Sunday, August 31, 2014

St. Mary's Cathedral - A Glimpse of Catholic Faith in Negombo (Sri Lanka)

It took them 50 years to complete St. Mary's Cathedral in Negombo, a Ceylonese fishing village and resort close to Bandaranaike airport. The town itself is ruled by Christian faith, thus the moniker "Little Rome" of the Indian subcontinent, owing to the ornate churches built during the rule of the Portuguese in the country. It isn't any wonder why our Argentine Pope Francis (Jorge Mario Bergoglio) is visiting Sri Lanka in 2015. St. Mary's will be 141 years old by then. Yet its age doesn't show. The church is wonderfully maintained.

Built in 1874, Negombo's biggest cathedral is easily visited. It's situated at the main road of the beach area. I could, in fact, walk from my guest house. The atmosphere of the church is as laidback as the town itself. You could hear the rush of the waves from the nearby shore. Churches of this beauty make religion a bit more gratifying to practice.

This is the Eye in the Sky!


Friday, August 29, 2014

G Mall of Toril - Pleasant Malling in Davao City (Philippines)

First impressions tend to last. That's why when a friend tells me what he thought of the new G Mall of Toril, located south of Davao City (the Philippines third most influential city, south of the archipelago), the thought stuck. G Mall, a hipper version of Gaisano Malls found mostly in Visayas and Mindanao, looks interesting from the outside with a terrace-style facade that recalls Cebu's Ayala Center.

My friend had strong words against the G Mall: ugly, unfinished, tacky. He visited a couple of months after the mall's soft opening when it was all half baked This is why it isn't wise to open up your business when it isn't quite ready because it lends a lasting, albeit unsavory impression. You want good word-of-mouth for your business. On my part, I had to see it for myself. When the opportunity came, I went and saw for myself.

The Philippines lives and breathes with a Mall Culture. Most urban communities patronize several malls in their vicinity. Where else do you enjoy free airconditioning. Not in sweltering parks, that's for sure. So when it's all humid and 35 degrees hot, you can be sure that people would prefer places where it's cool and comfortable. Gaisano's new G Mall has obviously capitalized on the burgeoning conurbation of Davao City, developing this new shopping center at the fringes of the city's border nearing Davao del Sur. In fact, there's not one, but two Gaisanos in the vicinity; the other one is the not-so-grand "Gaisano Grand Toril" a few meters from the G Mall.

My visit left a better impression. I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw. The mall has a two-level free basement parking, and a basement-level supermarket. In the same area, there's a Rose Pharmacy and a Mercury Drug, and a classy bread-and-coffee house.

Just above this is a 3-level shopping complex that houses a 4-cinema complex, Robinson's Appliances, Handyman, Watson's, the usual-suspect like Jollibee and even a CD-R King. Gaisano Department store is also open. One of my favorite places would be the food court, though there's a very limited number of food stalls offering inexpensive food (try PhP65 for a plate of humba or a lechon kawali with rice).


The food court opens to a veranda-style salon that boasts of an awe-inspiring view filled with coconut trees to the west. Ambient light complements the mostly-white interiors, giving you a sensation of meticulous cleanliness. Every aspect glistens.

There's a cineplex on the same floor where the food court and Robinson's Appliances are. There's a Western Union branch somewhere in the vicinity. There are ATM machines at the side entrance (Metro Bank, Security Bank, etc.)

I have yet to visit Gaisano Grand Mall (though I've seen it from the outside) located a kilometer or so from G Mall, but some questions beg for answer? Why the uncanny proximity of both Gaisano Malls from each other. They're bound to compete with each other, aren't they? There's a Felcris Supermarket north of the G Mall as well. There clearly is a huge market here. Competition is bound to cancel out a few parameters in the consumer equation. The malls are allegedly owned by warring siblings of the Gaisano clan. Who's bound to get hurt? Gaisano Grand Mall could suffer because, to be honest, why would a consumer prefer to be in a place with so much less? Who gains from this sibling rivalry? The people of Toril, of course.

If you're visiting Davao City - and are staying at the city center - Toril is about an hour south so it isn't wise to veer away from where you are. The city has so many malls that offer a lot more (e.g. SM Lanang Premier, Abreeza Ayala Mall, etc.) than the G Mall, but it isn't a bad place to visit, only if you're in the area.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Dining Hall at the food court.

Very limited choices at the food court - there were only two at the time of my visit. Try the one at the right, a place called "Jumbo" (no signage, which is weird).


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Crab Crazy at Blue Post's Boiling Crabs in Davao City (Philippines)

If you want a singular gastronomic experience in Davao City, there's one place you have to visit - Blue Post's Boiling Crabs and Shrimps. 

The restaurant has successfully laid out a dining fantasy, replete with half a dozen novel ideas. You arrive into this dining enclave designed like a fishing vessel. And what do you realize? The fisher folks just had a bountiful harvest of crabs, shrimps, squid and clams fresh out of the ocean. You look around and find fishing nets jutting out of doors; lanterns that fishermen take out to sea; boat paddles hanging down the walls; and then there are salbabidas (life buoy).

The restaurant has two dining salas: the more modern salon up front (looking like a rural Americana diner), and the wide banquet hall at the back. Since we're talking about crabs and shrimps, this entails getting your hands messy, and there's no going around it. You will be using your hands if you are to really enjoy this.

Once you've chosen your table, a supposedly sterile wax mantle (cellophane) is spread out to cover and protect your table. The same functions as your "plate". This facilitates easy clean up later. Plastic aprons and gloves are distributed. You have the option to wear them or not. I personally use the bib to avoid juice splashes and exoskeletons flying all over my shirt/pants. Some may require eye goggles to avoid accidental ocular foreign bodies, but this is a rare requirement. Order how much kilo of crabs you require, then in 20 minutes or so, the whole garlic-cooked bunch is delivered inside a big plastic bag dripping with sinful crab sauce, giving the impression that fresh catch goes straight to your table. Place your rice on your plastic-covered table, and start cracking those crabs - like there's no tomorrow!

Another novel idea is the writing of graffiti anywhere in the restaurant, except the floor, the tables and the AC. You could write on the ceiling, the walls, even on lamps and the animated crabs drawings. There's a sink where you could wash your hands before and after your meals. The management should provide hard soap because the liquid wash is too diluted to use. A good wash is imperative because your hands are rendered with a certain color - and smell! - after dining. Otherwise, you won't be able to go anywhere else without smelling of crabs or garlic.


How's the quality of their crustaceans? They're fresh and meaty, but what I personally look for is the orange meat called "roe", the female eggs, i.e. the "taba ng talangka" - which are, unfortunately, few. I had roe during my first, but on my second visit, all 3 kilograms had none. That was a bit of a disappointment. Generally though, if you're not particularly fond of the orange meat, you'd come out of the restaurant fully satiated.

The experience is exquisitely unique. There's a crab mallet for your cracking pleasure, though I'd personally prefer a crab cracker, the plier-type of cracker which is way easier to use than a hammer or mallet. To break the tedium, you could order mussels, clams, or shrimps; a pork barbecue, maybe, but then it's going to ruin the whole "fresh catch seaside fantasy". I am there exclusively for the crabs - period.

It's hard to compare this experience with other restaurants in Davao City offering crabs, like SM's "Grab a Crab" where a single crab cost me PhP1,800 - delicious, but you feel like you're eating gold. At Blue Post, you'd have to shell out PhP1,000 per person. There were 4 of us during my 2nd visit; and we paid PhP4,500 for 3 kilogram of crabs, a plate of cheesy mussels, a round of drinks (canned Coca Cola) and 5 cups of rice. That wasn't a bad deal. But there was a time when crabs in Davao didn't cost that much. I guess that era's long long gone. Long gone indeed.

During my last visit (my 3rd), crab price was PhP1,300/kg++ so we got 3 kilos and paid around PhP4,000 (including rice and drinks). The price changes based on market price of crabs on the day of visit.

Blue Post is the city's latest craze. Word of mouth is spreading like wildfire. There's a good reason for that. Visit them to find out why exactly.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

3 kilogram of garlic-cooked crabs delivered to our table.

No need to open the crabs. The crab aprons and the chambers have been cracked open already. I like exploring the feathery cones lining the side of the body - which are the "lungs" of the crabs

Chambers cracked open.

Corn, a bit of chili (Cajun special sauce) and lots of garlic make the taste heavenly. Very few "hens" (female crabs) are served so if you want those orange meat, you'd be disappointed. Male crabs are called "cocks".

There's few "roe" (the eggs - the tasty orange meat) available - from my experience.

A crab mallet is provided to crack the hard exoskeleton of  the crabs. I wish they'd provide a crab cracker instead because it's more convenient to use.

As of February 2015, I once again visited Blue Post, this time, to try the "garlic fried" crabs instead of the wet and boiled cooking during my first visit. We requested for females so we could have the "roe" (alige) and we weren't disappointed at all. Roe we wanted, roe we got - and it was just darn delectable. As side dish, I also ordered "buttered cereal shrimp" at a set price of PhP480. For the crabs, we ordered 3 kilograms good for three. The bill was a whopping PhP4,300, but it was worth every cent.

This time around, they gave both a crab mallet and a crab cracker as well. I am glad they take suggestions well, as what we've written here. As if that wasn't enough, we noticed that there were several liquid soap canisters at the wash station this time. It's it's hard to find fault in terms of crab quality and service this time. 

Heavenful of roe.

Sinfully delicious, garlic=fried crabs.

Buttered cereal shrimps at PhP480 a set. Cereal?

Though this looks well done and dried, shrimp is tender and "juicy" inside.

Crab mallet and cracker.

Writings on the wall - and ceilings..

There's hardly space left where you can write your name on because the walls are already filled with them.

The front sala is free of writings. It's space for the more sophisticated customers who want less mess. But what fun would it be without the mess and the splashes?

The front sala has a southern diner atmosphere.

The main washing cubicle

The wash room at the toilet. The Ngoho Family should be pretty proud of themselves for putting their mark at the dispenser.

Thank heavens the toilet is free of vandalism.

The menu - above and below.

Facade of the restaurant.

Blue Post's Boiling Crabs and Shrimps Restaurant is located along J.P. Laurel Avenue in Lanang, Bajada, Davao City. It is just a few hops from SM Lanang Premier. Please DO NOT inquire for reservations, rates and schedules in this blog. Give them a ring instead - (63-82)-221-8360 or email them at

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Lazy Day in Cebu City

For some reason, I've never really roamed the sidestreets of Jones (Osmena Boulevard) except when they're along my hotel. On my nth visit to the Queen City of the south, with no particular itinerary to undertake, I arrived in the city before 9 AM and slept in my room at the M Citi Suites (along Llorente Street) until 2 PM. Wasted day, right? Not really. I just flew to Cebu from Bacolod, a 40 minute flight that started at an unholy 5:30 in the morning. I was dazed from lack of sleep.

That afternoon, I decided to just walk around. I willed myself to find anything interesting outside the usual beaten track. I proceeded to Robinson's Cybergate Mall, just around the corner, first to get a print out of my web check-in boarding pass - at the mall's Business Hub (front of the building). After that, I roamed. Along Don Gil Garcia, Llorente's 1st side street, I saw O'Nael (first photo above; note the unusual spelling), a new building intricately designed with geometric panels. Is it a hotel, an apartment, a commercial space? No hint to that. No other labels for further clues, except that there's a Korean (or was it Japanese) restaurant there.


Over at Red Ribbon restaurant, a lady customer was complaining. I overheard this.

Counter Girl (talking to the kitchen crew): "Ba't nyo nilagyan ng garlic ang garlic bangus ni ma'am?" (Why did you put garlic on ma'am's Garlic Bangus?!!!)

Horrors. Have you ever heard of such inanity? Why order garlic fish, in the first place, if you don't like garlic? Sometimes you just want to hurl a chair to clear a clouded atmosphere, don't you? I know of someone who fusses too much whenever he's in a restaurant. He would ask for a myriad of stuff from the crew, from the banal to the complex; just begging for every morsel of attention from the overworked staff. Don't you just loath these types? I know I do.


At the other side of Llorente going towards Juana Osmena, Hotel Pillows (along Gov. M. Roa Street) looked charming. Aside from the peculiar name, I liked the clean bluish exteriors. Europa Inn and Executive Pension were nearby. I walked further until I came into a busier tributary of Mango Avenue where Mango Square Mall is found. I liked that area, colorfully decked in yellow and a coterie of electrical wires that don't deserve to be seen in a modern world. At sundown, the bars of Mango Square throb with vibrancy and verve, but slumbers at day time. I headed towards Maxilom. Even the spiffier 2 Mango Avenue looked dead in daytime.


I considered a relaxing massage at Good Earth Spa just for a pampering but the place looked dull, if a tad dodgy. It was like a hole in the wall. Close by is Marshall's Irish Pub, a curiosity. What's more interesting is that they offer ostrich (burger, salpicao, kebab) and crocodile (bites, steak, kebab, sisig). Inside the bar, an older Caucasian gentleman is manning the bar, Marshall probably. Irishmen always take their culture of inebriation wherever they go.  

Business Hub at Robinson's Cybergate Mall, beside the main entrance. If you require printing or online matters, this is the place to visit. It's just a block from M Citi Suites. I black-and-white page costs PhP10.

Food Plaza at the 2nd level of Robinson's Cybergate Mall.

Hotel Pillows along M. Roa Street


Inside Mango Square, the 3-level shopping arcade seems moderately populated. There's a book fair at the activity area of the ground level. Another unusual restaurant is found here - Iranian and Indian cuisine at the "Persian Plate" serving, among others, chana dal and other lentil preparations, rice pulao, musaka, sizzling spinach, biryani, all priced between PhP150 to 250. Now isn't that affordable for a specialty cuisine?

With nothing much to do, I decided to head out to Colon, Cebu City's cantankerous version of Quiapo, and the country's first and oldest street. Still considered the hub of the grassroot, the area teems with activity not found in Mango Avenue in the daytime. Ultravista Cinema is showing "Third Party", a third rate Pink erotica directed by a third rate director eerily named Paul Singh Cudail. It's the kind of cinema people patronize not for their entertaining flicks but for its intrinsic cruisy atmosphere.

Oriente Cinema, meanwhile has done a complete overhaul of their cinemas (2 of them). The halls are spacious, the soft seats wide with huge leg rooms, the screen spanking new, and the whole place smells as new as its seats. This was a surprise. There is, after all, a more-than-decent theater in Colon, with entrance way cheaper (PhP160) than those in SM, Gaisano and Ayala.

I headed to 168 Mall, its entrance is flanked by Mang Inasal and Jollibee. I have never been inside. It's a commercial conundrum of cheap Chinese products spread out into small shops on a three-story complex. The 3rd floor, a favorite hangout for students, has a gaming center called BB Fun Zone. At the opposite end of the hallway, an almost empty Food Court is lined by exquisitely named food counters like Mariel Marie Food Services (what a name), I Know Rice, Ahoy, Mr. Prito, Ela's Chicken, M.E., and D' Mixed. To complete the lineup, there's a Patrice Salon. Games, food and hair all in one level.

It was dark when I got out of 168. I wanted to check out Borromeo Street, named after one of the country's first Filipino judges circa 1905 (Borromeo was born in Cebu but got assigned in Agusan). I lost my way somewhere but found myself on the fringes of the Carbon Market scene, with rows and rows of vegetable peddled in a frenzy. It's a chaotic scene steeped with vigorous commerce.


I saw a sidewalk vendor selling lanzones so I went to check it out. PhP60 a kilogram for single-piece fruits and PhP80 for "pompong", clustered fruits. I said I'd buy 1 kilo. I started picking them, when the lady seller suddenly quipped, "Dili ko papili." (I don't allow select picking). Huh? You mean I give you my money and I can't pick what I want? When the heavens distributed idiocy to humankind, some caught their fair share.

I left disgusted. To be honest, despite Cebu's proximity to Camiguin, the supposed fruit bowl of Visayas, the city takes pride in selling some of the most tasteless Lanzones this side of the country. "Pinakawalay lami nga lansones" can be found in Cebu, and I am generalizing as per experience. Yup there are exceptions, but they are exceptions than "rules". There's plenty of lanzones around but the really sweet ones are few - at any given time. Later that night, I walked towards the back of Robinson's in Fuente Osmena and bought a "pompong" (at - hold your breath! - PhP100 a kilo) and tasted some of the sourest god-awful fruit the country has ever grown. I rest my case! But just maybe I had a bad day?

A day later, I bought a kilo of lanzones from a peddler also selling lansones at the corner of Cybergate Mall. "They are very sweet, sir, and they come from Mamburao," sales-talked the fruit vendor. So this one isn't from Camiguin? Or Basilan? Or wherever heck it is that cultivates lanzones and say, camote or utut-utot?

Mamburao, you see, is the capital of Mindoro Occidental, a second class municipality of roughly 50,000 people spread over 15 barangays. I wasn't made aware that Mamburao has become the exponent of "sweet lanzones". People always refer to some vague municipality to advertise agricultural products. It's from Quiagot, or Baliwaswas, or Tinakluban, or Dasuk-dasok, etc. I ate the "holy grail" of lanzones and found out that, indeed, it is exactly the same soury shite Cebu lanzones is getting known for.

(Another day hence, I flew to Davao to catch the last leg of Kadayawan and I chanced upon a shop selling lanzones. The price - PhP35 per kilo - and one of the sweetest lanzoneses I've tasted in my life. The bunch supposedly came from Calinan. The only lanzones sweeter was the Bangkok lanzones that I would usually buy along Jalan Alor in KL. Now compare: PhP100/ kilo of sour fruit - as to PhP35 of very sweet fruit! And the PhP80 you can't choose!!! It's suggested that you close your eyes when you're picking the fruits you're buying. Heavens! There's a gargantuan mystery at work here that requires a sleuth like Jason Bourne - or it's just plain mercantile scam. They'd probably give you the so-called "runt of the pack" - the ones that didn't get sold 7 days ago and are now rotting. Di pwedeng pumili eh.)

2 Mango Avenue


Before heading back to my room at the M City Suites (M stands for Muntuerto), I decided to check out nearby Grand Royal Spa, located along a street named after another lawyer (like Borromeo), Don Mariano Cui. Cebuanos are very fond of lawyers, they ultimately name their streets after them. Back to Grand Royal Spa. Located near Cebu A La King Cafe (it's actually more of a fast food joint than a cafe) and across Chong Hua Hospital, the spa looks relatively new. It has 12 rooms - instead of cubicles. It is well lit and meticulously clean; two of the rooms are for couples who wish to have their procedures beside each other.

In my travels, it's always a joy having semblance of home to "come home to". It's somewhere you feel safe, comfortable and allows you to recharge while your body recuperates. M Citi Suites succeeds in that level. It's my 4th time there, didn't I say? In a city where I've been in more than 15 hotels, staying more than twice is a statement in itself. I'd probably check out other hotels in the future, but I will be coming back to M Citi every so often. It's a convenient place in Cebu to start and end one lazy day. It wasn't that lazy, was it?

Post Script: Photos here were mostly taken using my Blackberry. My iPhone takes better photos but I avoid taking too many phones when gallivanting around.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Mango Square bars

The way to Good Earth.

Marshall's Irish Pub

Mango Square Mall

Middle eastern and Iranian cuisine at the Persian Plate

168 Mall in Colon near Metro Gaisano

Food Court at 168 Mall

Vegetables abound at the fringes of Carbon Market
Grand Royal Spa at Mariano Cui Street

Front desk at the Grand Royal Spa
OPD/medical arts wing of Chong Hua Hospital touted to be Cebu's version of Chinese General Hospital. M Citi Suites is 2 blocks from the hospital. At the opposite end of the street is Adelfa Hotel.

M Citi Suites along Llorente Street a block away from Fuente Osmena. Robinson's Cybergate is close by.