Amazing Race Pampanga

They say that watching TV has its subliminal effect. I may have to agree this time as what we’ve done a day after the Balloon fest is somewhat similar to the recently concluded Amazing Race Asia Season 2. No, there’s no running involved, no Henry-Trinidad arguments and definitely there are neither clues nor roadblocks to beat. But it’s just that there’s money to be budgeted like being the last team on a non-elimination round plus the fact that my two-weeks of  re-gym made me somewhat near Marc Nelson’s six- pack abs — okay, is a joke.

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But quite frankly, the reason why I’m trying to control our first meal that morning of February 11, both budget and volume, is because we’ve been planning on checking out Everybody’s Café. So after Angeles we went to San Fernando where the main restaurant is located. We got the idea of going to this famous Pampanga restaurant from a show on the Food Network channel (if my memory serves me right). The host of the show ate frog legs in this resto and that perked up my interest to try this exotic food.

Almost an hour away from Angeles, San Fernando city is surprisingly developed than I expected it to be—the presence of several major car dealerships reaffirms this observation. A couple of minutes after entering the city and spending a few more time asking for directions, we located our main objective but to my dismay is not the one we saw on TV.  My wife later mentioned that it located in Angeles which is the branch store. To save the day and our grumbling stomach we proceeded nonetheless.

From the outside, the place looks just like any ancestral house. With only one SUV parked that day, a newcomer wouldn’t even think that inside is a restaurant if not for the large sign hanging on the right portion of the entrance. Upon stepping inside, the sight of the food display gave me a hint that we are in the right place and at this point I already started to check every food tray for something looking weird, with long legs and webbed feet, and that resembles those we see in ponds–frogs. But there were none.

Good thing the old lady at the counter sensed my craving for exotic kapampangan delicacies. She politely offered buro with mustard leaves, fried hito (catfish) and to my delight, fried camaro (crickets). We also ordered Tapang Kalabaw–this became my instant favorite since I had one at SM Clark’s Cabalen.

Once the foods are served, I was surprised that we had little hesitation to dig on everything in front of us. The camaro tasted just like small shrimps if not for its hollow stomach and dark brown color. And the buro and mustard leaf combination made me remember my late lola‘s preparation when taking the nganga (leaves and lime chewed usually by elders). Overall, we enjoyed the weird lunch. Spent: P500+

Everybody outline

Upon finishing our kapampangan meal, we still had time to check out San Fernando’s malls which we unintentionally discovered when we took a wrong turn while looking for the resto. So with full stomach we found window shopping a good way to burn calories—I wonder how much calories did the fried crickets deposited in me. After grabbing some items, we decided it’s time we head back to Manila. Spent: P1000+

It was just around 1:30 PM when we left San Fernando. NLEX traffic was smooth. We only got stuck starting in Cubao and the area before Ayala and we realized we still had time to kill. To the delight of my wife, I agreed to drop by Glorietta Center in Makati. Besides, our car already badly needs a wash.

Inside Glorietta, the temporary stalls located in one part of the mall made us realize that renovation is ongoing to repair the site affected by the December 2007 blast. That uneasy feeling to avoid this mall subsided quickly once we reached Glorietta 4 wherein our quest for local foods continued as I decided to take my snack from Taco Ilocano—Ilocano-style empanada. Right after another calorie pile-up, we went to watch the movie The Eye in one of G4’s cinema. It’s been quite some time since we last watched a film in this mall. Spent: P1500+

By around 6 PM we were already on our way back home but the thickening traffic gave us another reason to make our final stop at SM Mall of Asia.

When we got out of the elevator from the parking lot, all the food we took a couple of hours ago seem to just disappear out of our bellies—we were hungry once more. So we combed the place and found ourselves facing the Manila bay at the rear portion of the mall. Right in front of us we noticed something new in the vicinity—SM by the Bay.

We excitedly crossed the bridge to check it out and it was as if all of a sudden we were transported to another country somewhere in Asia but the Philippines. Whoever thought of this idea deserves more than just a pat on the back. It was packed with people, it is clean, it’s enticing, romantic and more importantly, the choice of places to eat is overwhelming. Almost an hour later of picking which is which, we eventually settled in Aling Tonya’s restaurant. We ordered calamares, sinigang na isda and, last but never the least, San Mig lights beer. What a wonderful way to cap the Balloonfest. Spent: P800+.

So there goes another trip with my lovely wife, another well-deserved outing for the two of us. Looking forward to the next road trip and good food to deal with. And by the way, I need another set of coin banks.

 

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Balloon Fest’s Last Day

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While my wife and I lined up at the event’s entrance gate, I heard over the PA system that there would be some delay in the morning’s program. The wind that was supposed to make everything fly was the same wind that forced almost everything that flies grounded. The irony.

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Moments later a rewarding sight came–the static line jump pushed through. The view of rounded gray chutes dropping side by side from a military cargo plane reminded me of combat movies. Back in the days, this view either sent hope or fear depending on who are watching these soldiers descend.

There were several pauses again to wait for a tolerable wind speed and once the signal was given, the view overhead filled with colorful skydivers’ canopies.  A number of sorties were made. The crowd were clapping as skydivers flaired and landed one after the other. Since last year’s event, these skydivers especially from the military had my respect as I was under the impression then that most of the good ones are civilians due to budget constraints on the government side–my 1st and last skydive instructor is a Colonel. They proved me wrong when I saw them execute long freefalls and even stacking. I’ve never been so proud of the Philippine military.

What followed next are the aircraft exhibitions.  A helicopter and a couple of small planes sped past at low altitude and climbed at a dizzying rate. The planes completed a nauseating roll. In spite of my basic knowledge of aerodynamics (howstuffworks.com, anyone?) I still can’t help but ask what makes it fly, why and how it flies, and who flies it. I’m always green with envy when I shoot the who question.

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Short shadows=short temper.

As the shadows went shorter, I went multitasking. I was air traffic controller, weatherman and psychologist. I was reading the wind cone, checking the air temperature while reading my wife’s gestures.  It seems like there’s a direct link between the first two factors and my wife. She was cowering into the remaining shades and faking a sleep—a tell-tale sign of irritation and boredom. So just as any sane husband would, I asked her if she’d like a break from the event. The answer was clear.

Few minutes later we’re at SM Clark’s Cabalen restaurant eating a buffet lunch. Wifey at this point is now full and smiling. I didn’t regret doing so either. The tapang kalabaw is remarkably soft and tasted good.

Past 12 noon, we decided to check the hotel which I booked online. There I realized, that it seems like I have a knack of picking comfortable but nevertheless weird accommodations. This time I booked us in Swagman Resort Hotel for an overnight stay. Good thing we got an upgrade. Instead of the standard room, the hotel clerk gave us the deluxe family room still for Php 1400. Nice. High five.

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Waking up after a two-hour siesta in the hotel room, we hurried back to the balloon fest site. As I approached the parking lot, I saw that the balloon bursting contest is on-going. Little did I know that by the time we got settled near at the shady hangar, I won’t be seeing any of it anymore. What I saw outside was to be the last leg of the contest. Grrr. The price to pay for a siesta. I also didn’t know if we missed the synchronized kite flying and kite surfing too, but what I witnessed once again was Mr. Bill Wright’s aerobatics and several sets of skydiving exhibition. I’m hoping that next year they’d place a jumbo monitor for the crowd to witness videos of the freefalls.

Disappointed, I continued shooting videos of what’s going around the exhibition ground. Then an announcement came that made me interested once more. An awarding ceremony is going to happen at the event’s control center. And the names that were paged sounded familiar, so I left my wife at her post to see the ceremony.

In front of me was Peter (PFSG founder) who won 3rd place in the balloon bursting competition and Tonet (PFSG supremo). These are the guys I interact with online on Philskies.net–thanks to Mark who happens to be with me during last year’s event. (Mark gave me hangar access and I was able to see skydivers pack their canopies in front of us.) I was able to chat with Tonet who in person is just as articulate as he is in his blog. Frankly speaking, I was starstruck. Unknown to him, he is one of those who inspired me to have my own blog site.

When I got back to my wife at her spot in front of the hangar, I was thinking how to explain to her the lull in the exhibitions. No other reason but just the windy condition—not acceptable to the impatient. I tried convincing her to pose in front of the gun exhibits but to no avail. So we decided to stay still and entertain ourselves with whatever is ongoing.

Dusk came and the wind calmed down. One after the other, the hot air balloons inflated. Huge rounded canopies came into life. Around 20 different shapes and colors of balloons covered the horizon in front of us.  It was so massive that the last batch of skydivers and a lone Malaysian paraglider were dwarfed. And on cue everyone approached the fence to catch a glimpse of the spectacular sight. Every gadget that can capture pictures—from cell phone cameras to giant DSLRs—came out in unison to grab their own share of the scenic event.

Accomplished what we came here for, we headed back to our hotel together with the rest of the exiting crowd. It’s funny but I even find the sight of a hundred vehicles coming out of the parking lot on a very dusty trail a spectacle by itself.  The way going out of the area is so dusty that at some point there’s zero visibility and the only way to see the road again is to slow down in order to stay away from the vehicle in front until the dust settles down.

Once we reached the hotel, we parked (worriedly) Mary in their weird parking lot and then tried the resort’s restaurant. And just as weird as the parking lot, we found ourselves having dinner in front of women who seemed to be practicing a dance routine. Deep in my mind, they’ll likely be wearing at least a swim suit come past 10 PM to the delight especially of the American customers. But fairly, we find the food great and needless to say, so does does the beers. Cheers!

 

We Could Steal Cars

“Very nice…High Five…” – Borat Sagdiyev

Having planned a road trip with wifey for quite some time, even when we still have our trusty Kia Pride, the 12th PIHABF (Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta) came as the perfect moment. So I filed for a two-day vacation leave month ahead in anticipation of this event. And just like ants preparing for a rainy day, my wife and I went shopping a week ahead for clothing, food and storage–buying a Coleman cooler justified.

Feb 10. Past 3 AM. With the car’s boot filled with the stuffs we need, we set off. The early morning drive went well as expected. Traffic was light from Cavite to NLEX and in the back of my mind I began imagining picking a good parking spot and a good vantage point for us to witness the balloon flight before dawn. I fought the urge to floor the pedal. At some brief point the speedometer was at 120 yet the Honda City stayed stable despite it. Realizing the car’s capability, the temptation to go faster became stronger but sanity and the presence of the speed limits along the highway kept me from doing so.

In the middle of the trip, we decided to stop by Total gas station in San Simon and it was when the most unlikely thing happened. While waiting for the attendant to fill the tank to the brim, my wife and I decided to step out of the car. I grabbed some water in the boot while she picked something in the gas station’s store. Unconsciously, we both closed the doors with the car key still inside. A minute after I shut the boot door and while lazily stretching myself, I heard the car alarm’s beep followed by the sound of a latching door lock. Damn, for a moment I saw myself turned pale. I almost cried in despair. We got locked out!

After hopelessly trying to wake myself up from a bad dream, I started considering some options and eagerly asked help from the gas attendants and other people who also stopped for gas. The inputs ranged from the ridiculous yet the most direct–shattering the glass window, to the tiring and frustrating 60-kilometer public commute back going to Cavite to grab the spare key, and to the most viable yet costly option of hiring a locksmith to do the job. Also considered was taking chances if other Honda car keys will match. That one didn’t work, as expected. For the first time I hated Honda’s wave key and alarm feature.

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Always. Bring. Spare. Key.

The thought of missing the balloon fest and ruining our trip made me decide to seek the locksmith’s assistance so I called the guy referred by a gasoline attendant. I was greeted by a man sounding a bit irritated–I understand the feeling of being awakened early Sunday morning–yet he was kind enough to encourage me to keep on trying by opening it through the door handle using a stiffer wire to reach into the lock. The mixture of desperation, the thought of a Hazard Pay’s episode, a welding rod wire, and persuasion from my wife seemed to work together after the phone conversation.

After an hour of trial and error, the lock tab popped. To say I shouted for joy would be an understatement. Upon checking my watch, I learned that we’ve been locked out for almost two hours already.  Without wasting another minute more we continued our trip but only after giving a ride to the two gas boys who stayed with us until the end of their night — they were our cheering team during the whole ordeal. My wife and I exchanged congratulations several times on our way to Dau. We kidded ourselves as being able to be in cahoots as carjackers. Honda City owners beware.

We arrived in the Balloon fest area past 7 AM, tired but glad we still made it. Parking far from the entrance gate didn’t matter anymore. Just being at the site bustling with people to watch an event featuring everything that flies is satisfying enough.

 

1000 Kilometers, 1 B-Movie, 3 Coffees

Yesterday, I had to bring the car back to Honda for its first 1000 km check-up even if it meant having only three hours of sleep and waking up by mid-day after a stressful 12-hour graveyard shift. I was at Honda Alabang at exactly 1 PM as scheduled.

Expecting the check-up to last only for about two hours, I spent some time eating in their homely cafeteria and appreciating the customer lounge’s comfy couch and widescreen TV which was showing an HBO thriller. I likewise tried some cat naps to fill my lack of sleep.

Two hours later I was called by the service agent but to my dismay it was just to fill in the service form and the actual check-up would commence right after I completed the needed details. I learned that the check-up itself would be after another two hours more. Damn. Two more hours of reruns. I was craving for strong caffeine already.

An idea then came up. ATC here I go again. I was thinking I could get doze off inside the cinema. Ironically, as I was preparing myself for a 115-peso sleep, my body, as if under hypnotism led me to The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. My brain was trying to sleep but my body craved for caffeine. Just great. Inside me was an ongoing battle if who the really boss is.

So my body got its coffee, my brain came next and it was selecting between four movies. Well a sleep is what I need so the sleepy brain picked what seems to be a B-movie. Dreamland in the next few minutes.

Right after I grabbed my ticket for the movie Cloverfield, I excitedly entered the cool and almost vacant cinema, and then picked my spot away from the scattered moviegoers. I don’t normally enter in the middle of a film, but sleep was the main purpose.

I was 30 minutes late from the start of the movie and my brain was already trying to prep itself into snoozefest. I don’t know if I’m that dazed as I find the scenes quite dizzying but I realized sooner that it’s part of the movie’s effect. The Blair Witch Project came into my mind–Cloverfield is set to first person perspective thus creating an amateur effect. Perfect. A copycat is what I need to fall asleep.

I don’t know if my brain succeeded into getting its much needed sleep even after my body got its dose of the strong and large Americano. I never knew who won the who-is-the-boss struggle but I woke up watching movie trailers. So I looked at my watch and it was just an hour and a half. The movie finished earlier than I expected. It was a short film.

Upon checking my cellphone I found out that Honda still has not sent me an SMS to claim Mary. That gave me another hour to kill. So the curiosity to confirm if I was having nightmares while inside the cinema or had actually witnessed a weird ending of the movie made me decide to watch the film from the very beginning.

The trailers ended. The cinema lights once again dimmed and the featured movie starts once again. And just as I find the ending weird enough, the start itself is just as unpredictable. A couple of people actually booed after seeing the chroma bars and as some weird text negatives uncontrollably started appearing and rolling. Unknown to most of us, the film has started.

Cloverfield’s plot I soon found out is about a couple of young New Yorkers having a farewell party for a friend.One of them is taking a documentary of everything in the apartment. Some are recording their wishes and goodbyes in the video.

The twist of the story came. While at the peak of the merry-making a loud noise is heard and the place shakes with all the lights in every building outside going out momentarily. What happens next is reminiscent of the 911 attack. There is panic. Buildings crumble. People running around the ravaged and dusty streets. Everything looks surreal.

Chaos and confusion ensue and the video shakes further and everything blurs. Then the amateur cam captures a monstrous creature that would put Godzilla to shame.  It delivers a damaging blow to the Brooklyn Bridge and it decapitates the historic Statue of Liberty sending the head crashing on the parked cars miles away. Suddenly, I feel like I was among those running for their lives. Surprisingly, I was beginning to enjoy the movie. I was immersed.

As the plot thickens, and as emotions and mayhem intensify, I felt something in my thigh beginning to vibrate and buzz. I was wondering if I was experiencing a 4D sensation but damn, it was my cellphone alarm going off. It was time for me to leave. Never before have I hated leaving a B-movie. I went out  feeling bad not having finished the show. I walked out as if with the dilemma if I’ll stay and finish all of it or getting Mary out before Honda closes at 6 PM.

My mind’s made up. Ten minutes before closing time I was back in Honda’s service area. It’s getting dark outside when I drove away, and I was still thinking of what I’ve just watched. I was hoping that I’ll be transported back to Cloverfield and would have cared less if Mary and I gets entangled in the devastation. I really got hooked.

***

There were a couple more coffee shops Mary brought us within its 1000 km break-in period. She brought us to Bag of Beans in Tagaytay after a cold night dinner at Leslie’s with my wife’s brother and sister-in-law.

A week after that, we took the Talisay road going to Sto. Tomas Batangas. Mary endured the steep, tight and blind turns with me having her just at second gear for almost 15 kilometers to avoid careening off the road. Eventually, that trip took us to a cozy and warm coffee shop in Tanauan, Dairymoor.

And the verdict? All three coffees taste the same. I just can’t remember which shop costs the least. Definitely not The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.

***

Wrote this blog’s draft while at our company’s parking lot, waiting for my wife.

 

Is Man Never Contented?

The first time I heard the cliché man is never contented was way back when I was in elementary. I never knew its meaning would become clearer and clearer as I grow older. Back then it was just begging for He-Man action figures when I’ve got the small plastic toy soldiers; wanting to have Legos when I’ve got freebie building blocks from sari-sari store junk foods packs; dreaming of having BB aluminum slingshots when I already have the bayabas wood piece; and imagining of having Tonka toys dragged around instead of the Milo cans transformed into trucks with wheels cut out from old smagol (slippers). All these wants I never got.

Twenty plus years later this phrase remains true.

The recent change from our stereotyped Kia Pride to the highly praised Honda brand gave me the feeling of a paradigm shift. I felt as if I just exchanged my push cart to a Bugatti. The change was drastic. From having our first car being pre-owned and the second car brand new.

If having the Kia Pride made me search the web for support groups then it’snowonderifI’vealreadyspentsometimebrowsingandlurkinginHondaforums.

But then reality struck. And it sucks. My precious Mary has its flaws and weaknesses too. Some of the owners find their City as having poor suspension, dashboards that are easily scratched, rusting hinges, poor gas mileage, rickety interiors and so forth. I did double check if I’m not reading my Kia Pride’sforum.

Are these bad reviews true or are these just sour graping? I checked and found my own list of the Honda City 2008’s pros and cons (so far).

Pros:

Power Steering.

Very silent engine. I find it necessary to honk every now and then to keep inattentive pedestrians from straying near Mary while I’m passing.

Spacious interior and boot.

Four cup holders. Who said you can’t drink and drive?

Cons:

Manual antenna. My Kia pride has powered version.

Very tight boot and gas lever. Having a Rolex is a bad idea. But then again who has a genuine Rolex and a City.

Audio player is not MP3 capable. And there are only two speakers located in the front. I pity the rear passengers.

The side panels and ceiling are prone to dirt stains due to the fabric material.

And so it is proven once again that man is never contented. Gid. Of course this is both a good and a bad thing. It becomes good when one aims for a better life but it becomes so bad when one keeps on having more wants than needs. It becomes worse when someone keeps on staring at the seductive Toyota Camry while inside a brand new Honda City. Ti abi.

2008: Year of Change?

I’m currently hooked on Dan Brown’s books. During my December vacation I borrowed a book from a colleague and brought it with me in Bacolod. On my rest times I would read The Da Vinci Code– while under some sort of scrutiny of my pious mother. On our way back home to Dasma after the holidays we rented an airport taxi service that made me finish the book while inside the cozy Toyota Innova. (It cost us only Php 1.3K. Very cheap compared to availing Park n Fly’s service.)

Now I borrowed another, Angels & Demons, and I’m almost halfway since I started it just this Wednesday. Other than the conspiracy theories that seem to have captured my attention and wonder about its possibility, one line from the book got me to start thinking.

Olivetti looked at the camerlengo dead in the eye. “The prayer of St. Francis, signore. Do you recall it?”

The young priest spoke the single line with pain in his voice, “God, grant me strength to accept those things I cannot change.” – pp. 169.

This made me pause and reflect on the changes I’ve observed since last month. I could relate to these lines with what has happened lately. Hint: employment.

December, third week. Our company’s shuttle bus provider for more than ten years was changed. For the better? Go figure.

December 31. Just as the year ends also comes the closure of our favorite restaurant–Saisaki ATC. No more sashimi. No more sukiyaki. I went back to the place on Jan 10 and to see it silent with doors locked and tables turned was a sad sight. Where have  its crews gone?

January. Video City, a video rental store near our place closed. Most likely another victim of the proliferation of pirated CDs. ACA Video Dasma branch closed during the peak of piracy and seeing a second one caving in is depressing.

January 18. The state of the old Bacolod airport is uncertain with the opening of Silay Airport. I don’t know if Bacolod City’s officials are still considering retaining the old one or if they would totally phase it out. With the recent experience I had both during arrival and departure–mostly due to deceitful porters and taxi drivers–I couldn’t agree more if they pick the latter option. But then jobs of the innocent and honest employees are at stake. Hopefully they’ll be re-assigned.

We are just starting the year and I hate to think about the things to come. I’m still trying to keep a positive attitude about what the future holds and whatever it will be, I’m hoping that we would be ready by then. Que sera sera, as my mother used to say.

 

Car’s One Week Log

It’s been a week since we got Mary and it was one whole week of a new experience.

Day 1. I got Mary after being covert for two days. Just like in the movies or TV shows. Now I know how it feels like to show a brand new car key to a wife.

Day 2. Got no choice but to do the dreaded task–paper works for the car in a government office. This is where one has to endure long queues for almost a day and later on pay a ridiculous amount of tax. To be fair with Trece Marteres municipality it has improved a lot, at least from the outside, since my last visit. I was able to park Mary in a well designated parking lot and spent some time waiting on a bench on a brick-paved sidewalk.

Day 3. It rained. It’s her first acid rain bath. I was supposed to go back to Honda Alabang to give the papers I processed yesterday but it can wait. Mas masarap matulog while it’s gloomy and raining outside.

By afternoon, my wife and I were able to go back to La Salette to attend an anticipated mass. The last time we were there we took the bus and ended having brunch in Tagaytay’s Pancake house. Not bad. But having Mary is better.

Day 4. Mary went to work with me for the 1st time. Now it knows where the funds to pay her are coming from.

Day 5. I woke up late from a neighbor’s welcome party. Do I need to mention I had a couple of beers that night? Anyway, it’s one of the benefits of having a car. I made it to work without much ado.

After work, the secrecy I’m keeping about the actual car that I got was eventually blown when some of my colleagues coaxed me to take her for a ride. Funny but her first trip with them was going to a wake. Ti abi. A beginning and an End?

How did she perform on the rough asphalt road? Let me answer with what my colleague said. ”Parang nasa eroplano (just like on an airplane).”

Day 6. Left work late because of an unexpected serious discussion with one of my people. The least of my worries this time is missing the shuttle bus.

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Nice rear.

Day 7. My day-off after a tiring week at work and in our village (issues, issues, issues).

After breakfast came my 1st intimate session with Mary–her first car wash. I just realized that because of her size she’s harder to wash than our previous compact Kia.

Shiny and clean, I went to Honda Alabang to submit the loan papers and to get Mary a remote alarm. The dealership’s lounge was good but what more if I was waiting in Prestige Cars’? Don’t push it.

The alarm was fitted after almost two hours. It cost me Php 5.7K—a 0.9% cost for security. Not bad.

I got a not so good news before leaving though. I still won’t have my license plates until at least February. I left Honda a bit depressed that I won’t be able to meet my sis at the airport next Tuesday. It was actually the reason why I chose my license plate number to travel on Tuesdays. I’m hoping that we will see each other next time and hopefully not after another sabbatical.

By lunch time I was on my way to Batangas to pick up wifey. Construction of the SLEX has gone until its end in Calamba. Hopefully, once it gets done it would be comparable with Kuala Lumpur’s road. I’m keeping my fingers crossed but somewhere in my brain lobes shouts ”asa ka pa.

Well that was our one week together. I feel like we’ve been through thick or thin already. I’m praying that in the coming days, months and years we’ll have, most of it will be fun. Take note of the words I’m praying.