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.
Free Parking care of Maribago Blue Waters
The dock at Oslob port
My siblings and my cousin on the boat
Tres Marias at the dock
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shortly before Christmas one of my surgeons asked me where I’d be celebrating the holidays and I answered guilelessly that I’d be going to Switzerland. He was rendered speechless for all of 5 seconds before asking me if I was secretly a millionaire.
People think of Switzerland as this uber expensive, ultra-posh country where the rich and famous go on ski holidays. But for me, Switzerland has always been my home away from home. My nearest relative, apart from my sister, lives in Switzerland and she would always welcome me with open arms whenever I’d get the notion to escape London for a while.
I remember one time I was having a horrendously bad week at work, culminating in a Friday where I had a horrific row with the surgeon I was working with. It was a sure sign of how overworked I was because my composure around orthopaedic surgeons is usually unflappable.
Anyway, I cancelled all my bank shifts because I told our coordinator I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown (haha) and booked an EasyJet flight to Zurich. Its become something of a running joke between that surgeon and I actually (we eventually made up, sort of).
So yeah, going to Switzerland is like going home. My cousin is awesome at all things household-related and stepping into her home is like stepping into a bed and breakfast. Her cooking is awesome; when she visited me for my 30th birthday I must have gained a good 3kilos because of all the scrumptious home-cooked meals I was being treated to.
For the holidays, my mum and my cousin’s mum came over to visit, and because the UK requires a separate visa (apart from the Schengen visa) for tourists wishing to come visit, my sister and I decided that it’d be better for us to go to Switzerland instead.
I really really needed the time away from London. I don’t think I could have withstood another couple of days of watching myself mope around the house. I was starting to annoy myself with how pathetic I was being over (of all things) a guy. Of course, I did a lot of moping in Switzerland as well but at least it was moping with a view. Lol
I’ve been to the Rhine Falls several times – its an obligatory stop when you visit Switzerland -and its never failed to lift my mood. There is just something so satisfying about being able to see and be one with nature after months and months of living with the relentless pace of the concrete jungle that is London (no, Hyde Park doesn’t count).
Getting to spend time with Mum was an added bonus. I love my Mum. There is something to be said about a woman who will still rub Vicks on her sick 30-year-old daughter because she’s coughing so badly that she can’t sleep (yeah, I was unwell for most of this trip). Check out my very youthful and lovely mum!
The Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch were every bit as good as I expected it to be, so good in fact that I went on my annual post-christmas 3k guilt run just to help burn off all those extra calories (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t enough but whatever).
So yeah, it was a very Merry Christmas indeed and I’m pretty sure I’m over whatever funk I was in a couple of weeks ago. A change in scenery was just what the doctor ordered.
Hope you all had a fantastic Christmas holiday, blabbaholics! 😘
I come from a whole family of teachers, spanning maybe two generations. As a kid, I used to earn my allowance by tutoring my younger brother and sister. I very nearly went insane in the process but it has prepared me for my future as an educator. Believe me, teaching your own sibling is an experience you don’t want to have in perpetuity (haha, Game of Thrones reference).
My father didn’t want me to be a teacher because he thought I would have more of a future as a nurse. At the time, there were not a lot of job opportunities in the Philippines and everyone was desperate to get out of the country. Nursing was a one-way ticket to a better life. Ironically, when I started studying nursing the demand for nurses internationally started to decline; there was a recession in the US and the UK and not a lot of countries were hiring out. But that was okay, because I knew as soon as I graduated that I wanted to be a clinical instructor in my alma mater and train future nurses.
My two years as a clinical instructor were some of the best and worst years of my life. I started out as this wide-eyed, dreamy and idealistic teacher fresh from uni and with all cylinders firing. I wanted to not just teach students, but to inspire them as well. I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to be that one teacher they’ll remember for the rest of their life.
You know what they say about good intentions and the roads they pave.
Not that being a clinical instructor was hell. But. Reality sort of got through after a while and I realised that the job was way more difficult than I thought it would be. I especially had a hard time balancing between going the extra mile and getting too close to the students. I may also have disagreed with some of my more senior colleagues about our role in our students’ lives. I believed (and still believe) that it was possible to stay impartial and objective without being detached. I think that extra touch of the personal is what makes a student-teacher relationship special. I have gotten into a lot of trouble for clinging to that belief. But I had hell of a good time because of it.
In my first year as a clinical instructor, I threw everything I had into teaching. I was organised, I gave every student individual feedback, I listened to their problems, both academic and when they wanted support about the more personal aspects. I got creative and looked for ways to make learning fun. I still remember organising an Amazing Race-like activity around the campus at the end of every rotation. I think I may have also built a reputation for being really strict, which I never intended but turned out to work really well for me. I think a little dose of fear is healthy. But I didn’t want the students to do the work because they feared me, I wanted them to do it because they see value in doing it.
I supported extra-curricular activities with gusto. I may not know much about playing basketball, but I love the sport and I was there for every game. I cheered every win and commiserated with the team for each loss. I also knew that the best way to get over a loss was to eat and drink so I used to buy food for the team, so much that some of the boys still message me to this day to ask for pochero because that’s what we used to have when we ate out.
I think that first year was awesome. I look back on it now and I’m grateful. I wouldn’t do anything differently even though some people are of the opinion that I got too close. Maybe I did. Maybe I was too young to be a clinical instructor. I was mentoring students who were only 2 or 3 years younger than me, its kinda hard to be an authority figure with that narrow an age gap. I think the lines were a bit blurred because of that, and with others the lines were more blurred because of natural chemistry. I think that there are people in your life that you will just naturally get along with and gravitate more towards. Some of the students were my friends. However, because they were my friends, I worked even harder to stay impartial within the context of our professional relationship.
I think its a huge leap from being friendly with students to assuming that I would compromise my integrity for them.
In my last year as a clinical instructor, I was unfairly accused of leaking exam questions to a group of students. I have never spoken openly about how upset I was about this but I do so now just to get it off my chest completely. I WOULD NEVER DO SUCH A THING. It goes against every principle I have in life. Teaching is my passion, and I cannot teach without integrity. Why should I work so hard to teach students if I’m going to give them the easy way out anyway? If I did that, I would be cheating them and selling them short because it means I have no faith in their ability to pass an exam. I don’t think those who used my name so carelessly to cover their mistake or those who were so quick to judge me ever realised how close they came to snuffing out that spark, that love I had for teaching.
But I refused to let them defeat me.
I still don’t know who leaked the exam. There were other clinical instructors accused with me but I got the full force because of the kind of relationship I had with the students. In hindsight, maybe I was guilty. Guilty of not setting more boundaries and protecting myself from accusations like that. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Still its hard to regret the choices I made when I have so many students who tell me how much of an impact I’ve made in their lives. I can’t bring myself to be overly bitter about that experience because its made me stronger; and it was ultimately the catalyst that led me to London.
And I’m happy that I never gave up. Because I would have missed out on the payoff. The payoff is seeing your babies graduate; the payoff is seeing them all become nurses in their own right. The payoff is seeing how successful they’ve become and reuniting with them halfway round the world from where we came from and having drinks by the river Thames.
I am so incredibly proud of the work we’ve done with these students. They’ve turned out better than we could have expected and Joseph, I think we should give ourselves a pat in the back, partner. Job well done.
Kudos, Velez College – College of Nursing UK Chapter. 😘
As my followers know, I’m not able to travel much this year because a) I needed to save at least 3 grand for my application to become a UK resident and b) I’ve used up most of my annual leave entitlements to go home to the Philippines in January. I usually have a birthday trip each year but this year I decided to spend my birthday at home. There’s plenty of interesting places to see in England anyway (I can’t go to Scotland because apparently there’s a massive festival that starts in August and flights to Edinburgh are horrendously expensive; ditto, Belfast). This last weekend my friend Jo, my sister and I decided to visit (re-visit in my case) two of the country’s premier universities.
When you hear Oxford University anywhere in the world, you automatically associate it with prestige and excellence. The university has produced a lot of notable alumni and a record number of prime ministers. Among its list of fellows are CS Lewis (author of Narnia), JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Theresa May (I don’t know how proud they are of this), David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, and Lawrence of Arabia.
Also, they filmed Harry Potter in Oxford. Ironically, for a university renowned the world over for a great many things (The Bodleian library, the Oxford University Press etc) most tourists want to see where the dining hall of Hogwarts is, or where they practiced dancing for the Yule Ball, or the grounds that Daniel Radcliffe walked in for the first Harry Potter movie or where Minerva McGonagall received the first years in that classic Philosopher’s Stone scene.
We initially booked a free walking tour with Footprints and then upgraded to a University Tour because I fell for the blurb on the poster that said we could visit the colleges and the library. The reality fell short of my expectations and I think we would have been better off with our original plan and saving ourselves £15. We weren’t able to get into a college because they changed their rules about the size of the group that can be pre-booked. Travel tip: if you want to go into one of the colleges, don’t do a group tour. Do your research and pre-book your own tickets if they give you that option. The queue for some of the more famous ones, like Christchurch College (with the Hogwarts dining hall and where Lewis Caroll was inspired to write Alice’s adventures in Wonderland) were incredibly long.
This is actually my 5th visit to Oxford but only the 2nd one that actually lasted more than 2 hours. The other three were part of the Evans Evans tour package that included Bath and Stonehenge so they were incredibly abbreviated. The first time I came to Oxford we stayed overnight. I think I had only been in the UK for four months at the time and I was still adjusting; I don’t think I was able to appreciate it as much as I do now. Plus there were 11 of us during that trip and we were all incredibly different: I was interested in the history and the university’s achievements; the others were concerned about where to eat. That’s why I loved this trip because first of all, Jo is easy to please. He may not be the world’s biggest fan of Harry Potter or of classic literature but he appreciates it – signs of a seasoned traveller. Second of all, I was with my sister who DOES share my interests; we’ve read the same books and can geek out over the same things so it just made going around Oxford more fun. I guess that’s another two travel tips I can give. Don’t come to Oxford for more than a day trip and make sure you know what to expect. Its a university town full of history, its not exactly the world’s most exciting city.
I revisited some of my favourite Oxford spots for the nth time: the Bridge of Sighs, the Sheldonian theatre, the Radcliffe Camera and others. I don’t actually know why the Bridge of Sighs has been replicated so many times (there’s one in Cambridge as well), its pretty enough I suppose but the original one in Venice actually has a gruesome history: it leads from the Doge Palace to the prisons and would give prisoners their last view of Venice and the Adriatic before being incarcerated, and apparently they’d give a sigh at such a sight hence the name. In Oxford, all it does is lead students from one part of New College to the other. 🙄
The Bodleian Library is a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since I read the All Souls Trilogy a couple of years back. This library’s got publishing rights so they are entitled to receive a copy of every book that’s printed in the United Kingdom. That is A LOT of books. I wonder if there’s an opening for a librarian post there? Lol. Needless to say, they’ve had to build a place for all the excess books. They’re now kept in the New Bodleian or the Weston Library, which also houses some other treasures like a copy of Shakespeare’s folios, an early edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s poems, a copy of Handel’s Messiah and others. The rest of the books are actually underground. There’s a tunnel that leads from the Old Bodleian to the Radcliffe Camera (which is actually a reading room). This underground passage is the reason why sometimes you’ll see a student go into the Radcliffe and seemingly never come out because they’ve already exited in another part of the city.
The weather was a bit uncooperative so we stopped by an apparently famous pub to have some lunch. Legend has it that an ex-prime minister of Australia once held the world record for the most number of ales drank in a period of time or something like that. Bill Clinton, who was a Rhodes scholar, apparently “smelled” but did not take marijuana while he was in the same pub. Let us all laugh together. I’m sure their ale is quite nice but I’ve never acquired a taste for it. I had my usual Reikorderlig cider instead.
After lunch we went to another pub called TheBear, which is more of a “town” pub. Our guide said there was once a rivalry between the “town” people and the university folks. It turned brutal one night and a few students ended up dead, which is why for many years the mayor of the city had to pick four citizens in a ceremony where they apologise to the vice chancellor year after year after year until someone figured out how stupid that was. Anyway, so The Bear was a town pub from which vantage point people used to watch bear baiting, hence the name. How barbaric. Now its more known as being “the tie pub” because the old barkeep collected ties from people and framed them.
Can I just take a moment to say how much I love the British pub culture? Not that I condone an excess of alcohol, but I don’t see anything wrong with social drinking. I also like how families can go to a pub, and the tradition of fathers buying their sons their first drink. In the Philippines, we do most of our drinking either at a house party, a place by the streets, some hole-in-the-wall or a club where we have to dress up. Needless to say we would never dream of going there with our parents. There’s no place where people can just hang out after work to have a pint. Pubs are great; and god knows we need them in the winter when there’s nothing else to do in London. Lol.
We went to Christchurch college next, well, not inside because it was closed by the time we got there but we got a good view of Christchurch meadow which inspired Lewis Caroll. We ended the day at Blackwell, one of the biggest bookstores in the country. I predictably ended up spending a ton of money on books but its money well spent. I’ve always imagined myself reading at Blackwell’s like Diana in The All Souls Trilogy.
In fact, in an alternate universe I think I would have liked being an Oxford University Student. Taking the entrance exams, getting into one of the dorm rooms, having my first lecture and knowing the history of the hallowed halls I find myself in, sitting my exams while wearing my robes, becoming a fellow…I think I would have thrived in that kind of environment, I’ve always felt most at home in the academic environment.
Either that or I would have become obese with stress (stress-eater here). Wouldn’t it be nice to be abl to provide my children someday with the opportunity should they wish it? Imagine the endless possibilities they would have when they graduate. Oh well. One can dream. Ultimately, as important as your education is, its what you do with that education that’s more important. I went to a humble school in the Philippines and I still somehow made most of my dreams come true. And that’s something to be proud of as well.
But I know that I can make it, as long as somebody takes me home every now and then…
When Brandon Flowers sang Sam’s Town at the Royal Albert Hall to the thousands and thousands of Londoners who came out to watch the Killers, it just gave me chills. The last line from the song (quoted at the end of this post) probably says everything that I need to say about how I feel living in London. Despite its faults, despite the struggles, I absolutely love being here.
LONDON AND ME: A LOVE STORY
The journey to this kind of contentment takes ages, and the best thing is I’m still on that journey. Here I am, five and a half years down the line and I’m still discovering new things to love about London. My love for London is what I imagine being in a relationship is like. You start off with stars in your eyes and you get swept up in the romance of it all. You visit Big Ben and Tower Bridge, or stroll along Southbank or walk down Pall Mall towards Buckingham Palace – you know, touristy stuff – and its like those first few dates when everything seems perfect. I think that first year, London could do no wrong in my eyes. I arrived on the tail end of 2011 and I rang in the New Year by watching the famous London Fireworks at the London Eye. The amount of people who turn out for that, and who are willing to wait 7 odd hours in the freezing cold for a 10-minute firework display, simply boggles the mind. I’ve watched it twice and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. But back then, I was in love with the wonder of it all that I barely noticed the crowds (or the struggle to hold your pee in because the journey to the public toilets was more difficult than climbing a small mountain).
The fireworks display that year was extra special because 2012 was the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. The atmosphere that year was electric, I could not have timed my arrival better if I tried. I threw myself into the celebrations that year with the energy of a woman possessed. I waited three hours in the rain for the Royal Parade down the Thames, jostled elbows with the crowds near Trafalgar Square so that I could catch a glimpse of the Royal Family as they made their way to Buckingham Palace, watched the London Olympics Opening Ceremony in the park with my friends, bought tickets to the games, and celebrated a job well done with the rest of London during the Closing Ceremony (which fell on my birthday!) on a special viewing area at Westfield-Stratford near the venue.
With one of my best friends, soaking up the sun in Canary Wharf
Tower Bridge all ready for London 2012
With some enthusiastic Brazilian supporters during the opening ceremony
The atmosphere around the Olympic Park was unbelievable
With my friend Russel, getting ready to watch Team USA in the preliminaries
Oh hello, Kobe. 🙂
I gradually adjusted to adulting. I learned to do my own laundry, set up my own Wifi and even cook. I was doing well at work, but it was probably the first time in my ambitious existence that I focused less on getting ahead in my career because I was too busy “living the life”. All I wanted was to get paid at the end of each month so that I can pay rent and do fun things. I refused bank shifts because it took time away from my exploration of all things British. I fulfilled a childhood dream to watch the Backstreet Boys in concert (don’t judge me!) and followed that up with what is still one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to in my life, watching Coldplay live at the Emirates Arena during their Mylo Xyloto tour.
The Seven-Year Itch
Inevitably, the excitement wore off. Winter began and whilst I used to scoff about Seasonal Affective Disorder when I was studying about depression at uni, I sure wasn’t scoffing when I started to feel really blue as November kicked in (I still do sometimes). I discovered that I actually needed the sun, and the shorts days and long nights really got to me. I developed a love-hate relationship with the London Weather. The first time I was running to catch my bus with groceries on one hand and an umbrella on the other because it was raining so hard, I think I nearly cried.Reality really does bite. The honeymoon was over. I started to think about what it really meant to live in London. Why am I here, so far away from family, friends and everything that’s familiar to me? Am I here to just do a job so that I have enough money to go to the Philippines every year because that’s where I think my life still is?
Making it work: couples therapy with London :p
Ultimately, I made the conscious decision to stop being a tourist and really live in London and all that entails, horrible weather and all. I learned a lot of things that year, and while my previous post dealt with how to get started in London, I think this one is more of a guide on how to be really live and be happy here.
Accept the weather
Now this was something I struggled with. I came from a tropical country where it would be 30 degrees Celsius even with a storm raging. Everyone you’ve ever met who told you about the constant, seemingly-never-ceasing rain in London was not kidding. There are times when it rained for two full days nonstop. I hated it. I’m a shorts and flip-flops kind of girl, I hated wearing closed shoes and jackets. I cannot (and still can’t) layer to save my life. I used to moan a lot about the weather. But now I’ve learned to embrace it. I bought myself a pair of Hunter boots and an all-weather warrior jacket from Hollister and that was that; I had my battle armour ready for the next torrential downpour. I bought a sturdy umbrella that wouldn’t turn itself inside out with the next strong gust of wind. I learned to plan my activities around the weather. My friend visited me a couple of years ago and commented on my almost obsessive hourly checking of the weather. She had obviously never experienced going out in shorts and Toms because it was sunny when you left the flat and then two hours later, you’re soaked to the bone because it had begun to rain. Do not underestimate how much of an impact the weather will have on your London life.
Love your job
Most people will tell you that they’ve taken a job abroad so that they can travel, and that’s what keeps them going: the thought of going away every couple of months and exploring the world. That’s all fine. But realistically speaking, you won’t be able to travel more than twice in a year. Maybe if you take short weekend trips you can stretch that to four, but the fact is, a lot of the time you’ll be caught up in making a living. The average nurse spends 37.5 hours a week at work, more if you do bank shifts (overtime). Honestly, I didn’t love my job as much as I should have, nor did I give it the appreciation it deserved for being the reason why I’m in London in the first place. Maybe my first job wasn’t really the right fit for me, but the one I have now is. Part of the time I’m working in a speciality that continues to excite me, but most of the time I’m doing what I love and do best: teaching.
Its the kind of job that challenges me, frustrates me, pushes me to my limits and ultimately, gives me that sense of achievement that only comes when you know you’ve made a difference. Don’t get me wrong, some days I feel like doing a primal scream or burrowing underneath my duvet and never leaving the apartment. But the good days outweigh the bad. Having a job I love has kept me sane even as it makes me insane.
Develop a hobby or a passion
I have to be honest. I haven’t been listening to this part of my survival guide for the past year because I’ve been too caught up with work. I feel like I’ve taken on the problems of the world on my shoulders, I’ve forgotten the simple fact that the world will go on turning with or without me. I am irreplaceable to no one except myself. This is part of the reason why I’ve taken up blogging again. I used to write and write like there’s no tomorrow, even if no one would ever read it. I wrote for the fun of it. I used to go dancing twice a week and training every other day. I used to go for runs just because the weather is good and I feel like it. It’s really essential that you have a work-life balance, and -what’s that saying – that you don’t get too caught up in making a living that you forget to live. The people who have enjoyed living here the most are those who have made the most of what the city has to offer. They do yoga, go wall climbing, joined running clubs and others. For those who less physically-inclined (like me), there’s book clubs and social groups that you can join to keep the monotony at bay. Push yourself though, I never thought I could do Muay Thai but I’m not only doing it but loving it.
Meet new people, not just fellow countrymen
When I got to London, the Filipino community was pretty much established. Most of them were people who went to the same school as I did, acquaintances more than actual friends. But it amazes me how much being in a foreign country together forges a bond. No one else will know what its like to be living and working abroad apart from the people who are having that same experience. However, I didn’t want to limit myself to the Filipino community. I’m living in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. I love to talk (hence, blabbaholic) and I have a genuine love for getting to know people and gaining new perspectives. I think one of the reasons why I love my current job is because it allows me to get out of my comfort zone and actually network with people. And the more people I meet, the more I’ve realised that people are essentially different but the same, and that those differences should be embraced and celebrated.
My boss is Scottish and my vocabulary has gotten so much better ever since I’ve started working with her. I’ve also picked up a couple of quintessentially Scottish words, the kind that have no English translation. There are no words to express how much I’ve matured as an educator because of her advices. One of my closest friends is Australian, and she’s taught me to see things from a whole different perspective, and to stand up for myself every once in a while. She’s also brought me to a sports bar to watch State of Origin and got me to cheer for Queensland against New South Wales, and to wear red in support of “my” team. Another one of my best friends is Italian, and she teaches me Italian swear words and brings me cheese from home. She’s also one of my most avid cheerleaders, and she always reminds me to love myself and to look at the mirror and think, “I am beautiful”.
A couple of years ago, I tried a social group called Thinking Bob, and I thought it was fantastic. I got to meet so many new people while doing activities. I learned that I have the courage to walk up to a group of strangers and socialise; because of this group, I had the guts to step up on stage in front of a rock band and sing ‘Proud Mary’ like I was Tina Turner, complete with the dance moves. It was exhilarating to be with people where I can be someone besides usual myself. There’s comfort in the company of strangers because they have no basis with which to judge you, seeing as they don’t really know you.
There’s nothing like the home crowd though…
I’ve met lots of people and I love it. But there’s something to be said about having the kind of friends who you just know will help you bury a body if you ever decide to murder someone. The kind you can call long distance at 3am because you’ve just unlocked one of life’s important achievements. The kind you can have two-hour conversations with just because. So stay connected to the friends who have known you long before you ever landed on Heathrow.
Yes, travelling tops every 20-something or 30-something year old’s list of things to achieve. There’s so much fuss about travelling lately, and so many travel blogs or vlogs about exploring the world and finding yourself while getting lost in some random city. There’s a reason why there’s so much hype, because travelling changes you in so many ways. I’ve always loved and read about history, and travelling gave me so many opportunities to visit places that I’ve only ever read about in books. The first time I entered the Louvre gave me the most surreal feeling. I think I cried when I entered St Peter’s Basilica and when I finally got to walk down the gardens of Versailles. I had authentic German beer in Berlin with friends I met on a free walking tour; I visited Anne Frank’s attic and felt profoundly sorry for the innocence that was lost there. I visited a concentration camp and got up close and personal with just how low humanity can be brought to when driven by greed, hate, prejudice and desperation. I toured the canals of Venice, prayed in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and enjoyed aperitivo along the coasts of Italy. Each time I came back from travelling, I came back not quite the same person, but more. So yes, before Brexit fully comes into its own, travel. A lot.
Stay connected to faith and family
I put these two together because for me they are one and the same. My faith and family keep me grounded, and give you a reason to go on during days when everything just seems to be going wrong. By faith, I don’t mean religion. I am not at my most eloquent when talking about spiritual matters. But I suppose by faith I mean just having the belief that everything will be ok in the end because there is a plan for you; and that you are here for a reason. And if you get that kind of faith by going to church or praying or meditation, it doesn’t matter as long as you keep the faith. I think when we stop believing and we stop hoping, that’s when we stop seeing the beauty in being where we are. Its happened to me a couple of times, and each time it helped to go home and spend time with my family.
Because really, there is no substitute for having family. There is something to be said about people who have to love you no matter how horrible you are simply because you share the same blood. When I was having a bad week at work a couple of years ago, I cancelled all of my extra shifts and hopped on a plane to Switzerland, where my nearest relative was. I didn’t have an itinerary or any kind of plan, and I didn’t care. I just wanted to be somewhere else and be with someone who has no expectations of me. I think when my sister moved to London last year, I breathed a sigh of relief. Life just got a little easier (and my waistline a little thicker, she’s such a good cook!).
I try to go home to the Philippines every 2 years to see my family. It recharges my batteries like nothing else can. One of the highest points of my life was when I got my entire family to go on a Eurotrip with me last year. Seeing London through my dad’s eyes brought me back to those honeymoon days when everything was new and wonderful. They made me love London again, and made me love London more.
Take care of you…
Home isn’t a place, its a feeling. Its the feeling of belonging somewhere, of being somewhere where you can learn new things and explore other parts of yourself but still have a place, and people to turn to, where you can just be you. And YOU are important. You are allowed to be selfish and to pamper yourself every once in a while. Have a mani/pedi, get a gorgeous haircut, buy that dress that fits you like a glove. You deserve it.
A happy ending
The truth is, the book doesn’t end when you find happiness because happiness is an ongoing thing. I have come to the conclusion that no one is every truly always happy or always content, we go through cycles of happiness and contentment. More importantly, we have to work for it and not be passive observers of our life, because as cliched as it is , life really is short. Your circumstances can change in an instant. Have you made the most out of this experience or are you still waiting for life to happen to you? Wake up and smell the roses: that future that seemed so faraway is happening now. You’re an adult, deal with it.
I’m going to stop blogging now and go out to re-explore this city that I love so much. I didn’t come here expecting to find home, I thought it was enough for me to have a job, to earn money and to have the chance to travel. But home is what it has become. It’s my Sam’s Town, and I could not be more grateful for that.
You know I see London, I see Sam’s Town
Holds my hand and lets my hair down,
Rolls that world right off my shoulders.
I see London, I see Sam’s Town now.
Nobody ever had a dream ’round here but I don’t really mind that it’s starting to get to me
It’s only fitting that the first post on this, my resurrected blog, would be an ode to two of my favourite things in the world: London and The Killers.
There is nothing like moving to a foreign country to show you that you’re made of much sterner stuff than you thought you were. Up until I moved to the UK, I had no concept whatsoever of what the millenials so fondly call “adulting”. I mean, I like to think of myself as fairly responsible in my own way. But let’s face it, I went 23 years without having to cook my own food, or to do my laundry or pay my own bills. My “life skills” consisted of being able to drive, one that is absolutely useless on this side of the pond seeing as they drive on the wrong side of the road (insert arguments here).
I don’t know who was more petrified of the prospect of my moving to London and living on my own for the first time in my life: myself or my mother. The days leading up to my flight, she kept giving me these reminders like making sure to separates my whites from my colours when using the washing machine, or how not to burn the house down when using a gas or electric stove. The latter she needn’t have bothered with, as I spent the first 6 months of my life in London subsisting on a steady diet of Marks and Spencer’s ready-made meals.
I had a seemingly endless list of things that I needed to organise and see to. There was the question of accommodation, obviously. I had friends living here already and it was easier to just defer to their judgment. How was I to know that Tottenham was in fact different from Tottenham Court Road, and that the commute from work to home would take me through some really rough areas?
And really, who in the world could have foreseen that I would be renting a room in a house owned by a family who just happened to be fond of dogs and that said dogs would be equally fond of my legs? So fond, that they chewed off a huge chunk of my skin one day as I was about to head out to go to King’s Cross Station to meet my mum, thus necessitating my first ever trip to the hospital as a patient.
National Insurance Number. GP Registration. Opening a bank account. Buying an oyster (no, not the kind you eat). Locating my nearest bookstore. And then figuring out where to move after the whole dog bite incident made it impossible to stay where I was. I wish someone had given me a roadmap back then. A how-to guide on surviving London. All I had to rely on were my own instincts, helpful advice from friends and Google.
Fast-forward to five years later and I get to meet batch after batch of wide-eyed fellow countrymen who are trying their hand in London, just as I did.
Some of them I know from school and I invite them over to dinner at my hard-earned flat in Soho and I try to give them the benefit of my experience, patiently answering their questions so that they’d have a much easier time than we did. So here’s my way of giving back. My own version of a survival guide or as i like to call it in my head “How to make sure you don’t end up in an operating room at the Royal Free Hospital within your first six months in London”. I’ll be doing a series of these posts on my blog for anyone who’s thinking of moving to London, or for nurses like me who’ve recently been hired through international recruitment, or if you’re already here and may want some tips on how to make life just a little bit better. I don’t claim to be an expert, and these tips are largely self-referential but hey, they work for me.
Tips and guides on part 2 of this post. Read on, blabbaholics. Xx