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

 

The City of Eternal Recurrence

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It was Milan Kundera who convinced me to visit Prague if I had the time. When I was a very pretentious twenty-something(I am still pretentious but I’ve mellowed), I carried Milan’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” to restaurants, coffee shops, and on public transportation. I was posing as Someone Who Reads Literature. It was through Milan(note my casually calling him by his first name) that I encountered Friedrich Nietzsche’s Theory of Eternal Recurrence.

Eternal recurrence is a concept that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. Basically, we have already done and said before what we are saying and doing now and will repeat them in the future an infinite number of times.

In his novel, Milan made a counter-argument that there can be a definite resolution of things. He first made his characters go through a cycle of getting together and breaking up, getting together and breaking up, and getting together and breaking up. Finally, the characters exercise choice to commit to a particular person. They were no longer subject of circumstances and coincidences. Well, that’s my take on it anyway.

Right here in Prague, I had the opportunity to experience eternal recurrence.
Prague is a beautiful city, in an austere way. The Gothic architecture of buildings, festooned with crosses and statues of saints, can make you suddenly remember all your sins. It gives me the feeling that God is watching out if I commit more sins. It has been raining for the two days that I’ve been here, and there’s a certain gloom over the city. The atmosphere makes me want to hide in dark alleys, pounce on unsuspecting passers-by, and sink my fangs into their necks.

The city’s layout is not for the direction-challenged. The few times I’ve asked for directions, the very friendly and helpful Prague residents would scratch their heads and begin their sentences with “It is difficult…”. Why not use a navigation app, you ask? Notice a smirk forming on the right side of my mouth. Maps will not be of much help either as attested to by the bewildered looks of scores of tourists I’ve passed by.

There is no concept of a block here. A “block” is a an irregularly-shaped plot of land with an assortment of Gothic buildings clustered together. The cobble streets are winding and somewhat circular although they give you an impression that you are walking straightforward when you are trudging on them. If you go around a “block” do not expect to end up at the exact spot where you first started. Instead, you will be transported to a different neighborhood. If you make a wrong turn, there is a likelihood that you’ll never be able to go back where you came from. Also, the buildings – very gorgeous – tend to look alike.

On my first day, I took Tram 9 to Wenceslas Square. I missed the stop because, despite my best efforts to listen to the automated voice announcements, I did not hear the name correctly. There is no relation between the pronunciation of Czech words and their spelling. I got off somewhere and started to wander. I knew that the square is nearby considering the high concentration of people scurrying about.

I ambled into a park and saw a man walking his dog. I asked for directions to the square.
“Hmmmnnn… It is difficult to give directions” he said while scratching his head. “Okay, follow me. Sorry, my dog does not like the rain. He wants to go home”. After a few seconds of brisk walking, he said “You see that street? Just go through that street and follow the tram tracks. You will be there in three minutes”.

I initially followed his directions. Then I asked myself why I should stick to the tram tracks. Why not take that small street over there? It seems to lead to the same direction. I took the small street and promptly got lost. I decided to move forward, since that was the most sensible way, until I found a small square with shops catering to tourists.

“Turistiké informace” read a sign. Tourist information! I asked for a map and directions to Wenceslas Square, which turned out to be a few steps away around the corner. One glance at the map and I immediately knew it was of no use to me.

I decided to just wing it and entrust myself to the universe.

So began the endless cycle of getting lost and regaining my bearings. I just meandered through the streets and suddenly found myself at various points of touristy interest without meaning to. I would strike out aimlessly and eventually find myself in a place I’ve been to before. Afterwards, I’d get lost again and so on and so forth. One time, I wanted to go the bridge leading to the oldest part of Prague. I did not want to walk beside the river and opted to walk through streets that I presumed were parallel to the river. After twists and turns, I found myself at one part of the river that allowed me to admire, from afar, the whole length of the bridge that I wanted to cross.

So, to experience Prague you must lose yourself in its universe in infinite number of times. It is the only way to know the charm of a city that somehow manages to retain an air of mystery in these modern times.