Saturday, July 25, 2020

Another One Like Me

Saturday, July 25, 2020

I found another one just like me. He sits alone every morning at that small cafe near the bus stop, painstakingly eating a plate of rice and beans, trying to make each spoonful last. He's from Denmark and is currently the sole guest in one of the hotels here in Manuel Antonio. Like other travelers who were not able to find a flight home before the borders were shut, he's been stranded in Costa Rica for almost five months now. But it's not only the lack of flights that troubles him. In dire financial straits, he's worried that he will no longer be able to sustain his stay in the country as travel restrictions are extended until September.

I wonder how many of us are trapped in Costa Rica or in other countries without any means of going home. I wonder how others are holding up. I wonder how they manage to rein in those dreadful, destructive thoughts. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

There Goes My Flight Again

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

I read on the news today that hospitals in Panama are on the brink of collapse because of a surge in COVID-19 cases. It means that their government may decide to again extend the suspension of all international commercial flights for another 30 days. Flights are supposed to resume on 7 August 2020, but that's probably not going to happen. My flight out of Costa Rica has a layover in Panama; but if Panama further restricts travel, I won't be able to leave as planned. So there goes my flight again. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Stuck in Paradise

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

"A new guest will arrive tomorrow," the innkeeper said, sounding perplexed. "He's coming from San Jose," he added. Foreigners still can't enter the country, so we assumed that he's a local craving for a few days of sun, sea, and sand.

We were wrong. He turned out to be like me: stuck in paradise. He's a Pakistani who's been working for an IT company in Costa Rica for several months when the borders closed in mid-March. Like me, he's left without any means to go home. But instead of hunkering down in one place, he's wandering around the country while waiting for travel restrictions to be lifted. 

It is comforting to know that I'm not the only one; that there are others out there who are stranded, alone, and trying to keep it together as the world goes to shit. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Rhythm of the Neighborhood

Monday, June 15, 2020

Day after day, as I spend untold hours on the balcony of my rented apartment, keeping vigil over nothing in particular, I slowly learned the cadence and rhythm of the neighborhood. Every morning at 5:00 a.m., I wake up to the morning song of the yiguirro (clay-colored robin) heralding the start of another day. Forty-five minutes later, I'd hear the distant rumble of the first bus that comes from the town center. The main road is obscured by trees but I'd catch a glimpse of the bus as it passes by, its colors unmistakable for they always remind me of the Costa Rican flag.

While I'm having breakfast, troops of capuchin monkeys arrive, stomping and swaggering their way across rooftops, climbing trees and balustrades, searching for fruits and nuts to eat. By midmorning, the neighborhood starts to wake up. One of the neighbors would play music loud enough for everyone to hear. For a few hours each day we are treated to traditional Mexican ballads, Bob Marley, and Latin reggaeton interspersed with the squawks, squeals, and squeaks of scarlet macaws. 

Every afternoon, Jim, an American expat who manages the inn, knocks on my door to check on me and ask me what I need. He usually brings fruits and herbs from his own farm: bananas, cherries, guanabana, oranges, mangoes, basil, culantro. We'd chat briefly about the sorry state of the world and swap bits of information about travel restrictions, visa extensions, which restaurant has opened, and which hotels remain closed. He then catches the bus home leaving me in the company of birds and trees—my constant companions in these trying times. At around 4:00 p.m., as certain as the sun rising in the east, the old lady living next door who Jim says has Alzheimer's would start hollering, "Ana! Ana!", the name of one of her five daughters and the name she calls all of them. On certain afternoons, I'd hear megaphoned announcements of "Huevos! Zanahorias, lechuga, sandia, tomate!" from the produce trucks making their rounds in the neighborhood. 

As my days in this temporary home began to turn into weeks and, inevitably, into months, and the country's quedate-en-casa restrictions started to ease, I found myself venturing outside the neighborhood. In the afternoons, while walking to the beach, I come upon local ticos and fellow tourists who, like me, are bent on getting a few hours of exercise outdoors. Most are walking, several are walking their dogs, a few are jogging, and some are riding their bikes. Maintaining the social distance required for everyone's safety, we somehow manage to exchange "hola, buen dia, como esta?" It's been a month since the government re-opened the beaches. Since then, I'd pack my breakfast, leave the house as the sun begins to rise, and spend most mornings at the beach. Lounging under my favorite tree, I watch people, read my book, and take photos of things that I find interesting. Before 8 in the morning, just as the policia arrives to signal the end of beach hours, the sky leadens and starts threatening rain. That's my cue to hurry home and get some work done. 

My days in Costa Rica now has a rhythm of their own, and I had learned to order my life by the pattern of their calm. I sit here on my balcony wanting to go home yet wishing that this soothing rhythm didn't have to end.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Work on Vacation

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

It's now the first of June, travel restrictions remain in force, and I still can't return to the Philippines. While everybody else has gone back to work or are working from home, I've started working remotely from here in Costa Rica. It's like working while on an outrageously long vacation.

Back in March, while packing for my trip, the thought of bringing a laptop or even a tablet never crossed my mind. Why would it when I knew I would only need my phone to take photos? Now I rely on my phone for everything: I use it to work on lengthy, complicated spreadsheets; to make contracts, timetables, project briefs, training designs; to respond to emails and all other messages; to review curriculums and online lessons and assesments. It takes some getting used to, but I think I've adapted well enough. I may not be as efficient as I used to be, yet I still can get things done. 

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Arrival

Saturday, May 2, 2020

My plane landed at Juan Santamaria International Airport in Alajuela, Costa Rica on 8 March 2020. I was anxious to get out of there, but Wilbert, the man who was supposed to pick me up was late. Did he forget? Shall I take a cab? What will I do now? Do I wait? I thought to myself. I decided to wait. I paced back and forth in the arrivals area, looking for Wilbert while dodging cab drivers offering me a ride. Half an hour passed and he appeared holding a sign bearing my name.

The uphill drive from the airport to our villa in Vara Blanca takes an hour, which to me felt like a lifetime. The driver and I exchanged pleasantries but my mind wasn't in it. I couldn't wait to see D who arrived hours ago and was waiting for me in the villa. As I imagined meeting him after a long absence, unbridled joy began to bubble up inside me.

It was cold and dark when we arrived. I knocked on the door and there he was standing in front of me: D, the love of my life, the man of my dreams. We clung to each other; I didn't want to let him go. We've longed for that moment for a very long time, and after what we've been through the past year, I can't believe we've really made it happen.

I entered the living room and saw that the fireplace was lit just like he promised. The entire room felt so warm and comforting, but we took more refuge in us like an armor against the ills of the world. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Joyfully Open to the Unknown

Friday, May 1, 2020

When I think of the pleasure of embarking on an adventure, I think of that day—going to the bus station unsure whether the buses are running, and, after a two-hour wait, boarding an empty bus that passed through dusty, deserted towns. We did not know anything about where we're going, but on that particular day I felt joyfully open to the unknown.

It was already midmorning when we reached our stop, that small church in the town of Villa Nueva where we were greeted by our guide Daniel, an expat who's been living in Costa Rica for two decades. He told us to walk two kilometers down the dirt road across the street all the way where the tree line starts. That is where he'll meet us, where the real hike begins.

The heat was painfully oppressive that time of the day, but we walked eagerly, filled with the joy of the new. The dirt path, though lined by a few houses, was devoid of people except for those few on quad bikes who zoomed past us. We walked for more than an hour until we reached our meeting point.


Daniel led us down a steep trail deep into the jungle. The trees stretched high above us, allowing sun rays to peek through the branches. The air, though thick with moisture, felt lush on my skin. Our footsteps are muted by the sound of the wild: the harmony of birds, the chorus of insects, the rustling of leaves, and the trickle of the nearby stream. The hike itself was gratifying enough, but when we reached those breathtaking waterfalls, I felt like we were given a surprise reward. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

Our Catamaran Sailing Adventure

Monday, April 27, 2020

At first I hesitated. Going on a catamaran whale-watching adventure doesn't seem to be a good idea at that time when everyone is advised to stay home. Yet there were only 30 cases of COVID-19 in Costa Rica then, and I—a sucker for anything idyllicwas swayed by the innkeeper's words. "Being a sunset tour, it's supposed to be very romantic," he said. So I agreed, imagining an intimate boat ride on the Pacific Ocean surrounded by lush landscapes, marine wildlife, and the soothing sound of the ocean as the sky turns to orange and red. It was only when we reached the marina when I realized how wrong I was. My partner and I, along with some 80 American springbreakers were lead to a catamaran that fits 250 people and includes an open bar and two floors of jacuzzi slides and trampoline. The romantic sailing adventure I imagined turned out to be a devil-may-care party on a booze cruise. 


Tour boats at Marina Pez Vela, Quepos, Costa Rica
On that very day, 16 March 2020, while my partner and I tried to distance ourselves from the rest of the people in the boat, the government of Costa Rica declared State of Emergency, closing its borders to foreigners and consequently restricting all non-essential activities in the country. That catamaran cruise was our last hurrah before the virus utterly took over our lives. Right after the tour I was furious at myself for taking part in such reckless activity; yet now I'm glad for having had the chance to experience it. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The world wasn't ending

Thursday, April 9, 2020


"...Best to let the broken glass be broken glass, let it splinter into smaller pieces and dust and scatter. Let the cracks between things widen until they are no longer cracks but the new places for things. That was where they were now. The world wasn't ending: it had ended and now they were in the new place. They could not recognize it because they had never seen it before."

~ Colston Whitehead, Zone One, 2011

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

What I Miss About Home

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

I've been living in Costa Rica for 31 days now, and there are things from home that I particularly miss, such as:
  • Spicy Jin Ramyeon
  • Munggo with rice
  • My family and spending weekends with them 
  • Laughing with others
  • Conversing face-to-face in Tagalog
  • Beating deadlines
  • My project management sheets
  • Running
  • My house
  • My neighborhood 
  • My daily, monotonous routine
  • Going out freely and not worrying about getting sick

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Trying to Be Hopeful

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

I'm trying to be cheerful and hopeful but it's getting hard to do so what with countries extending lockdowns as the number of cases around the world continue to rise. I am afraid that my flight will again be canceled and I'd be stuck here indefinitely. When will I be able to go home? When will this be over?

Monday, April 6, 2020

What Would Have Happened to Us If We Traveled To Brazil?

Monday, April 6, 2020

I wonder what would have happened to us if we decided to push through with our trip to Brazil, as originally planned. There are  now 11,281 cases of COVID-19 in the country and most are concentrated in the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, where we intended to stay. On the very day of our supposed departure from San Jose to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil closed down its beaches, restricted access to all tourist attractions, shut down land borders with neighboring countries, and banned travelers from Europe and Asia Pacific in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Unlike its Latin American neighbors who have enforced strict lockdown measures, the president of Brazil dismissed the severity of the virus and urged an end to the quarantine and social distancing  measures enforced by state governors.

With all that going on, I am glad to have stayed here in Costa Rica where the number of cases is four times lower than that of Brazil and where the government lead by the Health Minister keeps its citizens informed on how they are fighting against the spread of the coronavirus in the country.  I do hope that the Costa Rican government's proactive measures eventually flatten the COVID-19 curve. 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

To be quietly joyful

Sunday, April 5, 2020

"There were days - she could remember this - when Henry would hold her hand as they walked home, middle-aged people, in their prime. Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it. But she had that memory now, of something healthy and pure."

~ Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge, 2008

Saturday, April 4, 2020

My Quarantine Routine

Saturday, April 4, 2020


My return flight was canceled, and all airlines that fly to the Philippines have suspended operations. I am now stranded in Costa Rica for at least a month. And since D had to catch the last plane back to the US, I am now stuck here alone and in isolation. 

I have been practicing social distancing since I was a child so this life in solitude is nothing new to me. My daily routine usually goes like this:

5:00 am: wake up; watch sunrise, birds, and monkeys; coffee
5:45 am: prepare breakfast
6:00 am: have breakfast; read the news online; chat with D and family
7:30 am: make up the bed, tidy the house
8:00 am: take a bath; read (now rereading Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge
9:00 am: watch NY Gov Cuomo presser on TV
10:00 am: watch Netflix (now watching La Casa de Papel 4); have a snack
11:30 am: prepare lunch

12:00 pm: have lunch, chat with D
1:00 pm: watch local (Costa Rican) news on TV
2:00 pm: write blog post
3:00 pm: watch Netflix
4:00 pm: read
5:00 pm: go for a walk
6:00 pm: watch Anderson 360; chat with D; prepare dinner
7:00 pm: watch Cuomo Prime Time
8:00 pm: read
9:00 pm: go to sleep

Friday, April 3, 2020

Pura Vida

Friday, April 3, 2020

Each morning announces itself with a melody of monkey calls and bird songs. It jolts us into wakefulness and grants us that exquisite, permeating sense of being alive. Eager for the beauty of another day, we get up and watch the sun rise and glow through the trees that surround us. What makes these mornings a constant delight is the anticipation: We know that we had the entire day ahead of us and we could spend it in isolation, in the twilight of boredom, and and still feel content when night time comes. 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

We Decided to Stay in Costa Rica

Thursday, April 2, 2020

On our 8th day in Costa Rica, the government declared the country under state of emergency, closing its borders to foreigners and non-residents, shutting down all public places including beaches, suspending all mass gatherings, and ordering everyone to stay home as much as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

We were supposed to travel to Rio de Janeiro after a two-week stay in Costa Rica but we decided to hunker down in Manuel Antonio, at Costa Rica's Central Pacific Coast, instead.

So why did we choose to stay here? First, we felt that it was not only dangerous but also selfish and irresponsible to travel further to Brazil. Second, countries in Central and South America have started imposing travel restrictions then and the risk of being stuck in an airport during transit was very high. Third, we felt safe and comfortable here in Manuel Antonio, a small beach town that still doesn't have a case of the virus. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Favorite Experiences in Costa Rica

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Today's our 24th day in Costa Rica, where we spent most days in isolation, living the pura vida lifestyle. Every single moment was special, but here are my favorites so far:





Walking through dairy farms in Vara Blanca



Staying at our piece of paradise in Manuel Antonio

Sunday, March 8, 2020

At Schiphol International Airport

Sunday, March 8, 2020


The first leg of my 35-hour trip to Costa Rica is done. I'm now at Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam, waiting out a 6-hour layover.

The comings and goings at this airport, like those of the airports in Manila and Taipei that I've passed through, seem normal, as if there is no virus that's ravaging the world. I haven't even seen anybody wearing surgical masks here, unlike in Manila. People look pretty unconcerned, living their lives as they always do. 

Monday, March 2, 2020

Scaredy Cat

Monday, March 2, 2020

D calls me a scaredy cat. But with everything that’s happening nowadays, I have every reason to be scared.  I’m scared of catching the flu before our trip. Authorities might mistake my symptoms as those of COVID-19 and bar me from my flight; I’m scared of catching the virus at the airport, inside the plane, or during the layover. I’m not traveling to China, South Korea, Italy, or Iran so my chances of contracting the virus is slim, but still; I’m scared that D, coming from the US, might get it, although the chances of it are even slimmer; I’m scared that a contagion might explode in the places we’ll go to; I’m scared of everything bad that might happen, yet we’re pushing through with our trip for no virus can stop us from seeing each other and being together.

Friday, February 28, 2020

I Miss You More

Friday, February 28, 2020

27 February 2020

Him: Are you excited to go to exotic places again?
Me: Oh yeah, but more excited to be with you.
Him: I miss you more.
Me: I miss you too, honey.

Monday, February 24, 2020

I Miss My Old Running Place

Monday, February 24, 2020

I miss my old running place. I've resorted to running on the streets near where I live because of its closure. Even before sunrise, the roads are already busy. I always run on the side of the road facing the oncoming traffic so I can dodge speeding motorcycles, tricycles, and jeepneys. This constant vigilance to avoid getting hit or getting lost is quite taxing, more demanding than the running itself. 

Thursday, February 20, 2020

When we are heartbroken and foolish and unforgivably injurious to others

Thursday, February 20, 2020

"In all of our lives, there are days that we wish we could see expunged from the record of our very existence. Perhaps we long for that erasure because a particular day brought us such splintering sorrow that we can scarcely bear to think of it ever again. Or we might wish to blot out an episode forever because we behaved so poorly on that day—we were mortifyingly selfish, or foolish to an extraordinary degree. Or perhaps we injured another person and wish to disremember our guilt. Tragically, there are some days in a lifetime when all three of those things happen at once—when we are heartbroken and foolish and unforgivably injurious to others, all at the same time...."

~ Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things, 2013

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Learning Portuguese

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

In preparation for our trip, I started learning Portuguese, the Brazilian variant in particular. I’m only in the beginning stage of learning the language, but, so far, it’s not as difficult as I expected it to be. It was much easier than learning Nihongo, which I wholeheartedly attempted but miserably failed. But what made it easy for me to learn Portuguese is my familiarity with Spanish.

I find Spanish and Portuguese quite similar. Both are romance languages that have origins in Latin. They share similarities in vocabulary, grammar, conjugation, and word order. The main difference, though, is in the pronunciation. And that’s the part that I need to focus on.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Of Travel Bans and Sleepless Nights

Monday, February 17, 2020

The recent travel ban imposed by the Philippine government against Taiwan supposedly to arrest the spread of COVID-19 caused me several sleepless nights. It was only when logic prevailed and the authorities decided to lift the ban when I was put at ease.

My upcoming KLM flight has a short stop at Taoyuan International Airport, and because of the ban my flight would have been affected. When it seemed like they intended on keeping the ban despite the lack of local transmission in Taiwan as well as protestation of the country that it is not part of China, I got alarmed. I called the airlines’ local hotline to know about my options. The agent informed me that in case the ban won’t be lifted they are going to reroute my flight through Singapore or Thailand (which, ironically, have more cases of the virus but no travel ban was imposed against them) instead of Taiwan. I was glad to know that the airline already made plans to limit flight disruptions.

I felt quite relieved knowing that my travel plans will push through. Now I can pack and repack to my heart’s content.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

When we say we lack time to cook

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

“When we say we lack time to cook – or even time to eat – we are not making a simple statement of fact. We are talking about cultural values and the way that our society dictates that our days should be carved up. The changing rhythms of life have had profound and surprising effects on our eating. A sense of time pressure leads us to eat different foods, and to eat them in new ways. A collective obsession with not wasting time has contributed to the rise of the snack and the fall of the cooked breakfast; to a rise in convenience foods and the death of the lunch hour.”

~ Bee Wilson, The Way We Eat Now: Strategies for Eating in a World of Change, 2019

Monday, February 10, 2020

Some Topics I've Been Meaning to Write About

Monday, February 10, 2020

Things have been very busy at work that I don't have time to think about the topics I've been meaning to write about: Northern Ireland, the calming power of routine, setting priorities, the Choishi-michi trail to Koyasan, my ideal vacation, and how I choose accommodations, among others. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Weaving a collective meaning

Sunday, February 9, 2020

"Ari proposed to begin with three houses, each house to be occupied by a group of people not necessarily related by blood who were prepared to live together as a family unit. Not some sham family, politely avoiding having to care about one another, but people who would share a surname and the task of weaving a collective meaning into that name. People who would support and protect and staunchly cherish one another."

~ Helen Oyeyemi, Gingerbread, 2019

Saturday, February 8, 2020

I Need To Find a Place Where I Can Run

Saturday, February 8, 2020

It was raining lightly when I woke up this morning. I hesitated a bit before deciding to go out for a run despite the rain. When I reached the hospital grounds where I usually run, the guard manning the entrance told me that runners are no longer allowed to enter the premises because of the coronavirus outbreak. When I asked how long the ban would last, he said that they weren't privy to that information. It's indefinite. Maybe it will remain until the virus is finally conquered. Now I have to find a new place where I can run safely. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

A philosophy of self-sacrifice

Friday, February 7, 2020

“…He had eloquently articulated a philosophy of self-sacrifice that would help define the emerging traditions of Irish republican martyrdom. ‘It is not those who inflict the most but those who suffer the most who will conquer,’ MacSwiney declared. When somebody dies on a hunger strike, the moral calculus of causation can be tricky. It may have been MacSwiney who, in the strictest sense, chose to take his own life, but by announcing that he would eat again only if the British acceded to his demands, he seemed to transfer the responsibility for whether he lived or died into the hands of his captors….”

~ Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, 2018

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Same, Year After Year

Thursday, February 6, 2020

I know someone who loathes the current administration with such a passion that she's thinking of joining a rally for the president's ouster. The president's incompetence, corruption, lack of manners, disregard for rules, and continual support for foreigners at the expense of his countrymen are among the reasons she gave. When she asked me how I feel about his administration, I said it's no different from the previous ones and no matter who runs the country my life will be the same. They all promise to bring prosperity to the country but the Philippines stays the same, year after year. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The world of books

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

“Books impressed me tremendously. From their simple printed pages one could conjure up a world as real as that grasped by the senses. Furthermore, the world of books, like meat in cans, was somehow richer and more flavorful than the everyday variety. In ordinary life, for example, one saw many people without really knowing them, while in books one even knew what people were thinking and planning.”

~ Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird, 1965

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Catching Up on My Reading

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

One of my goals this month is to read six books. But it’s already February 4 and I haven’t finished reading even a single book. My nights are spent researching about plane fares, hotels, destinations, safety concerns, and itineraries that I hardly have time to read anymore. I manage to read several pages during break time at work, while waiting for my ride to leave, or when I’m caught in traffic, but that’s it. I definitely have to catch up on my reading this coming weekend.

My to-read books this month include Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive, and maybe Tara Westover’s memoir Educated.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Did existence ever seem worked for?

Monday, February 3, 2020

“…then she was walking away, her long legs scissor-like in their little, orderly movements. It would take her thousands of steps to get anywhere, but she would get there easily, and when she arrived, in the present, it would seem like it had been a single movement that brought her there. Did existence ever seem worked for? One seemed simply to be here, less an accumulation of moments than a single arrangement continuously gifted from some inaccessible future.”

~ Tao Lin, Taipei, 2013

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Retiring My Running Shoes

Sunday, February 2, 2020

After running 349.72 km in my old Saucony running shoes, I now have to retire the pair. The uppers still look fine but the outer soles are all worn out. Experts say that running shoes must be replaced after around 300-500 miles (483-805 km), but some say that it really depends on several factors: the runner's weight and running style, the kind of shoes he or she wears, and his or her running style. Maybe a neutral runner like me who weighs 50 kg, wear a lightweight pair, and run primarily on the road need to replace their running shoes earlier than suggested. 

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Shame

Saturday, February 1, 2020

"Wherever I turn, there is something of which to be ashamed. But shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture. In 'Defence', you can find shame in every house, burning in an ashtray, hanging framed upon a wall, covering a bed. But nobody notices it any more. And everyone is civilized."

~ Salman Rushdie, Shame, 1983

Friday, January 31, 2020

What Happened in January 2020

Friday, January 31, 2020

It’s only the last day of the first month of the year, yet numerous momentous events had already happened.

Early this month the US government ordered the killing of one of Iran’s top military officials over the threat of an imminent attack against America. Consequently, the Iranian general’s death increased volatility in the region.  After being impeached by the House of Representatives for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, President Trump’s fate—whether or not he will be removed from office—is being deliberated upon in the ongoing Senate impeachment trial. The legal claims that the president’s motives are unknowable and that he can do whatever he wants threaten to upend the Office of the President.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex giving up their royal titles was covered by the international press more lengthily and forcefully than Britain’s official departure from the European Union—which is today, 31 January 2020.  Boris Johnson campaigned on the slogan “Get Brexit Done” and, unlike his predecessor Theresa May, he did get it done. What Brexit really means for trade, Britain’s economy, the backstop, local residents, foreign workers, and travelers, though, is still unclear.

Taal Volcano erupted which wreaked havoc in many provinces in the Philippines. It’s just recently that those who had been forcibly evacuated were able to return to their homes. And then comes another disaster. Yesterday, just when the World Health Organization declared global emergency over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus that has already spread to 15 countries and claimed 170 lives, the Philippines announced its first case. This morning, from the moment I left the house to the time I entered our office building, I counted 238 people wearing face masks. The sight of all those people wearing masks is fairly alarming. Yesterday’s announcement and the fearmongering over the virus in social media are causing mass hysteria.  

Thursday, January 30, 2020

I never liked people

Thursday, January 30, 2020

“I’m not joking when I say that I never liked people, because people scared me. Because anytime I said what was inside me, they had no idea what I was talking about. They made me want to smash a window just to have a reason to walk away from them. Because I kept fucking up, because it seemed so hard not to fuck up, I lived a life where I had less than what I desired. So instead of wanting more, sometimes I just made myself want even less. Sometimes I made myself believe that I wanted nothing, not even food or air. And if I wanted nothing, I’d just turn into a ghost. And that would be the end of it.”

~ Kevin Wilson, Nothing to See Here, 2019

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Imagining I'm on Vacation

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

We’re so busy at work trying to beat deadlines that to get through the day I imagine myself already enjoying that long vacation I'm planning to take: lazy, carefree hours with D, the smell of the ocean, bikinis, the sound of foreign words, rainforests, the taste of food I haven’t tasted before, cool mountain air, hiking, long-distance buses, getting lost.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Some story of suffering

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

“…this is the one thing all migrants have in common, this is the solidarity that exists among them, though they all come from different places and different circumstances, some urban, some rural, some middle-class, some poor, some well educated, some illiterate, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, Mexican, Indian, each of them carries some story of suffering on top of that train and into el norte beyond. Some, like Rebeca, share their stories carefully, selectively, finding a faithful ear and then chanting their words like prayers. Other migrants are like blown-open grenades, telling their anguish compulsively to everyone they meet, dispensing their pain like shrapnel so they might one day wake to find their burdens have grown lighter….”

~ Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt, 2020

Monday, January 27, 2020

Immersed and Transported

Monday, January 27, 2020

After that long run last Saturday I decided to stay at home and take it easy the rest of the weekend. Taking it easy meant binge-watching shows on Netflix. I went over my to-watch list and chose Haider, a 2014 Indian movie that is supposed to be an adaptation of Hamlet. After 20 minutes of watching the film I felt distracted. I was unmoved by what’s happening on screen. I went back to my listPandemic, The 43, Atlantics, Virunga, The Game Changers—but nothing appealed to me. Is it me or are those shows really that boring? Is my mind too jittery that I cannot fully concentrate on what I’m watching? I gave up and started reading instead. Before I knew it, hours had passed and I’ve reached the last page of Esme Weijun Wang’s compilation of essays, The Collected Schizophrenias. So I began another book: American Dirt, today’s most talked about novel that almost everyone hates.

I am now 42 years, with no responsibilities and nothing else to distract me from my life of solitude, and I’ve retained the deeply engaged, obsessive reading of my childhood, those long, trancelike reading bouts that are more satisfying than watching movies of mindlessly scrolling through social media. With books I am transported; I am immersed, body and soul.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Great Punctuation

Sunday, January 26, 2020

“I wouldn’t deny that there’s joy in knowing a set of grammar rules; there is always joy in mastery of some branch of knowledge. But there is much more joy in becoming a reader who can understand and explain how it is that a punctuation mark can create meaning in language that goes beyond just delineating the logical structure of a sentence. Great punctuation can create music, paint a picture, or conjure emotion.”

~ Cecelia Watson, Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark, 2019

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Today is a Good Day

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Today is a good day. I was able to run 10 kilometers, something I've been meaning to accomplish for months now. On my way home from that morning run, I saw persimmons for sale. I was delighted for I haven't seen persimmons since we went to Japan more than two years ago. I bought some and went home. When I got home I checked my phone for any messages. There it was, a message from D, telling me the best, most wonderful news. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

My year of rest and relaxation

Friday, January 24, 2020

“This was good, I thought. I was finally doing something that really mattered. Sleep felt productive. Something was getting sorted out. I knew in my heart—this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then—that when I’d slept enough, I’d be okay. I’d be renewed, reborn. I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories. My past life would be but a dream, and I could start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation.”

~ Otessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2019

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Spanish Proficiency

Thursday, January 23, 2020

I keep receiving invites to Duolingo events. I’m tempted to attend these events but I always hesitate. These events are for people who are learning Spanish through Duolingo, a free mobile and web app for language learners around the world. There’s one group that meets every month at a location very near my place. The meetup is not a class but is meant to build one’s confidence in speaking the language. So I think of these events as my chance to actually converse with people in Spanish. Yet I never go. Meeting strangers with whom I need to exchange small talkin Spanish at thatis such a daunting task.

I’ve been studying Spanish since 2013, but I'm not even close to being fluent. I took a Spanish proficiency test and based on my score I’m now at the intermediate (B1) level. This means that I am now an independent user of the language and that I (supposedly) can:
  • understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.;
  • deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken;
  • produce simple connected texts on topics which are familiar or of personal interest;
  • describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions; and
  • briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
In theory, yes, I can do all of those things, but in actual situations I’m not quite sure. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Everything In Its Proper Place

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Namba, Osaka, Japan
When you live in the Philippines and travel to a country like Japan, you will realize how stark the differences are between the two countries. In Japan everything is in its proper place and everything is done with method and order. There are many things in that country that I wish the Philippines also has – things like umbrellas in individual umbrella stands, heated toilet seats, bathrooms that also work as clothes driers, ICOCA, bagging your own groceries, house slippers, bathroom slippers, trains that are never late, TV in the bath, unlimited green tea at every meal, push button crosswalk signals, spotlessly clean sidewalks devoid of vendors, beggars, and street urchins, shops without security guards, bicycles for rent, vending machines that can be found everywhere, bento boxes, bus drivers wearing pristine white gloves, the absence of chatter and unnecessary noise in buses and trains.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Ideal Conditions for Working

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

"When I thought of the ideal conditions for working, in other words, I looked at things from the perspective of someone not working, of someone on holiday, of a tourist in Taormina. I always had in mind the view that my desk would overlook, thereby overlooking the fact that the view from the desk is invisible when you are actually working, and forgetting that of the many genres of sentence I dislike there is none that I despise more than ones which proceed along the lines of ‘If I look up from my desk . . .’ The ideal conditions for working were actually the worst possible conditions for working."

~ Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage: In the Shadow of D.H. Lawrence, 1997

Monday, January 20, 2020

Free to Write Anything

Monday, January 20, 2020

Knowing that nobody (except you, honey) reads what I write gives me the freedom to write about anything I want. I don’t have to please any audience or alter my writing to fit readers’ reactions. I can write solely for the pleasure it gives me.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The small and the daily

Sunday, January 19, 2020

“Because it’s true: more than the highlights, the bright events, it was in the small and the daily where she’d found life. The hundreds of times she’d dug in the soil of her garden, each time the satisfying chew of spade through soil, so often that this action, the pressure and release and rich dirt smell, delineated the warmth she’d found in that house in the cherry orchard. Or this: every day they woke in the same place, her husband waking her up with a cup of coffee, the cream still swirling into the black. Almost unremarked upon, this kindness. He would kiss her on the crown of her head before leaving, and she’d feel something in her rising through her body to meet him...”

~ Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies, 2015

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Bali's Lempuyang Temple

Saturday, January 18, 2020

My siblings and I knew beforehand that the drive to Lempuyang Temple in East Bali would take three hours and that the queue for a photo at the gate would take another three hours. We went anyway. Instead of whining about it, we considered the long queue in the oppressive heat of the midday sun as something to enjoy, not endure. Instead of whining about it, we thought of waiting in line for three hours not as a waste of time but a singular feat that required tremendous patience.

Tourists line up for a photo at the gate of Lempuyang Temple, with mighty Mt. Agung in the background.
I wonder why some tourists feel so cheated when they find out that the lake is merely an illusion created by holding a mirror under the lens of a camera. Of course it’s fake. Have they not read anything about the temple at all? If you went there just to have your photo taken at the gate with the fake lake, you’d undoubtedly feel deceived. Lempuyang Temple is one of Bali’s six temples of the heavens. It is sacred to the Balinese because it is located at the top of Mount Lempuyang, the island’s easternmost mountain. That gate where tourists pose for photos only marks the entrance to the outermost sanctum of the temple. The uppermost inner sanctum of the temple actually sits at the top of 1,700 steps, another two-hour climb from that infamous gate.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Autumn leaves don’t fall

Friday, January 17, 2020


"And just at that second, the wind picked up, and thousands upon thousands of yellow sycamore leaves broke from their life support and streamed across the sky. Autumn leaves don’t fall; they fly. They take their time and wander on this, their only chance to soar. Reflecting sunlight, they swirled and sailed and fluttered on the wind drafts."

~ Delia Owens, Where the Crowdads Sing, 2018

Thursday, January 16, 2020

You Are My World

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Him: Is Costa Rica safer than Rio?
Me: Oh, definitely. Nicaragua is a bit iffy too because there is civil unrest.
Him: What unrest?
Me: People have been protesting for months now, like in Chile, Ecuador, Hong Kong.
Him: We can join them.
Me: You really don’t follow world news, do you? Hahaha...
Him: What world news? You are my world.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Anticipating the Unfamiliar

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

What makes traveling such a pleasure is the anticipation in knowing that each day in a foreign place may result in anything. You could get lost and end up utterly ill-prepared, shambling down a perilously steep and muddy path through a tangle of trees, creepers, and tea plantations in flip-flops, a midriff-baring top, and a long swirly skirt. That’s precisely what happened when D and I woke up one morning and decided to go to the Demodara Nine Arches Bridge in Ella, Sri Lanka.

The Nine Arches Bridge was built entirely out of brick, rock, and cement and without a single piece of steel in 1921.
Having no idea how to reach the bridge, we opted to walk rather than take a tuk-tuk as most tourists do. We asked locals for directions and they patiently pointed out landmarks and shortcuts to get to the bridge. Following their instructions, we walked towards Little Adams Peak then turned left until we reached  Nine Acres Resort and Spa. We then crossed the road and entered a narrow path in the middle of a dense tea plantation. We weren’t quite sure if we were on the right track, yet we walked on, trusting the directions given to us, until we reached that steep, dangerous-looking trail. As I was dressed inappropriately for that kind of hiking, I refused to go, but D convinced me otherwise. He promised to prop me up, even carry me just so we can reach the bridge. And we did.

As someone who plans everything right down to the most infinitesimal detail, I was delighted when I realized that not knowing anything about a place but going there anyway can be absolutely fun and that traveling is all about taking pleasure in the onslaught of the unfamiliar.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Shut the door on grief

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

“…What else have I missed? How many times in my life have I been, so to speak, on the back porch, not the front porch? What would have been said to me that I failed to hear? What love might there have been that I didn’t feel?

These are pointless questions. The only reason I have lived so long is that I let go of my past. Shut the door on grief on regret on remorse. If I let them in, just one self-indulgent crack, whap, the door will fling open gales of pain ripping through my heart blinding my eyes with shame breaking cups and bottles knocking down jars shattering windows stumbling bloody on spilled sugar and broken glass terrified gagging until with a final shudder and sob I shut the heavy door. Pick up the pieces one more time.”

~ Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, 2015

Monday, January 13, 2020

Suspension?

Monday, January 13, 2020

Taal Volcano erupted yesterday, leaving devastation in the surrounding provinces. Its ash fall reached as far as Metro Manila, yet we’re still required to report for work. Although it’s now clear outside who knows what kind of toxic particles we’re breathing in by exposing ourselves to the ash? Flights and classes have been suspended since yesterday. The government also urged companies to suspend work and many complied except ours.  I heard that they might let us off soon. But what’s the point of that when we’re already here? We might as well stay and finish the day’s work.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

When the fight is about unraveling

Sunday, January 12, 2020

"When your fight has purpose—to free you from something, to interfere on the behalf of an innocent—it has a hope of finality. When the fight is about unraveling—when it is about your name, the places to which your blood is anchored, the attachment of your name to some landmark or event—there is nothing but hate, and the long, slow progression of people who feed on it and are fed it, meticulously, by the ones who come before them. Then the fight is endless, and comes in waves and waves, but always retains its capacity to surprise those who hope against it."

~ Tea Obreht, The Tiger’s Wife, 2011

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Favorite Experiences in Bali, Indonesia

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Not long after my family and I came back from a vacation in Bali last year, I started reading William Finnegan's memoir Barbarian Days, a chronicle of his surfing life around the world. In 1979, he went to Bali about which he wrote the following:

“Bryan loathed Bali. We wrote an article for Tracks—it carried, by tradition, both our names, though I only gave it a light edit—mocking the notion, then widespread among Australian surfers, that Bali was still an unspoiled paradise of uncrowded waves and mellow Hindu natives. In fact, he wrote, it was overrun with surfers and other tourists. It was a place where one could “see topless and bottomless Europeans of both sexes,” “listen to the lies of surfers from all over the world,” “hire a board carrier and experience the dizzying thrill of colonialism,” and “tell people you’re from Cronulla when you’re really from Parramatta,” the latter being a less cool Sydney suburb than the former.”

I can’t believe that Bali was already overrun and consumed by mass tourism as far back as the 1970s. Even in 2013 when I first visited the place and now when I returned with my family, Bali is no longer an “unspoiled paradise of uncrowded waves.” It is the exact opposite of that yet we enjoyed the place nonetheless. Below are my favorite experiences in Bali.

Having lunch at our favorite warung


Spending countless hours just hanging out in the house we rented in Kuta


Traipsing through the Tegallalang rice terraces in Ubud


Watching the sun set while listening to a live band covering Bob Marley songs at Double Six Beach, Seminyak



 
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