It’s always hard to leave you, Manila

“Ang hirap mong iwanan, Manila.”

When I’m in Manila, I always have a ritual a few hours before I leave for the airport: I lock myself in the masters bedroom to have a moment with myself to push the melancholy that I feel deep down into the recesses of my emotional pit.

An ultra emotional statement – but that is what I feel when I need to leave again.

Pack and go. Pack and go. Repeat. I do this all the time.

But it never gets easier.

The thing is, wherever I go, my roots will always be in Manila. The meaningful relationships and friendships that I’ve nurtured through the years are mostly in Manila.

Sure, I’ve made a lot of friends in cities I’ve lived in. Being naturally gifted for making friends and socializing easily, it’s not difficult for me to build social cliques from ground up.

It’s just that the friendships that I’ve cultivated through the years are mostly in my home city.

I hate Manila’s traffic. I hate it that it takes me an hour and a half, or worse, two, to get from the south to BGC. Traffic has become so much worse. I absolutely abhor the political divide that’s been happening in my country. I hate fake news and all the political leeches taking advantage of the current political milieu. I hate taxi drivers who always try to rip passengers off.

But here I am, sat in my favorite Terminal 3 cafe, listening to Christmas carols, feeling nostalgic that once again, I have to fly out and leave.

There’s just something about you that sticks, Manila. My friendships. People who always smile and who are ever resilient despite whatever shit they go through. Your Christmas feels in the beginning of September. Your food. Your way of making people feel they belong.

Manila. You are nowhere near perfect and you will always be rough on the edges. But you are my city and I will always come back to you.

See you in a couple of weeks for Christmas, Manila.

Let’s do this Christmas together.

 

Bellaism: Sense of Entitlement

Sense of Responsibility

It’s a common comment that I hear amongst my friends and colleagues lately: they meet people or worse, they work with several who have very high sense of entitlement but very low sense of responsibility.

That’s quite paradoxical, isn’t it?

Sense of entitlement gets a lot of flak because of some people who wrongfully use it.

Entitlement should always come with effort, with the hard work required to deserve it. 

Before the granting of “special rights,” it merits to be more self-aware, realistic and more in tune to others.

Sometimes, we just need that realization: the world does not revolve around you. 

Truth. We all can use a reality check every now and then.

Bali is always a good idea

Tanah Lot Bali3_wm

Bella overlooking Tanah Lot

Jakarta, dinner time: I’m sitting by my lonesome here in a Tex-Mex restaurant sipping margaritas and munching on nachos dipped in spicy guacamole.  I need to plot my vacation days in the coming year (hoorah!). This is a serious matter worthy of silent contemplation, hence, the opened Macbook with calendar, Google and TripAdvisor on my browser.

Since I’m in a Tex-Mex restaurant, naturally, Mexican songs were playing in the background. I started thinking about Motel Mexicola in Seminyak, Bali. Ergo, I ended up daydreaming about Bali and its sandy beach, great seafood in Jimbaran, the luscious coconuts and the fun parties.

I’ve been in Indonesia for 2 years now, yet Bali remains to be my favorite getaway place in the country. Perhaps it’s stereotypical about foreigners living in Indonesia, but Bali seems to never run out of things to do, places to visit and parties to go to!

I will need more time to write about my Bali escapades because I need to do justice to the place!

I love Bali. Can you blame me?

Of birthdays and surviving October

birthday1

Celebrating my birthday in Basque with my favorite tres leches cake

A few days ago, I had lunch with a partner, supposedly to talk about our project. After closing all the nitty-gritty details of our project plan, we ended up talking about life in general.

He told me: “Sometimes, we live life as if it’s an infinity. We assume that we will wake up the next morning.”

It’s not as if I don’t know this nugget of wisdom, as I myself espouse seizing the day and grabbing joy, experiences and opportunities like there’s no tomorrow.

Carpe diem. Always.

But sometimes, life itself gets in the way of living.

October was tough for me. I had to finally admit that I suffered depression, to think that my archetype was not predisposed to that.

Admission was my catharsis. Things got better when I acknowledged it and wrote about it. It helped that I traveled and spent time with friends in Bali. I always knew though that travel and good company, albeit an expensive combination, were perfect antidotes to what I was going through.

It was great to see my friends and celebrate my birthday milestone.

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My friends and I on the streets of Seminyak in Bali

I also realized that despite what I went through, I have no regrets that I experienced it. Like what I said in a previous blog post, I didn’t even ask for it to be taken away.  I asked the Universe for wisdom and grace, that I may strengthen and build my character because of what I was going through.

At the same time, I held on to the virtue of gratitude. In the same breath that I was cursing my situation, I counted the little things – big and small – that make life worth the fight. It becomes pretty impossible to remain depressed, angry or resentful when you have a grateful heart.

I had an amazing team in the office who knew or sensed what I was going through. Despite them not asking questions, I knew they were looking out for me. Love flowed through. Generous love flowed through.

 

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My office: decorated by my team for my birthday

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Some of my CS team members on my birthday

I’m almost out of the woods. My mornings are better. The spring on my steps are back.

In the end, life is always good. It may not be fair, but it will always be good.

Matter of perspective and gratitude.

I’m not okay, and it’s okay to say it.

It’s a week before my birthday and I’m feeling…off-kilter.

All my close friends know me as the Queen of Birthdays. I always give hand-written letters or birthday presents to close friends and for the past 3 years, my inner circle and I stuck to the tradition of posting what we call a “birthday collage” on our Facebook walls. The birthday collage is simply a montage of our photos together with the birthday celebrator with our heartfelt birthday messages.

Arshad always teases me for celebrating my birthday for an entire month, with all my brunches, dinner parties and celebrations across my different circle of friends.

This time around, perhaps because of the circumstances surrounding my birth month, I’m feeling not just a tad bit blah.

I’ve been having a lot of sleepless nights, I have been working longer hours yet I feel like a hamster running around in circles, pretty much not going anywhere.

Still, I go through the motions every day. I plaster a smile across my face and tell myself things are going to be fine because I have to be fine.

Today is a Monday and I woke up at 3am inundated by waves and waves of thoughts. Knowing that I couldn’t go back to sleep, I opened my Macbook and began typing away.

I realized, perhaps it’s about time to say it out loud.

I’m not okay. And it’s okay to say it.

I feel like my world is caving in. For all the things that I’ve done, amidst all the milestones, I feel inadequate. I feel I have not done enough, I have not given enough.

Much as I would like to do more, give more, at this point, I have nothing to give. Because I have totally drained myself.

For the longest time, I have repressed moments like this. I didn’t want to revel in negative emotions and I never, ever reached out to anyone for help, because the world is not friendly to people feeling sad, depressed or just simply feeling crappy about a situation.

At the same time, in my circle of friends here in Jakarta, 9 out 10 of my expat friends and office colleagues are men, which makes me the lone lady expat in a group of people who share the same industry and profession.

Well-meaning friends and people tell me to just snap out of it. Don’t you think someone like me isn’t trying to? Don’t you think for the past two months, that’s exactly what I was doing?

And this morning, there was that moment that I had this epiphany. I should stop denying it.

I’m not okay, and it’s okay to say it.

Emotions are signals in our lives that there’s something wrong. We have been accustomed to repressing the way we feel because of a host of personal, social and cultural reasons but then I realized, emotions are feedback mechanisms and to deny these is denying our way out of this rut.

And I want to get out of it. So this is my step 1.

Perhaps my pain serves a purpose. It’s a feedback mechanism for me to start sorting out through the cobweb of my emotions.

I do want to get out of this, but I should start acknowledging that I’m going through this phase, in the first place. Perhaps, for some, I’m being a wuss, but if this is the way for me to climb out of the deep rabbit hole, I’m hella climbing it.

The reality is no matter how successful you are, no matter how great your life is or how good it looks on paper for some people, there will be moments when things will just suck and everything will feel like crap.

No one talks about it because it’s not a pleasant area of discourse. In fact, people try to evade it. Generally, no one likes to talk about the shit they are going through.

The thing is, people need to start realizing that everyone goes through this phase. Even Little Miss Sunshine.

The difference lies in how we deal with it. In my case, I go through the suffering when it’s for a purpose and if the reason is worth it. Perhaps it’s my way of “suffering better.”

This morning, when I said a little prayer, I didn’t even ask for this pain to be taken away. I felt like I’m being unfair to even ask for it. I asked for wisdom and strength to deal with it better, with more grace.

And perhaps with this admission, I may be exposing my vulnerability, but if that’s what it takes for me to deal, then I’m taking it.

I’m not okay, and it’s finally okay to say it because I don’t intend to dwell in this longer than I should.

Jakarta Sunday Chill-out: Trying out William’s Casual Dining in SCBD

Given last Saturday’s fainting situation, I decided to have a steady Sunday – for real. Arshad and I decided to road-test a new restaurant in SCBD: William’s Casual Dining.

I discovered William’s Casual Dining through an Instragram ad (what do you know, IG ads actually work!). I figured, hey, the food looks interesting and they’re website is beautifully done. No harm in trying something new to celebrate my 2nd year anniversary in Jakartown.

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Arshad and I at William’s for Sunday lunch

Situated at the heart of Jakarta’s Central Business District (SCBD), William’s is a laidback restaurant serving Western and Asian cuisines.

The ambience was true to their claim: casual dining. The seats were comfortable and there were booths for couples who wanted to go on dates and long tables for friends and family.

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William’s truffle fries paired with chardonnay

I was famished so we ordered glasses of wine first. Chardonnay for me and Pinot Noir for the mister. For Rp110k per glass, I’m not complaining! Their wine selection, although limited, is not bad either.

I paired my chardonnay with the usual starters of truffle fries. I just love the aroma of truffle oil combined with my fries, although I try to eat this sparingly aka special occasions only, since I veer away from anything deep-fried. At Rp45k, it’s reasonably priced without sacrificing the truffle oil punch.

The watermelon salad we chose to share was interesting. It was a blend of cured watermelon, vanilla mascarpone, balsamic caviar, cashew crumbs, dill and lemon fluid.

The watermelon was fresh and the vanilla mascarpone had a hint of sweetness that wasn’t overpowering. Overall, the salad was refreshing and light. It’s something I wouldn’t mind ordering again.

William's watermelon salad

Watermelon salad from William’s Casual Dining: refreshing and uniquely interesting

For our mains, I decided to go for the roast baked barramundi with smoked mash potato, cauliflower, baby carrots, chilli oil and potato glass. Since it’s a pescatarian dish, I paired it with another glass of chardonnay.

The fish was fresh and nicely cooked, with the vegetables on the side crunchy when you take a bite of them. The mashed potato had an interesting consistency and viscosity to it, which I actually liked.

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Roast baked barramundi with smoked mash potato, cauliflower, baby carrots, chilli oil and potato glass

Arshad, on the other hand, ordered the creamy mushroom spaghetti, which, according to its menu, is “as simple as its title,” and I couldn’t agree more. It was that: a pleasant, comfort pasta of cream and mushroom, with a very light hint of sweetness to it.

Arshad felt like it could still be creamier, as that is his preference for creamy pasta. I prefer it light this way and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I can order this for myself next time!
Williams_creamy mushroom pasta_wm

Overall, the food was both good and interesting. In terms of price points, I think William’s Casual Dining is reasonable, considering the freshness and the quality of the ingredients.

In terms of areas of improvement, the waiting time for the food tops the chart for me. The restaurant was almost packed for Sunday lunch, I don’t think the kitchen was ready for the deluge of orders. My truffle fries took more than 15 minutes before it came out (yes, I timed it). The main course took around half an hour.

Under normal circumstances, I would have bitched about it, but since I was trying to be zen that day, I patiently waited.  In fact, we wanted to try the Dragon’s Nest for dessert but we were told it’s going to take another 15 minutes or so for it, so we decided to just head out to another dessert place.

The wait staff could also be trained more, since they did not immediately give us out our plates and utensils. The salad came out without the plates and utensils and we were staring at it for quite a while, before the staff took the hint.

It’s a relatively new restaurant so admittedly, I’m more forgiving. The food made up for the delays but I do hope they improve the time spent waiting and they train their staff to be more attentive to the customers.

Plus, fine, they have good online presence and they have good Instagram ads, if I may say. I’m a sucker for beautifully orchestrated web sites and deliberate efforts on social media, so hats off to William’s on this.

Will I come back? Sure – just to give it another shot, perhaps on a less busy time or day. I’m keen to try their octopus crackers, arancini and king prawn aglio olio. Hopefully, I can also get my hands on the Dragon’s Nest already!

Here are the contact details of William’s:

Phone: +621 21889061 ext: 858

Reservation table recommended

Opening hours: 10am – 11pm; daily

Address: Jl. Tulodong Atas No. 28, SCBD , Jakarta

Budget: Rp455,000 for 2 people (average)
VAT & service charges extra
Cash and Cards accepted
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Of fainting spells & epiphanies

I fainted at my dermatologist’s clinic yesterday afternoon. I was about to undergo my usual Saturday facial routine when I felt light-headed. As my vision blurred and things went dark, I held on to the table in front of me and I managed to say, “Hang on, wait. I’m dizzy.”

I passed out.

Before I knew it, my doctor and my attendant were fanning me, I was on the floor and they were asking me to open my mouth and if I can breathe.

My doctor was repeatedly saying: “Miss, miss…are you okay? Can you open your mouth? Miss…miss…”

My first sentence when I got my senses back: “I’m sleepy, I just want to sleep. But I still want to do my facial. Can I still do my facial?”

I’m laughing at myself silly now that I’ve recovered and I recalled the first thing I said when I woke up. I swear. Why do I say these things!

I sent the clinic on a frenzy on what’s supposed to be a relaxing Saturday afternoon.

Not my best moment. Certainly not my most elegant.

In fairness to the clinic, they took care of me so well. I was very impressed with how they handled the situation and how very attentive they were. To my friends in Jakarta, hit me up and I will send you their details. They’re awesome!

But I digress.

While my attendant was lovingly scrubbing my face, massaging my neck and trying to do the best she can to relax me, a flurry of thoughts were running through my head.

“I’ve never fainted in my entire life. What the hell just happened there?” 

It was the combination of long hours, lack of sleep and my sugar levels dropping. In short: exhaustion. I tired myself out.

A day before that, I was in an amusement park in Ancol and the sun was scorching hot. The past 3 months were also crazy in terms of my work hours and trips. In all the weekends of September, I was in and out of several cities and I became a standard fixture in the airport.

Admittedly,  I had longer days because sleep became elusive. There were so many thoughts in my head, so many projects to finish and an eternally long list of to-dos that kept me up because my mind was just racing and I couldn’t shut it off.

I know. I brought this upon myself. Whilst I’m slapping me silly of this ruckus, I also caught myself. See! This is why I’m in this situation to begin with!

I’m too hard on me. 

I want to accomplish a lot of things. If I don’t, I feel like a failure. I feel guilty when I stop and breathe. 

I want to do everything. I want to be everything. 

Because I don’t want to disappoint people. And I don’t want to disappoint me. 

Everything has a price. This has a price and it took its toll on me.

Closing September this way, I realized it was a mild and gentle reminder of what other worse things can happen if I don’t slow down.

At the same time, as much as I am in denial and as much as I feel invincible, the reality is: I’m not.

No matter what age you are, wearing yourself down will have consequences. It’s a good thing mine was just 30-seconds worth of passing out and a day’s worth of embarrassment. It could have been worse.

Today is a Sunday and I’m writing this at 7am. After my usual gym routine, I’m supposed to have champagne brunch in celebration of my second year in Jakarta. I’m supposed to run errands, work on some pending personal projects, answer e-mails and fix my calendar for the entire week.

I’m scrapping my to-do list. Just for today.

Today, I will be on pause.

RnR

I’m gonna take my time, sip my coffee, stare in space, catch up on my reading, go to the spa, sleep.

Me, my sanity, my health and my well-being first.

Buying the eggs and ketchup can wait.

Embracing Change

Bella Expatria turned a year old this month. Although I wish I could have written more or I could have shared more, time will always be my adversary in terms of priorities and my long list of to-dos. That’s a given life truth for me.

I wish I had the luxury of even half a day’s worth of just being in a quiet, relaxing corner, armed with a cup of piping hot brew, while in the zone typing away my ideas and everything that I want to say. Truth is, I have to steal these moments.

This Bella made it to a year of writing and blogging. I have to be okay in celebrating this minuscule milestone, because finding the time to do it is already a feat in itself, let alone sustaining it for a year!

Celebrating this anniversary also made me look back and reflect on what has happened. It seemed like a lot has changed, but at the same time, it also somehow feels that nothing did. Quite the paradox, isn’t it?

For the past year, I’ve experienced a whirlwind of changes in my career, my life and my friendships that spun me in a frenzy. I forced myself to keep track and keep up, sometimes at the expense of my health and my sanity.

After everything has been said and done, it was as if I’ve traveled so far and I’ve accomplished so much only to go back to where I started a year ago.

In my head, I’m actually asking this question: “Universe, are you fuckin’ kidding me?

So is there are lesson to take from a year’s worth of journey?

I’ve been an expat for an accumulated total of 4 years now and I’ve been in Jakarta this time around for almost 2 years, yet I feel like I’m still in the beginning of things.  I’ve experienced highs and lows and once again, highs of expat living. Just like any other chosen lifestyle, it has formed its own cycle that just needs riding through.

If there are lessons to be had for me in embracing change, or wading through it for the most part, I can summarize them in 5 learnings that I wanted to share. You don’t even need to be an expat to have these realizations. Personally, they were just more weighted for me because these reminders anchored me in moments of doubt:

1. Let passion and purpose become your truth north. I will change roles, I will change companies and I will most likely change countries in a few years’ time but my passion and purpose as to why I do the things I do are very clear to me.

Perhaps this also comes with age and maturity. Being an aimless wanderer sounded cool in your twenties, but too careless and directionless in your thirties. At some point in time, everyone has to do some adulting.

My family and my career are the two main reasons why I’m an expat. Arshad and I pretty much carved our lives the way we did because we want to pursue our careers without compromising our marriage and our time together.

This is also the reason why we both chose to be in Southeast Asia. We want to be near Manila and KL, so we can pretty much fly in and out to see our family. The choice was driven by our priority: family.

2. People and relationships should be on top of the chain in terms of priorities. Sometimes, we get side-tracked by long hours at work or we’ve got one project too many that we take our relationships and friendships for granted.

I’ve been guilty of the same thing. There were those long days that made me skip my phone calls to Manila or made me take a rain check when I’m just too exhausted to see friends.I assess myself every now and then when I’m becoming a repeat offender. I make it a point to keep in touch with friends and when I’m back in Manila or in KL, no matter how tired I feel, I go out of my way to see the people who matter.

The family and friends in your life will keep you sane when a tide of change hits you.  In all the relocations I’ve made in my life, keeping a consistent and reliable circle of friends kept me grounded and made me feel rock-steady. Here’s the thing though: if you want to have reliable friends who will tide you over the changes in your life, you have to be a reliable friend yourself.

Even if you are far away, make sure you are present in your family and friends’ lives. Remember birthdays and special occasions. Pick the phone up and just make that damn phone call! IDD rates have severely gone down. Hell, we barely need IDD since we’ve got all the OTT platforms to make that video call.

3. Prioritize. Which takes me to my next lesson learned: prioritize the people and things that matter. An expat’s life often requires a lot of traveling and being away from family and friends. This distance also means limited time, and limited time will require you to carefully select and schedule the circle of friends you get to meet every time you come home and visit.

This situation also makes you take a closer look on your relationships and compels you to shortlist the people who really matter. Although it may sound limiting at first, it becomes a filter on who really are your valued relationships.

At the same time, it matters to spend time with people who you become friends with in your host country, because you never know when things will change again – either for them or for you. Likely, you also keep an expat circle who have similar circumstances like yours. Most of the expat stints are within a 2-year range that comes with a renewable contract.

I’ve seen friends come and go, move from our host country to the next one. I’ve attended their send-off parties or at some point in time, they threw mine. The friends we’ve made will come and go – literally. If keeping friendships and valued relationships is a priority for you, make time while they’re still there.

4. Have a grateful heart.  A life of gratitude is a life well-lived, for gratitude’s prerequisite is a positive life perspective. Being in a high-pressure industry and job, I feel a lot of stress and I certainly get a lot of frustrations. What helps me get through long days is counting the accomplishments and blessings that I have – big or small.

I will never have everything. No one’s supposed to. It shouldn’t stop you from being grateful. Admittedly, I forget this because I’m always too eager to accomplish things. I get frustrated when things don’t turn out the way I expected it to because I worked hard for them.

Arshad is better in doing this and he is my constant reminder that hey, you cannot imagine how many other people think how awesome your life is and here you are, sulking because you experienced a setback.

Every time I feel that I’m wallowing too much on my frustrations, I begin counting my blessings. I have yet to perfect this, but I’m learning.

5. Emotional resilience. There are certain things that are just beyond my control, no matter how hard I try.  What sucks is sometimes, although you’ve done everything you can, there’s still a lot of external forces beyond you and things just don’t work out the way you want it to.

An expat’s life will always be a sea of change – career, relationships, location. There will always be a curve ball. Grit and emotional resilience help me stay the course even in the toughest days. And emotional resilience doesn’t just mean being tough. It means managing the way you feel about frustrations, failures, unexpected changes and how you cope with them. Emotional resilience is about having that ability to keep your feelings in check so you can adjust swiftly, or even change your plans again.

Expat living is not easy, but at the same time, I can say it’s one of the best decisions that I’ve made: to leave my country and forge my career path somewhere else. Life, whether you are an expat or not, will always be a trail mix of the good and the bad. I choose to see what’s beautiful, to focus on the potentials and the opportunities, instead of revel in minuscule defeat and setbacks.

In a way, my learnings about embracing change in the context of expat living is to keep an open mind and to always be positive. As cliché as it may sound, the only thing that’s constant in an expat’s life is the one thing that most of us are either averse to or uncomfortable with: change.