Monday, December 25, 2017

Friendship is a Job And If You Want to Get Paid You Gotta Put in the Work

The Mediterranean Sea from the beach in Sitges, Spain

About two weeks ago, I stepped out of the office at around 11 a.m. to try to get to an event in BGC at 12 noon. I was going to take Uber or Grab, but after 30 minutes of waiting outside our building I still couldn’t book a car, even though surge pricing meant the fare had ballooned to almost Php300. 

I then decided to walk to the MRT station in Boni and take the train to get to Ayala, and then book an Uber from there. The crowd was relatively light, which isn’t saying much because that only meant there wasn’t a line to get inside the station. I still had to squeeze myself inside the train, in between other sweaty passengers. It was past 12 noon by the time I finally left Boni. 

Twenty minutes later we pulled into Ayala station. I was furiously switching back and forth between Uber and Grab trying to a book a car while I hurriedly walked over to Glorietta 4, which was the most convenient pick-up point. (On hindsight, I could’ve taken the BGC Bus, but at that point I still figured Grab or Uber was the faster, easier option). 

It took 20 minutes to finally get a car (Grab) and another 15 minutes for the car to get to where I was to pick me up. I checked my watch and it was past 1 p.m. 

The driver used Waze, which suggested taking EDSA instead of McKinley Avenue. That meant we ran into slow-moving northbound traffic before we could get to Kalayaan. Traffic was also heavy getting into BGC.

The driver dropped me off near High Street Central and I had to walk another 10 minutes to finally get to my destination. By that time it was almost 2 p.m., nearly three hours after I left the office. 

Bled Castle from the shores of Lake Bled, Slovenia

The whole time I was traveling, the only thing I kept thinking about was this John Mulaney bit in one of his stand-up comedy specials. In case you didn’t know, Mulaney is a comedian who used to work as a writer for Saturday Night Live. He co-created the character of Stefon, played by Bill Hader, who is still my favorite SNL character of all time. 

Anyway, the bit that I was thinking about is called “Doing Nothing,” from his special called “New in Town.” He starts off by thanking people in the audience for coming to the show because, in truth, they didn’t have to.  

“It’s really easy not to go to things,” he says. “It’s so much easier not to do things than to do them that you would do anything is totally remarkable. Percentage-wise, it is 100% easier not to do things than to do them. And so much fun not to do them, especially when you were supposed to do them. 

“In terms of instant relief, canceling plans is like heroin, it is an amazing feeling. Such instant joy.”

People working in media and publishing are constantly invited to go to events and launches and forums and press conferences. Sometimes, your presence is mandatory, and sometimes, these things can actually be fun, but when you’re faced with hellish traffic and hours—not minutes—on the road, the temptation to send your regrets and hole up in your home or office is just too great. 

The Cathedral in Cologne, Germany

I’ll admit that there are times when the decision to attend one of these events—and effectively disregard the effort it takes to get to the venue—rests on my relationship with the person who invited. All things considered, the odds that I’ll attend an event would be greater if I know the person and am friendly with them. (That’s apart from whether there is something about the event or press conference I can write about in the first place).

It’s exactly the same when it comes to meet-ups with friends and other social gatherings. Think about the times your friends invited you to dinner, or when they asked you to hang out and maybe catch a movie. Those perpetual “Kita naman tayo!” or “Coffee next week!” messages on social media. How often do you say yes, not even thinking about how you would get there or how much the Uber ride would cost to get home afterwards?

If you often find yourself not really feeling up to it and making up an excuse not to go, then chances are, you’re probably not that close, or else, not yet ready to invest in the friendship. 

For all the humor in his bit, Mulaney is right. It’s so much easier to just coast along and not do stuff that would tax the mind, body and spirit. It’s infinitely harder here where we live, where one part of the city can sometimes feel like it’s in a completely different time zone from another.

But the willingness to set aside the very real agony of picking yourself up to do anything with anybody means that you value relationships more than that momentary inconvenience. When you honor people with your presence—never mind that you’ll need to get through horrific traffic and shell out costly commute fares—you’re sending a message that they are important to you.

A double rainbow in Frankfurt, Germany

And in this age of instant hyperconnectivity—when all it takes to get in touch with someone is a few taps on a mobile phone—simply showing up for real and in person is, I believe, the best measure of commitment and friendship. There’s no excuse for not being there if that person really means that much to you. A busy schedule, work fatigue, insane traffic, no parking area, P400 Uber rides—if a friend chucks all that to be with you, that’s when you know you’ve got a friend for life.

Seeing your friends during momentous occasions like birthdays or weddings is great, but having them there on a regular Wednesday, making sure to catch each other up on what you’re doing now or what you’re up to next, is just as (if not more) gratifying.

And that’s my main takeaway this year. I get it—people are extremely busy. There’s lots going on in the world. Lots going on in their world, so it’s understandable when they say they can’t make it to a get-together or they cancel on you at the last minute. I just shrug it off, no big deal. But, interestingly, the people who are always there, who so readily carve out time off of their day and put in that extra effort to spend just a few hours with you, those are always the people in your closest circle of friends.

And so you reciprocate. I reciprocate. In the hierarchy of social commitments, they’re top priority, and being there for them whenever they need me is how I show my appreciation. If there’s any opportunity to see my friends, interact with them and basically just be there with them, I would take it—EDSA traffic, nonexistent parking spots and insanely priced Grab rides be damned.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Euro Trip 2017: Day 11 - Where I Was Almost Late For My Own Death

I may have become too chill and complacent when I travel. On the morning of my flight to Frankfurt via Madrid from Barcelona, I woke up at around 7 a.m. intending to shower and get ready so I could make it in time to the airport as usual.

But Lorena and Carolina's cat had other plans. As soon as I woke up, she jumped up the bed and decided to take a nap on my lap. I couldn't get up because she looked so peaceful and contented. When she finally stretched and lazily walked away, I was running late. I did my thing, woke Pedi up and he walked me to the metro station to see me off.

It was this pussy's fault

It was when I was inside the train heading to the airport via a connecting station that I checked my ticket on my phone and realized I made a terrible miscalculation: my flight wasn't at 12:50 p.m. as I thought all along, but at 12:05 p.m. That meant the 45-minute buffer I thought I had was gone and there was a very real chance that I was going to miss my flight. The thought almost made me sick. (I had only missed a flight once before and I did not want to relive the experience).

There was nothing I could do though, short of jumping off the train and hopping on a cab, which I never really considered because it was super expensive, and who knows what the traffic situation would be like in Barcelona on a Saturday morning. I could only pray and break out into a cold sweat as the train slowly made its way to El Prat's Terminal 1.

Based on my estimate, I could make my flight if nothing else happened and I just breezed through security.

Thankfully, the travel gods were finally listening and I got to my gate just as the line was inching its way towards the gate. Whew.

Was never more relieved to see my boarding gate

The first boarding gate out of Madrid

But my ordeal was far from over.

In Madrid, after a short waiting time for the connecting flight to Frankfurt, the plane eased out of the runway right on time. But soon after take-off, I felt something was amiss. The plane was making a strange noise, quite uncommon as far as I could tell, and it was a bit, er, "bumpier" than usual.

Minutes later, the captain made an announcement that there was some sort of mechanical issue and that we had to turn around and go back to Madrid. He said it in a nonchalant and matter-of-fact way, as if he was just saying something about the onboard meal. Maybe that helped ease my growing concern, which, up until that point was quickly escalating to mild panic.

Photo I took from the plane of a town on the outskirts of Madrid

I'm not ashamed to admit I had visions of myself and the entire plane just dropping from the sky in a blazing inferno and landing on the dusty field outside Madrid, all body parts and rubble. It would've been easier if we just turned around and landed immediately, but the pilot made a second announcement--we had to keep circling in order to "burn fuel." And if I know anything about plane travel, that's never a good sign.

The 40-minute circling was excruciating, not just because of the situation, but also because I was starting to feel dizzy and nauseated.

Boarding gate on the second flight out of Madrid

But we finally made it back, switched planes, flew a couple of hours and finally landed in Frankfurt without further incident. Thanks to German efficiency, I found out there was a shuttle service to my hotel. At around, I called it a day and melted into the bed.

Dinner at the hotel

Well-deserved rest

Next: Cars and other things to see in Frankfurt

Monday, December 11, 2017

Euro Trip 2017: Day 10 - More of Barcelona and a Side Trip to Sitges

It wasn't hard to let my doubts go about Barcelona. The city's been built up so highly by people I know and respect that I thought there was no way expectations like that could be met. 

But what I discovered when I got there was a city that didn't care what anybody thought of it. It was beautiful and grand but it was also seedy and sketchy. It offered limitless possibilities but somehow you never felt overwhelmed. The people were gorgeous and a tiny bit intimidating, but not so much that they made you feel isolated or unwelcome. In fact, the locals we interacted with were some of the nicest I've ever met on this trip.

We had to  move to a newer place because Pedi only booked us for two days at the old place. It wasn't too far to Lorena and Carolina's flat. When we got there before noon, Lorena was there to welcome us with her cat, Luna. The space was small, but bursting with life and love. The two girls were a couple and they couldn't be any kinder and more accommodating. 

Luna the superstar cat

Even Luna didn't waste any time ingratiating herself to the newcomers. The cat sniffed around Pedi's bag and jumped on top of my suitcase and sat there for a few minutes as if waiting for me to whip my phone out and take a photo of her, which I did, of course.

Coffee and donuts near the Sagrada Familia

After we tore ourselves away from Luna, we walked over a few blocks to Sagrada Familia, ultimate tourist icon of the city. It was breathtaking, for sure, but we didn't stay long. I wanted to do a quick day trip outside the city and Pedi suggested Sitges, about 30 minutes by train.

Rainy in Sitges 

Seems like a nice place to live

Dark clouds dropped light rain and there was a chilly breeze throughout most of the day, but the small, sleepy town was a joy to explore. It's supposedly known for being popular with gay travelers, but it was too early in the day, not to mention too drab and stormy, for any sort of loud, colorful parties.

My version of Coldplay's "Yellow" music video

Took a while to get this shot just right

Something about the doors in Sitges

After a late lunch in one of the restaurants, we just walked around the seaside town. We met a Pinay shopkeeper who professed to disliking her old boss, but she was chatty and nice to us, so we ended up buying a few nice trinkets as souvenirs.

Before leaving Sitges, Pedi suggested a drink in one of the bars. We ordered a bottle of wine and spent about an hour or two just lazily watching the world go by.

Another beautiful door

Time to say goodbye to Sitges

It was dark by the time we got back to the city. We decided on a traditional tapas meal for my last night in Barcelona and Lorena suggested a place near her flat. The croquetas, meatballs, and potato-fries-and-egg dishes were just what I was looking for.

We ended the night with a few rounds in the same bar from the previous evening and then on to a nightclub that Pedi insisted we check out. I "checked out" around 2 a.m. and crawled back to our place and into bed, but Pedi went back out. I wasn't sure, but I think he didn't come back until it was almost sunrise.

Authentic Catalan tapas

Next: Back to Deutschland

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Euro Trip 2017: Day 9 - A Day in Barcelona

Fast food isn't always a smart choice for a meal when traveling, but I had KFC on my first night in Barcelona. I walked around by myself around the La Rambla neighborhood trying to find a decent place to eat authentic Spanish or Catalan cuisine, but maybe I was too intimidated or I just didn't find any that I liked, which is why I ended up at Col. Sanders' place. That's also where I met up with Pedi, who is my near-constant European travel buddy.

My first impressions of Barcelona were of its touristy areas, so naturally, I thought the city was loud, lively and filled with laughter and excited chattering. We walked around La Rambla and ended up at a bar where we had a couple of their treasured Estrella beer.

There was, perhaps, some feeble attempt to string an itinerary together, but part of the thrill of traveling (and traveling with Pedi) is not having a definite plan and just see where our whims take us.

That first full day, we had lunch at a buffet spread for 10 euros. We stuffed ourselves with as much salad, pork ribs, gazpacho, paella and other stuff as our tummies could carry. From the comparatively more staid and straightforward cuisine in Deutschland, the food in Catalonia was decidedly more exciting.

Hanging out at the local La Boqueria

I feel ya

Barcelona Cathedral

Gaudi's Casa Batllo

We needed all that sustenance for the walk from La Rambla all the way to Barceloneta beach. The sun peeked behind gray clouds, but by the time we got to the water's edge, it was out in full force. Summer was pretty much over, and there was already a slight nip in the air, but that didn't stop locals--and likely more than a few tourists--from sunbathing and taking a dip in the Mediterranean.

But within a few minutes, the intense afternoon sun gave way to dark clouds and strong gusty winds and a light drizzle. I had to admit it was funny seeing the half-naked beachgoers try to quickly change back into clothes as the wind whipped their sarongs and their towels.

Hanging out at Barceloneta beach with Pedi

Goofing around

I forgot what this building is called

Surveying downtown Barcelona


Pedi and I decided to buy a few things in the supermarket for dinner--bread, sausages, cheese and cokes (we should really have gotten wine, but we were going out to drink after anyway). We finished everything off back at the flat and rested for a bit before heading back out for a nightcap.

Spanish people supposedly have dinner at 10 p.m. and go out until the early hours of the next day, so that's exactly what we did. When in Rome...(Or Barcelona, in this case)...

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Euro Trip 2017: Day 8 - Barcelona, finally

The day started with me waking up in a room that had just been vacated by a job hunter from Croatia.  I was forced to stay at a hostel because of the unexpected cancellation. I didn't get the guy's name, but I chatted with him the previous evening and he said he was in Germany hoping to find a job. I wanted to ask more but it seemed rude so I just let it go.

Instead we talked about sports. I professed my admiration for his country's Goran Ivanisevic and he, of course, mentioned the Filipino boxer-turned politician.

He was gone the next morning when I woke up.

The hostel was decent enough, but it made me realize that I may be getting a bit too old to be sharing a room with strangers while traveling (no offense to all those who prefer to stay in a hostel!). But thats a topic for another post.

The hostel's common area

I checked out before the required time of 10 a.m. and decided to get an early lunch at a Thai place that I walked past the previous evening. I got a Coke from the Rewe across the street, but the restaurant people were apparently unimpressed with my cheapness and asked me not to drink it with the pad thai I ordered. I acquiesced, of course. Can't really argue with an apologetic Thai lady when she asks you to put away the Coke that you didn't buy from their restaurant.

Old gate near the hostel

Truth on a shop window

I took a moment to marvel one last time at the Köln Dom before I made my way to the airport.

Last look at the Köln Dom

I was three hours early for my flight. Wasn't taking any chances

In the plane, a nice enough Irish chap sat between me and a German girl in the window seat. He started talking to both of us, but his breath reeked of alcohol. He wasn't exactly annoying, but I just answered his questions with nods and one-syllable answers.

In Barcelona, my friend Pedi's instruction to take the bus just outside the airport was spot-on. I didn't have any trouble making my way to the city center. It was my huge suitcase that weighed me down--literally--during the walk to the AirBnb place that Pedi booked. Filippo, the owner was there, and he let me in.

I do not have any prior knowledge about what a Barcelona flat should or shouldn't look like, but this one was clearly old, the stairwell was dirty and the walls outside were filled with graffiti. Filippo said he rents out the rooms to tourists while he stays with his girlfriend who just had their baby not far away.

The flat itself had four bedrooms and has clearly seen better days. There was clearly an effort to spruce things up for guests, but the place had what I would call "decrepit charm." Still, it was right in the heart of La Rambla, the touristy area of the city, so it wasn't all bad. I thought it was the perfect place to see Barcelona for the first time.

I walked around the area while waiting for Pedi to arrive. My initial impression of Barcelona was one of grit and composure. It was like visiting downtown Manila, but much grander, a bit cleaner (just a bit), and just as busy. It was almost midnight, but there were still tons of people on the streets, mostly tourists, I imagined.

Pedi arrived soon enough and we ended up having dinner at the KFC near the flat. I decided I'd have to wait for daylight to fully appreciate the city.

Barcelona after dark

Lovers in Barcelona

Barcelona alley

Next: What Barcelona is really like

Euro Trip 2017: Day 7 - An Extra Day in Cologne

The plan was to stay in Cologne overnight and catch a flight to Barcelona the next day to meet up with Pedi.  I checked out of the hotel at 11, left my bags there and decided to explore the city some more.

Window and view from my hotel room in Cologne 

The Cathedral was jaw-dropping at any angle

Summer was ending and so there was a definite nip in the air. Cologne seemed to be more chill and laid-back, at least, more so than frenetic, high-energy Berlin. My problem is that, while traveling, I very rarely interact with people, especially the locals and it's something I know I need to work on. People in Cologne, however, seemed more cheerful and outgoing, I observed.

I went inside the Dom for a quick see-through and decided that the four-euro charge to go up the tower was worth it.

Stained glass inside the Cologne Cathedral

Inside the Köln Dom

Were the pet dogs buried with their master? 

I was panting and heaving about a quarter of the way up the 533-step tower. For a time, during the last bit of stairs near the top, I felt the beginnings of acrophobia. But I thought of myself as a brave little boy and kept going.

The view up top was breathtaking, as expected. I just wished there weren't any metal bars to ruin the effect. But I could imagine the use for it, though. There must have been a few people throughout its history who thought it was the best idea to climb up the tower and then take the easier way down.

533 steps up the Köln Dom

Gorgeous view from the top

Well-deserved photo on top of the Cologne Cathedral

I had planned on having lunch at one of those Asian food places again, but I walked past a Rewe food store, saw a chocolate donut, plucked it from the shelf then picked up a sandwich by the cashier. I ate everything there. Convenient and fast.

I thought that was it for lunch until I walked further down the main shopping street of Hohenstrasse and found a currywurst stand on one of the side streets. I meant to order just the curry sausages, but the attendant's question of whether I wanted bread or fries to go with it got me a little flustered and so I said fries, which I really didn't want, but I said it anyway and so I got a serving of steamy currywurst with potato fries.

It was after I finished off the sausages (and threw away most of the fries) and while I was walking towards the Ludwig Museum that I realized I lost my glasses. I retraced my steps back to Rewe and the currywurst stand but I could't find it, so I just offered it up to the travel gods as a sacrifice of some sort.

So there were these three monkeys I saw in Cologne...

Roy Lichtenstein painting at the Ludwig Museum

Pop art room inside the Ludwig

Here's a Picasso

They apparently weren't appeased because I found out then that my flight to Barcelona had been canceled, just a few hours before I needed to be at the airport. The next couple of hours were a blur of  me trying to rebook my flight, find a place to stay in Cologne, then make my way over there from the previous hotel.

It was a stressful afternoon, but I figured that, if that was the worst that could happen on this trip, then I'd be grateful.

Messy hair don't care selfie