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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So the daily, one-hour rotational power outages we’ve been having for months now just escalated to up to four hours. I read a friend’s comment that there’s probably a greater demand for electricity since a lot of kids are now on their summer breaks. And I’m guessing several of them are playing with their gadgets or on their computers while enjoying their free time to the hilt.
I’m way past complaining and whining about the sorry state of power supply in these parts. But that doesn’t mean I don’t suffer as much as before. I find myself wishing I’m a kid again. That I have the kind of time and freedom children have when school’s off. If I could, I would spend my days unplugged for as long as I can and doing stuff like:
Play outdoors. I’ll play every backyard or street game I can with family, relatives, friends, and neighbors. I’ll sweat it out and have fun.
Join a sport I like even if I suck at it.
Go for hikes, get lost, and find interesting things along the way.
Learn to ride a bicycle and bike around wherever I want.
Read a book at the library or in a shaded area in a park.
Learn to cook afternoon merienda from the elders.
Reconnect with nature. Learn as much as a I can about the plants I see.
Join a tree planting activity.
Swim in a lake, river, or at the beach.
And simply be intensely happy being busy doing nothing.
In 2008, I joined the Mt Pinatubo trek organized by one of my former co-workers. The planned activity started out with a few people that somehow quickly ballooned to a bigger group. It was a memorable trip with plenty of life lessons learned and rediscovered along the way.
Some remembered thought balloons on that trip:
~Being comfortable does not necessarily bring happiness. And truly, miles away from your comfort zone await the simple joys of life that you could miss out when you are busy not looking.
~There are moments in life that giving up is not an option unless you want to get stuck in terrains that could get dangerous for you at any given moment.
~There are some people, often strangers, that you just have to trust. And most times, they would not fail you.
~Nothing reveals character than an extremely challenging trek where you are stripped of all the comforts you are used to.
~Everything is really about the trek, the climb, or whatever personal hell you need to go through to reach your destination. The view from above is just icing on the cake.
The long road to Naypyitaw, literally and figuratively, just about sums up my trip to Myanmar last December. A myriad of things happened before it, which could have given me plenty of reasons to rethink my plans of going. But I am not one to back off from a challenge once I have set my mind on something.
All of my trips are memorable to me. Myanmar was no exception. It was where some of the craziest things occurred, enough to potentially ruin the entire trip for me. But if there was one thing I learned in the few days I was there, it would be the importance of choice in happiness. Dealing with the unexpected, annoying, or bad things is like traversing at the edge of a slippery slope. The best thing to do is to be mindful of your steps, keep yourself focused in that moment, and hope for the best. That way, you can either get past that particular path unscathed or have the wits to grab on to lifelines that can save you from making things worse.
So here are some of the things I love about the trip:
1. The Southeast Asian Games Volunteers
After over four decades, Myanmar once again opened its doors to its neighbors to host the 27th Southeast Asian Games. Hosting the biennial event is not an easy feat. Having been a part of a SEA Games organizing committee in the past taught me that it is a most challenging job. So I was not daunted by the initial hiccups, especially concerning communication. Emails do tend to get buried by the amount of correspondence organizing committees have to deal with.
My itinerary was a bit tricky because I opted to take the shuttle from Yangon to the new capital city instead of taking the 50-minute flight. This previously caused a lot of concern to my contacts at the rowing organizing committee who pointed out that it is a 6-hour trip. But the prospect of traveling for that long was a non-issue for a nervous flyer like me. I think the hometown-Manila-Kuala Lumpur-Yangon flights were already enough flying time for me. Besides, I enjoy traveling by bus so I quickly assured my hosts that I would be fine on my own.
When I landed in Yangon, I was prepared for anything. I trusted the people I was communicating with have done whatever they could to ensure that I reach Naypyitaw on schedule. I was also on no-expectations mode. Given past experiences in event airport reception, I thought it best not to expect anything.
As I walk to the airport arrival hall, I saw a volunteer wearing a uniform standing at the side near the Visa on Arrival booth. I approached to confirm if I do not need the said visa and showed him my SEAG accreditation card. He welcomed me warmly then led me to the airport reception area where a group of volunteers were manning a long table with computers and all the equipment they need to activate the AD cards. They quickly checked mine, validated it, and put the sticker that now made it an official ID for my entire stay in Myanmar.
Everything was so efficient. I was happy with the thought that I now can proceed to immigration and leave the airport early for my long road trip to Naypyitaw. To my surprise, the lead person from the airport reception walked with me to a special lane in the immigration counters. He waited with me then accompanied me to the baggage carousel. He then grabbed my luggage and walked me out of the airport arrival hall to another building which serves as the SEAG arrival/departure lounge. There he introduced me to the transportation committee and made sure I was taken cared of before going back inside the arrival terminal.
The transportation volunteers were equally welcoming and nice. They settled me in a seat informing me that the bus to Naypyitaw leaves at 6PM. Less than 30 minutes after, a group of them escorted me to a car that would bring me to the bus station. Another volunteer, this time a liaison officer, introduced himself and hopped in the car next to the driver. A group of transportation committee volunteers then waved us goodbye.
As we reached the bus terminal, the liaison officer asked me to sit at the waiting area while he purchase the ticket. He waived off my money saying that the organizing committee will take care of it. We waited a few minutes before we were told to get on the bus.
I was happy to find out that I am on the window seat at the first row. There was a lot of leg room, the bus was huge, and there was no overpowering smell of freshener that usually makes me throw up. The volunteer then sat beside me. By this time I was wondering when he will get off since the bus is about to leave. When I asked, he told me that he would be traveling with me to Naypyitaw. Now THAT was totally unexpected.
I found these first encounters with the volunteers heartwarming and impressive. Being a volunteer at the games is hard. And they have been at it for several days. The mix of efficiency, warmth, and sincerity was one of the best welcomes I have experienced on these trips.
The trip only took less than five hours. Another set of volunteers picked us up at the bus station. As I settled in for the night in my room, I marveled at how there were so many I could be grateful about since I arrived.
2. Rowing at Nga Laik Dam
The host country poured a lot of resources in preparing the venue for the canoe-kayak, rowing, and traditional boat race events. New structures were erected to meet the requirements of the three water sports.
The resort sits next to the dam. This was the first time that us umpires stayed that close to the venue. This meant a later start for us in the mornings since we did not have to leave early to get to the site.
Getting around Naypyitaw is not easy if you do not have a car. There are no buses or subways that tourists can use to navigate the city. I heard that there are motorbikes for hire but I have not ventured far enough on foot from the resort to find any. Thankfully, our hosts arranged a sightseeing trip one afternoon after we were done with our umpiring duties.
5. The unexpected challenges
This was one trip where I had the most health-related issues:
Eye infection. My left eye got infected because of my contact lens. It was a stupid mistake on my part. I usually do not wear my contacts when I travel. But I wore it just before I left for the airport at 3AM and was only able to remove it when I got in my room at Nga Laik Kan Tha at past 11PM. I woke up around 2AM and got scared out of my wits because I could hardly open my left eye. I was alone in my room and in so much pain that I really thought my left eye’s going blind. Since I could no longer sleep, I spent the next few hours crying hoping that the tears would help clean the affected eye. I immediately left my room at 6AM to look for the medical team that I knew would be in the area. The reception staff told me that the doctors were not there yet and promised to call me in my room as soon as they arrive. Someone personally picked me up mid-morning and brought me to the medical area. I was given antibiotics and pain relievers. Despite the pain, I couldn’t help but notice that once again, I was in the hands of able and kind volunteers. My eye got better the next day.
Stomach problem. Just when my left eye was healing, I suddenly had diarrhea. This was not entirely surprising since I have always had a weak stomach. But I could not figure out how I got it since I did not eat much given the previous day’s painful episode with the infected eye. It was probably because I was stressing out on how I could possibly perform my umpiring duties half-blind. Good thing I brought medicines so I only had to endure it for a day.
Throwing up like there was no tomorrow. On the third day, I threw up until there was nothing left to lose in my stomach. This happened soon after I came back to my room after a late dinner. But I saw this one coming since I was inside a hot van with a funny smell the entire afternoon going from one place to another on our sightseeing tour.
These unfortunate episodes were the worst I have had in my travels. It was crazy because accomplishing my duties as umpire hinged on me being in good health. I was grateful that I was able to get through each experience with my optimism intact. And for some reason, each problem lasted only a day. By the time we started doing our work, I was back to my normal self. Once again I get reminded that no matter how bad things seem to be, everything gets better if I just ride the wave without losing enthusiasm and hope.
Volunteer centers like the DSWD repacking site at the DPWH Panacan Depot in Davao City are among the most uplifting places to be during these trying times. You see people who care deeply about the plight of those who have suffered so much because of Typhoon Yolanda channeling their energies in ensuring that more relief goods are repacked and prepared for shipment the soonest possible time.
I came back to the repacking center this morning fully expecting a much bigger volunteer turnout since it is a Saturday. But I was still caught off guard by the number of people I saw queuing to sign-up at the DSWD registration tables. Groups of students, volunteer organizations, the military, a busload of people from a certain municipality, barkadas, foreign and local tourists, and individuals registered as early as 8:00AM. By my calculation, there were over 500 volunteers by 9:00AM and there were more coming in.
The turnout was overwhelming, especially as I observe the people around me. Everyone’s on a mission to do something, anything, even if just a little, for those who are in dire need of help.
It was while I was standing there waiting for my turn to sign my name on the volunteer list that I thought to myself, if there are wishes I would like to be granted by our government, it would be these:
Learn lessons well. I think most Filipinos understand that we were essentially unprepared for the wrath of Typhoon Yolanda. While predicted to be the strongest typhoon to ravage a country in history, no one could have imagined the scale of damage it can cause. But while we struggle to comprehend what happened, many of us hope that our government would learn, and ensure that we all learn, the lessons this tragedy taught us. Learn them well and use them to mitigate the risks and losses should something like it ever happen again.
Listen. I have repeatedly seen several social media posts in the past suggesting what types of relief goods to send to those affected by typhoons, floods, and other calamities that hit the country. But as I was repacking rice, canned goods, packs of instant noodles, and sachets of instant coffee, I realized that the suggestions I have read many times seemed to have fallen on deaf ears. I was expecting that the initial wave of relief goods would be comprised of easy-to-open canned goods, ready-to-eat meals in tetra packs, high-energy biscuits similar to what the UN World Food Programme distributes for emergencies, and water. Because, really, how can victims get the much needed relief as quickly as possible if some of them, if not most, do not have the cookware and the means to cook the food they get from DSWD? I think it is time that the DSWD improves its responsiveness and systems in addressing victims’ needs. Sense of urgency should always outweigh bureaucracy and political influence.
Be more responsive to people’s (realistic) needs. This is related to #2. Filipinos are not a demanding people. Many even suffer poverty with stoicism and patience. But it is hard not to ask ourselves, and yes, the government, if there is indeed no money to spare for our basic needs if we keep seeing and hearing stories of corruption. Napoles’ alleged 10B scam is just one of the many frustrating cases of corruption that has plagued our country. As citizens of a nation vulnerable to calamities like we have had in the past, would it be too much to ask that the government invest on disaster relief equipment that Japan has? But if the government does not have the money for it, we will try to understand. But please work on the rampant corruption that’s bleeding the country’s financial resources dry.
Empower your people. We are not asking the government to solve all our problems for us. But we expect you to take the lead on how we can better prepare ourselves to survive in times of disasters. Better yet, empower us to minimize the losses they can cause. Now is a good time to look around. Everywhere in the country people are doing their share to give aid in whatever way they can. Harness those people’s desire to help in doing volunteer work not just for relief but in supporting and promoting disaster preparedness.
Your critics are not essentially your enemies. Try not not attack your most vocal critics. They may just be advocating for something we could all benefit from. Discern and differentiate genuine concern from mere rantings. Help those people channel their passions and convictions in creating positive changes instead of marginalizing them.
Be creative in finding solutions. Some of us compare our disaster response to Japan. Some of us wish that we have the same capabilities. But we are fully aware of the huge gap between Japan’s resources and ours. We know we have limited resources. But I strongly believe that comparing ourselves to Japan is an opportunity to be creative in finding solutions to aspire for the standards they have set. Japan is just one of the countries that actively provide scholarships, training, and exposure for government people. It would be great if we see those training cascade down to the farthest reaches of the country. Enable local leaders. Put lessons learned to good use or tweak them to suit our abilities and needs.
Climate change or not, let’s take better care of our environment. Because when disasters strike and all else are gone, the quality of our environment will help us rebuild.
I’ve been thinking of going for a really long walk somewhere far from my usual running route and preferably where I won’t get to see a lot of cars. The only place I could think of that seems to fit what I have in mind is Samal Island, which is only a few minutes away by motorboat from Davao’s Sasa Km 11 wharf. So along with two friends from my previous work, I started my Saturday right by going for a long early morning pleasant walk in the quiet roads of the Island Garden City of Samal.
This morning, I passed by the biggest mall here in the city on my way to the smaller one I frequent. I noticed that the expansive free parking area was still empty, which was not really surprising since it was only a few minutes before mall hours begin. But it wasn’t the first time I’ve observed it looking so vacant or less than half full.
In contrast, the smaller and much older mall was teeming with people again. Probably because it’s a payday weekend and classes are about to start so school stuff shopping’s in full swing.
Of Malls and Wo/Men
I’ve often wondered about a lot of things in this city even after the four years since I’ve been back. One of the things I’m curious about is the people’s “malling” habits. The popular mall chain I passed by earlier have several sister establishments strewn around Manila. All of which always seemed to be congested with people, and their respective car parks, with vehicles. But it’s different here from what I’ve observed thus far. Either there’s less people to crowd such a humungous mall or they just don’t spend most of their days hanging out in there.
Of Public Libraries and Parks
Apart from the growing number of shopping malls, I’m seeing a lot of ongoing constructions everywhere. Buildings are sprouting like mushrooms in a city seemingly developing at a rapid pace. And yet amidst those signs of progress I keep looking for some things that would make this place feel more like home.
Just early this morning, I was mulling over the idea of spending my weekend mornings boarding a ferry that would take me to a 10 to 15-minute ride to Samal Island so I could go for 1 to 2-hour walks in the island’s quieter and scenic roads.
I just wish there are more lush, verdant parks than concrete to walk or run to in my city. And that there are more public libraries than malls. I just want to live where there are places to read, trails to explore, and vibrant landscapes to see even if it’s in the heart of a bustling city.
My idea of development must be way off-base and out of sync with the usual scheme of things.