Unapologetic hiatus

Bella in Cordoba_NH Collection Amistad

Bella at the NH Collection Amistad Hotel in Cordoba, Spain

I know I have not been posting or writing for more than a month. It was deliberate and I have no excuse other than taking care of my wellness and sanity.

I needed to live. I needed to breathe.

I needed to be with people I choose to be with. I needed to be rid of social obligations that just weighed me down.

I needed to let go of people who were not good for me.

I was trying to avoid my usual crash-and-burn phase.

And I didn’t want to lie about it.

The Spain trip did me a whole lot of good. It afforded me time to be with Arshad, outside of our day-to-day grind, only to be reminded that I married someone that I perfectly get along with, in terms of habits, preferences and rhythm.

It also allowed me to reflect on my choices and path, and that I can change decisions immediately without looking back. That reflections should be made, but not regrets.

Bella in Mezquita Cordoba

I hope to write more often, but between writing and saving my sanity and myself, I’m gonna have to choose the latter.

I’m borrowing what the poet Brittin Oakman wrote:

“I lied and said I was busy.
I was busy;
but not in a way most people understand.

I was busy taking deeper breaths.
I was busy silencing irrational thoughts.
I was busy calming a racing heart.
I was busy telling myself I am okay.

Sometimes, this is my busy –
and I will not apologize for it.”
—Brittin Oakman
#ToBeVulnerablyHonest

Perfectly said. Except that I don’t want to lie about it, because I deserve the break and momentary bouts of silence.

My 2018 Travel List

2018 Travel List

What I love about being an expat: Travel becomes an integral part of your life. 

The challenge about being an expat in my industry: I’m not a travel blogger, nor do I make a living out of blogging. Ergo, I have limited vacation days and I maximize my travel by taking advantage of long weekends.

There is always a way to travel, limited vacation days notwithstanding, if you love traveling!

This year, I’ve made my list already:

1 .  Southern SpainI. love. Spain. This year, I want to explore Southern Spain more: Valencia, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, Ronda, Cadiz, Jerez, Seville and the island of Mallorca. Arshad has pretty much outlined the itinerary for us (thank God for an equally-wanderlustful partner!).

2 .  Donsol, Sorsogon – because it was very rainy in Bicol last December, our Legazpi-Sorsogon tandem trip was cut short. We didn’t make it to Donsol, Sorsogon for the whale sharks, but we intend to come back in the summer!

3 . Bali, Indonesia –  does not even need an explanation. Before January ends, I’ll be coming back to the Island of the Gods and I’ll be exploring the Lembongan area to surf, do my yoga and just frolic in the beach.

4 . Penang, Malaysia – is always in my wishlist, but I never get to go. Perhaps because it’s near and accessible to me, so I take it for granted. A culinary paradise, I’d like 2018 to be the year the I finally go and stuff myself silly with char koay teow, Penang rojak and my classic favorite: cendol!

5 . Colombo, Sri Lanka – I’ve been to Colombo a few years ago for work. Regrettably, I didn’t get the chance to go around and visit the temples, eat more local food and visit the beaches. Wishful thinking that I can dedicate one long weekend for this, finally.

6.  Kathmandu, Nepal – is very picturesque. I’d like to be able to say one day that I’ve been to ALL Southeast Asian countries. Nepal is good way to start.

These are the cities, countries and places that I’d love to visit outside of work. Some of them, I’ve been to before, like Bali and Colombo, but I’d want to go back and revisit them again, because these places always light my fire and they always make me happy. The reason is that simple.

To my traveling and expatriate tribe and comrades, may 2018 be adventure and travel-filled for you. May it bring us more excitement and more places to discover. Happy New Year!

The Indulgence of Slowing Down

Bogor1_wmEarlier last week, I found myself getting slower and slower, albeit not deliberately. After 3 weeks of taking on more to-dos, spending more late nights in the office and way too many business dinner meetings, I noticed that I was no longer performing at my optimal speed. Hard as I try to be “in the zone,” it was becoming a challenge for me to focus. What took an hour’s worth of preparation for presentation slides became two. My already-short attention span became nil. I became restless and unproductive.

It was time to take a break. Slow down. For real.

Here’s the thing: I just got used to doing things on hyperspeed that I feel uncomfortable slowing down.  Worse, I feel guilty slowing down. 

On the first point: whenever I try to take a day off, telling myself that I need to learn “the art of doing nothing,” I end up getting fidgety, restless…and depressed. My hands get clammy and shaky because they’re itching to tap the keyboards of my Macbook to answer emails.

Arshad can attest to this. When I was left at home for a day, barely after lunch, he already got a message from me: “I’m feeling depressed.”

I was hard-wired to have a disciplined routine. I wake up early, I work out everyday and I always have a checklist of my things to do, sub-categorized into projects, both personal and for work. 

When I need to take a break, I feel guilty leaving my to-do list and projects behind. It was as if it was a mortal sin for me to.

I’m aware it’s not healthy to not slow down, to not learn HOW to. I knew I was running myself to the ground and I needed to stop.

Or at least take a pause. And so I did.

With last week’s holiday because of Indonesia’s 72nd Independence Day, I decided to file a day off and take advantage of a longer weekend. I needed to space out and unload my brain as I was draining out.

So off I went to Bogor (which I will blog about soon) to just do some of my favorite things that always get interrupted because of a long to-do list.

Work out. Run. Read. Write. Get a massage. Eat. Sleep. Repeat. 

For 3 days, I did all of those. I didn’t even dare go out of the resort.

I made a dent in my book. I slept a complete 7 hours for 2 consecutive nights. I still wokeBogor2_wm up early to see the sun rise and complete my day’s run. I still peeped at some of my emails (just a peep, promise).

But I deliberately slowed my pace down.

I enjoyed my coffee and my fruit plate for breakfast. I savored the pages of my book. I made time to breathe properly. I sat in a corner and stared at the horizon to just really notice the things around me.

At the end of the second day, I felt completely recharged. My shoulders were not as tight (thanks to the messages as well), I had a clearer perspective and there was lightness in every step that I took.

After 2 days, I had more vivid dreams, a better memory recall and a happier, lighter disposition. Heck, I think I even solved a strategy dilemma that I’m currently grappling with at work while I was on the massage table. If that is not clarity enough, then I don’t know what else to call it.

I literally felt so much better. Lighter. Even happier.

After I went back to Jakarta, I realized that I should give myself more credit and more leeway to take small breaks because it makes me so much more productive.

Bogor4_wmIt’s a healthy pause to save my sanity, my health, my wellness of being.

I also realized that I have a lot of women friends and colleagues like me who just won’t stop, no matter the awareness that it’s counter-intuitive to just trudge ahead.

 

I wrote this because I want it to be a reminder to myself when I’m doing it again- slowly killing my joie’ de vivre for not stopping- that the pause is very much needed and well-deserved. 

At the same time, I want others like me to read this and to know that it’s okay. We deserve the pause. There should be neither guilt nor shame in it.

And after the pause, am I ready to begin again?

You bet.

 

Other articles on on productivity and slowing down to be more productive that I found helpful:

Sometimes, not working is work, too

Five Ways Working More Slowly Can Boost Your Productivity

 

Sick Singapore weekend

Singapore view Scotts Road_wm.png

View from my hotel at Scotts Road in Singapore

Singapore is a 2-hour flight from Jakarta so it’s easy to fly in and out. Since it’s a long weekend for Indonesia, I decided to fly in with Arshad. I came down with something last Thursday afternoon though, so this weekend I will be on eat-sleep-recover mode, with some shopping here and there if my energy permits.

My flu shots are keeping the flu at bay. I guess the message of this blog post is that when you travel a lot – FLU SHOTS. Always keep your vaccines updated every year. It helps to also be armed with your go-to medicines all the time. Thank God for Bioflu and Kamillosan throat spray. Mental note: replenish my stash as soon as I get back to Manila!

Chinese New Year Celebration in KL: of family values and friendships

rose-for-cny

Rose’ at Hyde Bar

This year, I celebrated Chinese New Year with my husband and in-laws in KL, Malaysia.

It’s the first time I celebrated Chinese New Year in KL and this year, I really had to budge since my husband is up in arms already that I haven’t met his cousins on Mum’s side.

To manage my own expectations, I asked him what we were going to do during the 3-day weekend. The brief summary blithely given to me: eat, drink, gamble. Repeat. I’m not a fan of gambling so I pretty much stuck with eat, drink, eat, drink. Repeat.

Everything about the Chinese New Year revolved around family and friends.  New Year’s Eve is traditionally the reunion dinner where the extended family gather together to share a meal and catch up.  The married relatives distribute ang paos (Chinese red envelopes with money inside) to the remaining single cousins and the children of the family.

To open the reunion dinner, we all did the Prosperity Toss with Yee Sang, a Teochew-style raw fish salad (usually salmon) mixed with shredded vegetables and assorted sauces and condiments. Yee sang is the symbol of abundance, prosperity and good health. It is a ceremony wherein all the family members are given a pair of chopsticks and everyone surrounds the yee sang. We all started tossing and mixing the yee sang while we were all shouting our wishes and prayers for the year: good health, prosperity, promotion, boyfriend, girlfriend, wealthy husband for cousin Kristina, more trips abroad for the family, etc.

yee-sang_wm

our yee sang during CNY eve reunion dinner

Admittedly, I enjoyed the yee sang experience because I never did that with my Chinese cousins and friends in Manila.

After the yee sang was tossed and after all the mess (the messier, the better, apparently, because you have to toss it very high up in the air), the entire family sits down for dinner where the yee sang is shared and the rest of the food is served.

CNY assorted cookies

CNY assorted cookies

Apart from all kinds of meat that you can think of, I noticed that there were A LOT of biscuits and cookies. And I mean A LOT. There were almond cookies, pineapple tarts,  butter cookies and other kinds of biscuits that I can’t even pronounced. I got particularly hooked with the pineapple tarts, I think I walloped half the jar!

Other observations about Chinese New Year specific to KL:

  • Chinese and Chinese-owned shops were closed for the entire weekend. Yes, even in the malls, they close down.  Unfortunately for me, even my favorite BMS Organics was closed. It was a good thing that we already had lunch there before the festivities.
  • There was NO traffic in KL and PJ. The streets were pretty quiet, there were less cars and people since most of them went back home to their respective towns and villages.
  • Fireworks were regulated in Malaysia. Apparently, it is prohibited for individuals to light their own firecrackers and the government is the one doing this in central locations.
  • Most of the restaurants in the shop lots are closed on New Year’s day but some bars are open, but only with bar food being served.
  • Friends are normally invited to lunches and dinners to eat, drink and gamble. It’s open house season!

At the end of the day, the universal thing about Chinese New Year is welcoming it together with family and friends, fully armed with optimism and well-wishes that the New Year will bring good fortune, good health and good tidings.

I hope everyone had a blast celebrating Chinese New Year. I sure hell did!

For more useful information and tips about celebrating Chinese New Year in Malaysia, here are some links:

http://www.wonderfulmalaysia.com/attractions/chinese-new-year-in-malaysia.htm

https://kwgls.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/special-compilation-of-chinese-new-year-cookies-snacks-and-cakes-recipes/

What’s in a name?

bellaexpatria_fb-photoToday, I finally decided to nail down the official name for my blog.

For bloggers who’ve been around for a long time, I’m sure they can relate to this debacle. Truth is,  nothing is original in the blog sphere anymore. Most of the good names are taken and the domain names (especially the .com and .net) are already long booked.

It all seems so simple and shallow, but everything is dependent on the blog name. EVERYTHING. The domain name you will buy, your site’s SEO, your profiles and Gravatar.

I have not started integrating my profiles and accounts, for this very simple yet complicated reason. I haven’t promoted my blog either, nor have I created a Facebook page until this afternoon, until I was finally sure about my blog name.

So here it goes.

Bella Expatria. For all the women travelers. For all my fellow expats. For us, glorified OFWs. For all my fellow lakwatcheros and lakwatcheras. I want to share my stories: the fun, the adventure and the sometimes awkward and embarrassing moments of trying to assimilate to different cultures.

Hope you guys continue to read on.  =)

For my fellow bloggers, blogger wannabes and to those who are just starting, I found these tips quite helpful:

  1. Creative Blog Names
  2. How to come up with a perfect blog name
  3. Finding inspiration for your blog name

Weekend hits: What to do in Jakarta when you’re staying in the city

Last weekend was the very first semi-sane weekend that I spent in Jakarta, which was exactly what I needed: to stay put and have some quiet time after a work-week inundated by nothing but meetings and boardroom presentations.

I always get these questions from friends in Manila: “So what is your typical weekend in Jakarta? What is there to do in Jakarta? Is it still traffic during the weekends?”

To finally shed light on what’s happening here in my side of town (yes, it’s still traffic in some parts of the city), I’m sharing what a quiet Jakarta weekend looks like. Here’s my initial weekend top 5:

1. Healthy Saturday breakfast. In South Jakarta, my go-to restaurants for great coffee and avocado toast are Saint ALi in Setiabudi and Lucky Cat Coffee and Kitchen in the Plaza Festival complex.

Saint ALi is originally from Australia and luckily, Jakarta is the first branch outside of it. Their coffee game is strong and they offer a lot of variety. The baristas definitely know their coffee and you can ask for recommendations. I regularly order their flat white with Dama almond milk paired with my favorite Avo on Toast.

Another great news for those who love macarons: Saint ALi also partnered with La Maison Patisserie. There is an array of colorful macarons to choose from, with eccentric flavors, too. I tried the salted egg yolk and the salted popcorn and they tasted good, in a weird way.

On the other hand, Lucky Cat is currently one of the hippest coffee shops in town (yes, there is always a line and you can’t make reservations). They’re open 24 hours, too! They have a much shorter menu for both coffee and food, but if you’re into flavored latte or affogatto, this is the place to be! I prefer their mushroom and avocado on toast over Saint Ali’s, to be honest. It’s creamier and more savory, but since this place is one of the newest, it also runs out pretty fast.

Side bar: I don’t know why, but Indonesia seems to have better-tasting avocados, compared to the Philippines. Theirs is more buttery and sweet-tasting, you just can’t have enough of it.

Saint ALi
+6321-52906814
Price Range is around Rp300k for 2 people
Hours: 7am to 8pm
Address : Setiabudi Two, Ground Floor, Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Setiabudi, Jakarta
Lucky Cat Coffee and Kitchen
+621-52961475
Price range: Rp300k for 2 people
Open 24 hours
Plaza Festival, South Parking, Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Kuningan Jakarta

 

2.  Books! When I was a newbie in Jakarta, I had a hard time looking for English books. I didn’t know where to go. Indonesia has Gramedia bookstore but majority of the books they sell are in Bahasa Indonesia. There were English books but quite limited, in terms of bestsellers and new releases line-up. Luckily, I discovered Periplus in Plaza Indonesia in one of my cardio window shopping spree. Periplus branches are modest in size but they pack a lot of bestsellers and popular authors.

A weekend well-spent is a Periplus shopping spree and an afternoon spent in a coffee shop reading one of the bestsellers you just bought. In my case, I usually go to the Lotte Shopping Mall in Ciputra World since it’s in my ‘hood.

3. Batik shopping. My love for Indonesian batik is infamous among my friends. I wear them everywhere, for any occasion. For cheap batik shopping, Ambasador and ITC malls in South Jakarta are the places-to-be. One of my secret shopping jaunts though is the Bellagio Mall. There is always a bazaar in the middle of Bellagio Mall with around 5 stalls selling batik from Solo, Yogyakarta and Bandung. It’s very near my office and apartment so I end up buying whenever I pass by (or whenever I can come up with reasons to do so!). Price ranges from Rp150k to Rp300k.

For the bold and the brave, Thamrin City is the best place to buy batik coming from all over Indonesia. Imagine 5 floors of batik shops! I always, always get lost whenever I go, but I never get tired of going. You can find batik fabrics, RTW, shoes, bags and handicrafts. There are 2 main caveats: beware of pickpockets and traffic is a b*tch. Better to park your car if you’re driving in Plaza Indonesia or just go take Uber or Blue Bird taxi.

4. The most underrated but most divine treatment: Crème bath. Crème bath is essentially a hot oil treatment, with a pleasant twist: the head and scalp massage lasts for an hour! For someone like me who loves a scalp massage more than any kind of spa treatment, this is my best stress reliever! Most salons would have this treatment, but my favorite spots are at Alfons in Lotte Shopping Mall or Hair Code at Epicentrum, Rasuna Said.

Jakarta also has a better blow styling method that is longer lasting. Whenever I have to go to a Sunday brunch, I head to the salon first to get my crème bath treatment and a blow-dry after.

Alfons Salon
+621-298890677
Hours : 10am – 10pm
Lotte Shopping Avenue
Jl. Prof Dr. Satrio Kav. 3 – 5, RT.18/RW.4, Karet Kuningan, Setiabudi, Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12940
Hair Code Epicentrum 
+621-29889292
Hours: 10am – 10pm
Jl. Prof Dr. Satrio Kav. 3 – 5, RT.18/RW.4, Karet Kuningan, Setiabudi, Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12940

 

5. Speaking of my most favorite thing: Sunday champagne brunch at Hotel Mulia. Back in 2011 when I was still single and bored with nothing much to do during the weekends (except for the top 4 above), my girlfriends and I made it a habit to have Sunday brunch together with free-flow wine and champagne.  Jakarta boasts of several hotels offering Sunday brunch, but I am most fond of the restaurants in Hotel Mulia, specifically, Il Mare.

First of all, the interior design of Hotel Mulia with its grandiose staircases makes me feel like a queen when I descend the stairs to go to the restaurant. Mulia has this old, elegant look that makes you feel like you’re an aristocrat of the olden days about to partake in a sumptuous feast of fresh oysters, lobster and champagne.

Oh yes, did I mention the fresh oysters already? What’s good about Il Mare is that the buffet spread is just enough in terms of size, but it doesn’t shortchange the customer. The buffet packs in a lot in terms of diversity in their offering – fresh seafood, sushi, sashimi, steak, pasta, grilled food, cheese and all the desserts you can think of.

I love the buffet brunches in Mulia, so much so that this deserves a separate blog entry!

Il Mare buffet with free-flowing wine and cocktails go for around Rp638,000.00++. Reservation is a must and when there are occasions such as Christmas or Chinese New Year, it’s always better to call a week ahead.

IL Mare, Mulia 
+621-5747777
Hours: 12pm – 2:30pm for brunch, 6pm – 10:30pm for dinner
Jl. Asia  Afrika, Senayan, RT.1/RW.3, Gelora, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10270
This is my first Top 5 weekend hits in Jakarta. I will be posting more of my favorites soon. For now, it’s time for a lazy weekend.

Welcoming 2017 with mindfulness

mindful-living_la-bella-vida

“The days are long but the years are short.”

I have to quote Gretchen Rubin in her book “The Happiness Project,” as it perfectly encapsulated my exact thoughts.

Over the Christmas holidays, I was driving through the streets of Manila feeling nostalgic about its nooks and crannies that I so dearly miss, when I found myself asking: “Where did time go?” It felt like it was only yesterday that I was driving through Manila’s traffic gridlock, grocery shopping in S&R, or sipping coffee in one of my hidden happy corners.

Now, it’s been fifteen months since my re-expatriation back to Jakarta, although it was as if I left just very recently.

I had a major epiphany a few years ago that remains to be a perfect reminder today:

Time can just slip by if you are not mindful and deliberate.  That being said, grab life by the horns, live in the moment, live out your purpose. Fulfilling your life purpose is the only obligation you have to yourself.

That Biblical advice and prayer, to teach us how to number our days (Psalm 90:12), takes a richer meaning in this context, as we acknowledge the frailty of human existence.

We have this tendency to wait for the New Year to craft resolutions. Perhaps, we need that psychological stop-and-start, because nothing really prevents us from doing this anytime of the year. Somehow, the pressure to restart is always ON when a new year begins, so much so that within my circle of friends, it became a running joke every year when we see these hash tags on Facebook: #NewYearNewMe and #balikalindog (return of the allure). Every. Single. Year.

This coming year, amidst the writing and re-writing of resolutions, I think the most important decision that we can make is to live our lives with deliberate awareness that we don’t have unlimited time, and that every morning that we wake up is another chance to do that one thing that we’ve been aching to do but we keep on putting on hold.

Ask yourself. What’s the best thing to do today?

Wear your expensive perfume. Wear that special dress. There is no special occasion than today. Take out the china from the cupboard and use it. Call your parents. Call a long-time friend. Write that book. Take up a cause. Volunteer. Paint. Eat well. Go take that pilates class. Run the marathon. Cook. Ask someone out. Hug a friend. Say I love you. Pack your bags. Travel. Wander with wonder in your mind and heart.

Pursue your passion.

Peel yourself off the couch and just do. Netflix will still be there tomorrow, but don’t live your life vicariously through others. Or worse, through a TV series.

My wake up call (or calls, for that matter) for me to realize these things came through close friends who were cancer survivors, or who are still trying to survive it.

See, that’s the thing. Why do we need drastic wake up calls to get on our asses to do what we’ve always wanted to do?

This happened 3 or 4 years ago, but I still vividly and fondly remember it today: A friend of mine who courageously survived the big C was in my apartment for a small dinner get-together. One of my incense candles exploded and the oil stains reached my white ceiling. While I was fussing over it, she just gently reminded me:

“April. Live.”

From that day on, whenever I fuss over the tiniest, most mundane things or when I procrastinate and tell myself I will do what I need to do tomorrow, or the next day or the day after that, it’s as if there’s this subconscious alarm that clicks in my head and I hear my girlfriend tell me, once again, one more time, with feelings:

“April. Live.”

Everyday, I remember. And everyday, I became mindful because of her and what she said.

So this year, in the here and the now, how ’bout we all give mindful living a run?

“The days are long but the years are short.”

2017: Do what you love. Do it often.

First, thank you, 2016. There were a lot of challenging moments, but there were also enormous moments of triumphs worth toasting to.

Let me open 2017 with renewed hope and refreshed energy, and let me share with you my favorite Life Manifesto:

Holstee-Manifesto.jpg

Whenever I need a push and burst of inspiration, I read the Holstee Manifesto over and over again. This has been my life’s mantra for years now and it has guided me back to my true north in moments that I go astray.

This has been my constant reminder that I want to share as we all welcome 2017.

“Wear your passion.” Indeed. Everyday.

I wish everyone pure joy and wonder this New Year. Let’s have an amazing 2017, people! =)