Three Months Abroad

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I’ve got to finish this bottle of Perrito cabernet sauvignon that I bought from Seiyu the other night when Nikki and I had a Skype date. It’s Chilean wine. Pretty good for 600 yen. It’s the first wine I’ve bought during my time in Japan, which is edging toward two months, having otherwise resorted to cheap local beers and the occasional rum & coke or shot of tequila.

Not to make it sound like all I’ve done in Japan is drink. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The first two weekends happened to include the Welcome Party for new teachers (three of us) and a fellow teacher’s Going Away Party. Hence, the first two Sundays of my Japan experience were spent hungover and recovering. Worth it, though. The bonding experiences were fun-filled and memorable, from all-you-can-eat feasts to karaoke.

In the meantime, I was being trained to teach English with a private after-school company, not one of the giant soulless English factories that pick up wayward native speakers looking for an easy paid vacation, but a smaller, more hands-on, passionate company with high but reasonable expectations, with a director I respect and want to perform well for. Once the two weeks of training ended, the week after the going away party, I was let loose in the classrooms to sink or swim, teach or fail, and so far things have been going well. I’ve gotten pretty skilled at the copy machine. I can make worksheets on the fly. I can improvise when lessons aren’t going so swimmingly. Kids love to write on the white board. They also love to run around and shout. Regarding the students’ ages, they range from adult students (30 – 40 years old) to small children (the youngest is 2, who also happens to be my favorite). They’re fifty minute classes. I teach each class once per week. The weeks fly by, Tuesday through Saturday, with a two-day break to explore Nagoya, with about six vacations throughout the year to venture out of the country or to other parts of Japan.

For the first break, next month, I’ll be going back to the Philippines to visit Nikki for a week. We’ll meet in Manila, then fly south to Cebu for an adventure in Dumaguete and Siguijor, possibly to get our diving licenses. I haven’t seen her since February 12.

Japan, honestly, I can’t say much about. I’ve only seen Nagoya so far, though tomorrow I’ve got plans to go visit Kyoto with Derek, friend and fellow teacher. So regarding Nagoya, I’ve only got good things to say. It’s bustling without being smothering. It’s mellow with flashes of excitement, never dull but never unwilling to give space to breathe. There are parks. Tall buildings. Museums. Quiet neighborhoods. Beaches. Ports. Shrines. Shrines. Malls. Shrines. This is a city of conveniences, with delicious restaurants in walking distance, 24-hour supermarkets, phenomenal public transportation, and, in my case, a fully-furnished apartment included in my teaching contract. I have a three-room apartment on the fourth floor with a hot shower, a big refrigerator, a gas stove, a washing machine, internet, and a five-minute walk to work. It’s an ideal home base for balancing my life at work and my life exploring the country. It’s the nicest place I’ve ever lived, both the apartment and the country. There is everything and anything you want or need. However, it’s not cheap. Yen vanishes quickly. Only the purely frugal will be able to save much money here.

Today when Derek and I stepped out of the Kamimaezu station, we saw eight different musicians set up in the plaza playing music to different crowds of onlookers. We ate at Jerry Uno’s, the best Mexican food I’ve had since leaving California, then bought backpacks for 1000 yen to assist in our future plans for traveling about, slipped into an arcade to play two rounds of Taiko Drummer, hopped back on the subway, found our way to a British pub, and mingled with two locals who’d just returned from a Dragons baseball game. It’s a city where you can make your own adventure.

I felt like writing because this is the end of March. Already. I left the country at the end of 2013, arrived in the Philippines on New Year’s Eve, and haven’t been back to the States since. The next time I step foot on American soil will be around Christmas. So I’m about to begin my fourth month abroad, which isn’t the most I’ve been abroad (and pales in comparison to Nikki, going on her tenth), but it’s the first time I’ve been abroad with the specific intention to stay abroad for an entire year (the teaching contract ends in March, 2015). There’s really nothing dramatic or enlightening to share about the feeling. It just feels normal. I certainly miss aspects of life in California and I definitely miss my friends, but I’ve been planning on this lifestyle for a long time. Here it is. It just feels right.

This is the weekend when the cherry blossoms come into full bloom.

I am basically healthy. I am happy. I miss Nikki but we communicate regularly. I am enjoying my job and the challenge and charming moments it supplies, from witnessing students’ progress to making a kid laugh. The pay is good. The food here is delicious. The weather is decent, a bit rainy and cold tonight, but the summer will be hot and humid and sticky, so I appreciate it all. My coworkers are fantastic and helpful. This life is a lot like life back in Sacramento, only I’m surrounded by a new language and culture. I am just now starting my weekly Japanese lessons.

There’s more wine to drink and surely there’s more to say, but I’m set for bed.

All told, the first month flew by and this second one is moving rapidly, as well. I don’t regret my decision to come here at all (other than leaving my heart in Calatrava). My time in the Philippines before this was immensely enjoyable, not only because I spent it with Nikki but because Tablas Island and the people were so welcoming. I’m stoked to go back next month and say hello again.

 

 

Tablas Island Map

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This is the map of Tablas Island that I drew after my six weeks living there. It is not entirely to scale, nor does it contain every town on the island (the road loops all the way along the coast), but it contains all the places and routes that I encountered during my time staying in Calatrava.

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Getting to Tablas Island

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From Northern California, you’ll probably head to SFO (San Francisco) and will probably begin your lengthy overseas journey with a stopover in Singapore or Japan. I’d aim for Singapore because the airport there is obnoxiously welcoming for weary travelers, especially after 12 to 16 hours cramped on an airplane, and you can find a cheap hotel room with shower access that will feel like an oasis in the desert. Rinse off. Take a nap.

Find your connecting flight to Manila, sit around, read a book, then board. You’ll land in Manila about two hours later. Things are going to start to feel a lot more foreign, especially if you’ve purchased your following flight to Kalibo separately (as I did). Get your passport stamped. Head outside. Feel that sticky humidity. You need to get to Terminal 3, so either take advantage of the free shuttle service downstairs or hail a taxi. Barter for a low fare (100 pesos might work), but expect to be overcharged. Once at the proper Terminal, find your gate, sit down, take a breath, and wait. Pay attention to what everyone else is doing. Listen for your flight number. You’ll hop into a bus that will shuttle you to the plane. Get to your seat. Buckle up.

This flight to Kalibo will probably have a decent amount of foreigners on it heading for Boracay (which, when I went, was where I was headed, too). You’ll land at a tiny airport on Panay Island. Get your bags inside. After this, you’ll have no trouble finding a van taking people to Caticlan (the port town), and it costs somewhere around 100 pesos. Welcome to the Philippines. Here you’ll finally feel like you can sit still and look around. Soak in the winding, thin roads; the plethora of palm trees; the motorcycles (called singles) weaving through traffic; the lack of sidewalks; the buildings half-finished, made of local trees and cement foundations; the American pop music on the radio.

You’ll end up in Caticlan outside of the port, and probably everyone else in the van will lead you to the payment booth to the left of the entrance, where you’ll pay your Terminal Fee, Environmental Fee, and Ticket Fee (200 pesos, all told). Now, if you’re going to Boracay, there will be plenty of boats taking people across to the other smaller island to the north. I’ll write something else on Boracay later. However, if you’re going straight to Tablas Island, you’ll want to aim to catch the 9:00 AM bangka (boat) to Looc. This won’t be accessed through the main entrance, but rather you purchase your ticket from the folks sitting out front near the payment booths. I think it was about 300 pesos. Wait with them, then follow them around to the left of the terminal building to where they’ll guide you onto the proper bangka. Take a seat. Get comfortable. This is about a two hour ride over sometimes rough water, so take your seasickness meds if you need to.

So this is how you get to Tablas Island. If you’re aiming to get to Calatrava, or perhaps to San Agustin to continue onward to Romblon Island, follow these steps:

When the boat docks in Looc, disembark and either take a walk into town or hitch a ride with a trike (the motorcycles with passenger sidecars) to the jeepney waiting station. You can ask around if you’re confused, but someone will probably want to offer you a ride to wherever you’re going (which is to Odiongan) for 300 pesos. You can get it down to 150. Or get to the jeepney (which leaves around 1:00 PM) and pay only 60. Either way, you’ll want to end up in Odiongan in time to catch the 2:30 jeepney to Calatrava. The jeepney station is a prominent part of this port town and the jeepney should take you right there, but make sure to make your destination known (“sa jeepney station”) to the guy collecting money at the back, who will knock on the ceiling to tell the driver to stop when it’s time for you to go. The jeepney ride to Calatrava takes about an hour and a half.

If you’re continuing on to San Agustin or Romblon, my helpfulness fades, but I know there are jeepneys and trikes heading that direction from Calatrava. There, you’ll pay your 10 peso terminal fee and hop onto a bangka for Romblon Island. Nice place. I’ll write about that later, too.

In Summary: Have at least 1000 pesos for various transportation fees and snacks. There is only one boat from Caticlan to Looc and it leaves daily at 9:00 AM. Don’t forget to barter (“make tawad”) with trike and single drivers. The last jeepney to Calatrava leaves Odiongan at 2:30 PM. Don’t be worried about feeling too lost because the Filipinos are a helpful and curious people that will guide you in the right way and probably know a decent amount of English, just say “Sa Looc” or “Sa Caticlan” or “Sa [wherever you’re going]” and they’ll know the way.

Change of Plans

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I suppose I should have seen it coming, but the original plan to spend 30 days with Nikki in the Philippines followed by 12 days in Singapore was rewritten to remove Singapore and extend my visit with Nikki to 6 weeks. Love is a powerful thing.

Plus, the Philippines deserves more time. And to think, at this point, I’ve still only seen one small part of the archipelago (specifically Tablas Island, with a stopover in Boracay, Carabao Island, and Romblon, Romblon. Last weekend we ventured south of Looc to stay the night at a really nice resort owned by a sweet Italian couple, celebrating our upcoming birthdays. I’ll rave about that place later.

There’s too much to say, really. It’ll take time to write something that adequately captures the feeling of my experience here, and even that won’t be enough.

I’ve got my new flight booked out of Manila to Nagoya, arriving on the 12th, meaning that my birthday on the 13th will be the first full day I spend in Japan. Training at ABC Plus begins on the 14th.

And as I’m devoted to spending every moment present in this place with Nikki while I’m here, I will cut this short. In summary, the Philippines is a remarkable and fascinating country. I’ll miss it dearly.

Check In

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I’m at the Changi Airport Singapore waiting for the flight to Manila.

Was able to rent a room to sleep in for a couple hours in the airport, complete with access to a shower. A glorious, glorious shower.

Also rediscovered the fact that I can send text messages over WiFi to other iPhone users, which is great because I just suspended my phone plan. So, friends, text away.

So far, so good. Spirits are high.

I only spilled coffee on myself once. The stain adds character to my pants.

Been jotting down useful Tagalog phrases on a napkin for when I arrive in Kalibo, which is where I’ll be transitioning from airplane to bus and boat. This, roughly, around 5:20 PM. I’ve given myself about six hours to get to Nikki before midnight.

The New Year’s Eve countdown has begun.

Fare Thee Well

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Good morning, Sacramento, for one last time.

I’m about to clean up Denato’s bedroom, which I’ve graciously borrowed for the past few weeks while he’s been in Argentina. Thank you Denato. You may never know how glad I am that I wasn’t stuck in the basement this whole time. I’ll leave it like I found it. I’ll even take out the trash.

Good morning, Sacramento. It’s gonna be a sunny 66 degrees today. Not a cloud in the sky. Goddamn I’m gonna miss this California weather.

I’ve done well not to be too inebriated these past few nights. I want to be clear headed as I step to the edge of the precipice. I want to see it happen. Feel it happen. The grandness of it, the simpleness, the powerful silence that ends a long hug. I want the elation. I want the heartache.

Last night was my last night here. Funny, I ended up with my best friends and a dart board, just like last time I left. I’m not upset that I missed a farewell visit to the abandoned building. It’s hard to say goodbye to something that’s not even supposed to exist. I met a few new amazing people, then wished them best of luck with the rest of their lives. My friends wished me the same. Last call. Last call at the Fox & Goose.

Good morning, Sacramento.

After this, it’s a night in the heated pools of Kenwood Spa in Santa Rosa. A trip to the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco. An overnight stay at Harbin Hot Springs. A drive to Auburn for Christmas with Mom and company. A journey to Redwood City to visit with dad’s side of the family. A train ride north to San Francisco to stay at Heather’s. A day in the city. A birthday party for someone I’ve never met. A night on the couch of a stranger. Then, on the 29th, a two-day voyage to the Philippines.

I saw Nikki last night on Skype. My last night here, she was exactly who I wanted to see before I went to bed. She’s the inspiration for all of this and I’m terribly in love.

So fare thee well, Sacramento. It’s time for me to go.