a place in the world


Burmese Days

Mingalabar! Here is a little film from our Myanmar trip. I will need to take some time to sit and process the week that was… it was a beautiful time, in large part because of the Burmese people we encountered along the way. Shots taken and edited from my iPhone, I filmed more than a hundred short clips but it was not possible to fit everything into 4:20 minutes– the length of Jonsi’s beautiful song I chose to accompany this little amateur video.

Burmese Days from Frances Ellen on Vimeo.

“The single great accident of human existence is geography: where we are born in this bordered, divided, largely unjust world. My life would have been different if I had been born elsewhere. If I had been born in a country like Burma, who would I be? What would I look like?

Can I remember the word for ‘beautiful’? Humans meet a landscape like this and all our words become second-rate. The beauty is mythical, mesmerizing; from elsewhere, I thought, then corrected myself. The plain of temples was just there. It is I who come from elsewhere”

– Burmese Lessons, Karen Conelly

Life / Portugal

swift fly the years

Cais Sodre, Lisbon

There is nothing like being transported in a new place that makes one acutely aware of all life’s possibilities, like – I could make a life here. 

Lisbon was a surprise, in a really good way. I read one post from a random blogger who found it charmless and lackluster – I beg to disagree. I keep saying this to anyone who asks – it is a severely underrated European capital. I did not have the time to explore the country, but I am pretty sure the rest of it is just as great. Porto, Alentejo, Arrabida, Obidos, Setubal, Madeira… one can keep dreaming.

Because of my “age”, my growing responsibilities, and life in general, I only planned for one “big trip” this year, but I will end up taking four– two of them are unexpected work stints. It is a good surprise and I am not one to pass an opportunity to be in a new place, but sometimes my reserved, introverted self cannot cope with all the changes. Time does not stop when I am away and loved ones are making plans, moving on. This is difficult to admit, but I would rather stay this time for fear of missing out.

In other news, this year’s Big Trip is coming up in a few days and I hope it will be transformative in the way I expect it to be.

Have a good day and a good life, my friend.

Food / North America / United States

What I Ate: California

As this was a work-related trip, most of the weekdays were spent in the office. I did not get out of my way to dine at specific places, I mostly went with whatever the group felt like eating. A few times I ventured out and grabbed takeout from the places near my hotel.

At Hyatt House, breakfast selection is small but good. I loved the biscuits and gravy; I don’t remember having anything similar that was that good. I also discovered that people like their breakfast eggs with salsa in these parts! I do enjoy a big meal when I’m up extra early in the morning. Needless to say all these calories showed on my trip photos.. I looked huge!
Hyatt House Breakfast
Hyatt House Breakfast

I am so glad we took time to check out Blue Bottle at Mint Plaza. I would go so far and say that it is the best coffee I have had! I still can remember how the latte coursed ever so smoothly down my throat. It was a cup of silky caffeinated goodness. Blue Bottle recently came to Asia– Tokyo, specifically, and I read somewhere that the lines are always crazy long.
Blue Bottle Latte
Blue Bottle Latte

Spending lunch hour at Tortilleria El Molino in Concord.
Taco Salad

Lunch hour, Mackarel / Saba Bento
Saba Bento

I have tried Five Guys Burger, In-N-Out, and Habit Burger and I must say Habit Burger was the best so far.
Five Guys Burger
Five Guys Burger
In n Out Burger

Freebirds Naked Burrito, eaten as two meals
Freebirds Naked Burrito

so many Kombucha choices at Costco!

Korean Yakult
Korean Yakult

beautiful chocolate packaging Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe's Chocolate

North America / United States

The Chapter in Your Life Entitled San Francisco

San Francisco from Twin Peaks

Earlier this year, I had the chance to go on a short work trip to the California East Bay Area. North America has not really been in my list of places to visit, mostly because getting there can be expensive; and for the same price, I would really rather go to Europe or Africa. Still, I am very happy and grateful that my job allowed me to step on a new continent. Being granted a visa and entry to the United States proved to be a great advantage, travel-wise. I was set to visit Taiwan and having a valid US visa exempted me from the Taiwanese visa process. I would apply for South Korean and Japanese visas a few months later and I believe this recent trip helped me gain multiple entry visas in both countries well.

I have only been to one small part of the state in a short span of time, but I would say it has been the (North) America that I imagined – people are cheery and friendly and everything is clean and comfortable and orderly and supersized. It is indeed the Land of Plenty.

I was staying at a fairly new Serviced Apartment on my first few days. Pretty nice and comfortable, a short walking distance from a shopping complex. (Michael’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and my favorite cheapo store, Ross Dress For Less!)


I switched accommodations during the middle of my trip and the BART train station is just across the street. It’s a shame that I am only less than an hour away from Oakland or Berkeley but I didn’t make time to explore those other cities.

A family friend took me on a scenic drive from San Francisco through San Jose, Santa Clara, and Silicon Valley. I have no photos but downtown Saratoga looks so charming!
San Francisco
Santa Cruz

Google Drive.
Google Drive

Kitty cat at Milpitas.
Milpitas cat

Friday night out in the city! Photo of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.
San Francisco Bay Bridge

Scenes from Pier 39
Pier 39 Carousel
Pier 39
Pier 39

San Francisco City Hall

The lookout point at Twin Peaks, the highest point in the city. One of my favorite places in SFO so far.

We booked with Dylan’s Tours on my last full day. It was a good way to see the highlights of the city in a short amount of time! I wish there were more stops though.</>

Balmy Alley at the Mission District is a block of murals mostly with Hispanic / Central American political themes. The murals are always evolving and change every so often.

Balmy Alley Mural
Balmy Alley Mural
Balmy Alley Mural
Balmy Alley Mural

Back at Twin Peaks, we were just there the night prior. From here we learned from our guide Andreas that most of San Francisco was built on sand dunes. That also explains why the city is very and steep and hilly.
Twin Peaks
Twin Peaks

We stopped at Haight St. Market for lunch. The neighborhood is known to be the origin of the 60’s hippie culture. I distinctly remember the place from a Third Eye Blind song. 🙂

We sat with our fellow tour participant as we ate our deli sandwiches, a nice lady from San Diego. After sending off her youngest daughter to college, she sold her possessions to travel the world. “For the first time in a long time, I don’t have to worry about anyone but myself.” It was kind of sad, and inspiring at the same time. Heavy-set at middle age, she waddles slowly with a semi-limp. I think of her from time to time, I hope she is enjoying her long overdue adventure even with limited mobility.
Haight Street Market
Haight Street Market
Haight Street Market

We walked by Jimi Hendrix’s Red House and drove by the iconic San Francisco Painted Ladies. No photos, unfortunately. But I love seeing all the Victorian, old-timey houses. San Francisco is also known to have the most expensive real estate in the United States.

We drove through the Pacific Heights mansions and stopped for a few moments admire the view. Larry Ellison (Of Oracle Corp.), Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Robin Williams are a few of the residents in the area.

Pacific Heights
Pacific Heights

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from Fort Point.
Golden Gate Bridge

Next stop: Muir Woods National Park. I have long wanted to see the majestic California redwoods, one of the oldest living things in the world.
Muir Woods
Muir Woods
Cathedral Grove

Another view of the Golden Gate from Marin Headlands.
Golden Gate Bridge

The tour is over and we chose to be dropped off by the second twistiest street in SF, Lombard Street. The neighborhood is very steep and I had to stop ever so often to catch my breath. 😛 We took a tram headed to the Palace of Fine Arts right after.
Lombard Street
Palace of Fine Arts

San Francisco is lovely and I wish I had more time to walk around and explore the neighborhoods. There were so so many places I wish I had time for, and I barely scratched the surface.

Laos / On the Road / Vietnam

On The Road: July 2015

Wat Xieng Thong, Luang Prabang, Laos

Checking in from the Hanoi Noi Bai Airport en route to Manila. I spent a few days in Hanoi (Vietnam) and Luang Prabang (Laos), and their respective environs. Both proved to be equally memorable places for entirely different reasons.

This ends my “big trip” for the year. I try to see one new country each year and I’ve been trying to do that since 2006. I hope I am driven enough to attempt this for the rest of my life. I meant to set a “30 before 30” goal but I am past that age now, and yet I have barely covered 30 countries. Yes, I know sometimes it is not about crossing off items from a long list.

I spent a day in an elephant sanctuary in Laos and I must say it was really something special, and I am still thinking about the elephants several days later. I’d volunteer if I had the time or means. After a friend’s recommendation and some research, I’m glad to have chosen a particular elephant camp that truly cares for the animals and customers as well. I hope to write about it one of these days.

Life / Writing

two things


A former teammate / work colleague had gone missing more than a week ago. His family searched for him for days and a serendipitous circumstance led them to ask for driving directions from a certain faraway police station. The station happens to have located a lifeless body; ‘would you like to see if it is your missing person by any chance?’

Of course it was him.

There were no conclusive reports but there have been multiple withdrawal transaction from his bank account since the disappearance. Yes,  it can happen to anyone– a desperate thug living anywhere in this world will abduct and bludgeon someone to death for $2200. Or a lot less than that. When it hits close to home, the danger is very real.

When we worked at the same company, he would relentlessly ask everyone to pose for group photos at events or meetings. I remember it drove me bananas because it hassled people, it was seemingly unnecessary to document the mundane. In retrospect, I perfectly understand now. There are hundreds of photos of him on his Facebook account and they all show how he truly lived a full life– traveling, working, keeping fit, mentoring kids, serving God, being with his family.  His posts were so full of positivity and joy.

We were not terribly close, but the way he lived his life– it is a constant reminder to fill your days with meaning.

I wish you the best journey ever, F.


I was coming down with a fever one day but I just took a personal day off the week prior and I could not afford to be away for another day. I trudged on and finally had it on the third day– I was too sick to even get up.  I have not felt that ill in a long time and yet, work still hounded me. I am reminded that my work will not care even if I am in my deathbed, it will only care that the report gets done or the stakeholders get notified. I would love to break away from these chains, if I only can.


My heart breaks for Nepal

I meant to write about Nepal as a travel destination at some point. We visited the Kathmandu Valley in August last year and in the week that we visited, we managed to see all 7 of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in the area. It was a place like no other. I was, in fact, looking at budget flights to Kathmandu last Friday, on the eve of the quake, hoping to return.

No other place has given me such an overload of the senses than the streets of Kathmandu. People dress differently. The smells are different, the food is different, there are 100 different things to look at all at once. Hindu Nepalis have thousands of gods, and you can see the reverence and worship everywhere you go. It was truly a living museum. The power goes out for a few hours twice a day. Life is simple. Houses are spartan. They cook, eat, sleep on the floor.  People look happy. I came home grateful for everything I have, inflicted with an inexplicable guilt, and I longed to see more and do more.

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake on Saturday, April 25, has destroyed peoples’ homes and ancient structures in the Valley and its environs. More than 3,000 lives were lost, and the death toll is still climbing.  My heart breaks for all those beautiful souls. Most sacred sites in Kantipur (Kathmandu), Lalitpur (Patan), and Bhaktapur were reduced to dust and rubble; the very places that contribute to the significant income of the community as touristic and pilgrimage sites.

To all the beautiful souls of Nepal, may you rise from this tragedy and rebuild your beautiful cities with the grace and dignity that I know you have always possessed.

The Beautiful Faces of Nepal

a blind man enjoying his chai at the Boudhanath Stupa
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

street tailors at the Mangal Bazaar in Patan
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Lovely ladies having a chat, preparing for the day
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

What I assume to be Tibetan refugees at Boudhanath
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Two of the sadhus at Pashupatinath
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Ladies chatting in Bhaktapur
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Beautiful friendly faces at the Bhaktapur Gai Jatra Festival
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Rajesh, our guide for a few days
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Toy seller in Bhaktapur
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Fruit seller with his ingenius cart at Bhaktapur
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Child seller in Bhaktapur.. all she had to sell were these sprigs of cilantro
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Family at Changu Narayan– the wife and I shared a smile because her husband stumbled and he couldn’t lift the sack of firewood
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Ice cream seller in Bhaktapur
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Newari man watching all the festivities in Bhaktapurfaces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Mother and child in Bhaktapur
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Newari men chatting after a long day of work
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Cute little human I met at the Patan Golden Temple. His Father kept ordering him to greet me ‘namaste’
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

Merchant at the Basantapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu
faces of Kathmandu, Nepal

This site has practically no readers yet, but in any case, here is one way to extend help if you are from the Philippines.
http://www.redcross.org.ph/press/news/item/954-help-nepal-now and http://ushare.redcross.org.ph/

Life / Writing

First-Time Dog Mummy

These days, I usually sleep, read books or edit this blog whenever I can find free time. I have moved over 300+ blog entries from blogger and I am in the process of recoding and editing the images that accompany each entry. I have not been able to do that in the past 2 days because we have just welcomed a puppy in our home, She is a 2 month old Maltichon: a Bichon Frise – Maltese mix.

Summer the Maltichon

I love dogs but I have no clue about raising one. In the past 48 hours I have Googled and learned so much.. heck, I even read Ceasar Millan’s book. 😛 It’s like having a kid really, only a pup is less delicate. She has been eating vomit and toilet paper and newspapers and bit on one dead cockroach she found lying around at one point. She was even close to eating her poop on several occasions.

Similar to my philosophy of raising my would-be children, I will avoid treating her like a “princess.” I have an aversion to people who treat their dogs and kids like so. Dogs, like children, should be raised in a loving home, but at the same time parents should not make their lot feel like they are privileged, superior, and self-important.

Life / Writing

Loss / Lost

Perhaps it’s only fitting to write about a major life event as my first post in this new domain. I told myself I won’t talk about it openly because it will sound like I am a “victim” looking for sympathy. I suppose it will sound like it at some point, and I hope you don’t get the wrong idea.

I lost my dad to cancer this month, just two weeks before we were supposed to celebrate his 68th birthday. I remember the fear, worry, uncertainty, when we first found out in 2005. The prognosis was 6 months up to 1 year, but he defied all odds and fought a long and hard battle for 9.5 years.

It has been almost a decade of hospital visits, 6 different chemotherapy treatments, hair loss (i have memories of cleaning out clumps in the shower drain, with my heart breaking for the loss of his thick head of very black, never dyed hair), 31 consecutive months of blood transfusions, a visually impaired eye, edemas, pneumonia, muscle wastage, oxygen tanks, Epoetin injections, pain medication.

This challenge has shaped so much of who I am. I spent my 20s living with a lot of fear, mostly worried of what is to come. I sound so selfish to even say this. I was not the one on the front lines, so to speak. My mother devoted all of her time to care for him. One of the people closest to me told me that that he sees me as a person worried about “a problem”, not a daughter who cares for his dad. Somehow that makes it worse.

I work until late at night and my dad would wait for me to get home every single day. He would wait for me even if he was tired, in pain, or in the hospital. He would only lie on his bed after he knew I was safe at home. He did that every day until his last day on earth. I am glad I had the chance to tell him I love him each night I would check in to say I was safe home. I still feel I did not do enough.

I have always prayed that he pass peacefully in his sleep, at home on his bed, with no pain or trauma. That did not happen and it is absolutely the hardest thing for me to process and come to terms with. He struggled to breathe on his last day and spent hours waiting, gasping for air in the ER. Hours later, he was given morphine until he drifted off to sleep. A priest was called to anoint him. He was unconscious, but he shed a tear. I often wonder about his thoughts during those final hours of consciousness.

I live hours away and I rushed home as soon as I heard he was back at the hospital. I finally arrive and held him and whispered in his ear. I hope he still heard and knew I was there. It was his longtime wish not to be revived or tracheotomized and I signed the Do Not Resuscitate waiver on his behalf. Thirty minutes after I arrived, he breathed his last, surrounded by immediate family and closest friends.

It feels so strange that he was just here. I can’t quite describe it, but it feels unreal. It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that a person can exist and then be gone forever, just like that. You were a constant presence my whole life, but you are no longer. What? You’re gone? You were just here! Will I see you again when I die? I wish I knew. Living day-to-day will be easier if I knew for sure I will see you again.

I have always wished that his pain would end. I spent a decade with this gnawing feeling eating me up inside. Now that it has ended, I feel lost and empty, like there is a big gaping hole in my life that nothing can ever fill.

When I was a teenager I hated my parents. Now that I am older, I know without a doubt they are absolutely the best people I know. It was such a privilege to have been raised by this strong, loving, courageous human being.

I love you forever and I think about you every day. I hope you are enjoying your peaceful new life.

Food / Philippines

8-course Degustation at The Goose Station

This meal was courtesy of a Deal Grocer deal: “Sensational 8-Course Degustation Dinner with Foie Gras.” Photos taken with a camera phone!

Foie Gras Cone (Foie Gras Mousse, Port Jelly, Fig Jam, Hazelnut)
Light and delicate, a good start to the meal.

The Goose Station's foie gras cone
Tuna Crudo (Grapefruit, Beet, and Raspberry Vinaigrette, Herbs)
I honestly don’t remember much from this dish.
The Goose Station's tuna crudo

Trio of Bruschette (Chickpea, Salmon, Chicken Liver)
Overall a good dish. I love a good chicken liver bruschetta, I vividly recall the best one I have ever had, from Il Latini in Florence. The Goose Station’s version comes close, I wish this serving was bigger because it’s one of my favorites.
The Goose Station's trio of bruschette

Egg and Sweet Potato (Textures of Sweet Potato, Smoked Bacon, Goat Cheese, Select Produce)
For me, the best dish from this degustation is a slow-cooked egg with lardons and chips. It is beautifully plated, too.
The Goose Station's eggs and sweet potato

Intermezzo (Strawberry Sorbet, Lychee Granita, Strawberry Chip, Balsamic Reduction)
The Goose Station's sorbet

Scallop and Carrots (Textures of Carrot, Potato Chips, Fennel Froth)
Scallops were well cooked with a nice sear. Carrot brunoise and carrot puree and half of a baby carrot… make no mistake this is indeed a scallops and carrot dish! The carrot flavor to me, did not elevate the scallops– I wonder, why this combination?
The Goose Station's scallop and carrots

Foie Gras Taho (Foie Gras Chawan Mushi with Sherry Reduction and Tapioca)
Had to plug my nose to finish this dish, foie gras tastes very good but not in this preparation. It had a, for a lack of a better word, malansa quality. Not to say it’s fishy, but it had an unpleasant smell and aftertaste.

The Goose Station's foie gras chawan mushi

TGS Burger (Angus Patty, Brioche Bun, Asiago-Raclette, Fries)
Good burger and fries, but it seemed out of place. “The last seven dishes may not be enough for these cheapo deal hunters, let’s throw in a thick burger for good measure!”
The Goose Station's TGS burger

Halo Halo
A nice reinterpretation of the beloved Filipino desert.
The Goose Station's Halo Halo

Overall, a hit and miss. The selling point of this degustation  was the foie gras. It was not the real deal however – they were delivered in a mousse and chawan mushi preparation. The progression didn’t make much sense; this Deal Grocer set felt a bit like a throwaway menu, solely for the purpose of luring diners who normally can’t afford to pay full price. (Oui, c’est moi!) I felt the service was a bit awkward, like we were not really welcome; that would probably be because we did not get a cheerful server.
I think I am bound to have a better meal if I ordered from the regular menu.

The Goose Station
G/F W Tower 39th Street
Taguig, Philippines
Tel. 632-5569068; 0917-85GOOS