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Oj Jottings: The Zen of Shang

On the private vessel heading to Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa at the northern tip of the island, I realized that traveling alone in southwest monsoon rains has its charm. The seaman carefully maneuvered the speedboat through a silent, mid-morning sea. I was right on the front seat, occasionally chatting with an attendant and marveling at how everything around the boat turned lucid gray in the mist. The supposedly twenty-minute transfer took longer. However, your jotter was quietly enjoying every minute of the passage.

Patti Javier, the resort’s Communications Manager, warmly greeted me at the lobby. I had been communicating with her for six months prior to that visit. Just as charming and accommodating in person as she was on the phone, she showed me to my room and generously offered to be called if anything was needed.  Such friendliness and hospitality was familiar; an important aspect of Shangri-La’s care system that I consistently experienced in all their properties.

My room looked out to lush, verdant gardens and the indigo sea. Staying for two nights and, already, I was liking certain details such as the distinctively Maranao Okir motif carving framed on the wall, the opulently organic abaca woven rug on the floor, the eco-friendly reusable glass water bottle with pure linen serviettes on the table and the outdoor daybed where I visualized myself doing further readings on the relevance of CHADOU tea ceremony and the practice of Zen.

cozy bedroom

cozy bedroom

I unpacked all my white cotton pique resort clothes and ebony wood accessories, threw my sunscreens lotion, trunks and goggles into my floatable bag, then immediately headed towards the sea. I passed through Vintana restaurant with its irresistible buffet layout of international cuisine but given the shifty sun, I decided to take late lunch at Cielo beside the pool and outdoor arena instead.

Pleasant was the unhurried walk through lush gardens with monochrome corral stone paths and water- spouting fish fountains underneath overcast mid-day skies. I settled in a cabana that looked out to Puka Shell beach at the end of the lap pool. Despite the Habagat wind and occasional drizzle, I noticed some couples enjoying the ocean. Not having energy to wage war with the waves nor take ten laps on the pool, this vegetarian carbo-loaded with pizza and choco-banana shake al fresco. Then, lying on a chaise, I proceeded to read The Essence of Chan by Venerable Master Hsing Yun.

Puka Shell Beach

Puka Shell Beach

The sound of waves crashing on the shore woke me from a fifteen-minute siesta. I stretched my limbs and started to swim. Ten laps after, I was breathing deeply and waded towards the shallow end of the pool. Oxygenated by the exercise, and with a crisp mind refreshed by the water, I noticed how the long tropical leaves around me were seemingly dancing in the golden sunlight.

Was it the wind that was in motion or the leaves? These movements were external manifestations, I closed my eyes for a second and internally recognized that it was my mind that was moving considering that all phenomena exists in a transient and fragmented manner. According to Master Hsin Yung, differentiations arise in our minds because of the stirring of our thoughts. When our minds are tranquil, objects are not capable of making distinctions on their own.

tropical garden in Shangri-la's Boracay Resort and Spa

tropical garden in Shangri-la’s Boracay Resort and Spa

This Zen (Japanese word for Chang) experience gave me a glimpse into the state of realization wherein motion and motionless are in harmony and no longer differentiated. I have not yet eliminated all discrimination arising out of subjective, perceived differences but this simple observation in the warm waters of the pool provided the initial mindful moment of inner peace.

I headed for the fully equipped health club to practice yoga asanas and pranayama after the swim. There were instructors ready to assist hotel guests for a complete workout but I opted to head back to my room to prepare for my therapy at the Chi spa.

Welcoming room of the Chi Spa

Welcoming room of the Chi Spa

The word “Palina” of Chi Spa’s signature Palina Therapy came from the Visayan dialect, meaning, “to calm and cleanse the spirit.”  It was a three-part treatment that employed different Filipino healing traditions and two expertly trained therapists who synchronized their hand movements through out the massage.

It started with a “Pa-usok” cleansing ritual using locally made incense and a bamboo rainmaker that helped infuse healing energy into the room. Detoxification followed with a coconut scrub-wrap and herbal bath.

Going through the warm coconut scrub was another moment of inner peace for me. Thoughts such as these filled my head: Who was being scrubbed was it my body or I? Isn’t the body that’s relaxing and enjoying the treatment not me? Is the mind that’s thinking about the body me, so on and so forth.

Immersed in the herbal bath at the Jacuzzi outside the room, I understood later that the conditions for healing and rejuvenation were always present at Chi Spa. More importantly, while savoring tropical fresh fruits from the region and mindfully sipping ginger-lemongrass tea, I was reminded that there is no fixed self or a constant “I” because everything in existence changes every fraction of a second.

The highlight of the 2-hours-fifteen-minute therapy was the ultimate renewal phase whereby two therapists employed a fourhanded massage in unison. The massage strokes mimicked the rhythmic movement of ocean waters rolling into shore. Rejuvenation was methodically achieved through a combination of acupressure, joint mobilization, stretching, and meridian work. This unique therapeutic performance by two therapists was doubly relaxing; I fell into deep sleep.

Next day I lingered through breakfast at Vintana, did my usual laps, siesta, body workout, yoga asanas, pranayama and further readings. At dusk, I prepared to meet Patti who invited me to a delightful dinner at Rima, the resort’s charming hillside restaurant.

Rima redefined elegant dining in Boracay. According to Patti, it was the first on the island to serve Northern Italian cuisine.  I tried the vegetarian specialties prepared by Chef Marco Ghezzi and congratulated him for the subtlety of his exquisite dishes. Chatting with Patti was amusing; the view of the tropical nightscape from the warmly lit restaurant was fantastic.

Have you seen a silvery mist during a boat ride or green leaves dancing in the golden sunlight? Those are the colors of Zen. Have you felt the comforting roughness of an abaca rug or the rhythmic effleurage of four hands on your back? Those are the feeling of Zen. Have you savored the rejuvenating freshness of ginger-lemongrass tea or the pungency of truffles in pasta prepared by a talented chef? Those are the taste of Zen.

A state of mind that cannot be described with words and can only be experienced by those who have attained it, Zen is the fiber of both existence and non-existence. With his recent visit to Boracay, this writer has gone through the most significant stage of Zen: its personal experience at Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa.

tranquil waters of Shangri-la Boracay's Resort and Spa

tranquil waters of Shangri-la Boracay’s Resort and Spa


RIMA is the award-winning Italian restaurant of Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa. Italian Chef Marco Ghezzi pays homage to authentic Italian cooking with the recent launch of RIMA’s new á la carte menu.

Chef Marco Ghezzi

Chef Marco Ghezzi

“We changed the entire menu, from starters to desserts.  The former modern Italian fine dining menu was creatively inspired but we realized that many diners on a holiday in Boracay are searching for novelty and authenticity. And that is what we offer now,” Chef Marco who has more than 18 years of culinary experience said.

Perched on a tree house. Its charming location provides a relaxed atmosphere where guests enjoy full view of the harmonious landscape and the refreshing ocean.  Its rustic elegant interiors coupled with ambient lighting and soothing dinnertime music creates a romantic mood that inspires intimacy.  The restaurant is an ideal spot for couples on a date or families looking for homey Italian fare during their stay on the island.

Costata di Manzo con salsa al gorgonzola con scalogno al brasato

Costata di Manzo con salsa al gorgonzola con scalogno al brasato

Rima’s menu reflects a wide range of regional Italian cuisines, though predominantly inspired by dishes from Lombardy and Tuscany where Chef Marco gained much of his culinary experience. Reliving his fond memories of traditional Milanese fare inspired him to introduce dishes, such as Risotto Classico alla Milanese (classic Milanese risotto), Minestrone Tradizionale Lombardo and Carpaccio di Manzo (raw thinly sliced beef with freshly shaved parmesan cheese, Truffle oil and crisp arugula leaves).

Trofie con Vongole, Funghi Porcini e Pomodorini

Trofie con Vongole, Funghi Porcini e Pomodorini


For Our Next Travel Destination, We Dream About Koh Samui in Thailand

Impressive views of the Gulf of Thailand welcome you at the Arrival Sala

Silent Sanctuaries

Mayenne Carmona discovers the Four Seasons Resort in Koh Samui is a quiet oasis to recharge and rejuvenate…

What does one expect from a Four Seasons Resort? Everything! Firstly, it will definitely be ranked no less than a five-star hotel or resort. Most importantly, it would not fall short of all your expectations: excellent cuisine, topnotch comfort at your fingertips in a well-appointed villa, courteous staff who offer impeccable service, and every other detail you could possibly need—down to the last cotton bud. After all, a Four Seasons Resort is always designed by a top-rated architectural team and interior designers.

The moment I stepped into the Four Seasons Resort at Koh Samui, I felt all my cares washed away by the soft waves of the bluest sea. The fresh air cleared my sinuses in no time, and the gentle breeze was a much needed caress to a tired mind and body. It was truly paradise regained for me and my friends. We were a motley group of career-oriented people who needed a much-awaited break from work, and this was the perfect choice for us.

Each Villa has a butler to cater to the guests’ every whim. The afternoon we arrived, we requested a sunset dinner by the beach, and much like a genie, our butler whipped up a romantically set candlelit dinner for six. A five-course delicious Thai dinner was prepared by their well-trained chef.

Our days were spent languishing by the beach, having daily massages, attending yoga classes, doing water sports and enjoying every bite of Thai cuisine. Golf carts transported us wherever we wanted to go within the resort. This vacation brought all my senses to another realm, and restored a weary soul to perfection. 

Four Seasons Koh Samui, I look forward to seeing you again!

Koh Samui is the third largest island of Thailand in the scenic Gulf of Siam. It is a 45 minute flight from Bangkok. Sandy beaches, coral reefs, coconut trees and abundant tourist resources make it a popular holiday destination.

For more information on Four Seasons Resort, visit their website at https://www.fourseasons.com/kohsamui/

(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s March 2016 Travel Issue, “Silent Sanctuaries” written by our columnist Mayenne Carmona for La Vie En Rose on pages 32-33.)

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Get Lost in this Not-so-distant Island Safari Paradise


Tao Philippines Crusoe-style deserted island camp paradise is perfect for those who understand the luxury of simplicity and disconnection.

by Melo E. Esguerra photography by Scott Sporleder

Just when you think Palawan is fast becoming a second Boracay, where congestion of concrete buildings and human bodies have begun to define the island experience more than the pristine beaches of white powdery sand, the Lostboys of Tao Philippines came up with a new island project that guarantees an escape to paradise. They call the island Camp Ngey Ngey.

The Lostboys have taken over the abandoned resort of Manguengey in Busuanga, a remote island in Palawan. They have kept the ruins from the typhoon and built their signature bamboo Tuka huts around the main beach of the island, which serves as the camp area. Just a short walk away you’ll find jungle trails that lead to three other wild beaches, preserved reefs and windswept cliffs encompassed by crystal blue waters. And on certain days, when the winds are strong, one side of the island becomes a good site for surfing.


Eddie Brock, one of the founders of Tao Philippines, explains how this concept of an island safari came about. “When we took over Manguengey Resort, we were stuck with the idea of how to run it. We do not know how to cater to resort guests, the individual choices and needs, and menus,” he admits. “Tao’s expertise is to show travelers something new, something more raw and adventurous. We decided that we will not worry about things we don’t understand, and stick to what we do best. One of the best aspects of a Tao trip is creating an atmosphere of connecting with other travelers, disconnected from digital clot—without the worry of planning, wallets and keeping a status. Five days out in the remoteness with the islanders in control leads to a positive attitude: guards down, inhibition is off and open to meet new friends.”

The camp is accessible through the three day/two night boat safari from Coron, with beach and reef stops en route the camp and back. Guests will be joining other travelers, staying in individual Tuka huts dotted along the beach. There are lounges, a dining and kitchen area, and open hang-out places. Currently, the big mansion from the old resort is being restored into a villa that can accommodate a family or group of friends.

The island can be reserved for big events like weddings, parties and other meaningful gatherings.

In the island, there is no room service, no menus, no WiFi. You will arrive as strangers, you will eat together, swim together, laugh together, drink together, and get to know each other offline. Become part of the magic of Tao, and see what happens!

For more information on how the trip to Camp Ngey Ngey works, log on to www.taophilippines.com


(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s June 2017 Men’s Issue, “Lost in Paradise” on pages 110-113.)

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THROWBACK THURSDAY. Our Stylish Voyage on a Boat with Loida and Richard


With hosts Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau, we take entertaining to the high seas.

by Shari Quimbo photography Steffen Billhardt

The sky was decidedly gloomy on the Sunday afternoon Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau invited a small group of us for a sail, the clouds getting darker as I make my way to Porter’s Marina, where the Blue Planet was docked.

“Richard built the boat himself in Cebu,” Loida explains, going on to share that he was the former honorary French consul in Cebu. “It was built here, and I designed the interiors.”

All that work certainly paid off—Loida and Richard would often sail the boat out to different Philippine destinations such as El Nido, Siargao, Boracay and the Gigantes Islands in Iloilo. These could mean days-long journeys that sometimes meant dealing with some rough seas. Quick day trips, much like the one we were about to embark on, were also a regular past time.

Loida gives me a quick tour of the boat then shows off her tropical spread. With its bright blue and white floral seating, the cabin’s dining area is already a pretty festive site. “I wanted to keep it simple,” she tells me, arranging her fresh fruits around on the banana leaf-covered wooden slabs she was using as serving trays. “And I wanted it to look more local, more tropical. We are on the water, after all.”

The bamboo slats of the dining table were the perfect backdrop to Loida’s spread, which featured tropical fruits alongside an entire roll of lechon belly, fresh lumpia, empanada and steamed shrimp.

The highlight of the table, though, was the chicken liver pate, a dish that Richard makes himself. “Luckily, the French love to cook,” Loida jokes conspiratorially.

Finally, it was time to take the vessel out onto the high seas, and the group makes its way above deck to enjoy the view. The cool sea breeze was a bit stronger than usual, something that had to do with the dark rain clouds looming above us—something that would have deterred any other group, but not this adventurous bunch. Armed with a glass of champagne in one hand and a biscuit smeared with pate on the other, many stand against the railing, admiring the sight of the sky turning orange above the Mactan Channel.

And then it starts to pour. No matter, though—as the rain pounds against the deck, the party finds its way down below. A bottle of wine is opened, and then another, while a second pot of pate is transferred on a plate. Our captain waits until the waves calm before he brings us back ashore.

(This story has already been published in the printed edition of Zee Lifestyle Magazine’s November 2016 issue as one of the Entertaining Features on pages 82-85.)

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