Qiwellness Living: A destination spa in Tagaytay

By Dinna Vasquez

Destination spas aren’t really common in the Philippines—probably because we’re spoiled. Massage at home is just a text away and it’s easy to enjoy an hour’s massage at the mall.
But Qiwellness Living, which is a 90-minute drive from Makati, might change your mind.

Qi spa, Tagaytay

Located in Tagaytay, the place is a dining and wellness destination co-owned by Kenneth Tuason and Rita Sanson.
Aside from getting a massage, you can enjoy a view of Taal Volcano, or even spend the night there.

Qi spa, Tagaytay
Qi spa, Tagaytay

You can savor a nine-course Yin-Yang degustacion meal prepared by Chef Jeff Ramirez (who studied and trained in Australia) or order a la carte.

Qi spa, Tagaytay
Qi spa, Tagaytay

Kenneth says they chose Tagaytay because of its proximity to Metro Manila, the climate, the view of the mountains, lake and forest.
“There are very few restaurants that offer the dining experience that we offer, and even fewer destination spas in the Philippines. Most of them can be found in hotels and resorts. We want to take you to a different place and time over a meal or a massage,” explains Ken.

Qi spa, Tagaytay
Qi spa, Tagaytay

Kenneth said Qiwellness Living was inspired by Chinese teahouses.
“Traditionally, a Chinese teahouse is a place where one can meditate while sipping and enjoying their tea. Historically, these are situated overlooking mountains, lakes or forests,” he added.

Qi spa, Tagaytay

Just like its next-door neighbor, Domicillo bed and breakfast, the marks of Budji Layug+Royal Pineda Design Architects are everywhere.
The façade is plain except for a red wooden door. The structure is made of concrete and stone, which blends with the surroundings.
Note that the three-story spa is not child-friendly—an active child could slip on the floor or the stairs.

Qi spa, Tagaytay

The healing concept of Qiwellness Living is heavily influenced by traditional Chinese medicine.
We had Qiharmony, the spa’s signature massage which combines reflexology, acupressure and tui-na techniques on the head, neck, shoulders, hands, arms, feet, legs and back, by the yin-yang pool.
In case you are iffy about getting undressed, this treatment is done while you are fully clothed.

Qi spa, Tagaytay

After that, we had tea at the al fresco area, where they also serve cocktails. It rained as we were about to start with the dinner so we moved to the dining hall for the degustacion dinner.

Qi spa, Tagaytay

“In our ‘yin-yang’ cuisine, we prepare our dishes in a way where not one flavor overwhelms the other, but all coexist harmoniously. The balance in colors, textures, aromas, and flavors are all inspired by the yin and the yang,” said Kenneth.

Qi spa, Tagaytay

The menu, which changes according to the season, costs Php 2,880+ (inclusive of VAT, plus 10% service charge). It must be ordered 48 hours in advance.
We started our spring menu with an eel dish, miso soup with mushroom and truffle oil, salmon gravlax with citrus pearls and cream cheese and a fermented tofu soufflé with a spring salad. We also had soba noodles with sea urchin cream, egg and crab.

Qi spa, Tagaytay

The menu had three main courses: flank steak, duck confit a la Peking with pancakes and plum sauce, and lamb belly.
Dessert was something out of a fairy tale. Described as “guava + mango + lemon + edible flowers + herbs +soil,” it was actually an ice cream with crispy flowers and ground chocolate cookies representing the soil.
The cuisine is described as Franco-Asian fusion, cooked using East Asian ingredients and employing modern culinary techniques.

Qi spa, Tagaytay

Ken admits their rates are higher than those of other restaurants and spas in Tagaytay.
“We’d like to think we are catering to a discerning market. But we also have guests that are young, even college students, who are intrigued and would like to experience dining and massages for special occasions.”

Qi spa, Tagaytay

For rates and more information, go to http://qiwellnessliving.ph/home.

Robert De Niro’s surprise visit to Manila

Unlike our richer neighbors, Tokyo and Hong Kong, it isn’t very often that a huge celebrity like Robert De Niro will come to the Philippines. But since 2014, he has been to Manila twice. First to announce the opening of Nobu Hotel at City of Dreams Manila, and last Monday to officially open it.

On the ‘purple carpet’ were (L-R) Hollywood Film Producer and Nobu partner, Meir Teper, Melco Crown Entertainment Co-Chairman James Packer, Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, Melco Crown Entertainment Co-Chairman and CEO Lawrence Ho, Mr. Robert De Niro, and Chief Executive of Nobu Hospitality Trevor Horwell.


Ribbon cutting was followed by a press conference


In the evening he was back again for a more formal event and gala dinner with VIPs and special guests from government and the private sector. Sam Oh worked the purple carpet

Sam Oh

While Robby Carmona worked on everything else

Robby Carmona

Hip hop artist apl.de.ap was there to perform

Sam Oh with apl.de.ap

Cousin Candy Dizon arrived

Sam Oh with Candy Dizon

Then at 7 PM, Nobu Hotel formally opened to the beat of traditional drums and a shower of gold confetti.
The ceremonial breaking of the sake barrel lid was led by Chef Nobu and Robert DeNiro, who came with his wife Grace Hightower. Watch how it went:

The 321-room Nobu Hotel is one of three hotels in City of Dreams Manila, along with the Crown and Hyatt hotels.
Besides its luxury accommodations, the hotel also has Nobu Restaurant, which features the high-end Peruvian- Japanese-fusion cuisine of Chef Matsuhisa.
When the first Nobu Hotel opened in Ceasar’s Palace, Las Vegas in 2013, it was named one of CNN Travel’s hottest new hotels.
Aside from Manila, Nobu Hospitality is expected to open luxury hotels in Chicago, Bahrain, Miami, Riyadh, London and Los Cabos, Mexico.


David Letterman says goodbye to Late Show after 33 years

Thank you David Letterman for keeping me company while doing my homework late at night when I was in New York.
After 33 years in late night television, David Letterman is saying goodbye with three final broadcasts of the Late Show With David Letterman from May 20-22 at 11:45 PM.

Late Show with David Letterman

The three-night event kicks off Wednesday, May 20 with a visit from Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, who first appeared with Letterman in Late Night on April 4, 1984.
This will be Hanks’ 60th total appearance with the host. Also, rock superstar Eddie Vedder will perform with Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra.
Bill Murray, Letterman’s first guest on Late Night’s debut on Feb. 1, 1982, and his first guest on the Late Show’s August 30, 1993 premiere, makes his 44th overall and final appearance with the host on Thursday, May 21.

Bill Murray, David Letterman
Bill Murray and David Letterman in 1982

These shows all lead up to Letterman’s final Late Show broadcast on Friday, May 22, 2015, which will be an hour of surprises, memorable highlights, the show’s final Top Ten List, and more.

Park Hyatt Tokyo and what we did this summer vacation

I’m writing this blog entry to remind me of tips when booking the next trip to Tokyo.
Last April, I booked our trip same time as the Diaz family, from April 12-18.
I should’ve checked the hotel rates first because I didn’t know it was cherry blossom season!
Hotels were bloody expensive!
Before booking your trip, check the cherry blossom calendar. All of Tokyo will have high hotel rates until it ends.

cherry blossom

Right after cherry blossom season is Golden Week, which marks the week of the Emperor’s birthday. That means everyone’s on holiday and hotel rates are up.


Hotel rates normally drop after May 5. So next time, book your trip after May 5 because hotel rates are down by half price. That means you can stay in Japan longer!
Unfortunately I forgot to check all of that. Since I excitedly booked 6 tickets on Delta that had expensive rebooking fees, we had no choice but take the trip and pay high hotel rates.

The trip going was super smooth. We took the 9 AM flight on the upper deck of Delta. They kept the shades down the whole time, so I got to sleep.

Delta Airlines

The kids loved it. Also on the upper deck were two pilots in uniform on the passenger’s seats. At first I thought they were backup pilots in case there was a scary incident but it turns out they were returning home from training military pilots in the Philippines.

One thing the kids look forward to is having meal at the airport after arrival. This ensures nobody is hungry on the shuttle bus or upon reaching the hotel, so we can relax more.

McDonald's Narita

Waiting for the shuttle bus to Tokyo. It’s Christian’s first time in Japan.




Through my friend Char Vilchez of Agoda.com, I was able to book two connecting rooms at Park Hyatt in Shinjuku. Not bad.
The last time I stayed there was at a Gap event in 2009.
My first two choices were Peninsula Tokyo and Ritz-Carlton, but both were bloody expensive. I booked Park Hyatt because I remembered the bathroom.

Cecile van Straten

This is what will greet you at the entrance

Park Hyatt Tokyo

It looks like the head of Bacchus, god of wine. My kids found it creepy.

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Park Hyatt is well known for being the backdrop of Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation.


This is the upper lobby, daytime

Park Hyatt

and nighttime

Park Hyatt Tokyo
Park Hyatt Tokyo

This restaurant was mostly deserted

Park Hyatt Tokyo

This way to the reception area and the rooms

Park Hyatt Tokyo

This was Jeroen’s and my room

Park Hyatt Tokyo
Park Hyatt Tokyo

Welcome chocolate

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Mini bar

Park Hyatt Tokyo

There was a nice walk-in closet, that was hard to photograph.
And here’s the bathroom, starting with the perfect bathtub on one end

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Separate shower stall right next to it

Park Hyatt Tokyo

TV to keep you company

Park Hyatt Tokyo

The chuva-approved sink, with flat counter top and no protruding bowl

Park Hyatt Tokyo

Separate high-tech Japanese toilet stall

Park Hyatt Tokyo


Park Hyatt Tokyo

and most important, a makeup counter!!

Park Hyatt Tokyo

The boys loved the super-fast internet.
Although the rooms were perfect, here’s why I will not go back to the Park Hyatt:
1) Location. There is nothing in Shinjuku for me. Nothing is walkable, unlike Ginza or Shibuya. There is a hotel shuttle to Shinkuju station, but nobody told us about it until the last day. Too bad because we could’ve saved some taxi fare!!
2) The nearest convenience stores are quite a walk away. That means if you’re really hungry, you have to settle for hotel food.
3) Hotel food is not good and so expensive. I would spend Php 4,000/meal for room service. No problem if the steak was even as good as Tsukiji‘s Php 4,000-peso steak, but it’s not.
There are food choices in the building’s basement but only Saboten was acceptable, which the kids got tired of on the second day.
P.S. There is a convenience store at the basement, but doesn’t have the takeaway dishes the kids like from the typical Japanese 7-11 or Family Mart.
So no more Park Hyatt for us. I think Shinjuku is best for business travelers, not families or shoppers.

(To be continued)

Big Eyes, the movie

The boys are now 7, 12, and 13.
While Christian is still a kid—into Power Rangers and Lego—the older boys are growing up. They’re in that interesting stage where they still play Minecraft and NBA 2K15, but moving on from the kiddie stuff.
Markus doesn’t want to watch cartoons anymore and Ben is kind of deep; he appreciates subtitled films.
When we travel, we’ll hit amusement parks and toy stores, but I’ll also point out nice buildings, art, and furniture.

Ben and Mark at 21_21 Design Sight
The boys discover Tadao Ando in Tokyo

Last night was movie night at home.
After watching lots of trailers on Apple TV, I found Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, which we rented on the spot.
But what’s a movie without a snack? We ordered McDonald’s chicken fillets and fries and had a picnic on the floor.

Big Eyes stars Amy Adams as Margaret Keane and Christoph Waltz as the husband, Walter Keane.

Big Eyes

Having grown up in’70s, I have vague memories of paintings with big eyes that were kitschy and haunting at the same time.


Today, they are known to be works of Margaret Keane. But back in the day, at the height of their fame, someone else claimed to have painted them.
That person was Margaret’s husband Walter—a pretentious, delusional liar with the gift of gab and marketing.


Margaret was a single mom in the middle of a messy divorce when she met Walter Keane who was unsuccessful in selling paintings of generic Paris street scenes.

Big Eyes

He convinced her to marry him when Margaret’s ex-husband threatened to take custody of her young daughter, whose big eyes inspired the paintings.

Big Eyes

When Margaret and Walter started exhibiting together at a local bar, it was Margaret’s paintings that started to sell. That’s when Walter started to take credit for her paintings and sell them as his own.

Big Eyes

It was his marketing and commercialization skills—producing mass-produced prints and postcards—that made them rich and Walter famous. All the while keeping the real painter secret to the world—even to her daughter.

Big Eyes movie

The secret and lies start to eat her up.
It takes years of abuse before she finds courage to leave Walter and start a new life in Hawaii with her daughter.
She does a radio interview where she finally reveals the secret, which hits the papers and turns into a scandal.
What follows next is a court room circus that will put to rest who is the real artist among the two.
Watch the trailer.

“So what did you learn from the movie?” I asked the boys while brushing our teeth.
“That it’s bad to lie,” said Ben.
“That stealing is karmic,” said Markus.
Indeed, Walter Keane died penniless and probably friendless in 2000, while Margaret remarried and still paints everyday.
Plus, she has this great Tim Burton movie to tell her story.

Amy Adams, Margaret Keane
Amy Adams with the real Margaret Keane


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