Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: My Year in Review

Here are the highlights of my year:

Last year, I started this blog on Christmas day. But through-out 2012, I have made it work.
I used to blog because I was bored had a lot of time on my hands and I wanted to my family and friends to share my adventures around the world. Since then, I have found time to blog because it has become a creative outlet. It's nice because despite earning only a total of (Drumroll Please) Php289.66 (that's less than SG$9. It's not even enough for cab fare from the airport to anywhere central in Singapore!!!), some of the posts I have written come up as the top 3 search results on google (Hooray!!! Anything that comes out on top on google is really validation!) and when I am too busy to post quite often, my stats tell me that my reader sources come from google.

Obviously, things have changed sinced I started blogging. I have even changed my profile information accordingly:
I dream of writing a novel - so I blog.  I dream of being a travel consultant - so I used to travel for work. Now, I work to travel. I dream of being a personal shopper - so I shop whenever I can. I believe in following your dreams!

So here's to me writing more in the coming year. Hopefully, it leads to me making enough for airfare instead of barely paying for my cab fare. Hahaha. And maybe someday, I'll get to work on my novel.

2. Starting the year right by vacationing in Bohol
We visited my sister's friends at their lovely resort, The Peacock Garden
Congratulations Chris and Mandz! (since they just got married recently)

The place is really nice.
This was the view from our room.
You can look out to the sea.
We saw the sun rise at sea because
we went looking for dolphins.
And we finally found them. I took this picture :)
The food was also very, very good. You can read all my posts about our Bohol trip here.

3. Discovering Sri Lanka
When I visited Colombo in Sri Lanka in November the year before, I thought Sri Lanka was so over-rated based on high expectations because my colleagues raved so much about it. It was a different story all-together when I went back in February because I re-connected with friends who took really good care of me and showed me that there is more to Sri Lanka than what you see at the first glance.

At the Peace Pagoda in Galle.
At the Amangalla, the Aman Resort where we had a nice lunch.
Thanks for taking care of me Tala, Pau and Luna :)
I also loved the shopping. Especially for the jewels.
You can read all my posts on Sri Lanka here.

4. Celebrating my Birthday in Maldives! (woot! woot!)
Maldives is Paradise. Enough Said.
Thanks for celebrating it with me, Timsum :)
You can read all my posts on Maldives here.

5. Celebrating my Birthday with family in Boracay
It's not Maldives. just saying.
But nothing trumps family.
You can read all my posts on Boracay here.

6. Revisiting Australia
I have been to Australia before, so I wasn't really very excited about going back again, since this time around, their currency was even stronger than the USD! Surprisingly, I has so much fun hanging out with my mom's and my sister's best friends. It felt like a home away from home, where as usual, I managed to shop until I had 40kg to bring home. I am blaming it on the bears!

The Sydney Opera House at night. 
I am blaming the bears for the 40kg luggage!
Thanks for taking care of me Tita Tess, Tito Boy and Pami! :)

You can read all about my adventures in Australia here.

7. Squeezing in a trip to Korea
My trip to Australia was short and sweet because there was a last minute change in my schedule that required me to go to Korea for a week. Hoooooray! This was on my bucket list!

I never was fond of Korean food until I had my fill of bulgogi, bbq, bulgogi and bbq... anyway, you get the picture.

I never knew they served Bulgogi with soup.
It was the best Bulgogi I ever had! From a hole in the wall place in Insadong.
Yummy BBQ beef ribs.
and there are things to see too...
I can't wait to come back with family when there are cheap flights available, preferably when winter clothes are required.
You can read about my week in Korea here.

8. A month in London with Mama and Sofia
I've always liked London because it grew on me over the years I visited my favorite cousin and godson Jacob from the time he was just born. Just for perspective, he's been taller than me for several years now.

I always look forward to travelling to London for work, but it was much much better when I could bring my daughter (and my mom) with me. All of the babysitting Jacob, when he was still known as Jonah Bonah Banana, paid off because I just had to go down memory lane to figure out activities Sofia would enjoy.

You can read about our month in London here.

9. Weekend in Paris
I can't go to Europe without going back to Paris, which I feel is home.
I had to bring Sofia to Paris because I told her that we would live there someday.

Even with our limited time,
I brought her to Disneyland. To make sure she loves Paris as much as I do.
You can read about our 36 hours in Paris here.

10. A month in Vietnam and backpacking to Phnom Penh
My last tour of duty before heading back to the Philippines was for three and a half weeks in Vietnam. It was fun because with no safety issues and visa requirements, I was able to bring Sofia and Yaya Naling. Just like we did in Thailand and Brazil!

We loved getting pampered at the spa while drinking Vietnamese iced coffee.
We also did some weekend trips to go sightseeing.
This was in Vung Tau.
I also loved the food, but beware because they serve carbs in everything. The worst part is, it's really good, so it's doubly hard to resist.
You can read about our stay in Vietnam here.

We didn't quite realize that Filipinos can only stay for 21 days with no visa. Ooooops!
Thankfully, Phnom Penh is just 4 hours and US$10 away by bus, so we were even able to go on a backpacking adventure.

On the bus to Phnom Penh.
Backpacking, literally.
Our first stop was Bloom, for the best cupcakes ever.
We stayed at a nice inexpensive boutique hotel.
That's the pool just beside our cabana.
You can read all about our Phnom Penh stories here.

11. Moving back and adjusting to an I must to go the office everyday job
Packing up the last two and a half years of our life.
and leaving our Singapore home was traumatic.
But having to go to office every day for the first time in my life was even more so. just saying kidding.
It's a good thing I work with great people.
I just think of it as seeing them everyday. Hahaha.

12. Celebrating Mama and Sofia's birthdays in Japan
Mama turned 60 and Sofia just turned 5.
and I ate Ramen every other day.
You can read my posts on Japan here.

That's it for 2012! 
Happy New Year Everyone!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

B&T Mexican Kitchen FTW

I wanted to do a good vibes post before the year ends. Hopefully, it will usher in more good things for next year, and good food always = good vibes!

After our traumatic spa experience yesterday, you can read about it here (part 1) and here (part 2), we were absolutely starving. In fact, towards the end of our massage, I swear my friends would be able to hear my stomach growling. We decided to eat at Burritos & Tacos (B&T) because we wanted to stay in the Greenhills area.

B&T is at building with Masuki, across Ash Creek Center along Ortigas.

The only problem about this place is their menu is very confusing, especially if you arrive with a hungry stomach. It's a good thing, there's a guy there who looks like the owner who will help you order and recommend dishes based on your preference. 

I think you need to order the format in Step 1 (ie Burrito, Taco, etc).
Then you choose the filling in Step 2 (ie Chicken, Beef, etc).
They also have boards for separate dishes, sides and drinks.
The first time I ate there, I was with Ady and Sofia.
We ordered a Quasadilla so Sofia could eat something.
I asked for Chicken filling but Sofia didn't really like it.
When the guy saw that, he immediately sent over
a complimentary cheese quesadilla for her.
Mango Glaze Habanero Chicken
This was good, but the wings were a bit on the malnourished side. 
We also ordered tacos, which always comes in 3s.
You can choose a different filling for each taco.
I think this was the toasted corn taco shell.
Yesterday we ordered the soft taco version.
The servings were generous and it was really good.
We ordered a Wet Burito because Chipsy wanted rice and
did not want to share. We were starving, so no judgement please.
I think you add a hundred plus to wet your Burrito (w/cheese sauce),
but it becomes really good and tasty. We ordered the Carnitas.
We also ordered the Ball Park Nachos (Solo Size) with all the toppings
except for beans. It was so good.
It just looks weird because it's served to you in what looks like a dog dish.

The rumor in the foodie world is that this place is an off-shoot of Ristras after the partners split up. The food and the service is definitely better. just saying.

B&T Mexican Kitchen
G/F Sekai Bldg, Ortigas Ave
Greenhills, San Juan
+63 (2) 975-1850

Ahavia's Apology

If you read my previous ranting post on Ahavia Lounge Spa's Bad Customer Service, here is Part 2.

The owner of Ahavia Spa sent me three private messages through facebook to apologize.

Sent at 4:44am
Hi this is Carlo the owner of the spa please expound on why the customer service was bad so we could improve our service to you guys.  Sorry for whatever happened and I hope I can help and please send feedback like this as a message to our fan age that is the purpose of that added feature of facebook the recommendation section is for fans and positive feedback about a product, company, person or service.  Thank you and have a good day.

Sent at 5:08am
Nevermind I read your blog I am really sorry for the wait for the room since we only have 3 VIP rooms that's the reason we expanded and yes the customer did extend their service in the one room with the three beds. Please accept some services that maybe you could blog about plus 300 pesos worth of service for the VIP room for you and your friends.
Yes you are right groupon really is a problem for us that's why I want to stop doing marketing through them... We barely make money from those services on groupon and since we have a rather high customer traffic at the moment (this is why we are opening a bigger branch in the QC area and more branches in the future) Which I think shouldn't have been done during the Christmas season but groupon insisted (since more people are open on buying and spending during the Christmas season...) because they make 50% of every sale they make example their sale price is 300 pesos only 150 goes to the company which barely covers costs since they give a 60% discount from the retail price... It might be a good way of promoting new companies but not one with a already high customer volume.
and I would sincerely ask for you to repeal your blog since we are a new company (only 4 years old) that you should admit gives a better ambience at the same price of nuat thai, ton ton's and montalbo and we are the only company that really listens to customer feedback and takes it to heart, hence this message for you. I personally message every person who gives negative feedback and try to fix it, but when it is dues to parameters like the needing to expand bit this will take some time.  We have 50 plus or more employees in this branch alone so you would know the responsibility put on me to feed 50 families because I believe aside from constant change and growth the more mouths a business feeds the more positive aura it radiates.
I should tell the concierge to not be so strict with the soap but yes those steps where done for virality. I'm gonna look into a new way of doing this or spend to have an online app done for or fan page so everything is automated.
The numbering thing is a new addition to the spa if you noticed on the counter there is a digital display with numbers on it, We just started applying it yesterday. Since we have a lot of clients pouring in sometimes people would rush to the counter and say they came first. This is like the system they have a globe and banks for queuing clients and maintaining order
Please give us another chance. I am sorry for this experience.
Sent at 5:26am
and yes the one getting the massage was one of my partners and me but andrew didn't inform us that there was a reservation for that time.... So it is all my fault please accept my sincerest apologies.

My reply through this post
Hi Carlo, 
First, thank you very much or your sincere apology. It's good to know someone at the spa thinks about your customers. However, I would like to clarify a few things.
1. Thank you for offering use of the VIP room, but we already told Andrew we were not interested in it. It's only because we know from experience how hard it is to book a room, even with an appointment because we had to wait a long time before we were given one. 
Also, when we asked for something complementary for making us wait, we wanted to feel that the spa valued it's customers. That's why it didn't sit right when Andrew left for the day without leaving us any letter telling us how we'll be compensated or gift certificate after he promised us a complimentary service. Getting our names is really insincere because he had our names already. We were the group that had to wait 2 hours for our treatment.
2. About the soap at the concierge. I just want to explain, the issue is NOT the soap. It's about the execution of your viral facebook promotion. I did it myself before coming so I know that doing 7 steps is not easy. Just so you can qualify for the raffle. I don't think that people are joining for the soap. However, when you put it in the last step that you get the raffle ticket and the soap, your concierge must have a system to be able to check that you've done all 7 steps when you arrive, or at the very least, they should have it ready for you  and remind you about it before you leave. If your customers take time to join, your concierge should pro-actively do her part. And I wholeheartedly agree you need to check, since those who join would have better chances of winning if you only give the raffle ticket to those who did all the steps. Hahaha. 
Now, I also understand why the concierge was not able to do it. It's because she is the person entertaining all the mad customers, who also needs to answer the phone at the same time. But that is not an excuse. You should hire more people so your customers don't have to wait long with a number (it really sets the wrong tone for a spa), and you should only run viral promos that you can facilitate.
3. There seems to be an inconsistency in your 5:08pm reply where the customer extended in the VIP room we used, and your last message at 5:26pm where you said it was you and one of your partners getting the massage. Plus the additional inconsistency that Andrew didn't tell you there were customers waiting and he telling us that we only had to wait 20 minutes, then telling us again that he was knocking on your door for an hour. It just makes the customers feel that they are being lied to when it seems like the statements told to us are conflicting with each other.
Anyway, I just want to thank you again for your apology. No need to give me anything complimentary. I did not write my post to extort anything. I just wanted to share my experience. 
As an expanding business, I wish you the best of luck, and hope that you use our feedback to improve your services so that you can make the most of the ambiance you have, by creating good vibes for your customers and not additional stress :) just saying.

Ahavia Lounge Spa Customer Service Disaster for a Mediocre Massage

To recuperate from our super tiring day yesterday, my friends and I decided to book our treatments at Ahavia Lounge Spa for this afternoon. All of us happened bought Group-On vouchers which require you to book an appointment a day in advance so I even called them while we were having dinner in Sta Rosa, and Carla confirmed that we had a slot for 4:00pm today.

My best friend and I arrived just in time. I was even able to park my car closest to the entrance because it seemed like 4:00pm was a good time to visit. The guard gave me a number (23) which I thought was ridiculous given that I parked my own car and didn't leave the keys so I totally didn't get what the number was for.

Our other friend, my kaladkarin partner, Chips, arrived much earlier than us and asked the spa if she could get a Foot Spa while waiting, and they said yes. She even asked them if she had enough time before our appointment, because if not, she could have it done after, however, due to numerous delays, they only attended to her slightly before 4:00pm even knowing that our appointment was at 4:00pm so when we arrived, we said we'll just wait for her to finish and then go and get our massage.

Ahavia Lounge Spa in San Juan

The lady behind this desk then told me that we would have to wait for 5:30pm for our slot. I found this unacceptable so I told her we had an appointment at 4:00pm, and they should not have started my friends Foot Spa treatment before our massage if we were going to lose our reservation that they confirmed. Seeing my irritation, her supervisor (called Sir Andrew) immediately asked me what the matter was, and assured us that they would be ready with for our massage after my friend's Foot Spa.

My friend finished at around 4:30pm. When we asked if we could already have our treatment done, this Andrew guy asked us if we would mind waiting 20minutes because "one of their customers extended, whatever that means". Also while we were having this discussion, there was a group of extremely irrate customers in front of the desk because this was their second visit where they had an appointment and they were told that they could not be accommodated. The girl said that she called on Thursday for a 7:00pm appointment yesterday and was told she was not on the appointment book and to come back today and today she was being told the same thing.  I was obviously eavesdropping, thinking we were lucky, we managed to get the next available VIP room (or so we thought). This was also the part where I made sure I remembered it was Carla who confirmed my appointment.

Since it seemed like they were doing their best to accommodate us, we asked Andrew if they would give us a complimentary service for waiting, and if there was somewhere we could wait since by then their waiting area was just full of Bad Vibes from people they have managed to irritate by their sheer incompetence. And they call themselves a Spa. Tsk Tsk. Andrew agreed to this, and showed us to the Children's waiting area and sent us some tea.

The kids lounge is quite nice.
I thought I would be able to leave Sofia here when I came back.
But that was before I realized I would never ever come back.

My best friend Jem.
This was when we thought we would wait 20 mins.
They served us sweetened tea that tasted like Taho.
This is me with Chipsy, with her now smooth feet.

After 25 minutes, I went out to follow-up our massage. We were told that they were just checking our room, sort of implying that we will be getting our service soon. After numerous follow-ups and the same answer I insisted on talking to the Andrew guy again. He explained to me that the client in the room extended, and when I asked why they allow the clients to do so, he said that the client locked the door (can you really do that in a Spa --- ano to Motel???) and was not answering his knocks. This was already around 5:30pm. An hour since he put us in the kid's lounge. But he told us we would get a complimentary VIP room for our next visit. All of us didn't want a complimentary VIP room you need to wait hours for. We asked that he give us a different service instead.

After numerous follow-ups again, I found out that they only had 3 VIP rooms (which was included in the newest voucher that they are peddling on Group-On), and when I asked if they could give us a different room instead, I was told that we had to wait for the room with the 3 beds because there were 3 of us. I told them, we didn't need to be in one room since Jem's voucher was for a different package. Then they told me, they had no rooms available anyway. Then finally we were told that the room was being prepared for us. I found this to be quite fishy since I didn't really see anyone exit the treatment area to the reception and main entrance but I was just happy to get served. After more than 1 hour of being made to wait.

Very unhappy after more than 1 hour of waiting.
And I thought we came here to relax. Tsk Tsk.

When they told us we had to wait 5-10minutes for our room to be prepared, we watched the clock like a hawk. After the 10 minutes was up, they had to locate Andrew again (it seems like the others are not allowed to give specific answers), who told us our room would be ready in 3 minutes. We asked to wait in the room while they were preparing it.

So this is the VIP room.
It matches my bag.
Let's spell V. I. P!!!
After clowning around. It was already 5.45PM.
They were not yet done prepping our room.

We got our massage at 6pm. 4 hours after our confirmed appointment time. 30 minutes after the 5:30 slot they were giving us, which I said was unacceptable. As the therapists were prepping around us, I asked one of them why the client was taking so long to open the door. The therapist told us "Yun may-ari po yun nandito kanina. Siya yung nagpapamassage." (It was the owner who was in here, getting a massage.)  No wonder they couldn't force the owner to open the door. They might lose their jobs. That's assuming what the therapist said was true. - so I guess, the owner would rather LOSE customers - or irritate them, in a place they go to for rest and relaxation.

Now, about the massage. It was passable. We got the voucher package for 2 pax for a 120min Volcanic Stone or Sea Shell treatment in a VIP room. My 45-minute hot stone massage from a street corner spa in Ho Chi Minh City was so much better that the massage I got from Ahavia. They really need to give you 120 minutes because there is so much dead time during the treatment when they prepare the stones because they use it on you body part by body part. And it seems like they only use it on you with a few token strokes so they can call it a Volcanic Stone massage. My only thought bubble was well, for the voucher price, it's still not too bad. The only really good part was when they massaged our heads for all of 2 minutes. Hahaha. You should know that the only time they are prompt is for the duration of your treatment. Ours ended at 7:59pm on the dot.

After our massage, we asked to see Andrew to claim our complementary service. We were told by the front desk that he already left and just asked for our names and contact numbers - which they already had because we had to give it before our treatment.

Ahavia has just moved to a new location because it seems that they are trying to expand. They also have a viral facebook promotion where they ask you to do 7 steps, to be eligible for an iPad raffle. Step 7 is to go to the reception and ask for your raffle ticket which will be given together with a free soap. Since I am a sucker for a sale, I did all these steps last night because I knew I was going to Ahavia. When we arrived, I already asked for my raffle ticket and they told me that they still needed to check I did all the steps, and it will be ready for me after the treatment. When I was claiming my raffle ticket after the massage, they gave it to me, but when I asked for the free soap, I was informed that they needed to check I did all the steps. So many inconsistencies and incompetence in this spa. Number 7 said you get both if you do all steps. and they told me that they will check while we were waiting and getting our treatments. I just told them, I did all the 7 steps which I told you when we arrived. You've had more than 4 hours to check. So they gave me the soap (which I don't really want. It's just the principle of the thing!) because I complained, but I guess that incident, together with this scathing review means I lose my chance of winning an iPad. awwwwww.

It's a good thing getting this out of my system relaxed me more than my visit at Ahavia Lounge Spa. You should only visit them if you want to waste your time and you want a mediocre massage. just saying.

By the way, the number the guard gives, It's for attending to you only when your number is flashed. I only found out afterwards. What kind of spa treats it's customers like they are waiting in line at an airline ticketing office!?! Seriously!