Posted in bloggers, friendship, relationships

Dear Old Friend

Dear Old Friend,

It occurred to me that I very rarely take the opportunity to thank you for being the kind of friend that I never knew I wanted but one I so desperately needed.

You see, I had a moment of clarity this week when I realised that life very rarely turns out the way we want it to. We don’t always get the things we want when we want them, and sometimes our prayers go unanswered.

There’s a reason for that though. Time and some higher powers at work know something we don’t. Because when life doesn’t give us the things we ask for, its because it wants to give us something better.

I’ve spent the past ten years glorifying a relationship that was probably more one-sided than I would have liked. One of the life lessons I’ve learned over the years is that when it’s right it should be easy. You don’t have to bend over backwards in order to feel secure in any relationship, because the best kind – the ones that are worth keeping – are unconditional. 

Ours is the kind of friendship that is free from complications. We understand each other so well that when both our phones died one time and we didn’t arrange where to meet up beforehand, we both made the executive decision to go home and just call each other once we’ve recharged our batteries. And we both knew that the other person wouldn’t take it personally, because that’s just how we roll.

You are the only person I could ever imagine going on a Euro Trip with. I don’t know how we did it, but we both grew up together AND separately on that trip. There was an understanding that we were going to enjoy the experience together, and I was glad to be there with someone who shares my interest in art, history and culture.

But there was also an implicit understanding that if at any point you wanted to do your own thing and I wanted to do mine, that was okay. Like when the time I wanted to go drinking in Berlin and you wanted to take photos of the Brandenburg Gate at night; or when YOU wanted to go drinking in Rome and I just wanted to curl up in the hotel with a good book.

We never put pressure on the other person to always be in each other’s pockets. We don’t need to see each more than once a week to stay connected. Heck, sometimes we go weeks without seeing each other.

But I like how we make it a point to know about each other’s lives. When something big happens, or when I have some random thought about how I think you look like the Black Panther, a simple howdy on Messenger will start a conversation that usually ends with us talking for hours.

We never stopped to think about how unique our friendship is. What’s normal for us is actually incredibly difficult to find. How many purely platonic guy-girl friendships have we known to exist? The answer is none. Its not possible. But we’ve made it possible, we’ve created the kind of friendship that works for us.

I guess in a time where we’re reaching the peak of our adulthood and we start to take stock of the relationships we’ve created and maintained over the years, its easy to be disillusioned when we find that we’ve wasted so much time and effort on a relationship that turned out to be hollow, or a friendship that did not stand the test of time and distance.

We’ve both experienced what its like to struggle to reconnect with someone who’s become a stranger, and we both know what its like to be unable to relate to someone who’s life choices has led him or her down a completely different path.

Its nothing personal, and its not to say that the other person is necessarily a bad friend. But I think that making the effort to stay in touch and be friends with someone – no matter the distance – is a choice.

Its very telling, the friendships that we chose to maintain and invest effort into. I think deep down we know which ones are worth it and which ones are not even worth the effort of being upset over. Sometimes the thing to do is to just cut your losses and realise you’re too old to cling to something that’s not having a positive impact on your life.

So I suppose I just wanted to write this blog to celebrate that. I wanted to celebrate our friendship because it is one my constants, its one of those anchors that I need in order to keep myself sane throughout the crazy rollercoaster that is my life.

I will always be here for you, even if I appear to be too busy. I’m never to busy to spend 100 minutes talking about everything and nothing at all. In fact, at the rate my love life is going you’ll probably have me as a permanent boarder on that loft that your new home conveniently comes with. I’ve already assessed where my bookshelves are going, so prepare yourself. Lol

Seriously though, thank you old friend. Thank you for cheering me on even when I get crazy ideas, for never making me feel like I was stupid for trying something when there was every possibility I would make a fool of myself. Thank you for the sharing and the laughter.

Listen here.

We are not allowed to become the kind of friends that only see each other once every seven years. We are not allowed to be sitting across each other in a restaurant one day and struggle so much to find a single topic of conversation because we’ve let ourselves drift too far apart, so we end up being on our phones half the time instead of talking to each other. That’s not how this friendship is going to end up.

Please don’t ever become a stranger, I don’t think I would know what to do with myself if that happens. Wherever life takes me, know that I am taking you with me wherever I go. And believe me, I will bully myself into your life even if you don’t want me there.

That is how this friendship will end: with you, me and a bowl of curry reminiscing about the good old days.

Love,

Anj

 

 

Posted in bloggers, Careers, Self-Discovery

Learning how to ride a bike and other metaphors for life

I remember the very first time I ever got on a bicycle.

I was probably about seven years old and we lived in a village where all the kids used to come out and play in the afternoon and we’d all ride our bikes together, training wheels and all.

I have always been cautious by nature. I think I came out of the womb with a heightened sense of self-preservation. Even as a child, I was never one to take any risks. I was also quite conscious from an early stage of the things that were within my capabilities and those that weren’t.

Needless to say, basketball and other contact sports were not a big part of my formative years. Or anything that involved hand-eye coordination and stamina (I was a fat kid. Lol)

But I was quite happy with riding a bike. The training wheels were like my very own safety net. They ensured that I’d always find my balance, that I would never fall over and hurt myself. I was as happy and as carefree as it was possible to be, pushing pedal to the metal and going around the village without a care in the world.

Of course, the training wheels had to come off at some point. 

I was petrified the first time I ever got on a “real” bike. My uncle had one hand on my seat as he instructed me to take my time and to take it slow. He promised he wouldn’t let go unless he was sure I could do it on my own, and that he’d never let go before I was ready.

I didn’t think I’d ever get to a point where I could convince myself I was ready. I went around the block a couple of times with my uncle supporting me the whole time. He must have been exhausted, but bless him, he believed me when I said I wasn’t ready for him to let go just yet.

Inevitably though, we reached that moment where I had to be pushed, where I had to break through the barriers of fear and just do it. It was a real sink or swim moment. My uncle let go, and I either had to find my balance and pedal or I fall and hurt myself.

Those first few solo rides were shaky, and I fell and scraped my knees too many times to count. But I got back on that bike and tried again until I was cycling around the village without a training wheel in sight.

I needed that final push. 

Would I have been content to carry on riding a kid bike? Maybe. But it would only have taken me so far, and I would have missed out on the experience of being able to do something that I was initially fearful of.

Any new experience comes with fears and doubts, but that shouldn’t be a reason for missing out on them. I think continuously pushing and challenging yourself to do something you never thought you were capable of, especially if its something that scares the shit out of you, will only help you to grow as a person.

I have always been afraid of change. And these past couple of years I’ve attempted to make a big career change twice, and both times I backed out at the point of actually dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

I suppose part of that was because I always knew that it wasn’t the right time or the right move. But now the right opportunity has come, and it would be remiss of me not to take the chance just because I’m afraid or because I insist on clinging to the comfort of what’s familiar.

I never expected to have to feel this twice in one lifetime; they say once you learn how to ride a bike you’ll never forget how to do it. But at this moment, that is exactly how I feel. I feel like I’m about to learn how to ride a bike for the first time all over again.

The training wheels have come off. I’m as ready as I will ever be. I suppose the only thing left to do is hang tight and pedal.

Posted in Careers, london, Self-Discovery

Adulting 101

Let me just state for the record that there are times when I absolutely hate being an adult. Sometimes I find myself longing for the days when all my problems can be solved by a pint of ice cream and reassurance from mum and dad that everything will be alright.

You get a real appreciation for and understanding of your parents as you grow up I think. You begin to see that a lot of the time, adulting is simply about winging it. You fake it and hope to God you make it. As much as you try to use logic and as much as you try to weigh your options before making a decision, a lot of the time you make decisions on a leap of faith. All you can do is pray that you make the right one.

I suck at making decisions. Partly that comes from my desire to have everything. I find it hard to accept that in order to go for something I want, I have to give up something in return. I’m also really afraid of change. I’m the kind of person that gets attached to people, places and things. I’m incredibly sentimental. I remember when I was young (and stupid), my crush gave me a box of chocolate crinkles all wrapped up with a ribbon on top. I think I kept the box and ribbon for about 2 years and cried over it when, as puppy love tends to do, things didn’t work out.

This isn’t a post about puppy love, forgive me for digressing. 

The point is that I get incredibly attached. But sometimes attached is just another word for stagnant. Or stuck. And there comes a time when you have to think about what you really want out of life, and where you see your future going. I’m now in a position where I can think about settling in London and making a life for myself in this city. Its challenging, especially in terms of having a career and managing your finances. Its important to love your job but what I’ve learned is that its also important to keep moving forward. There are a lot of opportunities out there if you have the courage to go for it. And practically speaking, you also need a job that pays the bills.

(If it were up to me, I would be a bookseller at Waterstones, to be honest. But sadly that career path is not in the cards for me.)

This isn’t a very coherent post and its very much a reflection of my mental state of mind. I haven’t been able to blog much because I’ve been confused about the direction that I’m going to take my career (and life) in. I’ve had to weigh whether what I gain is worth giving up something (or someone lol) that I really love. I’ve also found myself questioning whether I have what it takes for me to take that leap, whether I’m ready for such a big step and this is when I usually find myself listening to Miley sing The Climb.

If I think about it from a sensible and logical point of view, I think I already know what decision I’m going to make; at this point, its all a matter of taking the steps to get my heart to accept what my brain already knows. I really really hope that I’m doing the right thing not just for me, but also for my family (and my future family!). As soon as I make the decision and take that irrevocable step, I can resume blogging and doing my book reviews, hopefully soon.

Until then, wish me luck guys. 

Posted in Careers, Lifestyle, Self-Discovery

My first week of being 30 and I’m surprisingly adjusting

I always knew 2017 was going to be difficult for me in terms of bearing the weight of society’s expectations. Two of my best friends got married this year, two had their first babies. Add the fact that I turn 30 this year and someone might as well be holding a ticking clock over my head (a ticking clock that sounds suspiciously like ba-bies, ba-bies, ba-bies, ova-ries to the sound of my mother’s voice). 

I spent so much time thinking about turning 30, almost as soon as I turned 29 in fact. I had grand plans: I made up a list of 30 things I wanted to do before I turned 30 (of which I ultimately did maybe 5); I booked an annual leave for 2 weeks because I wanted to celebrate with a bang; I looked up flights to Vegas and Turkey and Santorini. I saw my 30th birthday as this looming deadline and I wanted to do anything and everything before this dreaded day arrives.


As always, reality got in the way; life – and living it- got in the way. I forgot all about my list. I forgot to be afraid of that arbitrary finish line that really only existed in my head. I got busy; I faced new challenges in my career, I was working towards getting my citizenship, I had extra curricular activities that needed my full attention and a blog to maintain. In short, I got busy living my life to be worried that it doesn’t measure up to everyone else’s.

And it was the best thing that could have ever happened.

A lot of people told me that 30, as cliche as it may sound, is really just a number. And its true. Your life doesn’t stop, or have to necessarily change, when you turn 30. Like, there are people who say you have to start thinking about settling and sorting out the future when you turn 30. I’ve been thinking about my future since I was 10. I’d like to think I have most of my life sorted, that I’m exactly where I want to be. But then again, if I don’t have my shit fully together, if there are still some things I’m figuring out, there’s nothing wrong with that.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we should try to mininise living our lives by numbers. Marry at 25, 2 kids and a successful career by 30, a mortgage in 2 years – the truth is, there is no one life map that fits all. There is no timeline that you need to follow. You get married because you’ve genuinely found someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. You have kids because you find fulfillment in being a parent and because you’re ready. You buy a house because you have a family. And because you’re ready. You are not obligated to do all of these things because you’re 30.

That being said, turning 30 does mean that you have to have a certain level of maturity. There are things that I wish to be better at and while I don’t need to wait for my birthday each year to start doing them, it seems like as good a time as any to start. So I made a shortlist of things that I WILL do this year:

I will take better care of myself

The only thing that’s true about turning 30 is that you’re not as young as used to be, physiologically speaking. Your body and your health become more high maintenance as you get older, that’s just a fact. Which means I can no longer afford to have a chocolate binge after a stressful day at work (which is almost every day). My family has a history of high cholesterol and heart disease. I have yet to lose all the weight I gained in 2015 (and have continued to gain since). All of this ends starting today. I will make a more conscious effort to eat healthy and exercise at least 4x a week.

I will save more money

Some people think that the answer to every financial problem is to find a job that pays better. Its not. The answer lies in living within your means. Cut out things that are not strictly necessary. Do I really need to have an expensive meal every weekend? Do I need more books? Do I need more shoes? Can I afford to go on that holiday? I may not be sending any kid to school or saving for a mortgage, but I do need to save for the rainy days. This is something I need to take more seriously this year. 

Collect memories and experiences rather than things

In keeping with saving money, I need to be more selective about the things that I DO shell out for. Travelling is fine, buying a designer bag is not. I mean to each his own right? If owning a Prada bag makes you happy, more power to you. But I personally feel I should be investing in things that keep me sane, centred and happy on a higher level, not just materially. I am not going to suddenly become a minimalist (let’s be realistic) but I will try to be more careful about what I spend on. 

Simple 30th celebration at home. Birthdays are about spending it with the people who matter most. Thank you everyone for coming!
Finally joining the 30 and over club!

Do what you love and love what you’re doing

I know that having a stable job and a career becomes more important as you reach your 30s. Everyone seems to measure success by how far you’ve climbed the career ladder. I disagree. Having ambitions is all well and good; aspiring to a better position and a better pay – that’s all fine. But I think being happy at what you do, and still being able to have a life outside work, is the true measure of success. Its no secret that I turned down a high-paying, higher-ranking job offer last year because I didn’t think I’d make as much an impact and because I didn’t think it would make me happy. I would rather stay at a job that will make the most out of my skill set and that will give me fulfillment.

Don’t be afraid to try new things

Like I said, just because you’re no longer a teenager doesn’t mean there isn’t any room for new experiences. Besides, I was always a late bloomer so I’m pretty sure there are a lot more experiences to be had. I just need to stop being so scared all the time and just try. There are things that I’d like to try but have always been afraid of, but the only other thing that’s true about aging is that you have to take every chance and every opportunity because life IS short. 

Give dating another go.

Ah, everyone’s favourite question to a woman in her 30s. Why are you single? When are you planning to settle down and get married? I hate getting asked this question because it implies that there’s something wrong with being single in your 30s. Well, excuse me for being a little too busy to care. But. Lately I find myself thinking that maybe it IS time to get back to dating again. Not because society expects me to but because I want to. I gave myself a hiatus because I was so tired of all the bad dates and the dates that seemed to have gone well but always end up being a disappointment. I’ve kind of closed my mind to the idea of meeting someone because I was tired. I think its time to be open once again and just put the idea to the universe at large in the hopes that the universe will cooperate. 

The one thing I hate about dating is that you make yourself so vulnerable, and I hate making myself vulnerable to anything. I feel like I have this wall all the time because I don’t want to risk being hurt. If someone gets to close, I go ‘dracarys’ and blow that opportunity out of the water (lol, GOT reference!). I sometimes don’t even realise I’m doing it. I have to be better at being more open and less afraid.
Ah, my 30s. People say it only gets better from here and I’m quite hopeful that it will be. I will be stronger. I will be wiser. I will probably fail epically on some of the things I set out to do but I have never been a quitter, and I’m not about to start now. 

Happy 30th to me! 

Posted in london, Travel

I See London, I see Sam’s Town Part 3

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

Honeymoon

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.

 

 

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.

IMG_7896
Me in the office the very first time I got my practice facilitator uniform

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.

Travel

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.

Posted in Moving to London

I See London, I see Sam’s Town Part 2

I’ve got this energy beneath my feet, like something underground’s gonna come up and carry me…

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

There are few things more important to a Londoner than the tube map. Nothing is more important to a working Londoner than the tube, the local name for the Underground system ran by TFL. I remember one time there was a tube strike because the train drivers wanted higher wages, and it completely disrupted the city’s way of life. In the hospital where I work, cases were delayed because both patients and nurses couldn’t get to work. The buses were so crammed that if, like me, you’re just barely over 5 feet you were basically standing under somebody’s armpit. And that’s only if you were fortunate enough to get on a bus at all. It was one of those times that I felt extremely lucky that my flat was at a walking distance from work. It really got me thinking about a) how much Londoners depend on a working tube system; and b) the close relationship between the tube and the choice of where to live. 

Deciding where to rent in London is a really big and often difficult decision, especially if you’re new to the city. You don’t have enough information to know better and I think everyone’s first London flat always has that tinge of desperation on it, like we settled for the first available house or flat that would have us, even it means sharing a room with another person and losing all privacy. You learn from every experience though. God know I have, and I think I’ve come a long way from Mount Pleasant Road, where I had to constantly look over my shoulder when I come home at night to make sure I wasn’t being followed. Now, because I don’t want any of my potential followers to go through the same experience, I thought I’d share some tips on looking for accommodations in London.

Have a budget and stick to it.

This comes first for me because London is an expensive city. All those stories about astronomical flat prices are not exaggerations. If you’re not smart, you could end up paying half your salary for what is basically a double room in a tiny flat that is an hour’s commute from work. Figure out how much you are willing to and can afford to pay and work around that when looking for flats.

Have a selection criteria

I am not suggesting that you have to make some obsessive-compulsive checklist, but I do suggest that you have a mental checklist about the things that are important to you when it comes to living conditions, and highlight which ones you refuse to compromise on. For example, I will gladly pay a little extra money to know that I live in more or less a safe neighbourhood. You cannot pay me to live in Peckham. I’m sure its a perfectly fine area but I went there once I just got bad vibes. Which leads me to my next point:

Do a preliminary visit

In most cases, you will have a viewing before you decide to rent a house or flat, and i think this is a really great idea. No only does it allow you to check out the house, you also get a chance to have a feel of the neighbourhood. Sometimes decisions can be based on the most mundane of things, like that quirky cafe a few blocks over your flat that you can just picture yourself reading a book in or that park that you can see yourself running in. I personally like the hustle and bustle of the city, and I feel at home anywhere there are lots of people. I guess its the kind of security that comes from knowing that you’re never really alone. Doing a visit also gives you the chance to check out what the transport is like to and from your prospective address. Do you have decent access to a bus stop? What is your nearest tube station, if you have one? These are all important questions to consider.

Commuting

As I said, commuting comes part and parcel with working in London. You really want access to a tube station, and more to the point, you want to be on a line that provides the most direct route to work. I know it’s sad to plan your life around work, but let’s face it. On average you will be spending 37.5 hours a week at work, why add commuting time to the time you’re already losing to work??? I’ve always said I will gladly pay an extra 100£ for an extra 15 minutes of sleep in the morning. In an ideal world, you want your flat to be on the same line as the nearest tube station to the place where you work and still be affordable. Here’s why that wouldn’t necessarily work.

London is divided into Zones. I work in Warren Street, right in the heart of central London, which comprises the whole of Zone 1. If the map below, which shows the average cost of renting a one-bedroom flat on each of the tube stops, is accurate then I would have to be living as far as Edgware or High Barnet (Zone 6), which is probably an hour’s tube ride away at least, to be able to afford rent. And even then its equal to nearly half of my monthly salary.

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Click here to enlarge view: Rent map

This map basically tells you really can’t afford to rent a one-bedroom flat on a nurse’s salary. If you attempt to do so, you’ll basically be spending all that money on a flat you don’t get to enjoy because you’re working overtime shifts to be able to pay for said flat.  Most people opt to flatshare. And you can look for those on sites such as Gumtree, or Spareroom.  

There are also other options available for key workers such as nurses and teachers. We get what they call intermediate rent price, which is a lower price compared to what someone who’s not a keyworker would pay. Housing associations that offer intermediate renting include Catalyst Housing and Genesis Housing Association. Generally, you have to fill in an application form and wait for it to be approved or your employer may have arranged this for you before you even arrive. I’ve lived on flats provided by both of those associations. the latter being the official provider of accommodation for those who work for our hospital. And let me tell you, there are definite pros and cons

The highs and lows of living in a housing association

As the header of this post suggests, its all about location, location, location. There’s really no faulting the location of the buildings owned by housing associations. Most of them are in central London or if not, an easy commute away. On average, it probably took me 25 minutes via bus to get to work when I was living at Ashgrove Court (Catalyst). It took me 10 minutes to walk to work when I was living at John Astor House (Genesis). Both locations were really central. Ashgrove Court is a short bus ride away from Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Market. John Astor House is close to the famous shopping areas of Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road.

However – and the same is true for flatshares as well – having a flatmate that you get on with depends mostly on the luck of the draw. I once had a flatmate who had some kind of light that she shines over the kitchen surfaces so she’ll know whether I’ve cleaned it properly or not. We also had washing facilities inside our room, and as her room was next to mine she claimed that she can hear the drip of the faucet whenever I failed to close it as tight as I should. Seriously, this person threatened to report me to the council for singing along to the songs on my iPod because this was apparently not allowed after 10pm. Jesus. Its a funny anecdote now, but back then I had only been living in London less than a year and I didn’t realise I was being bullied in my own flat until much later.

John Astor House took the meaning of cramped to an all new level. I never really understood the term “matchbox-sized room” until I moved there. But I thought, you know, this is probably better for me because JHA was more of a dormitory than flat. You don’t really have a “flatmate” and after living with a psychotic one for about 2 years, this was a huge draw for me. JHA also had cleaners who were responsible for cleaning common areas. What I failed to realise is that the cleaners were off on the weekends, and that I would be smelling how good other people’s Friday night went whenever I have to go to the toilets on Saturday. The toilets, like the kitchen, are shared by at least 10 people maybe more. Boy was it interesting to take a leak in those toilets come weekend. Do not let me get started on having to wait to take a shower that is shared by more than 10 people, some of whom take forever to have a bath. I wake up some nights to people either running screaming down the hallways or “unmentionable” noises in the room next to me as other people…”get to know each other” if you know what I mean.

Reality Check

Unfortunately, if – like me- you’ve been hired as a nurse in one of the hospitals and you don’t know anyone in London, chances are your first flat would be in one of these accommodations. Its the easiest choice, I suppose. In these accommodations, the rent you pay per month includes bills and council tax. You don’t have to worry about setting up all kinds of payments, which is a huge help during the first few months when you’re still settling. Its not that bad. You get to meet a whole lot of people from different walks of life and you get to meet people who may have been in the same position as you 6 months earlier who can give you the benefit of their experience. You get to have some kind of support system in these accommodations because everyone there more or less knows what you’re going through as a London newbie because they’ve all been a newbie at some point. Some of the things that people have done for those who are new to London just restores your faith in humanity. Some of them buy cookware for you, or give you some of their secondhand stuff for free. They cook you welcome dinners in the common kitchen, show you around London and do what they can so you feel just a little less lonely. I was lucky because whilst my first London flat was not an accommodation and left much to be desired, I already had lots of friends here who gave me the support I needed.

Moving On

If you do decide you’ve had enough of accommodations, you can try your hand at looking for a flat of your own. Maybe you decide its worth paying the hefty price for the sake of comfort and privacy. Its up to you. The important thing is to plan ahead, consider different options and to move only if you’re absolutely sure its right for you. Moving flats is a huge undertaking and requires a lot of organisation, you do not want to do it again and again and again. Believe me, I’ve moved flats three or four times and it amazed me how much stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in all the years I’ve lived in London. In addition, two or three bedroom flats are probably cheaper than one bedroom flats so be on the lookout for potential flatmates.

For those working in and around central London, there are ways that you can get affordable flats. That’s what I did, because let’s face it, without the benefit of key worker discounts there is no way I’ll ever be able to afford a flat in Soho. Visit Peabody Housing or Dolphin Living for more details and a list of areas where developments are being built. You’ll probably have to be living in London for at least 18 months to qualify for these though, so if you know someone who’s been here a while who might be a good potential flatmate, maybe you can lure them into moving with you so that you can ride on their coattails. This what I did for my sister. I applied for both of us because I had been living here longer and was therefore eligible for the scheme.

I hope this helped. Either way, don’t get too worried about accommodation. These things have a way of falling into place in a way that you don’t expect. Enjoy the experience of being here. Welcome to London, newbie!

Posted in london, Travel, United Kingdom

I see London, I see Sam’s Town: Part I

Nobody ever had a dream ’round here but I don’t really mind that it’s starting to get to me

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First day in London, jet lagged but eager to see Big Ben

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.

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If you think that’s bad, imagine what it looked like before surgery!

 

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.

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My own welcoming committee, taking me through my first tube ride. 🙂

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