I’m back home in Singapore

I’m sorry. I had the intention of writing more on my blog during my 35-day workation in the Philippines. But when I was there, I felt like I was always catching my breath. There was nothing complicated about my month-long itinerary. Everything fell into place with accommodations, transfers, work, and family time. But I would find myself exhausted in the evenings. Preferring to indulge in a few episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 7 or For All Mankind. I also felt full most of the time. Like, I was eating too much. (When the truth is, I would only eat one piece of chicken or about 80% of my meal.)

I’ve been home in Singapore for the past three days and I’m isolating at home. Nobody asked me to isolate at home. No policy exists that tells me to isolate at home. The country is “back to normal” even when the world is still in a pandemic. I’m trying to unpack why I have a preference to stay home.

Maybe because I’m tired.

Maybe because I don’t want to spend money.

Maybe because we’re moving houses in a few weeks and I just want to crawl back to this simple and quiet life here in Pasir Ris. Because it’s going to change in a few weeks.

How was my trip to the Philippines? I would say it’s a success. I did spend time with my family and dedicated a whole week with them in La Union. We stayed at a villa in San Juan and it was perfect. Our own quiet space away from crowds. It wasn’t a hotel so it meant my family had the luxury of privacy with exception to the pool repair gang which did knock on our doors a few times (the Airbnb hosts apologised). Other than that, it was great to be with family at the beach. We got takeouts, we dined in, we viewed the lot I purchased in neighbouring San Fernando. It was our family reunion, our family outing… the first in over two years.

Outside of that week, I was working remotely in La Union or from Makati. Working from the beach was a treat but it posed some minor challenges such as finding a meeting room when you can hear someone singing Hopelessly Devoted to You on a videoke machine at a bar next door. I suppose it adds to the charm of Urbiztondo beach. It is laid back. I fear it won’t be as laid back in the years to come… as new highways and roads will turn the area into a tourist hotspot. It already is. But I think the place will see big resort names or big hotel chains coming in. There’s “space”.

Working from Makati was another experience. Prior to my 5-day work visit to Makati, I hadn’t really been to Poblacion and experienced its many restaurants. I enjoyed it. I got to meet up with an old friend who took me to places like Krapow, Crying Tiger, Onlypans, and a couple of other restaurants. I was busy all of that week… meeting journalists and editors. I was trying to contain my anxiety of meeting people within indoor spaces. Good thing that most of the meet-ups were outdoors. I got to go to Quezon City and BGC as well.

The worst part of the trip was the airport experience going back (NAIA Terminal 3). The immigration hall was crowded, no social distancing, and no fans to circulate air. I tweeted the NAIA social media account and they’re looking into it. LOL. As if I’m expecting some type of real action. I guess the kudos is on the folks managing NAIA’s social media (for being responsive). But what can they do? They can only escalate it… it’s up to the management to implement and safeguard their staff and the public at our international airport during a pandemic. Bahala sila.

***

I’m fine now that I’m back home in Singapore. I use that line “back home” with intention. Singapore is my home of ten years. I’ve no plans to change it even after I got to visit the Philippines. There were a few learnings I had while travelling for a month.

I didn’t want to wait until I had the photos ready until I could write on my blog. So I just went in and wrote it anyway.

Leaving La Union… for now

I can’t believe 18 days has passed! This is the longest pandemic “travel” I’ve ever had. I’ve stayed at three different accommodations. I’ve eaten or gotten takeout from dozens of restaurants. I’ve visited the beaches multiple times. I took a crash course on surfing five minutes after logging out of Slack. I did remote work and actually think my productivity went up (it helps to work side-by-side with a friend who is also working remotely).

I guess I accomplished what I set out to do which is to experience La Union for myself. After recently purchasing a small lot in a neighbouring town, I thought I wanted to create some memories that I can pin to this location. In the past three weeks I’ve met locals at coffee shops, restaurants, and co-working spaces. I’ve gotten a sense of how laid back San Juan really is. I see it’s potential for development (unfortunately, commercialism) — it feels like it could be a Boracay in the making with the amount of large spaces that look ripe for big hotels and resorts. I don’t wish these on San Juan. I wish for it to be as it is right now… a quaint surf town where you can hear karaoke, the buzz of tricycles, and maybe occasionally the passing buses going to Manila or Laoag in either direction.

I love how it is right now and I’m glad I got to experience it at this stage of the pandemic.

I’ve loads of photos and videos taken on this trip and hope to share them here very soon. ❤

A sunset in Elyu + Photos from the past week in San Juan, La Union

After seven days in San Juan, I finally saw what a sunset looks like from these shores. We’ve had clouds and scattered showers in La Union all week. Sometimes we’d get good sunshine but by late afternoon, clouds would roll in and block the view. It was also very cloudy today. But across the sea you can spot a small break in the clouds. We waited for the sun to take a peek.

Around 6:30 PM on an early July evening, the sun did take a peek. I captured the sunset in the photo below:

It really is spectacular. This was coupled by beautiful, big waves that hit the shores. I was with my friends T&M this time. We were at a quieter side of the lengthy beach in San Juan. Some people were playing beach volleyball in the distance. There were pockets of people scattered across the full stretch of the beach. But really, you could only see as far. The beach didn’t look like it had an end on either side. There’s also this fog or mist the further out you looked. It reminded me of what someone might see from the beaches in California. T disagreed. She described it as Silent Hill. 😛

I was thinking how beautiful is this sunset. Maybe this was something I’d like to have on the day I get married. It needs to be something like this. A gentle sea breeze, a glorious sunset, the intimate company of friends, and the heartfelt person I’ll share my life with. I’m 37 in a few days. I’m not sure how close or how far I am to having that kind of moment. I’m not in a rush though. But this sunset gave a glimpse.

***

Photos from the past week in Elyu

Before my friends T&M joined today, I’ve already spent a full week in Elyu by myself. I’ve worked remotely here in Elyu this past week.

I lived on a hillside Airbnb called Alon & Sandy, just steps (or stairs) away from Great Northwest. The past days were working from either a co-working space called “The Attic” or working from the comfort of my Airbnb. I spent 90% of all the meals the past week at Great Northwest. There’s a particular barbecue place that I like (next to Sabong Fried Chicken). I’ll write more about these in a full-on review of everything I got to try on this trip.

I thought I’d be able to get some time to read a book, catch up on blogging, or editing some videos… but it didn’t happen! Kulang pa ang oras! I did manage to watch two of the eleven Marilyn Monroe classics I purchased and downloaded on my laptop prior to coming to Elyu namely “All About Eve” and “Don’t Bother to Knock”.

Of course there’s work! I am working. I did welcome our new teammate last Friday. I’ve also booked some in-person journalist meetings in two weeks. I like working from the co-working space and from my Airbnb.

***

I thought I’d be able to write more but this will do for now. ❤

Going back to the sunset, isn’t it beautiful?

I’ve forgotten that I can be independent

I don’t have complaints living with my boyfriend 24/7 since this pandemic began. I think what’s made our relationship last is patience. We rarely argue. We’re comfortable. We enjoy each other’s company.

When I was in Hanoi last month, I thought I’d forgotten how it was like to venture off to a new city and explore it on my own. I don’t need companions (though I did meet up with a friend in Hanoi, I’m confident I would’ve been able to do that same trip by myself). I just need a few things to be excited about and a safe place to stay… and I’m good. It’s probably more of an adjustment phase. Like what’s happening with me right now here in La Union.

When I got here on Sunday I felt the quiet shock of coming from city life… to suddenly quaint surf town. I wasn’t ready for the Airbnb. I probably romanticised it and thought of my travels to other Southeast Asian cities. But this Airbnb at Urbiztondo, though quiet and beautiful on a hill overlooking the beach community… it’s lacking something. Maybe the warmth of the actual owners instead of the caretakers. Maybe because of the pandemic, there’s no “pandesal and simple breakfast” to be had at the common area. That would normally entail some type of ritual of running into other backpackers, travellers, surfers even… that’s gone. And, lastly, it’s wet. The monsoon season and a low pressure area greeting me when I got here. I’m feeling an extra layer of solitude. I anticipated it but it hit hard today.

But in these moments I’m learning to take a step back and look at myself in the tiny bathroom mirror. Hey, George. You’re here by yourself. And you’re not scared. You’ve planned this trip for months. You know what you’re doing. You’ll be fine. Stop worrying. This is a rare time for you to have to yourself – because in Singapore, you’re physically committed to showing up to your partner, to your workplace, to your housemates, to society… but here, it’s just you and the beach, babe.

***

Flashback

It was in 2000. I was a high school student and I remember I couldn’t go home after school because I was afraid to ride public jeeps and buses. I ended up waiting for my classmates to wrap up their Tamiya cars, Pokemon cards… whatever after school hobby… so I could commute with someone by my side. I wasn’t conditioned at the time to be independent. I was pampered, yes. But imagine that! What a waste of time to have to sit there through Pokemon cards and teenage obsession with toy racing cars… when I could’ve taken the jeep or baby bus home… or to a mall, or I don’t know… SOMEWHERE… anywhere, which I can utilise for myself.

If I could change something about myself 22 years ago, it would be to encourage myself to become independent at the earliest possible instance. The other thing to change would be to “stop worrying about what others think of you” and to really just carve your own path. Be different! It’s okay. Really, it’s okay.

Video

Reuniting with my family in the Philippines

I’m here in Manila! Cavite to be exact! I’m visiting again after two and a half years away due to the pandemic. I documented my first two days in a traditional video blog episode below.

Feels great to be back in the Philippines. I hope I can get to doing the ten things I wrote about earlier on.

Suggestions welcome! If there’s a new museum, cafe, restaurant that you’d recommend I go see. 🙂

Flying SQ916 Singapore to Manila

Finally, after two years… I’m travelling to the Philippines! I mentioned in an earlier post the ten things I want to do during this trip. Hopefully I can do most of them.

The terminal assignments are still “different” and my flight to Manila on SQ is from Terminal 3 (normally it’s T1 or T2 I think). I remember that T3 had the SQ flights that are long-haul. Anyway, after having a quick lunch with PJ at Central Thai (public side of T3), I used the automated immigration gates to get to the airside. First thing that I spotted was this Louis Vuitton display. Lavish and… aquatic!

I only had ten minutes to spare before boarding. I didn’t get to look around much of T3. But happy to see that it was filled with passengers again. The stores were open and the food stalls too. I don’t think the Hard Rock Cafe re-opened. My flight was assigned to Gate A3 which is one of the gates that is combined with all the other ones (A1, A2, A3, A4, etc.).

Like in Hanoi airport two weeks ago, I was comfortable to sit further away from the crowds. Sometimes I don’t even think it’s about the pandemic anymore. I enjoy the peace and quiet while seated away from where everyone else is. Except that there was no time to read a few chapters of my book. Boarding commenced shortly after I arrived.

I normally fly Philippine Airlines on this route (Singapore to Manila, and return). But since this was my first trip to the Philippines in over two years, I fancied myself a seat on one of the world’s best airlines. I dunno, there’s something magical about seeing the Singapore Girl – and I don’t mean that in an sexist way obviously… but as a brand, an experience you trust… Singapore Airlines is a great way to fly.

I’m coming from a vantage point of appreciation. I enjoy flying on SQ.

SQ916 leaves Singapore at 1:30pm. Today, on a Sunday, it uses an Airbus A350 with a 3-3-3 seating configuration in economy. There’s a business class (about SGD 2,000++, is that even worth it for a 3.5 hour flight). Then there’s economy and I got my seat for less than SGD 500.00 this season. It’s typically in the SGD 600-700 range pre-pandemic. By comparison, Philippine Airlines on this route is SGD 350-400 pre-pandemic. I didn’t even check how much it costs this time since I was sure about flying on SQ.

Omg it’s Father’s Day and I almost forgot! I thought there’d be some type of teddy bear (I’m not even a dad! but something I could give to my dad perhaps?). But behind the sign were the headsets for the seats lol.

It was a PACKED flight – or in other words, normal and pre-pandemic already. I did select a seat (aisle as usual) and wanted to be closest to the front as possible so I could get off the plane faster lol. Meal service started about an hour into the flight and the choices were baked fish with potatoes or braised chicken with noodles. I picked out the baked fish (see picture below). Coffee, coke, and ginger ale as well. And guess what… for the first time ever… no alcohol! I skipped the sling, the wine, and the beer this time. I’m now seven months off of alcohol. ❤️

I really like the copy behind Udders’ ice cream:

I used the Singapore Airlines app to pre-select my onboard entertainment. I queued up House of Gucci, Belfast, Spencer, and a few other films. I ended up with House of Gucci (which I suddenly disliked! Lady Gaga was fine though). I was engrossed with Kristen Stewart in Spencer. But the plane landed about halfway through the film.

***

Frankly, there’s no point spending SGD 500-600 on SQ for only a three hour flight to Manila when you can enjoy a decent flight on Philippine Airlines at about half the price. Of course the service couldn’t be compared – as SQ is in the league of airline gods while PAL is still catching up. But PAL is charming in its own way, it’s my preferred airline (except today)… and somehow it feels good to support the flag carrier. I did a review of flying on Philippine Airlines business class in 2019/2020… the last flight I took out of Manila before the pandemic.

Still flying on SQ was fine earlier. The inflight entertainment was loaded with films. I really think SQ is best when you’re flying long haul or flights over six hours. Or if you’re flying to San Francisco or London.

Bonus material: A blog entry from 7 years ago on SQ912

Vietnam: Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy Review (2022)

For someone visiting Hanoi for the first time with the Old Quarter as the center of the itinerary, Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy is a good place to stay at.

The hotel is on a quieter street that’s a five minute walk to the busier streets. It’s walking distance to everything in the Old Quarter you want to look at — including the area where the train passes by.

I booked the Deluxe Room (without window) and it was averaging SGD 30/night which I felt was a steal to stay in a prime location. However, when I got to the hotel, they gave me a room with windows on the top floor. The only gripe was that it was twin beds not a queen. It also came with a welcome note.

The room was clean and the bathroom and shower are separate from each other. The room comes with all the basic necessities of most hotels.

The hotel has a restaurant on the 8th floor but it’s due to reopen only in July 2022 according to the staff I spoke with. There’s also a bar in the basement level called “The Den” but it’s also closed. Hearing that these will open again soon should be good news for the hotel and a sign of Vietnam welcoming tourists again.

Staff were great and very kind. Anne also gave me her number and suggested I reach out to her directly to get the best hotel rates. I noticed that two rooms can be combined to form one larger room so I think this is ideal when I bring the parents to Hanoi sometime in the near future.

Overall, it was a great stay at Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy. This was a no-frills place to stay and did not come with breakfast. But who needs to have breakfast at the hotel when you can just step outside and grab a banh mi at a nearby street. There’s a wonderful coffee shop right next to Trendy called Tranquil Cafe — and there eateries and drinking spots all within five to ten minutes walk.

Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy is at 12 Nguyen Quang Bich Street in Hanoi, Vietnam. I stayed at this hotel in June 2022.

10 things I’m looking forward to doing in the Philippines

I’m visiting the Philippines again after more than two years away. This is the longest I haven’t visited the Philippines. I’m staying for a record 35 days and grateful my company allows me to work remotely. There are a couple of things I’m looking forward to doing. I made a list of ten!

See my family again. I haven’t seen them since Christmas 2019. But I’ve historically had more video chats with my mom in the past two years than at any point previously. I think we’re updated with each other’s lives. It’s the physical presence of enjoying dinner safely together in one room. I’m anxious though as each time I come home, I notice my parents looking physically older each time.

Enjoy bulalo and sisig in Tagaytay. There many glorious provinces in the Philippines and Cavite is… Cavite. Filled with industrial estates and regular roads, it’s not exactly as scenic or easy to traverse compared with other provinces like in the Bicol region or on my favourite island of Bohol. The Cavite-Laguna Expressway looks promising (and I’m convinced it can reshape the orientation of the province for everyday citizens and commuters), but is only a fraction complete. However, there’s trusty Tagaytay. The highlight of the province which earns its keep from views of neighbouring Batangas. My favourite thing to do here is enjoying a hot bowl of bulalo together with a sizzling platter of pork sisig.

Enjoy a rooftop bar in Makati. I don’t think I’ll be comfortable yet to walk inside one of Metro Manila’s crowded shopping centers during this pandemic. Instead I’d opt for a nice rooftop view where I can see the metropolis again after being away for almost three years. There are a few rooftop bars that were recently featured in an article from Nolisoli (Northern Living / Southern Living) which hopefully I can visit together with my friend who’s an editor at that same publication. I’m now seven months without alcohol (and plan to keep it that way). I’d love to try mocktails or order some barbecued snacks.

See the development of SMDC Light 2 Residences. Last year I invested in a unit at SMDC’s Light 2 Residences in Boni, Mandaluyong. I didn’t need to physically view the area since I was already convinced about the location and its proximity to the major business districts in the metropolis. Plus, I passed by Boni en route to Quezon City back when I worked in the Philippines. However, I’d love to visit Light Mall and Light Residences which are next to the construction site. I’ve watched YouTube videos of the development and I’ve followed posts on Skyscraper City so I’m familiar with how it looks like today. But I’d like to see it in person!

Visit the lot in La Union. Last month I filed paperwork to buy a small piece of land in La Union province. A group of friends purchased adjacent lots and helped take videos and photos of the lot to share with me. I still want to see it in person and also meet with the lot owner. This is also why I’ll be spending some time in La Union on my trip.

Spend time at the beach. Half of my trip to the Philippines will be by the beach. I’ve booked a co-working space near a beach and I’ve also booked some locations to stay at during the three weeks I’ve planned for. Without alcohol, I want to try coffee shops and beachfront eateries. I’m bringing at least two books so I can enjoy reading them while there. I rave about Philippine beaches and I want to experience it myself.

Spend my birthday with family time at a villa. The family is joining me in La Union and we booked a villa to stay at for my birthday. I’m not as keen to take the family to crowded restaurants so I’m hoping to make it a creative stay at the villa… with movies, video games, board games… simple bonding by the small pool. I’m looking for a projector we can rent so we can watch movies and truly catch up with each other. The last time we did something similar was when I turned 30 and we spent time island hopping in Coron.

Reunite with some friends. I miss so many of my friends in the Philippines but thankfully we’ve managed to keep in touch online in the past two years. There’s a handful I’d love to make time to meet when I’m in Makati. Plus, I haven’t seen one of my godchildren yet… so it’ll be something I’m looking forward to. Which reminds me… I should be buying a gift already for my inaanak.

Sort out my balikbayan boxes and my Cavite room. I’ve sent 2-3 balikbayan boxes to Cavite in the past two years and I’d need to do some organising of which items to hand-down and which items to keep. My room in Cavite is overdue a renovation and I’ll take this opportunity to study the space and see what I can do to make it better for my parents who actually sleep in it.

Meet with journalists / get sh*t done. Since I’m already in Manila, I’ve asked my company if I can turn my last week in the Philippines into a networking trip. I’ve met numerous journalists in the past two years, and it would be great to meet some in-person over coffee. I wouldn’t mind a newsroom tour as well!

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Other things I’d be curious to see or do include popping by the new SM City Tanza which is opening in a few months. It’s a large shopping mall that’s five minutes away from our family home. I haven’t booked anything yet, but it would be great to cap the trip with a stay at a hotel in BGC or Makati with my family. Since it might be a few months until I get to see them again. I’m thinking Grand Hyatt Manila? Suggestions are welcome!

I’m sure I’ve missed many other things I can do. Send your suggestions!

I finally threw away my 2017 planner

Soooo I’m preparing for my upcoming trip to the Philippines and I’m taking the opportunity to send some old clothes, shoes, and trinkets back home as well.

I’ve created two sections: a balikbayan box (these are the boxes that overseas Filipinos send back to their families in the Philippines… usually filled with chocolates and soap, except mine is filled with hand-me-downs) and my luggage. What goes into the balikbayan box are things that I won’t really need in the immediate. The luggage, obviously, all the things needed for the upcoming epic holiday.

While opening my bulky clamshell Samsonite (the logo fell off years ago), I uncovered some dusty boxes filled with photos from my days working a contract role for a tech company. The box also had pride pens (happy pride!), stickers, and handwritten best wishes from colleagues. As I was sorting which items I’d keep and which items to trash… I found my Passion Planner from 2017. To me, 2017 is aka “the forbidden year”.

I was anxious to open it but I recall that I sealed off an entire section that covered most of those triggering months. The months I’d rather just wipe clean from memory. True enough, as I opened it… about a third of the pages in the diary were sealed using washi tape I picked up at Tokyu Hands. The only thing protecting me from those pages was blue washi tape. The washi tape had dolphins on it.

I did good. I had sealed it from the top and bottom. Even so, my heart started to beat differently… and the anxiety that I’ve learned to deal with, was making itself felt. I had a clear objective to throw away this planner, finally. But I wanted one final look.

The sections that were not sealed included a handwritten note by my friend Rye (who is one of the podcasters behind The Shippers). I read his note… and my bubbling anxiety suddenly turned into some warmth. Here, a friend was writing a silly note to cheer me up.

However, when I checked what was in the inside pocket at the end of the diary planner… I found a printed picture of the guy who made me feel most human… aka the guy I was in love with. There, in his tropical polo tee, aviators, and smirk… with the backdrop of the Ocean Park in Hong Kong. Fuck.

I suddenly remembered that day quite clearly. I remember the umbrella we shared as a storm hit the park. Or walking around with him and looking at the animals in both the aquariums and gift shops. I remember how happy I was to have time with him, away from his colleagues and away from our dragon boat team. Almost like a video game where I’m the main character in an RPG, and he would just follow me around. But that’s exactly it, it was exactly that. He was just there following me around. The Ocean Park, in hindsight, was my idea. I think he was just “supportive”.

I ripped the photo in half. And feeling the heat of the moment, half simply wasn’t enough. I ripped each piece further until the small photo was a small pile that looked like confetti. I sprinkled it into the RedMart box which was designated as my trash.

After taking the snapshot of Rye’s quote, I gave the little planner one last look… and noticed how my handwriting at the time was actually cute and neat. Then finally, something I couldn’t muster to do previously, I put the entire planner in the trash box. There are years in our lives we would like to move on from. And this one, was one of them.

PJ carried a box of old pillows and together we went downstairs to basement 1 to toss the bulky trash into a larger green bin. Back upstairs, I’m washing my hands and moving onto the next thing to clear.

PS: I don’t hate the guy. I just don’t want to be reminded of him.

Hello from Hanoi

Landed at the airport, got picked up by the hotel, and now… taking a GrabBike (motorcycle) to get to a street food tour here in the Old Quarter.

A part of my budget goes into Grab deliveries and taxis in Singapore. So taking the motorcycle equivalent “GrabBike” was a treat. I was so giddy I couldn’t help but take a selfie with the driver!

Two and a half days of Hanoi and I’ll be staying here in the Old Quarter. There are coffee shops, bahn mi, bun cha, and other Vietnamese food I’d love to try.