7 surefire ways to be awesome while traveling

In all my travels, I do these activities. They reflect my personality and give me the utmost happiness wherever and whenever I do them. In essence, these are also the reasons why I travel.

  1. Bring “pasalubong” (a welcome gift) from your country and give it to the person whose presence/company you most enjoyed during the trip. I usually bring with me a t-shirt with “Davao” or “Pilipinas” printed on it with the aim of giving it to the most awesome local I meet. The recipient could be your tour guide, who swallowed a Lonely Planet guidebook for you; or your porter, who carried your life (okay, maybe just your overloaded bag); or the owner of the guesthouse, who made you feel at home. To see their faces light up with gratitude is priceless, I tell you.
  2. Send an unsuspecting friend a postcard. Since I already imposed upon myself to send postcards to my family when I travel, so why not send one to an oblivious friend or a random stranger, right? I call this my version of the traveling gnome prank.
  3. Visit the highest elevation of the place. Before going to a certain place, I always google the highest structure or the highest mountain (if it has one). I know I am not the most fit to take on a challenge like this, but the view is always worth the effort. So why do this? Because as the famous architect Cesar Pelli once said, “The desire to reach for the sky runs very deep in our human psyche.
  4. Visit a local bookshop or library… and of course, read. Being a purist at heart, I find joy (and awesomeness) in reading books. I ask the librarian for classics of native authors (e.g. Rumi’s The Book of Love) or the bookshop saleslady for bestsellers of local authors (e.g. Dumb Luck by Vu Trong Phung). Sometimes, you have to excuse the translation though, but the story plots are usually out of the ordinary.
  5. Watch a show. Be it a symphony orchestra or a ballet company or an acrobat team, you know that the show will give you goosebumps in the end. This activity usually costs the most in my itinerary, but I love to see people who are insanely good at what they do and usually people in these shows are the passionate ones or the crazy-talented types.
  6. Go to a restaurant with no English translation in its menu. This is the ultimate daredevil challenge for me and I usually do this at the last day of my trip (because I cannot afford to have diarrhea while visiting museums or watching a show). For restaurants, this is a test of how effective their food plating and photography is. So, order, take an instagram, and pray to the heavens for an awesome (and tummy-safe) meal.
  7. Go to their most sacred place. Coming from a very religious country, I know how religion can give its followers hope. And it is such a sight to see people, both the desperate and the thankful, converge (sometimes in large numbers) and pray to and affirm the existence of someone/something. It is mind-boggling (yet very moving) for me all the time.

But first, let me take a panorama (part 1)

Shangri-la Mactan Resort and Spa, Cebu
The Sunrise Mansion, Binduyan, Palawan (worst panoramic shot ever taken!)
Marina Bay, Singapore
Las Cabanas, El Nido, Palawan
Ocean 101 Cloud 9 Resort, Siargao Island
38th Floor Crown Regency Hotel, Cebu City
38th Floor Crown Regency Hotel, Cebu City


Making way for the new

I just resigned from my part-time teaching job. It was a hard decision. It was a decision I was contemplating on (or putting off) the whole summer. I asked family and friends for their views about it, but no one actually gave me a clear opinion. Most of them thought it will be very hard for me to move on to new things. Others feel that I am just doing this for selfish reasons. So, I will share how I came up with my decision, because someone out there might also be in the same crossroad.

Mathematics of time

It takes 8 hours of lecture and approximately 12 hours of preparation every week to teach a 4-unit subject to 2 sections. During exams, I usually allot 16 hours for preparing an exam and 35 hours for checking 50 notebooks. Preparing and checking one quiz, on the other hand, takes 5 hours total. Lastly, computing for grades takes around 8 hours. Since we are required to have 3 quizzes and 3 exams per semester, the total number of hours spent for one semester is 576 hours, or 24 (no-sleeping) days, or 72 working days. That is almost one month dedicated to teaching. That is almost twice the number of vacation leaves that I am given in the firm.

Mathematics of money

Believe it or not, I only earned Php29,000.00 for one semester of teaching. I earn more than that in one month in my firm job. In fact, my salary increase this year can very well cover, if not exceed, the amount of income that I will lose if I quit teaching. Considering the amount of time that I spent, I was, in effect, being paid Php50.00 per hour for teaching. I cannot even compare that to my hourly rate in the firm without crying injustice.

Quality of intangible rewards

The rewards of teaching really come when the teacher has finally seen her students graduate, pass the qualifying exams, succeed in their careers, and probably follow her academic path. I know that from experience. But I also know that there are ungrateful ones. There are those who could not see the value in making them realize that they are capable of doing more. And with the kind of teacher that I had been, I will most likely encounter the latter.

Quality of experience

This was the deciding factor for me. Teaching is learning more about the subject. Teaching is learning from my students. Teaching is discipline. And if you teach something over and over, teaching is also a path to mastery. But I also understand that experience is largely dependent on the culture of the university. Is the university supportive of your efforts and methodologies? Are your students receptive to new ideas? Are they motivated to learn in the same way as you are? Are you in the company of the best minds that fosters fruitful exchange of views?

I guess I would have to find new ways of learning more about my field. I will probably start doing researches and writing articles. Those have been in my to-do list for quite some time. I am now free to do more pro bono work, the kind of work that I find meaningful and emotionally rewarding. I might also return to running to bring focus and discipline to my life. Of course, I have my travels, which will give me a more open and diverse learning environment.

So, this is me, clearing out the old to make way for the new (as Steve Jobs put it).

10 perks of solo travel

Some think that traveling alone makes the traveler lonely and helpless. On the contrary, solo travel has its advantages. And I must say, the advantages truly outweigh my fears and doubts in going on my own. Below are just some silver linings that I have pondered on:

  1.  You do not have to wait for the other person to finish his/her affairs (i.e., getting dressed, shopping, taking pictures, etc.). Corollary, you can also take your time.
  2. You do not have to agree to anything (i.e., where to go, what to eat, how to get to wherever, etc.).
  3. You do not have to consider moods, opinions, and beliefs other than your own. You push and drag your own happiness and journey.
  4. You will be more responsible with your things and money. You know you are on your own. You have no one to depend on or to blame but yourself.
  5. You will improve on your communication skills. You will be forced to use them when boredom or ignorance hits you.
  6. You will develop a unique way of making decisions. One that is fast, intuitive, and confident.
  7. You will gain a sense of self-pride by accomplishing things on your own.
  8. You will look forward to socializing with others. Others will not pass prejudice based on the crowd that you are with. There is always a chance to reinvent one’s self for first impressions.
  9. You will be thrilled doing things, even the mundane kind. Riding a taxi… at midnight… in a “no-English” place… with a “no-English” driver? Exactly.
  10. You will discover something about yourself. Your peeves, your patience, your limitations will all be interestingly unravelled and you cannot help but be amazed.

Poetry find

Rumi's poetry in one of KLCC's parks
Rumi’s poetry in one of KLCC’s parks
While strolling around KLCC, I got intrigued by an installation in one of KLCC’s parks. It had on it inscriptions of poetry about love. It was just a few days after Valentines and I was not especially thrilled to be reminded of it. But the message of the poem really touched me. I later found out that it was written by the great Rumi.

The poem, entitled “Two Wings to Fly,” starts with the line “Love endures hardships at the hands of the Beloved” and that pretty much sums up the theme of the prose. Reading the entire poem made me realize why even in all the years of sadness I chose to be alive.

Taking risks

Walter Mitty-ed my office window
Walter Mitty-ed my office window

My compulsion to travel started after I watched the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In fact, I only have one scheduled trip prior to it, but I decided to book five additional flights and exhaust all my vacation leaves thereafter. I even Walter Mitty-ed my office window to inspire and remind me everyday that I will get the chance to do what I love someday, or in this case, when I go on vacations.

Which brings me to the question, “What do I love to do?” For someone who had been brainwashed by her parents to think that she can be anything she wants to be, I was pretty conservative with my choices. But if there is anything I regret not doing, it is taking more risks.

I am the plan-and-checklist kind of person. I will not enter something without calculating the chances of success or failure. I feel a sense of achievement in ticking off one-by-one the items in my checklist. I dread spontaneity because in that respect, you don’t really know what you have accomplished. There is no way to measure success and thus, it only feels like a waste of time.

However, it is only through being spontaneous that I can increase the risk of my choices. I want to be able to talk to strangers before I realize that I am in bad or good company. I want to be able to eat food before I decide that it tastes awful or delicious. I want to be able to explore a place to find my way around or get lost. I want to be able to do the normal and ordinary things (e.g., jogging, watching movies, listening to classical music, eating froyo) and feel like as if I am doing them for the first time and giving them special meaning.

This is my mantra for this year: to take more risks. And like Walter Mitty, I shall seek this purpose:

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.