Thursday, April 21, 2016

Halo Jakarta! Fun Facts I Learned During my Stay in Indonesia

Monas (Monumen Nasional)

"Halo" means "hello" in Indonesia.  In Spanish, it's "Hola".  A simple exchange of vowels transforms the word into another dialect.  I noticed that because I just recently written a post about my trip to Uruguay.  Traveling is a good teacher but it is quite expensive.  So, save up, the memories that you acquire when you travel is irreplaceable.  Lucky are those people who travel a lot because of their work (wink).

My trip to Jakarta was memorable not only because it's another cross out from my bucket list but also because of the friends that I have met there.  I went there to undergo a long but rewarding 21-day training.  I garnered 3 major certificates:  ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support), ITLS (International Trauma Life Support) and Remote Site Medic Training.  Yahoooo!  I was the only doctor in my group, so I felt a little bit of pressure, it would be very embarrassing if I fail an exam (lol). Most of my classmates were Malaysian, Indonesian and Thai medics and nurses.  We were divided into two groups.  The other group also has a doctor from Bali (Dr. Cintya).

Our classes were only done during the weekdays, so we had some time to see the city during the weekends.  I was the only Filipino, but fortunately an Indonesian nurse (Winsy) knows how to speak my dialect with perfection.  I was so surprised.  He graduated from Mountain View College in Bukidnon, Philippines.  I really admire people who can learn other dialects, it's not easy.  I know a good chef in my workplace who speaks 5 languages.  Wow!

Our hotel, the Pejaten Suites
We stayed in a pretty neat hotel called The Pejaten Suites.  My room was large and we had free wifi.  The hotel also has a small pool where we had small parties every now and then, just hanging out, listening to music during our free time.  It also has a small gym where I dragged myself everyday (hehe) to have some exercise.  I had a good time there.

Just like any other hotel, there was free breakfast.  Indonesian food is very delicious, I love it!  It's like Filipino food but more spicy.  For 21 days, I ate nasi goreng (fried rice) everyday!  So, I ate fried rice with egg.  The next day, fried rice with chicken and then fried rice with beef and then back to egg and the cycle continues.  They don’t serve pork because majority of the Indonesians are Muslims.  They also served fried rice with goat’s meat but I didn’t try.  Each order of nasi goreng always comes with krupuk (deep fried crackers) and some vegetables.  I was relishing the taste, the mixture of the spices blow up in my mouth like firecrackers, that’s how excited I was every time I eat.  There was a small restaurant across our hotel so my Malaysian friends (Irwin, Faiz and Sazre) and I eat there almost every night.

Nasi Goreng (fried rice) with Krupuk and some vegetables

One order of nasi goreng costs 35,000 Indonesian Rupiah.  Yes, you read it right!  Indonesians must be probably very rich, right?  Well, some of them really are.  I’ve seen expensive cars in Jakarta which I haven’t seen in my home city.  Going back to the price of the food, the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR) has a very high exchange rate with the US dollar.  As of press time, one USD is equivalent to 13,000 IDR.  In comparison to the Philippine peso, one dollar is equivalent to 46 pesos.  So, that explains why.  One of my colleagues in the rig also said that they have the same situation in Romania but their government did an economic overhaul and took out 4 zero’s from their currency.  In Indonesia, you have to prepare 50,000 IDR if you want to eat in a fancy restaurant and that’s just for one order!

As I have mentioned before, majority of the Indonesian cuisine is spicy but I didn’t expect their snacks would be spicy too!  We were served with snacks during our training and I was so surprised to discover that one particular ingredient is present in every snack:  a small green pepper.  It doesn’t matter what kind of snack they serve, the small green pepper is always there.  I didn’t eat it for a couple of days but I became so curious.  I know for a fact that eating a small green pepper would be a disaster but I tried it anyway.  It was not as hot as I thought it would be unlike the ones we have back home.  The taste actually augmented the flavor of the main snack, ingenious. 

My Malaysian and Indonesian friends understand each other, they speak the Bahasa language.  Regarding, physical appearance, we have the same features, although our Thai brothers have fairer skin and look more Chinese.  Thai names are hard to remember and definitely hard to spell (55555).  So, we just call them by their nicknames. In Thai language, the fifth number is pronounced as “ha”, so when we laugh in our text messages to each other, we simply put 55555, it’s easier.  Attitude wise, there isn’t much difference.  Asians are generally polite and sometimes passive.   But we can also become crazy too, 5555! 

The view from the top of Monas
The only Indonesian landmark that I was able to visit was the Monas (Monumen Nasional).  It is a very lofty tower, 132 meters (approximately 40 stories) high.  On top of it is a gold plated flame-like structure.  The obelisk is a symbol of Indonesian struggle for independence.  It is located in Merdeka Square, Central Jakarta.  We waited for two hours just to get to the top.  There is a single elevator which will take you to there.  Claustrophobics be warned.  It was a great site up there, you can see the whole stretch of the city.  It was actually funny because we only stayed 15-20 minutes at the top.  After taking some pictures we decided to go down.  The long wait made us really hungry and we went straight to the mall. 

I think Jakarta has a good public transportation system.  We rode the bus going back to our place and there was no traffic jam, buses have their own driveway separate from other vehicles.  Very clever.  Inside the bus, men and women do not sit together.  In small streets though, you can experience traffic jam because of the great number of motorcycles.  I haven’t seen so many motorcycles in my whole life, the flow of motorcycles never ends.  And I also remember that it is dangerous to cross the street because the vehicles drive at the left side of the road, I got confused where to look, and the myriad motorcycles are just very fast!  Whew!

International SOS training center with Mammos, Black, Irwin, Sazre,
Ekamon, Saman, Dr. Cintya and Phong
I hope you had a glimpse of Jakarta through my words.  I had fun and you know what, I became a millionaire there after I exchanged my currency in the money changer.  We all became instant millionaires (wink)!

If you want to read more fun facts from other places, just hit “follow” and you’re all set. 

I’d like to hear from you, please leave a comment.  Thanks!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

10 Things You Shouldn’t Forget when You Travel Abroad

Makati, Philippines
For my “Kabayans”, OFW’s and all the Filipino travelers out there.

It would probably feel like the end of the world when you reach the airport to check-in and then you realize that your passport is left at home or your wallet is nowhere to be found. 

Most of the time, I pack my stuff the night or few hours before my flight schedule.  Sometimes, I only get only two hours of sleep before heading to the airport.  My flights are usually early in the morning because they are cheap.  Even if I have limited time to pack I still manage to bring the necessary documents and things.  I have a list on which important things to bring and I want to share this with you.  I use an app called InkPad Notepad in my Lenovo cellphone and this is where I scribble almost anything like important events, important codes, reminders, things-to-do lists and even what songs to sing during a videoke/karaoke.  And no, I don’t consider myself as an OC (wink).  You must admit, you also forget the songs you want to sing when you are in the spot, right?  All right, enough of the sidetrack back to business.

Here are the things that you cannot afford to forget when you travel outside the country:

1.  Passport / Visa – Traveling outside your home country requires you to present a passport.  Some countries require you to have a visa.  Make sure that there are still enough spaces in your passport for the stamps.  Always take note of the expiry date of your passport and your visa.  Process them months before the date of your travel so that you won’t have any problem.  A firm reminder: you should fix your eyes to anybody who is processing your passport and make sure that the document is handled well.  Any alterations or tears can prevent you from leaving the country.

2.  Flight details – For domestic/local flights nowadays, you don’t have to print your flight details because the check-in counter will only ask for your ID.  For international flights, I suggest that you should have a print out of you flight details especially if you have many connecting flights.  The electronic copy is also good but you wouldn’t want to give your phone or tablet to the immigration officer / check-in counter, would you?

3.  Hotel reservations – Just like your flight details, it is better to have a paper copy of your hotel reservations.  The immigration personnel will inspect this especially if you are traveling as a tourist.

4.  Pocket money / credit cards / debit cards – I tell you, there are a lot of surprise expenses when you travel.  I am used to being exempted from the travel tax because I am an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) but when I traveled to Scotland for a training I was asked to pay the travel tax which was 1,620 Php.  You really need a good amount of cash with you because not all establishments accept credit cards.  You must also be guided how much money is allowable during travel.  According to The Philippine Consulate General, bringing in and taking out of currencies should not exceed 10,000 USD and not exceed 10,000 if in Philippine peso.  Any excess must be declared at the Bureau of Customs Desk in the airport for foreign currencies and at Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas International Department for Philippine currency.  Visit the Philippine Consulate General website for more information.   It is also a must to bring credit or debit cards.  This is useful if you want to purchase something in an airport where you don’t have their local currency.  Perhaps, you missed your flight (oh no!), you definitely need a credit card to rebook your flight.  A debit card works the same way.  I bring two credit cards with me, one is MasterCard and the other one is Visa.  You have to have a backup card because not all establishments accept MasterCard or Visa. 

5.  Government issued Identification card / document – Your professional ID (PRC) and/or a driver’s license is good enough.   NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) clearance is also accepted.

6.  OEC for OFW’s – This is also called an “exit pass”, without it you cannot go out of the country.  I’m very lucky that my company processes my OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate).  This document exempts me from the terminal fee and travel tax.  Furthermore, you also get a refund of 550 Php if you have this.  Isn’t that awesome?  I have extra cash to buy me some overpriced airport food, yum!

7.  Letter/Certificate of Guarantee or Okay to Board for OFW’s – This document is issued by your company or agency and this should be presented in the check-in counter and the immigration officer.  Another important reminder, make sure that all the details in the document is correct especially the flight details and the spelling of your name.

8.  Seaman’s book for Seafarers – It is considered a mortal sin if a seaman forgets this.  This is needed if you are joining a vessel and in some countries the visa requirement is waived if you present this.  You can also get extra luggage weight because of this. 

9.  Gadgets for communication – Your cellphone and laptop gets you connected with your company and with your loved ones.  Nowadays, a cellular phone is considered an extension of our hand, we feel amputated if we go out of the house without it.  Really?  Furthermore, almost all airports have wifi.  Take note though, if you can’t access the wifi with Chrome, try Firefox.  I have tried that in Aberdeen, twice.  Make sure you have a backup browser before traveling.  Some airports only give you 45 minutes of free wifi.  If you have an important message to your company, like for example, telling your site liaison officer that the agent who is supposed to get you didn’t arrive (and you are in the middle of nowhere), you have to make that email quick(!) before you get absorbed with FB or Instagram and then suddenly your free wifi is finished.  If that happens, you would have to call the office and this leads me to the last item…

10.  International Sim Card/Roaming Sim – This comes in handy if ever you get stuck in an airport in the middle of the night where the people around you don’t speak English.  There are some airports with some staff who do not speak English, an example is Sao Paulo International Airport in Brazil.   With the international sim card, you can easily call your agency.  I’m using a Seafarer’s Sim powered by Globe.  It works well for me, I’ve used it in Africa and in Europe.  The text message only costs 10 US cents.  You can buy this in Globe stalls in NAIA or in Mactan International Airport.  Another option is to adjust your current sim to roaming but it would be expensive.  It’s your choice.

There you go.  If I missed an important item, please leave a comment below.  When traveling to another country it is also important to know what kind of electric socket they have, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to charge your gadgets.  There are many adapters sold in the airport.  Another thing, you should also know the current peace and order situation in the country that you are visiting.  There are many reliable sites in the net, take note which spots are safe for tourists/foreigners.

There you go, again.  Total of 12 items, right?  Well, I’ll leave the title of this post as it is.  It wouldn’t be nice to put “top 12 things you shouldn’t forget…”, top 10 seems more appealing.  Just like the movie, 10 Things I Hate About You.  Ooops, now you know which decade I come from.  Hope you have learned something.  Feel free to share this to your friends and relatives who are traveling soon. Stay safe always and don’t forget to pray during your trips.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Hola Uruguay! Part 2: The Streets are Alive

Plaza Independencia, Montevideo

 You can learn a lot about a certain place just by walking around.  That is what I did, together with my three colleagues.  I really enjoyed my 4 days stay in Uruguay.  The hotel where I stayed was in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital city and I had the chance to wander thru its exciting streets, specifically Perez Castellano and Sarandi.  I think these are the main tourist areas near the port.  The temperature was around 13 degrees Celsius, not too cold, good for strolling.

That is 25 Uruguayan peso, not US dollars.  They have the same symbol.

All kinds of boutiques, stores and restaurants are lined up at the sides.  Because the weather was nice, people prefer to stay outside the restaurants and enjoy the ambiance.

What was interesting about the buildings is that some of them are very old and the architecture is very intricate.  One of my colleagues explained to me that he can see Roman, Neo-Roman and Gothic influences.  I must admit the old buildings look really classy but some of them also look haunted. 

Upon walking farther, we encountered a weed shop.  Yes, marijuana is legal in Uruguay.  Two years ago, the government legalized growing Cannabis at home.  However, there is a registration process before you can grow the plant.  Marijuana is also legal in Spain, Czech Republic and Switzerland but of course, this has restrictions.  You have to review the law carefully before you smoke pot in those areas. 

Moving on, we also went inside a huge Catholic church, Catedral Metropolitan de Montevideo.  When I entered the church, it made me feel like I’m back at home.  Everything is the same, from the design to the arrangements.  I should have attended a mass, it would have been very interesting to listen to the whole service in Spanish.  The main language in Uruguay is Spanish.

Catedral  Metropolitan de Montevideo

 The church was situated beside a park (Plaza Constitucion).  The park looks very alive with all the small stalls spread at the walkways.  Most of them were selling antique stuff and souvenirs, some of them were selling old books.  A fountain is situated in its center.  The park was a very good place to spend an afternoon with your loved ones.  A nice beat of the drums can be heard from the performers a few steps away.  Along with the Spanish language, from all the chatter around, makes it a perfect background soundtrack.  I find the language very romantic thus making the place romantic or maybe I just miss my wife too much (wink).  As what the Brits usually say, it is a very lovely place!

Plaza Constitucion
The streets ahead were also filled with small market stalls of varied items, just about anything.  There were many tourists from different parts of the world.  We also saw some cool graffiti along the way.  All the different colors around make the streets alive!  

Annang and Ove, desperately trying to be "boys in the hood"

 We also reached the Plaza Independencia (independence square).  A large statue of Jose Artigas is located in the center, he is a national hero and his remains is stored in an underground room underneath the statue.  The square was surrounded with important commercial and government buildings.

While we were walking, a fellow approached us and asked if we were all seamen.  I didn’t answer because I was already laughing inside, I had to spell the word to erase the other word that popped out in my mind hahaha.  I’m a doctor and not a seaman.  But I have a seaman’s book, does that make me a seaman?  So yes, we were all seamen.  Anyway, he called out to us because he was promoting his upcoming pub for seafarers (that would be the appropriate word, don’t you think?).  Now, I wonder how he knew that we were all seamen (there's that word again hehe).

Going up north, we encountered another park (Plaza Fabini) and stopped there to have some coffee.  Two little birds came near our table and I was lucky enough to have taken their photograph.  It was quite refreshing and relaxing just sitting there and enjoying the surrounding flowers and trees in the middle of a busy city.  After the coffee, we decided to find a good restaurant to eat lunch, all the walking made us quite hungry.  When we settled in the restaurant we heard a nice kind of rhythm from the beat of the drums.  We ignored it at first but it was getting louder.  I was curious, so I went to the direction of the sound.  I got excited with what I saw!  See what it is, read Part 1 of this series.  I promise, it’s also a fun read.  Take care.

This is a relaxing spot in the middle of the city.  Having coffee with these birds.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Hola Uruguay! Part 1: Music, Food and Dancing

My colleagues and I were stuck in Montevideo for 4 days due to bad weather.  We were supposed to go to the rig the day after we arrived.  This is one of the rarest moments when I prayed for bad weather so that our crew change will be delayed so that I can explore this festive city.

Fine dining with beautiful background music.
Uruguay is located south of Brazil in South America.  Montevideo is the capital city.  I expected to see some Spanish influence since the place was also under Spain, just like the Philippines.  I was right.  The language is Spanish so I understood some of the words.  The temperature was 11-23 degrees Celsius, it was windy at that time so it felt really chilly.  However, I found it nice to stroll around with my coat on.

Saigon Chicken with mushroom and rice!
We had so much time to walk around.  Our favorite restaurant is called “El Palenque” and my European companions said the red wine there was excellent.  I really can’t say because I seldom drink wine.  We drank plenty of red wine but I didn’t get drunk, just felt warm inside.  The food and the service was great, although, there was only one waiter who speaks English and we had to wait for him.

Left to right:  Indonesian, Filipino, Polish and Norwegian.  Enjoying the red wine.
I was not able to eat rice for the past 3 days.  Not eating rice, for me, is like eating a large snack for a meal, not really fully satisfying my stomach.  I got my rice on the last day, finally!  I assume that rice isn’t popular among the Uruguayans.  My companions were also happy with their orders:  steak, baby squids and shrimps, all were mouth-watering, yum!

In the middle of our lunch, a couple of old men were serenading the customers in the restaurant with their guitars.  It was like the ones you see in the movies.  Though I didn’t understand the lyrics it was still a good performance and the music was very pleasant to the ears.  This is the kind of ambiance I want to have for a dinner date with my wife.  Oh, I miss her so.  Most of the people around gave them some Uruguayan pesos after their songs. 

Street dancers
When I finished my meal, I heard the sound of drums coming from afar.  After the relaxing serenade now comes the dance beat.  This is getting better and better.  I really enjoyed the atmosphere since I’m a big music lover.  After 10 minutes, the sound became louder, I got curious.  I left my companions and went looking for the beat.  My eyes popped out (just like in any cartoon show) when I saw the spectacle.  Two beautiful and very sexy ladies dancing with the rhythm of the drums.  See the pictures and look how sexy their outfits are, well, they are sexy too!  It was also very nice to see that the onlookers were also dancing while taking pictures and videos.  I can’t help but put on some moves myself (haha).  After 10-15 minutes, they moved on to a new spot and repeated the routine.  Lots of people were giving them money.  Good for them.

The three drummers at the park
We strolled up north after our lunch and saw another set of performers at the park.  Three people with a set of drums. Many people were also gathered there, some were dancing.  The city is a very festive place, I would love to come back here.

Alternative acoustic covers, just the right kind of music for me. 
Since I was drinking only red wine for the past two days, I decided to buy me a beer on the last night before heading to work.  Two of my companions don’t drink beer, bomber.  Luckily, Ove, our rig electrician, joined me.  Just a few steps from us, there was this guy who was singing some familiar alternative songs.  His voice and his guitar just filled the park with great music.  He was singing some REM, Nirvana and Billy Joel songs.  Beer + good music = so much fun.  After drinking one round, we ordered more bottles, and after that, another round of beer, and another round after that, and … zzzzzzz (drunk hahaha).

It was a nice combination, music, food and some dancing!  More of Uruguay coming up in Part 2.  If you like this post, please feel free to share.  Thanks.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

In Search of Penguins, Falkland Islands

Magellanic Penguins

 It was crew change day and I decided to do something special while waiting for my flight.  Crew change, by the way, means that I am going home after a normal rotation of 4 weeks in the oil rig.  This time, the rig was located in the southern most part of the world, almost touching Antartica, it’s in the Falkland Islands, just about the tip of South America, near Chile.  The place is nothing quite like the places I’ve been to, the land is almost barren, there were no trees and the season is opposite to what I was used to.  I have lived and travelled all my life above the equator.  Furthermore, this is the first place where I first experienced SNOW, I was so thrilled when I felt the ice on my palms, it was a momentous event.  One of the best parts of my stay here was seeing the penguins in their natural habitat!

Gypsy Cove

 Before reaching the penguins, we passed by the Whalebone Cove.  There you can see actual whale bones which was quite interesting.  Whaling and sealing contributed to the early economic growth of the Falkland Islands. 

Whale bone

Upon walking farther, my companions and I encountered some nice rock formations and landscapes.

Beautiful landscape and rock formations

 The Falkland Islands is under the British government, however, the Argentinians also claimed them maybe because of the proximity.  History dictates that a war came into action between the two countries (1982) regarding ownership of the islands and one of the consequences were the land mines on the shore.  The Brits won the war eventually.

Land mines!  Be careful.

 After a long walk, we reached the Gypsy cove.  This is the place where you can appreciate the cute and awesome Magellanic penguins.  They are named after the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, who also discovered the Philippines.  Living all my life in the tropics, I had no idea how the penguins thrive.  My companions and I reached the area around 2 pm and at that time, as the locals reminded us, most of the penguins are out into the sea to fish.  Luckily, we were able to see some of them.  Apparently, the penguins borrow under the soil to breed, lay eggs and protect their youngsters.  The burrows are approximately 50 meters away from the shore.  They are considered good parents because they nurture their chicks to adulthood and the mother and father take shifts in watching the little ones.  They are also considered good wives and husbands because they only mate with the same partner and they can recognize their partner with the "mating call".

A cuddly and flightless bird.

We saw penguins inside the burrows and just like a child, we were so excited to take some pictures.  One penguin finally came out and I stealthily followed it towards the shore.  It walked like a baby who is trying to steady his gait.  It stood erect and ran to the beach with its wings flapping at its sides, definitely like the ones you see in the movies.   I ran towards the penguin when it swam to the sea and disappeared.   I didn’t realized that I was already in the beach and I was already in the restricted part of the bay.  The sand was pure white, white as sugar and fine as sugar, it was magnificent!  God really made wondrous things.

An adult Magellanic penguin stands 2 feet tall.

The island also boasts of another wildlife, the seals!  They look so lazy, maybe in real life they really are.  

The lazy-looking seals.

Time really flies when you are having fun.  My companions already told me that it is time to go back.  We walked one hour and 30 minutes to our mini hotel but it seemed like two hours to me.   I had fun, the penguins were great.  In my life, I thought, I would only see them in the movies but there I was, face to face with the waddling flightless birds.

The start of a long walk to our mini-hotel.  The British, the Canadian and the French.
 I wrote this blog aboard Cathay Pacific Airlines, which was a 13-14 hours flight from London to Hong Kong.  The airline offered excellent white wine.  If there is a term for “drunk dialing” then this is considered to be “drunk blogging”.  I hope you have enjoyed my words which was half inspired by alcohol!  

The penguin and me.

Photo credits:  Some of the photos were taken by our Chief Engineer, Pal Eikrem, with his Nikon camera and the rest were taken by the author using a mobile camera, Lenovo S920.  You should be able to see the difference.  LOL!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Cebu and Beyond

Best Western Sand Bar Resort, Mactan, Cebu, Philippines

This is my version of a travel blog.  It was my dream to travel to other places ever since I was a child.  I became ecstatic when my career shift lead me to my dream.  I started traveling late 2013 and my eyes were opened to a whole new world (just like the song but without the magic carpet).  

This blog was initially made only to showcase my home city (Cebu) and the other places that I have explored.  However, as I evolve as a writer, I realized that a blog can reach out to all kinds of people around the world.  It made me think that this can be a medium to help others.  It would be a perfect Miss Universe answer and a cliche but I do want to make things better, I do want to make this world a better place.  I have learned many things during my travels and I hope to impart them to my readers.  I am a medical doctor so I also give out medical advice from time to time.

Food, beach, travels, events and interesting sites are all featured here.  Since this is my personal blog, I also write some of my personal thoughts on just about anything.  Do enjoy reading!

Love on top at Uncle Butch's farm in Busay, Cebu.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

London at Night

London Eye

"London is magical at night" enthusiastically spoken by my friend when we strolled the city at 6pm.   I do agree!  The temperature was perfect, it was around 10-13 deg Celsius (autumn), and the lights lit up the city.  The hotel I was staying was in Gatwick, so I had to take the train to reach central London.  The trip was approximately one hour from Gatwick to Victoria Station.  When I reached there, I prayed that Shyalla and Aylona will be there waiting for me, if not, I'd be lost in this big city.  Shyalla, my classmate in med school, is a doctor in the Philippines and I'm very lucky that she was also in London visiting her sister, Aylona.  I had two free tour guides and later on, free dinner too, lucky!

We took the tube (AKA train) to Westminster Station to reach Big Ben.  This is one of the most prominent landmark in London.  You have to see Big Ben if you are in London.  It is the great clock tower at the north end of the palace of Westminster in London.  Its official name is Elizabeth Tower.  This tower was completed on 1858 and it is the second largest chiming clock in the world.

Big Ben

Then we crossed the famous bridge, where the last scene of the latest James Bond movie, Spectre, was shot.  Our next destination was the Coca-Cola London Eye, which is another must-see spot.  It is just a few steps away from Big Ben.  It is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel.  Because of its huge size, you can see it when you are in the airplane.  What a great sight, the lights are marvelous at night.

A small garden behind the London Eye

For our dinner, we went to Southbank station and ate at Wagamama, a Japanese restaurant but also serves other Asian menu.  Nice place and great food.  What was strange to me was that they encourage the customers to pay online or pay using credit/debit card, not cash. 

Wagamama Restaurant

After our hearty meal, we went to Waterloo Station to take the northern line train to London Bridge.  There were still so many tourists walking around, almost all nationalities in the world can be found in London.  The parks are clean, a good place to rest especially if you have been walking around like what we were doing or you can also read a book like that gentleman in the picture. 

The tourists and the reader

Before arriving at the Tower Bridge, we passed a great spot near The Shard.  It is the tallest skyscraper in London.  It stands tall and royal, like a space ship counting down to take off.  Click, click, click … then off to the next tourist attraction.

The Shard

The Tower Bridge (official name of London bridge) is a drawbridge, the central portion opens up to allow passage of a ship.  I was lucky enough to witness the event.  The bridge crosses the River Thames.  When we were at the bridge itself, I gazed upon the city, it really looked magical with all its light.  I am saying this because I felt the magic inside.  Being in London is a dream coming true.  Dreams really do come true.  I discovered the technique how to do that 3 years ago, ask me how by leaving a comment (wink)!  I am still mastering that technique.

London Bridge / Tower Bridge

After the Tower Bridge, it was time for me to go back to Victoria Station because it was already late in the evening.  I said my farewell to the wonderful sisters and thanked them for their time.  At the station, I was a bit confused which train to take because there were four or five of them and if I take the wrong train, I would end up somewhere far from my destination.  I tried to look for signs but there were none.  Fortunately, an Asian man came near and I asked him.  He said I am in the right train.  When we were seated he asked me about my nationality, I said I am Filipino, he is too!  What a coincidence.  We had a good talk to pass the time, I felt less homesick.

Thank you for your time, Shyalla and Aylona.

I finally found my way to the hotel after the train ride.  One mission completed.  Next mission is the “penguins”, not in Madagascar but in the Falkland Islands, my next journey.  See you in my next article. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Life Gives You Want You Want

My uncle told me that.  I never really believed him.  That would be like having a magic lamp and a genie.  Life can never give you want you want, it just happens, and you just accept what happens.  I was not entirely having the happiest time of my life when he told me that.  I was having my own down time.

When things don't really go the way you want, you get angry, lonely, depressed and, some of us, get crazy.  I felt all of that, I became all of that.  However, one fine afternoon I suddenly had an epiphany.  Epiphany means "a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new way".  I remember my uncle used to say that there are already so many successful people in the world.  All we need to do is to follow their ways and we will be successful too.  It simply means, we don't need to experiment on trying to do stuff and see if it works, all we need to do is to emulate them.  Just like in mathematics, the same factors give the same product.

So, how do we make life give us what we want?  One of my favorite authors, Rhonda Byrne, said that we should fill our dominant thoughts with the things that we want and not the things that we don't want.  She is already a successful person in her field, so I will follow her.  I must admit, I had a hard time convincing myself to think, all day long, about the things I want.  Naturally, as a normal human being, we tend to think of the things we don't want.  I managed to shift my line of thoughts and somehow I learned.  Which is one of the reasons why I wrote this article.

My wife and I never really had the perfect proposal "will you marry me" drama, we had like "let's get married because the baby is here".  Applying my new acquired knowledge, I promised myself to always think about buying her a nice ring and doing the momentous proposal.  Take note, this was 3 years ago.  The proposal still didn't happen as of press time but I'm going to tell you is how I bought the ring.

My work lets me travel every month across the globe for which I am forever thankful to God.  I get to go to different airports and take numerous airplanes.  Duty free magazines are always in front of me during my flights but I never really mind them.  But two weeks ago, I was "suddenly" interested to open the pages and scan.  It's like someone whispered at the back of my ear and said "open the magazine".  Oh, sounds creepy.  My wife's birthday was coming up so I was trying to find her something as a present.  And there it was, a nice watch with a set of earrings.  I was happy I found them because they are not that expensive, but the best part is that they also come with a ring!  A lovely ring.  If you connect the dots, I now found my proposal ring plus many more.  It was offered to me by an unknown force.

That unknown force occurred to me again when I reached London.  I reached the Heathrow airport at 12 noon but I reached the hotel around 3pm, the immigration was full packed with people.  I wanted to go to central London that afternoon to watch a musical.  However, I never really felt like going, it's like not really in the mood, so to say.  I tried to buy a ticket to a musical online but I found out that the tickets are way too expensive if you buy it near the schedule date.  So, I decided not to go.  I just stayed in the hotel that afternoon, ate at McDonalds in the evening and went back to my room and slept.  Last November, I was so energetic to see London but this time was different, I lacked the energy.

The next day, I woke up early so that I can go to central London and take some pictures, my hotel was in Gatwick by the way.  And when I arrived at the train station I learned that the ticket was 25 or 30 pounds because it was peak hours, I was so disappointed because if it wasn't peak hours, the ticket would be like 12 or 16 pounds only.  Huh!  So, I walked back to my room feeling sad.  London usually has grey clouds in the sky and rains most of the time, and this is winter time, so the sun sets around 4-5pm, it made me feel sad with all the gray sky and the cold air surrounding me.  When I reached my room, I slept again and then prepared my things for my next flight.

I later learned that my flight was delayed for 4 hours so I had the chance to stroll around the duty free area at the airport.  I was looking at the perfumes and this lady came up to me and asked me if I would like to see some of their promotions.  Of course I would!  Then she showed me a whole shelf full of buy one get one perfumes!  Is this for real?!  Lacoste, Calvin Klein and Jean Paul Gaultier to name a few.  To make this short, I bought one, and got one!  Before I started to travel, I told my wife that I would buy a perfume for myself because the one I had is already empty.  It was all in my mind during the start of my travel and now I have it plus one!

London bridge / Tower bridge

Now, I understood why I was not allowed to go to central London at that time, why I felt not in the mood to go and why the tickets were so expensive and why the flight was delayed.  It brought me to my perfumes.  Life really gives us what we want but there is a catch, you have to think of what you want and making it your dominant thought.  And that unknown force, the one that guided me all throughout my travel, it is called God.  May the force be with you!

London was also in my wish list, and now I travel here almost every month.

Friday, January 15, 2016

I Chose Happiness

It was back in 2012 when I was lying in the males’ quarters, around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, in one of the busiest hospital in Cebu when I said to myself “I choose happiness”.  That moment became the most significant turning point in my life.

I was in deep deep depression, it’s what others would say – rock bottom.  Yes, I was hitting the rock bottom.  All the signs and symptoms of depression manifested in me.  I know this because I am a doctor.  It’s like when I look at myself in the mirror, I can spot the symptoms which I read from my Psychiatry book.  I had suicidal thoughts because death seemed to be a great escape from all the burden and misery surrounding me.  Negative thoughts occupy my mind most of the time and I always hear myself saying that I am not good enough. My face failed to hide my sorrow, even to the point that one of my mentor, a neurosurgeon, told me that I looked like a ‘zombie’.  Sometimes, I would stare blankly during a meal and my wife would snap me out of my daydream and she would ask if I was all right and I would lie saying "yes, I'm fine".  She knows that I’m stressed with work but she didn’t know how depressed I was.

It was not always like this.  I was a cheerful person.  I get sad sometimes because of the normal hiccups in life but never this miserable.  After the medical board exams, I immediately went into General Surgery training.  The start of the residency training was going quite well. The training program, by the way, was a 5-year course.  I was getting along with my colleagues and I loved reading my books and eventually I got high scores.  In the middle of my residency training, I got interested in Plastic Surgery.  I then learned that another government hospital in my place was going to open a Plastic Surgery Department, the first training offered outside Manila.  I got really excited. The prerequisite to proceed to plastic surgery is only 4 years general surgery training, so I figured I will not finish general surgery and proceed to plastics.  Many of the general surgery consultants did not approve my decision, they opted me to finish the 5-year GS training before transferring to a subspecialty.  But I did not listen, I was so fixed to become a plastic surgeon.

I transferred to the other hospital when I got accepted in the plastic surgery training.  I was the only resident in the program because, like i said, it was new.  The first few months were good, I was really high, I said to myself that it was what I was meant to do.  Problems started to come up after a while, my surgeries started to have many complications. I was being scolded almost everyday by my consultants.  My mentors were perfectionists, any minor detail that I would miss, I would be reprimanded.  I know, it's part of the game, its part of the training but I was not handling it well.  I was making good in the general surgery training and suddenly I'm a no good surgeon in this new training.  It all went upside down, I lost my touch.  I don't know if I got lazy in reading my books or I just lost hope in reading because I did not seem to know the answer to the simplest question my consultants threw at me during our mini conferences.  I was getting desperate and it went down into a vicious cycle.  More complications followed with more ranting from my mentor, even in front of other people.  It came to a point that I wanted to cry but I was not able to, I became numb to the pain and humiliation.  Each day I slowly slid down to the pessimistic path, and we all know this aggravated the situation.  I tried to stay afloat for 2 and a half years, but I wasn't successful, I was drowning in depression.  It was so hard to get out of bed in the morning, and all I saw in the world was despair.  I blamed myself for transferring to this subspecialty, I blamed myself for not completing general surgery, I blamed myself for not being good enough.  I was angry at myself and I was angry with my mentors.  I was anticipating that they would kick me out, and when that happens how would I feed my family?  My two kids are already going to start with pre-school, where would I get the money if I lose my job?  I do not want to go back to general surgery because I don't want to operate anymore, I was stressed out, all enthusiasm was sucked out of me.    I envy my colleagues who are very happy with their work.  I didn't appreciate my family's support.  I lost my appetite, I lost my sex drive, I became a zombie, I lost all hope.

In the middle of this crisis, I would sometimes go to my Uncle's clinic which was only a couple of blocks away, to have lunch with him.  When he saw me, he immediately knew what I was going through.  He advised me to listen to some of his audio books about positive thinking and self motivation.  He told me that there is a 'secret' about living our lives and that happiness is a choice and it comes from within.  I heard, but I did not listen, his advice just flew out of my other ear maybe because I was so depressed to listen to anything.  After lunch, I would go back to the hospital and lie down on the bed thinking about negative things even thinking about suicide.  However, one afternoon, I suddenly had an epiphany!  I told myself "I cannot continue to punish myself like this"  and in that instant I remembered the words - Happiness is a choice.  So I shouted the words in my mind, "I CHOOSE HAPPINESS!".   The next day, I went back to my uncle's clinic with my flash drive and copied all his audio books and videos.  Upon seeing my enthusiasm about all of these, he said, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear".  The first video that he advised me to see was "The Secret"  and that movie literally changed my life.

I was kicked out from plastic surgery training in the middle of 2012, I cried, I'm not ashamed to admit that, but it didn't really affected me that much anymore.  I knew that there will be more work opportunities that will come up. I am Catholic, so I replaced the word Universe with God because for me, they are synonymous.  I did not have a clue what I would do after plastic surgery but I just kept my faith that God will not abandon me.  I followed the teachings of "the secret", I started to give thanks with all the things around me.  I started to notice the trees, the sun, the clouds, the flowers, how wonderful the creations of the Lord are.

My cousin suggested that I apply as a doctor offshore, in an oil rig, I thought it was a great idea, the salary was great and the rotation was good.  I get to work in the rig for 28 days then stay home for 28 days and then vice versa, and the best part is, I am also paid during my time off.  So everyday, I visualized that I am already working in the rig and thanked God for the job as if I already have it. After 1 year and 5 months, I finally got the job. I also had many job opportunities that came my way while waiting for my dream job. I worked in three hospitals and was getting the money I needed for my children's education, pay off my debts and even put some money on financial investments.  I started to eat well again and also started to do some workout again.  I picked up my life slowly.  My life turned around because I shifted my thoughts and feelings to what I really wanted.  Instead of thinking about what I don't want, I focused my attention to what I really want.  So, I visualized my perfect home, my perfect job, my perfect car, my perfect vacation and my perfect relationships everyday.

My story doesn't end there, four months ago, I bought the third book "The Magic" and started to apply its principles in my life. After one month, I was able to buy my dream car and what was so cool about this is that it is exactly the same vehicle from the picture which I pasted in my vision board, I was getting goose bumps.  It was right before my very eyes, it was like magic.

Now, I continue to share my experience to my close friends and would tell them that all we need is to believe, have faith and give thanks. And one more thing, feel good!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Strolling Alone in London

Green park
I travel to Heathrow airport almost every month but I have only gone out to visit central London twice.  The first one was with my classmate in medschool and her sister and the second one was last November 2015 and I was all alone.  I have no problems travelling alone in airports because they have very big signage on where to go next.  It is different in the streets, you can easily get lost.  It was really exciting, in my mind I already pictured myself strolling along the streets of London once again.  Just a mere mention of the word “London” gives me a sense of joy.  One item in my bucket list already checked.  This year is also the first time where I have really ventured outside the airport to see the sites.  In the previous months I was able to see some sites in Aberdeen, Scotland.  I haven’t had much confidence last year to go outside the confines of the airport.  Namibia safari would have been nice.  When I was in Angola, I didn’t have the chance to go outside the hotel also because no one was there to accompany me.

Autumn leaves and the blue bird (did you spot it?)

I arrived in Heathrow airport terminal 4 around 12 noon.  Surprisingly, the cue for the immigration isn’t that long and the immigration officer was very fast in putting the stamp on my passport as soon as she saw my visa.  In retrospect, I realized that my travel to London was only a few days after the bombing in Paris, that’s why there were so many empty seats in the plane.  In the airplane though I had second thoughts in going to central London.  But I when went outside the arrivals area, my mind was fixed.  I immediately went to the information counter and asked the best way to go to Buckingham Palace.  The lady looked at me and said, “Don’t you want to take a rest first?”  I explained to her that I only have one afternoon to see some sites because my next connecting flight leaves tomorrow. 

Buckingham Palace

There are many ways to go to central London from the airport.  You can take the bus which is slower.  You can take a taxi which is way expensive.  The most practical way is to take the train, which they call the “tube”.  This is very convenient for tourists since you can buy a card which take you to all the zones (1-6).  Zones 1-6 have almost all the must-see sites in London.  The day travelcard costs 12 UK pounds (853 pesos) and you can use this card to all the stations for the whole day.  

Queen Victoria Memorial

The travel from the airport to Buckingham Palace was approximately one hour.  However, it doesn’t seem like one hour to me, it felt less than an hour because I was busy looking outside, I was busy observing people.  London is a multiracial city.  I think every nationality is there.  Everytime the train opens its doors the wind gushes in and I can feel the autumn/winter chill around 13 deg Celsius.   My stop was Green Park station.  13 deg C for me was very cold, I was alternately holding my bag with my right and left hand just to get the chance to put one hand inside my coat. You could not mistake me for a tourist because I was bringing my travel bag with me hahaha… I didn’t drop it in the hotel to save me some time.  

Memorial Gates

During this trip I was able to see the Green Park, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park.  Hyde park is the largest park in London.  

Wellington Arch

Green park was a great site.  It has so many huge trees with brown and yellow leaves in preparation for the winter.  There were so many tourists, so I just followed them to the palace.  There were families taking some pictures and group of friends just hanging around and some doing cardio exercise.  It’s definitely a breath of fresh air amidst all the tall buildings around.

Hyde Park

Buckingham Palace is a magnificent view.  It’s a rectangular castle with great walls.  It looks grand because we all know that it is the home of the British royalty.  I didn’t catch the changing of ‘The Guards’, it’s a colorful spectacle to watch here in Buckingham.  There is also a huge monument in front of the palace which is called the Queen Victoria Memorial.  It commemorates the death of the queen in 1901.  There were so many places to take selfies and everyone around me was doing that. After a few minutes, I proceeded and walked along the edge of Green Park to go to Hyde Park.  I was told by my friend, who works in London, that there is a Winter Wonderland there.  “Oh lovely!” (in full British accent).   At the corner of Green Park, you can find the Memorial Gates.  These gates serve to commemorate the services of men and women who volunteered to fight for the British Army during the two world wars.

I crossed two streets and passed by Wellington Arch to reach Hyde Park.  I saw a food station by the entrance gate and suddenly felt hungry, realizing that I didn’t eat lunch because I hurriedly took the tube to get there.  I bought a hotdog in a bun with onions for 4 pounds (284 pesos), so cheap if we won’t convert it to pesos. 

Winter Wonderland

 Hyde Park is bigger than Green Park.  I immediately looked for the direction towards the Winter Wonderland.  Before reaching the wonderland, I saw a squirrel up on a branch, first time in my life.  At first I thought it was a chipmunk, I might find my brothers (Theodore and Simon) there. Lol.  I also remembered the rabbit I saw by the street in Aberdeen.  It’s wonderful to see cute animals in the middle of the city.  There is also a huge lake, they call Serpentine, in the middle of the park which houses different kinds of fowls (ducks, geese and swans), what a sight!

A real Christmas and my bag.  :)

The Winter Wonderland is like a carnival in my place.  There was an ice skating rink which was very apt for the holidays.  A lot of food stations scattered everywhere.  I felt hungry again.  Before I went back to the train station I bought a double cheeseburger for 5.5 pounds, quite expensive but worth the size, I was not able to finish it.  I surveyed the place, Christmas feeling is really in the air.  There were lots of Christmas trees and lots of rides and attractions.  One day, I will bring my family here.  My kids would love this place.  We might even start practicing ice skating in SM Seaside for a start when I go home. 

Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park

Since it is winter time now, the sun already started to set around 4:30pm, so I decided to head back to Heathrow airport.  I reached terminal 4 around 5:30pm and was able to take the bus at 6pm to Gatwick airport.  I should have taken the train straight to Gatwick but I didn’t know about that, next time then.  I will travel to my next destination tomorrow.  

Hyde Park

It was indeed a very tiring day, from Manila to Abu Dhabi and to Heathrow then straight to Buckingham.  I thank the Lord for the safe travels and also want to thank International SOS for my job!  Dreams come true, they really do, we just have to keep the faith.  More articles and pictures to come.  For now, let me have some cold San Miguel Beer.  

Gatwick, London Airport