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!

Monday 13 November 2017

A photo of my agenda

I am updating this at mid-day on Monday (6am in Europe).

6.30pm... I added text after the photo of my agenda. No more updates today, I'm going for a beer!

I thought I would post a photo below of my agenda for the week (I hope you can read it OK, the image is rather small on my laptop). I think the week will pass very rapidly! This morning I went to visit the house of Jim Thompson which is very near to my hotel. He was an American man, famous in Thailand, who came to live here after the Second World War. His cousins then set up a foundation but I will write more about him here later. After the tour, I had a coffee by the koi carp. Unlike Donald Trump, I didn't get to feed them!

At lunch time, I am joining another Meetup group. On Thursday, you can see my flight to Manila with Thai.
The hotel has a video running on the TV showing Talin Floating Market and it's not far, so I will go there tomorrow. I checked transport and the BTS Skytrain which starts at International Stadium by my hotel goes to Wonwan Yai which is the other end of the line. From there I can take a taxi to the market. I especially want to try out some of the food. Then on Tuesday evening there is a yoga class in the hotel which will please one friend of mine who is always telling me to do yoga! I would have preferred Zumba the following evening but it clashes with a meetup with the same group with which I had so much fun on my first night. I am very depressed about the state of affairs in Catalunya and I want to spend as little time there as possible before I go to Colombia on the 28th. Yes, I know, it is a bit crazy! Thailand, Philippines and then Colombia in the other direction in quick succession. So that leaves the 7 days over Christmas completely empty, just getting over jet-lag. So I have no idea what to do with that! I even thought about spending it in the UK but they get totally silly about Christmas, totally over the top. One great option would be Ukraine, then I really would escape Christmas because theirs is after the New Year. But I've only just come back from there.

I went to the meetup and there were about 10 of us, most were American. The venue was a huge food hall with a sales desk at the entrance where one bought a card to spend at all the outlets. The young girl asked me how much to load into the card but I only realised when we left that the card is returned for a refund of the balance in the card. I chose 300 baht and spent a little over 200.The photo shows the chef cooking my meal, just a simple prawns and rice with a few other things stirred in!
The group was meeting in an "outdoor" terrace but enclosed, if that makes sense. One guy made a living as a baker and he brought some of his cakes along as a gift. It gave me some ideas for my friend Nini in Colombia because she wants to do the same with her husband who is already a baker but he can't find any work.

Another guy was full of ideas of where to go in the evenings but since I covered that subject in the previous post, I won't explain what he was suggesting. You can just imagine it. And he had one or two ideas about things to do in the day. He had a strange looking bag with him which looked suspiciously like a rifle inside but in fact it was a golf club - he was going to the range to practice, so we joined him. How is this possible in the middle of Bangkok in this heat? It was of course a virtual golf range on the top floor of a building near by, and air-conditioned. This technology has been around for a while, one hits a ball into a projected image of the fairway - it is a net which absorbs the energy of the ball and a small tracking device calculates the trajectory of the ball. In some cases the balls are specially modified, even with a chip inside. I'm not sure if that was the case here. I knocked one or two balls with a 7 iron, two were not too bad bearing in mind I haven't played for a long time. The third, I hit off the toe of the club so that wasn't so brilliant.

I wanted to visit the Royal Palace but by now it was getting quite late, around 4pm. We asked the girl at the desk when the Palace closed and she answered 8pm. Wrong. It was 4pm and I don't know why I was so trusting because I made a futile tuk-tuk journey but it was fun, absorbing the sounds of the city.

A little about Jim Thompson...

He was born in 1906 in Greenville, USA. Towards the end of World War 2, he was working for what is now the CIA. He was posted to Thailand, the war was coming to an end, so he decided to make his home here. He asked his wife to join him but she decided not to. He was a skilled designer and architect and rapidly became well known for making a big contribution to the development of the country. He helped create what is now a thriving silk business for the country. With the money he earned, he built a house surrounded by one or two other buildings which is now a museum and foundation administered by his family through his brother. He had no children of his own. The guide said that he fell in love with Thailand but I don't think he re-married. The house is very beautiful, almost all of it built in wood.

Then, in March 1967, he disappeared without trace during a visit to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia and it remains to this day a mystery as to what happened. He just walked into the woods.

Sunday 12 November 2017

Shopping Malls!

It's terrible! I come to the city of beautiful temples and I spend almost the whole day in a totally different kind of temple! Anyway, I was determined to take things easy today, Saturday. I was so happy that I made it to the meetup last night, it was just super! I think it is so funny.... and kind of thrilling that I can do it. I was travelling from 8am Thursday to 3pm Friday (admittedly those are local times), with two 6-hour flights, I slept for 2 hours, and went to a meetup till 11pm at which point I took it easy and took the red taxi which I mentioned. At some points, it is true that I felt a little tired but not so much that it spoiled my pleasure. I am so lucky to be able to do it.
So, Saturday, as I said, I went to Siam which is one station away from the hotel, in fact it is so close that you can go in at one end of the shopping mall by the hotel and come out at the other end by Siam. There are signs of great wealth here. (I am writing this on Sunday). It reminds me of Dubai. I don't understand the economy of creating these huge temples - the cost of building them, the value of the stock, but very few people actually buying anything. They are spectacular but I end up buying stuff from Amazon and it arrives at my door next day. 

This was my lunch. I know it is considered naff to take photos of food but this is a journal so I am sure it is OK. It was crispy pork and the drink was some kind of juice but it was mostly ice. The dish was cold. There was a weird underlying organic flavour in the sauce. Then I noticed something with claws. It was a small crab.. or maybe a large spider that had fallen in and drowned. The place was a total rip-off. Not only was VAT added afterwards, so was a service charge. 
Later on Saturday I went down to the river on the Metro. I call it the Metro but there are three train systems here as I described yesterday. And they each have very similar names. BTS is the Skytrain, the metro. But then it connects with the BRT which I guess is more like a regular train but the appearance is virtually the same. The third is MRT (Mass rapid transport). Unfortunately it is written on maps with the letter M which of course makes it look like a Metro. I think they all ought to get together and make friends. 
I had a meal in the restaurant in the evening, a buffet, which was great. I got upset with an English guy who was chatting openly to his wife on his mobile in Skype. I knew that because he was holding it up in front of him. I signalled that he should be using an earpiece and moved to the far end of the restaurant. I had virtually finished my meal anyway.
Later, as I left, I went back to chat with him - he hadn't realised I was British too, why should he? Not Asian, that's for sure! I was annoyed at the time because I think using the speaker of a mobile phone in public is very rude whether it is just music or, worse, a conversation. But this annoyance is quickly forgotten and we had a very pleasant chat. I knew it was his wife who he was talking to because he told me. He was from Sheffield. He just didn't realise that it affects people like me from a different generation. There was an American guy in the lounge in Barcelona Airport - seemingly oblivious to the other people around him who had also paid thousands of euros to be there - asking whether her tooth was still hurting!
Today, Sunday, I had signed up for another Meetup group, a writers' group. It was due to start at 11, I woke up really early, had breakfast, then slept till 10 so I had to leave in a hurry which was stupid. I don't have an internet connection when I am out and about and I forgot to draw a detailed map of the location of the meetup. Big mistake. In the end, I went into a steak bar and the owner was also the owner of the bar where I was going, so he led me to the meetup. Otherwise I would never have found it.
Most writers' groups tend to do the same, that is they read each other's work and then pass comments so unfortunately that is what they were doing. All were reading and I wanted to talk about writing. One funny thing. The organiser is Delia and she picked up a copy of Cat Life which I had brought with me and opened it at the chapter about Romania, also written by a Delia from my Meetup group. So I asked if she was Romanian. She was, from Transylvania which is where the chapter ends up. There is also a sentence where "Delia" in the story says, "I am dead". Delia (the organiser) thought that the whole chapter was a very spooky coincidence. Later I wrote a message to her explaining that I really wanted to chat a little more at the meetup and I offered to send her a copy of the chapter she was reading..... In Romanian and in my attempted translation using Google Translate!
Later, I went back to the hotel for a short while, had some lunch and then wandered around the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre which is almost next door to the hotel. Then I bought an ice-cream and the woman commented on my blue fingernails which is not surprising. Not many guys have pale blue fingernails. I explained that I was a ladyboy which made her laugh. If you don't like the subject of being transgender, then skip the next part! 

I bought a pair of glasses with plane glass lenses but the woman selling them kept on saying, "No". She spoke no English. I guess she meant that they did not have any correction, but I could see that. It was exactly what I wanted, to wear them as a "fashion item" because some glasses make me appear more feminine. Maybe some people find this strange but, actually, I was only partly joking when I said I was a ladyboy. All it means really is that I feel a little "transgender" which is not a big deal unless it involves modifying surgery which I do not envisage. I am just having fun being a little more feminine, more girly, these day. I have never been macho-man anyway.

Here is my friend Nomel in Manila who I am seeing on Friday - he is a ladyboy, it just means that, inside he feels more like a girl than a guy. And he looks it! But in the UK, things have got ridiculous so please make no connection with what I am doing with some of the crazy ideas in the UK and the USA - kids taking hormones before puberty for example. The idea being put before Parliament that a guy can wake up one morning and say, without any certificate or doctor's report, "Hey, I am a trans woman, so I can use womens' toilets".
Nomel is interested to know about ladyboys in Bangkok and I would enjoy chatting with one or two but many of them here are prostitutes. It is all a bit seedy. But behind it all is that, in this modern era, one has a greater opportunity to break free from convention and be oneself in terms of sexuality. That can't be wrong can it? And it is accepted more here than in the Philippines. But not to be broadcast, not, for example. "... the first openly gay member of parliament...". Big yawn, who cares?

Written later......
After writing this post, I changed into my skinny jeans and packed 1000 baht in my top pocket, grabbed my little Nikon J1 and took the Metro to the (notorious) Patpong. I just got back and had a super evening. I feel very sad for the girls and ladyboys dancing in front of leering westerners, it is like the market in the street outside. They were very beautiful but I think I was more sad than they were - they seemed fine. I bought a beer and I think it was soon clear that is all I was buying, well I said so to a big brassy trans girl with a booming voice!

I left the change for the beer as a tip and went across the road where I found this young woman, Mon, taking orders for food. I ordered sea-bass which was fantastic, and some red wine. She sat with me at the table and we chatted about various things, including trans things, which was really nice! A guy with this iguana (?) came to see her, I guess he was offering it for photo opportunities. At about 9pm I ran out of money because I only brought 1000 baht which is about 27 euros. So I walked back up the street to the Metro station and I was back in my room within 20 minutes! I will go back for sure.

Saturday 11 November 2017

My first evening in Bangkok

I ended my last post in Dubai just about to board my flight to Bangkok... with the hope of getting some sleep on the flat bed which I had paid so much for. Do you know what? I did not sleep a wink, nothing! Still I had a slight headache which was preventing me from sleeping. The flight was absolutely full. After take-off I went to the small bar at the back of the business class section, on this plane there was a cool little table, rather like a 4-way table in a train except bigger. I attempted to relax with a glass of wine and a sandwich to no avail. So I arrived in Bangkok feeling a bit rough but no matter. I quickly got through immigration and found the Emirates limousine service - the airport is absolutely enormous and thronged with people of all nationalities, mainly Asian of course, with us Europeans standing out like sore thumbs! By this time it was about 2pm.
The car took me to my hotel, the Ibis Siam (I like Ibis) which was about 35 minutes and I checked-in and found the room. My priority number one was sleep. I tipped the contents of my suitcase on the floor and climbed into bed. This is the main reason I like Ibis, the beds are consistently very comfortable. After 30 minutes, I was woken by room service with a small jar of sweets - I should have posted "Do not disturb" on the door. I wrote to the host of the meetup I had planned to go to and said that, if I did go, I would probably take a taxi. I went back to bed, slept about 2 hours and woke refreshed and ready for anything. I looked up the Metro map on my computer to see where I had to go, Metro stop Bang Son. I could see it. I went down to reception expecting them to have a map but it did not show the station. I bought a rechargeable card for the Metro and headed off. First, I went one stop to Siam and changed Metro lines and went to Mo Chit which is the end of the line. But instead of a simple interchange, I had to walk a few metres to a different train, a different payment system. I paid for a plastic token to Bang Son but I couldn't see it on the map in the train. The train went to its final stop and then I had to change to another train. It was brand new and I then saw Bang Son. So that explains why it was so hard to find. I took Exit 5 as instructed in the Meetup group and rapidly found the location, a restaurant called KC Selfie. The owner welcomed me and pointed out the group who had just ordered some food. It's Saturday morning and I'm going to have some breakfast now. Here are some photos of our walk-around! We had a super evening. To me, that is what Bangkok is about, a warm humid evening, a large happy crowd drinking beer, live music. You just can't beat that! At 11pm, I couldn't face that train journey in reverse so Susan, the host, helped me find a taxi. It was a super shiny red taxi so I said farewell to my new friends and stepped inside with aplomb!

(I just realised, I included two photos not from Bangkok. One is of an evening meal my Meetup group had the night before I left Girona. The other is a little secret of mine to make travelling a little more tranquil. It is a zone just to the right of the entrance to the security area at Barcelona Airport. so if you have a few moments to spare - maybe security isn't too busy - then I recommend taking time out here. I had a ticket for the executive lounge but I still preferred to spend time here.)

This is funny! Big Milk to Thais means big breasts!!

This is Monalisa and she bought an interesting pair of shoes! I was going to stitch the two photos together in Photoshop but it's almost impossible on a small laptop.