Personal cultural highlights from our trip:
- Exploring Arashiyama
- Enjoying food at the Tanabata Festival (my first festival in Japan!)
- Witnessing the Makura Daiko during the Ikutama Summer Festival
In between transitioning jobs, I asked Charlie to go with me to Osaka (and tour the nearby prefectures) since it seemed like the perfect time for vacation for both of us. It was the first time I’ve visited Japan in summer (an earlier trip with family happened in May, just as spring was ending, where the weather was cool and perfect). I may have gotten feet tan lines and facial irritations (getting better now, thankfully!) but experiencing two summer festival events made the trip worth it!
Of course, it needn’t be said that everything was made better because Charlie and I finally get to take a break from this Long Distance Relationship thing.
We just stayed at an Airbnb in Osaka for all eleven nights, then went out on day trips to Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe. We took it slow because it’s supposed to be a vacation, and I didn’t want to be too exhausted just before I start my new job, heh.
Charlie and I signed up for one of the Free Royal Postal Heritage Tours, hosted by the Filipinas Stamp Collectors Club. We took the car and parked it inside the walled city, near the San Agustin Church (so that at the end of the tour we’d be near the car already!), and walked to the meeting place at Liwasang Bonifacio. I wouldn’t recommend doing the trip alone because the area doesn’t look very friendly (possibly an understatement). I kept thinking about the parks at Taipei filled with children and families and dogs. I compared it to Liwasang Bonifacio which turned into a home for the homeless, its fountain now a public bath, and the surrounding area reeking of pee. It’s not very tourist friendly, but I wanted to learn more about Manila and my history and this ‘ugliness’ is certainly part of it. How Manila Has Become a Portrait of Ugliness is a good editorial that describes very well how I feel about our cities, parks, and historical places and buildings:
In a paper presented at the Unesco workshop in Italy, “Protecting the Urban Morphology of Asian Cities” by Minja Yang, the extent of the problem of urban development as it affects cultural integrity is well-articulated: “Most Asian countries have national laws for the protection of historic monuments but very few have regulatory frameworks specific to the conservation of the historic urban fabric. Some countries of the region have included in their urban-planning regulations the concept of historic zones, but the planning instrument has mainly been limited to the restriction of the height of buildings.”
When you go abroad, you’d feel nanliliit when you see how those countries protect their heritage structures. Singapore, for instance, preserves even what look like 15-year-old buildings ever so carefully.
In Shanghai, they assiduously practiced adaptive reuse and turned a historic district into a lifestyle center. In Seoul, they rerouted a network of streets so as not to touch an ancient temple in the middle of a rotunda. In Beijing, they would rather transform ancient courtyards into nightclubs and brothels than tear them down for a mall.
And here we are, so Pinoy, so Third World, who’d prefer to turn cultural heritage into cold cash and erase what little valuable architectural landscape that we have from the face of the earth.
Here’s the itinerary:
Some members of the tour went specifically for the Manila Metropolitan Theater because while it’s open to the public, you need to get a permit before being let in. I wasn’t aware of the issues surrounding the building until this tour. Here’s a paper from years ago by Eric Babar Zerrudo that has a good introduction about the building. He described it as,
a beautiful jewel of modernistic architecture, the synthesisthat came out of local Filipino forms and the international Art Deco style that was famousduring that era.
There have been a few attempts to restore it after World War II but it hasn’t been completely functional in recent years. Despite the supposed rehabilitation of the building in 2010, it has again fallen into ruin and it will take hundreds of millions to be able to completely restore it.
It’s very eerie and creepy inside. The narrow staircases going to the upper floors are filled with debris and you can barely see anything inside because there are no lights.
I recently attended UXHK as an independent designer (i.e. not sponsored by a company). It’s not as easy to plan and budget conferences if you’re doing freelance, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Granted, most of the people I’ve met were from companies who are investing in UX, but some of them have come independently (or started off that way, until they managed to convince their bosses that investing in UX is worth it).
Hong Kong is expensive. Lodgings are quite pricey compared to other Asian countries I’ve been to, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t more affordable options. Sure, I can’t afford hotels charging USD $100++ per night, and PhP 16k for round-trip tickets is no joke, but if you can plan ahead and book sales and promos, it wouldn’t be so bad.
Planning ahead is best, so check out the conferences you plan on attending and subscribe to the mailing lists to know as soon as early bird tickets are up. Don’t worry about the flight and lodgings yet, because early bird discounts are great and you will need it if you want to save some money. Buy the event/conference tickets first, and then hound one of the budget airlines or check every time they have a sale. I’m subscribed to Cebu Pacific’s mailing list and it’s enough to book some discounted tickets even if they’re not always from Piso Sales (any discount is great help).
Hostels are a good start for cheaper lodgings. When you’re a female traveling solo though, things can get a bit trickier. I wasn’t that comfortable taking the dorms, but it’s a cheaper option. Instead, I had a single room from a hostel and for 5 days, the price isn’t bad. It’s easier if you’re traveling with a group of friends, but sometimes your friends aren’t available to accompany you abroad just because you want to go to a conference. I checked Airbnb, but when I did my computations, as a solo traveler the hostel still gave me more savings.
Here’s a quick list of how much I needed (prices rounded up):
I didn’t add in shopping money in there, but for the important stuff for the trip I spent PhP 40,000 / USD 900 / HKD 7,000 (conference tickets, plane, lodgings, transportation, food). Cheaper if you want to book only for exactly the conference dates, but I didn’t want to be rushing so I included a day before and after making it a grand total of 5 days. You can spend less if you don’t take the Airport Express train (around HKD 100), but you have to make sure you have enough time going to and from the airport if you want to take the bus (around HKD 33). You can also check for promos on the Airport Express train if you’re traveling with other people (tickets for a group of 2 would only cost HKD 80, for example).
There were snacks served during the three conference+workshop days so I didn’t have to spend much on my meals (I definitely spent less than the budget I listed for food above). HKD 50/meal is already a mid-range budget (includes drinks), so you can also spend less if you prefer.
My hostel was at Argyle Street in Mong Kok, two blocks away from the station so it’s very near. I added more to that budget for some shopping, but it’s totally unnecessary to make the trip 🙂 There are definitely a couple of areas you can visit for free, and I had little adventures on my own even as I was having money troubles during the trip so it was still a memorable experience.
Was it worth that much money?
I really feel that what makes the conference worth it are the people you meet. Sure, some of the workshops or speakers’ topics can be found online (and if you looked at the right places, you could just take online courses or get subscriptions, listen to podcasts, etc), but it doesn’t have the insights that those giving workshops would share. Or the stories that come from various backgrounds and different contexts that attendees share with each other. Or the new friends that you may make, along with possible professional opportunities from networking with professionals in the field.
Would I attend the next UXHK?
I would like to check the list of speakers, but I’m already 80% affirmative.
It’s been a while since I traveled ‘alone’. When I studied for a semester at NUS, living alone abroad was a very liberating experience that pushed me to become more independent and I missed it. Since then though, I’ve mostly traveled with friends and family.
When I had to fly to Hong Kong alone for UXHK yesterday, I realized that I’m not as confident traveling without company anymore. I try to be confident, less worried, more optimistic.
I did my best to keep calm, even when I was passing through airport immigrations, scared that I might face some kind of discrimination because I’m Filipino and because I’m alone. When my credit card didn’t work with Handy and I had to make a cash deposit instead, I tried not to worry too much about how much money I had for spending left. I needed to make a decision and I felt more secure if I could fall back on the internet in case I get lost, even at the cost of giving up shopping for this trip.
When I realized that the dollars I had left was only enough to pay for the UXHK ticket (since I was going to pay at the venue) and some left for train fare and perhaps not enough for full meals for 5 days, I told myself I’ll find a way. When my ATM card didn’t work either, even when I already went to the bank before to get the Cirrus activated, my heart beat fast as I thought of how to budget all I had. I decided to survive on some bread and the snacks and cocktails from the events that I would be attending until I built up courage to borrow some funds from friends who will be arriving later that evening. But it forced me to spend my time walking around, finding ‘free’ things to do and places to visit. I mustered up some courage to explore unfamiliar places alone, even without really talking to people because I also felt shy. I walked to the Mei Ho House near SCAD, enjoyed the museum, and found inspiring designs in the shop there.
I met up with my friends eventually, and felt more secure knowing that I could turn to them for help (and company!) when I needed it. But there’s a strength that I’m slowly building up as I do some things on my own again. I had so much daring when I was living alone as a student in Singapore; I want to find that much confidence while traveling again.
Last weekend, Charlie and I went with our friends to Tagaytay and did nothing but eat, drink some good wine and beer and alcohol, play The Resistance (which messed with our friendship so bad), and meet some work deadlines. The weather was so cold (Manila standard of measurement) and the place was so very beautiful. When we came back to Manila and Monday happened, I noticed that I was more focused with my work. Projects that were moving slow were getting done in the speed of light (kidding! But ideas were coming to me pretty quickly) and well, I feel motivated to design and code and finish projects in general.
I guess the city squeezes your creative juice out, and Charlie and I regretted not going out of time more often. Just for leisure, basically. Not the exhausting trips we have when we go abroad, but more like a few hour’s ride away from the city, sleeping overnight at some new place and just chilling and drinking good wine while eating good food.