14 Things

Monday, December 29, 2014

Another year is coming to a close. I’m looking back at the faith goals I have written at the beginning of the year, and I’m simply in awe at how amazing God works in my life. He has given me an amazing roller-coaster ride of a year – scary because of the uncertainties I had at the beginning, exhilarating because of the challenges I've encountered and overcame, and unforgettable because of everything I learned and experienced – both good and bad, but mostly good. :)
Not arranged in any particular order, I want to jot down my top 14 this 2014 – things I’m thankful for, memories I don’t want to forget, and breakthroughs that the Lord surprised me with.

1. A year for my Career

I can honestly say that most of my 2014 was focused on work. I just had my one year anniversary of being a part of the labor force last March! I learned a lot of things, but at the same time I feel like it's just the start. I've taken more responsibilities, handled my own projects, experienced mentoring others, and at one point, I even thought that I have no other life besides work because it takes so much of my time and energy. 
This new year, I am praying for excellence at work, that what I do would exceed my boss' expectations. I also want to be able to accomplish things faster without sacrificing time or quality of work, and to have more work-life balance. I've got a long way to go.

2. Visited the Land of the Rising Sun

I ticked-off an item in my travel bucketlist, which was to visit the Land of the Rising Sun. Ever since I was a kid, I've always always wanted to go to Japan. It finally came true last May 2014 when I went to Osaka and Kyoto with my best friend. It was both our first time to go there -- we had a lot of funny and embarrassing moments, but we still had fun. I'll write more about it in a different blog entry.

Girls wearing yukatas in Arashiyama, Kyoto last May 2014

3. Adventure is out there

On the topic of travelling, 2014 was a year of adventure for me. I kick-started the year by going to Cebu for Sinulog last January, and then went to Japan in May. I was also able to go to other local destinations like Baguio, Batangas, and Boracay. I experienced getting lost a few times, being unable to converse with the locals, losing money in a foreign country, and was almost left behind by our plane going home. Those were scary, but I also experienced the good things about travelling out of my comfort zone. It taught me to be extra cautious, independent, and responsible. It also widened my perspective about the world.

4. Spiritual Growth

I finally finished one2one and attended Victory weekend last March. I also managed to attend my first Making Disciples class. Though it's not really about how many classes you take, being more active in church helped me because I am surrounded by an environment that encourages me to grow. It was such an amazing and unforgettable experience, to understand and feel how loved we are by God. And no matter what mistakes I have done in the past, He has forgiven me and sacrificed His life for me. This 2015, I want to be even closer to God, to walk His ways, and to have a heart so full of love for Him that my life would lack nothing.

I've been attending church ever since I was a little but I still learn new things about God everyday. I am so so so thankful for Ate Shyne, who continue to listen and put up with me throughout the year. We recently met up over lunch, and I was once again reminded of how I should put my complete trust in Him. Yes, I believe in Jesus, but sometimes I have this tendency of controlling my life or doing things on my own. When I pray, sometimes I would ask God for something while hinting that I really want just one particular thing. And then I get discouraged when it doesn't happen. It's like I don't completely trust in Him because I am pushing for something to happen without first asking for His will or guidance. Or I think that my prayers do not reach Him. I realized this year that we do not have to be in control of everything in our lives - just imagine whenever you ride a cab or a plane, you are putting your life in the hands of others, the driver/pilot. In the same way, I needed to lift everything in my life to Christ. We were never asked to understand or know everything about God, all God asks from us is to trust in Him. We may not understand everything, but by trusting God, we can have a grasp of His great love for us. He listens to us, and all our prayers are not in vain. When we pray, of course it's good to be specific in what we request but our hearts should be at the right manner. If it is in His will, it will be given at the perfect timing. Life is never out of control with Jesus.

5. Kids who became my Teacher

Another great experience I had in 2014 is when I volunteered to be a teacher at kids church. Last February, I signed up to teach two Sundays a month for kids ages 3-6 years old. Though I'm supposed to be like their big sister, I feel like I learned more from them than the other way around. I have no younger siblings, so my level of experience in taking care of children is quite low. Nevertheless, I learned so much. It was tiring because apart from dancing, doing crafts, and telling bible stories, we also had to maintain the peace and order in the classroom, and some kids were a challenge. But after teaching for more months, I managed to get close to the them. Because their personalities are different, as teachers we need to adjust in interacting with them and keeping them behaved. The experience is also fulfilling because I get to see and listen to the children talk about Jesus. Maybe they don't understand much of the stories now, but I know that seeds are being planted. As they grow up, I believe that seeds will grow fruit, and the teachings from the Bible will reflect in their actions.

6. (Re-)Learned a life Skill: Biking

 For my 22nd birthday, my sister and her boyfriend got me my own bicycle! It's the Japanese styled one with a handy basket in front. Papa taught me how to ride a bike before, but because I had no practice, I forgot about it already. When I tried riding a bike in Kyoto, I could not even move an inch. It was embarrassing and I had to return the bike and walk by foot. But I got a bike for my birthday, I relearned and practiced at home. Now I can say that in 2014, I learned one important life skill – biking.

7. Friendship

My friends naturally played a big part of my year. This year I met people outside of my own circle and made new friends. And while I have friends that I've gained and lost, I'm most grateful for those that that stuck around. I also grew even closer to my officemates, my college bestie, and my high school barkada. My gratitude runs deep to them. Without their company and support, I would be depressed every single day at work. They tell me the things I need to hear when I'm down, and they're not afraid to be honest.

8. Clarity

2014 was a year of clarity for me. I mean this in the sense that I grew to accept myself, and the truth that things change, especially in matters of the heart. When something you least expect happens and it explodes on your face, at first you would not know what to do, and for me, my first reaction was to cry, like the really ugly kind of cry. Good thing I was in the warm company of friends and they let me go all out. =)) I was confused at myself when it happened, but I did not let myself wallow in sadness. I felt the collapse of emotional investments and the years’ worth of hopes, but I embraced my feelings. I accepted the pain of losing the person, or at least the idea of losing that feeling of love, and then willed myself to completely move on. Of course, it does not happen right away, but I am learning to let go.
After hearing the sound of a door clicking shut, I face the other way and see other doors simultaneously being opened. I am moving forward gradually, a step at a time. It’s quite cliché, but this year I learned that an end of a chapter is just the beginning of another. There is no rush because I know God is still writing my perfect love story.

9. Answered Prayers

I mentioned earlier that every new year, I jot down my "faith goals" to set my eyes on what I want to pray for and achieve for the year. Apart from what I have already listed so far, there are still too much breakthroughs and answered prayers that I couldn't possibly list all. I just want to name a few; I'm very thankful to God that -- my sister seems happier in her career, my brother is excelling and working hard in school, seeds are being planted in our household as our loving yaya finally joined the family in going to church, my eyes are less irritated and are getting better, new projects are coming in to the family business, and I see my family using their talents more and being on fire for God.

10. Provision

It was also a year that I really fully realized I am earning my own money. I was able to  buy more clothes, eat anything I want, and travel to different places without depending on my parents. Although I wasn't able to really save as much as I planned, I was able to pick-up something valuable. God blesses us with so much that our cup overflows – and it is then our responsibility to use those blessings to bless others. It's not just a matter of saving for a rainy day. A lot of the stories on the news featured the affluent lifestyles of famous figures in the Philippines - we would look at them in envy, or some even in disgust. But really, we should also look at ourselves and what we do with our money. I thought about why I am given what I have and what I have been doing with it. Are we just using what we have to glorify ourselves? This 2015 I am praying for prosperity and abundance that I may be able to bless more people with what I God provides me. Because all these things come from Him in the first place, I want to use them wisely. As 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, "Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." :)

11. Growing Strong

I may be weak but I'm growing strong. And I mean that literally. This year was my first year to go to the gym! Seriously. I tried yoga the past year, and it was nice because everything was peaceful and relaxing, but something was missing. A good friend of mine invited me to her gym. Curious and not knowing what to expect, I went with her to have a trail session last August. One thing I learned was I was as weak as a kitten!

My first time to try TRX suspension training
I was not fat like chubby fat, but I had no muscle at all. I could not do simple push-ups or planks. I was so out of shape that the gym trainer, my friend's friend, was the one who became tired after the session. I was challenged and convinced that I really needed the work out. I ended up signing up for the 10-session program. After months of 'training,' I was finally able to grow a bit of muscle. It's all thanks to Renz and Mark for being patient with me!

After a few weeks, I'm finally able to plank properly!

12. Ahia's talent and passion for art

My brother is probably my bestest best friend in the whole wide world. I'm so close to him though we're different in a lot of ways. He's suuuuuper kind and sensitive to others. He loves animals. He's really good in drawing and anything art-related. He sings, and he's really good at it. He doesn't eat that much. As for me, I can't stand animals, I always get scared when they come near me. I prefer writing over drawing. I don't sing at all, not even in the shower. I eat anything and I eat a lot. Anyway, this year, I've watched my brother grow more into the man he is. He started training vocally at church and using his talents for the Lord. It's funny because early in the 2014, I remember him having a panic attack because he did not want to go for auditions. We had to force-talk him to do it. He also started studying what he's passionate about in school. Most of the time he's up late working on a plate, but in the end the results are amazing. I see him excel at what he does. He's also helped so much with papa and mama in the family business. He's become more serious and motivated, and I am really happy for him.

13. Support and love from the Best Family

This year-end list wouldn't be complete without writing anything about my family. Quite frankly, I wouldn't be me without them. They give me so much support, love, and warm fuzzy feelings that I don't really know how I could thank them enough. They constantly support me in my work and dreams. They're patient and understanding despite my stubbornness. They go out of their way for my safety and happiness. They teach me and discipline me on how I should live my life according to His ways. I love them so them. For the new year, I decided to return the tradition of giving each one a handwritten Christmas card (I used to do this when I was younger, but I stopped a few years ago). I'm not yet done writing them, and writing won't be sufficient to express my love and gratitude, but it's a way to express my feelings. I'm hoping I could thank them and let them know I love them in more ways next year.

14. Knowing Jesus is with me always

It has always been about Jesus. Everything all points back to Him, what He has done and is doing for us. Personally for my life, knowing Jesus is with me always keeps me positive. When things get tough, I pray and He gives me strength. When I feel insecure or lacking, I am reminded of His great, deep love. I think about reasons why I shouldn't worry. My faith in Him protects me from the bad things -- like when riding the cab each day or walking in dubious streets, whatever evil is lurking is no match for the mighty angels from Heaven that surround me. With God by my side, I am complete.

Sinulog Twenty Fourteen: Tips from a first-timer

Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Pit Senyor! Pit Senyoooor!"

I don't know how many times I have heard that phrase in one weekend. The receptionist at our hotel explained to us what it meant, but it's still a bit confusing to me. When Cebuanos greet you "Pit Senyor" with a smile (sometimes a high five or even a friendly hug), you say "Pit Senyor" back with the same amount of warmth and friendliness. After hearing it for probably a hundred bajillion times, I decided to join in the fun and shout "Pit Senyor!" like the rest of the crowd.

It's my first time ever to visit Cebu. Actually, it was my first time to travel so far away from home without my family. I traveled with my college friends and we were all first-timers to join the festival. I've heard about Sinulog, but I did not know what to expect. It was one of the most tiring, fun, and adventurous trips I had so far. To give a glimpse of what transpired (and to warn other Sinulog newbies not to make the same mistakes we made), I am going to jot down my personal experience from the events that happened in those four days.

random people and new friends from Sinulog Invasion ♥ photo from Lina
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TIP #1: Buy your Sinulog shirts early, or pre-order if you can, before sizes and good designs run out.

We arrived in Mactan International Airport at around 1pm, but my friends wanted to buy a Sinulog shirt from Island Souvenirs so we spent about half an hour shopping. I could not find one that fits my size (they're either too big or too small), so I did not get any. I ended up using a different (non-Sinulog) shirt for the Sunday festival.

After that, we got in line for a cab to our hotel. We opted for the non-airport type because it was cheaper. The line for regular taxi was too long that the next flight from Manila at 3pm landed already, and we met our friends that were from that flight. By the time we got to the front of the line, the taxi driver and airport security said we needed to divide into two because the cab could only accommodate four passengers max. The same rule applies in Manila, but they are more strict in Cebu. There were five of us, so even though we were all going to the same hotel, we had to split. The taxi driver also said that a lot of roads were already blocked because of the festival, so he could only drop us in Ayala Center, Cebu. He said our hotel was only walking distance from the mall. We agreed and decided to eat late lunch there so we could have energy to walk to our hotel later.

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TIP #2: It's really best to take an early flight to Cebu to avoid the heavy traffic and road blocking, and to have a GPS/map app like Waze on your smart phone especially if you don't know your way around the city. Or you could have a friend that is a local who can lead the navigation for your group.

I got into waze and found out that our hotel was 15 minutes away by car, which was not at all walking distance. Although there were a lot of people, the traffic was still bearable and the roads were not totally blocked, so we felt a bit tricked by the previous cab. We could have gotten another cab, but we decided to try to walk. This was a bad idea. We spent about an hour walking and trying to find our hotel. My battery ran out so we got lost somewhere along the way, but good thing my friend had GPS to save us. It was already past 6pm when we got to our hotel, and we were exhausted. 

an hour-long walk to the hotel. Photo taken by Lina :)
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TIP #3: If you're going to Sinulog to experience the annual paint party, book a hotel near Juana Osmena St. or wherever the venue is (so do your research too!)

We stayed in Hotel Fortuna from January 18 to 22, 2014. Even though we got lost the first time (because my phone died and we became totally clueless), the place was actually easy to find because it was near University of San Carlos, and there was also a 7-Eleven nearby. The Sinulog festivities actually start a day earlier (Life Dance - a "huge-ass outdoor electronic party on what is said to be the biggest stage ever built in Cebu" -- according to Spectrum.ph), but we skipped that because we could not take a leave off work a day earlier. We also missed Wet Weekend, an island hopping / yacht party hosted by Republiq in the morning of our flight. All yachts were already booked, so we could not get into the party even if we wanted to. Our hotel was clean and comfortable, and the staff was very nice. They would clean your room and change towels at your request, and they would always greet you at every encounter. The people at the front desk were also friendly enough to answer our questions for directions. Oh and there's free breakfast too.

The only slight downside is the location -- Hotel Fortuna is right smack in the middle of the parade where they close roads for the festival. We could not get cabs to get us anywhere, so we learned how to commute via jeepney. It's also quite far from Baseline, where Spectrum.ph held Sinulog Invasion (about 20-30 minutes of walking, depending on how fast/tired you are). After about two days, my friends and I felt like locals because we literally just commuted around town -- to the Taboan market, to Magellan's Cross and Basilica del Santo Niño, to Salinas Drive for restaurant hopping, and to IT Park for to check out Zubuchon and Barcode. I learned how to say "lugar lang" to get the jeep to stop (because the driver would not respond to "para po" or "tabi lang po").

I am so thankful for the Cebuanos because they were so so so friendly and accomodating! We got lost numerous times, but the locals would always point us to the right direction. There was even one jeepney driver who stopped parked his jeep at the side of the road to hail a cab for us because it was becoming late (and unsafe!). There was a bit of language barrier because we only spoke Tagalog, but he did not leave until we were safe in a cab who knows how to get us back to our hotel. So kind. But to save yourself from the hassle, do your research on which hotels are near the establishments that you would frequent.

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TIP #4: For the street party, avoid bringing expensive things. And only wear garments that would be okay to put paint on, and closed shoes. Bring your own paint.

The annual street party happens every 3rd Sunday of January. This year it was held last Jan. 19 in Baseline. We were prepared for the crazy paint part -- we basically wore things that we won't feel bad about getting soiled (the basic white shirts and denim shorts). You can style your Sinulog shirts buy cutting the sleeves off (check out DIY videos from Youtube if you're not sure how).

For shoes, I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops. I thought that since we were going to walk a lot and paint was involved, it was a safe bet to wear slippers. I was wrong. Towards night time, all the trash, broken beer bottles, and all kinds of litter would be scattered everywhere. I had to look at my feet and watch my step all the time because it was difficult to see when it's dark. It's important to wear closed canvas shoes or comfy sneakers because slippers can be removed easily when you're not careful. 

while waiting in line for Sinulog Invasion to start

As for accessories, it's best to not wear any at all or keep it at a minimum. I brought cheap shades that I eventually lost in the middle of the event, while my friend had hers damaged.

Oh, and bring your own paint (like poster paint) and other toys like a whistle (to help make noise) and waterguns to make the party extra fun. This is optional though. We went there empty handed and managed to get ourselves almost fully covered in paint anyway.

For cellphone and wallet, it's best to only have less than P500 on you (to buy snacks, drinks, or emergency money). I placed my phone in a Ziploc bag to because I had paint all over my fingers. For my money, I placed it in a small plastic wallet (so small it's unnoticeable in my pocket) for safety. You can also use a plastic holder with neck strap. There are lots of pickpockets in events like Sinulog Invasion, so always always be wary of your belongings.

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TIP #5: Make the most out of your trip by planning your itinerary

I mentioned this earlier in Tip #3, it's good to do research and plan your itinerary ahead of time.

On our third day in Cebu, we initially planned on going to Oslob to see the whale sharks, but we were too tired from the event in Baseline that we decided to skip it. (If you plan on going though, you may ride a bus to Oslob at Cebu South Bus Terminal beside Elizabeth Mall). Because we did not push through with Oslob, we had one free day to rest. We took this chance to visit local tourist spots like the Basicila de Sto. Nino and Magellan's Cross. The Basilica was insanely crowded because of the occassion, so we did not take too long there. Magellan's Cross was closed because of reconstruction, but we managed to peek and take pictures through the windows.

It was also our last full day in Cebu, so we tried to make the most out of our time (eating, walking, and eating again). For cheap but hearty traditional meals, drop by Salinas Drive to try out The Original AA BBQ and Chikaan Sa Cebu.

one huge bowl of Pochero at The Original AA BBQ

For desserts and cute place to chill, go to Cafe Caw across Bright Academy, Gov. M. Cuenco Ave. The ambiance there is really nice and girly. Our friends and I spent a few hours just talking over cupcakes and coffee.

For affordable and fresh Cebu pasalubongs like dried mangoes and danggit, go to Taboan Market. They are much cheaper there than in other souvenir shops in the city. Of course, these are just my personal recommendations.

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TIP #6: Eat Cebu Lechon. For pasalubong, reserve or buy them early!

A visit to Cebu would not be complete without eating Cebu lechon. Stocks run out quickly especially during Sinulog season, so if you want to bring lechon home as pasalubong, reserve them a few days early before the day of pickup. For THE best lechon, I heard Rico's lechon and CnT Lechon were at the top of the list, but they already ran out of stocks during the last day of our visit (which was Tuesday). I've only tried Zubuchon in IT Park -- it was juicy and yummy with crispy skin.

Zubuchon for dinner on our first day in Cebu

If you want to scour the city for Rico's and CnT Lechon, Rico's has a branch in The Ridges Commercial Comples near the airport (just a taxi away), while CnT has a branch in the 4th level food court in Ayala Center Cebu. 

My friends and I felt dejected because we could not bring lechon as pasalubong. But good thing there was a Zubuchon branch in the airport! The only problem is they don't have stocks at that time, but we were told that delivery for stock replenishment will be arriving soon. Even though our boarding time was already a few minutes away, we decided to wait in line patiently for our takeout lechon. (We were desperate!!) It came to the point that the speakers were already announcing our names and my friend had to talk to the FAs and pilot if they could wait for us for 5 minutes more. The plane almost left us but we managed to run to the boarding gate in time. It was a funny experience, but the lechon was worth it.

Despite the traffic and crowded places, Sinulog is a great time to experience Cebu -- from culture, food, and its people. I gained new friends and saw old ones. I stuffed my tummy without hurting my wallet. It was a very exhausting but fun experience. I wish I could visit again next year!

EDIT (10/12/2017): And I actually did manage to visit Cebu again! I had to much fun at Sinulog that I booked for Sinulog 2016. The trip had the same amount of paint and crazy, and probably a lot more people than my last visit. Because it was a last minute thing, a lot of hotels were all fully booked. Do check out Southpole Central Hotel located at 29 Junquera Street if you're planning on visiting Cebu any time soon! They have the best quality rooms at very good prices. If you want to know more about Sinulog, read more about this awesome festival here ( https://www.southpolecentralhotel.com/sinulog-festival/ ).