pea under my mattress.
Photo by Nana Arellano Aoyong

Feeling lucky? – Find out your chances. “The airline, as a general rule, will only upgrade passengers from economy to business,  or from business to first class if there is an overbooking in the lower class,” shares Peggy Perez-Vera, an Airline Industry Consultant. Upon checking in, inquire about the load. Ask nicely for chances of an upgrade. “The passenger then knows what his chances are, whether he should hope for an upgrade.  Plus, the check in clerk knows you are interested in the upgrade” and will keep you in mind as soon as an upgrade adjustment is possible. Perez-Vera, who’s been in the industry for over 37 years, also suggests following up at the counter close to the flight time.   Upgrading doesn't happen at the start of the check-in process but at the later part when the flight is about to close.

My favorite travel accessory, the pashmina: it can work as a shawl, a scarf, or a blanket!
Plus it’s the quickest way to dress up any outfit.
Photo by Nana Arellano Aoyong

Give way - If you’re not in a hurry to get to your destination, volunteer to give up your seat for a later flight when a flight is oversold. This will give you an extra day to see the sights in another city for free especially if you’re on a stopover. The airline will provide you with free accommodations and transfers plus a few hundreds of dollars to spend! On most cases, you’ll be given a free overseas call to inform whoever is expecting you that your flight’s been moved. There’s also a great chance you’ll get an upgrade on the flight you’ll be rebooked in.

With Ana Viajera, you always travel first class.
A smile goes a long way – Be courteous and considerate to the people attending to you. They’ve been on their feet servicing customers for several hours; a little consideration and gratitude has its pay offs.  Avoid being cranky or snooty and never be demanding. Asking for an upgrade straight out will only antagonize and irritate the service personnel.

Your concierge can be your best friend – “The concierge of a good hotel can do wonders, especially for regular guests,” swears an experienced world traveller. In New York, she always stays at the New York Palace. The concierge at the Palace always gets her the best table anywhere, anytime.  “My concierge has done wonders for me., including -- on my last New York trip -- calling the airline and asking them to wait for me as I was extremely late and got to JFK airport 30 minutes before takeoff.”

Ana Viajera: the best choice!

Your travel agent can be your second best friend –Travel agents are clued in to details the internet won’t tell you.  They know the business and will definitely have access to the most up-to-date information on how to get the best value for your money. Your agent must be someone you can trust, so pick one like you would choose a lawyer or doctor. Ask for referrals from friends and family.

Travel through cyberspace – Book through the hotel’s official website. According to Michael Jaey Albana, Director of Sales & Marketing of Traders Hotel Manila, “hotels prioritize guests booked through the hotel's website to be given better rooms or an upgrade.”

The blue ticket that will more than likely get you first class treatment.

Dress like a king for royal treatment – Nobody in the first class would like to be seated beside a smelly and unkempt passenger.  “How a passenger is dressed is one of the main criteria for choosing which passenger will be upgraded, should the need occur,” says Perez-Vera. Those dressed properly, preferably in business attire or casual chic, and even those who speak eloquently in English, indicate that they are professionals and refined and therefore know how to conduct themselves in the plane and won’t present any problems.

The same goes for restaurants and other service providers.  “When checking in, it would influence the person checking you in if you dress in a suit or business attire,” shares Michael Jaey Albana, who has had several years of experience in the hotel industry. Unfortunately, we still live in a world wherein appearances affect how people respond to you. If you dress respectably, there’s a greater chance you will be treated the same way.  

Dress in layers. This way you're always warm,
and you can always peel off the layers when you start getting hot.

Tip big – If you often dine in the same establishment and always give a generous tip, their waiters will remember.  The standard tip for waiters is 10 to 15% of the actual bill. Don’t forget to tip your Maitre d’, bartender, bellboy, concierge, housekeeper, parking valet, room service attendant, cab driver, chauffeur and porter.

Be social – Take the extra effort to get to know your service providers personally. Call your server or waiter by his or her name. This will make them feel more special and less of a “servant”. When a server introduces himself, greet him in return. Befriend the chefs and managers. Compliment the chef on his dishes. You’ll be surprised with the payoffs.  You might get a free dessert or the best table next time.

Easy on the shopping. A bag lady will never get upgraded..unless you're toting a designer.

It’s the same way for check in clerks and the plane crew. Once, my flight from the Marshall Islands to Guam was delayed. This meant that I would be late for my connecting flight to the Philippines. Although I knew that the airline would not forsake me, I befriended the plane crew and told them about my concern. It paid off because during the entire flight, they were especially attentive to my needs and showered me with goodies, including an earphone that would have cost me $5.

Go clubbing - Frequent customer clubs are always entitled to privileges and extra benefits. Join the club and enjoy perks like free rental days for cars, special gifts from hotels, upgrade priority and airline miles. “My club has connections everywhere, so they book me great tables at top restaurants,” shares a member of the Global Leisure and Concierge Club.  Local airlines have frequent flyer programs that partner with other establishments to make earning miles quicker and give you better seats. Mabuhay Miles for instance partners with several credit card companies, so rewards points can be converted to miles.

Please come again - A friend of mine stayed in a hotel in Singapore for a few days. He travelled on to Malaysia after his visit but made a reservation in the same hotel for his return. Upon his return, he was immediately given a room upgrade.  “Most hotels give a little more for their loyal customers,” concurs Albana of Traders Hotel Manila. Albana adds that if you can’t get an upgrade, you’ll at least get special attention and welcome gifts like fruits, wine or chocolate.

Convertibles are best for road trips.

Smooth drive – If you rent a car on your travels, always choose the smaller car. Compacts tend to be in high demand so there is always a great possibility of being upgraded to larger luxury vehicle. This is great if you want to travel in style and comfort, however, keep in mind that larger cars use up more gas. Also remember that weekends are the busiest rental period so book a car from Mondays through Thursdays. You’ll get a greater chance of getting the car you want.

Let your fingers do the walking
Take your mouse on a trip and refer to sites that can help you get the best deals and give you more chances to upgrades, freebies and better service. Also travellers often share their experiences in these sites. Customer reviews and ratings are often more reliable than advertising claims. Here are some of our recommended travel sites on how to get better deals and better chances at travelling in style without breaking the bank. – gives you an inside tour of almost any airline in the world from in-flight amenities to seating. This will make you better informed when choosing the right airline. - everything you need to know about frequent flyer miles plus informative forums on travel and dining. - live the first class life at coach prices. - travel expert Rick Brown cracks the code to getting first class upgrades. - includes great deals, cheap accommodation recommendations, travel discussions and interesting stories written by travellers. country guides, attraction guides, world events and everything you need to know about world travel. It’s the bible of the travel industry. - weird and wonderful trip ideas and interesting tools like interactive maps. – get unbiased travel news, deals and timely expert advice from this site. – they claim to know hotels inside and out.