I’m not one to broadcast my failures online – Facebook, Twitter, this blog….but I promised myself I’ll be more fearless for this year. Posting this may be a good start. It’s quite poetic that my first post for this year is about failure and probably won’t be the last.
So early last year, I participated in my fourth climb with two of my college friends – Len and Jam. Len had been an avid hiker long before Jam and I got into mountaineering and when she told us about Mt. Tapulao which features Pulag-like scenery and fog, we quickly said yes to the invite without researching about the mountain. Our blood is singing with longing for the Great Outdoors, a veritable escape from the tediousness of city life. Not to mention the package is cheap! Just PHP650.00 for a day hike which includes transportation and guide fee*. There’s no way we’re gonna pass it up.
Mt. Tapulao is the highest mountain range in Zambales region. We left Cubao around 9PM in the evening because we need to get be in the jump-off point at 3 AM to start the trek. The three of us were happily chatting inside the bus, blissfully ignorant to the torturous trek ahead. Looking back now, the whole trip went smoothly. Too smoothly, in my opinion. Knowing my luck, I should have known that was a sign for the things yet to come.
Before the sun rose, we set off to the infamous Rocky Road, the first phase of the trek. Why Rocky Road you ask? Just take a look at the picture below. And if you’re thinking ‘Meh, that’s just the quarter of the trek. It can’t go on forever’ then you’re WRONG. The Rocky Road is like 80% of the trek and by the time you descend Mt. Tapulao, the mere sight of a harmless rock will drive you nuts. Nuts, I tell ya! (I can’t eat a rocky road ice cream without having a flashback of rocks, rocks everywhere)
The rocks don’t disappear. They just keep getting bigger and bigger.
As far as I remember, the route to Mt. Tapulao covers 16 stations of which I don’t know how it was divided. Let’s just say up until Station 14 or 13, you’ll be tripping on rocks until you finally enter the pine tree forest, the most scenic part of the hike. Jam and Len went as far as Station 14 while I, worried about the dusk, decided to climb down earlier. It was around 1 PM and we haven’t reached the peak yet!
In my previous hikes, I used to enjoy the descent more so than the climb. At least, I have some help from gravity when it comes to pacing. With Mt. Tapulao, the hike down is just as painful to the knees as the climb. The rocks are slippery and my knees are close to buckling down from exhaustion. I swear I have to ask my guide to have a rest every ten minutes or so. And when things couldn’t get any worse, it rained. Heavily.
Good thing I brought some extra clothes and underwear for the occasion. When we arrive back to the Rangers’ Station, it was nearly 3 PM and I changed off my wet clothes without some competition from other hikes. After comforting myself with a cup of warm noodles, I collapsed to one of the benches and slept until evening like a wimp.
TIPS BEFORE GOING TO MT. TAPULAO:
- If you’re a beginner, I STRONGLY recommend you to join the the overnight hike instead of the dayhike. If you want to challenge yourself, prepare prepare prepare weeks before the actual hike.
- A walking stick will be very useful especially during descent. By this time, your knees may buckle anytime and it’s good to have a stick to support you.
- Always bring a poncho or a raincoat. Don’t take the weather lightly.
- Wear comfortable footwear. You’re gonna rely on it especially during the Rocky Road.
- Mt. Tapulao is also a perfect pre-major hike climb. If you want to take on Mt. Pulag’s infamous Akiki challenge, Mt. Tapulao can prepare you for the terrain and the altitude.
- And don’t get discouraged! Whether you reach the summit or not within the allotted time, it doesn’t matter. We have revenge hikes for a reason 🙂
- Have fun!
Make sure you file your one-day vacation leave after the hike.
More than two years ago, I applied for a job in a local NGO. Fresh out of the dazzling and glamorous world of the media, the experience is similar to moving in a quiet, pastoral town after spending most of one’s life in a thriving, noisy city that’s always on the move.
My career-driven aunt was against my decision. And until now, she is. I was on the right track prior to my resignation from one of the biggest newspaper names in the country. Why didn’t I stay in my career path as a journalist and a writer? Why did I make a drastic move in my early years of being professional?
The closest reason I can think of is Supertyphoon Yolanda. It wasn’t the main reason but it certainly played a major part. Back in 2013, I remembered sitting in the cold newsroom that smelled like coffee and old cigarette, monitoring the news and weather updates as the hulking beast of winds and gusts cover the entire seaboard of Leyte. I remembered receiving text messages and photos from our field reporters of the damages and deaths the supertyphoon has caused, how the government and the community were left in tatters in its wake of destruction.
It was the NGOs and foreign organizations who first gave the relief and the aid all those people need. Don’t get me wrong; the media has played a vital role in consolidating information for places that need help, maintaining that momentum of urgency for assistance the victims need. It was thrilling to work in the media but journalism is not for me, as I have belatedly realized. I don’t dream of becoming a reporter with the camera focused on my face. When I first saw my name with a ‘writer’ attached after the comma next to the headline, elation and pride don’t quite describe it. I feel relief that the story was published and I don’t have to look forward in answering any of my editor’s calls.
But now you ask, did I find my calling in working for an NGO? Not quite, either.
NGO presents many ways and opportunities for service and ideas for serving. I think the three years I spent working here is not a waste but a roller-coaster of achievements and disappointments, same as in any career. People often ask me if I feel fulfilled in serving others, in traveling to places I never dreamed of going or meeting other people who lived a completely different life from mine. Yes, I do. I was quite happy with the experience. Only that you won’t always feel fulfilled. Actually, you will feel more frustrated than fulfilled lots of times.
When you consider working for an NGO, you have to assess yourself and study your motivations. Because if you just wanted to feel fulfilled and useful for others, you’ll find yourself looking for another job after one or two months. Yes, there is joy in serving, in teaching others how to fish rather than giving them all the fish they would need, in envisioning sustainable development in a community, but there is also disillusionment in many areas. Why did the project fail? Why did the donors want to fund this and not this? Why are people always looking after their own self-interests? Why do morons in the government outnumber those with good sense? Why can’t people just go out there and fish?
There is joy and sacrifice. You will feel inspired and at other times, jaded. You will learn from others as well as from yourself. At the end of the day, it is your choice to feel fulfilled in whatever you are doing, whether you’re in the corporate world or in an NGO. It all boils down to priorities, really. Most people around my age prioritize career growth and prefer a fast-paced lifestyle; I like to slow down every once in a while and meet new people, be in different environments and plan my own schedule to explore other options in my life.
If you don’t feel fulfilled anymore, and your career feels like it’s going nowhere, it’s perfectly fine to leave too. To feel cynical or disillusioned. To feel disappointed. Because ultimately, apart from helping others, you have to help yourself too.
She was the one who revealed to me that I’m going to be a big sister once again. After more than thirteen years. It was somewhere in November and I remembered being satisfied by a hearty meal of footlong and coke, making myself comfortable outside the novelty shop my mom and cousin set up for the bazaar market during the Christmas season.
My cousin baited me with a question. “What would you feel if we tell you your mom’s pregnant?”
I was in my second year of high school and for the longest time, it has always been me and Mico, my brother who’s two years younger than me. The thought of having another sibling didn’t appeal to me that much and it didn’t help that my parents never discussed to us any possibility of having a new member in the family.
“I don’t believe you,” I said with a smile, unable to wrap my head around the idea that my mom is pregnant once again. She and my father seemed to reach a decision to limit the family into four. A reasonable decision considering our financial situation that time.
My cousin just smiled knowingly. Her black almond eyes lit up with mischief, her round chin quivering with poorly-hidden mirth. Growing up, I grew familiar with that look when she used to sneak Mico and I some snacks before dinner time or when she describe some gory details of my childhood to our other cousins.
“You’ll warm up to the idea.” She said, patting my knees affectionately.
And she was right. A few months later, my mom gave birth to an adorable baby boy whose features are a mix of Mico and I. I immediately fell in love with Miggy, just as what my cousin foretold. Having spent the majority of my childhood with her, I should know better by now to doubt her instincts.
My cousin, Ate Me-ann, was diagnosed with Lupus when she was around 35 years old. I remembered my mom greeting me with a question of what Lupus is after I got home from school and I remembered thinking that it must be a disease you get from dogs or other rabid animals.
“The doctor said it targets your immune system,” my mom said worriedly. “President Marcos died because of Lupus, didn’t he? It must be a rich man’s disease.”
I told her not to worry that much. After some brief research on the internet, some people with Lupus were able to live their life to the fullest.
Later I found out that the difference between these people and my cousin is that, they have the money. My cousin is a college dropout with no family left except her sister, my mom and our other cousins. And as you may have guessed, none of us were millionaires.
Ate Me-ann earned her living with the annual tiangge or bazaar market by setting up a gift item shop from September to late February of the next year. My mom practically raised Ate Me-ann here in Manila after her mother left her and two sisters in Romblon and her father skirted off to raise another family. The three of them lived as orphans in every sense of the word, but my mother seemed to have sensed Ate Me-ann’s potential to earn money on whatever venture she set her eyes upon. She is friendly and confident and it’s not difficult to trust her. It never took long before she gained financial independence from my mom and started her own small-time business in retailing. She was the star of our local tiangge; a trend-setter of toys and items. Her ability lies on knowing what the consumers want before they realized they want it for themselves.
Before Lupus got the best of her, she was the best in the game. Her energy is infectious and she made sure to accommodate each customer herself. Once a customer expresses an interest in the item she’s selling, it’s rare to see that customer get out of the bazaar without taking anything.
Her medicine, her medical procedure, her dialysis sessions twice a week. All of it, she can afford because of her earnings from the last season. She was a veteran businesswoman; hard to bargain with but she would always soften up when Miggy asks for a free toy. She spoiled Mico and me under her care; Miggy is no exception, even if he’s thirteen years late.
————————————————————————–Ate Me-Ann died without a husband or children to grieve by her bedside. She lived with a female partner for years, loved her and sent her to an accountancy school. That partner was forced to marry by her own mother to an acquaintance living in Canada for a more ‘secure’ future. We haven’t heard from her until now, even after Ate Me-ann died.
Being the person I am, I used to think things would have been different for them if the Philippines has a law for a civil union for the same sex. Her partner wouldn’t have to marry someone else to alleviate her family’s fear of allowing their daughter to enter into a union not protected by the State. But I’m just being political. All Ate Me-ann would have wanted was to see her partner’s face before she drew her last breath.
When it’s not the tiangge season, I spent most of my weekends during my college years in her home. She lived in the same city as we did. Our afternoons are filled playing role-playing games in a thin, secondhand PlayStation she bought. She said it made her feel nostalgic. Back when we were kids, we used to play an endless string of games with our father’s console in my parents’ room without him knowing it.
“Things were simpler back then,” my cousin said a few weeks before she died. I finally got the chance to visit in-between my out-of-town work. I rarely got the time to see her when I got a job and if it wasn’t for my mother’s insistence, I would have never seen her alive. She was laying on her bed, her skin hanging loose. She had already missed five dialysis lessons and her lupus had returned with a vengeance. She was vomiting and excreting blood and she was too weak to stand by herself.
The past Tiangge season had been hard on her. She didn’t earn that much and her most recent girlfriend left her without a word. To top it all that, her workers from the Tiangge stole from her earnings each day but she was too weak to look for any replacement.
That night, she made a simple request for me to massage her legs with her favorite baby oil. I complied and she smiled gratefully, but I turned my head away so she wouldn’t see my forced smile.
“My greatest wish right now is to have a time machine.” She continued lightly. “Just so we can return to happier times. Back when you used to suck Iced tea or coca-cola on your baby formula even though you’re already seven years old that time.”
“I wasn’t seven. I was younger than that.” I replied, stung.
“…And the time you used to wet your bed all the time and you blame it to Mico who’s not even on the same bed as you.”
“At least I don’t sit in one corner of the room and poop in his pants like Mico does.”
She chuckled at that. That was the last time I saw her laugh.
She stayed at the National Kidney Institute for two weeks. One week to treat her internal bleeding and another week because she doesn’t have the money to pay for her hospital bills. She was literally imprisoned inside the hospital and she kept on crying to go home. Her dialysis treatment had gone too late; the infection reached her brain.
I went to her ward that she shared with three more people. I found her at the farthest end of the room – tossing on her bed. Her sister who had been taking care of her for more than a week now gave a small smile of relief, her bloodshot eyes showing signs of relief after seeing me. My mother was not healthy enough to take care of Ate Me-Ann in the hospital following her chemo sessions the year before.
“How’s ate Me-ann?” I asked my cousin.
She shook her head and I turned my attention to Ate Me-ann, at first, refusing to look at her face, fearing for the face that will look back at me. She was conscious and she lost half of her weight. Her eyes are bulging out of their sockets but what clenched my chest is the lack of emotions, any spark of recognition, in her black eyes. It was like staring into the mouth of a cave. There was no easy smile she would give me, no change in her expression. She sat up and started counting from 1 to 12, her voice rising at each number.
I knew for a certain that the person who had taken care of me since childhood was no longer there. The one sitting across from me is nothing but a shadow of what my cousin used to be.
Her sister told me to ask Ate Me-ann is she still knows me. She barely knew anyone by now and I expected it will be the same case with me.
She answered my name, her gaze unwavering. I smiled weakly. She still knows me, but ever since childhood, she would call me by a different name. I asked her what her name is and she gave me an invented name in a sing-song voice.
I kept on denying it but the truth was clear on her unflinching eyes. We already lost her.
The day my cousin died, the whole country voted for the 16th President of the Philippines. A few days before, my mom finally found a way to pay her hospital bills and they took her home, granting her wish to die at peace in her own house.
Before we go to our precinct to vote, my mom answered a call and took it outside the house. A few minutes later, she went back, tears flowing against her scrunched-up face. One look and we all knew: Ate Me-ann breathed her last.
When we went to their house a few minutes later, the silence of the neighborhood was interrupted by a shriek and a cry. My mother rammed her away through Ate Me-ann’s door, crying uncontrollably, uselessly. My cousin who is in medical school is already there, sitting beside the body like a statue of an angel in mausoleums. The whole house shook with their cries, their wails that I remembered feeling nauseous. Being the only able-bodied man in the house, Mico went inside his ate Me-ann’s room to help my cousin lay the body against the mattress. But he stopped short, his body rigid despite my cousin’s instructions. I think that’s when the waterworks begin in my face.
“Nica, come here!” My cousin called me instead. I took big gulps of air, my shoulders shaking controllably like the last time I had a severe asthma attack many years ago. The tears came and went away just as fast, but that was the first time in many years I cried that hard in front of my mother, in front of everyone.
I didn’t know how long we stayed inside the house until an ambulance came and the guys from the funeral parlor took the body. I remembered going outside to see the sky brightly lit-up, the sun throwing golden sunbeams filtered by the lush leaves of a nearby Mango tree. The air smelled fresh and new. A helicopter passed by, its distant engine sounding like a drum roll as they carried Ate Me-ann’s body to the car, her body inside a bag.
It was the day my cousin died and I expected the intense pain that comes with it. Like anticipating a syringe piercing your skin. What comes is a dull, empty feeling, and I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or not.
After they led the body away, we are expected to follow them on another vehicle. Now that things have calmed down a little, I saw that almost all my cousins were there, the same people who joked with Ate Me-ann, the same people who shared stories with her, the same people who visited her at the hospital and accompanied her during her dialysis sessions. If there’s any consolation to all of this, I felt comforted that Ate Me-ann died around people she loved, and people who love her as well.
My mom is surrounded by her nephews and nieces, being consoled as we all knew she was the one hurting the most. She never even got the chance to say goodbye.
We returned home from the funeral parlor and was welcomed by Miggy who had just woken up. I explained to him, as delicately as I can to a child, that Ate Me-ann had passed away earlier this morning. This was the first time I explained death to a child and to simply put, I loathe the idea of doing this again.
As soon as he heard it, Miggy immediately went beside our mother and hugged her as she broke out in fresh tears once again. He subtly wiped a tear from his eye. Just like me, he hates crying in front of anyone, even if it’s in front of my mother, even because of this reason.
“Where do you think she is now?” Miggy asked me later that day while we’re on our way home from the voting stations. “Is she in heaven? Is she with the angels now?”
“Maybe, but I pray she’s happier now.” My mother, being a Catholic, was disheartened to know that the priest hasn’t arrived on time to give Ate Me-ann the last Sacrament. She began to arrange for the prayer meetings on Ate Me-ann’s 9th day and 40th day. At least the arrangements for her funeral and other things distract her from the pain. Another good argument why funerals are created for the living, not for the dead.
“What do you think heaven looks like?” he asked again.
“Like a giant mall. Spacious. Cold. Has a nice smell inside.” I replied, smiling at my own made-up theology. “It will be sad once you get there because you won’t be with your family anymore but it has lots of things that can make you happy. Like a time machine.”
“I don’t believe you,” Miggy replied with a smile.
I tussled his hair, committing all of this to memory. One thing I learned from Ate Me-ann is to create new memories with our loved ones and relish the moment with them. This would be one of the moments I’ll file in my mind as I gripped his neck in a faux-wrestling neck lock and he laughed merrily, trying to get away; memories that will guide me in the afterlife. And perhaps, if I ask, God may just allow me to travel back the memory lane.
The province of Rizal is comparable to that of a sweet uncle who, at first glance, looked downright boring with his tweed pants and shoeshine loafers. But once you get to know him, he can fill your afternoon with great stories and jokes, drawing you in until you can’t get enough. As someone who was born and raised in Marikina, then lived in Taytay, Rizal for a few years, I never thought Rizal as a treasure trove for scenic mountaineering, noteworthy museums for art and history, and thrilling adventures.
One such adventure took us to the Masungi Georeserve Park. Now even before they opened it for the public, Masungi trended in social media because of its famous “Giant Duyan” or hammock (see below)
But Masungi turned out to be more than that place with a giant Duyan. It will force you to test your guts, your latent fear of heights and maybe your ability to take a selfie with nothing but a network of ropes keeping you from plunging to your death below. That’s why they call the Masungi trek a Discovery Trail in the first place.
Masungi’s name is derived from the word “masungki” which translates to “spiked” – an apt description for the sprawling limestone landscape found within.
So how will you plan your Masungi Adventure? It’s easy. For one, you don’t have to worry about the terrain that much. Masungi is for regular and beginner hikers, limited to persons 13 years and above.
First thing to do is booking your trip. The last time we went there, it was around April and we heard most of the time slots were fully booked until this coming November.You can check out the dates on this site: http://www.masungigeoreserve.com/ I don’t think they would accept walk-in tours by now. They limit the guests to preserve the area and for security reasons.
I don’t think they would accept walk-in tours by now. They limit the guests to preserve the area and for security reasons. See, even the name of the park has a word ‘reserve’ on it.
Second, plan a trip with more or less thirteen people. If you’re traveling in small numbers, just join the ‘joiners’ package’ on mountaineering groups on Facebook. If you already knew some climbers or avid hikers, you guys can create a tour of your own. You need to have a group of more than 7 hikers and a maximum of 13.
Third, know the rate so you can budget your transportation accordingly. We paid PHP1, 400.00 per head, regardless of how many we were. Since we had no idea how to get there, we decided to rent a van and that’s where the beauty of traveling with a large group comes in. You can save a lot of energy and money, especially when it’s time to go home and your energy is almost depleted with the hiking. Hiring a van or a jeep is not that necessary but it’s a huge relief to do so.
Fourth, plan your timeslot. Most of the timeslots in the mornings are already taken, but traveling around mid-day is not that bad either (that is if you can endure the early afternoon sun) Make sure to consider the places where your fellow hikers would be coming from.
Remember that the trail will take around 3-4 hours, depending on your pace. Some people opt to have side-trips like Daranak waterfalls if they took the early morning slot.
Masungi is really an unforgettable adventure on its own. I don’t think my pictures or my words can encapsulate how awesome the experience was. You have to be there to enjoy it, as cliche as this will sound.
Train to Busan is the first South Korean film I’ve watched on the big screen, and it certainly didn’t disappoint.It was a nerve-wracking, heart-pounding, hair-tearing experience. It’s not just a film; it’s an experience.
Like many other romantics, I’m also a fan of South Korean comedies and dramas but I’m not overly fond of the zombie genre. Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting that much, though I’ve seen nothing but praises and recommendations of the film on Facebook. Maybe because after watching the South Korean film, The Host (2016), I can’t take the whole monster thing seriously.
To avoid major spoilers, I’ll just tell about the main story. Seok-Woo (Gong Yoo from the Coffee Prince) travels with his young daughter, Su-an, to a train to Busan to deliver her to his wife whom he is estranged with. We learn that Seok-Woo works as a fund manager in an agency and seldom spends time with his daughter. His workaholic and seemingly indifferent attitude distance him from having any relationship with his daughter who would rather prefer living with her mom following the separation of her parents.
Onboard the train is some characters who are not just zombie meat but actual people you’ll grow to care for. We have this school girl with an adorable crush from one of the guys on the baseball team, a couple expecting a baby boy, two elderly sisters and a homeless guy who may look clumsy and idiotic at first but has a golden heart (I wouldn’t spoil this too much)
Gong Yoo is so good in this. I mean, all characters are, even the infuriating ones. And let’s not forget the grotesque, cringe-worthy performance of the zombies. We are left with so many questions and speculations with how exactly the infections started, or if the infection already spread globally, and how the survivors are going to survive the aftermath. Even with that, we left the cinemas greatly satisfied, adrenaline singing in our veins as we babble on how awesome that experience was.
Train to Busan is not just a horror and a zombie flick. It has a heart and the team behind this movie know exactly where they wanted the story to go. And it actually reached its destination. The ride will leave you breathless and it will leave you wanting for more despite all the tension and stress you’ve experienced. It will be the longest roller coaster you’ll ride on.
At this point, all I wanted to say is, “Well done, South Korea. You’ve done it again. We wanted a sequel deserving of this one, you hear?”
ADDITIONAL NOTES: Maybe in the SEQUEL, we can have some action from North Korea as well. It will be so good!
For the trailer, watch the link below:
So after a two-month hiatus, I finally decided to add a post. I’ve been meaning to update my blog for goodness knows long but there’s this one big wall that’s pressing against my face and I can’t find my way around it.
The wall is coated with black, ugly letters written in blood and grime. Everytime I blink, the words seemed to grow bigger and thicker until I cannot erase the image in my mind and I’m so overwhelmed by the message that all the ideas and thoughts I was hoarding in my brain were flushed down the drain.
“YOU HAVE NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT”
Really, how many times did we ever think of this? I guess most writers, from the budding ones to the veterans, have to struggle with that little voice in their heads. Words like “This is not worth writing about” or “This pathetic excuse of a writing” would always float above our consciousness until the droplets of doubt and insecurity accumulate into an angry, ominous cloud which rains down our enthusiasm and vigor until we’re left feeling nothing.
To top it all that, we have to lead two lives. One that is rooted to the reality of paying bills, earning enough for the family, running ahead of the rat race, expanding our social circle and business networks, taking our families or partners to a date, finishing our masters degree and working hard for a promotion. Mundane stuff. We have responsibilities and we cannot just push it all away as easily as we push our laptops, papers and pens away.
The other world is something we created by our own. Here, we dream our biggest dreams and deal with our nightmares, our fears. We thread on that thin line between striving for it and losing it. Our imagination can only go as far as we allow it to go. We escape into this world oftentimes but staying too long, as comforting as it sounds, is dangerous.
So to deal with that, we create a pathway between these two worlds. We weave our feelings and thoughts into words. Our experiences, the people we meet, the failures and milestones, are mulled over in our heads until we immortalize these into words, stories, anecdotes, into art. We often get the inspiration from the real world. Anything we find memorable, happy or sad, gets into the paper.
During my two months of hiatus, I learned that I don’t necessarily need to experience a big change, or a life-changing moment in the real world, to inspire my writing. It was a miserable two months, and everyday I was consumed by guilt over my lack of enthusiasm and self-hate for not ‘truly living enough’. I learned that it’s so easy to hate yourself, that it’s so easy to trap ourselves in the world we created and to hide behind the words you kept so close to yourself. I learned that this is the biggest mistake you could ever do in your life, in your two lives.
And so, I’m returning to this blog, chipping away the big, bad wall. Behind that, I know I’ll face heavy downpour but I’ll persist and plow my way up..or down. It doesn’t matter as long as I reach the place where I wanted to be. Where I can find inner peace with myself and accept the fact that life doesn’t figure itself out right in your face.
But despite the randomness and craziness of it all, remember that there is always something worth writing about.
It’s not easy to go cheap in a city like Singapore where the price of a normal commodity is enough to freak the daylights out of our Filipino frugality, but it is entirely possible to experience the city without spending too much. If you’re a casual tourist like me, or a backpacker just passing through or a student who represents your country for an international conference held here, you can still make the most out of your meager budget in the Garden City.
Singapore is a small island-state in Southeast Asia that’s been looked up to by its neighbors for a long time. My country, the Philippines, is one of them.
And for good reason too. Around 50 years ago, Singapore was a just an overlooked, backwater swampland teetering on civil unrest and poverty. It had lost its membership from the Malaysian Federal States due to the “overwhelming” differences on views of their leaders. No one really expected Singapore to make it after the separation but the great thing about Singapore is it did.
Under the guidance of a well-meaning Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the innovative vision of its top government officials and the collective maturity of its people, Singapore is the powerhouse country we know now, a democratic state of people who respects the authority of law and trusts the government to do its job.
Singapore is often known as the Garden City. I heard that the late Prime Minister Lee’s wife was fond of orchids and I think it played a part in Lee’s overall vision for the city. Singapore may be a concrete jungle for some nature trekkers or backpackers but it’s one damn beautiful concrete jungle. I suspect the shapes, sizes and linings of skyscrapers are intricately planned and designed to form a harmonious, sophisticated feel on the eyes. It would be a great idea if some of government scholars who took up engineering, architecture and urban planning would spend a week in Singapore and just have a pleasant stroll around its streets, hang out on its parks or go inside one of its buildings.
This is what I did. I don’t have any itinerary in mind (partly because of my low-budget plan) I just go where my feet would take me and that has been my motto as a traveler since I consider myself as one.
Dinner at Changi Bay
I arrived on Singapore at exactly 6:05 PM. The sky is still clear and bright, unlike in Manila where dusk would have fallen around this time. Travel guides and websites weren’t lying that the Changi International Airport is one of the efficient airports, if not the best, in Asia. It is literally a shopping mall inside an airport. Once your plane made a lay-over in Changi and your transfer flight wouldn’t be due until six hours later, you can avail a tour of Singapore’s most iconic sights and it’s all paid by the airport.
If you’re planning to stay in Singapore for a long time, you can purchase a local sim which costs around $15.00 (PHP 500) inside the airport. They will also get you an affordable internet promo depending on the length of your stay. Internet in Singapore, as I attested, is nothing compared here. It is expensive, but the fast connection is worth it.
At around 7PM, my aunt, who’s been staying at Singapore for more than five years now, picked me up from Terminal 2 and we had our early dinner at Changi Bay. They have a nice boulevard with a road good enough for biking, skating or a leisure jog. We settled ourselves in one of the benches at a food center not far away from the beach and I became easily relaxed with the Monday after-work chill of the people around me.
Food in Singapore costs about $4.00 – $7.00 SGD (150.00 – 330.00 in Peso), depending on the menu. They also serve this large noodle dish with seafood and spice, and it’s good enough for two people. You can get cheaper food if you’re traveling with a companion or two.
You can trust the taxi drivers (most, if not all) in Singapore to be honest with what they charge you. I like to think that their meters are reliable and they give you the exact change even in cents. My aunt said refusing a commuter out of preference to traffic, or the race of religion of a commuter is a serious legal offense. Inside the cab, their personal identification cards are displayed along with numbers to contact if the commuter feels harassed or unsafe.
Base fare, as far as I remember, is $4.00 SGD (PHP 150.00) and I recommend taking it as last possible resort or if you’re traveling in groups. Unlike here in Manila, however, five or more people are strictly not allowed inside a cab. For budget tour around the city, you can take a bus which costs around $0.40 – $1.60 SGD (PHP 13.00 – 50.00) depending on your destination.
We reached my aunt’s place and we settled in for tonight. I learned that an apartment unit in Singapore is only allowed 99 years under your property. It’s one of the drastic measures the government has to take to control the booming of migrants and to maximize the dwindling space in the city. And seeing a lot of cranes and lots being excavated where a skyscraper shall soon rise, it seemed Singapore keeps on growing. It is still at the tail-end of its construction and I doubt the momentum would stop as long as it’s economy is growing.
On the my first night in Singapore, I lay on the couch beside the tall windows, watching at the twinkling of lights on the buildings near my aunt’s apartment. Everything in this city is damn efficient, I remembered thinking before falling asleep.
I asked my aunt on breakfast where do Filipinos hang out in Singapore. Pinoys thrive in communities and common interests, no matter where they are in the world. Naturally, she took me into a place where Filipinos mostly hang out and that’s the Lucky Plaza Mall.
It’s got everything that can somehow ease your homesickness if you’ve recently come to Singapore to work. It even has Jollibee, for crying out loud! It’s also a convenient place where you can remit your money back home, do some groceries for Filipino products or brands, or just chill with your fellow kababayans on Sunday evenings. My aunt told me they also go on this building at Orchard Road for a disco on Sundays but as a couch potato (I habit I wouldn’t change wherever I am) I refused to go, opting to spend that particular evening enjoying the ultra-fast connection at her apartment.
Marina Bay Sands
After getting some food in Lucky Plaza, we took an MRT going to Marina Bay. I don’t even want to compare the MRT there versus the MRT here. C’mon! What I just like to point out however is that the MRT in Singapore is carefully and well thought off. It’s not a single, linear lane that we have here, but a complex grid of stations and terminals that overlap each other so the commuter would have the fastest, easiest travel on the destination they want.
MRT rides cost around $1.15 – 2.50 at most (PHP 38.00 – PHP 80.00) at most but it’s still the fastest mode of transportation if you want to avoid traffic that much. Before going up (or down) the terminal, an LED sign would indicate how many minutes until the next train would arrive so that you can calculate your time of travel effectively.
We dropped off Marina Station and strolled towards the world-famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Before that, we passed over an impressive river that is as much as every bit historical as it was picturesque. Fifty years ago, this river has been littered with small bancas and small ships manned by half-naked men whose sweat-stained skin shone under the sun, a typical sight for a busy British outpost. Now, an occasional tourist ship would just pass by, distorting the reflections of the sleek buildings, the bowl-shaped entrance to the Museum of Science and Arts and tourists passing by the wooden platforms lined around it.
We walked to the Marina Bay Hotel and as we come closer, I feel my jaw dropping more ever so slightly. The whole thing is enormous. I can’t exactly describe how much of an eye-candy it is and I’ll just let my pictures to tell it for you.
You can gain access at the top of the hotel and get a sweeping view of Singapore for $23.00 (PHP760.00) My aunt asked if I would like to go up but being a killjoy (and cheap) I am, I decided not too. I’m not really a fan of heights and especially not a fan of a soaring price for entrance tickets (though I’m sure it would be worth it! Getting on top of Marina Bay AT NIGHT is highly-recommended)
Singapore’s proud, iconic Merlion stands against the backdrop of Collyer Quay and other attractions such as the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Museum of Science (that half-egg shaped structure)
We walked through the strip of Raffles Place to where the Merlion is. If you’re coming from any part in Singapore, just take the MRT and get off at Raffles Station.
Garden by the Bay
We crossed the hotel to tour around the Garden by the Bay. It’s a recent addition to the Marina Bay attraction and you can get to park free (but some attractions have entrance fees)
For example, we took an aerial walk for the Cloud Forest for $10.00 (PHP300.00) and you can stay up there as long as you want. It’s a perfect place for selfie shots that I couldn’t resist one.
Chinatown is a perfect spot for gifts and souvenirs to take at home. It is also pretty accessible (via MRT or bus) and has lots of things to offer, especially if you are a bargain hunter like me. I managed to snag off 36 keychains just for $10 SGD (P300.00!) There are plenty of goods to choose from.
While we’re here, we also visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a jaw-dropping four-storey Temple which stands as an iconic landmark of Singapore’s Chinatown. As a Christian, it was the first time I set foot on a Buddhist Temple and it didn’t certainly disappoint. A strong hymn fill the place, inspiring reverence and peace in one’s soul, even for just a while. We’re supposed to visit Thian Hock Keng Temple, the oldest Chinese Temple in Singapore, but we ran out of time.
Musings so Far
Like every traveler with a tight budget, I decided not to go to the world-famous Singapore Sentosa or to the Universal Studios but if you have money (and time) to spare, don’t miss out anymore than I did. To sum it all up, my Singapore experience is nothing short of memorable. Singapore is everything I expected and more. While you’re there, you can also cross over to Malaysia and experience two states at once. That will make the slightly expensive airfare worth it.
Other tips I must share:
- Nightlife in Singapore is definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss. It’s not hard to commute at night because of friendly drivers and safe streets. Garden by the Bay is especially beautiful at night.
- Aside from Chinatown, you should also take a look at Little India if you’re in for some authentic Indian food or goods.
- Always make sure to bring your passport as a tourist.
- Locals speak in Singlish (Singapore-English) Most of them understand and speak English very well. Signages and street posts markers have English translation.
- To eat cheap, you can get a decent meal at the food centers below high-rise apartments. Almost every building in SG has one. I heard from my aunt that many Singaporeans opt to dine-out instead of cooking their own meals (due to busy schedule and whatnot)
Being the most sustainable city in ASEAN, as well as the most developed city in the region, we Filipinos can definitely learn a lot from Singapore. Just by experiencing it, we know what to demand from our government because we know it’s possible to achieve it. YET, a big YET, what I’ve noticed from Singapore is that the people, in general, has the highest of respect to their city. They are more than willing to put up with all the rules just to live in harmony with other people. I guess it’s what spelled the difference between us and Singaporeans. They know Singapore wouldn’t become the Singapore now without their cooperation, their trust to the governing institutions and their sense of ‘community’ rather than the self-centric mindset prevailing here in the Philippines.
When Singapore broke away from Malaysia, everyone thought it sealed its fate. With hard work, unity and vision, it proved everyone wrong. Now, it’s time for the Philippines to do the same.
PS: For those interested, I only spent $25 SGD (PHP800.00) for a whole-day of exploring Singapore. Considering the number of places I’ve seen, not too bad, I guess.