About Judy Razon
Judy Razon worked in the Philippines as a television and video events writer and director for several national television shows, including lifestyle, real estate, men's lifestyle, cooking, sports and touring events.
Currently based in the U.S., she is also a published travel photographer for SE Asian English-language glossy magazine publications and has a passion for music, film and photography.
Latest Posts by Judy Razon
They say that birds of the same feather flock together, in the same way that mouths of the same craving burp at the same time. And post-college, when all of the members of my group were so very anxious with the looming board exams, there was only one solution to alleviate the pressure – stress eating! One of the restaurants that we would frequent during this period was Cajun Red Rock. With its very homey location along Retiro, corner D. Tuazon, my friends and I enjoyed the easy access from the university, not to mention its proximity to Banawe, another foodie paradise.
Among its many specialties is the Texan Volcano Burger, its ingredients including whiskey and caramelized onions, which I utterly love and couldn’t get enough of. You may even forget about the onions, for WHO would not love a BAKED burger, with the texture of lasagna? And have I mentioned their TALL TOWERS of onion rings per serving, sprinkled with sesame seeds on one side, and Cajun powder on the other? They even come with 3 curious dips: Shallots Dip, Salad Dip– which is quite like a mix of honey mustard and Ceasar Salad Sauce, and Wine Sauce Dip. What I also appreciated about Cajun was their original house drinks.
Authentic thirst quenchers, they come in TALL, wide glasses with fresh flavors to boot. Their Chef Tony’s Special was composed of strawberry juice in the upper half, green tea in the lower half and a whisk of what tasted like rum. Their Mint & Peaches were made of the real thing, with the mint being able to actually cool your tongue, and their Orange Pulp shared the authenticity and abundance of its ingredients. They even offer reasonably priced combos. A list of entrée comes wherein they hand two side dishes of your choice for free.
You can choose from Saffron Rice, Country Potato, Mashed Potato, Buttered Vegetables, Corn on a Cob and many more. I don’t really blog about eating out with this particular set of friends because very often, there is just so much chaos and chatter, and many things happening at once on the dining table. We don’t even get to have the time to take pictures of the food or arrange it in little creative ways. But I guess we were able to make an exception for Cajun because Number One – I was able to keep them busy nibbling Chef Tony’s green tea-flavored pop corn that I got right beside the restaurant door, and Number Two – they were equally impressed with the food that they, too, weren’t able to settle without preserving the memory of eating, sniffing, and looking at such lovely food, even through pictures.
I discovered Binondo when I was in college, at a time when independence was celebrated and was based on the number of places that a sixteen-year-old has reached via commute. It was all the more exciting that Binondo was very historical and of course, a grand haven of Chinese food. Above the myriad of dumplings and handmaid noodle soup to be found along its streets, it was Wai Ying Fast Food that got me hooked. Their classic siomai served as the official benchmark for the long list of gastronomic delights on their old and tattered menu, it being the most familiar dumpling to the common foodie. Every mouthful of their succulent meatball of a siomai encased a juicy shrimp inside, and believe me, the experience was UMAMI personified! I’ve just had a meal but my mouth is restarting to water at the thought.
Also in the house is their interpretation of the oriental Lemon Chicken that fools the eyes for appearing to be boring and dry. But lo and behold, once you put in your mouth, for it meets the perfect balance of being crispy on the outside, yet chewy and flavorful on the inside. How you will burst when you decide to dip it in the lemon sauce! Based on this description alone, I leave you to imagine the feel of their Creamy Fish Fillet melting on your tongue, their White Chicken heavy in your tummy, and the giddy splash of sweet-and-sour of their Beef in Tomato Sauce in your mouth. And oh, have I mentioned the warm soup and smooth texture of their handmade noodles, be it chicken or beef? Have I come to mention their cold cuts, or their Peking Duck?
Being their top specialty, they also offer a wide assortment of dumplings: Ham Koi Sok, Hakaw, Meatballs in Curry Sauce, Chicken Feet, Kuchai, Spring Rolls, Century Egg Siomai and Japanese Siomai, in an attempt to name a few. Yet they are not limited to entrees – they extend to Chinese desserts! My favorites would have to be their deceiving radish cake, special egg pie, and demure milk tea.
With two branches located on Salazar corner Benavidez, Binondo, Manila, you need not fret about the commute if you aren’t the adventurous type. Two parking lots can easily be found in the area, to be paid with reasonably cheap fees. And have I mentioned that the quality of the dishes served in Wai Ying Fast Food does not give service to their even cheaper rates? Their superb crew does not even demand for a service charge. Why, really does sound heaven to the Chinese food lover, doesn’t it?
People in this advanced world could easily hunt for promo tickets to go abroad, giddy with pleasure in traveling a foreign land when they haven’t explored the richness and beauty of their own local culture.
Take for example the vivid colors and lively music of the Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon which is a common setting in Filipino movies involving a festive atmosphere. One who has experienced it in person would think it curious that the couch potato has contented himself with seeing it on a TV screen.
Celebrated every 15th of May, tourists would appreciate the strong and steady sunshine that makes the colorful decorations of the houses, coasters and costumes look all the more alive. Meticulously collected and organized with inspired creativity on walls, roofs, hats, dresses, streets, windows, and wherever that they could be set are but fruits, tree parts and other produce that help the townsmen to earn their income and feed not just the local industry but the national population.
It is a feast that expresses the townspeople’s thanksgiving to St. Isidro of Labrador for the year’s successful and bountiful harvest that benefits hundreds of thousands of mouths regularly. The celebration takes its roots from Old Tagalog, back to the time when Christianity was being founded in Mount Banahaw.
The priests thought that converting this pagan practice into allowing prayers to pass through a Catholic saint would anchor the conversion of the natives to Christianity, and such version of the practice that retained the initial merry nature of the act served as an incentive for the people to carry on celebrating it annually until it arrived to a permanent status.
Nowadays, the feast for thanksgiving isn’t just limited to produce – one can find processed meat, fish and other food being paraded in the streets. Celebrities and other members of the entertainment industry would also often find their way in the area to officially promote their upcoming projects, as the celebration is often teeming with people from all walks of life.
Coming from the word “Payas” which means décor, the style and atmosphere in Lucban in the weeks approaching the 15th of May is clearly reflective of the Filipino culture, whereinpeople could not get enough of the artwork and would overdo the produce design.
It is expected for them to use too many beautiful and colorful things at once in only one object that serves as a canvas, which has been our artistic trademark. In the grand traditional fashion of Bayanihan, the locals would help each other in setting up their village, eager to impress the guests that are sure to come.
Of course, we do have time to take our rest at least once a week. If you are very tired, you’d choose to spend it rolling in your bed at home, thinking that this might do the trick to recharge your drained body and soul. It’s curious as to why the constitution of every democratic country still requires a certain number of hours off work weekly, when its people are given enough time to sleep daily.
Even religious books speak of having to take a break once in a while and not just at home – it points to the relevance of having to go outside.
“Come by yourselves to an out of the way place… and rest a little.” Mark 6:31
How long has it been since you’ve enjoyed cool wind gently rushing to your cheeks, and realized how the rush made all your stress go away? Indeed, Caleruega is a haven for relaxation and sunshine. With an old-world feel emanating from its Hispanic architecture to the simple delight of feeding the plump, darting koi in its ponds, anyone can surely be coaxed to let his guard down, behold the refreshing aura of its scenery and ultimately feel his unity with Mother Nature.
Groups and individuals can come for hours to days of bonding and soul-searching while trekking on the green rolls of its serene hills and the sweet, demure scent of its colorful shrubbery. Located in Brgy, Kaylaway, Batulao, Batangas, it is only a few kilometers away from Tagaytay, its landmark being the Evercrest Resort and Golf Course that can easily be spotted before reaching Nasugbu Town.
Named after the birthplace of St. Dominic, it was meant as a sanctuary for the Dominican priests. They have versions of it all over the globe that are of equal, if not of more beauty and history about each one, and they choose to share such peaceful surroundings to everyone seeking for a place of solace. Open to several spiritual activities like weddings, retreats, and multiple workshops, it is very conducive for Divine inspiration and personal actualization of one’s ideals.
So, the next time that you find yourselves being whisked to Tagaytay for drinks and merrymaking, dedicate a few moments to visit the soulful grounds of Caleruega. Open to people of all faiths, it is one of those few places depicting human unity in diversity, and a genuine, relaxed spirituality that need not be limited to traditional practice.
Just a few hours south of Manila, the capital city on the main island of Luzon in the Philippines, lies the beguiling island of Mindoro – a lush, exotic haven for the truly adventurous. Tropical rainforests, white-sand beaches with clear calm waters, coral reef gardens, natural springs, waterfalls – these are just some of Mindoro’s attractions which make the island a mecca for eco-tourism enthusiasts. Hikers, mountaineers, divers, snorkellers, beach bums and foodies will feel right at home in Mindoro.
Off the coast of western Mindoro lies the Apo Reef Marine Sanctuary, acclaimed as the best dive site in Asia and the second largest reef eco-system in the world. Also off-shore western Mindoro, the tranquil and peaceful Pandan Isle will calm the weary traveller’s spirits with its mile-long powdery white-sand beach, turquoise waters and its spectacular sunsets. Upland on the coast, the Calawagan Mountain Resort offers cooling natural springs, waterfalls, rock formations, a hanging bridge, cottages, a campsite – all underneath a rainforest canopy. Oh, and there’s monkeys, exotic birds and butterflies too.
For the traveller who cannot be away from creature comforts and some semblance of nightlife, there is Puerto Galera – a town in eastern Mindoro that is the center of tourism on the island. Puerto Galera has maintained a native and rustic simplicity (there are no multi-storied hotels here), while offering a bit of nightlife for those so inclined. The bars along Sabang beach should be ample enough for the inveterate party animal. However, if you are looking to swim and lay on a quiet beach, forget Sabang. Go instead to Big Laguna Beach (there’s a Small Laguna too), Coco Beach, White Beach or Tamaraw Beach.
Nestled in a sheltered cove and secluded within a rainforest and lush tropical gardens, the Encenada Beach Resort has beachfront (white sand) cottages and ample amenities including island-hopping cruises, fishing trips, beach barbecue dinners, a PADI dive shop, free shuttle service into town, to name a few.
Franklyn Highlands is a bucolic native-style resort just five minutes from the Muelle Bay pier in Puerto Galera. This peaceful hillside oasis welcomes the traveler with comfortable cottages, balconies with spectacular views and savory home-cooked local cuisine!
Feeling a bit upscale? The plush Marco Vincent Resort Hotel, located at White Beach, is the crème de la crème of accommodations on the island. With 38 Mediterranean-style rooms offering complete first-class amenities, the Marco Vincent conjures images of seaside villas in Monaco at a fraction of the European rate.
Our personal favorite place to stay in Mindoro is the Moorings. High up on a hill overlooking the beautiful bay of Puerto Galera, Moorings has 16 suites and villas, all the creature comforts you want, plus great home cooking! It is definitely a home away from home where you can chill to your heart’s content after all those Mindoro adventures.
Now that your fun-filled holiday season is coming to an end, it might just be the right time to start thinking about reducing not just the holiday calorie intake, but also the amount of accumulated stuff around your home- a sort of preparation to spring-cleaning so to speak. Not only will this take the load off your major cleaning jobs in the Spring, it will also make you more aware of ways to get ‘greener’ and de-clutter your living and working spaces. First and foremost, of course, are the three R’s we already know about but sometimes need to be reminded of.
We naturally accumulate stuff throughout the years and, after a normal usage period, we usually pack them off in bags or boxes to store. Look through your drawers, closets, storerooms, basements and garages, and decide which things you don’t really need or use anymore. A sensible rule of thumb to consider: if you haven’t touched, worn, or used it in the past year, it’s probably time to get rid of it. Reducing the clutter will definitely cut your cleaning time and will get you thinking about curbing those impulse-shopping urges. You’ll save more and that will make you feel better… and lighter.
There are many things one can do to show concern for the environment. One is to re-circulate items that can be reused, like bags and boxes. Mixed Bags are an attractive multi-use option for everyday routines. Whether you’re food shopping, packing a lunch or just need a bag to carry assorted things around, Mixed Bag Designs are a perfect choice-they are durable, attractive, functional and totally reusable. Besides being a ‘greener’ choice, you will also save some green of the paper kind that goes in your wallet.
You’re probably already recycling paper, cardboard, glass, plastic bottles and containers. However, do not forget electronic items: old computers, cell phones, VCRs, microwave ovens, blenders, etc., stuff that still works that you’ve replaced with newer models. Check out recycling companies in your community that have specialized electronics recycling programs. Safely dispose of non-recyclable items like batteries or old paint or any hazardous materials.
Once you’ve gone through the three R’s above, it’s time to organize your disposal. Donating stuff is very fulfilling. There are many people who are needy and wanting who don’t have access to even the basics that we take for granted. Those clothes you don’t use anymore would be the first choice on the donation list. Other candidates would be kitchenware, books, magazines, old toys, and still-functioning gadgets. Nowadays, it is even easier than ever to donate stuff w/ drop boxes located conveniently closer around communities. Mixed Bag Designs not only have a wide array of visually attractive and appealing multi-use bags, they also come in many shapes and sizes. So if you’re carting out those antique VCR’s and blenders, you can actually out them in these nice-looking bags to drop off at the disposal center of your choice.
Make an effort to pay bills online; not only does this save time and money (no stamps to buy), but it also saves a tremendous amount of energy and trees. Another ‘green’ action is to stop your influx of junk mail. There are websites that help you do this as well as tips from the Post Office on how to stem the tide of this wasteful practice. Virtually everything on catalogs and mail order services can be found online these days, so go ahead and avail of the paper-free route. It will save much energy spent on producing paper, and on your end, hours spent storing, tracking and organizing all those paper documents.
**De-toxify your home environment; go natural
While there are now many ‘green’ products with which to clean your home, you can further reduce clutter and cost by making your own household cleaners. Baking soda, vinegar, essential oil scents- these and more are just a fraction of the cost of commercially available products. Consult green sites for making your own cleaners with these common ingredients. You won’t have to worry about health-threatening toxins in commercial products and you also won’t have to buy expiration dates as you only make what you need for any given time. Use cleaning cloths and sponges that are washable and reusable to be more eco-friendly. As in the old days, brooms are very useful as well and do not waste energy. On the contrary, you even get a little bit of exercise using them. Use paper towels sparingly if you have to. Exchange that disposable mop for a reusable one; it’s better all around for the environment. Clean or vacuum out your heating vents and your refrigerator/air-conditioner coils to make these more energy efficient all year round; you save energy and money on your utility bills.
Lay down some basic ground rules for getting a greener home and ensure that everyone in your home is compliant. Do not buy stuff you don’t need. Don’t let non-essential things accumulate. Watch your water and electricity consumption – turn off lights that are not used. Don’t leave water running needlessly even for a few seconds. Walk more often, or ride bicycles whenever you can. Remember, going green is not a trend or a fad or the ‘cool’ thing to do right now. It is an absolute and essential mode of thinking, acting and doing if we are to contribute in any way to the preservation and responsible maintenance of our environment, our communities, and by extension, our human societies. Only by being responsible about our immediate environment-our homes-can we be truly on the path to a constant awareness of what it means to go green. Due to the fragility and inter-connectedness of our ecosystems and our interdependence on these systems, now more than ever, going ‘green’ is no longer an option but a necessity.
Happy New Year!
A true off-the-beaten-path experience awaits the traveler in the Cordillera mountain region of Northern Luzon. Batad is a village near Banaue, a major town in the Ifugao province. For millennia, the indigenous Ifugao people here have carved giant steps into the mountainsides as a form of sustainable agriculture to produce rice. These rice paddies ’in the sky’ have made this area into a veritable feast for the eyes, with entire mountain ranges transformed into ‘stairways to heaven’ as they have often been described. It is no wonder that this man-made, yet natural-looking phenomenon has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There are several rice terrace clusters in the region and the Banaue-Batad cluster is one of the more accessible ones. Near the town center is Banaue’s major hotel perched on a hill with a view of the terraces that is the most universally recognized; it’s the view on the postcards and on the back of the Philippine thousand-peso bill. Several hostel-type lodgings are also available within the town center. For more serene surroundings and a sense of the traditional mountain village lifestyle, travelers opt for the Batad experience.
One can ride jeepneys-for-hire for a winding 45-minute drive from the Banaue town center to the Banga-an junction, the starting point for the trek to Batad. Be prepared for the uphill climb along a somewhat steep ridge; this first section may take anywhere from a half-hour to 45 minutes depending on what kind of shape you’re in. At the top of the ridge is a rest area and as you catch your breath, you spy the rest of the trail snaking around the mountainside towards the valley below. Relief, it’s all downhill from here! Another 40 minutes or so, again depending on your pace, and you arrive in Batad. Immediately, the breathtaking scenery grabs you.
At about 4,000 feet above sea level, the perfectly layered terraces here are carved directly from the solid rock and earth of the mountainsides surrounding the bowl-shaped valley, giving the Batad paddies the moniker, ‘Amphitheater Terraces’. The 360-degree panorama is simply majestic. Batad is surrounded on all sides by lush green mountains; the eye follows the stepped rice paddies down to the center of the valley where a small hamlet of traditional Ifugao huts is located.
Further on beyond the terrace lines is a gorge that leads to a rushing river. From Batad, it is about an hour’s hike through narrow edges of the terraces, down the steep incline to the riverbank and to the awesome Tapiya Waterfalls. If you make this somewhat strenuous trek, you will be more than ready to jump in for an invigorating swim and be in misty-waterfall-heaven here.
For the really adventurous, there are treks to other (even more remote) villages in proximity to Batad like Cambulo and Pula. These would extend the trip to at least an overnight stay in Batad. But beware; people who had initially planned a day-trip or overnighter have ended up extending their stay.
There are a few home stay type inns at Batad. Always choose the room with the view. You will marvel at the splendor of the mountain panorama outside your window and start to experience that feeling you never get living in the city – the feeling of timelessness.
There will be undoubtedly be comments about the Baguio City today about how it has lost its ‘mountain town’ charm because of overcrowding and pollution. While that may be true to a certain extent, there are still spots in the City of Pines the traveler can visit to find solace in the highlands.
One of them is found by heading out towards Quezon Hill on Naguilian Road. Here, the traveler will find the very quaint and picturesque Tam-Awan Village, a haven of tranquility in Baguio. The village was a creation of notable Philippine artist Bencab (Cabrera) and some partners. While the famous painter no longer runs it, Tam-Awan is in the able hands of like-minded folks who aim to preserve aspects of traditional mountain culture in the face of ‘lowlander’ commercial onslaught.
Several traditional Cordillera tribal huts have been transplanted here to lend a totally authentic experience. The village pays homage to the major tribal cultures of the highlands like Ifugao, Kalinga, Ibaloi, Itneg and others, collectively known as Igorot. These tribes were never conquered or subjugated by the Spanish during their 300 and some years of colonization of the Philippines.
They have kept their culture of thousands of years relatively intact, although incursions by outsiders since the beginning of the 20th century have eroded it somewhat. There is a resurgence of ethnic pride among tribal youth as they seek to regain vestiges of an ancient culture that was slowly being lost to modernity.
Tam-Awan Village sprawls across a hillside, composed of several native huts for dwelling and some ritual and ceremonial spaces. A winding trail goes up to the hilltop for panoramic views of the surrounding valley. On a clear day, you can just about see the South China Sea. From a backpacker’s perspective, the huts are sturdy and comfortable; beddings – a mattress, blanket and sheets – are provided.
Travelers can stay here for less than $10 a night. The café has inexpensive home-cooked food and it is decent. Try their strong locally grown mountain coffee or herbal mountain tea. Strawberries are grown seasonally in nearby Trinidad valley and so there is no shortage of these most of the time.
Oh, and the crepes are very good at a couple of dollars an order. One of the Tam-Awan huts is dedicated to exhibitions of native art. There is always something interesting to see as creations of local artists go on rotation at the Tam-Awan gallery.
The overall atmosphere at Tam-Awan is one of serenity, conducive to reflection, to communing with nature and ancestral spirits, which according to locals, are never far away and always lurking about, available for guidance and channeling. Of course, one must not forget the preliminary requirements of these spirits; hence, the rituals of divination and appeasement that are part and parcel of everyday life of tribal natives who are still living traditionally.
If you stay at Tam-Awan while you are in Baguio, it will take a little longer to get to the city’s other points of interest. But it will be well worth it because Tam-Awan itself is one of Baguio’s more interesting spots. In this case, the stay itself is the reward.