Friday, May 25, 2007

TK's Take of Singapore

The photos below are TK's trial run in Singapore--mostly of Botanic Gardens since I stayed somewhere in the area. The others are from The Esplanade, Orchard Road and the East Coast. It was a rainy, cloudy week when I was there, so no brilliant skies when these were taken! But anyway, here they are!! No more captioning...too complicated for a low-tech person like moi!

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Waiting Game

3.5 hours. That was the total number of hours I spent staring at nothing, simply waiting for the three different counters at the UK Visa Application Centre (UKVACS) to decide if I submitted all the requirements needed and if there were any other gaps I needed to fill. I couldn't even fiddle with my cellphone since every person who comes in has to surrender their handbag and extra stuff to the guard at the entrance.

By the second hour, I could feel a pounding headache coming...probably because I came in with an empty stomach. I stupidly assumed that the whole submission business (since it was just submitting papers) would take at most an hour and a half, so I opted to skip breakfast and have a good brunch when I get out of the UKVACS office. At 1:30 in the afternoon, I came out with my head full of pounding hammers and a stomach empty of anything except probably for acid hissing for something to burn.

Whether I came in well-armed for the waiting game or not, I suspect I would still be ticked off when I was done.

You see, like most (all?) people, waiting is not exactly my favorite hobby. I have done my share of waiting…whether it is for a delayed flight to take off, for a friend to show up for an appointment, for results from whatever tests, for decisions to be made by higher-ups, for problems to be resolved, for prayers to be answered…ad naseum.

There are certain things/situations when I find waiting senseless—and other times when I find waiting worth it. Whatever the case, one thing is for certain: the reason we have to play the waiting game is because much of life is beyond our control.

I once stumbled on a verse in the Bible that says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick." (Proverbs 13:12). How true! How true!

The wait is especially unbearable if it is something that you have pinned your hopes on. And the letdown that sometimes come after a long wait (with baited breath) can be shattering.

Another time, I saw a signboard at the front of a cinema-turned-church building that announced the pastor’s message for that Sunday and it said, “Delayed by Design.” That time I saw the sign, I was actually waiting for something and somehow the sign was comforting. It tells me that though I was not in control, Somebody far wiser, way more powerful was. He knows what is best and He knows when is best.

I realize how true this is since I found out that because I couldn’t submit my applications earlier (before May), I found out that the agency (UKVACS) that handles the visa submission has waived its processing fee starting May. Then after submission, I went to check my visa status on line through a reference number, and found out that by end of May, the visa processing will change again and become more complicated. I submitted my application at just the right time!

As I wait for the results of my visa application. I keep the above truth in my heart: God, who knows best, delays by design.


My dear Wordpress friends, I don't seem to be able to get my comments uploaded in your blogs!! Mon suggests to ask you to de-spam my comments (if that's the problem.) Thanks, Mon for the tip!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Musing on Maslow

Two weeks ago, over a tasty dinner of garlic prawn and asparagus spears, I listened to my Singaporean friend talk about her dissatisfaction with Singaporean society. She didn’t have any qualms about leaving Singapore and planting her roots elsewhere. Her main gripe was that government policies, in the hope of creating an almost-perfect society, have, on the downside, stemmed innovation and creativity—producing instead a nation of employees. “That wily old man,” as she calls the Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, “didn’t even show a hint of regret when he was accused of being too much of a dictator!”

The problem was, I had the hardest time sympathizing with her. As a Filipino living in Manila and having to endure, day in and day out, the obvious traces of corruption and poverty everywhere—from potholed streets to nursery-aged kids weaving in between moving cars, selling sampaguita leis—I was hard pressed to complain about Singapore society. Especially as I walked home from her place that night at 11:30 in the evening—nay—I didn’t just walk home—I sauntered home in the well-lit sidewalk in the heart of Singapore. Sauntering home is not an option in Manila—either you’ll get hit by a car (since there are hardly any sidewalks for you to walk on) or you’ll attract some unsavory types trying to “earn their keep.”

So as I sauntered home, I took advantage of the safe environment I was in, and stopped to listen to the stillness once in a while broken by the swishing sound of a passing car—chances of it to be either a BMW or a Jaguar are high. I also stopped to take a couple of photos—wondering if I had steady hands to take photos of the night scene (I don’t!). I also realized that I could actually sit on one of the bus stop benches and enjoy the cool evening breeze—without being eaten alive by mosquitoes (I guess they know to keep away from humans--or else they’d be fined!)

Our conversation played in my head again and I realized it’s all about what Abe Maslow said. Once your basic needs are met (food, shelter, security) you turn your attention to higher needs (emotional, spiritual, intellectual). The thing is, we Filipinos are barely getting our basic needs met—so how are we to look beyond that?

Half of me wish I had my Singaporean friend’s problems—but then again, would I be any happier?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Glimpses of South Thailand

Bird Cages are typical of the South. I love their elaborate designs!

Those white stuff on this little girl's face is baby powder. They make sure traces of white powder are obvious--so people will know they are clean!

I love these elaborate lamposts!! They're along the major streets in Yala.

The Michelin Man knows he needs to "wai" before he can sell tires to the Thai!

This is what I never got to do while in Yala: picnic at the park!!

This is a typical Thai house. It looks like an exotic lamp at night when the yellow lights in the house are lit.

On my way to Hatyai, I noticed that the van I rode had a Muslim talisman dangling from the mirror--and a white Buddhist lei on the aircon vent in front of me (dont know if its just for the scent or for safety like the Muslim talisman in front). Ironically, I just noticed while uploading this pic that a military vehicle happened to be in front of us..for additional safety precaution too, I guess!

Moi enjoying the pine tree-dotted beach in Songkhla, Hatyai province.

*apologies for the lousy lay-out! I don't know how to put the caption in with the photos properly. Hope you enjoyed the photos, though.

Monday, May 07, 2007

My First Thailand Adventure

This is the Yala Train Station. This is the very first place I arrived at in Yala way back in 2003…by car. Let me explain.

I was scheduled to go to Yala from Bangkok by train and spend a few months in this Southern city of Thailand. The plan was for me to meet my host in Bangkok and make the 16-hour train ride to the South with her. Now if my host had just stuck to the original plan and showed up--that would’ve been pretty straightforward!

“I guess you’ll just have to pray for God to send you a couple of guardian angels!” She said via email…written with an evil grin on her face, I bet!

So with a sympathetic friend in Bangkok accompanying me to the train station, I made my lonesome way to Yala.

“It shouldn’t be a problem,” I thought. “I’ll just come down when I see the sign that says Yala—that is, if the sign’s English print (under the Thai script) is big enough for me to see!”

On the train’s third stop, an elderly Thai man with a ponytail sat in front of me. I knew the key thing about traveling alone is to make friends—if nothing else, for safety’s sake. So I started practicing my Thai with him using my Thai phrasebook. We obviously didn’t have any profound discussions on Gautama Buddha but surprisingly, I was able to figure out (or maybe it was more of his communication skills) that he was a landscape artist on his way home to Sungei Golok, a city further South from Yala.

When evening came, a train staff came to make the beds—flipping out the chairs to make beds was an interesting sight. As I watched them make the beds, a lady who was sitting behind me started chatting with me. I found out that she had been eavesdropping the whole time and was actually an English teacher going home to another Southern city, Narathiwat. She just came back from Bangkok after receiving a “Best Mother of Narathiwat” award from the Queen herself! Wow.

The night on the train was bumpy but comfortable. I could feel the train stop a few times during the night but rumbled on again after a spell. I woke up to a sunny morning and enjoyed the view of the mountains from my window—until I realized that the train hadn’t move for quite a while.

So after saying good morning to my Thai seatmate who slept on the upper bunk, I went to freshen up in a surprisingly clean bathroom and came back to see the Thai English teacher smiling at me beside my bed. She treated me with a cup of coffee and chatted for a while.

Then a guy in a brown uniform came on board and made an announcement in Thai. I turned to my Thai lady friend for translation and found a worried look settling on her face.

“The man says we cannot move on from here, there is a train that got derailed up ahead and blocked the rails. We cannot go through.” She said and immediately grasp my hand and reassured me, “Don’t worry, we can travel together by bus, they are preparing buses for us.”

The funny thing was, I wasn’t at all worried. I somehow knew that I would get to Yala—and this was before I discovered roaming (I know, I’m a late bloomer!).

The man came up again and made another announcement. I presumed it was about the buses. I was right. The lady told me with dismay that the buses were assigned to go to the respective cities. So this meant we had to take different buses.

Again, she fussed over me like an adopted mom and discussed my almost-going-to-doomed-fate with the elderly Thai man. Leave it to God to put me in the hands of a Best Mother awardee!

“Come to Narathiwat with me! Then I will take you to Yala the next day.” She said. I declined even if I knew I could trust her with my life. I just couldn’t not show up when I know my host would be waiting for me at the train station…and I knew I was already a couple of hours late.

Suddenly from across the aisle, a man who was with his girlfriend spoke in Thai. I caught the word “Yala” in the conversation. It turned out that the couple were going to Yala. So the Thai lady “endorsed” the care of a poor Filipino lady traveling alone to this couple—who had zero English.

The Thai lady left her phone number, so with the old man and asked me to keep in touch. I said my thanks and went off following the couple to the bus. The sign on the bus did say ‘YALA’—in Thai script—oh, well.

It was a good thing that the Thai English lady had already left instructions with them that I should be “delivered” to the train station where my host will be waiting for me.

On the bus, again I whipped out my phrase book and practiced my then less-than-meager-Thai. After a few hits and misses, I found out that the guy was Chinese-Thai and could speak Mandarin---Hallelujah!! At least I could tell him to please ask his girlfriend to bring me to the toilet on our next stop!! Thank God for small blessings.

When we got to Yala, he suggested I get down with them in front of their store and then he would bring me to the train station in their car. While in the car with them, I saw the girlfriend using her cellphone and asked to call my host. Imagine my host’s surprise when she answered her phone and heard me on the other side telling her I was coming over to the train station chauffered by my new Thai friends in their nice little car.

After staying in Yala for many months, I hadn’t heard of any other incident of cancelled train trips. I also found out much later that many of the Thai English teachers don’t really speak good English and the Thai lady who was on the train with me was one of those rare finds.

I have traveled alone countless more times after that--on planes, trains and automobiles (Vintage Mercedes, to be specific), to further places, crossing borders and on complicated travel routes. But after that introductory lesson of God’s faithfulness, I have never worried about traveling alone since.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Coming Home

Last night, when the plane touched down, I couldn’t keep a smile from spreading on my face. I’m home again--after two years of being away! I was back to my second home: Thailand!

The fact that I had to face a rather grouchy Thai immigration officer at the Hatyai International Airport didn’t dampen my spirit—hearing his sing-song Thai-accented English was a welcome sound. “Madaam, pleet suhtey in fron op kameraaa. Okee…net pehson pleet!”

As with most of my travels, I’m here in business but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel pleasure, right? So it was great to wake up to a sunny morning in Hatyai. The view from my hotel room wasn’t exactly impressive but after having been through a rainy week in Singapore, it was great to see the sun out.

Memories flood back of my time here and all the wonderful adventures I had to endure-- err--I mean, experienced! I should one day take that trip down memory lane and share with you some of my adventures!

Meanwhile, I’ve traveled down one of the least traveled routes these days, that is, to Yala, deep into South Thailand to visit a colleague. After passing one sleepy military checkpoint, it was a smooth uneventful ride from there. You know you are in “frontier country” when you discover that your roaming has been cut off—for security reasons, the Thai government hasn’t allowed roaming in South Thailand since the unrest started.

It’s really a pity to see people kept away from the South because of the bad news that’s been coming out. To me, it’s still great to be back and I look forward to practicing my rusty Thai—and eating the best Pad Thai, ever, which is just a block from where I’m staying!

Sawadii Kha!!