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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Beginnings

Mabuhay from the Philippines! Alas, my first blog entry! I very much wanted to write one prior to leaving the islands but with everything going on, the task-at-hand was close to impossible; not enough time, no internet connection...mainly the former, there was just too much to do.

Disclaimer: This blog was created to document my life as it unfolds; the adventures that I am able to experience through the different places that I visit, the people that I meet and the food that I taste. Please bare with me as I have received no formal training on blog writing but hope that my stories will carry some entertainment value. Sorry, no refunds.

In my last few days in Hawaii, the value of time became much more apparent. Blink your eye, and you've already lost it. There was still so much I could have done and wanted to do...I still get teary-eyed thinking about all the 'could haves': potential love interests, more food (Highway Inn!), more time with family and friends. For those of you who were able to help give me a fabulous send-off, it was truly more than I could have asked for. Thank you to each and every one of you who made it possible! The view from the Coconut Club at the Aston Waikiki overlooking Waikiki Beach was amazing (although I really regret being late since I missed the sunset; if I could have done it over, I should have left in the summer!) and all the familiar faces that I saw there to support me and bid me farewell and wish me luck was priceless. In the last six years, I was able to reestablish connections with many old friends and more importantly, develop new ones. It is truly mind-blowing to think of all that I gained in the last six years...

Sometimes I still wonder if I made the right decision because of everything that I have chosen to give up and start anew. But I suppose if you've known me pre-Highway Inn, you would know that this was the inevitable and Hawaii wouldn't be able to contain me for much longer; 6 years in itself was an amazing record! There is still so much I want to see and do and as we all know, I'm not get any younger! So with that, I chose to step out of my line and go to the other line that looked faster. Hopefully I will be able to look back one day and know that I made the right choice and got in the 'better' line.

January 1, 2010: a new year, a new decade, a new life. My dear friends Joyce (with Miya-in-tow) and Cory Ann brought me to the airport. With the recent renewal of my Admiral's Club membership ($380 with discounts!), I was able to bring both girlfriends in to the gate area. Although the membership cost me an arm and a leg, especially for someone who is now officially unemployed, it was worth it to be able to spend my last remaining hours in Hawaii with them. I also felt that this newly unemployed gal truly deserved an upgrade to first class so I emptied out almost my entire Hawaiian Airmiles account (all 90,000 miles!) and swapped for the upgrade. For the 11 hours on the plane, I'd like to think that it was worth it. Although in hindsight, that could have been another trip somewhere! While in air, I was able to watch 4 movies and enjoy a first class meal!

After an hour delay, I arrived safely at Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport some 12 hours later. Very un-Reginaish, all I had was the name of the place that I would be staying. No address, no telephone number. However, equipped with my contagious personality (I really don't know how else to desribe my querky ways of making friends with random people), I was able to get some young boys to get off their computer game and help find the details to my hotel. Yeah, somehow the official Information counter was not equipped with a computer and instead only a binder filled with a 10 page list or so of hotels located throughout Manila none of which matched the name of my hotel. I purchased a SIM card (+63 91 9327 1543) and was on my way to the hotel.

I'm always wary of being taken advantage of not only as a tourist but as a female so I always have to have my guard up. I also learned through experience that if I befriend them, they would feel bad so that was my tactic. I wished my cab driver a hearty "Happy New Year" and prayed that he would take me directly to my hotel and not for a ride around Manila. I mean, I wouldn't mind but it was dark and my friends were waiting for me! Close to an hour later, I finally arrived at my hotel and there to greet me was my beautiful friend Lavinia*** who was the reason for this trip. Lavinia had just exchanged her vows in Kuala Lumpur with her new husband Martin three days earlier. Since I knew I couldn't make it to that ceremony because of our busy holiday catering schedules, I opted to attend the reception in the Philippines which is where Martin is from. The best thing about international weddings is that you usually have a choice on which reception you want to attend.

I was able to dress up in my mustard colored saree which I purchased in New Delhi on my trip there in 2008. Different from the first time, I didn't have to use youtube as my guide to wrap and instead I was able to get professional help. The reception took place at Fernwood Gardens which is a beautiful venue to hold a wedding reception! I also got to see Lorraine and James who are my new (Hawaii connection) friends whom I met through Juliana (see *** below) and who Highway Inn will be catering their wedding reception at Waikiki Aquarium in March 2010. Yes, I do live in a small world where everyone knows everyone. After the beautiful reception, we went back to Martin's relative's house. Although I didn't get a tour of the inside, the house was beautiful from the outside. Now I understand why the houses in Waipahu are so big! All the same elements are there so yes, the black metal gates are a Filipinio thing.
The following day, the newly wed couple rented a bus for all of us out-of-town guests, 25 or so of us, to take a tour around old Manila. It was nice to have the opportunity to view the city with others...usually I do this alone. The day ended with some shopping and a great upscale Filipino dinner that only costed us $12 per person!
Day 3: The group shrunk down to 12 and we decided that we would spend the next few days at a resort. Our original plan to go to Batanagas was foiled after we learned that there were thousands of people stranded at the port (I'm assuming due to the new year's holiday). We decided that it would be difficult to go there since half of our group needed to be back in Manila within 24 hours and if they were left at the port, they would miss their flight. So we opted to venture out to Subic Bay which is said to have once been home to a U.S. military base - yes, I can never be too far from my fellow Americans even if I try.

On our way there, our bus broke down. Ah yes, at least once on your trip, your bus needs to break down (this has happened to me in Vietnam and India and my boat broke down in Cambodia) and what was supposed to be a 1.5 hour drive ended up being 4.5 hours! We finally made it to the resort at 3:30PM. I suppose for non-Hawaii residents, this place is beautiful but for me, this would rate as a beach in Nanakuli, actually who am I kidding, it's not nearly as nice. Although I have found the Philippines to be quite affordable, the resort is actually quite expensive. For 6 of us sharing a 'family' villa, is about $50 USD per person. But whatever, it is the idea that I can relax and not have an agenda.

After arriving, we learned that the resort we're staying at has a 'water park' which consists of several pools and slides. I gathered enough courage and took a dive in one of their slides (I have attached photos). Following the advice of Trevor, one of our travel mates, I leaned back and OH-EM-GEE, I went zipping down the slide and could not slow down. At the end of the slide is a little funnel/shoot, where you go around a few and then get dumped in the water. I was so disoriented and had no idea how to control myself, I ended up diving head first into the small pool. In the process, I somehow hit the left side of my leg and lost my right contact. It was a bit traumatic. Therefore, I treated myself to a one hour massage. $15 for a one hour massage, how could I deprive myself? After the massage, I was so relaxed that I separated from the group, took a shower and called it a night.

This is the deadly slide that almost killed me. You're supposed to come down feet first after whirling around in the little (big) funnel. Somehow I lost control and came out of it head first! Day 5: I finally found a computer! I really didn't think it would be this difficult to locate a computer! Luckily, I have my iphone so I'm able to get quick emails and check facebook when I'm in a wi-fi area so my need to be connected is addressed.

Half the group has left and I think for us remaining 6, we'll be here at White Rock for another night and then I will need to decide if I will go back to Manila and spend a few more days with Lavinia & Martin and whoever is still here or if I should go up north to Baguio where everyone says is a must-see if you're in the Philippines. Either way, I hope it won't be too long until I can write again....

8:00AM Breakfast @White Rock
*** Lavinia and I actually met circa 2001 and the best part of the story is that we actually met through her older sister Gemma who was vacationing in Nepal with her Aunt Genie. I had mentioned to Gemma that I would soon be going to Malaysia (I would be in Singapore and needed to make my way to Kuala Lumpur to catch my flight back to Oita). Without any reservations, Gemma gave me her sister Lavinia's contact information and told me that I should call her once I get in. I accepted but thought, 'nah, I won't call, I don't even know this girl!' After being dropped off in the pitch black streets of Kuala Lumpur one morning, without a map or guidebook in hand, I eventually settled in a cheap motel. With no idea of where to go and what to do, I thought I'd give Lavie a ring as the best that could happen would be that I'd receive some information on where to go. She came to greet me with her friend Juliana and I have been friends with them ever since! She quickly took me in and had me stay with her and her family. She invited me out with her friends and allowed me to experience night life in KL. It was truly a blessing that I met Gemma and will always think of the Rajarams as my Malaysian family.

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