Saturday, January 8, 2011

Travelling to El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

My wife and I just got back from the Philippines yesterday.... and we had a blast! We enjoyed most of our stay in El Nido, Palawan. There's three ways to get there.

One, flying to Puerto Princesa from Manila then taking a bus/van ride for 5 hours. The bus ride takes 9 hours but the van is way faster, only about 5.5 hours. The van ride costs Php 700 each. The van seats about 12 people and there's not much leg room especially if you are at least 6' tall. Some of the tourist complains about their seats because some doesn't have head rest. But this is the most comfortable land transportation heading to El Nido. The last two hours of the trip is basically dirt and pebbles and pot holes. Some vans load all luggages on top covered with tarp. So make sure you want to use a luggage meant for this situation. Ours got really dusty. But we don't mind. You can arrange a van to pick you up from your hotel.

Second, flying to El Nido on a 19 seater propeller plane from Manila. I'm not sure how long the flight is but it is run by very small organization or maybe by a certified pilot who owns a plane. It's quite hard to  get the information about the flight schedules online so going through a travel agent might help. We haven't heard any accidents from the locals so it must be safe.

Third, fly to Coron from Manila. Then a 5 hour boat ride to El Nido. Coron is well known for scuba diving. So you can stay at Coron for a couple of days to explore the area and go scuba diving. This is where 8 Japanese battleships sank during WWII and a lot of the divers come navigate these ships. Coron also have great coral reefs. If we had a lot more time, we could have chose this option instead.

At El Nido, there are a lot of hotels in its Barangay Masagana. You would be surprised about the price difference between hotels since they all are located on the beach. El Nido Beach Hotel is where we stayed at and it cost Php 3,580 per night. Entellula is just 30 meters away from El Nido Beach Hotel on the same shore line it it costs Php 1,800. If you are not too worried about the room, as long as there's bed and bathroom, you can find other places to stay within the same area cheaper. The only downside to El Nido Beach hotel is you won't be able to see the sunset since it's being block by several big limestone mountains. If you really interested in staying at a place at the beach front where you can see the sunset every day, then go Four Seasons hotel. I don't know what their rate is but they are much more expensive. If you've got the money, you can stay at Miniloc Island Resort but you have to take a 30-45 min boat ride since it's on an island.

Once you get to El Nido, there are 4 package tours available - Tour A, Tour B, Tour C and Tour D. Since we only had a day left to explore the islands, we learned the best tours were A and C. This is where it's best to snorkle along the shores and do fish feeding. The unfortunate part of these tours were that 99.9% of the corals on the shore are dead but there's still some good amount of fishes to see. The biggest fish we saw was the size of my palm. People go scuba diving instead at 20 meters since the corals are still alive and there's lots of big fishes to see and "Pawikan" which is a really big turtle.

There's no problem finding places to eat at El Nido. We loved Squiddos. Their best menu is stuffed squid but every time we go there they always run out of it. I ordered Mixed Seafood Curry and it was great! Their crab was also good. I would ask next time if they have one bigger crab since if they run out of it, they would serve you two really small crabs and its really hard to work with it. Another place to eat good food is at El Nido Corner. We had 2 lb Steamed Jack Fish in sesame oil and ginger and it was awesome! It only cost Php 250 or $ 6.50. My wife had never been a fan of eating fish but she'd had eaten a lot of fish here no matter how it was cooked. Their fish here are awesome! It's always fresh and so cheap!

El Nido is also well known for its Bird's Nest Soup. The swallow birds builds their nest onto these limestone mountains and the locals come to harvest the nest from December to March. At this time, the chicks had become a bird and there's no use for the nest. The locals actually have a hut on the island where they stay fulltime until their harvest is over. People extract the juice out of the nest, which is basically the saliva of the bird which doesn't have a taste at all and mix this with a regular egg drop soup.  The main reason why people eat it is because of its rich protein and mineral content. I did not bother to try this one.

Now which is the best time to go to El Nido? The best time to go is between March to May since the waters are a lot calmer which means it's the perfect time to snorkle on deeper areas where the corals are still alive and tons of big fishes are around! But you have to be sure that you made hotel reservations 6 months before since all hotels are packed and some guests actually sleep outside the hotel on folding beds. Some also go to the islands and sleep on the shore. Depending on your level of adventure and excitement, this could be fun.

Next time I come to Palawan, I will stay in Coron for few days and dive at the ship ruins then head off to El Nido for a week to visit the rest of the islands I missed on the tour. Of course, it will be between March to May :). Here are some of the pictures I've taken using my iPhone 4.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Passing a Security Clearance For a Job

For those who are considering to get a job that requires Security Clearance, here's what employers do as per a LinkedIn member who was looking to hire PHP Developers that needs to be cleared.

Essentially the hired person would go through a 10 year background investigation to check for any felonies, midemeanors or pleas. There will also be a financial investigation to check for any tax liens, loan defaults, foreclosures, bankrupcies and accoutns in delinquency.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

What is Charity? Moroni 7:45

What is Charity?
I had a conversation with my wife about this Christlike attribute to refresh my memory and increase my understanding of what power it brings into our lives and to others. So I decided to write it down and share it with others.

Charity is such both a pragmatic subject and at the same time the most important attribute of all. I've found the definition in Moroni but and I'm gonna try to connect each descriptions to an example.

From Moroni 7:45 and I quote, "And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things."

Charity Suffereth Long
It means to feel pain and sustain loss, injury, harm or punishment. The Lord Jesus Christ, through his agony in the Garden of Eden, emotional and physical beatings and stripes, journey to Golgotha with the crown of thorns on his head, and finally lifted up on the cross, withstood all the physical and spiritual temptations that would've stopped him from completing his work. His sufferings he sustained, bore the painful sin of the world on his shoulder. Yet, he still loved the very people that crucified him.

Charity is Kind
It means of a friendly, generous, warm-hearted nature showing sympathy or understanding. We can become friendly but lack sympathy. It's this parable of the Good Samaritan that clearly explains what kindness is. The same kindness the Lord had with his friend Lazarus. And its the first thing the Lord did upon his visit with the Nephites - he'd asked to bring their sick, lame, blind and would cure them. He felt the pains and misery of those that are to be cured.

Charity Envieth Not
The Lord Jesus Christ never desired for material things and praises. Whatever comes, that he accept. But King Saul failed to this matter. After realizing that David was the Lord's chosen king, he felt so bad with David that he made several attempts to kill him. He started acting like Cain of the old, whereupon he envied his brother's sacrifice and in turn killed Abel. Envy is such a powerful poison that if not carefully safeguarded, one can literally bring down his soul to condemnation.

Charity is not Puffed Up
Puff means to increase or seek to increase the importance of or reputation of by favorable publicity. This defines who the Pharisees were during the meridian of time. They thought they were the most educated of all, expert in all matters of Moses' law. They tried to gain public approval by publicly humiliating the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of their pride, they stereotyped the Lord Jesus Christ as one lunatic man. Their vast knowledge of the law was tantamount to how they look like and how the speak. Little did they know, their teacher was the Lord himself, who had commanded Moses' to write all these laws that will govern Israel. Knowledge do bring someone confidence but when humility fades away, Charity is gone.

Charity Seeketh Not Her Own
Greed is what's bringing this country down. It's all about ourselves. It's all about us. The Lord Jesus Christ exemplified to us what service is. He was always mindful of our welfare then and now. Nothing can be found in the scriptures where he chose not to heal a person whether or not he requested to be healed or not. He chose to live like us despite his assured Godhood. He laid down his life for us to be saved from our sins and return to his presence. A very unselfish act indeed. He wants us to become like him. He did not withheld anything from us that pertains to our salvation and exaltation.

Charity is Not Easily Provoked
Patience and Understanding are the elements of this attribute. Lawyers and Pharisees have been trying to provoke the Lord several times to see if they can let him cross his words or teachings but they always end up marveling at his response. The Lord knew of their wickedness, but he still taught them his eternal principles.

Charity Thinketh No Evil
This is a hard one. In today's social conditions, it had become the norm to accept evil in exchange for good. We have branded good evil, and evil good. Information are available publicly for free containing things that provoketh men to think evil. Morality had eroded and it all started with a bad thought. Job never blamed God when he lost his family and friends and brought to a condition of being despised because he was turned leprous. Ronald Reagan at the time of his attempted assassination, while in the emergency room staring at the ceiling gasping for air, uttered a small simple prayer that the boy who shot him would be well.

Charity Rejoiceth Not in Iniquity but Rejoiceth in Truth
The Lord was angered when he saw merchandisers and gamblers right in front of His Father's house. But he was just ensuring that the temple was pure and holy. It is that truth in which he was defending for. King Solomon prayed for wisdom for he was worried then because of this burden he had taken to be a ruler over all Israel. It had helped him to distinguish between truth and fallacy. Between right and wrong.

Charity Beareth All Things
Does it mean to bear our own burdens without complaint? Does it mean to bear other's burdens? Does it mean to endure suffering and pain brought by experience and still hold on to Hope? Yes. Job was once at the best time of his life, until the Lord tried him even to the point of loosing everything he had, and obtaining a disease that would left him despised of anybody. He knew the truth of that experience will enable him to become a better person. And he became perfect.

Charity Believeth All Things, Hopeth All Things and Endureth All Things
There's some good amount of optimism needed to believe in things, once truth is felt and understood. King Lamoni and his people believed in the words of Ammon to be the words of God. They hoped that their grievous sins will be forgiven for they have taken away many lives with their hands. The Lord knew of their Faith and Obedience and had forgiven them. And they have endured and made covenant with the Lord by laying down their weapons of war, even to the burying of it to serve as a testament between them and the Lord that they were committed to that promise. We know in the course of time, they didn't dig and retrieve their weapons when they saw their brethren coming to destroy them. Instead, they prayed while the massacre was going on.

Flood In the Philippines

Just spoke to my uncle last night who lives in Northern Luzon, Philippines, specifically, La Union province. They were having heavy rains non-stop for two weeks and literally soaked the whole Northern Luzon where one bridge who use to be 100 feet above the surface of the river, have been submerged in water.

The whole region cannot move, people were stuck in their houses busy taking out the water with buckets. All major cities in that region were flooded at least at the waist level, and damaged lots of houses. The hurricane that came with the rain made it worst. I'm glad my folks are okay. I feel bad for those who badly affected. They said this is the first time that it happened in the history of Northern Luzon, the size almost of Georgia, USA.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Center Lane - 300 feet violation

How can anyone know that when they go into the center lane of a road and cruise through that they have gone more than 300 feet? If you did went over 300, a bald cop with carnival lights on top of his black and white car just shows up behind you. Next thing you know, a pair of black shades crosses your driver's window and a voice, so confident as if it can eat you, willfully ask for your driver's license. Next thing you know, you are handed a yellow piece of paper which is equivalent to about $241.25 USD. That's what I've gotten, for going over 300 feet on a center lane.

How can you tell if you've gone 300 feet in the center lane? You can't even measure it using your speedometer. Would be great if there's an iPhone app for this since I always need to cross the center lane to avoid the heavy traffic on both sides - specially in the intersection of Pleasant Hill Rd and Peachtree Industrial Blvd - Duluth, GA.

Of course the Solicitor at the court, doesn't need to hear what my reason was and bluntly laid out the law stating that once you are in a center lane, no matter what the conditions are, and you go over 300 feet, you'll get a ticket. It's amazing how the government makes money easily. And the Solicitor does a good job at ensuring you still get to pay, even if the violation was suppressed to a lesser degree. He does make sure, before you get out of the courthouse, you pay.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Buying a House

It took me 6 months to find the house I want to buy 2 years ago and made an offer on it. I bought the house February of 2008. It was a good deal despite the painting I have to do for most indoor parts of the house. 

Met my friend at church this Sunday and learned that the house they wanted to buy in Alpharetta didn't work out. The same agent helped them find a second option but the negotiation sounded like a ripper. The seller has to stay for two more months in their house and wanted to sell it now and have asked my friend and his wife to pay for the two months mortgage till they get out. Obviously their agent is not good at all. 

I suggested to my friend that he should start looking to work with other agent(s). What I did when I was looking for a house was to start working with two agents. They both showed many great houses. One of them had over 20 years of experience and she knows well her job. The other he just started 4 years ago. The former tried to dig as much as information from me as she can. She asked about my hobbies, lifestyle, and the criteria I wanted for a house. What I liked about her is she did what I wanted her to do. I wanted her to look for a house within my budget but has to start looking closer to where I work and then search away from the city till she find some houses that I can look at. We looked at about 30 houses with different styles, floor plan, landscape, neighborhood, you name it. The other agent somehow made it clear he's not as experienced as the other, he didn't ask alot of questions. So I chose the lady agent. It helped me alot to know what I want because of her many questions.

She also educated me about the best sidings, best floorings, symptoms of bad and good roofs, lightings and fixtures, paints, kitchen style, garage doors and every aspect of the house may it be inside or outside that would increase the value/resale of the house. It was all good and she prepared me enough in the future in case I will be buying a house again.

There's no restriction as to how many agents you can work with but not until you decide to put an offer on a house and agree to work with an agent exclusively. This gives you a better situation as to choosing who's providing you better service and promoting competition between them. 

From what I remember this is what we did with my agent.

1. Worked with a financial officer to determine how much I can afford. He suggested I can 
    use 80% of my income to buy a house but in my mind it was ridiculous. There's just so much 
    things I need to pay for and I'm not gonna dedicate my savings in paying my mortgage.

2. Identified my budget in a given range. I chose to dedicate 35% of my income for the          

3. Choose geographic location

4. Scheduled bi-weekly tours to houses on sale with different floor plans.

5. Visited both houses on sale and on foreclosure. Foreclosed houses seems to have more things 
     to be fixed and not worth it and its sold as is.

6. After checking 30 houses, we chose my top 5 and visited them again until I end up with the 
    one best suited my taste and needs.

I'm really glad I worked with an agent who knows what she's doing and I would definitely recommend working with an agent who's got a lot of years of experience.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Private Mortgage Insurance Inquiry for SunTrust

I called up the SunTrust mortgage customer service this afternoon to inquire about when can I stop paying my PMI. I asked how much I have paid on my loan and I was told that it would take some time to go through my statements and checking for escrow payment changes. He said it would take about 30 minutes to sum all my payments. I said I can wait. But then he immediately followed up saying that he cannot promise me that he would be on the phone the whole time since their will be other calls that he needs to attend and he cannot let them pass. Then he suggested that I can do this myself by going to their website. This is the whole point of my call. I don't want to bother scavenging through my statements and sum my total payments. I told him that and he responded that he can use his 15 minutes break to do it for me and call me after but he can't promise. 

Our conversation brought back my nightmares with Comcast. SunTrust, Comcast sounds the same isn't it? Funny. But he called back after 15 mninutes! For 3 times he mentioned how much interest I've paid. It wasn't I was asking for..... and at the background I hear these pages turned one after another. I feel like Customer Service is part of the White House. 

I gave up on that question and instead asked when can I stop paying my PMI since I didn't have enough to pay 20% of the loan when I bought the house. He gave me an answer where I'm like still buying the house. My loan to value is currently 96% he said which has nothing to do with my question. I heard the pages flipping again at the background as if he was trying to find the answer his trainor gave to him. He kept on explaining the loan to value definition then he asked if I have any more questions and I immediately said no and thank you. 

I feel bad for these companies hiring people for their Customer Service Department and not able to deliver what their customer wants. That was a waste of time for both of us but he still get paid. I wonder how many times does he flip through the pages while he's on the phone with customers. I wonder if that was even their 200 pound manual.