The Many Faces of Ahia

Ahia. Brother. Family. Sometimes, a complete stranger.

Towards the end of June, I went with my brother’s family and a friend to Taiwan with the main end in mind— to fill our urge for travel, to enjoy the time away from work and to see what beautiful places awaits us there for us to roam.

The preconceived idea about Taiwan was that, it would be more like Hong Kong in terms of the culture, the lifestyle, the food, the overall vibe and the people— mainly because both countries are heavily influenced by the Chinese. Surprisingly enough, it was far from Hong Kong in many ways.

The places had been nothing short of fantastic and other-wordly. The vibe, I would say, is more South Korean than Hong Kong. But what I personally did not expect, was the people. While South Koreans were very friendly during a trip there on my birthday last year, the Taiwanese we happened to met were tenfold kinder, more thoughtful and more friendly. More loving, in general.

Tonight, I’ll talk about the Ates and the Kuyas we met during the short vacation we had. But most notably, I will recall to you this short encounter we had with the Ahias of Taiwan— Kuya Bemboy, Kuya An-an and the cab driver whose name we never got to know. So I’ll just call him, Ahia— the chinese word for older brother.

Our trip started with a few delays on the first day, when Ed, our family friend who came with us was held for an hour and half at the immigration, to being lost in the massive Taipei Main station, to arriving at destinations where we later found out was temporarily closed for maintenance works.

The first day just didn’t sail well. We were tired but laughed our hearts out for an epic failure. Kuya An-an or Anton— Myra’s selfless uncle who had been working in Taiwan for seven years, had to skip work just to pick us up at Taoyuan airport and eventually led us to accidentally get lost in Taipei. I met Kuya An-an about a decade ago when we visited Leyte, a few years before Yolanda ravaged Tacloban, the rest of the island and its neighboring provinces, including Cebu. He was always the generous type— he was never selfish with his time and often goes out of his way to help you. Currently, he works in Chaiyi, a ginormous county 300 kms from Taipei and where we had spent most of our time during the weeklong vacation.

It was Kuya An-an who assured us a place to stay in Chaiyi, at his boss’s house. We were hesitant about the offer and the arrangement, but we gave it a go, anyway.

After getting lost in Taipei earlier that day, we rode on a bullet train to Chaiyi, arrived almost a couple of hours later and was picked-up at the train station by a massive, smiling, Chinese-looking man.

My first thought upon seeing the big man was, “Why are we being picked up by a Taiwanese and who could he be”? As soon as he started talking, we were relieved, me especially, because he spoke Waray, although I couldn’t understand even a little bit of the dialect. That was our first encounter with Kuya Bemboy— our generous and thoughtful, Taiwanese-Filipino host.

Later that night, Kuya Bemboy, his lovely, wife Ate Marlyn, Yanyan and Bembem prepared us the first sumptuous dinner, among the many breakfasts and dinners that followed. Ate Marlyn is the best cook there is, hands down.

The Yaos took us in their home, provided us a place to stay for 5 days, fed us graciously until our stomachs were painfully full, went out of their way to accompany us to some of the tourist destinations around Chaiyi, cared for us as if we were their own, provided us the best human experience a tourist can have while in a foreign land… in exchange for nothing.

How would you feel if you are being accepted into a stranger’s home like you are part of the family? I’m telling you it makes one truly humble. We didn’t know a thing about the Yaos prior the trip nor do we know where we will be staying because it was Kuya An-an who arranged everything.

With the Yaos, we didn’t feel like tourists. We felt as if we were visiting family members. We also had the chance to met fellow Filipinos as we were invited to the Sunday service before we head back to Taipei. There, we got to see how OFWs lived and thrived working in a foreign land just so they could support their families back home. They’ve shared their struggles; we know their stories like all the happy-sad stories we hear about Filipinos working abroad, far from the families waiting back home who have always hoped for a better future.

What made it a bit difficult when travelling Taiwan is the language barrier. Only a few people can speak and understand English, so having the Yaos, especially our nine year old guide, Yanyan, made it easier for us to go around. Yanyan, is the youngest child of the Yaos and she can speak English and Mandarin and can understand Waray and Bisaya. Just a year older than Francois, she is one smart, reserved and a very independent kid who, just like my nephews, also loves Pikachu.

On the 1st of July— Jorge’s 6th birthday, we woke up early, had our last sumptuous breakfast, said our goodbyes to Ate Marlyn and Yanyan, before Kuya Bemboy and Kuya An-an drove us to the bus station. I was sad that we were leaving. The night before, I had to chose to stay in my room than went out with the rest of the family just so I can take all the emotions in. As I said, I am a little cucumber with over-sensitive emotions so don’t be surprised if I suddenly had to disconnect to recuperate when I’m dealing with something.

Us, with the generous and loving Yaos.

Before we reached the station, we were surprised that Kuya Bemboy and An-an took the effort to surprise Jorge with a birthday cake. Just sweet and enough gesture to melt our hearts, all the more so.

We left Chaiyi, the Yaos, Kuya Anton, the rest of the family and everyone we met during the stay. Four hours later, we reached Taipei and went straight to the San Want Hotel, which is located a few blocks from the Taipei Dome, Taipei 101, Sun Yat Sen Memorial, the haunted Grand Hyatt hotel, Taipei Capitol, the famed Elite bookstore and Tao Zhu Yin Yuan garden. Out of the countryside now and into the urban jungle that is called, Taipei.

Since it was still very early when we reached the hotel, we roamed around to look for interesting places to get lost at again. And we were never disappointed. We really got lost after lunch. But then, always, we found uber drivers who came to our rescue and who were very accommodating and friendly, despite the lack of communication due to non of them can speak English.

The last day was spent travelling to far-off tourist spots, so we decided to get a cab, rent it for a day and have the driver led us to the destinations we’ve agreed the night before.

Ahia. We never knew what his real name was. The bell captain was the one who arranged the cab for us on our last day in Taipei. The cab driver was around forty years old, slightly chubby and doesn’t know a word in English. Ah wait, besides, thank you.

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The only photo I took of Ahia because he was very shy. But I know he silently took photos of us while we’re busy enjoying our time. I’ve seen it many times as we were having our dinner.

 

As you all know, I dread the excessive use of technology nowadays but at that time, I was grateful we have Google translate and we could use our phones to talk to Ahia.

Our first request that day was for him to take us somewhere for breakfast where we can eat nice Taiwanese food at an affordable price. He didn’t disappoint. If you want to have a real and raw experience of a place when you’re travelling, go with a local. He knows where to take you.

Ahia is a very shy man. He didn’t take the food we bought him during breakfast, even the water. But thanked us graciously. He always looked after the kids when we’re walking, he took us to places that were not part of the itinerary thinking we would miss our chance to enjoy Taiwan if he didn’t, he took our bags and other stuff we bought to the cab and returned to us after. He did this again and again, without tiring. He acted as our chaperone when all we want was a guide and a friend. Ahia is like an older brother watching after his younger siblings— making sure they are safe, comfortable and enjoying their day.

I very much enjoyed the places we went to but apart from all of these, I was more overwhelmed by the attention and care our cab driver had shown us. When Ahia took us to this mall where we had our dinner and a little shopping, it was obvious that he was not familiar of the place. He would approached locals to ask for directions and some of them were not too receptive. And then he would go and ask another, while clinching his worn-out and oversized jeans.

I would silently stay in a corner and observed Ahia and when I did, a part of me just wants to hug him and tell him that we are okay, that we can handle ourselves and that he doesn’t need to do all of this— that he can go back to the cab and rest while we are away. But my phone had already died and so did Google translate and when I attempted to communicate through hand gestures, it was obvious that I failed. I could not talk to him.

We even got lost finding the basement where we parked the cab because everyone went on the opposite direction while I insisted we were in the wrong way. They didn’t listen. We reached a dead end and everyone was laughing hard and just followed me. I sensed Ahia was a bit embarrassed.

Our flight to Cebu was at ten in the evening and from where we were, Taoyuan airport was almost a three-hour travel. It was already raining so hard when we took our early dinner. We intentionally had to take Ahia inside the restaurant so he wouldn’t have any excuse not to eat. What he was probably thinking was that, we took him in just so he can help us in ordering our food. He was very wrong. We ordered our food and his. He made every effort to tell us that he was going to have his dinner at home, wherever that home was and which was now very impossible to happen because it was almost 5PM, and as Ate Marlyn mentioned, in Taiwan, the normal time for dinner is 5PM. Beyond that, Taiwanese will only have light snacks. We were four persistent adults and two stubborn kids, so he relented. He took his dinner with us while partly-amazed watching after our Jorge, as our youngest companion independently devoured his food, all by himself. Perhaps, Ahia also has a kid waiting for him back home.

We reached the airport 3 hours before the flight despite fearing we would miss it due to the very bad weather, but Ahia safely took us to our destination on time. He took our things out of the cab, placed it on the trolley, inspected everything; we got a few stuffs and food that he can take home. He hugged my Kuya and gave him a handshake, almost teary-eyed. He gave me a handshake and I patted him on the back. I was teary-eyed. We all thanked him for his genuine love and care. He was waving at us as we got inside.

God knows I wanted to cry at that moment.

What did Ahia do exactly? And why do I feel this way about the trip?

The Ahias, as with everyone we met, gave me hope that goodness is inherent in all of us. It doesn’t have a distinct face because it takes the form of many— it could be a shobe, an achi or in the many instances we encountered, in the form of a caring stranger.

From the loving Yaos, to the Uber drivers, to the food shop employee who gave us additional take-away food (much to our surprise and bewilderment), to the friendly shopkeepers who patiently waited until our cards were accepted, to the cab driver who rescued us at midnight because no other taxi would want to take us, to our hardworking and very funny guide during the night photowalk tour, Leslie, to the bell captain of our hotel, to the store assistant who smilingly went to my rescue as to where to appropriately dispose our rubbish, to our cab driver on our last day, Taiwan is beautiful, foremost, because of its people.

We went to Taiwan as strangers looking for adventure. And we went home humbled by an experience we will never forget.

This is an experience that will always remind me to keep myself grounded and to see the good in every people and situation. For sure, Ahia may have lacked many material things but he sure is very rich in the more essential things in life.

Who says you can’t be good when you are lacking? Who says you can’t give even when you don’t have anything to give? Ahia will prove you wrong.

Leaving My Heart in Palawan

I have always dreamt of Palawan, of Batanes, of Mt. Pulag. Among all other amazing places to visit in the Philippines, these three topped my bucket list. I didn’t know much about Palawan other than it becoming synonymous to ‘hidden paradise’, as others who had been there would say. As an internet tourist, I knew Palawan rears one of the most beautiful serene beaches in the country.

My Palawan trip was physically draining but I was glad I only felt the worn-out days after the trip was over. It was possibly the adrenaline that kept me going despite the lack of sleep and the wearisome activities that left most of us wasted at the end of the day. It was a trip worth reliving and I don’t think I’ll get over with the hype of me being in a place that has captivated my heart.

They say when we travel, we leave parts of us somewhere, scattered among dusts and on soils and sands we tread. Me, I unintentionally left my heart in Palawan.

To be honest, I thought this planned trip was too far-fetched to even consider. Even days into the schedule, I had thoughts of a possible cancellation due to production-related circumstances. For this reason alone, I never prepared anything for the trip, so the night before our departure, I crammed til past midnight to get things into place. In spite of the limited time, I was able to get every basic necessity packed, besides the GroPro camera I regretted I forgot to bring along. Yes, that’s when your memory failed you when you most need it… And finding out later your digital cam isn’t working like it used to, is a bonus.

However, I did not allow minute issues to ruin my mood. I had so much positive energy in me at that time to attend to any negativity. That trip was primarily done to foster unity-building among the team. Something I hope til now will be continuously worked out to attain. As I have often said, a family does not need to be perfect, it just needs to be united.  DAY0A

In the first place, we never can be perfect as diverse and complex individuals as we are. But in all of our diversity, there is always hope for a united goal and a space where people can still happily embrace each other’s uniqueness despite the varied views and opinions, personalities and beliefs, while working out on one end… on one vision and mission.

In an environment where the barrier among members is apparent, it is such as this activity that mirrors where we are when it comes to being a ‘team’.

Are we really a team or are we like a tribe competing against each other and wishing for the doom of the other? As the day progressed, circumstances allowed us to see parts of who we are as individuals and as members of a secluded team. We do not climb on our comrade’s back like crabs do, but situations revealed itself the true nature of our unique sides.

It is during these times that the truth became clear—who among the team was willing to adapt to sudden change—a change from the usual company of friends you often took lunch or had chitchat with or possibly whom you are willing to get drown together if the banca would sink. Expectedly, the usual set-ups as in the office held onto each other.

At that time when the boss asked one or two willing members to transfer to the other van with the seniors and no one acquiesced, that itself, says a lot about the stigma I often observe in the office. Only a few were willing to embrace the change that awaits us there. Of course, I understand. We are emotional beings so we tend to associate ourselves with those people we are comfortable being around with. In a way, that sadly defies the end why we were there.

I was only with the team for over a couple of years. So I could not fully comprehend how and when this divide began. Inter-generational interests probably is one factor and the others, I do not know exactly. The team is composed of the ‘seniors’ whose age ranges from late thirties to early forties while the ‘youngits’, as how we call ourselves, were mostly in early twenties to early thirties. We are fun-loving and carefree caricatures of our young selves; they are on the other hand, more reserved and formal creatures hammered on the anvil by years of experience. They, most of the times, live by the norms and we are escapees from the urban jungle and crusaders of thrill. I could not judge them because I’ve always think of us as the mirrors of them when they were our age.

Perhaps, they too, were like us in many ways that we could not see. Perhaps they too, loved to jump their hearts out as the sun peeps out of the horizon like we did for two days… or play images of anything veiled in silhouettes while waiting for the sun to rise.

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DAY 1

Destination: Puerto Princesa and Seafront at Teneguiban, El Nido

Our first day started with a little welcome ceremony at the airport from the BSBB staffs. Two tourist vans were hired for the trip so the team was divided into two groups with mostly the younger members grouping together and the rest going with the seniors. We then proceeded to Ka Inato’ where we took our lunch. We had traditional chicken barbecue, steamed fish and veggies with bagoong.

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We left Puerto Princesa after lunch, had some twenty-minute pit stop to replenish our supplies at a Mercury Drug store and proceeded on our way to El Nido.

Days before the trip, we were informed that the travel time from Puerto Princessa to El Nido would take almost six hours and that we will probably be arriving late at our destination. In actuality, it took seven to eight hours of travel to reach El Nido from Puerto Princesa and  that was the longest ride I’ve ever been on in my life. But surprisingly, I never felt totally exhausted. I could not allow myself to doze off even for some minutes. I tried some catnap but failed. The excitement of seeing the outskirts of Palawan for the first time was just too overwhelming.

While on our way, thoughts of what Palawan was really like came jumbling in. I wonder why one of the Singaporean boss called it a ‘jungle’. Puerto Princessa, it’s capital city isn’t like Cebu in many ways, but calling Palawan a jungle was nowhere near either…or so I thought.

Later, I found out the big boss was possibly right as we headed our way to what seemed to be an endless array of mango and cashew tress and all plants that have thrived on its hardened soil. The outskirts of Palawan has a vast with mostly uninhabited area of wild tress and plants.  After hours of seeing the same scenery, I began to question myself why on earth would people live in such a remote place inaccessible to most people without continuous water and power supply, even basic healthcare perhaps? And could there really be a gem hidden somewhere amidst this jungle?DAY1TT

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I have majestic visions of Palawan but I did not prepare myself for what was going to welcome me once I stepped on its soil.

As the hours dragged on, the sun eventually hid behind monstrous mountains and jungles and fogs started to cover the areas we left… Until we could no longer see anything of what was outside. The pitch darkness that enveloped the stretch of distance we traveled was intimidating. You are able to see what the car’s light can only show you and that is the main road. The sky also wasn’t as bright as it should be in Cebu. I tried to find any stars but even these fellows seemed to have hidden somewhere. While the youngits are quietly sleeping as it was past seven in the evening, I tried to listen to Ish and Kuya Aldrin (the driver) talking. At that time, I could feel my excitement dwindling away. But still, I stayed awake on purpose.

I expected for the trip to bring oneness and closeness among members. To some extent, it enhances the value of sharing. We became more generous after sharing every food we have on anyone in the van. Despite the long distance, we never ran out of supplies because always, someone has a food to spare for the hungry piranhas. Not only with food but we share in our other supplies as well—toiletries and even sun screens. The value of sharing was pretty clear. By the time we reached El Nido proper, I sighed with relief that finally the long-hour drive has concluded and we could at last make it to our beds and rest… But to my dismay, the van went on and on. We were informed of another two hours more to reach Teneguiban where the property of one of the big bosses is located and where we will be staying for two nights.

Another dark road led us down to Teneguiban—a small quite community by the sea. It was ten o’clock in the evening and a surprise notice came that we will have to ride a banca to reach Seafront. Again, my vision of the trip was blatantly incorrect. But for the adventure that it gives, I turned in and walked towards the banca which was about 200 meters away from the shore, together with the first batch of the team. It was low-tide so the water has receded to a considerable distance enough to give our weary feet the exercise that it needs.

Walking in the water under the moonlight at ten o’clock in the evening was something I would not experience had I not been there. That was awesome!

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Then there’s our first view of Seafront. From a distance, it was difficult to see where those magical lights actually came from. But who cares about the enchanting view of Seafront under the lights when the mouth-watering smell of dried squid engulfed the area even when we were still 300 meters away from the source. That was how hungry the piranhas had been after the trip.

Dinner was served thereafter and needless to say, our late dinner was heavenly. They say all foods are delicious when you are hungry but with all due respect to our hospitable host, the food they prepared were all delicious. After dinner, we were asked to share rooms with the managers (the seniors). At past eleven, we drifted off to slumberland. Our first day was nowhere near as I expected because it turned out absolutely fantastic.

DAY 2

Destination: El Nido Proper (Shimizu Island, Small lagoon, Big lagoon, Secret lagoon and beach and 7 Commando Beach)

We woke up to the loud sound of my phone’s alarm. Guilt flushed over me as I strode the dark room looking for the whereabouts of my phone which has now caused everyone to wake up. I was supposed to turn off the alarm the night before but my human strength failed me. It was almost five in the morning and the sun was just about to say hi. Some of the colleagues were already awake and silently staring at the beautiful sunrise. Upon making it to the shore, I could not fight the temptation for an early swim. Ma’am Eve was already there enjoying the gush of wave in that native Palawan shore. I am always afraid of the water but when it’s only knee-deep, what else should hold me back?

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We were scheduled to go island-hopping on day 2.

Because of this activity, the ocean became an inevitable force I needed to face head on. Unfortunately, my fear of the water was so intimidating that even with the life jacket on, I found myself struggling to keep alive. I could not even bring my face to the surface to breathe which is both hilarious and discouraging. I have always struggled to fight my fear of the water. I loved the ocean but the phobia is something I still haven’t get rid myself of.

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I would silently watched the still water below while the banca carried us to the depths of the open sea… and felt my knees quiver. I am both excited and scared. Several instances I had to ask a colleague to help me get to where the guide is leading us. I wanted to explore the area by myself so I could conquer my fear of the unknown depths, but I felt helpless. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the help lent to me by my colleagues.

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Of the islands we visited in El Nido, my favorites are Secret beach and the Shimizu island. If I knew how to swim, I am sure I would love the place even more.

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Upon returning to Teneguiban after our island-hopping activity, instead of waiting for our banca, nine of us decided to walk the distance to Seafront. At the back of my head, I knew no matter how far it is, the shoreline will always lead us to Seafront. What we did not anticipate was how difficult was the way going there. We could not get into the main land because it was beginning to get really dark and we don’t have any light, besides the fact that we do not know the way around and we might get lost in the ‘jungle’.

From time to time, I would checked Aires who at that time was struggling to keep abreast with the guys. I tried to get as near with the men as possible so I could alert them should someone in the group needs any help. I started to get worried the girls will be left out walking on the dark shore alone as majority of the men slowly vanished from my sight. I called out in darkness to ask if they could at least wait for the rest of the team before proceeding. I did not get any answer. All I hear were crickets and the familiar sounds of the wild. Good thing Binoy was still there helping Aires get through the gigantic boulders blocking our way as Kim stepped in to help the rest of us— Anj, Cherry and me. In the distance passed where the gigantic boulders nestled, I noticed a dark figure holding up a light coming from his phone desperately trying to light the way. Yes, Zeke also decided to wait. The two proceeded without restraint while the rest remained and waited until everyone was out of the huge boulders. That was what I call, team-building. We reached Seafront forty minutes later with our swollen feet and a renewed spirit that there is still hope for unity among us.

Besides power, water is scarce in Teneguiban. When you live in a place like that, you could only wish the ocean water is enough to keep you feeling clean the whole night. But no, after that adventure we had, no one felt so drained enough to let the night go without bathing. Just like the good old days and with the water supply coming from the deep well, we bathed outside like little kids do—happily stealing the only two tabo we had from one another and childishly fought for water. Somehow I wished people had retained the simple life in the barrio, like when you have to bathe outside with your friends and water-fight for fun. Simple things such as these are sure to foster openness and closeness, not alienate oneself like most generations of today.

Another sumptuous dinner was served that night. In preparation for Day 3, most members decided to sleep early; while a few others stayed late til midnight.

DAY 3

Destination: Underground River, Sabang, Puerto Princessa

I woke up past two o’clock in the morning to charge my drained battery and decided to stay outside while waiting for the sunrise. It was early dawn and only a couple of the BSBB staffs were already awake. I forcefully closed my eyes just to steal some more hours before sunrise but it was impossible. By six o’clock in the morning, almost all members were all set to go. But before leaving, we took our daily routine in front of the peeping sun. DAY2AAFERFDDAY3AAAAJJDAY3ABAS

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We left for Sabang, Puerto Princessa before seven—that’s another bloody seven to eight-hour drive to the famed Underground River. Surprisingly, we reached Sabang in six hours and thanks to Kuya Aldrin for the 150kph rollercoaster ride which left the ‘youngits’ screaming with delight. We were really crazy.

Upon arrival, we wandered around looking for souvenir items scattered around the vicinity. Much to our surprise, we were already left behind by the team. We searched the area but unable to find anyone; we tried to call someone from the other batch but failed. It was past one o’clock in the afternoon so we were really hungry. Our itinerary shows we will have lunch after arrival at Sabang so we knew somewhere in that busy area, the team could already be taking lunch but it was impossible to check the place one by one. We waited for some minutes until Anj emerged from the distance. She was herself worried we might have been lost. I could not thanked her enough for reaching out to her lost comrades. Looking out for the welfare of others, this among others, was another instance that reveals the true nature of our being a ‘team’.

We were then led by Anj to a restaurant at the far end of the port area. Almost everyone in the team were already there while most, especially the men, were locked-eyed on the only television I saw in the port area patiently and excitedly watching the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. Sadly, our flag bearer lost in a marathon. One thing that strucked me most was a group of foreigners wearing Team Pacquiao shirts. I wonder if, like most of the Filipinos, they too felt deprived of a decent game.

Unlike the past days, it was surprisingly rainy that day. It was cold and windy and the ocean did not seem to look too friendly to me. We were divided to 3 groups as the banca could only accommodate six passengers each. We left Sam, our host at the port and rode on the banca that took us to the underground river where we were met by our other colleagues.

We took some pictures while waiting for our turn to tour inside the cave. This time, we were grouped into two again—the other and the first banca to set off carried the seniors and minutes later, we followed. None was really able to get some decent photos taken inside the cave as it was too dark for the cameras to work. So we ended up just enjoying what our eyes were able to show us inside the underground river. That experience left me to wonder how all those beautiful formations came into existence after millions of years. Nature indeed, is an amazing artist.

And Kuya banca driver, was gifted with so much wit which made the tour inside more enjoyable.

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We headed back to Puerto Princesa proper and checked in at Airport Side Inn past five in the afternoon. We said goodbye to our driver, Kuya Aldrin. I was supposed to ask if we could take some pictures with him but thinking we could always do that the following day, I went on to our assigned room, bathed and changed clothes.

We readied before 7:00 PM as we were scheduled to have our souvenir-shopping that night before dinner. I bought mostly delicacies and some small souvenir items to give to those we left behind in Cebu. We dined at Air Republic, a local bar which obviously serves more drinks than real food. I could be wrong though. I commend the singers for a wonderful show though I think the attire were a bit unnecessary.

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And this is something that made me question myself if it really was chicken.

DAY 4

Destination: Puerto Princessa Baywalk, Cathedral and Plaza Cuartel, Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Mitra Ranch and Baker’s Hill.

Again, I made it a point to wake up early that day and went straight to the shower after Aires. The water was warm and relaxing although it helped little to ease my skin allergies which have now gone full-blown, with blisters all over my legs and arms. But who cares about allergies? I was right there to enjoy, not mind about minute issues that will certainly heal in time (and with the help of the med the boss gave me upon seeing how it has gone worse). Right after, we took our breakfast with the rest of the team. After fixing all things for our eventual departure in the afternoon, we were introduced to our new guide, Ma’am Joan and our new driver, Kuya Arnie (if I heard it right) who will take charge of the city tour.

So Kuya Aldrin’s role had actually ended the other night. Ohhh-kay…Devastated.

Ma’am Joan would have been a great guide for the seniors but she was unfortunately assigned to the youngits. As usual, we were quite polite with our new guide but later on some of the boys unleashed their cheesiest jokes that made all of us giggling, including Ma’am Joan and Kuya Arnie. We were sadly, a pain in the neck, even to strangers.

Of all the places that we’ve been to in Puerto that day, my favorite is Baker’s Hill. It has a bread shop where you can buy delicious baked Filipino delicacies. It also housed a finely-designed wide theme park by Shirley Flores where you could take your break, or like us, bombard the place with our obviously childish happy faces. For a moment, I felt I was in a fairy tale brushing shoulders with the characters of my favorite Disney movies and series.

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After our lunch at Jollibee, we headed directly to the airport as our flight was scheduled at 1:25 PM. Before leaving the van, I asked Kuya Arnie if he has taken lunch already although I had an idea he hadn’t yet. And I was right. There were some extra rice packs from our lunch so I asked the men to leave it at the van. I insisted we left it with Kuya Arnie and they did. As I left with a heavy heart, I smiled and said my last thank you to Kuya Arnie. It still breaks my heart to think that our stomachs were almost exploding at that time while someone was waiting when we could finish ours so he could take his. We were quite insensitive.. and I still don’t feel good about what happened.

Sam gave each one a pink and yellow turtle key chain. We left him and Palawan on schedule.

We’ve been to different places in Palawan, even with a limited time and I will always treasure those moments. I treasure all the people I met on that trip—the BSBB staffs and Sam, especially those attending to our needs at Seafront, our driver Kuya Aldrin whom we never got to ask the real name, the witty banca drivers who took us to our destinations safely, Ma’am Joan, Kuya Arnie, the Japanese lady who climbed up the seat to take my backpack out of the aircraft’s overhead bin, my colleagues and of course, our big bosses in Woven—the British, the Danish, the Singaporean and the Norwegian.

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Kuya Aldrin

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But as I said, there is still a lot to be done to bridge the gap and for true unity to thrive. We need to cultivate what we’ve started to sustain what we’ve learned, big or small. There is so much to learn from each other still. After the trip I had with the team, I realized my perception of the place was underrated and my vision of oneness is flickered with a new hope. Palawan is a gem hidden behind a monstrous jungle of natural reserves—a pure diamond in the rough—just like us. Everyone has his own unique beauty just waiting to be unveiled so in time, we could claim to ourselves that we are not the secluded tribe, for we are one with the rest.

PS. I shall return some other time to reclaim my heart. 🙂

Of Lost Dreams

Among other things I am so grateful for in life, it is being able to meet and experience the kind of lasting friendship I was able to feel with my former high school classmates. Everyone in the school at our time knew that the NNHS Quezonian batch of 2001 has the kind of bond and loyalty no other batches has ever been so brave to profess—the bond that was willing to defy even the highest seat of power of the school’s administration, in as far as our young ideals are concerned. And after four years of tail-biting with the admins, they acquiesced to the fact that we are indeed, inseparable in so many ways.

That was what we were in those days. We do things together as a team—as a group of young souls uniquely put together into one crazy circle fighting to make our presence visible in the world we live. We lift each other up and stumbled down together.

Inseparable.

October 23, 2014, I was informed by a former high school classmate and a good friend that one of our classmate in high school has taken love addiction to a new level. Eboy, 30, our former frail and shy music-lover friend has just shoot himself after an argument with his girlfriend.

Yesterday, we lost him.

Our hearts break for the loss of one man who has so much promise but more because we did little to help him feel he wasn’t alone after all these years. How we manage to get in touch with the rest of our estranged classmates and yet failed to see that one man here was probably begging us to help him is beyond words to describe. We are devastated as hell.

We could not fully fathom what people are going through but we take responsibility for the indifference which could have had saved him from thinking of ending his life. Who would have known of his struggles? Of his dreams? None of us left would ever knew of the answer. So much life wasted and dreams shattered.

As we mourned for Eboy’s loss, we find the courage to forgive ourselves for not doing enough of what we could have had done. We could have had help you become the musician you aspired to become or the great father to your kids. But we failed.

Eboy, wherever you are, we are sorry. No. We are terribly sorry.

And just as I wrote this, another friend is going through the same struggle of fighting for his life. Albert, just keep holding on. Miracles happen everyday.

And Teddy, always remember that your struggles are never permanent. You, being Bipolar, does not make you less of a person. Do not make the same mistake Eboy did. We will fight for you. With you. Just hang on.

We will fight together like we used to.

Befriending Someone With Bipolar Disorder

Over a couple of years ago, I met someone online through my blog. He was a writer, an exceptional one. He writes with his soul and you could really feel his pain and his joy when reading through his works. For the longest time that I had been engrossed with the art, I never yet met someone who could make my tear fall in a single line of truthful words. Or maybe perhaps, I was just treading the wrong lane all my life.

Coming from a well-off family, you would not imagine Tim to be struggling to keep his sanity to find reasons to live. He had planned on cutting himself several times; went back and forth from his alcohol addiction; desperately drowned in medication just to relieve himself of the dilemma of living. Yes, there were countless times when he would say how he hated just to be alive. He would talk of death very often. And despite the help he has received, in spite of all the effort to keep him well, he would go back again and again to where he started. He never wanted to quit but he can do little to help himself. I could not exactly remember when he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, all I know is that he needs some special care and attention. I used to find it weird when his mood would suddenly change or how abrupt his mood swings can get overtime. But like most of those who were trying to help out, I had always tried to understand. And he would say to his readers, that was all he needed to make it through the tough day. And I was genuinely happy with that. Several months later, I quit from reading and following his blog for personal reasons while I was recuperating from my issues myself. Trying to help out when you know you are extremely wounded yourself would not help that person heal. So I stray away. But he didn’t know I would still check on him from time to time to see how he’s doing. Knowing that he is still into writing and is trying to finish his book, taking pictures of Point Judith or Narragansett, to me is a great relief. That way, I could help get my conscience put to rest.

Tim was not the only friend I knew who is Bipolar. One high school friend had been diagnosed with the same, about exactly the year that I met Tim. He is Teddie, 30 years old and was the smartest kid in our class in high school. He was always the one who garnered the most honors even without really exerting too much effort in studying. He was probably born a genius. We went to the same university in college. He took up Chemical Engineering and because we belong in the same engineering field, I would see him from time to time in the campus. We have always been friends. So that moment when the news broke out about Teddie having some sort of ‘mental disorder’ (which I still dread even mentioning now), was heartbreaking. Being one of the Cum Laude graduates of the BS Chem Eng department and one of its most priced student, it just broke my heart that something as devastating as being Bipolar could possibly happen. What I did not know was that the stigma of the disorder was more destructing than the illness itself.

Today, Teddie is still coping up. He has regular sessions with his shrink every two months and he is trying to come out so people would understand. He has not had a job after he quit his first job after college but I am always hoping he would find one in time. There is nothing much I can do to help except to let him know that I am always right here whenever he needs me. From time to time he would message me on Facebook just to tell me about some problems and issues he’s been dealing with lately. If in any way these messages are a cry for help, I hope I am doing the right thing to address that need. I do hope I am.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Friendship

Shielo, Me, Mahin and Gogi

This is one, if not the only photo I have of my college bffs where all four of us were present. Thanks to Mahin’s hubby Wilmore, for the rare shot and for the memento I hold so dearly til now.

These girls were like my sisters; odd sisters I must say. We became friends not because we share same interests nor follow the same tenets in life. In fact, we are so different in many ways that most often, we ended up biting each other’s tail. Yes, it’s common for us to head-but one after the other, refute one’s opinion and take side with another. But no matter how oddly unique we are as individuals, we stick together and consider this gang of four not-so-ordinary females, each other’s friend.

We’ve been friends for eleven years now and though we led separate lives making a living in separate places, I know the tie that binds our friendship together cannot be separated neither by time nor distance.

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Me and Shielo
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Mahin and Gogi with the (Telly)hubbies

Just this morning, I got the time to browse my friend’s albums. Well, they looked genuinely happy in their photos. And I am as equally happy for them for the kind of life they are making with their own families. They looked a bit older though (and I hope they don’t mind me saying this) but prettier, nonetheless.

To my four bffs (including my high school bestfriend Julieta), Shielo, Alma and Gogi, I wish you good health and genuine happiness. I miss you guys! Love lots!

PS. Say hi to my alter ego, Julieta!

Yes, she’s one of the dearest friends I have. And no, I’m not sure what exactly she was doing here. You guess! ;p

Disclaimer: All images that appear herein except for the first one above is not mine and was just accidentally reproduced, copied, edited and stolen for personal purposes only. The owners are prohibited to seek any legal actions in relation to the rightful usage of said non-copyrighted materials, or else

Footprints

Probably, one important factor to consider when moving from one life’s chapter to another is the people you will be leaving behind. Hence, it was what I dread considering when I left my last job. The moment I decided to quit from that job, I had accepted the fact that I’ll be less and less visible to my friends, even to my best of friends.

I treasure every single soul that comes along my way, and I consider each either a friend or a challenge to my growth. Thus every person I came to befriend with, over these years, has its mark engraved within me which is unbounded by time nor the absence of it. No amount of absence can blow those prints away.

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Is is always sad to realize and feel when your estranged friends had seemed to have moved on from that eventual separation. The truth rocks you to the core. Or was it my tear ducts getting a little more sensitive? Even the chaos of the neighboring house cannot take away the melancholy and stillness of the moment. I think, I mean I believe, I am missing people. Yeah, my heart says it misses them so badly.

Communicating online can certainly help, but not enough I guess. After every virtual communication–chatting in Facebook, Skype or Yahoo, or that simplest poke, like or comment given, you will then left to wonder afterwards. You realize later how it has been walking down memory lane with those familiar faces, laughing, crying, even fighting for each other’s belief—those faces, those culprits responsible for those marks which you yourself do not have the power to wipe out—the people of  your yesteryear. Consequently, you will then hope, hope of seeing them once again. To feel once more the real pat on the back or that light pinch on the nose, by a long-lost friend.

Somehow, maybe some other time, my friends and I will see again in person and we will talk face-to-face like we used to, whatever the constraints will be. And I’d like to think how that time is coming near.

Why Virtual Friendships Matter

If I remembered it right, my first romance with the internet started in high school, not in our insufficient computer class  but as a result of  personal effort aimed to advance my computer skills and knowledge of the internet. Perhaps, even with the vague view I had at that time of how technology may affect the lives of many and of the future, I had already claimed it to be a significant part of my life in the years to come.

That was maybe thirteen years ago.

From being able to learn the Yahoo product’s interface and how to effectively make use of it to further my goals, I went to learning to use other sites- how to maneuver myself to get what I aimed- learn as much info as possible, be more familiar with the environment knowing the time and financial constraints I was considering.

From that time on, I met numerous people of mixed personalities- some shared same views as mine while some others don’t. A perfect blend of experience that in one way or another made me well- equipped for my future online interactions..

Until sometime in 2010, (yes you read it right) in 2010, after finally overthrowing my interest on Friendster, I signed up for Facebook. And so the rest as they say, is a worthwhile history.

Yet not until this year when I started being active on Facebook. Active in the sense that I daily monitor all updates from friends and pages alike, regularly keep track of my personal interaction may it be with people I knew or with just plain strangers. Strangely enough, after a year of exposure in the various Facebook pages, I came up with 295 Facebook friends (as of this time). Out of the 295 I have, 55% of it are my personal friends while the rest are people I came to befriend through Facebook, but as what I most often note were as important as my personal friends are to me.

Below is a short reflection I’ve written which I would have wanted my friends to read, if they have the time.

The opportunity of being able to meet my virtual friends is the thrust I needed to fully immerse myself in knowing my faith by heart. Their presence in my life made me aspire more to know myself as a young Catholic- my responsibilities and how to cope up with it, defend the faith when the need arises, etc. These things, which I used to overlook before became the fuel to keep that fire within me burning. In the end, they are not just my virtual friends, they are my personal spiritual mentors.

I am always grateful for the gift of friendship I am getting from various people on the net. And though I cannot see them personally right now, I just love the idea of having to grow physically, emotionally, mentally and more spiritually with them. I love how they radiate the light of Jesus Christ and how they personify love in its simplest form. Journeying with my virtual friends has been one heavenly experience I am taking with me as a fellow sojourner. Who says that we can’t have a taste of heaven while on earth? No, definitely not me.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!

Dissecting My Facebook Friend Requests

Currently, after a tedious manual counting of my Facebook friends, I listed 163 out of the 298 I have as my personal friends- people whom I knew of personally. The rest, although were people I only came to befriend through the net, are as much significant as the first criteria, so to speak.

As one may have observed, I am not the type of person who seems to collect bunch of friends to fill my friend’s list. I do not accept friend requests impromptu either. Either these requests are accepted or ignored but surely, whichever I decide on, I make sure I researched a bit of the person requesting. My decision to accept friend requests is mainly based on compatibility with interests.

Though I felt bad for having ignored these requests, I just cannot accept them. I'm deeply sorry.

Whenever I do the weighing, one thing that comes my mind is the possibility of me having to post views and ideas (in my case are mostly religious), which may either please or offend the one doing the request. And though I believe in this sphere, just as in the real world disagreement is something I cannot get rid of, I, as part of keeping myself away from possible misunderstanding or any argument that may arouse due to conflicting views, choose carefully which requests to accept.  It’s not that I am scared of defending my beliefs. I just feel my Facebook daily experience would be better off if I wouldn’t have to worry to cause any differences or worst destroy a bond of friendship unconsciously.

One more thing that I significantly consider is the level of maturity of the person requesting. Usually this holds true to those I do not know of personally. As the first step I normally do to ensure myself of the person’s maturity, I explore her page- her info page where he/she normally states a brief summary of himself/herself, what particular pages he/she likes, movies, books, even athletes and most importantly religious views. Then I delve deeper by scanning for the person’s previous posts, comments, photos, photo tags or whatsoever that may suggest her identity, that is if her/his wall isn’t restricted. If for some reason, I found something that may indicate a future possible clash, I denied the request. And I tell you it is never easy to do the thrashing.

Now for those whose friends amounted to a thousand, I have nothing against it. Anyways, anyone is free to do whatever he pleases as the responsibility of maintaining his page is solely his/her own. Likewise, to those Page Admins who normally are bombarded with numerous friend requests, I can assure that I respect you for those names you have in your friend’s list. Hence, to those Admins who have accepted my request, here’s my warmest gratitude for such a noble act. Thank you!

Personally, I believe, it is not about how much friends I have in life, or whether they are people I knew of personally or they are people I came to know over the net. It doesn’t matter either if they don’t constantly keep my wall flooded with hellos or how are yous, so long as I feel their sincerity when it comes to keeping the friendship alive whichever way the person deemed it would be fruitful.