Monday, January 15, 2018

Diecast Corner: Jungle and Mandarake - Haven for toy collectors in Osaka, Japan

Forty years back in Philippines, it was a golden era for Japanese Robots cartoon. I used to watch Voltes V, Daimos, and Mazinger Z to name a few. Presently, Bandai is producing these yesteryear cartoon robots as high end line of collectible diecast robots under the “Soul of Chogokin” (SOC) or “Soul of Super Alloy” series. Each authentic SOC robot has a corresponding model number in SOC series.

I admit I am a late bloomer when it comes in collecting SOC robots thus I am familiar only with a few of them. With my three kids about to graduate from college and has achieved financial stability I have decided to unleash the kid in me.

A couple of weeks back the family was in Osaka for my advance golden birth anniversary. Yup, in a few days I’ll be a “Golden Boy.”

Having purchased two non SOC series but diecast Mazinger Z robots in Philippines my memory of my younger years started to come back especially when I joined “SOC Philippines” FB group.

Long story short, with my 2 sons who are both Gundams robots collectors too, we searched for hobby/toy shops in Osaka. Based on our research on net these shops abound in Nippombashi. We found two Joshin shops but they offer limited SOC robots thus I was a bit disappointed.
 
 
Jungle Shop

Fortunately, while strolling, the wife saw a massive Grendizer robot outside a corner shop. It is JUNGLE Hobby Shop. The shop’s name sounds familiar thus I told my family to just go on their way and come back for me after an hour. I didn’t realize that was the recommended shop by some members of "SOC Philippines" FB group.

Upon entering, at the left side near the entrance I immediately saw numerous SOC robots. I almost cried in happiness upon seeing those yesteryear robots in front of me. I explored the hobby shop – it has 2 floors – it took me almost an hour before I decided to purchase my first authentic SOC diecast robot. I bought Combattler V (Black Edition) and Danguard Ace. By the way, this shop sells BIB (Back in Box) and MISB (Mint in Sealed Box) toys. There were several Danguard Ace robots with different price tags. I bought the MISB or what the shop says as “Factory Sealed” box for 27,000 Yen. The Combatller V robot is a BIB or second hand with a price tag of 12,000 Yen; they allowed me to inspect it physically first before paying. Yes, if the item is a BIB (second hand) they would allow you to inspect it but for MISB (Factory Sealed) they won’t.

Added bonus is the tax-free privilege for foreigners. Upon presenting my passport they reduced the total price from 29,000 Yen to 27,000 Yen. Wohooo.

Unfortunately, they don’t have Voltes V, Daimos and Voltron at that time. It is understandable since these three robots are considered as the Trinity of SOC series. Any SOC collectors would search first for these three before thinking of buying the other SOC robots.

Back in our hotel, I opened immediately the “Factory Sealed” Danguard Ace to remove my doubt.  I found the robot in mint condition and with complete accessories. I felt sad because I have damaged the clear tape seal; my Danguard Ace cannot be considered “Factory Sealed” anymore. I should have not opened it and rather left it in its original condition. Anyway, on the positive side, it now emboldens me to play with Danguard Ace.
 
The following day, not to be outdone, the two ladies in our family opted to do their shopping in Shinsaibashi where there are rows and rows of shops for clothes, shoes, bags and so on and so forth. Cleverly, my two sons had searched the net again for any toy shops in the area. They found Mandarake near Amemura (American Mura) area. Leaving the ladies we trekked to Mandarake guided by Google Maps.


Me, Glicoman and our Mandarake hauls

The kid in me rejoiced again upon setting foot in Mandarake; my two sons were elated as well due to cheap (BIB and MISB) Gundams.

my Getter Robot

I bought two more SOC robots. UFO Grendizer and Getter. I have now four authentic and mint SOC robots in my possession. It is only a matter of time before getting hold of “SOC Trinity.”

The following day again, after visiting Nara, we returned back to Osaka at around 4 PM. With plenty of time before dinner the three boys have outvoted the two ladies again. So we ended up making another round in Nippombashi.

I paid another visit to Jungle Hobby Shop. To my surprise, they have a newly displayed (BIB) Mazinger Z’s 20th year anniversary edition. I hurriedly asked the staff to take it from the glass cabinet for visual inspection. Mazinger Z was mint and with complete accessories and manual. Its price was 17,000 Yen but I paid 1,000 Yen less for tax.

Mazinger Z 20th year anniversary SOC edition

Though I haven’t found any of the SOC Trinity I was extremely delighted to have Mazinger Z since I am an avid fan of the cartoon series. I used to draw Mazinger Z on my notebook when I was about ten years old.

My Osaka haul
I have now five authentic SOC robots in my toy collections. If I have been exposed to "SOC Philippines" group four years earlier I could have completed the “SOC Trinity” since we have visited Tokyo several years back and Akihibara in Tokyo won’t disappoint any toy collectors.

However, not every day is Christmas Day as they say. On January 8 at 2 AM we arrived in our house in San Mateo back from Japan. At 4 PM on the same day I have to leave our house to fly back to my work in Africa.

Any kids could relate with my longing for my brand new toys. I always look on their pictures before I go to sleep; the same feeling when I bought my car. Of course, my family comes first before anything else but the joy of seeing your toys that remind you of your childhood is simply priceless.

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

Eons of years back, when I was still in my elementary days, I heard about this peculiar tower from my father. He is a retired seafarer and has visited this leaning tower in one of his journeys.

Fast forward to present, I never thought that I would see with my own eyes the same tower that my father has told me. What made the event more memorable was that the wife and I were celebrating our silver wedding anniversary when I saw the famous “Leaning Tower of Pisa.

From Florence we booked a local train to Pisa Centrale Station. The trip lasted for around 45 minutes. Along the way we observed and enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of rural Italy.

From the train station it took us another 30 min of fast paced walk to reach the tower. We couldn’t afford to lose precious time since we have to return back to Florence to catch our train trip back to Rome in the evening.


Flea market. I bought vintage diecast model cars from here at 5 Euro each

On our way to the tower we crossed Arno River through Ponte di Mezzo; this is the same river that extends up to Florence. We passed at Church of Saint Michael, Largo Parlascio and other historical buildings and ruins. Cafes, bars, resto and lodging houses abound in this side of the river. We are not surprised anymore since a few hundred meters away is the leaning tower of Pisa.

Almost there

It was a terrific moment seeing the leaning tower from afar. The wife and I were speechless as we approach the cathedral Square where the tower is located.

Cathedral Square

 


   

 
We loitered around the Baptistery, Campo Santo and Duomo di Pisa. We forego the idea of climbing the tower since I didn’t want to have another panic attack like the one I experienced while climbing up Arc de Triomphe; the wife was tired too.
 


Don't push it boy!


As expected, hordes of visitors are trying their best to appear on their shots supporting the Pisa from further tilting. The whole place is like a huge park minus the picnics.

After an hour we opted to leave the place and searched for gelato. Famished and tired we devour our gelato mixed with fresh fruits in no time at all. The wife went online and communicated with the kids.

If not for the leaning tower this place could be like any other ordinary European parks dotted with historical churches and structures. A few hours of stay is enough to enjoy the scenery and the place.

Feeling rested, we trekked back to Pisa Centrale train station and bought souvenirs from small shops that we passed by. Fortunately, our train tickets allowed us to take any train back to Florence within a couple of hours thus we embark on the first train that stopped in Pisa on its way back to Florence; we had enough time to have our dinner at Florence train station before our trip back to Rome.

I hope that our kids will be able to visit this place too in the future.



Saturday, December 9, 2017

Chic & Town Luxury Rooms - Rome

The wife booked a double occupancy room due to plenty of good reviews on the net. Unbeknownst to us, we would be able to set foot in Florence and Pisa, which were not included in our itinerary because of their staff.

Days before our Paris trip, we received an email from Chic and Town inquiring about our arrival. It was a pleasant surprise since for the longest time that the wife and I have been travelling, that was the first time we received an inquiry directly from the hotel’s staff. Upon learning that we would arrive at Porta Tiburtina Station in Rome by train, their reception desk sent an instruction on how to reach their hotel coming from this station.

On our arrival, we were greeted cheerfully by Renato, a “kabayan,” and led us to the reception. It was a welcome respite to talk with a kabayan after spending a week in Paris. At the reception, the Italian guy, Pietro, obviously wanted us to enjoy our stay in Rome. He even provided us maps and clear instructions on how to explore Rome by foot.

The following day, a couple of housekeepers knocked on our door. To our surprise, they are also kabayans! We had a chat with them in the afternoon and upon learning that we were free on our last day in Rome, one of them convinced us to visit Florence and a side trip to Pisa; he gave us detailed instructions on how we can reach these places by train. So I immediately booked online a RT train ticket between Rome and Florence. Our tickets were sent to my email and printed by Pietro for free.

It was terrific! The wife and I were able to visit these two amazing places as a result of having a nice chat with our kabayan.







Free snacks

Chic and Town is located at the second floor. No worries since usually there is no queue for the elevator. We're given two keys upon check-in. One is for our room while the other is for the main door in case we'd be coming back late at night. On the day we travelled to Florence, we left early so we're the one who opened the main door.

The place offers basic amenities plus free snacks. We have a cooler inside the room filled with colas, juices and bottled water. Breads, biscuits and fruits are also provided and replenished daily.

The main drawback for this hotel is the lack of wardrobe though there is long frame where you can hang your clothes; hangers are provided. Since the place doesn't have any dining facilities we used to buy and bring pizzas to our room for midnight snack and breakfast.
 

Psychedelic bathroom

The bathroom has an LED bulb that changes color rhythmically though you can set it in your favorite color. Isn’t it interesting taking a bath in glowing red light? Or brushing your teeth under a green light? LOL.

Check-out was flawless too. The reception even arranged for a taxi that brought us to the airport.

All told, aside from having a competitive price and having warm and great staffs this hotel is strategically located at the center of Rome. Some of the places we visited by foot are:

- Fontana De Trevi
- Pantheon
- Piazza Navonna
- Piazza Del Popolo
- Piazza De Spagna
 
The only place we visited by taxi is The Colosseum. Aside from that, small food store, souvenir shops and a supermarket are nearby; don’t leave Rome without trying “Gelato."
 
 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tired of Paris City? Chateau Versailles is a perfect getaway

Months before our silver wedding anniversary trip to Paris the wife was bugging me about Chateau Versailles. The place was unknown to me so I didn’t include it in our itinerary. As usual, the wife found a way to include it in our itinerary.
 
See how massive this castle

The wife really knows best since Chateau Versailles is one of the most exciting places we have visited in Europe. We didn't want our time and movement inside restricted so we didn't join any guided tours.

 









 
Chateau Versailles houses thousands of art pieces and collections. Aside from that, the wide gardens around it is truly amazing; it was unfortunate that the weather wasn’t ideal on our day of visit. It was chilly and there was a slight drizzle. But I have to admit, I love chilly weather, it is the wife that couldn’t stand the freezing temperature.
 
At any rate, we enjoyed touring the massive castle/museum and exploring the gardens outside. By the way, we used our Paris Museum Pass for access while we paid extra 8.50 Euro to enter the gardens. Yup, Chateau Versailles garden access is not included in PMP list.
 






The symmetrical design of the garden make it looks like a labyrinth


 
ON OUR WAY TO CHATAEU VERSAILLES
 
Picture Perfect pedestrian/cycle road
 
Public Market

We came here by train. We walked a couple of kilometres before reaching Chateau Versailles. It was an added treat to our trip actually. We walked along narrow streets and passed their public market. It was an unforgettable experience for both of us since we have witnessed the normal daily lives of the locals not to mention the lovely houses, laidback environment and scenic landscape. The experience was totally new for my wife. In my case, I have spent several month eons of years ago at Lancey, France where at 7 pm you’d be lucky to meet any locals on the street. The place is just at the foot of the mountains and near the French Alps.
 
Since summer was almost over, there were less visitors during our visit so entrance to the place was flawless, if I may say so. Because of that, I could say that we have the entire gardens only for us; plenty of picture perfect moments.
 

We left the place through the other side of the road causing us to lose our way back to the train station but it gave us more time to savour the place. With help from some locals we were able to find the correct road back to the train station.

If you have spare time while in Paris then by all means visit this place for it will give you a glimpse on how the “Royals” have lived centuries back without the hustle and bustle of Paris City.


 
To know more about Chateau Versailles check its official website : chateauversailles
 


 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Dad's Review - Bose Quiet Comfort 25

When my Blaupunkt Noise Cancelling headphone went kaput due to broken plastic frame after several years of rigorous use I decided to purchase one of the best noise cancelling headphones in the market at that time.

I chose Bose Quiet Comfort 25 over the ear headphone due to good reviews by several known tech blogs; I didn't regret my decision until a few months back.

Enclosure

Folded headphone

Upon connecting my new Bose headphone to my ever dependable Sony Walkman, immediately I realized this headphone is a class of its own. When I played some of my “Rock favorites” I noticed several musical instruments being played which I never heard before using my previous (Sony, Philips and Blaupunkt) headphones. It was a momentous event for any music lovers to hear his favorite songs crystal clear and with added bass though I can say that other Bose headphone models can give stronger bass minus the noise cancelling function; I tested various Bose headphones at their Trinoma show room. Moreover, my Bose performs better than Emirates Airlines business class noise cancelling headphone.

One main drawback is the lack of rechargeable battery. Nevertheless, a single AAA battery would  last for around 20 hours of continuous use. Enough to last for round trip between Manila and my job site somewhere in Africa; you can still use the headset even if the battery run out of juice but degradation of audio output is noticeable.

For a frequent traveller like me, I am working in a monthly rotational basis, I need a good headphone with noise cancelling function to suppress the plane's engine noise especially during long haul flight. This function can easily determine whether I would have a good sleep during a 12 hour flight. With Bose headphone, I must admit that its noise suppression or cancelling function is better than my previous Blaupunkt headphone and my Sony Walkman’s earphone with built-in noise cancelling though I must admit that I haven’t tried other known headphone brands with noise cancelling function.

Quiet Comfort 25 comes with a hardened pouch which is great especially during travelling. It was pretty convenient to just throw the pouch to your luggage or bag. It also comes with an adaptor for airplane’s dual audio connector.

I bought my Bose headphone from Bose outlet in Trinoma Mall in December 2015 as Christmas gift to myself. It costs 20,000 pesos or around 400$. To be honest, the local price was quite expensive compared to its price abroad.

After more than a year of blissful use I started to notice small cracks appearing on both right and left cushions. The soft leather like material started disintegrating and even clinging to my ears after each use. Lately, both of its foam pads came out from their faux leather enclosure. This is the first time I have encountered such incident in all of my previous headphones.

Both foam pads came out

Looks frightening isn't it?

I complained to Bose Service Center at Greenhills, Metro Manila. The service guy told me to bring out the headphone from its pouch from time to time to prevent this problem from occurring again. He added that my Bose headphone was manufactured in a cold country thus when used for long period of time in a tropics country like Philippines it is expected to deteriorate. Okay, how about Bose replacement cushions being sold in UK and US? Those are cold countries aren’t they?

Come on guys! Even those Chinese made headphones that can be bought at CD-R King for a song didn’t manifest this kind of problem for short period of time. In fact, if I'd count the number of hours I have used this headphone, it won’t reach one full month since as I have mentioned earlier I am using this headphone while travelling only.

Anyway, since the headphone is still functional I decided to purchase a new pair of cushion for 1,900 PHP or around 37 $. The damaged cushions were replaced in a couple of minutes.

Hence, next time I’ll encounter the same problem perhaps I’ll try to purchase another good but cheaper headphone instead of constantly paying 37$ for replacement cushions.

 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The place to be in Rome - The Colloseum

If you are in Rome, this is the place to be.

Within Rome City are numerous historical and magnificent Piazzas, Fontanas and medieval structures but Colloseum obviously outshines them all. Upon seeing how massive this centuries old amphitheatre the wife and I were lost for words because amidst the modern and bustling city is a magnificent structure that withstood the test of time. Once inside you couldn’t help but imagine how the ancient Romans have entertain themselves with brutal games; this is the place where gladiators have fought and hunts wild animals.

We bought admission vouchers online for 16 Euro per person so as to “skip the line” of tourists entering this place. The ticket includes access to “The Roman Forum” and “Palatine Hills” within two days. After the security check you have to exchange your vouchers to admission tickets before you’d be allowed to enter the actual place.

Having read on internet that due to security and safety reasons they are limiting the visitors inside up to 3000 only at the same time so we decided to reserve our visit at 9 am. As expected, there are less queues during early morning and those with reserved tickets enter a different security gate; after passing the security we proceeded to the reservation counters to exchange our vouchers into admission tickets. However, since it wasn’t 9 O’clock yet the turnstile didn’t bulge when our tickets were scanned thus we were asked to wait for another couple of minutes. There were other people waiting with us.  






Arco De Constantino

There are two levels inside the Coloseum. We explored both levels inside and had a great view of “Arco De Constantino.” Unfortunately, the Arena area was off limits.

"The Forum" view from Colloseum

The "Palatine Hills" view from "The Forum"



Temple under renovation at "The Roman Forum"

After more than an hour we searched for the exit and proceeded to adjacent ‘Palatine Hills” and “Roman Forum.” At "The Roman Forum" you’d find ruins of several ancient temples and structures while going up the Palatine Hills will give you a majestic view of surrounding area.

Nasoni

Having seen the different Piazzas, Fontanas and the Pantheon the wife opted to have some rest under the shade while I strolled up the "Palatine Hills." Soon after, I coerced the wife to explore "The Roman Forum." Doing so, we noticed a “Nasoni” or free flowing drinking water fountain. At first, the wife was hesitant to refill our empty water bottle but upon seeing a couple of police personnel drinking directly from it we filled our bottles with refreshingly cold water.  

We couldn’t believe that we have visited this magnificent monument. The entire place could give you a window on how the ancient Romans have lived.

We left the place before noon; summer in Rome is quite unbearably hot compared with Paris. We took a taxi to return back to our hotel.