The Visa Collector

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

Author Archives: admin

MECO: Pinoy “embassy” in Taiwan


Manila Economic Cooperation Office (MECO) stands in as the Philippine embassy in Taiwan. It can be found on the 4th floor of a building with a Metrobank branch, on the corner of Tun Hwa N Rd. and Chung Hsiao East Rd Section 4. Here, you can renew your passport and send money home all in one trip.

Sep 21, 2010

Chopsticks required


One humongous mistake I made before moving to Taipei, Taiwan was to neglect my chopsticks skills. I could pick up large pieces of meat, so it didn’t seem like such a big deal. “After all” I thought “all restaurants should have forks and spoons, right?” Dead wrong.

While pricier restaurants do provide forks and spoons, common-man restaurants where most folks eat, did not. Needless to say, my first week in Taipei became very interesting . . . food-wise. I soon learned two things: hunger is a great incentive to look for alternatives, and that I was, in fact, left handed.

So unless you plan to bring utensils with you everywhere you go (which is what a Filipino officemate did on one trip) . . . it would be a good idea to brush up on this skill before moving over.

Filed under Slices of life, Taiwan
Sep 18, 2010

Kalamansi Chronicles: Moving on from flowers


The last flowers fell days ago, and fruits have taken their place. Now the race is on for the fruits to ripen before summer runs out. Looking forward to late summer/early autumn barbecues that won’t need lemons as Kalamansi substitutes.

Sep 18, 2010

Boiling Crab


Part of this article was posted on

Would you bother going to a restaurant where you have to wait for three hours for a table, receive your food in a plastic bag that’s served in a bucket, and then eat a messy meal with your hands? For the easily dozens, if not hundreds, of folks who troop to Boiling Crab in San Jose each day, the answer is an emphatic “Yes!!!”

BC is a Cajun seafood restaurant that serves Shrimp, Crab (Dungeness, Alaskan King Crab, etc), Crawfish, Fried Oysters, Chicken, and a number of other minor items. My wife likes to cycle through some of the selections, but I consistently go for the mildly spicy steamed garlic butter shrimp. Unless stated otherwise, I’ll be talking about this shrimp dish.

Its lone branch in San Jose is so wildly popular, you can see long lines at this place even in the middle of the week. On the weekend, its practically impossible to get a table. Any time you visit, you will see a sizable portion of its the largely Asian clientele sitting meekly on the curb outside the restaurant, waiting in a long snaking line, held in stasis by early-arrivals who are slowly savoring scrumptious shrimps swimming in sinful sauce. If patience were a virtue, BC has among the most virtuous patrons in the Bay area. I do not consider myself a patient person, but I would still consider going to this place on a weekly basis — if I didn’t fear for my arteries.

Once you’ve tried this place, you’ll be hard pressed to look for viable alternatives. Before BC, my wife and I used to happy patrons of Crawdaddy, where we were first introduced to the eat-out-of-a-bag concept. Always on the look out for alternatives to our favorites, I Yelped Crawdaddy to see what other folks thought. A common refrain amongst those who posted positive reviews about Crawdaddy was “It’s good, but its still not Boiling Crab”. Feline curiousity got the better of us, and we were Boiling Crabbers ever since.

The impracticality of sacrificing whole swaths of one’s day or evening to waiting for a table became evident very quickly. As early as our first addictive trial, my wife and I went to work looking for ways to beat the lines. Friday to Sunday evenings were hopeless. We fared better at lunch. We initially worked out that we had to be there by 11:30 for a decent 30 minute wait. Time-lines jump to 45 minutes as we get to 11:45, and we again return to hopelessness if we get there by 12 or later. As more people flocked to this place, these early tips proved worthless. One Saturday we arrived at 11:30, the resto was still closed, but there was already a line. We once followed a lead that stated that going mid-week, an hour or less to closing time improved our chances of getting in. Not true. The lines remained, despite warnings from the staff that they couldn’t guarantee the availability of seats before closing up shop. The night we tried this night-time ambush technique, we actually ended up resorting the only line-beating option that had reasonable success: BCTO = Boiling Crab Take Out.

BCTO does have its draw backs. By the time you get home, the shrimp had already cooled somewhat. Lessens the overall zing of the dish for some reason. You also had to make sure that you started eating the shrimp that was still immersed in the sauce to keep them from being overcooked. Still not the same as eating in-restaurant, but it guaranteed a quick BC fix . . .

. . . with only a 20-minute wait.

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Filed under Food Trips
Sep 18, 2010

Sending stuff to the Philippines


Part of this article can also be found on

It’s as much a part of a migrant’s story as visas and currency exchange: “The need to send items to the home country”.

When we were still in Taiwan, we didn’t really bother with this as much since the cost of travel to the Philippines was relatively affordable. We simply just stored up what we wanted to send home, and then brought them with us when we went home for Christmas. The equation changed when we crossed the Pacific, and into the realm of $1,000+ travel. Christmas gifts would have to handed out in our absence for most years.

My brother moved to New Jersey in 1993, and had been sending stuff to the family by way of Johnny Air Cargo since then. So when we made the jump and needed to send stuff home, it was the logical first choice as a freight handler. We found the lone branch for JAC in St. Francis Square in Daly City — 40 minutes or so away from home. We patronized them for a couple of years, and put up with the travel and parking challenges of the rather congested square.

Eventually we started looking for alternatives, and we eventually settled on a reliable, familiar, brand: LBC.

We tried out a number of LBC branches. The first one we tested was the Tully Rd branch in San Jose. The location was horrible because of the atrocious traffic. It was close to a Jollibee that we used to frequent, we were all too familiar with the fight-for-the-right-lane that led to the entry ramp for US 101. It was a hassle that we didn’t really care for, and would prefer to avoid. We actually stopped going to that particular Jollibee once we found an alternative. So that LBC branch was a no go.

We finally found a branch that we liked in a strip mall along El Camino Real in Santa Clara. We really liked this branch and stayed with them for quite a number of shipping cycles. It was close to home, and the staff was great. Sadly it closed. (We still hope they decide to re-open this branch).

There was no way we were going back to Tully, so we went about looking for an alternative, and found one at. Hostetter Rd. (near a Goldilocks restaurant). Sadly, the owner of the commercial space reportedly chose not to renew this LBC branch’s lease. So this alternative option was short-lived.

Enter the LBC branch at 344 South Main St., Milpitas, CA.

I checked this place’s Yelp reviews, and a common refrain was the seeming lack of warmth on the part of the clerks and receptionists. While I do concur with this observation, I must point out that they were pretty darn efficient. Shipping forms and replacement boxes were provided as part of a well practiced routine. You’ll be in and out in no time.

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Sep 12, 2010

Rene Rose Island Cuisine


Part of this article has also been posted on

This is Clarita’s Filipino Cuisine . . . with better ambiance.

The must haves are all there: Inihaw na (grilled) Pork, Pork Adobo, Beef steak, Lechon Kawali (deep fried pork) and Bangus. From a pure flavor standpoint the average Pinoy palette would be happy with either restaurant. Their hits and misses are complimentary. Personally I like Clarita’s Adobo and Beef steak better. However, this place’s Inihaw and Lechon Kawali balance things out.

But one area where this place definitely has Clarita beat is the dining area. Its brighter, clearly given more thought, and lacks the annoying TV with cheezy noon-time shows. If you were to introduce a non-Filipino to common-Pinoy food, you’d probably make a better impression with Rene Rose. In the summer, the air-conditioning at Rene Rose definitely helps.

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Filed under Filipino Food
Sep 3, 2010

The iFly experience


Part of this article has also been posted on

While on the way to Tribu Grill in Union City for a Pinoy dinner with friends, we passed by this gem.

I’d heard of this company offering time on their wind tunnels for folks who wanted to get a feel for a skydiving, but in a safe environment. iFly had a tunnel somewhere in San Francisco, and I had planned to check the place out . . . eventually.

But when we passed by this place — a mere 20 minutes from home — I just had to go. So off I went the following day with a friend and his 10 year old son in tow.

It was awesome. Check this out.

A real buddy jump, where you jump out of a real plane strapped to an experienced parachutist, can cost you up to $200, for a 40 to 50 second jump. Wind tunnel time is only $54 — for two 45 second sessions. Its true that you don’t get the view that you get in a real jump. But given that competitive skydivers use the facility for their own training, that’s saying something about the reality of the experience.

We went on a weekend, so it was a pretty full day. The slot we eventually got was for 9:30PM, despite having arrived at noon. Die-hard iFlyers reportedly come in during the week to avoid the crowds.

Hoping to go for the real thing some day . . . but this is cool for now 🙂

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Filed under US, California
Sep 3, 2010

Hard times for a favorite resto


Parts of this review was also posted on

This used to be one of our favorite Italian restaurants. From a purely flavor point of view it still is.

When seeking to preserve profit margins while maintaining the same menu, there are arguably only two ways to go: sacrifice quality, or reduce portion size. This place went the latter route.

While our favorites were as good as ever, the quantity given the price was just absurd. The original servings had always been just right. We’re not large eaters, so their portions were always great. Now, they are half what they were.

My wife still can’t get over the bread that’s typically given as an appetizer. They were the size of over-sized croutons, and served directly in the basket, without a napkin or anything.

That being said, their seafood pasta is as fantastic as ever. But spending upwards of $20 for a meal that requires you to go to another restaurant to make sure you don’t wake up hungry later . . .

I know that pricey restaurants aren’t a place to gorge. But we’ve been to three-figure restaurants, with the infamous small main course portions, but taken as a whole — from appetizer to dessert — you do leave satisfied. Satisfaction was truly missing this time.

This resto is definitely experiencing problems. It even appears to be in the midst of a name change. I hope they recover. But the rip off the other night will keep us away for a while.

Filed under Food Trips, Italian
Aug 15, 2010

Kalamansi Chronicles: Flowers and fruits


Our plant already had a fair number of flowers when we bought it. These are progressing very nicely, and are allowing us to share how a Kalamansi flower evolves into a fruit.

Step 1

Step 2


Aug 15, 2010

Kalamansi Chronicles


Last Sunday, I threw in the towel on a project that had been going on for three years now: My Kalamansi plant.

Kalamansi, also called Calamondin in North America, is a fairly common ingredient in Filipino cuisine. I use it very heavily in my marinades and my wife loves to dip all sorts of stuff in a mix of this fruit’s juice and soy sauce. Back in the day, it was my family’s preferred Vitamin C delivery medium. It was mixed with warm water and served to ill family members as a tonic.

Back when we were in Taiwan, we found that they sold Kalamansi in batches of 40. Very different from how things were done in the Philippines where they could be had by-fruit. The problem we had with this was spoilage. Since each fruit had such strong flavor, you really only needed at most two at a time when you prepared anything (I reckon one of these had the same “strength” as three or four lemons), we ended up throwing away most of whatever we bought. It didn’t feel right to waste money that way, so we only had them on special occasions.

Happily, things were different when we moved to California. Home Depot sold Kalamansi plants, and soon after moving to the US, we were happy owners of our own.

But alas, this plant did not last beyond two harvests. One hot day while we were away weakened the plant and it was never the same. Apparently, my plant had been grafted to another plant variety, and the dormant plant became dominant. The resulting Franken-plant is shown below.

Compare the size of those leaves with the ones when the plant was still healthy.

Shortly after the photos above, I ripped the plant out of the pot. The greenish branch low on the stem was where the dormant plant manifested itself.

With the pot now vacated, I put in a new plant. Thus begins . . . the Kalamansi Chronicles.

Aug 7, 2010