A fairy-tale come true

A royal spring wedding is coming. The frenzy has just started and articles about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have inundated the internet even before their engagement was officially announced. I am one among millions of fans who eagerly read articles that came my way. Whilst many anticipate the wedding day with much gusto, excited to have a glimpse of the bridal gown and all, I am more excited about what Meghan –an advocate of many good things—can do as a princess.

I am a recent Suits fan. I’ve only watched the series few months ago. I’ve read articles about Prince Harry dating a Meghan Markle but didn’t care one bit until I realised the lady he was dating was Rachel Zane of Suits! I was all eyes since then. Being a law student, Rachel Zane inspired me in several ways which made the person behind the character interesting for me too so I started reading about Meghan and found that she is more amazing than Rachel Zane. My politics is aligned with hers – at least from what I’ve read thus far.

She is a feminist, humanitarian advocate and actively voices out issues facing the marginalized communities. Her experiences growing up as a mixed-race woman, having a black mother, and living in a white supremacist society obviously helped shape her consciousness as an advocate but it was her choice to use her standing in society to raise awareness and take action against social issues that made me admire her. I’d like to believe that her advocacy will not change once she becomes a princess but rather, the new role will provide her with better opportunities to continue her advocacy.

On a side note, the upcoming royal wedding undeniably made me nostalgic of the time I spent in London. I was volunteering with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) for three months in Newham, London in 2008. The experience though short opened my eyes to a different reality. I grew up thinking that rich countries like the UK don’t have to face problems experienced by third-world countries like the Philippines. This notion changed when I saw a beggar sleeping on the street in winter. And I’ve seen the same in Sweden too.

We were also told to not stay at the park late because some African volunteers in another community were assaulted by a ‘white gang’ of young people. I’ve met a refugee from Afghanistan who barely spoke English and was all by himself in London. We may have struggled with language but I did understand that he was missing his family so much.

We had one activity where we were to identify social problems in the UK and our British counterparts shared that neighbours barely talk or know each other; a stark contrast in the Philippines where everybody knows everybody even those from different towns. There was a need to get people to talk and inculcate that sense of community – at least in London. There were various youth centres available in Newham alone that catered to the needs of young people but not many youth came. Instead, you’d read articles about them getting into a fight or involved with drugs.

Every nation face problems unique to its society and culture but in the grand scheme of things, nations have more similarities than differences. Globalization and the increasing technological advances rapidly blur borders. Problems faced by one country likewise pose a set of complex problems to its neighbours and even those at a distance geographically. Now more than ever, there is a need to catalyse global citizenship and encourage cooperation among advocates. And this is the reason I am thrilled that Meghan Markle is going to enter the royal institution –the British monarchy at that. I hope she will become a unifying figure in our continuous battle for a better world. Her love life may be one we can call a fairy-tale come true –a modern Cinderella—but I hope that her story won’t end at the wedding like most fairy tales do but rather open a new chapter of a princess working hard to save lives and the Mother Earth.

Spontaneity led me to an unforgettable adventure

It was a day just like any other day that had gone by except that I woke up later than usual because I was on leave from work. I’ve spent the past days on meditation at a forest monastery and other me-time which comprised mostly of cleaning and organising my room whilst also doing some internal cleansing. I have four more days left before I go back to work and I had no idea what to do with those remaining days. It was during those bored moments that my impulsiveness struck again because the next thing I know, I was in a train going to Aranyaprathet where I’d cross the border to Cambodia.

The decision to travel to Siem Reap didn’t involve so much fuss. I just got up from bed, scroll on my Facebook newsfeed, and exclaimed “I’m going to Cambodia!” I didn’t see any Cambodia-related posts on Facebook. I just thought Cambodia is the nearest I could travel given that I only have four days to spend. All I did was check what time the train leaves from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, packed and headed to the station. I was literally backpacking contrary to most of my travels which involved dragging a stroller to the airport, a pre-arranged pick-up and a booking to some five-star hotels. The change was a breath of fresh air. I was ecstatic!

It was the first time I travelled without doing any research. I didn’t know where I’d stay, how do I actually get to Siem Reap or how much it would all cost me. I just sat at the train and enjoyed the scenery. I’ve always loved long train rides. It gives me the chance to just live in the moment and soaked it all in, the scenery, the sounds, the smell of places we passed by.

We arrived in Aranyaprathet at about 5PM. I asked someone how to get to the border but I was having a hard time getting a ride. I was also concerned that evening was approaching and I didn’t know if there are places for me to stay for the night on the other side of the border. I decided to spend the night in Aranyaprathet instead. I found a place which only cost THB200 (approx. USD 6) though they didn’t have air-conditioning but at least there was an electric fan. I dropped by backpack, took a shower and went for a walk around town to explore and find dinner. I liked it in the province with its slow-paced lifestyle in stark contrast with Bangkok.

I was going to take the bus to Siem Reap but I met two travellers, an Italian guy and Argentinian lady, who were also going there so we hired a cab instead and paid 20 US dollars each. Since I didn’t know yet where I’d stay, I got off with them and walked through the streets to find accommodations too cheap that you’d never find them on the internet. I found one at the end of the street from where my two companions were staying –their place has been booked up—and got a room to myself for only $10 a night.

I rented a bike that cost only $1 a day and spent the afternoon and evening exploring Siem Reap with it. I was extremely scared whenever I went on a busy street because I’ve never ridden a bike in a long time. But I was determined to overcome my fear so I went on. When I got tired of roaming around, I found a cozy place to drink and people-watch before I headed to the evening market.

The next day I explored Angkor Wat Complex by bike and spent only $1 as compared to the $10 tuktuk. If you’ve ever been around Angkor Wat Complex, you’d know how crazy it is to bike your way around with all the muscle pains afterwards because it is so huge! Still, I had so much fun exploring it by bike because I could enjoy the scenery better and it made me feel more attuned with nature. The second time I went was with colleagues, we had our tour guide provided by the Parliament and a comfortable ride but the experience was nothing compared to the fun I had with my bike.

I’ve always been fascinated with ruins and the nostalgic feeling I get when around them. And by nostalgic I meant that feeling of deeper connection with the past, the wisdom that ruins exude and the amazement at the sight of a masterpiece. I was particularly thrilled to visit the spot where they shoot the film Tomb Raider in Ta Prohm.

My most adventurous experience though happened on the way back. It started raining and there was no sign of it ever stopping. I was concerned because I have my passport and DSRL camera in my backpack but if I would wait for the rain to stop, it may not stop until dusk. I placed my passport inside the camera bag and wrapped the bag with the scarf and placed it at the bottom of my backpack. I then stacked the chips and souvenirs on top, hoping heavens that the bottom part will remain dry. I pedaled and stopped to rest then pedaled my way back for almost two hours before I reached my accommodation.

I was exhausted. I can no longer feel my legs. But I was extremely happy. For some reason, the experience felt extremely liberating. My passport was safe. My camera got a little wet. The rest of my bag was wet but I didn’t care. I was happy and I never felt as alive in a long time. I took a long warm bath and took some rest before I headed out to have dinner and hopped in the bus that left Siem Reap at midnight and brought me back to Bangkok before lunch the next day.

One of the best things about traveling unprepared is that you are forced to talk to people. I was thrilled at the idea of letting things unfold without giving much thought into its preparations but I was more thrilled to be interacting with people. Humanity is indeed full of kindness if you open your eyes to it and especially when you are a stranger at the receiving end of another stranger’s benevolence.

My spontaneous Siem Reap trip was one of my most unforgettable experiences. I didn’t spend time planning it so there were no unfulfilled expectations, no overthinking or what have you. It was all spontaneous and because of that, it was filled with surprises.

Let your soul take refuge

#yoga #treepose #sunset #riverside #innerpeace #sanitykeeper #dusk

A post shared by Mary Antonette H. Abello (@mhabello) on

The last few days have been extra challenging for me. I’ve had 8AM-8PM classes that left me exhausted. I am sick with cough and cold. My head feels like I’m carrying an extra pound between my shoulders. Yet, I had to drag myself and go to school.

There have been some internal chaos as well. My sense of compassion has been put to test but leaned towards failing. Such internal battle, more than anything, left me paralyzed I ended up wasting precious time which I should have devoted to studying for next week’s final exams.

In my hopes to catch up with studies, I came to this coffee shop early. I’d probably be here for the rest of the day. The café just opened. I am their first customer. When I entered, I was greeted by worship songs so familiar every beat of my heart knows the lyrics. After giving my order, I sat in a corner and just let the music soothe my soul.

I am not an atheist because I still believe in a power greater than anything that’s holding up the universe. However, for several years now I stopped associating myself with any religion though I was born and baptized as a Roman Catholic. I evolved into a being that values spirituality more than religiosity. Besides, all religious teachings boil down to the same values of love, respect, compassion and so on.

So, I am doing away with the religious practices. I don’t go to any mass, albeit I try as best I can to manifest my spirituality through my actions towards others. Right now though, these Christian songs touched me in an oh so familiar way. My restless soul suddenly calmed down as if a storm had just stopped and everything around is quiet.

It’s a feeling I don’t want to interpret or analyze using my religious skeptic mind. I just want to savor the moment while it lasts.