Create Your Own Adventure in Taipei

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You are not guaranteed to have an interesting time when you visit Taipei. Your plane will arrive on time, a pleasant-looking, English-speaking guard will help you use the bus ticket vending machine, and the bus you will hop on to will have extremely comfortable seats where you will view Taoyuan’s gloomy cityscape. You will feel like pressing play on your iPod’s baby-making playlist because the weather demands it. Whitney Houston’s ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go’ might seem like a divine idea but Alicia Keys’s ‘You Don’t Know My Name’ will be a more inspired choice.

It will be cold but not oppressively so. You will be surrounded by attractive couples snuggling up to each other because there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.

It will be an uneventful hour-long ride from the airport to the main city, but you can make it more interesting when you get off at Taipei Main Station where you will wait for a cab, which is a great place to start a scene. In the waiting area you will notice that some people will have the same idea of spicing up their Taipei stay. A Caucasian male could turn up out of nowhere and steal your cab, and then get upset when the cab inches forward because the cabbie realizes he’s blocking traffic. There is just the slightest possibility that said male will be doing this not out of a sense of entitlement, but due to an encounter that no one but himself knows about, unless he decides to let everyone know what an awful time he had just had involving a flight attendant and an accidentally spilled coffee. For two minutes, you will be fascinated by his outrage, but you will see the next cab ready to take you and you will forget about this upset male.

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You can make your first cab ride special neglecting to look up or remember the address of your hotel and behaving like a clueless tourist who opens himself up to victimization. If this happens, spend some time later in bed to thank Jesus and Jesus’s Daddy the Taiwanese are not the scamming kind. Taiwanese cab drivers have smartphones and they will look up your hotel’s address and might not show any sign of annoyance. They expect this sort of behavior and they have the decency to not let your carelessness affect their aura of professionalism.

While the cab driver checks her phone for your hotel’s location, you shall not utter a word because doing so will be fruitless as she does not speak English and anything you say will just be noise, an unwanted series of blubbering sounds that will drown out the Taiwanese pop on the radio that sounds so much more pleasant than your gibberish. You will spend the next 15 minutes marveling at your capacity for touristy neglect. It might not make for a great conversation fodder but, sometimes, a forgotten-hotel-address story is all you can ever have. You should not have nothing.

At a busy time as New Year’s Eve, all hotels and motels will put up a “No Vacancy” sign and will be unwilling to take latecomers. This is yet another opportunity to create some excitement. Four-star hotels will always be willing to make room for you, but why choose comfort when you can book an equally expensive hotel with a spectacular view of corrugated tin roofs?

Your idea of Taiwanese food will consist of noodles and good chicken but these will be hard to find when you get to a district like Zongshan where you will realize that there are more Japanese, Korean, McDonalds and KFCs lined up in the streets than noodle houses and colorful and probably filthy, flavorful, filling street food. You could settle for a random restaurant that serves a youthful clientele and proffers self-serve beer and rice stations. Choose a restaurant that, in place of a proper menu, offers “expert meal suggestions”, which you might have to brace yourself for weirdness, but could end up raving about the rest of the night. This could turn out to be the best-tasting meal you will ever have for the duration of your stay, but you will want some sort of self-torment, with the encouragement of willing companions, by not going to the same place and trying other food.

Due to a sense of adventure, you will find yourself sipping ‘Honey Black Tea’ that will taste like sewage. When you describe this beverage as ‘equal to sewer water in taste’, it will not only be because you’re obnoxious. Your companions might not know that your intentions are pure by warning them about this sewage-tasting tea.

You will wise up and choose a pizza place for your next meal and this place will wipe your sewage-sipping tasting tears away with their excellent-tasting peach iced tea (with real, live peaches) freshly picked from the rooftop peachyard.

Bars will be open until late and the bartender will serve you the warmth of a scotch and a conversation. You will feel like abusing this warmth because it will get cold very fast. There will be trips to memorial halls, night markets and Chinese temples, but you might want to experience, more than anything, the 24-hour bookstore. In Eslite Bookstore, you will see a bunch of college guys sleeping and who doesn’t like the sight of that?

It will take all of your willpower not to snuggle up next to the sleeping dudes who wisely pick the Architecture & Design section as their dozing area. The feeling this bookstore incites in a person is similar to the feeling incited by viral TV commercials where a young person grows up to be a doctor because when he was 9, a stranger gave his sick father soup because the boy and his father are dirt poor. I’m not sure how that relates to the boys sleeping in the bookstore but both scenarios are warm and inviting. All I know is, that is how a bookstore should be.

Why Did You Move Here?

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Is a question I should have prepared for but didn’t. I’ve always had an idea of a typical Thai as aloof to the idea of a foreigner. I’ve always thought of them as unlike most Pinoys whose hearts melt when asking foreigners about their estimation of the Philippines and upon hearing something that vaguely sounds like affection for the country, pass out from a wave of tremendous patriotic pride. I think that when a Thai asks me that, it is really just out of plain, unobtrusive curiosity. But then of course, Thais would be unlike most Pinoys in that regard because in the first place, there really is no one in the world quite like Pinoys.

There is nothing wrong with Pinoy Pride, I know it, but I’ve always been unable to relate to this raging nationalistic fervor. It’s fine, though, because I can just feel that the Philippines also doesn’t care about my lack of love for it, and maybe my indifference towards it may not be intense enough as to seriously wound the quite fragile Filipino Pride.

Maybe I never bothered to think about the answer to that because the question ought to be Why did you leave the Philippines? because that is really what I did. Maybe I would have had better responses to that question had it been phrased differently, say, ‘Why did you decide to get away from all the horrendousness brought about by a Manila existence?’ or ‘Why did you think it was smart to leave Metro Manila, shitty Metropolis?’

But Thais are not like that. They’re so great and kind and so they would only ever ask about moving and not about the leaving.

Had the questions been phrased differently, I would have had to prepare a pageanty answer because as much as I would love to point out the positives first (ie, ‘Because I simply love Thailand!’ etc.) I wouldn’t want to be perceived as a shit-talker of his own country and of shitty things, in general. Talking behind the Philippines’s back, even though it sometimes deserves it, does not feel good, knowing that not all people who migrate feel the same way as I do. Also, it would feel very silly and embarrassing if I talk ill of a country I know I would have to go back to sooner or later. If it’s any consolation I have Palawan Pride. I think Palawan makes all other beaches look like swamps.

That is maybe why I never bothered to devote an hour or so of my life to list the plentiful reasons why I decided to move to Bangkok, Thailand — because the question needs to be rephrased. But every time I get asked that, I am tempted to give the following stock answers:

1. Because there’s nothing in this world I would rather be than here.

2. Because the trains here are so great. So great that I would never shut up about their greatness, ever.

3. Because I love spicy food and it feels so great to be eating them here instead of some ‘Authentic Thai Food’ restaurant in Rockwell, Makati.

4. Because you can mall-hop abandonedly thanks to the wonderful, great trains.

5. Because I’ve read in some tourist brochure or magazine that Bangkok is a city where ‘culture meets commerce’ or something and I wanted to soak up that culture-commerce atmosphere aura.

6. Because I hate our trains and 80% of our roads.

In short, I moved here because it’s so great being here, which I know tells the interrogator nothing. Noticeably, however, hate will have a major role behind the reasons.

It’s not an easy question to answer. If I say something about ‘loving the culture’ and be asked to be specific, I wouldn’t be able to articulate the *culture love* because my idea of culture is hazy and will always involve thoughts of the DVDs being sold at Lido Theater. Great variety of DVD titles would always mean, for me, an act of culture fortification, because making available to the masses these wide variety of movies, not anymore accessible in the Philippines, could only mean that the ministry of culture, specifically the DVD-importing and printing department, cares to have its people have access to these cinematic (and musical) treasures. The DVD and CD selection in a lot of Bangkok stores are truly remarkable and, like the rest of Thai culture, so great.

But I know that that is not what makes a city so highly cultural.

In some faint way, I could say that this is a city that wouldn’t make you feel as if you’re only doing these cultural things as a duty but because there’s actually so much culture to take. And because the trains, those great, great trains, and the boats, let you hop from one place to another without feeling contemptuous of the sickness that is the modern day transportation.

You go to museums because they’re pretty, they’re very accessible, and the restrooms are gleaming works of architectural marvel. You don’t go to Bangkok Art & Cultural Centre because you feel like your Instagram needs to have its periodic culturification because in the last few days all you’ve had are pictures of your photogenic meals and you feel like the commerce-culture balance must be achieved.

I could say that I love the people, but which people exactly? I could support the *people love* claim by saying that the people who make this city so thoroughly livable deserve all the love it can get and so I am professing and freely giving my love to those people.

I could tell them that I love not being impelled to treat the whole office to lunch when it is my birthday, resignation day or baptismal day which is what sometimes happens back home. But deep down I would know that that’s not really it.

Maybe, Why did you move here is a question asked by anyone who has encountered a Pinoy anywhere in the world and it is in fact one of the most common questions ever asked. Maybe there is an idea of a Philippines, especially from those who have never been in it, that is filled with images of fun if over-crowded, party beaches and bountiful coconut trees, and smiling, charming locals, that the idea of someone moving away from all that could only mean insanity. I go to work every day not having poisonous feelings about life, ie, with a song in my heart, but when I dig deeper, I find ‘great trains’ as not being a very compelling reason for loving where I’m now living.

Next time I get asked that, maybe I’ll just say, Because the internet is fast, which I think could perfectly capture the essence of my real answer which is ‘I’m not sure’.

I lost my iPod in Manila

And the police officer looked genuinely concerned and non-dismissive. While talking to him, I knew there was no way it would be returned. We knew it was lost forever, but it felt nice just to have someone share the frustration. ‘Okay ka lang? Gusto mo ng tubig?’ I’m pretty sure he wanted to give me a hug. He was really nice.

In all my years as a student in Manila, I’ve never been victimized by petty thieves. My faith in the humanity of Manila peoples hasn’t been shattered even though it really is one of the filthiest, scummiest places in the country. I go there for my monthly dentist appointment not too concerned about safety. I’m now a grown up whose faith in Manila’s humanity is effectively shattered. Congratulations, Manila.

The first time I lost something valuable was in high school, when a classmate lent me her Girbaud wallet for a week, which I lost during lunch time. Borrowing a Girbaud wallet for a week is one of those stupid things we did in high school and I managed to compound that stupidity with another. I thought maybe I’m not meant to own anything that isn’t obtained from my own personal hard work. But then again, I’ve lost around 10 phones already; phones that were given as a gift, phones that were lent, phones that were bought with cash. I lose wallets too but less frequently than I do phones. The iPod was a Christmas gift from G. As long as it’s valuable, I lose it.

I lost two iPods in less than a year. There are no patterns in these incidents. The shitty city of Manila is full of crooks but so is anywhere else in Metro Manila. In fact, I’ve lost things in okay neighbourhoods too. It’s just the recklessness and carelessness that is constant and I need to remedy this carelessness. Do I never own another valuable gadget again? Do I forsake myself the things that other ultimately more careful people enjoy just because I’m aware of the great potential of losing the valuable again? Do I rid myself of the desire to enjoy anything worth more than P20,000, etc.

But I refuse to see the bleak in this. In fact I already am seeing the good in this otherwise very depressing loss:

1.       I slow down the development of tinnitus or whatever ear infection I’m sure to earn from continued and non-stop loud iPod playing because for as long as I own one, I will never cease to use it on every possible occasion, for as long as I have functioning ears.

2.       My CD-buying/CDs will be justified. They will look less pointless now that I have to turn to CDs again for music playing.

3.       I become aware that there are really seriously kind, concerned, non-lousy policemen in this country. From now on, I wouldn’t automatically think that policemen are just guys who freeload off buses. Thanks to Manila Police Officer Campos, he of the fine cheekbones and manners.

4.       I get to read more books. It will have to be the only entertainment of choice for long trips. Snatchers will never ever steal your paperback, ever.

5.       I have less reason to tinker with the computer because I have less reason to arrange iTunes playlist, which I spend a lot of time on.

6.       I don’t have to buy a protective case, something I’ve been meaning to do for the last 3 months.

7.       There is less urge to check Twitter and Facebook now that I can’t access them from a mobile device.

8.       Strangers I sit next to in buses and shuttles have no more reason to get annoyed by me, leaker of really loud music.

9.       My disdain for trains (MRT and LRT – the worst trains in the universe) will be more justified. I know there are thieves anywhere but our rail transport system, which gives a truly false sense of security by having mangmang guards check up on everyone’s belongings, prove to be totally worthless in times of trouble. I can’t decide which I hate more, the guards or the trains. Even, I guess. But as I’ve said, no sulking this time. And security guards deserve an entire blog post on its own.

Elsewhere

In Cambodia, the people are so hospitable it breaks your heart to see them fumble upon committing very inconsequential mistakes. A waitress falls all over herself trying to please. Bell boys are profuse with apologies if your room is warm. It’s not just that it’s romantic to see people like those lovely Cambodians pour their heart into their service, it’s like their own well-being are largely dependent on somebody else’s satisfaction.

The feeling you get from walking Siem Reap’s eskinitas that are lined with pretty, ambiencey restaurants, art galleries and boutique hotels is not the same feeling you get from walking the super stylized but admittedly architectural wonderlands of Ayala, Makati or any place in good old Manila. Karinderyas sit next beside fancy restos, tuk tuks, not airconed taxis await outside charming coffee shops and pubs. Book stores sell pirated copies of hard to find books, one of Cambodia’s best ideas. I have not been there long enough to qualify as the best judge of cultural superiority but Cambodia’s urban make-up is so far ahead of Manila in terms of pretension elimination. I don’t think it’s ever been a priority of any city to eliminate any trace of pretentiousness but tourist hubs like Siem Reap and Bangkok, which by their touristy nature ought to exude a high sense of grandiosity,  have almost zero attempt to be extravagant,  classy or exclusive which can hardly be said of Manila.

I’ve also been to Hong Kong and though I didn’t love it, it was an eye-opening experience. What has the world come to when someone gets enamored and googly-eyed upon seeing working, efficient transportation systems?  Before HK, Thailand, which was only mildly eye-opening. It’s not like I’ve been to many places and it’s not as if HK and Thailand are the best representations of of How Things Should Be but they’re good enough. The thing about our Asian neighbors is that they seem to have put much thought into things as basic as public transportation.

I’d love to one day be in another place and though I can’t be certain that it’s any of the places I’ve been to, I’d definitely consider Cambodia. I remember as a grade-schooler being a fan of Nueva Ecija and leaving it sad when summer finally comes to an end. The feeling is magnified but the sad thing is I’m not so sure that I really truly want to be elsewhere right about now.