The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

Author Archives: admin

Power @ airport


When traveling, I lug around two laptops, a digital camera, and an iPhone. This stuff isn’t checked-in with the rest of my luggage. These are on my person as I wander around airports looking for a seat . . . and a power outlet. As an Economy class traveler, one that still hasn’t earned enough miles in his travels, the lounges are not an option . . . yet.

At most airports, there is a silent race for the sweet spot: the chair-next-to-the-outlet. These are few and far in between. If someone beats you to it . . . happily most airports I’ve been too have had clean floors. Here’s a sampling of both from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport

Some airports like San Francisco Int’l Airport (SFO) offer special booths or kiosks specifically for “wired” patrons.

Terminal 2 (Centennial) at the international airport in Manila (MNL) has powered high-top tables at the pre-departure area.

These facilities, however, are often away from the gates. So if your not careful, you’ll be at a disadvantage when the embarkation lines form, and consequently behind in the race for overhead space on the plane.

“The dream” would be to have power outlets where the seats are. Happily, airports are responding to that need.

The Ottawa airport (YOW) offers a few seats with outlets for both regular power sockets, as well as devices that draw power from USB ports.

At the moment, my favorite seats are in the San Jose airport (SJC). They’re a nice blend of style and function, just what you’d expect from a Bay Area/Silicon Valley airport.

Just a word of caution with these outlets though. Make sure that your actually getting juice out of them by pressing the red button, between the outlets, to reset the circuit breaker. Found that tid bit out the hard way.

Nov 13, 2010

Kalamansi Chronicles: First harvest


Finally twisted off my first two fruits today. I wanted to add a little more zing to my soy sauce marinade, and felt that the two lemons I already had in there needed help.

First of two The stem

It picked them tad bit young, but you couldn’t tell from the citrusy-aroma that came out when I opened it. Man I miss this fruit. Pardon the spots on the cutting board. Those were from the garlic cloves I minced earlier.

Nov 12, 2010

My travel map


Places I’ve visited, and hope to write about.

Filed under About this blog
Nov 11, 2010

Visas for cruises: Not just for the intended destination


When my wife and I booked a cruise to Alaska, one must-have that surprised us was the Canadian visa. A visa . . . to go to Alaska. Huh?

The cruise line explained that they had this requirement because we would be traveling through Canadian waters. Given that we were just passing through Canada, and the ultimate destination was US territory, that explanation never really made much sense at the time.

That disconnect disappeared last Monday with what happened to the Carnival Splendor on November 8, 2010. The ship was on a 7-day cruise to the Mexican Riviera when a fire broke out in the engine room, thus depriving the ship of power. According to a report on CNN, the boat is was being towed to Ensenada, Mexico where the passengers would be offloaded.

Switching back to our cruise. Had the unthinkable happened, and we had to be evacuated off our ship, imagine the immigration puzzles, for us, the cruise line, and the host country, that would have cropped up if authorities had to think about what to do with a pair of Filipino evacuees that didn’t have Canadian visas.

Am I over thinking this? Perhaps. I’m not familiar with prevailing practices with regard to immigration rules and disasters. So this line of thinking may be out of whack. I also never really clarified the matter with the cruise company further since we simply took them at their word.

But this belated worry isn’t really far fetched. As reported on last April, Filipinos on board Cathay Airways flight CX275 (Hong Kong to London) unexpectedly found themselves in Frankfurt, Germany. Their plane had to make an emergency landing because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland, and like thousands of travelers that month found themselves stranded in an airport. Since they didn’t have visas for Germany, they had to stay at the airport pending the approval of their 3-day visas. Eventually, the visas were issued, but reportedly long after other nationalities on the flight had been allowed to leave the airport.

Acquaintances working at the Department of Foreign Affairs reported that the Inquirer article had a touch of hyperbole and sensationalism to it. Nevertheless, the report does give food for thought when it comes to expectations about treatment. We are, after all, a visa-collecting nation. Just a fact of life — for now at least.

The Frankfurt misadventure happened in an airport that is accustomed to handling emerging visa situations. Had it happened on the shores of a small town, with local law enforcement unaccustomed to dealing with immigration matters . . . as would have happened to us had our ship run into trouble . . . hmmm. While past experience with Canadian hospitality had been positive, this is still an unknown that I’d rather not have to deal with. Apparently, neither did the cruise line, so they played safe and issued that requirement.

The visas added to the cost of the cruise, but in the final analysis it was a prudent measure. Side-benefit: It added my first Canadian visa to my collection.

Filed under Canada, Visa collection
Nov 10, 2010



The iphone application allows folks to link their venue check-ins to Twitter. Twitter, on the other hand, offers its members a widget that they can use to have their Twitter posts appear on their blogs and/or websites. Great combination!!!

For those interested in how its done, check this out:

I added the widget to the site on the 13th of October, and I’ve been Yelp-tweeting the places I’ve been visiting since then.

Yelp-tweeted my visit to the Germany embassy yesterday. More travel ahead, and more posts to share.

Filed under About this blog
Nov 9, 2010

Kalamansi Chronicles: Growth


Three months into the project . . . so far so good.

At purchase As of October 19, 2010

Four of its branches are getting pretty long, almost begging to be trimmed. But I’m not risking it this close to winter. Its fruits continue to grow.

Oct 20, 2010

Street signs


Street signs are so much a part of city life; it’s very easy to take them for granted. At the corner of any street of consequence back home, you’d find a post from which hangs, or sticks out, a sign that indicates the name of the street. In the case of some low cost subdivisions, the subdivision block number would substitute as a street name. Some signs were large and fancy, with reflective coatings. Others were more austere.

But you could always count on these rectangle-shaped signs to be where they needed to be, and to look the way you expect; as surely as the sun’s rise in the morning, and its replacement by the moon at night. After all, why would anyone do it any other way, right?

Ah . . . assumptions . . . assumptions.

My first overseas destination, Taiwan, was a harbinger of things to come. For one thing, naming conventions there were different. Major thoroughfares were called “roads”. My company’s Taipei office, for example, was situated along Tun Hwa North Road, which could be loosely likened to a wider version of Ayala Avenue in the Makati Central Business District. Yet it was still called a “road”. “Streets” were smaller than roads, and relatively less prominent. Small alleys and side-streets were called “Lanes”.

Taiwanese roads were divided into sections and compass directions relative to a point of reference — a concept that has no Philippine equivalent. This was designed to give people a rough idea where on the road they were. Tun Hwa, for example was divided into North and South by its intersection with another road: ZhongXiao. The further away from the intersection you were, you’d transition to different section numbers. Our office, again as an example, was at the southern end of Tun Hwa called Section 2. Other roads ran from East to West. Some had as many as 7 sections which actually stretched outside Taipei City, deep into Taipei County.

Taipei street signs were also squarer than rectangular. They had to be, because they were bilingual. In keeping with efforts to make the Taiwanese capital an international city, English approximations of Chinese street names, and Hindu-Arabic numerals were included in all signs as an accommodation for the city’s foreign residents.

Canadian streets, at least in Ottawa, had an interesting implementation of a bilingual street naming policy. Since the street names were the same for both French and English, and utilized the same letters, it was a simple matter of adding “St.” and the French equivalent “Rue”. The following photo taken near Parliament Hill shows how they do it.

The Irish like to put both old-Irish and English names of their streets on their signs, as with the sign below for St. Patrick St. in Cork, Ireland.

The photo above also captures a common theme amongst European signs. They often use plaques mounted on the sides of buildings. I first noticed them on a trip to Paris. I didn’t immediately recognize them for what they were, because I instinctively associated signs with posts. It also didn’t help that at the time I hadn’t done my homework and figure out that “Rue” was French for street.

Once I wrapped my head around the fact that the street-name-on-a-post was not a “sacred” rule by any stretch of the imagination, Irish and more recently Italian, street plaques were less of a surprise.

Assumptions are funny things. Sometimes, you can’t even distinguish between fact and assumption because it never occurs to you to re-verify what you’ve already accepted as gospel truth. The nice thing about visa-collecting is that you’re often forced into situations that make re-verification necessary.

I wonder which assumption will be challenged next.

Oct 3, 2010

Out of breath in Mexico City


After graduating from university a lifetime ago, my friends and I decided to celebrate the end of the school year with a hike to Mt. Apo, the tallest peak in the Philippines. Aside from the breathtaking views, the one enduring memory I have of the hike was a pervasive feeling of exhaustion. I felt it during the hike, and it was still there even when I woke up in the morning. Nowadays I can’t look at a mountain or steep hill without flashbacks of that aspect of the adventure.

Fast forward to April 2010. My company sent me for a week to Mexico City to take part in an event organized for our Latin American resellers. This was a great event, where I met a lot of great people, and ate a lot of fantastic food. But I’ll reserve those details for another post.

My hotel was situated between the office and the event venue. So after being driven to and from the hotel for the first two days, I started walking to my destinations. Minutes into these walks, I couldn’t believe how quickly I was getting tired. It was like Mt. Apo again, but without the steep inclines. The part of Mexico City where we were was pretty flat, so how I felt didn’t make sense. I knew I had been slacking off on my Eliptical machine time, but man . . . was I that out of shape? Or was I just getting old?

Half way through the week, I was having a chat with the manager of the Mexican business unit. After wrapping up the business-side of the conversation, he asked with the impish smile of a person who’d been holding something back: “Are you feeling tired?” Apparently I wasn’t the only one that felt out of breath. Other participants from other countries were complaining about the same thing. Turns out it all had to do with the fact that Mexico City was 7,200 feet above sea level.

The city was so high up, the air was thinner. So I was getting less oxygen with each breath. The manager himself found himself panting for the first few days when he moved from the comparatively low-altitude city of Tijuana to Mexico City a few years earlier. He had come to the same conclusion that I did about my health, until his father — a doctor — set the record straight. It apparently takes a few weeks to become acclimatized to local conditions.

I had read about how the city’s altitude had affected the 1968 Olympics (e.g., slower runs, longer jumps, etc.). But I had failed to make the connection between what I was feeling with that stored knowledge. If there were ever any lingering doubts about the difference between theoretical knowledge, and knowledge-through-experience, Mexico banished them completely.

The Mexico trip also gifted me with one more insight: the reason why I kept waking up tired on the trail to Mt. Apo’s 9,692 ft. peak. Armed with that knowledge, hills that I see in my travels now don’t look as daunting.

Filed under Mexico, Slices of life
Sep 30, 2010

Irish houses and their names


In July 2009, my company sent me on a week-long business trip to Cork, Ireland. It was my first trip to the country, and my third trip to Europe.

The hotel that my company booked me into wasn’t all that far from the office, and I liked to get to know new places by walking. So instead of taking a taxi to work, I opted to hit the pavement.

As I walked through residential neighborhoods to and from the office, one thing that stood out for me was the absence of house numbers. Street name plates were affixed, European style, to the fences on corner homes so you knew what street you were on. But if you were looking for a specific house, I imagined that that would be a bit of a challenge.

I ran my observations by my office mates, who were mostly expats from Germany, France, Spain, and a few other countries, and they confirmed my observations. There were indeed no numbers. But, they were quick to point out, mail and parcels all still found their way to them. Somehow, postal workers knew where everyone’s house was. There was a system, but nobody really quite new what it was.

That day, I started looking at the houses a little more closely. Each house seemed to have names. At first I thought that they advertised the owners of the house. Then I started seeing wording that seemed reminiscent of places in the Lord of The Rings. Hmmm.

Later in the week, I shared a cab to the Cork city center with a co-worker. While we were making conversation with the cab driver, I ran the house-name observation and the mail delivery mystery by him. To my surprise, the cab driver turned out to be a retired postal worker, and he was happy to clear matters up.

Each Irish homeowner, it turned out, was free to choose whatever name they wanted, register it with the local government, and voila, the house had an identity. Our driver chose the name of his favorite vacation spot (somewhere in Europe, forgot exactly what) for his house. These names often stayed with the house even as they changed owners.

I guess the semi-permanence of the house’s name helped postal workers find their mark. But man . . . I’d definitely need help if I ever accepted an invite to a house party, and had to find the house myself.

Filed under Ireland, Slices of life
Sep 26, 2010

Ling Nam Noodle House (South San Francisco)


Part of this post has been posted on

You can find good and bad restaurants in any city or country. At times its not so much about how to avoid them, but rather about how you manage expectations. For Bay Area residents thinking of going to the Philippines, and who want to prepare themselves for how bad some of our restaurants can get, then you’re in luck. You can experience authentic Pinoy bad service without getting on a plane. Introducing Ling Nam Noodle House in South San Francisco.

I’ve only been to this place twice. Both have been disasters.

My first visit happened the week after Thanksgiving last year, with a large group of friends. There were five families in our group, so we occupied three sets of tables. Our table was closest to the register so the waitress got to us first — which set off the first sign that the evening was not going to go well. She started by asking if we were together, to which we said yes. She then told us that we would pay have to pay together.

Come again? Who was she to tell us how to pay? Her “instruction” actually ran contrary to what we had in mind which was to pay per family. That way we didn’t have to worry about keeping track of who owed what.

Happily one of us was a regular, and charmed his way into letting us have our way. But we still got an “admonition” that we shouldn’t do this next time. Hmmm . . . interesting. Things went downhill from there.

My wife ordered a fish dish called “bangus”, she ended up with another fish that wasn’t even on the menu. By then I had gotten sufficiently pissed with this place that I picked up my wife’s dish and took it to the cashier to ask for an explanation. Apparently, they had run out of the Bangus and simply saw fit to substitute another fish dish without telling us. To make things worse, they initially insisted that what they served was what we ordered. My wife protested, which forced them to admit that they had run out. My wife eventually ordered a completely different dish.

On my end, I order a deep fried crispy pork dish called Lechon Kawali. They got the order right, but it smelled and tasted so rancid I couldn’t help but wonder if they cooked it in the same oil that they had already used for fish.

By the end of the meal, I had pretty much decided never to return to this place. But it was not to be.

In of May this year, friends who picked us up from the San Francisco airport whisked us here for dinner. We arrived late in the evening, and one of our friends had a Pinoy-food craving. This was pretty much the only place for that around. I wasn’t thrilled, but I figured that I’d give the place another try.

This time, my wife and I were careful to avoid the food we ordered before. I ordered grilled pork. To be fair, it was pretty good.

But the staff were . . . as interesting as ever.

Apparently live entertainment was made available that night, in the form of the one member of the kitchen staff challenging another to fist fight. Nothing like a good dose of shouting and commotion to spice up one’s dinner. Interesting insight into the mindset of the people preparing the food.

Arguably, the main thing going for this place is its hours of operation. If you have a craving for Filipino food at odd hours, and you are either disinclined, or don’t have enough time, to cook yourself, then Ling Nam is indeed the place for you. But take the time-element out of the equation, and there are plenty of other BETTER places within 10 minutes of this place.

Perhaps with better management, this particular branch (I’ve never been to others), could become decent. I’m not in any particular hurry to follow up on their progress.

Sep 25, 2010