Barcelona August 17, 2017

 

I thought that I’d share my experience of last Thursday’s terrorist attack on Catalunya, the 2nd in the history of Barcelona.

 

August 17, 2017 17.42 CCCB

It was around 14.30 and I was seated at the Arxiu at the CCCB, the Center for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona. Before that, I was at the library, another favourite hangout of mine, but I left as they close for the lunch hour. CCCB is in Raval, right next to Las Ramblas.

After doing some correspondence, I watched the Vice documentary Charlottesville: Race & Terror. Prior to this I had not read up much on what had happened, and needless to say, I was shocked.

Afterwards, I popped into fb and this was the first notification I saw:

Confused, I then opened the La Vanguardia website. And that’s when I realised what was going on. It was unreal, to first see video of a car ramming into the demonstrators in Charlottesville from a few days ago, to reading that a van had rammed into people, seeing the grotesque images that were taken not more than a few minutes ago, and not even a kilometre away.

Across from me, a girl who turned out to be an Italian architect doing her traineeship in Barcelona, asked me if I knew what was going on. I said I literally just read about it. She had gotten the news from her friends and family all the way in Italy. They were telling her so many details, and told her to stay put. She lived on a street perpendicular to Las Ramblas, not more than a minute away by foot, right on the street where the van struck some people and she was at a loss about what to do.

Being in the Arxiu, we were safe at least. Then security showed up and said that we all had evacuate, they were locking down the CCCB.

Considering she had nowhere to go, I said she was welcome to stay at my flat. She readily accepted, and we started walking, making sure to keep as far away from Ramblas as possible. All around, it was eerily quiet, and we could see people walking with their bags, like they were leaving the city.

 

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At Ronda Universitat, people were fixated on the television, and I saw one woman in tears on the phone.

19.30 Avinguda Diagonal

We walked past a crowd of people watching the news from the televisions in an appliance store window. I started to worry about the people I knew who were living and working in the area, which has a very large Filipino population.

We walked on for about 30 minutes until we reached Avinguda Diagonal, one of the main roads that cuts through Barcelona, and were met by this sight:

Cars were bumper to bumper. We wondered if they were all leaving the city. 

Then I saw something that made me stop. Four men who looked middle Eastern had their hands behind their heads, and in front of them was a man wearing what appeared to be a kevlar vest and holding a gun out and pointing it at them. My companion freaked out and said, let’s pass somewhere else. I wanted to snap a photo but they had led them away, I don’t know if they arrested them or saw that they were innocent bystanders.

We later learned that there was a second attack, and that the attackers had made it Sant Just, a neighbourhood just next to mine.

She looks happy but appearances can be deceiving.

We got to my flat as it was getting dark. A few hours later, my flatmates, who had been driving to Barcelona during the attack after spending a few days in France, arrived. We had been communicating and I had told them it would probably be best if they didn’t come back tonight. Fortunately, they were able to drive into the city, keeping to the outskirts, without incident.

I don’t think any of us slept well that night. I certainly didn’t.

August 18 11.00 Les Corts

The next morning, I woke up and took the dog for a walk. Around 13.00, the Italian said that her flatmates said that Ramblas was no longer locked down, and that they were able to get home. We took the bus to Plaza Universitat, and walked to her flat. We were both still shaken up from the day before, and it was surreal to be back in that area and to see people walking around like nothing had changed. We stopped at the corner, just to look out on the Ramblas. We saw police, media, signs and police cordons.

We bid each other goodbye, and I decided to walk on Las Ramblas.

20.30 Las Ramblas

There were crowds huddled here and there, candles had been placed, some flowers, stuffed toys, and someone had left some paper and pens for people to write notes. Some had written on post it notes. There was a young man with his head bowed, staring at the candles with tears in his eyes. Seeing the stuffed toys, I figured that this was a place where one of the casualties, perhaps a child, had lost his or her life. 

The tragedy, the injustice, of a life extinguished before its time, under such senseless circumstances began to hit me.

That’s when I started to feel the grief arise in me. I left a note, and decided to walk home.

August 19, 2017 16.00 Plaza Catalunya

The next morning, I began to make some signs. I had been thinking about the other attacks in Europe, such as the one in Paris, Belgium, Manchester, and I knew I wanted to make something to show solidarity with this tragedy.

Paying my respects to the #CharlieHebdo victims #JeSuisCharlie #memorial #shrine #Paris #RIP #sharpie #PinoyArtista

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I came up with the following design:

‘Amar’ means ‘to love’ in spanish. The letters form the towers of the Sagrada Familia and the flower pattern from the tiles of Barcelona’s streets have the letters ‘BCN’

I wrapped the signs in plastic, then biked down to Plaza Catalunya. This was what I saw:

Free hugs given on Plaza Catalunya. The next day there was a muslim man with a sign, giving out hugs as well on Las Ramblas

Free 🤗 🖤 #notengomiedo #abrazosgratis #amar #barcelona #freehugs

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It was a beautiful sight and a wonderful feeling. In highly developed societies, one of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of physical contact, and in a touristic place like Plaza Catalunya and Las Ramblas, you would very rarely speak to a stranger unless it was to ask them to take a picture or refuse a “cervesa beer.” And here, men and women, young and old, of different racial backgrounds were hugging each other. The antidote to terror, to fear, is love.

Yesterday there were just a few candles, flowers, and notes. Two days later, here is what the shrines looked like:

The shrine at Liceu, where the van finally came to a stop

It showed how much love and solidarity people felt for the victims of this senseless tragedy. Indeed, it could have been any one of us. I left my signs in different shrines and biked home.

Managed to snap some Mossos (the special forces of Barcelona) stopping and searching a car on Ramblas. I tried to be discreet but they shooed me away.

I saw photos and videos from that morning where thousands upon thousands had descended upon Plaza Catalunya, clapping and chanting, ‘No tengo miedo!’ (We are not afraid), and the the mimes and other buskers who lined Las Ramblas everyd, also paid tribute to the victims by joining the procession as the crowd made its way down the most famous boulevard in Barcelona. The Mayor of Barce, Ada Colau, posted this.

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August 20, 2017 17.00 Las Ramblas

On the third day after the attack, Ramblas was seemingly back to normal. It was more crowded than usual, or so it seemed. People took photos of the shrines, selfies even, and there was a procession of Muslims, then later, Christians.

Free 🤗 🖤 #notengomiedo #abrazosgratis #amar #barcelona #freehugs

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“We are Muslims! We are not terrorists!”

 

Las Ramblas: 3 days later

 

As I write this, it’s been five days since the multiple terrorist attacks in Catalunya. Things have seemingly gone back to normal. But there are still people in the hospitals, not all the perpetrators have been accounted for, and there are many more whose lives will never be the same again. And that includes the families of the attackers.

And the authorities are left with the question, how do we keep our cities safe from this type of extremism? This level of viciousness? Especially since the attackers were not foreign, they were young men who were part of Spanish society, who were integrated into Catalan culture, what makes people become this way? 

These questions need an answer. And soon.

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What Am I Doing Here?

It is with the appropriate amount of pleasure that I announce my first exhibition in Barcelona.

Spanning eighteen months and four countries, “What Am I Doing Here” is a retrospective of the works created over the past eighteen months since I arrived in Europe. It will include drawings, paintings, photographs, and screen and letterpress prints created in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, Venice, and Las Palmas.

The exhibition will be on the 15th of April, at l’Atelier, a small but cozy bakeshop in Carrer del Joncar 29, Poble Nou, at 19.00h.

RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/1100828233308657/

Exhibition catalog available upon request.

Tengo el placer de invitarte a mi primera exposición en Barcelona.

“¿Por Qué Estoy Aquí?” es la primera exposición individual de José Gamboa en España. Una retrospectiva que abarca dieciocho meses y cuatro países, que incluye ilustraciones, impresiones de pantalla y tipografía, pinturas y fotografías.

Con concierto musical de Guillermo Ayora
(https://www.facebook.com/ayoramusica)

Catálogo de la exposición disponibles a petición.
La exposición tendrá una duración de un mes.

Looking forward to seeing you there / Espero verlos a todos allí,

Jose


 

Above is the invitation text I wrote for my exhibit which is happening next week.

Below is a preview of some of the works that will be on display:

Aside from recently completed #BowieForever series, “What Am I Doing Here” will include:

Illustrations

#saturdayshorts: Trololo #Timelapse #barcelonabarrios #architypography

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Paintings

"In the Same Boat" (detail) #PinoyArtista #illustration #watercolor on paper 40 x 30 cm

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Photographs

#Windowshopping at #DeWallen #Amsterdam #PinoyArtista #travelink #tattoo

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Mono Screenprints

 

Portraits

Can you imagine who I am? #doinglineskeepsmesane

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Six days away, there is still a lot that needs to be done. And unlike other exhibitions I’ve organised before, this is my first solo show–literally: I have had to everything, from booking the venue, conceptualisation, curation, funding, promotion, framing, mounting, and more.

 

Let’s see how it goes.

 

 

The Kindness and Cruelty of Strangers – Part 1 (Or How Being Cheap Can Get You Killed)

 

I was seated in the backseat of an Opel Corsa; in the driver’s seat was Miguel S, 32, and on shotgun was his girlfriend, both of whom I’d met for the first time that morning. We were driving on the highway heading to Girona, about an hour and a half from Barcelona.
 

Why was I traveling in a stranger’s car you might ask? The answer was simple: I’m cheap.

 

My first #Blablacar ride. Heading to @blackmusicfest to see @bootsriley & @theCoup

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I had hitchhiked once before, in Bacnotan, Ilocos Norte, Philippines, several years ago. I wasn’t alone though, and this was out of sheer necessity. Long story short, a mate and I had taken a siesta while our friends were in the water surfing. We didn’t notice them leaving, and they had assumed we had ridden in one of the other vehicles back to our lodgings in Urbiztondo, about forty minutes away by car. We woke up, and realising that we had been abandoned, walked out to the main road in our board shorts with not even the equivalent of €1 between us, to thumb a ride. My mate was awfully relaxed about the whole thing–I had a feeling he had done this before. Fortunately, the first car we hailed picked us up. It was a high school teacher in an owner jeep. He wasn’t going in our direction completely, so we had to take another ride, this time by public transport. Jeepneys do not have any dress code, and since this attire is fairly commonplace in rural areas in the tropics, two shirtless guys in nothing but board shorts and flip flops did not raise too many eyebrows. Although we did elicit some giggles from some schoolchildren. The driver seemed to understand our situation and did not ask us to pay the full fare. Upon arriving at our lodgings, our friends were quite amused by the entire affair, and I was less than amused that they didn’t even consider returning for us once they’d realised we’d been left behind.
 

#saturdayshorts: #Elyu #PDAF Weekend Session Part 2 of 6: #funknotan

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Whereas being half naked in a stranger’s jeep and in a Public Utility Jeepney with a friend a few years ago was a matter of necessity, now I was by myself in a stranger’s car for less-than-unavoidable reasons: I was using the car-sharing platform Blablacar for the first time in order to get to Salt, Girona from Barcelona to see The Coup, a hip hop group from Oakland, California, as part of Girona’s annual Black Music Festival.

I had heard about Blablacar from a schoolmate who had used it to get to Madrid, and she had vouched for it, saying that it was quite secure. Blablacar works by connecting people who have cars with those who don’t, with the car owners covering their petrol by charging the riders less than it would cost if they took a bus or train. The website requires you to create a profile, and there is a feedback system which keeps the members accountable.

The Coup were playing from 2200 up to 0200, so I had booked a ride back to Barcelona the next day, at around 1630, this time with Arturo B, 44 years old, Renault Espace. Both rides cost a total of €14. But I still had to sort out where I would spend the wee hours of dawn after the concert. And whereas Blablacar costs something to get somewhere, to stay somewhere there is another online platform called Couchsurfing which is absolutely free.

I had been a member of the Couchsurfing community since 2010, but had never had the opportunity to participate. The way Couchsurfing works is, you offer a couch (or bed) in your home to travelers for a night or more, and they in turn are expected to pay it forward, hosting people in their hometown. The community had modest beginnings as a non-profit, but had grown massively, and was eventually bought and turned into a for-profit enterprise, much to the dismay of many veteran couchsurfers.

Spending one night in Girona seemed like the ideal opportunity to give Couchsurfing a try. I was able to find a host fairly easily (Guillem, 22, 9 positive, 1 negative reference), but the day before he said he couldn’t host me without giving any particular reason. I tried finding other hosts, but since it was at the last minute, I didn’t get any confirmations. As I had already booked the rides on Blablacar and paid for the concert tickets as well–and the Coup was one of my favourite hip hop groups–I opted to go the way of the ballsy and the brainless: I decided wing it.

 

All part of the Couchsurfing experience of course
All part of the Couchsurfing experience of course

So an hour and half later, after bidding Miguel and his girlfriend adieu, I stood in the middle of what appeared to be a shopping complex in Salt, Girona. No worries, I had a tablet and all I needed to do was find a wifi hotspot so I could get to the venue. I hung around a bowling alley for a bit since they had free wifi and window shopped since the concert was still three hours away. The map showed that the venue, La Mirona, was only 15 minutes by foot and upon consulting with some locals, apprehended that Girona was around 45 minutes by foot, since public transport wouldn’t be available after the concert. No problem. A 45-minute walk was a piece of cake to me.

At 0100 the Coup took the stage.

An amazing set. During the after party, Boots Riley and the rest of the band hung out with the audience. The Spanish women were all over them of course, and after managing to snap a few photos, I drifted to the bar.
 

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Boots (on the left) and Jayjay, whom I would meet again later.

At 0400 I exited La Mirona. It was dark, and the temperature was around 12°C and I started to walk. I was crossing a bridge when I heard voices behind me. A cursory glance showed two men, and as they drew nearer, they became two black men speaking English. American English. California English. It was the guitarists of the Coup. They were a bit disoriented and were looking for their hotel. We walked together, chatting and smoking, and I felt like I wanted to tell them I had no place to stay that night, and could I crash at their hotel? But my Asian etiquette would not let me.

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According to Chris Rock, Martin Luther King Boulevard is violent and dangerous street. And here I was walking on the Spanish version in the middle of a strange town in the dead of night.

 

We parted ways and I continued to walk.

At around 0500 it was getting colder. I had taken a few wrong turns, and I was starting to run out of energy. My plan was to get to Girona and find a hostel or something, since I’d been there before and it was more accustomed to tourists than Salt. But by 0530 I couldn’t keep on.

The cartons came from the bin, the blanket I had brought. Because I have foresight.
The cartons came from the bin, the blanket I had brought. Because I have foresight.

What would have been my first Couchsurfing experience turned out to be my first homelessness experience. I think someone came in at one point to use the machine, and the bright fluorescent lights kept me from getting any quality shuteye, so less than an hour later I was back on the road.
 

0700 #Girona #dawn #ghosttown #incostabrava #TWD #igersgirona

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It was getting light, but colder than ever. I saw a door to an apartment building ajar, so I went in and napped on the steps for a bit just to keep warm.

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Walking into a town at dawn feels like a scene straight out of the Walking Dead.

 
Two hours after I had left Salt I sat in a cafe sipping tea. It was the best tea I had ever tasted.

The rest of the day I strolled around Girona, sketched, listened to some blues music in the plaza, had lunch, met with Arturo, 44, at 1630, picked up two other riders, and slept like a dead man until we reached Barcelona.

 

#Sketchbook #sneakpeek #PinoyArtista en #Girona #incostabrava

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To be continued.

Movement

The only thing that’s permanent is change.

 

It’s been 4 months since I’ve moved to Barcelona.
Since then I’ve had the privilege to have visited sixteen museums and heritage sites (pictures coming soon):

 

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC, the National Museum of Art of Catalonia)
Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB, the Centre for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona)
Museu Maritim (Maritime Museum)
Casa Batllo
Palau Guell
Monestir de Pedralbes
Museu del Modernisme
Museu del Disseny
Fabrica del Sol
Museum of Jewish History
Museu del Art Girona

 

…all of which–with the exception of La Fabrica del Sol which was under renovation–I would recommend if you are traveling to Barcelona.
Moreover, I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to six cities (Sant Pol del Mar, Sitges, La Palma, Andorra, La Molina, Girona), strolled through four parks (Parc Guell, Parc Citudella, Parc Pedralbes, Parc de Montjuic), attended four musical performances, one stand up comedy show, one stage performance, three lectures related to cultural management, visited one printing press, shifted out of the Master’s Degree to the Postgraduate Diploma in Arts & Cultural Management (a story for another post), signed up for two dance classes which I did not go to, worked three part-time jobs, moved flats once, met loads of people from all over the world, and have learned quite a bit about European culture and this wonderful city called Barcelona.

 

All these novel experiences are just the beginning and have of course, irrevocably changed me. My philosophy is that novel experiences are by default, positive. So whenever I have to make a decision, I usually try to go for the one that has some degree of uncertainty, but always, always, I choose to act, as opposed to inaction. In this way, the change is encouraged, if not welcomed, and sometimes, the change can happen on my terms, as opposed to the common condition where change is seen as an unavoidable imposition.

 

Moving to the Spanish Apartment, as well as the new flat (which I have dubbed Rockafort–as that is more or less the name of the street) was surprisingly simple, although the circumstances around it were anything but.

 

When I was moving to Barcelona, I sent an email to everyone in the university’s Master’s program, asking if anyone was looking to share a flat. I got a few responses, and the result was that I had a place to stay–paid for in advance–even before I had set foot in Barcelona.

 

The rent of the flat was divided by everyone, and a month later, the occupants had risen from four to five, reducing our individual shares. However, this would only be until April, by which time the rent would go back up again. This, including the fact that one flatmate–who shall remain anonymous–and I were basically getting on like a house drenched in ice-cold water, made me decide it was time to make a change.
So I began asking around, and it so happened that Lena, one of my classmates, had just moved into a flat with a room available. Upon visiting the flat and meeting the other occupants, I decided that I could live here. I contacted the landlord, made the reservation and started moving my things that same day. Being the cheapskate that I am, I tried to move everything on foot: a twenty-minute walk at night in the winter. Only in Barcelona can someone get away with this.

I had to find someone to take my old room, however, as we had agreed prior to my moving in that should I leave before the end of the contract, then I had to find a replacement. Equally important was finding a good person to move in, someone who wouldn’t flip out or make the others feel unsafe (as I mentioned, there are no locks on any of the doors in the flat—not even the bathrooms).

Although I thought I cleaned out my former room pretty well, I forgot to sweep the floor and wipe the table.
Although I thought I cleaned out my former room pretty well, I forgot to sweep the floor and wipe the table.
Surprisingly, this again proved to be easier than I expected. Minutes after posting a notice of the room in various fb groups for Erasmus students and others related to housing in Barcelona, I already had several offers and had scheduled visits that same afternoon. In the end, I decided on a French Erasmus student taking up a Masters in Economics at the University of Barcelona. Three days later I had handed her the keys to the flat and had already spent one night at Rockafort.

 

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FB is not a total waste of time after all

 

The change of flat included having new flatmates: three Spanish guys–Adria, Alvaro, and Ricardo, Anna, a Korean, Lena from Hamburg whom I go to school with, and a wonderful pug named Fiji, who is clearly everyone’s favourite occupant.

The best #flatmate #dogsofbcn

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 Other changes include a considerably smaller and colder flat, room, kitchen, bath and toilet to share, less amenities (no lift or dishwasher), slower wifi, and hot water that disappeared while you were showering when any other faucet was switched on. On the brighter side, cheaper rent and cool flatmates all of whom—with the exception of Fiji–are professionals who preferred to speak Spanish, giving me the chance to practice my castellan.
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Rockafort

 

Below is Adria, who isn’t in the above photo because he works crazy hours:

#Rockafort holdin it down in #BCN #Eixample #humansofbarcelona #humansofbcn

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I will be writing a bit more about my new flatmates in a future post, but basically, a lot has changed over the last 120 or so days, and unavoidably, I have changed with my circumstances. The frequency and intensity of these shifts, being compressed in a small amount of time has also accelerated my growth as a person. Having only a few people to call upon in an emergency–all of whom I’ve known less than half a year–taught me to be truly independent and self reliant. Also, it taught me to do something I have not done before: How to develop close friendships in a short amount of time. It means I have become better–not the best, obviously–at relating with others, an invaluable life skill regardless of who you are and where you’re from.

For this alone, all other benefits of studying and working abroad notwithstanding, makes the entire experience of putting oneself out of one’s comfort zone absolutely worth the price of admission.

Paradise Found

 

Have you ever fallen in love with a place?

Like falling in love with another person, it is intoxicating, you want to breath them in, you can’t bear to be apart, and then you can’t help but start to imagine what it would be like to live together, to plant roots and grow old together.

That can be part of the reason why travel is so gratifying. Each time you step foot in a place you’ve never been before, the possibility is there.

But there is a distinction between Love and its often-confused doppelgänger, Infatuation.

Infatuation is a volcanic eruption: loud, intense, all-consuming. It can feel like the real thing, and sometimes, it could be.

Love, on the other hand, is a garden. It takes time, a lot of effort, quiet, and without fanfare, it blooms, and an entire field that once had nothing but dirt, is filled with life and beauty.

During some of my travels, certain places have aroused this feeling in me; places that have taken my breath away, places that feel like home.

My earliest memory of such a place would probably be Baguio, a city in the mountains in the north of the Philippines. I had spent almost every summer there as a child, and bathed in its cool air that smelt of pine. I rode horses, learned to bike and roller-skate (had quite a few injuries), and met a lot of interesting people. Unfortunately, rampant and uncontrolled development has destroyed the Baguio I once knew, and living there no longer appeals to me as it once did.

Another place I felt at home in was in Basco, Batanes, the northernmost island of the Philippines.

Batanes
Photo by Maria Ong

Closer to Taiwan than the rest of the Philippines, Batanes looks completely different from the rest of the archipelago.

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Fundacion Pacita. Photo by Victor Gamboa

Then there is Baler, Aurora, a city on the Pacific coast, six hours from Manila. Over the course of well over thirty trips, I grew to love surfing, the people, and the place.

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Photo by JR Teehankee

When I went to Bali, Indonesia in 2013, the perfect waves, friendly people, and cheap yet delicious food made me feel that I needed to–if not relocate–return here at least once a year.

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And then in January 2015 I experienced La Palma.

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Rainbows are gay. Unless they’re on La Palma.

All the places that have captured my heart have similar characteristics in that they have a lot of nature, are close to the ocean, the people living there are warm and hospitable, and economically are quite undeveloped, and certainly none are likely to be listed in the GOOD cities index anytime soon.

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The view from my flat.

It could have something to do with my having grown up in notoriously congested and polluted Manila.

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Although Manila will always be my home. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Like Thoreau, I longed to escape the concrete jungle, and time and again, had considered packing up and living on some seaside town where the pace was easy, and life was as it should be: Enjoyed everyday.

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I have always contended that sunsets were overrated…until I experienced the daily programming on La Palma.

But La Palma was on a whole another level. Its natural beauty was stunning, with its sunsets, mountains, flora, seaside, and climate being optimal for human existence.

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Caldera de Taburiente National Park

The entire island is a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

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Compared to Barcelona, the Spanish people I met here were so relaxed, friendly, and their features were likewise very different. Also, I was surprised at how many Germans were on the island. Hiking, apparently, is something Germans (and other Scandinavians) are totally crazy about. I met that rare breed–retired hippie Germans–who have made la Isla Bonita their home.

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If only I had a wing suit.

Even if hiking isn’t your thing–although if you are walking through trails like these–how could you not be, La Palma offers so many opportunities for cyclists, climbers, downhill bikers and long boarders, para and hang gliders, sailors, surfers, and so on.

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You need to register in the visitor centre before visiting Caldera de Taburiente National Park, and slots are limited.
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Fuencaliente

The island was formed and reformed by volcanic activity, and the most recent eruption was less forty years ago, and its raw beauty made me imagine that this is what the earth must have looked like when it was very young.

20150108_164529 Although I have never been there, I imagine that this is what Hawaii–one of my dream destinations–looks like.

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Los Guirres

Although Hawaii has much better waves, I was pleasantly surprised to see beautiful right handers and A-frames at Los Guirres, one of the surf breaks on La Palma and the one of the stops for the Gran Canaria surf circuit.

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If only I had a surfboard and wetsuit.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to paddle out because I didn’t have any gear and wasn’t able to find the board and wetsuit rental. Instead, I was able to watch a bit of the surf, bodyboard and drop knee competition that just happened to take place that weekend.

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At the competition I saw the most number of people I had ever seen in one place on the island. La Palma doesn’t have its own university and its industry mainly revolves around bananas and salt, which are its main exports. As a result, young people leave to study and find work, leaving an ageing population and not much economic activity.

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But this is what draws me to this place even more. Bali and Baler have started to become crowded as tourism has developed the area. In La Palma, with a population of less than 18,000, you can go to many places and not encounter another human being.

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Reventon trail

Before I came, I considered hiking to be a boring past time, devoid of any thrill or challenge. I’ve gone mountain climbing, cross-country skiing, and caving, and all the hikes I’ve been on had been unenjoyable. But La Palma showed me that I had not experienced extreme hiking. Every year, hikers die and sometimes disappear in these mountains. Towards the end of my stay we went on hikes that lasted for five hours, that rose and descended a thousand meters, and where nothing, not even the wind, could be heard.

Absolute silence.

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Los Llanos
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This park is designed by the island’s resident artist, the Gaudi of La Palma, if you will, renaissance man Luis Morera

Of course, it could simply be the people that have drawn me to this place. As I wrote in Terminal Illness, I went to La Palma to visit my aunt whom I had not seen in over twenty five years. She and my cousin made my stay absolutely wonderful, especially since it was such an ordeal to get there, and I will forever be grateful for their hospitality. My aunt rises up with the sun, which peeks over the mountain at around 9, she makes an impressive cup of tea, then goes to work in the garden. She has a macadamia tree. She and her husband are still gradually moving books and things over from Germany, and the house still needs constant work. Occasionally, she visits with other residents of the island (her neighbour, another German, spends seven days a week tending to his garden–which is beautiful) or drives into town to do shopping.

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Warm enough to sit outside, but at 20 degrees, the water was too cold to swim in. Summertime in La Palma is very warm, I am told.

My aunt had only moved to La Palma less than two years ago, before this she had devoted her life to running a bookshop which she owned for fifteen years, then sold when on their third trip to the island, her husband said, ‘Sell the bookshop, let’s get a place here.’ Just like that.

It sounds so simple, although of course, it never is. But at its core, life and love are simple.

It is for all these reasons that La Palma has captured my heart.

So we shall meet again someday, La Isla Bonita.

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This is how around how much I need.

During these seven days, the island also captured my imagination:

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Fuencaliente, 21.59 x 33cm, watercolour and graphite

 

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Tihuya, dimensions variable, wood, volcanic rock.
“Tihuya” was the name of the island before the Spanish invaded, renaming it and wiping out all traces of the indigenous people.

 

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Carcosa. Digital photograph.

 


If you would like to read more about everyday life on La Isla Bonita, here is the most popular blog on La Palma (in German).

 

Terminal Illness: Part Two

Continued from Part One

 

In terms of experience level, I would classify myself as a class 3 traveler (5 being the highest). I’ve been to three continents (Asia, Europe, Australia), have flown on flights lasting 22 hours, have traveled extensively around the Philippines, and when I have the means, I try to visit at least one new country every year. Despite having been granted a ten-year US visa thrice, but I have never taken advantage of it, and have never traveled above Economy class.

So I wouldn’t consider myself inexperienced when it comes to air travel. As a class 3 traveler I have had my share of mishaps. Compounded with my penchant for disregarding rules and regulations, I have had quite a few ‘incidents’ in airports.

But in this particular case, it could have just been sheer bad luck.

As I mentioned in Part One, I was bound for a flight to La Palma from Barcelona at 0900. After some setbacks, I had made it to the airport at around 0800, and was headed for the security check.

Like any experienced air traveler, I had checked in online prior to my flight, but–and here’s where the inner misfit in me reared its all too familiar head–didn’t print a boarding pass. Besides the fact that I didn’t have a printer, I figured, Hey, this is Barcelona, a developed country, not the Philippines, and nobody brings a printed boarding pass in the age of online check-ins and QR codes. For good measure, I sent the boarding pass to my cellphone and had the confirmation email of my online booking on my tablet.

While queuing up for the security check, there was a scanner for the boarding pass. I showed the airport personnel the ‘boarding pass’ link I’d received by SMS, but then I realised I needed the bar code for the machine. Now here’s my phone:

My #antique #nokia #phone #unbreakable #iphone #needanupgrade

A post shared by Jose Gamboa (@pinoyartista) on

Cursing under my breath, I spent around 10 minutes trying to pull up the boarding pass on my iPad using the 30-minute free airport wifi. For some reason the site and link wouldn’t work so I gave up and went to the Vueling check-in counter (another five or so minutes in the queue) where I was told by the desk agent that I needed to try the last-minute check-in desk (had I known such a desk existed I would have gone there immediately) at the end of the bank of counters.

Now I was starting to panic. My heart racing, I dashed to the last-minute desk. There a lady was calling the name of some tardy passenger, indicating that I had to wait. When she could attend to me, I told her my flight details. “You are too late,” she declared matter-of-factly. I could only imagine the expression on my face. “The gates close in three minutes,” she stated flatly, and despite my begging and assuring her of my running speed, she said it was impossible for me to make it. Perhaps if I had come ten minutes ago (while I was copying the boarding pass link from my phone to the browser on my iPad), it would still have been possible, but since this was not the case she suggested I check the Vueling ticketing office for a flight change.

With a terrible knot in my stomach, I sprinted to the Vueling ticketing desk (which of course had to be all the way at the end of the hall) where I pleaded with them to help me. The first person I spoke to simply looked at his computer and said the worst words I have ever heard.

Besides ‘You’re going to live. Kinda,’ ‘I’m sorry, but your application has been denied,’ and ‘It’s not working,’ this is the worst sentence one could ever hear:

‘Your plane has already left.’

That’s when the sheer hopelessness of my situation struck me.

Until that point in my life, I had never heard such a sound escape from my lips. The groan of despair was punctuated by the thud of my forehead as I leaned it against the cold glass of the window of the ticketing office. I felt utterly horrible. I had been looking forward to this trip for the past weeks, the ticket had already been paid for of course, and my aunt Susan, whom I hadn’t seen in over twenty-five years, was expecting me.

Disheartened, I tried to call her to tell her the bad news. The call wouldn’t go through so I sent her a message asking her to call me, and that it was an emergency.

I went back to the Vueling ticketing office, deciding to ask another ticketing agent who might possibly be more resourceful. I spoke to a Jordi who said that there were no more flights for the rest of the week to La Palma, but that there was the option of taking a flight to Tenerife instead, then taking a connecting flight or a ferry to La Palma. The change would cost an additional €129, and I had to make the booking by 1005 and he couldn’t tell me how much the connection or ferry would cost.

That was it. Game over. No way was I going to spend that amount over the original flight. I crumpled to the floor in the corner of the terminal and sent out an email to Anja apologizing for fucking up so badly, and tried to breath.

That was that, I thought. I had just wasted a plane ticket–something I’ve never done before–and I was preparing myself to go back to my flat where I would proceed to lock myself up in my room for the rest of the week.

Then my phone rang. It was tita Susan. It was the first time in twenty five years that either one of us had heard each other’s voice. On the verge of breaking down, I explained what had just happened. Calmly, she said she would talk to Anja. A few minutes later, Anja called and I explained that there is an option to go to La Palma through Tenerife, and I heard her mother say that this was quite simple. But I didn’t think I’d have enough money to buy another ticket from Tenerife to La Palma, I said. She told me not to worry about this, that they would book the flight for me.

So I went back to Jordi and bought the 1200 flight to Tenerife arriving at 1420. Anja texted me that I was booked on a Canary Air flight at 1535, I just had to pick up my ticket at their desk, and that Tenerife was a small airport so there was a lot of time to make the connection.

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Exhausted but bolstered by the fact that they had not given up on me, I was on my way to Tenerife two hours later.

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The fat lady was still not singing though. When we landed two hours later, I checked the time and my heart stopped for the second time that day.

1520.

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Edvard Munch knows.

But Anja said it was a small airport, so maybe fifteen minutes was enough time to pick up my ticket, check in, and go through security. I was the first out the door of the plane and into the terminal. Unable to find the Canary Air desk, I asked the airport security with Guardia Civil emblazoned on his uniform. He indicated how to get to the desk, but I still couldn’t find it. It was ten minutes to departure, and I couldn’t believe I could be so stupid as to miss two flights in a single day.

Careening around in a panic–there were no escalators–I wound up back where I started, to the puzzlement of the Guardia Civil. Finally he understood what I was looking for. I explained that it was an emergency, that my flight was leaving in less than ten minutes. “Don’t worry, we are one hour behind Barcelona,” he said (I paraphrase). My heart started to beat normally once again. Mind you, throughout this entire ordeal–which had so far lasted several hours–I was communicating in nothing but Spanish. He led me to through security barriers and I found the Canary Air ticketing desk tucked away in a corner behind a pillar where they were sure to be difficult to find.

The lady confirmed my booking, then handed me a bill to pay for €59. Confused, I said that this was already paid for. She checked her computer and shook her head. After paying for the flight to Tenerife, I had €71 in my wallet, which thankfully covered the fare. So I approached the check-in desk with my boarding pass and €12 to my name. The airport officer then said that they have two bookings under my name. She cancelled one and told me to return to the Canary Air office to get a refund.

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Tenerife airport has paid video games and internet  (€1 gets you something like 20 minutes) and kiddie rides. It almost reminds me of my least-favorite airport, Manila’s NAIA 1.

At 1535 I was back up in the air, flying over the blue waters in a plane that was probably as old as I was. I noticed that with all my running that day, my left shoe’s sole had started to come off. These were hand-me-down hiking boots, and before leaving Barcelona, I had just had the right sole repaired. Looking around at the old plane, I thought, “Please let this be the last thing to go wrong today.”

And it was. At 1610 I walked through the arrivals gate of La Palma airport, hugged my aunt and cousin, got into the car, and drove through the most beautiful island I had ever seen.

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Touchdown.
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All’s well that ends in La Palma.

Epilogue

A few days later, I received an email with the subject, ‘Did you like your Vueling experience?’ (translated). In this case, silence was the best response.

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Did I learn anything from this ordeal? Two things: First, always print your boarding pass. Second, be thrifty in all things, except when it comes to air travel. This should likewise apply to medical care, but that’s a story for another day.

 

Terminal Illness: Part One

 

Prologue

I have always had problems with authority. When it comes to rules, like in the story of Bre’r Rabbit and the Brair Patch, if you want me to do something, tell me to what it is and I will pathologically do something else, gaining some sort of undefinable satisfaction from refuting imperatives that may be as simple as ‘No Entry’ signs to as practical as ‘Please sit down while you are on the (insert the ride or transport of your choice).’ My point of contention is not the rule itself–this is for the good of the general public–but that it should always apply, when I feel that there is room for exceptions. This knee-jerk rebellion kicks in most especially in ‘controlled’ environments, places where authority is unquestioned and absolute. Places like embassies, restricted areas in offices and hospitals, prisons, military camps (I was detained for 6 hours in 2012 while working as a courtroom sketch artist for an Al Jezeera – English documentary. I will expound further in a future post), and airports.

Airports and I have quite the history together.

2010: Stopped at the security check of NAIA 3 for packing a Swiss Army knife in my carry-on. They told that I would have to get rid of it before I could board the Cebu Pacific flight to Samar, where I was headed for a surf. Not seeing any alternative, I gave it to the airport security officer.

At the departure gate, I thought about how I really liked that Swiss knife–it was a present from my godfather–so I ran back to the security check to ask for it back, gave it to a Cebu Pacific desk agent, saying that I would be back in Manila in a few days, and would she mind keeping it for me? She said yes, we exchanged numbers, and ran the considerable distance back to the gate where boarding was already in progress. Upon returning to Manila, I contacted the Cebu Pacific desk agent, but I think she had grown attached to the Swiss knife and I never saw it or her again.

2012: On a trip to visit my sister in Brisbane, I received this lovely letter from the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service:383013_318786388131377_204919405_n On the immigration form one is asked if they are bringing in any foodstuffs. I had some granola bars on me, and I assumed the Australian Quarantine & Inspection Service meant produce, meats, fish, and so on, so I indicated ‘No.’ Apparently that was a mistake. During the security check they took me aside and sternly informed me that I had breached Australian Quarantine Law. Fortunately, I simply got a slap on the wrist instead of the fine of $AUD220 or even 10 years’ imprisonment.

2013: While traveling to Hong Kong to visit my friend Dominique, who was living and working there at the time, I was detained for around two hours. I had just landed, and at immigrations the officer took a cursory glance at my passport then beckoned me to follow him. I was led through a door, a starkly-lit hallway, then into a  holding area with other travellers, 90% of whom, as far as I could tell, were Filipinos, with some Papua New Guineans and a Taiwanese girl who was traveling as an unaccompanied minor.

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Trying to sneak a photo of a holding area in the Hong Kong airport using a handheld camera is not easy.

I figured that being a 33-year old, single Filipino male, I fit the profile of someone who might want to overstay in HK, something that Filipinos have earned a reputation for doing. In colloquial Tagalog we even have a term for this: TNT, which stands for Tago Nang Tago, translating to ‘Constantly Hiding From the Immigration Authorities.’ Maybe it was because on the immigration card I indicated ‘the Omni Hotel’ as my residence in HK, a hotel I had stayed at with my family over twenty years ago. Why I put that down can only be explained by that innate problem I have with authority.

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Hong Kong circa 1989. Since I’m not in this wonderful group photo blocking pretty much the entire HK skyline, it is reasonable to conclude that my rebellious streak was already beginning to find its voice during this time.

In broken english, they asked me questions about my profession, how much money I brought, and so on. This was not so bad, considering the other detainees were interrogated in rooms, asked to switch on their computers, and questioned more aggressively than me. When they asked me where I was staying I provided them with Dominique’s address and phone number, and they gave her a call. She had been expecting me to call her hours ago from the train station from the airport–where she would meet me–once I had arrived. She later told me she had fallen asleep waiting, and when her phone, she immediately asked “Where are you?!” upon picking up and was surprised to hear a strange voice on the other line introduce himself as someone with the Hong Kong Immigration Authority.

After two hours or so I was finally free to go. I got on the train (didn’t even buy a ticket), and was greeted by the Dom’s bemused expression as I proceeded to pay the fare at the counter to exit the train station.

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“Hm, I’m sure he’s somewhere out there…”

2015: For the holidays, I was flying to La Palma in the Canary Islands from Barcelona to visit my aunt Susan whom I hadn’t seen in over twenty-five years, and my cousin Anja.

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Baguio City, circa 1984. I’m next to Tita Susan who is on the far left, Anja is second to the right.

My flight was at 0900. I was up by 0500 and it was still dark when I walked out to catch the bus which would take me to Plaza España, where another bus would take me to the airport. Simples.

After reaching the first bus stop and waiting and walking from stop to stop for around 10 minutes, I realised that the bus wasn’t coming and that walking to Plaza España would take too long. I hailed a cab, got to the bus station in less than ten minutes, where I saw the next bus waiting. At that point I should have leapt out of the cab like in the movies, telling the driver to keep the change. That would have been the right and cool thing to do. But instead, I waited while he counted out the few cents I had coming, lost the few precious seconds, and missed the bus. But no problem, there was another bus coming. In fact, there was an express bus that went straight to the airport. It was more expensive, but after waiting for the regular bus to arrive, I decided that I’d need to to shell out the €5 to get there in half the time. But then these express buses do not make change for anything larger than €20, and I was only carrying €50’s. The driver shook his head when I asked him to give me a change, so I proceeded to ask the other passengers. No one had any change. I spent fifteen minutes running around like a fool. On the curb was a queue of taxis waiting for passengers. I went from one to the next, but at seven in the morning, no one had any change. In desperation I approached a couple of street sweepers, who looked at me like I was crazy, exclaiming (and I am paraphrasing) “Can’t you see we’re working? We could use 50 euros!” They directed me to the Metro, where I went down but there wasn’t a soul. I tried cafés in the Plaza, where the first said they didn’t have change, the second one was closed. Returned to the first cafe, asked to buy a bottle of water, figuring that they had no choice but to give me change then, but the lady insisted that she really didn’t have any at this hour. I realised that I had no chance of getting on the express bus so I decided to wait until the regular bus arrived.

Around 0745 I was headed for Terminal 1 of Barcelona airport.

But my true ordeal had yet to begin.

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Then There Were Five

 

Meet the latest addition to the Spanish Apartment:

(drumroll)

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Such is my ignorance of Latin Americans that I thought his hair was not naturally curly.

Meet Gerson, a theatre graduate from Baranquilla, Colombia (the hometown of the magnificent Sofia Vergara and Shakira). He won a Young Talents Fellowship under ICETEX to take a diploma in Arts & Cultural Management at the International University of Catalonia. He has acted on the stage and on television, and plans to one day have his own TV show.

As a member of Fundación Doctora Clown (Clown Doctors), he dispenses the medicine of laughter to sick children in the hospital.

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Gerson (far left) dressed as his clown persona, Coco.

Unlike the rest of us who are doing the Masters Program, Gerson is taking the non-degree track of the program. He opted to take the course in English in order to improve his communication skills, instead of choosing the Spanish track. He really wanted to study drama or something related to performance art, he said, but he couldn’t find any courses within the fellowship’s budget in Spain. So now he is studying the legal aspects and tools of cultural management instead of acting or dance. It is twice the challenge for him.

So now we are five (at least until April, which is when Gerson finishes his studies).

He is a welcome addition to the flat first because now our individual rent payments go down. It is also good to have another Spanish speaker in the flat aside from Awat, so that we non-Spanish speakers have more opportunities to practice and learn Castellan, something I have not been doing as much as I should. Thirdly (pun intended), it is great to have another person from a developing country with whom I can share common experiences and traditions.

Moreover, another male in the flat is better than being the only thorn among the roses. Being surrounded by females both at school and at home–pleasant though it may seem–can get quite exhausting. Having relatives and friends who are gay, I’m accustomed to interacting with homosexuals, although it is the first time that I will be living with one. Most importantly, however, is that Gerson is a welcome addition to our home because he is a good person with a pleasant sense of humour.

It does not come without its drawbacks of course. Having more people in the flat means less space and as I’ve written about previously, getting along with three people is challenging enough for me as it is.

Only time will tell.

Back to School

Education is what remains after the schools and teachers are done with you. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.

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Regardless of where you are in life, the first day of anything is always a nerve-wracking experience. As I first stepped through the gates of the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya the day after I had arrived in Barcelona, I felt the nervousness that everyone feels on that first day of school. Add to the fact that I had yet to unpack, was still adjusting to the six-hour time difference, and had spent my first night sleeping on a piece of cardboard.

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Slept like a baby.

It helped that I was with my three flatmates who were my schoolmates as well. At least I could get to the university without getting lost. They all had 3G on their phones so could easily use Google Maps or City Mapper (I highly recommend this app) to easily get from point A to point B without getting hopelessly lost, as I frequently do.

After officially enrolling, the other students and I were greeted by Dr. Consuela Dobrescu, the academic coordinator of the program. Each of us was handed a folder containing a planner, highlighters, a folder, a pencil, and a calendar from the university. She then toured us around the campus which was composed of two buildings, one with five floors and another with six. UIC was so much smaller in area than the universities back home. It was not tiny by any standards, and in addition to my course, a Masters in Arts and Cultural Management, they also have graduate and doctorate courses in Business, Education, Architecture, Humanities, and more. Another stark difference is how few personnel they require. There are perhaps two people in charge of security, a few more for custodial and food services, and the rest are academic and administrative staff. At the DLS-CSB School of Design & Arts where I taught illustration, the building is thirteen stories and they employ a small army of security guards, custodial personnel, drivers, and non-teaching staff. Of course, they have over 4,000 students, but in the Philippines, labor is cheap.

School was never a place for learning for me, I feel. I had spent nearly 50% of my life to date in educational institutions, with four years resulting in a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (a course especially designed for those who do not know what they want to do when they grow up—which is an accurate description for who I was in college and even after), and a year in the University of the Philippines taking up the Certificate for Professional Educators Program in order to teach.

But here I am now, paying a significant amount of money out of my own pocket, traveling more than halfway across the world to sit in a classroom and to listen to lectures. At thirty-five, I am the oldest in my class and two years older than the academic director of my program. My brain stopped creating new connections over ten years ago, and millions of my neurons have ceased to fire by now, so my ability to acquire new knowledge isn’t all it used to be.

So why am I going back to school? And why all the way in Spain?

Go to page 2 to find out.