The Visa Collector

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

Archives for Slices of life

TravelYear 2014


The year 2014 was my busiest travel season ever. Time away from home resulted in some nice status-levels with my rewards program accounts.


Here is a summary of how the year turned out. More blog posts about each place will be coming soon.

Cruising for work

Dates: 1/9 to 1/12 = 5 days

The year opened with a cruise. A “working cruise”.

My company had chartered a ship for a conference for it’s sales partners and I was one of the staff working behind the scenes to make the magic happen. It marked my first visit to Florida, as the boat set off from Tampa Bay, and my first visit to Cozumel.

My enduring memory of this Mayan Riviera destination will be my first stick-shift drive in almost 14 years. My department took some well deserved, but brief, R&R on the island in the form of a “Jeep tour”. We rented a bunch of jeeps for a guided perusal of tourist traps around the island and took turns driving. I pity the clutch on our vehicle.

I’m glad I went, but I’m not itching to go back. At least not with that itinerary.

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 End of a floating working day Stick shift

Trips to the “Polar Vortex”

The weather channel catch-phrase for the winter of 2013-2014 was the “Polar Vortex” a weather system that brought arctic temperatures to much of North America and resulting in an unusually long winter. I caught the opening act of this drama when I was deployed to Lincolnshire, IL, and had my very first taste of winter driving. It was there in an empty parking lot not far from the National rental office near the O’Hare airport that I learned the value of the Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), and why you really can accelerate or decelerate too rapidly on ice.

I knew it was a half-hour’s worth of practice driving well spent, but I didn’t realize how much, till a few weeks after. At the time I figured “surely they’re not sending the tropical guy to snow-bound engagements”. I was wrong.

Edmonton, Alberta: 1/29 to 1/31 = 4 days
Cleveland, OH: 2/10 to 2/14 = 5 days
Toronto, ON: 3/10 to 3/14 = 6 days
Ottawa, ON: 3/24 to 3/28 = 6 days

From a visual perspective, two of these places stood out.

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 Edmonton Parliament Hill from the Quebec

This batch of trips provided material for a whole bunch of still in-process blog posts. Among them:

Parking-lot fun

cleveland toronto

Gloves and mits

My wife and close friends won’t let this story go. Might as well put it in writing . . . soon.

edmonton edmonton2

Orange County

Santa Ana, CA: 5/20 to 5/22 = 4

Folks familiar with the take-off profile out of the airport in Metro Manila will be familiar with the John Wayne Airport.

NC barbecue

Durham, NC - 6/9 to 6/13 = 6

A trip to Durham introduced me to North Carolinian barbecue. With vinegar rather than salt or sugar as the star of the flavor profile. Pretty fascinating experience if your not expecting it. Not quite ready to call it a favorite at this point.

The humidity of the region was another surprise. Most of my past trips to the south east were either in Winter or Fall. Had never been there during the Spring – Summer transition. The place is warm.

On the tail end of the trip, I experienced my first thunderstorm in a looong time. Happily no twisters.

Downtown Durham had a number of nice public events on my one free day. The more lively one was at the old Lucky Strike Factory. My impression of the place is that it isn’t really a place you’d schedule a vacation to visit, but is a pleasant place to be if your path does take you there.


Seattle is not WA

Dates: Wenatchee, WA: 7/7 to 7/11 = 6

I had already been to the state of Washington three times before this visit: twice to Seattle, and once to Olympia. But this was the first time I traveled east beyond the Cascadian Mountains, and past the micro-climate that was stereotypical of the state and into the more arid central portion: Wenatchee, WA.

The surprises that this small town offered all deserve their own future blog posts.

Atlanta’s 2-inch-of-snow apocalypse: Their side of the story

Alpharetta, GA - 8/4 to 8/8 = 6

I was in Alberta when Atlanta’s snow shutdown the top story. There it had been snowing there since October, with snow measured in feet, and they had just come off a week that was in -40Cs. The Canadian reaction was understandably similar to that of this Daily Show skit

Seven months later, I got to see the other side of the story. Given my own difficulties during my snow-bound trips earlier in the year, I could relate. Details about that, and how runway-go-arounds in ATL are common, in future blog posts.

NASA by the mall

Dates: 10/27 to 10/31 = 6

When I was sent on assignment to Houston, TX, there was one place I would never forgive myself for not even trying to visit.


Didn’t expect it to be opposite a strip mall

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 View from Talon Park

Key lesson-learned on this trip: Can’t cancel lowest-fare flights. More on that soon.


Although insanely brief, the trip to Japan had enough material for multiple blog posts. So I will reserve most of thoughts for those articles. But here are a few highlights.Japan

 Mt. Fuji as seen from Tokyo Tower

I had the great fortune of being taken around by my co-workers who took me to restaurants that foreigners, on a brief visit, would be hard pressed to find on their own. End result was an amazing food trip. I WILL come back to this place.

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 Tonkotsu ramen

Thanksgiving in Santa Barbara

If location for employment were not an issue . . . I wouldn’t mind moving here.


Ending the year in NYC

This was the only flight that didn’t involve work. My wife and son visited my brother’s family in New Jersey. Most of the stay was spent catching up. But we did find time to visit the tree at Rockefeller Center. My son’s reaction to all the lights all over the place made the challenge of the crowds all worthwhile.


In retrospect, 56 days away from home — 56 missed opportunities to watch my son add to his repertoire of mischief — is measly in comparison to other road warriors. I’ve met folks with jobs that were 100% travel. I keep that in mind on the days when Facetime and/or Skype just aren’t enough.

The 2015 TravelYear has already started, and this early blog worthy experiences have already come up. Stay tuned.

Filed under Slices of life
Feb 17, 2015

Need flexibility? Get your name on two flights


I had always thought that the standby list was primarily for folks who didn’t hear their alarm clocks in the morning and missed their flights. A symptom of travel plans gone terribly wrong. That was, apparently, an unfairly dismissive generalization.

On a recent trip to Dallas TX, I booked my return flight to San Francisco via United Airlines (UA) flight 6220 which was set to depart at 7:13 pm. It was my first time teaching a particular class format for my new company. So erring on the side of caution, I booked an evening flight to make sure there was enough time to get everything done.

However by 10:30 am that day, the work day was over. So I hustled to the airport and sought an earlier flight. There was a 30-day old baby waiting for me back home and an SR-71 Blackbird travelling at Mach 3 couldn’t me get out of there fast enough.

Walking to the bag drop-off counter, I braced my self for a hefty cancellation fee and fare-difference charge. To my surprise, the UA attendant at the counter informed me that flight cancellation wasn’t necessary.

She instead advised me to sign up to be a standby passenger on an earlier flight. If a seat became available, I would be accommodated. If none were to be had, my confirmed seat on my original flight would still be available. There was still a $75 charge, but only if I actually managed to get a flight. My misconceptions about the list were obliterated completely.

Getting on the list was easy. It’s part of the normal bag drop / check-in process and could be initiated from any self-service kiosk. By the time I was done, this is what the kiosk screen looked like, and the kiosk issued me a boarding pass with the word “Standby” lieu of a seat assignment.

kiosk  pass-stdby

The first available flight was UA 6291, which was due to depart on 1:39 pm. PERFECT!!!!

I had been the first to sign up for the San Francisco standby list, so the first slot was mine.


For privacy reasons, passenger names aren’t completely displayed on the list. So for example, if your name were “Cornelius Manswolfenstein”, you will appear on the list as “Man C”.

UA 6291, however, was a disappointment. All passengers made it to the door on time. The fact that they asked for volunteers to take a later flight should have given me a clue about my chances. But I tried staying optimistic . . . to no avail. The ramp door closed and it was “goodbye plane”.

By then, I vaguely recalled that the attendant at the bag drop-off had said that my standby status would be automatically carried over to next flight. That sounded waaay too convenient so I stayed on my toes and kept an eye on my check-in status on my United mobile app on my phone. Most gate attendants had left by the time the plane was pulling away from the gate, and the lone remaining attendant was escorted a passenger with an issue to his alternate gate. But with my trusty app . . . what could go wrong? Right? By the time the 1:39 flight was out of sight, both flight records disappeared from the app!!! Not only was I no longer on the flight that had just left, there was no record of my original flight either. Cue claxons.

By then there was nobody at the gate. Air travel in the US was so routine, the airlines seem to assume that everybody knew how everything — like the standby list — worked, right? Umm . . . no.

So off I went to pester United gate attendants at two other gates, as well as the customer service desk, for information about how to make sure I was still in the running for the next seat on the next flight. It turns out that once you’re on the list you stay on the list. My standby status was automatically transferred to the next flight and stayed in the same spot on the queue.

As for the disappearing mobile app record. It re-appeared several minutes later. This time with the next flight appeared in place of the previous 1:39 flight. Apparently the app discards the entire old record before it displays the updated information.

app2 app1

The next opportunity was UA5591, set to depart at 3:28pm. It was the last flight before my original flight. So the wait for the final scheduled passenger to board the plane was nail biting. After the boarding line was exhausted, and a quick head count on the plane to ensure seat availability was completed, the gate attendant called me over and handed me my boarding pass. I was going home!!!


It wasn’t until I got to San Francisco that it occurred to me to ask “what about my checked-in bag?” Although I couldn’t get on to the 1:39 plane, my bag apparently did. Note the flight number on the baggage claim tag: UA 6291. It was waiting for me at the customer service desk at the baggage claim area, and I didn’t have to wait for it on the baggage carousel.

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All in all, it was trouble-free experience. I got home 4-hours ahead of schedule . . . in time for the next diaper change.


Apr 27, 2013

2013: The year for tracking Philippine-made goods


For reasons best kept out of a light-hearted blog, I’ve gotten into the habit of finding out the countries of origin of the items that I buy. As this flip-the-product-read-the-label exercise went on, it started getting a little depressing. Scented candles from India. Shirts from Guatemala. Furniture from Vietnam. There were products from everywhere else except the Philippines.

Filipino goods are readily available at specifically-Filipino or Asian stores. But products of other nations were present everywhere. Have we really stopped producing goods that are worth exporting? Was this because these other countries simply marketed their wares better? Or was it because immigrants from these countries demanded access to their goods?

There really isn’t much ordinary folks can do about production. Demand, however, was another matter.

So for this year, partly to get over export-envy, and partly to do my part to drum up awareness and interest, a portion of this blog will be devoted to Filipino-goods that I find in my travels. I’ll take a photo, note where it was sold, and when. I created an album for this on my Facebook account — which is great for location-sharing — but haven’t quite worked out how to tie it in with the blog just yet. More on that later.

It’s the time for New Year’s resolutions . . . might as well add this to that list. Happy New Year everyone.

Filed under Slices of life
Jan 2, 2013

Fleet Week @ SF 2012


Airshows are one of the many fun things about our stay in the US thus far. One particular display of military hardware that we frequent is the San Francisco Fleet Week. I’ve been going to this event annually since 2005, with the exception of two years were business trips got in the way. In previous years, my wife and I picked a spot on Pier 39 and watched the boats and planes go by. This year, we decided to try out the paid box seats at the Marina Green. The music and the narration from the event organizers definitely provided a dimension that had been missing in previous years. But am not entirely convinced that it was worth the ticket price, especially since one could simply sit on the ground, in the vicinity of the seats, and still get the benefit of added information.

Here are some photos of the event. This album will grow slowly as I prep my photos for posting.

Filed under US, California
Oct 7, 2012

The birds of San Francisco


There is a small park beside the Embarcadero Center, on the corner of Clay and Drumm Sts., that the casual bird-watcher in me wants to visit whenever I can. The cluster of trees there hosts a sizable population of green parrots that have made the city their home. Presumably this is part of the flock that roosts in nearby Telegraph Hill. This flying community has been featured on a number of TV programs, to include the following.

City residents apparently love their birds. Which appears to give rise to an interesting . . . culture . . . among the city’s avian residents.

Aggressive . . . relentless . . . self-entitled.

We discovered these facets of San Franciso’s bird population first hand a few years ago when my wife and I took her parents around the touristy part of the city’s waterfront. We bought hotdogs from a street vendor and were enjoying an afternoon stroll by the water. As we moved from one photo-op site to another, muching on our meals, Seagulls were circling overhead. We had apparently wandered into their domain, and we would soon find out that they expected a toll in exchange for passage. While posing for a photo, my father-in-law held his sandwich off to one side. That became the toll collector’s cue and a large grey-white mass of feathers swooped in and halved what was left of dad’s dog. The hotdog wasn’t on the ground, or left on the table unattended. It was in a live person’s hand — within throat-grabbing distance.

Shock came first, followed immediately thereafter with laughter and amusement, as well as begrudging admiration at a display of audacity. It was an unexpected novelty that added another fun dimension to the day. Since then, when my wife and I find ourselves in SF, we’re on the lookout for unsuspecting tourists that find themselves in a similar situation. This experience apparently wasn’t unique to us.

Gulls are not alone in their belief that people exist to feed them. The other week, while enjoying a beautiful sunny day at the Ferry Building, we ran into the following bird that expected a culinary tribute for allowing us to sit at its table.

Perched on the back rest of the chair beside me, this bird had an unflinching laser-like focus on our french fries. We tried shooing it away and only stopped short of actually touching it it wouldn’t budge. There was no breaking its concentration, or shaking its belief that “Puny land-bound human, where’s my share?!!!”

We were all more accustomed to birds that were fearful of people. Back home, these creatures understood that most humans either viewed them as sport . . . or even in some circumstances, as snacks. San Franciscans are apparently a kinder lot, to whom these feathered flying appetites have grown accustomed. These KFC-ingredient-candidates are lucky to live where they do. They arguably wouldn’t survive long back home.

These birds are as much a part the city as the fog that obscures the Golden Gate bridge on what would otherwise be a clear day, or the local micro-climate that simulate different seasons in a single day. They are part of the quirkiness of the city, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

Besides . . . its fun watching dumbfounded tourists watching their hotdogs plucked from their hands and carried aloft. Schadenfreude!!!

Aug 19, 2012

Where did the time go?


My DMV sticker came today. Can you believe we’re half way through 2013 already?

Jun 27, 2012

Light, shade, and temperature


In February of last year, a good friend stayed at our apartment for a long weekend. On his second day, I took him to a Filipino restaurant in San Mateo for brunch. We arrived early, so the place, called Kuya’s, hadn’t opened yet.

As we waited outside the establishment, I noticed how my guest started to shiver from the late-morning cold. So I found a patch of sunlight, stood there, and asked him to join me. When he stepped into the light, relief from the cold was almost immediate. It was as much a surprise to him, as it was to me the first time I noticed the temperature differences between light and shade in my first winter in Taiwan. I snapped the following photo to commemorate the “aha” moment.

Under the blazing tropical sun, shade is associated with relief. Leaving the shade for relief was a foreign concept. It’s a lesson that you learn quickly, however, even in sub-tropical countries that don’t really have snow — like Taiwan.

I experienced an even sharper contrast between light and shade when I went to Kanata, Canada (a suburb of Ottawa) on a business trip a couple weeks short of Christmas. This is what greeted me on my first morning.

Overnight, a layer of frost had formed on the cars in the hotel parking lot. This wasn’t California-style, turn-on-the-wiper-and-you’re-done frost. You actually had to scrape this stuff off. Surprising as that phenomenon was (it was the first time I’d ever had to drive in that kind of weather), what even more surprising was how the curvature of the windshield was enough to keep the morning sun from melting all of the frost. Hence the powder-white patch on the right side of the car.

For most of my stay at the hotel, I parked where the photo above was taken. However on Thursday night, there was a hockey game at a nearby stadium and game parking spilled over to the hotel parking lot. So I ceded my usual spot and parked behind the hotel building. It seemed like a good idea at the time since there was virtually no competition on that side of the building.  I found out why the following morning.

The parking slots there were completely shielded from the sun. So I had a whole lot of scraping to do. I know my east coast and European friends who are more accustomed to full-blown winters will look at that picture and laugh. But hey . . . we don’t have that issue in the tropics . . . or California for that matter. It was as new to me, as the light-and-shade revelation my friend experienced in February.

The things I enjoy most about travelling are the little discoveries that tell you “you’re no longer at home”. A close second is taking visitors, who are new to my part of world, around to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of my living space. Through their comments and questions, things that had become routine and mundane become fresh all over again.

Thank you for that visit my friend, and for that re-discovery of the non-tropical relationship between light, shade, and temperature.

Jun 17, 2012

2012 A.D.


My wife and I welcomed the new year in San Francisco. We booked a room at the Hyatt Regency, had dinner at E&O Trading Co., and proceeded to the Sinbad Restaurant parking lot to watch the city’s fireworks show. The show actually lasted 15 minutes, but I only took 3 minutes of it so that I could focus on the spectacle. Too bad I didn’t record the “smiley face” and Saturn-shaped blooms.

Filed under US, California
Jan 1, 2012

Bike pump: Topeak Road Morph


My wife and I were supposed to go out for a bike ride today. But as I retrieved the bikes from our rack, it became apparent that our tires needed re-inflation. We didn’t have a tire pump ever since our car got broken into (more on that story on another post) and our air compressor got stolen, and I had procrastinated on getting a replacement. So we put off the ride, and I was off to the local sports store.

The Topeak Road Morph called to me. It was a reasonably priced, appeared well designed, and had a sensible mounting configuration. So made a zorro with the credit card, and I was the proud owner of one.

The pump didn’t come with documentation, and assumed that anyone that bought it knew the difference between a Presta and Schrader valve. There was a diagram on the box that, on hindsight, did explain how to reconfigure the pump for either valve (my mountain bike apparently used the later). But if you didn’t know what you were looking at . . . things would get interesting. It actually crossed my mind that I had bought a pump that had parts missing.

Happily the following videos were available, and saved me the trouble of going back to the store.

How to use the pump

How to reconfigure the valve

Oct 22, 2011

US green card holders and Canadian visas


While processing my visa for a business trip to our Canadian office, I was directed to the following interesting factoid:

Visas and Immigration

Q. I am a US permanent resident and I hold another country’s valid passport. Do I need a visa to go to Canada?

A. As a US permanent resident (green card holder) you will not need a visa to go to Canada as a tourist. Your green card acts in lieu of a visa but only in conjunction with a valid passport from your country of citizenship.

Looks like that trip to Niagara Falls that we were planning next year won’t be as complicated as I originally thought.

It also means that’s one less visa for me to collect (I’m almost tempted to say bummer).

Filed under Canada, US, Visa collection
Oct 19, 2011