PH: National Museum of Natural History

Last month, I celebrated my birthday and I decided to finally check out the National Museum of Natural History. It is one of the three national museums found in Luneta Park, and its doors only opened last May 18 after a major renovation.

Back to travel posts! Last month, I celebrated my birthday and I decided to finally check out the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY. It is one of the three national museums found in Luneta Park, and its doors only opened last May 18 after a major renovation.

We were expecting the crowd to be just small but lo and behold, there was a field trip even if it was on a Saturday. Also, the free entrance may have enticed more citizens to visit the place so there was a looooong line when we arrived before lunch. (Quick amusing story — a guy asked me about the long wait in line… and turned out that the lady with her is my colleague from our NCL office. Hello Ila!)

If you’re bringing a bag with you, take note that bags bigger than the size of a short bond paper is required to be deposited in their baggage counter.

Upon entering the museum, you will immediately see this iconic DNA Tree of Life structure in the courtyard. It houses an elevator which takes you directly from ground floor to 5th floor and vice-versa.

 

Before I continue with telling what you can see inside the museum, I was lucky enough that in the conference I attended last Sept 13, the organizer invited Architect Dominic Galicia and he gave a talk on “Reinventing the Museum Experience”.

During the whole talk, you can feel his passion for his craft. Some of the things he shared is how they had to search and see the old blueprints such as Toledo “drawings” dating back to 1930s. Even if part of the building may be old or damaged, he firmly believes that it can be reborn. He also mentioned how he wants to be faithful to the story that is why he wants to know the background of the building/s to be renovated.

He suggested to us to do the processional route of taking the elevator all the way to 5th floor then from there, visit each exhibit and go down each level until you return to ground floor… And that’s what my friends and I did!

 

All 5th floor exhibits were still under construction, but pretty interesting because these will be about biodiversity, geology, and life through time. We went down to 4th floor which showcased different types of forests in PH as well as the types of animals that one can find there.

 

 

 

I think it was on the 4th floor where we encountered these familiar names from one of our high school classes:

After going down the ramp that led us to 3rd floor, couldn’t help but capture these awesome details by the arch and one of the front doors of the museum:

In the same corridor where I took the photos above, Tomas Bernardo’s orchid paintings were mounted as a gallery.

A common orchid found throughout PH

 

Theme for 3rd floor seems to be aquatic / marine life — mangroves, beaches, life thousands of meters under the sea (or ocean).

 

Collared Kingfisher

Crown of Thorns — sea star with pungent, poisonous thorns

 

 

When we returned to the courtyard area, near the ramp, we noticed recreation of dinosaur bones!

One of the highlights for us is seeing the skeleton of Lolong, the world’s largest crocodile in captivity.

 

When we finished touring the last floor, we headed for lunch at Bugis Singapore Street Food. Sharing the food pics I took before closing this entry:

 

Aaand, that’s it. A geeky way to celebrate my birthday but I had fun anyway. Cheers to my late 20s time! 🙂

Singapore, Day 1: National Gallery

We decided to go to NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE based on C’s recommendation. The place was absolutely huge and we most likely saw thousands of artworks.

We spent the whole morning going around the whole gallery. My friends know that I am not a big fan of art but here are some of the artworks that I really liked:

APRIL 20-21, 2017

Last April, I was one of the people in our team who got the opportunity to attend a training in SG for a new proprietary tool. It was just a one-day event so my teammates and I decided to extend our stay.

Not gonna narrate anymore what happened during the training but the highlight that day was our dinner in JUMBO SEAFOOD RESTAURANT. We all wanted to try the famous chili crab and C helped us get a reservation in the Dempsey Hill branch.

The staff attending to us informed us that the crabs they had that night were just “small” so we decided to order 1 chili crab per person. She looked in disbelief but we were not sure if we just imagined it…

Since the crab would take about 30 minutes to cook, we ordered cereal prawns and fried rice because we were already hungry.

After a lot of kwento, our chili crab finally arrived… Lo and behold! We were not imagining the look of disbelief in the staff who took our order. Their “small” crab turned out to be good for 2 people. LOL! Good thing we were still quite hungry so we were able to finish everything. We even paired the chili crab with fried mantou and what made it really yummy was when we dipped the bread in the chili crab sauce. YUM!!! Super busog dinner!

Included the spoon for reference, LOL

Next day was our free day and we decided to go to NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE based on C’s recommendation. The place was absolutely huge and we most likely saw thousands of artworks.

We spent the whole morning going around the whole gallery. My friends know that I am not a big fan of art but here are some of the artworks that I really liked:

Expense of Spirit in a Waste of Shame by Suzanne Victor – artwork made after SG government decided to stop funding performance art in 1994

Flowers on Four Panels by Ju Lian – 1903

Merapi, Eruption by Day / Night by Raden Saleh

Espana y Filipinas by Juan Luna – 1884

Boschbrand (Forest Fire) by Raden Saleh – 1849

Port Scene by Mori Kinsen

Fishpond in Malabon by Fernando Cueto Amorsolo – 1942

Some more pictures I took during our trip in the gallery:

 

We had lunch at Din Tai Fung afterwards – menu is somewhat similar to PH branches but a few of the unique items were the century egg and roasted duck in wrapper.

 

We enjoyed everything we ordered in DTF. Good timing to be busog because our next stop was Gardens By The Bay.

Kansai, Day 8: Nara – Osaka

NARA KOEN was our first destination but we were confused where to get off (while on the bus) so we chose a random stop. Apparently, the park was huuuge and all of the places we wanted to visit were all there. We looked for a quiet spot first to eat breakfast – and away from the deer!

MARCH 13, 2017

Another daytrip that we did from Osaka was to visit Nara. Our train ride was about an hour and a half, which gave us enough time to sleep because we woke up early.

NARA KOEN was our first destination but we were confused where to get off (while on the bus) so we chose a random stop. Apparently, the park was huuuge and all of the places we wanted to visit were all there. We looked for a quiet spot first to eat breakfast – and away from the deer!

After filling our tummies, we went to KOFUKU-JI (UNESCO) and we had free access to the temple grounds. Its five-story pagoda was an amazing sight and considered to be the second tallest in Japan.

We were unable to view Central Golden Hall (the main hall) because it was undergoing renovation. We decided to just explore the other parts of the temple grounds instead.

Since we did not have a lot of stops in our itinerary, J suggested we visit NARA NATIONAL MUSEUM. It was also raining so it would be good for us to seek shelter for the meantime. Taking pictures was not allowed inside but it was worth the visit. The extensive history of Buddhism can be found there as well as A LOT of Buddha and Buddhist-related statues. We also visited a portion that was dedicated to Omizutori, which was our last item for the Nara itinerary.

Near the museum, we saw an old lady selling sweet potatoes per gram. We bought 500g and we were surprised how big it was. Even if the three of us shared it, we were not able to finish eating it.

One deer spotted us with the sweet potato and it followed us even when we crossed the road. We ended up hiding in a shrine but we could see the deer looking for us. LOL.

Seeing and interacting with deer was the activity we were all looking forward to. But, I was initially scared especially when we encountered them in groups. We saw a local who threw bits of crackers and the deer nearby went wiiild – I even saw a few jumping over rocks while rushing towards the food.

I followed my cousin’s advice on how to feed deer with lesser chance of experiencing them being aggressive:

  • Be careful when buying food in the deer cracker hotspot – areas with many vendors who are all selling deer crackers. Better to look for another place with less vendors as fewer deer are hanging out there. (We were able to buy ours in a store near the road – it was the only store at that spot)
  • Do NOT let the deer catch you buying their food! Put the crackers inside the bag right away. They are smart enough to see that you bought crackers and where you put it. Once they see you, they will not stop bugging you to give them food.
  • Most of the deer roaming around the park can be too aggressive especially when it comes to their food. Those that are inside temples are more docile and they kind of act like a hippogriff – when you bow to them, they’ll bow to you. Some already bow once they see you. We felt that it would be cold of us not to give them food so we ended up giving most of the crackers to deer inside temples.

Fun fact: Deer is the symbol of Nara and it is regarded as the messenger of the gods. Nara’s deer mascot is called Shikamaru-kun – and this made me realize one of the famous characters in Naruto named “Nara Shikamaru”. Cool!

The walk to our next destination was quite long but it was a pleasant one. It took us about 20 minutes of walking along a path covered in trees before we reached KASUGA TAISHA.

This is the most important Shinto shrine in Nara, and it is famous for the donated lanterns decorating a portion of the shrine. These are only lit during evenings of Lantern festivals in Nara. Similar to Kofuku-ji, the grounds do not have any entrance fee.

We spotted a few deer here and they were hiding near the stone lanterns.

 

Inside the hall, we saw the lanterns with intricate designs as well as ema which included deer-shaped ones.

Since we still had time to kill before the Omizutori, we ate late lunch and checked out the line of stalls near Todai-ji.

 

Our last stop in Nara was TODAI-JI (UNESCO), a famous Buddhist temple founded thousands of years ago. We were not able to explore this since we arrived during closing time. It was a bit of a bummer though as I wanted to visit the Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall – Main Hall) – largest wooden building with the largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan.

But, we did not felt that bad because the main reason why we visited was attend the Omizutori. The ceremony was held at Nigatsudo Hall, which also gave a good view of the city. We were lucky enough to be able to climb the steps going up the hall but we were eventually asked to leave as the locals prepare for Omizutori. OMIZUTORI is one of the oldest festivals in Japan as it started in 752 AD. It is done as a way to cleanse sins and welcome spring. They say that March 12 and 14 are the best days to watch the ceremony – longest on the 12th (45 minutes), shortest on the 14th (5 minutes) but more spectacular as torches are lit all at once.

Even before sunset, there were already a lot of locals in the temple grounds. Wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than a thousand people there.

Funny story: we realized we came unprepared when we saw almost everyone were sitting on the ground with a plastic or cloth that they can use as a mat. There was still about an hour of waiting because Omizutori would only start at 7PM. I had scratch bond papers inside my bag and brought it out to use. But, an old lady took pity on us and gave us her extra big disposable plastic mat. (Arigatou obasan!) Made us love Japan and its people even more! ❤

The ceremony started on time and seeing this 1250-year old tradition in real life was surreal. Series of torches were lit one at a time and on occasions, the torch holder would shower sparks over the crowd. It lasted for about 30 minutes and everyone was focused in this ceremony.

I wish I could post the videos but the file sizes are too big. 😦

After Omizutori and making our way out of the crowded place, we decided to have dinner in Osaka. Automatic choice was to go to Dotonbori and just choose whichever we wanted to try. We went to DARUMA, which is famous for its kushikatsu (deep fried skewered meat/vegetable) and has been in the business since 1929. We were lucky because there was no line and we were able to get a table right away. Our table (2nd floor) was also next to the window which provided a view of Tonbori River.

We initially wanted to order 2 sets but because there were 3 of us, that would mean that for every type of kushikatsu, one of us would not get to taste it. And so, we decided to just get one set each. I think the staff could not help but stare at us because 1 set has 12 kushikatsu sticks. But, we were hungry plus we did not know when we could get to eat again there. J and I ordered oyster too because a deep fried one sounded yummy.

Our orders did not disappoint! Definitely not for health-conscious people but come on, the oil probably helped in making the kushikatsu delicious. :p

Note that they do not allow double dipping for hygienic purposes. You are only allowed to dunk each kushikatsu in the sauce only once. If you still want more sauce, you use the piece of cabbage (provided for free) to scoop more sauce. I also read in some posts that eating the cabbage helps in digestion.

After dinner, we explored Dotonbori some more and after seeing J enjoying her Cremia ice cream before, I had to buy one. My sister always told me that it is fun to eat ice cream during cold season but the idea is weird to me. So after trying this during this trip, I finally understand what she meant. What I like about eating ice cream during winter is that I do not have to worry that my ice cream would easily melt and drip everywhere. Haha!

That’s it for Nara. Next stop is USJ (and WWOHP)!!!

 

LINKS TO OTHER KANSAI REGION / JAPAN 2017 POSTS:

Japan, Day 0-1: Kyoto (Higashiyama Area)

Japan, Day 2: Kyoto (Arashiyama)

Japan, Day 3: Kyoto (Fushimi, Northern Higashiyama)

Japan, Day 4: Kyoto (Central & Downtown)

Japan, Day 5: Kyoto >> Osaka

Japan, Day 6: Kobe >> Osaka

Japan, Day 7: Himeji >> Osaka

Japan, Day 9: Universal Studios

Japan, Day 10 (AM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 10 (PM): Ise-shima

Japan, Day 11: Osaka

Tokyo, Day 4: Shrines, Temples, and Museums

Our first stop during our 4th day in Tokyo was the MEIJI JINGU (or Meiji Shrine) in Shibuya. It was just around 8AM so there were only a few locals when we got there.

Toshi-san explained that “shrine” is used for sacred areas under Shintoism while “temple” is for Buddhism. He taught us how to pray like the locals and explained a bit more about Meiji Jingu.

JANUARY 17, 2016

It was the last day of our company outing (but not last day in Tokyo for me and a few colleagues) so we had to check out at Hotel Monterey Akasaka.

Bye to this nice view of Tokyo from our room

Our first stop during our 4th day in Tokyo was the MEIJI JINGU (or Meiji Shrine) in Shibuya. It was just around 8AM so there were only a few locals when we got there.

Temizu — process to clean one’s self before entering the shrine

Raking the pebbles neatly also helps in cleansing visitors

Toshi-san explained that “shrine” is a term used for sacred areas under Shintoism while “temple” is for Buddhism. He taught us how to pray like the locals and explained a bit more about Meiji Jingu.

I kind of drifted away from the group when I saw the ema at one side of the shrine. I only saw these in some anime shows I watched so seeing them in reality was a delight. Most of the ema are written of course in kanji, but I still found it fascinating to look at some of the ema with cute drawings.

When I returned to the group, Toshi-san was already giving instructions on meet-up time and place as he would give us free time to explore the place. I followed a few office mates exiting the shrine but I remembered that there was one area in the shrine proper which I did not check out. I traced back my steps and found some locals crowding a wooden box where they were getting a piece of paper.

At first, I thought it was like a fortune cookie where you get to know your luck/fortune for the day… But apparently, they were getting omigokoro which is a poem card written by either Emperor Meiji or Empress Shoken. According to the printed paper in English:

“Emperor Meiji wrote about 100,000 waka and the Empress about 30,000 waka, which are not only excellent as literary works but also constitute significant teachings to enhance the national moral character. Meiji Jingu has chosen fifteen waka each from among their composition in order to provide visitors and worshippers with the divine grace of the Imperial couple in the form of omikuji (oracles).”

No shrine staff to watch over this. Goes to show how honest Japanese people are as they trust that no one would dare not to drop 100 yen.

After getting an omigokoro, I noticed two women in the other stall browsing boxes then getting a small item and paying for it. I got curious so I checked it out. The items sold looked like amulets but everything was in kanji, except for the price. Then, I found one amulet which had an English translation — unfortunately, I found its purpose not that relevant for me but at least it confirmed that all the items were amulets indeed.

I picked an amulet randomly, praying that it was of more relevance — whether for luck, work, love, or health — then paid for it. I was already itching to go back to the bus so that I could ask Toshi-san what kind of amulet I got.

But, before I left this area, I saw a couple dressed in traditional clothes passing by. A woman and photographer were following them so I guess they were having a pre-nup shoot here. So lucky to be able to see locals wearing their traditional clothing~!

I was able to catch up with two office mates and we passed by Toshi-san who was counting the number of people going back to the bus. I tried to ask about the amulet I bought but he said he would check later.

We went to the souvenir shop first before heading back to the bus. Once we were complete in the bus, Toshi-san mentioned to the group that I bought an amulet. Turns out that what I chose was a luck amulet and he told me to keep it with me at all times. He showed his own luck amulet which he keeps in his wallet. He said that the amulet had been with him for 40+ years already, even before he got married. Amazing!!

My luck amulet and omigokoro

Our next stop was the TOKYO IMPERIAL PALACE, where the Emperor of Japan resides. Of course, we were not able to get close and see the Emperor. But Toshi-san said that there are certain occasions when they open a part of the palace so that people can go closer and see the Emperor and his wife when they greet the crowd. If I’m not mistaken, one of the occasions is New Year.

After Toshi-san explained everything about the place, we were given some free time for picture taking before we leave the place…

We went to Asakusa area afterwards and visited SENSOJI TEMPLE, which is for Buddhist worshippers. Toshi-san said that most Japanese people practice both Shintoism and Buddhism so temples and shrines can be easily found.

Most of the people in our group chose to do some last minute shopping around the area, and the ones left behind with Toshi-san are the people who would be extending stay in Tokyo — me + 3 office mates.

We visited on a Sunday so the temple was full of worshippers and tourists, yikes. Toshi-san took us around the whole area of the temple and he took time to explain every area and statue to us.

I love hearing things directly from a local as it makes me feel closer to their culture, and it always fascinates me to hear their own stories and opinion. 🙂

At one point in our walking tour, Toshi-san led us to an area where we could get our omikuji, the famous fortune-telling paper slips in Japan temples. We dropped 100 yen coin each, shook a metal can with wooden sticks and took out one stick, located the drawer with the same number as the one in the drawn stick (note that the number is in kanji though), then get the paper at the topmost. The one I got was…

..the BEST fortune. I showed it to Toshi-san and he suddenly hugged me tightly. He patted me at the back and happily told me that I was really lucky to get this one so I should always keep it with me. Apparently, drawing daikichi (great/best fortune) is quite rare. Yay! If one gets bad luck/fortune, the paper slip must be tied to a nearby tying station (not sure what it is called). Toshi-san said that this is practiced so that you leave the bad luck/fortune behind.

After exploring the area, we started to walk to our meet-up place with the rest of the group. We passed by a long alley of different kinds of stores — souvenirs, local delicacy, bags, accessories, etc. Toshi-san recommended a local food, can’t recall its name though since the matcha flavor I got did not taste that good.

After regrouping, we had our lunch in a restaurant nearby…

…then traced back our steps to go back to our bus. The four of us who would be extending would get our luggage while the rest of the group would head back home that evening.

We parted ways with the rest of the group, bid our goodbye and said our thanks to Toshi-san and Yamada-san (our bus driver). After that, we took a cab going to the Airbnb unit I booked for our extended stay in Tokyo. It was a good thing that the Airbnb listing was just in Asakusa area so paying for the cab was not that bad. I chose a listing from Shoji & Coco (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4807040) because of the following:

  • Price per night is at par with other listings but this one has a spacious area that really fits 4 people i.e., not cramped
  • Clean bathroom
  • Walking distance to Oshiage station, Tokyo Skytree, and Solamachi (mall)
  • Responsive and helpful hosts

After settling down, we headed to UENO PARK to start our museum hopping… which ended up in us going to just one museum since we were too tired already. We only visited the NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NATURE AND SCIENCE — a bit of a bummer though that most of the stuff inside do not have English translation, but we were still able to appreciate the displays inside.

We took a rest in one of the coffee shops in the park then headed for Shinjuku. We went back to BIC CAMERA (visited a few days ago) to purchase a 3-day unlimited train ticket for 1,500 yen. Note that this is only for Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines — thankfully, most of the stations we rode were under these lines. We only paid extra for a few stations under JR line.

We shopped in the nearby Uniqlo afterwards then headed to Ichiran Ramen for dinner. The line was long though and an employee said that we would have to wait for about 40 minutes. We decided to look for another place since we were really hungry, and we stumbled upon a place that sells food in sizzling plates. We waited for about 10-15 minutes since the place was small and full of customers.

It was worth the wait since the food was good. Also a welcome break from soupy dishes!

We went back to our lodging after this dinner to get a long rest and prepare for the next day. 🙂

 

LINKS TO OTHER TOKYO 2016 POSTS:

Tokyo, Day 1: Tofuro Restaurant, Hotel Monterey Akasaka, Gindaco Takoyaki

Tokyo, Day 2: Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo, Day 3: Mt. Fuji, Komagatake Ropeway, Lake Ashi + Cruise

Tokyo, Day 5: Akihabara, Shibuya – Tokyu Hands, One Piece Mugiwara Store, Ichiran

Tokyo, Day 6: Tsukiji Market, Kawagoe, Maisen

Tokyo, Day 7: Revisiting Asakusa