Saturday, January 4, 2014

Thanks Anyway, 2013

People would probably be pelting me with eggs if I concluded that 2013 sucked. If anything, I could even go as far as to say that it has been the most exciting year of my life so far, with a lot of good stuff that happened. Even so, I still could not help but think that there has always been something missing, and perhaps as human beings we are just programmed in a way that we tend to look for what is not there instead of appreciating what is. In any case, it is always good to look back and be reminded of how life has treated you for the past year or so. While such past events could no longer be modified to suit the ideal concept of a life well-lived, they could always be used as reminders so as not to repeat the same mistake, or better yet serve as an inspiration to achieve something on par or even greater for the future. Looking back, here are the 10 highlights of my 2013, both good and bad.

I guess every kid born in the tropics would, at one point in his life, dream about snow and how awesome it would be to play around with it, lay on it, make snowballs out of it, etc. I was fascinated with snow before Harbin; I hated it even before I left. Still, this is one dream that has been fulfilled, and Harbin is not bad either, if only it isn’t that much of a frigid bitch that dips below 25 degrees Celsius. I consider this a highlight because it is included in my 30-Before-30 list, and crossing out items off that list with less than two years to go now has been honestly quite challenging.

Travel is easy when you are young and your life is devoid of obligations, but still, there are places that are off the beaten path which people would try their best to avoid. Maybe you can count North Korea as one of those places. I went to Pyongyang last April, when every bit of news from the web would lead you to believe that the US was going to bomb them at any moment. Perhaps, that added more to the thrill when we finally landed on North Korean soil. My stay was rather short, and many people would argue that the tour we were part of was planned in a way that it would give a myopic view of life in that city, obviously limiting what we should see. In any case, I went there as a curious tourist, not as a diplomat, and definitely not as an agent of change aiming to shake up the status quo. Pyongyang is not Seoul, but not everyone could really brag that they have been to one of the most reclusive nations in the planet. Curiosity satisfied, mission accomplished.

This year has witnessed how obsessed I have been with language certificates after getting around half a dozen of them. I concluded 2012 with three language exams in December, all taken IN ONE DAY: JLPT N5, HSK 2, and HSKK Beginner. The year started with all three certificates from those exams at my doorstep. I think I would never subject myself to a similar kind of torture again, and I guess I managed to pass all three simply because they are all beginner levels anyway, and the schedules happened to match. I retook the written part of the PLIDA last April, and finally got my Italian C1 certificate a few months later. And then I did the CPE in Hong Kong and the DELF in Manila last May, yielding me an English C2 and a French B2, respectively. My Portuguese C1 followed after finding out that I passed the DAPLE in Macau held last July, which was also the same month in which I took the follow-up Japanese test and obtained a JLPT N4 in Singapore. I almost forgot that I also took the TOPIK 2 in April, and the certificate is now also at hand. Closing the year last month was the HSK 3 exam here in Xiamen, and I just found out today that I passed that exam as well. Next weekend, I am set to take the HSK 4, but I do not have high hopes for that. I think another level up for Mandarin is just too soon. I would like to take things slow, but since the exam comes free with the scholarship, I might as well take my chances. I think I am going to lie low this 2014. With only German left without a certificate, I think my mind deserves some rest.

Macau was a bit eventless, to say the least. For one month, it has always been the same routine of going to class in the morning and squandering some serious amount of cash at Grand Lisboa in the afternoon. Even so, this is still my first legitimate in-country language learning experience, although people are not really that open to the idea of learning Portuguese in Macau. As for me, I have never really had a genuine classroom learning experience when it comes to Portuguese, even more so the European variant. As such, it marked many firsts, not to mention that the all-inclusive program cost was really cheap, which meant more ammunition for my casino trips. I did not really travel around because I already explored Macau two years ago, but as a place of residence, I appreciate the ambiguous tranquillity that Macau offers vis-à-vis the frenetic atmosphere prevalent in neighboring Hong Kong.

Seoul was my very first out-of-the-country backpacking adventure which I did on my own. Needless to say, I immediately fell in love with this city, and I recall how on that day I visited the 63 Tower I wished upon a cardboard star that one day I could stay longer and study Korean at Seoul National University. I ended up granting my own wish, enrolling for a one-month intensive course at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. It must have been one of the hardest classes I’ve taken in recent memory, but the challenge it posed was a wake-up call and served as a clear evaluation of my goals and limitations when it comes to learning Korean. In a way, it has given me a more precise perspective of what I really want to accomplish and how I am going to have to do it. Of course, meeting new friends is another big bonus. One month was just too short, and I am hoping I could go back this year if my schedule permits.

I was not really keen on getting a scholarship in Mainland China. The one I have been eyeing for quite some time was the Taiwanese Huayu Enrichment Scholarship. I applied for both anyway, albeit not enthusiastically with regards to the Confucius Institute one. What happened next was that infamous rift between Manila and Taipei, which led to the latter cancelling all scholarship applications. I then thought that perhaps this was just not for me until one afternoon, after an exhausting day of temple hopping in Mandalay, I decided to log in and check the status of my Confucius Scholarship application and realized that they had just awarded me one-semester for free. Who was I to refuse, right? While some things did not turn out to be how I expected, like getting exiled in some distant farmland of a campus rather than staying in the main one with a beach in front, I could say that the experience has been quite pleasant, and I know that my Mandarin would be improving slowly but surely.

When I came to Xiamen, I never really thought about wanting to be part of any group. I am rabidly anti-social, or at least thinking about it now, I USED TO BE. I am not really the type who would easily mingle with anyone who I have just met, so it really came as a surprise to me when I actually got to enjoy the company of three or four people I met at the hostel during my first night, and with whom I shared my life here in Xiamen so far. Later on, the gang expanded even more, leading to what we are now. I guess this is just part of my continuous evolution as a human being, to socialize more and get to benefit by learning from the diverse experiences of one another. Let’s just say that I am greatly satisfied meeting people who have a positive impact in my life and serve as an effective counterbalance to those assholes with whom I often strive to associate myself even if they accomplish nothing else but make me feel like shit. Or perhaps, misery just loves company? Well, not in the Rainbow Gang, it isn’t.

I recall having experienced this before when I was still in Manila, but because I used to live next to Makati Med, it only took a minute or so before I was getting off the cab and barging into the Emergency Room. Here in Xiamen, it happened twice, and it has not been easy given the very ideal location of this campus, not to mention the awesomely-equipped “hospital” that they have in here. With the help of both strangers and friends, I was able to survive, and I could not be any more grateful for that support. The excruciating pain I felt during those times made me feel like I was going to die, like my kidneys were going to explode at any moment or something like that. I must admit that this event has opened my eyes to the utterly unhealthy lifestyle I have been used to in the last few months or so, and suffice it to say that I am slowly adjusting everything in order to take better care of myself. It is just disappointing that I had to undergo all of the hassles I went through, in a foreign country to boot, but I guess stubborn people are just bound to learn their life lessons the hard way. And I am, indeed, hard headed as fuck.

One of the reasons why I was reluctant to relocate to China is due to its online censorship. My online job, which I have been doing for more than two years now, involves moderating online pages that China purposefully blocks. Apparently, this is not much of a problem if you are subscribed to an awesome VPN service provider. As such, I have been able to continue my job, and ended up acquiring one more. In fact, if I decided to be a nomad it could probably work out as long as I find myself in cities with stable internet connections. But who really needs that kind of hassle of moving from one place to another, right? As of now, I am just glad that I am able to work hard and get compensated for it, all while developing another skill that would prove to be a legit cash cow in the near future. The icing on top of the cake? I love both jobs, and I do not feel like I am working when I am doing a shift. Awesome, I know.

SELF-EXPLANATORY. When there is someone you really like, but that person displays neither affection nor hatred towards you, then it is quite obvious that you are just leading yourself nowhere if you are expecting something more. It gets worse when you finally find out that there has already been another party involved even before you entered the picture, which makes you think of yourself as a total jerk for even hoping. What makes it even crazier, though, is how you cling to that weird mix of hope and desperation, holding on to subtle hints that you choose to misinterpret even when you know that they really do not mean anything at all. I must admit that this event has been the source of my greatest depression for the last few weeks, prompting me to almost disregard every other awesome event that has unfolded last year. Thinking about it now, I’d say that it has rather been a foolish way of seeing things. Nonetheless, I do not regret having experienced this, because I know that it is just another important life reminder that you would not always get what you want. C’est la vie.

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