Sunday, 10 December 2017

Reflections. And a phone stolen!

It is 2am on Sunday morning and I have woken bright and early, my brain still in Manila time, 9am. I will write here, have a tea and go back to bed in the hope of re-synchronising to Spanish time. I got back home yesterday at 4.30pm which is 23.30 in Manila. In Manila time, I was travelling from 2pm on Friday to 11.30pm on Saturday! Flights of 3, 6 and 7 hours with relaxing breaks in between (often writing the blog).
I was met at Barcelona Airport by an Emirates driver who took me to Barcelona Sants station, part of the perks of travelling in business class. The other most obvious advantage is a seat which turns into a bed in the plane. 
I bought a ticket for the train to Girona, bought a tea in McDonald's Café and went to the platform. I also had a plastic bag with a few clothes and some cheese which the Emirates crew gave me as a doggy-bag. I also had my 22kg suitcase. I was super-tired. I was balancing a polystyrene cup of tea to stop it spilling. What am I getting around to?
I was chatting to two friends on Skype using my expensive Samsung S6 phone. When I wasn't using it, I put it in my bag. But I guess I left the zip open because when I took my seat in the train, it was gone. There was a guy who brushed past me when I got on the train, maybe it was him. It was so unfair! But who said life was fair?? I was still wearing the tee shirt that I slept in and my jacket was still in my suitcase so there was nowhere for the phone. The bag was full so it was difficult to close the zip on the side pocket.

Welcome back to Barcelona. I was in a small compartment in the train and my companions were so helpful. One guy opposite lent me his phone to ring 1004, the Movistar number, in order to block the phone. Another person gave me tethering so that I could change my Skype password. The girl who spoke to me at Movistar had a Colombian accent and I am rather fond of that sound. I asked if she was in Colombia! She said, "No, I am in Madrid". We laughed because she was indeed colombiana.

When I arrived in Girona, I decided to take a taxi to the Movistar shop to get a new SIM to replace the one blocked. But it was a fiesta yesterday, part of the puente  of 6th and 8th December and the shop was closed. So we just continued on to my home. For safety, I also changed my Google password. I rang Movistar again and they reassured me that the phone was blocked until I was able to visit the Movistar shop tomorrow, Monday. I started to think how stupid it was to be carrying around a phone which cost me 600 euros when there are perfectly good phones such as the J5 at a third of the price. My second phone which I use to connect to foreign networks when I am abroad is a J1, less than 100 euros. So tomorrow, I will buy a J5 or J7 because I need a decent camera and the camera in the J1 is poor quality.

Sunday morning 7am. I slept well, it will help me synchronise with European time!

Reflections on the trip...... My overall impression is of Nomel being cold and distant with me while being very warm and friendly with Joshua. This was rather unfair (that word again!) and I never understood why he did it. He denied it of course but I said to him that I was sure he knew what he was doing. His English is not bad so it wasn't a language problem. His mum made the same comment to him, calling it his "attitude". It hurt me. And then on the very last day, he switched on his smile. Maybe it is about pride, accepting money. It is as though he is bitter. Anyway, who cares? I am back home among numerous friends who are kind to me and Nomel is now back to being an icon on Skype. But I am sad because there is so much I can teach him (father instinct). Maybe we will do it on Skype. I think not.

I was a little shocked (but not surprised) when, on Thursday, we went to the supermarket to buy food and mum wanted to buy 4 antibiotic tablets at the pharmacy for her toothache. I told her they wouldn't help, she needed a course of a week. And anyway, she needed to visit a dentist. But she expected me to pay for them. I protested, I had given them a sum of money a few days earlier to pay for things like that, to save them asking me for money all the time. In the end she agreed to pay me back when we went back to the apartment, which she did. It was not a large sum, maybe about 4 euros. Next morning, I decided that I had been a little mean and I gave the money back to her. She accepted it without hesitation. I have to accept that this is how they are, their culture is totally different. I mean, not because they are Filipinos because there are many Filipinos who would insist on paying for their own medication - they have no money. But I receive numerous messages from Nomel with effusive thanks for helping them. Thanks from the family. Photos of happy smiling faces. When I got home, there were several photos of them on Skype in front of a wall where they had posted some paintings which I gave them last week, including a portrait of Nomel in oil.
For 130 euros a month (which otherwise would sit in my bank doing nothing), I am supporting a family of a mother and five children (Nomel at 23 is the oldest in the house. There is an older married sister but she lives separately. The youngest, two boys are about 10). I don't pay for food, but I pay the rent and a share of the electricity. And I have offered to pay for wired internet, ADSL because they use 3G only which is very patchy and slow. Of course, I often feel that they are taking me for granted - taking the mickey - but it only takes one message, one word and I realise how much they appreciate what I do for them. I am mistaken if I expect an English response. By paying the rent for a separate house, I enabled them to move away from the oppressive atmosphere of their grandmother's house where there was a huge family packed into a small space. There were many arguments because their father came to visit the grandmother.

Am I glad I went? Oh, 100% sure! I had a great time in Bangkok. I have so many wonderful memories of the three weeks in the Philippines, some memories not so wonderful, sure. But that is how life is, not a bowl of cherries. It is there to be experienced and I am so lucky to have the money and the time to travel. Nomel and I argued from time to time but his mum and the two sisters who came to visit were so nice. Joshua made everyone laugh a lot including the staff at the beach resort, I was very happy about that. It would have been very different if Nemia or Nomelyn had come to Bantayan instead. Joshua was obsessive about washing his face with whitening soap, he would spend a very long time in the bathroom and it would end up awash with water. He cleared his throat obsessively and spat. He urinated even when he had no need, in a bus shelter when we were only 100m from the beach resort, as if it was leaving his signature (I am too polite to say what that reminds me of). I even caught him peeing in the bathroom by the shower which was not an enclosed space. Nomel's attitude towards me was probably linked to Joshua because it was different when Joshua went home. I talked to Nomel about it - I told him that I didn't like his habits (none of us did), but the person was funny and very camp. But a big show-off and competition for me, I think.
But I regret nothing. Even the money I spent. It seemed that I was visiting ATMs a lot - I had to pay for most things in cash - but when I got back home yesterday and looked at my UK bank statement which is what I had been using, it did not make much of a dent because my private pensions arrived during the same period and balanced it out. Much of the money was in supermarkets and I do that at home too. I paid for the airfare and condo at Redwoods a long time ago - water under the bridge and it was for me anyway.
Oh, by the way, one of the people working at the beach resort was also a ladyboy. I thought she was really nice, I had quite a soft spot for her. I know I say "he" sometimes and "she" other times to describe our ladyboys but that is how it is - still a guy but it is normal to say, "she". Try saying "he" to describe a transgender woman in the UK, even in error and expect crucifixion in the press.
I cried on the flight to Barcelona when I listened to my music with a glass of wine, ostensibly abut my friend with the beautiful voice in Manila who I will miss. But it went far deeper than that. I used to do it a lot; an aeroplane, a little alcohol and classical music and sometimes I go to a totally different plane. There is a pain inside me which I can't explain, but it departs for a short time when I do that and leaves me in peace. I look terrible but I feel liberated inside. It's too complicated to talk about here and anyway I don't understand what it is, despite many attempts to do so. It is not depression, that is different. Maybe I wrote about it in my life story which I am putting up as a separate blog here, I can't remember. It is a big puzzle in my life. I imagine arriving at the gates of Heaven and rather like the answer in a TV quiz, being told, "The answer is...... ".
"Ohhh, now you tell me!!"

I will do very little and spend very little over Christmas. On 21st December there is a critical vote in Catalunya, I am desperately hoping that the moderate parties will gain power and restore calm and equilibrium to the region. And on 27th December, I go to Colombia again and I will write about it here, of course! If you have read my blog in the past about Colombia you will think I am a devil for punishment, but I love the country and the people. It's not just about my friend there.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Going Home - updated in an A380!

Wow, I have a story to tell you! I am in the Emirates Lounge in Bangkok Airport on the way home. The flight from Manila with Thai Airways seemed to pass very quickly - in fact it was about 3 hours. Now I have a 6 hour flight to Dubai, a change of planes, and then a flight to Barcelona arriving around mid-day local time (but evening in the Philippines). But I have the luxury of a bed in the plane so I hope to get some sleep.
There is so much to tell you about the last two days when we came back from Bantayan to Manila, some of it was a little nightmarish! 
If you to ask me if I had a great time, I would probably say, "No". But as for a huge bucket-load of experiences and emotions, I could not beat it. If I were to be truly honest, I did not like Joshua, Nomel's friend. He had some rather strange obsessive habits, one was urinating not in the regular place! And yet I have spent 3 weeks with him, plus mum and Nomel. And Nomel paid very little attention to me and lots to Joshua. Admittedly they could speak Tagalog to each other. This wore me down a little because I have to admit that I have a lot of love for Nomel, I cannot explain why. Almost in love. A young guy, 23, taking hormones to be more feminine, the most obvious result being breasts. A million miles away from me culturally let alone the obvious age gap. Does he manipulate me? I think so.
To be brutal, the family is rather tight financially, even with money I have given them to spend. But that is the way they are. I have cynical moments of course, but my heart rapidly softens. I have spent a fortune on this trip because they have no money and I have been paying for four people all the time.
I will tell you about our arrival back in Manila because it was truly awful...
The flight was delayed and we arrived in Manila Airport around 2pm. We searched for a taxi but it was complicated. Mum wanted to come back to Redwoods with me, Nomel and Joshua wanted to go home. I went to Yellow Taxis which are metered but there was an enormous queue. Then we went to fixed-price taxis... expensive. I had the brilliant idea to take a bus to the nearest Metro station at Baclaran which is what we did. I thought that, if we couldn't take the train, we could hail a taxi. The area around the Metro was terrible, like something out of Dante's Inferno. There were so many people milling around it was as if it was after a football match. The Metro station was totally packed. Joshua was getting very moody because he had wanted a taxi from the airport to his home. Then he started feeling ill. And then it started getting dark and we still couldn't find a taxi among the mass of traffic. Nomel was getting a bit panicky, saying that it was a bad area. I couldn't disagree with that. Finally we found a taxi which would take us all back to Redwoods. We abandoned any idea of taking Joshua back home. But now he was in a bad way, stopping the taxi to be sick (but in fact wasn't). The traffic was terrible. We got back to Redwoods at 8.45pm and I went swimming till the pool closed at 9pm as a way of cleansing myself from the experience. Then I went to the supermarket to buy food for supper. By the time I returned, both Nomel and Joshua were asleep. We ended up eating at 11pm. I was shattered by the experience. Next day, I had a headache but today was better. Nomel was being nice to me for the first time in 3 weeks (maybe I exaggerate). We all went to the airport and here I am in Bangkok. Now I will go and look for my plane to Dubai.
I found the plane to Dubai, I know that because I am now in the Emirates Lounge in Dubai Airport. I slept quite well on the plane, a 777, the spaces are not as big as on the A380 which will take me to Barcelona. The ride was very bumpy over India and it woke me early. My neighbour told me there had been a storm below us with lightning but I missed the display because I had been sleeping.
Dubai holds many memories for me dating right back to 1978 when I designed a network for monitoring fire alarms, access control in a huge new shopping mall here. I used to come here regularly up till about 2000 as I had a maintenance contract to look after my baby. After that time, they updated it with a newer system and I shut down my company anyway and moved to Spain. In parallel with this blog, I am writing about parts of my life, such as Dubai, and it should be complete around the end of the year. It started out as an autobiography but I thought that Blogspot would be an idea way of doing it. I have lots of photos which I will include. It's already written, all I have to do is transfer it across to the autobiography-blog.
I still feel a little tired so I will probably sleep some more on the flight to Barcelona. I usually adjust to the time difference very quickly, I used to suffer from jet lag but not now.
I am writing this with a cup of tea and a cookie! And now I will go to board the plane. The gate for me is right next to the bar, so within 5 minutes I will be on the plane!

I get three breakfasts when I change planes in Dubai! One just before arrival, one in the Emirates Lounge in Dubai and one when I leave Dubai for Barcelona in the A380 (I am sure you know that the A380 is sometimes called "super jumbo" because it is currently - and probably always will be - the largest passenger jet in service. Emirates has 100. I went to Toulouse on a tour of the Airbus factory once). There is wifi on the plane, so I am writing this about 4.5 hours away from Barcelona, somewhere north of Syria. We get a nice lunch before arriving and lamb is on the menu! I am so tired of rice with everything and the meat is either pork or chicken. Oh, or fish. The nightmare of Manila traffic is receding at 800km/hour. I don't think I will be going back in a hurry (3 weeks there was crazy). We have a headwind of 100km/hour.  

I thought of something else to say. I am sure you will worry about my sanity when I talk about being in love with a 23 year-old guy in Manila. So I will explain. I feel love towards him rather like a father to a son, nothing more than that (well, OK not totally honest). But one evening we booked a Karaoke session in a small room, exclusively for us. And Nomel sang one or two songs very beautifully. One was a Carpenters song, I am not sure if this is the title... "Love me for what I am.." Nomel's voice is rather like that of Karen Carpenter but a male person with a female singing voice as opposed to a female person and masculine voice. I explained about Karen Carpenter, how she died very young. But Nomel singing this song blew me away, it was wonderful. And it was almost like falling in love. That is what I am saying.
I haven't mentioned Nemia, another of Nomel's sisters. I met her last time I was in Manila and she wanted to come to Redwoods to see me the last day I was there. She is very sweet and it was very nice to see her again. And finally Joshua went home and we were just family, what a relief!

Monday, 4 December 2017

A boat trip

I'm writing this during a late lunch on Monday, our last full day here. My friends are having a typical filipino lunch with the inevitable rice but, because it is 3.30pm I just had a tuna sandwich and tea. Very English! I'm sure I've lost weight on this trip but there's nothing wrong with that. I'll soon put it back on over Christmas in Spain!
Yesterday we booked a boat trip to Virgin Island which is about an hour away. The sea was quite choppy and because Joshua cannot swim and Nomel and his mum barely at all, we reached for the life-jackets. They were totally useless, all the straps were missing. We continued on our way but certainly, Joshua would have panicked if he had been thrown into the sea. On the way back it was very calm so there was no danger.

What we hadn't been told was that the island is privately owned and there was a landing fee of about 500 pesos for the four of us. We even had to pay extra to use a table. The hotel advertised a "barbecue" but it was nothing of the sort. They had provided polystyrene containers with cold rice and meat all enclosed in a plastic bag - no cooling. There was a very mean supply of iced tea. The food was awful, the chicken not cooked properly. I warned Joshua not to eat it as he gnawed at red chicken meat. Later he was ill. But we had a very nice day despite that. When I complained about the bloody chicken, the response was not to take it very seriously. We got back at about 4pm.
In the evening we went back to the mini-disco. Mum likes to dance! Later Nomel came together with Joshua who was making frequent visits to the loo, and the ladyboy friend who he had been visiting on the night of the motorbike (I am still upset with myself about being so angry. Time for a little self-forgiveness I think.) We all danced together and had a super time. It is funny really. I think Mila likes me rather a lot and I have a bit of a crush on Nomel despite the fact he is a guy. To all appearances, when dancing he is a very attractive girl who I like a lot. Or maybe I am a little bit Bi. Wouldn't that be the dream. I marry Mila, buy a house for us and we all live happily ever after. Don't worry, I am only joking.... I hope! If I move abroad it would be to Colombia where I already speak the language. I can speak bits of Tagalog but I have no idea what my friends are saying when they are together and I would have to raise my level greatly to be able to follow the conversation.
Joshua is a very strange guy, I can't say I like him very much and it has been a little stressful living with him. He has obsessive habits such as washing his face with whitening soap. Once he is in the bathroom, expect 20 minutes of sloshing water. Mum would have preferred that we were all family but he was a companion for Nomel and they seem very happy together. I suspected at one stage that they were an item but Nomel assures me that it is not the case.
But I am waiting for the result of the elections in Catalunya on 21st December. Crucial to the future... and my future. I am also plagued by the uncertainly over Brexit and my status as a UK citizen in the EU. But that may be resolved around the end of the year also because the UK is eager to get going talking about trade deals.

Looking ahead, we will catch a ferry back to the main island at about 12 or 1pm which should  get us back to Cebu at around 7pm. I've booked a hotel near to the bus station which leaves us plenty of time to catch our flight back to Manila at 12.30. Then Nomel and Joshua will go back to their homes and Mila wants to come with me back to Redwoods!! Then Nemia, Nomel's sister will come with Nomel next day to Redwoods.


Saturday, 2 December 2017

Rather a disastrous day!

I mentioned in my previous post that Nomel had hired a small motorbike but in fact she took out the rental mid-afternoon and it was due to expire at 1am the following day (meaning Saturday - I am writing this with a beer at 7pm Saturday evening). She decided to take full advantage of the bike and, after supper, she and Joshua went out for what Nomel called a "stroll". They said that they would be back by 1am which was far too late for me anyway. I wanted to go to bed at 11pm because I slept very little the previous night due to their late return from the disco. Instead I sat with mum until about midnight and we went to bed. I fell asleep but, almost as if by a clock, I woke at 1am to find the room totally empty, not even mum was there. I started to get anxious about the two girls; I had no idea where they were. I thought that maybe mum had gone out to look for them. I sent a text to Nomel, no reply. I rang three times, no reply. I started to become very anxious. At 1.40, Nomel sent a text message to say that they were in the home of a friend, the phone was muted, sorry to make me anxious, back soon. Why was the phone muted? Normally it is to avoid receiving calls. Mum had in fact been in contact with Nomel by text but she didn't tell me and she wasn't in the room to reassure me. I think, I am sure wrongly, that I had intentionally been left out of the loop. He saw his mother's text but not mine.
Unfortunately by the time they calmly drove up to the hotel, I was ready to explode. And much to my regret, I did so. At that point mum walked up the street, she had gone out to a bar being very frustrated about the missing girls. The argument continued into our room, I said repeatedly that I didn't know where they were and that I was worried. This is the Philippines and, although this is a small island, my imagination had been running riot. Nomel got very angry, at one point throwing things across the room. His voice was very masculine and aggressive. Then mum joined in. It was crazy. I pleaded with Nomel to make up, forgive each other - I apologised for being so angry with him but to no avail.

I think we all finally got to sleep around 4am. Mum was talking angrily at Nomel about his attitude, "arrogant" is probably the best word.
We woke at around 10am and peace prevailed but I had been very shocked by Nomel's bad temper (but I can talk!) I postponed the boat trip to the next day because we were all so tired.

I went swimming and then the staff came out to call at me, the friends wanted to go on a "land tour" of the island and was that OK with me. I agreed but it was a total nightmare. I should have known what to expect. The roads are terrible, some are simply tracks, and the transport was a trike (the correct term is tribike, a motorcycle with sidecar which takes up to four passenger). It was a truly awful jarring experience. Two places we visited, an eco-park and nature reserve were totally boring, there was nothing happening. (I have some photos in my Nikon camera - I will add them later). This was funny, we stopped by this blue tarpaulin sheet which obscured the sea beyond.

We left at 2pm and arrived back at 6.30pm. I said to the hotel staff who suggested it that I wouldn't recommend it to my worst enemy. We were very lucky because a big storm has rolled up as I write this and the rain is pouring down. Imagine if that had happened when we were in the nature reserve or simply travelling in the tribike. I should be grateful for small mercies.
Now I know you are going to be asking me again.... What am I doing in the Philippines with an arrogant, ungrateful ladyboy when I could be having afternoon tea with that nice young woman who does the flowers at St George's? And my answer is that it is an exciting adventure. It hurts sometimes, a holiday it is not. I had the same experience with Nini in Colombia but I would not have swapped that visit for the world - so many fantastic memories. The same here. And I'm going back to Colombia for 2 months on 27th December - a devil for punishment! But she is married now so maybe that has calmed her hispanic temper. And I think I know why the experience is very similar between the two. I give them money (to pay for rent basically) but I think it injures their pride and ironically, they take it out on me. And both have fathers who have flown the nest. I had a long chat with Nomel's mum while we were waiting for them to return from their bike ride and Mila said that he missed having a father. It has rather inflated his importance because it is as though he has taken the place of his father. But Mila is still head of the family and I will be communicating with her more in the future. The money goes to her bank account.

Friday, 1 December 2017

A Disco

A year ago, I was writing about Nini, my friend in Colombia. And we had one spectacular argument in Cartagena de Indias because I insisted she return to the hotel with the tour rather than stay alone at a disco.
Last night there was a disco in an open sports area near to the port, part of a local fiesta but I had checked it out the previous evening and the sound level at the low frequencies was horrendous, far in excess of anything I have experienced before. I went reluctantly but, at the entrance, I kept on advising that it could damage hearing. Nomel would not accept this advice and even quoted a trike driver nearby, "He says it is OK". Not wanting to make too much about my years in TV as a sound engineer, I have to admit this wound me up greatly and I was angry with him. He got moody with me. We all went into the disco area (remember, this was outdoors). We took a table and I put ear plugs in. The beat, an artificially low thump assailed my body, I could feel the sound inside me and it almost threw me back in my chair. It was quite unbelievable. I stuck it for about 10 minutes and then left with mum. We went to a small disco near to the resort where we are staying. We were there the previous night, I will post some photos later. There were two young girls (hehe, real girls!) who worked there, dancing erotically with lots of wiggling bottoms. They were so beautiful. Mila and I drank beer and danced. But little by little we became anxious about the two ladyboys, Nomel and Joshua. We were hoping they would accept that the outdoor disco was all that I feared but they never came back to the mini-disco. Mila and I walked back to the resort. She was in contact with Nomel but at midnight they still had not returned. I will explain, the port area is not very far from the resort, I guess a walk of about 25 minutes but it was dark and we usually took a trike. At 12.30, I fell asleep and woke at 1.30am to see the bed still empty. I phoned Nomel, "Where are you?" They were still at the port area waiting for transport.
In the end, they arrived back with apologies at 2am having walked down the dark street through the woods, not a good idea. I was rather annoyed inside, but not to them. We quickly fell asleep. This is a dilemma, I felt responsible for them although I was with mum, for two reasons. One the seriously damaging sound levels and also the fact that we had left two young not terribly sensible people at a disco. Of course the usual response is, "We are not children". I guess my response would be to say, "Then act like adults!"

Unfortunately I am tending to rise to bait when Nomel attempts to score points off me, I think it is a kind of competition with him. At breakfast, I suggested an island tour next day which was posted in the bar areas. Nomel said, "Nooo. We were going with a friend of my mum. Maybe you forgot". This wound me up but maybe I should ignore it and put it down to "lost in translation" but even allowing for that, it was rather patronising. Or maybe you, dear reader, are thinking I am being too sensitive. This led to an argument because I said that he was always doing it, attempting to score points, but we made up soon afterwards. We are going on the boat trip which I have organised, I wanted to lay on the excursion myself, I prefer it that way. And anyway, it is not expensive. I will take lots of photos!
After lunch I went for a walk taking a few photos. Nomel and Joshua wanted to rent a motorbike so I said, "Well, you can!" But they wanted me to join them. It took a lot of persuading to explain that I was very happy in the resort, I had ordered some tea and I had plans for another painting. Oh, I didn't say, I did a watercolour of a boat parked on the beach, gave it to the staff here and they put it up in the bar. When Nomel, Joshua and mum disappeared, I was a little worried whether Nomel could handle the bike so it was a motive to join them. I think they wanted me to drive but I don't like the roads here, full of potholes and a variety of strange wheeled transport coming in the other direction, bikes with sidecar, trikes, small motorcycles.... and very few cars!


Thursday, 30 November 2017

The Island of Bantayan - updated with photos

I'm writing this around mid-day on Thursday, the last day of November. I'm on the terrace of our room and I'm looking out over the kind of beach that one sees in the travel brochures. A coral reef which ends about 100m from the shore depending on the tide. The idea of tides is a strange concept for one who lives close to the Mediterranean but back in the UK, sometimes the beach would be so flat that the sea would be a distant shimmer.
This morning after breakfast I swam out to the edge of the reef. I found part of the beach which was clear of coral "rocks" so I was able to walk out to a perfect stretch of water for swimming. I remember snorkeling off Jeddah on the Red Sea and the sudden drop into the depths at the edge of the reef was spectacular.
Yesterday, I spent a large part of the day organising money. The owner of Grass Residences had sent a 9000 peso refund by Western Union and I thought it would be a simple matter to present the reference number and my passport and collect my money because I have often sent money by Western Union. But it was a huge performance and I still don't have the money 24 hours later. The local agent said the was a problem and could I phone Western Union but there was no reply from the number. The ATM across the road was not working either and I needed cash to pay the resort. I had to reassure them that their money was guaranteed by when we arrived on Tuesday. So we had to take the hotel trike to Bantayan town where I could draw the cash - a 20 minute journey. And I put a photo of that on the previous post. The Western Union office in Bantayan town said they couldn't process the transaction because it was already initiated with the agent in Sta Fe, the town where we are  staying. So I got rather frustrated with the Western Union agent. But at least I could go back and pay the resort in cash.

This afternoon we went back to the Western Union agent but again it was shambolic. Finally, I got through to Western Union and after a little while, handed my phone to the young woman, the agent. She spoke seemingly for ages but finally it seemed there was a breakthrough. I got my money. Then she photocopied my passport and I kept on saying to myself, "Don't forget to get passport back". But I think I was so taken aback at her request for 2 pesos for the photocopy, that I forgot to ask for my passport back. And it was only when I was writing about this that I remembered that she did not give it back to me. Big pause in writing blog to go back and retrieve passport from photocopier! Here are some more photos! As you can see, it is low tide and the reef is almost uncovered. The group is taking a boat trip and the boat is waiting at the edge of the reef. Later I sat on the beach drinking some tea and painted a boat as the tide came in. I used a chair from the hotel. Then, as dusk fell, I went swimming again.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Cebu - now with photos!

I ended the last post on Sunday evening, staying in Redwoods on my own. Next day, I did some shopping and had some lunch. Rivetting news! Then at about 4pm I took a taxi to our pre-arranged hotel next to the airport. Originally I had planned to take the Metro but in the end I was lazy and just took a taxi. Some of the journey was very slow but it rained  some of the time and it was door-to-door. My friends arrived later at about 9pm and I talked their driver in to the correct location as he didn't have GPS. We went out for some food and I was getting a little anxious about how much money I was spending but I need not have worried that evening because a chicken meal for 4 of us cost about 6 euros!
We slept really badly. The air-conditioning was very noisy and my friends insisted on running it despite the fact that it wasn't really needed. I won the argument at about 4am. The two girls also lie in bed chatting and using their phones for chatting after "lights out" and that makes falling asleep very difficult. We all exchanged stories of a bad night the next morning. Nomel said that he only slept 1 hour.
We were really lucky with the hotel shuttle bus, it was leaving at a perfect time, about 7.40am but we had to skip breakfast in the hotel. The journey to the terminal was only about 15 minutes. The hotel said that it was "not their policy" to print out boarding passes which I thought was rather mean-spirited and so we navigated the terminal with the boarding passes on my phone which worked fine. Swiping the screen moved between the four people.
We had our delayed breakfast at leisure air side and went to the gate. There was a late change to the gate but that was no problem. What shocked me was that at no time were IDs checked. I could have been anyone! And the departure was a shambles, we sat in the plane on the stand for an hour while the ground staff desperately juggled passengers. I think they had over-allocated some of the seats.
The flight when it finally happened was a little over an hour and soon we arrived in Cebu from which we would take the ferry to our final destination, the island of Barangay which is where I'm writing this now. First we had to take a taxi to the bus station on the mainland, the airport is on an island. We were very lucky withe the bus. We were running an hour late, of course, and we just managed to catch the last bus which would synchronise with the ferry (after hurried visits to the CR as they call it. In my simplified English, I call it a pee!

The first half of the journey was awful, most of it in second gear. We stopped for 15 minutes for some food but then the road was much better, up through tropical forests and then down to the port. The bus journey was over four hours. We arrived at the port in plenty of time for the ferry which left at 5.30pm - the crossing was a little over an hour, very slow. The resort offered to pick us up at the ferry port which was fortunate for me. I had misjudged how far it was from the port and we would have had a terrible time finding it. Our transport was a motor-bike with trike. We all piled in complete with our bags and we were soon at the resort. It is right on the beach and our room on the first floor is perfect, one very large double bed for the three, and one bed for me. By the way, I shared a bed with Mila in the airport hotel - it was fine! We are family! 
Our first night here, we all slept very well and we're now enjoying our idyll on a tropical island. The beach is rather disappointing because, despite looking absolutely wonderful, there are many loose "rocks" of coral under the surface which makes walking rather perilous and painful. What do I expect? The beach is coral. Maybe I will have to come back in 1000 years when it's all been reduced to sand by the sea.  
I just tried to upload some photos but it's not working for some reason, so I'll add them later.Now I've uploaded them!
One thing that was rather funny! I asked at the bar if they had any tea. They said that they had green tea and yellow tea. I asked what was yellow tea. They showed me a packet of Lipton's Yellow Label! I said that would be fine! But I waited for ever, maybe they were milking the cow. Then they explained that the packet they showed me was empty. Later I bought some Earl Grey decafeinated tea. The staff are very bright and intelligent so I don't like to tell a story which makes them appear stupid. One girl serving us is also a ladyboy, so that makes four of us. Plus one real woman, Mila the mum!

 Waiting at the ferry terminal

My friends waited in the taxi while I visited an ATM.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Back at Redwoods... and out of Grass Residences

I'm writing this late afternoon on Sunday. We had quite an eventful evening yesterday. The four friends were going back to their home in Malabon and the plan was to drop me off at Grass Residences to drop in the key and receive the refund which had been agreed with the owner in Dubai. Unfortunately she didn't tell her mum who manages the apartment. And, as we approached Grass Residences, my friends decided that they wanted to join me for a meal in our favourite roof-top restaurant rather than go directly home. Naturally, in the back of my mind was the cynical thought that they wanted free nosh, but I liked the idea also. A meal for 5 costs about 20 euros which is about what I spend on myself back in Spain.
It soon became evident that the owner's mum was too far away to change her plans and meet me that night. She suggested next day but I didn't want to make the journey again until Nomel came up with the obvious solution for me to sleep in the apartment (room) and meet mum next day. Which is what I did.
After the meal, Nomel suggested sharing a bucket of beer but in fact the offer was a "tower" of beer which is a vertical tube filled with beer.

I think we were all rather tired - I was for sure - and it ended up quite expensive, almost as much as the meal before-hand. I think I said before, restaurants add VAT and a service charge afterwards, so the price can be something of a shock. After that, I went back to the room to sleep and the others continued on their journey to Malabon. Taxis are incredibly cheap here, so it is not expensive to send them on their way with 350 pesos. It is not much more than 5 euros. I just wish they would say, "Thank you," a little more often because I can easily get the impression that they are taking me for granted. But if I mention it to Nomel, he convinces me that it is not the case. He probably doesn't convince you! In reality, apart from the cost of the acommodation, I am spending much the same as I spend in Girona from day to day, except that I am paying for 4 people (sometimes 5). So that's not a bad deal is it? The other interesting point is that I am using the debit card of my bank in the UK. I have two private pensions which arrive in Barclays Bank in UK Pounds so it makes sense to do one converstion from UKL to Pesos rather than use my regular Spanish account which obviously involves a double conversion. I get 67 pesos for my UKL and 60 pesos from 1 euro, not a big difference. I just noticed that the UK Pound has dropped to about 1.1 euros. My State Pension arrives in my Spanish account directly in euros; they handle the currency conversion.

This is a flash-back, so I've written it in italics! One occasion was rather difficult. As I mentioned, we had been looking online for a washing machine for mum and Nomel was insisting on something cheap, a twin-tub, plastic. Sometimes I would suggest a machine and he would say, "But that's expensive!" In the end I found one in the shopping mall which I thought was brilliant value. Single tub and not plastic. As I left to pay for the machine at Customer Services, Nomel was by a cosmetics counter and he said, "We will buy some makeup". We met at the checkout and they had gone a bit crazy, there were bottles of lotion, lipstick, I have no idea. They stood aside for me to pay but I said, "No". It was about 2000 pesos. We had to empty out the bag and get credits on the till. This was obviously very humiliating for them but I thought maybe it would be a harsh lesson that I am not an ATM with unlimited resources. Later I felt bad about it and gave Nomel 1000 for cosmetics (1000 pesos is about 16 euros).Obviously I was a little annoyed that I had been away at the time paying for the washing machine, had I been there, I could have stopped their bonanza at source. But don't get the wrong impression, we have a great time together and this episode was quickly forgotten. Or forgiven, I think I mean. If it was forgotten, I wouldn't be writing about it would I??
Back to this morning (Sunday 26th), I woke to an empty flat with an empty fridge so I went down to a supermarket to buy some fruit juice and some cake. Then I had a welcome coffee in Starbucks when it opened at 10am, the same time as the adjacent shopping mall. I slept a little in the room, met the mother of the owner at 1pm and handed over the key. She promised that they would send the refund by Western Union tomorrow (Monday).
And, so here I am back at Redwoods, on my own, still feeling rather tired. A problem that I have always had is that my nervous energy keeps me going when I should be taking a rest and sometimes I get over-tired. I feel wide awake but in fact I am very tired, I don't get warning bells, as it were! I have been feeling cold symptoms for a few days, maybe airconditionitis but I have no temperature, I feel fine. Sometimes I think it is a symtom of stress or tiredness. I hope I can relax on the beach this week, away from the big city.
I will put some more photos here from the past two days. We had fun with makeup one evening!! The glasses are for effect, not real, they have plane glass in them, I bought them very cheaply in Bangkok and I think they make me look like a school-mistress! The extended jeeps are called "jeepneys" and I think they are exclusive to the Philippines. They are basically modified US Army jeeps.
There is a huge 7-lane highway which connects the two locations and along the way, there are one or two spectacular churches.
It is now 5pm on Sunday afternoon and I will go swimming now! I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures.
I don't mention the weather very often but it is very pleasant, not more than 30c during the day and about 25c in the evenings. Nothing like ther heat and humidity of Bangkok. And I see one European or American once a day maybe. Generally, I am the only non-asian here, in Quezon City, Manila. Well, it's hardly a tourist resort. Things will be different in Bantayan, lots of Europeans go there for holidays.

These photos are of Nomelyn and her mum. Plus me of course, but not as you've seen me before!! 

Thursday, 23 November 2017

We are happy! - updated Saturday afternoon.

I ended up waiting for my friends to join me at Redwoods but they were delayed, first by a rain storm and then by a taxi which failed to turn up. So meantime, I went swimming. The pool is nothing like the enormous pool at Grass Residences but certainly big enough to had a good work-out. I would guess it is a little shorter than 25m.
In fact, Nomel texted me and said that his sister Nomelyn would be coming too. I get confused by similar names in the family! The oldest is Noemi who has twin sons who destroyed Nomel's iPad Mini. I met Nemia last time I was here. They still use it but I brought a replacement with me - I have a full-size iPad so I don't need both.
They arrived at about 7pm, we had a nice evening together - I went out with mum to buy a takeaway.
Next morning, I went out early to look for some food. The shopping malls were closed and there was a small supermarket open in the lower ground floor but I didn't know that. I couldn't face more chicken so I went down the road and bought some pork in sauce from a small vendor. We had breakfast together at about 11am. We cooked the inevitable rice in the apartment. We are so happy to be in a nice apartment again but I'm not sure what we will do with Nomelyn when we go to Cebu because she is not on the ticket. I don't fancy sending her back home on her own. She is 20 but she looks younger! (see below for the solution). And we will have to stay in a hotel next to the airport the night before our flight. I have booked that. We stay in a family room which takes 4 adults, but it only has one double bed and one extra-large double bed. Same with the hotel resort in Bantayas Island. We normally work out something. Hehe, I end up in my own bed... alone!

From Redwoods, it would be about 3 hours to the airport! We are in Quezon City which is to the north of Metro Manila and the airport is to the south. I took the photo from our apartment and you can see part of Metro Manila in the distance. This ended up being a good choice, I admit I panicked a bit after the first night; my friends saying that it was too far, the cockroach in the water glass, the gas failing. So we spent 2 nights in Grass Residences but I found a great washing machine for Mila and we were able to arrange transport for it and the mattresses directly back to her home in Malabon. It would have been too far from Redwoods. And this evening they all all going home (Saturday) and only the A Team, less Nomelyn will come back on Monday. And the owner of the Grass apartment has offered a refund for our leaving early, so they will drop me off on the way to Malabon to leave the key and pick up the money, 9000 php - about 150 euros. Taxis here are very cheap so it is well worth making the journey.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Back to Redwoods

A quick update, Wednesday morning....... (I may add to this post during the day).

We spent a lot of time last night arranging transport back to Nomel's home for the two matresses and also a washing machine which I bought for mum in the shopping mall next to the apartments. Previously she has washed clothes for a family of 6 by hand. And if you think that I am spending an awful lot of money on them you will be right. But the washing machine, made in the USA, appeared to be good quality and it was only 8,000 pesos which is about 120 euros. And I am having much fun for my money. It's my holiday too, and people spend lots of money on holiday especially if they go as a family. And this is my "family". And we always share a hotel room so the cost is not much greater that if I was on my own.
Nomel was inisting on a twin-tub with air drying but I said that twin-tub was very old fashioned and air drying was a falacy (there is no heater to drive out the water). It just passes air through the clothes. I drew a washing line and said, "That's air drying"! So, after a futile search in Lazada Online, I went down to the mall and found exactly what I was looking for: single top-loading machine, fully automatic. No dragging wet clothes from one tub to the other. 
Nomel often takes himself too seriously and I pull his leg sometimes about it. He needs to lighten up a bit, maybe a few days on a beach will do that. He blames it on the hormones he is taking. Sometimes I joke and say that maybe he is having a period.

So, what I am saying is that I decided to stay one more night in Grass Residences because, by the time Mum, Nomel and Joshua departed it was getting late and my number one priority was a beer! So, this morning I am going for a swim, then I will go to Redwoods which is the apartment which I booked originally. And they will come to join me. And tonight, if I am lucky, I will get a bed!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

It's Tuesday!

I finished the previous post on Sunday waiting for my friends to return together with Nomel's mum, Mila, who I had never met before. Her husband left her a few years ago.
They arrived at about 5pm so it was obvious that they would be staying the night but there is not room to swing a cat. We chatted in the room for a while and then went out shopping. It was only then that they explained that they had to give up their IDs when they entered the apartments and I became rather angry again, in my opinion one's ID is sacrosanct and should never be retained (unless you are being arrested by the police). "Don't stress yourself, Steve," said Nomel. I exchanged WhatsApp messages with the owner in Dubai and she was equally shocked and agreed that they should never be retained. Finally next morning, I got them back.
We managed to squeeze into the room, the three of them sleeping in what is laughably called the bedroom. There is a double bed and a third bed, a mattress pulls out from under the bed. I didn't sleep very well, I was sleeping in the "lounge" area on a foam mattress which we bought in the shopping mall and I will give that to them for their home when I leave. I also bought a double mattress for their home also. Next day, Monday, we went out shopping again but most of the time we were in the room. I don't think I will be seeing very much of Manila, not that there is much to see anyway. I came here to see my friends.
I'm writing this on Tuesday morning. Last night we went out for a meal near to the shopping mall, it had an outdoor terrace which was great. The temperature was very warm but not as warm and humid as Bangkok where I was bathed in a permanent glaze of sweat! After the meal, we went to a disco and drank beer from buckets, half a dozen bottles in ice in a bucket. The sound was extremely loud and powerful and I was fearful of my hearing being damaged. For a lot of the time, I held my fingers over my ears. I cannot describe the vast blows of sound energy hitting my fragile eardrums, it was terrible. But we had a great evening and even danced for a short while. We got back at about 1.30am. This morning we all woke at about 8am because we were hungry but we were so tired that we all went back to sleep and slept till 1pm!! Which is when I am writing this.

Having breakfast!

Yesterday, almost by a whim, I decided to book the four of us to go to Cebu. How can I come to the Philippines without visiting one of the superb beaches? And I thought previously that I can't come here without organising at least one major excursion. And the "team" is now established: Me, Nomel, Joshua and Nomel's mum, Mila. She is very sweet and she looks great, the photos of her than Nomel sent did not do her justice. So this is the A Team. I checked flights with Philippine Airways and also Cebu Pacific which is the low cost airline here. In common with most flights, the prices varied a lot from day to day but I found a great combination on Cebu Pacific, leaving next Tuesday at 9.40am and coming back the following Wednesday which is two days before I go back to Spain. Originally, we were going to book for one week but we are actually going to the island of Bantayan which involves first a 2 hour bus journey and then a short boat trip after arriving in Cebu. So one day at each end of the trip will be eaten up by travelling. I saw that the return flight one day later on Wednesday was cheaper so I grabbed that! The price for the 4 of us was about 330 euros. I spend that just for myself going to Ukraine so I was happy about that. I did fall for the oldest trick in the book! I paid a little extra for seats together but, on my small laptop screen, I missed the insurance check box which was obviously defaulted to "yes". It was very complicated, picking the best flights, entering the passenger details so I forgive myself for that small mistake. Always there is the fear that, after entering all the details and submitting payment, something goes wrong on the website and I have to start all over again. But, success!! The payment was accepted and I have the confirmation. The A Team is going to Cebu!

This evening, they are going back home and will come tomorrow to the first apartment, Redwoods. And then we will stay there until we go to Cebu. I know it is totally crazy to have two apartments running at the same time but, if ever you come to Manila, you will understand that the traffic and the size of the place makes getting around very difficult and time-consuming. And I had to choose a place on simply based on photos. Bangkok was easy! I booked into the Ibis and it was indentical to all the other Ibises that I have stayed at. At it is so easy getting around Bangkok. And I made a mistake and chose a place too far away. But my friends have now come round to seeing that, really, The Redwoods was fine. Two bedrooms, so we all get a bed! But this cheap room was useful in its way but it caused me so much stress on account of the draconian and antiquated security system. I wish I had the job to do something about it. At the very least, each entrance, for example on the walkway to the shopping mall should be equipped with a simple computer terminal,then they can check people in and out quicky and efficiently. I have to show two sheets of A4 clipped together. Admittedly we are temporary tenants and long-term residents have a card. But in these days of Airbnb and which is moving towards the same thing, they should be able to cope with short-term residents without driving them up the wall!


Sunday, 19 November 2017

A cosy little flat.... er room!

I awoke in my new home on Sunday morning, 21 floors up, with the sounds of Manila waking up. I was rather down emotionally, I thought I had compounded my one mistake with another. Travelling around has been so difficult it has made me feel rather pressured. And Manila is not Bangkok. In Bangkok, there are the three types of Metro which cover the main part of the city very well. Manila is rather like Bangkok was when I visited it in the 1990s. It is a huge city, the traffic is very slow and I quickly realised that The Redwoods was far too far out of town for my friends to visit me. But now I woke to a very small room, basically what they call a flat. A joke surely. The single bedroom is simply part of the room partitioned off, with a sliding door which doesn't slide. I made some breakfast and felt a whole lot better. But unfortunately it seems that I cannot wriggle out of paying virtually in full for the apartment in The Redwoods and I was beginning to regret leaving. But my friends would never have come to see me there. Although we had checked out, it was still basically mine. And (later I discovered) this small room is only about 400 euros for 20 days. The owner gave me a 1 day discount because of the troubles getting registered yesterday and it was less than I was expecting anyway. The person managing the room came with the bill for me at 5pm (which I insisted on, she just wanted to show me the amount on her phone yesterday). I had asked for a meal in compensation but we gave up waiting. She said that they came with a meal at 6pm. 6pm!! We gave up and went to the supermarket long before that. There was no attempt to contact me. She said she didn't have my phone number but all she had to do was ask the owner in Dubai to send me a message. I was in contact with her by WhatsApp at the time. I gave her my (Phils) phone number.
So, I have two apartments in Manila and one in Spain. I will go back to Redwoods when I need a bit of tranquillity... and space. And the apartment manager, Nancy and the owner, Rio in Dubai have been so very kind to me. This room has a bad feeling because the arrival was so traumatic. I have to admit I got very angry and frustrated and lost my temper at one stage (but apologised later). 
But, after breakfast, I went swimming and that was superb. The pool is 50m long but only 4 lanes wide, so it appears longer than 50m. I then went out to discover the area around Grass Residences, that was terrific! My spirits raised greatly. This is what it is all about really. Travelling like this has its risks. Things go wrong. But it is enormous fun when things go right. I accept the double booking as one of the risks. Bangkok has many visitors from abroad, tourists. Manila appears to have none. They all go to the islands and the beaches. And Manila is very difficult to navigate. But I have discovered trains, a bus station near by. There is not even a Metro map, I had to draw it by hand from my computer screen! In fact, there are 3 Metro lines. I also discovered a bus that goes to Bulacan which is way to the north of Manila near the sea. So that is definitely on the agenda.
The novelty of having two ladyboys in tow is a little stressful. To be on my own this morning was really great, I could wander around and make discoveries at my own speed. I stopped for a coffee and cheesecake in Starbucks. It was about the same price as in Barcelona. I am writing this as I wait for Nomel and his mum to arrive (they are coming by taxi). Samantha (real name Joshua) is coming too. Are they an item I wonder. Nomel is gay and he says he likes straight men and Joshua is definitely not that. But I challenge him when he says that, because a straight man would be in for a big surprise if he is expecting the usual female apparatus! I cannot imagine a straight man being attracted to a ladyboy unless she has had the full works! Operated, I mean. And Nomel doesn't intend to do that - it scares him. Anyway, it is expensive. Maybe people think that I'm gay, with my blue fingernails and unisex clothes, but being trans is quite different. I love women. Mon in Bangkok was really attractive to me. I even thought about spending time in Bangkok on my way back but changing flights would be expensive. And I have an appointment for a regular checkup on 14th December in my local health centre which I have put off since October due to my travelling so much, so I can't delay that again.


Saturday, 18 November 2017

Hello Manila!

As I mentioned, I left loads of time to catch the flight to Manila and, in the end, it was perfect! Plenty of time for a coffee after arriving at the airport and then a leasurely check-in. And then I passed easily thrugh security and passport control. I forgot how enormous the Boeing 777 (Triple-7) plane is, the seating is 3+3+3 and there was loads of room in the plane. My seat was in the rear cabin but even then, the engines were a low rumble. And I had my noise-cancelling headphones with me anyway. I took a photo of the wing at sunset when we were still an hour out of Manila. The flight time was a little over 3 hours.

Immigration Control was fairly rapid, I grabbed my suitcase, bought a SIM for my phone and internet. It was called Tourist SIM, meaning that it was twice the price of the regular SIM! But I wanted to get online quickly so I was happy to pay the premium.
And the kiosk did me a favour and pointed me to Yellow Taxis tucked away to the left of the exit. They are metered, so my journey to the hotel was not expensive. 
I went out for a meal and a glass of wine in a food zone which I knew from last time here. It was very noisy and full of life. The guy came back during my meal and asked if I wanted something but I didn't hear him clearly. When he repeated it I heard that he was asking if I wanted a girl, I thought he was offering ketchup!
I was woken once or twice during the night by a dog barking in the house opposite, not surprising really, if you see the photo.

Next morning I met my friend Nomel and her ladyboy friend Samantha, her adopted female name. We called up a taxi on Grab which is equivalent to Uber to take us to the condo which I had rented. The driver was a delightful woman and the car really quite smart. We soon started talking about being transgender, in a mixture of Tagalog and English, it was very funny! I said that I was like an uncle to Nomel but the driver corrected me to, "Auntie".
We stopped at a drive-in McDonalds and I bought them all food. But as the journey progressed, we started to get anxious, it was a very long way. I had estimated it from Google Maps but it soon became clear that I had made a big mistake. The girls were saying "Too far, Steve" in a plaintive tone. We finally arrived and the condo was very disappointing, The entrance led directly onto the kitchen, lounge area and dining area, but basically all one, not very large room. There were two bedrooms. Samantha nearly drank a small cockroach which was lurking in the glass when she filled it with water. It was actually in her mouth and she spat it out!
The two girls stayed the night and we went to SM City which is  huge mall nearby to buy food and also some clothes for them.

 The girl and the guy at the checkout were laughing, but in a very nice way. I guess it looks very strange to see a European guy with two ladyboys and the conclusion is obvious. But wrong!

Nomel started cooking the chicken but after about 5 minutes, the gas ran out. The cyclinder was empty. By this stage, I had decided to cut my losses and find another apartment and I was chatting to the owner in Dubai by WhatsApp. At one stage I thought he was going to give a complete refund but in the end it was only 20%. A big financial loss for me. But Nomel was saying they felt homesick and I felt the same - I knew what she meant. We were a long way from the familiar surroundings of Metro Manila.
 I went down the road to buy some takeaway chicken and we had that together with a bottle of Rioja which I had bought in Bangkok Airport Duty-free.
We all slept well and I'm writing this on the morning of Saturday 18th November and we will check out at mid-day. One very expensive night. The girls suggested staying here for one week then moving but, once I decided to go, I wanted to do it straight away.
We travelled by Grab taxi at mid-day and it took us just over an hour to get to our new location but even then, my two friends said they were still 40 minutes away from their home. Our reception was truly awful, we spent two hours (!!) in reception waiting for security clearance to enter the apartment. Is that crazy? It was over an hour before they asked for my passport. And the apartment is about the size of a hotel room. So, from the frying pan into the fire! Nomel and Samantha and I went to the supermarket near by to stock up on food and now they will go home for the night and leave me alone in the penthouse flat!!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Bye bye Bangkok

It is 10.30 Thursday morning in Bangkok and I am packing ready to leave for Manila. The flight is with Thai at 3pm but I am leaving a huge amount of time to get to the airport, I will take the Skytrain in about half an hour, go 4 stops and then take the Airport Express. I used to think it was really cool to arrive at the airport at the last minute but I have changed totally and I even annoy one friend of mine by being so cautious. He will learn! One day the taxi will break down and he will find that missing a flight can be very expensive indeed. And why hang around in my hotel room when I might just as well hang around at the airport where, these days, there are lots of attractive shops to browse? Although I have done plenty of that in the past few days. On the second floor of Siam Shopping Mall, I was torn between the Rolls-Royce or the McClaren but in the end, I went for economy and, walking past the two Aston Martin Avants, I went for the Maserati. You think I am joking??

Yesterday, I did very little. I swam a few lengths of the pool on the roof. Had a small glass of wine which is included in the day ticket and then wandered around the malls. My friend Nini in Colombia is interested in selling cakes so I took some photos of a bakery shop. Her husband has just come out of hospital after an operation to his shoulder so I don't think he is in the mood for baking just yet. I thought maybe the photos would cheer him up.

Then I went to a meetup but it wasn't a great success for me. We met at a coffee shop a long way from my hotel and one guy argued with me about independence for Catalunya. He upset me a little because some of the arguments he was putting forward were ridiculous, like it was ok to break the law or choose which laws to obey and which to reject. "What would have happened if they had said we must respect the law during the French Revolution?" He said. And he wouldn't give up, certainly he wasn't listening to me. And I live there! He had met a girl from Catalunya a week or two ago.
Then I started worrying about Nini's niece who is very ill (and I was worrying about me!) I recently sent some money to pay for some expensive medication, it was not much for me, about 60 euros, but I was getting scared it would escalate and she would start to depend on me and that I could end up in a very pressured situation. Emotional blackmail is a very strong term but you can see what I am getting at!
I had a strawberry smoothie which was just flavoured ice so I left most of it, and then we wandered around a market. My mood was dropping rapidly and we then walked about 10 minutes to a very ethnic Thai area for some food. I just wanted a nice comfortable hotel lounge and a beer. And so I bade my farewell, talking about leaving the following day.. etc. Even from the original location, I was a long way from home, three different trains, about 1 hour. I am sure you know the feeling, I just wanted to be back in familiar surroundings.
So, that brings me to this morning. In Manila, I am staying one night in the same hotel as last time. Because I know where it is, I can direct the taxi driver. Last time we took ages to find it. Then my friend Nomel is coming at mid-day tomorrow and we will go together to the apartment (condo) which I have rented for the next 3 weeks. It is out to the north of the city and I didn't fancy trying to find it at 9pm in the evening, even if the office was open. Much better to relax and take it easy. The flight is 3 hours, so I arrive at 7pm local time, the Philippines being one hour ahead of Thailand. 
I've had a great time in Bangkok, a mixture of normal life and also being a tourist. The length of the stay was perfect. And now I am very excited about living in the Philippines for 3 weeks. Not as a tourist!


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The (very) Grand Palace

Bangkok at 6.30am from my hotel room
I think I said that I was going to visit a floating market today but it only floats at weekends so I went to the Grand Palace that I missed out on last night. It was ridiculous to imagine it was open till 8pm, the whole tour is outdoors. But, when I am away, I make mistakes not because I am being more thick than usual but because I am relaxed and tend to adjust to the mood of where I am (or maybe you would call it lazy!) It often involves not thinking very much at all - just go with the flow. I did that once and it was almost a major disaster. I still think about nearly being stranded in the middle of nowhere with two small children after visiting Parque del Café in Colombia. And all because I was being laid-back and in Colombian mode rather than with my British way of thinking. In the latter case, saying that maybe it would be terribly sensible if we left before the park closed, when everyone else was doing the same thing. That would have been about at the point where they decided to go back to the log flume again. My name would have been "Mud". You can read about it in this blog, just do a search for Parque del, or just click here. But make sure you come back here!

The Skytrain is all above ground....
a long way above ground!

Anyway.... I finally made it to the palace and that was to take the BTR Skytrain down to the river and buy a step-on, step-off boat ticket. I expect my ears to pop due to the height of the tracks above the road, I'm not quite sure why they've done that. At interchanges it does the same as the MTR in Hong-Kong, it brings the two different lines together on either side of the platform so, often, when changing lines, providing you are going in roughly the same direction, there is no need to go up or down one floor. At major stations, there are closing doors on the platform too. 

Later, I had a quick lunch in one of the shopping malls by Siam and then walked back to the hotel. The yoga was cancelled because the teacher phoned in to say she was unwell but I suspect she found out there were only two of us who had signed up (I am joking, I hope I am not that cynical. Er.... sometimes, yes!) The hotel didn't tell me so I spent about 10 minutes wandering around the hotel looking for it.
I've put some photos below which are self-explanatory I think. The palace is not very ancient, it dates back to the late 18th Century.

I wish I could get that number of people to my art exhibitions! I would say that westerners are outnumbered about 1 to 40 here. I think I could hear a lot of Chinese spoken. Below are two photos of Wat Arun which I stopped over at on the return boat trip. There was bizarre little photo-shoot with two Thai girls wearing beautiful long dresses, gold head gear, with long fingernails but, hey, they look suspiciously western to me! Later on my way back, a European guy was all dressed up with a suitably arty pose. Boy, did he look a prat!! As I'm sure you guessed, there was a little stall renting out the gear to westerners who wanted to make fools of themselves. I suppose it's safer that taking selfies on crumbling cliff-tops.
I wrote about hearing Chinese and, although I have no hope of learning Thai, I bought two books which explained it. Some accents flow like a song (I think Colombian Spanish rises and falls in pitch far more than peninsular Spanish) but it's not necessary in order for the person to be understood. In the case of Thai, the tones are an integral part of the language and it's fascinating to hear it spoken. More text after the photos.....

After writing up to this point, it was time for a beer so I went back to Patpong and went to see my friend Mon. We both got very sad that we lived so far apart. She is 42 with two daughters and I found her very attractive, much more so than the girls dancing, and she seemed genuinely attracted to me. She thought I was in my early 50s which is pushing credibility, but it was dark. She invited me to stay with her next time I was in Bangkok ("No boom-boom," she said which we both found very funny. More so because I wasn't totally sure about what work she did in addition to selling food and drinks. This time she was showing an awful lot of leg.). For sure, it was her job to get business for the bar where she worked, but even allowing for that, we were like two friends because I'd made it clear that I wasn't looking for sex. Being there and chatting to her was all I wanted and it was lots of fun. But we live a very great distance apart. She gave me her phone number and I gave her my website. She even bought me a beer which is very unusual, normally it the is the guy who buys the girl a drink (and it costs more). And of course I did that. And across the road, all part of the same company, girls were dancing on a stage wearing very little. 
Maybe you are shocked that I was there at all but Patpong is also a vibrant night market and there was a happy atmosphere, not dark and threatening - under the surface, who knows? But it is all regulated under the law. Bad things happen when they are outside the law, this is often the point made about legalising drugs. But that is a subject I know nothing about.
These things (in Patpong and Nana, districts of Bangkok) go on and my staying away won't change it one iota. And I had a great evening. And I didn't hurt anyone. I just hope I don't hurt my friends who knew me in my earlier life where I took more attention to convention. Now I feel liberated. I hope that's allowed!

By the way, the other thing that made the evening enjoyable was going out simply wearing skinny jeans, my new Lacoste white shoes and a long tee shirt as if I was just walking into another room in a house. It is so warm in the evenings that nothing more is necessary, I carried no bag, my money and plastic card for the Skytrain was in a bum bag around my waist. It was a lovely free feeling!