Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bilbao, Red Wine, & Mng. Emma

The visit to Bilbao was a wonderful trip. Three days in Bilbao is enough time to experience the flavor of the city. Bilbao is a good sized city in the heart of the Basque region of Spain. During the Industrial Revolution, it was a shipbuilding town. Now, it is known for the Guggenheim Museum with its architecturally impressive Frank Gehry designed facilities. The opening of the museum revived this town. There has been a lot of new construction around the area. The museum is now the anchor to the tourism industry that has blossomed since its inauguration in 1997.

The food and rioja wine was great. We sampled a few of their tapas or as they are called in this region, pintxos, pronounced “pinchos.”. Our hotel was centrally located -- near the museum, Old Town area, and the newer part of town. Guggenheim Museum can be seen from the hotel and it was less than 5 minutes walk from the hotel. Although we had a rental car, it stayed parked on the street for the duration of our stay. The central part of the city can be traversed easily by foot. We used public transportation once; we took the subway train to get north of the city to see the port area.

The photos below show the Guggenheim Museum from the back side taken from the entrance bridge to the city, and the colorful tulips or lollipops are some of the artworks displayed outside the museum.

The following is a short video taken in the early evening, just after dusk, outside of the museum.

The next two photos show scenes along Bilbao's riverfront.

As an aside, I have always had an aversion to red wine. It’s probably due to the migraines I had suffered on the few occasions I have had a red wine drink. I was not sure if the migraine was from the quality of the red wine (cheap red wines) or the sulfites in the red wine. No matter, I was not ever going to touch red wine again until recently. I went out to dinner this past New Year’s day with Ron, James, and Kris at Tango, a Spanish restaurant near Ron’s place. We enjoyed a magnificent dinner with red wine that was recommended by the waitress. I was apprehensive about the wine, but I indulged anyway. I waited 30 minutes after dinner, no migraine; I checked again each hour, still no sign of migraine; waking up the following day, I expected some other type of headache, if not a migraine – still no sign. I was elated, but this was only the first time after about 20 years of staying away from this drink. Late last month, I traveled to the Azores Islands for work. The Azores is a territory of Portugal, a country known for its port wine. While at the Azores, I had meals, in two occasions, with Porto wine. Both times, I did not experience any signs of migraine. During the Bilbao visit, we enjoyed most of our meals with rioja wine. And again, there was not even a slight symptom of a migraine. I may have overcome my fear of drinking red wine.

Best wishes to the organizers of the 222 show this coming Friday evening. I hope the show is a success. I would like to order a t-shirt, size XL, from the FRESH kids. Send it to my APO address and I will reimburse for the shirt and the mailing cost.

A few more random pictures from my travels...

Vienna in October 2006 in front of the Concert Hall. "WienMozart 2006" was the slogan used by Vienna that year to promote and showcase the music by Mozart.

The next picture is of Mek and CJ on a slingshot ride in Paris, taken June 2002, as they are prepared to be propelled into the netherworld of the Paris night sky. A few others (Ron, Kris, Donna, and Mika) lived through this ordeal. Neither Jimmy nor I wanted to experience the thrill, or in my case, the agony. I am a big fan of many types of amusement park rides, including all types of roller coasters, but this ride is not for me. It is pretty much a bungee ride while inside a steel cage.

The last picture was taken during a road trip to Baguio, in April 2006. In the photo are Mng. Edgie, Mng. Evelyn, Ate Christy, Emilyn, and Mng. Emma. Mng. Emma, a first cousin on my father's side, recently passed away. I will share some happier moments with her. She was always a willing companion to us during our visits in the Philippines. As you can see from the picture, even in the confines of the cramped, fully loaded back side of the vehicle, she was willing to join us on our trip. This is in addition to the fact that she was prone to motion sickness – she knew that the trip to Baguio included a long, uphill, and winding passage to our destination, and obviously, the same conditions on the way down. This was on my last trip to the Philippines. Coming back from Baguio, we had stopped at a coffee shop similar to Starbucks. She asked me what I was having. I told her latte - cafe nga ado ti napudot nga gatas na. "Coffee with lots of hot milk." She said she wanted to try it also. So I ordered her one. She found the drink not particularly tasteful -- I think she said it was too bitter or needed a lot more sugar. Anyway, she said she will still drink it and not throw it away because it was probably her only chance to drink a coffee worth about 100 pesos - between $2 and $3. I still laugh every time I remember this experirence.

She had a tumor like growth in her head, and because of its proximity to the brain, her condition was essentially terminal. I say “essentially” because of the medical technology has not readily caught up to the Western standards, and also because of the immense cost to deal with such a medical issue. Several procedures had been performed to no avail. I had extra prescription painkillers from late 2005. We ended sending them to the Philippines for her to use. She was so thankful for the relief that these drugs were able to provide temporarily. I could not stop thinking about the pain the she must have been suffering for a long time prior to her passing. I also think about what a person or a family must endure because of limited means. Mng. Emma and her family live a poor life, but they managed to eke out a living. They do get some assistance from us, as most of our relatives in the Philippines. Mng. Emma has been lucky because Mng. Eden became very close to her. Mng. Eden ensured that Mng. Emma always got a share of the monetary assistance and the packages of goodies that we send to the Philippines on a regular basis. Mng. Eden provided her and her family with many other amenities to help make their way of living more reasonable. I will miss her because she has been a constant presence in most of my visits to the Philippines. I will always remember her with a smile. May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

B-days, Inna's Legacy, and Long Weekend in Bilbao

I know there are several of you with February birthdays, including Jeremy, Nikki, Jerome, Aldrin, Jay, Leah, & Nemy. Happy Birthday to you all!!! If I have missed someone, please forgive me, and do let me know. I used to have a rough idea of everyone’s birth date, in my head; nowadays, my long term memory capability is not as sharp. I guess I will never come close to Inna’s long term memory capacity. She always seemed to have the birth dates remembered, not only family members, but a host of other friends and acquaintances from the Philippines. Inna was a good archivist of people and dates.

Speaking of our beloved Inna, also this month is her birthday. She would have been 86 the 16th of February. I wrote on my previous blog on the challenge of remembering the kids’ faces, especially the younger ones, since I now do not see them as often; and my worries of them forgetting mine. I will never forget Inna’s face. She remains in many of my dreams. In most of these dreams, Inna is still alive. I will leave it to dream analysts to explain. Yet, it is comforting to know that somewhere in my own thoughts/dreams, Inna lives on.

Even more importantly, Inna's spirit continues to live on through everyone in the family. Inna was a compassionate, kind, and loving person. The material things -- they did not matter to Inna. She was more concerned about what she can provide to others. Inna was always proud that the family was together and close to each other. This is what mattered to her the most and this is what gave her the most satisfaction. These altruistic characteristics -- the selflessness, kindness, benevolent -- I have continually witnessed from everyone. I believe that this is truly a legacy from Inna. The examples she had set continue to be carried out. I have no doubt that Inna's exemplary acts provide a lesson and a message that the younger generation have discovered or will discover, and will continue to be carried out. I offer a most heartfelt birthday greetings to Inna.

As I reported on my last blog, I did manage to clean up my apartment and organize a little bit. I still need another good day to finish. But it will not be this weekend. This is a 3-day weekend, but I will stretch it to a 4-day period. A group of folks from the engineering section is planning on visiting Bilbao, Spain. I will be to joining them. We depart Wiesbaden early Friday morning, and return Monday afternoon. We were able to find cheap airfare.

Bilbao is one of the larger cities of Spain, a bit smaller than Seattle. It is located on the northern coast of Spain. It is part of the Basque region. It is known for its Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art that was designed by Frank Gehry – the same Frank Gehry who designed the colorful, geometrically curvy, and “corner challenged” EMP of Seattle. I will provide a full report on my trip on my next blog.

I will end this posting with a few more random pictures from my travels. The first picture is a former water tower located in Vukovar, Croatia. It is amazing that this tower is still standing. This view does not show the extent of the damage on the top and the other side. There are dangling pieces of bricks, concrete, and rebars. The damage was as a result of the fighting between the Croats and Serbs during the siege of the town, in the early 1990's. Although the town has been rebuilt for the most part, there are still areas and facilities that remain "as is" to remind people of the devastation that the war placed on the city and its people. It is just one of the sites that I saw depicting the horror and destruction that occurred in Vukovar.

As an aside, I visited Vukovar in Feb '07 with a host of Swedish soldiers deployed at Eagle Base, Bosnia. They were allowed to venture outside their area of responsibility to do local cultural-related activities -- in this to case learn more about the early years of the Balkans War. They invited me to join them, and I obliged gladly. Little did I know that there was an ulterior motive to this trip from Tuzla, Bosnia to Vukovar, Croatia. There is a town nearby Vukovar called Osijek. And in Osijek, there is a McDonald's restaurant, the nearest one from Eagle Base. From the way these soldiers ordered and enjoyed their meal (I am talking 3-4 burgers, fries, milk shake, McNuggets, etc. for each), I can tell that this was a welcome change from the Eagle Base dining facility food. At this point, I had been in Bosnia for 13 months. I guess I will have to include myself in that bunch because that was probably the most satisfying MickeyD's meal I have ever had.

The next picture is taken from inside the glass pyramid, main entrance of Paris' Louvre Museum, in late June 2002. The cylinder within the spiral staircase is a lift that transports people from the main level to the upper level and vice versa. The curves of the spiral stairway contrast with the sharp lines of the metal supports for the glass panels of the pyramid. It works well as a black and white picture, especially the assortment of black and gray shades.

This group picture was taken in front of my Resident Office in Camp Taji, Iraq after I hosted a VIP visit by the Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division Commander, a General, and the Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Central District Commander, a Colonel. No special effects were done to the picture. The sepia-like tonal quality of the picture is due to a sand storm in the region. Photos that were taken later that day show more of an orangy-tint to them. Visibility became an issue later that afternoon as the sand storm got closer to the area. A few of the visitors were not able to make it back that day and stayed with us overnight at my Resident Office.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Weekend, Family Camping, and More Pix

I had planned this weekend to “houseclean and organize” the apartment. I was the first one to move into my apartment after an extensive renovation to the whole building. The place was squeaky clean when I moved in with the shiny wooden floors, spotless tiles, and immaculate countertops. Even when the furniture were being moved in, my landlord was nice enough to clean after. He was the one who delivered, assembled (if needed), and moved all the heavy furniture.

Anyway, now the floor is a bit dusty, the bathtub is grimy, and the floor tiles are grubby. On top of that, I have a lot of things that need to be filed away. So as long as I don't get lazy and sneak away to sightsee more of Germany, I will do the ardous tasks. But you know, the past two days have been nice and sunny........Nah, let's clean and organize. I will take pictures soon and show you where I live.

Thanks to Ron, Ed, Mek, and Jay for spearheading the plans for this year's family camping. Additional kudos to Mek for securing the sites. I am looking forward to camping at the Oregon Coast, 20-22 June. I believe the last time we were there as a group was in 2000. Below are pictures from the last major family camping event near Ocean Shores, August 2005.

I will share a few more pictures with you guys. The photo below is the view from the Old Castle Hill to the Old Town area in Bratislava, Slovakia. It was taken exactly a year ago. I had a work-related trip to Bratislava while I was stationed in Bosnia. It was a crisply cold, and gray and dreary day. The photo in sepia tone captured the mood of the day perfectly.

Being away, the kids in the family are the ones I miss most. I often peruse through all their photos stored in my computer. This is especially true of the youngest ones -- so I don't forget their faces. I am worried that they will forget mine. The following are eight of the younger ones in the family: Jeremiah, Taia, Gavin, Cameron, Paige, Payton, Ina, and Salia.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Here it is!!!

As promised and also to fulfill one of my 2008 New Year's resolution, this is the start of my blogging. It will be a "catch all" type blog where you will get updates on my life in Germany; my musings, rants, and raves; share pictures; show places I have visited; share my experience overseas, etc. Be forewarned, I tend to write too much about anything and everything. I think this makes up for me not being talkative or verbally active. I will try to incorporate photos and videos, and try to continually enhance and add features to this site.

I will start with just before the new year. The photo above is of the group in front of Sea Garden Restaurant, taken 30 Dec '07. It has become tradition now that my visits back to Seattle include a treat at this place with most of the kids (nephews, nieces, other relatives, and their friends). It's a good way for me to catch up with everyone since my visits in Seattle are always quite frenzy with me trying to do a million things before leaving Seattle again. It's also a great social bonding occasion. But most of all, I get to enjoy the food that I crave most when I am away from Seattle. The photo is courtesy of Miss Grace.

Feel free to comment. This blog will be an open forum for me, and for the most part, open for anyone in the cyber world to see. Let me know if there are any text or pictures you want deleted. As far as the images I have selected for the the format of the blog -- the astronomical clock is a recent picture of a clock tower in old town Prague; I don't have too many pictures of myself, so I ended up choosing a picture from Iraq for my profile pic. Since I have tons of pictures collected, I would like to share a few random pictures at the end of each blog. There are probably better venues to share the pics, but for now I will present it this way with a few descriptions.

So as far as picture sharing, I will begin with one of my favorite picture of Jerome. It was taken in kindergarten when he was featured in a neighboorhood newspaper. I first saw this picture on Mng. Eden's fridge at a family party in Bainbridge Island. I immediately summoned Jerome when I saw this picture. Jerome comes running to me and I tell him "how come you turned Cambodian and you did not tell us." Jerome was confused at my attempt to be funny. The picture and the newspaper story also feature Jerome's Cambodian classmates. I've always enjoyed this picture and it always reminds me of this particular exchange between Jerome and me. Years later, I googled Jerome just to be able to get a copy of this picture.
The next picture is Michael licking the top of the Eiffel Tower, taken summer 2004. This is a take off from a summer 2002 picture of CJ "sizing" the tower. The picture of CJ is a much better picture but I do not have a digital copy at the moment.