Monday, 28 December 2009

Once in a blue moon in Bombay

Yup, not only was it a blue moon but a lunar eclipse as well! According to NASA's Five Millennium Catalog of lunar eclipses, this combination happens only 11 times in a thousand years. So I guess this holiday must be an auspicious one especially since we were basking in the moonlight during the New Year at the Bombay Gymkhana with 3,000 other revelers.

It's not my first time in India but my first time in Bombay as the residents refer to Mumbai, the financial capital of India and the most populated city in the world with 20 million people. It is coined the 'city of dreams' and draws mostly dreamers seeking a better life. That's why the city is the most ethnically diverse than the other states - aside from Maharastras, there are Gujaratis, Parsis, Muslims, etc.

Bombay is also a city of extremes where you can see a billionaire's mansion towering more than 20-storey high (left, Andani's new mansion taken on Peddar Road) and next to it are the slums, about 2,000 where the 55% of the population live.

I joined the Reality Tour to Dharvi the largest slum in Bombay, and the largest in the world. Honestly, after reading Shantaram and watching Slumdog Millionaire, I was expecting to see people in dire straits. I was pleasantly suprised to see Dharvi abuzz with thriving SMEs- from plastic recycling plants, tannery, sewers, soap-making. And although the homes are a little bit tiny with sizes varying from less than 10 sq ft, 10x10 and 20sq ft shared with average 4-5 people, most of the homes have split-type aircons and flat TV screens.

Bottom-line is, I enjoyed Bombay - the food, shopping and the sights. I didn't get claustrophobic or experienced the infamous deli belly. I must thank Rae, Angeline and Michael for the trip even though a former Philippine resident likened Bombay to Quezon City! Har har... Here's wishing everyone an auspicious 2010! Happy new year!

Must check out:
1. Sardar Pavbhaji (maharastra) at Tardeo Circle for the best local Pav Bhaji! Open until 2:30am. Bhaji is a potato-based curry and vegetable dish. Beware since both the pav (bread) and bhaji are loaded with butter!! Check photo on the right.
2. Bademiya (arab) behind Taj Mahal on Tulloch Road for the best kebab and tandooris. This is a roadside place which seats at least 50 people. Some use the hood of their cars for table. Open until wee hours. They also serve vegetarian dishes.
3. 87-year old Britania (parsi) on 16 Sprott Rd. where I agree with the motto "there is no love greater than the love for eating". Try khemma berry pulao, sali and dhansak dishes. The line gets long so go early or later. It closes at 4pm.
4. Trishna (Mangalorean)on Sai Barba Mag for its stir-fried with butter and garlic dishes - seafood galore especially known for its king crab dish!! There is a branch in London so this may be a bit touristy.
5. Joss (fusion) in the Business district (near Fab India). Note that Joss catered Bombay Gymkhana's New Year feast!

Shopping picks: Good Earth, Anokhi, Fab India, cotton world and for the fab cotton kurtas go to wholesale stores located at Crawford Market next to the old vegetable market

Sights nearby Bombay: Matheran Heights (stay at the Veranda in the Forest by Neeram), take the ferry and see the stone sculptures at Elephanta Caves, visit Ghandi's home (reco to read his biography before going) and take a Reality Tour in Dharvi's slum (photo on the left with our guide who is a resident of Dharvi) and a side tour to Dhobi Ghat.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Heroes of Dynamic Teen Company

What better way to celebrate Christmas than to give? So, when Cris Bonoan of the Maraming Bayani Foundation said she will be delivering school books to children in Cavite, I volunteered to help and organized a book drive by collecting books and school supplies from friends and colleagues.

The Cavite-site is the Dyanmic Teen Company (DTC) of push-cart educator Efren Penaflorida who was recently bestowed the title of CNN Hero of the Year in November 2009. DTC was founded in 1997 and aims to educate children of the slums as an alternative to gang membership. There are four push-cart kariton classrooms (right photo) which volunteers use to teach literacy, values formation, hygine and first aid.

Efren was being interviewed online by international media and thus, we were met by surprisingly very young heroes - - 17-year Emmanuel Bagual, fondly referred to as Kuya Em is the incumbent president of DTC, a Biblical Servant Leader, a United Nations Advocate for Human Rights and one of the five finalists of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for Children in Europe for his project “Mind Your Rights,” a campaign to educate children and parents on child’s rights.

The second young hero is bright and cheerful, 10-year old Chris Kesz. He is the youngest kariton volunteer and teaches hygiene and first aid. He was apparently found lying on the street, gravely ill abandoned by his mother at a young age.

After talking to the kids and helping out in their preparation for their annual Christmas party, Efren finally came down to meet us. He is very humble and unassuming despite his now celeb status. He still takes public transportation to meetings and events and is always on time. His zeal is infectious as evidenced by his effervescent, passionate volunteers. At the CNN Heroes award he says: "Our planet is filled with heroes, young and old, rich and poor, man, woman of different colors, shapes and sizes. We are one great tapestry...Each person has a hidden hero within, you just have to look inside you and search it in your heart, and be the hero to the next one in need...Serve, serve well, serve others above yourself and be happy to serve. As I always tell to my co-volunteers: you are the change that you dream, as I am the change that I dream, and collectively we are the change that this world needs to be."

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Reef Forestation Volunteer @ Anvaya Cove

Last Saturday, we trekked down to Morong, Bataan to volunteer in the Reef Forestation project of Anvaya Cove (with Jiggy and Bettina in left photo).
The project involved seeding or transplanting 79 tridachna giga in the resort's house reef at a depth of 10 to 30 feet in the hope of increasing the marine biodiversity in the area.
There were 24 of us who volunteered including WWF-chief Lory Tan, Ayala Land's Jim Ayala, a mix of professionals, a college student and two Grade 10 students.
Tridachna giga is the largest of all the clam species, measuring over 4 feet and weighing 500 lbs. It has a smooth shell, and usually a lime green mantle, with small blue spots. This highly edible and some believe aphrodisiac bivalve mollusk (think - clam chowder!!) almost became extinct in the mid-1980s due to over harvesting. The UP Marine Institute saved the tridacna giga species by establishing a hatchery and culture station in Bolinao, Pangasinan back then and now, it is the home of some 37,000 clams.
The clams were transported at night in iced sea water containers from Bolinao and arrived in the morning where they were left for a few hours, two to three feet underwater to acclimatize. The clams were tagged with the name of the place "ANV" and a number for recording purposes.
We, the volunteers were divided into three groups of eight divers each representing the three micro reef sites. We were tasked to handle the young ones - these are ten 4-5 year old clams, measuring 31-35 centimeters and I swear, weighed a ton underwater! While the husband and wife team, Louie and Chen Mencias of the Bluewater Consultancy handled the ready-to-spawn, mature size, 10-year old breeders.
Louie said during the pre-dive briefing that that having the giant clams together will facilitate reproduction as they are known as “free spawners.” This means,the breeders simultaneously secrete eggs and sperm (gametes) after which “chance encounter” will occur in open water. The breeders can release around 500 million eggs at one time.
I can't wait to go back and check my clams. I guess the success of this project can only be determined only after a year or two.
Here's a clip of Louie explaining our task:

And an underwater music video by Jayvee: