Sunday 31 December 2017

Preparations... and a pig!

Not brilliant quality, I was using
my cheapo Samsung J1
On Friday morning I updated my blog and arranged to visit Nini and Alexander in their home where they and their neighbours were preparing food for New Year's Eve, or maybe I should call it Nochevieja. I found the house very easily but what I didn't realise was how close they were to her mum with whom relations are a bit strained and where she was living last time I was here. I think I helped her a lot because the money I sent her during 2017 enabled her to move away. And the house is much nicer and a little bigger than that of her mum. Alexander is a really nice, charming guy and I like him a lot but I think I know who wears the trousers. So enjoy very much being with them plus Sofia who is 4. I am writing this on Saturday evening. I will tell you about today in a moment!
Yesterday was so very cold and overcast and it rained from time to time. Most of my clothes were in the wash so I was wearing shorts, all I had, not very sensible. The neighbours all clubbed together and bought a pig. When Nini first told me about it, I think it was still walking around but by the time I arrived it had been gutted (I am sure it was gutted) and wrapped up in a black polythene bag. It fell to Alexander to butcher the pig, the photo shows a fairly late stage and the various parts were distributed among the neighbours for cooking. How a guy off-work with recuperating torn ligaments in his left shoulder can do that, I don't know. Although the knife, and at some stages a small axe, were in his right hand, it still involved a lot of twisting. I did warn him to take care but he seemed oblivious to the risk. And the riskiest part was hacking the meat off the legs with a very sharp knife. And that was after we had gone for a beer together.
I stayed till 6pm but then said that I wanted to go back home but Alexander and Sofia came with me, first to a supermarket in the centre of Cuba to buy food for me, and then for me to catch my bus home. I will explain, Cuba is a region of Pereira, separated from the main centre of the city by Avenida de las Amercas which is about 5km long, running east to west. The airport and swimming pools are close to Cuba. Roads run like spokes of a wheel from the centre of Cuba, I live on one, Calle 70 served by bus 14 and they live in a zone on Calle 38 served by bus 5. The bus system, called Megabús is superb. All journeys are the same price and one has to use a card in which are stored journeys. The buses are frequent and the bus between Cuba and the centre runs like a train in its own section of road. To enter the main bus station in Cuba involves scanning the card at the entrance, then all journeys are included. So if you have an interchange as in my case, there is no need to swipe the card in the second bus.
I slept badly last night, one of the neighbours was playing music very loudly late at night and today, I still haven't got over my jet-lag. Part of the reason is that I haven't stopped since I arrived here and I know it is recommended to take a complete day off. No chance of that. From when I got off the plane in Bogotá I have been feeling very dehydrated and I worry that I have some kind of illness - not for my sake but because I don't want to spread it around. I just feel feel generally rough. But I have no cold symptoms, no temperature, no cough, nose clear. So I have to assume that it is the result of the flight from Spain.

Now to today, Saturday. The weather was much warmer with a hot sun, maybe a change of at least 10c in temperature. Alexander was due to have physiotherapy this morning and we had arranged to meet in Plaza Victoria in the centre at 9pm. But I was running late and they waited for me at Cuba bus station instead, which made Alexander 15 minutes late for his appointment - they told him to come back on Tuesday. Obviously it was as a result of my lateness but I didn't feel to blame because they could easily have stuck to Plan A! But we had a super day together. We strolled around shopping malls, had a coffee. I ordered a capuchino but it was nothing like that, it was weak and milky with no evidence of froth (they replaced it with something stronger but still without froth!) Last time I was here, I wrote in this blog how difficult it is to get a decent coffee here, the land of coffee! By contrast, Manila had many Starbucks coffee shops which served superb coffee. We took a taxi to Parc de Arborleda which is a favourite mall of mine. I have said before, the taxi drivers here are the nicest in the world. On the way, the driver gave me a pronounciation lesson which was enormous fun. I think I will have to forget all about those Spanish rolled Rs, here the sound is much gentler.

I had promised to buy Nini a dress and I spoke to Alexander just to check he had no problem with that. I am sure you can imagine the answer, I guess I was just being ultra-polite. Hey, I pay their rent but it will stop when his shoulder is recovered (chopping up a pig not terribly conducive to that!) She chose a marvellous black culotte. I will take a photo when she wears it next, she looked fabulous in the shop! It was about 55 euros. She asked my opinion about the one in green but I didn't think it was a good idea, black and white are so safe and you can wear anything with them. She said she didn't have any other clothes in green, so it was an easy decision. I am so happy she asked me. Many men are dress designers (admittedly many are gay) so we know about clothes! I wrote something similar when I was in Manila I think. We bought various things for my apartment, nothing for them. It is all very different this time, it is almost as if they don't want me to spend too much. For sure, last time was expensive because I was often with various members of the family, sister, Now we are just four and it is so nice. We had a meal together which I paid for of course, it came to about 20 euros. I am happy to spend that just on myself in Spain. And I don't feel they are taking advantage of me, Alexander said "Muchas gracias" afterwards as we walked away. I cannot tell you how different it feels this time. Nini is very happy, but rather tough on Sofia at times (haha, instead of me last time!) She is genuinely warm and friendly towards me (maybe a year ago you would have been sceptical but this time, yes, it is genuine). Unlike the Philippines, we all speak the same language. I find Alexander difficult to follow sometimes, more so than taxi drivers for example. He shortens (eats) his words rather in the stye of Andalucia and speaks rapidly. And it is funny, often I have trouble following Sofia. So she then patiently repeats the words to me more slowly!
Oh, I forgot, I bought her two colouring books and coloured pencils. I spent a lot of the time with her in tow, holding my hand. This is the family I never had! Prince Harry got into a little bit of trouble with the real family of Meghan Markle for using a similar phrase about her, so I should make it clear that I am talking about offspring, of which I have none! There is one generation between Sofi and Nini of course but somewhat more than one between me and her. But they often call me Tio Steve, which I like, because it makes me out to be the same generation as her parents!
They don't have a TV and I am buying them one. It was not solicited in any way, it was totally on my initiative. I just had a strong feeling that I wanted to buy them a tele. We all liked a 32 inch Samsung TV with TDT (digital terrestrial TV package) but I will wait a day or two for the New Year to pass. This was in the Éxito supermarket but in the past I have used Alkosto which is on Avenida de la Americas and is more of a technology store. But they will need a sofa from which to watch TV. I suggested buying one second-hand and buying or making a "throw" it is called in the UK. Simply a loose cover over the whole sofa. They were looking at new sofas in the shops but they have very little money, so my suggestion was better I think! In fact, as I left Cuba on the no 14 bus back home, we passed what looked like a re-conditioning shop. I came back home because I needed some rest and they went back home on the number 5 bus! And that brings me right up to the present time which is 7pm on Saturday evening. I think I deserve a beer! And my friends in Europe can wake up on Sunday morning to find my latest post. I hope you enjoy reading about my exploits!
Oh, by the way, Nini showed me the book of their wedding in October, she had sent photos by Skype of course but this was a printed book professionally put together. It was a spectacular affair. But I never asked, "How many sofas did that cost?" because to them it was clearly the most important day in their lives and my question never left my lips... of course not! My contribution was a box of 24 red roses which I think they forgot till the last minute, so I ordered them from a florist in Pereira online. They ended up in various bouquets.


Friday 29 December 2017

To Colombia... again!

I am in Pereira, Colombia. This is my second time in the city, last time - about a year ago - I came to see my friend Nini, we did lots of things together, often with her sister and their two children. But now she is married, I have all the photos from October but I had never met her husband, Alexander, until yesterday when I arrived here. What a really nice guy! And they are so happy together! And of course that makes me happy too. I had big doubts about this trip and had a kind of panic the day before I came. Maybe it was a big mistake? Nini was not responding much on Skype. Maybe they didn't want me to come? And I had booked the apartment for 1 month with an option for one more and I booked my flights for a two month stay. For sure, I have lots of things to do apart from with Nini but she is the driving force behind my coming here again, as was the case last year. But, in the end, she warmed up on Skype and I was all set to come. That seems a long time ago now but it was Wednesday (27th). I will tell you about the journey.
Unfortunately, I have discovered that I can't sleep on planes, even in business class as was the case here. The flight from Barcelona to Bogotá was truly awful. I had a pain in my head which wouldn't go away and it prevented me from sleeping. But, having got up too early at 5am, I was too tired to do anything useful. So the (10) hours really dragged. And, of course, all my doubts about the trip really started coming back with a vengeance.
We arrived at 9pm local time, the wait for immigration wasn't too long and I only had my cabin bag and my suitcase and bike were checked through to Pereira. Oh, I forgot to mention, my bike was taken free of charge. I was expecting to pay 90 euros each way but the check-in girl made a phone call and was told that it was free for a business class ticket. News to me!
I was picked up at meeters and greeters by a driver from Hotel Golden where I had booked a room for the night. The room was fine but the hotel was very unpleasantly cold, especially the room. I don't know if that was the reason but I slept really badly, a lot of the time semi-conscious. Next morning I complained but the response was, "This is Bogotá, always cold". I guess you can imagine my reply.
The flight to Pereira was delayed slightly, I think they had to jump-start one of the engines! When we arrived above Pereira, the plane circled endlessly, as if it was in a stack over London. Maybe I missed it on the announcement, but the reason was bad weather below. After a long time, suddenly the pilot put on full power and we returned to Bogotá. Everyone was very tolerant and understanding, better than running out of fuel at 10,000 ft which was obviously the risk if he had waited longer. I guess the plane had sufficient fuel for its scheduled return to Bogotá anyway. 
The airline issued food vouchers and put us all on a different plane which left at 1pm, the flight is only 1 hour so, very soon I was on the ground in Pereira again. Nini and Alexander greeted me, they had come on his motorbike so I took a taxi, the bike fitted on the rear seat because, in the bag, it is very compact. The wheels come off, the handlebars are floating free and of course the pedals come off also. Nini and Alexander followed us to the apartment which we found easily, the owner was talking to the driver on the phone.
The apartment is stupendous!

After the cramped rooms that I suffered in the Philippines, this was truly amazing.  There is a photo of Nini and Alexander, probably the only time they were not laughing and joking.

I was just so mega-tired, I cannot explain how bad I felt. I thought maybe I was catching a dose of flu. I was very dehydrated from the flights. Nini is so sweet, she unpacked all my clothes and technical toys. We spent some time in the apartment and then I went shopping for food. And Nini and Alexander came with me. Then later, after a spectacular ice cream sweet, they took the motorbike back home and, after quickly cooking a meal, I went to bed at 8pm. I had a quick breakfast at 5am when I woke from a deep sleep and then went back to sleep again till 7am. I didn't care about re-synchronsing with Colombian time, I just needed sleep!

So that brings me up to the present time. Nini will ring me later and I will go to their home which is only about 3km away. They are preparing food for New Year's Eve and I offered to buy drinks.
About the panic over coming here? Well, I am so glad I came here, it dissipated very rapidly. Almost the first thing I did was to confirm my option on the apartment to 1st March. So that is where I will be till then. No way is this a "holiday", for two months, I live in Colombia. Now that is exciting, I think! No one to nag me about speaking Catalan. No stress from the continuing arguments about independence. I accept my fate. I went on two marches in Barcelona but I am tired of fighting the cause. Let them get on with it, I am a long way away.


Friday 22 December 2017

A Shock

I am at home in Celrà between journeys, Christmas is almost completely passing me by! I'm sorry, I didn't get round to sending any Christmas cards this year, normally I paint a new design each year. I miss my family in the Philippines. And I am shocked at the result of the elections in Catalunya. I thought that the many companies leaving and the fact made totally clear that an independent Catalunya would be outside the EU would dampen the fervour for independence, but not so. The popular vote was against independence as is the winning party but that's not how it works in most countries, it is the number of seats in Parliament. And that by a very small margin gives the independistas an overall majority which guarantees a continuation of the chaos and division in this region of Spain where I made my home.
But I can't see living here as being viable any more. Maybe it would not be so bad in Barcelona but Girona is strongly pro-independence and I cannot face the constant barrage of propaganda and posters. 

In a few days, I leave for Colombia but I'm not sure if that is such a good idea now. Part of me wants to get away from this chaos but another part of me wants to stay in order to decide where to go. Do I move to Valencia - real Spain? Or as my friend Christèle suggested, to France. But I would have to learn a new tax system and improve my French but that would happen if I lived there. But the area around Perpignan doesn't appeal to me very much, I find the city boring! There are too many Brits in the south of France, especially in places like Cerét.
I talked about buying a house or flat in Colombia but even that has been sent into uncertainty because I think, if I did so, it would only be to live there for 4 months in the year. And I need to sort out my permanent residence first. And it has to be in Europe because I want to be able to see my friends in the Philippines in 2018 and I would miss my friends in Ukraine. One wants to visit me during the summer.
I cannot sell my apartment here because the prices have dropped and I would lose money. I can rent it out for a 3 year contract, that is easy to do but then I wouldn't have sufficient capital to buy another place, I will have to rent another flat.
I read a comment in The Times this morning, "Rajoy has done a Cameron"! It was a risk calling elections so soon. "What if the independistas retained control?" That was the obvious question that I asked myself a couple of months ago when Article 155 was declared, putting Catalunya under direct rule from Madrid. And I am very unhappy about the leading politicians being in jail on remand, meaning without trial. That was a mistake, I think, and may well have swung the result of the elections. But that was the decision of a judge, not Mariano Rajoy.
I am hugely depressed about this. I can't travel anywhere, such as Valencia to have a look at possible places to live. It's Christmas I have to remind myself and anyway, I am going to Colombia on Wednesday. Maybe that's what I need to do, let the dust settle here and then make a decision when I get back on March 1st. I'm even taking my bike with me. I have a special transportation bag with containers for the wheels. The extra cost on the plane is 90 euros each way. It would not be the same renting a bike in Pereira, people get very attached to their bikes. Mine is carbon-fibre, a smart red and black, lightweight. But not so light when I carry it in the bag!
My bike clothes match the bike, serious cyclists are vain! In April, I go again to Ukraine, for Easter. I booked 10 days in Kiev but then I can travel to Nezhin or Kharkiv by train or plane.
I had already started clearing out my flat in preparation for renting it out before the elections, but I am not making a decision at the moment. It has to be totally clear of all personal things but it will be rented out as furnished, so the beds and furniture remain. I cannot believe how much stuff I have accumulated but then I thought that I would live here for ever. Four bedrooms, 100 square metres, big kitchen. It is perfect. Just one small snag. Location! Or do you think I will get used to the political pressure and stay here? The independistas will see the elections as a de-facto referendum on independence but Article 155 remains and the laws forbidding referendums and independence remain. Expect fireworks!

Then I added this later. No one is telling me to leave. It would be easier to change my mental attitude than change where I live! Maybe I will just have to learn to put up with it, but I am very depressed - there will not be a stable government in Catalunya for a long time. But I have a super flat which I could never replicate anywhere else, a health centre with free health care one block away. A charming lady doctor and a funny gruff nurse, Julio. My Meetup group but I don't enjoy that so much these days. But I still like the idea of a place in Colombia to use during the winter here. But I long for my filipino family far more than my colombiana familia. The trouble is, Manila traffic is a nightmare and some of the city is a bit wild west!
I was thinking about it in the bus back from Girona. My best plan is to stay put, regardless of all the political argy-bargy, and only consider leaving if they actually achieve independence which could take a very long time. Consider the UK, desperately hoping for trade deals with the rest of the world. An independent Catalunya, outside the EU also, would have to do the same. But the UK has the advantage of an orderly 2 year exit. An independent Catalunya would never have that luxury.
In Girona this morning, I looked at people around me, the vast majority who would have voted for the independence parties. I don't want to insult their intelligence but I don't suppose they had given much thought about the economic consequences of independence. They are driven by hatred for Madrid but that won't help them when the money runs out. I will stay on board but I can jump ship any time! But I will bide my time.

I had fun posting comments in The Times online today, Sunday 24th. John Carlin who was sacked by El País a couple of months ago for writing an anti-goverment piece in The Times, wrote another article very hostile to the government in Madrid. This was the second part of my post..

Unfortunately the actual discussion over whether an independent Catalonia would be financially viable has been lost. After the anger and the age-old feeling of being victims which drive this process (like stage 1 rocket fuel!) have been expended, I believe that the money will run out because I don't know where it will come from. Outside the EU and having to set trading tariffs with the world. And we know all about that!
But I have accepted my fate. If they finally get their dream of freedom from tyranny flying like a bird, with me on board to who knows where, it will still take a little while. So for the moment I will stay put in the independista hot-bed which is Girona! I am sorry, I have strayed slightly from the subject of the article. "Order, order".


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 of poor quality.

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

Reflections on the trip...... Some memories are of Nomel being rather distant with me while being warm and friendly with Joshua. But most of the time, we had a great time! He denied being cool 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 a little. 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!