The City of Light wasted no time showing its dark side. I got a full Paris treatment within 24 hours of my arrival. Friends had told me enough cautionary tales to get my guard up as soon as I got off the Thalys from Amsterdam. I went to Paris with eyes wide open, not to go sightseeing through rose-colored glasses. “Je ne vois pas la vie en rose.”
“The soul is the weariest part of the body,” Paul Bowles wrote in his novel The Sheltering Sky set in North Africa. I took exception to that. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was fatigued and dehydrated, so much so that I slumped in the middle of a busy intersection in Fes – and slept. My body shut down for 15 minutes in the shadow of the center island’s stone monument. With the sun still high at 4:30PM, I pulled my cap over my eyes and dozed off under the sweltering sky of Morocco.
Yangon was an afterthought in my Myanmar itinerary. If not for the gloriously golden Shwedagon Pagoda, the former capital couldn’t rival the historical treasures of Bagan and Mandalay. As an urban center, it fell behind the popularity of other cities in Indochina. So what made me sit through an eight-hour overnight bus ride from Central Myanmar to Yangon? Simply because it had Shwedagon. In that quick visit, Yangon managed to charm my ignorant judgment away.
I wasn’t home for Christmas – for the first time in my life. Of all holidays, Christmas had exclusively been a family affair. In my 50 years, I celebrated 45 Christmases with my parents. Becoming an orphan five years ago was a game changer. What could be the loneliest holiday proved to be less so with fellow orphan Ki. We had already decided to ring in the new year at Taipei 101; I figured we might as well leave earlier to spend Christmas at our port of entry, Kaohsiung.
San Remigio / Santa Fe and Bantayan, Bantayan Island, Cebu, the Philippines
December 31, 2018 – January 3, 2019
We rang in 2019, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Dominoes of delays came crashing down at Hagnaya Port in San Remigio, Cebu. We missed the last ferry out to Bantayan Island on New Year’s Eve. Not one to sweat the small stuff, I settled in with similarly star-crossed passengers on the non-ergonomic wooden benches, unmindful of the simmering anger beside me. Ki expected us to wait out the next ferry at 2:30AM in a hotel. I shrugged the idea off as unnecessary and impractical; he got his beastmode on. The only fireworks we had at midnight were of the verbal kind.
It was a case of CNN brainwashing. Images of worldwide New Year’s fireworks displays featured by the news network year in and year out inspired us to cap our Taiwan cross-country trip with an explosive climax – at Taipei 101 which had hosted the firework event since 2005. While Hong Kong was nearer to Manila, its skyline was not as distinctive and iconic as Taiwan’s pagoda-shaped skyscraper.
The urban squalor depicted in the acclaimed Brocka film Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag in the 70s persisted like a stain that wouldn’t come off. The glory days of Manila were long forgotten. In the 80s, I could not unsee children and grown men hanging from embankments and pooping directly onto Pasig River in full view of morning rush hour traffic. Thirty years later, little else had improved. Until Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso – popularly known as Yorme Isko Moreno – came along. Barely warming his mayoralty chair, he set out to scrub off the decades-old grime of our capital city.