Philippines, oh Philippines

About 20 different people have sent this link to me, so I guess I should react even though it’s a bit late.
I just arrived from a really great trip Hong Kong. It was truly pleasant, mostly because we traveled Cathay business class and stayed at the Four Seasons. Save for one grumpy Chinese waiter at Isola IFC, there were no unpleasant events.
We came without a plan or agenda. Meals were planned on the day itself. While my husband and my father-in-law bonded over high tea, coffees, wines and walking around, I met up with a couple of friends and shopped till I dropped.
While I totally agree with what Geoffrey James Quartermaine Bastin wrote, staying at a cheap hotel is truly getting what you pay for.
Unfortunately in the Philippines, not even the best hotels are good enough. I stayed in one of Makati’s five-star hotels last year and was surprised that the bathrooms were so worn out.

Hermes toiletries
They had Hermés toiletries but really old marble, as you can see in the background—yikes!

I also had a tour of a five-star hotel nearer my home and the bathrooms did not pass my standards either.
A few years ago, I checked in my family at the Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center so that Jeroen could watch the World Cup in the wee hours of the morning (this was when home cable TV wasn’t high-tech yet).
While the bedrooms were pretty OK, I have to say the bathroom really grossed me out, with its archaic aluminum sliding doors.

Discovery Suites ü (9)

I really wonder how Philippine hotels manage to keep their bedrooms pretty and not think the bathrooms are just as important. I was so grossed out, I couldn’t wait to check out.
Not too long ago I also did a tour of all the rooms of Discovery Country Suites in Tagaytay. Though some of the rooms look cozy and habitable, the bathrooms were once again really gross.

Discovery Country Suites 4

I guess a common mistake of hotel owners here is they hire residential designers to design their hotels, when in fact there is a certain art to designing hotel bathrooms. As paying guests, we don’t really want to stay in a hotel with bathroom that has the feel of nakikitira in someone’s house.
I experienced the same problem in the almost cool Inn at the Cliffhouse in Tagaytay, which has the most beautiful bedrooms, but yucky bathrooms and lacking in cleanliness and upkeep.


Let Geoffrey James Quartermaine Bastin’s writeup be a wakeup call that Filipinos really need to learn how to reinvest, repaint, renovate and upgrade their businesses. This includes restaurants, stores, malls, hotels and especially, that stupid airport.
Let’s not even compare our country to our neighbors—Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore—because we are nowhere close to them. We are the miserable poor neighbor with that ironically unparalleled nationalistic pride, beautiful sunshine, beautiful beaches and natural wonders with rarely the beautiful accommodation.

We have a new Secretary of Tourism. If you want tourism to really work for the country, here’s what you have to do.
1) Fix the airports, the interiors, the washrooms, the workers, the beggars outside, the rickety carts, the lack of things to do, the bad food choices, the ugly stores and the useless souvenir shops. Don’t forget the washrooms.
2) Force all public establishments and malls to upgrade their restrooms with new fixtures, toilet paper, air and odor management, ventilation, and other necessities. Malls should require dodgy tenants to renovate or move out.
3) Fix the traffic problem. Have a unified government bus company. Fix all public transport. So much time is wasted on commuting. I personally dread going to countries with bad traffic.
4) Make sure all taxis are safe and friendly. Kick out the grumpy, corrupt taxi drivers.
5) Get the beggars out of NAIA and the streets that are bugging tourists. Close down corrupt money changers.
Okay, so that’s five things. There’s a lot of work to be done, but no new slogan, ad campaign, or travel expo is gonna help if the tourists come here and experience crap. Every businessman knows repeat customers make a successful business. The plan is to make tourists wanna come back here and not dying to get out.
Also, luxury, cleanliness, efficiency, attract moneyed tourists. Check out the tourists in Hong Kong and Singapore and compare to what we have here. What kind would you rather have?

Here’s the complete text of Geoffrey James Quartermaine Bastin’s blog entry:

I honestly do really HATE to write negative posts. If you check through this blog you’ll see that even the posts on Afghanistan have a few positive things to say…….

But my GOODNESS the Philippines!!! Or more precisely Manila, because you cannot and should not generalize about such a large country spread over thousands of islands. Manila – what a dump!

The city has got to be the disgrace of South-east Asia, all the more so because twenty years ago when I used to come through here en route to Papua New Guinea it was THE place in the region to come to for shopping and R&R. How the mighty are fallen!

Let’s start with the international airport. Ninoy Aquino International is exactly the same as it was all that time ago; the same awful green lino when you arrive, the same over-crowded Departure Hall, nowhere to sit if your check-in desk isn’t open. Once through security you find the same down-market shops, toilets that don’t work or are “under repair” and very few F&B places.

I pay the extra $15 to go up to the Sampaguita Lounge just to get out of the crush of people. No, despite the fact that I’m an inveterate traveler I DO NOT LIKE crowds of people! The travelling public en masse is a necessary obstacle that has to be endured and overcome.

The coffee in this over-priced lounge is awful…. Over-boiled and they don’t have a modern machines (which these days can be purchased even for home use) to produce fresh coffee from beans. NO ONE uses this old filter method anymore, at least no one that likes good coffee. Where is George Clooney!!???

As for the hotel downtown: I have stayed at the Discovery Suites in Ortigas Center for the last 15+ years ever since it opened. It used to be very good and remains convenient for my business meetings. But the owners have invested nothing in upkeep and I stay in a room that has the same furniture, same carpet as it has always had; it smells musty. The TV is years old. The water heating system provides limited hot water for my bath. My room is not cleaned until I have to go and ask. The internet (OK, free wifi in the room) is dreadfully slow and the room service food lukewarm.

Frankly at $119/night the Discovery Suites is no longer the good deal that it once was and I shall change to another hotel if I have the misfortune of coming back here.

Manila itself is a shambles. The traffic is AWFUL (I seem to be using a lot of capital letters in this post) and nothing has been added to shops or other amenities (whereas e.g. Bangkok has transformed itself into an almost livable city).

Look: people will say the Filipino people are nice, and indeed they are polite – we Brits might say “smarmy” – obsequious or ingratiating are maybe less pleasant words. But they do try. That does take the edge off the sheer misery of a crumbling, filthy, depressing city and an economy that exists only on the remittances of the smart ones who have left.

Sorry folks. I know there are many people who love the Philippines, but its economic development has been a disaster; the irony is that Manila is the headquarters of the Asian Development Bank (the reason I come here) and it has the WORST growth history of any of the ASEAN countries – Cambodia which was torn apart by civil war up until 1997 has a first-class airport (fresh ham and cheese sandwiches on foccacia, freshly brewed cappuccino , clean lounges) and some great restaurant food and hotels (see my next post). But the Manila, where the intelligentsia sneer at their Asian brothers and sisters for their lack of English, is beaten hands down even by little Phnom Penh and left standing by every other mega-city in the region.

There seems to be a theme here: the Philippines has many natural advantages and in fact a talented people who provide services everywhere in the world. But there has been no re-investment in the country, neither by the public sector (hence the terrible airport facilities), nor by private industry. People might build a hotel, but they run it into the ground rather than trying to build a long-term institution. Philippines can be described as an extractive or exploitive economy, not one where people want to build sustainably long term. As I say, the smart one’s all want to leave.

My suggestion if you want to see the Philippines: get through Manila as quickly as you can, it has nothing to recommend it. Go out to the islands, Cebu, Mindanao, up to the cool of Bagio and see the people in the countryside and some of the spectacular scenery. That’s probably worth the trip. Otherwise pick almost anywhere else in Asia and you’ll get a better deal.

Final note: for those that wonder, I’m NOT backpacker and I’ve travelled so much that the novelty or “exciting local colour” of dirt, disease and bad food no longer fills me with wonderment; I stay in decent hotels and expect good service, anything less is patronizing the people in these emerging countries. For most of Asia I get it in spades – better value overall than travelling in North America or Europe – but not the Philippines.

For the Philippines the question is surely will it ever emerge from the mire into which it has sunk? Very frankly based on my very long experience of the place I really doubt it, in fact it is a “disappearing” country if there is such a thing.

Discovery Suites
25 ADB Avenue, Ortigas Center
Pasig City 1600

P.S. No pictures because there’s nothing worth photographing in Manila, it’s drab and dirty.


ICanServe Swatch for breast cancer advocacy

Like I mentioned earlier, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.
I’m so glad I had my mammogram done at St. Luke’s two weeks ago.
Breast cancer is so common, I can count with two hands the number of women I know who have survived or died from breast cancer.
Early detection is key—if not by home examination, you should get your mammograms done especially if you are 40 or above.
That said, the ICanServe Foundation launches the ICanServe Swatch.


Your purchase of this Swatch will help the ICanServe Foundation continue its advocacy in favor of women at risk for/living with breast cancer.
The ICanServe Swatch retails at Php 5,000 each in all Swatch outlets in Manila (from October 14), Cebu (from October 15) and Davao (from October 17).
It will also be available at the ICanServe weekend space at the Power Plant Mall, Rockwell Center all Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of October.

To know more, go to

What happened at St. Luke’s, Part 3

Let’s have a look at that itinerary again

St. Luke's itinerary

After our lunch at Bizu, I was off to the mammogram, which I thought would be nothing as I had had one previously at Makati Med in 2005.
Mind you, I did not have a pleasant experience at Makati Med. The breast clinic is really old and unfriendly.
I wouldn’t call St. Luke’s breast clinic friendly either, but at least the machines are super high tech.
This was Makati Med’s breast clinic in 2005 (I’m guessing it hasn’t changed)

waiting at the breast clinic

This is St. Luke’s, Bonifacio Global City


I consider myself lucky to be flat-chested. I feel no pain doing mammo, even as they stretch and flatten my already flattened chest to a pancake.
It was the ultrasound scan that got to me. The scanner is super high tech, I can’t describe it. It’s like a robotic scanner that goes on top of a stretchy film on top of your breast. This one scared me to death because they kept repeating one area and the technician wouldn’t talk to me, even when I asked for a clue. I prayed my chaplet many time. I started to imagine scenarios, and thought particularly about my friend Rita who recently survived a mastectomy at St. Luke’s.
This one was particularly draining. After the mammo, I asked my wellness guide Erika if I could go back to the room for a rest before the next procedure.
Ok, I wanted to cry. I found Jeroen back in our room having a break before his prostate scan, and I just broke down and freaked out.
I think I had only 40 minutes to rest before Erika picked me up for my PAP smear and transvaginal ultrasound, which was not that scary.
After this I really wanted to go home at this point, but I was only halfway done.

(to be continued)


I’m in Hong Kong. I left a lot of work on backlog to relax.
My life kind of slowed down after October 1 and 2 when I had my medicals done at St. Luke’s. I still have to finish that entry, by the way.
I’m here at the Four Seasons with my husband and father-in-law


I had the most amazing nap on this bed


You already know how I feel about this bathroom. Bubble bath every night :)


The Dutch are enjoying the complimentary Nespresso in the room :)



Here’s the Internet connection. Unfortunately it’s ethernet once again. There’s something wrong with the WIFI that’s slightly annoying (everything else is good).


What’s super cool is there’s someone taking care of the Four Seasons Twitter that’s really efficient

Screen shot 2011-10-13 at 10.44.00 PM

First meal I really enjoyed was the shrimp cooked in salted egg + fresh orange juice at Crystal Jade at the airport.
I wonder when Manila will ever offer decent food choices in its airports?


My favorite salted caramel in the world


No sharing, no leftover


City Super is a must


Ribeye for Jeroen at Craftsteak


New pots for Pepper Lunch


Just a little bit of wagyu and crab legs for grilling at the World Trade Center somewhere




Clams sauteed in white wine, onions, and butter


Peking duck at Cuisine Cuisine!





Pan fried sea bass in soy sauce and leeks


and that’s all for tonight :)

They’re baaack

The new Pepper Lunch Rockwell reopened today after a month of renovation, because renovation is good!
Aside from the very Japanice look and spanking new furniture and interiors, expect better ventilation and airconditioning while enjoying your favorite Pepper Lunch dishes.

Pepper Lunch Rockwell

Yes, you are not in Tokyo

IMG_0042 2

We start each day with a morning prayer

Morning prayer

Does it feel like a very chic classroom?

IMG_0041 1

So cool, you have to see!

The new Pepper Lunch Rockwell

Pepper Lunch now open at Rockwell-Powerplant Mall, Shangri-La Plaza, Greenbelt 5, Mall of Asia, Robinson’s Place Ermita, SM Megamall A, and Alabang Town Center-Corte delas Palmas.

Muji treats and opening this October

Not very fond of drugstore/supermarket varieties, here’s what I look for in hair products:
I prefer mild scents, natural ingredients, nice price, and if I’m lucky, great packaging.
All these come in Muji haircare products. I was surprised how affordable they are.
The minimalist packaging fits our shower stall and I love that it’s refillable.

in the bathroom

This October, a special haircare promo will be available in all MUJI stores.
Save 20% for every pair of MUJI shampoo and conditioner.
Every purchase of 400ml bottles of MUJI shampoo and conditioner of the same variant saves you 20% from the original total amount of the two bottles. Choose from five variants:

1. Mild Natural: Contains aloe to soothes the scalp and strengthen hair. Good for normal to dry hair.

2. Mild: A mild soap solution that’s perfect for sensitive scalps and fine hair.

3. Five Fruits: Infused with peach, pomegranate, raspberry, grapefruit and apple extracts.
Recommended for oily hair, this variant helps revitalize dull and dry hair and stimulate hair growth.

5 Fruits Shampoo5 Fruits Conditioner

4. Seven Herbs: Infused with rosemary, matricaria (sunflower), sage, peppermint, thyme, jojoba and lavender extracts, these herbs are known to stimulate growth of healthy hair, leaving it shiny and moisturized. Good for dry hair.

7 Herbs Shampoo7 Herbs Conditioner

5. Seaweed: For frequent hairwashers, the seaweed extracts maintain a healthy scalp and develop shiny, healthy hair. Good for colored hair that requires daily maintenance.

Seaweed ShampooSeaweed Conditioner

Here’s more:
For every pair of socks or stockings or each handkerchief, enjoy 50% off your next purchase of the same item.

Muji Right Angle Socks Good fitted 90 Degree Angle Socks

From October 15 onwards, selected food items will be offered as “Buy 1, Take 1 at 50% off.”
Stock up on pea and corn snacks, chocolate-covered peanuts, dried fruit mix, dried squid, lemon and strawberry marshmallows, and more.

061 - Food from Muji!

Then on October 14, Muji opens its fourth store in the Philippines at SM Mall of Asia.
With a floor area of more than 400 square meters, the store is located on the ground level of the Main Mall.
In the Philippines, MUJI is exclusively distributed by Stores Specialists, Inc. (SSI) with stores at Bonifacio High Street, Rockwell Powerplant Mall, Greenbelt 3, and soon at SM Mall of Asia.

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