Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Update from Quezon City

It's been almost a whole year since my last update (2016) and time sure flies. I can bet that my 23-year-old self wouldn't have believed me if I told her that I would be updating this blog in the Philippines a year later.

Now this is my first time here and I can tell you that the days that had led up to my departure from KLIA 2 were just buzzing with anxiety. Firstly, I was arriving in Manila at night, alone in a foreign country with no one to meet me there. I've been told stories of kidnappings, taxi scams and other frightening stuff. What's more, at the customs before my departure, I was stopped because my passport was blacklisted. Why? Because PTPTN staff were slacking. I was told to drop by this small, makeshift counter and I told the dude there that I just started paying my dues about a week ago. He looked at me funny and said that the center I paid at should've removed the ban by now. Long story short, the issue was dealt with and I was cleared to leave the country. 

NOTE TO GRADUATES: Pay your student loans!

Anyway, I kinda had a half-meltdown in the plan. Was it anxiety? Perhaps. Wasn't sure why though. This had never happened. And so when I came out to NAIA Terminal 3, the first thing I did was text everyone who I had made contact with just before my flight (thanks for praying for me you guys! Truly appreciate it) and then decided to get a Grabcar. 

Hurdle number 2: cars were everywhere. My Grabcar ride had to make a second round because he couldn't find me, and when I strayed too far from the terminal entrance my precious wi-fi would disconnect. Luckily he was chill with it.
When I got into the car, I was stunned for a moment because I forgot that the folks here drove on the right side of the road, American style. He also spoke little English, but it was no biggie.

Throughout the 1 hour ride from Manila to Quezon City, I enjoyed the sights (or lack-thereof) obscured by the lack of bright street lights. There were a couple of things I noticed that felt familiar, and some that were totally different from what I was used to:
  • Maybank (one of our local banks)
  • various petrol stations (Shell, Caltex, Petron)
  • high walls and barbed wires
  • graffiti. rubbish. everywhere
  • some moments I felt like I was in an American ghetto, then in Kuala Lumpur the next. One moment I was in Ipoh and Penang, and then occasionally in a dilapidated version of the Japanese suburbs 
  • Shorts, t-shirts and slippers are the go-to fashion
  • People didn't seem to mind walking in the dim lighting on the sidewalk. You can barely see where you're stepping most of the time
  • Did I mention already that the streets are really dark in some places??
  • At least 5 lane roads. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. But opposite where I stayed had 10 lanes.
  • I had mistaken a primary school for a prison
These were just some of the first few things I saw during my ride to accommodation. 

6 lane traffic
They also have strange flavoured ice-cream here. Avocado seems to be pretty popular.

There was also a typhoon that passed by yesterday. It had been raining heavily since Monday night and it continued on into the early hours in the morning, then sporadically throughout the rest of the day on Tuesday.

Oh, and the jeepneys are terrifying. Even so, it was quite an interesting experience. I'm not quite sure if I can explain the ride right, but I'll try.

So the jeepneys have 'designated' drop-off and pick-up points and honestly how anyone figures out where to get off baffles me. On the side of every jeepney is written its route and its drop-off points. A person pays by passing the cash on to the driver, then the driver returns the change, all whilst driving through multiple lanes of heavy traffic. The inside of a jeepney is really small and if you're tall, then you're gonna have a sore neck, but really it's not too bad.

the inside of a jeepney
Passengers would often knock the ceiling of the jeepney, or say the magic word (I don't know what that is, it's in Tagalog) and the driver would swerve to the right side of the road to stop, and the passenger would get off.
It's amazing how there's such cooperation between the driver and the passenger, and since everything happens so quickly, you would need to keep your eyes and ears open to make sure you don't get dropped off too far away from where you intended!

The tricycle is even more terrifying than the jeepney. It's this tiny, side-car thing that you ride in that fits 2 people and one more behind the driver. It whizzes past cars, zooming jeepneys, and large trucks and buses, honking away to make way. Pretty thrilling watching the world past you by all while praying your belongings don't fly away.

zoomin' through the streets on a tricycle

Not sure what else is there to write about this place, other than the fact that it's incredibly crowded and smoggy and somewhat dangerous for unsuspecting tourists, but it's an alright place. You really get to see the slums in certain parts of Commonwealth and along the highway from Manila.

Would I come here again? Maybe, maybe not.
Perhaps to a city where there's a nice beach and not so much smog.

Saturday, October 8, 2016


Have you ever felt this intense urge in your heart, this longing in your soul to go somewhere --  to return to a place you don't physically call home?

It's been more than a month since I went to Japan. Suffice to say, I felt what I mentioned above at Haneda airport while counting down the minutes to my departure back to England. New and old friends patiently waited with me as I queued up to checked-in, ate with me my last Japanese dinner bought at the convenience store, and took an abundance of digital memories. These things made it all the more difficult to let go and leave. I put on a smile, wide enough that even my own consciousness is fooled, laughed loudly, assuring myself and the others that I will be back the following year -- the same promise I made the previous year.
But life is unexpected and plans are ephemeral.
The inital aim of this post was to reflect on my time in Japan (which was no less exciting as the previous time), but I guess it ended up sounding a little more melodramatic than intended.

Weather induced moodiness aside, I really did enjoy my time in Tokyo and Minami-Aizu. The feeling was, in a way, different than I had expected. As I had been to some of the places before, it felt like I was going home and seeing the people from, say, a hometown I had not seen in years. There was this sense of familiarity when I walked down the streets of Shibuya, or when I took off my soiled shoes at the genkan of Cloud Camp in Minami-Aizu. The confidence I felt navigating the streets of Yoyogi or dining in Japanese restaurants made me swell with a secret pride. But somehow I felt like I was the only one feeling this sense of home (out of the other participants), and rightly so since I was the only returnee. It would've been amazing if I met up with everyone from Experience Japan 2015, but perhaps, that day will come soon in the future.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Airport ramblings

I realised something. Sitting in the departure hall of terminal two in Heathrow two hours early, I read a book -- Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto -- to kill time. Opposite me are a British (I think) couple, probably in their fifties, with eyes peering through their spectacles at the ipads held between their slightly stubby fingers. And here I am, reading a small, thin novella, 150 pages, with a glaringly pink cover. As my own tired eyes (five hours in the bus is no joke) and foggy mind struggled to comprehend the printed words, relaxing and unwinding, a thought, quiet as a passing whisper, struck me like a gong. I've always enjoyed reading physical books where I can touch, flip its pages and smell them, feel its weight in my hands. Electronic devices like tablets have been introducing new features with each new model; the feeling of flipping a page, the sound of flipping the page, all without the hassle of weight and with extra capacity. But, obviously the very experience of reading an actual book in hand has been compromised.

Now, the reason I've gone on talking about this is because, without that base thought, this revelation wouldn't be as profound. Coming back to the the initial point of the post: I realised something as I was reading. Words printed in books, inbued into its parchment, it's black ink against brown or white, there is something permanant about it, as though they were etched in stone (or paper, if you're being literal). Whereas electronic words are ephemeral. One touch of a button and your words disappear, refreshes, changes. The very content you had been reading -- now old news -- is replaced by something new and exciting. I don't think this is an issue in itself, but rather the fragile state of the words, and information and experience it gives the reader. Compared to books, you can't change anything without ruining it, say, with liquid paper or strikes of ink or carbon. It is, as I said, etched forever, until the book disintegrates, lost to the merciless hands of time.

But what is the reason for this post, you must wonder? Ah, my dear reader, there is no reason. No reason at all. Just listless thoughts in the airport.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Your money or your life?

I think God taught me something today -- that's not to say that he doesn't teach you something everyday, but today, for some reason, after getting my pay I was, in a way, placed in a couple of situations where I was forced to use that money (for reasons I won't state) instead of keeping it for my saving's account like I always do. The lesson only struck me as I sat down for a relatively cold dinner: money is not meant to be kept and never used. You don't earn money to hoard it all, admiring the numbers that increase each time you deposit your salary, but to spend it on the things you need. Money, if you think of it in this way, is essentially not yours. Sure you earned it, and have every right to claim your hard earned cash -- but it's not yours. If you think about it this way, it is God's money you're spending. Why? He's the one who provided you with the job. He's the one who gave you the means and chances to hone your skills to get that job. He's the one who gave you the talents to even learn those skills, etc. Etc., you get my point.

It's just like the parable of the talents, roughly, anyway. The main point? Everything you own is not yours completely. This thought is what, I assume, drives people to greed and to stinge like that old man in The Night Before Christmas -- which I realise I'm slowly becoming. So, I guess it was a good lesson. Not exceptional, but good. And besides, money can be earned back. What's the point of keeping it, if you're not going to do anything good about it?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Whispers of the Heart - Reminiscence

I've not been writing a lot lately, and have even found writing to be an utter chore thanks to having to meet deadlines and keeping to rigid, specific styles that 'sound' correct. I've forgotten what it felt like to write from the heart. I guess you could say I'd lost that certain spark from long ago.

I've been watching films for inspiration while doing my writing assignments, and right now as well (when I should be writing my quota of 1000 words a day). I've watched about four films this week when I usually wouldn't even watch a film a month. I have to say this has really helped me out of my 'creative drought', as I would call it. I watched Whispers of The Heart just now and I was utterly surprised at how it took me back to my high school days when I was obsessed with writing stories in my many brown, exercise books. I didn't care about the grammar, or whether it sounded 'correct', but I was all bent on spilling my heart and soul into my writing. I even got caught in class once and had my book confiscated, but that didn't stop me from starting all over again. I had forgotten what zeal felt like. I had forgotten why I wanted to be a writer at 13. But I've already given up that idealistic dream, though. Reality is harsher than what my 13-year-old self had conjoured up in her mind. But after watching that film, I feel it coming back - that spark of flame. I could feel all the pent up frustrations of the protagonist as she struggles to write a novel in a mere span of two months (sorry, spoilers), how she is absorbed into the world she created, and how she felt totally incompetent and her work meager, compared to the boy she likes who's off pursuing his dream in Italy. I totally understood that (except the last part) and it brought tears to my eyes. The joy you feel when you let someone read your raw material, your first draft, your unpolished gem, and receiving positive feedback from it is euphoric, and it was depicted beautifully in the film. Even though it was just a simple scene, but it resonated with me and brought back the once lost memories of when I would shamelessly let my schoolmates read my work, and reading their encouraging feedback would always inspire me to continue writing.

I enjoy how Miyazaki is able to express people's desires so vividly in his work and how they are able to inspire so many hearts to keep doing what they love. My work's still not great, and sometimes I hate how I'm unable to phrase sentences that make sense, but a little inspiration goes a long way.

Enough ranting, for now. Back to telling stories.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

It's been such a busy month. It feels as though it's comparable to final year during undergrad, but I can't really remember how it all felt now. It seemed like a lifetime ago when I submitted that blasted dissertation. LOL

Had my final Japanese exam (writing and listening) right after Easter holidays (didn't even realise it was that soon omg /panic) but I think I nailed it. As a result of desperately prepping myself in a span of a week, I started a Japanese blog on Ameba/Ameblo. It's such a strange and interesting place. I mean, it's almost like Friendster and Myspace all over again (minus the super bling-ed profile pages)! I still can't read 90% of the stuff over there but at least there's the 10%, right? I did pray for tangible improvement, and I guess that prayer is answered? Three weeks ago, I wouldn't have been able to construct sentences, let alone write (super short) paragraphs. And now I have a blog. Let's hope it doesn't turn into a sad case of abandonment.

If I told my younger self of 5 years ago that I'd be doing a Masters in the UK, starting a Japanese blog and actually enjoying myself, my younger self would look at me funny and say 'yeah right.'

Anyway, there's at least some kind of deadline every week. And by God's grace, I'm managing to handle each efficiently. I wish I was this effecient in undergrad. Things might have been much more different. But then again, who am I to question fate?

Asides from the mundane things, it's been super cold this week-- a ridiculous 4°C, which seems to be the average for now. For goodness' sake, it's almost May. What happened to SPRING? I know winter seems to be the permanent resident here in Britain, but seriously, is this even a joke? Apparently it even snowed this afternoon for a bit. I was too busy working the counter to even notice until my friend pointed it out to me. By that time, it had already stopped (lol).

Nothing else seems to be happening much asides from that. Trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but when you're a broke student, 'healthy' seems to be a much more illusive goal than usual.

P.S: For some reason, my brain is thinking in Japanese (style of speech and writing). I don't suppose that's a good thing, right?