Monday, May 6, 2013

Thank You for the Memories, Singapore

After 2 and ½ years of living and working in Singapore, it is time to go back home. I have known for quite a while that my time in Singapore is finite and would come to close. I appreciated having the sense of predictability for once, after a lifetime of unpredictable twist and turns in life. The last few years have been well spent for me and my family. We were able to explore most of what Singapore has to offer and travelled great places in the Southeast Asia.

Last day at Park Infinia

A few colleagues did ask me, after the announcement of my new assignment was made, how I feel about moving back. It's mixed feelings, actually. On one hand, there is elation and anticipation.

This is a historical time for the Philippines. A nation whose time has come. We are at a turning point where all our dreams and hard work for our country is coming to fruition. We are not too far off from earning our rightful place as the next tiger economy for Asia! It is a great time to be back in the Philippines! True, it is still not perfect but we are moving at the right direction. An ounce of optimism coupled with work and perseverance always outweigh negative energies. Progress versus perfection!

I definitely look forward to resuming our tour of the Philippines. After having been into the so-called popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia, I am convinced there is no reason why our beaches would not emerge superior or at par with the world's best! Palawan, Boracay, Bohol, Cebu, Ilocos, CamSur, Davao, Nasugbu - and many more - the list is endless!

We also miss our home. Being cooped up in a high rise, landless condominium unit is not the same as enjoying breezy nights at our lanai by the garden. My husband and daughter definitely missed gardening and the joys of father-children bonding over washing the car. Things we could not do in Singapore.

We missed authentic Pinoy food too, especially the ihaw-ihaw (grilled) kind! We missed the Chrismassy atmosphere that starts in September, the town fiestas, the Santa Cruzan, the firecrackers every New Year's eve and the fuss that goes along with it. The festivities that shows the fun side of Filipinos, no matter what predicament we face. As they say, It's More Fun in the Philippines! And we have thousands of reasons why.

On the otherhand, there are also people and memories of Singapore that I will miss to be sure and this made my last few months poignant with memories...

- The few close friends who stuck with me and pulled me over to have a life. I couldn't have stayed sane without them!
- Friday night unplanned after work drinks at Harry's and wherever we wound up afterwards!
- My work mentors who never gave up on me even when I was about to give up on myself. I will always remember that the best gift we can give to others is believing that they can.
- The SG-version of the oh-no-we-are-doomed days that thankfully never came.
- I will miss strolling along the Esplanade after a hearty dinner at Makansutra, simply looking over the Singapore river and the city skyline.
- Running my first 5K and 10K, which I hope to be able to continue at home.
- Eating at the hawkers. We've had our share of the posh fancy dining places but the hawkers is as real as it can get.
- Late night coffee with Belle and Lek along Orchard Road while seating along the sidewalk. Afternoon tea breaks at Wang's and the auntie who knew us so well already.
- Rummaging goodies whenever there is something on sale.  In SG, I only buy stuff when they are finally on sale! And ogling at the designer boutiques and conjure excuses why I should pull myself away ASAP.
- Being able to walk home very late at night and knowing you are safe.
- Travelling from SG to most part of the region is a breeze.
- Watching plays at the MBS Theater. Note to self: watch more plays in the Philippines.
- Walking to work! I now have to endure the slow moving traffic at the south.
- Walking to the nearby mall at the drop of hat, for some after dinner dessert or whenever I fancy buying a new book.
- No brown outs, no typhoons, no flooding. No worrying about whether we will have running water when the electricity goes out!

Most of all, Singapore will always have a special place in our hearts.

This is where Kevin grew leaps and bounds in his special education through the help of his teachers/therapists at the ABC Learning Center. In Singapore, we never felt that Kevin was looked down upon by people; he was always treated with understanding and respect despite being especially different.

I am convinced that Kevin was part of the reason why fate brought us here.

And that purpose has been served. He will be thirteen soon and as destiny has laid it down, his new needs are best met at our home country. Now it is time to move on.

Because as the tired old cliche goes... there is still no place like home.

Whenever I walk to work every morning, I glance up to these towers while I sing to myself.
Kevin's farewell day at ABC Learning Center

Kyla's farewell speech on her last day at school.
She even asked me to create a video of picture slide show showing
her memories of Singapore, CIS and Asia.

Farewell Dinner hosted by friends
They saved my sanity in the last few years!

... I call this our goodbye-for-now dinner.
Farewell dinner with the PS team

Ladies of FC. Will be missing you!


Thursday, May 2, 2013

"Good Morning Vietnam!"

There are many beautiful places to explore in Vietnam—Saigon, Hanoi, Hoi An, Na Trang, Hue, Danang – to name but a few! But with limited time to spare, we took a shot at going for Hanoi and Halong Bay holiday.

View of the Halong Bay

I have been to Vietnam quite a few times and mostly stayed in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City, but I prefer to call it by its old name). It was a work-related trip so time was always too short  to properly explore the city.

Hanoi is seated at the north of the narrow but elongated terrain of Vietnam. We visited in late March and the weather was chilly and slightly rainy.

My sister found a boutique hotel- the Rising Dragon Villa Hotel smack in the center of Hanoi. If you are a low-maintenance person, you ought to try this gem of a hotel when in Hanoi instead of the usual 5-star accomodations. We got two rooms for a 5-days trip and the price is unbelievably cheap and even comes with a buffet breakfast! The staff were very friendly and extremely helpful for tourists like us. They gave a run-down of places to see, foodie places to go to around Hanoi and they can also arrange for day tours to Halong Bay.
The boutique hotels around Hanoi area are a gem of a find.
Makes you wonder how they are able to pack quite a space despite the narrow strip.

The location of this hotel makes it easy to stroll around the city by foot and you get to really feel the vibe of the Old Quarter. All foodie places and souvenir shops are easily accessible from where we stayed.  The Old Quarter, near Hoan Kiem lake, has the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi. It leads to various street and each street then had merchants and households specialized in a particular trade, such as silk traders, jewellery, lacquer crafts, hand woven bags, even stainless steel household wares. We bought a few good lacquared wall frames and trinkets.

Enjoying authentic Vietnamese Pho noodles

Main gate of the Temple of Literature
Hoan Kiem Lake at early afternoon

Interesting visit at the Army Museum where various war trophies are on display.
This is an actual French bombet jet captured in Vietnam.
 On our second day, we went for a day tour of the Halong Bay. It was a cloudy day so the pictures by the bay were less brilliant than it would have been on a cloudless and sunny day. But nonetheless, the rock formation around the bay was a sight to behold. We took a boat ride that passes through an underwater cave while being towed across the serene bay. Part of the tour was trek at stalactite and stalagmite caves which has been converted into a tourist attraction.

Even under a cloudy day, Halong Bay is still a beauty

Boat ride around the bay

Stalactite and Stalagmite Caves converted into a tourist attraction

For the rest of the week, we went around the city- visited the Army Museum, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace, scoured all the souvenir shops and places and one rainy night walked for probably 5km (am probably exaggerating, but it felt like a 5km walk) from the hotel to the posh French colonial period arcitecture Opera house.

Somehow, Vietnam is one of those countries that moved me like no other. Like a soul city, so to speak. The only other city that got me feeling this way was Shanghai, way back in 2005. As we strolled around the city of Hanoi, you can feel the optimism and gentility of its people weaving through the old and the new.

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum at the capital

ps. You must be a true 80s kid to understand the title!