The Philippines Adventure - Manila & Baguio | January 2015

How I ended up in the Philippines is quite a story of chance, initiative and networking.

A long time ago, my brother Jason signed up to speak at an entrepreneurship conference in Sunway Convention Hall. He made friends with the Filipino delegates there, so much so that Filipino delegates, who were professors at a few universities in the Philippines, invited him to speak at Cebu, Philippines at the Global Forum on Management and Entrepreneurship 2013. Formally the event was organised by the Young Entrepreneurs Society of Philippines and ENEDA (the group of professors).

See how the whole thing is starting to snowball?

He went, and then they called him back to speak in 2015. Since I was now based in KL, Jason thought it would be cool if I tagged along. So I agreed because I really wanted to visit the Philippines. Then one of us (can't remember who) had the idea that I could co-speak in his session! I could share about Kenyang! The organisation would cover our accommodation for the week and we would only need to pay for the airfare of RM350+.

Crazy. Who wouldn't want it go, right?!

So of course I said yes. Then two weeks before the conference, the Indonesian speaker backed out. So I was faced with an interesting proposition. Take up a full 1 hour session or share with my brother? I never liked sharing so I said yes! Hahahaha #kiasu.

Here's that whole story! I rate the entire experience a solid 9/10.

List of places we visited in Clark, Angeles City
  1. Stay at Tune Hotels, Angeles City
  2. Chill at the SM City Clark mall 
  3. Have dinner at Mesa Filipino Moderne, Angeles City (Worth Visiting)
  4. Visit Nayong Pilipino, Clark cultural village (Worth Visiting)
List of places we visited in Baguio:
  1. Stay at Ridgewood Residence
  2. Visit the Philippine Military Academy, Baguio (Worth Visiting)
  3. Lunch at the 50's Diner, Baguio
  4. Chill out and have dinner at Baguio Country Club
  5. Speak at the Global Forum on Management and Entrepreneurship about Kenyang and Teach For Malaysia at Camp John Hay
  6. Walk around Session Road, Baguio (Worth Visiting)
  7. Ate dinner at Forest House, Baguio (Great Ambience) 
List of places we visited in Manila and surroundings:
  1. Stay at Tune Hotel, Makati
  2. Visit San Agustin Church
  3. Eat lunch at Ristorante Delle Mitre, Manila (Worth Visiting)
  4. Visit Intramuros, Manila (Worth Visiting)
  5. Visit the Bahay Tsinoy, Manila Museum
  6. Have hot chocolate at Illustrado, Manila
  7. Visit Binondo Church
  8. Visited 'Old Manila', Chinatown
  9. Head to the city of Marikina
  10. Visited H. Bautista Elementary School with Teach For The Philippines
  11. Visited the Mind Museum, Manila
  12. Chilled at Bonifacio Highstreet which is at Bonifacio Global City (Worth Visiting) 
  13. Ate dinner at Sentro 1771, Manila (Must Visit) 
  14. Visited the Teach For The Philippines office!
  15. Ate lunch at the Green Belt malls


Date: 23 - 29 January 2015 (7 days)
Accommodation: (Fully sponsored)

  1. Tune Hotels, Angeles City
  2. Ridgewood Residence, Baguio
  3. Tune Hotel, Makati

Flight tickets: AirAsia, RM350+
Money in hand: RM400 (the majority of our meals were provided and paid for)
Total Cost: RM800

Conversion rate: RM1 to 12 Pesos. Divide by 10 for simplicity.

Overall experience: 9/10
Favourite place in Baguio: Camp John Hay
Favourite place in Manila: Bonifacio HighstreetH. Bautista Elementary School
Best place I ate at in Manila: Sentro 1771, Manila 

Day 1 - Friday (23 January 2014)

Things we did:

  1. Arrive at Tune Hotels, Angeles City
  2. Chill at the SM City Clark mall 
  3. Have dinner at Mesa Filipino Moderne, Angeles City (Worth Visiting) 

Since the conference was in Baguio, we decided to land at Clark, Angeles City, which is in between Manila and Baguio. What we didn't know about Clark was that it was sort of the red light town hahaha. Previously before Mount Pinatubo erupted nearby, it had a American military base which the economy revolved around. The Americans left but the red lights didn't ;)

Anyway, here's a picture of the taxi drivers who tried to charge us 600 pesos (RM60) for a short ride to the hotel (Tune Hotels, Angeles City). It was ridiculously near! Thankfully we had Philippino friends who told us it shouldn't be more than 200 pesos so we bargained and got 300 pesos.

My brother, Jason went to town with the bargaining though. I seriously thought he was going to be socked. As you can see, the guy beside the driver, the one who was hollering at us, he's HUGE. Not worth pushing it y'all. Also, motivation to be consistent at the gym haha.

Arriving at Tune Hotels, Angeles City! Same concept as all other Tune hotels.

After putting our stuff down, we decided to walk around to get some groceries. Seeing this pretty was the first of exposures to situations where safety regulations are virtually non existent. They're welding without even a sun visor!

Imagine those sparks flying into their eyes. Blind as a bat, next. Is it really worth it? I'm betting they can't afford it and their employers are trying too hard to stinge/see no need to buy because safety law enforcement sucks. 

Found these gems at the local 7-11. Baked Porky Pops is apparently one of their big hits there! It's really the skin pork which is baked. San Miguel is their local beer. This one was flavoured so yeah of course it was nice haha.

A lot of locals like hot dogs too, and our local friend said it's because they were colonised by the Americans.

Me in front of the Tune Hotels, Angeles City sign! I really admire this empire Tony Fernandes built out of nothing. It's quite amazing. This is why I like reading biographies, because these people had something different about themselves, and I want to find out what. Heh. 

After grabbing some snacks and taking a nap, we decided to head to the local mall, SM City Clark. Initially we wanted to head to the best restaurant in Clark, but it was too out of the way so we decided to head to the mall where the number 3 restaurant was located. 

Trying out the local tricycle! Very similar to what they call the tuk-tuk in Thailand.

Shakey's! For some reason, they're no longer in Malaysia - they probably weren't doing very well. I remember having awesome milkshakes there as a kid. 

Woah! Just googled and found out that there's no more trace of Shakey's in Malaysia! Interestingly enough there's still some in Singapore and of course there Philippines. I wonder why. Why weren't they able to successfully capture the Malaysian market?

So this place SM City Clark is actually from a chain of malls. It is owned by the SM group in the Philippines and is the largest chain of malls. Prof Eunice (our local friend and host) said that there's a saying in the Philippines "If your area doesn't have a SM Mall, it isn't considered developed."

In her area apparently there are 3 SM city malls!

At the mall, I made a quick stop to get the local Starbucks tumbler. I had no idea what Pampagna was so I had to look it up hahaha. Pampagna turns out to be the region of the location!

Interestingly, the Philippines is actually not broken up into states but into regions all the way down to the local districts. Very different from what we're used to. And surprising how it works as well.

So like I said earlier, the reason why we headed to the mall was because we tripadvisored the best restaurant in Clark and Mesa Filipino Moderne, Angeles City came up number 3. We saw the Philippines Tatler Best Restaurants sign too and were sold!

Food - 9/10
Ambience - 9/10
Service - 8/10
Value - 7/10

Price - RM70+ per person

It was our first legit meal in the Philippines and it was sooooo good. The pictures below rather haphazardly shot la because we were hungry. But we had:

1. Red Horse beer 
2. Baby Squid 
3. Beef in Coconut 
4. Fried beef

Ok I know these aren't very good descriptions hahaha so if you're ever there just ask the waiter for the best sellers. 


DELICIOUS TO THE MAX! Sent this to the fam back in KL and my aunt said "Wahhhh so oily." hahahahah

Best pal Pope Francis and I chillin' at the mall. The pope and I, we go way back ;)

Just a week ago, he was in the Philippines to visit the mass! Over 6 million people gathered in Manila so yeah. Mandatory to take a picture with his cutout hahaha.


Day 2 - Saturday (24 January 2014)

Things we did:

  1. Visit Nayong Pilipino, Clark cultural village (Worh)
  2. Travel up to Baguio
  3. Check in at Ridgewood Residence

In the morning we went to Nayong Pilipion, Clark. There's another one in Manila as well and it's basically a cultural centre where you get to learn about the formation of the Philippines and the history behind it. 

So there was a show going on and we were actually late already so we quickly crept in. Then Jason saw steps leading upstairs so we decided to head up. Sure enough there weren't anybody there! We had first class seats to the whole show...

Which I must add was seriously good! Check out them doing the fancy bamboo dance here. Not easy! Chop chop chilli chop!

lol who even says that anymore

Here this couple was dancing on the benches and the guy was twirling her around like she was made out of feathers. Pretty wild! The crowd went 'WOOOoOooOOO' when the girl was tossed in the air and landed at all the right spots.

Why some people so awesome ah? Oh ya, practice.

Posing by the local transportation of the past! Let me tell you something; shades are like an automatic pass for anybody to level up their looks. Hahahaha it's very easy to look cool. Just put on some shades. I think it's because they cover the eyes, something that not many people on earth have good ones off.

But of course that's not why I was wearing them...  sunlight was too glaring la... sensitive eyes. Hahahaha

With their jeepney! Or at least a variant of it. Wah I look so skinny here. NEED SOME GAINZ Y'ALL!

So this guy was apparently how the indigenous people of Philippines used to live.

By the orchid park. None of them were in bloom though!

Fancy lake y'all!

Nice church.


Meditatin' haha

So this house you see here, was built by the people of the hills in the Philippines. There are absolutely no screws used in this house and the house is built like a jigsaw puzzle. It's pretty cool because that way it can be easily dismantled or upgraded to expand.

I'm not sure what it's called... but yeah it was pretty cool.

Chillin' with my pals. Getting annoyed with them always being set in stone in their ways though.

Then... funny story. We went back to the entrance and my brother asked if there was a tour guide we could follow. The concierge said there was a free one so they came and took us around... to the same places we visited already hahaha. We did enter the church which we previously did not enter though. And my brother asked them a question.

OK story time. 

"So is Jesus filipino?"

"Yes!" They both cried in unison, with incredulous eyes as if we had just asked them if air was lighter than water. 

Jason and I looked at each other with eyes wide opened.

One of the girls continued. "You don't know Jesus?" 

Haha what lousy story writing. If you're waiting for the punchline, it already happened. ANYWAY, they took us to see the 2pm cultural show. Since we had time to kill anyway, we decided to watch it again but from nearer seats. 

It was just as good again!

Seriously, props to these guys for putting up a good legit cultural show. I've seen quite a lot of crappy boring cultural dances but this one was actually pretty legit and good! They even sang for a portion.

Then we headed to another part of Nayong Pilipino called the Living Museum Laro-Aral! Here they were doing a live demonstration of the malong and it's 467921647921 uses.

"Look you can use it as a sleeping bag!"

"Or if you want grandpa undies, you can tie it up as such too! Indeed! Cup of tea!"

"It can also be used to smuggl- I mean transport babies with!"

My Aladdinesque take on the malong.

During the final segment of the cultural show, members of the audience were called to join them on the stage for the bamboo dance. The moment the performers came down, I JUST KNEW they were going to come to me.

Sure enough they did.


My lame attempts of telling them my ankle wasn't happy didn't work and so up I went. End result... Let's just say it was more embarassing than it was painful on the feet.

After Nayong Pilipino, Clark, our friends Farley and Eunice picked us in their 7-seater to head up to Baguio! The jam from Manila was immense, they took around 4 hours just to reach Clark! The journey is normally around 1-2 hours. 

Then we rode for another 5 hours up to Baguio through all the ridiculous jam on the highway. This is a random pic of the sunset I took in between naps. I think I snored a little cause I was so tired hahahaha sorry guys I don't normally snore unless I'm suuuuper tired or put on a few pounds (of fat)! #truestory

I was tired!

Where we were staying for the next two nights, Ridgewood Residence!

Let's just say that Baguio is COLD. Like 4 degress celcius at night cold. My genius brother didn't bring a jacket so he had to use his suit #genius.

I don't know why I'm using so many hashtags when they don't work in blogs hahahah ah well.

Pictured here are Prof Eunice, Elly and Elvie! No group shot now but you'll see it later! 

So this was our second night in the Philippines and we were once again exposed to Filipino cuisine. Let's just say it's a bit crazy la ok.

We had sisig, which is pig's SNOUT. And HORSE MEAT. I don't know how to emphasise how crazy that is. HORSE MEAT. That's the dish behind the glass of water between the hot plates. 

On the sisig, I'm just glad I only found out what sisig really was after the whole trip because we had a lot of it. Urgh.

I think my beef with horse meat in particular is that horses are not normally reared for consumption. Therefore this horse was happy with his friends and one day got killed and BAM now we're eating it. I know it's irrational, because I'm sure the chickens were happy with their friends and got killed and BAM we ate it too, but... something about horses. They are friends.

Ok enough digression. haha


Day 3 - Sunday (25 January 2014)

Things we did:

  1. Visit the Philippine Military Academy, Baguio (Worth Visiting)
  2. Lunch at the 50's Diner, Baguio
  3. Chill out and have dinner at Baguio Country Club (Relaxing) 
  4. Walk around Session Road, Baguio (Worth Visiting) 
It was the first day of the Global Forum on Management and Entrepreneurship 2015! But the four speakers went to tour around Baguio city instead haha. First off we went to the Philippine Military Academy, Baguio! Amazing place, it was. The best part is that the academy is still active and cadets still train there.

Chilling by an artillery.


Check out my cannon ;)

"A bird, a plane? Superman!"

Ok first up, more introductions, clockwise from me. Jason with half his face, Elvie, Elly and Farley (Prof Eunice's husband). 

So what we were having here was really cool!

Can't quite remember the filipino name for it but I know in Malaysia we call it Tau Foo Fah and in Singapore Tau Hui.

Here they serve it with strawberry jam and jellies! For 8 peso (RM0.80) only too.

Sweet (both literally and figuratively)  

As we would come to learn, Filipinos love their food sweet. As Elly once told us. "The sweeter, the better!" I'm just surprised Malaysia is still number 1 for diabetes in South East Asia.

Then I remember that oh ya, we have groups of people in Malaysia who think that coca-cola mixed with condensed milk is a staple drink. 


See Yusuke at the back there looking all cool in his 'casual wear'. Typical Japanese. Haha

On top of a treehouse! Brother didn't want to climb, I think he's afraid of heights hahahaha

Picture of all of us with our yummy strawberry Tau Foo Fah.

After that we went to the 50's Diner, Baguio! It's a place the American soildiers used to frequent so the portions were HUGE. We were soooo stuffed by the end of the meal we could hardly walk.

Food - 7/10 (portions are huge though!)
Ambience - 7/10
Service - 7/10
Value - 7/10

Price: 250 pesos or RM25+ per person

An okay place in general. Very popular with the locals though! Long queues. 

Check out this fancy plant we found! At first I thought it was the flowers on top or at least mutated leaves like the ones on bougainvillea plants but it's not! It's just the young leaves of the plant. Proof is the leaf in the middle turning from red to green.


It really makes me wonder! Does the red leaf have any chlorophyll in it? How does the chlorophyll develop? Is it like stem cells which haven't differentiated? Mmhmm

After that we went to Baguio Country Club, a place which Farley's company provides free membership. We had pretty nice coffee there and then headed out to use the Recreation Room. Played ping pong and got quite competitive! Play until smash here smash there also hahah

Amazing view :)

I wonder if I'll ever pick up golf in the future. At this rate... maybe not. 

Dinner at night! Was really feeling the pressure at that time because all these professors were around! We were about to speak the next day!


Day 4 - Monday (26 January 2014)

Things we did:

  1. Speak at the Global Forum on Management and Entrepreneurship about Kenyang and Teach For Malaysia at Camp John Hay
  2. Walk around Session Road, Baguio (Worth Visiting)
  3. Ate dinner at Forest House, Baguio (Great Ambience) 
  4. Stay at Tune Hotel, Makati

The big day of the conference when the four of us were going to speak! This is after eating breakfsat, waiting for the driver to come pick us up.

Having finished our slides and not wanting to unnecessarily panic ourselves before speaking, my brother and I decided to take some fancy schmancy pictures hahaha

Breakfast, anyone? :)

I was the second speaker of the Global Forum on Management and Entrepreneurship 2015 after Ivan, before Yusuke and lastly my brother.

So what did I share about?

I first shared about discovering my passion (education & health) and then fixing a problem in the scope of my passion (malnutrition) - Kenyang

On the first bit, under discovering my passion, I shared a bit about my background in law and how I ended up in Teach For Malaysia. Three reasons:
  1. Everybody says that our education system is terrible. I wanted to understand what was happening on the ground first hand.
  2. I wanted to do more than just talk. If I do something about it, my words would carry a lot more weight than those who just talked.
  3. If I lived to a 100, why can’t I give up 2% of my time to do this once in a lifetime opportunity?
I also shared about the existence of Teach For The Philippines! Was very surprised that nobody in the crowd of 300+ students from 12 different universities not knowing about it. I made sure they knew by the end of it though!

Being placed in SMKPR, Bukit Mertajam and understanding the context and local culture there.

So this was after discovering that my kids were fainting during sports and being direct in classrooms and not being alert in general.

Then I shared about starting Kenyang and our successes and failures.

And how about you now? ;)

The night before while having dinner with the organisers, I learned that the students were mostly worried about what to start and having the capital to start. So I emphasised to focus on fixing a problem in the scope of your passion. There is no point in thinking about sectors which you are not currently involved in.

Maybe right now you're volunteering in a local orphanage? How about fixing a problem in that scope? Ask perhaps the kids what they want the most. Perhaps it could be a literacy program? It could be anything.

The second, I shared a bit more on utilising social media to get capital. I shared about how I raised RM10k in capital for Kenyang, with a lot of the money coming from people I didn't even know - like for example a group of Malaysian housewives in Dubai who decided to donate RM2k and three bags full of trinkets from Dubai. It took me two years to finish giving all those trinkets as rewards and even then I still had a whole bag to give to my colleagues in school when I left.

Pretty cool right? Networking is amazing. I simply cannot agree with people who say their current network is too small/too poor for this to happen. Grab some pliers and expand it y'all! The people who contacted me aren't even friends of presumably 'rich' friends. They are friends of friends of friends. Strangers essentially who listened to a plea.

The end logo of TFM  after the end of the Kenyang video -

Spent a lot of time on this. Watch it!

Answering questions from the crowd. I received a lot of questions! I guess a lot of people really like the idea of feeding programs and helping children.

Receiving the certificate and being paparazzied! hehe

Being paparazzied.

Dinner at the speakers table. Meet them all! From the left, Yusuke, Elvie, Ivan, Jason and I.

Yusuke started a social enterprise in Japan to help youth in challenging situations. He started a school that trains them. His social enterprise Kisuke is regarded as the most successful social enterprise in Japan today! It has over 50 staff in just 4 years of operations.

Ivan started Bagosphere, a social enterprise in the Philippines. He and his co-founders interestingly are Singaporean. They started a call centre training centre for students who cannot afford it. The students pay for it after they complete the training and have gotten gainful employment. It's pretty amazing and is doing very well!

Jason co-founded Life School, which trains students holistically to look beyond the national curriculum. Things like financial literacy and empathy are taught during the sessions. They get grants from corporate sponsors like Maybank to teach in schools around Malaysia. Life School also does cross subsidisation and funds After School, a literacy program that helps out needy kids in the Segambut area.

Then there's me, Joel, founder of Kenyang. It started off as a social enterprise, training students to sell nutritious affordable alternatives in school. It didn't work due to health regulations (ironically) and so it focused on starting a Breakfast Club where free nutritious food and education on health living is given to students in high need schools. It runs a non-profit model instead so it requires funding.

On Kenyang's social enterprise part, thankfully there's now an organisation called Makanlah which is doing exactly just that now! They'll be starting in 2016. I'm in collaboration with the founders to help them set it up.

With the speakers and Professor Lorraine! Don't you just love it when the photographer artistically adds their thumb into the picture?

So after lunch when we went back to the area, there were a lot of people wanting to take our picture. It was like a little cult almost. For like 20 minutes we just stood there while people rotated around us. Didn't even know who was beside us. It was.... crazy.

Yusuke sharing about his social enterprise! Very informative.

Then my brother sharing about Life School.

Agent of Social Transformation. 21st century buzz word yo!

More paparazzi while receiving our tokens of appreciation from the organisers. Couldn't resist after I saw Yusuke do the same thing hehe.

Then after the crowd died down, I did a pose on my own with the banner.

Closer look at the banner without me.

Meet Cedric! Brilliant wedding photographer. I always admire people who chase their passions!

Selfie with Yusuke :) Random note but I'm really glad I got to know Yusuke through this. Not because he offered me a place to crash at should I want to go to Tokyo (SCORE!) but because I was really inspired by him.

Ex-gangster guy who really broke out of the cycle and became the successful man he is today.

With Farley, my brother, Yusuke and Cedric.

After everything ended, I went to the local Starbucks to get the Baguio Starbucks tumbler at look what I found, Teach For The Philippines' poster! Fancy that.

Then we headed down to Baguio city itself. Turns out that the past two days of looking around Baguio was the rich side, and not the city in itself. The city itself was quite old.

Amazing shopping area! Not only did it look dodgy, but also was a maze with passages that looped and went up and down. Eunice said that people often get lost in this place. Not surprised!

Yusuke is super fancy wei. He said it's cause he didn't pack any other clothes, which fair enough la. But still, it makes me think that everyone in Japan is super fancy haha.

And yes, my shorts weren't warm enough. Baguio is cold! Like 15C or so during the day.

Their main road, called Session Road, Baguio. Such a beautiful street. A lot of people, and you don't necessarily feel safe. It reminded me of Paris for some reason.

View of the street from the other side. We had some ice cream on the way because that's what people do when they're cold. They eat ice cream. *YEAAAH*

Had dinner at this beautiful restaurant called Forest House, Baguio. Overall I would say: 

Food - 6/10
Ambience - 9/10
Value - 7/10
Service - 7/10  

Price - 400 Pesos or RM40+ per person

If you ever head there, go for the ambience. The food's okay but the ambience is pretty neat. Fresh flowers and the like all around. The restaurant is accorded in the Philippine Tatler as one of the best restaurants!

Fresh orchids. They were also playing good youtube covers on a flat screen TV for us to see. Michael Buble type music. Good stuff.

I'd recommend not to eat outside like we did if you go there and don't have the right attire. IT WAS COLD. Only if you want to turn to ice do you sit outside haha. After that, we took a very quick 3 hour ride to Manila and were put up in Tune Hotel, Makati. The prices were around RM200 if you're interested.


Day 5 - Tuesday (27 January 2014)

Things we did: 
  1. Visit San Agustin Church
  2. Eat lunch at Ristorante Delle Mitre, Manila (Worth Visiting)
  3. Visit Intramuros, Manila (Worth Visiting)
  4. Visit the Bahay Tsinoy, Manila Museum
  5. Have hot chocolate at Illustrado, Manila
  6. Visit Binondo Church
  7. Visited 'Old Manila', Chinatown

Since we arrived pretty late into the night at around 1am, we decided to sleep in a bit and start the day at 11am. Farley came around then and picked us up to see around Manila. But before that, since Yusuke, Jason and I had not eaten anything, we grabbed some quick breakfast. McDs!!!

This was mine. I find it so intriguing that they have rice. I remember that Bangkok also had rice. Which begs the question. In Malaysia where a lot of people also like rice, why don't we have rice in our McDonalds? Or did McD conduct the research already and determined that it isn't a big thing here in Malaysia?

Instead we have Bubur Ayam McD. Which isn't half bad. But it isn't rice, it's porridge.


Le insides.

After eating, we went to the university area. Not quite sure even what the name was. But we were in the car. So, really couldn't be bothered to find out. There were many students in the area! Wish we had time to see the universities but we didn't though sadly. Maybe next time in the future :)

The university where Eunice lectures at.

Then we went to eat at this place where the Bishops have their meals. Catholicism is huge in the Philippines? Well yeah so they have this restaurant which is run by the church. Apparently it was started because the cardinals from overseas wanted what their mother cooked but couldn't find it there.

So they started the restaurant. This horse carriage is right outside where the restaurant is. Yes, they have horses.

The restaurant is located opposite this church called San Agustin Church. It's the oldest church in Manila, founded in 1720. Yes I googled to check. It's that old and I remember the funny story of how Farley was saying it was so expensive to book it for his wedding with Eunice.

Ristorante Delle Mitre is the name of the restaurant. The food was sooooooo good. 2nd best out of my whole trip in the Philippines! Not even kidding.

Food - 9/10
Ambience - 7/10
Service - 7/10
Value - 9/10 

Price: 300 Pesos or RM30+ per person

Affordable good food! This is what I live for, you guys. Life is complete when you have good and affordable food. Everything on the table was delicious. A few standouts which I remember till today:

1. Beef in Tamarind Broth
2. Small fish from the volcanic mountains
3. A big chunk of pork

Haha I realise this isn't really helpful but yeah just ask the waiter what's good. You can't go too wrong with whatever you order there. Even the desserts was nice.


Took a picture with the pope's cutout on the way out (again). I'm not Catholic, but seeing him everywhere kinda makes me want to see him one day. Vatican City one day, maybe? :)

The desserts that we had. So full but izzokei we always have space for desserts.

Checking out San Agustin Church again. That's all we got to see though as the inside was closed. But it's okay, I still say we went there haha

UNESCO World Heritage Site!

After all that eating, we went on a tour to Intramuros, Manila. You're probably wondering what fancy sounding place is that. Well, the place is basically the place where the very first Spanish who came and conquered for 300 years first stayed at.

Intramuros means within the walls

It's where all the rich Spanish of Manila ever stayed at. Beautiful place that was devastated when the bombings happened. Eunice says that behind the atomic bombs, Manila was most devastated by the war. Thankfully they've restored part of it because it's spankin'

My feet on them historical lands.

With Yusuke by the courtyard.

On the last day, I went out with Jason's friends for drinks and during it we were talking about how when the pope came, apparently, they moved all the poor homeless people to a resort somewhere so that he wouldn't see them.

Income disparity is a big thing here.

I guess this picture is quite a harrowing one of that reality. Two little girls happily waving from within a shoebox house. Click on the picture to zoom in and see them. Yeah that's how they live and they're right next to fancy Intramuros. You wouldn't even know they were there unless you were from a higher floor.

The saddest part is that the girls made no choice in being placed in that situation. They were just born into it. Who's to say we're any different in essence?

The fancy cobblestone street by which Intramuros and that house is on.

Oh yeah sorry can't show pictures of the exhibit in Intramuros because the guard was quite strict on not taking pictures. The exhibits showed how they lived back in the time basically. Eunice and Farley gave a rather entertaining commentary throughout as well.

There were these fancy bamboo bikes outside on the courtyard. It's just very sustainable bikes but around 100000 pesos or RM10000? I remember telling Farley you could buy a small car with that money in Malaysia.

Why so expensive?

After that we went to Bahay Tsinoy, Manila. What this place is is basically a Museum for the Chinese people of the Philippines. There's a whole lot of Chinese who immigrated to the Philippines in hopes of a better life.

I give the museum a 7/10? It was informative. Not sure if I would go there if I was on my own though.

Hometown of me.

Same picture but with a goofier pose.

Yeah other than these two pictures, I realise I didn't bother with any other in the museum hahaha. Guess it was just okay.

Then we went to eat and drink some more! True enough to what Eunice was saying about Filipinos eating 6 times a day. So we headed over to Illustrado, Manila where they served Hot Chocolate that was pretty unique.

Food - 7/10
Ambience - 8/10
Service - 7/10
Value - 7/10

Price - 150 pesos or RM15 for hot chocolate

This place didn't really put an impression on me for the food or drinks. The things I remember most about this place was the conversations though, on how we talked about the Philippine's tumultuous past politically and the illustrados.

Illustrado - A Filipino who studied overseas and came back to the Philippines.

It was at this point that Yusuke and I started talking about health in Japan. Yusuke said they do weigh themselves everyday in Japan! They also have to submit their waistline and other health stats to the companies they work with every year. He said that's why there are very few fat people in Japan.

I wonder though, why is there such a divide behind Western and these Asian countries that are both developed? Western countries... a lot of plus sized people!

After hot chocolate, decided to pose by the nice ambience of Illustrado.


Another one of the many churches that we spotted in town. After hot chocolate we decided to head over to Chinatown, which is within old Manila. This one is called Binondo Church. Nice building, and most obviously the fanciest building in the area. Really picked up the fact that most cities of the past were built around religion.

I found it intriguing how they had to list funerals as 'anytime'. Of course it makes sense but still quite morbid to see on their list of services provided.

Then we went into this Chinese food store which decided to do a bit of CSR and made a firetruck to help those in Manila because there were a lot of fires in the area in the past.

So, welcome to old Manila and Chinatown. The hanging cables all over really reminds me of Thailand. I really wonder how safe is it like this. Guess that's why they need the firetruck!

After walking around Chinatown for a bit, we decided to hit a mall. I don't have it in pictures here, so I'll try to paint the picture of what I saw. It was quite surreal. 

There was this fancy mall, with huge LED screens on its walls, at least more than 200 inches across. Right opposite it though, separated not more than 2 lanes of road on both sides was a block of extremely old flats. The kind in those old Hong Kong dramas. The lights from the LED screens absolutely illuminated the flats. 

It was almost ridiculous to see advertisements for things like HP printers and the latest movie and having it practically sunbathing the flats opposite at night with music no less. I'm sure this isn't legal in many places in the USA. 

This is development though, and life for very many people in the world. Then I went into the mall, stumbled upon this shirt, and thought to myself. "How apt."

Education in itself is learning. And how true it is that without learning there is no success! 


Day 6 - Wednesday (28 January 2014)

Things we did: 
  1. Head to the city of Marikina
  2. Visited H. Bautista Elementary School with Teach For The Philippines
  3. Visited the Mind Museum, Manila
  4. Chilled at Bonifacio Highstreet which is at Bonifacio Global City (worth visiting) 
  5. Ate dinner at Sentro 1771, Manila (must must must visit) 

A new morning and new day! We woke up early in the morning and met Mikko, a Leadership Development Officer from Teach For The Philippines. He was going to take us to a school and then follow the school for a field trip out.

We ate some Jollibee in the morning. It's the most successful chain of fast food in the Philippines and it overtakes McDs. Crazy right? It's because of their amazing fried chicken and sweet spaghetti, because them Filipinos love their fried chicken and sweet stuff. 

After our quick breakfast, Mikko told us we were going to try out many forms of public transportation that day. In total, we tried 5!
  1. Jeepney
  2. MRT
  3. FX
  4. Tricycle
  5. Bus 
The very first of which was the Jeepney which really is just a modified Jeep that lets you sit people inside. I found the whole experience quite crazy sitting in one!

For one, there are no stops for jeepneys anywhere. You literally walk up to one at a traffic lights and hop into one. We were crossing the street when Mikko suddenly just told us to jump in. I was like "Wait, what NOW?!"

Haha it cost us 8 pesos to ride it to where we were heading.

This is how the inside of a jeepney looks like. Two benches on either side of the vehicle.

Then we ended up at the Beundia MTR station!

Then we got our train tickets to head to Marikina! That's where the school is located.

Check out their MRT system! Over the week in Philippines, I heard many stories of how the government is so corrupt. How they even set up non-profits and then channel the money into there when actually the money just goes into their pockets.

Apparently that's the sad thing with the the transportation in Manila too. Seeing this little map really makes it all real. Manila is huge. 1.6 million people, around the same as KL, and yet they only have three lines while KL has at least 5-6 lines. Not saying that KL's transportation is better haha that is also extremely far from the truth.

But comparing Manila and KL, it was quite bizarre seeing how far behind the system was and hearing it from the locals. The stations are over capacity as you will be able to see in the pictures later. They have to limit people entering the platform itself and the queue snakes all the way till out of the station. I presume they don't let everyone on the platform because there's the risk of people being pushed off the platform.

And the train ride itself. It was extremely sardine packed! To the point where there are people around you completely and the back of someone else is pressed unto my chest and likewise my chest to someone's back. IT WAS WILD.

I don't think KL faces these kinds of jams either but I can't be too sure.

Snakes of people.

A church we saw in Marikina. Churches are nice all over! Oh yeah, I forgot to take a picture of the FX that we sat in. It's basically a minivan where you're squeezed in as well. That one was 35 pesos or RM3.50

Arriving at the school H. Bautista Elementary School!

Meet the principal, Rem Ricobar, an amazing woman. In fact, I would say she is the most memorable person of the whole Philippines trip. During the conversation with her and Mikko and over ice cream (and then lunch after) no less, I learned several things:
  1. Teachers earn 18000 pesos or RM1800 or less than that. That number is what the TFP fellows get. That is apparently just enough to survive on. 
  2. HBES has over 4000 students. That's four times more than a large size school in Malaysia. There's a school in Quezon City where there are over 10000 students and the classrooms range from 65-70 students in each class. 
  3. There are over 45-55 students in each class in HBES
  4. The teachers come in at 5am (the sun rises really early here) and teach till 12pm. They only teach 3rd grade students. Since they teach American style, the teachers are homeroom teachers and never leave the classroom and teach throughout the morning. 
And we teachers in Malaysia think we have it rough! If there's one thing different though, I would have to say that the community here is really united and strong. They actually really care about getting their kids out of poverty and do believe that education is key to get out of it.

Rem is also a great principal! And I say this not through hearing all the great plans she has for her kids. I can see through all that crap, having had experienced being under bad leadership. It's so important to have a good captain steering the ship and being able to touch ground with everyone. 

Above all that, what struck me as great was that she herself was continuously upgrading herself. She's now pursuing her PhD and also reads a lot of self enrichment books. I too think it's very important to keep learning and improving oneself, to be introspective. 

She also made the feeding program in her school a success! There's a whole kitchen set up for housewives in the community to come and help cook for the poor kids.

We had a taste of it ourselves. Here's a kid checking with a teacher.


One of the aunties there cooking for the kids from the local community.

Health is wealth. True.

The school also has their own bakery! Which is really interesting because it means the school has its own source of revenue which they use to reinvest in the school.

Good stuff.

I also really like that their Ministry of Education has a vision that includes things like 'passionately love their country' and 'contribute meaningfully to building the nation'. The Malaysian one... a bit forgettable.

Then we visited the first class, Ched's class! I was called to cook something up on the spot so I decided on French Toast because it was easy. Hahaha I shared on three things!
  1. Having a dream
  2. Chasing your dream
  3. Never giving up
I pointed to several kids and told them that they could be the next President. Seeing their little laughs and shyly shaking their head was very adorable. 3rd grade kids are very adorable in general lah. Also I feel they are so much more malleable. I could tell them to jump and they wouldn't give me that weird look.

They'll ask instead, "HOW HIGHH".

A lot of my kids in secondary school tell me they used to do very well in primary school. But something happened along the way obviously. I think it would be very different if TFM fellows were placed in primary schools.

Too adorable for words.

Utilising technology! Reminds me of how I used to bring a projector to class everyday.

Then we went into Shylynne's class. They were doing arts and craft!

This was after sharing with them about chasing their dreams again. By this time, Mikko looked at me and said, "Wow you can speak quite well yeah?" At the back of my head, I was thinking... well you kind of get to that point when you've been a teacher for over two years. We have to think on the spot so often!


Lastly was Mara's class which was in a Science lab! Quite interesting how they have to use a lab for their permanent class.

"You can dream however big you want to in life."

Listening in to a little girl say she wanted to be a doctor.

Teaching them a little clap we do back in Malaysia. Tepuk Kejayaan or The Clap of Success

Toooooo cute.

So remember earlier on I wrote about how the poor teachers had to work throughout the day from the moment they entered at 5am? Yeah. As you can see here, they enter at freaking 5.50am and teach all the way until 12.05pm. Serious trooper y'all. I have 7 periods in a day and I'm dying already.

Great guys.

The yummy concoction which they serve to the kids as part of their feeding program.

Angel from TFP, who organised the whole lot of field trips for the fellows. I'm glad the fellows get supported in this area! And yeah, eating again in Rem's office. Seriously they eat non-stop. And the worst part is you feel really shy if you don't take more because they'll almost seemingly stuff it down your throat. Wah.

I really like this poster! So applicable to life. Many people still don't think like this before they speak.

I absolutely love this! This is how both teacher and student tracks their progress throughout the year. It really helps the kid to see that they move from say frustration to instructional and so on. Also, it helps the teacher know at any point of time how many people are in what category and how to differentiate.

Things like this work. But they require a lot of effort.

Then it was off to HSBC and the Mind Museum for their field trip! Only 40 very lucky kids got chosen for the event based on criteria the fellows picked. So cute right?

So yeah, that's the school in the middle. TINY. But has over 4000 students. Crazy.

See how near the river is to the entire city of Marikina? That's why it floods so much in the area.

Mikko is a good teacher. During the trip, he'd point out to the kids the various sights around and they'd always very excitedly look. There's that look of amazement in their eyes as they look. It's things like that really worth living for as a teacher :)

I remember my own story of taking my high achievers to eat pizza and one of my boys (16 y.o.) looked at me and said, "SIR LOOK, MY PIZZA IS LIKE SPAGHETTI! What is that??"

It was just a passing comment, but I'd say it's one of the highlights of my career as a teacher, being able to expose my kids to the world around them and being a part of their learning.

Fellows arranging their kids before entering HSBC. Haha the fellows really reminded me of us fellows when we were fellows. Fussing over our kids all the time and making sure they're all okay.

It's definitely one of the most stressful parts of being a teacher - taking our kids out for field trips because you have to take care of their safety and everything. I can't imagine how our primary school teachers must have felt when in Standard 5 we took a bus down to Singapore to visit.

Hehe Chad taking a picture of his kids. REMINDS ME OF ME.

Happy HSBC employees sharing with the kids about the dos and don'ts in a bank. Everybody loves kids at heart, if you ask me. Well, or at least the vast majority of people. I saw so many grown ups with their faces lit up throughout the day because the kids had come along for CSR to their excel sheet job.

So many personalities you can spot in this picture!!

Selfie with Mara, Ched, Mikko, Jason and the kids!

I think that's one of the best parts of teaching primary school kids as well. They don't take up as much space as the bigger kids in secondary school! Haha and if you look carefully, no obese kids!

Look at them super enthusiastically looking around!

Here was the note counting machine and it counting 20 peso or RM2 sets.

The kids went ballistic when asked if any would like to try put the money unto the money pan. So cute haha. Simple things like these that matter so much to them.

With Shylynne :)

I thought she was really mature and level headed throughout as a teacher! Definitely not how I would've behaved as a first year teacher. She's one of those really nice yet great teachers you know you wished you had when you were a student because you know she cares and will help you develop yourself to becoming a better person.

Here with Eos, Mikko, myself and Jason. Got to know Eos a little better and since he was going to work at the TFP office the next day, I decided to head over to TFP and see how it's like over there. 


By now we had arrived into Bonifacio Global City which is essentially the new CBD of the area, like our soon to be Tun Razak Exchange in KL.

Those are some serious banana splits!

Introduction to the Mind Museum, Manila! I love it when adults take time to help kids understand the world around them.

The cost of entering was 600 pesos or RM60.

I'd say there were quite a bunch of things to explore, and some things I've never seen before were there. I thought it was pretty cool.


Museums normally don't cost that much? Not quite sure if I would've gone on my own. But since it was a field trip with the kids and TFP, of course it was worth it. Is Petrosains that expensive?

Haha that look on their faces when kids try something for the first time.

Great intentions.

Watching their 3D show of how the earth came to be. Ok-ok la. The kids really enjoyed it though. Little bit little bit "WOAAAAAAAH" haha.

That one girl beside me was also very clingy to me throughout the show lol kept looking up at me looking for a reaction when I watched the 3D show.

I love seeing fellows huddled together and discussing because it remind me of the days when I was a fellow haha. So many good memories as a fellow!

So after all that fun in the Mind Museum (and quite a bit of learning), the kids had to gather by the foyer again for a debriefing. I sat in with one of the fellow's classes and we took some pictures.



Suddenly this kid starts hugging me around the neck and everyone else starts jumping on me.

Squashed #1

Squashed #2

Squashed #3


I love kids. Cannot emphasise this enough. Something about their innocence and wanting to teach them about the world around them. I don't know why I care about this bit of education so much. I want a kid but I know I'm not in the right phase of life to be a father yet. I've so many things I need to accomplish on my own first before I consider settling down.

So the game plan now is wait for my brother to get married on 1st Jan 2016 and then hopefully they have a kid by end of next year hahaha. I'll have a nephew/niece then to spoil and educate about the world haha.

A picture with the whole HBES who came for the field trip! I love that so many other teachers came to show support as well.

Seriously, one of the best things in a school is teachers who are NOT jaded. There are so many in Malaysia it's very sad to even talk about it.

Beautiful sunset of Bonifacio Global City. By then, the kids and the fellows were on their way home in the bus. My brother had left to hang with his friends and I hanged out with Mikko.

So fancy, the buildings! It's places like this that make you think of how advanced the Philippines has got. At least a part of it looks very put together. Cables not in the sky and all.

Palm trees and etc. I think there were a few international schools around because I heard fancy accented English being spoken ahaha.

We stopped by Borders on the way and saw this really cool collection of books! Not quite sure how they managed to glue the books together and then paint that girl and cat over it.

Finally it was time for dinner! We went to Sentro 1771, Manila, an award winning restaurant and easily the gastronomic highlight of our trip. Everything was crazy delicious! Basically the place serves food that was known to be a pauper's food back in the day but using better ingredients.

Food - 9/10
Ambience - 8/10
Service - 9/10
Value - 8/10

Price - RM60+ per person

The food was delicious! I liked almost everything there. Special shoutout to their Sinagang na Corned Beef, their specialty. We had it at the church restaurant the day before too but this one really was hot soup.

True enough to amazing service, they even provided us a sample of the the tamarind based soup and asked if it was to their liking. My brother and I being typical ethnic Chinese (or maybe it was the little hint of Thai in us) asked for it to be a little spicier. Then it was perfect, like Christmas had come early.

Definitely a must visit if you ever hit Bonifacio Global City. One of the senators was eating there too when went there. Not sure if you have to book before you enter, so do inquire.

The appetiser. Tastes a bit like sushi.

Cheese balls!!! AMAZING BALLS! Great since I like almost anything cheese. This one definitely had a mozzarella base and stretched when you bit it apart.

Fish that the paupers used to eat. Sorry I can't help with the names hahahah Farley and Eunice did all the ordering. But it was so good. Marinated just right and tastes perfect.

The load of other dishes. The fish in coconut was not bad too.

And my favourite: The corned beef in tamarind broth! Amazing. Sinagang na Corned Beef. Absolutely worth going there just for it.

RM59 or so. Worth the money if you ask me because it was so awesome. Tastes a bit like tom yam.


Day 7 - Thursday (29 January 2014)

Things we did: 
  1. Visited the Teach For The Philippines office!
  2. Ate lunch at the Green Belt malls

Visit Teach For The Philippines's office! Such a chill area if you ask me. Looks just like a cafe.

So nice, the environment! Everybody working very hard though to end education inequity ;)

Writing stats on a glass wall. Such a 21st century office.

So actually the day before, Eos told me to sit in for a Assessment Centre interview. So I did. Basically the assessment centre stage is the last stage before the candidates get their offer letter. It's the first time the interviews get to meet them.

During the interview session I joined, the group of candidates had to come up with a community service plan for the school. It was very interesting seeing the candidates! Overall... I was quite disappointed with the performance of the candidates that day (this isn't a bad thing as they are not fellows yet).

In my evaluation sheet, I only passed two out of the six in the room. And even then the two of them were just barely making it. Sounds very critical for me to say this, but the truth is, when it comes to recruitment, they have to be as critical as possible. They are hiring legitly and they invest a crapload of money into them for two years (RM90k for a TFM fellow in Malaysia).

The fellows need to be able to actually contribute to the cause and end education inequity, not just participate in a two year fun stint teaching small kids.

Long story short, I was glad to see that the head of recruitment (sorry can't remember your name) was more critical than I was. In the room, I was the only one who had done the fellowship before (albeit in Malaysia), thus the one with the most experience on the field, but the head obviously knew what she was doing. She shot all of them down with bazookas flatly yet tactfully for not tackling the issue and for not coming up with an action plan as was the objective.

I really believe that in the end of the day, anybody can be a teacher and teach. But not everybody can be a good teacher! And it is important that nations have good teachers because the future is in their hands.

Btw, I'm not saying the 6 candidates are 'lousy people' ya, just maybe not suited towards joining the fellowship. I believe everybody has their own strengths and it could be in other areas of life :)

So back to the picture hahaha. After debriefing with Eos, who was also on the panel, we went to check out the street food. I thought we would eat there but nope we headed to the fancy area instead.

Meet the Green Belt malls! It was very interesting walking through the Green Belt. Eos was saying of how it starts at Green Belt 1 and goes all the way up to 5, which is the fanciest. I think they built it in phases.

We had lunch at this nice Italian place! It was nice and Eos was so nice he insisted on treating us. When you head up to KL do let us know Eos. It's on us then :)

With Eos in front of the TFP logo!

Alone with the logo :)

And with that, it was time to go! Short story here, but if you're flying AirAsia, make sure you shake online the terminal that you have to go to! We went to the wrong terminal, had a massage there, and almost missed our flight. Annoyingly, all AirAsia flights except the ones to KL depart from the same terminal. Can't figure out why.

Ok the end!


In summary,
I rate the whole Philippines experience 9/10 :)

I know I rated Bali 9/10 before this as well. But I gotta say, I really enjoyed this trip as much as Bali. In very different ways. I think my favourite part was that we got taken around by our amazing hosts Farley and Eunice. There's nothing like being taken around by the locals.

I am so so blessed to have been given the opportunity to speak at the conference. And for that I definitely got to thank my brother for that. Thanks kor!

Okeh, peace!

Joel Ryan Lee