Angel (THE BRUNEI-MALAYSIA EXPERIENCE, PART 2)

*I will be using pseudo-names for the privacy of the people I met in Brunei*

Midnight in Brunei during February is windy making it really cold. I waited outside the airport for my host while hugging my backpack to manage the cold air. A couple of taxis were parked there. Some drivers are asleep, forgetting about the crowd approaching. The other is reading yesterday’s paper while drinking a cup of coffee.

After a couple of minutes, a black car arrived. It was Angel, my host in Brunei. She stepped out of the car and I got starstruck because she has this sweet and charming personality which is really fantastic.

“Hello Darby, I am Angel”, she said enthusiastically.

“Hi Angel. Nice to meet you.”

“So lets get inside the car and go to our flat, Ok?”

I opened the right door and saw that the driving seat was there.

“Oops. Sorry. I’m not used to right-hand cars. It’s different in the Philippines.”

“Oh, really? I didn’t know that. That’s funny to know.”

So I sat next to Angel while she drove the car.

“Welcome to Brunei, Darby.” Aside from her charm, Angel’s voice is really sweet, with a flawless American accent. I assumed that this girl is really special. You know how it is when you travel to a foreign land. You have no idea what to expect. You have no idea about how locals deal with foreigners. But Angel is different. I never felt that I was a foreigner and she never really cared about the fact that we just met each other. I felt comfortable right away.

“Hey Darby. Is it ok if my team is still there? We are actually making a short-film.”

“Of course! That’s so awesome. I didn’t know you make films.”

“Yes we do. It’s actually a school project. We survived the preliminaries and eliminations,so next month, we will be joining the film festival.”

“So what is the story all about?”, I asked.

“It’s about Tanya… a researcher……………” She told me about the whole story which I think I cannot write here YET. 

“That’s a pretty cool story, with all the twists and turns.”

“You think so?”, she asked.

“Of course it is. I am actually happy that you are into these kind of things. It feels more like home. Back in the Philippines I have friends who are actually hungry for these kind of projects. They are theatre actors, singers, dancers and painters who are thirsty for expression.We are starving artists”, I explained.

“Starving artists! I like the term. In this country, the entertainment industry is controlled by the government. But we artists just need to express ourselves”, she said.

“What you resist will persist, huh?”

“You are right”, she confirmed.

“Angel, by the way, your accent is perfect for a person in Asia..”, I asked.

Angel smiled and looked at me. “Well thank you. I studied in a private school and I grew up watching American TV shows.”

“Of course, the TV shows. I have learned my English from TV shows as well”, I said.

We both laughed until we arrived at the building where her flat is located. Her flat is near the beach so you will see palm trees swaying because of the strong Brunei winds. She parked the car and we both walked in the building. I closed my eyes, smelled the air and sighed “The Bruneian air”

Angel laughed at me and said, “You look like you are a happy person, Darby”

“You look like one too,” I returned the compliment.

“I’m sure we will get along”, she said. I smiled and said to myself, “This person really is special”

At the door of her flat, there’s this sign that says “Shooting in progress” written in blue marker. Angel asked me to take a picture of it. My heart is beating because I am excited.

“So are you ready to meet the team?”, she asked while touching the door knob.

I took a deep a breath and said yes. Angel opened the door and asked me to enter the flat. Then I saw Angel’s film making team. She introduced me to each one of them and told me about their roles in the film. Unfortunately, its already 3am when we arrived the flat so they have decided to call it a day since everybody is tired. I am tired as well but not yet sleepy. I am still overwhelmed and still can’t believe that I am actually in Brunei with some “starving artists”.

After everyone has left, Angel prepared the couch where I will take my rest. It is a comfortable black couch. In fact, everything in the flat is comfortable and posh. Flats in the Philippines doesn’t usually look like 5-star hotels. Well, Brunei is a rich country so no wonder that student flats look like a Presidential Suite.  She also told me about her flat-mates which are all asleep during that hour. She mentioned that most of her flatmates are Couchsurfers so I just need to relax and feel at home.

“So let us sleep now Darby. I hope you are ok with the couch. I am sharing my room with another flat-mate”, she said after I finished settling down.

“Oh, I am ok with this. In fact, I can sleep anywhere. Thank you Angel. Thank you for picking me up in the airport and introducing me to your team.”

“Awwww. That’s nothing sweetie. Goodnight!”

And then Angel hugged me before she went to her room.

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Jenny (The Brunei-Malaysia Experience, Part 1)

“Meet a Filipino”

That’s the first thing I need to do the moment I arrive Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Its not that mandatory but it would be really helpful if I meet one. There aren’t that much information about Brunei on the web. It is just amazing how I easily managed to meet one.

“Hi, are you going to Brunei?”, I asked a random woman sitting next to me. We are waiting for the check in counter to open.

“Yes. How about you?”, she asked.

“Yes. I will go to Brunei. Are you working there?”

“I am. And you?”

“No. I’m there to travel”

“Good for you. How long are you going to travel?”

“Not that much. I will be spending around a day and a half in Brunei and a few days in Malaysia”

“Wow”

“I’m Darby by the way”

“I’m Jenny”

Jen is an OFW in Brunei. She just had a 13 day vacation in the Philippines. I love talking to OFWs as it is part of my job. Their stories are copy paste stories. “I miss home”,  “If only there are opportunities in the Philippines”, “Working in a foreign land is difficult”… The uniformity of the stories of OFWs is only an emphasis that they are never living an easy life.

“So do you have a place to stay in Brunei?”, she asked.

“Yes. I will be hosted by a girl in Bandar Seri Begawan”

“Is she a local?”

“Yes she is.”

“Where did you meet her?”

“Well I haven’t met her yet in person.”

I don’t want to stress her about the ins and outs of Couchsurfing so I just told her that I am a member of a travel organization. Glad she didn’t asked me to expound it. Explaining Couchsurfing is not easy as 1-2-3.

“Jen, is it difficult to acquire a sim card in Brunei? I need to text my host as soon as I arrive the airport. Or are you aware if there’s a wifi connection in Brunei Airport?”.. I felt a bit guilty about asking these questions. I was actually asking her if I could make use of her phone the moment I arrive in Brunei.

“Don’t worry about that. You can call your host in Brunei using my phone. It’s very difficult to get a simcard there since they have to register everything. Not like in the Philippines, you can buy sim cards everywhere”

I felt I was such a jerk. But she indeed was sent by God from above.

After a couple of minutes, the check in counter opened. We both stood up, carried my bag and volunteered to push her cart. She’s carrying heavy bags, which made me think that I am as well heaven sent for her. I am a good bag carrier and a cart pusher.

“Darby, lets ask the counter to reserve seats for us so that we will be sitting next to each other”

“That would be perfect Jen!”

It was indeed perfect. Jen got the 1A seat, I got the 1B.

After registering everything from the check in counter, travel tax counter, terminal fee counter, and immigration counter, we both walked to the gates with smiles on our faces. I fear immigration officers. I have nothing to hide or anything, but they will always have these aura that tells you everything will never be alright. I believe its part of their job to be scary.

While waiting for our boarding time, Jen suddenly stood up and began worrying. “Oh gosh, my boarding pass is lost. I can’t find it in my bag”

“Double check it”, as I began to worry as well.

“I think the officer forgot to give it to me”

“Check it out there”

She left her bags with me and rushed back to the immigration office. It’s really far actually. Her face was mixed with fear and anger. I can’t blame her.

After a couple of minutes, she was back carrying with her a small piece of paper. She was neither happy nor sad about it. “I found it. The immigration officer failed to give it to me” she gasps. Then her phone rang. I cannot understand what she’s talking about but she started to talk angrily. I never attempted to ask her after the call. I don’t want her to think I’m too nosy since we just met.

After 2 hours of waiting, the plane arrived and the staff of the airline opened the gate. We sat on our respective places and relaxed as the plane took off.

After a couple of hours, Jen tapped my back.

“Darby. Call the flight attendant. Quickly”

I stood up, called the Senior Flight attendant who was sitting in front of our “front row” seats.  The Junior Flight attendant followed as she recognized that this is a serious matter.

“What happened here?”, the Senior FA asked.

“I’m not really sure. She told me to call you”, I answered. During that time, Jen was all white. Her red lips suddenly became light brown, then white. I took the vomit bag, opened it and gave it to Jen if in case she’s under motion sickness.

“I cannot feel my legs and fingers”, Jen said on a soft voice. “My ears are hot and I’m about to faint”

The woman sitting on 1C was worried as well. “Are you hypertensive?”, the woman asked.

“No. I’m not”, Jen answered.

“Anemic?”, the woman in 1C asked again.

“No.”

“Do you have a problem?” she asked again. That moment, I was bit annoyed at the woman in 1C. How could she ask such things? But I realized that her intentions were pure. She was scared like the rest of us.

The Senior Attendant massaged Jen’s hands. I looked at the back seats and they were all staring at us, trying to know what the hell is happening. Jen was still white as snow.

“Do you want a candy?” I asked. I’m confident to ask since I am bringing some local chocolates for my host in Brunei. But the Junior Attendant went back to their little pantry, took a piece from an expensive looking White Chocolate bar and handed it to Jen.

“You eat it Jen.” I comforted her. I was really sad that moment. How could this happen to her all at the same time? Losing her boarding ticket, shouting at something on the phone, and now this thing that is threatening her life.

After a minute, a tall guy wearing a black suit approached us. He was carrying this herbal oil and placed some on Jen’s palm.

“Now you smell it”, the guy said. I have to admit that the smell is really relaxing. Even the flight attendants and the woman in 1C were pleased.

The guy, who seemed like a fan of alternative medicine took Jen’s hand and massaged it. “This will be a bit painful”, he warned Jen. But all of us didn’t mind. We really need to save Jen’s life. After some cracks on her fingers, she felt ok.

“Look. Your lips are red again”, the Senior attendant said.

I sighed.

“Thanks to all of you. I’ve been riding a lot of airplanes but this is my first time to feel this. I thought I’m going to die here”, she said.

I tapped her back and smiled at her. “Glad you are ok”, I smiled again. The woman in 1C placed her shoulder around Jen’s back and comforted her. The woman was really motherly. Now I understand why she asked Jen earlier if she has a problem.

After a couple of minutes, the pilot reported that we will be landing shortly.

Upon landing, I carried her bags again and kept on telling her to look for a doctor first thing in the morning. She agreed.

“So here’s my phone, you can call your host”, she said.

“Nah. I’ll just text her.”

“No. You call her.”

“It’s ok. Text will do”

After receiving a text confirmation from my host, Jen and I parted ways. For the last time, I reminded her to keep safe and go for a checkup. The person who picked her up in the airport was a bit confused on why I told her to go for a check up.

———-

People are naturally helpful. It is an innate thing and that what makes our species so special. What happened in the airport is a proof that humanity is not dead. People will help even though you are just a stranger. The Senior and Junior attendants, the woman in 1C and the guy in the black suit were the heroes of Jen’s story. I am as well part of that story.

But for this story, Jen is my hero.

This is just the start of my adventure. Stories of amazing People I met will not end here.

To be continued…

What the Cabrera Siblings taught me

Last month, I met Vraja, the Hare Krishna devotee . He has this really long Spiritual name which I can hardly pronounce. I texted him.

“What do they call you? Your name is really long. Haha”

“Haha. You can call me Prabhu. The devotees in the temple call each other Prabhu which means Master. We believe that we can learn from each other and that is also a sign of humility”

Vraja is a wise man. He chews and spits wisdom.

—————–

I am a traveler. Some think I am a hardcore traveler. But I just consider myself a semi-hardcore traveler. When I hear the word “hardcore traveler” it gives me the impression that you have to meet the following criteria:

1. You quit your job to travel.

2. You left everything behind.

3. You couchsurf and hitchike.

4. You only book a one-way ticket to God knows where.

5. You hate package tours.

I only couchsurf and hate package tours. That makes me a semi-hardcore traveler.

—————-

Last weekend, I joined my girlfriend’s family trip in Baguio. I had a great time because my gf’s siblings taught me a great lesson: Be curious at all times.

I have traveled Baguio loads of time. When we were kids, we go there every year. That’s where I learned how to skate under Sir Ed’s supervision, our “skating instructor” in Camp John Hay. Baguio is the place where I realized that I am afraid of heights. It is also the place where I conquered that fear.

I even worked there for a couple of months when I was still employed by a nutrition company. From a stressful environment in the office, Baguio is a breath of fresh air. 

Traveling in Baguio became a routine. Its just another “home” for me. I took it for granted. Everything is ordinary. There is nothing new anymore.

That’s the danger of being a frequent traveler. You tend to take things for granted. The familiarity is a disease that you cannot even notice.

This place looks like this place. That place looks like that place. This road feels like I’m back in this road. Again, the familiarity disease.

—————-

Be Curious at all times! That’s how the Cabrera siblings do things. They have been to Baguio but not as often as I do. Everything still looks amazing and fresh for them. Every road. Every flower. Every mountain. Every tree. Every taxi. Every vendor. Every person. Every experience.

I have heard some cliches from them like “It feels like we are in a giant freezer.” Cliche, but it still feels funny.

One of them saw this violet chili. I have seen this plant for the nth time. But her excitement made me want to buy the plant and keep it.

—————-

I am a traveler. Some think I am a hardcore traveler. But I just consider myself a semi-hardcore traveler. When I hear the word “hardcore traveler” it gives me the impression that you have to meet the only criteria: CURIOUS.

—————

“You can call me Prabhu. The devotees in the temple call each other Prabhu which means Master. We believe that we can learn from each other and that is also a sign of humility”

————–

I have learned from my Masters..

Happy Birthday my Dear Blog

It all started when I decided to write a post about a “hipster” movie I just watched entitled ME, YOU and EVERYONE WE KNOW. It was the day after the Valentines day…Now, I consider this blog as one of the few consistent things in my life.

I am an artist, but I am not a writer. Writing will always be a frustration. But I just need to vent out my artistic thoughts using this blog or else I’ll be a wacko. Nothing against wackos though.

For one year I have written more than a hundred post especially about travels and my spiritual journey. This blog became a friend who never left me even though I felt like I was a fickle-minded brat suffering from a quarter life crisis and not to mention the regular spiritual crisis. This blog understood me, the inner me.

Again, I am not a good writer, but the less I cared about that fact, the more I wanted to write.

For 1 whole year, 169 friends followed me. Not a big number but I don’t really care. One person following a frustrated writer is already a bonus. 169? It’s already heaven.  What more could I ask for? So thank you, thank you and thank you for following and reading my blog. I really appreciate it.

More years to come,

Not Your Average Stranger.

Hare Krishna Part 5 (Finale)

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After my conversation with Mataaji, I went back in the kitchen to help. One of the twins taught me how to make a samosa. I thought I flunked again, but he told me that I was good at it. I just don’t want to ruin their feast so I stopped making stuff and just observed the devotees.

After a couple of minutes, Prabhu called everyone so that we can already start the ceremonies before the feast. We all hurried upstairs.

——————

In the altar, I saw small amounts of every viand that we prepared. They call it the Prasadam, meaning the food was already offered to the Lord. The devotees call it “mercies of God”.

Then, Prabhu asked each devotee to get 3 petals in the bowl next to us. Then he instructed us to offer one petal at a time in the altar and offer obeisances in front of it.

First petal…. Bow down.

Second petal…Bow down.

Third petal…Bow down.

After the petal ceremonies, we did the chanting and dancing similar to the morning program until it ended. The devotees exhaustion from the tedious preparation of food was gone. Strength was renewed. I myself felt that bliss.

——————

The devotees and I went downstairs in the kitchen to get the viands that we prepared. I’m good in carrying stuff, so this time, I felt that I am very useful. Prabhu took the food offering in the altar and returned each food in their respective food containers.

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Then the devotees prepared my plate and asked me to sit in the garden floor outside the temple. One by one, the devotees sat with me. There were 9 of us that time. It was a good weather and a good conversation. We were laughing at simple things plus we can now say that the food is delicious. I sighed and said to myself “This is the REAL life”.

——————–

After the meal, Prabhu instructed us to clean the temple. The twins and Vraja’s brother were instructed to clean the kitchen. Vraja and I were assigned in the garden.

That moment, I cannot help but smile while sweeping the floor. God really did designed that day perfectly. A week ago, Vraja was just a stranger in front of a Buddhist temple. Now, I am with him cleaning the temple after a huge feast. I felt good. My spirit was refreshed. I met great people who were passionate about God, living simple lives. Their stories are inspiring. I chanted. I danced. I cooked. I served. I worshiped.

One great lesson that I’ve learned in my day with the Hare Krishnas is that although we have differences with our beliefs, we also have loads of similarities. I really want to focus on the latter. I really want to understand instead of pushing others away. That’s who I am before. Scared to challenge my faith. Scared to meet people outside my religion. Scared to ask. Scared to learn. But now I am free from that. Real faith is willing to embrace the unknown, the unfamiliar and the mysteries of life.

To the Hare Krishna devotees in Manila, I really thank you for a wonderful experience. I have learned a lot. Thank you for being God-like and welcoming me with open arms. I will be back very soon. Hare Krishna!

Hare Krishna Part 4

Mataaji Fe’s Story.

“I started to ask spiritual stuff when I was a teenager or probably when I was about your age. I have been asking a lot. Why is life unfair? Why are there people who were born pretty, rich, and smart. There are also people who were born poor, ugly and stupid. I have been asking spiritual leaders from our church but they kept on telling me ‘its life’s mystery’. That is too vague for me. Everything is vague that time. No one can answer my questions properly, intellectually and philosophically. I believe faith is nothing without philosophy. Vice Versa.

I’m not like this before… wearing a very conservative Sari, eating Vegetarian meals, and all this Hare Krishna thing. I used to be a designer. I wear really revealing clothes. I party all night. I socialize a lot especially with my fellow designers. But I feel empty inside.

Then one day, I saw some Hare Krishna devotees who were walking in our office. It felt really weird. The devotees look weird. They are weird, but they have peace in their faces. They look really happy. I want that kind of happiness. I believe Krsna prepared that day for me. There are no coincidences. Everything is predestined.

I was about to go to America that time to visit my parents. But because I want to learn more and because I want to devote myself in the service of Krsna, I cancelled my trip. My mom was furious. I just faked my reasons. I know it will be difficult for them to understand the path I just chose.  I hid this new faith system of mine, but eventually they found out about it and understood what I just got myself in to. My mom started preparing veggie dishes for me because I am not a good cook. Thanks to Krsna.

I am now in peace…real peace which cannot be found outside or from any material stuff in this world. Only Krsna satisfies. I remember the bible verse about Jesus telling us that we should not worry about the food that we will eat because if the birds in the air have food to eat everyday, how much more for us? Jesus’ teachings in the Bible can also be found in the Bhagavad Gita, but the latter is deeper and specific. The 2 really work hand in hand.

Ok. So that’s my story. Hope you enjoyed it. Hahaha I really love talking. I told you, I grew up as a sociable person.”

Hare Krishna Part 3

After the morning program, everybody started doing their thing.

Vraja formally introduced me to Prabhu. It was funny that Prabhu cannot pronounce my name properly, but after a few tries, he was able to perfect it. Prabhu was delighted that I came all the way from Pampanga just to attend the morning program. He actually invited me to stay for a longer period of time.

“Why not stay here in the temple? You will be working with Vraja. It’s going to be fun. You don’t have to worry about food because everything is provided for. We can cook delicious vegetarian meals. You don’t have to worry about your shelter because you can stay in the ashram. You don’t have to worry about your clothes because you will just be wearing our traditional robes. Call your boss and tell her that you’ll be quitting”

I was just laughing. His offer is really tempting. I want that kind of lifestyle. I want to live in a tight knit, intentional and unconventional community. Even for that moment, I really feel my work-life is starting to fall apart; I feel that I have nothing to lose anyway. That’s why I came in the temple in the first place. To breath some fresh air. To experience something new. I want to give them that YES. I want to live like them and work for God.

“Think about it”, Prabhu added. “If you really can’t, try it for a week.”

“I will…soon”, I said. “I will definitely stay for a longer period of time. For now, I’ll just go downstairs to help the others prepare the food”

“Think about it”, he said again as he smiled at me. “Enjoy the food preparation!”

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I went downstairs in the 4th floor where the kitchen is. The devotees are there–Vraja, his brother, and the twin brothers from New Zealand. The preparation was humongous. Tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, string beans, ginger, lime, bananas, etc. There were also groceries bought from Assad, a local Indian store. While cooking, they were playing some Hare Krishna songs.

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“Do you sing other songs aside from Hare Krishna songs?”, I asked them.

“No Prabhu. We just sing songs that will honor Krishna. The songs nowadays are just about sex and drugs”, Vraja answered.

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The twins from New Zealand are great with their Indian food. Even Vraja and his brother were impressed. I was really, really, amazed.

“Hmmmm. The food really smells good,” I said, trying to compliment them.

“I’m sorry Prabhu, but during the preparation of food, we don’t usually try to please ourselves with the smell and even the taste. In fact, we cannot taste the food while preparing it. That is for Krishna and Krishna alone”, said Vraja.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know”

“It’s ok. Don’t worry. This is your first time”

————————–

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The food preparation is a bit tedious. We  are trying to prepare around 8 vegetable viands in 3 hours. Although pressured trying to beat time, we were still able to chill out, have fun and joke around. It was a great experience for me because I’m not a kitchen person. Well I tried cooking Indian food before but it took me 2 hours to finish a single viand. The devotees were really patient with me as I was their burden that time. I can’t even slice a broccoli. 

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Since I am now useless on the “advanced part” of cooking, Ms. Fe, the Filipina devotee who welcomed me earlier in the morning invited me over to her house located also in the same building. She introduced me to her neice, Sarah (I forgot the name but the girl do look like as if she’s a Sarah or probably an Irene, I dont know). Sarah is a non-devotee like me. She was originally from Iligan who just traveled in Manila for her board exams and staying with her aunt.

Sarah and I sat in the sofa next to Ms. Fe.

“What do they call you here Ms. Fe?”, I asked.

“Oh, they call me Mataaji which means mother. All the male devotees address all women as mataaji even for the little girls. They believe that women should be respected that way.” she answered.

Sarah was quiet throughout the conversation. She’s a Catholic and probably confused about what her aunt is telling us. But I kept on asking mataaji more questions.

“How did you find out about the Hare Krishnas, Mataaji?”

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To be continued…