Wahoo! This is Mike and Sara, coming to you from Manila. We will do our best to keep this thing updated, so stop in and leave a comment. And feel free to email us.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Cat Pile

In the spirit of making up for lost time, here are some pictures of our cats. The multi-color tabby is named Beaker. She got that name because she sounds like a certain muppet character of the same name. The white one with the stubby tail is named Buko. Buko is the Tagalog word for coconut. The small, orange tabby is named Lily. She earned this name because we came home from a beach weekend in Boracay to find her in the garden, under the lilies. She was about 3 weeks old at the time, and I still maintain that she won the "kitten lottery" by being abandoned in the garden of Sara "crazy cat woman" Kopp. At first, the big girls didn't like Lily, but they have grown to tolerate her. That is most evident when they all sleep together in what Sara has affectionately termed "the ball of fluff".

Bring it on, Hong Kong

This Christmas was a change in pace from the last two years that we spent in the States. With Sara 8 months pregnant, there was no way we could make the long-haul trip back to Spokane. However, the three week holiday was far too long to spend sitting at home preparing the nursery. So we opted for a short trip to Macau, and then to Hong Kong.

In spite of the thick smog, Hong Kong has a breath-taking skyline, particularly at night. The nightly laser light show that plays from the buildings is really a sight to see. We went back to the harbor a couple of times in the evening just to see the light show. In addition to the skyline as a whole, there is some intriguing architecture up close. One of our favorite buildings was Two Financial Tower - especially festive because of the lighted Christmas tree in front!

But Hong Kong wasn't all flashy buildings and laser light shows. One of the most engaging elements of the city is the many interesting side streets and pedestrian walk-ways. You could easily wander the streets for hours, day or night, without getting bored. Since this was the closest that Sara and I have been to mainland China, we were particularly drawn to all of the lanterns, bright colors, and sundry

But one of our favorite places among the shops was the Lock Cha Tea Shop, where we stopped in for a tasting. All of Lock Cha's tea comes directly from the farmers and is prepared and served more traditionally than what I am accustomed to.

As a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong had a unique feel. There was definitely a sense of collision between East and West - vestiges of the 99 year lease that the British had on the area following the Opium War. English is generally understood, and it's easy enough to get by as a tourist. There's something entertaining about seeing a city that is huge, polluted, and by all accounts a Chinese city - but that operates with the efficiency of a western capital. Double-decker buses, a modern rail system, and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks all work together to make Hong Kong a delightfully modern city (especially when compared to Manila), even though it has the highest population density of any city in the world! The crowds at Christmas were suffocatingly enormous (especially outside the luxury shops in the posh shopping districts), but somehow everything still worked. There is order to the teeming masses.

Even when the crowds got to be too much for us, there were plenty of places in and around Hong Kong to stretch your legs and get away from the crush of holiday shoppers. We traveled just outside the city, to Lantau island, to visit a giant Buddha. And we also walked to a local park, right in the middle of the city, that has a respectable aviary. The best part about Hong Kong's public parks is that they are free! And considering how expensive everything else is, that's a welcome change.

As much fun as it is to see the parks, the museums, the temples, and the streets, there is nothing quite like the sight of Hong Kong at night. One of the highlights (and most freezing cold outings we took) of the entire trip was looking out at the harbor from the vantage point of The Peak. Now that's a skyline view worth the price of admission.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Where's That?

Living in the Philippines, I can't say that I have traveled to a lot of destinations that are well-known tourist hot spots. And our most recent vacation is no exception to that. For Spring Break, Sara and I traveled with our friends Matt and Heather to the northern part of Luzon. Specifically, we went to the town of Sagada and to the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad. These places are a bit off the beaten track, but well worth every effort to get there - though I must admit that it's easier to say now that I am sitting on this side of the 10 hour bus trip and endlsee jeepney rides up dirt mountain roads.

Our trip started from the Manila bus station, where we boarded a pink-clad tour bus for the 10 hour, windy, sickness-inducing trip up north. But after the trip, we were afforded breathe-taking views of the "Eighth Wonder of the World", the Banaue rice terraces. We also had the chance to hang with some of the locals - for a small fee, they even let us take their picture!

From Banaue, we four bus-weary travelers packed ourselves into the back of a jeepney with various other adventurers and settled in (as best you can in a jeepney) for the four-hour drive through the mountain passes to Sagada. Upon our arrival in Sagada, we were greeted by the smell of fresh, mountain air, the feel of cool temperatures, and the cooking of (in my humble opinion) the Philippines' greatest French chef. Yes, a French chef. Tucked away in the isolated town of Sagada is a properly trained French chef who, once a week, opens his home to guests to come sample his amazing cooking. His restaurant, stationed in his house, is aptly named "Log Cabin". It is set among the beautiful surroundings of the laid-back town of Sagada, and it was a delightful place to eat dinner and sit by the fire.

Our next few days in Sagada were spent eating amazingly fresh food, especially at Yoghurt House, wandering the streets of the town, drinking weasel coffee, hiking, caving, and generally just relaxing.

One highlight of our time in Sagada was our descent into the nearby caves. After hiring a guide in the town center, Matt, Heather, Sara, myself, and our fearless guides headed deep into the underbelly of the world. If that sounds melodramatic, it's not. There were more than a few sketchy moments in the cave traversing. But that's the great thing about traveling in third world countries - you don't have all that concern about "safety" and silly things like that. Check out a couple of these "cave shots". The other fun thing was that we did lots of the cave journey in our bare feet.

Emerging from the depths of our little cave adventure, the four of us were taken aback by the sight of the evening sun over the rice terraces of Sagada. It was one of those moments captured in time, where everything stands still and nothing else seems to matter. I wish our camera could capture that, but Sony has yet to develop a digital camera capable of taking in the feeling of a place just as well as the image. This picture is my best attempt.

After reluctantly saying good-bye to Sagada, we four travelers boarded another jeepney bound for our return to Banaue and the adventures that awaited us in Batad - a town that can only be reached on foot. But, as you can see, the drive back to Banaue was absolutely beautiful. For this leg of the journey, we elected to hire our own jeepney so that we could move at our own pace and stop for lots of photos.

This is as good a point as any to explain the rice terraces. First of all, rice is to Asia what wheat is to Northern Europeans - a staple crop that is the primary food source for millions. For my Northwest U.S. compatriots, the best way to imagine the rice terraces is to think of the wheat fields of the Palouse being carved into the side of the Rocky Mountains. For thousands of years, the people of the Philippine Islands (and elsewhere across Southeast Asia) have tended to these rice fields that are literally carved into the side of the mountains. Here are a couple of the better terrace pictures to illustrate this point.

Arriving in Banaue after a magnificent drive (and, believe me, there aren't a lot of jeepney rides that can be characterized as such), Matt, Heather, Sara, and I rested our travel weary bodies and took in the sites of Banaue. Rising early the next morning, we embarked on an exploration of nearby Batad. This began with a two hour jeepney ride (again!) up narrow mountain roads, then a moderate hike down into Batad. But all the effort was worth the experience of actually walking through the Batad rice terraces, standing in the spray of one of the nearby waterfalls, and playing with sharp machetes. Visiting Batad is almost like stepping back in time and out of the frenetic pace of modern life. A great experience.

This trip was certainly a well-needed dose of nature and fresh air after spending so much time in Manila. Now, if it just weren't for the 10 hour bus rides and the endless jeepney trips, I could head back to Sagada next weekend.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

So, I'm 27.

Well, it's been a while since our last post. Old age, you know - it just slows you down. But seriously, things have been crazy. Right now, Sara is coaching track and I am coaching softball, I am taking classes for my master's degree, and we are both teaching up a storm at our great school. We have also been dabbling in the Philippine Ultimate Frisbee scene the past couple of months - yes, Ultimate is a real sport. It's all been great, but it doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging.
The last "big event" I can think of is my 27th birthday. I was planning on doing nothing to celebrate, but then our fantastic friends, Matt and Heather, asked us if we wanted to go to the beach with them. We did want to go, and we went, and it was great. Here are a couple of pictures of the outing.
You know, for a guy with a January birthday, I'd say hanging out at the beach is a pretty great way to celebrate being a year older. So, I'm 27.
Even though this is shamelessly self-promotional, I am going to do it anyway. As a part of one of my master's courses on educational IT, I have created another blog. It's an educational blog, so many of you will find it woefully irrelevant. But those of you who like reading my writing (and I think that's pretty much limited to my mom - love you, Mom!), you might find it interesting. There are some great comments I have received already from some of my colleagues and from an educational blogger from the website www.change.org - if you're a teacher, his blog is also worth reading - Clay Burrell at http://education.change.org. Anyway, all that to say, some of you should check out my new blog over at http://kopptastic.wordpress.com. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Cold

A shiver ran down my back this morning as I stepped out of the lobby of the condo and into the brisk December air of Manila. The temperature was a cool, moderately humid 70 degrees Fahrenheit - quite cold by Manila standards. As I arrived at work and meandered into my classroom, I toyed with the idea of switching on the air conditioning - just to get some fresh air in the room. But it was far too pleasant a morning to be ruined by the blast of air conditioning. As per my morning routine, I turned on my computer and logged on to the Internet to check my email, fantasy basketball team, and the headlines for the day. Knowing that I will soon be flying to Spokane, I decided I ought to check KREM.com for the weather forecast. Ignorance is supposedly bliss - and I see why. One of KREM's top headlines implored Spokane residents to cover themselves in layers of clothing, as any uncovered skin would freeze within minutes of exposure to the sub-zero weather conditions. I'm not sure "Tropical Mike" will be able to handle this cold weather very well. Does anyone have a down jacket I can borrow?

Merry Christmas Blog Junkies - and to any of you who will be in Spokane, be sure to contact me and Sara. We would love to see you - especially if you will lend us warm clothes.