Thanks for the Wild Ride, 2015!

This year has been far from boring despite my lack of expectations going in. The Chinese horoscopes I have read  hinted of little promise for my sign. Given the somewhat unfavorable predictions, I opted to block them from my mind (yes, I’m selective like that). So I welcomed the year a bit wary of what’s to come. But with a firm resolve that whatever happens, I will do my best to get through whatever life throws at me.

For a year that was supposed to have little to look forward to though all sorts of crazy things happened. The good, the bad, and everything in-between — they all made this year unpredictably eventful. Here are some of my 2015’s highlights. Every experience was an opportunity for gratitude, happiness, learning, and growth.

Family is Love

We don’t do showy love in our family. But we see and feel it. And this year, there have been several ways I’ve seen how they support me in what I do. They may not always understand my choices given the traditional beliefs some of them have. But I could count on them to be there for me. It has always been more than enough. My dad, mom, and sister each in his and her own ways have helped me a lot this year.

It was sad and scary though when my dad was hospitalized last November. He had to stay at the hospital for several days. It didn’t help that we were not really sure what was wrong with him. He’s been dealing with diabetes and high blood pressure for so long. Thankfully, he got better quickly and was able to go home a few days later.

Friends I’m Lucky to Have

I don’t often see my closest friends since I moved back to my hometown. So it’s always a happy occasion when I get to meet them. I had a chance to do just that this year for some friends I haven’t seen for a long time.

Early this year, I met up with Nathan, my brod who got me into arnis, dragonboat, and capoeira. It’s been almost eight years since I last saw him so I was happy to reconnect with him. I’ve seen him again after that when I went to Manila. I had dinner with Sis Lilet who was in Davao a few months back. I had a meet up with my kindred Karen and former workmate Ailene when I was in Singapore. I likewise had a chance to see my awesome Virgo friends Anna Liese, Babs, and Chalyn when I was in Manila last July. I stayed with my former teammates Belen, Jess, and Adrian when I was in Paris. A common friend from Pencak Silat also made time to visit us while I was there. And just a few days ago, I had lunch with high school friends Leonor and Deanna who are based in Cebu and Cagayan de Oro respectively.

I’ve also kept in touch with my best buddies Bixie (Seoul), Min-Min (Melbourne), Beth with Milo (Maryland) and Aileen (Singapore).

Getting an Apology I No Longer Expected

Early this year, I found a message on my Facebook account’s “other” inbox a few days after it was sent. I usually don’t check that inbox so I don’t know what prompted me to open it. I was surprised to find that message there, especially at a time when I no longer expected it. It was a most touching message that I’ll never forget. Here’s to closures and great stories that last a lifetime.

Health I Need to Take Better Care Of

I had at least two worrisome respiratory woes this year. Both required visits to a pulmonologist. During my first check-up, the chest x-ray showed some fluids in one of my lungs. I was worried about this because it was the first time that it happened to me. The doctor gave me a lot of medicines. I was advised to refrain from doing physical activities. This meant skipping kendo training for at least two to three weeks each time. The treatment worked so I was more than glad I stuck to it. But the problem recurred a few weeks later, but without the lung fluids. I got another round of prescriptions. I made sure I followed the doctor’s advice to the letter. This was a few days before I had to leave for jury/umpire duties at the Singapore SEA Games.

Getting sick sucks for a lot of reasons. I realized I need to take better care of my health from now on.

Jury/Umpire Duties

I once read an interview of an experienced umpire who said something like a good race for us jury members is when we remain “invisible”. And I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s every jury/umpire/referee’s wish that every race goes as smoothly as possible.

I’ve been generally lucky in the previous umpiring assignments I’ve had. But that all ended this year. I’ve had a lot of challenging firsts while doing jury/umpire duties in the past months.

SEA Games

Crews at the Start area.
Crews at the Start area.

This year’s SEAG was memorable for me because I got assigned as Responsible Judge at the Finish. I’ve done Judge at the Finish several times but not the responsible judge task. I was also Judge at the Start at one of the toughest days to be assigned in that post given the bad weather that was threatening to get worse by the minute.

During the last day of races (Final A), I was the only female umpire of the four out on the racing course. It was raining hard early that morning and quite windy too. The weather improved a bit so the races started as scheduled. But it was still raining. I was a bit worried about some boat classes like the coxless pair and four given the weather conditions.

As my luck would have it, I was the umpire for the women’s coxless four (W4-). It turned out to be one of the toughest events to follow that day. Some of the teams’ boats were already swerving as soon as the race started. The wind was not helping at all. Everyone was moving into others’ lanes. I was using my white flag and bullhorn almost throughout the duration of the race. I had several instances of near collisions involving not just one or two crews but most of them. Two teams were so close to colliding with each other as they approach the finish. I was surprised that the race ended without mishap.

World Masters Regatta

Umpire Boats
Umpire Boats

My first assignment as jury member for a world event was equally memorable. It was the busiest regatta I’ve been to. Over 3,500 participants were competing in different age categories (27 to 90+). Races were scheduled from 6:00AM to 7:00PM for three and a half days. Jury members were assigned to work in shifts. There were only 3 minutes intervals between races. I’ve never experienced calling out a false start before. But in that event, I had two false starts and one close call when I was assigned as Judge at the Start.

Crews at the Start Area. Taken while hanging out near the Aligner's Hut while I was off shift.
Crews at the Start Area. Taken while hanging out near the Aligner’s Hut while I was off shift.

During my afternoon shift in the last day of races, I was static umpire at 500m (350-700m zone). A male single sculler in lane 1 stopped as his boat approached the 500m mark. I asked him if he was okay and he said he doesn’t want to continue anymore. He said he would like to leave the race course and go directly to the rental boat pontoon. Only a few races after that, a women’s pair boat in lane 6 capsized. The boat driver and I quickly went to assist the capsized crew. The rescue boat stationed near my umpire boat was gone and I wasn’t getting any response on my call for assistance on my hand-held radio. We had to assist the distressed crew fast because the next race was already coming in.

Despite pushing me way out of my comfort zone, I have to say all the umpiring experiences I’ve had this year taught me a lot. And most of all, it made me realize that there’s nothing to fear when I’m out there doing my job. That stepping up is exactly what we do, if needed.

Kendo Journey

With the MKC senseis and senpais
With the MKC senseis and senpais

It hasn’t been a great year for me in Kendo. I went on a long hiatus at least twice. I stopped training for a month during the first quarter of the year. Then I had to take breaks of at least two to three weeks each to recuperate when I was having respiratory problems and when I had to travel for jury duties. My second long break from kendo was from August to October. I only came back after a fellow kendoka told me about the kyu assessment scheduled for November. I thought maybe I should give it a shot and see if I’ve learned anything in all those months I’ve trained. Because honestly, I’ve always felt lost given the prevailing lack of feedback.

I wasn’t expecting much from myself for the kyu assessment. Still, I felt a bit sad and disappointed soon after I failed my first ever 1 kyu exam. But looking back to what I’ve been through, it didn’t seem bad at all. It was funny actually how everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong in the days leading to the evaluation. Failing the assessment on the last day of November seemed like a fitting end to the worst month I’ve had in 2015. Work-related changes that required learning some new skills, sleeping at the hospital for a few days when my dad was hospitalized, learning Kata 1-3 only a few weeks before evaluation, and cramming Bokuto 1-9 lessons in two days all took their toll in my performance.

I had a tough time even during the two days of pre-evaluation training with the visiting MKC senpais and senseis. My shinai was damaged on the first day so I couldn’t use it. The only available replacement I could use was Lim sensei’s carbon fiber shinai. Apart from the difference in size, it was also a lot heavier than I expected. I experienced using men’s size shinais before. But sensei’s shinai was quite heavy. I could feel my shoulders protesting the whole time I was using it. The next day, one of my male dojo mates lent me his extra shinai. While it was lighter than Lim sensei’s shinai, the grip was different so I had to adjust to that as well. Just when I thought that nothing could go wrong anymore after what I’ve been through, I was proven wrong. The night before the evaluation, our club manager told our batch that we can only take up to 2 kyu. This was perfectly fine with me given how ill-prepared I was. So I was surprised when the next day he told us that we’ll be taking the 1 kyu evaluation instead. And as the results show, I messed it up big time.

Despite the disappointing results though, I couldn’t help but feel motivated. Ono sensei’s unexpected feedback inspired me to do better. Because he doesn’t seem the type who’d say something without meaning it.

Strangers to Remember

The kindness of strangers is another highlight for me. I’ve met several in my travels this year. I may not know or remember their names, but my interactions with them have been unforgettable.

-The young accountant I met at NAIA Terminal 1 while I was waiting to check-in. We’re on the same flight going to Abu Dhabi. He’s a new addition to the country’s growing number of OFWs. We ended up as buddies until we had to go our separate ways in Abu Dhabi. He was on his way to Jeddah and I was traveling to Geneva.
-The dedicated volunteers met at the World Championships in Lac d’Aiguebelette, France and the World Masters Regatta in Hazewinkel, Belgium
-The old lady who chatted with me at the boulangerie near the hotel in Aix les Bains
-The owner/chef of a restaurant where I had one of the sumptuous dinners I’ve had in Aix les Bains
-The teenage kid who helped me when I got on the wrong train on my way to Paris
-The train conductor on the same train who kindly looked for a new and detailed route for me (which was not easy given the train schedules)
-The couple at the train station in Culoz who helped me after the teenage kid left me in their care. They made sure that I get to Bellegard as smoothly as possible so I could catch the train to Paris Gare de Lyon
-The guy seated next to me on the Thalys train going to Brussels who kindly put and retrieved my luggage for me on the overhead compartment.
-The US-educated Tanzanian guy I chatted with on the way to Brussels airport
-The rower who took the time to give his thanks saying that we’ve all been really nice and that it was the best masters regatta he’d been to.
-The girl I met at Brussels airport going home. It was like we’ve been friends for a long time. She was on her way home to Tarlac after a 6-month visit with his father, stepmother and stepsiblings who live in Liège, Belgium.

All these encounters left me with stories and memories that inspire me.

Travel

MBS, home sweet home while in Singapore. Taken while hanging out with my former workmate who's now based in Singapore.
Marina Bay Sands – home sweet home during the SEAG. Taken by my former workmate, who’s now based in Singapore, while we were hanging out.

I didn’t expect to travel this year except maybe for the SEA Games. The notice of my selection as one of the jury members for a world regatta came in the first quarter of 2015.

My first trip was to Singapore for the SEA Games. Unlike my previous trips, I didn’t have to go to Manila this time. The Davao-Singapore direct flight made it more convenient for me. Soon after I returned from Singapore, I traveled to Manila. While Manila’s been home for me for almost two decades, I haven’t been there much in recent years. It was like traveling to somewhere familiar, but feeling like everything has changed.

Two months after, I traveled to France to attend a conference. The trip took me from Davao to Manila to Abu Dhabi and to Geneva. The view during the plane’s approach to Geneva airport was simply breathtaking. It was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen from a plane’s window. The hour-long road trip from Geneva to Aix-les-Bains was delightful. I still remember the picturesque scenery on both sides of the road. I stayed at a hotel in Aix-les-Bains with my friend and fellow umpire from Myanmar. She booked with the same airline so we could meet at Abu Dhabi airport then travel together to France from there.

Rooftops in Aix les Bains. Taken from the hotel room's balcony.
Rooftops in Aix les Bains. Taken from the hotel room’s balcony.

From Aix-les-Bains, it’s only about 20-minute bus ride to Lac d’Aiguebelette which is part of one of the communes in Savoie, France. It’s one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve seen. This year, it was the venue for the world championships and the conference.

My friend and I went our separate ways after the conference. Her friend who’s based in the Netherlands picked her up in our hotel on our last day in Aix les Bains. They were traveling to Barcelona together while I’ll be traveling to Paris. But what could’ve have been a simple trip became a circuitous journey when I got on the wrong train. I ended up in Culoz before traveling to Bellegard to catch a train to Gare de Lyon in Paris. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, what could’ve been an unpleasant experience became a happy sightseeing side-trip and memorable adventure.

My former teammates who now live in Paris picked me up at Gare de Lyon. I stayed with them during my short visit. No matter how short though, I was still able to see the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Sacré-Cœur, and the Arc de Triomphe. I enjoyed exploring a little bit of Place Charles de Gaulle and ventured on my own to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise to visit Oscar Wilde’s tomb.

From Paris, I took the Thalys train from Gare du Nord to Bruxelles-Midi then transferred to another train going to Brussels Airport. I chose that route because it seemed more convenient for me. I wanted to take the Airport Express shuttle that stops at Crowne Plaza Antwerpen where I’ll be staying. In hindsight though I wished I just took the train to Antwerpen-Centraal to see the station’s beautiful architecture. I didn’t know then that I won’t have the time to explore the city given our busy schedule. I didn’t see much of Belgium much to my regret. The only sightseeing I’ve done while in Antwerp was the long walk I did soon after I arrived and the daily trips from the hotel to Willebroek where the Hazewinkel rowing venue was located.

I may not have been able to see much of the places I’ve been to this year. But in each place I’ve discovered more than I expected. All the experiences and things I’ve seen made me want to travel more. It also made me realize that traveling solo is one of the best experiences one can have.

Work I Enjoy

I was happy with work this year. I had to learn new skills to adapt to constantly-changing requirements. But it was all fun despite the long hours I have to do sometimes. More importantly, I’m grateful that the work I do now allows me to pursue my passions. It may not be as financially rewarding as my last “regular” job. But venturing out on my own was a risk I was prepared to take on so as to have more freedom to do what I love.

It’s been year of ups and downs. But despite the struggles, the good things far outweigh the bad. At the end of the day, I learned many things along the way.

So I’ll end this with a quote: “Trust me, I never lose; I either win or learn!” Unknown

Sayonara and Thank You, 2015!

[PhotoJournal] 2015 World Rowing Masters Regatta

2015 World Rowing Masters Regatta
Hazewinkel, Belgium
10 to 13 September 2015

Wednesday, 9 September

One of the pontoons at the venue. Taken at dusk after the umpiring seminar on September 9th.
One of the pontoons at the venue. Taken at dusk after the umpiring seminar.
Finish Tower and exhibit area from a distance.
Finish Tower and exhibit area from a distance.
Umpire boats
Umpire boats
Training boat on display at the exhibit area.
Training boat on display at the exhibit area.
Official programs distributed during the seminar.
Official programs distributed during the seminar. There were over 3,000 rowers who participated in the event. Jury members had to work in shifts. It was the busiest race I have been to with only 3 minutes intervals between races. Day 2 & 3 of races started at 8:00AM and finished just before 7:00PM.
Read about the Masters Fund for the Youth Rowing Programme.
Read about the Masters Fund for the Youth Rowing Programme.

 

Thursday, 10 September

Photo taken at the restaurant after the continuation of the umpiring seminar. Rowers are getting ready for the start of the first day of races at 1:00PM.
Photo taken at the restaurant after the continuation of the umpiring seminar. Rowers are getting ready for the start of the first day of races at 1:00PM.
View from the container van equipment office where we get hand-held radios before the start of jury duties.
View from the container van equipment office where we get hand-held radios before the start of jury duties.
Photo taken after my 1st shift duty at Lane Control ended.
Photo taken after my 1st shift duty at Lane Control ended.
Spent the free time after my shift at the "Checkpoint Charlie" post near the Aligner's Hut.
Spent the free time after my shift at the “Checkpoint Charlie” post near the Aligner’s Hut.
Crews at the Pre-Start area.
Crews at the Pre-Start area.
8+'s at the Start.
8+’s at the Start.
FISA President Jean-Christophe Rolland awarding medals and pins to octogenarians – rowers over the age of 80 during the opening ceremony.
FISA President Jean-Christophe Rolland awarding medals and pins to octogenarians (rowers over the age of 80) during the opening ceremony.

 

Friday, 11 September

It was still dark when we arrived at the venue. I was on the 1st and 3rd shift as Judge at the Start and Umpire at 100 (50m to 350m zone) respectively.
It was still dark when we arrived at the venue. I was on the 1st and 3rd shift as Judge at the Start and Umpire at 100 (50m to 350m zone) respectively.
The only other photo I managed to take that day. Taken after my shift.
The only other photo I managed to take that day. Taken after my shift.

 

Saturday, 12 September
2nd Shift: Control Commission – Out Pontoon 4
4th Shift: Umpire at 500 (350m to 750 zone)

Sunday, 13 September

Beautiful foggy morning on the last day of races.
Beautiful foggy morning on the last day of races. Out Pontoon 5 where I was assigned for my last duty for the 2015 WRMR.
Very Special Race - Umpires vs Organizers vs Volunteers
Very Special Race – (L-R: Volunteers vs Organizers vs Umpires)

 

(September 8-13, 2015)

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

 

 

 

5 Things I Love About My Trip To Myanmar

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.

Inside the arrival/departure lounge for SEA Games participants
Inside the arrival/departure lounge for SEA Games participants

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.

Arrival/departure lounge at past 4AM taken on my last day at Myanmar
Arrival/departure lounge at past 4AM taken on my last day at Myanmar

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.

Transportation Committee table at the arrival/departure lounge
Transportation Committee table at the arrival/departure lounge

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.

At the bus terminal in Yangon
At the bus terminal in Yangon
Waiting for the bus to leave
Waiting for the bus to leave

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.

Enjoyed the trip chatting with the liaison officer who traveled from Yangon to Naypyitaw with me
Enjoyed the trip chatting with the liaison officer who traveled from Yangon to Naypyitaw with me
Saw this pagoda as the bus exited the gates of the terminal
Saw this pagoda as the bus exited the gates of the terminal
Leaving Yangon
Leaving Yangon
Dinner at one of the many restaurants at the one and only bus stop halfway to Naypyitaw
Dinner at one of the many restaurants at the one and only bus stop halfway to Naypyitaw

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.

Nga Laik Dam
Nga Laik Dam
Boathouse
Boathouse
At the out pontoon during afternoon training
At the out pontoon during afternoon training
Start area
Start area
Crew at the start
Crew at the start (photo credit:

Đoan Trang Trần

 

In pontoon
In pontoon
LM2- Silver medalists on their way to the boat weighing area
LM2- Silver medalists on their way to the boat weighing area
Boat Weighing
Athlete/Boat Weighing Area
Dragon Boats (Traditional Boat Race)
Dragon Boats (Traditional Boat Race)
ITOs (International Technical Officials) and NTOs (National Technical Officials) during the last day of the rowing event at the SEAG.
ITOs (International Technical Officials) and NTOs (National Technical Officials) during the last day of the rowing event at the SEAG.
#nofilter
#nofilter

3. Nga Laik Kan Tha Garden & Resort

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.

The building that houses the reception area and dining hall
The building that houses the reception area and dining hall
Alone in a big room
Alone in a big room
Home away from home
Home away from home

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Nature's colors putting on a show
Nature’s colors putting on a show

4. Sightseeing in Naypyitaw

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:

The medicines the doctor who was part of the medical team at the event venue gave me for my infected left eye.
The medicines the doctor who was part of the medical team at the event venue gave me for my infected left eye.

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.

Out and About in Naypyidaw, Myanmar

I finally got to travel to Myanmar last December for an umpiring assignment at the 27th Southeast Asian Games. It has long been one of the places I wanted to visit. While I did not get the chance to explore Yangon or go to Bagan, I was able to do some sightseeing with my co-umpires in Naypyidaw (or Naypyitaw), the country’s new capital city.

This is probably one of the trips where I did not get to take a lot of pictures. Partly because I was not sure if picture-taking in certain areas is allowed. Also, for some reason, I just wanted to soak in every moment and capture images in my head.

So here are some of the pictures I did manage to take in the places we visited and a few grabbed from a friend and friend of a friend’s Facebook albums:

1. The wide and traffic-free boulevards of Naypyitaw

(photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana of Wushu Federation Philippines)
(photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)
(photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)
(photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)

2. Gems Museum

(photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)
(photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)
(photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)
(photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)
(photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)
(photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)
One of the several shops at the ground floor of the Gems Museum (photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)
One of the several shops at the ground floor of the Gems Museum (photo credit: Tasha Lacsamana)

3. Passing by the Parliament as the sun sets

Passing by the Parliament building on our way to the Uppatasanti Pagoda
Passing by the Parliament building on our way to the Uppatasanti Pagoda
View from a moving van
View from a moving van

4. Uppatasanti Pagoda at dusk

View from the side road that serves as drop-off point and vehicle parking/waiting area
View from the side road that serves as drop-off point and vehicle parking/waiting area. Visitors have to go barefoot from this point on.
The walkway used by visitors who come up using the elevators.
The walkway used by visitors who come up using the elevator.
Looking up from near the entrance to the elevator area.
Looking up from near the entrance to the elevator area.
The sight as we exit the lift.
The sight as we exit the lift.
With my co-umpires from Vietnam, Myanmar, and Indonesia. Women in pants are not allowed in the pagoda so we put on these nice longyis that the place provides for its female guests. (photo credit: Doan Trang Tran)
With my co-umpires from Vietnam, Myanmar, and Indonesia. Women in pants are not allowed in the pagoda so we put on these nice longyis that the place provides for its female guests. (photo credit: Doan Trang Tran)
Uppatasanti Pagoda shines at dusk. By this time, I felt peaceful and calm. Despite the many visitors, the place maintains a serene and quiet feel.
Uppatasanti Pagoda shines at dusk. By this time, I felt peaceful and calm. Despite the many visitors, the place maintains a serene and quiet feel.

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Inside the pagoda
Inside the pagoda
Inside the pagoda
Inside the pagoda
Inside the pagoda
Inside the pagoda
Going back to the elevator.
Going back to the elevator.
Uppatasanti at night.
Uppatasanti at night.
The other way up.
The other way up.
White elephant
White elephant
Street food
Street food

Random Musings of a Rowing Umpire

Reposting from my other blog (written on Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 7:08pm)

I think the value of something is often measured by the stories it weaves in our lives. It is about life-changing moments that come not with fanfare, but quietly in infinite seconds that touch and never let go. That is how it all started for me, my umpiring life.

I’m still not sure if it’s a good thing or not that I didn’t plan to be an umpire. It’s just one of those sheer luck that happened when I grabbed the chance to attend a seminar in preparation for a Southeast Asian Games (SEAG). I almost failed the national umpiring practical exam. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I initially didn’t put much thought about the whole thing until the result jolted me into realizing that I wanted to do better.

FISA & national technical officials, 2005 SEAG
FISA & national technical officials, 2005 SEAG

My first umpiring stint was as a national umpire for the 2005 SEA Games. I almost passed up that chance to perform jury duties because I was swamped with my commitments with the Philippine SEAG’s organizing committee’s accreditation and Wushu Federation Philippines’ organizing group respectively. Then I remembered that I wanted to improve as an umpire. The only way I can do that was if I gain real experience outside of the simulated race we all took during the practical exam.

So there I was going through my own version of a hell week in December 2005. For days, I shuttled from Manila to La Mesa Dam in Quezon City then back to Manila again to attend to my seemingly endless responsibilities. There was no time to think about the soundness of spreading myself thin like that, there was only the focus and commitment I gave that somehow got me through, albeit often tired but definitely happy.

@ the 1000m mark, La Mesa Dam
@ the 1000m mark, La Mesa Dam

I learned a lot in those few days I was out on the water doing jury duties. National umpires, especially newbies, like me were given lighter responsibilities than the FISA umpires who served as international technical officials. I spent most of my time in my own little island at the 1000m mark recording the time of rowers as they pass by. My closest neighbors were on pontoons 500m up to my left and down to my right. Standing or sitting for hours on end on that pontoon made me appreciate a lot of things, including the value of being still and the inexplicable joy of drawing nature’s energy if I took the time to feel it.

Two months after the SEAG, I took the FISA licensure exam. I’ve heard stories that FISA exams are tough and the passing rates are frequently low. And judging from my last performance in the national umpiring exams, I was not very confident about my chances. Despite my misgivings, I took a chance. I guess it was the masochist in me that pushed me to go ahead so I could give it a shot.

The series of exams were tough for me. I’m usually good at exams excepting anything to do with Math, Chemistry, and Physics. The rest, I can breeze or squeeze through either with ample preparation or luck. But at that time, I couldn’t even hazard an optimistic guess if I’d pass

I remember that time while we were waiting for the results of both the written and practical exams. A co-national umpire suddenly blurted out that he swears he’s not taking the exam again for a while if he failed. It was surprising and funny when he said it. He always had been the one everyone thought to have the greatest chance of passing the exam. Hearing him say what he said made me breathe a sigh of relief.

I think it was then that I began to accept the possibility that I might fail. I was not being a pessimist about the whole thing. It was just that, everyone who takes the FISA umpiring exam only gets two chances. Failing both times means being banned from taking the test again, ever. Somehow, it was an experience I was not eager to repeat anytime soon.

The wait for the final results was filled with both relief and trepidation. Relief that it was all finally over and trepidation that I may soon hear that I didn’t make it.

I was the third to the last called for the meeting/interview with the two FISA umpires who conducted the exam. Everyone before me came back with the news that they did not make the cut. As each one came back, my confidence further took a plunge.

When it was my turn to go to the room I was more or less prepared to hear the worst. And I think that was the reason why I felt like I was in a haze when the interview began that I didn’t immediately grasp when they told me I passed. It was when they handed me the badge that I began to fully understand what it meant.

It turned out that the three of us left for the interview somehow made it through those series of tests. One of whom was the one who made the comment about not taking the test again if he fails. Thinking about our journey and what we went through made me realize the value of what I just got.

Four years after I got my license and badge, I still feel as passionate about this whole thing. We do long hours, spend money for airfares (for non-FISA sponsored events) and other expenses, and go through both the good and bad experiences that come with being an umpire. Still, I love what we do and what we aspire to achieve with what we do.

Asian Olympic Qualifying, Shanghai
Asian Olympic Qualifying, Shanghai

Being a jury/umpire makes me think of these things:

1. The roles we play. Each one of us has an important role to play in whatever it is that we do. Some excel in playing, some do their magic in organizing, some provide whatever help they can by volunteering, some provide the funds to make things happen, some like the spectators motivate everyone, and the list goes on. Bottom line, whatever our roles in life matter in the bigger scheme of things.

2. Passion. Belief. Faith. Three words that I live by. The passion to pursue what the heart desires regardless of how inane or grand it may seem. The belief in the inherent goodness of things and in infinite possibilities. And the faith that all things that happen somehow fit flawlessly into the tapestry of life I’m meant to live.

3. Safety and Fair Play. Every rowing umpire’s mantra revolves around those two goals. We take our role seriously in ensuring the safety of every competitor and giving everyone a sporting chance by promoting fair play. I think these two principles apply everyday regardless of what we do. Thinking of our personal safety and those of others as well as treating people fairly are simple but meaningful aspirations in life.

4. Admiration and respect for colleagues. Even until now it never ceases to amaze me how dedicated and professional my colleagues are. Umpiring is more often than not a thankless job. And yet, to see such passion and commitment from people I meet in my umpiring stints inspire me to always do and give my best.

Coffee & Serendipity Photo Journal #1: Can-More ~ Chungju

Coffee shops. They’re like, everywhere. With so many cafes ran by popular international brands to local owners, there’s bound to be some place anywhere in the world that promises both a delicious brew and the ambiance that suits different tastes.

Finding can-more was a happy accident for us a few months ago. Located at the third floor of a building somewhere in the heart of Chungju, South Korea, it was unlike any other coffee places I’ve seen in the past. Quaint and relaxing, I imagine spending (rainy) days with a good book and a steaming mug of coffee or tea in there.

The building that houses a quaint coffee shop.
Outside, looking up
Surprised by the unexpected
Tabletop menu
Shades of blue in a roomful of pink
Coffee and company

Can-more, a simple yet perfect blend of coffee and serendipity.

An Old Village Photo Journal #3: Mungyeong (문경)

Mungyeong (Korean: 문경 Mungyeong) is a city in Gyeongsangbuk Province, South Korea. The local government, economy, and transportation networks are all centered in Jeomchon, the principal town. Mungyeong has a lengthy history, and is known today for its various historic and scenic tourist attractions. The city’s name means roughly “hearing good news.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Mungyeong produces the best omija (오미자) berries in Korea, so make sure to try the omija tea or omija makgeolli (막걸리, traditional liquor). The yakdoldwaejigogi (약돌돼지고기, yakdol pork) and yakdolhanu (약돌한우, yakdol beef) are local specialties available only in Mungyeong; you will see many restaurants at the entrance of Mungyeongsaejae Provincial Park offering these delicacies. The Mungyeong chatsabal and omija festivals also give visitors a great chance to sample some of the cuisine for which the region is famous. ~ (Source: Official Site of Korea Tourism Org.)

The visit to Mungyeong was one of those spur of the moment things that seem to happen in the company of my co-umpires. It was a Saturday and the first day of the final races for rowing’s Asian Olympic Qualifying in Chungju just ended. The others suggested some sightseeing trip and almost everyone was eager to go.

Since it was our first time in the city, we left it to Han (our Korean co-umpire who’s been graciously helping us the whole time) to decide which place to visit. It turned out that it was also Han’s first time in Chungju so he sought the help of our designated bus driver in recommending one of the many attractions in the area. It was a good thing that we let the ahjumma chose because I probably would have missed out on some unforgettable experiences we had that day.

We were given two choices. It’s either we go for a trip to a famous dam or a popular “old TV series village” as Han coined it. Between the prospect of visiting a dam (which most of us were not particularly keen on given the amount of time we’ve been spending on water at the rowing course) and the “old TV series village”, the latter won. Besides, ahjumma was already driving us towards that direction saying that we have to turn around if we decide to go to the dam. The “old TV series village” turned out to be the Mungyeongsaejae KBS Drama Studio. The said shooting site was built at the heart of Mungyeongsaejae – the park where we were headed. For a Korean drama addict like me, it was the most amazing and unexpected surprise of that memorable spring day.

Walking in pairs towards the unknown. We didn’t have a guide because the ahjumma who drove us there chose to stay in the bus.
It was a long stretch of road going to the park and there were many people. Apart from being a Saturday, the Mungyeong Traditional Chasabal Festival was ongoing hence the huge crowd. Our first stop was for some picture taking in front of this building. I’m guessing it’s the Mungyeong Sejae Museum since it looked exactly like a photo of it I’ve seen somewhere. I chose my co-umpire’s photo since mine didn’t turn out as good as his.
While the others were still busy taking pictures, Han got hold of a map.
The road ahead.
My first hint of the town’s name sans the map.
Before entering the gate, we got sidetracked by these contraptions. If you have plans of laying siege to a castle then these just might greatly increase your chances of breaching its walls.
Many more picture takings after, we’ve finally arrived at the gate.
Imagining guards of bygone eras manning this gate.
Of roads taken
This way to Mungyeongsaejae KBS Drama Studio otherwise known as the “old TV series village”. Where Korean drama addicts like me would likely recognize places where several historical dramas and movies were filmed.
Some of the tile-roofed houses in the quaint village.
And some thatched houses…
Time for some snacks.
One of the Korean pizzas ordered with servings of omija makgeolli (막걸리, traditional liquor). The best omija (berries) in Korea is said to be found in Mungyeong. I’m not much of an alcohol drinker especially in the afternoon, but I have to say it was definitely one of the best traditional liquors I’ve tasted.
One of the four. Each one tasted as good as it looked.
Simply having a pleasant day with this group.
We probably haven’t even covered a quarter of Mungyeongsaejae yet when it was already time for us to leave.  The view while we were exiting the gate.
Passed by this bridge on the road back.
Still on the road back, I enjoyed watching the crow perched on top of the pole like a king surveying his kingdom.
And this was how the parking area looked like when we got back.

The brief visit to Mungyeong was serendipitous. Had we known how many interesting places there were to explore, we probably would have planned the trip thoroughly. As it was, the few hours spent there left me with indelible memories of a beautiful spring afternoon amidst one of the most unforgettable places I’ve seen. Given the chance to come back, I would make it a point to explore more of the sights I’ve missed. For now, I’m content with the short but fulfilling hours spent there with wonderful people I’m lucky to have as friends and colleagues. As I’ve said here and here, Life is good.

An Old Village Photo Journal #2: Zhujiajiao (朱家角)

Located in a suburb of Shanghai city, Zhujiajiao is an ancient water town well-known throughout the country, with a history of more than 1700 years. Covering an area of 47 square kilometers, the little fan-shaped town glimmers like a bright pearl in the landscape of lakes and mountains.

Endowed with another elegant name – ‘Pearl Stream’ – the little town is the best-preserved among the four ancient towns in Shanghai. Unique old bridges across bubbling streams, small rivers shaded by willow trees, and houses with courtyards attached all transport people who have been living amidst the bustle and hustle of the modern big city to a brand-new world full of antiquity, leisure and tranquillity. ~ (Source: travelchinaguide.com)

A day before our umpiring duties started, some of our colleagues suggested we go sightseeing. So, that’s how we ended up standing in front of this gate while taking turns buying the entrance ticket.
While waiting for the others to buy their tickets, my eyes zeroed in on this old building.
Meanwhile, at the gate…
Finally, we’re in! While slowly soaking in the ancient feel of this city, I noticed this little girl.
Thought balloon: The young ones out and about in this ancient, storied town. How nice.
Fellow umpires from Singapore and Japan with our Chinese host admiring (I’m guessing) the architecture. Or it could be the birds flying around. I’m not entirely sure.
Walking further, we saw this.
…and this. Because food is never far from my thoughts.
Exploring more of the town, we came across the little girl again. I was so fascinated by her that I stopped for one snapshot.
She’s so cute so I took another shot.
yet another one…
Until she finally saw me playing stalker.
So I finally caught up with the others on one of the many bridges in this town. The others wanted to take a photo of the view behind us. Sadly, the boats they wanted seen on this picture were completely covered by us.
This was actually the view from that bridge.
As we walked on, I noticed this payphone.
~~ and if cellphones didn’t rule the world…
Passing by an old post office, we saw this. I wondered if I mail letters here, would the dragon himself/herself deliver it? I could almost imagine him/her coming to life as soon as dusk sets in.
No one posted letters or anything, so we moved on. We went inside a building where we saw these guys busy doing what they must have been doing for over a thousand years.
Somewhere in that building, we also found this.
The we proceeded to a pavilion located somewhere along the many side streets of the town.
Whoever owned the pavilion in the old days must be rich because these two structures are just some of the attractions in the courtyard.
As soon as we finished checking out the pavilion, we went outside to proceed to another part of town. While crossing a small bridge, this boat came passing by. This easily became my favorite photo among the many taken that day.
Then we finally came to the bridge everyone was talking about.
Fangsheng Bridge: Spanning the Caogang River in the east of the town. It is an arched stone bridge with five openings. It is popularly known as the No. 1 Bridge in Shanghai. It was first built in the 5th year of Emperor Longqing’s reign of the Ming Dyansty (1571). It is also known as the “Long Rainbow”. (excerpt from the brochure we were carrying around with us)
If a dragon guards the mails, these guys serve as sentinels of this bridge.
One of the views from above
This one, too
Backtracking a bit to North Street (a.k.a. Ancient Street)
Then back across the bridge to capture a photo of this cat. Cats are always on my “list of things that unfailingly catch my attention”.
Still more of the old structures and streets in town.
After hours of losing ourselves into the ancient town experience, we stopped for a while in this area near the exit.
A few more photos after, we’re back outside where traces of the old still linger.

Our Chinese friends told us there were more to see in Zhujiajiao. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time. I guess it’s best it turned out that way. Maybe someday soon I’ll be back to visit that memorable ancient town again.

In the company of colleagues and friends from different places, walking in streets steeped with history, and generally having a good time – it truly was a well-spent day. Like I said in my other old village photo journal, Life is good.

Night out in Chungju

After our post-race tour in Mungyeong, Victor of HKG had this idea of us treating our L.O. (Christine) and Han to dinner. I decided to go since the BBQ and soju combo was on top of my things-to-experience-in-Korea list. And with such great people for company, how could I resist? Like I care if I freeze while walking on our way to the restaurant. I was stupid enough not to bring a jacket for a spring trip in South Korea so I thought I should (wo)man up and brave the cold. Besides, a little discomfort was nothing given the promise of hearty dinner and fun conversations.

Initially, only Victor, Siu (HKG), Mao (TPE), Iwao (JPN), Christine (our Korean L.O.), Han (KOR), and I were supposed to go. While waiting at the hotel lobby, however, Jufri (SIN), Edy (INA), Nguyen (VIE), Hwang (KOR), and Kwon (KOR) each in turn decided to tag along.

It was easily one of the most fun evenings of the trip. Not that we had many since we mostly stayed cooped up in our hotel rooms after races unless there were functions to attend. Buffet BBQ, soju, soju bombs, side dishes, and interesting topics fueling laugh-out-loud moments. I couldn’t help but love this umpiring group.

So where the hell am I in this picture? Sadly, the only one completely covered by someone else. Part of my head was visible though. This photo would have made a really nice souvenir had Edy moved a little. Just my luck.