Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hello Africa, Tell Me How You're Doin'!

Sunrise over Johannesburg, April 5, 2012

This is a very preemptive blog. I have only been back in South Africa for a grand total of 4 hours now, and one of those was spent in the airport, but nonetheless - I am just SO excited that I need to get my excitement down in writing!!!

I think it all properly hit me when I caught my connecting flight from Hong Kong to Johannesburg. As I walked down the airplane aisle to my seat, all I heard around me were South African accents! Qué raro! Every snippet of conversation which I heard was so wonderfully familiar, the nuanced pronounciation so warm in my ear, and yet so scarce in my life over the past few years that just hearing it has always caused me to do a double-take in shock and awe at a fellow South African in the vicinity. And now here I had a whole plane-load of them!!! :)

Anyway, flight was great (Cathay Pacific has incredibly delicious meals, and you even get a fancy little menu at the beginning of the flight with dinner and breakfast options written out in detail; plus individualised consoles for TV shows and movies... Clearly I've being flying with too many budget airlines lately...)

The pilot announced just as we were landing that it was 10 degrees outside - that's really cold for Johannesburg in April, but it was still wonderfully exciting as far as I was concerned! I haven't experienced anything less than 20 degrees since moving to the Philippines! Don't get me wrong, I LOVE being warm, but after being a sweaty mess for the past few months in scorching-hot Vigan, the cold provides a pleasant break from that.

(That said: I'll probably tire of it very soon.)

We took the highway home - a highway that I have travelled on so many times, to so many places, for so many years. It all feels so surreal and strange - like a planet which I left a hundred years ago; yet simultaneously like a place which I never left at all, where I was living just yesterday! It is so familiar, so welcoming in its ordinariness. I've missed long stretches of highway, with vast fields on either side. I'm so used to crowded Asian cities, the hustle and bustle, the scorching humidity, the intensity of it all. I've forgotten the vastness, the wide open spaces. It's quite beautiful, really.

So now I'm in my brother's fabulous home - yuppy heaven. :) It's big and spacious, yet warm and homely. Bachelor Pad deluxe: soft fawn suede couches, serious home entertainment system, well-stocked bar, nice patio area. Here and there I see things - a piece of furniture, a dinner plate, an ornate wineglass, objets d'art, books - which were salvaged from my mum's home before she moved back to Israel, and it makes me smile at the memory of her home, of the home in which we grew up in.

My bedroom's great, it gets lots of light and sunshine, just big enough for the new bed that my little brother bought just for me (bless him!) and some bookshelves. We'll be sharing the study, he said we'd sort it all out later tonight when he gets home from work. Weird, it's just after 11 a.m here now, but my body is still on Asian time, so I'll probably be falling asleep sometime soon...

I have a TON of prep-work to do for school, I have to really sit down and go through my handouts with a fine-toothed comb to work out exactly what it is that I'm expected to do in this teaching prac (there are something like 50 classes to prepare - yikes!) That all starts on Tuesday of next week.

But first! Get settled in tonight (Thursday), celebrate Passover with my brother and old family friends tomorrow night (Friday), go to Liquid Bass - a dubstep party on a boat in the Vaal River (Saturday), and eat my own bodyweight in marshmallow Easter eggs and Cadbury Creme eggs on Sunday and Monday! :) And see my friends! And catch up with them! And go shopping for warm clothes! And get ready for school! And pig out on biltong, Creme Soda, Flings, Inside Story, Cheese curls, Sparberry, Cadbury's Top Deck and and and...!!!

These 3 months are going to be AMAZING. :D

The breakfast of champions! Creme Soda (how I've missed you!), KFC hot wings, and piping hot mash-n-gravy. Yummmmmmm...

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Okay, time for a rant. It's been one month since my last confession, and although this particular sentiment has been brewing inside of me for a while now, I was hoping the negative feelings would subside, and that I could come and spew another happy-happy-rainbow-joyful-butterflies post onto these here 'intrawebz', as my friend Rob used to call them.

But no.
It hasn't gone away.

Being a Spectacle is no fun at all. (Yes, yes - I can hear you all laughing at the irony of hearing THAT statement coming from MY lips, but there you have it.)

I didn't want to write this blog. I realize it makes me sound like a colossal bitch to say these things. But it's how I FEEL. And one of the main reasons that I decided to start a blog was so that I could one day have a record of my experiences and feelings and thoughts. I also don't want anyone to overreact to this blog (Family - I'm talking to you in particular here). I am not depressed, I am not devastated, my life is not terrible. I am annoyed. That is all. There is nothing which is not within my power to control. I'm just irked, and venting. That is all. So here we go:

It is NOT EASY living in the suburbs of a small town (nay, village) where there seem to be no other people who look like you. I LOOK different. I AM different. I can never hide, I can never blend, I can never fit it. When I do anything outside in the garden - mundane tasks like playing with the puppy, or hanging up laundry - little schoolkids will congregate at the fence and stare at me. Sometimes they ask me my name, but that's usually the extent of their English capabilities. Sometimes they ask me for money. I ask them for money back. Such is our interaction. Sometimes when they walk past our house on their way to and from school, and I'm inside, the ones who know my name call me to come to the fence. They stand outside yelling 'Tita (Aunt) Honey!!! Tita Honey!!!' at the top of lungs. I come out. They smile. They stare. I go back inside.

This is still tolerable. Little kids are okay. They get excited just by a wave or a smile, I can still handle that graciously. It's the adults that bother me the most, really. It's the experience of being STARED at - all the time, everywhere I go - that I am finding the most daunting.

I tried my hand (or legs, as it were) at jogging, for about a month. Every single person that passed me STARED as I went by. People in cars, people on motorbikes, people on foot. The stood on the side of the road and just stared. Sometimes, they'd run into their houses or into the stores in front of which they stood, and call their friends and family-members to come outside and stare too.

I am not making this up.

Imagine: you try to go shopping - you have an audience. You try to nip out to the corner store for an ice-cream, You are a spectacle. A quiet walk in solitude is impossible. Relaxing on the beach - impossible. Privacy - impossible. Unfortunately, most people do not speak English, so they cannot speak to me. So they stare. Those who can, ask all manner of personal question. I know it's being done out of genuine interest, fascination, even - I'm probably the first Westerner whom many of them have ever seen, nevermind actually spoken to. I try to remain polite and kind throughout the interrogations: where are you from, why are you here, who is your husband, what work do you do, what work does your husband do, where do you live, how long have you been here, how long will you stay here, who is your husband's family, how old are you, why do you not have children yet... and so on. It gets exhausting after a while though. Always the same questions. Always the prying from strangers. I try to see it from their point of view, and so I comply with their questions.

Sometimes people yell "'cano!" as we walk by. This is short for 'Americano'. Sometimes they yell out (usually to my hubby or his buddy D - the menfolk) "Hey Joe!". I'm guessing it's a reference to GI Joes (American soldiers) - the American military presence in the Philippines has left a resounding impact on the social culture.

This is a small town, a conservative town. I second-guess whatever I'm wearing when we go out, to make sure I'm not offending anyone's sensibilities, and also to avoid drawing even more undesired attention to myself. The men can be rather lecherous, truth be told. It reminds me a little of my time in India sometimes - the big-bootied, large-breasted, voluptuous white woman, significantly larger than the dainty little Asian women, trying to hide herself under layers of clothing to avoid the unwelcome stares of the shameless local menfolk. (This is a generalisation, of course. Some people are perfectly polite, and do not stare. But the generalisation is warranted, I assure you.)

This experience is not unlike the ones I had when I was traveling, particularly in India. The difference is: when you're a tourist/ traveler, you expect it. You know you're just passing through, you know it's temporary, and so you resign yourself to the interim awkwardness. But when you are trying to build a life somewhere, and make a place feel like home... well, enough said.

Tomorrow the Kiteboard Tour of Asia event begins here in our small town - a feat that my hubby and D managed to secure in record time. I'm excited for many of my friends to come and visit me here, but I'm also excited about the mass influx of foreigners to this small town. I'm hoping it'll be a kind of shock therapy to the locals - that suddenly seeing so many foreigners milling about en masse will quickly begin to bore them, and that as a result of this, I too will become instantly less interesting to my fellow townsfolk (village people).

Here's hoping... ;)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Week 2: Settling in/ French Food Fiesta

Vigan Town Plaza by night

So last week, the boys and I (husband and his best friend, double-D, D-squared, D 'n D) decided to get healthy, and get lean. We agreed to cut out all carbs, and stick as closely as possible to an Atkins-type eating regimen. Also: cut out drinking, and start exercising. The plan didn't even last a day.

By the afternoon, we had 2 French kiteboarders staying with us, who'd been sent to the area by a mutual friend, and had been told to look us up. S has been living and working in Thailand for over a decade now: scuba instructor, resort owner, and now-kiteboarder. A is a chef, who works for 6 months of the year in his native Normandy, and then travels for the other 6 months all over the world, teaching kiting and really living his life. Needless to say: both are very interesting, well-travelled, and cool.

So excited was Chef A at our well-equipped, well set-out and well-stocked kitchen that he took it upon himself to cook dinner for us all EVERY night, for the 9 nights that they were here! It was AMAZING. Delicious food plus delicious wine (how can you eat French cuisine without French wine?!) = FOODGASM. 'twas a lovely and unexpected blessing.

Impromptu Hat Party - which came about as I was unpacking my hats.

Crepes flambé, stuffed with caramelised raisins and bananas. Yes, REALLY.

Fresh tuna from the market, about to be grilled to perfection

Now that they've gone though, Project Lean-'n-Mean is back underway. I even started a jogging routine yesterday! "How to run 5k in 8 weeks". I'm excited. This is a big deal for me. I LOATHE jogging - always have - but this seems to be a very sensible way of getting into it, and I'm ready. Living in a hot place like the Philippines as I have been for the past 2 years, you wear only loose and flowy clothing all the time. Then suddenly, when you find yourself back in the big city, nothing fits any more! Tres bizarre! The pressure is ON. Challenge accepted.

Other than that, I continue to gradually make my way through the box-unpacking and home-organising. I am relieved that I have so much time in which to do it all, and no crazy deadlines to stick to. I'm enjoying putting my things out, hanging things up, creating a space that is mine.

Home sweet home. My earrings hanging up on display.

Boxes, boxes, boxes, boxes... only 3 more to go now!

I also received my University materials earlier this month, and have assignments due both this week and next week, so I've been (reluctantly) working on those too. And I had my second kite-lesson, which went great until I managed to get in the way of the kite ropes while D was teaching some of the local kids and cut up my neck. Schoolgirl Error. I know better now.

The other big thing that happened this week was my decision to head to South Africa next month. I'M SOOOOOOOOOO EXCITED!!!! I'm supposed to complete a 10-week teaching prac at a South African school as part of my PGCE (Postgrad Certificate in Education), and I've been working like a maniac to get this organised: finding potential schools to contact, emailing these prospective schools, charming them in writing, and generally trying to convince them to accept me as a student teacher in their school. I shall be submitting my 3 options to the University today, upon which they will choose one school, contact them, finalise it all, and then I'll be heading "home" for a while! The plan is to be there for the second term, which in SA runs from April 10th to June 22nd. After this, I intend to stay in SA for a while longer, head to Cape Town to see my godparents and godbrothers, and various other wonderful people whom I haven't seen in a long time.

Today I'll attempt to get a flight for this trip. It's all a bit up in the air though, as I'm not sure where I'll be coming back to, what I'll be doing afterwards, where I'll be living. D is thinking about heading to Europe for the summer to teach kiteboarding there, as there's a lot of money to be made and saved in just a few months. I think the best solution for me is to just play it by ear, and watch it all unfold.

It's all I can do, really. Ride the wave to the next adventure. ;)

Maximo makes some new friends. Or should that be 'fans'?

Hijacked a parked Valentine's Day float and crowned myself the Queen of the Parade!

Day-trip out to Santiage Cove, about 1 and a half hours by bus.

Heritage Street, Vigan City

Heritage Street by night

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

BOOM!!! Week 1/ Chapter 1

Vigan Town Plaza: the city centre, where you can take a calesa (carriage) ride down cobbled Heritage Street.

Helloooooooooooooo Vigan!!!

First week down, and a myriad of emotions. Joy, shock, calm, isolation, tranquility, annoyance, happiness, confusion, surprise, frustration, peace... rinse and repeat.

I now live in the suburbs of a small, Spanish colonial town, on the north-western coast of the Philippines, with a cornfield behind us and yelping neighbours' dogs all around us.

View from our bedroom window at dawn: full moon over the cornfields

D's paternal family is from this province originally and D was visiting here a year ago when he discovered a perfect spot for kiteboarding on a deserted beach near a fishing village, 20 minutes away from the town centre.

So 6 months ago, D packed up and moved here with the hopes of opening a kite centre in the sleepy province. The dream - nay, PLAN - is to have a hostel-restaurant- kiteboarding school on the beach. Where Boracay is filled to the max with kiteboarders during high season, this place is completely untouched. And international kiters who come to the Philippines have long been looking for new and unspoiled and uncluttered spots to explore and play in. WELL - WE FOUND ONE! ;)

Now the challenge is to turn the dream into a reality - financing, permits, paperwork, Philippine bureacracy (in a league of its own, honestly). For the past few months, D and his good friend who came from the States to set this up with him, have been working to create a hype for the idea. This means bringing the traveling international pro-kiters to the spot, to get them talking and blogging about it, and spreading the word. Our kiting friends from Boracay (both local and international) have been visiting, and raving about how great it is to everyone upon their return to Boracay (which is the kite mecca of the Philippines). Then - with the buzz beginning - the boys (D and D, double-D, D-squared) have begun to approach the powers-that-be, and to set the wheels in motion for the development of something truly exciting. I am proud, supportive, and happy to be around to see it all happening.

As for me: well, here I am! I shall be taking every day at a time, baby-steps, living in the present moment. I am learning and re-learning not to get overly stressed about the future, to just believe. It's worked so far in my life (also because I have an AMAAAAAAAAAZING mother whose support is unwaivering, unflinching, and incredible).

We have been extremely lucky in that D's uncle has given us a house to live in. It's large and spacious, unfurnished, with 3 rooms downstairs and a small master bedroom upstairs, a yard, a big living room, nice kitchen. It has clearly been empty for a while now, so it needs some paintwork and a bit of fixing up, and it needed a thorough scrubbing when I moved in (since boys only clean the immediate area in which they live, and I came with a bunch of stuff - kitchenware, linens... Oh my god - I really DO sound like a "wife". Yikes.)

So this week was about that: cleaning, arranging, unpacking, settling in. I had my first kite lesson, which was fun. (I previously refused to learn in Boracay,as there are too many people on the water already, and the sea on that side is filled with sewerage and sea urchins. And maybe I was a wuss.)

I received my package from the University this week, and already have 3 assignments due in the next month, so I'll be kicking off my studying with a bang soon too. The boys have been cooking up a storm, Maximo our pitbull pup is sweet and dopey and huggable, I've been reading a lot, we go for quiet walks in the evenings... life is slow, and calm. I like it.

So far, so good. :)

Love in the afternoon sunshine.

Fishing boats in a fishing village

"The Spot".

Sunset at the kite spot, shot through my sunglass-lens

Maximo, a.k.a. "Dragon" - for always "draggin' his ass" - the laziest puppy around; makes himself comfortable in the supermarket.

Dinner on my first night. The boys welcome me home with red wine and gastric gorgeousness.

Island gypsy always

Old meets new. Vigan City, Ilocos Sur, Philippines. *HOME*.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bye-Bye, Boracay!

Thank you, Boracay, for a beautiful (almost) 2 years. xxx

White Beach at sunset. Taken in my first week of living on the island (April 2010)

As I sat in the Kalibo airport today, waiting to leave the Visayas islands for good, I was filled with a sense of calm, and a sense of peace. I am wildly excited about the new adventure that awaits me in Vigan (more about that in a later blog), in the same way that I find myself thrilled whenever I embark upon a new country, a new exciting phase, a new great unknown...

I realize now that the reason I found myself on a tiny island in the middle of a turquoise sea, remote and quiet, was that I needed to regain a sense of balance. I needed to relax, to calm down, to find my centre again. After my year of backpacking – after all the changes that that single year wreaked in my soul and in my psyche and in my being and in my entire world view – I needed a break. And I had it. In our lovely little home up on the hill, surrounded by lush green trees, with the sea gently lapping within earshot, birds in the garden, neighbour’s cats sunning themselves in the living room beside me, and all manner of bugs and insects traipsing through... I found my calm.

Of course, that’s not to say it all happened without turmoil. I found myself wildly emotional, erratic in my thoughts and sentiments, extreme, conflicted, oscillating... for months and months on end...


And then, after a while, the calm returned. I was happy to just BE. I started to go out less – not because I didn’t enjoy the hustle and bustle, the laughter, the people around me - no. Simply because I enjoyed my solitude more. When you give and give and give, and share your energy, and live large and loud and in vivid technicolour, it is WONDERFUL! But it is not sustainable; not without a pause to rest, to reflect and to renew one's energy.

So thank you, little isla, for SO MUCH. Thank you for helping me to find ME again. Thank you for magical sunsets, for brilliantly funny nights, for beautiful friends, for a soft and gentle cushion within which to manouevre through the (apparently normal) sometimes rocky first year of marriage. I cannot think of another place in the world that would have soothed me in such an important transitionary period – from gypsy to wife, from traveler to homebody, from bonfire philosopher to (once-again) official academic. It is only through the loving embrace that is Boracay island that I could bring the various facets of my being together, towards a peaceful co-existence.

And so it is not with a heavy heart at all that I bid you “Au revoir”! My heart is light, I am tranquil. I am grateful, excited, and infinitely wiser after these 22 incredibly important months in my life. They may have felt languid and laaaaaazzzzyyyy while I was living them – but in retrospect: WOW!!! WHAT A RUSH!!

Home, sweet home (July 2010 - February 2012)

The perfect backdrop to a perfect wedding. (White Beach, June, 2010)

Wild nights on the island. (S&M Party, September, 2010)

Road-trippin' around Boracay on a rented motorbike. (Ilig-Iligan Beach, January 2011)

DJ Ferry Corsten rocks the island once again! Barefoot dancing to trance music on the beach. Best party, period. (April, 2011)

Teacher Honi's last day. With my beloved friends and coworkers. (July, 2011)

My beautiful bestie gets married at sunset. (December, 2011)

The womenfolk. x Warm and wonderful Taipei-Family Christmas, in Boracay. (December, 2011)

Final ShangriLa sunset sangrias with the wonderful women in my life. (January, 2012)