July 13, 2014

Bohol, Philippines

It's fascinating to see one's own country through another set of lenses. On this, my third visit to Bohol, I got to experience this enchanting part of the Philippines from the point of view of someone stepping foot in the country for the first time. A Filipino comes to Bohol and sees the highlights that we've heard about our whole lives: the sublime beaches of Panglao Island, the distinctive swathe of over 1,200 Chocolate Hills, and its famously wee marsupial resident, the tarsier


Someone new to the country sees all that but also the character of the rural towns and its townfolk. My Dutch travel buddy noted that Boholanos seemed to always be productive. As we drove through the rural streets, the people we passed were walking to school or work in freshly pressed clothes, sweeping or refurbishing their homes, constructing new buildings, or selling homemade snacks to passing cars. To him, all the activity seemed indicative of a province on its way to better things.

I sure hope he's right. Bohol was dealt a difficult hand in 2013, when an intensity 7.2 earthquake rocked the province, destroying many of its prized historic landmarks. Not long after, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the region, disrupting relief efforts and further straining an already embattled province's resources. Eight months later, Bohol seems to have bounced back, though many of its prized 18th century churches are still slowly and painstakingly being restored.

One way of helping Bohol recover is to visit and revive tourism in the area. Though a part of what makes Bohol special was destroyed by the earthquake, there is still much left to enjoy. We chose to skip the typical countryside tour of Bohol and instead saw a few key sights at a relaxed pace. We walked into the forested area inhabited by tarsiers to peek at every little sleeping nocturnal marsupial perched on tree branches and undeneath canopies of leaves. We climbed up the steep vantage point from where there were Chocolate Hills as far as they eye could see. And we capped off our morning of sight-seeing with lunch at Bohol Bee Farm, which is was perhaps my favorite spot. Underneath the trees and with stunning views of this seascape, we dined on the farm's delicious organic fare.


We spend most of our time at our home base, Bellevue Resort Bohol, a relatively new resort that melds modern luxury with plenty of lovely Filipino touches, including indigenous instruments like the kulintang and toys such as sunka in the lobby. Distinctive Filipino textures abound in the interiors: capiz shells, banig weaves and abaca tapestry. The staff are very warm and professional, starting from driver who picked us up at the airport and gave us a friendly and informative tour on the way to the resort. Bellevue's beachfront is quite lovely, though the water recedes considerably in the afternoon, so unless you are a morning person, you will likely end up swimming in the pool most of the time. Not that that's a bad thing; the Bellevue's infinity pool is one of the most stunning pools around.


While the complementary breakfast buffet at the Bellevue was brimming with choices and generally excellent, I thought the a la carte choices can still be improved upon. My go-to dish was the grilled stuffed squid, which was consistently yummy—but I reckon I can make a much better adobo than their kitchen.


Bohol was a nice little getaway from bustling and rainy Manila, particularly at this off-peak monsoon period. We got a few full days of breezy sunshine, but generally the weather was sunny early in the day with some showers in the afternoon. For those visiting the Philippines at this time of the year and seeking a bit of sun and surf, Bohol is a good bet.

June 18, 2014

Discoverue

I love travel in almost every form ... but don't you find that there's something extra satisfying about a quick getaway? Whether it's a day of hiking, a weekend escape to wine country, or a long weekend at a serene beach, being able to experience something extraordinary in such close proximity to my ordinary life brings me an added dose of pleasure.

Here to bring those experiences ever closer to your fingertips: Discoverue—a website dedicated to helping you find the quick getaway you're looking for this weekend. These mini vacations are meant to last 72 hours or less—just enough to help you decompress from your regular life without disrupting your flow drastically. Being a fervent weekend warrior myself, I penned a few articles for my friends at Discoverue, which you'll find peppered throughout the site. For a quick glimpse of what Discoverue has to offer, watch the video below and visit their website at discoverue.com

June 15, 2014

Amy Ruth's

Some days are for quinoa salads, kale smoothies and juice cleansing ... and some glorious days are for feasting at Amy Ruth's.


Amy Ruth's is a popular Harlem restaurant, flocked to by those in search of good old, down-home Southern cooking. Chef and owner Carl Redding named the joint after his grandmother in Alabama, who gave him his first lessons in the kitchen before he went on to cook at former Harlem soul food institution Wilson's and under the employ of Reverend Al Sharpton.

Thus, the signature dish here carries the reverend's moniker: juicy deep fried chicken perched atop a perfectly-crisp-on-the-outside and fluffy-on-the-inside waffle. You can ask for a tender chicken leg so large it practically covers the entire waffle or choose chicken wings piled so high you wouldn't be surprised to see your brunch take flight.

This dish is more than enough to sate your appetite ... so make sure you come with friends to be able to sample Amy Ruth's other delights. We also tried the fried catfish, covered in just enough batter to start your bite off on an enticingly crisp note before breaking apart to reveal the succulent flakes within.


I did not have the fortitude to try the deep fried porkchop smothered in gravy, but the rapt enjoyment of our friend who ordered it made it clear that it was a dish worth coming back for. Even if my caloric conscience somehow got the better of me, I would easily find bliss in having more of that addictive fried okra. That's kind of like having a kale smoothie, sort of ... right?


Amy Ruth's is located at 113 W 116th St, New York, NY 10026.

June 8, 2014

Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral


Walking into the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine this past Saturday afternoon was a surreal experience. Underneath the historic cathedral's soaring Gothic nave, Chinese artist Xu Bing's stunning Phoenix sculptures hung poised for flight while the sound of live kirtan filled the air, in preparation for the evening's Interfaith Kirtan for World Peace. It was quite a spectacular moment highlighting both the Episcopalian church's progressive views and the sheer diversity of experiences one can have in New York.

On its own, the cathedral nicknamed "Saint John the Unfinished" for its perpetual state as work-in-progress is a sight to behold. Its stylistic influences are manifold—French, Spanish and English Gothic, as well as Romanesque and Byzantine—but come together to striking effect. With the cathedral as foil to Xu's monumental art, the resulting picture is rather awe-inspiring.


A closer look at the phoenixes, dubbed Feng and Huang, makes the artwork all the more enthralling. Each soaring figure is composed of materials salvaged from a construction site in China, where Xu was struck by the poor conditions migrant workers labored under. Xu designed the phoenixes using drawings, models and software then had them constructed, assembly-line style, in a factory outside Beijing, mimicking today's methods of construction. These majestic forms created out of intricately layered pipes, shovels, pliers, saws and assorted construction detritus reflect on the inextricable connection and inherent tension between rapid commercial development and migrant labor rights.  



Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral is on view through 2014. For more information, click here.

June 2, 2014

A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby


On a perfect New York summer day, we stepped out of the sunshine and into the dusky confines of the abandoned Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg to delve into a dark period of history captured in artist Kara Walker's beautiful yet unsettling art. Within this soon-to-be-demolished industrial relic's walls, still caked with molasses from over a century of sugar refining, a 35-foot tall sphinx hewn out of four tonnes of sugar and Walker's genius holds court. The messages conveyed by the imagery were manifold. 

The figure of the sphinx embodying humankind's capacity for and struggle with slavery, which dates back to our ancient civilizations. 

The distinctive kerchief on the archetypical mammy head recalling America's history of slavery.

The highly sexualized contours of the sculpture reminding us of prejudices that remain.

The white sugar coating prompting us to face how the affluent world's cravings have caused and still perpetuate the suffering of so many.


Walker's installation is called A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby—after the elaborate sugar sculptures called "subtleties" served on affluent dinner tables during medieval times. Aside from the gargantuan white sugar sphinx, the warehouse was studded with sculptures of cherubic boys crafted out of molasses and resin. Modeled after archaic tchotchkes the artist discovered in her research, at first glance these sculptures seemed concocted in the medieval spirit, with the intent to delight. But each piece is a meditation on the 19th century slave trade and those it visited its horrors upon, all in service of the wealthier world's insatiable appetite. It's a message that resonates in today's relentlessly avaricious world which, in spite of all its technological advancements, has yet to free all of humanity from slavery's persistent hold.


A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby is on view through July 6, 2014 at the Domino Sugar Factory, South 1st Street at Kent Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. For more information, click here.
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