Japan, in a few snaps.

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Multiple Faces of Sulu, Multiple Dimensions of Peace

Peace.

It is such a simple word, the kind we take for granted. We take it for granted, because it is easy to define, yet our definitions are limited by own experiences and understanding.

People easily define peace as the state where there is no conflict. But really, how many of us truly understand what it means to achieve this—and the harder question of maintaining it.

My latest trip to Sulu did not come without more than a few concerns, particularly from my dad. “Haven’t you been reading the news? They just had an encounter with the Marines and people were killed!” he said.

I just shrugged, “My ticket has been booked already,” conveniently forgetting to mention to him that I was headed to Patikul.

I could be branded reckless and insane, but Sulu has a pull to me that I struggle to explain to those who could only see it for the conflicts reported in the news. Perhaps I can explain it through the kids that I’ve been privileged to meet in the province.

 

At the Start, Classrooms for Hope

The main reason why I have been traveling to Sulu is for TEN Moves, a public fundraising campaign for the construction of 10,000 classrooms nationwide. TEN Moves builds schools not only in areas were overcrowding persists, but also in areas that have been largely underserved.

Brgy. Buhanginan in Patikul, Sulu is one of these areas, and Kaunayan Elementary School is located about three kilometers from the recent fighting between the Marines and the Abu Sayyaf Group. The school was almost forced to close down in 2004 for one reason or another, and vestiges of being forgotten were evident in the old school building.

The school is getting a new lease on life, with the unveiling of five new classrooms and a library. Prior to the turnover ceremonies, I met up with some “old friends”—Kaunayan’s football team, who I met earlier in Manila when they participated in the Football for Peace tournament.

They were all eagerly waving Philippine flags and gamely posing for the camera, recounting their experience in Manila in between. Little did I know that the boys were to perform during the turnover ceremonies with a couple of dance numbers. Talk about being the darlings of the show.

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The teachers also told me the boys had been performing better in school, with at least three team members belonging to the top five of their classes.

This becomes an interesting counterpoint to the recent armed encounter—I’ve been told two of the Abu Sayyaf guys killed were dropouts of Kaunayan Elementary School itself.

I look at photos Nirhun Arbani and his teammates, and I really hope they have a brighter future, with football and new classrooms just being the start.

 

A Reminder of Sacrifices Made

We made a quick trip to Kan-Ague Elementary School, which could have well been a homecoming of sorts to my friends, Tops, who wrote the screenplay of “Patikul”, a movie that shares the story of Kan-Ague Elementary School’s beloved principal, Gabriel Canizares, who was beheaded by rebels in 2009.

A solitary marker sits in the middle of the school, to me a reminder of the great risks and sacrifices that teachers make just to provide kids in seemingly forgotten places with an education.

There was a little girl in the school with a smile I cannot forget. I hope she won’t be forgotten.

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What Little and What Overflows

Brgy. Danag sits high up in Patikul, and we went there to witness the graduation ceremonies of the community’s summer school, with the Marines doubling up as teachers.

As the vehicle approached the site of the ceremonies, the kids were lined up on the side of the road, waving flags that bore the words, “I ❤ MBLT-6”, in reference to Marine Battalion Landing Team 6, whose men serve as their teachers. I got out of the vehicle to take photos of the kids, but the next thing I knew, they started handing me freshly picked flowers—more than a load that I could possibly carry, but there was no way you could refuse.

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I honestly wanted to cry—perhaps the only time I’d ever consider crying over flowers given to me. There is no sweeter gesture than it. It becomes even sweeter when I learned that the kids had their parents help them pick out the best flowers.

It is humbling to realize what little they could offer, yet the offer what is possibly the best. The heart overflows.

 

The Little Team that Could

Indanan’s football teams from a couple of schools regularly visit Camp Bud Datu to play football, and their trek up the mountains where the camp is located is made easier by the Marine trucks that serve as school buses to ferry them between school and the best available football field.

These were boys that considered every game the biggest game of their lives, especially as they have seen what football could bring to them. The boys say that football has taught them discipline, friendship, and teamwork (they also like Phil Younghusband, “kasi magaling… at guapo!”). This, plus the honing of their skills, helped the boys finish third overall in the Football for Peace tournament.

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They asked me if I could visit their school, I smiled and said I would the next time I visit Sulu. They also also asked me where they could watch more football games, since the only channel they could view didn’t air such.

I said I’ll try and send them some football matches to watch—after all, there’s no harm in fueling aspirations of representing the country in the international stage. (Any help in supplying videos of must-watch football games is also welcome.)

 

Revisiting What Has Been Put Up

Hadji Hassiman Elementary School sits on a crowded and bustling neighborhood in Sulu, and if not for the vibrant peace mural on the school’s wall, its existence may be easily forgotten. I visited the place to give Principal Bakil the books that his students have requested for their library.

Unlike the first time I visited the school, there were only a few kids present, on account of the summer break, but one familiar face was there—Alyannah, the girl who wrote to the community elders about the school’s need for classrooms, the girl who graduated valedictorian of her batch. She is now set to attend a high school that is just separated from Hadji Hassiman ES by a cement wall. One thing hasn’t changed, however—that bright, bright face.

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One would be glad to know that Principal Bakil and the teachers have secured and maintained the new classrooms, even as these were used as voting centers during the recent elections.

There’s a newfound energy in Hadji Hassiman ES, and I felt it with the enthusiasm of the teachers geared up for the next school year.

It’s a brighter road ahead.

 

Postscripts

There is infinitely so much more to Sulu than what many people think it is. Yes, the reality is that it is not a safe place where you and I could roam freely (and this is probably the only time I get to have an armed security escort)—but if one dares, there are stories that need to be shared.

Someone once said I must love what I do to even dare do it—and I do. Not only that, I’ve learned to love Sulu and its people.

This is why the work is not yet done, and this is why I will return.

You can also read more about Sulu’s young football players here: In war-torn Sulu, football brings hope for peace and a better future.

The Kids of Sulu

There are travels that leave you richer in your catalogue of reasons why the world is wonderful, and then there are travels that change you.

My trip to Sulu earlier this March fell could be filed under the latter. My purpose for that trip was to witness the turnover of new classrooms in Hadji Hassiman Elementary School in Jolo, Sulu. While I understood that my role for the trip was to share the story of this TEN Moves beneficiary community, little did I know that the kids I met are making me tell more stories about them—and how they have profoundly impacted upon me.

I admit to jumping at the thought of traveling to a place where social conflict is real and tangible. I admit to mentally freaking out upon landing at the Jolo airport (simply an uneven runway and a shack with an arch that welcomes travellers), with the sight of a battalion of Marines waiting. I admit to silently praying the most number of Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes since grade school, while I was sitting on the flatbed of a Marines truck, praying that nothing involving bullets would occur.

Beyond these initial fears and apprehensions, I once again understood what it meant to open up oneself to life experiences—and I had been reminded of this through the kids of Sulu.

My first memorable encounter of these kids was during a medical mission in Indanan, a town next to Jolo, where one had to ride through dense forest areas before reaching Pasil Elementary School (and yes, we were wearing bright yellow shirts—moving targets, anyone?). Since I didn’t really have a role in the medical mission (Lord knows that while I take my medicines liberally, giving them to other people is a different story altogether!), I did what I knew best—take photos of and with the kids, and play with them.

The perspective does change when you see these kids getting curious over commonplace gadgets like a camera, or a tablet, or an iPhone. The simple act of teaching them how to use these devices is quite a magical experience—it was as if you were witnessing their worlds open up. They were very good at framing their subjects. I told one of the girls that was fascinated with the camera to study hard, so she can study Film in UP—and I meant it. I don’t know if I will ever see that little girl again, but I do hope that she could create magic, somehow, someday.

As we were about to leave the school and head back to Camp Bud Datu, I was surprised by the affection that the girls showed, giving me hugs and kisses. I don’t know if I will ever see them again, but if anything, I have hopes and dreams for them. How could one ever forget those smiles?

Then there were the kids of Hadji Hassiman Elementary School, whose school burned down back in August 2012. Five classrooms were rebuilt through TEN Moves, but this is simply the start of their rebuilding process.

In a town where many adults look at you with suspicion, since they know you are an outsider, it was refreshing to see the kids smile and treat you with so much warmth. It was a Sunday morning, when we were jointly conducting Help-Portrait sessions and having the kids write Thank You notes to the donors. I see them gamely smiling for the camera and taking turns at the limited number of crayons I bought—they were grateful, even if what they have was next to none compared to the schools in Metro Manila.

I spoke with Principal Bakil, and he said that the next thing to be built would be the school library. Even the kids were looking forward to it, as I could read that many of them had asked for books in their Thank You cards.

This is my next project. I don’t know how soon I can go back to Sulu, but I will find a way to get books through to Hadji Hassiman Elementary School. I’ll be collecting books throughout April 2013, so if anyone has anything to share with these kids, please do let me know.

I wrote in my Manila Bulletin article that no child gets left behind, and I sincerely mean it. Let’s not forget these kids who live in a place where there is so much volatility and yes, violence. They deserve so much more.

Coming to Sulu, I had no expectations, just a bit of faith that I’ll be safe and secure. If anything, this trip made me understand that there was so much to the place than just security. There’s so much that needs to be done, to bridge social divides.

The Surprise that is Siem Reap

One hour in Siem Reap, and I’m already smitten. Perhaps it’s the small-town, laid-back vibe that presented a welcome respite for the weary urban jungle trekker. Perhaps it’s the quaint charm of the Angkor Home Hotel, complete with the jasmine-scented pools and lounges in the lobby. Perhaps it’s the calmness of corner cafés and Blue Pumpkin’s white lounge.

Weaving through the alleys of the night markets and along Pub Street has become routine in a short span of time—after all, what is a trip without getting into the local shopping culture, the local eating culture, and the local drinking culture? Of course, part of the local culture is having to bear with persistent vendors and even more persistent tuk-tuk drivers.

And then there’s Khmer food, which can be an adventure itself. It is somewhat similar to Thai cuisine, except there is significantly less spice—just the way I like it. Also, the restaurants give free cups of rice for every meal ordered, so that works perfectly well.

The real adventure, however, begins outside of the city proper. If you’re lucky to have a tour guide like Bunleat, you will have a refresher course in history and literature—while traversing fallen stone slabs and piles of rubble.

Beng Melea, which has been largely unrestored, is quite an adventure of the moss-covered rock kind. Angkor Wat, in all its splendid glory, was a revisiting of stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, and held interesting details such as the Hall of Echoes and the only apsara with teeth. Banteay Srei was an interesting counterpoint to Angkor Wat, considering that the pillars were made of blocks stacked on top of each other—and because it didn’t use the best, it looked older than Angkor Wat. Ta Phrom, made popular by Tomb Raider, has gigantic trees springing out of the rubble (also the cause of ruins)—making one believe that are is a Higher Power. Bayon was the state temple of the king and featured serene, gigantic faces—and yes, we sought shelter from the rain in one of the rooms that reeked of bat’s droppings. And despite the weariness, we managed to trek to the summit of Baphuon (about 40 meters or so in height), in a near-vertical climb.

After all of these, I have come to realize Siem Reap is for lovers—largely because there’s just too many around me. From the ones that are having a quiet breakfast in a café to the ones riding around the city on bicycles to the ones peered over a map, studying it intently. What Siem Reap has to offer is mean to be shared with a loved one.

As for the single ladies? There’s plenty of eye candy around—it’s not just the temples you look at for, uh, sightseeing!

The Absolutely Awesome, Fantastic, I-May-Just-Run-Out-of-Words Football Adventure in Kuala Lumpur (Part 3)

They say all good things must come to an end.

However, some things must end with a bang.

On my final full day at Kuala Lumpur, I woke up way too early (hardly got any sleep due to sheer excitement!), got ready for checking out, and donned my red Liverpool shirt. The plan was to be at the stadium early, as all tickets to the match were sold out. Of course, there’s a bit of comfort in knowing you’ve got guaranteed seats, but given how Bukit Jalil was pretty much far from the city center and the trains were going to be the primary mode of transportation, it was better to be there much, much earlier.

And boy, was it a fiesta at Bukit Jalil. As early as 2 p.m., there was already a sea of red in the area surrounding the stadium, complete with large banners that dressed up the place, even more stalls selling food, drinks, and merchandise, the non-stop blaring of horns, and even louder retro music.

Amidst the maddening crowd, we found space to pose with our banners and scarves, as well as finding time to buy some souvenir items. I got a Bart Simpson shirt, wherein Bart was wearing a “We 8 Mancs” Liverpool kit and pissing on Manchester United. Throughout the steps leading to and around the various entrance points, banners were unfurling and horns were blaring. There were the fans that seemed to have consumed several pints of beer already, a fan that had a broken leg but was still gamely in line, and the littlest of kids decked in their Liverpool kits.

As we (Mich, Leo, Leah, Rex, Johann, Ryan, Rick, and I) were seated separately (and Rick and Ryan had media passes), we eventually parted ways. Mich and I were seated at the second tier, behind the commentators, and almost right smack at the center of the stadium, giving us a good view of how it transformed into a sea of red in a span of a few hours.

Pretty soon, the big screen inside the stadium showed the team arriving, and they didn’t waste any time to get onto the pitch and soak in the atmosphere. Who enjoyed the most? I’d say it was Dirk Kuyt. He looked pretty relaxed on the bench, with even one legged propped up. “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was interspersed with both American and Malaysian pop tunes in the hours leading to kick off. At one point, the stadium was only half-filled, yet the words to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was reverberating throughout.

Soon enough, the team began their warm up. I was alternating between taking shots of Daniel Agger stretching (quite fascinating, actually), Jay Spearing (I’m still guessing his height to this day) and taking photos of the crowd—the banners, the scarves, the shirts, and just how Bukit Jalil was dominantly red (Rajagopal’s request to wear blue in support of the Malaysia NT fell on deaf ears).

Before we knew it, it was already 5:45 p.m. Liverpool started with Jamie Carragher, Brad Jones, Raul Meireles, Daniel Agger, Conor Coady, John Flanagan, Jack Robinson, Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing, Joe Cole, and Andy Carroll.

Joe Cole was only somewhat impressive during training. When it’s an actual match, oh lord, he is the dead end when it comes to attacking. Raul and Carroll seemed sluggish to me. Charlie Adam was impressive in the first half—apart from scoring the first goal of the match off a penalty kick, he did seem like the general among 11 men. Malaysia, however, equalized toward the end of the first half from a brilliant free kick. Boy, the drumbeats of the NT’s boosters sure were loud and clear—and they had a simple, fierce cheer to boot.

The second half was definitely much better, with David N’gog scoring a pair of goals for Liverpool in a span of one minute (all together now: He’s alive!). However, someone should tell Jonjo Shelvey that he’s not the next Steven Gerrard—I have no idea what the hell was up with his free kicks. Martin Kelly was not having the best of days either.

Maxi Rodriguez would soon get on the scoreboard himself, off another pass from Insua (who also assisted N’gog’s first goal). Malaysia would soon respond with two quick goals, off defensive lapses from Liverpool. Following that, Maxi scored another goal off a cross from Dirk Kuyt (quality human being right there), who scored the final goal for Liverpool himself. It was definitely the midfield that made the difference in the second half—Kuyt was his usual hardworking self and Alberto Aquilani (the stadium announcer pronounced his name as “Aqualini”) was just silky smooth in his passing.

It was just sheer joy when the final score read 3 – 6 in favor of Liverpool, and the stadium was just going wild. This is the first time I’ve seen a match where the crowd was equally cheering both sides, and there was just a general state of euphoria as the match ended. Flares were lit, and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was heard loud and clear—it gave me the chills!

It still amazes me how we managed to file out of the stadium amid 80,000 fans. As fans were basking in the joy of the game, you could hear people still singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. When we managed to get onboard the train out of Bukit Jalil, we were standing in front of a guy wearing a Manchester United shirt—and yes, he looked like he wanted to melt. He did get some good-natured teasing from Liverpool fans in the cabin. On the other cabin, we could still hear other fans chanting “Li-ver-pool”. What one match does to the collective happiness of tens of thousands of fans—and yes, even to the collective happiness of a nation that loves football.

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On the flight back to Manila, I started reflecting about the last five days and how much this trip meant to me. I know I do have a flair for the dramatic, but believe me when I say that this adventure was beyond anything that I had expected. I made friends along the way, saw a team I like and a team that I absolutely love, and created a story that I will probably be telling years from now. I made initial plans for this trip several months ago, with the thought that I needed to get out for a while, embark on an adventure after my mom passed away.

I haven’t mentioned this yet, but in several stages of the trip, I keep noticing a white butterfly—at the stadium, both during training and matches, and heck, even at the A&W at Bukit Bintang. A white butterfly was something I had always associated with my mom. Amid all the madness I got myself into the last five days, I knew my mom was sharing this adventure with me.

Yes, it did make me realize that no matter where I go, I can always take comfort in the knowledge that I will never walk alone.

The Absolutely Awesome, Fantastic, I-May-Just-Run-Out-of-Words Football Adventure in Kuala Lumpur (Part 2)

Admittedly, I was more looking forward to the Liverpool leg of this trip, and if the Arsenal leg of the trip was any indication, I had a pretty damn good feeling about the next few days.

14 July 2011

The day started off with Mich, Icang, and I meeting up at Pavilion Mall, whose Bukit Bintang entrance was dressed up as the Shankly Gates. Upon entering the mall, the red carpet leads to the atrium, where a gigantic Liverpool shirt hangs. Along the way, on the carpet reads the years when Liverpool won all of its titles. On the pillars on the sides were Liverpool banners (my absolute favorite: “The best 80s revival this year”, together with a photo of King Kenny).

Follow the steps down below, and an arch with the “This is Anfield” sign welcomes visitors into the atrium, which had: a press con table with Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles; a FIFA station; a faux locker room (lord knows I wanted to steal the Pepe Reina shirt, but that was too obvious); a face painting area; a goal; numerous cardboard standees; and a center counter that was giving away “signed” posters and Liverpool Standard Chartered car stickers.

I can tell you now that any Liverpool fan would feel like it was being inside the candy store when we were kids.

After going through everything that “Anfield” at the Pavilion Mall had to offer, we did a bit of shopping (of course, ladies never leave Kuala Lumpur without purchasing at least a pair of Vincci shoes). Sometime at about 3 p.m., as we were heading out of the mall, we noticed a line of security men at the entrance. We asked one security man what was happening and he said, “Phil Thompson is coming.” A stern-looking lady (who appeared to be one of the organizers) turned to us and said, “No, not Phil Thompson, it’s Ian Rush coming.” Holy… we were freaking out. This was the man who owns the record for Liverpool’s highest number of first team goals, including the highest number of FA Cup and League Cup goals—and he was coming any moment now!

True enough, a black vehicle pulls up on the driveway, and out comes Ian Rush. There was a mad dash of people scrambling to get near him, while I stood on his way to get a few photos—until someone shoved me out of the way. Mich, meanwhile, extended her hand from the side and warmly greeted him, “HI!” (Ian said, “Hi!” back.)

And training hasn’t even started yet!

Mich and I joined up with Leo to go to Liverpool’s training at Bukit Jalil Stadium. We initially got good places at the center… until several tall Indian men stood in front of us and then decided to stand up on the plastic chairs, thereby effectively blocking our view. The crowd was really swelling in our area, and yes, I can confirm there were more people in Liverpool’s training than in Arsenal’s.

We waited for the team to appear before deciding to change seats. We then positioned ourselves behind one of the goals, which was not crowded and still offered a good view. The team did their drills and put on a good show for training. And how can anyone not notice Jay Spearing? He looks like a little kid (literally) playing with the big guys! You can’t also miss Andy Carroll because of his size. However, the loudest cheers were definitely reserved for Jamie Carragher and Dirk Kuyt.

After the training, we waited for the team’s bus, and yes, we got Spearing waving at us like a mechanical Chinese cat (cue in all the baby Spearo jokes). We met up with Rick and Coach Ariel after and got the Malaysian hawker street experience (oddly enough, there was a Chaang beer banner with Mikel Arteta nearby).

What did I tell you? The Liverpool leg of this trip was off to a great start.

15 July 2011

The Meet & Greet session with a few Liverpool players was scheduled at 3 p.m., and judging from the reception at the training session, we were betting that there would be a lot of fans present. We knew from the previous day that the ground floor would be cordoned off to accommodate just the members of the media, so we knew exactly where to position ourselves. After a quick lunch, we stationed ourselves at the floor above, where the only bench was, overlooking “Anfield”. Rick was able to get into the area reserved for media only and was able to get a bunch of Liverpool goodies—including that red and white umbrella (which he refuses to use, haha).

As predicted, the crowd swelled soon enough. Once the program began shortly before 3 p.m., we unfurled the “Mabuhay LFC” banner that Imon made.  It seemed to be quite an inspired choice, given that it was the most visible and legible banner brought by fans, and it did get a lot of attention (so this is what a pseudo-celebrity feels like—strangers taking photos of your banner and you hamming it up at every camera trained in your direction). We were all floored when the host began acknowledging the fans, starting with fans from the Philippines! The four of us were cheering wildly, and it was rather heartwarming that the Malaysians clapped for us.

While waiting for the players to arrive, there was also an old Chinese man that was shouting how quiet it was, and as a response, the organizers began playing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. It may just be a crowd of 3,000, but man, even as small as that, I got goosebumps from hearing the song.

Pretty soon, Steve Clarke, Jamie Carragher, Raul Meireles, Andy Carroll, Christian Poulsen, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, and John Flanagan appeared. They stayed for 30 minutes, with Carra looking pretty tired and Raul pretty much looking like he was the one enjoying the most. Poulsen took footage with his iPhone (I was thinking, if we didn’t get on LFC TV, at least we’re on Poulsen’s phone). The team unveiled the new LFC Standard Chartered debit card, took a few questions, and a few lucky fans got to have their stuff signed.

What stood out most for me was that Raul nudged Soto, pointed at our banner, and waved at us. Wowowowowowow!

As if the day couldn’t get any better, when Leo got back to his hotel, he immediately checked LFC TV, and yes, we were included in their video of the Meet & Greet!

How else can you top this experience?!

The Absolutely Awesome, Fantastic, I-May-Just-Run-Out-of-Words Football Adventure in Kuala Lumpur (Part 1)

There are a few things I believe in when it comes to traveling:

  • Return visits to places must always tell a different story.
  • Research, research, research. Time cannot be wasted on the wrong kind of getting lost.
  • Capture everything possible.

Last Tuesday, 12 July 2011, I embarked on what was probably one of the best trips I’ve ever had—a trip to Kuala Lumpur to see Arsenal and Liverpool take on the Malaysian national team. To try and sum it all up seems to be a tad difficult for now, so let me just try to recapture everything that was.

12 July 2011

The Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to KL, not at an ungodly hour of 10 a.m., was surprisingly smooth. Never mind the fact that the person seated in front of me was snoring loudly. Then again, that’s why I got an iPod and a Kindle.

After figuring out my way around LCCT and settling in my hotel, including an overpriced Subway lunch, I made my way to Bukit Jalil Stadium. Somehow, I figured out I needed to take two trains from my hotel and that it would take me nearly an hour to get there.

(Here’s the thing: I love taking trains. I think it’s an interesting way to immerse oneself in a cosmopolitan city. I was in KL several years back and wasn’t able to experience that part of their public transport system. Now that I had all the time in my hands, I could explore the city in a more efficient manner at a lesser cost.)

By the time I got to Hang Tuah station, I noticed that there was a group of people in their Arsenal shirts. I told myself that I must be going the right direction then. Just follow the (dominantly) red, white, and yellow shirts.

Let me tell you something about Bukit Jalil Stadium. When I stepped out of the train, there was a bevy of flags and tents leading to the entrance, where stalls sold shirts, the local street fare, several interesting drinks, and a smorgasbord of souvenir items of Arsenal and the Malaysian team. Of course, the downside of being alone is not being able to squeal with delight at this sight.

It was past 5 p.m., so I headed straight to the ticket counters to claim my Arsenal and Liverpool tickets, which had training passes to boot. After submitting my passport and other papers, I headed straight inside the stadium to get a good seat, as the Malaysian team was already nearing the end of their training. (I did have a bit of a scare, though, when I realized my departure card, which was tucked in my passport, was missing. I rushed back to the ticket counter, and thank god the girl who gave me my tickets set it aside. Whew, that was a close call.)

After settling at a seat with a much better view, I was silently psyching myself up that I would see Arsenal in a few minutes. Lo and behold, my friend Migs walks down the stairs. Apparently, he’d been looking for some other person when he saw me—of all places, at a packed portion of the stadium. Well, at least it’s better to know someone in the crowd.

Arsene Wenger and his assistants were the first to come out, followed by the goalkeepers, and one by one, the team started entering the pitch. Allow me to have a fangirl moment and say that I wanted to scream and squeal and jump like a lunatic when Samir Nasri came into view. If my favorite Gunner can’t make it (Cesc Fabregas, I’m looking at you—don’t you dare move to Barcelona yet), then my second favorite will do. The team did their laps around the pitch, some ball work, a practice match (where my favorite young French-Algerian impressed with his speed), and shooting practice (where the woodwork beat Robin van Persie big time).

Ah, the first live encounter with an EPL team—it’s seems all too surreal. Post-training, I joined some Gooners from the Philippines (Migs, Gab, Janina, and Jerome) for some grub at Lot 10.

This trip sure is off to a great start.

13 July 2011

The first day of a trip can always set the tone for the rest of the days. The adventure continued when I met Mich and Icang at Suria KLCC, where we had a good, spicy lunch at Signatures (yes, cheapskates love mall food courts). Since the match between Malaysia and Arsenal would start at 8:45 p.m., we could afford to look around—the highlights of which were posing with store displays at Adidas (with Steven Gerrard) and Nike (with Cesc Fabregas).

Since the two girls had to go back and check in their hotel at 2 p.m., we parted ways to get ready for the match. We met up at 4 p.m., with me donning a Cesc Fabregas shirt (yes, Cesc, like I said, don’t leave Arsenal just yet) and Monica rushing to get a ticket to her first-ever football game.

Gunnersaurus Rex joined the trip to Asia and greeted the crowd shortly before kick-off.  Thomas Vermaelen wore the captain’s armband, starting together with Szczesny (god, I can never get the spelling of his name right), Miyaichi, Ramsey, Chamakh, Gibbs, Koscielny, Jenkinson, Wilshere, Song, and Walcott.

Early into the game, Aaron Ramsey (god bless his leg and the St. Michael tattoo on it) scored a penalty for Arsenal, after Jack Wilshere was tripped in the penalty area. Azza also assisted in Theo Walcott’s goal to bring the score 2-0 at the half. The energy of the crowd somewhat dropped in the second half, but that all changed when Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Bacary Sagna, and Andrey Arshavin were brought in. Nasri showed flashes of brilliance (shut up, I’m not biased—Samir, don’t effin’ go to ManUtd, OK?), while Carlos Vela scored Arsenal’s third goal and Tomas Rosicky the fourth.

We also waited for Arsenal’s bus to come out of the stadium, and the short of it is that I saw Arsene Wenger and Bacary Sagna wave at us.

As the match ended pretty late, we made a mad dash to the train to catch the last trip. That was quite an experience being packed in a sea of… sweat. Capped the night with an A&W root beer float. I deserve it.

Spain, in three videos

There are places in this world where one cannot simply be a tourist, but to be a real traveler—the one to get lost in the culture, the one whose senses are overwhelmed at every hour, the one who may just be tempted to make a new home en la terra extranjera.

Spain, I feel, is one of those places. Someday, soon enough, I will have a grand love affair with this country.