Birthday weekend.

My birthday was this past Saturday and we went way for the weekend to celebrate the occasion,  hence the title. It  started off rather rushed as I had overslept a slight bit due to a work occasion the previous night, which was Thursday night as I took the Friday off from work.

On Thursday evening it was a colleague’s last day at work, so we went up to the roof of the office building for some drinks and snacks and the fact that we are an proudly beer selling company, the supply of top quality craft beers were not limited. Hence me missing my normal 7:00 AM gym session and sleeping in till 8:00AM.

Once we left Amsterdam station and were on the train to Antwerp, the rushed feeling and slight stress was immediately replaced with excitement.

Antwerp is a magic little town in Belgium, famous for one of the biggest ports in the world as well as a flourishing diamond trade, which both contribute to the cities wealth. Wealth which one can see, throughout the city and its residence, it has an air of ‘well being’ which is not easily experienced everywhere.

Antwerp is full of little squares surrounded by cafes and restaurants.

We arrived at the magnificent central station, known to be one of the prettiest in the world and quickly made our way to our AirBnb. It was a few minutes from central station and upon arrival we were met by the owner, Grethe, who sat us down for a quick Antwerp information session.

She was very sweet and just meant well but it felt like she was talking forever, elaborating about the history, the people, the food and she eventually called it quits, after sharing several restaurant and specific meal recommendations at the said restaurants.

When we greeted her she mentioned her age, 73, she looked no older than 57, maybe 59, good genes she said.

We circled Antwerp several times, looking for the perfect restaurant until we eventually settled on the restaurant recommended by Grethe and the food was delicious.

The rest of the day was spent visiting breweries, shops, parks and several historical sights in town. We ended the day with a delicious meal at a French restaurant, I had a steak and it was probably one of the best steaks that I have had in my life. Jytte had the vegetarian lasagne, to be honest, I am not a vegetarian but I would order that lasagne any day!

French cuisine.

We called it an early evening with retired at around 11:00AM. The next morning we were up bright and early and visited the city market. It was an amazing mixture of sights and smells, with the most delicious food and snacks that once can imagine.

What really grabbed my attention was the alcohol consumption, all around the market and surrounding restaurants, people were drinking anything from beer to wine to champaign. This must have been around 8:00AM in the morning and coming from a country where it is illegal to sell liquor before 11:00AM, I was quite surprised.

So I order two beers and a shot of tequila.

Just kidding but what I did order was a delicious Turkish wrap with honey, olives, cheese, sun-dried tomato and artichokes. It really hit the spot. Jytte had a few bites but it was not up to her tastes.

As the day before we spent the rest of the day eating, drinking and enjoying the amazing Summer weather. We also rented two cycles which I would definitely recommend, its so easy to get around on bikes.

Give a Dutch persona bike and the sun and you get that face of pure bliss.
Exploring Antwerp!
Antwerp from the sky!

The evening we decided on a piquant pizzeria looking out over a busy piazza surrounded by several restaurants. We both had pizzas which were equally amazing. I swear the food in Antwerp is just on another level.

Food!!!

We decided to have desert elsewhere and seeing that I am not entirely a desert person, I was in no rush.

At one stage Jytte got frustrated and said that the only reason that she wanted desserts was to ask them to put candles on it and then I could blow it out as it was my birthday. Super sweet!

Eventually we did find a place and Jytte went to place our order, 2 coffees and one creme brule, she also went to ask whether they can put the candles on the dessert.

She can back flustered throwing the candles on the table, telling me that they told her that they don’t do such things here like lighting candles. I almost told her  that we should just cancel the order and leave and she said “No, lets just drink the coffee”. Sure.

A few moments later the lights started flickering and I could hear the loud song ‘Happy birthday…. ” Ah, she got me…

So the staff did not agree to the candles but had their own sparkles! They marched through the restaurant singing happy birthday while the whole restaurant clapped hands. They messed up my name but that did not matter as the table of ten next to us, literally gave a standing ovation and kept clapping long after the song was finished.

It was great!

We returned home after this as we still had big plans for Sunday. The next day we went back to the market for some snacks and soon after left Antwerpen for Rotterdam. It was a great Summers day and the weather was even better in Rotterdam than Antwerpen.

For some city was buzzing with excitement and energy as there was a soccer cup final taking place later the day but for myself the excitement and energy translated to fear and anxiety as we were surrounded by hundreds of screaming, drinking and rowdy soccer fans.

The police detained the entire train whilst they got everything ready to search all passengers upon exiting. It was a scary experience seeing all the police and dogs and people being searched.

Once we cleared the search we headed into Rotterdam which is airy city which felt very green, spacious and modern and reminded me a lot of Pretoria, South Africa.

We walked through the city and eventually came to a street called “Witte de Wit”, where Jytte’s father once lived, many moons ago.

The street was a mix of trendy bars, cafes, clothing stores and restaurants lined with green trees almost forming a roof above the road. We headed over to “Paneke Bar” of which Jytte knew the owner, who I then met and we enjoyed a cold beer. The owner , Wim, was slightly nervous as he was not sure what type of crowds the soccer game would attract and apparently it can get pretty messy.

Our last stop for the day was “Felix Food Factory”. This is a sort of market in a old shipping building right on the water. One can buy all kinds of food and drinks there and then sit on edge of the river enjoying the food and the view.

We bought an amazing cheese platter and two craft beers and sat with our legs dangling over the piers edge. We could see “Hotel New York” from where we were sitting which is an old hotel which looks like it came right out of a Wes Anderson movie.

Jytte’s great grandfather was actually a project manager and worked on constructing the hotel.

So back to the title of this post, birthday weekend. As you can tell I did indeed have an amazing action packed birthday weekend!

Hotel New York, straight out of a Wes Anderson film.
Beautiful Rotterdam!

Waiting in Limbo

Recently I wrote about my final days in Hong Kong and how I am absolutely ready to start a new life in Amsterdam! Today would have been the day that I race to grab a taxi, then en route to the airport, book my flight and hop on a plane to the Netherlands, all within the span of two hours!

Or at least this was how I had it all planned out in my head…

Here is the current unfortunate situation which I find myself in: All my possessions are packed, my apartment has been spring cleaned and I have given or thrown away all my toiletries, cooking essentials and junk that I have accumulated over the last six months, so now I find myself in a barren apartment, living out of an unsettlingly overpacked suitcase.

Furthermore I have left most of the expat Facebook groups, leaving me slightly vulnerable and understandably lonely, as it is common knowledge that you do not enter a country before joining every expat Facebook group, from “Expats who read in Hong Kong – The Book Club” to “Expats who like to dance – Salsa for expatriates in Hong Kong” and you certainly do not exit these groups whilst still in the county.  In both of the above mentioned groups, I was a pillar in the community, and leaving them was done with a very very heavy heart.

The only slight hang up is that the Dutch Consul still has my passport and I am still waiting for them to let me know when I can pick it up with my works Visa approved.

It is actually the only factor holding me back and worst part of all is that there is nothing I can do about it.

I called the Consul as soon as I woke up, only to be told by the voice messaging service that the Consul is still closed and that they will only open at 09:00AM. This prompted me to call again at 08:30AM and also at 08:59AM, just to be told again the Consul will only open at 09:00AM.

When I called at exactly 09:00AM , my call was answered in a very thick Dutch accent by a very friendly and stern, Bianca, who I assume is not on the premises at the Dutch Consul, but actually in a call centre somewhere in the Netherlands.

Bianca requested my tracking number and after a slight pause, she told me that my Visa application has already been processed, but could technically be anywhere in Asia and there was no way of knowing exactly where it is…

She went as far as telling me that I may only receive my passport in the new year.

Gutted. Absolutely gutted.

Actually, I really believe that everything happens for a reason, and that I will leave Hong Kong exactly when it is meant to happen but this does not stop me from wanting it really badly.

My ex college told me that the secret to life is to really want something, it must be a burning desire, you really need to feel it, but if it does not materialise then you should be perfectly fine with it. It sounds rather contradictory but it actually works in perfect harmony.

With this philosophy, you allow yourself the pleasure of getting really excited about something but you also spare yourself the disappointment if it does not come to fruition.

I am always a naively optimistic, positively positive, optimist who in most cases believes that a situation will always turn out for the best, so with this mindset, the idea of getting my passport in the new year, never even crossed my mind.

I really thought that even though the Visa application process can take up to two weeks and it is the holiday season, I could still get the Visa in a couple of days, so yeah that is the naive optimism which may be shattered today but its has payed off tremendously in the past.

So here I am today, waiting in my favourite little coffee shop where I routinely bought a flat white and a salmon, cream cheese and  poppy seed bagel. This morning I deviated from my routine and bought a standard breakfast of sunny side up eggs, bacon and toast, this may well be my last breakfast in Hong Kong or it may later turn out to be my first breakfast of 2018.

Bags, shoes, outfit and skateboard stacked against a wall and ready to go.
Bags are packed and ready to go.

*South Africans

Three nights and counting…

Sunday night, Monday night and Tuesday night, this is all that I have left before leaving for Amsterdam on Wednesday… Or at least so I hope.

I was actually planning on leaving Hong Kong a few days ago, which would have allowed me to spend Christmas in Muiden, a small city outside Amsterdam, with my girlfriend and her family in their super cosy family home.

Unfortunately my dreams of pyjamas, cuddles, Christmas treats and hot chocolate was stopped dead in their tracks before they could ever realise due to a delayed visa.

Actually it was not delayed at all, in fact it was processed in record time but in this case record time was just not fast enough.

About one month ago I was hired by Beerwulf (the lead online craft and speciality beer retailer in Europe)  as a senior frontend developer, this was amazing news.

The process would most likely have been a breeze had, I been an European citizen, but due to my South African heritage, Beerwulf had to sponsor me with a higher skilled working visa and this naturally takes some time.

The process was started a few days after I signed my employment contract and then it took two weeks for the Dutch government to grant me my work Visa. Once granted by them, I also had to follow several steps to get the process going on my side.

I immediately started with process. The first thing that I needed to do was to apply for an appointment at the Dutch Consul in Hong Kong via their online scheduling system and to my horror, the earliest appointment was for the 31st of January 2018! Off course this was out of the question as I had been planning to start my new employment, bright eyed and bushy tailed, no later than the 2nd of January.

I immediately called the Dutch consul and after several conversations, emails and a lot of pleading, I was granted an appointment 09:00AM the next morning, this was Monday, a week before Christmas.

The following morning I was there with all my documentation, passport photos and  the pleading eyes required to get the necessary assistance. In my heart I knew it would be a stretch, I mean just the fact that I was already granted an earlier appointment was already a stretch but alas, upon leaving the Dutch Consul after handing in my completed paperwork, I gave Tracy one more teary eyed look and mumbled something about Christmas alone in Hong Kong. This would surely do the trick, I naively thought.

The big thing is that they need ones passport which I handed in my passport at Tuesday 09:00AM, it then had to be shipped to the back office in Beijing, there it had to be approved, processed, examined, fraud checked and then shipped back to Hong Kong and in order for me to be in the Netherlands for Christmas, this had to happen before Friday, so like I said, “This would do the trick, I naively thought”.

After handing in my passport, I called the Dutch Consul several times over the following days, even my girlfriend called them trying to speed up the process. On Friday they informed us that my passport has been mailed back to Hong Kong but it would not be here before Christmas 😦

In defence of the Dutch Consul, they were always super helpful and super friendly but unfortunately all our calls, tears and prayers (yes we did pray) did not increase the speed at which the government official graced the pages of my passport with their tired stamps.

Hence this post and hence me still being in Hong Kong for Christmas.

So is it disappointing to still be here?

Well I did have my hopes up about spending Christmas with my girlfriend and her family and about making the big move to Amsterdam (I am packed and can be at the airport in 45 minutes) but actually it is ok… I have been invited by my (ex) manager from Palo-IT to spend Christmas with her and some friends, which I am really looking forward to and I also have time to say farewell to Hong Kong and all that goes with it.

It can be easy to forget but Hong Kong has been great and it has also been great to me and it will stay in my heart forever. ❤

Back at Kuala Lumpur airport en route to Bangkok

Little restaurant where I am writing this post.
Little restaurant where I am writing this post.

It was almost two weeks ago that I was also here at the Kuala Lumpur International airport, blogging about my final days at Suwit Gym in Thailand. Well here I am again, this time I am blogging about my final days in the Philippines.

My last week at Boracay Legacy gym went past in a blur. I contracted food poisoning and this stole an entire day from me, which I spent lying in bed, nursing my dehydration with blue Gatorade.

In six months of traveling through South East Asia, regularly eating street food and drinking water or tea from jugs on the table, I had never once contracted food poisoning. The closest that I came, was a slightly upset stomach, which was more than likely my own fault, caused by dousing my food with enough chilli to kill a small elephant.

But this time it was different… I was completely void of all energy and strength, simple movements were a real struggle and I could not stomach any food, I only just managed to keep liquids down.

It was not only me who fell ill, another trainee and one of our trainers also got very sick and their symptoms aligned perfectly with mine. The strange thing is that we were five people who ate at the same place and three of us got seriously ill, whilst the other two were fine. We may have all had different food but I cannot recall exactly what I ate.

Apart from the food poisoning, two girls, who train with me, had an official boxing match, this will be its own blog post and we had a barbecue party at the gym, also a post on its own and I also had a few final great training sessions.

So I have a lot of writing and catching up to do but right now I need to head over to my boarding gate to catch my red eye flight to Bangkok.

Impressive airport ceiling.
Impressive airport ceiling.

Planes, Boats, Ubers and Tuk Tuks!

I arrived in Manila, the Philippines three days ago. I am very impressed with Malaysia airlines, my flight had no delays, there was onboard entertainment and I had two delicious meals during my flights.

From the airport I ordered an Uber as I had heard that taking the airport taxis is a rip off. My Uber driver was a student who could not believe that I am his passenger, apparently I was his first Western passenger and also the first person white from Africa that he had ever seen. He said that he had seen black people from Africa in movies and that is about it, so after dropping me, he took several selfies of us, which he later uploaded to Facebook.

My guesthouse was in a suburb called Paranaque, which is a local neighbourhood with virtually no tourists around, in fact I did not see any other Western tourists in the streets. As I arrived at the guesthouse I was greeted by the friendly Dutch hosts with an ice cold beer, which went down superbly after a long day of traveling.

Also staying at the guest house was a tourist from South Africa, who is studying in China and who came to the Philippines on holiday. It was great talking about our home country and our experiences in South East Asia.

The guesthouse was fantastic, nothing fancy but clean and conveniently close to the airport. I liked the fact that it was not in a touristy area but in a heart of a very vibrant Filipino neighbourhood.

More allies.
The alley outside my guesthouse.
Cotton candy vendor on the side of the road.
Cotton candy vendor on the side of the road.
Busy streets of the Paranaque neighbourhood.
Busy streets of the Paranaque neighbourhood.
Allies in Paranaque.
Allies in Paranaque.
Street vendor selling fruits.
Street vendor selling fruits and veggies.
These dogs watched a fried chicken vendor s every move.
These dogs watched a fried chicken vendor s every move.
Streets.
Streets.
Street vendor.
Street vendor.
Colorful streets of Paranaque.
Colorful streets of Paranaque.
There are plants everywhere.
There are plants everywhere.
Next to my guesthouse is a lawyer, which is convenient I guess.
Next to my guesthouse is a lawyer, which is convenient I guess.

My first night in Manila, I decided to take it easy and instead of going out, I spent some time with the other guests before retiring for an early night. At 10:00 AM our host woke me up for breakfast, this msut have been the latest that I have slept in months. After breakfast I walked around the neighbourhood, did some exploring and later had some lunch with the other guests.

Spicy garlic fried chicken.
Spicy garlic fried chicken.

After lunch I headed for the nearest hospital to get my rabies vaccine. I arrived at the hospital and it was chaos. There were multiple people with stab wounds, elderly ill people, ill babies, people with recent animal bites and a variety of issues which were a lot more concerning than my injection, so I got another Uber and went to the animal bite centre, which I should have done in the first place.

There I was quickly assisted and the entire process took less than an hour. The only other patients there were people with animal bites. I spoke to a girl and she told me that she was attacked by a rabid cat as she was walking home after work, the cat appeared out of nowhere and took a bite out of her leg. They think that the cat definitely had rabies.

After my injection, I walked to the Robertson mall, as the Philippines are know for their malls and three out of the worlds top ten malls are in the Philippines. I was amazed at the monstrous size of the mall and the hundreds of shops with every brands and label that you can think of. The prices were great too. I did a bit of shopping and had something to eat and got an Uber back to the guesthouse.

The next day I got my stuff ready, had breakfast and headed to the airport. My flight was for 2:30 PM but I was told to go early as there is a lot of construction around the airport causing heavy traffic delays.

The flight was delayed three times and we eventually departed just before 4:00PM luckily it is a short flight from Manila to Caticlan. This was the first time that I flew in a smaller airplane, it could probably seat a hundred people at most.

I could tell that the other passengers were also not use to the smaller aircraft as everybody whinged and moaned with every little noise that the airplane and every small hint of turbulence. I am a nervous flyer but have forced myself to get it under control as I still have a lot of traveling to do.

From the airport I took a Tuk Tuk to the pier and from their I hopped onto a boat which took me to Boracay Island and from there it was another Tuk Tuk ride to the Boracay legacy gym. I will write more about the gym once I take a few pictures and see the place during the day time as I arrived in the dark.

A quick snap of the pier.
A quick snap of the pier.
This was taken from the back of the Tuk Tuk.
This was taken from the back of the Tuk Tuk.

It was great to see Tim from Suwit gym again and we went with some of the other trainees for dinner. Tim was aching and sore from the training and he guaranteed me that my first day is going to be tough. We have a beach strength and conditioning class lined up for 7:30AM.

Overall I have love the Philippines so far, the people are very friendly and speak great English. Here is also a sort of charm to the place, I look really forward to my next two weeks here.