Day 21: Top three running routes in the city

I just finished a short jog near the Opera House and no matter how many times I take the same route, it never ceases to amaze me how lucky I am to have the harbour view so close to the office.

Last week, Fil-Oz celebrity Anne Curtis Smith was here in Sydney taking photos near the Opera House. A keen runner, she would have enjoyed the route I take if she had the time or knew about it. Anyway, for all you walkers, joggers and runners out there, here are my top three half-hour to one-hour runs that are just as exhilarating as a staycation.

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Day 15: A Diploma in Risk Consideration and the Woods Culture


I came across a powerful essay written by actress and poet, Amber Tamblyn, published in The New York Times. If there’s one thing I’m grateful about, it’s that I’ve never in my life ever dreamed of being an actress, or a singer, or a theatrical artist. Not only do you have to be immensely talented to succeed, you also have to be immensely lucky to secure regular gigs. As Amber said, Hollywood is a crazy place – one minute you’re a star, the next minute you’re out of a job. As a woman, you’ll also struggle to get roles when you’re over the hill (which can mean as young as 30!) so you try to make as much money and score as many roles as you can in your 20s.
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Ibla in Summertime

They say “we are the memories we keep”: I feel so fortunate to have happened upon Ibla, a picturesque town in Sicily. I wouldn’t have gone had I not accompanied Marcus who is competing at the annual classical music competition here. A few observations:

  • there are no homeless people here (yay!). I almost imagine¬†the community coming together to sort out any vagabonds or down-and-out folk. Like, ask them, “where is your family, go home to them.” or “shame on you, your mom didn’t raise you to be like this.” Okay, setting aside that there are valid reasons why people do become homeless (depression, choice!, etc.), there is something comforting in knowing there are places in the world where everyone has a home to stay. This is the best thing about rural towns as opposed to cities, where homelessness is prevalent. ūüôĀ
  • there are African migrants here. I don’t see them working in the touristy spots but I did a short run in the outskirts of town and saw them. I am glad they are finding a home here. I know it would be a struggle but still good to see them get another chance. There are many in Catania, too, and it must be hard making a living – touting bags, shoes and glasses on the street – makes me appreciate my work. A lottery indeed that I am where I am right now. Thank God!
  • Food is AMAZING! Very carb-heavy but good nonetheless. Primi piatti (pasta) then secondi piatti (your choice of meat) then dessert (fruits). It’s been a week now and I still haven’t tried granita. I’m saving it for last. I don’t want to find that it’s so good I end up having it everyday. Then I’ll be taking home extra kilos to Oz!
  • I have a better appreciation of classical music artists – from the violin to the cello, piano and of course, la voce! There is a place for pop music but boy, to be listening to music that pierces through your soul. And what effort to master the technique. I’ve been listening to singers in the past couple of days who can sing out loud and clear, without the aid of a microphone, a sound mixer or any amplifiers of sort. Just. their. voice. How beautiful.
  • Super, super hot between 8am to 6pm. I don’t know how people work. Then I discovered – nobody really goes out until almost sunset. Lunch is between 1.30pm-3pm and everyone gets rest/siesta when it’s too hot to do anything.
  • Ibla is so beautiful at night. The lamplights give the town that magical, mystical atmosphere. A throwback to the times of ampitheatres and olde worlde music.
  • Food to try – pretty much anything. But I’ve noticed that breakfast here consists of cheese and salami. No bacon and eggs for a week!
  • p.s. so many steps. Make sure you bring comfortable shoes!
  • Photos to come.

Hello from Sicily

Bongiorno!

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog. My last entry was about Donald Trump and how I believed there was no way he would win. Six months on since he was elected US president, I’m still shaking my head. I remember waking up to the news and finding myself so disoriented – how can a man who openly objectifies women, was caught on video saying offensive things, had a few court cases in front of him and uses Twitter to share his delusional views about himself and his success – all of that and more – and he was voted in! While Hillary Clinton’s supporters always talk about Hillary winning by the numbers (a few more million votes than Donald Trump), the result is still the same – Donald Trump is the sitting president of THE United States.

As if that weren’t enough, he continues on to use Twitter to rile up his devotees and openly insult the free press and anyone else he doesn’t agree with. So Ivanka Trump sat in on his behalf at the G20 summit, I’d be so pissed if I worked hard all my life and the President’s daughter gets a fast-track ticket to the world of global government and politics.

There is no doubt that previous US governments have failed on many fronts but surely the country can do better than elect Trump to the highest office in the land. My heartache continues.

The elephant is the symbol of CataniaOn to better news:¬†I am saying hello from Sicily.¬†I arrived here a couple of days ago, in the city of Catania. As a finance journalist, I can’t help but see it from the lens of how the European economy has languished in recent years. Yes, Catania is no Venice or Florence or Rome but it is a good gauge on how ordinary citizens are living. A lot of the buildings need a good hosing down – they look weathered and battered. I just went to the wet market in front of one of the Cathedrals and it’s full of cheap wares – reminiscent of Baclaran and Quiapo back in the Philippines.

Admittedly I chose to stay outside the tourist trail. One, because everything is cheaper outside the tourist zone and two, it gives me a different perspective of the city I’m visiting.

A cup of espresso can cost anywhere between 50 cents and 90 cents closer to the Duomo and a lunch for two can set you back as much as 45 euro just for a couple of pasta dishes, one meatball dish, a bottle of sparkling water and a bowl of bread. That’s quite exxy! At the same time, I discovered the wet market this morning and managed to buy a bag (a bag!) of tomatoes for one euro, a kilo of bananas for 99 cents, six eggs for euro, half a kilo of fresh sardines for two euro and then I swung by the local bar/cafe called Bar Stesicoro where I was surrounded by locals (yay!) and a small pastry cost 70 cents. Winning!

Yesterday, breakfast cost 8 euros just for a couple of mini pastry and two shots of espresso. This morning I had a full breakfast Рeggs, tomatoes, sardines, rice, pastry and espresso Рall for less than 3 euros. Yay!

There are lots of places still left to explore. A Greek ampitheatre lies just behind the apartment I’m staying at. A couple of cathedrals less than 10 minutes walk away and Garden Bellini, which looks so well-manicured from the entrance (I was running past it this morning).

 

From Via Santa Filomena to Via Etnea and Via Paterno, Via Umberto and several piazzas, I’ve covered a lot of ground in the space of two days. I think life here would be too much of a slow-pace for me but only an hour away, in a place called Taormina, D.H. Lawrence once stayed. He mentioned it in one of his writings. I’m not sure I’ll be able to squeeze in a visit there but it certainly easy to imagine that time ticks a little slower around here – giving you ample time to think and write.

For now, I’m enjoying being out of the rat race for a couple of weeks. I am still gobsmacked that a bag of tomatoes here cost one euro or 65 cents for a kilo! Compared to $5.99 per kilo in Sydney. It’s insane! But I guess tomatoes here is what rice is to an Asian. It’s a staple – tomato base is all over the menus!

One thing’s for sure – it’s true what the brochures say – food, wine and cheese in this part of the world is absolutely delish!

 

Please dump the Trump

To the United States of America,

I love you very much. I’m the best friend you have from afar. I love your people, your sense of fun and your immense ability to support the brightest and best inventors of our time.

But right now, I am HURTING! I’m watching the second presidential debate and think to myself, “How did this man ever rose to become a presidential nominee?”

He is deceitful, he is a pathological liar, he is delusional, he is racist, he is your standard-issue backyard bully, he is arrogant and conceited, he is a hustler of the worst kind, I could go on…

He is only interested in winning the presidency but not being the president.

What he’s got, unfortunately, is the charisma¬†and the astonishing ability to manipulate people¬†through his words.

This is a man who, repeatedly, doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good soundbite.

He has consistently disrespected Hillary by scoffing when she spoke, talking over her, calling her names, even pinning her husband’s flaws on her.

I honestly don’t understand how we have come this far: staring at the prospect of a man as corrupt and immoral as Donald Trump to be the next US president.

Donald, you may have deceived¬†a lot of people but you haven’t fooled me. I can see through your smokes and mirrors.¬†I sincerely hope that you, my dearest, my beloved, wake up from this lunacy. Please. Dump the Trump. Now.

 

The day before Day One: Nadine, Anna and a town called Dijon

October 25, 2014
Hotel St. Jean
Chalon Sur Saone, France

When you’re travelling and enjoying a much-needed nap on a train on your way to your destination, there is nothing worse than¬†being woken up¬†from your slumber by a sudden¬†assault¬†to your senses. In my case, it was the thick, heavy whiff¬†of sweat lingering in the jacket worn by this man who decided – of all the seats¬†on the train en route from Paris to Chalon-Sur-Saone – that he would plonk himself next to me.

Luckily, the aggravation was short-lived. Several¬†stops out, he was gone. Like the wind. Smelly wind. And all was well again in my 12-day holiday that I’ve waited for, longed for, thought about, for a good six months, when my auntie Mildred first planted the idea into my head. Of all the things listed on my travel bucketlist, a river cruise in the¬†South of France wasn’t among them. But life is full of beautiful, unexpected surprises like that.

Speaking of suprises, you know how everyone around the world knows about ‘Dijon’ as a condiment? I was beside myself when our train stopped by ‘Dijon ville’ and ‘Dijon’. Yes,¬†I know I am easily amused but the first thought in my head was ‘I can’t wait to tell my brother I just saw Dijon, not the mustard, but the city! By the way, Dijon is the largest city in Burgundy. Did not know that, either. ūüėÄ

Hotel St. Jean, Chalon Sur Soane

Did you know that photography was invented in Chalon Sur Saone?¬†I didn’t even know it but the hotel we were staying in was sandwiched between the Tourist Office and the Niepce Museum, so named after the man who invented photography in the late 1700s. INVENTED¬†photography! We didn’t get the chance to visit it but at least we saw it.

The ‘we’ from this day on is my auntie. She joked that this trip was going to be our Thelma and Auntie Louise adventure show. I highly doubt there will be a Brad Pitt somewhere in our story but I’m so happy that we’ve got this opportunity to travel together.

Back to the hotel, a quick review: it had two basic ingredients of a good hotel: wi-fi and hot water. Everything else is just icing on the cake. My auntie and I chose a low-budget hotel called Hotel St. Jean (it cost 70 euros a night, including breakfast). It felt more like a bed-and-breakfast than a hotel but we were more than satisfied by the hospitality extended to us by Anna, who looks after reception and the morning breakfast.

If you’re travelling on a shoestring, I highly recommend Hotel St. Jean.

Creme brulee that sings to your soul

Les Gourmands Disent is a restaurant at the tip¬†of¬†L‚ÄôIle Saint Laurent, situated on the bank opposite to where the Cathedral Square is (more on this later). This was where we met Nadine, our maitre’ d. At 7pm, we were¬†her first diners. And because she didn’t have any other guests to attend to, we got the special treatment. She showed us how we should appreciate good wine (we ordered the local wine made by a vineyard close by) and served us the best creme brulee I’ve had for a long time. If you are ever in town and choose to go to Les Gourmands (there are lots of options), we recommend:

For entree, either the Montgolfiere d’escargots a la creme d’ ail (snail), which my auntie ordered, or the one I had, Veloute de lentille et son tartare de haddock (fish).

And the name of the dessert? Creme brulee a la feve de tonka et Caranbar.

With our stomachs full and satisfied, we headed back to the hotel. All in all a great start to my holidays.

To recap:
Train ride from London to Paris then to Chalon Sur Saone? Smooth as silk.
Accommodation: Will go back there again.
Food and Wine? A religious experience.

Most of all, travelling is just as much an experience about the people you meet along the way, and I’m giving the locals two thumbs up!

Day 1: How to Spend 10 Days in Southern France

November 10, 2014
Hotel St. Jean, Chalon-Sur-Saone
France
Draft notes

Day 2: While the world is still fast asleep, I will try and recollect as much as I can of my first day in France. This weekend was the weekend that they move their time one-hour back, which means, as they said in the poster reminding hotel guests about this: “You can sleep an extra hour.”¬†


The Creme Brulee to Die For

My mind doesn’t like mind games like that and so, I woke up as I usually do, which now means an hour early, apparently.

So my day began yesterday at around 2.40am London time. I had a 6.18am Eurostar train to catch and my body was already ready for the trip. At 4.45am, the mini-cab driven by Garmo, London resident for 20 years, parks in front of my friend’s house in Sheperd’s Bush. With 25 kilos of luggage, give and take, I was on my way to my first proper holiday in two years.

The train leaves the platform at St. Pancras at 6.17am, a minute early, and without the usual “Train is about to leave in one minute” warning, which I expected. Instead it just quietly left the station, unassumingly. I was lucky that the train I was on wasn’t crowded, so the seat next to me was unoccupied and I was able to stretch, stare at the window, put my sashimi breakfast on one table seat and my Mac on the other, take a bit of a nap and, before I knew it, it was 9.44am and we were approaching Gare du Nord in Paris.

The transfer from Gare Du Nord to Gare de Lyon, however, was a whole ‘nother story. I tried working the train machine myself to no avail and after 10 minutes gave up, joined the queue and found out it only cost 1.70 Euro for the two-stop transfer.

I met my auntie in front of Montreaux Jazz Cafe at around 11am, leaving us plenty of time for our 1.33pm train ride to Chalon-Sur-Saone, where the cruise ship we are boarding on is docked. Once again, the near four-hour trip was hassle-free and, I know this sounds stupid, but I didn’t realise how big France is. I only define it in my head as “Paris”. But passing by rows of houses, cars parked at train station parking lots, fields of green punctuated by big houses, I realise, wow, the world is so big, look at all these people I’ll never meet and towns I’ll never visit.

I can’t wait to tell my mom and my brother about Dijon, and Dijon Ville. Places I only knew as mustard sauce but are ‘actual’ towns here. haha.

Finally, we arrived at our destination. One thing that stood out for me was the graffiti on the wall. Well, they’re not really graffiti. They’re more like art!

My auntie and I walked around the town, which can be happily split into to parts, depending on which side of the bridge you’re in. We were just walking happily, checking out the waffle stands, the cafes, and then BAM! The Cathedral just pops up in the middle of it all. It was a beautiful cathedral, imposing as they always are, and I lighted five candles, with wishes to my family, friends and typhoon Haiyan survivors.

We walked across the bridge to dine at a restaurant that our cab driver recommended. Gourmand Disent something. Our hostess Nadine was absolutely adorable and was very particular (she used the word ‘important’) about how we drank the wine and when we ate the pre-entree dishes. I had haddock with legumes, and pork stew for mains. But let me fast forward to the dessert. My oh my, the creme brulee with caramel was absolutely beautiful. They know how to do desserts here that’s for sure!

My auntie had escargo pie of sorts for entree, which didn’t just look delicious, it tasted delicious.

The hotel we’re staying in is among the low-mid budget ones and at 70 euros a night with one breakfast was an absolute bargain! Staff were hospitable and our room, with two single beds, was such a throwback to a time long gone. It reminded me of the movie, Room with a View.

Another relaxing, exciting day ahead.

Restaurant: Highly recommended.

Hotel: Yes! Especially if you’re on a budget.

An R is not an R

Lesson on speaking French

  • Try not to think of this letter as an R. The French R is nothing like the¬†English R¬†(pronounced in the middle of the mouth) or the¬†Spanish R¬†(pronounced in the front of the mouth). The French R is pronounced in the throat.
  • The French R sounds a lot like the ch in “Loch Ness” and the kh in Arabic transcription, as in Khalid.

So R is a K in French?

Ahhhhhh.

Day 1 and 2: Montego Bay

I arrived in Montego Bay an hour earlier than planned. After a four-hour delay in my flight from Beijing to LA, I was¬†at the mercy of a young man from the United Airlines to book me on to the next flight so I don’t miss my morning flight from Chicago to Montego Bay.

Thankfully, and without additional fees, he booked me on the 12.25am flight from LA to Houston to catch the earlier 9:22am flight from Houston. He pronounced the ‘te’ in Montego Bay not as “tea” but as “te” as in egg. I found it interesting that he’s pronounced it so but, hey, I wasn’t about to correct him in case he “accidently” book me on the next flight back to Sydney instead.

On time, the plane landed in Mo’ Bay. It was raining, the grounds were drenched and the skies were cloudy. Not exactly the sunny welcome I was expecting but, hey, I will be staying for two weeks here so¬†one cloudy day does not a holiday make.

Poor Vernadeen, who was expecting me at 2.18pm, had to rush to pick me up. She came with her childhood friend, Damien, who picked us up in his silver Honda. This was the start of the adventure as seatbelts aren’t compulsory here.

Gloucestershire Hotel was a pleasant surprise. The two double-bed room was more than enough for our needs and we were served drinks within arrival. The place was fully staffed and the lobby/reception area was very nicely decorated.

The first official stop of our trip was Margaritaville. A tourist hotspot, people come here by the truckloads. The club played the crowd-pleasers, top 40 that everyone recognised. But as the night went on, it got better. Vernadeen said the DJ who was playing later in the night was relatively well known in the country and he gave a very good setlist of dancehall music.

I’ve always wanted to see an impromptu dancehall performance and thankfully wasn’t disappointed. Two guys did their thing – and the energy in their steps was just as I expected, if not more. Vernadeen did what I’ve now called the ‘dance movement’ – and Damien agrees.

It was great that Vern managed to get Damien along. Men are drawn to Vern likes bees to honey and male company with us, to my mind, muted the attention a bit. We just wanted to dance and have a great time without some stranger trying to hit on her every second.

But the highlight¬†had to be our first¬†food stop – a¬†popular local hangout next to a petrol station.¬†Convenient and safe (haha!). I thought it was just for the jerk chicken and jerk pork that people go there – not so – it was actually a karaoke spot, too. We¬†were treated to a performance of Hotel California, reggae version, and some ‘older’ dude who can really sing, Ja’ style. The food was great.¬†I had jerk chicken, festival and some fried bread.

The next day, I had to do some work-related stuff. The weather was much, much better. We did have breakfast at The Pelican, a restaurant frequented by the business folk. That was the first time I had codfish and plantain since I set foot here.

I wish I had pictures of every move we took. But the best moments are always the one where you don’t have any photos. Ah, yes,¬†Vern hollered at this drunken man outside¬†Margaritaville and told him “Michelle’s¬†single.” To which the drunken man, with no front teeth, unkempt hair and¬†what looked like last week’s clothers left on,¬†paused, turned around and told me that he’s having a bad day and that he’ll give me his number and if he can call me.

Yes, first day in this country and I got rejected by a¬†man who¬†looks like he hasn’t taken a bath and is missing¬†all his upper front teeth. Sigh.¬†

P.S.¬†Our hotel is right on the hip strip overlooking the beach. It looks beautiful. Somehow, I didn’t see anyone¬†going to the beach! Perhaps it’s because it was a Sunday night after all.¬†

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE A FILIPINA IN JAMAICA

1) Don’t look for adobo. I didn’t meet a single soul over the two days who look Filipino. So much so that when I saw a Chinese man on our second day, I wanted to hug him and say, “hey look, there’s one of my people!”

2) You will LOVE the music. There’s a club practically every 100 metres and everyone had great speakers. I even wanted to dance at this joint except it was a passing car playing really good dancehall music.

3) You can pay in either Jamaican dollars or US dollars. Bring both.

4) At the airport, there’s a billboard advertisement for what was called a ‘Hedonist Resort’. Enuf said.

5) Make sure you have the jerk pork.

6) Any self-respecting Filipino will not leave Jamaica without having their plantain, cassava dishes and jerk-anything.

7) Oh my god, 10 days without TFC!

Manila on my mind

The Filipino community twitterverse has been quite indignant that author Dan Brown of the ‘Da Vinci Code’ fame, described Manila as the ‘gates of hell’ in his latest novel titled ‘Inferno’.

I haven’t read the book and wasn’t intending to but this has piqued my curiousity so I’m definitely getting it now.

But if you were to ask me about my initial impression, I wasn’t even remotely upset, shocked or angry about the description. Dan Brown is coming from a writer’s perspective, with a very superficial understanding, at best, of Manila as a city. He only knows what his eyes see – for the brief moment he visited the capital for research.
I don’t deny that it would seem like so to a foreigner that Manila is a Godless city. The poverty, the crime, the grimy streets, pollution and traffic all make for an unbearable and unpalatable experience for anybody. He’s not the first nor would he be the last to say that traffic in Manila is absolute hell.

Which makes his decription, ‘gates of hell’, a wee bit unoriginal really. And certainly given the title and plot of his latest book, not unexpected. By contrast, Slumdog Millionaire was a story that saw the sunshine, the comedy, the love, the heart and the human capacity to rejoice and celebrate life even in the face of poverty, crime, pollution and traffic. So beauty, or lack of it, is truly in the eye of the beholder.

That’s why my book, ‘Love, Manila’, which I’m launching next month, is my perspective, my truth and my ‘Manila’. The city characterised to be the portal to an inferno is, well, the city I was born in. It’s the city where I grew up with my cousins enjoying our first few years of childhood. Then, in my adult life, Manila was the gateway to all the places I wanted to go to in the Philippines: to my hometown Tacloban City down south to my dad’s hometown, Aringay, La Union, up north – and Palawan in between.

What to do in 10 Days in Manila? Find out.

What to do in 10 Days in Manila? Find out.

Manila is the city where dreams come true, where life can be so tough that it shows how resilient Filipinos as a race are, where the best shopping and restaurant places are, where the memories linger of Filipinos who sacrificed so much, from the Spanish revolution to those who died during the Second World War when Intramuros was decimated.

Manila is more than what Dan Brown describes it to be. But if you’re Filipino, I’m pretty sure I didn’t have to tell you that.

Yes there’s abject poverty, crime, high pollution and awful traffic. But then there’s also the shopping centres that rival the best in Asia, the food that soothes the Filipino soul, and, for Filipino-Australians like me, the family based in Manila that we always think of, love and keep coming back to.

If Dan Brown were to stay in Manila for a long time, would he change his mind? Would he describe it differently?

The truth is, I really don’t care. He has every right to say what he wants to say and write what he wants to write.

I’ll be just here on the side reminiscing about the fun times I had hanging out with my cousins and friends once upon a time I lived in Manila.

xo

SBS Interview about my book, ‘Love, Manila: 10 Days, 10 Discoveries’. Find out more on www.lovemanila.com.