A “once-in-a-lifetime” 3.5-month adventure traveling all across Asia with my best friend.
And just like that, it was over. Three months in Asia flew right on by. From getting locked out of my condo on our first night at 2am (so fun!) to carrying around 5-6 pieces of luggage up and down subway stairs and through alleyways all across Japan, this summer has definitely gone down as one of the best experiences Cal and I have been able to share together. So much so, that we got engaged at the end. More on that later. Please read my “I quit my dream job…to travel” post if you want to know more context around why I took this trip.
It’s taken me a good 5-months to sit down and reflect on the experience. Partially because I hopped back into working again (bills) while the other part was because I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the number of photos and videos I’ve captured (in the tens of thousands) and didn’t know where to even begin.
I’ll preface by saying that I went into the trip trying to capture as much as possible. I really wanted to flex new creative muscles, so I was exploring capturing video, learning to edit and cut with music, and take tons and tons of photos—both digitally and film. The whole intent was to really post content as it came, but I learned immediately just how hard it is to maintain posting whilst being in the moment and enjoying my experiences wholeheartedly without concern for “capturing content.” So honestly, kudos to you full-time bloggers/influencers out there. It’s [a lot of] work.
But I told myself that I want to resolve to be more proactive with my creative output and that getting something out there—even if it’s not my “best work”—is still better than not producing anything at all. So, I’ve taken some time off (again) and putting some extra effort into getting this blog up and running—at least to bring into focus the now-starting-to-blur experiences of last summer. So as a warning, this post is really long!
Storytime: Our wild first night in Manila
And by wild, I don’t mean fun, lol. Our first night was pretty much a nightmare. We arrived in Manila close to midnight local time after a connecting flight from Shanghai. My family’s condo is just outside of Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s (NAIA) Terminal 3 in Newport City (which is the main reason why Manila became our home base during our sojourn). After the baggage claim, we hop on one of the free airport shuttles to my I call my folks to let them know we’re headed to the condo. While chatting with my dad about logistics (checking in with the guard at the complex, etc), he slips that I should “make sure” I have the right keys for the condo. What? How could I possibly do that when I’ve already landed and en route? I hang up, freaked out and sort of pissed. It’s close to 2am now and I’m hoping for the best.
With the streets dimly lit, we manage to drag all our luggage from the shuttle stop across the street to the complex. While checking in, the guards don’t recognize my family name but, after some convincing in my broken Tagalog, he allows us to head up. We arrive at the condo door, I whip out the keys and insert it into the lock. It fits, turns, and unlocks. I think to myself, “Awesome!” and go for the second lock with the second key. It doesn’t turn. I try again. Still doesn’t turn. I try it upside down. I try turning different directions. I try pushing/pulling at the door handle. I try every key in my possession that my dad gave me—and nothing works.
The guard comes to check on us and tries the keys himself. Locked. I phone my parents and flip out. Turns out that I didn’t have the full set of keys even though my dad handed me the set himself. *biggest sigh* Going on 3am, exhausted and locked out of our condo, we try to recourse and look for a nearby hotel. We get to the Savoy Hotel and they tell us they’re completely booked, but typical of Filipino hospitality (incredibly warm, sincere, and welcoming) they say they’ll call around to sister hotels in the area to see if there’s a room. We learn there’s an opening at the Belmont Hotel nearby, so they send us a van to take us there. We quickly check-in and pretty much immediately pass out.
And this is when the real fun began…
The next morning, I’m looking for my bag with my camera equipment. Can’t find it. That’s weird, I think because I asked Cal if he saw it when we checked-in. As we count our items, I realize the bag (with all my camera gear) is missing. No... I think to myself. I’m notorious for having bad luck, but this…and on the first night? Come on! I spend the morning retracing my steps, running back and forth from each hotel in an attempt to find out where, how, or when my bag was lost (or stolen). The hotel says they don’t have it, but will keep an eye out for it. Hopeless, I thought. What a great way to start this trip. I have a meltdown, but Cal does what he always does best and reassures me. I accept my fate and try to reorient myself. We have plenty else to look forward to, he tells me. The trip will go on.
So, we confirm a room at the Grand Hyatt Manila to stay at while we hire a locksmith to change the locks and make a new set of keys. We head back to our hotel to check out and I attempt to leave my contact info with the front desk just in case. To my utter disbelief, the woman at the desk says “Oh, the Savoy Hotel called to say your bag has been found, sir. They have your bag.” You can’t even believe the relief both Cal and I felt at that moment. Finally, I thought, now we can really start enjoying our trip.
Week 1: Manila
Our first week was all about acclimating to our new surroundings. The first couple of days were spent recovering from the first leg of travel at the Grand Hyatt Manila (Sleepworthy review to-come) and then cleaning, packing up, and discarding what we could in the condo. We also tried focusing on getting back into a routine of waking up, having breakfast, working out, etc. It was our way of establishing some normalcy early on to ensure we felt grounded in our new home.
A highlight of our first week was meeting up with my good friend Carmel (@kalsadacoffee) who involuntarily became our go-to for all things Manila (Sorry, Carmel!) She showed us around Escolta and Binondo with its budding community of creatives and thought leaders. There, she gave us a tour of the First United Building, a historic building now converted into a multi-office space consisting of the headquarters and offices and aforementioned creatives and leaders.
And the coolest part of our visit?