Thursday, April 21, 2016

Halo Jakarta! Fun Facts I Learned During my Stay in Indonesia

Monas (Monumen Nasional)

"Halo" means "hello" in Indonesia.  In Spanish, it's "Hola".  A simple exchange of vowels transforms the word into another dialect.  I noticed that because I just recently written a post about my trip to Uruguay.  Traveling is a good teacher but it is quite expensive.  So, save up, the memories that you acquire when you travel is irreplaceable.  Lucky are those people who travel a lot because of their work (wink).

My trip to Jakarta was memorable not only because it's another cross out from my bucket list but also because of the friends that I have met there.  I went there to undergo a long but rewarding 21-day training.  I garnered 3 major certificates:  ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support), ITLS (International Trauma Life Support) and Remote Site Medic Training.  Yahoooo!  I was the only doctor in my group, so I felt a little bit of pressure, it would be very embarrassing if I fail an exam (lol). Most of my classmates were Malaysian, Indonesian and Thai medics and nurses.  We were divided into two groups.  The other group also has a doctor from Bali (Dr. Cintya).

Our classes were only done during the weekdays, so we had some time to see the city during the weekends.  I was the only Filipino, but fortunately an Indonesian nurse (Winsy) knows how to speak my dialect with perfection.  I was so surprised.  He graduated from Mountain View College in Bukidnon, Philippines.  I really admire people who can learn other dialects, it's not easy.  I know a good chef in my workplace who speaks 5 languages.  Wow!

Our hotel, the Pejaten Suites
We stayed in a pretty neat hotel called The Pejaten Suites.  My room was large and we had free wifi.  The hotel also has a small pool where we had small parties every now and then, just hanging out, listening to music during our free time.  It also has a small gym where I dragged myself everyday (hehe) to have some exercise.  I had a good time there.

Just like any other hotel, there was free breakfast.  Indonesian food is very delicious, I love it!  It's like Filipino food but more spicy.  For 21 days, I ate nasi goreng (fried rice) everyday!  So, I ate fried rice with egg.  The next day, fried rice with chicken and then fried rice with beef and then back to egg and the cycle continues.  They don’t serve pork because majority of the Indonesians are Muslims.  They also served fried rice with goat’s meat but I didn’t try.  Each order of nasi goreng always comes with krupuk (deep fried crackers) and some vegetables.  I was relishing the taste, the mixture of the spices blow up in my mouth like firecrackers, that’s how excited I was every time I eat.  There was a small restaurant across our hotel so my Malaysian friends (Irwin, Faiz and Sazre) and I eat there almost every night.

Nasi Goreng (fried rice) with Krupuk and some vegetables

One order of nasi goreng costs 35,000 Indonesian Rupiah.  Yes, you read it right!  Indonesians must be probably very rich, right?  Well, some of them really are.  I’ve seen expensive cars in Jakarta which I haven’t seen in my home city.  Going back to the price of the food, the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) has a very high exchange rate with the US dollar.  As of press time, one USD is equivalent to 13,000 IDR.  In comparison to the Philippine peso, one dollar is equivalent to 46 pesos.  So, that explains why.  One of my colleagues in the rig also said that they have the same situation in Romania but their government did an economic overhaul and took out 4 zero’s from their currency.  In Indonesia, you have to prepare 50,000 IDR if you want to eat in a fancy restaurant and that’s just for one order!

As I have mentioned before, majority of the Indonesian cuisine is spicy but I didn’t expect their snacks would be spicy too!  We were served with snacks during our training and I was so surprised to discover that one particular ingredient is present in every snack:  a small green pepper.  It doesn’t matter what kind of snack they serve, the small green pepper is always there.  I didn’t eat it for a couple of days but I became so curious.  I know for a fact that eating a small green pepper would be a disaster but I tried it anyway.  It was not as hot as I thought it would be unlike the ones we have back home.  The taste actually augmented the flavor of the main snack, ingenious. 

My Malaysian and Indonesian friends understand each other, they speak the Bahasa language.  Regarding, physical appearance, we have the same features, although our Thai brothers have fairer skin and look more Chinese.  Thai names are hard to remember and definitely hard to spell (55555).  So, we just call them by their nicknames. In Thai language, the fifth number is pronounced as “ha”, so when we laugh in our text messages to each other, we simply put 55555, it’s easier.  Attitude wise, there isn’t much difference.  Asians are generally polite and sometimes passive.   But we can also become crazy too, 5555! 

The view from the top of Monas
The only Indonesian landmark that I was able to visit was the Monas (Monumen Nasional).  It is a very lofty tower, 132 meters (approximately 40 stories) high.  On top of it is a gold plated flame-like structure.  The obelisk is a symbol of Indonesian struggle for independence.  It is located in Merdeka Square, Central Jakarta.  We waited for two hours just to get to the top.  There is a single elevator which will take you to there.  Claustrophobics be warned.  It was a great site up there, you can see the whole stretch of the city.  It was actually funny because we only stayed 15-20 minutes at the top.  After taking some pictures we decided to go down.  The long wait made us really hungry and we went straight to the mall. 

I think Jakarta has a good public transportation system.  We rode the bus going back to our place and there was no traffic jam, buses have their own driveway separate from other vehicles.  Very clever.  Inside the bus, men and women do not sit together.  In small streets though, you can experience traffic jam because of the great number of motorcycles.  I haven’t seen so many motorcycles in my whole life, the flow of motorcycles never ends.  And I also remember that it is dangerous to cross the street because the vehicles drive at the left side of the road, I got confused where to look, and the myriad motorcycles are just very fast!  Whew!

International SOS training center with Mammos, Black, Irwin, Sazre,
Ekamon, Saman, Dr. Cintya and Phong
I hope you had a glimpse of Jakarta through my words.  I had fun and you know what, I became a millionaire there after I exchanged my currency in the money changer.  We all became instant millionaires (wink)!

If you want to read more fun facts from other places, just hit “follow” and you’re all set. 

I’d like to hear from you, please leave a comment.  Thanks!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

10 Things You Shouldn’t Forget when You Travel Abroad

Makati, Philippines
For my “Kabayans”, OFW’s and all the Filipino travelers out there.

It would probably feel like the end of the world when you reach the airport to check-in and then you realize that your passport is left at home or your wallet is nowhere to be found. 

Most of the time, I pack my stuff the night or few hours before my flight schedule.  Sometimes, I only get only two hours of sleep before heading to the airport.  My flights are usually early in the morning because they are cheap.  Even if I have limited time to pack I still manage to bring the necessary documents and things.  I have a list on which important things to bring and I want to share this with you.  I use an app called InkPad Notepad in my Lenovo cellphone and this is where I scribble almost anything like important events, important codes, reminders, things-to-do lists and even what songs to sing during a videoke/karaoke.  And no, I don’t consider myself as an OC (wink).  You must admit, you also forget the songs you want to sing when you are in the spot, right?  All right, enough of the sidetrack back to business.

Here are the things that you cannot afford to forget when you travel outside the country:

1.  Passport / Visa – Traveling outside your home country requires you to present a passport.  Some countries require you to have a visa.  Make sure that there are still enough spaces in your passport for the stamps.  Always take note of the expiry date of your passport and your visa.  Process them months before the date of your travel so that you won’t have any problem.  A firm reminder: you should fix your eyes to anybody who is processing your passport and make sure that the document is handled well.  Any alterations or tears can prevent you from leaving the country.

2.  Flight details – For domestic/local flights nowadays, you don’t have to print your flight details because the check-in counter will only ask for your ID.  For international flights, I suggest that you should have a print out of you flight details especially if you have many connecting flights.  The electronic copy is also good but you wouldn’t want to give your phone or tablet to the immigration officer / check-in counter, would you?

3.  Hotel reservations – Just like your flight details, it is better to have a paper copy of your hotel reservations.  The immigration personnel will inspect this especially if you are traveling as a tourist.

4.  Pocket money / credit cards / debit cards – I tell you, there are a lot of surprise expenses when you travel.  I am used to being exempted from the travel tax because I am an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) but when I traveled to Scotland for a training I was asked to pay the travel tax which was 1,620 Php.  You really need a good amount of cash with you because not all establishments accept credit cards.  You must also be guided how much money is allowable during travel.  According to The Philippine Consulate General, bringing in and taking out of currencies should not exceed 10,000 USD and not exceed 10,000 if in Philippine peso.  Any excess must be declared at the Bureau of Customs Desk in the airport for foreign currencies and at Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas International Department for Philippine currency.  Visit the Philippine Consulate General website for more information.   It is also a must to bring credit or debit cards.  This is useful if you want to purchase something in an airport where you don’t have their local currency.  Perhaps, you missed your flight (oh no!), you definitely need a credit card to rebook your flight.  A debit card works the same way.  I bring two credit cards with me, one is MasterCard and the other one is Visa.  You have to have a backup card because not all establishments accept MasterCard or Visa. 

5.  Government issued Identification card / document – Your professional ID (PRC) and/or a driver’s license is good enough.   NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) clearance is also accepted.

6.  OEC for OFW’s – This is also called an “exit pass”, without it you cannot go out of the country.  I’m very lucky that my company processes my OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate).  This document exempts me from the terminal fee and travel tax.  Furthermore, you also get a refund of 550 Php if you have this.  Isn’t that awesome?  I have extra cash to buy me some overpriced airport food, yum!

7.  Letter/Certificate of Guarantee or Okay to Board for OFW’s – This document is issued by your company or agency and this should be presented in the check-in counter and the immigration officer.  Another important reminder, make sure that all the details in the document is correct especially the flight details and the spelling of your name.

8.  Seaman’s book for Seafarers – It is considered a mortal sin if a seaman forgets this.  This is needed if you are joining a vessel and in some countries the visa requirement is waived if you present this.  You can also get extra luggage weight because of this. 

9.  Gadgets for communication – Your cellphone and laptop gets you connected with your company and with your loved ones.  Nowadays, a cellular phone is considered an extension of our hand, we feel amputated if we go out of the house without it.  Really?  Furthermore, almost all airports have wifi.  Take note though, if you can’t access the wifi with Chrome, try Firefox.  I have tried that in Aberdeen, twice.  Make sure you have a backup browser before traveling.  Some airports only give you 45 minutes of free wifi.  If you have an important message to your company, like for example, telling your site liaison officer that the agent who is supposed to get you didn’t arrive (and you are in the middle of nowhere), you have to make that email quick(!) before you get absorbed with FB or Instagram and then suddenly your free wifi is finished.  If that happens, you would have to call the office and this leads me to the last item…

10.  International Sim Card/Roaming Sim – This comes in handy if ever you get stuck in an airport in the middle of the night where the people around you don’t speak English.  There are some airports with some staff who do not speak English, an example is Sao Paulo International Airport in Brazil.   With the international sim card, you can easily call your agency.  I’m using a Seafarer’s Sim powered by Globe.  It works well for me, I’ve used it in Africa and in Europe.  The text message only costs 10 US cents.  You can buy this in Globe stalls in NAIA or in Mactan International Airport.  Another option is to adjust your current sim to roaming but it would be expensive.  It’s your choice.

There you go.  If I missed an important item, please leave a comment below.  When traveling to another country it is also important to know what kind of electric socket they have, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to charge your gadgets.  There are many adapters sold in the airport.  Another thing, you should also know the current peace and order situation in the country that you are visiting.  There are many reliable sites in the net, take note which spots are safe for tourists/foreigners.

There you go, again.  Total of 12 items, right?  Well, I’ll leave the title of this post as it is.  It wouldn’t be nice to put “top 12 things you shouldn’t forget…”, top 10 seems more appealing.  Just like the movie, 10 Things I Hate About You.  Ooops, now you know which decade I come from.  Hope you have learned something.  Feel free to share this to your friends and relatives who are traveling soon. Stay safe always and don’t forget to pray during your trips.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Hola Uruguay! Part 2: The Streets are Alive

Plaza Independencia, Montevideo

 You can learn a lot about a certain place just by walking around.  That is what I did, together with my three colleagues.  I really enjoyed my 4 days stay in Uruguay.  The hotel where I stayed was in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital city and I had the chance to wander thru its exciting streets, specifically Perez Castellano and Sarandi.  I think these are the main tourist areas near the port.  The temperature was around 13 degrees Celsius, not too cold, good for strolling.

That is 25 Uruguayan peso, not US dollars.  They have the same symbol.

All kinds of boutiques, stores and restaurants are lined up at the sides.  Because the weather was nice, people prefer to stay outside the restaurants and enjoy the ambiance.

What was interesting about the buildings is that some of them are very old and the architecture is very intricate.  One of my colleagues explained to me that he can see Roman, Neo-Roman and Gothic influences.  I must admit the old buildings look really classy but some of them also look haunted. 

Upon walking farther, we encountered a weed shop.  Yes, marijuana is legal in Uruguay.  Two years ago, the government legalized growing Cannabis at home.  However, there is a registration process before you can grow the plant.  Marijuana is also legal in Spain, Czech Republic and Switzerland but of course, this has restrictions.  You have to review the law carefully before you smoke pot in those areas. 

Moving on, we also went inside a huge Catholic church, Catedral Metropolitan de Montevideo.  When I entered the church, it made me feel like I’m back at home.  Everything is the same, from the design to the arrangements.  I should have attended a mass, it would have been very interesting to listen to the whole service in Spanish.  The main language in Uruguay is Spanish.

Catedral  Metropolitan de Montevideo

 The church was situated beside a park (Plaza Constitucion).  The park looks very alive with all the small stalls spread at the walkways.  Most of them were selling antique stuff and souvenirs, some of them were selling old books.  A fountain is situated in its center.  The park was a very good place to spend an afternoon with your loved ones.  A nice beat of the drums can be heard from the performers a few steps away.  Along with the Spanish language, from all the chatter around, makes it a perfect background soundtrack.  I find the language very romantic thus making the place romantic or maybe I just miss my wife too much (wink).  As what the Brits usually say, it is a very lovely place!

Plaza Constitucion
The streets ahead were also filled with small market stalls of varied items, just about anything.  There were many tourists from different parts of the world.  We also saw some cool graffiti along the way.  All the different colors around make the streets alive!  

Annang and Ove, desperately trying to be "boys in the hood"

 We also reached the Plaza Independencia (independence square).  A large statue of Jose Artigas is located in the center, he is a national hero and his remains is stored in an underground room underneath the statue.  The square was surrounded with important commercial and government buildings.

While we were walking, a fellow approached us and asked if we were all seamen.  I didn’t answer because I was already laughing inside, I had to spell the word to erase the other word that popped out in my mind hahaha.  I’m a doctor and not a seaman.  But I have a seaman’s book, does that make me a seaman?  So yes, we were all seamen.  Anyway, he called out to us because he was promoting his upcoming pub for seafarers (that would be the appropriate word, don’t you think?).  Now, I wonder how he knew that we were all seamen (there's that word again hehe).

Going up north, we encountered another park (Plaza Fabini) and stopped there to have some coffee.  Two little birds came near our table and I was lucky enough to have taken their photograph.  It was quite refreshing and relaxing just sitting there and enjoying the surrounding flowers and trees in the middle of a busy city.  After the coffee, we decided to find a good restaurant to eat lunch, all the walking made us quite hungry.  When we settled in the restaurant we heard a nice kind of rhythm from the beat of the drums.  We ignored it at first but it was getting louder.  I was curious, so I went to the direction of the sound.  I got excited with what I saw!  See what it is, read Part 1 of this series.  I promise, it’s also a fun read.  Take care.

This is a relaxing spot in the middle of the city.  Having coffee with these birds.