2015 in review

Confession time: this article is actually back-dated. I wrote this post in February 2016 instead of December 2015. I wish I had another reason aside from “I was busy!” but I don’t. HUHU. Anyway, I still wrote it because 2015 was still a year worth remembering, regardless of how outdated this post is 😛

Environmental Work
See that map below? Those are all the municipalities I visited for work in 2015! The red markers are January to mid-July, while the blue markers are mid-July to December.

2015 pearrl map_edit

The numbers: 122 barangays in 18 municipalities in 14 provinces. I’ve traveled for fieldwork before but 2015 was my first time to do it regularly. The most tiring trip was the Cawayan, Masbate-Babatngon, Leyte-Kawayan, Biliran run in November. Although the Tawi-tawi trip was almost as long, our travels were pretty straightforward: fly Manila-Zamboanga-Tawi-tawi, stay on the ship, stay in the hostel, then fly Tawi-tawi-Zamboanga-Manila. Traveling Masbate-Leyte-Biliran was nuts:

* Fly Manila-Cebu
* Van from Cebu City to Bogo City (3 hours)
* Roro from Bogo City to Cawayan (12 mn trip, arrival at 6am)
* Cawayan fieldwork
* Roro from Cawayan to Bogo City (12nn trip, arrival at 6pm)
* Van from Bogo City to Cebu City (3 hours)
* Overnight in Cebu City
* Roro from Cebu City to Palompon, Leyte (10pm trip, arrival at 2am)
* Van from Palompon to Tacloban City (2 hours)
* Babatngon fieldwork with Tacloban as our base
* Travel from Tacloban City to Kawayan, Biliran (2.5 hours)
* Kawayan fieldwork with Almeria as our base
* Travel from Kawayan, Biliran to Tacloban City (2.5 hours)
* Fly Tacloban-Manila

Why all the land trips? Because we were lugging about 200 kilos worth of gear, including dive gear, compressor, dive tanks, focus group discussion materials, interviews, and the personal luggage of 12 people.

pearrl team pic

Each fieldwork stop truly deserves it’s own blog entry, which I will do as soon as I get the time. Which reminds me: I still have pending entries for Cambodia, Alaska, Orlando, and Japan 🙁

Last sunset in Biliran. We go back to Tacloban tomorrow then back to Manila! #fieldworkdiaries #Biliran #sunset

A photo posted by Macy (@theislandergirl) on

Writing Work
I got to attend the Biodiversity Reporting 101 workshop!

biodiversity reporting 101 poster

I found it interesting because it was a workshop geared towards writers who don’t have a science background, as opposed to scientists who don’t have a writing background. I was the only science graduate in the room, with another guy taking up Forestry before shifting to communication. My main takeaway from the event was that we need better science education! It blew my mind that one of the teams (the participants were split into different teams for an activity on pitching a story based on a photograph) thought that Philippine eagles (Pithecophaga jefferyi), or birds in general, get pregnant. For the record, they don’t. The Asian Center for Biodiversity and US Embassy Manila (the sponsor for the event, under the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative) said that were thinking of sending two journalists to the Turtle Islands to wrote a story about the area. Considering that I haven’t written a biodiversity-related article in a while because of fieldwork and other things, I’m not holding my breath that they’ll choose me.

This is how I spend my days off. #biodiversity101 #sciencewriting

A photo posted by Macy (@theislandergirl) on

I attended my first celebrity press conference! I got to attend the press conferences for Paul Bettany and Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei in Game of Thrones) last APCC. I was supposed to go to Colton Haynes’ press con too but I was late (ugh Manila traffic) and they wouldn’t let me into the room anymore. Huhu. But still! I got to ask Paul a question! I was so happy about that. My press badge (sponsored by GMA News Online) also got me a front-row seat to Paul, Nathalie, and Colton’s panels. I still find it funny that a teen heartthrob drew in more people versus a BAFTA-nominated actor.

01 Paul Bettany presscon_resized

05 Colton Haynes panel end_resized

I wrote an article about a year in the life of a marine biologist! Truthfully, I was planning on releasing this as just a post on this blog but my SciTech editor (thanks TJ!) said that he was interested in publishing it and convinced me to give him the piece instead. I don’t have the exact statistics but TJ said that the article got good traction within the circle of scientists he moved in, so I’m happy about that. My friends and coworkers also shared it so that’s additional mileage 😛

Personal stuff
We got engaged this year 🙂 Wedding is in March 2016!

We went to Hong Kong! This ties in to the getting engaged part. Went to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, the Hong Kong Science Museum, Victoria Harbor (again), the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and on a pink dolphin (Sousa chinensis)-watching trip with Hong Kong Dolphinwatch Ltd. Downside: we visited in February and it was HELLA COLD. Like 16 degrees Celsius cold. The clothes I brought weren’t warm enough (though the lightweight Uniqlo thermal shirts from the Alaska trip helped immensely), I sniffled the whole time, and my skin cracked. Huhu.

pink dolphin Sousa chinensis_smaller

I joined the DC Comics All-Star Fun Run! Granted, I only ran 3km but that’s still an achievement over 0km 😛

I co-organized NexCon 2! More info and photos here and here. Bigger, better, and more work than NexCon 1. We’re getting ready for NexCon 3 (April 2-3, 2016 at Function Room 5, SMX MOA) and we promise EVEN MOAR FUN!

I watched Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady the Musical with my officemate Jem as part of the ensemble! Plus Markki Stroem as Leading Man. Because Markki is love.


Book signing with Kevin Kwan! His China-Rich series is a pleasure to read. Also helps that I’ve been to Singapore and Hong Kong so I’m kinda familiar with the areas he mentions in the stories.

kevin kwan signatures

Watched Rak of Aegis with my sister and friend Joyce. Super extra bonus: a photo with Markki! He was there because a lot of the KPANLL cast were in Rak of Aegis too. He was so nice!



CARLY RAE JEPSEN!!! I love Carly Rae. I just love her. And her album E*MO*TION is fantastic and criminally underappreciated. It was so great to see her in concert. We bought Upper Box tickets but because of slower than expected ticket sales, we were moved down to Lower Box. Sad for Carly, good for us, I guess? Still sad that Adrian wasn’t able to go because of work. Shared the concert with Kubi and Rima instead. Kubi and I managed to convert Rima into a follower. Yes!

carlyraejepsen manila

Got to present my research at the 13th National Symposium on Marine Science 😀 Previous experience really does keep you from being nervous. Our lab spent most of our PAMS 13 time manning the Secretariat booth. Definitely an experience to remember. And yay bonding time with labmates and Haribon friends. But because we were manning the Secretariat, I only got to watch maybe 2-3 presentations. Ah well.

pams team

As our reward for manning the Secretariat booth, we got to go to Lake Sebu after the conference and before going to Glan for fieldwork. Got to try the highest zipline in South East Asia, plus see the T’nalak weaving center and T’boli museum.

tnalak weaving center

STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS!!! Homaygad I’ve been waiting for this since 1997 <3 TFA was a fantastic way to close out the year 😀

03 TFA3 - RL and 501st by Lawrence Aliwalas and Milchy Pe

While 2015 was certainly a great year, I’m looking forward to 2016 being an even better one 😀

My top Hong Kong travel apps

The smorgasbord of travel apps have made planning and executing travel plans so much easier. But which ones do you need for a trip to Hong Kong? Here are my tried and tested favorites:

HK eTransport
Hong Kong’s public transportation system, in my opinion, is what every other system in the world hopes to become. (Of course, this is helped by the fact that Hong Kong is smaller compared to everywhere else but that’s besides the point.) Everything runs like clockwork: the trains, the buses, the ferries, even the taxis! But navigating the entire system can be confusing to the newcomer (like me!) so this is where HK eTransport comes in.

01 01b

The HK eTransport app was created by Hong Kong’s Transport Department and gives you a complete guide on how to get from Point A to Point B. Just enter your starting location and your ending location and the app will calculate the various commuting routes available to you using the Mass Transit Railway (MTR), Light Rail Transit (LRT), franchised buses, green minibuses, ferries (the famous Star Ferry and the ferries that service the Outlying Islands), regular trams, the Peak Tram, cross-boundary coach to Huanggang (China), and the bus to Ma Wan and Discovery Bay. It will even give you a detailed breakdown of each route and you can sort through the routes according to the number of interchanges, total fare, and estimated trip time.

Suggested routes from where we stayed to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum

Cons: Requires an active data connection to use. Also, the suggested routes only include stops that are a maximum of 400 meters away from your origin or destination, thus potentially limiting your route choices. For example, there are normally two options for getting to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum from where we stayed in Tsim Sha Tsui: 1) taking the East Rail line from East Tsim Sha Tsui to Sha Tin (no transfers) then walking for 15 minutes to the museum), and 2) taking the East Rail line from East Tsim Sha Tsui to Tai Wai, transfering to the Ma On Sha line and take it to Che Kung Temple station, and walking for 5 minutes. But because of the 400 m restriction, the first option doesn’t appear. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, there are bound to be times when you just want to walk and see the sights.


Download for iOS and Android

Official MTR app
This standalone application developed by the MTR gives you a detailed guide to Hong Kong’s MTR system. Enter your start and end stations and the app will give you the line you’ll take (and any line changes, if ever), estimated trip time, and total fare. It also lists the different points of interest accessible at each stop.

04 05

If you don’t know the specific name of the station, you can search for popular landmarks instead.


MTR map from Tsim Sha Tsui to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, with Che Kung Temple as the nearest station.

Pros: The app works even without an active data connection. However, you should have an active data connection when you first open it so it can download the latest fare guides.
Cons: The app is redundant if you already have the HK eTransport app.

Download for iOS and Android.

OpenRice Hong Kong
Hong Kong is all about the food and the OpenRice Hong Kong app is your best guide to Hong Kong’s best eats. It has an extensive list of restaurants, where they’re located, estimated cost per person, and reviews from the community. Aside from searching for a specific restaurant, OpenRice can also use your location to suggest nearby restaurants that you can sort according to cost, cuisine, and review scores.

2015-03-11 19.39.29

That blue dot was me and the Wah Kee Snack Food stall was a restaurant near me that served cheap but good food.

My friend Eric used it to bring up restaurant recommendations for me and sent the information via Facebook. You can also send the information through email, SMS, Twitter, and WhatsApp. In my case, Eric suggested that I try Honeymoon Desserts in Sha Tin (this was after our visit to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum). Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to eat there at the time as I accidentally left my wallet at home (long story). No sweat though, as I used OpenRice to find the Tsim Sha Tsui branch (it’s located inside Harbour Mall) and I was able to walk there from where I was staying.

Directions from my apartment to the nearest branch of Honeymoon Dessert


Cons: Requires an active data connection to use.

Download for iOS and Android.

General travel needs:

XE Currency Converter
This app is a staple in my phone, regardless of whether I’m traveling or not. The user interface is easy to use and very pretty. Don’t forget to check the exchange rate for the day to make sure that you’re getting the most out of your money.


Pro: the app works even without a data connection. Just remember that the exchange rate you’ll be using is the one the app got the last time it was online.

Download for iOS, Android, and Blackberry 10.

A SIM card and a data plan:

If your (unlocked) phone uses a micro or nano SIM card, you’re only in Hong Kong for 5 days or less, and don’t mind throwing the SIM card away after your trip, get the PCCW Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM card. The HK$69 SIM card is the cheapest available, is valid for 5 days, and you get 1.5 GB of data (3G speed), unlimited local calls, unlimited csl Wi-Fi, and HK$25 of usable value. If you want to extend the validity for another 5 days, you pay an additional HK$50 and get the same benefits. There’s an 8-day SIM card for HK$96 (gives you 5 GB data and HK$35 of useable value) but you cannot extend the validity of this card. Please note that this SIM card does NOT work on Blackberry devices. BOOOO!

hong kong tourist sim

If you’re staying for more than 5 days, I suggest that you get the regular China Mobile SIM card instead. The SIM card sells for HK$80 (HK$78 consumable) and is valid for 180 days since the last time it’s used. However, be sure to subscribe to the data plan you need. If you don’t, you’ll be charged HK$0.5/MB. I went with 1.5 GB data for 5 days (same as the Tourist SIM), costing HK $48. Subscription codes are here.

china mobile sim card

 Many, many thanks to Eric who suggested all the HK apps and the China Mobile SIM card! 😀

Hong Kong journeys with Airbnb

Although Hong Kong is not really the cheapest place in the world to visit, there’s something about it that keeps me coming back. Whether it’s your first or fifth time, there’s always something new to do, somewhere new to eat. And while there are always ways to cut costs from your Hong Kong explorations, I’m a great believer in value-for-money rather straight-out cheapness. This is where Airbnb comes in.

Victoria Harbor shore


Airbnb allows locals to rent out portions of or even entire apartments, houses, boats, or even castles to travelers. Airbnb’s network stretches across more than 34,000 cities in 192 countries, connecting people to unique travel experiences at any price point. My travels with Airbnb have concentrated on the “more reasonable” end of the “at any price point” scale and I haven’t been disappointed yet.

Hong Kong is the perfect place for Airbnb, as the reasonable offerings nicely fill in the gap between the Peninsula (my dream place to stay in HK!) and hostels where you have to sit on the toilet to shower. Last August 2014, I was they very, very lucky winner of the My Airbnb Travel Bucket List (see the original entry here), where I won Php 30,000 worth of Airbnb credits and Php 15,000 in cash. Three guesses where I used the prize money 🙂

We traveled to Hong Kong last February 13-16, 2015 and stayed in Rosemary’s room in Tsim Sha Tsui. I initially considered staying in Cory and Carla’s place again (where we stayed in HK the last time), but it had a minimum booking of four nights so I decided on Rosemary’s place instead. And since it was cheaper compared to our previous accommodations, I used the remaining Airbnb credits for a weekend stay for my office team in Tagaytay in March.

Rosemary’s room did not disappoint. Although it was smaller than I thought it would be, it’s well-designed to make use of the limited space. Think of it as a spotless hotel room with lots of extras. She provided a coffee and tea station, a small refrigerator, cutlery, and plates. She also stocked practically everything: office supplies, bathroom supplies, even a Lonely Planet guidebook! The room is also near the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station, a supermarket (in the K11 mall), and places to eat. It was just right for the needs of two people and was definitely worth the asking price. I would have ended up paying the same amount for a smaller hotel room.




(Rosemary’s room is much brighter than my photos suggest it is. My apologies. Make sure to check her actual listing to see the prettier pictures she put up.)

However, there are potential cons that you need to consider with Rosemary’s room. First, the bathroom uses a shower pod that I found to be just the right size for 5’4″me. I don’t think it will be comfortable for someone particularly tall, wide, and/or claustrophobic, but I could be wrong.


The listing also accepts up to 4 people in the room but I’d only recommend it for a maximum of 3 people. The extra bed for Person #4 goes at the foot of the main bed, leaving no space to move around once it’s there.

There were also lots of loud ongoing construction works that started at 8am. Hopefully they’ll be done soon or that you’ll be out of the room during the day.

All in all, staying in Rosemary’s place was a treat. Aside from her listing, Rosemary herself was a great host, communicating well via email and WhatsApp. She gave very clear instructions on how to find her place and how to use it (gate and door codes, etc). Very attentive to our needs too. I mentioned that I couldn’t find the cutlery and the next night, her husband Kevin shows up with new sets!

This trip marks my second stay with Airbnb so far and I wasn’t disappointed. Where are you taking your next trip? 🙂

Travel Challenge: the street markets of Tai O, Hong Kong

Today’s post comes courtesy of Ailsa and her weekly photo challenge. This week’s challenge? Street markets! These photos were taken during our anniversary trip to Hong Kong last October.

Tai O is a village in Lantau Island, an island that is also home to Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong Disneyland, and the Po Lin monastery.

I will never understand why people need these things to remember a trip to the beach 🙁 Please note the triton shell that’s really NOT supposed to be there. Be a responsible tourist: don’t buy shells and starfish as souvenirs!
And these too! Who in their right mind would want a wall hanging made from pufferfish? 🙁
The non-depressing part of our rounds through Tai O: freshly grilled oysters and prawns with cheese. Gawd they were so good but so expensive as well.

Exploring Hong Kong: the Airport Express, going home, and Cebu Pacific’s lateness

As our flight back to Manila leaves at 8:30 am, we opted to take the Airport Express to HKIA instead of the Cityflyer bus. The bus route starts at 5:30 am and would take maybe an hour to the airport, while the train starts at 5:50 am and takes less than 30 minutes. Yes there was only a slight difference in the time we’d get to HKIA but we didn’t want to chance it. The Airport Express cost HK$72 one-way compared to the bus’ HK$33.

We found a taxi after only 5 minutes of waiting (Carla advised us it might take 10-15 minutes because of the early hour) and paid HK$35 for the 2++ km trip to Kowloon Station (there’s a surcharge for luggage). We exchanged our vouchers for train tickets and sat down to wait. If you’re taking Cathay Pacific, Dragonair, or any of the other airlines that support in-town check-in, you can check your bags at the train station for an even more hassle-free ride. You can also use your Octopus card to pay for the train. The train ride was fast. Wow. Even though the trip was much longer, I’m glad we took the bus into the city as our introductory sightseeing tour as the AE train mostly goes through tunnels so there’s no view. We got to HKIA in about 25 minutes, checked our bags, then wandered around for something to eat. We easily found seats in the food court area and ate some pancakes and eggs. Unfortunately, the bane of my airport existence is also found in HKIA: expensive drinks. A bottle of water cost HK$16 🙁 Incidentally, you can use the last of your Octopus card load at the airport because you can also use it to pay for food. You can also opt to return your Octopus card to get the deposit and any remaining credit back, though there’s a surcharge if you return it within three months of buying it.

We found our gate without any trouble and waited for boarding. Unfortunately, Cebu Pacific‘s 20%++ delayed flights record reared its ugly head. Our flight was delayed by 30 minutes with no explanations as to why. We landed in Manila at 11 am and got out of immigration and baggage claim by 12 nn. The Customs guys didn’t bother me as it was obvious that I didn’t do much shopping. Aids and I parted ways at the airport. Until the next adventure 🙂


And thus ends our awesome Hong Kong trip. To recap:

Day 1: getting there and our first meal in Hong Kong

Day 1: Hong Kong Space Museum, Avenue of Stars, Mong Kok

Day 2: Ocean Park

Day 3: Peng Chau and Tai O

Day 4: Po Lin monastery, Ngong Ping village, Central

Day 4: more Joon, Victoria Peak, Symphony of Lights, and a last walk through Tsim Sha Tsui

All in all, I’m happy with how our budget turned out 🙂 We didn’t do a lot of shopping and ate cheaper food but invested in nicer accommodations. Now, time to save up for the next big adventure! *ponders Thailand, Vietnam, or South Korea*