Thursday, March 18, 2010

Abu Dhabi Doo

I made it to Abu Dhabi. I left Winchester on Wednesday afternoon. My flight landed in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, 9PM local time. I made it to my residence at 10:30PM. It was 85 degrees F when I walked outside of the airport, but it was comfortable. The place I am staying is a long term hotel/apartment complex that just opened less than 3 months ago. It is called Park Arjaan by Rotana - see the following website: It's about 20 minutes from city center, but by not living in the city center I will save each way over 30 minutes of drive to work by avoiding downtown traffic on the way to work and on the way home from work.

My apartment is amazing. I am the first one to move in on this unit. So everything is fresh and new, including the furniture and appliances. It's a 3 bedroom fully furnished suite with air conditioning on the 7th floor (American 8th floor). The master bedroom and one guest room each have king sized beds; the third bedroom has two full size beds. The bedrooms each have a dresser drawer as well have built-in closet and cabinetry for clothes storage. Each bedroom has its own full bath plus an additional half bath in the hallway. The bedrooms each have a Sony flat screen tv.

The living room is a nicely furnished modern style with a comfortable sofa, a love seat and matching chairs. It has a bigger flat screen TV. The adjoining dining room has an eight-person dining table. Both the living room and dining room open up to a good-sized balcony. The kitchen is complete with stainless steel set of refrigerator, stove, oven, dishwasher, microwave oven, washer/dryer, toaster, coffee maker, and nice kitchen cabinetry for storage. The kitchen comes with a complete set of dinner ware, silverware, glassware, and miscellaneous kitchen utensils. An office area with a desk gives me ample room for my computer.

Internet service is provided free with my lease. Three times a week, my apartment will be cleaned, including linen change. Towels will be changed and garbage will be collected daily. Tea, coffee, and water supplies are replenished three times a week. Toilet paper, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion will also be replenished three times a week. A lot of the items I shipped to Abu Dhabi from Germany, I will not need here such as towels, linens, and kitchen ware.

The hotel/apartment complex has two nice upscale restaurants (one serving Pan Asian and the other international cuisine), a coffee shop, and a bar. It has an outdoor swimming pool, a gym, and a wellness center. It has a dry cleaner, barbershop, and a salon. A park with a walking trail is right behind the complex.

I haven't seen my vehicle yet, but a colleague who picked me up at the airport drives a new Toyota Highlander. Tell you what, I think I going to like it here. Come over for a visit. I have more than plenty of room for visitors.

One of the downside of living here, a lot of websites are blocked. I am not able to access flickr. So I will have to find another photo web sharing site. So I will have to make my blog photo heavy for now.

Hallway leading to my apartment:

The living room:

The master bedroom:

The master bathroom:

The view of the pool from my balcony:

I will probably check out the downtown area tomorrow. I will post more photos when I get a chance.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall

I recorded the following video almost three years ago (April 2007) late at night in my office in Eagle Base located in Tuzla, Bosnia. We were in the middle of preparing the base for closure in preparation for the turning over the base back to the Bosnian government. There were only a few Americans left on base, including contractors. We still had many local nationals working at the base. But most were gone during the evening hours. The other side of the base still had a good number of European Union military personnel.

So except for Friday, Saturday, and sometimes Sunday evenings when I joined and socialized with EU military personnel on their side of the base, the other week nights were pretty much spent solitarily. By this time most of the facilities on the American base were deconstructed by tearing them down or sending all the usable items and equipment back to Germany or Romania. Only a few buildings were left. Most of the outside lights were already taken down, so night time on the American side of the base was fairly dark. I had a lot of free time on my hands in the evenings for most of the week.

This video is a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall. The song is about existential angst about unexamined life. It muses about coping with reality and personal confusion. I’ve always liked S&G because of the lyrical content of their songs. Paul Simon penned most of the lyrics. Most of his early works were profound and poetic. I am fond of this song for these reasons. The original song is faster in beat and a bit more peppy. To me, the song has a darker undertone and my cover is sung a tad bit slower.

Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall
by Simon and Garfunkel

Through the corridors of sleep
Lies shadows dark and deep
My mind dances and leaps in confusion.
I don't know what is real,
I can't touch what I feel
And I hide behind the shield of my illusion.

So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And flowers never bend
With the rainfall.

The mirror on my wall
Casts an image dark and small
But I'm not sure at all it's my reflection.
I am blinded by the light
Of God and truth and right
And I wander in the night without direction.

So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And flowers never bend
With the rainfall.

No matter if you're born
To play the King or pawn
For the line is thinly drawn 'tween joy and sorrow,
So my fantasy
Becomes reality,
And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow.

So I'll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end,
And flowers never bend
With the rainfall.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Friday afternoon, I was allowed to leave work early at 2:00 PM to shop for steel-toed boots. They are required to be worn when I visit construction sites for my new job. I drove to Old Town Winchester, at the pedestrian zone area where there are countless shops, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. I was told that this was where I can find Wilkins, a store which sells safety shoes. I found a metered parking spot a few blocks away and only had to feed the meter one quarter for 30 minutes. Imagine that, 25¢ for half an hour.

I found the store easily and was able to find the shoes I wanted in the store. I got out of the store within 15 minutes. On my walk back to the car, someone was yelling at me from a coffee shop across the street. The man, mid to late fifties in age and long-haired wearing western duds with a straw cowboy hat, was smoking outside the coffee shop. He was smoking a long, thin brown colored cigarette – thicker than a normal cigarette but not quite as big as a cigar. I was not sure what he was yelling to me. So I crossed the street to find out. It turns out that he was asking me if I wanted to play chess against him. It was drizzling and a bit cool, so I figured it wouldn’t be bad to grab a cup of coffee, stay inside the coffee shop for a while, and indulge the cowboy to a chess match. I had the rest of the afternoon off anyway.

He introduced himself and I did the same. He seemed friendly enough. Once I got my coffee order, the cowboy already had the chessboard ready and proceeded to offer both of his closed fists facing downward to me. This is the way a chess match starts – by picking one of the fists to determine if there was a white or black pawn hidden inside. This establishes who plays white or black pieces. I selected “white” so I got to make the first move. As the game starts, he starts talking and boasts that he has been in the coffee shop the whole day. He has not found anyone close to challenging him in a chess match. All the while, he is telling me that most of his matches have gone quickly and he expects this match to be the same. Initially, I thought this was going to be a friendly match and couldn’t care enough if I won or lost. I can’t remember the last time I played competitive chess, let alone, a friendly game. Anyway, his boasting and his challenge were enough to get my competitive juices flowing.

I had learned to play chess in the Philippines when I was young, probably as a first or second grader, from my oldest brother. It was one way to while away the hours by playing against and learning from my brothers. I got good enough at it as a young kid that a few older cousins used to take me to neighboring villages and would front me for chess matches that involved money betting. I don’t remember ever losing any matches to guys that were much, much older than I was. There were the occasional draws. I was usually rewarded with a snack and soda from a local store.

I played competitive chess during my last two years of high school as the number one player on the team. Yes, I will admit it – I was a geek and a nerd in high school. But I was also in high school sports team (varsity cross country and jv tennis), as well as other high school extra curricular activities (yearbook staff and other student clubs). I had to add the previous sentence, so people will not think that I was a total geek. Our chess team did okay, but the highlight was beating Lakeside School my senior year. Lakeside is probably the top school in Seattle area. It is an expensive private school. The school is always top academically, and usually does well in athletics. West Seattle High School beat Lakeside 3-2, with our #1 and #2 players winning, #3 and #4 drawing, and our #5 player losing. We celebrated our win with a stop at Herfy’s Burger on our way back to our school.

I continued to dabble with chess, playing every so often against my oldest brother, a cousin in Seattle who was seriously into chess playing, and a nephew who challenges me once in awhile. My oldest brother and I are probably equal in talent; the best I could do against my cousin, who has since passed away, was a draw; and as far as my nephew, he has beaten me a few times that sometimes I have to prove to him that I was still better than he was at this game. I will play chess with anyone who asks, when I have the time. Usually, it’s with a younger relative who is just learning the game and I will take it easy on them by allowing them to redo a bad move or let them beat me.

Anyway, my intent with the cowboy was to play a friendly match. But after his boasting, I decided to play the match seriously. It was a close and strategic game, but I got him early with a pawn lead. I was able to position my king well via “castling” and as a result was able to have a group of three pawns tactically positioned near my king and rook. This proved to be an important position at game end. The cowboy was not able to position his king as deftly as I had done it. With one pawn up and a position advantage, I was confident in trading chess piece by chess piece. My opponent was also willing to trade pieces.

During the middle of the match, I realized the parking meter on my car had already expired. But I wasn’t about to drop the game, call it a draw, and leave the coffee shop to avoid getting a parking ticket. I had more pride than that and was willing to risk possibly paying for a parking infraction. I wanted to finish the match and take my opponent with his feet back firmly on the ground.

Near the end, both of us had only pawns left with our king. I was able to “queen” one of my pawns after some calculated steps. Usually at this point, the opponent surrenders the match because a queen advantage is too overwhelming to overcome. He didn’t surrender. At this point in the game, his only chance is a stalemate. Stalemate is the condition when the only move(s) left for the king piece is/are “checked” position. The game is then deemed a draw.

So I took his failure to surrender as an affront to me. I proceeded to take all his remaining pawns and methodically “queened” my two remaining pawns, just to rub it in. With three queens and ensuring that I was “checking” his king on all my moves, I was able to prevent a stalemate and cornered his king fairly quickly. Checkmate!

I did not celebrate with glee in front of him. I offered my “great match” acknowledgment to my opponent. We dissected and analyzed the match afterward, as most chess players do after a bout. We talked about the focal points of the game. After a friendly handshake and offering of our best wishes to each other, we parted ways.

And what was awaiting me on my windshield as I walk back to the car? A parking ticket. Yes, my pride gets me in a predicament again. But you know what, winning that chess match felt so damn good.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Waiting Game

So I am still in Winchester, VA, coming up near the end of my second week here and still awaiting my travel documents to Abu Dhabi. Visa papers usually take about 7-10 days after it is submitted. The final documents were not submitted until last Wednesday. I am hoping that my visa arrives soon. I have been listless. After being used to working about 60 hours a week in Germany, trying to fill 8 hours of work in a day is difficult. I have completed all the in-processing paperwork, taken all the IT required training, sat thru all the construction management refresher courses, and attended all the required briefings. Fortunately, they don't require me to sit around at the office the whole day. I have been able to take longer lunches and sneak out early on several occasions. A few things that I was not able to do while in Seattle, I have been able to do here. I finally got cell phone service activated. I took time off to see an optometrist to get new pair of glasses and prescription sunglasses. I went shopping for clothes and athletic shoes. I got my external hard drive fixed (I was afraid that I had lost most of my collection of photos, but they were all safely recovered).

I spent the weekend in DC visiting friends. I walked around the Georgetown neighborhood. Last time I did that was in 1984 when I lived here for six months interning for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I am planning to visit Atlantic City or Baltimore/Annapolis this coming weekend. I guess it is not so bad waiting. I have a rental car to get away as needed.

Just to catch up on my photo sharing, the following are pictures from the last couple of months:

Seattle to Portland road trip with James, Mia, Joyce, and Janice a couple of days after Christmas. We went there for dim sum lunch and walked around downtown area. I can't believe that I got lost as we neared the downtown Portland area. I lived and worked in Portland from 1995 thru 1999.

A picture of me and a co-worker at a pub in Alconbury, UK, Feb 2010.

Fish and chips dinner in Harrogate, UK, Feb 2010. The green stuff is not avocado; it's mushy peas. The fish was good and the peas tasted fine.

My nephew George (Jojie) stopped by for a visit during my last couple of days in Wiesbaden, Feb 2010. First order of business was to get him to try German beers.

Murphy's Bar in Wiesbaden

Wiesbaden Bar

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ate Cristy

The previous post about my grandfather Apong Leon and the melancholy state I had been in was brought on by the news that my sister-in-law, in Seattle, was back in the hospital. One of my sisters had called me with the news after my arrival in the United Kingdom on Sunday, 7 February, late in the evening. I received the phone call while we were driving from the Birmingham airport to a US Air Force installation in Alconbury. I was in the UK for a week for work. It was cold, dreary, and drizzly as we were trying to find our way to our destination. All my thoughts were with my sister-in-law and her family.

I left Germany on Sunday, 21 Feb, with a nephew who visited me in Germany on my way out.
I had one week in Seattle before I move on to a new job in Abu Dhabi. I arrived in Seattle later that same day and went to the hospital shortly thereafter. When I visited her at the hospital that same Sunday afternoon after my Seattle arrival, I realized then that her condition had quickly deteriorated. My sister and I planned to stay at the hospital for most of the day on Monday, the following day. We had been at the hospital no more than 20 minutes the following morning when she passed on.

I expected my one week transition spent in Seattle from my old job in Germany to a new position in Abu Dhabi to be a time to catch up with family and friends, prepare for my new posting in the Middle East, and do errands that I typically do while in Seattle (doctor and dentist appts., buy things that I will need, eat at restaurants whose food
I miss, etc.). I was not able to do many of these things because of the untimely death of my sister-in-law. I was glad that I was able to see Ate Cristy on her last couple of days. I was glad also that I was able to be there for my brother, my two nephews, my sister-in-law’s relatives, and our entire family to be able to provide moral support.

During Friday’s rosary at the funeral chapel, I wanted to share my happy experiences and memories of Ate Cristy.
I had volunteered to speak about my happy moments with Ate Cristy. Just in case, I had asked a nephew to be my back-up, if I got too emotional. I am not comfortable speaking in front of people. I can usually do it in front of the family, but it is another story in front of 200+ people. I was able to build up enough courage to finish the reading. There were a couple of times that I came close to losing it, but I was able to finish.

The following is what I read and related (with some nervous ad-libbing) to all the people that were there for the rosary:

We lost a strong presence in our family this past Monday. Ate Cristy, wife of my brother Edgie, passed on 22 Feb 2010 after six years of courageous battle against breast cancer.

I saw her at the hospital during my visit in
Seattle this past December. I knew then that things were not going well for her. I tried to engage her by showing pictures of her sister Leila and my sister’s garden during my visit of the Philippines prior to Christmas. She did not want to show her weak condition, so we laughed, “oohed and aahed” while viewing all my pictures. I arrived in Seattle this past Sunday and visited her at the hospital that same afternoon. Her condition had deteriorated fairly quickly. It was not long after my visit that she passed away, early the following morning. We had planned to stay most of that Monday at the hospital. It was just before 10AM that she passed on. I am thankful to have seen her during her last days.

I want to share a few of my happy experiences with Ate Cristy and fond memories of her. These are memories of her that I will always treasure – her face always gleaming with a warm smile. This is how I will always remember her.

Ate Cristy was a fun loving person, always joking around. Unfortunately, I am forever linked to the infamous Antonio Christmas Party White Elephant Gift Exchange caper of a few years back perpetrated by the duo of Mng. Edgie and Ate Cristy. I have no doubt that the ring leader was Ate Cristy. Yes, I was the poor victim of this family gift exchange. I was duped into picking a gift that when opened by me, with the entire family – young and old in suspenseful anticipation, turned out to be a porcelain doll. The entire audience laughed uncontrollably for what seems like eternity. I, in turn, started laughing. I’ve been had. It was the perfect caper. The plotter of this episode had planned the perfect prank, with me as the victim and Ate Cristy the prankster. Subsequent family Christmas parties now refer to this incident. Since, Ate Cristy and Mng. Edgie had not and continue not to admit their involvement with this prank, and since I have no doubt it was both of them who were the perpetrators, I have facetiously referred to the ringleaders as Misty and Wedgie.

Although Ate Cristy had the last laugh, I was also the lead planner of a great prank directed at her. Leah, Glen, Jay, and Sonya were the co-conspirators. This happened many years ago, summer time in Bainbridge Island at my sister’s house, a place of many fond family memories. I borrowed Glen and Jay’s binoculars and proceeded to smear lipstick on the eyepiece. I used the binocular and pretended to scope out a neighbor’s house across Tolo Road being so careful not to have the area near my eyes touch the binocular. I heartily called her and informed her that there was a man naked in front of the neighbor’s house. Ada lakay idiay sango ti balay nga labos – there is an old man across the street naked,” as I slyly passed the binocular to her. She had no choice but to try to see what the commotion was about. Yes, after placing the binocular eyepiece on her face, deep maroon-colored rings decorated the area around her eyes. She had raccoon eyes. I felt bad afterwards because it took her most of the day to clean off her face. But we laughed at her expense for the longest time. She took it well.

Ate Cristy was always the life of the party in all our family parties and gatherings. She always tried to outdo Manong Bong’s jokes. Most in the family laughed at Manong Bong’s jokes to be polite. The real jokes were from Ate Cristy because it always made us laugh boisterously. She was always on the ready for joke or a gag. She was always conspiring with Agnes to tease me or poke fun at me. She never failed to make me laugh.

Me being single and on my own, Ate Cristy never failed to include me in on their gatherings with Mng. Edgie, CJ, and Michael. Ate Cristy and Mng. Edgie invited me to join them on their first trip outside US, in Victoria, Canada. So believe it or not, I was there as a tag-along on their “official” honeymoon. I joined their family on a road trip to California. We had the best of time during our stops in all the tourist sites along the way. I have joined them on two trips back to the Philippines. I have hosted them a few times when I lived in Portland. It was always a great time being with her and the family.

They often invite me on their dinner and movie outings. One time in particular, I joined all four of them for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Renton. Afterwards, we headed to a movie at a multiplex cinema in Southcenter. All five of us voted for which movie to go see. Ate Cristy, Mng. Edgie, CJ, and I voted for one movie (the title escapes me, but it was for older people); Michael voted for Toy Story – the movie with Woody and Buzz Lightyear. Four of us who voted for the “older people” movie cheered gloatingly at Michael that our choice won out --- majority wins. This must have been when Michael was in the 3rd or 4th grade. Michael then proceeded to cry out loud. So after 5 minutes of Michael crying and complaining, Michael won and we got to see the movie he wanted to see. It turned out to be a good movie that was enjoyed by all five of us.

I’ll be selfish a bit. I will miss all the yummy food and desserts that Ate Cristy prepared during our family gatherings. Her dishes were always the first one we put on our plate and her serving dishes were always the first one that were empty. I will never have the same scrumptious pecan tarts again. She was truly the Martha Stewart of our family – that’s a good thing.

Ate Cristy joined our family in the US during my senior year in high school, 1982. She stayed with us in our small family house in Beacon Hill before they moved to their own house. We connected right at the start, and developed a bond that will never be broken. She treated me like a little brother. I will miss her kindness, her humor, and her friendship. It will not be the same without Ate Cristy. Everyone will her presence during our regular family gatherings. Her outgoing personality will be sorely missed at our yearly family camping event. Mek had just started planning for this year’s event to be held at Orcas Island. She was thrilled and excited about this summer’s upcoming event.

I am grateful to have known such a wonderful person. I will always treasure all the happy times I shared with her. Ate Cristy, may you always rest in peace.