Monday, January 28, 2019

Karma and Chance Encounters

I was in Mandaluyong 2 weeks ago for a meeting. I was representing my cousins who are planning to have a franchise of a gluta drip and spa and I’m meeting its owner at Coffee Bean. The owner was late for 30 minutes. I don't mind as I have brought my work along with me.

I was midway my work when the spa owner arrived. He and I had a good chat for an hour, he answered all my queries and the needed requirements. He left and I continued my work when someone tapped me on my shoulder..” May Cheeeee? Is that really you?”

Standing in front of me, is our smiling, bespectacled high school valedictorian who is now an oncologist. At first I could not believe this man is the boy whom I kicked his chair he almost feel on his face! I always remember this incident and I always feel bad but somehow happy knowing that I have a story associated with this humble doctor. Fun times.

We told anecdotes and memories shared at our high school alma mater. We updated each other on our current works, difficulties and passion projects that needs pursuing. We decided to have an early dinner slash merienda catch up. He’s just living in the area and knows a good place to chill. We rode the tricycle and reminisced our high school days riding the tricycle after school despite the hazards of overloading. Looking back, we’re indeed reckless, wild and free.

We talked and laughed till our bellies ached. I still can’t believe that after how many years of not meeting each other, we will have a brief encounter here in the Big Metro, of all places! He also told me was just done with his laundry and decided to drop by at the coffee shop. And the delayed start of my earlier meeting coincided with this chance encounter.   

Partly, one of the reasons why I’m restarting this blog is because of Lance. Lance is first person I know who’s been blogging (bottling his brain!) since high school and who reads voraciously! Imagine, he can still blog despite his daily rounds at the hospital! 
Now, that’s a challenge for my procrastinating self.

Snacks with Merlot at Locavore. Sooooo Tito/a!! 😊

Thank you Doc Lance for reminding me to go back to what I love doing. Indeed, ‘old’ friends keep you grounded. And I can’t help but think of Murakami’s quote:

Even chance meetings are the result of karma… Things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events there’s no such thing as coincidence. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019


After much prodding from friends, I am back slowly into blogging. As I posted here, I’ve been all wrapped up with bigger responsibilities the past years. I’ve been travelling both for work and personal inclination. I still do document my thoughts through my journals or notes in my phone.

Just recently, I deleted the notes in my phone and I accidentally deleted its back-up as I was trying to free up some space. %^U@$CRYVX. There go my daily thoughts in Batanes!

I post a few pictures in Facebook every time I travel and several friends messaged me how, the budget and what places to see. I promised them to post about it once I have my free time.

It’s been months and adulting has a way of sucking up all your energies. I know this should not be an excuse but, I warn you now. As you grow older, naps and long uninterrupted sleep is your bestfriend!

Anyway, I just want to say Hello and thank you for the friendships tested by time, for the new acquaintances, travel companions I’ve met along the way and to my online clients who believed in my writing skills even though this virtual space has been in hiatus for quite some time.

I will try to share the backstories- anecdotes, people I’ve met on the road, travel mishaps and some tips on the places I visited. Again, I am no expert. I just want to share to you the joy of exploring.  You do not need to be rich to travel. There are a lot of budget airlines now, you just need to take note of those seat sales and your vacation leaves!

Also, I won’t be telling you how to be frugal to the point of haggling too much (sobrang barat) to the detriment of the locals. Know when to haggle as if you’re being made to pay 4x the average price, and know when to respect that tourism is the only source of income and the impact of high inflation rate in the area. Take note: Hindi mo ikakamatay ang dagdag na Php 50 sa bayad sa habal-habal or tricycle especially when you’re travelling solo.  Travel to help local economy, buy the local products.

This is your Dora Lakwatsera saying, thank you for staying and let’s explore together.

Watch out for the next blogposts.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Hiatus and Growing Wings

This is a repository, a  sort of extension and 'cleaned up' version of my doodles and stories in my journals. And I have a looooong list of drafts in this "virtual diary" from months of being on the road. I don't claim to be a travel blogger or anything. I just like the idea of sharing stories of having a good laugh or mishaps with strangers.

But lately, I just stopped writing. There's a kind of hurricane that sucked up all your energy that all you want is to just stare in the wall. Or stay in bed the whole day.

You know the feeling of craving for something but not knowing what it is? Or the feeling of having too much in your plate and you decided you are not that hungry at all? That and a whole lot more.
No this is not depression. Just a much needed hiatus to find my swank.

My friend once remarked, "Oh you no longer update your blog?" I just smiled. I still helped out friends on their travel itineraries and even customized how-to-tips. I blame Facebook and Instagram for the instant snaps and captions. The sort of I have to post it now thoughts that you no longer have the energy to compose a longer one later on.  I blame my laziness and lack of discipline. Or I clearly believed that wrote a lot of stories and poems in my head during sleep and when I woke up, I just can't remember a single word.

I still write in my notebooks and rediscovering my old notes- laughing at my silliness and wondering how it came too easy before.

For now, I keep busy staring with this Totoro goodness:


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Day 4: Phonm Penh Touristitas Yayas

We don't have a specific itinerary in mind for Phnom Penh is intended to be a time for bonding with Marj and her cute adorable baby, Ema Ayeesha. Marj is my coursemate, boardmate and after-college roomie. How we were able to withstand each other despite our different personalities is something for the books. She is a kikay, a leader and endearing personality. We  went out separate ways when she decided to leave the apartment. Later I learned she found her love and started a family in this foreign land. To adjust in a new surrounding is not easy. Transition is never easy, but love makes you do impossible feats. And I am so happy for this woman who found her own self, and able to maintain her lithe figure after pregnancy.

She booked us at Burly Guesthouse, which is very near their apartment. Also her husband Tom knew the manager and asked them to let us have an early check-in. The check-in time is still at 10AM so we decided to eat our breakfast at the nearby restaurant and lounge around. The food serving is good for two already but since we're too famished, sharing is not an option. There are a lot of monks collecting too and the children were taught to give respects to them.

It was already past 10AM when we went to the hotel and checked in. Then the reception the check-in time is 12NN. Early check-in means we have to pay $5 extra. We relented since we badly need to lie down in a comfortable bed. Then we asked the reception for the bus ticket going to Saigon and if they have arrangements. They said yes, we can have it for $11 and there will be a free tuktuk that will pick us up. When we inquired again later in the afternoon, the bus ticket price rose to $12 and there is no more free pick-up. We do not recommend this hostel. The service is just bad, the room is passable.

We took a long nap. Then we trooped to Marj's place and meet Tom and their little bundle of joy. The first meeting with Ema was a disaster and for this time, we wanted to give a lasting impression. It is a such humid day and we can't subject the little girl to the glaring sunlight. So we went to the Aeon Mall and talked nonstop. It's as if years of separation was just yesterday. We laughed, talked and bonded at the Breastfeeding Section of the Mall! Oh boy! I was so impressed by the big space allotted for mothers to feed the babies and for those with toddlers who can  play. The cushions are soft, well-maintained and of course, you have a lot of privacy! We had the place almost for ourselves for an hour before other mothers came to feed their own hungry babies.
Ema still is not happy. 
Can I be a nanny? $700 salary excluding benefits!
The mother almost faint when she heard my asking price. 

We walked and checked out several stores and eat a lot. Ema is such a well-behaved darling and she just sleep. She was dead tired from walking while strapped unto me! We've been teasing Marj that she should get us as nanny. She will not only get a nanny but a tutor too! But sadly, she can't afford us. 

The mother has to go home early to put Ema in bed while the three of us are still up for an adventure. We told the driver to drop us off Russian Market. I searched earlier the site for some areas of interest and Russian Market is on the list and it is just along the way. So we walked around and realized this is an old market, much like our Bangkerohan market. The place is so lively, full of people buying fresh produce at a low price.

Since we will not be cooking, we decided to go to the Night Market near the bus terminals. There, the street foods are sumptuous and they have mats at the center area where you can have your own picnic. Sharing a meal alongside hundreds of people in a square is like a huge family picnic at night! I tried the ginger mint tea and it is the best remedy for the very humid night.

Then we bought our pasalubong of shawls and shirts. Found a very wonderful shawl with butterfly prints. I always go gaga for shawls and I have to stop myself from buying more since I already purchased several kinds from Siem Reap. We were able to get a lot of discount from one stall owner as the two girls almost bought a dozen shirts from him alone. 

We also met a lot of Filipinos buying a lot of stuff on sale at the night market. They shared that they were also on vacation and spent it in Saigon and Phomn Penh. Then they recommended a place to stay at Saigon's backpackers' area.

Before midnight, we hailed a tuktuk and called it a day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Day 3 Longest Night of my Life

For our last day here, we decided to take Nakim's suggestion to visit Tonle Lake, then the City tour mid afternoon up to nightime.

The long and hot walk yesterday gave us cramps. Instead of the planned 7AM tour, we left the guesthouse an hour late. And the way to Tonle Lake is quite far. The scenery is like having a fieldwork once again somewhere in Maguindanao.  It is a long ride with rice fields, lotus field and some fishponds on the sides. There is also another temple on the other side of the mountain where you can get a good shot for the sunset. Later we found out that you can go there for free, you just need to pretend you are a local. :p

intense stare

boat people of Tonle Lake

Nakim already paid our $23 each person for the boat ride and we have Samin and Ra as guides. There is two large boats with Korean tourists ahead of us.

Ra says he is a volunteer tourist guide. he works as a waiter in the mainland resto. Samin has been working with "The Company", the Association of the Boatmen in control of the lake tourism in the area.
There is an ongoing resort being constructed near the lake. Nina confidently shared it must be a coal-fired power plant but our guides said it is a resort owned by one Khmer and Korean.
Notice the dirty white overhead? That's the cover of the banca where they put their dead. 
Water lilies can be eaten 
It's a harsh life. 

The boys pointed to us their burial area alongside Tonle Lake. Then a small boat with a family followed our boat.  There is a kid holding a snake and wrapped it around his neck and Xyza started clicking to take photo. And then they asked for $2 dollars! Xyza was shocked. I knew it coming and told her to give them a dollar and I'll chip in the other dollar. Ra has been telling me earlier that the tourist arrival dwindled for the past months since it is the monsoon season. The lake swells and the water is just too murky and that drives tourists away.

We had our lunch at the resto at the north side of the lake community where there are hanging crocodiles, baby crocodiles and other by-products of its skin and wait....dildo! Yes, displayed in full glory. :D
Need some action? HAHA!

The Korean tourists. They are always in groups

Then after lunch the guys, Ra and Samin suggested rather strongly that we can visit the mangrove and pay another boat going inside. We said we do not have enough time to do it. Earlier, Ra told us, especially me about the Charity House. This is where orphans and unmarried and widowed women live. He was insisting for us to buy "something for the kids there." The charity is also a preschool orphanage. They said food is better and one sack of rice (which is a small one, just around 25 kgs) for  $30 (around Php 1, 330!).

At the back of my mind, here it goes! Before coming here, I already made research on the boat ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and for its schedule. Then by accident I saw the long discussion in the Trip Advisor on the "racket" along Tonle Lake. There's several tourists who wrote that they also feel forced to buy something in the name of the Charity. But they saw the sacks of rice being brought back to the store! They felt they were deceived. Who does not want to give to charity? Who does not feel good about giving and sharing the blessings?

Then Ra was saying, "We like you because you are here to understand my country better. Not just tourists who came here and take pictures but you ask more questions, you are interested." I asked questions about the arrangements they have between the boat association and the big restaurant where they always take the tourists. I asked if there is some sort of a small percentage they give to the Charity and they said no. I asked, why? He was irritated why I asked. He claimed he came from the Charity.And everything they said it seemed should not be questioned. Not to be offensive, but hey, I know the look of poverty. We've seen it. We breathe it. I've worked with it.

But I know one who uses poverty for a racket. If they think just because we are there as tourists. then we will just shell out money and pay for whatever they ask, then they miscalculated us.

Earlier, they have been laughing with us. But when I refused to buy the small sack of rice and instead bought the candies and biscuits, and told them that we do not have huge amount of money they expect us to give, they changed. They stop being friendly and chattery with us. I can understand where their frustration came from- the neglect of government basic social services, the mainland vs coastal/lake division and how the tourism development marginalizes the 'not so picturesque' areas. We might be even one of the culprits for taking this trip and adding to the mafia-like business dealing in the area. However, there are other ways to take their cause and not to deceive tourists. He let us meet the school administrator/ principal and he got the latest iphone 6. so what does that tell us? I don't like the idea of classes being interrupted for "visitors/tourists to gawk at hapless orphans". It was barely a classroom, it was a showroom and I refuse to be a part of the charade.

I can sense the frustration with Ra's voice. But I caught him lying, he told me earlier he was married with children and later took it back saying it was a joke and that he is just 17 years old. I did not laugh with the joke.

I told Ra that I volunteered for a children's literacy program and we are not like other tourists that got a lot of money, he would not believe since travelling for him means spending a lot of money, ergo we got a lot of dollars with us. We tried to explain that we are working and students at the same time. If their attempts have been swallowed whole by other tourists, not us.

It was already getting late and the midday sun is already painful in the eyes. They insisted that we give tips. I did give a tip to the boatman, but for them, I told them the association has already charged us big enough to cover the tip. Nina and Xyza went ahead since they will be using the loo, I was left behind then Samin tried to accompany me to look for our tuktuk driver. Not in good intention but just to stall me thinking he can still get more tips from me. He is leading the wrong way. I told him off that I can find Nakim on my own. He attempted to get more tip but I stood my ground.

We found Nakim and we went back to the City center. When he asked us about our experience, the three of us looked at each other. I told him nicely that it was an eye-opening experience- to see the other side of their country. But I was heartbroken by the neglect that also caused people like the boatmen to make such racket. Tourism if not handled properly, only heighten the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Nakim nodded and also shared that there were already complaints. Also the small boats cater to small groups and if they continue it, it will surely discourage other travelers.

By traveling, we see both see the goodness and the gray side of humanity. Samin and Ra only wanted to live and feed their family and circumstances push them to do it. *sigh*

We talked about it on our way back to the downtown. But we won't let that to dampen our spirit. Nakim brought us to Artisans Angkor, where we learned about silk weaving, lacquer painting and stonework Our guide was Bohanne Lern and he was very patient in explaining to us the intricacies of the art. The apprentices are all over the area and they are trained and paid. The meticulous work, the details and the talent to produce such artwork are just inspiring.

Then we went to the post office for Kapitan Nina will be sending the postcards for herself (yes she is weird like that!) and for us. Then we told Nakim we can take care of ourselves, and we will just roam around on our own.  He told us about his son who was sulking when he did not attend the school activity with him. So we told him to catch up with his son.

Thank you Nakim for the chance of knowing you. 

We just walked around the nearby temple. Then roam around the Old Market.

Nina was looking for a currency exchange shop. She collects all denominations of the country she visited and she wanted riels. Just right along the street, there's a transparent shelf in public's view. There are thousands of  dollars and riels just scattered around. We were amazed by how the shop owner just throws the money. Nina keep on sking for different riels and she wanted the crisp bills. Then he called someone. She said, "100 riel ay Php 5.00 sa atin." We shrieked in glee. A Pinay, Ate Miriam Pangket who teaches at Angkor University and does tutorials on her spare time for additional income. We talked and she shared that she came from Baguio. She and Xyza then started talking in Ilocano.

With Ate Miriam Pangket, our instant guide and party guru. 

We're already famished and she brought us to her suking carenderia at the Old Market. She brought us to Angkor Famous resto, where the food is tasty and very affordable. She promised to meet us after her tutorials at 7:30PM. We tried the meat combo- consist of frog, crocodile and the usual chicken and pork barbecues.

The meat platter: chicken, pork, frog and crocodile. others serve with shark meat.
Shark meat is off our list.
Graffiti outside Angkor Famous Restaurant
We stayed for a while in the resto as one of the waiters took a great liking for Nina. Here's their exchange of lines:

Nina: "Can I use the toilet?
Waiter: " Toilet or me?"

Nina and her suitor. :D
When Nina relayed it to us, we could not stop laughing. It was reeking of ewww but he probably heard us earlier talking about the best pick up lines we can muster. I was telling Nina earlier, one subtle way to tell a guy you like him is when you ask him what he will like, "Coffee, tea or me?". now the waiter turned it around and used with comparing his usefulness to toilet!

When we asked for our bill, he motioned his heart shape one and ask Nina, "This too?" (Like asking, will you ask for my heart too?" Oh boy, it as one of the most crazy moment so far.

We keep on laughing while walking. We talked, laughed some more, haggled and killed some time. We noticed the fish spa here and wanted one for a pet. A fish that can do manicure and pedicure! We will buy if the fish can also apply nail polish. hahaha!

Nina needed to take another time at the loo and she did not want to go back to her new found love. So were about to take photos at the lovely reflection of the Christmas lights at the bridge when one guy asked, "Pinay?"

"Yes!" we exclaimed. Our nonstop talking really makes us easy to spot (aside from the identical fedora caps) Then he introduced himself. He is Kuya Oscar Sacramento, retired United Airlines employee who celebrated his birthday on the 18th. He's been going back to the place since 2012 (it's his third time already). We just sat on the bridge and shared travel stories. We laughed as he shared his adventures in different areas. He told us that the best way to learn is to travel. And always, in every work make yourself indispensable. Show them your capacity, make them respect you.

Meeting Tito Oscar and his antics and life's advice 
Ate Miriam texted us that she is already at the resto. We invited Tito Oscar to come with us but he is already tired. So we trooped back to the Angkor Famous Resto and we're surprised she is not alone. They got a long table with other Pinoys there. Ate Theresa, the manager of the French pastry shop Blue Pumpkin, and 3 guys (one is the son of Ate Miriam, Janjan. Sorry I am bad with names, I forgot the other two- one is from General Santos) working as teachers and musicians and Czarina (Ate Miriam's niece who are also travelling in Siem Reap).

Bar hoping with these people. Who said you can't party with strangers?
We did and we think we attract wonderful strangers!.
After taking two beers (Angkor and Anchor), we hop around pubs where Filipino mmusicians play. We partied like there's no tomorrow. We danced the Gangnam style, occupied the dance floor and since nobody knew us there, we danced like crazy! We sang our hearts out and tried different drinks.

We feel like we're Cinderella, time is our nemesis. We're afraid for the clock to strike to 12 MN. No matter how beautiful the night is, fairytales end. We hesitantly said goodbye to Ate Miriam and Ate Theresa. They invited us to go back there next year, especially for the Water Festival on April (that coincides with our Holy Week). They contacted the tuktuk driver they knew to drive us to the guesthouse. We're taking the sleeper bus ($11 each) and someone will pick us up by 11:30PM.

Waiting for my roomie. That smile and the pretensions.
I reserved that sleeper bus thinking the picture shown to me means we will be getting an individual bed since it was a small one. This is not the case. Lesson Number 1: Do not Assume! 
I was in bed already when other passengers are coming up that that small space will be shared by 2! Nina and Xyza were together. I on one hand have no idea who my "roommate" will be. Imagine the cramped space and the idea of sharing a bed with a stranger. I am afraid I'm already drunk, I smell and and I'm used to sleeping alone and I move a lot. I cannot pay for the space since the tickets have been sold already!And I am also on  a budget.

The two gals are already teasing me. NIna already got his tadhana, probably I'll get mine here. HAHA! Then a couple came saying I got their bunk. I did not give in immediately. The conductor came and he told me I got the wrong bed. Instead of staying at 7B, it should be 1B. Then when I peered at 1B, there is already a guy who is occupying the other half of the bed. It is the most awkward, weirdest feeling. I was muttering under my breath, "Oh my ghad, this is sooo weird" I might not have the freshly bathed scent but I changed my shirt and put some powder. But still...I never dreamed about it. And I was silently praying that I will not have a smelly roomie.

Nina and Xyza never stopped teasing about me. "Beatch, basig lugoson na nimo ha!" I just laughed along. It was the most uncomfortable 6-hour ride of my life. There's another 3 Pinoy travelers (2 girls, 1 boy) that was on the same automobile that picked us up from the different guesthouses. The two girls were on the other side of the bunk and I was thinking one of the girls is the guy's girlfriend. I had a hard time sleeping.

By 3 AM we had a stop-over, supposedly to pee and refresh, but it is just in a middle of nowhere. The bus has no CR! The guys did their things on the bushes. I tried mouthwashing and wiping off dust (and saliva) from my face. I woke up Nina and Xyza and they started badgering me with questions with laughter in between. Then my roommie asked in Tagalog, "Saan po kayo?"

That broke the ice and the discomfort. In a span of remaining 40 minutes before arriving to Phnom Pehn, my roomie is no longer a stranger. He is Harold Jubinal, a reservations officer at one of the island 5-star resort and he is traveling to Phnom Penh for a job interview. And it turned out, he is also from Davao City and........ from Mintal in particular! (that's where I spent 4 years of my college years). Probably, we've meet already without us knowing. Mintal is a very small community.

I told him about my awkwardness, my silent and answered prayer to have a roomie who will not assail my nostrils. He laughed and laughed some more when fully understood the teasing from the two girls. He knew we are not full Cebuanos since the words we've been using were not too deep Bisaya. He surmised we are from Davao. Gut feel,  he said. I told him that I assumed he is the boyfriend of the other Pinay in the other bunk. He laughed saying he's traveling alone. But his mom is working in Siem Reap for a marketing company. He shared his work experience in AmanPulo (one of the most expensive resorts in Palawan, where Hollywood celebrities have their getaways) and his search for greener pasture. He is a jolly young man and a gentleman.

When we arrived at Phnom Penh bus terminal, he helped us with our baggages.  I wished him good luck.

It's funny how chance encounters connect us somewhere. From the group of Ate Miriam, we learned that people create a sense of family; a group of people can be binded with collective dream of good life and fighting homesickness, Tito Oscar taught us to be fearless and to be adventurous while we still got the energy for it. Harold taught me not to just settle. These people- they are the different faces of Pinoy Diaspora.

Chance encounters and strangers make traveling more worthwhile. Siem Reap, the temples were awesome, but the people you've been cradling are the best. Thank you for making it memorable. ♥ 


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