Philippines: Just Being Home

I don’t know where to begin. Spending almost two weeks in the Philippines has been more productive than eventful. I wouldn’t even consider this a travel post because it’s not. Most of my activities consisted of catching up with friends and family – nevertheless a holiday well spent.

It started off with the trip to Taal Volcano Crater. This also probably rounds up the whole touristic experience.

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Family

After a day of getting acclimatised to the time zone and catching up with friends, my cousin got married and the whole family was there to celebrate.

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And after the wedding, we celebrated our dear grandma’s 80th birthday in the afternoon. She has seven children and each of her children’s family was assigned to a colour of the rainbow, making a truly colourful party.

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This is me with all of my female cousins and our dearest Inay. I haven’t been able to score a photo of the boys yet, so this has to do for now.

The next day, while the rest of the family continued celebrating by all going out together for a swim at a private pool, I decided to pass and stay in my city and enjoy the best view:

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And, really, it was exactly what I needed after a whole day of family affairs and smiling at your own flesh and blood who just have no limits whatsoever. You know, after not seeing each other for 3-6 years, none of them ever minded to ask how you’re doing. Instead, all they greet you with is a comment on your physique, and asking about when I am finally getting married. It’s not like it’s a secret that I already am but my wife wasn’t with me so that’s barely proof.

Time with Friends

I found it quite hard to meet up with my favourite friends because they usually aren’t available all at the same time, so I actually had to spend days just catching up with each of them.

At the beginning of my second week, I went on my solo trip to Hong Kong, which had been an adventure in its own right. When I got back, I only had a few days left of my vacation. Those were spent with more catching up, and with a supposed trip to the beach that had gone terribly wrong. In other words, it never happened and we all went to a swimming pool instead where I ended up getting sick and not able to swim. Need I say more?

Nothing against my dearest friends or the relaxed nature of Filipinos in general that often clashes with the punctuality and sometimes even, uptightness, of the Germans, it just takes some getting used to. They even were apologetic and suggested that next time we should go on a big trip further away that requires some heavy planning and booking in advance because, then, everyone who agreed to come will have arranged their leave days already. Not to mention, none of us would want to let our hard-earned money go to waste by cancelling on a trip on short notice. Sounds like a bullet-proof plan to me!

The Folk Healer

Back to my getting sick on our swimming day, at that point it was noticeable that a few other members of our family have been getting sick (although all differently) all at around the same time. Just a week before, my nephew who is a toddler just happened to have gotten chicken pox the second time around (I know, in really rare cases it is possible). Everyone got suspicious after that visit to the doctor so they decided to consult a magtatawas, a kind of folk healer. By just simply writing down the patient’s name and birthday on a piece of paper and handing our errand girl a small amount for the doctor and her own bus money, we got our answers in a few hours’ time. The magtatawas will do his reading off candle wax dripped in a bowl of water. She came back with the results and some incense and instructions on what to do. Apparently, the child must have stepped on some corners in their garden where spirits of elders live and it somehow offended them. As a result, he was punished with the itchy spots all over his body. Poor kid, I know.

This has gone on with other members of our family. My uncle had a fever for a few days and the explanation was that he had been accompanied by the spirit of a girl in his lodge when he went on a trip to Palawan a week prior (and this has been said by two different magtatawas).

My experience was this: on our swimming day, I had a tummy ache in the morning, like a really bad case of gas and it was, as you can imagine, uncomfortable to say the least. It lasted for the most part of the day but, when we got to the resort at around 4 PM, the pain was gone and instead I felt really tired so I slept for a few hours and woke up feeling like I can’t hold my head up. That, too, lasted for the rest of the day and I lost my appetite and could barely eat. My friends drove me home at night time and I told mum what happened. First thing in the morning, and because I just didn’t want to miss out on all the fun, she sent our girl to the magtatawas to find out what happened to me.

 

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I’m not really a believer of these practises but it was fun to have experienced it.

And to finally end this post, here are some random images of the simple pleasures of being home.

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Ube flavoured dirty ice cream in a bun sold by a street vendor who passed by our borough

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Twin Latundan bananas brought over by my cousin who picked them personally from his farm

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Me picking mangoes off our own tree with an improvised sigpaw (landing-net used for fishing or, in this case, picking fruit)

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Kesong Puti (white cheese made with carabao milkand pan de sal for breakfast

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Taho (tofu pudding with tapioca pearls and brown sugar syrup)

 

Pitahaya cacti that will soon bear fruit also known as dragonfruit

I had fun with everyone nonetheless and I am surely going back in a few years even when it means having to go through it all over again.

My First Hostel Experience

As you can see in all of my previous travel posts, my wife has been my constant companion. We plan together, book together, and go together. I like doing these things with her because I think it brings us closer together, if not test our limits. But on my recent trip to Hong Kong, I had to go alone as she also wasn’t part of the whole trip to the Philippines because she was busy with school. I was excited for my first opportunity to travel alone! I had never stayed at a hostel before until this trip because, together, we usually opt for Airbnb or hotels since it’s usually the the most practical when travelling as a couple. The combined prices for the two bunk beds at a hostel is usually pricier than a double room at a hotel and we can save ourselves the trouble of staying in a room with a few other people. Privacy is just more of a priority when you’re a couple.

The Room

So when I took this trip, I wanted to do it the right way. I had booked my stay for two nights at a hip little hostel in the touristy centre of Hong Kong, just a stone’s throw from Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. It occupied the 5th floor of a relatively old commercial building. I was greeted by a young receptionist who took me to my room that consisted of three bunk beds and a shared bathroom. There were only two other girls in the room and the top bunks were all free, me occupying the last free bottom bunk. There was a small reading lamp inside and curtains to pull close for more privacy. The receptionist also told me about the cages under the bed where I can put my stuff in. I did not have a lock with me so she offered to sell me one for about 3 €. I later realised that I am the only one in the room actually using one. My room mates were also pretty young, so were the all the other guests that I met in the communal lounge.

Common Room

I went out a few times to get some snacks at the nearby 7eleven. Drinking water – hot and cold – was available for all guests for no extra charge and I’m glad I brought a few green tea bags with me to enjoy in the common room while surfing the internet on the iMac that was also free to use. The place was also equipped with high-speed internet for a decent wifi connection in all corners.

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Just being able to find some quiet to enjoy these simple pleasures is a true gift.

Sleep

I just had some trouble falling asleep on my first night because I was sharing a wall with the communal bathroom and the sound of the boiler came and went caused by some guests who took their late night showers – I can’t really blame them, Hong Kong was very hot this time of the year with very high humidity. But I eventually got some shut eye and was able to sleep soundly for eight hours.

Elevator Entrapment

On my second day, I went out to walk around and do some shopping. I came back in the afternoon to rest and take another shower to be fresh for my evening adventure. I was bound for Victoria Peak – the supposed highlight of my trip. I chose to do it at night because I like to capture the city lights. So I was in the elevator of the building where my hostel was when it suddenly stopped with a loud crashing sound. The impact was so strong it felt like the whole elevator car dropped on concrete. When I previously rode the elevator a few times, I always noticed this funny sign on what to do during a disturbance:

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I followed it and pressed the button, kept my cool. No answer. Lights and ventilation were still on and I had decent reception on my phone to connect to the internet – the mobile data roaming package I purchased for 14,99 € that soon ran low. I texted my wife to keep myself busy while waiting for help but I soon realised that no one really seemed to notice anything despite me repeatedly pushing the alarm button. I could only hear a ringing sound but no one answered. I even called out a few times but to no avail. Eventually I decided to call the hostel reception about 10 minutes in. The lady said she will notify the security guard on duty. I waited but for the next 15 minutes, I did not hear a thing from outside that sounded remotely like help. I called the reception again, this time with a little more frustration in my voice. She said she’ll call a rescue team and asked if I was alright. I had no better answer than “I’m stuck in an elevator”.

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Concrete wall behind the door

10 minutes later, I heard voices outside. I do not speak a word of Cantonese but it was clear that the voice was calling out to me. He tried again in English, asked if I was hurt or felt dizzy. I said I was fine aside from the obvious. He said he’ll help me get out and started tinkering on the machine. At some point he said he’ll have to turn the power off and it went dark for a while. Then he asked me to hold on to the rails and stand steady. I felt myself being pushed upwards and while the door was slowly opening up. My rescuer was waiting right outside and reached out his hand to help me out. Again, he asked if I was alright and if I needed to see a doctor. I said I was fine and he told me I would have to take the stairs to go down. That’s when I realised that I was standing between two floors when the elevator gave. I went upstairs back to my hostel instead and I was greeted sorrily by the receptionist and she handed me a glass of water. I sat on the couch in the common room for a little while to come down a little. When I got up to leave, the receptionist approached me with an offer to transfer to a double room, which I thought was really kind and I accepted.

My first hostel experience of a supposed two-night stay in a shared room was reduced to one night. I had my eye on the double room a few months ago when my BFF was thinking about coming with me and I was considering getting an upgrade so we can both stay there. Even then I thought it was a nice room because of the bathroom that is placed inside a glass cage inside the room:

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I guess you understand now why the offer was hard to refuse. It was my last night in Hong Kong and I slept well. I was bound for the Philippines the next day and because my flight was in the evening, I booked a night’s stay at another hostel in Manila, one where you sleep on capsule beds. I decided to only take it if I arrive in Manila too late to catch the bus home to the province. Luckily, there has been no delay in my flight and I got out early. I didn’t feel like adding another claustrophobic experience to my holiday anyway.

So all in all, the hostel experience in itself was fine. What happened to me in that building could have happened to me in any building. The elevator permit was up to date when it happened so I guess I was just unlucky. I regret not being able to complete the whole experience with the room upgrade and the cancellation of the second venue but I’m sure that if the circumstances were different, I would have pushed through.

Tips:

  • Bring your own lock. If you have one lying around at home, pack it inside your bag so you wouldn’t have to buy another one.
  • Microfibre towel. They don’t take up too much space in your bag unlike your regular towel and they dry quickly. Most hostels don’t provide you with towels and you might have to pay for it when you ask for one.
  • Bring a few teabags of your favourite brew. Tea lovers! How convenient that teabags barely take up any space in our baggage.
  • Always keep your accommodation’s phone number handy. Emergencies can happen anywhere, not only in elevators. Though I was connected to the internet while I was there, I checked if I had the phone number stored on my phone anyway, in case next time I’m not so lucky. Many booking websites have a pass for your booking that you can add to your wallet if you own an iPhone. The hostel’s contact details are on there and you may access it even without an internet connection. Otherwise just store it manually. Either way, they are probably your only local contact in the country and they know what to do and who to call if something happens.

My this Year’s Birthday Gifts from the Best People

Time went by way too fast again. I just realised during a phone call with my mum that my birthday had been two weeks ago and not just the other week – which made us both just slightly panicky because that means we’re getting closer to our trip to the Philippines later this month – but I’ll write about that soon. And speaking about Mum, it’s Mother’s Day today and aside from the fact that she gave birth to me, I am thankful to her for finally handing me down her 20+ year old Ray-Bans, after only asking her for it countless times for over two decades.

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And she gave them to me as a birthday present (but that’s because she bought herself a new pair), and I love them!

We went to Cologne for the Easter weekend where my sister had her house-warming party and she had to give me her present already because she was to leave for the Philippines a few days later. She put it in a paper bag with a note explicitly saying: “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL APRIL 30!”. My family of course knows me best and the evil sister knew just how to torture me. She even warned the wife to keep an eye on me just to make sure I don’t slip.

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She even took the time to harass me with these text messages. Big sisters are just the absolute worst.

So I took the paper bag all the way to Warsaw so I can open it as soon as the clock hits midnight.

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… and this was inside and I sincerely love it! I opened the bag about 20 minutes before midnight and sent her this selfie with a timestamp, because I’m a rebel like that.

Speaking of rebels, aside from the trip to Warsaw, I had been given this amazing book full of bedtime stories about badass women in history by my very badass wife:

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I actually recommend it to everyone. We got it off Amazon for 15,99 €. Please read this to your children and/or partners or just to yourselves! These stories are really empowering!

And what I also got from her a few months prior were tickets to The Addams Family musical here in Berlin which is due next week, finally!

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I am too stoked for this!

When we got back from Warsaw, a package from my dearest friend had been waiting for me. Inside were a pair of sunnies and a purple dress (because I had been bugging her with my search for the perfect purple dress for my grandma’s birthday for weeks, will write about that soon!).

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Thanks, M.!

Moreover, on the 1st of May we had lunch reservations at a Chinese restaurant with my aunt (who also happens to be our neighbour), so when they picked us up she handed me her gifts:

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This very adorable froggy doorstopper and matching necklace and bracelet from one of her many travels to far away places.

I finally went back to work the next day after 3 days off and I had to report straight to a morning shift. We each get assigned to a “birthday godparent” from our team so my godparent had been waiting for me with this:

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She even remembered my favourite flowers – carnations! Along with it a box of chocolates and a L’Occitane en Provence gift box with hand soap and cream that smell like magic.

Lastly, people who have known me for quite some time now know how much I love shopping at TKMaxx for just everything.

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My cat loves it, too!