Archive for January, 2011

The Agora

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Today, we visited the ancient cities of Smyrna and Sardis, two of the seven churches in Asia Minor to whom Jesus sent a message in the book of Revelation. Presently, Smyrna or Izmir, as it is called now, is the third largest city in Turkey whereas Sardis is now a small village town. Our group mainly focused on the ruins of these towns and tried to imagine its first-century setting.

In the past, people gathered in the Agora, or the public square, which included the marketplace. It was in these colonnaded structures that people usually assembled, traded, socialized, entertained, and did business. When he traveled, the Apostle Paul frequented these places to begin dialogue, especially with God-fearers. An interesting quote from a pastor: Paul was not so much a church-planter as he was a synagogue-splitter.

high colonnades of Smyrna's Agora

In Sardis, we saw the ruins of actual stalls where merchants sold their wares. Through excavation and research, archaeologists could even identify what stalls sold which product.

stalls in the agora

This stall sold dyed garments made of wool or linen. This particular one below is believed to be owned by Christians as evidenced by the cross engraved on the marble containers used to dye the cloths.

the Christians in the marketplace

This Agora in Sardis was located next to a big synagogue which suggests there was a sizable Jewish population there. It also suggests that Jews and Christians lived in harmony in the thriving commercial town. Next to the synagogue was a huge gymnasium complete with a bath house. I’m standing on the wall that separates the synagogue and the gym.

ruins of Sardis

Next stop: Ephesus. On the bus ride there, we were fortunate enough to see the beautiful, beautiful mountains of Turkey. I’m afraid my camera cannot completely capture their majestic scope.

beds of mountains

One advantage of riding a tour bus is the wide window that provides a scenic view of the landscape. I caught this sunset because I had a window seat.

awesome colors

It’s Istanbul, not Constantinople

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

” … that’s nobody’s business but the Turks … ” The song goes.

I remember hearing this song a long time ago. It makes a lot of sense now that I’m finally in Turkey! The city of Istanbul used to be called Constantinople for many centuries under the Byzantine Empire. When the Ottoman Empire took over, our tour guide said that the name evolved over time into Istanbul. I’ve only been here for 12 hours and I’m already awed by the intricate beauty and intense history of the place. My favorite site so far is the Hagia Sophia … maybe because it epitomizes how the shift in power basically determined the religious faith of the Turks. The magnificent structure was once a cathedral (under the Christians) that turned into a mosque (under the Muslims) and is now a museum (under the new republic). The first thing I noticed when I walked in was its very high and awe-inspiring dome.

dome of Hagia Sophia

From the top of the museum, one can see the hanging chandelier, decorated columns and walls, and mosaics. The place has lost its solemn atmosphere but I can only imagine that this place of worship was once a place of reverence as believers commune with God.

view from top of gallery

We also visited the Blue Mosque. It has the distinction of holding six minarets as opposed to the usual four. A minaret is where the horn is sounded to call Muslims to prayer five times a day. The Blue Mosque was built across from the Hagia Sophia as a way to match Byzantine art with its own.

six minarets

I learned that there are four main parts to Islamic art as displayed in the mosques: painted tiles, stained glass, stylish calligraphy, and decorated carpets. I certainly saw the complex artistry of these elements put together in wonderful display inside the Blue Mosque.

tiles, glass, calligraphy ...

We also went to the famous Topkapi Museum. It houses the jewelry, relics, and historic valuables of the sultans of old. This is the entrance to the museum.

with Katrina and Su

At the end of the day, we stopped by the Bazaar. I got myself a box of Turkish Delight, some spices, apple tea, and a pair of gloves (I can’t believe I forgot to bring mine in this cold weather).

Istanbul Bazaar

All in all, today was a good beginning to what I hope to be a great tour of this fascinating country!!

I'm in Turkey! Like wow ...

Bye, Manila

Friday, January 28th, 2011

What a memorable week in Manila! One of the things I’ll remember is driving in the narrow streets and watching my brother and sister-in-law expertly maneuver around trucks, jeeps, motorcycles, pedestrians, tricycles, and other cars! What pros! And I’m in the back (or front) seat corrupting little minds with the easiest entertainment I know … the iTouch.

iTouch ... friend or foe?

I’ve really enjoyed baking all kinds of goodies like chocolate chip cookies, bagels, chocolate cake, french bread. One night, we even made french fries. Kim really made my stay enjoyable. There was never a dull moment … and I never experienced an empty stomach, either!

Posing with the Pooh!

I think I must have visited five different malls in five different days! Malling is the way to go … fun, relaxing, and lots of time to just chat. Nathan and I goofed around in one of the stores with this Kodak moment.

goofing around

For my last dinner in Manila, we went to a ribs place called Racks. SM City had decorations up for Chinese New Year and it looked festive. It was nice to have spent the evening out with the family (even though it was a school night — how special!). Besides the yummy baby ribs, I enjoyed the company best of all. What a memorable time!

SM City

I don’t know when I will be back in Manila again. Hopefully, I can visit soon. I really enjoyed speaking Tagalog, reminiscing about the past, playing with my nephews, visiting old stomping grounds, hanging out with bro and sis … simple pleasures in life that are simply priceless! Thanks, Kim and Tony! I had a blast and I look forward to April! 🙂

Blogging from the Shanghai Pudong Airport. Next stop: Istanbul.

Grace Christian

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

It used to be Grace Christian High School when I was an elementary school student but now it’s called Grace Christan College. I also found out that last year was its 60th anniversary. This was a school that changed my life and my family’s life. So glad to have an opportunity to visit.

Grace School

This was a place where my classmates and I used to play jacks, jump rope, and share snacks. It’s also where my brothers and I wait for our ride home. Ah, memories. The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom ….


I visited the school with my brother who ran into his former Biology high school teacher and the one who gave him his first Bible. He told her that he went into the ministry in part because of her influence. She told us that this was her 35th year teaching! The thought of how many students’ lives she touched astounds me.

Former Teacher

I jumped at the opportunity to observe a weekly chapel service for high school students. There was singing, a sermon, and some announcements. When I was a student, I use to be in these pews. I sat in the back to observe naughty students who were passing notes, comparing cell phones, and getting caught by their teachers. Reminded me of my early days … quite amusing now that I’m an outsider looking in.


Seeing these little girls in their school uniform definitely reminded me of myself. I had the white shirt, maroon skirt, white socks, and black shoes. What I didn’t have were the gigantic roller bags with all their books in it. I remember carrying my book bag on my shoulders and developing bad posture because of it! 🙂

Elementary Students

Seeing my nephew Nathan at Grace is like coming full-circle. It’s the same school, same routine, even the same food stalls. It’s comforting to know that some things don’t change.

Sweet Reunions

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

After church today, we had lunch with Penny and her husband Gary. They took us to this upscale Filipino restaurant called Romulo, named after the country’s former Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Carlos P. Romulo. I remember reading about him when I was in grade school. All over the restaurant were pictures of him with these different world leaders, including Douglas MacArthur, JFK, and George Bush.

This picture was taken right outside of the restaurant. Penny and Gary then took us on a tour of their new house after lunch. Amazing three-storey, six-bedroom house that was specifically designed by Gary (an architect). They were gracious enough to give us a tour. I absolutely love their kitchen! Plus, they are an easy-going couple who have a great sense of style.


That afternoon, we visited relatives I haven’t seen in a long time. I felt so blessed to see everyone again! It is that special feeling of reconnecting with a past that is a very deep part of me I had somehow forgotten. I chatted away with aunts and uncles and cousins, and we caught up with recent life changes. My heart was full when we left, so thankful for God’s providence in arranging this occasion.


This evening, we decided to bake French bread. Kim and Nathan got their hands in the bowl as they kneaded and rolled the dough. The house smelled like warm bread … nothing like it! Nathan ended up eating two pieces of fresh bread after the first batch came out of the oven. I guess that says something about how good it turned out!

baking bread

Joel also had his bath tonight. I discovered today that he is a happy baby who likes to smile and laugh. He has his occasional fits, especially when he is hungry or uncomfortable, but for the most part, he is content to sit on my lap and be held. He turns one year old next month — perfect age for cuddling!

Joel's Bath

Manila Ocean Park

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011


In a country surrounded by water, it makes sense to have an aquarium that houses its most natural resources — marine life. Since it’s a Saturday, it was crowded. Among the ones that fascinated me were the jellyfish, sea horses, eels, arawanas, turtles, crocodiles, piranhas, stingrays, starfish, and of course, sharks!

It was really fun watching Nathan run from tank to tank getting excited about these creatures of the sea. His favorite subject is Science and for good reason! There is so much wonder in the world with which observe and delight. It blows my mind to think of how much there is to know and how much we still don’t know! There was one amusing moment during the day, though, when he pulled me to a corner of the shark tank. He pointed to a white, spotted fish and said, “that looks really yummy!”

shark tank

In the evening, we decided to bake some chocolate chip cookies. Earlier, we had picked up flour and a baking pan from the store so we can make dessert!

baking cookies

The cookies did not melt down in the oven as I expected. I later learned to flatten them so they looked more like cookies than clumps of dough. I thought it turned out well, though. My favorite part about it is in its chewiness. The secret is in the cornstarch.

chocolate chip cookies

Kim performed the final taste test. The verdict: yummy. Yes!


One funny note. Right before we left for the aquarium, Nathan and I found that we both had matching holes in our sock — and in the same place, too. Kind of nice to know I wasn’t the only one with a toe sticking out!

hole in the sock

Birthday Day

Friday, January 21st, 2011

I’m finally in Manila! The immigration officer actually wished me a happy birthday before handing back my passport … he kindly commented that I don’t look my age (hmmmm …. ). Tony and Kim picked me up at the airport and greeted me with these balloons tied to a stuffed hedgehog. It was very special and thoughtful! Then, they took me for a quick lunch at the “big-shot McD’s” and we spent the afternoon at the mall for a nice stroll. My next surprise was a fabulous dinner at the classy Philippine Plaza, now known as Sofitel, a really snazzy place around here!

This is me with my birthday balloons right before digging into my birthday buffet!

birthday balloons

For the first time in a long time, I had sashimi, sushi, shrimp, lobster, butter, cheese, foie gras, lamb chop, chocolate sauce, mango crepe … I could go on and on. I relished each bite, especially after being up on the mountains this whole time. What a great way to celebrate a special birthday with very special people!

birthday buffet

Perhaps the best gift I received today was seeing my nephews again. One is little Joel …

with Joel

And the other is the not-so-little (anymore) Nathan …

with Nathan

Down from the Mountain

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

from the country ...

This is the foggy view of the mountains as the bus slowly chugged its way down. What was supposed to be a 4-hour bus ride turned into 7 1/2 hours. The driver said he would go slow because of the rain. It didn’t help that there was an accident on the road that halted traffic for a good hour or so. I seriously thought I’d miss my overnight bus ride (another one) to Hong Kong. Good thing I didn’t. It was a very long trip but I’m finally here in the city. This morning, I walked the familiar streets of Hong Kong where roads, cars, people, shops, noise, buildings, buses, street signs combined to help welcome one into its lively fold.

Tomorrow, I fly to Manila!

... to the city


Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

In the next few weeks, I’ll be on the road traveling. I will bring my laptop with me but there is no guarantee that I’ll have wifi in any of my sojourn. In any case, I will do my best to blog wherever I am, even if I have to look for an internet cafe!

My first stop will be the Philippines (via Hong Kong) where I will be celebrating my birthday (Happy Birthday to Me!). It will be a significant one and I’m happy to spend it with family. However way we celebrate, I’m just glad to be somewhere warm and welcomed.


My next stop will be Turkey where I’ll be joining a tour to walk along the Footsteps of Paul. I have always been fascinated by Islam. What better place to visit than Turkey (via Shanghai)? I have to admit that I don’t know much about this country. I’m already reading up on history, culture, food, etc. I am sooo looking forward to finally getting there!


After a few days in Turkey, our tour group heads to Greece. I’ve read a lot about this country — literature, history books, media, pop culture. Though the focus of the trip is on the 1st century Christian world, I am intrigued to learn more about this country’s ancient history. I will definitely be doing a lot of reading on the plane.


Finally, my last stop takes me to Thailand. Here, I hope to shed the winter clothes and enjoy the sun. I plan to be here at least a week so I’m probably going to make myself comfortable. What I’m looking forward to is lots and lots of Thai food!

Chiang Mai

Advanced Happy Chinese New Year!

Ducks in a Row

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

follow the Leader

In a few days, I will be leaving for a month-long traveling adventure to at least five countries. These days, I’m scrambling to get things done and organized so that I can truly enjoy my vacation. Today, I spent the day trying to get all my ducks in a row, and I think I succeeded for the most part. I sorted books, files, clothes. I did laundry, swept the floor, organized my room. I purged my luggage (currently living out of a suitcase), threw stuff away, and packed things to bring back stateside. Finally, I uploaded files to my computer and set them up so that I can access them easily when I am on the go. I plan to lug my laptop along so I can continue blogging if I find a wifi hotspot. If not, then I hope to still be able to read widely and, more importantly, to continue writing and working on my book project.