Korea 2014: Free and Easy

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Before I touch on the sights to see in Korea, I will share with you my day-to-day itinerary for this trip. This could serve as a rough template if you plan to go there soon.

My friends and I spent 11 days there during the summer-monsoon season. The weather was a bit unpredictable. It was raining one day, sunny the next… much like here in the Philippines. It was good that we kept our plans free and easy. We shuffled and rearranged destinations depending on what we could physically fit in one day. It also allowed us to be flexible and adjust depending on weather (not to mention our stamina for that day). We also modified our itinerary a bit; because we had to fit a once in a lifetime chance to see Pope Francis. We were lucky enough to be there when he visited. In the end, we still missed going to some places from what we originally plotted out; but we still saw/did a LOT of things while having a great time and that’s what mattered.

We usually started our day just before lunch and ended around midnight (or later) back at the hotel. It involved some getting lost, I have to be honest (though rarely); but at the end of the day, the experience of being free to explore as we go along… not being hauled off into a bus for every stop made the trip all the more enriching. We got to drink in the sights, take a rest when we needed to, and take lots of photos (*wink wink*).

Day 1:
– 0915 Arrival in Incheon
– Hanokstay (Manaedang) Check-In/Explore Area
– My Love from the Star Exhibition (Dongdaemun Design Plaza)
Day 2:
– Hanokstay (Manaedang) Check-Out
– Bukchon Hanok Village
– Rio House Check-In
– EDAE (Ehwa Women’s University)
– Hongdae Night Life
Day 3:
– Hongdae Free Market
– Myeongdong
– Namsan Seoul Tower (Locks of Love/Alive Museum/Observatory)
Day 4:
– Gyeongbokgung Palace
– Gwanghwamun Gate
– Cheonggyecheon Stream
Day 5:
– Pope Francis Mass
– Myeongdong Cathedral
– Hangang River Ferry Cruise
– Dongdaemun (Lotte Fitin)
Day 6:
– Nami Island
– Petite France
Day 7:
– DMZ Tour (with Ginseng Center/Cosmetics Center)
– Namsangol Hanok Village
– Myeongdong Shopping
– Banpo Bridge Rainbow Fountain
Day 8:
– Gangnam Underground Shopping Center
– Insadong
Day 9:
– Everland
Day 10:
– Suwon Hwaseong Fortress
– Lotte Mart
Day 11:
– Rio House Check-Out
– Unhyeongung Palace (Hanbok Wearing)
– Hello Kitty Cafe
– 2135 Departure from Incheon

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Korea 2014: An Overview

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For the past few years, it has been my goal to go to at least one new destination every year. For 2014, that place is South Korea… where I spent a total of 11 days. Honestly, it still wasn’t enough too see everything I wanted to see; but I think me and my companions made the most of it.

Since there are a lot of places to cover, I will spread my Korea sojourn across a number of entries. However, I will only pick certain highlights from my trip which could also serve as my recommendations when you do decide to take a trip in the near future.

I will kick things off with an overview of my recent trip… From plane tickets and visa application to basic transportation and food.

PISO FARE Never Fails

Year round, Cebu Pacific holds a number of Piso Fare Promos that could save you thousands in plane fares alone. Other airlines like Air Asia and even Philippine Airlines also hold frequent seat sales. It always pays off keeping your eyes peeled for a promo.

Thanks to a Piso Fare Promo, the round-trip tickets to Incheon International Airport set me a back a mere Php8,000++. It was a really good price given the destination.

VISA APPLICATION

I applied for my tourist visa without coursing it through a travel agency; and I’m proud to have gone through the process myself. A month before your trip is an appropriate allowance to apply. Offhand, here is the list of requirements:

1. Application Form
2. 1 piece Passport size colored picture
3. Original Passport (should be valid for more than 6 months)
4. Photocopy of Passport Bio-page (page 2)
5. Original & Photocopy of valid visa/s and arrival stamps to OECD member countries for the past 5 years (If applicable, and Korean Visas will not be counted)
6. Original Certificate of Employment (with contact number/s & address of company and date of issue)
7. Original Personal Bank Certificate (NOT Bank Statement)
8. Photocopy of ITR (Income Tax Return) or Form 2316
•If personally invited by Korean : Invitation Letter & Copy of invitor’s Passport
•If invited by Company in Korea: Invitation Letter & Copy of Korean Company Business Permit
■ Processing Time: 3 working days (for those who have visas of OECD member countries); 5 working days (for those who do not have visas of OECD member
countries)
■ Visa Fee: 59 days (or less) stay in Korea — GRATIS; 60 to 90 days stay in Korea — PHP1,800.00
Source: Embassy Website

Submission of documents is between 9-11am during weekdays; and claiming of visa/passport is between 2-4pm during weekdays.

The requirements are fairly easy to complete. What’s important is that you check and double check everything before submitting it to the consul. It’s also important to make sure that your documents proving source of income (Certificate of Employment, ITR) and savings (Bank Certificate) are substantial enough; so that they won’t doubt your ability to sustain yourself for the trip. It also helps if you’ve had a couple of out of the country trips stamped on your passport… better if you’ve been to other OECD member countries in the past 5 years.

Here are some great sources for tips on Korean Visa Application:
Our Awesome Planet | The Eager Traveller

CURRENCY: Korean Won (KRW)

The unit of currency in South Korea is the Korean Won (KRW). KRW1 is approximately equivalent to Php0.045; and USD$1 is approximately equivalent to KRW1,013. The best rates for foreign exchange could be found in Myeongdong area.

ACCOMMODATION: Rio House Hongdae

We stayed in a really charming and affordable inn called Rio House Hongdae. Its location is really great. It’s near a subway station. It is also walking distance from the hustle and bustle that is Hongdae (great area for night life/food/shopping). The rooms are cozy and comfortable and it had all the basic amenities one could ever need when staying in Seoul. There’s no breakfast offered; but there’s a kitchen, free WiFi and assistance from the manager/owner when you need it.

Deluxe Family Room for a maximum of 4 people (photo from Rio House Hongdae site)

My friends and I stayed in the Deluxe Family Room; and together with a portable WiFi rental (one of the most useful items we had on hand the whole trip), we spent an average of KRW40,222 (or Php1810) per day per person. The rooms offered may go up to a maximum of 6 people sharing. The more people in a room, the cheaper it will be per head.

TRANSPORTATION: Seoul Metro/Korail System

Seoul Metropolitan Subway

Seoul Metropolitan Subway Map

From our arrival to our departure, the Seoul Metro and the Korail served as our go-to means of transportation. It is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to go around the city without getting lost (most of the time). Compared to Osaka Subway, I found the Korean subway/train system fairly easier to navigate. If you need an easier guide, however, they actually have an app for that –

Subway Korea

This app is available on the App Store (iOS) and on Google Play (Android). Aside from an overview of the subway system, you could also click on your source and destination to know which is the fastest way to get there. It also provides transfer timetable, station and area guide. You could also determine the nearest station based on your current location.

In some instances, taking the bus or taxi would be a more practical way of getting around depending on your destination. However, about 95% of our trip involved riding the subway.

T-Money

The easiest way to pay for transportation is the T-money card. I was able to purchase mine from a convenience store at the airport for KRW3,000 (approx Php135). I then reloaded an initial amount of KRW30,000 (approx Php1350) with reloading machines at the station. This covered for about 5-6 days of riding the trains/buses including the Airport Railroad.

FOOD: Spicy to Sweet

just some of the food I ate throughout my trip

Koreans love food. It is evident from the numerous street food stalls to various restaurants to coffee shops that are present in almost every block. If you want to cover the extremes, be ready to eat some really spicy food and really sweet desserts. You will inevitably encounter some type of alcohol as well… either beer or soju. Just don’t be afraid to explore the streets for something new and different.

Must-try: Korean BBQ in all its forms (chicken, beef, pork, octopus), bibimbap (rice dish), chicken and beer (get the local beer such as Cass), chicken ginseng soup, any form of ice cream, any egg dish (steamed egg or egg roll), any street food (hotdogs and assorted fried food), any appetizer (especially kimchi), shaved ice dessert, any coffee or dessert from a local cafe.

SIGHTS: Past and Present Collide

a major road right in front of Gwanghwamun Gate

What definitely stood out from my exploration of Korea is how historical sites exist in the midst of a busy metropolitan setting. Hanoks (traditional Korean houses) are in line with modern residences. Palaces are preserved within their own gates; but it’s surrounded by busy intersections and high rise buildings. South Korea has also preserved a number of areas and turned them into places where everyone could just hang out or walk around. One would never run out of places to see and things to do. It’s a really beautiful country.

I will cover more of these sites in my next entries. I can’t wait to share more about my epic trip!

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Shopping Diary #11: Shoe Love

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I’m concentrating on shoes for this shopping diary. These weren’t bought in one go but over a period of time. I’ve been slowly updating my collection for the past year; since most of my sneakers/sandals have worn out and a few of them I rarely wear anymore… I had to say goodbye. My preference still gravitates toward comfortable footwear that are more appropriate for work; but I have recently developed a love for ballet flats rather than just rubber shoes and sneakers.

BUTTERFLY TWISTS
Cleo in Leopard
Php1699
Alexandra in Black
Php4599

I love this brand of flats. They’re really comfortable and stylish. When I wear them, it almost feels like I’m barefoot, which is just the way I like it.

I bought the leopard Cleos first… wanting to try out foldable flats without spending too much. I was so happy with it that I bought the Alexandra a few months later. I needed a more basic style that could be worn with almost anything. Every time I pass by their stall/store, I get tempted to buy another pair. It’s definitely a brand I highly recommend as an alternative to the more expensive ones out there on the market.

CONVERSE
Chuck Taylor Classic White
Php1850

My personal style in recent years has been leaning towards simple, basic pieces; and a pair of white Chucks is as basic as you could get.

Before I bought these, I was down to my last pair of black Chucks that are way way too worn out (over 5 years old and counting… but I still kept them). Plus, I’ve recently developed a love for boyfriend jeans and they go well with… yup, the classic white Chuck Taylors. I just had to buy a pair.

NIKE
Air Max 90 Essential

$119.90

No other explanation… I just WANTED A PAIR. I just HAD TO HAVE it. You know that feeling? It’s just so beautiful!! Unfortunately, the good designs of the Air Max (especially for women) haven’t arrived in Philippine shores. I’m so thankful to someone who did me a huge favor and brought a pair back to the country for me. Thank you!

TORY BURCH
Gold Reva Flats
Php8575
(on sale from Php12250)

For the past few months, I’ve been looking for a good pair of nude ballet flats. The search ended last week (but I ended up buying gold flats!).

I came across the Tory Burch sale at Rustan’s, tried a pair of the nude-colored Eddie flats and they didn’t really suit me or my skin tone. The gold Revas caught my eye and seemed like the next best thing so I tried them on. Gold is not my usual style; but the design isn’t on the heavy metallic side so it was just right for me. It served as a great alternative to nude flats. Plus, armed with the gift certificates I received last Christmas, I was able to save even more on this pretty big purchase. I can’t wait to wear these everywhere.

Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!

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I’m riddled with guilt; because I haven’t posted a single entry this year… and it’s already JULY! The first six months of 2014 just whizzed by; and I’ve either been too busy or too tired to even think about writing. It’s a happy problem, though, so I’m really thankful.

Still, better late than never. Now that I’ve finally pushed myself to write an entry, I’m going to kick off my blog this 2014 with a quick roundup of some projects I’ve been busy with for the first half of the year (different clients and different directors, FYI). This way, you’ll catch a glimpse of the crazy first half of my year (and hopefully understand my long hiatus from posting).

“ARTWORK”
This was an AVP shot on location in Pinto Gallery in Antipolo. We set up and shot features for three different photographers in a single location, which was a real challenge. But we did it!

Client: Canon Philippines | Agency: Publicis JimenezBasic
Director: Mark Mendoza | DOP: Sol Galang | Assistant Director: Randolph Longjas | Production Designer: Zaldy Manalang
Production House: Straight Shooters | Post Production: Engine Room

 “GAME”
This was shot in a house in Balete Drive, I kid you not. The house is pretty creepy; but the cheerful and happy nature of this board more than made up for it. The kids were great!

Client: Nestlé Philippines | Agency: Publicis Manila
Director: Pancho Esguerra | DOP: Monchie Redoble | Choreographer: Ickay Eusebio | Production Designer: Rious Caliso
Production House: Straight Shooters | Post Production: Engine Room/Optima Digital

“SELFIE”
The prep time for this board was a bit insane; but I’m glad we pulled it off. This was shot in one day in the Ortigas Center area and the beautiful campus of STI Ortigas-Cainta. Our DOP used a special handheld camera rig (called Brushless Gimbal) that allowed us to execute the smooth movement of from one angle to the other. It looks pretty good!

Client: STI
Director: Chris Martinez | DOP: Gary Gardoce | Assistant Director: Melvin Lee | Production Designer: Nina Torres
Production House: Straight Shooters | Post Production: Engine Room

“SIMPLICITY”
This was my first time working with a Taiwanese director. This spot was shot in 2 days in 2 schools: DLSU-Dasma and PUP. In a nutshell, the shoots were really quick and relatively painless… just the kind of projects I like.

Client: Johnson & Johnson Philippines | Agency: BBDO Guerrero
Director: Maureen Li | DOP: Ta-Pu Chen | Assistant Director: Pao Han Fang/Randolph Longjas | Production Designer: Adelina Leung
Production House: Straight Shooters | Post Production: Riot

“STAR”
This is the first of many materials for this project. Still waiting for the others to be approved… Anyway, all TVCs were shot in the span of a weekend (Friday to Sunday); and we had a lot of fun doing them.

Client: Unilab | Agency: Publicis JimenezBasic
Director/DOP: Yam Laranas | Assistant Director: Christine Blando/Manman Angsico | Production Designer: Rious Caliso
Production House: Straight Shooters | Post Production: Engine Room/Optima Digital

“SHOP & WIN”
This project was briefed and prepped in the span of exactly four days, two days of which included Saturday and Sunday. Insane, right? How we were able to pull it off is still a bit of a blur; but despite the challenges of prepping and shooting in a mall during mall hours, I think we did a good job.

Client: SM Supermalls/SMDC | Agency: BBDO Guerrero
Director/DOP: Jorg Schifferer | Assistant Director: James Sales | Production Designer: Marlon Baisac
Production House: Straight Shooters | Post Production: Engine Room

“SELFIE”
Yup. Another selfie-related project. This was also a commercial that had less than a week of preparation. The main challenge for us was maximizing one location to look like many different vignettes. How long was the shoot? One day. What location? Somewhere in QC. I think the team really pulled it off, don’t you think?

Client: Unilab | Agency: McCann WorldGroup
Director/DOP: Yam Laranas | Assistant Director: Melvin Lee | Production Designer: Butch Garcia
Production House: Straight Shooters | Post Production: Giantsponge Digital

Year-End Thanksgiving

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A lot of tragedies happened this year, both for the country and the world. There’s no need to expound on this fact; but we felt it… the sadness, the anger, the helplessness, the fear… That is why for my year-end reflection, I’ll do my best to turn things around and focus on what I’m thankful for this 2013. I’ll also keep it short and sweet; so we could quickly move forward and welcome 2014 with a positive attitude.

I’m thankful that my family is healthy, happy and safe from harm. I’m thankful for the home that I live in, the comforts that I am able to enjoy, and the simple luxuries that I could afford. It allows me time to take a break despite life’s stresses; and I’m able to feel secure knowing that the people in my life are doing okay.

I’m thankful for my health. The past year has been a constant and conscious effort for me to maintain the weight that I lost in 2012. I’m happy to say that the weight has been off and I’ve lost a couple more pounds by the end of the year. The next year will be all about finally reaching my goal and keeping that healthy weight for good.

I’m thankful for my personal growth. I’ve traveled some more this year, both to familiar and unfamiliar places. I’m grateful to have had these trips, which gave me wonderful life experiences that I will remember forever. I’m also thankful for the many challenges that work has thrown my way. It has definitely made me stronger and allowed me to grow in an industry that never fails to surprise me every step of the way. I’m looking forward to more curve balls in the near future.

Lastly, I’m thankful for the love that surrounds me every day. I know that it’s corny; but I really feel so blessed to be around people that genuinely care about each other. The laughter and joy that comes with it just keeps me going every day. As a bonus, it pushes me to pay it forward and help out others as much as I can.

I’m very grateful for the year that was. I’m very hopeful for the year to come. Here’s to a wonderful New Year! Let’s do it!

Shopping Diary #10: Apple Crazy

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It’s been over a year since I’ve posted a shopping diary. Still, I’ve bought many different things throughout 2013, both for myself and for others. I just decided not to share all of them here. For the last quarter of the year, however, I rewarded myself with some truly wonderful items… all a product of hard work and year-long savings.

Anyway, I went a little Mac crazy and purchased the latest in Apple gadgets and accessories. Take note, though, that I didn’t buy all these in one day; and I didn’t dump all my savings into these “gifts.” These were budgeted and planned according to what I could afford (which is what everyone should do).

GLOBE
iPhone 5S Space Grey

My Best Ever Super Plan plus Cash Out (24-month lock-in)

It’s been 2 years since I got my iPhone 4S; and it hasn’t been working as great as it used to. After all, it fell into the water over a year ago and certain functions (such as the camera and the silent mode) aren’t at their optimal performance. I decided early on to recontract once my plan expires. Enter iPhone 5S.

Despite its confusing and more complicated billing plan, I stuck with Globe for convenience. With a little cash out and an upgraded plan, I now have the latest Apple smart phone that has so far delivered in terms of performance (great speed and screen quality) and features (amazing camera with slow motion, touch ID, etc.).

KIMSTORE
iPad Air White/Silver

I’ve been eyeing the iPad Mini since March; and I promised myself that I will buy the latest model once it comes out this year. However, my plan suddenly changed when I held an iPad Air in my hand for the first time (courtesy of a director who bought one for himself). I was convinced. With a bigger screen size and its much lighter weight (compared to older iPads), I just had to go for the Air. Its screen size is perfect for reading my magazines (Zinio, Newsstand), editing my documents (Evernote, DocsToGo) and playing games (Sims Freeplay, Bejeweled, Scrabble, Secret Passages). I would have been constrained by the iPad Mini when it comes to these apps.

The iPad Air has become a fitting alternative to lugging my laptop to work everyday. I just love it so much… by far my favorite gadget now.

POWER MAC CENTER
Lab.C USB Case for iPhone 5/5S

Php1,690

I just love multifunctional accessories; and the Lab.C iPhone 5/5S case is exactly that with its innovative design. Aside from protecting my iPhone, it also has an 8gb USB built into the case. This way, I can bring my important files with me anywhere; and since the USB is virtually part of my phone, I’m always reminded if someone has borrowed or is using it… No more leaving my USB anywhere.

DIGITAL WALKER
Olloclip 4-in-1 iPhone Lens

Php3,250

I love taking photos with my phone; and the Olloclip 4-in-1 iPhone Lens elevates the quality of my shots with minimal effort. Despite its simple design, I get four different lenses in one device: fisheye, wide, 10x macro and 15x macro. It’s so much fun experimenting with the lenses and the effects they create. Definitely a must for any iphoneography enthusiast.

With technology like what we have right now, there’s no doubt in my mind that this isn’t the last time I’ll go gadget crazy. The important thing is that they were well thought out purchases, all of which I have no regrets spending on. I’m absolutely happy to have them… Merry Christmas to me!

the IT list #12: Watch List

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“the IT list” A series of posts that highlight the various stuff, old or new, that I’ve been doing… reading, watching, eating or simply obsessing over recently. It’s my personal countdown.

the IT list #11

#ONE
2013 isn’t over; but I could honestly say that this is arguably one of the finest years for Philippine cinema ever. Cinemalaya kicked it off for me with the premiere of films such as Transit, Sana Dati and Ekstra. It was then followed by a mainstream release that definitely raised the bar for local Pinoy action movies — On The Job. New film festival Cinefilipino also produced some noteworthy films such as Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita, Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin and Ang Kwento ni Mabuti. Even Kung Fu Divas exceeded my expectations and truly delivered on the laughs with its unique story and execution. Hooray for Philippine cinema, indeed!

(L to R): Ekstra, Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita, On The Job, Transit, Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin

If you have the chance to catch any of the above films, please do try to watch them. Special mention goes to On The Job, which just blew me away, and Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita, which I couldn’t help but fall in love with as I was watching.

Here’s hoping more fine local films are produced in years to come!

#TWO
I finished the well-written, well executed, overall awesome show Breaking Bad last weekend, and I still can’t get it off my head. From beginning to end, this television show has delivered an amazing, well-rounded story without ever dipping in quality. As icing to an already delicious cake, the series finale satisfied me as a fan. Just brilliant.

A lot of the credit goes to Vince Gilligan (for creating it) as well as the talented cast led by Bryan Cranston (for breathing life into these complex characters). Thank you for bringing this show into our lives; and I will never forget it… ever.

#THREE
As I waited for the regular TV season to begin, I decided to check out some new shows from Netflix‘s foray into original programming… and they are AMAZING.

Orange is the New Black and House of Cards are two very different series — one is a black comedy set in a women’s correctional facility and the other is a drama set in the halls of power in Washington, DC. Both are unique. Both are extremely engaging shows in their own ways. Both are exciting additions to my must-watch list. Best of all, Netflix, as a content distributor, is changing the landscape of television by releasing full seasons in one go. No more waiting week after week for new episodes!

If these two shows are any indication of the bar set by Netflix with anything they release, then I’m on board with whatever they produce.

#FOUR
Gravity is the second film I watched in IMAX this year; and that’s pretty rare for me. Still, much like Pacific Rim before it, the film is well worth every peso. Alfonso Cuaron’s latest is an absolute visual masterpiece.  I was glued to every moment. I was gripped. I was in suspense. And for something that in essence only has two characters in it, that says a lot of the directing and the acting that went into the whole thing.

Catch this movie if you haven’t. Watch it in IMAX if you can. For me, it is definitely one of the best films this year.

#FIVE
Wicked is finally coming to Manila! I flew on a quick trip to Singapore over a year ago to catch this musical; and I absolutely loved it. Immediately after, my friend and I promised each other to watch it again when it arrives in Philippine shores. Needless to say, we’ve bought our tickets; and I’m so excited to relive the music, the story and the magic. This is definitely a must-watch!

The show opens on January 22, 2014 at the CCP Main Theater. Tickets available at Ticketworld.

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