Category Archives: Travel

Climb every mountain

You already know I have a special fondness for aerial shots. This recent flight did not disappoint, with some wonderful views of Asian mountaintops.

These were taken soon after taking off from Taiwan.

Then some stranger next to me started snoring something awful, so I quickly grabbed my earphones and pushed up the volume to drown out the sound. I don’t remember falling asleep, but fortunately, I woke up just in time to realize we had entered Philippine airspace.

As we flew into Manila from the north, I looked down to see this.

Wave hello to this mountain region. It’s important to remember not to scream say hello, at least not when you have music blasting in your ear, effectively disabling any ability to modulate the volume of your voice.

But I couldn’t help it. This was where I was born. Nineteen years ago. Give or take some twenty years.

Stop smirking. I can see you.

No sir, we're not in Jersey no more

But first: are you kidding me? Have I really not posted anything in over a month?

Shameful.

Let me buy you some street ice cream to make it up to you. Choose your flavor: purple yam, coconut, mango, or cheese. Yes, I said cheese. You’ve got to try it at least once. You can get it from this guy here.

He comes by everyday, ringing his little bell. You can get your ice cream in a cone, a cup, or inside a nice, sweet roll.

Or how about some flowers? These kids will be happy to sell you some to make your car smell lovely.

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Makes me sad, though, seeing them on the street like this. I always want to buy everything they have, and then give them some ice cream and tell them to go home and play. Then I’ll send them off in modified public transportation, with no seatbelts and breathing in all the wonderful exhaust of this congested city.

Yep. This definitely ain’t Joisey no more.

Walking around Old San Juan

One thing that struck me while walking around Old San Juan was how it felt like I was walking through European streets. Which was so cool for me, because I’ve never been to Europe and have always dreamed of someday spending considerable time in that part of the world.

The restored 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings were what lent it that European feel, and the cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways added such a charm to it all.

No, that beer bottle wasn’t mine, and that’s not why this door looks lopsided. My poison of choice that afternoon was an order of coconut ice cream, topped with more scoops of passionfruit ice cream. I thought, hey, if I’m going down, I might as well go down all sweet and creamy.

Of course, at that exact time, what was really going on in my head was it’s okay, every two steps uphill will cancel out five ice cream calories. Hence the extra scoops.

I’m pretty nifty with math that way.

Calories aside, I’m glad we walked everywhere that afternoon, because some time later, I saw my favorite balcony door of the day.

I just love how the glass shows the blue, blue sky of the day.

And those birds? I bet they were eying the last bits of my ice cream cone. I just know it.

I’d tell them to get their own, but you don’t tell that to birds perched above you. No sirree. Not unless you’re armed with an umbrella. A disposable, throwaway umbrella.

Midwest river

I almost missed this shot because I was busy assisting the pilot calculate the optimal cruising altitude given the current cloud density taking a nap in my seat. I had gotten used to seeing fields of clouds out my window that I forgot to keep checking regularly in case the scenery changed.

There’s just something about rivers from the air that makes my shutter finger tingle all over.

Okay, so I didn’t just fly over the midwest last week. This was from my California flight. For some reason, I never got around to posting it.

For that, I blame the infernal packing that curses every trip I make. From now on, I declare war on packing. Wait. I don’t like war. Hmmm … I declare really-piercing-nasty-looks on packing. Yeah. With accompanying slight squint dripping with distaste. Take that, stupid packing!

I’m such a wimp.

A recap of sorts

Nine days ago, I boarded a plane in the early hours of the morning – about an hour before a snowstorm was set to begin.

Look at that pretty skyline. It’s even prettier when you know it’s going to be blanketed in snow very soon, but you won’t be there to shovel any of it.

Sorry, I just had to rub that in one more time. I’m real mature like that.

Moving on now.

Some hours later, this was my view right before the plane landed.

I would like to say that it’s a good thing I managed to get a few passable photos from the air, because trying to frame shots in a wildly bouncing descending plane was definitely a baaad idea. I was still paying for it a few hours later.

Fortunately, by the time the afternoon was winding to a close, I was all better. I suspect it had a lot to do with the fact that there were gorgeous views everywhere, with the warm wind blowing instead of snow.

And that was pretty much how the rest of my week went. Beautiful weather, clear waters, fine sandy shores, and the warm sun shining all day.

Then last night, as we pulled into the airport at the end of a smooth flight home, this is what I saw outside my window.

Ah, yes. The happy sight of a de-icing truck amid the backdrop of falling snow.

Welcome home to winter.

Speaking of snow, I’ll need a few days to de-ice myself. Then a couple more days after that to get used to the much browner face that stares back at me every time I pass a mirror. Just now, I jumped at the sight of the dark arm holding my desktop mouse and wondered who else was in the room with me.

Yes, I know I’m weird.

P.S. I took tons of photos, so stay tuned!

Amateur tracker

Last week, my cousin’s wife and her sister arrived for a quick visit and whirlwind tour of New York.

After playing museum tour guide for them last Friday (more on that later), we ventured into Central Park for a nice change of scenery.

We had to figure out how to find the lake without a map to help us, which put my tracking skills to test. We eventually managed to find it with the help of the sun, a passable sense of direction, and the trusty old lazy person’s rule (when you come to a fork on the road and have no idea which way to go, go downhill – you may still end up lost, but at least it’s easier on the legs).

Of course, it’s kinda hard to miss a 22-acre lake in the middle of the city, but in my defense, that’s a 22-acre chunk of an 843-acre space. Or 2.6% for all you math geeks.

Of course, after walking from The Met on the east end of the park all the way to the west end, they decided they wanted to go back and go window shopping along Madison Avenue in the Upper East Side. So back we went, again relying on those faux tracking skills.

The caveat to the lazy person’s rule is that, if you ever need to retrace your steps, then all those breezy downhill trails you took the first time are now nasty, unrelenting uphill climbs just when you’re about ready for a long nap.

But I didn’t mind it so much. Not with great views and scenery hiding behind secret corners. Even the kids seemed mesmerized.

With buildings now back in sight, we made our way to Madison Avenue. In a future post, I will explain the story behind my cousin-in-law’s epiphany, when she said to me later that day: “Fashion is your kryptonite.”

At least she didn’t tell me she’d beat me for every mile.

Driver’s seat

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I just returned from a three-week trip to the Philippines. In some ways, I’m still trying to process thirteen years of change. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Places and structures look absolutely different, but the people, sounds and smells are all still the same.

I have lots of musings and thoughts about the trip, and even more experiences both funny and momentous (well, at least for me). But I’m not writing about those right now. Something else has been weighing on my mind.

I’m trying to understand why I’m so different when I’m back home. Not in the sense that I no longer fit in or can’t adjust. On the contrary, it’s like I’ve suddenly rediscovered my real self, or at least what’s left of it. It’s like part of me went to sleep when I left Manila, and the auto-pilot me took over running my life in the US. Which seemed like a sensible thing to do then, because the auto-pilot me is more practical, more sensible, and follows instructions beautifully.

But on manual mode, my old goals return, old plans set aside start resurfacing. Dreams reappear, giving birth to even more dreams made up as I go. I magically feel more hope, more promise, more drive to actually try and, in Joseph Campbell’s words, do what the push is out of my existence.

I visited old haunts, flirted with old ghosts. I saw old friends, who say I still look the way I did when I left. Okay, so maybe I just feel different. Then we talk, the usual, “so what are you doing now?” And then there it is. The look of surprise, or bewilderment, at my answer. Almost to a person, they say they would have thought I’d be doing something in music by now. Or poetry, literature, writing. Something creative. Anything in that world. And the sharp pang in my chest—this primal ache and longing and painful regret—tells me that somewhere inside, I’ve been wondering the same thing too.

So a dear friend says, Why not? It’s not too late. All you need is an arranger. And I start thinking, yes! Why not indeed? And the excitement builds, and now I’m singing my old songs in my head again, going over my lyrics, imagining how the piano solo will sound, or where a hint of strings will fit in. All the great things the arranger will do for my work. I tell myself it’s about time; I should have done this years ago. I’ve loved music since I was a little kid, been writing it since I was eleven. What in the world kept me from taking the plunge? Didn’t I always say this was what I should be doing with my life?

Now I’ve been back in the US less than a week, and already the doubts have crept in. I listen to some favorite songs, and think there’s no way I can even approach that. So okay, I tell myself maybe I can just write lyrics. Then I put on Ghost by the Indigo Girls, and am enamored all over again of the words and the brilliant use of imagery that I paralyze myself. I think, good grief, there really is no way I could ever do THATwith words.

So I start singing my songs a little less. Picked up my guitar, and put it back down. Sat at the piano, then the phone rang and that was the end of that. Now I’m back to checking email, catching up on work, getting back on track with chores. Slowly the music and writing plan is inching back to the “on hold” side, and sadly, I’m letting it happen again.

I need to be rid of the auto-pilot me. I need to take back the reins and start running things myself again. I need to remember what makes me truly happy, and completely alive.

And I need to stop just writing about it and start doing. Carpe diem. Carpe vita.

 

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