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 four years before 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 2:30 AM 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.