Capsule Hotel 101: Hacks & Etiquette

Thanks to the relaxed visa requirements enforced by Japan about two years ago, it has become easier and more convenient for Filipinos to enjoy Japan. The upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo, slated for next year, has also seen a boom in new AirBnB’s, new hostels and new hotels being built — in fact, one thing I noticed is there are also a lot of new capsule hotels, especially around the Taito (where Asakusa is) area.

Capsule hotels were formerly a novelty — first gaining prominence in the early aughts for overworked, sloshed salarymen who missed the last train home. While Tokyo (and Japan) is considerably safe that you can literally plonk yourself on a train station bench to get some zzzz’s; capsule hotels provide a temporary respite with a clean, sterile bed, a place to wash up and brush your teeth preparing the harried salaryman to another day at work.

When it first gained prominence, everyone was fixated on the novelty of it all: the cramped, tight spaces was the stuff of nightmares for claustrophobics everywhere. A close friend even compared it to sleeping in a coffin.

Well, lemme break it down for you. A capsule hotel or sleeping inside a pod is very far from being inside a coffin — think of it as your typical bunk bed when you were still dorming in university, or a mean cardboard fort you used to sleep when you were five.

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I finally got to experience what it’s like to sleep inside a pod during a recent trip to Nagoya and Hokkaido with my sister. Our flight to Nagoya arrived at almost 6AM; following midnight departure from Manila. We landed in Chubu Centrair International Airport, (which is Nagoya’s main air hub) hungry, sleepy and a bit cranky since we’ve both been up since the previous name. After a quick breakfast, we weighed our options given that check-in was still pegged at 2PM: a) we could slum it at the airport and leave at 1PM so we could be at the city in time for check-in; b) leave for the city right away, drop off our stuff at the hotel and explore Nagoya or c) sleep at the airport first, freshen up before heading to Nagoya at noon. Of course, we chose C.

The solution to our problem came in the form of Tube SQ, a sleek capsule hotel located at the Welcome Garden on the first floor of the Chubu Centrair Airport. The friendly receptionist advised us that we could avail of their promo rates if we will book online – so, we parked our butts on the beaches nearest the hotel and started booking online. While the standard 3 hours rate was at Y2,900 (roughly PHP1,450), we were not above taking advantage of the Y1,800 (PHP900) 3-hour stay online promo. So, in between smiles and fiddling through the Japanese-language website, my sister and I were able to secure pods which the receptionist then dutifully honored. In case you’re wondering, here are the standard pod rates for the capsule hotel:

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courtesy of Tube SQ

Upon check-in, you will show your passport to the receptionist for record-keeping, confirm payment online and collect the key from the reception. The “key” was actually two keys hanging from a nylon rubber-scrunchy type that you can wear on your wrist for safety. You have a key for the locker where you will keep your stuff and another key which you will use to open the door leading to the ladies’ sleeping area. Before you head inside, you can freely pick a hot towel or wet wipe, a toothbrush kit and even hair ties on the side table near the entrance.

The first door you will likely see in the entrance is the women’s locker room. This is where you will deposit your luggage, coat and other stuff you have with you; and then change to the yukata provided for you. In the photo above, it’s the red top and pants neatly folded inside the locker. When staying at a capsule hotel, you are not allowed to use your every day outside clothes inside the sleeping area, hence the yukata. You will also need to change into slippers, and leave your shoes inside the locker. Aside from the yukata, you will be provided a bathrobe and towel in case you want to take a bath.

After changing: you have two options – you can take a bath or immediately head to the sleeping area. The bath is usually situated near the locker/changing areas; with a specific area for showers and for the toilet (should you need to do your business). The shower area also had beauty products (like shower gel, shampoo, and conditioner) per stall and a row of facial wash, lotion, hand soap on the sink, as well as cotton buds on the sink. There was also a row of blowdryers and baskets to keep your stuff in while you shower.

But since we’re really, really sleepy – we opted to sleep first and then freshen up later before we head to Sakai (which is central Nagoya and where our hotel was located).

Usually, capsule hotels have two large rooms, separating the men’s and women’s sleeping area. Tube SQ has a huge sleeping space and their pods are equally large as well. You will be allowed to carry your personal belongings (like a backpack or shoulder bag) inside the pod. Before parking your stuff just anywhere, look at the keys provided to you – usually, there is a number corresponding to the pod assigned to you.

The photo below was taken inside my pod, while I was trying to get work done before I become incommunicado for the day.

As you can see, it’s roomy enough to sit down and lay your stuff should you need to work. Inside each pod is a button to control the light and temperature; a hanger for your coat, an emergency flashlight, a small mirror, and really thick sheets and comfy pillows so you could sleep in peace. I was basically out of it for a good two hours, right after I’ve sent the email I was composing when I took the photo.  As someone who’s claustrophobic and hated tight spaces, I did not feel uncomfortable at all. Actually, I felt snug and comfortable and it was one of the deepest sleep I had. To think that just a few meters from where I sleep, planes were coming and going to and from the rest of Japan and the world. Instead of a door, we had plastic-like blinds which we pull down or up to open up to get in and out of the pod.

Promptly after three hours, we woke up and decided to head to the lockers to freshen up. We checked out as easily and went back to the concourse for our bus which will take us to the city.

A few things to remember when sleeping in a capsule hotel:

  1. Eating and drinking are not permitted in the pod area. Most capsule hotels have reception areas or dining lounges where you can eat in peace
  2. Silence and consideration for others are required when staying in a capsule hotel, especially when in the sleeping area. If you are with friends, avoid loud conversations. If you are on the phone, speak softly. Avoid unnecessary noises like playing music on your phone without headphones or rummaging for stuff in your bag where everyone can hear the loud rustling of papers or plastic.
  3. Observe cleanliness at all times. In the showers, clean after yourself and don’t leave used tissues or any stuff you discarded in the sink
  4. Basically, be considerate and always remember that you are sharing the space with other people.

 

So, if you have a Japan trip coming and looking for a cheap place to stay, why not try a capsule hotel?

 

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Change-makers, achievers feted by Lamudi

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With the local economy in an upswing, the Philippines’ real estate market is currently enjoying continuous growth. In a report posted from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the industry is forecast to maintain its growth and remain resilient in 2019

To further quote the article, “Residential condominium supply grew in 2018 with approximately 35,000 units added to the total existing stock. Overall, total cumulative stock last year reached 338,000 units with majority of the stock located in Quezon City followed by Makati City and Taguig City.

Strong demand was observed for newly completed residential units and pipeline of projects from the upper-mid to luxury segments in Makati and Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

The leasing market in Makati Central Business District (CBD) and BGC was mainly driven by the influx of expatriate employees from BPO and online gaming firms while the sales market was fueled by the demand from local and foreign high net worth individuals.” (SOURCE)

For online real estate juggernaut Lamudi, the promising developments in the industry were made sweeter by a number of industry players who went above and beyond in real estate sales. Recently, Lamudi feted these individuals composed of outstanding real estate professionals and brokerage companies at their third annual Lamudi Broker Awards Night held at the Makati Shangri-La.

The Lamudi Brokers Awards is an evening of recognition of the real estate professionals who have demonstrated skilled achievement, superior leadership, high moral character, and professional behavior as chosen among the clientele of the Philippines’ number one real estate platform.

The Lamudi Broker Awards Night is our way to show appreciation to our most successful partners who not only grew alongside the company but helped Lamudi reach great heights in the real estate industry,” says Gilles Hage, Lamudi’s VP for Commercial Strategy

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Lamudi CEO Bhavna Suresh delivered an inspiring message to the best and brightest of the local real estate industry during the recently-concluded Brokers Night 

Lamudi’s CEO Bhavna Suresh formally opened the evening’s gathering. Industry thought leaders were also present in the event, offering an avenue for exchanging valuable insights on how to improve the local real estate industry and the community-at-large.

Elizabeth Ventura, President of Anchor Land Holdings, Inc. highlighted that brokers are an integral part of the overall success of property developers. Meanwhile, Colliers Philippines’ Senior Manager for Research, Joey Bondoc, dove deep into the highlights of the local property sector in 2018 and what can be expected in 2019.

The awards presented were divided into three categories: Individual, Company, and Special Awards. The winners of the Individual and Company Awards were determined via data gathering while winners of the Special Awards were chosen through voting by Lamudi’s partner network with the exception of the Lamudi Partner of the Year award as this was chosen by Lamudi.

Notable winners include Evelyn Samaniego who was named Lamudi Broker of the Year for Luzon and Miyabi Realty for Lamudi Broker of the Year for Luzon.

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Outgrowing KamikazeeGirl

What do you when you seem to outgrow your blog identity? 

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I first started blogging close to thirteen years ago. Back then, my very first blog was hosted in LiveJournal.

I was probably in my late twenties, I was sullen most of the time, a rebel-without-a-cause and a devil-may-care attitude. I was obsessed with Japanese culture (as I am still am today), and watched nothing but Japanese movies and doramas. Gokusen, GTO, Hana Yori Dango, Okurubito, Hana Kimi were all a potent mix of a drug for me and I would spend hours and hours trying to watch for snippets on YouTube.

Blogging was also on its infancy and was still not the media behemoth/monster that it is today. As a journal-obsessed girl, I wanted a piece of the action. I wanted a place where I can share my thoughts; someplace that would serve as an extension of the many journals I have amassed through the years. So, I went online – using that noisy dial-up internet connection we had back then and started crafting my online persona. I wanted something unique and distinctly me. Read: devil may care/ Japan-obsessed/a bit crazy and weird.

I was set on becoming another Makino Tsukushi because, at that time, I was convinced that I had a shot with Jun Matsumoto (my then-BF/now-husband knew I was crazy for MatsuJun back in the day) but it was too common for me. Until I chanced upon this crazy, quirky movie and yep, KamikazeeGirl was born:

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These were the two original Kamikaze Girls” Momoko (L), a self-absorbed Lolita Girl who only cared about fashion and Ichigo (R), a yanki biker girl who fits the words “crazy and weird” to a T. To the twenty-something me back then, they were also the perfect personification of my personality. So, my online persona was born. I wrote about anything and everything under the sun and basically made KamikazeeGirl a repository of rants and cringey emo stuff. I didn’t care because I was convinced no one was reading my blog, and my early stats seemed to confirm this.

But life goes on and we grew old. Almost three years ago, and following a steady influx of visits, I made my blog public. The signs were there: paid collabs being offered, in spite the fact that I barely advertise or promote the site; there was free stuff coming in the mail and blogging was starting to become the very definition of new media. So, I signed up to join blogger groups, I started going to events and even joined some collabs. I started to post less and less also about my rants and dialed back on the Japanese pop culture reference.

On the personal side of things, I started a new job, handled more and more responsibilities, worried about my blood pressure and overall health, and became more engrossed with work. Updates became few and limited in between. Advertorials were written and press releases were accommodated.

To put it bluntly, the blog as KamikazeeGirl was losing its identity. I was growing old and I was no longer the young Momoko-Ichigo. Last night, while trying to meditate before going to sleep – it hit me. I was no longer KamikazeeGirl.

I am now a grown-ass woman who worried more about her bills, her investments, her job and the state of her mental health. I stopped following and obsessing about Jun Matsumoto years and years ago, so I was actually saddened to read over Facebook that Arashi (Jun’s band) will be going on an indefinite hiatus after 2020. It felt like the end of an era, and in this blog’s case, it was also the end of the online personality, “Kamikazeegirl.”

Yesterday, I started searching for tutorials on how to change my domain name. This blog is on paid-Wordpress hosting so I might contact WordPress support directly on how to do it.  I am also thinking of how to bring the blog to the next level, given the rise of social media influencers and vloggers. Given that anyone with access to a platform and an internet connection is now calling themselves bloggers and writers — how do you set yourself apart from the crowd?

KamikazeeGirl was the kid with the journal, and with no plan in sight. This planner-wielding, penny-pinching, obsessive-compulsive middle-ager can no longer relate.

 

 

 

A different kind of refresh with Sinalco

So, here’s the thing – I am taking a break from soda. I haven’t drank cola (the one that came in that iconic bottle) for more than eight years already; and I just recently decided to take a break from the clear one that rhymes with Sbrite. 

However, there are certain moments in one’s life where a tall, cold glass or can of soda is a must. Like when you’re Netflix-and-later-chilling; or when you’re trying to blow off a week’s worth of stress courtesy of junk foods , candy and a bit of coloring and drawing in between. Yeah, you could always get the orange juice or reach for a cup of hot tea but you know what would really go well with your junk food and your TV marathon?

Good old soda, served freezing cold.

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But what do you do when you wanted soda but remained adamant on going back to the same old brand that you took already took a break from? You look for alternatives.

I was able to find that when I got my hands on Sinalco, the latest soda in the market today. Unlike its competitors who usually came from the US, Sinalco was from Germany and has been in existence in the last 100 years. The brand recently arrived in the Philippines and is slowly, but surely making its presence felt in the country.  The brand currently has two variants out in the market today,  good old Cola (black can) and special, which is a mix of sweet-citrus-y fruit flavors (pink can). I am currently in love with the pink variant and was actually craving for it (to go with the gummy bears) but our neighborhood 711 ran out of stocks so I bought the cola instead.

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So how does Sinalco measure up against other brands?

The difference really lies on the taste – while other brands are usually too sweet, Sinalco was able to dial back on the use of sweeteners, hence what will usually taste is a neutral yet pleasant flavor that is not too cloying or too sweet to the taste. This is due to the use of the best natural ingredients, including natural sweeteners that made it a tad healthier compared to other brands in the market. For someone conscious on her sugar intake, this is important because it assures you that the product is at par with  its competitors.

I mentioned earlier that I dialed back on the soda intake almost eight years ago. When you do this, the result usually is that your throat will hurt or feel a slight burn when you drink soda again following a long break. Your taste has changed, so you feel that it was too sweet for liking. What I loved about Sinalco is that I did not feel an ounce of burn or “acid reflux” after drinking. Yes, even when it’s ice cold and you just took one big gulp.

Here’s a pairing I recommend: pair your Sinalco soda with any of your favorite evening snack, like chips or gummy candy.  It makes for a perfect pairing because the soda does not overpower the taste of whatever you’re snacking on. For those who can’t seem to quit their soda habit, Sinalco’s formulation is so mild that you can even take it on an empty stomach.

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I love it that Sinalco is giving the market an alternative to the usual cola brands – bringing German ingenuity and high regard to quality along the way.

While I am still sticking to my “no-soda policy”, I will definitely bend the rules a little when it comes to Sinalco. I love that it’s not too sweet and the flavors are not too strong. Just perfect during cheat days when I want to indulge even for just a bit.

Given it’s Friday — and that I am looking forward to this week — I am ready to settle to another long night of movie marathon – gummy bear and cheetos on one hand, and a tall cold glass of Sinalco on the other.

Paper Junkie Post: Starbucks Planner vs. CBTL Giving Journal – A Review

If you are one of the thousands of Filipinos who fueled their caffeine addiction in exchange for their annual planner – then, welcome to my world. I have spent a big chunk of November and December 2018 guzzling coffee from one shop to another. First, because that’s really how I roll and second, because the paper junkie in me just can’t pass the opportunity to have the annual Christmas planners from both coffee shops.

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My 2019 Journals: a Moleskine notebook for daily living notes (expenses, bills, etc), a 2019 Starbucks Planner for my creative outputs and personal schedules, a 2019 CBTL Giving Journal for work note-taking and schedules, a Bucket List journal for goal setting and planning and a Starbucks travel journal

A lot has been written on this annual Pinoy tradition (see here and here) – in my case, it’s because I am a paper addict and I can’t help it. As you can see from the photo above, I am currently maintaining five planners. If you think that this is weird, I will gleefully point out that there’s a whole set of paper junkies who gladly maintain four to five planners (or more!).

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Giving Journal is the one at the bottom, with the Starbucks planner on top  

With about a month’s worth of pages already filled up, Here’s my review of both planners:

  1. Paper – I am more partial to the paper used in the Starbucks planner. Yes, it’s thinner than the one used for the Giving Journal. But the Starbucks planner is smoother, which is better for brush lettering using the pen brush – the pen tends to glide more smoothly. However, the advantage of the thick paper used for the Giving Journal is that it doesn’t mark easily, there is less bleeding and the succeeding pages doesn’t get sacrificed.
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My 2019 Goals

2. Design – This is like comparing apples to oranges. The Giving Journal adapts a more streamlined, cleaner design compared to the Starbucks planner. While there are individual commissioned art work that heralds the start of every month, Giving Journal adapted a cleaner, more streamlined approach in its inside pages – dominated with a purple print/font and a cleaner lay-out.

Meanwhile, the Starbucks Planner is like someone played in the art lab and the planner was the result. Making use of watercolor prints, creative fonts and splashes of color here and there – the planner begs to be painted and doodled on.

In my opinion, the design for each planner work both ways. The Giving Journal is perfect for those who value content and clean lay out minus the splashy designs and flashy background. For me, it’s good for composing your thoughts, laying down your schedule and even for a bit of soul-searching mixed with daily journaling. The Starbucks planner is when you want to get creative and want your planner to stand out for the #gram.

For the cover, the best one for me is the black with gold lining option from the 2019 Giving Journal but my go-to branch ran out of that option so I chose the one with the cork cover. I am not really a fan of planner cover with too busy artwork as I have this weird fixation with clean layouts for the outside pages.

 

 

3. Content – similar to the design, there’s no comparison needed between the Starbucks and the Giving Journal planner. The advantage of the Giving Journal planner is how the content challenges the user to make use of the planner as a means to self-reflect and organize their life. This goes beyond jotting down random schedules or notes for school or work. It’s making use of the prompts to look deep within yourself and emerge a better person after filling up the whole planner.

Meanwhile, the Starbucks planner encourages and prompts its user to be more creative and add color and meaning to the otherwise mundane day-to-day task of note-taking. I am using my planner as my personal diary. I tend to disregard the dates and just mark its pages with quotes, writing prompts and artworks that mean a lot to me for a particular day.

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My final verdict? The Giving Journal for me is tops when it comes to content, while the Starbucks journal takes the cake in design and execution. Both planners are worth the caffeine overload and the thrill of trying to collect that danged sticker/stamp every December.

Just a footnote from this paper junkie: As someone whose life is too busy and too hectic for their own good sometimes, I am grateful for the quiet times when I can just fiddle with my planners and pens, just writing my thoughts, going through my schedule and basically just trying to make sense of the topsy-turvy world I live in.

You know, I have been keeping journals since I was twelve — I’ve seen my writing all through these years and I am grateful for the chance to see how I managed to grow up through the years. Of course, there’s a lot of content there that begs to be annihilated and just reading through my execrable writing during my teenage years is enough to burn my eyes. But, it also gives me affirmation that I did not grow up so bad at all. During times when I feel like giving up on life, when depression is getting the most of me, reading my journals often gives me enough lifeline to vow not to sink, and to just swim hard no matter how hard it gets.

 

Five things to start the year — and your life — on track

Suddenly, we’re on the 12th day of the New Year.

If you are reading this — and you have managed not to go crazy, maim yourself, work yourself to death, get defeated by the monsters that live inside your head, continue to be friends with a select but awesome group of people — and basically, continue to be an over-all amazing human being into the new year…

…Congratulations. You made it. We made it.

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Affirmations for 2019

I finally got around to fixing this blog, paying my domain and writing again.

In 2018, I managed to continue disappointing myself on how I didn’t have time for this site – the only place in the world where I can literally be myself and not scare people away.

If you’re still out there, reading this — thank you for sticking around. I tried doing the normal “blogger routine” (you know, spend 25,000 hours attending events, writing about everything in general), but I guess that life is not for me. So, we’re now back to our roots – writing about stuff I really care about. I really don’t know if I will ever try vlogging because being in front of camera scares me and I get too conscious about the little things. But, we’ll see…

Trust me, I have been adulting for the last 15 years of my life and it still doesn’t work for me. It’s confusing and scary and now that I am almost reaching middle age – I’ve become more aware about how I am close to consuming half my time on earth.

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So what’s your plan for 2019? 

Mine is to become more self-aware and to love myself more. I vowed to start caring about myself: take care of my health, try to lose weight (for my health and sanity’s sake), be more financially responsible and to love and nurture myself. So while I am in the process of rebuilding myself, I thought that my first post is to share the five things I am doing this year that will contribute to my goal of being a better version of myself in 2019.

Guide 1: Unplug and read books. I’m currently reading “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson and I’m loving it.

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“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” basically tells us that we give too much f*cks, and we worry about too many things — much to the detriment of our mental health. It’s a nice and easy read, and a lot of the things written make a lot of sense to me. I have yet to finish it, but I am sharing with you some of my favorite lines already:

“Not giving a f*ck does not mean being indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different…”

“To not give a f*ck is to stare down life’s most terrifying and difficult challenges and still take action” 

“Pick and choose what matters to you…”

“The willingness to stare failure in the face and shove your middle finger back at it…”

It just makes a lot of sense to me — I am not ashamed to admit that my mental health took a beating in 2018. Because of too much stress at work, at home and in life in general, my nervous anxiety got worse, I am always stressed and physically sick, and even came to a point that I developed depression due to things piling one of top of the other. I am lucky that I can freely talk to my husband or my sister or my friends when I am in a rut and in a dark place — and that alone saved me last year.

I am excited to finish the book and I hope you’ll also find time to read.

 

Guide 2: Rediscover what makes you happy. Restart your hobbies. In my case, that’s lettering and calligraphy.

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I’ve always loved hand lettering, calligraphy and basically, everything that is related to this art. Unfortunately, it also got pushed to the side when I became busy with work. I am really rusty nowadays so I practice by writing verses on my journals. When I am working on a quote/hand lettering, I don’t think about the scripts and reports waiting for me at the office. I just think about making the letters come together and coming up with something beautiful to look at. It relaxes me a lot and I find it therapeutic.

Some might say that they do not have the knack for art. But you know, practice makes perfect. if you have extra budget, you can enroll in one of the many lettering classes in the Metro. The point is, never miss the chance to exercise your creativity.

 

Guide 3: Find your passion. Stick to it. My passion is writing and creating content, either through this blog or through my journals. I have been collecting and writing in journals since I was in primary and now that I am old, I still look forward to the start of the new year just because it also meant new notebooks and new planners for me.

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2019 Journals (still missing CBTL)

I am currently maintaining three journals, with another one coming in next week for my work tasks and schedule. To some, it may be a lot for that’s something that has been working for me for a long time already. I am using the Starbucks planner for #goalsetting and #dreamjournaling; while the pink 100 Bucket List is for my creative prompts. I have been planning to buy my own Hobonichi Techo Cousins, but the steep price tag turned me off.

 

Guide 4: Start saving early. Build your financial nest egg. If I am being blunt, please do not be like me. Brush up on investments, apply for a savings account and be more financially aware.

Here’s a true story: I started becoming more aware about money, investment and the important of having enough about 4 to 5 years ago. I spent most of my 20s hanging out in bars, and spending like crazy. When I turned 30 and life became more and more complicated, I kinda regretted the times when I should have saved my money. If I have started investing early, I would be reaping the rewards of these investments by now. But as they say, you learn along the way. So now, I spend my money on insurance payments, condo payments and building a deposit nest egg which I can use for emergency.

I am still looking for the best saving strategy because I suck at saving. I maintain a savings and checking account for one bank, but having all three of them registered in the mobile app also made it easy for me to transfer funds and withdraw money also as needed.

Guide 5.  Learn to edit your life. The same way that editing makes a lot of written and creative content look much, much better – it’s only fair that we also apply this in real life. Buy clothes that really look good on you, and not just because it’s on sale. Don’t be afraid to unfriend people on Facebook and in real life if they just contribute to the toxic environment. Commit to improve yourself this year by learning new things. Restart your relationship with God — regardless of your religious affiliation. In my case, I learned that believing in the love and generosity of a Higher Power provided me with an anchor and hope that life on earth doesn’t suck so much.

Closing this post with some of the best moments of 2018. In spite the challenges, pain and trying times last year – I am glad that I survived it to welcome 2019 with a more hopeful and positive disposition. I hope it will be the same for you.

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A Fun & Easy Traipse through Yehliu, Jiufen and Shifen with KKday

I’m a proud “DIY-girl” whenever I travel and I revel in finding budget travel hacks whenever I can. I would revel in discovering far-away places and meeting new people on my own. I would work on spreadsheets, go on a mad research spree and serve as the lead in most of my travels. It’s fun – but you know, it can get tiring.

Doing all these and being responsible for the rest of the trip can be exhausting and sometimes, all I wanted to do is just sit down and rest – and let someone take the lead.

That’s why it was a nice surprise to get to have a full day tour of three of Taiwan’s biggest draws courtesy of KKday, a fast-growing travel activities platform. Offering numerous and unique travel activities and tours from a number of amazing tourist destinations like Taiwan, Japan, Korea, HongKong, Sydney, Melbourne to as far as  New York and Paris.

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I can even book a tour using my mobile phone – it’s that easy

Using KKday is easy as sign up is painless – you can actually use your Facebook account to sign in and from there, you just book your attraction and tour of choice.

I was travelling with a group of Taipei first-timers, so it’s good to cover the basics first with a day-tour of Taipeui:  Yehliu, Jiufen and Shifen. Out of the three, I have been to Yehliu and Jiufen during my first two trips to Taipei. I was able to find these places by sheer chutzpah: armed with a print out from an obscure reference and the determination to keep my eyes peeled as the Taipei bus hurtled towards the sleepy New Taipei county neighbourhoods.

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You can even download the KKday app to make it a whole lot easier!

This time, thanks to KKday, I managed to enjoy the trip from Taipei going towards the county – I slept and basically just chilled, and let our capable and gregarious tour guide Bobo explain the charm of these places.

YEHLIU Geo Park – Our first destination is Yehliu Geo Park, a sizable park right beside the Oceanside showcasing various rock formations that date back to the prehistoric era. Yehliu is one of my favourite places in Taiwan, simply because walking through it reminded me of foreign terrain from another planet, probably like Mars due to the deep red clay/soil prevalent in the area.

NOTE: The photos above were taken during my first trip to Yehliu. I just want to show you how it looks like. I was not able to take really good photos during this tour because of the rain.

The rock formations are a sight to behold: taking the shape of mushrooms, slippers and many others, but the most famous one is the Queen’s Head. Scattered along the area are also some fossils embedded deep in the soil and a viewing deck to better appreciate the place.

Unfortunately, it started raining really hard as soon as we alighted from our Poli Bus (the KKday bus decorated with a police car cartoon), and I had to buy a raincoat to shield my stuff from the rain. The rain ruined any remote possibility of us taking our photos along the other rock formations because it made the soil slippery. We just beelined it to the Queen’s Head, took the requisite photo and left.

(NOTE: Better to take your photo with the Queen’s Head since the constant wear and tear of the seasons has made its neck more fragile.)

 SHIFEN Sky Lantern – It must be magical being there when the quaint little town of Shifen celebrates its Sky Lantern Festival – imagine hundreds of lighted lanterns floating around the night skin, sending your wishes to the sky. Yes, it does give off major “Tangled” vibes.

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Forty five minutes from Yehliu is the small town of Shifen, nestled between the mountains and the train tracks. As mentioned earlier, Shifen’s most famous draw is the releasing of the Sky Lantern set amidst the middle of the train tracks.l For only TWD190, you will be given the  chance of writing your “Love, Career and Money wishes on colourful lanterns and set them out to the sky.

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We were drenched but very happy. Photo courtesy of my amazing friend, Allan of The Filipino Rambler 

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When you’re done releasing your wishes via the sky lantern, you can partake on the many delectable dishes that Shifen has to offer. You can also take the opportunity to get a glimpse of the train passing through Shifen’s narrow street (just be careful taking a photo!). You’ll see how time stops until the train has fully passed.

 

JIUFEN’S Winding Streets and Magical Tea Houses – I have written in one of my blog posts about the oft-quoted travel legend that many of Jiufen’s many winding streets, storefront houses and the famous Amei Tea House was the inspiration behind the magical world of Chihiro, Sen and Yubaba in Hayao Miyazaki’s well-loved animated film, “Spirited Away.” My love of Miyazaki and the film prompted me to search for Jiufen, on my own, more than three years ago – and now, going back, minus the hassle of the search (and worry of getting lost) made me fell in love with this maze of a town. Thanks to KKday, I was able to just appreciate the journey, take my time, focus on the sights, and marvel on the many overt similarities between the Yubaba’s spirit world and Jiufen.

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The town, with its many winding staircases, is a maze and the search for Amei’s tea house can be ardous if you won’t ask for directions. But once you finally get to find it, it’s worth the trek and the many missed turns.

 Taking a tour via KKday:

Tours via KKday begins at the Taipei Main Station. In our case, it’s at the East Gate where you will meet with the KKday coordinators in order to present a print out of your confirmation slip. After the coordinators have gone through the attendance, checked, and ensured that everyone on the list is present, you will be herded to the waiting KKday bus.

At the bus, your tour guide will brief you on your destination, give you your KKday identification pass (also doubling as a mosquito patch) and a bottle of mineral water. Do note that the cost of entrance fee for Yehliu Geo Park, the cost of the sky lantern activity and of course, your meal and drinks are not included in the tour fee. Price of this tour is just PHP1,174 so it’s really worth it.

Would I recommend KKday?

Absolutely. While I am still a fan of DIY travel and enjoys researching for destinations, I appreciate how KKday made travelling easy, more convenient and more enjoyable – thanks to a knowledgeable tour guide and a very efficient staff. I hope to be able to use KKday again when I go back to Japan.

Visit KKday at their website, or download the KKday app available for easier, more convenient booking,

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