#TGIF


I got out of the van and looked at my wristwatch. It was 8 pm already. I had a very long week and today was no different. I also barely slept the previous night.

I can see the mall from where I stand. I crossed the street and debated on whether I should still eat dinner and buy some groceries. I was too tired to do both. I decided to just go home.

It was still quite a long walk…12 mins I think.  On my way home, I thought about the things that need to be done for work. There are a lot. I cannot even fathom where to start and I cannot imagine if there is an endpoint.

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Where is Home? 


My brother  arrived in our apartment a few days ago exclaming he is going home over the weekend. I asked him why he is going home again when he just visited a month ago. He replied, “Because I am suffering from homesickness lately.”

I often forget that my brother has only lived in Manila for 3 years. To date, he has lived most of his life in Bicol. On the other hand, I am more of stranger and occasional visitor in our family house, being away since I was 11. That’s almost 17 years.

I tried to recall what it feels to be homesick. Missing your pillow and beds at home? I don’t have those. I don’t even have a room and a cabinet in our house. The local neighborhood? I barely even know who lives in our street now.

Earlier, I had the same thoughts again while looking at the Christmas lights that decorate the trees on the way to my apartment. I said to myself, “It’s almost Christmas again. I can finally have a long vacation at home.”

Home will always be an interesting concept for people who have lived in so many places. What defines it? The physical structure, the people, the memories? As for me, home… is a place where my mom and siblings are, where I can enjoy my favorite dishes, and exist for a while without caring what the world demands from me.

I guess I am homesick after all and I am not even making any sense.

Parallel Existence


You and me, we move in the same space.

The left is yours. 

The right is mine. 

An exact replica of each other. 

You, 9 to 6. I, 9 to 6. 

You look up to  sky to count the hours until sunset. 

I look down to count the hours  until sunrise.

You, wondering how it is to be different. 

I, trying to define what is normal. 

You and me, we move in the same space. 

But never at the same time. 

What Changed?


Your style has gotten classier.

You don’t fret over sales.

You value quality over quantity.

You don’t say yes to every invitation.

You don’t bother to please everybody.

You pause.

You laugh at yourself.

You listen.

You shut up.

You don’t stress over every single thing.

You stand up for yourself.

You choose your friends.

You choose your battles.

You are confident.

You are wiser.

Nothing changed.

You just got older.

Changing Paths


Yesterday after defending a research program for renewal, one of the board members of our office asked, “What is your background?”.

I replied, “I took Chemistry as my undergraduate course, then International Health for my graduate course”.

He then replied, “Wow. I never knew you were a chemist. Do you want to go back to the lab?”.

I was so tempted to reply, “Why, do you want to pirate me?”

Hah. It’s not the first time I got this reaction in my current line of work. The project leaders of one of the studies I manage once asked me, “Do you know any chemist? I need one for the project.”

I joked, “Do you want to hire me?”

Shocked, he then replied, “You’re a chemist? We’ve been working for a while now, but I never knew!”

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Summer


I am still surprised when I see college students going out and about this summer. I often forget that major universities in the Philippines have already implemented academic shift. Classes now start in August and ends in May. This also means that summer breaks which used to be from April to May now fall on the not so summery months of June and July.

As a kid, I would always count the days until summer break. I felt 10 months for a school year was too long. Time also went by too slow. Summer meant I could wake up late, laze around for the whole day, and bury myself in the comfort of my books. I remember devouring shelves and shelves of books. It came to a point my mom would scold me because she had to keep my books in boxes under my bed.

Summer also meant lots of sunshine. We would go to beaches around the Bicol Region. Back then, sunblock was not yet a fad. Instead, we were forced to apply baby oil to protect out skin from the sun. And since I hated applying any form of oil in my body, by the end of summers I would end up so dark than my usual color.

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Relativity


I was in my hometown two weeks ago for the Holy Week break. It’s an annual practice—going home during Holy Week, All Soul’s Day and Christmas breaks.  Apart for the reason these are only periods I get to spend time with my family, these are also the only periods I take long breaks from work.

A favorite habit of mine when I am at home is to sit in our terrace during sunset. Because it faces our gate and of the almost 1.5-meter elevation of our house above ground level, I get a good view of the setting sun, the road in front of our house, and railway that bisects the road.

During my recent stay, there was a day that I was suddenly overwhelmed by the utter calmness of my surroundings. There were hardly any cars passing by. Children were happily playing on the street. I could vividly hear the sound of chirping bird and insects, and even the sound of the blowing wind.  It is a fact that in some places like my hometown, life can still be slow and uncomplicated. Yet, it still amazes me I am still able to experience how slow and uncomplicated life can be.

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Losing Sight


I frequent a massage shop called “Vibes” in a mall near my apartment. I usually go there twice a month to relieve myself from stress due to work and life, in general. One interesting aspect of Vibes is the massage therapists are blind. Unlike other regular customers though, I don’t favor a specific masseuse. I am fine with being assigned with the available masseuse because (1) I am generally impatient, and (2) it enables me to differentiate the massaging styles of the masseuses.

In the past three years of frequenting Vibes, I’ve observed a lot of things about their staff which often amazes me more than not. The massage therapists have very keen sense of touch and hearing. Even without saying a word and just by touching my back, they can tell if it’s me, if I lost or gained weight and if I am more stressed than usual. They also know my voice very well. They would say, “Oh! It’s Ma’am Melissa.” even if I just uttered, “Good evening”.

When they are in a light mood, some masseuse also share their  interests. There is one instance when I had to wait for the masseuse for a while. When she arrived, she apologized profusely. She mentioned she was just replaying the episode of a drama she missed the previous night. I asked her how she replayed it. She replied she listened through the YouTube application in her smartphone. She further shared that sometimes she replays TV shows on her Acer laptop. I was simply dumbfounded.

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Thoughts and Singapore


As an ASEAN country, it can’t be helped that the Philippines is often compared to Singapore. After all, Singapore is an epitome of a success story from its efficient government, transportation system, sustainable development strategies, etc. Considering it is such a young nation (at 50 years old), one can’t help but be amazed at how fast they have progressed.

Marina Bay Sands: one of the icons of SG.
Marina Bay Sands: one of the icons of SG.

I had the opportunity to visit the country last September for a training on the co-benefits of climate change and health. It was my first time to go there and it was great because part of my training was on the policy process of Singapore for environmental protection and air pollution management. I had nothing but admiration for how they do things in the country. At least from the training alone, I got the impression that the local leadership is strong and has good vision. Policies were evidence-based, and properly implemented and monitored. Pride is imminent not just in the manner our speakers, who were government officials, talked about their work but even in the way ordinary Singaporeans whom I had a chance to interact with speak of their government.

SG: Cultural melting pot
SG: Cultural melting pot

One does not even need to be in a formal training to learn a lot about the country. I realized from my daily encounters that the citizens are highly aware of their history particularly of the reforms Lee Kuan Yew carried out. They are also very knowledgeable on laws from housing, waste management, energy efficiency to air pollution and of the heavy repercussions for violating the law.

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Managing How to Work, Study and Travel Simultaneously


The other week, my classmates and I were joking on our Facebook group what we would award each other for our upcoming graduation this July 25. One classmate said he would give me a “Master Procrastinator Award”. I was appalled so I asked him why.

He replied, “Because every time I am cramming for our paper or an exam, I would see in your posts that you are either in Korea, El Nido or some random beach. You don’t seem to be bothered by school or work at all”.

Am I one?? (Image credits to keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk)

I was surprised that some of them had a perception that I am a “procrastinator”, so I clarified that when I am on travel, I bring my iPad and laptop. I study while waiting in airports and ports. I write papers at night or during the wee hours of the morning. I always put my phone on roaming to make sure I don’t miss anything work or school-related while I am overseas. Simply said, I multitask.

I always get questions related to this: How do you juggle things? How do you manage to keep up at work and school and still get to travel? So I thought I’d share of some of “tactics” of how I managed to do all three for the past years:

1. Multitask but do so efficiently. This is inevitable. I am not someone who can let go of my day job just to prioritize school or travel. I don’t have someone who I can say I can lean on  in case I get into financial trouble. I don’t want rely on scholarships either because in the Philippines, more of often than not, stipends are delayed. I also still send money to my family back home every once in a while. Multitasking is not ideal, but to be able to do all things I want to do and have to do, this is the compromise I make.

I am lucky enough that my classes are online. So while on travel, I can still participate in class discussion late at night or write papers at dawn. When I have something important for work that coincides with my travel, I usually check my email at least three times a day to make sure my workmates would still get the information they need from me.

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Peaches and Friends


While waiting for our train ride to Hanoi, Vietnam in a restaurant somewhere  in Lao Cai a few days ago, my three friends decided to go out for a bit to look for peaches. They’ve been craving for peaches since we saw some in Bac Ha market earlier in the day. They asked me if I was coming, I told them I will just stay in the restaurant   since I don’t like peaches that much.

While waiting for them, I noticed that a Vietnamese girl in the next table was fidgety. She kept glancing around while holding her phone. So I asked her, “Are you looking for an electric outlet?”

She replied, “Yes. I need to charge my phone.”

I noted someone charged his phone near my table earlier  so I told her, “There’s one near my table. You can use it.”

She smiled and thanked me. She then asked me if I am from the Philippines since I speak good English. I responded affirmatively and thought finally someone guessed my nationality correctly. I was still mistaken as a Thai by some in Vietnam.

We then talked about her job, my job, her country and my country. She was very curious about the Philippines and certain places she wishes to visit. She even knew about Cebu Pacific’s piso seat sale.

After conversing for about 10 minutes, she excused herself . When she got back she offered me a peach as a sign of thanks. I almost said no but thinking there was no harm in trying to eat a peach, I accepted it. My friends arrived shortly, epmty-handed. When I asked if they were able to find peaches , they sadly replied they were not able to find a fruit vendor that sells them.

The Vietnamese girl probabaly heard our conversation so she went back to our table and gave each of my friends a peach. She said she bought a kilo in Bac Ha market and couldn’t finish it all by herself. My friends looked so happy and  enjoyed    their peaches with big smiles in their faces.

I smiled as well astounded at how the situation turned out. Fate? Coincidence? Whatever it was,  I was just glad to be able to make friends. 🙂

Finding my Footing


I was browsing thorugh my drafts and I found this unfinished post. I wrote this in May 2013. I wondered why I never got to post this. So here’s a sort of flash back Friday post:

Last night my brother told me, “Should I go out of the country next year?”. He then followed up with, “What should I do about the promotion offered by the company?”

I just replied, “Do what you think will be best for you. If you feel you like doing something, then try it.”

There was a time when I have also been bothered so much by such questions. I was very envious of my peers who are already leaving the country to get their PhDs. I felt bad seeing pictures of people who  were able to travel to different places. I was jealous of people who already know what are the things they are good at. I was too consumed by the so called “quarter life crisis”.

I don’t know how  but thankfully I am slowing easing out of the stage already. These days, I am less bothered by how far my peers has achieved, how many places they went too and whether they are now rich by mastering their craft. Instead, I have diverted my energies on trying out different things such as finally booking a ticket to go the place that I want to and enrolling in a course even if  I am not yet sure if it’s the track I want to pursue. I now don’t feel so bad that I haven’t achieved yet the things that I want to do when I was 23. I have now appreciated the investments I have made to secure not only mine but my brothers’ future are as well. In short, I have finally found my footing and I am now in betters terms of myself as far as capacities and experiences are concerned.

The path towards this state was not easy and I am not even sure how I came to such kind of peace and understanding. However, one thing I have always acknowledged is that every one of us is unique but at the same time share certain universal traits. By understanding individual differences, I realized that is no point in competing with anybody. When we strive to improve, it should not be because you want to beat someone but because you know you are lacking in certain areas. And by acknowledging that we share certain universal traits, I realized that despite status differences, people still seek the same thing… happiness, acceptance, contentment.

Whoa. I was thinking  of these things when I was 23. But I feel happy that I still feel the same way I felt two years ago. You  don’t compete with anybody but yourself. 🙂

Five!


A Thoughtful Paper turned 5 today and WordPress was kind enough to remind me!

Achievement unlocked!
Achievement unlocked!

So, it’s been five years of blogging at WordPress and eight years of blogging for me! Hurray! It’s been difficult to sustain this  blog particularly with all the activities for school and work. But blogging has been a very good way for me to de-stress and there isn’t a better way to document all my experiences! I didn’t intend for A Thoughtful Paper to be a travel blog and I still don’t intend to. But since travel occupies a third of my life today, the blog sort of turned into my travel diary.

Blogging at WordPress has been and is still a good experience. I get to meet a lot of people though  admittedly, I am guilty of not visiting my followers’ blogs as often as they visit mine. But thank you my dear readers and friends for constantly dropping by and for leaving comments. I may not voice out  my appreciation as often as I should but you guys make blogging a lot more fun and insightful.

I look forward to more years of blogging, sharing experiences and meaningful discussions!

 

(Seoul Diaries) Discipline is a Way of LIfe


Upon arrival in Seoul last October, the first places/things my friend Me-an and I agreed to look for was food and money changer. So upon depositing our luggage in hour hotel in Jong-no, we went straight to Myeong-dong. Upon getting off the subway station, the first restaurant we saw was McDonalds. We agreed to just eat there because we were already so hungry.

Thankfully, ordering was a breeze. The staff at the counter understood basic English and I was still decent enough to understand that “in-here” means “dine-in”. Ha! I was also amazed at the presentation of the cheeseburger. It was a far cry from the way cheeseburgers are served here in in the Philippines!

After I was done eating, I immediately stood and about to head to the door when Me-an stopped me. She said I have to pick-up the wrapper of the burger and the glass where I drank from and throw it on the garbage. I looked around and realized there was a “self-service garbage disposal counter” and people were indeed throwing their own garbage. I thought what a neat practice it was, something I was not used to seeing in the Philippines.

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2014: Impulsiveness and Adventure


These words properly sum up my year: impulsiveness and adventure.

And both are double-edged swords. If handled improperly, these can produce effects contrary to the expectations of the doer of the action. So, did my impulsiveness brought something good? I guess. Because if not, I would not have reached the places I went  to or did the things I really wanted to do. I realized sometimes courage is not only trait one needs to dive into a goal, a certain degree of impulsiveness is also required. For me, it’s the latter that brings out the “now or never attitude”. I know  my impulsiveness will take its toll sometime and I have to control it as I grow older. But what better time to experiment, make mistakes and enjoy youth than now?

So, cheers to a year full of adventures! I might lie low for 2015 because  I have big plans for 2016. But who knows where my impulsiveness and wanderlust can take me next year?

2014: Baler, Rizal, Bacolod, Iloilo, Guimaras, Cebu, Bohol, Dumaguete, Siquijor, South Korea, Tagaytay, Palawan. 

Happy New Year everyone! I hope the year worked out according to your expectations. If not, high five to another year and chance for creating a difference!