Monday, December 30, 2019

Ella's Voyage

woman and dog wading in water at beach in the Philippines surrounded by blue sky
One of the greatest gifts in travel is meeting good and interesting new people. Especially while traveling abroad, exploring someone else's perspective and history is truly a worthwhile key to a journey.  I can't actually claim this person as a true friend; we never met, and our conversations were quite limited via social media after I learned of her plight. However, I feel compelled to share just a small slice of her story, since for some reason it intersected and resonated with mine. I didn't want this year to pass without remembering her.

Ella was a Filipino, a swimmer, a student, a wanderluster, a mother to a young daughter... and a fighter. Beyond that, I should not pretend to know much more about her, except that she only lived to see the age of 26. And we shared the same blood type. Perhaps she would not care to be remembered for her illness; I mean, who would? But I think, at least for the story my discoveries are meant to serve, it should be told that she found herself in a fight to survive a disease that ravaged her kidneys. This meant she needed to find a donor - her "bean voyage," she called it. How interesting that she saw a powerless plea for help to save her life as a voyage. Now that I think about it, perhaps that is what piqued my curiosity.

She fought, and people would say she "lost her battle," but do we all lose when we die?  To talk about life in terms of winning and losing is pretty odd. When we talk about major illness, it's always referred to as a "battle." War is a competition comprised of battles, but the reality is that participants historically don't do it as much to win but to survive (or so that others will survive). War for those who fight is less about choices than staring down an ugly reality and doing what you must. Maybe illness is the same. It found you, and you can either marshal all energies within yourself to try to overcome it, or you can accept your demise. Or maybe it's both. Human nature is to fight back; your body does it without you even thinking about it throughout your life. But is it fair to say that when every person dies, he or she is conquered? Death is not defeat - not of the human spirit anyway; it is merely proof that one has lived.

Usually there is some hope or possibility that you can win in other competitions. Marathons are different. Out of hundreds of contestants, there is only one winner, and really only a small handful who have any expectation of being able to win. As opposed to most other competitions, participating has nothing to do with actually winning, but of some individual sense of accomplishment. In fact, many marathon runners compete to improve on their personal best, while others strive for the sole purpose of finishing. Life has many parallels, however no one does it simply to finish. You could say many want to finish well, or make a significant accomplishment along the way. But finishing is inevitable - even early, finishing life should not be a defeat.

Why write in theory about the life of someone I never met, simply because she passed? She even wanted to pass on quietly, I'm told. But it should be known that she fought; she lived; she had hopes, and she struggled against incredible odds - relying on the potential kindness of strangers. Hopefully that voyage took her someplace beautiful. Hopefully strangers can be kind because she lived. Wouldn't that be something?

Voyage in Peace
Cresella Laxa Arcaya
February 4, 1993 - July 21, 2019

Philippines Ocean Sunset
Photo credit: Ella Arcaya
Link to Ella's Story
Information about Kidney Donation

To be clear, the fact that we shared a blood type should not deceive you into thinking I did anything to help her other than offer words of encouragement. I did, however, visit the Chong Hua hospital in Cebu, where Ella underwent regular dialysis, with the hope of gaining information about donorship and possibly helping to spread her plight.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

So Far (2019)

man in blue t-shirt pensively staring up at sky with cloudy background

So far, I have learned a few things that I should never forget.

Don't leave your phone charging while you go to the airport to fly across the country.

Travel with your parents. Your life is an extension of them, so you should avail yourself of their expertise and wisdom in how they navigate the world.

Feeding is an act of love. Providing food is one of humankind's oldest traditions and begins from mother to child.  It can demonstrate respect, admiration, gratitude, responsibility, and compassion – all components of love.

Always pack a change of clothes in your carry-on.

Burglars work on Christmas Eve.

Go to special events, even if they are far away. In joy and in grief, be a person who shows up.

Helping people can be simple or profoundly complex. Don't let either make you choose to do nothing.

Phones don't belong at the dinner table. People who want to reach you are important, but the ones who dedicate time to be with you deserve the honor of your mental presence.

You don't usually know which day will change your life forever until it does.

Talking to strangers while traveling can have mixed results, but your odds are worse if you do not initiate the exchange.

True service is not simply an execution of actions to fulfill a desire or need; it is one of the few pieces of the evidence of humanity, because it recognizes intrinsic human worth and dedicates something of our own being to do what is necessary and good – often without equal compensation.

Say thank you - in as many languages and deeds as properly convey the message. 

The fool is often easy to spot, in that they portray knowledge but lack curiosity.

Remember on your bad days, you woke up and someone else did not.

In choosing a karaoke song, listen first to what interests others. If they recommend for you, try not to decline. Never assume someone wants a Richie Sambora to their Jon Bon Jovi. It is seldom polite to leave right after you sing; the singer after you was your audience.

Some of the most profound thoughts about life occur outdoors, appreciating art, or listening to children - just not necessarily all at the same time.

Watch out for motorcycles.

So Far (2016 Video) 

So Far (2013) 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Beyond the Sunset - In Memory of Gemma Paybara

For My Friend Gemma

Woman and man standing at a restaurant specials board sign on sidewalk near city street
I don't travel with many people. Or should I say not many people travel with me? In either case, I have been lucky to encounter so many people along the way. Everyone has their own journey to take, and fortune allows our paths to cross sometimes. If we pay attention, we see we are blessed with some very good people to either join us or at least stop and see along the way.

My friend Gemma came to me and offered that we should both visit New York City for the first time together back in August of 1998. We drove in her car from Washington, DC, and just before we entered the city, she asked me if I would switch seats and take the wheel going through the Holland Tunnel and into the bustling metropolis that was still foreign to us. I obliged, even if a bit nervous myself imagining what madness and dangers we might encounter. That was the only time I remember her nervous or not smiling. Two curious souls spent about a day and a half from Central Park to the Statue of Liberty to the tops of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. Her smile was not gone for long.

Years would pass, and we would go our separate ways finding new adventures and international discoveries. She and her sister even showed up in Florence, Italy when I was studying there for a time. I had to reprimand her for bringing instant cappuccino mix into my apartment that was situated just two floors above a real Italian cafe where you could get the real thing for just a couple Euro. Later I would visit her and husband Joe in San Francisco, and I remember seeing her beautiful photographs from their honeymoon in Asia. We truly shared a curiosity for the world.

For some reason, I don't spend much time wondering why a woman in her forties, mother to two young children, friend to many, loving wife, and explorer of the world should be taken from us too soon. Perhaps because the life in her years was abundant. Perhaps it is to make the rest of us stop and appreciate the people around us and the world in which we walk. But my friend has moved on, and now a lifetime of warm smiles only exist in our minds and in the photos we keep.

Travelers are often privy to the opportunity of time and place to appreciate the extraordinary, such as the colors of the sky as the sun sets at the end of the day. Gemma would have known and appreciated this. I'd like to think she has now gone beyond the sunset and is on an exquisite new journey the likes of which we couldn't possibly fathom. The space between is only what we can see in the beauty of this Earth - which itself is vast. So for now she can travel with us in our hearts, or at least her smile can, because I'm not sure I can shake it. Nor do I wish to.

Rest in peace, my friend.

man and two women seated at a table outdoors with plastic cups of white wine
Orvieto, Italy

Woman sitting on a boulder with trees and skyscrapers in city background
Central Park, New York City

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Why the World Needs Good Travelers

Meeting One Face at a Time - Common Thoughts and Uncommon Results

Westerner man posing with Muslim family in city park
Jakarta, Indonesia

I don't know these people. I met them, but I don't know them. However, we made a connection, and that is good.

Foreign travel is always an act of diplomacy - for better or worse. What we do out in the world is a reflection of our own people and a window for others around the world to have a glimpse of a relatively rare piece of the puzzle that is Planet Earth. For the rest of their lives, they may not remember your name, but something of your encounter stays with them. Traveling to distant lands affords one the opportunity to make a cultural connection. Though often simple enough, this can be one of the most meaningful contributions an explorer can make to his host country. Politics aside, Obama going to Cuba, Trump stepping across the DMZ into North Korea - these were major events which impacts could not have been felt by use of a phone call or an email. You too as a traveler can give just by being there and taking the time to have a conversation.

Now, you may not even think you are all that interesting or that you don't have much to say. Perhaps you are traveling with friends or family, and it would feel awkward to step outside of your group. What pleasure and opportunity you may be missing by not stepping out and over into unfamiliar territory! In my several trips to the Philippines, I have talked to many people - and I have never thought of myself as a big talker - about travel, my country, religion, politics, relationships, food... so many topics. Some of what we talk about could be considered rather banal for a conversation at home. However, I am always struck at how Filipinos are so engaged and interested (I hope). One observation I get fairly often is, "but you don't look American!" What? The point is that even though you may not think you have much to say, plain conversation can lead to rather profound revelations that neither of you would have predicted to offer or receive.

The world has always had conflict, and resolutions to our biggest problems are never elementary. On the other hand, our resources for reaching beyond borders have become so prevalent that meeting the ostensibly "different" members of this world has never been so possible. With a planet that many perceive to be increasingly volatile, perhaps travelers will be the ones who can make the appropriate connections and put faces to our various places on the map.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Safe Skies

Man walking on white sand with blue sky

How often do you hear "everything happens for a reason" when something good happens? I never liked that phrase, because it was always used to tell you to accept something negative. But if it's truly "everything," then that means the good too. Landing that great job, enjoying a life-changing journey, meeting that special someone - anything that makes you feel luckier than you think you deserve - should also be something that is working not only in your favor, but according to divine predetermination.

When I fly, I have a bit of a routine. (Someday, it may include packing the day before, but what fun is that?) I tap the plane for good luck, have a special prayer for safe skies, check wings for defects, etc... if Top Gun is a movie option, that plays first during taxi and take-off (try it). But if everything happens for a reason, what's the point?

I heard a great piece of wisdom from a priest in the Philippines. He said, "we do not pray to change the mind of God; we pray to change ourselves." Or in secular terms, we do not act in a way so that the universe will return the favor somehow or that we can change things outside of our power. I think we act as we should and evolve as we can, and we should be mindful that we too are forces of nature. 

Perhaps when you land where you ought to be, be thankful for the safe skies, and remember you are there for a reason.

Friday, August 2, 2019

What World Travel Should Teach You

Life Lessons from Time Spent Circling the Globe

Filipina woman looking out over city and bay toward island

Physically making your way around the Earth these days obviously isn't the monumental accomplishment of centuries past, although for many, it is merely a fantasy. If you have the money and the passport, you could do it rather quickly. However, spending months out in multiple countries and continents on a tight budget is an experience that should teach or reinforce several powerful human qualities.
Being out in the world, if you're not an idiot, teaches one of travel's primary lessons - you are a very small part of a very big place that has a history and diversity that you may never fully comprehend. As a foreigner, you hopefully learn very quickly that life does not always go as you believe it should. There are barriers, injustices, and fundamental differences. Certainly this scares a lot of people out of never venturing out, but if you stick it out, you learn that there is a whole intricate world that will function with or without you.

You can have the best travel plan, but if you are out in strange lands long enough, something will go wrong... or just not as you had intended. Travel is all about experiencing new things, and one of which is that you are not always in control. It could be that a storm cancelled your ferry or perhaps a restaurant closed for a private event; there are so many variables out there that you begin to learn that an unforeseen option is sometimes crucially better than what you had in mind in the first place.

As a child you were likely taught to wait your turn and to be polite. There are a lot of places in this world where (unfortunately) those are seen as weeknesses or maybe just not as highly prized. People in some other places don't do lines (or queues, not the drug reference). I can't count the number of times someone stepped ahead of me to get a ticket or a sandwich. Not to advise one eschew all manners of polite society to look out for number one, but often in other countries you have to be a more active participant in securing your desired destiny. Just watch your pockets, and don't forget to smile.

Remember how I told you things may go wrong? For every misfortune or bad actor out there, there is some local who will surprise you with a favor that you had no right to expect. I have had families in the Philippines feed and house me for a night, and I had a restaurant owner treat me to a multi-course meal and wine in Barolo, Italy. I could write a book on the kindnesses of strangers while traveling. You were probably also taught as a child that you should be kind, but world travel instills in you why you owe it.

Try showing up to the train station just one minute too late in some circumstances, and you may actually experience true regret. You are dependent on so much while traveling that being late can really, really ruin a day (or more). Of course, if you are in the Philippines, you may have more of a cushion (we'll discuss "Filipino time" another day), but in other places time is not so forgiving; tardiness can cost you a lot of money or some great opportunities.

More than the ability to change plans on the fly, being the foreigner requires the mental fortitude to accept different ways of approaching life. Immersing yourself in a culture, you will open your mind to realization that people have different traditions, expectations, values, and histories. The distinction between right and wrong or what is appropriate may have shifted, and you will have to adjust. In the end you don't have to betray your conscience, but rather gain an understanding and appreciation for disparate points of view.
One question I get asked a lot is, "where are you traveling next?" To the questioner, you may just be checking off boxes on your bucket list, but a true world traveler comes to realize that each new discovery brings answers, yet further questions emerge. Even revisiting the same destination can continue to be revealing if you have the curiosity to seek new truths. A journey with a curious mind is an exploration.
There's a lot of waiting in travel, even from day one getting through the airport. You will be tested. If assertiveness gets you what you want, patience is the virtue that allows you to measure the value of what you want. There are only so many Instagrammable moments in travel; the rest is what is required to get you the opportunities.

My earliest international travel was to Mexico, and one of my first lessons seeing poverty for the first time was that not everybody has what I have. Driving through the city in India, I saw families sleeping on the center divider between traffic. In Manila, I have seen children picking through garbage for rotting foods. Unfortunately, this planet has millions of people who do not even have basic needs met. Many face loss and deprivation that is impossible to fathom. Seeing this as a traveler makes you appreciate what you have. Realizing there may be nothing you can do to change it makes you appreciate that life does have the capacity to endure. On the other hand, discovering you can actually act and participate in good in the world lets you truly appreciate the concept of hope.
People find purpose in other people and some greater good. Certainly you can do that in your own neighborhood, and you don't need to commit to a year living out of your backpack to find it. However, in this seemingly ever-increasingly self-centered world, it is often difficult to hear your true calling amidst a routine that tends to take a life of its own. On my first international disaster response in Peru with what is now All Hands and Hearts - Smart Response, I used my last day to document the real devastation of the horrible earthquake that brought us there, and then I cooked an Italian dinner for my fellow volunteers back at base - about seventy very hungry young workers. I have fed people professionally since 1993, but this moment was an opening to the possibilities of feeding people as a means to recovery or development aid. Two years later, I urged my own chef Jose Andres to go feed people in Haiti after their earthquake, and he went on to found World Central Kitchen, that does primarily what I had imagined. I later volunteered with them briefly in Puerto Rico and Indonesia, but have turned my focus to reaching out in other ways, mainly in the Philippines. World travel helps bring the "how" to your "why."

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Rafidi Dazzles Beirut with "Albi" Preview Benefit

Albi, to open in DC in this fall, practices in Lebanon

man with a beard in black shirt and red apron
Chef Michael Lee Rafidi
Beirut is known for it's prolific night life, but what they may not have expected last Monday night was an American chef from Washington, DC boldly taking over a small local French restaurant with five courses of reimagined Levantine cuisine.

Michael Rafidi was on a research tour of Lebanon in preparation for opening his own first restaurant "Albi" later this year in the American capital city, and he decided to assemble a team of both local and DC talent to orchestrate a pop-up benefit dinner at Bergerac to benefit Al Majal - a local organization which works to better the lives of special needs adults.

Guests were treated to first course cherry tomato salad with charred wild cucumbers, fromage blanc, and fermented chile vinaigrette - accented with freshly foraged nasturtium flowers - to open the evening, along with Lebanese "Baal" white wine. Next was the arrival of steak tartare with crispy Compté and egg yolk custard as well as harissa-spiced bone marrow with beef cheek jam for the table. Local artisan bakery Roger Le Boulanger prepared fresh "mother dough" bread to pair.

chef preparing food in kitchen
Chef Rafidi preparing the giant marrow bones

Third course was a grilled loup de mer (European sea bass) with chermoula bouillon and spring pea fricassee with charred leeks, served with a French Cote de Provence rose. Following was a honey-lacquered quail with sour cherry and foie gras with black walnut preserve and lentils. Chef Rafidi brought a bit of home for dessert, making a strawberry buttermilk shortcake with candied orange and sumac whipped chantilly cream, paired with Michter's Sour Mash American whiskey and oat-crust "Crack Pie" with brown sugar custard and Lebanese "meghli" rice pudding.

loaves of bread at bakery
"Mother Dough" freshly baked bread

two chefs plating dinners in restaurant kitchen
As guests arrive, chefs prepare the salad course

restaurant full of diners
A jovial full house for Bergerac on a Monday night for the affair!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Walking Amadeus S01:E03 "Leyte Arrival"

Episode 3 - Leyte Arrival

Tacloban, Philippines

One man's solo journey around the world - traveling through the
Philippines to a volunteer experience in disaster response with All
Hands Volunteers in Tacloban, Leyte after Typhoon Haiyan. What began as
simply hard labor became a lesson in resilience and sets the stage for
discoveries for years to come.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Ten Reasons Why You Should Never Travel the World for a Year (Part 2)

Silhouette of one woman walking on the sand at the beach with sun in her hair and waves behind

*For Part 1 of this list, please see:

We all know there are a good list of reasons why you should travel the world and check off all those things on your bucket list. Of course, if your list requires some epic adventures, this may require some good chunks of time out seeking them. If you do care to invest a year of your life out traveling the globe, I've made a list of some things you may not have considered.

20. People Will Disappoint You
Sure, this happens at home, but at least there, people know they may have to deal with you for a lengthy period of time. Abroad, the downside of disappointing a foreigner is not so terrible, especially when you are operating on a tight budget. As opposed to short-term travel, it's hard to be disappointed in someone you don't know or just met. Be prepared to have people flake on you, not be the person you thought you knew, or just disappear from your life completely without warning or reason.

19. You Will Wear the Same Clothes
George Clooney's character in "Up in the Air" tells people to imagine putting everything they own into a backpack and feeling the weight of the straps on their shoulders. Of course, that's ridiculous, but the point is clear - you can't be mobile with too much stuff. Traveling for a long period of time in several places paints a stark reality of just how much you can take with you. Depending on what else you have to carry, I'd say you will have about a week's worth of clothing. And you get to wear these same clothes... again, and again, and again. 

18. It Becomes Too Comfortable Putting Your Life in Danger
Have you ever crossed a busy street in Southeast Asia? How about that street food from a vendor with questionable sanitation practices? Fond of riding on the backs of motorcycles with strangers and no helmets? Long-term travel - often in undeveloped countries - brings new normals to your brain about what dangers you are willing to accept and how often. Some of these things can certainly expand your view of the world. Some learned behaviors can take you backward on the evolutionary ladder of survival.

17. People Will Never Understand
Maybe you are a really good storyteller. Maybe you have photos and videos and souvenirs to explain your journey of a lifetime. Look in the eyes of your friends who feel compelled to ask you about the trip they will never attempt. At best, they are probably struggling to understand. Your story is your story, and most people either will not care or will not understand what this adventure truly meant.

16. People Become Temporary
My first trip abroad to Europe, I met a few people I thought could be good friends going forward. That didn't happen. Spent some time volunteering, and saw people come and go daily. You begin to learn that most of the people you meet out in the world - no matter how great a time you had together - will probably just be a memory in a few weeks. Even with social media now, you learn that humans are only built to accommodate a finite number of friends, and out-of-sight often leads to out-of-mind. Furthermore, even if you start to feel "at home" in an extended stay during your travels and start to make friends, there's a good chance they think of you as temporary also. 

15. So Much More of Your World Becomes Trivial
Look at all the things people get worked up about in your home country. Surely some things are legitimate concerns, but it's hard to care so much about gender-sensitive restrooms when you see children sifting through garbage for food.

14. The Reality of Why Problems Exist and Why They Will Never Get Solved
One of the things we do as world travelers is compare ways of life. I remember thinking China could just benefit from tissue paper, so people wouldn't blow their noses directly onto the street. Certainly, Kathmandu could clean up with some street sweepers. Why isn't Indonesia more welcoming to foreign volunteers? Sure, there are solutions out there to a lot of the world's problems, including in your home country. That doesn't mean governments and people have the resources, the will, or the genuine desire to solve these problems. Even nuns litter in the Philippines.

13. It's Difficult to Stay Healthy
I didn't say it was impossible. Great if you travel to surf, or perfect your yoga, or hike. These are great to keep your body in optimum condition. Unfortunately, air quality can be a problem. So can stress. So can a number of influences (or lack thereof) that can be more easily structured into or eliminated from our home lives. Unfortunately, long-term world travel can be hazardous to your nutritional, mental, and physical health if you don't have a steady dedication for indulging in the world with limits and precautions.

12. Water Becomes a Rationed Commodity
If you don't ever worry about getting enough drinkable water, you might not have thought of this. Sure, all over the world, if you have money and barring catastrophe, you can probably get water to drink. However, especially in hotter climates, water is something you have to think more about and grow to appreciate how important it really is for survival.

11. You Get Too Used to Being a Target for Bad People 
Imagine a world, if you will, where your transportation charges you double what they charge a local, the money changer rips you off, your personal belongings are targets for thieves, and women are nice to you only to hit you up for money. It's bad enough that these things happen. Unfortunately, in your consequential quest to be a hard target, everybody is suspect, and that can be a very jaded way to live.

Now, as I said before, given all these warnings, if you still want to go out and see the world - actually live out in the world - I've done my part to admonish you. I can't be held responsible. And good for you.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Tacloban Dining - A Post-Disaster Restaurant Recovery

When Super-Typhoon Yolanda struck central Philippines in 2013, it decimated much of what lay in its path, but the city has fought back in the five years since to one thriving with construction projects, new hotels, and an ambitious growth in new dining establishments. As a restaurant professional of over two decades and someone who has seen this city rise up in recent years, here are my picks for where to visit, what to eat, and some advice for concepts navigating this growing landscape.

Giuseppe's Ristorante
 Italian (173 Avenida Veteranos)
Neopolitan pizza with tomato sauce, cheese and basil
Guiseppe's is one of Tacloban's oldest restaurants, serving authentic Italian specialties such as different pastas, meats, and fish, as well as some Filipino favorites to welcome those who cannot go a meal without rice (not risotto). The owners are often there keeping a watchful eye on the dining room and welcoming guests such as the Mayors Romualdez, to locals, to foreigners like me. Staff are always friendly and prompt; the servers even made me a welcome back sign for a group photo one arrival! Ambiance is warm and comfortable. Go for family-style dining or single dining. I'm told the pork chop is a local favorite, but I usually go for the pizza. My first critique was that I like a Margherita pizza that has a better balance of the red, white, and green (rather than a cheese pizza with a few slices of basil for pizazz), and they are happy to accommodate. The pastas are delightful, but sized appropriate for a coursed primo, so you may consider ordering a secondo or antipasto if you are fairly hungry. No Filipino spaghetti here (grazie!)

Dream Cafe
Filipino & Australian (222 MH Del Pilar St)
breakfast plate of omelette and toast
Just around the corner from Giuseppe's is this casual restaurant and bakery. In my volunteer days in Tacloban, this was a favorite Sunday morning treat for us foreigners who wanted some eggs and hash browns in a pleasant air conditioned atmosphere. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, Dream Cafe is an oasis of comfort food, whether you want their Dream Big Breakfast from their all-day breakfast menu, Chicken Cordon Bleu, or Crispy Pata. I'm actually a little ashamed that I only really go there for breakfast (even in the afternoon), because all the food is consistently quite tasty. 

Cafe Lucia
Coffee Shop (Rotary Center, Real St., Sagkahan) 
Spaghetti in red sauce and tuna on patio table by the sea
Self-labeled a "coffee shop," Cafe Lucia is another fixture in the city's culinary landscape, yet it is not a full-service restaurant. The draw here is the location - situated with lawn seating on the Concobato Bay with gorgeous views of coastal Tacloban and the airport in the distance. Come for the coffee or a beer and enjoy the sea breeze, come as I do for the Tonno Pasta from their limited menu and watch day turn to night, but don't come for the service - while fairly efficient if you don't mind going back to the counter to order what you need, you would be hard-pressed to see a smile or hear a "welcome" or a "thank you" at any time in this establishment. Ordinarily, that might be an issue, but like I said - location.

Fyzz by Hotel XyZ
Greek & Japanese (P Zamora St)
Large group of diners standing at long table in restaurant with chandelier overhead

Speaking of ambiance, Hotel XyZ is one of the best hotels in the city, so you would expect a restaurant to match, the Fyzz dining room perched up on the 9th floor has views that are unparalleled in the city as well as a comfortable, hip, lounge-style feel that is rare on this island. This alone is worth the trip here, and they even have live music acts in the evenings and a cocktail program that seeks to impress. Unfortunately, I always feel this place should be better than what it is. For the price and location, I would want more memorable cuisine; I would want all the guests' entrees to come out at least relatively at the same time; I would not want to have to pay separately for both a gin and a tonic when ordering a cocktail, which can be a bit expensive and annoying. This of all places in the city, one might expect a service staff to be trained to make appropriate recommendations, yet that doesn't seem to be taught very many places in the country outside Manila and Cebu. All of that being said, Fyzz is a classy place that offers uncommon luxuries in a city not accustomed to such and can be a charming way to spend an evening.

Jose Karlo's / Rovinare
 Coffee Shops (Real St - Downtown & San Jose)

Recent years have seen the growth of several in the coffee shop category, but few offer what Jose Karlo's and their newer sister restaurant Rovinare do so well. Both offer unique and cozy atmospheres for a cappucino or a nice lunch. They offer couches and different tables perfect for a business meeting or getting some work done in some peace and quiet secluded from dusty and noisy Tacloban. You can get lasagna or french toast paired with your choice of traditional coffees or sweeter coffeehouse concoctions. You can always find something sweet and delicious for dessert if you choose to linger; I like the apple pie a la mode. All day breakfast is much appreciated as are the smiles!

Kuya J Restaurant
Filipino (Robinson's Mall - Marasbaras)
crowded table of dinner and desert

Despite my best efforts to exclude large chain restaurants, Kuya J has consistent delicious Filipino food, and locals love it. With many offerings as family-style portions, it's great to go as a group and share traditional foods such as beef caldereta, pork sisig, or halo-halo. I went back by myself and had a delicious bulalo soup. The mall setting is a bit bright and not such an escape, but the food quality is sure to please the traveler and the local alike!

Brews + Breakfast: Fusion Coffee
Coffee Shop (832 Brgy 83-A Burayan, San Jose)

Walking in the door, you can tell this place is serious about its coffee - with a pour-over station adjacent to the counter that has also the giant espresso machine and a chalkboard that lists the origins of the available coffee beans. You might conclude by now I am a big fan of breakfast throughout the day - this is yet another - and they do the best scrambled eggs I have had in a really long time, maybe ever. Bonus points for including some salad with the foods; veggies are often overlooked in this city. Service is very friendly and welcoming.

Chew Love
Diner/Filipino/Asian Fusion (P Gomez St)
Friends at a table in quaint restaurant
Home to thousands of cellphone-addicted, selfie-obsessed college students, Chew Love is an Instagram and Facebook haven, with everything in sight just as cute as a heart-shaped button. The food is just that too - cute - although some portions a bit small for my taste and the mac-n-cheese not at all for my taste. You can find classic beef, fish, and chicken Filipino dishes fit for a Barbie tea party and fun takes on refreshing non-alcoholic beverages. While the cuisine may not be the top draw here, the place is just so damn cute that you kind of overlook that little fact, and the clientele are probably more interested in what's going on in the virtual world anyway. I recommend the fish.

Sean's BBQ Pit
Barbecue (Brgy Tigbao Diit)
Outside of downtown on the way to San Juanico Bridge along the highway is a sign for barbecue - "smoked low and slow." I instantly knew they weren't selling the same innards and pig fat on-a-stick that are at EVERY SINGLE BBQ STALL IN THE CITY. I found this place on accident while walking by, and it may be unlike anything I've been able to find in the city, with it's long entrance past a manicured lawn and newly planted trees, bamboo huts for semi-private dining, and an outdoor dining room that feels a bit like a biergarten in Munich. However, few actual barbecue items exist on the menu from this American's perspective (and fewer when they are sold out of pulled pork), but I think that's fine for a new restaurant, as long as they do what they do well. The burger was a good choice - with fried egg and onion rings. I really must go back for the brisket, although it was a bit more than I wanted to spend at lunch. Grab a few friends and take the multicab out here and enjoy the day.

Japanese (Esperas Ave) 
bowl of ramen with beer

Just across the street from the playground at Astrodome and the Typhoon Yolanda Memorial in the wedge of buildings that begin to separate Esperas Avenue from Real Street, on the second floor, is one of my new favorite eating destinations. On a personal quest to find the world's best ramen, this is not it (I swear these are places I recommend), but it is well-made and tasty. However, you are greeted in gleeful Japanese upon opening the sliding door to enter. Friendly smiles welcome you immediately and make you feel at home, commensurate with the claim of "home cooking." Aside from the two ramen choices on the menu (I prefer the spicy, and in the photo they added an extra half egg), most of the rest of the menu is more izakaya in style, and everything is tasty and very well done. Try the seared and delicately moist gyoza, the unbelievably tender chicken karaage with sesame sauce (I add some of the hot chile oil), and the steamed spicy edamame. Yes, try those, but the highlight for me is the takoyaki. Someone brought the idea of takoyaki to the Philippines, yet outside of Otabeya they don't seem to get it right. Here the takoyaki is perfect - hot and creamy center, tender chunks of octopus, and bonito flakes dancing as a garnish atop the hot deliciousness. Go.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Racism Wolf You Love to Cry

Crowd of boys with MAGA hats at Lincoln Memorial

Let’s not pretend you care about racism. Sadly, many of my fellow Americans do not even seem that concerned with truth. We care more about what supports our version of the truth, and we can all see (if we try) that is having devastating consequences.

When I first watched the video from the National Mall this past weekend featuring the now famous encounter, I was saddened and angry like most people. So, I watched it again, and it seemed so heartless. Furthermore, I personally identified with everyone present – someone of white heritage, a conservative, a Catholic, a proponent of the right to life… and a Native American. It didn’t make sense. Surely, a trained progressive would tell me that is because I am privileged not to see racism. However, a correction should be made - I choose first to see truth.

The primary account of the story was that the high school boys surrounded Nathan Phillips – a Native American Man – and ridiculed him as he peacefully played his drum. According to Phillips, he was responding to the boys who were chanting, “Build That Wall” and were acting angrily toward him and others. Of all the cameras recording this situation that day, not one seems to have recorded the purported chant. Of all video footage available, the boys do not appear to be angry. They were in effect having an impromptu pep rally, as claimed by a participant to counter or drown out the real hate – from a small group of extremely vocal “Black Hebrew Israelites.” 

If this is the same group of men who gather to preach their intolerance at Metro stops in Washington, D.C., then I am somewhat familiar with their rants, and locals usually just walk by in attempts to ignore them. On the National Mall that day, these “preachers” are recorded calling these high school students from Kentucky “dusty ass crackers,” “incest babies,” “school shooters,” and more. In addition, they made hateful references to women, Catholics, homosexuals, and even Native Americans as “Uncle Tomahawks.” Yet, no one in this national knee-jerk outcry have a tenth of the interest in denouncing this pure, blatant hate speech in their quest to confront racism. Why is that? After riding public transportation in Washington, D.C. for years, this kind of black-on-nonblack vitriol is not unheard of, and nobody raises an eyebrow. I have been threatened with gun violence, called an Anglo-Saxon, told my mother must be a whore to have a son like me - all within the Metro system and once by a Metro employee. No one stopped a bus or stepped in to protect me on the train, and certainly no one started a viral campaign to counter or promote violence against my verbal attackers. People just look the other way.

Why? Because that’s not the way racism is supposed to work. White people are racist. Republicans are racist. “Make America Great Again” caps are inherently racist. Confronting someone who is from a traditionally oppressed group is racist. So, you have a Native American with cameras rolling behind him walk up and get in the face of a white boy with a MAGA hat – who doesn’t budge - and you have liberal internet gold! Never mind, these boys were not recorded saying anything hateful. Never mind, these boys seemed to be chanting along with Mr. Phillips happily. Never mind that the boys were audibly uncomfortable with one of their own African-American classmates being called the N-word or with homosexuals being openly disparaged. Never mind that one of the other Native American instigators told the boys to “go back to Europe, where you came from; this is not your land!” No, that’s not the way racism is supposed to work.

People like to tell other people how racism works, and to some extent, I appreciate the enlightenment. However, it’s gone too far, and people have overplayed their hands. Too many people rely too heavily on this too soon, that they do the actual cause of seeking racial harmony (wait, what?) harm in the attempt to appear in the moral majority. If you rushed to judgment, you don’t care about racism, and you don’t care about the truth. You care about yourself - whether you are a news outlet trying to get clicks, a member of Congress trying to score political points, or just a regular person trying to be woke. You want to be a part of this Indian’s peace prayer chant? Calm down and see people and situations for who and what they are, regardless of what that can do for you.