Saturday, July 23, 2016

“Hail to the Queens!”
Sun.Star Davao, July 23, 2016

Back when there were no malls in Davao, watching a movie involved going to standalone theaters, a thing of the past not familiar anymore with the millennials of today.

As a child, our monthly movie break was a special treat for the family. Saturday “lakwatsas” during high school usually culminated with back-to-back movies or more commonly known as “doubled with” features. For the price of one ticket, you get to watch two movies...alright!

My friends and I must have watched dozens of Filipino films such as “Bagets”, “Hotshots”, Sharon Cuneta tearjerkers and Regal Films’ cheesy romance-drama-comedy flicks. These were such hits that the audience didn’t mind the “standing room only” situation sometimes.

And, if you missed the first part of the movie, you had the option to catch the film’s next schedule at no extra cost. In fact, if you had nothing better to do, you could even stay from the theater’s opening to closing time.

Among the popular theaters then were Garmon, Galaxy, Crest, Golden, Ideal, Lyric, among others. But, considered the classiest theater was Queens. The catchy name was given by the late businessman Ricardo Limso. It was the biggest movie theater in the city with a grand staircase and comfortable seating

However, in the ‘90s when the era of movies in malls came, including the multiple in-house cinemas of Victoria Plaza, these standalone theaters’ audience dwindled and eventually abandoned.

Recently, much to my delight (and to my kids’ amazement and amusement) the Queens’ iconic marquee gloriously lit up again as Davao DDBP Resources inaugurated its newest commercial development which was the site of the old Queens Theater.

In May 2014, roughly 20 years after the scarlet red curtains of this well-loved cinema was drawn, Davao DDBP Resources acquired the property and revived it into a commercial lease-type building.

It now houses Focusinc, a New York-based business process outsourcing company and 7/11, the famous chain of convenience stores that has been furiously expanding in Davao City of late.

Davao DDBP Resources Inc. decided to retain the building's name, "Queens", because of its nostalgic impression, a reminder of the once magical theater scene in Davao.  I am sure the officers of the company were also smitten by the fond memories much like me.  Good things never go away.

The building may be newly renovated with its modern design and facelift by  Architect Lilibeth Limpo and Engr. Noel Bersabe of Ugnayan Builders, but some things should never be changed, the Queens' mark remains.

Hail to the Queens!

We share photos of the happy occasion by Simply Gray Studio.

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Saturday, July 9, 2016

“The legacy of Juna”
Sun.Star Davao, July 9, 2016

A grand family reunion was recently held by the heirs of Francisco Villa-Abrille to celebrate the lasting legacy of their beloved forefather.

June 28, 2016 marked the centennial or 100th year of the Original Certificate of Title (OCT) 5609 which was registered in the name of Francisco Villa-Abrille Juna in the Province of Davao on the 28th of June 1916. The said title covering 603.70 hectares of land in Davao was issued by the then government of the United States by virtue of Decree No. 21484.

Being a fifth generation descendant of Juna and the great granddaughter of Luisa V.A. Huang, I was truly honored to share the fascinating history of my great great grandfather during the reunion at The Marco Polo grand ballroom. My presentation was based on the article of Malou V.A. Abella-Lopez from the “Hijos de Davao” coffee table book.

Great adventurer

“In 1862, Juna, an orphan with neither brother nor sister, boarded a junk from Tang Sua, Fookien, Southern China to the Philippines.
From Manila, he eventually found his way to Jolo where he became a successful pearl diver and trader. He married Tan Sipo, of Chinese-Muslim lineage from Pollok, Cotabato, and was baptized into Islam in Jolo.
Juna arrived in Davao with Tan Sipo in 1882. They were among only 20 Chinese families then. They settled with the Tausugs in the Piapi area where he set up a small store. The family would later move to Claveria Street with a bigger general merchandise store where he sold fishing paraphernalia, beans, corn, rice, tobacco and abaca.

        Juna was referred to by different names, among them Juan Padda and Lim Chuan Juna.
At 40, Juna and Tan Sipo, 29, married anew in Catholic rites at the San Pedro Parish in 1890. They were given Christian names: Francisco and Maria Loreto Villa-Abrille, after the Spanish Governor General in Davao, Faustino Villa-Abrille. The couple had five children: Ricardo, Carlos, Luisa, Cesareo, and Candelaria. (Author’s note: At the reunion, the descendants of Ricardo wore purple; Carlos, blue; Luisa, green; Cesareo, red; and Candelaria, white).
Juna spoke fluent Spanish and his ability to speak the lumad Bagobo and Mandaya dialects earned him respect. By 1929, of the 20 Chinese pioneers, Juna was the only who remained.

Generous heart
To his grandchildren, he was Ingcong, and Maria Loreto was Amah. His grandchildren still recall how Ingcong kept his precious pearls in a sack; how they were made to choose fine cloth before these were sold in the store; and how they never ran out of rice, sugar, and food. He was known to give away goods for free when he deemed that the buyer didn’t have enough to pay.

       Juna became a reluctant landowner towards the end of the 19th century, when a Spaniard forced him to buy a 600-hectare tract of wilderness for PhP2,000 across Davao River (Matina Area) because the Spaniards were already fleeing Mindanao.
By virtue of the Treaty of Paris in 1898, Juna became a Filipino citizen at 48 years old. Juna would also own some 30 hectares of land in Davao’s poblacion and another 121 hectares in the town of Sta. Cruz. By 1904, Juna was one of the big abaca planters in Davao.

         He would later donate parcels to accelerate the development of the municipio of Davao of the undivided Davao province: the land of the Post Office, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts Office, the General Hospital, the Chinese School, and the Puericulture Center, and the roads of what was then Jones Circle, and portions of Uyanguren Street, Tomas Claudio Extension, and Acacia Road.

          By World War II, the 600-hectare tract was already a composite of abaca and coconut plantations and a cattle ranch. But, these were taken over by the Japanese. His big family fled in separate groups to as far as Tugbok.

He died at 93 years old in 1943.”

Juna’s legacy    

“His four surviving children (Ricardo died ahead of Juna in 1925) worked to recover the family properties after the Japanese occupation.
Davao’s first residential subdivision, the 100-hectare Juna subdivision, was established in 1952.

           The 20-hectare Davao City Golf Club, Davao’s first, was set up in 1954.
           Juna’s heirs have various residential and commercial developments in Davao.

Like their forefather, they continued to donate lands for the advancement of the city which included portions of what are now Guerrero St., Sta. Ana Avenue, Juan de la Cruz Street, Jacinto Street, MacArthur Highway, Candelaria Street, Maa Road, Quimpo Boulevard, and Tulip Drive, and a proposed park along MacArthur Highway. His children also donated a portion of Philippine Women’s College of Davao property in Juna Subdivision.”

Dabawenyo at heart

In 1969, Juna’s philanthropic contributions earned him the distinction of being one of the first Datu Bago awardees (posthumous), the highest honor ever bestowed to a son of Davao.  A downtown street (Villa-Abrille) was also named after him.           
         Though not Davao-born, Juna took great pride in being a Dabawenyo and encouraged his children to do their share in the growth and progress of the city.

         To continue his legacy of helping Davao develop as Mindanao’s premier city, his heirs have also sponsored the Chinatown Friendship Archway along R. Magsaysay Ave., one of the four archways that frames Davao’s 42-hectare Chinatown.

       “As we celebrate the centennial of OCT 5609, we, the descendants of Francisco & Maria Loreto Villa-Abrille, commit ourselves to their legacy of hard work, humility and generosity.” We hope to make our forefathers proud by doing our share to be good and productive citizens of Davao and being a significant part of its development.
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Saturday, June 25, 2016

“Browmance with Cathleen G.”
Sun.Star Davao, June 25, 2016
Busy mother-of-three Cathleen Ann Limso-Go loves everything that has to do with beauty and fashion.     And, when it comes to makeup, Cathleen passionately believes that well-groomed eyebrows are an absolute must!  

 “Well-groomed eyebrows frame the face. It can instantly make you look more polished even if you don’t have much makeup”, stresses Cathleen, , who moved to Cebu from Davao when she got married in 2006.

“I used to have an ordinary eyebrow tattoo but it was very thin and I wasn’t very happy with the shape. It looked very fake that I had to fill it in everyday with eyebrow products; sometimes, as long as 30 minutes, until I was satisfied with the results. Eventually, people started to compliment me on how lovely my eyebrows looked just by filling them in. I guess, I have a natural talent because I can make my eyebrows look good even with a very bad tattoo underneath”, giggles Cathleen.


            Recently, Cathleen took her love affair for the perfect brows a notch higher by becoming an internationally-trained cosmetic artist.
         It all began when Cathleen came across an article about microblading which made her obsess about having hers done. First thing that came to her mind was how much time this microblading procedure would save her.

           When Cathleen’s mom saw her microbladed eyebrows, she was so much impressed that she wanted to have hers done. However, the wait list was at least 5 months in advance.
          “My mom said I was a pro at drawing eyebrows and makeup. So, she encouraged me to look for a school abroad so I that I could do her eyebrows. Since I’m a stay-at-home mom, I actually considered it”, smiles Cathleen.


         “I was trained by one of the finest semi-permanent cosmetic tattoo artists in Asia and in the world. At first, I just took the Basic Beginners Class and practised microblading on latex”, Cathleen narrates.

      Also known as “eyebrow embroidery”, microblading is a relatively new, manual method for semi-permanent eyebrows. The procedure is different from the traditional hairstroke technique done by machine.

           Microblading is done using a very fine blade to deposit pigments into the epidermis. Because the color is closer to the surface, the strokes appear crisp and very fine. There is no “spilling” under the skin.

          “I did my research about microblading and of course, I wanted the best. In the process, I learned that different Asian countries have different patterns so I had mine done with who I think makes the most natural-looking eyebrows abroad”, discloses Cathleen.

Depending on the drawing technique, microblading creates an individual look for each eyebrow. So-called HD and 3D eyebrows do not appear as tattoos.

Kilay squad

            When Cathleen came back to Cebu, she was confident enough to do it on real people. Her daughter’s caregiver was the first ‘brows-tomer’.

            “I really had to convince her that I was ready so eventually, she let me do her eyebrows which turned out fab”, Cathleen recalls.

          The hands-on mom proudly posted her initial creation’s before and after photos on Facebook and Instagram. Soon after, people came to her wanting to have their eyebrows done as well.

According to Cathleen, the ideal candidates for microblading are those aged 18 years old and above; and people who suffer from hair loss and have sparse eyebrows. It is also an alternative for people who want to define the shape of their eyebrows and those who want to correct old faded eyebrow tattoos.
            In addition, it is recommended for gym rats who sweat a lot without worrying whether their eyebrows are still “on”. It is also for beach lovers who don’t want their eyebrow makeup to be “washed away”.

            After doing around 50 eyebrows, the kikay mompreneur later enrolled in Advanced Microblading Class with Tricopigmentation (Scalp Tattoo).

I woke up like this....

           For the kilay fanatics wanting to achieve the “I-woke-up-with-gorgeous-eyebrows” look, microblading seems to be a tempting choice.
            “The microbladed eyebrows appear very natural because it is semi-permanent. Best of all, unlike the old tattoo procedure of yesteryears, the colors won’t change to green, blue or red over time”, distinguishes Cathleen.

             The ink utilized for microblading will completely fade in 5-6 years while the microbladed eyebrows will last 2-3 years depending on skin type but will last longer with retouch every 1 or 2 years”, Cathleen details.

In microblading, the pigments are manually placed into the skin. As with the handle of the machine, the microblading manual pen is equipped with sterile packaged blades ("slope" style, in U-shape or curvy.). The blade glides with gentle pressure over the skin and causes a fine cut. The cut is as fine as a papercut and you can hardly distinguish it from real hair.

           Cathleen assures that she uses a potent numbing cream in her microblading procedure.”There is actually no recovery time after and no swelling. But, you cannot get the eyebrows wet or touch them for 48 hours or 2 full days”, she advises.
           “Right after the procedure, your eyebrows will look fantastic after the pictures are taken. It will get really dark on the 2nd day and start to slowly peel off on the 4th to 6th day. By day 7, it will look 20-30% lighter”, Cathleen says.

           Aside from microblading, Cathleen likewise trained for eyeliner or eyelash enhancement on the lash line, lip tattoo and scalp tattoo.

         So, if you are a kikay-on-the-go and want to save precious time with your makeup routine, book now with Cathleen G.!

            In partnership with Skin Doctors Clinic (SM Lanang branch), Cathleen G. will be in Davao on July 15-17, 2016 with limited slots, by appointment only. For inquiries, you may call or text (0917)7054277. Follow Cathleen G. on Instagram and Facebook at ibrowsbycathleeng.

 E-mail the author at Visit

Saturday, June 11, 2016

“Sensational Siem Reap”
Sun.Star Davao, June 11, 2016
"Remote and dusty".

These two words were recently used to describe Davao in an international article and, as expected, it generated a slew of strong reactions from proud and unabashed Dabawenyos. Netizens proudly posted photos online to highlight our beloved city’s present progressive state as if to retort, “How dare you call our city remote and dusty?!”.

I admit though, I had the same impression before setting foot in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Save for being curious to explore its renowned temples, I hardly harbored any other expectations that can arouse any first time traveler to this exotic destination. There were even times I had doubts whether it would be better to go light and easy with just me and my hubby on this tick-off-our-bucket-list trip.

However, all these changed as soon as our Cambodia Angkor Air plane landed at Siem Reap International Airport from Ho Chi Minh City.  From relief to pure excitement and readiness to explore, we were met with cool air conditioning, modern facilities and courteous staff as we lined up for our turn at the immigration area. A money exchange counter could be found at the airport. But, as we soon found out, there was really no need to convert U.S. dollars to the local Cambodian Riel because both currencies were widely accepted in Siem Reap. Free WIFI was likewise available in most tourist-related establishments so purchasing internet SIM cards was not necessary.

Meeting us at the airport was Bayon Boutique Hotel’s amiable driver who spoke fluent English. When he discovered that we were from the Philippines, he eagerly intimated that he, together with his fellow Cambodians, always rooted for Manny Pacquiao during his boxing matches. Just like us Filipinos, they would go as far as taking the day off from work to watch his fights live on TV. 

Khmer and more

Our contemporary Khmer-styled hotel, which I serendipitously chanced upon via, exuded a homey feel with its attentive staff and distinct interiors. The spacious family room was quite a steal with two queen sized-beds, separate bathtub and shower and two bathroom sinks while our mini bar was complimentary for the first set of assorted beverages. 

After a leisurely swim at the hotel’s pristine saltwater pool, we walked a few steps from the hotel to take our early dinner at Kuriosity Kafe. Because we worked up an appetite after our swim, we ordered Fish ‘n Chips, Beef Lok Lak, Puttanesca, Pad Thai and Chicken Fingers with Fries. These came in huge American-sized servings and were fairly priced.

With over an hour to spare before our circus show, we boarded the tuktuk (a hat tip to the Thai pedicab) to the Old Market for some souvenir shopping. Seeing all the international restaurants lined up along Pub Street (another instance showing the openness of Siem Reap to foreigners) thrilled the foodie in me. It was as if Boracay’s vibrant food scene was transported to Siem Reap. While indulging on our delectable gelato, I made a mental note to carefully plan our gastronomic agenda for the next two days.  Ahhh…so many food choices, so little time!

A 10-minute tuktuk ride took us to Phare, the Cambodian Circus. It is Siem Reap’s highly rated evening entertainment where energetic performers weave historical, folk and modern Cambodian stories through theater, music, dance and circus arts. An association called Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) empowers the disadvantaged but talented young Cambodians through arts education in Battambang, Cambodia.  In a brief moment, our family was transported back in time as Cambodian history was entrancingly unfolded before us, giving us a glimpse of the country during its golden age, through its bloody upheaval and eventually its modern renaissance and resurgence, all along impressing on us its peace-loving people and culture.

After the show, we returned to the hotel for a good night’s rest to energize us for our whole day temple tour the following day.

Temple run

At 5:00 a.m. and with the hotel’s breakfast boxes in tow, we were picked up by our very efficient driver Phalit Ngin (E-mail address: whom we booked via e-mail a few weeks before.  This guy swiftly responded to our email and initial queries before we left for Cambodia, and constantly expressed his thanks for giving him work to do.

At Angkor Archaeological Park, there were three kinds of passes to choose from: US$20.00=one-day pass; US$40.00=3 days visit with one-week validity (Any 3 days in a week and 3 holes punched at the checkpoint); as well as US$60.00=7 days visit with one-month validity (Any 7 days in a month and 7 holes punched at the checkpoint). And, good news, kids 12 years old and below were free of charge provided that their passports were presented.

Catching the sunrise at Angkor Wat was the first order of the day. When we arrived, there was already a sizable crowd gathered behind the lake with their cameras in position, all set to capture their winning shots. As the sun gloriously rose above Angkor Wat, I silently said a prayer of thanks to the Lord for allowing me to witness this enchanting view with my family.

After taking a couple of snaps, we basked in the rich and orangey glow of Mr. Sun and made a slow retreat back to our rented car. En route to Bayon Temple, we passed by stone-carved devas (guardian gods) on the bridge to Angkor Thom.

Splendidly decorated with smiling stone faces and countless bas-reliefs, our family unanimously chose Bayon Temple as our favorite temple at Angkor. It was believed to be built in the late 12th or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. For her Littlest Pet Shop Instagram account, my youngest daughter positioned her LPS toys against Bayon’s baroque style Khmer architecture and came up with dramatic results.

Among the most recognized temples at Angkor is Ta Prohm where Actress Angelina Jolie’s “Tomb Raider” movie was filmed on location. Deserted and neglected for centuries after the Khmer Empire’s fall in the 17th century, Ta Prohm’s most characteristic feature were the ancient fig, banyan and kapok trees growing out of the ruins amidst its jungle surroundings. It became part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1922.

Laughter in the rain

Each time we boarded the car, Phalit would thoughtfully offer ice cold bottled water. The kind gesture was always appreciated because the 38 degree Celsius-temperature left us dehydrated and sluggish. He also allowed us to take brief breaks inside the car with the air-conditioner turned on in-between temple visits to recharge our not-so-little ones’ depleting energy.

Upon Phalit’s suggestion, we added Banteay Kdei to our temple tour after lunch. Also known as “Citadel of Monks’ Cells”, it was a Buddhist temple with a Bayon architectural style constructed in the mid-12th to early 13th centuries AD during Jayavarman VII’s reign. Until the 1960s, it had been occupied by monks at different periods over the centuries.

Returning to Angkor Wat in the mid-afternoon, we were greeted by a much-welcome rain shower. The 30-minute rain refreshed our bodies and spirits and made exploring the “City of Temples” a more comfortable one. Regarded as the largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat began as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire but was eventually recreated into a Buddhist temple around the 12th century.

Famished after our day-long “temple run”, we bade goodbye to Phalit at Pub Street where we then enjoyed chimichangas, quesadillas, nachos, and hearty tomato soup at Viva Mexican Restaurant. For reaching my maximum step target for the day, I treated myself to a huge glass of frozen margarita which only cost US$1.50. Salud!


Another round of ‘chillax’ swimming and lounging by the hotel pool was done on our final day followed by late lunch at Angelina Jolie’s well-loved Siem Reap hang-out, The Red Piano. Their scrumptious Cambodian Fish Amok and Smoked Salmon were instantly devoured by our hungry brood. There’s always room for dessert in our family, so we headed to Blue Pumpkin for yummy ice cream and pastries.

Afterwards, we did last-minute pasalubong shopping at the Old Market and Night Market. More eating ensued, with fruit shakes and local stir-fried noodles, this time around. As we sat contentedly on the plastic chairs by the road savoring our street food, it dawned on me that this short vacation was surprisingly among the best family trips we’ve ever had. We did not just enjoy Siem Reap but endeared ourselves, kids included, to this magical place.  

How can one not fall in love and be charmed with Siem Reap? The Cambodian people were genuinely warm and hospitable; the food choices were exceptionally diverse; and the temples, breathtakingly out-of-this-world! 

E-mail the author at Visit

Saturday, May 28, 2016

“Hello from Ho Chi Minh!”
Sun.Star Davao, May 28, 2016

In a bustling city with a sea of motorbikes, following traffic rules seems quite a challenge in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.

“The green traffic light means go; the yellow light signals drive faster; and the red light signifies move slowly but do check, if there is a policeman”, our tour guide Steven laughingly quipped this joke. This half-meant “tip” though became handy as the family navigated our way through the busy streets of HCMC for four days.

Still commonly referred to as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam and the most populous metropolitan area in the country with more than 10 million people.
Arriving at Tan Son Nhat International Airport at midnight, we promptly exchanged our U.S. dollars to the local currency, Dong, where we became instant millionaires, by Vietnamese standards anyway. You see, 1,000,000 Vietnamese dong is approximately equivalent to our PhP 2,096.70. Initially, the multiple figures confused the mathematically-challenged me but my hubby Gary suggested that I apply estimation instead. Mentally take away the three 0s and multiply the remaining digits by 2 to get the peso equivalent. Easy as pie!

After riding our rented Innova to the cozy Paradise Saigon Boutique Hotel, we immediately proceeded to our room where we comfortably snoozed for a few hours. The hotel’s impressive breakfast buffet spread instantly awakened us and our appetites as it gloriously offered a variety of international dishes and local favorites such as pho and bun bo hue, two popular versions of Vietnamese noodle soup.

Postcards from Vietnam

Invigorated by the filling meal, we headed off to the Saigon Central Post Office, a Gothic, Rennaisance and French-designed post office in downtown Ho Chi Minh which was built during the late 19th century when the country was once part of French Indochina. My children had a novel experience writing postcards addressed to themselves (Teehee!) and mailing them personally in this historic post office.

Right across the post office is the picture perfect Notre Dame Cathedral dubbed as the “one remaining stronghold of Catholicism” in largely dominated Buddhist Vietnam. Constructed during the French colonial rule, it is believed to be the smaller replica of the original Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

The War Remnants Museum was next on our list where we sadly witnessed the horrific stories of the Vietnam War as documented through various exhibits. It may not have been the best place to bring our daughters (Take for example, the Agent Orange exhibit) because of its distressing history but as parents, we believe that exposing them to the ill effects of war would somehow shape them to become peace advocates, in their own little way.

The sweltering heat throughout the day drained our energies much so that we headed back to the hotel for a quick respite before our dinner at the must-try Propaganda Vietnamese Bistro where the menu boasted of a hip and modern take on otherwise traditional Vietnamese dishes.  

For starters, we munched on Fresh Rolls with Pulled Pork, Pork Floss, Pickles and Dill with Coriander Sauce as well as the Water Spinach and BBQ Beef Salad with Vietnamese Wild Pepper and Fried Shallots. The four of us ordered our individual entrees but still ended up picking on each other’s lip-smacking BBQ Honey Pork Chop with Pandan Leaf Broken Rice; Propaganda Roasted Chicken; Vietnamese Mackerel with Tomato Sauce and Crispy Rice Cake; and BBQ Pork with Rice Noodles, Fried Spring Rolls and Peanuts.

Catch me if you can

We woke up extra early the next day to explore Cu Chi Tunnel and Mekong Delta. Normally, other tourists visit these sites separately through half-day tours. But, we decided to book a whole day private tour via Mekong Lighthouse Travel which proved to be a memorable experience for the family.

Steven, our friendly and funny tour guide, is no stranger to the Philippines. In fact, he was familiar with our showbiz personalities and counted Marian Rivera as his favorite Filipino star. We learned that a handful of our local teleseryes were dubbed in Vietnamese and had an avid following on primetime TV. Very interesting!

After a short shopping stop at a lacquerware factory, we drove to Cu Chi Tunnel, deemed as one of the greatest testaments of the Vietnamese’s tenacious spirit during the American War in the 1960s. Its legendary network of tunnels hidden several storeys deep, had numerous trapdoors, living areas, storage facilities, weapon factories, field hospitals, command centers and kitchens.

The tunnels played a pivotal role in enabling communication as well as coordination between the Viet Cong-controlled enclaves which were isolated due to the South Vietnamese and American land and air operations.  We bravely went inside one of the tunnels and heaved a sigh of relief when we were able to fit into the narrow space. With heads and knees down, we managed to make small steps, traversing from points A to B. I can just imagine how the Viet Congs sacrificed their comfort for years just to elude capture from the American soldiers!

Meanwhile, a late but sumptuous lunch awaited us at our Mekong Delta tour in the afternoon. We feasted on deep fried catfish deliciously wrapped in rice paper with glass noodles and fresh vegetables paired with other Vietnamese specialties. This was followed by a tour at a coconut candy factory and bee farm where we drank comforting honey tea. Before boarding our hand-rowed sampan, charming Vietnamese ladies sweetly serenaded us with their folk songs and prepared an enticing spread of assorted tropical fruits.

That night, we hunted for our family’s well-loved food blogger Mark Wiens’ banh mi recommendation at Huynh Hoa; thankfully, just a brief walk from our hotel.  The quintessential Vietnamese-French sandwich’s ingredients included cold cuts, pate, jalapeno, mayonnaise, cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrot, daikon, and who could ever miss, the crusty baguette. Combine all these together and you have heaven in a bite!

Art attack

The next day, we devoted our morning to an art appreciation activity at the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum succeeded by another kind of art ladies absolutely love---bargain shopping at Saigon Square!

It was my hubby’s turn to get excited in the afternoon as we stepped into the Reunification Palace.
The iconic presidential palace symbolized the end of the war when Viet Congs determinedly crashed through the gates with their powerful tanks. Gary’s college pre-thesis was about the Vietnam War so his commentary, as we explored the palace, rivaled that of a seasoned tour guide’s expertise.

Only a few meters away from the palace, we traipsed off to the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater to enjoy the entertaining Vietnamese water puppet show. After the performance, we leisurely strolled around the picturesque Tao Dan Park and got awestruck with the fitness-conscious Vietnamese who jogged, brisk walked, danced Zumba, and diligently used the public exercise machines scattered around the expansive park.

Of course, no visit to Vietnam would be complete without savoring their famed crabs. For this foodie mission, we trooped to Hai Lua Food Countryside situated at Ben Thanh Market. The food was tasty and the service, speedy. Thumbs up to their efficient waitresses who meticulously cracked the savory garlic crabs and peeled the grilled shrimps for our dinner that all we had to do was dig in....oh, this is life!

Sweet adventure

On our final day, we did some pasalubong shopping at Ben Thanh Market and practiced our  tour guide Steven’s advice to always haggle for the best price. Some shops also had fixed prices which felt reassuring.

In the evening, we watched the amazing AO show at the 117-year old Saigon Opera House. Featuring jaw-dropping acrobatics with the aid of sturdy bamboos and accompanied by upbeat Vietnamese folk music, the one-hour show was a stunning spectacle.

We capped our Ho Chi Minh adventure at Cheesecake Ngon with their heavenly melt-in-your-mouth Chocolate, Matcha, Oreo and Blueberry Cheesecakes.

Thanks to advanced planning and helpful tips from friends Maggy Buenaventura, Jeffrey Alvarez and Julie Chua, our D.I.Y. Ho Chi Minh family escapade was a sweet success!

For your day tour needs at HCMC, Mom-About-Town highly recommends Mekong Lighthouse Travel at e-mail address:; tel. (+84) 985799994; look for Ms. Ly Ngoc Tuyen; and Phan Van Chuong (a.k.a. Steven) at e-mail address:; mobile: (+84) 919994149.

E-mail the author at Visit

Saturday, May 14, 2016

"Baon ala bento"
Sun.Star Davao, May 14, 2016

The coming school-year is less than a month away and the daily grind of preparing for our kids’ baon will surely keep us busy once again.
Some creative moms have gone a notch higher by not only whipping up nutritious meals but too-pretty-to-eat kiddie delights as well.

“Bento “Kyaraben or Charaben” (character bento) is a style of elaborately-arranged bento (Japanese boxed lunch) which features food decorated to look like people, characters from popular media, animals, and plants. Originally, a decorated bento was intended to interest children in their food and to encourage a wider range of eating habits. It has now evolved to the point where national contests are held”, describes Wikipedia.

Recently, Sky Language Center conducted its “Basic Character Bento Workshop” by Russet Cainglet, a former school teacher turned homemaker and mom of two. She initially learned the art of bento through online tutorial videos.

The workshop started with a short talk by Karina Cadiogan of Sky Language Center of Davao. She shared basic Japanese (Nihongo) phrases on food etiquette as well as a short description on the language center.

Sky Language Center provides quality language tutorial classes for students and professionals of different ages. It also cater to kids, as young as 7 years old, who would like to learn foreign languages such as French, German , Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, and Nihongo.

Russet began the workshop with a presentation on the basics of bento making; the essential tools; a step-by-step demonstration; tips and techniques; and the importance of bento. 

Admitting to be a “sneaky chef”, Russet successfully incorporated veggies into her children’s diet by presenting them in a fun and playful way through their favorite cartoon, animal, toy or movie. But, preparing these detailed charaben designs entails a lot of patience and hard work, taking up an hour to more than an hour depending on the design.

But, seeing how her kids have turned into healthier eaters makes the painstaking efforts worthwhile for Russet. She explains that balance is an important aspect in bento-making ensuring that the right amount of carbohydrates, protein, veggies or fruits are taken into consideration with every bento art that lovingly comes out of her kitchen.

The artistic mom suggests that the easiest way to create a charaben is to utilize tools such as cookie cutters to cut shapes out of vegetables, egg sheets or ham, before putting them over rice or bread. Making shapes like balls using rice is a breeze with the help of cling wrap or plastic mold. Details such as eyes, nose and mouth may be added through nori (seaweed used for sushi) or vegetables.

After Russet’s short presentation, the eager participants were able to create their own bento boxes. It was an enjoyable and fruitful activity as mommies molded the rice, decorated the food and added some art to their whimsical bento creations.

Towards the end of the workshop, Mabelle Alderite of Tupperware Brands gave away some goodies and raffle prizes sponsored by Tupperware. The event concluded with the giving out of certificates of participation to those who joined the workshop.

Sky Language Center of Davao will be doing another batch of Basic Bento workshop soon. Stay updated and follow their Facebook account at and Instagram: @skylanguagedavao. Email them at Follow mommy Russet Cainglet @thismommymakes on Instagram.

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