How I Remembered Keith On What Would Have Been His 19th Birthday

Saturday, 17 August 2019

Keith would have been 19 today. And whilst things have changed since his birthday last year, nothing has changed in the way I honour him on his special day. This is the least thing I can do for the boy who changed my life forever. As heartbroken as I am to this day, I know that he is now in a much better place; and he deserves to be celebrated for being the wonderful child that he was.

This morning when I woke up, I went to his corner in the house and lit a candle. I gave his favourite toy Meow a kiss and then played his favourite song "Lighters". I have been doing this morning routine twice a year for 7 years now, and I will not get tired of doing it for my very special boy. 

Then I went out for a run, listening to a whole playlist of his favourite songs. It was indeed a K Lighter Day.

Wearing my white and blue top (Keith's favourite colours), I went to give blood for the 8th time in Keith's memory. As I mentioned before, Keith had haemorrhage and there was no blood readily available during that time. This is my way of giving back so that other people, especially children have easy access to blood should they need it.

After giving blood, I went to the church to lit a candle, and said a little prayer.

Hayyy, how time flies and how things change.

And although some things have been broken since he left us, our mutual love for this amazing angel remains whole.

I miss him everyday.


The Road To 43

Saturday, 27 July 2019

The road to 43 was not particularly paved, rather it was rocky, long and winding. Whilst I had some really good times between 42 and 43, I want to be honest and say that this period in my life has been one of the toughest. There was a point where I questioned myself a lot because I felt like I was a failure despite investing too much time and effort in trying to make things work, and making people feel that they were valued. The constant challenge from people at work almost got the better of me. I didn't need to hear that people (potentially)hated my guts because I could clearly see and feel from how they looked at me. Everything that I said was taken out of context. I was reprimanded for addressing something I believed was right. People suddenly stopped coming to me. The negativity in my normally positive self started to brew. Fortunately, I was mindful enough to notice the little changes in myself and therefore, was able to turn things around quickly. I decided to be the bigger person and made peace with those whom I apparently have done wrong. Things are better now that I am more aware of myself and the people around me.

Family, on the other hand, has always been challenging for the last how ever many years. At this point, I believe it is fair to say that I have accepted the fact that things will never become easier and that peace of mind in this aspect of my life will never be achieved. This is not in any way being negative. It is a matter of accepting that life is unfair and that I cannot have everything in life. I guess I was born to fight, hence the constant battles that I have to go through. 

Then a few months before my 43rd birthday, I went through something that I thought I will never have to go through. I would rather not discuss this any further as this is very personal to me and rather quite sensitive. Quite traumatising in fact, that I even chose to disclose the situation to only one of my trusted friends and no one else. What matters most now is that I have fought the battle and (hopefully have) won it like a true warrior. Suffice it to say that this difficult situation brought out the best in me, and gave me the affirmation that I am very capable of loving unconditionally. 

And so on my birthday month, I did a few things to celebrate me and all the challenging times behind me.

London Pride

July is always a good time to be Prideful as it's when we celebrate Pride in London. As I have not been able to volunteer in the last year and a half, I am glad that I am still able to give back a little by supporting the LGBT community. This is now my second year in joining the parade and just like last year, I had so much fun. It is  always good to see people come together to celebrate love and equality. And as someone who had her first gay friend at a young age of 6, I am very proud to be a part of this movement. Thank you to my little sis Kristy for always bringing me as her plus one. Not only that I was able to join such a good cause for the second time around, but also kicked off my birthday month with a brunch and a much needed catch up with her.

Strasbourg, France

I had a different plan on my birthday in that I was going to see a sunflower field outside London with one of my friends. However, J was asked to attend a conference in Strasbourg and so I cancelled my sunflower trip and went to Strasbourg with J instead.:) The last time I celebrated my birthday abroad was in Sydney in 2016, so I was excited to celebrate my birthday outside the UK this year . 

And thanks to J, I had one of the best birthdays ever! Strasbourg is a very magical place and I am so blessed to have spent my 43rd birthday there. 

As a tradition, I normally go on a birthday date with myself either the day before or after my birthday. However, I was alone on my birthday this time as J was at the conference all day, so I went on the day instead, then J and I went to dinner afterwards. 

To be honest, there are a a lot of good restaurants in Strasbourg and I could have just gone to any of the restaurants in town and I would have been equally contented and happy, but I was curious about one particular restaurant, 1741. When I passed by the restaurant the first time, I thought 1741 was the year the restaurant was opened or the building was built at least. But apparently not. It was actually the year the building opposite was completed- that is the Palais Rohan. Anyway, so I booked a table for 1 and requested for a quiet table and an unforgettable dining experience as it was indeed my birthday- and it was exactly what I got.

I felt a bit awkward walking into the restaurant alone especially when I saw two couples already in the room. The room was intimate, with only 3 tables and 6 chairs. I was given the middle table which was the best table for me. I didn't interact with the other diners for a while, until I realised that I was in a strange place and really should make an effort to reach out to locals. Besides, the lunch was going to be 3 hours long and I really didn't want to spend my time not eating, on my mobile phone. So, I initiated a conversation with the younger lady on my left and asked her if she was from Strasbourg, and if they have been to the restaurant before. She answered "oui" to my first question, but I didn't get the rest of the words she said afterwards. It was quite difficult to make conversation with them because they only spoke French and my French is limited to only a few words. We eventually asked help from google translate so we could understand each other. :)

The older couple in the room were celebrating their anniversary on the day. I didn't have much conversation with them during lunch, but we exchanged lots of smiles. When my dessert came and they saw a candle, the old lady asked the sommelier to ask me if I wanted to try a glass of Marc d'Alsace Gewurztraminer. I reluctantly said yes as to not spoil the celebration. After lunch, I approached the couple to say thank you and asked if I could have a photo with them to which they both happily obliged. The lady gave me their address afterwards and told me to learn French from then on. They invited me to their house, but unfortunately they were only free on Saturday - the day we were going back to London. So, the day after my birthday, I sent them a thank you card instead. A few days later, I received an email from them thanking me for my kindness. 

This dining experience at Restaurant 1741 is one of the most unforgettable dining experiences I ever had, not only because of the food and the service, but more so with the strangers I spent my birthday lunch with. Marlene and Emile- the older couple in the restaurant, definitely made my birthday extra special. 

Lea Salonga

Now, there are only two Filipino performers that I would love to watch in a concert - Lea Salonga and Sarah Geronimo. I didn't get to see Lea in Miss Saigon as she was finishing when I came to the UK, so I was hoping I could watch at least one of her concerts. This dream came true 10 days after my birthday.

Lea sang at least five of my life's soundtrack  with so much clarity and emotion that I felt empowered all over again. One of my favourite songs, "Go the Distance" (from Hercules) almost brought me to tears. The song reminded me of how far I have become from being "just" a farmer's daughter to a woman  with the ability to inspire and motivate others.

Thank you, Lea for an unforgettable night.

And thank you to my Ate Elvie for coming with me. I couldn't think of any better way to cap off my birthday month.

Despite all the hard times I had to endure in the last year, I remain blessed and grateful- for there is always a good reason to look forward to another year. For me, it's another chance to enjoy life and wait for the time when the universe finally decides to make up for all the challenges he has been throwing at me for years. Peace.


12 Places I Would Love To Revisit

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Eighteen years ago, I was one of those people who wanted to visit places that I only ever saw on television so I could say that I have been there. One reason was because my idea of a holiday at that time was rest- meaning exploring a place was not high on the itinerary, but staying in a hotel most of the day was. It wasn't until my first trip to Paris sometime in 2003 that I realised that "being in a place" meant I had to wake up early to see sights, walk and/or take public transport to get there and learn at least a thing or two about the place. To say the least, I was quite lazy and ignorant. I wasn't cultured enough to bother about what went on with the rest of the world around me. Thankfully, I was somehow forced to see the world and so now, I have better intentions when I travel. 

Traveling for me now means escaping from my normal routine to learn more about myself and other people, including the people I am traveling with. Traveling have helped me overcome my fear of exploring and getting lost in an unfamiliar place. It pushed me to step out of my comfort zone, even if it meant going hiking for the first time in Cinque Terre, eating gravlax in Stockholm (food that I've never heard of before), speaking broken Italian in Venice (language that I didn't and still don't speak), digging a "hole" in the Sahara to use as a toilet (something I never thought I would do abroad) and crawling to reach the top of a Moorish castle in Sintra (because of my fear of heights). Traveling has taught me to have an open mind, to immerse myself in different cultures and to be more aware of other people's customs. 

I am very thankful and blessed to have traveled a fair bit during those times when I dreamed of becoming a travel blogger (not) and the only social media platform I could use to document and share my travel adventures was, which has now turned into a business website I believe. It was 3 years before I discovered facebook in 2006, and years before everyone's life started to revolve around social media. It was long before everyone is seemingly obligated to share almost everything that is happening in their everyday life online because if they don't, then it didn't happen and they haven't lived. 

Anyway, although I have my list of favourite cities, there are also some places that I would like to revisit - to learn more about them and to make new memories with people I choose to travel with.

1. Puglia, Italy
- We've just been to Puglia in August last year, however, we feel that we have an unfinished trip in this part of Italy, so we are already planning to go back next year (God-willing). I didn't realise how uniquely beautiful this part of Italy is. There are certainly still a lot of enchanting places to go to further South like the cities of Ostuni, Brindisi and Lecce. 

2. Cinque Terre, Italy
-  I went to Cinque Terre when I had less appreciation for the outdoors. I was reluctant to wear trainers to go hiking and I was not confident to walk on narrow and unpaved trails. I didn't realise that at that time, I was being prepared for the outdoors because a few years later, I would meet a man who loves the outdoors. Then in 2016, I lived in New Zealand where the outdoors is certainly a way of life.  We also have an annual holiday with J's family in the Lake District which involves walking and climbing up high mountains.  I would love to take J to Cinque Terre one day, as he has never been so we can go hiking together.

3. Bologna, Italy
- I only spent a day in Bologna- not enough to actually experience it, but I really loved this city. I would love to go back one day so I can spend more time to explore and learn more about this place. One thing is for sure though, I loved their beautiful historic colonnades.

4.  Santorini, Greece
- I went to Santorini when I was young and foolish and believed that romance is all there is. I would love to go back now that I am more mature and have better perspective on life. When I go back, I am also pretty sure that I will no longer be dragging my suitcase for miles and miles to get to a hotel in the middle of nowhere.

5. Porto, Portugal
-  I was quite tired when I visited Porto and therefore didn't quite enjoy exploring the city. It was also slightly raining and was cold, so I wasn't in the mood to do anything. Porto is very beautiful, with its colourful buildings in the Old Town and white and blue tiled churches. It's not really fair to stay in this city just for one day. It deserves more than that.

6.  Berlin, Germany
-  It was only when I visited Berlin that I gained full understanding of its deep history. The Holocaust Memorial is a beautiful war memorial and everyone should pay respect to the victims of the holocaust when visiting Berlin. Then there's what's left of the Berlin Wall. The Brandenburg Gate is unmissable as it is probably on everyone's list to see in Berlin. A bonus would be a trip to the Panoramapunkt Observation Deck via the fastest elevator in Europe (25 floors in 20 seconds) to get a 360-degrees panoramic view of the city.

7.  Bergamo, Italy
- Believe it or not, but I have been to Bergamo. However, I have not got much recollection of this Italian city as it was one of those side trips that I did a few years ago. This is the reason why I would love to go back one day.

8. Toledo, Spain
- El Greco, the view of Toledo from Mirador del Valle and a pair of pearl earrings are the things that remind me of my trip to Toledo. Only a train ride away, I hope to revisit this place next time I go to Madrid.

9.  Florence, Italy
-  My trip to Florence was part of a cruise that I did sometime in 2009. Although it was quite a good one as I wasn't particularly rushed and was able to see a lot, I would love to go back with J so we can drive around the small towns nearby. 

10.  Krakow, Poland
- My memory of Krakow is walking in deep snow in -20 degree weather. It was very cold and my feet were  frozen I had to go into a museum near Wawel castle to dry them. I would love to see Krakow again, but in spring or summer.

11.  Boston, Massachusetts
- J studied in Massachusetts whilst I've only been to Boston once on a day trip. It would be nice to go back to the city with J. If we ever do, I would prefer to go in the autumn to see the foliage colours. 

12. California, USA
- We have plans to visit California this year God-willing. I have only been to the West Coast once and it would be nice to go back. We are planning to do a road trip from LA to San Francisco. I am crossing my fingers that we are able to go this year, otherwise, whenever the right time comes.

One thing that I learned from my travels is to at least spend two full days in one place no matter how small or uninteresting it may seem. This is the only way I can truly immerse myself in their culture and have a genuine experience. I no longer believe in exhausting "blitz" trips, as I will never know when I can go back to that place again. So, I made a promise to myself to make every trip count and do as much as I can to make each trip as memorable as possible, without having to rush to see as many places as I can. 


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