The Pampanga region has seen the creation of a new travel agency association, as 16 local agencies group together to offer a more standardised service.Creating the Pampanga Agents Travel Society (Pats), the group will look to offer a similar product line, with even pricing to become standardised amongst members.?[Pats will] have a functional approach to [...]
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Annie is in Beijing. Not me, it's another Annie who is over for the Olympics and saw my post about whether the London Underground will be ready to cope with Olympics in 2012 when they come here. She's written a great piece about the subway over in Beijing with some fab photos. So over to Annie:
"I'm Annie as well (clearly). I'm in Beijing for the Olympics and as a long-time reader (okay, a year), I felt compelled to take some photos of the Beijing system.
I hope this isn't too rambly, but thought you'd be interested given your recent post about London's preparation (or lack thereof).
They've recently had an overhaul, which is visible in the Chinese/English signage and new tube trains. Given the heat, they've brought in air-conditioned carriages. Bliss!
The running is going very well given the number of people here for the Olympics. Changes are easy to make and everything is clearly signed, including which stairs take you to an exit and which take you to another tube line.
I couldn't get a photo of security, but they're scanning all bags with an x-ray and it's all going very quickly. And I have to say, they have thought well ahead by making gates (not all, but a number at each station) that are wide enough for wheelchairs and luggage to go through where you can still use your card to enter on your own. No passing your bag through a hole or waiting for someone to open the locked door for you. Brilliant.
With an Olympic ticket, you can get free travel on any public transport the same day as your event. You show your ticket at the station and they give you a single journey ticket to get to your destination. Then when you want to go somewhere else, they just hand you another.
Everything is 2008 branded and although they've also updated their signs about not leaning on the doors, I did see a great older one of a bleeding finger (we're talking big drops of blood) on the door. Unfortunately, I couldn't get my camera out before we got off.
There are queuing marks on the floors, which everyone follows, but as soon as the doors open, you're pretty much pushed on (before the rest have gotten off!).
And I have to say, I'm pretty impressed with the new stop markings in the newer carriages (many of which look like 8-car trains but are actually 4 cars that are twice as long, joined like a bendy bus in the middle).
This is Line 2 and not only does it tell you the stop and interchanges, it also tells you which side the doors will open on and which direction you're going (clockwise or anti-clockwise)."
Annie's husband thinks she's crazy for doing this and taking the photos, but I think she's great. She said that she may have more pictures of the public transport there, so it's worth keeping an eye on her Flickr stream. Thanks Annie - you rock!
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National Geographic warns of a threat to Hokkaido’s natural beauty:Free-floating pieces of ice that form each winter in the Sea of Okhotsk travel about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) to Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula. The ice, which normally lingers near the coast for up to four months, is key to the region’s rich biodiversity, including many rare [...]
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The Patuxai or Victory Gate, Vientiane
TO SPITE THE FRENCH
I will always remember Paris with fondness. I remember being in awe the minute I stepped out of the Eurostar from London?s Waterloo Station. I was pins and needles during the 3 ½ hour ride. It was also thoroughly disorienting not reading any signs in English. Every corner of the French capital was a spectacle. It was like being in a huge theme park with a recurring theme of beauty . Though I was clearly discombobulated by how expensive it was, I was smug with the thought that I need not daydream about it anymore. During my backpacking trip all over Europe, I?ve had several encounters with Paris, and with each transit, the city never failed to enamor me; it cast a spell of wonderment, like being in a wonderland with French audio, and strictly no English subtitles. LOL
It was a case of déjà vu passing through Vientiane?s Lane Xang and seeing the Patuxai from a distance. I was transported back to Paris, walking from the Louvre, then through a fountain park surrounded by a bevy of statues jutting up from pedestals, walking my way through the elegant Avenue des Champs-Elysee (Elysian Fields) until the view of the Arc loomed large and impersonal. This was unmistakably the inspiration behind the Patuxai.
Patuxai, also known as the Victory Gate, is the local rendition of Paris? Arc de Triomphe. To spite the French, their former colonizers, the Lao built their Arc with 4 pillars instead of 2. Moreover, this massive concrete structure stands taller than its European predecessor, inspiringly embellished with Buddhist designs. It is beautiful! The monument is surrounded by the city?s main park, the Patuxai Park (pronounced ?pah-too-chai?). This is the perfect place to observe the city habitués. I watched as people milled around, taking photographs. I came across a lady selling noodles on a gigantic ceramic plate, bigger than a bilao. I approached her and she smiled. I got myself a plate. It was a different take on pansit. A little more colorful and a little too sweet.
A LITTLE CANDY GIRL
As I was sucking on my Pepsi straw, a Lao kid tugged at my shirt. I hate being strangers touching me, but this was a girl of 8 with the brightest of smiles. She had a red ribbon on her hair. I said hello and asked what her name was, but she handed me a candy instead. In any scenario, it?s never wise to take anything from strangers, children included. I accepted the little green wrapper as I don?t want to break her heart with a refusal. I waited for a pitch for money, but it never came. She hopped to the next table with an elderly French guy and gave him the same. He was morose, his forehead furrowed with half a grimace, as though he got stabbed with pins. After taking the candy, he dropped it on his table. The little girl stood wide-eyed, then left as an elderly lady beckoned her from a distance. She looked my way and I vigorously waved goodbye with my candy and an appreciative grin. Little acts of kindness are not outlawed in the civilized world. They impart humanity and a sense of decency in an otherwise very impersonal environment of strangers. And angels don?t necessarily come from the heavens. Sometimes they are among us. We just have to stop ourselves from being jaded.
I spotted some monks taking their photos in the park. I asked if I could take theirs as well. I used to be painfully shy in asking people that, although in Europe, I kept summoning my guts! I then ventured into the 7-storey Patuxai. It was a rush walking under this massive concrete structure. I paid my entrance (3,000 kip - $0.37) to venture inside. The stairs leading to the summit was rough cement, clumsily constructed. There were no side rails too so that children have to be closely tended. In each floor, the rooms were filled with deserted stalls selling shirts and souvenir items. And the way up was dark! It was starting to drizzle by the time I got to the top - a breath taking sprawl of the city. From above, Lane Xang, the main avenue fronting the arc, looked regal and urban. There was no mistaking, I?m in the city. I decided to walk along Lane Xang towards the Presidential Palace.
DRAGONS, EMBASSIES AND SIAMESE RAIDS
Along the way, I saw rows of embassies, department stores, the Talat Sao Mall, government offices, banks. It?s at Joint Development Bank (near the U.S. Embassy) where I was finally able to withdraw cash (500,000 kip or $62.50 or PhP2,800). I crossed the intersecting streets. Hasady Road. Khouvieng.The U.S. Embassy is transected by a little lane that leads to a black stupa ? the That Dam! Though some guides fail to mention this structure, I found it an interesting concrete landmark that was believed to be the abode of a 7-headed dragon that protects Vientiane. I asked the permission of the embassy security men stationed on this little street so I could pass through and photograph the stupa. They looked surprised I even had to ask. There is a stark contrast between Manila?s U.S. Embassy and Vientiane?s. If Manila seems tactically ready for offensive assault ? complete with ground-planted, automated tire blockers, Vientiane is its laidback counterpart: simpler, smaller and ?homely?, although it rests on 2 separate grounds. It?s easy to ignore the That Dam. From a distance, it looks like an uninteresting mound of dark rubble. Though for the most part, it seems neglected, the overgrowth of vegetation renders a dramatic milieu on a sleepy neighborhood.
Further ahead, I checked out Wat Si Saket, now signposted as Sisaket Museum. Located at the corner of Thanon Lane Xang and Thanon Setthathirat, it is the oldest standing temple in Vientiane and among the most atmospheric. Built in 1818 by Chao Anou in the Bangkok style, hence it was left unsacked when much of Vientiane was razed in a Siamese raid in 1828. Within the cloister walls are hundreds of niches housing Buddha images large and small, made of wood, stone, silver and bronze. In the center of the courtyard is a five-tier-roofed sim (ordination hall) housing yet more Buddha niches and beautiful but fading murals of the Buddha's past lives.
DESERVING A PRESIDENT
From Wat Si Saket, I crossed the street to where the Presidential Palace is, directly facing the other end of Lane Xang, the Patuxai. I wanted to visit the ?Philippine Ambassador?s Residence? prominently marked on the map, as well as the much much smaller Philippine Embassy (further northeast) but my feet was already complaining. For this, I had to backtrack a kilometer or so, and it was getting late. What piqued my interest was the expanse of the Philippine Ambassador?s Residence. From my map, it was an impressive exoanse,2-3x bigger than the US Embassy grounds. Oh well. The Arroyo government is waddling and swimming with money while her mostly destitute constituents are wallowing in hardship and poverty ? which doesn?t stop her from furthering taxing anything and everything. Well, why do I complain? I voted for her. I deserve her! Let me stop myself from this train of thought. LOL. From Setthathirat, I walked westward. Traffic Police Building. Jamia Masjid, a muslim temple. F_k! My feet were hurting already so I opted the comfort of an airconditioned internet café to check my mails (1,600 kip/minute or $0.20/min).
I found my way back to the Namphou Fountain. I walked along Pangkham Road until I saw the Lao Plaza Hotel, which boasts of a cosmopolitan façade. I was back in Thanon Samsenthai, where my bus dropped me off. Damn! I was able to walk around much of the city already. I found a DVD shop nearby and felt at home, browsing through hundreds of titles. I bought 3 titles, including Finnish director Baltasar Kormakur?s Myrin (which won several from Iceland?s Edda Awards), Gregory J. Read?s Like Minds (an Australian film which reminds me of Sandra Bullock?s ?Murder By Numbers?) and Kim Rossi Stuart?s Anche Libero Va Bene or Along the Ridge (a Cannes-winning Italian Film directed by the star of ?Keys to the House?). They were inexpensive at 15,000 kip each ($1.88 or PhP85). I was looking for full-length Lao film features, but it seems that their film industry is almost non-existent. They do have DVD television series ? fantasy flicks and tearjerkers. I would have bought some if they had English subtitles. A relatively new title called ?Sabaidee, Luang Prabang? (Good Morning, Luang Prabang) opened in Bangkok recently, but it?s a Thai-Lao co-production, starring Thailand?s Piolo Pascual- Ananda Everingham (of Parkpoom Wongpoom?s horror flick ?Shutter? and the art house fares ?Ploy?, ?Pleasure Factory? and ?Me?Myself?).
While I sat down for dinner, the restaurant owners offered me her Beerlao which I politely declined. They were amused knowing I was from the Philippines. There were no words exchanged. Only sign languages, but I knew I was invited back. When you are tired and travel-weary, there?s nothing more uplifting than a sincere smile from the locals. Somehow, I didn?t feel so alone, so far away from home. I also realized how much I enjoyed Vientiane. That was the surprise. Second-hand impression from word of mouth and books is unfair. I would have skipped Vientiane altogether. And knowing what I know now, I would have missed a lot from this beguiling city had I skipped it. Most backpackers take Vientiane as a mere transit post for their travels to Pakse or Luang Prabang and their crossings to Thailand (the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge is nearby although crossings by foot or bikes aren?t allowed). I was pleased I saw Vientiane, mostly on foot, and I still had another day to discover it. I got lucky.
Lane Xang, a 1 kilometer street stretching from the Patuxai to the Presidential Palace
Arc de Triomphe in Paris, stands in the centre of the Place Charles de Gaulle, also known as the Place de l'Étoile. It is at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. The triumphal arch honors those who fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. The monument stands 49.5 metres (165 ft) in height, 45 metres (148 ft) wide and 22 meters (72 ft) deep. The Arc has one lift, to the level underneath the exterior observation level. Visitors can either climb 284 steps to reach the top of the Arc or take the lift and walk up 46 steps. Locally, we have our very own Arch of the Centuries at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) grounds.
My DVD finds: Master Finnish director Baltasar Kormakur's MYRIN (aka JAR CITY), which sweeped Iceland's Edda Awards (right); Gregory J. Read's MURDEROUS INTENT (aka LIKE MINDS) from Australia (center); Kim Rossi Stuart's directorial debut ANCHE LIBERO VA BENE (aka ALONG THE RIDGE), which won the CICAE Award at the Cannes as well as several others from different European film festivals, including the Italian Oscars.
Trevi Fountain, Rome [Flickr/Villes]
̭Officials in Rome looking to build a Disneyland-esque theme park [MSNBC]
̭British, American and Iberia Airlines sign cooperation agreement [Gadling]
̭London introduces green tours [Jaunted]
̭Meanwhile in NYC some subway escalators are now energy-efficient [TH]
̭A cheese-loving journalist embarks on a Tour de Fromage [CNN]
̭Cincinnati to resurrect old streetcars [UPI]
You've traded in your PBR for Chimay, your ironic t-shirts for understated plaids, you believe in the death penalty for anyone who's looked twice at a Rod Stewart album -- and you've got a hot date. To seal the deal, you need to dance on the blade of a knife: too classy, and you look like a Marina schlub, but too grungy, and you look like a depressed cheapskate. You washed your Thundercats underwear for this special occasion, and with this handy guide, those skivvies will wind up on the floor next to a Conor Oberst CD and a first-run copy of The Road To Wellville.
[Photo: Agent Provacateur]
Pics from the Olympic Village from Lei:
Pressured into commissioning another study to determine if there’s a safe way to reopen the upper levels of the Statue of Liberty to tourists, the federal government will spend $150,000 on a new report due in February, according to...
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Neue Deutsche Küche is Germany's take on nouvelle cuisine, putting a fresh spin on classic dishes -- think Brandenburg duck garnished with pineapple chutney rather than pig trotter sashimi. Berlin has a handful of high-end outlets with a Michelin-starred prodigy in the kitchen who dreams of reformulating the boulette for the palate of the gourmands, slebs, and bigwigs out front. Here's a quick run-through for those with the wallets, pocketbooks, and livers fat enough to indulge.