Posted in Filipino, Lifestyle, Travel

The Great Island Escape

I’ve recently come back from a much needed holiday in the Philippines and despite the weather’s best efforts to curtail my fun, I managed to stick an island getaway for myself and my entire family to Sumilon Island, which is part of Maribago Resorts Group.

Word to the wise: if you’re booking from outside of the Philippines, be warned that you may have to pay international rates, especially if you’re booking through websites like booking.com. If you have friends or relatives who can book for you from within the country, it might be cheaper to book via that route. There’s a substantial difference between local and international rates, plus, if you’re travelling with someone who’s got a senior citizen card, you may also get a discount.

Sumilon Island is a great alternative to the usual beach resorts scattered all over Cebu because it provides more activities than just swimming and lounging by the pool. My dad is not a big fan of swimming. I spent a small fortune on an overnight stay in Shangri-la Resort last April and he didn’t even so much as dip his toes in the water. He said he was basically there to enjoy the view so this time around, I really made the effort to find a resort where he can have his bloody view but where there are also activities for him to do.

Sumilon Island is accessed via pump boat from the port of Oslob, which is in the southern part of Cebu. This port is close to where the famous whale-watching site is so that’s also something you can do while on the island or on the way to the island. Transportation details can be found on the website but if you and your group are thinking of driving like us, free overnight parking is one of the perks that comes when you book a room with the resort. You can also hire a private van or simply head down to the South Bus Terminal for easy transport to Oslob.

 

We booked the Premier Deluxe rooms which will only accommodate two adults and two children. Now to be honest, in some resorts its easy to get around that rule because the staff usually don’t notice that there are extra adults hanging around and waiting while the “official” guests check in. However in the case of Sumilon they make it mandatory to sign in everyone who’ll step on that boat on the way to the island, so they will know exactly how many people are with you on the trip. We ended up paying an extra 16,000 php for 4 extra people, but at least that came with free dinner and breakfast. Its not a bad deal but it is a hell of a lot of money.

The island itself was beautiful. It just took my breath away really. 

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Like I said, there’s loads of activities to do if you don’t want to go swimming. They have a lagoon where you can feed the fishes, do kayaking or boat pedalling. They also have trails for trekkers of all levels (beginner, moderate and advanced), and during this trek you’ll get the chance to see the lighthouse or “parola” . We were a bit disappointed when we got to the lighthouse and realised you can’t actually climb the darn thing, but it was good exercise. You don’t even have to worry about what you’re wearing (or not wearing) when you go on the trek; for the beginner’s trail you’re perfectly able to get through it even if you’re wearing beach shorts and slippers.

 

 

They also offer a bike trail as an alternative to the trekking although we didn’t have enough time to do that. For safety reasons, all the trekking and biking activities as well as the main beach have to be closed by 5pm so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon swimming by the sandbar instead. If you book a room you actually have direct access to the sandbar via the coastline if the tide is low enough, but the afternoon that we were there the tides were too high for us to go via that route so we had to take the longer route instead.

 

The sandbar was absolutely divine, despite the fact that we were bracing ourselves from the really strong winds coming our way that day. If you’d rather not swim on the actual beach, the resort also has a stunning infinity pool near the reception area. The pool was actually smaller than I expected, which tells you that photos can be extremely deceiving.

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Dinner was served at around half past six and though I wasn’t overly impressed with it, i didn’t think it was that bad. I think at that point I had been over-saturated with native Filipino food from the endless rounds of catching up with friends over restaurant dinners,  that I was really just craving something different like sushi. But of course, this is a resort that seeks to provide an authentic island experience so they served – what else? – Filipino food. They did have a pasta station though but I thought I’d better steer clear of that if I still wanted to look good in my swimsuit the next day.

 

There aren’t a lot of late night entertainments around the island; there was no dancing to be had. I actually got the feeling that this resort catered more to honeymooners than family outings. My siblings, my cousin and I did have a round of drinks by the bar but we  soon decided to go to our own room with the idea of finishing the two bottles of mojito we had sneaked in to the resort. We underestimated just how much the day’s activity had exhausted us however, and my cousin had come straight off a night shift, so actually I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

We woke up early the next day so that we’re able to swim and explore a bit more before breakfast and check out (which was at 11am). Breakfast was served at around 7, and I actually thought the breakfast buffet was much better than the dinner buffet. The staff were also incredibly accommodating. My aunt was suffering an upset stomach over something she ate the day before and we asked the chef if he could whip up some porridge or chicken arroz caldo for her, and even though it wasn’t part of the menu he was able to accommodate our request. The island transfer and transportation services were also really good. They were on time, they assisted us with all our bags and they were sticklers for safety.

All in all we had a really great time. It was worth the really long drive – Oslob is almost 3 hours away from the city; there was something for everyone and most of all, I cherished the opportunity to have fun with everyone in my family; who knew when my sister and I would have the opportunity to both come home at the same time again? I did find myself thinking I’d love to come back to the island again, but this time with “the one” by my side. Oh well, crazier things have happened.

Posted in Books, Feminism, Reviews, Women's literature

Book Review: The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood

Last year, Hollywood was rocked by a continous stream of scandals that saw well-known actors and producers accused of everything from harassment to molestation and even outright rape.

Suddenly women in show business were either speaking up about their own experience at the hands of these predators-masquearing-as-gentlemen or calling out their male counterparts whenever they felt like women weren’t being given fair and equal treatment.

All of a sudden there were a lot of hashtag “me too’s” going around all social media platforms, finally culminating in Oprah Winfrey’s powerful and rousing speech during this year’s Golden Globe ceremony.

I always think of myself as a baby feminist. Certainly I appreciate all the comforts of being a woman in the progressive 21st century; I don’t think I could have borne being a Stepford Wife wannabe. I do not have it in me to sit at home, do household chores and have dinner waiting for my husband when he comes home from doing a full day’s work. I think we’ve already established that I do not subscribe to the school of thought that your worth as a woman is somehow diminished because you’re neither a wife or a mother. I firmly believe in ever woman’s right to make her own choices and that being an attractive woman doesn’t give any man the right to assume she welcomes unwanted attentions. 

So yeah, in that sense, I am all for feminism. So when I saw this book by Charlotte Wood on the counter of my local Waterstones with a glowing review saying that this book was the height of feminist literature (high praise!), I could not help but be intrigued. The blurb seemed eerily similar to The Handmaid’s Tale.

Ten women suddenly find themselves imprisoned in the middle of nowhere with no phones, no modern conveniences and no clue why or how they got there; the guards have shaved their heads, have had them changed into the most unbecoming and uncomfortable clothes and basically have them living in the worst conditions possible.

All the while they are being subjected to hard, manual labour and constant abuse from the guards and the one “nurse”. They eventually figured out that all of them have been involved in some kind of sex scandal with a powerful man and that that was probably the reason why they’ve been taken from their homes and family into, well, hell on earth really.

I didn’t realise when I picked this up that this had been written by an Australian author and that it was set in Australia. There were a lot of words, slangs and descriptions of wildlife that I’ve had to ask some of my Aussie friends to translate just to make sure I did not miss any context. But apart from that minor hitch in my reading, I went into this with full speed ahead because I was just so darned intrigued.

There’s a reason why we have a lot of books with this subject matter: simply put, sex and infidelity sells. Since the beginning of time, people have loved to read about lurid scandals and the consequences that befall those who dare to give in to their sexual desires, propriety be damned. Initially I was a little confused as to how this is a feminist novel because I really felt like there was a whole lot of slut-shaming going on. Those women were being judged simply because they made the mistake of sleeping with men who were either married, extremely powerful or in the case of one girl, a pillar of the Catholic church.

I also had to sort out my own feelings about these women because I always find it hard to relate to women who have been involved in any form of cheating. I fervently believe that there is a special place in hell for women who don’t respect their fellow women enough to not steal their man. However, I’ve always hesitated to unequivocally condemn those women because I am of the opinion that you never really know how you’re going to act in any situation until you’ve faced it yourself. So no one can really say for sure that they won’t be tempted to participate in infidelity, especially if love and lust are involved. I’d like to think I’d be able to resist temptation but we all know love (or the illusion of it anyway) can make people do stupid things.

So I guess the highest praise that I can give this novel is that it will raise questions and generate discussions; it may confuse the hell out of you while reading it but goodness knows that you it will get some kind of reaction out of you. Its hard not to be affected by these women’s experiences and even harder not to sympathise with them despite what you know about their past. You might even find yourself rooting for them as they struggle to survive and escape their imprisonment. In the end, its really not about who they’ve slept with or the journey they’ve taken to get where they are; its about the journey that they will take to get to a better place.

I particularly like the idea of exploring how human beings will react and respond to being placed in extreme situations. Its almost Darwinian really; only the fittest can and will survive. And as seasons changed and food rations became shorter and shorter, some people emerged as leaders, others simply fell apart whereas other people did things they otherwise wouldn’t have done – all in the name of survival. In a way, its ironic; we become the animals that scientific theory says we originated from when circumstances require us to survive. What does that say about us?

While I did not like the ending and I didn’t think it made any particular sense (it left so many questions unanswered!) I did like the overall theme of the book. I think it was worth my time to read it; it was thought-provoking, atmospheric and hey, I was on holiday and had nothing better to do with my time.

Overall: 3 put of 5 stars.

This book is getting a lot of word of mouth recommendations so let me know what you guys think if you ever decide to read it. Check it out on Amazon by clicking the image below!

Cheers, bookworms! xx

Posted in friendship, Lifestyle, relationships

The Road To Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

If there’s one lesson that I learned the hard way in 2017 its that not everyone will understand or appreciate your help, especially if its unsolicited, therefore sometimes the best thing to do is to mind your own business.

I used to be really good friends with a girl from work, until I took it upon myself to resolve a situation on her behalf when apparently, all she was doing was airing out her feelings. She didn’t really want nor did she expect me to do anything about it.

Unfortunately I am (or at least, I was) the kind of friend who will feel the need to defend and fight battles when I feel like my friends are being unfairly treated, especially if they don’t feel like they can speak up for themselves whereas I might be in the position to do something about it.

In hindsight, maybe I should have kept in mind that not everyone is as comfortable rocking the boat as I am. For some, its easier to be mad and to simmer for a day or two (or you know, whinge about it until the end of time) than to go through the longer and perhaps more difficult process of really doing something to change how things are.

I also should have kept in mind that no matter how well-intentioned my assistance is, at the end of the day I’m not personally involved in the situation and, again, it really is none of my business. I do not need to be at the forefront of a battle that no one wants to fight.

These days, as much as it pains me to be passive, I only offer help when people ask for it. I realise that, in a way, its a way of showing respect for the other person’s freedom to make his or her own choices, even if I feel like they’re digging themselves a hole that would be difficult to get out of. Its none. of. my. business.

I realised that I don’t have to take on other people’s problems on my shoulders; I’ve got enough of my own thank you very much. Learning this lesson allowed me to be more patient and to realise that sometimes what the other person really needs is simply a sounding board. Sometimes you help just by being there and by really listening to what they’re saying.

It can be hard to listen when you’re already formulating an action plan in your head about what they should be doing to solve the problem. That’s not always what they want from you. Sometimes they just need you to listen and to let them talk. I always have to consciously remind myself nowadays to let other people talk for at least 15 minutes straight before I even think of butting in with my own two cents. I’m sure it comes as a surprise to no one if I say that I tend to forget that other people need to talk too.

Its hard to find the balance between giving a helping hand and just being an annoying, interfering busybody. I don’t know what it is about human beings that we always think we’re so superior as to assume we know better than other people. We don’t. And even if we do, its none of our freakin’ business unless they explicitly ask.

That’s not to say I don’t occasionally intervene, but only in dire times and only with people who are obligated to love me despite my meddling, like my sister for example. And never without telling her or asking her first whether she needed (or wanted) my help or not.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that my own experience is a cautionary tale against putting your nose in other people’s business. Leave them be. As unfair as it may seem, there is a road to hell that is lined with all our good intentions and sometimes its just not worth it.

As someone who’s been on both ends of this argument, believe me when I say that discretion is often the better part of valour…or something like that. Simply put, life is too short to be stressed all the time let alone to be stressed about other people’s affairs. At the end of the day, we each have a life to live and a choice on how we live it. Mind you own damned business, you’ll be much happier for it.

Posted in bloggers

Oooops!

Just a quick note to say I’ve completely screwed up and showed myself to be a total noob despite having used WordPress for almost 6 months now. This is a cautionary tale that you should just leave well enough alone.

I don’t know what it is I did but I somehow managed to erase all the media on my previous posts so I’ve had to take those down, revert them to draft and I will re-publish them once I’m happy that they’re once again presentable.

I may be mass publishing one of these days but it won’t be all new content, I’m just reposting the posts I’ve fixed. Mea culpa. Lesson learned! Hahaha dear followers, please have patience I’m still getting the hang of this thing.

Cheers! Xx

Posted in dating, relationships

Cruel To Be Kind

I am not the type to play games. I consider myself to be a straightforward person in most aspects of my life, but especially when it comes to dating (or not dating, as the case may be).

The thing is, I’ve been on the other end of the equation far too many times to ever be cavalier about another person’s feelings. I’ve been strung along and lured into believing there’s something there when there isn’t; I’ve been on the receiving end of too many “non-rejections” because the other person was too afraid of hurting my feelings to be honest with me.

I think sometimes the hardest part is not knowing. Its like waiting for any test results, its the waiting itself that’s agonising; you really just want to know if you’ve passed or failed so that you can move on with your life one way or another. I think people, more than anything, just want certainty.

I get it though. Any conversation where there’s a chance of hurting the other person’s feelings is bound to be awkward. There is no kind way of saying, actually, I can’t see this working out between us. People, myself included, resort to tactics like simply ignoring texts (“ghosting” as one of my other dates called it), giving off “friend vibes” during dates (such as refusing to hold their hand during a long movie; note to self – do not ever watch any instalment of LOTR or The Hobbit unless you’re really sure of your bloody date) or just simply going off the other person’s radar.

I read a blog once that said that our generation, The Tinder Generation, tend to see dates as disposable. Its apparently so easy to get dates these days – as easy as swiping right with your index finger – that dating itself has lost much of its value. Just like everything else in the 21st century, we’ve found a way to make something that used to take so much work and effort into a fast, efficient and effective (for some anyway) machine.

While I disagree with the whole dating is easy thing (even with Tinder I struggle), I can’t deny that I’ve absorbed just a little the mentality of “oh if it doesn’t work out, you can always swipe right for the next guy“. I’d like to think I put in an effort for every date, but is it easier to date because you know there’s a safety net of an app that has already lined up a plethora of other choices for you?

I’m ashamed to say there was a time when I resorted to ghosting someone who had gotten too intense too soon. And then I read that article and I was filled with so much remorse because if I put myself in that other person’s shoes, that’s not how I want to be treated. So as painful as it was to have an honest conversation with the guy, I managed to get through it.

I was honest about having second thoughts and why I was having them; I was magnanimous enough to say I’m happy to try a second date but that I though our basic incompatibility was just too big a hurdle to overcome. I don’t think he was very pleased with that decision, but he appreciated the honesty and I slept better at night for having had the guts to just say ‘not interested’.

If I have one wish, its that we need not go through so much overanalyses when it comes to dating. I mean, maybe the uncertainty is part of the allure for some. But all the misconstruing just leads to unnecessary stress and heartache; a lot of our problems can be avoided if we just say what we mean and mean what we say. Its not rocket science people. You like someone, you say it. You don’t like someone, don’t date them.

I personally don’t subscribe to this whole giving-them-a-chance nonsense. I think you know straight out of the gate if there’s potential or not. And I’m now at that age where I don’t want to waste my time with someone (and potentially lead them on) all in the name of kindness. If I’ve been on a date, especially if its gone past the first date, its because I’ve wanted to be there.

I go with my gut instinct most of the time, and its never failed me. Yes I’m still single, but I’m also not stuck in an unhappy relationship just because I was in love with the idea of one (or just because I was pressured by society!). I think the worst thing to be is to find yourself in a hole of your own making just because you didn’t have the guts to be alone and hold out for the right guy.

I guess I’m just writing this to reaffirm some of my personal dating credo. I know scruples and principles don’t mean much anymore, but my conscience simply won’t allow me to date without them.

Don’t lead them on.

Say what you mean, mean what you say.

Don’t force yourself to feel what you don’t feel.

If its right, its easy.

Don’t think yourself shallow just because you need to be attracted to whoever you’re dating. If it works out, you’re potentially going to wake up seeing that mug every morning. That’s a huge decision to make!

A little sense of humour goes a long way.

If he doesn’t understand sarcasm, run the other way. Lol

And always, always, be honest.

Be honest about what you want and what you don’t want.Kindness is very subjective, but I think we can all agree that its kinder to reject than to string along; its kinder to rip off the band-aid with the truth, than to leave a wound to fester underneath. Its kinder to say no right now than to say no later down the road when you’ve already invested real emotions.

And really, you’re being kinder to yourself if you allow yourself to be happy in your own company while you wait for the right person, than to subject yourself to the agony of “settling”. And whatever lies you tell yourself, bowing to the dictates of others and making a decision you wouldn’t normally make just because you feel pressured and you want to be “kind” is settling.

Like the old saying goes, sometimes you just have to be cruel (even to yourself) in order to be kind.

Posted in dating, Feminism, Filipino, relationships, Self-Discovery

Where’s Your Boyfriend?

Every time I come for a visit to the Philippines – and especially as I reach that age where everyone you know is either a wife or a mother – there’s just that little bit of anxiety and a touch of resentment mixed in with the all the excitement.

You see, I come from a culture where its more or less expected, nay, required for a woman to be either in a serious relationship if not married by the age of 25. For a long long time I bought into the whole Stepford wife illusion of white picket fences, loving husband and 2.5 babies. That to me was THE goal.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, moving to London saved my life.

The Giving Tree

I once volunteered to help less fortunate children to read and one of the books we read was The Giving Tree. I must have been 27 at the time and I remember trying my best to keep it together and to keep my emotions in check so that I wouldn’t blubber like a nutter in front of all those kids who had so much more to worry about than my love life.

I was in a very self-destructive, unhealthy and pathetically one-sided relationship in college that gave new meaning to the word friend zone. I lost myself completely in my misguided quest to make another person love me. I was stupid enough to believe, just like that bloody giving tree, that if you give of yourself enough that other person will love you back.

It took me about 8 years to realise that love doesn’t work that way. You shouldn’t have to work so hard to make someone else love you. You don’t need to lose yourself in a relationship. Even as you become partners in all things, its still healthy to retain that sense of individuality, and the sense of who you are as a person outside of the relationship. In short, to be able to truly give yourself to someone, you have to be whole, and you have to know and love yourself first.

This was not an easy lesson for me to learn and in a way, I’m probably still in the process of learning it. Its hard for me not to be a giver (I probably always will be) and it was so hard for me to gain back my self-esteem and my self-respect.

That’s one of the main reasons why I’ve remained single for a long long time. I date, sure, but at the back of my mind I know that my head wasn’t in the right place for me to even think about starting anything serious. I had so much to discover about myself, so much lost time to make up for, so many things that I still need to do and a boyfriend would just get in the way.

I’ve probably been a bit self-absorbed for the last 6 years or so – about the length of time that I’ve lived and worked in London. It was all about what I want to do, what I need to learn, where I need to go. I enjoyed the freedom of having no one to think about apart from myself. If I make mistakes no one else needs to suffer from it.

And to be honest that was probably a good thing. My experimental forays into trying things that are outside my comfort zone have gained me new skills, new friends and new experiences that cannot be bought by any kind of money. I have a job I love even as it often gives me stress, a side job that pays me to do one of the things I enjoy most, a blog that keeps me sane, a comfortable flat, and the kind of life that if I really think about it, brings me happiness. I’m one application (and 2 thousand pounds) away from being British. I’m so damn proud of all my achievements and I’ve never had any reason to doubt myself and my life choices. Until I come home to the Philippines of course.

I’m Alone…But Not Lonely

Look, I date okay. Not that I need to explain myself to anyone, but I do in fact go on several dates a year. The quality of those dates are sometimes suspect and none of them have panned out yet, but I’ve yet to lose hope that I’ll meet that someone and I’ll just know it was worth waiting and holding out for something more meaningful than a one-night stand.

I know, I know, I turned 30 and I’m losing fertile eggs as we speak. But seriously, the notion that being a wife or a mother is the measure of how successful a woman is is really outdated. I came home this year and people start to look at me funny because I don’t have a man by my side or an infant in my arms. No one wants to hear about every thing else I’ve done or what I have achieved, they just want to look at my finger to see if anyone’s put a ring on it.

I admit, I had my moment of panic when I turned 30. For maybe a day. And then I gave myself a kick in the arse and reminded myself that first of all, its not a race to the finish and second of all, 30 isn’t exactly ancient. I’ve had dates that never would have taken me as seriously at 27 as they do now. My life isn’t over, its not quite time for me to think about adopting cats yet.

The Measure of Success

It drives me mad to think that there are people who think I’m somehow less just because I’m “still” single. I have all the admiration in the world for mothers and for women who have chosen to start a family even at the expense of having a career – I think those women should be celebrated (sainted, really). But equally, credit should be given to those women who chose the other fork in the road and have fought to build a career despite the challenges and yes, despite being alone for most of it.

And its not like motherhood is not part of the plan. I, for one, would like to see my genes propagated (is that the right word?), but I’m not sitting around twiddling my thumbs while waiting for the future Mr. Angela. Its part of my bigger plan, its not my only plan. So yes, I do want to get married eventually and this is the first time that I can honestly say I’m ready for it (cue Taylor Swift music) so the answer to that question is a “not yet” rather than a hard “no”.

I hate having to defend my life choices to other people, I promised myself that I would rise above the weight of society’s expectations (I absolutely knew this was coming). It sickens me to think that I can still be affected by other people’s small minds and narrow world-views. I sometimes want to scream in frustration that there is a world out there bigger than the very small circle in which your lives revolve, but I don’t want to seem like I’m belittling anyone’s life or the choices they have made. I just wish they’d exercise the same caution when they choose to judge mine.

Where’s Your Boyfriend?

I don’t know. I don’t know where my boyfriend is. Twice in the past 6 years I thought I’ve found him but it turned out I haven’t. I haven’t met him yet, but I can feel myself getting closer. I’m enjoying the roundabout journey I’m taking to find him. It might take me a little longer, but when I meet him he can be sure that I’m whole, I’m ready, and I’m excited to share my passions, my dreams, and my life with him and to have him share his with me in turn.

Like I said, there’s a great big world out there for me to see. Life is one very exciting adventure and it would sure be grand to be holding someone’s hand as I live through it.

So for all you women out there who get asked the same questions from well-meaning and sometimes not so well-meaning friends and family: DO NOT GIVE IN. DO NOT SETTLE. And absolutely DO NOT let it be a factor in your decisions. You will come to it in your own damn time, and in your own way. Be strong.

Posted in Books, family, relationships, Reviews, romance

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

I will try my best for this review to do justice to this beautiful story of courage, hope and the power of love to endure all things, but I just don’t think I’m a good enough writer to express how much this book has touched me.

My sister has always wondered why I’m so morbidly fascinated with everything related to the Holocaust. She looked at me with horror when I suggested we watch Schindler’s List for Christmas morning last year (okay, that may have been too depressing a choice for what’s supposed to be a joyous occasion) or when I spent the entire holiday reading The Final Solution by David Cesarani the year before that.

For me it all started with a visit to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. I was well-versed with the history of the holocaust and the events of World War II of course, but in an almost detached kind of way. Like it was something I knew had happened but it never really touched me in a personal way – until I arrived at 263 Prinsengracht. While there, I was compelled to read the diary of a young girl and was able to see those events through her eyes and that, THAT made it personal.

You see, at 14 I was in high school; I did well academically, I had a huge circle of friends, a family who loved me and the exhilarating knowledge that life was only just beginning for me; I had dreams, and I knew I could go anywhere and be whoever I want to be if I only work hard enough for it. The world was my oyster. At 14, Anne Frank was desperately trying to survive, hidden in the secret annexe and praying to God that she will live to see another day.

I’ve visited a lot of memorials, have read a lot of book related to the holocaust – both fiction and non-fiction – and its always the accounts of the ordinary people who lived through that nightmare that always struck me to the core. This book is one of those accounts; it tells the extraordinary story of Lale Sokolov, who worked as the tattooist for Auschwitz during the war. He marked men and women, young and old alike, and inadvertently helped to decide their inevitable fate.

Lale made a promise to himself upon entering Auschwitz that he would survive the dreaded death camp; not only that, but he will bloody well live his life to the fullest even amidst such horror. But even he faltered at times when faced with the utterly senseless waste of life that he saw during his three years of imprisonment. He also could not help but feel like a Nazi collaborator because of what he allowed himself to do in order to survive. For Lale had friends and contacts in higher places, and he used a combination of charm, wiles, cunning and sometimes just plain dumb luck to cheat death over and over again.

Of course Lale had a very strong motive for wanting to stay alive: during his time in Auschwitz he fell in love with a young woman from Block 29 named Gita. Now I am usually not a fan of insta-love, but under those circumstances it was not only understandable but somehow appropriate that two people would grab at the chance for love where they can. I challenge any world-weary cynic who has stopped believing in the power of love to read this and not believe in love again.

This book is incredibly uplifting. Apart from the obvious love story, its mainly a story of hope. One of Lale’s favourite things to say was that “If you wake up in the morning, its a good day”. He, and Gita along with him, got through those horrible years by always putting one foot in front of the other (literally and figuratively) and by always believing that there will come a time when they will be free to be together, “to make love whenever and wherever they want”. Simple freedoms that we take for granted during our everyday lives.

This book also about the startling glimpses of human kindness in a place where you don’t expect kindness to exist anymore. I think its meant to tell you that there is hope for mankind if one prisoner can still manage to willingly share his meagre extra rations so that his block mates can also have a tiny piece of sausage or chocolate.

I won’t deny that this book had me in tears for most of it. Its the little things that got me: how earlier in the book, Lale’s mum – not knowing where he was headed and if they’ll ever see each other again – packed her favourite books in his suitcase instead of clothes so that they’d give him comfort when she no longer can; its how prisoners mourned the loss of suitcase and personal belongings as soon as they entered the camp, not for any materialistic reason, but because of the memories those belongings held, the sentimental value of some of the items, and perhaps because they know that that loss is a metaphor for what they will soon lose: their identities, their individuality, heck, their very humanity will soon be taken from them as they become just another  number in Auschwitz.

Through it all Heather Morris wrote with such simplicity so as not to take away anything from the story that she was writing. Her words were clear, plain and straightforward. The narrative flowed and was easy to follow. It delivered on so many levels, and was such a page-turner that I finished this book within a day.

I still struggle to understand how anyone could have allowed murder and carnage on such a large scale to happen on their watch. I still can’t find any discernible reason for that huge wave of anti-semitism and for why a single group was targeted for genocide. I expressed all that and more when I reviewed The Final Solution on my Goodreads account, and I still stand by everything that I said. We should never forget the events of the holocaust. It makes me wonder how many more lives have to be lost and how many more wars need to be fought before we understand that – even though we’re divided by race, religion and culture – we are all simply human beings. As naive as it sounds, why can’t we just live and let live?

These men and women, these survivors, they weren’t at the battle front. They didn’t help to win the war, I don’t think they fired a single gun shot nor did they contribute to any strategic sessions; all they did was live each day hoping that they will still live to see the next. To me, that makes them heroes. Thank you Lale Sokolov, for sharing your incredible story with the world. I hope you’re happy and at peace with your Gita, I could not think of two people who deserve it more.

Overall: 5 stars. You can get a good deal for this book on Amazon when you click on the image below.

Happy Sunday everyone! xx

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review: Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

I have been deceived.

I was deceived into thinking this was simply a romantic time-travel novel between a woman who finds herself magically transported to 17th century Scotland and a young Scots warrior.

I was deceived into thinking this had just a little bit of angst and that the biggest conflict would be whether Claire chooses Frank in the future or Jamie in the past.

I was bloody well deceived into thinking that this would have a relatively happy ending all things considered.

I should have known by the heft of this book that not everything is as it seems.

Warning: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS

The book started out innocuously enough. I enjoyed reading about how people lived life in Scotland during that time period. I really liked how the relationship between Claire and Jamie developed. I even understood that scene where he “punished” her as befitted the norm of that time when a woman is basically considered a man’s property. That I can handle.

I understood why some women were outraged about it because reading something like that in this day and age is like taking two steps back for feminism but I thought to myself, hey get a grip guys, consider it from the historical context in which its intended to be placed.

I was not as sanguine during the later half of the book.

I think they can hear my scream of rage all the way to the Scottish Highlands as I skimmed through the last 300 pages of this f**k**g book.

In a way, the innocence and purity of the love between Claire and Jamie made what happened in the end worse for me. To take something so good (and so freakin’ rare!) and use it as an instrument to torture a man to the point that he would prefer death is just unacceptable. Unacceptable. UNACCEPTABLE! There are a lot of things I can stomach when reading a book, but brutal rape is not one of them.

Was that really necessary Diana Gabaldon?!?

Was the violation and complete destruction of Jamie Fraser’s soul really an integral part of the plot? Would the story not have progressed to its inevitable conclusion without it? I know you’re fond of having your female lead play Florence Nightingale but other plot devices SURELY would have served just as well. Have him suffer an infection or heck, have him shot in the leg with her having to amputate him to save his life. Anything but that.

And to have Jamie recount what happened in bits and pieces, with increasing detail, finally culminating in the revelation that his torturer used Claire to finally “rouse” him – that was just the final straw.

I could not read any more after that.

I’m sure there are people who will think that I should be more open-minded about this and I tried, I really tried to understand where the author was coming from and I told myself this whole thing served to strengthen the bond between Jamie and Claire.

But there are just some things I cannot stomach, I’m sorry. That does not take away from the fact that this book is well written (if a bit too detailed), the plot is good and the characters are engaging. I am almost ashamed that I do not have the stomach to read the rest of the series. But its just not for me.

I refuse to watch the series either. I do not need the visual to go with what I have just read. I honestly feel like I have been violated alongside Jamie and I would like Diana Gabaldon to take that as a compliment. I fully concede that those scenes were so powerful that it affected me on a visceral level. I now feel like I need to scrub my mind with a good old-fashioned regency romance that will not throw curveballs like this just when I thought we were nearing happily-ever-after.

If I wanted death and violence I’d read a crime novel. I do not need it in my romance novels, thank you very much.

I’d love to hear what y’all think even if you feel the need to criticise my opinions because you disagree. Just, you know, be gentle with the comments.

Also, if you want to buy the book click on the Amazon link below and help me earn some money. Lol. Cheers!

Posted in Filipino, Religion, Travel

Sinulog: An Argument For Religion

One of the hardest questions I’ve ever had to answer (apart from, obviously, where’s your boyfriend haha), is when someone asks me ‘Do you still believe in God?‘.

I get asked that every time I happen to mention regularly attending church on Sundays, or if I have to excuse myself early from Sunday brunch to hear mass or if someone sees me take out the rosary during a flight where there’s really bad turbulence.

I got into an argument once with a colleague (who’s pretty well-known for being rude so I really shouldn’t have stooped to his level) because he said that religion is for the weak. At the time, I couldn’t really articulate everything that was in my head because I have to admit that this topic always confuses me.

I grew up strictly Catholic and in a very Catholic country. My mum still goes to church every day and makes regular donations to support our local parish. Its very hard to undo nearly 30 years of tradition even though sometimes I probably do them out of habit. And because if I skip mass I can practically hear mum’s voice in my head nagging me to distraction. Sometimes its not just in my head: she will FaceTime me to make sure that I’m not skipping church. Its actually quite funny and endearing; she probably fears for my eternal soul living in London.

However, I have friends who make a good solid case about why they don’t practice their religion anymore. For them, Catholicism is outdated, judgmental and overly rigorous. It demands too much from its members and its out of touch with today’s reality. It gets in the way of progress, and the current state of the world begs the question that if there is a God where is He during these troubled times?

No one really talks about faith and religion in London, not in my experience anyway. Even Filipinos living abroad find it hard to counter some of the more sensible arguments from those who see religion as a crutch; its hard to defend religion when others see it as the root cause of all the hate crimes and terrorist attacks that regularly plague European cities. Its a shame that the acts of a few extremists brings censure on the sect as a whole.

So no one really talks about being religious or professes their faith in everyday conversations. We just get on with the daily grind, blearily getting into our (scrub) suits for another day in the office. My default answer when asked if I still believe in God is to say, well I don’t know but I believe in SOMETHING.

Cebu and the Sto. Niño

I am not going to recount the history and long relationship Cebu has with the blessed niño, the patron saint of our beautiful city. All I can say is that you’ll be hard-pressed to find a celebration more beautiful and more inspiring than this 9-day celebration in January, culminating in a grand procession every 3rd Sunday of the same month. Yes, even if you’re an atheist this will still amaze you. Scorn it if you like, but to see it and to witness it is an experience.

People come out in droves to the pilgrim center of the Basilica (and the streets beyond) every day for 9 days to attend the novena mass. There’s a novena mass every hour and every hour attendance is always at full-capacity. Every hour.Every day for 9 days. Rain or shine, hell or high water.

Its crowded as all get go, and even when its raining its so bloody humid and you will feel really sticky. You have to rub elbows with the crowd and if you want to have a seat, you might as well forget it. The Basilica is in a part of the city that’s known for pickpockets; you can’t bring a car because the streets are closed to accommodate more mass-goers. Public transportation will only get you as far as maybe three to four blocks away and even then you’ll have to take a ridiculously circuitous route to find the entrance.

9 days.

It seems like a lifetime for some. And I know some people reading this will think its a waste of time. But for the people of Cebu, this is an integral part of their lives. I remember teaching Nursing in my alma mater from 2009 to 2011, and our college would sponsor one of the novena masses every year. During our sponsored mass day, class schedules are rearranged so that students and clinical instructors alike can go to church. One of my close friends in the Nursing faculty wasn’t even Catholic and even he wanted to attend just to experience what it was like.

People make time for the Niño. For some its because there’s a legend that if you complete the 9-day novena you get to make a wish or something, but I doubt something like that is the basis for the sheer devotion that you can feel coming out of the pilgrim centre. One of the most beautiful moments of the mass is the Batobalani Sa Gugma (literally translated it means “Magnet of Love”) where people raise their hands in prayer, waving them to and fro as if being controlled by, wait for it, a magnet.

Moving Forward

I attended one of the novena masses yesterday for the first time in 3 years. And when the choir started singing the opening hymn, I got this pang in my chest and I felt my eyes start to sting with tears. Its like you held on to your emotions for so long and you try to be strong because you have to be in order to survive in another country. And I haven’t turned to anyone or anything for a long long time, and especially not my faith.

I suddenly realised that its been a long year, 2017 I mean. It was probably one of the most difficult – personally and professionally. But I got through it. And I guess I suddenly let myself think about that during mass yesterday for some reason, and I just got really emotional. I was in tears by the middle of the song, people were starting to look at me like I was a nutcase.

The traditional homily was a sign that the Catholic church (in Cebu at least) is ready to enter the 21st century. The surprisingly savvy and hip officiating priest talked about needing followers who go to concerts, drink alcohol and have a regular following on Instagram. They need the millennials who take a million selfies and whose burning desire is to travel the world (while taking selfies! Lol). He said some things that made me think that the church is finally willing to admit that some of its long-held beliefs may be just a touch antiquated. Its arguing for tolerance and acceptance for the first time in a long long while.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I cannot stand behind a church that will persecute its members for being different. If the Catholic church is telling me that my best friend and his gay husband will burn in hell for loving each other then I will renounce my faith in a heartbeat. But its not doing that. For the first time I can feel the church make an effort to understand. And to accept. That is the kind of church I can get behind.

I think that people will always need religion. We all need something; we need to believe in a higher power especially during difficult times. I mean they say you should rely on yourself. But if I allow myself to believe that there’s only little ole me during a crisis and no one else, I will go insane. I need to believe that there’s someone looking out for me. If that makes me weak then yes I’m weak.

Do You Still Believe?

Like I said. I’m reluctant to answer that question because I don’t want to be a hypocrite. But I think the answer to that question, strange as it seems, is yes. I believe in the power of religion to unite people even if its just for an hour every day. I believe in the capacity of people to do good because of their faith. I believe in something that is not within my remit nor capacity to explain. And for now, that is enough to get me through the day.

Viva Pit Senyor, Cebuanos!

Posted in Books, Reviews

Book Review: Sirens – Joseph Knox

There are only really three things that I know for sure after having read this book:

  1. I will probably think twice before I ever volunteer to visit Manchester.
  2. I will never understand why some people would choose to take drugs
  3. I should think twice before opting to take such a gruesome crime novel with me whilst I’m on holiday

Joseph Knox spins a tale about a detective who has gone undercover to investigate some kind of drug cartel in Manchester and at the same time to look into the disappearance of an MP’s teenage daughter.

Detective Aiden Waits is a shady character at best, and he comes close to answering the age old question about whether a cop and a criminal are two sides of the same coin. If you spend the majority of your time trying to think like a criminal, how much more can you take before you are unable to distinguish yourself from the people whose crimes you’re trying to stop?

The good detective made some phenomenally bad choices throughout this book; he wasn’t the kind of main character I could really get behind on. He alternated between being stupidly arrogant and pitifully weak; he couldn’t figure out what was really going on until the last possible minute (neither could I, but I’m not a detective) and he almost seemed to play into the hands of the true perpetrators for about 70% of the book. So, no, he wasn’t the strongest point of this story.

The development of the rest of the supporting characters, however, fairly overshadowed that of Detective Waits. It takes much for me to sympathise with drug dealers and corrupt officials, but Joseph Knox did such a good job of showing their different backgrounds without bogging the story down. He offers no excuses for their actions, merely asking the readers to empathise and understand the life choices that have brought them to their present circumstances.

Its easier to judge people from behind glass houses, not so easy when you’re knee deep in shite with no other way out. We are all, I think, victims of our personal circumstances. Some of us just do better at rising against bad circumstances than others. But if you put yourself in other people’s shoes for a moment and think about how your own life could have been so different if you had to walk a mile in their shoes…you wouldn’t be so quick to judge.

The twists and turns of the story happened at breakneck speed; its such a page-turner that I finished it in a day (the weather was bad and I could not go to the beach as planned). Everything was set against the horrifyingly detailed backdrop of the underbelly of Manchester; Joseph Knox had no qualms about describing the city’s drug scene in all its glory, making me question just how much truth went into this and if so, that must have been some harrowing months of research (although I think I read somewhere that he grew up in Manchester).

The inevitable payoff and solving of the mystery was a little bit anti-climactic; I don’t think the ending was as satisfying as I would have liked. No one was really given an ending, and I’m not sure justice was really served in the end. But I guess that’s the reality of life isn’t it? The good guys don’t always win and the bad guys sometimes go free. Life goes on either way.

Overall, this was a good read! 3 out of 5 stars.

P.S. I think the play on the word ‘Sirens’ and its different meanings as the story progressed was very very clever. I would love to hear what you guys think! Buy the book on amazon for a good deal by clicking the photo below.