January 5, 2015 – The Commute

I rode a bus to work for the first time in a few weeks.

That probably is the dullest introduction that you will read today, maybe ever.

I do not want to make it seem like a “first world problem” thing, but it is significant, at least for me.

My wife and I are working in the same company. Our company is located in the Philippines, but we follow US time zones. That means we work in the graveyard shift. I normally follow her schedule when I can, since her department is a little stricter with their schedules. As for my department, as long as I am not leading a training class, I am free to go to the office anytime I need to, as long as I complete the regular nine hour work (minimum).

A few things made me change that, though. I have observed that we are not spending much time with Alpha (our son), only 4 hours at the most. With all the work that we need to finish, we tend to stay in the office longer than what is expected. When we go home, sometimes we just play with Alpha a few hours and then we have to sleep for the next work night. There are days when we are just so tired that we just give him a kiss, and fall asleep, even if we don’t want to.

I decided to move to an earlier shift, and if possible, go back home during lunch and accompany my wife to work. Only problem is, traveling at night is a scary thing. There are times when my wife has to travel by herself. She normally takes a cab to get to work, but even then, her safety is still a concern. A lot of news about devilish cab drivers abound, which validates our fear.

If traveling via taxis are scary, utilizing buses are equally scary.

Buses can be held up. Yes, the entire bus, including the 40+ passengers are held up, and it is almost a regular part of the news. When I have to go home late at night or during the wee hours of the morning, I normally bring the least amount of money that I can, and I leave my gadgets at home. This still does not make me a hundred percent safe.

My first bus ride after a long time away from the public commute was a mixture of my regular paranoia, and discomfort. It’s been a while since I sat beside a complete stranger, and it did not help that the bus reeked of body odor.

At first, I was more “Oh s**t. Am I getting smelly?”

After a few quick sniffs, I realized (to my relief) that it was the bus chairs.

Traveling by bus is cheaper, so I guess I got what I paid for.

Best of the Best: The Return to Punta Fuego

I finally got a free time to post! I hope I can still remember the details. The problem with late posts is I have to remember what exactly happened on a given day, rather than real time posting. But anyway, here is what I have experienced in Punta Fuego, as I can remember. I’m also going to go against my principles, posting my face on my next posts, but only for my travels.

Let me start from the beginning. The company I work in celebrates their best employees by sending them on a two day vacation. The last two years, it was in Punta Fuego, and I was fortunate enough to be part of it the for two years in a row too.

The event was held last September 22. The shuttle picked us up from the office and headed straight to Nasugbu, Batangas. I did not expect that the travel was going to take three hours, so I got a little impatient.  Well, a lot impatient. I am not used to travelling, and I consider myself an athletic person, so being cooped up in a vehicle for three hours is already torture. I remembered I borrowed my girlfriend’s Blackberry to take pictures, so I tried taking as much as I can while waiting. It didn’t work. I took a few photos, and got bored. Here’s one, a picture of our in-vehicle meal:

Rice in a Box style

I got a little dizzy trying to eat on a moving vehicle, so I stopped. I was not used to travelling as I mentioned, and I was not about to vomit all over the shuttle. I was hungry, but I decided to eat later since they said we’ll have a buffets anyway.

After an hour or so, I woke up. I was not sure when I fell asleep, but when I looked out the window, we were refilling the gas tank.  The Caltex station was on a vast lot, but ironically, it only had one pump.

Yes, the window is dusty

After the quick stop over, I again fell asleep. The next thing I know, we were already in Punta Fuego. The place looked the same as I remember it, and it was just the way I like it.

We were welcomed by the Employee Engagement Committee, and they asked to take our pictures. Of course, being the fair guy that I am, I decided to take the picture of the person taking our picture (who happened to be one of my friends in the HR department). Here he is:

And here is what he was seeing:

They also gave us welcome drinks. It tasted like the local sago at gulaman, although it has a different name, which I just forgot.

The opening program was held next, hosted by one of our company’s managers, Alex, who hosts most of the company events because he was that good. He is a real funny guy, and all events he hosts are successful.

Had to blur out the company-related logo (amateurishly)

They had a game for the attendees, who were from different departments. First prize was Php 10,000 (roughly $240), which we also won. It was called the Human Board Game. One of our teammates was our human marker, and the rest of the team had to answer questions, depending on the tile that our marker would be landing on. The game had similar rules to Snakes and Ladders, just throw in a bunch of questions and a bigger game board. Our marker had to wear a cow hat. I almost volunteered to be the marker, but I thought of my hair-do. Again, an amateurish attempt to blur the company-related stuff.

The Board

I hated the game, to be honest. It took an hour to finish, just because of the questions. See the tile that has a guy with an idea light bulb? Every time our marker lands on it, we had to listen to a three to five minute video of Stephen Covey talk about his philosophy and answer the question that followed. At first, it was exciting, because I got to roll the gigantic foam dice (more like throw it), and our team was leading. Then, it dragged on, until the timer sounded and our team was declared the winner via a landslide. I think everyone expected our department to win, because our group composed of managerial level folks, but the game was still competitive, until I figured out how to get sixes with the Goliath dice.

The food was awesome! The suite they gave us was awesome! The service was awesome! All in all, the place is awesome! Did I say I had an awesome experience?

Here’s a few photos of our suite:

The Welcome message on our suite TV
The view from the Veranda is a bit blocked by this magnificent tree
Our mini garden
Our Key Card
The bed I called dibs on
The goodie bag

The guitar in the picture above was not ours. The owner forgot to place a tag on it, and the Punta Fuego crew thought it was ours, and mistakenly put it in our suite. My friend called the reception to report the error, and also his bag, which was also misplaced, due to the same error. He recovered it so we were okay.

These events make me want to work harder every year, not only to help the business, but to also receive perks like this. Who doesn’t want to have his or her hard work rewarded? The culminating fireworks display was beautiful. I was staring at it for the longest time, thinking “I need to go back here next year!”.

I tried taking a few shots of the fireworks, but I guess my fingers were too slow.

Here are my team mates:

I’m the kid with the blue tank top

We’re all holding the Havaiana’s slippers give away. I’m not into that particular brand of slippers, but of course, I accepted it! Who am I to refuse a freebie???

Here’s me on the buffet table:

Oh, there was also a visitor from the trees near our veranda:

A Philippine beetle dropped from the leaves and was not able to get up! I rescued it and tried putting it back on a leaf, but it fell again and disappeared.

Overall, the place never gets old. Swimming in the infinity pool was relaxing. I hope I get do well enough next year to get picked again.


Punta Fuego Weekend

I have just been awarded as the Best Trainer for our program, and I have been invited to go to Club Punta Fuego for two days of relaxation, the company’s way of showing its appreciation towards a job, or jobs, well done. But to be honest, I am so preoccupied with my current projects that I almost forgot about it. I would have completely forgotten about it if not for my manager reminding me of when it’s going to be: this weekend.

I have been to this place before, twice. I got the same thing when I started out as a representative. But I am still looking forward to going back, not only with a different position, but with a different outlook. I finally got the award I was longing for. A boost of confidence, two days of rest, and then off to my next mission.

Here are some of my personal photos when I first went to the said place. I am not adept with a camera, so apologies for any ugly pictures.

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   Oh, and my blog banner was also taken from the same place.

   It’s not as glamorous as Ren’s travels (read it here) but it’s a welcome change to my usual routine: work, gym, sleep, work at home. I know, I’m a bit of a workaholic. At least the company appreciated, hehe.

 I hope to be able to take more pictures, maybe this time with myself on the shot. I have to befriend someone and have him/her take my pictures this time.

 The only thing missing is my partner. If only she could join!

Street Observations 2: To Help or Not To Help

He moved tentatively in the bus, taking two steps toward the driver. He smiled sheepishly and asked if it was okay to solicit. “Ok lang po ba magsolisit?” was his exact question. I am not sure how or why, but I read his lips. I did not hear him talk, but I knew what he said. The driver just nodded, and he thanked the man maneuvering the huge vehicle around the usual Gil Puyat traffic.

I felt a mix of emotions when I realized that he was going to ask for solicitations. My paranoid side told me that he may be another bible wielding religious preacher that will tell us about the devils of everyday life. He could also have been a shameless beggar who asks for money and then buy smokes or alcohol.

He moved a bit closer to the middle of the bus, when he accidentally hit a passenger with his bag. He immediately said sorry, motioning with his right hand, to signal something similar to a stop sign. Fingers pointed upward, palms facing the stranger. I heard his voice, and the anguish was detectable, like he had gone through a lot, not only during the day, but all throughout his life. That did not stop me from doubting him.

He took two more steps forward and leaned on the chair I was sitting on. I clutched my bag tighter, even if I did not have anything worth stealing. I only had a few coins with me, a P1,000 phone, a charger, an umbrella and my running shoes. Still, I did not want to lose anything that day. I wanted to make sure that if he was a thief, and if he had accomplices with him, that I would not be a target.

My thought was interrupted when he started to talk. The despair in his voice did not fade. He wanted to ask for help for his two kids who were sick, cough and colds. “Manghihingi lang po sana ng kaunting tulong para sa mga dalawa kong anak na may ubo at sipon”. He continued on, answering whatever question I had in mind, like why does not he work to help his kids. He said he had been fired because he was declared “not fit to work” because of his high blood pressure. He spoke sincerely, erasing any remaining doubts I had. I looked behind me, noticing that he was holding  a plastic bag. Again, like he read my mind, he mentions the answer. It apparently contains his solicitations for the day, all P140 of it.

The bus halted to a stop due to a red light. He almost fell, but he was able to hold on to my seat. The plastic bag hit my head. He said sorry, and moved to collect coins, or whatever he could get. P140 did not feel much when it touched the top of my head. It’s like a symbolism of what the amount really is: not much.

I was torn between helping him, or ignoring him. I have watched and seen too many scammers, and too many donations going to waste, that I was hesitant. I kept my eyes locked to the seat handle, pretending to not hear him. His “thank you”s  to everyone, even when they don’t give any help, seemed real. Like he was thankful for even being able to ask for help.

I was still frozen in place, thinking too much of my monthly budget (I was already over my target), that he went passed me. I was waken up from my mental computation by his hand, tapping me on my shoulder and giving me the warmest “thank you” I have ever heard. I did not even give him anything. I could only look at him guiltily. I felt sorry about not being able to help, not even a small amount. I could have given him P1, or any other amount, but I didn’t.

He walked over to the exit, his plastic bag’s contents seemingly unchanged. He gave the driver a friendly tap, similar to what he gave me, and said “Salamat”, Filipino for thank you. He went out of the bus and gave a quick glance at the passengers and waved, saying another “thank you” for everyone who helped, if any. He did not even wait for the bus to come to a complete stop. He might have been worried about disturbing the driver’s schedule.

I watch him from the window. Like a bad follow up, rain started to fall, giving me more reason to feel guilty. He did not have any umbrella with him, just a thin handkerchief over his head. He jogged to the nearest shelter, a gasoline station. A few seconds later, he boarded another bus.

I hope I don’t get to that point, having to swallow my pride and admitting that I was too weak for anything else, but still strong enough to ask for help. With too many people with bad intentions, and the economy being what it is, it’s difficult to give money to anyone, even if I feel like they really deserve to be helped, just for the reason of survival. Every little amount is important.

I just hope they survive too.

The Awkward Bus Travel

It always starts with a loud, long ring.  It means that I have to get up and start my night. Three years in the night shift and I still find the rings annoying.

I press the snooze and close my eyes again. I change my mind and completely shut off the alarm, and got off the bed.

A couple of minutes later, and  I’m on my way to work.

I open the gate, and walk cautiously, with a purpose. I know the streets all too well. Hopefully not vice versa.

The bus, as always waits diligently for passengers. Sometimes, too diligently.  I go up 2 steps and found a seat right in front. I always like to sit near the door, and beside a window. The better to take my mind off just a bit, while waiting for other passengers.

I usually take a mental note of them, one by one, as they enter and wait for the bus to move. You can never be too sure. Sometimes, there are people who catch my attention. The pretty ones, or the tall ones. The just-got-out-of-the-shower, or the finally-I’m-going-home types. Those types plus the usual passengers, no problem. But sometimes, there are the special types. The please-don’t-sit-beside-me types.

And most of the time, unfortunately, they will.

The more you think it, the more they’ll do it. “Please don’t sit beside me” would be ignored, since they couldn’t hear it. But only if they could, then they probably wouldn’t. “Please don’t sit beside me” would then turn to “Please go soon”.

Let me describe a few of them:

I was sitting idly for a few minutes when he walked in. No one has dared to sit beside me, except him. He sat down like most people would. Mindful, and careful, he sat down and took his mobile phone from his pocket and started typing away. I thought that he was going to be a “regular” seat mate, never to be heard from again, but he made sure he was heard.

The bus started playing these oldies-but-goldies songs, with me just shrugging it off and looking out the window. I started to feel a bit sleepy, so I decided to try and wake myself up by thinking of my work.

I think he felt that I was already sleepy so the seat mate decided to help.

As the bus started moving, he paid the bus conductor his fare and mentioned “Ortigas”, meaning I would be going down my stop before he does.

Not the best thing in the world.

He started singing at the top of his lungs, singing along with the non-existent bus microphone, and trying to compete with the speaker volume. He was not at all great, with his voice sounding like a mix of a guy and a gay dude (no offense).

Worse thing is he seem to know the lyrics of all the songs that was playing.

My usual bus ride to work is almost an hour, on;y because of the incessant waiting of the bus driver for passengers. You can imagine how many songs played during that one hour, and he knew every last word.

I reached for my music player, only to remember that I left my headset at home.

He stopped for a moment, giving me a false relief. I thought he was done for the day, being only paid to sing a hundred songs. But turns out he was just stopping for a water break.

He was going for an encore.