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Scotland

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Driving onto Scotland!

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Mission at Loch Ness: to spot Nessie over picnic.

Ah… The land of unicorns, bagpipes, whisky, Hadrian’s Wall, Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster), and not the least, of amazing sceneries with storybook-like features wherever your eyes, and mind, take you.

And yes, it’s the birthplace of Harry Potter!

Some Tips on Visiting Scotland:

  • The best way to get to Scotland is via car, train, bus or plane from England; or through one of its international airports at Edinburgh or Glasgow. I always use public transportation when traveling, but Scotland for me is an exception with a car hire ending up as more practical. Scotland is such a massive country and to get from point to point via bus or train is not as straightforward as it seems. If I may recommend a car hire company, go for Avis or Budget Car as they offer transparent pricing. I haven’t tried Hertz. But please, avoid Europcar at all costs. R and I have rented with them before and they surprise you with so many hidden charges when you return the car. Not to mention it’s almost impossible to contact them when you have the slightest questions.
  • Scotland is ‘still’ part of the UK after the first referendum on Scottish independence was voted against by a small margin. However, a second referendum was proposed and we can only wait for the results. For now, as Philippine passport holders, let us just be glad visa-wise that a UK visa can grant us entry to Scotland. For more info, visit VFS Global, now the only authorized UK visa processing facility in the Philippines.
  • There is just SO much to see in Scotland. My advice? Savor every moment and don’t try to see everything on the must-see list. To be in Scotland is like to walk in King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, in Robert Louis Stevensons’ world, in the Grimm Brothers’ tales, and in the Harry Potter series all at once. You can visit one of its hundreds of castles, and watch over the sea as you savor your packed lunch. You don’t have to drive another 20 miles just to have a picnic. And this is the beautiful thing about Scotland– it lets you take out the unnecessary fuss in building the ‘perfect’ itinerary.
  • Scotland is known for its nationalistic pride having gone through a long history of battles, sacrifices and discrimination from the invasion of England and the Vikings. The road for its long-sought independence will never be forgotten, so please do not mistake Brits for Scots; or Britain for Scotland. Unless, you’re prepared for a lecture.
  • Download Google Maps and make use of its offline access feature. I used to download a different app per country, but this just beats all of them for finding the best routes and restaurants. Plus, I don’t have to be on data all the time. CNET has a definitive guide on how to make the most of this new feature.
  • As with any country in the world: eat (then walk), pray and love!

Get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤

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Vatican City State

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Pope Francis’ presence was just so surreal. It felt so light. It felt so encouraging. Even to this day I could not explain why.

As a born Catholic and having attended a Catholic school until high school, I’ve always been mesmerized with the thought of someday visiting the Holy Land and Vatican City, two popular pilgrim sites for Catholics worldwide. As I grew older my views on religion and spirituality have changed, but my respect for tradition remains.

Despite all the mystery and controversy surrounding Vatican City, I’m amazed by the power of faith in those who seek solace in attending the Pope’s public mass, or in simply stepping foot on the city’s grounds. While faith knows no space and time, it’s an amazing thought knowing I’m reliving the tumultuous journey of pilgrims from hundreds of years ago. I’m just thankful that it’s so much safer and so much easier in this day and age.

Some Tips on Visiting Vatican City:

  • The best way to get to Vatican City is via Rome, by car, train or if you’re up for it, by walking. It’s only 3 kms. from Fontana di Trevi, and takes around 45 minutes by walking, 12 minutes by car, and 30 minutes by train.
  • Although there is no visa check when you get to Vatican City, for Philippine passport holders, please don’t forget to apply for a Schengen visa! Application is usually directed with the Italian consulate as Vatican City is almost always a “side trip” when visiting Italy. For more info, visit VFS Global, now the only authorized Schengen visa processing facility in the Philippines. Most EU consulates do not handle visa applications any longer.
  • If you could pick a day to visit, it is highly recommended to get a chance to attend the weekly Papal Mass or the Papal Audience (sort of like a “meet and greet”) which usually falls on a Wednesday. As the Pope has many events to attend worldwide, be sure to check the updated schedule on the Papal Household’s Official Site. Tickets are absolutely free, and can be collected directly from the Swiss Guards at the St. Peter’s Square (Word of caution: All Swiss Guards, by law before hiring, should be married. Despite this invisible untouchable status, I’m sure they’ve grown a fan base from all over the world! *Drool*)
  • Vatican City, like most pilgrim sites, can be a tourist trap. Check at least two souvenir shops so you can compare prices; and make sure you check reviews before deciding on a restaurant. Some restaurants trick travelers by charging service water, bread, even tablecloth! To be safe, bring snacks to tide you over, and save your lunch cash for when you get back to the heart of Rome.
  • Download Google Maps and make use of its offline access feature. I used to download a different app per country, but this just beats all of them for finding the best routes and restaurants. Plus, I don’t have to be on data all the time. CNET has a definitive guide on how to make the most of this new feature.
  • As with any country in the world: eat (then walk), pray and love!

Get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤

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Montenegro

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Such a difficult option: the inflatable playground on the left, or the beach on the right? 😛

I was honestly a bit scared going to Montenegro seeing all the hotel prices online. But good thing R and I decided not to book anything in advance. Turns out, there is a big divide between coastline and inner city prices– and some room for budget travelers like us!

Some Tips on Visiting Montenegro:

  • The best way to get to Montenegro is via an overland route, whether by car or bus, from neighboring countries Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo or Albania. R and I travelled to Budva (Montenegro’s coastline area) by bus from Tirana, Albania, which took around 5 hours.
  • For Philippine passport holders, please don’t forget to apply for a Schengen visa! It will be best to apply via other member countries as Montenegro does not have a consular office in the Philippines. For more info, visit VFS Global, now the only authorized Schengen visa processing facility in the Philippines. Most EU consulates do not handle visa applications any longer.
  • Montenegro has a reputation of being an expensive country. That is true, unless you forget that the country stretches way out of the coastline. Along the coastline, as is expected in any country, you will find the most expensive hotels, restaurants and shops. But walk a bit further and you will find much value with your 1 Euro. In case you’re curious, 1 Euro in inner Budva can buy you a cup of coffee, a mid-sized hotdog sandwich, or cevapi (kebab).
  • Download Google Maps and make use of its offline access feature. I used to download a different app per country, but this just beats all of them for finding the best routes and restaurants. Plus, I don’t have to be on data all the time. CNET has a definitive guide on how to make the most of this new feature.
  • As with any country in the world: eat (then walk), pray and love!

Get lost and find yourself. Happy travels! 🙂

P.S. The keys to sustainable travels are universal: take public transportation | stay in accommodations where cooking is allowed (private or shared, it doesn’t matter) | walk as much as you can | wake up early | stay away from guidebooks | immerse yourself in local language, culture and history | visit local cafés | know that the possibilities are endless | listen to your gut❤

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Why I’m Proud of My Parents: Part 3

(If you haven’t read Part 1, you’ll find it here; and Part 2, here.)

So the question remains, Why am I proud of my parents? 

First off, my parents taught me that life should be dealt with head on with an open mind. They taught me that life has its ups and downs, and so I should develop the resilience to deal with it. An open mind, coupled with an open heart.

My parents taught me that in life, there are absolutely no double standards. Principles remain and so if these are challenged, I should be ready to speak up for what I believe in.

My parents taught me that hard work is key to success. Despite their well-off backgrounds, they chose to build their own lives together even if this meant having to live together secretly for a year until I was born. They lived in a small rented apartment, then when I was born moved to a house which was eventually paid off on my 25th birthday.

My parents taught me that there is nothing wrong with saying “No,” and that the key to failure is to try to please everybody. I am free to strive for things that I want to achieve even if that meant they couldn’t guide me professionally because the path is very different from theirs. But knowing that I’ve got their back 100% all through the journey is all I ever need.

My parents taught me that when people say not to do things because of what other people will think, I should put the comment in one ear and push straight to the other ear. This is the best advice I’ve ever received in life, and I’m glad they led by example.

My parents taught me that it’s okay to feel ugly, fat, and a failure. It’s not a mental issue. It’s these feelings that make us human.

My parents taught me, most of all, that life is indeed simple to live in. It is not as stressful, mean, or f****d as it is deemed to be. But if I put into the equation the want for fame, power and prestige, then I cannot expect my parents to wave their magic wands to make my life better. It’s a choice to make and many people are drawn to them. At 27, I should know by now life is a waste to be leading down that path.

… And these are the reasons why I’m proud of my parents. They taught me valuable lessons that I would never have learnt in school, read in books, or watched in documentaries. I may not have the best-paid job in the world, but I know I am complete. I am fulfilled. I am content. And that’s because of a grounded, liberating and nourishing life I was brought up in. Thanks to my parents. I’ll forever be grateful.

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32 years and 30 pounds later.

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Why I’m Proud of My Parents: Part 2

(If you haven’t read Part 1, you’ll find it here.)

When I tried to make sense of my life, I thought of my parents when they were growing up.

My parents are not from sugar baron, oil refinery or steel milling families who had extraordinarily deep pockets that can sustain even their 100th generation. But I’d say they were well off.

My dad is from a family who made their wealth through land properties and lending. His maternal grandfather, an Italian who joined the Spanish government, was eventually elected as the first mayor of their hometown. I acknowledge that it was a very difficult time for many Filipinos throughout the Spanish colonial period, and I am not proud of that history. However I also acknowledge that we are given the gift of life to make things better moving forward.

Growing up we would have family reunions in my grandparents’ farm during the harvest season. My favorite was for watermelons. One time I asked my grandmother where exactly her farm land is as I found no difference among the greeneries. She said, “As far as your eyes can see.” I thought for sure she was kidding. As a kid I thought there was no way that can happen.

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When I was younger I once asked my grandma where her farm land exactly is. She told me, “As far as your eyes can see.” I didn’t fully understand what she meant back then.

As for my mom, she is part of a family who made their fortune through trade. Her dad is an only child of a family that owned the first hotel, first ice plant, and first ice cream factory in the city. Her mom, on the other hand, is from a family of mango plantation owners who had their own tennis court in the backyard. Things turned sour when my mom’s maternal great grandmother died and the new stepmother rewrote her aging husband’s will and put everything under her name. My mom grew up in the penthouse of their hotel, and she would spend her weekends in her maternal grandparents’ flower farm a few kilometers away.

Both of my parents got to choose the major they like, got the chance to travel before university, and had the opportunity to study full time with generous support from their parents.

But with all these privileges, why didn’t my parents choose to sit back and enjoy the fruits of their foreparents’ labor? They were both given the opportunity to join in and continue with the family trade, but why did they choose to dip their hands voluntarily, without compensation, and start a career of their own?

***

Check out Why I’m Proud of My Parents: Part 3, the last of this series, which shall answer the question.

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Why I’m Proud of My Parents: Part 1

Growing up I thought traveling overseas every year for summer vacation, buying a new car when an upgrade comes in, having a brand new set of school clothes and supplies for every quarter, traveling to Manila on weekends for when we want to watch movies, and having a personal hairdresser, masseuse, gardener, cook, laundry staff, cleaning staff, drivers, and personal assistants were all normal. I thought they were all part of growing up.

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On one of our annual summer family trips. It was something we all looked forward to growing up.

My classmates back in elementary and high school used to tell me that I was lucky. I had very supportive parents and a comfortable life, they said. Raised with the idea that I should be earning for what I deserve, I never thought I could have everything. And I was content just eating foods I like, reading books I love, studying, and playing with my friends. So I always brushed the statements aside because after all, it didn’t matter to me.

I never realized how privileged I was growing up until I went to a public university.

I could still remember my first day. As usual the first hour was for getting to know my classmates. When it was my turn, my classmates asked me how I am adapting to Manila knowing I lived in the province all my life. How do I get by going to school, and where did I find a place to live? It felt awkward for me when there was a momentous silence, and gawking, when I told them I have a personal driver and that my mom bought me a condo unit just 10 minutes away from school. I didn’t know how to feel but I knew something wasn’t right with the truth that I just said.

I think that was the beginning of me being “shy” of where I come from. From being oblivious of the life I was in, it appeared to me head on with the truth that indeed, the life I grew up in wasn’t normal at all for many Filipinos.

The public university environment exposed me to the struggles of many Filipinos. With the national average wage of PHP 15,000 (300 USD) a month, it was almost impossible to be paying for food, water and rent, more so for a child’s education and the family’s health, even for a family of three. I had classmates who struggled to pay our PHP 5,000 (150 USD) a semester tuition fee, which at that time I thought was ridiculously cheap. I didn’t realize that while it was the cheapest tuition fee in the Philippines being government subsidized, it didn’t erase the fact that living in Manila, especially for those who had to relocate, was ridiculously expensive. Across the school is the country’s biggest public hospital and every day when I get dropped of, I see jeepney after jeepney loaded with so many stick-thin patients who then fall in line to be checked for free by the country’s best doctors. It was a desolate sight, but I took in the consolation that they were being seen by the country’s best. It was a bit odd though, that for a hospital needing so much staff, their College of Medicine has the stringiest and most competitive of all admissions with less than 100 students admitted every year.

From then on, I refused to share much about my life except to a select few who knew me growing up, or who understood from what situation I was coming from. When I’m asked of my weekend plans, I downplay them saying I’ll just be spending time at home when in reality my cousins and I booked for a members’ only resort getaway. When I’m asked how I get to school, I say I’m dropped off by a family friend when in reality, I had a driver waiting for me no matter how late my classes end. Not wanting to have an 18th birthday debut party, I was asked what my parents gave me instead for my birthday. We had a get together at home, which was true, but my parents also bought concert tickets for me to see my favorite singer in the world, Josh Groban, and they had to switch network companies, and sign up for a 5-year platinum account, because it was the only way to purchase a 700 USD front seat ticket for a show that went for 1.5 hours.

While in university I refused to dip into this reality, and applied for a part-time job at the College of Arts and Letters library. I thoroughly enjoyed my job there, shelving books, helping students find books they need, and having access to books that are rarely available because they are always borrowed. I had the chance to read them during quiet hours. I earned PHP 80 (1.65 USD) an hour, which I never really used for anything else except for buying my favorite desserts after shift. It was far off from the generous allowance I was receiving from my parents, who also paid for all my living expenses. I was replaced, and basically fired, in summer because I filed for a one-month leave for my family’s annual summer vacation. The chief librarian said, “We’ll never hire a rich student ever again.” Those were her last words, and they still make me cringe in a fairly uncomfortable way up until today.

***

Check out Why I’m Proud of My Parents: Part 2, which shall answer the question.

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Why It’s Been Difficult to Write Lately

First off, I love reading. And, I think, it’s but natural for anyone who loves reading to also love writing.

I love writing for myself. When I wake up, I usually scribble some words and reflect on life in general. I can’t really say exactly what I write about, but it always gravitates towards making sure I keep my ground intact. It can be difficult to keep grounded in this day and age with an overabundance and exposure on sights, smells, hears, even feels, so I do my best to make things work out at least internally.

I started this blog back in 2011 with a “Wow now I can write online!” feeling being first exposed to Multiply, then moving on to Blogger. My posts back then were very far in between as I only published anecdotes I felt were not too personal, but not too encyclopedic as well. I didn’t know about stat check until I stumbled upon it on my portal. It was a big shock a few people would even take the time to read disconnected and inconsistent posts. It was an awesome feeling for sure, but it also scared me. From journalling, my random work, upon hitting “Publish,” would now be critiqued and judged by people I know and don’t know about.

In 2015 I upgraded my blog from a free to a paid account. Put simply, I chose to steer away from the .blogspot.com/.wordpress.com eyesore. The biggest reason for this was I wanted a more professionally sounding online portfolio. And as with anyone in the research industry would know, lowly researchers like me hugely thrive on referrals. I don’t get my biggest breaks from regular employment; but, on those one or two publication offers that get my name out there. And for academic researchers like me, who the he** reads my work these days? Instead of reading a 30-page academic journal, it’s so easy to just enroll on Coursera for free. It’s fun, interactive, and straight to the point. So room for cool-to-awesome employment proves to be increasingly slim for researchers, more so for academic researchers.

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Took me two years to publish this. But, who would want to read this when it’s so easy to check on Coursera or YouTube?

Life.

From a cutesy sort-of personal blog, by upgrading to a professional account, I also steered away from the fun in my writing. Instead of submitting a zipped file with all my previous work, I now just give out my blog domain for when I need to send a portfolio. Doing so sure saves me up from having to personalize each portfolio set. However, it also moves me into keeping the blog for portfolio’s sake, making sure I only write on trending topics that would be interesting to anyone except me.

It was okay at first as it proved easier for people to navigate through what I’ve already worked on. But as I’ve realized, having a blog indeed is a double-edged sword:

  1. Since with an online portfolio I can also choose to republish my own work originally published on another site, people have increasingly made it straight that I can never claim my work with them as my own, even if that means using an alias upon publication;
  2. With original work now in the open, it’s been an uphill battle for me to protect my own work. When I check on Copyscape, the “plagiarism checker,” I see bits and pieces of my work reworded, or copy-and-pasted under another person’s byline. It’s really difficult to track this down with more sophisticated tools available to block off plagiarism detection, so to get in the game I also have to up my premium and install expensive plug-ins;
  3. Writing has been greatly commodified with stats and SEO rankings also asked for with an online portfolio. When my portfolio was offline, I never had to think of having to compete with others because all the stats that I knew of was mine.

So for the past three weeks or so, I was just zapped of motivation to publish original work on this blog. Not that it stopped me from writing, I still do that both for fun and for a living, but I’ve decided to just keep my work offline. I send my work via email if there’s a request for it, and this, phenomenally, has made me focus on doing the only things that I have to put my energy into. No more downloading of stat data. No more stressing out on people copy-and-pasting my work. No more wrong judgments of what I do. Moving out of having to constantly provide original snippets for all the world to see definitely freed me from a lot of unnecessary things.

So I’m now seriously considering of going back to basics, from where I started in the first place: offline portfolio, and eyesore yet free .wordpress.com domain. There is no need for me to be going with this paid domain when all it brings me is the commodification and mainstreaming of my work, and worse, slashing of my copyrights. With a blog, it seems like publishers want not just a slice of the cake, but also the whole cake, the icing, and the cherry on top, too.

All along I thought finally getting the chance to have an online portfolio would be the best way to manage and market my work. For writers and researchers, based on experience, I think it’s best to opt out of it especially when you thrive on original, creative work. No one in this whole world should be taking our– anyone’s– work for granted.

However, blogging is not that bad if used for the right reasons. Blogging would work if you fall in any of the two categories:

  1. You want to be an affiliate blogger: meaning, you want to earn based on partner company clicks and referrals. Notice the many hyperlinks you see in blogs? Most travel blogs are built this way.
  2. You already have a product and/or service: and you want to use the blog to further promote your brand and make it more personal. So the blog in essence is just a supplement to your brand, not a way for you to directly earn money. One of my favorite sites, Quicksprout, operates this way.

If you’re anywhere outside these two, with how the world wide web operates today, you will just be wasting your money, time and energy unless you’re rich and would just want to build a blog out of passion. Wish I had that liberty.

Anyway, the reality sets for itself and I have to make sure my priorities are in check. I’d like to write without the pressure of having to get by trending topics for an editor’s sake, and without the hassle of having to check through this vast web for any reposts without my permission. This blog was spurned back in 2011 to “make sense of the why behind the what.” And I’d like to keep that mission in check.

If only this world was a kinder place. But well, I just have to accept that people have their unique way of surviving. Hustling and bustling are not mine. And I’m glad for that.