KingFahdCauseway

Eid Break in the Kingdom’s Eastern Region and Bahrain’s Threshold

Three weeks ago, my friends and I were invited to spend Eid break in the Eastern part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the threshold of Bahrain. The off the cuff ride down east—back and forth—is seriously irresistible. Everyone then had gathered in the early morning of Friday, October 3. Actually, the original plan was to go there by train but tickets already ran out by the time we were booking for ours.

When we left the chief city, the morning light was heralding another cool day and the images of the touristy Dammam and Al Khobar, with their inviting corniche, made us feel great happiness and optimism. We drove in convoy because we believe it is more fun and safer.

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There was a multitude of holidaymakers packed in private cars on both sides of the road. In my book, the holidaymakers—both Saudis and expatriates—in those cars were off to Al Khobar and Dammam just like us.

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Driving to the Eastern Region was a real adventure. The highway’s three lanes in each direction are heavily used by trucks. We had to watch not only the traffic in front of us but that behind us as well because cars would come up suddenly and pass us—when we were in the fast lane—on the left shoulder. Each time that happens, it feels as if we will faint.

Along the way, we enjoyed watching the changing desert colors and snapping photos of the scenery. The electric lines from pylons bring modernity across the far-flung regions of the Kingdom. What was most surprising is seeing a ferries wheel in the desert. Fun rides like this instantly bring about absolute mirth not only in children but adults like us.

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After about five hours, we finally reached our friend’s house in Al Khobar City. Our arrival was in time for lunch so we had our sacs filled up by partaking in the sumptuous foods on the table right away. What ensued was we talked about eating halo-halo at Al Ramaniya Mall, going to Corniche for a breath of fresh air, setting foot on the Bahrain Border, and taking photos of Saudi and Bahrain’s tower.

When the clock formed 3:00 PM, we drove to Al Ramaniya Mall for a refreshment—a treat  courtesy of Chito. What was really flabbergasting during this, I may say, detour is seeing Filipinos in full force. It made us all feel so literally close to home. I had never seen a mall here that is so packed with Filipinos until that day.

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After the table chitchats, we went back to the house to do a different kind of refreshment. This time, we will have ourselves lulled by the ocean waves’ sounds and sea’s fresh air at the rooftop. But before that, we ambled over to watch the vastness of the ocean in the distance and, at the same time, breathe the floating clean air. We also espied the grandeur of the cyclopean mosque in front and the palm trees oscillating in the intermittent wind all from the same vantage point. We were such gadabouts during that time.

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Research shows that the sound of waves alters wave patterns in the brain lulling us into a deeply relaxed state. Relaxing in this way can help rejuvenate the mind and body. Sea air, on the other hand, is charged with healthy negative ions that accelerate our ability to absorb oxygen. “Negative ions also balance levels of seratonin, a body chemical linked with mood and stress” (The Health Benefits of the Sea).

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This explains why after spending long hours at the beach, we feel more alert, relaxed, and energized. So never forget to spend some time with the beach when there is a chance.

At 5:00 PM, we cruised our way down to the famous Bahrain border to realize the highlight of this weekend getaway. At long last, we glided over the long bridge connecting Saudi and Bahrain, called Dammam Bahrain Causeway (also known as King Fahd Causeway). We only caught a glimpse of the bridge the last time we visited the Eastern Region (“Urban Spelunking: Nigh and Day“). But at that moment, we were already feeling Saudi’s most historic and historical bridge.

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King Fahd Causeway

Photo Credit: venturesonsite.com

I have read that the building of the causeway began in 1968 and the bridge was completed and opened to the public in 1986. This causeway not only connects Saudi and Bahrain to business links but it also allows travelers based in Dammam and Al Khobar to explore the area. It should be noted that the causeway is just 20 minutes away from visitors in Al Khobar so let us just say we had to take advantage of the convenient access to Bahrain.

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The next afternoon, we had to head back home, but not before taking a little scenic drive of the area of course.

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Once again, we felt so blessed to have been osculated by the gentle sea breeze, hugged by the swaying palm trees, regaled by the sparkling ocean views, and mesmerized by the massive pieces of architecture in the Eastern part of the Kingdom and Bahrain’s much-publicized threshold.  From here on out, we would be able to effortlessly define pleasure and relaxation with this kind of break.

Related Blog Posts

Saudi to Bahrain: Causeway Bridge to Bahrain at paolobiyahero.wordpress.com

My First Water From Arab Country at paolobiyahero.wordpress.com

Glimpse Over Dammam City at paolobiyahero.wordpress.com

King Fahd Causeway’s Border Station at pixelsforfour.blogspot.com

King Fahd Causeway at venturesonsite.com

 

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“A Series of Unfortunate Events”

Most travel bloggers do not talk much about the pits of traveling. The thought that such stories could discourage the readers to try the life-changing experience that is traveling is impertinent. They, therefore, opt to hide the worst parts of traveling and bring the stories out by using the costumes of entertainment instead. Until they realized how equally important it is to brave that road “less talked about”. The rationale is that there is always a lesson or nugget of knowledge from experiencing the terrible sides of travelling.

The Edge of the World is the first on the list of the best places for trekking here in Saudi Arabia. The spectacular sight of vertical escarpments rising hundreds of feet from the ground and the seemingly unending panoramic view of rocky plains make the place a memorably eerie spot for travelers, tourists, and hikers.

Several months ago, my chum and I had an opportunity to seize our long time dream to visit the Edge of the World when we were invited by our colleagues, Sai and Rico, who were planning to set foot on the place for the second time.

Thereafter, on 02 May 2014, we began our journey at 6:00 AM from Exit 07 by heading to the wrong route, causing us to speed up along the highway going to Al Kharj in order to get to the correct road. It took us a couple of hours to get back to Olaya District then pressed on to Uruba Road that will lead us to Salbouk village in the west. Gaining about 25 kilometers from there we took the spiral right turn and exited to the road going Jubaylah. We went straight for about eight kilometers until we turned left to an off-road where we landed in a long stretched of a bleached-out desert called Acacia Valley. This marks the beginning of a long and winding rough path to the Edge of the World.

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The said valley is a well-known wadi that serves as a splay threshold to the Edge of the World. It is an equivalent of a mountain’s jump-off point and it blusters a decent view of desert plains. The presence of a thick green line of trees makes it a perfect picnic spot in the winter. This area is carpeted in different varieties of flowers and grasses a few days after a long rain. The ephemeral desert plants grow new leaves and the flower bearing ones blossom. You can see how the place looks like during the cold days on Kiwi in Saudi’s blog. After several weeks, the greens will disappear and the desert returns barren until the next rainfall.

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We drove the rough road westward until we reached a fenced area where the iron gate, which has a sort of tent office on it, showed up. Unfortunately, it was close and there seemed to be no one in the tent. We were supposed to enter that gate and take a right turn to go over a loose track along the border of the fencing that will finally lead us to the destination. Rather than waiting for someone to show up, we took the other open gate just beside said gate hoping it will bring us to the same route.

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A little bit later, we passed by a small dam and continued until a guy from a transient house came out waving and talking in a verbally undecipherable Arabic. Nonetheless, we all knew he wants us to stop so we did. Immediately, there were two soldiers, all covered with camouflaged uniform, approached us. The only clear words that came out from their mouths were “military facility”.

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Sai, the driver, immediately got off the car to explain. He tried to convince the men in uniform that we got lost and we were to see the Edge of the World, but all just seemed futile. Subsequently, we were requested to surrender our iqamas. After a few minutes of probing, we got them back; simultaneously we were commanded to leave the premises right then and there.

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We headed back to the gate as commanded and by the time we got there, a sentry came out from the tent office. We thought that was a good sign until he kept on shouting these words: “Etlaa barra! Yalla!” That means he wanted us to go away so Sai attempted to sell what we came there for but to no avail.

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Somewhere in the middle of the Acacia Valley on our way out, we were suddenly shaking. Since we already experienced it we thought such was just an effect of the stony plains of limestone presaging the vast. The trembling became terrible soon that Sai needed to halt and check the tires. What happened next was we were roused from our seats not by a kaboom sound but a pealing curse expression, which obviously connoted trouble. After a moment, we realized what the expression indicated: Flat Tire! As much as we did not want to find out, we unloaded ourselves, got off the road a bit, set up some shade, and set out to change the tire.

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At that very moment, we felt stuck in the midst of a hot, dry, and heartless desert. Aside from Onel, Rico, and our already tattered driver there was not another person in sight. The distressing situation aggravated when Sai said he never tried changing a flat tire before. The same is true with the rest of us. Be that as it may, we were called upon to do it. So rather than waiting for help, we did try what we could.

I was tasked to take out the spare tire tucked under the bunk. Onel took the liberty of finding the tire iron (for removing lug nuts), and Rico scavenged for two big rocks. Sai’s tasks were to bring out the emergency portable jack and wedge the rocks under the tires on the opposite side of the flat. In a matter of five minutes, the vehicle was set to be raised off the ground. This was supposed to be simple if we were knowledgeable about changing flat tires. I am talking about the placement of the jack and it goes without saying all of us failed to figure out where.

That is the part where we badly needed help. We tried stopping passersby, who are quite rare, to give us a hand. I lost hope at one point; nevertheless, I chose to be optimistic about the situation. In the meantime, I looked around at the sparse trees, the sun shining through the whistling thorns, the mounds of a lithic desert in all directions, and the sepia tweiqs in the distance. Reveling in the beauty of these sights made me smile. On the other side of the coin, I had to accept that the plans (e.g., to pose on top of Edge of the World’s highest escarpment) for the day were already derailed.

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Thanks to Enrico Abad for this photo.

The next scene in which I found myself in was a car pulled over near us and there came our savior whose face will forever be etched in my memory. The rest is history. Thank God, stories about a Good Samaritan are true.

On our way back to the city, I retrospected to what happened earlier. It dawned on me that the predicament is a blessing in disguise. Had we pushed on to challenge the 20 kilometer distance of the Edge of the World from Acacia Valley, we would have been stuck there for good. It will not take 10 kilometers for our tires to explode gleaning from their looks. On the other hand, we were able to cope well with the situation by being optimistic. Nobody from the group fretted about the plight. And, seeing us enjoying the companionship of each other amid the misadventures gave me such a comforting feeling.

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In spite of our failure see the Edge of the World and the series of unfortunate events, which are only some of the worst parts of traveling, Saudi Arabia is still a really great place to travel to and explore because of its unique topography. In large part, the presence of Good Samaritans like Mr. Waqar on the road and, of course, the inestimable lessons (e.g., learning how to change a flat tire and using a 4×4 the next time around). Moreover, the failed expectations and harsh realities of this trip are but just boosters for our hunger to see the place when the chance presents itself again.

Blog Carnival Badge

This post is my entry to Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival for October 2014 titled “The Worst Travel Moments” hosted by Jona “The Wordsmith” of Backpacking With A Book .

P.S. So Jona, it’s not only you who thinks that the worst travel moments are the best stories to tell (Word Traveling: On Emotions and Eula Biss’ “No Man’s Land”).

Related Articles

Beautiful Places in Riyadh: A Trip to the Edge of the World by Lost in Riyadh

Acacia Valley and the Edge of the World by ArRiyadh City Website

Guide to the Edge of the World by Blue Abaya

Intimidating Edge Tuwaiq by The Peninsula Times

Edge of the World by Splendid Arabia

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs

Last December, I had the chance to step outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s capital city for an urban spelunking adventure. One of the most unforgettable subjects that I was able to frame is this one of a kind mosque at the Half Moon Bay Beach in Al Khobar. I had already seen countless mosques here and there but not at the beach.

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That crescent never fails to stir my curiosity. I had always thought it must be something that big of a symbol or sign in the Islam religion because every mosque I see, small or big, has a crescent over its dome.

Today, the modern dossier helped me dig what is under and over that crescent (pun intended). The crescent as a symbol is something common but rare as a sign. According to fatherzakaria.net, the moon was the god worshiped by people during the time of Muhammad, so he considered the crescent, the symbol of the worshipped moon god as his symbol. On the other hand, in the cow chapter of Surat Al-Baqarah (189), crescents are signs to mark fixed periods of time for mankind and for the pilgrimage.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs at dailypost.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs at justapieceofafrika.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs at sfchapman.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs at moondustwriter.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Signs at vosperdruiter.wordpress.com

Urban Spelunking: Water & Fire at yobynos.wordpress.com

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure!

In my almost five years of wandering, I learned that travel is always an adventure. I have encountered countless adventures that made me shout for joy (“The Playground of Demigods and Nephilims“), gape at the visceral blow of a revelation (“The Doors and Mud-Built Houses of Ushaiger Heritage Village“), cry in silence from disappointment (“A Series of Unfortunate Events“), marvel at the exquisite beauty of nature (“A Magical Site Trip to Lobo Beach Club & Spa“), yell at the universe (“Embraced by the Labyrinth’s Trail of Mount Marami“) and so forth. But, there is nothing quite like an adventure from traveling on your own as it brings you on a whole different dimension (“Romanticizing the Ruins of Cagsaua Church“). A dimension that will fill your senses with both dread and excitement of encountering the endless possibilities of the world out there.

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Traveling on your own is a beneficial experience. Everyone is encouraged to have at least one solo travel in his lifetime (“Life Lessons From My First Solo Travel to The Most Famous Cove In Luzon“). Give yourself that freedom to undertake the journey of traveling on your own while you keep in touch with loved ones and make an effort to develop new connections on the road (“Urban Spelunking (Second Episode: Earth & Air” and “Revisiting the Most Famous Cave in Cagayan Valley On A Whim“). You will be surprised at how you can create lasting bonds and memories that will shape your character in deep and lasting ways (“2013: A Milestone Year for Stories of the Wandering Feet & Mind“).

Related Blog Posts

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure! at dailypost.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure! at elibatz.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure! at insellos.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure! at agent909.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure! at swordfishradio.wordpress.com

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

Indeed, there’s no better way to reveal people than what they say, and the manner in which they say it. We’re all interested in dialogue–the engaging conversation exchange as defined in The Daily Post.

In photography though, that is not often the case. Frédéric Biver, the host of this week’s photo challenge, brought the sense of dialogue to a higher, different level. According to him, dialogue can be perceived as a consensual interaction between two images in photography. Placed next to each other, each photograph opens up to meanings that weren’t there when viewed alone. Each composition reveals the photographer’s specific sensitivity to certain content or visual elements.

So here’s what I came up with:

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Related Blog Posts

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue at dailypost.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue at soloner.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue at derwentvalleyphotography.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue at oliteahouse.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue/Smiling Animals at treasuraa.wordpress.com

The Alpha Dogs’ Typical Day Out at Kamsa Ashra Park at yobynos.wordpress.com

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Heaven On A Plate

Back in the summer of 2009, I chomped on grilled belly strips of pink salmon during an island hopping adventure in Zambales. Never forgot that delectable taste of the meat since. I came to a point of craving it every week for a few months. When I say craving I meant cooking. Then time came when I had to tighten my belt. The weekly treat became monthly and then quarterly.

photo 1The craving was immured when I had to work overseas in April 2012 until I attended an ecumenical gathering in February this year somewhere in the City. After quite a long time, I came mouth to mouth with a simple pink salmon dish. I felt like I tasted it again for the first time; the craving instantly came back to life. I vowed to satisfy this hunger quarterly from then on. So last May, I went to that restaurant, whose name rhymes with maple trees, to have a plate of pan seared pink salmon. It was my first time to splurge on something esculent. A sort of luxury for a middle-class like me. Nevertheless, I felt no regret. I’m not an epicure but I know how to appreciate something beautiful and scrumptious. What I am about to unfold is beautiful and scrumptious, at least for me.

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When the food was delivered, it feels as if I got a surprise gift from a loved one, I can’t help but marvel at the artistry of the plate when it was placed in front of me. The elements just seem to come together to create a unique experience. I can’t ignore the creative presentations. The big green plate with the colors of the food coalescing into a beautiful painting simply took my breath away.

When I began slicing the soft pink meat and put it into my mouth, the best part of the story was revealed. The taste of the combination of flavors from sweet to spicy and slowly feeling the textures of the food in my mouth was awesome. Add to that the chewy taste of Chile lime rub and mushroom sauce that’s married to a bed of glutinous rice primavera, it felt like I was tasting heaven on a plate. I would have said it felt like it brought happiness on a plate but that would be an understatement. This explains why I had to take a few pictures to remember that great, great day.

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The next visit to the place was supposed to be this month, August, but considering that my birthday is due next month, I decided to have the big green plate by then. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that day.

Related Blog Posts

 A Taste of Primavera at foodiediaries.com

Chipotley Lime Salmon at barefeetinthekitchen-recipes.blogspot.com

Kopi Es Tak Kie, Jakarta at sharontravelogue.wordpress.com

Bandung Legendary Eatery: Toko You at sharontravelogue.wordpress.com

Royal Stag Bistro at sharontravelogue.wordpress.com

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

When I visited the Manila Ocean Park almost four years ago, I met so many sea creatures of different forms and sizes. Some look adorable and gargantuan while others look just really exotic. The strikingly unusual water animals are the ones in the fray to give visitors a bizarre yet enticing and memorable experience.

At first glance, the subject in the photo looks like twigs buried in the sand. When you get up close, you will realize that they are living creatures called spotted garden eels. They are also mistaken as sticks in the water at times because they are poking out of sand. Most of the time though, they resemble to plants in a grassplot. Hence, the name garden eel.  They live individually in burrows from which they protrude and will only withdraw when disturbed. This form of strange behavior of burrowing half of their bodies in the sand to make their heads project is actually a defense mechanism against predators. This is what makes them stand out from the rest.

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If you want to see more of these water animals, visit these posts: “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and “Manila Ocean Park: A Window to the Living Ocean“.

Related Blog Posts

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray at dailypost.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray at wrightouttanowhere.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray at maniparna5002.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray at davidoakesimages.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray at insellos.wordpress.com

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Filipino Concoctions, Philippine English, and Standard American English

Four days ago, my ever divisive blog post “Masteral and Other Filipino Concoctions” received an interesting comment from a fellow blogger, Aldrin–the man behind the awesome blog “Under Two Trees“. The comment is actually in the form of a tough question: “Where do we draw the line between a “Filipino concoction” and a dialectal difference between two varieties (in this case, Standard American English and Philippine English)? 

With that, I had to revisit the entries I included in that blog post, which was posted more than a couple of years ago yet it still receives comments, not to mention copious number of shares on Facebook and Twitter, to date. Anyway, the rush back was pivotal; it made me reconsider four of the entries therein that paved the way for my enlightenment. I am talking about the birth of this blog post, which will throw light on the question.

After ruminating on the question and acquainting myself more about Philippine English, I could say that “masteral”, “advices”, “equipments”, and “trainor” remain as perfect entries for the very subject concoctions. So this is where we can draw the line for a Filipino concoction: when a supposed English word is nowhere to be found in the English dictionaries.

That is why I cut four of those supposed Filipino concoctions from the controversial blog post to use them as entries and/or examples for our next topic, Philippine English.

Philippine English is a variety of English used by the media and vast majority of educated Filipinos in the Philippines. It goes without saying those concoctions are within the bounds of Philippine English. One of them is found in its examples: “fill up”, which is spelled as fill–up. (Do not forget to make a note of the minuscule hyphen there.) The list of its most common words and phrases does not include the rest but the same are qualified because they are, as stated earlier, used both by the media and vast majority of educated Filipinos

  • advices for pieces of advice or some advice (Update: When I was doing my research on “Masteral and Other Filipino Concoctions”, the word “advices” did not show up in any of the online dictionaries I use. But a few months back, I already saw it on thefreedictionary.com. Its usage is not yet acknowledge by Standard English though.)
  • cope up for cope with 
  • fill-up for fill out 
  • USB for flash drive 

If you want to familiarize yourself with Philippine English’s various words and phrases, check this: biodata for resume, bold for nude, colgate for toothpaste…As to the four concoctions above, you will have to pay a short visit to the blog post “Masteral and Other Filipino Concoctions” to know how they made it to my list of common grammar pet peeves.

For our last topic, Standard American English (SAE), I decided to use the two words that recently fell into said list: response and requestor. SAE is the form of the English language widely accepted as the usual correct form.

Note that the Philippines follow the Standard American English in general. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) is the standard reference to SAE usage. The general rules governing the SAE are all defined in docstyles.com and are discussed online at chicagomanualofstyle.com

Let us have a sort of side trip to understand better why we have followed Standard American English and not Spanish nor Nihongo. According to the article titled “What Asia Can Learn From Philippines About English” posted on huffingtonpost.com, Filipinos have the foresight to understand the value of keeping the language imposed on them during the sometimes brutal U.S. occupation of the Philippines from 1898-1946. The US helped plant the seeds for learning English, it was the country itself that took enough interest to dedicate resources and attention to maintaining the language after the Americans left.

Back home, the former is more commonly used in verbal communication. The majority tend to use response to mean respond (the verb form) as in, “Mag-response ka naman sa mga text ko.” In English, “Please respond to my text messages.” In Taglish grammar, “mag-respondis still considered the correct form of the word.

In the case of the word “requestor, it is also generally used instead of “requester”. This particular usage is not only common in the Philippines but in the place where I currently work here in the Middle East. Based on Standard American English, through “english.stackexchange.com and englishforums.comrequester should be used when referring to someone who requests something. It also has a larger number of Google hits than requestor–which is more used in the context of law and technical senses like a part of a program. 

It is true that most, if not all, of the grammar pet peeves I have presented in this humble series (i.e., Common Grammatical Errors [CGEs]) are accepted in Philippine English regardless of their grammatical quirks. In the end though, they will remain as mere parts of this English variant in the region.

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Image via grockit.com

When it comes to the three major English proficiency exams (Test of English as a Foreign Language, International English Language Testing System, and the hot of the press Pearson Test of English, Academic), Standard English sets the record straight not the English variants. Therefore, the grammatical pet peeves in my list remain nonstandard/unaccepted. 

For us Filipinos, it takes a certain amount of determination to be exceptionally good in English because it is just our second language. Learning English as a subject in school is definitely not enough. We need to treat English as a working language and a means of communication in accordance with Standard English, and should consider better ways ways to learn it. 

Related Blog Posts

Masteral and Other Filipino Concoctions at yobynos.wordpress.com

Pluralization of Initialisms at yobynos.wordpress.com

Stock Phrase, Mail, and Emails at yobynos.wordpress.com

Stop Saying Thanks God When at yobynos.wordpress.com

Tagalog Prefixes Interfused with English Verbs at yobynos.wordpress.com

The Correct Punctuation for Salutations that Begin with Hi or Hello at yobynos.wordpress.com

The Seven Lethal Grammar Sins of Email Users in the Office at yobynos.wordpress.com

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture

Texture is probably the most critical quality attribute of all fruits, whether it is to assess ripeness or functional performance in their processed forms. Coupled with color in its aesthetic sense, it can turn fruits exquisitely appealing to the eyes. Furthermore, it is commonly associated as the norm for the acceptable state, feel, and taste of fruits especially the fresh ones.

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Related Blog Posts

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture at dailypost.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture at elibatz.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture at showwithmyphone.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture at billijonesjrphotos.wordpress.com

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture at smallbluegreenwords.wordpress.com

 

Students Practice The Unique Bikram Yoga

With or Without You, AC

Back in the summer of 2006, I did weight training at a street gym called Black Gym in Santa Cruz, Manila. Black gym is one of the oldest gyms in the town; it opened in 2001. Walking into Black Gym was like walking into a time-warp to the 1980s. Most of the equipment are old. It doesn’t have an air conditioning system but two big fans, which only stayed in the corner most of the time and when they were used, they’re positioned away from the gymgoers.

Working out at Black Gym in the dog days then was like doing Bikram yoga in a room heated to 40 °C with only a 40 percent humidity or running on the fiery sands of Sahara Desert. The owner/trainer (Nathan) and his gym rats (beasts) trained us to work out in the heat─the hardcore way as they say. I went with the flow and I’m very glad I did.

Our training was based on what the trainer and his beasts say as to the basics down to the incorporation of super sets (i.e., circuit training)─without aircon of course. Soon, I had to grasp the reasons why the owner and his beasts prefer working out without aircon over the “corporate-gym-kind” of workout. Their answers were all the same: To lose the toxins faster and to build a better stamina. The body’s ability to pulverize those toxins is a pervasive factor in its ability to lose weight and reach a healthy goal weight (Why Toxins and Waste Product Impedes Weight Loss). Refer to what Jolie Bookspan (healthline.com) and Chris Giblin (mensfitness.com) have to say about how hot environments contribute to a better stamina─later─in this article. These became the fulcrum of my workout.

Students Practice The Unique Bikram Yoga

Photo Credit: Cardy Getty Images (examiner.com)

For us at Black Gym, a workout should quickly drench us in sweat, but with the windows open while the fans are gusting a few feet away from the corner. The latter is true only when women are in the house. The remarkable improvement of my weight training happened at this gym. I broke my abdominal crunches, bench press, and dead lift records (among others) respectively in a matter of six months. This entailed being completely drenched in sweat and completely drained in every session nevertheless the feeling was heavenly. After eight months, I got the upshot I wanted. I can’t help but compare this to the stories of my colleagues who were working out in air-conditioned gyms. Suffice to say the result I got was a far cry from theirs.

By the second quarter of 2008, my family had to move to Spazio Bernardo in Bagbag, Quezon City. This was the time I decided to settle with my medium built body─the ideal built for fitted shirts. I just then went to the gym, which is a part of said place’s amenities, to do some familiar workout routines, which I knew can help maintain my physique. The sad part is, the gym has an air-conditioning system. I had to assertively ask fellow exercisers to turn it off from time to time. This later led to being asked, especially by the beginners, about why I prefer working out without aircon. My response was always tied to the trainer and his beasts’ without the corresponding explications yet it still worked to my advantage.

Now, history is repeating itself in a not so easy way at our accommodations’ gym here in Saudi Arabia. It goes without saying that I have fellow exercisers who argue that their used-to-be trainers from their famous fitness centers respectively in the Philippines advised them the very opposite of my workout fulcrum: aircon while working out is a must. I had to revisit the modern dossier for some sort of a refresher course in Workout 101.

Thank heavens healthline.com has Jolie Bookspan’s article titled “Exercise in the Heat”. According to the article, it’s a myth that you must avoid sweating to stay healthy. Exercising enough to sweat makes you more flexible, increases many chemical reactions in your body that are healthy. I must say it’s clearer to me now why that extra warmth is imperative in Bikram yoga as it is to us. Sweat itself has compounds beneficial for the skin and body. A hot environment does have initial discomforts but it improves the aforementioned benefits as well as the ability to be comfortable in the heat.

Exercising in the heat makes positive changes in your body that improve your fitness. You increase blood volume, improve cooling ability, make changes in sweating, increase the vasculature that helps circulation, cooling and exercising at the same time, increase specific chemical compounds in the body that improve health and ability to exercise.

It’s also interesting to note that the Food and Wellness section of magazine.foxnews.com has an article titled “The Better Workout: Morning, Afternoon, or Evening” that promotes working out when the temperature peaks (i.e., in the afternoon and evening) because of two things: The body temperature peaks and its protein synthesis (the rate at which the muscles can repair and recover) also peaks.

When you exercise and increase body temperature, your body produces more of an interesting compound called heat shock protein. Heat shock proteins are families of proteins that do several things including preventing other proteins from damage by infection, ultraviolet light, starvation, heat, cold, and other harsh conditions. Heat shock proteins are thought to mobilize immune function against infections and diseases, even cancer.

Lastly, the website of the world’s number one selling fitness magazine, mensfitness.com, also supports the same standpoint. Their article titled “The Heatwave Workout” articulated some science behind how heat can help improve fitness levels. Researchers from the University of Oregon tracked the performance of 12 very high-level cyclists (10 male, two female) over a 10-day training period (with two days off in the middle) in 100-degree heat. Another control group did the exact same exercise regimen in a much more comfortable, 55-degree room. Both groups worked in 30 percent humidity.

At the end of the day, the thing that really baffles those who prefer working out with the AC blowing is giving up the idea of comfort it gives. The cold isn’t that bad, but the heat is usually better when exercising. To avoid the dreading threats of cramps and dehydration, which are usually the arguments of corporate gym trainers, try these tips to stay safe when the heat is on:

Drink up.  You obviously sweat more as it gets hotter and more humid, so you’ve got to make sure you’re replacing all those fluids as you run, bike, or do other workouts. It’s recommended to consume 16 to 24 ounces of water a couple hours before exercising in hot temperatures. Past that, take in another six to eight ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise. If you’re looking to do something moderate for less than an hour, water should be fine, but anything more intense will require sports drinks to get those carbohydrates and electrolytes, he says.

Mind the humidity. Humidity is also a huge factor to take into account. The principle way in which the body cools itself during exercise is through sweat. It hits our skin’s surface and it evaporates to cool the body. In a humid environment, you don’t experience as much of that evaporative cooling effect because the environment is already pretty saturated with fluid. To consider moving activity indoors on days that are extremely hot and humid, since it just makes the environment particularly stressful on your body.

Don’t go overboard. Finally, know that you can still be in good shape without actually heat acclimating. This only goes to those who are very fit or competitive athletes who need to be ready for weather extremes or want to get an edge. (Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., Fitness Expert for the American Council on Exercise)

Of course, all of these don’t mean going out and cause yourself heat injury by overdoing your workout in a non aircon gym without thinking. It’s all about gaining the many benefits of exercising safely in the heat. It’s up to you to know your limits.

Postscript: For my fellow exercisers at our accommodations’ gym, please don’t forget that we all come from the toasty environment of the tropics. I hope you will consider working out without AC the next time around. Doing it will not only help you lose weight, it will also help you adapt better to Saudi Arabia’s prevailing climate.

Related Articles

Exercising in the Heat Safely at webmd.com

Tips for Working Out in the Summer Heat at shape.com

Are Hot Workouts Safe at greatist.com

12 Ways to Stay Active When It’s Too Hot to Work Out at shape.com

The Safest Ways to Exercise in the Heat at womenshealthmag.com

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A Glimpse of Kennon's Scenic Views

Weekly Photo Challenge: Zigzag

The biggest island in the Philippines, Luzon, is known for having lots of roads that are characterized by sharp turns. If we were to pick one well-known roadway that reifies the concept of a zigzag scenic route, there’s one that stands out: Kennon Road. This road in Benguet province connects the mountain city of Baguio to the lowland town of Rosario in La Union province. It’s the most famous road in the Cordillera Administrative Region because of its picturesque routes.  On the other hand, it’s also very infamous for being the most hazardous road in the country particularly during the rainy seasons. The road is prone to closure due to landslides, which cause most of the road accidents during heavy rains or typhoon conditions.

I was fortunate to have experienced jaunting the zigzag road of Kennon that leads to an upward climb for most part back in the summer of 2009. As the bus nears the city of Baguio, the broad daylight reveals a very quaint view of the mountains and its lush vegetation like the one I snapped in the photo.

A Glimpse of Kennon's Scenic Views

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Summer Lovin’

As Asian, the warmth of summer is something that has already been embedded in my system. I hail from a country that is up to a snuff when it comes to the world’s top summer destinations. This explains why my wandering feet will forever itch for estivating at the umpteen beaches and mountains of the Philippines.

Doing that used to keep me in perfect fettle. Sadly, I am now based in a place where littoral sights, sylvan surroundings, and palisades are but becoming part of a distant memory. Nevertheless, a reality whenever I return home for vacation.

My idea of summer lovin’ is getting my battery energized while elevating my appreciation of the aesthetics through seeing those typical tropical views. It becomes all the more momentous and spectacular when I watch them in their element during the gloaming. There is an exquisite beauty about capturing the moment in time while the sun begins to set in the horizon.

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Coffee Pot in the Arab Culture

Arabs have tons of effusive symbols but there is one that kept me intrigued: the coffee pot (dallah in Arabic). The modern dossier says that dallah is a metal pot with a long spout designed specifically for making Arabic coffee. In particular, it is used in the coffee tradition of the Arabian peninsula and it was first made in Baghdad using brass or another alloy. Syrians made their own in Damascus by copying the Iraqi Dallah that was then used by most Arabs especially the Bedouin.

I had seen this coffee pot countless times during my travels within Riyadh and Dammam most particularly in and on the premises of the nearby mintaqahs. The pot seems to be all over the place, which made me think it must be a national symbol.

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The Al Salem Museum, in the heart of the historical Ushaiger Village, is where I got to see different colors, designs, and sizes of dallah but I did not bother wringing out from the curator what these containers symbolize.

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In my recent trip to Diriyah, I came across a massive coffee pot that made me ask my sapient Arab friend, Mohammed Al Obaidan, about what this thing signifies, finally.

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I learned that a coffee pot is indeed a national symbol for hospitality throughout the Arab world. Arab hospitality is incomplete without sharing a cup of coffee. It is served everyday at all gatherings. Further, the youngest person of the host should be the one to serve. Nowadays, that practice has already been obliterated by a coffee man or tea man.

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Weekend Swim: A Perfect Disport for White-Collar Workers

During the holy month of Ramadan here in Riyadh, I and the people in my circle opt to just stay at the accommodations and busy ourselves with the boobtube. Summer has already reached its peak and–generally–this keeps people from leaving their air-conditioned rooms. As a result, excursions are like pawikan in the Philippines—extinct. Swimming is no exception. Ironically, we don’t care about the piercing rays of the sun if there’s a chance for us to swim even in a pool. We all crave the water element at this point. So when we were invited by some, for lack of better term, angels to go with them for a weekend swim, saying yes was totally easy. Yahoo! Another grant–in-aid for this travel blog.

Last Friday, 11 July 2014, ten instant weekend warriors headed straight to one of A Company’s top depots in Al Kharj to get a dose of the metaphysical benefits of swimming via the ten-foot deep diving pool in it—free of charge! That’s us. It’s been a decade since I and the rest of us did a twist to our workout routines.

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A two–hour drive from the capital city brought us to the diving pool. As soon as we’re there, we couldn’t stop drooling at the sparkling azure water that seemed to tease our hot bodies in our birthday suits (pun really intended). We couldn’t contain our excitement either so after resting for  a few minutes, we showered then dipped into the fetching water right away. Our adult bodies, minds, and hearts somehow turned into that of a tyke’s. I must say it’s really so much fun to flounder around in the water with a bubbly crowd.

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From Left: Chris, Joel, Onel, & The Blogger

Soon, I stayed in one corner and pondered upon what’s happening around me. In the middle of the chortles I hear and the frolic I see at the pool is a sanctuary. I saw it as a good place for relaxation. The kind of silence the pool provides, especially when I was floating and both of my ears were submerged, allowed me to just step away from this frantic world momentarily. I’m sure the rest of us discerned the same.

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The metrical strokes through the water are very soothing and therapeutic because they collectively provide a great cardiovascular exercise. That’s a fact. The pool, despite its chlorine, emits a unique form of therapy that is explained by the meditative quality of swimming. In our accommodations’ gym, where I get to work out on a regular basis, everyone can see me. In this pool, there is less pressure for I became virtually invisible thereby making me not self–conscious. There’s just me and my mind moving through the water—which is very cathartic, invigorating, and liberating. I felt like I was doing my mastered yoga stances in water but with less effort. And when I got out from there, I felt like I’ve done hours of meditation.

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What struck me most though with all these hooplas is the kind of happiness that radiated from us while frolicking in the water. The happiness that vivified the quiet place. By digging the modern dossier, Google, I learned that all of that happiness was most likely due to the release of feel–good chemicals known as endorphins—one of swimming’s most pleasant side effects.

Later, I joined the crowd that seemed to be the happiest mortals in the happiest mood again until we’re up for the next activity (i.e., visit to A Company’s Bakery Gallery) on our itinerary.

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With all the snaps and realizations that emerged from this experience, I could say that a weekend swim is indeed the perfect disport before the work week ramps up.

(Note: Credits for the original copies of photos go to my budding photographer friends, Leonel Mark Tuscano and Jerome Eguia respectively, except for the first one.)

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Weekend Getaways at gmanetwork.com

A Quick Escape to Dunstone Country House, Wellington at getaway.co.za

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The Highlight of My 30-Day Vacation

Leaving the country a couple of years ago was an epoch in my life. So many things took place from then till now and the most noteworthy is after almost 11 months of waiting, I was again back to the east for vacation last 19 February 2014.

A few days before that day, I prepared an itinerary where I included scaling five mountains, meeting special friends, and embarking on a solo travel for the fifth time. What I saw at home, after a couple of hours from the airport, soon turned the big PLANS into a nano plan. My eldest son immediately nestled in my arms upon smiling at him. His yen for me is as scatheless as his dear mother’s. On the other hand, the youngest progeny sniveled, not to mention feared my uneven receding hairline when I took him from his mother’s. That moment was very heart-pulverizing. I forgot that I had a lot to catch up on his mother’s ranking in the Attention Department.

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The following day, I engineered countless persuasion tactics to run circles around the untamed but expectedly, they all failed. Of course, it did not end there. I needed three days of sedulous drills to trammel his punishing eyes and resistant arms. I must confess, that was more than nailing 1st Runner Up in a badminton tournament. I then thought this was perfect time to have a meet-up with special friends and pay a pumping visit to my concubines. So I attempted to “broadcast” the foregoing plans the next day but when I was about to press send, I caught my three raisons d’être cachinnating from a horseplay near me. I was so gurged into the moment; I insensately dropped the phone and joined them instead.

Before I went to bed later, I reviewed the itinerary and made a long, fixed stare at the part that underlines putative climbs, meeting friends, and solo travel. I realized one thing: This 30-day vacation was for no one but my family. Hence, climbs, meeting friends, and solo travel were crossed out. There was only one palpable course on the piece of paper since: To wisely spend my time with family no matter how banausic it may be.

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“To The Mountains”

It was 26 February 2013 when I caught a note titled “To The Mountains” on my newsfeed. What’s so special about the note other than it belongs to a friend, whom I met on the mountain trails two years ago, is that he is a silent, brilliant writer. I’ve always admired him for his impeccable diction and his ability to transcend words. Every piece of narrative he makes turns into a masterpiece; I can’t help but relish every element of it.

I believe that gripping note on climbing is oughta be shared via my blog just as I’ve promised him I would on that very day. And that day has come.

Please read on, and don’t stop until you reach the last dot.

It began with a desire: a longing to get out of the city. I needed to get away from the crowds, the insufferable traffic, the apathy that descends upon the streets like rain, and break free from my day to day routines. I needed to escape the depravities of commercialism that blinds people with material objects which we absently spend for in an effort to give our existence some sort of value — some sort of worth.I wanted to make something more out of this pale death that I miscalled my life.I grew up in the countryside slopes of Baguio, in a small house flanked by enormous pine trees that reached for the sky. I always adored those trees, which I sometimes imagined to be mighty sentinels standing watch.

As a child, I had very little to occupy my days — save for a few well-loved toys and my own company. I often played alone in the gardens, and fancied staying there until dark — a little boy, perched in a garden facing west, watching the sun slowly set far beyond the mountains, casting the sky in glorious flames before disappearing entirely.

I spent many sunsets that way: serenely huddled in a warm jacket as the cool winds gently played at my hair, admiring the sun and the sky and the far mountains on the horizon.
I grew to love nature then.

But that sort of bliss came to pass when life brought me to the metro. The beauty of the land was lost to me for many years, replaced by shoddy and crowded parks, noisy streets, and the wretched stink of pollution and waste. At night, I would often dream of our secluded home in Baguio, where the cold air was redolent with the sweet smell of pines and dama de noche, while the crickets filled the night with their soft music. Waking up with a deep longing for home was a real heart-breaker.

Thankfully, after a few years, I met the people who led me to higher grounds.

Mountain by mountain, my friends and I soared.

Trekking along long-trodden and unused trails alike, day after day after day, often well into the night, and sometimes even until morning. Facing formidable obstacles and difficulties like crossing raging rivers that seemed intent on carrying us downstream, using fallen trees as bridges high over foreboding ravines, and holding on to roots and rocks and vines and grasses for dear life. We’d be kissing bare rock-faces, trying with all our might not to look down should we be pierced by terror at the suicidal heights we found ourselves in.

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This is one of the most surreal moments of my life…

I remember the insane grins on each of our faces as we were negotiating past knife-edge trails, even as the wind threatened to knock us over to a rather lengthy and painful fall. Crawling through the mud and muck, slipping and sliding our way down, and falling on our already-sore rears all throughout (to the point that even as we slept, we dreamt about slipping and falling that we instantly woke up with a shock); going over and under branches and trees and boulders, scaling insanely-angled ascents with nothing but a prayer (and going back down through these parts was often more difficult); getting lost along the trails, bearing the unbelievable cold that froze even our facial muscles, being burned by the rays of the unforgiving sun, and braving the hammering rain. Through all these obstacles, step by little step, mountain by mountain, this is how we soared to the summits and discovered what such joy it is to truly live.

And these, among others, are the experiences that are in our savings account of moments that we take pride in having lived.

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Aside from the physically extravagant efforts we put into climbing, there are other experiences that make mountaineering truly an incredible adventure. Like that time when we managed to nervously smile at gun-totting NPAs that we crossed paths with. Looking back now, I wish I had taken a ‘selfie’ with them.

From suffering a horde of blood-thirsty limatiks, to avoiding fearsome ants and slithering snakes; from enduring the remarkable pain of little thorns prudently digging into the skin, to running away from angry bees, wasps, and wild carabaos and pigs bent on skewering you with their beastly horns. These are but a few of the things we would have missed had we chose to spend our time mindlessly roaming a mall.

Climbing mountains is not easy, but the rewards are definitely worth-while. The effort of carrying a backpack that can weigh anywhere from 15 to 30 kilos is something that demands more than physical strength and endurance. It also takes a lot of mental toughness. Because after some time, the burdens of carrying a heavy load and walking for hours wilts away to nothing more than an accepted state of reality. Pain becomes a constant: aching muscles, collapsed knees, and sore feet afflicted by fallen arches and numerous paltos. Cuts, bruises, bodies racked by fatigue, and dear physical discomfort all mean to argue that there is no greater pain than physical pain.

Climbing mountains teaches you a lot. The least of which is to appreciate the little things that you normally take for granted — a hot cup of noodles, a shower, and — blessed be, — a toilet bowl, to name a few. One of the things I’ve found is that there is no one more blessed than someone who can appreciate the smallest and simplest of things.

One of the other things that you’ll find is that the mountains teach humility the hard way. You will learn that people are weak and frail, and at the complete mercy of the world. That we are but specks of dust compared to the mountain; that our bones shall long be nothing but dust and yet the mountain shall still stand. And so you learn that you never do conquer a mountain, you conquer yourself, and you let the mountains change you.

I’ve always felt sorry for a person who is unable to appreciate the outdoors. One can only give a rudimentary explanation when people ask us why we do this; why my friends and I eagerly put ourselves in such uncomfortable situations — not to mention potentially dangerous.

Experiencing the beauty and greatness of nature is something that demands effort and perseverance. It is not something that can be bought like some cheap thrill. The experience of actually living, independent of most of the comforts and conveniences of these modern times, is unlike any other.

Man exists for the achievement of his desires. And it’s entirely up to the individual whether his desires bring purpose and meaning to his life. I’ve found that for those who climb mountains, our unspoken desires are pretty much the same: we climb because we are restless. We climb to see the world, to see sceneries that are infinitely more beautiful than any photo can ever portray. We climb because it’s like we have a raging fire deep within our hearts, a passion for adventure burning hotter than a thousand suns, urging us to go farther, reach higher; urging us to live beyond the conventions of the city life that seem to be more bane than boon. We climb to find the best within ourselves.

And as the saying goes: the only thing better than an adventure of a lifetime, is a lifetime of adventures.

Verily, I couldn’t have said it any better myself.  I’m honored to have this note as my first ever guest post. 

The man behind “To The Mountains” is Kevin Jason Sarfati Manuel. Aside from being an incontestably talented writer, he is also a superb photographer. I’ve been convincing him to create a blog but has remained reluctant up to now. I actually waited for his blog to shake the blogosphere since but was rather compelled to just fulfill the promise to him two years ago. This explains the birth of this blog post.

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Why Do I Love Mountain Climbing at yobynos.wordpress.com

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The Alpha Dogs’ Typical Day Out at Kamsa Ashra Park

For us Filipinos, Kamsa Ashra Park is still the best place to go to when we want to feel that laid-back atmosphere we luxuriate in back home. The park makes us appreciate simple things like seeing fellow Filipinos singing via the karaoke, playing billiards, merrymaking under nipa huts, and a whole heap more. Also, we get to experience that semblance of freedom, which actually seem to favor women, who are most of the time all covered, greatly. It is the only place where they can tear the black robe. No wonder, the birthdays, and at the same time nature break, of our two good friends took place there a couple of weeks ago (20 June 2014).

The invitation actually came on such short notice; nevertheless, majority of the ones invited showed up. An opportunity like this is absolutely a grant-in-aid for a poor traveler like me. Getting a breath of fresh air, basking under the shades of green, and eating authentic Filipino cuisine for free are a decent treat. Together, they make some sort of every overseas worker’s desideratum after a busy week.

It has been months since we went on a break outside the four corners of the Head Office. We thought it is a good way to greet the upcoming Ramadan that already started in the last week of June.

Of course, it would have been a lot better dipping in the beaches of Dammam, Khamis, or Jeddah if the case were that we are all that financially capable. The tropical–like atmosphere of those places is just too fetching for someone in the desert.

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As soon as we alighted from the van, the xeric clime of the morning ushered us to benches of that “big time” hash house. The tall trees that provide a hugging shade for visitors give a unique form of comfort in the midst of the current weather.

I never really appreciated sitting under the shades of virident coppice until I saw these friends around me laughing while idling away with the moment. It wrung that blithesome nature out from each of us. The smiles on our faces form the rident expression needed for this claim.

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We then strolled along the barren steppe that leads to the verdant veldt of the park like it is our first time. We walked in the company of nature, slowly. Simultaneous with this was the birthday boys haggling for some cool budget deals at the eatery.

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We let our eyes feast on the views around until we got to the hanging bridge. We thought it would be nice to get a photo of each of us on it, so we wrestled our way through just to give ourselves a primary picture worthy for Facebook wall. The latter is a jape.

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At exactly 10:00 AM, we were prompted by the birthday boys to return for tiffin was already waiting.

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It is good to have a long walk before eating because it makes a boodle fight a lot more enjoyable and appetite–increasing.

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I thank the birthday celebrators for paving the way for me and friends to take that much needed nature break after some time. In today’s high-tech world, a shared nature break is a good way to build if not sustain a friends’ bond. This kind of break presents a chance for us to put into practice some important components of good friendship—interactions through kanto talks, affective sharing at some point, and emotional availability to each other—even just to a degree.

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The Birthday Boys: Warren and Adonis

Over the years, I have been very effective at recharging my batteries by taking a short break. Nature break that is. It allows me to calm down and get back in focus when I am having a tough time, not to mention puts me back on track when the fearful “blogger’s block” creeps in. There have been a large number of researches that prove such point. That is why I am advising all workers out there to do the same. You will be glad you did.

Photo Credit: Adonis Escoto (Please check more stunning images from this rising photographer at pixoto.com.)

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First Barkda Outing at Subic at alianagimena.blogspot.com

 

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Stock Phrase, Mail, and Emails

For this episode of Common Grammatical Errors (CGEs), I will be discepting three. The stock phrase in business letters “Looking forward to hearing from you.” and the words “mails and emails”.

While I was busy attending to some urgent emails this morning, I was disturbed by a sound coming from a colleague sitting right next to me. A sound that is more of like a correction to the email I just sent across our division. I am talking about what is in the screenshot.

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The incident fueled my muse to share why is that construction so. “Looking forward to hearing from you.”

Having said that, I truly admire my colleague’s audacity in saying that the sound of the sentence is strange. That it would have been better if I used the infinitive form to hear  as in, “Looking forward to hear from you.” My response was this: “Such is a stock phrase in business letters and the choice of words does really sound odd in normal context. But believe me when I say it is grammatically correct.” The workplace is not the right venue for doing a grammar 101 lecture but here. Hence, this post, which will explicate the meat of the email I sent to that colleague later.

I thank the universe for throwing me to the Middle East in 2012 so that I became more meticulous as to the words I use in business correspondence. This explains why I dig reliable grammar guide sites whenever I am in doubt about a particular word or usage.

Let me start by acknowledging a useful fact about my colleague’s constructive feedback. If the preposition to in my sentence were an infinitive, it would be correct to use to hear. The thing is, to is not functioning as part of an infinitive but as a preposition. Therefore, it has to be followed by a noun or a nominal phrase—and hearing is a noun. Grammatically speaking, a thing being looked forward to (hearing in this case) should be a noun.

One of the many phrasal verbs in English in which an adverbial particle and a preposition is combined with stem verb to signify a particular meaning is look forward to or looking forward to. This is exemplified as either a noun phrase or a verb phrase that will make use of the –ing pattern.

A friend says he is not looking forward to attending Thomas’ party the week after the next.

They are all looking forward to meeting the new CEO.

The second grammar pet peeve is the word mails, which is like an iPhone 5 in the office. It is visible everywhere. The word sounds practically correct; however it may be, it is unfathomable in Standard English.

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The Chicago Manual of Style and reliable dictionaries explicitly say that mail is a mass noun—a noun that cannot be counted and thus resists pluralization by adding s. In my opinion though, sometimes, using that word alone sounds awkward like in this context: “I received six mail today.” This is where the need to add a counting word like pieces (i.e., pieces of mail) comes in. That is in order to make the plural concept sounds pleasing to the ears as in, “I received six pieces of mail today.”

That rule actually applies to the word email. Thank God that was before, a few years ago when grammar sticklers still vomit the usage of emails as the plural form of email. In 2010, I came across an article at nytimes.com titled “The Plural of E–mail” that asseverates emails as a recognized plural form of email.

The countification of email and the expulsion of the hyphen therein mirror a lot of recent developments in tech-talk. Who knows? In a few years or so, it could be considered an official English word.

In the meantime, do not forget that mail is not a contraction for email and mails stays as a grammatical mishap. You might as well refrain from using the latter in this regard.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrasts

Recently, I dropped by a popular restaurant in Hyatt Mall where I got to snap a photo that speaks a lot about this week’s theme. The effect of the motley of lights illuminating subtly in the crepuscular interior provide an irresistible contrasts, which makes the ambiance insanely cozy and romantic.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Between

In the photo, you could see two birds between the sky and water, and a wandering soul between the birds. But there is more to this between darkness and light photo than meets the eye: that magic of nature called daybreak, which is seldom neglected. It is that time of the day when nature is painted in incredible colors.

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You cannot sure avert your optical organs at how the day slowly gets brighter; at how the breathtaking colors start to seep through.

Oh, magic at its best!

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