Small, But Big
For the past three and a half weeks, I’ve been on a social media sabbatical–more specifically, a facebook fast.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve gone on a facebook fast or been, to practice my castellano, incommunicado.
A couple of years ago, feeling a bit overwhelmed with how much the internet was taking up my time, and how it was affecting me psychologically, I decided to unplug once a week. That meant that every Sunday I didn’t go online at all. Then, I decided to try getting off facebook for a week.
Then it extended to a month. Then two. It is sort of like freediving, seeing just how far you can push yourself. In the end, I stayed off facebook a year and a half.
Eventually, reality pulled me back in because I started working as a freelance community manager, and the bogus account I had created to manage pages was taken down (big surprise since the account was named Katherine Upton and had only photos of the same). Until that point, even though I was managing several pages, my personal account was deactivated, and I had no connection with my 150 or so facebook friends during this time (I also tried to limit my connections to a minimum, believing Malcolm Gladwell’s “Rule of 150” from The Tipping Point where he purports that people have the capacity to have no more than 150 genuine connections. But believe me, I didn’t really have a whole lot of friends to add back then anyway. Today, things have improved for me somewhat socially, but I still don’t consider myself to have been blessed with a large number of true friends.
For some reason, being reachable never appealed to me. As a result, I only got a cellphone in 2008 when they handed me one at work, signed up for facebook in 2009, five years after the social media giant had already been available. At the height of their popularity, I didn’t sign up for Friendster, Myspace or Multiply, and consequently didn’t feel any remorse when these platforms went under, taking people’s precious photos and writing down with them. Today, I still own the same phone I bought five years ago, and in 2013 I bought a secondhand iPad 2, which was my first ever smart device. On it I installed the messaging app Viber, but because it is not supported on the iPad, I never got on WhatsApp, simply because I didn’t like the name or interface, and I thought mistakenly that Viber was sufficient, which was wrong because the former apparently is the preferred app of 99% of instant messenger users. Later, facebook outsourced their messaging interface, forcing everyone to install a 3rd party app which sucked.
Now, after moving to Barcelona and doubling my number of facebook friends, I decided for a second time, to go on a facebook fast. Again, it was partly because I was starting to feel overwhelmed, and I thought it was time to pull the needle from the vein.
Also, I was simply acting in accordance to my nature. I really think that facebook is too powerful, and can dictate whatever they want and the masses will follow, and that despite Zuckerberg having the best intentions, what happens in the future when he eventually goes? The people left running the biggest repository of private information may not be so ethical. It could already be happening. I had dragged my feet getting into the social media bandwagon, and now I was trying to get out before I got in too deep.
A third reason is because I think one of the biggest drawbacks of social media is narcissism and shortened attention spans. Facebook has spawned the selfie, the throwbacks, the oh-so-precious relationship and status updates that have become drugs for our egos. For an introvert like myself, I find it anathema to overshare, to imagine oneself so important as to matter, to be the voice of reason in a s0-called discussion about what colour a dress is or whatever controversy is currently trending.
Ironically, I have this blog and I have shared quite a bit on it as it is. But this is not for likes.
Furthermore, studies have shown that overuse of social media foments envy, lowered self-esteem, and for younger people, hinders academic adjustment.
It is such a breath of fresh air when you get off the timesuck that is facebook, or social media in general. The day seems longer, there is time to do relatively more important things, read a book, reminisce–not always a good thing, and to have–can you imagine?–real life conversations.
Here’s what unplugging has taught me:
This is the biggest insight I gleaned from my 2nd facebook fast. Of course, living abroad, I told my family that I would be going on a social media sabbatical, but I didn’t tell anybody else. Coincidentally, this was right about the time that Lent started, although I didn’t realise it at the time, and my sister joked that being raised Catholic, religious observance is in my theological body clock.
Even for the first facebook fast, I didn’t post an update notifying my adoring public that I would be deactivating. That would be contradictory to the entire exercise.
A day after I got a text from a couple of people asking what happened to my account. And I also started looking for emails and mobile numbers, alternative ways of getting in touch, and those that I wanted to get in touch with, I did so through these channels. Many were perturbed, others simply took it in stride. But facebook can be such a mindfuck–pardon my french–that you really start to get deluded into thinking those likes mean something, that your opinion matters, that your wall is your pulpit, your microphone for spewing your unimportant garbage into the world. Facebook doesn’t even show it to everyone unless you pay them for reach.
So I realised who actually wanted to talk to me, who I wanted to stay connected with, not just the random like or share. Having 300 or so ‘friends’ on facebook was in the end, a meaningless number, and by my count, I had between thirty to forty real friends. More to the point, it isn’t about being a hermit (something I’ve been called more than once), it’s about realising that you can be in touch in so many other ways, and that while social media may be the easiest and currently the most prevalent, it isn’t necessarily the best.
When I started to unplug I would leave my phone at home, or just let the battery run out. I stuck to a rigid schedule for checking email, even using a plug-in that would block my email screen every half hour. Whereas prior to deactivating I would log into facebook the first thing when I booted up the computer, or years later when I got a tablet, was the first thing I would instinctively check in the morning and the last thing before going to bed. Even Instagram at one point started to get too much, but at least it is not so intrusive.
— Pinoy Artista (@pinoyartista) February 22, 2015
Studies show that Filipinos spend an average of 4 hours a day on social media. The rest of the world probably goes to about 2 to 3…but nonetheless, that adds up. There are a lot of telling statistics on Tech Addiction. Life is brief enough as it is, and I refuse to squander any more time than I already have.
Without facebook, I found life went at a much more leisurely pace: cooking, cleaning, going for strolls, and doing errands, writing, and getting a lot of work that I had been putting off thanks to the addictive distractions of facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, tumblr, etc, done.
Like any substance you abuse, be it food, alcohol, tobacco, heroin, going cold turkey on facebook is extraordinarily difficult. The first time around, I had a bad case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Nobody invited me to anything, simply because they couldn’t add me to an event. I would hear conversations about this post, that comment, events, and hadn’t the faintest clue about what was going on. I started to feel like a non-person.
But after a while, as I mentioned in No. 1, people start to come around. They find other ways of reaching you, they pass the message through everyone around you. This was similar to when I refused to buy a cellphone. People would reach me through other people’s phones, and I eventually started using other people’s phones to text and call others, which of course, didn’t sit well with the one who owned the phone and had to pay the bill. I also learned that there are actually people who are affronted by or suspicious of people who don’t have a mobile phone or facebook account.
After a month I was relishing the exhilarating feeling of not having to check my wall, or needing to respond to friend requests from strangers or people you really didn’t want to add, or facestalking that cute girl from the bar, or keeping up with whatever people were concerned about, eating, wearing, or hawking.
But it isn’t enough just to deactivate facebook. Or not log into social media…on our personal smart devices these are always on, so unless you adjust the settings (or delete the app) the notifications will keep clamouring for your attention like a spoiled child every three seconds. Like alcoholics or drug addicts, if you don’t substitute the destructive habit with a positive one, you just tend to find another millstone to hang around your neck to replace the previous one. Aside from social media, the internet is in itself a huge landscape for you to simply lose yourself in. Believe me, I know. I’ve tried pretty much all sorts of platforms, wasted hours in discussion boards, watching TV series, days playing computer games, and have gone on youtube video binges, and even email suddenly becomes extremely interesting when you are so used to being in front of a screen that it is your default state, regardless of whether there is something to do or not.
The point of unplugging is to preserve your limited time and bandwidth and devoting these to worthwhile projects and activities. So in the morning, instead of tapping on that notification, do a few stretches instead. Instead of checking twitter twenty times a day, do it only when you’re boiling tea or making coffee, and set a timer. Get a limited data plan. Or better yet, don’t get one. I don’t have 3G on my tablet, which means I cannot always be connected and have to find that modern day oasis: The Wifi hotspot.
Similar to Tim Ferris’ advice in The Four-Hour Workweek, people should go on a low information diet. This means you limit the amount of input to your brain, thereby saving your brain capacity for only important matters. Don’t open email from other people first thing when logging in. This only puts you at the mercy of other people’s agendas. Instead, send those emails that you need to send, setting a timer for a half-hour or so, and log off once you’ve completed the most important email tasks. Repeat in the afternoon. Don’t read shit novels, magazines, listen or look at advertising, don’t memorise useless information, write it down, don’t read messages right when they arrive, or answer the phone during a meal.
So what do you do instead with the extra two to four hours in your day? That’s your call; you could take up a hobby, or learn something you’ve always wanted to, like dancing, but you will be surprised at what you are able to accomplish once you’ve taken control of your daily routine.
So if you’re considering going on a social media sabbatical, here are some suggestions:
To finish, I’m not saying facebook is bad, not at all, and just like computers and the internet, it serves a purpose. Google, Wikipedia, Youtube, these have become indispensable, or at least, extremely useful in education, research, finding what’s showing at the cinema and how to breakdance. Social media has brought people closer together in ways that the post, beepers, cellphones, skype, instant messaging did to some degree…but in a more immediate, (somewhat) enjoyable, and visual way.
Nowadays, a community page is mandatory for all businesses and organisations, and I know that it can be useful. As an artist, I have experienced firsthand how the internet has turned the art game on its head, taking away some–not all–the power from the institutions (galleries, curators, museums, auction houses). It is important for anyone with their own business, but especially those in the creative fields to have an online presence, be it a website, online portfolio, or a pinterest account (which I will never ever sign up for. Ever).
18.09.17 Update: 2015 – Opened a Pinterest account 😑
Approaching the end of my social media sabbatical, the urge to stay off facebook for good is really strong. But we’ll see how it goes.
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.
Closer to Taiwan than the rest of the Philippines, Batanes looks completely different from the rest of the archipelago.
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.
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.
And then in January 2015 I experienced 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.
It could have something to do with my having grown up in notoriously congested and polluted Manila.
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.
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.
The entire island is a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
During these seven days, the island also captured my imagination:
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).
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:
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.
Exhausted but bolstered by the fact that they had not given up on me, I was on my way to Tenerife two hours later.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Meet the latest addition to the Spanish Apartment:
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.
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.
Education is what remains after the schools and teachers are done with you. It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.
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.
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.