Sayonara and Domo Arigatou, 2014!

As the year draws to a close, I am taking a moment to appreciate all the gifts the past months have given me. There have been plenty of bumps along the way. And there have been challenges that stretched me past my limits. But overall, it has really been a great year.

Family
Even after all these years, it is still not easy to have our mom living so far away from us. But communication has not been sparse thanks to phone apps that make constant messages as well as voice and video calls possible. Good health is one of the best gifts this year has bestowed on our family. My dad has stopped drinking since that frightening vehicular accident last year. The decision to let go of the car, which would need repairs anyway because of the major damages the collission caused, meant losing the fear of him driving after he gets drunk. It has been such a relief for me given the scare his drunk-driving usually gives me. This year has also been a time of reconnecting with relatives although for sad reasons. My aunt’s death brought together relatives from my father’s side of the family. It was a bittersweet occasion. A time of remembrance and getting to know extended family members that I met for the first time or after a long time.

Friends
Good friends are among my greatest treasures. I am happy to have extraordinary friends who inspire me, challenge me, and stick with me. I am also pleased to meet a lot of new friends this year. One of the highlights of my year was the trip to Chungju in South Korea for the Asian Games and the side trip to Seoul after. Apart from seeing colleagues I have worked with in the past, I also met others for the first time. I had a great time with them throughout our stay in Chungju. I also got to spend a few days with my close friend Bixie who is based in Seoul. We finally had more time for sightseeing and catching up unlike my first visit a couple of years ago.

With Bixie at the War Memorial
With Bixie at the War Memorial

Spending time with Bixie was an edifying experience for me. She is one of the select people that I can truly connect with. Talking with her even about the most mundane things brings me joy. While we keep in touch through KakaoTalk, being together paves way for more meaningful conversations and memorable experiences. 2014 is also about staying in touch with other dear friends who live in Australia (Min2x with her daughter Maxie), US (Beth and Milo with their daughter Enzie), and Manila (Anna Liese and Chalyn). We have all been together through all the highs and lows of our respective lives. It is hard not to appreciate how they are still part of my life until now and for years to come.

This year is also a time for rekindling friendships with high school friends that I have lost touched with for many years. My high school friend Deanna and I have become “food trip” buddies. We have explored Davao’s culinary delights and food haunts every time she was home for a visit from Cagayan de Oro. I have not had much contact with my other high school friend, Leonor, but she never fails to check in once in a while through text or on FB. I have also enjoyed the dinners and get togethers with some of my high school classmates that I rarely see.

Jury duties (umpiring)

With the other juries on our respective boats during the umpires' salute/parade after the final races.
With the other juries on our respective boats during the umpires’ salute/parade after the final races.

Growth and new-found confidence are two of the significant things that I think happened to me in my role as jury (umpire). I think doing Kendo has influenced that. I still feel nervous at times, especially when working with more experienced umpires. But there is a deeper level of calmness that has not been there before. This has afforded me with greater focus and clarity, which was probably why I performed way better than I expected during the AG.

Kendo
As early as February, I knew in my heart that I want to finally take up Kendo. It has long been one of the things I want to do. I emailed the club manager of a dojo in Manila if he knew of any dojos or clubs offering Kendo in our area. He told me that there was no Kendo club in the city at that time. It was only in June that the opportunity presented itself. The club manager from Manila informed me that a club is being formed. I quickly visited the Facebook page link he gave me and inquired about how to join the group.

During keiko
During keiko

My Kendo journey has not been an easy one. Joining the club while it is still being formed meant dealing with the birth pains that usually come with anything that is in its beginnings. But the challenges did not diminish my passion for this Japanese martial art. Most of the things I acquired and invested on this year were Kendo-related – shinai, kendogi and hakama, and bogu. And these are on top of the fees we pay for the venue. Kendo is teaching me a lot of things in return though. Focus, mindfulness, and humility are just some of the things that are repeatedly being honed in me every practice. There is so much I need to learn and I am only barely scratching the surface of what Kendo is right now. But I am looking forward to this journey and to grow in it over time.

Travel

Two years ago, while waiting for my flight home.
Two years ago, while waiting for my flight home.

In April 2012, I was sitting at the pre-departure lounge for Asiana airlines at Incheon airport. I was gazing outside the wide glass windows directly across where a row of Korean Air planes were parked. I thought then that I want to fly with Korean Air on my next visit. Little did I know that the random thought would become a reality. The said airline was the official airline sponsor for the AG so all international technical officials and other invited delegates were provided with free tickets. It was a pleasant experience for me both ways. The plane even arrived roughly 40 minutes earlier than scheduled during my Manila to Incheon flight.

The South Korea trip brought me back to Chungju where the rowing venue was. But it was like visiting the place for the first time again. I was able to explore more of the traditional cuisines along with my co-umpires. We also had the chance to go sightseeing to Chungju Lake which I missed two years ago. The side trip at Seoul was also one of the best ones I have had. There were many firsts, which traveling unfailingly provides. It was the first time I spent hours sightseeing on my own.

I left Chungju for Incheon airport with my co-umpires Admiral Chai and Mao who were catching an early flight home to Thailand and Taipei respectively. From the airport, I took a bus to Jongno-gu like I did in 2012. Since I arrived early at the hotel, I just left my luggage and walked from there to Gyeongbokgung Palace just across Gwanghwamun Square. I joined the English tour and walked around on my own after the guided tour finished. Fall has not fully arrived yet but the weather was already perfect for long walks. I proceeded on foot to Insadong and soaked in the sights and sounds around me. Bixie and I met later after her work.

The next day we had brunch at SuJi’s Deli in Itaewon then went to the War Memorial just a few bus stops away. We went to another part of Itaewon after and walked uphill to check an apartment for rent since she was planning to move from her current place. Our last stop was in Myeongdong, which was as crowded as I remember it to be.

The following day, we joined a DMZ tour. Getting in and out of the Third Tunnel which was part of the tour was a test of my endurance. It was easier to traverse than the narrower Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam, but the downhill trek going in and uphill walk coming back was too tiring for me. The fatigue of the past days and my state of unfitness took its toll on me. It was probably only because of sheer will that I managed to get out without fainting and rolling back down to where I started. We spent the rest of my stay in Seoul walking around, eating, and chatting.

Work
This year, I understood much better how different freelancing can be. Comparing it to the previous jobs I have had would only lead to disappointments and grief. Job security is an alien concept when you work freelance. The benefits I took for granted before are no longer a given. I have to work extra harder to provide them to myself. I also have to learn not to undervalue my work. It is not an easy path to take, but the rewards include having the freedom to make decisions on how I want to spend my time.

It has been a far from perfect year for me, but it has been great in many ways. So thank you Universe and God for all the good things and even the bad. I truly am grateful. Sayonara and domo arigatou, 2014!

A Fall To Remember Photo Journal #2: Seoulful Wanderings

The trip to Seoul from Chungju after the rowing events at the 17th Asian Games was something I was really looking forward to. Fall was just beginning, but I can already see the hint of beauty it will bring during my wanderings.

~  Day 1: From Chungju to Seoul

Finally leaving Hotel the Base in Chungju which has been our home away from home for over a week.
Finally leaving Hotel the Base in Chungju which has been our home away from home for over a week.

~ Day 1: Gyeongbokgung Palace (Northern Palace)

Touring the palace on my own. View while waiting for the English tour to start.
Touring the palace on my own. View while waiting for the English tour to start.
Tour guides in front of the Information Center at Heungnyemun Gate
Tour guides in front of the Information Center at Heungnyemun Gate
Cute kindergarten students about to start their tour
Cute kindergarten students about to start their tour
Geunjeongjeon (Imperial Throne Hall)
Geunjeongjeon (Imperial Throne Hall)
Gyeonghoeru (Pavilion)
Gyeonghoeru (Pavilion)
I forgot the name of the hall but I think it was inside one of the buildings in the Geoncheonggung (Palace). It is said to be where the King meets with his ministers.
I forgot the name of the hall but I think it was inside one of the buildings in the Geoncheonggung (Palace). It is said to be where the King meets with his ministers.
Walked past this area, which was no longer part of the guided tour so I don't know exactly what this place is. But it's one of the quietest places I've seen while doing my solitary walk in the palace.
Walked past this area, which was no longer part of the guided tour so I don’t know exactly what this place is. But it’s one of the quietest places I’ve seen while doing my solitary walk in the palace.

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Juxtaposition of the old and new
Juxtaposition of the old and new
Gwanghwamun
Gwanghwamun
After the changing of the guards at Gwanghwamun
After the changing of the guards at Gwanghwamun

~ Day 1: Insa-dong

I have visited Insadong very briefly two years ago with my friend who’s based in Seoul. But I did not get the chance to walk the entire stretch of road that’s the heart of Insadong. From Gyeongbokgung Palace I headed to Insadong and enjoyed a meandering walk (despite my sore feet). There is much to see and soak in. I was not able to take a single photo of this walk though.

~ Day 1: Donhwamun-ro, Jongno-gu

Finally met with my friend Bixie after her work. We had dinner at a restaurant a few meters from where I was staying.

I am not really a bulgogi fan, but this one was the best I've tasted so far.
I am not really a bulgogi fan, but this one was the best I’ve tasted so far.

~ Day 2: Suji’s Deli and The War Memorial of Korea in Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu

Brunch at Suji's Deli
Brunch at Suji’s Deli
View from our table
View from our table
We both ordered the lumberjack, but mine's with iced cafe latte while my friend opted for the orange juice. Love the food!
We both ordered the lumberjack, but mine’s with iced cafe latte while my friend opted for the orange juice. Love the food!
At the entrance to the War Memorial of Korea
At the entrance to the War Memorial of Korea

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Countries who helped
Countries who helped

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Went to a place 2 or 3 bus stops away from the War Memorial to meet with my friend's German friend who's renting out his home. My friend wanted to check so we took the (very) uphill trek to his place. We passed by to what the German friend said to be the house of the richest man in Korea. The house occupies a whole block and this is just one part of it.
Went to a place 2 or 3 bus stops away from the War Memorial to meet with my friend’s German friend who’s renting out his home. My friend wanted to check the place so we took the (very) uphill trek to his place. We passed by to what the German friend said to be the house of the richest man in Korea. The house occupies a whole block and this is just one part of it.

~  Day 2: Myeong-dong

From Yongsan, we went to Myeong-dong for more sightseeing. We explored most of the area and ended up shopping. Enjoyed huge discounts on my favorite face care products. We also tried some of the street food and bought some cheap trinkets at the sidewalks. A pleasant albeit tiring detour with no photos to speak of.

~ Day 3: Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Hapjeong

The DMZ was in my list of must-see places for this trip. I initially planned to take the train from Seoul to Dorasan station, but my friend said it would be better if we join one of the many tours being offered. We were picked up by the tour operator from my place then we transferred to another bus where we joined the others. Looking back, I think it was a good thing that we opted for the tour. There were certain areas where taking pictures is not allowed and that includes the 3rd tunnel. The said tunnel was bigger and less difficult to squeeze into unlike the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam. But for some reason, the trek back out drained me out. So if you are planning to take the tour sometime soon, a little endurance training would help.

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Looking out to the north
Looking out to the north

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Inside Dorasan Station
Inside Dorasan Station
Lunch at Hapjeong
Lunch at Hapjeong
Coffee time
Coffee time

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Cafe across us
Cafe just across from us

There were several other places we went to or passed by briefly that’s not on this journal. I have had a tiring eight days before the Seoul trip, but I somehow managed to muster the energy to visit as many places as I can. I was not able to go back to Gwanghwamun Square as  planned. I am glad that I was able to go there during a previous visit. There are many still I have to see. I hope I get to visit again soon. Fall, indeed, is a great time to see Korea.

I left the hotel at 4AM to catch the bus to the airport on September 29th. It was drizzling outside. I did not have my umbrella with me and there was no one for me to borrow a spare umbrella. So putting my coat over my head, I started the roughly 300M trek to the airport bus waiting shed. A few meters from the hotel, an ahjussi with a big umbrella came out from one of the buildings. He saw me walking in the rain with my luggage in tow. But he did not stop. I was following him the whole time and even stopped beside him while waiting for the green light to cross the street. I suddenly thought that if I were home, I am sure that anyone who would see me in that situation would offer to help. Still, despite the drizzle and all, there was something soothing and peaceful walking in the rain lugging a suitcase. I wish that I could do the same at home and feel as safe as I did then.

 

 

 

 

 

ITO Duties at the 17th Asian Games Incheon 2014

Serving as International Technical Official (ITO) for Rowing at the 17th Asian Games Incheon 2014 from September 17 to 25 was the best experience I have thus far since I got my international umpire badge. I have had my share of good memories in past umpiring stints, but my Asiad experience improved my confidence in carrying out our various duties. All of us rowing ITOs likewise developed a camaraderie that far exceeded the usual ones I have experienced in the past. I felt the pressure of performing at my best easing off on our first day. It is truly much easier to accomplish things when you are enjoying every moment. While I have always known that, I used to worry about what my next assignment/rotation would be in the past. I was anxious about commiting mistakes in critical posts. This time though, I did not think much about what my next tasks would be. Stoic acceptance of whatever comes my way. I think it is one of the things Kendo honed in me. And it worked in keeping me grounded and focused.

The Asian Games is the biggest sporting event in the region, second only in scale and prestige to the Olympics. This year’s host, the Republic of Korea is highly experienced when it comes to hosting sporting events having previously hosted the Asian games, an Olympics, several World Championships for different sports, and more. Despite knowing that they are quite experienced in organizing these events, I was still impressed by the efficiency by which the host city ~ Incheon~ handled the preparations. Both IAGOC and the Rowing Organizing Committee handled the communications and all preparations smoothly thus ensuring that we have our accreditation (AD) cards and etickets on time.

The trip was filled with unexpected but pleasant surprises since Day 1. I read somewhere that the organizers aimed for a more cost-efficient Asian Games that could be used as a model moving forward. I do not know if they managed to make it the cheapest Asian Games hosting, but I can say that whatever measures they have taken to keep the games simple and cheaper did not diminish the beauty of the various experiences anyone can get from it. And I for one could stand behind any initiative that would make multisporting events more cost-effective to encourage more nations to host the games in the future.

Photo credit: Mon Mon Khaing
Photo credit: Mon Mon Khaing
Finish Tower ~ Lake Tangeum International Rowing Regatta Course, Chungju, South Korea
Finish Tower ~ Lake Tangeum International Rowing Regatta Course, Chungju, South Korea
In and Out pontoons (photo credit: Mon Mon Khaing)
In and Out pontoons (photo credit: Mon Mon Khaing)
Start Tower
Start Tower
TISSOT Swiss timing system ~ Start Tower
TISSOT Swiss timing system ~ Start Tower
Boat Weighing
Boat Weighing
Athlete Weighing
Athlete Weighing
Day 2 of competition ~ Judge at the Finish (photo credit: Kin Wah Siu)
Day 2 of competition ~ Judge at the Finish (photo credit: Kin Wah Siu)
At the start area
At the start area
Traffic Rules
Traffic Rules
Out Pontoon
Out Pontoon
Umpires' parade/salute after the last race on the final day of races. (Umpire 1~Mon Khaing, Umpire 2~me, Umpire 3~Youngsang Hwang, Umpire 4~Ying-Hai Mao, Umpire 5~Rucong Huang)
Umpires’ parade/salute after the last race on the final day of races. (Umpire 1~Mon Khaing, Umpire 2~me, Umpire 3~Youngsang Hwang, Umpire 4~Ying-Hai Mao, Umpire 5~Rucong Huang) (photo credit: Razemin Omar)
Umpires' parade
Umpires’ parade
Lake Tangeum International Rowing Regatta Course Stadium (photo credit: Youngsang Hwang)
Lake Tangeum International Rowing Regatta Course Stadium (photo credit: Youngsang Hwang)
Weather report (photo credit: Mon Khaing)
Weather Forecast (photo credit: Mon Khaing)
Photo credit: Sevara Ganiyeva
Photo credit: Sevara Ganiyeva
ITOs in front of the Asian Games cauldron at the Opening Ceremony
ITOs in front of the Asian Games cauldron at the Opening Ceremony
Outside the stadium gates before the start of the Opening Ceremony (photo credit: Kin Wah Siu)
Outside the stadium gates before the start of the Opening Ceremony (photo credit: Kin Wah Siu)
EXO performing at the Opening Ceremony (Source: 2014 Incheon Asian Games Facebook page ~ click image for source)
JYJ performing at the Opening Ceremony (Source: 2014 Incheon Asian Games Facebook page ~ click image for source)
Kim Soo Hyun (EXO performing at the Opening Ceremony (Source: 2014 Incheon Asian Games Facebook page ~ click image for source)
Kim Soo Hyun (EXO performing at the Opening Ceremony (Source: 2014 Incheon Asian Games Facebook page ~ click image for source)
Psy (Source: 2014 Incheon Asian Games Facebook page ~ click image for source)
Psy (Source: 2014 Incheon Asian Games Facebook page ~ click image for source)
After the FISA Umpires Seminar
After the FISA Umpires Seminar
Goofing around while waiting for lunch after the final day of races (photo credit: Ying-Hai Mao)
Goofing around while waiting for lunch after the final day of races with our awesome LOs/volunteers (photo credit: Ying-Hai Mao)
Group photo with our dedicated volunteer bus driver on his last day with us ~ in front of eMart, Chungju
Group photo with our dedicated volunteer bus driver on his last day with us ~ in front of eMart, Chungju

 

 

 

Running “easy” on the pathways of Shinagawa

(Posted on November 8, 2007 in my old blog)

163896_1762887876325_3309450_nI spent my first morning in Tokyo running on the streets and pathways of Shinagawa. The crazy part was, not only did I run for one hour, which I usually do only when I register for a 10K fun run, but I ran with Ani who is a national team triathlete/coach.

I first thought that we would somehow separate after we leave the hotel. I mean, I know how triathletes train and I was thinking there is no way I can keep up with her. I have not been running for what seems like ages. I took up jogging again once a week last month and only logged between 2.5 to 3K tops each run.

So there I was at 7:00 AM, walking out of the Grand Prince New Takanawa hotel with Ani and thinking how stupid I was not to have thought of wearing a jacket. The air was crisp and I was feeling cold by the time we turned the first corner. Then Ani told me that we could run together since she will just do “easy” training. She said we will run for an hour then we will go back.

Cool, I said. And then we ran. In less than 10 minutes I did not feel cold anymore. I actually began to enjoy looking at the scenery around me. Thirty minutes into the run I began to question the logic of what I was doing. I was still feeling good, but this was when I started thinking that a triathlete’s “easy” pace is different from an ordinary person’s definition of it.

But I was really having fun running with Ani by the time I began feeling the discomforts that I resolved to try stick to the plan and finish it with her. I mean, I knew that she was really setting a very relaxed pace by her standards so I thought I should just do my best to keep up with her.

Fortunately, I was able to quickly slip into my force field and focus on the task at hand. I am really glad I did not listen to those tiny little voices in my head telling me that I cannot do it. My resolve is such that I felt a lot of feelings that brought me back to another time, another life (back when running is part of a daily routine and exercise is not just a whim). I am happy to realize that somehow, that part of me is still there and that I can draw a lot from it when and if I have to.

A Fall To Remember Photo Journal #1: Japan Dreaming

The colors of fall are just some of the many things to love about the season. I’ve always wondered if other countries’ autumn share the same qualities I’ve seen and loved in Japan. Somehow it felt different from that other place where I first experienced it.

For someone who lives with either sunny or rainy days all year round, to be in the midst of changing seasons can be unfailingly moving. But despite each season’s unique and breathtaking attributes, it’s fall that has so far given me some of the richest and most beautiful memories.

These are some photos that remind me why I love fall. And Japan.

Seen at a school grounds in Minamiaizu, Fukushima Prefecture
A bridge to Aizu-Wakamatsu-jō (a.k.a. Tsuruga-jo Castle)
Beyond a bridge is this pathway to the castle
At the gate
A feast of colors at the castle grounds
Tsuruga-jo behind dying leaves
Here lies the fallen
A carpet of leaves
Exploring the grounds

View from the castle
Tsuruga-jo
Meanwhile in Akita Prefecture…
~ This photo served as a timely reminder why, for me, Fall + Japan = Love.
(photo credit: Visit Japan 2010’s Facebook page)

An Old Village Photo Journal #1: Ouchijuku (大内宿)

Ouchijuku is a small village isolated in the mountains of the prefecture of Fukushima, in the south. This village was, during the Edo period, an important post town on the road linking Edo (the former name of Tokyo) and Sendai. Many buildings which, before the Meiji restoration, where used as hotels, restaurants or shops, are still in pristine condition today. This is due to the fact that when a new road was built (road 121, a little on the east), Ouchijuku was almost completely forgotten, which prevented the old buildings from being destroyed during a “modernization”. The re-discovery of this village made this place one of the main attraction of Fukushima-ken. Since 1981, this architectural site is also protected; at that time, all electric cables have been put underground. ~ (Source: secret-japan.com)

Seen while walking along the road going to the village
Foggy, cold, drizzling, dreamy, and breathtakingly beautiful fall afternoon in the old post town
Hungry. Time to check the street fares they’ve got here.
More food
Then we saw these two cases of sodas in a small canal with clean and very cold water streaming down from the mountain. Ingenious 🙂
Continued our leisurely walk in town and thought of taking a picture of this
My friend Ani in front of a souvenir shop
Me ~ loving my umbrella
Neko with little pink pig in a souvenir shop. Kawaii doesn’t get old (^_^)
First torii seen in town
Since it started drizzling again, my friend and I decided to find shelter. Better yet, we found ourselves a nice, cozy restaurant where this old man sits by the fire heating water for tea.
And this was how Jo, one of our Japanese hosts, found us.

In the heart of Ouchijuku, one wonderful fall afternoon, with amazing new friends from other countries,  over cups of tea with a friend as we enjoyed servings of mochi and other sweets I can’t name, I remember thinking – Life is good.

How a community sports program continues to inspire me

I was sent to Japan in 2007 as one of the country’s two participants to the JASA Study Tour Project for Leaders of Asian Youth Sports. It was a project that reinforced my impression of the Japanese brand of professionalism and efficiency.

That year’s study tour was hosted both in Tokyo and Fukushima. Apart from the study-related tours, seminars, and presentations, our group also had the chance to immerse in a comprehensive community sports program in Minamiaizu in Fukushima Prefecture. The experience left an indelible mark in me so much so that almost five years later I still think about how I could use it to start a program of my own.

For the love of sports: Meet Mr. Kenji Yuda

Mr. Kenji Yuda is the manager of the Hinoki Sports Club in Minamiaizu where club members come from all ages – small kids, high school students, adults, and the elders of the community. He used to work in Tokyo but he decided to settle in Minamiaizu to put up and manage a sports club, which was his lifelong dream.

Our group met Kenji in a school ground one drizzling, cold, and breathtakingly beautiful fall afternoon. He was accompanied by community elders who were all members of the club.

Dressed for the rain and the cold, Kenji and all the elders taught us the basics of ground golf. We were then divided into groups so we could play with the club members. I began to appreciate the sport after a well-played and, I must say, a bit competitive game. My team lost but playing with the elders made me feel like a winner just the same.

Sports for all: A community that plays together

The following day, our group was brought to the local gym that serves as home base of the Hinoki Sports Club. There we met the rest of the club members from the youngest to the eldest.

We were told that the club meets regularly to play various games. While there, we played kin-ball, dodgeball, jump ropes, and many other fun games that I tried playing for the first time.

Apart from the time spent playing with them, talking with the members was also one of the highlights of that visit. They shared how the club encourages various types of activities suitable for every season. They said that hiking in mountain trails is one of the most popular summer and spring activities on their list. Adults take younger members on treks, which gives plenty of opportunities for the former to inspire a deeper appreciation of nature and the environment.

I think that the Hinoki Sports Club set-up allows for a bridging of generational gaps in a very positive manner. The young and old alike get to spend quality time together. It was a truly inspiring experience to witness how well a community sports program like theirs provide an environment that value fitness and traditions. I cannot think of a better way for people from diverse ages to form bonds through sports and outdoor pursuits.

Sport at its best: Watching seeds grow

Minamiaizu and its sports club are both invaluable experiences that I will not forget. The brief time spent there further strengthened my belief in possibilities. It left me believing in the value of playtime and face-to-face interactions. Nothing beats the connection and learning that people gain from interactions through sports, games, and (re)connecting with nature.

I was deeply touched by all that I have seen and learned from the people I met in that trip. I remembered the kids, so young and full of life as they waved their goodbyes. I could not help but think that they were lucky to be part of all that.  I promised myself then not to forget them along with the lessons I learned from them. I am happy to say I never did.

No photographs, only memories

Source: Wikitravel

There are certain things that leave us with nothing but memories. Almost twelve years after I created some of mine, I begin to understand why many of us treasure photographs most. Perhaps the reason we take time to capture images is because we cannot seem to trust ourselves to etch beautiful memories clearly in our minds.

Sadly, the passing of years is slowly eroding what once were vivid memories of the time I spent at one of the places I do not wish to forget.

I arrived at The Hague one cold September morning. Fall immediately took its hold on me. I was mesmerized by the poignant colors of leaves clinging so determinedly to branches already beginning to prepare for a long winter ahead. Everything about the season evoked bittersweet feelings. It somehow defined the moments I spent there.

I write about captured  moments now in the absence of photographs and in the gradual fading of memories. I try to recall the face of the immigration officer who surprised me for letting me through quickly. Since it was my first trip to Europe, I expected that I would be subjected to the same relentless questioning I went through when I left Manila.

I remember Soc who fetched me at the Schiphol Airport early in the morning. I can still feel the excitement of riding the train from the airport to The Hague – the flat with wide windows directly across the clock tower of the Peace Palace,  the dozens of red roses, the welcome home Post-It note, and the jet lag that quickly followed.

Three months in The Hague leave marks on anyone who care to live each day appreciating its unique beauty. I am lucky to be that kind of person who embrace each day like an unexpected gift.  I love the tram rides, the walks in quaint parks with trees basking in the autumn sun, the kindness of the people, the open markets and shops, the morning and afternoon runs.

The Hague is a place I wish to remember for the rest of my life. All the joys it gave and the moments of sadness as well. One day I will visit it again. For now, I carry it around in my heart. It forever holds a special place in my heart and in my soul.