You’ll be surprised at how love can be easily associated to our daily commute.
Back in 1995, I was one of the millions who camped out and waited for then pope, St. John Paul II.
This time, I watched the live stream with my mom at home as going to the venues will be a challenge for her. It’s a chance to exchange opinions with her too (but she still defends her favorite local channel (“who am I to judge?” but can’t help some serious eye-rolling. Hahaha).
Local vs. International Coverage
Sorry but our local coverage can be too emotional and a tad shallow at times. Light news and trivia about the pope are welcome though these are just a Google away but sometimes it gets so vapid that one female news anchor actually asked her reporter, “Willard, tama ba nakikita ko na may ilaw yung pope mobile?” I’m like, gawd woman! Seriously?! I’m almost sure that if they switched places, the poor guy won’t hear the end of it. In case you’re wondering, that was Korina Sanchez.
That made me switch to international coverage. More than lauding the “incredible” and “waterproof faith” of the Filipinos, they discuss the pope’s message and other issues at length more than if the lights of the pope mobile are on.
But I like how one local female news anchor let go of her composure, went down from the media platform and cheered her heart out when Pope Francis passed by and she was rewarded with that infectious smile. I thought she’ll faint. She’s Vicky Morales.
We can still go to the venues wearing a regular shirt, right? Our religious festivities like Sinulog and Feast of the Black Nazarene, become a blackhole for consumerism. We get manipulated into thinking that you need to wear a shirt to feel that you’re a part of the event.
We’re in a world where consumerism rules; but if those enterprising Pinoys (not the street vendors but those big time papal souvenir manufacturers) donate part of the proceeds to streetchildren and the poor (I mean, really donate), I think that will be consistent with the teachings that the pope hoped we took from his 5-day visit.
The Pope is not only the leader of the Catholic Church; he is also a statesman hence the courtesy call in Malacañang. I have to give it to PNoy’s unwavering consistency to blame the previous leadership. If he could blatantly say and get away with it, he might have said, “….Gloria Arroyo, all caps, bold, underscored, italicized, font 75… #AllCapsParaIntense”. Naman! He’s on the fifth year of his term pero daig pa ang bumyahe sa EDSA ng rush hour. Hindi maka-move on.
The Aftermath: Piles of Garbage
Twenty years later, Quirino Grandstand still looks the same after a similar huge event: garbage everywhere. The same people who was inspired by the pope were the same people who littered and made the street sweepers’ day extra difficult all because one decided to leave his water bottle somewhere and another decided to throw her candy or biscuit wrapper since there’s litter anyway. Multiply that attitude by millions and before you know it, the place has been transformed into Garbage Ville.
The Pope Francis Effect
It’s very surprising how this pope’s charisma comes through a tv screen; something so far removed from the actual venue yet you smile when he smiles, you actually feel wonderful and part of you wants to be part of his advocacy.
It’s been two days and we still have the papal hangover. But for me, more than missing his presence (and the 5-day long weekend too ;) ), this is our chance to prove that much as our faith is waterproof, it is not spasmodic episodes of religious fervor either.
This year has brought me a series of bipolar life episodes that sent me to cloud nine then sent me right back down to confusion. And in the midst of it all, I found the perfect cure for a reset: solo travel.
Of all that has happened in 2014, it was my solitary travel to Hanoi that really made my year. It was such a wonderful experience that I wish for friends and those who stumble across this blog to try traveling solo even just once in their lives.
You learn to love your own company.
Too often, we’re surrounded with family and friends and we love the happy chaos it brings. But when you’re alone, you learn to see just how wonderful your own company is.
It’s difficult at first. You feel stupid and awkward wandering or eating alone. You even feel scared; and that’s a good thing. Fear makes you more aware of your surroundings; keeps you on your toes and restrains you from doing anything remotely stupid.
Independence is empowering.
As you slowly start getting used to your own company, you begin feeling confident. You even smile at a fellow tourist as you walk along or at a family seated beside you at a cafe.
You even start feeling smart! I am such a dunce with reading maps and directions that I manage to get myself lost around Marikina when I jog. But when I was alone in Hanoi, I’ve learned to map the places I want to visit using the offline map and GPS on my smartphone.
You loosen up and meet new people.
Traveling as a group gives you that ‘protective shield’ that closes you to the people around you. But when you’re alone, you learn to open yourself a little to the people around you. And you will learn the wonders of a smile or a simple good morning to the person in front of you on the breakfast buffet queue can do for you.
The people I chatted with during breakfast, gave me a ride back to the airport; went out with a couple for dinner, shopping and drinks! And those two buddies I met on the city tour, they went shopping with me for a backpack and helped me get a good deal for it.
Less things to worry.
Traveling solo simplifies your itinerary: You go where and do what you want when you want to do it. You stop worrying whether your companion wants to go to a particular place or if another is too tired to take another step. You just go.
Appreciate your friends and family more.
And since you’re traveling solo, you think of your friends or siblings when you see something funny and you don’t have anyone to laugh with. Or you ate a local dish and you thought they will love it too.
You also found a place where you can take your friends and loved ones and be their personal tour guide.
So for the coming year, conquer your fear of traveling solo. Start with having coffee for your me time and just do people-watching. Don’t hide behind a book. Take photos if you like. Then level up to going around the metro on your own. Try Intramuros. And when you feel you’re ready, go somewhere where you’ve never been before. Arm yourself with info on the place you’re visiting and a lot of good sense.
Travel by yourself. For yourself. One day, you’ll be thankful you did.
It was a rather uneventful ride back to the hotel from Halong City and got dropped off at the hotel by 5PM and happily chatted with the couple I met over breakfast the other day. Over that bit of chat, they invited me out for a night out after we have rested for a bit. I was hesitant to go because I was billeted at a different hotel, given I checked out of Thaison Hotel for the Halong Bay tour, and upon my return, there’s no spare room and they will put into one of their ‘sister hotels’, the Parkson Hotel.
While our hotels are fairly near each other, I was unsure whether to go with them or not. They’re probably just being nice. But when Celine said that they really want to hang out, we decided to meet at about 8; watch the fireworks by the lake to celebrate Hanoi’s 60th Liberation Day; grab dinner; shop maybe or just head to a local bar.
That settled, Thaison Hotel offered to take me to Parkson Hotel via a motorbike. Seriously. It may be a short ride but I can brag and say, “I rode a motorbike in Vietnam and lived to tell the tale!”
What we saw in that bar will stay with us for a very long time. I was so surprised that it was the Asian women who were acting like the westerners while it was the westerners who were acting like Asians. Those Asians were so wild it’s so hard to look at them. It was nowhere near sexy at all; it was downright sl***y. Ugh.
But we got to give it to them for entertaining us like so; all that’s missing is a tub of buttered popcorn to munch on.
Even with all that live rated-R show, that was not the highlight of the night. It never occurred to us that the 12AM curfew was strictly observed in Hanoi as it seemed to be non-existent in Ho Chi Minh City. The police usually do their rounds around that time and remind bars to close down but because it was 1AM, we were ushered out by no less than the police themselves. It was a crazy experience but it was all good. What was unexpected was Ryan and Celine walked me back to my hotel before they headed to theirs. So sweet.
I woke up early to have breakfast before the tour guide picks me up for the city tour. Minutes later, we arrived at our first stop.
With the group slowly drifting on their own, the tour guide designated a meeting spot and with the hot weather, I decided to go there early and found fellow tourist, Floja (I’m not sure I got the spelling right). She’s French and works for the government and was assigned for a week in Hanoi on business trip. We may be strangers but we have same thoughts on traveling; going solo has its perks and we both love it.
By now the midday sun has unleashed its fury and we’re just thankful that next stop is the Blue Butterfly restaurant back at the Old District for lunch. I sat with Floja, and Riza and Aiza, who are Filipina nurses on holiday. It was a hodgepodge of conversation amid a delicious meal that’s too much for four girls.
The Temple of Literature has five courtyards and it would’ve been nice to explore it all at leisure but since this is a guided tour, we’re pressed for time. Soon enough we found ourselves back in the Old Quarter to explore Hoan Kiem Lake. I’ve been here on my first day so I skipped this and went shopping with Riza and Aiza. :)
That was the last in the itinerary and I was finally dropped me off at the hotel. I freshened up for a bit and fixed my stuff and went to the last place on my list.
The cathedral is a short walk from the Hoan Kiem Lake and is part of my itinerary. I thought it’s the perfect way to conclude this four-day solo trip; to be thankful that I was safe and had an experience that will stay with me for a very long time.
Today, I won over my urge to procrastinate and vegetate; I jogged! And I was rewarded not only with burned up calories but running into the master himself: George Tapan.
Huffing and puffing as I am, I thought I’d say hi and shake his hand. That was all I wanted, instead he rewarded me with a few minutes of his time.
He is just so unassuming; bereft of any shred of conceit that often comes with fame and success. As though he is not a multi-awarded photographer, published author and the man who bested thousands of photographers back in 2011 for the National Geographic Photo Contest in which he submitted his photo “Into the Green Zone” sans any editing. That’s how good he is. With the birth of technology, people tend to rely a little too much on editing tools rather on knowing composition, the appropriate camera settings and all the other skills necessary to capture that perfect shot. But not him.
What’s even more admirable about this man is that he generously shares his time and knowledge with people who love to take photographs without biases for any camera brand; whether you’re a Canonista, Nikonista or whatever this warring camera enthusiasts call themselves, you are welcome to join his sessions.
In that short time of chatting with him, he imparted tips on ISO, composition, resisting the urge to be trigger happy; all of that among a slew of topics from lost heritage sites; adapting to change and more exciting possibilities for his upcoming sessions.
I may not have a photo with him but that conversation with him is going to stay with me for a very long time.
To you, Master George Tapan, thank you for giving me a little of your time. Cheers to more years!