Saturday, March 29, 2008

Traveling Connections

As we move about in life, we come in contact with many different kinds of people. We're not islands, and if we choose to be, we're more like an archipelago, one spot of land amidst tons of others around us, some closer and easier to connect to, others requiring a few hops. I left the US a generally shy person (or, at least I thought of myself as one) and have hopefully grown past that in some ways.

In some ways, I guess I'm still the same.

Having now been in Australia for a bit, I move on to Adelaide, a sort of sleepy big town in South Australia. It reminds me of a large suburb, lots of houses and small shops, and a fair bit of driving to get you to the downtown city area. Not really that much to do, or maybe it just feels that way since I don't have a Lonely Planet Australia or took the time to look up places to go out and about.

Not that I really mind.

Most of the time has been spent lazing about at Sarah's place. I met Sarah at the tail end of my Europe trip while in Italy, one of the many people in the hostel in Cinque Terre back in early November. Since I was heading down to these neck of the woods, I'd figure I'd see if she was up for a visitor... and here I am, drinking one of her many loose leaf teas. Sarah is the only person I know of that loves tea more than I do. She has at least 50 different kinds of tea from all parts of the world (India, China, Taiwan, Japan, etc.). She has a couple of books on them. She knows how to take the time and effort to brew the tea correctly, lowering the water temperature just so and knowing how long to steep each cup.

Which means I get to reap the tea drinking benefits of all this knowledge. Sweet.

Most of the teas, however, are past their prime, relics of ages past which should have been put out to pasture long, long ago. Which is to say, they're expired. Some, unfortunately, for years. But, no matter, we brew it and drink anyway, steeping them in the hot water for extra time to draw out the flavor and body. All of the teas, even the expired ones, still have their oomph.

It's kind of interesting how the trip has changed and evolved as time has gone by. Years and years ago, when I originally wanted to see the world, I thought about taking a Contiki Tour. The packaged 500-cities-in-7-days kind of thing, limited time in each spot. I figured, hey I have no idea how to get myself around places, and I don't know the languages, I better pick the safest bet. Then the trip got less and less structured, until where it is now, more or less flexible and open at any moment, never a set schedule, until I buy tickets anyway. Even at the beginning of the trip, everything was set up and packaged, by myself, and things were planned as the days went on to maximize waking hours, spots seen, places visited. I got to see a lot walking the cities with my camera, bringing back with me gigabytes of photos.

Fast forward to today. Here I am in Adelaide, having seen nothing and really done nothing much, except for the drinking of gallons of tea and speaking at length about anything random that comes to mind as I sit here yabbering about nonsense with Sarah. And yet, I'm having the time of my life.

She asks questions. I answer. Vice versa. I learn about the silly ways Aussies abbreviate everything (don't forget to bring your sunnies as we head out to have brekky, later in the avo let's have a cuppa and sit by the telly), about the awesome camping/hitchhiking experiences Sarah's had all over Japan with her boyfriend Tomo and her crazy run in with those Eastern Europeans in Croatia when she was much younger. She learns about technical stuff, the internet, websites, computers, and me. Anything connected to the magic that is electricity. It's like she just graduated from a typewriter to the TV with words on it (thank you Homestar Runner. Sarah if you read this, don't kill me, haha).

I found it kind of weird to talk so much, so much that I started thinking about it. When the brain starts its gears, what happens? I get self conscious. Man, I am talking way too much.

Why can't I talk to everyone the same way? Why aren't I as open with other people? Am I really so interesting, or is Sarah just being nice, and doing everything in her power to stop her forehead from slamming into the teacup on the table? Just being relaxed, talking about whatever comes to mind, without being self-conscious of whether I'm boring the other person, it's something new to me. Until the brain starts kicking in overdrive.

I'm thought it might have to do with the both of us not having exact schedules to dive back into every day. Sarah is waiting on a police report to prove that she's not a pedo so she can work at the school. Boy, I'm painting a great picture of her on this interweb thing. Good thing she's so far away eh? Haha. Anyway, she doesn't have anything particular to run off to, and I'm on vacation, so I don't have any schedule to meet on my own. Maybe having this freedom from time makes a good environment for thought and banter, over a cuppa tea. Toss in some foccacia and maybe a bowl of pasta here and there. Makes a good avo or two.

It's like what I told Ryan... Seeing this or that, going to do photography. That's fun, and I get some great photos that I like, ones that I can share with everybody. But I'm realizing that it's the people that I've met so far that have made the trip really worth it. The hours of random conversation, connecting to others, learning about one another. Those eyes, not mine, that belong to the people who can tell me things about myself, things I should have realized ages ago.

That I'm not the lame person that I always think of myself to be.

I'll really miss being in Adelaide when I'm gone.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dance Dance Dance

Here in Adelaide, I'm visiting Sarah and her boyfriend Tomo. The other night, upon asking what they did for fun (other than sit, read, drink teas), I found out that they are the dancing kind. They actually have a class or lesson or something that night and I figured, well hey I took some swing before, I'll go and check it out. Can't be all that bad, right?

It was freaking awesome.

Modern Jive is a dance with steps so simple, it's hard to just "get it." It can be danced to any kind of music, which is cool, opening up endless possibilities. In contrast, swing was always danced to swing music. The moves for the top half are similar to swing (in fact, you can substitute any move), only the steps for the feet differ.

I have to tell you, Tomo is my hero. He exudes this kind of energy as he dances, like a smooth flow of graceful energy, perfectly in time and utterly synced with whoever he partners with. Nothing short of amazing to watch. I get a kick out of every new move he pulls out of his repertoire (as I make mental notes on how to do them myself). Sarah's pretty good too. She's like this quiet tea loving person at home, talks slowly and softly, yet turns into this fierce, flowing, hip-moving being on the floor. Mesmerizing. Put them together, and it's like watching magic.

After coming to a class or two, I'm starting to understand how to let go of thinking always about what move to go with what, and just enjoying being out there, flowing with the music. It's taken me a while to do it, but I'm getting to that point where it surpasses learning and arrives at fun.

And there was this pretty cute Czech girl named Dasha to boot. Cute partners are always a bonus.

The title is also a good Murakami book, by the way.

Housewarmings, steaks on the barbie, and wild animals

Got picked up at the resort in the Gold Coast by Donna and headed to one of the beaches to have a dip. The water is cooold, but very clean, the waves strong. We left soon after to head north to Brisbane, dropping off her sister in the way. She shows us their house, and... wow. Queensland houses are very open, wood floors, lots of windows. Very bright interiors, vivid colors, and old furniture. Everything feels so lived in and so cozy! I love it.

Went to see Be Kind Rewind, another one by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep). Good stuff. Mos Def and Jack Black do the movie well.

BTW, other good movies I've seen: Little Miss Sunshine, Dan in Real Life, and Juno. All great. I love Steve Carell.

Oh look, Donna's roommate Colin has Halo 3! Oh look, lots of Haruki Murakami books! Turns out Donna loves him too (woohoo! Donna is awesome!). I pick up one at random, one called South of the Border, West of the Sun and start a few sentences. I'm on the couch and ending Chapter 4 before I realize anything happens. I also love Murakami.

One quick trip to the local grocery store and some hours of Halo 3 later, it becomes housewarming party time! Tons of people come by, got to talk to a lot of them. Most of them are very chill. Not long after, I begin to smell weed. Ah yes, very chill people. I really wish I could remember more people's names, but alas, my memory the way it is, you'll just have to settle for the one person's name I can remember, which is Vish, this cool chillin Indian guy. Made the biggest joints. Smoked said gargantuan joints. Passed it on.

After sleeping for what seemed like several days, the next day was pretty much do nothing and rest, relax, and recover. Finished the Murakami book, and also the campaign of Halo 3. Got to eat some great steaks (grilled on the barbie, no less) and tried some local delicious barbecue sauce. Very light, not as thick as the ones from home, and just the right amount of sweetness. It was a good day.

Next day, head on out to the Wild Animal Park (stamped with Steve Irwin's name all over it). Saw lots of cute wallabies (kangaroo like guys), some feisty echidnas, and lots of amazingly cute koalas. Afterwards, grab a meat pie, head to the otter area to watch the feeding (Asian otters, some of the smallest in the world, go fig), see two tiny cute otters swim and dive after fresh shellfish and then head out to some falls with a name that eludes me to this day. Before stopping at the falls, we stop at a lookout point where these two guys are using remote controlled kites. They look somewhat like planes, one looks similar to the stealth bomber, another like an old propeller plane. Watching them just spin, glide, turn, roll, loop and dive ... so mesmerizing.

Off to the falls... Donna takes a moment and then dives in. I get to the water edge, feel the water at my toes and feel my drive to jump in vaporize. Uh guys, this water is cold, very cold. Not cold like ice, cold like icebergs. I don't even want to think about going in slowly. I imagined the ice cold water touching my balls. The chill from that would shatter my bones! Forget it, I'm jumping.

Oh God. OH... GOD! FUCK this is cold!!

After spending about 5 minutes in this unbelievably frigid water, I learned that all energy stored in the muscles, bones, body... basically vanishes. It takes all my concentration, all my willpower, whatever gusto and strength I have left to pull myself up to the edge. My heart races, I can feel it stressing to return some warmth to the rest of my being. Then, the wave of nausea, and the feeling of my stomach saying "hey, it might come up soon" comes. Oh man, not doing so well... The guys next to me ask if I'm OK, tell me to wrap myself in the towel and get warm. 10 minutes of staring at the ground and fighting the urge to upchuck rewards me with enough energy to stand and dress. Whew, what a crazy experience!

Heading back down the mountain, we stop over at Donna's nana and pa (grandparents) for a wee bit. It's like a scene out of a movie! They make me think of the stereotypical (white) grandparents, super friendly, made us some tea, brings out all these cookies, biscuits and cheese, and we just talk about whatever came to mind. I felt so welcomed, so cozy just chatting with them all. It was such a good calming down from the crazy waterfall episode.

Tomorrow morning... off to Adelaide to see Sarah, another person I met in Manarola.

Just a side note here, might be weird writing about it but since it happened I'll just jot some thoughts down. If a girl is comfortable enough to walk around in her sleep-/underwear around me, it's a good thing, not because I especially want to stare at her (if she happens to look good, that's a bonus, no complaints from me) but because that means she'd probably not mind me walking around in mine, ha! Hey, it's hot in Brisbane and I like being cool =)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Worlds Apart

Here I am in sunny Oz, the land down under, of kangaroos and dingoes and people with silly accents that I have trouble understanding.

So far, I love this place.

The weather is absolutely sublime, a cool 26 deg C (about 79 deg F) with low humidity, a far cry from the melting sweltering pressure cooker that is the Philippines. Being near the beach, having a relentless breeze wash over you, cleansing you of any need for A/C, smelling the beautiful salty air of the nearby sea... It's just a great, refreshing feeling.

These past few days I've been here with my aunt and uncle and my two young cousins. We've been visiting the various theme parks that the Gold Coast is known for, although we're avoiding the Wet n Wild waterpark. Good thing too, every so often during the day it'll rain cats and dogs, letting up briefly to let the sun say hello. Let's get a quick rundown of these parks:

DreamWorld: Sort of a small Disneyland with its own characters and themes, this place isn't too memorable. I want to write about it, and yet, I can't seem to remember anything notable about it or what rides or attractions we went to. I do know that the sandwich I ate was delicious, and that here in Australia, they charge for the tomato sauce, about 60 cents a pack. It's not exactly ketchup, it has sort of an extra kick.

MovieWorld: Like Universal Studios, except done by Warner Bros. Some great shows like Shrek 4D (the fourth dimension is the feel of the show), a very immersing Batman Adventure ride, a good Police Academy stunt show, a crappy Lethal Weapon rollercoaster, and the amazing Superman Escape: The Ride.

Let's take a moment to describe this marvel of G-force engineering. Most rollercoasters I've been on have a nice long climb toward the first great peak and dive. "Clink clink clink clink clink" it'll go, as it moves its excited/nervous passengers up, up, and up toward the efficient powered-by-gravity drop. It's sort of the part that builds anticipation before one's organs are thrown in all directions and one's mind and body become addled by waves of nausea.

But this is Superman. Superman doesn't slowly push things around. He's buff as a rhino on speed.

The ride starts as you queue up for the MRT, the Metro Rapid Transit. You're one of the many faceless citizens of Metropolis, getting on the train to go to work when... BOOM! SMASH! A gigantic earthquake rocks the city, blocking all hope of escape. We're trapped in the subway! Oh noes!

Hey look, it's Superman! "Folks, there's only one way out of this mess. Don't worry, I'll push you guys out of here... fast."

Yeah, no kidding. You're launched---yes, launched---out of the building, up the peak, then swirled and tossed in all directions, so many delicious G-forces assaulting your very soul. It is a beautiful feeling, none of the silly stomach coming out of mouth kind, but the good thrown about kind. 24 seconds later, the brakes slam and all movement halts as you come to the rest point. The best thing about this park? There's no line. Just get right back in for another dose of rip roaring ridiculousness.

SeaWorld: I love marine life. The dolphin show was good fun, seeing a big fat dugong (sea cow) up close was cool, and being face to face with gigantic rays is always a good time. All I could think about at every giant man-made reef/aquarium/giant water area with fishies was diving in it. Even the one with the gigantic sharks. Especially the one with the gigantic sharks.

Next up, I'm going to Brisbane to hang out with Donna, one of the many people in the hostel I met in Cinque Terre.

You remember Cinque Terre, don't you? Here's a reminder.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

G'day mate

Off to the land down under.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Walking with my eyes in my hands

As you might know, I took a break from the Philippines to see Vietnam and Cambodia around the 9th to the 17th. You also might know (if you read previous entries) I had some issues with traveling and got stuck in Cambodia since they wouldn't let me into Vietnam. At least I still have the photos and good memories, but since I didn't have my camera for the one shot that I wanted to get, I'll just have to describe it to you.

Heading back toward Phnom Phen with a taxi driver that couldn't speak any English (me, being a passenger that could not speak Khmer), we stopped in line with other vehicles getting onto the ferry. Looking outside, you notice what seems like a dense fog, except it only seems to really manifest itself near light and only in this particular area. Looking closer, the fog looks more like it's alive, not flowing as it normally should, but really frothing, almost as if it were shaking, vibrating in anger.

Then you notice that it isn't fog, and that it's hundreds of thousands, millions of tiny flies buzzing madly about the lights. Not merely the few moths or whatnot you'd see circling a lamp, literally a swarm, so thick and so large that if you were to climb up to the bulb, you'd be covered from head to toe in tiny thin buzzing insects.

I really wish I had my camera then.

As for the rest of the areas, I did have my camera with me. Come, walk with me.

Cambodia and Angkor Wat (here for the photo set):

If you go to the Cambodia set, you'll also see the lovely things I got to eat. Unfortunately, the little buggers gave me a crazy allergic reaction the few days I got back to Philippines, but at least I got to try them. It's so sad to be allergic to... um... food.

Vietnam (here for the photo set):

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

In the blink of an eye

Finally, the photographs from the Philippines are now up. Check out where my eye has been, island hopping through Zamboanga, Dumagete, Apo Island, Cebu, Bohol, Bacolod, Iloilo and Boracay Island.

Monday, March 3, 2008

All men are drawn to the sea, perilous though it may be

Waking up before the sun rises at around 4:15 am, I get dressed, pack my stuff and head out to ScubaBoy, a small dive shop in Bicutan, a small city a little bit outside of Manila. Getting there over an hour early (apparently there's no traffic this early in the morning) I just chill and take a nap in the car. Soon after, I meet up with Robert, and soon enough Mark and his wife, Mel arrive with their son Andre. After chilling for a while, munching on some pan de sal to quell my growing hunger, the last few people arrive (Ices, Rania and Marlon) and then we took off to Anilao in the Batangas region.

Two hours of wonderful sleep in the car later, we are parked at a small lot somewhere nearby the water. The bunch of us take our gear and spread it between two small boats called bangka (pump boats) and we take off to the sea, leaving the shore and civilization behind. Not more than half an hour later, after passing beautiful sandy beaches topped with green palms and covered by blue skies, we dock at a small resort area, take our stuff off the boats, put it up in the room and grab some delicious food.

After a short briefing with Mark, the other student (Rhea) and I head up to put on our gear and prepare for the unknown.

Tank, check.
BCD, check.
Regulator, 1st and 2nd stages, check.

Walking out to the water and practically looking like a ninja, I don my fins and mask, and step into the deep blue.

Remember the last time I talked about seeing the underwater beauty floating at the surface in Apo Island? How beautiful it was to float on top of the world submerged, viewing life at a distance.

Time to get in life's face.

I strap on all the gear and step out into the water... :sploosh: Checking my buddy over and vice versa, Mark tells us that when we're ready, deflate and descend. Strapping the regulator into my mouth and hitting the deflator on my BCD, I slowly submerge and the surface fades away from view.


Right. This is Rhea, my diving buddy and the other student doing the checkout dive with us. I would say something more about her here, possibly about her ridiculous pose in the shot but she already thinks I make fun of her enough as it is.

Getting down to the bottom, we stop to perform some exercises. Then a whole school of zebra like fish come by to check out what we're doing.

Yeah, it's pretty damn cool down here.

After the exercises finish, it's when the fun dive begins. We head out following the leader and stick close to our buddy in case of emergencies.

Corals, corals, corals. So many wild, strange, alien looking life-forms. Gigantic beasts of corals that look like huge planters... or tubas.

Fields and fields of beautifully feathery/leafy life, the many tentacled anemones waving with the currents, the clownfish and pufferfish hiding in the protection of the anemones... Once in a while, a blueish brown dog faced puffer will appear, and Mark will attempt to catch it, dutifully ignoring the badge Project AWARE gave him for participating in taking care of the environment. *ahem*

Rarest of all but wonderful to see, giant sea turtles fade in from the distance.

Something that looks like a beautiful purple fern appears. Everyone points at it and gives the signal for danger. Fire coral -- apparently if you touch it, welts will be on your skin for at least 2 months before they vanish. (Ices got hit bad with some all across her arm... now she has a bandage around it so she doesn't scare little children)

Beautiful, isn't it?

What's amazing is just the feeling of freedom you get when you're coasting through the water. As you look around, you see the surface far above with the bright sunlight fighting to break through the water, the seafloor below covered in an endless variety of colorful and beautiful almost alien-like life, and the limitless wonders hidden by the deep blue surrounding you on all sides... it really makes you imagine how expansive and wide open the world is and how much there is to explore in these depths. All the fish are but underwater birds, flying and floating around me, and I happen to be joining them in their underwater dance. Having the freedom to travel in any of six degrees, swimming ability permitting, is extremely liberating yet eerily frightening at the same time.

I just stepped into a new world... and I don't want to stop exploring.

I can't wait to go again.

Till next time.

For all those crazy divers that went with us:

Bell - The underwater David Blaine, master SCUBA instructor and all around underwater encyclopedia and cool guy. He did the best card trick I have EVER seen. It even freaking involved fire. FIRE!

Ices - Thank you for taking my mispronunciation of 'bulalo' to new heights and extremes. Now I will never forget you whenever I want to eat some BLALO.

Rustly - For looking like the fiercest underwater ninja I have ever seen. Thanks for the last dive's briefing and for coordinating everything and making sure we were safe. Although next time (this also goes for Mark) please don't ask me if I'm OK every 30 seconds. I'm trying to enjoy watching corals and things =)

Marlon - Thanks for being a part of the coolest underwater photo of the trip. I promise to Photoshop you out and put myself in, thereby making myself part of the coolest underwater photo of the trip.

Rania - Thanks for trying to scare Rhea and I during the final. And for having the hardest name to remember for some reason.

Robert - Thanks for sharing your war stories in the states and for being a spectacular underwater photographer, despite having more photos of everyone else instead of me. And for being a great assistant to Mark and helping us out. Your lens rocks!

Rhea - Thanks for being my SCUBA buddy and putting up with me. And for being the blunt of 99% of all my jokes on the trip. I can't believe I got you that coffee. It's probably why you're the blunt of all my jokes.

Melani - Thanks for helping out with the dives and for being a ham on camera (both above and under the water). And for drinking lots of vodka and keeping me out of the hospital.

Mark - Thanks for being a great SCUBA instructor and for taking the time to make sure I understand each and every skill in the water. See you on Saturday foo, let's rock the Advanced Open Water course.

Extras: Here's Rhea's take on the dive experience. It was actually her 6th birthday (leap year baby).

Special Message to Mark: Also, thanks for being the laziest SCUBA instructor I will probably see in my life. You should be thankful that I'm resourceful, I can pay attention, and follow directions to the letter, otherwise we probably would never have finished this. Ya lazy bastard. :)

Saying goodbye and returning to Manila

A-ko passed away around 8:45 pm on Feb. 9th.

The week after, memorial services were held every night to celebrate her life and bring together family, friends, and people from all over the city. I might have said it already, but despite being a time of sadness, it's also a time of celebration, to celebrate her leaving her suffering worldly body and going to a place of peace. Also, being able to meet so many family members (many which I had only seen when I was a little kid, some that I have not seen before) was delightful.

And I can't ever say anything bad about how much I get to eat.

On Thursday, Feb. 14th (Valentine's), A-ko's funeral service and burial was held. Traditional Chinese burial has the family members wearing all white. We all look like an army of hospital nurses, walking down the street. The coffin is placed in a car, and long stretches of white cloth are strung from the back of the car, a hundred or so yards behind. The family members walk behind the car, the ones closest to the deceased in the front, and the rest of us holding on to the cloth, as we march toward the church.

It's quite an experience.

A beautiful service was held for A-ko, with many family members talking about her life, and my Sa-ko giving a beautiful eulogy. We played the slideshow that we worked on the day before to celebrate her life and show some of the great old photos of her. I love old photos; I found some of my dad and my uncles, photos that had to be over 30 years old.

You can view the slideshow here.

Afterwards, we got into buses and headed to the cemetery where A-ko would be buried. Normally we would continue the walk from the church to the cemetery, but it's really really far to walk.

After one more prayer service at the cemetery and family plot, we all drop one white flower onto the coffin as our final goodbye before it is covered.

If I ever get un-lazy and get down to working on photos, I'd be able to put some of them up here.

On Feb. 20th, I returned with my Sa-ko back to Manila. Back to my home away from home.