A Taste of Home

There are certain things that can evoke strong feelings of homesickness for Filipino expatriates like me. For some it may be witnessing the Manila sunset at Manila Bay. For others it could be the traditional Filipino foods. Maybe for some it is the “fragrant” smell of the kanal and estero (kanya-kanyang trip lang yan).

Last week, I ate some traditional Fililipino food and saw Manila sunset. Manila Sunset Grille, that is!

Manila Sunset Grille is a Filipino restaurant chain with branches mostly in California. I wish they would expand here to the Midwest. Maybe in Iowa?

I flew to California and spent a week there to assist my aunt who underwent cataract surgery. She did not really needed much assistance, except that she was unable to drive for a few days. Driving her around was not a big deal, except that her car is a stick shift sports sedan and I have not driven a stick shift for more than 20 years. But I managed.

It did not stop me either when she suggested that we go and eat at the Manila Sunset Grille even though it was quite a drive through heavy traffic and busy freeways. Stick shift and all, I was determined to go.

Below is what I ordered:

I know, lumpiang sariwa, bibingka and halo-halo may not necessarily go together, but that’s what I have not tasted for a while.

And while I was savoring these food, Jose Mari Chan’s songs were playing over head which adds more to the nostalgic feel. One particular song that stroke a chord was “Christmas in Our Hearts.”

Perhaps it was more than the traditional home food and the Manila sunset that I was really missing. And it’s definitely not the kanal and estero.

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Nothing To Do In Iowa

Summer here is on its last leg, and autumn is knocking on our doors. Yet we are still trying to squeeze out the fun of what’s left of this summer.

Like the summers before, we again had a few friends and relatives from out-of-state who visited and stayed with us here in Iowa. They came from New York, from Florida, and even from out of the country like Taiwan and the Philippines.

One friend who came from Florida, was told by her office mates when they learned that she was flying to Iowa, that there’s nothing to see and do in Iowa. Except if you’re a Presidential candidate and you’re campaigning.

True, Iowa is not a tourist destination, like California or Florida. There may not be much to see here. But for our friends, seeing us, maybe is reason enough for them to visit Iowa.

Yet we tried our best to show our visitors what is here to see. We toured them around the city of Des Moines, the covered bridges of Madison County, and the farm fields of Iowa. Some of them even had the chance to go to the annual Iowa State Fair.

They said that our state fair is truly part of Americana. For where else can you go around the fair grounds while chomping on a whole turkey leg or a pork chop on a stick? Or munch deep-fried Oreos or deep-fried Sneakers? Or see the biggest cow, or the biggest pumpkin? Or see the famed butter cow sculpture?

This summer, we also had the chance to visit other states, like Montana and California. We have a few relatives in California, including my mother-in-law, who sadly to say, got awfully sick and eventually passed away during our visit there. Thus our vacation had a sudden turn of sad events.

She was hospitalized in a small hospital in Hollywood. In fact, the hospital was a couple of blocks from Sunset Boulevard and all the touristy spots in Hollywood. But driving back and forth to the hospital and where we’re staying was not a pleasant trip, as we were most of the time stuck in terrible traffic in the Los Angeles area.

photo taken after we visited my mother-in-law at the hospital


My mother-in-law stayed in the ICU for a few days, and I had the chance to talk to her physician. I introduced myself as an ICU doctor as well, so we can have a direct talk about the nitty-gritty details involved, as well as management, and of course prognosis.

The ICU physician was nice to me. Though he was in a bit of disbelief that I am practicing in Iowa. Perhaps he, like many others, have the impression that there’s nothing but corn and cows in Iowa.

He even asked my kids what do they do for “fun” in Iowa. My kids just politely said “a lot” without giving much details. I’m sure the good doctor was expecting answers like going to Disney, or visiting a theme park (which we also have though not as famous), or going to the beach.

My kids could have answered, how about catching fireflies. Or riding ATV in the cornfields with our friends. Or riding bike in dirt trails. Or perhaps just watching the sunset, or counting the stars.

As he was leaving, my mother-in-law’s doctor told me that he felt “sorry” that I live in Iowa. I just smiled and did not answer. It was past eight in the evening, and I knew he was not even on-call that night for he told me so, and yet he was still making rounds and seeing patients.

Me in Iowa? If I’m not on-call, I’m done with work by five in the afternoon, and I’m doing something “fun” by that time. Or maybe I’m just home spending time with my family.

In reality, it was me, who felt sorry for him.

For somebody who have lived in Manila, New Jersey, New York City, California, and Florida, I know what I’m talking about. And that’s why I chose to live where I’m living now.

Yes, there’s nothing to do in Iowa.

me and the bike trail in the middle of cornfiels


Return to Yosemite


Five years ago we visited Yosemite National Park (see previous post). It left such an impression, that it deserves another visit. So we did.

Here are the photos of our return to Yosemite earlier this month.

This time around, we were able to reserve a housing just a few miles outside the park. We stayed at Yosemite View Lodge, a resort located at the edge of the majestic Merced river.


Below is the gorgeous view from our room. Yes, we are lull to sleep with the sound of rushing water.


Water falls are arguably the most notable feature of Yosemite National Park. So here are photos of the falls on this park.


Above is the Upper Yosemite Falls. Below are the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls as seen from afar.


A much closer view of the Lower Yosemite Falls.


IMG_3320Besides the water falls, Yosemite is also known for its mountains and rock formations.


Below is “El Capitan,” the largest monolith granite in the world.

IMG_3304Another distinctive rock formation rising from the valley floor is the Half Dome, an iconic landmark of Yosemite.



With breathtaking views like these, I would say that a second visit is well worth it.

From Yosemite,


(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Long Beach, a Gala, and an Electromagnetic Lecture

Part of our big summer trip few weeks ago was going down to Long Beach, California. Long Beach is a city in Los Angeles County at the pacific coast of the US. It is 24 miles away from the city of Los Angeles, but that drive can take more than an hour due to terrible traffic.


We went to Long Beach to attend my medical school’s sponsored event. It was the 24th University of Santo Tomas Medical Alumni Association of America (USTMAA) Grand Reunion and Medical Convention.

The Hilton Long Beach was the site of the event, and that’s where we stayed for a couple of days.


Only a few blocks away from the hotel is the ocean and the Pine Avenue Pier. One early morning, I went out for my 2-3 miles run, and I wandered down to the pier (above and below photos were taken during my run).


The Pier was lined with prime restaurants, so I guess you won’t get hungry if you stroll there.


Here’s the marina with some of the boats docked there.




There’s even a lighthouse at that Pier.


Back to the USTMAAA event, since the event is billed as a Grand Reunion, many medical alumni from different batches attended. The oldest batch represented in the gala night was from medical class of 1951, though he was a lone attendee of his class. He was probably in his 90’s or nearing 90, yet he still looked strong and springy.

One of the biggest contingent was from the class of 1966, who were celebrating their 50th (Golden) anniversary. I tell you, those “old” folks can still dance the night away.

The “youngest” (the term ‘young’ is really relative) batch in that reunion was our class – from year 1991, which in my estimation was the biggest group represented. We were celebrating our 25th (Silver) anniversary.


Above is a photo I grabbed from USTMAAA website, showing our batch during the parade of the different classes at the gala dinner. Though many of my other classmates who went to Long Beach did not attend the gala, but came for the other festivities and the medical conference.

To be honest, I am not really a fan of galas and pageantries, so that was not the main reason I attended. Sad to admit, I can’t even dance. Of course seeing my old friends and classmates was enough motivation to attend.

But the biggest reason I came was, I was invited to give one of the lectures during the medical convention, which I considered an honor and a privilege. Many of the lecturers, including the keynote speaker, was from my batch.

The theme of the conference was “Current and Interesting Topics in Medicine and Surgery.” Below is an ‘official’ photo (grabbed from USTMAAA website) of me giving the talk.


The title of the lecture I gave was: The Lung and Winding Road (my apologies to the Beatles): Current Trends in Lung Cancer Screening and Diagnosis.

A portion of my talk was about Electromagnetic Navigational Bronchoscopy, a relatively new technology using GPS-like guidance with videogame-like images, when doing bronchoscopy and lung biopsy (see previous post about this topic).

Are you wondering what was the slide projected on the screen on the photo above?

Here is that specific slide on my presentation:


For readers who are not familiar with the above character, this is Voltes V. He is an anime super robot, aired as a TV series in the Philippines in the 1970’s. One of his weapon was the “electromagnetic top.” We definitely are not the first ones to use the “electromagnetic” technology.

After the lecture, many attendees approached me and told me that they enjoyed my presentation very much. Maybe they were all Voltes V fans.

I had a fun time in Long Beach. I hope to be reunited with my classmates and other alumni in the next UST event. Borrowing the battle cry from the Voltes V team, “Let’s volt in!”


P.S. Voltes V is now forever profiled in the USTMAAA website.



Getting Around Getty

On our last California trip we visited the Getty Center. It is perched on top of a hill of the Santa Monica mountains in Los Angeles. This is one of the two campuses of the J. Paul Getty Museum. The other campus is called the Getty Villa.

Getty Center is a $1.3 billion project that opened to the public in 1997. Admission to the museum is free, though you have to pay for parking. It is like the dinner is free, but you have to pay for the fork and knife.

We parked at the designated parking area which is on the foot of the hill. Then we took a 1-mile tram ride up the hill to the museum. You can also walk from the parking area to the center, but it is a rather steep climb. IMG_5041 The building itself is a work of art. It was designed by architect Richard Meier. IMG_5048 IMG_5047 Below is the central garden of the Getty Center. IMG_5072 The museum houses priceless treasures of art. This includes European paintings, drawings, illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, and decorative art. It also have 19th and 20th-century American and European photographs. IMG_5052 IMG_5051 Below is my favorite subject for paintings. IMG_5050 Nudes? No.The cornucopia of fruits! Silly. IMG_9496_2 The works are from famous artists. From Rembrandt’s portraits… IMG_5054 To Picasso’s abstracts… IMG_9537 To Monet’s impressions…. IMG_9535 And van Gogh’s paintings. IMG_9538 Even if you are not really into arts, you can still enjoy the museum just by looking outside the window, for there is more to see than paintings. IMG_5049 The view from the center is picturesque. From the bustling downtown LA…. IMG_5044 Up to the rugged Santa Monica mountains…. IMG_5042 And to the serene Pacific ocean. IMG_5057 It is also a beautiful location for a photo shoot. IMG_5065 I enjoyed our visit to the Getty Center. And to cap the experience, we skip the tram ride and instead briskly walked down the scenic path back to the parking area. It was breath-taking. Literally.IMG_5061

Pinoytransplant Goes to Hollywood

There is no place on earth that is synonymous to red carpet, bright lights and stars than Hollywood. So during our recent holiday trip to California, we visited this district of Los Angeles, which is the center for the motion picture and entertainment industry.



Obviously we would like to walk where the stars have walked. But since we were not worthy of a red carpet, plus we cannot find a red carpet anyway, we settled to walk down Hollywood Walk of Fame.



This is the place where the stars left their mark. I mean, literally.


Since there were no stars to see in person while we were there, we did the next best thing. We visited their replicas at the Madame Tussauds.


Madame Tussauds is a wax museum founded by sculptor Marie Tussaud, with the original site in London. Now the museum has several branches in a number of major cities, including this one in Hollywood. Here we saw hot stars of today, as well as of yesteryear.


Contrary to what you’re thinking, the above sculpture is not of me and my wife. They just have some resemblance to us.



Above is not a sculpture. Well, Sir Elton John is, but the one on the piano is my daughter trying to strike a pose.

Below are Paul Newman and Robert Redford as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The ones behind the jail bars are “pinoytransplant and his no-dance kid.”


There are other places to visit in Hollywood, like the Kodak Theater, the Chinese theater, and the one below, the Hollywood and Highland Center. It is a large shopping mall and entertainment complex.


If you look up into the mountains, besides the beautiful homes perched up on the hill, you will also see an iconic sign.


Here it is with magnification.


But we were not satisfied to see Hollywood from afar. We want to see it closer. I mean to see the “Hollywood” sign closer.

So my nephew who lives in LA, led us into a location, which is a far cry from an elegant red carpet walk. It was rather a rugged hike up the hills of Los Angeles.


It is also up in these hills where you can have a scenic view of downtown LA.


As I look into the Hollywood sign, I thought that maybe I can change career and pursue my luck here in Hollywood.


After all, Jack told me so.


But then again, my pretty face may just end up at the tip of Bruce Lee’s foot. In that case, I think I’ll pass.

From Hollywood,


yours truly,


(*all photos taken with iPhone)

Falls, Mountains, and Giant Trees

During our last California visit, we have chosen to go and visit places we have not been before.

We did not go to Disneyland, nor Universal Studios, nor Sea World, nor Hollywood Sunset Strip, nor Santa Monica Beach, nor drive from LA to San Francisco via scenic route Highway 1 or also known as Pacific Coast Highway (passing Hearst Castle, Carmel by the sea, Monterey Bay, and Big Sur), nor walk Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco, nor Napa Valley and the wine country. Been there, done that.

This time we visited Yosemite National Park, as well as Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.

From Los Angeles, we drove to Mariposa, California, a small town at the foothill of Sierra Nevada. The original town site was founded as a mining camp during the “gold rush” period. We stayed there for 2 nights and made it our home base as we explore Yosemite.

quaint shops and stores at Mariposa town proper

Mariposa town at the foothills of Sierra Nevada mountains

Yosemite National Park is a 45 minutes drive from Mariposa, and the travel was a scenic route through mountains, canyons, and rivers.

Driving around the mountains.

Driving through the mountains.

Driving through the valley and falls.

Driving by the river.

Yosemite is a breathtakingly beautiful place. It is one of the first wilderness parks in the US and covers 1,200 square miles. It is best known for its waterfalls, which is best seen during spring and early summer.

Yosemite's falls are fed by snow melt. The amount of water rushing through each waterfall varies widely throughout the year.

Ribbon Fall. The highest fall in Yosemite, with more than 1,600 feet drop.

Bridal Veil Fall. We hiked near the base of this fall and got soaked.

Upper Yosemite Fall. My postcard moment.

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, arguably the most famous falls in Yosemite.

Bridal Fall from another viewpoint

Looking down at Nevada Fall.

Free Fall. Falling down, that is.

Yosemite National Park also has magnificent granite mountains, glaciers, and valleys.

"Half Dome." Perhaps the most recognized symbol of Yosemite. If you look close enough, there are people on top of it, as you can hike or rock climb to its peak.

"El Capitan." Rising more than 3,000 feet from the valley floor, it is the largest monolith granite in the world.

snow peak mountains (even if its already summer)

View from Glacier Point, with an elevation of more than 7,000 feet.

Driving back home to Los Angeles, we drove through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. The drive was through steep, winding and narrow roads over cliffs and canyons that will humble the Kennon Road to Baguio (summer capital of the Philippines). The landscape includes layers upon layers of mountains, deep canyons, and the world’s largest trees.

layers of mountains

Do you see the size of that tree? It is almost as wide as the street.

Walking in the land of the giants. Giant trees, that is. Also a walk back in time, as some of the trees are several hundreds of years old.

"General Sherman." A giant sequoia that is considered the largest tree in the world. Although it stopped growing upward, it continues to increase by girth. It is estimated to be 2,300 to 2,700 years old.

I had to leave my mark. The Pinoy way? (Don't worry, it was for effects only!)

It was a memorable and wonderful trip indeed.

Driving back near our Los Angeles home.

Thanks to my photographer.

City of Angels

Tall palm trees. Very wide freeways and convoluted interchanges and skyways. Bald mountains.

Those were my first impressions of USA. And even after many years of living in many different states of America, California still has a special imprint on me.

I arrived in America in 1994, through Los Angeles airport (LAX). I observed how diverse the palette of races were. I thought, I could easily blend in with the different hues of humanity here.

sign outside Los Angeles airport

I stayed with my aunt for a few days in California, before I flew to the east coast to have my interviews in different hospitals and medical institutions there. After my interviews, I went back to my aunt and stayed there for a couple of months while waiting for the results of which hospital would accept my application for post-graduate training.

After completing 6 years of training in the east coast, we went back to California in 2000, and lived with my sister-in-law in Los Angeles while awaiting the change of my visa status so I could start a real job. It took a long while for my visa to be processed, so we called LA our temporary home for about half a year. It was during that cold cruel winter of our lives that California took us in and sheltered us.

Two weeks ago we went back to Los Angeles.

No, we did not move to California, we just went there to visit our family and friends. We stayed again with my sister-in-law, who has the best of both worlds. She lives literally a few minutes drive to the bustling downtown LA, but still enjoys a quiet enclave in her “mountain” home in Los Angeles area. There were also several Filipino stores and restaurants nearby, even walking distance away from her home. That goes without saying that a large community of Filipinos lived in that area.

View from my sister-in-law's backyard. Beyond the canyon and the mountain are the buildings of downtown LA

When we craved for Filipino food, even though there was a Jollibee, or Red Ribbon, and Goldilocks, we opted for a more homey feel, of a “turo-turo” carinderia, like the “Lutong Bahay” or “Nanay Gloria’s”. And as we were waiting for the food that we ordered to take home, Joey Albert sang in the background through their piped in music. I felt I was in one of the turo-turo in Dapitan near UST, back in my college days, except that when I looked outside, the surrounding were mountains with more houses than trees.

sunset and the smog (taken from the front porch of my sister-in-law's LA home)

During our brief stay, we went to Costco in the LA area to buy some groceries. When we entered the store, it looked exactly like the one we have at home in West Des Moines, Iowa. In fact if I bumped my head and passed out and then regained consciousness, I could have sworn I was back in Iowa. Except for some striking difference: the store was so crowded, that it was almost impossible to get around without bumping your cart with somebody else’. After living many years in Iowa, I am not used to the crowd anymore. You could also hear different languages being spoken by the crowd of people shopping there, including Tagalog, my native tongue. And sometimes you would hear English too ( at times, it feels like English is the minority language spoken there).

As I looked dazed in the somewhat familiar but also unfamiliar place I was in, I did not realize that I was standing in the middle of an isle and blocking it. A shopper called my attention, and I hurriedly step aside and uttered, “Excuse me”. As she went past me, I saw her shook her head. Perhaps she’s frustrated that this place was full of idiots like me. Or maybe, just maybe, she had not heard the word “excuse me” for a while.

Yep, I was in Los Angeles alright.