Great Expectations

I was scheduled to take my IELTS Exam in Cebu City, welcoming the month of February with some trepidation. The build-up of anxiety right after Ati-atihan was somewhat unbearable but with some choice words and some encouragement, my Review Instructor – Ms Tess – put me at ease before my mother and I flew to Mactan-Cebu International Airport.

We took a red-eye flight which was exhausting. It was disappointing that I couldn’t see much of the outside at that time of night, as watching the scenery go by is one of the many things I enjoy about flying. Only the moon was visible, luminous and otherworldly as it transitions into a full moon, and the glittering city constellations made of Iloilo and Negros Island beneath. We arrived quite early at around 2AM, so we decided to stay at the terminal, wait for daylight, and ruminate over my childhood memories.

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That first day, my mom and I made a quick look-see at the testing venue, SMEAG Classic, making sure we knew where we were going, how we were going to get there, how long it took, and all the necessary precautions you need to learn when you are in unfamiliar territory. This is my first time in Cebu and that fact is the no. 1 reason why I was having so much anxiety about going there the first place, I had to ask my mom to come with me. That and I’ve heard many stories through the grapevine that most Cebuanos tend to not adjust when spoken to in Tagalog. I’m not trying to discount all Cebuanos, they still ooze the same genuine hospitality that comes naturally to almost all Filipinos but I was someone who barely spoke or understood Bisaya (Cebu’s preferred dialect), only what I learned from my time at the CAA barracks, so could you blame me?

Anyway, what remained of our first day was devoted to settling in our hotel, freshening up and catching up on sleep. That night, I patiently waited for the super blue blood moon to appear. I brought my hand-me-down SLR camera just for the occasion and my exam tomorrow was not getting in the way of my antics. The sky was overcast in Cebu City but around 9-10PM, the clouds dispersed and lo and behold. I never ventured outside during previous atmospheric phenomenon (aka I was lazy and don’t have a telescope) so it was both an eye-opening and religious experience.

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The day of the written exam, we were up bright and early. Surprisingly, I was completely calm and was looking forward to the exam with excitement. There were around 60 of us taking the test, mostly Koreans and Filipinos. The British Council staff was kind and accommodating, but when it was time to start the test, they were very professional and no-nonsense.

The 2 ¾ hour test began with Listening, it’s my favourite part of IELTS and of course, the one I practiced the most. During those 30-minutes, I was the only person in the room because I focused so much nothing else existed, not once did mine eyes  leave that question booklet! The Reading test followed, and I guess, I did an okay job. Surely, a better performance than how I did with my first and only mock test at the review center. The key is always to pace yourself and make sure you understand the questions. In practice I ended up disliking skimming so I worked overtime on the first few sections, giving me enough time to read the article and really sink my teeth into it. Last but certainly not least, was the Writing portion, something that has been my main source of concern from the very beginning. I know how to write, I mean, I wrote this entry and everything else on this blog. But IELTS has a particular formula for writing essays and you have to hit that nail in the head if you want a decent score. My ideas were a bit scattered but all the elements (I think) were all there. By the time the written exam ended, I had a sore wrist, the sniffles and overall relief pour through me. One down, another one to go!

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The speaking portion of IELTS is a one-on-one interview, a test for your (you guessed it) aptitude in speaking English. You’re scored based on your grammar, lexical resource/vocabulary, accent (is a plus), and of course, your ability to come up with complex answers to the questions presented to you. With that said, it’s safe to say I was filled with nervous tension and some dread mixed in. Gone was the serenity from the day before.

Personally, I’ve never had any qualms with interviews since I love to talk myself silly. But with job interviews, I usually have time to prepare good and concise answers. This time I had to think on my feet and conjure off-the-cuff comebacks. I tried to keep the conversation as casual as possible; after all I wasn’t being assessed for a possible job. I’m proud to say that I ended up making my interviewer laugh, which in my book is a good indication that I wasn’t entirely horrible.

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Finishing my speaking test, my mother, aunt, younger brother (who flew in earlier in the day) and I went straight to SM Seaside City to have lunch and relax for a bit. We roamed around the mall and enjoyed the view of Cebu City from the Rooftop Garden.

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Afterwards, we switched to tourist mode and went straight to some of Cebu’s hotspots – Magellan’s Cross Shrine and Basílica Minore del Santo Niño to see a glimpse of the renowned Sto. Niño de Cebu.

The octagonal mural on the shrine’s ceiling is a true testament of time. I am still very curious as to whom the artist behind these images. Maybe I should do some research on it so I don’t sound like a total ignoramus but maybe at another time.

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It was unfortunate that at the time we came here, the church was completely packed and devotees were praying, and were unable to go inside and see the interior of the basilica and personally see their famous gilded altar.

My plan to visit the BPI Museum was also a bust since I was stupid enough not to learn that entry to said institution is done through online booking and that walk-ins are simply refused. After that entire debacle, we just moved forward to our next destination.

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Arriving at Temple of Leah was underwhelming at first because I was in the mindset that it’s just a bit too hyped on social media. But upon climbing the incline towards the Acropolis-like building and seeing the spectacular view of Cebu and the sea, I could tell that a lot of thought came into making this place come to fruition.

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Although, it is still far from becoming complete what existing structures like the main building with the bronze statue of the titular Leah is a true testament of one’s love to his wife. It is a great place to take photos and if we weren’t on such a tight schedule, I know that it’s the perfect place to sit down and just relax – draw, write, read or any combination of the three. Maybe in a few years, when the Temple is complete and the Adarna patriarch’s vision has been fully realized, it would be nice to return and spend more time there.

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After coming down from the Temple, we met up with an extended family friend, one of my auntie’s best friend, at La Vie Parissiene in Lahug. Really cool place that reminded me of some of the trendy spots in Manila.

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Loved the overall vibe of the place – from the outdoor lounge with the tepees, fairy lights and giant nest swing, to the restaurant interiors and décor. But I think my favourite part of La Vie was the wine cellar theme and of course – ALL. THAT. WINE! I’ve been preferring wine for a while now, even over the hard liquor I’m used to. Drinking wine is a journey in itself. This cool bistro-patisserie-deli-gelateria-bar has a very large collection of wine from the reasonably more affordable sangria to 8-thousand peso vintages.

After La Vie, we drove all the way to Mactan to see the viral 10, 000 Roses Cafe in Cordova. I was fully expecting to be blown away when we got there but personally, it was just:

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I guess it does look very pretty at night, Instagram-able, with a great atmosphere and people do love to take photos with beautiful glimmering flowers. But some of the LED lights were obviously low on power already that some sections did not glow as brilliantly as the rest, so that was quite the let-down for me. I did appreciate, however, that this attraction is helping the local community by getting more tourists visit the area.

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It rained 10 minutes after we got in Cordova, so we moved on  next door to Lantaw Floating Native Restaurant to grab a late dinner. The whole vibe of the restaurant is mismatched traditional Pinoy aesthetics with rustic bamboo furnishings. I mean, they had the front half of a jeepney outside their kitchen and the entire restaurant was a giant raft to boot!

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You could feel yourself sway along with waves and the cool evening sea breeze. The food was good, a few selections were a little bit basic, but the veggie soup served in the coconut shell/husk was rather exceptional. And I also really enjoyed the scallops because, dammit, I haven’t had scallops in a long while!

More catching up was done during and after dinner and how life was like in Cebu for tita and her family. Our last stop was a quick nightcap at our impromptu tour guide’s home with some decadent Calea chocolate cake. We returned to our hotel very late yet eager for what’s to come the next day. *cough* Bohol *cough*

xx

 

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Three and Eighty

In 2016, my family and I threw my maternal grandmother a semi-surprise party for her 82nd birthday. Previous celebrations were generally low-key with just the immediate relatives. But since my aunt and her husband has successfully beautified their backyard (it’s so green, I swear) and the overwhelming support shown by me and my older cousins and the rest of the clan, our indoor powwows have evolved into this fun, outdoor garden party.

We were supposed to make it a proper surprise but my grandma started getting too concerned about logistics. We already knew that she was probably expecting something similar to last year’s soiree, we let her in the plan and that ultimately made her relax.

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Same with last year, I was in-charge of decorations. I love arts and crafts and I personally thrive in immersing myself with projects like this. Unfortunately, most of the decorations from last year are gone. We already bought some ready-to-use decor from Divisoria and the rest were handcrafted by yours truly and the kiddos.

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May has been pretty humid this year and I was peeved that the balloons easily popped in the heat. So they weren’t brought out until past 4PM. We put up silver ribbons, glittery star garlands, balloon letters and of course, the grandchildren & fur baby bunting banner which I’m definitely turning into a party staple.

They’re cut-outs of mine and my cousin’s faces (arranged by birth order) and all of the family pet canines combined. We have party hats, we’re all smiling and it’s adorable as hell. The original banner was probably thrown out by mistake so we had to rehash it. I painstakingly had to glue, cut and finish all of it during a blackout. My fingers bled and my x-acto knife dulled.

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Below is the pretty basic banner I designed. What’s a Pinoy celebration without blowing out stuff on tarpaulin, right? Last year’s was too noisy in terms of aesthetics… so I consider this an improvement. We couldn’t agree on a proper theme so I told myself to wing it and I managed to trick my lola to take a couple of glamour shots for me without her knowing what it was for.

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My kid brother and cousin performed a couple of songs instrumental. They didn’t practice enough hence them playing with the music on an iPad. The make-shift sound system was also quite the improvement from last year’s crappy amp-turned-speaker.

I spent so many sleepless nights in preparations. I was the eldest grandkid around so I got the brunt of the responsibilities. The adults got off easy, if you ask me, all they needed to do was order the food. I also did the multimedia presentations which had me nagging various relatives and gathering old photos from multiple photo albums.

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All of that has all been worth it though because it made my lola so happy. That’s her watching the surprise greetings reel from our family from all over of the world + photo montage and her blowing out the birthday candles.

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The party in full swing! Loved ones, relatives, friends, colleagues and even neighbors were all there to celebrate her and her (so far) amazing life. The weather was nice and it didn’t rain despite the unfavorable weather from the day before. There was a lot of catching up and  reminiscing between the old chatty hens.

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Everyone was enjoying themselves. There was good food, good company, lots of barbecued meat, and even more sorbetes and it’s the genuine traditionally-street-peddled kind of Filipino ice cream to boot!

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Although, we had so many other things planned that didn’t happen – like parlor games and performances – I’m proud to say that my grandma’s 83rd was a monumental success! Not much of a surprise there but it’s a learning process and none of us are professional event planners. I imagine that we’ll keep making each celebration better than the last so there’s gonna be serious forethought going into the 84th.

I intend to make it happen and that’s a promise I’m gonna keep.

Digital Book Haul

I recently updated my phone’s e-book library. I usually go for YA novels and since NA is a thing, I get to read a bit more mature young adult but with a splash of lemon.

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I sometimes base my choices on aesthetics. If a cover is interesting or pleasing enough, I’d give ’em a go. I just hope they’re not there not of the “fan fiction turned self-published novel” variety.

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Let’s all hope I actually finish all of this before the end of the year.

xx