Song of the year (2021)

At the end of each year I think about which song I liked the most. The past two years were dominated by Korean pop music (SUNMI, Chungha, BTS). Chungha topped my Spotify lists in 2021 with songs like Bicycle, X, and Masquerade. I think it’s because I love listening to upbeat music to get my mind off the stress of these dark times.

I pick a song that I think will remind me of what that particular year felt like.

Here are my previous picks for “song of the year”:

  • 2020 – 3-way tie: Play (Chungha), Stay Tonight (Chungha), and On (BTS)
  • 2019 – LALALAY – SUNMI
  • 2018 – All the Stars – Kendrick Lamar ft. SZA
  • 2017 – Flame – Tinashe
  • 2016 – The Life – Fifth Harmony
  • 2015 – Talking Body – Tove Lo

TBH there is no clear personal frontrunner for a “song of the year” in 2021. I liked Billie Eilish’ “Happier Than Ever” because it starts off slow and endearing… before lightning and thunder. That would be a favourite this year. But I don’t think I was that “angry” in 2021. (That’s good news.) Also on my playlist would be Olivia Rodrigo. I loved “good 4 u” and “traitor”. I think she’s someone to watch at the Grammys. Anyway, I’m sure I’m not the only millennial listening to all this Gen Z music.

Keeping with my blog tradition, I have to make a choice! This year’s song is not entirely in English. It’s not Korean too. The lyrics are about a love that needed to come to an end. The melody is perfect – it’s like you’re boarding a train and heading off to a faraway place. Since the lyrics are in both Japanese and English, I think it goes well with this past year. I started learning Japanese.

My song for 2021 is Utada Hikaru’s “One Last Kiss“, a song for the last Evangelion movie:

“I love you more than you’ll ever know” – one of her English lyrics.

And the translation of the last part of the song:

No one really knows what’s been consuming my mind the past few years. I don’t talk about it at all on my other social platforms. I can say that I feel better now. But the thoughts that took over my mind in December 2017 scare me sometimes. I think about multiverses. Maybe this, maybe that. But that’s something for Doctor Strange. This is the one timeline we get to work with. So let’s get to work. 🙂

Quantum of the Seas Pt. 2 – The First Full Day

And the Oscar for Best Moment of this Past Year goes to… sliding the door open to this view:

While PJ was asleep, I quietly opened the sliding door and stepped onto the balcony of our stateroom. The morning sun was right there. What even is that? Morning sun? I’m not a morning person. Whatever it was, it was glorious. It was glorious enough to inspire me to start writing a book. Or to finish reading a book that’s taking me months to read. A view of an open ocean is like the cure to our generation’s Zoom fatigue.

If you missed the first part of my Quantum of the Seas series, you can start here.

Think about it. The entire year, most of us are glued to our Microsoft Outlook at home. We even eat most of our meals at home. Entertainment? It’s streamed on our laptops, devices, and television screens at home. The view outside my apartment in Pasir Ris is the adjacent condo. Of neighbours’ clothes drying under Singapore’s equatorial sun. That’s not even a view. That’s like a Black Mirror episode.

I’m lucky I got to finish reading at least two chapters of Atomic Habits before breakfast.

***

Our first breakfast was at Windjammer, which is a buffet-style meal area that is included for guests. You also have an option to do a proper sit down restaurant with a 3 or 4-course menu… but I thought buffets would be better for breakfast.

After breakfast, due to prevailing restrictions at the time (October 2020), I could only meet up with my friend Naomi at the Solarium. PJ and I parted ways so he can enjoy the swimming pool area.

Let’s face it, Naomi and I both brought books to read in the comfort of an air-conditioned Solarium. But we were also enjoying a conversation and sipping on our drinks – being occasionally reminded by staff to put our mask back on after taking sips. It was that strict!

***

After lunch at Windjammer and resting in the cabin, it was already late afternoon and I wanted to squeeze in a jog on the top deck. I noticed that the ship was “heading back” to Singapore. If you looked out to sea, you can see the Singapore skyline in the distance. Plus, loads of tankers and cargo ships.

I managed to squeeze in two loops. It was also my mistake to use Strava to track my run on the deck. The ship was moving… duh. I rushed back to the room to shower and change into comfortable clothes. Our next activity was the NorthStar Capsule.

That’s the NorthStar capsule!

NorthStar experience booked at 5:30pm

We booked the NorthStar Capsule the night before. You need to spend an additional $20 each to access the 8-minute ride. I thought this was a must-do onboard the ship.

Tip! Book the NightStar ride at sunset for optimal views. I think it’s also worth getting this while the ship is still docked in Singapore on the first night.

I understood that we were supposed to be on the capsule at the same time with another group. But the other duo had arrived late. PJ and I luckily had the capsule to ourselves + the crew member assigned.

Inside the NorthStar on Quantum of the Seas

The view was perfect! We got the sunset. We got an exclusive capsule. We got the view as the ship was making a U-turn so you can see the ship’s wake in the water. Definitely worth the extra $20!

Back downstairs we enjoyed a round of drinks at the accompanying NorthStar bar where we met a Filipino crew mate. He was super friendly (as are all the crew members we encountered on Quantum of the Seas).

View from NorthStar Bar, one of my favourite bars on the ship

PJ and I took a tour of some other areas inside the ship. This included the main street on deck 4 as well as spotting the robotic arms at the Bionic bar on deck 5.

Soon enough it was already dinner time. For dinner on our first full day, we headed to the sit-down “MyDining” on deck 4. Again, Filipino staff members would actually serve you an extra plate.

We didn’t make any pre-bookings for entertainment that night. Instead we wanted to rest in our stateroom. I watched Black Panther which I had downloaded onto my device through the Disney+ app.

Also, our two other companions made a new friend.

The state rooms have assigned crew staff who look after your stay there. You can give additional gratuity to them towards the end of the trip.

My favourite thing about this day was waking up to that view of the open ocean. I think that’s the “money shot” or the “this is what I paid for” moment. It wasn’t about the numerous amenities and food on the ship. It was the feeling of escape. The pandemic has confined many of us to our homes and local communities. There is a big world out there that we’re unable to enjoy in the way that we did before the pandemic. A glimpse of the open sea meant everything. I’ll book a similar cruise again if I can experience it over and over.

More in part 3. 🙂

5 things I want for Christmas

One week until Christmas! In past years, I’d be buying gifts and putting them underneath the Christmas tree. This year is different. I wanted to forego the effort of entering crowded shopping malls during a pandemic. I’ve kept the holiday season as simple as possible (perhaps the simplest in years).

How? I didn’t buy much for anyone or even for myself. Apart from the traditional exchange gift here at home (four items) and the gifts I helped pay for with my brother… this year is quiet. It’s not that I lost the Christmas cheer. I’m grateful and I enjoy watching videos of Christmas shopping at Harrods. But really… I can’t afford any of that today.

I can talk about a wish list though. Here are the top 5 things I want for Christmas:

  • Macbook Pro 16″ – the latest one and with better specs – to replace my current 2013 edition laptop
  • Apple Watch strap – neutral color – an alternative to my rainbow strap
  • Wireless charger for the iPhone 12 – it’s fun, that way
  • $$$ for new clothes – we’ll be back in the office more in 2022
  • A staycation – preferably the Ritz Carlton or somewhere lush – and to switch off, a digital detox

What do you want for Christmas?

Quantum of the Seas Pt 1. – The First Night

The only cruise I’ve experienced was something called the Loboc River Cruise in Bohol. It would last only an hour. It was a chill cruise: a bamboo raft on a river.

As you already know, cruise lines are adapting to this pandemic by creating these “cruise to nowhere” packages. They sail out of port and then return to the same port after a few days. My flatmates and I wanted to experience Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas which is currently assigned to Singapore this year.

What we signed up for? A three-night ‘cruise to nowhere’ out of Singapore, in a junior stateroom with balcony.

Getting the PCR test

We sailed in mid-October this year. Prevailing restrictions at the time meant that we needed to get a negative test result from a PCR test first. This needed to be done within 48 hours of departure.

We registered for our PCR tests to be done (for free, included in the cruise package) with Fullerton Health at Raffles City. The entire process took less than five minutes when we arrived. I think they’ve removed the PCR test for cruises after October. It might just be a pre-boarding antigen rapid test (ART). We got the results via email within 24 hours.

Boarding for the cruise at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre

The departure time of Quantum of the Seas was 8:00 PM. Our assigned slot to begin the boarding procedures was at 4:30 PM. We arrived by taxi an hour early to see if we could get in earlier. It was useless since we were directed into the 4:30pm queue.

Tip! If you have bulky luggage, you can drop it off at the luggage counter and they will bring it straight to your stateroom.

Apart from getting a negative PCR test result within 48 hours of boarding the cruise, we also needed to complete an additional antigen rapid test (ART) prior to boarding on the day itself. We were led into a testing area with a view of the ship.

This entire process took about an hour. The testing area was organised and there were plenty of testing booths. They can test up to ten at a time I think? They also give out some water. The signages had the instructions and ushers were around to assist passengers.

This was also my first time inside the Marina Bay Cruise Centre. It looked exactly the way it would like in a pandemic… empty. The terminal hall is massive. It reminds me of Changi Airport. I imagine how lively it would be during peak travel season.

After clearing immigration to exit Singapore, it was time to board the ship. Finally!

You could imagine how excited I was to finally set foot outside of Singapore for the first time. Although the ship will follow Singapore’s time and regulations (like groups of max two people), it finally felt like a holiday of sorts. I’m holding my passport, my “hand carry” backpack, and I’m being greeting by many friendly faces of Royal Caribbean. Many of which are Filipino too!

As soon as we got onboard, the first thing we needed to do was complete a briefing by the crew. We headed to our assigned briefing station and it only took two minutes to be informed about some basic information about our trip and our on-boarding process.

So cool to be on a cruise ship! I noticed people were starting to stream into the ship as well. I wanted to check out the room so we headed upstairs to the ninth level.

Getting our junior stateroom with balcony

Finally, our room! We didn’t bid for any upgrades. I’m really happy with it! I think this is one of the standard rooms (with balcony). While stepping into it, I couldn’t help but think about the SMDC one-bedroom flat I recently invested in. *Cries in Filipino* It’s alright. Cute!

No really, the room was absolutely fine. I was already excited to go out and explore the ship while it was still docked in Singapore. The bathroom was small but functional and very clean. We were also provided with a modest pandemic hygiene kit in the form of two masks and the cutest Purell sachets.

Wasting no time, we headed out to grab some of the free pizza at Sorrento’s. Yes, free pizza! You can pop by a place called Sorrento’s on deck 4 and be served as much pizza as you can safely consume. It’s also connected to Cafe Promenade which serves coffee, tea, and light snacks.

Here’s a view of deck 4:

I think the happiest feeling was having that unli-pizza just available for you. The pizza wasn’t even lousy. It’s a New York-style pizza, with thin crust, just how I like it. They also serve some sides like salad and cheese. PJ was happy with his pizzas and even took a second plate.

We could either go back to the room and relax after what felt like a day of packing our luggage, queueing, and getting tested. Or we can go up to the roof deck to enjoy the sunset with a city view.

Which would you pick?

Mine was the roof deck at sunset:

We also walked around to see what else they had like the NorthStar observation capsule, jogging paths, and swimming pools.

I loved the view and the ambiance that we ended up staying until after the sun had set. We found ourselves at NorthStar Bar where we ordered some drinks and took in the view.

I read that one of the best things to do onboard the first day is to start booking your activities using the Royal Caribbean app. We started making reservations for live shows. But I liked “doing nothing” actually. I loved being on the roof deck and looking out at the views.

The first meal of our voyage would be the dinner on the first night. All meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) are included in our cruise package. For the first day, it would only the dinner service.

You can choose to have dinner at several of the complimentary locations across the ship. For our first night, we ended up at MyTime dining which is the main dining hall. We were led to an alternate seating area since the main area was full already.

Here’s the view from the deck 3 dining area:

It was more formal in this area so good thing we were wearing pants. I also opted to wear long sleeves here. For a less formal meal, passengers can head over to WindJammer on one of the higher floors. They serve buffet style meals there.

At the MyTime dining area, they provide a menu and you can choose options for your course.

It didn’t help that the staff was Filipino. When they learned we were Filipino, they made recommendations for us to try other menu items. They also shared what their favorites were. This included sampling two types of desserts:

After dinner, we headed over to the Royal Theatre at the aft (back) of the ship on deck 4 to catch the Sequins and Feathers show. The colourful show was opened by the cruise director. The venue requires pre-booking and the seating was arranged with social distancing in mind.

Before heading back to the room, we ran into our two other flatmates who suggested we check out a live band performing at the Music Hall. This was a great way to cap our first night.

The band that was playing comprised of Filipino singers and musicians. They performed plenty of pop hits and I really liked their version of Bruno Mars “Leave The Door Open”.

Guess what we did before going to bed?

Grab more pizza from Sorrento’s and take them back to the room!

Stay tuned for my post about the next day! 😀

Doing the KL Standard Chartered Marathon 10km Virtual Run from Singapore

Last weekend I took part in a 10km virtual run as part of Kuala Lumpur Standard Chartered Marathon 2021. I haven’t been able to run much in recent months. Joining the virtual run helped push me to go outside and start running again.

The original virtual route I planned was from East Coast Park to Gardens by the Bay. But due to the monsoon weather and thunderstorms as of late, I changed the route to something local. It was a simple Pasir Ris to Punggol via Lorong Halus Bridge. I hadn’t done this route before and I’ve always wanted to reach Punggol from Pasir Ris by foot. These are two different towns in the eastern part of Singapore.

Everything was fine until the 7km mark when it started to drizzle a bit while I was returning from Punggol. A lightning warning was in place and I had to pause Strava while taking shelter at the Lorong Halus Wetlands. When I noticed some cyclists continuing towards Pasir Ris (which at my pace during the time would’ve been a 10-15 minute run), I thought I could make it to the other side of the park connector. Mind you, this park connector is beautiful but also there weren’t too many buildings to seek shelter incase of more lightning.

Halfway to Pasir Ris and I spotted a lightning bolt which I later researched was less than a kilometre from where I was running. While I think the risk was low, it was still there. I sought shelter at a nearby fish farm along the route and eventually made the decision to call for a Grab taxi so I can get home safely.

I was pretty much rattled by that point. I paused my Strava and would resume my run in the evening. It makes more sense to priortise your safety.

PJ presented me with the medal that I ordered together with the official race t-shirt I was wearing. This is my first completed race during this pandemic and my 2nd time to join the KL edition of the Standard Chartered Marathon. Registration for the virtual race is free. You can pay for the t-shirt and medal.

I’m thinking about joining the Singapore edition virtual run. I’ll attempt the same route during safer weather.

Space.

Since I started paying for a future micro-apartment (that’s what I’m calling it now – I might change it again later), I’ve doubled down on watching home renovation videos. I’m particularly obsessed with these videos by ‘Never Too Small’ which features tiny living spaces that are maximised for use.

I think most of them are almost too good to be true. Okay, they’re REAL. But I bet in practical usage they don’t look as pretty as shown. And they have to be very expensive. Small spaces require customisation. I love that idea for my future micro-apartment but… yeah, I’d need to save.

I love watching these videos. They are therapeutic. Like I don’t have to feel so sorry for myself that out of 15 years in the professional workplace setting and I’m settling for a 25 sqm studio. That’s tiny. The language I use when I try to prop myself up? “My first apartment” — first, of… well… many (I dream).

***

The past year has been a wrestling match between optimism and pessimism. I don’t feel productive. But objectively, this is THE MOST PRODUCTIVE YEAR and I’m not being sarcastic. It really has been THE MOST PRODUCTIVE YEAR. Studying a new language, starting payments for a micro-apartment, registering to vote in the Philippine elections, doing my best naman at work (I’ve had so met many journalists so far)… PJ and I are pretty steady. He still treats me like he just met me three weeks ago.

Sobrang internal na lang yung struggle. I can’t pinpoint it to imposter syndrome. I can be better off with more $$$$ but I’m able to live comfortably naman right now. My family is doing fine as far as what’s being shared with me. What’s the cause for my dip lately? I’m beginning to think it’s hormones or the stress of getting older (hello, 37, in a few months). I’m trying naman every day and I give myself credit for that. I also choose to live. That’s a consistent decision naman coming from those darkest days of December 2017. Four years na rin has passed. That’s the amount of time most people need to complete a bachelor’s degree. What degree did I get? Survival.

A conversation came up recently with someone. It felt like she held a mirror up to my face and showed me a pretty image of myself that was based on peoples’ impressions of me from back then. Give or take, she probably knows only 2% of me since that was our first conversation. But that was her impression of me which was also based on this image I’ve projected back then. That I’m some ‘accomplisher’.

What I was seeing in my reflection are the memories, thoughts, struggles, traumas, times I cried into my pillow or shark stuffed toy, secrets, anxieties, and so on… mostly hidden from view. And lately I like to keep quiet because I don’t want to stir things up, create drama, or post something that can be taken out of context. There’s also a pandemic running for almost two years… and I don’t want to dampen someone else’s day. Looking into this mirror, I feel like a clown.

What I can say is that the conversation was fun, anyway. She is a bubbly person and maybe that’s what I miss. Conversations with real people. Not through Zoom or FaceTime. Not in tiny screens. But conversations with real, actual people. Maybe I’m so full of myself since I’m working from home, eating every meal at home, getting my entertainment while home, playing games at home, exercising at home… everything from home. I miss conversations with people… hearing their stories instead of drowning in my own.

BTW I’ve also taken steps to stop consuming alcohol. I’m committing to it.

Dami ko sinabi today. But there you have it. Letting it out.