The Fuel for My Travels

DisneyWhen people ask me why I have been travelling a lot for the past five years, I always say that I am on a quest for Looove. To paraphrase someone in the movie, Warcraft, if love is important to you, you must go to the ends of the earth to find it. But, I would say to those who’d listen, love is an elusive and deceptive thing. You think you have it, then it’s gone. Maybe you are not really looking for it or wanting it, some friends say. That may be true, but that is another topic for another time.

It was rage that caused me to travel. “Rage fuels me” is more dramatic than saying “I’m on a quest for love”. By the way, neither rage nor love(or infatuation) can fill your stomach. Both can cause hypoglycemia if you’re not careful.

Rage at friends who betrayed me. Rage at the pressures and expectations laid on me, Rage at the people went out of their way just to prove that I did not deserve what I was working so hard for. Rage at people who tried to take advantage of my weaknesses just so they could advance themselves. Rage at people who frustrated my efforts just because they think they could. Rage at people who attempted to manipulate me to suit their purposes. Rage at people who disregarded who I really was and tried to impose on me their idea of who I should be. Rage at people who measured themselves against me. Rage at people who blame me for their faults and shortcomings. Rage at assuming responsibilities and burdens because of other people’s incompetence. Rage at being obliged to give so much for things that were given virtually for free to other people. Rage at myself for putting up with all these things at great emotional and psychological cost. Rage at slowly giving up pieces of my sense of self for the sake of advancement.

For a long period of time – too long – I could only feel rage and contempt. All I could ever think about was how to survive. I was vengeful and vindictive. It felt like everything was closing in. I just had to will myself to withstand them all. I knew that it was only a matter of choice: to let the rage burn me out and become a husk of a person or hold on to who I was and survive.

During that time, I also cut off a lot of people from my life because I knew they were not good for me.

I went to Hong Kong to visit Ocean Park and Disneyland. I wanted to feel other things. I did do a lot of therapeutic screaming while being spun in the air on the adult rides at Ocean Park. Fear, excitement, and adrenaline make a great combination. At DIsneyland, I did get teary-eyed on seeing the Disney Princesses. The Disney mind-conditioning was  at work when I again got teary-eyed while watching the fireworks.

MacauI visited old Macau and spent hours just walking round and round, looking for the heritage sites. I enjoyed getting lost and finding my way back again. I hopped over the graves of Protestant Dutchmen who died over a hundred years ago. I walked up and down winding stairways, filled with graffiti.

Walking in the sun without any particular destination, looking at famous monuments and landmarks, trudging on unfamiliar streets, and listening to unfamiliar languages, made me feel better. At every step, I could feel my rage ebb just a little. The new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures reminded me that the world is big and has so much to offer.

Siem ReapI found myself clambering over large stone monuments, going through dark tunnels, climbing very narrow steps, and joking and laughing with total strangers in Siem Reap. I fulfilled a childhood promise to see Angkor Wat – there was a time I wanted to be an archeologist. I experienced wonder once again. I felt great sadness while the audio guide walked me through the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, and watched other people suddenly burst into tears for they too felt the great despair and suffering in that place. I felt rage, but it was righteous.

HueA friend and I rode bicycles in Hoi An. We checked into a five-star hotel in Hue and spent New Year’s Eve in a club with white people dancing to 80’s music while the proprietor, who was wearing a suit, gave us drinks on the house. I walked, in full costume, the halls of the Imperial Palace of the Nguyen Dynasty, while other tourists took photos of me. I ate as much as I could in the labyrinthine streets of the French Quarter in Hanoi and got addicted to Vietnamese coffee.

I spent my birthday at Genting Highlands Park – cheesy but I had fun with my friend. We spent most of our time riding buses in Malaysia and looking for places to eat nasi goreng. We did a lot of walking in Georgetown and Melaka. I was even surprised to see two young men holding hands, as they crossed a football field in Melaka – in a Muslim country at that! Simply sitting inside a hop-on-hop-off bus in Kuala Lumpur while stuck in traffic, in the middle of pouring rain, was fun for me. Hey, I was stuck in traffic in a foreign country and in one of the most important cities of the world!

MelakaIt took years of occasional travelling to get me into sorts. In the process, I did feel I’ve become a different person – more confident, less afraid, comfortable with uncertainty, and eager for surprises. Travelling will test your wits and patience, and you will discover how much you are truly capable of. And the most important experience I’ve ever had was kindness from total strangers. Again and again, I was reminded that the world is big and full of wonder. Whatever I was going through was just of the tiniest consequence in the greater scheme of things. Every step I made in a new and strange land took out a little of the rage I had in me. It took thousands of steps just to drain enough rage and make room for other things – joy, wonder, empathy, trust, friendship, hope.

I now feel anger, not rage. And it is a good thing. I keep anger alive, but contained, because anger, like fire, can be good if harnessed properly. I tap into it to give me energy to fight and to stand for what I believe in. It gives me strength to resist bullshit and to demand for what I deserve. It reminds me to never allow anyone to make me go through all that again.

The money I have spent on travel so far would have built me a big house or gotten me a luxurious condo. It was all a small price to pay for saving myself.

Venice, Three Women, and Pandora Bracelets

Venice 6It was summer when I went to Venice with two purple luggage and a back pack. I took the bus from the airport and arrived at Piazzale Roma about three in the afternoon. Of course, the place was crammed with tourists, and I must have stood out among all of them because of my three bags. I looked at the steps of Ponte della Costituzione, forming a high arch over the water. I sighed and dragged my stuff over the pavement towards the steps.

Suddenly, a tanned Italian appeared beside me, acting all friendly and helpful. He offered to carry my luggage for me and kept asking where I was staying. What drew him to me might have been the Emirates business class tags on my bags – I got an upgrade on my Manila-Dubai leg. I was not daft enough to answer his questions and never let go of my bags. I politely refused his offer of assistance. “Don’t worry! We in Venice are very helpful. We like to welcome visitors!”. He never let go of my bag as we traversed the many steps over the bridge. I repeatedly told him that I was fine but he had turned deaf.

Once we got over the bridge, with him panting and me very sweaty – it was very humid – he offered to take me to my hotel. I told him again that I was alright and I knew my way. I tightened my grasp on my luggage handles because he might create a scene. If he was going to take my luggage hostage, there will be bloodshed. I can be as strong as Diana, Princess of Themyscira, if the need arises.

As we neared Stazione Santa Lucia, the man asked for a tip. “But I never asked you to help me”, I said. “But, I still helped you across the bridge! You should give me a reward”, he insisted. “I told you many times I’m fine”, I was unmoved. “People should help each other! You should pay for my service” he pressed. Two people walked past and briefly observed us with a something-is-going-down look. “I never agreed to that. We never had any contract. I told you many times to leave me alone, but you did not listen. You did that on your own”. He gave me a petulant look and acted like I was a horrible and selfish person.

Venice 2I don’t know. It must have been the strain of years of people guilting me into doing things, the long flight, or the humidity, that I could not summon even a trickle of empathy for him. I could only give him a look of indifference. Realizing that he was talking to stone, he turned abruptly and left in a huff. I walked on and clambered over a flight of steps on Ponte del Scalzi, which had a great view of the Grand Canal. Once I had crossed over into Santa Croce island, I dragged my luggage into the labyrinth of tiny streets and alleys and somehow managed to locate my hostel near the Riva de Basio vaporetto stop.

I was put in a six-bed mixed room with wide windows that had good views of the Grand Canal and the buildings on the other bank. I had a much-needed nap but was woken when three women walked in. They were speaking in Tagalog. I said hello to them and they said they thought I was Indian or from somewhere near the Middle-East.

Then the interrogation began.

Venice 5The leader asked most of the questions: No, I’m not in a tour group. I am travelling on my own. I just flew in and will go to Munich and then Budapest to attend a seminar. I’ve been to Europe a number of times. This is a personal trip. I’ll be staying for three days. I don’t have an itinerary. I’m a lawyer.

Mindful about conversation etiquette, I inquired “Did you fly into Venice? What’s your itinerary?” “Oh, we flew in from London into Rome and then took the train through Florence and Bologna. We visited a Filipino friend of mine who is taking his doctorate at the University of Bologna”, she said smugly. I realized that she had interrogated me in a way to assess my background and financial capability. She also did not even bother to ask for my name or introduce herself and her friends. She just asked me a barrage of questions.

“What was your itinerary again?” she asked. “Venice, Munich, and Hungary”. “I thought you said Budapest!” somehow she derived pleasure in pointing out my inconsistent answer. I replied politely “Yes, Hungary”.

After an awkward silence, the leader launched into a very loud discussion about the expensive glass souvenirs she bought from Murano island. I pretended to be very busy with my phone while I noted that the kitsch she bought was ready-made and probably imported from China. If it were made on Murano Island, it would cost thousands of euros a piece. The fact that the three of them stayed in a hostel meant that they did not have that kind of money. She also lamented how much money she blew on leather goods and that she had bought her mother a Louis Vuitton wallet. Mercifully, my stomach was growling and I excused myself to look for food.

When I got back, the three women were not there. I was relieved. I took out William Carney’s “Mergers and Acquisitions: Cases and Materials” and started reading the chapter on the responsibilities of directors. After an hour, they came back. To preempt any conversation with them, I said “I hope you don’t mind if I keep my lamp on. I am doing my homework and I have to email this by midnight.” I hid behind my book.

“Have you read the title of his book? He must be a big shot!” the leader said audibly to her friend. After a few minutes of silence, she piped up “Are you into finance? I thought you were a lawyer.” “This is part of the curriculum of the class I’m taking in Budapest.” “Are you taking your masters?” “Yes.” I was determined not to give out more information than what was asked.

She called someone on her phone. She loudly told her mother that she had already made an itinerary for their next European trip, which will be from Prague to Budapest through the Danube River. Someone had oriented herself on the geography of Central Europe. After her phone call, she complained about her condo unit and discussed her plans to rent it out. The three of them also discussed the possibility that they could have been British in their former lives, because the place where they felt most at ease was London.

“By the way, how much did you pay for your Pandora bracelet?” she asked the one with blonde-colored hair. “DIdn’t it cost you about P100,000.00(about USD2,000)? They’re very expensive. If you buy the charms for the bracelet, it will cost you about P20,000(USD400)! I’m thinking about adding more to mine.” Her two sidekicks made concurring noises. Apparently, all of them had Pandora bracelets. A guy suddenly walked into our room and took the bed beside mine. They all fell silent and became very meek and shy. Just as I figured, all that bragging was for my benefit.

Venice 4This is not the first time that I’ve been forcibly made a hapless audience to bragging. I thought about my friends who own decent-sized houses and luxury condos but barely mention it. I thought about people I knew who wear their P200,000(USD4,000) earrings for everyday affairs. I thought of someone who nonchalantly puts cookies in her Prada handbag or a croissant in her limited edition Coach handbag. I observed that despite their material wealth, they did not have good skin and the blonde one should get her hair colored at a good salon.

The following morning, I woke up early and snuck into the pantry for breakfast. I helped myself to some milk, cereal, yogurt, bread, Nutella, and orange juice. Some guests in other rooms joined me and we talked. Suddenly, the leader swept in, and without saying hello to everyone, sat in front of me and introduced herself. I cannot remember her name.

She asked me where I was working and what I was studying. I said I was studying international commercial practice. I was doing it for fun and to upgrade my skills. She said she’s never heard of any lawyer doing international work. I said it’s rare in the Philippine setting. She mentioned that she has lawyer friends but she earns more than them, since she was in the outsourcing industry. “You lawyers don’t have credit cards do you? And if you do, you have low credit limits” I said I did not have any problem in that department because my combined credit limit was sufficient to cover my travel expenses and education costs.

“I have an uncle who is a city prosecutor. We are very close! I’m always welcome at his office!”, she seemed to think that this was a sort of achievement. I thought about my friends who are prosecutors in different parts of the Philippines, my friends who are judges, my friends doing well in private practice, and the people I work with. “Oh, I see” I said politely. Without saying a word, she suddenly stood up and walked out of the pantry. The other guests, who had been silent while she was there, resumed our conversation.

Venice 3As I washed the utensils I used, I talked to a Canadian girl about the Realto Bridge, markets, and good places to buy souvenirs. Our conversation may have been quite audible because the two of us were moving back and forth through the pantry, living area, and the kitchen. When I entered the room, the three of them were huddled over the leader’s phone. “We now have an itinerary! We shall go to the Realto bridge and the markets!”. Why she was talking so loud while her friends were right beside her was a mystery to me. They were already ready to go but seemed to wait around for something. Could they be waiting for me to ask if I could join them? HAH! I pretended to rummage through my bag. After a few minutes of just standing around, they left. I waited fifteen minutes more before stepping out to avoid running into them within the vicinity.

Venice 1By early evening, I was at a restaurant near the hostel. I ordered Spaghetti Al Nero Di Seppia paired with white wine. While I was eating, I overheard a very loud conversation in Tagalog from a group five tables away. So loud that their voices rose over loud Italian voices. After I ate, I walked past their table, because that was the only way back to the hostel. As I walked past, they abruptly fell silent. I acted like I just noticed them and said a curt “Hello!” and walked on.

Once I was back in the room, I took out my textbook and read about corporate takeovers. They came in about an hour later. There was no bragging this time and the leader talked about her family drama. But, occasionally, she’d say “He’s weird” or “Maybe he’s gay”. By then, I was too preoccupied with answering the essay questions that I barely noticed that they had fallen asleep.

When I woke up the following morning, they were gone.

A Good Day to You and A Good Day for Me

Something I wrote when I was in Salzburg, Austria.

Salzburg 1I’ve been kicked out of my hotel. Nah, I’m just being dramatic. I needed a reservation to extend my stay there and they do not allow on-the-spot extensions. So, I was let out of my room with a view of the center of Salzburg from the second level of an 800-year-old building. During my two-night stay there, I loved tiptoeing towards the toilet with my toes curled as my bare feet felt the cool and roughly-hewn steps. At least the cleaning lady was kind enough to give me a fridge magnet before I left.

I am dragging my plum trolley bag with electric blue zippers on the street parallel to the Salzach river. This is a shorter way than walking through Getreidegasse in the middle of old Salzburg – the route that we took when we were looking for my hotel after first arriving here two days ago. I am making my way towards Staatsbrücke, built out of bricks by the prisoners of war in World War Ii. You found it admirable for the townspeople to put up a sign dedicating the bridge to those who died building it. The street leading from this bridge goes directly to your hostel near St. Sebastiankirche. The brick bridge links our respective parts of the town. You mocked me for staying in the posh area where Montblanc pens have their own shop. I smugly scoffed at your ghetto neighborhood where people shop for bargains. Salzburg 2

You are greatly amused when I showed up at your room and announced my spectacular fall from high society. I had checked into your hostel and am taking your place when you check out later. This is a mere formality for I had spent more time in your hostel yesterday than you. I availed of the facilities and even stole your wifi access

I could not go with you when you explored Salzburg yesterday. Certain points of my feet, a little above the ankles had sustained blisters. Seven days of frenetic walking in leather shoes while in Vienna caused my skin to chafe and even break. The black Converse shoes with outlines of motorcycles etched in white on the sides did not protect my feet from the cold. It rained yesterday and the sky was gloomy all throughout the day. Even the locals kept out of the cold and there was hardly anybody out except for the tourists.

I do not have any problem with cold feet. It is quite tolerable. It was the agony of the blisters that made me walk very slowly. With each step, pain radiated from the spot where the blisters rubbed against my socks and the inside of my shoes. The pain was made worse by the cold. Each step was like having my feet simultaneously bitten by two snakes and their venom flowed through my veins. I had to grit my teeth each time I took a step, fighting off tears.

Since, it was impossible for me to go with you to the hills of Hohensalzburg and Mönch, I decided to do my laundry at your hostel. At Universetatplatz, you told me to buy good shoes and a coat then you set off for the hills. I took the agonizing walk to your hostel as the day gradually got colder. Throughout the afternoon, the hum of the washing machine and the occasional thunk! of the Coca-Cola dispenser kept me company while I cursed the cold, my socks, my shoes, my blisters. I took naps on a stone bench with my back and head leaning on a wall.

It was around early evening yesterday that you asked me where I was. I had gotten back to my hotel, with laundry in tow, after what seemed like an eternity of pain and with cold winds from the river hounding my steps. We met up at the brick bridge and you left me to dine over Salat Greco and Spaghetti Aglia and Olio at a pizzeria. You went back to the hostel. I had figured out that folding my socks down and exposing my blisters to the air considerably lessened the pain. My blisters were free and I was free to walk in stride with you.

Salzburg 3You brought the Austrian wine we bought in our first night in Salzburg and two paper cups. We walked along the river while joggers and cyclists whizzed past us. We sat on a bench and you poured the wine. We watched the gentle flow of the river with the imperfect reflections of the city lights rippling on its surface. Fastung Hohensalzburg was a fortress of light on top of its hill. The spires and domes also glowed in the town below: a city shining steadfastly against the encroaching night.

The wine kept me warm as we talked of things, of places, of people. We also strolled further down along the river, sipping from the paper cups and hiding the bottle in a paper bag. We crossed the foot bridge were people had attached locks as a testament to their undying love for each other. But, the night grew much colder, forcing us to agree to retire.

We went back to the end of the brick bridge on your side of town. We stopped at the food truck that sold sausages that only appeared during night time at the exact same spot. I had a couple of Münchner sausages and you watched me dip sausage slices into some mustard. The food gave me warmth as I listened to your travel plans. It was enough warmth to carry me across the bridge and to my hotel in my side of town.

Now here we are, on our way to a park that you wanted to see. We are walking along the river watching a flock of seagulls screech at each other. The wheels of your trolley are rolling audibly against the pavement. It is still cold but not as cold as yesterday.

We have now reached the park and are walking on its pathways. You have just spotted a statue of a thinking man and are now telling me to go in front of it and pretend I am explaining something to it. I am doing it while you are taking a photo, laughing. I am asking you what time your train is leaving and I am telling you that I plan to go with you to the train station to ask about train schedules for my trip to Prague. Salzburg 6

We are slowly walking up a mound in the middle of the park. You are walking towards a bench while I am standing near a tree enjoying the view from the top. The sun breaks through the clouds and the slowly browning trees and the green grass are bathed in light. Warmth is caressing my face.

“It is a good day today”, you said to me. “You should enjoy this day. You wasted half a day yesterday.”

“Yes, it is a good day. Maybe I will”

We discuss our plans to possibly meet in another city, in another continent, across the Atlantic Sea. That will probably be a year from now. Or maybe it will be years before we see each other face to face again. You are saying goodbye and I am saying goodbye. The sun is shining brightly now.

I walk away without looking back. I go back the way we came from and the sun is glistening on the river. More people are out with their dogs. The tourists have poured into the streets basking in the sunlight. Fastung Hohensalzburg has captured the sunlight on its white walls, glowing amidst a backdrop of green trees.

Salzburg 7I turn right towards your hostel, no, my hostel, and I see a store selling the shoes you suggested I buy. I walk into the store and ask the lady if I could wear them immediately. My feet are warm and the pain that tortured me yesterday is absolutely gone. I go back to the hostel to leave my old shoes. I am excited to see city anew in this bright warm seemingly perpetual morning. I breathe in the air. Everything is as it should be. It is a good day.

 

A Little Panic Here Tonight

My status update on April 2, 2016 while I was in Budapest, Hungary.

Hostel WIndow
View from my hostel room in Budapest, Hungary

So, there was a little panic here tonight.

There was an urgent knocking on my door whilst someone was talking rapidly in the hall. When I opened my door, a group of four – two brunettes, a blonde, and guy – were cramped in the hallway.

“Yes?” I asked patiently because they looked very distraught.

“Did you see an iPhone?” one of the brunettes asked with her hands clasped together.

“No. I just arrived this evening. I came from another city”

They nodded and I closed the door.

The discussion continued. I listened through the door. I learned that one of the brunettes had gone to the bathroom and went back to their room to get something. When she went back to the bathroom her phone was gone. This happened ten minutes before the commotion. Someone was suggesting calling the police.

I stepped out to join in and pretend to ask for more information. It would have made them suspicious that I already knew the details. “When did this happen?” I asked the guy who was inspecting the bathroom. He asked the brunettes. They might have been speaking in Portugese. The brunette retold her story.

“Ten minutes ago?” he exclaimed, putting his hands to his head. I suppressed a smile. Something definitely got lost in translation. He began to pace. “I thought it happened this morning or a little earlier!”

“We should call the police and call the owner” the blonde repeated her suggestion.

“What will the police do to us?” asked the brunette.

“They will ask each of us questions” I replied. Maybe I should tidy up my room a bit, I thought. If I was going to be investigated, dirty socks and underwear should be taken care of. Their paranoia had started to infect me.

“Did you knock on all the doors?” asked the blonde. You seem pretty helpful and concerned, maybe it’s you! I thought. Sometimes, the perpetrator is the one who acts the most concerned.

Meanwhile, the guy was busy containing his panic. Your reaction seem to be very exaggerated, maybe it’s you! Perpetrators can be the ones who exhibit the most exaggerated reactions to incidents of crime.

I looked at the two brunettes. Could this be all just a ploy? Are you two playing some sort of game or con?

There were also other two ladies in the room next to mine. They did not come out despite the hullaballoo. Maybe they were already plotting how to get rid of phone before the police arrived!

“Maybe whoever stole it could have already thrown it out of the window. It could be on the street” the brunette theorized.

“I will go down and take a look for you” volunteered the blonde. I looked at her suspiciously.

The other brunette went inside their room while the discussion was going on. She came out and waved a phone. The phone was in their room all along.

Everyone gave a sigh of relief and had a laugh. Another door opened and a bald man stepped out to use the kitchen sink. He looked at us quizzically and someone said it was fine.

The brunette apologized. I was comforted to know that I was surrounded by strangers who are willing to help and jump into action. I will sleep well tonight.

The brunettes and the guy went back to their rooms while the blonde went out. I went to the toilet. As I was about to go into my room. The door next to mine opened and one of the two ladies went out.

“The thing about the phone, it’s fine. They found it somewhere”

“Super!” she replied.

How Film Festivals and Anime Helped Me Survive Abroad

I like watching subtitled movies, but now it’s getting harder because my eyes are almost useless. While I was in school, I would occasionally skip classes or spend weekends going into screenings of European art films, particularly the French ones. When you’re a student, you have a knack for finding free events to get into. It also helped that I hung out with kids who were into “culture and the arts” and shunned whatever was considered mainstream. Yes, we were pretentious little nitwits.

I also love watching anime with subtitles. And I would only watch a dubbed version if it’s in Tagalog. Somehow, Tagalog captures the intensity and emotions expressed in the original Japanese. By watching subtitiled movies, I became familiar with the sound of the languages spoken and picked up some words along the way.

Other people thought me weird. They also questioned my dedication to the “obscure”. Those are not entertaining and serve no practical value, they argued. And I proved them wrong(I like proving people wrong. It’s a hobby that annoys everyone).

The French are notorious for refusing to speak English even if they could. Personally, I think it arises out of discomfort with the English language and not out of snobbery. It’s similar to people like me, who speak Bisaya and formally trained in Tagalog, who respond in Bisaya even if addressed in Tagalog.

Paris 1The first European city I’ve visited was Paris, which was in 2014. I was only armed with a map of the metro stations and the address of my hotel written in French. I was going to commute from the airport all the way to the hotel.

I was fortunate to have encountered very friendly and helpful people. The warm Filipino smile can do wonders. A pretty woman, after I smiled at her, helped me buy a Paris Visite pass from a machine. A good-looking man, after I caught his eye, taught me how to get from Gare d’ Nord to Gare l’ Este. He was even willing to buy me a ticket and take me to the platform. A kind janitor, who noticed that I looked confused, pointed me to the train that went to Peletier station.

While in the midst of transferring through three trains, I realized that I could understand, speak, and even read a little French. I was able to approximate the correct pronunciation of the words so that locals assumed I was a fluent speaker and they would talk very fast. While on La Fayette, I smiled broadly at a woman who was lining up at an ATM machine. “Bonjour! Excusez moi. Rue Peletier?”. She replied to me in French and pointed out the street and told me that I should go straight until I reached Boulevard Haussman.

JapanLater in 2014, I found myself in Tokyo, Japan for the 2014 International Bar Association Annual Conference. While I hung out with a group of Japanese lawyers, I asked them about some things concerning Japanese mythology and pop culture over beer and grilled fish slices. “Your accent is perfect! How do you know the rules of Japanese language? You must really love Japan!”, they said. Thank you, Uzumaki Naruto. I was warned by a friend who spent some time in Japan that I should never say a particular word in public. I asked them about hentai. The talkative and tipsy Japanese fell silent. But, I did get cheers from my table when I asked for water: “Semimasen, mizu kodasai”.

LongchampIn July 2015, I was back in Paris to attend a training on investment-treaty arbitration. Because of my halting French, I was designated by classmates to give our orders at restaurants or even buy sandwiches for lunch. My halting French and Japanese skills were also put into good use when I bought more than ten Longchamp bags at Benlux Louvre because the sales lady spoke only French and Japanese. I described colors in French while I counted the items in Japanese.

Most recently, in December 2017, I was in Madrid. While I was in the vicinity of the Prado Museum, I had this exchange:

Waiter: Comes aqui? (eating here?)
Me: Comer aqui(Eat here).
Waiter: Habla Español?(Speak Spanish?)Atun del Rey
Me: Habla Español poco. Habla Ingles(I meant: I speak a little Spanish. I speak English)
Waiter: Poco Español. En España, habla Español.(A little Spanish. In Spain, speak Spanish)
Me(big grin): Menu por favor. Voy a tener Atun del Rey con cerveza. Gracias(Menu please. I’ll have Atun del Rey and beer. Thanks)

Whenever I was in a linguistic bind, I always thanked the weird and pretentious younger me for having interest in things even though they seemed totally superfluous. Knowledge is knowledge, whatever it may be. It’s just a matter of when and how you’ll use it in your life.

A Cancellation, Two Misses, and A Flight Delay: Notes on Stupidity and Bad Luck

I was having a chat with a friend yesterday and he brought up missed or cancelled flights. He asked me if I ever deliberately missed or cancelled a flight. Stories came back from the depths of my memories. I did not want to bore him with details so I just said “Yeah, I have.” Our conversation gave me the idea to compile my air travel mishaps.

Note that I have kept a couple of these stories under wraps out of embarrassment. I only told my family and very close friends. But, some of these events happened years ago, and the lovely thing about time is that shame tarnishes as the years go by. So, below are my notes on my stupidity and bad luck.

First Act of Stupidity

The first time I ever missed a flight was on January 2, 2010. It was a 4 a.m. flight from Cebu to Manila. That time, a colleague and I were uprooting our lives in Cebu and transplanting ourselves to Manila – whether that decision paid off is yet to be seen by me, eight years on.

Anyway, we woke up two hours before the flight. Back then, you can get to the airport in about 15 to 20 minutes during very early dawn. We were complacent. We did some last minute packing; we took our time bathing and grooming. It was less than an hour before the flight when we were ready to leave my apartment.

We got to the airport five minutes after the gates closed. The staff at the counter was unyielding. We booked tickets for the next flight at about USD120 each. Good thing the office allowed us to claim a relocation expense refund but we got the money months after we filed our papers.

Second Act of Stupidity

Atkinson CLock Tower
Atkinson Clock Tower in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

I missed a morning flight to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia on October 26, 2013.

A couple of weeks before, I booked a promo fare on Air Asia – a round trip ticket for USD160. I excitedly booked a hotel, did research on things to do and see there for five days, and filed my request for vacation leave.

To compensate for my absence from work, I did a lot of overtime and beat multiple deadlines. I bore it all because I was going to have a blast – a light at the end of the tunnel.

The night before my 9:20 a.m. flight, I worked up to 10 pm just to finish everything. After a late dinner, I got home around eleven. I was too tired to pack so I set my alarm to five in the morning. I plopped on my bed in my office clothes and passed out.

I opened my eyes and saw the sun through my window. Adrenaline shot out of my nose and I bolted out of my bed. I looked at the clock – it was 8:00. a.m.! Either something was wrong with the clock and it did not go off, or I did not hear it and it got tired eventually so it shut up.

I hurriedly took off my clothes and stuffed some clothes and underwear in my backpack. I grabbed my passport, credit cards, and wallet and dashed out of my apartment building. I figured I’d buy clothes and toiletries in Malaysia. And miracle of miracles, I was able to get a cab the moment I got out of the building.

Traffic was remarkably light considering it was a Friday morning. As we coasted along, I began to hope. But my heart sank everytime we got stopped by a red light or passed through a bottleneck. The traffic hitches lasted only a couple of minutes or so and I found my semblance of a soul singing hymns to the universe, asking it to rearrange time and space so I could get to the airport on time.

I arrived at NAIA 4, which is a small terminal compared to the massive other three terminals. I paid the cabbie and I made a mad dash through the international departure area and up to the check-in counter. I was panting, sweating, and disheveled.

“Sir, the counter is closed already” the lady in charge of check-in gently informed me.

“Those people aren’t even through immigration yet” I nodded at four people who were lining up at immigration, just a few meters behind the check-in counter.

“Did you come all the way from the provinces? Are you an Overseas Filipino Worker?” she inauired.

“I live kinda far from the airport” I said almost inaudibly.

“I’ll check with my manager first” she said and walked towards Air Asia personnel who were standing near the immigration booth. After a short discussion, she came back. “I’m sorry, sir. The passenger manifesto has already been finalized and immigration officials will no longer allow modifications”. I thanked the lady for her efforts and I walked out of the terminal and took a cab home.

While in the cab, I debated if I should push through with the trip. I did an online search and saw that Cebu Pacific had an eleven o’clock flight that evening. A one-way ticket cost USD220.

On one hand, It would be quite embarassing if I didn’t push through with it considering the fanfare I’d drummed up over the trip for the past couple of weeks. All those overtime and preparations for nothing. On another, I could cut costs by cancelling the trip and avoid spending more.

Pride won out in the end.

The minute I got home, I booked the Cebu Pacific ticket and started packing my stuff carefully. Around noon, I was on my way to Resorts World Manila, which is right across NAIA 3 where my flight would depart.

NAIA
Departure Area for International Flights at NAIA 3

I had lunch there and walked around the hotel complex. I also called my family, a couple of friends, and a co-worker. They were shocked that I was still in Manila. My news was greeted with derisive laughter.

Three hours before departure, I was at the check-in counter. A schoolmate saw me and asked “Why are you always travelling? Are you going through something?” I replied “I’m travelling to see if I am truly going through something”.

Delayed, Delayed, Delayed

Around 2 a.m. on June 25, 2015, I was at NAIA 1 for my flight to Singapore scheduled at 5:15 am. When the Tiger Air plane arrived, we were informed to prepare ourselves for boarding. I dozed off while waiting for the boarding announcement.”The flight will be delayed due to the replacement of a wheel”. There were groans but no complaints.

Up to 8:00 am, I was regularly woken up by announcements that the flight will be delayed due to technical difficulties. At 8:00 am, it was announced that the flight will be delayed to 10:00 am, more groans but not a lot of complaints. At 10:00 am, it was announced that the flight will be moved to 5:00 pm. There was an uproar.

Let’s just say people got very emotional: airline staff tried their best to stay calm and hold back tears, people cursed, and a threat of a class suit was made. I focused on looking for other early available flights so that I would not miss my connecting flight from Singapore to Paris on Emirates at nine o’clock that night.

While other people glared and bared their teeth at the staff, I charmed them into giving me a certification of offloading, refund papers, and my luggage back. It took an hour and afterwards we had to go back through immigration. The other passengers lingered on to avail of the hotel accommodation while I dashed out to get a cab.

“Take me to NAIA 2 and stop at a Philippine Airline ticket outlet on the way”. Good thing the cabbie knew his way around. It was at that time that my fantasy of enacting a movie scene coincided with my actual life. I burst into the Philippine Airline ticketing office and hissed with much relish “Book me a ticket on the earliest flight out of here!”

The ticket people were stunned. I approached the nearest guy who immediately sprang into action and informed me that the earliest flight was in about two hours or past 1 p.m. and it cost USD300. “Book me that ticket”. The staff looked very impressed. After a few minutes, I got my ticket and jumped into the cab that had been waiting for me. I was dropped off at NAIA 2 and I tipped the cabbie generously.

As I was checking in, the lady at the counter noted that I only had a one-way ticket and asked me if Singapore was my final destination. “No, I have a connecting flight to Paris tonight”. “What airline? Can you show me your ticket?”. After examining my ticket, she informed me that she had made arrangements for my luggage to be directly transferred to Emirates.

Survey
Electronic survey inside the men’s toilet at Changi Airport

When I landed at Changi, my Emirates flight was boarding early. The minute I got off the plane, I dashed to the pre-departure gate.

Just Bad Luck

Mini CakesIn the wee hours of August 17, 2018, a Xiamen Airways plane skidded off the runway at NAIA, which caused the cancellation of hundreds of flights and left thousands of passengers stranded.

I went to the airport because there was no word about my 7:00 p.m. Philippine Airline flight being cancelled. It was when I was at the departure area at NAIA 2 that it was confirmed that my flight was cancelled. Hundreds of us had to line up at the assistance desks in the hopes of rebooking or getting into an available flight. I was in line for a total of five hours.

The airline sent people up and down the queue to distribute mini-cakes and bottled water. They were generous because they offered everyone a second helping – maybe the high concentration of sugar in our blood kept us docile and patient.

On my third hour, someone threw a full-blown tantrum: yelling and cursing at the airport security. When educated Filipinos go on full-blown rage, English is the lingua franca. It’s just more dramatic that way.

“I’ve been here for 16 hours. I’ve been here longer than you!” he screeched at the security personnel. “Tama na yan. Nakakahiya sa kanila(Hey, stop it. It’s embarrassing to the others)” while the guard gestured at us, the audience.”I don’t care if they know me!!!”. Someone must have missed out on the complimentary stuff. And some people got to eat full meals based on the conversations I heard.

The next available flight fell on the same day as my return flight. I was supposed to attend an aunt’s birthday party. The outbound flight got refunded but my inbound flight did not. It was because they were booked separately and had different booking condotions. Ces’t la vie.

The Lesson:

Always have a credit card ready and if life or your stupidity causes you to incur unnecessary expenses, just suck it in. Travelling is full of hazards so be prepared to bear it and grin through it.

A Chunk of Cheese and a Seagull

SeagullI was sitting on a bench just at the edge of Hofvijver Lake, The Hague, eating a huge slab of Dutch cheese and some bread. The cheese, which I bought for 10 euros was in its third day of my gradual nibbling. Since I had to check-out of the hotel at 10 am, I decided to have a late breakfast at the park.

I had arrived a few days before after my trip in Stockholm and Oslo, where I attended the International Bar Association’s Mid-Year Meetings. I flew from Oslo and landed in Amsterdam and took the train from Schiphol Airport to The Hague. A day after I arrived in The Hague, I sat as Bench Judge for the 2018 International Criminal Court Moot Competition organized by Leiden University, which lasted another few days. It was my last day in The Hague so I decided to spend some time just soaking in the sun and watching Dutch high school students on their school tour.

As I contemplated the meaning of my life, a young and pretty Dutch lady approached me. She might have been in her early 20’s.

She asked me if I was on break. I said no and told her today was my last day there. She asked if she could talk to me about life’s important questions. I sensed a religious talk was coming up and some people have used the same approach at a mall near where I live in Manila.

Since she seemed nice and earnest, I obliged. She showed me a 3-minute video in Tagalog(she asked where I was from) which was made by Jehovah’s Witnesses about how the devil was making the world a dangerous place: using all worldly forces to make everyone live in sin. I nodded because as a Catholic school boy, I still know the catechism about evil.

She asked me about eternal life and I said that strictly speaking, the Bible talks about the dead coming back to life – the true Judaic teaching. The notion that our souls leave our bodies upon death was a Greek or Roman modification. She smiled and nodded and said I knew the scripture well(as a kid of 7 or 8, I loved reading the Old Testament – drama, intrigue, murder, incest, power struggles). We talked about the catechism on evil, the destruction of this world and creation of the new, and that Biblical teaching cannot be given too wide an interpretation.

I told her about the The Chronicles of Narnia. All seven books are based on Christian theology. I explained that all these things we were talking about were actually taken up in the books. I also told her that the Christian teaching is that it does not matter if you worship a false god or no god at all, as long as you live by the teachings of the Lord. For what matters in salvation are ypur deeds and your thoughts.

She was taken aback by this but nodded in agreement. She said she will now look at Chronicles of Narnia in a different light. I think I did my bit of conversion for the fandom of Aslan. She said it is wonderful that I am also doing the good work. I bit back a smile, remembering the biblical warning that the devil can walk about in the guise of an angel.

Suddenly, a seagull swooped past above my head. It was obviously trying to get to my cheese. It hopped around us, menacingly looking at us and gradually moved closer. We tried to shoo it away but to no avail. It continually tried to get closer. Eventually, she said goodbye as she was greatly bothered by the relentless seagull.

Seagulls are little flying demons. But, in this case, was it just an innocent bird? I don’t know.

Yes, Omelettes

The first thing I ever learned to cook was an omelette.

One afternoon, I came home from school hungry. I was in first grade, between five to six years old. Usually, I helped myself to left over rice and some cold meat or fish dish from lunch. Sometimes, I would drizzle some leftover cooking oil, used to fry pork, over some rice and use a dash of soy sauce.  But that particular afternoon, there was only rice. I wanted scrambled eggs (omelette was a word I learned when I was much older).

I’ve seen the grown-ups crack an egg into a bowl, whisk it , and add a pinch of salt. I also remembered how low the fire was on the stove and that it was important to let the cooking oil heat up slowly so that the egg won’t stick to the pan. The scrambled egg should be poured into the pan slowly and evenly.

So, there I was, standing on a stool, holding a large lid like a shield against the sputtering hot oil, and prodding the omelette with an aluminum frying spatula. To prevent the egg from overcooking, I turned off the stove and clumsily transferred the omelette to a plate. I managed to feed myself that day and for many years after that. Sad to say, my cooking skills has never improved from that point. I chalk it up to laziness and to availability of take-out food.

I like eggs. I eat it almost everyday. I don’t know about health risks but it’s my go to food wherever I am. I am particularly fond of the boxed meals at 7-11 and I’ve been known to patronize an eatery called Tapsilogan – they served everything with an egg – in Talamban, Cebu City throughout the four years I spent studying there.

In homage to the omelette, let me share with you some of the memorable ones I managed to record. Aren’t smartphones fantastic?

 

Sardine Omelette and Spinach and Mushroom Omelette

Cafe France MotherThis is my mom. I have this thing that I photograph people with the food that we are about to eat. She had the sardine omelette, Spanish sardines wrapped in scrambled eggs, while I had stir-fried spinach and mushroom wrapped in scrambled eggs.

We ate at Café France, formerly known as Delifrance. For years, I had my spinach and mushroom omelette at a branch just around the block. I usually opted eat it with wheat bread and chase everything down with brewed coffee. But a couple of months ago, that branch closed and I have yet to find a substitute provider for fluffy omelettes. For now, I’m subsisting on McDonald’s. Sad, I know.

 

 

Norwegian Salmon Omelette

Norwegian Salmon OmeletteIf I was feeling particularly posh, I’d get Café France’s Norwegian Salmon Omelette – basically smoked salmon on top of an omelette. Whenever I ordered this dish, it was to simultaneously satisfy my cravings for omelette and salmon.

 

 

 

 

Mubakar Ayam and Roti Sardin

In the first week of January 2014, my friend and I were in Penang, Malaysia. We explored Georgetown the night before and we woke up early to catch the bus back to Kuala Lumpur. On the way to the bus station, we decided to have breakfast at what may have been either a Bangladeshi or Nepalese eatery. We were given a breakfast menu, which had some items listed under the category “Eggs”. We gathered that “ayam” was Malaysian for chicken and “sardin” was, well, sardines. My friend, to be on the safe side, decided to have the Mubakar Ayam while I had the Roti Sardin.

Mubakar AyamMubakar Ayam came with a side of tomatoes and two dips: a very spicy red dip and some sort of chutney. The omelette itself had a slight hint of curry. Meanwhile, Roti Sardin was more like a cross between a pancake and an omelette mixed with sardines in tomato sauce with a hint of curry. As a kid, I’ve had scrambled eggs mixed with sardines in tomato sauce. I have never been fond of that combination but I found Roti Sardin interesting and proceeded to eat it all. I also ate my friend’s leftovers.
Roti Sardin

 

Omelette Complete paired with Chardonnay

 

Omelette CompleteDuring my first trip to Paris in 2014, I did the obligatory exploration of Montmarte. I had walked, or climbed, all the way up to Sacre Coeur and surreptitiously took photographs of the interiors. There were signs at the entrance of the church that informed tourists that photography was forbidden. There were also watchers inside the church that walked up to you if you attempted to snap a photo. I took photos by pretending to be devout. I clasped my hands around my phone and pretended to pray to all the statues and images. I also sat and knelt on the pews and clasped my hands to the heavens – actually at the glass murals.

After walking around Montmarte, I was hungry. Almost all of the cafes were full of tourists. I stumbled on a small brasserie and perused their afternoon menu. They served omelette for afternoon snack. I sat myself and asked for Omelette Complete. And to add a sense of occasion, I also ordered a glass of chardonnay.

The waiter asked me where I was from. “Philippines” I replied. “Are you from Manille?” he asked. “Yes, Manille” I said with a smile. “You from Philippines have very warm smiles” he said. “Merci beacoup” and I beamed like the tropical sun.

Omelette complete meant that it was served with a salad and a basket of baguettes.  Apparently, I was eating and drinking with such relish that a couple of passers-by commented “Bon appetit!”.

 

Omelette Nature

Omelette NatureI was staying at a hotel near the Rome Metro Station in Paris. On my street, there was an Asian restaurant, a small sandwich shop, and a brasserie where locals get their morning café. As much as I enjoyed baguette sandwiches, I was craving for something warm during a cool spring morning. I decided to check out the brasserie.

At the door, the morning’s selections were written on a blackboard. I took note of omelette nature, thinking it was an omelette with vegetables – I surmised that “nature” must have had something to do with plants. It turned out that “nature” meant plain. But, man it was tasty. It was lightly flavored with salt to bring out its natural flavor. I did not know that an omelette could taste so purely of egg. It was very fluffy and it must have been fried in butter. Anyway, it was not cheap. It cost me ten euros.

 

 

Penang Omelette

Penang OmeletteI was in Singapore with my mom sometime in March 2015. I was attending a conference organized by the International Bar Association. I was looking for something to eat at Bugis SMRT Station one evening and “Penang Omelette” caught my eye. Turns out it was an oyster omelette with three dips: vinegar, soy sauce, and hot sauce.

I’ve had oyster omelettes before but they were usually drowned in scrambled eggs and bamboo shoots. Not a lot of people I know like oyster omelettes – most find it gross. I love oysters, so an oyster omelette makes sense. What makes this particular oyster omelette memorable is that the binder is just the egg, no flour or vegetables. You can actually taste the fried oysters.   The dips also enhanced the oyster flavor.

 

 

Scrambled Eggs and Sausage at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

Mandarin OrientalSometime in November 2016, I had breakfast with a friend at Café Causette, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. It was my treat and we shared the Mandarin Breakfast Set – Belgian Waffles with Strawberries, a small fruit platter, a pot of tea, scrambled eggs and sausages.

It is the most expensive breakfast I’ve had so far and cost me USD60. Yes, we could have had breakfast anywhere else but we wanted to break fast in style. And, dahlings, I earned the right to say “Yes, I’ve had breakfast at Mandarin Oriental”.

 

 

Roasted Bone Marrow Rice Bowl

Bone MarrowI went to Bonifacio Global City to use my voucher for a diamond peel. At that time, Sunnies Café had just opened.  WIth my face newly-smoothened, I dropped in at Sunnies and ordered Roasted Bone Marrow Rice Bowl(Sous Vide Hanger Steak Rice with Bone Marrow Omelette) and paired it with Sunnies Bday(gin, hibiscus syrup, lemon juice, basil).

It was a bowl packed with cholesterol. Bone marrow has a delicate taste and putting it on top of an omelette highlights its flavor.

 

 

Budapest Reggeli

BudapestI was having breakfast in Budapest with a friend who flew in from Ukraine. I took him to Anna Café in front of the Grand Market. I’ve had breakfast there in my previous visit to Budapest and you can have breakfast the whole day. It’s a nice café.

I had the Budapest reggeli(Budapest breakfast: eggs, bacon, Hungarian sausage, leek, vegetables). I thought it was going be served on a breakfast tray but it turned out to be an omelette. Really heavy breakfast but it powered me for most of the day.

 

Market Breakfast

Market BreakfastOn my second to the last day in Washington D.C., I had breakfast at Dupont Grill House, right at the edge of Dupont Circle. An Indian friend wanted to have breakfast there but he left before we could try it. To annoy him, I decided to go and brag about it on social media.

I ordered the Market Breakfast(Sausages, smoked bacon, free range eggs, homemade hash browns, fried tomatoes, rye toast). The yellow cup-shaped mound in the middle? Those are scrambled eggs, not rice.

 

 

Scrambled Eggs with Unlimited Moet Champagne

Emirates LoungeI’ve flown enough number of times that I’ve gained access to the Emirates Business Class Lounges in Dubai. How long I’m going to continue to have access, I don’t know. I’m not made of money.

Every time I transit in Dubai, I always eat scrambled eggs and smoked salmon and drink all the Moet champagne that I could. You could say I’m sloshed whenever I’m in the business class lounges.  They also have very high-tech coffee machines that produce good coffee. And a good selection of salads, too.

 

 

Yeah, I know I should really get a life instead of compiling the omelettes I’ve eaten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About a Modus: How a Dowager Countess Helped Me Out of A Tight Spot

 

maggie
Photo taken from http://www.itv.com

I was absent-mindedly shuffling towards the Jamba Juice stand at the mall to get my usual Apple-n-Greens Smoothie when a woman suddenly tripped on my left foot.

Before she could even begin to fall, I immediately caught her. Any moron could have recovered their footing in an instant, but not her. While I tightly grasped her arm, she proceeded to put more weight on her body and attempted to pull me down with her. I was easily able to hold my ground and she swayed to the floor and loudly slammed a boxed toy on the ground. She moved in such a way that when she hit the ground, she was facing me. I also saw that she made a slight effort to throw herself backward so that she would sprawl on the floor. A four-year-old girl in a frilly white dress – too white and crisp – appeared out of nowhere and wrapped her arms around the woman. “You tripped me” she said accusingly. Great, I was being set up for a con.

I immediately knew something was wrong when she tried to pull me down with her. It also did not help that she allegedly tripped on my left foot. As a veteran mall rat, I have been the object of many cons over the years. In mall settings, con artists always try to publicly embarrass you.

One time, a man chatted me up and started to follow me around offering his sexual services. I tried to shake him off and he started holding my arm and made pleading noises. To an ordinary onlooker, it looked like we were having a lovers’ fight. I hissed at him if he did not stop, I would have him arrested. I delivered my threat with so much relish that he promptly disappeared.

A number of prostitutes, both men and women, have done the tripping-on-my-left-foot bit. They always approach you from the right and time their steps so that they would trip on your left foot. The prostitutes used this tactic to get my attention and make eye contact.

With all these experiences in mind, I knew what she was up to. It was also conspicuous that the little girl suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I prepared myself for the drama. Our little tableau was held at one of the major passageways of the mall and timed in such a way that people were streaming out before the mall closed.

I’ve always wanted to be in the performing arts. And there’s no better way to hone my skills than to perform at an impromptu play in front of an unsuspecting crowd. I dug deep into my consciousness for a character to play. A hysterical character did not do. If I loudly berated her for her clumsiness, she was sure to gain a lot of sympathy from the audience. If I apologized profusely, it would have been an admission of liability and she would have mined my guilt.

I needed to be someone calm, unapologetic, rational, and a little arrogant but still act with breeding.

I came up with Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess Violet Crawley.

I raised my eyebrows and assumed a stance that the lady was supposed to apologize to me for her impertinence in daring to be near my person. “You tripped me” she repeated while harping on her victimhood. “I caught you but you still let yourself fall” I replied in a tone one would use when talking to a kindergarten student who is not particularly bright. I also gave her a small smirk and an I-know-what-you-are-doing-and-I-will-make-you-pay-bitch look.

“You tripped me” she said again but barely audibly this time. She pushed herself away from me while sprawled on the floor. She looked at me with fear. “Yes!” I congratulated myself.  She slowly got up, took the child and briskly made her way to the exit. She gave me a panicked glance as she scurried away..

I think I’m ready for an Oscar and a Tony.

A Series of Afternoon Teas

I think it was because of Downton Abbey that I was obsessed with having proper tea. I used to call it high tea but a friend in Hong Kong who spent her childhood in the United Kingdom declared:”It’s not high tea! It’s just afternoon tea!”. And it turns out I’m quite partial to them as evidenced by my Facebook posts reproduced below:

Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong

This was originally posted on May 17, 2013.

The PenHigh Tea Set. My caption”Minsan sa buhay, may mga karanasan na dapat mong namnamin. Huwag mong isipin kung ano ang halaga o ano ang kapalit. Ang maranasan mo lang ito ang mahalaga. Bahala na ang bukas, mas mahalaga ang ngayon(Sometimes in life, there are experiences that you should relish. Don’t think about how much it costs or what you should give in return. The experience is the important thing. Don’t worry about tomorrow, today is more precious)” 

This was my first foray into five-star dining. I was told that afternoon tea at The Pen is a must for a visitor in Hong Kong. So instead of going sightseeing, I put on the clothes I brought for the occasion – a short-sleeved barong-inspired shirt and khaki pants with brown leather shoes, which I took the time to polish.

On entering the fabulous lobby with its checkered floor, I was told that the queue for the afternoon tea was behind the wall. To be precise, it snaked behind the wall and past the shops for Cartier, Ralph Lauren, and Louis Vuitton. The queue was long because it was a holiday, and apparently, families and friends meet up for afternoon tea on such days. My shirt received curious looks from the ladies.

After more than an hour, I was finally seated on a table good for four. Families and groups gave me cursory glances as I consumed the delicious pastries and chugged the tea.  Service was fantastic – it was like being served by ninjas. One time, I was concentrating on putting jam on my scone and when I looked up, the empty saucers and cups were gone and my water glass was refilled.

The Pen has been my standard ever since.

 

The Peninsula Hotel Manila

 

This was originally posted on January 16, 2016.

Pen Manila 2High Tea Set with Bourbon Vanilla Tea. My caption:  “Tsaa sa hapon kasama ang mga Tita ng Maynila(Afternoon tea with the Aunts of Manila) ”
It was an afternoon of catching up with friends whom I haven’t seen in a long time and both of them love tea and pastries. Okay, we like playing tea party.

 

Conrad Hotel Manila

This was originally posted on January 8, 2017

ConradMy caption:” Afternoon Tea Set: Unique(Sweet: Semolina cremeux with spiced oranges, Mango-white chocolate soup in a taste tube, Organic Felchlin chocolate, Walnut and green tea scones with clotted cream and jam. Savoury: Sustainable tuna “sisig style”, Ceviche of lapu-lapu, Mango-coriander dip, Watermelon and Serrano ham, Beetroot, blueberries and pistachio, Rolled finger sandwiches(filled with cheese and authentic prosciutto).

The tea chest, with drawers keeping the sandwiches and scones, makes being a host/ess very effortless.

All paired with Citron Green Tea.”

 

It was an afternoon with a friend. The skies were cloudy but we still decided to have our tea on the couches on the balcony of the hotel’s C Lounge. We just talked and ate through the set because we did not have lunch. After eating through the first set, we were still hungry so we ordered the Conrad 2The Traditional Afternoon Tea Set(or shall I say “Chest”). Sweet: Felchlin chocolate praline, Pavé espuma, Opera cake, Ube macaroon with paint, Eclair vanilla, Nuts tartelettes, Scones with clotted cream, lemon curd and jam. Savory: Finger sandwiches, cucumber, salmon, cream cheese, and Serrano ham. Paired with White Vanilla Grapefruit Tea

We had a hard time finishing the second set so we stayed on. We had time to kill. By the time we ate the last finger sandwich, the famed Manila Bay sunset was upon us. We decided to have cocktails and watch the skies turn to hues of purple and gold.

 

Shangri-la at The Fort, Manila

This was originally posted on July 10, 2016.

The FortMy caption: “Glass of Blood(Havana Club 7 years rum, Massenez blackberry liqueur, Dolin rouge vermouth, cranberry, cherry bitters) – one of the many signature drinks of the newly opened High Street Lounge, Shangri-la at The Fort. In the background is the High Tea Selection, featuring scrambled eggs with caviar.”

I had just attended a christening in which I was a godfather of the baby. After the reception, I decided to drop by the latest Shangri-La hotel in the Philippines(three in Manila, one in Boracay, and one in Cebu – all five are included in the top ten hotels in the country). I hitched a short ride in a co-worker’s car with four other people.

As they were dropping me off, all of them decided to have a look as well and make inquiries about accommodations. While I was taking note of the understated and zen-inspired interiors of the lobby, my companions caught up with me and started following me around. “Aren’t you guys supposed to be going somewhere else?” I asked as I headed towards the High Street Lounge. “Nah, we’ll just have a look around as well”.

At the lounge, they decided to sit with me as I ordered my cocktail. My original plan was to have a drink by myself. The food attendant informed us that they were having a promotional rate for their afternoon tea selections. My companions decided to order a set. I ended up drinking alcohol and having tea at the same time.

 

The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest

This was originally posted on March 16, 2017.

Ritz Carlton“Afternoon Tea Selection of the Ritz-Carlton(Royal Ocoa Chocolate Cake, Framboise Cake, Hungarian Poppy Seed Macaroon, Apricot Macaroon, Caramel Cupcake, Lemon Merengue Tart, Smoked Salmon Croissant, Cucumber Cream Cheese, Foie Gras Mousse and Dry Fruit Chutney) plus an assorted selection of Chinese tea, of which the experts in the tea party greatly approve.”

My classmates in a master’s program I was taking at the time , well the ladies – two Chinese, one German, and an American, decided to have afternoon tea as a means to bond and hang-out. We invited the guys but they declined. One said to me it was too girly. The conversation was mostly about how hard it is to be a woman working in a lawfirm. I mostly kept mum and sipped my tea.

The lobby lounge was fabulous and the guy serving us, whom the girls thought was very cute, was very knowledgeable about the tea. The Chinese girls were impressed. There was a lot of giggling and we did not care because we were the only ones there.

The Ritz Madrid

This was originally posted on January 3, 2018.

Afternoon Tea SetRitz Madrid with Strawberry Preserves and (proper) Clotted Cream paired with Golden Ritz 50 years Pu-Erh Red Tea

Yes, I am having tea at the Ritz Madrid at the moment. Of course, I’m bragging about it! Also, in hommage to Mariah Carey, I’ve got to have a sip of tea otherwise it would be a disaster.

I brought a coat, dress pants, a long-sleeved shirt, leather shoes, and a tie for this purpose. I was a tad overdressed (later on took off the tie) but I did get very fast and attentive service even though I had no reservation. The locals also dressed for their tea and the tourists stood out in their casual wear. I made the effort to dress appropriately as a sign of respect for one of the three “real” Ritz Hotels in the world.

“We’ll, set up a table for you right away!” exclaimed the maitre’d. There is indeed power in appropriate dressing.

I also channeled my inner Meryl Streep to act very casually in an elegant setting. Show a hint of hesitation or a flicker of fear and the facade is broken. Strain too much and you’ll be revealed as coarse.

As a practiced social climber, I did not ask how much everything was but drew my confidence from the knowledge that my two credit cards will answer for everything. It also helped me give my order with conviction. Live in the now, it has been said.

Service is very efficient and unintrusive. One flicker of your hand and a member of the staff will appear beside you. Even if you are just staring into space, any one of them will check if you’re alright or need anything.

Someone’s playing on the piano, so I’ll just soak in the ambiance for a while.

Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon

This was originally posted on January 8, 2018.

Lisbon TeaLisbon Afternoon Tea Set(Macaron with Spices, Pastel de Nata(Portuguese egg custard tart), Queljada de Sintra(fresh cheese and almond Tartelette), Pastel de Feijäo(Bean Tartelette), Almond and Blueberry Tartelette, with Strawberry Jam and Mascarpone with Lime on the side.

The tea is Gorreana Orange Pekoe Black Tea, a Portuguese tea(one of the best teas in the world according to the very attentive maitre’d)

As expected, service was excellent and I got the best couch in the lounge with a view! The maitre’d was particularly pleased that I enjoyed myself and made the effort of checking on me every once in a while.

Belated Happy Birthday to me. Today is the first day of my nth year on this planet.

 

EDSA Shangri-la Manila

 

This was originally posted on July 14, 2018.

ShangrilaMy caption: “Afternoon Tea Set(A selection of warm scones served with coconut jam, clotted cream, and fresh butter. Ham and cheese mini-sandwiches. Grilled chicken satay skewers. Dark forest cream in a goblet, walnut cake with cream cheese icing, dark chocolate tart with a splash of gold, thin dark and white chocolate sandwich with dark chocolate filling, white chocolate eclair. Almond and lychee tea)

I can’t decide if this is a very late lunch or very early dinner.”

 

Before swallowing these, I had been rolling in the ball pit at Kidzoona while attending a kid’s birthday party. I also managed to knee a toddler or two. After eating, I wandered around Shangri-La Mall for an hour before using my spa voucher to avail of the villa facilities at The Spa. I rarely go to the Ortigas area so I plotted my schedule and finances a couple of weeks before the date.

More afternoon teas here:

A Series of Afternoon Teas – Raffles Grand Hotel D’ Angkor and Majestic Hotel Edition