Best Before of Dreams

I booked a ticket to Singapore last month using my KrisFlyer miles to take advantage of SQ’s 30% discount for online redemptions. It was an impulsive buy without real plans, intending to spend just 3D/2N two weekends from now. There is a very big problem though. My passport has entered the “less-than-6-months-validity” phase four days ago before it finally expires in March. That means I can’t leave the country without a new passport! Right before I left for Indochina last month, I made sure that I have scheduled my appointment for passport renewal via the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) new online tool passport.com.ph. That was this afternoon so I had to leave work right after lunch to go to the Office of Consular Affairs along Macapagal Blvd.

I knew it was a long shot to aim for my new e-passport before September 25, the day I leave for SG. Even with rush processing, the best they could do was to deliver it on the 28th. I tried my best, begging for help from Officer 1 who did the initial checking of my documents. I reasoned out that I have an “interview” on the 27th with my e-ticket as proof. After minutes of discussion, he eventually gave me a special slip allowing me to go to the Director’s Office for the faster-than-rush processing. As fate would have it, the guard stationed at the D.O. told me that they had already reached the cutoff for special requests. Probably, it was past 3PM and the Director is not there? I didn’t ask anymore. As a consolation, he added that I can go back the following morning which I am not willing to do. The thought of spending another half-day VL in a government office sounds like a waste of time. So, I had to go back to Officer 1 and I was advised to just go ahead with the regular process to get things moving. On the morning of September 25, I will go back to the DFA office to look for him and he can help me get my passport before I go straight to the airport. I don’t know if he’s doing this out of his good nature (I’d like to think he is) or if there is a potential red-tape encounter ahead.

Good thing that I have a trusty companion during my 1.5hr wait at the Encoding/Enrolment section. I brought with me a book which I have wanted to read for so long, 360º Longitude by John Higham. I haven’t finished it yet and I plan to post a review sometime soon. It’s about a family of four and their quest to travel the world for an entire year. A must-read for travel enthusiasts! Well, at least I was productive.

This experience got me into thinking mode again. Do dreams have expiry dates? I was trying to remember where I first read it and I am not sure if I agree to that statement then. I do now. Thirty years from today, I am almost 60 years old with a loving wife, a son and a daughter, bright and beautiful grandkids. Will I still have the guts to jump off a plane and skydive? If yes, I would be lucky enough to live if a heart-attack in mid-air doesn’t strike. Do I still have the lungs to learn scuba diving and brave the famous Great Barrier Reef? Will I still have enough strength to conquer the entire world like the Highams did?

I love fresh milk but I can’t imagine myself drinking from a carton with spoiled contents. I would definitely be frustrated if my camera’s battery died on me the second I capture that supposedly perfect shot. Dreams, like many other things in life, do expire. Yes, it is possible that we achieve the things we’ve always wanted at a later stage in life. The question now is, will we be able to enjoy them at that instant?

Lost time translates to lost opportunities. I gonna make time as my companion. I only have to worry about the present since this is what controls the future. I should strive to reach for my dreams as long as my strength and passion will allow me. I must also understand that along the way, I need to learn how to let go and give up.

A few minutes ago, instead of rebooking that unplanned SG flight to another date which I am unsure of, I decided to cancel my booking altogether. I will get full-refund for the USD 75 that I spent but with 3000 miles penalty. Small amount of money that I can use to fund a big dream ahead!

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Wandering Solo

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

The first thing that people asked me after learning that I’ll be taking ten days off work to go around three different Southeast Asian cities is, “Who’s coming with you?” Almost always, they are surprised to find out that I will be traveling alone. It is usual belief that one only enjoys an activity if he has somebody to share the experience with. How difficult is it for a first-time kayaker to go island hopping by himself? How do you finish four different dishes on your dinner table? How do you play badminton alone? How does a rock band sound like if only drumbeats are there for one to hear? Well, there are things that are just too difficult to accomplish by yourself but it is not a bad idea either to do some things on your own.

Perhaps, traveling solo is one challenge that many people may not dare do. Scary. Lonely. Boring. Stressful. Yes, it will be all of that if that is your perspective. Like other free-spirited individuals, I chose to view the experience with a more positive frame of mind: adventure-packed, spontaneous, surprising, tranquil and liberating.

I booked my very cheap 5J tickets last Nov 2009 (emphasis on very cheap: PHP176 for MNL-BKK, USD19 for SGN-MNL). It took months of planning to iron out the itinerary and other details. As the day arrived closer, excitement and anxiety both crept in. It wasn’t my first time to travel alone in a foreign place but this is the first time that I’m doing it outside of a business trip. Not to dismiss the fact that this will last for more than a week.

Time flies quickly when you’re so busy. I was involved in a project and on the day that I was supposed to leave, I crammed two days worth of work into a couple of hours. By 5PM, I finally left my professional hat on my desk and looked forward to the adventure ahead.

The hours spent waiting for flights at the airport, the four hours at sea, the 7-hour wait at the train station, the half-day bus rides and the endless strolls under the sun (and a bit of rain). Time seemed to stand still but these were the moments that let me reflect on the present and where I want to be.

The kababayans (translated: fellow countrymen) who lent me their pen so I can fill out the arrival/departure card. Shared suggestions on what they can do in BKK as first-timers. Satisfied our hunger by eating during the wee hours of the morning. Then, after being friends for three hours tops, we had to finally part ways since I am bound for Koh Samui via a 6AM connecting flight.

The Ang Thong Marine Park snorkeling tour with the excellent dive crew of 100 Degrees East. I was with a Canadian, an American, French and Australian tourists. Funny that fate has brought together the three countries I have seen so far and the one I that want to be in next year. The two young, nice and friendly Economics majors, an American and a Canadian, who were my BKK-Aran busmates, my Thailand-Cambodia border crossing buddies, my taxi-mates bound for Siem Reap, my Angkor Wat-mates. Isn’t it wonderful when total strangers turn into new friends? In Ho Chi Minh City, I stayed at a high school friend’s house. I got to spend a little time learning about the life of Filipinos working abroad. After all the animosity and the unfamiliarity of the past days of wandering, I end up where it feels closer to home. It was a fitting last stop. I had so much fun and I didn’t want to leave yet. I am neither lost nor lonely. I wasn’t soul-searching. Sometimes, being alone lets you open your eyes to new possibilities and you are able to see them clearly because you are free to think. No work, no problems. You become aware and you are able to enjoy the present. You get to be you and at the same time you get to be different. I was alone when I started the journey but I realized that it wasn’t so while I was in it. So do I regret traveling solo? Not one bit.

Clockwise from top left: One of the islands in Ang Thong Marine Park; Emerald Lake; A young girl waiting on the train station bench; A girl selling water after school; Shrimp Paste Stir Fried Rice & Iced Coffee; Welcome statue at Renaissance Koh Samui
Clockwise from top left: Angkor Wat at Sunrise; Four Monks and a Dog; Boy on a ferry while crossing the river; Grandmother and grandchild; Bayon; Fish Amok
Clockwise from top left: Sunset at Moc Bai (Vietnam side of VN-KH border); Bike frenzy; Vendor oustide Reunification Palace; War Remnants Museum facade; Beggar outside Notre Dame; Opera House at night