Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Year 2017: The Most Trying Year of My Life

Last February 2017, I subscribed with Hostgator as I got some guts and commitment to write and write about my travels.  I pledged to write an article a month with my pending past travels.

However, a month after, my mother has to undergo thyroidectomy operations.  She was able to recover and a week after her operations, I went to Busan for a week of solitary trip.  A sort of healing and recovery for me as I juggled both the demands at work (year-end close and a post process and system migration are too much to handle that I had my hair cut short) and attending to my mother's medical needs.

Thankfully, she was doing well weeks after but has to go through follow-up of tests and check-ups.  I then moved to a new company, a multinational company.  As I am new to the company, I seldom went home to the province to see my mother and only seen her in August 2017.  I saw how her physical appearance has been changing and how weakly she is getting.  But I tried to ignore as I do not want to face the fact that my mother is no longer the strong woman I know physically after her thyroidectomy operation.

Then, I got a call in September 24, 2017 while I was at work.  She told me she got herself admitted at the hospital in the province as she's terribly feeling weak and the stomach pain are getting worse.  I cannot file on leave yet but told her I' m coming home on the 29th of September.  From work, I went straight to the airport and took the first morning flight from Manila to Bacolod.  From Bacolod airport, I went straight to the Riverside Medical Centre where my mother was admitted.

She looked fine but her skin more yellowish.  I tried to overcome the sleepiness from having no sleep from work but had to take a nap.  Late in the afternoon, her doctor called me to talk about her medical condition.

"Your mother may succumb to coma as the toxins from liver inflamation and other complications from her kidney and gall bladder are already spreading.  There's no other option but a liver transplant".  I cannot decipher what the doctor is saying.  "Are you all working in Manila"?, she asked.  I said, "Yes, all of us. My father and my siblings.  She's living here in Bacolod with my sister in law and a helper.". "I'd rather you take her to the hospital in Manila so whatever might happen to her, you are all there".  The doctor further told me.  I still cannot take in all what she said.  What I was trying to think is to find a solution.  At work, whenever my subordinate raised an escalation of an issue, while having a discussion, I would already think the ways to resolve.

"Where can we get the liver transplant?", I further asked.  She said, "It will take a while to find a donor and my mother's case is very urgent. AND, it is too costly".  I was thinking, I don't mind, we will find a way.  But my mother as I later found out was already aware of her condition.  The doctor told her about everything.  She told me it was too costly, we cannot afford it. And I answered back, let's got o Manila where the hospital has more other facilities that can sustain you while we are looking for the donor.

September 30, 2017, we took the commercial flight to Manila from Bacolod and transferred my mother to St Lukes Medical Center in Quezon City.  She looked good. She walked though supported with wheelchair.  My father fetched us at the airport.

She was admitted the same day and all other tests were done to her.  All medical specialists surrounded her - from fellows for internal medicine, kidney specialist, heart surgeon, among others whose specialization I can no longer remember.  Everyday I took note of her food and liquid intake, including her urine and stool.  But her conditions are not getting better.  Whatever medications for her kidney will elevate the condition of her liver - and the other way around.  As she's urinating too little, her stomach is getting bigger and she looked uncomfortable but did not show anything to me.  I asked her if there's anything painful, it just that she felt bloated.  I juggled work at the hospital while attending her.

Then, the doctor advised for gradual dialysis - it was gradual to manage her other complications which medical terms I can no longer remember.  I asked my father to come back from her project assignment in Masbate to be with us during the first dialysis.  I can sense something but ignored everything.  I ignored the possibility that anything worst could happen to my mother.

October 5, 2017, she was scheduled for the "gradual dialysis" and was transferred around 7:00PM.  It was a five-hour ordeal of checking her from time to time as the dialysis was on-going.  I prayed the Holy Rosary with her and has to go out of the dialysis room from time to time.  At around 1AM of October 6, 2017, the dialysis was completed and she was sleeping.  Her blood pressure has gotten low but I could not sense any criticality yet.  She was transferred back to her room. 

I asked my father to give her medication scheduled at 4AM as I tried to take a quick nap but couldn't do so.   The assigned nurses kept coming back and forth checking her blood pressure as its getting lower and lower.  At around 4AM, there were rush and urgency in their action and I had to get-up.  They asked me to wake her up in our dialect and she's not answering anymore.  Her blood pressure is dropping.  She would open her eyes as I called her name but closed again.  More fellows came in to check asking me any observations during the dialysis.  If I can only shout at them if they can check from the dialysis center what are those numbers in the machines could tell them.  It was in that moment that only if I can understand medical terms and processes, I could have helped.  I should have taken medicine and not accountancy.

It was the most hectic and long two hours to experience when they decided to put a tube to my mother's mouth (again, I cannot remember the medical terms) so she can breathe. I signed the waiver. It was too painful to see that the head nurse asked me to step out of the room but I did not want to.  My father was already outside of the room.  I told the head nurse I can take it but he told me I could get traumatized.  My father guided me to outside of the room.  More machines were deployed to the room - xray, etc.  I heard my mother groaned in pain as the tube was inserted to her mouth.  I could not face my own pain but to look after my father.  I kept a conversation as casual as possible what the doctors were doing to my mother. 

After reviving my mother during that 30-minutes of hurdle, it was too painful to see (and remember) how she looked.  Tubes on her mouth, blood spurted on her dress and mouth. She's in too much pain and discomfort.  She kept on lifting her hand to pull out the tube and the nurses were stopping her.  I came closer to her and whispered that it would help her breathe so please bear a little as it was too much of discomfort for her.  She listened and rested.

Then, the doctor advised that she needed to be transferred to ICU where further dialysis has to be done and she needed close monitoring.  The ICU fellow told us pointblank. My mother has 24 hours to survive.  As her blood pressure kept on dropping, they had to manage the dialysis to its minimum.  Again, a medication to one of her medical condition is detrimental to the other.

My father was in shock, in tears.  I was holding my tears.  I need to understand and need to prepare.  I called my brother in Mindoro and sister in Malaysia to come home.  My brother traveled right away and we told him to show some courage so my mother would fight hard to survive.  My sister hesitated to come home and asked us to tell our mother she won't come home but she has to live.

We spent most of our time at the chapel - my father crying hard, praying to God to allow my mother to live - at most to spend Christmas with us.  I was also praying to extend her life and let us spend Christmas with her.  I cannot even pray the Holy Rosary while waiting.  I was restless for a call from ICU anytime.  I went back and forth in ICU checking on her blood pressure and all the numbers running in the machines.  There were too many hanging from the stand connected to the tubes.  More stocks of different liquids on the floor.  The ICU fellow was kind enough to explain but also honest that it was not getting better.  It was too painful to see my mother's condition - she was in too much pain that I already think of letting her go. Every time we talked to her, she would nod.  I whispered to her that my sister is coming over so please hang for her life more.   Everytime we told her about it, her blood pressure would improve.  But she still looked in too much pain that I cannot bear to see anymore.  I kept on having a strong front and looked calm when talking to the ICU nurses to understand her condition. But in layman terms, I did understand. She was not getting better.

Then, I called my sister to book the earliest flight as it seemed my mother was only waiting for her.  She was at her most painful state.  And I could not forget her last hours. It is still painful to remember.

Our relatives and friends gathered at the hospital and stayed with us overnight.  October 7, 2017, at around 2AM, I checked on my mother's and it seemed her BP is getting better.  That was my own interpretation.  At 4AM, I told my relatives and friends to go home and to go back by 10AM when they can visit my mother at ICU.  At around 5AM, I planned to went up at ICU but received a call from the nurses instead.  They asked us to come up immediately.  The three of us (my father and my brother) went up immediately and witnessed how the doctors tried to revive my mother.  On the 7th attempt (if I can remember it correctly), they were explaining that it would be the final dose and if they would proceed.  My father answered to proceed.  But still no response from my mother's.

It was painful how her chest were pumped up and down.  I could not imagine the pain of her chest getting pressed harder.  But the life line was already flat. No response.

The doctor asked us if we can stop.  I asked my father if we can stop.  We have to let go of my mother. And that was the most painful decision that we have to take.  I was asked to sign a waiver.  And the most difficult and painful signature to write.

October 7, 2017, at around 7AM, on the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, my mother was succumbed to liver inflamation and multiple organs failure.  She looked too pitiful that I regret to have that tube inserted to her mouth.  I regret giving into the doctor's advise for dialysis.  I regret that she has to go through all those painful medical procedures if only at the end, she was not able to survive.  I regret all the waivers that I signed. If I am a doctor, would I able to treat her? The way I did well in my profession as an accountant right now.  If I am a doctor, would it make a difference (would I able to lessen the pain?). Would I resort to some medical procedures to lessen the pain?  If I was a doctor, did I just have her died at home instead but at most painless and natural way?  There were too many regrets. Should I demand an explanation from the doctors? Their recommendations did not work- did they just do the trial and error?  Can they explained clearly to me- the way I can explain the numbers in the financial statements?  How could I asked them in a way they can explain to me in terms that I can understand? They were using a lot of acronyms, longer terminologies that I thought I was stupid not to understand.  There were too many regrets.

Days after her death were spent on errands. All the necessary papers and finances to settle, including a promise to pay and collateral - from the released of her remains from the hospital to the funeral house.  The documents for her transit from Manila to Bacolod - the arrangement at the cemetery, funeral house in the province, contacting the relatives, arranging for the masses, etc.  As I spent the days arranging everything, I did not cry the hardest.  I hold all those emotions as I need to stand strong for my father and siblings - even up to the funeral. 

It was too hard that I wanted to understand why I couldn't cry.  Why can't I cry.  And I still felt, my mother was just around us.  It was until the 39th day from her death when I learned that she would be gone forever on the 40th and that I would not feel her anymore.

The reality finally sinked in.  I was in the parking lot getting off work and I cried so hard for an hour. Then, I continued driving along C5 dangerously with the 10-wheeler trucks while crying so hard at past 2 am in the morning.  I thought of swerving the wheel and just bumped and switched between these 10-wheeler trucks to I could be with my mother wherever she is but something whispered not to do it.  It was so hard that I cannot focus on work.  I have to look after my father and ignored what I was going through.

Fourteen days more, it would be six months since her death but felt like forever. The life clock is much slower, days passed by just living without any expectation at all.  I don't have the appetite to eat and did not meet a lot of friends during Christmas holidays.   It was the hardest to survive. The loneliest holidays ever.

As I tried to live each day, feel the loneliness from the loss of my mother, and just go through each day with nothing to expect.  I do not have plans for the future anymore.  I just live each day whatever life has to offer but also sorry that I can no longer give my best at work.  I cannot pull any motivation from within and I am still struggling until now.

I cannot attend regular Sunday mass.  If I attend, I would stay outside as my heart is only filled of loneliness and could not help but cry when I sing the Lord's Prayer.  Deep in my heart, I am also sorry to God that I could not attend the mass with joyful heart.  I do not blame God for what happened.  Instead, I would like to understand the same pain He gone through at the cross.  But I am also praying for the grace to sustain and healing.

But I am also trying for self-healing - reading books about grief, looking for helpful messages from the internet.  I cannot open up but thankfully I met friends who lost a parent just few years back and shared what they experienced. And what I am going through right now are just part of the process of healing.  On March 11, 2018, just a week before my birthday, I went to attend a private retreat at Carmelites Missionary.  It was helpful to get rid all of the regrets and continue praying for our healing. 

And I pray that amidst the loneliness, I would like to think that my mother is in a much better place where there's no pain. But I pray that she would continue to guide us as we live each day trying to face life's difficulties and loneliness until we meet again.

And now I'm starting to write.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

My Website! SOON

I've been away for so long..
only to realize that it's time to have my own..

clarathewanderer.com is construction in progress.

cheers to writing! 
and the "wanderful" life experience of exploring the world.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Solitude at the Carmelites Missionary

March 17, 2016 - my travel calendar was marked with a 7-day trip to Busan, Suwon and Seoul. The itinerary includes Kimchi-making, complete tour of Busan (for it was a short visit only in Year 2013), overnight in Suwon, a stay in a dormitory (to really feel like a real backpacker) and finally watch Nanta musical. I came to do a  sort of celebratory ritual on my birthdays just like how I spent in Year 2013 when I had my incomparable experience wandering alone in South Korea for ten-days.

I was supposed to do that again in 2016, with a ticket booked as early as June 2015 and many plans on hand of the things that I haven't brushed off yet from my bucketlist. Those were all planned but because of a wrong decision that turned my life upside down, all my travel plans were all set aside.  As to when I would be travelling to a foreign country again, I don't know yet.  For now, I would be spending the days reminiscing my travel memories by browsing my pictures and reading blogs.

Days before my birthday, I dread "my day" to come. It was not supposedly to be celebrated.  It was so difficult that I thought life should end at that point in time.

But the fear in God was greater. 

And I helped myself to find solace, to find acceptance that an organized person like me has actually messed up her life, to find forgiveness and come terms to myself that I made a mistake and I should accept it.  I thought of going through a yoga, a meditation or anything where I can calm my mind. But then I know for the fact that I cannot do meditation - my mind will just wander. I've been to a lot of prayer meetings during my teens and my friends were already experiencing the gift of tongues of the Holy Spirit, but I either fall asleep or things just came randomly into my mind.

Again, I still haven't figured out that it was actually my faith that was not at ease.

Two days before my actual birthday, I started searching about "soul searching" or private retreat and read about it. But something still hinder me to go through it. The programs are a bit intense, some a bit pricey and some are just like getting rid everything about yourself, including that some are not of my Catholic faith.  I have difficulty opening up about my problems.  I always solve them on my own and I would never share even to the closest persons I know.  And I am not ready to it yet.  

And then, something about private retreat popped up through the search engine. I read through the blog where they offer private guided retreat.  At first I thought, I just need a quite place surrounded with religious people to silence the noise within myself.  So I sent an email and asked if they can still accommodate me.

So on Thursday, March 17, 2016, I drove to Tagaytay for the first time on my own and alone for an overnight stay at the Carmelite Missionaries.  Along the way, at times I cried. I was scared, a bit uncomfortable and anxious but then I knew I had to do it.  I kept on praying for God's guidance not to back-out. Otherwise, I wouldn't know where to pick-up myself again.  I knew how uncomfortable the process of retreat and recollection as I experienced once before I graduated from college - you would just eat and eat and cry and cry (that's how we jokingly described it).  But seriously, it's uncomfortable because you will be opening yourself with the rest of other people.

A few kilometers before turning left to the Carmelites, I stopped by the church near Java Kafe to gather some courage and then ate my lunch.  It was like I was scheduled for a death sentence.  Then, finally I reached the solemn place.  Sr. Flor met me at the receiving area and introduced me to Sr. Esther. They are both Ilonggos.  Thank God, I'd be comfortable.  Then, my bountiful lunch was already prepared in the dining hall, on an exclusive table with my nametag on top.  I felt shy. Do I deserve this? But I saw two more solo persons on retreat with their names too (one a nun and another private individual like me). Sr. Esther told me to take a rest first with a schedule on how the retreat would go through.  Just like how I experienced it before I graduated from college, I was fed with bountiful meals (lunch, PM snack, dinner and then breakfast, AM snack and lunch again).  

The private retreat was like talking to a grandmother or anyone who can talk about life.  There are things that I cannot open up with my parents especially if those will just give them something to worry about. The guided retreat that Sr. Esther made for me has taught me how to meditate in a way that it was actually talking to God.  There are bible readings as my guide and Sr. Esther guided me how to open up to God from the heart. I am not a Bible reader.  Unless there is a reflections along with a Bible verse (just like the Didache), I can then reflect what the Bible says. Sr. Esther asked me if I keep a journal and I said yes. She advised if I couldn't really utter and voice out a prayer, then I can write instead. She told me to find a place where I can be comfortable as the place itself is solemn.  I meditated in a garden, in the chapel, in some prayer rooms, and found the time and the way that was comfortable to me. She also informed me that the nuns were doing their nightly prayer in songs and I might want to observe and have it as part of my retreat.  I went and just sat down at the back.  One of the sisters gave the song book.  Those were new to me but I felt at peace and comfortable.

That night, after five long months of sleepless and crying nights, I was able to sleep in the most peaceful I can ever remember.  The next day, Sr. Esther told me that I looked different, much better and at peace when we continued the guided retreat.  I told her that my worry is when I get back to Manila - to deal with my real life. With the world that I live in, I am afraid that I might forget the retreat that restored myself.  She advised me to keep praying for the grace to sustain and endure and they will pray for me. From time to time, Sr. Esther would text me, asked me how I was doing. And I was just too shy to reply.

Almost a year after, January 2017, looking back I still missed out the daily motivation habit and still struggle to do it especially that I came home late from overtime at work.  I cannot get up early and do it.  I got buried with the overlapping responsibilities at work and at home but it is different now.  I know how to turn to God, to talk to him, to attend mass when my mind and heart is in trouble. I now look for God just to talk with him, and not just looking for him because of problems. When problems came, I prayed and lifted wholeheartedly to Him.  And miraculously, it was indeed different than a year ago.  

the Carmelite Missionaries

I may have not traveled again on my own but this solitary travel is the most fulfilling of them all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Foliage Fall of Kansai (2014 Autumn Trip)

It's been two years and haven't put in writing yet the amazing trip that i had in Japan.  That was in November 2014, my last trip abroad to date. And while I'm currently on hiatus with my travels due to some projects from my office work that i need to allot much time, I'll be writing more of my trip to Japan, and the rest of my "backblog".

And here's a sort of a "snapshot" of our Autumn Trip:

Our itinerary map

And our colorful Itinerary (Summary):

Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Race Against Time in Taipei

Taiwan has been in my bucket list of places to travel as I've heard a lot about it from other travelers too. 


What more it can offer having been to South Korea where I wanted to experience a bit of winter and spring; Japan for autumn and also Beijing where Cherry Blossoms welcomed me a bunch.  Taiwan is Philippine's neighbor - the next stop for any typhoon that will hit my country. And it was August, the month when I don't usually travel as it's rainy/typhoon season in the Philippines and in most tropical countries. 
Taipei 101
Further, I have had attempted to book a flight to Taiwan twice.  The first was via Air Asia but the flight was cancelled months before the actual date and got nothing but refund.  Then, I booked via Cebu Pacific but almost had it canceled. Finally, against all odds, in August 16, 2015, I took the flight to Taipei following my friends Connie and Jen. Since we've been cancelling and finding another flight, we ended having different flight schedule. And I was a day behind our flight to Taipei and had to leave a day after theirs. That means, I got my solitary travel for a day.

I arrived past midnight of August 17 in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport and had to run a lot to get on the last bus to Main Taipei Station where Cityinn Hotel Taipei is located.  After gotten lost of the directions in awhile, I joined the sisters in their room as I had to check-in later on daylight.

And on Connie's birthday our race against time in Taipen begun.

Day 1:  Connie's Birthday

It was Sunday and Connie's birthday so first in our list was to attend the Sunday Mass. I found The Holy Family Church in Taipei with scheduled English Mass at 9:45AM.  It was the most solemn catholic mass that I attended, and I was happy to spend it with Connie on her birthday.  
Galleries in the train station
Daan Park on our way to The Holy Family Church

The Holy Family Church
After the mass, we went to Hello Kitty Cafe, where most girls of any age might want to spend their birthday.  It was a sumptuous lunch and that's when I found out that Taipei is a food and not a shopping destination.  That kicked off our gastronomic adventure in Taipei.  
Kitchen Hello Kitty & Dining
(not so easy to find the location; our taxi driver didn't even know where it is)

The Entrance of Hello Kitty 
Connie's birthday cake

Connie's birthday adventure continued as we took the train out of Taipei to Northeast of Taiwan, Pingxi to light our sky lantern full of our wishes.  We ended the day with much fun, not to mention, that we slightly had the biggest blooper of our life to scribble in my journal.
At the Pingxi Station
Writing my wishes on my side of the lantern

Day 2: Taipei Trip 

We were supposed to leave Taipei and travel North to Yehliu Geo Park but the weather did not permit us. It was raining early in the morning and we had to wait until it was only drizzling before we decided to change our itinerary for the day.  We first had our lunch at the authentic Din Tai Fung.  Travel bloggers said that the queue could be unimaginable so we had to prepare for a late lunch.
the queue on the board and we're 3041

Din Tai Fung guide to eat Xiao Long Bau
Our dining experience in Din Tai Fung in Taiwan was a bit different in Singapore.  The restaurant staff made us the sauce that compliment the famous xiao long bao (soup dumplings). The guide how to prepare the sauce and how to eat the xiao long bao were helpful for the most satisfying experience of xiao long bao.

After lunch, we took the train to Taipei 101. Though we've been to Petronas Twin Tower, we gave it a go to Taipei 101 as well. Then, we capped off our day together by looking for the Modern Toilet restaurant in Ximending.  It was such a fun adventure in the midst of the rain.

Then, it was time for Connie and Jen to go to the airport for their flight back to Manila and I left for one more day to explore more of Taipei.

My Day 3 would have been full of places to go:
1. Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
2. Hiking to Elephant Mountain
2. Guanghwa Digital Mall
3. Shopping at Ximending

But the heavy rains that kept pouring the whole day had ripped me off of my chance to explore Taipei on my own. And that I had to list down Taiwan again in my bucketlist.

Should the time and weather have been accommodating to me, I could have completed my itinerary.  But as they say and with my travel experiences, things can change as you go on with your trip.  At the end of the trip, it's not the destination that really matters but the journey. 
My "should-be" itinerary :-)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Wake-Up Call in Taipei: Have Faith in Prayers

The Prayer Card from the Holy Family Church in Taipei
Birthday is the day where everyone, regardless of religion and faith, makes a wish.  To say our wishes silently before we blow the candles on the top of the cake is already a written and somehow, the unwritten tradition of the world.  This is the special day we should celebrate life.

My birthday is in March and it is usually the end of school year in the Philippines.  Back in my school years, I was running for academic honors and has to maintain an above average grade in my major subjects in college.  I always used my birthday to ask my God the gift to get the honors that I was running for and even to maintain the required grades in my course. And it worked for me.  I always had my birthday wishes granted.

As I continue to celebrate my birthdays, my wishes vary with my interests and so with my ways of celebrating it.  When I reached thirty, I eventually found myself celebrating my birthdays abroad.   It has become a personal tradition that I wanted to explore the world and celebrate the day I was born. Being a Catholic in the Philippines, a birthday is not complete without going to the church for a mass or light a candle.  When I celebrated my birthday abroad, I did the unconventional to my Catholic faith.

March 17,2007,  I found myself kneeling together with the other tourists and local believers inside a pagoda of Golden Buddha in Bangkok while trying to sneak a photo as it was not allowed.  Entering the temple means we had to follow the rituals of vowing and kneeling. 

March 17, 2012, I had my birthday eve in a bar with foreign friends in Kuala Lumpur, then spent the rest of the day with college and office friends in Singapore. It was quite a discovery for a not-your-party-girl like me but I had lots of laughter with new friends whom I just conversed over via telecons and in-house office chat.

March 17, 2013, I spent the rainy afternoon inside the church ALONE on a Sunday (something that is impossible in the Philippines) in Jeju Island, South Korea when I went to my first solitary travel in the country for ten days.  It was the most solemn and closest encounter I had with my God.  I was able to visit the church, light a candle and pray the Holy Rosary.

Then came August of 2014.  It was not my birth month but my friend, Connie. Along with her sister Jen, we went together for a three-day trip in Taipei to celebrate her birthday. Being the one who is always tasked to prepare the itinerary, I made sure we can attend the English mass on Connie's birthday at Holy Family Catholic Church.

Holy Family Church in Taipei
When we silently entered the church, it felt different for many reasons. Many vacant seats, fewer people but very, very much solemn.  Sunday masses in the Philippines are always flocked with overflowing crowd of Catholics.  It was so solemn that we did not attempt to whisper.  Everyone was attentive and responsive - to songs, prayers and psalms. Before the recession, the commentator asked for the first timers who attended the Mass in that church. We stood up and found ourselves a bit shy yet overwhelmed with the faithfuls clap. Somebody gave the microphone to us and the commentator asked each one of the first timers which country we came from. It was such a nice ministry and at the end of the mass, they even had some food to share.  It was a heartwarming experience. We felt blessed.
Pingxi Sky Lantern in Taiwan
In the afternoon, we spent half of the day traversing the countryside northbound to Pinxi Line.  I put it in our itinerary for two reasons - 1) for Connie to experience train travel, and, 2) to write my wishes in sky lantern. The latter was indeed contradicting to my Catholic faith.

Pingxi Sky Lantern in Shifen station is famous to tourists and locals who believed that their wishes will come true.   Unexpectedly, we were perhaps, one of the few who proved otherwise.

Arrays of lanterns along the railroad
The lantern was sold in different choices and colors that represent every aspect - love, money, relationship, faith, health, among others.  We were offered a two-sider-lantern for NTD150 or four sides for NTD200. We took the four-sider lantern and had one side each to write down our wishes.  One side was allotted for Marinette's wishes.  We did not mind the color at all. 

We wrote as many wishes that we can, filling all spaces even up to the edges of the lantern. Those were about personal, career, love, money, material things even for other people. Every space in different strokes and styles, as much as we could to fill in. For some reason, it was enough for the three of us. Or rather, we made it fully enough for us.  No need to have one lantern each.  One is enough. We had four sides anyways.

my side of the our skylantern

And so we wrote our wishes - my half-meant wishes.

We took our celebratory photo, a MUST for all tourists from different parts of the world.  It was all over the place. We had our photo with every side, one each for our wishes. And the lady who sold the lantern to us and the one directing the ceremony of its sort, lighted the lantern and shouted, "Let It Go"! We cheerfully enjoined her as we let go of our lantern, following its trail.  

Our celebratory photo before we released the lantern
However, the unexpected happened! Something that anyone from that place of wishers and believers had expected to witness.
as we released our lantern
At the snap of the finger, as if an impatient and rushing wind swayed the lantern so quickly that the video even looked like it was set at fast forward. The fire could not cope with the strength of the wind that it swayed so abruptly.  Everything snapped in seconds!

Shamelessly it crashed against the branches of tree at the top of the store where we bought the lantern, burnt so quickly as if our wishes just turned into ashes.  I felt weird, a bit worried.  But I shook it off.  The worry was no longer about my wishes but on the damage our burning lantern might caused.  The worry turned to laughter. We laughed at how people around us seemed to regret about our burning lantern.  We laughed on the chaos we created for a brief moment.  We laughed at the thought that we almost destroyed the true meaning of sky lantern to the tourists and many believers of it.

And we finished our trip that day exhausted but had so much fun.  Here's the clip of our embarrassing video.

Looking back, some of my prayers were granted, not in the exact ways that I wanted them to be but in God's ways.  I know and believe that my wishes were granted, just like how I trusted my God to grant my wishes on my birthdays. It was not because our lantern of wishes was burned but it was because of the burning desire in my heart that my God will bless me more.

Our trip in Taiwan was a wake-up call for me - not to settle in anything fad but to keep the faith. Our dreams do come true - just Pray Hard and Work Hard. And I will continue to explore the world and celebrate my life that God has blessed me with.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

My Solitary Travel Wrap Up : All About My South Korea Experience

A year after I packed my luggage full of  layers of clothes and winter bubble jackets, I thought the best way to re-live the memories and the wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience is to scribble my first-ever "Solitary Travel" in South Korea. My main reason back then was just to see and touch an ice snow on my birthday.  Not only I touched "Olaf" (the snowman in the movie, "Frozen") which I happened to name as plainly, Mr. Snowman, last year, I was able to experience the true meaning of "solitary travel" as a wanderer and traveler (and not on an official business trip).
At the top of Seorak Mountain
There are ups and downs of being a solo traveler. Being one was kind of unveiling the experiences of other solo travelers that I read from their travel blogs - the food costs that could have been split into two or three, to have somebody who can look over your things while you're responding to nature's call, to take pictures of you (though thanks to my mono pod and tripod) and to just talk and laugh about the marvelous things that you have just saw or witnessed, or to the simplest moments along the way.  At some point it was difficult but the moment you think of your main goal, you get back to the essence of solitary traveling. 

It is always a choice- a choice to either feel homesick or a choice to savor that kind of experience that worth a bundle of pages in your life journal.

At Seogwipo Harbour just having the time of my life
There was a time when I only settled just an order of fewer portion of food and did not splurge much on it.  Some moments when I only asked and trusted the stranger to look after my luggage while I took a short bathroom break. And even talked with some stranger randomly on certain things.  Surprisingly, those were the things that I learned more about myself.  I am not a conversation starter, neither I can easily trust strangers.  But in a foreign land where you can only lean upon yourself, there are times that you don't have the choice but follow your instincts.

I got my ever reliable monopod and tripod that kept me company while capturing memories.  It was amusing when some tourists watched me while I set my camera on time and allowed me to take my photos, then followed the same spot for theirs.  They thought I got the best spot to take photos.  Anything that seemed lacking is always filled in with another.  Things went well without realizing it. So hurray to my successful first solitary travel where I conquered the fear of traveling on my own and lived my dream of independence.
at Udo Island with my ATV (it was fun driving around the island)

My Preparations

It was a nine-month planning and preparation (though not continuous planning with my nine-hour-a-day-office job) - airfare promo hunting for cheap flights from/to Seoul and domestic flights, cheap yet comfortable accommodations, studying the transport system and directions.  I did meticulous research, read blogs and reviews and even contacted some expats who happened to be bloggers as well for some tips.  It's my first solitary travel and nothing can go wrong with a thorough planning.  With my DIY-prepared travel guide, prayer book and rosary, I went for my first solitary travel to South Korea on March 14, 2013 with nothing to bring home but a new experience that will make me more a much better person.

Just like a countdown to any event, I did my own 10-day countdown too. 

my own personalized itinerary meticulously made with pasted pictures, maps and direction guides that helped me throughout my trip, plus of course, my companion - my rosary.
So here I share the run down of my first solitary travel experience:

Solitary Travel By the Numbers:

Season  :  Late winter, early Spring
No. of Days 10 days (March 14-23, 2013)
Airport Transfers : 4 Airports (1 international, 3 domestic)
Incheon International Airport (International Flight from MANILA to SEOUL)
Gimpo International Airport (Domestic flight from SEOUL to JEJU Island)
Jeju International Airport (Domestic flight from SEOUL and to BUSAN)
Gimhae International Airport (Domestic flight from JEJU Island to BUSAN)
No. of Cities:  6 Cities (1 Special City Capital (Seoul); 1 Metropolitan City (Busan); 4 Cities (Paju, Sokcho, Gimhae, Seogwipo)
No. of Provinces: 4 Provinces ( South Gyeongsan, Gyeonggi, Gangwon and Jeju)
No. of Accommodations : 4 (hostel, inn, motel and hotel)
Four Seasons House (Seoul)
Jeju Hiking Inn (Seogwipo, Jeju Island)
Pusan Inn Motel (Busan)
YMCA Tourist Hotel (Seoul)
Mode of Transportation: Airport buses, city buses, intercity/express (provincial buses), subways (Seoul and Busan MTR), Korail (KTX), ferry to Udo Island and ATV around Udo Island


Subways & Buses
It was my second time in South Korea so I was brave enough to go alone.  The subways are a bit complicated but once you get a feel of it, you're good like locals.  On my last day in Seoul, I just kept the subway map in my bag and traveled like I know much of the place.  Bus stops are very helpful too though many are not written in English, especially in the provinces, but diligent research and a dose of common sense could save you some time.  With names and directions written in Hangul, I saved screenshots of those in my Ipad. Then with the printed characters in the bus stops, I just compared the characters in my Ipad with those signages. Fun yet practical tips! 
my bus ticket to Sokcho City
However, "confirmation" and "strategy" are the keys - just like how I handle my team and manage our KPIs at my office work.  I always asked the driver twice to confirm the route of the bus and asked him to drop me at my designation, in the best efforts and rounds of explanation that I could. Most of the time, I took the seat at the back of the driver's seat so he could somehow remember me or I could ask him right away.

The language barrier could be a problem but just hold on to the key word.  When I went to Seoksan Ilchulbong (or Sunrise Peak) in Jeju Island, I just took a bus that according to my DIY travel guide, passed by at a certain rotary, I asked the driver in a questioning tone, "Ilchulbong"? And he nodded.  The travel time was much longer than I expected and I had no idea of the distance and the estimated travel time. But after an hour, the driver stopped and told me while pointing at Ilchulbong.  I assumed I reached my destination and got off the bus.  Then, I left to nowhere.  I did not panic but instead look beyond the location- should there'll be any street signs and directions.  Then, I saw that usual signage painted in white on green or blue background pointing to Ilchulbong.  I trailed the road and there I saw my destination.  
Learn to read signs and directions - its not something to be feared of
For unknown reason, I am fond of train travels in foreign countries (be it a tram or subways).  Perhaps, I am inspired of Harry Potter's Hogwarts or any other movies of historic times where people traverse from one country to another via train.  I've even read that if not of North Korea's restriction, Russia can be reached via train.  It was part of my plan to take the express train from Busan to Seoul although the price was more expensive than a domestic plane and travel time can be longer.  I had fun looking for the platform number, coach number and seat number.  Unfortunately, it was indeed express that I haven't seen much of the countryside but tunnels.  Next time, I'll take the much slower train.
But then, I experienced the efficiency of South Korea's transport system. Trains left as scheduled and arrived as announced. In just less than three hours, I reached Seoul from Busan.
KTX ride and route from Busan to Seoul


Kimbap - my staple food in South Korea
Korean cuisine is always foreign to a Filipino palate like me who's more on sweets, salty and sour food.  I had my own difficulty during my first trip - aside from the new taste of kimchi, it was hard ordering food without English menu or even a picture to refer to.  We ended eating chicken most of the time.  However, on my solitary travel, I researched for the names and description of Korean cuisine such as Samgyeopgsal, Kimbap, Bibimpap. I saved a copy of pictures with its name in Korean that I just showed when ordering food. Sometimes, "turo-turo", a Filipino term for just pointing to the food on display also worked well for me. When I was in Udo Island, the only restaurant near the port offered food with menu written in Korean only - without even pictures. I looked around and saw a big man in military uniform taking a mouthful of black noodles. It salivating enough that I didn't mind pointing at his food to order mine.  All throughout my trip, Kimbap, was my staple food. It's cheap and a sort of all in one food with mixture of rice and various ingredients that are enough to be a viand for a Filipino like me.  All throughout the 10-day trip, it was proven how generous Korean servings were of the side dishes which they called banchan.  There was even a point in time during my trip that rice and kimchi were enough.  I came to like and love kimchi that I even bought a box at Duty Free and brought home.  I even ate from time to time at any authentic Korean restaurant here in Metro Manila. 


I heard a lot of not so good comments about Koreans who were either studying or living here in the Philippines.  But during my stay in South Korea traversing from one province to another, I experienced their kindness more than anything else.  A family fed me in the bus  while traveling to Snow Mountain in Sokcho.  Amidst the language barrier, we were able to share the smiles and the food.   On the bus to Ilchulbong, an elder woman sat beside me, kept on chatting with me while pointing at the map on my hand.  She was cheerful and all I can do was to smile and nod and kept on telling her I cannot understand her. The lady serving my food at the Traditional Restaurant in Jeju Island catered to my request to sit on the traditional table that I saw in K-dramas and gave me more side dishes that one person can eat.  A taxi driver was like a father who kept reminding me to stay safe and be well for the rest of my travel in South Korea as he drove me to the bus terminal.  The language itself is not a barrier but instead the kindness of the people helped me throughout my trip.  I talked in English and they spoke in Korean but we both understood each other.

the family who fed me in the bus with their daughter who even called me Unni when we bid goodbye

Culture, Tradition and Beliefs 


Just like in any other countries that I'd gone to, it is always an unspoken rule for any traveler to respect one country's culture and tradition.  Wear the suitable clothes - do not go in shorts if the place doesn't allow you to expose some skin (like in palaces in Bangkok). Koreans have a high value in conformity.  It's non-negotiable.  They conform to traditions and culture and even religiously observed unofficial celebrations like National Siblings Day, White Day, among others.  When I arrived on March 14, I wandered around Hongdae and young people were flocked in one area with four good looking gentlemen with sort of placard worn like a vest and girls were screaming to hug and took pictures with them.  I thought they were some members of K-pop idols but I later found out that they were celebrating White Day which is observed a month after Valentines Day where men gave flowers and some sweets to ladies as sort of giving back for the presents they received on Valentines Day.  In Korea (and I think even in Japan) ladies were the ones who gave men some presents on Hearts' Day unlike in the Philippines where Valentines' Day is more of a Women's Day.  They were truly nationalistic - from cars to mobile and smartphones, they patronized their own brand.

Shoes Off the Floor
In Korea, you should never wear your shoes or slippers inside their house.  I once asked Mary, our landlady at Hongdae's Youth Hostel during my first trip in South Korea.  She said, no particular reason but just to keep the floor clean.  In Korea, and other Asian countries like Philippines, we put sleeping map on the floor and sleep.  Most Korean's houses (even hostels) have raised floor and lower floor.  That means, you can have your shoes and slippers on the lower floors but have to leave and take it off at the raised floor.  More so, it is much appreciated if one's wearing clean socks.

Don't be Noisy on Subway and Buses
Unlike in the Philippines where people are more chatty even to strangers, you can rarely hear loud voices on trains and buses, even loud music - perhaps the reason why most people were on ear/headphones on the train.  On my way back  to Seoul from Sokcho City, I was on the bus with many younger people but I did not hear any loud voices talking, or laughing. I thought it was because they chose to sleep than chatting but later I read that this is one of the norms in Korea.  Also, when I watched a Korean variety/reality show, Running Man's episode 192 where Song Ji Hyo and her partner took the bus to their final destination, they switched off their cameras and refrained from talking as many elderly were on the bus too.

Don't messed up with the elder Koreans
Korean elders can be scary but they can be charming too.  I am lucky to have had happy experiences with them. Maybe, I looked lost and helpless to them as I wander around on my own but maybe that's one of the freebies of a solo traveler. On my 2nd day in Jeju Island, I took my morning walk in Seogwipo and joined some elders sitting on the wooden porch after I crossed Seonimgyo Bridge.  Some cared to chat but I smiled and talked in English so they just waved and went back to their places.  They can just go in the queue whenever they want, and don't ever sit on their designated seats on the subways.  But when we were in Korea on our first trip with large bags on our hands from our shopping adventure at Nandaemun Market, some elder men even offered their seats to us but we happily declined. Again, just put a smile on your face and these Halmeoni (grandma) and Hal-abeoji (grandpa) will be gentle as the caring old folks.

These are all my observations and from my own experiences.  And this is all that matters to me.


Accommodation depends on the traveler's preference - rates, comfort, location or lifestyle.  I am always after the three factors - rates, comfort and location.  It doesn't have to be fancy as long as it is accessible to bus stops and subway stations, reasonable price but with either private bathroom or easy access to bathrooms and most of all comfortable - with good bed to sleep and clean pillows and blankets.

I made a research based on nearest bus stops and subway station, then usually check on Trip Advisor for any valuable reviews that I can refer to. And I can say, my chosen abode away from home were worth a page in my journal too.

Four Seasons House in Seoul
On my first stop in South Korea, I chose Four Seasons House as the Bed and Breakfast to stay in Seoul.  It has fewer rooms than other hostels and less crowded.  I am not into a typical hostels for backpackers. I still want to have some place and space of my own.  I chose the Winter Room just to go with my travel theme of Winter-Spring.  The pictures on their website were the same of the actual room. The location requires a bit of walking to the nearest subway stations, Hapjeong and Hongdae, and nearest Airport Bus stop, but this is common to most hostels in Seoul.  Every morning, you can prepare your own breakfast of bread with a lot of jams to choose from and coffee, tea and juices. The hosts were also accommodating.  Alex Lim was attentive to my queries on email and Julie accommodated my luggages for safekeeping when I arrived at 7am, too early for check-in.  The place was cozy and comfortable for a homey feel.  I liked the displays and the interior design that I even inspired to copy some of it.
Four Seasons House in Seoul
Their website is a plus! You'll never get lost with the very detailed map and the nearby locations were helpful also when I was in the planning stage of my Solitary Travel. It was pricey for a typical backpacker but I found comfort with it.

Jeju Hiking Inn
My second stop was Jeju Island where I chose to celebrate my birthday and the next two days of my trip.  It was raining when I arrived but my room with a bathtub in Jeju Hiking Inn compensated the gloomy weather a bit.  I bought bubble bath and some junkies to match with soju.  It was a simple celebration for me with a slice of cake that I bought at Jungmun.

Kevin, the receptionist, was also accommodating.  He can speak good English and was very diligent to give me some directions on the map. He even reminded me to keep my room locked.  The room was more than deserving of the price that I paid and very much liked it.  They also had a rooftop overlooking the Seogwipo Harbour and that's where I spent my first breakfast and prayed that the weather could got better.
Jeju Hiking Inn Room 
Pusan Inn Motel
On my third stop of the 10-day-solitary travel, I stayed at Pusan Inn Motel in Busan as recommended by my office colleague, Eve.  She stayed there with her friends and a walking distance to Busan Station. I was supposed to stay at Arirang Tourist Hotel which was more expensive for a solo traveler like me.  I saved more than 50% of my budget. The motel was not fancy, neither its entrance as it looked like one of the old stores of money changers and small restaurants along the street. It has no lifts so I had to carry my luggage up and down the stairs. But then the room was good enough for its price plus the location was very strategic.  The receptionist can only speak few English words but presenting my reservation was already enough to understand each other.  Since I arrived earlier than the allowed check-in time, I left my luggage again for safekeeping and went off for my first bus tour in Busan.

Pusan Inn Motel room at 3rd Floor
YMCA Tourist Hotel Seoul
I decided to splurge in comfort on my last night in South Korea.  YMCA is located near Myeongdong and Nandaemun and the airport bus is just at the front of the hotel.  This catered to my final itinerary - to do shopping for personal and business purposes.  What's more convenient to shop and then drop at the hotel and shop again.  With my luggages in tow, it was very convenient to drag them just outside the entrance of the hotel.  The price, of course, was pricey but enough to compensate the walking and tiring time or even taxi costs should I stay in backpackers' hostel.
YMCA Tourist Hotel Room
The Weather

No further details - I loved going back to Korea because of Spring.  It's not much of a cold of a Winter and the beautiful Cherry Blossoms just bloomed around this time.  But my dream of experiencing snow is one of the reasons that I tried to catch the changing of season from Winter to Spring.  In the next few years, when I save enough to travel again, I will explore South Korea in Autumn.
with Olaf at Seorak Mountain

My 10-day Solitary Travel Itinerary

When planning a longer trip and to cover as much of the country, it is advisable to identify your home base, that is, the main stop for your accommodation where during the day, a day tour/trip to nearby cities/provinces is possible. For my solitary trip, I chose three main home bases - SEOUL, JEJU ISLAND and BUSAN.

Home bases can be reached via trains, bus or airplanes.  To save time, I chose to travel by air.  However, for the day tours, I chose the City Bus tours and provincial buses.  It was fun, full of adventure and I have all the time of my trip figuring my destination.

My 10-DAy South Korea Solitary Map


1st Stop : Seoul 

Day 1 - Arrival
Spent the day wandering around Seoul, went to KBS and Seoul Station. Then, just anywhere Hongdae area to get the youthful feel and had my afternoon snack at Hello Kitty Cafe.  It was the time to make familiar of the place again.  

Day 2 - Gyeonggi Province (Paju City)
Took the bus to the nearest province, Gyeonggi, where I spent most of my first half of the day at Heyri Art Village and enjoyed coffee shops hopping more than anything else.  Then, I spent the rest of the afternoon in Seoul indulging into their traditional restaurants and homes.  I had my first Korean meal in Insadong, took my souvenir photo and then explored Bukchon Traditional Village.
my sticker photo at one of the stores in Insadong 
Day 3 - Gangwon Province (Seorak Mountain)
A day before my birthday, I fulfilled my wish to experience the snow.  I ate ice cream to further feel the cold and ate ramen to feel the warm as well. Ironic, isn't it?  

2nd Stop : Jeju Island

Day 4 - Arrival in Jeju Island (My Birthday)
I left Seoul and took the flight to Jeju Island.  It was raining so I spent my birthday at the Church and with Teddy Bear.

Day 5 - Seogwipo Harbour and Songoik Theme Park
Spent my second day in Jeju Island with a morning walk along Seogwipo Harbour and my mini-version of "Tour Around the World".  It was colder after the rain but just looking at the miniatures of famous landmarks of the world is like a peek of the world that I could explore in the years to come.

Day 6 - Seongsan Peak and Udo Island

Driving around Udo Island on ATV was such an amazing experience for me.  I wish I could stay overnight.  Taking steps to hike the highest peak of Seongsan was also a different experience to me. My Jeju Island experience was indeed the best choice to spend my birthday week.

3rd Stop : Busan

Day 7 - Busan Bus Tour
On my 7th day, I took the early flight to Busan from Jeju. The best way to see Busan in a day is through their City Bus Tours that go around via Haeundae Loop and Taejongdae Loop

Day 8 - Jinhae and Busan on my own
I tried to catch a glimpse of the famous Cherry Blossom City in South Korea, Jinhae, but the flowers were not in full bloom. So I decided to have a quick tour in the morning and spent the rest of the day in Busan on my own.

4th Stop: Seoul

Day 9 - Travel back to Seoul

I took KTX train to Seoul that only took less than three hours and then spent the rest of the day shopping in Myeongdong and Nandaemun.

Day 10 - Last Day and Departure

Had my quick trip to Changdeokgung Palace and just took a stroll to nearby cafe's and bookstores while I waited for my final time to depart Seoul.

My Expenses

My Top 3 expenses were spent on Accommodation, Food and Airfares, including KTX tickets.  Looking back, I thought I ate much in South Korea, the fact that I learned to love Kimchi that much.  A travel is not complete without pasalubong or presents for my loved ones at home - to my families, colleagues and even to my staff at work.  It was like sharing with them the happy memories that I had during my travel through the souvenirs.

 That wrap up my first solitary travel in South Korea last year.  Every time I missed the experience, I read through my blogs and browse through my pictures.  I surely be back in Autumn.