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Bo’s Coffee in Island Central Mactan: Digital Nomad Cebu Hotspot

The latest Cebu branch of the Philippine coffee chain is a cozy two-storey location in a new mall in Lapu-Lapu City- the Island Central Mactan. We went there when it…

The latest Cebu branch of the Philippine coffee chain is a cozy two-storey location in a new mall in Lapu-Lapu City- the Island Central Mactan. We went there when it was newly-opened and so it wasn’t as crowded as most coffee shops are in the city.

On the ground floor of Bo’s Coffee in Island Central Mactan is a long and high table that can be a good place to work on, especially for a group of friends or colleagues. It has a number of power outlets that should be enough to handle several laptops and other gadgets.

Bo's Coffee Island Central Mactan

BO’S COFFEE ISLAND CENTRAL MACTAN. This branch is open from 6 a.m. until midnight.

Ample power outlets

There are a few more tables on the ground floor as well as outside the cafe. Both the ground and second floors have ample power outlets. While not all tables have sockets, there are more than what is available in your average cafe.

The visually appealing industrial finish of the ceiling, however, turns the 2nd floor into an echo chamber that can be quite distracting when you work. Voices and laughter are amplified. Whenever the barista pounds on the filter of the coffee machine to clean it, you’d think someone was operating a jackhammer. Still, the noise can be cancelled out by a decent headphone playing Vivaldi close to the maximum volume.

Bo’s Coffee Island Central Mactan

ECHO CHAMBER. Noise is amplified on the 2nd floor and could be quite distracting if you’re working on something.

Average WiFi connection

The coffee shop’s free WiFi connection is about average – repeated Speedtest checks logged download speeds of about 2 Mbps and upload speeds of .253 Mbps. The area, however, has good Smart LTE coverage and you’re better off using an LTE device or your phone as portable hotspot.

The cafe has enough parking spaces since it is located in a mall. Island Central’s basement parking, however, is still undergoing works and can be difficult and tight to maneuver.

The coffee shop opens daily at 6 a.m. and closes at midnight.

Your other options in the immediate area are the nearby Starbucks in Marina Mall, Coffee Way a little farther away and the Uke Hub Cafe, which has been generating quite a buzz (we’ll write about it in a future post). Nothing outstanding will make you choose this coffee shop over the nearby locations. Of the coffee shops in the vicinity, however, Coffee Way stands out for being open beyond midnight.

Bo’s Coffee Island Central Mactan

POWER OUTLETS. While not all tables have power outlets, there are more than what is available in your average cafe.

BO’S COFFEE ISLAND CENTRAL MACTAN
DIGITAL NOMAD HOTSPOT RATING: 8.14 out of 10

Connectivity: 7
The cafe’s free Wi-Fi connection offers average to below average speeds. The area, however, has strong Smart LTE signal.

Power source: 8.5
The cafe has ample power outlets for its users.

Work ambience: 8
Second floor can be noisy

Coffee: 8.5

Food: 8.5

Parking: 8.5

CR: 8
It doesn’t have its own CR. You can use the mall’s CR, which are, as of this writing, clean and well-maintained.

(Are you a digital nomad? Have you worked here? Share your experience in a comment below.)

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Have app, will order turkey rice

I had my first taste of Taiwanese milk tea at a shop in a train station on our way to the remote township of Alishan. My wife and I headed…

I had my first taste of Taiwanese milk tea at a shop in a train station on our way to the remote township of Alishan. My wife and I headed straight to the station from the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to catch the train to Chiayi in time for the last bus to Alishan.

We had time for snacks since the train was still several minutes away and proceeded to check out the food stalls at the station. There were no English signs. Unlike other destinations, English isn’t as widely used in Taiwan, whether written or spoken.

It was then that we used the Google Translate app that we downloaded prior to our trip.

The app translates in real-time and via phone camera text such as those you find in billboards, menus, and other documents. Real-time translation works in several languages, including Chinese. Apart from real-time translation, you can also choose to take a photo of the sign or document and highlight the text you want translated.

Google Translate app

REAL-TIME TRANSLATION. Reading instructions at a bus terminal using the Google Translate app.

Real-time translation

We used it to understand the signs on the different shops in that train station in Taipei. We confirmed that what looked to be pesto bread indeed was. We also used it to choose from the different varieties of milk tea sold in one shop of the station that was manned by a young shopkeeper who barely knew a word in English. In real time, Google Translate unmasked the Chinese characters in the menu of teas: honey plum, pearl pudding, vermicelli.

We then typed “less sugar” in the app and flashed its automated Chinese translation to the shopkeeper. He nodded in understanding and said “3?” We were puzzled at first until we realized they had a numeric scale for the sweetness of drinks.

Machine translation via web interfaces isn’t new. Among the first was the now defunct Babel fish by AltaVista, which is also now defunct. The initial attempts at automated machine translation were inaccurate and even outright funny. There’s a sign for what is apparently a toilet for persons with disabilities with an English translation of “special for deformed.”

But what really stuck on my mind was a restaurant banner that I found in Hong Kong that listed its menu. Below a photo of a delicious-looking chicken dish was the phrase “saliva chicken.” I wasn’t using Google Translate then so I wasn’t able to confirm the translation at that time. I had half a mind to go local and go inside to try it. I chickened out. I later learned that the closer translation should have been “mouth-watering chicken,” a famous Sichuan dish.

Google Translate

MILK TEA. There were only a few words in English in the food stalls in the train station on our way to Chiayi City in Taiwan.

Google Translate on mobile

In our Taiwan trip, Google Translate was of great help fathoming the signs all around us. We used it to check and double check bus schedules and directions. It wasn’t totally accurate, often you have to figure out the bits and pieces of words and phrases, but it was good enough to get by.

Dr. Raymund Bontol used it in a recent family trip to Japan and found it indispensable. He also uses it for online shopping in sites without English translations. And in an ultimate vote of confidence, Bontol also uses it to communicate with Korean patients.

Google Translate

REAL TIME. The app deciphered in real time our milk tea options.

What makes Google Translate very useful is that it’s mobile. Its Android and iOS apps aren’t pared down version of the website service – these are actually more powerful iterations with its mobility and capability to use the camera. If you download the available language packs, translations are faster and can be done even without an internet connection.

When we were in Chiayi waiting for the train back to Taipei, we had some time for lunch. We decided to look for a specialty of the region: turkey rice. Google Maps took us in a circuitous route to nowhere and, in exasperation, we finally stopped at a non-descript eatery near the station. There was a huge turkey in front of the counter. As with many Chinese restaurants abroad, you order by filling up a slip. By scanning the slip and then double-checking by asking the person at the counter, we managed to get our bowls of turkey rice.

Peek into the future

While useful right now, Google Translate offers a peek at a future of instant machine translation. Google says the app can do spoken translation. I haven’t tried it yet.

It would have been useful in Ximending when I ordered for breakfast a wrap of vegetables and some meat from a street stall. The woman preparing the dish asked me a question in rapid Chinese. The only word I caught was “chicken.”

“Yes, chicken,” I told her.

“Ah, chicken,” she said, “kruk kuk kuk kuk kuk.”

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How to get to Alishan in Taiwan

There is a wide range of options for getting to the Alishan National Scenic Area in Taiwan. The first step will be to get to Chiayi City in the southwest…

There is a wide range of options for getting to the Alishan National Scenic Area in Taiwan.

The first step will be to get to Chiayi City in the southwest from wherever you are in Taiwan. This provincial city is the base of public transport services that ply the Alishan route.

Do take note that while it is easy enough to get to Chiayi City, the journey onwards to Alishan has scheduling limitations.

Taiwan gateways

International travelers make their way to Taiwan through two gateways: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in the north and Kaohsiung International Airport in the south.

The airport in Kaohsiung is nearer Chiayi and is the better pick for those who have this option. We entered Taiwan through the airport in Taoyuan because there are no direct flights from Mactan, Cebu to Kaohsiung.

Philippine AirAsia Cebu-Taipei

OFF TO TAIWAN. Philippines AirAsia flies the Cebu-Taipei direct route thrice weekly.

AirAsia Cebu-Taipei flights

We took advantage of the thrice weekly Cebu-Taipei flights that Philippines AirAsia launched in the later part of 2016. The good thing about AirAsia’s flight schedule was that it left Cebu at 6:10 am and arrived 30 minutes ahead of the arrival time of 9:10 a.m. Our early arrival gave us time to pick the slower regular train and still make it to the last bus schedule for Alishan from Chiayi.

It took us over six hours to make our way to Alishan from the Taoyuan airport using the regular train. The bus from the airport to the Taoyuan train station took 30 minutes. Train from Taoyuan to Chiayi was about 3 hours and the bus to Alishan took another 3 hours.

Alishan’s spectacular sunrise and sunset and well-preserved nature park more than made up for long journey.

Alishan Taiwan train

TRAVEL IN COMFORT. You ride a cruise-style train with seat-assigned tickets. If there are no more seats, you will be informed by the ticket counter so you can pick another schedule. Traveling on one isn’t a pain because the seats are comfortable and plush, have wide legroom, and can be reclined in case you want to sleep. In the photo is a bento snack, which others recommend you try. It was good, not really exceptional.

Regular train

Using a combination of bus and regular (express, mountain line) train, Chiayi is just about an hour and a half from Kaohsiung airport and three hours and a half away from Taoyuan airport. Train (express, mountain line) fare to Chiayi is NTD245 from the Kaohsiung and NTD532 from Taoyuan stations.

This is cruise-style train with seat-assigned tickets. Traveling on one isn’t a pain because the seats are comfortable and plush, have wide legroom, and can be reclined in case you want to sleep. If there are no seats available on the train schedule you want, they will inform you at the ticket counter so you can pick another time.

If you are very sure of your travel timetable, you can book tickets at the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) website. One advantage of taking the regular train is that the station for Alishan buses is just right outside.

If you’re starting from the Taoyuan airport, there is a shuttle bus that leaves for the Taoyuan train station from the airport at regular intervals. Bus fare is around NTD30.

Alishan Taiwan Chiayi City

The train stops at the Chiayi City station.

High speed rail

An alternative to the regular train is the high speed rail, which cuts travel time to Chiayi by two-thirds. The fare, or course, is more expensive: around NTD400 from Zouying station in Kaohsiung and around NTD900 from Taoyuan station in Taoyuan City.

Booking your tickets early can get you as much as 35 percent off on the fare. Early bird discounts are given on tickets booked from 5 to 28 days before the use date.

The Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) is quicker but you still have to hop on a bus or take a cab from the Chiayi railway station to the Chiayi TRA station. The distance is about a 30-minute bus ride.

Buses that ply the Alishan route start their journey from a small station just outside the Chiayi stop of the TRA train.

TERMINAL. The terminal at Chiayi for buses heading to Alishan. Those older folks will try to have you take their vans, just decline them.

Getting to Alishan

Visitors have three options in getting to Alishan from Chiayi: combination of forest train and bus, bus only, and cab.

Forest train to Fenqihu

Of all three, the forest train is a highly recommended mode of transport. The Alishan train is comfortable and offers scenic views of Chiayi County but it makes only one trip daily on weekdays and twice on weekends and holidays to Alishan. The train leaves Chiayi at 9 a.m. and arrives in Fenqihu at 11:20 a.m. The tickets get sold out early so book in advance.

Alishan

TOLL GATE. This is where you pay the entrance fee for Alishan National Scenic Area.

Fenqihu to Alishan

From Fenqihu, you will need to take a bus to the Alishan National Scenic Area. Since the train arrives at 11:10 am on weekdays and 12:20 pm on weekends and holidays, people who take the forest train to Alishan get a few hours to explore Fenqihu before the 2:40 pm bus to the mountain resort arrives.

If you want to leave earlier than 2:40 p.m., get on the bus Shizhao, which is 20 minutes from Fenqihu, and change to the one for Alishan.

Direct bus to Alishan

If you can’t make it to the early train to Fenqihu, there are direct buses from Chiayi to Alishan. The first and last trips from Chiayi happen at 6:10 am and 2:10 pm. Fare is NTD230 for adults and NTD115 for children.

At the bus station outside of the Chiayi train stop, a few elderly women will try to talk you into taking a van for Alishan. Outside of the forest train, the bus is the next best transport to the mountain resort. If, however, you fail to make it to the last trip at 2:10 pm, they definitely would come in handy.

Chiayi to Alishan

Chiayi train station.

Cab to Alishan

A cab from Chiayi to Alishan is another option for travellers. It costs around NTD2,000-2,500 for a maximum of four persons travelling together.

Entrance fee

Shortly before reaching the Alishan National Scenic Area, the bus stops at a toll gate where passengers are asked to disembark and pay the NTD150 entrance fee to the park.

Alsihan in Taiwan

YOU’VE ARRIVED. Chiayi to Alishan buses park and drop off passengers in front of this 7-11 outlet in the township center. This is also where you buy bus tickets on your way back to Chiayi.

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Taipei trip highlights culture, food, nature

She beckoned to us from the shadows cast by the sculpted posts filled with symbolism the meaning of which now escapes me, there in that structure that represented religion in…

She beckoned to us from the shadows cast by the sculpted posts filled with symbolism the meaning of which now escapes me, there in that structure that represented religion in Taiwan.

“Come, come. I want to introduce you to some gods.” Or at least that is what I heard local guide Jane Fan told our group from Cebu that joined the AirAsia Taiwan trip amid the babel of languages that merged with worship sounds within the Longshan Temple in Taipei.

This religious structure in Taipei City’s Wanhua District is a rarity in that it is used by Tao and Buddhism followers, a fact that Jane shared with our small crew of mostly first-timers in Taiwan.

Amie Tea House Taiwan

AMIE TEA HOUSE. The restaurant it up as dark clouds and fog rolled into the old gold mining town.

Caught between the desire to linger in some areas and follow Jane’s pace, I did manage to catch some snippets of information about Longshan Temple in particular and worship in general in Taiwan.

Longshan Temple worship

In temples, you have to enter through the dragon path and exit through the tiger path. If you want to know why, I unfortunately missed that part. When you go up the temple steps, you have to do so with body bowed as a form of respect.

I lost count of how many deities are worshipped in Longshan but I learned there are halls or altars to the sea goddess Matsu, the gods of literature and war, matchmaking god, god of childbirth (with its hall filled with flower offerings), and the main temple goddess of mercy and compassion Guanyin.

Presidential Office Building

The Presidential Office Building. There are only a few days a year when they open the Presidential Office Building to the public.

From our guide, I also found out that when Buddhism made its way from India to China during the Han Dynasty in the third century, Guanyin was male but the Han Chinese made her female because they believed this was more in keeping with the attributes of mercy and compassion.

The Taiwanese are descendants of the Han Chinese who followed Chiang Kai-shek when he retreated to Taiwan following the defeat of his Nationalist’s party by the Communist Party of China in 1949.

Jiufen Taiwan

JIUFEN. Formerly a gold mining district located in a mountainous area of the Ruifang District in New Taipei City, Jiufen was once a prosperous and booming town that earned for it the nickname “Little Hongkong.” That was during the discovery of gold in the area during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the late 1800’s.

AirAsia Cebu-Taipei flight

Our trip was brief but we managed to go to as many places as humanly possible, thanks to our guide and to the early AirAsia Cebu-Taipei flight schedule.

We left Cebu at 6:10 a.m. of November 25, 2016 on the Philippines AirAsia inaugural flight and arrived at the Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan 25 minutes ahead of schedule. That trip marked the start of AirAsia’s thrice weekly flights to Taipei from Cebu.

Arriving before 9 a.m. in Taiwan gave us almost a whole first day devoted to exploring the place that the Portuguese once named Formosa or “beautiful island.”

Golden Waterfall, Taiwan

The Golden Waterfall, where the mixture of rainfall and heavy metal elements in the riverbed lend it a yellowish sheen. It was more dull copper during our visit and may be golden some other times.

Taipei attractions

Before Longshan Temple, we checked out the Presidential Office Building from a vantage point across the street and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall built in honor of Taiwan’s first president.

Since there are only a few days a year when they open the Presidential Office Building to the public, we have to be content with admiring from afar this sprawling Baroque structure that, for all its western influence, seems fittingly at home in Chinese Taipei.

Travel is never complete without shopping or food so off we went to the Ximending Commercial District that reminded me somewhat of Cebu City’s Colon Street sans all the dirt and pickpockets.

What can I tell you about Ximending? It is long stretches of parallel and intersecting streets lined on both sides with small and big stalls, two-level stores, and malls selling everything from fruits and food to electronics and fashion retail of local and top brands. Some streets or at least the one I’ve walked on are cobbled and filled to the brim with shoppers, tourists, ambulant vendors, and the occasional stray vehicle.

Longshan Temple, Taiwan

LONGSHAN TEMPLE. Our group from Cebu at the entrance to Longshan Temple, a rarity since it is used by both Tao and Buddhism followers, our guide told us.

Taiwan eats

It was on a Ximending street where I had my first official encounter of the popular local delicacy stinky tofu. A pungent odor a mile away preceded this introduction and it was probably a good thing that we didn’t carry through with our dare to eat some and document our daring on Facebook Live no less.

First day lunch was at the highly acclaimed and original branch of the xiao long bao restaurant chain Din Tai Fung in Taipei. It only took us 40 minutes to get a table and we used the time wisely to get some milk tea from 50 Lan, reportedly one of the best sources of the drinks in the city.

Jane tried to provide as much variation in dining as she can in two days and brought us for dinner to a cavernous restaurant with its bizarre architecture and artwork. Artist Hsieh Li-shiang is the person behind the Five Cent Driftwood House concept.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Taiwan

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was built in honor of Taiwan’s first president.

Jiufen attractions

The second day of our trip was spent food tasting in Jiufen. Formerly a gold mining district located in a mountainous area of the Ruifang District in New Taipei City, Jiufen was once a prosperous and booming town that earned for it the nickname “Little Hongkong.” That was during the discovery of gold in the area during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the late 1800’s.

Today, the town is a maze of alleyways filled to the brim with shops and tourists. Local merchants sell food, souvenirs, clothes, bags, and whatnots.

Din Tai Fung Taiwan

DIN TAI FUNG. It took us 40 minutes to get a table at the original branch of this xiao long bao restaurant chain.

Food stalls usually have sample of their products in containers for tasting. Our guide had to caution us not to eat too much from the free samples as we were headed to lunch.

Despite Jane’s admonition, I was tempted to try out several items. My favorite food in Jiufen was the peanut and ice cream roll, which was a combination of two scoops of ice cream on a bed of grated peanut brittle that was garnished with coriander before being wrapped inside a spring roll. Heavenly!

xiao long bao

Xiao long bao in Din Tai Fung.

Skyline Tea House

Second day side trips include ones made to the Nanya Rock Formation, Bitou Cape, and Golden Waterfall where the mixture of rainfall and heavy metal elements in the riverbed lend it a yellowish sheen. It was more dull copper during our visit and may be golden some other times.

For lunch, we skipped the more popular Amie Tea House and took ours at the Skyline Tea House. We had a ready table so we didn’t have to wait.

From our perch, we had this unobstructed view of Amie and witnessed the restaurant light up as dark clouds and fog rolled into the old gold mining town. The pictures turned out perfectly, too.

50 Lan Taiwan

50 LAN. We were told that this shop serves one of the best milk teas in Taiwan.

Taipei 101

Our last big stop was Taipei 101 or the Taipei World Financial Center because one simply doesn’t miss out on this iconic skyscraper in the heart of the city.

I listened to my ears pop as we rode the pressurized elevator from the 5th floor to the Indoor Observatory at the 87th floor in a matter of 40 plus seconds. They dim the elevator so you can look up as constellations form out and shooting stars streak across the make-believe sky on the elevator ceiling.

There is so much to love in Taiwan and one visit is simply not enough. And that is why I’m returning this January on a Philippines AirAsia flight to Taipei. This time around, I intend to take my time.

Chiang Kai-shek replica

FIRST PRESIDENT. A wax replica of Chiang Kai-shek, Taiwan’s first president.

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Online shopping? There’s an app for that!

(Note: This story is also published on Cebu Daily News in its InfoTech section) With the holidays and the bonuses and extra pay that come with it just weeks away,…

(Note: This story is also published on Cebu Daily News in its InfoTech section)

With the holidays and the bonuses and extra pay that come with it just weeks away, people are bracing for and eagerly awaiting Christmas shopping. Malls are starting to get packed and traffic, especially around shopping centers, has turned for the worse.

Buying online isn’t only more convenient, it often is cheaper. With online retailers not needing to spend huge amounts of money to set up physical stores, they are able to offer items at prices way below what are available in brick-and-mortar shops. As an example, I got a genuine Sony Smartwatch 3 Android Wear watch for about P4,000 less than what it was selling for in the official shop here in Cebu.

There are shops like Lazada that allow you to pay on delivery. When this is available as an option, I’d choose this. But other sites and sellers, even those offering items in Lazada, do not allow COD and require payments upfront.

Convenient way to pay online

For these sites and vendors, you will need a credit or debit card. If you don’t have one, there’s a convenient way to pay online without applying for a card: install the PayMaya app. Even if you already have a card, PayMaya still offers a more convenient way to pay.

Opening an account is easy. You just download PayMaya from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store and set up your account, which is linked to your phone number. You will then have a virtual card that you can use to pay for purchases in all sites that accept Visa. You can also buy a physical PayMaya card for P150 that you can then use in stores.

PayMaya

PAYMENT CONVENIENCE. Whether shopping online or spending during travels, PayMaya offers a convenient solution.

Easy to load cash

Loading your card is just as convenient, you can do it in 7-11. To load cash, you just enter the phone number linked to your PayMaya account in the store’s Cliq machine, indicate the amount of money you want to load and then pay at the cashier. Other places where you can load up your PayMaya are Ministop via the Touchpay kiosk, Robinsons Department Store, BDO, Smart Money, and Smart Padala.

My wife and I have been using PayMaya for several months now and find it a more convenient way to pay for purchases and bills. Our arrangement is for her to use her PayMaya account for household expenses while I use mine for business-related spending like website hosting and other digital services.

Here’s why PayMaya works for us:

1) Easy loading of cash. With the ability to load in 7-11 stores, PayMaya makes it accessible and convenient for its users to add cash to their accounts. Except for a stretch of a few days some weeks back when 7-11 stores were often offline, our experience has been hassle-free.

2) Deals and promos. It’s cheaper to load phone credits on PayMaya. To load P500, for example, you only need to pay P477.50. It’s also easy to send the load to any account because the app is connected to your phonebook: you just choose an amount or package and then pick the phonebook contact and the load is sent to him or her.

PayMaya also offers exclusive promos like the one it is currently running with Uber: first-time Uber riders in Cebu will get P150 off in each of their first two rides if they use PayMaya and the promo code: PAYMAYACEBU.

3) App convenience. Since transactions are done on the app, it’s more convenient to manage and use. The PayMaya app, for example, provides a record of your purchases that is accessible at any time. This helps in verification and in guilt-tripping to cut down your spending.

4) Utility bills payment. Billers are starting to accept payment through PayMaya. In our case, for example, we now pay PLDT through the app and not have to line up either at its crowded office in Mactan or in an authorized payment center in any of the also-crowded malls in the metro. The company said it was looking to add more billers.

5) Travel convenience. You can save up ahead for your travel expense, load it on the card and then use it to pay when you are on your trip. When you pay using a debit card like PayMaya, you already settle the intricacies of currency conversion and know how much you will actually end up paying in Philippine pesos. (See related story: My PayMaya experience: Sticking to a budget in Hong Kong)

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Oppo introduces F1s “selfie expert” in Cebu

The Oppo F1s is a mid-level phone but with features of high-end devices, brand marketing manager Stephen Cheng said during a media preview Tuesday night in Cebu. Cheng said the…

The Oppo F1s is a mid-level phone but with features of high-end devices, brand marketing manager Stephen Cheng said during a media preview Tuesday night in Cebu.

Cheng said the F1s “has high-end specs and high-end feel for a good price.”

What sets the Oppo F1s apart is the exceptional quality of its front camera for selfies – 16 megapixels with a large 1/3.1-inch sensor and f/2.0 aperture. It is because of the high-quality front camera that Oppo markets the F1s as the “selfie expert.”

Oppo F1s Cebu

Oppo regional director of sales Hardy Yan (left) and brand marketing manager Stephen Cheng show off the F1s during a media preview in Cebu.

Oppo F1s features, specs

Apart from the formidable camera, the Oppo F1s ships with a Beautify app, built-in photo filters, screen flash and palm shutter and voice shot. The Beautify app “uses facial data from millions of users to capture their very best looks. Blemish reduction has been refined to ensure beautiful, natural-looking shots that are eye-catching for all the right reasons.”

The phone also has the ability to take a selfie panorama just by rotating the device from side to side.

The phone’s rear camera is 13 megapixels with a 1/3.06-inch sensor “that allows the F1s to maximize light sensitivity, making for wonderful nighttime performance.”

Oppo said there was such a robust demand for the unit that two days after it was made available in August in Philippine stores, 19,000 units were sold all over the country. The phone retails for P12,990.

The F1s has an octa-core processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of built-in memory with an expansion slot for a memory card of up to 128GB. It is a dual-SIM phone with both slots having LTE capability. The F1s comes with a 3075 mAH non-removable battery to power the device for an entire day of use. The 5.5-inch phone comes with a Corning Glass display in a sleek design.

Oppo F1s Cebu

POWER SELFIE. With a 16-megapixel front camera that has a large 1/3.1-inch sensor and f/2.0 aperture, the F1s is a “selfie expert.”

Fingerprint scanner

The F1s runs ColorOS, which is based on Android.

A key feature of the phone is its fingerprint scanner, which is “snappy and accurate.” The sensor unlocks the device in 0.22 seconds, which the company said is the fastest in the market. You can also assign each of your 5 fingers to quickly launch different apps or contacts.

Cheng credits the quality of their devices like the F1s for making them the no. 2 smartphone brand in the Philippines just two years after they started selling in the country.

“Market research company GfK’s latest survey showed that OPPO increased its market share from 3.2 percent in July 2015 to 8.6 percent in July 2016, more than double its share from last year. The smartphone brand also rose from third spot in June 2016 at 8.5 percent, to second last July,” the company said in a statement.

Oppo F1s Cebu

POWERFUL DEVICE. The Oppo F1s has an octa-core processor with 3GB of RAM and 32GB of built-in memory with an expansion slot for a memory card of up to 128GB.

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With bots, chat is more than idle talk

“Hey, Jarvis,” I sent a message to the eponymous Facebook Messenger chat bot, “remind me to reply to Cass’ email in 30 minutes.” The reply came as quickly as the…

“Hey, Jarvis,” I sent a message to the eponymous Facebook Messenger chat bot, “remind me to reply to Cass’ email in 30 minutes.”

MaxBlog The reply came as quickly as the Facebook pop to notify you of an incoming chat message. “Okay, I’ll remind you to reply to Cass’s email at 10:24 PM on Monday, September 19.”

With robotic precision, the chat reminder came on the dot. And since it was via Facebook, it set up a klaxon of alerts and notifications in all my connected devices: phones, tablet, laptop, and watch.

Jarvis at hellojarvis.io, is an example of a chat bot, a conversational system built on chat, artificial intelligence, and data. What Jarvis does is remind you of things. Think of him as that butler (but who has a butler?), friend or sibling you always ask to call you up to either wake you up or remind you of something you needed to do. Only Jarvis never forgets and never gets too drunk to send that important reminder.

Hello Jarvis chatbot

CHAT BUTLER. Jarvis reminds you of things that you ask him to keep track of.

Messaging apps now bigger than social networks

Today, there are thousands of chat bots that do a variety of tasks, from keeping track of your expenses and income to being updated with the latest news. There’s even a chatbot for Selena Gomez that provides fans information about the actress and tells them “I love you” back.

Think of it this way: getting information by browsing a web page is like being handed a stack of folders that you have to riffle through to extract the data you need. Getting information via chat bots, on the other hand, is akin to asking a butler to do it for you. This butler goes through that stack of folders and provides you the answers you need, when you need it and, soon, where.

Messaging apps are now bigger than social networks, according to research by the Business Insider. People spend more time on the big four messaging apps than on the big four social networks.

Market dominance of messaging apps vary by country. In the Philippines, however, Facebook Messenger dominates with 94% share of chat users. An eMarketer report using SimilarWeb data placed the Philippines as top in Facebook Messenger use at 58.9% of active users with 17 minutes and 22 seconds in daily usage.

CONNECTED. Since bots operate on the Facebook Messenger platform, alerts and messages are ubiquitous, including in connected smart watches, which works well for reminders like this one.

CONNECTED. Since bots operate on the Facebook Messenger platform, alerts and messages are ubiquitous, including in connected smart watches, which works well for reminders like this one.

Adoption exponential

Adoption of the network is exponential. It was only in April that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg launched their platform saying, “We think you should message a business just the way you would message a friend.”

The idea is called “conversational commerce.” You get information about a product or service through Facebook chat and then pay for it in the service itself. Last week, Facebook announced they have started accepting payments through chat with select US partners. This will then be rolled out globally.

Chatbot CNN

GLOBAL NEWS. CNN sends a daily summary of top stories that allow you to get updated of global news. You can either read the summary in the chat or view the full article.

Already, technology giants Oracle and Google have announced their own platforms or the purchase of one – signal of a massive technology shift.

In Cebu, companies like TekWorx, which does ad optimizations for firms, rely on a bot system to streamline their workflow and alert on work progress. Theirs is built on Slack, a messaging system for work. Ever since using it, owner Bert Padilla said, it has become easier to manage projects.

Chatbot guide

LOCAL NEWS, GUIDE. Apart from delivering local news, you can also use chat bots as guide to places. Here, it answers a common question for Cebu visitors.

Early days for bots

Our digital media startup deployed two chatbots, one for a resort in Mactan and another for an Asian telco gathering in Lapu-Lapu City. The bots are so effective – handling more than a hundred messages a day and generating more than a thousand room signups since deployment – that majority of users think they are actually talking to a person.

For bots, these are just early days. More powerful systems and capabilities are being developed and will be deployed soon.

But for now, there’s Jarvis. On Monday night he reminded me to put the beef soup inside the refrigerator before I sleep so that it won’t spoil.

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My PayMaya experience: Sticking to a budget in Hong Kong

Luck had me traveling to Hong Kong twice this year, one for a trip long planned since last year, the other for a complimentary hotel stay that had to be…

Luck had me traveling to Hong Kong twice this year, one for a trip long planned since last year, the other for a complimentary hotel stay that had to be availed of by May.

onthego-icon Foreign trips cost money and I was traveling with women friends in a shopping mecca that is Hong Kong. For that second trip last June, I realized I needed to carefully watch how much I spend.

It wasn’t easy but I managed to create a budget and stick to it, thanks in large part to my PayMaya Visa app and card. The PayMaya app, which comes with a Visa card, is a prepaid digital payment solution created by PayMaya Philippines, Inc. – the digital financial unit of PLDT and Smart Communications, Inc.

Even before our trip, my PayMaya Visa app solved problems over how to pay for our AirBNB accommodations. Our apartment in the heart of Mong Kok was affordable but we ran up quite a total since our stay was for five nights. It would be an imposition to charge the whole amount to any of our credit cards so we each paid for our share and I deposited the amount in my PayMaya account and used it to pay for our stay.

PayMaya purchases

In Hong Kong, using PayMaya was easy breezy. I deposited my shopping budget for this trip in my PayMaya account and used my card to keep track of purchases. The PayMaya app gave me a real-time tally complete with the total cost in Hong Kong dollars and equivalent amount in Philippine peso plus my remaining balance.

One good thing about using PayMaya was that it pegged the conversion at the prevailing exchange rate of the Hong Kong dollar against the Philippine peso for that particular period.

Almost all establishments in Hong Kong, from convenience stores like 7-Eleven and souvenir stalls even in faraway Ngong Ping Village in Hong Kong’s Lantau Island to big retail outlets in malls, accept credit cards and PayMaya as well, since it is set up like one. The only difference is you need to have money in your PayMaya account to pay for your purchases and not rack up credit.

Some shops even recognize my PayMaya Visa card for the prepaid payment facility that it is. While many required my signature on the receipt, a few like the Starbucks at the check-in area of Hong Kong International Airport’s Terminal 2 didn’t see the need for it.

PayMaya travel

TRAVEL WITH PAYMAYA. Using the PayMaya app and card, I was able to create a travel budget and stick to it in a recent trip with friends to Hong Kong.

Payment notifications

I started using my PayMaya in February this year and loved the convenience of topping up through the Cliq machine at 7-Eleven. I input my mobile number and load amount at the machine and out comes a slip of paper that the cashier can scan. Immediately after paying, I get notification through SMS that a particular amount has been loaded to my PayMaya account. The whole process takes from 1 to 5 minutes depending on the line at the counter.

In Cebu and the rest of the Philippines, I’m also notified by SMS every time I make a purchase of my remaining balance since my PayMaya account is tied to my mobile number.

If I had set my phone to roaming in Hong Kong, I would have gotten the same text messages. Since I didn’t, I just access this information by logging on to my PayMaya app.

As someone who belongs to a digital publishing startup that can work anywhere from co-working spaces to cafes and coffee shops, my PayMaya has also become a convenient way to track daily personal and work-related expenses.

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Picture this: Disintermediation

Last week, members of iconic Pinoy band Eraserheads reunited, the first in a long time, for a concert. The occasion was the unveiling of the new logos of PLDT and…

Last week, members of iconic Pinoy band Eraserheads reunited, the first in a long time, for a concert. The occasion was the unveiling of the new logos of PLDT and Smart. Save for company employees, the event was all hush-hush. The press contact who invited me only said I was going to a “confidential” event.

MaxBlog After the new logos were unveiled, the stage went dark and the screen counted down 10 minutes. Technicians worked on instruments and wirings, building up buzz and excitement. When the Eraserheads members were finally introduced, people in the room went wild.

And then it happened, people started broadcasting the performance live to their friends and social media contacts.

Old media

In the media environment of old, people would know about the performance in the next day’s newscast through a one-minute or so news report with a clip of a few seconds that shows them performing their biggest hits, probably “Pare ko” or “Huling El Bimbo.” This assumes that the newsroom deems their reunion newsworthy in the context of that day’s events. Bad luck if Manny Pacquiao gets caught with a mistress on the same day.

On print, we’d learn about it 2 days after, at the earliest, in the newspapers’ lifestyle section.

Eraserheads concert

PEOPLE broadcast via Facebook Live the performance by the Eraserheads during the unveiling of the new PLDT and Smart logo.

Last week, however, people who had in their social circles persons who attended the launch were able to join the performance via Facebook Live. I saw about 10 people broadcasting the event live. I was one of them and several friends and online contacts were able to view the concert via my FB Live stream. One who was apparently an E-heads fanatic was profuse in his thanks for the livestream.

From medium to platform

It’s a picture of disintermediation in an era where platforms like Facebook have largely supplanted traditional media in certain information needs. We now learn and keep track of breaking news on Twitter and Facebook. Yes, many of the stories are produced by mainstream media organizations but we read and watch the news not on their sites but on the social media platforms that we spend most of our time on every day.

Artificial intelligence, bots and internet of things will automate more of the traditional news gathering and writing processes. Already, platforms like Automated Insights produce near flawless bot reporting in areas like sports and business. Even more astounding, they turned it into a platform anyone can use or plug into. In the future, this will be used to write customized stories to help us make sense of data. Imagine a bot in the cloud compiling all your health data and test results and writing you a prognosis and a fitness plan, which are then reviewed by your doctor.

Will there be no room for traditional media as we know it then? Far from it. As the amount of information explodes, we need people to help us uncover the signal from the noise. We need people to provide context or background information. That is an important role organizations like mainstream media can perform. That is also a role that demands more skills and training for journalists.

Context, background info, analyses

In the Eraserheads reunion, for example, we needed to find context and background info elsewhere. They said they will be performing more gigs (how many more and where?). What has changed through the years? Why are they performing together again? This info you might be able to get from mainstream media, if anybody pursued it, or from the band itself, had they provided the information on a social media page.

Unfortunately for media organizations, however, is that advertising has also shifted to platforms like Facebook. It now makes more sense for companies to directly connect with potential customers on internet platforms like Facebook and Google rather than go through media, whether traditional or new. Facebook and Google offer companies a way to accurately target specific market demographics for marketing campaigns, measure the impact and, because they have global scale, offer such low prices compared to ad rates of traditional publications. In fact, advertisers are already “over-indexed” on legacy media like newspapers.

It’s a bleak picture for mainstream media companies. But for individual journalists, it couldn’t be better. Risks have escalated of journalists losing their jobs but there is good news elsewhere. There are now opportunities to launch smaller and niche media brands as well as journalism startups. Platforms like Facebook offer media tools like Instant Articles to any organization, from bloggers to small news sites to bigger media startups, allowing virtually anyone to improve the reading experience on mobile. Companies have also realized the need to produce their own content for digital marketing, making writers and editors much more in-demand in the marketplace.

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Authentic Spanish tapas, best cocktails at Dumaguete’s Allegre

Being one of the many hangouts that dot the long stretch of Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete City, the Spanish tapas bar Allegre is an easy a spot to overlook. If…

onthego-icon Being one of the many hangouts that dot the long stretch of Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete City, the Spanish tapas bar Allegre is an easy a spot to overlook.

If we hadn’t gotten that invitation to try it out on our last night there, we would have missed the authentic Spanish dishes and great cocktails that draw a regular crowd to this charming tapas bar even on weekdays.

Allegre‘s patrons are of the old Spanish and Chinese families in Dumaguete and from as far as Bais City, said manager Xenia Fabe, adding that they also get the occasional local and foreign tourists.

The establishment filled up quite early on during our visit with the regular patrons and it was quite interesting to hear them chat animatedly in Spanish.

Allegre Spanish tapas bar Dumaguete City

SPANISH TAPAS served in Allegre, a bar on the scenic Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete City.

Allegre menu

Fabe, who manages the bistro, prepared a lineup of their bestsellers for the InnoPub Media team to check out. These included such Spanish favorites as paella valenciana, croquetas, chickpeas and chorizo, boquerones, tenderloin tips, and callos.

After tasting dish after dish, we couldn’t decide on a favorite as they were all delectable. Servings fall within the P100-P200 range and are quite affordable. According to Fabe, Allegre’s two cooks used to work for the Spanish families in Negros where they learned how to prepare dishes of authentic Spanish flavors.

Paella Valenciana Allegre Dumaguete City

Paella Valenciana.

When it comes to cocktails, Allegre has a triumvirate of bestsellers in the frozen margarita, calamansi mojito, and sangria.

For a fairly new establishment, Allegre has received quite a lot of positive feedback. The bistro started operations only on November 11, 2015.

Allegre cocktails

COCKTAILS. Allegre bestsellers frozen margarita, calamansi mojito, and sangria.

Fun vibe

Fabe said Angelique Lhuillier Miranda, the owner, picked Allegre because it connotes happy, fun, and positive vibes and the quaint resto has lived up to its name.

Miranda also owns the La Bella franchise along the same block but Allegre is a homegrown restobar serving Spanish tapas and drinks, probably the first of its kind in the city.

Boquerones Allegre Dumaguete City

Boquerones.

“Most of our clients are well travelled and they love Allegre because it reminds them of the small pubs in Europe. The more crowded it is, the happier they are,” she added.

When in the resto, don’t ask for the wi-fi password because it doesn’t have wi-fi connectivity. You have to put your phone down and enjoy the Spanish appetizers or snacks paired with wine and cocktails in one of the best spots in Dumaguete that is the Rizal Boulevard.

Allegre Spanish tapas bar

Allegre is a Spanish tapas bar located on the scenic Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete City.

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Beyond level 5, Aguinid Falls is unspoiled, green

A regular climb to Aguinid Falls in Samboan, Cebu entails going up the pathway created by the flowing water as it makes its way down from the fifth level to…

onthego-icon A regular climb to Aguinid Falls in Samboan, Cebu entails going up the pathway created by the flowing water as it makes its way down from the fifth level to the sea.

Beyond the fifth tier, however, the falls go up three levels more. There, beyond the reach of the regular climbers, nature is raw, untouched, and green.

We discovered the rest of Aguinid during our second visit on a Black Saturday of the recent Holy Week break.

Our first climb up to the fifth level in 2014 was a thrilling experience, but the second trip was even more exceptional. Considering the number of people out to get a taste of Aguinid Falls that day, it could have gone the other way.

Aguinid Falls Level 7

ALL TO OURSELVES. We went past the crowded lower levels to enjoy a dip in level 7 of Aguinid Falls.

Thanks to our competent and extraordinary guide Natsky Rocamora, one of the Aguinid Falls community tour pioneers, we made it to the very top and quite enjoyed our visit.

Samboan waterfalls

When we arrived, there were no fewer than 20 people at the entrance kiosk waiting for their turn to go up Aguinid Falls. Several more people had gone ahead and were scattered throughout the stretch of the waterfalls.

Natzky felt we wouldn’t be able to enjoy this visit as much as we did the last one and suggested we climb beyond the fifth level to the source of the beautiful Samboan falls.

Aguinid Falls

WAY UP. Our guide Natsky Rocamora had to haul us up a steep climb one by one. Take note of the plastic bottles that Natsky gathered on our way up. These were left behind by irresponsible tourists .

Difficult climb

The way to the top is precarious and difficult and something that shouldn’t be done without special equipment or someone like Natzky, who is very strong and knows every nook and cranny in Aguinid. We didn’t have climbing gear so he had to pull us through the really steep vertical paths.

Aguinid Falls

LEVEL 6. The upper levels of Aguinid Falls are mostly untouched.

Aguinid Falls

ON 6TH LOOKING TO 7TH. This is the deep part of level 6, before the challenging climb to level 7.

Climbers and even the community guides rarely make it beyond the fifth falls so this stretch is mostly left untouched. Driftwood and fallen branches by the sides, insects along and on the water, and green foliage everywhere.

For the sake of preserving Aguinid Falls, the higher levels should be left alone. Samboan shouldn’t make any improvements to make it easy for people to go beyond the fifth tier. Visitors shouldn’t be allowed to bring food or drinks in the climb. As it is, our guide had to pick up empty water bottles discarded by irresponsible climbers along the falls.

Aguinid Falls

LEVEL 8. This is the highest point in Aguinid Falls.

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Quiet corners and busy streets, cold mountain and hot tea: our Hong Kong of contradictions

There we were, frozen and shivering on a long line that snaked around a lonely bus stop in a cold mountain spot in Hong Kong, and there was no bus….

onthego-icon There we were, frozen and shivering on a long line that snaked around a lonely bus stop in a cold mountain spot in Hong Kong, and there was no bus. A digital sign gave a countdown of the 15-minute interval before the next one comes. It was an eternity of waiting.

A thick fog had descended on everything at the Po Lin Monastery in Lantau Island’s Ngong Ping Plateau. It had worsened to the point that you couldn’t make out anything beyond a few meters.

The trees and vegetation, monastery temples, cafes and tea house, Big Buddha, and just about everything else were shrouded in a heavy mist. I could hear people talking nearby but I couldn’t see them. It took us a good 10 minutes to look for the bus stop when it was only around a hundred or so meters away from where we exited Po Lin.

At the long line for the bus that extended way beyond the waiting shed, the rain had changed from a drizzle to a torrent. The wintry chill had numbed my gloved hands and feet encased in socks and boots, and my nose felt like a hard slab on my face. It was so bitterly cold, we could see our every breath.

Hong Kong Po Lin Monastery

PO LIN MONASTERY. It was blanketed in freezing mist during our visit.

Big Buddha Po Lin Monastery

268 STEPS to the Big Buddha or the Tian Tan Buddha in the Po Lin Monastery at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island. You could barely make out the giant statue in the mist.

Big Buddha Po Lin Monastery

TIAN TAN BUDDHA. The Big Buddha was built in 1993 and draws pilgrims and tourists from all over the world. We could barely make out the figure amidst the mist during our visit.

Chilly Ngong Ping

A German husband, with two kids in tow, was letting off steam at the bus stop. I didn’t understand his words but knew enough from his expression, side glances at his wife, and the reference to “Big Buddha” that he wasn’t pleased by the decision to go there. It was a painful trip even for people used to harsh winters.

Despite the agony of the numbing cold, I consider the Ngong Ping visit one of the highlights of our recent Hong Kong trip. The Po Lin Monastery is a common enough attraction in Hong Kong but the cold surge turned a humdrum experience into an extraordinary one.

Hong Kong Po Lin Monastery

PO LIN MONASTERY. In front one of the temples in the monastery.

Hong Kong Po Lin Monastery

MISTY MOUNTAIN. One of the statues at Po Lin Monastery.

As we went from temple to temple at Po Lin, stopped for hot tea and pastries and corn, checked out the shops at Ngong Ping village, climbed 268 steps to the Big Buddha, and stood at the long queue for the bus going down, with the harsh chill spreading on my skin and squeezing flesh and bone, there were times I feared my ability to withstand the cold.

But it is the experiences that bring us the greatest challenge that are also the most unforgettable. Still, the sight of the Citygate Outlets in Tung Chung, where we started the long trip by bus all the way up to Ngong Ping, provided me not just a little bit of relief.

Hong Kon Star Ferry

STAR FERRY TERMINAL. This is where you board the ferry that will take you to Hong Kong Central.

Hong Kong Star Ferry

HONG KONG ICON. The Star Ferry brings you to Hong Kong Central from the Tsim Sha Tsui district.

Hong Kong street markets

The rest of Hong Kong was tame by comparison. We didn’t follow a set itinerary but let the whim take us where it would.

Exploring Harbour City, Hong Kong’s largest mall, was a natural consequence of our stay at the Gateway Hotel of the Marco Polo chain of hotels in Hong Kong. From there, we stumbled upon the Clock Tower and Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade by accident.

We made the short ferry crossing between Tsim Sha Tsui and Hong Kong Island once or twice, got lost a few times until we were able to work out the mass transit railway (MTR) system, and sampled restaurant and street food along the way. Tried the Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan and Mido Cafe in Yau Ma Tei because they came highly recommended but we stumbled upon other local establishments that served tastier fare.

Temple Street Market Hong Kong

TEMPLE STREET. This part of Hong Kong turns into a night market after dusk and offers a wide range of products for the intrepid shopper: from trinkets such as ref magnets to clothes, cellphones and accessories, various electronic products, chopsticks, among a myriad of products.

Temple Street Night Market

LEATHER NOTEBOOKS on sale on the Temple Street Night Market.

Hong Kong Apliu street flea market

ELECTRONICS and other gadgets are on sale on the Ap Liu Street Market. This is where we finally found what we have long been looking for: a boom microphone that you can attach to cell phones.

STREET FOOD. Old school noodles on the street that sells the latest gadgets.

STREET FOOD. Old school noodles on the street that sells the latest gadgets.

Transferring to Dorsett in Mongkok brought us nearer to the famous Temple Street Night Market, Ladies’ Market, and electronics bargains on Ap Liu Street.

We didn’t always follow the natural order of tours. So many people lining up for the tram to Victoria Peak? We used the bus and just tried the Peak Tram on our way down.

Place of contradictions

Taking out the rigid preparations from the equation made our trip much more flexible. Getting lost was not always a bad thing.

It was out on the streets, on foot, that we discovered Hong Kong, and it wasn’t always the spotlessly clean and modern Admiralty, Central, and Soho or the Canton Road littered with global brands like Hermes and Prada. It wasn’t just Causeway Bay with its ode to retail heaven.

Hong Kong Victoria Peak

VICTORIA PEAK. This is where you can have the best view of Hong Kong.

Victoria Peak Tram Hong Kong

PEAK TRAM. This Victorian-era tram offers a scenic and exciting experience as you head to or from Victoria Peak. Lines, however, can be long and a better option, which we took, was to head to the peak by bus and ride the tram, by then with fewer passengers, on the way down from the peak.

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens

ZOOLOGICAL AND BOTANICAL GARDENS. This is one of the must-visit places when in Hong Kong. This is at the entrance.

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens

NATURE PANORAMA. The Zoological and Botanical Gardens is surrounded by large, lush, and colorful trees.

Hong Kong Botanical Garden

GREENHOUSE. One of the many types of flowers in the greenhouse inside the botanical garden.

Hong Kong was also about streets in Kowloon lined with stalls where whole pigs and roasted ducks hung on hooks while wonton or noodle soup simmered in pots. It was an avalanche of people rushing along Nathan Road or the railway stations.

Sometimes, it was a quiet corner made up of two or three old people sharing a friendly moment or a back alley turned momentarily into a soup kitchen.

A place is also about the people you experience it with. Our Hong Kong, that is Max’s and mine, was a contradiction of sorts: immaculate and stained, prosperous and broken, but always a hotbed of vigor and purpose.

Snapshots of Hong Kong

Mong Kok street market

A street market in the Mong Kok district.

Citygate Outlets Hong Kong

CHINESE NEW YEAR SALE. The Citygate Outlets in Tung Chung offered huge discounts as part of the Chinese New Year sale.

Hong Kong Observation Wheel

HONG KONG OBSERVATION WHEEL. This Ferris Wheel dominates the view in this part of Central in Hong Kong.

Ti Ho Wan HongKong

TIM HO WAN. This renowned restaurant started out as a hole-in-the-wall eatery that grew into a food outlet featured in the Michelin guide.

Jardine House Hong Kong

WE LOVED the food (and its huge servings) in Deli and Wine in Jardine House in Central.

FRIED BUNS. These fried buns served by a newly opened small shop across the street from Gateway Hotel were yummy.

FRIED BUNS. These fried buns served by a newly opened small shop across the street from Gateway Hotel were yummy.

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Pescador Island adventure: dolphins, marine beauty make up for the “sharks”

Dolphins! They swam beside our boat as we neared Pescador Island off Moalboal for a day out snorkeling and enjoying the much better preserved underwater marine life in the southern town known for its long strip of white sand beach.

onthego-icon Dolphins! They swam beside our boat as we neared Pescador Island off Moalboal for a day out snorkeling and enjoying the much better preserved underwater marine life in the southern town known for its long strip of white sand beach.

Our welcoming party of at least five dolphins dove and jumped and glided alongside our motorized outrigger banca for a time, entertaining all of us as we clapped, cheered, and took pictures.

We dropped anchor in the shallows of the small uninhabited island of Pescador so our party of 20 plus adults and kids can enjoy swimming and looking at the fish and corals underneath.

Pescador Island hopping

The dolphins and Pescador were the highlights of our island hopping experience.

Sad to say that things turned bad from there on.

After a short time in Pescador, the skippers of the two boats we rented for the day told us to climb back as we were going to another popular snorkeling area. They claimed they were bringing us to where the sardines congregate in Moalboal.

Dolphins in Pescador Island, Moalboal

Dolphins swim beside our boat as we approach Pescador Island off Moalboal in southern Cebu.

pescador-island-moalboal-2

Though we wanted more time off Pescador, we agreed because we believed it would be another satisfying experience. The boat skippers did make the motion of bringing us somewhere else and we saw others there. But after shouting to each other and slowing down a bit, they went off again.

They said they were bringing us to a sanctuary. It was anything but. It was dirty, the corals were dead, and there was something in the sea that stings.

They thought that would discourage us and we would ask to go back. Some of us, including me, did stop swimming and just stayed on the boat. However, some children and a few adults continued to swim. It was then that they asked us to go back up the boat again.

Boat rental rates

We were surprised and thought they were bringing us to a new location after we complained about the dirty sea. What happened was they already dropped us back at White Beach.

We left at past 8 a.m. and they returned us before noon. Since we paid for two boats, at P2,500 each, for our party of 24 adults and kids, it’s not hard to see we were shortchanged.

Pescador Island, Moalboal

PESCADOR ISLAND is an uninhabited islet off Moalboal that is a favorite among divers for its fantastic underwater scene.

Pescador Island, Moalboal

The deception, actually, started way earlier. In the beginning, we asked for one big boat that can accommodate our party of over 20 adults and children. That was the day before our trip, and were were at White Beach in Basdaku, Moalboal. We were assured they have such a boat.

On the day of the trip, the person we negotiated with (a mainstay at White Beach) pointed the boat that bears the markings “ACS”. I told him it looked quite small as it was still some distance away and if it would fit all of us. He said yes.

As it is, the boat skipper of the motorized outrigger banca ACS waited until we (not one boat crew offered help) brought all our things aboard before saying his boat couldn’t accommodate all of us.

White beach

Keep away from this one, he’s crafty and rude and bad for Moalboal tourism. He has this style of walking away, muttering and mumbling, in the middle of your conversation if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing.

He told us we had to add another boat if we want to go island hopping. With the kids all excited to go and thinking of the hassle of bringing down large coolers and other provisions down from the boat again, we ended up paying for two boats.

Pescador Island, Moalboal

ISLAND HOPPING to Pescador Island is a popular activity in Moalboal. Just make sure you negotiate well for the boat you are renting.

This was not our first time in Moalboal and we never had problems in our past trips to White Beach. This was our first time to go island hopping, though, and realized we should have seen to the finer details.

If you’re planning to hie off to Pescador in Moalboal this summer, here are some tips to make the most of your experience. Never agree on a price without looking at the boat first as you can’t rely on them to be truthful. Ask how long you can be out at sea for such a price. Decide on the itinerary and make sure they stick to it.

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Gateway Continental Club brings extra level of service to hotel guests

Travel to another country can be intimidating but our recent trip to Hong Kong was smooth all throughout, thanks in large part to a complimentary two-night stay at Gateway of the Marco Polo chain of hotels in Hong Kong.

onthego-icon Travel to another country can be intimidating but our recent trip to Hong Kong was smooth all throughout, thanks in large part to a complimentary two-night stay at Gateway of the Marco Polo chain of hotels in Hong Kong.

We took an early morning flight from Cebu and Gateway Hotel checked us in because our room was ready even if it was still 10 a.m.

Though we were willing to wait for the 2 p.m. check-in time, having access to your room early when you’re tired from waking up early to catch your flight and navigating the streets of a foreign country to get to your hotel is a big bonus.

Samantha Poon, Marco Polo Hotels-Hong Kong director of communications, told us beforehand in an email that we were being upgraded to a deluxe room at the Continental Club but we didn’t really know what that meant until we arrived.

Gateway exceptional service

The Continental Club of Gateway offers exceptional service and an extra level of convenience, with a host of benefits and privileges thrown in for good measure.

Our remarkable time in Hong Kong begins with a welcome fruit basket and complimentary drinks that we hardly had to time to finish when these were again replenished.

Gateway Continental Club Marco Polo Hong Kong

CONTINENTAL CLUB LOUNGE offers guests of Gateway Hotel of the Marco Polo chain complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, evening cocktail, and all-day snacks and drinks.

 

Continental Club rooms and suites are located on the 14th to 16th floors of the hotel and have exclusive access to the Continental Club Lounge where there is complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, evening cocktail, and all-day snacks and drinks.

For someone who is not very adventurous when it comes to food, I appreciated the mix of Western and local cuisine that we had access to at the lounge. When we were tired from all the walking and touring that we did, there was always the hotel food to perk us up.

Gateway Continental Club Marco Polo Hong Kong

Continental Club Lounge.

Gateway Continental Club

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Gateway Continental Club Lounge perks

Since our trip came at a time when we had to coordinate coverage of a big event back home, Gateway’s Continental Club Lounge was a life saver. Getting in touch with the team in Cebu from Hong Kong’s Gateway Hotel was easy with free and fast connectivity. The lounge was an ideal workspace, with plush furniture and unlimited drinks and coffee.

Even out in the streets of Hong Kong, we were really never out of touch. Gateway provides in each of its room a handy, a mobile phone that you can bring with you when you go exploring. It comes with free unlimited 3G mobile internet and you can turn into into a Wi-Fi hotspot. The phone also offers free unlimited calls to five countries including the Philippines, a city guide, and exclusive deals on tickets to attractions.

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Taking into account that this was Hong Kong, our deluxe room was surprisingly spacious and comfortable. Our window had a view of the harbor and other high-rise buildings in the vicinity of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Gateway is part of Harbour City, Hong Kong’s largest shopping complex, so you get easy access to such top global brands as Prada, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Lacoste, Givenchy, Armani, Balenciaga, Chanel, Bvlgari, Tissot and the like.

If I have to pick what I really missed about our trip, I would have to say Gateway Hotel because it was the closest thing to home in that Chinese city that is Hong Kong.

Gateway Continental Club

WORKPLACE ON A VACATION. With fast connectivity, comfortable furniture and unlimited drinks and coffee, Gateway’s Continental Club Lounge is the best option for business travelers.

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Ambient noise? Think ambient news!

UV radiation levels will be high, the smartwatch we have been testing warned at noon of Sinulog Sa Kabataan Sa Lalawigan last Saturday. The data was processed by AccuWeather and detected by the weather app integrated into my wife’s phone and from there, pushed into the smartwatch she was wearing.

MaxBlogUV radiation levels will be high, the smartwatch we have been testing warned at noon of Sinulog Sa Kabataan Sa Lalawigan last Saturday. The data was processed by AccuWeather and detected by the weather app integrated into my wife’s phone and from there, pushed into the smartwatch she was wearing.

That bit of information influenced how we went about going from one place to another in downtown Cebu City to cover the Sinulog: staying on the shade and I being amenable to carrying an umbrella. I made a mental note of bringing sunblock.

That piece of weather alert illustrates the mind-boggling processing capabilities we have in today’s world of cloud technology and increasing mobility.

In the cloud, on the go

The ultraviolet or UV index alerts people on the levels of solar radiation. AccuWeather, a global company that specializes in weather information, explains that “many factors go in to calculating the index for a particular area on a given day, including the elevation of the location, cloud coverage for that day, the amount of ozone in the atmosphere over that area and skin’s sensitivity to UV radiation.” The scale, the company said, runs from 0 to 10 with 0 denoting the lowest risk of exposure that happens at night.

The notification we got last Saturday was triggered by a phone setting in Asus ZenUI for weather alerts every time the UV index reaches level 8. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says in its website that a UV index reading of 8 to 10 “means very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure.”

The EPA warns people to “take extra precautions because unprotected skin and eyes will be damaged and can burn quickly.” Among its recommendations are for people to minimize sun exposure, seek shade when outdoors and wear protective clothing, wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, apply SPF 30+ sunscreen every two hours, watch out for bright surfaces like sand and water, which reflect UV and increase exposure.

Android Wear Google Now

TIME TO GO. Google Now takes into account your appointments for the day, traffic data on roads you are likely to pass and then sends contextual and timely notifications like this one on connected devices such as Android Wear smartwatches.

 

Weather, traffic, news

AccuWeather crunches the complex data points that come with weather forecasting and then unleashes a torrent of publicly-available data that are rendered into bite-size, actionable and easy to understand alerts on mobile devices like the one we received. The system knew where we were and served that timely and contextual reminder.

And that’s just the weather. Such complex and mobile systems already exist for traffic with Waze and for our daily lives, Google Now. Waze takes crowd-sourcing into the mix, getting data from phones running it to calculate traffic speed, improve map layouts and learn about road and turn directions.

Google Now, for me, is indispensable. Throughout the day, it sends alerts on what the system deems are things I should know like when to leave for an appointment, taking into account where I am and the traffic conditions of the roads leading to that place. It also serves weather and news information.

Automated writing

And systems like these will get even more powerful, fueled by the steadfast march to faster and cheaper processing determined by Moore’s Law.

I recently got access into Wordsmith, the platform that writes earnings stories for the Associated Press (AP) and sports recaps for Yahoo!. The system is surprisingly accessible to configure. With the service, you’re setting up your own digital wordsmith, a robot-writing system that devours such data as sports scores, sales reports and earnings figures and turns out AP-quality news reports in the time it takes you to say “rewrite.” And all these without having to invest millions in a data center and a team to configure algorithms.

These systems already tackle health issues, with automated heart rate monitoring and physical activities tracking. Google Fit, for examples, tracks how many steps you take in a day and whether it is by walking or running.

Bargains alert, ambient news

It is starting to cover commerce. We’ll be intelligently alerted of bargains, taking into account where we are and the things we are considering buying. It will definitely cover tourism and history, our startup has projects that tackle this and we have a nascent system for information delivery.

Platforms now include news but this will be much more encompassing in the next few years. News platforms will take into account not just our personal data but will be embedded into our daily lives as a constant stream of information we get in our multiple devices throughout the day as we go about working or traveling. It’s like having a newsroom producing content just for you, a Bloomberg terminal in your watch.

It will be a redefined “news,” with a new set of Ws and H, who you are is determined by data accessible via social media accounts, where you are is determined by GPS, what is grabbed by publicly accessible data feeds, when are data nuggets from online and mobile calendars and why and how are connections of historical data stitched into a narrative through meta information.

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Asus Zenfone 5 Lite: big-screen smartphone for the budget-conscious

BUILDING on the success of Zenfone 5, Asus recently released a cheaper version of the handset in time for end-of-the-year upgrading – the Asus Zenfone 5 Lite.

MaxBlogBUILDING on the success of Zenfone 5, Asus recently released a cheaper version of the handset in time for end-of-the-year upgrading – the Asus Zenfone 5 Lite.

The Zenfone 5 Lite has a dual core Intel Atom 1.2 Ghz processor with 1GB RAM and an 8GB internal memory that is expandable via microSD up to 64GB. The phone comes with a 5-inch qHD display of 960×540. It has an eight-megapixel rear camera with auto focus and LED flash. It comes with a .3-megapixel selfie or front camera.

The phone has with a non-removable 2,500 mAh Li-Polymer battery that should, in regular use, take you through a working day. The Zenfone 5 Lite is dual SIM and has HSPA+ connectivity.

The Zenfone 5 Lite comes with Android 4.4 or Kitkat with Asus ZenUI, the company’s custom Android skin.

Asus Zenfone 5 Lite

BUDGET SMARTPHONE. The Asus Zenfone 5 Lite is a good option for those wanting to upgrade to a smartphone on a budget.

Budget smartphone

I used the phone for a couple of weeks in December as test and found it a good enough device for those looking to upgrade to a smartphone but are on a budget.

The test unit was the white version and it looked good, even in comparison to other higher end devices. The phone is designed well and looks to have excellent finish. It also feels well-built and tough.

The phone was responsive enough to use although it doesn’t stand out compared with other units within and below its price range that I tested at about the same time. Starmobile’s UP Mini and UP Lite, both of which are cheaper, are more responsive and smoother. The Starmobile phones have quad-core processors although Intel, in its previous presentations on their processors, take pains to insist it’s not just about the number of cores but also about their quality.

Asus Zenfone 5 Lite

POWERED BY INTEL. The Asus Zenfone 5 Lite is powered by an Intel Atom dual-core processor.

Sleek Asus ZenUI interface

I used the Zenfone 5 Lite as main work phone for more than a week and found the experience okay. My go-to apps — Mailbox, Google Keep, Evernote, Trello and Slack – worked well enough as to go through a regular workday. Save for one incident of the keyboard freezing, I did not encounter any major hiccup while I was using the device.

Asus ZenUI is also a sleek interface that’s easy on the eyes. My current favorite Android launcher is CM Launcher but ZenUI isn’t too shabby either. It’s actually quite good. My favorite feature is the “What’s Next” component, which helps you keep track of and reminds you of your schedules. I also liked the way it presents the caller screen, with its sleek design.

The phone’s camera is also good enough for its price range. Eight megapixels is pretty standard for most mid-level phone cameras nowadays.

Asus Zenfone 5 Lite promo

The Zenfone 5 Lite retails for P5,595. If you buy it from any of the Thinking Tools branches in Cebu – On Junquera Extension, in Ayala Center Cebu and in the Cyberzone in SM City Cebu – you will get a free 8GB microSD card and OTG cable for free. (NOTE: Please check with the store ahead because this promo information was given in December)

For its price and build quality, the Asus Zenfone 5 Lite is a good budget option for those seeking to upgrade to a smartphone with a big enough screen, a good finish, sleek design and the brand backing of a major global company.

AsusZenfone 5 Lite unboxing

UNBOXING. The Asus Zenfone 5 Lite out of the box.

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REVIEW: Huawei Mate7 is a good, powerful big phone

WHEN you first hold the Huawei Mate7 in your hand, what is immediately apparent is how sleek its design is. At 7.9 mm thin, the Mate7 is a well-built device with top-of-the-line specifications worthy of a flagship device.

MaxBlogWHEN you first hold the Huawei Mate7 in your hand, what is immediately apparent is how sleek its design is. At 7.9 mm thin, the Mate7 is a well-built device with top-of-the-line specifications worthy of a flagship device.

I tested the phone for a few days this week and found the device a great option for those who prefer their phones with larger screens.

The Mate7’s 6-inch screen is bright and sharp. While it’s not quad HD, the difference isn’t by much, at least as far as I can see. I use an LG G3, which is a quad HD phone, and I didn’t see any glaring difference with the Mate 7’s display.

The phone packs a powerful octa-core CPU that’s more than up to the task of running any app or game. In my few days of using the device, I found it very responsive and quite zippy. I loved using it for work – managing emails with Mailbox, taking down and organizing notes using Google Keep and Evernote, working with interns in our startup via Slack, writing and editing using Google Docs, reading articles and keeping up with news updates via apps Flipboard, Pocket and Zite.

Huawei Mate7

PHABLET. The Mate7 has a 6-inch display, about the right size to use your phone as your main portable computer. (Photo by Max Limpag)

Powerful octa-core processor

I also used the phone to watch a couple of episodes of my favorite TV series The Newsroom, Person of Interest, Forever and The Flash and found the experience even better than watching these shows on the G3, primarily because of the larger screen and the more responsive performance of the Mate 7.

And what a processor it is. According to the company website, “boasting octa-core architecture, Mate7 has an intelligent Huawei Kirin 925 processor made up of four large A15 1.8 GHz and four small A7 1.3 GHz chipsets which are activated in different configurations depending on the power needs of a specific app or function so the smartphone can be smarter with power management.”

The phone saves up to 50 percent of battery life by using smaller A7 cores to run standard apps, which the company said consumers use “at least 80% of the time.” The phone uses the bigger A15 processors for high-demand use such as in gaming.

That explains why the phone was such a joy to use when I tried out a few games in it.

Huawei Ascend Mate7

UNBOXING THE ASCEND MATE7. The Huawei Ascend Mate7 is a great phablet with long battery life

Great battery life

The Mate7 has a 4100 mAh non-user removable lithium polymer battery – a beast considering its svelte frame. I got the device about half-way charged on a Monday and it still had power even by Wednesday night, after more than a day of heavy use taking photos – often trying its rapid-fire multiple shots capability by pressing continuously on the shutter button – watching TV shows, listening to music and podcasts and trying out a few games.

I gave it a full charge Wednesday night and used the phone for reading, checking emails and keeping up with news on Thursday and then doing a factory reset on Friday before returning the device and it still had more than 85 percent battery charge. Like I said, a beast.

The phone comes with an ultra power saving feature that the company said “is designed to intelligently shut down the most battery draining features as your phone starts to lose power, meaning that you get extra life with the last 10 percent of your battery.”

Emotion UI

The phone comes with Huawei’s EMUI or Emotion UI and it looks good. I’ve long used Nova Launcher and when I tried EMUI for the first time with the Mate 7, I found it visually refreshing and actually liked the experience of using that interface with the phone. I tried out a few of its themes and the selection was good.

The phone comes with Android 4.4 or Kitkat, the penultimate version as of this year.

Fingerprint scanner

The Mate7 comes with a fingerprint scanner located just below its camera lens. The company said the phone is “possibly the market’s first six-inch smartphone with instant single-touch fingerprint access to put an end to password fatigue.”

“It enables users to unlock the phone at least 80 percent faster than devices that use a slower sweeping recognition option,” Huawei said in its website.

I tried it on the test unit and it does live up to the company’s promise. The phone took only one touch to unlock the device using my fingerprint – a pretty nifty feature that saves you a lot of time (multiply the time it takes to enter your PIN by the number of times you check your phone in a day and you’d get a peek into how much time the system saves for you – time you can then on the latest viral mobile game).

Huawei Mate7

THIN FRAME. The Mate7 is just 7.9mm thin and looks very sleek.

Camera

The Mate7 comes with a 13-megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash. It’s front camera is 5 megapixels. I used it to take a few test photos and liked the results, especially those taken in low light condition. It’s at par with my favorite cameraphone, the LG G3. The phone can do 1080p video recording and playback.

Storage

The phone comes with 16GB built-in memory that is expandable through a microSD card up to 128GB.

Connectivity

The company says the Ascend Mate7 uses a “dual antenna optimized to provide fewer dropped calls and smooth 4G LTE navigation.” It said the the device is compatible “with a wide range of network spectrums worldwide . . . and uses smart antenna switching to intelligently detect the strongest signal, choosing the ideal source for emission or reception of data.” The company said the device uses Cat6 4G LTE technology with a download rate of up to 300 Mbps within a compatible network.

The test unit I used was the amber gold model and it looked really good.

The package comes with a good quality folio case.

The Huawei Mate7 retails for P27,890 in regular phone stores and in retailers like Thinking Tools, which lent the unit used for this review.

For its price, the Huawei Ascend Mate7 is a great phablet that should be on top of your list if you’re planning to upgrade your phone this year.

Huawei Mate7 Test Photo

TEST PHOTO. A test photo taken with the Huawei Mate7 of the wooden robot on top of my computer in the Sun.Star Cebu central newsroom. Click on the photo to view the full size. I did not edit the photo and merely compressed it to save on file size using the TinyJPG service.

Huwaei Mate 7 specs

RAM: 3 GB
ROM: 16 GB
Display: 6 inches FHD Screen,1080p (1920 x 1080), 368PPI, 16M colors
CPU: Hisilicon Kirin 925 4×1.8GHz + 4×1.3GHz + 1x230MHz
OS: Android 4.4/Huawei Emotion UI 3.0
Camera: Rear: 13 megapixels, 4128 x 3096 pixels, autofocus with LED flash, 1080p at 30fps; Front: 5 megapixels, 720p
Battery: 4100mAh
Height: 157.0mm
Width: 81.0mm
Thickness: 7.9mm
Weight: 185g (including the battery)

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