2016: My Personal Bubble in Review

Most year-end posts will probably start by saying 2016 has been a shitty year in general. And I totally get it – I don’t think I’ve ever felt this disillusioned about the world we live in.

But I’ll let other, more credible, knowledgeable and entertaining people talk about that (I recommend Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’s season ender for starters). For this post, allow me to retreat to my own personal bubble.  And if I had to define my 2016 personal bubble in one word, it’d be this: purpose.  

At the risk of sounding like the product of a motivational lecture or self-help book (it wasn’t), this year, more than any of the years before it, I took great strides in trying to find my personal purpose. On top of that, I finally did something – something big – about it, by finally deciding to make my personal purpose my daily purpose.

I feel this post is going to sound incredibly cheesy and pretentious if I keep waxing poetic about the things that happened this year without sharing the straightforward version of it first. Basically, in 2016 I got promoted and moved to Vietnam, and after six months, I decided to quit my job, quit corporate, and move back to the Philippines.

It’s been a long time coming, and far from being a spur-of-the-moment thing. I feel like 2015 in particular had a lot to do with my decision to finally take such a big step. Last year was nothing short of stellar: great accomplishments at work, one epic trip to check off the bucket list, and the rekindling of an old, dormant passion.

I left 2015 feeling satisfied and accomplished with the path I had taken – but also ready to do something else, to finally listen to that tiny voice that had been so patient with me since I graduated university.

That voice that remained silent while I ventured into “adulting”, i.e. into a fast-track ride up the corporate ladder. The voice that didn’t object when I aimed for stability while simultaneously wanting to enjoy life’s simple and great pleasures (i.e. The Great Paradox of My 20s: working my ass off + travelling as much as I can to as many places I can + spending money + saving money for a car and a condo, etc. I don’t know how I managed to pull it off, either.) The voice that grew loud as I approached my mid-20s, becoming known as My Quarterlife Crisis, but gradually grew silent again as I moved companies for better jobs and better benefits, continued travelling, and moving from saving for a car and a condo to paying for insurance and investments.

That voice came back in 2016 with a different approach. Actually, it started rearing its head in 2015. Life was going well, and my path seemed clear. But it was also becoming clearer and clearer by the day that this path was not the one I really wanted to take.

A lot of this has to do with my job, but it really goes beyond that. That’s content for an entirely different post though. For this post I’ll jump right into recounting the year that was in less abstract ways.

I got promoted to marketing manager and moved to Vietnam in June. Living in another country is a great experience I’d recommend everyone experience at least once in their lives. I can’t say it taught me to be more independent and to rely on myself more – I’ve already learned plenty of that living alone in Manila since my days at university, while my family remained in the province. If anything, I learned the opposite – it was a humbling experience, learning to ask for help, and relying on the kindness of strangers and new acquaintances. Living in another country did teach me to become more responsible though.

But beyond all the learning, the more fun bit was all the exploring – discovering my new city, my new neighborhood, and playing tour guide to visiting friends and family! The sepanx that would kick in after guests left was a pain, but the fun few days they spent with me were worth it. You guys know who you are – thank you for taking the time out from your lives to come over to visit!   

Being expatriated meant travelling became a bigger part of my life than it already was – it wasn’t entirely for the better, however. I don’t think I’ve ever been severely exhausted from travelling the way I was for a couple of months this year. It was just physically and mentally draining, flying from Vietnam to Manila and back again several times with such short days in between. Add to that the business trips and weekend trips I had to take to Singapore. I have no regrets, but I won’t deny that it was physically taxing.

To paint a picture, two examples: first, a weekend I spent in Singapore with friends to watch a concert (iKON saranghaeyo! LOL). The time in Singapore and the concert was epic – food, drinks, dancing, quality Kpop. Recipe for a perfect weekend! But the journey to get to Singapore to spend 2 full days there was a complicated one – I had to fly from Vietnam to Manila about 2 days prior for a last-minute trip (visa issues), but my flight to Singapore was going to be from Vietnam. Which meant I had to fly from Manila to Vietnam and arrived Friday afternoon, only so I can repack my luggage and get ready from my flight from Vietnam to Singapore early morning Saturday. Then I had to fly back from Singapore to Vietnam early morning on Monday the week after.   

Second example: a whirlwind trip back to the Philippines, in which I flew in from Vietnam and arrived Friday morning, had to work at the Manila office for the whole day, then drove to Batangas that night for a beach trip with family.  The drive to the beach the next day was about 4 hours (thankfully I was just a passenger), and then we had to go back a day after that, on Sunday. By early Monday morning I was driving myself back to Manila so I could spend another day at work in the Manila office before my flight back to Vietnam that night.

The truth is I’m recounting these instances as a note to myself more than anything else – because while it was necessary at the time and I don’t regret it (I discovered then the lengths we go just to see family and friends, even for a little bit), I hope for a life when I never need to go through that kind of stress again.   

So yeah. While I loved living in Saigon, the constant travelling also took a toll on me. That’s not to say I lost my love for travel this year. I had some pretty good trips, and visited two countries for the first time: Australia for a dear friend’s wedding and Japan.

Port Fairy, where the wedding was held, was a lovely little town, the kind you’d see in Hallmark movies, and I’d love to come back someday to rent a cottage for a couple of days and do some writing. Melbourne meant just one thing to me: brunch. LOL.

Osaka was a-mazing. Kyoto was quaint. I’d love to go back again, and soon!

Despite all the changes, one thing remained the same this year: my love for Seoul. I went on a spring trip to my favorite city with friends before I moved to Vietnam, and also marked the end of my stint in Saigon and the start of a new chapter in my life with a trip to Seoul early this month. I don’t know how things will pan out next year with my life in general, but I’m hoping there’ll still be a trip or two to Seoul then.  

I think that needs more emphasis – there hasn’t been a year in my adult life that’s as unpredictable as the coming one. 2017 is bound to come in with a whole bunch of surprises, but it’s all part of what makes it so exciting. If I need to survive surprises, both good and bad, to live a life that lets me fulfill my purpose everyday, then so be it. So bring it on, 2017! And thanks to all the friends who continue to support me all the way.

I’m too lazy to make a collage of photos to mark this year (my little brother is waiting for me, because we have a Mortal Kombat X tournament tonight) so I’m posting a photo of me taken early on in 2016 instead. Know that this was not how I looked on a regular basis this year (in fact I looked the exact opposite, haha), but please allow me a rare decent selfie. Happy new year!  

A Beginner’s Guide to Osaka: How to Manage Culture (and Credit Card) Shock

My first trip to Japan had been a long time coming - I had the chance two years ago but had to cancel my trip on account of work, and I didn't get to plan another trip until this year.  I'm so happy I finally got to go, and I have to say that now I am officially hooked. I can't wait for another chance to visit! Even though we only spent a weekend in Osaka and Kyoto, it was enough to give me a taste of what Japan has to offer. 

A lot of people say coming to Japan for the first time is a massive culture shock - everything is just so dynamic and different that it can be extremely disorienting, especially in Tokyo. I'm glad the first city I got to visit in Japan was Osaka, because it's not as crazy. In fact, I was surprised to find that it was actually a pretty chill city. People seemed relaxed and had a general casual chic about them. And the food! Oh my gosh, the food!

I've also been told that things in Osaka are cheaper than in Tokyo - but even then, compared to countries in Southeast Asia or even Korea, stuff in Japan are quite pricey. 

But fear not - there is a way to manage the culture shock and the credit card shock on your first trip to Japan! Here are a few tips on how to experience Osaka like a local without breaking the bank.

1.  Stay in the Dotonbori area. 

It's a great home base for your first trip to Osaka because there's already lots to see and do in the area, and you can just walk around and explore without needing to navigate their subway system. Don't forget to also check out the neighboring areas of Amerikamura and Orange St. for a hipster, less tourist-y vibe. 

As the area is popular among tourists, be sure to book your accommodations in Dotonbori ahead of time to get the best deals

2. Eat great food at great prices. 

Try takoyaki from the numerous stalls you will find in Dotonbori, or check out a restaurant that sells okonomiyaki. Visit the Kuromon Market for incredibly fresh seafood at reasonable prices, as well as other Japanese treats like Kobe beef or traditional sweets.

Finally, you cannot go to Osaka without visiting Endo Sushi. A set of five life-changing sushi pieces will only cost you a thousand Yen, which is a steal! The restaurant is located in a local seafood market, which means they're serving you incredibly fresh fish. Trust me, the long walk from the train station is so worth it. I regret not getting a second plate, and it's one of the main reasons I want to come back to Osaka.

 A life-changing plate at Endo Sushi!

Skewered treats at Kuromon Market 

Kobe beef!

3. Shop wisely!

Believe it or not, there are actually some great stores to get a good bargain in Japan. Visit Don Quixote or Daiso for trinkets and souvenirs at good prices. For clothing, check out Gu, the more affordable sister brand of Uniqlo (their self-service cashier counters blew me away) or Sense of Place by Urban Research

Here's another tip: Royce Chocolate is way cheaper in Japan. The chocolate covered potato chips (which I absolutely love) were half the price at Kansai Airport compared to if you buy them in Vietnam or The Philippines. Lush products are also way more affordable, so be sure to stock on those bath bombs when you go!

4.  Visit Kyoto for a day or two.

It's only a train ride away from Osaka but has a completely different feel, devoid of Osaka's urban vibe. Instead it provides a unique glimpse of traditional, historical Japan. Drop by the usual temples flocked by tourists but also consider booking an overnight stay in Arashiyama, an artist community,  for a more serene, local feel.

 The Iconic Trail at Fushimi Inara

You can rent a yukata or kimono for a day when you go around Kyoto

5. Drink and eat at an izakaya.

Once you're back in Osaka, drop by an izakaya, the Japanese version of a pub or watering hole. Order some yakitori while drinking sake or a whisky highball. Or both. You're on vacation. Enjoy! 

I highly recommend going to Batten Yokato, a small izakaya we chanced upon between Amerikamura and Dotonbori (based on their website, they seem to have other branches too). The staff are friendly with foreigners, and they have an English menu with cute illustrations of the food. The prices are also pretty affordable, with yakitori sticks that cost as low as 90 Yen.  But even at good prices, the food is amazing. The yakitori is seasoned simply but bursting with flavor, and grilled to perfection. You definitely get more than your money's worth here!

Gateway to yakitori awesomeness, great drinks, and a friendly local vibe 

My kind of window shopping tbh 

You can also check out Tayutayu Nambasennichimaeten if you want to go izakaya hopping. 

Five Fun Things to Do in Ancol, Indonesia

If you’re traveling to Jakarta and are looking to spend a day or two to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, you should definitely add Ancol to your itinerary. Situated in northern Jakarta, it is known as the city’s main recreation and adventure center, which means you’re bound to find something to keep you entertained during your stay there.

Did you know?

Ancol’s existence dates back to as early as the 16th Century, but its development only began in the 1960s under then President Sukarno’s vision of converting the area – at the time a neglected collection of mosquito-infested swamps and fish ponds – into an industrial and recreation hub.

Need recommendations? Here’s a list of things to do in Ancol

1. Feel like a kid again in Dunia Fantasi

A great place for kids and kids at heart, Ancol Dreamland boasts of a theme park that has over 30 exciting rides and attractions. Dunia Fantasi, or Fantasy World, is divided into eight areas.

For the adventurous and the daredevils, there are quite a number of heart-racing, adrenaline-pumping rides to choose from at Dunia Fantasi, including the Halilintar roller coaster and the Power Surge. 

Meanwhile, younger children can enjoy taking a ride on the massive ferris wheel or the Poci-Poci, the theme park’s take on the spinning cups ride.

2. Live in luxury!

Reward yourself with a luxurious stay at the Aston Marina Ancol. It’s in a great location near all the activities Ancol has to offer.

But staying in would also be an option – if you need some time to rest and recharge, why not have a relaxing massage at the Zhu Spa or enjoy a few drinks at the 33 Sky Bridge?

What’s more, living in luxury need not be expensive – you just need to be on the lookout for Aston Marina Ancol best deals online so you can get the most affordable rates for what’s sure to be an excellent stay.

3. Go Shopping at the Mangga Dua Shopping District

No vacation is complete without a bit (or a lot!) of shopping, and your credit card is sure to get a workout in Ancol thanks to the Mangga Dua Shopping District. The area consists of numerous shopping centers.

Shop at Harca Mangga Dua or Orion Mall to get the best deals on gadgets, electronics and appliances. For fashion and household items, visit ITC. For wholesale items, visit Mangga Dua Square.

Most shopping centers open as early as 8 AM but are closed by between 5-6 PM, so it’s best to start your shopping day early.    

4. Get Inspired at Pasar Seni Ancol

A great way to get a feel of a country’s culture is through its art and artists, and at Pasar Seni, you will be able to do just that. Revel and get inspired by Indonesian craftsmanship as you walk through this street where local artists display their work. It’s a great place to visit if you’re hoping to bring home some local art, especially if you want to meet and interact with the artists themselves.  

5. Make a splash at Atlantis Water Adventure

If you need a refreshing experience to beat the heat, make your way over to the Atlantis Water Adventure Park. The complex has a wave pook, a waterfall pool, a flowing river, and several water slides. And after all that activity, you’ll have five restaurants and a food court to choose from for a satisfying meal. 

6 Reasons Why I Love Bangkok

1. There are lots of places to explore

Bangkok is one of the biggest cities in the world, and home to at least 10 million people. If the sheer scale of the city doesn’t wow you, the eclectic mix of the past and present will - futuristic shopping centres sit side by side with centuries-old Buddhist temples – it’s unlike anything you’ve seen.

Photo courtesy of Nutthavood Punpeng ©flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/nutexzles/6397918625/

2. Everything is affordable

Bangkok is one of the only cities in the world where five-star hotels can cost you as little as £100 per night, sometimes even less depending on the time of year you visit.

3. The food is out-of-this-world

Bangkok is not only the capital of Thailand, but an epicenter for delicious cuisine from all over Thailand. Tuck in to some true culinary classics like Thai green curry or Pad Thai, your taste buds will not be disappointed!

Photo courtesy of Austronesian Expeditions © flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/globalcitizen01/6165359903

4.       Thai massages are to die for

There’s nothing like a good Thai massage, and it’s an experience you just can’t afford to miss when in the country’s capital city. Get lost in an authentic full body Thai Massage, at a fraction of the price you would pay back home.

5.       Things get really interesting when the sun sets

Bangkok has one of the best night scenes in Asia, without a doubt. Whether you’re a party animal or shopaholic, there’s always something to do through from sunset to sunrise.

Photo courtesy of Eustaquio Santimano © flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/eustaquio/8757031849

6.       Its next-door neighbour is a tropical paradise

Soak up some sun at one of Thailand’s popular beaches. A short plan ride will take straight to the paradise islands of Phuket, Koh Samui and Ko Pen Yang. Trust me, it’s well worth the journey.
What are you waiting for? Get out of those winter warmers and pack your bags for warmer climes. Unlike the UK, this gorgeous Thai capital enjoys a tropical climate throughout the year, so any time is good a good time to book your flights from Tokyo to Bangkok. But there’s no time like the present, right?

Revisiting the excitement of Macau

 My travels have certainly taken me to some wild and wonderful places, but one of my most enjoyable trips has to be my excursion to Macau. This dazzling Chinese enclave has certainly attracted a lot of global attention thanks to its booming gambling industry, and whilst I previously took a look at some of Macau’s alternative offerings, it’s hard to deny the sheer vitality of Macau’s casino culture.

So I’ve been checking upon on the latest developments in Macau’s casino scene to see how it’s adapting to increased competition from digital casinos providing alternative gambling options like online lotto, as well as some of its more garish entertainment offerings!

Despite the economic slowdown a few years ago, it still seems like Macau is a construction site that’s constantly adding some seriously spectacular casino resorts that are all outdoing each other in architectural extravagance.

A quick look at the skyline of the Cotai Strip reveals a glimmering selection of skyscrapers that are jostling for position in providing the most dazzling gambling experience. My favourite building has to be the immense Studio City Macau which forms a massive arc of towering skyscrapers - perfect for grabbing a good selfie in front of!

But there’s so many other architectural gems to enjoy when wandering the streets of Macau, from the futuristic designs of the MGM Cotai, to the gaudy old-world charms of the Grand Lisboa Palace - and definitely don’t miss the mini Eiffel Tower at the Parisian Macau!

What’s clear from these new casino resorts is that they’re fighting a tough battle to stave off the intense competition from online competitors like Coral who have a lottery offering that can be played just about anywhere from a smartphone which is seriously hard to beat for sheer convenience.

And it’s not just the gambling options that Macau is upgrading in its bid to retain its position as the number one global casino destination, as resorts like Broadway Macau have endeavoured to deliver a family-friendly holiday experience with carnivals, live music shows and special culinary extravaganzas that give you just one more chance to experience the delights of Macau street food!

In addition to this is the fascinating news that there’s expected to be a Hollywood-style movie theme park built in the enclave in 2018, which suggests that despite the innovations in online lotto gaming, Macau is finding some pretty interesting ways to make new revenues!

Just Like That Passion Pit Song, 2015 Was A Good Year

Nine countries (six of them finally outside of Asia!), countless memories, and with all my trips combined, at least an entire month out of 12 that I was on the road, traveling. While I always try to write these year-end posts with optimism, always try to end the year on a high note, this time around, there is little effort needed to try and put a positive spin on the year that was - because oh my gosh, has 2015 been good to me. Hashtag blessed.

2015 actually started on the road - in Seoul, Korea, where I spent my first ever New Year's away from home. And it was a blast! There would be three more trips to Korea towards the end of the year. Because Seoul is officially my favorite city.

Next came a long weekend of eating in Singapore and another food trip in Taiwan (my first time there - and I really must come back!). Nom nom nom. Good times.

And then there was the mother of all trips - the adventure I said I would take before I turned 30, which I did! Our nearly month-long cross-country adventure in Europe took place in June. I've yet to write about any of it because I just don't know how to start - there's so much to rave about! All the beautiful places we went to, all the history we experienced, the food we ate, and of course, the company - the amazing travel buddies on the trip with me.

I can talk about all the tourist-y places, the Eiffel Tower and the Coliseum and the Gaudi buildings, but I doubt I'll do a better job than Wikipedia or Lonely Planet. I can write about all the food we ate, but my friend Rissee would certainly be much more credible in matters of taste (see what I did there? Haha).

Instead, every now and then when I find myself daydreaming about our trip, I would be going back to those little moments - Ics, Rox or Rissee behind the wheel as we drove around Provence and Tuscany in our rented car; walking around Paris with Mabs to go to that church that housed the remains of an incorruptible saint; doing burpees by the bay in Barcelona with Ics and Ris; going for an early morning solo run in quiet Rome, and seeing the coliseum before the flocks of tourists came; exploring Avignon with Ris on an early morning run; sitting back and enjoying the view in our quaint and incredibly adorable B&B in Chianti; surprising Mabs for her birthday in aforementioned B&B; going on a beer tour in Prague and meeting other people from our hostel; trying out funny brownies (that had no effect on us whatsoever, hmp) in Amsterdam with Ics! The list is nearly endless. The best travel moments are always bittersweet, aren't they? They exist in one's memories to remind him of a happiness felt in the past that he will never be able to recreate again.

Someday, maybe I will write about all of them. For now though, here's a video of our epic trip, edited by our resident (nutty) videomaker Mabs, also known as All The Cray We Had In Europe, Told Through A Passion Pit Song About The Year Rissee and I Were Born:

My travels this year would've been more than enough to fill up this year-end post, but the amazing thing is, so many other things happened beyond those trips, serving as further proof that 2015, the year I turned 30, was a year on steroids.

Career-wise, I'd have to say I had a pretty amazing year. It wasn't easy, it wasn't always fun, but it was definitely fulfilling. Working with the team who launched a great campaign, with a powerful message that I personally believe in and live by - I couldn't have asked for a better corporate gig. I could only hope for even greater things in 2016.

Then there's the rekindling of an old passion, explored in a new way. I pretty much abandoned this blog in 2015 - but not because I stopped writing. In fact, I abandoned this travel blog because I was writing - it's just that I was writing something else.

The idea came to me some time during the summer, but really, it had been stewing in my head for a long time - it was only then that all these little bits of details came together to finally make sense. It stayed as random notes and doodles on my notebook for a little longer, until I attended a few writing classes towards the latter half of the year. It took the month of November - and the push of NaNoWriMo - to help me accomplish something I had never done before, but had always wanted to, always dreamed of doing. By the end of November, I had written draft zero of my first novel.

There's still a lot of work that needs to be done - and editing, as I am finding out, is a little bit of a bitch - but I'm optimistic. I already wrote 50,000 words, there's no turning back now.

Just as there is no turning back from 2016 - another year of possibility, another year to do that which brings us joy, another year to explore places we never thought we'd go to. There is not much else to say except I can't freaking wait. Let's do this. 2015, you've been so freaking amazing, and 2016 will be just as great. Hashtag positivity.

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