How I Celebrated My 42nd Birthday

Saturday, 4 August 2018

A few weeks ago, I turned 42. And whilst I say every year that I'd rather have a quiet birthday, it never happens. There is always the opportunity to try something new and explore, a birthday routine to continue and dreams to pursue. This year, I was blessed enough to spend my birthday week doing the things that I absolutely love and more.

1. Giving Back
- The weekend before my birthday, my very good friend Kristy, Essa and I joined Johnson&Johnson in solidarity to show that "We care with Pride" at the London Pride. It was my first time to join the annual celebration and I am so honoured to have been invited. It was my way of giving back by supporting the LGBT community.  It was such an empowering experience, I should write about it soon really.

2. The Little Things
- At past midnight on my birthday, J woke me up after I fell asleep on the couch watching Silicon Valley. He reminded me that it was my birthday, kissed me on the forehead and handed me his gift. His gift was something I didn't really expect. He said he got me that gift so that I could take better photos of my food. J may not be very expressive of his feelings, but he is one of the most thoughtful person I know (he doesn't even know how thoughtful he is). He then apologised for forgetting to buy me a cake and a candle to blow, which honestly didn't matter to me. What J didn't realise that night was that his endearing thoughtfulness was enough for me to have a happy birthday. 

3. Making A Dream Come True
- As J and I couldn't celebrate my birthday on the day due to his work commitments, I decided to do something for myself. I have always loved flower fields but somehow have not made an effort to visit one since my trip to Tuscany to see the sunflowers two years ago. So, I decided to visit a lavender field. I was planning to do this on my own, but I realised I didn't have to really do that. Hence, I invited two of my friends whom I haven't seen in ages and they happily joined me in making another dream come true.

4. Establishing A Birthday Routine
- And because I want to establish a birthday routine (which I started only last year), I went to a lunch date with myself the day after my birthday at the Taiwanese restaurant BAO in Soho. I've always wanted to try this restaurant but whenever I went in the past, there was always a long queue. So this time, I made sure that I went before the restaurant opened at 12. I was very happy I finally had my first bao in London.

5. Intimate Dinner With A Friend (or two) Who Truly Matter 
- That Friday, I had a post-birthday dinner with Kristy at a Chinese restaurant in Paddington called Pearl Liang. It goes without saying that I am very blessed to have this amazing lady as a constant in my life.

6. A Quiet Date With Someone Special
- Finally on Saturday, J and I celebrated my birthday. We went for coffee at the Cafe Royal in the afternoon so I could have my red velvet cake. Then in the evening, he took me to Social Eating House in Soho. 

7. Achieving Something No Matter How Small 
- I wrapped up my birthday week with another achievement by completing the Virgin 10k race

As I grow older, it is becoming more apparent that big birthday celebrations no longer work for me. I have learned through the years that the best way to celebrate a birthday is to spend your time, money and effort wisely. This means doing things for your self and spending time with the (few) people who genuinely want to be in your life.  


A Girl Named Angelina

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

I was meant to finish writing our itinerary for our trip to Italy in August but I don't think I can let this day pass without sharing my rather interesting experience this evening. As cliche as it may sound, things really happen for a reason.

Whilst I was anticipating dinner with my former colleagues to go on forever as I haven't seen them in quite a long time, something happened that made me leave early. Feeling tired from socialising all day, I tromped through the Golden Jubilee bridge on my way back to Soho. The 20-minute walk seemed so long because of the humid weather. I felt so unfit climbing up a few steps to the bridge. Although the sudden cool breeze on bridge made me feel better, I still couldn't wait to go home. It was only quarter to eight and I was ready for bed. 

As I continued to walk towards Northumberland Avenue, I noticed a girl walking seemingly by herself, barefoot and clutching a cash register toy on her chest . I looked around to check whether someone was following her or ahead of her, but I couldn't see anyone. I stopped and spoke to the girl. I asked her where her Mommy and Daddy were. She pointed towards the direction I was going, but I couldn't see anyone who could potentially be her parents. The girl has Down's Syndrome so she was not able to express herself very well. I took her to the side while I tried to make sense of what she was trying to tell me. People were looking at me, probably suspicious of my intentions but I knew I shouldn't leave the girl by herself. After few minutes when I realised that no one was actually looking for her because otherwise, someone would have shouted her name, I decided to call the police. The girl left her toy on the floor, telling me through hand gesture to just leave it there. I reassured her that I was going to bring her back to Mommy and Daddy but I just needed to call the police to let them know. She nodded her head as if she understood everything that I said.

I was put on hold for at least 10 minutes. Apparently, the police were busy dealing with emergency and there could be a long wait, so I decided to google the nearest police station in Charring Cross instead. I found one just about 6 mins walk from where we were. I offered my hand to the girl and she held it without any hesitation. I picked up her toy and told her we were going to the police. 

It felt surreal walking hand in hand with a girl that I actually didn't know. I never had this experience before and I didn't know how I was feeling at that precise moment. I imagined her mother going frantic because she probably thought she has lost her baby girl. I wondered if she had a Daddy, a brother or a sister. I wondered how she got lost. Was she deliberately left on the street? That was horrible, I thought. As we continued walking on the busy street of Strand, the girl touched my hand (with her free Right hand) as if to say thank you and then she looked at me with a smile. I asked her again which way did her parents go, but she pointed to the direction that we were heading to. She was making wave-like gestures with her right hand, so I thought she meant a boat? I wasn't sure. The thought of someone potentially losing their child pierced my heart's core. That would be the worst thing that could ever happen to a mother or a father. I should know. I have been there - although in different circumstances.

When we finally arrived at the Police station, we had to queue. There were two people in front of us. The lady being served was complaining about a wallet that she has lost earlier. She wasn't sure how and where she lost it and therefore, she was sort of dismissed. Then a policeman came out of the door. He asked if we were okay. I informed him that I found the girl alone in the street. He immediately took us through a double door and ordered two gentlemen out of the room . One of them had a cast on his right arm but perhaps they have dealt with him so he was okay to leave.

The policeman then instructed us to take a sit. He asked if I knew the girl's name. I remember her telling me "Athena" when I first asked her, but I wasn't 100% sure if I understood it correctly. The policeman was convinced that the girl was not British. I initially thought she was Italian so I asked her, "Come si chiama?" to which she replied with a hint of irritation, "Athena". The policeman gave her a piece of paper and a pen and asked her to write her name. She only managed to write A and N. We thought her name was "Annie". And then her toy caught my eyes. It had numbers on it. I started counting "uno", pointing to number one. She continued counting from two to ten in Spanish. I asked her what the table was called and she said "mesa". Then I showed her photos of spoon and fork to which she said, "chuchara" and "tenedor". Between us, the policeman and I were able to figure out what language the girl spoke.

After half an hour of trying to communicate through sign language and photographs, we finally received the good news that the police might have potentially found her parents. I reassured the girl that she will see Mommy and Daddy soon. A few minutes later, her family arrived. Her father was the first one to hug her. Her mother was still in shock. Her sister was elated to have found her little sister. Teary-eyed, her father thanked me and kissed me on the cheek. Her mother was speechless. All she could say was thank you. I asked them what the girl's name was and the mother said, "Angelina". They were apparently from Argentina. The parents spoke little English but the sister was kind of fluent. The sister introduced herself as Maggie. I thought she said her Mom was called Jemima. I briefly told them how I found Angelina and then the police asked for my details. After that, I was cleared to go.

The family won't let me go because they wanted me to take some cash so I could have a cup of coffee. I didn't take the money of course.  Instead, I left them my mobile number should they want to keep in touch. On my way out, Maggie followed me and begged me to take the money. I told Maggie I didn't need the money, and that it was enough for me to have brought Angelina back to her family. She said thank you once more. I hugged her and said goodbye.

Perhaps anyone would have done the same, but I feel special knowing that I have done something as rewarding as helping a lost child, keeping her safe and bringing her back to her family. 

It is not everyday that I get to play a hero outside my profession, so I will treasure this experience forever. I will try hard not to doubt myself ever again because honestly? after today, I know I have done something right in my life, at least once. At least today.


Virgin Sport British 10k

Thursday, 19 July 2018

After my successful run at the Vitality 10k last month, I decided to join the Virgin Sport British 10k last Sunday to keep the momentum going. Actually, I watched the race last year after my morning run and it inspired me to join because apparently this annual event is within our neighbourhood. Besides, it is a beautiful route as it passes through some of the most iconic landmarks in London. I thought it would be a real shame if I didn't join this year. So, I sacrificed my monthly shopping money and paid £44 to join the race instead.

However, on the day of the race, I was having second thoughts because I wasn't 100% feeling well. Basically, I had diarrhoea early hours of the morning. Perhaps it was from the delectable fresh mushroom salad that I devoured the night before. I wasn't sure if it was worth taking the risk considering that the weather was predicted to be a record high of between 28-30 degrees centigrade. But I was also preoccupied and needed to clear my mind, so despite feeling doubtful, I made my way to the race.

The start pen in Piccadilly is about 20 minutes walk from our flat. When I got there, it was barely 0930 and the warm-up was still ongoing. I tend not to participate in warm-ups because I want to save my energy and er, my bladder from getting full from all the jumping and twisting- because I hate portaloos basically.Besides, I didn't want to disturb my tummy too much that day.

Anyway, the almost 30-minute wait to the start line was a bit annoying because I was already beginning to feel thirsty. Unfortunately, the closest drinking station was at 3km. By the time I started to run, it was almost 10am. 

The first 2km took us along Regent Street (to almost Oxford Circus) then back to Piccadilly Circus down to Pall Mall. The route was confusing for me because there were at least 6 areas throughout the race whereby we had to turn around and take the same route back. I wasn't sure if I was meant to be motivated seeing other runners way behind me, but it slowed me down a little bit. I just never enjoyed running the same route in races to be honest. But regardless, the route was great as it was flat and well, it took us to the very heart of London. So, I shouldn't really be complaining.

At 5km, my face started feeling numb because of the heat. I knew at this point that I wasn't going to finish the race at my PB. It didn't help that I decided to run without any music on (for the first time ever) because apparently, there was entertainment at every kilometre. I actually had Keith's music on while I was still at the start pen doubting myself whether I could run the whole 10k or not because I was a little unwell. But as soon as his favourite song came on and I finished listening to it, I took my earphones away. 

I saw some runners stopping and walking as early as 200 metres into the race, then more and more from 3km. Perhaps it was due the very hot weather. After 5km, I was convinced that the day wasn't even about achieving my PB anymore. It was all about finishing the race without stopping and collapsing. I thought the Vitality 10k was tough, but this race was tougher. 

The crowd was not as enthusiastic as I thought, considering the route was Central London and we passed by many touristy spots. There were few high-fives which I enjoyed of course, but it was lacking the upbeat atmosphere that the Vitality 10k had, especially at the last few metres to the finish line.

More than anything else, I think it was the thought of Keith and seeing young spectators that kept me going. I didn't want to fail Keith and so I tried my very best to finish the race with a positive attitude. One of the kids who cheered me on offered me some sweets, which I gladly accepted. 

It was around 6km when we finally reached the Embankment. My face was really burning, I had to slap myself a few times. I went under every water mist there was which I never did in my previous races. The only consolation I had at that point was the fact that I was  running my normal route which only meant that I was close to finishing the race. 

One of the bands played Despacito at 9km which was encouraging. It made me want to dance away to the finish line. I thought the finish line was in Trafalgar Square but it was actually in Whitehall, a few yards away from Downing Street.

It was a good finish I thought but I had no idea about my time because I didn't turn my running app on and I didn't get a text straight away unlike the Vitality 10k. 

Despite the earlier challenges and despite running at a slower pace, I was still proud of myself for even finishing the race.

Just before I reached home, I received a text message congratulating me for finishing the Virgin 10k in 1 hour, 1 minute and 41 seconds. Not my PB, but what matters  at the end of the day is the fact I completed the race with a huge smile on my face. 

I hope to be able to run again next year, so watch this space.


At 42: It's The Little Things That Matter

Thursday, 12 July 2018

A few weeks ago, I almost had an emotional breakdown. I was perhaps having birthday blues or I was just genuinely feeling down. I felt like nothing was going right in my life, although I knew that wasn't true. I tried very hard to be positive. To see the good in the bad. To be my old optimistic self. But I was struggling. At one point, I thought I was losing life's battles. For once in my life, after all that I have been through, everything seemed too much to bear. 

I had to desperately do something to combat those negative feelings because I knew I could do better. It took me a few days to finally realise what was missing and what was causing me to feel so weak emotionally. Then it dawned on me that it was indeed my lack of appreciation for the little things in life that precipitated all the negativity. I am a human being after all, because I almost gave in to life's pressures and the nearly impossible standards that the current world we live in has set for all of us to achieve- either willingly or forcibly. 

And whilst I can't deny that I often feel insecure because at 42, I am still not married, remain childless and not yet a home-owner, I take refuge in the fact that I am gifted with the three important attributes that I believe most people don't have: resilience, patience and wisdom.

Therefore, as I face another year of a blessed life, I made a promise to be more thankful, first and foremost, for the little things because they really are what matter the most.

1. The opportunity to spend everyday with someone who is a constant reminder that I have everything that I need in this life. 

2.  The couple of good friends in London who are always genuinely happy to spend time with me.

3.  A friend who calls me randomly only to remind me how remarkable I am as a person and how she admires my positivity, patience and strength. 

4.  A distant niece who never fails to checks up on me and whom I can share anything under the sun with.  

5.  My sister from another mother whom I may not get to talk to frequently, but has always been a constant in my life.

6. That one person at work I can share my frustrations with without being judged.

7. Those random motivational speeches I deliver in the middle of the nurses' station at random times that bring laughter to my staff and make some of them say, "amen".

8. That reassurance from my boss that I don't need to worry because I am doing great. 

9. That genuine appreciation from my deputy.

10. Being nominated "Team Player of the Month" twice in a row.

11. That I am able to walk to and from work, avoiding the very stressful "tube life".

12.  Having my own office despite being smaller than our bathroom.

13. Having a rented flat next to Chinatown.

14. Free coffee from our local cafe almost every weekend.

15. Having a good route for my morning runs.

16. The convenience of having weights, kettle bells and a barbell at home.

17. Eating good food.

18. Our bath being mould-free.

19. Cooking in my favourite pan from my dream cookware manufacturer.

20. Making fresh orange juice from my dream juicer.

And then there are the little big things of course:

1. J for being the person that he is.

2. My family- because despite being broken by the recent trial we had to go through, I believe we remain united.

3. My job- no matter how challenging it is to deal with some of the people I work with.

4. J's family for being so kind to me.

I know sometimes when we are faced with adversity, it often seems difficult to find anything that can help us overcome it. What I learned from writing this blog entry is that, actually, it is possible to draw strength from the mundane things we do and see everyday and there are a lot of them. In fact, I could have written more. All we need to do is to learn how to appreciate the little things around us- because no matter how small these things are right now, one day something will happen that will remind us that in fact, they were the big things.


A Relaxing Four Days In The Lake District

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Since my first ever trip to the Lake District last year, I've been looking forward to going back. Lake District is now officially my favourite vacation place in the UK because this World Heritage site's picturesque landscapes remind me of one of my favourite countries- New Zealand. I am blessed that J's family go there every year and therefore, I get to tag along and experience this magnificent place.

We were blessed with a good weather this year, unlike last year when it rained almost the whole time that we were there. Good weather only meant more time spent outside exploring the  stunning sceneries of the Lake District.

Our first adventure was to the top of the Stickle Tarn in Langdale. I wanted to go up there mainly to pay tribute to my favourite chef, who sadly passed away at the London marathon in April. With the support of J and his parents, I was able to fulfil this.

The trail to Stickle Tarn started easy but became challenging very quickly. The more or less than hour hike from the Stickle Ghyll carpark was consistently uphill and very rocky. However, as the trail became steeper, the view became more and more dramatic.

As we ascend to the top of the mountain, I wondered if there was really a tarn somewhere out there. It seemed like we were just constantly climbing higher and higher with no signs of water.

When we reached the final rise, I finally saw the beautiful Stickle Tarn. The challenging climb was definitely worth it. I loved the serenity of this place. We stayed there for a good half an hour and had our little picnic. I took pleasure in the simple but delicious sandwiches that J's mum prepared for us, the tranquility of the lake and the good conversation I shared with J and his parents. Ah, simple pleasures.

On our way down, we took a different path. This time, an easier trail. No more rocky outcrops. J and his Dad led the way because they know the place very well. It was actually fascinating listening to them reminisce their past climbing experiences, naming all the mountains before us. J and his family have been going to the Lakes for over 10 years now and have climbed most of the mountains here. I's very impressive actually.

We stopped a few times to rest and enjoy the views, and then we headed back to the car park and drove back to the vacation house. 

The day after our Stickle Tarn adventure, J's parents took us to Keswick for a boat ride around Derwent Water. The breathtaking views of this place are comparable to that of New Zealand. It is definitely worth a visit. Even the dozens and dozens of ducks that greeted us seem to love this place.

We got off the boat in Hawes End for a picnic. After which, the kids enjoyed playing in the water.

After our enjoyable boat ride, we headed to Castlerigg Stone Circle, where I enjoyed the 360 degrees of purely astonishing views. The stones are between 3000 and 4000 years old. Unlike Stonehenge, you can freely touch and sit on the stones here. Adults and children alike were even climbing up the bigger stones.

On our last full day at the Lakes, we just wanted to do a short walk. J's sister was going home that day so we decided to just visit the nearby Elterwater, where J and his family enjoyed stone skipping. It was a good place to just relax and enjoy the impressively clear water.

Before we left Lake District, we went for another short walk with J's parents and his little niece. We also visited the Holy Trinity Church on top of the hill. 

And just like that. Our short vacation at the Lakes was over.

Just like last year, this holiday was very laid-back. It gave me the opportunity to temporarily switch off from the craziness of my real world. I really can't wait to go back again next year.


Vitality London 10,000: Today Is The Day

Monday, 11 June 2018

The 28th of May was the day I decided to finally join an official race again after my challenging Winter Run in February 2015. I was basically inspired when I joined hundreds of runners in London to #FinishForMatt in April. That experience was strangely uplifting because I found myself amidst passionate runners who came together that day to pay tribute to a man most of us never knew. It was then I realised that I could actually join a race on my own and that it will be okay. So without any second thoughts, I registered for the Vitality 10,000 a few days later.

I chose the Vitality 10,000 to be my first official race in 2018 because I am a Vitality member and the event was where I normally run so it was convenient for me.

I left our flat 30 minutes before the start time thinking that it was only about 10 minutes walk, only to be told that my normal route was closed and that I had to walk all the way to Green Park via Piccadilly Road. With a hint of panic, I ran to the venue so I could make it on time (although I really hate warming up before a race). I got there just as runners were making way to their respective start zones.

We set off just after 1030 am. I was feeling excited as this was another thing that I've never done before (to join a race alone). I decided to listen to Keith's playlist as I have not listened to it in a while. I started strong I thought, but I felt a bit weird just after 1km. I was breathing heavily and felt that I was pushing myself too hard, and I just started. I know it is now a cliche for you, but Lighters came on and I was reminded of the boy who inspired me to run in the first place. So, I took one deep breath and reminded myself that I could do it. I felt better after a few minutes of much needed self-reassurance. Then I saw a kid reaching out for a high-five so I gave him one. And then the bands came on and that was it. I was definitely back on track. 

I did few more high fives with children throughout the race, and some of the bands almost got me into dancing because of their lively music. There were loads of people cheering- one thing that I love about London races. The London crowd is the best for me, although I've only done four other races outside LondonParis to Versailles, The HagueCardiff and Bristol).

5km seemed too far that day for some reason, but I was running at a steady pace. I later found out that I reached km 5 just under 30 minutes, so it was good. I felt even more energised when I heard some classical music from the West End Musical Choir. It was beautiful. Some parts of the City were quiet though. Luckily, I could hear some music from a distance, so that kept me entertained whilst I tried to convince myself to run a bit faster so I could finish in under an hour. Once I hit the 7km mark and heard loud cheers, I was more motivated to reach for my goal. And with Beyonce's "Crazy In Love" in the background, I was really up for it.

I didn't pay much attention to the landmarks to be honest. I was more interested in reading placards. Some people make up really funny "words of motivation" like "you look sexy when you sweat". Running becomes easier for me when I see things that make me giggle. :)

I was distracted for a while, so when I realised I have reached Trafalgar Square, I knew I was nearly home. With only so little energy left because of the hot weather, I smiled at every spectator who cheered me on and said thank you to them. The last 500m has always been the toughest for me mentally. It's just basically the thought of getting too close to the finish line, and yet it feels so far. But as always, the cheers became louder as I approached the finish line, which gave me the last push to hopefully finish on time. 

And I did. I finished in 59 minutes 6 seconds!

It really felt so good to be back on the race. Overall, it was a good. The route wasn't too bad. It was flat and we passed by some of London's landmarks such as the Nelson's Column, St Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament and the Westminster Abbey. There were water stations at 3km and at 6km. There were also some toilets available. I really liked that the staff actually "awarded" the medals instead of just handing it to the runners. That was really nice. The goodies were okay, too (race t-shirt, bottled water and some protein bar). So yes, I enjoyed my first solo run. :)

I was happy to receive a new medal because somehow I have lost my previous medals. It's a shame really because I worked hard for those medals but never mind. It is never too late to start over again.

I was also happy to get a glimpse of Sir Mo Farah during the event. I am glad he won the race.  Also, I learned a few things during the event which inspired me to do more races, and do more in life as a whole.

And here's some motivation for you and me...


Six Things I Have Learned In April

Friday, 18 May 2018

It's amazing how three weeks ago can feel like a very distant past, especially when good memories are quickly overshadowed by rather disappointing situations. Anyway, life goes on so here I am again, reflecting on the things that I have learned in April. But this time, I am writing more about what I've learned in Madrid when I went there last month. So, here goes...

1. The ability to take a selfie is a necessity when you're a solo-traveller
- I was never a fan of selfies because 1) although I love myself so much, I don't love me that way (if you know what I mean) 2)my eyes look weird when I am doing selfies because of my wrinkles, and 3) I couldn't find my best angle. But not having my human tripod with me majority of the time when I was in Madrid compelled me to learn how to take shameless selfies. Now, I can call myself a selfie-expert and I will never have a problem taking photos of myself again. Lol. 

2.  Travelling alone is good for the soul
- I wasn't technically alone during this trip but because J was at a conference for the whole five days, I was left to explore the city by myself. Everyday, I visited places on foot. This experience allowed me to connect more with myself and be more mindful of the things around me. Wandering around a seemingly different, but not unfamiliar city gave me the courage to get lost and face my fears of strangers (and silly things like eating alone). It provided me plenty of time to clear my mind and reassess my life- two things that I felt I desperately needed because since January, I have been pre-occupied with work and other people. For the first time since I came back from New Zealand, I stopped chasing time again. Although temporarily, it felt good to slow down for a little while.

3. Every little Spanish word helps
- I don't speak Spanish but luckily, some of the Filipino words we use are quite the same in Spanish. Of course, I made an effort to learn a bit more whilst I was there, but words as simple as mantequilla, tinidor, cuchara, la cuenta and resibo were very helpful. In fact, someone thought I genuinely spoke the language because I managed to ask for the bill in Spanish. :)

4. Memories of the past will guide your way
- I'm not going to deny that my two previous trips to Madrid was with an ex. It's strange because when I was in Madrid, I wasn't reminded of anything but the fact that I have been to Madrid twice before- and I say this with complete honesty. The place was familiar, but the memories were nothing but a blur. But as blurry as the memories were, it helped me find my way through the city. 

4. Eating alone is therapeutic
- In New Zealand, I learned how to eat alone but I haven't done that since I came back to London. In Madrid, I ate alone everyday for five days and it was one of the most liberating things I've ever done. I felt very confident going in a restaurant asking for a table for one, then demanding where I would like to be seated. I took my time in perusing the menu because I had plenty of time and I didn't have to think about anyone else. I ate at my own pace and looked at my food the way I never looked at it before. I took shameless food photos like a food blogger. I eavesdropped on conversations of other diners around me. I people watched. I ate every single food that I wanted to try and went to every single restaurant on my list. Eating alone gave me the freedom to explore my relationship with food (and myself) deeper. There is really no shame in eating alone, only soaring pride. :)

5. People in the software industry are some of the coolest people
- On our second night in Madrid, I found myself amidst men who talked about a rendering application which I knew nothing about. J was the only person I knew there and I was the only one who didn't work in the software industry but I didn't feel like an outsider. Everyone talked to me and showed genuine interest in me. I got to exchange jokes with one of the most important people in J's company. The event organiser from Canada approached me and thanked me for being there with J when in fact, I should be thanking them for inviting me. Everyone seemed to be genuinely nice, unpretentious and simply cool. Most importantly, they were consistently prim and proper even when intoxicated. :)

6. I have special connection with babies
- One of J's colleagues brought his one year old son to Madrid. Every morning at breakfast, I saw the baby and played with him a little. The mom then told me that the baby never paid attention to anyone the way he did to me. I made the baby smile and his eyes were on mine whenever I spoke to him. The mother even said that perhaps her baby saw something special in me that's why he liked me. I hope she was right. :)


On How Someone I Haven't Met Touched My Life

Sunday, 29 April 2018

One week ago today was the Virgin London Marathon which I missed because I was in Madrid. I am very thankful that my very good friend and her twin brothers successfully crossed the finish line but sadly, one of the runners collapsed at 22.5 miles (3.7 miles before the finish line) and died later in the hospital.

He happened to be my favourite chef, Matt Campbell.
Photo from Matt's Instagram Page

I don't know Matt personally. I only know him because he was my favourite to win at last year's Masterchef Professionals. To be honest, that series was the first Masterchef I watched from beginning to end. It was all because of Matt.

I fell in love at first sight with Matt's very creative dishes. There was a category in Masterchef wherein they had to create something personal to them or something to that effect. Matt created this sea bream dish inspired by his father and the Lake District. It was one of the most amazing dishes I've ever seen on television. Then there was his signature dish, the cod cheeks with spirulina, kale and kombucha. I must admit that I've never heard of spirulina and kombucha until Matt mentioned them on Masterchef. I loved him even more then because of his healthy approach to food. He also made this 100% raw cacao vegan dessert which I hoped to taste one day as I've never heard of this dessert before. He also used sheep sh*t to cook one of his dishes, I just can't remember which one. He was very innovative, interesting and a very talented chef indeed.

But most importantly, Matt appeared to be a wonderful man. He remained humble throughout the series, whether he impressed the judges or not. I followed him after Masterchef through his instagram page. He was full of life and doing all amazing things like doing residencies in different restaurants in England, turning junk food into astounding dishes, turning carrots to hotdogs and joining marathons. I was really looking forward to meeting him one day.I wish I took booking a table at Roux Parliament Square seriously when he had his residency there.

When I found out that Matt passed away, I was having a bad day at work. I accidentally opened MSN and there was the sad news. I couldn't believe it at first and hoped that it was a hoax. Unfortunately, it wasn't. I cried for two days- the first time I cried over the passing of someone I haven't met. He had that effect on me and I couldn't understand why. My friend who ran the marathon told me that perhaps, my spirit connected with his. And then I had a rethink. Perhaps it was my love for food, running and Lake District that connected me to him. But whatever it is, he touched my life in an inspiring and very special way.

To honour Matt, I ran the 3.7 miles that he sadly was unable to finish twice this weekend, just like I did when I lost my son, Keith. They were both very talented individuals. Keith with his art and music, and Matt with his cooking. Perhaps this is also the reason why Matt's death hit me quite hard because another talented and amazing person was taken away too soon.

So, yesterday was my first run this year. My first run in the rain. My first run in miles. My first run with a complete stranger. My first run listening to Keith's favourite songs since November. All to honour my favourite chef.

Then again this morning, I ran the 3.7 miles poignantly for the second time to #FINISHFORMATT with hundreds of runners in London and thousands around the world. The outpouring support from the running community is truly unbelievable. People are coming together and spreading love, kindness and only positive vibes all over the globe. I've never seen my Facebook feed flooded with such warmth and sincere thoughts. The stories shared on the Facebook page created for Matt are awe-inspiring. I am moved every time I read a story on how this unfortunate incident motivated people to run or walk their first 3.7 miles. This to me, is running community at its best and I am very proud and humbled to be a part of it. This has sparked a new hope in me that perhaps there is after all, goodness in humanity.

As of this writing, Matt's Fundraising Page has reached £304,563- 12182% more than his original target. Simply amazing.

And to Matt,  I may not have had the chance to meet you and at least eat one of your out of this world dishes, but you will always be my favourite chef. I promise I will learn how to cook one of your dishes in your memory. You will hold a special place in my foodie and running heart. Rest now, beautiful soul. Keep cooking amazing dishes in heaven and hopefully, you will get to meet my angel Keith one day in that beautiful place where you both now live.


My Experience As A Solo Traveller In Madrid

Sunday, 22 April 2018

I finally reunited with my travel buddy yesterday after five days of wandering around the Spanish capital on my own. First of all, I never thought that I could easily find my way in Madrid considering my ridiculously poor sense of direction. Well actually, my previous trips to Madrid probably helped, although I can only remember the places that I went to but not how to get there. Luckily, citymapper works in Madrid so it saved me (although not totally) from getting lost. So, on Monday morning after J and I stuffed ourselves with pastries and delicious cured meats, I geared up for my solo adventure.

My first stop was at The Almudena Cathedral, approximately 15-minute walk from Central Madrid and located just beside the Palacio Real de Madrid. It has become my tradition to visit at least a church when I travel. I chose Almudena because I saw photos of its ornate ceiling on instagram and I was intrigued. So, after giving my thanks to the Lord (yes I did), I looked up and was amazed by the geometrical artwork on the ceiling. The church is new and was only consecrated in 1993. I spent almost an hour inside the church admiring the ceiling, the golden altar, the pipe organ which was also stunning and the gothic-style columns. 
Cathedral de Santa Maria la Real de la Almudena
Calle Bailen 10, 28013 Madrid  Spain

I was getting lost in the beauty of the church when I realised it was time to move on. I made my way to Mercado San Miguel, a foodie haven where you can find just about anything you want to eat in Madrid- tapas, ham, cheese, pastries, baked goods, canned foods, etc. It was still closed when I got there so I went for a little walk around the area to keep warm as it was a bit chilly that day. The market opened at 10am and already, it was packed with locals and tourists alike. It was as I remembered it- busy and full of mouth-watering food and meticulously arranged fruits and vegetables. I decided not to eat there this time because I wanted to eat churros.

Less than 5-minute walk from Mercado San Miguel is the most famous and oldest (it opened in 1894) chocolate shop in Madrid- Chocolateria San Gines. When I arrived, there was already a long queue (it's open 24 hours) but it didn't take long before I was seated. They have a ticketing system which is very efficient in my opinion, and they mainly serve churros and chocolate. When my crispy-looking churros and perfectly thick chocolate came, I was in heaven. Definitely the most delicious churros I have ever tasted. The churros were crunchy and not oily, and the chocolate was deliciously sweet.
Chocolateria San Gines
Pasadizo San Gines, 5, 28013 Madrid Spain

Still in churros heaven, I walked back to our hotel for an afternoon nap. When I woke up, I hung out in the balcony and read my book until it was time to meet up with J. We went to dinner with his colleagues that evening.

The following day, I visited Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple. My memory of this place was a blur. I had no memory of how I got their last time, so I followed a group of school kids and that led me to a hill overlooking the city and the Almudena Cathedral. When I walked further up, the temple revealed itself to me. I enjoyed taking photos of the mirrored images, but what I was very pleased about was the fact that I learned how to do a proper selfie that day. :)
Templo de Debod
Paseo de Rosales, Madrid Spain

Happy that I learned a new skill, I passed by Plaza Mayor on my way to Calle Miguel Servet. Here's the story: I know that I may have missed the beautiful cherry blossoms in London (Regent's Park and St James's Park), and so I tried my luck in Madrid. I read somewhere that apparently, Calle Miguel Servet has a line of cherry blossoms. I walked almost half an hour away from central Madrid, through what I could only assume as the rougher part of the city. As the streets were getting quieter, I became more and more insecure. It dawned on me that I was the only tourist-looking person in the neighbourhood. Walking through that long stretched of very unfamiliar street, I feared that I could get mugged on broad daylight. I continued to walk anxiously until I finally saw the street that I was looking for. But I realised I was late. Perhaps, too late because all that greeted me was this:

No cherry blossoms sadly. I didn't bother to explore the area anymore so I went back to Plaza Mayor to have lunch. Now, in Plaza Mayor, it's always hard to identify which restaurant is a tourist trap or not. So, I consulted  and they recommended Cerveceria Eboli for their Galician-style octopus. I devoured my octopus al fresco while listening to a couple of performers playing "I did it my way" and people-watching at the same time. My day couldn't have been any better than that.
Cerveceria Eboli
Plaza Mayor 4, 28012 Madrid

On the third day, I decided to visit Retiro Park. I walked through Gran Via, apparently the street that never sleeps. It's one of the busiest streets in Madrid, filled with cinemas, cafes, bars, nightclubs, retail shops and theatres. After about 1.7km walk, I finally hit Puerta de Alcala.

Retiro Park's entrance is adjacent to Puerta de Alcala. A few metres away from the entrance is the lake where you can find the statue of Alfonso XII (King of Spain from 1874-1885). I was still hoping that somehow I would see some blossoms in the park but unfortunately didn't. I remembered the sculptured cypress trees in the park, so I went to look for that instead.
Retiro Park
Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid

By this time, I thought I have explored Madrid enough to say that I have really experienced the city. I very much enjoyed walking through the tiny streets before the shops were opened. Surprisingly, Madrid has been quite chilly in the mornings even when the sun was up. I stopped at every tapas restaurant that looked appealing to me. In the end, I was overwhelmed by how much tapas and jamon were on offer that I decided to stick with my  own "list of restaurants to try in Madrid".

On my fourth day as a solo traveller wannabe, I was contemplating whether to go for another long walk or to lounge in the hotel balcony instead so I could finish my book. In the end, I thought I might as well take that 45 minute walk to pay respect to our Philippine National Hero- The Gat Jose Rizal.

So, off I went to Avenida de Filipinas to find the statue. The area was unsurprisingly quiet. In fact, I was the only tourist in the area at that time. And when I asked someone to take a photo of me with the statue, she gave me that "seriously?" look and a sarcastic chuckle. I didn't care as I know I probably won't see her again. Besides, she took my photo anyway so what have I got to lose, right?

After that very long walk, I decided to treat myself to one of the best paellas in Madrid (apparently)- Rosi La Loca Taberna. It was my second attempt to eat at the restaurant actually, and I wasn't disappointed. The guy who greeted me at the door spoke to me in Spanish despite telling him that "hablo poco Espanol". I kept hearing him say, "guapa and hermosa", while looking at me from head to toe. It was only when he asked me if I was alone (solo) in Madrid that I realised I was probably being chatted up. I confidently said I was with my husband but he was in a meeting so he couldn't join me for lunch. His face dropped then gave me the menu instead. Lol.

Anyway, their paella was indeed the best paella I've had in Spain so far. Not that I have been to many places in Spain but I had some in  Madrid already before and then in Barcelona and Toledo, but they were not as good. I would definitely recommend the restaurant to anyone who is looking for a good paella in Madrid.
Rosi La Loca Taberna
Calle Cadiz 4, 28012 Madrid

Before I went back to our hotel that afternoon, I dropped by Antigua Casa Talavera in Calle Isabel La Catolica, a store with a massive collection of handmade ceramic plates, saucers, bowls, cups, jars, tiles and a lot more. I had to ring the bell to be let in. The door was opened by the lovely owner who gave me a brief history of the store. Apparently, he and his wife are the fourth generation to take over the shop. Their products are handmade, from Toledo (not the city he said) and Talavera. At the bottom of some of the products are handwritten names of the family who created them. I was in awe. I wanted to buy one of the plates but I almost choked when I asked for the price. For a standard plate, it was £120 a piece. The owner then said that I had a good taste. I settled with that compliment because I couldn't afford the plate. Haha. I left the store with a £10 bowl (a small one) and a hope that one day, I will be able to go back and buy that beautifully crafted plate. :)

On Friday (my last day as a solo-traveller),I didn't have a plan as such because I thought I have already done everything that I wanted to do in Madrid. I still went for a walk in the morning though, and went back to Calle Mayor, another main road in Madrid. After which, I went back to the hotel to meet up with J and move our luggage to another hotel nearby. For lunch, I went to La Casa del Abuelo. The restaurant was recommended to me by J's boss. He said I must have the sizzling Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp). Reviews were very good to be fair, but because I know how to cook garlic shrimp, I was expecting more. I was not that impressed to be honest. Not to say that I cook it better (perhaps I do), but the shrimps were swimming in butter. It was tasty but it was lacking something. Perhaps it would have been better if it was less buttery?
La Casa del Abuelo
Calle de la Victoria, 12, 28012 Madrid

My adventure as a solo-traveller ended with a bubble tea from a popular cafe in Gran Via called Wowble. It was nothing special but the bubbles were interesting as they popped inside my mouth. They were not the bubbles (or tapioca) I am used to really, but it was good enough to satisfy my cravings.

So, I guess it has been a successful solo travel for me. Maybe not quite a solo travel really as I am technically with J, but I am happy that I was able to explore Madrid on my own and made new memories with myself and then today, with J. I particularly enjoyed my morning leisurely walks. I might have had one too many tapas as I feel like I have gained at least 5 kilos in the last five days, but I am happy because I got to eat some really nice food.

I also learned a few lessons during those five days which I will be writing about separately in the next few days.


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