In Love With Design Again


It’s me and my ex-boyfriend again, my on-and-off — Architecture — because Vietnam reminds me this one is a keeper and I’d be foolish to let it go — design that sparks joy because love is at the root.

This is just one restaurant with gorgeous interior-exterior and equally superb food:


The name of the place is:



I wish I could go back to Hum during the day time and take pictures of the crazy fun sculptural tree house in the middle of the courtyard.  There’s a swing and boxes filled with wooden blocks and toys to entertain the kids while their parents dined on vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.   If it weren’t for James, I would’ve just been too lazy and chosen a place in the mall because it was right across the Airbnb.  There are many more like this gem where attention is paid to details but I didn’t have enough time to discover them since the kids were too tired to explore.  However, it’s more than enough to see glimpses and snippets, to feel gratitude and feel revived.


Well, I got my wish in an odd sort of way that the universe plays almost a mean joke.  I made the mistake of thinking 1:35 meant PM, not AM and we had to stay in Saigon an extra day.   So I was able to take more pictures:


I see parks like these in other countries and I wish I can be Bill Gates rich and buy all the land and turn them into parks with libraries.












This Generosity of Spirit


This generosity of spirit bowls me over, washes over me like the ocean tide.  I’ve heard about how Pinto Art Museum is a must-see, must-visit place in Antipolo but I never made my way there up until I had to meet somebody in the area and we decided to rendezvous at neurologist Dr. Joven Cuanang’s masterpiece paradise, a multi-layered Eden that can’t be captured by any camera.

The generosity stuns me – all the art works collected through time, love poring out of each nook and cranny, the landscape flowing and playing with the heights and depths, insides merging with the outside, always taking you up to perches with views and escorting you through wonderland passageways like Alice chasing the rabbit down the hole.

The generosity is in stark contrast to the meanness not too far away — another large, rolling, beautiful piece of land locked in a feud that has spanned decades.  It will not be enjoyed by people.  Some are blessed with so much and they share their abundance willingly and joyfully with others.  Then there are others who also have so much but isolate themselves, choose not to share and prefer the safety of the cocoon to the perceived, over-estimated dangers of the external world.

Made It to the Green School!


My husband was not impressed and held a skeptical view, but I’m an easy-to-please fan and it’s been my dream since watching John and Elora Hardy’s TED Talks.  My husband may not share my appreciation of the Green School, but my friend, Donna who has the same dream would.   Another friend of mine who has not gone there before was also doubtful when I told her that there was a substantial amount to be paid to tour the school, bamboo factory and Green Village, but then the money raised from tours went to sponsoring local children who can’t afford the tuition fee of the pricey international school.

Despite my husband’s discouragement, it was the architect in me who insisted on seeing the Green Village and the education researcher in me who asserted to bring the family to the Green School.   We had a bit of a night adventure going there since it was an hour away from where the hotels are.  I thought we’d be able to find accommodation nearby but the one available was at the Green Village with an astronomical price tag only the super rich can afford and the Green Villas which was fully booked.  We were fortunate that kind souls led us to Made, a common Balinese name pronounced ma-de, not maid.  Apparently, his house near the Green Village is a listed AirBnb.  For the past two years, architects, designers, teachers and parents the world over have made their way to his home, welcomed warmly by Made and his family.  The people who found their path to Made’s doorsteps were pilgrims like me: architects and engineers who wanted to study the amazing bamboo structures, teachers who wanted to learn from the Green School and parents who were hoping to send their children to the well-known, ecologically innovative school.  During the tour, I met a fellow Filipina who wanted to apply there as a teacher.

I don’t know how people cannot be impressed by what we saw but I guess like in everything else, I have to respect people’s opinion and views no matter how different they are from mine.  Perhaps it’s a form of sour grapes, or maybe they see the hypocrisy in the overriding elitist world order of things despite parallel actions reaching out to the local community, or maybe it’s not just their kind of thing but somebody else dragged them there.

The Green School runs a number of programs linking the school to the humble community outside the fantastic, almost mythical world inside.  Trash for class lets local children study English for a whole semester in exchange for 5 kilos of trash.    The middle school students built a bridge together with local engineers that connected two parts of the town, previously inconvenient for villagers to pass.  The school transforms used cooking oil into bio-diesel and produce bio-soap from the excess glycerin.  The nursery and aquaponic areas are roof tiled with windshields from junk cars.  They recycle trash, generate electricity from the river, use waterless toilets, compost waste, grow organic vegetables and do just about anything you can imagine eco warriors would do.

They have a maximum of 25 students for each class with three teachers – one international, one local and one assistant. There is a dedicated area where parents can relax, do their work, meet and organize activities.  The kids can wrestle in the mud or create whatever they want in the Ruang Mimpi or Dream Space.

After visiting school, our group headed for the bamboo factory where photos were not allowed to be taken.  Pictures were okay in the school as long as they didn’t include the students’ faces while in the Green Village, we could take all the photos we want of the unoccupied villas which are usually 80% full.  Seeing how restless Joshua and Jimmy were in the factory, I thought I should not have gotten that part of the tour which was quite educational, but then Joshua told me he found it interesting how the bamboo floor slats were put together by threading a long bamboo nail through the drilled holes.

The Green Villa is a feast for the eyes, designed by somebody who obviously revels in her wildly crazy, creative, genius mind and crafted meticulously by precise, patient, loving hands.  The Green School was founded by John Hardy who wanted to create a magical school and accomplished just that.  His daughter, Elora Hardy continued in the same vein but branched out on her own unique pioneering path producing one-of-kind luxury homes in bamboo.  Imagine taking a piss inside a giant basket or a having a TV room with woven walls to partially block off the light.  Circular bamboo-framed glass doors pivot.  There is joy in every joinery.

I asked the tour guide who were the superstars who have stayed in the villas and he said they weren’t allowed to take photos of or with the guests but he couldn’t help asking Vin Diesel whether he drove through Bali’s curvaceous mountain roads by drifting.

Before going to Bali, I studiously pored over loads of AirBnb options, tried to convince Jason to book but his decision prevailed to choose accommodation once we arrived.  It was plain luck and serendipity that we eventually ended up in Made’s Airbnb listed place and it was an experience to treasure just like our stay at worldschooler Rony’s.  One person who stayed with Made for six months filled the guest room door with tiny flashcards for learning the Balinese language.  Others left sweet little thank you notes and photos of Made with the foreign visitors so staying there, you felt part of a worldwide network sharing a not-so-secret secret.


Two Favorites


Here are pictures from two favorite places — one that I never outgrew and one that I grew to love.

From almost two decades of going there with my brothers and nieces, I noticed that most kids eventually outgrow this particular beach in Calatagan because it’s not nice in a resort kind of way.  It’s not powdery smooth.  It’s muddy and swampy in some parts and it’s too shallow to swim. You’d have to walk a distance and still it would be too far.  When you’re small as a toddler or a few years after, you could swim and you have less of an awareness of icky.  You haven’t developed that instant “ewwww” reaction.  Then eventually, the experience that was once sublime becomes boring because you’d rather play with an ipad or wish you were with friends in the city.

I’ve seen children who used to love coming to this beach grow up into teenagers and adults refusing an invitation to this outing.  I hope my children will be like me and never outgrow this place of perfect sunsets, never taking for granted the imperfect beauty of its shore in “all it’s perfect imperfections.”  I hope they don’t get tired of collecting tiny hermit crabs, snails and starfish.  I hope they never get grossed out sinking in the mud.

With the introduction of the stand-up (or sit-up in our neck of the woods) paddleboard, that may never happen.

The other favorite place is Singapore.  Almost two decades ago when I first stayed there for what seemed then like a longish time of one month, I couldn’t imagine myself living in such a limited area that could make one feel claustrophobic in its smallness.  At that time, the island was too tiny and there wasn’t enough to do, not enough choices and two weeks tops was the max for me.  However, going there regularly these past five years, I’ve grown to love the island nation and discover new hidden treasures each visit.  Either I must have been a cynical youth back then who didn’t know how to appreciate life as much as I do now, or Singapore has grown in leaps and bounds in hipness and vibrance, developing into a designers’ and urban planner’s tropical urban paradise.  Oh, and I’ve fallen in love with the variety of food from the hawker stalls to the restaurants in the malls and everything in between.

If I didn’t have a plane to catch, I wanted to linger at the Lasalle College of the Arts, snoop around the studios and see what the young artists are up to.  Perhaps in the next trip. Always a next one.

In the next one, I better watch a play.  I tried catching a performance this trip but after rushing to the National Gallery, I found the Tony award-winning play, Art wasn’t on that day although the brochure said it was.  So I will just have to content myself imagining what happens when “the friendship of three men is turned upside down when one of them buys an expensive piece of modern art – a white canvas crossed by barely visible lines. Serge buys the painting but Marc hates it and Yvan is caught in the middle between his two friends.  This contemporary comedy about friendship, creativity and the complexities of human relationships has become one of the most successful plays ever written.”  Uhmm. Nope, imagination doesn’t work.  I need to see it.

I’m just missing theater in my life.  No, not the personal drama which is more than enough, thank you.




Lakeside Serenity


The entrance to this guest house would be easy to miss unless you knew exactly what you’re looking for.  It’s a narrow wedge between two houses.  The people who flock there, like modern design pilgrims, know what they’re after — that pure, minimalist serenity by the lake.

The guest house is called Chao Feng 嘲风 and it’s at the end of the road leading to one of docks by Erhai lake and not too far from the Old Town.  This was the first hotel I saw in Dali because the owner is Jason’s friend so it was the initial stop we made.  Since then, I’ve seen many other guest houses in Dali just as architecturally stunning but this one will always have that unique “shock” value as we entered it late at night after a twelve-day drive from north to south of China.

These pictures were taken more than a week ago but I’m posting them now before leaving Dali for Kunming.  We have to pack our things again and try to fit everything like a puzzle at the back of the car.  I wish Jason and I didn’t bring as many things and we could’ve guessed which ones are not so useful before embarking but I guess it’s only hindsight that affords you that luxury.  After that, experience should teach us that “less is more.”



Dali of Our Dreams

We arrived in Dali Friday evening, tired from one of the longest stretches thus far, filled with fighting, crying and whining at the back seat.  So when the first thing that greeted us was this architecturally awesome, luxurious modern guest house tucked nonchalantly into a nondescript location opening up wide into the lake, my mind spun a story of fear, “What the hell are we doing here?  This is way out of our league!”  But at least, the spiel got better in the morning as it said, “Calm down.  Breathe in one day at a time.  You’ll be okay.”

I got spooked by the self-imposed burden of expectation.  Are we presumed to start and grow a business THIS successful?  The hotel was owned by Jason’s friend who had moved from the north fifteen years ago and started a chain of boutique hotels and restaurants. He had gone back to Beijing a few days before our arrival but his wife, the artist and designer of the gorgeous guest house was there to welcome us.

No, we didn’t stay in that posh hotel which was already fully booked.  We looked for a much humbler inn where we were able to do laundry the next day from a rooftop with a view. I felt I could watch twelve days worth of laundry dry because the clouds and sky justified the wait.

The restaurant where we had breakfast had a patch of garden with vegetables growing right by the sidewalk.  It felt natural, like why doesn’t every restaurant have something like that?

We followed the trail of the burbling stream to the old town while weaving in and out of overly-photogenic guest houses all of which had one aim in mind: the guests’ total relaxation.

The old town was crowded with tourists gripping annoying selfie sticks and I was going to write it off as one of those places I can only visit once and that’s enough.  But then we went down one lane where the artistry of the shops, cafes, guest houses and restaurants blew my mind.

We went for an afternoon nap and then walked back to the old town near dusk, this time using a different route.  Parallel to one of the streets was a grassy mound that allowed one to have an elevated view of the mountains and the town while the cars below were separated by the green, natural knoll.  On one side of the knoll, development proceeds, tearing down and rebuilding structures.  On the other side is a field overrun by weeds, vines and unkempt vegetation. Let’s hope it remains wild.

Coolness overload dominated the daytime and more so in the evening, when indie, rock and ethnic music blared and blended and the mood and dramatic lights went on.  It was a night-owl’s town more than anything else.

We’ve been dreaming of Dali for months.  It’s exciting and disconcerting at the same time to come face to face with this “clean slate.”  Nerve-wracking because of the unknowns but one can’t afford to be spooked for long.  Need to hit the ground running.