When in Malapascua…

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Logon Island. According to records, Spanish colonizers named Logon “Malapascua” because the Easter (“pascua”) of their arrival here was not exactly propitious. There is, however, nothing “bad”  about this island-heaven in Cebu! (2012 Google map)

A little over an hour’s flight from Manila, we land in Cebu International airport past midnight on a rainy Tuesday in June, and decide to kill four hours in the airport before setting out on a long bus ride to Logon, more familiar to many as Malapascua. We’re too cheap (and scared!) to venture out and look for lodging, as daybreak will definitely find us trooping to the North Bus Terminal anyway, where buses ply a daily route to Maya Port, and on to beautiful Malapascua. A sea-horse shaped island off the northern tip of Cebu, it is close to becoming, they say, the next Boracay. Hope that never happens!

Taxis to the bus terminal, when they think you’ve just landed would initially be unreasonably priced, but prepare to haggle, which we did, since June is considered an off-peak season. Business is slow this early morning in June, and we expected taxi drivers to be more than willing to accommodate visitors. We were right. If that had that failed, we would have been more than willing to step out of the airport into the city, where taxis with regular meters abound.

For individual backpackers, air-conditioned buses are an inexpensive way of getting to Maya Port, although vans are also available (at Php3,500.00 per trip). If you’re a group of at least ten people, you might want to consider this better option, instead of the buses which make frequent stops to pick up passengers, as well as for chow and bladder breaks in the many “bastap” [bus stop] scattered along the highway. There are also “regular” or non air-conditioned buses, not radically cheap at Php 165.00, and the dusty roads and the long trip make them a not very enticing alternative. Travel, I’m sure, would be doubly faster with private transportation.

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Nights are blue in the gathering dusk.

Nights are blue in the gathering dusk.

Buses unload their passengers practically on the boats that crowd the pier in Maya Port. Prepare to shell out Php80.00 per person for a boat ride that takes a little over 30 minutes. By boat I don’t mean fancy ones, just the sturdy wooden kind that has outriggers and can accommodate 30 persons. Unless it’s a stormy day, the boat ride will most likely be very uneventful.

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Sunset on Bounty beach. When in Malapascua, it’s best to enjoy the sunset.

Bounty Beach is the gateway to Malapascua island, although a small port on the other side of the island, where hotels like Amihan, Angelina, Tepanee, and a host of others are found, is also used. A 3-km stretch of white beach, Malapascua is surrounded on all sides by the best diving and snorkeling sites, although its beach, notwithstanding the fine, powdery sand, is not something to jump up and down about. I’ve seen remarkably better ones in Coron. (But hey, that’s just me.) That said, Malapascua’s biggest draw is its quiet. In June when it’s no longer noisy with the summer and mostly foreign crowd, dusks are almost spiritual moments. The sight of the mauve sun, going down behind tropical trees is not something you’d easily forget. The sound of the surf rhythmically hitting the beach recalls a Matthew Arnold poem. And all that will most likely make you hungry for a grilled seafood dinner.

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Walking on white… sand, that is.

Snorkeling and diving sites surround Malapascua. Some of the few we checked out are:

Location of snorkeling sites that surround Malapascua. To the bottom left of the picture is Maya port, the port that connects Cebu to Malapascua. To the bottom right is Kalanggaman island, a 2-hour boat ride from Malapascua. Kalanggaman is an island off Palompon, in Leyte. (Screen grab from Sunsplash Diving.)

Location of snorkeling sites that surround Malapascua. To the bottom left of the picture is Maya port, the port that connects Cebu to Malapascua. To the bottom right is Kalanggaman island, a 2-hour boat ride from Malapascua. Kalanggaman is an island off Palompon, in Leyte. (Screen grab from Sunsplash Diving.)

Dakit-dakit. A few minutes out of Bounty beach, this shallow snorkeling site offers glimpses of colorful fishes.

Guimbitayan. Situated in the northern part of the island, this snorkeling site is near a watch tower, and underneath remains of a Japanese shipwreck. The actual length of the sunken ship’s hull is there to see.

Bantigue Cove. Underneath its turquoise waters are blue and yellow fishes, big and small ones, and some of the most diverse underwater plants and corals.

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Searching for Nemo.

Garden Corals. This site affords snorkelers glimpses of wide swaths of living corals underneath. Schools of fish that frequent these parts are a sight to see! My 18-year old son’s squeals are heard even from behind his snorkeling gear.

Kalanggaman Island, Palompon, Leyte

Like sentinels, the coconut trees stand shoulder to shoulder at the approach to the island.

Only three-fourths of a kilometer in length, Kalanggaman Island is a 2-hour boat ride from Malapascua, and 25 minutes from Palompon, Leyte. This spectacular island paradise boasts of a 200-meter white sandbar that vanishes with the tide.

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Place marker. Yes, dolphins are endemic in these waters.

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Midday shot of a picture-perfect tropical island paradise in the Visayas.

The pristine sandbar appears from early to  midmorning, but "vanishes" around lunchtime.

The pristine sandbar appears from early to midmorning, but “vanishes” around lunchtime.

 

How to get into a graduate school abroad

Deciding to study abroad has got to be one of the major decisions you will make in life (next to, maybe, deciding to have kids???). It’s a huge academic leap for anyone, not to mention a huge financial investment. (Small wonder that this had made into Facebook’s major events time line. ^_^)

For us Filipinos, “abroad” is almost always the United States of America, although with the recent popularity of scholarships becoming widely available online, such as EU’s Erasmus Mundus (www.emeuropeasia.org), or UK’s Chevening (www.chevening.org), it now could mean any university in Europe, Australia, or Singapore or Japan, in Asia.

If you’re interested in knowing how to cop a scholarship abroad, or gain entrance to a top university, or better, both, read on!

1. Check out official websites of your prospective school/s.

Tons of information, from admission requirements to course offerings, are provided online, crucial knowledge of which gets your foot in their academic door. Pdf forms are freely downloadable and let you begin the process of applying. Easily accessed, navigated, and visited in the comfort of your home, most websites are virtual universities waiting to be explored without the travails of travel (yet). Some even include live photos of the school!

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The minimalist website of Brooklyn College is easy on the eyes.

From time to time, embassies or foreign organizations sponsor education fairs; take advantage of those, too. Go out and explore, especially if entrance to these fairs is free of charge.

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Fill out an online application form to get an electronic ticket, which serves as your pass to the live scoop in US universities.

Websites also allow you a peek into the politics of a particular school. Equal opportunity schools do not discriminate on the basis of sex, age, ethnicity, class, etc., and it is of course comforting to know your rights are respected abroad. But how does one know? Look for “Equal Opportunity/Affirmative  Action” tag on their websites or on their communication.

Admission letter from the Office of Graduate Education of the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Notice “An equal opportunity/affirmative action institution” seal.

Admission letter from the Office of Graduate Education of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Notice “An equal opportunity/affirmative action institution” seal.

2. Allow a year to complete the process of application. (Which does not include the psychological preparation that may take longer.)

Universities in the US begin in late August, and online applications open September 1 for Fall Term of the next year, and May 1 for Spring Semester. Prepare well ahead of these dates. I have nurtured this dream of studying in the US for as long as I can remember, but did not begin to hunker down until about a year ago, when I decided to apply at a few universities, and concurrently, for a scholarship at East-West Center.

Standard requirements are application forms which may be accomplished and submitted online (and at USD100, which you pay by sending in a form containing your credit card numbers and signature, is your very first expense!). Transcripts of records, resume, letters of reference, statement of purpose are normally sent via courier service. Some universities only accept transcripts sent to them directly from origin schools. English proficiency exam scores are sent electronically to your chosen university by ETS, the outfit that conducts testing worldwide. A TOEFL score that you sent in yourself is not going to be valid. (More on this below.)

Requesting letters of reference from mentors or employers will require a dose of intuition: will this person give me a glowing recommendation, or a so-so recommendation? It is not an exaggeration to say that success lies partly in their hands, so make sure that people you approach have your best interests at heart. The University of Hawai’i at Manoa requires referees to fill out prepared forms, and this vastly takes pressure off referees, too. Other universities, such as a few schools in Thailand, and most EU universities will want a narrative evaluation of your character, academic achievement, and potential for graduate work.

Applying for a scholarship in the European Union? Prepare your resume using Europass, a form-fillable bio-data that conforms to the shape of a resume that they like. Check it here.

Getting the right information on visas will also require time and a bit of research. The US embassy website has an excellent site devoted to answering tricky questions regarding visas; check it here.

By far the most challenging to accomplish is the Statement of Purpose (also called Statement of Objectives), which summarizes in 1500 words where you are academically at that particular juncture in your life, what you want to study and why, and what benefits you think you will derive from getting an additional degree. Forget Filipino rhetoric: the more straightforward you are, the better. Statements such as, An additional degree will help me land the coveted Deanship in my college, assure the Graduate school committee of the singularity of your purpose than will, An additional degree will surely help me academically. Below are two sample statements of purpose which got the prospective graduate student entry into the University of California at Berkeley, and me, an East-West Center GDF, respectively: ^_^

1. “Luscious fare is the jewel of inordinate desires,”1 cautions2 the author of The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673), one of many early modern conduct books I surveyed this past year for an honors thesis entitled “‘Chaste, Silent, and Hungry’: The Problem of Female Appetite in Early Modern England, 1550-1700.”3 As indicated by the title, this project explores a provocative but as of yet scarcely studied facet of early modern gender constructions: female food desire.”

Note how the opening statement hooks the reader into reading some more. (Parsed, the complete text identifies the main points that have been addressed, and also notes its stylistic and literary strengths. Read it here. )

2. “Armed with a degree in Education, I went on to earn my Master’s degree in Comparative Literature at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, not forgetting for a second that, without the crucial first degree, I would not have stood a chance in life or in a higher education setting. Archimedes’ quote is a favorite mantra: Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.”

I NOW gag on this last line in the first paragraph of my Statement of Purpose, but I bet it helped me land both the scholarship and that slot in the Department of SLS. ^_^

Kidding aside, writing a statement of purpose requires that you be candid, clear in purpose, and brief, qualities that should shine through in that essay, perhaps the most important instrument that they will consider to get a measure of your suitability for graduate work. Most importantly, proofread your essay to make sure that there are no erorr, typographic, grammatical or logical. (Yup; it should read, “that there are no errors”.) Better yet, have someone you respect proofread it for you. A fresh set of eyes going over your work, especially if you have been passionately writing it and are loathe to delete any word, is invaluable help.

Do check out individual websites for specific points evaluators will look for in your Statement of Purpose:

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3. Ace your language proficiency exam!

Many universities abroad, our own included, require a TOEFL/IELTS of its international students, although there are universities in the US that don’t require any test of English proficiency. Take note also of cutoff scores that vary from university to university, and sometimes, even within colleges within the same university. Brooklyn College, a community college of the City University of New York, (CUNY) requires a high of 114 and a low of 79 on the TOEFL iBT  on certain fields.

Time was when English proficiency was not required of us; alas, times have changed, as did, sadly, our proficiency in English. We are less able to competently speak and write in English as we did, perhaps, 50 years ago. Thus, Filipinos should not flatter themselves by looking at TOEFL as a walk in the park. It is still best to practice the four modalities of reading, listening, speaking, and writing, in real-time online for internet-based testing. So prepare well and prepare smart. The good news is that there are many free TOEFL practice exams online that simulate the real thing.

TOEFL exam centers are strategically located throughout the country so finding one close to you should not be a problem. Check out http://www.ets.org for more information, especially on the number of times that you can re-take the exam, in the event that you do not meet the required score the first time. (Unlimited, that is, until you get to the desired cutoff score, except that you will be barred from taking it 12 days immediately after your last one.) A caveat: at USD195, (GRE is USD 185) re-taking it a number of times is one way of throwing money away better kept for spending as living allowance abroad.

4. Who will finance your graduate study abroad?

Submitting documents via commercial couriers will cost money. Applying for a US visa will cost money as well. Even with assured scholarships, schools look for proofs of financial stability, and some scholarships are contingent on your admission to a graduate school. While you don’t need to have a name like Jeane Napoles, it would be very crucial for admission that you show proof of financial liquidity, either in the form of personal funds, or support from third-party sources (relatives, friends, or institutions.) Universities provide form-fillable pdfs which shortcut the process of providing evidence of funds, hard copies of which are only required when the institution is ready to send you your DS 2019 or I-20 (as the case may be) for visa application. Graduate or Research assistantships may become available during the course of studying abroad, but they are not an assurance, so take that year of preparation to prepare financially as well.

Sample support form from Hunter College. Note that forms as well values may change depending on individual schools.

Sample support form from Hunter College. Note that forms as well values may change depending on individual schools.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
As soon as you have made up your mind to study abroad, and have begun the process of applying, approach the task as you would all your undertakings, that is to say, with courage, purposefulness, and determination. There will be setbacks, but nothing that cannot be surmounted by talking to the right persons, and by being creative in problem solving. Establish connections with your prospective schools by sending e-mails to ask for more information or clarification. If you are able to communicate your intentions clearly, you will definitely be responded to.

I had initially only wanted to apply for a Certificate course at the Department of Second Language Studies at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, but was told by the Program Specialist, through an e-mail, that the Fellowship to which I was concurrently applying, does not support certificate courses. That e-mail was a lifesaver because it had allowed me to modify my application in the nick of time.

You are duty-bound to communicate your intention to register as soon as a decision had been reached regarding your application. Do not leave schools hanging. A simple, I regret to inform you that I will not be able to register this semester, is an ethical way of closing the process. Expect a slew of forms that needs accomplishing.

A Statement of Intention to Register (SIR) is required of prospective students to assure them of a slot when registration period comes round.

A Statement of Intention to Register (SIR) is required of prospective students to assure them of a slot when registration period comes round.

Information here is nowhere near comprehensive, but when I was starting out to apply, the above are crucial pieces of information I had learned in the course of learning about studying abroad.

Some sites that prospective scholarships hunter might be interested in:

http://www.eastwestcenter.org/education/student-programs

http://www.scholars4dev.com/2876/usa-fulbright-scholarships-for-international-students/

Happy school- and scholarship hunting!

 

(Note: Screenshots of websites are used here for illustrative purposes, while other photos are the writer’s own.)

 

 

Tour of Museum: Bishop Museum

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One hundred eighty-two years ago today, Bernice Pauahi Bishop, one of this century’s memorable women, and great-granddaughter of Hawai’i‘s greatest King, Kamehameha I, was born in Honolulu. Bernice Bishop‘s “herstory” is heartwarming. As a philanthropist, she founded the Kamehameha Schools for educating Hawaiian children. She followed her heart by marrying the man she herself had chosen, and not the one that had been chosen for her. She refused the throne offered her by a dying monarch, quietly sidestepping the pomp and circumstance that would have come with the title. But as the last in line to the illustrious crown, her refusal ended the royal reign of the House of Kamehameha.

My trip to the museum, which was preceded by two false stops onboard #2 Bus–one in Chinatown, (I was lured perhaps by the swine image of Lucky Belly), and too soon before the traffic lights in the corner of Kalapama–was quite the ride. The rest of the way to the museum is a block down from Kalihi to Bernice Street.

Built in 1889, the Bishop Museum was first used as a school ground for girls, which was eventually turned into a museum as repository for her papers and the artifacts she had collected during her travels. Inside the cool stone structure, guests are greeted at the foot of the impressive wooden staircase made entirely of koa, the gorgeous hardwood used everywhere in the museum, and which tree, we were told by its present curator, Ms Maly, grew in abundance in Hawaii. However, to turn the hardwood into fine specimens of wonderful carpentry, it had to be shipped to the mainland to be fashioned into doors, columns, cabinets, which are then brought back to the museum.

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Feathered standards, called kahili are showcased in the Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kahili Room if one turns left at the entrance, before going up the stairs to the Hawaiian room. Feathered standards were used as emblems for the high chiefs, or ali’i nui of Hawaii any time they are in the vicinity. Kahili were also used in formal state ceremonies such as at the opening of the Legislature, during coronation rites and visits of dignitaries, and especially during royal funerals, where they were held aloft as a sign of respect

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If one turns right at the entrance, one would find the Joseph Long Room.

Up the staircase is Hawaiian Hall, home to the largest collection of Polynesian artifacts, and at the center of it, suspended from the rafters, is a papier mache skeleton of a sperm whale.

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Also found in the Bishop Museum grounds are the Richard T. Mamiya Science Adventure Center, which opened in November 2005, and which contains interactive volcanology and dinosaur learning exhibits, and the oldest planetarium in all of Polynesia, the Jhamandas Watumull Planetarium, an educational and research facility devoted to astronomy.

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“Le’ahi”: Doing Diamond Head

Visiting historic Pearl Harbor was the centerpiece of my 2009 trip to O’ahuhiking up the 1.1 km to the summit of Diamond Head to see the tuff cone crater, a natural landmark, was it on my 2013 return trip. Le’ahi, the Hawaiian word for the “brow of the ahi fish”, also “wreath of fire” to refer to the “navigational fires” lit to serve as seafarers’ guides, is a geological marvel that can only be fully appreciated from the top. Needless to say, you must first sweat and pant your way up. Another reward awaits the strong and the strong-willed: scenic Waikiki unfolds at your feet, a terrific backdrop for a “selfie”!

Not a selfie: Thanks to Azumi Niwa

According to the US Department of Land and Natural Resources, the name “Diamond Head” came from Western explorers who mistook the calcite crystals they found in the crater as diamonds. Before opening this natural landmark to tourism in 1976, Diamond Head was the first United States military reservation in Hawaii. Although some military facilities remain in the interior areas and are closed to traffic, Diamond Head nevertheless attracts millions of hiking enthusiasts annually, no doubt ticking it off a bucket list more important than the threat of a sunstroke.  A dollar gains you entry to this state park.

This inky tunnel amplifies the sounds of the fit and the fat! ;p

The best time to visit Diamond Head is very early in the morning, or in the afternoon–for catching some glorious sunsets too!–but mind that admissions close at 6pm. The best gear to bring is just your camera, which should be slung around your neck, or wrapped around your wrist. Don’t bring bags, and other paraphernalia that would require your hands, which you should expect to be busy with your water bottle, and for propelling yourself up. Sensible for stowing all your stuff in, a backpack when full could become deadweight and slow your ascent.

Expect grueling hiking trails of rocks, lumpy earth, concrete and metal steps, with the sun blazing hotly down your neck and back. Lather sunscreen copiously beforehand. A hat, preferably wide-brimmed, is going to be a godsend in these parts, as are oversized shades, just don’t let a wayward wind surprise you, and blow them away. Do not expect any shady part on the trail up—there isn’t any, unless you consider clouds passing overhead shade enough, or rest stations. If you think long sleeves won’t contribute to further raising your body temp, also save you from racking up a huge dermatology bill, by all means wear them; else, sleeveless tops are your best bet. Come in your most comfortable sneakers, and lightweight pants, pedal pushers or tokong.

Battle-ready.

Battle ready.

Pace yourself, paying no mind to people coming down, but be courteous of other hikers behind you as the trails were so designed as to accommodate only a two-way traffic. An octogenarian (maybe), commendable for braving Diamond Head, held a lot of people up with her slow and mincing steps. (She had been halfway up the summit by the time I was coming back down. Way to go, lola!) Passing a short stretch of tunnel that amplifies one’s breathing gives you a one-off realization who are in tip-top shape, or not. A good part of the morning spent up on the mountain is not a bad way of using up vacation time.

Gorgeous!

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Nearing the summit.

Nearing the summit.

On the way down and out of the state park, make like a lost tourist and bum a ride from a private shuttle filled with kindly Japanese tourists on the way back to their Waikiki hotels, saving yourself the bother of coming down on foot. Don’t forget to apologize for the “mistake”, in your most convincing expression! ^_^

Tourist bus

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Still want a certain altitude from where to view the beauty of Honolulu, but not prepared to toast in the sun? Then, go to Aloha Tower. Tourists are serviced by an elevator which take you up and out to the roof deck of the tower, for an amazing 360-degree view of downtown Honolulu and harbor, minus the panting and wheezing!

 

Road Trip O’ahu

Hawai’i is not just O’ahu; it is also Maui, the Big Island, Molokai, Kauai, etc. O’ahu is also not just Waikiki; it is a bunch of other excellent beaches like Waimea, Waimanalo, Kailua, Kualoa, Ka’a’awa (pronounced Ka-a-ava). If there’s a perfect place to get lost in, is in some beach with un-pronounce-able place names like Pupukea or Kaihalulu.

The ultimate road trip remains a car driven by you or by your partner. The next best thing is to get on TheBus, where your $60/month bus pass takes you anywhere in the quadrant that makes up the island of O’ahu—up the North Shore and the Windward Coast, to Leeward and all over Central O’ahu. Imagine spending only the equivalent of a little over a hundred pesos (at Php43 to $1) from downtown Honolulu up to the North Shore, and the excitement mounts. Assuming you do not get off Bus #55 you took at Ala Moana Center terminal to go to Kailua Beach, the trip will set you back only $2.50. And the savings increase if you have time on your hands, and get off at quaint towns along the way to check out Mililani and historic Hale’iwa towns, Whitmore Village and Waimea Valley, Dole and Helemano pineapple plantations, and back on the bus again. You flash your bus pass and you’re in for a scenic bus ride. Take bus #52 for a straight trip to the North Shore which takes the route of the highway; but take bus #55 for a more scenic ride, as it winds along the sides of mountains, past tunnels, and speeds past along sparkling stretches of ocean.

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Have a skit ready for when some cheeky guy tries to chat you up, and the attention is not welcome. While waiting for Bus #52 (Wahiawa/Circle Island) up at Mililani Town Center to go to Waimea, a chunky 6-footer of an Asian-American man must have guessed, quite correctly, that I wasn’t from there, and tried this age-old tactic: “You’re not from around here, huh?!”

“No, no, no,” I said, shaking my head, and bringing my hand up, as if in defeat. “Vietnamiz, ha!” I lied, trying to suggest, with that inflection, that I did not know another word of English. Searching my eyes behind very dark glasses, not quite believing the sound and content of what he had heard, he slunk quietly away, handing me back my peace.

Traveling on your own can get a bit lonely, but try not to break down when the 30-minute wait between buses gets unnerving, sitting by your lonesome in a deserted bus stop at Waimea Valley at half past 6 pm on a drizzly Sunday—that’s when your Canon becomes all the company you need.

There is, on the other hand, the comfort provided by strangers. Kathryn, whom I felt to be Filipina, was an engaging bus companion. “I grew up here, and do not intend to leave,” she confided. “I’m an ocean person.” Up at Lanikai, she pointed out both the better vantage points from where to get the best shots, and the best beach to sink your toes in, if that’s all you’re prepared to do. Pack a bikini, at the very least. The knowledge affords you the freedom of being spontaneous. From the raised road in Lanikai, I saw her wave from inside TheBus, and I had felt less solitary.

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