Born for Snow

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When Joshua tried skiing, his body couldn’t get used to the new motions he had to master.  When Jimmy tried snowboarding, he couldn’t quite get the hang of it.  But switch them up and get them into their element, there’s no stopping them.  They could go on and on.  I’d be dead tired and they’d still be at it:  Joshua on the snowboard and Jimmy on skis.  Jason and the boys can already conquer the slopes together since their levels go beyond decent.

Me?  I’m forever a beginner on the slopes but I’m in it for the views.  I can’t get out of the paranoid V stance and transition into consistent parallels although I’ve had moments when I nearly got it only to be foiled by the fear of the steep, steep slope — the kind where you arrive and not see anything but a line between you and the sky.  It’s a drop that stops me in my tracks.  After getting stuck several times, after botched attempts at skiing through a clump of trees, after whimpering for help, after wishing life was a Matrix movie CGI and I could lift myself up with magic ease, after countless attempts to put on my skis at wrong angles, after feeling sorry for myself watching everyone including small kids whiz by, I realized next time, I should take lessons from a professional.

It’s like a metaphor for a start-up enterprise when you feel you’ve lost confidence and doubts paralyze you, when the challenge feels too overwhelming at times, when chutzpah dissipates due to historical and current insecurities.  You can’t get up and people pass you by oblivious you need their help.  At this point or before you reach that point, you have to seek out other people’s support and expertise to guide you out of muddled thinking and ineffective action.

My kids: they’re another story.  Every parent’s dream is for their children to surpass them, to soar through greater heights.  They’ve done that on the snow and hopefully carry it on wherever they choose to go.

We went to two different places to ski because Niseko was too expensive so we cut up the Hokkaido trip into two parts and hit Sapporo first.  Niseko is too painful on the pocket that we could only afford 7-Eleven meals but by that time, we had become more adept at saving money in Japan.  For instance, layering t-shirts works as well as a rented ski jacket.  This doesn’t take away from the magic of the adventure, the beauty of snow on trees and marshmallow delicious on the ground and rooftops.   We extend and stretch ourselves to find versions of ourselves that we befriend again.

I would probably never ski like these guys below but these photos from free magazines in Niseko motivate me to improve enough to conquer my fear of the near-vertical.

Ah!  To be fearless in that sport and in life!  How does one get there?

How Can We Go to a 7-Eleven Now?

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The way Jimmy looks at this “Hachiko” dog with love and longing is how we feel for Japan.  How will we ever go into a 7-Eleven or Lawson or Family Mart in Manila without hankering for the numerous food options of this developed nation known for its cleanliness, well-designed solutions to everyday hassles and high-tech toilet seats?

Soon after arriving at the Tokyo airport, we were greeted by rows upon rows of Gacha vending machines that spit out plastic eggs with surprise toys spanning themes that show how crazily creative, how infinitely imaginative these people are.  We save money by taking a slower train to our Airbnb and find the place exactly how it’s depicted in the pictures down to the blue car parked beside the modern concrete building.  Our Airbnb bathrooms make us feel like riding a first class airplane cabin while Jimmy simply savors his bathtub time.  We get lost several times in the train and subway system because it truly is as complex as how it looks, even if we have the advantage of Jason recognizing some Japanese characters since they are the same as Chinese.

We walk through a park to get to the Science Museum where the numerous interactive exhibits make us conclude it’s no wonder this country is so technologically advanced.  Although we do wish we had enough time to visit the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Odaiba where we had too much fun and spent too much time with no regret enjoying each moment at the Teamlab Borderless exuberant exhibit of digital art.  The first floor was mesmerizing but the second floor was engaging with art you make and instantly see crawl across the floor, with a trampoline that feels like jumping in a black hole, with a climbing gym playing with lights and senses.

Jimmy’s two dreams come true: visiting the Pokemon Center and the dog cafe filled with Akitas, a Japanese breed known for their loyalty as exemplified by the film-immortalized Hachiko.  At Harajuku, Joshua finally bought the soccer shoes of his dreams in a five story building dedicated to his favorite sport.  My dream was already realized with the four of us together in Japan, a trip we had been planning since last October.  The corona virus almost threatened its fruition because Jason thought he wouldn’t be able to enter the Philippines if he left since he was Chinese.  Thanks to Vince, our friend who works in the airport, we were convinced that worry was for nothing.

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Beyond Taal and into the Hero’s Journey

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The first Hero’s Journey camp in 2017 was held in Club Balai Isabel fronting the Taal Lake where in January 2020, the volcano within the volcano of the lake spewed ashfall that had people evacuating to higher ground.  Our camp had moved to the Pampanga and Zambales areas so it was far and relatively safe from Taal’s rumblings underneath.  However, one dad and his son cancelled their trip but 17 kids and 4 adults from China went through with the journey with our team of 5 from the Philippines eagerly waiting for their arrival at the Clark airport, praying Taal would hold whatever grudge it held inside or figure out how to let it dissipate in non-explosive ways.

The camp is improving year by year with new activities and revised programs, tweaks here and there but no matter the preparation, the essence of the journey is still the unexpected and dealing with them with grace and wisdom.

Three days in (with 4 to go), and a lot has happened – the usual and unusual adventures – minor airport inefficiencies, improvisation, farm time at Prado, bonding time in between, troubleshooting coordination, surfing and the new addition of 4×4 rides in the mountains of Botolan.

Three days after Taal’s alboroto, the camp participants’ plane arrived on January 15 at 12:30am.  They got out after an hour and a half and the kids were tucked in bed at 3am at the nearby Royce Hotel in Clark.  We proceeded to our go-to fave farm, Prado at Lubao, Pampanga.

For foodies and quirky-creative interior design enthusiasts, Prado thrills with works of recycled objects turned into art, light through the leaves of tall trees, shadows moving with the still water of the pond, the sky over the rice fields promising peace.  The kids bike to their hearts content on our second day after feeding the pigs.

I find this treasure of a book from the owner’s collection.  As I told Reimon, it’s probably one of the reasons why I came there — to receive its message.

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Happy Campers at Last and Forever (RORO Part 2)

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Jason’s dream for us to resume our camping life at last comes true and the tent we have not used for more than a year (or two) is brought out, gets wet with cold morning dew and feasted on by greedy ants while we slept.  It’s in our family DNA to backpack and bask in nature’s glory.  Why did we ever wait this long to rediscover this old truth?  All thanks to a typhoon that got us stuck in Iloilo and after two nights of living too comfortably in a hotel walking distance from the usual gigantic SM mall, we thought too much convenience is not good for the soul and sought the mountains.

At first, it was quite a bummer not being able to take the RORO to Bacolod where we ideally wanted to celebrate Christmas with our friends who have become family.   Ferries were canceled because of the impending typhoon Ursula.  Somehow, we managed to squeeze joy out of the hassle because right across the hotel was a street side restaurant that served fresh oysters for P80 a bucket.  Jason and Lele, his friend from China and our travel companion, insisted on having both lunch and dinner back to back in the oyster place, since where else can you get such a bargain?  Our friend from Bacolod tipped us off about Bucari, the Baguio of Iloilo where we found a campsite.  Though we didn’t stay in a tent that rainy night, the facilities were only for those willing to rough it out.

Jason was back in his element cooking for us.  Instead of eyes glued on a hotel TV, the kids played chess with their dad.  Two sets of bunk beds served as Jimmy’s gym.  The next morning we hiked up the fourteen stations of the cross and were treated to one gorgeous vista after another.

After calling the coast guard every day to check on the ferry service, we were given the go signal on December 26 and took the third RORO of this trip, and once again experienced the chaos and inefficiency that’s sadly the hallmark and trademark of our nation.  Par for the course, expected, psyche yourself up — we smile through it all because a reward awaits on the other side.  Joan and her family prepared our favorite Chinese hotpot and it was amazing relief to plop our exhausted bodies in what felt like second home.  Giddy with excitement, Joshua and Jimmy were reunited with playmates Andy, Dylan and Kylie.  Joshua dared to eat balut because he saw Kylie relishing it.  We have homemade youtiao for breakfast and corned beef far from the blandness of budget inns.

Joan’s husband, my husband and Lele belonged to an outdoor club in China so it’s only fitting that our three families would celebrate the season with a camping trip with two treks to the waterfalls of Guintubdan.  Three men from China showed their cooking prowess on the grill and portable stove.  Six kids ran amok playing hide and seek in a wide, lush, terraced area.   One Superwoman from Bacolod orchestrated it all while one Filipina couldn’t stop eating.

Jason chose a spot to pitch our tent further away from the noise of other campers.  It was a spot suffused with the scent of flowers more intense at night than the day, a spot were the stars were closer and brighter, a spot where Jason could build his own fire and toast his feet above the coal.

Our First Airbnbs

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I’ve always wanted to try Airbnbs and now that I have, how can I ever go back to staying in hotels?  This is way, way, way better — much more space and the feeling of home for much less cost.  It gets addicting poring over the choices but once you’ve made the choice and dive into it, the rewards are enormous.

The first one we stayed in Ho Chi Minh was in a little alley in the older part of town and even though the roads are noisy, you are completely protected once inside.  The space was a celebration of light, of getting light through to the inner areas and of simple and honest construction.  Joshua can’t forget the banh mi on the street corner down the road and I can’t forget the pho.

The second one was in Nha Trang, a bit off the central area.   The unit was on the 35th floor of a tower block and it was a bit inconvenient going up and down because there were too many people and it made me yearn for being in a low building like the first bnb.  The reason I chose this over the others was rather silly but practical.  It was because it had Netflix!  This location had another unexpected advantage: the beach is quieter and less populated than the longer stretch of sand Nha Trang is famous for.

The third was back in Ho Chi Minh but this time we picked a spot near where James lived which is where a lot of expats are concentrated where there are a number of International Schools.  Modern areas meet the older parts of town in a healthy jumble.  The owner of this Airbnb enjoyed adding touches of home that even the WiFi password, “welcomehomemydear” makes you feel exactly that way.

Three Airbnbs, two nights each, allowed us to vegetate, chillax, do a good share of study and work in the comforts of homes that don’t make you feel like a total stranger in a strange land at all.

After writing that, we went to the airport where too belatedly, I realized rather sheepishly that 1:35 does not mean PM but AM.  I needed to scrounge for a fourth Airbnb and if the first three were a walk in the park, the fourth one was anything but — giving me more lessons in an already learning-laden trip.  The owner of the condominium unit was from Korea and because I had booked on the same day, the cleaners arrived late so the owner did not know on the ground what was happening.  I kept messaging him and he assured me everything was okay when it was not.  Anyway, long story short, there is the side of Airbnb that may not be as idyllic and it’s as business-driven as any.  They seem to raise prices on weekend and the more you search like other algorithm maximizing platforms.

Still, adventures into the unknown are beset with uncertainty and the more you experience, the better it is for your learning curve.  The lesson learned in this case is — it’s better to book in advance when it’s Airbnb.  However, when you do need the Airbnb right away, be careful of owners who have multiple units in the same building because there might be a mix-up and be ready to accept that it might not be cleaned up on time.

Still would choose Airbnbs over hotels if given the option.

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In Love With Design Again

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It’s me and my ex-boyfriend again, my on-and-off — Architecture — because Vietnam reminds me this one is a keeper and I’d be foolish to let it go — design that sparks joy because love is at the root.

This is just one restaurant with gorgeous interior-exterior and equally superb food:

 

The name of the place is:

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I wish I could go back to Hum during the day time and take pictures of the crazy fun sculptural tree house in the middle of the courtyard.  There’s a swing and boxes filled with wooden blocks and toys to entertain the kids while their parents dined on vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.   If it weren’t for James, I would’ve just been too lazy and chosen a place in the mall because it was right across the Airbnb.  There are many more like this gem where attention is paid to details but I didn’t have enough time to discover them since the kids were too tired to explore.  However, it’s more than enough to see glimpses and snippets, to feel gratitude and feel revived.

 

Well, I got my wish in an odd sort of way that the universe plays almost a mean joke.  I made the mistake of thinking 1:35 meant PM, not AM and we had to stay in Saigon an extra day.   So I was able to take more pictures:

 

I see parks like these in other countries and I wish I can be Bill Gates rich and buy all the land and turn them into parks with libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chill and Not-So-Chill

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We settled on a totally chill, lazy holiday pattern of waking up late, doing a bit of writing and reading exercises for the kids to make up for the sin that is to come — binging on Netflix and games, plus drinking too much bubble milk tea simply because it was there and there were no lines unlike in Manila.  We managed the minimum of sightseeing — just enjoying what’s there in front of us although we took the effort to fly to Nha Trang from Ho Chi Minh and suffered the regular flight delays that brought us back to Saigon at 4 am instead of the expected, ticketed midnight.  In Nha Trang, we stayed in the quieter part of the long stretch of beach towards the north.  Huge tower blocks housing tourists still loomed overhead but the shoreline is not as inundated with bodies as the famous lengthy stretch of sand south of the bridge.

The food, of course, is the best thing about Vietnam as Anthony Bourdain would probably agree, salivating over the plethora of street food that celebrates the bounty of the land.  Oh those generous plates of mint and greens that come with everything!  That beautifully soft Pho that is not supposed to be pronounced with an “oh” sound but an “uh.”  And I have passed on my love for Banh Mi to Joshua and Jimmy but where will we ever get that perfect baguette when we go home.  The kids were intrigued by ice cream made on a metal table that instantly freezes fruits, oreo, chocolate powder, together with milk to make thin crepes rolled and slid into cups.  The fish with big bones cooked in foil sealing in layers and layers of flavor — the cost is unbelievably low for all these.  I wonder and lament how can we get good food so way overpriced in our own country.

What’s not so chill is being the referee between a 9-year old and a 6-year old who are at each other’s throat, ready to kill each other.  What’s not so chill is being the only parent there with no reliever.  I appreciated my husband’s role even more because it gets too tiring to keep the two apart when they fight.  What’s not so chill is losing my temper because I’m sick of the whining and ugly attitude.  What’s not so chill is resorting repeatedly to reward and punishment and wishing there was a better way based on intrinsic motivation more than anything else. What’s not so chill is the nagging complaints about flight delay that I just promise them I’ll never make such arrangements and we’ll just stick to one place next time.  I’ll probably be tempted to organize another crazy schedule in the future so then I’ll need to remind myself of the three-hour delay and the sleepy eyed, slumping lumps who almost refused to carry their own weights up and down the plane.

Still the best part of the trip for me is spending time with James and bonding with the kids.  James solved the problem of Joshua’s PUB-G not being able to update.  We were able to listen to James’ reading of the Lorax in celebration of Earth Day at the school where he works.   The night time breeze, swinging in the park, flowers that smell divine, enjoying an extra hour with Amani at Jump Arena, riding two grab motorcycles, watching footballers on the sand, creating a temporary masterpiece that can’t be captured by my camera, finding the perfect luggage and Pikachu in the airport — like layers of flavor build up a dish, layers of moments build up our lives.  The chill parts still override those that are not so chill.