Gregor

8 Jan

A week into 2013 and this is only my first blog post? I start a lot of blog posts apologizing for the previous drought of blog posts, so I will start this one by saying happy new year!

It’s so weird to say certain things happened a year ago… like I haven’t seen my family, my Melbourne friends or my bf since last year. I haven’t seen Australia since last year and Melbourne since super last year! I haven’t been to a yoga class since last year. I haven’t eaten a pad thai since last year!

But on that last note, let me do away with the negatives and focus on the positives of the 2 weeks I just spent on festive vacay with other vols, expats, friends and wellwishers in the visayas, an island group in the middle of Philippines.

I got back just a couple of days ago and my trip home, on a usually 12 hour bus, took 25 hours, so was super happy to be back. I also had my usual manila provisions, like flat bread, parsley and spinach, to keep me happy for a few days.

I kinda needed that food happiness because on my 2 week holiday, I ate so much amazing food that you generally can’t get anywhere else in the philippines! Black bean burgers, yes! Vegetable paninis, yes! Canellini bean tacos, yes! Calamansi muffins, yes! Roti bread and dhal and Indian curries! Yes yes yes!

I could not go straight back into my soup life after all that joy (although admittedly, I do eat better than lots of the volunteers in other places due to creative provisioning and fantastical experimentation). When the volunteers get together, especially vegetarians and vegans from Melbourne, you can bet your bottom dollar conversation will soon and painstakingly turn to food. Haloumi…. Droooooooooool!!!!

So after the initial happiness of being home and not on a bus and eating good food that doesn’t cost Australian dollars and in my own portion sizes, I am missing my holiday family. On holiday with so many people, the biggest group ever assembled in the history of 9 months in the philippines, you could hang with this person for an hour, then join those people, then split up from the original people and go off by yourself before joining a larger group of people.

In gubat, to hang with people, I used to get on a jeep then minivan for a 4 hour round trip. Now, tania is my closest Melbournian and I will see her this weekend for an overnight to break up and 8 hour round trip. I have made some new peace corps friends in sorsogon, only about a halfa away from home here, which will be amazing and definitely stop me from becoming a recluse, with my best frenemy George R. R Martin as my only company.

You realize the amazing luxury you have back home of picking and choosing who to hang out with and when. You realize the stupidity in complaining about being too busy because you have so many catch ups after work and on the weekend. I have certainly realized how lucky I was to be part of a yoga community in Melbourne and could talk to yogis and teachers after class every single day.

Being alone is awesome. But it’s best after being with other people and being yourself in both of those settings. Too many happy hours, green tea bullshits from starbucks, midnight swims and subsequent wet underwear can be too much. But so too can time spent with my new friend Gregor the praying mantis, to whom I may have to give up my apartment in order to have a peaceful night of sleep. If he really is like Kafka’s Gregor though, I will have to befriend him, because after all he is a human spirit trapped in the oversized body of a bug for no known reason, a misunderstood soul.

See? Too much time alone has me thinking crazy.

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K Lo and I enjoying a Christmas game in our formal sleep wear

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beautiful Boracay

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My dream kitchen – Real Coffee Cafe, Boracay

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Even though I told these wild American vols I am Australian, not Kiwi, they insisted on doing a haka for me

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The stairs aka steep ass ladder up to my private room

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My fellow 25 hour bus commuters

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Gregor the praying mantis

What if the world really was ending tomorrow?

20 Dec

Amidst all the hype on my favourite stupid website 9gag about tomorrow being the end of the world, I can’t help but think ponder the thought of how would I feel if tomorrow were the end of the world and thus the end of my life.

I know it’s a stupid misunderstanding of an ancient Mayan way of distinguishing time, but I have a feeling I will be happy come Saturday and I still have time to do all the things in my life I wanna do and experience everything I have yet to experience.

Those same people misinterpreting the Mayan calendar on 9gag are also those who might say “YOLO” (you only live once)… I shudder at the thought that I might be giving a nod to that message and those kids who provide me with so many hours of entertainment on the internets, but internet sensations like this apocolaypse business remind me that you live as this being once and it’s short relative to the universe, so each present moment should be wondrous and joyful – and not necessarily in a grand way… just in the wonder and joy that you place upon each moment, because that’s all wonder and joy ever is.

I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life but I am in a good place to day – everything is ok and it always is, so I have absolutely no regrets.

I also want to have share some specific things I am grateful for in my life. Just in case the world does end tomorrow, I want my last thoughts to be about all the blessings I have in my life.

I am grateful for my body which always supports me, through all the poundings I give it from surfing and yoga and going outside at dusk with no mozzie repellant on and spending too much time in the midday sun.

I am grateful for courage I can gathered from within myself to do big things in my life  like solo travel and further education and especially this experience, which I did at a time where the life I was living was ridiculously good.

I am grateful for my family who have supported me and from whom I draw my courage in every decision I have made in my life, big and small, and who have shared and been witnesses to so many of the experiences I have had in my life that have shaped me.

I am grateful for my old friends, who know me as the person I am now but who I was a year, and 2 and 5 and 10 years ago, and have watched me change and changed with me and inspired me to change, and for my new friends who encourage me to look at things in different ways and break old habits and also remind me of all the good things in myself and who show me all the good things I could enjoy in people I would have never met otherwise.

I am grateful that I always have a full belly and I know how to feed and nourish myself so that I can give more to those around me (even though sometimes I choose poorly – I’m not perfect!)

So I think tomorrow is actually the end of an old era and the start of a new one, so I want to set some intentions too.

I will practice practice practice at everything and strive to reach my greatest potential

I will give out everything I want to receive – in love and friendships and work and life and affection and gratitude.

I will keep learning in all the ways that are so easily available to me and always have fresh eyes to learn even from things I have practiced a million times over

I will spend more time on love – with my family and friends and myself

I will get better at emails (there has to be at least one tangible one in the list I think!)

It’s already tomorrow on Australia’s east coast and according to credible sources, life is going on. Phew. Like I said, no regrets, but it would have been nice to kiss my cat back home one last time!

6 in Melbourne, 0 in Philippines

12 Dec

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Over the last few months, I have learnt that Filipinos don’t feel the need to hold back on personal comments. If they think your skin is too brown, they’ll tell you. If you come into work with your hair looking like a witch, you won’t go under the radar. If you look skinny, they’ll tell you, but they’ll also tell you if they think you look fat.

Herein lies the inspiration for my blog post today. Yesterday, when I came into work, a girl from my office yelled out across the room “Karen, you gained so much weight in Australia”. When I vented to my usually understanding friend she looked at me and said “well you did gain weight”. A few more if these comments through the day left me feeling pretty flat and understandably a little fat too.

I actually don’t care if I am fat or skinny in Filipinos eyes. They have a very skewed perception of beauty where a dull pink brown colour from Johnson’s baby powder rubbed all over the face is a nicer complexion than tropical tanned skin, they think chemically treated poker straight hair with just a tiny bit of wavy regrowth is better than full natural wavy black locks and girls with muscle definition are macho. If you know what I look like, you can see why I think I might be rated a 0 in Philippines.

The problem I actually have with this situation is that my colleagues are perfectly willing to tell me about my weight loss or gain, my hair shortcomings and the way too brown spot I have on my nose from wearing sunnies walking under the hot sun of Darwin, but they aren’t willing to talk to me about my work, which is what I came here to do.

A comment will be made about my appearance nearly everyday while work I have done will barely get acknowledged. I never get feedback and my only way of improving is my own deep self-reflection. I know my colleagues have lots of problems with my counterpart who is their supervisor but it is never mentioned and the team kinda skates on this thin ice with no one addressing deep seated issues but fixating on superficial ones.

The work isn’t going that well for me here so for someone so used to being capable and assisted in improving, my confidence isn’t at it’s peak. So people’s personal opinions about my looks which I wouldn’t normally give a crap about really bother me here, especially when thrown in interrupting a conversation about work which is what happened just an hour ago. I promptly got myself out of my seat, my laptop in my bag, into a tricy and up the stairs into the safety of my apartment where I can give myself love and go back when I feel better.

Darwin – it’s actually not that bad!

10 Dec

I’m back in the office after a week off work in the top end of Australia. Spent the week enveloped in 90% humidity and beardy love with beautiful guy. My bare feet stood in Australian grass and I heard familiar phrases like “any cash?” and I ate vegetarian food and cooked in a kitchen with a 4 burner stove and washed dishes where hot water came straight from the tap.

Dan and I

Dan and I

We drank a lot and walked way too much in the afternoon sun and spent time hanging out with each others friends and many hours up in bed talking about who knows what well into the morning.

 

Can’t really say much more except that it was easily one of the best week’s of my life.

jumping croc at adelaide river

Unlike last time I said goodbye to my guy, the tears only lasted a few minutes while saying goodbye. I’ll be seeing him again in just a few months for more than a week of nightmoves. And after all the love of the week, was way to be happy to be sad saying see you soon.

It also helped that when I came back to Philippines, I was greeted by a familiar face at the airport who travelled with me all the way to Bicol, the temperature was a soothing high 20s and people mam’d me all day. I spent the weekend at awesome events to say the first goodbyes to intake 33 and remembering all the things I love about Philippines, like top-loading jeeps, squash cooked in coconut milk, kids waving at us flying down the highway at super speeds, volcanoes and waterfalls… and of course my bachelor pad in Gubat.

volunteers gone wild

Conversation

27 Nov

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I’m having a bit of a hard time at the moment. I don’t wanna dwell too much on the negative stuff but I’ve been feeling a bit lonely and isolated this week on top of the anxiety I’ve been feeling about Darwin.

Dan has been busy working super extra hours for the trip and we haven’t been chatting as much as we usually do and I realised something horrendous…. Some days, if I don’t speak to him, I don’t speak to anyone. I mean, I speak to people here, of course I do, and I love the chit chats I have with people around the office and around the town. What I mean is a real a conversation, and I mean the type of conversation where you’re sharing something meaningful, like a sense of humour or common interests or love for something or past experiences.

I find emails really hard, especially when I’m replying to an email from someone who hasn’t written to me in a long time and just digested everything they have been doing in the last month and then said at the end “so how are you going?”. Then I find it really awkward to reply because I am thinking does this person want me to respond to everything they have told me in this email? Or when you say “how are you going” do you want me to start with that and then respond?

I love knowing what my friends are up to, more than anything, but I miss knowing it because I texted them to catch up and they’re busy, or I am doing it with them, or one of my other friends told me in a separate catch up, or I just know because they told me. I find an email conversation can be really one way if you don’t do it right…. And that’s why I guess I do it so inconsistently. I like to take the time to really do it right, time I don’t seem to have for some unknown reason because god knows what the heck I am doing with my time but it seems to march right by me.

Lately too, some friends have been throwing out the “let’s skype”…. I find skype really hard too, I think the conversation can’t flow organically any more so than in email without the best internet connection and without being able to notice non-verbal cues, but it’s definitely better than nothing. A skype date for me here is as close as I’m getting to real dates, so when this “let’s skype” business gets thrown around and never followed up on, it’s like the equivalent of seeing someone in the street from high school and saying “OMG it’s so good to see you, let’s have dinner sometime” when you both know it will never happen. Honestly, I know it isn’t like this, but that’s what it feels like sometimes here when I am alone and so isolated.

My friends at home love and support me and my friends here are totally amazing, but I miss conversations in my life with a statement and a response and then another response and so on in the most organic way, with irony and sarcasm and warmth and hope and feeling and even touching.

Here, I have had to come to love my Monday morning facebook inbox messages from Lease before she goes into the studio, viber conversations with Kate about certain boys, hilarious mp3 recordings of Kerry singing, pictures of cats from my mum, good morning messages from Dan…. I love these because they capture the kind of moments I would have if I were with them in person, which you can’t really replicate over email or skype. I know also when I receive them that person is thinking of me and sending their love, because that’s what I do with my vibe messages and faceinhole.com photos and 9gag reposts and all the other stupid shit the internet makes easy for us.

So you might have gathered from reading my blog that even when it’s a ranting, rambling post like this one, I like to put forth some kind of solution or resolve to improve me situation. This is why blogging makes me feel better I think! I get all my thoughts out and then know what I have to do….

I’m more of a face to face long catch up over brunch kinda person. So when I rant about all this stuff, I want it to be clear that I am most responsible for my current state of isolation as anyone. And I guess I know what I have to do. Because emails and skypes are the only modes I have, I have to get better at them, practice both of them more and be more grateful for them.

Ps can I just add that i am grateful everyday for my dear “office mate” Aileen ❤

“i’d see your eyes in my eyes suddenly”

25 Nov

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This time next week I’ll be in apparently sweaty Darwin for a week with my man. I am unbelievably excited – like staying up late at night in excitement and dreaming about the reunion excited – but I am also really scared.

When Dan and I decided to long distance, we originally thought we would just be seeing each other once, in November when he came here to visit. But new romance got a bit much and within 6 weeks he was here in my arms, with plans for future rendezvous in the works.

They say love conquers all and I believe the feeling does trumps all other feelings (like annoyance over miscommunicated feelings and subsequent reactions in text messages). but it can’t conquer contracts with standard 4 weeks annual leave pro rata or volunteer allowances or immovable committee meetings so this Darwin trip came to fruition. Darwin was selected not only because it is romantically right in the middle, a 4 hour flight for both of us, incidentally newly home to a friend of his and 2 friends of mine with their own loves, a place neither of us have visited and both wanted to and a place with sale flights when we were booking… It was selected because it would feel a bit like a dream like holidays always are, not like real life and not reinforcing the normalcy of Melbourne I miss so dearly. It was picked so I wouldn’t have to say hello and then goodbye to home again so quickly.

But alas, in addition to the 3 friends between us we already had there, 3 more of dan’s friends are visiting, plus another friend of mine, the original Li Li. No more holiday anonymity, this is a proper group of friends, ala the tv show ‘friends’. To add a bittersweet cherry to my bittersweet passionfruit frozen yoghurt sunday, just a couple of hours ago Li told me husky would be playing on Saturday night – only my favorite band, no biggie.

I followed these guys all over victoria to consume the feeling their music stirred in me, dragging a bevy of semi-unwilling friends along for the ride and whose album let’s me feel the homesickness I suppress whenever I feel brave enough to play it and feel everything my body so desperately wants me to feel.

So the reason my excitement is overshadowed by fear is that the week in Darwin will be more like Melbourne than I thought it would be, which means I’ll have week long a taste of this pseudo-Melbourne. I’ll get to talk to my girlfriends Kahlia and King about work and life and Melbourne and love. Li and I will talk about music before we realize 3 hours has passed. Someone will cook me a vegetarian dinner which I won’t have to pay for. And of course, I’ll get to spend 7 days looking at dan’s face in high definition, with his mouth moving in sync with the words coming out of it and not saying “what??!!” every second sentence…. Real Hugs and kisses will be more amaze balls than I can handle too of course, compared to “xoxo” action.

But I’m scared that I will come back to Gubat and feel that hole again I felt when I first arrived and that sometimes sneaks up when I wanna share my life here but have no one to share it with.

As you may already know, I don’t like to place attachments to feelings. BUT as you would definitely also know, I feel everything and sometimes, when it gets a bit much, I like to share these feelings with the people I love at home…. Just say everything on my mind, dwell on certain things for a second or two longer than a yogi should (BOYS!!!) and then let it go. I am SO excited to have a week of this, but so sad it’s just a week and I’ll have to let that comfort go too.

I didn’t come here expecting to always be comfortable… In fact a big part of why I came was to feel uncomfortable a lot and to observe in myself the reactions to these moments and learn from them. I also don’t want to reneg on all the things I’ve said in previous posts about loving my life here – you know I do!!! But I can love life here and still miss life back home. The love I have for Gubat is different for the love I have for Melbourne, for my Gubat friends different than for my Melbourne friends and my love for my counterpart is EXTREMELY different than my love for Dan. Oh and my “love” (kinda a little like hate at the moment” for videoke is very different from love for listening to beautiful, lyrical, thought-provoking, poetic live music with a crowd similar stirred…. A a week can’t come quick enough! But please, don’t go too fast !

“eff you mother nature” and other tales from the road

4 Nov

I’m at the airport waiting for my first of 2 flights to get home from a long weekend in Dumaguete with Alex to visit Claire. The second flight today will be the appalling 18th flight in 7 months of overseas living and even more appallingly will be followed by 12 more (booked so far) flights for the next 5 months. Stimulating local economies and enabling 2 way cultural awareness don’t even begin to curb the guilt I feel at participating in such a carbon intensive industry and throwing pesos at cebupacificair.com… But when you live on the second largest archipelago in the world (7100 islands) and you have wanderlust, you gotta do what you gotta do and make up for it in other ways.

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This weekend in Dumaguete was characterized by adventure … We joined a local barkada group through Claire’s connections on a birthday camping weekend on Apo island, a 30 minute banka ride from a port off Dumaguete. Before island party times, stopped abruptly by power going out at 9pm, we spent the whole day swimming with giant sea turtles, the wisest looking of all animals, interrupted only by lunch on a cliff perched restaurant. We were shown to our accommodation for the night… It was one of those pop up wind shelters, which could maybe fit 2 adults sitting up, but 3 girls we were so 3 we must be sleeping like sardines with nought but our body heat to keep us warm and the sharp assuage of coral pieces under our backs since the birthday guy had passed out on our sleeping mat.

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I ended up on the outer edge and my internal monologue throughout the night sounded like “eff ants biting me, eff mother nature, eff you Alex taking up all my room and pushing me out of the tent *roll over and see beautiful clear sky with stars above my head* oh man this so beautiful! I’m having so much fun”. This ebb and flow was punctuated by alternate fists curled in frustration and hands behind the head relaxation. The most exciting moment was when a dog peed on the side of the tent and I was seriously contemplating sleeping either on top of 2 guys squished into a 1 man tent next to us or getting in with a 16 year old kid 2 tents over… Deliberating over this conundrum eventually sent me off to sleep and I awoke around 4am ready to get on a boat at 6.30am. Overly attached boat passenger am I.

I appreciated this experience more after some Bircher muesli and a hot shower at Claire’s and remembered fondly too many other amazing moments we are so lucky to have the chance to experience on our adventure here in the Philippines…. Here are some of the highlights.

Racing down a mountain in antipolo on our first tricy ride during an amazing race challenge in our training week when we first arrived in the Philippines. We originally thought it was a race but when we realized it wasn’t, we took our lives back into our own hands and went “Dahan Dahan Lang po” (slowly slowly) the rest of the day.

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Kayaking on lake bulusan at 8am and crashing into an exhausted, food coma sleep at 11am at a private cold springs with Alex and Tania on a tour of the province arranged by the LGU just for their visit.

Failing to see whale sharks but having a whale of a time in Donsol with most of the intake 33 crew and riding 7 in a tricy back to our resort.

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Feeding fish at Matnog fish sanctuary before a lazy afternoon island chilling on subic beach enjoying a tropical romance with my hot guy.

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Walking slowly for 5km in runners way too small in a fun run in tobacco city and grabbing a Taho to give me strength for the last km with Kristen, before bestowing awards to real runners along with Marly and Mark.

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Getting marooned in antipolo for the second volunteer intake training for the year and sleeping in a bed wet from a water leak over head with only a little bit of blue body paint left on my face from earlier antics.

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Visiting endless kilometers of malls in Makati with Mum and Jen and doing an all nighter at a gay bar before getting a 6.30am flight to legazpi to get home.
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Alternating between formal titles (mr jäger, mr Bacchus) and friendly intimacy (*points out sleeping tarsier* check out this guy) on holiday around Cebu with maganda Skanda from down under and getting my drunk ass thrown off some guys lap after I tried to pass out on him in a club while Skanda flirted with locals and enjoyed dance floor drink service.

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Visiting Bacolod for the masskara festival, where floats in parades apparently need 20 minute gaps for observers to take in all the glory of electric masskara. I soberly participating in many “conversations” with my drunk friends until 3am before getting up at 4.45 for a 6.30am flight back to leggaz.

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Swimming in a hot spring while a tropical depression froze the air around me at 10pm at night in Irosin to celebrate Gubat’s success in the Kasanggayahan festival in Sorsogon.

Right now I am listening to my favorite Filipino song performed by the singer/guitarist in the waiting lounge of Dumaguete airport at 8.30am and I feel less guilty (for now) about all that carbon and more grateful for all I have seen, experienced, smelt, tasted, heard, enjoyed and hated in my travels thorough the experience.

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“all good trips are, like love, being carried out of yourself and deposited into the midst of terror and wonder” (“why we travel“, Pico Iyer). Indeed, with every terrorizing long haul ride in a minivan going way too fast down the national highway and every wondrous waterfall stream pounding my back while I float in a stream, I feel myself more open to every new
experience I might encounter and more fond of all those that are now memories.