We left PH just before midnight of November 17, 2012.  We arrived early in the morning the following day . . . giddy but raring to go.  The arrival process at the Immigration Counter was a breeze.  Our initial fear and apprehension turned into excitement when we saw our then future nephew-in-law already waiting for us at the gate.  And much to our delightful surprise, he brought us straight to Sydney’s world-famous Bondi beach.

Immediately after I stepped out of his car with the cold gushing breeze caressing my face, I knew this trip will be different: My first outside of Asia and my initial foray and fascination to anything “first world”.  After a short leisurely stroll on the beach and a breakfast of fish and chips on the sidewalk, we were off to a good start in Sydney.


Sydney is scintillating and splendidly special.  It’s so picturesque and visually engaging that you can’t walk a few meters without gawking at its beauty and splendor.  I loved the way its natural and open spaces were tapped for common public use.  It’s a good model for third world countries to emulate.

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Strolling around Darling Harbor and Port Jackson, you can’t help but marvel at their paved covered walks that stretches from one end of the bend to the next.  I seethed with envy seeing how friendly their pedestrian walkways and access ramps are; encouraging one to walk instead of ride, or bike around instead of drive.DSC00766 (640x480)

Here – manicured landscape doesn’t have to be inside a gated subdivision or as pathways to a privately owned-mall or retail strip to be maintained.  It’s simply there: accessible, meticulously planned and devoid of manipulating pedestrian traffic for private gain.  And it’s clean , expansive and truly rejuvenating for early morning walks or late afternoon strolls.

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And then we saw their heritage sites – accentuated by beautifully landscaped parks and meandering walkways.  Like the one above: St. Mary’s Cathedral at Hyde Park – excellently and wonderfully preserved.  This majestic historical landmark with its medieval-like structure and imposing twin spires sits at the heart of the central business district.  But despite its location near and around the modern high-rises of Sydney – it doesn’t seem out of place.  On the contrary, it complements the surrounding vista; highlighting Australia’s unique way of merging the old and the new.  The same is also true with the recent transformation of the old Queen Victoria Building along George Street.

Downtown Sydney is like your typical first world city.  It’s modern, cold and buzzing with people going about in their hurried cadences but confident gait.  The mostly fast-food American giants that we’re accustomed to back home are not so prevalent here.  Instead, you see their own home-grown equivalents; dominating most of the coveted street corners in their city’s downtown.

2012-11-26 18.43.16Thus, you’ll see more of Hungry Jacks than McDonalds here, more Gloria Jeans than Starbucks and more of Coles or Woolworths than 7-Elevens or Mini-Stops.  And when it comes to your morning cup of joe, Australians take it seriously.  I was told they are steeped in coffee chutzpah and have their own highly-evolved coffee culture that Starbucks had it rough here when it entered the market. 2012-11-17 19.17.21We stayed at Ashfield Manor for the first leg of our stay in Sydney.  It’s a two-story bed and breakfast cum boutique hotel owned and operated by a charming lady (we were told) who, unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet.  Ashfield is a suburb in the inner west of Sydney and is roughly 7-8 kilometers away from the Central Business District.  A bus station is conveniently located in front of the hotel.


Singapore was our family’s first trip abroad.  It was May 28 last year when all six of us left NAIA3 past eight in the evening aboard Cebu Pacific’s A320.  We arrived at Changi Airport’s budget terminal just before midnight.  Singapore’s old budget terminal (a new one is on the drawing board) looks cramped and spartan but is clean and efficiently designed.  It’s also free of hustlers and ambulant vendors; enabling you to exit fast after clearing their Immigration.  In our case, we simply headed to and registered with the officer-in-charge posted near the exit doors, stated our vehicle preference and waited for our ride.  It didn’t take long and we were on our way to this bustling city-state and ASEAN’s undisputed financial hub.  For S$ 50.00, we got ourselves a maxi-cab (a wagon-type family taxi) which, after loading all our checked-in bags and carry-overs, still had ample room to spare.

It was drizzling when we left the airport.  It took awhile before our Chinese-looking driver figured out where our hotel was.  Apparently, there were several inns with the same sounding name as Park View Hotel.  It’s along an inappropriately named street – the Beach Road – near Buguis Junction.  Make no mistake though:  There’s no beach there.  It’s actually decked with buildings left and right.

The three clean and comfortable rooms we booked online served as our base for the next four days.  Everyday after having our complimentary breakfast, we hurry out to exit  – always heading to our left, passing by Liang Seah Street on our way to Buguis MRT station – our default jump off point.  It was such a routine that, once we stepped out of the hotel, we never bothered going right.  It’s kinda funny now just thinking about it.  But it’s true.  The thought, perhaps, of getting lost in this urban jungle clouded our collective psyche and straight-jacketed our feet.

Singapore is a vibrant modern metropolis that can feel distant and aloof.  It’s glass, concrete and aluminum structures punctuate its cold amenity. And a seemingly unwelcoming buzz.  But there are also pockets of green and leafy shades that offer refuge to tired and weary strangers.  The Esplanade Park easily comes to mind:

Nestled near the mouth of the Singapore river, the park is a cheap place to stroll around and spend lazy afternoons with friends and loved ones.  If you’re pressed for time but want to explore it nonetheless, there are bikes and skates for rent in strategic locations.