What it was like to be at the Vatican for a day?

It might not be obvious, but since I was in grade school, I have been unknowingly serious about my spirituality by participating actively in Flores de Mayo each year after school break and Misa de Gallo during advent. In high school, I taught catechism classes at the chapel of my small village and on my junior and senior years I volunteered to teach religion classes in public elementary schools in my city. I even self-studied how to play the guitar so that I can play hymns during liturgical services in the chapel. Holy Week is one of the Catholic church’s liturgical events that I look forward to, as I love joining long processions, burning lots of candles, reciting the Stations of the Cross and binge-watching and listening bible movies on TV and radio. I strictly followed a week of no-meat diet and even formulated a fish-ball recipe from fresh yellow fin tuna to enjoy the holy meatless season.

Fast forward to adulthood, I joined healing masses, Catholic youth and singles ministries, relic visits, Visita Iglesias and Holy Week retreats not caring about the mob, long hours and unpredictable weather! Then when I went to Europe in 2010, I made a pact to myself that I will save money to visit holy places around the world, taking pilgrimage to Holy sites every few years. So my first destination was Rome, where the Vatican City is enclaved within this Italian capital. My first visit to the Holy See was in June 4, 2010 and revisited in December 1, 2018 and this time the experience was ‘transcendentally esoteric’ characterized by deep thought, meditation and soul-searching.

From any parts of Rome going to St. Peter’s Basilica, the bus stop to watch out for is Cavalleggeri/S. Pietro. It’s the closest one to the basilica. I followed where people were heading and minutes later found myself standing at the immense St. Peter’s Square. There was already a long snaking queue and on this visit I opted to skip the line and get a guided tour (in English) to make the most out of the experience. This tour package includes Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapels fast track entry that will last for 2-3 hours only, about one-third of the time when taking the free but long queue. The tourism office is just in front of the Square and there were uniformed tour personnel scattered around to look for customers. But I recommend going to the tourism office yourself or book tickets online. English guided tours are available only at certain times during the day so keep this in mind. You will get a sticker like this one below to identify you as a member of the group tour.

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We walked for 5 minutes taking another side of the Vatican to reach an entry point exclusive for group tours only. The first leg of the tour was the Vatican Museum. All visitors passed through x-ray machines. It is a highly-guarded place, home to vast collection of art masterpieces amassed by the popes throughout the centuries.

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Former entrance now an exit to the Vatican Museum

After going through tight security, we were given the museum pass and a pocket audio guide (see below). There were several other tour groups in different languages walking side by side with us. The beauty of the audio guide is you will hear your tour guide well even if she/he is 10 meters away among the sea of other visitors. It is easy to locate your group mates if you veer off course.

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Guided tours of different languages inside the Vatican Museum

We were then ushered to the Galleria dei Candelabri which houses Greek and Roman antiques. The sculptures were painstakingly and intricately made. Even the nooks and crannies of the pillars were crafted to the fine details. The ceilings were generously embellished with beautiful mosaic of paintings that span from the entrance to the exit of the massive halls. There were several times I got steered away from my group because I was extremely engrossed by the details of the paintings and sculptures (good thing the flag carried by the lead of my tour group helped in finding them and I was backed on track).

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We took a break before the Sistine Chapel tour at the Courtyard of Pigna, a welcome respite in between museum visits.

We proceeded to the Sistine Chapel at the Apostolic Palace (where the pope resides. It is also the site of the papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected). Sistine Chapel is famous for its frescos, “a technique of mural painting that is executed on a wet lime plaster. Water acts as a vehicle that will deliver the dry pigment to the freshly-laid plaster and upon drying, it becomes an integral part of the wall”. After touring the Vatican Museum, I thought the pieces I will see at the Sistine Chapel were similar to the murals of the Vatican Museum. But nothing could prepare your senses to the brilliantly crafted Renaissance masterpieces of Michelangelo. Taking photographs and talking are not allowed inside the huge Sistine Chapel. This made it one of the most solemn places I have visited where people of different faiths gather and all captivated by the magnificence of the high ceiling or vault painted by Michelangelo from 1508 to 1512. He used rich, bright colors readily visible from the floor.

All heads were looking upwards to the ceiling (Michelangelo’s frescoes), then to the Southern Wall (Stories of Moses paintings by various artists), Northern Wall (Stories of Jesus paintings by various artists) and the Eastern Wall. The whole altar wall is covered by Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement. What an awesome sight to behold!

At this time our tour guide switched off the audio guide and we were allowed our own moments at the chapel for 20 minutes. Sitting side by side, strangers smile and without any words, all in agreement to the beauty and the artistry behind the works.

The official tour ended up at the main door leading to the St. Peter’s Basilica where I spent the rest of the afternoon in prayer of gratefulness for a beautiful life, for having a constant supply of unfaltering energy despite my seemingly simple diet, for the people who supported me to pursue my passions and advocacies and many other surprised blessings from God.

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Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

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The Pieta by Michelangelo inside the St. Peter’s Basilica

People also spend some time to pray at the tomb of St. John Paul II. Popes who become saints had the privilege of being buried inside the main chapel of the Basilica.

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The tomb of St. John Paul II

Time goes fast when you are immersed into something that you really like. It later occurred to me that I missed lunch and it’s already 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. I devoured on some tasty gelato on the tourist center very close to the Basilica. This ice cream tasted differently from the usual one I had back home.

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After shopping for religious souvenirs and 2 cups of warm espresso, I decided to call it a day and start walking outside of St. Peter’s Square towards the bus stop. But when I heard the church bell tolled around 4PM, I reversed direction and returned to the Square. It seems like something was calling and pulling me strongly and I cannot help it, really! So, I gave in to that strange desire and just spent the late afternoon to early evening at the Square’s fountain and the cloisters of the Basilica still reflecting on God’s bountiful blessings, for always keeping me safe and for giving me a brave heart that allowed me to overcome challenges in the very rough distant past.

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I know this will not be my last visit to the Vatican. I will keep coming back and keep saving, for more religious pilgrimage and adventure travels around the world. Truly there’s a wanderlust in me. “Our jobs fill our pocket, but adventures fill our soul.” – Jamie Lyn Beatty

 

Vietnam-Cambodia: The Perfect Adventure Trail

After posting some photos of my recent Vietnam-Cambodia trip, I received quite a number of inquiries on how to go about this route. Since today is a “free weekend” I decided to make time to write my Vietnam-Cambodia adventure (some friends have recently took this trip using my recommendations and others will take the trip in early 2019). To have a meaningful trip experience, begin by having a stress-free planning and a “ready-mindset” for possible contingencies during the actual trip. Also, take into account value for money. There are lots of options that won’t sacrifice comfort over costs. Here goes my simple yet practical tips if you decide to take this tour.

Why Vietnam and Cambodia?

Decide on the route and what do you want out of the trip. For me, I chose Vietnam because I just love Vietnamese food – the stew, the sprouts, the fresh herbs, the rolls. I also like to haggle at the Ben Thanh market for delicacies and souvenirs and/or shop cheap at the Saigon Square. Ho Chi Minh also has several landmarks, museums and architectural works which depicted the colonial history of the city. On the other hand, my Lara Croft side wants a Tomb Raider type of adventure which means that running temples after temples in Siem Rep would elevate my adrenaline levels awakening the quiet heroine in me. Wherever you are coming from, search for the shortest but cheap airline route and this should be done months ahead of the trip.

Transportation from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to Siem Rep, Cambodia

This is where most people are clueless. I used Bookaway to reserve bus tickets ($26 one-way) for the Mekong Express tourist bus. Once paid, the printed voucher will be sent to your e-mail. Seat numbers are automatically assigned by the system during booking. Bring the voucher to the Mekong Express office (Address: [Vietnam] 1, 275F Phạm Ngũ Lão, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh; [Cambodia] Sivutha Blvd, Krong Siem Reap) at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure to exchange it for the actual ticket. The bus is loading passengers in front of the office. It is quite a long trip, a little over 13 hours with stopovers for lunch and dinner. The bus has a small, clean toilet which is convenient for a long trip. About 6 hours after departure, there will be a bus transfer in Phnom Penh. WI-FI is available on the Phnom Penh-Siem Rep bus route and vice versa.

Accommodations in Ho Chi Minh City

Since we arrived after midnight in Ho Chi Minh, we booked at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel – Saigon, a 3-minute walk to the Mekong Express bus office. A convenient way to book your accommodations is through booking.com. You can choose to pay at the hotel upon check-in. We also arranged for an airport pick-up for hassle free airport-hotel transfer because we expected that we were already drowsy after an almost 3-hour flight and arriving at midnight. Bloom Hotel is another good option (with steam, sauna, shower and gym services for free) if you do not like the vibe of a backpackers accommodation, but is 6-9 minutes by car away from the Mekong Express bus office.

Vietnam-Cambodia Border Security Check

Do not be alarmed if your passport will be taken by the bus crew. Usually, they collect the passports before reaching the border to submit it all at once at both Vietnam and Cambodia tourist security checks. The process of getting your passport stamped at the border usually takes about 30-45 minutes depending on the queue. You and your carry-on items will pass through x-ray scanning machines. Border check is mandatory and everybody must undergo this procedure. Take note: never ever take photos at the security checks because this is strongly prohibited.

Our Route Ho Chi Minh - Siem Rep

Our Route Ho Chi Minh – Siem Rep

When in Siem Rep

Upon arrival, we took Grab taxi (which is so cheap in Siem Rep) to bring us to the Angkor Paradise Hotel. There are cheaper accommodation options but we chose this hotel because it is recommended by a friend with spacious room and mouth-watering international buffet breakfast. In case you go out of the hotel before 6:00 AM, breakfast will be packed by the staff as a takeaway. Remember to download the Grab app and make sure it is working prior to your departure from your country of origin. I saw several tourists struggling in the registration of the app because the codes will be verified via phone and some sim cards do not work at all.

We only have one whole day for our temple run adventure. So, instead of using the most popular tuktuk tour package, we arranged with our Grab driver to bring us to several temples. A car is of course faster than the tuktuk and this allows for a convenient temple hopping. We paid $35 for the whole day vehicle rental. There are motorbikes that can be rented on a much cheaper price if you are travelling solo or in 2’s.

A tourist must have an admission pass (an ‘Angkor Pass’) to visit the temples and sites. Passes are sold in one-day ($37), three-day ($62) and seven-day ($72) blocks that must be used on consecutive days. Your admission pass bears a photo of you which will be taken on the spot at the time of purchase. We bought the passes at the Angkor Enterprise which opens at 5:00 AM. Your cab or tuktuk driver will assist you in getting the passes.

Angkor Day Pass

We visited only 4 major temples: Angkor Wat, Angkor Bayon, Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom out of the 7 that we can possibly visit on that day which means there are still more temples to go to on future visits. We stayed for 2-3 hours on each temple to grasp its history and marvel at its fascinating architecture which dates back thousands of years ago. There’s a mystical vibe that draws my soul into the temples which I need to fathom (“Did I live here in my past life”?) which really took time to settle. The temples and the parks which the archaeological structures were built is huge so be ready for a lot of walking and hiking. You can take a guide (cheapest is $15) to narrate the history of each angkor (Sanskrit meaning “city”) and also help in getting the best-angled photos. It is respectful to the culture if you come to the temples wearing appropriate clothing: no sleeveless shirts and above the knee shorts or skirts for ladies.

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Angkor Bayon

Night Life in Siem Rep

Siem Rep at night is equally fascinating. The city center has a modern vibe with many restaurants offering not just Cambodian but also international cuisines as well. There are also restaurants with Asian-European fusion menus. A visit to the night market (which is separate from the Art Night Market) is a-must destination to buy souvenirs, traditional clothes and accessories. Be sure to haggle for the best price and do not take the first mentioned price which is obviously high.

Night market souvenir shopping

If you are fond of gems or precious stones, you can buy it cheap at the Art Night Market. Be sure you know your birthstone (mine is Ruby). You will be awed and speechless at the huge collection, beauty and unique designs of precious stones and jewelries on display. You can use credit card but there are also ATMs nearby to withdraw cash.

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Fine gem stones and jewelries at the Art Night Market

We arrived in Siem Rep on Halloween so the famous Pub Street was busier than usual. With live band music and concerts, Halloween street buntings and tourists wearing their favorite Halloween costumes, the night’s atmosphere was festive, young, vibrant and mischievous which creates contrast to the mystical vibes of the temples during the day tour. Bars and cafes lined Pub Street, a good way to relax and recharge after a long day of temple hopping.

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The Pub Street

When in Ho Chi Minh

We explored the city of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) for 2 days. To make the most of our visit, we arranged a tour to see historical sites, famous landmarks and markets. We used this tour package to organize our visit.

War Museum

The Post Office

Imperial Palace

We explored the markets and my favorite Vietnamese food in the evenings. It helps that we had a lot of hikes and walking during the day which made me crave for Vietnamese pho soup and fried spring rolls and noodles.

The Ideal Currency to Bring

The US dollar ($) is the best currency to bring around in both Vietnam and Cambodia. I recommend to bring loose change or small bills for easy transactions. Some market stalls will find it difficult to give you loose change for a 100-dollar bill. Vietnamese dong and US $ can be withdrawn from ATMs in Vietnam. Philippine peso is also accepted. While in Cambodia, most are dollar ATMs.

Final Thought

If you are like me who wants to experience both traditional and modern aspects in every adventure trip, the Vietnam-Cambodia route is the best. Ho Chi Minh city is one of the best destinations for food, shopping, history and bike rush. While Cambodia should be really proud of its mind-blowing temples that until now I can’t get over yet. Siem Rep is a small city filled with temples and nature parks worth visiting a hundred times because of the unique contrasts of tradition and modern culture.

The Need for a Travel Insurance

Since 2013, I have been taking long trips and part of the preparation to every trip is the purchase of a travel insurance with clear and comprehensive travel policy. For 5 years now, I have been a happy customer of World Nomads, a trusted partner of Lonely Planet. I was prompted to get a travel insurance due to an unfortunate experience by a friend that had she not have the travel insurance handy, it would have been a nightmare for her and her family.

Meaningful travels can be achieved when you plan it well but be spontaneous to whatever comes your way and live in the moment. Collect fun and wonderful memories as much as possible. Immersed in the culture and connect to the locals. 🙂

 

How to Apply for an Indian Visa Online and Get it in 3 Days!

After watching the highly-acclaimed Indian movie 3 Idiots (an epic combination of comedy, mischief, wit and subtle romance); experiencing the warm friendship of Indian colleagues at my former organization; and learning the story behind the Taj Mahal, there has always been a growing interest in visiting this incredible country for years.

Fast forward in 2016, when the goddess of luck and opportunity transited my Vedic lunar system, I was sent to India for work :-). But first I need to get a visa! Since my desire in visiting this country is huge, I was willing to go through the complexities of visa application no matter what!

On my first visit, I was granted a 6-month visa, the traditional sticker type attached to the passport page. When I was asked to visit India again in April 2017, I figured there must be a way of getting it online knowing India is famous for its world-renowned IT professionals and young math geniuses. My impression was confirmed when I learned that a colleague was using an e-visa, way cheaper than the sticker type. This means escaping the agonizing long queue, waiting and travelling time getting it in person at the embassy or visa application center.

Since then, I have helped colleagues and friends get their Indian e-visa whether they are previous visitors or first-time travelers as part of my philosophy of making life easier for other people.

Please note that Indian e-visa facility is available for nationals of certain countries specified by its government. Check out your eligibility and other details here.

The sequence of the application process goes like this: fill-up the online application form -> upload a photo and passport personal page (additional invitation letter if travelling for business) -> pay visa fee via credit/debit card -> receive e-Visa thru email -> print the e-Visa. 

During the online application, please make sure that your passport is with you; have an e-copy of your photo (in jpeg file), a scanned copy of your passport personal page (in pdf file) and an invitation letter (stipulating contact details of the person inviting you to India when you are applying for a business visa). Business visa includes attendance to meetings, conferences and work-related activities.

Let us go through each step. Please alot at least an hour or more for the whole process.

FILL-UP THE ONLINE APPLICATION FORM

The first page of the online application form looks like this which you can access from the India government website on this linkFill up all info space with asterisk (*) to proceed to the next page.

E-Visa Online Form

I am an ordinary passport holder, so I chose ordinary passport in the Passport Type space. Select your port of arrival,  in  my case Mumbai Airport. This comes handy if you know your itinerary prior to visa application. Choose which Visa Service is applicable to you. If  you come as a tourist, specify if you are travelling for Recreation/Sightseeing or Meeting Friends/Relatives. When you are travelling to Attend Technical/Business Meetings, specify so.

When you click Continue a pop-up prompting you of certain documents you need to successfully fill in the succeeding pages will appear. The pop-up list of documents is different for each e-visa type .

Documents needed for Tourist e-Visa application

A different set of documents is required when you are applying for a business e-visa. The ‘Business Card’ on the 3rd item below is simply just the invitation letter from the company or organization inviting you to India.

Documents needed for Business e-Visa application

The next page in the online application form will ask more details. Fill in as many information as possible especially the ones with asterisk  (*). Do not forget to  write down your Temporary Application ID (located at the upper portion of the form) to retrieve previous information in case you have something immediate to attend to or you lost internet connection.

Part of the Application Details Form

There is a question on the form which some people find confusing. ‘Have you lived for at least two years in the country where you are applying visa?’.  This refers to the country where you are at during the time of application. In my case, the country where I am residing at the moment, my home country (where I will be submitting application had I chose to get the visa in person).

Since the Applications Details Form is several pages in length, this is where you really need to be patient. For the business e-visa, you will be asked to enumerate the places to be visited, details of  the applicant’s company (address, website, phone number, contact person within the company and his/her phone number), details of the Indian firm inviting the applicant (address, website, phone number, contact person within the company and his/her phone number), details of previous travel to India (if applicable, such as address during the previous visit, cities visited, type of visa issued, place and date of issue).

Another information is asked in the Applications Details Form, ‘Have you visited SAARC countries (except your own country) during last 3 years?’ SAARC countries refer to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation which is the regional intergovernmental organization and geopolitical union of nations in South Asia which include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Check the details here.

UPLOAD A PHOTO AND PASSPORT PERSONAL PAGE

You will be ask to upload a photo (2 in x 2 in) in .jpeg format. This is also equivalent to 350 x 350 (width:height) pixels and should be less than 1 MB in size. I recommend this website to resize your photo. Select an image of you (in white background) from any device, define the new size of your image (choose dimensions) then enter 350 for width and height. Click resize and download the resized version on your computer.

The one-page passport personal page should be in pdf form and should be less than 300 MB in size. Go to this website to compress your pdf document to an allowable size.

PAYING FOR THE VISA FEE 

When you reach the payment section, choose SBI e-pay which will connect you to a secure page. You can use any credit, debit card or paypal account to do this.

Upon successful payment, you will be given an Application ID (different from your Temporary Application ID), write this down as you will use it when tracking the status of your e-visa application, see below with more details here.

The Visa Status Inquiry page

RECEIVE THE E-VISA THRU EMAIL

After about 3 days, you will receive a notification via e-mail of the results of your application. The email will give you the link to to access the e-Visa. Please note that the email you received granting you an e-Visa is not the actual visa but the bar-coded one-page document you will access from the link sent to you. 

PRINT THE E-VISA

After accessing the e-visa through the link sent to your e-mail,  it is good to print or bring a hard copy with you together with your passport although you can save the e-Visa in your device.  The e-Visa has a bar code, your name, birthday, number of entries and the inclusive dates that the visa is valid in a one-page format

Although it takes less than a week or minimum of 3 days to get an Indian e-Visa online, I still encourage applicants to get it way ahead of the scheduled trip to avoid any travel woes.

Information including photos were extracted from https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/evisa/.

I do hope you can visit India and experience its rich culture, tradition and history. You will surely be amazed by the warmth and friendliness of its people. My Indian friends once told me, many of them considered each visitor like a ‘God’ so expect and be ready to receive unparalleled attention and hospitality. The unique architecture, ancient structures and mostly vegetarian cuisine will truly captivate you.

Travel Insurance

Apart from the visa preparation, I took time on every trip to purchase a travel insurance especially during personal travel (business trips travel insurance is covered by my employer). For 5 years now, I have been a happy customer of World Nomads, a trusted partner of Lonely Planet. This will ensure that you can focus on the moment while World Nomads will take care of any risks that you might encounter during the trip.

 

Making it Simple: How to Invest in the Stock Market of the Philippines

“While it’s good to treat oneself once in a while, it is much better to save for the rainy days”, our grandmas and mamas would say. But seeing no dynamics in the money stuck in our bank accounts made the act of SAVING boring and discouraging. Some people would succumbed to get-rich-quick, multi-level networking and pyramiding schemes to feel the action and seeing their money grow in no time only to get fooled later along with heartbreaking, huge, irreversible losses.

If you are like me who continues to work because you find meaning in what you do by contributing to knowledge and society, while at the same time wants your money work while you sleep, then stay with me on this. You can be really good at what you do without compromising your hard-earned money which is a key to a comfortable future. A future that is ready for any emergencies for you and your family, a future where you can jet-off to some far away island when you need a breather, or simply buying that luxury item you’re longing for without the guilt. In other words… FREEDOM.

But before getting there, let me clarify some impressions that inhibit most of us from entrusting our money in the stock market: the RISK. Yes, there is… to everything we do actually, and the stock market is not an exemption! But we can mitigate the risk with the right amount of knowledge! It took me a little while to put my money in the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) because like everyone else I do not know what to do, how it works and most of all, I am scared to lose! Before taking any action, let us change our perspective from short, get-rich-quick mindset to long-term, regular habit of investing to maximize potential returns. There are downs and ups, “dips and rallies” in the stock market and these are normal and should not take its toll on our emotions.

I attended mostly free, inexpensive trainings and seminars to keep me guided. There, I met several people, many of them young and highly-motivated and doing well in the stock market who became my role models. I come to realize, it is not difficult and risky as I have imagined. To know more about the stock market and how to earn and make money from it, click here for details.

I will cut to the chase and will only mention my actual experience. The core processes are opening an account, funding the account and winning strategically.

HOW TO OPEN A TRADING ACCOUNT

Go to the ColFinancial website. I started with 5000 pesos few years ago. On the left panel of the same link , navigate the numbered steps to open a personal account which I summarized below:

1. Choose your account type (mine is COL STARTER but you can choose COL PLUS or COL Premium depending on your budget and risk preference).

2. Fill out application forms. Downloading and printing out the form is mandatory. There are two forms that need to be submitted: Customer Account Information Form (CAIF) and Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Notes: needs a Tax Identification Number (TIN) when filling up the form; the account number boxes on top right panel should be left blank to be filled out by the COL officer; you can choose Individual account (no need to fill up secondary account holder spaces), Joint (spouse or any partner), or ITF (In-Trust-For, an account for a child below 18 years old); Philippine bank account number is necessary to cash-out earnings; Do not forget to put your signatures in the appropriate spaces.

3. Prepare additional requirements. There are specific requirements for each investor type: Filipino citizen (a photocopy of 1 government-issued ID and billing statement under your name); Resident foreign citizen (a photocopy of 1 government-issued ID and Alien Certificate of Registration (ACR) or Work Permit from Department of Labor and Employment); Non-Resident foreign citizen (Authentication of a photocopy of 1 valid passport); In-Trust-For, ITF (Photocopy of 1 valid government-issued ID of the parent and Birth Certificate of the minor applicant).

4. Submit forms and requirements via courier to any of the following addresses near you:

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p style=”text-align: center;”>COL Business Center
2403B East Tower, PSE Centre,
Exchange Road, Ortigas Center,
Pasig City 1605, Philippines
(+632) 651 5888

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p style=”text-align: center;”>COL Investor Center – Makati
Ground Floor, Citibank Tower,
Valero corner, Villar Streets,
Makati City 1227, Philippines
(+632) 478 2954
(+632) 478 3316
(+632) 478 3275

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p style=”text-align: center;”>COL Investor Center – Davao
2nd Floor Robinsons Cybergate,
J.P. Laurel Ave., Bajada,
Davao City 8000, Philippines
(+6382) 287 8192
(+6382) 287 8193
(+6382) 287 8194

COL Financial officers will evaluate the submitted forms and send you a welcome e-mail with your account number which you will use every time you fund your account.

HOW TO FUND YOUR ACCOUNT

There are several ways to fund a COL account: Online bank transfer thru BPI, BDO, Metrobank and Asia United Bank.  Each bank has specific instructions which you can see hereOver-the-counter payment can also be made thru banks such as BPI, BDO, Metrobank and Asia United Bank. You can also pay personally at the COL Business Center mentioned above. Overseas Filipinos can fund their account through BDO Kabayan Bills Bayad (click here for BDO’s website), iRemit (www.myiremit.com) and BDO Overseas Remittance (Click here for instructions).  Please note that there are minimal bank charges that ranged from 5 to 10 pesos per transfer transaction to your COL account.

When a fund transfer is successful, you will receive a notification via email. In the case of a COL STARTER account of 5000 pesos, you can already use this amount to buy shares from any company listed in the Philippine Stock Exchange which are all described in your COL account. Please note that each company requires a minimum number of shares to buy, also known as ‘boardlot’.  Your 5,000 pesos maybe limited to few companies. The personal COL account can be viewed online, anytime but you can only buy or sell stocks during PSE’s trading hours from Mondays to Fridays.

WINNING STRATEGIES IN THE STOCK MARKET

Since I am working and engrossed with it, I rely on the experts to give me some advise on what priority stocks to buy in a particular period after financial experts did fundamental and technical analysis of the markets. I subscribed to TrulyRichClub.com – Do You Want to Gain Financial Wealth and Spiritual Abundance at the Same Time? where they give me weekly or biweekly advise and more. You can also take free trainings at PSE Academy or at COL seminar series at their specific schedules usually on weekends.

Contrary to others, when I hear news that the stock market is down, I rejoice! Because that is the time I consider as “midnight sale” which means that prices of shares are at its lowest and it’s the opportunity for anyone to ‘buy at the dip’!

Another helpful strategy I found that is really working is the habit of regularly putting money on your account which could be few thousand pesos, they call this as Peso Cost Averaging, the continuous purchase of stock shares at a fixed amount and in regular intervals. You end up buying more shares when prices are low and less shares when prices are high, which over time, brings down average cost.

I have described here the detailed yet simple steps on how to open an account and start investing in the Philippine Stock Exchange. The PSE has been consistently performing good in the past few years, yet only a small number of the Filipino population is investing because most of us don’t know where to start. The best time to invest is now when the Philippines is ranked number 1 in a US News and World Report’s Best Countries to Invest In. I hope that this article will get us started and appreciate the beauty of investing!

Online shopping in the US and shipping it to the Philippines is a breeze

Whether you are an online shopaholic for latest gadgets, fashion trends, unique beauty products, or a professional who badly wants that book that isn’t available locally, listen up, because the time has come for you to get what you want straight from any US online store delivered right at your doorstep! Yes, you heard it right. I will help you navigate this process that is not that complicated. This is again part of my instinct as a researcher, that need of finding a solution to an issue that’s almost never been addressed before.

This desire to learn the seamless way (without customs delays and huge transport fees) of shipping U.S. online shopping finds to the Philippines began years ago when I couldn’t find a textbook at local Philippine bookstores but is available cheap at Amazon’s. I thought there must be a way that I could get this book. I tested and tried many different shipping methods and the one that I found useful and consistent is ShippingCart.  Since then, I have shopped and shipped books, health products and laboratory supplies from the US to the Philippines affordably so.

Here, I outlined the steps on how to ship your US online purchases to the Philippines in a breeze.

1.  Sign-up for free at www.shippingcart.comThis is the first step. You really need to do this. Use your real, complete name.

Sign-up using email or Facebook account.

2. You will then get a U.S. address (in California).  This is the U.S. delivery address you will use every time you shop at any U.S. online store.  Your U.S. address includes an account number, your unique identifier, in case you share the same name with someone else.

This is how it appears once you have successfully signed-up.

 3. Log-in to your ShippingCart account. You can complete your profile by signing in.

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4. Add in your exact Philippine address. This should be done right after sign-up. This is where your goods are to be delivered in the Philippines.

Click on the +Add address and fill in with your exact Philippine address.

5. Start shopping at any U.S. online store. You can shop at Amazon, or Ebay. Limitless shopping opportunities from any U.S. online store await for you.

6. You still need to pay shipping costs from any online store to your U.S. address. Please take note that shipping fees apply from any U.S. online store to your U.S. address. Usually shipping from online store to the California Shipping Cart address takes about 2-10 days. There are some days when the stores offer promotional free shipping during important events and holidays. Since the U.S. delivery address is in California, a state sales tax applies upon checkout at any U.S. online store.

7. Take note of storage fees . Once your purchased items are accepted at your U.S. address, Shipping Cart will notify you through email that it has received your goods. It will take them a few days for processing: unboxing and taking photographs and posting on your Shipping Cart account to make sure you will receive the right items and whether these are in good condition. Shipping Cart will also notify you once the items are ready for shipment. However, these goods can only be stored free for 30 days.  If your package/s exceeded beyond the free cart storage period, a fee of US$0.14 per pound per day will apply. It is advised that once Shipping Cart has notified you through email that your goods are ready for shipment, go to your Shipping Cart account and choose shipment method and pay shipping right away.

8. Shipping rates. You can choose how your goods will be sent to the Philippines either via  air cargo (10 days) or sea cargo (45 days). Shipping rate estimates and computation can be found here.  Shipping Cart offers several secure payment options such as credit card (Visa/MasterCard), PayPal or LBC Over-the-Counter (OTC) payment.

9. Prohibited items.  There are certain items prohibited from entering the Philippines, under the country’s laws and regulations. These are:  flammable and dangerous goods;  animals and plants; guns, ammunition and weapons; raw materials; monetary, bank notes and other valuables; automotive parts and accessories; perishable items, food, medicine and liquid items. Size restrictions also apply. I encourage you to read the details of the restricted items here before shopping online. You may also contact them for questions and they will reply within 24-48 hours.

Need help? Email and live chat available.

10. Your items are delivered to you via LBC courier. Yes, your items are in good hands via the Philippines trusted courier.  Shipping Cart will give an estimated delivery date and will update shipping history from time to time.

I admit that I have also tried other shipping methods but ended up regretful because of the delay in delivery and additional charges once the items were received. I still find Shipping Cart as a convenient and reliable means to ship goods purchased from U.S. online stores to the Philippines.

Boracay is Now for Everyone: Our Budget Trip to the Island

In July 2017, my friends and I embarked on our very first trip to the award-winning island of Boracay. This popular destination was hailed as the Best Island in the World  by the international travel magazine Travel + Leisure (2012), topped the Best Islands in the World list by another international magazine Condé Nast Traveler (2014) and was included in the latter’s 2016 Top 10 Destinations to Watch. These accolades left us wondering, is it the powdery white sand that’s getting all the hype, the party-loaded nightlife or the smorgasbord of water sports and land-based leisure activities? We want to see for ourselves.

Below is the step-by-step guide for anyone wishing to experience the island at the most affordable cost whether going on a holiday, honeymoon or simply just wandering.

1. Get cheap airline tickets way ahead of the travel date.  I took care of the booking after subscribing to several airline newsletters to prompt me every time a cheap deal is available. I successfully got the 5 of us the cheapest fares 7 months before our trip (low season) through Cebu Pacific Air. We felt the overwhelming rush of excitement when each of us got a round-trip airfare of 1,663.00 pesos (~33 US$) from Manila to Kalibo. How cool was that? Kalibo airport is about 2 hours away from Caticlan (the port entrance to Boracay). Another option is to take the Manila-Caticlan flight but usually more expensive. The advantage of taking the Manila-Kalibo route was the chance to see the beautiful, verdant Kalibo countryside lined with rice fields and coconut trees growing luxuriously on both sides of the road.

2. Research possible accommodations. The next thing to do is to rigorously search online for an affordable yet decent accommodation.  We wanted to be close to the epicenter of island activities, so we chose to stay near the White Beach (a 4-km stretch of world famous gorgeous, powdery fine, white sand). Fortunately, we found Frendz Hostel, a fun and very affordable place, 2-5 minute walking distance from the shore. We chose a 5-bed dorm-type room at 2,000.00 pesos (40 US$) per night per room. That means spending only 1,200.00 pesos each for 3 nights. There were also villa-type accommodations at a higher price that surround the restaurant and bar area of the hostel but this option tends to be noisy during happy hours.

Our dorm-type accommodation for 3 nights.

3. Look for the cheapest island transportation deals.  Several Kalibo to Caticlan packaged transfers are available but we chose to do it on our own at reduced costs by taking a shared vehicle with other travelers. From Kalibo airport, we took a van for 2 hours to Caticlan Jetty Port for 200 pesos (4 US$) each.  There were many van choices right outside the airport arrival area so be sure to haggle for the cheapest deal. From the port, we took a ferry for 200 pesos (4 US$) which covered the boat, terminal and environment fees. Then we took an e-tricycle (powered by rechargeable batteries instead of gasoline) to Boracay Frendz Hostel at 30 pesos (0.6 US$) each.

Different companies offering packaged airport to Boracay transfers.

3. Food choices should be planned too. When you are at the White Beach (Stations 1, 2 and 3), you cannot expect to find cheap food as rows of fine-dining restaurants dominate the shoreline. What we did was to budget 200 pesos per meal at the most and stick to it. With this budget, we searched for restaurants that offer food that is within our budget and it’s usually near Station 2, D’Mall area. There were 7-Eleven and MINI STOP convenience stores where we bought our breakfast staples such as coffee, juice and breads. On our last day of stay, we indulged on steaks and gelato ice cream since we have saved on previous meals.

This lunch consists of tropical fruit shakes and grilled seafood.

4. Select suitable leisure activities.  Not all the fun is for everyone. My friends researched on the types and prices of leisure activities that we can all enjoy. The island hopping is a not-to-be missed experience. We paid 900 pesos (18 US$) for a 5-hour tour arranged by our hostel which includes unlimited supply of drinks and island music beats using the bass drum accompaniment. My friends and I love swimming very much so on another day we opted to go to a peaceful, public beach 30 minutes away by tricycle ride (70 pesos or 1.5 US$). We basked at the glorious beauty of Puka Shell Beach. Its crystal-clear, blue-green waters, white sand and subtly fierce waves were simply irresistible. Tourists can also enjoy snorkeling, kite-surfing, helmet diving, banana boat riding, parasailing, cliff diving, hiking and dancing to live band music.

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Snorkeling is one stopover activity during the island hopping.

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Live band music and free pasta night on Wednesdays and Sundays at Frendz Hostel.

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Souvenir shopping at Puka Beach.

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Fire dancing scene on the White Beach where people sit on the sandy floor with their drinks.

5. Make the most out of your island stay. Traveling is more memorable when you connect with your companions in a fun way. It helps that they can just let you be yourself without criticisms on your opinions and lifestyle choices during any of your conversations. The quirky five of us threw punches of jokes at each other and there was never a dull moment or negativity. We were also joined by our american friend who was game at anything. One’s roots don’t matter when you respect individuals for who they are and allow them to show their genuine selves.

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Pre-island hopping boat photo with the drums.

Based on our experience, a budget trip to Boracay is possible for everyone. To summarize our expenses for the entire trip here is the breakdown in pesos: 1,663.00 (roundtrip airfare from Manila); 1,200.00 (3 nights accommodation); 1,000.00 (2-way island transportation from Kalibo); 2,500.00 (meals for 4D3N);  900.00 (island hopping); 500 (transport from residence to Manila airport and vice versa); party drinks (500). The total amount is 8,263.00 pesos (166 US$). They said to take nothing but pictures but I encouraged everyone to buy souvenirs to bring to your loved ones (pasalubong) which will help the local handicraft industry. But for me, the best souvenirs to take along with you are fond memories that will truly last a lifetime.

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Relaxing on our beach beds at Puka Beach.

Battling the “Midlife crisis”

(This was my 5th speech at the Toastmasters Club. No reading of notes allowed). Did you at some point in your life, feel a deep sense of regret over goals unaccomplished? Did you have this unexplained desire of getting overly expensive items such as clothing, jewelry, gadgets, etc? Were there times when you have bouts of depression then you went the extra mile to look for the relief only to end up feeling empty still? Or did you recently pay special attention to your physical appearance, dye your hair with some funny shades and wear this kind of stuff you think it’s fabulous but your friends and co-workers think it’s outrageous? Or did at some point you were in an elicit relationships and had this strange desire for younger people? If you said yes to any one or combination of these, you are not alone, you might be among those who might be undergoing a MIDLIFE CRISIS.

Understanding midlife crisis begins by knowing what it is. MIDLIFE CRISIS is commonly heard in the western countries to describe a condition of self-doubt which is experienced by individuals in their middle years, that is, the years between 30-70 with 40-60 as the most common, as a result of the feeling of the passing of youth and the imminence of old age. Some people view the middle life as a time of frustration, a brink to old age which is characterized by slow loss of vigor and reduced opportunities.
 
Some of us may dread the idea of a midlife crisis. But do we all undergo this period? Is it a developmental process we naturally go through? Fortunately, midlife crisis is not common. Actually, not all people associate midlife negatively, some people even found that midlife is a time of reflection and life reassessment which is not always associated with psychological chaos.

Researchers have conducted numerous studies on various stages such as childhood, adolescence and old age but the middle age is often overlooked. This prompted the MacArthur Foundation Research Network to lead a ten-year study on the midlife years. The project was participated in by 8,000 men and women in the United States aged 25 to 74. The research team also conducted similar studies in England, Germany and India to reveal possible cultural differences.

The study probed participants about a wide range of topics including satisfaction with their jobs, finances, personal relationships and how people deal with problems. Unexpectedly, researchers found midlife to be a time of surprising calm. The project also discovered midlife as a period when people have established stable relationships and achieved financial security. For most people, the middle years are smooth sailing.

From the same study, midlife crisis is commonly observed in western societies but not in India, Kenya and Samoa. This establishes the midlife as a stage of security. Most people are not so worried about the biology of aging.

In order to prevent psychological turmoil at this stage, those people who reported not having this crisis showed good health, psychological and spiritual well-being and social responsibility. It is a matter of healthy mindset. We have to view the middle age as the best time to be and a time to count our blessings. The following are specific suggestions from various sources on how to deal with the middle years. We can consider these for ourselves:

  1. Seek to have spiritual health and well-being. Read the scriptures and inspirational books and daily meditating on them. If we put God in everything we do, whatever crisis it is, we can handle it gracefully.
  2. Avoid the married midlife blues. This is very important for married couples or for partners who have been living together for years. Take note MEN, you are more vulnerable to “midlife blues” according to some psychologists. There will be a point in which you look back at your life and tell yourself, “If I don’t do this now, I’ll never get to do this”. Some men may try to look for exciting escapades. But according to www.midlifewives.com, ladies, don’t take your man’s actions personally by blaming yourself. The best thing for wives to do is to give him space, let him spend some time with his friends or alone, and at the same time do things for yourself, spend some time alone or with friends or consider counseling and protect yourself financially by becoming informed of your bank accounts and make sure you have equal access to them (*wink*).
  3. Watch your health. Have regular check-ups and make sure to go to the doctor as soon as possible if you feel anything strange. Avoid being stuck in a couch-potato lifestyle. Reward yourself once in a while with body pampering indulgence such as a whole body massage or a yoga session.
  4. Maintain psychological and emotional well-being. Our brains and our minds are strongly connected to our heart. The Bible says to take care of our hearts for it is the well-spring of life. The sense of being loved promotes psychological calmness. Here are the things you can do to increase the sense of love in your life – with or without a partner. Think about love per se. Love your parents, show acts of love by helping the poor, or simply show your gratitude and appreciation toward someone. All these will allow others to feel appreciated which, in turn, will be mirrored on you. If you cannot verbalize it, write it. You don’t have to send it to the person, though its effects are better felt if it’s sent (*wink*). Encourage love in others. You can also give people permission to love you as some may be intimidated or fear rejection (*wink*).
As a summary, we all pass through middle years. Some people reported having a midlife crisis, a period of self-doubt, anxiety and confusion but others are happily sailing through it. Therefore, midlife crisis is just a state of mind. Being watchful of our spiritual, mental, emotional, physical well-being will keep us from having this crisis and live the middle life with peace and renewed strength. Let’s strive to have a midlife… without crisis…
 
Source:
  1. Wikipedia
  2. Discovery Health
  3. New York Times
  4. Yahoo! Health
  5. Washingtonpost

How to Boost Our Brainpower

(This was my 4th speech at the Toastmasters Club. No reading of notes allowed). Some years ago, I was always confronted with this kind of scenario almost everyday: I was in the laboratory working on certain tasks, then I realized I need to get something from the office. The moment I opened the office door, I have no idea why I was there! I always misplaced my cellphone and usually asked a family member or an office mate to ring my phone so I would know where did I left things. To make things worse, I invited a friend over coffee and he ended up paying for everything ‘coz I forgot my wallet. I was red with embarrassment!

I began thinking that I maybe having some mental glitches or “senior moments” as my colleague referred to her forgetfulness. But I am not yet on my senior years so I panicked! This led me to desperately search for materials to help me understand my situation and prevent this from getting worse.

Initially, what I found out was shocking! According to my readings, my condition which was a case of dwindling memory and decreased concentration is generally caused by decreased blood flow to the brain and “loss of brain cells”. I was panic-stricken coz PhD study was on the horizon.

I dug out substantially for remedies and a number of literatures mentioned that the best way to keep our brain sharp is to nourish and exercise it. This will make the brain to work at its optimum making the nerve cells grow more, re-wire, boost interconnections and protect them against any form of damage. Many experts suggest we should try the following easy steps to boost our brain power and clear away the fog of forgetfulness. Here, I outlined some simple tips:

1. Brush teeth using the non-dominant hand. If you are right-handed use your opposite hand to eat, drink, comb your hair or text. Why? The use of the non-dominant hand stimulates the opposite side of the brain and activates blood flow which slows down brain aging and improves mental capacity.

2. Work out the brain just like muscles. If it’s possible, challenge yourself everyday with puzzles or play board games. I do 2 online Sudoku puzzles and 3 jigsaws almost everyday. I don’t pressure myself with the time, I just keep on until I solved each puzzle. In addition, instead of bringing a shopping list, memorize it. And lots of people are dependent on the calculator, but mental arithmetic is advised.

3. Shower with the eyes closed. Closing our eyes means giving other senses the opportunity to become active. Having strong senses also means having a strong brain.

4. Start writing an article or blogging ideas. Writing is known to strengthen the brain’s ability to communicate and is linked to improved memory. Actually, this is the reason why I started this blog almost 2 years ago.

5. Listen to classical music. I like David Garrett’s violin ensemble and 2Cello’s powerful rendition of classics. These artists also cover modern, pop and rock songs which will surely pumped up your day. Those who frequently listen to classical music were found to score way better at solving puzzles than the non-classical ones. However, those who are not into classical music, memorizing the lyrics to a song instead will greatly help your brain than just humming along with the song. Of course when you are sound-tripping, turn the volume down as much as possible. This will force you to concentrate more closely to the lyrics.

6. Always have something new. This includes learning a new language or new word everyday. I started learning French online few years ago and I was hooked and felt better. You can also drive or walk on a new route, dine somewhere different and from time to time depart from the usual routine.

7. Take a walk. The American Academy of Neurology studied women and walking. Those women who walk one and a half hours each week perform better in their cognitive tests. In another study, men who walk more than 2 kilometers a day are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. When I learned about this stuff, I started walking home from work. There’s an added bonus that you will surely like, flat abs and narrow waistline!

8. Eat heart-healthy diet. The same foods that make our heart-healthy are also brain-healthy. Food is notably important to make our thinking cap healthy. We can avoid those artery-clogging saturated fats and switch to omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and nuts. I have read of its many benefits not just for the brain but also for good blood circulation and glowing skin and hair.

9. Load up on dark-skinned fruits and vegetables. I especially like Malunggay (Moringa oleifera) which Manny Pacquiao claimed to give him that strength of a champ. Sweet potato young leaves are also good and rich in iron for healthy blood that fuels the brain. Malunggay and sweet potato shoots are really cheap and these are common in the tropics. We can also have healthy drinks such as vitamin C-riched orange juice and green tea that are rich in antioxidants, which prevent neural damage. I am a fan of green tea which I drink almost daily. The benefits of green tea go beyond making our brain healthy, it also keep us from getting the Big C.

10. Spice up your life. The substance that makes our favorite chicken curry yellow, turmeric, can slow down the onset of memory loss. So the next time you see chicken curry in the cafeteria, don’t miss it. You’ll never know what you’ll gain.

There you have it folks. Boosting our brain power simply requires us to use our brain in different ways. The tips describe here are practically easy to follow and can make a huge difference in our life. We should exercise our brain and nourish it well. The earlier we start, the better.

Source:

  1. Yahoo! Health
  2. www.gamesforthebrain.com