Better 2016

 Taipei 101 before the NYE countdown tonight

It's a gloomy last day of the year. Cold wind blows through my hair, my hands inside the pockets of my coat as I wait at the pedestrian crossing. I heave a sigh of relief. I cross the big intersection and make my way to the office whilst reflecting and thanking the highest heavens for my life, for my 2015- despite its many hurdles and heartaches.

I've made it through another year. How I fared though is another story. I've tried my best to make up for my shortcomings the previous year, but there are times when my best is just not good enough. I fail at certain aspects of my life. I tremble, I fall and it is during this time that I yearn for Him to help me bounce back.

Life is not perfect, no matter how we make it look pretty on Instagram and Facebook posts. Behind those captions and beyond those filters, there are struggles we don't talk about. The problems we have in our own families, relationships, jobs, health conditions etc. give us a reason to grow more in our faith, to strive to be better every single day. And I think that is my yearly resolution- to be better.

I wish you all a brighter, better, blessed 2016!

"Before a new chapter is begun, the old one has to be finished: tell yourself that what has passed will never come back. Remember that there was a time when you could live without that thing or that person – nothing is irreplaceable, a habit is not a need. This may sound so obvious, it may even be difficult, but it is very important. Closing cycles. Not because of pride, incapacity or arrogance, but simply because that no longer fits your life. Shut the door, change the record, clean the house, shake off the dust. Stop being who you were, and change into who you are." -PAULO COELHO

Christmas is a Feeling

"Christmas is a feeling, not a season," said one quote I saw on social media. I paused and pondered over it for a while. I tried to "feel" it, to breathe and open my senses if it is indeed Christmas. You see, there's this tiny hole inside my heart. It aches and sometimes steals away emotions, but last Sunday during Mass and at the Advent Recollection, this tiny hole closed a little and offered some peace. It's finally Christmas. I can feel it in the depths of my heart.

Every morning over the last few days, I give myself some quiet time. I read a devotional while sipping hot chocolate, reflecting and praying intently. I surrender all my worries and disappointments to Him, to let me heal little by little. And lately, just when I think about giving up, I can hear His voice in the silence, telling me to cling to him, talk to him always, to tell him of my many fears. It is Him who makes me feel Christmas, who makes me whole despite being broken.

I thank Him for these beautiful moments in the hurly-burly of Christmas. To have time to quiet down and just be thankful. I've been attending Simbang Gabi Mass and I'm committed to complete all 9 evenings, not to make a wish, but to offer thanksgiving. I look at the cross every night and whisper prayers of gladness, of praise. And I'm surrounded with people who do the same. St. Christopher's Church was packed on the first night and it was wonderful to see fellow Filipinos preparing themselves for the coming of Jesus.

At work, we had an early Christmas gathering since our boss will be on leave. We had a small post-conference party at the Le Meridien for dinner buffet on Monday, and the Christmas buffet in Hyatt on Wednesday. I tried my best not to pile my plate with so much good food, but this happened:

How can I resist so much good food?! I'm trying to discipline myself not to eat a lot mainly because it's winter and winter = fat. Since I cant attend yoga classes at night until December 24, I sign up for the 7AM classes every Tuesday and Thursday, and regular classes during weekends.

I hope (I'm sure) you can "feel" Christmas now that we're just a few days away! I wish you all a Blessed Christmas. Open your hearts and let Jesus in :)

Thankful Tuesdays 1

This is a link-up with Micha's Thankful Tuesdays series. Micha dedicates Tuesdays to thank the Lord for the many graces and blessings that He showers us through the week. Here's mine :)

1. My check-up last Friday went well despite all the panicking that I did. I was so nervous few days before my appointment with my doctor, but my pedia-cousin has been pushing me to go see a gynecologist after learning I've been on 3 courses of antibiotics and starting to experience its side effects. Dr. Bernice was very gentle and talked me through the whole process.

2. It is starting to feel like Christmas in this not-so-Christian island. The belen at our church looks so beautiful. The blue lights twinkle at night and sing a medley of Christmas songs. I cannot wait to see baby Jesus to complete the nativity scene. The photo was taken when I dropped by the church after my check up to express my gratitude. I also prayed for my brother who celebrated his birthday just recently. I miss you, ahia!

3. Hana, Tin and I scheduled a bonding sesh over sushi and sashimi last Saturday. I love making time for friends and spending a day with them, just talking about our lives, showbiz, and all other things. It was Tin's first time in Addiction Aquatic Development, and first time to eat sushi too! Next time we'll feed her sashimi. We joined our church group's trip to the National Palace Museum right after.

4. The Filipino group in church celebrated an early Christmas party last Sunday. We had a boodle meal and our churchmate Rex led the parlor games which consisted of Cheese Ring Loops Contest, Charades and Pass the Message. It was a joy to see all "ates" having a good time. They deserve moments like this after their long hours of daily work from employers.

5. I finally received my Daykeeper 2016. I cant wait to scribble my thoughts and plans on its pretty pages. Thank you, Doc David for hand-carrying it all the way to Taipei!

Friday's 10 Happy Things 3

I'm joining Helga Weber's Friday's 10 Happy Things where bloggers list ten things that made them smile this week, so we can start the weekend on a more positive note. Here are my 10 happy things, in no particular order :) Thank you Helga for hosting this!

1. Goodbye, Inang- Although my heart is mourning, I decided to include my Inang's passing as one of the happy things that happened this week. I want to celebrate her life, her selflessness, her love to me, to our family. I wrote this for her while breathing in the magnificent sunset.

Sunset is such a beautiful reminder of beginnings and endings. Today my heart mourns for someone so dear, but a bigger part of it wants to celebrate her life- a life she has fully given to serve others with so much loyalty and love. We thank you, Inang Idot for your selflessness. For every sunrise that I will wake up to, I will remember to pray for you, and to thank you for attending to our needs for over 50 years. I will never ever forget how you would always sit by the gate and wait for us when you know we'll be home for vacation, how you fondly call me Kalling, how you taught me to eat mangoes with rice. You will always be family to me, Inang. Han ka agdanag 'nang, I will take care of your resting place ta ammuk kayat mo nga napintas ta balay mo. ❤

2. Yoga classes- My body's softening up after regularly attending yoga classes. The temperature last night in Taipei dropped to 13C and joining the Bikram (hot yoga) class was just perfect. I'm trying to attend classes of all the teachers to see which one would suit me best (because poor me died a little in one Ashtanga Basics class the previous day hahaha)

3. Pandora collection- I just look at this pretty little thing and my heart swells up with joy. I told a friend how I regretted buying the starter bracelet kit because I know I would not be able to fill it up with charms. I only got around to wearing it when it already has 4 or 5 charms. But after 2 years, close friends have gifted me with some charms that tell my story. For Christmas, I bought the gliterry murano glass charm from the Disney Frozen collection. I got it last Sunday at a discounted price thanks to my churchmates.

4. Sogo voucher- I worked two weekends ago and as compensation, we were given Sogo department store vouchers. It came rather timely because Sogo  and City Super were having their year-end sale. I used it mostly for groceries.

5. Chewy chocolate chunk cookies- I baked some cookies last Saturday because I was missing the comforting taste of it when paired with milk. Brought some to share with church friends.

6. Christmas lunch- My group of Filipino friends want to have a nice get together Christmas lunch and we thought of reserving a table in Shangri-La Hotel. I called in early this week and managed to make a reservation one month in advance. Looking forward to our mini gathering!

7. Bonding with the auntie- Spontaneous plans always work out. After Sunday lunch, Auntie Josie mentioned to me that she wants to see the new Breeze Mall (which is just right across from where I live), so I said I can accompany her if she wants to. It's been a long time since we went out on a 'date'. She is the closest thing to family to me here in Taipei.

8. Money talk with my brother- My eldest brother loves to spend his money on oftentimes useless stuff. We're very open about money and I always remind him to save save and save. I sent him a message this week about his 13th month pay, hoping he wont use up all of it!

9. Long conversation with Auntie Emi- I love talking to her. We talked during my entire lunch break yesterday and I didn't feel hungry at all hahaha. I cannot wait to visit her in the US soon.

10. Piggy custard buns- Dimdimsum Hong Kong has just opened their first branch here in Taipei. We lined up for a few minutes after work last Wednesday and tried their chef's recommendations. Was just sad I had to eat the poor piggy!

Hope y'all have a lovely weekend!

Ditz Revolution

Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Is there anything more comforting than the smell of cinnamon rolls baking in the oven on a cool autumn day? Go ahead, pour yourself a cup of freshly brewed coffee, grab a plate and eat a few forkfuls of piping hot cinnamon roll and just lounge around in your pajamas. It will sure be a perfect day, no matter what. 

There is always something about cinnamon roll that keeps my heart fluttering. Perhaps it gives me a sense of familiarity as it reminds me of home, of those days I warm Cinnabons in the toaster for my merienda, or those dreary office mornings when I'd race to Starbucks Salcedo to grab a Cinnamon Swirl. I don't know but it brings a warm fuzzy feeling.

Cinnamon rolls are hard to come by here in Taipei. The closest thing to Cinnabon would be Costco's Cinnamon Rolls which are sickeningly sweet and a little on the chewy side. Ikea has them too, but without the glaze, and so does Hogan Bakeshop in Eslite Xinyi. And so after a long unsuccessful search for a good Cinnabon-like cinnamon roll, I tried a random Cinnabon-copycat recipe one day in April and I've never bought Costco's rolls ever since. I have made this recipe a total of four times and it always comes out the same- soft and pillowy rolls, not too sweet and the glaze is just perfect.

I'm copy-pasting below the recipe from Jo Cooks and included some tips:

    1 (2¼ tsp or ¼ ounce) package active dry yeast
    1 cup warm milk
    ½ cup granulated sugar
    ⅓ cup margarine (I used softened butter)
    1 tsp salt
    2 eggs
    4 cups flour

    1 cup packed brown sugar
    3 tbsp cinnamon
    ⅓ cup margarine, softened (or butter)

Cream cheese icing
    6 tbsp margarine (I used butter)
    1½ cups powdered sugar (Add gradually and taste if the sweetness is just right)
    ¼ cup cream cheese
    ½ tsp vanilla
    ⅛ tsp salt


1. For the rolls, dissolve the yeast in warm milk in a large bowl. (Tip: I would usually proof the yeast to make sure it is active, but you may skip this part. To proof, warm the milk until it reaches around 105-110F. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar then add yeast powder. Let sit for 10 seconds, then stir. Wait for another 10 minutes and make sure the yeast mixture is foamy and has bubbles on top and smells like 'beer'. When you get this result, it means your yeast is active.)

2. Add sugar, butter, salt, eggs, and flour to the bowl of a mixer and mix well.

3. Pour the milk/yeast mixture in the bowl and using the dough hook, mix well until well incorporated. (Tip: If you have no mixer like me, you can do everything using a wooden spoon. This will help in toning your arms hehe.)

4. Place dough into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place about 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size. (Tip: We usually place the dough inside the oven because it's warm and dark. Turn on your oven to 150F for around 1-2 minutes then turn it off. Let the oven cool a little before putting your bowl of dough inside.)

5. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface, until it is approx 16 inches long by 12 inches wide. It should be approx ¼ inch thick.

6. Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.

7. To make filling, combine butter or margarine, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.

8. Spread the mixture evenly over the surface of the dough. (Tip: We added chopped pecans but this is optional.)

9. Working carefully, from the long edge, roll the dough down to the bottom edge. The roll should be about 18 inches in length. Cut the roll into 1½ inch slices. You might find it easier if you use a piece of floss vs a knife. (Tip: We used a floss- not the minty kind! You don't want your cinnamon rolls to taste minty.)

10. Place the cut rolls in the prepared pan. Cover them with a damp towel. Let them rise again for another 30 minutes until they double in size.

11. Bake for 20 minutes or until light golden brown. Cooking time can vary greatly! (Tip: Check from time to time as they get brown fast!)

12. While the rolls are baking make the icing but mixing all ingredients and beat well with an electric mixer until fluffy. (Tip: Again, you may use a wooden spoon and your hands.)

13. When the rolls are done, spread generously with icing. Serve hot.

 It's time to turn on your coffee maker. Get a plate, a fork and eat your heart out :)

Back on the Mat

I'm back on the mat. After more than 2 years of no serious physical activity (leisure walking and biking do not count), I finally signed up with Pure Yoga. I quit my yoga practice in 2013 when I changed jobs because my schedule was packed. I was then with Royal Yoga's Fuxing North Branch. My favorite teacher also left Royal and I was not inspired to attend classes anymore. I would sometimes practice at home but I lacked motivation.

After two big work events, my body needed a break. I wanted to sprawl out on a mat and stretch every inch of my body. I decided to look up Pure Yoga Taipei online and filled out their form for a free trial class. I was bracing myself for some hard-sell marketing and sales promotion (surprisingly, they were a little more gentle than Royal), so I requested for a few days to give it some thought. The monthly fee is quite expensive and I didn't want to throw away my hard-earned money. From what I gather, Pure Yoga and Space Yoga are the two most expensive studios in the city.

However, after a few sessions with Pure, I was totally sold. Their teachers are highly qualified and trained. They know how to teach and interact with the students. My issue with my previous yoga studio is that the teachers cannot explain properly how to do the posture. We just imitate what they do, without knowing if we're doing it correctly. I also appreciate that their teachers take time to discuss the benefits of every posture in class.They ask beforehand if somebody has undergone a surgery, or if students have health concerns they would want to raise.

The classrooms and lockers are immaculately clean. No funny scent or sweaty smell inside the classrooms. The lockers are digital so there is no need to bring your own padlock (hello, I'm lookin at you, Royal). There is more than enough shower cubicles, hair dryers, cotton pads and all bath essentials. I haven't seen girls line up and wait for their turn to shower. But the real downside is the price. When I signed the contract last week, I made a commitment to myself for my membership fee to be worth every cent. I promise to always be motivated like I was back in 2013, when I would wake up early in the dead of winter just to attend my favorite teacher's 7:15am Vinyasa class. Hopefully I'll find the same inspiration again. Yoga on, dear self!

It's Time for Planners

It's Christmas time in the city!
My personal life has taken a back seat lately. I did not even notice they've lit up the trees in the area where I live- which is the only area in Taipei that feels and looks Christmas-y. After the Hong Kong Conference, we were terribly busy with another annual conference for the bankers. I did not have much time to go out after work, save for the hour and a half-long lunchbreaks that we have which I usually use to wander the shelves of Eslite Book Store.

Last week I found myself at the 4th floor level of Eslite, surrounded by planners of all size, shape and color. I was reminded that the year is winding down. Had I been in Manila, I would have started collecting stickers for the much-coveted Starbucks planner. In Taiwan, Starbucks sells their planner for around NT$400 to NT$500- that was the price last year for their leather-bound planner.

Taiwanese in general have an obsession with datebooks and planners, especially those cutesy colorful ones. And they don't come cheap! I saw a famous Japanese brand costing around NT$2,500. So while scouring through a stack of datebooks (the cheap ones of course), I accidentally found the 2016 version of my current datebook. Yes, yes, it looks cheap and childish, but it is cute and very practical!

I don't really use it as a planner, but more of an expense diary. An ate from church gave the 2015 planner to me as a present because she knows I like all things Hello Kitty. It comes with a sturdy plastic cover which protects it from wear and tear, especially since it has found a permanent home in my handbag. I was surprised that it only costs NT$80, with 10% discount for Eslite Members so I paid only NT$72. I particularly like the ample space in every page (and the cute Hello Kitty prints haha, it comes with stickers too). I write down my daily expenses and in one of the side columns, I create a summary of all the bills I have to pay and the amount I have to remit to my Philippine bank account.

Jotting them down saves me time and effort come pay day, when I need to divide my salary. I'm excited to fill up my 2016 expense diary. I also have a budgeting app on my iPhone for a back-up copy of my monthly expenditures. Doing this budgeting exercise this year helped me manage my finances well. I'm very much a gastadora, but this year, my finances are on track thanks to this old-school budgeting system using pen and paper. Do you have other budgeting tips? Share it below :)

I'm currently waiting for my Daykeeper 2016 which will be hand-carried by a friend visiting Taipei next month. My journal, Daykeeper 2015, is now well-filled with photos, memories and notes about my travels and other stories.

Nutella Brownies

When you have a big jar of Nutella in your pantry that is about to expire, you run to Google for help and key in words like "recipes with Nutella." We wanted a no-brainer, one-bowl recipe so the three-ingredient Nutella Brownies from Buzzfeed was just perfect. We actually made it into a four-ingredient recipe by throwing in a cup of chopped pecans (we have 3 bags of Kirkland Pecans sitting in the kitchen cabinet), to add a bit of crunch and to balance the sweetness. They turned out really good and not overly sweet.

Here are the ingredients:

1 1/4 cups Nutella spread
2 eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350F or around 177C. Grease or line a rectangular baking pan.
2. Mix Nutella and eggs, adding one at a time until well combined.
3. Add in the flour to the mixture. The batter will be thick, gooey and chocolatey.
4. Fold in chopped nuts. Spread batter on pan and bake for 15 minutes at 350F. Do not overbake as it will become dry and crumbly.
5. Cool and cut into squares.

For those who are wondering why this recipe only has three ingredients, Nutella plays a key role here by taking the place of sugar and butter. They are so easy to make and so yummy too! Try it and let me know how it turns out! One blogger shared a four-ingredient Chewy Nutella Cookie recipe, and it looks as good too. Will try it next time.

Traveling for Work

Dinner cruise aboard Bauhinia in Hong Kong 

People would often tell me how envious they are with my work because I get to travel a lot. I usually just answer with a shy smile but deep inside I say to myself they do not know the unglamorous side of it. Sure I get to see places I never imagined traveling to in my lifetime, but there are times when I also get tired and cranky. This morning I came across this article from The Financial Diet (TFD) and it quite sums up what I feel and go through each time I 'travel for work'.

I arrived last Sunday from Hong Kong. We organized an event (a big one if I may add, with more than 250 attendees) and we were on our toes from October 28 to November 1. When I reached home, I unpacked my luggage, sat down for a bit to rest then took a long shower. I was off to dreamland at about 10pm and boy it was the best sleep I've had for days. If it wasn't for my alarm clock, I wouldn't have woken up in time for work the next day.

It takes me a couple of days to recover from a business trip, or a week even for long-haul flights. There is the preparation part- the laborious coordination with our counterparts, speakers and participants which takes months, all logistical arrangements, packing materials to bring, and packing my own stuff. Most often than not, we have a scheduled meeting hours after arriving at our destination, followed by early morning calls, business lunches and late dinners. Sometimes, it does not matter if we stay at a 5-star hotel because we don't get to use the amenities anyway. We are lucky if the hosts are generous enough and would offer free tours. This is the only time we get to see some of the city's main attraction. Then we fly back home, unpack, prepare written reports (liquidation is my least favorite part), answer a gazillion of work emails, etc etc.

From my little experience of traveling for work, I learned four things which may be beneficial to other corporate slaves like me:

1. The key to avoid work travel burnout is proper rest and good sleep. I agree with the TFD author when she said you have to rest days leading to your scheduled travel and after your trip. I'd say getting a good sleep before, during and after is also helpful. Sleep will allow you to function well and think clearly during meetings and presentations. It will also help you feel less exhausted during the entire duration of your trip.

2. Take time to recover. I am a little close to the burnout phase and my backaches are getting unbearable. After a business trip, I would not usually go out for two to three days to allow my body to just rest and return to its "regular programming." If I have some cash to spare, I would have a 40-minute massage at this tiny spa just below my apartment. Right now I have a feeling my back needs a good gentle stretch so I signed up for a free yoga trial class tomorrow at a yoga studio nearby. I did yoga before but I quit after switching jobs.

3. Pack smart and travel light. Packing is such a chore but we cannot get away with it. I would first check our destination's weather and prepare my clothes three days ahead. I usually pack the right number of undies plus one or two extra just in case. I'm not comfortable wearing disposable ones but that's just me, you may opt to use them for convenience. I prefer dresses for work trips because they're easier to wear and lighter to pack. I just throw in a coat/blazer for a more polished look. I bring a pair of flats (which I wear during the flight) and a pair of black heels.  I carry my own toiletries because I once had an allergic reaction to a shower gel of a hotel many years back.

4. Don't forget to enjoy. Work trip is not a vacation, but you must also enjoy. Take advantage of free time in between meetings to have a short walk around the city or interact with the locals. You may even ask your local host for recommendations on which places to visit or restaurants to try. If your company allows you to extend for a day or two, that should give you enough time to tour. For this trip to Hong Kong, our boss allowed us to join the optional tour to Macau (he also agreed that the company pays for it-- thank you!!!). These little things inspire me to work even harder for him and for the organization.

And now some shots taken during my recent travel for work.

 We watched Franz Harary's House of Magic Show in Studio City, Macau. It is a pretty Hollywood-inspired casino which opened October 27.

 After the show, we went to Sands where I was stopped at the entrance. I told the ladyguard I was born 1988 but she wanted to see my ID. She checked my residence card and stared at me for a few seconds before apologizing. Oops.

 We had a buffet lunch in Macau Tower, where we saw people bungee jumping every few minutes. Heard it costs around 4000 HKD to jump off this tower. Jump, if you have the money :)

 These are small wishing lanterns at the Mazu Temple in Macau. I think they are selling these for 20-30 HKD apiece.

New Look

My blog's new look 

Props to all bloggers who devote so much time and energy in designing their blog. I don't know how you do it, but I almost ran out of patience and did not want to mess with my blog layout anymore after going through several free templates online. However, I really am inspired by all of the blogs I follow and decided I need to put an effort in fixing my site, even if I don't make money out of it.

So the previous day while waiting for our scheduled conference call, I was again searching for sample layouts online. My previous one was from Blogskin. It was pretty and simple, but I always have to adjust photos and captions each time I write an entry. Plus it looked a little plain, and quite hard to navigate. I ended up browsing Etsy, an online shop. I found this particular template which was on sale for only NT$99 so I immediately clicked BUY.

Screenshot of my old layout from Blogskins

When I got home, I downloaded the files and tinkered with it. I didn't know it was so easy to add all the widgets and whatnot and there's no need for html skills (haha sorry but I'm a first grader when it comes to all things techie). I was overjoyed when I clicked on Preview and my blog showed up the way I wanted it to be, not so cluttered with just the right touches of pink. I also added Disqus by following their website instructions and my comment section turned out so neat. I can now reply to comments one by one. Why did it take me so long to update my blog's layout? Thanks to all my blog inspirations! I hope you like my page's new look. Happy midweek everyone!

Friday's 10 Happy Things 2

I'm joining Helga Weber's Friday's 10 Happy Things where bloggers list ten things that made them smile this week, so we can start the weekend on a more positive note. Here are my 10 happy things, in no particular order :) Thank you Helga for hosting this!

1. Pay day. Our pay day came in early because of the long-weekend. Happy to say we have the most considerate accountant-HR in the office. I portioned the amount and set aside money for my rent and other bills, allowance, savings etc. My BPI Maxi Saver and Save-Up accounts are filling up nicely too, a little more to go to reach my target for this year.

2. Night market trip. My friends and I heard mass for the feast of Our Lady of Holy Rosary. There's a night market near the church where we found these really pretty school of fish. 

3. The sunset photo above sent by Agnes. Agnes told me my two goddaughters are adjusting well in Japan. The elder Emi is no longer crying at night, while my little Lisa can now speak one complete sentence. The sea is a 5-minute drive from their place so they go there often to play and run around. I miss them so much. 

4. Pan de sal. It was my first time to make pan de sal from scratch and it turned out really good. I still have to find finer breadcrumbs for the topping to make it more 'authentic', but the taste itself is legit pan de sal!

5. Cook out. I really enjoy cooking and so during the long weekend, I whipped up a meal for my friends. I was too energetic last Saturday, probably from the 3 bowls of sibut (Chinese traditional herb/medicinal soup that Auntie Maria made. I didn't get tired baking and cooking the whole day. Our dinner spread consisted of orange chicken, steamed fish and blanched pechay with garlic. 

6. Little catch up with a friend. My friend Ate Rina is now based in Singapore and she always sends random Viber messages to me. Since I was feeling a bit low lately, I opened up to her. It's always nice to hear someone's words of wisdom, especially when they're older than you. 

7. RT Mart and Costco trips. I'm trying to save all that I can lately, so I go crazy over cheap deals. My friend Abby and I went to Costco but found out that nearby RT Mart (Taiwan's version of SM Hypermart) was on sale. We didn't buy anything from Costco, but rummaged through the aisles of items that were on sale in RT Mart.

8. Shangri-La voucher. Ahia was finally able to use my Golden Circle voucher for dinner at Circles Makati Shang last night. It was worth more than US$150 from all the points I accumulated in my hotel stays last year . He brought my mom and my uncle for dinner. I'm just happy seeing them together enjoying a good meal. 

9. Dihia's random messages. My dihia's been sending random messages from the watch that he wants to buy, to helping him translate some words into Mandarin because his co-workers are from Mainland. I miss this guy so much. 

10. Ahia's good news. This is the highlight of my week. Our prayers have been answered and I hope everything goes well. 

Thankful for another week, despite the crazy amount of work in the office. 

Grateful for Always

It still hasn't dawned on me that I'm no longer in my early or mid-twenties. I have just turned 27 a couple of days ago and it will probably take some time before I get the hang of being 27.

I'm truly grateful for so many things in my life (cue Seinabo Sey's Younger in acoustic version). This path I have taken may be the road less traveled- it gets too difficult at times that I want to give up, but I draw strength and motivation from my loving family, my support group here in Taiwan, and my best friends. There are nights when I'm afraid and cry myself to sleep, but then I try to remind myself that for the past 6 years, God has never left me alone, and He will never leave me. He takes away this part of my heart that is sad, consoles it and fills it with joy again. He has given me so much more than I deserve.

Thank You, God, for all 27 years and for Your love which is being manifested through all the people you've put in my life.

Minsk, Belarus

I was MIA for a couple of weeks because of work. We were busy preparing for our visit to Minsk, Belarus- making sure we have all documents needed for our landing visa, securing visa support, our arrangements with our local counterpart, and all coordination with the delegates. It was so tiring that I had a very bad migraine while on my way to the airport. I slept through the flight, but woke up with a throbbing head for breakfast. I popped another painkiller when we reached Frankfurt for our layover, and was fine for the rest of the day until my boss arrived from a different flight, met us in the hotel lobby and announced that we are having vodka for dinner with his friends. Well, not his exact words but that's what happened. He was drunk after his 8th shot and kept on babbling nonsense. I wanted to go back to the hotel but I had to endure the whole ordeal.

We had our meetings early the next day starting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, followed by sessions with the local chamber. The following day was for another round of visits to organizations, with the most fun part reserved in the afternoon- the city tour. I managed to go around the city on my own during a two-hour break on our first day, but I learned so much from our second day tour. Our guide shared her life during the Soviet Union, how they lived with meal coupons and endless queues to get food and purchase personal items, and how religion played (and still plays) an important role in their lives. In 1992, Belarus finally gained its independence and started working to develop its economy and rebuild their society.

Minsk, the capital, was unexpectedly beautiful! Here are some photos I took during our short visit. I'm still a little jet-lagged so more on my reflections next time!

Independence Square

Cathedral of the Holy Spirit

Old City of Minsk

National Library of Belarus

Belarusian meal: Potato pancakes with caviar