A Very Different Christmas Indeed

Friday, 25 December 2020

On the 22nd of December, on my way home from work, I passed through one of the busiest streets in London. Three days prior, the government imposed Tier 4 restrictions in London. This meant that non-essential shops would close. What would normally be the busiest days in Oxford Street suddenly became relatively quiet. By relatively quiet, I mean there were still a few people out and about, however much less than what it would normally be this time of the year. The people I saw no longer carrying shopping bags, instead they held their phones just taking photos of the famous Christmas lights. The Christmas carols only heard from the trikes speeding along the street. As I walked through the blue light icy arches of South Molton Street in Mayfair, I was reminded that in 3 days, it will be Christmas day. 

In the last five years, we have been spending Christmas with J's family in Newcastle. We would normally leave London on the 23rd of December, but this year, we opted to stay in London. We wanted to protect J's family and ourselves, most especially because a new variant of the Coronavirus was recently discovered, which apparently is more contagious than the previous one. We were both willing to sacrifice one Christmas away from family for more Christmases to spend with them. 

Came the 24th of December, Christmas Eve in the Philippines. I have not spent Christmas with my family since 2001. Not that it really matters as we are used to spending Christmas apart, however I also have not gone home in more than five years. This really makes it more difficult for me as my parents are getting older. I know they are only in their early 70's, but they are not healthy. They now have a few co-morbidities which have worried me more this year. The only consolation I have right now is the fact that I can speak to them everyday via messenger calls or video calls. I wish my parents were healthier, but I am still grateful that they both made it this year. This is the reason why I was so happy to see my mother joining the rest of my family during their noche buena, albeit only a short while and on a wheelchair- something that has changed in the last two months. This is just one of the little things that I am grateful for right now.

This morning as I prepared for our Christmas lunch, I thought of those children who may not have food to eat today. I was reminded of the people who lost their homes and livelihood from typhoon Ulysses. I wished I could have done more than donating my coffee money and my food allowance. But then again, every little helps. One day, I know I will be able to help more. I thought of those who lost a loved one or two during the pandemic. I thought of those who have lost and are still losing their jobs. Those who remain in the hospital, potentially fighting for their lives. I thought about those who will be spending Christmas alone. I thought of my friends who are working tirelessly to look after the sick. I wished the world was a better place.

At around midday, we had a zoom Christmas catch up with J's family. It is J's first Christmas away from his family since he was born. It felt very different not being physically with them on Christmas day. The kids have grown- it's amazing how they've changed in a span of a year. What would normally be at least four days worth of exchanging stories, sharing laughters, playing with the kids and creating new memories have been compressed into two hours.  It's a change that I am still trying to come into terms with. And this is just one of the sacrifices that we have to make to keep each other safe. 

As I write this blog, I reflect on the little things that I am grateful for this Christmas. As J would say, we are already very lucky to have a roof over our head, food on our table and clothes to wear. All the gifts that we have received this Christmas are only secondary. What matters most is the fact that although we are miles away from our families, we remain united in our hearts. For me, I was happy to see my family happy despite what we had to go through in the last two months. No fancy gifts for us, but for me, the most expensive gifts are the ones you actually feel inside your heart, not on your hands.

I know that a lot of people are spending Christmas differently this year. I hope that some people who are able to celebrate Christmas with their loved-ones realise how lucky they are. 

To those who are going through something right now, I still hope that you find happiness, no matter how little, in the spirit of Christmas. Please remember that this too shall pass, and you are not alone.


The Bittersweet Goodbye I Didn't Expect

Saturday, 5 December 2020

So, on Wednesday, another chapter of my work book has ended. This one was relatively short, but I know that my job there is done. For the first time in my whole professional career as a nurse, I left a job in less than 2 years. As unusual as it is, I know that there was only so much I could do to make things work in that place. I am at a point in my life now where my time and effort is so precious that I would rather spend it in a place where I can perform my role at an optimum level. 

You see, I took the job knowing the history of the place because I knew at that time that I was the manager they needed. I knew I had a purpose and rightly, three months into my role, I was serving that purpose. I have always believed that the staff are as equally important as the patients. This is the reason why as a manager, I have always prioritised my staff's well-being. I believe that staff who are happy and healthy mentally and physically, have more ability to deliver a safe and high standard of care to our patients. This means investing time and energy on them, giving them limitless motivation and encouragement, empowering them to reach their full potential, taking time to listen to their endless complaints and issues, be it personal or work-related, giving them the respect that they deserve, making them feel valued and appreciated in every opportunity you can get, treating them equal, treating them as human beings and simply just being kind to them. I firmly believe that if I look after my staff well, then it is easier for me to implement positive changes and to maintain compliance. Saying that, I know that not everyone didn't appreciate me as a person, nor the positive changes that I wanted to bring to the work place. Oftentimes, it only takes one person to ruin the whole positive experience. In my case, there were at least three.

To be honest, I actually planned to stay until I am able to build a more  positive culture.  However, I started seeing "red flags", and hearing things that really made me very uncomfortable and unsafe in a way that I couldn't trust some people not to put me into trouble, so I made the drastic decision to leave. I realised that their values are not in line with mine. I can put up with anything at work, but when it comes to my values, this is one thing that I am not willing to compromise. I still believe that I was the right person for the job, however it was not the right environment for me to lead. 

My plan was to leave quietly as I was only there for 7 months. However, some of the staff knew better. I started receiving thoughtful gifts the week before I was due to leave. The first gifts I received were from the best nurse I've met in the ward. She also gave me a very thoughtful card and a very meaningful text that really touched me. Albeit she is not a permanent staff, I saw her dedication and her genuine intentions in ensuring that the ward is always safe for the patients and for the staff. I felt her sincerity whenever she was at work. She has patience in supporting staff and she is very good with patients. I would really love to work with her again one day.

Then I received an orchid and a bottle of champagne from someone that I truly respect. To be honest, this person is holding the place together and she deserves far more credit than what is due. She is one of the reasons why I feel sad about leaving. I wanted to help build her confidence and give her more support so that she can perform her role more effectively. I know she is more capable than what other people think. I have faith in her and I was willing to work with her closely so she can reach her full potential. I feel sorry that I had to leave her. But I hope that somehow, in that short period of time, she learned a thing or two from me.

The morning before the day I left, a bouquet of flowers was waiting for me in my office. It was from one of the most passionate nurses I have ever met in my entire nursing career. I know she gets misinterpreted sometimes, but I know that she always means well. In fact, she is one of those nurses that I would gladly have in my team. She knows what is best for the patients and for the ward, and she has no reservations in showing this or asking for what needs to be done. I truly admire her feistiness. I also hope to be able to work with her again one day.

Honestly, I have left at least four jobs in the last 20 years, and I have never felt this special on my last day at work. I guess what made it so special this time is the fact that I was only there for a short period of time. The Senior Management Team came into my office before I went home on my last day and handed me some gifts. The Hospital Director even gave a heartwarming speech. None of this I really expected. I was blessed to have worked with a senior team that is very supportive. They were always there for me when I needed some guidance. And if I were to be given a choice or a chance in the future, I would still love to work with them.

I became quite emotional during my last day because I received so many gifts not only from the permanent staff but also from bank and agency staff. But more than the gifts, it was their heartfelt messages that truly moved me. One of the bank staff even came to see me in her own time just so she could say goodbye. Words are truly not enough to express how grateful I am for these people. 

I know I have written a lot already, but I can't finish this blog without mentioning one of the most touching cards that I've ever received in my whole professional life. It was from a staff that I truly believe in. I know she has potentials, but she needs the right guidance from the right person to fully realise this. She is also one of the strongest nurses I know. I hope and pray that she gets the right support and motivation that she needs in order to progress. And so, her letter goes:

Those roses, vibrating at 320mHz, the highest frequency of all tangible things, 
are a gift for you.

Pink, to wish you a life full of grace, joy and gratitude
Orange, for enthusiasm and passion
Red, for Love, beauty and perfection

Thank you for everything you have done for us during these tough times.
You are my role model and I will never forget your advice, "work and live by example".

You have demonstrated exceptional qualities as a leader and I wish you 
all the best in your new position.

Not even for a second doubt yourself and your Light.

Of course I cried when I was reading this. She also said that she will continue to be nice to everyone from cleaners, surgeons to kitchen staff. And when I asked her why she was telling me this, she said because that's what I did, and that I was nice to everyone, so she wanted to continue this. I mean, this left me pretty speechless. I wasn't expecting such kind words. These things inspire me to become better not only as a manager, but most importantly as a person.

If I can be honest, I wasn't sure how much impact I've made in the workplace as I am not one that counts. However, I would like to believe that somehow in my own little way, I have made a difference in some people's lives. All these by doing the right things and being my authentic self.

I am sad to be leaving some people behind, at the same time I am looking forward to a new challenge in a bigger place. I believe that my 7 months tenancy in this job had a purpose and there is definitely a reason for everything that happened. I would like to believe that God is preparing me for something bigger and brighter.

The most important thing in this whole journey though is the fact that I left my job on a positive note, with so much integrity and with my dignity intact. And yes, I would like to believe that there are no bridges burned.


My Favourite Afternoon Tea Experiences In London Through The Years

Friday, 6 November 2020

My love for Afternoon Tea started with a simple cream tea (scones, clotted cream, jam and tea). It was around 2006, at one of the cafes in St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. Scones became my favourite tearoom treat following that trip, and I was delighted when I found out that scones are actually an important part of Afternoon Tea. Ever since that discovery, I have been having an Afternoon Tea with friends at least once a year.

Afternoon Tea is a quintessential British tradition. It was introduced in 1840 by Anna, Duchess of Bedford. I read somewhere that for Anna, the time between lunch and dinner was quite long and that she would normally get hungry around 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon. So, she requested tea, bread, butter, pastries and cakes to fill in the void until dinner was served around 8pm. Then she started inviting friends to join her for tea in their drawing room- and that's how the Afternoon Tea was born.

Now, there is a difference between an Afternoon Tea and a High Tea in that Afternoon Tea is often served in mid-afternoon and consists of sandwiches, scones, sweets and cakes. High Tea on the other hand, is less fancy than Afternoon Tea (according to experts). It is served after 5pm and consists of meat, fish and vegetables. It is referred as High Tea because historically, it was served on high tables and high chairs to working class people at the end of working day.

There is also this unending debate of whether you should spread the clotted cream or the jam first on the scones. Personally, I always spread the clotted cream first before the jam because I find it easier this way and it's not as messy. Apparently, the Queen of England always spreads the jam first, so there you have it!

So yes, I love Afternoon Tea so much that I threw my own Afternoon Tea party at home during my lockdown birthday because I didn't want to break my annual birthday tradition. Through the years, I've been blessed to have experienced some of the best Afternoon Teas in London, and I want to share this with you. 

1. The Ritz- 150 Piccadilly, St James's
- The Ritz is first on my list because I went there with one of the most important people in my life and we had a breathtaking experience. The Ritz in my opinion, sets the standard for Afternoon Teas in London. Their Afternoon Tea is indeed one to beat. The Afternoon Tea is served in The Palm Court, which is a true definition of grand. Everything is immaculate, from the furniture, to the tableware to the service. If there is one place anyone should go to for the ultimate Afternoon Tea experience, it should be The Ritz. Their selection of tea is not that extensive, so it makes it easier to choose. I had the Dragon Pearls and Farrah had their Ritz Royal English tea. Their sandwiches are some of the best sandwiches I've had (the chicken breast with tarragon creamed mayonnaise was my favourite) and they were served endlessly. I mean our plates were never left empty until we said we were okay. The scones were impeccable and their selection of pastries and cakes were delectable. The Ritz has a dress code: jacket and tie for gentlemen and no jeans or sportswear for both ladies and gentlemen. Current price for afternoon tea is £53.50pp, and they do not include a discretionary service on the final bill ( to maintain their traditional values apparently).

2. The Savoy- The Savoy Hotel, Strand 
- To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure if I should include my Afternoon Tea experience at The Savoy or not. But I decided to write about it for the sake of sharing my experience. Essentially, my ex brought me at The Savoy a few years ago, perhaps to try and make me feel better after hurting me. It was a surprise (I think). The Afternoon Tea was (and still is) served at the glamorous Thames Foyer. What impressed me the most was the glass dome atrium and the gazebo underneath it, where a pianist plays heartwarming music. The food was a selection of finger sandwiches, scones, seasonal pastries and signature cakes. Their selection of teas is extensive, ranging from black, green, white and infusion teas. It was December when we went, so we got treated with the sight of their stunning giant Christmas tree and beautiful Christmas ornaments. Current Traditional Afternoon Tea price is £65pp and dress code is smart casual. (P.S. I have no photos at The Savoy because I deleted them all). :) 

3. Harrods Tea Rooms - 87-135 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge
- It was a celebration of friendship with two of my favourite work colleagues- Louiegi and Ate Janet. The three of us went through some stressful times in 2019, so this Afternoon Tea was our treat to ourselves for successfully surviving a challenging year at work. Harrods has their own selection of teas in a separate menu. The tea menu was quite extensive, it made it quite difficult to choose. Their sandwiches were perfectly cut and lined on the bottom of the 3-tiered cake stand. Their chicken coronation sandwich inspired me to create my own for my birthday this year. Their imperfectly shaped scones were freshly baked and gloriously tasty. The too-beautiful-to-eat patisseries were delicately placed on top of the tiered cake stand. The service was friendly and obliging. We were having so much fun chatting that we didn't realise the restaurant was closing. We were the last ones to leave the restaurant and the staff didn't pressure us at all. This made the experience a whole lot more meaningful. Current Afternoon Tea price is £59pp. There is no dress code specified on their website, however bloggers and critics recommend smart casual. 

4. Hotel Cafe Royal -  68 Regent Street
- My Afternoon Tea experience at the Hotel Cafe Royal was not about the food nor the opulent Oscar Wilde Lounge. It was about the company I was with. Whilst I am used to solemn afternoon tea, when my friends from Chicago visited, I experienced an Afternoon Tea like no other. It was with the company of lovely and happy ladies celebrating their 50th birthdays and 33 years of friendship. It was fun to say the least. They sang along with the piano to the tune of Just the Way You Are by Billy Joel and That's What Friends Are For. After the pianist played Happy Birthday, they sang it in acapella one more time- with celebratory candles lit up on top of the delicacies served. This celebration was well documented with countless photos and videos. It was a different experience for me and I quite enjoyed it. Current Afternoon Tea price is from £65pp and dress code is smart casual.

5. The Goring- Beeston Pl, Westminster
- Located just across from Buckingham Palace, The Goring Hotel is a known favourite to royals. Kate Middleton was reported to have stayed at the hotel the night before her wedding, and the Queen apparently attends the annual festive lunch in their dining rooms. But I didn't choose The Goring for an Afternoon Tea for those reasons. Afternoon Tea at The Goring has been mentioned in most blogs and by most "influencers" on instagram, and this piqued my curiosity. So, I asked Kuya Dennis if he would come to The Goring for an Afternoon Tea with me and he happily obliged. The hotel oozes luxury and class. The Afternoon Tea was served in the veranda that is overlooking their private garden. The staff were very warm and accommodating. We asked to be moved to a corner table by the window and our request was granted without much ado. The food was less impressive than I thought, but I enjoyed the egg sandwich. The scones were  what I expected but the cakes were a bit too sweet to eat. In the end, we had to take them home. One thing that I loved about the whole experience was the fact that we were allowed to stay for almost four hours. Their Traditional Afternoon Tea is currently at £50pp and dress code is smart casual.

6. The Sanderson Hotel- 50 Berner's Street
- The first themed Afternoon Tea that I have ever been to and it was a wonderful experience because I shared it with two important people. The theme was and still is "Mad Hatter's". It is everything that could take you to the whimsical world of Alice in Wonderland. Their Afternoon Tea menu is hidden in a classic book- in our case "Emma". They don't have a tea menu, instead they are presented in four small jars on a silver tray. The food was presented in a very unique way. When we went (not sure if they change their menu) there were chocolate crumbles on a plant pot, a chessboard mocha gateau, a blue caterpillar made of chocolate and pistachio, marshmallow mushrooms and a "Drink Me" potion. It was indeed a delicious treat. Current Afternoon Tea price is from £48. Dress code is smart casual, no fancy dress.

7. Sketch - 9 Conduit St, Mayfair
- Sketch comes up almost every time I google "best afternoon tea in London", and now I know why. As our catch-up tradition, Farrah and I went for an Afternoon Tea in Sketch for the first time in 2018. If you love baby pink, this place is definitely for you. Their Afternoon Tea menu was a bit interesting as it tells you a bit of story about what to expect. First was the tea master who brings you a cart of specialised tea mostly from China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India. Then, their version of "egg and soldiers" in the form of light mousse and cheese sticks was served to start with. Then a gentleman in pink suit known as the Caviar Man came to serve us a teaspoon of caviar to go with the eggs and soldiers. It was all impressive from the beginning until the end. The sandwiches were a selection of coronation chicken, salmon and cream, asparagus cucumber and ricotta and foie gras tartelette. The petits gateau consisted of pistachio and apricot cake, marshmallow, white peach and verbena cheesecake, vanilla and strawberry battenberg and caramel and chocolate eclair. The food feast didn't end there as there was a Victoria sponge served at the end. Also, take note of those little messages hidden in their teaware. I must admit, we were defeated by the food. This is an experience that anyone who loves Afternoon Tea shouldn't miss. Current Afternoon Tea price is £59. Dress code is not specified but according to bloggers, they ask their guests to "dress with a sense of style and character". :)

8. The Connaught- Carlos Pl, Mayfair
- The Connaught is another popular place for an Afternoon Tea and I have always wanted to go here. So, when my friend asked me recently to look for a restaurant where we can bring one of our friends for an Afternoon Tea, I chose The Connaught. Our friend is moving to Australia for good, so this was her leaving do. Also, this was her first Afternoon Tea experience in London so we were pleased to share this experience with her. The Connaught's Afternoon Tea is served at Jean-Georges. For my tea, I chose the Thé de la Longévité which is a fresh taste of apricots and vanilla. When the food came, I knew I was in for an amazing food experience. They were presented exquisitely and tasted divine. The egg and dill was my favourite amongst the sandwiches. The pastries looked so delicate, I didn't want to eat them. It was also my first time to eat wholemeal scones and it was delicious. Current Afternoon Tea price is £52.50. There seem not to be a dress code policy, but I probably will say smart casual.

9.  Corinthia- 10 Whitehall Pl, Westminster
- After the lockdown was lifted, my friend Pearl and I decided to meet up after 5 months of not seeing each other. And what a better way to celebrate this than an Afternoon Tea at the Corinthia! The Corona Virus measures were reassuring, we both felt safe. Well, apart from other diners roaming around the Crystal Moon Lounge without masks on. The afternoon tea experience was marvelous. What's unique about this experience was the fact that there was no three-tiered cake stand on the table. The delectable sandwiches were served first, meticulously arranged on a rectangular serving plate. Then the scones followed in a box with a message that says,"Let's have some tea and talk about happy things" which was very appropriate at the time. And then a floor standing tiered cake stand was brought to our table, followed by a trolley of mouth-watering sweet delicacies. The staff patiently went through each and one of them then one by one, she put the sweets on our plates and left it on the stand for us to take when we were ready. The service was attentive, but unobtrusive. The staff was actually very caring, ensuring that we were okay all throughout. Current price for their Traditional Afternoon Tea is £55pp. Dress code is smart casual.

10.  Dalloway Terrace - The Bloomsbury Hotel, 16-22 Great Russel St, Fitzrovia
- Definitely one of the most instagrammable restaurants in London, the decoration as well as the Afternoon Tea menus in Dalloway Terrace change every season. I've only been there in the winter and indeed, it was magnificent. Of course, this is another unforgettable experience in my books as I was with one of my favourite people and it was her first time in London, and her first Afternoon Tea experience, too! The sandwiches selection was small compared to other Afternoon Teas that I've had but it was good nonetheless. Smaller options also meant that I was able to taste all the food without feeling too full. More than the food and decorations, I mostly enjoyed my time with Kristale- so much laughter and "hugot" stories. I hope that one day she will be able to come to London so we can go for an Afternoon Tea again. Current Afternoon Tea price is £35pp and dress code is smart casual.

11.  Radio Rooftop - ME London, 336-337 Strand
- When one of my university close friends visited from California, I brought her to one of the restaurants that I have always wanted to visit - the Radio Rooftop at the ME Hotel. I wanted to go there for the amazing views, but that was just a bonus. The part of the whole experience that I loved the most was the fact that I was able to catch up with my friend over Afternoon Tea- also her first in London. I requested a table by the window to enjoy the view and we got just that. The food was unique in a way- from creme brulee to gin and tequila infused sweets. There was only about 6 loose leaf teas to choose from if I can remember it right. Their Afternoon Tea menu has changed since we went last year. Current price is £45pp and dress code is smart casual.

12. Townhouse at the Kensington Hotel- 109-113 Queen's Gate, Kensington
- Who would have thought that there is actually a London Landmarks inspired Afternoon Tea? It was one of the most special Afternoon Tea experiences that I had because I spent it with Ethan. He is obviously not a fan of Afternoon Tea, but her mom and I are. The only reason why he came with us was because we told him that it will be a London Landmarks theme. It was rather clever how they managed to create such wonderful London Landmarks inspired sweets. The food was even served on a London Eye inspired cake stand. Everything about this Afternoon Tea experience was wonderful- from the warm and welcoming ambience to the flawless service and the delicious food. Current Afternoon Tea price is £42pp. Dress code is smart casual.

13. Kona Restaurant- Taj Hotel, 51 Buckingham Gate
- My friend Pearl and I have this yearly tradition of celebrating our birthdays with a visit to a flower field, followed by an Afternoon Tea. In 2019, we chose an Alice in Wonderland themed Afternoon Tea at the Kona restaurant, which is located in the 5-star Taj hotel. The restaurant from what I can remember was simple, yet classy. Our table was beautifully adorned with pearls, giant playing cards and artificial flowers. The food when it came seemed a lot, however it was really just the right amount for two. As it was an Alice in Wonderland theme, the sweets included macarons designed as a clock and queen of hearts mango tart. There was also a "drink me" strawberry potion which was rather delicious. They now have changed their theme to another Alice's Adventure in Wonderland character that is the "Queen of Hearts". Current price is £45pp and dress code is smart casual.

14. The Tea Terrace- House of Fraser, 5th Floor, 318 Oxford St
- We brought our little Princess Poppy here for a fairy-tale afternoon tea experience. What inspired us to go here was the Cinderella-style carriage which we had to book in advance for £12.95 per person. You can also hire a  Cinderella Princess actress separately if you want the whole Cinderella experience. This Afternoon Tea experience was really not for me and Kristy, but for Poppy. She enjoyed the experience so we were happy. Minimum spend is £21pp for adults and £10.95 for children below 12 years old. No dress code as far as I remember.

15. Brigit's Bakery - 6-7 Chandos Place, Covent Garden
- B Bakery's Afternoon tea is British tradition with a French twist. Their savoury sandwiches consisted of quiche, mini-burgers  and mini French breads. Their sweet delicacies were a selection of chocolate cupcakes, macarons and tarts. I really enjoyed my first Afternoon Tea experience here and so on one of my birthdays, I ordered an Afternoon Tea picnic for £19. And if you fancy a tour of London whilst having an Afternoon Tea they also have an Afternoon Tea Bus Tour for £45pp. I have yet to try this as I am afraid I might get dizzy. For a traditional Afternoon Tea at Brigit's, price is £35pp. No dress code as far as I am aware.

In addition to the above, I also had a very good Afternoon Tea experience in Thomas Burberry Cafe which is located just behind the Burberry flagship store in Regent St. J had his first afternoon tea here with me. We also shared this beautiful afternoon tea experience with Poppy and her parents. Another place that I would want to go back to for an Afternoon Tea is The Delaunay. Unfortunately, when my friend (whom I so look forward to seeing) and I went to the Delaunay, we were sat in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by screaming little girls. It was so difficult to understand what my friend was saying. However, with quite a cheap Viennese Afternoon Tea at £19.75, it is worth a second chance. My friend Kristy and I also went to Hush which is located in a quiet courtyard in Mayfair. I loved it there because it was cosy and the food didn't disappoint. It was overall a pleasant experience with a very good friend.

I go for Afternoon Tea because I genuinely love the tradition and how it's carried out. It is also an opportunity for me to indulge myself and spend a special time with friends who are willing to share this wonderful experience with me. 

I had my first Afternoon Tea without fully knowing the etiquette. I honestly didn't know this even existed. As someone who likes to dress up, it is normal for me to go to restaurants in smart casual attire anyway. As for which of the food you should eat first, I always start at the bottom of the tier stand, which are selection of sandwiches then followed by the scones. I always eat the pastries and the sweets last. I love green tea, so more often than not, I order green tea. I hold the teacup the way I am comfortable with. When I feel playful, I will extend my pinky finger for fun- and for the camera. However, extending your pinky finger is apparently unacceptable, so I will probably not do it again. :)

If you want to learn more about the British Afternoon Tea Etiquette, Corinthia has a very helpful article on their website, which I only discovered when I was writing this blog.

So, are you going to join me for an Afternoon Tea one day?


"Are You Strong?"

Sunday, 11 October 2020

A few months ago, someone I just met asked me that question. I wasn't sure if I should take offence, or just completely ignore the question. I thought, "How dare you ask me that question. You don't know me. You don't know how my journey has been". For me, asking someone you barely know if they are strong is quite insensitive, if not rude. But, as I listened to what the person was saying, it became clearer to me why she asked that question. 

You see, I have been a nurse in the UK for almost two decades now. My journey has not been that easy. I went through an eye of a needle to get to where I am today. I have been rejected for multiple senior roles in favour of nurses less qualified than me. Less experienced than me. I was hurt, yes especially because I have shown nothing but loyalty to the workplace. But I didn't allow those failures to demotivate me. I continued to work hard with integrity until almost a decade later, when my biggest promotion came. I became a Nurse Practitioner- the closest thing to achieving my dream of becoming a doctor. My interview for the role became my standard and since then, I nailed every first interview that I had. Well, I only had 4 interviews since. 

In 2012, I was forced to leave my dream job as a Nurse Practitioner  in Bristol because I had to move to London. Having been in one place for over a decade, it was very difficult for me to find the confidence to look for a job in London- where it was and still is more competitive and complex. Regardless of my fear in starting over again and working in big hospitals, I went for an interview at St Thomas' Hospital - one of the best and biggest hospitals in London. I went for the interview only to try. I wasn't even serious. I prepared my presentation the day before - which I didn't usually do. I would prepare days in advance, as historically, I always got nervous when it came to presentations (I still do now to be honest). To say the least, I got the job as a Clinical Nurse Specialist. Despite my struggles with confidence (caused by some people who made me feel inadequate), I had a good experience at St Thomas'. However, things turned for the worse when I returned from New Zealand. It was quite obvious that some people didn't appreciate me coming back to work. My confidence was totally knocked down. When I confided to one of my closest friends at work, she reassured me by saying that they wouldn't have known that I was struggling with my confidence because my performance didn't change one bit. I was apparently still the same CNS everyone looked up to. What I struggled the most was working with some people who made me feel like I didn't exist on most days. I was prepared to put up with this for longer, however a potential move to Scotland compelled me to resign. We didn't end up going to Scotland, but I didn't retract my resignation, despite the Head of Nursing and a number of surgeons asking me to stay. The Head of Nursing even told me that in 5 years, she is retiring and I could potentially be her replacement. Instead, I took this opportunity to fill in the missing gap in my nursing career- and that is a managerial role.

And so I moved to the private healthcare to do this. It was my first experience working in the private sector, in a specialty that I never worked in. I was very nervous when I had my interview. But after my presentation, the panel said I didn't leave them any room for questions because I apparently have answered all their questions (one thing that I have consistently heard since my Nurse Practitioner interview). The Head of Nursing told me that I should be proud of myself for a very well done interview and that I didn't have any reason to be nervous. She empowered me from day 1, hence no matter how many struggles I had to go through in the last 2 years with the company, I became a successful manager.

Yes, successful despite how much some people pushed me beyond my boundaries. A lot of people made me doubt myself and my clinical abilities. I managed some of the most difficult people that I have ever come across with in my entire nursing career. Nurses that I thought never existed in this compassionate world of nursing. I managed some of the most negative people that I've ever met in my life. The kind of people who would suck the energy out of you every single day. People who didn't have any good things to say about the workplace. People who were so unhappy and ungrateful for any good thing that you do for them. For them, nothing was never enough. They wanted more and they wanted me to do something about every little thing that they complained about. It was honestly the most physically and mentally exhausting job I have ever had in my life. 

Then the redundancy came. Myself and all of my staff were made redundant. You can imagine how low the staff morale was during this time. I was going through the same emotional challenge that everyone was going through. And yet, I had a job to do. I was a manager and still needed to do the job- at the same time I needed to be there for my staff- not as their manager but as their friend. I guess it is fair to say that I did both with equal success. My staff lost interest in the things that we worked hard to achieve as a team. They were obviously very hurt. These were the people who helped me bring the ward to where we wanted it to be. We achieved almost, if not everything that we wanted to achieve. All of a sudden, staff were demotivated. "What's the point? We are going to lose our job anyway.", was the common comment I heard.  I wanted to help them as much as I could. My staff were good people. I knew they were going to be okay no matter what happened. But at the time, it was difficult for anyone to see things that way. I was hurting for them, I wished I could have done more. I offered to edit their CVs. That was the least thing I could do to help them. On the 30th of January, I finally said goodbye to my team, to my people. The people who made my first ever managerial job a special one. The people who took me under their wings and helped me succeed. The people who made my first managerial job a lot easier. The people who allowed me to be who I am and accepted me for all of it. People who made it all worthwhile. My first managerial job was successful because of them. I wouldn't have done it without them. 

Two weeks before the hospital closed, I was asked to look for a temporary clinic in Central London. I searched and searched, made contacts with clinic managers, visited various clinics - all outside working hours, then negotiated. Two working days before we were to close our  own clinic, I found a temporary place to relocate. It was Thursday, and we were due to start the following Monday. I was packing my own office whilst still working. I was also helping in packing the whole ward. I was setting up a new clinic and closing a hospital at the same time. There were only about four of us left by then, doing everything. I was walking back and forth in between the new clinic and the hospital. In fact, I closed the hospital. It was the saddest day of my entire nursing career, but my journey didn't end there.

The temporary clinic didn't have storage area. So everyday for 6 weeks, Ate (one of the best nurses I have ever worked with) and myself were carrying an oxygen tank, two suitcases and a box of dressings from the office to the clinic, at least three blocks away. The clinic was on the 3rd floor. There was a lift initially, but it went out of order for 6 weeks after a few days. This meant that Ate and I had to carry all our stuff via the stairs (108 steps) everyday, for at least a month. There were also numerous issues in between. It was the toughest days of my nursing career, but I have no regrets. As Ate and I would always say to reassure each other, there was a reason why things happened the way they did. We gained an extraordinary experience that we can always looked back to with so much pride. It strengthened our relationship as friends, but most importantly as colleagues. I couldn't imagine doing what we have done with anyone else but Ate. We were meant to endure and get through that journey together. We stayed until the end despite all what we went through. If this wasn't strength and resilience, then I don't know what it was.

If I were to write every single challenge that I went through in my previous job, I will probably end up writing a short story. But despite everything that happened, I would still have chosen to stay if the hospital didn't close. It remained challenging up to the end, but I was in the right place with the right people. And I knew that despite the hardships, I was supported and appreciated by the senior management and most importantly, by my staff.

You see, I don't easily give up on things. If you have been following my blogs, you probably know what I mean. But, you should measure my strength not only when I don't give up on things or people. The more you should measure my strength when I do (give up on things or people)- because it takes a lot of courage and strength to walk away. Walking away should never be a sign of weakness, especially if you are walking away from someone or something that is not worth fighting for. 


That Three-Day Summer Trip To Dorset, England

Sunday, 20 September 2020

It suddenly dawned on me that we might not be able to travel at all this year. With the UK corona virus numbers rising again, a second wave is upon us. Local lockdown has been implemented in some places in the UK, and the government is highly likely to implement lockdown restrictions (again) in London imminently. So for now, all I can do is relieve our travel memories from last year. I have been going through our travel photos because honestly, I miss travelling. This is when I realised that I haven't written about our trip to  Dorset last year.

For so many years, Dorset has been on my list to visit in the UK - only because I wanted to see the Durdle Door. But when I was planning our trip, I realised that I had more reasons to visit Dorset - the land of countless roundabouts (haha). It was indeed a pleasant trip and an experience that is worth sharing.

During this trip, we decided to stay in a town called Evershot- a historical sleepy town, approximately 45 minutes drive to Lulworth where Durdle Door is located. With just over 300 population, Evershot is a perfect place for serene holiday, far from the madding crowd as Thomas Hardy put it.  Thomas Hardy was an English novelist and poet who referred Evershot as Evershead in his book Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The Acorn Inn where we stayed, is a very charming hotel with exceptional service. Our four poster bedroom, the Tess, was cosy and traditional; overlooking the village. The Acorn Inn is a hotel experience I will not forget.

Places we visited:

1. Lulworth
- Lulworth is a part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site and this is where the Durdle Door is found, as well as the Lulworth Cove. It was August when we went and although it was a sunny day, the wind made it quite uncomfortable for us to stay longer. It was also ridiculously busy, with all people of all ages wanting to perhaps take advantage of the good weather for a picnic. It was too busy for my comfort though, so a glimpse of the stone formation that always reminds me of Monet's "The Manneporte" was more than enough for me.

2.  Highcliffe
- Highcliffe was not in our itinerary, however we had a few hours left  before dinner, so when we were searching for places to see on our way to Christchurch, we found the Highcliffe Castle. We took a detour and didn't regret it. Highcliffe Castle is an 18th century castle that was once a home to mr Selfridge (of Selfridges). We were not in the mood to explore the interior that day, but we enjoyed examining its picturesque exterior. Roaming around its beautiful grounds was relaxing. Not forgetting that refreshing coffee break under the tree at the end of the day.

3. Christchurch
-  We only actually went to Christchurch because the restaurant that we wanted to try was in the area. As it was approaching dinner, we didn't have much time to fully explore this riverside town. We, however, had the chance to walk by the quay which was refreshing after a full day of driving from one town to another.

4. Corfe Castle
- Corfe Castle is a village located on top of a hill in Purbeck, between Wareham and Swanage. We went here on our last day in Dorset. The castle is about 10-minute walk from the car park. Once we reached the top of the hill, we were rewarded with a beautiful panoramic view of the village. The entrance fee of £10 per person was definitely worth it. 

Where we ate:

1. The Acorn Inn- 28 Fore St, Evershot DT2 0JW
- As we arrived in Evershot in the evening, we thought it would be best to have dinner locally. The restaurant in the Acorn Inn where we were staying looked credible, so we decided to have dinner there. The restaurant was charming and cosy. The service was efficient and the staff were delightful and accommodating. I loved the fact that the restaurant was not busy at that time. Their menu was inviting, it made me want to order more than what I could actually eat. But I was conscious that we would be eating more in the coming days so I decided to take it slow. I saw whitebait (£7) on the starter menu, so without a question, I ordered this. It was perfectly salty and crunchy to say the least. For the mains, I had the pan roasted Dorset pork loin, black pudding and apple hash pickled fennel broad bean and apricot veloute (£19). My plate looked messy when it came, but the tasteful food overshadowed this. J had the traditional fish and chips (£15.50), which he said was good. I was not going to have dessert as I devoured the whitebait, however I saw sticky toffee pudding (£8) on the dessert menu, so I had to have it. All in all, it was an amazing first dining experience in Dorset and I would recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting the area.

2. Rick Stein - 10-14 Banks Road, Sandbanks, Poole BH13 7QB
- When we had our Cornwall driving trip in 2017, we visited Rick Stein's Cafe in Padstow. The original plan was to dine at the main restaurant, however it was fully booked. To be honest, J and I have been watching his TV shows, and we have always been fascinated by his food. So, we thought that it would be nice to eat at his restaurants whenever we visit the Southwest of England. In Dorset, we drove to Sandbanks only to have lunch there. And perhaps, as you would expect from a Rick Stein restaurant, the food is pricey. We had a langoustine on ice each for starter which was definitely a mistake. In retrospect, I should have ordered something else. I actually went to Rick Stein for their famous fresh crab, so I ordered a whole Singaporean Chilli Crab for my mains. I found the waiter quite judgemental when he asked me if I was sure I could finish the whole crab as it was quite big. I couldn't help but say, "You haven't seen me eat a whole crab, so trust me, I will be fine". He had the shock of his waiting life when he collected my plate and found only empty crab shells. J on the other hand, had their Singaporean seafood curry which looked mediocre, but was surprisingly flavourful. It wasn't one of the best dining experiences for us, but it was worth a try. The panoramic view of the Poole harbour was a treat.

3. The Jetty - 95 Mudeford, Christchurch BH23 3NT
- Our last dinner in Dorset was at The Jetty- a seafood restaurant on water's edge in Christchurch. We didn't make any reservations but were gladly accommodated by the friendly staff. I found the food quite expensive for what it was, but perhaps you pay for the location and the stunning views of the Mudeford Quay. We ordered the octopus salad for starter (the price escapes me) and the Jetty Surf and Turf for £40. 

4. The Pig on the Beach - Manor Rd, Studland, Swanage BH19 3AU
- If I were to go back to Dorset, I would make sure that I stay at The Pig Hotel. I loved the yellow house and the shabby chic interior. It's a shame that we didn't have much time to really explore the property, but I would really love to go back there one day. Lunch at The Pig on the Beach was the best way to end our Dorset trip. The food was amazing and affordable. The staff were brilliant. We were very well looked after despite the fact that we were only there for a quick lunch. The property has incredible sea views. J and I were both impressed that we wished we stayed there even just for a night. Anyway, food-wise, everything was topnotch. We shared a crab cocktail (£9.50) for starter, which inspired me to make my first ever prawn cocktail a few weeks later. J chose the Purbeck sirloin steak (£28) for his mains, whilst I had the buttery Poole Bay plaice (£21). I highly recommend this restaurant.

And that's our Dorset travel experience. It was short but nonetheless a memorable trip.

Ah, I really can't wait to start travelling again. For now, I must remain patient until we are certain that we are totally safe to visit places again.


The Corona Lockdown Made Me Cook It

Sunday, 30 August 2020

The Corona lockdown was definitely a good opportunity for me to upscale my skills in the kitchen. I have been learning how to cook since 2016, when I took a career break and lived in New Zealand for almost a year. I mean, I know I can now cook, however, I have only been cooking food that I am comfortable cooking. In short, I (always) play safe because I am very impatient in the kitchen (this is the only aspect of my life that I am impatient with). So, when the lockdown was imposed, I decided to level up in my cooking. I started cooking food that I would not normally cook, food that I haven't eaten in a very long time and food that I very rarely cook. I even learned how to bake bread, cakes and muffins. So yes, another good thing that came out of the lockdown is the fact that I am now inspired to take on my cooking into new heights. So, watch this space. :)

Allow me to please share the food that I have cooked during the lockdown:

1. Cakes, Breads and Muffins
- I say this as if I actually baked amazing cakes. Haha. Not really. I started baking banana bread during lockdown just like everyone else. I am comfortable with banana bread because I have baked it once before. For me, it's the safest and easiest to bake. Then my birthday came, and I decided to throw an afternoon tea party for myself and J. I was forced to bake scones, cupcakes and my birthday cake. It was my first time to bake a proper cake. I chose pistachio cake because I found the recipe easy. I also baked red velvet cake for the first time. Surprisingly, I pulled it off very well. 

Then I tried to cook pandesal- the first proper bread I ever baked. I mean, it wasn't the most successful pandesal, but it was not bad for a first timer. 

2. Pasta
- Although pasta is easy to cook, I very rarely cooked it before lockdown because J and I were cutting on carbs. But since lockdown, we have declared Fridays as our pasta night, so I have been cooking pasta more than ever before. The pasta dishes that I enjoy cooking the most are fusilli and cheese (because J is not keen on macaroni), creamy carbonara and garlic pasta. 

3. Steak
- To be honest, as much as I love steak, I don't really want to cook it because it is messy to cook. I don't like it when the oil splatter all over. Besides, I was never good at cooking steak. So, whenever I craved for steak, I would go out to eat. Saying that, it is J's favourite so I really made an effort during lockdown to learn how to cook it properly because we couldn't go out. I still haven't got it 100% right, but at least I am a lot better.

4. Filipino dishes
- There are not many Filipino dishes that I can cook, and J can eat. This is the reason why I very rarely cook Filipino dishes at home. During the lockdown, I craved for some really badly so I cooked my favourite kare-kare, liempo and adobo. To be honest, it was only recently that I was able to cook proper adobo. I mean the colour and the taste finally tasted like the adobo back home. Yes, they say that every Filipino should be able to cook adobo. I was one of those who couldn't. But perhaps now I can? Also, I tried to cook sisig for the first time ever and it was definitely a success!

Oh, I also made an no-churn ice cream for the very first time. Of course, I tried my favourite Filipino ice cream flavour- ube.

5. Pancakes
- You probably wouldn't believe me if I say that before lockdown, I couldn't cook pancakes. I mean, I have attempted many times before but they were either bitter (from too much baking powder) or flat and chewy. I was on the verge of completely giving up on pancakes when I came across Food with Mae's recipe. Her 4-ingredients recipe gave me hope. You have no idea how happy I was when I finally saw those fluffy pancakes. J was even wondering why I was so happy. Then I took my pancakes to another level and made my version of "duck and pancakes" (instead of waffles). :)

6. Spam and Corned Beef
- I really can't remember the last time I ate spam and corned beef. But the lockdown gave me the excuse to eat them again after God knows how long. And boy, was I excited!? It was definitely the perfect comfort food for me during the time of lockdown. And of course, garlic rice which I haven't cooked like in forever.

7. Tofu, Dahl and Nando's Chicken
- Okay, I never thought that I would and could actually cook tofu and dahl. These two dishes really never occurred me. And although I knew that I could buy Nando's Peri-Peri sauce, I never really tried using it for cooking. So, thanks to Mindful Chef for inspiring me to cook  dishes that otherwise I wouldn't cook. 

8.  French Onion Soup
- I have always wanted to learn how to cook French onion soup because this is J's favourite starter but for some reason, I never tried it. Perhaps because I thought it was difficult to cook. But I was wrong. In short, my first ever French onion soup was a success. Another dish that I can add to my starter list.

I still have a long way to go, but at least now I am more motivated to cook. :)

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