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Manila

Welcome to Philippines not fun at all. It was not a very warm welcome, as I walked towards the immigration department I was sad to see the huge crowd. It was around midnight and they had less immigration counters given the number of people there at that time. It took two hours to get out of the airport and it was 2am. Luckily my hostel was not very far from the airport and taxi took only 15 minutes. First impression of the Philippines was it was hot and bit chaotic similar to India. Hostel was a big house in a gated community and I had this huge dorm room with 10 bunk beds to myself with fans all over the room.

I asked the hostel staff about cheapest way to go to city center and they gave me directions and told me it would take few jeepney and tricycle rides. I found the tricycles interesting so basically it is one big seat attached to a bicycle or motorcycle on the side and it is low and has that third wheel beneath it. Jeepneys are the local mode of transportation and it is a huge van with glass less windows and accommodates about 20-25 people.

I reached the city center one and a half hour later after few tricycle and jeepney rides. It was lot of fun and reminded me of my childhood days. Another tricycle guy offered to show me around few touristy sites and it was fun seating next to him while he was telling historical significance of the buildings and was quite chatty. It was a good quick tour of intramuros in a style.

I stayed with a local host the next day and met other travelers from different parts of the world. It was interesting to talk about various things. Each one was trying to figure out what to do next and most of them were seasoned travelers. I wish I had more time to spend there, its amazing to share travel stories and get to know a new perspective. It’s always interesting to know about the place where I have lived from another person sometimes they have totally different view which I had never thought about.

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Next day I flew to Cebu, it is an another island in the country about 1 hour by flight from Manila and the flight was delayed by more than 2 hours. My host (K) in Cebu was a teacher from Poland in an international school and had been working there from last 10 months, K planned to go a nearby island for the weekend and asked me if I want to join. I was reaching on Friday evening so we decided to meet at the ferry terminal and the last ferry left at 7:40pm, I was suppose to reach cebu by 3pm but due to the delay I reached at 6pm and taxi line was really. After 30 minutes when I get in the taxi the driver asked about the destination and I told him Pier 1. He started asking questions where I was going and coming from etc, I guess I was tired and bit annoyed by this small talk and then I realized that he has covered the meter by a cloth and I was like take that cloth off, where is the meter and he started giving me some gyan, its weekend we don’t use meter on the weekends and the ferry terminal is far blah blah and I said turn on the meter or stop the taxi and he was still trying to convince me about some nonsense and I raised my voice and gave him a stern a look and asked him to take me to the police station or stop the car because I am not going with him and he stopped the car it was just outside airport and near the main road and turned back towards the airport to find another person he can scam.

I was worried about getting late to the ferry terminal and missing the last ferry as it was rush hour traffic time. I asked one taxi driver about the price to Pier 1 and he told me some ridiculous amount and I declined his offer. I was walking on the road and asked about taxi stand to a group of people standing near the motorcycles. They spoke little bit of english, one of them asked where I want to go and I said, Pier 1 and he replied Pier uno? I was like yes, pier uno. He said come fifty and I was like let’s go. He gave me one helmet and I sat on his motorcycle and he was a maniac. When we stopped at the red signal I showed him my watch and asked how much time to pier uno, 30 minutes? And he was like no, 15 mins. I was like ok. He was driving like crazy, cutting through traffic, speeding close to 100 km/h on the streets, it was thrilling. When we reached at the terminal, first thing he asked how much time he took. He was interested in his performance and he took 14 mins and it was a crazy ride. I was happy I made it before 7 and gave him 100 pesos, double than he asked. When I handed him 100 pesos, I was like good? he said 250 and I was confused. I told him you asked for 50 and I gave you 100 and he was like no he asked for 250 and all my excitement was gone. I finally gave him 250 and told him it was not fair.

At the ferry ticket booth they had a poster which said “Sold Out” and when I asked at the counter about the tickets for the last ferry, they replied it’s sold out. I was still waiting for K and meanwhile this French dude shows up at the counter and he asked for two tickets and was told the same thing its sold out. As he was still standing on the counter a lady approached him and told him she will check with the staff if they can manage two seats for him and I was just observing the whole scene and waiting for K. After some time lady takes the dude in the corner and hands him two tickets. I understood the game, it was Indian style. I asked the dude how much did he paid for the ticket and he said 500 each, regular price for that ticket was 350. I was not sure if K wanted to pay extra or not so I just waited before I asked for the ticket. Finally K arrived on the motorcycle taxi, apparently it is very common and I explained her the situation that if we need the tickets we have to pay extra and told her about the dude who got tickets few minutes ago and she was like ok.
Lady who gave ticket to the dude was sitting in the corner and I asked her get me two tickets and I will pay extra and she said ” Sorry sir, its already sold out” and I said “Please check again, there might some two more seats at extra price” and she was smiling and said wait she will check with the ticket issuing person, she spoke with him in Filipino and then came back where I was standing with K and said sorry, those were the last ones, it is really sold out. It was already 7:20 and we decided to take the next morning ferry.

We went to a night festival going on near the terminal and I was tired, K was excited about the weekend and her work just ended so she just did not wanted to go home. It was a nice festival with lot of college and school kids as volunteers and participants in various things going on like stage shows, singing, dance show and lots of local people. One of the places they were celebrating the buddha’s birthday and one college kid was our guide when we walked in and she was showing us around and when she asked where I was from. She said if I am relative of Aamir khan the bollywood actor and I told her “No, I don’t even like him” and I guess she did not like it and said ” She watches all his movies” They get the bollywood movies with filipino subtitles.

It was a long eventful day.

Jeju

I stayed for almost a week in Jeju and didn’t do anything for first couple of days and my host thought I am sick as I was sleeping most of the time.

My host (M) was very funny, I learned a bit about local korean culture and tried some local food as well. We went to the local food market and they had this stone statue on the front gate and asked M about it and she told me it’s a jeju thing, they are always in pair meaning two statues on both the ends of the gate and belief is that they keep evil spirits away. It was Jeju’s nazar battu. M told me that Jeju has three things in abundance Water, Rocks, Women.

M recommended me one place to visit in south the next day, it was a cave buddha temple  and I went to the tourist information center and lady told me bus will leave in one hour and then I asked her if there are any vegetarian restaurants or dishes I can eat around the area. She wrote me the name of the restaurant and name of the dish in korean and gave me the directions to get there. It was a small restaurant and it was empty. The family which ran the restaurant was having lunch. They pointed to a table to sit down and I gave the lady who came to take my order the note and she nodded her head and after few mins a big plate with lot of bowls with different veggies appeared. Cave temple was bit of hike and fun, with beautiful views from the top of the nearby village.

I got addicted to the hot chocolate at one of the cafes near M’s house. It was delicious and I went there every evening I was in Jeju. I went to few places in Jeju and spent most the time doing nothing or may be I was already looking forward to my next destination, Philippines.

Stone GrandPa (Dol hareubang)

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Last day in Seoul

I moved to a hostel as I had booked a DMZ tour which take you all the way to the north and south korea border and it started really early from the city. My room in the hostel was full of american drunk kids who performed a symphony of snoring all night and yes each one of them. I woke up really early for the tour thanks to kids and was ready to go to this tour. When I reading the booking email to go to the subway station I realized that I booked the tour day before and it was already gone. I was glad that I didn’t pay anything in advance.

I stayed around the hostel area the whole day and just relaxed. I met this very interesting guy working at the hostel from California, very talkative and outgoing and his crazy ideas. He had studied linguistic and lived in China for a while. I liked his confidence and his ideas and first one was to make 10 million dollars as quickly as possible and then invest them and get return of about a million per year. He wanted to start some real estate business for chinese people with offices in China and US and also run for president later on.

Next day I was heading to Jeju island. I had booked flight when my host told me about it and showed pictures. I got a good deal for later that week and was excited about this volcanic island.

Conference

J was here for a week long conference and I got interested in it when he talked about it and asked him if I can join. He said we can try but he is not very sure if I can get it as one needs an invitation to attend and it happens once in 15 years. I said we can try and do some drama at registration, he was participating as Journalist for his magazine and I said I can be his camera man. Finally we decided to give it a try, in worst case it would only cost me a bus ride, If I am denied I will take the bus back and go to the city and continue wandering around.

Our hosts were really nice, they gave us directions to the conference and ways to get go around, J and myself took the bus to the conference in the morning and were sitting at the last row and trying to figure out where to get down and then J asked the girl sitting next to him about the bus stop and she also didn’t know but she went all the way to front to ask the driver and we were close and the conference center was few stops away. She stood there to show us the stop and made sure we got off at the correct place. It was really nice of her and we thanked her a few times before we got off.

I asked J so what’s the plan for me to get in and he was like you are my camera boy and we got funding late so didn’t do preregistration. We went to the information desk in front of the conference center and they asked for our passports and gave J the id and they could not find my name obviously. Then J asked for the person he was communicating from last few weeks and then tried to explain him the situation that I am an new member accompanying him along with his crazy stories and I just stood back and watched him trying to create a scene, anyways this person said he can’t make that call but if we can explain this to other supervisor then he can print me a badge and J was like tell me where is this person.

Finally, I got my badge without much drama and was the only cameraman in the whole conference with Gopro on a selfie stick and wearing a media badge, it was hilarious.

It was a great conference with many high level people and diplomats from 100+ countries, once the opening ceremony started J noticed that no diplomats came from Spain and the table was empty, he went there and sat there for the whole time during the opening ceremony and networked with diplomats from other countries. How crazy is that? I had my moment when I got a chance to meet and speak with an Nobel Laureate. I had my first experience on a high level press conference, as soon as the executives enters million pictures are taken by press people, flash lights and sound of camera clicks was nonstop. I wish I had prepared for this conference I could have asked some tough questions to the few of the powerful people in the world.

Overall I enjoyed my time and learned about few things, how the world works on few issues as a whole, it was an interesting experience and with the media badge I could roam around pretty much everywhere which added more fun.

I came back a bit early and J crashed some invitation only lunch party with executives. I was bit hungry as well and found this pizza shop. I was waiting on my pizza and this Korean woman with a 6 month old cutest baby started talking to me and asking where I am from etc then I asked her if I can take picture was her cutest baby and she gave me the baby who was looking at my beard curiously and probably for the first time anyone with a beard.

Two Bears

Once
After a hard day’s forage
Two bears sat together in silence
On a beautiful vista
Watching the sun go down
And feeling deeply grateful
For life

Though, after a while
A thought provoking conversation began
Which turned to the topic of
Fame

The one bear said,
“Did you hear about Rustam
He has become famous
And travels from city to city
In a golden cage

He performs to hundreds of people
Who laugh and applaud
His carnival
Stunts”

The other bear thought for
A few seconds

Then started
Weeping.

–  Hafiz