Family · Life · Relationships

Survived and thrived in SG

It’s the 28th of March today and today marks the anniversary of my first out-of-the country trip…a trip to Singapore!

Singapore’s Harbourfront

The main reason why Singapore was my first out-of-the-country trip was because I needed to go to Singapore. I will elaborate more on why it definitely was a need in my next posts. In a nutshell, I went to Singapore last year to see Coldplay, my favorite band in the world (woohoo!). Of course, I originally wanted to watch Coldplay in Manila with my kababayans but…well, let’s just say the concert industry here in the Philippines needs major revamping. 🙂

To be honest, I was not even planning on going anywhere abroad last year. But, like I said, I needed to go because…hello…Coldplay! The best band in the world!

And so it was set. I will be seeing Coldplay on the 31st of March 2017 in Singapore. Since it was my first time to leave the country, I did not want to go alone. And because I suck at directions, I had to drag someone with me, should I get lost in Singapore. This someone had to be cool, should be really awesome at directions, should never be boring, should be able to take lit photos, and most importantly, should appreciate Coldplay as well.

I couldn’t find anyone who fit these descriptions I required, so I brought my brother instead.

Just kidding haha! Of course, my first choice was my brother! I just know we were going to have loads of fun, not just because he likes Coldplay too, but because he is that annoying, cool kid whom everyone wants to be friends with. So I just know that I will really enjoy our stay in Singapore. Plus, did I already mention that he also likes Coldplay? And he is so much better at directions than I will ever be?

It has been a year since our trip and today, on the anniversary of my first trip abroad, let me give you some of my narratives.


 

Below are some tips that we would like to share to all of you who have not been to Singapore or who would like to reminisce the times when they were in the Lion City:

 

1. Choose an awesome travel buddy and try something new

Try something new. This was our mindset when we went to Singapore. And I am glad we stayed faithful to ensuring that this remains our mindset all throughout the trip. But sticking to this mindset would have been impossible if your travel buddy is not as awesome as you would like and need them to be.

We are SO gonna get lost!!!

I vividly remember my brother telling me this the moment we confirmed that we really are going to Singapore. And, fast forward to the trip itself, and to the present time I am writing this, we DID get lost…a lot of times actually. Unsurprisingly, we got really lost on our first day. I complained a lot about how hungry and tired I already was but I am glad that I got a chill brother who kept winging it and before I know it, we were already in the places we wanted to visit. I’ve always thought I would’ve been an annoying travel buddy and during our trip to Singapore, I think my brother would agree when I say that this hypothesis has already been proven haha! I guess this is because I am such an obsessed planner and changes make me crazy, which is why getting lost drove me insane! But, like I said, I am favored that I have an awesome travel buddy in my brother. Okay so maybe this number 1 tip is starting to look more like that of an appreciation post for my brother haha! But, really, for someone like me who is always reluctant in trying something new, my brother was the necessary push for me to enjoy Singapore despite being out of my comfort zone. It was also his first time in Singapore, but because of the adventurer that he is, he was a lot cool and patient during our whole trip. I think, eventually, his fun spirit rubbed off on me a little haha! So, yes! Your trip is going to be a whole lot of fun when you have an interesting travel buddy with a mindset to do interesting stuff too! Let loose, have fun!

 

2. Changi Airport is REALLY one of the best airports in the world

Okay, I am not sure if I even have the right to say this, since I have only been to two international airports (Changi Airport in Singapore and Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand) as of this writing. But, I am gonna say this anyway…Changi Airport is SUPER AWESOME! Our flight got delayed and when we landed in Singapore a little past midnight of March 28th, despite having traveled for only 4 hours, we were still so tired. But when we saw Changi, we were so captivated by how clean and fancy it looks! We didn’t even get to roam around but we just know that the Changi Airport is HUGE! Before our flight back to Manila, we had 4 hours to waste and we were still unable to cover the whole vicinity. Maybe next time! The best part? Its McDonald’s has a vegetarian burger!!!! Of course THIS is the best airport to date for me! Haha!

3. Take the MRT/LRT or the bus over cabs and Uber

Image Source: https://www.lta.gov.sg/content/ltaweb/en/public-transport/mrt-and-lrt-trains/train-system-map.html

While cabs and Uber are available in Singapore, I would really highly recommend that you take the metro or the bus when going around as much as possible. The only time we hailed an Uber was when we arrived in Singapore. Our flight got delayed so we arrived at 1:00AM and the metro and buses were no longer operational during that time. But for the rest of our stay, we either took the metro or the bus, or walked around. We would usually be on the East West Line (the green line), because this line has a station near where we were staying. The SG buses also have distinct numbers that will only stop at certain bus stops and will only go to certain destinations. This is actually convenient since, they will not be stopping on bus stops that do not include their route, which will really allow passengers to actually predict their travel time more accurately. Whether we were in the MRT/LRT or in a bus, we would keep thinking about how efficient Singapore’s public transportation is. At some point, we would pray that someday, the Philippines will achieve this kind of efficiency too.

4. Walk, walk, walk

While you can get to point A to point B faster through a cab, the metro, or a bus, we really encourage everyone to try walking around this city. Honestly, a huge chunk of our walking sessions during this trip were because we got lost. But it was through our walking that we got to discover places that were not even part of itinerary or were rarely documented by other travellers online. We found great food, cool graffiti-ladened walls, and instagrammable spots. The unhurried pace that walking requires from you will get you to appreciate the city even more. So, go, walk, and explore!

 

5. (Some of) the best things are free!

We were on a very limited budget so our itinerary was carefully crafted to ensure that we were working within the budget that we have allotted for ourselves daily. I guess it really helps when you are on one page with your travel buddy (shoutout to my brother hello!) when it comes to your daily expenses, because on our last day in Singapore, we found that we still have money to spare. Our itinerary included places that do not require entrance fees, which is something we did not regret at all. Sure, we could’ve also enjoyed going to places that had entrance fees, but to know that we still got to enjoy so much given the limited amount of money we had was way more fulfilling. This actually made us even more excited to come back when we already have a larger budget, because we know that we were able to have fun even with little. One really important tip that we’d like to share is to utilize the Singapore Tourist Pass . This is Singapore’s initiative that allows its tourists unlimited rides on Singapore’s public transport (MRT/LRT and bus) for the duration that it is valid. The pass was so much useful because it allowed us to go to a lot of places, switch to other train lines, and even ride buses just because we want to. One late night (after the Coldplay concert wooohooo!!!), we were lost in Kallang and we did not know how to get back to our place, so we just boarded a bus and hoped that it will take us to somewhere familiar. We got to a familiar place I think only after 3 tries of boarding 3 buses, so, thanks Tourist Pass! We would’ve been a lot broke if not for you! Haha!

6. Hawker centres give you HUGE value for your money

Again, given that we had limited budget, prior to our trip, we scoured the Internet using these keywords: “how do a vegetarian and her annoying brother survive in Singapore?”. Hahaha! Fortunately, helpful netizens swore to the awesomeness of hawker centres and just like that, my brother and I became convinced that we can actually survive for one week! Hawker centres are EVERYWHERE in Singapore and I guess they are similar to what Filipinos know as food courts. Food in hawker centres are very affordable and the choices are almost endless! The most amazing part of it all? There are vegetarian-friendly stalls in hawker centres that actually offer awesome vegetarian food. My brother got to try vegetarian food from one vegetarian stall (in a hawker centre near the National Library, I think) and he actually LIKED the food! His vegetarian sister is proud, of course!!

7. Forgo unnecessary splurging on your accommodation

I guess this a well-known travel tip already but now that I’ve had my own share of travelling, I can now strongly agree with this. However, take note that I said “unnecessary splurging”. Still, you have to ensure that all the essentials are in your chosen accommodation or host’s home. In our case, I emphasized that our place needed two separate beds, a decent aircon, Wi-Fi, and a clean and well-maintained bathroom. All other amenities like swimming pools, hot shower, and TV were things that my brother and I agreed we can do without in our stay. Of course, this will not be the case when we’re staying in a cold country like somewhere in Europe or in Japan, for example, where a hot shower is definitely a must! Prior to our SG trip, my brother and I actually fought about this before booking for our accommodation. I wanted to stay in the best hotel or Airbnb we could find. I was even thinking along the lines of “the more ‘instagram-worthy’ it was, the better”. I didn’t even care if it was far from the train station, or far from the heart of the city. Haha. But thank God for my brother who talked some sense into my delusional self. In the end, we managed to find a place that we both like and has the non-negotioables that we needed.

8. Bring a travel adapter

Image source: http://www.iec.ch/worldplugs/typeG.htm
Image source: http://www.iec.ch/worldplugs/typeG.htm

This is one tip that we wished we found in the travel blogs and sites that we’ve read. Note that Singapore’s power sockets (compatible for type G plugs) are different from those in the Philippines. Though we were able to buy cheap adapters that we can use during our stay, I guess the next time we will be able to use these is when we go back to Singapore.

9. Buy and use a local sim to utilize Singapore’s incredibly-advanced Internet connection

Unlike most of the tips here, this is one tip that we actually failed to do ourselves. Local sims are readily available when we landed in Changi airport, but because we were extra stingy, we didn’t bother getting one. We noted that we can just use the access points in various establishments to connect to their Wi-Fi. However, it turns out that we couldn’t use the Wi-Fi connection in establishments too, since they would require…you guessed it!…a local sim. While it was a bit of a bummer at first, we eventually let it go and just settled with our place’s Wi-Fi. And since our place had Wi-Fi anyway, we could just do everything that required an Internet connection before we leave for the day and then just take screenshots of our searches (e.g. maps, roads, places, etc). Because my brother and I are cool people, we managed to survive using this intelligent hack! Hahaha! We survived and thrived using old-school navigation (i.e. screenshots, bickering with one another, street signs, stock knowledge, asking Filipino-looking people for directions), but, a local sim capable of mobile data (that can allow us to use and enjoy Singapore’s FAST connection) would have been a huge help too!

10. Need gifts for loved ones back home? Go to the supermarket!

It was an easy decision for me to choose to go to a local supermarket to buy gifts because most of my loved ones like food and coffee. So as pasalubong, I decided to buy Singaporean snacks, candies, chocolates, coffee, and tea from supermarkets such as Sheng Shiong and FairPrice. Wide variety of choices and affordable!


 

Looking through these pictures made me miss Singapore even more! As I celebrate the anniversary of my first ever out-of-the-country trip, I pray that these pictures and this post will make you excited to visit Singapore too! I’d like to use this post to honor my brother as well, for if not for him, I would’ve probably failed to survive in Singapore. I would also like to thank some of our friends who are currently living in Singapore who went out of their way to meet us and to show us around. Thank you for allowing yourselves to be used by God to convince us that we are favored beyond measure (e.g. We weren’t even planning to go to Sentosa and eat fancy food priced at 10 SGD and above, but thankful for friends who chose to treat us to fancy dinners and lunches and to bring us to tourist spots that have entrance fees hehe). May God continue blessing you tremendously!

This 7-day stint in Singapore made us realize how much we truly are loved by God. I am documenting this here so I’d remember always. 🙂

Finally, please bear with the slight incoherence of this post. I was too excited to blog this experience that has been one-year delayed already. 🙂

God · Life

Know your gummy bears

Charmaine and candies

Those people whom I am close to, know that I am a picky-eater. But it’s no secret to most people that sweets can definitely make me happy, and turn my bad day into good. This is evidenced by a well-known SOP at home when my brothers and I would fight. They know that to get me to forget that I was even mad at them, a sour gecko from Trolli, a pack of TimTam, a box of Nerds, and/or a bar of Butterfinger would do the trick. And we’re in talking terms again.

So imagine my happiness when, for my 22nd birthday, my HS friends (who know and love me so much), surprised me with cheesecake cupcakes from Vanilla Cupcake Bakery, Toblerone torte from Mom and Tina’s and 5 boxes of candies from Wonka! I almost didn’t want to eat them because I just wanted to look at them. But then I realized, “Oh who am I kidding?!”. And before I know it, said sweets can no longer be found in our house anymore.

https://twitter.com/mainecentino/status/512577489055399936

But even with sweets, I can be very picky as well.

I can share all the chocolates that I have to people who like them more (I don’t like them any way ha ha). I’d gladly give up my share of cake if a person wants another slice. I can refuse an invitation to go to an ice cream parlor, if it means another person gets to go. But expect that there will be a real struggle in my mind at first, before I finally decide to share my sour gummy worms and sour tapes.  (Clearly, I’m not the most generous person in the world. Still working on that, by God’s grace. This has been a consistent reason for the numerous fights my siblings and I have at home. But that’s for another story.)

That monumental day when I decided to share

One of the many things that contribute a lot in my strive for excellence at work is eating while working. If you will look at my office table, these are the things that you will see: a bunch of papers, my pencil case, the company laptop, a tetrapack of Chuckie and a variety of food (ranging from sweets to crackers).

One time, I decided to bring  a pack of gummy bears to work. Although I’d normally consume them from morning to afternoon to last me throughout the day, for this time, I decided to eat them after lunch so there would be more to share.

I offered some to my male boss and another female colleague, and they promised to get some after a few minutes. I told them that they’re free to get some as I’d leave the pack on the common table as I head to the washroom. When I came back, my male boss asked if I can share my gummy worms to my female boss (who’s actually my direct supervisor, who just came back from a meeting during that time), to which I gladly obliged.

Me: *proceeds to my female boss’s table to offer her some gummy bears* Hi Ma’am. Would you like some?
Female Boss (FB): *looks at what I’m offering* Wow! Thank you, Charmaine! But I’m sorry, I don’t eat gummy bears.
Male Boss (MB): WHAT?! Who doesn’t eat gummy bears?!
FB: *still talking to me* Sorry ah. *shows me the ingredients part of the gummy bears pack* These gummy bears kasi are made of gelatin. And gelatin is made of boiled animal tendons and bones.  (Female Boss is a vegetarian)
MB and Me: *surprised*
MB: What?! How do you even know that?!
Me: Okay Ma’am. no problem.
FB: Sorry Charmaine ha, but thank you.
MB: Grabe, the good things.
FB: *just laughs at MB*

It wasn’t really a big deal for me. She has her reasons, and I like gummy bears, so it was probably a win-win situation then hehe. At first, I didn’t think much about my conversation with my female boss. She refused to take what I offered because clearly, she was (is) a vegetarian and what I was offering was something she doesn’t eat. So really, it was no big deal for me. However, as I started to think deeper about it, I begin to realize that this is very much similar to how we deal with sin.

Grabe, the good things!

What my male boss said stuck. “Grabe, the good things!

Who can blame him? I honestly can’t think of a person right now (besides my female boss) who doesn’t like (or eat) gummy bears, as I share his sentiment when he said, “Who doesn’t like gummy bears?!”. It probably wasn’t that mind-blowing to me as it was to him, but it definitely made me wonder, “Is my female boss really missing out on the good things (in this case, good food) of this world, because she chose to be a vegetarian?”.

Much thinking led me to this conclusion: She’s not missing out on the good things. At least from her point of view.

She chose to be a vegetarian, and when I look at her now, she is very much happy with what she chose to be.

And I try to understand why.

Learning from a vegetarian

In my limited mind, a vegetarian is simply someone who doesn’t eat meat and chooses to eat veggies or any food with no meat, instead. Different circumstances (such as a traumatic experience with eating meat, concerns with animal rights, etc)  may have led to this preference but all vegetarians will probably agree when I assume this: Given a choice between veggies and meat, they’d gladly choose to engulf all green and leafy items on a plate, than devour a perfectly-cooked, juicy steak.

My boss and I haven’t really talked that much about her being a vegetarian. But one thing I am certain of is that she (definitely) wasn’t born a vegetarian. She even told us stories about how much she enjoyed eating chicharon with vinegar. But apparently, for some reason, she is now a vegetarian. This was something she decided on, and  after careful pondering, she reached a conclusion: “I will resolve to be a vegetarian”.

She eventually acquired a distaste for meat, because she saw and understood that the vegetarian diet was so much better.

And, as far as I know, she is very much happy with her choice.

Gain a distaste

Now this is not to say that being a vegetarian is so much better. (Although there are people who claim that this is true.)

After having this exchange with my bosses, I can’t help but think about how this conversation about being a vegetarian relates to my life as a Christian and how real the struggles are in taking up my cross and following Jesus.

In the same way that my boss has already experienced eating both meat and veggies, those who follow Christ have experienced what it’s like to be beyond saving and what it’s like to know that Jesus has provided the ultimate solution for the consequences of sin. (A bit sloppy of a comparison, but I hope you get the point.)

So, as a Christian who has been and is loved much, it follows that I should be able to love much as well. (But this isn’t always the case, as I often have this tendency to negotiate with God to give me one free day to un-love people.)

As a Christian who has been and is given much, I, of all people, should know generosity by heart. But the food at home invisibly-labelled with my name will tell you otherwise.

This leads me to wonder, is it really possible to let go of something for the purpose of acquiring something better?

I am reminded of what John Piper said in his book, Desiring God,

I know of no other way to triumph over sin long-term than to gain a distaste for it because of a superior satisfaction in God.

For my boss, maybe she’s not really missing out on anything at all. She told us stories of how she enjoyed eating chicharon. Who knows how many stories she has about her favorite steak house which serves a perfect T-bone in medium rare, or her meriendas consisiting of isaw and barbecue, or her staple breakfast food involving longganisa and tapa, and so on.

Meat isn’t really something that is bad for our health. But here’s my boss, who acknowledges this very fact about meat, but instead opts to eat veggies instead. She has acquired a distaste for meat, because she realized how better it is to be a vegetarian. After weighing the pros and cons, she understood that the way to go is to go vegetarian. The most plausible explanation that I can think of is that my boss gained a distaste for meat and found veggies to be more satisfying instead. From what she told us, she used to enjoy eating meat, and every other food that contains or involves animals. But understanding how being a vegetarian was so much better (and only she understands what this means), she decided to take the non-carnivorous route.

Now, meat is not necessarily a bad thing. But she resolved that she will prefer veggies over meat instead, because she saw how better off she is without meat.

Now, imagine if we would only realize the same thing. And this should be an easy choice for us already. Because sin is a bad thing (I mean, REALLY bad!). That’s why the alternative should be something much more appealing to us.

But, do we know that sin is a bad thing? Are we aware of what it does to our souls? Are we convinced that if we let it consume us, eternal death awaits us?

 

Know your gummy bears

My boss said no to gummy bears because she has clearly delineated which food contains meat and meat products and which do not. It was easy for her to say no, because she knows what gummy bears are made of, and what gummy bears are made of deviate from the lifestyle she has chosen.

People find her lifestyle choice absurd, but she didn’t care. The vegetarian life was something she was satisfied in.

In the same way, a life with God may probably be an unpopular option when compared to a life devoid of Him.

There may be people thinking that a life with God may mean missing out on the good things. Honestly, I myself am guilty of thinking just that. There are times that maybe just one teeny bit of gummy bear won’t do any harm.

But to gain a distaste for sin, in exchange for gaining something (and Someone) so much better…this is what the Lover of our soul offers us. And, as evidenced by the numerous lives in the Bible transformed because of a “Yes” to God, I rest my case.

My prayer is that I will always say Yes to God.

Yes God, I resolve to gain a distaste for sin today and forever. I no longer want this. This can never satisfy.

I want You. Yes, God, You are all I want and need, in this lifetime and in eternity.