13 September 2009

I miss blogging!

Back in Manila after 7 days in Bangkok. Had a majorly good time in the land of smiles and spicy food. Was there for training on UNICEF's web content management system, RedDot. The only description I can think of for RedDot is that it was simple and complicated at the same time. Harhar.

I'm going to cheat here and just list down what I liked best about those 7 days:

1. Staying in a fabulously cheap hotel located in the middle of the shopping district. Marge and I then had more money to burn. YAW-hoo!

2. Thai food, of course. I had tom yum every single day. And all sorts of spicy dishes.

3. Shopping. I've never been much of a shopper here in Manila. I don't buy clothes and shoes often, but Bangkok, with its dizzying array of stores and night market stalls, seems to bring out the shopaholic in everyone. Bought shoes, bags, a top, little souvenir stuff for the people back home, and loads of skin care products that one couldn't find in Manila.

4. KINOKUNIYA BOOKSTORE!!! Spent 3 hours in the Kino branch of Siam Paragon and combed all the bookshelves. The store, with all its titles and editions, was so beautiful, I almost wept. Spent more than I should have but at least I'm happy with my purchases. I made sure to buy only the books I haven't seen back home; nearly bought a copy of Joseph Heller's Closing Time, and then I remembered seeing one in Fully Booked.

I went back to Manila with 6 books plus 3 Foxtrot titles for Ryan, who was salivating on the other end of the line when I called to tell him I was standing in front of a stack of Foxtrot comic books.

More on my book purchases in another entry, because it deserves a separate blog post.

5. Riding the BTS Skytrain to and fro training and shopping. I love the city's Skytrain! It was fast, efficient, and the people were very nice and respectful in the way they went in and out the train. Wish I could say the same for Manila's MRT. The people here like barging into the MRT before they allow the other passengers to get out.

From the hotel to the training site, it takes me less than 20 minutes to ride the BTS to Siam, switch trains, get off at National Stadium, and walk a short distance to the training venue. No traffic at all, unless one takes a cab.

6. Thai massage. Had two wonderful massages while I was in BKK. Nothing abso-posi-lutely beats an authentic Thai massage. The kind of massage wherein you're twisted like a pretzel in all sorts of ways and your spine feels re-aligned afterwards. The spa was located right beside my hotel, which was perfect.

My masseuse was so good in making all the soreness and pain in my muscles go away, I simply had to know her name so I could request for her massage services the next time. She giggled and said in broken English, "Is hard to say name. Very long. So remember this number only." And she pointed to the number "70" which was embroidered on her spa uniform.

I couldn't believe my ears. Having one's identity reduced to a mere number just didn't seem right, even though the spa was very clean and pretty and treated both clients and staff very well.

7. Learning new things such as the cool stuff you can do in RedDot. RedDot can be pretty frustrating at times, but the training left Marge and me with huge desire to revamp our UNICEF Philippines website. Exciting times ahead!

8. Starbucks near my hotel and especially near the training site! I could take my pick of branches, actually. The coffee was more expensive than Starbucks Manila; my grande-sized nonfat Caffe Mocha with whip cost THB 120, which is equivalent to PHP 180. Highway robbery. But Starbucks in Thailand had those cool debit coffee cards where you can load some baht and then use it to charge your coffee purchases. It was so convenient. We don't have that in the Philippines.

The only downside to Starbucks in Thailand was that they supposedly charge you an extra THB 15 for the chocolate sauce on top of your Caffe Mocha. How weird is that?? I had a bit of an argument with the baristas on several occasions and insisted that the chocolate sauce was part of the Caffe Mocha recipe to begin with--and I know for a fact that if an ingredient is really part of the recipe, one shouldn't be charged extra for it. Heck, I know my Starbucks coffee, thank you very much. The baristas eventually gave in to my argument. I wasn't being a bully; I just knew my points were valid.

9. Khao San Road. It was Marge's birthday last Saturday, and she wanted to usher in her birthday by hanging out and drinking in Khao San. And oh my God did we drink. Went out with Belle and some of our regional colleagues and drank a whole lot of SangSom, the local whiskey mixed with Coke. It was sweet and lethal. Khao San was so alive with music, bright lights, people having fun and getting wasted, vendors selling all sorts of things from street food to dreadlock wigs to rubber lizards (what the hell), and flowing liquor. It was a real blast hanging out with the group. We were so noisy, yelling out a countdown to Marge's birthday Times-Square-on-New-Year's-Eve style. And then total strangers were coming up to Marge, hugging her and wishing her a happy birthday. I'm pretty sure she had one.

10. The best thing about this trip? Meeting new people in other UNICEF country offices and ending up being good friends with them! I mean, after 5 days of training, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, how can you not?

I miss my training mates already: sweet, giggly Tsolmon from Mongolia, Prayi (I hope I got the spelling of her name right) from Korea, Cindy from China (one of the nicest girls ever), and Joseph of Fiji, who totally cracks me up because he likes to confuse Tsolmon by deliberately giving her the wrong instructions (and I end up correcting them). Joseph and I more or less have the same technical competencies, so it was good to share best practices on that level. And then there's Dike of Indonesia, of course, whom I've met before in a previous workshop/training, so it was nice to see a familiar face. We call each other by our last names, laugh hysterically, and just basically hang out in class and after training hours.

Nat and Kritsada from the Bangkok regional office were great companions, especially Nat, who took me to lunch several times and offered to accompany me to Starbucks for my after-lunch coffee. She and Kritsada were also so kind in helping me plan Marge's birthday cake surprise. We had a delicious ice-cream cake from Swensen's delivered to our training venue last Friday afternoon, and surprised Marge by switching off the training room lights, carrying in the cake, with everyone singing 'Happy Birthday' while she blew out the candles.

Valerie, our RedDot trainor based in UNICEF NY headquarters, is definitely one of the sweetest, most engaging persons ever, and learning RedDot would have been absolutely boring if she wasn't the one handling it. Some aspects of the training were basic to me, but a considerable number of participants (there were 27 of us in total) encountered a bit of struggle in mastering the stuff--and Valerie was so funny and patient handling all of us.

It also felt nice to be asked for help by the others in Photoshop; I mean, I only knew basic to intermediate stuff in Photoshop and am no expert, but it was a good feeling to share what knowledge I had to others who had zero experience with Adobe Photoshop.

And when Valerie asked me last-minute to present to the whole group (with my regional boss looking on and asking technical questions, gulp) the web analytics tool that UNICEF uses, I was a little alarmed and flabbergasted. First of all, it was a big shock to find out that none of the country offices in our region were using Urchin (the web analytics tool) except for the Philippines. Secondly, I was also relatively new to Urchin, and just learned my way around it, generating the reports I needed and making my data analyses from there. So it was pretty funny for me, standing in front of the "class" and teaching them how to draw up web data reports by going on the Philippines' Urchin live system, to use filters, to make the proper analysis, etc--because I was no expert myself. I'm just glad Valerie and I did well in answering the others' questions (and there were some hard ones, really) about Urchin.

I went to Bangkok with the original intent of learning from the trainor, and ended up doing a bit of trainor work as well, which was a nice experience.

The other participants were from all sorts of places like Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Malaysia. The beautiful thing about working in the UN system is that you become exposed to various cultures and you learn to appreciate the uniqueness of each one. I wish more people could experience the kind of training and exposure I'm having, and I wish UNICEF would still continue giving me such wonderful learning opportunities.

Bangkok, you haven't seen the last of me, I hope!


  1. Dike Marta7:24 PM

    Hi Gina,
    I'm happy to be one of your friends ..thanks to God and EAPRO to makes it happen .. :))

  2. Hey Dike! So glad to see you again. We had fun catching up. And see you in the next regional conference/training! =)