I just finished putting small cups of cinnamon sticks on my bookshelves. I spotted a silverfish on one of my books the other day – nasty insects that love to chew on bookbinding glue and paper – and was just quick enough to squish it. Google said silverfish hate the scent of cedar and cinnamon. But to be sure, I’ve ordered a bottle of silverfish poison powder on Lazada too. It won’t arrive until next year, which starts tomorrow.
I fully expected to spend most of December exploring our new neighbourhood. We moved here recently to be closer to my kid’s primary school (so much has happened this year! I’ll have a first grader! aaahh!). It’s quieter here than where we used to live, next to Singapore’s largest mall, with the nearest public library and an NTUC FairPrice mere minutes away. Here in our new place, we have to ride a bus or MRT to the nearest shopping centre. But now we’re also a stop away from a proper wet market, a short walk away from small cafés/shops claiming to bake “artisanal” bread (whatever that is), and best of all, I can see East Coast Park in the distance from our window. Which isn’t too bad.
But what do you know, Singapore recategorised the Philippines into the group of countries with slightly more relaxed Covid-19 restrictions, and we entertained the possibility of maybe, just maybe, flying home for the first time in nearly two years.
When we bought our flight tickets, the quarantine period in the Philippines was just 3 days, and we heard stories of people being released on the 4th day, after their PCR test results were promptly issued.
Of course, as you all know, Omicron hit.
By the time we landed in the Philippines, the quarantine period had lengthened to 5 days (vs. the original 3 days). We also ended up being released on the 7th day because the Philippine Bureau of Quarantine was somehow blindsided by the huge volume of OFWs who wanted to come home for Christmas (hands up, who else was surprised?).
Short story long, we have now spent longer in home/hotel quarantine than we spent with our own families (time split between his and mine).
Would we still fly home if we had known? 110% yes.
Wishing you and your families a safe, healthy, and happy 2022.
Think critically dear readers (especially so next year),
Happy (Lunar) New Year everyone! At least I’m in time to greet everyone for that. Enjoy your fried tikoy and egg or your virtual yusheng, however you celebrate. 新年快乐！
A lot has happened the past two months which I’ll write about at length once I get over this crunch period at work. Three things I’m most ecstatic about:
Last December, I finally learned how to ride a bicycle. (It only took me thirty-*bleep* years and one minor tumble! There’s hope, people.)
Hub and I started to take our health more seriously — and discovered something new in the process.
And finally, my little family recently received our permanent residency approval here in Singapore. Very grateful for it — and it also means quite a bit of planning for when our kid moves on to “big school.”
Another throwback, this time written when I was pregnant with our kid. He just attended his first “by-himself” play date today and I’m feeling a little nostalgic.
I must say I never really knew about “babymoons” until a work colleague asked me about it. She’s Singaporean but had spent most of her life in Melbourne and therefore knows all about funky drinks I’ve never heard of like Lemon, Lime & Bitters, calls sunglasses “sunnies” and has friends who go on babymoons.
At that time, our kid also liked to make his presence felt — often in the mornings or in the evenings when I’m about to sleep — by rolling around, kicking (or punching?) me in the bladder region, or in a few instances, hiccupping (at least that’s what I think is happening; those times he moves in a small, steady dum-dum dum rhythm).
There were times during my pregnancy that I couldn’t believe I was carrying a little person around inside me (belly size notwithstanding). Funny enough, the Hub didn’t feel like a dad yet either, though he had felt our kid kick a few times. I guess we both need to see, smell, and hold him for reality to truly sink in.
But for now, there’s the babymoon.
We stayed in two different hotels: the first near to the Hub’s dive spots, then the remainder of our stay in Nusa Dua. The beach atmosphere called for the frequent consumption of lots of smoothies with summery, tropical names like Bali Sunrise and Cucumber Cooler, fresh young coconut juice and grilled meat/seafood. Needless to say, the recommended “300 extra calories a day” rule was not followed that week.
A highlight of our babymoon was a Legong Dance show at the Ayodya’s Balinese Theatre. It included an Indonesian dinner buffet. We were treated to four Balinese dances: the Panyembrana, a welcome dance; the Tarunajaya, a dance meant to show an adolescent and “his emotional turbulence”; the LegongKraton dance, which told the story of the King of Lasem going to war for a maiden, but unfortunately dying in the end (as foretold by a bird of evil omens); and the Oleg Tambulilingan dance, a love story between bumblebees.
The dancers were young girls, even those playing male roles. They wore vividly coloured costumes and heavily lined eyes, which highlighted their eye movements and exaggerated facial expressions. It was lovely to watch them on stage. At the end of their performance each of the dancers tried to get an audience member to come up and dance with them. A little boy volunteered to go. As soon as he stepped onstage, he shimmied and shook for all he was worth; he twirled his hands and looked sharply left and right trying to copy the dancers’ eyes. And he was dead serious about it. The audience laughed and a few Chinese tourists snapped photos.
I wondered about the little boy forming in my belly and whether he would be an enthusiastic dancer too.
I inadvertently skipped a Sunday. Forgive me. It’s December and we’re almost at the end of the tunnel that is 2020. How are you holding up?
Our hotel in Montreux looked like it popped straight out of a Wes Anderson set.
I loved the hotel’s mango ice cream-colored carpets, its rooms equipped with inner and outer doors, and the thick wooden side table which looked like it used to house a retro radio with knobs and dials (since removed, leaving the table with unexplained holes). My suspicions were confirmed when I leafed through the hotel flyer and discovered it was built in the 1870s.
On the plus side, the hotel was conveniently located next to Lake Geneva, a short walk from the train station and a longer (but still easy) walk to Chillon Castle. The castle is actually a medieval château made famous by Lord Byron in his poem ‘The Prisoner of Chillon,’ which he wrote after a visit to the castle back when it was still used as an actual prison.
According to the castle guide, Byron single-handedly kick-started tourism to the castle, which is now one of the most visited historical monuments in Switzerland. A true turista, Lord Byron also graffiti-ed his name on one of the columns in the castle dungeons. Unlike normal-person graffiti though, his is carefully preserved.
The walk back to the hotel from Chillon Castle is dotted with these wire figures performing random sports activities. Here’s one pole dancing.
Our hotel was also located next to the town promenade where a statue of Freddie Mercury stood. From the plaque at the base, I found out that 1) Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on the East African island of Zanzibar (!), 2) he had strong links to the town and acquired a lakeside studio here in 1978, and 3) Montreux was where he did his final work. I savoured these new pieces of trivia and envied Freddie his daily view.
We had lunch with old friends whom we hadn’t caught up properly with during the wedding – walnut pesto, sticky four-cheese pizza, and clams which were surprisingly good (and way better than what the Hub and I had in Nice). Afterward, we had gelato outdoors along the lake. I can’t remember why but the conversation turned to babies. E said she was sure she didn’t want any, she couldn’t stand the fussiness. A said she was undecided. Both had urgent questions for me, the sole mother in the group at that time.
Did I eat fish during pregnancy? Yes, but I had to cut out sushi (which A found acceptable) and alcohol (this, she protested). Could you feed babies water? I replied no.
I shared with A that I didn’t really like being pregnant (“You’re not helping!” said E, who wished for A to get started on the baby-making ASAP). I felt I had to explain so I started, “Don’t get me wrong…” “Hay naku, when someone starts with ‘don’t get me wrong’ that’s where I get concerned,” E said. I had to laugh.
I love the end result, of course. But admitting that one dislikes the process of getting there, the bloat and the bulge and the heaviness, the way your body stretches to accommodate a tiny human (but does not stretch politely back when the human is out, how rude) – that’s an unpopular opinion, it seems. What with the ‘glow’ all pregnant women are supposed to experience (which I call BS on). Anyway, every time I talk about this I always tend to over-explain.
After our lunch the Hub and I hopped on the GoldenPass Panoramicto Zweisimmen, which after two more train changes would eventually see us in the Swiss Alps, where we planned to spend a few days. The panoramic express was truly worth it – rolling hills, chalets perched alongside said hills, snow-capped mountains, flowing canals, and cows standing on the slopes (how do they do that?!). The scenery was so achingly beautiful that at one point the Hub turned to me and said, “Ganito ba buong Switzerland?” in disbelief. I completely agree – the Swiss lucked out.
The train ride was around five hours long. We passed the time reading, soaking in the Sound-of-Music like fields zipping past, and having intelligent conversations like this (which I faithfully jotted down in my journal):
Hub: “Gaano kaya kataas yung clearing na yun?”
H: “Eh yung isang mountain na yun papunta sa isa?”
M: “Mas mataas.”
H: “Eh yung paakyat dun sa may ice?”
M: “Super taas.”
I also people-watched a bit. Next to us sat a trio of women, one a platinum blonde woman in her 30s, one with black hair streaked with grey, and the third an older, smaller woman with thick, all-white curls (I will call her Little Old Lola a.k.a. LOL). LOL told the most stories — her voice full of energy and loud enough for me to hear (and listen to, had I understood French). All three ladies nursed a plastic glass of wine. LOL finished hers well before they got off at their stop.
I could get used to this. Travelling on trains subsisting on nothing but Vittel water and small croissants for weeks. When I’m as old as LOL, hopefully.
Travel time from Singapore to Panama City takes nearly 1.5 days, one-way, or 3 days in total. This includes flights and various airport layovers. It was, and still is, the farthest I’ve ever flown.
But there I was, sipping a piña colada at the CasaCasco rooftop terrace in the middle of Casco Viejo, Panama City’s old quarter. I was chatting with our site engineer from Barbados and our site veteran electrician from the Netherlands about Jollibee. It felt a little surreal. Why was I here?
The why was easy to answer. I was in Panama for work. I visited a site along the famous Panama Canal and wrapped up what I had to do in a few days. On the way to and from the site I was surprised to see vehicles in Panama had no front licence plates. Our site engineer confirmed it wasn’t required, which he said could be annoying if you were waiting for an Uber and had to let every car pass by first before you could check out its plate.
Considering I had come such a long way, I decided to book a guided day tour on TripAdvisor to see the canal’s water locks and a few other sights. When the tour van arrived, it ended up being just me and an African American family of three from New York – parents and a surly teenager – which suited me just fine as I could chill with my music at the back, by myself.
The parents asked me where I was from and I told them I traveled from Singapore but am from the Philippines, which surprised them. The mother in particular seemed keen to hear about where else I’d been and kept trying to make small talk. Maybe she was just being polite.
Panama City uses US dollars so it’s a popular place to holiday for Americans. Miguel, our tour guide / driver told us if you drive straight on the Pan-American Highway, we’d reach Costa Rica, then Mexico, then the US. We could even drive all the way to Canada and it would only take us two weeks. It was the first time I ever heard of this road.
Our first stop was the Panama Canal’s Miraflores Locks. It sounds cliché but seeing the canal up close really emphasised how it truly was a marvel of human creativity and engineering. It opened in 1914 and continues to operate in the present-day virtually unchanged.
Miguel said, think of it as the Pacific on your right shoulder, the Atlantic on your left. The locks elevate up to 1,200-ft length ships to head-level. (Probably not to scale.) No pumps are used, and ships save up to twenty days of travel around Cape Horn. The two magic ingredients? Gravity and more importantly, water.
We made a pit stop near the Bridge of the Americas where there was a small park dedicated to the Chinese community in Panama. They had a long history here on the other side of the world and were key to building Panama’s railroads and bridges over 150 years ago. (Even here, I was reminded of my language classes. 惊喜连连!) Miguel seemed very amused by the phonebooth in the park and made each of us take a photo inside it.
Miguel drove us to Amador Causeway which was an artificial road built by the American military to protect the canal entrances and exits at both ends. At the end of the causeway was an outlet store where I bought dark chocolates with chili and sea salt and briefly considered purchase of a Panama hat as pasalubong for the Hub.
We then made our way back at Casco Viejo, where I had been the evening before, to look for a place to eat. There were many teenagers on the square – it was graduation day that day – and there were also a number of churches which reminded me of Intramuros.
We ended up at Central Hotel (Miguel’s recommendation) ordering what I thought was a pretty standard carbonara pasta. Apparently, it wasn’t basic enough – the teenager was only picking at his plate and I overheard his mother saying “How are we going to travel if you don’t start eating different” which for some reason struck me as funny.
Traveling alone didn’t bother me as much as having to transit through a US airport. It was my first time to do so. This was a great source of anxiety for me, mainly because of horror stories from family and friends. Their overarching message seemed to be: travel through the US is tough when you’re brown-skinned.
Thankfully, my trip was mostly uneventful except for my transit through Houston to Panama City. The guy at immigration was all right, he asked me if I travelled a lot, I said yes and he stamped my passport and waved me on. Customs was slightly scarier – they stopped me for a bag check which left me waiting nearly 40 minutes near a special luggage belt.
There was very little time on the layover and I felt stressed because it was ten minutes to boarding and my bag had not appeared on the belt. (I needed to check out and in again, because I had to pass through immigration.) My luggage had been tagged and was supposed to be one of the first to appear. I mentioned this to the airport staff who quipped “Oh, they don’t care about that downstairs.” Amazing service, US airports. (In contrast to Singapore, where you can find your bag on the belt as soon as you clear immigration, or Tokyo, which even positions your bag a certain way on the belt so it’s easier for you to grab and go.)
Anyway after all that, I was eventually told they’d just let me go because the airline had already forwarded my bag on to my next flight.
Still, the presence of so many Filipinos in the SFO Airport shops was comforting.
While at the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy with the Hub, I thought two thoughts:
Random Thought #1.
Where did I put away my 4th year high school Physics book? Paul Hewitt was the reason why Physics was my favourite science subject then. I remember reading up to Einstein’s theory of relativity, past the required reading list, just because I was so caught up with Mr. Hewitt’s writing + his Hewitt Drew-It cartoons. (Ah, the nerdy days of yore.) I hoped my mom hadn’t given the book away. Random connection to Pisa: I vaguely recalled one of his cartoons showing Galileo throwing balls from the tower to demonstrate Newton’s Laws of Motion.
Random Thought #2.
Why is the Leaning Tower of Pisa so squeaky-clean white? Considering its age, I expected it to be a little dirtier. Was there perhaps some mould-repelling characteristic of Italian marble which I didn’t know about?
A Google search that night revealed that the tower’s fresh-as-nearly-nine-centuries-old look was the result of eight years of careful restoration, finished in 2010.
Do not be deceived into thinking the Leaning Tower is an easy climb because it appears short. The lean itself threw me off. I felt like I was falling when rounding those corners, as if navigating a marble fun-house.
However of all the buildings at the square, my favorite was the cemetery, or the Camposanto.
It wasn’t as popular as the Duomo or the other buildings so there was hardly anyone about. There’s something peaceful about the early morning light, the scuffed marble on the floor, the stone faces that had long lost their noses, the empty sarcophagi.
Of course I also did my touristy duty and had a token “Look Ma, I’m holding up the Leaning Tower” shot that kind of looked like this:
I also tried to imagine what Mr. Chinese Factory Worker was thinking (because really, all the souvenirs I’ve bought here in Europe have a ‘Made in China’ sticker) when he was making these leaning shot glasses.
We live near a small hill in central Singapore called Mount Faber. One afternoon after fetching our kid from school, we decided to hop on a cable car (not too much of an indulgence, since we have an annual pass) and walk to the lookout on top of the hill.
We recently learned that apart from the famous Merlion in the central business district downtown, there were four other official, Singapore Tourism Board-approved Merlion statues scattered around Singapore, and our neighbourhood hill housed one of them. (There used to be six, but the giant Merlion on Sentosa with Cyclops laser eyes was closed last year.)
The Merlion statue itself is a short ten-minute walk from the cable car stop, at a spot called Faber Point.
You can get there via a shaded path where you can find murals depicting various scenes in Singapore’s history.
The view at Faber Point was stunning – on one side was the sea, the tall cranes at the port, the distinctive shape of the luxurious Reflections at Keppel Bay residential complex, and the orange egg yolk-sun sinking slowly on the horizon.
On the other side were neat rows of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats in the Bukit Purmei estate and a glimpse of the city skyline.
It was quiet when we dropped by, with only a few joggers catching their breath and one enthusiastic teen busy with what I guess was a TikTok video. She danced alone, with her phone camera on a little tripod.
There were many telescopes at various sides of the lookout point for us to get a closer look at the scenic views. Each side had an arrow which indicated both an international and a local destination that – I assume – one would eventually reach by walking straight as the crow flies, through walls and water.
I dug in my archives for this one. I wrote it back when we lived in London. Homesickness hit hard back then.
I’ve been in London for around two years now, but I remember my arrival here clear as day. While I’m in the process of catching up with my backlog of travel posts, I thought it would be good to write about my current home and the very first European city I ever visited.
The Hub (then the Fiancé) picked me up at Heathrow after an hour or so of nervous waiting, because my scheduled ride from the relocation company never showed up. We took a black cab to Citadines Barbican, the serviced apartment where I would stay for my first month. I remember passing by the Big Ben, all lit up in the evening, and thinking to myself it was shorter than I expected.
Since I arrived quite late, most of the nearby stores were already closed. (Another thing to get used to, coming from Makati where the malls close 10pm on weekends!) There was a Tesco Express near the apartment so we went there to stock my tiny fridge for the next few days. My very first purchases were a carton of Tesco chocolate milk, a jug of Cravendale whole milk, Yakult (only because it reminded me of home), a Lindt orange dark chocolate bar, a bottle of Evian, and a box of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Clusters. I also bought a tray of juicy Sweetheart cherries — it was my first time to see fresh cherries that didn’t come in a jar.
The apartment was 10 minutes from the office. I arrived a few days before starting work to allow myself time to settle down and recover from the jetlag.
The Hub walked me to the office so I would know where to go. Afterward, we went for a stroll around the immediate neighbourhood.
It was the perfect introduction to London weather: a grey “summer” day, complete with rain.
I found it fascinating that there were plaques commemorating most anything all over the city. It was like a mini-history lesson wherever I went.
Maybe it’s because I grew up with reading so many British authors–Charles Dickens, Roald Dahl, Jane Austen, etc – I felt like the city was foreign yet familiar.
Since then, whenever I feel stressed from work, I always remind myself how absolutely lucky I am to be working in London, surrounded by so much beauty and history.
I’ve taken thousands of photos, been to many more places since then. There are still some days though, when I remember that first week when the City and I were both new to each other. And I just can’t shake off a strange melancholy.
It’s a historic, joyful day for our friends over in the USA. Deep breath, savour the moment!
In the midst of today’s excitement and the absolutely hilarious, yet fitting end to that man’s presidency in a random landscaping company’s parking lot, I thought I’d keep today’s #SundaySofaSojourns short and sweet (literally).
We did a lot of stuff in Belgium – including a token visit to the popular tourist spot Mannekin-Pis, a statue of a little boy peeing a jet of water into a fountain (why is this famous?) – but I particularly enjoyed the little taste test the Hub and I conducted on one of the things Belgium is best known for. Introducing:
The Great Belgian Chocolate Challenge!
The Contenders: Neuhaus vs. Wittamer vs. Marcolini (It’s like the name of a dorky three-way boxing match.)
The Mechanics: Buy a box of chocolates from each store, eat them, and judge which was the best. Simple enough.
We started “judging” these on the train from Brussels to Bruges. The sweets barely made it.
(1) Neuhaus’ Claim to Fame: Established 1857. Creator of the praline and the ballotin. Mr. Neuhaus created the first filled chocolates ever in 1912 (bless him) and also created a gift-wrap box to protect them from being crushed, i.e. the ballotin.
(2) Wittamer’s Claim to Fame: Creating chocolate-y goodness since 1910. Official supplier to the Court of Belgium. Chocolates fit for the royals!
(3) Pierre Marcolini’s Claim to Fame: The youngest kid of the three, born 1995. Mr. Marcolini was named the World Champion of Pastry.
The Verdict: Neuhaus’ pralines were a winner in my book. The Hub liked the richness of the cocoa flavours in Wittamer’s chocolates. However, both of us loved the variety in Marcolini’s “origin” chocolates – it evoked delicious, exotic locations (even the Earl Grey Tea flavor was *chef’s kiss*).