Travel

Hokkori

It’s the warm fluffy feeling you get when you think of fond memories like traveling. I learned “hokkori” from an ad in the airport as I was about to leave Tokyo for the fourth time. And I can’t think of a better word to describe what I’m feeling now as I’m writing this post.

I needed to take a vacation because going straight to work after 10 months of killer grad school (even before graduation) can leave anyone nuts. Tokyo is the perfect place to get lost, empty yourself and be built up again by its energy. Walking on for miles and miles just observing and absorbing the beat of the city was totally not a problem.

For this trip, I tried to be more conscious to pick places that will give me a fresh perspective to the city, literally. Thus I went to Tokyo Tower, the Metropolitan Gov’t Building and the Sky Tree. I was also able to get some work done in a coffee shop 150m above sea level. Of course I visited the usual Meiji Shrine to pray and Shibuya for Tokyu Hands and to watch local street performance (aka free performances)

Another new experience would be going to Miraikan or the Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. I’m a geek and have always been fascinated by developments in science. Quite amazed at the exhibits related to AI and space. Also, who knew that scientists have discovered elements smaller than atoms – the elementary particles that are made up of vibrating strings. Ok stop me before I go on full geek.

I also try to go here every year because I’m mentoring a cooperative of Filipinos that want to support new migrants in Japan – from how to manage and grow the community up to making their operations sustainable. The founder asked me to mentor them because she got inspired by the talk that I delivered last year and she wants to pay forward the gifts she received after being in Japan for more than three decades.

I still owe them some work – finalize the strategy, roadmap and projections of their organization. It is indeed real work but I like doing it gratuitously cause I know that even if it’s difficult, all our efforts now can create a ripple of an impact.

You get hokkori when you think of traveling, but you also get hokkori when envision hope – that these small acts of kindness can bear fruit in the long run.

See you next year Tokyo!

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Travel

Eat-Pray-Love Chronicles

A friend from Vietnam visited me here in Manila last weekend. I met her during my volunteer stint 5-years ago in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand where I taught English in orphanages. We exchanged stories and our conversation reminded me of how passion didn’t use to be an overrated word. And that it didn’t matter if I was not able to find what I was looking for in that 2-month eat-pray-love trip, because it kept me hungry for life.

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I miss relieving those stories because she’s the first person from that trip whom I met again after so many years. For two months, my only focus then was to explore and live. There were times when I even got teary eyed because of the overwhelming gratitude to be alive. So let me recount some stories. (Photos here are from my trip)

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Story 1: I lived with a Vietnamese host in a condominium when I was in Ho Chi Minh City. In the building beside ours was a Filipino family whom I frequently visited, and they were running a very risky operation. If the police knew what my Filipino neighbours were doing,  they’ll be dragged out of their house together with their three young kinds and be imprisoned.

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I became part of a Christian missionary group disguised as an English club when I was in that communist country. I’m not really religious, but I got inspired by the bravery of that family who defied the law and used gospel passages as examples in their English lessons. There would even be gospel song singing, which can’t get too loud else the other neighbours might become suspicious. I admire the dedication and faith of the couple.

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Story 2: During my last day as an English teacher in Ho Chi Minh, the class was so chaotic that I spent half of the time shouting to keep the students quiet. Finally, my class time ended so I stepped out of the room without saying much of a goodbye.

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As I was a few meters away from the orphanage, I saw my students running after me. They still can’t speak straight English so we just hugged in the middle of the road. It was sunset and it looked like the perfect finale of a cheesy student-teacher movie. That gesture really touched me even if they were so unruly inside the classroom.

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Story 3: Three people plus a chicken shared 2 seats inside a bus heading to Siem Reap. I was on my way there to celebrate my birthday alone. I’m usually very confident that I won’t get mugged whenever I travel because I’m Asian with brow skin, but I felt scammed cause I paid good money to supposedly get good seats.

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Got myself a bike to tour around Angkor Wat, but had to retreat back because the heat was so unbearable. Also, it turned out that my hotel didn’t accept credit cards and I left bulk of my cash in HCMC, so for my birthday dinner, I only had two cans of beer, some energy bars and a pack of Boy Bawang. Yes, they had some in the grocery. The cashier even mistook me for a local Cambodia, which I don’t know what to make of.

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Story 4: My last stop for the trip was in Bangkok. I spent the last 7 weeks in pretty chill cities so I was a bit culture shocked when I landed. That afternoon, I was scheduled to meet my Thai cousin in Siam Square. I guess he was surprised to see me cause I looked like a hobo – darker skin than usual, longer unkept hair and was a bit skinny because of all that traveling.

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He’s a film student and was about to premier their thesis film in Paragon that night. They’ll even have a part after, but guess who’s not invited – maybe because of how I looked that day. So I just roamed around Bangkok while I was there and I was so fond of the city that I did not feel the need to go to Chiang Mai or Ayutthaya anymore.

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I want to go volunteering again, but somewhere more foreign. If I were to create another eat-pray-love experience, it would probably in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Recalling those stories ignite my wanderlust to explore more places. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do it soon.

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